The organiser's tale

Originally published in the Time Traveller for December 2000

Albert Long was the foremost organiser of chess in Ulster throughout the 1950s and 1960s. During that time he was secretary of the Ulster Chess Union, the Ulster Secondary Schools Council and Belfast Chess Club.

Fortunately for the historian, he kept extensive records. These include the minute books of all three organisations. However perhaps the most interesting items of all are his working notebooks, in which he set out copies of correspondence, entries to and results of tournaments and his own historical researches. These records were then further distilled into two ring binders, which also contain a number of photographs. In 1971 Albert Long retired from day-to-day chess administration. On these occasions valuable old records are often not handed on and eventually lost. Fortunately Albert Long had a good sense of the importance of these records and he passed them to the next secretary of the Ulster Chess Union, Arthur Pinkerton. Arthur kept the records safe even after he ceased being secretary, and when he retired to England a few years ago he passed on all the records to Alex Beckett, then secretary of the Union. Alex is now handing over the custodianship of the records to me, so that the information within them can be shared with present-day players. To start with we provide you with a tale, taken from one of the working notebooks that shows the extent of Albert Long's dedication to duty.

The 8th Ulster Girls' Chess Championship 1965 (for the Hilda Chater Trophy) had 16 entrants. Like many tournaments at that time it was played as a knockout competition with games replayed in the event of a draw. There was no central venue, players were informed usually by letter who their opponents were, how to contact them and the date by which the game was to be played. To ensure that competitions ran as smoothly as possible, Long had to keep a close eye on events. This event was to require a particularly careful observation.

In the second round of the Girls Championship Barbara Forsyth of Methodist College (MCB) was paired against Pamela Patterson of Ballyclare High School. The game started at the CIYMS clubroom on Thursday 18th February but this was a game that would take some considerable time to complete. No clocks were used for this competition (or at least their use was not compulsory) and Albert Long, in his role as secretary of the Ulster Secondary Schools Chess Council, recorded that

"the rate of play was very slow. The first session took 2.40, 2nd 2.10, 3rd 2.40 and 4th 2.20 - Total 9 hours 50 minutes."

The entry in Long's notebook continued:

"I timed P. Patterson in the 2nd session taking 30 minutes for one move and 30 minutes for another. In the 4th session I timed them:

B. Forsyth      P. Patterson

18 minutes      52 minutes !!
 9 minutes       7 minutes
 5 minutes      20 minutes

5th session at MCB 18th March only 3 moves played in 2 hours. Total time to date 11 hours.

6th session, CIYMS 25th March 3 moves 2 hours Total to date 13 hours."

The 7th session was due to be played in MCB on Monday April 5th. However there was to be a problem with this arrangement, as revealed in a letter written to Mr Moffatt, the master in charge of chess at Ballyclare High School. The letter is interesting in what it reveals about the amount of organisation sometimes required to keep the show on the road.

"Dear Mr Moffatt,

Mr Thorpe [master in charge of chess at Methodist College and incidentally the driving force in schools' chess after Long's retirement - DMcA] tells me that P. Patterson is unable to resume the game at MCB on Monday 5th April as arranged.

As MCB closes for holidays on Friday next, Mr Thorpe suggests that failing a meeting this week, the two players might be able to play a long session in either of their respective houses during the holidays. Perhaps you would think this over and ring Mr Thorpe and come to some arrangement. As the sealed move is with Mr Thorpe, he will have to send the envelope by post."

A few days later Long in meticulous fashion makes an entry dated Friday 9th April in his notebook:

"Mr Moffett rang 8.30 p.m. to say that B. Forsyth and P. Patterson have agreed to play in CIYMS (room 16) on Monday 12/4/65 from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m."

Long then goes on to note where Moffett can be contacted by telephone over the next 3 days in case arrangements break down in any way. He also notes that Thorpe has given the sealed move to B. Forsyth - nice to see the players are trusted!

Then the final entry for this second round saga:

"7th session CIYMS 12th April. 2.30 p.m. (room 15) P. Patterson resigned at 5 p.m. 2 1/2 hours. Total time 15 1/2 hours."

Note the extraordinary attention to detail - he has even noted they played in room 15 rather than 16! Finally after nearly two months the game was completed. However Long had no time to rest on his laurels. The next entry in his notebook reveals:

"B. Forsyth phoned 13th April to say she is going away for Easter, and cannot play Sally McClean [of Belfast Royal Academy] until sometime after school restarts after Easter, that is, the week commencing Monday 26th April."

Now Long had to get semi-final and final played before the close of the school year at the end of June. Not altogether an easy task with important examinations in the summer term. It was to be an extremely close run thing as a further note reveals:

"11.15 a.m. 29/6/65 Hilda Chater Trophy

Mr Thorpe rang to say B. Forsyth beat S. McClean 28/6/65 after 1st game drawn. B. Forsyth beat K[athleen] Matchett [also from MCB] morning of 29/6/65."

Miss Forsyth was then presented with the Hilda Chater Trophy later the same day at the Methodist College annual prizegiving.

However for Albert Long although the competition may have finished, there were still arrangements to be made. His notebook entry continued:

"B. Forsyth to leave tray in McNeilly's for engraving....Ask Mr Thomas [Long's "second-in-command"] to have medal engraved for K. Matchett."

And Pamela Patterson? She won the 9th Ulster Girls' Chess Championship the following year.


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