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John Saunders


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Tournament: 96th Varsity Match • Venue: RAC Club, Pall Mall, London • Date: 18 March 1978
Download PGNList of Varsity Matches • Back to 1977 • Forward to 1979 • last edited: Monday March 18, 2024 9:09 AM

The 96th Varsity Chess Match between Oxford University and Cambridge University was held at the RAC Club, Pall Mall, London on 18 March 1978. The sponsors were Lloyds Bank. Match arbiter Harry Golombek. Six full game scores available (boards 1, 2, 3, 4, 7 and 8) - can anyone supply boards 5 and 6?

1977«     1978 Varsity Chess Match     »1979
Bd Oxford University 1978 Cambridge University Opening, No. of Moves
1w David Simon Charles Goodman (Keble) 0-1 IM Andrew Jonathan Mestel (Trinity) Old Indian, 49
2b Hugh Dugald Macpherson (Merton) 0-1 IM Shaun Mark Taulbut (Downing) French Def, 28
3w Michael Cyril Truran (Oriel) ½-½ Emmanuel Rayner (Trinity) King's Indian D, 19
4b Peter John Sowray (Exeter) 0-1 Colin Stamford Crouch (Christ's) French Def, 32
5w Jonathan Christopher Benjamin (Hertford) ½-½ Graham Duncan Hillyard (Caius) Caro-Kann, 39
6b Peter Ashley Clifford Varley (St Peter's) ½-½ Simon John Bradley Knott (Trinity) § English, 34
7w Geoffrey Moore (Wadham) 1-0 Paul Russell Davies (Trinity) Sicilian, 29
*b Annette Elfriede Rosalie Imma Rogers (Somerville) 0-1 Jane Anson (Trinity Hall) Two Knights' Def, 31
  (the 'Ladies' board' did not count towards the score) 2½-4½    

Sources: Oxford-Cambridge Chess Matches (1873-1987), compiled by Jeremy Gaige, Philadelphia 1987; BCM, May 1978; CHESS, May 1978; The Times, 20 March 1978; The Guardian, 20 March 1978; Mike Truran; Dragon, 1978 (courtesy of John Swain); Jane Eichmann (email 31 January 2022)

* For the first time, a 'ladies board' was played. This only counted as a tie-breaker until 1982, when it became an integral part of the match.

§ Jane Eichmann (née Anson), Cambridge board eight, confirmed to me that the Cambridge board six was Simon Knott (email dated 31 January 2022). The correct name also given in the body of Golombek's report in BCM (May 1978), the Times, 20 March 1978, p18 and The Guardian, 20 March 1978. In the BCM, May 1978, p214, where the match results are listed, it gives the name incorrectly as 'Simon Knight (Trinity)' which Gaige appears to have followed, giving the incorrect 'Simon Francis Knight (Trinity)'. My thanks to Jane Eichmann.

Time control: 50/2h30m, 20/15m, all/10m.

Captains: Mike Truran (Oxford) and Paul Davies (Cambridge)

CHESS, April 1978, p197: "The addition of a ladies' board is an interesting innovation which will probably become a permanency. The match was played under the hospitality of Mr. H.G. Mutkin at the R.A.C. Club, sponsored by Lloyd's Bank and the Slater Foundation. There is a query whether the solid gold cup donated by the late Miss Margaret Pugh for annual tenure by the winners of this match and probably worth £3,000 today has disappeared."...

CHESS, May 1978, p256: "EUREKA! With reference to the article in the April issue of CHESS on the Oxford v Cambridge match, I am happy to inform you that I have succeeded in finding the supposedly lost Margaret Pugh trophy. It has subsequently been presented (temporarily) to Paul Davies, this year's winning Cambridge captain, and it is now in a safe place where it will remain until next year's match. Michael Egan, Vice-President, Cambridge University CC, Cambridge, 9 May 1978."

The Times, 20 March 1978, p18: "DOMINATION BY CAMBRIDGE IN CHESS CONTEST – by Harry Golombek, Chess Correspondent – There were a number of innovations in the ninety-eighth [sic] annual chess match between Oxford and Cambridge universities, which was played in London on Saturday. The event was sponsored by Lloyds Bank as part of its laudable programme for the advancement of chess among the young. Instead of games that were unfinished at the end of the fixed play session being adjudicated, players were allowed a little extra time in which to make a large number of moves.

"The most important innovation, however, was the addition of an extra, eighth, board for women to take part. That proved an excellent idea : the game on that board was well contested and of good quality.

"Cambridge started off as favourites in a match that contained an unusually high proportion of internationally experienced players. But it was Oxford who struck the first blow with a win on board seven. Thereafter though, it was Cambridge all the way and they scored their ninth win in succession to the tune of 5½ to 2½ or, if the women’s board is not counted, by 4½ to 2½."

The Times, 25 March 1978, page 12 (Golombek column): "... Similar lists of other countries' outstanding players who stemmed from the universities can be produced with little effort and, looking at our own country’s leading players in my lifetime we find that, with the exception of F. D. Yates and Sir George Thomas, all have attended universities. The select list, in chronological order, runs: H. E. Atkins, William Winter and C. H. O'D. Alexander (Cambridge), Jonathan Penrose (London) and our present three grandmasters, Ray Keene and Michael Stean (Cambridge) and Tony Miles (Sheffield) with a fine crop of young talent headed by Jonathan Mestel (Cambridge) and John Nunn (Oxford).

"Bearing all this in mind it will be readily understood that I approached last Saturday’s match between Oxford and Cambridge Universities with due reverence and also with keen anticipation. In fact, in filling the post of referee at the match I had the feeling of assuming the even more royal purple of forecasting arbiter of world championship matches of the future, and that without the aid of charts or grading schemes.

"In any case there were a number of important innovations at this, the 98th match between the two universities, which was held at the RAC in Pall Mall, London, on Saturday afternoon March 18. For the first time the match was financially sponsored by Lloyds Bank as part of their policy for the advancement of youth chess in the country. For the first time ladies played in the match. True, it was on bottom board and the result was to count only in the case of a tie on the seven board men’s match. The final innovation was the abandonment of the practice of adjudicating unfinished games at the end of five hours play. If the games were unfinished at the end of the five hour session then a further quarter of an hour was allowed for 20 moves. If still unfinished, 10 more minutes were allowed for any number of moves.

"The match itself was well contested, if eventually one-sided. After a fairly perfunctory draw on Board 3, the Oxford seventh board confounded predictions by winning in nice style against the Cambridge captain. But this was only a fitful gleam of triumph and Cambridge scored heavily on the top boards to win by 4½-2½. In the ladies game, the winner, Jane Anson, kept her head remarkably well in a difficult variation of the Two Knights and won in 31 moves.

"On top board the international master Jonathan Mestel won in good style for Cambridge against the former cadet (under 18) world champion, David Goodman and on second the present European Junior champion. Shaun Taulbut won well against Dugald Macpherson."

Dragon Magazine (Cambridge University CC bulletin), page 4 - by Jane Anson

"The Varsity match took place this year in the rather splendid surroundings of the RAC Club, Pall Mall. After a punctual start, the Cambridge team arrived and play began. In spite of confident pre-match forecasts, the Cambridge start was not too promising, although later things began to look up with the arrival of Jonathan Mestel. Inevitably, the better side won for the ninth successive year, perhaps compensating for the loss of the freshers’ and Dragons’ matches."

Leonard Barden (writing to JS in May 2021): "A few weeks before the 1978 Varsity match I received a letter from FF Russell recalling his own participation in 1912-14. He told me that Oxford had at that time unsuccessfully applied to the Blues Committee for award of half-blues but were rebuffed, so decided to wear ties at the match with their own creation of representative colours. I replied that over the years there had been many such unsuccessful applications, including in my own time, when Oxford were National Club champions, British lightning team champions (Ilford 1953) and had very large numbers of active players (100 teams of 3 in Cuppers). We had hopes of success, but as on all other occasions the Blues Committee turned down the application pronto. Russell then sent a packet of representative colour ties for each member of the team, with one for me and maybe one for Henry Mutkin. Alas, on the day only two or three of the Oxford players wore their ties. I reported this to Russell, but am not sure whether my letter reached him before he died that same month."

File Updated

Date Notes
2018 First uploaded
30 May 2019 Added the game Truran-Rayner. Many thanks to Mike Truran.
17 November 2020 Added the Times report.
7 January 2021 Added the Goodman-Mestel game (with some unresolved ambiguities), plus Jane Anson's report from Dragon (the Cambridge University bulletin). My thanks to John Swain for the information.
8 January 2021 The unresolved ambiguity in the score of Goodman-Mestel has now been resolved and a correction applied. My thanks to John Swain for this.
3 May 2021 Added Leonard Barden's information about FF Russell and the representative ties.
2 October 2021 Added Harry Golombek's further comments on the match in his Times column of 25 March 1978.
All material © 2018-2021 John Saunders