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Tournament: Commonwealth Championship • all 15 games
Venue: Balliol College, Oxford • Dates: 29 October - 2 November 1951 • Download PGN • Last Edited: Monday 20 June, 2022 4:46 PM

1951 Commonwealth Championship - Balliol College, Oxford, 29 October - 2 November

1951 Commonwealth Championship Nationality 1 2 3 4 5 6 Total
1 William Albert Fairhurst Scotland
½ 1 ½ 1 1 4
2 Daniel Abraham Yanofsky Canada ½
½ ½ 1 ½ 3
3 Robert Graham Wade New Zealand 0 ½
½ ½ 1
4 Leonard William Barden England ½ ½ ½
½ 0 2
5 Grant Berriman Australia 0 0 ½ ½
1 2
6 Wolfgang Heidenfeld South Africa 0 ½ 0 1 0

1951 Oxford tournament

CHESS, November 1951, p24


The presence of Dave [sic] Yanofsky, W. Heidenfeld and R. G. Wade (the best players of Canada, South Africa and New Zealand respectively) in England all at the same time, was too good an opportunity to miss. The B.C.F. put up £50, the Master of Balliol College, Oxford, offered hospitality and the tournament was duly held, October 29th to November 2nd. Australia, on the starting-date, cabled official nomination of young G. Berriman. The West Indian Chess Federation would have sent a player but were unable to book him an air passage.

CHESS, December 1951, ppn 46-47

Oxford holds first Commonwealth Tournament by L W. Barden

After a long series of organisational difficulties and with a list of competitors that was not finally known until the very day it began, the first Commonwealth tournament ever held took place at Oxford, in the Massey Room, Balliol College, from October 29th to November 3rd. The tournament was made possible by the financial support of the B.C.F., as the notice was too short for the normal local subscription list to be opened.

Originally it had been hoped that competitors would come from Ireland and the West Indies, but the former just did not materialise, while Sturm of Trinidad could not get an air passage. The B.C.F. Executive considered that the tournament was not sufficiently representative to be dignified with the name of " Commonwealth Championship." Wade of New Zealand, Yanofsky of Canada, Heidenfeld of South Africa, and Fairhurst of Scotland were all recognised by their respective federations as fully representative of the strength of these countries. The leading B.C.F. players were not available, and the English representative was Barden, who was fifth in this year's championship. It was the unanimous view of the contestants at Oxford that in view of the geographical distances involved a Commonwealth championship wherever held would be most unlikely to get a better entry. From this point of view and from the most important one of publicity, the organisers at Oxford believed they took the correct decision in describing the tournament to press representatives as the "Commonwealth Championship." Whatever attitude is held on this matter, it was surely illogical, as the B.C.F. Executive did, on the one hand to call the tournament an informal one, and on the other not to inform Berriman of Australia (who was in this country as Australia's representative in the World Junior Championship) about the tournament; and still more so not to allow him to enter until he had spent several pounds in urgent cables to Australia asking that he should be recognised as the official representative—recognition which finally arrived five hours before the start of the tournament. In the event, the 19-year-old Australian fully justified his inclusion by his tremendous fighting spirit and by his good win from Heidenfeld, and England may yet find itself in the anomalous position of being the only major Commonwealth country not to recognise the tournament as a championship.

In a short tournament of only six players there is a danger that luck may play a great part in deciding the winner. But there was no doubt that in this case Fairhurst played much the best chess of any competitor, showing his fine strategical strength in games with Wade and Berriman, and tactical resourcefulness when in difficulties against Heidenfeld. At the age of 48 he is playing as well as he did when winning the British Championship in 1937. Yanofsky, the pre-tournament favourite, failed to win because he treated all his opponents like grandmasters—that is to say, he was constantly trying to exploit minute advantages in the ending instead of going for middle-game complications. Wade was suffering from the same complaint—he more than once got an opening advantage and then failed to realise it by playing too positionally. This is an attitude of mind very difficult to escape when a loss practically finishes your chances of winning the tournament. Heidenfeld, although bottom, played far better than his score suggests and was the unlucky player of the tournament. In the first round, by excellent position play, he had, in the diagrammed position, established a clear advantage against Wade. He had one move to make before the time control, with over five minutes to spare on his clock. But he had taken his score down wrongly, thought he had made the required number of moves, and sat thinking till his flag fell!

There was an interesting game between the first and second prizewinners, in which Yanofsky missed a chance of getting an overwhelming space advantage by 18. P x P, P x P ; 19. P–QKt4 followed by P—B5.

The tournament was opened by Sir Robert Robinson, President of the B.C.F.; and the Master of Balliol (Sir David Lindsay Keir) and the Mayor of Oxford made ceremonial first moves. Sir David and Lady Keir were also present at the final ceremony and the former pointed how apt it was that Fairhurst, a North-countryman turned Scot, should win the tournament at Balliol, founded by John of Balliol, also a North-countryman turned Scot! Mention of the tournament would not be complete without reference to the work put in by members of the Oxford University Chess Club, who sacrificed lectures and tutorials to act as amateur tournament directors; particularly D. J. Youston, who was responsible for much of the preliminary organisation and the splendid coverage given by the international, national and local reporting agencies and newspapers. The Stop Press news in the "Oxford Mail" on the last day of the tournament was headed: "Fairhurst wins Chess Test"!

Final scores : Fairhurst 4 ; Yanofsky 3 ; Wade 2½; Barden and Berriman 2 ; Heidenfeid 1½.

We imagine the New Zealand Chess Association would have a few things so say, had the event been declared an official Commonwealth Championship. They raised £500 for exactly such an event but have been unable to find representative players able to spare three months or so for the round trip to New Zealand and back.

The British Chess Federation, which virtually means C. H. Alexander these days, made it clear: the event was not official. It was certainly sublimely inconsistent for them to cable the Australian Chess Federation saying they would allow Berriman to play only if officially sponsored.— Ed.

Much textual background to this unofficial Commonwealth Championship tournament can be found here on the English Chess Forum.

File Updated

Date Notes
9 September 2018 First uploaded.
20 June 2022 Amended crosstable, added text from CHESS Magazine.