Bob Meadley

(b. 28th January 1940)

“Dear Mr. Meadley or is it Bob?” was how my mentor Frank Ravenscroft commenced his first letter on the 12th August 1965. A wonderful opening and we became friends and met on my visits to Sydney – I suppose three or four times only – but Frank, Mrs. R. and their daughter Enid were kind when we visited; it was not hard to love them all, especially Frank. When he died on 25th February 1968, aged 87, I was shattered. And then some months later his problem books came via the late John Kellner – left in Frank’s will to me – with some going back almost 100 years. If he hadn’t hooked me before he had then. I had never seen such books. His wife Lillian was a woman with great humour. I recall Enid went to an antique auction when we were visiting and Mrs. R. said, “You should have put me in dear!” The grand lady died aged 102 in 1983. On another visit, though she was blind then, she felt all over my young son John’s face to get a picture of him. The amazing thing was that John let her.

I was born in Hull, England during the war. There were no chess players in the family and when Dad was killed in 1943 when U66 sank his ship, Mum, an Australian, came home in 1946 with my younger brother Jack and myself. As a widow she was not good collateral, but a kindly Rural Bank manager gave her a loan and she built a home in Kogarah, Sydney and we moved there in 1948. Mum died there in 2001. Down the road at 1 O’Connell Street were the Bryant family. Their eldest sons Alex and Ian, our mates, played chess on their maternal Scots grandfather Alexander Fulton’s superb inlaid chess table with a lovely set of pieces that had ornately carved knights. I was fascinated, what was this game that traversed the generations? And at age 14 I set out to become the first Australian world chess champion. Alekhine’s book My Best Games 1908-23 was my bible and I romanced about his life as a young man playing in all those fabled cities such as St. Petersburg, Carlsbad, and Vilna. I would do the same but it didn’t work out – the skill was not there.

John Kellner, the great chess editor of the early 1960s in Sydney was always holding composing and solving competitions in the Sunday Mirror and I was involved. I was by then a railway electrician but chess was my passion. I thought I was a good player and did not like losing. I played in Hyde Park Sydney with the old men who habituated the tables and I won mostly. Sometimes a player from Kosh’s Chess Academy came over and we would lose. I saw Frank Crowl there one day, penniless and in his soiled suit. He was a master but poor. The light started to show and I realized one needed an income unless one was in the top rank at chess. Better if it was a hobby. I enjoyed playing through master games and solving problems and still do today. My first problem, No.1, appeared in the Sunday Mirror, ca. 1962 and was part of the ladder competitions in Kellner’s column. He offered good prizes and we all competed like mad.

1. Bob Meadley
Sunday Mirror ca. 1962

Mate in 2

Key: 1.b4! (waiting). 1…Se-any 2.Rxd5, 1…Re-any 2.Se2, 1…Qf6 2.Bxf6, 1…Qg7 2.B or Qxg7, 1…Qxh8 2.Qxh8, 1…Rd-any 2.Sb5, 1…Sc-any 2.R or Qxe4.

I had studied and revelled in Alain White’s book, Sam Loyd and his Chess Problems. Here indeed was a book to be proud of and Loyd was a wonderful character and a genius at problems. White was just as wonderful in compiling this book on his friend. Problems were a rewarding pastime. No.2 was published in the Sunday Mirror, 20th March 1966, though two-movers never really held me.

2. Bob Meadley
Sunday Mirror, 20th March 1966

Mate in 2

Key: 1.Sh1! (waiting). 1…Kxe2 2.Bc4, 1…Ke4 2.Sf2, 1…S-any 2.Rhxe3, 1…Bxe2 2.Sf2, 1…e4 2.Rd2.

John Kellner started a Frank Ravenscroft Memorial tournament in 1968 and I entered No.3 and another which nearly ended my marriage. Life was indeed too short for chess, or so my dear wife Norma thought!

3. Bob Meadley
Sunday Mirror, 14th April 1968

Mate in 2

Key: 1.Bb1! (threat: 2.Qc2). Not 1.0-0, illegal due to prior play.

As a retired health and building officer with 35 years country experience, chess has saved my life. I’ve never been interested in clubs and have been happy watching our two children grow up, along with working in my den on letters and research. My dear late chess friend John van Manen’s passing in 2000 was a body blow but research continues.

Editing a chess column is great and one receives some amazing contact with others. The ten years I edited the problem column in Chess in Australia (1974-84) were happy ones and I then passed over to another friend and very strong composer, the late Brian Tomson, Professor of Mediaeval English at Newcastle University above Sydney. I kept up the small column in Tasmanian Chess Magazine (Oct. 1982 - Jul. 1991) and one feature I enjoyed in that column was a series on Australian chess champions and their interest in chess problems.

In 1978 I acquired the late Bill Whyatt’s chess effects from the Public Trustee with my brother’s help, and the Whyatt family received copies of the book, W. A. Whyatt’s Chess Problems, in 1979. I also published A Chess Miscellany that year. From 1981-1994, Australian Chess Lore in six volumes was published with John van Manen as chief editor. And in 1989 a small booklet, A Selection of 19th Century Australian Chess Problemists.

In 1999 A Letter to Bert (on chess libraries) appeared and in 2009, Some Memories Expanded (a biography of Frederick Karl Esling (1860-1955), the first Australian chess champion). Other articles on problemists such as Karl Becker, Dr. J. J. O’Keefe, Arthur Mosely, Henry Tate and E. D. McQueen were written with Geoff Foster and have appeared in The Problemist. Articles on the great 19th century Australian chess players such as Louis Goldsmith, C. M. Fisher, Andrew Burns, A. G. McCombe and Edward Thonen of the Eureka Stockade have appeared in the Australasian Chess Magazine. Paul Dunn, the ACF Archivist and myself updated John van Manen’s Bibliography of Australian and New Zealand Chess Literature in 2009 and it is being published in Holland by the Ken Whyld Association.

I have about 1500 books on chess and have enjoyed collecting for many decades. I still collect about 30 per year, mostly modern items. I have always enjoyed solving and research more than composing problems but have put out about 30 problems over 40 years. The final problem, No.4, took a lot of time and it was probably wasted but it proved fascinating to get the white and black pieces to change places. There are two solutions. One is mine, the other was a cook found by that terror of all composers, Jim Jones. His solution involved queen-side castling, mine was king-side castling.

4. Bob Meadley
Chess in Australia, Nov/Dec 1987

What is the shortest game to the position?

Not a unique sequence in the solutions and it’s more a puzzle of unblocking in 45 moves. A couple of hints are that the four knights occupy the four central squares and the four rooks occupy the b3/g3/b6/g6 squares at the same time.

I am presently helping Robert Johnson research his proposed book on Adolf Anderssen, the mighty German champion, and Greg Wilson who is compiling a history of Newcastle Chess. I enjoyed helping David Lovejoy with his book on Savielly Tartakower, Moral Victories, which has been well received by chess lovers.

I think chess research is probably my great love now but problems run a close second.