Guardian’s Barden sets 54-year chess record

The sports pages of The Guardian established a world record on Christmas Eve, by publishing its weekly Leonard Barden chess column, the latest in an unbroken sequence that goes back more than 54 years.

The Guardian, keen to preserve a run that started when its title was still the Manchester Guardian, ran Barden’s usual Saturday column on the Thursday this week, as the newspaper does not publish on Boxing Day.

Barden said: “I have never missed a week in 54 years, and as a result the Guardian undisputably holds the world record for the longest continuous chess column of (currently) 54 years 3 months.”

Barden took over the column when his predecessor, Julius du Mont, suffered a stroke in August 1955. “The last column he wrote was September 1, 1955. I have examined it and it is not in my style, while the selected game is Persitz v Wallis at Southend, won by Wallis. I am quite sure I would not have started my column by publishing a defeat for my best friend,” Barden said.

“My memory is that Du Mont had his stroke between submitting the column and receiving the proof, and that my first act was to check the September 1 proof. My first actual column was September 8 1955. I have it in front of me now. It was a brief report on the world junior championship at Antwerp.”

Last year, Barden told the Guardian‘s Stephen Moss that he had been playing at a tournament on the south coast when he heard that Du Mont had died. “The news of Du Mont’s death came to me when I was in the loo at Bognor,” he said. “I do remember that moment.”

He also revealed there was an elementary error in one of the last problems Du Mont had set, and there followed a torrent of agitated phone calls and letters. “I was told I had to answer all the complaints personally,” he recalls. “The chess column also appeared in Guardian Weekly, and letters were still coming in months later.”

The previous record for an unbroken chess column was by George Koltanowski’s daily column in the San Francisco Chronicle, which ran for 51 years 9 months and 18 days from 1948 to 2000.

Barden said: “There are various claimants for the world’s longest running column with a break, but the significant rival is Herman Helms of the US who wrote, allowing for a break, for a non-continuous almost 58 years. Because Helms was an American and because his record set in 1955 is so long-standing, most chess writers still accept his landmark as the one to beat. So to be adjudged as superior, the Guardian column needs to continue without any break.”

Croydon-born Barden, 80, also writes chess columns for the Evening Standard and Financial Times. After reading history at Balliol, he combined journalism with chess playing, and was British chess champion in 1954. In 1960 he beat Bobby Fischer in a “blitz” game.

In the 1970s Barden was a presenter on the BBC2 televised Master Game series. He was the first chess writer to predict in print that Garry Kasparov (then 11) would become world champion and that Nigel Short (then 9) would become Kasparov’s challenger.

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