David Robertson RIP (1947-2022)


I first met Dave in 1964 when the chess teams for two schools located in the Birmingham area, Bishop Vesey GS [my school] and King Edward’s GS Camp Hill [Dave’s school] played each other. A couple of the Camp Hill players came across as very confident [well, “cocky” was the way I thought of it]. These two were strong players, and Dave was one of them. In 1965 I had brought about some improvement in my game and edged my way into the Warwickshire U18 team which won the national championships.



Dave at Doctor Duncan's 2006


Photo © Steve Connor


Dave was an established player already playing higher up the team. After that I played higher than him for many different teams over the years until 8th February 2022 when Dave played what turned out to be his last game for Spirit of Atticus in the on-line 4NCL championship on board 3 just one board above me! It had been a running joke that Dave’s ambition was to play above me in a team despite over 50 years of trying. This was a justified board order, since Dave had kept his form and chess studies up to scratch better than I had. When the board order was announced, little did we know how short Dave’s time for the mock celebration of this event would be.



A small collection of Dave's games from the 4NCL

We each arrived at Liverpool University in the Autumn of 1966 and in fresher’s week we each approached the Chess Club display, in due course heading upstairs to inspect the well-appointed chess room; I remember that journey since Dave, as he explained, had to pause a couple of times as he had just undergone an operation on his back. This was a typically low-key explanation of his degenerative illness. Dave, in the many years I was to know him was determined to enjoy life to the full and never had time to feel sorry for his legacy.


I have no clear recollection of his playing chess over our university years, but Dave and I were called into action to save the Birmingham Easter Chess congress since the long- term organizer of junior chess in Birmingham, W. Ritson Morry, was about to up his roots and move to Jamaica.


In the Christmas holidays we ensured that there was a venue booked, that notification would go to the schools as normal and tried to raise some money to allow for decent prizes. Dave showed himself to be worldly wise in our endeavours, far superior to me in the “getting money from people” category in particular. Although we did not get a big sponsor, he did inveigle a few donations which eliminated the possibility of a loss on the venture. The event went well but harsh words were exchanged between us on one occasion, the only time I can recollect this over our many years of our friendship. The congress returned to its usual stewardship in the following year when Ritson made an early return from Jamaica.


Thereafter, we returned to normal activities, with a resumption of university study, some chess for the University teams and plenty of relaxation for me. Dave on the other hand was throwing himself into political action to the extent that in his final year he was editor of the Students Union newspaper, was standing as a candidate for election as President and was half of the debating team that represented Liverpool University in the prestigious Observer Mace competition, which carried a first prize of a debating tour of the USA. Frank Milner, Dave’s debating partner, shared their winning plan with me [thank you Frank]:

1) to win

2) to politicise the motion into a Marxist/left wing one,

3) to follow this format in speaking: Frank to deliver the scripted introduction to their contention.


Dave would speak extempore to pick-up and counter points made by other speakers. Dave was never known to make notes, relying instead on his phenomenal memory recalling who had said what. Their strategy as “wild men” proved very successful up to a point.


What happened? Dave and Frank missed out narrowly on the trip to USA. There was a record turnout in the election for guild President, the electorate having been whipped up by two boisterous campaigns. This was Dave’s planned battle ground but the right-wing candidate was elected. The Guild Gazette had a good readership throughout Dave’s stewardship and its content was greatly admired. I must admit I wondered whether the report about Aston Villa’s come-back from 4-0 down to draw with Liverpool in 1960 was either topical in any way or going to win many friends, despite the absolutely amazing supporters of Aston Villa, but in general agreed with the main sentiments of the newspaper.


I shall continue by concentrating on the years from the early seventies onwards and Dave’s great contribution to and involvement in chess.


I spent a year teacher training and then a year in London. When I returned to Liverpool in the autumn of 1971, I joined a local chess club and lived in a popular Westminster Rd. multi-roomed residence designed for students. On reflection, residence is way too grand a term for the environment. But Dave lived there too as did Geoff Hall [now Sir Geoffrey Hall] who arrived having “graduated” from Bishop Vesey’s.


Dave was now really “into” chess again and was devouring chess material. The three of us realised that we could probably challenge for the first division title of the Liverpool League [once promoted from our likely starting point in division 2] including me and players currently not in clubs.


Thus, the three of us founded Kirkdale Chess Club playing at Kirkdale Community Centre and started in the Liverpool league in September 1972. The cost of our match venue was covered by us organising a chess club for the local children on one night a week. Dave, Geoff and I did just that always having at least 2 of the 3 of us present. The tricky part was that our session clashed with woodwork’s night, so we got an unusual mixture consisting predominantly of girls but also containing the occasional boy banned from woodwork, usually for being a danger.


The following year we changed our venue to Atticus bookshop and name to Atticus having won promotion. Thereafter, we duly won the 1st division. The club just grew and grew, attracting many players from Merseyside, and just five years after formation Atticus won the National Championships, an incredible achievement at the time.


A Northern Club winning the title was unheard of and Dave had flagged it up at the quarter-final stage with a local pub which promised and delivered on its promise of much champagne should we succeed. Dave, as well as being one of the team who played every round, also kept the whole club up-to-date with frequent newsletters with reports on all of our teams, including some good games played by members.


National Clubs Champions: Dave and John in the middle sporting the latest 1977 styles


Growth continued for Atticus over the years as Dave and the rest of us got on with our lives as well as enjoying the noble game, albeit with a necessity of reduced preparation time. Dave’s lecturing career at John Moore’s University was busy.



Atticus in 1977

(left to right foreground): Dave Robertson, Dave James, John Ripley, Sheila Jackson.

(middle): Pete MacKrell (half-hidden), Jim Cassin, Mike Price, John Carleton

(back): Martin Burbidge, Tom Bimpson, Howard Sleeman and Bernie Osterberg

1977 achievements as reported in the press


In addition, he was keen to take any opportunities to travel the country to dispense his wisdom and improve his reputation. That said, on many occasions he rushed back to Liverpool, frequently using risky train connections to play for the team. Dave continued to pursue his political aims but, for the rest of his life, within the safety and, sometimes frustrations, of the Labour Party. Finally, Dave had married his sweetheart Laura and was devoted to her and their three children. [NOTE: the descriptions laid out here did not necessarily happen in the order written].


In January 2003, Liverpool was awarded the City of Culture 2008, and in the summer of 2004, Dave invited me for a chat in his garden. Professor Dave as he now was, told me that he was seriously contemplating submitting a bid for chess in the upcoming celebrations, following discussion with the senior figures at John Moore’s University.


As his talk progressed, I wondered what the strength of the wine he was sipping was. In truth I knew that Dave once again was showing understanding of the real world, far beyond my ken, and would do what he could for chess.


The outcome after much planning, help locally, and with the passage of time, was a grant, of well over half a million pounds, I believe, awarded by the City of Culture fund in response to Dave’s bid. [WARNING: I feel Dave turning in his grave, questioning, “I believe” and asking for my source]. Sorry, my computer skills are not good enough!


Please advise if you have a more definitive figure. It turned out Dave was organising, not one event in 2008, but two leading up to two in 2008 itself, giving us:


2006: Open EU Individual Championship (World Museum)


2007: Britain v China [6 rounds, 6 men and 2 women in each team, won by China 28-20. We would love to be able to get that close to them these days] This was played alongside an Open Swiss Event in St. Georges Hall.


2008: Open EU Individual Championship (World Museum)


2008: British/English Championships: all categories St. Georges Hall. This was the first and only time to date that the Championships had come to Liverpool during the history of the event [held annually: started 1904]


Dave at the 4NCL in 2012


Dave at the 4NCL in 2012


Photo © John Upham


To dream of delivering all of this was fantastic, to actually do it was sensational. All the events had a proliferation of grandmasters and offered opportunities to local players to test their skills and increase their experience. Behind the scenes there was high stakes drama when Dave successfully faced down an attempt to cut the budget by asking the funders to choose which of the EU or British Championships they would like to cancel. Bluff or not we may never know, but it worked and both tournaments went ahead fully funded.



All too typical of chess is what happened next: there was a falling out in Atticus Chess Club within 2 years of Dave’s triumph on behalf of the city. A group of us left to join Chester where we were welcomed by friends and able to concentrate on playing chess. Dave represented the Chester and District Chess League on the English Chess Federation for a number of years and provided an entertaining summary each year on the workings of the Federation. A few years ago, Chester decided to refurbish its equipment and Dave volunteered to negotiate the price. Once again, I, and many others were staggered by Dave’s skill in negotiating a deal; this time bringing a large discount.


At the time of our move to Chester, we were able to found another chess club which played under the name of, “The Spirit of Atticus” in the national league [4NCL] played at weekends. We started in the then new 3rd division North and experienced success and growth in the number of teams and their strength over the years. The Saturday evening meal away from the venue proved a great success with Dave selecting the restaurant venues. His notion of choosing a venue based on the wine list alone proved to provide a potentially sticky start. We survived! And Dave became our Grubmeister using more traditional evaluations after our first outing.


Then after some ten years of the 4NCL for us the pandemic struck. There was large falling off of membership in the ECF, presumably partly because of the lack of opportunity for play over the board and partly because the large proportion of members who were unwilling to risk exposure to the virus. The new 4NCL leagues started last November with Spirit of Atticus drastically reduced in availability and just managing to get the 6 players needed for each round of the Northern League so far, with 3 rounds left to play.


Dave and I had agreed to try to get him a game over the board for the next round. Bolton, with a 14:00 start was easily reachable and I could bring him back to Liverpool after the evening meal. Dave was extremely keen on this idea; for once there was something more important than chess: “It is the camaraderie that I’m looking forward to,” he told me. Alas this small wish never took place and it adds to my sense of loss.



This was not a great time for a power struggle to start within the ECF but it almost came to be; Dave was one of those, respected by the great and good of English chess, who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to stop any split in the organisation at what is a threatening time for the future of the game in Britain.


I have received many tributes relating to Dave’s intelligence, wisdom, wit, strength of his play, thirst for knowledge, thoughtfulness, love of life, entertaining company work on behalf of the chess community, etc. My favourite, slightly off the wall contribution, came from Colm, who thought of Dave “as our [Chester’s] Korchnoi” I can think of no better summary of my dear, sadly missed, friend but can add only that nobody said that they thought he was cocky and thus I was clearly mistaken in 1964.


- John Carleton, 8th March 2022



Dave's funeral took place at Allerton Crematorium at 3pm on March 17th. The family thanked everyone for the kind messages, tributes and cards. The chapel was packed with standing room only. A fitting tribute to a remarkable man who gave so much to his academic life and to chess. Donations to organisations helping the Ukrainian people are welcome.


© 4NCL

Four Nations Chess League

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