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Tony Miles (1955-2001)

Tony Miles 1955-2001

Tony Miles 1955-2001

Tony Miles 1955-2001 |

It is scarcely believable that it is 10 years since English Chess lost its first Grandmaster Tony Miles who died at the age of 46 on November 12th 2001. A creative and original player he blazed the trail for English chess which didn't have a tradition of professional players. Read Malcolm Pein and Mike Fox's tribute from a decade ago.

Tony Miles 1955-2001

An appreciation by Malcolm Pein

Tony Miles.

Tony Miles. Photo ©

The sudden and untimely death of Tony Miles at the age of just 46 has come as a terrible shock and is a huge loss to the British chess community. He became Britain's first ever Grandmaster 25 years ago and his success and dedication as a chess professional was one of the catalysts for what later became known as the 'English Chess Explosion'.

Every top player in the UK owes him a debt of gratitude and a generation of British players were inspired by his example, I certainly was. Miles spearheaded a new generation of young English players whose rise led eventually to Nigel Short's march to the World Championship final in 1993 and England's status in the 1980s as the second chess nation behind the Russians.

Tony died peacefully in his sleep at his home in Birmingham after a short illness connected with diabetes which had been diagnosed two or three years ago. He was found by an old school friend who had come to pick him up for a game of bridge. He had been playing actively until very recently, at the British Championships and the 4NCL but had not been in the best of health.

He came to prominence as British under fourteen champion in 1968 and by 1970 he was probably the strongest player in the British Midlands. Like generations after him he cut his teeth on the weekend circuit and regularly won the Grand Prix.

When he won a junior tournament at Nice in 1971 ahead of the then reigning World Junior Champion Werner Hug, Leonard Barden was convinced that he should play in the next World Junior Championships but England already had another outstanding prospect in Michael Stean who would be over the age limit the year after.

The only way to secure two entries was to host the event and of course the BCF did not have the funds. Fortunately the financier Jim Slater, not for the first time, came to the rescue and offered half the money required. The present BCF President Gerry Walsh secured support from local government in Teeside in the North East of England. Miles and Stean both defeated the Soviet representative Alexander Belyavsky but Miles finished second with Stean third.

Miles was determined to succeed and next year he travelled to Manila where Florencio Campomanes was staging the World Junior and came back with the gold medal. Miles and trainer Bernard Cafferty had to wade through flood waters to get to some of the games. According to Leonard Barden, Campomanes had been the under-bidder the year before when the tournament went to England.

The decisive moment was Miles' crushing dismissal of the Soviet representative Alexander Kochiev with the Sicilian Dragon, which Miles was later to hone into a deadly weapon at the top level.

Tony Miles.

Tony Miles. Photo ©

This success convinced Miles to become Britain's first post-war native-born professional chess player and he gave up his studies at Sheffield University. Some of Miles' fellow students at Sheffield such as GM Tony Kosten also became chess pros after finishing their studies and the university later awarded Miles an honorary MA.

He was already in the race to become Britain's first GM thanks again to Jim Slater who is also credited with saving the Spassky-Fischer match in 1972. Slater offered £5000 to the first player to qualify for the GM title over the board.

In February 1976 Miles received an invitation to a tournament at Dubna, a bleak snowbound scientific centre in Russia. He had little time to prepare but incredibly, he scored enough points to secure the GM title and pip rivals Raymond Keene and Bill Hartston.

The BCF had asked him to send a telegram if he was successful at Dubna and an envelope duly arrived in Hastings the next day which read " A (stop) Telegram (stop) " Miles' sense of humour and absence of respect for chess politicians and indeed any kind of authority were his most endearing features to his fellow players to his last day. His writings on the game were always a joy to read, witty and acerbic in equal measure particularly on the subject of Fide or tournament organisers.

For the next ten years Tony was near the top of world chess and defeated a whole host of Soviet players including former world champions Mikhail Tal, Vassily Smyslov, Boris Spassky and Anatoly Karpov. He also developed a penchant for playing unusual openings to avoid the Soviet's home preparation and his most celebrated success came in 1980 when he defeated Karpov in the European Team Championships with 1.e4 a6!? This amazing idea was later named the St George's Opening in honour of Miles' birthday of April 23.

Tony's downfall came in the mid 1980s after a dispute with Ray Keene over a fee paid to Keene by the BCF for assisting Miles at an Interzonal. Tony always insisted Keene had not acted for him and he returned half the money, which he said was given to him by Keene, to the BCF.

This affair scandalised British Chess. Keene threatened to sue but never did and then resigned from the BCF. A huge article by the respected Sunday Times ( The sister paper of the London Times ) Insight Team was published. The affair took a terrible toll on Tony who was already upset at his loss of status as England's number one in the wake of Nigel Short's rise. Tony's mental state worsened, his behaviour became erratic and he became paranoid, convinced Keene was trying to kill him. This paranoia convinced him to leave the country. Before he left he spent a couple of days at my flat in North London 'hiding out'.

To this day I don't know why he chose to stay with me, perhaps I was the only chess player with a spare room, but it was a weird time. I had no first hand experience of dealing with people in this condition so I just looked after him as best I could without realising properly the seriousness of the situation. One thing I do recall was that we never even looked at a chessboard the whole time he was with me.

Tony's stay in the USA was brief and later he went to Australia but eventually he returned to Birmingham and for the last ten years he was one of the most active players on the UK and world circuit. With the advent of the 4NCL in the 1990s we actually got to see more of him and he began to write more in the chess press. Although he never quite recaptured the form of old he remained a formidable opponent. In particular his instinct and skill in quiet positions never deserted him.

I recall in 1995 watching in awe with a packed audience as he outplayed Vladimir Kramnik from a totally level position in a Pseudo Trompovsky (1.d4 d5 2.Bg5) at the Intel Speed Chess Grand Prix in London. He got a standing ovation and punched the air in delight. I couldn't help thinking how he had toppled another great Russian player with a quintessentially English opening variation that would have provoked mirth and hilarity in Moscow had anyone proposed it.

Miles inspired us because he showed that the Soviets were not invincible, he was never afraid, rarely took draws and often played more moves than anyone else in a tournament and scored many a win due to his sheer determination. There was a minute's silence before yesterday's seventh round at the European Team Championships at Leon but his absence will be felt for many years.

Malcolm Pein London Chess Center

Tony Miles.

Tony Miles. Photo © John Saunders.

Mike Fox writes

One part of Tony Miles' life that isn't generally known is his eagerness to help young chess players. For the last ten years, Tony had been President, coach, adviser, arbiter, giver out of prizes, putter away of sets and Jack of all trades at Checkmate, Birmingham's Junior Chess club. In addition to brilliant coaching of young superstars like Ameet Ghasi and British Girls' champion Sabrina Chevannes, Tony was always ready to sit down with an awe-struck ten year old beginner and explain the knight's move. And all this he - a professional chess player - did for free. A brilliant, funny, kind, lovable and generous man, he will be missed by chess players young and old.

Mike Fox is co-author of the 'Complete Chess Addict' who contributes the Addicts Column in Chess Monthly and a junior organiser in Birmingham.

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