Sunday 7 January 2018

Michael Basman and Better Chess

Michael Basman, the industrious chess organiser, promoter, trainer and author, wrote and published a number of chess books in the 1970's and 1980's. He also translated and edited Tigran Petrosian: his Life and Games by V. Vasiliev, published in 1974.

Furthermore, Basman edited and published a little known series of chess magazines, all aimed at the novice and club player, starting with Rabbit's Review in 1978, which ran for 21 issues until 1982, followed by Popular Chess; 15 issues from 1982 to 1987. 

Andy Lusis, in his Annotated Bibliography covering the years 1969 to 1988, confirms the 21 numbers of Rabbit's Review but was unsure of the extent of Popular Chess having examined numbers 3, 4 and 5 only. De Felice's Chess Periodicals gives full details of both magazines.

However, neither of these bibliographies mentions Basman's next magazine, Better Chess which superseded Popular Chess and ran for just 3 issues from April 1988 to August 1989. Better Chess is also absent from the British Library, National Library of the Netherlands, and the Cleveland Public Library.

I do not have any copies of Rabbit's Review or the final issue of Popular Chess so I do not know why there was a succession of similar magazines with different titles. I do, however, have the three issues of Better Chess.

There is no introduction to this "new" magazine of 20 pages, which launched with a six page article by Basman on the O'Kelly variation of the Sicilian Defence. Ever the proponent of off-beat openings, Basman explains the O'Kelly in his typically enthusiastic manner.

The remainder of Issue 1 consists of annotated games, two by Victor Mathias and three of Arjun Panchapagesan's wins from the recent London Junior Championships where he won the under 14 title.

A short note on the final page sets out the ancestry and aims of Better Chess:

Issue 2 was published five months later in September 1988, and the 20 pages include four games by amateurs with comments on almost every move, and a Choose Your Move! quiz with marks awarded for various move choices. 

Issue 3 came out a year later in August 1989 and, in his editorial, Basman confirmed that this would be the final issue as he no longer had time to write, print and market the magazine. He also disclosed that readership of the series had fallen from 450 to 200. It was hoped, however, that the magazine would continue under the editorship of Victor Mathias.

Issue 3 was enlarged to 44 pages to include 15 pages of Basman's games from the East Ham Quick Play tournament. 

And so floundered another worthy chess periodical through lack of time, material, subscribers, financial viability etc. It seems that only Baruch H. Wood succeeded in maintaining a continuous long running chess magazine as a one man show with his Sutton Coldfield Chess, which he edited from its inception in 1935 until 1987,  and to see how he achieved this you must read his obituary in the British Chess Magazine for May 1989, pages 210-211.

Basman's magazine was resurrected in January 1990 under the general editorship of Victor Mathias with Basman as consultant. The name reverted to Popular Chess and the magazine was published quarterly until at least 1997. 

                                     © Michael Clapham 2018


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