Reginald Walter Bonham MBE MA

(From the BCA Hall of Fame, 2004.)

This month's inductee was a member of that rare species: a British Corld Champion. And he was a world champ not just once, but six times.

Reginald Walter Bonham MBE MA was the most famous British blind player ever. He was born in St. Neots, Huntingtonshire on 31 January 1906, into a family of master butchers.

Like others in the family, he was born with deficient eyesight. At first the young Bonham was educated locally; but his eyesight deteriorated further, and at the age of 16 he entered Worcester College for the Blind, where he was a pupil from 1922 to 1925 Bonham was an outstanding student academically--and, encouraged by his headmaster (G.C. Brown), he revealed a talent for sports--rowing and particularly chess---for which he conceived a passion which lasted 60 years.

In 1926 he went on to Oxford where he became University champion. He also rowed regularly for his college Eight, and made the final trials for the Oxford crew.

In 1929 he returned to Worcester College for the Blind where he rapidly became a hugely influential force. He taught mathematics and Braille and was an enthusiastic coach at rowing, amateur dramatics, bridge, and of course, chess. Every boy in the school was taught the game by 'Bon' as he was popularly known. The college had four teams in the local and county leagues--both of which they won more than once.

Bonham himself dominated the Worcestershire chess scene for many years--he was county champion twenty times, and Midland champion four times. In 1934, He founded the BCM (the Braille Chess Magazine) which he edited, and mostly wrote, for the next twenty-five years.

After the Second World War, 'Bon' enthusiastically took up correspondence chess. He founded the International Braille Chess Association in 1951 (affiliated to FIDE in 1964) and won its first international championship in 1956. He also entered and won the first Correspondence World Championship for blind players. He then proceeded to win this event on the next five occasions, in the face of fierce competition, particularly from Eastern Europe.

Bonham's memory was prodigious. He had no difficulty taking on ten players at once blindfold, as it were; and he was able to keep the moves of a score of correspondence games in his head, without recourse to a board and men.

Apart from his feats as a player, Bonham will be remembered by older players as the author of two terrific little books, written in co-operation with R.d. Wormald: Chess Questions Answered and More Chess Questions Answered. If you come across either book in a second hand shop--buy it. The passage of time has scarcely dated these two concise gems of effective pedagoguery.

Reading them you can see why Bonham was such a great teacher. We still recall with pleasure soaking up the sections on pawn endings, where the Bonham question and answer technique made clear what had previously been a mystery.

Bonham died on the 16th March 1984. He was remembered by blind and sighted players alike not only for his feats over the chess board, but for his passion for teaching, his energy and his generosity.

The above account owes much to the obituary from the Worcester College Old Boys Journal, kindly provided by Peter Price of Harborne, who was himself a chess pupil of Bonham.

1653 Bonham Continued

We were unable to supply pictures for last month's Hall of Fame inductee R.W. Bonham, but thanks to the Worcestershire Evening News we are now able to show you what he looked like.

Also---thanks again to Peter Price Birmingham for more information on the great blind player. Peter also supplied the information that one of Bonham's party tricks was to calculate 2 to the 64th in his head. If you think that sounds easy--try it some time,

R.D. Wormald by the way, who was Bonham's co-author, taught Latin at the Royal Grammar School, Worcester; while, as we mentioned last time, R.W.B. taught maths at the Worcester College for the Blind.

Following last month's item, our old friend Peter Gibbs sent us a bundle of games he played against Bonham in the fifties, when Peter was one of the strongest players in the Midlands.

Peter generously included some of his losses, but here's a short and sweet game demonstrating that even Bonham occasionally suffered from amaurosis scacchistica:'

The game was played at Bonham's home, on Peter's 21st birthday, in the British Championship Qualifying Competition. Peter recalls that R.W.B. was the most gracious of losers:

Here's the game:

R.W. Bonham White
P.C. Gibbs Black
British Championship Qualifier 1955 King's Indian Defence

1 d4 Nf6 2 Nf3 g6 3 g3 Bg7 4 Bg2 0-0 5 0-0 d6 6 c4 c5 7 Nc3 Nc6 8 h3 Bd7 9 Kh2? cxd4 10 Nxd4 Nxd4 11 Qxd4 Ng4+ 0-1