(From The BCA Hall of Fame 2004.)
On 29th August 1924, the chess correspondent of The Times published his report on the Hastings Chess Congress, a tournament that had drawn together many famous names in master chess. At the end of The Times report, after comments on the play of S.Tartakower, G.Maroczy, D.Przepiorka and F.D.Yates, a small note arouses interest:
Who was Rupert Cross and how did he identify himself with the game of chess? These are questions readers would consider in an instant. Pursuing the matter, a researcher encounters tragedy at a very early stage of the boy’s life—yet future successes and victories in the face of ongoing challenges make Rupert Cross’s life one that carries a powerful message.
Alfred Rupert Neale Cross was born on 15 June 1912 in Chelsea, London, into the family of Arthur George Cross, a quantity surveyor from Hastings. At only one year of age, Rupert Cross, the second son, was operated for cancer of the eyes and thereafter became totally blind. The education received from his mother following this sad event was designed to make Rupert self-reliant in spite of his disability and this set of values blended happily with those promoted by Worcester College for the Blind, where Rupert was enrolled to continue his studies.
Worcester College had good reason to be proud of many achievements but its Chess Club, founded in 1913, was particularly remarkable. After being introduced to its members, Rupert Cross was shown how to play the game with a special Braille chess set. He discovered that he did not need to see the chess board and pieces, instead he could use his sense of touch. Indeed the fine tradition and engaging activities of the Club ensured that young Rupert’s interest in chess would grow and grow—the more so that he had role-models in strong players such as R.W.Bonham and T.H.Tylor. And chess became more than just a passing interest: Rupert’s yearning to take part in local championships and constant striving for good results inaugurated an extraordinary journey: a journey to succeed against all odds.
In the mid 20s, before he had the chance to meet the best players in the country, Rupert Cross entered the Boys’ Championship, held as part of the London Chess League Congress.
Then came a unique opportunity to play against one of the leading masters of the world when, in the second half of January 1926, Alexander Alekhine was invited to give a simultaneous display at Worcester College for the Blind. Rupert Cross was one of 16 boys who tried their luck against the famous master as The Times of 29 January reported:
Cross became a favourite of British newspaper columns reporting chess news from the London Chess League. On 4th January 1927, the columnist couldn’t help but offer his sympathy to the same young boy enlisted for the Boys’ Championship:
In December 1928, Worcester College for the Blind was awarded the British Chess Federation School Shield for its excellent chess results in school competitions. Rupert Cross was present at the ceremony and “toasted for the British Chess Federation” immediately after the headmaster of the school had finished his speech - in which he made it very clear that chess was not taught at the College, but rather it had a strong tradition that was vigorously upheld by its enthusiastic members. The afternoon continued with a discussion of Capablanca’s proposals to modify chess, in an effort to avoid the so-called “draw death”, and a couple of games were tried out on the 100 square chess board. Few could have predicted that, in a matter of six months, Rupert Cross would actually cross swords with J.R.Capablanca, former world champion, in London on April 10, 1929:
Rupert’s attempts to score against one of the illustrious chess luminaries of the day registered a success in March 1932 during a simultaneous exhibition given by Sultan Khan, the dazzling Indian chess player brought to England by his patron in order to compete against the best in the world. Sultan Khan faced 15 opponents from Oxford University and won fourteen of them, admitting defeat only to Rupert Cross. By then Rupert had already matriculated as a student of Oxford University, Worcester College and become champion of the Club.
Rupert Cross White
R.W.B. Clarke Black
Oxford University v Cambridge University
55th Annual Match (2nd Board)
21 March 1931
1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 Bd2 0-0 5 e3 b6 6 Nf3 Bb7 7 Bd3 d6 8 0-0 Nbd7 9 a3 Bxc3 10 Bxc3 Ne4 11 Bxe4 Bxe4 12 Nd2 Bb7 13 e4 f5 14 exf5 Rxf5 15 f4 Qh4 16 Qe1 Qh6 17 Nf3 Re8 18 Bd2 Nf6 19 Nh4 Ng4 20 h3 Rh5 21 g3 Rxh4 22 gxh4 Ne3 23 Qxe3 Qg6+ 24 Kf2 e5 25 d5 exf4 26 Qf3 Qf6 27 Qxf4 Qg6 28 Qg5 Qd3 29 Rae1 Rf8+ 30 Kg2 Rxf1 31 Rxf1 h6 32 Qf4 Black resigned.
The Times, March 23, 1931
It was only a matter of time before Rupert would assume the leading role in the University chess team: in March 1933 he won the championship of Oxfordshire with 5| out of seven games and represented Oxford in many inter-varsity and inter-clubs competitions during the early 1930s. In August 1933, the young Oxford chess player entered the British Championship held at Hastings and found hismelf in the company of some very strong players such as Sultan Khan, the British champion, Harry Golombek, C.H.O’D.Alexander, Sir G.A.Thomas and others. Though Sultan Khan did not miss the chance to avenge his defeat of the previous year, Rupert scored the full point against a couple of other strong competitors.
Rupert Cross White
William Winter Black
British Chess Championship
Hastings, 1 August 1933
24 ... Rae8 25 Nf6+ Bxf6 26 Qxf6 Bd5 27 Bxe5 Qxf6 28 Bxf6 Bxe4 29 Bxe4 Rxe4 30 Rcd1 a5 31 c6 Nd6 32 Rxd4 Rxd4 33 Bxd4 Rc8 34 c7 Nc4 35 Re1! Kf8 36 Bc5+ Kg7 37 Re7 Kf6 38 bxa5 Nxa5 39 Rd7 Nc4 40 f4 Ke6 41 Re7+ Kd5 42 Ba7 Nd6 43 Bb8 h5 44 Kf2 b4 45 Rd7 Kc6 46 Rd8 Kb7 47 Ke3? Draw at move 55.
The British Chess Magazine, 1933, page 367
The Times Literary Supplement, giving the score of the next game with extensive notes, remarked that “it was the first time that two old scholars of the Worcester Blind College have ever met in the British Championship”.
Rupert Cross Black
Round Six, British Championship
Hastings, 6 August 1933
1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 exd5 exd5 5 Bd3 Nc6 6 Be3 Nf6 7 Ne2
0-0 8 0-0 Bd6 9 Nb5 Ng4 10 Nxd6 Nxe3 11 Nxf7 Nxd1 12 Nxd8 Nxb2 13 Nxc6 bxc6 14 Nc1 Nxd3 15 Nxd3 Ba6 16 Rfc1 Bxd3 17 cxd3 Rf6 18 Rab1 Re8 19 Kf1 Rfe6 20 Rc2 a5 21 g3 Rf8 22 Kg2 Rfe8 23 Rbb2 Kf8 24 a3 Ke7 25 Rb7 Kd6 26 Ra7 Re2 27 Rxe2 Rxe2 28 Kf3 Rc2 29 Rxa5 c5 30 Rxc5 Rxc5 31 dxc5+ Kxc5 32 Ke3 Kb5 33 Kd4 Black resigned.
The Times Literary Supplement,
September 7, 1933, page 596
Rupert Cross White
Sultan Khan Black
Seventh Round, British Chess Championship
Hastings, 7 August 1933
1 Nf3 d5 2 d4 c6 3 c4 e6 4 e3 Nd7 5 Nc3 f5 6 Ne5 Nxe5 7 dxe5 Bc5 8 cxd5 cxd5 9 Bd2 Bd7 10 Rc1 Rc8 11 Bb5 Nh6 12 Qa4 a6 13 Bxd7+ Qxd7 14 0-0 Ba7 15 Rfd1 Ng4 16 Qb4? Rc4 17 Qb3 Nxe5 18 Ne2 0-0?
(18 ... Rxc1 first was better.)
19 Bc3! Re4
If the knight moves then 20 Qxc4! Black works up an attack for the loss of exchange.
20 Ng3 Ng4 21 Nxe4 fxe4 22 Be1
22 Rf1 was better.
22 ... Qf7 23 Rc2 Nxe3 24 Rdc1 Nxc2 25 Qxc2 h5 For the break-up with h5-h4-h3 and e4-e3 but White’s next move loses a piece straightaway. 26 Qc7 Bxf2+ White resigned.
British Chess Magazine, 1933, p.371
and The Times, August 8, 1933
In 1933 Rupert graduated with a second class degree in Modern History, a disappointment for him. This led to a greater effort towards his studies that was to repay him two years later when he achieved a first class in Jurisprudence. However his diligant study did not lead to any decrease in his interest for chess and in 1934, as well as performing excellently for the Oxford University Team, Rupert again enlisted for the British Championship.
J. M. Craddock White
Rupert Cross Black
Board One, Cambridge -Oxford
58th Annual Varsity Match March, 1934
1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 Nc3 d6 4 g3 Nc6 5 Bg2 g6 6 0-0 Bg7 7 Re1 0-0 8 d4 cxd4 9 Nxd4 Bd7 10 Nce2 Rc8 11 c3 a6 12 Nb3 b5 13 Ned4 Na5 14 Nxa5 Qxa5 15 Nb3 Qc7 16 Be3 Bc6 17 Qd3 Ng4 18 Bd4 Ne5 19 Bxe5 Bxe5 20 Nd4 Bd7 21 Nc2 Be6 22 Ne3 Qc4 23 Qd2 a5 24 Rec1 b4 25 Nd1 Rb8 26 a3 bxc3 27 Nxc3 Qd4 28 Qxd4 Bxd4 29 Bf1 Rxb2 30 Ne2 Rxe2 31 Bxe2 Bxa1 32 Rxa1 Rb8 33 Kf1 Rb2 34 Ke1 Kg7 35 Rc1 Ra2 36 Rc3 a4 37 Bd1 Bb3 38 Bxb3 Rxa3 39 Kd2 Rxb3 40 Rxb3 axb3 41 Kc3 Kf6 42 Kxb3 Ke5 43 f3 Kd4 White resigned.
The Times, March 19, 1934
During the British Championship at Chester, end-July to early August 1934, Rupert Cross managed to defeat some of the strongest players of his day, including William Winter who the previous year had managed to escape defeat.
Rupert Cross White
William Winter Black
Second Round, British Championship
Chester, 31st July 1934 Bogoljubow-Indian Defence
1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nf3 Bb4+ 4 Bd2 Qe7 5 g3 0-0 6 Bg2 Bxd2+ 7 Nbxd2 d6 8 0-0 e5 9 e4 Nbd7 10 d5 a5 11 b3 Ne8 12 a3 g6 13 Ne1 f5 14 Nd3 Ndf6 15 Re1 fxe4 16 Nxe4 Nxe4 17 Bxe4 Qg5 18 Qc1 Qh5 19 f4 Nf6 20 Bg2 Bf5 21 fxe5 Ng4 22 h3 Bxd3 23 hxg4 Qxg4 24 Qe3 Bf5 25 e6 a4 26 Rad1 g5 27 Rf1 axb3 28 e7 Rfe8 29 Rd4 Black resigned.
The Times, August 1, 1934
Rupert Cross White
Gerald Abrahams Black
Round Five, British Championship Chester, 4th August 1934
1 d4 d5 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 c6 4 e3 Nd7 5 Bd3 f5 6 cxd5 cxd5 7 Nf3 Bd6 8 Bd2 Nh6 9 Nb5 Bb8 10 Bb4 e5 11 Nxe5 Nxe5 12 dxe5 Bxe5 13 f4 Bb8 14 Rc1 g6 15 0-0 Kf7 16 Qc2 Ng8 17 Qxc8 Black resigned.
The Times, August 6, 1934
Rupert Cross White
C.H.O’D. Alexander Black
Chester, 7 August 1934
1 d4 Nf6 2 Nf3 g6 3 h3 Bg7 4 Bf4 d6 5 e3 Nc6 6 Bc4 Nd7 7 Bxf7+ Kxf7 8 Ng5+ Kg8 9 Ne6 Qe8 10 Nxc7 Qd8 11 Nxa8 Nf6 12 d5 Nb4 13 c3 Na6 14 Qd4 Nc5 15 b4 Nfe4 16 Qd1 Na6 17 f3 Nxc3 18 Nxc3 Bxc3+ 19 Kf2 Bxa1 20 Qxa1 e5 21 dxe6 g5 22 e7 Qxe7 23 Bg3 h5 24 Qd4 Rh6 25 Rd1 Qf7 26 Bxd6 g4 27 Be5 Be6 28 Qd8+ Kh7 29 b5 Nb4 30 Nc7 gxf3 31 gxf3 Bxh3 32 Qh8+ Kg6 33 Rd6+ Be6 34 Qd8 Kf5 35 Bc3 Nxa2 36 e4+ Kf4 37 Bd2+ Ke5 38 Bxh6 Black resigned.
The Times, August 8, 1934
In September 1934, on the initiative of the National Institute for the Blind, Cross was involved in the making and writing of a quarterly chess magazine for the blind published in Braille. Amongst his contributions was a series of short articles on the Colle system.
Here is a miniature from a subsequent British Championship.
Alf Lenton White
Rupert Cross Black
British Championship 1936
1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 b3 d5 4 Bb2 Be7 5 g3 0-0 6 Bg2 c5 7 cxd5 Nxd5 8 0-0 Nc6 9 Nc3 Nxc3 10 Bxc3 Qc7 11 Qc2 e5 12 b4! cxb4 13 Bxe5 Qb6 14 Bb2 Be6 15 d4? Bxa2! 16 Qe4 f5 17 Qf4 Bd5 18 Ne5 Bxg2 19 Nd7? Qb5 20 Kxg2 Qd5+ and White resigned.
Source: British Blind Play Chess [which appeared on nine cassettes in 1989]
Once he graduated from university, Rupert made up his mind to find a job in the field of law, which he had learned to love in his last years of study. Then in 1937, when articled with a firm of solicitors, he married Heather Chadwick, who was working for another law firm. It seems that it was her enduring support that propelled Rupert towards his future accomplishments.
And so, just as his early academic successes had opened new doors for him, they also now closed a chapter of his life and he was seen less and less in competitive British chess. John Wall, former chess champion of Worcester College for the Blind between 1944 and 1947, remembers what was perhaps one Rupert’s final chess encounters when past and present pupils of Worcester College were engaged in a match. “He beat me soundly!”, John Wall recently wrote us.
Rupert Cross’s entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004) is based on an article signed by Tony Honorè. The article in question relates many of Rupert’s academic achievements, for example:
Such status was recognized by Cross’s election in the Vinearian Chair of English Law at Oxford in 1964, one of the greatest distinctions in the British system of Law which he held for fifteen years. The same Tony Honorè recollected:
As well as gaining many other distinctions in law from Oxford, Edinburgh and Leeds, Cross was awarded a knighthood by the British Monarchy in 1973.
Unfortunately, soon after, the amazing journey of the blind child of Worcester College entered its endgame. In 1973, after 60 years, the cancer returned and Sir Rupert Cross had to battle against it for the rest of his life.
Harry Golombek remembered his chess friend, Rupert, in an article published in The Times of 21 January 1978 when recollecting the happy 1920’s of British chess: “The leaders of British Chess were also present in 1929—established players like F.D. Yates, Sir G.A. Thomas, and those who were to become prominent a few years later, in particular the late C.H.O’D. Alexander and Rupert Cross. The latter is, happily, still with us and is now, as Sir Rupert Cross, a distinguished legal expert, though now plays, so he tells me, only common room chess.
By now, due to the merciless disease, Rupert Cross’s journey was close to an end. He died at Oxford on 12 September 1980 and was to be remembered as one of the greatest authorities in the realm of British law. Perhaps Honorè, who knew Cross, summarized it best:
Very few words in the published obituaries mentioned Rupert Cross’s relationship with chess—the game to which he had applied himself so intensively during his adolescence. A well-written obituary was published by The Times on 15th September 1980 and attracted a multitude of published Letters to the Editor from people who worked or knew Rupert Cross. Nevertheless the obituary did not completely forget Rupert’s early dedication to the game of chess and recollected:
It seems that there is no better way to end this article, dedicated to the chess passion of Rupert Cross, than appeal to the words of his friend, Harry Golombek OBE and former British Champion, who wrote a wonderful passage in an article called “Blind Moves” published in The Times of 24 April 1982. Although no games of Rupert Cross were included, the article underlined the great chess interest and real abilities of blind players. A fragment refers to Cross and indeed the whole article seems to be a chess tribute to him:
Only a wonderful game played by Rupert Cross could match these simple words. The game below was played in the British Championship of 1933 and received high praise as “one of the nicest games in the tournament” from the editors of the British Chess Magazine.
C. H. O’D. Alexander White
Rupert Cross Black
Round Ten, British Championship,
Hastings, 10 August 1933
1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 c5 3 g3 g6 4 Bg2 Bg7 5 Nh3 Nc6 6 b3? d5! 7 Nf4 d4 8 Bxc6+? bxc6 9 Na4 0-0 10 Nd3 Nd7 11 Ba3 e5 12 f3 Re8 13 0-0 e4! 14 Ndxc5 Nxc5 15 Bxc5 exf3 16 exf3 d3! 17 Rc1 Bd4+ 18 Kh1 Bh3! 19 Re1 Qf6 20 f4 Bxc5 21 Nxc5 Qd4 22 Rxe8+ Rxe8 23 Qg1 Qd6 24 Rc3? Re2 25 Nxd3 c5! White resigned.
British Chess Magazine, 1933, p.373
The Times, August 12, 1933
The Times Weekly Edition, October 19, 1933
Copyright 2005 Olimpiu Urcan All Rights Reserved
1925 London: Boys Championship 8th= (scoring +1-1=1 against the three joint winners).
1925 Hastings: Boys Championship 5th with 2/5 in the preliminaries. Prizewinner in consolation finals.
1926 London: Boys Championship 7th with 4|/9 (+2-1 against the three joint winners!).
1926 Hastings: Boys Championship Qualified for 3rd section of the final but was then knocked out.
1927 London: Boys Championship Scored 4/7 in the preliminaries and won overall 5th prize after scoring 2/3 in a final graded section of four.
1928 London: Boys Championship Won preliminary section jointly with 5/6. 4th in the Final after scoring 1/3.
1928/29 Hastings Major Reserves 4|/9 - 5th place.
1929 Hastings: Boys Championship 1= in preliminary group but lost play off and failed to qualify for top final group. 3rd= in consolation Section.
1929 British Championship in Ramsgate: First Class A (third strongest section) 2nd with 8/10.
1929/30 Hastings Major B (fourth strongest section) 6th= with 4/9.
1930/31 Hastings Major B 2nd with 6|/9 behind R.W.B.Clarke, creator of the British grading system and father of British Home Secretary Charles Clarke.
1931 British Championship in Worcester: Major Open 9th= with 4/11 (drew with winner, Vera Menchik)
1931/32 Hastings Major A (one class below the Premier reserves!) 3rd= with 5|/9 behind Belgian internationals Soultanbeiff and Sapira, against whom he scored =1 +1 respectively.
1932 Cambridge Major A (second group - Sultan Khan won the top event) 3rd with 4|/7 behind joint winners Golombek and Koltanowski.
1932 British Championship in London: Major Open 3rd behind Koltanowski and Menchik, scoring 7/11.
1933 British Championship in Hastings 9th scoring 4/11 (defeated C.H.O’D Alexander)
1933/34 Hastings Premier Reserves 7th= with 3|/9 (defeated Dutch inter-national Prins)
1934 British Championship in Chester 4th= with 6|/11 behind Sir George Thomas, Fairhurst and Michell. Drew with Thomas, Fairhurst, Golombek, defeated Alexander, Winter, Tylor, Abrahams.
1934/35 Hastings Premier Reserves 6th= with 4/9 (Koltanowski and Tylor 1st=)
1935 British Championship in Yarmouth 10th with 3|/11
1935/36 Hastings Premier Reserves Section II 8th= 3|/9 (defeated joint winners Lenton and Ritson Morry and also Koblents of Latvia)
1936 British Championship in Bournemouth 9th= 4|/11.
1937 Worcester City Chess Club Centenary Withdrew with influenza after starting with |/2. Lost to joint winner Guimard of Argentina.
Copyright 2005 Urcan Olimpiu All Rights reserved.