The Kingston Defence revisited

Today I received a Google Alert telling me that a new book is available on a fairly obscure chess opening called the Kingston Defence.  (For those interested, the author is David Robert Lonsdale, and it’s available on eBay for $6.) 

This takes me back 20 years ago, to a time when I was experiencing disturbed sleep patterns due to the recent birth of our son.  We were living in Kingston upon Thames, I had a Sargon chess machine for company and, as I hinted, many wakeful hours in the middle of the night.  24-hour TV, for those without Sky, was still a pipedream.

 Joel Benjamin and Eric Schiller had just written a book (published by Batsford) on Irregular Chess Openings, and perhaps inspired by that, I started doodling with Owen’s Defence (1.e4e6 2.d4b6 3.c4Bb7 4.Bd3f5?!), and wondered whether Black could build a robust defence without fianchettoing his queen bishop.  Out of that came the idea of 1.e4e6 2.d4f5?!, and then it was down to Me versus the Sargon to test the defence.  Several very large sheets of paper were used to record the moves, organise them and, as the sequence was barely covered by the Encyclopedia of Chess Openings, come up a name for the defence.

Initially I came up with ‘Frutch’, because the defence shared some of the characteristics of both the French and Dutch Defences.  We also kept guinea pigs at the time — psychologically, a rehearsal for babies, I suspect — so I probably had the word ‘hutch’ in mind too.  I wrote to Eric Schiller (or was it Joel Benjamin?).  He encouraged me to develop the defence, but suggested that ‘Frutch’ was … well, basically, a crap name.

 If the defence was to amount to anything — and at the time, I was struggling to find a good reply to White’s obvious 1.e4e6 2.d4f5 3.efef 4.Bd3 — it needed also to have a decent name.  A much better name was staring me in the face: the borough in South-West London where we lived at the time.

At the time it seemed that 4…Nc6?! provided an intriguing resource for Black, so I developed that line — again, it was just Me vs Sargon.  A monograph was written, and self-published.  These were the days when ISBNs were still free, although everyone was required to send a copy of  their publication to four or five libraries including the Bodleian and the British Library.  Peter Clarke kindly covered the defence in his chess column in the Sunday Times.  But thereafter I forgot about the defence for 10 or more years.  Childcare somehow seemed more important than playing in chess tournaments.

And then came Internet chess.  Suddenly those wakeful hours in the middle of the night could once again be put to chess purposes.  My work on the Kingston Defence could finally be tested against live opponents, if I could find a copy of my monograph in the attic.  Although the Sargon machine was long lost, I had now acquired a copy of the much more powerful Fritz chess software, which came with the ‘Kasparov Game Over’ DVD.  The program found better moves for both black and white.  In terms of my results, in-depth knowledge of the defence really did seem to be worth the extra 10-20 BCF grade points that chess writers have estimated.

 And then came Wikipedia, WikiChess and the wave of Web 2.0 sites which enable the user to contribute to the building of knowledge bases.  In the era of print-only publishing, a chess opening would only be taken seriously if a grandmaster played it; and given that assiduous amateurs largely tend to play the openings that grandmasters play, it was hard for anyone to find out about new ideas being tried out (but going unrecorded) at the grass roots level.  The wiki concept enables enthusiasts — both experts and non-experts — to get access to a much wider range of material.

 And so it was wonderful today to hear that someone else has developed the Kingston Defence further.  I don’t know whether David Robert Lonsdale has a copy of my monograph — to be frank, I haven’t been a very good book-seller over the years — but I intend to order a copy of his new publication.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by tim sanders on 4 September 2008 at 12:36 am

    Hi Gavin, years ago we discussed the Frutch, and the “Sanders” defense i was working on., 2..f6 preventing Knight advance after a white Nf3.
    We decided it would result in hedgehog-like formations.
    Anyway, i’m trying the kingston in a tourney!


  2. Posted by gavinwilson on 4 September 2008 at 8:06 am

    Tim, many thanks for your comment. Gosh, if we were talking about the ‘Frutch’, it must have been many, many years ago — pre-Internet, possibly pre-email! 2…f6 feels like it would give White immense flexibility, making it very difficult to construct a short move-by-move book on Black’s defence. One of the problems with 2…f5 is that it exposes a hole on e6 which White can control with Nf3-d4-e6. I fear that 2…f6 creates the same weakness and also keeps the Ng8 off its best square on f6.

    Good luck with the match. I play on gameknot, which has a useful openings database demonstrating the success or otherwise of th current line being played.

    Best wishes



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