Nerdy Purdy

As a youngster Cecil John Seddon Purdy moved with his family from Egypt to New Zealand, then to Tasmania, Australia, before they settled in Sydney when he was 12. While in Tasmania one of his classmates was future film star Errol Flynn. He began his chess career at the age of 16 and soon decided to become a full-time chess writer and player.

In 1929 Purdy started the Australasian Chess Review (1929-44), later entitled Check (1944-45) and Chess World (from 1946), which he published continuously until 1967. He competed in two Australian Correspondence championships, winning both. Representing Australia in the first World Correspondence Chess Championship, he surprised the chess world by winning the tournament which ended in 1953. He won the Australian Chess Championship 4 times: 1934, 1936, 1948 and 1951).

Chess Is Life To Mr Purdy

By BETTY BEST, staff reporter

In the past six years the world has been rocked by wars, political purges, and experiments with bigger and better atom bombs. But none of these has been more important to a Sydney family of four than the daily arrival of the postman.

From 1947, when Cecil J. S. Purdy entered the first International Correspondence Chess Championship, until a week ago, when he got the news of his final winning move which brought him the World Championship, the Purdy household in their pretty Greenwich cottage have revolved around a series of carefully set up chess boards.

Children’s examinations, bouts of illness, or the back fence falling down, all seem to have been lost in the whirl of battle which has been just as absorbing for Mrs. Purdy and the two children as it has for the world champion himself.

When I start analysing a game in the light of a latest move from, say, Italy, France, or Sweden, Mr. Purdy told me, I am in another world and the joke is that the family comes with me.

We get more excited than he does, said his wife, smiling happily. I’m so used to organising the household around chess that I really can’t think of doing it any other way now. And I certainly can’t think of anything more important, because to us there isn’t anything.

Mrs. Purdy has been trained to this outlook ever since she can remember. Her father Spencer Crakanthorp, was Australian champion from 1926 to 1930 and she has been playing chess since she was four.

She started much earlier than I did, Mr. Purdy said proudly. I was 14 before I played my first game.

A cat can look at a king when the cat is “Smokey” Purdy. The Purdys always have at least one cat who, before long, takes an interest in the chess board. The family pets have sometimes moved a chessman from a key position while the player’s attention was diverted temporarily.

Mr. and Mrs. Purdy met over a chess board when Mrs. Purdy was eight years old.

It was bound to happen, you see, said Mr. Purdy. I so often played her father.

…when the championship opened in 1947 there were 78 players representing 22 countries, but, of course, all but 14 were eliminated for the finals. I played the most exciting game of my life with Dr. L. Bigot, of France – the one which nearly eliminated me.We started in June, 1947, and didn’t finish until May, 1950. That’s the longest game I’ve ever played – there were 66 moves.

Yes, we were all in such a state of excitement that I really can’t remember what else was happening by the time it finished, put in Mrs. Purdy.

While we remembered that that was the year the Korean war broke out, Mr. and Mrs. Purdy tried to recall what happened on their bit of the home front.

Oh, yes, I remember, said Mrs. Purdy in a casual tone, I went into hospital about then.

A prophecy

BUT remember, Cecil, the exciting thing was that Dr. Bigot wrote you and prophesied that you would become world champion!

Yes, that gave me more confidence than I’d ever had before, he said.

“What else happened that year?” we asked.

Oh, well, the finals were just in their opening stages about that time, so it was a pretty quiet and comparatively unimportant year for us – of course, Diana did get chicken-pox.

After checking dates of prescriptions, Mrs. Purdy realised that Diana’s chicken-pox just about coincided with the birth of Princess Anne and so it couldn’t have been quite such an uneventful year after all.

Our next most exciting moment was in the match with Dr. Napolitano, of Italy, when I made a bad move and gave him a chance to force a draw, Mr. Purdy reminisced. Dr. Napolitano, whose chess style is the most flamboyant I have ever encountered, did not take advantage of the position, and decided to play the game out.

While Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh were touring Canada the Purdy family were wringing their hands at the thought of the disaster that might overtake them from Italy, and son John passed his Leaving Certificate examination with first-class honors in chemistry.

And his first job which he took early in 1952 coincided with my offering a draw to Dr. J. Balogh, of Hungary, Mr. Purdy said.

To the layman, chess has always seemed an interminably slow game, but to the champion there is, if anything, a sense of working against time.

Some nights I was up till all hours trying to make a move in time, Mr. Purdy told me. You see, we were only allowed 30 actual thinking days for every ten moves, and when you have several games going at once it keeps you busy. Do you know that I once worked out that if all the combinations of the game were written down on paper they would cover the whole world to a height higher than Mt Everest!

You see, the whole chain of chess lies in its quality of repose, Mrs. Purdy explained

We’re just a happy, normal family with the addition of a secret which enables us to get away from it all.

Australian Women’s Weekly (1933 – 1982), Wednesday 29 July 1953, page 20

Purdy collapsed on 6 November 1979 while playing in a tournament at the Chess Centre of New South Wales and died that day in Sydney Hospital. Bobby Fischer once quipped that Purdy was one of the best chess teachers in the world and he is still held to be one of chess’s finest writers – here’s an example of Purdy’s chess instruction /writing style:

Potassium Cyanide


After writing all that, I came across a typical illustration

Pattern Of Deadly Danger

First note this simple pattern of two pieces abreast and separated by one square (can be any two pieces). Were you ever told that this was like a label of POTASSIUM CYANIDE?

Every chess student ought to be told. For it is the danger signal of the deadly old pawn-fork; so frequent because there are sixteen pawns. Now look at the position in the game between the winner (Basta) and the runner-up in the recent Victorian championship.

White (Martin Green) must now move his Queen. His e-pawn needs protection. So the alternatives are 24. Qe1 and 24. Qd3.

After 24.Qe1!, threatening to double on the b-file, Green would have had an attack and would very likely have won the Victorian title for the sixth time.

But Green played 24. Qd3??. not seeing the POTASSIUM CYANIDE label; and after 24…f5!, he was condemned to lose material, and the game.

(from: CJS Purdy’s Fine Art of Chess Annotation and Other Thoughts, Volume Two)

Here is the 1947 Bigot v Purdy correspondence game which lasted 3 years and which Cecil described above as ‘the most exciting’ of his life…


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