by Brian Denman & Marc Bryant
Frank Arthur Rhoden died on 2nd July 1981 in hospital after a
short final illness
Frank was born in Lee, South East; London, on 24th July 1906 and learned to play
chess at an early age. While never in the top flight he became nonetheless a
strong player delighting in the more romantic openings.
Before 1939, apart from playing for the Bohemians in the London League, he helped to found clubs in Manor House and at Marconi Limited (where he worked). He served in the
R.A.F. during the Second World War and after that qualified as a teacher. His work brought him to Hastings, which he loves wholeheartedly as he soaked himself in its wonderful chess
The first record that I can find of him being a member of the club is in 1948. In his early years he became club librarian and a team captain and was quite successful in his games over the board. He sometimes tried unusual openings and you will see that in the game against Finch played in 1959 he answered the Ruy Lopez with 3…g5.
In 1953/54 he became both chess columnist for the Hastings and St Leonards Observer and congress director – in both cases he took over from A A Rider.
The Christmas Congress at the time was in some danger and he quickly breathe new life into it restored its prestige as nearly all the strongest players of the world took part in the Premier tournament during his fifteen-year tenure of office. It had been several years since a Russian star had played in the Premier and in the 1953-54 Congress he brought a lot of interest to the town by managing to persuade both Bronstein and Tolush to compete. Rhoden obviously was very good at making them feel welcome and the Russian party of four were invited to watch Hastings United’s FA Cup tie against Norwich.
The arrival of the grandmasters was not, however, without controversy. Rhoden had invited a Spanish master, Roman Bordell to play in the Premier, but the Russians declared that they would not compete if there were ‘Fascist’ entrants. At this Rhoden cancelled Bordell’s invitation and the Spanish Chess Federation broke off relations with their British counterpart!
It is a pity that the great Bobby Fischer never played in a Hastings Congress. In 1956 when Fischer was 13 Rhoden sent an invitation to America. At first the Americans did not have sufficient funds to send him to Britain. Then by the time the money was available Rhoden had filled all 10 places in the Premier. This did not go down well in New York and the New York Times produced a headline: “Youth Denied Place in Chess.” In 1957 Rhoden again invited Fischer to play in the Premier and this time Fischer accepted. However, later he changed his mind and told Rhoden that he preferred to play in the Rosenwald Tournament. In the Hastings and St Leonards Observer of 16.11.1957 Rhoden wrote: “When I think of the letters I’ve written, the telephone calls I’ve made, and the precious time I’ve wasted over this boy, I feel that a hearty smack where his jeans fit tightest wouldn’t come amiss!
When he took over the chess column, Frank brought renewed interest in the game and he had a pleasant English style. He was particularly good at producing pen pictures of club members and he understood their human strengths and weaknesses in a touching way. He was only occasionally controversial and was quite unlike Edward Ackroyd, who wrote the column in the early 1920s. Rhoden wrote about this predecessor of his in the Hastings and St Leonards Observer of 27.6.1981 describing him as ‘a minor master of invective and abuse’. Some of Rhoden’s articles stand out and I should like to mention here his account of the Hastings CC tour of Europe in 1903 (Hastings and St Leonards Observer of 15.8.1953), his article about
, the 1895 Hastings International Tournament (Hastings and St Leonards Observer of 5.1.1974) and the descriptions of the club visits to Wormwood Scrubs and Maidstone Prison (Hastings and St Leonards Observer of 8.10.1966 and 16.12.1972 respectively). He was very loyal to the club, though there was little information about the rest of Sussex in his articles.
In the Hastings and St Leonards Observer of 14.1.1956 Rhoden stated that for a long time he had been considering writing a history of the club. He would, however, hate to turn out a lifeless official history and added that he could not write this fascinating story from club minutes as they contain ‘only the skeleton of the club’s body’.
Finally, Brian would like to mention a chess article in the Hastings and St Leonards Observer of 18.4.1981. It is reported there that the club had its youngest ever match captain, 20-year-old Marc Bryant, under whose guidance the club had played 23 matches with 17 wins, 3 draws and 3 losses.
Hastings Observer was, for nearly 30 years, one of the best in the country.
Frank was a great communicator. he wrote about the game, broadcast number of
talks on the BBC radio chess programme of the 1960’s and had a great fund of stories.
Everything he did was in his own inimitable style (we recall his cabling direct to Khrushchev in 1953 when sending invitations to Soviet players companied by a remark that you
didn’t address the monkey when the organ-grinder was available!
In 1967/68 Rhoden was unhappy that 30 out of 45 games were drawn and considered resigning as Director. He ran one more congress, but felt that he had lost his freshness as organiser. Laurie Glyde took over Frank’s post after that
He had a stroke in June 1980, but carried on writing articles for about a year after that
The Hastings and St Leonards Observer of 27.12.1984 stated that playing a game with Frank Rhoden was a nerve-racking experience, for he simply could not bring himself to sit still at the table for more than five minutes together. He may not, however, have been like this in his early days at the club.
British chess has once again been diminished by the loss of one of its
Chess, and Hastings in particular, owes Frank Rhoden a debt.
¬ (The character of the man comes a through in the last long
articles he wrote which appeared in the BCM 1981 June page 198