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Atkins - Napier British Championship play-off
Compiled by Chessical


This match of four games was to decide the 1904 British Chess Federation Championship (which had been held from 22nd August - 3rd September). It was a play-off between William Ewart Napier, aged 23, and Henry Ernest Atkins, aged 32. Napier and Atkins had tied at 8˝ points each, having quickly drawn their individual game.

They finished a point ahead of Joseph Henry Blackburne whom Atkins had defeated and with whom Napier had drawn. They had played each other only once previously, in 1902, also with a drawn result.

"At a meeting of the British Chess Federation in Hastings in August, the title of chess champion of England, together with a gold medal, could not be conferred as there was a tie between Napier and Atkins. These two masters have now again met at Hastings to decide the tie by a series of four games." (1)

The match took place from 2nd to 5th January 1905 in Hastings, England. The venue was the Queen's Hotel and was held "under the auspices of the Hastings Chess Club." (2)

"The meeting of Mr Atkins and Mr Napier at Hastings this week to play off their tie for Federation Amateur Trophy will make an interesting opening for the chest of the New Year..." (3)


1904 was the inaugural British Chess Federation championship. Atkins would go on to dominate the event in the first decade of the Twentieth century. He won the championship at:

1905 Southport
1906 Shrewsbury
1907 London
1908 Tunbridge Wells
1909 Scarborough
1910 Oxford
1911 Glasgow

and then after the First World War he would win twice in a row at:

1924 Southport
1925 Stratford on Avon.

Despite his obvious strength and good results in the few international tournaments he took part in, his profession was firmly set in teaching.

"Mr Atkins was born in 1872 at Leicester, where as a schoolboy of 12, he first became interested in chess. Three years later he joined the Leicester Chess Club and his progress was so rapid that when he 17 he was playing top board. In 1890 he entered Peterhouse College, Cambridge, and during his four years’ residence there he played a large number of matches, losing only one game.

Mr Atkins’ excellent performance at Hastings in 1895, where he won his section and finally came out third, Geza Maroczy being first and Lomas second, gave him the title of Amateur British Champion, as the first and second men were debarred by nationality from holding that proud position. Four years later, in 1899 Mr Atkins made his first appearance in Continental chess at the Amsterdam International Amateur Tournament - Game Collection: Amsterdam 1899 - where he succeeded in defeating every one of his fifteen opponents. Perhaps Mr Atkins' finest achievement was at 13th DSB Kongress (Hanover) (1902), where in a tournament confined to the world's masters he came out third with 11˝ points behind Harry Nelson Pillsbury (13˝) and David Janowski (12).

Below the Englishman were such masters as Jacques Mieses, Napier, Mikhail Chigorin, Frank James Marshall, Isidor Gunsberg, Heinrich Wolf, Heinrich Wolf and James Mason. Mr Atkins has played in nine of the cable matches with America and can show a score of 4 wins, 3 losses and 2 draws. In the British Chess Federation Congress, he tied with Napier at Hastings in 1904 and lost the play-off by the one game. Since then, however, he has won the Championship every year with highly commendable regularity. Mr Atkins' quiet and modest demeanour, combined with gentle geniality, has won him a host of friends, and during his residence in Northampton as Mathematical Master at the Grammar School, he took so great an interest in local chess that his influence is felt even now. He was greatly missed when left here for the Wyggeston School, Leicester. Now, however, Mr Atkins is Headmaster of Huddersfield Grammar School and has become a tower of strength to the local chess club." (4)


Although born in London, his family emigrated to the United States when he was 5 years old.

1904 to 1905 was a period of intense chess activity for Napier. He returned to England in 1904 having developed into a strong player in New York. Napier won the Brooklyn Chess Club championship when only 15 years old. In 1906 he defeated Marshall, then New York State Junior Champion, Napier - Marshall (1896) by 8˝ to 2˝.

He came second with the prominent American master Eugene Delmar a distance behind Harry Nelson Pillsbury at the American Master's Tournament - Buffalo (1901). Napier took part in Monte Carlo (1902) coming eleventh out of twenty players, and at 13th DSB Kongress (Hanover) (1902) he came fifth equal and was awarded the Baron Rothschild brilliancy prize for Von Bardeleben vs W Napier, 1902.

Napier then returned to the United States to play at Cambridge Springs (1904) but had a disappointing result coming thirteenth out of sixteen.

His accomplishments were sufficient to gain a place in the inaugural 1904 British championship.

"Napier's record is well known. He is a very young man and since his arrival in England last autumn he must have been almost satiated with victory. In the National tournament at the City of London Chess Club he came out first, half a point above Richard Teichmann but in the Rice Gambit tournament at the London Criterion Teichmann, a master of much experience, whose health has not always permitted him to do full justice to his powers, was well ahead." (5)

Progress of the match

1 2 3 4 Atkins ˝ 0 ˝ ˝ 1˝ Napier ˝ 1 ˝ ˝ 2˝


Progressive score

1 2 3 4 Atkins ˝ ˝ 1 1˝ Napier ˝ 1˝ 2 2˝


The Games

Game 1

This was a steady game in which Napier defended a Queen's Gambit with <dxc4>, <b5>, <a6> and then <c5>.

click for larger view

"THE BRITISH CHESS CHAMPIONSHIP. Atkins and Napier, who tied for first place the recent Hastings Chess Tournament, met yesterday at the Queen's Hotel, Hastings, and entered upon the first of four games, to be played on consecutive days, to decide the British chess championship. Play began late and lasted three hours. Atkins had the move and selected Queen's Gambit, which Napier declined. Careful play by both men resulted in a draw being agreed upon, after thirty moves, with a knight and six pawns each." (6)

"The first (game) was played yesterday. Atkins adopted the Queen's opening. He played in a non-aggressive manner, the result being a draw after 31 moves, with a knight and six pawns each." (7)

Game 2

Atkins, as Black, played a King's Gambit Declined extremely poorly and lost barely out of the opening.

"THE BRITISH CHAMPIONSHIP. The second game in the British Chess Championship at Hastings was resumed yesterday. Napier was the first player and opened with the King's Gambit, which Atkins declined. Atkins did not appear in his best form, and the finish was rather sensational. At the seventeenth move, Atkins resigned.

click for larger view

This unexpected early finish was a great disappointment to the onlooking chess players, who included Mr Horace Chapman, the Hastings President. Score: Napier 1 and 1 draw. The third game will be played today." (8)

Game 3

Napier played accurately as Black and accrued an advantage out of the opening, Atkins having played rather passively.

click for larger view

He then prematurely exchanged Queens and Atkins was able to hold on for a draw.

Game 4

Atkins, a game down and with the Black pieces, attempted to ensure the game was unbalanced and complex. He played an irregular Indian system of defence:

click for larger view

Atkins accepted a double <e> pawn for control of the <d> and <f> files, but neither player gained an advantage.

"The fourth and final game for the British Chess Championship, between Napier and Atkins, was played at Hastings Thursday. Napier opened and selected Queen's Gambit. Atkins's defence was peculiar and irregular. The game proceeded slowly and eventually, after the 41st move, it resulted in a victory for Napier (sic, in the match not in this game which was a draw - ed.), who won the cup and British championship by a total of 2˝ games to 1˝. Of the four games played only one was won. Atkins resigning at the 17th move Tuesday. Though Mr Atkins, who was formerly master at Northampton School, was not successful in winning the championship, he is to be congratulated on the excellent stand he made. I hear that is not in really first-class form just now." (9)

"Napier becomes the British champion as well as the amateur champion, having won the Newnes Cup, also." (10)

Contemporary reaction

"It cannot be said that the contest between Atkins and Napier at Hastings last week to decide their tie for the Federation Championship was quite satisfactory, either as a test of skill or as an exhibition of play. The great ability of the rivals led to anticipations of a spirited encounter, and there is sufficient indication of their equality in the fact that three of their four games were drawn. It is a pity that issue should have been determined by the game given below (game 2 - e.d), which, though it embodies some amusing tactics and was well conducted by Napier, is on the whole beneath the standard that one expects from a meeting of such importance. To offer the King's Gambit was a bold strategy on the part of Napier, doubtless induced by the consideration that his opponent's style is more suited such sound openings the Ruy Lopez and the Queen's Gambit. Atkins was either unfamiliar with the defence or was tempted to try something new, with the result that his position was so compromised after the fourth move that he never had a chance of making a fight.

By winning the Federation Championship Napier has proved himself to be most successful player of the season, having also gained the first prize and the Amateur Championship in the tournament of the City of London Chess Club. Though he did not win the Rice Gambit tournament of the Metropolitan Chess Club (Teichmann having been first), Napier distinguished himself introducing the most effective defence that has yet been devised against Professor Rice's invention.

It is evident, indeed, that we have in Napier player of exceptional capacity and brilliance, and wish that if it were possible to claim him as a thoroughly English player, but all his practice was obtained during his long residence America, to which country it said that may return after having swept the board of English championships. In that case, his successes may scarcely be gratifying to British vanity; but we still hope that he may remain as an acquisition to the land of his birth. Mr Napier spent the Christmas holidays in Devonshire, and during his stay found time visit various clubs in West of England, giving simultaneous displays at Reading, Taunton, and Plymouth, and at Falmouth, where he succeeded in winning 19 and drawing 1 out of 20 games played." (11)

After this match, in February 1905, Napier lost a match to Teichmann (+5,-1,=5) - Game Collection: Napier - Teichmann - in Glasgow. In March 1905, he tied a match with Mieses held in Hastings Mieses - Napier (1905) (+4,-4,=2), before returning to the United States. Perhaps it was around this time that Napier decided that working in the insurance business was a more dependable livelihood than the precarious lot of a chess master?


(1). "Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer", Tuesday 3rd January 1905, page 10.

(2). "Pall Mall Gazette", Saturday 7th January 1905, page 11.

(3). "Morning Post", Monday 2nd January 1905, page 3.

(4). "Northampton Mercury", Friday 14th January 1910, page 11.

(5). "Woolwich Gazette", Friday 24th February 1905, page 6.

(6). "London Daily News", Tuesday 3rd January 1905, page 11.

(7). "Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer", Tuesday 3rd January 1905, page 10.

(8). "Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer", Wednesday 4th January 1905, page 12.

(9). "Northampton Mercury", Friday 6th January 1905, page 5.

(10). "The Field", Saturday 7th January 1905, page 33.

(11). "Morning Post", Monday 9th January 1905, page 3.


User: Chessical - original text and compilation.

Game 1
H E Atkins vs W Napier, 1905 
(D60) Queen's Gambit Declined, Orthodox Defense, 30 moves, 1/2-1/2

Game 2
W Napier vs H E Atkins, 1905 
(C30) King's Gambit Declined, 17 moves, 1-0

Game 3
H E Atkins vs W Napier, 1905 
(C49) Four Knights, 41 moves, 1/2-1/2

Game 4
W Napier vs H E Atkins, 1905 
(A46) Queen's Pawn Game, 41 moves, 1/2-1/2

4 games

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