Samuel Beckett, contd.

In Samuel Beckett and the Armstrong Cup, I thought I had made an original discovery of Samuel Beckett’s career as a chess player, as chess players would understand the term, in the form of an Armstrong Cup scorecard from the 1925-26 season showing him as playing for Dublin University.

I should have known it wouldn’t be as easy as that. The article Harry Vandervlist, “Beckett, Duchamp and Chess: A Crossroads at Arcachon in the Summer of 1940“, Caliban: French Journal of English Studies 33 (2013) pp. 173-182, says that

“Beckett also took an active part in chess matches with the college 8, playing at number 7 for a couple of years”

citing James Knowlson, Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett (New York: Simon & Schuster 1996) (quotation marks in the article). That book happens to be in my local library, so I’ve requested it and will take a look at what else he says, if anything.

However I’ve found three new scorecards, all from the 1924-25 Armstrong season. Again from An t-Óglách (vol. 3, no. 3, January 31, 1925, p. 16), we have the first Dublin University–National Army G.H.Q. match of the season, played at Griffith Barracks on Tuesday, January 20, 1925:


and from the same journal, vol. 3, no. 6 (March 14, 1925), p. 16, we have details of the return match, played at Trinity on Tuesday, March 10, 1925:


In addition, the Irish Times, December 15, 1924 p. 4 had the scorecard of the Blackrock–Dublin University match played at the Carnegie Library, Blackrock the preceding Saturday:

Blackrock Dublin University     
A. A. MacDonogh 0 – 1 A. Spiro
R. T. Varian 1 – 0 S. G. Eliasoff
J. Gerrard 1 – 0 A. Sachs
C. Pearson 1 – 0 S. B. Weinberger
W. Crawford 1 – 0 E. J. Weinberger
P. J. Gillespie 1 – 0 M. F. Meade
E. Russell 1 – 0 K. B. Cockle
H. F. Penrose 0 – 1 S. B. Beckett
6 – 2

Clearly Beckett played on various different boards, including some well higher than 7. However Blackrock was a much stronger team than National Army G.H.Q., so Dublin University may have fielded a weaker team for the Army matches.

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2 Responses to Samuel Beckett, contd.

  1. Oliver Dunne says:

    Great research! This adds significantly to knowledge of Beckett’s competitive play. Beyond the quote you give, Knowlson’s biography of Beckett does not expand on his Armstrong Cup play (there are many references to chess in the index, but the early references do not seem to add anything of note beyond mention of casual games with his brother Frank etc.). So these early score-cards you have found are a major addition. Also, having his style referred to as one of “unerring steadiness” is the first insight I have come across describing how Samuel Beckett actually played chess. Now if only it were possible to find a score-sheet of one of his games! Literary investigators may have disregarded such items in his personal papers (so some score-sheets may be held in archives). If opponents kept their own score-sheets of games against Beckett, these too may still be extant (but only likely to emerge if the opponents became well-known and their papers were kept). Possible too is if Beckett (or his opponent) played a ‘brilliancy’ or otherwise instructive game and it was published by a columnist of the day.

  2. Philip Reilly says:

    Well hopefully Beckett’s play was nothing like his character, Murphy, in the novel of the same name. Set in an asylum, the game is mad to say the least. Hats off to Elmmount CC for having this to hand.

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