Jonathan Penrose (1)

I was saddened to hear of the recent death, at the age of 88, of Jonathan Penrose, one of England’s finest ever players, ten times British Champion and, later, one of the world’s strongest correspondence players.

Jonathan was a member of an extraordinary family which excelled in both arts and scientists. His Irish grandfather, James Doyle Penrose, was a noted painter and sculptor. His father, Lionel Penrose, was a psychiatrist and geneticist, and also a strong chess player and problemist. His uncle, Roland Penrose, was an artist particularly associated with surrealism, and a friend of Picasso, amongst many others.

Jonathan leaves two older brothers and a younger sister, all of whom have had distinguished careers in science. Oliver (b. 1929) is a theoretical physicist, and was, like Jonathan, a strong player as a teenager, returning to both over-the-board play (in Scotland) and problems later in life. Sir Roger Penrose (b. 1931) is a mathematical physicist and Nobel Laureate in Physics, perhaps best known for the Penrose Triangle and books such as The Emperor’s New Mind. His sister, Shirley Hodgson (b. 1945) is, like her father, a geneticist, specialising in the genetics of cancer.

He first came to the attention of the chess world in his mid teens, and, at Southsea in 1950, won excellent games against Bogoljubov and Tartakower, displaying a blend of tactics and strategy which was to become his trademark. They’re well worth looking at: the game against Bogo has a particularly fine finish.

It was very clear from these games that we were in the presence of an immensely talented young player who, if he chose to do so, could become one of the best in the world. Which is what he did, but in correspondence rather than over-the-board chess. He chose, understandably and, in my opinion, correctly, to concentrate on his career (he became a psychologist and university lecturer), only playing tournament chess during vacations.

I’ll show you some more of his games and write more about his career over the next few weeks.

Richard James

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Richard James

Author: Richard James

Richard James is a professional chess teacher and writer living in Twickenham, and working mostly with younger children and beginners. He was the co-founder of Richmond Junior Chess Club in 1975 and its director until 2005. He is the webmaster of chessKIDS academy ( or and, most recently, the author of Chess for Kids and The Right Way to Teach Chess to Kids, both published by Right Way Books. Richard has been a member of Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club since 1966. Richard is a published author and his books can be found at Amazon. Richard is currently promoting minichess (games and puzzles using subsets of chess) for younger children through his website, and writing coaching materials for children (and adults) who want to start playing serious competitive chess, through View all posts by Richard James

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