Spirit of Atticus


Liverpool European Capital of Culture 2008

Dedicated to the 'Spirit of Atticus'

John Eric Littlewood (25th May 1931 - 16th September 2009)



20th September 2009

A personal appreciation of John Littlewood by John Carleton


It was with great sadness that I learned of the death of John Littlewood this week. His loss to the world of chess is immense. At the personal level I have found his passing distressing but am grateful for having known him and the many happy memories he has left me.



John Littlewood at the 4NCL, May 2006


Download these games in PGN

Over the years I usually found myself in an opposing team to John; we were briefly team-mates at Atticus, for Lancashire and latterly for North-West Eagles but frequently we found ourselves in different camps. As a result I have played John dozens of times, over fifty serious games, far more than against any other opponent; I doubt that he played anyone more than he played me either. I can honestly say that there was never a disagreement [except perhaps on the best move in a given position, and where there is disagreement in such matters I would advise the neutral to back John L's judgement] in the many years I knew him.


I am sure the overwhelming majority of the chess community will have had similar experiences of this fine sportsman and gentleman. I remember my first competitive game against John [in the British Team Lightning Championship]. I was a junior at the time and John was of course well known to me, both through his many published games which showed his dynamic style [Jago v Littlewood enclosed was one such example that captured my imagination and that of many of my generation] and through having seen him play, from the safety of the junior sections, in the British Championship.


In our game, I was white in a Lopez and soon had an overwhelming position; suddenly, it was all change and John's position sprang to life, a knockout blow soon followed. What makes the experience stick in my mind was the fact that John, rather than rushing off to rejoin his team-mates, stayed at the board, showed me how I might have won, showed some other defensive ideas I would have had to work hard to conquer, congratulated me warmly on my play and commiserated with me on my loss. This had a profound effect on this [then] young player but such behaviour typified John; he believed that the ability to enjoy chess is one of life's great gifts and he was totally unstinting in his efforts to spread the good news.



John Littlewood and John Carleton

played over 50 games against each other


Mikhail Tal

With John I occasionally discussed some contemporary drama or other or maybe the latest political crisis but mainly it was chess. The perfect illustration of this was a day that John, John Ripley and myself spent as adjudicators at the British Primary School's Championship. This involved, for us, a flurry of intense activity every two hours or so but lots of waiting around in between. In these gaps it was chess all the way, which meant it was John L all the way: he regaled us with anecdotes, games, positions, puzzles and the joy of the greatest mind-game ever.


His indefatigable enthusiasm was a way of life for John. He was compared to Tal [famously "LittleTal" in an annotation of his game against Botvinnik in Chess magazine, met by the equally famous addition by editor B.H.Wood "We consider LittleWood perfectly adequate"] and indeed the only comparable time to that day with John L was a long night with Mikhail Tal, also in the company of John Ripley, when the brilliant Latvian entertained and bamboozled us with his wit and love of chess. The only real difference between the two experiences was, for reasons relating to Tal's lifestyle preferences, that Rippo and I woke up with terrible hangovers after this particular adventure.


Doubtless, everyone will have their own memories of John, but maybe I could share a story that the late Mike Price used to tell in a compelling Scouse mixture of incomprehension, affection and admiration: Mike stayed with the Littlewoods at the British Championship in Coventry; on the day in question John had been beaten by one of the strong Cambridge players of the day, Richard Eales, I believe. John had played one of his wonderfully thematic games but things had gone wrong. That evening, during the customary study of his [and everyone else's games] no clear win was found for John. In due course the assembled company retired to bed, but after an hour or so Mike was wakened by an excited John and an equally excited Paul; "24.... Qc2, I should have played Qc2 " and "Yes Dad, I think you're right!". The chess set was retrieved, the energised John and Paul accompanied by the drowsy Mike established that, yes that was how John could have won, and then, as you do, everyone went back to bed.


They say that great players often win without apparently trying. The two games enclosed (above), selected at random from my chaotic storage system, go one better than that, they make it look as though John's hapless opponent wasn't trying [I was!]. The final game was hot stuff at the time and has very fond memories for me, for I won practically the identical game some 30 years later.


Already I miss this wonderful man. My thoughts are with John's family at this sad time.


John Carleton




John's funeral will take place on Thursday 24th September at 3pm at St Helen's Crematorium, Rainford Road, St Helens, WA10 6DF (01744 677406). This will be followed by a reception, to which all are invited, at Holland Hall Hotel, Lafford Lane, Upholland, Lancs WN8 0QZ www.hollandhallhotel.co.uk (01695 624426).


Family flowers only but donations in lieu of flowers to ARLAP please www.arlap.org.uk 



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