In memory of Dr Chess
Dr Maxwell Sturm at the chessboard.
Of all the players who held the title of national chess champion of
Trinidad and Tobago, Dr Maxwell Sturm occupies a unique and distinguished
place. Apart from his exploits over the chessboard at home and in the
Caribbean, Dr Sturm was also a correspondence player of international repute
and a prolific, informed and regular contributor to correspondence chess
magazines in several countries.
Born in Brittany, France, of British parents who were both doctors, Dr
Sturm led a fascinating life and will be remembered in T&T, his adopted
home, not only for his chess prowess but also for his contribution to
medicine and the nursing facility he established at the picturesque Bagshot
mansion in Maraval where he and his family also lived.
Sturm bought the Edwardian great house shortly after he settled in T&T in
the 1940s, thus immediately establishing his social status. He quickly
scaled the heights of the local chess world also by winning the national
championship in 1945 and again in 1946. It soon became clear, in fact, that
Sturm was a player passionately engrossed in the art and science of the game
at every level. Apart from his success in T&T, he captured the West Indies
title in 1945 when the regional competition was revived after World War II.
Internationally, he earned a formidable reputation as a correspondence
player over many years, winning several tournaments in North and South
America and Europe and defeating a number of top players including Soviet
Grandmaster Dr Bogatyrchuk who was then living in Canada. In the Individual
World Correspondence Championship of 1946, he won against top English player
Ritson Morry, Francisco Benko of Argentina, A de Sousa of Brazil and George
Mathot of Belgium, finishing the six round event on 4.5 points behind the
winner Viand of France.
As a writer, Sturm became a regular and valued contributor to leading
correspondence chess magazines in Britain, Germany, Iceland, Norway and the
United States, the readers of which benefited not only from his erudition in
the game and his knowledge of its latest wrinkles—even such esoteric play as
the Rubicon variation of the Evans Gambit—but also from his philosophic
appreciation of its creative possibilities.
As a formidable player, writer and thinker on the sport of chess, Sturm
emerged as a unique and protean figure in the history of the game. The late
FE Brassington, journalist and former champion, described him as “a
personality in his own right,” having a keen intellect which, however, did
not suffer fools gladly.
His elder son, Maxwell, remembers his father at their Bagshot House home
spending hours over the chessboard analysing correspondence games. “I think
he preferred to play chess by mail as it gave him all that time to analyse
Maxie, who was my friend at St Mary’s, didn’t follow in his father’s
footsteps, although he also went to Aberdeen University. “I played the game
only casually because I never liked its competitive nature,” he said. Maxie
eventually became an expert in fisheries after doing his PhD in the subject
Sturm must have acquired an early fascination with chess since he won the
championship at Aberdeen while still an undergraduate. Apart from his play,
his life-long absorption in exploring the nature of the game seems almost
overwhelming, as can be gleaned from the massive, rambling and often
humorous volume he has written on the subject. In his book, Sturm claims to
have discovered a “hidden factor” in chess, apart from its actual practice.
This factor, he explains, “proves that chess is for the man who will not
stop trying, not through any pig headedness, but from his own decision to
give the best in him to attain ultimate ends.”
Sturm seems to have personified the factor he claimed to have discovered.
What brought this English doctor to Trinidad at the end of the War nobody
seems to know. He was then in his mid thirties and had spent some 13 years
in the British Army as a commissioned officer, serving in India, Egypt and
Palestine. There are unconfirmed stories that he was attached to operations
at the port.
Eventually, Sturm and his family became part of the colourful social
fabric of the country. When he retired from medicine in 1952, his art-loving
wife renovated Bagshot House, transforming it into an elegant hotel and
opening a very popular night club, The Gay Cavalier. His daughter, Mary,
became one of T&T’s celebrated beauties and his second son, Philip, followed
his mother’s artistic taste, specialising in fine antiques. Sturm passed
away in 1969, having made a different kind of T&T chess history, as player,
writer and philosopher. We may remember him as Dr Chess. Sadly, Bagshot
House was demolished in 1999 by its new owners.