This weekend would have been Robert Graham Wade's 100th birthday. Born on April 10, 1921, in Dunedin (NZ), he was New Zealand champion three times, British champion twice, and played in seven Chess Olympiads and one Interzonal tournament.
When Bob passed away in 2008, chess websites were flooded with eulogies and messages from his chess colleagues. He was an uncontroversial, well-loved and generous personality, who left a mark on all those he encountered.
Wade won two New Zealand Championships in a row, in Wellington 1943-44 and Auckland 1944-45, and then again in his hometown of Dunedin, in 1947-48. In order to pursue a career as a chess player he wanted to face stronger opposition, so he moved to Europe shortly after that, where international chess was coming back to life after the long hiatus caused by World War II. Following a couple of very active years, Bob achieved the International Master title thanks to his shared 5–7th place in the super-strong tournament of Venice 1950, won by Kotov.
In 1950 he settled in England, and in 1958 he earned the title of International Arbiter. He made much of his living as a writer, arbiter, coach, and promoter, and wearing all these different hats he earned the respect of his peers and the chess community.
“After he retired from professional play, Wade authored many books and was a key part of the ‘English Chess Explosion’ that began after the Fischer-Spassky match in 1972. Wade’s enormous library was consulted by many aspiring young players, as well as by established GMs such as Tony Miles. Even Bobby Fischer sought his assistance when preparing for Boris Spassky”, writes Malcolm Pein in his column today for The Telegraph. Indeed, in the days before computer databases, Bob’s library at his house in South London, constantly enlarged by Batsford’s publications (to which he served as chess editor), magazines, and tournament bulletins, was often used by British and foreign players in preparation for tournaments. Wade made use of all this material to create a file on Boris Spassky and help Bobby Fischer prepare for his 1972 World Championship match.
“He was one of the most influential figures in the English Chess Explosion and the nicest person you could ever meet”, wrote Malcolm Pein on Twitter. “He did so much for English chess without courting recognition. He occasionally offered me stern but sympathetic advice - and was usually right”, added Daniel King. "Bob helped in establishing the TWIC (The Week in Chess) database, the leading source of online chess news; was an arbiter at the Kasparov v Nigel Short 1993 world title series and at the annual Oxford v Cambridge match; and continued to encourage young talent. He helped many future GMs from Jonathan Speelman to David Howell, and his sharp wit, kindness and generosity made him probably the most liked personality in English chess”, remembers Leonard Barden.
Bob has an opening line named after him, which is probably one of the highest forms of recognition a chess player can get. After playing 1.d4 d6 2.Nf3 Bg4 for decades, this is known now as the Wade Defence. But this is by no means the only tribute he has received: in 1979 he was awarded the title of Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, usually known by its acronym, OBE. A memorial tournament in his honour was held this weekend in Auckland, New Zealand, with the victory by Gawain Jones.
Photo Credit: British Chess Magazine