Michael Franklin RIP

Many of us will be saddened to hear of the recent death of Michael Franklin at the age of 92. Michael, who played for Richmond for almost 60 years from the early 1950s to 2010, was one of England’s finest players in the 1960s.

Michael was born in Battersea in 1931, and discovered the game of chess in 1944 when he saw it being played on Clapham Common. Fascinated, he taught himself the moves and joined their club, soon taking part in junior tournaments and club matches. In 1946 he won the Felce Cup, the third division of the Surrey County Championship. He would go on to win the county championship itself on five occasions between 1961 and 1971.

At some point in the early 1950s he joined what was then Richmond Chess Club (it would amalgamate with Twickenham Chess Club a few years later), encouraged by his friends Robert Pinner and Aird Thomson.

He continued playing for Richmond, mostly in the London League, but, towards the end of his career also in the 4NCL, up to his retirement from competitive chess in 2010.

Michael was, in many ways, a throwback to an earlier age. He always used descriptive notation, and never used a computer or sent an email. He lived in South London all his life, worked for a firm of patent agents for about 40 years, and was married to Jean (there were no children) for more than 60 years. Outside chess, he was a sports enthusiast, following cricket, tennis and horse racing.

He never had a chess teacher or studied chess in the way that most players do now, and never kept his scoresheets. He was never involved in chess administration in any way or wrote about the game: just a player, and a formidably strong one. Michael’s openings were unpretentious. He is best known for his espousal of the currently fashionable London System, but he also played the Colle System, the King’s Indian Attack and various flank openings. With Black he usually, and again famously, played the O’Kelly Sicilian (1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 a6) against e4, a move which has received some attention from top GMs, notably Artemiev, in recent years. He usually played the Nimzo or Queen’s Indian against 1. d4.

It’s clear from studying his games that Michael was a natural player of exceptional talent with a very quick tactical eye and an intuitive feel for the ending. It’s striking how many of his wins came from inferior positions: perhaps in many cases his speed of play resulted in his opponents running into time trouble.

Internationally, Michael represented England in the 1964 Olympiad amongst other events, and competed in the Hastings Premier on two occasions: 1963-64 and 1971-72. His best placing in the British Championship was 3rd in 1963. In the 1970s he was overtaken by the young stars of the English Chess Explosion, but, at the age of 47 in 1978 he shared 1st place in the Aaronson Masters, achieving a well deserved IM norm in the process.

In 1982 he was one game away from winning the Hastings Challengers, but was forced to withdraw before the last round due to the death of his father-in-law.

Michael continued playing regularly well into the 21st century, maintaining much of his strength right up to the end. Title opportunities were few back in the 1960s when he was at his peak, but it’s clear that he was at or close to IM strength at the time.

But, much more than being an outstanding player, he was an outstanding person as well. The word most often used to describe him was – and this has been repeated in all the heartfelt tributes online – ‘gentleman’. Michael was quiet, courteous, friendly, modest, loyal and reliable: qualities which are perhaps underestimated today. He never had a bad word to say about anyone, and, in consequence, nobody ever had a bad word to say about him. Again, a throwback to another age, an age which was perhaps kinder and gentler than today’s world.

Michael will be much missed, and very fondly remembered, by many in the chess world.

My thanks to British Chess News for much of the information. You can read their tribute to Michael Franklin, along with some excellent photographs, here. You can also download a collection of his games on BritBase here.

Here’s a short selection of his best games. Michael would have been horrified to know that I used an engine to annotate them. Click on any move of any game for a pop-up window.