The Death of F.D. Yates

Edward Winter



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F.D. Yates (C.N. 5459)



‘It made me very sad to learn, some time during the last war, that Yates had committed suicide, apparently for financial reasons. He had probably been too modest to ask British chessplayers for help.’

That comes from page 338 of Chess Secrets I Learned from the Masters by Edward Lasker (New York, 1951), a book which has helped spread a number of myths. Even at first glance, the passage above fails to impress, with its ‘apparently’ and ‘probably’ and, above all, its curious reference to ‘during the last war’ (given that Yates died in 1932).

As reported in C.N. 780 (see pages 118-119 of Chess Explorations) when ‘Assiac’ (Heinrich Fraenkel) repeated the suggestion that Yates had killed himself page 24 of the January 1963 BCM had an implacable rebuttal by that exceptional writer D.J. Morgan:

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Another author who wrote forcefully on the subject was William Winter, in his posthumous memoirs on page 148 of CHESS, 23 February 1963:

‘An exhaustive enquiry was held by one of the most experienced coroners in London, and it was conclusively proved that death was due to a faulty gas fitting. Wynne-Williams, Yates’ pupil whom he had been teaching on the very night of his death, gave evidence of his cheerful demeanour, and the coroner went out of his way to state categorically that this was a case of a tragic accidental death. In spite of all this some of the vile calumniators I have mentioned before, who are always seeking for slime to throw at their betters, sank so low as to suggest that Yates committed suicide. I have even heard the report quite recently. No fouler lie could possibly be invented to smirch the memory of a courageous and noble man.’

Yates died at the age of 48. On page 525 of the December 1932 BCM P.W. Sergeant presented the facts in a way that seemed to preclude any possibility of suicide:

‘The circumstances of his end were tragic. On the night of Tuesday, 8 November he gave a very successful exhibition at Wood Green, only dropping one half-point in 16 games. On the following night he was in the company of a chess friend until fairly late, and then went back to his room in Coram Street, Bloomsbury. He was never seen alive again. It was not until Friday morning that anxiety was felt at Coram Street as to what he might be doing; for he was in the habit of secluding himself for many hours at a stretch when busy with work. On Friday, however, when no answer could be got to knocks on the door of his room, which was locked, and a smell of gas was noticed, the door was at last broken open, and he was found dead in bed.

It came out at the inquest before the St Pancras coroner on 15 November that, though the gas-taps in the room were securely turned off, there had been an escape from what a gas company’s official described as an obsolete type of fitting attached to the meter in the room. The meter, it appears, was on the floor, and the fitting must have been accidentally dislodged. A verdict was recorded of Accidental Death; and the coroner directed that the gas-pipes from the room should remain in the custody of the court. The body was conveyed to Leeds for burial on the morning of 16 November.’

Yates’ financial circumstances had unquestionably been piteous, and a dispute about the lack of support for British chessplayers broke out in the Chess World (1 January 1933, pages 185-186; 8 March 1933, pages 275-276; 8 April 1933, pages 313-315; May-June 1933, pages 363-364). For instance, his friend W.H. Watts, the chess writer and publisher, noted that the death was ‘purely accidental’ but wrote on page 185:

‘... we were so infatuated by our own pettifogging antics over the chess board that we failed to see our Champion was starving. We could not see that poor timid Yates was literally dying in our midst, too proud to tell us so himself. The very name Yates will be for ever a shameful memory in the annals of British Chess.’



The above article appeared at ChessBase.com on 6 May 2008. See too C.N. 7175 (an article by G.H. Diggle).



Is ‘Frederick Dewhurst Yates’ correct? That version of his name appeared in his obituary (by P.W. Sergeant) on pages 525-528 of the December 1932 BCM and on page 7 of Yates’ posthumous work One-Hundred-and-One of My Best Games of Chess (London, 1934), which was ‘arranged and completed’ by W. Winter and ‘edited’ by W.H. Watts. Ever since, ‘Frederick Dewhurst Yates’ has been used unquestioningly.

Leonard Barden (London) points out to us a most interesting Yorkshire Chess History webpage which states that ‘the popular rendering of his name as “Frederick Dewhurst Yates” is erroneous’ and that his name was Fred Dewhirst Yates.

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The most comprehensive material about Yates’ demise that we have seen was in the Manchester Guardian.

12 November 1932, page 10:

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12 November 1932, page 12:

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14 November 1932, page 2 (painting a very different picture of Yates’ non-chess interests, compared to Leonard Rees’ remarks above):

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16 November 1932, page 11:

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17 November 1932, page 18:

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From Olimpiu G. Urcan (Singapore):

‘Having bought a digital edition of the August 2017 BCM (“Editors: Milan Dinic and Shaun Taulbut”), I saw on pages 498-499 an unsigned article “Did F.D. Yates Kill Himself?”:

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You are mentioned briefly near the beginning, but everything (all the facts, quotes, etc.) about Yates’ death in the entire article has been copied from your work, and without mention of your (active) feature article.

That leaves just the BCM’s general introductory paragraph on Yates’ career. It has been lifted from Wikipedia.

So more or less the only “contribution” by the BCM itself is a Wikipedia-sourced photograph of Emanuel Lasker. The magazine identifies him as “Edward Lasker”.’

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Latest update: 5 August 2017.

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