Jonathan Penrose Chess Park

Chess may be played on the Roman Wall side of our building where some benches are equipped with chess boards and you are able to borrow chess pieces from the café bar.

The chess park is named after Colchester-born Dr Jonathan Penrose OBE (1933 – 2021) who dominated British chess, winning 10 championships between 1958 and 1969, before going on to become the world’s leading International Correspondence Chess Grandmaster.

Dr Jonathan Penrose OBE

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Jonathan Penrose was born on Saturday, 7 October 1933. His older brothers were Oliver born in 1929 and Roger, born 1931. His sister Shirley (Hodgson) was born in 1945.

His father and older brothers were also chess players and in that environment he developed his talent for chess quickly even though the Second World War (1939 to 1945) dominated his childhood. He was relocated to London, Ontario in Canada where his father worked.

Returning to the UK, at the age of 12 he joined the Hampstead Chess Club and began to excel in competitive chess becoming British Boys (Under 18) Champion at 14. Although his achievements in chess were to become exceptional, he did not become a professional chess player. He instead combined chess with his demanding studies for a PhD and work as a psychologist and university lecturer.

Before he was 20 he had beaten several well known players, including the French champion Nicolas Rossolimo,  Efim Bogoljubov and Savielly Tartakower.

The Hastings International Chess Congress has a long and distinguished history, seeing many world champions playing. In 1952/53 it was won jointly by four players, including Jonathan Penrose. Although he competed again at Hastings in some years, Jonathan Penrose chose to play more regularly in the British Chess Championships and was selected to represent Britain in several biannual Chess Olympiads.

The British Chess Championship began in 1904 and by 1911, Henry Ernest Atkins had won it seven times. After the First World War (1914 to 1918) he won a further two titles. His record of nine wins stood unchallenged until Jonathan Penrose recorded ten victories between 1958 and 1969.

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Jonathan Penrose first represented England in the 10th Chess Olympiad, held in 1952 in Helsinki, Finland. It was won by the Soviet Union, which went on to dominate the event until 1974 with a team that frequently included several World Champions: Mikhail Botvinnik, Vasily Smyslov, Mikhail Tal, Tigran Petrosian and Boris Spassky. Despite Jonathan Penrose’s excellent results on behalf of the team (often winning individual medals) it was not until 1976 that England were able to feature in the top three countries at the Olympiad with the rise of a new generation of players: Tony Miles, Raymond Keene, William Hartston, Michael Stean, Jonathan Mestel and John Nunn.

It was at the 14th Olympiad, held in 1960 in Leipzig, East Germany that Jonathan Penrose won his most famous game, beating the then World Champion Mikhail Tal. At that event he also beat a past World Champion, Max Euwe and drew with future World Champion Bobby Fischer.

This victory made him the first British player to beat a reigning world champion since Joseph Henry Blackburne defeated Emanuel Lasker in 1899.

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Correspondence Chess

In correspondence chess, players may be in different countries and notify each other of their moves eg by specially designed postcards. A tournament in which players have several games may take years to conclude.

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In 1975, Jonathan Penrose began to shift his focus to correspondence chess and was one of the British Postal Chess Federation team to play a friendly match against Finland. He won his two games against the highest rated Finn. In his whole correspondence chess career he only lost four games and was the highest rated player in the world for several years.

Played over the period 1982 to 1987, Jonathan Penrose led the Great Britain team to victory in the 9th Correspondence Chess Olympiad.

He played in the 13th World Correspondence Chess Championship, a 17 player, all play all tournament held over the period 1989 to 1998. His loss of two games separated him from the title winner.

Chess games

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Jonathan Penrose’s chess games ‘over the board’ may be found in several online databases, such as

His correspondence chess games are included in the Chess Mail UltraCorr database from An extract of that database has been made available by Dr Tim Harding, you can download it here.

If you’d like to read more about Dr Jonathan Penrose, please follow the links below:

The Guardian Obituary for Jonathan Penrose, written by Leonard Barden

British Chess News Obituary for Jonathan Penrose, written by John Upham

An interview with England’s double grandmaster, Jonathan Penrose, by Tim Harding

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Official Opening Event

The official opening event for the chess park was on 7 October 2023. The Mayor, Councillor John Jowers, made the ceremonial first move, reproducing (in accordance with a correspondence chess postcard) the one made by Professor Shirley Hodgson to start the Jonathan Penrose Memorial Chess Challenge at Colchester Town Hall (in which GM Michael Adams gave a simultaneous exhibition).

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The Memorial Chess Challenge, the chess park and this webpage were made possible through the generosity of many, including in respect of content: the Penrose family, Leonard Barden, John Upham and Tim Harding. Financial or operational support has been provided by The Chess Trust, Cannock Mill Cohousing, Brook Red Lion Hotel, Colchester Junior Chess Club, Melinda Wilde Photography and the Mercury Theatre.