Master of chess who raised the game of a generation of British players.

Last Updated: 6:57PM GMT 30 Nov 2008

Robert Wade, who died in London on Saturday aged 87, was one of the most influential figures in chess; in a career that lasted seven decades he was not only a professional player but also a prolific writer, editor and researcher as well an administrator, arbiter and coach.

Wade dispelled the notion that chess was an essentially amateur game that was the preserve of a small Oxbridge-educated elite. For many years he was Britain’s only chess professional, and he won the British Championship at Chester in 1952 and at Coventry in 1970.

Robert Graham Wade was born on April 10 1921 at Dunedin, New Zealand. He learnt the moves at the age of eight from his father, a farmer, but did not take the game remotely seriously until high school, when academic success led to his being awarded membership of the Athenaeum Institute, Dunedin, where chess was played and chess books available.

After leaving school, Wade entered the civil service. At the same time he rapidly climbed the chess ranks until he captured the New Zealand Championship in 1944. His second victory the following year led to an invitation, as champion of a Commonwealth country, to the British Championship of 1946. At the time of the event, Wade had a leg in plaster owing to an inflammation on the knee, and he played poorly; but after recovering he took the opportunity to travel to a tournament of master strength in Barcelona, where he garnered few points but much valuable experience.

Wade toured the United States and Canada, playing in a number of tournaments as the travelled the length and breadth of North America by Greyhound bus. When he arrived back in New Zealand, having sailed from San Francisco, he found that his old job in the civil service had been taken during his extended sabbatical. He lingered long enough to win his third New Zealand championship (in 1947) before leaving for Europe.

He settled in England, and soon became the country’s most active player. In 1950 he was awarded the title of International Master. He became an important presence in FIDE (Fédération International d’Echecs) and was a member of the committee that drew up the first official laws of the game in 1949.

Although he crossed swords with the Soviets over his support for players who had fallen out of favour with the Communist authorities, Wade was still invited to officiate in Moscow at the world title match in 1951 between Mikhail Botvinnik and David Bronstein.

He represented England in six Chess Olympiads between 1954 and 1972 – as a selector in 1970 he dropped himself in favour of younger players and represented his native New Zealand instead.

The requirements for the Grandmaster title were far more stringent in Wade’s active playing days than they are today; but when FIDE offered him the title of honorary Grandmaster, Wade – always a modest and unassuming man – refused to accept it.

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