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Michael Basman, Chess Master Known for ‘Bad’ Openings, Dies at 76

by Staff
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Antranig Basman said his father “studiously avoided promotions” because he had no desire to take on responsibilities that would interfere with his real passion.

In 1980 Mr. Basman was awarded the title international master, the second-highest in chess after grandmaster, by the International Chess Federation, the game’s governing body.

He left the civil service around the same time, when he discovered a way to make a living at chess by recording instructional guides for amateurs, a service that he called Audio Chess. He also starting writing chess books, including “Play the St. George Defence” (1982) and “The Killer Grob” (1989). His last book, about Henry Bird, a well-known English Victorian player, was published shortly before his death.

In 1996, Mr. Basman founded the UK Chess Challenge, an annual scholastic competition. At its peak, more than 70,000 children from 2,000 schools competed in the tournament, which had a minimal entry fee. Mr. Basman was supposed to collect a value added tax for the entry fees but never did, and the government kept demanding that he pay the taxes.

“He was quite blasé about the whole thing,” Antranig Basman said, adding that for a long time he “managed to convince tax officials that they should turn a blind eye.”

Finally, in 2016, the government sued for back taxes. Mr. Basman was ordered to pay 300,000 pounds. He did not have the money, so he declared bankruptcy and lost control of the UK Chess Challenge. It was taken over by Sarah and Alex Longson.

Mr. Basman and his wife divorced in 1986. In addition to his son and a grandson, he is survived by two sisters, Jeannette Baynes and Rosemary Moore. His brother, Robert Moore, died four months before he did.

Mr. Basman, who lived in London, became so well known for playing extravagant openings that players who do the same thing are called Basmaniacs. One who can occasionally be counted among that group is Magnus Carlsen of Norway, the current world champion. Mr. Carlsen started many of his games in a recent online tournament by playing the Grob when he was White and the Borg when he was Black.

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