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Cecil John Seddon Purdy (1906–1979)

by Peter Parr

This article was published:

Cecil John Seddon Purdy (1906-1979), chess master and author, was born on 27 March 1906 at Port Said, Egypt, eldest of three children of English-born parents John Smith Purdy, medical practitioner, and his wife Emily, née Crake. The family moved to New Zealand (1907), Tasmania (1910) and Sydney (1913); while John was serving with the Australian Imperial Force during World War I, his wife and children lived in Hobart. After the war the Purdys settled in Sydney. Cecil was educated at Cranbrook School and the University of Sydney (B.A., 1930). He began teaching himself chess in 1922, won the New Zealand championship in 1924-25 and finished third in the Australian championship in 1926.

In 1929 Purdy started the Australasian Chess Review (1929-44), later entitled Check (1944-45) and Chess World (from 1946), which he published continuously until 1967. Financially, life was a constant struggle for him. Despite featuring numerous articles contributed by Lajos Steiner and others, the magazine was never a money-spinner. It did serve, however, as a means of advertising books and chess goods, the sale of which provided most of Purdy's income. The remainder came from newspaper columns, book royalties, prize-money and coaching. At St John's Anglican Church, Maroubra, on 15 June 1934 he married Anne (Nancy), daughter of Spencer Crakanthorp who had won two Australian championships.

Purdy competed in 139 over-the-board chess tournaments, 43 telegraphic matches and 14 other matches. Between 1923 and 1979 he played 1586 competitive games over-the-board, winning 69 per cent of them. His greatest skills lay in his remarkable grasp of the strategic principles of the game, as opposed to tactical skills. Such deep understanding proved invaluable to him in correspondence chess, and as a writer. He competed in two Australian Correspondence championships, winning both. Representing Australia in the first World Correspondence Chess Championship, he surprised the chess world by winning the tournament which ended in 1953. This achievement constituted a triumph, but his love of the excitement and tension of the cross-board game was such that he possibly gained equal satisfaction from his four victories in the Australian Chess Championship (1934-35, 1936-37, 1948-49 and 1951).

In addition to his Australian wins, Purdy was twice champion of New Zealand, and in 36 attempts won 7 New South Wales titles and was runner-up 8 times. He was granted the titles of international chess master (1951) and international grand master of correspondence play (1953) by the Fédération Internationale des Échecs. In 1960 he won the championship of the Pacific and South East Asia. He represented Australia at the Chess Olympiad (1970) at Siegen, West Germany, and captained the Australian team at the Chess Olympiad, held at Nice, France, in 1974.

Purdy's international reputation rested less on his postal and cross-board successes than on the writings in his books and in his monthly magazine—reputedly the only magazine in the world that set out to teach its readers how to play better chess. His books included How Euwe Won (1936), The Return of Alekhine (1937), Among These Mates (1939, under his pseudonym, 'Chielamangus'), Chess Made Easy (1942, with his friend and rival Gregory Koshnitsky), Guide to Good Chess (1950) and How Fischer Won (Brisbane, 1972). He was recognized as one of the world's top writers on chess.

Slender and of middle height, Purdy possessed energy and determination, evident not only in his competitive play, but also in his work for the advancement of chess. He was sometime president of the Correspondence Chess League of Australia, the New South Wales Chess Association and the Sydney University Chess Club; he also held various positions in the Australian Chess Federation and was a vice-president of the World Correspondence Chess Federation. A major contributor to the accurate codification of the laws of chess, he was appointed A.M. in 1976.

Purdy collapsed on 6 November 1979 while playing in a tournament at the Chess Centre of New South Wales and died that day in Sydney Hospital. Survived by his wife, and their daughter and son John who was twice Australian champion, he was cremated. Frank Hutchings, his son-in-law, co-authored How Purdy Won (1983), and John Hammond and Robert Jamieson edited C. J. S. Purdy, his Life, his Games and his Writings (1982); both books were based on material written by Purdy.

Select Bibliography

  • Chess World, Mar 1948, p 50, May 1951, p 92
  • CCLA Record, Aug 1953, p 2, Feb 1980, p 159
  • Chess in Australia, 14, Nov 1979, p 233
  • Australian Chess Lore, 1, 1982, p 74
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 26 Jan 1976, 8, 11 Nov 1979
  • private information.

Citation details

Peter Parr, 'Purdy, Cecil John Seddon (1906–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 29 September 2023.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2023

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Chielamangus

27 March, 1906
Port Said, Egypt


6 November, 1979 (aged 73)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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