in his mid-20s at the height of his playing and composing powers.
who was the first Briton to be awarded the FIDE title Grandmaster, most
people, if they had any idea at all, would probably guess Tony Miles.
Yet Mansfield had been awarded the title 4 years earlier in 1972, almost
as soon as FIDE broadened their title range to include problem
composition, firstly to Master level and then later to GM. So eminent
was he in this field that Mansfield was an almost automatic first
Mansfield was born on 14th June 1896, in the village of
Witheridge, a few miles from Tiverton in mid-Devon, the son of Herbert
John Mansfield. In his childhood, Herbert had been looked after by a
Miss Comins, and named his son after her. Strangely, although his date
and place of birth are recorded in all the literature, the family does
not appear anywhere in the 1901 census.
the age of 13, Comins attended Blundell's School in Tiverton, during
which time he began to absorb his father's interest in the game. Herbert
had played correspondence chess for Devon from an early stage. In 1910,
for instance, he took Board 49 of 50 for Devon v Yorkshire, where he was
listed as living at Morchard Bishop, 5 miles south west of Witheridge.
Incidentally, at the same time, Devon was involved in another 50 board
match against Suffolk, half of that team not being involved in the
Yorkshire match; i.e. 75
Devonians were playing postal chess for Devon at the same time. In the
1920s Herbert was paying his annual subscription of 52p to be one of the
21 Vice Presidents of the County Association.
many Devonians living in rural parts at this time, opportunities for
over-the-board play were rare and many were forced to turn their
attention to problem-solving, and for the keener ones, to composition.
If his father was limited to solving and postal chess, his son's innate
ability pushed him into composition while still at school. He saved his
pocket money to buy the BCM and in 1910 they ran a series of articles by
Alain C. White under the heading First Steps In The Classification of
Two-Movers. One particular article, containing problems by Laws,
Bettman, Taverner and Mackenzie, caught the imagination of the 14 year
old Comins, and he was inspired to try his hand at composition.
months, he had won 1st Prize for a 2-mover in Carslake
Winter-Wood's column in the Plymouth-based the Illustrated Western
Weekly News. (His column in the Western Morning News had been
transferred there in March 1906). The
following year Comins won a 2nd Prize in the Brisbane
Courier, fame for the 17 year old having rapidly become world-wide.
the first, he was interested only in 2-movers, saying life was too short
for anything more. He invented the term "half-pin", first used
in a letter of 1915 to fellow composer, Murray Marble, a term that has
subsequently entered mainstream chess from problem terminology. By
half-pin is meant an arrangement where two Black pieces stand in line in
such a way that if either moves, it leaves the other pinned by a White
piece standing behind both.
sent his compositions to wherever competitions were held, one outlet
being the Hampshire Telegraph & Post, where Guy Wills Chandler was
the chess editor, although only seven years older than Mansfield. They
inspired each other and became life-long friends, both surviving to the
early 1980s. It is a matter of conjecture whether Chandler was connected
in some way with the Wills tobacco business, giving the couple even more
common ground. For, on leaving school, he joined the tobacco firm of W.
D. & H. O. Wills in Bristol, with whom he stayed for 45 years, with
a break for service in the Great War. In 1901 the Wills firm had become
the founder of the giant Imperial Tobacco when it merged with the
Glasgow firm of Stephen Mitchel & Son, and they were noted as a
family-run company with a benevolent policy towards its employees.
September 1915 he joined the Royal Artillery, and carried a small
travelling set at all times, with which to while away the long hours
spent in the trenches. He never lost contact with Chandler during the
war, even though the latter was involved in a rather messy British
invasion of Iraq, (then Mesopotamia), and the two combined on problems
by post, one of which won 1st Prize in the Good Companions
magazine in January 1918. Shortly
after, he was temporarily blinded by mustard gas, requiring 12 months in
his release from hospital, the war was over and he re-joined Wills in
Bristol and his local chess club, Bristol & Clifton. His skill over
the board should not be overlooked - he soon became established in
Gloucestershire as a very strong player, winning his club championship
for the first time in 1920 and the county championship continuously from
1927 - 34. From his return to Bristol he played for the county
regularly, never lower than Bd. 3 and from the time of his first county
championship, always on top board. From 1926 to the time of his move to
Scotland he was also the Problem Editor of the Bristol Times and
this time he got married and had three children.
last game for Gloucestershire was against Norfolk in March 1934, as
later that year he transferred to the Wills branch in Glasgow. Problem
production dried up for a few months, but early in 1936 they started
appearing again in publications, headed "Mansfield - Glasgow".
Soon after his move, he played for Glasgow on Board 3, behind the
soon-to-be British Champion, W. A. Fairhurst, but there is little
evidence that he played much in Scotland.
significance of this period in his life was intensified by a decision of
the unofficial lord of the problem world, the American millionaire,
Alain C. White. He had the finances to fund a private publication each
year, which became known as The Christmas Series. He underwrote
the printing costs and gave copies to his friends. He did this for 32
years until he decided to make the 1936 edition the last of the series.
For this special book, he chose to concentrate on the work of Mansfield,
entitling the book A Genius Of The Two-Mover. In his
introduction, White describes how for about 20 years, one of Mansfield's
tasks for the New Year had been to send him all his compositions from
the previous 12 months, usually between 10 and 20 in number, altogether
about 300 by that time, which White cut down to 100 for inclusion in his
other remarks included:-
Mansfield celebrated his 40th birthday last June, and in his
quarter century of composition he has never lost the extraordinary
spontaneity he revealed in his earliest masterpieces . The key-note of
his style lies in this freshness of outlook and in a clarity of vision
with which few composers have been gifted"…
also quotes from Brian Harley, "The general opinion, with which I
concur, is that no greater two-move composer than Comins Mansfield has
this, it would not have been surprising if Mansfield had, perhaps, run
out of gas or rested on his many laurels. Certainly, his time in
Scotland seems to have coincided with a lessening of chess activity, for
whatever reason. The war years would doubtless have had a bearing on
this. In 1944, A. C. White published Mansfield's Adventures In
Composition -The Art of the Two Move Chess Problem, using
Frank Altschul's private
press, the Overbrook Press, in an edition limited to 400 copies. Four
years later, it was re-published in the UK by Barry Wood's Chess.
Mansfield used about 100 problems, none found in White's 1936 book, and
it is regarded as an excellent guide to the art of composing.
1950, he had moved to one of Wills' London subsidiaries, and was living
in Carshalton Beeches, near Croydon in South London.
can be deduced that he retired about 1960, and moved to Paignton in his
home county. Now free to budget his own time, he was able to become
involved in international affairs, and honours were heaped upon him in
his twilight years. In 1959, he was awarded FIDE's title of Master for
Chess Composition as soon as the title was created. In 1963, he became
President of FIDE's Problem Commission. In 1964 he took over as chess
columnist of the Sunday Telegraph, a post he held for 14 years.
In 1972, FIDE approved the plan to extend the Grandmaster title
to problem composers, and Mansfield was an automatic first choice. In
1976 he was awarded the MBE for his services to chess.
the mid 1970s, he could be found visiting the Paignton Congress,
walking round watching play, especially in 1972, that of his grandson,
R. Mansfield, who was playing in the Open Swiss, but not
actually competing himself. Bill Frost, the Congress Secretary at the
time, recalls chatting to him from time to time, but as he was a very
quiet, reserved man, too modest to dwell on his own achievements for
long, these were fairly brief moments. On one occasion, a very young
John Nunn and Michael Stean saw Bill talking to Mansfield and asked to
be introduced. As Bill took them over, it was as if they were being
introduced to the Pope, and after a 10 minute chat they thanked Bill
effusively. The moment was certainly not lost on Nunn who went on to
become one of the world's best solvers, becoming only the 3rd
person to hold two Grandmaster titles, for playing and solving.
Paignton, Mansfield seemed to know Milner-Barry quite well, but Golombek
kept his distance. It is noticeable that Golombek's Encyclopaedia of
Chess (Batsford 1977) is almost unique of its kind in containing no
individual entry for Mansfield; even a long 3½ page article on the
history of chess problems, which mentions numerous half forgotten
composers, contains no reference to him. This is surely no oversight and
must be interpreted as some kind of inexplicable snub.
Mansfield died on 27th March 1984, aged 87, for most of his
life almost universally recognised as one of the world's three best
composers of all time, and surely the most eminent of all our Devon
Chess Pie No. 1
Printing Craft 1922
A Genius Of The Two-Mover
Chess Amateur 1936
A: The Encyclopaedia of Chess
Oxford Companion To Chess
Adventures In Composition Chess 1948