Kitto playing Bd. 1 for Cambridge v Oxford in 1937
For a database of 80 games (PGN format) by Kitto click HERE.
Although of Cornish stock, Frank Kitto was born in London. In 1933 he went up to King's College, Cambridge, and played on Board 4 in the annual Varsity Match of 1934 in his first year. The following year he had moved up to Bd. 2 and in 1936 and 1937, he led from the top (see above)
In 1937 he entered the Worcester Centenary Congress together with his fellow Cambridge graduate and Devon resident, Andrew Thomas. Thomas won the Premier, ahead of Seitz and the Argentinian Guimard, while Kitto won the Premier Reserves
At Hastings (1937-38) he played in the Premier Reserves and tied for 4th place. The BCM commented " F. E. A. Kitto and W. Winser shared 4th and 5th places. They played some good chess and it is obvious they are both very promising players". Also, an interesting insight into his style at this stage of his career "List's game against Kitto in the 7th round ended with a pleasing smothered mate. We will draw a veil over the opening which both sides conducted with a savage brutality almost criminal when considered in comparison with civilised chess"
In the 1938 BCF Congress at Brighton, he shared 1st place in the Major Open "B", with Dr, Seitz, ahead of König and the veteran Irish Champion, J. J. O'Hanlon
This win qualified him for the Premier Section of the 1939 BCF Congress at Bournemouth. The proximity of war meant that the British Championship itself was not at stake, but the Premier consisted of a 12 man American, comprising Holland's top two players, Euwe and Landau, the veterans Mieses and Condé, Viennese-born Ernst Klein, König, Salo Flohr at the height of his powers, and from the home country, A. R. B. Thomas, Aitken, Abrahams and P. N. Wallis. Not surprisingly in this company, the home quartet could only scrape together a total of 6 points from the 38 available. But what an experience for the 24 year old
However, any thoughts and plans of a career were soon blown out of the water when war was declared even during the penultimate round at Bournemouth. Euwe and Landau returned home immediately, missing the last round
After demobilisation, he acquired Kenbury House, a Georgian house set in its own park, situated between the Haldon Hills and the Exe estuary. He was elected to membership of the Exeter Club at their Committee Meeting in September 1946. In his first season he was runner-up in the club championship to H. V. Mallison, the last of his many championships
Map of the Exminster area on Donn's 1" to the mile survey of 1765 showing the Kenbury estate
No better description exists of Kitto's follies and foibles than that of his former Exeter Chess Club colleague, Brian Clapp, written for Dave Regis' booklet on the history of the club, and reproduced here with permission
"Frank Kitto was the leading player in the club in the 1950s. He was a stocky figure with a ruddy complexion and dark curly hair - everybody's idea of a typical Cornishman. He didn't feel the cold and rarely wore socks and never an overcoat. He had, it was said, been a bomber pilot in the war, and in peacetime he was a psychologist. He lived in a ruinous Georgian country house in Kennford; there were holes in the floorboards and an unkempt tramp squatted in the hall the only time I was there. Kitto took in and looked after disturbed children, until questions were asked in Parliament about conditions there. He had done nothing wrong but shortly afterwards went back to his native Cornwall, and died not many years later
As a chessplayer he was both a godsend and a nightmare to team captains. He had a casual attitude to time and would hitch a lift to matches, often arriving half an hour late, and having to play at a faster rate than ordinary mortals. He usually had to borrow a pencil to record his moves and never preserved his games, which is a pity. In 1948 he tied for first place with Euwe at Plymouth. I remember a drastic win he had against Dr. J. M. Aitken of Cheltenham in a National Club match. He often played the Vienna Gambit and on this occasion demolished Aitken in a very few moves. On another occasion he was playing C.H.O'D. Alexander, also of Cheltenham, in a Bishop's Opening. Kitto as Black got an overwhelming position but lost. His explanation was simple - Alexander was the better player"
After the war, he soon got back to the board, taking part in the 2nd West of England Championship 1947 in Bristol, the first held under the auspices of the newly-created WECU. Here he can be seen standing extreme right and smiling benignly. Also standing l - r watching Thomas v Hooper, are H. V. Trevenen, ?, Ron Slade, Rowena Bruce, Ron Bruce, H. V. Mallison, C. Sullivan, and C. Welch
As Brian Clapp recalled, in 1948 the Plymouth Club was celebrating its Diamond Jubilee. Ten years earlier it had put on a splendid congress to commemorate its Golden Jubilee, the 7-round Premier American event won by no less a player than Alekhine, ahead of Sir George Thomas, Vera Menchik, Milner-Barry and Dr. List. The 1948 event couldn't quite match this international flavour, but still boasted Max Euwe, the only living ex-World Champion, William Winter former British Champion, Dr. List again, A. R. B. Thomas, Gabriel Wood and Dennis Horne. Kitto was drawn to play A. R. B. Thomas in the final round, and his win ensured that he kept pace with Euwe, the two sharing 1st place, a superb result for Kitto, given the quality of the oppositionOn the strength of that performance, he was selected to play for Great Britain in the annual match against Holland in September 1948. He played J. van Steenis on Bd. 8 / 10, losing his first game and drawing the second. However, this was no ordinary draw and, being Kitto, was full of dramatic tension. As reported in the BCM
"A very exciting finish was that between van Steenis and Kitto, the last game to finish late on Sunday night with the match score standing at 9½ all. In the diagram (left) Kitto (Black) had a clearly won game; the simple move Rxe3 was all that was required. Unfortunately, after 7 hours' play Kitto was desperately short of time and took what he thought to be the simplest line but which proved, in fact, to be most complicated. After. 1.Nxb5 Kitto left his Rook en prise and chose h2 2.Nxc3 h1Q+ 3.e4 Qe1 4.Nb5 Qxb4 5.e5+ Kf7 6.e6+ Kf6 7.Nc7 Qd2+ 8.Kc6 Qc2+ 9.Kd7
(see diagram below)
Kitto was now confronted with what looked like a possible loss. Luckily he had... 9...Qa4+ 10.Kc8 Qd4 11.e7 draw agreed, thus leaving a drawn match 10all"
Perhaps because of his hair-raising style, he wasn't asked to play for his country again, but this match marks him out as being the first male Devon resident to have represented his country
In 1951 he shared the West of England Championship with Ron Bruce, and won it outright in 1955 at Weymouth. In the picture below, taken at that event, Kitto can be seen standing at ground level 4th from left, still smiling but the dark, curly hair now receding. Also recognisable are (Seated left) A. R. B. Thomas, Rowena Bruce seated between Max Poolake and Jim Aitken, C. Welch (with badge) and future champion Ron Slade (4th from right). Also badged up is Ken Bloodworth, while Plymouth schoolboy brothers, John and George Wheeler, are standing one in front of the other, just right of centre.
In 1951, he took part in the first Paignton Congress, originally organised as a one-off celebration of the DCCA's 50th year, but still going strong 55 years later. In an 8 man American Section he faced Euwe & Donner from Holland, Golombek and Barden from England, plus 3 other local players, A. R. B. Thomas, Ron Bruce and Jack Goodman. Kitto played in his usual sharp style, but by now was a known figure and the big names were not to be easily drawn into a slugfest. Also, as already mentioned, he was not a good handler of his clock and was often left in time trouble. Consequently he finished on a modest 2½ / 7
The first Paignton Congress was such a success that it continued as the DCCA's own event, but run by its own sub-committee. At the 5th Congress, in 1955, Kitto came clear first , ahead of Heidenfeld, T. H. Tylor, A. R. B. Thomas and Copping
1955 was indeed his annus mirabilis; champion of his club, county, West of England and Paignton, all in the space of a summer, probably a unique achievement for a Devon player - only A. R. B. Thomas or Ron Bruce could hope to equal that. He won the Exeter Championship only once again, in 1957
At the Exeter Club's A.G.M. on 1st October 1958, Kitto presented the prizes, and "agreed to give simultaneous displays or lectures during the season, the first one to be on the 15th October. He also offered to annotate matches played by members of the Club", but he is not mentioned again in the Club's minute book
He continued to play for Devon that and the following season, and his last match for the county was against Leicestershire in May 1960. In November 1960, in his Western Morning News column, J. E. Jones referred to "Kitto's repatriation to Cornwall", which happened to coincide with H. V. Mallison's retirement from active chess through eyesight problems. He went to live in the small fishing village of Mevagissey, joined the nearby St. Austell club, and played several games for his "new" county. In November 1961, for example, in the Cornwall v Gloucestershire match, he arrived late, as usual, and destroyed the Scottish Champion, Dr. Jim Aitken in short order. Whatever the changes in his personal circumstances, he had lost little of his sharpness at the board
He continued to compete in the WECU Congress from time to time, the last time being at Falmouth in 1963
He died the following year in St. Austell at the early age of 49, a great loss to westcountry chess. Brilliant, larger than life to the point of eccentricity, very popular, and as the first male resident of Devon to have played for his country, Frank Kitto fully deserves his place in the Devon Hall of Fame
Although he was careless in recording and keeping his own games, a number exist in various databases, including all those from Bournemouth 1939 and Bristol 1947
R. H. Jones.
Regis, D: (ed) 100-Odd Years of the Exeter Chess Club. 3rd ed.1999
WECU Congress bulletins.
Exeter Club minute books