Raymundo contra Mundum

On the eve of the press conference to announce the Kasparov-Kramnik match, David Levy addressed a remarkable billet-doux to Raymond Keene, his life-long business partner and former brother-in-law.    

An open letter to Raymond Keene:

Raymond, We have known each other for 37 years. We have collaborated in various commercial ventures for 30 of those years. We have organized two world chess championships together, two man vs. machine world checkers championships, three Mind Sports Olympiads and several other events. We have written more than a dozen books together. Over the years I have stood by you loyally, giving you moral support when others attacked your reputation. We have shared many birthdays together. You are the uncle of my children and I of your son. Yet all of this obviously means nothing to you when you see a possibility based on selfish greed. Have you really reached a point in your life when nothing is more important than making money, not caring how you make it or who you hurt in the process?

Although the original idea for the Mind Sports Olympiad was mine, I came to you in 1986 and invited you to join me in making it a reality. After a while, we invited your friend Tony Buzan to join us. The road to the launch of the event was a long one and along the way you invited your friends, and people who were to become your friends, to join our venture. Sir Brian and Lady Mary Tovey, Don Morris, Lord Hardinge…

But you and Don Morris had an entirely different idea. You decided to set up a new company [Braingames Network plc] in which the two of you would have shareholdings but not the rest of us. You decided that to provide the 50,000 pounds needed to set up that company, rather than to use your own money you would use ours – the money in the bank account of Mind Sports Olympiad Ltd. And why not? After all, the bank statements are sent only to your house and no-one else in the company sees them because we all trust you.

After you had “borrowed” the company’s money you continued to pretend that your efforts to secure sponsorship for the world chess championship were being made on behalf of our business, but all along they were being made on behalf of your business. And all during this time you were being paid 10,000 pounds per month to work for our company.

You told no-one else in Mind Sports Olympiad Ltd. or Mind Sports Organization Worldwide Ltd. what you were doing. Until March 6th, none of us had a clue. Then The Times published an article in its computer section, “Interface”, which gave the game away. At first you tried to deny that most of the article was true. When Lady Mary Tovey, your good friend of several years, rang your home and spoke to Annette, Mary was told: “Don’t worry darling. It isn’t true. There is no company.” Had you lied to your own wife or had you asked her to lie for you?

As the truth came out, bit by horrible bit, we learned that the only inaccuracy in the article was the date of the press conference, given as April 4th when it should have been April 5th. You and Don had indeed set up a company in which each of you had, by your own admission, £900,000 worth of shares, shares, but none for us. Within a week we had been sent a few pages of the company’s prospectus which, you subsequently told me, had been used to raise £3 million from investors. In that document, you and Don stated that you were “… not aware of any other companies which broadly specialize on organizing and commercializing events and Internet-based competitions in the games.” [The games listed are chess, draughts, Chinese chess, go and Japanese chess.]
What on Earth do you mean by saying you were “not aware”? Had you both forgotten about the existence of our companies? And how can you have the audacity to lie like that in a document used to raise millions of pounds from investors? Do you have no moral qualms at all, and no respect for the law?…

So what happens Raymond? How can you ever look any of us in the eye? How can you possibly expect forgiveness from those ex-friends and partners who you have so neatly stabbed in the back? And how do I tell my children that their only uncle, who they both revere, has behaved in this way?

You say that your new company will make you and Don into multi-millionaires very quickly. Will it be worth the price?


Although the full text of the letter appeared in New in Chess, the UK chess press has shown little interest. Whatever the truth of Levy’s allegations against Keene (whose airily evasive denials have failed to lift the finger of suspicion) they represent yet another tawdry episode in a career marked by opportunistic associations that have soured. On his Inside Chess website Yasser Seirawan, an astute commentator, plucked a few rattling skeletons from Raymond’s vast closet:

‘As for David Levy and his blinding epiphany, where on earth was Levy when Korchnoi showed that Keene had broken his contract when working as his second at the 1978 world championship match? Where was Levy when Edward Winter presented irrefutable evidence of Keene’s misconduct on a whole variety of issues? Where on earth was Levy when GM Tony Miles told the world that he and Keene had jointly conspired and did in fact defraud the British Chess Federation? Wasn’t it this charge that brought a swift resignation and graceless exit from the BCF by Keene? Where was Levy when Keene was caught red-handed plagiarizing copyrighted material from Inside Chess magazine for one of his potboilers [The Complete Book of Gambits]? It seems that Levy has only recently seen the light.’

Fortunately Kingpin is in a position to refresh David Levy’s memory. In a recent interview, the transcript of which has fallen into our possession, Keene talks at length about his career. A more than willing interviewee, he is less comfortable with being, how shall we say, wholly honest about his past. Although the interview contains more than enough wit and wisdom to fill a whole issue of this magazine, we shall unpick the embroidery of just a few pertinent extracts. First, what of his involvement in past world championship campaigns? Investors in his new Braingames venture would surely find this of interest. He recalls playing Korchnoi at Montreux in the mid-1970s:

‘He beat me, but it was a very interesting game. And I was thinking about his situation, I thought, he really needs someone with organisational abilities and a lot of imagination to help him. And he had a couple of Dutch guys helping him, Hans Ree was helping him. I know Hans, and he’s a nice guy, but he’s got the energy of a – well, I mean, he’s, you know Hans, don’t you? Nice guy, cultured, a writer, but he’s not Mr Dynamic. And he’s very sort of laid back, etc., and I thought … I could actually make Korchnoi World Champion. And I sort of sat up all night after I’d played him and next morning I said to him, I would like to help you become World Champion, I think I can do it. And I said, you know, give me carte blanche to invite other people on the team and, you know, get me kind of involved in the process and I think we can do it together. And he said, he thought about it for a while and agreed.’

Could Korchnoi have beaten Karpov in 1978?

‘Oh yeah. I mean, he needed one major thing, which was to not have Petra Leeuwerik [the head of Korchnoi’s delegation and his future wife] there … He made her his head of delegation. So the upshot was that everyone was arguing at jury meetings, you know, what’s the colour of the ceiling and can we have a yoghurt, you know.’

Ah yes, yoghurt. It was during the Baguio match that the Korchnoi camp complained that the yoghurts Karpov received during games could convey a coded message. But who originated this risible protest which brought the scorn of the world’s press down on the challenger? Step forward Raymond Keene, hailed on the cover of his book of the match as ‘inventor of the famous Yoghurt Counter Gambit’. Petra Korchnoi recalled in New in Chess that ‘I knew nothing at all about this yoghurt … That was all Keene’s doing. He was the one who turned up the heat all the time.’

The episode hardly helped Korchnoi’s campaign. As Keene himself states in the interview: ‘The last thing that Korchnoi wants is to be distracted, and he’s easily distracted … he needed to be forced rigorously to look at the bloody chessboard. If he’d done that, he would have won, because he was a much better strategist than Karpov in ’78.’

But how did Korchnoi assess Keene’s own rigour at looking at the chessboard (the reason why he’d hired him in the first place)?

‘… his work for me was not good. After I originally invited him to be my second he said he would complete his work much better if Mr Stean was invited. But it was clear that while Mr Keene was writing one book after another Mr Stean was doing his work for him … Never in my life would I use him again.’ Korchnoi was also dissatisfied with Keene’s efforts to protect his interests at Baguio, as he told the Sunday Times: ‘the president of FIDE, Dr Euwe … told Keene that if the match went to 5-5 we must watch out for any manoeuvres from the Soviets, and that the match should be stopped. Well it did reach 5-5 and Keene never told us what Dr Euwe had said. In fact Keene allowed the Soviets to do whatever they wanted.’

What really upset Korchnoi was that Keene (‘a man without moral scruples’) broke an agreement not to write a book on the match while it was in progress. In 1990 GM Michael Stean recounted his own disillusionment to Sunday Times journalist Nick Pitt:

‘I was very disenchanted with Ray because we had been close friends for many years, and had been at Cambridge together. Ray introduced me to Viktor and Viktor and I became very close. Ray and I were on Viktor’s team throughout the 1978 cycle of world championship matches, from the quarter-finals to the finals. At first it was very good, but during the second match [with Spassky] Viktor became concerned at the amount of time Ray was spending writing books and articles. So he said to Ray, if you want to stay in the team you have to choose: are you a journalist or are you a second? Viktor had the contracts drawn up by my mother and both Ray and I signed them.

There is no doubt that all the work Ray was doing in the Philippines detracted from his performance as a second. The terrible thing was that Viktor had always been betrayed and let down. That was why he defected. He needed people around him he could trust. I could not forgive what Ray did and I have not really spoken to him since.’

But why should we rely solely on Korchnoi and Stean’s accounts of Keene’s skills as a second? Here is the view of American GM Larry Christiansen:

‘Keene was my second in Moscow 1982. Shall we say he didn’t live up to expectations. He was paid $3,500 by the American Chess Foundation but he seemed more interested in making book deals than helping me. We were two weeks in Moscow. I had just one adjourned game … a very complex rook ending and he showed up inebriated and collapsed. Why me, God? I thought.’

Engrossed in adjournment analysis for Larry Christiansen, Moscow 1982

By every account (except his own) Keene showed no less devotion to duty when he ‘assisted’ Tony Miles at the Interzonal in Tunis, 1985. In the interview Keene is quizzed about Tony Miles’ description of the affair in Kingpin No.15 (Summer 1989). As ever, he plays the baffled victim.

What about Kingpin? Did that not wind you up at all?

What about the constant sort of articles in Kingpin, did you never get-
‘I don’t think I’ve seen one.’ [Strange, he was sent copies -Ed.]

You must have seen the famous cover which said ‘The First Violin of British Chess or Just a Second Fiddle?’
‘Yeah, I rather like being called first violin of British chess.’

No, I mean this was a serious accusation.
‘I didn’t read it.’ [He was sent a copy of No.15 – he even contributed an article to it -Ed.]

About the money.
‘I didn’t read it. I don’t read Kingpin.’ [Ian Kingston, Batsford’s then Technical Editor, told me at the time that he was the first person to show a copy of No.15 to Keene, who ‘read the articles carefully before leaving the building without saying a word’ -Ed.]

What about this accusation where, you must know about it, where it says that you got about a thousand quid off the BCF for pretending to be Tony Miles’ second?
‘I was Tony Miles’ second. That’s the point. And it wasn’t a thousand quid.’ [That’s true: it was £1,178 -Ed.]

Well, how much was it?
‘Um, when I did my accounts after that event, I think I’d made eleven pounds’ profit.’

So why did he write in Kingpin and say that you weren’t his second and that you went up to him and-
‘I was completely baffled by this. I mean, I, the Interzonal he played in was in Tunisia. I had to go anyway, because we were trying to persuade the FIDE executive council there to put the World Championship in London. So I had to be there anyway. And I was discussing it with David Anderton [the BCF’s international director] and said I couldn’t arrive before round 4 or something, or 5, or whatever it was, but I’d be happy to be Tony’s second, and it would combine the two things and cut down the costs. And he said, you know, it may be difficult to – he may suddenly prove difficult, and he said that the way to Tony’s heart is always to cut a deal on the money with him. He said, that’s how I got him to play in teams before. So when I got there, Miles said, I absolutely don’t want a second, and I said, all right, Tony, I’ll give you half the fee. And he said, oh yes, that’s fine.’ [Not true. See Miles’ account in Kingpin No.15 -Ed.] ‘And then I sat through all his bloody games, he never actually adjourned any games, so I didn’t need to do adjournment analysis.’ [This contradicts his statement in the Sunday Times of 13 January 1991: ‘I helped him analyse his adjourned games, though I think he had only one or two of these, and they were very simple.’ According to Larry Christiansen: ‘I was in Tunis as a second to Nick de Firmian. I don’t believe Ray was there to help Tony. I saw no evidence of it. He seemed to spend all his time politicking … Keene arrived midway through the tournament, with his wife. They spent a lot of time by the pool.’-Ed.]
‘I thought no more about it. And then two years later I’m accused of stealing money and doing this, that and the other. I was very upset about it.’

He [Miles] said that he took his cheque back to David Anderton and David Anderton took the money back.
‘Did he?’

That’s what he says.
‘Oh, he should have given it back to me, because it was my cheque.’

Well, he says he thought it was unfair to be given this money, and then he sort of links it to you resigning as FIDE delegate.
‘I got pissed off with them. I thought I’d done amazing things for the Federation, like get them extraordinary international events, I’d been to this thing and actually tried to save them money by combining two functions, and we had a World Championship, two world semi-finals, a USSR-World match, gigantic GLC tournament, I’d rejuvenated Hastings almost single-handedly by finding sponsors for them, and I thought, the mere thought that they can even remotely suspect me of doing something against their interests was so insulting, I didn’t want anything more to do with them.’

So they suspected you – are you talking about this money?

They suspected you straight after the-
‘No, not straight after. I think Miles made a complaint two years later.’ [Miles confronted Anderton after Brian Eley’s attempts to investigate the matter had been ‘blocked at a high level’ -Ed.]

But you resigned before?
‘No, I resigned in 1987. I was just absolutely furious with them. I thought I’d basically put British chess internationally on the map in those four years from ’83 to ’87, and we’d never had events like that in this country, and I personally went out and found the sponsors, put them together, organised them, you know.’

From this one might easily gain the impression that Keene simply resigned in disgust at the BCF’s ingratitude for all he had done for British chess. Indeed, after leaving the BCF he threatened to sue anyone who repeated Miles’ allegations. So, did he jump or was he pushed? According to Mohammed Amin, then Financial Director of the BCF, ‘We came to an agreement with his solicitors. He resigned and we accepted publicly that the resignation had nothing to do with the inquiry [into Miles’ allegations]. Ray’s defence was that he didn’t do any analysis, but dispensed tea and sympathy. It sounds hollow and it always did.’

But what about all that Keene had done for British chess? What of the first half of the 1986 World Championship match between Karpov and Kasparov in London? It was a financial disaster for the BCF. In November 1987 the BCM reported that the match had left the BCF with debts of £26,000. The May 1991 BCM put the deficit at £17,240 and stated that Keene and Stewart Reuben had agreed to return the fees of £6,000 each received as match organisers and that BCF President David Jarrett and David Anderton would donate the remaining £4,740 (Keene nobly contributed £500 to acquire the table used in the match). But the BCM offered no explanation of why the match had made a loss.

In 1990 Amin gave the Sunday Times a disturbing account of the fiasco:

‘The World Championship match was a complete shambles financially. We had an agreement with the GLC/LRB [the Greater London Council/London Residuary Body] whereby any surplus would be returned to them, and any shortfall would fall on the BCF. It looked tricky for a while but then there was extra sponsorship. All forecasts suggested a surplus of £40,000 to £50,000, and they were still saying that after the match.

During the match my belief, whatever they say to the contrary, is that Stewart and Ray set out with the objective of spending the money down to zero and they missed – by about £17,000. They wanted to spend it all and they overspent. They were very lavish. They spent £18,000 on taxis. Atlas cars had an account and eventually the last £4,000 was settled after writs arrived at the BCF.

In January 1987 – after the match – at a management board meeting, Ray and Stewart signed agreements that they would return their fees, of £6,000 each, if the event showed a loss. At the meeting David Anderton threatened to resign if they didn’t. They have since pleaded poverty. In Stewart’s case that is reasonably accurate. He has reached an agreement that he will work off the sum in future. Ray has tried to resile from the agreement. He has never actually said sue me. Last September [1989] he was offering various copyrights to the BCF, but they were not worth the sum involved.

Until early January 1987 we thought we were in the black on the world championship match. In October 1986 the projected profit was down to £25,000. All of a sudden the story changed and writs started to appear. I gave an interest-free loan. Others have made indefinite loans … waived in the event of death … Ray has a very interesting talent for getting sponsors – once. They never come back. He has a history of making people unhappy.’ According to the BCF, Keene and Reuben never did return their fees directly to the Federation. The event’s losses were covered by Jarrett and Anderton, who apparently ‘made private agreements with Ray Keene and Stewart Reuben to contribute to the shortfall out of their fees’.

© Mark Huba

There is space here just briefly to recall Keene’s part in the public relations catastrophe that was the Times-sponsored Kasparov-Short world championship match in 1993: the Covent Garden-style ticket pricing, the awful propaganda in The Times and the offer by the supposedly impartial sponsor to pay for extra help to get Short back into the match. And we mustn’t forget Keene’s involvement in both the rival London and Manchester bids for the match, not to mention Intel’s withdrawal of £500,000 in sponsorship after The Times prematurely announced that it had won the bid.

Keene intimates in the interview: ‘I think I’m quite good at organising things … If something has to be stitched together, I can do it.’ And if somebody has to be stitched up, he can do that as well. On the surface there is nothing controversial about Keene’s achievement of the Grandmaster title. Ray got his norms ‘the patriotic way’, playing for England in the Olympiads at Nice, 1974 and Haifa, 1976. As he is at pains to remind us in Grandmaster Strategy (1999), at Nice he became the ‘First ever British player to achieve the World Chess Federation Grandmaster result…’. And yet Michael Stean could not share his team-mate’s pride in this success:

‘It was the first time I was in the England team for the Olympiad. Bill Hartston was number one board, and Ray Keene was on two. Bill was playing very well at the time and he had a good chance of achieving his first grandmaster norm. Bill was more than upset when Keene, who had achieved a norm rating, and didn’t want to play on in case he put it in jeopardy, came to an arrangement with David Anderton that he would rest for a few rounds, because Bill was then forced to play a string of difficult games on board one. (It was a six-man team with four playing each day. But Bill and Ray were easily our best two players, so when Ray dropped out Bill had to play on.) Keene agreed his draw with Andersson in the last round. He told us all about it days before, and Andersson was a friend of his. [See Kingpin No.25, p.33, for more about this tense struggle -Ed.] Other members of the team were also upset about it and Anderton was put under tremendous pressure. The sad thing was that Bill then achieved a norm rating, but had to play on when he was tired.’

With five rounds left to play, England had to face Hungary, West Germany, the Netherlands, Argentina and Sweden. The previous match had been against Czechoslovakia, when Keene had won a good game against Jansa and needed only a draw against a sufficiently highly rated opponent to secure a grandmaster norm. Hartston had just lost to Hort and appeared to have no real chance for a norm. In the next round, against Hungary, Keene didn’t play. Hartston crushed Portisch brilliantly in only 25 moves. Suddenly a GM norm was within reach: he needed 3 out of 4.

Next round he adjourned against Unzicker a pawn up; he felt that it was not enough to win, but knew that he had to try. Before the resumption of play he told team captain Anderton that he would like to be rested in the match against the Netherlands. After a morning’s session he felt that he would be too tired to play Timman, whom he had always found a difficult opponent anyway. It was then that Anderton disclosed the agreement he had made with Keene that he could play Andersson in the final round to complete his norm (a deal that was done without even telling, let alone securing the agreement of the other team members). Hartston pointed out that this was ridiculous and asked what Anderton intended to do if he too needed to play Andersson in the final round to have a chance of making a norm. Anderton said that he’d deal with that issue if it arose, but that Keene was quaking so much with the fear of losing his norm, he couldn’t possibly make him play. Hartston, who must have been unsettled by this exchange, pressed Unzicker hard for most of the four-hour morning session, but could not win.

When Anderton put his name down for the match against the Netherlands, Hartston expressed his annoyance, told him that he was too tired to play and that he deserved a rest (having played in every round up to then). When Anderton insisted, and expressed his faith in Hartston not to lose to Timman, Hartston agreed to play, under considerable protest, but said that if he lost he would certainly not be willing to play against Argentina and that Anderton would have to find some other way out of the hole he had dug himself. Hartston was very annoyed before the game with Timman began, realising that only his losing could solve Anderton’s problem. If he drew, he would still need 2 out of 2 to make a norm, but leaving Keene out of the team against Argentina in the penultimate round would then run the risk of his winning and leaving both of them needing to play Andersson in the final round. It was a ridiculous situation.

Hartston lost to Timman. He refused to play in the next round and said he would not turn up if his name was entered on the team sheet. It was Hartston’s intention to default the game until he learnt that Argentina had dropped their top two boards and promoted Najdorf to board one. He couldn’t be so rude to such a legend, so arrived a little late, apologised, made a few solid moves with White and offered a draw.

In 1996 Keene ran a brief campaign in his Spectator column to make Hartston an honorary grandmaster: ‘William Hartston … never became a grandmaster. He would certainly have done so had he been allowed the modern cherry-picking option.’ And, one might add, had all the cherry-picking not been reserved for Raymond Keene at Nice in 1974.

Keene and Anderton emerge from this episode equally tainted, as self-serving manipulator and acquiescent accomplice, roles they would reprise 11 years later in the Miles affair. And now Keene stands accused of embezzling a sum much larger than the £1,178 he misappropriated from the BCF. Just as serious is David Levy’s charge that the directors of Braingames Network plc misled investors by imaginatively claiming in their prospectus that they were ‘not aware of any other companies which broadly specialize on organizing and commercializing events and Internet-based competitions in the games’, wilfully overlooking Mind Sports Olympiad Ltd. The match investors, London stockbrokers Williams de Broe, are not amused and a DTI (Department of Trade and Industry) investigation beckons.

One wonders what a psychoanalyst would make of Raymond Dennis Keene. A person of such, er, imagination would surely test the skills of the most eminent shrink.

* * *


Keene On . . .

‘I tend to make the articles in The Spectator more wordy and The Times I make a little bit more lapidary in the style.’

‘When I did my accounts after that event, I think I’d made eleven pounds profit.’

Being expelled from the BCF
‘I thought, the mere thought that they can even remotely suspect me is so insulting, I don’t want anything more to do with them.’

Miles’s article on Tunis
‘I was completely baffled by this.’

Golombek’s stroke
‘He ceased to be interesting afterwards.’

‘If somebody really gets out of line I can be quite decisive in dealing with it.’

‘I try to do things in ways that speed up efficiency, and sometimes this involves cutting corners.’

Staunton’s headstone
‘I found some quote from Shakespeare, but it didn’t quite work, so I rewrote it.’

Physical sports
‘I used to enjoy playing rugby . . . one could score tries while legitimately treading on the necks of one’s opponents.’

Training methods
‘The Lloyds Bank Masters 1981 was won in the King’s Head. It’s where I discovered Carlsberg Special Brew.’

Playing world champions
‘Smyslov I had trouble with. Petrosian I had trouble with. Tal, funnily enough, I didn’t have trouble with.’

‘I can be perfectly affable if I have to be.’

‘I don’t think I’ve seen one.’

First published in Kingpin 32 (Spring 2000)


  1. merry says:

    Not a really nice chap, from these accounts

  2. He´s still standing: still correspondent of The Spectator, The Times and The Sunday Times.
    Chessplayers let him get away with everything and anything.

  3. Sam Sloan says:

    It is remarkable how in 2013 they go on and on about events of 1974, attacking Raymond Keene for sitting out a few rounds in order to not jeopardize a grandmaster norm he had already achieved. (Because of this and many similar incidents FIDE changed the rules so that a grandmaster norm becomes frozen and the player can continue to play without fear of losing it.) By the way, these games were played at one game a day with rest days every fourth day. Since when is it so terribly tiring to play one game a day when the tournament standard is now two games a day? It is too bad that Hartston never made the grandmaster norm. He is a good guy but just never could win enough games.

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