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   Stephen R Boniface (1951 - 2005)      

The sudden and unexpected death of Steve Boniface, aged 54, the west country's best-known chess organiser, was announced this week.

Born and raised in Northampton, while still at school he started playing at the White Melville Club in the town. He came to the west country in 1970 when he took up a three year teacher training course at Rolle College, Exmouth. The fact that the local chess club met in the College made it easy for him to get quickly and fully immersed in Devon chess. Although completing the course, he didn't take up teaching but became interested in the then new world of computers, which later became his career.

He remained in the Exmouth area throughout the '70s, a time when the weekend congress became an established feature of the British chess scene. He played in them and quickly became interested in their organisation. His first organised event was the Exmouth Primary Schools Chess Congress in 1976, which he organised with fellow club member, Bob Jones. It was immediately clear that this was his metier, and he soon moved on to larger, adult events.

In 1980, he left the county to become a computer maintenance operator with a large insurance company in Brighton. But he regularly returned to the west as he became controller of long-established and prestigious events at Paignton, Torquay, Exeter and the peripatetic West of England Championship.

His day job took him to Bristol in the early 1990s and with its active chess league he was in his element. His services as a tournament arbiter grew in demand as his talents became increasingly recognised nationwide. Eventually he retired early in 1999 and was free to devote himself fully to chess. Without losing touch with his existing west country events, he became involved in, to mention but a few more, the British Championships, the Guernsey Congress and the 4NCL

In 2000, he devised the formula for a new event, the Royal Beacon Seniors Congress, held next to Rolle College, Exmouth, which he ran for its first five years. At the time, it was Leonard Barden's opinion that this was the first and only event of its kind in the UK.

Eventually, he was awarded the title of International Arbiter by the world's governing body, one of only a handful in the UK. He was also very active in the Chess Arbiters' Association, helping to train many up-and-coming controllers.

Many tributes have been paid to his unstinting work for the chess cause, all of which refer to his warm and convivial personality at chess tournaments, one which could generally defuse potentially difficult situations with a light touch without compromising his position as the man in charge, able to take tough decisions if necessary. Off-duty, he could amuse his colleagues for hours with a fund of stories about the follies and foibles of chess players. He was a well-respected and greatly popular servant to the game, whose loss will be deeply felt by players and fellow organisers for years to come.

He was unmarried and is survived by his brother and two nieces, Kate and Samantha. Our condolences go to his family.

R H Jones



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