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Carlo Alberto Pagni (1931-2009)

Professor Pagni, a retired medical scientist with a distinguished career, died in Milan on 2 March 2009. He had celebrated his 78th birthday on 13 February.

I never met Prof Pagni, although I sometimes corresponded with him and he contributed some articles to my magazine Chess Mail. He was also involved in the final stages of compiling a correspondence chess bibliography for ICCF.

The following comments are therefore based on his work. Unfortunately we never had the opportunity to discuss in person his work or the discoveries in my thesis.

Following in the footsteps of another Italian academic, Dr Bruno Bassi (1901-57), Prof. Pagni was interested in the history of correspondence chess and telechess, and published on these subjects in both the English and Italian languages. His particular interest was in correspondence chess matches played between clubs in the nineteenth century, where he made numerous discoveries (but also unfortunately a few serious mistakes in his published work).

His most recent article, in issue 174 of the BCCA magazine Correspondence Chess, arrived in my letter-box the day before I learned of his death. It included the scores of two games (one complete, one partial) played in a match between Doncaster and Leeds chess clubs in 1835, for which I had searched without success for some time. They turned up in a Tasmanian newspaper - which is not where one would expect to find them!

Pagni was apparently the traditional kind of chess historian, chiefly interested in finds of this kind, which are exhilarating when you make them, but are ultimately a small piece of the jigsaw. Moreover he handicapped himself in that he often tried to write in English, in order to reach a wider audience. His work on Italian chess history was probably important, and he helped me with information about early Italian correspondence chess and the change from the 'Italian' to the intrenational rules which occurred late in the nineteenth century.

The downside of Pagni's enthusiasm for his hobbywas his tendency to rush to publish incomplete results, based on seeing only some of the possible sources, and then sometimes correcting himself in later publications which also lack finality. (He once admitted to me in an email that he had not consulted the Chess Player's Chronicle, which was one of my starting points, until after he had published three volumes on correspondence matches!)

Now knowing his advanced age, this tendency to issue results prematurely is more understandable. He also tended to work solo, taking insufficient account of work done by his contemporaries, as when he printed the first version of his bibliography, totally oblivious that this was an ongoing ICCF project. Moreover his research methods, as betrayed in his publications, showed that his training was in science, not in history and the humanities. This revealed itself chiefly in his frequent reliance on secondary sources when primary sources were available (though perhaps not to him in Italy).

Nevertheless, Professor Pagni's enthusiasm, energy, and ingenuity in finding sources must be respected. His publications provide a considerable amount of information for future researchers in chess history, although they should not be taken as the final word. I am sad that he has not lived to read the book of mine that was published earlier this year, because I am sure we would have enjoyed discussing it.

R.I.P.

 

TIM HARDING