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Ronald Biggs and the Scottish Champion
Ronald Biggs, the Great Train Robber, died today.

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What do chessplayers do on their day off at the world team Olympiad? Why, go and visit Ronnie Biggs in Rio of course. That was the itinerary for IM David Levy, the 1968 and 1975 Scottish Champion, when he visited the Great Train Robber in Brazil while playing for Scotland at the 1978 Olympiad in Buenos Aires in neighbouring Argentina.

Levy recounts his association with Biggs in The Biggs Defence on Levy had some success in the chess publishing business but wanted something more lucrative. An autobiography of, “someone really famous” who may not be able to deal with a large publishing house would be the ideal candidate. Levy’s rejected two potential subjects, Princess Margaret and the Shah of Iran, as too wealthy to be receptive to the idea. Ronnie Biggs was still wanted by the British police and may be easier to contact. Levy sent letters to Biggs to set up a meeting. Although he had not yet received a reply he visited Rio in April 1978 en route from a chess event in South Africa to another business venture in the US.

Levy found Biggs an affable companion and keen on the book. Later that year Levy spent three weeks in Rio after the Olympiad interview-ing Biggs. The Biggs tapes were transcribed by Margaret Fitzjames, a friend from Glasgow, who found the subject more interesting than previous work she had done on Levy’s chess books.

Just as the book was about to be published Biggs was kidnapped by John Miller, a former Scots Guardsman, in March 1981 and taken to Barbados to arrange extradition. Levy assisted in getting a team of New York lawyers who found the key legal loop-hole there was no extradition treaty in force at that time between Barbados and the UK. Levy arranged a private plane with which he accompanied Biggs back to Brazil, a boat deemed too risky since it could have been intercepted by the Royal Navy.

The first game which appears in a search for Levy in the Mega database is this miniature from the British Championships in Bath 1963. The robbery took place on August 8 while this tournament was underway. Peter Jamieson, an Olympiad teammate of Levy in Argentina, is still active and played top board for Scotland in the European Seniors (Over 60) team tournament in Austria in April.
British Championship Under 18, Bath, August 6, 1963. White: Peter Jamieson, Black: David Levy, 1 d4 c5 2 d5 Nf6 3 Nc3 e6 4 e4 exd5 5 exd5 d6 6 Nf3 g6 7 Bb5+ Bd7 8 0–0 Bg7 9 Re1+ Kf8 10 Bf4 Ne8 11 Qe2 a6 12 Qxe8+!! Bxe8 13 Bxd6+ Kg8 14 Rxe8+ Qxe8 15 Bxe8 Bf6 Black resigns in a hopeless position before 16 Ne4! 1–0.

First published: SOS Aug 16, 2009

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