William Roland Hartston (born London, 12 August 1947) is an English chess player who played competitively from 1962 to 1987 with a highest Elo rating of 2515. He was awarded the title International Master in 1972, but is now best known as a chess author and presenter of the game on television.
At the 19th Chess Olympiad, held at Siegen 1970, he won the gold medal for best score on board 3 (78.1%). He won the British Chess Championship in 1973 and 1975. In international competition, he had many fine performances, but failed by the closest possible margin to achieve the results required for the formal award of the title of International Grandmaster.
Since the early 1970s, he has made many TV appearances for the BBC, usually in the role of expert commentator and analyst on world title matches, including Fischer-Spassky '72, Karpov-Korchnoi '78, Kasparov-Short '93 and Kasparov-Anand '95. He twice won the BBC Master Game competition before taking over from Leonard Barden as its resident expert. During the 1980s he presented the BBC series Play Chess. In recent years he has diversified into a number of creative areas, running competitions in creative thinking for The Independent newspaper and the Mind Sports Olympiad. He writes the off-beat Beachcomber column for the Daily Express and has authored books on chess, mathematics, humour and trivia. He has also been a regular guest on the BBC Radio 4 and occasional TV programme, Puzzle Panel.
Aside from his chess and media-related activities, Hartston is a Cambridge-educated mathematician and industrial psychologist. During the 1980s, he was recruited by Meredith Belbin, at the Industrial Training Research Unit in Cambridge, to work as part of a multi-disciplinary team researching the dynamics of team roles. While continuing to write the Beachcomber column and other features for the Daily Express, he has also been behind the launching of the wakkipedia.com Internet site of useless information. His latest publication is The Things That Nobody Knows (Atlantic Books), a discussion of 501 unanswered questions ranging from science to history, including a good supply of typically quirky items.
"Bill" Hartston was the first of three British chess champions to be married to Woman Grandmaster Dr Jana Bellin (née Malypetrova). With his second wife, Elizabeth, he had two sons, James and Nicholas.
On 2 April 2013 it was reported that Hartston had "perfected" a formula for predicting the winner of the Grand National horse race, in a study commissioned by bookmaker William Hill. The story of the winning formula has since been widely thought to be an April Fools joke that many have fallen for.
He became a regular 'viewer' on Gogglebox.
- The Grunfeld Defence (1971), B. T. Batsford ISBN 0-713-4035-51
- The King's Indian Defence (1973) (L. Barden, with W. Hartston and R. Keene), B. T. Batsford
- Karpov-Korchnoi, 1974 (1977) (W. Hartston and R. Keene), Tony Earl Books, ISBN 0-192-1753-00
- The Benoni (1977), Batsford, ISBN 0-713-4024-66
- How To Cheat At Chess (1977)
- The Battle of Baguio City: Karpov-Korchnoi 1978 (1978)
- Penguin Book of Chess Openings (1978)
- Soft Pawn (1980)
- London 1980: Phillips and Drew Kings Chess Tournament (1980) ISBN 4-87187-859-7 (with Stewart Reuben)
- Psychology of Chess (1984) (W. Hartston and P. C. Wason), Facts on File, ISBN 0-871-9622-68
- The Ultimate Irrelevant Encyclopaedia (1984)
- The Kings of Chess (1985)
- Chess - The Making of the Musical (1986) (Hartston and Tim Rice), Pavilion Books, ISBN 1851450068
- Drunken Goldfish and Other Irrelevant Scientific Research (1988)
- How was it for you, Professor? (1992)
- The Guinness Book of Chess Grandmasters (1996)
- Teach Yourself Better Chess (1997)
- The Book of Numbers: The Ultimate Compendium of Facts About Figures (2000)
- What Are the Chances of That? (2004)
- What's What - The Encyclopedia of Quite Extraordinary Information (2005)
- The Encyclopedia of Useless Information (2007)
- The Things That Nobody Knows (2011)
He has written various technical chess books under his full name of William R. Hartston or William Roland Hartston.