A few months ago I changed my international representation to Wales, which you wouldn’t think is a big deal for a chess teacher who is currently on a long break from playing competitive chess. Amazingly this has now hit the media in a big way with articles in the Telegraph (with different pieces appearing online and in the print version), the Times and being on the news on Radio 4 and BBC Wales (2.48 onwards). As this story has been jazzed up quite a bit (not to mention the fact that the Times interviewed me via mobile phone whilst I was in a coffee bar with noisy Italians on the next table), I thought I should give my own version of events in my own words.
Leaving the English Chess Federation (ECF) was a largely personal decision that came from not feeling relevant despite being an International Grandmaster and well regarded coach. In fact I never heard from them except when it was time to pay my subs.
In an interview with Telegraph correspondent Leon Watson, the Publicity Manager of the ECF, Mark Jordan, confirmed this: “Nigel of course isn’t strong enough at the moment to get into the England team, unless it was a very poor England team, but he would be far and away the best Welsh player.”
However some people have pointed out that I might have been valuable in an England attempt to win Gold in the European and World Seniors Championships as for an over 50 I’m probably not too bad. Vis a vis ‘strength’ it would also be interesting to see a match between Mr. Jordan and one of the Welsh girls, for example Immogen Camp. If someone would like to sponsor this event I’d be happy to pitch in and do the commentary for free.
By changing to Wales I can still play in the European and World Individual 50+ events (albeit under the Welsh flag) and have given them their first Grandmaster. Perhaps this in turn will inspire young people to take up the game and progress. This has been confirmed by the Home Director of Welsh Chess, Kevin Staveley:
It was Nigel who approached us and said he’s got so many close ties with Wales can he play under our banner, and we were delighted. Success breeds success and we have now got someone on the top layer. Hopefully there will be others who will come along and be inspired by him. We have a crop of promising youngsters, particularly girls, coming through who we think will go a long way in chess.
A sponsor was willing to pay my transfer fee to FIDE (the International Chess Federation) but I got nothing out of this myself except the hope that it would do some good for the game. Other English GMs have also departed for what may be very similar reasons; Murray Chandler left for New Zealand, Tony Kosten left for France, David Norwood went to Andorra and Matthew Turner to Scotland.
More recently, inspired by comments by Garry Kasparov, I wrote two blog posts on The English Chess Explosion and How To Raise The Finance to offer an analysis, based on my 40+ years in the chess scene, of why England is in decline as a chess playing nation and what might be done about it. I also decided not to renew my ECF subscription, partly because I am only playing training games against my son at home and partly through disappointment at the infighting going on within the ECF. The time line is important; I didn’t storm out of the ECF and have not been involved in the recent very public and unfortunate spats and scandals.
Of course the possibility of linking these events seems to be what made the story so attractive to the media, which seems to be confirmed by the Telegraph’s print edition piece that appeared on October 25th under the heading A Bold Move:
There was a time when the buzz on the chess circuit was whether or not a Soviet player might defect to the West. Nigel Davies, however, has defected from the English Chess Federation to Wales. The veteran Grandmaster grandly announced that he was tired of what he described as a “rag bag of chess amateurs who think they should be important but lack the knowledge and skill.”
Chess has often involved bitter rows fuelled by big personalities. But even as the contestants put each other down, the spectator still wonders at the sheer brainpower on display. It takes ego to get ahead; it takes humility to regonise that some of us are better made for a game of draughts. As Woody Allen once quipped: “I failed to make the chess team because of my height.”
I read this together with my chess playing son during a day out in Liverpool and we found it hilarious, especially the Woody Allen quote! But defected? This seems rather melodramatic to say the least, but I guess they’ve got papers to sell. They also took my ‘rag bag of amateurs’ remark completely out of context, what I actually said was this:
There are other very capable people around too, such as GM David Norwood, IM Nigel Povah and IM Paul Littlewood, all of whom have had heavy involvement in the corporate and financial Worlds besides their long standing and distinguished involvement with competitive chess. It should be obvious that these are the individuals you want running things rather than a rag bag of chess amateurs who think they should be important but lack the knowledge and skill.
So basically it’s just a storm in a tea cup and nothing for anyone to get excited about. To put any further speculation to rest I have no plans to play tournaments right now as I’m too busy with other things, including running my Tiger Chess training site. In any case I’m not qualified to play for the Welsh team as I don’t currently live in Wales, but when my son Sam is a bit older we’ll probably play in tournaments together. I dare say that he’s the one to watch rather than me, at 13 he’s already giving me a hard time of it in our training games!