This week, some updates on my last three posts.
First, some more very sad news. Just a couple of weeks on from the death of Richard Haddrell, English chess has lost another of its most valued administrators: John Philpott. John, like Richard, had held many different roles over several decades at club, county (Essex), regional (SCCU) and national levels. His main area of expertise was in financial matters, having worked for Ernst & Young. As I write this he’s still listed on the ECF website as Company Secretary, Voting Registration Officer and Financial Controller. In recent years, the ECF has been riven by tribalism, but John and Richard were both respected on all sides for their (unpaid) professionalism and impartial advice. Outside chess, John was a passionate supporter of West Ham United and enjoyed singing in local choirs. My only personal contact with John was a London League game in 1999, which lasted two sessions and 82 moves (I eventually won a queen ending).
The previous week I wrote about a 6-year-old in one of my school chess clubs whose mother said he was brilliant at chess, but it turned out that he didn’t really know how the pieces moved. We had an odd number at the club last week so I was able to spend some time with him while I paired off the other players. After the club I went back into the town centre to do some shopping in the supermarket. The boy and his mother were also there. When he saw me he shouted excitedly “Mum! Mum! It’s Mr Richard Sir James!” (He’s Italian and has an imperfect understanding of British titles.) His mother asked me how he was getting on. She looked crestfallen when I replied that he was still struggling to learn all the rules. I suggested that he should read a book and showed her a copy of Chess for Kids, which I’d also shown her son during the lesson. She told me she’d buy a copy and asked why the school hadn’t told the parents that I’d written the book. We eventually found ourselves at adjacent checkouts at the same time. The boy turned round to the cashier who was serving me and said “Excuse me! That’s my chess teacher!”.
Again, this is the problem with primary school chess clubs. At Richmond Junior Club it’s very different: most parents know at least a little bit about chess and are often keen to learn more. But at school chess clubs most parents, while perhaps thinking they know how to play chess, actually know virtually nothing, and are totally unaware that they know virtually nothing. It’s all very well everyone from FIDE downwards making grandiose claims about the number of chess players in the world, but if they don’t know all the rules they’re not going to take much interest in Carlsen v Karjakin, or even be aware that the match is taking place.
Going back another week, you may recall I wrote about Stephen Moss’s book The Rookie. I spent the following two Mondays in the company of Stephen at Kingston Chess Club, where my club, Richmond had two matches, a league match followed by a cup match. My first match of the season had resulted in a quick win against a teenager of about my strength who played all his moves almost instantly and lost horribly, so I was thinking that perhaps this would be my lucky season. Kingston fielded a weak team against us in the league match, and I found myself just avoiding playing Stephen Moss, who drew his game on board 5. Kingston had low graded players on the bottom boards and I was playing the White pieces against an opponent graded a long way below me. The way my opponent played the first few moves made me feel even more confident, but I gradually lost control and was forced to make an unclear sacrifice of a knight for two pawns. I then spotted a queen fork which seemed to win the piece back, but I’d missed something rather obvious: my move actually lost rather than won a piece.
Normally I’m pretty consistent: I tend to beat weaker opponents, lose to stronger opponents and draw against opponents of my own strength fairly regularly. My opponent in this game was, I think, the lowest graded player I’ve ever lost to. I guess I’ll have to annotate it for you at some point, just to get it out of my system.
The following week I was on board 5 for the cup match and wondering if I’d get the chance to cross swords with the Rookie. This time, though, Kingston had a stronger team, and I had Black against one of my regular opponents, a player of about my strength against whom I have a very bad record. I managed to trade off most of the pieces quickly, and at move 20 my opponent offered me a draw. Although I might have been slightly better in the ending, given what happened the previous week I had no hesitation in accepting. I spent the rest of the evening in the bar downstairs playing 10-minute chess, mostly against my genial opponent from the previous week. In the first game I allowed a mate in 1 when lots of pieces ahead, but I won the rest of the games, mostly very easily as my opponent combined oversights with unsound sacrifices. Such is life. Stephen was also in the bar, playing on the next board, but we didn’t get the chance to play. Maybe another time. Onwards and upwards, or, in my case, downwards.