Coulda’ Been a Contender

In the last few posts I’ve demonstrated my games from the 1977 Major Open in Brighton.

What happened next?

I’d already made the decision to give up playing in weekend congresses, my last one having been a few weeks earlier. By now Richmond Junior Club was going well and I decided I really didn’t want to miss even the occasional Saturday. So now my chess was mostly confined to matches for Richmond in the London and Thames Valley Leagues. I took part in the Major Open again the following year, but this time never really got going, eventually finishing on 5/11, two wins, three losses (one of which you saw a couple of weeks ago) and six draws. In 1979 I moved down to the First Class tournament, the section below the Major Open, which still contained some reasonably strong players. I was hoping to do well, but my results were exactly the same as in the Major Open the previous year, with two of my losses the result of horrendous blunders.

I gave the British a miss in 1980 and 1981 but tried again in the 1982 Major Open. I started badly but a second week revival saw me finish on 50%: four wins, three draws and four losses. And that was it. I made the final decision that I was no longer a tournament player. To be honest, although there were good times where I did well, I didn’t really enjoy playing in that sort of event, much preferring team chess to individual tournaments. My only competitions since then have been occasional appearances in the Richmond Rapidplays where I was involved in the administration and sometimes played to make an even number. I preferred different outlets for my love of chess: organising, teaching and writing. I’ve continued to play league chess, though. I eventually stopped playing for Richmond in the London League in 2001: travelling up to London, usually after a school chess club, was just too much hassle that I didn’t need in my life. Since then I’ve contented myself with playing 15-20 games in the Thames Valley league every year (I play for both the Richmond A and B teams). That’s as much serious chess as I want.

Now I’m eligible for senior (65+) events my friend Ken Norman has suggested that I might like to join the international senior circuit. The idea has its merits: visit attractive places, play some chess, and perhaps make some friends from other parts of the world. I’ve decided against it, though. I haven’t been a tournament player for many years and I don’t think I’d do myself justice if I started again now.

I sometimes, wonder, though, whether I could have gone further. Perhaps I might have reached 190-200 (2100-2200) strength. I was always aware I had neither the determination nor the raw chess ability to go further than that. If I’d had the opportunity for lessons with someone like Nigel Davies things might have been different. I would have learnt to stop the continual switching of opening repertoire and style, to identify and work on the position types I preferred, to stop playing for draws by trading off pieces when I had my opponent under pressure, and to choose the right openings to reach the positions I played well. More importantly, perhaps, I might have been advised to take up Tai Chi to help with my issues regarding self-esteem, stress and anxiety.

If I’d taken that route I wouldn’t have had the time or energy to develop Richmond Junior Club in the way I did so perhaps I made the right decision. The rest of my chess career, and the history of Richmond Junior Club, are stories for another time, and, perhaps another place.

Meanwhile, I hope you’re all enjoying the festive season and wish you all the best for 2016.

Richard James

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About Richard James

Richard James is a professional chess teacher and writer living in Twickenham, and working mostly with younger children and beginners. He was the co-founder of Richmond Junior Chess Club in 1975 and its director until 2005. He is the webmaster of chessKIDS academy ( or and, most recently, the author of Chess for Kids and The Right Way to Teach Chess to Kids, both published by Right Way Books. Richard is currently the Curriculum Consultant for Chess in Schools and Communities ( as well as teaching chess in local schools and doing private tuition. He has been a member of Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club since 1966 and currently has an ECF grade of 177.