Friday, 3 April 2020

In the Presence of Genius - Part 1

Unlike most sports (and we all agree, I hope, that chess is a sport!), chess gives ordinary mortals the chance - very occasionally - to play against a superstar (and I'm not talking simultaneous displays here). Its happened to me a couple of times - Speelman and Nunn spring to mind. And team events provide a variant of this theme, as you can sometimes - when the stars align - find yourself sitting right next to, or at worst a few boards away from, high level encounters between very strong players who would normally never be seen dead in the vicinity of such a weak player as oneself.

I'd like to share a couple of those "I was there" games with you. Part 2 will feature a truly heavyweight encounter, but we start at a slightly lower level, although still one that is up in the stratosphere compared to my normal orbit.

We go back to 1982 when my club, Mitcham, somehow recruited two rather useful players for our Division 1 London League team - Tony Kosten and Peter Large. I'm pretty sure Tony was already an IM at the time (and subsequently became a GM in 1990), while Pete acquired the IM title in 1987. We suddenly went from being relegation possibles to title challengers, though we eventualy wound up in 3rd place. And leading the way was Tony Kosten, whose performances on Board 1 were quite remarkable. In that glorious season his results were:-

v Howard Williams (220) Win
v Alan Hanreck (212) Win
v Andrew Whiteley (225) Win
v John Ady (209) Draw
v Peter Sowray (209) Win
v Danny King (223) Draw
v Dave Stewardson (174) Draw  - no idea what went wrong there!
v John Sugden (203) - result lost in the mists of time!

At the time Tony was 24, and working for the DHSS. He annotated the following two games for the Mitcham club magazine, Dinosaur, fortuitously also providing an important historical insight into 1980's work practices in the public sector - "You asked for some games and everyone at work has gone home and I've got to stay another hour and a half to make up my flextime. Just light annotations as I'm doing this from memory without a board."  (!!!!)

Impressive stuff against the multiple Welsh champion, but even better was this amazing tour de force played just a few weeks later.

I half thought of providing the games I played in these two matches as a point of contrast, but as that would not reflect too well on me, I promptly shelved the idea. My records show that in the Hendon match I lost on Board 9 (!) against D.V. Booth (165!!) as we lost the match 4.5-7.5, while against Cavendish I beat the ungraded G. Thomas on Board 7, a match we won 9.5-2.5. 

I think Tony played one more season for us, but as I left for Australia in January 1984, my memory of this is very hazy and I have no details of his subsequent performances. But there is little doubt that the dynamism and energy of his play in the two games above were already at or very close to GM level, and its no surprise that he didn't waste his time hanging around in the DHSS for too long!

Part 2 to follow in due course, when we get to see a team-mate of mine inflict a severe beating on a former USSR champion and two times Candidate. No more details for the time being, but I don't think I'm giving away too much information if I just say that this did not occur during a Kenilworth match!

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