Saturday, 23 May 2020

What a Long Strange Trip It's Been

So here we are in Week 9 of Lock-Down, with over the board chess an increasingly distant memory for all of us. Nowhere to go; nothing to do; life has come to, if not a full stop, then definitely to a colon:

(Is that the first punctuation joke ever on the KCC website?)

Strange days indeed, as Mr Lennon famously sang. So in the spirit of these times of altered realities, here's a little miscellany of some slightly off-beat chess stuff that has caught my eye. And no apologies for the fact that I play a prominent role in all this!

Firstly, how weird is it that the club has had a British Champion (OK, joint British Champion if you want to be completely accurate) for about 9 months now, and yet no news of this was ever posted on the club website? Despite the fact that our very own roving reporter Joshua was present throughout the event and provided daily reports from Torquay for the first 8 days of the tournament. But inexplicably no report ever appeared for day 9, when KCC acquired a bona fide (not bona FIDE) 65+ British Champion. I wonder why that might have been? Must have slipped his mind, I guess.

Any road up, as our Northern members might say, as de facto club archivist, this omission needs to be remedied, so that future generations will be able to share in the joy and pride which all current club members (possibly except one!) have felt at my humble achievement. And if you don't really believe it actually happened, I'm afraid it really did. And here's the proof!

4 British Champions (l-r): The Club Organiser; David Friedgood; (Adrian Elwood, ECF Director of Home Chess); Brian Hewson and the back view of some chap called Mickey Adams, who apparently won another of the sections at the event

But enough of my triumphs. No, hang on a minute, there can never be enough of my triumphs. So here's another weird achievement by me, which no-one could ever have imagined. But in these strange times apparently anything is possible, so feast your eyes on the preposterous blitz rating I managed to reach on chess24 the other day.


Regrettably, the inflation which has bumped my rating up by a good 300 points compared to my FIDE level, has raised others by even more. So instead of being 700 points off top spot, I'm now more than 900 points adrift of top rated Alireza Firouzja who as of today is weighing in at 3359! And indeed, as of today, I am only weighing in at 2287 (where did those 130 points disappear to? And so quickly??), so the gap is now nearly 1,100 points!! Better buck my ideas up.

Changing subject, the other day I was re-reading David Lodge's novel, Small World (a very amusing romantic satire, set in the world of academia), when I came across a quote from the writings of the 19th Century essayist and critic, William Hazlitt which clearly shows that, unbeknownst to history, he was a chess player! For how else to explain these words:-

"I stand merely on the defensive. I have no positive inferences to make, nor any novelties to bring forward."

With such a negative approach, though, its no wonder that history has preferred to concentrate its attention on his near-contemporary Howard Staunton, once described by Bobby Fischer as "the most profound opening analyst of all time". And as such, unlike Hazlitt, he undoubtedly had plenty of novelties to bring forward.

And the weird and wacky does not end here, because this connection led me to discover that Staunton did not design the chess pieces for which he is still remembered today. Maybe no-one else ever thought he did, but I'd always assumed that they were called the Staunton pattern because he designed them. But no, it seems that they were actually the work of a friend called Nathaniel Cook, and Howard merely lent his name to the design. Next they'll be telling me that Victoria Beckham didn't design/create her range of perfumes!

And finally, how about a piece of delicious irony? As the recent blog article revealed, KCC has met in quite a few places in the last 45 years, including a good few pubs and clubs. How strange then, that one place where we have never met is the Queen and Castle, which should be a chess pub if ever there was one. And in fact, once upon a time, the pub actually flaunted its chess credentials, as Mike Donnelly discovered when unearthing this photo from an old copy of Chess magazine!

The Queen and Rook would be more authentic!

Well, that's all I've got from the weird and wonderful world of chess for the moment, but given that the new normal (don't you just hate that phrase? especially when uttered by Dominic Raaaaaab??) is likely to be anything but, I reckon there'll be more bizarre occurrences coming along soon enough. Indeed, quite frankly, these are such strange times that I can foresee almost anything happening - short of Bernard giving up drinking, of course!

Anyway, let's play ourselves out with a  rendition of Truckin', by the Grateful Dead. Altogether now, "Lately it occurs to me, What a long strange trip it's been"!

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