Old Scores Partly Settled

How sweet life can be, even after a completed chess career. Read with me.

“lunch yesterday with lady cholmondeley, lord and lady belhaven, prince mohsin ali khan. off tonight to see chessboxing at royal albert hall.”

Some days later: “Lunch today with Viscount Monckton, and Lord and Lady Pearson. Planning live chess display where the pieces will be specially trained dogs.”

Followed by: “canine chess – we plan living chess – the dogs will have mini-mikes attached and by obeying simple instructions dogs will appear to play chess.”

And that same day: “Met Lady Rose Cholmondeley and played chess with her. She is a very good player – as one wd expect from such a great expert in Chopin.”

You may imagine to have entered the world of Oscar Wilde or the merry writer P.G. Wodehouse (1881-1975), but in fact these are some recent tweets by Raymond Keene, who you might call the Godfather of English chess.

He may still play chess with Lady Cholmondeley, but it is well known that for a long time already he hasn’t played against his peers, preferring a career as a prolific and superfast author and chess entrepreneur, his motto being “Live Long and Prosper,” which sounds like the name of an investment fund, and maybe it is.

A biographer of the Spanish player Roman Toran has written: At some point of his career Roman realized that it was better to live like a marquis than to be a strong chessplayer.

The same could have been written about Ray. He was indeed a very strong player, when he still played seriously. I think I beat him only once, at a tournament in Madrid for which he himself had invited me. After the game he complained that he had made a great mistake by his act of kindness to me.

Indeed I felt a bit guilty. Ray has always been good to his friends and it may have been appropriate for me, playing with white, to have offered a friendly pre-arranged draw. But then, he had beaten me in the past at least twice, so a score had to be settled.

I wonder when this tournament took place. Usually my database supports my frail memory, but not in this case. It may have been in 1982, the year of the Falklands War, because one evening when we left the tournament site a small group of activists put leaflets in our hand that said that the Islas Malvinas were Argentine. Though Ray could well read Spanish, after a brief glance he threw the piece of paper away. Bowing to the natives was not his way.

Recently on the website of the Remco Heite tournament, which was played in the Frisian town Wolvega, Gert Ligterink wrote about the traditional rivalry between English and Dutch players, which had its low point, from our perspective, at the Lucerne Olympiad of 1982, when the English beat us 4-0.

That black day is still engraved in my memory. I shouldn’t have been part in the disaster, but early in the morning I was phoned by our captain who told me that during the night Genna Sosonko had been kept awake by church bells and was unable to play.

But what about me? Not only that I had spent a long evening enjoying the prospect of a free day, but I also didn’t have time to prepare that morning, because I had promised to pick up at the railway station the woman who I had recently met and who is now my wife. But I bowed to the inevitable and accepted the daunting task of playing against John Nunn with black.

You cannot say that shared grief makes it easier to bear. At some point in this Anglo-Dutch match a gloating Tony Miles left his board and went around trying to place bets on a score of 4-0. He was too late to find any customers.

Gert Ligterink was not lined up in our team that day, but for him too the demise of his teammates may still be an open wound, because when in the third round of the Remco Heite tournament Sipke Ernst and Loek van Wely, who are as Dutch as Kollumer cheese and Bikse beer soup, beat the representatives of perfidious Albion Luke McShane and Matthew Sadler, he described this 2-0 victory as a small vengeance for of our defeat thirty years ago.

Not that we think that the younger generation is at all interested in this traditional Anglo-Dutch rivalry. It’s a thing of the past.

This small six-player event in Wolvega could already have been decided in the penultimate fourth round, as Loek van Wely could have increased his lead to 1½ points, had he beaten Luke McShane. He had a forced mate and even after he had missed that, Houdini gave him an advantage of +13, which had dropped to a still awesome +8 when Loek settled for a three-fold repetition. ‘I want my money back’, said a disappointed spectator.

No big matter, it seemed. In the final round Van Wely needed only a draw with white against Ernst to secure unshared first place. But he lost.

Three players shared first place, Van Wely, Ernst and the German Daniel Fridman. The distinctive feature of this tournament is that the winner not only receives prize money, but also a Frisian horse, though he is strongly advised by the organizers to donate this horse voluntarily to some charity. Live Long and Prosper perhaps?

But jokes aside, it was obvious that with three winners the horse should not be divided in three equal parts, as the prize money was. A blitz play-off was held which was won by Daniel Fridman.

Here are the two games Ernst played against McShane and Van Wely. To play through them and the annotations, click on the game.

McShane - Ernst

Van Wely - Ernst