Bringing Chess to Visually Impaired People

The Gazette - August 2009

Sponsored by The Primary Club
Edited by Guy Whitehouse
The views expressed in the Gazette do not necessarily reflect the policies or views of the BCA, nor those of the editor.

Obituary for Geoff Carlin, 1932-2009

Colin Chambers writes:

Geoff became a pupil at The Royal Normal College for the Blind, Rowton Castle, Shrewsbury in 1945 and stayed until 1952. Whilst at the college, he was a prime mover in the formation of their very successful chess club. He trained as a piano tuner and ran his own tuning business throughout his working life.

Geoff was destined to play an important part in the Braille Chess Association. Was it a coincidence that both Geoff and the BCA were created in 1932?!

He was very active in over-the-board chess. He represented Great Britain in the first 9 IBCA Chess Olympiads, i.e. West Germany 1961, East Germany 1964, Great Britain 1968, Yugoslavia 1972, Finland 1976, the Netherlands 1980, Spain 1985, Hungary 1988 and Spain 1992. Besides this, Geoff was in the Great Britain team in the World Cups in Spain 1990 and Poland 1994. He also represented his country in World Individual Tournaments. He still found time to win our own championships on at least 5 occasions.

Geoff didn't confine himself to over-the-board chess, and was also very active in postal chess. He represented Great Britain in postal chess Olympiads and won our postal chess championship.

No, he didn't confine himself to chess for the visually impaired. He was very active in his local chess league and was a regular member of the Leicestershire County team. Geoff's father was one of the founders of the Braunstone club, and Geoff played for this club throughout his chess career.

When facing Geoff over a chess board, it was a very frightening experience. However, off the chess board he was very quiet and unassuming. He was always ready to support team members and help whenever possible. Neil Beasley, a vice-president of the Leicestershire and Rutland Chess Association, described him as “a much-loved and respected chess player.”

During the last 10 years, due to Alzheimers, Geoff's health steadily deteriorated. He passed away on 29th May, 2009. Many of Geoff’s friends attended the funeral including Hans Cohn, Julie and Ollie Leonard and Peter and Celia Gibbs of the BCA, Jim Bingham, Pat Hogan and John Robinson from the Braunstone club and Brian Foreman from the Scraptoft Valley club.

Geoff leaves a wife, Ruth, and three children, Helen, Gill and Clive.

Peter Gibbs, president of the Midland Counties Chess Union and close friend of Geoff, adds:

As I knew Reg Bonham from having played him in the British Championship and county matches, I always made a point of speaking to Geoff at county matches, although we were on opposite sides! However, it was sheer coincidence that in 1977 Celia and I became firm friends of Geoff and Ruth.

As everyone knows, Geoff was a piano tuner by profession. One day in 1977 we saw Geoff striding through the driving rain in Hinckley, purposefully going to his next appointment. We gave him a lift to this appointment, and shortly after that he telephoned to say that in the following year he would be representing the BCA in the World Individual Championship and would I be willing to give him chess coaching and be his guide at the tournament. I suppose one could say that the rest is history, because since then I have been involved with the BCA as an Arbiter and have accompanied teams abroad, both senior and junior. For all this I am indebted to Geoff.

I always found Geoff to be a most modest person about his chess achievements. He was a gentle man and a perfect gentleman. Under this quiet exterior he had a good sense of humour. I remember at one tournament abroad we were going back to our hotel room and talking. I must confess that I was not taking too much notice of our surroundings. The point came when Geoff said “Surely we are a floor higher than we should be.” He was, of course, correct and some banter ensued between us about who was the guide.

In my prime I quite prided myself on my ability to play chess without sight of a board. In many of our travels abroad Geoff and I used to play chess in this way to pass the time. I found he was adept at blindfold chess and I had to struggle to break even. Occasionally when I was especially struggling he would say “I think you touched that piece in your mind” which would cause much mirth.

Celia and I have lost a close friend and we know that all the BCA members will feel the same. Ruth and her family must feel the loss most acutely. Our thoughts are with them.

Read a profile of Geoff in a 1979 gazette