Bringing Chess to Visually Impaired People

The Gazette - November 2018

Sponsored by Geoff Patching
Edited by Julie Leonard
The views expressed in the Gazette do not necessarily reflect the policies or views of the BCA, nor those of the editor.

Final Echo of an Olympiad

Julie Leonard writes: This is the last article in a series featuring the Weymouth Olympiad of 1968 to mark the 50th anniversary of this pivotal event in IBCA history. The Olympiad organiser, John Graham, sent daily reports to the local press and these have been reproduced with the kind permission of Paul Roper at the Dorset Echo. Much gratitude is due to them both and also to BCA member Philip Doyle, whose idea it was to research these newspaper reports.

Thank you to everyone who has given feedback on this commemorative series of articles during the year. It’s wonderful to know that so many readers have enjoyed them and that the long daytrip that my husband, Olly, and I took to the offices of the Dorset Echo in order to research their archives was worthwhile!

In the August issue we covered the final round in which the U.S.S.R. clinched Gold. This time we have the Best Game of the event. One of the players involved is a current BCA member, though sadly he was not on the winning side of that particular encounter. There is also a retrospective report written by John Graham more than twenty years after the Olympiad.

The article that follows appeared in John Graham’s Chess Chat column in the Dorset Echo on 17th April 1968. The game score was originally given in English Descriptive notation but it has been converted to algebraic for the benefit of younger readers.

Best Game in Blind Olympiad

The following game won the best game prize during the 3rd Blind Olympiad. It was played at board one in round two between Albert Sandrin, of the U.S.A., and S. Loftus of Ireland, and the winner, Albert Sandrin, was awarded a handsome striking braille clock for his creation.

White: A. Sandrin (U.S.A.); black: S. Loftus (Eire). Queen's Gambit declined.

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 d5 4. Bg5 Nbd7 5. cxd5 exd5 6. e3 c6 7. Bd3 Be7 8.Qc2 O-O 9.Nf3 h6 10.h4

An interesting sacrifice (Golombek).

10. ... Re8 11. O-O-O hxg5

Black accepts the challenge. It is really very difficult to see where white is going to get much for his sacrificed piece (Golombek).

12. hxg5 Ne4 13. Nxe4 dxe4 14.g6

This is the key move in white's offer of a piece for a king side attack. At this time black can take neither the white bishop or the knight, e.g., if 14 ... exf3; 15. Bc4 Rf8 and then white forces mate starting with gxf7+ and Qh7 to follow, or if 14. ... exd3; 15. Qb3 Rf8 16. Rh2 begins an unstoppable check-mate threat (Sandrin).

14. ... Nf6 15.gxf7+

At this point white could win the black queen by 15. Ne5, and if fxg6; 16 Rh8+, followed by the knight check on f7, but black's game would be much too strong. After all he would have three pieces for the queen, and a good position (Sandrin).

15. ... Kxf7 16. Ne5+ Kg8 17. Bxe4 Nxe4 18. Qxe4 Bf6 19. Qh7+ Kf8 20. Qg6 Be6 21. e4

This keeps the black queen from d5 (Sandrin).

21. ... Qc7 22. Rh5 Bxe5 23. dxe5 Rad8 24. Rxd8 Qxd8 25. Rh8+ Bg8 26. Qh7 Qg5+

After this black loses the piece he had been given earlier. It was better to have played 26. Kf7; when the white queen would check at f5 (Sandrin).

27. Kb1 Kf7

What a difference a move later makes (Golombek).

28. e6+ Kxe6 29. Rxg8 Kf7 30. Rxe8 Kxe8 31. Qh3 Qd8 32. Qh8+ Kd7 33. Qxg7+

Qxd8+ wins faster, the zugzwang of the pawns that follow after the exchange of queens makes this pretty game even more exciting (Golombek).

33. ... Kc8 34. Qg4+ Kc7 35. Qf4+ Kc8 36. Qg4+ Kc7

White's repetitious queen checks were intended only to gain time on the clock (Sandrin).

37. Qe2 Qh4 38. a3 Qh1+

As can be seen white loses a pawn all due to that confounded clock (Sandrin).

39. Ka2 Qxg2 40. Qe3 Qg8+ 41. Qb3 Qg2 42. Qg3+ Qxg3 43. fxg3 Kd6 44. g4 Ke5 45. g5 c5 46. a4 b6

47. Kb3 a6 48. Kc4 Ke6 49. a5 Resigns 1-0

The knowledge of what to do with pawns and king in the end-game is what most players can do with. Sandrin is an American master and his ending shows it.

The annotations in this game are the work of Sandrin while he recited the game for me and also the work of Golombek who was on the best game committee. This committee sifted through a large number of the 440 games played, by double checking games which were noted by one or other of the members of the committee.


International Master Harry Golombek was on the control team at the Weymouth Olympiad. I have it on good authority from a close friend of his, Gerry Walsh, that Harry was very much of the opinion that it takes two players to make a “Best Game”. Both must play exceptionally well in order to make the contest an interesting one. So although Sean Loftus, was on the losing side that day, he is nevertheless to be congratulated on putting up a good fight! After all, Harry Golombek himself remarked that at first it was hard to see what Sandrin hoped to gain from his piece sacrifice!

John Graham concludes his Chess Chat article as follows:

The Olympiad is over and those of us who have worked more than a year for the even are left with a sense of loss, but fortunately chess is a game which can be recorded and the games can be played over again and again to bring back the atmosphere and competition of the most important chess tournament Weymouth has seen.

As a postscript, may I thank all those who have helped in any way, however small, to make the Olympiad a success. It is impossible to write to everyone to thank them individually, but tribute should be paid to the management of the Fairhaven Hotel, the Round Table, the Southern National Bus Co., the Railway Station staff, the Weymouth Chess Club, the Pavilion Ballroom staff, the Dorset Evening Echo, and Weymouth Borough, and of course all those who joined in with us in making this an event to remember. Thank you.


Finally, here is John Graham’s account in which he looks back on the Weymouth Olympiad. It gives a frank, fascinating and often humorous insight into the challenges he faced as organiser and the delicate manoeuvring that took place in order to keep people happy! Needless to say, the Hans to whom he refers was Hans Cohn, who worked tirelessly to promote Braille chess nationally and internationally for decades.

Weymouth Olympiad 1968 by John Graham

“It had seemed such a good idea the year before” said the Weymouth organiser, “now, at one o’clock in the morning, standing on a bare railway platform in Weymouth and listening to the broken English of a helper explaining that the interpreter had died on the way from Poland, the idea was wearing thin.”

A year before, a blind friend had asked if I would organise the third world championship for blind chess teams. It was not an unreasonable request - I was already editing and producing an international tape-recorded chess magazine for the blind - I had the contacts - I was a contributor to the ‘Dorset Evening Echo’. I had a seaside resort for the venue. I was sighted. I said “O.K. - as long as I don’t have to collect the funds.”

I need not have worried. Hans, the Secretary of the British Blind Chess Association, was a whiz at collecting funds. As teams began to respond to our invitation, he first persuaded Mr. Marks of ‘Marks and Spencers’ to sponsor the Israeli team because the Russians were sponsoring a team. Then he told the Soviet Embassy that the Israelis were fully funded but the Soviet team couldn’t afford to come. We only told one lie. Meanwhile, I had formed a group of U.S. blind players into a national team and persuaded George Koltonowski, the San Francisco chess columnist, to accompany them. A San Diego violinist’s foundation provided the funds once they knew that Koltonowski was coming. Funds grew on other funds, with a little persuasion, and soon the event was ON. Now it was up to me and Weymouth.

The Fairhaven Hotel was being reconstructed and I was able to persuade the owner of the rambling building on the sea front to add elevators. Since the building had been assembled from three older hotels, its corridors and innumerable staircases invited accidents if you were sighted or not. In the final event, the elevators were unnecessary and the blind visitors rejected warning tapes that I had planned for each staircase. They would take their chances, they said. In the two weeks of the tournament, three players fell down flights of stairs but no one was injured - if you’re blind you relax in falling, you don’t grasp for a hold that you cannot see.

We invited every blind chess team we knew - those from 20 nations. Eventually, they all managed support and all turned up. Each brought a team of four players with two sighted helpers. In 1968, Britain did not recognise East Germany and I was warned by the U.K. Foreign Office that East German nationals would only be allowed to enter the country as individuals rather than as a team. I had to promise that they would neither be allowed to wave their flag nor sing their anthem. That was annoying because I had arranged for each table to show the flag of its competing nation (and the media would be watching) and we might even sing to each other in the evenings. So, when the East Germans came and learnt of the restrictions, they naturally objected - they announced that they would go home and take the other Soviet bloc countries with them. How strange that now sounds since the Soviet Union is no more but it was a serious threat in 1968. I found a solution.

Since I, the organiser, was the only one who had actually made the promise to the British Government, I offered to leave and they could organise everything between them. “Well, let’s not be hasty.” was the unanimous reply.

We worked it out: inside the hotel the East Germans would be allowed to wave whatever flag they chose (even the Welsh one that I offered), and sing whatever anthem they chose. Outside the hotel we asked for more decorum. However, since play would take place only in hotel rooms they were the only places where flags were needed. All was well. My threat, together with a little diplomacy, worked.

Apart from arranging for two weeks of team play I was also charged with providing entertainment each evening for 80 blind players, and their 40 sighted helpers. So, the months before the event had been a fury of looking for opportunities which entranced senses other than sight - a visit to the Devenish brewery (which we had to repeat several times), a visit to the seaside, a concert, a musical get-together, and an international evening with the local blind of Weymouth.

Apart from a chess magazine for the blind, Weymouth volunteers ran ‘The Sound of Weymouth’, a recorded entertainment for the blind, a sort of local radio program of recorded interviews and music before local radio came into being. I planned to make a similar tape of entertainment for the international evening. Thus, I contacted each of the twenty embassies for a sample of their nation’s music together with, perhaps, a recorded message of welcome to their national blind team. All save one immediately sent music and recorded contributions. ‘The U.S. was too busy.’ I wrote saying that I understood their dilemma and that I was simply looking for advice. Should I play “Yankee Doodle-Dandy”, since it was the only piece of American music that I had at hand?

A reply telegram appeared by return - ‘Do not play the suggested music, recorded contribution on way.’ They eventually did us proud - the ambassador had recorded a resounding cheer for the team with an exhortation to do well. He had also included a musical contribution that would not offend any Civil War sensibilities. After all the arrangements, the joint meeting was a great success and the local blind felt they were part of the Olympiad, which, of course they were. But I get ahead of myself again.

In those days I did not delegate well. I did most things myself. Amongst other things, I wrote letters, negotiated with the hotel hosts and selected the meals. I purchased the medals and flags, arranged for sets and boards, and wrote to firms, like Wedgwood, for gifts for participants and organized volunteer helpers. In addition, I wrote the newspaper columns for the Dorset Evening Echo (weekly before the event but daily during it) for delivery at 1:00 a.m., I laid out the tables for play before 7:00 a.m., calculated scores, and drove the rented van to meet incoming teams at the railway station. Now here I was, at one o’clock in the morning, meeting the Polish team, which had just announced that one of their sighted guides had died on the way and they had brought the body with them.

That next morning, amongst all other tasks, I had to move the body to a mortuary and find a Polish speaker in an English seaside resort - one who could devote the better part of two weeks to helping four young blind men to play chess. Astoundingly, I found one.

Besides the grim reality of a Polish death, each team had its own problems. The event was held in April to avoid the summer resort prices. So, the U.S. team was always cold at night and needed extra blankets. George Koltonowski, a man who was famous for his photographic memory and intelligence, rose one morning, too cold to sleep, and in the bathroom, still dazed from sleep, cleaned his teeth with my hair cream.

The Israeli team had arrived with full security. They had a sighted chess organiser and a security man from the Haganah. But the young men of the team, all North-African Arabs who had suffered more war wounds than simple blindness, were always eluding their “helpers” and going out on the town alone. They would walk, single file, each with a hand on the next man’s shoulders, and blunder through the streets, each taking the lead after the prior lead had been battered enough in knocking into walls and railings. I rescued them one evening after they blundered into a Chinese restaurant to find beer and failed to understand Britain’s quaint restaurant licensing laws: ‘no food, no drink’. Even today, the picture of a Chinese restaurant proprietor explaining English law to four blind French-speaking Arab Jews is unique. These lively young men did not play strong chess but they were intent on having a good time. They elected at the end of the tournament to return to Israel via Paris in order to ‘see’ the Moulin Rouge nudist display.

Tournament play was arranged with a preliminary session to grade the teams, and then a longer final session as the real competition. Each game had a primary chess set on which the moves were made by helpers and each player had a smaller set (about 7” square) over which he, or she, could feel the entire span of pieces with their hands. A player would make his move on his small board, announce his move aloud in German, and record it in Braille. The opponent would then make the move on his board and a helper would make it on the large set for the sake of onlookers. It was a little more complicated than in a sighted tournament, but it went well. The hall buzzed with announced moves and the chattering of Braille recorders.

The whole competition went well - there were enough boards and sets, hall facilities were good, there were plenty of guides and helpers, refreshments and meals were on time and well received, and the day’s reports were being printed each day in the local newspaper. I couldn’t believe that there could be no problems when I had spent the past year running from one crisis to another. Evening entertainment - another earlier concern was much less trouble than I had expected. The visit to the old brewery was the greatest success. Its creaky wooden stairs and floors, the smell of fermenting grain, malt, and brew, coupled with a taste of various samples, was such a sensory feast that the visitors were not content with a single visit - they insisted that they return the next day and the next. The coach visit to the beach culminated in paddling on the shingle shore was another sensual experience that the visitors enjoyed. Most had never paddled before. Then the international evening proved so musically inspiring that the visitors decided to put on their own musical evening.

Overnight, I was asked to find several guitars and an accordion. A notice in the paper the following morning provided instruments within hours and we had a real German ‘biergarten fest’ ready made. At the end of two weeks, there was a grand awards evening. After all the good fellowship of chess and music, the opportunity provided by speeches brought the old political ambitions to the surface.

After all, each team had two sighted helpers - a chess expert and an official. The official was generally political. Certainly, they were for the Soviet Union and Israel. This was their turn in the sun. Immediately, a dispute broke out - the Israelis had brought a gift for Weymouth’s Mayor so they demanded that they speak first to present the gift. However, the Soviet team had won the tournament so they demanded first spot on the program. Impasse! Everyone shouted and argued. A decision had to be made. Thank the lord for international chivalry: I remembered that the Rumanian team alone was led by a woman so I announced that she would speak first. The protests ceased and we had smiles for the remainder of the ceremony.

In my home, there are reminders of that hectic fortnight: a pair of magnificent black Wedgewood chess pieces and a small white bear. The little bear is in recognition of the difficulties that the East German team brought me. I have a memory of the team waving its flag in public at the closing ceremony in the Town Hall along with everyone else. And so it should be.