The Gazette - May 2020

Sponsored by The Ulverscroft Foundation
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.

Family Stories and BCA Coincidences

Associate member Ben Graff writes:

It is always a real treat when I come home from work to find an envelope on the mat containing the latest edition of The Gazette. I very much enjoy reading the stories, playing through the games and catching up on the latest news. I am not as active in the BCA as I would like to be, but I care deeply about everything the organisation represents.

For those who don’t know me, I am a novelist and chess journalist. I have been hooked on the game we all love since childhood, but my connection with sight loss even pre-dates me taking up chess. Julie very kindly said I could share my family’s story and a little about my chess and writing. As you will see, where my connections with the BCA are concerned, the world abounds with extraordinary coincidences!

It all started back in 1982, when I was seven and my family moved from the suburbs of Aldershot to the depths of the countryside. A handful of years later, my mother Mary, got a job as an English teacher at the Royal National College for the Blind in Hereford. She taught there until a year before her death in 2008 and the college meant so much to her. My father Colin also worked as a fund-raiser at the college after his retirement and was an equally passionate supporter of the RNCB.

The college was certainly a big part of all our lives growing up. I played my first “proper,” chess tournament in its cigarette smoke filled dining room, as it was the home of the Hereford Open for a long time – the smoking ban was still a long way off! There was always something so exciting about being in such a gladiatorial environment. Later, when I was older, I would often wander over from Hereford 6th form, to get a lift home with mum. I got to know many of her students well, but there was one person she mentioned who I didn’t get to meet – at least not then.

My mum had told me about this lovely student of hers, called David. “He’s the only person I’ve ever met who likes chess as much as you do,” she would say. The stars did not align, but many years later I joined Leamington Chess Club. Who should I meet but David Hodgkins! We were in the same team and I would often give him a lift to matches. David’s enthusiasm and talent for chess always shone through. He was hugely respected and liked by all at the club. I always very much enjoyed his company. David was so wise and funny as well as being incredibly modest. Like all of us, I miss him greatly.

Steve and Hazel Burnell both lived in Leamington at this time. I have had lots of interesting battles over the board with Steve. We also played together in many matches for Leamington over the years. Steve and Hazel introduced me to the BCA, and I did once play in a BCA tournament in Solihull, which I enjoyed immensely.

There is another link I also wanted to share. When I met my wife, Katharine Faulkner, I soon learnt that her mother was a teacher at Tapton Mount – and had taught many of the same students as my mother. Anne Faulkner also knows Norman Wragg (who I have been lucky enough to meet) so it really is a small world!

These days, I probably spend as much time writing as I do playing chess. When my father died in 2014, I wrote my first book, Find Another Place. I wanted to share some family stories I feared would eventually be lost, if someone did not write them down. It wasn’t a chess book, but it did have a few chess based chapters, including my experiences in simuls against Korchnoi, Short and Nunn. The publisher showed Chess Magazine a copy and they kindly ran a piece on it. I now write fairly regular articles for them – mainly on my personal chess experiences, book reviews and historical pieces. Something I very much enjoy doing.

Even so, I had always wanted to write a full-length chess-based novel. For years, a simple idea had nagged at me. What would happen if someone attempted to storm a world chess championship match? Why might they do this? Could such an act appear perfectly logical to the protagonist? I was lucky enough to write about the Carlsen-Caruana contest for Chess Magazine and this was the catalyst for The Greenbecker Gambit. My novel tells the story of Tennessee Greenbecker, as he sets out with brave optimism to claim what he sees as rightfully his – the title of world chess champion. But who is he really? Is he destined to be remembered as chess champion or fire-starter? Either way, might this finally be his moment? It has been an interesting project!

I will be very proud to see this piece in The Gazette. I’ve often reflected on some of the coincidences that have connected me to the BCA. It is wonderful to finally share them, along with memories that mean a lot to me. Chess certainly has a remarkable power to bring people together.

Editor’s note: I’m sure we all wish Ben the best of luck with his new book. The Greenbecker Gambit is published by The Conrad Press and is available from Amazon or on order from all good bookshops. If you buy from Amazon don’t forget to pick the BCA as your charity for Amazon Smile! Ben is investigating the possibility of making an audio version in due course.