The Gazette - August 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.

Memories of David Hodgkins

By Ben Graff

When I wrote last month about some of the BCA related coincidences in my own life, I could not help but think more about my time with David. We played for the same Leamington team and I would usually pick him up from his house before matches. I have very fond memories of sitting with both David and his mother Phyllis in their front room. She would often very kindly make us both a sandwich and we would eat and chat about our day before David and I headed off to do battle for the club. These moments felt like an oasis of calm and I always looked forward to being in their company.

The car is generally a good place for a conversation, and we must have talked about everything over the years, as we trekked to Solihull, Banbury, Daventry and other such places for our matches. I found David to be incredibly wise and very funny. We would discuss family and work and what was in the news and of course our chess. His perspectives on what really mattered, and his wry sense of humour are things I will always remember.

I think chess must have been harder for David than for some, given his hearing loss in his later years. There were times when this could occasionally lead to mix-ups over the position on the board, which he and his opponents always dealt with gracefully and this did not ever cause any issues. David never complained about anything, which I thought was a real credit to him and made him atypical amongst many of the chess players I know. He simply loved the game and was going to get on with it whatever the challenges.

As the team captain, during a match night I would keep half an eye on all the games in progress. I would usually be able to assess my teammates positions very quickly, except for David’s. There was a real richness and level of complexity to David’s game, which required careful thought to properly understand. I certainly saw remnants of Korchnoi’s style in his play and would often wonder where David might be going with some manoeuvre or other, until many moves later all would become clear. I saw many a strong player’s radar go completely haywire when up against David’s deep and subtle chess brain.

One night we played a match where with all other games finished the score was 1.5 – 1.5. David was still playing. It had been a real slugfest of a game and a crowd of spectators were looking on as a time scramble ensued. David was turning up the pressure and his opponent seemed to be running out of options on the board and time on the clock. After a few minutes, the guys flag fell, but to my horror David did not react. To be fair to his opponent, he was so engrossed in the game that I genuinely think he had not noticed either. A few moves later, David delivered checkmate to win the match. I asked him afterwards if he had noticed his opponent’s clock. He grinned at me and said that he had just wanted to play. It is fair to say he had always had this one covered!

I will always regret that a work commitment meant I was not there when David played his final game for Leamington, two days before he died. Against another Leamington team, David had much the better of an interesting draw with a strong opponent. His play as complex and as strong as ever. Everybody who was present has told me that it was a fun night and David was on great form. He was amongst friends and players who respected him to the end.

David left a deep impression on all who knew him. His contribution to chess for Leamington is something that will always be remembered. He was a great player, a tough competitor, and a friend to many. I feel very privileged to have spent some time with him, talking and playing the game that has meant so much to both of us. He was one of those people who always knew the right move to make, both at and away from the chessboard.