Bringing Chess to Visually Impaired People

The Gazette - November 2021

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.

2021 Alternative BCA British Championship and Chairman's Cup

Report by Malcolm Jones, 1st October 2021:

“Chess is war over the board. The object is to crush the opponents mind.” (Bobby Fischer).

As a result of the pandemic, it was decided that the British Championship and the Chairman’s Cup would be held remotely this year. This meant that the competition took place in the comfort of our own homes by using the telephone, Skype, Zoom or by any other mutually agreed platform.

There were 26 players who took part in the event. Using modern communication technology was like playing chess in the same room as your opponent with a fly on the wall being the timekeeper. The only disappointment for me was that we could not shake hands before the games and say, “Break a Peg!”

The thing that I like best about chess is that every game is different. The player with the white pieces starts the game with a cunning plan making the first move. Now this is where things can go pear-shaped because the opponent with the black pieces has a choice of 20 different moves to make. The opening player will either be very pleased or have to think about Plan B.

“A bad plan is better than none at all.” (Frank Marshall).

During this event each player played one game every week for six weeks. The player received one point for a win or a bye, half a point for a draw or a planned bye and nothing for losing. The time control for each player was one hour 45 minutes.

The British Championship was open to UK visually impaired players. The current holder, Paul Benson, did not take part to defend his title. The Chairman’s Cup was only eligible for BCA members who had the ECF rating of 1750 or under (140 in old money). Richard Murphy, the current holder, was looking forward to some great battles ahead to hang on to his title.

“Chess is mental torture.” (Garry Kasparov).

The draw for Round 1 was made and the games started on the 21st of August 2021. The 2021 BCA Big Bash winners, Steve Burnell and Steve Bailey, played against each other in the first round on the top board.

“The mistakes are there, waiting to be made.” (Savielly Tartakower).

The first round was completed before the Friday evening deadline with one or two surprising results. There were skewers, forks and pins galore, which reminded me of a quote by Fred Reinfeld “The Pin is mightier than the sword”.

The draw for the second round took place and the games continued on the 28th August. The draws for subsequent rounds were made on or before every Friday for the following four weeks. Pronounced skirmishes were fought between opponents in the true spirit of friendship. Some silly mistakes were made resulting in a dramatic defeat.

“One bad move nullifies forty good ones.” (Horowitz).

By the end of week 3, the half-way stage, there were only three players on perfect scores. They were Steve Burnell, Steve Hilton and Stan Lovell. There were about eight players on their tails with two points. Games continued with more bruising attacks and brilliant defences. Players had become more aware of how versatile pawns were. Philidor was a great lover of pawns. He once said, “Pawns: they are the soul of this game, they alone form the attack and defence”.

At the end of week four there were no players on maximum points. There were three players with 3.5 points and four players very close behind with 3 points. The tournament was now wide open. Any of the top seven players could win! The battles continued in earnest. Players with black pieces put up very strong defences. There were some Sicilian, Caro-Kann, Queen’s Indian, King’s Indian, Dragons, Black Lion, the Pirc, the English, French, Dutch Defences to name a few but no one appeared to have played the Monkey’s Bum. I may try that at the next event!

The draw for the final week took place and there was everything to play for. Stan Lovell was leading with 4.5 points, and four players were only half point behind with 4 points. Richard Murphy had 3 points and was desperately clinging on to his title. The race to the finishing line was very close and perhaps there would be a photo-finish!

“First-class players lose to second-class players because second-class players sometimes play a first-class game.” (Siegbert Tarrasch).

Finally after week six, the final scores are:-

5 points Steve Burnell and Steve Hilton.

4.5 points Stan Lovell.

4 points Malcolm Jones, Tony Elbourn, Richard Murphy, Steve Bailey, Eamonn Casey.

3.5 points Gill Smith.

3 points Norman Andrews, Dan Rugman, Mark Hague, Steve Thacker, Neda Koohnavard, Bittor Ibanez, Nene Clayton, Tony Lawton, Jacopo Tinti.

2.5 points Voldi Gailans.

2 points John Fullwood, John Ramm, Lea Ryan, Simon Highsmith.

1.5 points Abi Baker.

1 point Igna Triay, Richard Harrington.

Tie-breaks were needed to separate Steve Burnell and Steve Hilton at the top of the table. They had the same sum of progressive scores (18.5). The next tie-break was sum of opponents' scores. Hilton had 19.5 and Burnell had 24.5. Therefore, by the narrowest of margins, the BCA British Champion 2021 was Steve Burnell. Stan Lovell was the highest placed player with a rating of 1750 or under and therefore the winner of the 2021 Chairman’s Cup.

Congratulations to the winners! My thanks go to Gerry Walsh and Julie Leonard for organising the competition and keeping everybody under control. Many thanks go to the timekeepers who gave up their spare time and also to everybody who participated in this electrifying event. Although the winning is important, it’s the taking part that counts. Without players there would have been no event, so thank you once again.

“Chess is the art which expresses the science of logic.” (Mikhail Botvinnik).

Reference: Wikipedia for the Chess quotes.

Arbiters’ Note: It’s due to the sportsmanship of the players and the generosity of the timekeepers that the event ran as smoothly as it did. Gerry and Julie thank you all. Deserving of a special mention are Nene, Bittor and Voldi, who kept time for more games than they played, and Norman Wragg, Irene Elbourn and Lea Ryan’s mum, Maureen, who weren’t taking part in the tournament but still timed games. We couldn’t have done it without you!