Bringing Chess to Visually Impaired People

The Gazette - May 2017

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.

24th Windermere Chess Theme Week

Saturday 28th January to Saturday 4th February 2017

Report by Mark Kirkham, with assistance from his Mother Liz

It was only the second time that we have attended this event, but we were both looking forward to it with eager anticipation in view of our experience last year. This annual week takes place at the Windermere Manor Hotel in the heart of the Lake District.

Members of the party (more than thirty of us) began to congregate in the bar just before dinner in time to be warmly welcomed by Shery, the activities co-ordinator, who outlined the excursions that were being organised during the week. Later that evening, Peter Gibbs discussed the week from a chess perspective, including the coaching due to start the following morning with all of us either in pairs or groups of three, and the format of the cup competition that the trainees would be taking part in once the coaching was over. The competition would consist of two groups of five players each (an expansion on the previous year) with all games lasting a maximum of one hour. However, the amount of initial time on each player’s clock would vary according to their perceived playing strength. The games would be overseen by Peter and Norman Andrews.

Over the four coaching sessions, the relaxed, yet focused, environment enabled Mark Hague and me to look at several of our recently played games and to cover the opening ideas and endgame technique that arose in each case. These individual chess sessions took us up until Monday afternoon. Those not involved in the chess were free to enjoy the hotel’s leisure facilities and venture into Windermere. Monday morning’s trip was to Grasmere, which hosts a famous church. In the evening we took part in Celia’s general knowledge quiz. Perhaps the questions were a little tougher than they had been last year, as the score by the winning team was 40 from 50, beating our team by a single point, and leaving us ruing a couple of missed opportunities.

On Tuesday morning the hotel organised a trip to Hayes Garden Centre at Ambleside. That afternoon I went on my first outing of the week, this being the circular boat trip on Lake Windermere. Those who read my corresponding report last year will recall that I sat on the top deck for much of the return journey. Unfortunately on this occasion the rain made this an unattractive option, but I believe the hot drinks and snacks available on the boat kept most of us happy.

Throughout Tuesday a lucky few of us were given the chance to learn from Philip, an expert in smart-phone and tablet technology, who, funded with the aid of a national lottery grant, drew our attention to various apps designed specifically to help visually impaired people with aspects of daily living.

The bingo that evening made many a happy punter, with Gary completing his card of numbers in the final round just in time!

The next morning we visited Cartmel, well-known for its Priory, sticky toffee pudding and race course. I was pleased to find that, unlike last year, the latter, though muddy enough to require wellington boots, was not waterlogged, so we were able to walk round it with Shery giving us a conducted tour. Having been made aware of my interest in the sport, she also read out a detailed brochure about the course’s history and summer programme. We then popped into the brewery for a quick tasting and a demonstration; something we had somehow failed to fulfil on our previous visit.

By the time we returned to the hotel for lunch, the first two rounds of the cup competition had been completed. This continued late into the afternoon, as five rounds were needed to complete the group stages and determine who progressed to the finals. In group A, Mark Hague and Jim Cuthbert prevailed, despite each having only half the time as their other three opponents. In group B, which I had unofficially labelled the ‘group of death’, John Jenkins and Alan Kearsley were both successful debutants. Lea Ryan will not forget the moment she triumphed against Gary.

That evening’s entertainment was once again provided by popular music vocalist Sue Parish, a favourite of our party.

On Thursday morning we were keen to take part in the trip to the picturesque town of Keswick, one that had not been possible the previous year due to flooding. A good walk along the lakeside, followed by refreshments at a cafe was how we spent the morning, and it became clear as we boarded the mini-bus that several people had used the opportunity to purchase chocolates, mugs and other souvenirs from a local shop.

Meanwhile, the morning’s chess had resulted in John and Mark being declared joint winners of the trophy after agreeing to draw their game. Perhaps Mark had gained some confidence from his trainer? I suspect due to everyone’s exertions, the afternoon was a quiet one whilst people prepared for the regular soirée organised by Joan, which took place after dinner.

Peter’s monologue set the tone for the wonderful variety that followed. We were treated to limericks, poems and numerous songs as a wide range of talent was on display. There was a ‘hot off the press’ poem from Joan herself describing the week thus far. Stan was followed on the piano by Tanvi (accompanying Claire’s vocals), Abi and Antoine. Quite an orchestra evolved including percussion instruments from Thuy and Jim. Several songs by Gary and Antoine using a guitar and ukulele included their version of ‘Hey Jude’.

On Friday morning a group visited Kirkby Lonsdale. The chess, however, was not yet done, for in the afternoon Peter’s friend John Toothill arrived to give a simultaneous display, where Gary restored much chess pride as he was the only one of us to impressively take half a point from his opponent. This achievement was certainly better than my own effort because John, perhaps not wishing to face my French defence again, caught me off guard with the English opening. Despite having good counter-play in a long tussle I went wrong once my opponent was in a position to visit my board more frequently, and ended up getting checkmated in the middle game. Hopefully this will teach me not to make assumptions about my opponents’ openings. Abi and Thuy, in their joint enterprise, held out for a little longer and their game with John was the last to finish.

Any disappointment we felt was soon forgotten once the final evening meal of the week was under way. Afterwards, Peter presented the trophy to John Jenkins who gave a short speech of gratitude. Peter also took this opportunity to show our appreciation for the service we had all received from the hotel staff throughout the week.

The reader may have noticed that I have somewhat glossed over the subject of food. I have deliberately postponed it until now in order to save you the involuntary salivation process, so suffice to say that I like to take full advantage of weeks like this. I will just mention one specific here and point out that the hotel’s lunch menu had been generously extended to include hot meals. I twice partook in the traditional fish and chips with mushy peas. This was in addition to the ample catering provided for breakfast and dinner.

On Saturday morning we said our farewells during and after breakfast, and many of us were already booking for next year. All that is left for me to do is to thank Peter and Celia for organising yet another highly successful and enjoyable week, to Norman for all his help and for filling me in on the chess when I was out on trips, and to everyone who helped to make the week such a memorable part of our calendar.