Bringing Chess to Visually Impaired People

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.

27th Chess Theme Break - Windermere 2020

Gary Wickett writes:

Every January since 1994, Peter and Celia Gibbs have faithfully run what is known as the Chess Theme Break (CTB). This is a wonderful concept where stronger players holiday together alongside beginners and weaker players to pass on their chess pearls in coaching sessions; culminating in a mini tournament. This particular year was a very special event, not only was it 25 years since the CTB had moved from Teignmouth to Windermere, but it was also tinged with some sadness as Peter and Celia had decided it was time to take a well earned rest and step down from organising this much loved event. May I take this opportunity to thank Peter and Celia for their wonderful dedication and hard work in organising what has become for many their favourite week of the year. Indeed, I can name at least two people who on several occasions have travelled all the way from Canada to attend. I am sure the future of the CTB will feature in other pages of this Gazette, so I shall now move on to do my best to give a brief account of this year’s event.

This year’s Chess Theme Break was held from Saturday 25 January to Saturday 1 February. Although not everybody came for the whole week, in all I think there were 28 of us who attended; this figure includes non chess playing partners and those who came simply due to the fact that it is such an enjoyable week and the CTB would not be the same without them.

In total there were 14 involved in the chess this year. This figure includes seven coaches: Peter Gibbs, Norman Andrews, Stan Lovell, Gerry Walsh, Mark Kirkham, Colin Chambers and Olle Engström; Olle had travelled all the way from Sweden. The coaches spent Sunday and Monday in one to one sessions with their students.

From Monday onwards, each day there were trips organised by the hotel for the non chess players. The Windermere area has many places of interest. It was the home of Beatrix Potter and William Wordsworth and way before their time it was ruled by Saint Oswald whose church still stands. If history doesn’t float your boat, there were plenty of nice walks, which I’m sure the guide dogs appreciated, and a plethora of coffee shops and other retailers to help lighten your purse, and of course there was a trip on Lake Windermere which I’m relieved to say did float people’s boat!

Monday night was quiz night, where Celia put us through our paces. The team I was in once again came last. I do try to warn people but they never listen! Liz Kirkham’s team, which also comprised both Marks, Martyn and Richard, came first winning the chocolates.

Tuesday was a chess free day with a trip to Grasmere in the morning and a boat trip on Lake Windermere in the afternoon. Despite the inclement weather, I believe everyone had a great time. Antoine certainly had a good time during Celia’s bingo on Tuesday evening as he won several times.

Wednesday morning was back to the chess and the start of the tournament, which was what is known as a quick play handicap tournament, each game being no more than an hour. The players are divided into categories: A, B and C according to strength. The portion of the hour allotted to each player is dependent upon their category and the category of their opponent. So if you are a category A player you may get as little as 20 minutes on your clock, and if you are a Category C player you may get as much as 40 minutes. Although the games of course were not graded, all players were eager to have their name engraved on the illustrious trophy; so everything to play for.

Each round was an all play all. In the first round the players were divided into two groups, which for this report I will call Group 1 and Group 2. The winner/winners of each group would then qualify for the final round.

In Group 1 we had Mark Hague, Jim Cuthbert, Tony Lawton and Richard Harrington. Mark beat both Jim and Richard and then taking the black pieces went on to draw with Tony. Tony also beat Jim and Richard. Richard beat Jim. Scores for Group 1: Mark and Tony 2.5; Richard 1; Jim 0.

In Group 2 we had Gary Wickett, Lea Ryan and Abi Baker. Abi drew against Gary and then went on to beat Lea. Gary also beat Lea. Scores for Group 2: Abi and Gary 1.5; Lea 0.

(Lea and Jim may have finished on 0 but both of them had beaten me two Windermeres ago.)

Wednesday evening we were once again entertained by the dulcet tones of Fiona Shaw or was it Karen Carpenter or Dusty Springfield, the likeness was mind blowing!

Returning to the chess, in the final round, we had Mark, Tony, Abi and yours truly. I had taken the black pieces in my game against Mark and things were looking good as I had managed to win a piece quite early on in the game. However, Mark kept his cool and fought on ferociously. He offered me a second piece, this one a Trojan horse. I saw the danger in taking the knight but thought I could ride the storm and it would mean I was two pieces up. Greed is often heavily punished by chess and Mark went on to win. I had better success in my games against Tony and Abi and finished on 2 points.

Mark went on to win his game against Abi, ensuring he would either be joint winner or outright winner of the cup. Abi beat Tony, leaving one game remaining; Mark v Tony. I took a particular interest in this game as if Tony managed to beat Mark then it would mean that Mark and I would be joint winners. Mark only needed a draw to be the outright winner. I of course joined the various spectators and had promised Tony I would buy him any drink of his choice if he managed to win.

Mark played white with his usual D4. It was a very entertaining game, with Tony castling queenside and Mark castling kingside. My heart leapt for joy when Tony announced “Bishop takes h3”; with Tony’s rook on g8, Mark’s G pawn was pinned to his king. Tony then executed a wonderful attack. But alas, Mark has been playing for many years and experience can too often trump position and Mark managed to turn the position around and finally won on time. Final scores: Mark 3, Gary 2, Abi 1, and Tony 0.

No seven day chess event would be the same without Joan’s Soirée. So with attention switched to mad last minute rehearsals, chess was for the moment put aside. After dinner we enjoyed a very pleasant evening of poetry and song and of course music. Together with all the wonderful songs and poems performed by all the budding stars of the BCA, it has become a tradition now to have a Windermere group song but this year we had three chess theme songs; starting with January where there were almost as many people in the group as in the audience! We then had the delights of the classic ABBA song “Mamma Mia” re-written as “Winder Mia” and performed by Julie who sang and played guitar, accompanied by her friend Pip on violin. The soirée closed with what has become the Windermere house band performing an adapted version of the Scaffold song, “Thank You Very Much”.

Friday afternoon was back to the chess. Mark Kirkham, Mark Hague, Tony Lawton, Richard Harrington and yours truly, five in all, had volunteered to play Peter Gibbs in a simultaneous display. The room too quickly began to empty as heads began to roll. I don’t think the clock had struck 4 when there were only two of us left; myself and Mark Kirkham. I had decided to play the Petroff’s defence, which I don’t know well but has recently become my preferred response to e4. I unfortunately had nothing to record the game on. But I remember that Peter played some moves I had not seen before. Rather than trying to win back the pawn straight away, Peter developed his bishop onto c4 and his knight onto c3. I don’t remember the order but I exchanged knights and Peter re-captured with the d pawn. He then scared the living daylights or was it the living knight lights out of me by playing Ng4. It seemed that Be6 was my only option which would cost me my f pawn; my sole comfort was that I still hadn’t moved the king and could look at castling queenside, which is exactly what I did. It’s all a bit of a blur but I do remember that Peter went a pawn up and I eventually managed to win his h pawn. There was an exchange of queens and Peter eventually launched an attack on my king and sent a pawn thundering down the a file. I kept my cool and manoeuvred my knight and rook in order to eventually capture said pawn. At this point Peter offered me a draw; my very words were: “You are Peter Gibbs! I am not going to turn down the offer of a draw!” and I hastily shook his hand before he had time to change his mind! Peter then went on to beat Mark Kirkham. So Peter came away undefeated with 4 wins and a draw and I came away very happy too.

Friday night was the presentation. When Mark Hague last won the trophy he was joint winner with the late great Michael Meaney. It was Mark’s turn now to have his name engraved as overall Champion.

Since time was a lad, Joan has faithfully written a comic poem about the Chess Theme Break. It’s a tradition and treat so woven into the fabric of our chess events that they have become an integral part. This year of course was no exception and we all waited eagerly to see if any of our misdemeanours would feature in the poem. I shall say no more about the poem as it will no doubt speak for itself elsewhere in this Gazette.

Next was Peter and Celia’s turn to be surprised. Julie had collected money from us all and had bought a Herdwick bag, which had been packed with local produce. This was presented to Peter and Celia by Richard who had faithfully attended every Chess Theme Break since year one. Stan then followed this with a short speech of thanks and a brief history of the event. The informal ceremony then culminated in a short speech by Peter and Celia.

The tears were then quickly brushed away for what I like to call the Liz Quiz. Fifty cryptic questions about animals devised by Liz Kirkham. Once again it was a week to remember and whoever takes up the baton for the Chess Theme Break will have a tough act to follow. Thank you once again to Peter and Celia and all the coaches, Joan and everyone else who has been instrumental in making the CTB another wonderful week to remember.