Alan's foolish chess claim

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic
A true story about an incident that happened on a building site in London at the start of the last recession

Submitted: December 21, 2008

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Submitted: December 21, 2008

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Alan's foolish chess boast.

The winter of 1990 was pretty grim. I had been finished up on a local building site in Putney in mid December and went out to look for another start.

It was January before I found a site needing subby brickies, and then it froze up for three weeks. Eventually the weather improved and this job, on the site of the old St. Mary Abbots Hospital in London was to last me for eighteen months, a good run at the best of times and this wasn't that by any means, it was the start of a recession, caused, in this case by Tory mismanagement of the economy, (I wonder if they take it in turns?)

So a good time to keep one's head down and work without complaining, which I did.

To relieve the boredom I took a chess set into work and eventually found an opponent in my line foreman Tony. He was about the normal strength of casual player and I could beat him without too much effort, occasionally, due to lack of attention on my part or improvement on his part, the game ran on into an ending.

We had king and rook, (Tony) v king and bishop (me) it was coming towards the end of break, so I pointed out that K+R v K+B is a theory draw except in unusual circumstances and we should put the bits back in the box and shake on it.

George W our labourer 54 years old, who loved nothing more that a flutter on the geegees looked over at the board, and after watching us play for three months or more without ever making any other comment on the games we were playing opined, " If I had the rook, I could win that".

This unsolicited comment annoyed me a little, firstly as Tony was now thinking that I was trying to cheat him out of a win, but also that George was normally quite a gent (well read, a Radio 4 listener etc) "George, if you played chess you would know that this is a theory draw, so stop trying to stir it".

George's reply was to claim that he had played a lot of chess but become bored with it and that although he had never read a book (on chess theory) he was a natural player and had played (in Scotland) at the highest level.

"OK, George, take the king and rook and prove it".(I was definitely ticked off now).

I put the four pieces on their start squares and George immediately trapped my king on the back row with his rook (Ok so he knew the moves), he moved his king up whilst I fiddled with my bishop, and with my king on the same colour square as the B. I soon showed him that he would never be able to achieve the necessary position to deliver the coup de grass of mate with the rook on the back rank whilst his king took position in front of mine on the third rank, (which was prevented by my bishop).

We returned to our posts, me to build a wall and George bringing me buckets of mortar as I needed them.

The incident in the canteen still rankled, and I began to try to elicit more information from George to find out the extent of his chess knowledge. On finding him reluctant to supply any more details, and being fairly sure in my own mind that any competent player would know all the basic theory on endgames, I pressed more, eventually challenging him to a proper game of chess.

He declined saying that he preferred to spend his short break times studying form, we only got two half hour breaks a day and this was a reasonable argument by him, however, I was in no mood to be reasonable.

I then suggested we should play without sight of a board, (known in chess circles as blindfold) as, if he were such an accomplished player he should know the trick of it as did I.

To my surprise he agreed, and said "Pawn to king four". The game continued with moves being exchanged as he visited me with mortar or bricks.

After about ten moves I was already a piece down and stared to forget where my pieces were. I had to concede a loss before it became too apparent that I was totally at sea and incapable of playing blindfold chess. My mood did not improve that day, and I went on to formulate a cunning plan.

I went to work the next day with a smile on my lips, a spring in my step, and a Portland portable chess set wallet in my pocket. This was going to be payback time.

I still didn't know how George had got his hands on a chess set at such short notice the day before, but I had started to suspect a set up and I was going to confound whatever was being plotted. Paranoid? not I.

I waited until after the first break and then suggested to George we should start another blindfold game, as yesterday had been a fluke and I had a cold (or insert pathetic excuse of choice). As the game progressed, I simply waited until George went for supplies and made the two or three moves required to bring the game up to date on my pocket set and planned the next two or three for me, making sure I kept to well known positional plays.

After twenty or so moves things were going downhill, George had capitalised on my cautious play and went on to win in fine style! Had he a battery operated chess playing computer by the mixer? This in itself was very strange, as wind-ups on site don't normally allow props, there are (unwritten) rules about this sort of thing you know, and in any event the cheap portable computers at this date were not even up to good club standard.

That night after work finished I went to the mixing area and had a good look for any evidence. I was getting very puzzled by now. Was there on site a champion player, who was providing the moves?

After a week of loosing miserably I had to throw myself on George,s mercy and ask him to tell me how he was doing it.

This was on a Monday morning, and George wanted to borrow twenty pounds to see him through the week, as usual he had gambled his wages away on the horses and would otherwise starve until payday. I normally accommodated him, as he made a point to pay back promptly. However, I wasn't feeling very accommodating, as I had clearly either made a fool of myself (most likely) or been made to look silly, either way I wanted to know how it had been done, and I wasn't parting with any money until he came clean.

I felt bad about being so churlish, but I dug my heels in. George insisted that his story was true all along, and that moreover he had been invited to be a player representing Scotland versus Russia in 1955 (ish). after some further discussion where he confided he sometimes lost on time at various weekend congresses as he had the habit of nipping out to place a bet at the local bookies during a game in the afternoon and staying too long in the betting shop, only returning to the chess congress after the games had finished. (something which didn't go down too well with his teammates and captain) This was so obviously true, that I simply accepted the truth of it.

Far from feeling contrite and apologising to George, I sensed an opening which I could use to my advantage. having lied earlier about my chess prowess I now found new depths to plumb.

Break time came and George was sitting looking sadly at my plate of breakfast two of everything extra toast, fried bread, chips and a mug of steaming tea. (I'd already told Tony the foreman that the wind was going in with George and no one was to lend him money)

I took a twenty out of my pocket and said, "George, if you will play chess against me every break time, I will lend (lend mind) you money every week you want it.

It was a hard choice but a starving man is easily bought.

I learnt more from George about chess than I ever can recall before. He was a natural.

I rarely beat him,

Alan Dewey


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