Archive for October 30th, 2015

When you are away from home for so long, you begin to wonder what happened to those you once knew, so I was saddened to learn that my first playing partner at Luton Chess Club, Peter Whone has long since left us.

Peter was always well-dressed, not easy for a man of his enormous size. He was impeccably mannered and happy to play anyone new to the club though in truth he was too good for newcomers. Through allotments, he was a self-made millionaire and lived a life of leisure in his fifties although you would never have known as he was a shy, self-effacing man, a gentle giant in fact. In retrospect I am quite indebted to him and the kindness he showed when both myself and school playing partner Ashok Bhundia turned up as nervous schoolboys at the Luton Chess Club in Biscot Mill just after half-term in 87.

To begin we would only play each other whilst making up nicknames for the various club members we saw. Peter’s was Tefal, on account of his large forehead.

When we became bored of that, we would watch Peter with his usual playing partners, Richard and Margret. Peter was tactically-minded and played quickly, rarely taking more than a few seconds per move, often moving instantaneously. He only ever played 1. e4 and only ever expected 1. e5 in reply, anything else would draw a suspicious stare and a mumbled, but light-hearted, accusation of ‘that’s cheating’ or ‘he’s playing tricks’. He liked to commentate on games and would often accuse someone of being ‘nasty’ or would sometimes tell himself ‘I’ve made a boo-boo’. He never studied chess theory and gained great pleasure from skittles only. When he played for a team he never altered his style and would play lightening fast, using barely five minutes of his allotted time however ample that may be, often forgetting to write his moves down.

Without his kindness and patience I would not have been able to measure my progress as a junior as when my school friend stopped attending, I continued to visit the club, even though every game in every week came with defeat after defeat, finally however, after six weeks of trying, I gained my first win against Peter. Twenty eight years have since passed, so I cannot remember our casual game in its entirety but I do remember his friend Richard looking on in interest, smiling to himself as my white pieces did battle with Peter’s black army in a semi open game which had stemmed from a two knight’s defence to my Giuoco Piano. Peter tried a tactical ruse but had overlooked the vulnerability of his back rank, and after an exchange I played a winning intermezzo -Rd8- and claimed my first win against a recognized club player. He sat back in his chair in his characteristic way after he’d lost a game before congratulating me on my victory being the gentleman that he was. By this time my love of chess had turned me into a rebel at school: through antipathy, I had managed to drop out of all subjects -sometimes not through choice- and began reading chess literature voraciously whilst loitering in empty corridors or on empty playgrounds. Now known as a lost cause amongst teachers, I would never attend lessons, opting to bunk off and swot up on the latest openings instead, and even when I did attend I would never write or read anything but always had six or more chess books from the local library in my bag at the ready, hoping that some inattentive Science teacher wouldn’t see me slip one out and place it under my exercise book, having begun the current chapter on the bus home from school the day before. I was, in fact, offering a valid critique of the education system, and having suddenly gone from being yet another underachieving face in the crowd to school champion, thus I was left alone to educate myself… .

Peter’s finest hour?

One of Peter’s greatest ever victories over the board came in my first full season, playing for Luton ‘C’ team. On the 25th of October 1988 we drove to Linslade to play Leighton Buzzard, where for the first time I met the irrepressible Henry ‘Bill’ Charlotte, the pipe smoking septuagenarian that ‘anyone could lose to’ according to former team mate Gary Ames. Peter, rated only 89 at the time, was our top board, our main man and played Kevin Williamson rated 142 at the time. Because he played so fast, Peter had an uncanny ability to unsettle his opponent and often dupe them into keeping up with him. This was always a critical mistake and meant certain defeat to those who tried. Peter had the white pieces and, from memory, Kevin played the Pirc/Modern defence but fell for a nasty trap around the 25 move mark. After the game I distinctly remember telling Peter his opponent’s rating and the look of disbelief in his face – in fact he never forgot that game and had a great season, putting 30 points on his rating.

Peter shows his busy hands

One chess evening just before Christmas, a group of players, myself included, were invited to Peter’s house for an evening of chess and snooker. The journey was memorable since Peter usually bought Vauxhall cars built in Luton but had recently chose to buy a metallic blue E-reg, Ford Sierra much to the horror of us Lutonians. Instead of the back lanes, he chose to turn off the motorway at the first exit but it was a cold night, the street lamps shone through frosted air…perhaps that was the safer route to his house in Redbourne, a forgotten Hertfordshire village just outside Harpenden. Inside his huge bungalow was a full-sized snooker table and a chess board placed on a small table by an armchair. Snooker was his other love, and he would often draw comparisons describing both chess and snooker as being ‘cruel’ games, referring to the fact that mistakes weren’t easily rectified in either. I remember how ashamed he was at the mess he’d left on the armchair as he’d not intended to invite anyone back before he left, ‘Look at that mess’, he repeated, referring to an item of clothing placed upon a folded newspaper, aside which his house was spotless and quite unlike that typically associated with an aging bachelor…an evening of wine, chess and snooker followed. A brief description of his house can be found here:

On what can be learnt…

The thing that Peter taught me more than anything else was the importance of welcoming juniors with open arms to your chess club. By nature they are, like I once was, timid souls, who respond to kindness and patience above all. Peter had a great ability to treat everyone on the same level, irrespective of their age and playing level. In retrospect he was the ideal first playing partner as he exemplified a love of chess and people and was impossible not to warm to. Everyone played him and everyone lost to him if they tried to play at his speed. He never took anything seriously and could shrug off defeat better than any player I ever met. It is a great shame that he is no longer with us, he was a true gentleman and is not forgotten.

R.I.P Peter Hartley Whone

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Vimeo has, amongst its many treasures, short films on chess aplenty. Here’s an intriguing mini-series that appears to have much hard work put into it. How many films can you name?






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More needs to be said regarding the way it computes, nevertheless an interesting development.

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115. A regrettable incident

The Badmaster (Diggle) has always been an inveterate P-K4 man, regarding all other openings as fit only for deviants and ‘long-haired leftists’. Occasionally, however, when the mood seizes him, he plays through a few hypermodern games from respectable chess periodicals, and he recently selected at random a British Championship 1982 effort commencing with 1. N-KB3 P-QN3, as he had espied a lengthy note by the victor (White) explaining Black’s reply, which promised to open up before the BM’s eyes vast up-to-date strategical subtleties and even put him in the way of ‘thinking like a Grandmaster’. The experiment, indeed, surpassed expectations, as the note ran as follows: ‘A very sly move. My opponent had not yet appeared when I made my first move and so I departed to watch the top games on the demonstration boards. I was later told, by an aspiring supergrass, that when [my opponent] finally turned up at the board he made his move and quickly left through the nearest exit. His hope was that I would not notice this ‘small’ move from a distance and would lose a lot of time on the clock. Fortunately, this dastardly ruse only cost me 8 minutes…’

The BM, however is in no position to moralize over ‘such goings-on’ in high places, as he himself once featured in a ‘regrettable incident’ while his opponent was away from the board. It was in a London Banks League Match, and his worthy adversary, having got a winning game, wandered away ‘all debonair’ while the BM was slowly stewing in his own juice. It must be explained here as part of the false bonhomie in Banks League encounters refreshments are provided halfway through the evening; there is, however, none of that degrading cafeteria queuing sometimes seen at low weekend Congresses, and though the fare consists of one cup of coffee and one piece of cake per warrior, these dainties are served in true Lombard Street style, being silently brought round to the various boards by silver-haired messengers of grave demeanour. On this occasion, the ‘feast’ arrived with the BM’s opponent still absent, and with the BM himself pouring over the board in great mental stress and groping simultaneously for some saving resource and for his cake ration which, alongside his opponents, he was vaguely conscious had just been placed amidships. Having partaken freely of cake in his abstraction, he made his move and came to, only to find to his horror that he had wolfed not only his moiety but had started on his opponents as well. That gentleman, on his return, finding himself virtually victorious if partially cakeless, generously said, “not to worry, I’m not at all hungry”. But some of the BM’s malicious teammates deliberately raised a great hue and cry, and (ostensibly to preserve the good name of the Club, but in reality to embarrass and humiliate the BM) proffered profuse apologies to the opposition – ‘He just can’t help it, you know!’ ‘You should see him at our Annual Dinner!’ ‘Do let him finish it up, Sir, it’ll be the first time in his life HE’S EVER BEEN A PIECE TO THE GOOD!’

June 1985

The type of playing hall that Diggle frequented in his earlier years can be seen below.

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