HISTORY 4: Notes from abroad

Club founder Bill Clarke, from his home in Paris, reflects on rejoining the club and changes in chess

Earlier this month I re-joined the club after an absence of around 25 years. How the chess world has changed since I formed the NALGO club in 1978. There has been a massive improvement in communications and information technology, which must have raised the general standard of play. Only a couple of nights ago I sat in my home in Paris watching the club’s live match against Uxbridge, that would have been unthinkable back then. The growth and availability of powerful computers has revolutionised the game. Who would have thought the World Champion Kasparov at the time, could be defeated by a machine in a match. The ordinary club player now has access to extensive databases of games and an endless repertoire of opening theory advice free on You Tube. It makes my old openings file full of handwritten notes from books, which I still have, rather obsolete. Sadly it has also destroyed postal chess though, where every player can in fact use a powerful computer and play to GM standard. It is all a far cry from the early 1980s when I was running the County Championship. There was no available internet then and I would receive all the games from the previous round sent to me through the post. Of course as I was also playing in the tournament that gave me a slight advantage in that I was aware of the lines my opponent would be playing. Not that I was anywhere near good enough to take advantage of it, mind. I had the idea why not let everybody see the games, so together with club member Joy Mukherjee we set out to do that. One evening every month we would get together. I would read out the moves of each game and Joy would type it out. Once all the games were typed they would be printed off and then posted to each player with the next round draw. My theory was this would improve the general standard by enabling better preparation and I hoped that would happen. Compared with the speed of modern day communications it was laborious and time consuming but that’s the way it was then.

I left Shrewsbury in 1997 and moved to Kent and spent the next few years achieving a ridiculous grade at Postal chess for obvious reasons. I could not join a club as I was caring for my first wife at the time. At least I learned a lot of opening theory. In the end I got fed up of it. I moved to France in 2007 and soon joined a club in a small town near to where I was living, who met every Saturday afternoon. It suited me fine, the object of the club was to introduce the game to people and encourage them to play. There were about ten men and a load of kids, they did not even own any chess clocks or organise any competitions. It was all very informal and friendly, you marched in, sat down and just played whoever was available. The one thing I did find strange was whenever someone arrived they would walk around the room kissing everyone. This was France after all! I did join a proper club for a period and was invited to play for one of their league teams but turned the offer down. In France they tend to work later hours than in the UK so most organised sport takes place at weekends. Matches were not starting until around 9pm in the evening, which was far too late for me at that stage of my life. I joined a table tennis club where I made friends with a couple of men who wanted to learn chess so we started to have a weekly session which has been going on for the past six years although one of them sadly died a year ago.

John Casewell’s invitation for me to re-join the club a few weeks ago came out of the blue and it didn’t take much thought to agree. I was absolutely delighted of course, even at my old age! Ironically without Covid it would not have been possible and this has led to the explosion of online chess. I must admit I was somewhat nervous in that I had not played any online chess before or a rated “over the board” match since I left Telepost. Having to play to a time control again was added pressure I would have to get used to. John is a very old friend of mine and we first met in the mid 1970s as opponents in the Shrewsbury table tennis league. I played my opening game against him with some trepidation. Before we started he asked me to point out where he had gone wrong after the match! That made me smile, I wanted him to do that for me and I was pleased to manage a draw! So here I am again. I have been absolutely delighted to see how successful the club has been and it is clearly being run by some very capable and enthusiastic people. The one thing I did learn in my previous active years in Shropshire Chess was it isn’t just about winning and losing games. Everybody is competitive and wants to smash their opponent but the great thing is you make an awful lot of good friends who share your obsession. I can remember the days when I was playing in the County Championship and often I played the matches at home. One day my wife said to me, “I hope you don’t mind me saying this but all the people who come here to play chess seem a bit weird!” There was no answer to that! By the way for those of you who are curious as to the origin of my user name “upthetrotters” it refers to my once mighty football team Bolton Wanderers. A better name perhaps might have been “downthetrotters”

Bill Clarke – 11 November 2020

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