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Who is the strongest chess player in Kas?

August 13, 2013

Distressing news: it may not be me.

When in doubt, make up a definition or complicate the matter. What do we mean by who is the strongest at chess? If we mean at blitz, or classical OTB, then the answer is I don't know. It could be me, if only because I have a fifteen year age advantage (yes, my children, if you happen to read this blog: you read that correctly: I am younger than someone).

But if you mean correspondence chess, then there is someone far stronger than me, the 16th World Correspondence Chess Champion, Tunç Hamarat.

Correspondence chess is a form of the game I have never got into. I did try briefly, in my mid-teens, but the two or three games I played were unsatisfying: the opponents were far weaker, and I just didn't like the 'waiting a week for a weak move' that was postal chess. Today, of course, it is server based, and maybe (and having met Tunç) I should give it a go; though now the game has been changed, since the use of engines is permitted.

The local games in Kas

Wherever I go on holiday, I look out to see if there are any games that the locals play, and try to follow them. In Paris, it is boules or pétanque; in New York basketball, baseball, others; and in certain great cities, chess is played in the parks: Washington Square and Union Square in New York, Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris…

In Kas, it is backgammon. Many of the cafes will have locals playing it, and sets are available for tourists too. There is also another game, with tiles, Okey which is played in some of the cafes, and many of the souvenir stalls well the game (to be taken home by tourists and never, ever, played with, I suspect.

And alas, chess is not really played in Kas: I have only seen two occasions in four years of visiting when chess was being played.

The other week, Jane and I were talking to Cuneyt about which restaurants we liked, and which he and is wife liked, and he asked whether we had been to Vati, a new marina on the newly (2012) opened marina. Yes, we had, last year, we said; but Cuneyt was sure it wasn't open until 2013….and I remembered a way to prove we were right.

Here is a picture of me eating at Vati in July 2012 from the Chessbase website. I had written an article for my favourite chess news site (if you were sent to a desert island, and could only access one website from it, which would it be…Chessbase). Cuneyt asked me what the website was which had a picture of me on it, and when I told him that I was keen on chess, he staggered me by saying that there was a local who he had heard was a previous world champion of correspondence chess. Cuneyt didn't know him, but knew how to get hold of his number, and so last week I called Tunç Hamarat, met him briefly, and met him again on Sunday for a proper chat.

Tunç and I got along instantaneously: two peas in a pod. One of the brilliant things about chess is the friendships that can be formed. Born in Istanbul in 1946, after graduating from university there he moved to Vienna, where he has his career as a physicist, firstly in the nuclear reactor area, then in telecoms. Having retired, he and is wife bought a cafe in Kas, an he now divides his time between Vienna, Kas and…touring playing professional backgammon, at which other game he is twice European champion. Oh, and finally, he is an accomplished jazz DJ: Cuneyt told me that for many years he was DJed in bar in Kas: now he travels to DJ for connoisseurs of jazz.

Neither of us had a chess clock with us, so we decided we could always play against each other on another visit: there would be little point in us playing without a clock, so instead we spent the hours chatting about chess, people we knew, backgammon, Kas, Turkey, Erdogan…a highlight of my stay.

When Tunç became the world champion (1999-2004) Austria published a stamp in his honour.

If (and many people do) think chess is just a game, and a boring one at that (it isn't either in my view) they are missing that like music, like sport, it is something which can give enormous happiness and pleasure. Meeting Tunç was one of those such treasured occasions.


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