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My best birthday present

June 15, 2014

Yesterday was my second birthday : will fifty second actually, but the joy I got from an hour or so yesterday was like the joy of a small child's birthday.

Siegbert Tarrasch, one of the strongest chess players in the late nineteenth century, said:

Chess, like love, like music, has the power to make men happy.

It certainly made me happy yesterday, since my birthday coincided with the Deloitte North West office's annual family fun day held at Lymm Rugby Club. It is one of the best things we do, or at least in my view it is, since it shows partners and colleagues as what we are: and what can be nicer than to meet colleagues' children and other halves, and for them to meet people their spouses and partners work with?

Picture from 2013 family fun day


As well as my work principles, which have stood me in good stead all these years since being a partner, in chess I live by FIDE's underlying motto, gens una sumus, we are all one people. (It can mean many things, but to me is all about sharing my love of chess, and the friendships I have gained over forty years in chess…including some I have had for forty years). (Pity that FIDE, like other international sports bodies such as FIFA, appears to be rife with corruption).

I have been lucky enough to meet and get to know many of the world's top players; but just as lucky to share my interest in chess with local players, and with beginners and children. Last year I gave a morning assembly talk to my children's primary school, about my life in chess/working hard at your sport or hobby, which was a real pleasure (though an ordeal in its preparation…how do you talk to a primary school assembly??). Yesterday, as I have done for the last many years, I played all comers at chess. (My record remains + several hundreds, = 0, -1, and the one loss still hurts, despite it being a him 5 min, me 2 min, game against one of my Deloitte partners (I won't cite his name, though he didn't forget to mention his victory at the following partners' meeting, omitting the 5-2 handicap and the fact that I was playing two other games simultaneously: as the reader might be able to tell, losses hurt in chess).

Anyway, yesterday's was great, partly because I made a point of inflicting several heavy defeats to get my revenge on said partner, partly because despite the brilliant weather which kept most people outside the marquee, there was yet again more or less non stop challenges, but mainly due to Annie (not her real name) the ten year old daughter of one of my colleagues. Annie made my day.

Shy at first, she stood by watching me playing some other games, until I noticed her, and asked if she wanted a game, so as soon as there was an empty board, I invited her to take a seat, we shook hands (shaking hands before and after every game is an essential part of chess…even when I lost my above mentioned game: it is never personal, gens una sumus).

I could quickly tell Annie was different, being so thoughtful and studious. So after we had played a few games, and having spoken to her mum, I spent an hour or so giving her a lesson, whilst also playing others; and at times, one or two others listened into the lesson.

(Alas, isn't it a shame that there is a need to be careful with images of children)i

I gave Annie various tasks, such as seeing how she approached/whether she could beat with R+K v K, Q+Kv K, PPP+Kv K, to gauge her level, and see how she thought, and used the insight to give her other tasks. The above diagram was from RR+K v K, in which , alas, Annie stalemated me. Her look of bewilderment, wonderment, amazement was the moment of my birthday . She had never seen stalemate before; she had read about it, but never seen it, and the picture shows Annie working out why the position was stalemate and what went wrong.

And this morning, I got this email (extract) from her mum:

I got some nice cards and presents yesterday, and Jane, Sophie and I went our for a lovely dinner with one of our closest friends, but teaching Annie, and her mum's note, were my best presents.

Tarrasch was right: chess can make you happy, and yes, gens una sumus, we are one people.



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