Sunday 31 August 2008

London International Chess Tournament: A Campaign

London has, at various times, been the absolute centre of the chess world. It's high time there was another world-class tournament in the city, in the style of the GLC tournaments of 1980, 1982, 1984 and 1986. These featured an amazing collection of top chess stars, including Karpov, Korchnoy, Spassky, Larsen, Short, Portisch and numerous others. They were fantastic events and are greatly missed.

The Staunton Memorial tournament, which has been running very successfully for six years, has ensured we can still see top stars in our country. However, the invited players are from England and Holland; it's a fabulous event but there is still plenty of scope for a truly international super-tournament.

The main obstacle is the usual one: money. If sufficient funds are available then there is nothing to stop the tournament going ahead.

Grandmaster Raymond Keene been the driving force behind the vast majority of major British chess events for over 25 years. He recently wrote to Boris Johnson and Kate Hoey - the two people who could provide the required backing - but has so far failed to obtain a reply.

Here is a copy of his letter (sent on 19 May 2008):

Ms K Hoey MP
House of Commons

Dear Ms Hoey

First of all, may I congratulate you on your new appointment as sports commissioner in Boris Johnson’s mayoral administration. This is a splendid example of cross party co-operation for the benefit of Londoners which we can all unreservedly support.

Now may I briefly introduce myself. I am a chess grandmaster; I write regular chess columns for “The Times”, “Sunday Times”, “Spectator” (where I have worked for Boris Johnson when he was editor) and the “International Herald Tribune”. I am also a director of the Brain Trust Charity which has close links with the ‘Disconnected Mind’ appeal of Help the Aged. I have also written 130 books on chess and thinking – the world record. I was awarded the OBE in 1985 for services to chess and charity.

Recent evidence has confirmed something which I have long believed, namely that chess is an extraordinarily -even uniquely - effective remedy and antidote in the fight against Alzheimer’s and related dementia illnesses. The “Sunday Times” (18 May 2008) reported that in the UK there are 700,000 victims of such illnesses, of which a staggering 15,000 are actually below the age of 65, with some in their 40s. I enclose an article I have recently written for “The Times” about this which encapsulates some key quotations and cites the relevant research.

Chess is easy to learn and relatively inexpensive to promote. The UK Schools Chess Championship has around 70,000 entrants each year, and staging a game of chess between 2 players requires far less space and effort than putting on football, rugby or cricket. I should add that I regard competitive chess as a sport - a Mind Sport - and although its status is not completely clear in the UK, a very large number of governments around the world do regard chess officially as a sport. In fact, there will even be a trial chess event at this year’s Beijing Olympics. However one defines chess, this should not be a barrier to reaping its benefits. Chess is one game where there is no discrimination of any sort, whatever your faith, physical ability or disability; there is no bar against playing the game - it can even be played by the blind, and regular events are organised for blind players. There is also no obstacle to male and female players competing against each other. One of the world’s most respected and feared grandmasters is in fact Judith Polgar from Hungary.

Perhaps you may recall that from 1980-1986, the GLC funded a Major International Grandmaster Chess Tournament in which great names such as Spassky and Korchnoi participated. These were world class events followed avidly by every chess enthusiast on the planet. Meanwhile, in 1986, the GLC with myself as organiser even staged the first half of the world championship between Kasparov and Karpov, with the second half in Leningrad as it then was. This was the first time in the history of the World Chess Championship that two Soviet citizens had contested a title match outside the USSR. The prize fund was donated to the victims of the Chernobyl disaster and much good was achieved for Anglo-Soviet relations. The match was funded by the GLC, opened by the then Prime Minister, Mrs Thatcher, and closed by Former Prime Minister Lord Callaghan, thus maintaining the principle of political neutrality which chess has always espoused. For these events, we bussed in numerous groups of schoolchildren at no cost to themselves, to fire them with enthusiasm for the game, for which The Grandmaster Competition acted as a magnet and centrepiece. Recently a plastics firm donated 250,000 free chess sets to UK state schools, the kind of initiative which I hope would grow from re-creating the world famous star events we used to hold in the capital.

Indeed, I am writing to you now to suggest that we should revive the tradition of the Annual London Grandmaster Tournament. I am sure by the standards of many other activities that we could achieve gigantic value for a relatively modest outlay and we could associate this with a London-wide programme, which would also have national reverberations - to encourage more people to take up chess and thus arm themselves with an invaluable weapon in later life with which to combat dementia disabilities. I am also confident that the media outlets for which I write regularly on chess would be only too happy to offer their support in order to spread the word as widely as possible. Other papers such as the “Financial Times”, “Guardian”, “Observer”, The Independent”, “The Daily Telegraph”, “The Sunday Telegraph” and “Evening Standard” also publish regular chess columns and I know that they would all co-operate to assist in spreading the word.

Might I suggest that we could meet so that I can outline my plan for reviving the old GLC initiatives in this respect as well as outlining possible cost implications? My preferred route would be to invite you to lunch at Simpsons in the Strand so that I can explain at leisure. Simpsons, of course, started life as a chess club in 1828 and it is packed with memorabilia, including a chess board and pieces on which many of the great champions have played. I very much look forward to hearing from you so that we can progress this idea if you feel, as I do, that there is enormous merit in it.

With very best wishes.

Yours sincerely

International Chess Grandmaster

If YOU would like to help with the campaign to establish a new London-based top Grandmaster tournament then the first step would be to contact Boris and Kate and let them know. They both welcome the views of the general public and if enough people were to make their desires known then there is surely a chance that chess will be taken seriously.

There are several ways to contact them....

Boris Johnson
Mayor of London
Greater London Authority
City Hall
The Queen's Walk
More London

Telephone: 020 7983 4100
Minicom: 020 7983 4458
Fax: 020 7983 4057
By email:

Kate Hoey
The House of Commons

Telephone: 0207 219 5989
Fax: 0207 219 5985

Drop them a polite line; if a significant number of enquiries are received by them it is sure to dislodge a reply eventually.

Incidentally, GM Keene now has a new website:

Saturday 30 August 2008

The Lion: Article in 'CHESS'

I am pleased to report that I have a four-page article in the September edition of CHESS Magazine all about 'The Lion'. The magazine is available from most chess suppliers, including the CHESS site:

This dangerous chess opening is about to receive further publicity with the forthcoming revised and updated book: 'The Lion: The Black Weapon' by Leo Jansen and Jerry van Rekom.

For further details, keep an eye on The Lion website:

Chess player and chess promoter Tom van Bokhoven also has a section devoted to The Lion over at:

For more information on the publication date, see the New in Chess website:

I will hopefully be able to present a full and detailed review of the new edition towards the end of the year.

Friday 29 August 2008

London Again: Chess And More!

Having gone for eight years without a trip to London, I managed two such excursions within a matter of weeks over the summer.

It was a speedy turnaround after my trip to Wales - just a quick night at home and then it was time to catch the train again. This time it was for business rather than pleasure, but very pleasurable business it turned out to be.

The Marble Arch Inn proved to be a perfectly central place of accommodation, making it relatively easy to get to and from King’s Cross and all of the other places I intended to visit.

The main reason for my trip was to report on the Staunton Memorial chess tournament, taking place at Simpson’s in the Strand, and to meet up with various people for lots of other bits and pieces of writing projects (further details these will become apparent over the next few months).
Part of Simpson’s was used as a press room back in 1993, during the Kasparov v Short World Championship match. The games were played in the Savoy, just next door.

I don’t want to repeat my written report on the Staunton tournament here but will advise you when it is formally published.

Meanwhile, here’s a few photos.

The Staunton Cabinet contains a lot of chess memorabilia.

The Savoy, venue of the famous 1993 World Chess Championship between Kasparov and Short, is still undergoing major work.

A great bonus of being in London this time was being able to meet up with Julian Allinson. He’s been a great friend for well over 20 years but it’s the first time I’ve seen him since he moved to London. Now happily married and with his own business ( see: ), Julian is in the prime of his life. The hiatus in his chess playing days will surely be only temporary.

We managed to take a few snaps of each other as we enjoyed a night stroll, curry and coffee, but the opportunity for a photograph of the two of us together wasn’t as easy to arrange as it should have been. Very few of the passers-by looked particularly trustworthy so we eventually asked an older chap if he wouldn’t mind taking the shot. We were fairly confident about catching him if he ran off with the camera. However, he claimed never to have used a camera before in his life and handed it back as if it was about to bite him.

Still, we managed to get the picture ( holding the camera myself, at arm's length!)

Meanwhile, if you bought this month's Doctor Who DVD, 'The War Machines', you'll recognise this particular London building. It's WOTAN-free now, of course.

The last of my three days provided enough spare time to visit the two chess shops and the Sherlock Holmes Museum on Baker Street. It’s a great place, chock-full of Holmesiana and well worth a visit.

Here’s a sneak preview of what to expect...

An authentic Victorian policeman. He even knew the way from the museum to the Chess Shop. 'Ten minutes, straight down the road, look out for it on the left.' He was deadly accurate too. Admirable!

Perhaps you will recognise some of the following scenes.

This is an easy one - from The Speckled Band!

The Napoleon of Crime: Moriarty

Perhaps I'm getting old, but that's a magnificent bust.

A giant hound!'ve got to enter into the spirit of the whole thing, haven't you?

Wednesday 27 August 2008

A Great Time In Wales

The school summer holidays give plenty of scope for trips away. Following quickly on from our trip to London, it was time to revisit one of my favourite places: Wales.

Starting off with a couple of days in the North provided a plethora of stunning mountainous views around the Snowdonia region. It also gave a convenient springboard for a trip to the amazing village of Portmeirion Built by Welsh architect Clough Williams-Ellis (it took him from 1925 to 1973), this was of course the famous venue for cult TV show 'The Prisoner' (now being remade, although it's not known at this stage if Portmeirion will feature).

Here's a few snaps from what was the only sunny day of the whole trip...

Starting to recognise it now? By the way, 'The Prisoner' influence is only felt in the village shop dedicated to the cult show. Elsewhere, you are ironically free to roam and just enjoy the extraordinary scenery. Features are often found in unusual place...keep your eyes peeled!

We weren't there long before a local ITV TV news crew turned up to get the thoughts of Marsh Towers for their show. (I suppose it's possible they were interviewing lots of people...)

There are lots of little lakes and wooded walks in addition to the architecture.
There are Italian and Japanese influences here and there.
Soon, it was time to move on to South Wales. This had the bonus of the opportunity to visit Hay-on-Wye, the world famous town of bookshops. There are bookshops on virtually every street corner, in the castle, even in an old cinema. One could spend a very long time investigating Hay. However, I was suitably restrained and came away with just six books on this occasion (...and only one of them chess!).
South Wales is more famous for the bays and coves than the hills and mountains but unfortunately the alost permanent rain curtailed our intended beach-based activities. Never mind - there was still plenty to see and do. There were some unusual creatures in a park...
A very large rabbit. Not quite hiding as much as it thinks it is.
There's no cause for a llama!
Some of the animals were much older...

Some of the houses were very unusual too...

All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable week and a bit. Come to sunny Wales!

Saturday 23 August 2008

Entertainment - And Lots Of It!

In my quest for entertainment I recently attended various shows and events. Here's a few thoughts and comments...

Manchester Evening News Stadium

It’s not every day one gets the chance to see one of the greatest guitar players in the world. Seeing two on consecutive weekends is an even rarer opportunity.

There’s an element of confusion as regards the name ‘Santana’. Carlos Santana is undoubtedly the titular attraction, but Santana is also the name of the band.

The MEN Stadium is easy to find and is a very impressive venue. There’s plenty of refreshment kiosks within easy reach of the arena and an abundance of toilets too. These facilities should not be taken lightly and in this respect at least the venue proved superior to Sheffield’s Don Valley Stadium. The toilet situation when we went to see The Rolling Stones two years ago was adequate at best.

Beverley Knight provided great support and joined the band for several numbers.

The show was stunning, both musically and visually. There’s a strong spiritual message in Santana’s music and it came through very strongly here.

I’m by no means an expert on Santana’s back catalogue, but the set-list may be of interest to readers:

Life Is For Living
Incident At Neshabur
Batuka/ No One To Depend On
Capri/ Maria Maria
Foo Foo
Corazan Espinado
Happy/ Right On Be Free
Lord's Prayer/Sun Ra
Open Invitation/ Drum Solo
BMW/ Gypsy Queen
Oye Como Va
Spartacus/ Smooth/Dame

...and for the encore:

Woodstock Chant/Soul Sacrifice

Angel Chant/Into The Night

Eric Clapton
Harewood House, Leeds
Sunday 29th June

One week later, it was on to Harewood House to see another great act. Open air concerts don’t appeal as much to me as others. The crowds are chaotic and in a constant state of flux, there’s no escape from smokers and it carries a very great threat of being caught out in terrible weather. Indeed, the torrential rain just stopped a few hours before the concert was due to start and luckily stayed away for the rest of the evening.

Robert Randolph & The Family Band began the musicl proceedings, then it was on the main event.

The quality of the concert is unquestionable. Eric Clapton himself was on terrific form as were his band. They played an excellent selection from his extensive career. There was no room for the (apparently retired) classics ‘Tears in Heaven’ and ‘My Father’s Eyes’ but the set-list was still very impressive:

Tell The Truth
Key To The Highway
Hoochie Coochie Man
Isn't It A Pity
Outside Woman Blues
Here But I'm Gone
Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad
Rockin' Chair
Motherless Child
Travellin' Riverside Blues
Running On Faith
Motherless Children
Little Queen of Spades
Before You Accuse Me
Wonderful Tonight


I've Got My Mojo Working (with Robert Randolph)

It's a massive field at Harewood House. The stage can just be seen in the distance.

Probably the last clear view of the stage - about three hours before the main show.

It wasn't possible to get a clear camera view of Eric Clapton on the stage but that's him on the huge screen!

Two Days in London

One of the many good things about London is the massive choice of transport options. We travelled by car, train, tube, Thames Clipper, taxi and foot during two very busy days.

The Doctor Who Exhibition at Earl’s Court was our first destination. The last time I visited Earl’s Court was to see Pink Floyd back in 1994.

Apart from a brief mention of the first eight Doctors at the very start, the exhibition focussed exclusively on the world of Doctor Who since its revival in 2005. The amount of props, costumes and displays was quite staggering. The staff were very friendly and photographs were allowed.

Here’s a small selection of the many we took (more may follow later):

The 10th Doctor welcomes everyone to the exhibition - but warns of dangers ahead.

I'm sure I've played this guy at chess a few times

A girl of dubious habits.

A demonstration of the perils of modern diets.

Nobody likes a big head, but he's got no-body as a friend.

I should have taken the gas mask to King Tut; I could have asked: 'Are you my mummy?'

Don't ask.

Ood'ya think this is?

The emporer revealed!

Err...don't get up.

Big enough for the worldwide web

I didn't dare direct him to the blocked sink.


There he goes, as regular as clockwork.

This poor Sontaran looks like he needs to take a...little break.

Whatever... do...



Here's some famous views from the Thames Clipper....

Canary Wharf. The Daleks and Cybermen were there once, you know.

Traitors' Gate

Approaching The London Eye

The King Tutankhamun Exhibition was at the 02 Arena (formerly the Millennium Dome). The journey to the Arena was made via the Thames Clipper, sailing the Thames from the pier at the London Eye. This made for an excellent journey, enabling us to see many famous landmark buildings. Cheap and frequent, the Clippers are highly recommended.

It’s the first time I’ve been to the 02 Arena. Back when it was first built, a section of the British public was typically quick to label the whole thing as a white elephant. In fact it’s an amazing place with every chance of standing the test of time.

Entering the dome is just like stepping into a new town. In addition to the exhibition, there’s an enormous cinema, a large selection of coffee shops and eateries, various other intriguing features and of course the main arena itself, with an extremely impressive list of forthcoming shows.
The Tutankhamun Exhibition was an amazing experience and a very well-attended event, despite being open for some time. It’s quite humbling to be in the presence of such extraordinary artefacts and history from so long ago. Their achievements, society and culture look like things from another planet, far in advance of ours.

There was just time for a trip to a couple of shops - Foyles bookshop in particular - before settling down for some pre-theatre food. Then it was off to the Aldwych Theatre for Dirty Dancing.

I’ve never seen the film so I had little idea of what to expect. It was quite an experience. The set changes were so slick and effective, converting a bar to a holiday camp to a golf course and back with astonishing ease and rapidity.

I won’t go into detail about the plot as I wouldn’t want to spoil anyone’s enjoyment, but suffice to say there’s a love story featuring an unlikely couple, a lot of top-class dancing and a whole host of impressive performances.

A whistle-stop tour of various other notable London attractions completed a busy and enjoyable couple of days. An ice cream and a cup of tea in Hyde Park - on the hottest day of the year! - was a particularly English highlight.

Then it was time to return to Teesside, but not for too long, before setting off another long journey...