Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Memories Of The Mighty Mish

Mike Closs
1966 - 2010

Part 1

Over two weeks have gone by since I posted about some dreadful news:

It is now a week since Mike's funeral and I think it is time to post a little tribute to my longest-standing friend, chess opponent and team mate.

In due course, I am hoping to present at least two more articles about him. One will feature games, anecdotes and snippets from our personal chess battles and the other is set to focus on some of his best games.

This is not intended to step on the toes of my eulogy (which may, or may not, appear here in the future to complete the tribute). I have an almost endless supply of stories, quotes and anecdotes from and about The Mighty Mish.

He shared with me most of his inner thoughts and ideas. I knew his real opinion of the people he met and played over the board. I knew his hopes, fears and expectations. I knew his strengths and weaknesses as a player. I believe I am fully qualified to write a personal tribute to him.

School Days

I first met Mike towards the end of the 1970s when we played on board one for our respective chess teams at secondary school. He played for Westfields (Redcar) and I represented Warsett (Brotton). Westfields were one of the strongest teams in our school league. Our chess lives were forever to be linked.

In the early 1980s I went to Prior Pursglove College and very quickly joined Guisborough Chess Club, thanks to Stuart Morgan who was a teacher at PPC and a player/organiser at the chess club.

Meanwhile, Mike had already been a member of Redcar Chess Club for a few years and had experienced considerable success in the world of junior chess. It wasn't long before we faced each other in a Guisborough v Redcar match.


Around about this time we started to contact each other on a regular basis. Guisborough entered the National Club Championship and we made Mike a member of the club so he could play for us (Redcar didn't have a team in the event). This led to a further increase in our mutual chess activity, with him coming along to Guisborough on Thursday evenings and me going to Redcar's club on a Friday. Often, we'd get together and visit other clubs too. We were mad keen. We started going to congresses together and were frequent visitors to Scarborough, Northumberland, Durham, Leeds, York, Harrogate and other paces in addition to never missing a Redcar or Middlesbrough weekend event.


I remember I had been reading about the Botvinnik - Tal match of 1960. Botvinnik, needing a win to keep the match going, had leaned over the board and concluded matters with the words: 'Let's call it a draw, Mischa'. During some 'friendly' games at Guisborough, I leaned over the board and said, 'Let's call it a win to me, Mischa'. The name stuck - although it was Anglicised to 'Misher' (and often aggrandised to 'The Mighty Mish'). I remember his delight when I first put his name in print in my chess column in the Herald & Post (1985-2000).

On forums in latter years he would sometimes use the handle 'Mishmash', which was a corruption of 'Mish/Marsh', an early name for our chess partnership.

We came to the conclusion that we would be better off playing for the same team but the question was - who would make the switch? We discussed the matter for some time. At first, I was seriously considering playing for Redcar. However, I became the secretary of Guisborough chess club at the very next AGM and decided to make a real go of it.

League Title

Middlesbrough A held a stranglehold on the Cleveland A division title in those days. With the team's top four boards consisting of David Smith, Norman Stephenson, David Wise and Tom Wise it was no real surprise. However, I was obsessed about building Guisborough into a local force to be reckoned with. Mike was driven by thoughts of success too and he agreed to join Guisborough with the sweetener that he was made captain of the A team.

Then things really started to move. A couple of other strong players recognised our intent and joined up between seasons. We arranged training matches and produced a regular chess bulletin, full of annotated games and chess chat.

Incredibly, the league fixtures pitched us against Middlesbrough A in the first match of the season. We drew 3-3. Both teams went on to win all of their remaining fixtures and Guisborough won the title on 'goal difference' - by one point.

Mike won a lot of games on boards two and three (he switched with Kevin Bailey on occasion) during the season.

Our club had won the title for the first time in exactly 50 years (we won the B division too). The future looked bright for Guisborough.

However, things were to change quite quickly. Before we knew it, Kevin Bailey had moved to London and Tim Blake, Howard Turner, Tristram Brelstaff and Rob Wallace all left the area too (the 1980s wasn't a particularly kind era for employment prospects in the North East). I started working full time in schools and the long distances involved meant I couldn't get back in time for matches. I stopped playing local chess for 10 years.

Mike still played for Guisborough for a year or two and then he eventually joined Middlesbrough, becoming a major force behind the successful run of Middlesbrough Rooks, who had displaced Middlesbrough A as the top team.


I returned to local chess 10 years after Guisborough's league success. This time, Elmwood was my local club. Soon enough, I was facing Mike again in an Elmwood v Middlesbrough Rooks encounter.

For a while, the local pattern was set. Elmwood were invariably successful in the Tom Wise KO Cup but often had to settle for second place in the league, behind the powerful Rooks. Mike and I frequently reminisced about the old Guisborough days, and how good it was to play for the same team. Soon after that, Mike joined Elmwood and a league and cup double became the norm until we both stopped playing for Elmwood after the 2005-6 season. The last games we played for the same team were both wins, against strong Peterlee opponents, in the 2006 Tom Wise KO Cup Final.

The Griffin

After leaving Elmwood, Mike re-joined Redcar (something he'd always wanted to do) and after a successful season with them he went on to become a founder member of the Griffin club. His constant stream of wins on board one helped the new team progress rapidly up the league system and they had established themselves as a potent force in the A division.

When he became captain for the start of the 2009-10 season, he made several attempts to sign me up.

He once texted: 'What would it take to make you turn out for the Griffin this year?'

I replied: '£50,000 cash, an apartment full of women and your email password'.

He said he would see what he could do, but didn't get around to fulfilling the deal.

Aggressive Style

Mike didn't enjoy defending and always sought the initiative as soon as possible. The Danish Gambit, Wing Gambits against the French and Sicilian Defences all featured heavily in his aggressive repertoire. He was often to be found with a pawn wedged in at e5, limiting the opponent's space, a Bishop on d3, a Queen on g4 and a Knight looking to leap into g5 at the earliest opportunity.

As Black, he was drawn to the King's Indian and Benoni defences against 1 d4 and the Sicilian Dragon against 1 e4. The Pirc and Modern defences were favourites too.

I used to play the Sicilian Dragon, back in the 1980s. We would often prepare for games together (something we did for about a quarter of a century, all the way up to his final game).

He liked the idea of the Dragon and said he'd give it a try during the Leeds Quickplay tournament. I looked up after a couple of minutes during one of the rounds and saw him walking around with a very glum face. I got up and asked him what was wrong. He said he'd already lost and that the Dragon was rubbish. Unfortunately, his Dragon debut had walked straight into the famous Levenfish trap. A trip to the bookstall later in the event enabled me to convince him it was an opening worthy of his perseverance.

Eternal Champion

I think the title of Cleveland Champion meant more to him than any other. He won it in each of the last three seasons and has done the ultimate Alexander Alekhine impression to guarantee it stays with him forever.

Winning the title this year resulted in qualification for the British Championship. His place was deferred until 2011, when the Sheffield-based Championship would have been more tempting for him to travel to.

Towards the end of the season, when he was busy winning game after game and sending his rating through the roof, I suggested it was high time he tested his skills against stronger players. He hadn't played an Open event for six years. I said that his current strength was surely approaching FIDE Master level (at least). He didn't agree and claimed he had been very fortunate in a number of games, when various gambles had paid off in dubious positions.

However, further discussions on the matter appeared to have changed his mind. A recent text from him said: 'I intend taking up my British Championship place in 2011 and cordially invite you to be my official 'second' for the duration, entailing two weeks of fun and frolics. You have one year to prepare'.

I replied: 'I cordially invite you to find a sponsor for yourself and your second. You have one year to do so'.

Here's a few photos of our chess times together...

(Photo: Steve Henderson)

Mike during his game against Norman Stephenson in Elmwood's crunch 2003 league encounter with Middlesbrough Rooks. Elmwood won a tough match to take the league title.

(Photo: Steve Henderson)

In accordance with our match plan for this particular encounter (a win with White and a short draw with Black on the top two boards), Mike had drawn relatively quickly with Norman and here he his watching my game against David Spence to see if I could stick to the plan too.

(Photo: Steve Henderson)

Mike and I in typical poses; concentrating in games against Trevor Glass and Barry Taylor respectively. The match was the Tom Wise KO Cup final of 2003 against Athenaeum. Steve Dauber, Geoff Garnett and Jim Rogers look on.

(Photo: Steve Henderson)

A major haul of trophies for Elmwood - a very common sight for a decade. (Left to right: Brian Myers, SM, Steve Dauber, Mike Closs, Alan Trotter, John Garnett)

(Photo: Steve Henderson)

Philip Mitcheson, Alan Trotter, John Garnett, Mike Closs, SM and Geoff Garnett.

Mike accepting his prize from David Smith at a Middlesbrough Chess Club Rapidplay.
Is Mike offering Queen odds...?
Mike giving a simultaneous display - with clocks - at Billingham Synthonia. Result: 4-0 to the Mighty Mish.

Full story here:

(Photo: Steve Henderson)

Another cup final, another success. Mike against Colin Walton (Peterlee).

(Photo: Steve Henderson)

Side by side, defending Elmwood's grip on the Tom Wise KO Cup.
Mike playing Ian Elcoate in the SME Match Championship. 2-0 to Mike, who went on to lose by the narrowest of margins to David Wise in the four-game semi-final.

The last time we were photographed together. We'd been out for a meal in Saltburn.

Part 2 to follow....

1 comment:

Paul said...

Very nice to read your first part of your memories about my dad and will be looking forward to reading the next part.

Thanks Paul