Tuesday, March 07, 2006

(18) Grandmasters

In the summer of 1986 I was hailed outside London’s Liverpool Street station by Grandmaster Jonathan Mestel and his wife. They crossed the street and chatted. He was with his parents and at least one other sibling.

One morning in 1986 I was browsing at a bookshop in London Kings Cross station when GM Raymond Keene and some other chess people came up to me.

On another occasion in 1986 I greeted John Emms when I passed him at Liverpool Street station. He went on to become a Grandmaster.

In early 1987 Angela Julian-Day and I saw the film A Room With A View at a London cinema. On the way out we bumped into GM Keene and his wife, Annette, who had been watching the same performance. We all went off for dinner.

At 10:37 a.m. on September 25th 1991 I was en route from my office to an appointment with the dietician at University College Hospital London. On the corner of Goodge Street and Tottenham Court Road I bumped into Aaron Summerscale. He went on to become a GM.

In the second week of November 1991 an acquaintance mentioned that he had not seen Michael Stean for a long while. Stean had been one of England’s top GMs until starting a new career as a tax lawyer in 1982.
I said that I had bumped into him at the wedding of GM Murray Chandler in July, but I had not seen much of him for years before that.

At 8:58 a.m. on November 21st 1991 I encountered him in London’s Tottenham Court Road, each of us on our way to work.

And on the evening of July 6th 1992 the Victoria line tube train I was travelling on stopped at Warren Street.
As it pulled in I recognised that the man on the platform standing right in front of where the door would be opening was Michael Stean.

On the evening of June 19th 1992 I was giving Frank Babar a chess lesson in the off licence in London’s Fulham Road which we had just opened. This was the first such lesson that I had given him on the premisses and to help with it we had directed the shop’s computer away from its normal function to a special chess program.

I spotted GM David Norwood walking by, and hailed him. We chatted for a while.
He had recently taken up a position as a trader with Banker’s Trust as a consequence of ads placed in chess magazines appealing specifically for chess players.
In November 1990 I had been interviewed for the job but had failed to make their short list.
A few months later I heard that Norwood was in two minds about joining them.
I met with him and assured him in no uncertain terms that here was a golden opportunity which he would be crazy to let pass. He ummed and erred a bit, speaking of his passion for chess.

Frank and I had opened our business on June 9th 1992 and David had only been working for Banker’s Trust for only a short while.
We each spoke of the transition from the world of chess to the "normal" one, and how it was painful but probably necessary. (He may subsequently not have regretted the career move; within ten years he would be worth £10 million.)

The next time that I visisted the shop was on June 25th 1992.
I travelled by tube and four stops before Earls Court I noticed a figure rising from his seat. It was David. He said that we could alight together as he would actually be walking past the shop.

The next day, Nicholas Imregi, a colleague at Cornhill Publications, said that he had seen the two of us walking down Fulham Road together.

On the evening of December 8th 1992 I played a game for Hampstead in the London League. Making his first appearance for our team was GM and reigning British champion, Julian Hodgson.

That night I stayed at Murray Sharp’s home in Hampstead.
In the morning a couple of workmen arrived.
I happened to mention that I was a grandmaster and one of them, Jim Black, replied "Oh, do you know Julian Hodgson?" I replied that I had for many years and had actually played in the same team with him the previous night.
He said that he had been at Colet Court preparatory school with him in the early 1970s.

On the evening of December 12th 1992 I was playing chess on my computer.
I flicked through a file of two hundred or so of my games which Frank Babar had compiled and to which I now had access.
Of the games of this rather motley collection that I decided to play through on the screen, two were from the Hastings tournament of 1986-87, and they were Vs Mestel and Hodgson.
I paused in each at the critical point where towards the end they had each blundered (I had won both games).
I was particularly struck by Hodgson’s error in blundering away a whole knight, extraordinary for a player of his calibre.

On the morning of December 14th 1992 I was informed by a work colleague that a position from one of my games had appeared the previous week in GM Raymond Keene’s daily Winning Move column in The Times, and that another such victorious move of mine was in that column today.
He showed it to me and I saw that it was this game with Hodgson from the Hastings event of six years previous.

The following morning at about 8:50 a.m. I was on a bus travelling down Gower Street in London when I glanced out of the window and saw GM Dr. Jonathan Mestel on a bicycle.

That evening I travelled to Peterborough and there Ramon Ferrer mentioned that he had seen a position from one of my games in Keene’s column in The Times the previous week and that he thought that it was from a game from some years previous against Mestel.

He said that the winning move had been very obvious: It was "Queen takes pawn on b6, check".
I said that this sounded as if it could only have been from my game with Mestel of six years before, and then mentioned the earlier Mestel-related incidents.

The next day the same work colleague showed me yet another winning move of mine in Keene’s Times column.
This time it was a possible variation that could have arisen towards the end of that same 1986-87 Hastings game with Mestel.

In 1993 I ran into GM Michael Adams’ girlfriend, Sophie Tran, in Oxford Street. She subsequently married GM Boris Gelfand.

On a morning in early February 1994 I bumped into Lizette Hodgson, wife of GM Julian, at Oxford Circus tube station.

On an evening in April 1998 Graham Hillyard and I were walking in Neal Street in London’s Covent Garden when GM William Watson exited a restaurant right by us.

At 4 p.m. on June 8th 1998 I took a call from a gentleman with a foreign accent who was inquiring about a flat I had advertised for rent.
He said that he was calling from Enfield and that his name was Kiril. I asked if he was Bulgarian and he said that he was.
I then said that I knew of another Bulgar called Kiril; Kiril Georgiev their number two chess player.
The caller then said that this was also his name.

At around 5:15 on the evening of December 21st 1998 I alighted from a train that I had boarded at Welwyn Garden City as it arrived at platform 10, London King’s Cross. Jonathan Mestel shot past me at King’s Cross as he hastened to board a train departing from the adjacent platform 9.
(Harry Potter fans may note the location!)
I waved at him through the glass.

I had been to Welwyn to research data further to pursuit of a criminal guru, and at the afternoon’s end I had, by chance, passed by the offices of The Welwyn and Hatfield Times newspaper.
I went in and spoke to Jeremy Stafford-Deitsch’s contact there, and she gave me the phone number of a private investigator whom she recommended.
The next day Jeremy made contact with this man.

It made me think of how a few years earlier GM Stuart Conquest had told me that he himself had bumped into Mestel at St Pancras station, at the entrance to the toilets. King’s Cross and St Pancras are adjacent to each other and are served by the same underground station.

By 8:30 I had arrived home when there was an unexpected knock at the door and I opened it to find Stuart Conquest, who was visiting Hastings accompanied by his Spanish girlfriend, Veronique, to see his sister and her family.
Stuart lived in Bristol.
Two days later I made an impromptu visit to a gift shop on Hastings front, as my wife had suggested that it might be a good spot to get Christmas gifts for the boy, and there bumped into Stuart and his lady once more.

On the morning of June 4th 1999 I was playing chess on the Internet when I was challenged by Ecuadorian Woman Grandmaster, Martica Fierro, whom I had never played before. http://www.marticafierro.com/frames.html
She then sent me the inquiry "Stuart?" which I took to mean that she thought that I might be Stuart Conquest. I told her "No."

I think she must have noted a reference to Stuart Conquest that I had made in the brief biographical detail which I had chosen to supply amongst my personal notes at the server.
About ten minutes later one of two workmen working on our house saw me playing chess at the computer and commented that he had known somebody in his class at school who was very good at chess: "Stuart Conquest."

On the morning of December 19th 2003 I was watching an outdoor carol service at my son’s school in Villa Martin, Alicante, when my wife pointed out to me a gentleman standing nearby, whom she knew to be from Iceland.
I introduced myself and it emerged in conversation that his wife, who was also there, was best friends with the daughter of Icelandic Grandmaster, Fridrik Olafsson.

On the morning of January 24th 2005 I bumped into Australian GM Ian Rogers and his wife at Luton airport. I was flying back to Spain after having played some league games in Nottingham. They, who lived in Amsterdam, were getting a cheap connecting flight to a tournament in Gibraltar.

I asked whether he ever saw American GM Yasser Seirawan, who had married a Dutch girl and moved to Holland. Ian said that he had seen him on a train the day before.

He mentioned that he had purchased and read Coincidences, although his wife claimed he had read a loaned copy of GM Jonathan Mestel´s.

In 2005 there were about eight hundred Grandmasters in the world, about thirty of whom were from the UK.

Also see Entry 126.

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