Britain's Mind Games End in Debt and Tears

Article excerpt

IT WAS billed as the mental Olympics, a sporting spectacular for eggheads featuring "events" such as Rummikub, Scrabble and the jigsaw puzzle. Alas, the competition on the games table failed to match the intensity of the behind-the-scenes feuding. The Mind Sports Olympiad has collapsed with debts totalling pounds 2.5m.

The affair has dragged in an array of eminent intellectuals including the former head of GCHQ, the Government spy agency in Cheltenham, as well as a peer of the realm and former page of honour to the Queen.

But at the heart of the Olympiad's demise is an extraordinary feud between Raymond Keene, The Times chess correspondent, and his brother-in-law and business partner David Levy, a computer and chess boffin, who also happens to have ghost-written Ronnie Biggs's autobiography.

Their acrimonious fall-out after 37 years of friendship, prompted Mr Levy to write an astonishing open letter, published on the internet and in a chess magazine, accusing Mr Keene of using pounds 50,000 of Olympiad money to set up a rival venture. It is an accusation Mr Keene vehemently denies. "The whole story is absolutely horrible," said Lady Tovey, company secretary and wife of Sir Brian Tovey, the Olympiad's founding chairman and former head of GCHQ.

Details of a creditors' meeting earlier this month, which have been passed to the Independent on Sunday, show the Olympiad, and an associated website, with debts of nearly pounds 2.5m and assets of less than pounds 10,000. Last week, a small advert appeared in the Financial Times putting the Mind Sports Olympiad Event up for sale. The announcement was made by an insolvency firm put in charge of the voluntary liquidation of Mind Sports Organisation Worldwide (MSOW) Ltd, the company that owned the rights to the games.

MSOW's 76 creditors must be wondering how an event, backed by so many brainy people, went so disastrously and horribly wrong.

But Mr Keene says the abundance of eggheads was a common organisational problem not confined to the Olympiad's situation. "Every five years you find some Mensa executive hanging upside down from a tree wearing women's underwear," said Mr Keene, chess grand master and author of a world record 108 books on chess. "When you get a lot of people with enormous IQs around they are very reluctant to listen to anybody else with a valid point of view."

The Mind Sports Olympiad was proposed by David Levy in 1987. …