Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Why I'll Never Be a Pawn Star; Challenging a Grandmaster Was Bound to End in Tears

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Why I'll Never Be a Pawn Star; Challenging a Grandmaster Was Bound to End in Tears

Article excerpt

TO SAY that I am out of my depth would be an understatement.

I have brought a group of friends to The Vortex jazz bar in Dalston one of my favourite local haunts for an event which unites the cerebral, eccentric worlds of chess and jazz.

Intellectuals gather around boards; blues guitarists Billy Jenkins and Steve Morrison provide a sympathetic soundtrack.

Tipsy after a boozy lunch, I have just challenged the visiting grandmaster, Daniel King, to a quick game.

To put this in context, challenging a grandmaster to a quick game is a bit like tapping Lennox Lewis on the shoulder and going "Yeah? You want some?" Chess hurts like that.

I should own up right now. I am a bungling amateur at the board, foolhardy and muddle-headed. A member of the iPod generation, I have the attention span of a gnat. But that doesn't mean I am without aspirations.

I hope one day to chuckle knowingly at the jokes in Leonard Barden's daily puzzle in the Standard. I long to dazzle with my fianchetto, confound with my Philidor's defence. Actually, simply winning a game would be nice.

There's a small crowd at our table.

King good name for a grandmaster is smiling beatifically. My friends James and Seb lend moral support.

Our girlfriends can't bear to watch. Or perhaps they have better things to talk about than a board game.

I draw the white pawn, so move first e4, if that means anything to you. My opponent opts for one of the few moves I know the name for and I cannot resist blurting out: "Aha! The Sicilian defence." King is mildly impressed (grandmasters are only ever mildly impressed). James ruins it, though: "You've just spent the last week looking up moves on the internet haven't you?" I tell him to shut it, in no uncertain terms (I had not). "You can't swear in front of a grandmaster!" he exclaims.

Bad language is the least of my problems.

Three panicky moves later my pawns are in revolt, my knights have dismounted and my bishops are undergoing a grave ecclesiastical crisis. …

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