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Memories
049 

The Bank Chess Club

 

by Norman Worwood

 

The Bank Chess Club was more of an ad hoc team than a formal club, as it had a limited duration and consisted of a (usually) hastily assembled, small band of members, who played their games at relatively short notice --- all features hardly designed for durability. It did, however, have one noteworthy success, which will be described in due course.

 

Starting the club was something I had done on a whim, having played frequently ever since school days, but never sufficiently seriously to become good at the Royal game. "Mediocre" would best describe my standard of play. In such circumstances, I always acted as the non-playing captain of the team, organising the match fixtures and venues, and occasionally playing if called upon. Losing was my forte, but I minded not one jot, as I enjoyed every minute of play and for many years kept records of my games, in one of which I had beaten a Birmingham City Police sergeant by employing a stunning "Queen sacrifice". The reason why that particular game remains in my memory is probably a Freudian delight at having defeated the forces of law and order, as well as its being a rare win. That, however, was not the Great Victory referred to in the first paragraph, so I shall digress in order to describe the other team-members, some of whom were powerful players indeed.

 

Our two leading players were Keith Parkes and Howard Powell. The former was a player of "County" standard and someone we could rely on to win most of his matches, although a particular bogeyman for all of us was the leading player of the Birmingham City Town Clerk's Department, a blind player who always brought his black Labrador guide-dog with him. The dog lay quietly beneath the table and we suspected advised his master on what moves were best. The second, Howard Powell, had been taught to play chess as a young man by an English national player, against whom he had played three hundred games and never won, until victory eventually came unexpectedly against a formidable player. He had further honed his skills by years of playing in a German prisoner-of-war camp against a fellow prisoner, who himself had played against an opponent of a World Champion.

 

A third strong player was Chris Addis, whose experiences in the Army during the same War had seriously affected his personality, but had done nothing to diminish his skills at chess. Furthermore, he was a stickler for the international Rules of Chess, one of which allows the player to call "j'adoube"(meaning: I adjust) if touching a piece merely to move it more tidily into the centre of its square. Even more importantly, the words must have been uttered as a precaution if the player has touched a piece with the intention to move it to another square (i.e. as a move in the game itself), but then on reflection realises that the intended move would be unwise. In the absence of this magical phrase having been proclaimed, Chris was adamant and to the consternation of his opponent, he insisted that the touched piece must be moved, whatever the possibly disastrous outcome. This tactic was unfriendly and unsettling, and the fact that Chris was a chain-smoker and also (if available) always had a pint of beer at his side, enhanced his already powerful play by even further unnerving the opposing player. He often won, then shook hands, and thanked his opponent for a "good game", praising his opponent's skill --- all a welcome and surprising, yet appreciated, softening of the firm stance exhibited during play.

 

The remaining players, Peter Aston, Roy Wozencroft, John Britten, and Roy Weaver were very able too, but it was one of these in particular who was to be used to defeat the Town Clerk's Department, the consistent holders of the inter-departmental trophy. It is not my intention to name our player, suffice to say that his style of play was unusual in an amateur. In the manner of a true Grand Master, he would make a move, then nonchalantly leave his chair to wander around the room to gaze at the other games, silently smiling or frowning to himself appropriately to indicate his assessment of their state of play. His opponent, left alone, yet sensing that here was a fellow who "knew his chess", would inevitably wonder what hidden brilliance lay behind that previous move. Our mystery player would return to the board, lean back in his chair, smile consolingly at his opponent's discomfort, this often leading to a somewhat bewildered response, then make his own next move. It was daring showmanship and unsurprisingly he did not necessarily win, but it was fun to watch. 

We had progressed to the final stages and for the forthcoming deciding match for the Corporation trophy, we realised that this show of flamboyance would be useful against the Town Clerk's Department's "top board", in other words the board occupied by their blind genius. Whilst not being visible to his opponent, our player's actions would be accepted by the opposition players as that of an ultra-strong player. What they would not suspect was that he was certain to lose his match on the top board, whilst our much stronger players would progressively be occupying all the boards further down the "batting order".

We won the trophy, though I believe there were mutterings and accusations of gamesmanship. That's life.

 

In the wider world, we played in the Birmingham Chess League against private companies and organisations, with slender hope of great success but with enough team and individual achievements to encourage continuing effort. Matches were invariably played in the evening and security was an insurmountable barrier to playing "home" matches on Bank premises, so we were permitted to use a large room in Baskerville House, Broad Street, which building was usually available. When playing "away" games against large companies, we were often confronted with chess time-clocks, which enforce a limited number of moves to the hour; at others the arrangements were less formal, but nonetheless were held invariably in an atmosphere of friendliness and enthusiasm. Our entry into the realms of structured chess was most enjoyable whilst it lasted, but as our players took on other commitments and responsibilities, the numbers dwindled to the point where we were unable to field enough for matches. What happened to the Corporation trophy? I believe it was returned to the safe custody of the previous winners to be competed for by other interested parties and is probably still hidden in the dark recesses of some cupboard in Birmingham's Council House.

 
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