Though I’m assured there’s room in the University’s Chess Society for beginners, it is more than a little daunting if you have only ever played chess with your dad, or while holding a beer, or both, to find that your coach for the day started at the age of seven, and has since played in tournaments around Europe and coached kids far younger than you – and what’s more, the kids can do it better than you, without having to hold a beer. But on the plus side, there are doughnuts.
It quickly became apparent that splitting players into ability groups was absolutely necessary – our group, coached by the aforementioned chess whiz, Jonny Edwards, was a small one. The others were large and highly skilled, and I was more than a little bit glad not to have to challenge any of them to a game.
Again, it was daunting when, all of a sudden, hands started flying through the hushed silence and everyone at the Beginners’ table could only look on in awe. For this 20-player tournament to run smoothly, of course there had to be time limits on games. Well, most of the games. Over on our table, the magnificently patient Makrina Diakaki talked us through our possible tactics – the good, the bad and the best-of-a-bad-bunch moves, and even apologised for demonstrating the skill and forethought that makes any chess player half-way decent.
Even after an hour’s training, the thoughtful, tentative games (with more thoughtful, less tentative games racing on around us), and even after the slap-up lunch, four hours was not quite enough. It clearly takes more than this to develop a skilled player’s attention to detail and apparent ability to read minds and see into the future. Skills which I, sadly, still do not possess.