Kibitzing with The Poisoned Pawn

Crossing pawns with Rod Stewart

The Pawn has never been convinced that deafness was such an advantage to Petrosian in his Candidates match with Hubner, as was claimed at the time. (This was the one, you will remember, which the Spanish organisers thought it would be clever to organise in a subway next to a football stadium, which jeu d’esprit, with the usual contributory incompetence from Golombek as arbiter, resulted in Hubner blundering during the hubbub and resigning the match).

On the contrary, the older and deafer the Pawn gets, the more intolerant for some reason he becomes of what little noise he can still hear while playing. The position is perfectly simple as far as I can see; if you wouldn’t do it in an Oxbridge examination hall, you don’t do it in the playing area. No talking, no post mortems in the playing hall, no unwrapping crinkly biscuit packets, no walking around crunching apples, no gum-chewing, no wearing trousers whose legs rub together loudly, no wearing flipflops which swish along the carpet, and so forth. The arbiter should play the role of invigilator, and anyone caught transgressing gets disqualified. Second offenders die on spikes.

The best of arbiters, though, would have been a little non-plussed at a recent local league match in which the Pawn was performing, and a fifty-strong gospel choir was rehearsing Rod Stewart’s Sailing in the room next door (no, I don’t know why either). The more bravura passages were causing the less well-balanced pieces to vibrate appreciably, while the Pawn’s internal monologue went something like this:

‘…I go knight to b5, he plays c6, I am sailing, I am SAILING, dammit, concentrate, will you? I go knight to b5, he plays c6, stormy WAAATERS, ‘cross the sea, where was I? ah yes, knight to b5, he plays c6 – where is my knight anyway?, to be NEAR you, to be free – did I say …c6, or was it ….a6, anyway I have to move the knight somewhere, can you hear me – of course I can bloody hear you – can you HEAR me – how do knights move again? – throuououough the dark night, faaaaar away – yes, it’s bloody miles to the tube station, what if I just offer a draw now and go home? – I am DYING, – go ahead and die, blast you –forever TRYING – my God, some people request this crap for their funerals – we are SAILING, we are SAIAIAIAIAIAILING – so I go knight to b5, oh for Christ’s sake, just move something, this bishop here will do.’

I think Kotov warned against this kind of thinking, but it was strangely invigorating. If the ECF insists on organising these crappy novelty events, they could do worse than investigate some sort of simultaneous karaoke and chess-playing displays. It can’t be worse than trying to mate someone with king and queen with 0.5 seconds on your clock to your opponent’s 39.5.

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