Last night I dreamt I went to Glenrothes again. I have always disliked Glenrothes. It is not in the infinity of confusing roundabouts that take you from one side of the town to the other without ever arriving anywhere that my animosity lies, and don’t even think of venturing off the main roads into one of the estates, you could be there for days, endlessly circulating. No. It is the memory of the Glenrothes Chess Congress 1992 that chills my blood. On a Sunday afternoon, round five of the tournament, during a particularly stressful period at work, which will resume the next day, I find myself sitting down, with a score of nought out of four, opposite the only other player in the room who is yet to win a game. I am exhausted and depressed by my poor form. The very last thing I feel like doing is playing another game. When I think of Glenrothes, which doesn't happen very often, I remember that feeling.
Fortunately, my opponent is feeling just as miserable as I am and after a few desultory moves we agree a draw. Half a point out of five – it could have been worse, though not by much.
Nineteen years later I am persuaded, against my better judgement, to enter the Glenrothes Congress again. Avarice is the spur. My grading is such that I can just qualify in the Minor tournament as one of the top graded players. There is cash prize of £250; I ought to be in with a chance if I play at my best.
Although I have had an aversion to this particular chess congress, in general they are absolutely splendid. I am always impressed by the commonality of chess. There are few competitive events where you would find such a wide range of abilities, ages, class and standards of personal hygiene. There are ten year olds and elderly gentlemen even older and more decrepit than I am; there are those following successful professional careers and scruffy blokes on the dole, semi-literate teenagers off the council estate and graduates from St Andrews. All meet at the table on equal terms and nothing else matters but the chess.
It is difficult to generalise on the nature of chess players, but it is probably fair to say that they are mainly harmless, slightly obsessive, might be considered by their peers to be a bit nerdy and do not spend very much time worrying about their personal appearance.
I hate playing the gifted ten year olds. They will have a grading of about 450. In theory this ought to mean that they know the names of the pieces, how they move and can set up the board at the start of the game, most of the time. In practice their grading is more 450 going on 1600. One of my more abject defeats in 1992 was against such a child. At the end of our game he had used about ten minutes on his clock while I had used the full hour and a half. He spent most of the game watching his mates playing elsewhere and eating crisps. Every now and then he would wander back to our board and, without any apparent thought, make a move and wander off again leaving me to struggle even deeper into the mire he had created for me. Such are the character building, temperament testing experiences available at chess congresses.
This time I finished on a very moderate three out of five, just above half way up the field and below my grading position. After a straightforward win in round one I was drawn against a player graded 759. This turned out to be a pleasant young man of about sixteen who, after a few very sound and challenging moves proved to be a much better player than his grading would suggest. It was the best and toughest game of my tournament and I lost. This was the position, deep into a bit of a time scramble when I surrendered any prospect of the £250.
I am told that this position is won for white. And what masterstroke do I come up with? Rook to g8 check!
Actually I found that defeat acceptable. I had played as well as I am able and had been beaten by a young lad who will be far more accomplished at the game than I ever was. I never used to be so philosophical in defeat, but it is time to accept that my game is not going to improve. I have reached as far as I am going to go. I am never going to be picked for the Scotland team. Like all congresses, this one ends with a bonfire of ambitions, not to mention hopes of £250 that went up in smoke; and the ashes blew towards me with the salt wind from the sea.