[English grandmaster Geoff Scorebook writes a regular column for the Streatham and Brixton blog. Geoff is well-known as a hardworking professional and a regular on the European club and tournament circuit.]
Hello all. I'm going to put in some serious preparation for Hastings this year - last year I was only just out of the prizes - and it looks like I might have some extra time to do it as I've just lost a very time-consuming but very lucrative private pupil whose mother withdrew her from classes just yesterday. Poppy's her name, but Princess Pushy, I called her, though not to her face. Not to her mother's either. PP, perhaps, for Poisoned Poppy.
PP attends a posh exclusive school, much more expensive than the one I went to, and has private horse-riding lessons, private tennis lessons, private Italian lessons, and - until this week - private chess lessons too. She's not very good, not very good at all, and had a bad habit of knocking over all the pieces whenever she didn't understand something I was trying to explain. "Stupid game", she would pout, "who plays it anyway? Only the sort of moron who doesn't know what clothes to wear and couldn't afford them if they did". Then she'd fold her arms and glare at the board for ten minutes while I took as long as possible to set the pieces back up again, trying to look at my watch, without her noticing, to see if our time was nearly up.
Still, I managed to teach her en passant and some mating patterns and even an opening or two and she seemed to have started to enjoy it when she began winning games against her schoolfriends. If you can call them friends: PP would always call them "that little bitch Melissa" or "that dreadful Annabel", at least when she was talking about one of them on the phone to another. If she started enjoying herself, she would get chatty and start telling me about how she hated violin lessons and the names of all the pop stars that her mother didn't know she liked.
Anyway, there was some sort of school championship and she'd reached the final, and she thought she had the cup in her hands already. The game was played last Monday afternoon and on Monday evening the phone rang and it was her mother.
"Mr Scorebook", she began, in the sort of voice that sounded like she was addressing a board meeting after a poor set of financial results. But she normally talks like tht anyway, so I wasn't too worried. "Hello, Mrs Pendragon", I said. "Did Poppy win today?"
"No, she did not", she said, as she might have addressed the board member who was going to be blamed for the losses. "And she's very upset: she's been crying in her bedroom for hours and I've had to cancel her violin lesson. I want you to know that I hold you responsible."
"Oh, poor Poppy", I said, trying to sound worried about the girl rather than my income. "What happened?"
"You happened", she said. "Your advice happened and it happened to be wrong and she happened to lose the final and I happen to be the one who has to pick up the pieces".
"Ah," I asked, "which advice exactly?" Had she moved too quickly, I wondered, or touched a piece and then refused to move it? She'd done that a few times in lessons and never really understood that it was a rule that applied to everybody. "I don't care what the stupid World Champion has to do", she'd say. "It's my house and I can do what I like."
"It was the bishop", said Princess Pushy's pushy mother.
"And the act....?", I started to say before remembering who I was speaking to. "I mean what actually about the bishop?"
"You told her it was stronger than a knight. But against Josephine today she had a bishop for a knight and she lost. So your advice was wrong, wasn't it?"
Oh, God, I thought. It's probably not worth my trying to explain, I thought. I'd better try anyway, I thought. "Look..." I began, only to be cut off with a "don't 'look' me". I could see what was coming but I've never been one for early resignations so I thought I might as well give her her money's worth while I still had it.
"Mrs Pendragon, it's a general rule", I said. "Sometimes the bishop is better and sometimes the knight and sometimes they're about the same. It all depends."
"Depends on what?" she demanded, her voice reaching the sort of pitch that suggested she'd made her fortune as an opera singer rather than from her husband's plastics company. "Depends on the individual circumstances", I unwisely replied and then unwisely added: "it's not so simple."
"Simple?", she screamed. "Simple? Are you calling my Poppy simple?" It was like a verbal earthquake laid on especially for me. "So sometimes it's better and sometimes it's worse and sometimes it's neither and it all depends on whatever suits you?" By this time I was holding the phone at arms' length. "Mr Scorebook, you're worse than the blasted divorce lawyers and twice as expensive. You're a charlatan, a total charlatan and I don't want Poppy to listen to you any more. Your contract is terminated." And so was the phone call - before I could point out that I didn't actually have a contract and she still owed me for the last two lessons.
So that was that. And now I've got just a little more time on my hands and rather less money in my pocket. Hey ho. Who'd be a grandmaster?