[We are delighted to announce that English grandmaster Geoff Scorebook has agreed to write a regular column for the Streatham and Brixton blog. Geoff is surely well-known to all of you as a hardworking professional and a regular on the European club and tournament circuit.]
Who'd be a grandmaster eh? I've had a hell of a week. I'd meant to spend it in France at the Le Touquet Open, seeing as last year I was only just out of the prizes, but they didn't want to offer me the same conditions this time ("le petit déjeuner", the man said, "vous pouvez acheter dans un café") so I stayed at home waiting for the phone to ring and find me some way to put bread in the mouths of the old wife and kids. And it did: this club in Sussex phoned me up and asked me to do a simul at short notice seeing as the IM who was going to do it had apparently pulled out in order to go and play in a tournament in France.
They wouldn't pay more than the IM had wanted, though, so I had to settle for less than my normal fee. After that I should have realised it was going to be that sort of night. I got lost on the way to the hall and when I arrived there were only seven players waiting to play me: a couple had gone home already. The club secretary left messages on their phones and hung around for a bit waiting to see if they would come back but they never showed and nobody else turned up. "Sorry, Mr Scorebook", the bloke said. "We originally wanted Jovanka but she's playing in the European championships and of course the chap who pulled out is very popular. I think they're probably disappointed."
Well, I thought, let's hope that they're even more disappointed at the end of the evening: with only seven of them I should be able to manage a clean sweep. We set the boards out in a straight line rather than the usual square, with the idea that it might be more convenient for the photographer from the local newspaper. As it turned out though, he didn't arrive until there were only four players left in and he left saying something about having missed Strictly Come Dancing for three old men, a kid and some four-eyed twit whose dress sense was so poor taking his photo would probably break the sodding lens. Not sure what that was about, as the club secretary's jacket seemed sensible enough. Besides, as he wasn't playing he didn't need to be in the photo anyway.
Well, after ninety minutes or so I'd nearly managed my sweep and the only one left was the kid, maybe nine or ten and not as good as I was at that age. He'd been losing practically since the opening moves, probably because he kept gesturing and winking at his chum, a boy of similar age, who was lounging around in a corner of the hall playing games on a console. I didn't mind all that much, not after they'd told him that if he didn't turn the sound off he'd have to go home, and although the gesturing was distracting and slowed the game down I decided that boys will be boys, they fidget and fiddle when they have to sit still and the game was bound to be over soon anyway. I was a rook and a knight up and I had a pawn waiting to promote after which mate could only be a couple of moves away. He should have resigned but kids never do. Perhaps, presuming he doesn't get to play a grandmaster very often, he wanted to make the experience last as long as he could.
I promoted the pawn to a queen and waited for the boy to move. To my surprise, he slapped his leg, as if he was reacting in surprise to the sight of the new queen appear on the board, and then, two seconds later, there was a ringing noise and a buzzing in my pocket. My mobile had gone off.
As soon as it rang the boy leapt out of his chair and started running round the room shouting "Default! Default! I win!" and punching the air. "I beat a grandmaster! I beat a grandmaster!"
I looked at the secretary expecting him to tell the child to sit back down and finish the game properly but he shrugged his shoulders and said "sorry, Mr Scorebook, but that's the rules. FIDE and all that."
"But it's a simul, not a bloody FIDE competition", I said, while the boy cavorted round the hall as if he'd won the bloody Cup Final.
"It's Horsham and District rules too", piped up one of the old men I'd beaten earlier. "Fair play to the lad, it's his game". The other players nodded and as I thought I heard one of them mutter "bad loser" I thought I'd better take my money and go before I said something about stupid amateurs. I grabbed the envelope the secretary gave me and headed off to my car. As I left the hall I could see the kid who'd won the game in the car park high-fiving with his mate, who seemed to have put his game console away and had a mobile in his hand. Helpful if he needed to phone his mother, I imagine.
Just to put the tin lid on it, when I got home the envelope was a tenner short. Who'd be a grandmaster?