Monday, November 28, 2011

Constable Savage again

Steinitz used to play all-comers at Simpson's coffee-house in the Strand for half a sovereign a game. (Now an old-English style of restaurant noted for its roast beef, Simpson's still has on display the board and pieces used by such legendary players as Staunton, Zukertort, Blackburne, Tarrasch and of course Morphy himself. The board is a big one, 60cm square.)
David Spanier, Total Chess

I don't know if the Simpson's chessboard had on a plaque on it when Spanier wrote those words (Total Chess was first published in 1984), but it does now. It reads

An original chess board and men in use at Simpson’s-in-the-strand since 1826 and played upon by the following champions:

H. Staunton Paul Morphy W. Steinitz
J. H. Zukertort I. Gunsberg H. Bird
J. H. Blackburne S. Winawer J. Mason
S. Tarrasch M. Tchigorin D. Janowsky
S. Tinsley and Doctor E. Lasker

Then, after a full stop and a dash*, the name “R. Keene” appears. It’s kind of funny, in a ‘spot the odd one out’ kind of a way, but, then again, who in the modern day other than Raymondo has a better call to be there?

With the Staunton Memorial tournaments [e.g.] and other events [e.g.], Keene’s name has become synonymous with chess at Simpson’s. Rather odd, then, there was no mention of RDK whatsoever when the ECF published CJ de Mooi’s announcement that a blindfold simul would be conducted by Nigel Short in London next year.

It’s my pleasure to be organising another major chess event at Simpson’s in the Strand on 20th August 2012.

That's how the ECF President (who is/was not acting as the ECF President) began before he went on to explain how he is

looking forward to another wonderful event following on from the Staunton Memorial Dinner at the same event (sic) last year

A dinner which is itself an event intimately associated with Raymondo and yet not even the slightest hint of a mention of our man can be found. A dog that didn’t bark in the night if ever there was one and it didn’t take long to find out from the horse’s mouth, if I might be forgiven for mixing my animal metaphors, that he will indeed be helping to make the simul happen.

Before I go on, I should probably make a few things clear:-

  • I wish the simul well and hope it is a big success. I doubt I’ll be attending – an invitation seems unlikely and I don’t hold a “high position” in a Chess Association and therefore am not eligible to make an “application” for a ticket – but I’m sure those who do will enjoy themselves hugely.

  • I have no particular problem with Keene being involved per se. Of course, by promoting and ‘endorsing’ the simul, and by allowing CJ to use his position as President in the announcement, the ECF have once again allowed – encouraged, even - the boundaries between private and public activity to be blurred. Even so, Raymondo being closely involved with an ECF event wouldn’t bother me as long as both it and he were subject to appropriate management and supervision.

  • I have no beef with ECF nor with any individual within it. It is unfair to single out anybody in particular, but since he has come in for some unreasonable personal criticism on the EC Forum recently, I will say that I find Andrew Farthing’s commitment to engaging with the ordinary chesser to be both refreshing and highly praiseworthy. Many other folk within the federation have been kind enough to spare me some time over recent weeks and months and I can say that without exception I have found them all to be genuine people who are doing what they feel is best for chess in what I consider to be difficult circumstances.

  • OK, one exception. People tell me that the real-life CJ is very different to his TV persona which may well be true for all I know, but I’ve never met him, and I didn’t get where I am today by watching Eggheads, so I can only judge him on his public announcements and his actions in and around the chess world. I’m afraid that, as a result, I find him to be a bit of a twonk. A twonk, moreover, whose word should not necessarily be mistaken for his bond.

    Still, twonkishness notwithstanding, it remains true that CJ has done a lot of good for chess in this country since becoming President. Assuming that he is willing to up his game a bit in terms of accountability, and supposing the ECF are both willing and able to hold him accountable where necessary, I see no particular reason why that shouldn’t continue for a long time to come.

  • Finally, when I talk about the ECF I mean the whole ECF not just ‘the board’. After all, the recent AGM re-elected CJ as President with barely a dissenting voice.

Caveats over, here’s the problem: while the ECF are busying pretending Ray doesn’t exist they can’t manage him or CJ. They can’t manage anything at all and the situation will only get worse as the federation has to get itself into ever more contorted positions to ensure that it's looking the other way each time the pair buddy-up.

The story so far:-

CJ goes to an event he claims he is running himself – but which is subsequently acknowledged to be jointly run by Ray – and comes back with a bucketful of cash.

Ray turns up at the opening ceremony at Sheffield.

After CJ has a “hissy fit” at the closing ceremony, Ray uses his twitter account to give the pot a massive stir.

Q to ECF: And now CJ’s going to be hanging out with Ray again next summer?
A from ECF: I can’t say that I’d noticed.

Is that the ECF line? They’ve decided to endorse and publicise an event without knowing who was running it? That’s a recipe for getting yourself bitten on the bum sooner or later for sure, but, of course, that’s not what’s really going on is it?

Our Federation are trying to square a circle by promoting the fiction that if CJ calls it a private initiative then his actions have nothing to do with them. Not even if the initiative is announced on their website and publicised by their Director of Home Chess (a person I both like and respect, incidentally).

It’s a policy that's already got them into a rather bizarre situation. Our sometime visitor/commenter Roger de Coverly is quite right to point out that ignoring the guest of honour at your Championship’s Opening Ceremony is rather rude, but I suppose the ECF feels it can do nothing else. Why? Perhaps because then it would have to answer the question that it ‘no commented’ in August and, probably more significantly, they’d also then have to address the issue of whether it’s a tremendously good idea to have a President who goes around doing whatever he happens to feel like doing at any given moment.

Never grows stale

I must admit I’m getting a sense of déjà vu finishing off this post. In the immediate aftermath of the Sheffield closing ceremony going nuclear I felt the ECF should review its relationship with its President, I said it again when everybody seemed to have kissed and made up and I’m saying it once more now. I accept that the ECF is in a difficult position, but that's more reason to take action not less.

With regard to Keene, it’s clear that he isn’t going to go away just because the ECF pretend he’s not there. Neither will the CJ-RDK mutual admiration society disband itself simply because the federation is ignoring it.

Bottom line: Ray is getting ever more closely involved with ECF activities and there’s much less chance of the whole thing ending in a(nother) car crash if we all acknowledge what’s going on.

Ray Keene Index

* the punctuation is rather reminiscent of a scene from Dario Fo’s The Accidental Death of an Anarchist


Jonathan B said...

Comments were turned off in error. Sorry about that.

Jonathan B said...

PS: Don't miss yesterday's bonus post Nightmare over for The Riddler - on a subject not entirely unrelated to today's - and certainly not Martin's excellent Broadmoor Chess Club versus The World from Saturday

Anonymous said...

Recently I wondered if the Penguin was starting to develop other friends. I saw him pictured at the recent UK Festival of Mind Sports. His old colleague, Don Morris, being a partner the company doing the PR for the event, having signed a contract with the IMSA.