I never played in it myself, what with not being good enough and all, since back in the early Eighties there were really quite a lot of good players about. Though I did play in the Freshers' Varsity Match. I'd probably show you the game, too, were it not for
(a) my presently being several hundred kilometres away from my old scorebooks; and
(b) the fact that I got a pasting.
Chess evidently didn't count for very much in the University scheme of things, anyway, since you didn't get a Blue for playing in the Varsity Match, as you did for most other sports. Saying so inevitably raises the question "what's a Blue?" to which the answer is that I've never quite been sure, although I believe it entitled one to go to Vincent's and behave like an arse. There was also something called a half-Blue, which possibly entitled one to go to Vincent's and behave like half an arse. You got one for ballroom dancing, I seem to remember, though not for chess, something which rankled with chessplayers back in the days when there was more chess than ballroom dancing on the television.
You got nothing for playing in the Freshers' match, of course. Except a pasting.
The best of Britain (seen here with the Oxford and Cambridge teams)
Well, without meaning any offence to anybody playing, it's hard to see that the match merits a great deal of attention now that it's basically a fixture between two reasonably good club sides, such as can be seen regularly in the 4NCL (and not necessarily in the top division) or in more than one provincial league. I'd probably get in the team myself, these days, and a working definition of a match not meriting special media attention would be "any match I'm good enough to play in".
Nobody really pretends that the Varsity cricket match is any big deal any more: and to the corresponding fixture in our game, the same surely applies. Perhaps very little in British chess is a big deal any more. But the Varsity Match, nice though it no doubt is to play in, really isn't. It has some historical significance, of course. But perhaps not quite enough.
So, getting back to the Sage of Deptford, it's as if the Cup Final were the same two teams every year - and those same two teams weren't actually that good. Pfft, say I. I can see the point of elitism, sure. But what's the point of elitism where there isn't any elite?
[Photo: John Saunders]