[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.]
Awful weather we've been having, and it seems to be raining more on some of us than on others. Last weekend, while everybody else was in Halifax playing in the British rapidplay, I thought I'd see if there were easy pickings elsewhere so I went to play a weekend congress elsewhere to see if I could trouser a few quid to pay the mortgage. Not exactly ideal tournament conditions, a school classroom, but nobody cares what the tournament hall was like if you're out of there at the end of the day with the winner's cheque in your pocket.
Anyway, I should have known things weren't going to go exactly to plan when I saw there was another GM among the competitors, but never mind, half a loaf is better than no bread and bread is what we were both there for. All weekend it was ratcheting down outside and we felt like we were wading our way through the games too, never really getting into form but against club players it's not so important and come Sunday morning we were both on 3/3 and drawn together for the penultimate round. I had the Black pieces but like a gentleman he went straight into the Exchange Variation and we'd swapped off half the pieces and agreed a draw before most of the players had finished writing their names on their scoresheets.
Well, that left us several hours to go before the fifth round and not much to do, with it raining so hard, but sit in the analysis room and rink tea. When the draw went up for the last round I was downfloated, playing someone on three points, a chap with a Scandinavian name, Danish or Norwegian or something, presumably over here for a holiday or something. "Are you enjoying our English weather?" I asked him, but he just sort of nodded back so I guessed his English wasn't very good. Nor was his rating, so I was looking forward with some optimism to at least a half share in the first prize. It was a bit noisy - because the rain was bouncing off the roof - but I put that out of my mind and after just a few moves I had taken control, my rooks on d1 and e1 and his king still in the centre.
And then, while I was leaning over the board, I thought I felt something drop on my nose. I looked up, but I couldn't see anything, so I took out my handkerchief and wiped my face, then leaned back over the board. And then it happened again. A little splash, on my nose. I wiped myself again and took another look up to the ceiling: and although I couldn't see anything I realised that the roof must be leaking. It was quite an old school and presumably they couldn't afford to make repairs: and the rain, torrential as it was, had found a way through.
Maybe this happened every time it rained heavily and whoever was underneath just had to get out of the way, I thought, so I leaned back in my chair. I looked around to see if anybody else was affected, but as far as I could see nobody else had even noticed: not the other GM, already two pawns up and wandering around the hall waiting for his opponent to resign, not even, apparently, my opponent, who was massaging his skull so hard I thought he was trying to put his fingers through it. He probably wouldn't have noticed if I'd poured a bucket of water over my head, let along a couple of raindrops.
Three, even. I saw another drop. I must have been leaning directly over my queen rook: it fell right into the middle of its turret. Plink. I looked up at the ceiling again and then down at the rook. Up and down again. Up and down. Plink. There it went again. A second drop, oddly adjacent to the first rather than right on top of it. Maybe the wind took it on the way down, I thought.
It was still my turn to move and I couldn't think about what was going on on the board at all, except for the square d1 and the rook that stood on it. I looked up and down again. I couldn't really be hearing a plink, it couldn't be that loud. Don't let yourself get distracted, you'll start to imagine things and then you'll start missing things on the board. I clutched my hands to the side of my head to try and keep it in place. It's all right, I thought. You're better, don't let it bother you, just play a move and get up and have a coffee. So I just reached out played my pawn to h3, hit the clock, wrote the moves down, and I was just going to get up when another one came down. Plink. And as I got up out of my chair I thought I saw another.
"You all right?" asked my grandmaster colleague, who came up beside me at the refreshments table. "You look like you've got St Vitus' Dance or something. Your head's going up and down like Andy Pandy."
"No, I'm fine", I said. I should have told him about the drip, but I didn't want to look like I was making excuses, what with him winning easily and my game still to be won. Wait until we're done and then talk about it, that's the professional way. "Just a crick in my neck", I lied. "Looked like more than a crick", he said. "Looked like somebody was putting an electric charge through it. Which would be bloody dangerous outside, in the wet and everything", he laughed. I shrugged and muttered something about it being my move, though both of us could see it wasn't. But I went back to my board and sat down. There was now a thin covering of water across the top of the rook and the next time a drop fell I definitely heard a plink.
I had to do something about it, but when I looked around, the tournament controller was nowhere to be seen. So I spoke to my opponent and said, "could we move the table, do you think?" and pointed to the flooded rook. But he just shook his head and said "please, to no talking please" while waving his hands in front of his face in a gesture indicating that I should stop. Plink. Another drop in the top of the rook.
I could have tried moving the rook to another square, but then it would just have dripped on the board instead. Never mind. It was my opponent's turn to move and his position was uncomfortable and he looked more uncomfortable still. This wasn't just because of his position, though: he suddenly tutted very loudly, got up and reached into his pocket, took out some tissues and a biro - which, I could see, had leaked. He had ink all over his hands.
I got out of my chair to offer him some assistance, but, automatically moving towards him, I went too close to the board and my hand flicked into the rook and it toppled over, falling leftwards and jettisoning its load on to the b1 square. He tutted again, much more loudly this time, and before I could replace the rook, he'd picked it up and put it back on the d1 square and wiped the water off b1 - with the dirty tissues into which the pen had leaked. Which left a nasty, dark smudge all over the previously pristine white square. He tutted again, looked at me, shook his hands about a bit more, made a move, pressed his clock, and hurried away to the toilets to go and clean himself up.
That was my chance: the top board game had finished now, so I moved that table away and shifted ours so that the drop fell somewhere to my right, not on the pieces, not on the board and not on me. When the chap returned there was more tutting and gesturing, but he had to sit down and got on with the game: both clocks were running short of time and in his hurry he made a couple of very poor moves, exposing his king to a run of checks which brought it out into the open on the queenside. He was getting agitated, smudging his scoresheet with his still-inky fingers and starting to take the same interest in the drip to my right that I had taken when it was happening right in front of me.
I was short of time as well, having spent most of what I had left calculating another series of checks and seeing if there was a mate at the end of it - and there was. Bishop takes pawn on a5, check, the king takes it, now queen c7 check, king to b5. Queen b7 check, king to a4 and now the rook goes to a1 check, and when the king comes to b3, hiding behind his b4 pawn, there's queen d5 check and mate in a couple of moves. Six moves to go before the time control, and a large crowd round the board. Here we go, I thought, give them some entertainment. So I sacrificed the bishop, allowing myself a little flourish of the wrist for the spectators. He took it, queen check, king move, queen check, king to a4 as I'd expected and I slid the rook along the first rank, reached out to press the clock and......
......it had got stuck. I'd not moved it to a1 at all. The ink smudge had trapped it. It had got as far as b1 and then stopped: the felt had got caught up with the ink and only my hand had travelled the last inch or so. The rook was still on b1. It wasn't check at all. It wasn't check. I still hadn't pressed my clock and my flag was about to fall. I started to wonder whether I should try to adjust the rook to a1 anyway - but he didn't wait, either for the adjustment or the clock, but his queen came over from g6 and took the vulnerable rook, with check. I was a rook and piece down for nothing. I was out of time. My king had a flight square on h2. I wondered whether to bother moving it.
As I was wondering, my flag fell. Everybody started clapping and congratulating the Scandinavian. My grandmaster colleague shook his had and said "well played, Peter". "Thanks very much", my opponent replied. "I always thought I was in with a chance." I signed the scoresheet and sloped off. I saw no reason to hang about: I'd finished just out of the prizes. So I made my way straight to my car: getting absolutely drenched as I did so.
Who'd be a grandmaster?