Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Grass Arena

Black to play and win

A few days ago I stumbled across The Grass Arena in the LSE library.

Our older readers may recall John Healy's account of his life of child abuse, alcoholism, crime, street homelessness and subsequent redemption getting a fair amount of publicity in chess circles when it was published in the late eighties. Why? Well for one thing the book concludes with a reproduction of Leonard Barden's chess column from The Evening Standard, 5th April 1975:-

"G. Mancini v. J. Healy, Athenaeum Chess Club tournament, 1975. Black (to move) is a pawn up, but White intends a perpetual attack on the rook by Kt-Q4 and kt-Kt3, while if the black rook moves away from the seventh, his knight is lost. What did Black play, and how should the game end?

Par times: 10 seconds, chess master or expert; 30 seconds, weekend congress player; two minutes, club or school team player; five minutes, average; 10 minutes novice."


Anonymous said...

Well, I thought I had it, in my allotted 5 minutes, but Crafty disagrees with white's first move , so I will have to await the real solution.

The Grass Arena was re-published this year, and was the first I'd herad of it...

ejh said...

1...Rd2 2.Nb3 e3, I should think.

I've never read Healy's book: of course I should, but for some time I've been trying to write a book of my own and I've therefore steered clear of other books that might influence me. If I ever get it done and published, I'll read The Grass Arena.

ejh said...

Incidentally did I ever mention I went to the same school as Lewis Hamilton?

Anonymous said...

I'm sure I heard the author on Radio 5 a few months ago, something about a guy pushing for the book to be re-published.
It is a interesting story, hopefully I'll get around to reading the book at some point.

Jonathan B said...

and I, since we're talking about it, went to school with Twisted Firestarter Keith Flint out of that popular beat combo The Prodigy.

My sister says we were mates at one point but I can't remember him at all.

Anybody out there go to school with any chess players? Decent ones I mean.

Martin Smith said...

I didn't go to school with him (as far as I'm aware), but I did play John Healy once - and it wasn't in prison either. Maybe twenty years or twenty-five years ago, during my chess interregnum, I found myself in a simul against some guy for whom chess, they said, was his Epiphany. Snake in the grass-like I beat him. He wasn't best pleased, and he looked like he meant it.

ejh said...

I have a copy of The Art Of Attack In Chess (yes, odd book for me to have, I know) which I got off a teammate in my school chess team. It has his name written inside and the legend "Future GM".

He wasn't though.

Last I heard I think he was a missionary in Malaysia or something.

Anonymous said...

I never met Healy but from what I've heard he could have been a GM - in self-publicity. An average club player (at best) somehow managed to delude a lot of people that if it wasn't for his bad start in life, drink problem, aggressive tendencies, etc., he could have been a professional chess player.

As an ex-con he's loved by the Guardian newspaper of course, and indeed they caught up with him and his hard-luck stories again earlier this year.

Don't misunderstand me, he's not had an easy life and I sympathise with him, but please, don't run away with the idea he is/was a strong chess player.

Alu Chin

Anonymous said...

Interesting story and this endgame is simply educational.

Jonathan B said...

1...Rd2 2.Nb3 e3, I should think.

Forgot to say:-

yes that was it. Barden has the game ending

1. ... Rd2, 2. Nb3 e3, 3. Nxd2 exd2, 4. Ra1 d1=queen, 5. Resigns.