Wednesday, February 04, 2009


I remember the end of the game well.

I was confident. Even I could see the position was very good for Black. There didn’t seem to be anything sensible for White to do and better yet he had next to no time for the eight moves left before the first time control. As White paused for thought, and just as I was wondering if he would resign or try to struggle on with something like Rf4, I noticed his flag had fallen.

“Time” I said softly not wanting to disturb the games going on around us.

My opponent continued to stare at the board.

“Time” I repeated, slightly louder, thinking he hadn’t heard me the first time.

Still no response.

“You’ve lost on time mate”
, louder still while tapping the clock for emphasis.

Even this failed to elicit any reaction whatsoever. He didn’t stop the clock, didn’t offer his hand, didn’t look up, didn’t even blink. He just continued to sit there eyes cast down not acknowledging either me or the situation in any way.

I have to admit I was a little thrown at this point. Over the years I've had a few strange reactions from opponents when they've lost - I even had one guy who responded to losing a piece by standing up and walking out of Golden Lane without pausing to stop the clock or say anything either to me or anybody else - but never have I experienced somebody outright refusing to accept that they've been beaten.

Slightly taken aback I wandered off to inform my captain I’d won the game. After spending a few minutes checking how my team mates had got on I returned to the board to find my opponent shuffling pieces around. Seeing he was no longer catatonic with the trauma of defeat I punted a few words of conversation. I recognised his face but couldn’t place him and wanted to satisfy my curiosity.

“Have we played before?” I asked.


Not exactly the kind of response that will earn you a raconteur’s reputation but at least I knew he’d regained the power of speech. I tried again.

“I thought we’d played last year. Do you play the Pirc?”


A man of few words you might think.

“There must be somebody else around who looks just like you.”


And that was that.

Mulling over this exchange on my journey home I resolved to check my growing conviction that we had indeed previously crossed pawns. As it turned out it didn't take long to track down the score sheet of the game we’d played ten months earlier.

The game had gone pretty much as I’d remembered it. I was White and the game began 1. Nf3 d6, 2. d4 Nf6, 3. Nc3 g6, 4. e4 Bg7,

I remembered getting a very comfortable position before blundering a piece for a couple of pawns and I remembered being ground down remorselessly without the slightest hint of any counter chances.

I also remembered the amicable conversation we had after the game finished.


Jonathan B said...

Got to love European football fans singing in English - especially when they're outnumbered 20 to 1 and yet totally outsigning Manc Utd fans.

ejh said...

After I lost a game on Saturday I similarly sat at the board, for a long time, not speaking.

However in that instance I did at least have the decency to stop the clock and shake hands first.

Morgan Daniels said...

I remember this match. I was playing on board 12 against someone thirty points my superior (and previously 210+) and really ought to have won, but blundered a rook on the move before time control. Certainly there was just cause to mope and stare, but you've got to manage a smile and a shake, right?

Jonathan B said...

Assuming you're not a total berk, yes I would think so.

Anonymous said...

Hey Jonathan you said this was going to be number 1 in a series called "????s of the London League". I forget what the start of the first word was though.

Ryan said...

I think the more competitive people are, the less sportmanlike they tend to be. That may be a controversial statement, and it's VERY much a generalisation, but I think there is a correlation there.

I'm not particularly competitive, but I when I played OTB I tried to make allowances (but not excuses) for such behaviour from my opponents.

ejh said...

I don't actually think that's right. I think for instance that standards of sportsmanship at the board are as least as high at professional level as they are at club level. Maybe they have to be to some degree, because there are arbiters present, and maybe it's also partly because people do not want to get va bad name among their fellow professionals, but even so I think it's the case that even professionals who are notorious for a bad attitude to other players (and non-players) do not seem to carry that over into their conduct at the board. Perhaps other people have a different impression, but that's mine.

Jonathan B said...

My experience is that the stronger the player the better their manners at the board.

The worst behaved players I've ever seen have not been juniors but sub-120ECFs (and lower) over the age of 45 (and higher). I once saw a retirement age guy disgracefully try to bully his schoolboy (about 8 years old) opponent into agreeing a draw.

I've also played lots of people disappointed and upset to lose who've not lost their manners.

In short - I disagree with the idea that competitiveness breads bad manners. Being a dickhead breads bad manners.

ejh said...

I wouldn't deny that sometimes in club and tournament chess an over-competitive approach can lead to disputatious behaviour and thus cause problems which could have been avoided with a little more perspective. But I think JB identifies the group from whom the consistent worst offenders come. (But which constitutes, I think, a small minority even among that group.)

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Jonathan B.

They are also those who withdraw from tournaments when they lose their first 2 rounds or something....for no good reason.

Andrew - call this "The Miserable Bastards of the London League" - that gets my vote :-)).

Every club has at least one of those, including Streatham.

They give club chess a bad name.

Campion said...

In short - I disagree with the idea that competitiveness breads bad manners. Being a dickhead breads bad manners.


(gets coat)

Jonathan B said...


:-) - I type in haste, regret at leisure!

"The Miserable Bastards of the London League"

What I orginally had in mind was slightly shorter

Anonymous said...

"The Shits of the London League"

That short enough? :-)

Jonathan B said...

you're getting warmer

ejh said...

They are also those who withdraw from tournaments when they lose their first 2 rounds or something....for no good reason

Just so we know...why would this matter, and how would you know they have "no good reason"?

Anonymous said...

Because it's the same names that I see on tournament wallcharts where they have withdrawn after losing the first 2 rounds out of 5!

They just don't like losing - tournament organisers have told me it's as simple as that. I'm also a (small!) tournament organiser - and luckily I have never personally come across those people. I've been fortunate (so far!) to have had respectful players participating and any withdrawals have been for good reason.

Withdrawing for good reasons like illness, domestic emergency and the such like is fine, no problem. But I don't think it's the same reason again and again for the players as described above. That would be too much of a coincidence.

Withdrawing without good reason apart from being in a bad mood and upset at losing a game is not good enough.

It's disrespectful to tournament organisers and other players. More often than not it leaves another player with a bye - which is not fair on them, playing 4 games instead of 5 which is what they paid for.

To me, it's an attitude problem. That's exactly how Jonathan describes it in his orginal article and I totally agree with him.

I repeat that they give club chess a bad name and hence decent ordinary club players like us.

ejh said...

More often than not it leaves another player with a bye

Surely in fact this would happen, on average, note "more often than not" but "precisely as often as not"? And equally as often, it would reduced the field from an odd number to an even number, thereby ensuring that nobody has to have a bye?

I also can't see that they "give club chess a bad name". With whom?

Anonymous said...

"Surely in fact this would happen, on average, note "more often than not" but "precisely as often as not"? And equally as often, it would reduced the field from an odd number to an even number, thereby ensuring that nobody has to have a bye?"

Sorry but this just even worse and more confusing than what I've written! Does anyone understand what ejh has just written there? Is it me or is he sounding a bit pretentious? :-) Where's David Robertson when you need him!? :-)

My point is simply that when the organiser has made the effort to ensure that all players are paired against each other and then sees a sudden withdrawal at any point because he's upset to have lost to someone 1 ECF point lower than himself? :-) Doesn't that make the organiser's job harder and make them feel a tad pissed off?

Giving club chess a bad name - well, ok - using through Jonathan's example, perhaps 'league chess' may be more accurate - or even just club/league/tournament chess.

Anyone around the world can read about or hear about those cases.

Of course they are a minority (thank god!!!) but it is a minority we can do without and it would improve club/league/tournament chess a lot :-)

ejh said...

Anyone around the world can read about or hear about those cases.

But they don't, really, do they? Because hardly anyone round the world is interested. It's not considered important. So nobody gets a bad name, it simply doesn't happen.

Does anyone understand what ejh has just written there?

Well I'll give it another go, shall I?

Tournaments will, mathemtically, have an odd number of entrants as often as they will have an even number of entrants. Therefore there is as much chance that a withdrawal will leave an even number of players as that it will leave an odd number of players. It is therefore as likely to remove the problem of somebody unpaired as to create it.

Or is one of us missing something?

Anonymous said...

Hmm, I wonder why you're getting a little hot under the collar here. What you have written so far on this page seems to be from someone who is getting increasingly defensive.

People reading this may be thinking that you behave like one of those serial withdrawers that I am describing? It seems that I have touched a raw nerve with you there.

On the last part on what you have written above - again, another pretentious piece of writing and even worse, patronising to go with it. Oh dear, not good! I could go and be abrasive like David Robertson but I am polite by nature.

Of course, the way we are debating the players getting a bye through a withdrawal, we are both right - statistically speaking :-) .....anyway this part is boring me and pointless. I am more interested in getting to the crux of what going on here.....

Do you agree with me that those players who withdraw after losing their first 2 rounds for no good reason have a unhealthy attitude towards tournament organisers and fellow players?

That is my point. If you don't agree then you've just revealed yourself to be one of them :-)

ejh said...

First point: if you move toweards personalising the discussion, I'm afraid you'll have to give your name. If we're discussing what's proper and what is not, then I think I should note that there are limites to what can properly be done anonymously. Sorry about that but it helps lkeep coments boxes civilised (if you don't think so, you should see some of the anonymous stuff we delete).

What I'm disputing is several things.

First, that it in any way damages the reptuation of chess. I think this is a specious claim.

Second, that it in any way damages the tournament from which they withdraw. As I say, it's as likely to do the opposite (and I could add, how does it help a tournament to have people there who no longer wish to be there?).

Third, that you know - and are in a position to say - that somebody who withdraws does so "for no good reason". Why do you assume you know their reasons?