Monday, December 14, 2015

John Priestley

I remember John. I played him in my sixth ever rated game. I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but I joined Chelmsford Chess Club after the third of the Kasparov - Karpov matches - the one that started in London then moved to Leningrad - so it would have been late 1986 or perhaps early 1987.

Strange the details that you remember. It was the third round of the club championship. I was White and the game began

1 d4 Nf6, 2 c4 g6, 3 Nc3 Bg7, 4 e4 d6, 5 f3 0-0, 6 Bg5

as recommended by a certain Ray Keene in his Audio Chess publication A d4 c4 Repertoire for White. I was ready for ... Nc6 and ... c5. I also knew that ... e5 was a blunder.

John played 6 ... c6. That should have been an early lesson that opening manuals would be of limited use to me in my chess career because my opponents were not going to be playing the moves that the authors said they should. It took another quarter of a century for that particular penny to drop, though.

I lost the game of course. John was one of two players at the club who were head and shoulders above everybody else and he won easily. Afterwards, we shared a few words and he gave me some tips on how I could have improved my play. I remember him being generous with his time.

That was nearly 30 years ago. At the time I thought of John as an older man. In reality he was younger then than I am today.

I must have played 1,000 or more rated games of chess since the one I played with John. He was one of those who set me on my way.

On Saturday, I received this email from Robin Slade (somebody who was still at school when I knew him at Chelmsford Chess Club) ...

I’m sorry to have to tell you that it was announced in the Essex Chronicle this week that John Priestley has died. He was involved in the NECL from the very start and wrote a history of the league in 1986. Even before the league began in 1964 John was an active member of Chelmsford Chess Club. 
John gave up competitive chess many years ago. But he kept up an interest in the game and when I saw him periodically in the library knew more about the international chess scene than I did. He occasionally popped up at Chelmsford club and was the honorary President of the league for many years. 
Others are better placed to give a chess biography but he was a very strong player and drew with GM to-be Tony Miles at a Chelmsford Congress in the 1970s. He was the first person I played at Chelmsford and I remember him telling me not to worry because although he was Chairman he wasn’t the best player at the club. This did not turn out to be the most accurate summary of his strength he could have given an 11 year old. 
His funeral will be at Chelmsford Crematorium on Wednesday at 11.30am. Donations to Farleigh Hospice or floral tributes are welcome. He was 73. Please pass these details onto whoever either currently or previously in your club would like to know. 
Best Wishes

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