Saturday, 5 May 2007

Life Begins at 100 (Part 2)

You remember our story about Alec Holden, the chessplaying centenarian? If not, check it out further down the page. Today Guardian journalist Stephen Moss and I had the chance to meet Alec and talk to him about chess. It turns out he used to be a very respectable club player and he proudly showed us a book which he was given as his prize for winning the Surbiton Chess Club Championship back in 1954/55 (when he was a youngster of 48).

By a complete coincidence, Stephen (a.k.a. 'The Rookie' in his recent Guardian chess column) is a current member of Surbiton CC and an accomplished player himself. Stephen and Alec were both keen to play a game against each other, so we set up a board and got down to some chess.

Here are the first few moves of the game:

Alec Holden - Stephen Moss, 05 May 2007

1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 d6 4 0-0 Nf6 5 d4 exd4 6 Qxd4 Bd7 7 Bxc6 bxc6 8 Re1 Be7 9 e5 dxe5 10 Qxe5 Be6 11 Nc3 0-0 12 h3 Re8 13 Rd1 Bd6 14 Qd4 h6 15 Bf4 (White offered a draw) 15...Nd5 ...

... and at this point we get to watch what happens next courtesy of a video link...

[Watch the video at]

Alec is shown playing 16 Nxd5 at which point Stephen blunders with 16...Bxf4?? which loses a knight for nothing. He soon realises what he has done and regrets not accepting a draw. The cruel and unhelpful comments you can hear coming from behind the camera directed at Stephen are supplied by me. And, even more cruelly, I'm going to make you wait till the June 2007 BCM comes out before revealing what happened after the video ends.

Back to Alec: he's a really lovely man with a ready sense of humour. Although the game was intended to be light-hearted, both players were soon completely absorbed in the action and it lasted around an hour. It was impressive to see how Alec maintained a steady concentration throughout whilst regaling us with anecdotes and observations. His old-world charm reminded me strongly of some of the old gents I used to play skittles with at the local club in High Wycombe when I was a lad in the 1960s.

I just hope I'm in as good shape as Alec if I'm lucky enough to live to 100. He's a wonderful advert for the health-giving properties of chessplaying. "A chess game a day keeps dementia at bay".

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