The news that the organiser of the schools chess competition, Mike Basman, is the subject of a bankruptcy demand from HMRC is of serious concern. HMRC are pursuing him for the VAT on the subs that schools play to allow their pupils to compete. Technically though absurdly the HMRC are correct as chess, like bridge, is termed a mental game not a physical sport and therefore liable for VAT. The Bridge Federation have appealed this and lost. Nonetheless a competition that attracts 400,000 entrants and does much to promote British chess is in danger. Basman does not run it for money, from top to bottom there is not much money in chess, and now stands to lose his home. Hopefully some chess enthusiast and benefactor will save the day. We all rejoiced in the elevation of British sport that won 68 medals and 29 goals in Rio funded by the lottery so surely something can be done for mental games too?
I am sometimes asked what is the fascination of chess? I reply that it has an infinity of moves and positions, that there is no element of chance and a chess match can resemble a military encounter. The latter was reflected in a game I had recently with a Polish player on the Internet. My rating is around 2000 and his was less but I noted that it was rising all the time. This could mean he joined the site recently at 1000 and wins were improving his grade as by middle game he was 1850. I won an early advantage with a manoeuvre he did not see but a careless loss of bishop meant we went into end game with more or less parity. He had two knights against my rook. Two knights can control a lot of spaces and you must always be mindful of a combination trapping king and rook. I managed to obtain passed pawns on each flank so it was a question of bottling up his pieces and advancing one or other to queen. This proved a laborious process as I need an active king which was vulnerable to checks and worse a knight fork. I succeeded in pinning one knight and blocking any advance of his pawn. He only had one active knight as square by square my pawns advanced. With only 2 squares away from queening I could sacrifice my rook for a knight as his king and one knight could not cover both flanks. To make things more complicated we only had 24 hours to move so there was little time to analyse and plenty of time to make an error. With my pawn about to queen he had to resign which he did. Some players do not resign hoping to win on time or adopting the maxim of grandmaster Tartakower ‘No one won a game by resigning.’