Across the board
Bernadette Angell reviews a chess programme
There are two problems which Dominic Lawson does not overcome in a Radio 4 series in which he interviews five chess lovers whilst playing them.
The first is, try as I might, I could not follow the games on the radio 4 website as I listened to the programme. This was because I listened later on i-Player, where the concurrent facility of listening and watching was unobtainable.
The second is that chess demands maximum concentration and the players did not appreciate answering quite personal questions whilst contemplating their moves.
The first up was John Healy, an ex-alcoholic homeless person. Chess had redeemed his life.
Next was shadow cabinet minister Rachel Reeves, a school champion. She was very serious and complained that it was unfair she had to answer questions in her time on the chess clock, which seems fair enough.
After that was the ex-heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis. He gave an articulate interview but a poor chess display. This could not be said of Hou Yifan, aged 19, the world ladies champion and on course to be one of the finest female players of all time. I thought she would demolish Lawson, who seems a capable player of club level. I wonder if she wearing the chess equivalent of kid gloves as he held out till the late middle game. When you play a really high level player they know how to stifle you, as Lawson was left with no play at all. According to the grandmaster commentator, he missed out on aggressive bishop move but as I did not have the board it as difficult to see what that was.
The most interesting interview – and the best chess – came in the final interview with Natan Sharansky, a Soviet dissident and Israeli politician. This man survived solitary in a gulag by playing a thousand games in his head. Lawson played really well and almost ensnared the Sharansky queen, but was overcome in a technical end game.
For a chess lover like me, any programme is of interest but I was disappointed by the format. A better one would be to play the game first, analyse it afterwards with the grandmaster, and to conduct the interview. The constant theme was the correlation between the person’s life/job and chess, but this is a complex area of discussion and most players need to get on with their play.
You can follow the interviews and games here – RADIO 4 CHESS