I posted some video clips earlier about a chess player called John Healy. One clip was of a film made in 1992 which was called ‘The Grass Arena’ after his autobiography of the same name. The other clip was of a trailer of a documentary about his life called ‘Barbaric Genius’. This weekend I watched the documentary and read his book.
The book starts with his childhood in London. His parents were Irish immigrants and his dad was a cruel, loveless man. At 15 John started to drink and soon became an alcoholic who ended up living on the streets of London for 10 years. Because of vagrancy laws and a lack of any social services his life was hard, violent and dangerous – his time was spent either drunk or in prison. Whilst he was in prison he discovered chess and chess took over the part of him that drink had held. He became addicted to chess and good at it. It is a great read, the books beauty lies in the authenticity of the writing and the lack of self pity or moral questioning. It is available as a penguin classic.
The documentary followed the same course as the book and reviewed his life history but it was great to also get a glimpse of who John Healy is now. He is aware that a darkness was created in his childhood and the rest of his life has been a quest to overcome that broken begining and it is moving to see him do this through bravery, curiosity and tenacity. The documentary is available vis iTunes.
On top of all this it is great to see that he was able to start chess at 30 and get good enough to win tournaments and draw to the likes of Bent Larsen.
Here are some violent miniatures of his that come from a chess book he wrote (which I haven’t read yet) called Coffee House Chess Tactics.
The idea of playing correspondence chess came at me from two directions. The first was from a BBC documentary called “How To Win At Chess” which was part of their BBC Timeshift series. It can be seen here: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x19so3x_how-to-win-at-chess_sport At the 13:30min mark there is a little vignette about correspondence chess that I found charming. I liked the quiet, pensive nature of it, I liked the ‘lite’ human connection between players and I liked the paraphernalia that was associated with the process. The second point of inspiration came from looking up an article on chess.com with the enticing title “Gain 100+ rating points quickly and start improving your chess” by someone with the moniker Aww-Rats, the article is here: http://www.chess.com/article/view/gain-100-rating-points-quickly-and-start-improving-your-chess. In this article, Mr Aww-Rats, strongly advocates correspondence chess as a way of improving and he is a Nation Master. Mad not to absorb the wisdom of older people.
So I sought to find out where and how I could play correspondence chess. Chess.com has a feature called ‘Online Chess’ which is web-based correspondence chess and I have started games here but I wanted something that I could view more seriously. I googled and found the Correspondence Chess League of Australia which confusingly has, at this time, two different websites. The correct one being http://www.ccla.net.au/ It wouldn’t be described as a welcoming site being hard to use and out of date in many areas but there it was, the official, FIDE endorsed, portal to national correspondence chess. So I joined and was entered into a match called Australian BICYCLE B12 (Bicycle because it didn’t permit chess engines). This is a web-based match against 7 other players. Further to this I asked to be entered into a friendly postal match and I was. The match is an ICCF Promotion Tournament called WT/0/150. The title is suitably austere and information came to me via snail mail.