Club Venue: Ducklington Village Hall, OX29 7UX



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Chess and Ducks in Witney by Carl Portman (Banbury Chess Club)


15.11.12 - It is a cold dark Monday evening. The choices are as follows. Stay in and watch mind-numbing television, catch up on the business accounts or go and play a Grandmaster at chess in Witney. Okay, for me that is an hour’s drive away (two if you count coming home!) but it is still a no brainer.



Thanks to his passion for chess and über-impressive organisational capabilities the indefatigable Mike Truran gave 25 of us mortals the opportunity to play in the Simultaneous Exhibition given by Grandmaster Peter Wells at the cosy Village Hall in Ducklington. Incidentally, this is the only Ducklington on the planet and I have this from a very reliable source! It is one of the first Saxon parishes to be recorded in Oxfordshire. In a charter of AD 958 King Edgar the Peaceful granted at Ducklington to his Minister, Eanulf. Well there’s nothing ‘peaceful’ about chess as we all know.


The village hall is bright and airy and warm – what more could a chess player wish for? I noted on my walk from the parked car to the village hall that the ducks were quacking away in the darkness on the pond. How nice of Mike to have arranged for them to be home and to put the ‘’Duck’ into Ducklington.


Now; in many other sports (yes, I believe chess to be sport) one never gets to meet the top players, let alone engage with them in their chosen field. Therefore when events like this are staged it is vital for people to support them and show appreciation for those who take the time and effort to make it happen. It is not always easy.


Witney were wise enough to recognise that in these austere times people would be reluctant to pay a large fee to play chess regardless of opposition. To this end they charged a mere £6 board fee which included refreshment. This is ridiculously cheap but much appreciated. This sort of things is about more than the money and although I had never met Peter Wells before he seems like one of those genuinely ‘nice guys’ and it was clear to me that money was not the main motivator here. He knows full well that the scent of the rose lingers longest on the hand of the giver.



Ducklington Village Hall, Witney


He faced 26 players, about half of which were juniors which was fantastic to see. Junior chess is alive and well in this part of Oxfordshire anyway. He allowed players to have passes and discuss their games, and if they lost early enough he was happy to set up the pieces and play again. How refreshing an approach this was, in stark contrast to some of the egomaniacs of the chess world. Grass roots chess would be all the poorer if it were not for evenings like this. Well done Peter.


I should say that Peter does actually play for Witney chess club in the Oxfordshire League and I could tell that the relationship between him and the club is very congenial. He is not only a strong Grandmaster but three times British Rapidplay Champion so that could be a problem for players nearing the end of the games!


And what about the games? Well in the end there were three draws from Catalin Viscu, Howard Searle and junior Ben Lloyd and four players managed to win. Marcus Harvey (graded over 200) was one and Carl Portman (that would be me) graded a lowly 168 was another, while Paul Girdlestone and Liam Glenn also managed to lower the Grandmaster’s colours. Of course one can only win if the opponent – be he a GM or not – makes some sort of error and you capitalise on it and Peter was playing a lot of people after all. Nevertheless any win is a good win especially against such an esteemed opponent.


I must mention that the young player I am coaching – Seb Watkins - sat next to me and I was as excited about seeing him play his first GM as I was in my own game. He began brightly and eventually lost after reaching his magic target of 50 moves. Not bad for a nine year old is it?


The other juniors (who I do not know) apparently gave performances above expectation and I expect that Mr Wells had a tougher evening than he anticipated. It was good to see some of the stronger club players like Mike Truran and Dave Hackett (who were not playing) walking around, answering questions from the youngsters and giving subtle and good natured tips and hints for them. It was all very informal, very civilised and hugely enjoyable.


The saying goes ‘One can do a great deal of good in this world if one does not care who gets the credit for it’. Well I am about to finish by giving credit anyway. Though I probably have no licence to do so I want to thank (on behalf of everyone who played) Mike, Peter and anyone else involved in this event for making it happen. Further, I am happy to confirm that chess and ducks are alive and well in Witney!



Simul photos provided by Asen Assenov and David Holton




For your diary: Peter's next session, a lecture, will take place on 11 March 2013 at 7.30 pm also at Witney Chess Club.


See more about this and how to book your place.



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