He didn't get where he is today by stealing somebody else's catchphrase.


For various complicated reasons, I was an only child until the age of about twenty. That’s something of a mixed blessing. I mean, there’s not an awful lot that one can do about it, so I find it a bit odd when you’re looked down upon for being one (and people do). It’s a bit like being looked down upon for only having two arms or three breasts1 - I didn’t make a conscious lifestyle choice to be that way.

I know that society loves its 2.4 children norm, but there are advantages to being in a 1.0 family. People are quick to say that social skills are lacking in the only child. I’d suggest the opposite. If I didn’t come out of my shell and make friends I’d be Billy-No-Mates - a situation that I can gladly say I wasn’t in. Whether you like it or not, you have to make your own amusement and become self-sufficient. If man cannot be an island, he has to make sure by not being insular.

In my case, I whiled away the hours by playing Chess with friends, as a single and two-player game. Yes - you can play Chess alone. It’s a good way of stretching your brain with problem-solving, mathematics and logic - something my inner geek has always enjoyed. My love for the game was fuelled further when I was given a chess computer as a present in my teenage years. I played more and more, intent on beating the machine at each level and improving my game. I joined the school chess club and also played against the headmaster… and then I’d play against my dad at the weekends.
At this point, I started to play a respectable game. I gave myself a mental chufty badge when I beat the headmaster. This was the height of my Pawnage Career.

And time passed.....
Eventually, I left school. Of course, with the newly found independence that money, transportation and girlfriends gives you, Chess becomes the last thing on your mind. I spent far too much time pickling my brain in Southern Comfort and Gold Label to care - my ability to play died, as did a few gazillion brain cells, and it wasn’t until my late twenties that I looked at another board again.

I got back into playing again when I saw a rather lovely hand-made wooden chess-board on a market stand. Occasionally, I would play against my ex-wife. In fact, I blame chess completely and utterly for the break-up of our marriage. She was a sucky player2 and her inability to understand castling and en-passant meant that she was a very sore loser. In a fury of board tipping and lost pieces, we both consulted our solicitors very soon after a heated argument about whether they were pawns or prawns. 3

But I continued to play every so often.

And so I wind back the calendar (if calendars can be wound) to 8 months ago. I started getting in to social gaming on my iPhone. Whether it was Words With Friends, Backgammon With Bitter Enemies or Russian Roulette With Cousins, I thought I’d give it a go.

Of course, chess.com’s app was the best of all - social turn-based chess playing rules. You define your own playing parameters for a challenge, quickly sign on a couple of times per day and make your move. It’s a convenient game for the occasional gamer, with a habitual nature - just like me.

And over time I’ve gained a handful of friends that I play online with too. Sod C.O.D. - Knights rule. When we meet up in real-life, we cajole each other on the inadequacy of our opening books and ridicule each others endgames. It’s geeky, but it’s social at the same time.

The good thing for me, however, is that I’m using my brain again. I don’t really want to forget my name by the age of fifty or find that I’ve cancelled the cat and switched off the milkman when I next go on holiday. One must do one’s best to stave off senility for as long as is possible and I’m convinced that stuff like this helps a pile. What’s also rewarding is that I’m gradually improving my game again and I’ve now started to enter tournaments. It feels good not to feel completely stupid.

If you’d like to challenge me, feel free. I’m on chess.com - it shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to work out my username.

1 - This could be true. I could be Scaramanga.
2 - This is true.
3 - This is what I call “artistic licence”. Or bollocks.
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