Lubos Kavalek – distracted by a whale

4/19/2005 – We thought we had heard them all, but the following excuse for blundering in a game of chess tops the list: "I was distracted by a whale!" Well, it actually happened, during a game on Cooper Island, where a traditional chess picnic has been staged for many decades now. GM Lubos Kavalek describes his latest adventure.

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Chess Picnic on Cooper Island

By Lubos Kavalek (text and pictures)

You look around and see nearly forty magnificent islands scattered around waters of the Atlantic Ocean – the British Virgin Islands. But the BVI chess players would not let a big chunk of water stand in their way. You watch them and you wonder where is their passion for chess coming from? Why are they playing so hard, oblivious to the beautiful view of the Manchioneel Bay or the splashing whales that make their way through the Sir Francis Drake Channel this time of the year? What makes them want to play enough to find their way to almost every Chess Olympiad since 1974 with very little resources? To understand all of that you have to be present at their annual chess picnic, play with them and listen to their stories.

On March 13, on a bright, sunny Sunday morning, the past and future members of the British Virgin Islands Olympiad team crossed the Sir Francis Drake Channel from the main island of Tortola to Cooper Island to attend their annual picnic. As soon as they arrived at the residence of Bill and Mimi Hook, they rushed towards the chessboards and played almost till sunset. They were interrupted once when the lunch and the traditional picnic cake were served, but even then chess was part of their conversation. Was Kasparov retiring too soon from professional competition? Could he have saved the pawn endgame with Topalov? What about Bobby Fischer moving to Iceland? Is the Najdorf Sicilian the way to go against 1.e4? How do we get more children to play the game? What will be our team line-up for the Olympiad in Turin? They find most of the answers on the Internet, including ChessBase.com, they said.

Chess players were always welcomed at the Hook’s residence and chess was a big part of their lives. Mimi was the BVI team captain at the Olympiads in Bled in 2002 and in Calvià in 2004. Bill was the BVI’s team top player for many years. At the Malta Olympiad in 1980 he won the individual gold medal for the best overall result. A position from his final game against the Kenyan Salfudin Kanani (after 14.e5 in Mega 2005, game # 334,516) made it to the official BVI postage.

Hook,William (2210) – Kanani,Saifudin [A45]
La Valetta ol (Men) La Valetta (14), 06.12.1980

1.d4 Nf6 2.Bg5 c5 3.d5 Qb6 4.Nc3 d6 5.e4 Nbd7 6.Rb1 a6 7.a4 h6 8.Be3 Qb4 9.f3 Ne5 10.Bd2 Qb6 11.f4 Ng6 12.Bd3 Bg4 13.Qc1 Bd7 14.e5

14...dxe5 15.Bxg6 fxg6 16.fxe5 0-0-0 17.exf6 exf6 18.Nge2 Bg4 19.Be3 Bxe2 20.Kxe2 Qb4 21.Re1 Bd6 22.h3 g5 23.Kf1 g4 24.hxg4 h5 25.g5 h4 26.Bf2 h3 27.gxh3 Rxh3 28.Re4 Qa5 29.Qd1 f5 30.Rh4 Rxh4 31.Bxh4 Qb4 32.Bf2 Qf4 33.Qh5 g6 34.Qh4 Qd2 35.Re1 Bf4 36.Rd1 Bxg5 37.Rxd2 Bxh4 1-0. [Click to replay]

Bill could have won the individual gold medal already in Haifa in 1976 had he not played in the last round. A win against Percy Ramirez of Bolivia would also have clinched it, but Bill only drew and the gold went to Jan Timman.

The picnic


Cooper Island, where the picnic took place, is one of the nearly 40 BVI islands (two of those are now owned by Virgin Atlantic's Richard Branson). Its Manchioneel Bay (on picture) is a popular overnight place for nearly 50 sailing boats. Celebrities like former CBS anchor Walter Cronkite like to sail here. Not many houses were there in the early 1960s when the Hooks first arrived here. These days you can stay at the Cooper Island Beach Club.


The past and future members of the BVI Olympiad team arriving for the annual picnic on Cooper Island from the main island of Tortola (in the background). From left: Bill Hook, Anna Durante, Simon Potter, former BVI deputy governor Elton Georges, Kairon Durante (Anna's son), Bengt Nygren, Maurice Lettsome, Henry Pickering and Art Christopher.


Bill and Mimi Hook's house on Cooper Island (view from the water) is only a short hike away. Or you can use a local transportation….


Bill Hook, the only taxi driver on Cooper Island, with Henry Pickering as passenger. The “taxi” is a golf cart, helpful to bring groceries, luggage and people up the hill. Golf is not played here, though.


It is still quiet on the Hook's house terrace before the chess storm comes.


Another view from the terrace. Behind the sail boat is Salt Island, home of retired fishermen. In 1979 they owned the only telephone in the nearby area and it played a major role in setting up the historic tournament in Montreal. The phone was placed in a shed that also sheltered chickens. I negotiated the final agreement with the mayor’s office from there. The 1979 Montreal event began the era of elite tournaments that later continued in Tilburg and Linares.


Let’s get serious and have fun! The chess picnic officially starts.


...or a piece of cake.

In the 1960s Russian writer Vassily Aksyonov came up with a short story that rocked Soviet chess establishment. He wrote about a grandmaster returning to his home town. On the train, he was recognized by an amateur chess player. They played, but the grandmaster’s mind was not on the game. He was thinking about his personal problems, blundered and lost the game. Tigran Petrosian, the world champion at that time, argued that it can’t happen in a real life. Others thought it was possible. The dispute was passionate and never-ending. The story crossed my mind when I got into trouble in a friendly game against Maurice Lettsome on Cooper Island.

Kavalek,Lubos – Lettsome,Maurice [B86]
Cooper Island, 13.03.2005 [Kavalek,Lubos]
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6. Najdorf everywhere! Fischer and Kasparov have followers. 6.Bc4 e6 7.Bb3 Be7 8.g4!? Courtesy of GM Dragoljub Velimirovic. 8...Qa5. At this moment, distracted by a whale splashing in the Sir Francis Drake channel, I innocently advanced into a lost position. 9.g5? Nxe4 10.Qf3 Nxg5 11.Qg2. May be I can quickly castle long and get some play through the center and on the kingside. 11...Bf6! No way! The hits are coming and I don't have time for my plan. 12.Nde2. 12.Be3 should have been tried.

12...Bd7!! Simply brilliant! I was expecting 12...h6 13.h4 Nh7 14.Bd2 followed by 15. 0-0-0 with a small hope to fight. However, my heavy pieces get crowded on the diagonal h1-a8 and Black gets the idea quickly. 13.Bxg5. Trying to complicate the game since after 13.Qxb7 0-0 14.Qxa8 Bc6 Black picks up the rook on h1 with a winning position. 13...Bxg5? Getting lucky. 13...Bc6 should win for Black. 14.Rg1 Escaping from the diagonal. 14...Bf6 15.Qxb7 Bc6 16.Ba4! Saved by the pin! 16...0-0? Dropping a piece lets me of the hook. 16...Bxa4 17.Qxa8 0-0 18.Qf3 Nd7 19.0-0-0 d5 was playable for Black. On 16...Qxa4? 17.Qc8+ White wins the black queen. 17.Bxc6 Nxc6 18.Qxc6 and White later won. 1-0. [Click to replay]


From right: Potter, Nygren and Pickering playing


The Lion King, molded by nature, tougher than Kasparov. Tortola is behind in the distance.


The picnic is over. Going home to Tortola on Bengt Nygren's boat.


Sun sets over the Sir Francis Drake Channel. The view is towards the U.S. Virgin Islands with Tortola on the right.

Looking back

Susan Grumer, who worked on preparing this article for publication, visited Cooper Island and took part in the traditional picnic together with the U.S. Virgin Islands team in 1977. She sent us memories from her historic experience.

The chess picnic of 1977 was a special event. For the occasion some member of the US Virgin Islands Olympic Chess team sailed over from St. Croix to join in the festivities. Although they only traveled 40 miles, the trip took 12 hours because there was no wind. The lasagna and beer stayed fresh in the cooler during the long voyage.


Approaching Cooper Island, the one seasick passenger fully recovered.

Large sailing vessels cannot fit in the shallow water near the Hook’s dock. The Cruzans reached shore by dinghy or swimming. Bengt Nygren's speed boat had no trouble parking next to the new extended dock this year.


Playing chess in 1977. On the left is the late Carlos Downing, a big supporter of BVI chess and the editor-in-chief of the local weekly "The Island Sun."


Bill Hook (left) in the “main event” vs FM Craig Van Tilbury. Craig played for the US Virgin Islands till 1990. In 1994 USVI didn’t send a team. Craig was invited to play with the British Virgin Islands team. He has played with them ever since. The USVI team stayed two days, so they could enjoy other aspects of this chess paradise.


Bill Hook at the 1976 Haifa Olympiad, where he missed the individual gold medal by a hair. He is playing against the late Larrie Abraham of the U.S.V.I. Next to Bill is the BVI deputy governor Elton Georges.


Sailing in the calm waters of the Caribbean. GM Lubos Kavalek sports a white cap.


This last picture is of Lubos Kavalek at the 1972 Olympiad in Skopje, playing the top board for the U.S. team.


Lubomir Kavalek, 61, international grandmaster since 1965; several times U.S. and Czechoslovakian champion and winner of numerous international all-play-all tournaments; one of only three U.S. players ever rated in the world's top ten (the other two are Bobby Fischer and Gata Kamsky) since FIDE introduced the rating system in 1971. Played in nine Olympiads (three times on the top board, twice on the second board for the U.S. team), collecting one gold and five bronze medals. A successful coaching career includes working with Bobby Fischer (Reykjavik 1972), Yasser Seirawan, Robert Hübner and Nigel Short. Organized (and also played in) the elite tournament in Montreal in 1979. As the Executive Director of the Grandmasters Association he organized the first World Cup series (1988-89). As a journalist he covered all the most important events in the last forty years. He was editor-in-chief of the RHM Press chess publishing house in New York (1973-1986). Since 1986 he writes for the Washington Post, where he has a highly acclaimed weekly column.


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