Jon Speelman: The joys of Codgerdom

by Jonathan Speelman
10/3/2021 – Yesterday, 2 October 2021, Jon Speelman turned 65. Congratulations! The English Grandmaster and former World Championship Candidate, who in January 1989 was the world’s number four, used this occasion to look back on his career and to select some of the most interesting games he played as an up-and-coming player. | Photo: David Llada

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Codgerly eyes

Wondering what to write this week, I’ve been slightly paralysed by the onset of October 2nd yesterday, when I attained the glorious age of 65.

I can’t say I’m entirely delighted by this but short of acquiring a time machine there's “nothing to be done” (as a certain formerly Eastern European Grandmaster was, and presumably still is, fond of saying), and what it has achieved is to spur me on to have a look at some of my old games.

Nowadays the kids are so strong so young that it’s hard to contemplate just how far behind we were. I’m thinking of examining some of their games next time. Please do suggest any you’d like me to look at in the comments.

I was a late developer who became an IM at the age of 21 and a grandmaster at 24. But even the best young players — apart from Bobby Fischer — were at least in their late teens before they became GMs. This doesn’t mean that we weren’t decent players — or at least didn’t show promise — but we were very raw. Some years ago, I unfortunately lost some of my early score books, so I don’t have any really early games. But I have got some in my database from 1969 onwards, and I thought I’d dig out some of these today, peering with my codgerly eyes for promise and flaws.

The first few games in the database are actually ones which weren’t dated and so sent to the top by the sort function (something I obviously could remedy but haven’t bothered to). We then reach the British Under-14 Championship in Rhyl 1969 (which I won) and the Islington Open of 1970. There’s nothing from the British Under-16s in 1970 (first equal with Jonathan Mestel), but a few other games from 1970 and over a dozen from 1971 including the British Under-21 which was won by Tony Miles.

In any case, I’ve chosen a few of these — wins and losses — to have a second look at and hope you enjoy them. We start with a couple which are in my book of best games, and the rest have never been published except possibly in tournament bulletins.


Select an entry from the list to switch between games


Jonathan Speelman, born in 1956, studied mathematics but became a professional chess player in 1977. He was a member of the English Olympic team from 1980–2006 and three times British Champion. He played twice in Candidates Tournaments, reaching the semi-final in 1989. He twice seconded a World Championship challenger: Nigel Short and then Viswanathan Anand against Garry Kasparov in London 1993 and New York 1995.
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BKnight2003 BKnight2003 10/4/2021 11:16
"I've been tempted recently ... in Brussels 1992" (!)

In time: congratulations, Fritzpa!
Fritzpa Fritzpa 10/4/2021 01:27
btw Frits Fritschy I did eventually see your question re Fritzpa in the previous column and explained there.


Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 10/3/2021 11:00
Well, 2020/2021, what to hell with one year more or less. We're both from the 1956 batch and it was funny to read that your first game in your database is from 1969. I'm busy getting all my scoresheets into a database, and 1969 was my first scoresheet as well. Back then, you were more or less expected to wear long pants before entering a chess club. Looking back and recording is standard at 65, I guess, but it's also quite fun. Sometimes you wonder what you were doing, waisting time at the chessboard, and then you come across one game where you think: hey, I couldn't have done better later in life. And later in life you see what you have learned from earlier mistakes – and which mistakes you still make, after being been punished for it dozens of times.
I can recommend it to anyone, if you still have the paperwork (and are old enough).
fishthatroared fishthatroared 10/3/2021 05:33
Had the privilege of facing him across the board sometime in mid-1970s, during one of his visits to NY.

Around 10 years later, during my only visit to London, I saw him seated alone in a corner of the Kings Head (London's best chess pub), working with Informants as he prepared for an upcoming Candidates Match.

Although I did not interact with Speelman on that occasion, the pub visit brought one of my most memorable experiences in chess. I got to play a blitz game with then 15 year old IM David Norwood. After squashing me like a bug, Norwood had to leave, so he told the next person waiting in line to play me instead. And he added: "He's quite strong." What a classy thing to say! -- Norwood had just annihilated me in 25 moves or so. And he was still a kid (but since he became CEO of an old-line British stock brokerage when he was around 30, I'm guessing he came from a blue-blood family.)
Fritzpa Fritzpa 10/3/2021 04:52
Hi people,

Yes it is indeed 2021 and was so yesterday.

I've just written to ChessBase to tell them that the games are missing nd so apparently is the link to the video.

Hope it'll be sorted out soon.


nboston nboston 10/3/2021 03:51
Typo- yesterday was 2021, not 2020.
tip4success tip4success 10/3/2021 11:54
Where are the games?