Nunn again! Victory after 38 years.

by CHESS Magazine
5/18/2017 – In 1979 the East Devon Congress was won, with a 4½/5 score, by a young student with long curly hair and a brown corduroy jacket. 38 years later it was won, again with a 4½/5 score, by the same player, now sporting shorter grey hair. We bring you an interesting report from the British chess magazine CHESS, which also contains a piece on a new variant of the game that is gaining popularity: Duck Chess.

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Nunn - Again!

Some 38 years after his first victory in Exeter, John Nunn returned to the East Devon Congress. Bob Jones reports.

The East Devon Congress was founded in 1976, in the afterglow of the Fischer-Spassky match, and was the brainchild of Ken Schofield, a member of the Exmouth Chess Club. It attracted 123 players in three sections and first in the Open was Jonathan Kinlay, son of the Editor of the Sunday Express and future hedge fund manager. Entries rose to 180 the following year when Shaun Taulbut and Stuart Hutchings shared first place. In 1978 entries fell to 145 and the ubiquitous David Rumens was clear first on 4½/5, probably with the help of at least one Grand Prix Attack.

Then, in 1979, the event attracted sponsorship from the locally-based London & Manchester Assurance Group. Prize money went up and with it so did the entry – to 219, probably the highest ever. The clear winner on 4½/5 was a young student with long curly hair and a brown corduroy jacket, by the name of John Nunn. Four straight wins followed by an easy draw was enough to put him ahead of a string of ‘names’, like Rumens, Plaskett, Blackstock, Franklin, Sowray, A.R.B. Thomas et al.

This was undoubtedly a high point for the event, but in the face of a continuing proliferation of weekend congresses, it had achieved enough momentum to keep it going for the next three decades. It moved from the university campus to the Corn Hall in the city centre, but rental charges soared, entries started to fall off a little each year and a hint of pessimism about its future viability began to take hold.

Then, in recent years a private benefactor came forward to safeguard its financial future and this year a new Tournament Director stepped up to the plate in the shape of Tim Paulden, whose main claim to fame, hitherto, was not his Doctorate in Mathematics, but that he was once in the same school chess team as our esteemed Editor, Richard Palliser, in the current UK City of Culture, Kingston upon Hull.

Tim brought a fresh drive to proceedings, starting with the creation of a new website dedicated to the event (, with the facility to receive paid entries online. By removing the need for entry forms, chequebooks, stamps, trips to the nearest post box, etc, this is the way forward for all congresses and was probably one factor in the increase in entries this year. Gerry Jepps, who has devised his own method for the Frome Congress for the past two years, confirms this effect. Tim has also helped set up a similar system for the venerable Paignton Congress in 2017, and other Westcountry events will surely follow suit.

Job done just like in 1979 - John kindly agreed to leave the trophy with the organisers.

Another facility of this new method is that it automatically lists on the website the names of all those who have already entered, and this is proving another encouragement for potential entrants. Certainly, once the name ‘John Nunn’ appeared in the lists, the buzz of local interest was palpable, with the common question “Why – after all these years?”.

John hadn’t played at Exeter for 38 years, since that single victory in 1979 – so what was different this time? One can only imagine the concentration required of him being co-director of a successful publishing house, Gambit Publications, not only writing long definitive tomes on endings and problems, but typesetting them as well.

In recent years John has found a quiet bolt-hole on the North Cornish coast to which he and his wife, Petra, can retreat at any time to relax and blow the cobwebs away. Also, with the World Seniors Team Championship looming, he needed not only to get away from the business side of things for a few days, but get a sequence of serious games under his belt. So, with easy online entry available, Exeter suited his needs very well.

Keith Arkell (left) is set for quite a struggle to hang on to a half-point against Spanish IM David Pardo Simon (right). Arkell was to finish in a tie for second, half a point behind Nunn.

However, Nunn could not necessarily expect an easy ride, with a number of titled players already in the lists: local GM Keith Arkell and the Spanish IM David Pardo Simon from Alicante both had a higher rating, while one can expect anything from IM Jack Rudd. FM Walter Braun, originally of Vienna, was a relatively unknown quantity, having turned up unexpectedly in Exmouth only days earlier, and there were several other FIDE and Candidate Masters lurking among the 18 entries all above 180 grade.

Whatever the quality of the opposition, in the event it was déjà vu all over again – four straight wins and a quick draw for John Nunn to finish with 4½ points and clear first. The other winners were:

Open: 1 John Nunn (Chertsey) 4½/5, 2-4 Keith Arkell (Paignton), Jack Rudd (Barnstaple), Mike Waddington (Dorchester) 4.

Major: 1 David Archer (South Hams) 4½, 2-5 Arthur Hibbitt (Banbury), Lander Arrasate (Sedgemoor), Brendan O’Gorman (Coulsdon), Charlie Keen (Sidmouth) 4.

Minor: 1 Grant Daly (Bristol) 4½, 2-6 Paul Errington (Bournemouth), Ken Alexander (East Budleigh), Tim Crouch (Kings Head), Ray Hunt (Seaton), Maurice Richards (Liskeard) 4.

By way of an unusual entertainment during the inter-round breaks, Dr. Paulden introduced a new chess variant of his own invention. Firstly, by way of background information, the most prolific inventor of chess variants was Vincent Rylands Parton (1897 - 1974). His father ran a small private school in Cannock, Staffordshire, where Vincent helped out in his early years.

Parton published nine monographs over his lifetime explaining his many quixotic versions of the royal game, but the only one to stand the test of time was Alice Chess, loosely based on Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. My father attended that school and learned chess directly from Vincent, and I inherited it from my father. We weren’t impressed with variants, both feeling that standard chess was difficult enough without the addition of all those fancy rules.

Not so Tim Paulden, who is clearly excited by the possibilities of new ideas and stratagems to cope with them. Throughout 2016 he devised a new game, gradually refining the rules to a point where he felt he could consider launching Duck Chess on an unsuspecting world – yes, Duck Chess.

East Devon Congress Director, Tim Paulden, shows IM Jack Rudd how Duck Chess works.

Tim scoured the marketplace looking for a company that manufactured a small rubber duck of a size that would fit a standard chessboard, testing several models for their handling and quackability. Eventually he found one that fitted the bill (!) and ordered several hundred. At the congress, these were available for purchase at a £1 each in the restaurant area between rounds where a board was set up and the first games of Duck Chess started. Business cards containing the rules were free with every duck. Here is what it says:

“In addition to the usual pieces, the two players have joint control of a small rubber duck which acts as a ‘blocker’ (i.e. nothing can move on to its square or through it). A player’s turn always consists of two actions, (a) making a standard chess move and then (b) moving the duck to any empty square on the board. There is no concept of check or checkmate – you must capture the enemy king to win the game.”

For full rules and examples of play, go to Here's a Duck Chess problem: can you identify White’s best move in the position below?

It might be tempting to play Qxh7@g5, which initially seems to be winning – White’s protected queen attacks Black’s king, and the only flight square (g5) is blocked by the duck. However, in response, Black could simply capture White’s queen and shut out the bishop’s route to h7 with Kxh7@f5 – a perfectly legitimate move in Duck Chess! So what can White do?

White can win in the above position with the clever move Qf6@g6!, after which White will be able to capture Black’s king next turn (as Black is obliged to move the duck away from g6). In passing, we note that if it were Black to move in the above position, he would have an immediate win with Qxg2@f3, followed by capturing White’s king next turn.

CHESS Magazine was established in 1935 by B.H. Wood who ran it for over fifty years. It is published each month by the London Chess Centre and is edited by IM Richard Palliser and Matt Read. The Executive Editor is Malcolm Pein, who organises the London Chess Classic.

CHESS is mailed to subscribers in over 50 countries. You can subscribe from Europe and Asia at a specially discounted rate for first timers here, or from North America here.

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CHESS Magazine was established in 1935 by B.H. Wood who ran it for over fifty years. It is published each month by the London Chess Centre and is edited by IM Richard Palliser and Matt Read.


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