Tania Sachdev's Twelfth Knight

by Carl Portman
11/17/2017 – Simultaneous events, the battle of one player against many, are fun, fascinating and exciting. Sometimes they are even charming. Carl Portman reports about such a simul, given by Tania Sachdev in the village of Shutford near Banbury in Oxfordshire. | Photo: André Schulz

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A simul in the shires of England

WGM Tania Sachdev travels a lot. Today she might be found commentating or interviewing at a major tournament and tomorrow she might be playing in one somewhere. She’s a big name in chess (as well as a Red Bull athlete you know) yet she never ignores grass roots chess or the simple fact that so many people love the game at the lower levels. Chess players reside in towns and villages as well as cities. We know that chess fans are a diverse family and come from many backgrounds and cultures.

It was a few years ago that I had a fleeting conversation with Tania at the London Chess Classic and mentioned that it would be nice if she could come and visit the country shires of England one day (after all, the UK is not just about London) and spread the chess gospel. She immediately agreed with her usual effusive smile, and it has taken until now for this to reach fruition.  

Because the nature of this simul was about diversity and inclusivity in chess, I did not wish to engage opponents that were all very strong players, thereby trying to take as many points as possible from our guest. No — this was about showing the world (not to mention curious villagers) that chess is for all, chess has no barriers. As the Manager of Chess in Prisons for the English Chess Federation I know this all too well. I was unable to get a prisoner to play Tania this time around — but I found twelve wonderful ‘knights’ to face her.

The venue was a Village Hall in Shutford near Banbury in Oxfordshire. Amazingly it has been rebuilt by the villagers themselves and they have done a marvellous job – engendering a unique and enviable community spirit along the way. Shutford lies just a few miles from William Shakespeare’s birthplace, so I felt it appropriate to call it ‘Twelfth Knight’ to link with chess and our famous Bards epic play.

The knights included boys and girls, father and son, mother and daughter and indeed a 90-year-old Priest. Players originated from Russia, Malta, India, Italy, the UK and probably further afield. That’s what you call diversity. It was Tania’s particular wish to get more girls and women playing so it was satisfying to have some lady knights to do battle against her.

Tania had just flown in to the UK from Hoogeveens where she had secured a wonderful result coming equal second with a tournament performance rating of 2486. I had been following her games of course and observed that she fought like a Jedi knight for the full points in every game. That was a bit ominous for my twelve brave knights. Her last round win against the German IM Jonathan Carlstedt was particularly lovely.

 

If 28.Rxd3 then 28…Nxd3 is just winning and in every other case the threat of …Nxf2+ or Nxf3 is overwhelming. The game is over.

Tania Sachdev and dogs

Well then, we must not be intimidated. Tania stayed with me and my wife Susan at our house for the weekend, and we were ably accompanied by our two Border Collie dogs Darwin (left) and Dickens (right) who immediately loved Tania. Clearly the feeling was mutual. She loves dogs and elephants although I was all out of elephants unfortunately. She had to be content with the boys — Darwin (left) and Dickens.

Tania only had a couple of days in the UK before flying off to Abu Dhabi so there was no time for sightseeing — only chess. The knights gathered on the hallowed ground of the village hall on Saturday 4th November. On this day in 1922 the Egyptian King Tutankhamun’s tomb was discovered. Would any of the knights unearth something spectacular against Tania?

The Duchess from Delhi made her first move at 14:05pm and had finished her work a couple of hours later. The room was quiet but the craniums were churning over various tactics, combinations, forks, pins and skewers. Tania moved from board to board gracefully, completing her moves efficaciously, not looking at the opponent, not stopping for refreshment — she just concentrated on the job in hand.

The Duchess of Delhi at work. Tania Sachdev in the arena.

It was interesting to observe the faces of the knights — here a scowl, there a faint smile and at the end of the room a quick exchange between father and son as they battled valiantly against the master player.

This is chess. Nobody ever said it was easy, but my word it is fun!

One by one the games ended and for those remaining Tania was visiting their board quicker and quicker, piling on the pressure. Clearly, she was in her element, and this was her arena. Finally, when the smoke had cleared from the battlefield, Tania emerged the worthy winner at 10½ - 1½ and won some very nice games. For the knights, the win came from Ben Graff (Leamington) and a draw from the young and upcoming Tom Shepherd (Magdalen School) who played a solid game throughout, ending with a couple of pawns and opposite coloured bishops. He is one to watch.

Tom Shepherd meets Tania

Tania wanted to give a special mention to Francesca Matta whose game was perhaps the most interesting and she deserved better than a loss according to Tania. It was a complex and exciting game.

With apologies to Tania for showing her only defeat (such wins against esteemed opposition occur only rarely at our level after all) Ben’s final move was a very nice tactic.

 

In this position he had just played …Nb3+ and Tania had to resign as she has missed this. Of course, it is checkmate in one move but I am sure you can all see it.


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A picture of concentration. Nikolai Delia Cassar (left) and Ben Graff (the only winner) are deep in thought.

Tania was very magnanimous, befitting her character. At least one of the knights had emerged victorious.

Organising such an event is fairly easy once you have done it a few times and you soon learn that the detail really does matter. For example, an army cannot march on an empty stomach so my knights had to be fed and watered. This came in the form of tea and cake — an alchemy befitting any occasion at a Village Hall and refreshment that has restorative properties. A fine English custom.

Tea and cake - a fine English custom

A young lady in my village had made the most glorious cake, filled with jam and cream — just the ticket for an afternoon of chess.

My final thought is this. There is a saying that one can do a great deal of good in this world if one does not care who gets the credit for it. It seems to me that Tania is one such person. She plays chess for the love of it and clearly derives pleasure from seeing others enjoying the game. She is a first-class ambassador for the game. My home town of Banbury has an old nursery rhyme attached to it and some of it goes…

Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross
To see a fine lady upon a white horse
With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes
She shall have music wherever she goes

That was written a very long time ago and has associations with Queen Elizabeth I of England. You know, it could just as easily have been written for Tania Sachdev who keeps the music of chess going wherever she goes…

Very special thanks to the organisations that donated prizes. For such a small event, people were incredibly generous and thanks must go to ChessBase, Quality Chess Publishing and Chess of London for books, magazines and chess software. Every knight won prizes, so no-one went away empty handed. Tania posed for photographs and signed her DVD’s afterwards so all ended well. Without the support of such wonderful people an event of this kind just would not be the same.

Prizes and handouts galore

Many thanks to Tania, the knights, my wife Susan, Terry the photographer and all who helped make the day a success. The full list of knights was Rajagopal and Sidharth Panicker, Francesca Matta, Ben Graff, Tom Shepherd, Richard Beckett, Hugo Rayner, Michael Campling, William Howells, Stephi and Sally Bourliakas, and Nikolai Delia Cassar.

Additional photos

Unity is strength: Carl Portman, Tania Sachdev and Susan Portman

Ag is no barrier to chess as Hugo Rayner (12) and Michael Campling (90) show.

Father and son team up for chess. Rajagopal (right) and his son Sidharth contemplate their moves

Mother and daughter do likewise. Sally (left) and daughter Stephi await Tania's return to the board

Tania was full of praise for Francesca Matta and her style of chess. It had been a very interestig game.

Nikolai Delia Cassar seems to be dwarfed by the towering force that is Tania Sachdev.



Carl is a Director who has a background in logistics in the public sector. He has worked in warehousing, distribution, secretariat, change management, communications, project management, Data Protection and Human Resources both in the UK and Germany. Away from logistics he is the author of works on natural history and is a qualified chess coach. His proudest moment came when he represented the United Kingdom in the NATO Chess Championships in France in 2012. Carl’s motto is ‘Don’t complain about the dark, light a few candles’.
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hserusk hserusk 11/19/2017 05:20
Layoff the ice mate :)
Here's to lookin at ya sideways!
Mr TambourineMan Mr TambourineMan 11/19/2017 08:42
May be, but you two are like the dogs in the photo.

I myself have had a lot of joy in nursery rhyme in my songs. The only problem is that sometimes there are figures that accuse one for theft. They had to believe they own these songs.
hserusk hserusk 11/17/2017 07:31
Always a welcome addition here -the legion of thirsty beta males.
Hhorse Hhorse 11/17/2017 05:03
Tania is to chess just as Kournikova was to tennis. Always a welcome distraction.
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