The Birthday Blitz – John at Fifty

4/25/2005 – Today John Nunn turned fifty. To commemorate this there was a weekend blitz in London's beautiful Home House, with most of the top British players. Afterwards, at a sumptuous dinner, the veteran captain of the English team summed up John's career in a memorable speech. We bring you pictures and a transcription.

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The John Nunn 50th Birthday Blitz

On Monday, April 25, 2005 John Nunn turned fifty. John is quite well known to regular visitors to the ChessBase news page. He did a PhD in algebraic topology after becoming the youngest Oxford undergraduate since Cardinal Wolsey in the 15th century. At the same time he became a grandmaster, and in the course of his career a world champion problem solver, problem composer, author, publisher, science writer, and too many other things to mention here. For anyone who doesn't know the details we link you to our pre-congratulatory story. It contains pictures of the infant Nunn and two helpmate problems depicted in the picture above.

To celebrate the actually birthday there was a blitz tournament in London with many of England's top players, all friends of "the Doctor". For logistical reasons it was held on Saturday the 23rd, and it was something we could not miss. We arrived at the elegant Home House, just a short stroll from Hyde Park and Oxford Street, to find the event in full swing.


Top British players taking part in a 16-round blitz tournament in London


The beautiful ambience of a fashionable hotel, restaurant and staging center


The entrance stairway of Home House


Michael Adams (right), the eventual winner, blitzing the competition


Talented youngster Luke McShane, here against Murray Chandler


John Nunn in his game against Danny King


Still going strong at 49!


GM Daniel King with a new haircut that for the first time shows his ears


John's friend and business associate Murray Chandler


The strongest player in sight: Mickey Adams


Ali Mortazavi, a strong player who is successful in business


Above is the final result of the John Nunn Birthday Blitz. It was won by Michael Adams with 13 out of 16, followed by Luke McShane with 12½ points, Mark Hebden with 10½, Conquest with 10 and Nunn and King with 9½. The first prize was £1000, 2nd was £750, 3rd £500, 4th £250 and 5th £100.

Birthday Dinner

After the blitz there was a sumptuous dinner in the Home House restaurant, with a Jerusalem artichoke soup. The main ingredient has nothing to do with Jerusalem and little in common with artichokes, being a type of sunflower. But the soup is delicious.


The John Nunn birthday dinner at Home House


Grandmasters and old friends of the Doctor


David Norwood and Michael Adams share about four glasses of red wine


Melanie Buckley and Peter Wells


Dr Helen Milligan, astrophysicist, with Murray Chandler, chess player

The Speech

David Anderton, a strong chess player who has captained the English team since the dawn of time, knows John Nunn better than anyone else. During the dinner David spoke about John and the times they had been through together. We have transcribed his remarkable speech – the video of it (and the blitz tournament) will be included in a future issue of ChessBase Magazine.

When John invited me to say a few words tonight, it was clear that my speech must be short (but not too much Short); and that it must not sound like a chess obituary, because we come to praise Nunn, not to bury him.

You have, John, attained a significant milestone. If you take man's span as three-score years and ten, and translate that into the equivalent of a week, you've just reached midnight on Friday. Some of us are well into Sunday, and others are living beyond their allotted span. But at least you, John, have the weekend to look forward to.

You and I go back a long way. It was still Tuesday when we first met. In 1975 you started playing for the England team, and joined what one arbiter described as my bunch of monsters. In fact it was O'Kelly who said, "Why can't you get them to cut their hair?" And I said, "Well, you remember what happened to Samson."

We have enjoyed both the bronze age and the silver age of chess together. I think that my worst moments as England's captain were first of all when Jon Speelman invited a Swiss spectator to do something that was anatomically impossible; and secondly when Tony Miles sealed the move "Resigns" against Portisch, and it was up to me to retrieve the scoresheet without revealing the sealed move, which I singularly failed to do.

But that wasn't quite as bad as the famous situation with Father Bill Lombardy, who was playing in an Icelandic tournament, and he was completely lost, and he sealed his move. Next morning his opponent turned up with the arbiter, but no Father Lombardy. When they opened up the scoresheet there was written the famous resigning move, which was "Good morning, a**hole."

Perhaps the worst event, however, was in 1990 at the Reykjavik summit, when at last we beat the USSR team at a senior level. The celebrations began somewhat prematurely, and they continued until the end of the event. After I had settled the bill for the damage to the hotel, I still had to get the team back to London. They fell into three categories. First of all category one, the majority, were suffering from a colossal hangover. Secondly there was Mikhail Suba, who wanted to explain his games to anybody who would listen. And the third group was the sober triumvirate of Nunn, Speelman and Mestel doing self-helpmates in thirteen moves.

I think the best moment was our first Silver in Thessaloniki in 1984, when John scored ten out of eleven, for a rating performance of 2868 – and won the problem solving competition on his day off. This was probably your best performance, John. But it has to stand with your result in the World Cup in the late 1980s, when you were sixth in the overall standings in a series of events in which not everybody played, utilising a waiting system that was devised by you and understood by nobody else.

You have made a number of excursions into administration, one of which was when we served together on the FIDE Experts' Commission, with Kasparov and Timman. I well remember one meeting when I prepared an agenda, item one of which was "Apologies". When we started the meeting Kasparov immediately said: "But I have nothing to apologise for!" I'm not sure that FIDE would accept that that is still the case.

John, you have truly been a chess multi-talent: grandmaster extraordinaire, lucid and popular author (in fact so popular that when your book Pawnless and Pieceless Endgames was announced, the chess world flocked to buy it). Finally of course you are one of the Three Gambiteers, a leading publisher. We your friends celebrate your past successes and urge you to fresh heights in the years to come. Can I ask you all to be upstanding and drink a toast to John. The Doctor!


John Nunn and his wife Petra

Report and pictures: Frederic Friedel


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