Aug 042011

For a married man like me, justifying the use of a whole week of annual leave to go and play chess is a big deal. Fortunately this year I have 5 days more annual leave to take than my wife, the British Chess Championship is taking place in Sheffield where my folks live and I’ve not played any weekend chess this year apart from the Brighouse Quickplay. I’ve built up a solid justification for playing in the British Championships this week then but it does make me think how much harder it must be for a chess player with a family to take part in this contest.

Usually, the Championships take place at a coastal destination in order to give the families of chess players something to do whilst they are feeding their addiction at the board. This year I think it unlikely that many competitors will have found it easy to persuade their nearest and dearest that a week (or even two!) in Sheffield was an enticing vacation prospect. Still I can’t complain as there is no way I would have wanted to spend the money on a week’s accommodation so being able to stay with friends and family is what’s enabled me to take part this time around.

Of course it’s always challenging for any amateur chess enthusiast to manoeuvre their chess habit into their marriage or family time. Chess is after all a fairly solitary, time-consuming and antisocial pass time. I’m sure many marital and family relationships have been put under strain because the royal game. I’ve written before about the short lived tribulations of the artist and chess addict Marcel Duchamp’s marriage. A short while ago I discovered another amusing anecdote concerning the novelist Vladimir Nabokov who was famously a chess nut (in fact his book, The Defence is about a chess master). Whilst grazing around Tim Krabbé’s endlessly engrossing Chess Curiosities website I found this quote:

“More than a few heads turned when, in the supermarket parking lot, Vèra set her bagged groceries down in the snow while she shuffled for her keys, then loaded the trunk. In the car her husband sat immobile, oblivious. A similar routine was observed during a move, when Nabakov made his way into the new home carrying a chess set and a small lamp. Vèra followed with two bulky suitcases.”

Vera and Vladimir at play!

This is from Stacy Schiff’s biography of Vèra Nabakov which is titled Vèra (Mrs Vladimir Nabokov) – Portrait of a marriage. Krabbé also posts the picture I’ve put into this post of the happy couple studying together. What fortitude this lady showed in the face of chess widowhood! Perhaps Duchamp also harboured dreams of enticing his wife into the study of rook and pawn endings.

Of course I can see all too clearly that some of Nabokov’s traits could become bad habits for me as well. He may have had a pocket chess set in the car’s glove compartment to fiddle with whilst poor Vèra struggled with the shopping but I have an iPhone that goes everywhere with me and on it there is an app for accessing all my correspondence games on and also the Chessbase Online app so that I can keep track of the latest opening theory. All of that is in addition to the RSS news feeds that go directly to my phone from a host of chess websites and blogs! I must admit that sometimes, when my wife is watching “rubbish” on the telly, I do reach for the iPhone. So far I haven’t yet caught myself studying a chess game on my phone whilst my wife grapples with heavy objects but it must be said that I couldn’t rule it out from ever happening in the future…

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