Wednesday 17 June 2015

Keith Arkell Simultaneous

Ray Hyde has submitted the following report on Monday evening's simultaneous display by GM Keith Arkell :

2014 was Fenton Chess Club’s 20th anniversary. At the Club’s AGM it was agreed that we should hold a special event to celebrate this landmark.  I offered to explore various suggestions from the members. These included a chess tournament, a guest lecture, a dinner etc. At this time GM Keith Arkell, one of my chess heroes, was blazing a trail, winning the European Senior Championship and eventually coming second in the World Senior Championship, albeit with the same score as the winner. I also possessed his very telling and fascinating autobiography, “Arkell’s Odyssey” which revealed a lot about Keith and also his approach to chess.

It occurred to me that Keith might agree to give a simultaneous display at the Club in 2015. I managed to track him down via email when he was halfway through the World Senior Championships taking place in Greece. He expressed an interest immediately and said he would like to take it further after “this old gits’ tournament”. Keith’s words not mine!

We were fortunate when one of the Club’s members, Steven Walley of Attingham Consulting Engineers, agreed to sponsor the proposed event. This paved the way for me to agree fee, expenses and date with Keith; the plan being that he would pop up to Fenton, give his grandmaster performance and then return to sunny Paignton. It didn’t quite work out like that.

Firstly, Keith had anticipated there would be minimal interest and he expected only a few participants, perhaps a maximum of 12 to 15 boards. However Fenton members had drummed up business and entries came in from across Clubs in North Staffs and even one from Gateshead. In addition 2 non-attached chess-players entered. Mainly because of the room limit we closed the entries at 28 boards. Keith was monitoring progress on the Fenton website, where Steve Emmerton, our Secretary and Webmaster, had listed all the entrants. At this stage I must pay tribute to Keith’s enthusiasm for the project. He confirmed he was delighted that so many wished to take part and then, generously, suggested White on alternate boards, no maximum grade limit and finally the introduction of clocks at the point when only 3 boards were still playing. I doubt that many GMs would be as accommodating as this.

Secondly, I had noticed that The Leek Rapidplay was scheduled for the day before our own event and mentioned this to Keith. He duly entered this competition and won it outright as a warm-up for the simul the following day. As we were to find out, this achievement hadn’t drained his energy for grinding out wins.

 28 chess enthusiasts, ranging from ungraded (2 players) to 190+, and fortified with drinks from the bar and refreshments provided by several club members, set about the task of trying to bring down a GM. The event started punctually at 7.30 pm and concluded well after midnight. The GM certainly earned every penny for this event! Many of the games were exceedingly hard-fought, sadly not my own thanks to a strategic blunder which left me grovelling before the inevitable coup-de-grace. Keith remarked that several of the games had reached a high standard. After about an hour Keith won his first game, after which resignations came in quite regularly. By about 11.00 pm, Keith had conceded one draw and was down to fewer than 10 opponents. Most of these remaining games seemed to me to be either difficult, unfathomable middle-games or endgames which looked balanced or dead drawn, at least they would have been at Club level.  However, Keith Arkell has a richly deserved reputation for his endgame play and won several more games with great technique and huge determination. As the numbers dwindled the GM conceded 2 more draws, at which point, just before midnight (!) the clocks were introduced, 5 minutes each, for the blitz finish for the remaining 3 boards. It was an awesome sight   to see a GM playing simultaneous blitz against good club players.. As his time ran down Keith conceded his fourth draw. At the end of a very long, exhausting evening and at approximately 10 minutes past midnight he defeated his final 2 opponents.

The final score: played 28, won 24, drawn 4. The duration of the event: 5 hours! Many congratulations to Gerald Acey (Stafford), Roger Edwards (Cheddleton), Karl Lockett (Crewe) and Glyn Valentine (Fenton) on achieving draws with such an uncompromising GM. Keith himself commented that their play had been of a high standard and well above what he had anticipated. Special mentions too for 78 year-old Bill Noble (Gateshead), who held on for 4 hours only to be finally outplayed in a balanced Rook and 3 Pawns endgame, and for Phil Cattermole (Macclesfield) who was last to finish and who eventually fell in the blitz finish. Phil said afterwards that he had never before played a blitz game!

Congratulations are due to Keith Arkell for the wonderful effort he put into making our 20th anniversary such a memorable success. He set out to win every game at all costs and provided us all with a wonderful model of fighting chess. The event could not have happened without our sponsor, or without the cooperation of our host venue, the Florence Tennis and Bowling Club, who allowed the event to run well over its allotted time.

My own opinion?  A brilliant evening, a memorable event and I’m encouraged that we may be able to host something similar in 2016. Certainly our sponsor is keen and I hope the word gets round the GM circuit that this is one event to be welcomed, albeit that the GM will well and truly have to earn his or her fee!!

Photos from the evening can be viewed here.

Keith Arkell with our sponsor Steven Walley