Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Knight Life In London

I was determined to find some chess action when I was in London. What I remembered from my last visit in 1997 was that they don't play chess in the parks like we do in New York. They also don't have a club like the Marshall that is open seven days a week. They do have a lot of clubs, and with the Internet it's fairly easy to find out information. The Streatham & Brixton Chess Club blog has lots of links for clubs in London. I started my search there. However all the clubs meet on week nights, which didn't help me since I arrived on Friday night and left Monday evening. (Though if I knew my flight would be delayed for almost four hours I could have squeezed in some play last night.)

I emailed the site administrator to ask him if he knew of any place where people play on the weekends. He didn't. but he put a post up on the blog and I got a number of responses. I decided I would go check out the action at the Forum Cafe on Saturday night. Armed with a London Underground map I set off to find Forum Cafe on Gloucester Rd. Being a veteran of the New York subway system, the London Underground is a piece of cake. That is if I could find the entrance. In New York you see a sign for a subway entrance, the entrance is right there. In London that is not necessarily the case.

Here is the sign for the station close to my hotel. I'm looking for the entrance. It's not near the sign. It's several blocks away. I'm feeling really stupid at this point. Here's the sign telling me there is an underground station, but where the heck is it? Finally I make like a dumb tourist and ask someone. That was better then going back to my hotel room and asking my husband how do I find the underground? I'd rather look stupid to a random person on the street then to my London savvy husband. I guess I'm not the first person to have this problem.

Having finally found the station, I decided I would buy my ticket from a person instead of the machine. I wanted to confirm which line I was taking and where I was changing. I'm glad I asked because they were doing weekend track work on the one line so I had to take another one. I felt like I was at home. That's where the similarities end. New York's subway system is huge but it's pretty straight forward. Trains go uptown or downtown. They're Bronx bound, Brooklyn bound, or Queens bound. In London trains go north, south, east, west and anything in between. Some trains go in the same direction on the same line, but stop at completely different stations. There can be four different platforms for the same line that is going in two directions. Thank God the signs are in English. If Seoul's subway system was like that I'd probably still be wondering around Korea trying to get off the subway.

I finally made my way to Forum Cafe where 2 people were playing backgammon out front, and two other were playing blitz chess inside. I came in and started to watch. Noel, the gentleman pictured below asked me if I played. They're not accustomed to having women watching or playing. I said yes, and when they finished their game he played me. I lost the first couple of game I played with him and another player whose name I did not catch.

Noel is originally from India. In fact of the four players who came in and out during my time there, none of them were English born. Noel explained that the group of them were very international with players from Africa, Iran, Italy and who knows where else. Noel was curious as to how I found about the group. I told him about finding them via comments on the Streatham-Brixton blog.

Polly opening with e4!

One player who arrived later was an older gentleman from Italy. Noel had asked where he been. He had been playing in the park. I found out that people play in Holland Park after 3:00 pm. Holland Park is one of these tiny little parks that you find scattered about London. He told me it was near Kensington, and I did find it on the London street map. It's a tiny little green square on the map. I didn't get a chance to check it out. When you're traveling with a non-chess playing spouse you can only push the chess searches so far. I will have to save that for another trip.

I played a number of games with Alex of Italy. He plays crazy and attacking chess. He kept hurling pawns at me, and half the games neither of us would castle. I had some very interesting games against him where I would be up material, have his king on the run, but he'd slip away and come back and smash me. Noel made the observation that I get good positions out of the opening and then seem to let my advantage slip away. Often it was from giving up tempos unnecessarily, or overlooking some simple tactic. I told him that was very typical in my slow games too.

Noel and Alex

I took a bit of a break to have a cup of tea and a big disgustingly good chocolate chip cookie that you can see on the table near Noel pictured above. I always feel it's important to patronize the cafe that allows people to play at their establishment. Years ago I played with a group of players at a Borders in White Plains. Most of the players were too cheap to buy anything and would take up tables so that patrons who did buy something had nowhere to drink their coffee. Eventually they asked to play at tables in the store itself so that the paying customers could sit. (End of the cheap chess players rant.)

I ended out staying until around 1:30 am. Unfortunately the underground stops running at midnight so I ended out taking a very expensive cab ride back to my hotel. This is not a formal chess club. Some of the players do go to other clubs, but here's a spot where one can play lots of blitz any evening of the week. If you're in London and want to play blitz make your way to Cafe Forum at 146 Gloucester Rd. It's a block away from the Gloucester Rd. stop on the Piccadilly line of the underground. They play from 9:30 until closing time, around 2:00 am.

I could have played in a rapid play tournament on Sunday. The Mind Sport Olympiad was taking place in London and the chess was on Sunday. However it started at 9:30 am and I didn't wake up until 10:30. I've been having more problems then usual with jet lag. Besides as you can see from the photo below it was a beautiful sunny day. Who wants to spend a sunny day in London inside? Sunny days are a rare treat.

St. Paul's Cathedral

Crosswalk instructions for dyslexic tourists.

Monday I took my husband to the train station for his trip up north of London. I had time to kill before heading to Gatwick to catch my flight to Amsterdam. I went to the London Chess Centre to do a little browsing and shopping. They have a large selection of books and chess equipment. I did not buy any sets or books. I have enough sets, and I need to read some of the books I already own before buying any more. I ended out buying a tee-shirt and few little odds and ends. It's nice shop, and I'm glad I stopped in before leaving London. I had last been to the shop in 1997 on my last trip to London.

Chess sets of all types and sizes!!

Endgame comes to London!

After shopping I went back to the hotel to get my luggage and make my way to Gatwick Airport. No taxi ride for that trip. I took the underground to Victoria Station and then took the Gatwick Express out to the airport. It's very nice 30 min train ride out there. The hardest part was getting down the steps to the Victoria Line in the underground.

To make a very long story short, I had a three and half hour delay for a 45 minute flight. Plane was late getting from Italy to UK. Then plane had mechanical issues. They got another plane that was coming from somewhere else, and so on and so forth. Thanks go to the kind Brit who loaned me his Palm to text my husband to tell him to call my friends in the Netherlands. It's hard traveling without a cell phone that works abroad.

By the time I got to Amsterdam I was tired and stood on the wrong line at immigration. I got on the EU line. When I got there the guy asked me if I was from the European section of the United States. Just one of those days!

Next on my chess tour of Europe will be visiting the NH Tournament in Amsterdam on Friday.


chesstiger said...

Always nice to read about chess players who visit a chess club abroad.

Have fun in the netherlands!

Polly said...

Thank you! Stay tuned for my Netherlands reports.

Matt Hayes said...

Hi Polly,

I was on vacation in England last week visiting my family (as you know, I am British). I only went into London one day and that was last Thursday. I am obviously familiar with London (heck I used to work there two days a week) but my girlfriend had never been, so I took her sight seeing.

Oh, and it's St. Paul's Cathedral... not St. Paul's Church. ;) I was a bit disappointed to see the scaffolding near the back but there were some good photos to be had from the other side. We also went to Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, Westminster, Tower Bridge, the London Eye, and Marble Arch. I wanted to also go to Picadilly Circus, Leicester Square, and Downing Street but we ran out of time. Actually, we should have done Downing Strees when we went to Westminster. I forgot about it (it was an after thought) and, by the end of the day, it just wasn't practical to go all the way back to Westminster.

Hope you enjoyed - or are enjoying - your time in Holland!

CMoB said...

That was a great report Polly! I'm kind of jealous of the NY chess scene. Especially the things you mention. Park chess and the Marshall. So you're visiting the Nh tournament on friday i see. I went there on the first or second day and catched Nakamura and Beliavsky analysing. Nakamura seemed to get uninterested after a while as Beliavsky just kept going and going while Nakamura seemed to have figured things out allready. I was planning on going on Friday as well for a second time. The first time i was late and my visit briefly, and i missed most of the action. But i'm not completely sure about Friday though, maybe i'll go on Saturday instead which fits in with us meeting up in the evening, as i have to travel to AMS nowadays as unfortunately i don't live there anymore. Otherwise i would have to travel twice (not that it really matters but doing it all in one day seems easier at the moment). So how about Saturday? Is it still a go?

Polly said...

CMoB: As far as know we're still on for Saturday. Tempo doesn't get back until tomorrow. I think he will call me to confirm.

Anonymous said...


and european section of usa. LOL

Polly said...

Matt: I fixed the caption. Thanks for the correction.

Greg said...

Polly, I enjoyed this posting a great deal. I would love to visit the London Chess Centre sometime. Now that I have promised GM Nigel Davies a pint of his favorite ale if I get to England, maybe I could stop there afterwards. :)

Polly said...

CMoB: We are meeting at NH tournament on Saturday at 16:00. I did not go today. I went to watch Netherlands vs England in semi-finals of European hockey championships. Hope to see you there.

CMoB said...

Cool! As a matter of fact i was planning on going to the NH all day on Saturday so...

See you there!