Interview – FM Rupert Jones

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FM Rupert Jones
FM Rupert Jones

Rupert is a former YCA President and has held numerous organisational posts in chess. He lived in Botswana (from 1985 to 1997) where he was the Secretary of the national chess federation for 11 years. His success can be measured in the vast increase in participation achieved during his tenure as well as the significant increase in rated and titled players representing Botswana.
Rupert later represented Papua New Guinea in various Chess Olympiads and was International Director of the ECF for three years….

Let’s find out more about Rupert.

How and when did you start playing chess?

I was taught to play by another missionary’s son in Popondetta, PNG in 1970. I remember winning the primary school ko quite quickly after that. However it wasn’t until abt 4th year at Abbey Grange (75-76) that I realised you could play chess without randomly losing pieces. It seems amazing now but Leeds schools had two divisions+ in those days run by Howard Roberts. Abbey Grange played regular matches and then you would all gather at Moor Grange School for the Leeds Schools Individual Championship. Still playing from those days is Mike Bramson, Carl Pickering who played in the recent British Rapidplay and occasionally Kevin Bairstow comes out to play. Also good to see Gary Senior playing again.

Which player(s) inspired you the most?Bobby Fischer

Bobby Fischer. What a period 1970-73. Coming to live in Leeds in 1972 and following the match in Iceland. Leeds Utd won the FA Cup, a fabulous 2-2 drawn series between England and Australia and the tragic Munich Olympics. An interesting time to come to England. And my other hero was Bill Hook which will be explained later on.

Over the years who has been your most difficult opponent / adversary and why?

In England it was the late Tony Pawson. A great endgame player. Never seemed to feel I had even a sniff of a chance when I played him and latterly, though it pains me to say this, Gary Corcoran. Back in Botswana, John Hutcheson though I did manage one win over him in a weekender which I won with 6/6. There were extenuating circumstances. John Hutcheson was just too good for me.

How did you earn the FIDE Master title?

This is a source of much mirth amongst local chess players. However I did earn it by a one off score of more then 66.66% in an Olympiad. I went to the 2004 Olympiad in Majorca as Head of the England Delegation. There I was approached by Cathy Rogers & Shaun Press who asked me if I could play for PNG as they had 3players. They knew I was born there. The Chief Arbiter Ignatious Leong allowed it. I even had two id tags one for England & one for PNG. Luckily I missed the 1st round & then proceeded to score 9/12 or 10/13 if you include the default win against Nigeria. I was in the top 10 scorers for that Olympiad (see New In Chess issue 5 or 6 of 2004)& missed the silver medal on bd 4 by ½ a point. For this I blame Toby Brookfield who played very well against me when we played Guernsey. Robert Bellin had prepped him very well. I was generally in very good form that season. I came back and finished 3rd in the British Rapidplay Major section. I don’t know where the form of those days has gone to.

What is your proudest moment in your chess career so far, either playing or organising?

Playing it has to be the 2004 Olympiad, then the weekender I won in Botswana with 6/6 and back in 1978 winning the Scarborough Junior section and £45. That was a lot of money then.

In organising there are a lot of things. Probably successfully organising the 1990 African Junior Championship. Everything went well about that from the wide representation of countries to getting a whole load of sponsors. Another thing I am proud of was successfully organising 5 Botswana Olympiad appearances and we only ever had one late withdrawal and no one ever missed a plane though we did come very close on one occasion. Then there was the successful Botswana schools championship which I got going in 1987 and has continued ever since. Bring in De Beers Botswana as a sponsor in 1988 was a big triumph. Then in 1995 the successful hosting of a ‘budget’ Zonal; the venue was a small safari park outside of Gaborone.

In the UK the establishment in the summer of 1997of White Rose as a team in the 4NCL . I came back from Botswana  &thought what can I do?  I suggested to Angus Dunnington who I had known since he was 9 years old that we should get a Yorkshire team into the 4NCL. We played our first match in October 1997 and still playing for White Rose from that weekend are Peter Gayson and Richard Palliser.

What have been your most significant contributions to chess organising?

However what I am most proud of is my general body of work in Botswana. What started as running a school club at Marang Junior School in Gaborone Sept 1985 led to basically the whole of the country’s schools playing chess by the end of the 1980’s.By the time I left Botswana in 1997 we probably had the best small federation in the world with one of the highest participation levels in the schools of any country. And that has continued since I left with primary schools getting more and more involved &girls &women’s chess being very strong.

As I write this I am also being chased for an article on the early days of Botswana Chess as 2012 is the 30th anniversary of them joining FIDE. Even by 1997 Botswana chess was amongst the top 5 sports codes in the country and when I visited there last year I was invited to the national sports awards where Botswana Chess was in a short list of three for ‘sports code of the year’ in possibly the best year ever for Botswana sport (as Amantle Montsho won the Commonwealth Games gold medal in the 400meters & then the world title and Botswana football qualified for the African Nations for the first time).

What is even more revealing is the great success that Botswana chess players have had in their careers. A lot of that first generation are now in their 40’s and a large percentage of them have been great successes. Young people who grew up in very rural and poverty stricken backgrounds and something clicked when they learnt to play chess at their local community school (for until recently chess was not played very much in the private schools of the country). A lot of them now help run the country; some are doctors academics and many successful in business. As a result sponsorship seems to be flowing, schools can buy chess equipment as part of their sports budget and so the cycle continues. Maybe there is a lesson for us in England where I find the outside attitude to chess somewhat depressing.

What do you think needs to be the priority in Yorkshire or English chess to help the game develop and expand?

Simple answer is that we must find a way to make 11-12 years olds think it is cool to play chess. This week I learnt that the new England Rugby captain was his school years chess champion. They write this down as almost something to ridicule. Why? Andrew Flintoff played county schools chess and Richard Farliegh when he was a dragon on Dragons Den said on his own website that he owed a lot of his success to learning to play chess when he was living I think in a children’s home in Sydney. Yet on the BBC website they mentioned nothing about his chess. Making it ‘cool’ is a really big obstacle but we must find a way though it is a particularly an ‘Anglo Saxon Cultural thing’…

Also as chess players we must be proud to play the game I see too many of us ridicule our sport and only in England do you even hear chess players say ‘and of course it isn’t a sport’. It is a sport and lets believe it ourselves.

What could and should the average player do to give a little back to help benefit the game?

By going out there and telling everyone they play chess and that they are proud to play chess. I now tell folk that the evidence seems to be looking good for chess providing some sort of protection against Alzheimers; lets shout this out from the roof tops especially if there is more positive scientific evidence coming out to back this up. And lets also stop being so tight about wanting chess for free. If paying a decent membership fee helps get a good venue then lets do it…And for all its fault lets all support a strong central body. Why should bridge be worth three times more then chess in this country.

What is/are your favourite chess books?

The Batsford book of the 1974 Nice Chess Olympiad. It was one of my first chess books and it made me fall in love with the whole idea of the chess Olympiad. It first introduced me to Bill Hook as he scored nearly all of the British Virgin Islands points & beat Grandmaster Liberzon from Israel. I just thought that really romantic in a way and much later when I started playing in Olympiads Bill Hook even became a friend of mine. He was always one of my chess hero’s. I bought his book in Dresden which he signed for me and then sadly he died about a year later. I am also pleased to say that with thanks to Mike Dow I now own a copy of ‘My Memorable 60 Games’ by Bobby Fischer.

What is/are your favourite website(s)?

Chessbase.com, the 4ncl website which I have to use a lot and I do like chessnuts and there is my mate Shaun Press’s blogging site.

If you had a golden tip for someone trying to improve their chess play what would it be?

Learn the main lines of the classical openings (ie the Open Sicillian’s and Ruy Lopez) when you are young. It will put you in good stead for the rest of your chess life!

What are your personal ambitions in chess?

To reach a grade of 160! Am reasonably satisfied as I’m not going to better what I did in Botswana.

Finally, do you have a game you are particularly proud of? What makes it so significant for you? Can you please send me a copy.

Jones v Bernie Hare in an Arjay Final between Alwoodley and Leeds around 2001/2 and sadly I don’t have a copy of it. I sacrificed everything but queen & bishop which delivered mate. It was my ‘immortal game’ and we ended up losing the final on board count as Mike Walker held Richard Palliser on bd 1 & Chris Wright lost to James Hunt on bd 2. I hope one day that my scoresheet appears. It was on an old computer that went down without me backing it up. And in the same season there is a game against Jim Nicholson in the last round of the York Major. That exists in a back copy of a York Chess Club magazine and somewhere I have a copy. And my win against Peter Poobalingham 2004 and Peter Shaw which won a Heppolite Semi Final on board count and we went on to win the final in 2007.

That’s about it; I think I have gone on enough…

Thank you Rupert for giving your time to provide this insight into the chess life of a true chess fan.

Ihor Lewyk YCA President

Ihor Lewyk YCA President

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Former Yorkshire Chess Association President and Secretary. I'm not the brains of the editorial team but I can live with being a glorified typist as well as the resident grammar pedant. I have captained Bradford A in the Woodhouse cup for over 30 years. I'm fairly easy going, sometimes diplomatic and I think my enthusiasm is infectious but not life threatening. The English chess world needs to wake up and smell the coffee before league chess collapses altogether.

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