YP Article 17 – John Gallagher – Yorkshire’s best blind player?

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This is an extended version of the column published in The Yorkshire Post on 6th February 2016

Ihor Lewyk recently met up with Leeds CCCC’s John Gallagher

John Gallagher is a 62 year old blind player who has become an inspiration to all aspiring chess players.

He has risen from being an average club player to becoming one of the strongest players in the county in just two years. At the turn of the year John was ranked 16th in Yorkshire and a few years back was called up to represent the England team in the World Team Olympiad for blind players in India.

He started to take the game more seriously a couple of years ago and adopted a better attitude away from the board. He has found that new technology allows him to study the latest books and theory as well as explore all the top games through the internet. International Master Richard Palliser, has helped direct him to the best resources and he has been encouraged by fellow England blind player Chris Ross.

John learnt how to play chess at the age of 12 at school. He attended the same school in Sheffield as the MP David Blunkett who was a little older but offered good advice for one so young. “Don’t cry John. Just look the world in the eye then face it with a smile!”

John’s grade has gone over 200 which is a meteoric rise from just over two years ago when he was graded 145 and in over 40 years of playing club chess had never gone over 150.

I asked if he could put his finger on how he has managed to improve so drastically. John puts it down to a change in attitude. Gone are the days of using his disability as an excuse for poor results or drinking too much at the board.

John Gallagher and Chris Ross came equal first in the 2015 BCA AGM Tournament at Solihull with John winning the trophy on tie-break.  They finished a clear one and a half points ahead of all other rivals. (From braillechess.org)

John Gallagher and Chris Ross came equal first in the 2015 BCA AGM Tournament at Solihull with John winning the trophy on tie-break. They finished a clear one and a half points ahead of all other rivals. See the Braille Chess Website

Yes, there are disadvantages to being blind but not all of them are obvious. Nowadays training materials are readily available due to new technologies. He can use screen readers to read chess books and the Everyman publishers have been great at supplying them to upload while the theory is still current. The internet is also a great source of information and to look through the games of better players. But there is no substitute for putting in the time and studying. John is a self employed piano tuner and he is thankful that he has the option to reduce his hours to allow him the time to study chess.

Now his main concerns are about how his guide dog will cope while he’s playing a long game over 4 hours or so. Or how he gets back home from an unfamiliar venue. John has declined invites to play long tournaments as he feels it might be unfair to his attentive guide dog Zarah. Zarah usually sits quietly below the desk but will bark if John is about to put his queen en-pris! When asked if Zarah is his blind dog John will respond “I bloody hope not. She’s got to get me home from the pub after I get blind drunk!”

His best game just happens to be a queen sacrifice, or as John modestly puts it, ‘a blunder’.. It was on his way to winning the Jorvik tournament last summer and we show it below with his notes.

I tried to press him on what gives him the most benefit. “It is important to not blunder.” Although John uses his own touch board he needs to store the position mentally in his head. A sighted person gains information a lot faster from glancing at a position than he can hold in his head. He notices all the really strong players are great at handling the tactics of a game as well as having a good understanding.

John has also worked a lot on opening theory. This allows him the confidence to move quickly through the opening and leave enough time to lessen time scramble blunders. He claims to be looking at the Sniper at the moment especially the f5 lines. It’s hard to know if he’s being serious or slipping me a red herring for the next time we next meet over the board.

John really enjoys playing in Yorkshire leagues and finds players are so friendly to him and Zarah. In other areas some players moan about having to play against a blind player. John wishes he could turn out the lights when he faces them.

He loves like to have a laugh and likes a pint or two. He has a number of friends in the chess world but recalls that when he goes out drinking with Norman Andrews of York he always gets double vision.

It is always a pleasure meeting up with John. A true gentleman and a very funny character too.


The editorial team at Yorkshire Chess compile a weekly column for The Yorkshire Post every Saturday, with the online version published on Sunday. If you have any feedback or suggestions for the column, please click on "Contact Us" at the top of the page.

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4 Responses to “YP Article 17 – John Gallagher – Yorkshire’s best blind player?”

  1. Peter Cloudsdale

    Feb 07. 2016

    Great article on John Gallagher.
    A real gentleman and a good chess player.’
    He is very modest and has a lovely blind dog

    Reply to this comment
  2. Dave hirst

    Feb 07. 2016

    …and yet another example yesterday as John played top board for us (Leeds CCCC) against Sheffield A and very much held his own against a complimentary Jon Nelson. Top bloke!

    Reply to this comment
  3. Martin Carpenter

    Feb 07. 2016

    The answer to the title question does rather depend on if Chris counts as a Yorkshire player or not :) Suspect he’d still be a little ahead, just because he’s been so strong for so long.

    No idea what would happen if they had a match….

    John’s improvement is stunning whatever of course – it’d hugely impressive from a sighted 60 year old! Maybe even more so than Matty as it is.

    Reply to this comment
  4. James Carpenter

    Feb 10. 2016

    Lovely game, the kind of ‘blunder’ you’re not really surprised works out well since black’s burning so many bridges to get to the queen :)

    Reply to this comment

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