A Dangerous Game of Chess

jamesesq
jamesesq
Feb 9, 2009, 12:00 AM |
9 | Amazing Games

I learned to play chess in the Merchant Navy when I was seventeen. I loved the game and soon became the ships champion. Although it appeared that I had a talent for chess, it was too bad that I never had any proper training so I became a wood-pusher who sometimes showed moments of brilliance. I did become a tournament player later in my life and I won the Chess problem solving competition, featured in the newspaper 'The South China Morning Post' in HongKong in 1988.


One of the most exciting games I ever played in my life was against the champion of another ship, the 'British Adventure', while I was on the sister ship, the ' British Talent.' Both were 28,000 ton supertankers of the 1950's. And my adversary was determined to beat me. Our ships met up in Mena al Ahmadi in the Persian Gulf and very quickly I received a signal from the "Adventure' requesting a challenge match from the senior apprentice Charles McLeod of Glasgow. I signalled back and replied in the affirmative.

A neutral venue was chosen, and it was decided that we play our match aboard an old disused tug-boat lying alongside the wharf in this Oil Port in Kuwait. At ten o'clock in the morning on a very hot day in June, McLeod and I faced each other across the board. It was the first time we had ever met! I could tell immediately that he despised me, because I had intimidated him by offering a benevolent and sympathetic smile, whilst in return, he glared at me with uncertainty. My black curly hair and kindly blue eyes contrasted with his unkempt red hair and uncountable freckles, and where I had the manners and grace of a gentleman, he looked like he had just come in from a game of kick-the-can in the street. My pleasant spoken Aberdeen English with a hint of the Doric, clearly irritated him, and his Glaswegian accent, you could cut with a knife.

Accordingly the colours were chosen then battle commenced! My heart was pounding in my chest as it always does at the beginning of a game, and we made our opening moves! I also suspected that my opponent was also enduring the same stressful agony. it was not just 'Crockett' vs 'McLeod', but the "British Adventure" against the "British Talent", I tried to complicate the game by declining to exchange pieces but his caution was testing my judgment and I feared that he had some secret weapon that would pierce my defense. We exchanged two pawns and knights, took a breath, then revalued our strategies. After playing for a while, we heard a commotion on deck and all of our observers and supporters suddenly left the dining saloon in a hurry. We were alone now, but the pair of us carried on with the game.

We were now in the middle game, when suddenly we heard  shouting aloft and around the tug-boat, "The tugboats is sinking!"..."The tugboat is sinking!" Several times we heard the call but we didn't show any alarm or emotion and we continued to play. What was actually happening was that the tug-boat which was tied up to the wharf had sprung a leak and was just slowly sinking to the bottom! We were both too deeply engrossed in the game to allow any distraction to interfere with our game, so we played on. Then we became aware that water was flowing into the saloon, and quite soon, we were in a foot of water. Then we were suddenly interrupted by a Kuwaiti sailor standing at the door, He was staring at us, wide-eyed, we both gave him a brief glance, and our visitor, seemed to be nervous, and was searching for words to speak! He was obviously appraising the situation. Since we were two young 18 year old apprentice officers dressed in 'tropical white uniform', engaged in a game of chess, the stunned sailor could not give us any order, so he stated as calmly as possible, "Gentlemen the ship is sinking!" and vanished immediately into thin air! When the water was waist high we both stood up silently, still studying the pieces on the board, we continued with the game, both of us striving for a punishing move but now the water had reached the the table edge, all the fans had stopped since the power had failed so we were perspiring profusely in the heat of the small space. Then something strange happened, like we had both become hypnotized! We stared with rapt attention at the game in front of us, as the water trickled onto the table and gently flowed over the board and the wooden pieces appeared to come to life and began to move by themselves as they became buoyant and started to float around, it was as if they were making their on moves! It was like our game was playing by itself,  right before our eyes!

Outside, someone banged on a pipe, the sea level rose sharply and we looked at each other now already neck-high in the water, I indicated the door and said politely, "After you!", but he had the impertinence to reply, "No dear chap, your first!"

Suddenly we were both swimming out the door and when we broke surface very quickly, to receive a great cheer from the crowd on the wharf.

The tired old ship had just given up and descended to the bottom of the harbour, while both of us combatants were now happily, but only briefly, enjoying an unscheduled swim and a pause in the game.

But to our sudden rude awakening, we discovered that our day and battle of suvival, was not yet over!

We were both treading water about a few feet from the wharf, when, to our utter shock, the sea around us started to boil and splash wildly, and I could feel myself being thumped and battered about under water, suddenly I realized in a frightening moment of shock, that we had been caught in what is known as a barracuda feeding frenzy, we were surrounded by metre long barracudas devouring a shoal of silver-fish and threshing about us wildly! The sinking of the tug-boat had dislodged the hiding shoal of fish

Then we were looking up at fear-filled faces and
staring eyes, gaping down upon us from the wharf, as the spectacle unfolded in the frothing bubbling water below. "Send us a heaving line!" I roared and they got into action immediately and we both grabbed a line and wrapped it around our wrists and miraculously we were yanked up, and freed from the maelstrom and savage teeth of the wild barracuds, in quick-time!

Standing on wharf, the crowd had stepped back  open-mouthed and staring speechless at the pair of us, like we had stepped out of the jaws of death!

I looked to my opponent Charles and I asked, "Well, what do you say?"

He turned slowly and stared out over the sea and took his time, then said,"I don't want a draw!"

"Neither do I," I replied firmly.

We faced each other and shook hands. "We'll just call it an unfinished game then!"
We both agreed!