John Nunn Behind the Board Again at World Seniors

John Nunn Behind the Board Again at World Seniors

| 15 | Chess Event Coverage

He played his last official game of chess in August 2006, but now he's back at the chess board: John Nunn. The English GM and acclaimed author is playing in the 50+ World Seniors in Katerini, Greece.

Image from the World Seniors Facebook page

The 24th FIDE World Senior Championship is under way in Katerini, a Greek town at the Olympus Riviera in Central Macedonia, nearby Thessaloniki. 163 players from 40 countries are playing for a €20,000 prize fund. The venue is the 5-star "Mediterranean Village" resort hotel.

The tournament has lots of well-known names such as Nona Gaprindashvili (Georgia), Mark Hebden (England), Anatoly Vaisser (France), Zurab Sturua (Georgia), Klaus Bischoff (Germany), Karen Movsziszian (Armenia), Keith Arkell (England), Evgeny Vasiukov (Russia), Yuri Balashov (Russia), Viktor Kupreichik (Belarus), Mihai Suba (Romania) and Jens Kristiansen (Denmark).

One name is quite remarkable, though: that of John Nunn. The English grandmaster is back behind the chess board after an eight-year absence!

Younger readers may only know Nunn as the director of chess publisher Gambit, and of course as the author of numerous chess books, which are highly acclaimed almost without exception. But he used to be a pretty strong player too.

John Nunn.

Nunn won the European Championship in 1975 and gained the title of grandmaster in 1978. He won two individual gold medals at Chess Olympiads and won the prestigious Hoogovens tournament in Wijk aan Zee three times: in 1982, 1990 and 1991. In 1989, he reached his highest place in the world rankings: 9th.

In recent years, he only participated in rapid events and in problem-solving championships — in that area he clinched the world title three times.

Last week Nunn (59) returned to the chess board to participate in the 50+ section of the World Seniors, where he is the top seed with a 2602 rating. After six rounds of play he is on 4.5/6 and in shared second place; Thursday is a rest day.

After two relatively easy wins and a quick draw with compatriot Keith Arkell, Nunn played the Four Knights against another Englisman: Mark Hebden. 5.Nxd4 isn't the most ambitious plan but hey, it's been 21 years since Nunn wrote New Ideas in the Four Knights and Hebden is surely more on top of recent theory.

Nunn won anyway — don't miss the neat trick at the very end:

In the next round Nunn, whose nickname is The Doc, won another nice game as White:

However, this is not a dream story as of yet. Nunn's first tournament in eight years is a tough one with no less than 11 rounds scheduled. Besides, yesterday he suffered a devastating loss:

World Seniors +50 Group | Round 6 Standings (Top 20)

Rank SNo. Title Name Rtg FED Pts BH. BH. BL Vict
1 3 GM Sturua Zurab 2523 GEO 5 18½ 21½ 3 4
2 1 GM Nunn John D M 2602 ENG 21½ 24½ 3 4
3 2 GM Hebden Mark L 2540 ENG 20 23 3 4
4 4 GM Sveshnikov Evgeny 2517 LAT 20 23 2 3
5 10 GM Kristiansen Jens 2405 DEN 18½ 21 2 4
6 11 IM Barle Janez 2338 SLO 16½ 19 3 4
7 8 GM Arkell Keith C 2450 ENG 4 21 24 3 3
8 7 IM Kalegin Evgenij 2474 RUS 4 20 23 3 3
9 9 IM Bruno Fabio 2422 ITA 4 19 20½ 3 4
10 5 GM Bischoff Klaus 2504 GER 4 16½ 18½ 3 3
11 6 GM Movsziszian Karen 2487 ARM 18 20½ 3 3
12 20 Alexakis Dimitrios 2224 GRE 17 18 3 3
13 27 Yasin Hur 2138 TUR 16½ 19 3 3
14 12 IM Stepovoj Vladimir 2323 RUS 16½ 18½ 3 3
15 17 GM Malinin Vasily B. 2280 RUS 16½ 18 3 2
16 13 GM Bouaziz Slim 2321 TUN 16 18½ 3 2
17 18 IM Habibi Ali 2247 GER 14½ 15 3 3
18 15 FM Heinig Wolfram Dr. 2296 GER 3 19 22 3 2
19 26 FM Furman Boris 2152 RUS 3 19 21½ 3 1
20 22 FM Nikolaidis Konstantinos 2178 GRE 3 18 19½ 3 1


Nunn's last tournament was the 2006 NH Chess Tournament, where he was part of the Experience team together with Alexander Beliavsky, Artur Jussupow and Ljubomir Ljubojevic. They played against Rising Stars Magnus Carlsen, Sergey Karjakin, Wang Hao, Daniel Stellwagen and Jan Smeets.

Back then the author of these lines had just started a website that wasn't even called ChessVibes yet. I was toying with the idea to write English (instead of Dutch only), and one of the articles that convinced me to do so was the interview I did with Nunn, during that tournament. Here is that interview, from eight years ago (how time flies!):

Today I went to the NH Chess Tournament. About two hours after the last round had started, I arrived at the playing hall, but then three games had already ended in a draw, among them Nunn-Stellwagen. I took the opportunity to ask John Nunn for a short interview. Nunn, one of my chess heroes, is not an active player anymore but this week he is, and in Amsterdam.

What did you think about this tournament?
"I think the tournament is an interesting idea, to match up the “experienced players”, as they call them, against the young players. I think the only problem is that the young players these days are very strong and it's not so easy to find older players, or say players over fifty, who are still actively playing."

Indeed, you for example quit chess about three years ago?
"Yeah. The last time I really played was in the Bundesliga season 2002-3. So that was about three years ago. My last tournament was six years ago so it's actually quite a long time now since I played."

What's the reason you're not playing anymore?
"Lack of time really. I'm really more a businessman nowadays, I have a family... All of this means there's not much time for playing. In order to really play well you have to work quite a lot and play regularly and there just wasn't enough time to do that anymore."

You spend your time at publishing books now.
"Yes. It's a reasonable company [Gambit Publications Ltd - ed.] now. There are five people now that work for the company, pretty much fulltime, and I am one of those. We're publishing about twenty books a year in English and about eight books a year in German."

You're also known for your career besides chess, as a scientist.
"Yeah but I don't do that anymore. I'm more or less fulltime working for the publishing company."

Will you be writing a new opening book? Because you used to be the expert in this field.
"No, I'm not writing any more opening books." (Laughs.)

Why not?
"Well, I think it's just... the world has changed. Most people have computer databases and they very often prefer to use that rather than an opening book. And also, you know, these chess programs have become very strong now and it's just made the whole thing... I think it's difficult to write a good openings book and I think you're often duplicating material that's already found in databases. But I'm not saying there's no place for openings books, particularly ones that explain the ideas behind openings."

This is not the time anymore for books like The Complete Pirc.
"No, I think this type of book, this kind of encyclopedic book, there's just no point anymore. The type of opening book that I used to specialize in... I think time for that is gone now."

Back to the tournament. You're probably a bit disappointed about the result.
"Well, slightly. I had two targets, which was to get four points and to win a game. I won a game and I got half a point less than my target. My expected score according to my (old!) rating was five points but I think if you haven't played a tournament for six years you can't really expect to do that. So I kind of thought that four points was a reasonable target and I got three and a half, so I guess I'm a tidy bit disappointed but yeah, I think it was not unexpected."

But would you like playing again?
"I found it quite tough actually." (Laughs.) "Yeah, I found it quite difficult, quite exhausting!"

So if you're invited next year you would have to think twice.
"Of course I'd think about it."

Because your playing style is still attractive so they might give you a call.
"Okay, but the problem is that I make too many mistakes now. I played quite a few good games up to a point. Against Wang Hao I played a nice positional queen sacrifice but at a certain moment I just blundered. You know, it's kind of frustrating, in the old days I wouldn't have made this blunder. It's difficult to stop it. Obviously if I would be playing more regularly but I don't have the time to play lots."

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