I got a rare chance during my Australian return to visit my old chess club, Club Bullwinkle. Perhaps better described as a creatively Bohemian community than a chess club, Bullwinkle is known for its energy, spontaneity and perhaps above all else, its often completely chess-free club meetings. Started by a bunch of students from the Unviersity of Queensland in the late nineties, Bullwinkle was kind enough to allow me into its ranks at the tender age of 12, I suspect more to add a bit of strength to its interclub chances than anything else. Nevertheless, this resulted in exposing me early on to the eye-opening world of university students at an age when I was still convinced girls carried cooties, and also ensured I was never swayed by the “chess is uncool” stigma commonly touted in Australian highschools. From the way Bullwinkle flourished, it was clear to me that chess was esteemed and respected from the tertiary years and up (and, it seemed, got a lot more fun, too).
It’s been a while since I’ve been back to my old stomping ground, but, after trying to catch up with Jacob Edwards (friend, Bullwinkle founder and still club president), I discovered Bullwinkle was scheduled to play an interclub match while I was in town. This conveniently saw a dozen or so of the club faithful assemble in the one locale to battle Redlands, and I thought I’d drop by. Jacob, notoriously persuasive, convinced me to do more than just pass through, and I ended up playing a long-overdue rated game for my very first chess club.
The match should have been more about the catching up and reminiscing than the chess, and a quick victory ‘for the crowd’ was what I expected, but my opponent, South African-born Bruce Williams (also Bullwinkle, but chivalrously playing for Redlands due to a desire to take me down) completely ripped me to shreds. My arrogance and nonchalance was brutally punished by Bruce, a guy known for his attacking flair and merciless dedication to tactical assaults.
I was ridiculously lucky to swindle a win in a drawn rook-and-two-pawns-each endgame with us both down to less than a minute on the clock, but half a dozen moves earlier, Bruce could have capped off a fine performance by burying my defenses once and for all. I apologised to him for the lucky win after the game; he replied “It wasn’t luck. That’s why you’re a grandmaster.” Cute, but I think luck still wins out, and perhaps the nickname the Cafe Laurierboom locals in Amsterdam have (affectionately) given me isn’t totally inaccurate. From one hemisphere to another, proudly Bullwinkle, and proudly the “worst grandmaster in the world.”
I wear it proudly.