My opponent was sitting across the chess board blowing cigar smoke into my face. It wasn’t accidental either as I quickly realised. This guy meant business and was determined to use any tactic he could get away with. And he did because there were no rules then against smoking – this was back in the 1970s when the board was governed by limited rules, but for me the real action was in the air around me, stinging my eyes and upsetting my concentration.
What to do? Apart from leaving my seat for either a toilet break or to check out our team’s progress in the other games there was little I could do. In the end I was able to force a win, but I was furious.
When I first started playing chess the then Cork Examiner had its own club, and some of my best encounters were with Dick Kenny, a wily old timer who delighted in loud sighs and talking to himself, tactics that were mildly distracting to opponents. In one particular game I won his queen, then Dick started tut, tutting, and before I knew it I lost my way, my own queen, and was lucky to win eventually.
Another time my friend Pat Constant and I decided to play in an international chess tournament in Jersey, in the Channel Islands. Unfortunately, the first round pitted Pat and myself against the top two players. While I tried my best to avoid a humiliating defeat (I failed at that too), Pat’s opponent, a future grandmaster, kept leaving the table after making his move – a rude and humiliating thing to do to an opponent he obviously had no time for. In fairness, most of the best players don’t behave like that.
My worst experience was the guy whose best weapon was his nose. Whenever he got into trouble during a game, his right hand would slowly rise from his side to his nose, and there it would begin to slowly excavate the inside of one nostril. In the meantime, I would try not to notice the attention he was lavishing on that part of his face and concentrate on the board in front of me. But it was really impossible because you could see what was going on out of the corner of your eye. Worse, once he had satisfied himself his finger had nothing left to explore, he’d just move onto the other nostril. I swear I lost one game due to his antics.
I haven’t been active at chess for a while, but hope to return pretty soon. I won’t have to worry about smokers across the chess board, but there are plenty of people who fiddle with their noses. You have been warned.