ARKELL'S ODYSSEY

AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY BY KEITH ARKELL

 

 

The Introduction to this autobiography advises us that Keith Arkell's surname has Viking origins.  How very true this is of the man.  For many years now we have seen his long boat sweep into Devon and carry off an assorted collection of silver-ware and folding money.  Like the Vikings of old, Keith has eventually settled in the country he has plundered for so long and we can now consider him to be an honorary Devonian.

Now over 50 years of age and having learned how to play chess at age thirteen, then winning his first tournament aged 17, Keith has a wealth of experience to impart to readers.  As he has been successful in reaching the standard required for grandmaster status and being British Champion in 2008, such experience is of necessary studded with hard fought games, triumphs and disasters.  This range of experience and its effects are brought honestly to paper in this absorbing autobiography.

Most of his durability in the hectic and punishing world of professional chess is due to the depth of his understanding of endgame play, and it is a pleasure to read his notes on this phase of the game. However his technique is not bereft of some sparkling combinational games as the final chapter of this book testifies.

This book, published by Keverel Chess, is a pleasant mixture of light autobiography, and well annotated games. In the autobiographical text, Keith speaks with the utmost candour of an unfortunate health problem and some emotional disturbances.  The fact that he has triumphed over these difficulties says a lot for his will-power and determination.  Choosing a life as a professional chess player in England is no easy task and for the major part of his playing career he has had to rely on prize money and appearance fees.  This has led to some situations where profit or loss became finely balanced.  This is no better described than his appearance in the British Championship of 2001 at Scarborough.  Having played well during ten rounds he was in with a fair chance of winning the tournament in his final round game against Joe Gallagher which if he won could either give him first place or shared first place in the tournament.  The game was drawn in 5 moves!  This excited a lot of adverse comment but allow me to put forward the underlying reasons in Keith's own words.

"In an interview in the British Chess Magazine the following February I talked about how I felt 'uneasy' at the board, and I then went into a mathematical justification of my decision. Drawing the game left me 2nd=, and winning 1800 enough to make a profit after deducting the expenses of two weeks in Scarborough for my mother and myself.  If I had won my prize would have been 10,000, whereas a loss would have netted me next to nothing.  Because there were no expenses or fees for Grandmasters that year, a loss would have left me out of pocket by about 1,200."   

Such is the finely balanced financial position of professional chess players in this country.  How many of us would have made the same decision as Keith in such circumstances?  This explanation makes it easier to understand why last round results in many tournaments yield so many draws.

In choosing the life of a chess professional, Keith was probably well aware of these exigencies but his love of the game prevailed and indeed he seems to have made it work and provide a reasonable life style.  Many good players have attempted to make a living from professional chess in Britain, and many have failed.  Some have given up due to the lack of suitable returns, others because of the return offered in other professions far exceeds that that can be earned as a chess professional.  Luke McShane is an example of the latter although he does find time to successfully take part in the occasional  high-powered tournament, but such participation is dictated by business requirements.  Keith is the only player that I can think of that plays throughout the year and makes it work.

To make success a possibility, he had to tailor his playing technique into a method that would produce the best results and curtail the risk of losing.  He achieved this by careful and simple play leading to endgames which gave him a slight advantage but with the likelihood of a draw in hand.  His endgame became honed to a point where he is now able to turn a minute advantage into a win.  As he points out, it is unlikely that a player in a five round weekend tournament will drop a point or even half a point and still take first place.

Weekend tournaments have been his bread and butter, but there have been prestigious tournaments that have also provided financial returns and professional satisfaction.  As well as winning the British championship in 2008, he won the White Rose tournament of 1999, finished 2nd in the Edinburgh Open of 1988, 2nd in the South Wales Masters of 2001, and took high places in Watson, Farley and Williams grandmaster tournaments where he met and bettered many international grandmasters including, believe it or not, Magnus Carlsen!  In all he has won 320 standard rate tournaments to date including 18 wins at Paignton.  Also he holds the West of England Championship trophy.  Not a bad record!

The book follows his career from his first winning tournament up to the present day and is well illustrated with 70 selected games.  Annotations are light and at times I would have liked some more in-depth comments to round up the text and give a fuller insight into the game.  One day it is to be hoped that Keith will settle down to a volume containing his best games.  One of his helpers has been Peter Griffiths, also a several times winner of the Paignton Premier in the 1970's.  Peter also has a fine reputation as a writer and his endgame books are well respected.  Two well-known endgame exponents working on the same book is bound to produce high quality annotations.

This is the third book published by Keverel Chess Books and the format is beginning to settle down into its own distinctive style.  The text is clear and varies between one and two columns  Many photographs are included - some in colour -  and a few tournament tables have been added.  A flexible cover encloses 124 pages including an index of games and a foreword by Michael Adams.  The recommended price is 15.99 and this is money well spent.

Copies can be obtained from:

Keverel Chess Books,

Keverel Lodge,

40, Phillipps Avenue,

Exmouth, DEVON

EX8 3HZ

Tel No. (+44) 01395 223340  e-mail jones-r53@sky.com

To illustrate Keith's playing and analytical style, 3 games included in the book can be seen HERE.

Bill Frost

September 2012.