Cornish chess may be able to take some small comfort as well as a warning from the classical myth of Sisyphus, who was condemned by Tartarus to an eternity of rolling a boulder uphill only to see it roll back down, forcing him to repeat the ascent. As in the infamous football commentary, it is déjà vu all over again! In my allegory, Devon chess’s Brian Hewson has the role of King Hades, the arbiter of death and Lord of the Underworld (but as we know a nice chap in real life) and your team captain, moi, is a prospective Sisyphus. Fortunately the narrative of the myth has only been played out half way through and we are not yet in possession of the boulder, although there are many lying around on Dartmoor that would do the job nicely. We need, like Sisyphus, to find a way of living on for a bit first!
The analogy is an extended one. Last season King Hades came along to the Devon v Cornwall match with the intent of carting the Cornwall team off to the underworld, bringing with him the novel restraining device of a pair of handcuffs. It seemed that the embryonic Cornwall Spring was about to be strangled at birth. But the cunning Cornish pawn pushers persuaded Hades to demonstrate the handcuffs on himself and in short order he found himself chained up and humiliated, the victim of his own device.
As in the myth, the God Hades escaped in time for the following WECU season and demanded that the Cornish team resume their rightful position as the underdogs of the underworld. And so it transpired (see above). But we now have at our disposal the further device that Sisyphus conceived to cancel the mortal blow. He had arranged, against all custom, for his corpse to be unburied. Not only had he received no funeral rites, but the traditional oblation to the ferryman Charon had not been paid. He was able to argue successfully that in consequence he had no right to find himself unshriven the wrong side of the river Styx and he was reluctantly returned to earth by Persephone to try his luck again.
That is the current position of Cornish chess. We live to fight again. But your captain is still pushing a metaphorical boulder up a hill, although it is not yet his definitive individual punishment. To garble the allegory, we need more hands pushing on the boulder alongside the admirable stalwarts of Cornish chess. The take up of invitations to represent the county in the Devon match was frankly disappointing, even factoring in a number of legitimate withdrawals. It was humiliating to be fined for the non-appearance of one of our players, due to a misunderstanding. It is not my task to adjudicate individual priorities but if we do not retain a core of highly committed players, including younger folk in key areas of responsibility within Cornish chess, our aging population will determine our eventual fate.
My initial disappointment at the decidedly one-sided match score was ameliorated to a certain extent by redeeming pockets of encouragement. It was clear that Devon had fielded a strong team, with several of last year’s team appearing further down the board order, and Cornwall out-graded on each of the 28 boards, usually substantially. Although Cornwall A lost by 10.5 points to 5.5 points the top seven boards put in an extremely creditable performance, dropping only 2.5 points with wins by Mark Hassall, David Saqui and Colin Sellwood. David Lucas also won well on Board 14, thereby preventing the total route of our tail, which included your hapless captain.
Cornwall B was definitively outgunned by Devon B but there was a more than encouraging performance by Adam Hussain, our only winner at nine years old. Adam finished off the experienced Adam Hart-Davies in fine style with an accurate tactic based on a discovered pin; and this despite an ECF grading deficit of 82 to 151. Another fine win against the ECF grading gradient was by Stephen Pearce who overcame a gap of 55 points. Perhaps pushing boulders uphill is not so daunting as we first thought.