I was taught chess by my father and from age 10 regularly played in junior tournaments in England. I had fair success, for example winning the British Boys under 16.
At about that time I started playing in big swiss tournaments such as those at Bognor and Eastbourne. My rating was climbing and in 1967 I won (jointly with Wade) a small but strong tournament at Paignton and played in the Irish Championship that year held at University College Cork. The surroundings were very pleasant, but my only clear memory was getting a Q+NP v Q ending against Wolfgang Heidenfeld in Round 2. Heidenfeld had the pawn and it started on the third rank.
The status, and best play, in this ending were at that time unknown (nowadays, of course, it's within range of the databases). The game seemed to go on endlessly: every time I finished a game in a later round, Heidenfeld and I would play on for another couple of hours at the end of which Heidenfeld's pawn would have moved one square forward. I lost eventually, and got totally exhausted! I have a half memory of getting blown away by Eamon Keogh, but the rest of the tournament is just a blur. I was quite surprised to see from TICA that I finished equal third with Brian Reilly.
In 1968 I played for the English students' team at Ybbs, Austria where I made a modest plus score. However, the team dynamics were just terrible and, by the end of the tournament, hardly any two members were on speaking terms. In 1969 I played again in the 1969 Irish Championship, this time winning. I also played in a very strong Swiss in Castlebar, won by Huebner. I don't remember much about the chess, except for Huebner demonstrating GM endgame technique, but the tournament had a relaxed atmosphere, and the local people were wonderfully hospitable and friendly.
In 1970 I spent most of the summer in the US, getting a good result in the US open (9/12) and then played for Ireland at the Siegen Olympiad. I was in good form and scored 8/13. The result was perhaps a little better than the score, as I was unbeaten in the preliminaries against mostly very strong opposition, drawing with three good grandmasters (Larsen, Gheorghiu and Bilek). Siegen was a good experience for me, one I look back on fondly.
Here are two anecdotes from Siegen, the first hard to credit, but I think Paul Henry and Bent Larsen might both remember.
Henry was playing an Italian, and had a won game but was very short of time. The Italian then knocked his king on the floor and put it back on a different square. I was observing and alerted the official monitor to what had happened, but was told not to interfere. The time control was reached and the error discovered. At this point the official, who was furious he had been wrong, ruled:
- The position must be reset to where the error occurred (OK),
- the clocks were reset as best they could be (OK),
- the Italian could play as he wished (OK),
- Paul must play the moves he played before (!!!).
Of course a big dispute broke out. After a while I spotted Larsen a few feet away and asked him to explain the laws of chess to the monitor, who refused to listen. Eventually the chief arbiter of the whole Olympiad had to be called and a sane ruling was made. The whole argument must have taken at least half an hour and not surprisingly Paul's nerves were shot. On resumption he played weakly and the game was drawn.
In professional Go an illegal move results in immediate loss and I think international chess would be better with a similar rule.
The second tale involved my game with Gheorghiu. He got a winning endgame but misplayed it in time pressure and on adjournment I thought I was drawing. Gheorghiu then leaned across the board:
Gheorghiu: You should resign!
Patterson: (No reply.)
Gheorghiu: I am a strong grandmaster, I move my pawns up the board and what can you do?
Patterson: (No reply.)
On analysing during the adjournment I realised that I could force an easily drawn R+P v R ending and so it proved on resumption. I think Gheorghiu knew very well the adjournment was a draw and figured that he would try and bluff before the Irish weakie figured the position out!
I have good feelings about my experiences in Irish chess but unfortunately they did not end too well. I was happy about my play at Siegen and didn't think that would be my last experience of international play, but so it proved. In the summer of 1971 I got married and couldn't play in the 1971 Irish Championship. I had thought it likely I would be chosen for the Olympiad team in 1972 but I wasn't, so I wrote a letter to the ICU asking why. The reply stated that I wasn't even considered in the selection process, despite my result in Siegen, and called into question my eligibility for the Irish championships, which I took to mean that I was no longer welcome to play. At the same time Wolfgang Heidenfeld, who was the 1972 Irish Champion, was dropped from the team.
What happened? The troubles in the North had become very bad and political feelings in Ireland ran high. I believe that I was dropped as too English (although I was a student, my parents lived in Belfast, and 3 of my 4 grandparents were Irish) and Wolfgang was dropped as too German. It's absurd to think that in 1972 either of us were not in the Irish top 6.
For me, I could handle it lightly. In September 1972 I started a new job and my first child was born. I had plenty to do, and just moved on in my life. It was harder for Wolfgang, who was living in Dublin, and who had given so much to Irish Chess.
I'd like to put on record that I found Wolfgang Heidenfeld an interesting chess colleague who was unfailingly courteous to me. My life is better for having known him.
I continued playing a little in the '70s but I think that I saw the end when I lost a game to Julian Hodgson in one of the Lloyd's Bank tournaments. I must have been aged 30, Hodgson 14. In the post-mortem, Hodgson, who wasn't in the least trying to be offensive, made it clear that he thought I'd played really well for such an old man!
In 1980 I moved with my family to the United States. I had a new career to establish, and haven't played tournament chess since. I still follow the game, and try and keep up with theory. I don't in fact think I have lost all that much in strength, though without tournament testing that is very likely an illusion.
Right now I live on Long Island, and work for Renaissance Technologies, a money-management firm. My job is making statistical models of the financial markets.
My opening knowledge was deficient by international standards, and I was always suspect tactically. On the other hand I was a decent strategist, and a strong endgame player. I also fought well in bad positions and won a lot of games when my opponent overpressed. Here are a couple of games from Siegen, the first against South Africa, the second against Peru.
Looking back, I am grateful to the chess community for the experience it gave me and I am happy to have played the chess I did in and for Ireland. Perhaps I will even play again in Ireland, who knows what the future brings?