Emmen Olympiad 1957

Beth Cassidy

In the 1957 Women's Olympiad, Ireland were represented by Helen Chater and Beth Cassidy. After the event, Beth Cassidy wrote the following amusing article for the British Chess Magazine, reproduced with the kind permission of the editor.

Danger! Women at Work!

Quite the nicest part of any chess tournament is the memory of it. One month after the battle how differently everything looks! Gone are the frustrations, the nerves, and the sleepless nights. All we remember are the games we won brilliantly, of course, and the games we drew in won positions because we were tired. But the most enjoyable reminiscences, I think, are of those incidents, trifling mostly, which pass without comment at the time but which appear so delightful in retrospect. And the Women's World Team Championship at Emmen had its share.

The Burgomaster started the ball rolling at the opening ceremony. In the English translation of his speech he pointed out that the Dutch word for chess was "shaken" which literally means "to abduct". He went on to explain that the Dutch in olden times were rather gay dogs, and that abduction was as much a part of their daily life as chess is today. "Unfortunately," he continued, "this is no longer the case." A slip of the tongue, or did I detect a note of regret in his voice?

In the course of the first day's play I saw demonstration boards for the first time in operation. So during a lull in my mentally won game I stolled up to examine them. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I could assess a position far more quickly on them than over the boards. In the game I looked at, Black was the exchange down and in a hopeless position. "Black's had it!" I remarked to myself. "Poor sucker! It won't be long now!", and I looked sympathetically to see whose game it was. Imagine my horror when I realised it was my own game which I hadn't recognised upside down! I lost, and it wasn't long!

Before play started Madame Bolokens, of Belgium, approached Berry Withuis, a journalist who spoke at least five languages as well as his native Dutch. Speaking very slowly and distinctly she asked "Do you speak French?" On being assured that he did she continued, "Well listen carefully. It's about the clock. If I make 25 moves I still must make 20. Isn't that correct?" (The time limit was 45 moves in 2½ hours.) "Yes, that is correct, Madame." "And if my opponent makes 25 moves she must still make 20. Yes?" "That is also correct," agreed Withuis slightly mystified. "Well," Madame Bolokens continued, blinking up at him, "if I have 20 moves to make and only three minutes left, and my opponent has 20 moves to make and only three minutes on her clock ... Well, then ... who wins?" Withuis sat down and patiently explained the workings of the clock system. And at the end of half-an-hour Madame Bolokens exclaimed brightly, "Mais naturellement. That is just as I thought!", and beaming her thanks at the flabbergasted Withuis, she trotted contentedly off."

Nor was Madame Bolokens the only person with clock worries. There was Madame Chaudé de Silans of France, and for a few minutes of her game against Ireland, she really was worried. Her team mate sitting along side her pressed Madame de Silans clock by mistake. Miss Chater presumed a move had been made and with delightful disregard for the French Attack moved again without even looking to see what her opponent had played. Nor was she a whit disconcerted when controller O'Kelly de Galway came down and put the offending Knight back on its original square.

On arrival at her hotel in Emmen, Miss Chater, who incidently is 82, was informed that she would have to change hotels for one night owing to a previous booking. This upset the old lady quite a bit, and she kept worrying about it. The matter was actually under control, but Miss Chater didn't realize that you just can't rush the Dutch. There was still no news by the middle of the week, then as Miss Chater was sitting alone early one morning, along came a suave, elegantly-dressed gentleman, who enquired courteously how she was and if she was comfortable in the hotel. Miss Chater beamed. Authority at last. And she launched forth on the subject of having to change hotels. She told him how uncomfortable her room was and recounted all the intimate little details that made it so. She explained that she was in Emmen to play chess and that this sort of thing was so upsetting. Finally, she finished up by asking him politely if he played chess. "Madame," came the mild reply, "I don't know whom you believe me to be, but I am O'Kelly de Galway."

I suppose the most aggravating thing women chess-players have to contend with is the superior male attitude. One of the masters coming out of the adjournment room was overheard to say that he could not bear to watch the games any longer - the play made him quite ill and completely upset his nervous system. Poor fellow! Admittedly he was up till four in the morning analysing a long drawn out but clear-cut win for a player who succeeded in losing in five minutes flat. Then there was the case of Antonia Ivanova. Her husband, the Bulgarian master Bobotsov, insisted that she played under her maiden name so she would not harm his reputation ... this in the face of the fact that whilst Ivanova is an international master he is merely a Bulgarian one.

They say the person on the fence sees most of the game. In chess that just isn't so. The rabbit of the competition has the best view, because the rabbit is sufficiently within the tournament to get the inside dope and sufficiently out of it from the start to see everything that is going on. As the only player in Emmen to have a game position published strictly on its demerits, I claim to have had a ringside seat. During the tournament I wandered around trying to discover how the winners won their point.

It was easy to see the sheer dogged determination Olga Rubtzova, of Russia, a World Champion. This I found out quite by accident. One day, with a couple of other players, I was wheeling a bicycle I had borrowed, when we met the Russian contingent. Madame Rubtzova immediately relieved me of the bike and took it out on the street. Now a Dutch bike is not the easiest thing to learn to ride, nor is a Dutch main street the place to start. The trouble with the bike is the back-pedal braking system. The trouble with the steeet is the Dutch. Rubtzova would start well enough. She would press one pedal and set the bike going for about two yards, but when she put her foot on the other pedal she automatically back pedalled causing the breaks to work. The bike stopped dead, then would land with Rubtzova in a heap on the ground. When this had happened five times I felt she might be going to make a career out of it so I hurried after her. It's not that I thought Rubtzova would harm the bike, you appreciate, but that the pavement was a bit hard just about there. She saw me coming and with inspiration born of desperation she got off to a flying start, scattering a group of school children who had stopped for a laugh and who now fled in panic. She arrived back shortly, smiling all over ... I didn't ask how many she had knocked over and she didn't say.

Then there was that Ingid Larsen, of Denmark. I watched her win one really good game. Her approach was very subtle. She just lit a cigar! Her poor opponent, smelling the smoke, felt she must at least be playing a grandmaster, began to get nervous and resigned a few moves later, completely demoralised. And where do you leave Mrs Gressor, of the United States, who, with a delightful contempt for her opponent, caught up with her correspondence in between moves?

There is much to be seen and learnt in a chess tournament and in a women's tournament it isn't necessarily chess.

Created 1957-12-01 ◦ Last updated 2014-07-23 ◦ Editor MO

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