Chess: Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all

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The Independent Culture
ENGLAND first, Transylvania second, Italy third. The world (outdoor) team championships, held last Saturday on the Finch Foundry Lawn in Sticklepath, Devon, were an outstanding success, writes William Hartston.

With all the players coming from teams in the North Dartmoor Pub Chess League, the claim to be a 'world championship' is arguable, but the principal organiser, Binkie Braithwaite, has no doubts: 'It all started when we put in a bid for the Short-Kasparov match last year. With a coffee morning and raffle, we'd calculated we could raise pounds 150 in prize money, and we were sure they'd be comfortable playing in the snug bar of the Devonshire Inn.' But when the two grandmasters did not reply to the offer and decided to organise their own title match instead, Mr Braithwaite felt entitled to run his world championship too.

''There's a long tradition of chess in Sticklepath,' explained the local historian, Colonel Walter Polhill. 'You know Tom Pearse, from the 'Uncle Tom Cobley' song. Well he was Thomas Pearse, serge-maker of Sticklepath, as you can read from the inscription on his summer-house, which is still to be found on the lawn at Finch's Foundry. He played chess in that summer house.' According to Col Polhill, the 'lend me your grey mare' line is believed by some to be a request to borrow a black knight for a chess game.

The six teams this year came from as far afield as Chagford and Winkleigh but it seemed to stretch credulity to describe them as Italy and France. 'It was all a question of the flags, really,' explained Mr Braithwaite. 'You can't get a Ukrainian flag at short notice in these parts. Transylvania played under the Sri Lankan lion, but we don't think anyone noticed.'

The tournament came to light in the second round when a dropped cigarette butt ignited the webbing around the leg of one of the trestle tables, but the players took it in their stride. While one stamped on the flames, the other calmly pondered his next move.

England, represented by the Devonshire Inn, recovered from a first round defeat to snatch the title from Transylvania (the Ring of Bells, North Tawton). The Devonshire, recently acclaimed as 'Britain's most dog-friendly pub', accepted the trophy, a bottle of Walter Hicks 125 Navy Rum. The bottle, now empty, stands proudly next to their golden dog bowl.