Games people play

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The Independent Online
Gerard Benson, 67, poet, editor, and one of the three people responsible for Poems on the Underground.

I've always been a player of games. I had a grandfather I used to play dominoes with, which I loved doing because he was an old buffer, really. He kept up a kind of commentary of little rhymes. When you put down a tile, he'd say: "Lay a double, lay for trouble" or something. Perhaps not that; I've forgotten it all now.

My other grandfather was a great player of solo whist. He was an ancient Irishman who could remember entire games. It actually got very boring. he could list all the cards that each player had held and the order in which they should have been played. He might have been a fine mathematician, but he was a bus-driver of both horse-drawn and motor-buses.

I've always been keen on chess. A few years ago, the GLC hosted two chess tournaments in which the greatest players in the world were playing. I went along to write a nice human-interest piece about it for The Literary Review. I was talking to a friend at the reception, when a lady bustled up to me and said: "Ah, here you are. Could you come over and be photographed?" She'd mistaken me for Boris Spassky, the ex-world champion of chess. I actually didn't look anything like him, but I was about the same age, and we're both very handsome, so it was an understandable mistake.

For a few moments, I had this wonderful fantasy that I was going to be made to play chess against Karpov, or at least Nigel Short, but it didn't happen. I think Karpov would have known I wasn't Boris Spassky, even if the lady from the GLC hadn't.

So that was one of my great sporting occasions: when I nearly had to play Karpov.

Gerard Benson edits Nemo's Almanac, the world's oldest literary quiz (available from the publisher at 46 Ashwell Road, Manningham, Bradford BD8 9DU for pounds 2 including p+p). His Bradford and Beyond is a journal in sonnets including two poems about chess (Flambard Press, pounds 5.95 from specialist bookshops).