I first moved to the Gold Coast at the end of 1988, after living in Sydney for ten years. I was in my late 30s and had played chess socially with friends since my schooldays, but had never been a member of a club, and had never played a tournament.
In those early years I heard there were a handful of players who used to meet in Cavill Ave, Surfers Paradise, but I never went along to see for myself.
In 1991, I met a Swiss guy called Hans Müller, who was a keen chess player. We became firm friends and played regularly. We both lived in Lower Beechmont, which was very convenient. It was Hans who convinced me to play in my first ever tournament, in Coolum later that year.
In 1993, Hans told me that some chap called Graeme Gardiner was trying to organise regular chess at Somerset College. Graeme was the Development Officer for the school, and a great believer in the power of chess. Graeme had established chess within Somerset College, and was very keen to expand this into the community. His approach was two-pronged – he wanted to get other Gold Coast schools to embrace chess so that his kids would have some competition, and also wanted to get some adult players involved, to share their experience.
Hans and I both went along to the first such meeting, which if memory serves me well was held in Room 14 at Somerset College. After a few weeks, or maybe months, Graeme invited a few of the adult players to come along to a meeting at the home of some friends of his, Hal and Judith Orth (whose daughter Kimberley went on to become a pretty strong player). At this meeting Graeme outlined his plans for a club, and proposed that those present become the inaugural committee.
Thus was the Gold Coast Chess Club born.
From the start Graeme insisted he didn’t want to be president, just secretary. My own interpretation of this choice was that Graeme knew the secretary did all the work, and that’s what he wanted to do. Let someone else take the glory- He just wanted to beaver away and work tirelessly to make chess on the Gold Coast a success. Dave Esmonde stepped up to the plate and did a sterling job as the club’s first president.
We started having regular monthly tournaments, with Somerset College graciously allowing us to use the library for these. They later shifted us to the Sports Pavilion, aka the Koala House (because the building had started life as a tourist attraction in Brisbane, decked out to provide a habitat for koalas).
At some point, perhaps after two or three years, Dave stepped down as president – I have no recollection of why, but I don’t recall it involving any animosity – and Graeme suggested that I may step into the role.
Our bigger tournaments attracted stars too numerous to mention, from Brisbane and beyond, and we had local stars like Aleks Wohl and Andrew Allen among others, but for our smaller local tournaments, in the absence of these bigger stars, two figures dominated – a wily guy called Joe Kingston, and his disciple Adam Vagg, who were regular players at Cavill Ave.
Adam told me years later that when he first started playing he used to watch Joe beat everyone, and would himself refuse to play other players, holding out to play against the master himself.
Joe was an eminently lovable and charismatic old guy with white hair and a white moustache. He told me once that in his younger days he reckoned he had a choice to become either a grandmaster or a grandfather, and he chose the latter.
Our mutual friend Vaso credited Joe with teaching him to improve his chess. I had known Vaso for many years before I discovered this. Before this I didn’t even know they had ever met. I was talking to someone else about Joe, at Robina. Afterwards, Vaso told me Joe had told him he would never be a chessplayer unless he learnt a few openings, and proceeded to sit down with him for a couple of hours and teach him the basic ideas of the Bishop’s Opening, the Italian and several others. That was the beginning of Vaso’s journey to coffee shop mastery.
I also clearly remember my first meeting with the legendary Nell van de Graaff. This was at one of those early tournaments at Somerset College library. I was wandering around outside, prior to the first round. I spotted this elderly lady with lank grey hair. She spotted me, her face lit up in a smile like she’d recognised a long-lost friend and she hurried across and introduced herself. Thus began a friendship that lasted until her death some 25 years later at age 102.
It was also at one of those early Somerset library tournaments – in fact it may have been the same one – that I had my first experience of Ian Rogers.
Ian had recognised Graeme’s ability to promote chess, and was a staunch supporter from very early, attending and winning many of our tournaments. On this occasion a bunch of us, including Ian, were setting up the boards in preparation for the first round. Although he was the star of the show, Ian was always happy to jump in and help with the setting up. There was low-level noise throughout the room, but suddenly Ian’s voice cut through the air as clear as a nightingale. I don’t know who he was talking to, or who he was talking about, or any of the prior conversation, but the wit was self-evident without any need for context. He said “But you can’t discriminate against a guy just because he’s a bigot and a racist”.
Joe Kingston was also the inspiration for the Tin Cup. Some years into my presidency, Joe said to me “You should start a tournament with a rating limit, so that ordinary club players have a chance of winning first prize”. Seemed like a good idea to me. I took the idea to the next committee meeting, and the committee attitude was basically “if you want to organise it, then go ahead”. We set a date, early Feb, and so it happened. The Kevin Costner movie The Tin Cup was showing in cinemas at the time. I hadn’t seen the movie – still haven’t, I think it’s about golf – but the name just hit me as being perfect. I mean, the tournament wasn’t aimed at players who were shooting for gold, or platinum, or diamond – we were mere club players – tin was the perfect metal.
At the first running of the Tin Cup, one of the players, already a bit disgruntled about the poor directions to the venue (the Koala House), pointed out that the trophy wasn’t even a cup, it was a plate. I conceded that he was right. So a month or two later I went to Kmart and bought a cheap tin mug, took it to Russell Mowles at Gold Coast Trophies and Engraving, and asked him if he could mount it on a suitable backing material. He did, and that’s the trophy that still stands.
The Tin Cup was originally restricted to players rated under 1600, but sometime in the early 2000s an administrative decision was taken by either the CAQ or the ACF to increase all adult players’ ratings by 150, to reflect the erosion of adult ratings caused by playing against talented and under-rated juniors. The organisers of the Tin Cup (I was no longer involved) decided to increase the rating limit for the tournament to 1750 to reflect this change.
This is getting way too long. I’ll just add a couple more memories then get out of your way.
At some early stage the weekly meetings moved from Room 14 at Somerset College to the kids’ party room at McDonalds Nerang.
A few years later, after I had become president, we started regular weekly meetings at the Wallaby Hotel in Mudgeeraba. This worked well for years. I don’t recall how it ended, maybe there was a change of management, or maybe they just thought they had done enough community service for a while, but we found ourselves looking for a new venue. I happened to be on good terms with the manager of the Nerang Allsports Club, Chris Bagley, mainly because my office at 60 Nerang Street was within walking distance of the club and I often went to the Allsports for lunch. Chris welcomed the idea, and this became our home for the next few years.
By a surreal coincidence, some 20 years later, after the club had reformed, its meeting place was 60 Nerang Street, the building where my office had been back in the 90s.
Dave came back to chess administration after a few years’ break, and became president of the CAQ.