Ken Dewhurst 1962-2017

An appreciation by Jon Nelson and friends

Sheffield Nomads chess club lost one of its founding members before Christmas. Our friend Ken passed away on 16 December and very sadly Nomads members did not become aware of his death until after Ken’s funeral had taken place on 8 January in his native Lancashire. Ken had played chess in Sheffield for nigh on 35 years and was a valued player in several Nomads league-winning sides.
What follows are some personal memories of Ken the chess player and Ken the person. I am indebted to Duncan Chambers, Stuart Crosthwaite, Jeremy Hamm, Mike Newett, Kieran O’Driscoll, Chris Shephard, Mike Smith, Brian Stephenson and all who have helped remember Ken. Particular thanks to Steve Mann for the records he maintains on the Sheffield sub-site of his excellent Yorkshire Chess History website.
Ken was born in 1962 in Blackburn and must have learned the game in his Lancashire schooldays. Mike Newett remembers playing him in the Preston League many years ago and by the time he arrived in Sheffield in the early 1980s he was a strong player – Steve records his first YCA grade in 1984 as 162 and this was in pre-grade inflation days. He won the Crabb Shield in 1985 and the Holroyd Trophy in 1986 so was already well established in Sheffield chess circles.
Ken had gained a First in English which was very rare in those days and a mark of his high intelligence. Stuart remembers him from the early 1980s, armed with books from the University library and sometimes reading as he walked along! By around 1984 Steve and Duncan recall Ken was already working on his PhD on TS Eliot but regrettably this was never to be finished. Ken and his PhD supervisor Neil Corcoran (now Emeritus Professor at Liverpool) shared a boundless enthusiasm for Bob Dylan and their conversations seemed to revolve more around the “poet” Dylan than the poet Eliot! Ken seemed to have a mental block with his PhD and sadly, as Steve notes, he never got to put “Dr” in front of his name but we know he had the intelligence to have done so.
When I joined Sheffield University in 1986 Ken shared his interest in chess and literature, recommending chess-playing authors such as Nabokov and Beckett. We were both fans of the surreal chess game in Beckett’s “Murphy” where Mr Endon refuses to engage with Murphy’s pieces, keeps moving backwards and still wins. Whilst the novel is hard work the game and annotations are still very funny even 80 years later.
My University friends and I have very fond memories of Ken at this time. He had a number of personal quirks, for example the brown wool jacket he always wore. We finally realised why when he stayed in our student house in early 1988 – there were no clothes in his wardrobe just a mountain of books! At this time, and indeed seemingly forever, he lived on a diet of cheese sandwiches and was never known to let a vegetable pass his lips  It’s well know chess players can’t dance but Ken’s dancing style was completely unique: my friend Tim describes it as a circumnavigation of the room, one hand in his jacket pocket, with a kind of skipping action. Any blast of New Order would set him off in those days 
In 1987 or thereabouts Ken was one of the founders of Nomads chess club, along with current member Chris. The impetus for a new club was apparently the installation of a snooker table in the Robin Hood which reduced the chess playing space. As a new club they had to start in the bottom division but they were strong and at the end of their first season won the Richardson Cup, defeating the mighty champions-elect Ecclesall 4-2 in the Final (it’s good to see so many players from both sides still playing now at a high level)

C.Shephard 1-0 D.M.Adams
M.D.Smith 0.5-0.5 P.W.Hempson
D. Greensmith 0.5-0.5 T. Fernley
K. Dewhurst 1-0 C.J.Marley
I. Mortimer 1-0 A.J.Trafford
P.Hulse 0-1 M.Grimsley

Mike Smith remembers Ken scoring a resounding win in that Final. The team were indeed Nomads around that time, regularly moving venue, and Chris recalls Ken reaching his chess peak in those early Nomads years which shows in his highest YCA grade of 167 in 1989.
It was around 1988 that Ken and I discovered we had an ability to make money from the quiz machines which were springing up in pubs at that time. Chess players seem naturally good at quizzes due to regular use of their memory (GM Danny Gormally is a good example) and Ken with his quick natural intelligence and breadth of interests became very good. Still being young we couldn’t quite believe we could make money that easily and have a great time doing so.
Ken in fact had a brief brush with fame at this time: the BBC2 10×10 series episode “More Questions than Answers”, broadcast 10 August 1989, filmed two of our quizzing colleagues in action at the Old Harrow pub in Ridgeway (now long gone). Ken went along to the filming and to assist with answering the questions. The mists of time have clouded my memory as to whether he actually appeared on screen but we’ll count it as his 15 minutes of fame 
My friends and I left Sheffield in 1989 and continued to make a very good living from quiz machines until 1996 – it was a great life and certainly better than working! I believe Ken also continued to do so here in Sheffield but was constrained to the local area by lack of transport. The quizzing bubble burst around 1996 when the arrival of the Internet meant new questions could be uploaded to the machines overnight so it became impossible to win big money. My friends and I retrained and found “normal” work but Ken didn’t – I wish he’d found something related to his beloved books, even voluntary work would have provided some needed structure to his days.
Chess-wise Ken was still ECF 165 in 1996 but thereafter his grade slumped somewhat. Around this time Brian managed to convert Ken to chess problem-solving and he subsequently competed regularly in the annual solving tournaments Brian organises. When I returned to Sheffield in 2003 it was however sad to see how Ken’s health had deteriorated and, though he’d always had issues with self-care, he clearly wasn’t looking after himself. He was diagnosed with diabetes and psoriasis but for some reason didn’t take the medication he was given to manage his conditions. It is to the great credit of those current and ex-Nomads who tried to help Ken with his health problems in his latter years.
Chris recalls a quirky memory of Ken from these times. Always very generous in taking Ken home after Nomads matches, (our venues seemed to get further and further from Ken’s house!) Chris found this was at a great risk to his car. Ken’s habit of slamming the passenger door on exiting once led to a late night visit to A&E when he forgot to remove his hand first! Thereafter Chris took no risks – he’d park up and jump out to get to the passenger door before Ken could open it. Proper chauffeur service!
My fondest recent memories of Ken were as part of our early evening quiz team at the Three Tuns each Wednesday. Brian and Ken had been doing this quiz together for nearly 20 years and could often be found deep in discussion over the latest issue of The Problemist or their shared love of Radio 4 and The Archers. Ken’s wide erudition made him a valuable quiz team member with interests including philosophy, literature, classical music and sport. He loved cricket and of course his beloved Blackburn Rovers. When the Beatles came up as a question we’d be treated to “I read the news today oh boy, Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire, And though the holes were rather small, They had to count them all”  Brian and Ken had named their team “Beyond Our Ken” after the famous 1960s radio comedy and when we learned of Ken’s death, Brian, Kieran, Ian Copley and myself reconvened the team and renamed it “Our Ken Beyond” in tribute and raised a glass to his memory.
So how to remember our friend Ken? My friend Lisa called him a gentle soul, not suited to these harsh and unforgiving times. The adjectives frequently mentioned are: thoughtful, polite, intelligent, erudite, kind. Of course we could be critical of aspects of his lifestyle but rest assured he wouldn’t be critical of ours, he was the most non-judgemental of people unless you were a politician and let’s face it that’s often deserved! When I dropped him off after his last Nomads match he was unwell and worried about losing some of his beloved books but even then he wouldn’t for a second blame anyone else for his lot in life.
Nomads send their condolences to Ken’s family and friends and are aiming to organise an event later in his honour. In the meantime we would like to thank Sheffield chess colleagues for their kind thoughts.

So here’s to our friend Ken via his beloved Bob Dylan:

From “Bob Dylan’s Dream” (1963):

We never thought we could ever get very old
We thought we could sit forever in fun
Our chances really was a million to one

I wish, I wish, I wish in vain
That we could sit simply in that room again
Ten thousand dollars at the drop of a hat
I’d give it all gladly if our lives could be like that

Links:
Steve Mann’s site: http://mannchess.org.uk/
The chess game in “Murphy”: https://www.chess.com/blog/thompunton/chess-in-literature-murphy-vs-mr-endon-in-murphy-by-samuel-beckett
Sheffield Nomads site: http://sheffieldnomads.co.uk/ken-dewhurst/

Woodseats A vs Nomads A, 15th January 2018

Woodseats A 1 7 Nomads A
Daniel Sullivan (w) 0 1 Jon Nelson
Stuart Jones 0 1 Chris Shephard
Shane Frith 0.5 0.5 Andrew Hards
David Toft 0.5 0.5 Geoff Frost
Steve Moon 0 1 Ian Barwick
Brendan Ashmore 0 1 Mike Newett
Bill Ward 0 1 Stuart Crosthwaite
Stephen Daykin 0 1 Nick Mahoney

And so to Woodseats and the Red Lion for our first match of 2018. Andrew was missing (we wish him and his family well, of course) and Woodseats were also missing one or two others towards the top end of the team that left them comfortably outgraded on nearly every board. However, that didn’t prevent them from making a fight of things and the scoreline, as ever it seems, flattered us somewhat. First to finish were David and Geoff – Geoff forgot the usual continuation in the opening he played and things petered out quickly. But his was the only game to finish (relatively) quickly. Elsewhere, the battles were fought hard and long into the night.

Stuart entered into a King’s Gambit of sorts with Bill and seemed to hold onto the extra pawn, and hold it, and hold it… and eventually his pawn became a thorn in Bill’s position that he wasn’t able to round up as Stuart picked up pawns elsewhere on the board. Nick followed a little while after, also winning a number of pawns in the endgame to break Steve’s resistance.

After this, everything was something of a blur as most of the remaining games finished at a similar point. Mike’s kingside pressing eventually told as he forced his way into Brendan’s position; Ian’s pieces initially seemed to be getting in a bit of a tangle but once he sorted them out he too, was able to eke an advantage and overturn Steve’s brave resistance. On three, I got dragged into a very drawish opening line (I am sure I didn’t play it well but that’s no surprise!) and once everything came off Shane and I were left with a very drawish rook and pawn ending (one where I nearly walked into a mate in 1!) that ended in a draw, unsurprisingly. On two, Chris gradually wore Stuart down and in the ending, Chris’ more active king and better placed pawns were crucial (aided and abetted by a pawn advantage, as I recall). And on top board Jon and Daniel were out of book on around move 4… the game became exceedingly sharp and when I thought Daniel might be lost, he managed to wiggle some more before eventually entering an endgame where he was a piece down. Jon’s technique at this point was flawless, though, culminating in a nice mating pattern without need to promote his final pawn.

A one-sided result, but not so much a one-sided match – and a convincing enough start to 2018.

Jon Arnott vs Andrew Hards

Barnsley A vs Nomads A, 5th December 2017

Barnsley A 4 4 Nomads A
Andy Butterworth (b) 0 1 Jon Nelson
Martin Sheard 0.5 0.5 Andrew Hards
Richard Desmedt 0.5 0.5 Geoff Frost
Ken Hunter 0.5 0.5 Ian Barwick
Tony Pogson 0 1 Mike Newett
Pete Micklethwaite 1 0 Wilson Banda
Neil Todd 0.5 0.5 Steve Withington
Richard Hall 1 0 BYE

We’ve struggled at Barnsley more than once in the past, and today was no exception. A default on the bottom board was not a good start. I spent most of the evening outside coughing or in the bathroom so didn’t see a great deal of the games. A draw after 25 or so minutes on board three wasn’t ideal in the circumstances – Geoff and Richard sheathing their swords early on – but Martin and I weren’t too far behind (I’ve yet to beat him in several attempts so a draw was a bit of a bonus personally in the circumstances!). Mike’s game also finished prematurely – Tony managed to get his queen trapped early on and resigned soon after. So even-Stevens after a very quick first half… the second half was not quite so fast though. Steve, Wilson and Jon all seemed under varying degrees of pressure whilst Ian seemed to have an attack brewing. Wilson eventually found Pete’s passed pawns too much, and even a piece sacrifice was not enough to stop them rolling through his position. Steve held on in his game and Neil agreed a draw in a position that may or may not have had more play in it – so we were 3.5 – 2.5 down; Ian’s draw with Ken, under some pressure, was well timed and though we couldn’t win the match, we could still draw it so everything came down to Jon. Andy repeated a combination he had recently played but crucially a piece was not on the same square as it had been before and when Jon’s counter-attack came, it picked up a loose rook and sealed a win which earned us a hard-fought, barely-scraped draw. PHEW! At least we go into the Xmas break still unbeaten… although it was a close one and no mistake.

Marek Gajdosz vs Andrew Hards

Darnall and Handsworth A vs Nomads A, 29/01/2018

Darnall & Handsworth A 2.5 5.5 Nomads A
Rob Woodford (b) 0.5 0.5 Jon Nelson
Aram Ter-Gevorkian 0 1 Chris Shephard
Marek Gajdosz 0 1 Andrew Hards
Geoff Brown 1 0 Mike Newett
Danny Dawson 1 0 Ian Barwick
Craig Chatterton 0 1 Nick Mahoney
Joanna Kromka 0 1 Wilson Banda
Mick Turnidge 0 1 Rahul Kumar

Our second match of 2018 and a trip to dark horses, Darnall and Handsworth. They were missing a number of their top boards from this season, which undoubtedly helped us albeit we were also not at our strongest and indeed, I only managed to scrape together a full team on the morning of the match.

The games got underway at around 7.40, with the throbbing rhythm of the KeepFit class reverberating under our feet for the first 20 minutes or so. As per usual, some games moved at a much faster rate than others and it wasn’t long before Wilson was into an endgame with Joanna, a pawn up. When I next checked, he was a bishop up as well and her resistance did not last too much longer with him picking up her remaining pawns. The overall match position looked quite good at this point – Jon wasn’t more than 10 or so moves into his game, Chris was into a queenless middle-game, my position was…complicated, Mike seemed to be on the front foot, Ian didn’t appear to have any issues, Nick was on top with a queenside attack and Rahul seemed to have more space in which to muster an assault.

Rahul finished next and we were 2-0 up. An ending that was advantageous became entirely crushing when Mick dropped an entire rook. Jon’s game wasn’t too far behind. Rob seemed to have a bit of pressure on the a1-h8 diagonal but it ultimately fizzled out into a draw and we were 2 points away from the win. However… there was no sign of this happening any time soon as most of the remaining games carried on long into the evening. Ian was eventually next to finish, but unfortunately for us Danny got revenge for a defeat last season by turning the tables as Ian dropped the exchange and became passive, to be eventually checkmated on the 7th rank as his clock ran down. The gap was soon back up to two points, however, as Nick’s pressure on the queenside eventually told, giving him a material advantage with Craig unable to avoid further exchanges and extremely short on time.

3.5 – 1.5 with myself, Chris and Mike left playing. All eyes seemed to be on boards 3 and 4 (two games for the price of one, spectator-wise I guess!). I had thrown my pieces at Marek’s kingside, but couldn’t find a sacrificial win and eventually went for a speculative sac on d6 (two pawns for a piece, with a guaranteed win of the exchange as well). It probably wasn’t quite good enough, and the computer slightly prefers Black once the dust settled. Fortunately for me, however, Marek immediately blundered allowing me to win a whole piece, and the ending, Rook + Bishop vs Knight + Bishop, was just winning provided I avoided any nasty forks. I did, and when my pawn reached the seventh I found a neat little tactic to force an immediate win and get us over the finishing line. I glanced at Mike’s position and it looked, on the face of it, as if Geoff had blundered a piece away and with only a queen and rook would struggle to finish Mike off – but I must have missed something as whilst Marek and I were replaying our game, Geoff informed me that he had won so the rook, queen and pawn on the 6th must have been more threatening than I had thought with my quick look.

It had looked like Chris’ game would be hard to win – a pawn up but in a rook and pawn ending and I couldn’t see how he could hold all his pawns without being constantly checked by Aram’s rook. But this is Chris we’re talking about and he expertly nursed his pawns to eventually emerge successful, putting a nice gloss on the result. So overall a pleasing result considering the scramble I had on to get a team together. We move up to second, behind Chesterfield, and with our clash against them postponed, we face Ecclesall next later in February.