Wednesday 26 December 2018

A second look

You might recall this piece from early last year, in which I was, ah, sceptically non-committal about a Guardian story involving Donald Sutherland, not previously known to me as a chess enthusiast, intervening in a game between two newlyweds to point out a win in what appeared to be a hopelessly lost position.

It may be that I scoffed too soon. I'm indebted to Mike in comments for finding an interview with Paul Darrow, most famous for playing Avon in Blake's Seven and, as such, no stranger to hopelessly lost positions.

What does Darrow have to tell us? It transpires that he was once in a series called The Odd Man - during which time he played chess with another member of the cast - none other than our man Donald Sutherland. How did it go?

Not well for Darrow.

So not only does Sutherland play - at least, he did in 1963, and in 2006 - but maybe he can play a little bit better than the average near-beginner.

Still, this leaves us with the mystery of why it is that I have been able to find so little on Donald Sutherland's interest in the game, given that normally, if a celebrity so much as looks at a chessboard, we hear how much of a chess fan they are for years afterwards.

I got excited by this, for a moment, but there's no more to it than Donald saying "the chess game begins", and it's a metaphorical game that he's referring to.

This is more to the point: Donald says
...diplomacy is diplomacy, but...Henry Kissinger once described it as a chess game. It's not a chess game. Chess is war. Diplomacy is supposed to be dealing.
which I think is the sort of thing that somebody interested in chess might say.

But beyond that, I'm really struggling.

Kiefer, on the other hand, no problem.

No problem locating a biography

and no problem locating chess within it (page 190).

No problem finding media references to Kiefer's interest in chess (the second of these via Kevin Spraggett) or accounts from within the chess community of his interest in the game.

No problem finding photos of him at the chessboard, either. You can Google them yourself, or enjoy this four-minute montage that somebody has taken the trouble to compile.

But while it's no great trouble finding shots of Donald with a chessboard on set (any more than it is for Kiefer) I'm not finding a lot of images showing Donald playing in his own time. Yes of course, there are many more photos about in Kiefer's day than there were in his father's, and they go straight on to the internet. But try searching for Stanley Kubrick chess or Humphrey Bogart chess and you'll see the difference.

So what is known - anywhere, by anyone - of Donald Sutherland's life in chess? Did Kiefer learn the game from him? How seriously has Donald ever played?

Who knows? He lived in Britain, I believe, for about a decade, roughly until he hit the big time with Kelly's Heroes and M*A*S*H*. I wonder if anybody who's still around ever gave him a game

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