Dr Corbin’s write move
DR PHILIP CORBIN retired from the international chess arena two years ago but has not lost his love of the game.
A FIDE master, Corbin has written a book on his exploits, more so his most memorable 300 chess games over a 40-year period from 1970 to 2010. Calypso Chess is packed with interesting anecdotes of games played in many countries around the world and Corbin, a past president of the Barbados Chess Federation and a seven-time winner of the Barbados National Chess Championship and runner-up 12 times, has played in the first 12 Olympiads that Barbados has been represented at – from Hungary to Israel.
“I was taught by my dad; he gave me the love of the game at age seven. I remember sitting at a table with a large wooden chess board and loving the smell,” he said, touching the plastic pieces in front of him.
He recollects going to the old Chess Club in Bridgetown with his dad, to whom he dedicated the book, and sitting in a smoke-filled room, watching friendly games that had no clocks or time limits and therefore lasted for hours.
“These were serious, quiet, genteel atmospheres. Back then C.B. Gilkes was the champion and I would watch him play. My goal back then as a teenager was to beat him,” said Corbin, smiling. He challenged Gilkes and lost two games, won two, then drew one. He went back afterwards, won and from then on “he has never beaten me again”.
His first game overseas was the London U14 championships, where he placed third. The family had moved to London after his dad was posted to the Barbados High Commission as Acting Commissioner. He says he developed a love of maths from his dad and that helped in playing chess. He was also victor ludorum at grammar school in London.
Corbin calls chess a real battlefield and explains the strategy.
“Your pawns are the infantry, with generals at back. You look for weak squares and push the enemy back. You want to capture the king and queen. When you win the king, you win the game – checkmate.”
A typical game, says Corbin, is 25 moves. In competition it can be longer.
“The time stretches because you have to concentrate. Look at all the variations, the different lines. Ask yourself what will my opponent play if I play this and this? And remember, your opponent is doing the same,” he stated.
With a chess clock the time is limited to 40 moves and for some players that means time trouble.
Calling chess a “royal game”, Corbin said the book was a teenager’s dream. It was originally over 500 pages long but was edited to a little over 400. “I wanted to put in history and background of the wonderful game,” said the author of the first chess book by a Barbadian. The book is divided into five parts and Corbin said it was possible because he kept all his score sheets from time he started playing with his dad.
“The ones I treasure are the ones I have beaten the top players. Some I have outsmarted with some cute little trick or where I have just played a beautiful game. A couple are masterpieces, some others are sentimental.”
And there is a story behind every game.
One such is the last round of the 2009 Caribbean Chess Carnival, where he was up against the 13-time national champion of Barbados and then the only International Master in the Eastern Caribbean, Kevin Denny who, says Corbin, is very hard to beat when he has the white pieces. Two pawns up and a blunder by Denny, who was in time trouble, saw Corbin missing the white bishop but gaining the white rook. Denny resigned.
Corbin has a Bachelor in Science degree he gained while studying in Southampton. He came back home and worked at Barbados Light and Power Company Ltd. (BL&P). He went back to Britain for a year to do his Master’s and for two to obtain his PhD. He returned to BL&P, where he is a computer engineer analyst.
He has taught his wife Rose and soon Quinn to play the game. Corbin says there are many openings to playing and the Elephant Gambit is known to be used by him: “I thought I had created the move but found out it was before my time,” he said, laughing.
“It is easy to learn but difficult to play well.”
Corbin has resigned from playing in competitions, so this time he is not on the team to the Olympiad in Istanbul. He says at times he has regretted the decision, looking back at his Olympiad career, during which he has played “some really tough chess”. The Olympiad, to which the top four players are sent, is held every two years.
His last official game was in Siberia 2010 and he officially retired in December that same year.
“I am finding it harder to concentrate. I am slowing down mentally. It was a controversial decision to do it . . . . Some days I wonder if I should have, and I do miss it. ”
Corbin, now ranked No. 5, says he loses more often than he wins. “The top seeds beat me a lot now. And there are a lot of chess prodigies out there in the world.”
Corbin says what he is frustrated about it the elusive Olympiad medal. He came close to it in 2004. Players had to play nine games back then to get a medal. He had six out of seven and won five in a row. He needed two more and lost both. In 2006, again no medal. In 2008 the rules were changed and a medal was given on best rating performance and not points.
Being from Barbados, his rating was not that of a grandmaster, and he realized then he would never get one. He felt it was then time to retire.
“My head says right decision but my heart is heavy,” he said, lifting up the chess pieces and moving them slowly around the table.
“But you can’t be at the top forever – physically and mentally.”
Looking back at trophies he has won, many for first, second and third places, Corbin’s dream of being a grandmaster can still be realized, all it takes is a winning move that brings victory – checkmate.