Grandmaster shows pupils how to ‘go in for the kill

Mar 27 2012 by Denis Brown, Perthshire Advertiser Tuesday

FORMER minister Geoffrey Hall is clearly not the retiring type.

Although he hung up his dog collar in 1998 after 19 years as a British Army chaplain and relocated to the Fair City with Stanley-born wife Eldred, the erstwhile cleric has kept one foot in boot camp.

Instead of kicking back and embracing his twilight years, the Kinnoull retiree said yes to a fellow clergyman’s suggestion he become a volunteer chess tutor at St Ninian’s Primary School.


Now 13 years later, the 79-year-old grandfather is just as passionate about the game as ever and his school mentoring role, which culminates each year with inter-primary school championships.

The most recent showdown took place at St Ninian’s Cathedral last Wednesday, with Craigclowan’s team emerging victorious, Ardvreck second and Dunning in third place having narrowly pipped Pitcairngreen.

“Chess is a brain accelerator, it speeds up the brain so you can absorb more information and become good at almost anything you put your mind to,” enthused the former Church of England minister.

“When I first started at St Ninian’s there was a brilliant 11-year-old chess player called Craig Alexander who went on to get a first in maths and statistics at Edinburgh, a tremendous achievement.

“And right now we have Liam Mathieson. He’s only eight but got through to the British Land Chess Challenge finals last year – the largest chess tournament in the world – up against people twice his age.”

Having benefited from childhood brain enhancement himself, Mr Hall tried his hand at various jobs before succumbing to a calling from God.

But first he did his National Service as an officer, meeting his wife-to-be, Eldred, in 1956 at a nurses’ cocktail party at a military hospital.

He said: “I was only invited along to make up the numbers but our medical officer said, ‘there’s a very nice looking midwife at the hospital’.

“So I went along, our eyes met across a crowded room, and that was that.”

The pair wed in Perth at St Ninian’s Cathedral on August 2, 1958 with the demobbed new husband initially a time and motion study engineer in a London factory before becoming a greengrocer.

Then, six years after leaving the army and feeling increasingly unsettled, he decided to consult a careers advisor.


“She said, ’what would you like to do?’ and I said, I think I’d like to be ordained, and she replied, `well, don’t waste my time – get out there and do it!’” he recalled.

“I felt that God wanted me to serve the church and that I just couldn’t ignore it.”

Re-joining the army, however, post theology studies at Oxford, was not exactly divine intervention.

“I was standing in a queue in a shop when this army officer tapped me on the shoulder and suggested I consider becoming a chaplain,” he said.

Since saying farewell to his Christian soldiers in 1998, Mr Hall’s battlefield has been a chess board, either at Perth Chess Club or St Ninian’s.

“I so enjoy the battle that takes place on a chess board and when you go in for the kill, checkmate, your heart beats so much faster,” he said.

“It’s a very absorbing and exciting game, you have to think several moves ahead and you’re in the zone – nothing else matters.”

The good news for aspiring grandmasters at St Ninian’s is that Mr Hall has no intention of retiring – again – anytime soon.

“I’ll keep doing it for as long as I can – or at least until I can’t remember people’s names any more,” he said.


Chess Daily News from Susan Polgar