My encounter with a GM

When you play a grandmaster, it’s win-win – unless you get completely blown off the board of course. But that wasn’t about to happen … Was it?

Gregor Smith

Following a last-minute whim, last Sunday I found myself sitting on the District Line travelling to the Kensington Rapidplay. After polishing off my Greggs sausage roll (pre-tournament fuel of the highest order) I decided to take a look at the tournament player list and size up the field. I noticed I was seeded exactly halfway – 30th out of 60 entrants. I gathered, depending on byes and no shows, that I was either going to be playing against the unrated junior at the bottom of the list (who is probably actually rated about 2000) or, against a GM. Thankfully, it was the latter.

GM Eldar Gasanov from Ukraine, a regular on the London rapid and blitz scene, currently rapidplay rated 2388, peaking at 2560 in 2019 when he participated in the World Rapid and Blitz Championship. Gasanov boasts some impressive recent scalps in’s flagship “Titled Tuesday” event, taking down Benjamin Bok, Ray Robson, David Paravyan and Shak Mamedyarov. He also managed a draw with Nigel Short back in 2008.

I had zero nerves, a refreshing change from every other time I sit down at a chess board. I was really excited and just hoped I wasn’t going to be first finished out of the 65 boards in the playing hall.

“Start White’s clock!” intoned the arbiter. My opponent, who did indeed have the white pieces (in case he needed that extra boost) wasn’t at the table. The arbiters said that after five minutes, you would be re-paired. For a minute I thought I wasn’t going to get my dream game, but thankfully 30 seconds later he arrived. Since my return to chess, I’ve noticed that all the good players are always late. Why is this!? Indolence, poor timekeeping, or some deep psychological strategy to unsettle their opponents by saying “Look, I know I can win even with a time disadvantage.”

Although his clock was ticking (20+5 time control), Gasanov wasn’t in a hurry, taking his time to get settled, de-layer, position his coffee and adjust his pieces – coolness personified. He accepted my slightly greasy (Greggs-inflected) handshake, and we were off…

Be warned, what follows is not a detailed and educational annotation of the game. I’m not sure I can offer that. But I hope to take you through what was going through my mind while trying to beat – well, at least survive against – a GM.