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About IM John Watson

Hi, I'm John Watson and I'm not a GM, unlike most of the others on this site. I started chess a bit late at age 13 and, true to my later experiences, I learned from books. They were in fact reasonably advanced books - I never read a beginner's book - and after one year I walked into the Omaha, Nebraska chess club and beat most everyone there!

After one tournament my first U.S.C.F. rating was over 2100 and it stayed about there or above from then on. The few dedicated chess players in Omaha had access to just a few regional tournaments a year, so we didn't improve much. But I got lucky and took first place at the initial U.S. National High School Championship. I knew absolutely nothing and relied upon totally unsound tactics to win. Maybe there's a lesson in that: Now I play soundly and lose.

I went to Harvard for a couple of years, traveled a lot in strange lands doing odd jobs (sometimes hustling chess), and returned to do some full time work in two factories.

I began to play more chess and had some successes. My greatest triumph in that time period was the release of Chessman Comics, co-produced by Chris Hendrickson and self-published at the local copy shop. We ran a business called the Chess House that attracted a number of nice people and a much larger number of mentally disturbed ones!

I spent a few years working to become an International Master and wrote my first books (on the English Opening!!) in 1979. As of this date I've written 22 wildly popular books, the majority of which went out of print in less than a year. I've saved a copy of each...I think.

In 1988 I managed to complete a degree with honours in Electrical Engineering at the University of California in San Diego and spent five mostly forgettable years working as a Design Engineer specializing in communications algorithms. Upon reviving, I ran away and wrote some more chess books, this time for firms that have fortunately stayed afloat. I've also written many articles and had a bundle of students over the past 30 years.

My real interests include my wife, politics, socioeconomic issues, music, eating, sleeping, literature, and my dog (sometimes).

About Neil McDonald

" post mortem against Tal was the moment when I realised I would never be World Champion..."

Death on the river

I was born in Gravesend, which used to be the main sea port on the River Thames before you reach London. For two centuries petty criminals were put on board and transported from Gravesend to Australia, just like that guy in Charles Dicken's Great Expectations, and also no doubt the ancestors of one or two Australian chess players. Pocohontas, of Walt Disney fame, did the local tourist board a huge favour by dying on the river as she passed Gravesend, and is now buried in a local churchyard.

Into these grim surroundings I was born in 1967. I learnt to play at about 12, when I became obsessed by the 1978 Karpov-Korchnoi match in Baguio City.


I was rooting for Korchnoi who made a fantastic comeback from 5-2 down to 5-5 but then lost the decisive game. I remember seeing the final position of this game and couldn't understand why Korchnoi had resigned. OK, Karpov had two connected passed pawns, but I was sure I could have found a way to trick him. Jumping ahead six years, I got the chance to test this opinion when I played against Karpov in a simul' except he had three passed pawns, not two. But by that age I had ceased to believe in miracles. However, in another simul' I tricked Kasparov into a stalemate trap when completely losing, so perhaps youthful optimism is a good thing.

Defunct ritual

Although never outstandingly strong, I improved quite rapidly and became an IM at 19, which 13 years ago was regarded as fairly young. I then took part in a now defunct ritual which involved an inexperienced young western IM being invited to the USSR to have his Elo rating points redistributed among Soviet Grandmasters. I finished with 4/14 at Tbilisi 1987, but still won a prize for 'the best score by a foreign player against other foreign players', i.e. I lost against all the home players!

My post mortem against Tal from this tournament was the moment when I realised I would never be World Champion. The depth of his analysis was incredible. I think such talent is innate and cannot be learnt-World Champions are born, not made, though of course it still requires an awful lot of hard work for a genius to make it to the top.

Devoted to chess

After studying English and American Literature at University, I devoted myself to chess. For the next four years I played in mainly French Opens but without much success. The influx of strong Eastern European players made it virtually impossible to make a living.

During the past six years I have been primarily a chess writer and trainer, occasionally venturing out to play in a minor all play all tournament. Between 1994 and 1998 I played in 28 closed tournaments ranged across Europe from Ireland to Russia, winning ten outright with one shared first. I became a Grandmaster in 1996. My last outing was an uncharacteristically solid +1=8 in an International in Oxford, which amounted to equal 4th place behind Hodgson, Hector and Nunn.

Books and blondes

My ten chess books include works on the middlegame, planning and the endgame, besides some specialist opening books. I have written, jointly with Andrew Harley, a book called 'Mastering the French'. My next book, which I'm currently compiling, is 'The French Winawer'. I am also training three young players who all play the French as Black. As an escape from chess, I have written a novel along the lines of poor Englishman goes to Russia and meets willing blonde heiress...stay tuned.