(This article was orginally published here on this blog in 2011. Today — marking Tony’s 12th year since passing on–I have decided to reproduce it. For those who were too young to have ever met the man, for those who were fortunate enough to have met him, and ESPECIALLY for those who still hate him after all these years…)
If at first it was hard to believe that Tony had suddenly passed away in his sleep at age 46 (Nov 12, 2001), then it is even harder to accept that this past week marks a full 12 years since then. Time goes much too quickly…
I first met Tony in person only in 1987 (San Francisco) when , despite being a household name in England, he was already considering divorcing himself from English chess and moving to the US. Tony would speak to anyone who was interested, and I certainly was no exception. But what I noticed the most is that the English chess legend was very aggitated, very angry and very obsessed with his enemies back home (especially Ray Keene). Years afterwards , with the benefit of hindsight, it became apparent that Tony was already developing episodes of occasional mental instability…fortunately later when he took his medication he would become wholely normal.
If there is anyone in English chess more controversial than Miles, it must certainly be Ray Keene, who was beaten out by the young Miles to become the first grandmaster of the British Isles back in the 1970’s. I have met Keene on few occasions and my opinion of him (formed from these sporadic moments) is not so negative as his present day reputation or what Tony would subsequently tell me about. Ofcourse, not being English, it has always been pleasant to be able to distance myself from internal English chess politics….who, knows, maybe I might have also developed some mental health issues had I been born in Birmingham and was the focus of Keene’s wrath!?.However, I do recall 3 years before San Francisco having over heard Keene talk about Tony Miles and his influence on English chess. Apparently, some back home in England had already been wishing for an excuse to sideline the Birmingham legend. This was in the spring of 1984 in Hong Kong at the Commonwealth Championship, when Tony was one of the 10 best players in the world but BEFORE he had won back to back Tilburg tournaments (1984 and 1985). I was shown a clipping from an English chess column stating that the time had come for Miles to be sidelined…clearly Tony was not lacking in enemies!
Tony Miles quickly amassed a brilliant tournament record and even defeated World Champion Karpov in 1980 with the unorthodox 1…a6. He was to reach his peak around 1986, when Nigel Short replaced him as England’s top player.
In anycase, it soon became apparent to me as an outsider that Tony Miles did not get his deserved share of respect , recognition and admiration from his English colleagues and peers. Ofcourse, I am not talking about his many fans or the English establishment which awarded him with an honorary doctorate and more..No one is to blame for this, in my opinion, since the game of chess is played by individuals who often are –by instinct, if not necessity–way too competitive for their own good. Tony’s successes naturally created strong jealousies; his occasional failures gave his competitors ‘raison d’etre’ and reason to celebrate, if not gloat and write about it in public.
But I am getting off course. This blog entry is not really about Tony’s incredible successes or the enemies he made along the way. Nor is it an apology for Miles’ sharp tongue that often only served to fan the flames and intensify the –often hateful–feelings of some.I got to know Tony quite well in the late 1990’s when I became a sort of personal ‘coach’ or ‘trainer’ for him. By that time he had already slipped past his peak and the chess world had changed enough so that the open tournaments had all but replaced the round-robbins that Tony was more adept at playing in. Tony asked me to try to help him become –once more–one of the elite players in the world. Curiously, despite his great talent and success , he had never previously qualified from an interzonal! That would change in 1998 in Andorra, a tournament where I had spent several weeks with him preparing .I don’t know if Miles could have climbed Mount Olympus once more as he had done in the 1970’s and 1980’s: Tony was now already past 40 and over weight. I remember the day he found out that he was diabetic: he called me at home and gave me the news. It was a complete surprise to him, but his lifestyle for the previous 20 years should have given him some cause for worry. Tony was dead some 3 years later…from complications that are normal for diabetics. His heart gave out.When he died, everyone was shocked, especially since he kept his health issues to himself. I was one of the pallbearers at his funeral several weeks later. I remember ,vaguely, hearing harsh comments about an obituary that had been written by Nigel Short–the one who had replaced Tony as England’s number one–and I noted the outrage expressed about how one could publish such stuff in England.
”All is fair in love and war…even more so if you are dead!”
I did not bother to read the obituary in question. I had no interest; Tony was my friend and I already knew that Short was at times given to hyperbolic swings in his behaviour and relations with others. Besides, I wanted to distance myself from the politics of English chess.UNTIL I read a Streatham Blog‘s entry entitiled ”Ten years ago this week or a modicum of respect” that actually reproduces the entire obituary by Nigel.
I assume that the part that created a storm was Nigel’s unfortunate ”I obtained a measure of revenge not only by eclipsing Tony in terms of chess performance, but by sleeping with his girlfriend, which was definitely satisfying…”Well, clearly that part of the obituary should have been cut out by the editor. (It was not, but perhaps such commentary can explain why Nigel no longer has a chess column). IN ANY CASE, if you consider the overall obituary (ignoring the above nonsense) then it was actually a REASONABLE effort by a competitor of Tony’s, and the man who replaced him as number one in English chess. Could we really expect better?Perhaps Tony bears the brunt of responsibility for this: not for making so many enemies on the way up, but for having died way too early! But we chess fans are just spectators: we do not have the power to change what has already been done. And should we want to ? Life would be so much less colourful, and I know that Tony lived a very full, if way too brief, life.