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Interview with Graham Brightwell, asked Leonid Shifman, photo 1997 By Harri Levanen

Please a few words about yourself, your occupation, hobbies, family?

I am 35 years old, and single. I lecture in Mathematics at the London School of Economics, which is situated in the heart of London. As for hobbies, well, I play (and write about) Othello .... I also play bridge, competitively but not seriously. Also reading, eating, drinking, walking, watching tv, films, and so on.

When and why have you come to Othello? What was your best achievements?

In August 1985, I found myself sharing an apartment in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA, with someone I barely knew. The first evening, he got out a blue-and-yellow Othello set and started studying. "What is this game?" I asked. "Can you play it seriously? How good are you; are you the best in Britain or something?" The game was Othello, one could play it seriously, and my flat-mate was Imre Leader, the best player in Britain (then and pretty much ever since). I know the type of person I am, so I knew then and there that I would learn this game. I lost over a thousand games that semester, won maybe three, and emerged as a good player. In April 1986, I beat Paul Ralle, the 1984 World Champion, at the Copenhagen Open, and in September of that year I reached the final of the Paris Open. This was more fun than playing chess for the University second team, and I was firmly hooked.

My best achievements? Reaching the Final at three World Championships (1988, 1989, 1997), I suppose. Actually in '88 I was very lucky to be there, but I was playing really well in both '89 and '97, and I thought I had a real chance to win both times. In '89 I played appallingly in the final match, whereas in '97 I waited until the endgames before blowing up.

How do you think Othello differs from other intellectual sports like chess, draughts, go, etc.? Why is Othello so unpopular in the world (except Japan)?

Yes, I imagine every Othello player gets asked this from time to time! I see it like this. If you come in to the middle of a chess game between two inexperienced players, you can usually guess who is going to win, namely the one with more pieces on the board. Same with Go and draughts, but not with Othello. In all these other games, it's easy to develop a notion of what the short-term goals are, and that notion will be roughly correct. In Othello, many of the short-term goals are nebulous or even counter-intuitive, and not many people get to be competent without begin taught by an established player. You need to suffer those thousand losses, but not many people (especially, not many children) have the patience for that.

Now, if there's a "critical mass" of players, like there is in Japan, with lots of novices at any one time, then the pool of players can increase. In Britain, and in most other countries, we get the occasional novice making the effort to turn up at a tournament, but then getting trounced by six experts and never coming back. From the outside, it seems to me that the Internet community is more like that in Japan, so there's hope for the rest of us yet. By the way, I don't think other "minor games" fare any better. The number of serious draughts players in Britain is not much more than the number of Othello players, and the average age of draughts players is _much_ higher.

Analysis of openings sometimes reaches beyond 30 empty, intruding the zone where the perfect endgame can be computed. We even have the definition of "Perfect Game". Do you think it might lead to the fading of Othello at least as a sport discipline?

Oh, the _definition_ of "perfect game" predates Othello. And we're still a way off solving the game. I'm not at all convinced that anyone/anything has yet played a perfect game (but I've recently been persuaded that it's at least possible that Logistello and co have found a few). As a player, I'm not about to give up because of it. Ever since I've been playing, there have been a few narrow lines that are briefly in fashion, then go away very quickly once it's agreed who they're good for. So, now the assessments will be done by computers, and thus be faster and more accurate, so fashions will be briefer, but there's no basic difference.

One thing I re-learnt at the last World Championship was that it's foolish to have an opening repertoire entirely composed of fashionable openings, because you might run into someone who knows the opening just as well, knows they're winning at move 30, and has at least some idea about how to convert the win. Mind you, I had a 60-move opening prepared for the event, that was a win for my side, but that took a week to develop, and I'm not going to do that very often. And nor is anyone else.

Thanks to the Internet, the world Othello community is increased every year by dozens of new players already familiar with the principle of parity and capable of using Stoner traps. What can you advise them to improve their skills even further?

One good thing would be to subscribe to an Othello newlsetter/magazine. The British newsletter is still the best, of course, even though I'm no longer Editor. ( British Othello Federation C/O David Haigh, 62 Romsey Road, Winchester, SO22 5PH, England, email: dchaigh@uk.ibm.com.)

But the most important thing is practice, especially against players better than yourself. I would also advise going to OTB events -- I know this is tough if you live in Argentina (or Israel, or Tennessee, ...) -- I've always found it to be a very different experience from playing electronically. Apart from anything else, you'll get to experience the social side of Othello tournaments. My real reason for going to Othello tournaments, in Britain or abroad, is simply to meet my friends. Of course, it's nice to do well in the event too.

What was your best game ever? Please give us at least brief comments if possible. I'm sure I'm supposed to nominate the first game of the 1988 World Championship semi-final, which was my most _memorable_ game ever, and has the advantage (for me) of being better without comments.

I am quite sure that there is a question that I haven't asked but the answer would be very interesting to our readers. Could you please ask yourself such a question?

Well, you might have asked what my plans are for the near future. I'm not going to play much this season, partly because I played a ridiculous amount last year, and partly because I'm spending the semester in Memphis, Tennessee, which is not known for its Othello scene.

Then you might have asked, as a follow-up, why I don't play over the Internet. The answer would be that, if ever I started playing Internet Othello, I'd find it difficult not to play a lot (I'm a bad addict), and I already spend too much time on Othello in one way or another (playing, writing, answering questions from editors, ...). Othello is not my life, and I don't want it to be.

Thank you, Graham for you found time to answer this questions!


Graham Brightwell very kindly agreed to answer to any additional questions you will want to ask. Please, send me your questions, I will collect and sort them and then send to Graham. His answers will be published in next issue.

Email: chessmid@netvision.net.il