Chess ace’s comeback in the face of blindness

Partially-sighted chess ace Graham Pennington
Partially-sighted chess ace Graham Pennington

A determined dad has overcome his blindness to become an acclaimed chess player once again.

In fact Graham Pennington is so good that he is one of only four British people now selected to compete in the International Braille Chess Association Championships in Macedonia next month.

Former plasterer Graham started playing chess at just 12 years old after his brother Stephen taught him all the moves.

It was relatively easy to learn at this time because Graham was fully sighted and he used to play in the chess club in the Tamar pub, on Wigan Road, then began playing competitively around the age of 20.

But in 2006, when in his early 50s Graham lost his sight due to the diabetes he had been battling for years.

Facing these life-changing circumstances the father of one thought his chess-playing days were over and announced that he was giving up the game he loved so much.

But it was only after two of his good friends who recognized his skill and knew how much he loved chess encouraged him to continue playing that he took up his favourite interest again.

The now 61-year-old of Parkedge Close, has a Braille chess board where the black squares are raised and one set of pieces have raised dots on the top to help him identify them from his opponent’s pieces.

He has a speaking clock so he can time his moves and he uses an abacus to keep track of the number of moves made.

Graham has previously played for Lancashire and is now a member of the Atherton Chess Club and plays with sighted people here and in the Warrington League.

The Atherton Club were winners of the league this season and now Graham is getting ready for his trip to the Balkans with wife Kathleen next month.

He said: “When I lost my sight I thought that was it for playing chess, but my friends persuaded me otherwise and I am so glad that they did because I love it.

“I feel my way around the board and then visualise where I can next place a piece and I reckon now I am up to the standard I was before I lost my vision. It’s a battle of wits more than anything else.

“I do play sighted competitors and have claimed my share of scalps and I am so proud to be representing the Braille Chess Association.

“There will be representatives from probably 20 other countries in Macedonia and I am so looking forward to the trip.

“I am so glad that I didn’t give up my main hobby and I guess it shows what you can do in the face of adversity if you put your mind to it.”