Boniface, Steve

STEVE BONIFACE (1951-2005)

Steve came to Bristol in the early 90's, or so I'm told, but it seems like he had been around for a lot longer because he did so much. He was everywhere, organising and controlling a huge number of events. Steve soon realised there were not enough arbiters in the West Country and so he set about changing this. I was one of the many people Steve trained and got through the exam. Once he had sorted out Bristol and the West he turned his attention to other parts of the country and must be responsible for a considerable number of the the new arbiters in the last fifteen years.

He also threw himself into the Bristol-Hannover Exchange: organising visits of teams of chess players from one city to another. He, and his Hannover alter-ego Frank Palm, revitalised the Exchange and I took part in a number of these annual events. Steve and Frank were tireless in organising, though they were like chalk and cheese: Frank ever the anarchist who would leave things until the last moment and Steve being the meticulous planner. I think Steve despaired of Frank on a number of occasions but there was genuine friendship there. On one occasion, Steve bought a subscription to Private Eye for Frank as he knew how much he enjoyed it.

Steve had other good friends in Hannover, including Bernd and Gabi Watermann. One day last year, he phoned me to ask if I would help him book a trip to Hannover on the Internet as he was going to stay with the Watermanns. He wanted the cheapest route, regardless of complexity. Eventually, we settled on a train and two buses to Bournemouth Airport, flight to Frankfurt Hahn on Ryanair, a one hour train ride to Frankfurt central station, with just a fifteen minute gap to pick up the last train to Hannover arriving about half past midnight. The total length of the trip was about sixteen hours with some very tight connections but this did not worry Steve. When he returned I asked him how the trip went. It was fine, he said, but he was very miffed that Bournemouth Airport security had confiscated his umbrella.

For somebody who used to work in IT support, Steve had a very practical attitude to computers. He saw them as a tool, nothing more. He never really took to email and was concerned that his address might end up known too widely and he would get swamped with trivia. On using computers for pairing tournaments, Steve accepted that there were advantages in speed but believed that software would never generate as good pairings as could be done manually. He would ask, for example, whether a program could ever cope with avoiding pairing two people from the same club who had just driven over 200 miles dead. He was playing for Civil Service against Horfield C - this was another piece of typical Steve, he knew Civil Service were short of players so he had moved clubs to help out. We chatted about this and that: I told him my cat had died and he said he was sorry because he'd really liked Jake and how was Anne taking it? I offered him a lift home if he could wait till my match was over but, no, he had to go and dashed off for the bus. You never realise when it's the last time you'll see someone.

One story shows, I think, why he was such a good arbiter. One year at Paignton, one of his favourite events, Steve had the evening off while the other controllers organised a blitz tournament at the playing hall. On his way back from the pub (almost certainly one that was in the CAMRA Good pub Guide) he could not resist dropping in at the hall to see how things were going. One of the controllers came running up: "We're glad you're here, Steve. There's been a dispute - could you sort it?" A boy of about ten was playing a man in his late seventies and the boy was winning easily. He got a pawn to the eighth rank and announced a queen, but not finding a queen to hand he left the pawn in situ. When on his next move he attempted to move his pawn as a queen the man claimed a win for an illegal move (they were playing the blitz rule that illegal moves lose). Steve knew the final round was being delayed and the man was adamant that he must have the win; the small boy was looking very confused. Having checked that the result would not make any difference to any prize money, Steve came up with a quick and unique solution. He took the man off to one side and informed him that he had won the game. He then did exactly the same thing with the young lad. One point each: truly a modern judgment of Solomon!   John Richards.

by Wilf Arnold