By Gordon Cadden, Club President. Copyright reserved.
John Selwyn Evans died at Hastings & St Leonards on 7th October, 2015, aged 78 years. It may not have been a coincidence that he should have lived his last years at the home of British chess.
John has a strong claim to be one of Monmouthshire's most charismatic players. He was not a person that you could easily forget. His passion for the game stayed with him all his life. Slim, average build, his grey green eyes would look at you intensely, and there would be fast conversation when not playing chess over the board. Amongst his achievements, he claimed to have invented the Gwent Gambit in the 1960’s. This was a gambit pawn in the Scandinavian Defence, which re-surfaced in the 1980’s as the Icelandic Gambit.
John was brought up in Beaufort, Ebbw Vale. After leaving school, John became a Police Cadet, and eventually a full-time Policeman. But he was not content with life on the beat, and applied for a position as Cost Accountant at Richard, Thomas and Baldwin's Steelworks in Ebbw Vale. He was successful, and joined the RTB Works Chess Club. This is where he developed his enthusiasm for the game. This period would be the early 1960’s, when he would have married. They had one son by the name of Kevin, who joined him at the Pontypool Club in later years.
I played five recorded games with JSE between 1963 and 1966. We met on weekends playing in the Monmouthshire Closed Championship, and also in the West of England Zonal Competition for entry to the British Championship. Entries from Monmouthshire were included during this period. I moved to London in November of 1964, but often returned to Newport on weekends. I also met John in the Welsh Championships.
1968 was a memorable year. John was playing Home matches for the Newport Club, in the Newport and District League. He would play quickly, making sure that he would finish his game before 21:30, when he would catch the last bus to Ebbw Vale. The Welsh Championships were held in Aberystwyth that year. Distance did not deter John from playing chess. He hired a mobile home, and took four Newport players with him to Aberystwyth; Robert Graham Taylor and John Williams from the Newport Club, Philip A. Thomas from Hartridge High School, and Richard Miles from Newport High School. I was also offered a place, but decided that this would be too crowded for comfort.
Towards the end of the 1960’s, John was to join the Pontypridd Club, playing in the East Glamorgan League. He also joined the Pontypool Club, and became close friends with Nigel Saunders. He even managed to play for the Caerleon Club. His wife filed for divorce during this period. I do not know the reason, but the term “chess widow” was in common usage at the time.
I left John in the 1960’s, and we did not meet again until 1995, which was the Jubilee Year of what was now the Gwent Closed Championship. The organisers searched far and wide for past champions to participate. John was the joint winner with P. Cunningham in 1981, and I was the joint winner with Colin Gilbert in 1965. It was perhaps a miracle that we should meet, since John was living in Hastings & St. Leonards, and I was living in Hampstead, London. In appearance he had hardly changed, the Peter Pan of chess. He won his game, making up for the 100% score that I achieved against him in the 1960’s.
I believe that John was made redundant by RTB in the 1970’s. He found employment as a Mathematics Lecturer at Pontypridd. His life was to change dramatically when he met a woman from Bagdad, Iraq, around the early 1980’s. Her name was Wedad, and she was of the Islamic Faith. John married a second time, embracing her Islamic faith. John was successful in applying for a job as Sub-Postmaster at St. Leonards, on the Bexhill Road, East Sussex. He enjoyed a peaceful life as a Postmaster, and joined the Eastbourne Chess Club. According to his friend Sevket at Eastbourne, John played in the Mid-Sussex League, and participated in club competitions. His life as a Postmaster came to an end, when he was the victim of an armed robbery at his Post Office. He was left injured, and eventually decided to take early retirement. And so he joined the Hastings Club, which is open daily. His friend at Hastings, Rasa Norinkekciute remembers Hassan (John) with affection. He said that Hassan (John) had done the Hajj, the long pilgrimage to Mecca, he became a “mustati” and was proud of his achievement. To the Hastings club members, the man we knew as John S. Evans, was called Hassan. The transformation to the Islamic Faith was complete.
John continued to play chess and tennis, until shortly before he died. Rasa Norinkekciute informed me that his health declined in recent years, and he required dialysis. When the opportunity arose, John made the fatal decision to opt for a kidney transplant. The operation was successful, and John returned to playing tennis and chess. It was later discovered, too late, that the new kidney was cancerous. The cancer spread to his lungs, with fatal results.
John was born at Ebbw Vale in 1937. He is survived by his widow, Wedad, and by his son Kevin from his first marriage.
INNA LILLAHI WA INNA LLAYHI RAJOON