Biographies - Marr

The Scot's Gambit Cup

Johnny in play

Johnny Marr

By Bill Marshall

Johnny was perhaps the best loved member we've ever had. He joined in the 1960's at around the same time as his son Donald was demonstrating a precocious talent for the game. It would eventually become almost a second home for him.

I first met him not long after when I also joined at around the age of 13 or 14. A friendly affable man he was popular at the club and always had an encouraging word for the many juniors who were members back in the late 60's and early 70's. I remember a school trip to the Edinburgh Crystal Glass Works which was then down in Leith. Johnny worked there and recognizing me gave me a shot at blowing glass. He later came into the club with a hand made glass chess set - one side clear and the other side sandblasted to be opaque - which he had created and which was absolutely exquisit.

Johnny simply adored chess and, although he never pushed on to be a top player, through constant playing he developed a wily and imaginative style that could occasionally trip up the very best. He used to love telling the story against himself of when he would play against Donald, and the latter would remark "You're a very resourceful player, which is just as well 'cos you're no effing good!"

Still he was good enough to play for us in the Richardson - I recall a trip across a heavily snowbound landscape to a match where the snowploughs had created walls of snow higher than the cars on either side of the road. Johnny driving ahead with a couple of players in his little Austin A35 van and the rest of us following in Alec Chalmers' little Renault Dauphine.

The Scot's Gambit Cup

Johnny watching Mark Sanderson, another much-missed member

Geoff Chandler probably played Johnny more times than anyone else and has written affectionately about him in his old Chandler Corned articles. He was always around the club in the days when it was busy nearly every night and Geoff, who was caretaker for a few years, would often play him into the early hours.

I took 17 years away from the game then decided to go back to the club and see if I could still play. First person I saw when I walked in was Johnny! We shared some interesting games over the years and he was always a tough nut to crack even when age started to reduce his playing standards. You got the feeling that whatever new line you played he'd already seen it before. He was magnanimous in victory and generous in defeat - he simply loved the puzzles and combinations and beauty that the game produces and was happy whether it was him or his opponent who produced them.

Even in his 80's he used to cycle up to the club from his home near Easter Road. It was only later that I discovered that he'd been a keen sports cyclist in his younger days. And in his 90's he was still there, still playing remarkably well, and even winning tournaments and congress events only a little below his former standard. Whenever a team captain was short of a player Johnny would be happy to step in if it was legal to do so. Whenever a new player or a visitor to the city came into the club it was always Johnny that offered to play them first. He loved showing the bright young juniors that old folk could play a damn good game too, but was always ready with encouragement too.

I had the particular honour at one year's AGM of proposing that he be made an honorary member of the club - passed unanimously and with acclamation! - and will remember his expression of surprise and delight forever. I later presented the prizes at the Allegro Tournament we held in celebration of his 90th birthday. Of course we now hold an annual competition which bears his name.

He was simply a fixture at the club over six decades, and a large part of its character during that time - you went to the club knowing you'd see the Scots Gambit Cup and you'd see Johnny. He was a gentleman and a sportsman and I count myself fortunate to have known him. The brass plaque which we put up after his death puts it very simply and perfectly - "He loved chess, we loved him."


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