Monday, October 11, 2010

Chess Discount Sales Shuts Down

After almost 40 years in business, Sydney's favourite chess store is closing down, thanks to the retirement of its owner, Peter Parr. This is all very good for Peter, of course, but Sydney will now lose a genuine institution.

I remember the first time I ever walked into that place way back in the late 90's. It's a cliche to say it, but the joint was an Alladin's Cave. Books and all kinds of paraphernalia - from Olympiad posters to old Russian text, historic scoresheets, you name it - filled this joint across its whole length from floor to ceiling. You could barely find the thing that you wanted, but the seemingly haphazard arrangement of things meant also the occasional fortuitous find.

One day I stumbled upon the original scoresheets to the telegraphic match between Australia and the then Soviet Union (I can't recall the year, but I think 1980). I offered to buy, but Peter flatly refused!

Nowadays you can, of course, purchase any chess book ever written online, with everything neatly categorised to get you started and checked out in under half a dozen mouse clicks (because that's what the e-commerce gurus say is best-practice). But, it is nowhere the same as walking into a mess of a place like CDS. And if you're really lucky, you might just run into a local legend or two. I believe Max Fuller is still a regular. Pat Halpin, too, can still be spotted from time to time. It was from Pat that I learned about the "Australian Attack" in the Sicilian Defence. You'll have to find out more from him about that one.

Most of our Aussie readers will have heard of Peter Parr. He is opinionated and sometimes controversial. Last I checked, he's no big fan of the current Glicko based rating system in Australia and he's had a few, very lengthy words to say about that. Yet, despite the reputation, this former Olympiad skipper and current NSWCA supremo is probably still largely unknown especially to our young readers.

Thus, we have today the first installment of this two-part interview with the man. Today we touch on the beginnings. Next time, we'll have the Olympiad, Campo and politics!

Note to reader: The interview was conducted via email. While the words are entirely Peter's, I made corrections to punctuation and layout for better reading.


(The Closet Grandmaster): I'm curious about how it all started in chess. I understand that your dad is a chess player. At what age were you when you first played?
(Peter Parr): I was at the 1946 British Championship and was at most British Championships in the 21 year period 1946-1967. I learned to play from my father at the age of four.

Any awards or notable achievements back in England?
My first London Under 14 Championship was in 1956 at the age of 10. I was featured in a large one page article in the London Daily Sketch as the youngest player and my father had scored 9/11 in the 1956 British Championship – the highest score ever for only second place!

I won the brilliancy prize for my win over Bill Hartston (later British Champion) in the London Under 14. Our school team [was] Sutton Grammar. Surrey won many inter-school competitions with my brother David on top board, Jos Haynes (later ACT champion), myself and Michael Prizant (now correspondence grandmaster) and his brother. I won the Felce Cup in Surrey 1965. Note : Surrey Champions are on the website but claims for some county titles e.g. Yorkshire Champions cannot be verified.

On that note, where in England is your family from?
My father, the then British Under 18 Champion, from Battersea Grammar School, London was giving a simultaneous exhibition in 1936 near his home at Clapham Common, London. A stray ball entered and my father threw it back to the girl, from Clapham North, who, of course, became my mother.

Of course, I suppose like a lot of Brits, you found a good reason to move Down Under. I don't imagine that it was just for the chess. Or was it?
I was working at Westminster Bank Wimbledon, London for four years where I became SMO (Senior Mechanisation Officer) on mechanised ledgers (before computers!) and was supervisor of 8 other employees (6 females, 2 males; one of the girls contacted me earlier this year clearly missing me after 42 years apart!) .

I played chess regularly for the bank and once played Sir Frederick Hoare, the Lord Mayor of London and founder of Hoare’s Bank where Queen Elizabeth II has her accounts.

Advertising at Australia House London for English migrants to move and live in Australia was widely marketed. I soon realised that wages were exactly double working in a bank in Australia compared to London and the cost of living in Australia [was then] only slightly higher than [in] London (times have changed of course).

The weather was much better, beaches etc, [were] far better than [in] dreary England and the assisted passage scheme meant I could travel to Australia on a five week voyage all expenses paid for just ten pounds. The only drawback of course was less chess than in London where I was ranked no 3 in my house. My application for a job at the age of 21 with ANZ Bank was approved by the London Head Office.

When did you move to the Lucky Country?
I set sail (I rose to the rank of AB in the Royal Navy Cadets) in February 1968 arriving in March 1968. My first game in Australia was round 1 of the 1968 Doeberl Cup in Canberra when I checkmated Lukic with a bishop on move 10 ! Later that year I tied for first place with IM Cecil Purdy (1st World Correspondence Champion) on 10/13 in a strong NSW State Championship beating John Purdy in the last round. I won the 4 game play-off match for the title 2.5-0.5.

Do you remember any first impressions of the local scene? Any particular personalities that made a mark?
In England I highly respected veteran Sir George Thomas who I met at many British Championships – a gentleman of the highest order - and the only player I met who was at the first Hastings Tournament in 1895.

In Australia the personalities that made a mark [were] Lajos Steiner, Garry and Evelyn Koshnitsky, John and Cecil Purdy and Fred Flatow.

Let's move on now to Chess Discount Sales and its beginnings. When did it all start? And I understand that the original store was somewhere near the CBD. What was all that like?
1972 had been a fantastic year with the Fischer-Spassky match. Myself, Max Fuller and John Kellner appeared on TV regularly each night demonstrating the latest dramatic games. Rosemary had taken over Cecil’s chess business and all players relied on chess informant as by far the best regular publication.

When the retail price rose very dramatically in late 1972, I discussed with a number of players if they would prefer to buy informant from me at about half price! I knew the editor, of course, GM Matanovic who defeated me in the Lidums International in Adelaide Jan 1971. The next issue I bought 40 copies and sold the lot in a couple of days making a profit even at the discount price. (A practice that continues for almost 40 years).

I then bought more books from overseas and Fred Flatow suggested that as I was selling chess goods at a discounted price I should call my business Chess Discount Sales. This was met with widespread approval and in early 1973 after paying a deposit on a dilapidated 2 storey house in Eveleigh St, Redfern I had 2 chess-playing tenants to pay off my mortgage and CDS was open 10am-2pm Monday-Friday.

I also had a full time job as a senior computer operator (midnight to 8am) with P & O Shipping Lines. I was also an entertainer for P&O (Chess Lecturer) on South Pacific Cruise Sydney/ Tahiti after TV programs.

You know, I never much thought that a living could be had from a chess business. But you've obviously done well for yourself. Any tips for budding chess entrepreneurs or former, ahem, rivals perhaps?
[In] 1979 I sold my two-storey house (for a profit) and decided to run a chess centre full time [on the] top floor 232 Sussex St near Sydney Town Hall. It was essential that as I was spending very considerable funds in rent and in setting up a chess centre with 80 very high quality chairs and 40 quality tables that the NSWCA support the Centre by holding all its major events there.

This was, of course, achieved with the whole-hearted moral support of all chessplayers in Sydney. I had over 300 annual financial members in nine months and the centre was open 11am – 11pm 7 days a week. My income was mainly from the centre selling coffee, memberships, ham and cheese sandwiches etc, and every NSWCA event was held there for over 5 years when my lease expired and the property was sold. Most unfortunate.

It is strange that over 30 years ago I was one of the oldest members of NSWCA council and now in 2010 I am one of the younger members of the NSWCA executive.


Chess Discount Sales is currently running a 30% off discount on all products. The store can be found at 72 Campbell St in Sydney. The nearest train stop is Central. Here's a map.

View Larger Map


tanch said...

Just to add:

I went there 3 weeks ago. There's a huge renovation project going on in front of the building and it's become slightly unrecognisable from the picture in your post.

Instead of going down via the usual flight of stairs at the front of the building, you need to enter through the main building door first. Then take the flight of steps down - it's just located a bit off right once you enter the main entrance. You can't miss it. :)


Anonymous said...

Sad to hear that Chess Discount Sales is closing down, as I have bought many chess items from there over the years. You are right, Sydney will indeed lose a genuine institution.

I enjoyed reading your interview with Peter Parr and look forward to reading part 2!

cathyc said...

Did you conduct part two of this interview?

The Closet Grandmaster said...

Yes, I did. It actually ended up being 3 parts. So here it part 2 -

And part 3

badger said...

Just arrived in Sydney to work for a while and the first thing I did was go to CDS for a set while here. Horror - no more! Sad indeed.
Next thing to discover was that there seems to be nowhere to buy decent chess stuff - and, believe it or not, I bought from India vie EBay a very good set at a good price, delivered FREE within a week! Thanks go to CDS for being there all this time - you are missed.