Page last updated at 12:14 GMT, Monday, 26 May 2008 13:14 UK

Antarctic challenge for chess ace

Ian MacNab
Ian MacNab was 8,000 miles away when he took on Boris Spassky

A British Antarctic Survey scientist has clinched a draw in an online contest with a former world chess champion during the Hay Festival.

Ian MacNab, based at the Rothera Research Station was one of 20 challengers taking on 71-year-old Boris Spassky simultaneously.

The scientist played "aggressively" during the two-hour game. Other opponents included comedian Dom Joly, Liberal Democrat AM Peter Black and a number of local chess prodigies.

Mr MacNab, 52, from Manchester, had said prior to the match that he was not "very optimistic" and Spassky did not have "much to be afraid of".

Spassky, the former world number one, famously lost the world championship to American Bobby Fischer at the height of the Cold War in 1972.

He played against all 20 opponents simultaneously on Sunday, but Mr MacNab was the only one who was not in the mid Wales festival in person.

I would describe myself as an amateur, but I was quite good as a teenager
Ian MacNab

Mr MacNab is a field assistant with the British Antarctic Survey on Adelaide Island, Antarctica.

A former outdoor pursuits instructor, he is spending the winter in a 21-strong team who are carrying out a long-term monitoring of environmental and maritime changes in the region.

Ahead of the match he said: "I would describe myself as an amateur, but I was quite good as a teenager."

Boris Spassky (left) playing Bobby Fischer in Germany in 1970
Boris Spassky (L) was one of the world's top chess player for years

Mr MacNab opted for a "Sicilian defence" and gained a spatial advantage over the Russian, who offered him a draw which the scientist accepted.

Onlookers from a local chess club speculated that at times, Mr MacNab had the edge.

"In grandmaster play, it would have probably boiled down to a draw, but in my opinion, Ian had a slight edge," said Jim Friar, whose son also played Spassky at the event.

After the game, Spassky said of Mr MacNab: "The man from the Antarctic is a serious player."

Mr MacNab said in an email: "This has inspired me to take up chess again."

The British Antarctic Survey has previously held darts matches by radio with rival local bases, but this is claimed to be the first time a chess match has been played against the outside world from the region.

An eight-year-old player was also be among the players taking on Spassky, who was born in Leningrad but now lives in Paris, and is still active in the chess world.

University team

The former champion, who learned to play chess at the age of five and became grand master at 18, moved around all of the players' chess boards, making one move at a time.

Mr Black, the Liberal Democrat AM for South West Wales, who used to be in his university chess team, was raising money for the charity ChildLine during his match.

The matches took place at 1800 BST on Sunday at Richard Booth's Bookshop in Hay-on-Wye.

On Monday Spassky was following up the game with a talk to the festival about his 1972 match in Reykjavik against American Bobby Fischer, who died aged 64 in January.

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