Norris wins on Material Girl

A LEADING player in the new world of celebrity chess has turned out to be a little-known Scot.

Alan Norris, the Scottish chess champion (picture JBH), last week confirmed that he was tutoring Madonna and her new husband Guy Ritchie, the film director, among others.

The couple are following in the footsteps of Sting, who is a chess fanatic, but senior figures in the chess world say there has been a significant upsurge of interest in the game from other rock and film stars.

Bono of U2, Stephen Fry, the comedian and actor, Greta Scacchi, the actress, Martin Amis, the author, and Lennox Lewis, the world heavyweight boxing champion, have all emerged as serious players. Lennox has taught his corner team to play, while Sting plays with Chris Botti, his trumpet player.

Chris Evans, the Channel 4 presenter, attended the party for the world championships in London in October and Timothy Dalton, the former James Bond actor, bought a wooden chess set for £200 at the London Chess Centre last Thursday.

Norris refused to disclose whether Madonna was a better player than Ritchie, but Malcolm Pein, the international chess master, said Sting was a leading player in the pop world. "The band play fanatically when they're on tour," he said, describing the singer as "a good club-level player." Despite his "club-class" status, Sting and his band took on former world champion Gary Kasparov simultaneously at a charity match in New York last June. Botti resigned and Sting was promptly defeated.

However, Sting might have more luck if he takes on Jude Law, the leading British actor and heart-throb. Law's former primary school teacher has revealed that the star of The Talented Mr Ripley used to be a keen chess player, often devoting four lunchtimes a week at school to the game. Alan Stonebridge used to encourage more than 100 children a year to play chess in the lunch break at the John Ball primary school in Blackheath, southeast London, where Law was a pupil. "I've always felt a competitive streak makes you good, and he had that in football and in chess," said Stonebridge.

Ritchie's agent claimed that his client was a "chess wizard", but John Ritchie, the film director's father, said he was surprised by his son's decision to take top-level tuition.

While the chess board is fast challenging the mirror as the celebrity's flat surface of choice, the game itself has taken on some aspects of the celebrity world. The British Chess Federation has just publicised guidelines on drug testing. The game is also developing its own pin-ups. David Norwood, a multi-millionaire stockbroker, recently became a grandmaster and is now rarely seen without an entourage of glamorous women. "He has women who are besotted with him. He's had a string of attractive females following him," said Raymond Keene, grandmaster and chess writer for The Sunday Times.

Keene welcomed the interest of celebrities in the game. "It's great, because chess is good for your mind," he said. "I think the more high-profile people who play chess, the more popular it will become, in the same way that if you found Madonna was keen on solving quadratic equations, that would be good for maths in this country."

Story from Sunday Times Scotland, Jan 7, 2001 See also Chessbase