Derek Oldbury
by Dr Martin Bryant

Derek Oldbury On Thursday 14th July 1994 a group of mourners attended the funeral of a man virtually unheard of by the general public, but who was a giant in his own field. Derek Oldbury, reigning World Draughts Champion, died at the age of 70. Oldbury's story is quite remarkable. Crippled at birth he was given only a few weeks to live. Only I guess nobody told him! After many years fighting against societies prejudices, his years of studying the game paid off when he won his first major tournament in 1950 taking the Scottish Open. Then in 1953 he won the English Tournament Championship with a massive score of 17 wins, 6 draws and no losses! Two years later he rested the English Matchplay Championship from the great Londoner Sam Cohen and then the British Matchplay Championship from the four times winner James Marshall. He then proceeded to retain the title, which he made his own for nearly four decades, against all-comers until retiring undefeated due to failing health in 1993. On the World stage he also proved a formidable force by winning the World Freestyle Championship in 1979 and later the World 3-move Championship in 1991 (at the age of 67!) against the American GM Richard Hallett. Oldbury's style of play was always exciting too. He was definitely a tactical fighter like Kasparov, trying to win every game. His games may have been objectively 'less perfect' than some other GM's but they were certainly entertaining! Oldbury was also not content with just playing the game. He authored several books and magazines including his 6-volume masterpiece The Complete Encyclopedia of Draughts. His writings are full of life and humour as was the man. Derek constantly reminded me of the great physicist Stephen Hawking. Both men had physical limitations which they just accepted and then excelled in their mental endeavours. If Oldbury had found an early interest in theoretical physics he'd have been another Stephen Hawking. But would Hawking have been able to make the grade in top class Draughts play? Not with Oldbury around! I once had a conversation with Derek about several other board games (which he also studied to a lesser degree!) and we concluded that we would need a lifetime to study and master each one. Perhaps if there is such a thing as reincarnation he'll come back as a great chess player next time and get the public recognition for his work as well. Oldbury was an inspiration to all those who knew him. He especially seemed to strike it off well with the younger players in the game, perhaps because he always seemed young at heart. In his sixties he bought himself a computer, not just to practice against, but he learnt to program it as well and wrote his own Draughts program! Oldbury never thought he was 'too old' or 'too anything' to do exactly what he wanted! Those who knew Oldbury have lost a friend, but British Draughts has lost it's heart and soul. He will be sorely missed.