The doorbell rang. Standing there, masked, was a highly ranked chess player. He was delivering a plated lemon drizzle cake. Almost surreal except that his very good wife had made it for us as a diversion from worrying about our daughter going through surgery at the time the cake arrived.
This was a very pleasant coincidence. Baking cakes for people going through stressful times is something that my wife has been doing for decades. All of our immediate neighbours and many friends and family further afield have benefitted from the comfort of her cakes. They are usually orange cakes and they are always very good. So good that she’s taken to putting a dollop of mix into several ramekins and baking mini-cakes for the rest of us. And sometimes, special versions are made for the several grandkids who delight in getting a cake of their own.
We happened to be having dessert when the lemon drizzle cake arrived. I’d just halved some chilled, baked nectarines, served them with halved burrata cheeses decorated with orange zest and a drop of thick balsamic vinegar. So we followed the nectarine and cheese with a sliver of the lemon drizzle cake and it was excellent. Happy, we put three wedges of the cake into the freezer so that each of our three daughters’ households could share in the pleasure of it.
[On returning the plate a few days later, I overheard the bakers sharing tips including the unusual line ‘Do you boil the oranges whole?’ Socially distant baking tips. There was a lemon drizzle cake secret too. The fat was equally split between oil and butter and that seems to have made a huge difference.]
There was a third coincidence on the evening the cake arrived. I had asked the chess player to comment on the three Polgár sisters. ‘How did they come to your attention?’ he asked. Livewired was the answer, the David Eagleman book I read recently.
Susan became the top ranked chess player in the world by 15. Sofia’s legendary for her ‘sack of Rome’, a stunning tournament victory at 14. Judit, the youngest, is probably the best female chess player in history. Susan the eldest, may well be the second best female player of all time.
‘Have you met any of them?’ I asked. ‘Yes, I met Judit a few times before she retired.’
‘How good is/was Judit?’ I continued. ‘Nearly all grandmasters are men. Only Judit has ever has been rated in the the top ten’. I think that was enough of an answer.
I’d been reading more about this family because the parents had believed that geniuses are made not born. This made for daily chess lessons and in the case of Judit, she always had the best in the world to practice with. I stumbled over another interesting item from this male dominated sport. Susan was stripped of her world title in 1998 because she was pregnant. Encyclopaedia Britannica summarises the situation more adroitly: ‘Polgár was denied a deferment for her pregnancy and lost the title when she refused to comply with match conditions.’
And by the way, since the IOC calls chess a sport, I will too.