The title of grandmaster is the chess equivalent of a peerage. Once something very special, it has become devalued by a mixture of numerical inflation and the suspicion that the title can be bought through payments to the right people. Yet in the relatively innocent 1970s, when the grandmaster title really meant something, it was a matter of deep concern among chess promoters in this country that no Briton had ever performed well enough to be awarded the accolade Tsar Nicholas II created in 1914.
Thus it was that Jim Slater, the English financier whose last-minute prize fund supplement of $125,000 had persuaded Bobby Fischer to play Boris Spassky for the world title in 1972, opened his wallet again to offer £5,000 to the first Briton to claim the title of grandmaster. That might seem like a small sum, but then, and especially to chess players more used to prizes in the hundreds of pounds, it was a dramatic incentive.
Appropriately, the man who picked up Slater's cash offer was someone who despised the British tradition of chess amateurism, dominated by Oxbridge graduates, and had determined to make a career of it. This was Anthony Miles, who in 1974 had become the first (and only) Briton to win the world junior chess championship; then in February 1976 at the age of 20 he achieved his second and final grandmaster "norm", playing in the snowbound Russian scientific centre of Dubna and beating the Soviets at their own game.
Until then, British chessplayers had regarded the Russians as superhumans, to whom deference was owed and any draw offer eagerly accepted. The Birmingham-born and-based Miles was a different beast entirely. He appeared to have an invincible and un-English self-confidence, arrogance even. He treated the highest-ranking Soviet grandmasters as equals, at best, and would try to beat them in every game.