As far as I can remember, in our family we always played card games and draughts. But my uncle Peter played chess, and one Christmas (I think – I was about 7 years old), I was given a chess set and uncle Peter taught me to play.
Later, after reading how James Bond taught Drax a lesson on cheating with a 7-clubs redoubled hand, I went to the library to teach myself how to play Contract Bridge. In the sixth form at school, English teacher Paul Davies started up a bridge club. I got keen, and it lead to my organising a pupils versus staff match (which I’m glad to say, we won). I also started going to Thetford bridge club.
Similarly, after read the chapter “A game of Mahjong” in Agatha Christie’s classic “The murder of Roger Ackroyd”, I bought a set from a shop in Thetford, and learned to play.
I never played very much chess, and was never a member of a club, until one year at university (I was, of course, playing bridge throughout my university career), I was in the same student house as a fairly strong chess player. This lead to joining the university chess club (as well as Hull chess club), and I ended up as team captain, whilst simultaneously bridge vice-captain (although I was never the strongest player on either team – far from it in the case of chess).
After leaving university, I never played either game much again. Some years later (it must have been 1989, I think), I was introduced to Mark Ivey in a pub in Preston. For some reason chess was mentioned, and we went round the corner to his flat to play a game. He wasn’t very good at all, and I beat him easily. He suggested he teach me the rules of Go, and I readily agreed. He gave me a 9-stone handicap, and beat me easily, but by the third game I had got down to 7 stones (I think I won the second game with 8 stones). “You’re getting the hang of this”, he said. “You wait”, I said drunkenly, “in a couple of months I’ll be beating you without a handicap”. “I bet you a gallon of my home-brew that you won’t” he replied, and handed me “In the beginning” to help me learn.
The next morning, I soberly reflected that I had better get reading if I was to win that rash bet. At the end of 2 months, I was indeed able to win (with the black stones, it took another week, I think, to win as white). Meanwhile Mark had got in touch with the British Go Society, we formed an officially affiliated Preston Go club, started going to tournaments, and I was hooked.
My friend in Reading, Tony Atkins, always stronger at Go than I, taught me to play Shogi whilst I was staying with him to attend a meeting of the BGS council. Unlike at Go, I was soon beating him regularly. This was either in 1995 or 1996.
In 1996 I finally got promoted to shodan. That August, I went to Abano Terme, in Italy, for the European go congress, flying to Venice (my first ever journey in an aeroplane, at the age of 36). Whilst there, Tony introduced me to Arend van Oosten, a 4-dan Shogi player, and several times European champion. He told me that the European championships were going to be held a few weeks later in Belgium. So I went, entering as 3-kyu (a guess – I ended up losing to 2 kyus and beating 4 kyus, so it was probably a good guess. Later, after joining the British Shogi federation, I was promoted to 1-kyu. ). There I met Thomas Majewski, who told me that Chu and Tori were the best variants. When I got home, I ordered sets of each, plus the Middle Shogi Manual, from George Hodges. And then I taught myself to play.