Sep 222011
Which one are you?

It’s all about your frame of mind isn’t it? I mean, whether you perceive the proverbial glass to be half full or half empty. Sometimes it’s a close call though. Monday night’s first round match of the Calderdale Evening Chess League left me puzzling over which view to take. Ultimately I think I’m a “glass-half-full” kind of chap. Perhaps I should explain my dilemma.

I’m new to this team Captain business and whilst the logistical dealings of organising a team and getting them to a venue come to me easily enough I hadn’t anticipated some of the thoughts and feelings I’d experience on game night itself. I found myself paying quite a lot more attention to the status of my colleagues’ games and at the end of the night I found myself weighing up the value of the result much more extensively than I might have done if I’d just been participating as a player.

As I prepared Hebden Bridge ‘A’ for the season I did so with the goal of winning the League 1 title in my mind. Huddersfield won last season with our team a close second and I wanted to create a team capable of winning the title back from them. I think we have such a team but we’ve had to re-build. Dave Wedge has done sterling service for the ‘A’ team on board 1 for many years, but a career opportunity has taken him away to Cambridge. His son Matthew, coincidentally, has achieved a place at Cambridge University studying Mathematics and he was one of the ‘A’ team’s top performers last season. In addition, last year’s Captain, Alastair Wright, has decided to offer his services to Todmorden ‘A’ this year. That left just Nick Sykes and Matthew Parsons from last year’s squad.

So, we’ve started again. Matthew Parsons is now on board 1. He would have been even if Dave was still here due to his higher rating. We have managed to secure the services of Darwin Ursal on board 2. He was a board 1 player with Halifax ‘A’ last season but, as they were relegated, he wanted League 1 chess so we’ve have him on a “season’s loan”. Darwin hopes and expects to go back to Halifax next year assuming they can get one of their two teams in League 2 promoted. Last season I was in the ‘B’ team but playing on board 1 or 2. This year I’ve switched teams but will operate on board 3. Finally, we have drafted in Pete Leonard who was probably the club’s surprise package last year as he returned to league chess for the first time in many years and performed admirably in the ‘C’ team. In the end, on paper anyway, we actually have a stronger line up than last year so I’m confident that we can compete.

Round 1 took us away to Todmorden for the first tie of the new campaign. I suspected they would be able to generate a strong line up. Martin Hamer and Andrew Clarkeson (both very strong players) were only guest stars last season but this year I suspect they will be regulars. The addition of Alastair Wright on board 3 gives them a powerful top order. And so with my new Captain’s head on I suspected we’d have to win on the lower boards to win the match. In my experience this is always where things are decided in League 1 as the best teams can all field very strong and evenly matched players on the top 2 or 3 boards. Baring in mind that we’d all have the Black pieces this fixture seemed like it would be one of the season’s toughest encounters.

Half way through the evening I admit I was worried. On board 1 Matthew appeared to be under pressure but was holding his own against Martin. On board 2 Darwin was playing his favourite Sicilian Dragon variation but Andrew appeared to know his way about and was playing accurately in the opening phase. My own game against Alastair had begun disastrously as his chosen move order completely flummoxed me. I had ended up with a terribly uncoordinated mess (king forced to f8 by a massive White knight on d6 (!), queen’s bishop trapped at home with no prospects of escape, rooks disconnected and a knight on the h-file) and was reduced to hunkering down to a long night of misery grovelling for a draw.

Boards 4 and 5 appeared to offer the best cause for optimism. Pete had achieved a huge passed pawn on the c-file straight out of the opening against Chris Edwards and seemed in control of things and Nick seemed to have a very satisfactory position from another Sicilian Defence against David Innes.

There was a brief moment mid-evening when disaster seemed imminent. Darwin had his queen trapped in the centre of the board and, to my eyes at least, there appeared no way out without giving up material. As you’ll see from the game analysis below, it turns out my assessment was correct (most unusual) but Darwin found a tricky response and Andrew overlooked the correct reply. Darwin went on to play the resultant endgame very actively and accurately and deserves great credit for overturning a -2 previous score against Andrew (admittedly one of those losses was in the lightning chess format).

By the time Darwin had won his game Matthew had agreed a draw against Martin Hamer, an excellent outcome given he had Black, and I had finally given up the fight against Alastair who played accurately and without fuss to convert his huge positional advantage. My queen’s bishop was still on c8 when it was trapped at the end of the game! All of this left the scores even from the top 3 boards, proving once again my opinion that League 1 games are decided on the lower boards.

Pete Leonard put our noses in front with his first League 1 win against Chris. That left us a point up with one to play and it appeared we would win the match as Nick seemed to be well in control of his game. Sadly he then overlooked a tactic that left him with too much ground to make up and he resigned in disgust.

At the time it felt disappointing to draw the match when we seemed to have it in the bag despite my own abysmal contribution. The glass was half empty. Nick was gutted at blundering in a winning position and I felt thoroughly dispirited from the molestation I had suffered. However, by the time I had gotten home and tucked myself in I was feeling a bit more positive. Looking at the Todmorden line up before the match I’d have taken a draw if you’d offered me one and the other three members of our team had all performed extremely creditably. I also reasoned that other teams (even our closest rivals) would struggle to achieve a drawn match if Todmorden put the same team out for every home tie.

A few days later I’m now convinced that my optimism is well founded for the champions, Huddersfield ‘A’, stumbled to a 3½-1½ defeat away to Brighouse in their first match of the season. Suddenly our draw seemed all the more like a point gained rather than a point lost. Recent history suggests that Huddersfield are more than capable of recovering to challenge for the title. Last year they draw their first match and lost their second but then went on a 12 match winning streak to claim victory. They’ll hope to do the same again but for the moment my glass stays half full.

Whilst we are on the subject of optimism let us pause to appreciate this quality in Martin Syrett, our ‘B’ team Captain, under whom I served with great pleasure last season (and in previous years also). Martin has been the ‘B’ team Captain for a number of years now and he labours under the most difficult circumstances. He knows that the best he can hope for each year is for his team to maintain their League 1 status. He knows that if the ‘A’ team find themselves a player or two short he will be expected to weaken his line up to support their title bid. Yet despite these travails he maintains a jovial and easy-going demeanour no matter how desperate the situation appears to be.

Last year the ‘B’ team appeared doomed for the drop and yet he led the charge to safety as we rallied to win our final two matches and stay up at Halifax’s expense. This season I think he has cause for a little optimism. In contrast to the ‘A’ team he has only lost one player. Me. In addition he also has access to some players who distinguished themselves in League 2 last season. On paper they like a big hitter on board 1 to help protect the rest of the troops but all of his regulars are rated within 5 or 6 points of each other and that should provide him with the chance to rotate them a bit in order to give them all the chance to win some games and test themselves on higher board.

Sadly, on Monday night at least, it didn’t work out for the ’B’s. Matthew Wedge Roberts guest starred on board 1 for his final match before heading off to university and he did well to draw with Courier ‘A’s number 1, John Morgan. John was last season’s individual super star as he collected not only the Calderdale Individual title but also the prize for best individual score in the league. I posted their game in the express report on Monday. John appeared to have most of the pressure in the game but Matthew knuckled down and held his position to prevent his opponent breaking through.

On board 2 Andy Leatherbarrow played tenaciously against Dave Patrick and pushed him all the way to the end of the night’s play (when does Andy ever play a game that is over in an hour or less!) but in the end an extra pawn in a rook ending wasn’t enough for a win.

It was further down the order that the ‘B’ team’s night went sour. Captain Syrett seemed to be doing well but then lost a piece as the endgame approached and went down swiftly to Robert Clegg after that. On board 4 Pete Olley seemed to be a certain winner before he also capitulated in dramatic fashion. Finally, Dave Sugden, so solid and dependable on board 1 for the ‘C’ team in League 2 last season, seems to have had an early catastrophe in his game and also lost.

Hebden ‘B’ matched up favourable grading-wise on the bottom two boards so (having drawn boards 1 and 2) the margin of the 1-4 score was disappointing. They next face Todmorden ‘A’ at home before playing their derby match with the ‘A’ team later in October, so they may already be looking at another slow start to the season. Martin’s side should be able to compete and pick up points against the likes of Brighouse, Belgrave and Huddersfield ‘B’ later in the Autumn. They’ll need to if they are to help Mr. Syrett is to continue performing his little miracles.

Sep 212011

Today John Kerrane provides us with a report on Monday night’s Calderdale League round 1 matches. Match score cards and some of the games from each fixture have also been added. I’ll be publishing some annotated games from these matches later in the week.

To use the game viewers simply select the game you wish to view from the drop down list above each board. Each viewer displays a random game from the selection. The games are presented at a rate of one move every 3 seconds. To play through them at your own pace select the “=” button and then move forward and back with the arrow buttons.

Hebden Bridge Chess Club started the new Calderdale Chess League season with a bang on Monday evening, with all four of their teams in action.

The A team, playing away against Todmorden A, were held to a draw by the home side, who were aided by a win for Alastair Wright, former Hebden A team captain now playing for Todmorden, against the new captain, Dave Shapland. However, a win by new A team member Pete Leonard evened the account. The individual results were:

Todmorden ‘A’ vs. Hebden Bridge ‘A’
M. Hamer ½ — ½ M. Parsons
A. Clarkson 0 — 1 D. Ursal
A. Wright 1 — 0 D. Shapland
C. Edwards 0 — 1 P. Leonard 1
D. A. Innes 1 — 0 N. Sykes
2½ — 2½

The B team, playing at their home venue, the Trades Club, Holme Street found it hard going against Courier A and went down 4-1. Matthew Wedge-Roberts and Andy Leatherbarrow, on boards 1 and 2, managed creditable draws, but the visitors’ lower board players proved too strong for Hebden B. The individual results were:

Hebden Bridge ‘B’ vs. Courier ‘A’
M. Wedge-Roberts ½ — ½ J. Morgan
A. Leatherbarrow ½ — ½ D. Patrick
M. Syrett 0 — 1 R. Clegg
P. Olley 0 — 1 D. Colledge
D. Sugden 0 — 1 G. Thompson
1 — 4

The C team, also playing at home, held a strong Todmorden B side to a 2 ½ – 2 ½ draw, this time with strong play on the lower boards. The individual results were:

Hebden Bridge ‘C’ vs. Todmorden ‘B’
T. Sullivan 0 — 1 R. Tokeley
T. DeLuca 0 — 1 P. Logan
J. Kerrane 1 — 0 G. Bowker
S. Priest ½ — ½ R. Stoelman
N. Bamford 1 — 0 R. Pratt
2½ — 2½
As these game viewers are still relatively new to this blog I’d like some feedback from readers. Can everyone see these ok? Do they display correctly? Do you like them? etc.
Sep 162011

Matthew Parsons will be filling the
Dave Wedge-shaped vacancy on
board 1 for the ‘A’  team this season

Today’s post comes courtesy of Hebden Bridge Chess Club’s highest graded player, Matthew Parsons. In a post from earlier this week we covered off his successes at the Huddersfield Rapidplay and the Club Lightning competition but Matthew had started his warm up routine for the new league season even earlier as he explains below.

Over the Bank Holiday weekend in August I played in the Major Section (Under 170) at Leyland Chess Congress. With my ECF grade of 167 taking preference over my YCA (174), which would have placed me in the Open, I could have expected to be one of the favourites for the 1st prize. There were two other players with the same grade as me and one higher, Abigail Pritchard, who was graded 168. She, like myself, did not have the best tournament. I finished on 3.5/6, with 3 wins, 2 defeats, and 1 draw.

As you will see from the games below, the 2 defeats were nothing to do with my opponent beating me, but rather foolish errors from myself. In round 1 I over-pressed against a weaker opponent, searching too hard for a win, only to blunder in time trouble and lose. In round 4 I had a totally won ending which I messed up in terrific style.

My play was sporadically good, but I was definitely very rusty having not played over the board since March, where as many of the other players in the tournament had played in various sections at the British Championships in Sheffield earlier in the month. I also found myself exhausted each day, much more so than normal. That said, it was a good warm up for the league season and hopefully any rustiness is now out of my system.

In fact I finished 2nd at the Huddersfield Rapidplay Open Section last weekend, beating the top seed Peter Shaw in round 1 in the process, a player graded over 200. My play on this day was at another level to how I played at Leyland.

Here are the games from Leyland with my own annotations.

My thanks go to Matthew for taking the time to provide this report and annotated games to us. I hope that other players will find his thoughts enlightening and entertaining.

The Calderdale League season begins next Monday the 19th of September with all four of the club’s teams in action as both leagues 1 and 2 kick off. A full list of the season’s fixture can be found on the new Calderdale League website and all fixtures pertinent to Hebden Bridge teams can be found by visiting the “Calderdale League Fixtures 2011-12” page on this site.

Sep 142011

The new Calderdale Evening Chess League is just around the corner (it starts next Monday) and, in the time honoured tradition, Hebden Bridge Chess Club held its annual Club Lightning Competition to give club members the opportunity to limber up in a light-hearted yet competitive way.

In addition to this contest several members of the club joined other Calderdale players at the Huddersfield Rapidplay on Sunday the 11th of September.

Today’s post reports on the outcome of both competitions and we begin with John Kerrane’s report for the Hebden Bridge Times.

Report by John Kerrane

 As the new Calderdale Chess League season approaches, Hebden Bridge Chess Club held their regular warm-up, the annual Lightning Chess Trophy competition, on Monday at the Trades Club, Holme Street.

With the current lightning champion, Dave Wedge, retiring from active play for the club, the competition was wide open, and several of the stronger players were in contention from the outset. The early leader was Matthew Wedge-Roberts, but he was overhauled by Matthew Parsons, who finished the evening with 5/6, while Wedge-Roberts, with 4½/6, came second.

This result confirmed Matthew Parsons’s fine form for the beginning of the new season, after he finished second in the Huddersfield Rapidplay Congress the previous weekend in a very strong field. He managed to beat the strongest player in the competition, Peter Shaw, in the first round and was, in fact, the only player not to lose a game.

Next week, the club’s players, after limbering up, must get down to some serious business when the league matches start in earnest, with all four of the club’s teams in action on the first night.

So, Hebden Bridge Chess Club has a new Lightning Champion in the form of Matthew Parsons. He was a worthy winner. The final ranking table of all entrants is published below.

I know that some contestants were very interested in the software I used to generate the pairings and enter the results. It’s a piece of free software called Sevilla and I found it very easy to use. It probably saved us 30 minutes of time working out the pairings in between rounds so I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who wants to run a competition at club level.

The format of lightning chess often leads to some quite comical circumstances that you simply wouldn’t see in any other form of the game. In particular the rules dictate that there is no need to announce check and that any king left enprise can be captured to end the game. Likewise, any illegal move that isn’t picked up on before the next move is due to be made has to stand. When you only have 10 second to make each move these idiosyncratic rules come into play more often than you might imagine. I won two of my games on Monday night by capturing my opponent’s king and I’ve witnessed a game of Lightning chess that ended with one player having two bishops operating on the same colour squares! Neither player had the slightest idea when the error had occured.

A particularly amusing episode took place on Monday in the final round as two of the club’s less experienced players battled it out for the final point of the round. Tim Wilton-Davis was playing White and was up an exchange and several pawns and appeared to be cruising to a win when Tim Whelan, playing Black, gave check with his one remaining piece, a knight. When the buzzer went 10 seconds later Wilton-Davis advanced a pawn and, immediately realising his blunder, actually got up from the board in disgust to storm off. Meanwhile, Whelan, totally absorbed in proceedings, didn’t seem to notice Wilton-Davis’ distress and didn’t notice that his opponent’s king was enprise! When the buzzer sounded again he also advanced a pawn at which point Wilton-Davis returned to the board with a smirk to move his king out of check and he went on to win the game. Whelan meanwhile remained completely oblivious of his oversight!

As a parting shot for this post I’d like to publish Matthew Parson’s excellent win against Peter Shaw from the Huddersfield Rapidplay. This was a notable scalp for Matthew and he went on to be undefeated for the rest of the day tying for second behind Shaw who managed to win all but one of his remaining games to win with 4.5/6. The game below is published using a new game viewer (yet another!) by Casaschi. I’m hoping to use this viewer more often in future as hopefully I will be able to display all the games in a single league fixture through a single viewer. It’s only draw back is that it isn’t so good with annotations and commentary (there is a limit to the number of characters one can have in the PGN file) and so for single games with commentary I hope to use another viewer that is best for this purpose. As always I’d value feedback on the viewer below.

Sep 102011

Ok, so the cover looks like it was designed
by a simpleton, but don’t let that put you off.
This book is superb!

They are the words chess players hate seeing at the end of a scoresheet. Yes, today’s post is all about time forfeits. It’s also a first opportunity for me to offer readers a bit of a book review for a title I purchased recently called “The Joys of Chess” by Christian Hesse. I purchased it last month and it was the first chess book I had bought in quite some time. My attraction to it probably reflects my changing needs as a chess player, or, to be more precise, a chess publisher. That’s because this book is not an opening treatise or a self-help manual. It is pure entertainment and there is a bucket load of material here for a chess blogger.

To be blunt, I can’t recommend this book heartily enough. Rarely has the title of a book so aptly reflected its content. This work is a gem that has been some years in the making. Hesse has been gathering material throughout his 30-year career as a chess player (he is a Professor of Mathematics by trade). The format of the book makes it very easy to dip in and out of and so you don’t need to spend hours at a time pouring over it with a board. In my household we call this type of publication a “good toilet book” because you can easily consume a chapter during the course of a call of nature! The chapters are mostly fairly short and there are enough diagrams in it to allow you to follow the course of any play without having to use a computer or a board. The subjects are many (there are over 50 chapters in here) and varied cover such diverse topics as “Chess and Psychology”, “Quantum Logic in Chess”, “Retreats of Genius”, “Brilliant Bad Moves” and “Provocation”. I already know that I’m going to be sharing and expanding on some of the contents of this book here on the blog for a long time to come. Fans of Tim Krabbe’s “Chess Curiosities” will love it.

Amongst the chapters is a section called “Time and Time Forfeits” and it is from here that I would like reach for some entertaining examples for today’s post. I’ve written about time management and time trouble on these pages before and the drama of “zeitnot” can be most compelling for spectators watching a game. For the participants however it is exceedingly stressful and yet, some players across every level of competitive chess get into habitual time trouble.

On occasions the likely outcome of a game can be completely turned on it’s head due to one player blundering in time trouble or even running out of time. I’ve only forfeited on time in competitive play once or twice and I can well remember the anguish of feeling like I had wasted my efforts on a game that I had “thrown away”. Let’s face it, most time forfeits are conceded when the game situation is still unclear and often complicated. Losing in such a way with the potential of the game unfulfilled can leave a deep psychological wound.

For example, Hesse mentions Nigel Short’s traumatic loss in the first game of his World Championship match with Garry Kasparov in London in 1993. I had not long started playing chess at the time of this match and remember it vividly. Short had a winning position at the board but over stepped the time limit and forfeited the game. He never really recovered from that loss and went on to lose the match by some margin. As a small diversion however I’d like to recommend the following You Tube clip to readers which is very funny indeed and cleverly made…

Right, back to the task at hand. Hesse references two further examples of time forfeiture that I was not aware of.

Position after 35.Bc5.
Spassky vs. Hort, Game 15
Candidates quarterfinal, Reykjavik, 1977

The position on the left was reached in the penultimate game of a Candidates quarterfinal match. With the match score level the Czech superstar Vlastimil Hort had succeeded in giving himself a wonderful chance of qualification after gaining a winning advantage with Black in this position. An eyewitness to the encounter, Australian Grandmaster Ian Rogers, picks up the story.

“Hort had 4 minutes left in which to reach move 40, and his hand was over the queen about to play the winning move 35…Qg4. Just one of several variations is 36.Rf2 (36.g3 Qh3 is just as bad) Rd1+ 37.Rf1 Rxc1 38.Rxc1 Qd1+ 39.Kf2 Bc5 and White must resign. But Hort’s brain refused to let his hand play the move and the numerous spectators witnessed the horrific drama as Hort’s clock ticked down to zero and he lost on time.”

This is a bizarre case that seems to be analogous to a golfer getting the yips and being unable to execute his putting stroke. Hort was later moved to say in an interview “It was the blackest day of my life”. Truly it scarred him deeply for he was unable to win the last game of the match with the White pieces and lost the match never again to qualify for the Candidates cycle.

Hesse then recounts another extraordinary rabbit-in-the-headlights case of time forfeiture.

Position after 39.Kh3
Larsen vs Gheorghiu, Olympiad
Siegen, 1970

This case (on the right) occurred in another high profile and high stakes environment, the Olympiad, but this time there was some history between the two players that seems to have effected the Romanian’s psyche. He had a terrible personal score against Larsen and admitted that he found playing the irrepressible Dane to be extremely wearing. Never-the-less, in the position above he had managed to secure a winning advantage and needed now only to play 39…Nf3 (threatening 40…Ng5 mate) and Black will be able to convert his material advantage after, for example, 40.Kg2 Ng5+ 41.Kf1 Qxc4+ 42.Qe2 Qxd5. Instead of doing this however, the history books recorded another point in Larsen’s favour. In their book about the Siegen Olympiad, David Levy and Raymond Keene described what happened.

“Eye-witnesses of this remarkable encounter report that Gheorghiu stretched out his arm to play the decisive move 39…Nf3, but just at that moment the said arm was seized by a convulsive shake to such an extent that the Romanian grandmaster was not able to move the piece to the target square. As he tried to summon up the willpower to overcome this unfortunate case of paralysis he over-stepped the time-limit.”

The Larsen hoodoo had triumphed once again.

At least in both of these two cases the victims were aware of their imminent plight despite their physical incapability to doing anything to mitigate against it. In this last case from my own files the victim remained blissfully unaware of what lay in store for him.

Position after 61…Kc5

This is the final position from my third round encounter at the recent British Championships. It had been a tough battle and I had had my opponent on the ropes for much of the game. Having missed some chances to convert my pressure into a win, White now had the better of an endgame that was however, most likely, still drawn. Both of us were down to our last 2 minutes to complete the game and I was expecting my opponent to offer me a draw or try and play for a win. As I sat and waited, along with a gathering crowd, it became apparent to me that my adversary was not aware of the time crisis he was facing. He sat looking at the board as his clock ticked. He didn’t look up, he just thought… and thought… and ran out of time!

When I informed my hapless foe that he had forfeited the game he stared at me with glassy, vacant eyes and then, as realisation dawned on him, he shook his head miserably and said “I didn’t realise. The game is drawn. It’s a draw.” But unfortunately it wasn’t, he had lost!

I would only like to add by way of a salutory note that my opponent had arrived 20 minutes late for the start of the game. I leave it to readers to draw the moral from this tale of woe. 

Sep 072011

I’ve been light heartedly toying with the idea of referring to club members only through the medium of amusing pseudonyms during the course of the forth coming season. I probably won’t do it but it for a few minutes I enjoyed brain storming a few ideas. One idea came very quickly to mind and that was a ‘handle’ for one of our club’s newest members, Pete Leonard. Pete joined us last year and quickly made a name for himself by scoring 6/7 for the ‘C’ team during the latter half of last season and ending it with a new Yorkshire rating of 158. Quite a debut!

Over the summer months I’ve had the chance to play a few games against Pete and chat to him about his ‘first’ chess career back in the 1970’s and 80’s. After an analysis evening at the club he mentioned that he’d once played in a simultaneous event against one of my chess heroes and member of the true all time greats, Mikhail Tal. When my jaw dropped open in amazement Pete proceeded to dumbfound me even further by telling me that he secured a draw against the former World Champion with the Black pieces and using Alekhine’s Defence! Now I was really impressed and asked him if he would send me the moves for publication here on the blog. Today I am delighted to be able to present Pete’s draw with Mikhail Tal.

As Pete himself points out the game was not particularly in keeping with the great man’s usual modus operandi. In fact it’s pretty dull and all those who attended the analysis evening that Pete was asked to host at the beginning of August to replay this historic game were probably a little surprised to spend most of their time analysing a technical endgame rather than a labyrinthine, tactical, atom bomb. Never mind. I did at least manage to dig out some further details of the simultaneous display itself with help of the chess historian par excellence, Edward Winter from Chess Notes.

I sent Mr Winter an e-mail and asked if there was any good way to find out about the details of the simultaneous display which, at that point, Pete thought had been played in 1977. Mr Winter kindly and politely responded that he couldn’t really help because if he did then he’d open the flood gates for similar requests that he simply didn’t have the time to deal with. But he did say that he’d had a cursory glance through some reference material and wondered whether I had provided him with the right date because the only simultaneous display he could find that had been played by Mikhail Tal in Luton was given in 1973.

Of course Mr Winter’s brief research turned out to be completely accurate and Pete later confirmed that on closer inspection of his handwriting it turned out his game had indeed been played in 1973. I was therefore pleased to be able to tell him that both Tal and Svetozar Gligoric participated in that simultaneous event at Stockwood High School in Luton on the 16th of July, 1973. Tal’s score that day was +39 -0 =3!

Now I truly am impressed because achieving one of only three draws out of 42 games played that day is a fantastic effort. In fact, ever since I found out about Pete’s back story I have been jokingly referring to him as “The Man Who Drew With Mikhail Tal” or, palendromically, as “T.M.W.D.W.M.T” for short. Maybe we’ll use that acronym to strike fear into the hearts of our enemies next season for if we can deploy “T.M.W.D.W.M.T” in the lower reaches of our ‘A’ team then how good must the rest of the side be?

Sep 052011
This attractive pile of fruit and vegitables appears to have nothing
whatsoever to do with chess.
Welcome everyone to the September edition of the Chess Improvement Carnival! Hebden Bridge Chess Club are delighted to have been offered the opportunity to host this months feast of chess delicacies. 

For this month’s theme (as we approach the time of year here in the UK) I have chosen the “Harvest Festival” and, in the best traditions of this event, chess bloggers from around the world have brought forth the very best of their produce to share with the community.

There has been a bumper crop of material submitted this month so I’ve tried to divide it into sub-catagories for easier consumption. So without further ado, lets cast our eye over the pick of the bunch.

Training and Development
  • On the “Path to Chess Mastery” blog our host explains his methodology for analysing his own games and how this is helping him to improve his play.
  • Over at the “Empirical Rabbit” blog Bright Knight provides readers with the latest news on his tactical development programme and considers his future plans.
  • Back at the beginning of August I took part in the British Chess Championships for only the second time in my 18 year career as a player. It was a lot of fun, a fantastic development opportunity and also very hard work! I feel I learned something about the level of intensity required to be successful in tournament play. I posted a range of material about my preparations, lessons learned and (I’m afraid!) the games themselves. Anyone who is interested in this narrative can find them in amongst the August archive of this blog.

  • The ever interesting and thought provoking Mark Weeks digs deeper into the contents of a YouTube video he linked to recently, distilling some of its lessons as he goes.
  • Seasoned chess blogger, Robert Pearson reviews Andrew Soltis’s book “Studying Chess Made Easy” and concludes that it’s well worth recommending. Prompted by reader feedback Robert then expands further on his review in this second post.
  • Robert also points out to us an interesting article and illustrative game on Grand Master Nigel Davies’s “The Chess Improver” blog in which GM Davies gives an insightful view on “unfashionable” chess openings. This one is a must for anyone who plays Philidor’s Defence.
  • Anyone looking for a decent chess engine for Playstation 3? If so then GersFan1982 seems to think that the new Fritz 3 package may be the answer to your prayers.

Games and Problems
Our thanks to “Chess Improvement Carnival” originator Blue Devil Knight who furnished me with a wonderful sweep of his favourite posts from the blogs on the Chess.com website.
  • If you thought that game was interesting then you need to check out this one as Fide Master CharlyAZ continues the “Steel King” theme with a crazy game in the Poisoned Pawn Variation of the Sicilian Defence. CharlyAZ goes on to give several more examples of this phenomena including the Short vs. Timman game given above. An entertaining read! (On a similar theme, one of my favorite games by Alexei Shirov involves White launching an attack on the enemy king whilst his own monarch is perched precariously on d3!)
  • If it’s tests and puzzles you’re after then CharlyAZ provides another classic game for our education and enjoyment. This time readers are invited to participate and try to predict the moves played by Vladimir Kramnik against Garry Kasparov. It’s a challenging example of a “positional” sacrifice theme to test yourself with.  
  • There is another nice tactical problem to solve in this post by mis3u where you’ll have the chance to improve on the play of a Georgian Grandmaster. Double rook endgames are notoriously difficult to handle and this post shows that even GMs can mess up sometimes.
  • IM Daniel Rensch houses his own blog on the Chess.com site and in this post he reviews his performance at a recent tournament. There are three interesting games to look at too.

  • Jonny at “Smartblog” considers how playing chess can help boost your IQ and considers the intellectual benefits that players can derive from the game

That’s all for this month. See you all in a month’s time on another host site from October the 4th!

General Interest

Aug 192011
Kasparov never had a problem with expressing his feelings
at the board

“He has an extreme capacity for work, extreme determination to win and extreme perfectionism.” Magnus Carlson on Garry Kasparov

I’ve been reflecting further on my recent experience at the British Championships and in particular thinking about the attributes required to be successful as a chess player. By ‘successful’ I don’t just mean winning the odd game in the league but winning tournaments and league titles on a regular basis.

In Sheffield I experienced first hand the levels of determination and fighting spirit that were required to carry me as far as the top board of my section in the final round. I had to play some of the best chess of my life to do it. I also needed to capitalise on the odd bit of good fortune and some bad mistakes from opponents at crucial moments. But, I’d say more than anything else, I found it essential to consciously collect together my reserves of will power and determination before every game in a way that I wouldn’t normally do before a league match. This was the first occasion on which I had asked myself to play two games a day for 5 days and I found that maintaining the necessary level of intensity was the most challenging and exhausting aspect of the whole experience. It made me realise what it must take for the professionals to compete successfully at the highest levels.

Last week I was interested to hear the thoughts of Michaels Adams who won the Championship after a play off with Nigel Short. He was pretty open about saying that had didn’t think he’d had a particularly good tournament.

“…the whole tournament was just really hard work actually. I mean, nothing went smoothly really… I thought Nigel was playing much better actually in general. It seemed to me Nigel was winning games quite smoothly a lot of the time.”

I’ve edited this quote from an interview Adams gave to “The Full English Breakfast” podcast (well worth subscribing to by the way) shortly after his victory. Adams clearly felt like he’d had to work very hard for his victory and also mentioned that he’d had to save a few desperate situations, particularly against his closest rivals, Short, David Howell and Gawain Jones. Despite this he still emerged the winner and that was in no small part due to his resilience and strength of character. Adams may have thought Short had played a better tournament but it wasn’t enough to take the title off him.

Of course Garry Kasparov was the arch competitor and made his will and determination physically manifest during play. Having seen video footage of Kasparov in action it is fascinating to see how expressive and energised he was at the board. It’s as if he simply couldn’t restrain his strength of character from seeping out. I’m pretty sure that will to win gave him an extra 10% against even the most talented opponents and may even have seen him through the tightest situations against Karpov, who was himself an iron-willed competitor.

So, maybe there is a lesson for me in all this. I need to try and find a way of bringing the intensity I found at the British Championships to my play in the coming league season. If I can succeed in doing this consistently then I think I can be confident that I will play to the best of my abilities and that my results will improve further in 2011-12. Now I just need the discipline to apply what I’ve learned game after game. That’s always the hard part!

Aug 152011

Brause = German (noun). To fizz or pop in an effervescent way, like soda.

For this post I’d like to welcome back (after a slightly longer break than originally anticipated!) one of our guest columnists, The Swashbuckler. In his first post he set out his manifesto by sharing with us his Rules of Swashbuckling”. In this second post he starts his very own “Swashbuckler’s Hall of Fame”.

Hello readers. It’s good to be back to continue a series that I hope will become a monthly instalment in future. Today I would like to introduce you to the first of my swashbuckling heroes, Brause. Ok, so none of you have heard of him, if indeed I can call it a him! Readers will have gathered from the quote at the beginning of this post that the name is in fact, a nom de guerre — in this case the name given to a very particular chess engine.

Perhaps I should explain. Years and years ago (we’re talking mid to late ‘90’s here) I was playing chess on the Internet Chess Club when I happened to accept a challenge by a player called “Brause”. We agreed on a game of blitz and, playing with the Black pieces, I was most perturbed when the opening moves went 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3. “Oh dear”, I thought, “this is going to be a dull Four Knights Game. Perhaps I should have ventured the Latvian Gambit.” I paused for a moment’s thought as I tried to figure out how I could enliven proceedings in the next few moves and then played 3…Nf6. To my very great surprise the response was 4.Nxe5!?

Halloween Gambit after 4.Nxe5!?

What on earth was this? I paused again for a few precious seconds and then remembered that I’d seen this played before. It was a known gambit but I couldn’t remember what it was called. All I could remember was that it was supposed to be highly dubious for White.

“Ok,” I thought, “let’s just play natural moves and see what happens”. So I played 4…Nxe5 5.d4 Nc6 6.d5 Nb8 and thought; “This just can’t be enough initiative for the pawn”.

But it turned out I was wrong for Brause absolutely crushed me inside 20 moves! I couldn’t believe it. Ok, his rating was much higher than mine but he’d just played one of the most “swashbuckely” openings I’d ever seen and destroyed me. Wow!

A few days later I bumped into Brause online again. Again we played. Again the same line appeared. Again I lost a violent miniature. Now I was intrigued. Who was this Brause and how did he get away with playing this line? I researched the opening variation and found out that it was called the ”Muller-Schultz Gambit”. Every piece of writing I could find on it condemned it as tripe. Sure White could develop some initiative for his knight but not enough to offer real compensation. The line didn’t even seem to be held in high regard by the types of player who were willing to venture things like the Cochrane Gambit against Petroff’s Defence or the Traxler Variation of the Two Knights Defence. In the end I stopped looking at it. It just didn’t seem viable. Eventually I forgot about the Muller-Schultz Gambit and I forgot about Brause.

But then, this time only a couple of years ago, I stumbled upon an article by Tim Krabbé in which he described having had a similar experience on the ICC. He had faced a player who had taken him to the cleaners with the Muller-Schultz. Krabbé, however, had not taken it lying down. He’d done proper research (not like my half hearted effort) with databases and he stumbled on a gold mine of swashbuckling brilliance. Many of the games (over 300!) he tracked down were from online blitz games and lots of them had been played by, you guessed it, Brause.

But Krabbé went further. His interest piqued, he resolved to track down Brause and he succeeded. In his database he noticed something that I had not. Brause was an engine. Armed with that knowledge he tried his luck with the internet search engines and he got lucky. Arriving at a website he discovered that Brause was the fevered brain-child of one Steffen Jakob. This German is the chess equivalent of one of those guys who “pimps” their car. He’d taken an existing engine called “Crafty” and tweaked it. One of his tweaks was to adjust it’s repertoire so that it favoured lines like the Muller-Schultz. Over the course of two years Brause played the opening many times and, in between blitz sessions, Jakob built up a formidable understanding of an opening that he renamed the Halloween Gambit. In an e-mail to Krabbé, Jakob explained:

“Many players are shocked, the way they would be frightened by a Halloween mask, when they are mentally prepared for a boring Four Knight’s, they are faced with Nxe5.”

Visitors to Jakob’s website can chare the wonder of this crazy line because he has published his variation tree as well as a PGN database of Brause’s games. Jakob is clearly a generous man and I suppose that he is the real hero behind this story. The aspect of it that I find most interesting is that, through skilful and focused programming, Jakob was able to create an engine that played with the swagger and braggadocio of a swashbuckler on steroids! I’ve started to play the Halloween Gambit myself in blitz games — I published one such in my first post for this website. One day I might even try it over the board.

Personally, I think the opening should be renamed again in honour of the labours of Steffan Jakob and his swashbuckling chess engine. I think it should be called “The Brause Gambit”.

Here’s one of my favorite games from the treasury in the Brause database.

Aug 122011
A busy scene during the final round’s play at the British Chess Championship

The boards and clocks have been packed away and the players have returned home weary and battle scarred after (for those in the Open anyway) two weeks of exhausting action at Sheffield Pond’s Forge. Sadly, I’m one of a small number of players who will have left feeling slightly traumatised by falling at the final hurdle. I couldn’t write a diary post last Friday because the emotions were all still a bit too fresh. Readers will gather from this that, having worked so hard to get to 3½/4, I lost in my final round game in the Under 160 Championship. All I can say is that a simple straightforward loss would have been easy to take than what actually happened.

On Friday morning I found myself pitted against Roger Greatorex on the top board with an opportunity to take the title. I gathered that my opponent was a seasoned weekend congress veteran and I imagined that he would play solidly with the White pieces. This turned out to be the case as he deployed the Torre Attack against me. Normally this is the kind of opening that I’d just set myself up for in a solid fashion and accept a draw if my opponent decided to behave peaceably. I couldn’t afford to do that here so I tried to organise my play in a slightly more dynamic fashion by allowing him to double my f-pawns and then later exchanging my d-pawn for his c-pawn in order to open the centre and try and create an environment where I would get some winning chances.

You will see from the game below that I succeeded in my efforts and in fact my opponent seemed to get a little frustrated and struck out on the king’s side in a fashion that left him weakened there in the longer term. I was able to repel his sortie and then took the initiative eventually winning a pawn and then getting to a pleasant endgame. I got into a little time trouble again but handled it sensibly to reach time control at move 40 and felt confident enough in my position to decline a draw offer from my opponent even though it appeared it would be difficult to break through in a blocked position.

I found a way to achieve the break through and forced him to give up his remaining rook when I queened on f1. That should have been it. Game over. I had a rook against his two connected passed pawns and enough pawns of my own to be able to sacrifice this piece if I needed to and still win. But that’s when it all went wrong. I was struggling with the clock again and after nearly 4 hours play the exertions of the week finally caught up with me. I couldn’t find the right plan and my opponent managed to get both his d and e pawns to the seventh rank. The game was up. To make matters worse, as we were pretty much the last game to finish, I had a host of kibitzers demonstrating for me just how I could have won the end game in straight forward fashion.

That was that then. Off I sloped, feeling too sick with myself to eat anything before the final game of the second competition I had entered that afternoon. The last thing I felt like was playing another long game of chess but in the end I decided that I had to get back on the horse and try and win my last game so that I could leave Sheffield with the taste of victory in my mouth. I at least succeeded in this regard as I managed to win another game with my Classical Spanish. This game is also featured in the viewer below.

I was at least in good company in my disappointment. Nigel Short tied with Michael Adams in the Championship itself after 11 rounds had failed to separate them by more than half a point at any stage and they had drawn their individual encounter. This meant they had to play off for the title on Saturday morning with two rapidplay games which Adams won by 1½-½. Short must have felt even more disconsolate than I after that. There must also have been other players who tasted bitter defeat in the final rounds of their competitions. For those of you who are looking for some slightly better quality games to digest than those of mine above then I can heartily recommend the bite sized chunks you’ll find on Andrew Martin’s “Game of the Day” pages on the Championship website. These are expertly annotated and very instructive.

In the end I have to look for some positive things to take out of my week at the British Championships. I think generally I played well. I scrambled to save games when I got into trouble and I won a couple of very nice efforts as well. In the U160 I calculate my performance to have been rated at approximately 174 which is a good result. Nevertheless, the game I’ve been thinking about the most since last Friday is that rook vs. passed pawns ending. I think I’ll be thinking about it for a while longer yet…

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