Oct 252013
 
Groundsman Willie's famous jibe seems to have entered the common vernacular. This image is used under Creative Commons terms and is sourced from xJason.Rogersx Flickr photo stream

Groundsman Willie’s famous jibe seems to have entered the common vernacular. This image is used under Creative Commons terms and is sourced from xJason.Rogersx Flickr photo stream

Bonjoooouur, ya cheese-eatin’ surrender monkeys!
– Groundsman Willie, The Simpsons, 1995

What possible reason could there be I hear you ask for starting this post with such an overt show of anti-Gallic sentiment? Well, by now, long standing readers of these pages will be only too familiar with my annual habit of celebrating the English victory at the Battle of Agincourt on the 25th of October 1415. This year is the 598th anniversary (whatever will I do when 600 comes up!?) and so, once I again, I’d like to pluck a recent morsel from my ‘giving-the-frog-a-damned-sound-pasting’ database for you to enjoy (or bemoan as is your right!)

This game was played fairly recently in a Chess.com French Thematic Tournament and it’s significant because I think this is about the furthest I’ve ever been into book in any game I’ve ever played. As far as I can gather the first new move in this encounter was Black’s 29th! I’ve chosen not regale you all once more with the theoretical ideas behind the opening phase because I’ve published quite a few games in this line that you can take a look at if you’re interested.

Anyway, I hope you’ll enjoy this game and, if you fancy an overdose of jingoistic Agincourt celebrations, then you’ll be delighted to hear that I’ve posted another thrashing of the French on the Yorkshire Chess website — though you’ll be relieved to hear that that one is in a different line of the Tarrasch Variation and it’s not one of my games!

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Aug 152013
 
Is it Brad Pitt or is it Pete Rawlings? Frankly it's hard to tell the two apart

Is it Brad Pitt or is it Pete Rawlings? Frankly it’s hard to tell the two apart

For no other reason than to convey the epic nature of its content today’s report is provided in Homeric style.

Like the Acheans flocking to the walls of Troy in ancient days,
So Keighley’s chess players fell on Hebden Bridge with minds ablaze.
They’d test the mettle of their neighbour’s will
And were hell-bent on seeing that their blood would spill.

Ten versus ten across the Trades Club were they ranged,
Some one-time colleagues now in enmity estranged.
Head to head and toe to toe did their assorted might
Now gird their loins and steel their wills to take to fight.

Pete Rawlings like th’enraged Achilles drew first blood
His enemy’s defences not as stubborn as they should.
How desperately his club mates need his services next season.
Will he sally from his tent or hold his reason?
His Myrmidon colleagues for an ending to his exile now do pray
Without him they are surely weaker for the fray.

Despite the clarion of their talisman’s tumescent start
Hebden’s lower orders promptly fell apart.
Dan Crampton valiantly launched a vigourous attack
But lost when his resolute opponent pushed him back,
And Ray Deraverairere lost his head so early
He dropped a knight and skulked off looking surly.

As Zeus on Mount Olympus, kibbitizing Matthew Parsons now observed,
How Hebden’s stubborn forces their integrity preserved.
For as the melee ebbed and flowed like wind-blown sand
They artfully and determinedly gained the upper hand.

First Josh Blinkhorn did like fearsome Ajax smite his foe,
Decapitating him with one great and mighty blow.
Thence Terry Sullivan bearing loyal Hector’s grave resolve
Did his game with some equanimty dissolve.

Andy Leatherbarrow (as once did wily Odysseus) schemed and plotted
Meantime Al Wright’s pieces became fused and knotted.
Precision blows upon his hapless foe did our Odysseus rain
Sending him reeling from the fight in shock and pain

A third win in succession shortly followed on
As Martin Syrett’s double knight and pawns ending technique shone.

Then came the final and conclusive torrent
To which the onlooking John Kerrane like Agememnon gave his warrant.
Labouring as did Hercules to cleanse the Augean stable
Nick Sykes fought on and on with rook and pawn to hold his table.
Whilst Dave Sugden did the same with calmly calculated plot
Just as Paris held his pulse to loose his fabled shot.

At battle’s end one final loss would Hebden suffer
Remorsefully Dave Shapland wished that his resolve was tougher.
He mourned like noble Priam for his hurtful loss
Though by his fortitude was his skilled adversary’s victory given gloss.

And all the while aloof from all the furious battle cries
Pete Leonard and Matt Parsons sought each other’s mutual demise.
For Bridestones honour they engaged in mortal struggle
‘Til Pete cracked and the yet unbeaten Parsons burst his bubble.

The deeds of brave souls on all sides did do Ares honour
As battered, bruised and weary they staggered from the clamour
To bind their wounds and mourn their fallen dead,
Until the next time they go head to head.”

Not quite iambic pentameter but there you are. The final match scorecard looked like this:

Hebden Bridge vs. Keighley
A.Leatherbarrow 1 – 0 A.Wright (W)
N. Sykes ½ – ½ R.Zaidman
D.Shapland 0 – 1 D.Dufton
J.Blinkhorn 1 – 0 M.Cunningham
D.Sugden ½ – ½ M.Bray
M.Syrett 1 – 0 I.Goater
T.Sullivan ½ – ½ F.Wrigglesworth
P.Rawlings 1 – 0 J.Byers
R.Deravairere 0 – 1 C.Watson
D.Crampton 0 – 1 J.Douglas
5½ – 4½

All games described in this poetic match report can be found in the game viewer below.

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Jul 132012
 

It’s been a while since I turned up something amusing for re-distribution on these pages so I couldn’t let this wonderful video clip pass you by unnoticed. It was created for the GingerGM (A.K.A Simon Williams) website which I highly recommend. The star of the show is the Burger King GM (A.K.A Danny Gormally).

Very professionally produced… and very funny! I hope there will be more.

Jul 112012
 

This week our patron goddess has explained to me why beauty will always play second fiddle to pragmatism over the chess board. Listen and learn ye hapless amateurs.

Jonasson vs. Angantysson, Reykjavik 1984. Black to play.

#6: No Beauty Without Truth

“Without error there can be no brilliancy”
— Emanuel Lasker

There are no prizes for artistic merit in chess. Not last time I looked any way. A pretty combination that doesn’t work isn’t really pretty. It’s just wrong and you shouldn’t have played it. Don’t try to convince yourself otherwise.

For example look at this position which Christian Hesse brings to our attention in his luminary book “The Joys of Chess”. Black now perceived that he could give up his queen by playing 26…e2 and after 27.fxe7 Bd4+ White resigned in dismay.

So was Black’s concept beautiful? Some would say so. However, had White not been an imbecile he would have noticed that after 28.Ne3 it would have been he who was winning. In the end Black won with an incorrect idea that his opponent didn’t have the talent to exploit. That’s not beautiful it’s just a mistake going unpunished and that is what really wins chess games.

Jul 052012
 

Bobby Fischer hated losing. So should you!

Once more our patron goddess has visited with me in peaceful sleep and honoured me by bidding me pass down her sage words for chess amateurs across the globe. On this occasion she asks that you to adopt the right attitudes. Listen well.

#4: Winning really matters…

“Winning isn’t everything… but losing is nothing”
— Edmar Mednis

However aesthetic and artful the game of chess can be, it is still, in essence, a fight. Winning is the aim and therefore winning matters. If you are one of those players who says; “I just enjoy playing really. I don’t mind whether I win or not”, then you are either lying or you’re a wimpy, pathetic loser. You clearly need to:

a.)   “get some nuts!” and;
b.)   learn from the attitude of one of the game’s most illustrious titans

Don’t even mention losing to me. I can’t stand to think of it”
— Bobby Fischer

 #5: …but losing is an opportunity

“Don’t be afraid of losing, be afraid of playing a game and not learning something”
— Dan Heisman

You lose a game of chess because you’re weak — period. Accept it. Maybe you lost concentration or you miscalculated a variation. Perhaps the game was a bit dull for your taste, or far too complicated. Maybe you were over ambitious, or too cautious. There are so many ways to lose a game of chess. Learning how to respond to defeat first requires that you accept your weakness, not make excuses and understand how and where you can improve for the next game. Losing is tolerable if it leads to improvement.

Jun 182012
 

Wilhelm Steinitz knew what it took. Needless to say having a massive beard was an important factor.

#3 – What it Takes 

“The stomach is an essential part of the chessmaster.”  –  Bent Larsen

Of course the great Dane is not implying that eating a lot will help you to be good at chess! He is suggesting that having the stomach for a fight is a critical factor to success.

Lets not mince words. Being good at chess demands scrupulous intellectual rigor, iron-willed discipline and indefatigable fighting spirit. There is no short cut. Talent and hard work won’t make up for a lack of these attributes. Fight for every game like your life depends upon it but in the knowledge that often, even this won’t be enough.

The first World Champion knew what it took better than anyone.

Chess is not for the faint-hearted; it absorbs a person entirely. To get to the bottom of this game, he has to give himself up into slavery. Chess is difficult, it demands work, serious reflection and zealous research.”
–  Wilhelm Steinitz

Jun 012012
 

 

Looks like they might be about to score one of my games!

As the London 2012 Olympics approach it is well worth chess fans remembering that our royal game is a fully paid up member of the Olympic movement. Sadly, our sport doesn’t get the same recognition as the others because chess Olympiads take place seperately from the main event. However, on the plus side, at least this pinnicle of team chess events takes place once every two years and not every four.

I recently unearthed another gem of an article by our old friend Colonel Walter Polhill who makes an interesting and creative contribution to the debate we’ve been having on this website about how to score wins and draws. This article was first published in The Independent on Sunday back in 1997.

There is talk, my sources inform me, of including chess in the Olympic games. While this is, in principle, to be welcomed, we must ensure that the conduct of the event, if it happens, conforms  to Olympic ideals. That is to say, we must dispense with the one-point-for-a-win, half-for-a-draw scoring conventions and and replace them with a team of judges who assess the games for technical merit and artistic impression.

At the recent British Championships in Hove, our best Grandmasters came out on top through considerable technical merit; yet in the quest for points, their artisitc impression sometimes fell short of the highest standards. Now here is a game which I would award an undoubted 9.9 for artistry.”

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May 242012
 

In the elysium of sleep a new missive has come to me from our patron goddess:

#2: Spouse Rules

Far from dropping rating points when he married Aruna, Vishy Anand became World Champion!

“In 1996, the players at the VSB tournament in Amsterdam sent me a card for my wedding with this dedication, ‘Anand congrats on your wedding. You were a great player, now be ready to lose 50 points.’” — Viswanathan Anand 

If you are in a long term relationship or have tied the knot it’s particularly important to observe the Golden Rule . Unless you’ve taken the highly practical, but most unusual step, of marrying another chess addict your partner will not want to be regaled about the subtleties of last night’s rook and pawn ending over coffee and Cornflakes the next morning. Once you are in a relationship it can be particularly hard to establish and maintain suitable boundaries between your relationship and your chess addiction. Learn from the tragi-comic story of Marcel Duchamp and set your boundaries appropriately.

Chess mania is certainly capable of causing marital disharmony. No cautionary tale is more graphic than that of artist and chess player Marcel Duchamp who, having already succumbed completely to his own chess addiction, made the rather naive decision to get hitched to a lady called Lydie Sarrazin-Levassor in 1927. On their honeymoon in the south of France he immediately proceeded to commit a heinous infidelity by spending most of his time playing games at the Nice Chess Club and studying problems (“self mates” I imagine!) in their hotel suite. Finally, his irate bride decided that enough was enough and glued his chess pieces to their board whilst he was asleep! The marriage only lasted three months after which Duchamp was able, once again, to devote himself entirely to his jealous and demanding “mistress” — 23/09/10

May 132012
 

Caissa, as she appears to me in my sleep

Throughout the course of history a steady stream of religious fanatics claim to have been in communion with their deities during the course of their slumbers. Surprisingly the patron goddess of chess players has thus far chosen to hold her peace. Now however I can reveal to you that she has lifted her head from the great chess board of life and has chosen to whisper her divine words into the ears of her prophet, yours truly. As Caïssa’s humble oracle I am directed to use these web pages to relay her guidance to the global amateur chess community. I must warn you that some of her instructions may be uncomfortable to read so painfully do they expose the general malaise in attitudes and standards that now prevails in amateur chess. I charge you to heed her words, look to yourselves, change your ways… and don’t shoot the messenger!

#1: The Golden Rule

The first rule of chess club is, of course: “Don’t talk about chess club!” The reason for this should be fairly obvious to anyone who wants to maintain relations with their non-chess-playing friends and acquaintances. No one is interested in what happens at chess club except your fellow members and if you tell anyone about your chess activities they will most likely believe you to be mentally unwell. Remember that the stigma all chess players must bare is for their passtime to be misunderstood, under-valued and ignored. This is the price we pay for our addiction. It is also why, throughout history, all of the misguided attempts to make the game popular amongst the masses have failed miserably. Our game has a natural appeal to the intellectual elite. Let’s keep it that way.

I will be issuing further proclaimations on behalf of the goddess Caïssa on a regular basis.

Feb 152012
 

Continuing with the recent anniversary theme, today we acknowledge a recent significant birthday for one of the game’s true titans.

The 10th Chess World Champion, Boris Spassky celebrated his 75th birthday on the 30th of January. I’m not going to regurgitate his wonderous achievements or indulge in any sentimental recollections about the ‘good old days’ here – well, not much anyway! There are plenty of folks out there better qualified to do that than I. Chessbase being just one example.

Boris was disappointed to see that, once again, his wife had ordered a chessboard-shaped birthday cake with pieces for candles

What I will say is that I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for Spassky and my feelings were reinforced when I saw the recent celluloid about Bobby Fischer. It seemed to me that Fischer was able to complete his match with Spassky in ’72 due in no small part to the Russian’s patience, generosity and sportsmanship. Spassky wanted to play that match and he put up with Fischer’s shenanigans despite the fact that they undoubtedly had an adverse effect on his psychological equilibrium and therefore his playing standard.

I could re-publish any number of Spassky’s great masterpieces. The one against Bronstein (Leningrad 1960) or the one against Larsen (Belgrade 1970) are the ones that most readily spring to mind and get trotted out whenever his masterpieces are considered. However, I’ll resist the temptation in order to bring you a less prominent encounter that may have escaped your attention.

Spassky’s 16th move of the first game in viewer at the bottom of this post was adjudged by Tim Krabbé to be the most fantastic of all “The 110 Most Fantastic Moves Ever Played” back in 1998. The game was played in the 1959 Russian Championship play-off in which Spassky and his opponent, Yuri Averbakh were competing with Mark Taimanov. I’ve put the whole game into the viewer but move 16 is the point at which Spassky (playing Black), after sadly reflecting on the misery of his situation, decided that 16…Nc6! was required. On his website Krabbé annotates this move as follows:

About his #1 greatest move, Spassky wrote to me: I have played 16…Nc6 because I did not see any other practical resources because my position was so passive. I was very surprised that Yuri Averbakh was thinking about 1 hour (!!) (55 min.) I considered that after 17.dxc6 bxc6 18.h6! Bh8 White would have two pieces up and they could manage the win very easy. Mark Taimanov: “I would rather resign the game than to make such a move…

 

It would be greatly amiss of me not to add that Spassky’s opponent in this game, Yuri Averbakh, was 90 on the 6th of February! I believe he is currently the oldest living Grandmaster. Chessbase also has a nice tribute and interview with him on their website.

To end this appreciation I would like to set straight a record that was recently made public by Vladimir Kramnik. I was listening to the Full English Breakfast podcast last week in which Macauley Peterson interviewed Vlad right after his win in the London Chess Classic. At one point in the interview Kramnik was talking about living in Paris (were Spassky also resides) and the fact that he hadn’t yet learnt French. He recounted thisanecdote about his illustrious countryman.

He’s been living in France since ’73 or’74 and actually his French is still not great. Once I visited him at his place and he had a big sign on the door of his bureau cabinet in Russian which was saying ‘Learn French idiot!’
— Vladimir Kramnik interviewed by Macauley Peterson for the FEB

Readers may think nothing of this apparently amusing story but, in yet another exclusive for this website, I can now reveal the true and rather more poignant origin of that handwritten note. At the beginning of last week I was alerted to the Kramnik interview by our erstwhile guest columnist, Lady Cynthia Blunderboro, who sent me this e-mail.

Dear Intermezzo,

Perhaps you will have come across the recent interview of Vladimir Kramnik by the chaps at the Full English Breakfast. In it he mentions a note stuck to Boris Spassky’s bureau cabinet that he naively assumes must have been written by Spassky himself and refers to his failure to learn the language of his nation of residence. 

Setting the record straight, Lady Cynthia Blunderboro

I say “naïve” because Kramnik clearer failed to consider some plain facts which point to the true origin and nature of the note, which I should add, I witnessed being written with my own eyes.

First of all, the note is, as I mentioned above, handwritten and if Kramnik had given it any more than a perfunctory glance he could not have failed to notice that the handwriting was not Spassky’s. Secondly, if he had taken a further moment to inspect the note he wouldn’t have missed the familiar size and stock of the paper which is clearly a score sheet from a chess game. Finally, if he had been minded to consider a potential alternate meaning for the three words in the note he might have deduced that the word “French” could in fact refer to the chess opening of that name and not the language.

The tragic truth behind that note must cause poor Spassky to suffer a pang of anguish every time he reads it. In 1977 he had qualified to play in the final Candidates Match of the World Championship cycle against Viktor Korchnoi, for the right to play Karpov. The match was played in Belgrade just a year after Korchnoi had defected from the Soviet Union. The bad blood between Viktor and the Soviet bureaucracy was just beginning. In fact some of the antics and psychological chicanery that distinguished the subsequent World title matches between Karpov and Korchnoi originated from the acrimonious dénouement of this Belgrade encounter.

The match started very badly for Boris who went five games behind. The main instrument of his agonies was Korchnoi’s use of the French Defence which Spassky for some reason found very challenging to overcome. In seven games across the match where Korchnoi played the French Spassky managed a score of only +1, =2, -4. Desperate for a break, in game 10 Spassky suddenly decided to consider his moves in his designated “relaxation box”, using a large demonstration board  to analyze his moves. He would only go to the board to play his moves, record them and press the clock and then return to his box. This tactic drew a protest from Korchnoi, but he was clearly unnerved and Spassky fought his way back almost to equality in the match winning games 11, 12, 13 and 14 by which time Korchnoi had begun mimicing Spassky’s behaviour to no avail.

Belgrade 1977. Spassky is the one in the sun visor!

The match descended into farce and relations between the two men had become very poor. By the time they played the 17th game Spassky had returned to consider his moves at the board but had taken to wearing a silver sun visor and sunglassed underneath a pair of goggles. He lost that game (probably because he couldn’t see properly!) and Korchnoi now needed only one more point to win the match. Fittingly, in game 18 (the second game in the viewer at the bottom of this post) Korchnoi deployed the French once more and Spassky tried the Advance Variation.

I was lucky enough to be sitting in the front row of the auditorium when this game was played and I can assure you the atmosphere was very tense indeed. Eventually Korchnoi overcame his opponent and when the formality of swapping and signing each other’s score sheets arrived I noticed Korchnoi turn his sheet over and scribble something on the back of it before passing it to Spassky. I saw that Boris took a look at the note and immediately turned pale with anger before leaving the stage humiliated.

Later on that evening, at a party held in honour of Korchnoi’s success, I got the opportunity to ask Viktor what he had written on that score sheet that had obviously distressed Spassky so deeply. Korchnoi chortled and said,

“Learn French idiot!”

I hope that this e-mail will go some way to redressing the inaccuracy of Kramnik’s statement which was in no way intentional on his part. How could he have known that this note of admonition was in fact a spur to drive Spassky’s opening studies and not his linguistic deficiency?

See you soon,

Cynthia

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