Feb 162011
H.G.Wells, a chess miserablist

“The true sweetness of chess, if it can ever be called sweet, is to see a victory snatched, by some happy impertinence out of the shadows of apparently irrevocable disaster.” – H.G.Wells

Lucky Sweatshirt Chronicles – Chapter 2

Readers may well remember that last November I posted my theory about an old grey sweatshirt that I possess which I believe may have mysteriously acquired magical properties. On that occasion I published some statistical analysis that seemed to indicate that my thesis was more than a passing fancy. At the time I also suggested that, having made my madcap ideas public, I would surely go down in flames in my next match whilst wearing the sweatshirt. As it turned out it wasn’t the next game but it did happen shortly afterwards and I consigned my superstitions to the waste paper basket of history.

How could I have been so rash? I have surely paid the price for my lack of faith. Since this poor result in the sweatshirt back in December I have had a pretty awful run of results which, I ashamed to say, has seen me score a miserable 4 out of 9. This sequence included a series of games where I scored a mere ½ point from 5 games. Such misery has befallen me and I have surely brought it upon myself!

Within this rather glum period though, there has been one bright spot. In January I played another round of the Leeds Rapidplay League and, feeling that a change in time limits might be just the thing to bring about a change of form as well, I donned the old grey sweatshirt (with no expectations whatsoever) and sallied forth to do battle against the league leaders, Hepworth Browne. With an International Master on board 1 and two very strong players on boards 2 and 3, our opponents were clear favorites for victory and indeed they did win comfortably in the event by a score of 4-2. But, guess what? I scored the two points and with a couple of nice efforts as well.

It’s back and it smells of concentration!

In the first game I had the Black pieces and straightaway could sense that I might be about to have a good night when my opponent allowed me to play one of my pet openings, the Budapest Gambit. The game continued in a fairly thematic fashion but White allowed me to grab first his h and then his e-pawns as I got a decent advantage. This came at a cost however as I got behind on the clock with plenty of complexity still in the position. In the game viewer below we join the action in the critical position after White has played his 31st move but the whole game can be played through from the start if you wish to see how the story unfolded.

The second game began shortly afterwards and at this point I realised that our opponents had been particularly cunning because my adversary from the first game now deferred to another player who now conducted the Black pieces against me. There is nothing in the rules to prevent a team from doing this, the only question was, would this fresh player have an advantage of not having had to suffer the stress of game one, or would he come to the game a bit cold? As it turned out I got yet another opening line that I felt comfortable with (this time the White side of a Petroff’s Defence) and when my opponent played a little inaccurately in the opening I was able to build up a decent advantage which I converted much more attractively than I could have expected to had I not been in the sweatshirt. Once again the critical position is shown in the game viewer below but the whole game is also available.

The power of the lucky sweatshirt had inspired me that evening at Hepworth Browne but this was a rapidplay game and I stubbornly passed off my success in the garment as being a fluke. In my next few standard time limit league matches my poor form continued. And then, last Wednesday night, the incident that will become known only as “The Miracle of Alwoodley” happened.

On this occasion I deliberately took the sweatshirt to work with me so that I could change into it before my Leeds League match against Alwoodley A who are top of the division and very strong. I had played my board 3 opponent in the corresponding home fixture earlier in the season and he had pasted me. The likelihood was that he would do so again and so I thought “I may as well put the sweatshirt on. I’ll need all the luck I can get”. Boy oh boy, did I get some luck!

The game viewer below shows the position at time control on move 35. I had strained every sinew to withstand my opponents nagging pressure and had got into severe timetrouble. I just made the time control but by that point I had lost control of the position on the board and all looked lost. What is more, the rest of my team, having mostly been soundly thrashed, were loitering in the bar and had left me to my agonies. They probably thought I’d be dead in another 5 minutes.

How to explain this extraordinary turn around? I was even winning at the end but we both had seconds on our clocks and I didn’t want to risk losing the whole point again. Surely, the only explaination for my opponents uncharacteristic meltdown was the lucky sweatshirt. A happy impertinence indeed! Watch this space for further adventures with the dirty old sweatshirt.

Oct 062010

All chess players know the truth of these words from French playwright Moliere. Blitz and Lightening games are strewn with errors that wouldn’t occur in games that take place under the auspices of the ‘normal’ time limit. Despite this undoubted truth however, some of us still mismanage ourselves into ‘time trouble’ occasionally. In fact I can think of several current and previous team mates who rather make a habit of it.

Experience suggests to me that, attitudinally, players tend to fall very firmly into one of two camps when it comes to time management. Either, they persistently get themselves into time trouble and then blame the clock for any defeats they may suffer as a result (how many times have you heard the “I was winning at the end but I ran out of time” excuse). Or, they virtually never get into time trouble and simply can’t understand how certain team mates regularly end up ensnared in time scrambles.

I tend to fall into the latter group, but once in a while I do get wrapped up in a position and fall behind on the clock. Usually this is in mid-week league matches where I get 75mins for 35 moves or so. At longer time limits I don’t tend to have problems and, interestingly, the statistical evidence also suggests that I perform rather better. Today’s cautionary tale comes from one of the shorter matches and on this occasion both I and my opponent got into quite acute time trouble.

After the game above had finished I’m sure that my opponent must have felt regretful about its outcome, I know I would have done. What really fascinates me though is whether he would have blamed himself for getting into the time trouble that cost him the game. When I’ve lost games on time in the past I know that I’ve tended to focus my frustration on the inaccuracy of my moves rather than on the lack of organisation and indecision that led me into the time shortage. You can see from the game above that both players made crucial errors when under pressure to reach time control.

In the end I can’t put it any better than Moliere really. The best course of action is to avoid time scrambles!

Apr 242010

Could there ever be a better excuse for me to post a Sicilian Dragon game than to celebrate yesterday — St George’s day? As patron saint of England, (and also of various other nation including Georgia I believe) St George has a special place in the heart of every Englishman. However, if you mention St George and the Dragon to a chess player their mind will also turn to the well-known variation of the Sicilian Defence. The Dragon is notorious for being a double-edged and tactically complex variation which has been analysed in great depth, sometimes to the point where it was in danger of extinction. However, Dragon enthusiasts are die-hards who love their pet and fight courageously to protect it.

My own history with the opening goes right back to point when I first started to learn the rules and play of the game. I’ve always been a bit of a sucker for myths and legends and so as soon as my tutor told me that there was an opening called the Dragon I knew it would end up in my repertoire. I learned the line, played it over the board when I could and, occasionally, I would cheer from the sidelines when the opening made an appearance at the very top flight of Grand Master chess — most illustriously when Kasparov used it to great effect in his World Championship match with Anand in 1996. (I wonder if Topalov will give it a shot in his match with Anand which starts today?)

My understanding and appreciation of the Dragon stepped up to another level when I started to use it in correspondence chess on the Red Hot Pawn web site. To play this opening in correspondence requires a much deeper familiarity with the myriad variations than playing it over the board. I’ve entered several “Dragon Thematics” online and in the later stages of these competitions the level of play is extremely high, much too high for me, but I’ve learned a lot by playing in them.

This Dragon loving is all very well but yesterday was St George’s day so I can’t possibly publish a win for black. Instead, much as it pains me to do so, I will give you an interesting win for white. Playing in thematic tournaments means playing against each opponent with both colours and so even the most ardent Dragon funs must face, and try to defeat, their own beloved favourite. To begin with this feels a little bit odd but once you have grasped the opportunity to play the lines that you find most uncomfortable facing with the black pieces it becomes a great deal of fun. I hope readers will enjoy today’s excursion into the wonderful and crazy world of the Dragon.

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Jan 162010

Today I give you an endgame position that I contested over the board recently. Endings are one part of my all round game that I’ve identified for remedial work. Many of my games never culminate in tight end games due to the fact that I’ve normally secured or conceded a decisive advantage by this stage of proceedings. Never the less if I’m going to improve my results I need to get better at playing endings. Recently I’ve been dipping back into the antique master work “How to Play Chess Endings” by Eugene Znosko-Borovsky and, although the going is heavy I felt like I was starting to make some progress. It seem I was wrong!

The game below gave me my first opportunity to my new found understanding to the test and I fear that I rather let the side down. The most challenging aspect of endgame play is the high degree of accuracy required. Judgement plays less of a role in this stage of the game and calculation becomes much more important. Even the smallest error can change the outcome of proceedings. Take a look at the position below.

White has just offered black the opportunity to exchange the knights off the board (with 33.Nd2) and enter into a king and pawn endgame. Should black accept or decline this offer? My recent studies have taught me that it is wise to have a clear idea of the theoretical outcome of the resultant position and how it should be approached before making a choice. King and pawn endings have concrete assessments you are either “winning”, “drawing” or “losing” there is no “unclear” or “equal” assessment. I figured that I was winning as after exchanging the knights I could play my king to d5 via e6, assume the opposition and eventually break through to win a pawn on the king’s side.

Unfortunately it isn’t that simple. I needed to look more carefully at the situation of the pawns on each side of the board. Who will be able to create a passed pawn most easily and who (without intervention from the enemy monarch) will be able to queen a pawn the quickest? The reality is that black must play with the upmost care to keep control over white’s king’s side pawns.
Play continued…

It’s pretty depressing to think that if it’s possible to make this many errors in a “simple” king and pawn ending then a more complex ending must be very difficult indeed!

Jan 042010

As 2009 turned into to 2010 I found myself pondering (as I always do), what did I learn about chess this year. Then I think about all those crucial lost games that got away and, eventually, I think about the ones I was most happy with.

If I had to pick one highlight from this year then it would be my discovering how to play a particular variation of the French Defence that I’ve been wrestling with for a couple of years. I’ve had the chance to test it several times in the last 12 months and I haven’t lost a game with it… yet!

Anyway, here is the game from 2009 that I was most pleased with in the aforementioned line. It took place on Red Hot Pawn where the strength of your opening repertoire is tested to the limit against the better players.

All in all, a pretty nice game for me as I made only a few small errors against a strong opponent.

Dec 192009
Well, it’s been a few months since I posted now. Time flies when you are having fun! My wife and I went to South Africa for our honeymoon for a couple of weeks and had the most amazing time. Of course when you get back from such an amazing adventure it’s easy to feel a bit jaded and restless. Between that and the build up to Christmas I simply haven’t got round to posting. The longer it’s been the harder it is to break back into it. Now that I’ve written this post I can feel the momentum building again!

The main impetus for this post was to report on the epic showdown between my team, Hebden Bridge A and Huddersfield in the Calderdale League. Both teams came into the match unbeaten. Indeed, neither team had even lost one game! As you may remember me relating in one of my earliest posts, Huddersfield are the current champions, the strongest team in the league on paper and the favourites to win again this year as a result. I gave us a chance of upsetting the established order at the beginning of the season, but thought it would be difficult for us.

We played the match on neutral territory in Halifax as Huddersfield’s usual home venue wasn’t available and this possibly gave us a tiny psychological advantage as I’d guess that “fortress Huddersfield” has not been breached in the Calderdale league for a number of years.

As we were the “away” team, we played with black on all boards and were marginally out-graded on every board except the top board (where both players had the same grade).Unusually for a fixture at this level the game on board one was the first to finish and it finished in our favour. Our top board seems to have Huddersfield’s top board in his pocket at the moment. He scored 1.5/2 against him last season and I’d not be surprised if he repeats or improves on this result again this year. It would certainly be fair to say that Huddersfield’s board one needs to revise his choice of openings if he is to try and buck the current trend. He played a Four Pawns Attack against our man’s Benoni and (as I’ve tried this line against him myself on several occasions) I can vouch for his ability to absorb the pressure and then kill you on the counter attack. 0-1 to Hebden Bridge.

Next to finish at the other end of the match was board five. Huddersfield’s captain equalised the match score by taking advantage of a positional slip from our player fairly early in the opening. White won a pawn and maintained a positional bind that our man couldn’t break. The rest was about 2 hours of torture. 1-1

The remaining three boards went right to the very death and, as the tension in the room started to become really acute I managed to salvage a draw in my game on board 4. I had gained a pretty good position out of the opening and begun to start looking for ways to press for an attack when I over looked a defensive resource and lost a knight for a pawn. The only other compensation was that I had a good initiative and some pressure against my opponent’s king which meant that I was pretty much obliged to just “go for it”. My opponent defended accurately but in fending off my attack he lost another pawn. It came down to an end game where I had a knight and four pawns against white’s bishop, knight and two doubled pawns and I was able to hold on for the draw and even overlooked a possible winning chance (see below). So with two games to finish it was still level pegging.

In the position above, I’d been hanging on for a while and by now was fairly confident I could hold for a draw. “Oliver” has just played 46.Bc3 to which I replied (pretty much straight away I’m ashamed to admit) with Ne4. Of course had I thought for a few minutes I might have found:

46…g5+! 47.Kxg5 Ne4+ 48.Kf4 Nxc3 winning back the bishop and maintaining a pawn advantage. It must be said that the resultant position looks hard for black to win but I could have had fun trying!

Next up our board three took a full point with a win on time. He had the better position when the game ended and had put his opponent under pressure for a long period. This had translated into a big time advantage on the clock which proved decisive. Suddenly we were up one point with one game to finish and looked like we might pull off a massive upset.

On board two our captain had been holding on in a tricky position for a long time. In a double rook ending Huddersfield’s man had a space advantage but it looked very difficult to exploit. Right up until the end it looked like our captain’s rear guard action would get us the draw we needed but sadly it wasn’t to be. White managed to get a passed pawn and it was all over. Final score 2.5-2.5!

What all this means is that Hebden Bridge A have a tiny advantage in the league based on our better “board count” in all matches (we have 19 wins to Huddersfield’s 16 over 5 matches played each).However, before the half way point is reached we still have to play our B team (who are third in the league) and Huddersfield play Halifax (who are bottom) so that points gap could be reduced to 1 point if we only win 3-2 and they win 5-0, which is entirely plausible.

So, if neither side drops any points for the rest of the season it could all come down to the last match in April when we will be at home and playing the white pieces. That is a fairly mouth watering prospect. Now we need to make sure we reach that match unbeaten!

Oct 052009

My wife’s pony died recently. As a child she had pestered her parents for no short period of time before they had given in and bought her and her older sister each a horse. The white pony was named, “Cream Puff” and for the last 33 years she has been a much loved companion and faithful friend.

My wife hasn’t seen so much of her trusty stead since she flew the nest but every time we have been up to visit her mother a part of the ritual of arriving at the house has been driving past the field where the horses live and shouting a loud “Hello” to them. Spending time with them during our stays was as natural a sitting down to dinner. A couple of weeks ago, when we got married, my mother-in-law presented my wife with one of Creamy’s shoes as a good luck charm so it was all the more poignant for her to loose her friend just a week later.

I’m not much of horse fan myself but I can understand that a special bond must exist between horses and their owners and even though I can’t empathise, it doesn’t seem right to let Creamy’s passing go unmarked on this blog. The horses I know best are on the knights of the chess board so maybe the appropriate thing to do is dedicate a game to her. Of course I’ve picked a game in which a galloping knight plays the starring role. It’s not much of a way to celebrate Creamy’s long years and happy times but I’m afraid it’s all I have to offer.

Sep 102009

I know that September the 11th is not the best day to publish a blog post entitled “A Very Happy Anniversary”! The selected title isn’t designed to provoke controversy. The simple fact is that I should have posted this item 2 days ago when it would have celebrated the third anniversary of today’s game. Sadly, I struggled to finish the commentary on time and now that I try to think of an appropriate alternative title I can’t come up with one that conveys the right sentiment without seeming equally inappropriate in some subtle way or other. It seemed better to just go with what I had and recognise that the title isn’t a good one for the date. I hope readers will forgive me.

As I cast about in my game books to try and find a suitable effort to put on this blog for my first game posting I realised that the game below was played on the 9th of September, 2006, almost exactly three years ago. “What convenient timing” I thought. It also happens to be one of the best over-the-board games I’ve played and it therefore must qualify as suitable first game to publish.

This game was my first league match for Hebden Bridge B in the Calderdale League, Division 1. We were playing against our own “A” team and, as I was playing on board 1, I was, naturally, playing the clubs highest rated player.

At this point I should ‘fes up to a couple of factors that swung the outcome of this game in my favour before we even sat down to play. The first is that I was new to the club and therefore very few players knew anything about either my opening repertoire or my style. The second was that I had managed to get some inside knowledge on my opponent from a colleague and, as I also knew that I would be playing black, I had the chance to prepare for this game with a fairly good idea in my mind about the direction that the game would take.

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Despite the fact that I had the advantage of my opponent in terms of preparation for this game, I still regard this as one of my very best efforts as I don’t think I really made any errors or missed any opportunities here. It isn’t very often that I can say this about any of my games!

I hope you enjoyed this one. Feel free to post any thoughts or improvements you find.