Nov 052013

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Oct 282011

"Bobby felt very at ease with animals and children, but not adults" - Harry Benson

Like many chess enthusiasts I was fascinated by the prospect of seeing the recent biopic about the greatest of all chess enigmas, Bobby Fischer.

I am a member of the post-Fischer generation in that I started playing long after he had disappeared from public life. Of course I’ve heard so many of my elders talk in rapt terms about his genius and one can get a feeling for this by playing through his legacy of great games.

Unfortunately, what you can’t do is get any kind of impression of the man himself or the astounding impact he made on the world (not just the chess world) in 1972 when he played Boris Spassky for the World title in Iceland. It was this aspect of Fischer, as a man, and a global phenomena that I found so enthralling about the film.

The Director, Liz Garbus, had gone to great lengths to pull together as much archive interview footage of Fischer as she could and this really gave you a feel for the kind of man he was. Quite a lot was made of his lonely and damaged child-hood. This was put forward as the predominant reason why the stubborn, self-reliant streak that helped him become so successful also transformed him into a rampant paranoid delusional in later life.

Many of the photos taken by Benson in Iceland give a real feeling for the "lonliness and isolationof the position he was in".

Probably the aspect of the film that captivated me the most was the photography of Harry Benson. He was chosen to shoot Fischer for LIFE magazine at the Buenos Aires Candidates Tournament the year before Reykjavik and became, if not a friend, then at least a companion to Fischer during that period of his life. Evidently Garbus had approached Benson during her preparations for the film and had been amazed to find that he had a large collection of photographs that had never been published. They are amazing, a real window into Fischer’s soul. Much more than the interview footage, in which Fischer always seems so guarded and defensive. After I’d watched the film I was delighted to find out that Benson had subsequently published a book of his Fischer photographs and I immediately rushed to Amazon to buy it.

I’d certainly urge anyone who has an interest in chess to see the film when you get the chance. Just don’t expect lots of involved chess content. There is plenty about the 1972 match in Reykjavik but it is covered mostly from a personal and political angle. All-in-all it’s a really superbly made glimpse into the life of this brilliant, complicated and damaged man.

On a lighter note, one famous Fischer anecdote that didn’t make it into the film is a story that Hungarian Grandmaster Laszlo Szabo must have dined out on many times. At the Buenos Aires international tournament of 1960, he and Fischer had adjacent hotel rooms. One night, someone brought a young woman to Bobby’s room. The following morning it happened that both Fischer and Szabo left their rooms at the same time and Szabo shot an enquiring glance at Fischer who responded by simply saying: “Chess is better.”

All of this thinking about Bobby Fischer put me back in a frame of mind to look at some of his games and then I remembered the game and comments published by Walter Polhill in The Independent on Sunday back in the late 1990’s. Polhill selects a very unusual Fischer game that has a real splash of humour in it. Playing against Ulf Andersson, who had a reputation for labarinthine strategic and manoeuvring play, Fischer chooses to adopt the style himself and delivers a masterpiece. Enjoy!

By far the greatest player the world has ever seen, Bobby Fischer was also a superb parodist. The following victory of his is often dismissed as a mere display of attacking imagination. Yet making such an assessment would be to overlook one of the finest acheivements of the parodic art this century.”

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Download games
ChessTempo PGN Viewer

Oct 202011

There’s a lot going on across the Calderdale and Yorkshire chess circuit at the moment. Today I’d like to take a short pause for breath to round up some of the news and results you may have missed.

Calderdale Individual Championship 2011-12

This year’s championship is being hosted by the Belgrave and Courier Chess Clubs at the Belgrave Social Club on Claremount Road in Halifax. As always there are 5 rounds and these take place on the first or second Monday of the month from November through to March. This year’s schedule is as follows:
  • Round 1: 7th of November, 2011
  • Round 2: 12th of December, 2011
  • Round 3: 9th of January, 2012
  • Round 4: 13th of February, 2012
  • Round 5: 12th of March, 2012
Pairings for each round will be posted at 19.30 and play will begin promptly at 19.45. Entry for this year’s competition costs £3.50 and £2.50 for juniors.
Anyone interested in registering to play in this event should contact this year’s organiser, Paul Edwards, by e-mailing him at: clic2012@gmail.com
Entry fees can be paid on the night of the first round but you must pay before the start of play.
As an aside from the details of the competition I must say that it’s great to see another club other than our own hosting this year’s competition and I’d like to wish Paul the very best with the organisation. Here’s hoping that Hebden Bridge players will continue to support the championship just as enthusiastically as we have done in recent years. I am hoping to once again provide extensive coverage of the competition as it progresses right here. Get yourselves signed up.

Yorkshire Chess Association website

Hot off the press is this new website that acts as a hub for chess players across the county and, in particular, the Yorkshire League. YCA President, Ihor Lewyk and his assistant website editor, Matthew Webb, have done a fantastic job to get this up and running. I’m looking forward to seeing how it develops over the coming months.

Yorkshire League Results

Adrian Dawson has once again been swift in furnishing me with the latest efforts from our two Calderdale teams.
A mixed day for the Calderdale teams on Saturday. A great result for the ‘A’ team who thrashed Bradford ‘A’. It has to be said that Bradford had to split their side in an effort to keep their ‘B’ team in the First Division but it was still a very strong team as the grades prove.
Bradford ‘A’ vs. Calderdale ‘A’
W.Williams (190) ½-½ P.Watson (189)
I.Lewyk (178) 0—1 R.Newton (181)
D.Barlow (176) 0-1 M.Hamer (177)
C.Wright (170) ½-½ M.Whitehead (173)
M.Bramson (170) 0-1 J.Morgan (173)
I.Hunter (165) ½-½ D.Ursal (166)
M.Ashdown (158) 0-1 D.Patrick (165)
J.Holliday (126) 0-1 M.Corbett (138)

Calderdale ‘B’ were out-gunned on all boards and suffered a severe defeat. If they continue to play teams of the strength of the first two in this season’s campaign, they will struggle for sure.

Bradford Central vs. Calderdale ‘B’
P.D.Rooney (203) ½-½ M.I.Connor (154)
M.D.Crowther (174) 1-0 N.Suttie (148)
J.D.H.Milnes (169) 1-0 D.Colledge (143)
D.Breen (167) 1-0 A.Leatherbarrow (140)
N.J.Edwards (163) 1-0 M.Syrett (139)
P.G.Day (153) 1-0 D.Sugden (137)
DEFAULT 0-1 D.Milton (132)
G.Laszlo (130) ½-½ S.Priest (121)

Calderdale League 2 Results

Hebden Bridge ‘C’ were the only side in action in Calderdale League 2 on Monday night. Calderdale ‘D’ had a walk over as a result of Wheatley’s withdrawal from the league earlier this season. The ‘C’ team faced up to Courier ‘B’ and were unusually depleted for the match with regular Captain, John Kerrane, being away on holiday. As a result, stand Captain, Neil Bamford, led the side to a superb victory under the circumstances. After the match he was moved to remark, “The good guys came out on top thanks to some inspired performances from the ‘D’ team refugees”.
Here is the full match scorecard:
Hebden Bridge ‘C’ vs. Courier ‘B’
J.Blinkhorn 1-0 P.Hughes
S.Priest 0-1 D.Colledge
N.Bamford 0-1 J.Smith
C.Greaves 1-0 J.Whitehead
D.Crampton 1-0 R.Bottomley

Hebden Bridge Chess Club database

Last, but by no means least I would like to draw members’ attention to Nick Sykes’ blog on which you will now be able to find the latest version of this year’s games database. This is up to date to the 17th of October.
Oct 172011

On the 25th of October last year I reminded readers of an anniversary that any good Englishman should cherish – the anniversary of Henry V’s victory over the French at Agincourt in 1415.

Well, this year I thought it was appropriate to mention the anniversary (the 596th) again. On Saturday morning, as the brave men of Wales went down in a tight battle against the French in the Rubgy World Cup in New Zealand I couldn’t help thinking how ironic it was that this fixture should have been played on the 15th of October, just ten days before this anniversary. In 1415 it was the renowned longbow men of Wales who were instrumental in helping good king Harry defeat the French knights on away soil.

So, today, in tribute to the brave men of Wales who fought the French on two battle fields nearly 500 years apart, I would like to offer another thrashing of the French Defence. Something to warm the heart.

Oct 142011
Huddersfield ‘A’s title defence now looks even more fragile
than this parcel thanks to Courier’s win on Monday night

On Monday night it was the turn of Calderdale’s Division 1 teams to wade into action for round 2 of this year’s competition. But, before we turn to our own teams’ results, I should first relate the seismic result that has reached our ears from Halifax where Courier ‘A’ overwhelmed the reigning league champions Huddersfield ‘A’ by a score of 3½-1½.

In itself this would not necessarily mean all that much (Courier also beat Huddersfield in the second round last season) but, coming on the back of the champion’s defeat away to Brighouse in round 1, this result leaves them bereft and cut adrift from this year’s title race after only two matches! Last year they recovered from a draw and a loss to claim their victory with an perfect run of 12 won matches. This year they will have to do that again and it still may not be enough to save them.

Courier’s excellent win deservedly leaves them top of the table with two wins from two matches. Brighouse join them on 4 points (they are second on board score) after they saw off Belgrave away in a tight match. The other two fixtures both featured Hebden Bridge teams and so, without further ado, over to John Kerrane who reports on the action from the Trades Club.

Hebden Bridge Chess Club’s A team confirmed their status as contenders for the Calderdale Chess League first division championships on Monday evening at the Trades Club, Holme Street, when they hosted newly-promoted Huddersfield B, and beat them 4½-½.
The individual results were:

Hebden Bridge ‘A’ — Huddersfield ‘B’
M. Parsons 1-0 N. Hepworth
D. Ursal 1-0 N. Hepworth
D. Shapland 1-0 B. Corner
N. Sykes ½-½ E. Mellor
D. Sugden 1-0 M. Rojinsky

Meanwhile, one of their rivals, Todmorden ‘A’, was dealing out similar harsh treatment to Hebden Bridge ‘B’ at the same venue. The 4-1 score line does not reflect the closeness of the match, as several of the Hebden players came close to causing an upset, but only Steve Priest on board five could win a point for the home side.

The individual scores were:

Hebden Bridge ‘B’ — Todmorden ‘A’
A.Leatherbarrow 0-1 M.Hamer
M.Syrett 0-1 A.Clarkson
J.Blinkhorn 0-1 A.Wright
J.Kerrane 0-1 R.Tokeley
S.Priest 1-0 C.Edwards

On the same evening, Hebden Bridge ‘C’ was playing away against Halifax ‘A’ in one of the semi-finals of the Calderdale Summer Team Knock-Out Competition. In this time—handicap competition, lowly Hebden Bridge ‘C’ had a genuine chance, but the Halifax side won the match in the end. The match featured the debut for the Hebden Bridge league teams of 9-year-old Kyle Sharpe, who came away with a creditable draw against old campaigner John Nicholson.

The individual results were:

Halifax ‘A’ — Hebden Bridge ‘C’
C.Velosa 1-0 T.Sullivan
R.Cully 0-1 N. Bamford
H.Wood 1-0 T.Wilton-Davies
J.Aldridge 1-0 D.Crampton
J.Nicholson ½-½ K.Sharpe

Halifax ‘A’ will now play Hebden Bridge ‘A’ in the final of this competition.

Hebden Bridge ‘A’s assured victory has left them in third place in the table hot on the heals of Courier and Brighouse and with Todmorden for company. These four sides have already pulled clear of the rest of the division and poor old Hebden ‘B’ find themselves rock bottom and with the unappetising prospect of facing their colleagues in the ‘A’ team in the next round of fixtures. Anyone interested in seeing the current league table can do so at the league website.

This just leaves me to introduce a few more of the games from Monday night. These ones all come with a little commentary. First up is another combative victory for Darwin Ursal on board 2 for Hebden Bridge ‘A’. He showed his young opponent no mercy has he brushed him aside early on in the evening. I’ve used the “Show/Hide” function on Chess Flash here to try and ensure this post loads as quickly as possible. Just click below for the second and third game viewers to be revealed!

Next up, and also a board 2 clash, here is Andrew Clarkson’s victory of ‘B’ team captain, Martin Syrett. My thanks go to Andrew for taking the time to send us this game.

Finally, here is ‘A’ team captain Dave Shapland’s effort against Brian Corner.

Thanks to all the players who took the time to send me their games by e-mail this week.

Oct 122011

Today’s post comes from Adrian Dawson who reports on the first round fixtures from the Yorkshire League which began last Saturday with two tough away fixtures for Calderdale’s two teams.

In this article it is time to give grateful mention to some of Calderdale’s heroes for their out-standing work in, not only representing our League, but in the way they have shown out-standing fortitude by organising teams that can not just compete at the highest level but can compete at all! People such as David Patrick, who for years has kept a team in the Woodhouse Cup by consistently finding strong players who are happy to represent us and is also the Fixtures Secretary to the League; Dave Colledge who does a sterling job as the League’s Secretary and also captain’s the Calderdale ‘B’ team, who also perform admirably in the I.M.Brown (Yorkshire’s Second Division). Both ‘A’ & ‘B’ teams finished mid-table last season and promise to improve this term. Finally, Dave Milton, a former Yorkshire Secretary, who has done what no chess player has done for many a year in organising, not just one Todmorden team but a thriving club that now boasts 3 teams, all of which are showing great promise in the local league.

The Calderdale teams had perhaps the toughest matches they will face in their campaign in the first round of the Yorkshire Saturday League. The ‘A’ team travelled to face the champions for the past 3 years, York, and it has to be said, gave a very good account of them selves, especially in the middle order. Being out-graded on all boards bar one the ‘A’ team battled hard and the score, although looking like a heavy defeat, does not give a true reflection of how the match went.

The Woodhouse Cup, Round 1
York ‘A’ — Calderdale ‘A’
C.Ross (189) 1-0 P.Watson (189)
J.Weller (192) 1-0 R.Newton (181)
D.Adams (198) ½-½ M.Hamer (177)
J.Nicholson (183) ½-½ M.Whitehead (173)
A.Combie (185) ½-½ J.Morgan (173)
M.Carpenter (177) 1-0 D.Patrick (165)
R.Mounce (160) 1-0 M.Corbett (138)
R.Cowan (164) 1-0 M.Huett (123)

Although the ‘B’ team’s result was the same this match showed the ‘B’ team can do battle with the strongest. Hull used to be the largest club in Yorkshire and won the Woodhouse Cup 13 years in succession, from 1987 to 2000. They soon after had some internal problems and withdrew from playing in Yorkshire. The present team is now fighting to try and replicate those glory days. Our ‘B’ team were heavily out-graded on all boards and had to default on bottom board. In the match Neil Suttie and Dave Sugden both had their opponents on the rack but couldn’t convert. Dave Milton was much better against his opponent but lost on time. Last to finish was Steve Priest who turned down a draw offer and tried to squeeze out a win but in the end had to give a perpetual check to avoid defeat. The rest of the side were outplayed by a much stronger team that seems to be on its way back to Division 1.”

The I.M.Brown Shield, Round 1
Hull D.C.A. — Calderdale ‘B’
E.Gardner (179) 1-0 M.Connor (154)
D.Stephenson (175) ½-½ N.Suttie (148)
J.Thackray (172) 1-0 D.Colledge (143)
I.Bell (163) 1-0 M.Syrett (139)
B.Hesler (157) ½-½D.Sugden (137)
R.Callis (162) 1-0 D.Milton (132)
A.Grice (133) ½-½ S.Priest (121)
D.Mills (153) 1- 0 Default
Thanks to Adrian for sending us this report. I hope to continue to update readers on the progress of both Calderdale teams as the season progresses. Both team Captains are always on the lookout for new recruits so if you are interested in representing Calderdale in the Yorkshire League leave a comment here or e-mail me at hebdenbridgechessclub@gmail.com and I’ll send your contact details on to them.
Oct 072011
One of the 40 or so chess boards on each
 Grand Central train

On the way back from London to Halifax aboard a Grand Central train last Sunday night I was pleased to see that all the table tops had chess boards printed on them. “A great idea,” I thought, “to help bored travellers while away the interminable delays: a nice game of chess”. Then I looked more closely and laughed out loud. The boards were printed the wrong way round thus rendering them completely useless — unless you like playing at a 90° angle. Hilarious!

It wasn’t all that long ago that John Kerrane told me he’d had a similar problem with boards printed on table tops at a school he teaches chess at. It’s ironic isn’t it that when an organisation spends a little money on creating facilities for our great game they fail so miserably with the practicalities of getting the board the right way round.

Over at the “Chess Curiosities” website this was a favourite subject of Tim Krabbé who collected many instances of the work of a group he conspiratorially called the “dark-right-hand-corner-square-mafia”. See “Open Chess Diary” entries 259, 83, 51 and 30 for many more tragic-comic tales of chess boards displayed incorrectly. Perhaps we should revert back to the board that was used for “Shatranj”, the precursor to our modern game, in the Middle-East, which had no coloured squares on it at all.

Oct 052011
Neil Bamford: Strong start to the

John Kerrane has filed us this report on Monday night’s league 2 fixture.

The players of Hebden Bridge Chess Club’s D team set off on Monday evening to play away against the current Calderdale Chess League second division champions, Todmorden B, knowing they had a tough task ahead of them. Their own senior colleagues in the C team had only managed a draw against them in a home match a fortnight before.

The games all followed a similar pattern — after getting into difficulties in unfamiliar openings, the D team players fought back, but only Neil Bamford, on board 2, managed to overcome his initial disadvantage and won a complex rook-and-pawn endgame against his highly-rated opponent, Paul Logan. Finally, Todmorden emerged winners by a score of 4-1, which reflected the much greater experience of the Todmorden side.

The individual results were:

Todmorden ‘B’ — Hebden Bridge ‘D’
P.Edwards 1 — 0 J.Blinkhorn
P.Logan 0 — 1 N.Bamford
M.Huett 1 — 0 C.Greaves
R.Stoelman 1 — 0 M.Levy
R.Pratt 1 — 0 P.Dearden
4 — 1

I should add that both Josh Blinkhorn and Neil Bamford on the top two boards would normally have expected to play for the ‘C’ team. Unfortunately, Wheatley’s late withdrawal from League 2 has left only 7 teams in the competition and so Hebden Bridge ‘C’ had a walkover this week as their scheduled fixture was against Wheatley. I understand they will be awarded a 5-0 win.

Elsewhere in League 2: Courier B put an early dent in Halifax ‘A’s plans to return to League 1, after relegation from the top flight last season, by beating them 3½-1½. Courier won on all of the top 3 boards to seal the match.

Todmorden ‘C’ won their match at home against Halifax ‘B’ by an impressive 4-1 margin with Tom Webster, Dave Milton, Geoff Bowker and JP Ellis all winning their games. This win carries Tod ‘C’ to the top of the table as the only side in the league to have managed 2 wins from their opening fixtures. Their next match is away at Halifax ‘A’ in a tie one suspects Halifax are already under pressure to win.

I’ll end this post by saying “Well done” to Neil Bamford who has started the new season strongly with 2 wins from 2 games. He also won with White against Bob Pratt on board 5 in Hebden Bridge ‘C’s draw at home with Todmorden ‘B’ in the opening match of the season. As I don’t have his game from this Monday and didn’t publish that win at the time I will publish it now.

Neil has a straight-forward and uncomplicated style with an eye for exploiting a tactical opportunity which makes him particular dangerous with the White pieces. In this game he plays sensible developing moves in the opening and gives himself the best chance of capitalising on his opponents mistakes. The nice sacrifice 26.Bxf7+! wins at least the exchange and is the kind of combination some players of higher grade would easily overlook.

Keep up the good work Neil!

Oct 012011

Pete Leonard reveals the secret of his early successes
for HBCC: an ice cream sundae before every match!

 Today’s post comes courtesy of “T.M.W.D.W.M.T” (a.k.a. Pete Leonard). Who took part in the Jorvik Chess Congress in York back at the beginning of this month. Pete has been through all his games and annotated them so my thanks go to him for taking the time to prepare this report for us.

“Intermezzo was not the only person to have entered a chess tournament this summer, though my choice was a much less prestigious affair than the British Championships. However, I followed similar reasoning to his, when I saw the flyers for this event at the HBCC. We have friends who live in York, so I could stay with them and have a pleasant walk to and from the hotel each day.

This congress is in its second year. According to the organiser, Peter Cloudsdale, he had just ten entries last year; this time there were 34, which is a healthy increase. We were divided into two sections: A for those graded above 130 and B for those on 130 or below. A five round Swiss would suffice for such numbers, but I didn’t have his problems of managing the draw, so could simply enjoy an extra game for my entry fee.

Unlike the British Championships, the time allowance was quite short: just an hour apiece for the entire game. As my first game lasted over 60 moves, that was quicker than a minute a move! My target was to achieve a 50% score overall; not unreasonable, as my grade placed me pretty well in the middle, between a highest of 187 and a lowest of 131. I should be disappointed with less than 3/6 and pleased with more.

Everyone else was a stranger to me; in the first round, I drew White against Eric Key. A pleasant chap, I think we both had similar ambitions: to play as well as we could but chiefly to enjoy the experience. He confessed to not having touched a piece in anger for four months; together with my lack of match practice, this probably accounts for the less than perfect, though close, game.

So, I won each morning with White and lost each afternoon with Black. It must be my age; I’m missing my afternoon nap! Still, I can take satisfaction from the fact that I achieved my target and could even have had 3½ or 4/6.

It was a friendly, informal, tournament, held in a pleasant atmosphere; my thanks and congratulations to Peter and Claire Cloudsdale for their excellent organisation. Also to the various winners: of course Alexander Combie won Section A, with Adam Ismail joint second, so it’s no disgrace to have lost to him, either. Section B had joint winners and a five-way tie for third; there would probably have been a clearer result, from 16 players, if there had only been five, or even four, rounds. However, I can understand why six rounds were played; I certainly plan to enter the Jorvik Congress again.”

Sep 282011
Rudyard Kipling: Somewhat less deadly than his wife

“The female of the species is more deadly than the male.”
Rudyard Kipling

“If cunning alone were needed to excel, women would be the best chess players.”
Adolf Albin

A couple of weekends ago, as I watched live coverage of the FIDE World Cup Final in Khanty Mansiysk my wife took an interest (most unusual) and asked about the lady commentator, GM Anna Sharevich. We started to talk about women in the game and I explained that there was a women’s World Champion and that most top female players played in specific, women only tournaments. Quite rightly she asked me why there were separate women’s events and titles when the game of chess conferred no physical advantage to men as it does in most sports. “Surely men and women should compete together” she said and cited show jumping (horse riding is her favourite pastime) as an example of a sport where men and women compete on equal terms.

Of course my wife is right (she almost always is I find) to point out this strange state of affairs in chess. I must admit I struggled to justify why women competed separately from men although I did point out a very significant exception to the rule. Judit Polgar. When I provided my wife with Judit’s potted curriculum vitae and went on to add that she had performed very well at the same World Cup in reaching the quarter-finals and losing to the eventual winner she simply nodded and said “Well, there you go”.

That discussion caused me to reflect a little on the differences between women and men and how they think. I don’t want to get embroiled in a gender debate and I’m no scientist but, I reasoned that physiologically, there must be some attributes that are more prevalent in one gender or the other and that those attributes must have an impact on the workings of the mind even if it’s at a trivial level. I’m fairly sure that male and female GMs approach preparation and in-game-analysis in the same way but at an amateur level, perhaps different approaches are more apparent.

Of course there was only one course of action for me to take at this point and I immediately logged on to exchange instant messenger correspondence with this website’s most illustrious contributor, Lady Cynthia Blunderboro. Our chat progressed thusly:

Intermezzo: Do you think women approach chess in a different way to men or display any attributes more or less prominently then their male counterparts?

Blunderboro: Generally I’d say no because such a blend and balance of skills are required to excel and the best players, men and women, tend to demonstrate these universally. However, remembering the words of Rudyard Kipling, I’d suggest that maybe we ladies bare chess grudges longer than men do, and, baring in mind the words of Adolf Albin, perhaps we occasionally display greater levels of imagination in our deviousness.

Intermezzo: I assume that you have examples in mind?

Blunderboro: Of course. Shall I write you a blog post?

Intermezzo: Yes please!

So now, I’ll hand you over to Lady Cynthia who, as always, has an intriguing tale to tell.

Hello again fellow chess-heads! The gender debate surrounding the royal game has long been a cause of heated discourse. Personally I find such chatter to be rather dull as generally speaking it is, like the game itself, dominated by male opinion! Questions such as “Why don’t more women play chess?” and “Why are women not as good at chess as men?” tend to be questions that men ask when they want to pontificate about the perceived masculine intellectual attributes they possess. The truth of the matter seems to be that, proportionally, we women are at least as good at chess as men. Should any of my undoubtedly overwhelmingly male readership be interested in a more balanced female perspective on such matters then I can hardly do better than to direct you to the excellent Goddess Chess website.

From a Lady’s perspective, I’m not convinced that our approach to chess or the attributes we display are really all that different to men’s. Certainly I’m unable to recall any examples that would support such a theory. What I certainly can provide evidence to support is that when it comes to clear thinking, cold-blooded ruthlessness and down-right craftiness at the chess board, we ladies can behave in a most ungentlemanly fashion!

Today’s story begins in 1932 when I was 10 years old and attending St. Ethel’s boarding school for girls. Of course I was a member of the school chess team and we regularly played matches in the local chess league as well as against other schools around the country. At this early stage in my career I was not by any means an expert but the fire of competitive spirit was certainly stoked during my school days. This was never more evident than when St Ethel’s played our annual match against our great rivals, St Agnes’ Catholic School for Girls. By the time I represented St Ethel’s for the first time in this fixture it had already taken place 35 times previously and our school held an 18-17 lead. In 1932 then I had, for the first time, been offered the opportunity to defend the honour of St Ethel’s in this unfolding legend of inter-school rivalry. I was selected to play on the bottom board, board 10.

If further incentive to succeed were needed that day it was provided when I arrived for the match (which we played on a Saturday afternoon in our school library that year) and discovered that my opponent was to be Prunella DeLauncy. I knew this girl and we already detested each other. Prunella was the daughter of Sir Stephen and Lady Margaret DeLauncy who owned DeLauncy Castle, the nearest estate to my own family’s holdings. Although our families were not especially friendly we did operate in each others ambit on numerous social occasions and so I had already had numerous run-ins with this odious little girl. Prunella was three years older than me and took every possible opportunity to belittle, bully and taunt me for being smaller, weaker and younger than her. I reasoned that, on this occasion at least, her physical advantages would be of no use to her and resolved to take full advantage of the fact that the controlled conditions of the competition would prevent her from cheating. An deep irony baring in mind what was to take place that day.

When we took our seats at the board she looked at me as if I were something unpleasant and smelly that she had stepped in on the street and could barely bring herself to shake hands with me. When the handshake did come it was half-hearted and limp. At this point, as I looked along the two lines of players on my right, I noticed to my amusement that she was stationed beneath several girls who looked to be about my age whereas I was clearly the youngest in our team. This gave me a fresh injection of confidence for now I felt that my playing abilities would be a match for hers.

Sadly, on that wet autumnal afternoon I was to be disappointed and even devastated by my own naivety. The game started off well enough. She responded to my king’s pawn advance with the Sicilian Defence. I chose an anti-Sicilian line I’d been studying and elected to play it safe by swapping the queens off very early in the game. I felt confident of securing at least a draw from my enemy until we reached the diagram position below where Prunella was to play.

By now Prunella had begun to openly express some dissatisfaction with her position. Perhaps she felt that she ought to have already secured a decisive advantage against a player three years her junior, perhaps she had simply staged these emotions in order to prepare the way for what now came next. After a relatively short think of only a couple of minute she aggressively bashed out the move 18…Bc6, whacked her clock and then sat back smugly with a sneer on her face and her arms folded across her chest.

As I considered my response I noticed that her facial expression was slowly changing from smugness to concern. After a couple of minutes her face reddened, she muttered something to herself under her breath and then suddenly stood up, her chair scrapping noisily on the wooden floor as she did so, and stormed out of the room in disgust. The eyes of all the players followed her as she left. Amazed and excited at what had just occurred I studied the board again looking for the error that she obviously felt she had committed. It didn’t take long to for me to realise that she had left her pawn on f5 unprotected.

“A free pawn!” I thought. “Is there a trap?”

It took only the briefest of moments to check that after I captured with 19.Rxf5 there was nothing unpleasant that was going to happen to my king and saw that if she played 19…Rd1+ 20.Kh2 Bb8+ then 21.g3?? would be a dire error on account of 21…Rh1 mate! However, I soon saw that instead of this I could play 21. f4, or even better 21.Bf4 and would have simply gained a two pawn advantage.

“She must have missed 21.Bf4”, I reasoned and then wrote down the move 19.Rxf5, played it and pressed my clock confident that I had secured a decisive advantage.

Five minutes passed by and then another five. There was no sign of Prunella, where was she? I began to get restless, had she given up in dismay or been rendered physically unwell by her error? I was about to go and speak to the match referee when the door of the library creaked open and Prunella slowly crept back in. She looked like she had composed herself and she returned to our game tight lipped and serious. She sat down at the board, looked at my move and sighed meaningfully and then with a depressed air about her she responded as I had anticipated with 19…Rd1+. I played my only move 20.Kh2 and then she rocked back in her chair her expression completely transformed once again. Suddenly she was leering at me with a malignant twinkle in her eye. She paused only long enough to let me register that something was a miss before reaching forward and playing not 20…Bb8+ but the move 20…Be4!

I stared at the board in disbelief. My rook and knight forked by the bishop. How had I missed it? It was clear I had been duped by an acting performance of consummate skill. She had wanted me to think that she had made an error and so all I had done was look for one. It was a brilliant diversion. Looking only for a mistake I had found one and completely missed the best rejoinder! I couldn’t even escape with 21.Ne3 as Bxe3 simply reinstated the threat.

At that point, I confess that my world fell apart. I have never again since felt so abject at the board. Playing on in a mist of demoralised inertia I continued on auto-pilot until Prunella finally ground me down with her extra piece in the end game. To make matters even worse St Ethel’s lost the match by a score of 4½-5½! My naivety had lost us the match and it took me months and months to recover from the trauma of losing that game to Prunella DeLauncy who I should add, I never played again in the annual encounter as my game improved rapidly enough to stay above her in the board order in subsequent years. Never the less, in each year that I took part I had to endure her hard, sneering gazing on me every time I caught her eye.

I thought I would never have the chance to avenge that painful defeat. But then, over twenty years later, in 1953, fate dropped an opportunity into my lap. I received a letter from the St Ethels’ Head Mistress of that time informing me that the annual chess match against St Agnes’ had reached it’s 50th edition (the fixture was not held between 1940-45 on account of World War II) and, to commemorate this, a special anniversary match between chess-playing alumni from each school was to take place alongside the traditional match for the pupils. Of course I accepted the invitation to take part as, by this point in my life, I was an accomplished player and wanted to repay in some way the chess education I had received from my old school.

The day of the match arrived. Once more the venue was St Ethel’s School Library. I had arrived early and was enjoying chatting to several old friends who I hadn’t seen for years when suddenly on of them drew my attention to the library doorway. Prunella DeLauncy had just arrived. I hadn’t expected her to attend but I would guess that she wouldn’t have wanted to miss another opportunity to flaunt her success of 21 years previously. There she was, as tight faced and smugly superior as ever. She glared at me as she made her way over to her team mates and I found myself yearning for a re-match even though I imagined that she would not be their top board player.

When we saw our Captain’s match card I couldn’t believe what I saw, for Prunella was indeed playing on board 1 for the St. Agnes Alumni team. Her game must have improved somewhat over the last twenty odd years for I was sure there were others in the St.Agnes line up who had previously been her betters. As we sat across from one another I could sense her disdain but forced myself to be polite and looked up smiling at her.

“Good luck”, I said as I shook that limp, cold hand.

For this return game I was fortunate once again to have the White pieces. My improved skills as a player in the intervening years between our encounters had given me the confidence I needed to play for a small but enduring advantage out of the opening. I played solidly, possibly too solidly and Prunella, to her credit defended staunchly, and at times, resourcefully. As the game meandered on my advantage dwindled and I began to realise that Prunella, whilst having no winning chances herself, had succeeded in neutralising my attacking potential completely.

Stubbornly, for in all other circumstances I would have offered a draw, I played on, politely declining her curt offer of a draw when the queens came off the board as the end game began. We were now the last board playing and the match was tied at 4½-4½. Vainly I scoured the position for any opportunity to create complications and managed to find a clever way of sacrificing a pawn to reactivate my pieces. I conjured up some significant problems for my opponent and she began to spend more and more time trying to solve them. Finally though, she dug herself out of trouble yet again and, with both our clocks down to their last two minutes, we reached the position below.

I had just checked the Black king and Prunella moved it with 61…Kh6. I sat staring intently at the board. The position, with equal material and opposite coloured bishop was drawn I had to accept it and offer to share the honours. My clock was almost spent. But then, a glimmer of an idea came into my mind, perhaps there was a way and I could try to win it without any risk of losing. Quickly I checked it again and glanced at my clock. One minute left. Prunella had a little more but not much. To make this work I had to blitz her and rely on her disdain of me and need to belittle me. I could use that to my advantage.

Very swiftly we now both banged out the moves…
62. Bf4+ Kg7
63. Be5+ Kh6
64. Bf4+ Kg7

I’d made a point of calling out “Check” throughout this sequence. First of all because I knew it would annoy her and secondly because it was integral to my plan. I paused here for a couple of seconds with my hand hovering over the bishop. Prunella, flushed with adrenaline looked at me intently expecting that the repetition of moves would follow and enable her to thwart me again and draw the match. However, I now played 65.Bd6 and called out “Check” again. Immediatley Prunella’s hand darted out to her king and moved it back to h6. She pressed her clock again and then said, mockingly, “That wasn’t check.”

“Sorry! Yes, you’re right. My mistake” I replied as I paused again for a few seconds. I must have had about twenty seconds left. I used ten of those to allow Prunella to realise the full horror of her mistake before playing 66.Bf8!

“But that,” I said “is checkmate. If I’m not mistaken.”

And so it was that on this occasion it was Prunella who was left devastated. My vengeance felt very, very sweet and my team mates crowded round to congratulate me on my play. Later on, at the local pub they also congratulated me on my gameswomanship. The ultimate compliment.

As a post script to this story I should add that recently I was most surprised to find this last little set piece (listed as being played by NN and NN) in Christian Hesse’s new book “The Joys of Chess:Heroes, Battles and Brilliancies”. The position features in a chapter named “Gamesmanship” and I will end this article with a quote that features at the beginning of that chapter which seems very appropriate to the subject and an object lesson for all chess players regardless of their gender.

“As a medium for demonstrating one’s mastery of the game the board and pieces are, in fact, most unreliable.”
William Hartston

Addendum: 01/10/2011
Since I published this post (by a bizarre coincidence) Chessbase have put up a very interesting related article on their website which I would commend to all readers interested in the gender discussion. It turns out that some research now suggests that there are differences between men and women when it comes to how they approach their chess playing. Or, rather, there are differences to their approach when men play against attractive women! Evidently a man playing a game against an attractive woman is much more likely to essay an aggressive opening system and take more risks to try and win the game. On the other hand, women are unlikely to change their approach when playing against men, regardless of whether or not they think they are attractive! So, there you go, some kind of answer to the original question I posed in the introduction to this post.