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.”

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.

Mar 082011
Savielly Tartakower

“Drawn games are sometimes more scintillating than any conclusive contest” – Savielly Tartakower

As I sat watching the fantastic and astonishing drawn match between England and India at the cricket world cup last week I found myself recollecting this famous quote by Tartakower. Of course the key word in the sentence is “sometimes”. In chess (as with lots of other competitive sports) we normally assume drawn games to have been dull affairs conducted by risk averse contestants who fear failiure to such an extent that their main aim is to avoid defeat. Certainly football has produced plenty of turgid draws. This seems especially to be the case when the stakes have been at their highest, in World Cups for example.

Cricket is an interesting exception to this rule because (in the limited overs version of the game at least) a genuine draw is a very rare occurrence. I say “genuine” because of course some games are drawn due to bad weather. When games are played in full however a drawn fixture is a collectors item.

Why do we enjoy the “thrilling draw” so much? I think it is because the very best drawn games are the ones in which the outcome is in doubt right until the very end of the contest and the longer the contest has taken to complete the more dramatic the climax becomes. In fact as I watched the cricket coverage one of the commentators summed this all up nicely by saying that “all three results” were still possible in the last over of the game. Indeed, all three results were still possible even on the last ball of the game!

So, if we want to try and define a brilliant draw ( in chess or otherwise) then I think we must say that it must have the following characterisitcs:

  1. Both contestants/teams must have strained every sinew and taken some risks in order to try and acheive a victory. It only adds to the drama if the stakes are raised because, owing to the broader context of the game, nothing less than a win will do for either player or team
  2. The quality of the play must be of a high standard. Two simpletons can draw a game through sheer incompetance. That doesn’t make the contest “thrilling”
  3. The balance of power during the game must change hands at least once. If one player or team has been on top all the way through and throws away his/her/their advantage at the end then that’s just an error or a swindle
  4. The outcome of the contest must be unclear right up until its end. Some games just tail off and it  becomes obvious that a draw will be the result some time before the end with both contestants just going through the motions

Here are a couple of chess games that I hope readers will enjoy for all of the reasons set out above.

Truly a ‘thrilling’ draw from two of the worlds greatest players.
Now, I would like to offer a draw from my own score book that I hope readers will also enjoy even though it is really unworthy of sharing space alongside the modern classic above.

Feb 222011

Valeri Salov: "Not a man who takes his luncheon seriously!"

In today’s post we welcome back Colonel Walter Polhill (RTD) to our humble blog. The Colonel wrote a series of erudite articles for The Independent on Sunday back in the late 90’s and yours truly has excavated them, dusted them down and now presents once more for your enlightenment. In this article the Colonel tackles the knotty issue of opening theory and reveals the real reason why so many Grand Master games follow the opening books for so many moves.

The true value of opening theory is not generally understood. Studying the opening to such a degree that one may reel off a dozen or 20 moves by rote is, above all, an aid to digestion. Some tournament organisers, for reasons best known to themselves, insist on starting play in the very early afternoon. This presents a stark choice: forgo lunch, risk indigestion by attempting to think too soon after a meal, or rely on opening theory until the meal is digested.”


Dec 122010

Colonel Walter Polhill examines a very early edition of ECO

Today I’d like to introduce (or perhaps for some of you who are very well read, reintroduce) Hebden Bridge Chess Club members to a new guest columnist; Colonel Walter Polhill (Retired). The Colonel’s editorial was first published in The Independent on Sunday back in the mid to late ninties and he mainly concerned himself with the moral code associated with the game. In today’s regergitated post he debates whether or not standards of decency at the board may be on the wane.

I was reminded of Colonel Polhill’s articles (and the one below in particular) when I played a fun game (the second one in the viewer below) on the Chess.com website. If you want to see a game with pieces being placed and left enprise in the most outrageous fashion then there is no better opening line to study than this bloodthirsty line of the Classical Sicilian.

Now, over to the Colonel who introduces the first of the two games in the Chess Tempo viewer at the bottom of this post.

“There is an unhealthy mood of bravado laced with machismo running through modern Russian chess. In the old days, captures were met with the politeness of a recapture and any player with pretensions to be considered a gentleman would retreat a piece that his opponent had attacked. Such old formalities, however, are no longer observed, as the following game attests”