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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aug 042011

For a married man like me, justifying the use of a whole week of annual leave to go and play chess is a big deal. Fortunately this year I have 5 days more annual leave to take than my wife, the British Chess Championship is taking place in Sheffield where my folks live and I’ve not played any weekend chess this year apart from the Brighouse Quickplay. I’ve built up a solid justification for playing in the British Championships this week then but it does make me think how much harder it must be for a chess player with a family to take part in this contest.

Usually, the Championships take place at a coastal destination in order to give the families of chess players something to do whilst they are feeding their addiction at the board. This year I think it unlikely that many competitors will have found it easy to persuade their nearest and dearest that a week (or even two!) in Sheffield was an enticing vacation prospect. Still I can’t complain as there is no way I would have wanted to spend the money on a week’s accommodation so being able to stay with friends and family is what’s enabled me to take part this time around.

Of course it’s always challenging for any amateur chess enthusiast to manoeuvre their chess habit into their marriage or family time. Chess is after all a fairly solitary, time-consuming and antisocial pass time. I’m sure many marital and family relationships have been put under strain because the royal game. I’ve written before about the short lived tribulations of the artist and chess addict Marcel Duchamp’s marriage. A short while ago I discovered another amusing anecdote concerning the novelist Vladimir Nabokov who was famously a chess nut (in fact his book, The Defence is about a chess master). Whilst grazing around Tim Krabbé’s endlessly engrossing Chess Curiosities website I found this quote:

“More than a few heads turned when, in the supermarket parking lot, Vèra set her bagged groceries down in the snow while she shuffled for her keys, then loaded the trunk. In the car her husband sat immobile, oblivious. A similar routine was observed during a move, when Nabakov made his way into the new home carrying a chess set and a small lamp. Vèra followed with two bulky suitcases.”

Vera and Vladimir at play!

This is from Stacy Schiff’s biography of Vèra Nabakov which is titled Vèra (Mrs Vladimir Nabokov) – Portrait of a marriage. Krabbé also posts the picture I’ve put into this post of the happy couple studying together. What fortitude this lady showed in the face of chess widowhood! Perhaps Duchamp also harboured dreams of enticing his wife into the study of rook and pawn endings.

Of course I can see all too clearly that some of Nabokov’s traits could become bad habits for me as well. He may have had a pocket chess set in the car’s glove compartment to fiddle with whilst poor Vèra struggled with the shopping but I have an iPhone that goes everywhere with me and on it there is an app for accessing all my correspondence games on and also the Chessbase Online app so that I can keep track of the latest opening theory. All of that is in addition to the RSS news feeds that go directly to my phone from a host of chess websites and blogs! I must admit that sometimes, when my wife is watching “rubbish” on the telly, I do reach for the iPhone. So far I haven’t yet caught myself studying a chess game on my phone whilst my wife grapples with heavy objects but it must be said that I couldn’t rule it out from ever happening in the future…

Aug 032011

Thursday the 4th of August

I think Alex Ferguson would have called yesterday at the British Chess Championships “squeeky bum time” as the penultimate rounds took place in all competitions.

Do not let appearances deceive you.
Kevin Winter was a very resiliant opponent!

It was all on the line in the Under 160 section in the morning where I had to win with White to give myself a shot at the title on Friday. I played against Kevin Winter who is seasoned weekend player and I knew he’d be hard to break down. That was exactly how it was as he played a closed variation of the French Tarrasch (1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7). This opening has been kind to me and it was again as I played actively but solidly and managed to build a big positional advantage on the back of only a couple of small inaccuracies from Kevin. Eventually I won a pawn but once again I had used a lot of time to get into that situation and was left with only 6 minutes for my last 10 moves. Kevin sensibly went in for complications and so I was very pleased to have been able to refute his play despite my time shortage. The critical moment in the game came on move 29 when Black played Qh3, threatening my pinned knight on e6. I then found 30.Ng5 after which Qh6 runs into a pretty combination and so Kevin was forced to swap off the queens. He then fell into a little trap so that I was able to pick up an extra piece. Job done! The game is in the viewer at the end of this post.

So I now face Roger Greatorex on Friday morning for my chance to win the title. He and I and one other have 3.5 points so it’s still all to play for.

Raymond Wynarczyk. Top bloke!

Having put myself in contention in the Under 160 the last thing I needed in the afternoon was a long drawn out struggle in the Open competition where a defeat and a draw had already put me out of contention. I had drawn another very strong player in the form of Raymond Wynarczyk (178) from Tyneside. I decided not to commit myself 100% to the game but to nevertheless have a go. He played a Sicilian Defence and confused me a bit with the move order. I tried to steer the position towards a sort of Classical Schevenigan and managed to do so but with some important differences. Raymond defended my desperado attack very accurately and in the end I was losing my queen. The game is also in the viewer below.

The game was over in 3 hours but it was exciting enough to merit some analysis and I didn’t want to miss the chance to pick the brains of such a good player so we had an enjoyable 45 minutes or so of analysis which was really useful for me. Thanks to Raymond for being so generous with his time. After that I decided to go to the gym for an hour to let off some steam and left Pond’s Forge feeling energised for action on Friday!

Wednesday the 3rd of August

A really tough day today and I left Pond’s Forge feeling totally hollow despite having picked up a point and a half. The fact of the matter is that I stole my points today and made some bad mistakes that I was fortunate to avoid being punished for. On the plus side I’ve successfully negoatiated two more games with Black and my reasonable level of physical fitness was, I believe, a major factor in my success today. I managed to outlast two opponents over a total of 9 hours of play and benefited from tired mistakes at the end of epic struggles!

In the morning I played Graeme McCormick of Northern Ireland. He arrived 20 minutes late for the start of the game (a fateful error as it turned out) and we got down to business in a Classical Spanish (3…Bc5). He played 4.c3 and I decided to be brave and venture the Cordel Gambit 4…f5!? Objectively it’s a bit dubious but, as with so many gambits, it’s hard to meet over the board and I got a great position in the middle game as he played a series of inaccurate moves. Looking at the game tonight was a bit depressing though as I overlooked a simple trick to win a pawn early on and he then missed a golden opportunity to win a piece! I applied great pressure in the middle game but, in trying to find the best moves to put him under pressure I strated to chew up clock time and in the end I had to rush my last 7 or 8 moves at a critical point in the game and missed what would have been a very beautiful conclusion to the game (though it was hard to see even with lots of time) in the form of 38…Qe6!!

We ended up in an endgame where I had a nice bishop, queen and four pawns vs his temporarily passive knight, queen and four pawns. I missed yet another golden opportunity when could have played 44…Bxa2 winning a pawn (for some reason I thought he could play 45.Qe8+ but my queen is guarding that square! On we bowled into a bishop vs. knight ending and we both had just 2 minutes left at each by this point. To my utter amazement he then sat thinking for all of that time and forfeited. I couldn’t believe my luck as the end game could only have been winning for White by that stage. He’d just “forgotten” about the clock. I think he needs to read my post from Monday! This game can hopefully be seen in the game viewer below (I’ve added it into the code so I hope it works.)

After this epic encounter I found it hard to get motivated for the afternoon game. Especially as I was playing Alexander Freeland again (I played him in round one of the U160) and was already out of contention for the prizes. We both played the opening casually and he avoided the theory books this time. Again there were lots of errors. He won a pawn and I failed to spot that I cold win it back immediately with 16…Nb4. Then things got tough as I desperately sought counterplay. I was pleased with my plan to get two connected pawns in the centre of the board but he should have been winning with his queen’s side passers and made a pigs ear of it. At the end after 5 long hours (surely I must now be a candidate for my own “Obduracy Award”) my resiliance paid off when he made a terrible error (my last throw of the dice) with 68.Kb7?? and the game was drawn!

Tomorrow’s morning game is now massive as I’m one of 9 (!) players on 2.5 and there is one leader on 3. I have White and I must win…

Tuesday the 2nd of August

Well readers, I promised you a Championship diary and by jingos you shall have one! I had hoped to post every day but after travelling to and from Sheffield from Hebden Bridge yesterday (as well as playing for 8 hours!) I just didn’t have the energy last night. Tonight, and for the rest of the week, I’m staying with family and friends and so I’ll have the opportunity to tell my story and give you the news.

Before I dive into the action some general thoughts. The British Chess Championships is being held at Pond’s Forge in Sheffield this year and there have been around 1,000 entries across the range of competitions taking place across the fortnight’s competition. The venue itself is pretty good. My only minor compliant would be that it is far too hot in the sports hall. For such a big room capable of holding so many folks and a bunch of sweaty sporty types you’d have thought the air-conditioning would have been a little bit more effective. All the competitions are taking place in the same room and this lends the event a really nice atmosphere. In the afternoons when most of the competitors are in there is a real buzz in the room.

Of course the main event is the Championship itself in which the main contenders are GMs Adams, Short, Howell, Jones, Pert et al. It’s a strong line up. Grandmaster Andrew Martin is providing expert and excellent commentary on proceedings in the analysis room and I managed to pop in there for a while this afternoon to try and get my head around some of the action. Today was Round 8 and a real battle of the big beasts was in prospect as Nigel Short played Michael Adams and Gawain Jones played David Howell. The action was not disappointing for Short put Adams under huge pressure before finally having to concede a draw and Jones won very nicely against Howell. This leaves Short and Adams in co-lead on 6.5/8 and Jones, Nicholas Pert and Jonathan Hawkins just behind on 6. Then come Howell and Simon Ansell on 5.5 and a vast army on 5. Anyone interested in the games can replay Andrew Martin’s commentary or just look at the moves on the Championship website.

So what of me? I’m taking part in two competitions this week. In the mornings I’m contesting the Under 160 Championship and in the afternoon taking part in an Open competition for all comers. Lets start with my progress in the U160 which is the one I probably have the best chance of performing well in.

The draw with Mark Szymanski was no peace
treaty between club colleagues.

In yesterday’s first round I drew the third seed, Alexander Freeland, and played pretty well to win with Black in a King’s Gambit. I acceped it and found myself facing the Allgaier Gambit (where White puts his king’s knight on g5). After a couple of months without competative chess I could have done without such a sharp opening to be honest but it worked out ok in the end . I didn’t play the book line (which is to force White to sacrifice the knight on f7 early in the game) as I figured my opponent would be well prepared for that and instead gave back the gambit pawn and tried to develop as quickly as possible. Eventually my opponent forced off the queens and tried to defend an unfavorable ending but I managed to convert my advantage.

Today’s round 2 draw me against the 5th seed and my club mate from Leeds Chess Club, Mark Szymanski.
Mark is a top bloke and an excellent player but I nevertheless gave myself a chance with White against him. Normally I’d have expected him to opt for the Caro-Kann against 1.e4 but today, perhaps weary of my preparation, he elected to play the Scandinavian. I built up a good advantage in the opening with some accurate play but then threw it all away on move 13 with one careless move which provided him with counterplay. We fought on in a middle game in which he always had a slight edge and my king’s security was not great. Mark won two pawns in a queen and rook ending but then allowed me to swindle a draw from him just as victory seemed to be in his grasp. I was happy with a draw after a terrific see-saw game that I’ll be analysing for weeks.

Peter Leggett. A friendly fellow.

Monday’s round 1 draw of the Week 2 Afternoon Open was not kind to me as I drew the top seed with Black! Andrew Smith is a FIDE Master. Needless to say I wasn’t expecting to win the game but merely put up spirited resistance for as long as possible. In this endeavour I was not helped by his chice of opening, the off-beat Centre Game – 1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.Qxd4!? Nc6 4.Qe3. It only required a slightly inaccurate move order for me to hand him a positional advantage and after that it was pretty mich a forgone conclusion although I tried to go down fighting.

Round 2 was this afternoon and I had a much easier task at hand in the form of Peter Leggett. The opening of this game was bizarre. I tried to lure him into a Four Knights Opening so that I could try a wild gambit that I fancied experimenting with. However it all took a strange turn and it took me quite a while to get anything going at all. In the end the closing stages were quite aesthetic.

All four of my games so far can be seen in the viewer below. I haven’t had chance to add many notes yet but I hope readers will nevertheless find them interesting.

Aug 012011
I’m guessing that the clocks at the British Chess
Championships might be slghtly more up to date than these

My British Chess Championships starts today! I’m very excited about it and have been looking forward to it very much. As I prepared for it last week I found this article by Dan Heisman on the Chess Café website to be particularly thought provoking. He talks about what your goals should be for any given game that you play. Obviously, the primary goal is to win the game but he then gives this interesting secondary one that I hadn’t really considered before.

“Your second most important goal in a chess game is to use almost all the time on your clock.”

He reinforces this point by saying that if you aren’t utilising the time you’ve been given to its maximum potential then you are giving your opponent an unnecessary advantage. He makes a good analogy with taking an exam. Most students wouldn’t dream of not using all the time allocated in a test to try and gain the best possible mark that they can. In the same way, Heisman argues that chess players should use as much of their time as they can to give themselves the best chance of getting the right result.

I won’t steal his thunder by repeating all of the details in the article (you can go read it yourself) but he suggests 6 tools that a chess player can make use of to make the most of the time they have for a game. These are:

  1. Never start a game without the intention of using almost all your time.
  2. Calculate the average time per move before the game starts.
  3. When recording each move, also record how many minutes are remaining on your clock.
  4. Botvinnik’s Rule — “use 20% of your time for the first 15 moves.”
  5. Look at your clock periodically when your opponent is thinking and ask “Am I playing too fast or too slow?” and adjust the upcoming moves accordingly.
  6. If you are a player who plays too fast, then your two primary guidelines should be:
  • When you see a good move, don’t play it — look for a better one.
  • Before you move, make sure your opponent does not have a check, capture, or threat in reply that you can’t safely meet.

The reason I found this thought provoking is because at the Championships I’ll have much longer time limits available than I’m used to and I need to make sure that I’m making good use of them. In league chess I’m used to playing 36 moves in 75 minutes and then the rest of the game in a further 15 minutes. That’s a maximum game length of 3 hours. In the under 160 Championship the game time is up to 4 hours and in the Open that I’m playing in the afternoons the game time is up to 7 hours!!
Generally, I’d say that I manage my clock pretty well in league games. I normally use up a high percentage of my time but I don’t get into time trouble all that often. In the past when I’ve played longer time limits (in county and weekend competitions) my performance level has gone up because I’ve had more time available and used it effectively. I need to make sure that I do that in the coming week as well. I’ll need every advantage I can get and I certainly don’t want to be giving my opponents an advantage by not putting my time to good use! I’m planning to use Heisman’s tools and some of the other advice in his article to make sure that I do use my time well and I’d heartily recommend his guidelines to other players who find themselves playing too quickly or getting into time trouble regularly. His article links to a bunch of other essays that discuss time management in chess and they are well worth consideration.

Jul 262011

It’s the premium event in the British chess calendar (ok we now have a super Grandmaster tournament to look forward to in December in London as well but that’s a bit different) and it just got started yesterday. The British Chess Championships are taking place down the M1 in Sheffield this year. The location couldn’t be much more enticing for Calderdale players and there will no doubt be several taking part in the host of different competitions. This year I list myself amongst their number. I won’t be travelling down until the second week as I’m playing in the Under 160 Championship and also in the afternoon open tournament taking place in week 2. I can’t wait!

2010 Champion,
Mickey Adams

I have no idea how much opportunity I’ll get to watch the Championship itself but hopefully I will get a chance. The British Chess Federation has done a great job getting sponsorship in this year and that must have played a big part in enticing the strongest line up for years. The charge is led by reigning champion and British number 1, Michael Adams. He is joined by Nigel Short, David Howell, Gawain Jones and Nicholas Pert to complete the top five rated players but there are also another 6 Grandmasters competing. It should be a fantastic competition and if any of you are off work I highly recommend a day trip to Sheffield to catch one of the rounds as the atmosphere is always great. If you can’t make it to Sheffield then you can watch the top games (hopefully 14 boards) live here. The rounds start at 2.15pm everyday and finish on Friday the 5th with a rest day this Sunday.


Whilst the top players scrap it out in the main event there will be hundreds of club level players fighting it out for the honours in a range of competitions for various standards of player and age group. This is where I’ll be next week. Hundreds of games will be contested. Usually many of these would go unnoticed and unloved accept by the players who played them. This year Hebden Bridge Chess Club would like to try and change all that by giving some of the plucky losers a chance to get their name in lights.

It’s for this reason that I’ve decided to put up some awards to celebrate the worst of British chess. Competitors in the Championships will be able to submit their games to compete for 3 ‘prestigious’ awards:

  • The Grossest Blunder Award
  • The Dullest Game Award
  • The Obduracy Award

You can find out more about these awards and see any entries that I receive over the two weeks on a new page that I’ve set up specifically for the purpose. It’s just a bit of fun but I hope we’ll get the chance to give some club level players at the Championships a bit of the limelight. If you know anyone who’s taking part over the next two weeks please let them know about this competition and help us celebrate the worst of British chess!

Of course I’d like to think that none of my games will find their way onto this new page but somehow I figure that will be unlikely. I can guarantee readers that they won’t miss a beat though because during week 2 I will be posting a daily diary on these pages and publishing all my games, good or bad as well as my reflections on the rest of the goings on at Ponds Forge.

I’ve also been building up a wealth of blog post material to publish in week 2 so there will be lots and lots of new content during the course of next week. Be sure to come back regularly for updates and entertainment as some of our columnists will be making appearances to help celebrate the championships. It should be fun.