Apr 232013
This lovely image of St. George wrestling his nemesis was taken in Catalonia and is used under Creative Commons licensing from Vanessssa's Flickr photo stream

This lovely image of St. George wrestling his nemesis was taken in Catalonia (where he is also the patron Saint) and is used under Creative Commons licensing from Vanessssa’s Flickr photo stream

It’s St George’s Day and that means only one thing… yes, it’s time for to indulge in our annual delve into my Sicilian Dragon database in order for me to trouble you with another sub-standard, error-strewn affair. At least it ought to be entertaining!

Anyone interested in a more extensive survey of the Sicilian Dragon might be interested in taking a look at these three previous posts from St. George’s Days gone by.

In this year’s effort I’ll be covering a very topical sideline of the Dragon where White avoids playing Bc4 and Black takes the opportunity to break out in the centre.

Jun 162012


Shapland vs. Bagley. White has just played 29.Rh3 attacking the Black queen. What is Black’s best response?

At the Trades Club on Monday night Hebden Bridge ‘A’ team Captain, Dave Shapland, hosted the first of several analysis evenings being held as part of HBCC’s summer programme. He chose to analyse a game he played in the Leeds League earlier this season against Rose Forgrove’s Andy Bagley.

The game was played in an opening variation of the French Defence that Dave has had quite a bit of experience of contesting and he endeavoured to explain some of the strategic ideas behind it before the game took a rather chaotic turn. Neither side managed to castle and both players left pieces en prise when they were attacked on several occasions as the struggle for the initiative became the critical to the result.

All those participating in the session enjoyed spending quite some time delving into the complicated forcing variations that could have been selected by either player at various stages. In the end Black overlooked a startling defensive (in the diagram position shown) resource that was very hard to find and was on the receiving end of a king hunt that ended in checkmate.

For any of you who missed it Dave has provided the game and some (very!) extensive commentary for the game viewer below. But before you look at the game see if you can find Black’s best move in the position given at the beginning of this post. It’s a tough one!

Next week (the 18th) Matthew Parsons will be hosting an endgame workshop using an illustrative game of his own. Please be at the Trades Club by 8pm if you would like to take part in this session.

Apr 242012

Yesterday was an auspiscious day for Dragons - Saint George's day in the Chinese year of the Dragon. This image was sourced from Frank Wuestefeld's Flickr photostream

For the last two years this site has made a point of celebrating the advent of the national day of our patron Saint with a game from my Sicilian Dragon archive. Yesterday was the 23rd of April and so we will once again acclaim Saint George with a dragon!

Of course 2012-13 is the Chinese year of the Dragon and so it seemed appropriate to recognise this with today’s image choice. There is also a line dubbed the “Chinese Dragon” in the opening variation. Indeed it is mentioned in the notes to today’s game.

Readers will find that the game below includes extensive notes and aims to cover some of the strategic ideas behind the opening as well as the tactical themes that recur all too often. It has been my aim to try and provide some basic coverage of the ideas to those who may wish to start playing the mainline of this opening with White or Black. However, if you just want to play through a lively game with plenty of tactical cut and thrust then I don’t think this game will disappoint you. 

It occured to me that, between the two previous articles and this new annotated game, there must now be a fair amount of theoretical ground covered. So, for ease of reference, here are the links to the two previous items should you chose to delve deeper into this complex but rewarding opening variation. I’ve updated both articles with the Chesstempo game viewer so that the games can be downloaded as well as enjoyed on the page. 

 These first two games both featured White wins (well Saint George did kill the Dragon after all!) but in todays effort Black manages to hold a draw in a complicated battle.

Feb 112012

Over the next few days our website is going to celebrate three notable anniversaries that have taken place recently. First up today, let’s stop to record our appreciation for an unsung chess hero.

On Monday West Yorkshire’s own Mark Crowther celebrated the 900th edition of The Week In Chess (TWIC) with a typically humble tweet:

The Week in Chess 900. It’s getting quite hard to believe how high the numbers are going because I do them one at a time.

Over these 900 weeks of publication dating back to 1994 this indispensible bulletin has delivered 1.27million games to a ravenous global chess community. Grandmasters and patzers alike make use of the TWIC download to augment their monstrous databases. The currency of the service was a genuine game-changer in the web-based world that chess now inhabits because it meant top players no longer had to wait for print publications to deliver the latest games to them. They could download them every week instead. Of course nowadays even every week isn’t fast enough and so, during important competitions, the website is updated daily.

Mark Crowther's website and weekly download have become indispensible to Grandmasters and patzers alike

As an illustration of how hard it can be to keep up, I was recently delighted (in a sad spoddy sort of way!) when I managed to tell “Mr Chess News” himself something he didn’t already know. At the end of last year I bumped into Crowther at a Bradford league match. He was playing in another fixture at the same venue and engaging his adversary in post-mortem discussion in the bar. I sidled over, pretending to kibbitz, but then asked him if he’d seen that Nakamura had beaten Anand with Black at the London Chess Classic — earlier that afternoon he had tweeted that Nakamura was as good as lost when the engines pronounced a gloomy outlook. He admitted that he’d left home before Nakamura’s incredible turnaround in that game and so hadn’t been aware that he’d won but he generously thanked me for letting him know.

Many readers perhaps don’t realise that Crowther is a decent player himself. I don’t know whether any of his own games have ever made it into his own bulletins but it seems a fitting tribute to his endeavours that I should publish my only game against him in which he administered unto me a sound thrashing! In the truest traditions of TWIC I am making this game available for you to download via the Chessbase game viewer.  This way you’ll at least have one Mark Crowther game on your database. It’s the least he deserves!

For those interested there is a potted history of TWIC in an interesting article published at the time of the 500th edition back in 2007.

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.

Jun 252011

It was just over 15 years ago now. May 1996. I entered the Morecambe Chess Congress Minor section over Spring Bank Holiday weekend. I won with a score of 5½/6. I think the prize was about £200, pretty good money for a Minor.

That was the last occasion on which I won an individual competition. A pretty abysmal record I’m sure you’ll agree. Of course I haven’t played very many congresses in the intervening years and I have played my part in some team victories during that time but even still, one congress in 15 years. Not good.

But then last month I entered the Victoria Gardens Blitz tournament in Leeds. It’s just a bit of fun. Leeds Chess Club are the hosts and the Victoria Gardens Hotel is the excellent venue. The format is fairly informal but never-the-less enticing. Participants pay a £5 entry fee and play a 7 rounded Swiss tournament with 10 minutes each on the clock. It’s a winner-takes-all type of affair (well actually the winner takes 45% of the entry fee and the runner up 20%) but you get the idea!

As it happens this edition (they try to organise one every month) was the best attended yet with 17 players involved. As one of the highest rated entrants I was expected to do well. Of course it’s never as straightforward as the ratings suggest it will be and although I did manage to win with a score of 6/7 there were certainly some hiccups and lucky breaks along the way. You have to have a bit of good fortune in blitz chess.

I got off to my customary slow start. In the first round I managed to obtain a dreadful position from the opening and compounded my troubles by getting into terrible time trouble. Late in the middle game I managed to conjure up some desperate tricks and was most relieved when my opponent missed a mating combination. In round four, sharing the lead with one other player, I was felled by this rival who played excellently in a complicated game and fully deserved to take the sole lead. Sadly for him he then fell to pieces completely and lost his next couple of games to disappear from the top of the leader board.

In rounds 5 and 6 I was fortunate enough to be able to enter into a pair of Two Knight’s variations against two of the stronger players in the competition. This pet opening enabled me to pick up two wins out of the opening when normally I’d have expected long and difficult scraps. I’ve given these two miniatures below. Both were won on the 20th move and gave me some pleasure. The Two Knights has a habit of doing that in my experience!

My final dose of good fortune came in the final round when I played a colleague from Leeds Chess Club. He played Larsen’s Opening (1.b3) which he knows inside out and I inadvertently followed a mainline for about 15 moves! The outcome was that he obtained a favourable double rook and pawn ending and as I desperately tried to hold the position he made excellent inroads. Eventually I decided to abandon passive defence and doubled my rooks on the e-file. At that point one of his rooks was on f2, his king was on g1 and he had pawns on g2 and h2. The game ended when he played …Kf1??

Lucky old me!

Apr 232011

Today is St.George’s Day and so it only seems right that this blog celebrate the occasion by offering up a Dragon to be slain! Of course I’m talking about the chess variation rather than the mythical beast itself. I count myself as something of a Sicilian Dragon aficionado and have played the opening numerous times with both sets of pieces. In the game I’m presenting for examination today I was playing with White in an online correspondence tournament in which all games played had to be Dragons. My opponent chose to play a line called the Soltis Variation (it’s named after the American GM who is credited with introducing it into high level chess) and things got very interesting there after. In fact this game also features the only occurance I think I’ve ever come across in a genuine game where one player has ended up with quadrupled pawns so, to me, it is something of a collectors item.

The Soltis variation (characterised by 11…h5) is reputable and very sound. Recommendations don’t come any higher than that of ex-World Champion Garry Kasparov who, in his title match against Viswanathan Anand in 1995, chose to defend this line of the Dragon after a series of set-backs with his beloved Najdorf variation. I can remember the shock waves this switch caused amongst commentators at the time of the match. It was a huge change in strategy from Kasparov but, as always with him, it was a practical decision and it worked. Anand was caught off guard, lost in the first game that the Soltis was played and the momentum of the match changed decisively.

I hope readers will enjoy this little sojourn into Dragon theory…

Apr 152011

These words of wisdom from Emanuel Lasker came back to me this week as I analysed a game that I played in the Leeds League on Wednesday. Take a look at the position below. It’s Black to move. What would you play?

I think that the real point behind Lasker’s motto is that if you think you’ve found a good move then it follows that your position must be reasonable and that usually means there are numerous possibilities. If there are numerous possibilities then that might mean you’ve missed an even better option. How many times do we miss killer moves because we think we’ve found the best move in the position and stopped looking?

Ok, that’s today’s lecture over. Now, let’s move on to the latest league results from Monday night. John Kerrane picks up the tale.

“With the end of the Calderdale Chess Evening League approaching, Hebden Bridge Chess club’s two second division sides found themselves drawn against each other at the Trades Club.

The ‘D’ team put up a valiant struggle, with Matt Levy on board 3 taking Steve Priest to the very end of time allowed, but the greater strength of the senior team told and the ‘C’ team came away with a 5-0 victory.

This match also saw the second outing for the ‘D’ team’s new junior prospect, 9-year-old Kyle Sharpe. Although he did not win, he did enough to show that he will be a serious problem to senior players in a year or two.”

The full score card is given below:

Hebden Bridge ‘D’ — Hebden Bridge ‘C’
J.Todd 0 — 1 D.Sugden
P.Dearden 0 — 1 J.Blinkhorn
M.Levy 0 — 1 S.Priest
K.Sharpe 0 — 1 P.Leonard
D.Crampton 0 — 1 P.Rawlings
0 — 5

Next week sees the season end hove into view as all four teams will be in action. Both our Division 1 teams are playing away with the ‘A’ team still hoping that their rivals Huddersfield will slip up and allow them to retain their title and the ‘B’ team hoping they can hold their nerve against Brighouse and stay in the top flight.

Meanwhile the ‘C’ team are the only ones at home as they face Huddersfield ‘B’ needing a win to keep alive any hopes of promotion and the ‘D’ team finish off the season against Todmorden ‘C’ as they aim to score a few more board points to offer them some encouragement for next year. Of course full results and, hopefully some games, will appear right here as soon as they are available. Anyone wanting to see current league standings ahead of the last round can do so at the Calderdale Chess League website (their is a link on the tool bar on the right).

Mar 262011
“You’re playing all the wrong notes!”

Some readers may be familiar with the classic Morecambe and Wise comedy sketch from their 1971 Christmas show. It’s the one with Andre Previn and the London Symphony Orchestra. Eric Morecambe is going to play Greig’s piano concerto and Previn is conducting. Of course the joke is that, despite his confident posturing Morecambe doesn’t have a clue what he is doing. After a series of excuses and prevaricating antics Previn finally looses his cool and says.

“You’re playing all the wrong notes!”

In response Morecambe comically draws himself up on his toes, puffs out his chest, performs that little comic aside that he does to camera where he pushes his spectacles back up his nose and then grabs Previn firmly by the lapels of his dinner jacket and says…

“I’m playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order.”

How many times could every chess player ruefully exclaim the appropriate paraphrase of that punch line at the end of a game? The order moves are played in in a chess game are just as important as the moves themselves. Last Wednesday I was the beneficiary of just such a move syntax error. Take a look at the position below which developed out of a Sicilian Sveshnikov.

Intermezzo vs. O.P.Ponent. Position after Black’s 21st move

How would you assess the position before White’s 22nd move? Well, it’s certainly complicated! Black appears to stand very well because he has an open f-file to wreak havoc down and his bishop on h6 prevents White from castling long, which he would very much like to do. With my king trapped in the middle of the board I felt that I had to take steps to restrict Black’s active pieces so I played 22.Qe6 which I felt rather pleased with. It is a good multi purpose move as it pins the Black rook to its king, ties the Black queen to the defence of d6 and also enables White to prepare some back rank threats.

The game now continued
22… bxc3
23.bxc3 Qb8
24.Bh3! Nd4??
25.cxd4 Bd2+
26.Kd1 …

… and my adversary, shacking his head in dismay, resigned. Of course he had forgotten that after 25.cxd4 my knight is guarding the b4 checking square. Oops!

However, that blunder doesn’t mean that my opponent’s concept was flawed. On this occasion he just executed it inaccurately. Let’s go back to his 23rd move. What if he played 23…Nd4!! here?

Position is Black had played 23…Nd4!!

Now this is simply winning for Black. White can’t capture the knight on d4 because then 24…Qa5+ will be mate. In addition to this point the White queen is attacked and if it moves then 24…Nc2+ will win the exchange. Ouch! As it turns out my ‘great’ multi purpose move was a terrible mistake which I succeeded in surviving only because my opponent got his move order wrong.

Later on, as I drove home I imagined Mr. Ponent disconsolately making his own journey home and muttering disappointedly to himself.

“I played all the right moves, but not necessarily in the right order.”

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.