Sep 142012

Last year’s champions fell at the first hurdle this year. This image is used under Creative Commons license and sourced from Leo Reynolds Flickr photostream

In recent seasons something of a tradition has developed in the Calderdale Evening Chess League’s first division. The reigning champions always give their title rivals a sporting chance at the beginning of the new season by losing their first match. Last season Huddersfield took this tradition to new extremes by losing their first two matches. They still battled back into contention but were a point behind Hebden Bridge ‘A’ and Todmorden ‘A’ when the dust had settled.

Despite dearly yearning to break this quaint custom, this year’s reigning title holders, Hebden Bridge ‘A’, ended up following the same path. Ironically against Huddersfield. To make the result even more painful, Hebden were at home, fielded a team that was strong enough to beat their nemesis and managed to lose on two boards where they probably had the upper hand. The result could easily have been turned on its head.

The night began badly for Hebden Bridge when Huddersfield’s Captain and Board 1 player, Mitchell Burke, despatched Matthew Webb summarily after an uncharacteristic blunder by Matty left him a piece down for nothing whatsoever. The other four games continued later into the evening. Hebden stabilised the match situation when Nick Sykes pressed Robert Sutcliffe for the whole game without really looking like he could find a big enough advantage to win and peace was agreed.

At this stage the situation still seemed retrievable for Hebden. Their Captain, Dave Shapland managed to exploit a small inaccuracy by Antonio Aguirre to give himself a passed d-pawn on board 4 and Pete Leonard on board 3 had the better of a complicated queen and pawn ending against the adamantine Richard Boylan. Wins on these two boards would probably have seen Hebden to victory but it was not to be.

Dave Shapland doesn’t generally get into time trouble but on this occasion he did and as he scrambled to make the control at move 36 his tiny advantage evaporated and then became a significant deficit as he decided to hunker down for a passive defence instead of looking for active options. On move 35 he blundered his queen, resigned and lost on time simultaneously!

Still the match could have been saved. Matthew Parsons, in contrast to his Captain, had gained exactly nothing from his opening against David Firth but he resolutely ground out a victory from a virtually equal position in a double rook and pawn ending to show that he is up for another big season this year.

And so, yet again, the last board would decide the result of a Hebden Bridge ‘A’ match. Last season they made a habit of saving draws or snatching wins. This season they failed at the first attempt. Pete Leonard was the man undr the gun this time and he had 10mins to his opponents 5 but it was he that had to try and find the best course of action to secure victory and his time advantage soon evaporated. In the end Richard proved to be more equal to the psychological challenge of handling the switch from slow, deliberate and caeful play to the mania of a sudden death time crisis. Pete failed to find a winning plan and seemed unable to speed up his play sufficiently to put Richard under pressure. In the end it was Pete’s flag that dropped.

A frustrating night for Hebden ‘A’ then but congratulations must go to Huddersfield who, as they always do, put in a tough and resolute performance to snatch the points. The final match scorecard looked like this:

Hebden Bridge ‘A’ vs. Huddersfield
M.Webb 0 — 1 M.Burke
M.Parsons 1 — 0 D.Firth
P.Leonard 0 — 1 R.Boylan
D.Shapland 0 — 1 A.Aguirre
N.Sykes ½ — ½ R.Sutcliffe
1½ — 3½

Elsewhere in League 1, Todmorden ‘A’ crushed their colleagues, the newly promoted Todmorden ‘B’ (for whom the “retired” Alastair Wright made a surprise appearance on board 2!) by a score of 3 — 1 (both sides defaulted the bottom board). Courier ‘A’ overcame the default of their top board to defeat Belgrave at home 3 — 2. Finally, the other promoted team from last season, Halifax ‘A’ trounced Brighouse 4½ — ½ to go straight to the top of the table.

League 2 also got underway on Monday night and Hebden Bridge now has three teams battling it out in this division. John Kerrane picks up the story of their progress.

The ‘B’ team started life in the second division as they mean to go on with an emphatic 4 — 1 victory over their own ‘C’ team players. Despite serious resistance by the ‘C’ team, the superior strength of the senior team carried the day, especially on the lower boards. The individual results were:

Hebden Bridge ‘B’ vs. Hebden Bridge ‘C’
M.Wedge-Roberts 0 — 1 J.Kerrane
A.Leatherbarrow 1 — 0 T.Sullivan
D.Sugden 1 — 0 R.Deravairere
M.Syrett 1 — 0 J.Todd
S.Priest 1 — 0 T.Wilton-Davies
4 — 1

Before we go on to the ‘D’ team report let us just give an honourable mention to Mr Kerrane himself who modestly omitted his own tremendous results against former pupil Matthew Wedge-Roberts. This result saved a white wash and was hard earned.

The ‘D’ team chalked up an encouraging 4 — 1 win away against Courier ‘B’. Although they were helped by defaults by the home side, Hebden Bridge ‘D’ won the majority of the games played, and promise to be a tougher proposition this season. The individual results were:

Courier ‘B’ vs. Hebden Bridge ‘D’
J.B.Smith 0 — 1 C.Sharpe
P.Jacobs 0 — 1 K.Sharpe
R.Bottomley 1 — 0 D.Rich
Default 0 — 1 D.Crampton
Default 0 — 1 D.Leggett
1 — 4

Indeed, Danny Crampton’s ‘D’ team will trouble many more teams in the division than they did last season. With our excellent junior prospect, Kyle Sharpe, his father Craig, new club member Daniel Rich as well as Robert Murray who is still to be added to the side on board 1, I think they could be the surprise package of this season. Watch this space…

In the game viewer below you’ll find nine games from Monday night including annotated contributions from Matthew Parsons and Pete Leonard. It’s always good to see some annotated games from some of the best players in the league so thanks to them for taking the time and effort.

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Apr 122012

It’s been the most competitive League 1 title race in years and it’s going to go right to the tape as both Hebden Bridge ‘A’ and Todmorden ‘A’ won their matches last Monday to ensure that the final round will be decisive.

Of course a competitive league is also a tight league and the two contenders both expended another of their cats lives on their way to victory as Brighouse and Courier ‘A’ respectively ran them very close indeed. The outcomes of both matches were heavily affected by the dreaded zeintot as critical decisions were made quickly and under intense pressure. Here are two examples:

Shapland vs. Hudson: position after 36.Kh1

In this first position (right) from Hebden’s match with Brighouse the away player clearly has the game in the palm of his hand. White is a piece down and his king is extremely vulnerable. White had been hanging on desperately for several moves when this position arose but, critically, it’s the 36th and final move before time control. As he searched for the right way to apply the finishing touch Brighouse’s Nick Hudson glanced at his clock and, suddenly realising that he only had a few seconds to make his move, jerked into life and banged out 36…Rxf2? At this point Dave Shapland (playing White) breathed a huge sigh of relief for, after the clocks had been put back, the game concluded with:

37.Qxf2 Qh7
38.Rg5  ½-½

The game assessment has changed completely and now White is winning so, why a draw? Well, you’ll have to read the match report to understand that but let’s just say that when a draw is all that is required to seal a result players can make decisions they wouldn’t make in other circumstances. However, here is a stark example of the last move before time control being critical to the outcome of a game.

Here’s another example from the Todmorden vs. Courier match:

Clarkeson vs. Clegg: position after 48.Kd3

This game has gone past the first time control and both players are (once again!) in desperate time trouble. Of course Black should be winning easily. He has an extra rook. However, when you’ve been playing for over 3 hours and the rest of the players in the match have all finished and are kibbitzing the pressure is absolutely acute.

Black played 48…Ra2?! (48…Rcd2+ 49.Kc3 exd5 50.cxd5 Rxd5 is winning for Black) and when White responded with 49.d6 and offered a draw Black couldn’t see past the various threats to find a solution. Given his shortage of time he felt forced to agree to peace.

Thanks to Todmorden’s Andrew Clarkeson for sending us this critical game. There are lots of interesting variations as it turns out. You can take a look at them all in the game viewer at the end of this post. He described the critical game in the match for us:

We only just beat Courier to keep the title on ice. We used up all our luck in that match when I managed to achieve a draw against Robert Clegg at 10:40pm. I had been lost for ages, a whole Rook down with nebulous compensation, but kept plugging away even with zero time on my clock. With everybody gathered round and his own flag rising Robert saw the spectre of a mate or pawn promotion to a Queen for myself, so reluctantly accepted my draw offer. Of course the truth was he was still completely winning in the final position but that is chess pressure for you.”

This draw turned out to be critical to the outcome of the match as there had already been three drawn games and a single victory for Todmorden on board 5. This last result enabled Todmorden to steal a 3-2 victory that ensured the title race would go to the last round of the season.

Meanwhile, Hebden Bridge ‘A’, having lost for the first time this season in the previous round at Belgrave, were suffering from a severe bout of the jitters. The team was slightly under strength without Matthew Parsons to occupy board 2 but they still appeared to have too much fire power for a Brighouse side that had travelled without their star performer, Dennis Breen.

Half-way through the evening it appeared that disaster was going to strike again for Hebden as 3 of the 5 boards were objectively lost for the home side and one of the other two seemed very drawish. That was when Hebden, who have gotten themselves out of numerous scrapes this year, started to use up more of their cat lives.

First of all Andy Leatherbarrow, deputising for the ‘A’ team on board 5, took advantage of a blunder by Ron Grandage to deliver a checkmate when he was an exchange down. It had been even worse earlier on when he’d correctly sacrificed a piece for an attack but had then misplayed the position to leave Ron with an overwhelming material plus.

By this stage of proceedings Darwin Ursal had already seen off Robert Broadbent on board 1 for the second time this season and that left the league leaders in a commanding 2-0 position that perhaps did not reflect the nature of the struggle.

On board 2, Pete Leonard mis-played his opening against Bruce Bendall and went two pawns down in the middle game. Bruce maintained an excellent grip on the advantage and when the end game arrived he had two connected passed pawns which he duly nursed home for a very creditable victory.

This result combined with Dave Shapland’s plight on board 3 really put the result of the tie into some doubt. However, as we saw from the first diagram in this post, Dave was, to all intents and purposes, saved by the bell (or at least the clock!) when Nick Hudson blundered away all his good work on the last move before time control. Dave glanced across at Nick Sykes’ position on board 4 before offering his opponent a draw that essentially secured the match win. But, as he made the proposition he also said, “I don’t deserve to win this game. Not in this fashion”.

This left Sykes in the happy position of only needing to draw his endgame against Paul Whitehouse. He was a pawn up in a pawn and piece ending but, rather than taking the easy option, to his very great credit, Nick played on. He was, no doubt, spurred on by the painful memory of failing to convert a two pawn advantage against Les Johnson in the Belgrave match and, although many of the kibbitzers felt his slender advantage could not be converted, he proved them all wrong by driving home his last remaining pawn to clinch the match in fine style.

The final match score card was:

Hebden Bridge ‘A’ vs. Brighouse
D.Ursal 1 — 0 R.Broadbent
P.Leonard 0 — 1 B.Bendall
D.Shapland ½ – ½ N.Hudson
N.Sykes 1 — 0 P.Whitehouse
A.Leatherbarrow 1 — 0 R.Grandage
3½ – 1½

So, both of the top two teams survived substantial scares to ensure that the title race goes the distance. Todmorden play the back markers, Huddersfield ‘B’ away in the last round, a match they must surely win. This means that Hebden Bridge must also win their final round encounter away against Courier ‘A’, a much tougher prospect. If Hebden draw and Todmorden win then it will come down to board count and a 5-0 win for Todmorden (not unrealistic) would snatch the title by the slenderest possible margin… a single drawn game. Could that draw in time trouble by Andrew Clarkeson or Dave Shapland’s sporting draw offer against Nick Hudson when he could have played for a win turn out to be critical moments in the campaign?

Whilst all this was going on Hebden Bridge ‘B’ were also in action at home against their ‘A’ team’s conquerors, Belgrave. With Andy Leatherbarrow having moved up to the ‘A’ team, Martin Syrett had to press himself into service on the top board and Dave Sugden and Josh Blinkhorn were also promoted. The result was immaterial for Syretts’ men as their relegation is sadly already assured. Nevertheless they gave an excellent account of themselves against a strong Belgrave side with four of the five team members earning draws. Only Josh blotted their copy book when he lost to Mike Barnett. All the games from both these league 1 fixtures are in the game viewer at the end of this post. I draw readers attention to Martin’s comfortable draw with a Kings Gambit against Belgrave board 1, Gordon Farrar.

Here is the final scorecard:

Hebden Bridge ‘B’ vs. Belgrave
M.Syrett ½ – ½ G.Farrar
D.Sugden ½ – ½ M.Corbett
J.Blinkhorn 0 — 1 M.Barnett
J.Kerrane ½ – ½ A.Gonzalez
N.Bamford ½ – ½ L.Johnson
2 – 3

This just leaves me to round up by informing readers of the fate of reigning champions Huddersfield ‘A’. They played ‘away’ against their ‘B’ team colleagues and won an odd match (the ‘A’ team was very much under strength and even defaulted board 4) by the odd point. Mathematically this still leaves them in contention for the title but in order to win they would need Hebden Bridge to lose and, more unlikely, Todmorden to draw or lose to Huddersfield ‘B’.

Before I sign off I’d like to mention that Hebden Bridge ‘D’ also played on Monday night in a postponed match against Courier ‘B’. They managed to win the match to secure their second win of the season. More of this in our next post.

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Sep 102011

Ok, so the cover looks like it was designed
by a simpleton, but don’t let that put you off.
This book is superb!

They are the words chess players hate seeing at the end of a scoresheet. Yes, today’s post is all about time forfeits. It’s also a first opportunity for me to offer readers a bit of a book review for a title I purchased recently called “The Joys of Chess” by Christian Hesse. I purchased it last month and it was the first chess book I had bought in quite some time. My attraction to it probably reflects my changing needs as a chess player, or, to be more precise, a chess publisher. That’s because this book is not an opening treatise or a self-help manual. It is pure entertainment and there is a bucket load of material here for a chess blogger.

To be blunt, I can’t recommend this book heartily enough. Rarely has the title of a book so aptly reflected its content. This work is a gem that has been some years in the making. Hesse has been gathering material throughout his 30-year career as a chess player (he is a Professor of Mathematics by trade). The format of the book makes it very easy to dip in and out of and so you don’t need to spend hours at a time pouring over it with a board. In my household we call this type of publication a “good toilet book” because you can easily consume a chapter during the course of a call of nature! The chapters are mostly fairly short and there are enough diagrams in it to allow you to follow the course of any play without having to use a computer or a board. The subjects are many (there are over 50 chapters in here) and varied cover such diverse topics as “Chess and Psychology”, “Quantum Logic in Chess”, “Retreats of Genius”, “Brilliant Bad Moves” and “Provocation”. I already know that I’m going to be sharing and expanding on some of the contents of this book here on the blog for a long time to come. Fans of Tim Krabbe’s “Chess Curiosities” will love it.

Amongst the chapters is a section called “Time and Time Forfeits” and it is from here that I would like reach for some entertaining examples for today’s post. I’ve written about time management and time trouble on these pages before and the drama of “zeitnot” can be most compelling for spectators watching a game. For the participants however it is exceedingly stressful and yet, some players across every level of competitive chess get into habitual time trouble.

On occasions the likely outcome of a game can be completely turned on it’s head due to one player blundering in time trouble or even running out of time. I’ve only forfeited on time in competitive play once or twice and I can well remember the anguish of feeling like I had wasted my efforts on a game that I had “thrown away”. Let’s face it, most time forfeits are conceded when the game situation is still unclear and often complicated. Losing in such a way with the potential of the game unfulfilled can leave a deep psychological wound.

For example, Hesse mentions Nigel Short’s traumatic loss in the first game of his World Championship match with Garry Kasparov in London in 1993. I had not long started playing chess at the time of this match and remember it vividly. Short had a winning position at the board but over stepped the time limit and forfeited the game. He never really recovered from that loss and went on to lose the match by some margin. As a small diversion however I’d like to recommend the following You Tube clip to readers which is very funny indeed and cleverly made…

Right, back to the task at hand. Hesse references two further examples of time forfeiture that I was not aware of.

Position after 35.Bc5.
Spassky vs. Hort, Game 15
Candidates quarterfinal, Reykjavik, 1977

The position on the left was reached in the penultimate game of a Candidates quarterfinal match. With the match score level the Czech superstar Vlastimil Hort had succeeded in giving himself a wonderful chance of qualification after gaining a winning advantage with Black in this position. An eyewitness to the encounter, Australian Grandmaster Ian Rogers, picks up the story.

“Hort had 4 minutes left in which to reach move 40, and his hand was over the queen about to play the winning move 35…Qg4. Just one of several variations is 36.Rf2 (36.g3 Qh3 is just as bad) Rd1+ 37.Rf1 Rxc1 38.Rxc1 Qd1+ 39.Kf2 Bc5 and White must resign. But Hort’s brain refused to let his hand play the move and the numerous spectators witnessed the horrific drama as Hort’s clock ticked down to zero and he lost on time.”

This is a bizarre case that seems to be analogous to a golfer getting the yips and being unable to execute his putting stroke. Hort was later moved to say in an interview “It was the blackest day of my life”. Truly it scarred him deeply for he was unable to win the last game of the match with the White pieces and lost the match never again to qualify for the Candidates cycle.

Hesse then recounts another extraordinary rabbit-in-the-headlights case of time forfeiture.

Position after 39.Kh3
Larsen vs Gheorghiu, Olympiad
Siegen, 1970

This case (on the right) occurred in another high profile and high stakes environment, the Olympiad, but this time there was some history between the two players that seems to have effected the Romanian’s psyche. He had a terrible personal score against Larsen and admitted that he found playing the irrepressible Dane to be extremely wearing. Never-the-less, in the position above he had managed to secure a winning advantage and needed now only to play 39…Nf3 (threatening 40…Ng5 mate) and Black will be able to convert his material advantage after, for example, 40.Kg2 Ng5+ 41.Kf1 Qxc4+ 42.Qe2 Qxd5. Instead of doing this however, the history books recorded another point in Larsen’s favour. In their book about the Siegen Olympiad, David Levy and Raymond Keene described what happened.

“Eye-witnesses of this remarkable encounter report that Gheorghiu stretched out his arm to play the decisive move 39…Nf3, but just at that moment the said arm was seized by a convulsive shake to such an extent that the Romanian grandmaster was not able to move the piece to the target square. As he tried to summon up the willpower to overcome this unfortunate case of paralysis he over-stepped the time-limit.”

The Larsen hoodoo had triumphed once again.

At least in both of these two cases the victims were aware of their imminent plight despite their physical incapability to doing anything to mitigate against it. In this last case from my own files the victim remained blissfully unaware of what lay in store for him.

Position after 61…Kc5

This is the final position from my third round encounter at the recent British Championships. It had been a tough battle and I had had my opponent on the ropes for much of the game. Having missed some chances to convert my pressure into a win, White now had the better of an endgame that was however, most likely, still drawn. Both of us were down to our last 2 minutes to complete the game and I was expecting my opponent to offer me a draw or try and play for a win. As I sat and waited, along with a gathering crowd, it became apparent to me that my adversary was not aware of the time crisis he was facing. He sat looking at the board as his clock ticked. He didn’t look up, he just thought… and thought… and ran out of time!

When I informed my hapless foe that he had forfeited the game he stared at me with glassy, vacant eyes and then, as realisation dawned on him, he shook his head miserably and said “I didn’t realise. The game is drawn. It’s a draw.” But unfortunately it wasn’t, he had lost!

I would only like to add by way of a salutory note that my opponent had arrived 20 minutes late for the start of the game. I leave it to readers to draw the moral from this tale of woe. 

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.