Our simultaneous match with Grand Master Danny Gormally in aid of Calderdale Flood Relief took place on Sunday the 7th of February. Twenty-one players from both the Calder Valley and further afield across West Yorkshire and East Lancashire took their seats in the comfortable surroundings of Hebden Bridge Town Hall’s Waterfront Hall to pit their wits against England’s number 14 and last year’s British Chess Championship runner-up.
Having billed the event as a 30 board simul I was somewhat agitated when Danny arrived in Hebden Bridge the evening before and asked how many players we had confirmed. I had to admit that it was ‘only 17’ but that I was hopeful some more would turn up on the day and that, in any case, the players who had registered were pretty strong. Perhaps it was for the best that numbers were somewhat lower than we’d hoped. Of course that wasn’t really the point, I wanted 30 players because I wanted to raise as much money through entry fees as I possibly could. Fortunately, Northern Rail’s involvement and donation of £250 helped to bolster the financial numbers. They also arranged Danny’s train tickets for us which was no small thing as he travelled down from Alnwick in Northumberland.
I’d met Danny once before at another simul in Leeds five years before. He seemed then like an easy-going, honest (at times maybe too honest!) and friendly chap and that impression of him was reinforced during the course of Saturday evening as we had a few drinks and ate a curry together. I hadn’t realised that Danny had actually spent some time in the Calderdale Valley immediately after his successful trip to Warwick for the British Championships last August. He’d planned on playing in the Huddersfield Rapidplay on his way home the weekend after the British and decided to stay in Elland and explore the area for a few days before hand. In the end I suspect it was this stay in West Yorkshire that influenced his decision to come and give the simul. He’d been to Hebden Bridge and liked it.
Before I dive into an account of the simul itself I’d like to say a few words about the venue. It simply would not have been possible to have held this event without the support of Hebden Bridge Town Hall. They don’t usually open the place on Sundays but they did for us. What’s more they staffed the cafÃ© which, besides keeping the participants refreshed, also helped to draw in a few curious members of the public. Our hearty thanks to the staff and management of the Town Hall for providing a fabulous space for us to hold the event in and for taking such an interest in what might have otherwise been viewed as something of a nerd fest. I think those who did pop their heads in were genuinely interested and somewhat in awe of the effort that both Danny and the participants were putting into the games.
I needn’t have worried about the number of players we had. We did get some more entries on the day to take us up to twenty-one in total and also a number of local players and old friends of the chess club popped in to lend their support by buying raffle tickets and cheering on their comrades. This was much appreciated too and there was a warm welcome for everyone.
Before we began there was time to pose for a formal photograph with Northern Rail’s representative Helen Kettleborough and Grand Master Gormally. Well, it wouldn’t have been a fundraiser without a few handshakes and an enormous ceremonial cheque would it? Then it was down to business as we quickly ran through the rules of engagement (I jokingly promised that Danny had offered to play a re-match with colours reversed against anyone who beat him quickly — perhaps I won’t make that joke again next time!) and then the players chose and took their seats.
It had occurred to me during the preparations for the event that it might be nice to print out plaques bearing each player’s name, club and rating. That might have given Danny a better idea of the strength of the opposition he was facing. Still, as he went round the room shaking hands and playing his opening moves I noted with interest that he played 1.e4 and 1.d4 exclusively. This seemed like a mark of great respect from our guest and, as the games unfolded, it turned out that respect would not be unwarranted.
I don’t mind saying that I expected nothing whatsoever from my game with Danny. I was mostly taking part to help make up the numbers although of course I also wanted the chance to test my skills against a GM. Previous experience of simuls had taught me that I didn’t tend to concentrate too well during the early stages of the game as I was too aware of other games going on around me and players settling into their own ‘zones’ as battle lines are drawn up. I made a pretty snap decision to play Albin’s Counter Gambit on my board which was a pretty impudent selection. I’ve added some notes to my game and the psychological tug of war going on in my head in the game viewer at the end of this post.
It was very interesting to see how the chips fell in terms of the seating arrangements. Danny certainly found himself approaching the chess equivalent of ‘Amen Corner’ at the US Masters Golf in Augusta when he reached the highest rated player in the room (after Danny of course!) Matthew Parsons of Huddersfield. Seated on Matthew’s left were John Morgan (Halifax), Dave Wedge (Hebden Bridge) and Andrew Clarkson (Burnley) all these four are rated between 160 and 185. Later on, as proceedings got particularly testing for Danny, he had a similarly tough sequence on the other side of the room as he approached Chris Bak (Bradford), Andrew Bak (Bradford), myself, Richard Bedford (Todmorden) Darwin Ursal (Halifax). All three of the games Danny lost and a significant portion of the six draws he agreed to, came from these two segments of the room though that’s not to say he didn’t find spirited resistance on all the other boards for he most certainly did.
The pivotal moment in the afternoon came just over an hour into play when I became aware as I took a quick tour of the room that Andrew Clarkson was looking very excited and his game had attracted a good deal of attention. As he mentions in the commentary to his own game he essayed an exchange sacrifice in a line of the Pirc Defence that he considers to be risky for Black and usually only plays in blitz games to stir up trouble. Maybe he was curious to see how Danny would go about refuting it. Optically Black appeared to have good compensation for the material on the form of a huge lead in development and a pair of advanced pawns on the e and f-files. Danny defended calmly at first and when Andrew’s queen checked him on h4 he simply moved his king to f1 and seemed to be hunkering down. Unfortunately this allowed Andrew to bait a diabolical trap and Danny fell right into it. The outcome was the loss of his queen for no compensation whatsoever. The position was completely lost but Danny staggered on for a few more moves before accepting that he was going to have to let them game go and not waste any more of his energy on it.
Despite the fact that Danny had chalked up a couple of wins by the time he’d resigned to Andrew, this moment completely changed the atmosphere in the playing hall in two ways. First of all Danny was annoyed and frustrated at making a mistake that had cost him a game and that seemed to affect his concentration for a little while. Secondly, the rest of the participants all realised that it was possible to get a result out of Danny and re-doubled their own efforts. The outcome of both these factors was that Danny’s task got much more challenging.
By this stage of the afternoon Danny had beaten John Nicholson, Dave Colledge (both Halifax), Paul Whitehouse (Brighouse), John Kerrane (Hebden Bridge), Richard Bedford (Todmorden) and Joe Birks (Burnley) who at 7-years-old was the youngest participant in proceedings. This first game against Joe was very interesting. In a French Tarrasch Danny sacrificed a piece to get at Joe’s king but the youngster defended tenaciously and appeared to be fighting back well when he made a mistake and that allowed Danny to break through to the Black king at the second time of asking. This game, along with all but one of the others are available to view and play through in the game viewer at the end of this article. After achieving a second victory over Joe at the very end of the session, Danny was very impressed to learn his young adversary’s age. It’s certainly a name to look out for in the future if his form at this event was anything to go by.
This string of six comparatively early wins and the defeat to Andrew Clarkson should have given Danny a decent platform to build on by about 3.30pm. However, as mentioned above, that single defeat really disrupted his equilibrium for a little while during which time he made mistakes on a few other boards and landed himself in very hot water. Further wins against John Morgan (Halifax), Andy Leatherbarrow (Hebden Bridge), Malcolm Birks (Burnley) and Steve Harrington (Halifax) followed but now Danny was getting fatigued and frustrated that he hadn’t managed to finish a couple of stubborn opponents off.
In the final hour of the session Danny had to tip his king against me and my neighbor that afternoon Andy Bak (Bradford). The latter defeat was particularly galling as he’d been a pawn up in a rook and minor piece ending but had somehow bungled his victory. He could very easily have lost to Gordon Glover (Blackburn) as well but craftily offered a draw in a tempting position and Gordon only too happily accepted peace terms only to find that he was almost certainly winning in prosaic fashion when he analysed the game afterwards.
Now the end of the afternoon was nigh and Danny pragmatically made draw offers on a number of boards in order to focus his remaining energy on the few remaining games where he had the most realistic chances to win. Darwin Ursal (Halifax), Chris Bak (Bradford), Richard Bedford (in his second game of the afternoon) and Dave Wedge (Hebden Bridge) all agreed to peace terms. Danny now tried to grind down the remaining players who were all settled in for long endgames with grim-faced determination. Finally, Martin Syrett (Hebden Bridge), Mike Barnett (Halifax) and Pete Leonard (Hebden Bridge) were defeated deep into their endgames although it appears Pete missed a chance to claim a draw through three-fold repetition.
The last game of the afternoon to finish was against the highest rated player in the room after himself. Matthew Parsons had been made to suffer down a piece for a pawn but the winning method was not straightforward as there were so few pawns left on the board. Exhausted and, as he tweeted later, ‘feeling like a punch drunk boxer’ Danny offered Matthew a draw which was accepted and the simul was over.
Danny’s final score was 14 wins, 6 draws and 3 defeats. Here’s a record of all results:
- Defeats: Andrew Clarkson, Andy Bak and Dave Shapland
- Draws: Dave Wedge, Matthew Parsons, Darwin Ursal, Richard Bedford, Chris Bak and Gordon Glover
- Wins: Malcolm Birks, Mike Barnett, John Nicholson, Steve Harrington, Joe Birks (x2), Richard Bedford, Andy Leatherbarrow, Pete Leonard, John Kerrane, Dave Colledge, Paul Whitehouse, Martin Syrett and John Morgan
We asked Danny to select the game that he considered to be the best of the afternoon. He picked the fascinating and complex encounter with John Morgan. Even though Danny won the game in the end he was very impressed with John’s play in an opening variation which is a pet line that he’s been playing for years. John’s knowledge of the system was evident in the early stages and Danny was in serious danger of losing the game at one point. There are lots of interesting ideas and variations in it so it’s well worth looking through the game (with some notes added) in the viewer at the end of this post. Danny has also commented on the game (and the event in general) on his YouTube channel. I’ve embedded the video below.
The prize for the best game was a 12 month premium subscription to Chess24. Congratulations to John for winning this prize which was well-deserved for his enterprising play.
This week we closed the books on this event and have done all our sums. In total we have raised just over £750 for Calderdale Flood Relief which is more than we had expected. All that remains then is to say a big ‘Thank you’ to those without whom this event would not have been possible (everything in orange below is a hyperlink that you can follow if you want to know more):
- To our new friends at Hebden Bridge Town Hall for opening their doors to us on a Sunday and giving us such a warm welcome. The venue was really perfect
- To Northern Rail for paying for Danny Gormally’s travel tickets and donating £250
- To the Chairman of the Calderdale Chess League Association, Howard Wood for donating a number of high value fantastic prizes for our raffle
- Also to our friends at Chess24 who provided our ‘Best Game’ prize plus two further premium memberships for the raffle
- To Chess Magazine and their editor International Master Richard Palliser for their donation and providing us with a space to report on the event in their March edition. Order your copy now!
- To Halifax Courier and the Hebden Bridge Times for sending heir photographer and reporting so extensively on the event in last week’s edition (the report is still available online)
- To BBC Radio Leeds for taking the time to interview me about the event on the Johnny I’Anson Breakfast Show (it’s 1hr 25mins into the show!)
- To all of those spectators and friends of the chess club who came along on the day to buy raffle tickets and support the participants
- To the twenty one players who paid and gave up their valuable Sunday afternoons to take on a Grand Master.
- And finally, our heartfelt thanks to GM Danny Gormally for coming down to Hebden Bridge and being such an excellent competitor in taking on a strong field and performing magnificently. We hope to welcome you back again in the future. His new book ‘A Year Inside the Chess World’ is on sale now!