Sep 142022

Storm clouds gather. Hebden Bridge struggled in the first round of the new 4NCL Online season last night. Photo: Neil Moralee’s Flickr photostream (Creative Commons)

4NCL Online: Season 6

Last night saw the first round of fixtures for the latest season of the 4NCL Online get underway. Now in its sixth edition, the competition still boasts over 100 teams of four players despite a significant reduction in participation since the return of over the board chess. The format continues to remain popular for our members too as we have once again fielded three teams in this competition.

Hebden Bridge 1 won the Division 3 title last season while Hebden Bridge 2 and Hebden Bridge 3 both performed creditably in Division 4. With the reduction in number all three teams could reasonably have expected to have moved up a division but the organisers have re-formatted the competition to maintain 5 divisions despite the reduction of teams. They way they have done this is by halving the number of teams in divisions 1 to 4. In season 5 there were 32 teams in each division and these were split into four groups of eight. The winners of each group then qualified for divisional play-offs. This time around the top four divisions consist of 16 teams in two groups of eight and the winners and runners up in each group will go forward to the play offs.

Division 3

Hebden Bridge 1 look like the highest seeds in Group B of Division 3. At least on paper. However, as we’ve discovered time and time again in this competition, the ratings of the players involved can significantly under represent their true strength. Such was the case in Hebden’s first round fixture against Braunstone last night. Their average team rating was 1990 compared to their opponent’s 1681 but the course of play illustrated only too well that the two teams were much more closely matched than that.

Early on in the evening Hebden seemed to be slightly worse on boards 2, 3 and 4 whilst board 1 was equal right the way through the evening. However, whilst Phil Cook was ultimately compelled to settle for a draw on board 1, Andrew Clarkson, Dave Shapland and Pete Leonard all managed to turn their games around eventually to score full points. Time and time again in this competition Hebden 1 have shown themselves to be truly obdurate opponents capable of grinding out results from unfavourable positions and outlasting their opponents by maintaining their focus all the way to the end of the playing session. Perhaps this is a mark of their superior average rating after all. You can view all four games from the round in the game viewer below. The final match score card looked like this:

Hebden Bridge 1 vs Braunstone
(w) Phil Cook ½ – ½ David Bray
(b) Andrew Clarkson 1 – 0 Julian Tang
(w) Dave Shapland 1 – 0 Gavin Hart
(b) Pete Leonard 1 – 0 Hatle Mehta
3½ – ½

Division 4

By sharp contrast to the first team, Hebden 2 and Hebden 3 both suffered chastening defeats in their first matches of the season, though both were outgunned by their opponents in terms of average rating. Hebden 2 were probably a little bit weaker than they might ordinarily be due to a couple of absences from the stronger cohort in our squad. Never the less, thought they fought hard against a strong Sheffield University Graduates side, they ultimately got whitewashed. John Allan on board 1 and new member Talal Ezzo on board 2 both fought to the bitter end but were ground down by Phil Beckett and Robert Taylor respectively.

Hebden Bridge 3 did at least manage a consolation point against Ashfield Anonymous D as Chris Marsden scored a fine win on board 1 against Daniel Hardman. As he pointed out himself afterwards, it’s the first time in three seasons that he’s managed to win his opening match so let’s hope this is a good sign of things to come for him this season! Terry Sullivan was engaged in what looked like a very finely balanced struggle on board 2 and he was the last to finish in this tie, but he faltered at the end of the evenings play. Two of our newer members, ‘Hutch’ on board 3 and Matthew Nolan on board 4 were both victims of blunders which curtailed their resistance. Again, all games are in the game viewer at the bottom of this post and the match score cards are below.

Sheffield University Graduates vs Hebden Bridge 2
(w) Phil Beckett 1 – 0 John Allan
(b) Robert Taylor 1 – 0 Talal Ezzo
(w) Chris McSheehy 1 – 0 John Kerrane
(b) Brian Moore 1 – 0 Ollie Hill
4 – 0

Ashfield Anonymous D vs Hebden Bridge 3
(w) Daniel Hardman 0 – 1 Chris Marsden
(b) Chris Fraser 1 – 0 Terry Sullivan
(w) Eldars Gulijevs 1 – 0 Scott Hutchinson
(b) Daniel Pitts 1 – 0 Matthew Nolan
3 – 1

Instructions for using the PGN Viewer

For the benefit of those who are uninitiated, the game viewer above contains all of the games played on Tuesday night. It will automatically scroll through all of them one after the other unless you tell it to stop by clicking on the ‘=’ button below the board. To select the game you want to view click on the ‘…’ symbol in the white box above the board. This will reveal a dropdown menu for you to choose from and when you select your game will appear. You can navigate forwards and backwards using the arrow buttons beneath the board or click on the moves in the text box on the right.

Jan 312022

Our trophy for winning Division 5 of 4NCL Online Season 4 arrived with me last week

4NCL Online Season 5 began on Tuesday night last week and Hebden Bridge Chess Club once again fielded three teams in this national competition for chess clubs across the UK and Ireland. Having dipped our toe in the water with two teams in season 3 (which was played this time last year), and then expanded to three teams for Season 4 (which started in August last year), this competition is proving to be a good way to make sure everyone at the club has a chance to play some competitive chess – especially those who don’t yet feel ready to return to playing face to face.

The 4NCL has also been a great way to continue involving the historic members of the club who have now moved to other parts of the UK (or even the world) some of whom came back to join us when we moved online during lockdown. Our online community is really an extension our physical membership at the Trades Club.

The resumption of over the board chess means that participation in the 4NCL Online has been quite unpredictable. In season 3, at the height of the winter lockdown last year there were seven leagues and 264 teams of 4 players. That equals over 1,000 players participating in each of the seven rounds and then a reduced number taking part in the divisional playoff semi-finals and finals that followed. That’s quite a phenomenal participation rate. As clubs began to return to meeting and playing face to face, season 4 saw a significant reduction in numbers with five divisions and 184 teams. Now for season 5 numbers have dropped again, but less significantly to 154 teams in five divisions.

In season 4, Hebden Bridge 1 became champions of Division 5. Although this was the bottom division and our first team were the top seeds, this was still no mean achievement in a league consisting of 56 teams as the competition was fierce and many players in the league were much stronger than their fledgling ECF Online ratings suggested they would be. The teams from Morpeth and Cork in particular were of very similar strength to our first team and pushed them all the way. We beat Morpeth by the narrowest possible margin and only tied with Cork in round 7 by which time the title was, thankfully, already in the bag. By coincidence, I received the trophy recognizing our triumph this week and have pictured here so that all our members can enjoy it!

Our other teams also performed consistently with their average ratings. The second team started slowly with a defeat in round 1 and a draw in round 2 but then they won four matches in a row before falling to Wells Globetrotters 1 in the final round to finish in 10th place. Our third team finished just outside the top half of the table in 34th position. In a contrast of fortunes with the second team, they began with two excellent drawn matches against tough opposition, then lost their next four matches before rallying to win in the last two rounds and climb back up the table.

For season 5, there has once again been a significant ‘churn’ of teams with many dropping out of the league and a good number of new teams signing up. As expected, Hebden Bridge 1 were promoted out of the bottom division and have landed in Division 3. Meanwhile, both our second and third teams have been seeded into Division 4 and so have also avoided the melee of Division 5. The top four divisions are run along different lines to Division 5 which uses a seven rounded Swiss system to decide the winner. Instead, in the top divisions, there are 32 teams and these are then subdivided into four groups of eight teams. Each team plays a round robin against all the other teams in their group across seven rounds and then the winners of each group progress to the divisional play offs with a semi-final and final taking place. Winning their group then is the main target for each of our teams this season and that process began on Tuesday night.

Now let’s find out how each team did in their first round matches.

Hebden Bridge 1 vs Cork A

Hebden Bridge 1 are in Group C of Division 3. This saw them drawn alongside last season’s rivals Cork, who tied with them in the final round of season 4. With Hebden compelled to field a weaker line up than they had done for that final match of last season and Cork also marginally weaker, it promised to be another very closely fought affair. Hebden’s team consisted of Andrew Clarkson, Dave Shapland, David Wedge and Pete Leonard. All experienced players both over the board and online having played in both previous seasons that we have participated in the 4NCL Online.

The evening began pretty well for Hebden 1 as they seemed to secure at least a small advantage out of the opening on every board except board 1 where Andrew found himself up against it with the Black side of the Anti-Grunfeld set up deployed by Henk de Jonge. Although he was two pawns down, he had a perfectly acceptable position with active piece play until he opted for 18…Bxb2, recapturing one of the pawns, when 18…Bd4, maintaining the initiative, would have secured him a solid advantage. After that, he was on the edge of defeat for much of the rest of the game as his opponent was able to complete his development and consolidate his material advantage of an extra passed pawn on b5. Fortunately, Henk couldn’t play the resultant position as accurately as he needed to and Andrew was able to force a position where there was nothing better for White to do than repeat moves for a draw.

By this time David Wedge had already won his game with the Black pieces against Vaibhav Sharma on board 3. White played the opening very passively and David was quickly able to secure a very comfortable game. By move 20, he had an extra pawn and an overwhelming positional advantage which he did not waste and converted the position into a win on move 51 though is opponent could well have resigned long before that.

Pete Leonard also won his game on board 4 playing White against Sumeet Bhattacharjee to carry Hebden to victory. Black used the eccentric, but perfectly playable Czech Defence (characterised by 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 c6) against which Pete developed sensibly and then played for extra space on the queen’s side. There was a very brief moment early in the middle game where the engine thinks Black was slightly better, but aside from that, Pete’s game was reasonably comfortable throughout and his main challenge was managing his time. He won an exchange on move 20 and then made solid progress as he secured a fine outpost for one of his knights on d6. As he drifted into time trouble, Pete blundered back the exchange and the game seemed to equalise but then another error by his opponent, who was also getting short on time, simplified the task and led to a mating attack.

Pete’s win just left the board two game between Dave Shapland and Simon Lawrence to be decided. This was the only one of the four boards that saw a rerun of one of the games from the end of last season when Simon had beaten Dave handily. This time, Dave found a nice way to win a pawn as early as move nine on the White side of a French Defence Rubenstein Variation. However, he didn’t play the follow up accurately and started to drift when he played 19.Bc1, when 19.Qe2 would have preserved his advantage. After that he played a string of sub-optimal moves and Simon took full advantage grabbing the initiative, winning back the pawn and then over running Dave’s position to collect a comfortable point.

Despite this loss though, Hebden 1 had made a great start to their league campaign winning by 2½ – 1½ to improve on their tie with Cork last season. Two other teams won their opening matches in Hebden’s group. Brentwood Juniors won 4-0 (including two defaults) and Uxbridge B also won 2½ – 1½. The other match was drawn. Hebden will play Brentwood Juniors in round 2, so there is a chance to take control of their group right away.
You’ll find all the games from Hebden Bridge 1’s match against Cork A in the game viewer at the end of this post along with the games from the other two matches.

Hebden Bridge 2 vs Calstock Killers

Hebden Bridge 2 are also in Group C of their division. The trickle-down effect of missing players who usually represent the first team meant that both the second and third team were understrength compared to their regular line ups. However, the second team did really well to keep all of the games tight and, in the end, secured a hard-earned tie in a match where all four games were won by Black.

On board 1, John Allan was in fact the first Hebden player to finish from all three teams as he comfortably overcame his opponent, Gary Trudeau. Maybe it helped that he had played him twice before and beaten him on both occasions. Regardless, the game was in the balance until White over-extended himself in the centre in playing 12.e5 when 12.Bf3 – consolidating first – would have been more prudent. John then set up a nice trap with the seemingly innocuous 17…Nf8 which induced a blunder that lost a piece for nothing. Rather than play on, Gary resigned on the spot.

The remaining three games all finished around about the same time so let’s run through them in board order. On board 2 Ollie Hill played his usual brand of interesting and enterprising chess against Jason Henderson. Ollie elected to play an offbeat line against the French Defence and seemed to get a perfectly acceptable position early on even though the engine’s assessment did not think much of it. In practical play between two humans, sometimes playing to discombobulate your opponent is a highly effective approach. Ollie developed naturally but may later have had cause to regret choosing to castle queen’s side on move 11 as it was on this flank where Black’s decisive attack later broke through. Just as his opponent’s offensive seemed unstoppable though, Black blundered most of his advantage away with 20…Nc4, allowing a series of exchanges which simplified White’s defensive task. Sadly for Ollie, the respite didn’t last long, as a second wave of the assault arrived and broke through forcing Ollie to exchange his queen for one of Black’s rooks. The rest was a mopping up exercise which Jason completed efficiently.

It was a different story on board 3 where John Kerrane played very nicely to maintain control against Michael Hill. The game started out as a Semi-Slav Defence where Michael elected to close the pawn structure and try to play for a space advantage. As the opening transitioned into the middle game and the position started to open, it looked like John’s queen’s side pawns might be vulnerable to an attack. However, John defended himself carefully and Michael was unable to find a way to break into the Black camp. The game turned just after it transitioned into the end game as White took the wrong approach with 30.Rb6 when he should instead have pushed his passed a-pawn immediately. John launched a counter-attack which took advantage of his opponent’s back rank weakness and suddenly White’s passed a-pawn was blockaded whilst Black’s passed d-pawn was accelerating up the board. Michael felt compelled to sacrifice his knight for it and, now a piece up, John showed good technique to convert the full point.

Chris Marsden was holding his own quite nicely against Nigel Kirkman on board 4 throughout the opening and into the middle game. This game was played from a French Defence Classical Variation with neither player really able to gain the upper hand until Chris decided to try and break out with the ill-fated move 23.f4. This should have allowed Black to exchange pawns and pieces on c4 and then win a pawn by capturing twice on g3. Instead Nigel went for the attractive looking 23…Nxd4 which grabs a free pawn due to 24.Qxd4 falling to a deadly pin with 24…Bc5. Chris could have limited the damage to a pawn if he’d been able to find the tricky 24.b4, but instead went for 24.Be3 and this gave Nigel a second bite of the cherry that he did not fail to capitalize on. Chris got his bishop trapped on c4 and the rest was straight forward.

So, a very decent 2-all draw for the second team which may stand them in good stead as stronger players return to reinforce their efforts in round to come. Their match was the only one that was tied in the group and so they sit in joint 4th-5th along with their opponents.

Hebden Bridge 3 vs Downend 2

The third team are in Group B of Division 4. They had two experienced 4NCL Online players in the form of Josh Blinkhorn and Terry Sullivan on boards 1 and 3 and then two new-comers as Paul Gledhill and Matthew Nolan stepped in on boards 2 and 4. This was always likely to be a tough assignment for the third team and so it proved although they fought tenaciously and came close to getting a result.

The first game to finish in this match was the board 4 debut of Matthew Nolan. Given that he’s fairly new to chess this competition is really all about getting a feel for what competitive chess involves and wetting his feet. His opponent Elliott Bleeg took full advantage of his opportunity as Matthew weakened his king’s position early on in the game when he played 7…f6 which led to the loss of a rook. Matthew did his best to wriggle but he was going to have to have seen a big blunder in return and Elliott was careful enough to convert without too much trouble.
Not long after Matthew’s demise the board 3 game was finished as well as Terry drew with Shaun Walsh. Facing a King’s Indian Defence, Terry deployed the Petrosian Variation and got a good game with a persistent advantage but unfortunately, he wasn’t able to find a way to press home his edge even though he was never in any danger and had lots more space when acceding to a repetition of moves and a draw.

On board 1, Josh had been under pressure with the White pieces against Thomas Ash’s Sicilian Najdorf Variation after he went astray during the opening. It looks as though 10.Bg3 was the start of his troubles. The engine calls for 10.fxg5 instead. It took Thomas several moves to play the obvious pawn fork 14…e5 which had been on for a couple of moves. When he did play it though it didn’t actually work and Josh found a way to maintain material parity. However, Josh lost a couple of pawns on the king’s side and that gave Black a passed pawn on the h file in an ending where Josh had a knight and bishop against Thomas’s rook and two pawns. Josh did manage to get some counter play but in the end Thomas played the ending with fewer mistakes and was able to win in the end.

That just left Paul Gledhill, also making his 4NCL Online debut on board 2. His game was also a Sicilian Najdorf but he had the Black pieces against James Meadows. This was a tense and complicated struggle with Paul getting a dangerous looking attack on the queen’s side after James castled long but leaving his own king in the middle of the board. James was tempted into a thematic and dangerous looking piece sacrifice with 17.Nd5. It didn’t work but it was hard to find the best continuation as the position exploded into pure tactics that only a computer could reasonably expect to navigate perfectly. For a brief moment White was better but he missed a difficult chance and Paul kept his cool admirably to maintain the balance and eventually won two pieces as White’s position fell apart.

A 2½-1½ defeat was not a terrible outcome for the third team and it will be interesting to see how they get on in this group once some of the stronger players in the squad return in round 2.

All the games from last week’s 4NCL Online matches can be found in the viewer below. Some have annotations from Lichess’s in house engine – Stockfish 14 – and the variations and move assessments are from the engine.

Instructions for using the PGN Viewer

For the benefit of those who are uninitiated, the game viewer above contains all of the games played on Tuesday night. It will automatically scroll through all of them one after the other unless you tell it to stop by clicking on the ‘=’ button below the board. To select the game you want to view click on the ‘…’ symbol in the white box above the board. This will reveal a dropdown menu for you to choose from and when you select your game will appear. You can navigate forwards and backwards using the arrow buttons beneath the board or click on the moves in the text box on the right.

Apr 072021

White to play from Blinkhorn vs Woolgar in Round 6 of the 4NCL Online. White is clearly winning here, but how would you chose to finish the game? Josh played 26.Rf8+ and his opponent resigned immediately as 26…Rxf8 27.Rxf8+ Qxf8 28.Bxf8 is all over. However, there is a beautiful forced check mate available here. Can you see it? See the game viewer below for the solution.

A brief hiatus in posting here means that lucky readers will get all the games and updates from two rounds of the 4NCL Online competition where two Hebden Bridge teams are making their debut appearance in division 7 and fighting hard for promotion.

On the 23rd of March round 5 matches took place and the only word that can be used to describe the outcome for Hebden was ‘catastrophe’! Having both lost to the very strong Newport A outfit in consecutive rounds, Hebden 1 and 2 had an identical record of three match wins and one defeat. Keeping pace with the leaders seemed like a decent prospect as both sides drew teams that were, on paper at least, weaker than them. However, the ECF Online rating system is new, there are lots of new and returning players out there and, as we’ve discovered many times since the COVID lockdown came into force,  players online strength does not always reflect their ‘over the board’ strength – whether that be through fair means or nefarious ones! In round 5 Hebden fielded slightly weaker lines ups for their sides but still had an edge on paper over Eagle and Child (who played Hebden 1) and Dundee City C (Hebden 2’s opponents.

What was perhaps most surprising on the night was that it was the lower boards where matters went astray for the teams. Dave Shapland and Pete Leonard lost on boards 3 and 4 respectively for the first team and Chris Marsden and Rob Catlow lost on boards 3 and 4 for the second team. This left their colleagues on the upper boards with it all to do. Josh Blinkhorn won on board 2 for the second team leaving Dave Wedge on board 1 with an uphill task in his match as he was certainly worse very late into the evening. However, the position was complex enough that he was able to hoodwink his opponent and he saved the day for the second team by snatching a win that tied their match with Dundee City C.

White to play from Vijayakumar vs. Catlow in Round 5 of the 4NCL Online. Can you find the beautiful forced conclusion to this game? Solution in the game viewer below.

Sadly it didn’t quite go so well for the first team. Andrew Clarkson won a smooth positional game on board 2 and Greg Eagleton seemed to be doing well against Martin Carpenter on board 1, the challenge was, his clock situation was poor. In the end, had to settle for a draw and that meant the first team lost by the narrowest possible margin 2.5-1.5.

So, Hebden 2 actually climbed above their first team with their tie, but both teams really needed to win in round 6 last night to keep their promotion hopes alive. Lessons were learned from round 5 and Hebden looked to take no prisoners with their teams selections this time opting for the strongest eight players available. That meant Stavros Pantazopoulos, Phil Cook, Andrew Clarkson and Pete Leonard in the first team squad to face Redbridge All Sorts C and Dave Shapland, David Wedge, John Allan and Josh Blinkhorn in the second team against the wonderfully named Throw in the Tal!

Hebden 1 got off to a flying start as Andrew won his game in very short order when his opponent blundered a piece in the opening. After that though, the evening became a tense and difficult grind as the remaining seven games were extremely competitive. Next to finish was Stavros who was playing Black on board 1 for the first team. His game was very accurately played by both parties although his opponent was playing very, very quickly – suspiciously so perhaps given the incredible level of accuracy. Stavros held his nerve though and, despite running his clock down fairly significantly, he managed to liquidate into a drawn rook and pawn ending and halve the point to keep Hebden 1 a point up against Redbridge.

The second team meanwhile were locked in to some tight encounters with their opponents from Throw in the Tal. On board 1, Dave Shapland had played his Classical System (3…Bc5) against the Spanish. This gave him a solid base to work from but there weren’t going to be any trademark complication in his game against Ben Graff. David Wedge was struggling a little in his game against Ed Goodwin and John Allan also appeared to be under pressure with the Black pieces against Gareth Griffiths. Only Josh Blinkhorn on board 4 seemed to hold a definite advantage playing the White side of a Sicilian Richter Rauser variation and with a strong initiative against Steven Woolgar.

For the first team, the remaining two games looked tight as well. Phil Cook had to weather an aggressive middle game assault from Mark Murrell while Pete Leonard had suffered an opening malfunction and was two pawns down with the White pieces in an endgame against Michael Wilson.

As the night draw towards it’s end, Josh converted his advantage to put the second team 1-0 up. Shortly afterwards, John also turned the tables on his opponent to make it 2-0. David lost his game on board 2 and that left Dave Shapland to steer the shop safely home on board 1. He’d won a pawn in the transition from middle game to end game and seemed to be in no danger of losing as long as he didn’t over press for the win. He played patiently – missing a few opportunities along the way but finally converting successfully to make the final score 3-1 to Hebden 2.

In the first team match, Phil, having resisted his opponents attack was able to gain a material advantage in an unbalanced ending. He still had work to do but converted comfortably enough to put Hebden 1 over the top. The cherry on the cake was Pete’s incredible turn around in his game which seemed totally forlorn but he successfully invaded his opponent’s position and ended up snatching a win meaning the first team won by 3.5-0.5.

With both teams firmly back on track, Hebden 2 lie in fifth position in the table on 9 points behind Bearsden Grizzlies (who have 10) and King’s Head and Newport A (who both have 11). There are three other teams on 9 and so the second team seem to be guaranteed a very stiff encounter on the final round. Meanwhile, Hebden 1 are on 8 points along with 10 other teams although they lie in ninth thanks to their excellent game points score of 18/24. A win in the final round should see them enter the top eight positions which would get them promoted.

The game viewer below has all 16 games from rounds 5 and 6 of the competition. Round 6 games first.

Instructions for using the PGN Viewer

For the benefit of those who are uninitiated, the game viewer above contains all eight games played last night and from the previous round. It will automatically scroll through all of them one after the other unless you tell it to stop by clicking on the ‘=’ button below the board. To select the game you wish to view click on the ‘…’ symbol in the white box above the board. This will reveal a drop down menu for you to choose from and when you select your game will appear. You can navigate forwards and backwards using the arrow buttons beneath the board or click on the moves in the text box on the right. Most of the annotations in these games have been generated by Lichess’ in house engine which creates auto-analysis for every game played (one of the tools they use to track down and punish cheats!) and are therefore part of the download when you export games from Lichess to your own chess engine or database.

Mar 112021

Toczek vs. Pantazopoulos. Black to play after White has just played 25.Qb5. How did Stavros continue to secure a winning advantage with a beautiful tactic? the answer can be found in the game viewer below.

Round 4 of the 4NCL Online Season 3 was played on Tuesday night this week and saw the championship move past the half way stage. Hebden Bridge 1 came into the round with a perfect record of three match wins and 12 game points from those matches. This put them joint top of Division 7 alongside the top seeds King’s Head. A little further down the rankings, but still very much in contention, Hebden Bridge 2 had won their first two matches before being defeated in round three by second seeds, Newport ‘A’.

With two further teams on three match wins (but behind the top two on board scores) it was clear that Hebden 1 were going to draw very challenging opposition in round 4 and indeed, when the draw came out on Friday evening they found themselves pitted against Hebden 2’s nemesis – Newport A. Both teams fielded exactly the same line up that they had in the previous round but this time, the ratings margin between all four pairings was much closer than they’d experienced in round 3.

Board 1 had a real international feel to it with Newport’s Polish-born FIDE Master Grzegorz Toczek facing Hebden’s Greek import Stavros Pantazopoulos in what the main stream media might have dubbed the ‘Battle of the Unpronouncables’! This game was a tense struggle originating from the 2.c3 variation of the Sicilian Defence which the players reached by transposition. Playing White, Toczek seemed to have succeeded in achieving a nice advantage from the opening as he had the bishop pair, more space and had created a structural weakness in Stavros’ camp in the form of doubled, isolated e-pawns. however, Stavros hung on and was able to generate strong counter play when his opponent grabbed the loose pawn on e6. Then followed a stunning tactical sequence which culminated (from the diagram) with 25…Rdd1 26.Rxd1 Rxd1+ 27.Kh2 Rd5!! 28.Bxd5 Qxe5+ and saw Stavros winning a piece. by this point he was very low on time and, with the queens still on the board, there was still much to be done. However, Stavros calmly steered the game home to make it 2-2 for Hebden Bridge players against the Newport’s FIDE master!

Sadly for Hebden 1, that early highlight was as good as it got for them. The remaining 3 boards were all ferociously competative, but Newport some how managed to bag wins on all of them. Board 3 was the next game to finish. There, Greg Eagleton had essayed the King’s Indian Defence which generally tends to lead to fireworks and his opponent, Gareth Yeo, did not shy away from the fight as he played one of White’s most aggressive responses with 5.Nge2 intending a king’s side pawn advance and queen’s side castling. It looks as if Greg’s 16…b6? a decisive mistake (16…f5 was needed to prevent White’s 17.g4) and after this, although the game was so complicated that inaccuracies were guaranteed, White always seemed to have the initiative. In the end Greg lost on time, but his position at the board was hopeless by that stage.

On board 4, Andrew Clarkson was locked in a mortal struggle with Barbara Graczyk-Gibiec. Unlike the wildness that occurred on the board above them, this game was a drawn out and tense affair with neither side allowing their opponent much by the way of opportunities. The engine points out that White might have secured some sort of advantage after 17.Bg3 instead of 17.Bxe7 but the game bowled on and eventually the players emerged in a same coloured bishop and knight endgame with six pawns each. We’re used to seeing Andrew grind out wins with great endgame technique but this time he was on the receiving end as his opponent capitalised on a mistake to grab a pawn. Then, with Andrew still hanging on grimly he blundered to walk into a knight fork that lost him his bishop and it was game over. That made it 2-1 to Newport.

The last game to finish was the board 2 match up between Phil Cook and Adam Rakos. This one was delayed in starting when Phil couldn’t see his opponent online and his opponent couldn’t see Phil’s challenge. Eventually, the problem was resolved and the game got underway nearly half an hour late. When it did it saw another pretty heavy-weight positional encounter that was tense and tight from start to finish. Phil navigated the opening successfully and generated a weak backward pawn on d6 that looked like it might give him decent chances when he eventually won it on move 19. However, it was clear that, whilst Phil had been winning the pawn, Adam had been busy generating some activity of his own. Some arch manoeuvring followed in which Black managed to regain his pawn deficit as Phil sought to reactivate his own pieces. Then, just as the game appeared to be reaching it’s climax, Phil resigned when it looked like Black would be breaking through his king via f2. The engine assessment was that Phil still had an advantage but by this point he was running short of time and Black’s initiative did look scary.

So, Hebden 1 went down to their first defeat. However, they are still very much in touch with the top of the table as there are just five teams above them. King’s Head and Newport are the only two teams to have won all their games so far and will face off in what promises to be an epic clash in round 5, while there are three more teams on seven match points out of a possible eight. Hebden 1 are the first of the teams on six match points.

While all of this drama was going on, Hebden Bridge 2 were making an attempt to bounce back from their defeat at the hands of Newport A last time out as they took on Streatham B. This match was also closely contested with all four games going on well into the evening. In the end however, Hebden came out on top thanks to fine wins for John Kerrane, Josh Blinkhorn and Rob Catlow on board two, three and four respectively. Dave Shapland lost on board 1 against Michael Chung who defended against Dave’s attack very well and then drove home his counter attack with great precision.

All eight games from this week’s matches can be found in the game viewer below. The annotations are created by Lichess’s in house engine and some of the ‘exclams’ are therefore rather arbitrary.

Instructions for using the PGN Viewer

For the benefit of those who are uninitiated, he game viewer above contains all eight games played on Tuesday night. It will automatically scroll through all of them one after the other unless you tell it to stop by clicking on the ‘=’ button below the board. To select the game you wish to view click on the ‘…’ symbol in the white box above the board. This will reveal a drop down menu for you to choose from and when you select your game will appear. You can navigate forwards and backwards using the arrow buttons beneath the board or click on the moves in the text box on the right. Most of the annotations in these games have been generated by Lichess’ in house engine which creates auto-analysis for every game played (one of the tools they use to track down and punish cheats!) and are therefore part of the download when you export games from Lichess to your own chess engine or database.

Mar 052021

Shapland vs Toczek. Black has just made a second queen on d1 but White has the initiative. How would you proceed here? Answer in the report below.

Last week our two Hebden Bridge teams took part in round 3 of 4NCL Online season 3. With both teams having won both their matches so far it was always likely that the strength of the opposition would increase significantly for at least one of the two teams and  indeed, this was exactly what happened as the second team drew the second seeds in the division – Newport A. Hebden Bridge 1 meanwhile drew the 16th seeds, Celtic Tigers Cubs.

In preparation for a stern challenge Hebden had selected their strongest 8 players for these matches. Hebden Bridge 1 fielded Stavros Pantazopoulos for the first time and Greg Eagleton returned to the side along with Andrew Clarkson and Phil Cook who have played all three matches. Meanwhile Dave Shapland dropped down to play on board 1 for the second team and was joined by Dave Wedge, Pete Leonard and John Allan. The strategy behind this approach was to make the second team as strong as it possibly could be. Newport A are title contenders for Division 7 and, even in the event that Hebden 2 lost, if they could take some points from their opponents then this would increase Hebden 1’s chances of taking the title.

The strategy worked out reasonably well as Hebden 1 carried out their part of the scheme to perfection by winning 4-0 to keep their 100% record in the competition. Three matches and 12 games played and three matches and 12 games won so far! The only other team with this perfect record after three rounds are the top seeds King’s Head.

The opening system in Stavros’s game on board 1 against John White looked fairly exotic, but Stavros simply preserved a pleasant space advantage and eventually induced his opponent into making a mistake. The game ended after a tactical sequence that left Stavros a clear rook up.

On board 2, Phil Cook appeared to be playing in a highly provocative fashion with the Black pieces against Adam Cranston. The approach paid off however as his opponent struggled to find the right plan and the players ended up transposing into a variation of the Philidor’s Defence that was very comfortable for Black. Phil trapped his opponent’s bishop early in the middle game and the contest ended shortly after that.

It was a similar story on board 3 where Greg Eagleton had the White pieces against Kenneth Kwabiah. This one was a Classical Variation of the Dutch Defence and Greg set himself up solidly, keeping a careful eye on Black’s  weak spots. This game also ended after a tactical skirmish in which Greg out-calculated his opponent and won a piece with a second about to fall immediately after.

Andrew Clarkson found himself playing his favorite Pirc Defence on board 4 against Nadim Osseiran. This one was a little strange early on as Andrew seemed to be slightly distracted by some of his opponent’s sub-optimal moves in the opening phase of proceedings. Despite this, White seemed to have a perfectly acceptable position at several moments until Andrew broke out thematically with 19…f5. After this White’s position went down hill fairly rapidly and another burst of tactics concluded the game. 4-0 to Hebden 1.

Life was always going to be rather more difficult for the second team who were out rated by 250 points or more on every except board 4 (where the difference was just over 100 points) against Newport A. However, the Hebden quartet put up a strong and spirited showing in the early stages of the evening.

On board 3, Pete Leonard had a perfectly acceptable position out of the opening against Gareth Yeo but then fell into a trap that cost him a piece. The rest was torture. Meanwhile, Dave Wedge was battling hard with Black on board 2 against Adam Rakos. This game was another Pirc Defence and White didn’t appear to have much if any advantage until Dave was induced to expand on the king’s side somewhat in the style of a King’s Indian Defence. At first the approach looked like the right one, but then Adam managed to land a knight on an outpost on e6 and that made it hard for Dave to continue with his attack. He missed a brief opportunity at move 31 when he could have landed a protected passed pawn on f2 in exchange for a piece. The engines seem to think this is roughly equal.

The line Dave played instead looked very enticing indeed but, once the dust had settled he found himself in a rook versus knight and bishop ending with four pawns per side all on the king’s side. Probably there were some drawing chances but, as the clocks ticked down, finding the best defence became very difficult and eventually, Dave missed a skewer that left White up a knight and a pawn and that was that.

On board 4 John Allan also emerged safely from a slightly offbeat looking opening and appeared to be doing well. The players castled on opposing wings and John’s pawns looked like they would arrive first on the scene against his opponent’s monarch. However, the Newport board 4 – Barbara Graczyk-Gibiec, managed to slow down John’s progress on the queen’s side and then reposition her knight to g3 where it eyed up a Black pawn on e4 and also a tempting outpost on f5. Left with a tough choice to defend one or the other, John played 19…g6?! to keep the knight from f5 and it appears that this decision was incorrect. John was relying on pinning the knight to the king’s rook on the long but perhaps he over looked Barbara’s clever manoeuvre which saw her switch the knight from e4 to d5 with a tempo by checking on f6 first. That essentially left John a pawn down in the end game and, try though he did, he couldn’t hold the balance. That was 3-0 to Newport.

And so, Hebden’s chances of snatching any kind of consolation rested with Dave Shapland on board 1 who had the toughest assignment of all playing White against FIDE Master Grzegorz Toczek. However, it became apparent that Caissa had decided that it was to be Dave’s night as Grzegorz played into a pet opening line of the French Tarrasch that Dave has studied extensively. Then, when the game got complicated and Black’s position started to drift a little Dave was able to develop threats to make a perpetual check on the Black king. Unwilling to allow his much lower rated opponent to gain a draw, Grzegorz opted instead to keep the position murky but by now Dave’s initiative had developed considerably and with some careful calculation he found a way to exchange down to a winning rook endgame – though it must also be said that he missed a forced checkmate at one point! (Did you manage to find 32.Rxg7+! Kxg7 33.Re7+ Kg8 34.Qh7+ Kf8 35.Qg7# in the diagram above? Well done if you did.) With 5 minutes left on his clock to his opponent’s 90 seconds, Dave was able to navigate the endgame to claim a famous victory and snatch a board point from Newport.

All the games from last week’s matches can be found in the game viewer below. Instructions for using the game viewer can be found at the bottom of the post.

Instructions for using the PGN Viewer

For the benefit of those who are uninitiated (or simply can’t remember as it’s been so long!) the game viewer above contains all eight games played on Tuesday night. It will automatically scroll through all of them one after the other unless you tell it to stop by clicking on the ‘=’ button below the board. To select the game you wish to view click on the ‘…’ symbol in the white box above the board. This will reveal a drop down menu for you to choose from and when you select your game will appear. You can navigate forwards and backwards using the arrow buttons beneath the board or click on the moves in the text box on the right. Most of the annotations in these games have been generated by Lichess’ in house engine which creates auto-analysis for every game played (one of the tools they use to track down and punish cheats!) and are therefore part of the download when you export games from Lichess to your own chess engine or database.

Feb 102021

Both our Hebden Bridge teams drove through the opposition last night to notch up their second wins of the competition. Photo: Dermot O’Halloran

Last night saw the second round of action in the 4NCL Online League with both Hebden Bridge teams taking part in Division 7 matches.

Having had relatively straightforward assignments last time out, both sides were expecting sterner tests in round 2 and, despite the fact that between them they only dropped half a point, that should not disguise the fact that the matches were much more competitive. The first team in particular were pushed hard by a handy Aberystwyth University 1 side.

Hebden Bridge 1 were without the services of Greg Eagleton, who played board 2 last time out, but in came Pete Leonard on board 4 whilst Andrew Clarkson and Dave Shapland both moved up a board.

Meanwhile, Hebden Bridge 2 faced a Muswell Hill Juniors team that looked very green on paper but it’s always dangerous to assume that a junior’s rating has kept pace with their ability. All of them sported much higher Lichess ratings than they had ECF Online ratings.

However, it was Hebden Bridge 2 who started the night with two quick wins. On board 4, Terry Sullivan was first to strike with the Back pieces. He played sensibly against his young opponent, first securing the bishop pair, then targeting a pawn weakness to win material and finally, when his opponent tried for counter play he took over in the centre of the board and set up a simple mating pattern that his adversary overlooked.

Shortly afterwards Josh Blinkhorn made it 2-0 to the second team when he also delivered checkmate by taking advantage of his opponent having not castled. John Allan then made it 3-0 against another opponent who never got castled. Note that John should have been playing Black but his opponent issued the challenge on Lichess incorrectly and, despite John trying to get them game aborted, they continued. This error was flagged with the arbiters afterwards and there was a chance that the game would be scored 0-0 but in the end the result stood.

Meanwhile, the first team were having a more challenging time of it against Aberystwyth University who certainly played in enterprising fashion. For example Pete Leonard’s opponent on board 4, Kieran Rafferty, played 2…f5 against his Bishop’s Opening – evidently this is called the Calabrese Gambit! Being the pawn-grabber extraordinaire that he is, Pete played it like a King’s Gambit Accepted in reverse and this give him a stable advantage with an extra pawn and decent development. By move 25, Pete had two extra pawns and the queens were off. Black’s only compensation was that he had a bishop pair against Pete’s pair of knights. However, that proved to be nothing like enough and Pete converted by pushing his connected passed e and f pawns down his opponent’s throat.

The next to win was Phil Cook on board 1. We’re used to seeing Phil play solid, positional chess under pinned by an sharp tactical sense that knows when his opponent has slipped to take full advantage. On this occasion however he was the one going a little bit wild as, playing a reversed Sicilian against the English Opening he decided to expanded rapidly on the king’s side with h5 and then g5 before he had gotten his king to safety. This looked risky but he was able to get away with it because his opponent had blocked the centre by playing e4 as early as move 4. According to Stockfish the game was littered with inaccuracies which is hardly surprising given the complexity of the position, however, it was Phil who came out on top in the melee driving his opponent’s king into the centre of the board. White had no coordination and resigned as soon as Phil made a tactical break through.

Andrew Clarkson sealed the won for the first team by winning his game on board 2. This game was a Four Knights Sicilian and, even though Andrew won the exchange, his opponent seemed to have sufficient compensation to hold on. At one point Andrew event thought he might be worse (see his game notes in the viewer below). However, once the players had transposed into an endgame where Andrew had the exchange for a pawn, his superior endgame technique won the day and Andrew got over the line to make it 3-0.

The last two games to finish in each match were tense affairs. On board 3 for the first team, Dave Shapland had to weather a very dangerous looking attack on the Black side of a Sicilian Dragon. However, Dave was confident that his opponent had launched his assault prematurely and, taking a leaf out of Mr Leonard’s book simply took everything that was offered to him. First one pawn, then another and finally the exchange. The critical moment came when Dave found 16…Rc5! which helped him to defend along the fifth rank. His opponent missed one fleeting chance to equalise and after that Dave’s counter attack was unstoppable even if he did miss a simple checkmate that would have crowned the performance nicely.

On board 1 for the second team, Dave Wedge was up against a tough opponent in Stanley Badacsonyi who certainly outperformed his rating by some margin. This was perhaps the most accurately played of all the games last night. There were comparatively few errors and, although Dave at one point achieved an advantage, he was able to hold on to it and got into trouble on the clock. Eventually the players agreed a draw  with fours pawns each and opposite coloured bishops left on the board.

So, another 4-0 win for the first team and a 3.5-0.5 win for the second team. The third round in two week’s time will surely see at least one of the paired with a side that could be stronger than them. It should start to get really interesting from here on in.

All the games from last night can be found in the game viewer below. In most cases the annotation is from Lichess’s house engine – Stockfish, but Andrew Clarkson and Dave Shapland have provided some annotation of their own. You can find instructions for using the viewer just down below it at the end of the post.

Instructions for using the PGN Viewer

For the benefit of those who are uninitiated (or simply can’t remember as it’s been so long!) the game viewer above contains all eight games played on Tuesday night. It will automatically scroll through all of them one after the other unless you tell it to stop by clicking on the ‘=’ button below the board. To select the game you wish to view click on the ‘…’ symbol in the white box above the board. This will reveal a drop down menu for you to choose from and when you select your game will appear. You can navigate forwards and backwards using the arrow buttons beneath the board or click on the moves in the text box on the right. Most of the annotations in these games have been generated by Lichess’ in house engine which creates auto-analysis for every game played (one of the tools they use to track down and punish cheats!) and are therefore part of the download when you export games from Lichess to your own chess engine or database.

Jan 292021

Rupf vs. Blinkhorn, 4NCL Online, 2021. White to play. Black has just captured a pawn on e5 with his queen. It looks like a clean pawn win but he’d over looked a beautiful tactic which, thankfully his opponent (and everyone who studied the game afterwards!) also missed. Can you do better? The solution is in the article below.

It’s been a very long time since this website made a post – the last one was on the 5th of April, 2020! That report acknowledged of course that our ‘normal’ activities have had to be curtailed due to COVID-19. Now, nearly ten months on, we still can’t meet physically at the Trades Club and we can’t play any matches in the Calderdale Evening League or any other ‘over the board’ encounters for that matter. It is of course impossible to know when these activities will be able to resume – perhaps we can hope for a usual scheduled start to the 2021-22 season in September – but one thing is for sure, when they do resume, they won’t be or feel quite the same.

During the lockdown we have, of course, moved online. Lichess has become our website of choice for meeting to play games against each other and we have established our own Hebden Bridge Chess Club pages where members can come and meet each other for friendly games. We’re doing that most Mondays. We’ve also been holding Study Night sessions on Microsoft Teams on Thursday nights which has been a good opportunity to actually see each other and, hopefully, learn something and be entertained! Meanwhile, updates to members have been delivered via email rather than here on the website. If anyone isn’t getting these and would like to please email me at to get added to the mailing list.

The whole chess world has migrated to being online although there have been, and still are, a very few elite level over the board tournaments being played – Wijk Aan Zee is taking place at the moment. In England our salvation has been the 4NCL (Four Nations Chess League) which has successfully adapted to move from being a fairly exclusive, over the board club competition to welcoming chess club teams from across the nation at all levels of ability in its new online incarnation. They’ve also moved their individual congresses online and so their are chances to play chess at a decent time limit (45mins + 15secs per move) both in the team and individual formats.

Season 3 (each season lasts 4 months) of the 4NCL Online League began on Tuesday night and we’re delighted to report that Hebden Bridge debuted two teams of four and have a squad of 14 registered players. Both sides start out in Division 7. This is one giant league of 66 teams and it’s a 7-round swiss system. If our teams manage to fight their way out of this division (it’s still not quite clear to me how that works) then the top six leagues each consist of four groups of eight teams. They each play each other and then the top team from each group contest semi-finals and a final. Of course Division 1 contains some extremely strong players amongst their number – even some Grand Masters.

Back to Division 7. Our 1st team are seeded three in the division and our 2nd team are seeded 16th. This meant both sides were in the top half of the draw and got paired with fairly low-ranked opposition. Hebden Bridge 1 lined up against Wessex Some Stars G with Phil Cook, Greg Eagleton, Andrew Clarkson and Dave Shapland in their team. Hebden Bridge 2 were up against Barnet Knights D and fielded David Wedge, Pete Leonard, Josh Blinkhorn and Rob Catlow.

It was interesting to be paired against what seemed generally to be fairly fresh group of players, many of whom I’d guess were juniors. This led to some stereotypical examples of what can happen when two players of very different playing strengths are pitted against each other. Prime among these was the first game of the night to finish on board 4 of Hebden Bridge 2’s match with Barnet Knights D. Rob Catlow’s opponent played so quickly that she actually ended the game with more time on her clock than when she started (remember that after every move is made 15 seconds are automatically added to your clock) so, while Rob was taking his time to make sure he saw as much as he could his opponent was blitzing out moves and was almost inevitably bound to miss something eventually. Indeed, after some mistakes on both sides of the board Leela Maya overlooked Robs’ 26.Ng6+ after which the roof caved in on her position.

At the other end of the spectrum, the other fourth board encounter between Hebden Bridge 1 and Wessex Some Stars G saw Dave Shapland’s opponent, George White playing at glacial speed early on in their game. Dave chose to play the French Defence (not his usual selection!) having seen that his opponent played the Tarrasch Variation (3.Ne2) which is his own choice against that opening with White. The plan turned out well when his opponent first played sub-optimal early moves but also took ever such a long time to make them. Already a pawn down after eight moves, George was ten minutes behind on the clock by move ten and had just eight minutes plus the increment to complete them game by the time he’d reached move twenty. Aside from one brief slip where his opponent could have equlaised, Dave steadily built up a space advantage and then pushed through his central pawn majority in thematic style until White’s position broke down under the pressure.

By the time this game was over, both matches were settled in Hebden’s favour. After Rob’s early win the 2nd team collected two more wins for Josh Blinkhorn (re-joining the club from his new home in Germany!) and Pete Leonard. Josh survived a scare when his opponent missed a particularly devious and beautiful tactic. In the position given above if Oscar Rupf had found 11.Ne4!! he would have pretty much won the game on the spot as 11…Qxb2?? allows 12.Nd6+ followed by either 13.Qe8 or Nxf7 checkmate! So, Black is therefore forced to give up his queen. Having survived that moment, shortly after, Josh showed that his own tactical awareness was sharper when he saw further in a forcing line and bagged a piece. He coasted home after that.

As the club’s most assiduous pawn grabber, Pete must have been delighted when his opponent played the Icelandic Gambit variation of the Scandinavian Defence and simply collected the proffered pawn. He held on to it comfortably and then took full advantage when his opponent overlooked an intermezzo (17.Ne4) which won him a piece. The rest was easy.

The remaining games lasted somewhat longer and were hard fought although Greg Eagleton, on board 2 for the 1st team, picked up his opponent’s queen when she blundered it on move 17. She went berserk after that trying to go for Greg’s king but he stayed calm, defused the tactics and then delivered checkmate with his huge material advantage. On board 1, Phil Cook played a typically smooth game on the White side of a Catalan. He simply retained a small positional advantage and put his opponent under pressure until he too made a tactical error that cost him a piece. Now the 1st team had also secured a 3-0 lead.

Andrew Clarkson made it 4-0 when was finally able to convert his long term positional trumps out of a Maroczy Bind set up in the opening. He managed to get all his pawns on the right coloured squares in preparation for a same coloured bishops ending and then, when his opponent finally gave him a tactical opportunity he didn’t miss it, grabbed an extra pawn and then converted the technical ending without any problems.

Last to finish was David Wedge on board 1 for the 2nd team. He too had to be patient against a resilient opponent who resisted well but slowly slipped into an inferior position. Dave broke through on the queen’s side, set himself up with a passed c-pawn and drove it home remorselessly.

So, a fine start for both teams in the 4NCL. I won’t bother sharing the score cards as the score lines for each player are easily remembered! Tough match ups will most certainly lie ahead in round 2. But for now all the games are posted in the game viewer below. Andrew Clarkson has kindly provided some light annotations for his game. The rest of the annotations are from the Lichess house engine analysis.

For the benefit of those who are uninitiated (or simply can’t remember as it’s been so long!) the game viewer below contains all eight games played on Tuesday night. It will automatically scroll through all of them one after the other unless you tell it to stop by clicking on the ‘=’ button below the board. To select the game you wish to view click on the ‘…’ symbol in the white box above the board. This will reveal a drop down menu for you to choose from and when you select your game will appear. You can navigate forwards and backwards using the arrow buttons beneath the board or click on the moves in the text box on the right. Most of the annotations in these games have been generated by Lichess’ in house engine which creates auto-analysis for every game played (one of the tools they use to track down and punish cheats!) and are therefore part of the download when you export games from Lichess to your own chess engine or database.