Mar 122022
 

Back at the seaside. The players at this year’s congress are unlikely to be venturing out to see the sites for very long this weekend though as the weather is fairly inhospitable

Hebden Bridge Chess Club have sent a healthy delegation of members to Blackpool this weekend for the 45th Blackpool Chess Congress. I’m going to try and keep an open blog going across the weekend to keep you updated of their progress.

First of all though, for those who aren’t familiar with it, Blackpool (along with Scarborough which usually takes place at the end of October) is one of the largest weekend competitions in the North of England. Last year it didn’t take place due to COVID restrictions and in 2020 it was probably the last congress to take place before the lockdown was imposed. I was supposed to participate in that edition but took a late decision not to attend as by that stage it was clear a lockdown was inevitable. I must admit that, if I’d really thought through how long we were going to be away from over the board chess, I would have gone and played. This year’s edition has therefore assumed some emotional significance for me as, rightly or wrongly, it feels like a step on the road back to ‘normality’ (or whatever our new normal is!) after two years of disruption and uncertainty. It seems that there a significant number of chess players who feel the same way as me for the congress has a very healthy entry list across no fewer than five section – an Open, the Major (for players rated under 2050), the Intermediate (U1850), the Minor (U1700) and the Standard (U1550). The prize fund is significant (over £6,700) and pretty equitably split across the sections. The winner of the Open will receive £700. but the winner of the Standard can bag themselves £400 which is an unusually generous amount for the lowest section at a weekend congress.

I mentioned that Hebden Bridge have a good contingent of players at the event. There are also chess friends here from across Calderdale. Here’s who to follow in each section:

  • Open: Martyn Hamer, Jamie Heritage and David Wedge are all here as too are Leo Keely and Peter Hepworth from Huddersfield
  • Major: Dave Shapland is playing in this section and so too are Dave Patrick from Belgrave and Richard Bowman from Keighley
  • Intermediate: Cobus Daneel and Jeremy Butts are in this section alongside our old friends Robert Clegg and Gordon Farrar from Belgrave and Nigel Hepworth from Huddersfield

Round 1

Jamie Heritage was served up a real baptism of fire for his first ever weekend congress as he drew second seed Andrew Ledger in round 1! At least he had the White pieces and had the chance to play such a strong player when he was full of energy. Martyn Hamer is right alongside Jamie in the starting rankings and he was even more ‘lucky/unlucky’ in that he drew Black against the top seed, Grand Master Danny Gormally. Needless to say, both our men ended up losing but put up strong resistance. I’ll try and get hold of their games to publish them here in due course.

Meanwhile, further down the board order, David Wedge also had a tough first round assignment with White against the very experienced Jim Burnett. David did wonderfully well to earn himself a draw in that game.

Leo Keely took a half point bye in round 1 but the result of the round from a Calderdale perspective was undoubtedly Peter Hepworth’s tremendous win, with Black, over Martin Burrows who is rated 2245! Peter has been quietly improving for the last few years and this result demonstrates how far he’s come. That win has earned him a crack at FIDE Master Tim Wall with the White pieces this morning.

I got rather lucky in my round 1 game against John Cawston who selected a very solid line of the French Defence to wheel out against me. It’s the kind of variation where White has extra space and a reasonably comfortable advantage, but how to break Black down for a win. We ended up contesting an ending in which I had two knights and pawns against his bishop and knight plus pawns but he still had his bad French bishop. I took significant risks to try and squeeze out a win and certainly did not play the end game optimally but, at a couple of key moments, John rushed his moves and they turned out to be big mistakes as I was finally able to queen a pawn. I’ve published the game below with some notes from Stockfish to help give an idea of what was going on.

Dave Patrick and Richard Bowman both lost games to higher rated players.

In the Intermediate their were mixed fortunes for Jeremy and Cobus who are both playing their first weekend tournaments for twenty-odd years and are very excited to be back in competition again. They have bravely elected to enter on section above the one they were eligable for, and both drew Black against higher rated players in round 1. Cobus beat his opponent handily when he was able to take over in the centre and hoover up several pawns in the middle game. Jeremy also got a decent position from the opening in his game but, at a point where he thought he’d discovered a wicked trap to spring on his opponent it turned out he’d missed a wrinkle that turned the tables on him. After that there was only ever going to be one outcome.

Robert Clegg, Gordon Farrar and Nigel Hepworth all lost their opening games.

Rounds 2 and 3

It was a long and busy day for our club contingent at the Blackpool Congress with mixed results across the three relevant sections.

In the Open, Jamie Heritage bounced back from his first round defeat to Andrew Ledger with a win on Saturday morning before another tough assignment in the afternoon against Stephen Jones from Basingstoke rated 2344. Battle took place in a sharp Sveshnikov Sicilian and Stephens deep knowledge of the opening paid off as he was able to defeat Jamie in an endgame. The post-mortem afterwards was an extremely useful learning experience. Jamie is on 1 out of 3.

Martyn Hamer meanwhile won both his games yesterday against Barry Robson and Martin Burrows and he is now on 2/3. David Wedge was unfortunate to get drawn against Leo Keely in round 2. He lost that game but bounced back to win on time in a very sharp Two knights Defence against Roger Williamson from Aigburth who is rated 2255 – a great result for David. He is now on 1.5/3 which is a great score considering the strength of his opposition to date. He plays another strong player this morning in the form of Samuel Milson from Sheffield.

Leo Keely, having beaten David in the morning, drew his round 3 game and now faces Gary Quillan who is one of the top seeds.

In the Major I had a pretty lucky day. In the morning I drew the lowest rated player in the section but quickly found that he was much stronger than the number on paper as he played very well and put me under a lot of pressure. Eventually I made a mistake to gift him a pawn but the position opened up and I found some counter play. I offered him a draw in a position where I was still a pawn down but had an active position and some counter chances though I’d seen that he could defend and might be able to consolidate his advantage so a draw offer seemed a sensible choice. As he’d already offered me a draw a few moves before he was happy to accept my offer.

Then in the afternoon I really had a stoke of luck. My opponent arrived only just before he would have been forfeit – nearly 30 minutes late – and then proceeded to have long thinks as we played into one of my favorite lines of the French Tarrasch. I however was out of sorts and played the early middle game dreadfully. I gambited a pawn in thematic fashion but then gave away another and didn’t really have any compensation for it. Fortunately my opponent’s clock problems came to the rescue as the position remained complicated, I found some active chances and as his clock drifted into the last 5 minutes I still had over an hour left on mine. Finally he missed some tactics and I completed an outrageous swindle to seal the victory. I’m on 2.5/3 but will have to play much better today if I’m to maintain any chance of winning a prize.

In the Intermediate, Cobus Daneel lost both his games yesterday against 1800-level opponents. Bizarrely, in both his games with Black he has faced the Bird’s Opening – 1.f4. Which one can play one’s whole chess career and expect to face only a small handful of times. Jeremy Butts is also on 1/3 but he has arrived their via a different route as he drew both his games yesterday.

Rounds 4 and 5

The final day of action at Blackpool saw some great action and some interesting games played by our Hebden Bridge members.

The Open

In the Open, David Wedge lost his game in the morning to Sheffield’s Samuel Milson and then drew with Neil Thomson in the afternoon to finish his tournament on a highly creditable 2 out or 5. This meant he finished the tournament in a share of 25th-34th places. Given that his starting rankling was 42 and his performance rating for the tournament was 1998 this represents a great outcome for David.

Further up the standings Jamie Heritage won a fine game on Sunday morning against Martin Mitchell (which you can find in the game viewer below) before rounding off his weekend with a swift and secure draw with the White pieces against Jim Burnett. Jamie finished on 50% in the Open section of his first weekend tournament – an outstanding achievement. He finished joint 18th-24th when his starting seeding was 24 and his performance rating was 2167. Both his wins came with the Black pieces which is an achievement in itself.

Martyn Hamer managed half a point more as he won his game on Sunday morning climbing to 3/4 before coming up against Stephen Jones (who beat Jamie on Saturday afternoon) and losing out in the final round. Still, a tremendous  performance for Martyn who finished tied in 12th-17th places with a performance rating of 2172.

I should mention that the Huddersfield  contingent also did very well with Leo Keely also finishing on 3 points and Peter Hepworth doing brilliantly to score 2.5.

I should finally mention that the Open ended in a seven (!!) way tie for first place with Steven Jones, Andrew Ledger, Chris Duncan, Andrew Burnett, Danny Gormally, Shrayan Majumder and Tim Wall all scoring 4 points.

The Major

Having struggled to find my best form on Saturday and feeling very fortunate to have ended the day in contention on 2.5/3, I played much better on Sunday. That said, I got nothing at all from the opening when I had the White pieces against the experienced Brendan O’Gorman in round 4. In fact I had to find some accurate defensive moves to ensure there was no accident but I managed to steer the game to safety and was happy with a draw that also didn’t take up too much energy as the game was done in under two hours.

On Sunday afternoon I drew Gary Jackson with Black and felt that I could try and go ‘all in’ for a win with a clear conscience. What resulted was one of my better efforts from the Classical Ruy Lopez. My opponent defended himself stoutly but I managed to find accurate moves to complete the victory and was delighted to finish in a share of 2nd-4th on 4 points. Barry Hymer won the section with 4.5. As I started ranked 16 and finished with a performance rating of 2041, this was definitely by best performance in a weekend congress to date.

The Intermediate

Jeremy and Cobus both enjoyed their first weekend tournaments since childhood and they performed creditably in a higher section than they need have played in but they relished the challenge. Jeremy finished on Sunday with two more draws to join the two he had had on Saturday. This meant he finished on 2 points and finished in a share of 45th-52nd. As he was ranked 61 at the start this represents a great outcome and his rating performance for the event was 1656 – 20 points higher than his rating.

Cobus lost on Sunday morning but drew on Sunday afternoon meaning he finished on 1.5 in a share of 53rd-63rd. Cobus’s starting rank was 56th, so this is a solid performance as well and his rating performance at Blackpool was 1578, somewhat below his current rating of 1695 but he did at least have a win in round 1 to console himself with.

All in all it was a great weekend for Hebden Bridge players and everyone had a great time at Blackpool. Hopefully, we can make an even stronger showing next year when the tournament will be held on 10-12 February.

All my games and some of those played by Jeremy, Cobus and Jamie can be found in the game viewer below.

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.

Nov 122021
 

This position arose in Barlow vs. Heritage in the round 4 clash between Hebden Bridge D and Belgrave A. It’s Black to move and, despite his king being in the centre, his pieces are starting to menace the Black king. What’s the best next move for Black. You’ll find the answer in the game viewer at the end of this post.

Monday night saw the fourth and fifth rounds of the Calderdale 30 Rapidplay tournament take place at the Belgrave Club in Halifax. Readers may remember from the previous article on this competition that Hebden Bridge D sat atop the table with a perfect record of nine wins from nine games after the first three rounds with Hebden Bridge A a point behind them on eight.

Proceedings were slightly less frenetic on Monday as just two rounds were scheduled so it was just a matter of organising some last minute logistics to fill a couple of empty team rosters (Hebden Bridge arrived with 11 players and needed a twelfth) and jiggling the board orders to accommodate a couple of loan wolves who had turned up hoping for a game. It was great to see one-time Hebden Bridge player, Darwin Ursal, at the Belgrave Club and he slotted onto board 1 for the Nomads whilst Angel Gonzalez moved from board 3 in that team to join Hebden Bridge D on board 3.

As could be expected, team composition did change between rounds 1-3 and 4-5. Hebden A were unchanged but Hebden B saw Ralph Tatt getting his first taste of competitive chess in Calderdale on board 3 and David Wedge kindly making an emergency last minute substitute for an unwell Nick Doody on board 2. The C team welcomed Andy Leatherbarrow on board 2 and, as mentioned above, Angel Gonzalez joined the D team on board 3.

Here’s how the two rounds progressed:

Round 4

Hebden Bridge A had double derby trouble on Monday with two tough assignments against first their ‘B’ team and then their ‘C’ team. The first one was a very hard fought affair and in the balance until the very end of the round with board 1 being the last to finish in the room. Cobus Daneel continued his perfect trajectory with a victory over Ralph Tatt but Dave Shapland lost to David Wedge on board 2 meaning that the fate of the match rested on the top board clash between Matthew Parsons for the A team and Phil Cook for the B team. Much like their classical time limit encounter at the start of the season, this one went right to the wire. Matthew claimed a win on time at the end but Phil hadn’t noticed that Matthew’s allowance had also elapsed and, after a brief discussion a draw was amicably agreed and was probably a fair result. So, the match was tied.

This result gave the D team a chance to increase their lead however, up against a strong Belgrave A side, they were unable to take advantage and slipped to a 2-1 defeat as Sam Swain lost to Dave Patrick on board 2 and Angel Gonzalez lost to Karim Khan on board 3. However, on board 1 Jamie Heritage demolished Dave Barlow convincingly with the Black pieces to keep his perfect record in the competition. This game is given in the game viewer at the end of this post with some annotations by Jamie for your entertainment.

Hebden Bridge C meanwhile were engaged in another tight encounter, this time with Huddersfield A. Andy Leatherbarrow lost to Nick Sykes on board 2 but Martyn Hamer and Jeremy Butts beat Gerald Cuaresma and Colin Frank respectively to seal a victory.

Round 5

Things went from bad to worse for the A team as they were taken apart by their C team colleagues. Dave Shapland lost gain, this time to Andy Leatherbarrow, Matthew Parsons and Martyn Hamer drew on the top board and Cobus even lost his perfect record to his friend Jeremy on board 3. 2.5-0.5 for the C team was a fantastic result and helped to propel them up the standings.

This time the D team were able to take full advantage of the A team’s mis-step as they handed Huddersfield A their second 2-1 defeat to a Hebden side of the evening. This time Colin Frank was able to beat Angel Gonzalez on the bottom board but Sam beat Nick Sykes and Jamie won yet again, this time against Gerald Cuaresma.

The B team also won their match against against Huddersfield B by the same score of 2-1. Phil Cook capped a great evening with a win over Leo Keely and David Wedge beat Alec Ward to see the B team to victory. Ralph had another game with Amin Hossain but ended up on the losing side.

League Table after 5 rounds

Hebden Bridge D – 12
Hebden Bridge A – 10
Belgrave A – 9.5
Hebden Bridge B – 8.5
Hebden Bridge C – 8.5
Huddersfield B – 8.5
Nomads – 7
Huddersfield A – 6
Belgrave B – 3
Halifax – 2

So, although Hebden D extended their lead at the top by a point, there is now a bunch of times gathering behind them and the A team who, despite Monday’s tough results, remain in second place. With plenty of clutch matches to come, including the top two teams facing each other in round 6, and four more rounds still to play, it seems possible that even the teams on 8.5 could catch up if they can string some big wins together.

Top scorers

Jamie Heritage – 5
Phil Cook – 4
Sam Swain – 4
Cobus Daneel – 4
Matthew Parsons – 3.5
Martyn Hamer – 3.5
Dave Patrick – 3.5

The honour of being the top scorer in the competition is also still wide open but someone will have to stop Jamie Heritage if they are going to snatch it from him.

Instructions for using the PGN Viewer

For the benefit of those who are uninitiated, the game viewer above contains one of the games played last Monday night. It will automatically scroll through all of the moves unless you tell it to stop by clicking on the ‘=’ button below the board. 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.

Oct 302021
 

Scarborough South Bay on a lovely still Friday evening. When the weather is this benign it’s a very pleasant place to be.

I was at Scarborough over the weekend for the 2021 chess congress. For those who aren’t familiar with it, Scarborough hosts one of the largest weekend chess congresses in the North of England. Having cancelled last year’s edition (like so many weekend congresses) because of COVID, it was great to see the tournament return to the familiar venue of the Spa Centre in the south bay and heartening to see that the place was pretty much jam-packed. I played in the Open Section which was huge. There were just over 90 entries and then four more sections – a Major, Inter, Minor and Foundation.

There were plenty of familiar faces at Scarborough too. Martyn Hamer played in the Open as well along with Leo Keely from Huddersfield and our erstwhile friend Andy Bak who has played for us on many occasions but who plays most of his chess in Bradford. Dave Colledge from Belgrave played in the Major as well as Mick Connor who has also played for Hebden Bridge in recent years.

The top seed in the Open is our Grandmaster friend Danny Gormally who some of you will remember played in our Flood Relief Simul back in 2016.

I updated this page after each round with results and my games as well as a short description of some of the action.

Round 1

The Open section is FIDE rated. That’s great news if you are looking to build your international rating but, as many of us have far more English Chess Federation rated games under our belts, it does throw up some interesting anomilies in the seedings. In my case my ECF rating is currently 1968 but my FIDE rating is only 1713. SO, instead of being in the top 30 seeding-wise I find myself seeded 86th out of 95. On that basis, in round one I was drawn to play Black against James Wheeler from Hastings & St Leonards. He’s one of the players in the section who doesn’t have a FIDE rating and his ECF is 1938.  I expected an even fight and that was exactly what I got.

The game turned out to be relatively uneventful. The opening was one that I was not that familiar with and, given my recent poor form and my traumatising 0 out of 5 in the Open in 4NCL Congress in Leamington in July, I decided that a safety first approach would be sensible. Feeling that I had neutralised his best chances to play for a win, my opponent offered me a draw as early as move 17 and I saw no reason to decline. The game is in the viewer below. It’s not hugely interesting. In fact the engine assesses that White has the better chances in the final position so I’m certainly not unhappy with the outcome.

Other results in the Open: Leo Keely, Martyn Hamer and Danny Gormally all won and Andy Bak lost. In the Major Mick Connor lost and Dave Colledge won.

Round 2

On a wet and windy morning in Scarborough the serious business of the second round of the Chess Congress got underway at the Spa Centre at 09:30 this morning. In the Open, Martyn Hamer beat Beverley’s Tim Turner to progress to 2 out of 2. Martyn has a tough assignment this afternoon now having the Black pieces against FIDE Master Tim Wall. Meanwhile, Leo Keely went down to Andrew Ledger and I lost to Samuel Milson of Sheffield Nomads. This was an interesting and complicated game and I wasn’t too unhappy with how it went. I held my own and put him to the test until I blundered on move 29 and went down quickly after that. You can see that game in the game viewer below. It includes some fairly swiftly executed engine analysis which I haven’t had time to make sense of yet.

In the Major, Dave Colledge lost his game but Mick Connor won so they are both on 1out of 2 now.

Round 3

The sun returned to Scarborough on Saturday afternoon and I finally managed to win a game! I was drawn against John Holliday from Bradford and managed to outplay him in a technical ending in which the comparative safety of my king versus the vulnerability of his was the paramount factor. I’ve posted the game in the viewer below. I’m quite pleased with how I played after he offered me a draw on move 27 after he’d played Qd6. I’d a long think over my  26th move a4 and felt that if I could initiate a minority to attack to expose his king then I could make life very uncomfortable for him. So it turned out.

Elsewhere, Martyn lost to Tim Wall and stays on 2 out of 3. Leo Keely won his game to join him and so did Andy Bak although he’s not playing tomorrow as he’s off to Blackpool to take part in a poker tournament.

In the Major Dave Colledge drew with the top seed Brendan O’Gorman to move to 50% on one and a half and Mick Connor lost and remains on 1 point.

Round 4

I’m writing this at 13:00 on Sunday and the fourth round in the Open is not yet over but here’s a brief update on progress. In the Open, Martyn Hamer has won his game and now has 3 out of 4 and is in contention for the podium if he can win in the final round. It will be a tall order given the strength of the players on the top boards. Leo Keely lost his fourth round game and remains on 2 out of 4. Grand Master Danny Gormally drew his round 3 game yesterday but bounced back by beating FIDE Master Tim Wall in round 4 to give himself a shot as the tournament win in round 5. So far only one player has reached 4 out of 4 and that is Brandon Clarke. There are another four battling it out to try and join him on that score.

I lost my game this morning (and remain on 1.5 out of 4) against another 2100 rated opponent. It was another very exciting game played from the mainline of the Sicilian Dragon variation. I was pretty happy with the way I played and the engine tells me that I missed a winning continuation (admittedly a very tough one to find) at move 19. The game is given in full in the viewer below.

In the Major both Dave Colledge and Mick Connor won their games. Dave is now on 2.5 out of 4 and Mick is on 2.

Round 5

The final round of a weekend congress is always a tricky one to navigate if you have nothing riding on the result. There are usually a good handful of players who withdraw before the last round to get on the road home a bit earlier and plenty of games get agreed as draws a bit sooner than they otherwise might. Tiredness also becomes more of a factor and it’s not uncommon to see the single move blunder a bit more frequently than in earlier rounds.

I certainly struggled to fully commit myself in my final round game and, as a result, I played the opening too casually and let myself drift a little bit in the middlegame. Such planless and aimless play gets punished in Open sections and my opponent, Damian McCarthy out me to the sword in convincing fashion. If truth be told I don’t think I had been able to put my fourth round game behind me as I missed a win having played the opening phase of the game well.

Elsewhere, Martyn Hamer lost his final round game to finish to tournament on 3 points. Leo Keely drew to finish on 2.5. Andy Bak had scored 2 points but he didn’t play either of the rounds on Sunday. The co-winners of the Open section were International Master Andrew Ledger of Sheffield and FIDE Master David Zakarian. they both scored a perfect 5 out of 5 which was always likely to be the requirement for victory in such a large Open. Top seed Grand Master Danny Gormally drew in round 3 and, though he won both games on Sunday to finish on 4.5, that was only enough for second place. No fewer than six players scored four points including my second round opponent Samuel Milson.

In the Major, Dave Colledge finished on 3 out of 5 and Mick Connor on 2.5.

So, that’s Scarborough done for this year. I really enjoyed myself despite a relatively poor outcome. Still I improved on my donut from Leamington this summer and my performance rating was actually above my FIDE rating so I’ll pick up some FIDE rating points – though I expect I’ll lose some ECF ones!

Oct 082021
 

This position appeared in the game between Matthew Parsons and Leo Keely in the second round of the Calderdale 30 on Monday night. It’s White to play. How should he continue? You’ll find the answer and the rest of the game in the viewer at the end of this post.

The Calderdale Evening Chess League launched a brand new competition on Monday this week as 30 players from across the region met at the Belgrave Social Club in Halifax to play three rounds of chess at a time limit of 30 minutes each. This tournament will see ten teams of three players participating in a round robin team format over four evenings from this week through to March next year. League positions will be determined not by match points but by points scored on each and every board and that means every single game has a potential bearing on the outcome with up to three points available in every match.

It was great to see so many chess players all in one place on Monday and almost half of them were representing Hebden Bridge Chess Club as we entered four teams to take part. They joined two teams from Belgrave, two from Huddersfield, one from Halifax and another team of ‘Nomads’ made up of players from various clubs who didn’t have a berth in any of the other teams. Hebden chose to distribute their strength across all four of their teams in order to try and make the whole tournament as competitive as possible. Their fours teams were led on the top boards by Matthew Parsons, Phil Cook, Martyn Hamer and Jamie Heritage whilst their bottom boards were occupied by four players who joined the club either just before or just after the COVID lockdown, Cobus Daneel, Jeremy Butts, Chris Marsden and Sam Giles.

By the end of the evening two of Hebden’s teams had taken an early lead and were well clear of the pack. Here is a round by round breakdown of the scores.

Round 1

Hebden Bridge A (Matthew Parsons, Dave Shapland and Cobus Daneel) beat the Nomads side (Richard Porter, Vivienne Webster and Angel Gonzalez) by 2½-½. Matthew and Cobus won fairly comfortably but a rusty Dave missed a hanging piece in the middle game and then blundered the exchange in his game but somehow managed to hang on for a draw in the end game with Vivienne’s time running out.

Hebden Bridge B (Phil Cook, Nick Doody and Chris Marsden) beat Halifax (Andrew Whiteley, Barry Wadsworth and John Nicholson) 2 – 1 though they didn’t lose a game as both boards two and three were drawn whilst Phil won on board 1.

Huddersfield B (Leo Keely, David Gray and Alec Ward) whitewashed Huddersfield A (Nick Sykes, Robert Mitchell and Colin Frank) 3-0.

Belgrave A (Dave Patrick, Robert Clegg and Chris Edwards) beat Belgrave B (Dave Colledge, Les Johnson and Steve Harrington) 2½ – ½.

But the result of the round was undoubtedly Hebden Bridge D’s (Jamie Heritage, Sam Swain and Sam Giles) pasting of Hebden Bridge C (Martyn Hamer, Paul Gledhill and Jeremy Butts) 3-0 with Jamie’s win over Martyn on board one serving further notice that he is going to be a major force to be reckoned with in Calderdale this season.

Round 2

Hebden Bridge D continued their perfect form with a 3-0 thrashing of the Nomads in round 2. Just half a point behind them were Hebden Bridge A who also managed to beat Huddersfield B 3-0. Matthew Parson’s beautiful game against Leon Keely on board 1 is given in the game viewer at the end of this post and is well worth taking a look at, while Dave Shapland survived another scare before turning the tables on David Gray and new-comer Cobus Daneel took down the Huddersfield Captain Alec Ward in fine attacking style.

Hebden B beat Belgrave A 2-1 in a tight match with Nick Doody’s win over Robert Clegg on board two proving to be decisive as Phil Cook drew with Dave Patrick and Chris Marsden drew with Chris Edwards on boards 1 and 3 respectively. This put the B team two points behind the D team and one and a half behind the A team after two rounds.

Hebden C bounced back from their first round defeat by the D team to beat Halifax 2-1. Martyn and Paul won their games on boards 1 and 2 against Andrew Whiteley and Barry Wadsworth while Jeremy on board 3 also had much the better of the game against John Nicholson before running out of time in a completely winning position.

In the last of the round 2 matches, Belgrave B lost 1-2 to Huddersfield A.

Round 3

Hebden Bridge D assured themselves of the top spot in the league after 3 rounds by carrying out their third demolition of the evening, this time against Halifax. This rounded off an extremely impressive evening from all three of their players.

Hebden Bridge A lost a little bit more ground in their chase as they won 2½-½ for the second time in the evening against Belgrave B. This time it was Matthew on board 1 who was impressively held to a draw by Dave Colledge. Meanwhile Dave and Cobus both did what they needed to against Les Johnson and Steve Harrington respectively. Cobus finished the night on 3 out of 3 – another very impressive performance.

Hebden Bridge B lost their final match of the evening 1-2 to Huddersfield A. Phil beat Nick Sykes on board 1 but Nick and Chris both lost their games to Robert Mitchell and Colin Frank respectively.

Hebden Bridge C continued their recovery with a fine 2-1 win over Belgrave A. The hero here was Jeremy who recovered from two painful losses on time to dispatch the experienced Chris Edwards on board 3. This win, along with Phil’s win over Dave Patrick on board 1 was enough to counteract Paul’s loss to Robert Clegg on board 2.

The final match of round 3 saw the evening’s only tied match as Huddersfield B and the Nomads fought themselves to a standstill. Leo Keely beat Richard Porter on the top board but Angel Gonzalez beat Alec Ward on the bottom board whilst the game between David Gray and Vivienne Webster was a draw.

League Table after 3 rounds

Hebden Bridge D – 9 points
Hebden Bridge A – 8
Hebden Bridge B – 5
Huddersfield B – 4½
Belgrave A – 4½
Hebden Bridge C – 4
Huddersfield A – 4
Nomads – 2
Belgrave B – 2
Halifax – 2

This competition is a welcome addition to the calendar and there was a great atmosphere at the Belgrave Club with so many players all in one place and lots of exciting games being played. Whilst two of the Hebden teams are currently riding high, neither of them have played the strongest teams in the competition yet and so there is plenty of time over the remaining six rounds for the other to haul them in, and, with some missing players due to return for the next night of fixtures, there is every chance that fortunes may change.

Instructions for using the PGN Viewer

For the benefit of those who are uninitiated, the game viewer above contains one of the games played last Monday night. It will automatically scroll through it unless you tell it to stop by clicking on the ‘=’ button below the board. 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.

Sep 262021
 

Sometimes, when a match is in the balance, you need the heavy hitters to tip the scales in your favour. That was exactly what happened on Monday night as the top 3 boards helped Hebden Bridge 2 edge past Huddersfield 2. Photo Credit: Janet Ramsden’s Flickr photo stream

On Monday night the first of the round 2 matches in this season’s Calderdale Evening Chess game were played. As we return tentatively to over the board chess in the wake of the COVID pandemic, there is just one division of eight teams this season and each round of fixtures is played across two weeks. This has been done to allow clubs the opportunity to share players between teams should they be suddenly have squad members becoming unavailable due to a positive test and self-isolation or illness.

On Monday, Hebden Bridge 2 hosted Huddersfield 2 at the Trades Club. Both sides had done well against their first teams in the first round of matches with Hebden, as reported here last week, drawing their match with Hebden Bridge 1 whilst Huddersfield 2 went one better and beat their first team. However, while Huddersfield selected the exact same five players that had done the job for them the previous week, Hebden rang the changes in order to try and get as many members of their squad as possible a game. Their board 1 for the derby match, Phil Cook, took a week off and out too went Cobus Daneel. They were replaced by Nick Doody and Sam Swain both playing their first matches of the season and, in Nick’s case, his first match for the club.

This was an absorbing, tense and very close match with the result in doubt right until the last moves were played. Looking at the ratings beforehand it seemed that Hebden Bridge would be favourites primarily owing to their superior strength on the lower boards, but that was actually where they struggled most. Chris Marsden and Sam Swain both made blunders to help Bryn Charlesworth and Alec Ward overturn the odds on boards 4 and 5.

This left Hebden’s top three boards to do the heavy lifting. Nick Doody, returning to chess after several years away, demonstrated he was in great shape with a nice win against David Gray on board 3 before Andrew Clarkson finally triumphed over Leo Keely on board 1 in a long encounter that saw Leo go a piece down early on but then provide obdurate resistance.

The last game to finish was the one on board 2 between young Jamie Heritage of Hebden Bridge and Granville Boot of Huddersfield. This was a fascinating encounter with a very unusual material balance that kept onlookers speculating about the outcome right to the end. Granville had a rook for four pawns in the endgame and caused Jamie all sorts of problems before the 15-year old finally found a way to stop his pawn storm and seal the win for Hebden Bridge at the death.

A great match! Here is the final match score card which saw Hebden 2 move into 2nd place in the fledgling league table just behind Belgrave 2 on board points as they tied with Halifax 1 on Monday night.

Hebden Bridge 2 vs. Huddersfield 2
(B) A.Clarkson 1 – 0 L.Keely
(B) J.Heritage 1 – 0 G.Boot
(B) N.Doody 1 – 0 D.Gray
(B) S.Swain 0 – 1 A.Ward
(B) C.Marsden 0 – 1 B.Charlesworth
3 – 2

Instructions for using the PGN Viewer

For the benefit of those who are uninitiated, the game viewer above contains some of the games played last Monday 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 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.

Sep 182021
 

Hebden 1 and Hebden 2 kicked off the new season playing against each other. Who got their calculations right on the night? Read on to find out. Photo credit: litherland’s Flickr photo stream

On March 16th 2020 I played on board 1 for Hebden Bridge ‘C’ as they hosted Huddersfield ‘B’ in the Calderdale Evening Chess League. That was a round 11 match and we’d almost reached the end of the season. Sadly, we didn’t make it to the very end. Little were any of us playing that night to know that this would be the last competitive over the board chess we would play for the best part of 18 months. The COVID lockdown came into effect the following week and all our activity ground to a halt.

Much has changed since that Monday night in 2020. Lockdown life has afforded many people the opportunity to discover the pleasures of playing chess for the first time or has given those who used to play years ago the chance to renew their appreciation of the game. The Queen’s Gambit series on Netflix has glamourised the world of chess and challenged the generally held stereotypes people had of chess players and chess itself. Online chess has boomed significantly and the number of online competitions available to us has expanded as a result – but we’ve also been confronted by an epidemic of online cheating that has damaged the reputation of the game.

A few weeks ago, we were able to start up our face-to-face meetings at the Trades Club again and we’ve been blessed with a steady influx of new members as well as an enthusiastic return to action by our existing membership base. As long as the world can stay COVID secure in the near future and activity is not abruptly curtailed again, it would appear that the pandemic has had a silver lining for the chess community.

Last Monday night Hebden Bridge 1 and Hebden Bridge 2 met for the first match of a brand new Calderdale Evening League season. It was great to be back at the board playing competitive chess again. However, the match was not completely free from the impact of the COVID pandemic. For a start, several of the players who had originally been selected to play either came down with the virus or were anxiously awaiting the results of tests to see if they could leave their homes. The Trades Club was unavailable for the match because they had a gig scheduled that night but our back up venue (the Golden Lion in Todmorden) was unable to open as planned due to staff shortages. Indeed, the match between Halifax’s two teams was postponed as their usual venue was also unavailable.

Riding to our rescue came our friends at Belgrave Chess Club who agreed to host our derby match at their venue so that we could proceed as planned. In recent seasons our top two teams have been selected based on the geography of their player bases with those players from the upper Calder Valley and East Lancashire playing in one team based at the Golden Lion and the those based all points west of Hebden Bridge playing at the Trades Club. Generally, the two sides have been fairly evenly matched and they’ve dominated League 1 in recent times.

This season, there is only one division and all four clubs (Hebden Bridge, Halifax, Belgrave and Huddersfield) have fielded two teams in it. With all our home games taking place at the Trades Club we’ve taken the opportunity to split the strength of our pool of players evenly across the two teams. Thus, on Monday the strongest two players available faced each other on board 1 and then the next two strongest on board 2 and so on across the 5 boards with just a small change on the bottom two boards. The idea was to try and create genuine competition between the two sides and, based on the evidence from Monday, it seems to have worked well. The match was tied with competitive and tense games on all five boards.

Both teams fielded a blend of experienced league players, more recent league players with fewer games under their belts and brand new members who’d never played in the Calderdale League before. Right from the start of the evening it was clear that the match was going to be tight. Board 4 was the first game to finish when Andy Leatherbarrow (playing for the first team) took down Cobus Daneel (one of the two new members) with the Black pieces. This was followed shortly after by a draw on board 2 between Andrew Clarkson (playing for the second team) and Martyn Hamer. These two have faced each other many times before and, despite entering a promisingly complicated line of the Sicilian Richter Rauser, they sensibly decide not to risk too much and signed peace terms in a roughly equal position.

Having fallen behind, Hebden 2 then struck back mid-evening when 15-year old Jamie Heritage beat Dave Shapland to level the scores for the second team. Dave had prepared a line of the French Tarrasch Variation as a bit of a surprise but Jamie coped with it superbly and played accurately to maintain some pressure. Dave committed the first major imprecision of the game and followed it immediately with a more serious blunder which led to a terminal loss of material.

The second team then took a 2½ – 1½ lead when Chris Marsden, who had been steadily turning the screw against the second new player in the match, Jeremy Butts, won a piece and then converted his advantage without too much fuss. That result meant Matthew Parsons (playing for the first team) needed to beat Phil Cook with the Black pieces to tie the match up. That he succeeded in doing this only at the very end of the evening should reveal that this game was very tight, very well played and extremely tense. At the end, Matthew won on time but it appeared he had won endgame anyway. Subsequent analysis with an engine revealed that in fact, Phil could have held the balance but only with a very accurate sequence.

So, the match ended tied which is probably a slightly better result for the first team given they were all playing Black. The final match scorecard is below:

Hebden Bridge 1 vs. Hebden Bridge 2
M.Parsons 1 – 0 P.Cook
M.Hamer ½ – ½ A.Clarkson
D.Shapland 0 – 1 J.Heritage
A.Leatherbarrow 1 – 0 C.Daneel
J.Butts 0 – 1 C.Marsden
2½ – 2½

You can view some of the game played on Monday in the game viewer below.

 

Instructions for using the PGN Viewer

For the benefit of those who are uninitiated, the game viewer above contains some of the games played last Monday 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 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.