Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Anyone for Tennis? Wait, I mean Chess . . .

February tomorrow, and where we once sat with pints in hand, studying the 64 squares, will all be rubble and dust, torn up carpets and stripped walls, as our old venue makes way for new flats.

Which means we go from being a chess club in a pub, to a chess club in a tennis club: For I'm happy to announce our new venue is Woodfield Grove Tennis Club. It's well-known in local history as the place that Streathamites have been practicing their forehands and lobs and all those other things I can't do since 1924 - but, the venue was totally modernised in the late 90s thanks to lottery cash.

And you can find out more about our new place yourself on Tuesday 6th February, by coming along at 8.00pm to our inaugural club night for some of the usual fun. What else do you need to know? Ah, - just how to find us . . . and perhaps that we still have a licensed bar?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Worst Move On The Board

Here's a new series - and anybody can take part. No matter how good, no matter how bad. We can't all of us play World Championship Quality Blunders, because we can't all of us play in the world championship. But anybody can play The Worst Move On The Board.

The criteria are simple. What we want are examples, from club play to world championship, of players playing absolutely the worst move they could possibly have found. Not just a bad move, not just a blunder. Not just an atrocious loss of material in a winning position, not even just allowing mate-in-one - if there were more than one move that would have allowed it. We want uniquely bad moves: moves of which it can be accurately said that "any other move would have been better". Hence they must fulfull one of the criteria 1 to 3:

1. They must allow the quickest possible forced mate when no other move would have allowed it ; or
2. They must be the only move allowing the opponent to force a win, when all other moves would retain the draw - or be the only move allowing to opponent to force a win, when all other moves would retain the win ; or
3. They must allow the maximum possible win of material - all other moves would either not lose material, or would lose less.

That sounds like it allows a lot of moves to qualify. But what makes it hard is the requirement that the move be uniquely bad in the position. We've all overlooked mates in one - but we've generally overlooked them rather than assisted in bringing them about. (Even Chigorin, against Steinitz, had several ways of permitting mate in two - I think I detect four others, not including the move played. Though not all possess quite the same elegance.) Normally we just play a move, not noticing the threat, like Bronstein's loss of a queen against Petrosian in Zurich. Much ore rarely do we play a move creating the threat where it did not exist before. There's usually a choice of equally disastrous blunders. It's much harder to find the absolute worst.

I hope we can find all sorts of Worst Possible Moves (not to be confused with Tim Krabbe's conception here at #334 - or, indeed, The Ultimate Blunder). All different kinds, as above, and at all different levels. (And if anybody can find an example from a computer, so much the better.)

But we'll start, I think, with somebody who was at least close to world championship class (that being the only sort of class he actually possesses) and who, for that matter, was at the time of his blunder, close to playing a match for the title. Talking of class, it has to be the classiest way to play the Worst Move On The Board: allowing an instant mate, a mate in one. Especially so, when it comes completely out of the blue.

Nigel Short has, I believe, only ever lost one game to Alexander Beliavsky - and he had to work hard to manage that. At Linares in 1992, in the course of a disastrous tournament in which he came last of the fourteen competitors, Short had had the better of a long game in the Four Knights' Opening when he reached the following position, after Black's 57...f7-f6+.

He has, I make it, five moves to choose from: not a huge selection, but even so he did well to choose the worst. It was the last move he was required, or able, to play.

There is an odd sequel, by the way. Ten years later, also in Linares (though not in the top tournament) Beliavsky had the white pieces against Leif Erlend Johanessen. Trying to win a queen ending, he found himself in the following position after 58...Qe4-b1. How is a draw to be avoided?

His solution was clever, neat, and instant. And unique: no other move would have lost so quickly. But also, not unique. Ten years after he himself had been the beneficiary, he became the benefactor in his turn. So, not just The Worst Move On The Board (which I invite you to find for yourselves). It was more than that. It was un hommage.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Benasque 2007

Further to my posting about this year's tournament in Benasque: I can now announce that the dates of the tournament are 5-14 July.

You can access information here: click on Entrar and then the PDF on the next page, though it looks unfinished to me. I know the complete entry form exists, because I've seen it - but at time of writing I can only detect the front page on the web.

I can't guarantee that enquiries in English will be correctly understood, so unless you're confident in your Spanish (which I'm not either, but I get by) it may be best at this stage to send them through me!

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Third Chessabit Rapid, and Third Place

The Third Chessabit Rapid Tournament took place last Saturday at The Crosse Keys pub in central London. Three Streatham & Brixton Chess Club members took part - James, Adam W and myself. Once again big money prizes were on offer, and the first place worth £500 was split between Wood Green's Ali Kikoyo and previously unknown Venezuelan junior Felix Ynojosa. The full report is here - where you might note that a certain blogger was lucky enough to finish outright 3rd, meaning he took home £100 from the day. Some games of his are below, whilst on the right you'll find him in a photo with some of the other prize winners, and the organisers. He's the one on the left as you look at the photo, gaining in chins what he's losing in hair.

Competitor Nick Ward said this of the event: "I would definitely recommend the event, I liked the relaxed nature of the day and I had some good tactical rapid play games you only seem to get at an event like that one. Football in the interim was also an added bonus" - and it's hard to find anyone disagreeing with that kind of sentiment. Meanwhile the Chessabit website reports that: "We registered the highest attendance to date (77 players), but still everything went smooth; the venue staff operated really well this time, there were no agitators amongst the players and everybody had fun, even the organizers."

The next event is, I believe, planned for March. See you there?

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Double White to play and win

One very easy and one very difficult “White to play and win” problem, both from the same game.
We all kick ourselves when we miss forced wins in games we drew or lost. However, rather than this happening to me, it happened to my opponent, after I had put in an unconvincing performance against Atheneum.
As Black in the position below, I'd played 35. … Qe5-e3 hitting the rook on d2, and if 36. Bf6 then 36. … Qxf4+.

But how could White have won straight away?

My opponent, with only a couple of minutes to make the final move before the time control, missed this opportunity, and instead there followed 36. Rc2 Ne1 37. Ra2 c3.

Now White has another, far more difficult, forced win. Can you find that one? The second move is the hardest.

My opponent didn’t, and the game ended with 38. Ra8 Nf3+ 39. gxf3 Qf2+ and a perpetual.
Lucky me!!

Beauty, sans Truth?

Deschapelles - Labourdonnais, Paris 1820. White to play and mate.

Were I to run a Quote For The Week spot on the blog, this one from George Walker would certainly feature at some point:
M. Deschapelles is the greatest chess player in France; M. Deschapelles is the greatest whist player in France; M. Deschapelles is the greatest billiards player in France; M. Deschapelles is the greatest pumpkin-grower in France; M. Deschapelles is the greatest liar in France.
One should perhaps bear that in mind when looking at the improbable position above - where it is white - Deschapelles - to play & win, against Labourdonnais, Paris 1820. On the other hand, a quote from the same writer suggests an alternative explanation:
he [Deschapelles] suddenly walked into the Paris Chess Club; and, without the slightest preparation, sat down to play with M. de la Bourdonnais, at that curious variety of chess known as "the game of the pawns", in which the one player removes his queen, and is allowed, instead, a certain number of extra pawns. Deschapelles and De la Bourdonnais played four games at this sitting, even, -- that is to say, eight pawns being allowed alternately for the queen.
Who knows? But enjoy finding the beautiful finish of this remarkable puzzle, all the same.

(Via a forum thread of Chessworld's papadoble with thanks.)

Friday, January 26, 2007

Match of the Season, Game of the Season?

Crystal-ball gazers had long looked to the 22nd January 2007 as a crunch date for the fate of Streatham & Brixton Chess Club's first team in the London League Division 1. The match scheduled for then against Athenaeum, half way through the season, had the potential define the year: a loss and we might be dragged back into a relegation dog-fight, like last year. A draw would be alright - but a win and safety would suddenly really be in sight.

Prophets, however, will have to wait a little longer to know the match result for sure. The good news is that it currently stands at 6-4 to us, with two adjournments. Even better, with Sue looking like she has at least a draw, and Toby's position completely unclear, the odds for a win are currently stacked somewhat in our favour too. Fingers crossed.

In spite of two defaults (one a piece) the match itself saw numerous interesting games, from the chaos caused by Adam FF's Benko, to two nearly won but eventually drawn bishop endgames for Andrew and Steve, to the stunning blunder my opponent blessed our game with, to Robert cruising his way to a won Grunfeld endgame, having barely left his own half of the board. But the best game - and perhaps game of the season already, speculated Martin - was undoubtedly the following effort by Jeremy on board 2. Playing black, he unleased straight out of the opening a swift and decisive sacrificial attack.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

World Championship Quality Blunders V

Chigorin – Steinitz 1892 (game 23)

Today we join Chigorin and Steinitz at a crucial moment in their second match. Three years earlier Steinitz had won their initial encounter 10-6 but this time it was much more even.

Chigorin (White, to play) is 9–8 down but a piece up and winning easily here. Victory will go to the first to 10 games but a match score of 9-9 will lead to a period of ‘extra time’ extending the match to first to twelve wins.

Happily for us, Chiggy now came up with the greatest blunder of all time.

32. Bb4 ?? (the simple Rxb7 wins)

to which Steinitz responded,

32 … Rxh2 +

At a stroke Chigorin had got himself mated and was forced to resign not only the game but the match too.

How to account for such a move? A little earlier in the game Steinitz had sacrificed a piece but didn’t get anywhere near enough for it. In fact his compensation is a single threat – but no worries there because Chigorin has h2 covered with his Bishop on d6.


There is real drama – tragedy even – in this position. Chigorin must have expected Steinitz to play

32. … Rxb2


33. Nf4 more or less forces off a pair of rooks and makes the win simple.

I can just hear Chigorin thinking “Bb4 and the game’s over” as he picked up his Bishop - and so it was, just not quite as he intended.

Regular readers of these posts, if such people exist, might have noticed this entry has not suffered from my normal complete inability to publish on time. Indeed, it was only a couple of days ago that WCQB IV saw the light of day. There is a reason for my uncharacteristic industry.

Chigorin died exactly 99 years ago today. I would like to propose that henceforth January 25th be known as “Chigorin Day” as we all take a moment to remember the man who should really be recognised as the patron saint of chess players.

After all, next time you miss a simple tactic, overlook a trivial win or even tossed your Queen away, what’s the worst that has can have happened? OK, you might have lost a few rating points, perhaps caused your team to lose a crucial match or missed out on some prize money.

No matter. On the way to the pub you can console yourself with the thought that at least you didn’t blow the World Championship in a single move.

Happy Chigorin Day!

Impact on the Game: 5/5
Impact on the Match: 4/5
Degree of Difficulty: 5/5
Artistic Impression: 5 /5

which leads to an Ultimate Blunder Rating of 19/20. Truly this was the ultimate Ultimate World Championship Blunder. We shall never see its like again.

Next time … bet you can't guess this one Justin ;-)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


So, how did the six-month chess drought end?

It ended with a crushing win on Sunday on the Black side of a Vienna Game, playing top board for Casino Jaque of Huesca against SMS Barbastro in the semi-final of the Copa Delegación. To be honest, I suspect that "semi-final" may be a polite way of saying that only four teams take part, Alto Aragón being a relatively remote region with few towns of any size (think North Wales, perhaps) though some places are more remote than others.

Chess has a rather higher profile in Spain than it does in England, something which may be attributable to a general willingness to regard it as a sport: hence it gets its section in the Deportes section of the local paper, Diario del AltoAragón. The nature of local papers doesn't hurt, either: they're a lot closer to proper journalism than almost anything you'll see in a local paper in England.

Anyway, when was the last time Streatham and Brixton match even made the results section of a local paper? Let alone a full report with photo (curiously enough featuring the gentleman who submitted the report*, a local FM who I shall be playing in the final) and even a report of the game itself:
El primer tablero fue el más rápido en terminar, con victoria de Justin Horton sobre Marcos Sig, que jugó la apertura de alfil de Rey pero enseguida se quedó peor, rematando con un fallo que le costó una pieza.
Go on, practice your Spanish.

[* = Subsequent note: in fact the print edition has three photos, including one of myself, and a much longer report! You don't get this in the South London Press...]

Can't play with 'em, can't play without 'em...

I'll be getting back to you in due course about my poser involving an email chess game and the preferred move of the computer. Contributions to the comments box on that post are still welcome: in the mean time, it may help illustrate my theme if we look at a completed game, Rasstrigin-Horton, also played under the aegis of the IECG.

What makes this game interesting (apart from any intrinsic merit, and it was an exciting game) from the immediate point of view is that until move thirty, I was playing without a computer. The game began just after I moved to Spain, at about the time I learned that I was too late to register for any local chess in 2006 and would therefore have to kick my heels until the following January. So I registered for some email games - and this one lasted almost nine months. However, it was not until five of those months had elapsed that I was able to get Rybka installed, and my play before then tends to show it: missing the knight-and-queen manoeuvre that allows the capture on b7, then fumbling away a pawn shortly afterwards. Meanwhile, after the b7 capture my opponent's move coincides with the computer's choice on almost every occasion.

This was obvious to me even before I was able to get in Rybka and check it for myself, since White's whole approach, after going a pawn up, is very computer-like: sit on the material, start pushing pawns forward, it doesn't matter if your pieces are a little out of play. Which gave me some hope - as long as White continued to play like that, perhaps I would get time to move my pieces over to the kingside while White was fiddling elsewhere.

So I gave up a second pawn on a6 to get the knight out of the way, threw my remaining pawns at his king and prayed that just over the horizon, something would come up: and also that he would continue to follow the computer, hanging on to all his material advantage and not find some way of giving some of it back to exchange off material, then race the pawns home. (I've not looked at it recently, but it's hard to believe that White couldn't have cashed his winnings in at some time by capturing on c7, with three passed pawns easily compensating for a piece.)

So this is the position after Black's 31st move, to put it in the traditional manner - or the position in which Black got hold of a computer program, to put it in a manner both more modern and more pertinent. As it happens, this is also the point at which the evaluations started changing, and once a move or two were entered, White's advantage, having previously been over 1.00 (indeed, well over) suddenly dwindled to nothing.

An exposed king, chased by the heavy pieces, Black's bishop far better placed to join in than the knight - that's fine compensation for two pawns or even three.

After this point, while I was checking everything with the computer, I did not always play the preferred move, at least once choosing instead to throw more material on the fire in order to open lines (e.g. 38...e4 instead of a recapture on g2). I didn't win in the end - my king was probably too open itself to let that happen - but I got to force the draw, and to choose the moment when that happened. (What draw, you ask? Well, I'll let you or your computer find it. As it goes, the computer prefers not to force the draw and opts, instead of 43...Rg5, for 43...Qb2+ 44.Ra5 Qc3+. But I judged, rightly or wrongly, that the resulting ending, which the computer prefers for Black, is probably unwinnable - and potentially more risky for Black than White.)

What's the moral? The moral isn't that you can give the computer user a couple of pawns start and still outplay them. Not really. For a start, I could never have played the last dozen moves without a great deal of computer help - give it a go yourself and see how you get on. (34...Rf7 in particular would have been very hard to see, and the consequences of any given line were lost to me without computer help). Moreover, I would have been better placed in the first instance if I'd had a computer and my tactical shortcomings had not forced me to gamble that my opponent would look at the computer evaluations rather than the board. (Could he really not have taken on c7 at some point before I got organised on the kingside?)

Nevertheless, the game does show what happens if you do rely on the computer. An enormous points advantage can disappear, in a wild position, just like that. We know, playing OTB, that we should be cautious when winning, consolidate our advantages, be prepared to give back some material and avoid complications if we can. The odd thing is, we do that because we're worried about our human weaknesses. The possibility of blundering, of getting nervous and so on.

Yet playing with a computer program, it's the weaknesses of the machine which ironically make the same demands on us. Left to itself, it won't consolidate - won't cut down its arithmetical advantage in order to cut down on the risk of encountering the unexpected. Computers are supposed to be very good at winning won games. Perhaps it isn't necessarily so. We need to help them.

It's also supposed to be true, these days, that computers don't just grab material and don't underestimate the possibility of compensation. I am not sure, having played this game, that I believe this is true. I think it's quite possible that if a computer evaluation shows compensation that is substantial but inadequate - for instance, with a material advantage of 2.00 it shows an evaluation of something like 0.95 - then in fact the compensation may be rather greater than the computer thinks. Go for the line - which you never would if an equal-material position was assessed at 0.95 to the other side.

Which suggests, in its turn, that a possible strategy for playing a computer may entail a preparedness to sacrifice material where the computer's assessment fits that pattern. Where you would feel good about it over the board but are wary of the computer thinking it doesn't quite work. Be confident, because it may well be that your gut feeling is a better guide than the calculations of the computer.

It also goes, almost without saying, that the same is true when you are playing correspondence chess against people who will almost always follow their computer's advice.

Second Team - Update!

Having played five games for our First Team this season, I'm no longer eligible for Second Team matches in Division 3 of the London League - but it looks like my old team mates aren't exactly missing me. The score from the match against Wanstead 2 on the 15th January currently stands at 5-4 to us - with Dave V's oustanding adjournment looking good enough for at least a draw. This edges us to third in the League Table. But with Metropolitan having not played many of the stronger sides, and with so many closely-matched teams half a point behind us - the rest of the season could just about see anything happen, either way.

Talking about seeing anything happen, below you will find Adam W's win from the night on board 2 playing as black. By move 21, his opponent Steven Gilmour had built up a dominating position with the white pieces - and yet seven moves later had to resign after a sacrificial, mating attack sprang out from nowhere. In fact, Adam notes that 21. d5 was too hurried, also writing of move 23 that: "After a long think I decided that 'remplacer pour mieux sauter' was the best plan - better to admit my earlier mistakes and give up the pawn to gain time to target e3." It certainly worked, and the finish is pleasingly reminiscent of Kasparov-Karpov Seville 1987, game 1 - not often you get to say that!

Good luck for the rest of the season, everybody.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

World Championship Quality Blunders IV

Alekhine – Euwe 1937 (game 16)

Today’s game is, I believe, unique in the history of World Championship chess.

It’s Euwe to play his 25th move. Earlier in the game he’d sacrificed a pawn for the Bishop pair and an initiative. Immediately before the position above, he’d exchanged Rooks on c1 and brought his Queen to the centre of the board. Alekhine responded by retreating his Knight from e4-c3 to chase it away.

So it’s Black to play and lose.

25. … Qe5?

“An elementary oversight. Correct was 25. … Qc6!” [CJS Purdy – “Extreme Chess”]. You may want to pause here and consider how White should respond. The correct response is most definitely not ...

26. Bb2 ?? Bc6 ???

27. a3 ????

and finally after

27. … Bd6

“The nightmare is over” [Purdy again] and the game eventually ended in a drawn on move 65.

In case you hadn’t already noticed, once Black plays his Queen to e5 White wins with the simple 3-move sequence Qh8+!, Nxf7+ and Nxe5.

Although it’s remarkable that Alekhine and Euwe between them had four bites at the cherry and still managed to miss this line, it can’t be said that these blunders affected the result of the match too much. Alekhine was already 3 games ahead and huge favourite to regain his crown. Missing this win only reduced the margin of victory. Indeed, his domination over Euwe was such that the latter only won one more meaningful game (although he did win the last two long after the match was already decided in Alekhine’s favour).

Similarly, like last time, the blunders cancel each other out and thus the realistic assessment at our start and end point remains “probably drawn”.

Although there’s a certain beauty in a double tandem blunder – and a bonus point under Artistic Merit is in order for this being the only such specimen so far (as far as I’ve found anyway) - my real interest in this game its applicability to me as an average club player.

I believe it was John Nunn who coined the phrase, “Loose Pieces Drop Off”. I’ve found this to be a very useful truism when trying to avoid blunders in my own games. Similarly, when looking to take advantage of an opponent’s position, it makes sense to keep an eye out for pieces that are not defended and thus vulnerable to tactical sequences.

Incidentally, Purdy’s advice is, “To avoid such slips, a player should look at ALL checks.” [his emphasis]

Armed with these pieces of advice, even a mediocre hacker such as myself should find it a trivial matter to avoid missing such sequences.

Impact on the Game: 3/5
Impact on the Match: 0/5
Degree of Difficulty: 4.5/5
Artistic Impression: 4.5 /5

which leads to an Ultimate Blunder Rating of 12/20 and a well deserved first place on the leader board. It won’t last.

Next time ... The Greatest?

Monday, January 22, 2007

Chess Adventures: On & Off the Board . . .

Normally to spice up match reports on the blog, I add an interesting diagram or two from the evening. Or maybe even a game, if one was intriguing or amusing or impressive enough.

But, from Streatham & Brixton Chess Club's match away to Surbiton on the 17th in the Surrey League (which we look odds on to win via the adjournments, btw) Angus sends me the story of a different adventure - this time off the board and late night after the match. Here's the tale:

"I dropped Adam off after last night’s match - against Surbiton in the Surrey League - and then drove home. There, I opened the back door of my car to get to my jacket - which contained all my other keys.

Only: My jacket wasn’t there... Was it in the boot? I didn’t remember putting it in the boot and my bag was on the back seat – I doubt that I’d have put the two in different places. Could I have left my jacket at the chess venue? I doubted that too. Without my jacket, I’d have felt the cold and rain when we left the match venue.

There was, however, a garment on the back seat which I’d grabbed at first, thinking it was my coat. It didn’t feel like my coat. It wasn’t my coat. It wasn’t mine. Adam’s. So I sped back to where I’d dropped Adam off.

Not there.

What now?

I remembered I had a club membership list in my bag. I knew Adam was listed but that the address recorded for him was old. Still, there might be telephone number and so there was…. I don’t have a mobile phone (and never have had; I don’t like them) but that was OK. It shouldn’t be difficult to find a telephone box. It wasn’t. But how would I pay for a call? My money was in my jacket, wasn’t it? Luckily I had change in my trouser pocket… In the dark of the telephone box I proffered a 20p piece and dialled Adam’s number… nothing… I tried dialling again… Still nothing… What now?... I realised that the telephone also took credit cards and that I also had my credit card wallet in my trouser pocket… I swiped a card and dialled a number. It rang. Success!... But no; my call met an answerphone…


Why isn’t he receiving calls, I wondered?... I left a message: “If you receive this Adam, please can you meet me where I dropped you off?” (Maybe I was less polite)… I drove back again to where I’d left Adam and waited a bit but to no avail... What now? It began to dawn on me that, as I wouldn’t be able to get into my flat, I might have to find somewhere to sleep the night…

I know: I can go to Adam’s old address and see if I can get someone to give me Adam’s new address. Once there, I rang the bell and it was answered, thank goodness. I explained that I was a friend of Adam’s and what had happened. But:

“Might you have Adam’s new address?”

“I’m afraid not”.

Still, there was my brother. Maybe he could put me up. Maybe, even, he had a set of keys to my flat though I doubted that he did… My brother lives in the same block of flats as I do. I drove back. Someone entered the block just ahead of me and let me in. I knocked on my brother’s door. No answer. I shouted through the letter box. No answer. I increased the volume of my shout. Still no answer.

Now what?

I knocked at the door of friendly neighbours. Fortunately John answered. I explained to him what had happened and asked if I could borrow his phone. Yes, I could. I tried calling Adam’s number but again I met an answerphone. Now what?... My last chance was to call Martin and see if he had any contact details for Adam different from the ones which I had… The address Martin had for Adam was the same as the one I had. Martin also had a mobile number for Adam.

Wasn’t that going to be the same as the one I’d already tried twice?

No it wasn’t!

I dialled the new number and Adam answered…. Phew! I was extremely relieved…We agreed to meet. We met, but Adam didn’t bring my jacket. Rather he had another coat to exchange for his coat. Dread descended. Was it possible that Adam didn’t have my jacket after all? He went back to his house to check… And, at last, there it was.

And the result of the match? We’re 3 – 2 up (wins for Peter and Robin; draws for Alan and Richard) with three games outstanding. David looks to have a win as he’s piece up with, to my eyes [it's actually 4-2 now, David won - TC], no apparent compensation for his opponent; Martin has two rooks for a queen and a fiendish threat - which looks very difficult to meet - to win queen for rook; and I have a draw in hand… We’re going to win. And that will take us to four points from five matches. Not bad."

The things we do for chess . . .

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Position : white to play and calculate

During my long chess-free period since Benasque last summer, I've spent a lot of time playing email chess which (as S&B members who attended a talk I once gave at the club will know) I don't really like that much. Nevertheless, it's what I've got - and since (thanks to Angus' generosity) I now have a chessplaying program, it means I don't lose every game I play. In fact, since acquiring the program I haven't lost a tournament game, which naturally makes one wonder what function the human player still has in correspondence chess.

It's a shame. I'm past forty now, the sort of age at which a player's OTB strength tends inevitably to decline - and I'd always envisaged myself turning to correspondence chess when that occurred. What point there is in that, is currently unclear: if, in ten years' time, we will all have access to programs which in a few minutes will produce moves of world champion class or better, then one suspects that the human elelment will be very small, since any intervention we make is likely to produce a worse move than the one which the computer proposed.

For the moment, though, this is not quite true. While one can very well mess up the game by deviating from the computer's preferred choice, one can also work in a number of ways, both with and without the computer, either ignoring it (for a while) so as not to be overinfluenced by its preferences, or understanding its strengths and deficiencies in order to direct its thoughts to lines which it had neglected or misunderstood.

I don't pretend to be any sort of expert on the subject: anyone looking for well-informed commentary could do worse than try Robin Smith's Modern Chess Analysis, which deals at some depth with the various strengths and weaknesses of computer progams. (There is, by the way, a copy at the Barbican Library, which I would very strongly recommend that anybody living in London take the trouble to join. It is absolutely - a qualified librarian writes - the best public library I have ever been in.)

What I propose to begin here, in my best reasonably-informed-layman-and-amateur kind of way, is a discussion which will hopefully illustrate some of the potential ways in which computers either still fail at correspondence chess, or in which they succeed only with human help. I'll start with a position in an ongoing game from the International Email Chess Group: the game is now well past the diagram position.

What I'd like people to do, rather than give any suggestions of their own, is simply say what their computer wants to play as White. Without making any suggestions to the computer - don't put in a move to see what changes! We're asking what would happen if we relied purely on the computer. If you can give more detail, excellent: i.e. if the preferred move changed after x ply, the program's second and third choices, what program you used.

After we've had a few responses I'll come back to the position and explain what actually happened and why: and we'll see if the human element was actually helpful or not. So - suggestions please!

[A note to anybody who has not previously left a comment on here and is unsure of the procedure: don't be put off by the stuff about Blogger accounts and so on. You do not need to have one - just enter yourself as an anonymous user and leave your name, if you wish, as part of the comment. ]

Friday, January 19, 2007

Chess: The Musical . . . featuring, Chess!

I have a confession to make: it would take rather a lot to get me to go see a musical. However, I've always thought that for obvious reasons, I'd make an exception for Chess: The Musical. Especially, as it turns out, for the upcoming production at the Electric Theatre. Why so? I hear you ask.

Because, Guildford Chess Club - our competitors from the Surrey League - are not only helping with the production, but taking on the audience in the foyer for an hour and a half before each performance! Mike Adams, their Club Secretary, explains more:

"Guildford Chess Club and GSA Conservatoire have teamed up in a unique collaboration for a new production of Chess at the Electric Theatre, opening on 8 February. The musical written by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus [of Abba fame] and Tim Rice [Evita, Jesus Christ Superstar, Lion King etc], is regarded as ‘one of the best theatrical compositions ever written’ and features the story of a world championship chess match between the Americans and the Russians. Set during the end of the cold war in the 1970’s a romantic triangle develops when an American chess champion defends his title against a Russian opponent who secretly plans to defect to the West.

"The psychological battles between the protagonists are played out as much off the chess board as in the games. Although written over 20 years ago, the musical is prescient of recent events - only two months ago the latest world championship match had to be suspended for several days and drew international headlines over allegations of cheating because one player was making frequent trips to the bathroom.

"GSA, whose graduates can be found performing throughout the West End, internationally and in TV and film are delighted to be working alongside local chess champions to add to the realism of this production. Guildford Chess Club, (part of the town since 1896), will playing in the foyer each evening from 6pm prior to curtain up at 7.30pm. Theatre goers will be able to try their skill and learn more about the game through free coaching. The club is also providing props and technical advice for the production. And win or lose, everyone will come away having been entertained by those wonderful songs."

A few more details you might want: this production runs from 8th – 15th February at the Electric Theatre in Guildford. The box office number is 01483 444789. And there's a £2 discount off the normal ticket price of £10 if you quote "Chess Club Offer," to boot!

See you in the foyer?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Back in the pavilion

According to the Wijk Aan Zee website:
Due to the extreme weather conditions in Wijk aan Zee, the commentary session in the Corus Chess pavilion is cancelled today.
How odd. When I used to play cricket the pavilion used to be where you went to get away from the weather.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Opening surprise

The Streatham and Brixton season may be halfway through, but mine is about to begin, with a game on Sunday. Which means I have to think all the thoughts about my opening repertoire that I should have been thinking over the last six chess-free months. But I've never been able to work properly without the pressure of a deadline and this applies as much to opening preparation as to anything else. You never have to get it done - it can always be put off for another game or another month or another season - so I never really get it done. Not properly. I read, or flick through books, I make decisions that I promptly change the following day and then change back just as swiftly once I remember all the reasons for the original decision.

What to play against 1.d4, if White doesn't allow the Nimzo? For years, now, I've been pondering whether to play the Queen's Indian Defence. The Benoni? Too risky. The Bogo? Not quite good enough. The QGD? Too hard to generate counterplay. The Semi-Slav? Bg5 is a pain. Yet at one time or another, I've "decided" I would play all of these. I have books on all of them. I have four books on the Queen's Indian Defence.

The best of these is probably the most recent, Peter Wells' volume in the optimistically-entitled series Chess Explained. Still, if the series title is misleading, the writing is not: Wells, who has written some justly-praised guides in the past, has produced another good one. Good enough, I hope, for me to use it as the launch-pad for a new opening experiment. At least until until I decide it's too theoretical, too passive, unsuitable for email chess, unsuitable for use against weaker players, unsuitable for use against stronger players, unsuitable because of various move-order issues arising from 1.c4 or 1.d4 - or because I play a couple of games with it, get beat and give it up as a result.

(I have, as I recall, played it before - but only once in an OTB game. I won. I gave it up nevertheless. Now that's what I call unreasonably high expectations.)

The other books I have on the Queen's Indian were written by Bogdan Lalic - always an author I like, as our styles are similarly dull - by Yrjölä and Tella and by Jacob Aagaard.

Aagaard has written some good books, but his Everyman Queen's Indian Defence is some way short of classic (although not down to the level of some books produced by that publishing house: the absence of effective proof-reading is unfortunately all too manifest in all too many of them). Still, it's workable enough, or so I thought after buying it - and I read it pretty thoroughly, by my standards, anyway, in the lead-up to a tournament I played in Oban, in the west of Scotland, in November 2004. (It was the second time I'd played that tournament: the first time, I played on top board in the final round, lost and won nothing, although my game subsequently featured in the Telegraph chess column.)

Travelling to Oban entailed a flight to Prestwick, a train journey into Glasgow and then another, slow but spectacular, up into the mountains to the north and then a final descent towards the coastal town. I read Aagaard's book for most of the journey and in my hotel room afterwards (and would probably have read it between the station and the hotel, had not my mobile rung, leading to a long conversation with a tearful friend about the sudden death of her cat). I was satisfied with my work and resolved that, if I drew the Black pieces in my opening game and my opponent gave me the opportunity, I would give it a try.

So off I went to the tournament hall, in the hotel where I was staying, to look up the draw. My name was on the right hand side: I did, indeed have the Black pieces. Top board, too. I looked to see who I was drawn against. My opponent was International Master Jacob Aagaard.

Your Diaries, Please . . . .

Some upcoming events, ranging from this Saturday in London to July in Spain.

First off, it's another big-money, under 175ECF, one-day rapidplay, courtesy of Chessabit: £500 for the winner, and eight games in one day, this Saturday 20th January, at The Crosse Keys pub in central London. You can find out about past Chessabit events from our previous posts, incidentally, and it's not too late to enter for this event.

Or if you fancy something at a slower pace, then consider The First Brentwood International Chess Congress, held 17th - 18th February. One particularly strong player you might have heard of has already entered the Open. He's pictured . . . but if you need a clue, well: he drew against Kramnik two days ago in Corus! (Incidentally, on the subject of Corus, I really recommend the outstanding coverage at Chessvibes.)

The most recent Surrey Rapid on 7th January also saw some big name titled players turn out, with IM Michael Basman winning the event on 5/6, and GM Alexander Cherniaev coming mid-table with a score of 3/6. The next Surrey Rapid event is on the 11th March, and the entry form is here (PDF file.) There are three other sections below the Open, and once again the excellent "4½ point rule" will apply: "A score of 4½ or more out of 6 is GUARANTEED A PRIZE, even if this means that extra prizes are awarded."

Or if you fancy taking a pop at a Grandmaster in somewhat more favourable circumstances, then Imperial have just announced that "next Monday, the 22nd of January, 2007, has been named as the date for this year's Mestel Challenge, where Dr. Jonathan Mestel, a Grandmaster who has won three British Chess Championships spanning twelve years as well as the 1997 World Puzzle Solving Championships, will be taking on the rest of Imperial College London in a gigantic simultaneous matchup!" But non-members of their club can pay £5 on the night to join in as well. Alas, this clashes with Streatham & Brixton Chess Club's first team London League Division 1 match against Athenaeum - otherwise I'd say, see you there.

Finally, just a reminder of Justin's invitation out to Spain in probably July. Andrew's considering going, and so am I. Anyone else . . . ?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Beauty & The Bulldozer

"This puzzle is brilliant," writes Patrick - and I agree so much I'm posting this position from Koskinen-Kasman, Helsinki 1967, here too. And having checked the answer with Spike - which bulldozed its way to the answer in under a second - I will phrase it like this:

Black to play and mate in four.

The position also reminded me of this discussion. Do we really solve such things for our betterment, so our play becomes closer and closer to that of the brutal, soulless machine? (Or do you think I am posting it here instead for something like beauty's sake?)

Monday, January 15, 2007

An invitation to Benasque (sort of)

For some time now, I've been meaning to invite Streatham and Brixton players - and other readers of this blog - to play in the annual FIDE-rated international tournament in Benasque.

I played there last year (matter of fact, to date it's the last competitive chess I've actually played) and scored 6/9 in an extremely strong Open - the highest-ranked player without a title came 31st. This performance included one of my four career wins against FIDE Masters and a missed draw, in the endgame, against a Grandmaster.

I was tipped off about the tournament's existence by Andrew Stone, before I left, and I know Sue Lalic has played in it at least once. It's the strongest tournament, by some distance, that exists in my part of the world, since although Spain is known for its strong tournaments, the province of Aragón is not remotely so well served as is, say, Catalunya. There is, for instance, no strong tournament in Zaragoza, by far the largest city in the province.

Tournament chess in Spain is very strange to British eyes. There are, for instance, no weekend congresses, something I did not know when I came here and which I was dismayed to discover. The Spanish prefer to play one-day tournaments, with time limits of ten or fifteen minutes each, and the prizes are generous. There are, however, many FIDE-rated tournaments in Spain, especially in the summer months (though not, as I say, especially in Aragón). It is possible to spend the whole summer, which of course is longer in Spain than in more Northerly parts of Europe, playing these tournaments and filling in the odd Sunday with one of the aforementioned fifteen-minute affairs, and there are quite a few players of master rank who do precisely this.

So you have the odd situation where there is an enormous amount of chess for the professional, but no weekend chess, at least as I understand it, for the ordinary player who needs to work from Monday to Friday. Perhaps for this reason above all else, these tournaments are very large, far larger than their British equivalents, for if you have to take a week or two off work to play, you can probably do this only once a year, so naturally you will make certain you play in your "local" tournament if you possibly can. The 2006 tournament had more than 350 participants. I'm used to the idea that you might be struggling in a congress if you're on board 15. Here, it's board 150. If you're on board 15, you're probably playing a grandmaster.

Benasque itself is a small town in the Pyrenees, just a couple of kilometres from the French border, though as there is no pass in that particular valley, it feels much more isolated than that might suggest. It's essentially a ski resort, and therefore not full in July, though the Spanish Pyrenees do attract visitors and tourists through the summer, and the location is very striking. Play takes place in a sports hall just a couple of minutes' walk from all the bars, restaurants and hotels (though last year I chose to stay in a tent on a campsite about forty minutes' walk up the hill). One can get here from a variety of directions, though it's probably best to fly to Zaragoza (or one of the airports near Barcelona, Reus or Girona). Then hire a car: or get a coach (or train) to Huesca, where I live, and then another coach to Benasque. (If, of course, a party of players were to come, then it should be possible to split the costs involved.)

But when is it, you ask? And here we have a slight problem. Because as yet, I do not know. I assume it is in July, as it was last year - and as it has been running for nearly thirty years, I assume it will be in July again. But the precise dates, I do not know. Indeed nobody knows. Or if they do know, they are not telling.

I have enquired with the tourist office in Benasque - my enquiries have gone unanswered. The website of the Aragonese chess federation only lists the events taking place over the next three months - beyond that, the assumption seems to be either than you know already, or you do not need to know. Which is probably fine if you are a professional, since there are many competing events and you may make up your mind quite late: and it's probably OK if you're a local. But if you're an amateur from abroad, needing to know information well in advance in order to book flights and time off work, it is no use whatsoever.

But, as I found out last year, that's just the way Spain works (indeed, it is a mystery to me that it works at all):

• Everybody knows what is happening except you
• Nobody will ever tell you anything.

So I would like to invite people to come to Spain, in July this year, to Benasque, for a week and a half in the mountains, to play chess. But I am not, yet, sure precisely when that week and a half will be. So bear it in mind, if you would. And if anybody who knows what is happening, is ever so careless as to accidentally tell me, I will pass the information on, to readers of this blog, as quickly as I can.

See some of you in July. I hope.

Stoneleigh Trophy - Update!

Last week on Wednesday, Streatham & Brixton Chess Club's team in the Stoneleigh Trophy scored a convincing 5½ - 2½ victory over South Norwood. I'd not played in the Trophy before, but really enjoyed its novel format. Whereby, each team has four players, whose grades must total ECF600 or under, and they face each other twice: once as black, once as white; the time limit for each game being all moves in half an hour.

Hero of the night for us was Chris on Board 4, who won both his games. I was pleased with my 1½/2 result on board 3 as well. Although having said that, I can't be quite as happy with my beer-inflected standard of play, as the blunder-sacrifice-swindle that won me my second game should make clear:

The next Stoneleigh Trophy match is on Wednesday 31st January, away to Surbiton. Good luck to everyone playing in that one.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

World Championship Quality Blunders III

Kasparov - Short, 1993 (Game 9)

Today’s position, as you see, is a Rook and Pawn endgame. I suspect half of you have already dozed off (and the other half have probably already left me for more exotic chess blogs elsewhere) but WAKE UP. Something interesting is about to happen.

It’s Kasparov – Short, game 9 1993 and Kaspy is about to make his 46th move.

We turn now to “Inner Game”, Dominic Lawson’s book on the World Championship match and Short’s progress to it:-

“… on move 46, Kasparov, moving quickly, committed a colossal blunder, which permitted Short, by a simple manoeuvre, to win one of the champion’s pawns and achieve a dead drawn position. Jon Speelman, who was watching the game, immediately spotted how Short could chop off Kasparov’s pawn and could barely contain himself when, with scarcely any thought, Nigel replied with the wrong move. Five minutes later he resigned, and rapidly disappeared from the stage.

Kasparov then bounced into the Channel Four studio … Speelman interrupted and told Kasparov he had blundered horribly in the ending. ‘No I didn’t,’ Kasparov replied angrily. Speelman then gave Kasparov the relevant position, spelling it out in international algebraic notation. ‘That position never occurred in the game,’ snapped the world champion. But Jon Speelman is a stubborn man. He then directed Kasparov’s attention to the computer which recorded all the moves of the game, and which, too, had instantly recognized that Kasparov had blundered and that Short could have drawn. Kasparov looked, appalled, at the computer screen. He spent the next four minutes staring distractedly into space, and then left the studio without a word.”

So says Dominic Lawson anyway. Curiously, Kasparov’s own account in New in Chess magazine implies that he’d noticed his mistake as soon as he’d made the move!

Anyhoo, the blunder in question is:-

46. e4 ??

which leads to a drawn position after,

46. … Rc5
47. a5 Rc3+
48. Kg4 Kxe4
49. a6 Rc8
50. a7 Ra8

… because Black can get his King back in time. There are a few tricks remaining in this line but its dead drawn.

Unfortunately, Nigel had already mentally surrendered and played 46. … Kd6 ?? and lost quickly.

The blunders, then, simply cancelled each other out. The evaluation of the position moved from clear win for White to certain draw back to easily won. Whatever we might say about this game, however, the match result was already a foregone conclusion. By game 9 Short was already 4-0 down and very much doomed. Indeed, Lawson’s book reveals Short had given up any slim hopes of winning the title by game 4.

Like many club players, I am sadly lacking in endgame technique. My own interest in the sequence therefore is not so much the starting position as the cause of the tandem blunders. It has been my observation in my own games that I often make poor moves after I, consciously or otherwise, stop thinking – e.g. if I believe the game is effectively over. It is gratifying that even World Champions and Challengers can produce awful moves in similar circumstances.

Finally, bonus marks under Artistic Impression are in order for the double blunder and Kasparov's hissy fit after the game. This leaves us with:-

Impact on the Game: 2/5
Impact on the Match: 0/5
Degree of Difficulty: 3/5
Artistic Impression: 4/5

which leads to an Ultimate Blunder Rating of 9/20. That’s good enough for second place on the leader board as things stand but I fear the Kasparov – Short tandem blunder will be slipping down several places in the weeks to come.

Next time … double double trouble.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

London Transport, Chess Puzzle II

Five O'Clock in London, and a crammed crush-hour underground on the tube.

The doors at each station open, the mass shift a touch sideways, each in tiny steps; and - yet another sardine leaps in. Curses under breath, shuffles almost kicks, dagger-stares, and sweat.

The heat, the constriction of space. The needless pressure of time, the will to be some place.

So what? Well - I was reminded of that inevitable squish by this chess puzzle, for fairly obvious reasons. It's composed by Grigory Popov, and white is to play and mate in eight. It was agony going through it . . . but afterwards, I saw the funny side.


Friday, January 12, 2007

Gherkin Takes Kremlin, Check! A Tale of Chess with Ice

Whether you heard about it via The Moscow Times or CNN, MSNBC or The Guardian, The Gulf Daily News or The Washington Post, The BBC or ABC, or just good old Chessbase - chances are you heard about it. I mean the Moscow-London Chess Ice Match, in which a team headed by Anatoly Karpov took on a team headed by Nigel Short, at around this painful time yesterday morning. & what can little old us add to all that reporting, I hear you ask? Ah! A rather splendid eye-witness account and some exclusive photos (click to enlarge, see end of article for more) all courtesy of R J Christie:

"It was all a bit surreal: Trafalgar Square on a chilly January morning, spotlights, camera crews, a giant TV screen, a small crowd of onlookers, not to mention a giant chessboard (64 square metres) complete with 32 one metre high pieces sculpted entirely from ice!

"A similar scene could be seen on the big screen – beamed live from Pushkin Square in Moscow, just slightly later in the day and a little colder.

"The occasion - A chess game to launch the 3rd annual Russian Winter Festival.

"The chess set - The absolutely stunning pieces (some even in the shapes of significant London and Moscovian landmarks like the ‘Gherkin’) were carved out by Sergey Tselebrovsky, current world champion in ice sculpting.

"The participants – An English team captained by former world title challenger and reigning Commonwealth and European Union Champion Nigel Short, writer Peter Ackroyd and England’s 8 year old chess prodigy, Darius Parvizi-Wayne. And, in Russia, a team led by former World Chess Champion, Anatoly Karpov, along with a Russian chess prodigy, 8 year old Konstantin Savenkov, Olympic champion gymnast Alina Kabaeva and author Viktor Erofeev.

"Hosted by GM Daniel King, who provided lively and upbeat commentary, the match got underway just after 8am. The Russian team drew the White pieces and with 1.e4 the game began. Left without a pen and paper I was unable to record the moves, but the game was a risky variation of the Two Knights Defence – played mainly, it must be said, between the 2 eight year old prodigies!

"Nigel Short provided some analysis for the crowd, the only snag being that he could be heard in Moscow via the satellite link. This was only discovered when, after telling the crowd that his microphone wasn’t linked to the satellite feed, Nigel was bemused to hear Anatoly saying 'We can hear you!' No surprises for the Russians then!

"Anatoly Karpov was doing similar commentary in Moscow, sometimes breaking into English, but mainly speaking in his native Russian – luckily there was a translator on hand so we didn’t miss anything!

"As the clocks ran down, the temperature rose and the pieces started to melt, requiring the odd bit of mopping up before play could resume. The Russian team gained an advantage over the board and a win on time seemed the best the English team could hope for – the match was played as a quickplay game, with 30 minutes per side.

"Sadly work called before the game had ended, but from what I hear the Russian team, running short of time, offered the English team a draw – which was accepted. So honours even on the day!

"By the time I left just before 9am, a sizeable crowd had gathered; somewhere in the region of 150 I would estimate. Not bad for a cold winter's morning.
"The whole event was well organised, smoothly and professionally run and thoroughly enjoyable. It also enjoyed good coverage on the BBC and BBC London websites (at the time of writing I am hopeful it will get some airtime on TV) and should help to raise the profile of chess even further."

Thanks a million to R J Christie for that.

PS. You can find all the photos we have of the event archived here, where once again, you can click the images to enlarge.

PPS. UPDATE! Andrew's comment - the fifth one down, as 'anonymous' - provides more detail about the game itself. Sounds like an intriguing battle!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The World - Wins!

Or at least, the Rest of World Team at Chessgames just recorded an impressive victory over ICCF Grandmaster Arno Nickel - known as 'GMAN' for short. (You might recall GMAN, incidentally, as the guy who beat the mighty Hydra computer in 2004 - by a score of 2½ to ½, no less.) You can play through the game below - or if you want more detail, try wading through the 1000+ pages of analysis at the site itself. A lot of that analysis is, of course, computer generated - but perhaps the game was decided by a human factor after all, since GMAN wrote in his brief post-mortem that:

There is a bit of tragedy in this move 27...Rac8?, as I originally had planned the seemingly better move 27...Re4 (this was part of the plan with the double pawn d6/d5, started by the knight's tour Ne5-g4-d3-b4-d5), but when checking my analysis again, shortly before sending my move, I found it probably would only be a question of move order, as ...Rac8 often had to be played in the ...Re4-variations, and I could no longer stand seeing the poor rook in the corner with tears in his eyes.

Btw, if GMAN kibitzes more, you can find out here.

Now, if that's whet your appetite for Rest Of World matches, then I believe a rematch is planned for later in the year. But if you don't want to wait or that's not enough, then it might very well interest you to know that Chessworld currently has two such games going against equally high-class oppoisiton. One has just started, with Top Ten ICCF GM Ron Langeveld playing 1. d4, and The World currently debating & voting on its reply. Whilst the current, tense position from their other game - against 17th World Correspondence Chess Champion Ivar Bern - is featured in the diagram above, which you can click to enlarge. There, black - The World Team - is to play.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Intrigue and Improvement?

To many European over-the-board players, the name Michael de la Maza will probably not mean very much. But, his book Rapid Chess Improvement: A Study Plan for Adult Players has - as far as I can tell - inspired many, especially American, players to attempt to follow the training regime he created. A regime which resulted in a phenomenal gain of 400 rating points in the course of one year, no less, for de la Maza himself - but which has nonetheless attracted some critical press. Many of de la Maza's followers are also chess bloggers, and they collectively are known as Knights Errant.

One such Knight Errant is Jim Megaskins, who recently posted a Mate in 2 puzzle he had attempted, in order to discuss how difficult it was. I wrote in his comments there how I had solved it in about a minute, but that I would also classify it as difficult - but now I somewhat wish I hadn't. To me, this kind of puzzle - where white has massive material superiority, but finds a crisp, witty way to execute the final stroke of the sword - is a sort of aristocratic intrigue; a refined, armchair amusement if you like. I experience its brief moment of delight an end in itself, but not a means for improvement. So, its competitive benefit is beyond me. And, yes, perhaps - approaching 30 and having learnt the game before computer technology transformed it - my mystification merely signals that I am simply yesterday's man, uncomprehending of a different but coming tomorrow.

On the other hand, the dual value of chess studies (with their more realistic, game-like settings) for both intrigue and improvement, both beauty and edification, is not lost on me. So, perhaps it is not a question of either/or, even if in some places I miss the point. Anyhow. In the study posted here it's white to play - and he appears to be torn between promotion but allowing a perpetual check, or the game continuing but with the loss of the f7 pawn. The latter not good news, you might think, when he's a queen for knight down. So what should white play?

Good luck solving that puzzle. The human intrigue of the future nature of chess improvment may take somewhat longer to play out - but I'd still be curious to know your opinion on both, of course.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

2007: First Team's First Update!

The New Year has kicked-off almost unbelievably well for Streatham & Brixton Chess Club's First Team, with two bits of great news already.

In the London League Division One, Adam W last night drew his two-pawns-down-adjournment from the Wimbledon match, meaning, we draw that match overall. This bolsters our mid-table standing to the extent that we're only a match point away from equalling our score from the whole of last season. The next match is against Athenaeum on the 22nd, at their venue in Covent Garden.

In the second piece of action last night, we took on Kingston in the Surrey League. The result? A stunning 7-1 victory to us! Many of the games were interesting and a few exciting too. The cleverest finish, though, was provided by Carsten, who played black on Board 4 against Jon Foley. A pawn up, Carsten liquidated some material to reach the diagram position - where it looked like white might be blockading successfully. But, Carsten had seen further. See if you can spot his well-foreseen break-through.

Monday, January 08, 2007


I've represented, I should think, about a dozen different chess clubs in my time, and most of them I can take or leave. One obvious exception is Streatham and Brixton Chess Club - I wouldn't be contributing to its blog from a thousand miles away if I didn't think it had something to it that most of the others didn't. Another is Oxford City, whose magazine, Disinformator, has just produced its latest issue.

Same principle applies: if somebody's prepared to put in a real quantity of time - and quality of effort - on behalf of a given club, there might well be something to that club that not all other clubs have got. In this instance, the someone is Sean Terry, who puts together the magazine (with the help and contributions of a number of other people).

Disinformator has been running for about ten years now. I'm not sure of the exact date it started, but I left the city in 1999 and it had been running for a good long time already. The new issue has 46 pages of games and reports, from Oxford league and 4NCL chess to international events. (It also includes three games of my own, from the Benasque FIDE-rated tournament last July.)

The price is almost as inexact as most of the chess (Sean tells me "it's about 2 quid, I suppose") but it's probably worth paying for one piece alone, the disgraceful account of how its author won a Major tournament last year from a series of thoroughly lost positions. It's not over until the fat bloke swindles: the magazine is available from Sean Terry on

Chess for Blood; Chess for Girls

The blog Chess for Blood chronicles 'an improving player's adventures in chessical ultra-violence.' Or so it says - since it recently pointed out this video called 'Chess for Girls', at the opposite end of the spectrum:

A little bit of light amusement for a grey London Monday - dedicated to all my lady readers everywhere.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Winning and Losing with Chess on the Web

Some interesting stuff to mull over.

The Kenilworthian quote approvingly Canadian paper The National Post's report that chess is "no longer just for nerds" (was it ever?) largely due to the "gain in popularity thanks to the internet." Yet, Patrick's dissenting voice quickly booed back at this fanfare, with the following in the comments over there: "Instead of an erudite 'mental realm', i consider the internet to be a cesspool for all things carnal and vulgar, and a place where anonymity replaces accountability." Carnal? And I thought I was just wittering away to myself about the London chess scene, our club, and any other bit or bob that caught my eye . . .

On the other hand, it's clear something like Patrick's worries are shared by others. Chess blogger The Closet Grandmaster has been regularly reporting on the case of Matthew Sweeney, for instance. Sweeney is an Australian coach and player, who has been banned from playing over the board in his country for 18 months. Why? Because he swore at a New South Wales Chess Association official in an on-line internet chess forum. The crackdown continues - albeit less dramatically - as posts on the forum quoting Sweeney are now edited out by NSWCA officials. Can you imagine if the English Chess Federation (ECF) applied a similar policy to their regular critic and profanity-connoisseur Nigel Short? He'd be banned from England for life. Although, one of his usual complaints is there's no good tournaments over here for GMs to play in, anyhow. So maybe it wouldn't matter.

Personally, I think that whatever hopes and whatever fears the interweb inspires over all, it is still the ideal medium for chess - much better than TV - and that it crosses over with real life for the most part in good ways. After all, I found out about Streatham & Brixton Chess Club through an on-line encounter with our man in Spain, Justin Horton.

Or would my team mates count that as a bad way?!

Saturday, January 06, 2007

David Howell, Grandmaster at 16

Some good news for English chess from The Guardian (via Susan Polgar): "David Howell became the UK's youngest ever grandmaster in Stockholm yesterday. . . At 16 years one month Howell breaks Luke McShane's UK age record set in 2000 by around six months. Before that our youngest GM was Michael Adams, now the world No9, who did it at 17."

I don't know much about David Howell - and not helping matters, his homepage has apparently been abandonned, and his wikipedia page is not up to scratch. Anyhow, below you can play though a commanding victory of his as white against Graeme Kafka in the 2004 British Championship. The diagram position (white to play; click it to enlarge) is taken from that game too - where Howell's next move forced black's resignation.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Enter The Endgame

"Thirty next Friday, aren't you Tom?" an office buddy asked me today. Indeed . . . and then we got on to discussing the ways age brings change, and also the ways it doesn't.

For me, it mostly doesn't - or so I told my friend. I still have very similar dislikes and likes to when I was twenty, I said. With age, I've not developed the sophistication that prefers wine to beer, and I still can't stand anything Martin Amis has written. I still like Bach, but I still like Oasis, too. And much to my regret, I can't pretend to enjoy Citizen Kane when Jurassic Park is available on the shelf of DVDs instead.

My office mate is not a chess player, but then it struck me maybe my chess tastes have transformed over time. Ten years ago, my heroes were Kasparov and Tal. And mostly Tal, too. Yet once our office conversation was over, I spent too much of the rest of the afternoon contemplating the position in the diagram.

Dull, I would have called it ten years ago. But in fact, white faces a simple but testing dilemma. Should he play 14. Bxf6, or 14. Bd3? With the latter he preserves the bishop pair, and despite having a slight lead in development, a draw is most likely, due to the near-symmetry of pawns and lack of queens. With the former, black's pawns on the kingside are busted - but white will have to face the two bishops and activity from black.

The position is taken from this excellent Chess Vibes post, with the minor change of a2-a3, to prevent Nd5-b4. I really recommend Chess Vibes, for all manner of reasons. And there's also an interesting ChessWorld discussion about this position.

So: what do you think of this endgame dilemma? And has age made me completely boring, or is there life left in me yet?

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Christmas Tree

January, and Christmas Trees across the land are shedding their needles into carpets, fairy lights packed away for another year.

In the Christmas Tree (Chessmas Tree?!) on the right, it's black to play - and mate in two. Which needle is about to fall, and why?

(Via Imperial's nice site, where you can also currently find the solution.)

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Every Cloud

Some good news for English patzers like me - via Australian blogger The Closet Grandmaster - from an interview with Nigel Short:

"I am very disappointed with the state of chess in England. We don't have enough tournaments, so how can we produce players? Even Adams is getting long in the tooth. He was the last of the greats. Matthew Saddler has retired. Luke McShane will not become a professional player; you can't make money out of chess. And he is a bright kid. Maybe he will play for a year or two."

No more English Grandmasters! When enough Goliaths have fallen, the Davids stand tallest. I see myself clearly now at the Chess Olympiad of 2020, blundering cheerfully away on Board 1 - against those giants of the 64 squares, who play for the countries at the bottom of this list . . .

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

What are you doing on Sunday?

Just a little reminder.

If you spent too much of your hard earned cash over the Christmas period & New Year's celebrations, why not try winning some of it back this Sunday - 7th January 2007 - at The 69th Richmond Rapidplay? There are four sections - an Open, an under 160 Major, under 120 Intermediate, and an under 80 Minor. This tournament has an excellent 4½ point rule: "if you score 4½ or more out of 6 you are GUARANTEED A PRIZE." Plus, it's organised by Streatham & Brixton Chess Club members Angus & Sue (amongst others) too.

Good luck! (& for those who plan a bit further ahead than me, you might want to take a look here at a promising tournament coming up mid-February . . .)

Monday, January 01, 2007


Now the fireworks are forgotten and put away, and the fizz has gone from the champagne. The bottle bobs about, there in the cooling bucket's melted ice, where the paper from a party popper dissolves, slowly. Comfort food and aspirin determine the day.

Fireworks on the chess board have a remarkable property, different to those of New Year's Eve: the delight their display allows spans years, rather than merely mark a few passing moments, the flick of a calendar. This one was created by Al-Adli in the ninth century, for instance. It's white to play and win - and a bit of an easy one to ease you into 2007.