Monday, March 31, 2008
The Surrey League
... which for Streatham & Brixton Chess Club finished on Monday March 17th with a disappointing 6-2 defeat at the hands of a very strong (Grand Master Neil McDonald on board 1, average grade in the 190s) Redhill side. Still, our season tally of 6/9 is not at all bad and currently leaves us second in the table, although with other teams still with games in hand, perhaps fourth looks a more probably finishing spot.
Perhaps modesty ought to forbid, but Team Captain Angus has declared the present writer his "Player of the Year" in the Surrey Competitions (the League plus Cup) thanks to my overall score of 9/10. That flatters my play rather more than a close examination of my moves would (remember this?) but nonetheless, here to play through is probably my best game from the season in the Surrey League:
A strategically consistent game, albeit with only one strategic idea in it.
The news from ...
The London League
... is not so good, at least as far as the second team is concerned. Mushrooms 2 picked up a point from one of their adjourned games against us, which brings them to 5½ points from that match and overall victory. This meant the match on the 26th to Woodbridge (our nearest relegation rivals) was crucial to our survival or otherwise in Division 2, and it current stands 4-4. But looking at the League Table, I believe their superior game points means that even if we win the two games remaining from that fixture, the only chance we have of finishing ahead of them is if they default an improbable number of boards in their one remaining fixture! Nonetheless, we play chess not just to win but to learn as well, and a tough season in a tough division has provided us with plenty of good games, even if we weren't on the winning side of just enough of them.
The first team, meanwhile, has played one match since our last report, against Cavendish 2. The match stands 4-3 to us, but with 5 unfinished. Currently sat seventh in the table, a win from this match and from our final match against Mushrooms 1 would probably secure us a finish in the top half this year.
Finally, two brief adverts, the first for ...
The Trost Trophy
... a fun ten second buzzer tournament, which is being held at Crystal Palace Chess Club tonight from 7.45pm. First prize is £30, entry £2, and the format aside from the unusual time system will be a six round swiss. The Crystal Palace website is here.
The second for...
The Surrey Individual Tournament
... which will start in the week commencing 28th April 2008 (the deadline for entries is Monday 14th April 2008) and which consists of three or four evening games per month with up to nine games in total. Provided there is a sufficient demand, players will have a choice of venue as follows: Wimbledon (Monday), Ashtead (Tuesday), South Norwood (Thursday) and Surbiton (Wednesday.) Entry is £15 and further details are available from Paul Archer.
Sunday, March 30, 2008
The total prize fund is £700...
with six grading prizes of £50.
Your author, who does not expect to be troubling the organisers for any of the above, has not played a tournament (rapid play or long play) for many years but intends to come out of retirement for this one.
The entry fee is £20 if you enter in advance with a £5 late fee if you turn up on the day.
Entry form available here.
Saturday, March 29, 2008
Friday, March 28, 2008
It seems we now have another chess-loving serial killer on our hands. Earlier this week one Michel Fourniret went on trial in France after apparently confessing to the murder of seven women over a fifteen year period ending in 2001.
We learn from yesterday's Independent that Fourniret is "... a man who likes to play mind games with investigators". Perhaps not surprising, then, to find the Guardian reporting that like the aforementioned Mr. Maniac, Fourniret is a "keen chess player". You may prefer the Times' description of him as a "bespectacled chess player" but in any event, the link between chess and, as Sherlock Holmes would have it, a scheming mind, seems firmly established. Or maybe not.
I have my doubts about the significance of chess to this story. Fourniret, you see, does not have a FIDE rating. That doesn't mean much in itself, I don't have one either, but Justin* has discovered that there's not even any mention of him on the Federation Francaise Des Echecs list.
Justin has also unearthed an article by Bert Peeters, formerly of the University of Tasmania, who writes about the case. Unfortunately it's in French which is none too helpful for either of us but we managed to get it translated** and we now know that Fourniret,
- taught several people to play chess including two young girls who lived near to him at the end of the 1980s;
- has been a member of a chess club;
- was allowed to have a chess computer in his cell when he was in prison in Belgium,
which tells us nothing whatsoever about how good a player he is of course. We don't for example, know how often Fourniret visited the chess club nor even what kind of organisation it was. Was it a club in the sense that S&B is a CC or was it something more casual? A chess cafe perhaps.
There are, I'm sure, many people in the world that consider themselves to have a strong interest in chess and yet don't have an official rating or even regularly attend a chess club. It would, however, be unlikely that, in those circumstances, they would be much good or that chess would play sufficiently large a part in their life as to make it reasonable to consider it crucial in understanding their psychological makeup.
In any event, Peeters considers the evidence of Fourniret's interest in chess then concludes,
“These details at first seem not very significant but they have been emphasised in the press on several occasions ... they have contributed to the stereotyping of the serial killer.”
So there we have it. The British press have just picked up on some crass analogies bandied about by their European counterparts (and, it seems, French prosecutors) and chosen to present the story in a way that sounds good. This kind of thing always seems strange to me but then I'm not a journalist and am therefore free of the convention that requires any old toss that happens to have been reported elsewhere to be presented as fact.
I do wonder, though, why the newspapers bother with this chess and murder stuff at all. Agatha Christie does it so much better.
* Many thanks to Justin for his assistance with today's post.
** Translator Mrs E.C. Bryant - thanks mum. :-)
Thursday, March 27, 2008
Here it is to play over now:
Without a doubt, the game contains many memorable moments: the surprise of the black bishop, queen and knight sacrifices; the way the white king gets caught up in enemy territory, a minefield demarcated by pawns, revealed by variations featuring such unusual mating variations as 17.Kxb7? Kd7! threatening ..Rhb8 mate, and 18.Ka4? Bc4! threatening ...b5 mate; the massive white army sat immobile on the first rank, watching uselessly on. Equally curiously, the line has a certain amount of theory associated with it - similar games and analysis can be found at here at Chess Games. And in fact chess databases will tell you that the entire game has been since replicated identically more than once, presumably as part of prearranged draw pacts.
So is Carl Hamppe versus Philipp Meitner, Vienna 1872, universally agreed amongst chess players to be The Immortal Draw, to be anthologized as such, on a par with all the well-known greats? Unfortunately, it seems not. It turns out Chess Games named the game as such when they featured it as their game of the day in January last year, and whilst Google suggests not much competition for this crown, with only six hits for the phrase support is thin on the ground too.
Still, I think the game deserves to be better known, and I hope you have enjoyed getting to know it a bit. Comments about the immortality or otherwise of this effort are welcome, as are suggestions for alternative claims to the title of Immortal Draw.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
"London, 1977: the international grandmaster Michael Stean is losing to Chess 4.6, a computer programme developed at Northwestern University, Illinois. Stean is steamed: he is losing. Chess 4.6 is, he says, 'an iron monster'."
I've always thought Stean had called his computer nemesis a 'bloody iron monster'. I may be wrong - when I googled the phrase all that came up was the page that contained my own comment to an S&BCC Blog post from July last year - but it wouldn't be unlike the good old Grauniad to edit out a very minor swear word (is it even that anymore?) after publishing a See You Next Tuesday * on the same page less than two weeks previously.
Anyhoo, towards the end of the column Ing mentions a book, Love and Sex with Robots, written by "chess international master" David Levy.
"Now in his mid-60s, Levy is bringing aritificial life to sex. 'Humans long for affection and tend to be affectionate to those who offer it', he says, and predicts that prostitution has only another 20 years to run before robots take over. Robots with credibly human bodies are already here. Add minds clever enough to handle a little language, and how could we possibly avoid loving them?"
One can't help but feel prolonged exposure to Raymond Dennis Keene has rather warped Levy's view of the human form but still it's nice to know he's found something useful to do with his life after the rather unpleasant end to their business relationship.
Should you be in the mood to rush out and buy the book, I'm afraid you'll have to calm your self for a while. The paperback version won't be published until April but you can always pre-order it.
Patience dear friends, patience.
* Yes, I am aware of the contradiction in employing a euphemism for "cunt" immediately after poking fun at a newspaper for cutting "bloody". It's irony don't you know?
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Tim Krabbé, the Dutch chessplayer and novelist, has on his website a feature The Ultimate Blunder, in which he has collected 35 different examples of players resigning in positions they were winning. He calls this "the ultimate blunder" and it's hard to quarrel with the description.
The ultimate ultimate blunder, presumably, would be one in which a player resigned having mate available on the move, and, through the kindness of our good hearts and a contributor to our comments box, we're able to provide readers with this very specimen, this very day. It was sent to us last week as a comment on the latest in our series The Worst Move On the Board, claiming to trump all other contenders, even, for that title.
For me it doesn't qualify under that rubric, since resignation, by definition, isn't a move: it's a refusal to make any more moves than one has already. But it does fit Krabbe's criteria and, it seems to me, cannot be bettered. White had mate in one: not seeing it, he preferred to resign instead. You can't get any more ultimate than that.
The position at the top of the column is from Anonymous-Crews, Evening Standard, approx 1981. Play continued from the diagram 1.Qh4 Nf1 leading to the following position:
White has mate in one available (I'll not insult your intelligence by pointing it out). But the move was never played - and nor was any other, since White saw fit to resign in the face of what seemed to them to be inevitable defeat.
Magnificent. Naturally I would have preferred the victim - who will remain anonymous unless and until he or she wishes to be otherwise - to be Nigel Short, but magnificent nevertheless. I cannot ask our readers whether they have done any better, since no better than this can possibly be done. But I can ask - can anyone match that?
Monday, March 24, 2008
It's Matschego-Falkbeer, Vienna 1853. Same format as on Friday - try to work out the mate from the diagram. Scroll down for an easier version or if you just want to enjoy playing through the game.
Sunday, March 23, 2008
Well all except this one ...
I'll have to scout around for some more. If you know of any that aren't already in our goggle box index (currently up to date for a change) do feel free to let us know.
Saturday, March 22, 2008
Friday, March 21, 2008
If you want a break between binges try working out this mating puzzle. It's taken from John Nunn's updated version of William Cozens' The King-Hunt. Petroff will be famous for ever more for bequeathing the chess world an opening with a reputation for extreme boredom. He could certainly play more energetically if he chose. Consider today's game - a casual encounter played against Hoffman in Warsaw 1844.
See if you can work out the mate from the diagram. If you're keen you'll find the mate that Petroff played in the game and another line that could have extended the game by a further four moves.
It's not so easy, certainly far too tough for me, so if you prefer you can scroll down a bit to find a position closer to the end of the game ... and if you really can't be arsed you can scroll all the way to the end and just play through an enjoyable game. That's what I'd do.
[edit: it's probably obvious from the diagrams but I've just realised I forgot to make clear it's Black to play and mate]
Thursday, March 20, 2008
I played my first game in the 4NCL last weekend. For the time honoured reason that they were a player short and I was available at short notice, I turned out for Celtic Dragons II. If truth be told, I don’t have much of a connection with anything even remotely Celtic. I am rather partial to Sainsbury’s Leak and Potato soup, which I suppose combines the national foodstuffs of both Ireland and Wales, but that’s about it. Still, given the number of S&BCCers who play for the Dragons I didn’t feel too out of place.
A while back I pondered the question of whether our choices of opening variation reveal much, if anything, about our personalities. The Celtic Dragons v Grendel’s Mother match certainly provided me with a bit more ammunition for my thesis.
Within fifteen minutes of kick-off Robin had sacrificed a rook and a knight and even managed to land his queen on h5 with. I, on the other hand, was busy fianchettoing both bishops while, rather boldly I thought, playing my knights to bishop three.
Three hours later, and that’s a good hour and a half after Robin’s opponent had been forced to resign by the way, my game reached the diagram at the head of today’s column. My young opponent, evidently not fancying his chances in the bishop and knight ending we had reached had actually given up a pawn to swap off our last remaining minor pieces to get this position. As soon as the exchanges had been completed he reached into his bag then brought out a couple of rounds of foil wrapped sandwiches – a bit of a clue that he was settling down to play this one out to the end. I'm sure this was not through rancour or cussedness. I think he genuinely believed he might have drawing chances and just didn’t realise White now wins in exceedingly trivial fashion.
Having concluded that the game was going to be continuing for a little while, and yet was safely beyond even my capacity to muck things up, I asked myself the question that can aid us all when faced with a dilemma at the chess board…
What would Haldane do?
In a few more moves I was able to put my answer into action.
33. b4 a6, 34. a4 e5, 35. e4 h6, 36. b5 axb5
(a) take back with the pawn, zugzwang (I use the word as a verb for the benefit of our American readers) the king off the b-file then queen and mate – this is what Fritz wants to do;
(b) leave the extra queenside pawn to its fate by marching the king East to chomp all of Black’s kingside pawns – probably the method I would have employed until now;
(c) The Haldane option.
I’d decided on (c) back when I’d realised my opponent was intending to play on to the bitter end.
37. Kxb5 Kb7, 38. g4 g6, 39. a5 h5, 40. gxh5 gxh5, 41. h4 Ka7, 42. a6 Kb8, 43. Kb6 Ka8, 44. a7
This is the point of course. Black's one legal move will allow White to march a pawn up the board, eventually promoting to mate the king in the corner.
44. ... f5, 45. exf5 e4, 46. f6 e3, 47. f7
And now, rather miserably I thought, my opponent resigned.
I showed Robin the game while we were waiting for the others to finish. I told him I was very disappointed that my opponent resigned when he did.
Robin: “Out of interest, how would you have promoted?”
Me: “Rook of course.”
I had answered correctly and Robin smiled in the manner of a master who realises his pupil has learned a fundamental lesson.
I felt proud and went on to express my amusement at letting Black get a pawn one square away from queening before I delivered mate. It didn’t take long, though, for my illusions shattered.
Robin set up the zugzwang position and pointed out a huge improvement on my play. After Black plays 44. ... f7-f5 White has,
and now, aside from the aesthetically pleasing pawn formation, whichever way Black captures White pushes the other pawn. Black gets to queen a pawn, a hair away from promoting with check no less, before losing his king. True this variation is a tempo longer than the game but a Haldane cares not for such things.
45. ... exf4, 46. e5 f3, 47. e6 f2, 47. e7 f1=Q, 48. e8=R mate
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
It may be that Mr Nakamura finds it difficult to comprehend the very idea of losing five games in a row and as Ulf Andersson once apparently remarked that he couldn't really understand how it was possible to lose at all at correspondence chess, perhaps he has a point. Most of us, however, only find it hard to imagine winning five games in a row. The other way round is all too easy for us to grasp. In correspondence, blindfold, blitz or just the ordinary form of chess. I've done it. I've probably done it more than five times, come to that. And certainly I've done it against the same opponent in a series of blitz games: I wrote about it a couple of years ago.
I once played a chess tournament in Stroud with a clubmate of mine, Jesse Kraai, who was from New Mexico but was in England to study. During a break between rounds he made me a bet that he could beat me in five consecutive blitz games, a pound per game: and although he was a better player than I, he would even the odds by taking time off his clock every time he won a game. The first game would be played at five minutes apiece, but if he won it (as he did) he would play the second with four minutes, the third with only three and so on.
So he played the second game with four minutes, the third with three and the fourth with only two, and each time he knocked me over. The final game he played with what seemed to me an impossible one minute on the clock: how many moves can you play with only one minute to make them all and your opponent simply needing to avoid checkmate before your flag falls?
But Jesse had had his upbringing in American chess, where blitz play (and, for that matter, blitz for money) was far more common than it was here, and he knew how to stretch his sixty seconds by using my my time as effectively as he used his. A crowd had gathered as the sequence of games progressed and by the time that Jesse delivered mate and I handed him his fiver, there was shouting and cheering all around the board. If they had been any more excited, they would have picked him up and carried him on their shoulders out of the playing hall and into the streets.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Dozy of me: I first saw this position a few weeks ago but it didn't occur to me until reading it again in New In Chess that it was a contender for this series.
Bu Xiangzhi v Hikaru Nakamura, the first place play-off at Gibraltar - the second game of two, Nakamura having already won the first one. Here, in the second, he has constructed a fortress that should get him a draw and win him the tournament. Even so, there's one move available to White that's distinctly worse than all the others: and he found it.
Worst Move I
Worst Move II
Worst Move III
Monday, March 17, 2008
We start with some rather excellent news from the London League Minor Division. We've won it with a match to spare, because Chris Morgan has since drawn with Beckhenham & Charlton's CPJ Bernard, meaning, we have an unassailable perfect score of seven match points from seven matches. Congratulations to all who played in this tight competition - each player must be graded 120 or under, so opponents are nearly always of a similar strength - and especially to Chris Morgan, whose captaincy once again has provided a 'magic touch'. In the previous two seasons, Chris saw the second team promoted twice; he has also seen us through to the final of the Eastman Plate, despite the fact we've not won a match yet in that competition, as previously reported.
There's two pieces of good news from London League Division I, as well. Our first team has reversed their start of year slump, beating Wimbledon 7-4 with one game still adjourned, and now sit comfortably midtable with two matches remaining. An intricate, intriguing game from the Wimbledon match is below. And on an individual note, Andrew Stone is to be congratulated for drawing his adjourned game with the black pieces against Wood Green's board 3, Grandmaster Chris Ward.
The news is, it must be said, rather less rosy from London League Division II. Our team sit in the relegation spot of second from bottom, and are 4½-2½ down in the match against Mushrooms from the 10th March, with three boards left to finish. With only one match remaining after this, our fate is no longer in our hands, and relegation looks a likely prospect. It's been a tough season in a tough league. But nonetheless some good, exciting chess has been played by our team, as these two games testify - the first from our earlier match against Beckenham & Charlton on 6th February, the second from the match against Mushrooms:
Finally, thanks for Robin Haldane for the following two reports.
This competition consists of a four player team playing two matches against the same opponent with 30 minutes on the clock for each game. So the maximum playing time is 2 hours. The total grades of the four players must not exceed 700. This type of game is not everyone's cup of tea. It can be frustrating chasing your opponents king round the board trying to mate them before your flag falls.
This season five teams entered the league. Our first match was away to Coulsdon where a very close match ended in a 4-4 draw. We followed this by 2 comfortable wins 6-2 away to Wallington and 5.5-2.5 at home to Surbiton. Our final match was at home to Guildford where a strong team turned us over 6-2.
This means the current league standing is 1st Streatham & Brixton 2.5/4 2nd Guildford 2/3 3rd Coulsdon 2/3 4th Wallington 0.5/2 5th Surbiton 0/2.
It looks likely that we will finish the season in 3rd place unless we are fortunate in the remaining games. Thanks to everyone who took part apart from myself, Adam, Martin, Angus, Alexey, David and Barry.
This is an annual event that take place at South Norwood for sides that play in the Croydon League. This year 4 sides entered, South Norwood "A" and "B", Crystal Palace and ourselves.
The format was a four player team with two ten minute games against the same opponent. The total grades of the team must not exceed 700. Our team consisted of myself, Richard Tillett, Chris Morgan and Blackburn.
Looking at the relative strength of the teams I would have expected us to finish third but after a 5-3 loss to Crystal Palace, a 7-1 win against South Norwood "B" and a 5-3 loss to South Norwood "A" we totalled 13 game points to finish 2nd 1/2 a point ahead of Crystal Palace but some way behind South Norwood "A".
Congratulations to South Norwood on their win and thanks to Richard, Chris and Barry for their efforts.
Sunday, March 16, 2008
I still haven't seen an episode of Lost though so I haven't a clue what's going on in today's video. If you know do be kind enough to leave a comment to enlighten the rest of us.
Saturday, March 15, 2008
There's a FIDE-rated Open taking place over all four days - two games a day and one on Monday, a very civilised pace - and a variety of other events which you may read about on the entry form here.
Contact Richard Jones: email@example.com. He looks forward to hearing from you.
[* well I was going to, but the weather forecast reckons it's going to be freezing]
Friday, March 14, 2008
Yesterday Chris Morgan, captain of S&BCC London League III sent around an email that included the following ...
"I drew my adjournment from our latest match in this division which means we won the match, taking us to an unassailable 7 out of 7 victories with one match left to play."
So there you have it. S&BCC are now champions of the London League Minor Division - an excellent achievement for a team in its first year. I think I'm right in saying that Chris himself has now won a league division in each of his first two seasons as a captain. Well done that man.
Not that today's diagram has got anything to do with our league success. I found it browsing through an old chess book earlier in the week.
(a) What's White's move here?
(b) What's the opening?
Thursday, March 13, 2008
But a third reason is that I am obliged to copy them, slowly and carefully and with the help of Tippex, if I want ever to be able to read what I have written. My handwriting - unless I write slowly and carefully in the way that one does not during a chess game - has been illegible almost since I was old enough to read and write. I can barely read my own scrawl, and reading a scoresheet, if I had not played the game myself I doubt I would be able to reconstruct the game at all.
Since I first played in tournaments, I have bought scorebooks and written my games into them. At first I wrote them directly - and illegibly - into the book during the game rather than use a scoresheet. But after the first few dozen efforts, I wrote them more neatly, after the game. I've done it ever since and, as a result, I have thirty years' worth of chess games written down and sitting in a bookcase.
It's the Complete Games of Justin Horton. Or the Almost Complete - since the very first scorebook, beginning with the junior section of the Hitchin Open in October 1977, starts not at round one but at round two, a game I lost, putting me on a score, so the book records, of 0/2. My opponent was Simon Roe, better than I was then and better than I am now.
I can't remember who my opponent was in the first round. A shame - I'd like to know who was my first opponent in a tournament. But fortunately (or otherwise) I can remember the opening. Nearly. Probably.
Not unusally for a junior game, we played symmetrically:
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bc4 Bc5
Now, I say I can probably remember. In truth, I can only swear to the first two moves and the bishops. I can't guarantee that the b1 knight or the g8 knight were moved, although I think they were. Nor am I sure, if they were, whether or not we castled next. But it's not important: the outline, the basic idea, is still clear to me now, just as it was not clear at the time. The position was something like this:
I saw An Idea. I don't know exactly where I'd seen it before. Presumably I had learned some very basic openings and perhaps I had seen it in the Vienna Game with 3.Bc4. I take the e-pawn - or the king pawn, as I would have known it at the time - with my knight and when the opponent recaptures, I have a fork with the d-pawn and I get my piece back.
It must be good, I read it in a book. So I did it. I took the e-pawn and he took the knight - and I was lost. Half-a-dozen moves into my tournament career, my life in chess, and I was already a piece down.
Well, if we could turn the clock back we would all win a lot of money on yesterday's horses. But I would also take the trouble to have my twelve-year-old self play something else instead.
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Tom and I have often been known to while away our lunchtimes playing blitz chess in the pub on the LSE campus. At least once each time we play TC will spy a loose piece then, after a moment's reflection to check it's not a trap, make the capture whilst declaring, "I see no ships".
It's an appropriately nautical metaphor for a lad raised in Portsmouth and it came to mind when I stumbled into today's position after about twenty minutes or so of my game with Simon Wrigley during the Croydon B team match at Coulsdon last week.
Already a pawn ahead, although with obvious compensation for Black, it's not too difficult to see that White can nab a piece with,
exf6 Re8, Kf1 Qxf6
but does he want to? What of Black's pieces that can sail with apparent ease over to the kingside? What of the White fleet gummed up on the queenside?
Do you see any ships here?
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
But can you play a whole game in the style of Bobby Fischer? A whole game, indeed, in which you play exactly as Bobby did? On Saturday, when Casino Jaque of Huesca lined up against Stadium Casablanca B of Zaragoza in the Aragon Team Championship, I had the opportunity to do just that.
When the away side arrived they had only three players to our four, the missing player being their top board, Antonio Campos Hernández, and we were told that he wasn't going to turn up. In one sense this was a disappointment, as all defaults are: I wasn't going to get a game. In another, though, not so, since he is graded eighty Elo points above me, and we needed to win the match after a disaster the week before. I had to wait the usual hour: never mind, there was a match on the telly (Liverpool against a Newcastle defence not more obviously present than my opponent) and it is only a short walk home. I had White. I had to play a move, hit the clock and then go and park myself in front of the telly for a bit.
It was then that I had my inspiration. This was my opportunity for a tribute, for a recreation of one of Bobby's swiftest and most controversial triumphs. Palma de Mallorca, 1970 - the twenty-third round of the Interzonal, when Fischer defeated Panno after just one move. I remembered the game. I remembered exactly how it went. So I played the same move that the great Bobby Fischer chose on a similar occasion - 1.c4. I punched my clock and left the board to the company of two extra chairs.
When the hour had elapsed, I claimed the game, and signed the scoresheet. My tribute was complete. A Fischer game in full. Granted, a minature - but a complete game nevertheless.
Purists may object that in the earlier game, Panno actually came to the board and resigned, a few minutes before his hour had elapsed: whereas no such thing occurred in my game on Saturday. I do not care. At worst, it is a minor flaw. The moves remain the same. It is my Fischer game. I think of it as my hommage.
Monday, March 10, 2008
Last time I was up at Golden Lane (for the London I v Wimbledon match), GM Neil McDonald happened to be sitting at the table directly behind me.
I was pleased to take the opportunity to thank him for the work he put into his book on the Dutch which I bought recently. Unlike many of the chess books I've bought over the years, which number far too many, this one happens to be pretty useful. It's not a theory-heavy tome but does a very good job of explaining the basic ideas behind the three main branches of the Dutch Defence.
Good though it is, the book managed to reinforce a confusion concerning one particular position in the Classical Dutch that I've been suffering for around twenty years.
On page 76 McDonald writes that in the line that goes,
1. d4 f5, 2. c4 Nf6, 3. Nf3 e6, 4. g3 Be7, 5. Bg2 0-0, 6. 0-0 d6, 7. Nc3 Qe8, 8. Re1 Qg6
there is no need to prepare e2-e4 with, say, Qc2 because after
9. e4 fxe4, 10. Nxe4 Nxe4, 11. Rxe4
"... Black can't play 11. ... Qxe4? because of 12. Nh4! trapping his queen in the centre of the board!"
I remember reading this little snippet somewhere or other not long after I first started playing club chess in the mid-80s. I confess that at the time I simply didn't understand the claim because even back then I could see that after,
12. ... Qxh4, 13. gxh4 Bxh4 White has to play 14. Be3 to secure f2.
Far from blundering away her majesty completely, Black has rook, knight and pawn in exchange for the queen not to mention pressure along the f-file and the somewhat passively placed White bishop on e3. OK, Black's entire queenside is undeveloped but is this variation really so worrying for him?
I decided to have another look at this position to see whether twenty years on with a few extra resources, and hopefully a bit more chess knowledge, I could finally work out why everybody just dismisses ... Qxe4. Unfortunately, I'm still not much the wiser.
To my surprise Megabase 2007 was really not very helpful at all. It contains just three games in this line the first of these being San Segundo - Cenal Gutierrez from the Spanish Championship of 2000. Play continued,
14. ... Nc6, 15. d5 Ne5, 16. dxe6 Bxe6, 17. f4 Nxc4, 18. Bd5 Bf7, 19. Bf2
and the game was agreed drawn.
In his 2003 book "Play the Classical Dutch", Simon Williams assesses the final position as slightly better for Black. No doubt the fact he was rated a couple of hundred points below his opponent helped persuade Cenal Gutierrez to accept the half point here.
Williams, who has at least given some thought to this position, considers 15. d5 to be worthy of a ? and suggests instead that White play
15. Be4! Bf6, 16. Qd3 h6, 17. Kh1
when he feels that White is clearly better. "It would take a brave or foolish man to try this line again as Black."
Now this makes much more sense to me because White's got everything pointing at the Black king but whether this justifies the claim that Black "can't" play 11. ... Qxe4 I'm not so sure.
Anyway, in one of the two remaining games in MegaBase 2007, Perma (2099) - Van der Veen (unrated) 2002, Black played 16. ... g6 which looks a bit more sensible than opening up the light squared diagonal by advancing the rook's pawn. Again the game was drawn, this time in 45 moves, and in the last game in the database, Winiwarter (2199) - Kuess (2039) 2005, Black played ... g7-g6 on move 14 instead of ... Nb8-c6. Another draw resulted (69 moves).
Of the three games in the database, then, White doesn't win a single one - and this despite the fact that for the two games where both players have a rating he comes out on average 190 points higher rated Black. It's also worth mentioning, I think, that on each occasion the player of the White pieces has not been a total muppet but has been rated well over 2000.
So, is 11. ... Qxe4 really so bad?
I'm sure that 11. ... Nc6 (the theoretically prescribed move) is an improvement for Black but nevertheless the claim that queen takes rook can't be played just doesn't appear to be justified. Williams' "?!" and observation that, 12. Nh4 "is a bit embarrassing for her majesty...." is much more on the money as far as I can see.
It's an example, I think, of something getting written just because it's always be said in the past and not many people stop to think whether it's actually true. It's an all to familiar problem with chess books and even authors who take as much care as McDonald does seem to be affected by it.
Still, don't let all this put you off Starting Out: The Dutch Defence. A few niggles aside, it really is a very good introduction to the opening and I can warmly recommend it to any lower and mid-range players who are interested in investigating the Dutch from either Black's or White's point of view.
Sunday, March 09, 2008
Saturday, March 08, 2008
Friday, March 07, 2008
Last week we were imagining ourselves into the unique chess world that exists inside Robin Haldane's head.
Happily, in response to popular demand, Robin has agreed to publish the game in question - though still modestly downplaying any particular achievement on his part.
Robin says of the [to my eyes rather alarming] pawn thrust ,
"... my logic behind playing g5 was that it gave a safety square for the bishop on f6, allowed the manoeuvre Ne7 followed by Ng6 and prepared a possible g4 or maybe a later Kh8 followed by Rg8."
He goes on to note that it might be thought he was "recklessly putting [his] king in danger" although this is clearly a consideration about which he cares not one jot.
Anyway, here's the game but remember kids, don't try this at home - It takes talent to play like a maniac and not end up looking like a complete eejit.
He is Haldane. You, unless you are Magnus Carlsen, are probably not.
PS: Tom conducted the first chess club lecture at the Library last night. More on this next week.
Thursday, March 06, 2008
Wednesday, March 05, 2008
If you google the question What's in a face?, you will quickly find psychological research showing that the first impressions we form of other people's personalities, just on the basis of how they look, are generally more accurate than mere chance would allow. Just how they look: not how they move or talk, or how their expressions change; the sheer physical fact of our faces says something of our personalities, the research says.
The reports of mystics and poets from down the ages go even further. There are those that say they have glimpsed whole lives written on the features of a person's face, from just a one second glance. One chance look at a person, they say, and they gather everything up that counts. Her childhood spent cooped up in a cramped Venice flat; the teenage depression and withdrawal from the dry familial rituals of her dull parents; the longing to voyage beyond the city and its canals; the dashing stranger who bouyed her out of the blue with dewy roses by the fountains one day, and sailed away with her the next; the houseboat on the Oxfordshire Thames she shared with him; the terrible accidental drowning of their first child, the divorce that almost dried her spirit to a desert . . . All that in an instant - all that from a single glance at the woman, now sixty, sat quietly in a random London coffee shop, a little tear once again drying on her wrinkled cheek. All that, the poets and mystics say, all that they can see in just one look.
Who knows? Maybe, maybe not. But - I wonder - is this sort of intuitive visual connection something good photography might actually conjure up for us? Consider, for instance, these recent and justly-praised photographs of chess players by Fred Lucas. Do we glimpse the characters of some of the players from them? An arrogant young man here, there an old-timer determined still to swing his punches; attitudes of hope, determination, grittiness, dreaminess?
Well, dear readers, I wonder if you will help me test all this. At the top of this post is a portrait photograph of a famous chess player, which you can click to enlarge to get a closer view. Of course, some of you will recognize him, some of you will not - but what I am interested in, is what do you think you can you infer from his face? Is he burnt-out and at the end of his playing days, a wounded lion about to recover his pomp, a canny old hand taking young pretenders to the cleaners? Is his style crystal-clear, elegant, straightforward, light; is it complex, heavy, confusing; is it humorous, quirky, original; is it pragmatic, perfectionist, lazy, dedicated, circuitous, direct?
I would be interested to know your thoughts via the comments below - to see how they measure up against his actual personality and playing style. Incidentally, I have seven more similar photographs. If this post gets a fair number of responses, then I will repeat this exercise with more photographs. If not, then I will probably post them up one obscure Sunday afternoon, safely tucked away as if in a forgotten gallery, silently waiting for on-lookers to talk about them once again, one day.
Tuesday, March 04, 2008
Luis Vitalla (2199) v Horton, Aragón Team Championship 2008. Position after 31.Bd2-g5.
Black now finished off a well-played Slav (no, really) with 31...Nd7 32.Be7 Qd5 33.Bc5 Nxc5 34.Rxc4 Ra8! and White resigned.
What glaring error (or errors) can you find in this sequence?
[match photo here]
Monday, March 03, 2008
Surrey League News
Our season kicked off in September with the visit of last year’s champions, Wimbledon. Our opponents had a useful team, with two IM’s and Steven Berry, who must be near-IM strength… But, helped in part by the no-show of Wimbledon’s top board, we ended up running out as convincing 6 – 2 winners. Worthy of mention was Philip Gregory’s solid win against Russell Granat, his rating senior by 20 points.
We followed this with another 6 – 2 victory, this time against CCF 2. Alexey Shumay won his game when his opponent’s mobile phone rang and the game was claimed by the Streatham captain – an action which displeased the offending player. Might the rules on mobile phone forfeits be too harsh?
Our next match was home to Ashtead. In previous seasons they hadn’t travelled well but this time they came well armed and brought our run of three wins - two in the league and one in the cup (please see below) - to an end. Result: 3 – 5. This was followed by a second loss: by the narrow margin of 3.5 – 4.5, against Guildford. We had our chances but didn’t take them.
When we played them in December, CCF were stronger than us on paper and had title-winning ambitions. But here our fortunes turned. Alan Haywood had a great game against Marcus Osborne. Result: 5 – 3.
Our January match against Crystal Palace has yet to finish but we’re assured of at least a draw. Tom’s game, where he looks a little better, is to be resumed… Watch this space.
Two weeks ago we travelled to Guildford to play their second team who - no pushovers with a 158 ECF-rated bottom board. Somehow we steamed through and are 5.5 – 1.5 up with Martin having good chances in his adjourned game [which he recently won -TC]. Adam had a particularly blood-thirsty game in the Kings Gambit which I hope will be annotated for this blog at some point:
We’ve had a tight squad so far this year and all the regular players have scored at least 50%. Dare I mention that our star player has been webmaster Tom, with 6/7 game points. He seems to have upped his game since deciding to wear ear plugs during play!?
Our remaining matches are at home on Tuesday week to Ashtead 2 and then away to league leaders, Redhill, a few weeks after that.
So, currently we have 4.5 points from 7 matches. This may rise to 5 points when an unfinished game is concluded. CCF provide a results service including league tables here.
Surrey Cup News
We scored a first round victory against Surbiton but then, in the next round, Wimbledon avenged their earlier league loss to us. Fixture congestion resulted in the Wimbledon match being played on the first Friday after New Year and when one of our team fell ill the captain, who had struggled to make up the ten boards, was unable to find a replacement. We lost the match 4.5 – 5.5.
Eastman Cup & Plate...
Knocked out of the Eastman Cup by a strong team from Mushrooms Chess Club, our team were automatically entered into the Eastman Plate semi-final, the knockout competition for first-round losers - which our would-be opponents Athenaeum promptly withdrew from. Thus, we find ourselves entirely deservedly in the final of the Eastman Plate, without having even won a match. Good luck, team!
Croydon & District Chess Leagues
Mixed fortunes so far in the Croydon Leagues. Our first team has scored 50%, with 1½/3, and sits mid-table, whilst our second team has scored 3/5 to sit second in the second division. Our third team in division 3 mostly composed of players from Streatham Library Chess Club meanwhile sit far away from the top-spot with only one point so far... But, they have only played one game! Last season they came close to winning this division - missing out by half a point - so let's hope they go one further this year, in a competition only just about to get started for them.
Finally, here's a game full of fireworks from the First Division, generously sent in to the blog by the loser:
Thanks to Angus for his report on the Surrey competitions, and to Adam and Robin for sending in their entertaining games. The next club news update is scheduled for two weeks today, and it will also include news from the London League.
Sunday, March 02, 2008
Kasparov's Poker Face
Watch the clip carefully. You might spot the very moment Gazza realises he's blundered. The signs are very subtle but most definitely there.
There's a story behind today's post.
About a year ago I found this clip on YouTube and I remember sending it to Tom who enjoyed it as much as I did. Perfect blog material I thought.
Fast forward to October and it turns up on BCM Blog, together with the story of the game. Now John Saunders (author of the aforementioned blog and editor of a real proper magazine and everything) being a frequent visitor here, I thought a bit of gentle Speedy Malc related teasing along the lines of him being a few months behind us with the clip might be in order. However, when I looked back to see precisely when we published it I found that I'd never quite got around to posting it.
So there you have it.
It's me who's Speedy Malc after all.
Saturday, March 01, 2008
Like, I should think, nearly all my generation, the first player whose games I really knew was Bobby Fischer: I grew up on My Sixty Memorable Games and Gligoric's book on the Spassky match. I learned the rules not long before that match, and so I learned how to play in the years that followed, playing over Fischer's games at the same time as I was first discovering the rudiments of tactics and positional play.
I think this is why I remember this particular move with such affection: it seemed both baffling and magical to me, the greatest player in the world simply ignoring everything I had been told about pawns and pawn structures, inviting Spassky to double his g-pawns, isolate his e-pawn and establish a protected passed pawn for himself on d5. Incomprehensible madness. Yet from that point on, Spassky seemed as bewildered as I had been. That was the impression the game left then, and, perhaps, still leaves today: that Spassky really was baffled by the sort of moves that Fischer was playing, in the fifth game as he had been in the third.
After I began to write this piece, I remembered. A few years ago, but around thirty years after I first saw and loved the move, I had the chance to play it for myself. It was a Christmas tournament in London, the first round: the same position I'd seen three decades before, when I first started out in chess. I took my chance. I won. The magic works.