Monday, November 16, 2009


I once heard an established poet instruct his young protégé to put away the poem he'd newly written, and not look at it again for at least six months. Only after finding the crumpled pages musty at the bottom of a half-forgotten drawer, the poet explained, only after rediscovering the words afresh, reading the words anew, almost as if a first time reader - only then would the protégé be able to assess whether his poem was worth reading, whether it really expressed what he thought it expressed, whether it was worth sharing, publishing.

With my chess games, as a rule it doesn't usually take me six months to dismiss my efforts as uninteresting to others. A few days later I see the strategical problems that gripped me on the board and I failed to solve - the tactical sequences that tortured my little grey cells until I blundered through them - the resignation that caused me a nightmare or two - or the smile that stays until morning with victories - I see all that effort and emotion - the game and everything - as nothing but the thuds of wooden swords, waved about haphazardly by toddlers pretending to be titans, fumbling impersonations of the grand battles that characterise truly great chess; a glib and obvious limerick that I dreamed a grand treatise or perfect sonnet, if you prefer. How quick the dream shatters.

But rules have exceptions, and today I'm going to proudly declare a loss I suffered last week against Redhill's Michel Abbink as: actually quite interesting. Or at least, featuring several interesting moments. The first occurred as early as move 6, with myself as black to play:

Not so interesting, you might think - obviously an off-beat line in an already off-beat Sicilian. Except the surprising 6...Qxe5!? is possible, since after 7.Qxe5 Nxe5 8.Bxd5 Nd3+, black is winning back his material in one way or another. After a long think, I decided not to play this, thinking that the relatively closed position after 9.Kd1 Nxf2+ 10.Ke2 Nxh1 11.Bxh1 wouldn't have suited my bishops and rooks:

Maybe, maybe not. But had we reached the endgame, the second interesting moment wouldn't have occurred. That came after the further moves 6... e6 7. f4 g5 8. Nh3 Be7 9. Na3 gxf4:

Now, I had played 9....gxf4 after a good 15 minute thought, and after about 15 seconds he replied 10.gxf4. The interesting line I'd spent all that time calculating, however, would have come instead after 10.Nb5 Qxe5 11.Qxe5 Nxe5 12.Bxd5 exd5 13.Nc7+ Kd8 14.Nxa8:

A very unbalanced position that in my quarter of an hour I decided was perfectly playable for black. The computer agrees with this human assessment, given a minute or two, eventually evaluating chances as even - albeit only if black can find the further moves 14...Nd3+ 15. Ke2 d6. Curious that the first interesting moment saw Qxe5 propel a black knight to h1, the second saw that same move lead a white knight to a8.

Instead of all that, play continued with 10... Bh4+ 11. Kd1 Be7 12. Nb5 Qb8 13. Bxd5 exd5 14. Nd6+ Bxd6 15. exd6+, and here I decided that rather than sacrifice the exchange with 15... Kd8, I'd sacrifice my queen for a rook and a pair of pawns with 15...Kf8, thinking the resultant position was far from clear after 16. Re1 Qxd6 17. Qe8+ Kg7 18. Rg1+ Qg6 19. Qe3 d6 20. Rxg6+ hxg6 21. Nf2 Rxh2 22. Qg3 Rh5 23. d3 Bf5:

The computer doesn't quite agree, suggesting that white has a clear advantage. But from a practical point of view, the white position is not very easy to play at all - awkward, undeveloped, and with the expectation based on the material situation (and indeed the glances of some of the spectators) that the win should be straightforward. The game continued 24. Bd2 Rah8 25. b3 Rh2 26. Kc1 Ne7 27. Kc2 Be6 28. Qf3 Nf5 29. Rh1:

This is the final interesting moment of the game, interesting for all the wrong reasons, interesting psychologically, depressingly so. Faced with both chess and psychological problems in the conversion of his advantage, white has just blundered. But black is not free from psychological problems either: feeling a mixture of tired after a long evening and pleased with my creative play, I had at this point simply stopped calculating, my tactical radar hardly spinning, and I unthinkingly played 29... Rxh1, going on to lose. If I'd seen the position as a puzzle on a blog, say, I would have found the correct move in no time, I am quite sure.

Still, at least the game was interesting . . . Or should I have waited six months before deciding to publish this post?


ejh said...

I don't suppose you spent any time seeing if a knight fork could be organised, found it couldn't and then stopped looking for tactics? I think that may be quite a common syndrome, pursuing the wrong tactical idea.

Tom Chivers said...

Yes - quite possibly I gave up on tactics because I rejected the tactical ideas I had seen (at some point ...Bxd3 is possible, but it allows an effective f4-f5 so I rejected it.) Good point.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jonathan B. Going off topic I noticed you mentioned playing for Southampton University Chess Club on the ECF Forum. I think you are a similar age to me, so when was this? I played for them from 1991-93. I remember Clint Wells (capt), Mark(Maz)Hann, Fraser McLeod and some guy called Jeremy(?) Fox something.


Chris Morgan said...

To continue the poetry analogy, the French poet and critic Paul Valery said 'A poem is never finished, only abandoned'...and do we abandon looking at chess positions?

ejh said...

It occurs to me that this is a bona fide, perhaps even perfect example of the winner of the game being the player who made the next-to-last mistake.

Anonymous said...

Adjudication???? UGH!!!!

Tom Chivers said...

Yeah. The set-up in this competition is as follows. The away player offers the home player a choice of two finishes from three; i.e., offers two of rapidplay, adjourn, adjudicate. I offered rapidplay and adjudicated - I'm just too busy for adjournments - and he went for adjudication. As the game went, rapidplay would have given me better chances!

Jonathan B said...


As it turns out we have a crossover. I was at Southampton University 1989-1992.

Deffo remember Fraser. Clint is ringing a bell too but I can't quite remember him.

Did you ever go to the Universities Team Championship. I went a couple of times I think - Aston and the Swansea.

I shared a room both times with Gareth somebody I think. Also remember Bob Noyce (mainly for it being extremely unclear how he qualified for the Southampton team. Think because he was 200+ nobody asked that many questions.

Do you remember the rock disco?

Anonymous said...


I don't remember you but our paths must have crossed!

I didn't actually go to Soton Uni, just played for them. I went to LSU, a far superior and now defunct college just down the road with vast numbers of girls - ha ha.

Fraser I think worked in the Uni library. Clint(on) was about 170, always got in time trouble, pleasant, wore glasses, emigrated to New Zealand.

Don't remember Bob Noyce playing for us though he certainly was around a lot. In fact I can't remember who was board 1. I thought it was me but I distinctly remember playing against Richard Webb on Bd 2 with Charles Morris on their Bd 1. I'm sure it wasn't Bob Noyce.


Tom Chivers said...

Note to those interested: I originally wrote "half-forgotten draw", not drawer, until my Mum told me this is an error; that it is drawer, not draw.

Turns out this is correct in the UK, but not in the States. Here's the relevant OED entry - 7b under draw (n):

A drawer. U.S.

1692 in Connecticut Probate Rec. (1904) I. 463, I giue to Elizabeth table with a draue in it. 1748 N.H. Probate Rec. III. 565, I chist of draws to my dafter Lidea. 1775 Essex Inst. Hist. Coll. XIII. 188 You know I can take a Draw at a time and lay them in the same manner into Dr Gardners. 1829 in W. L. Mackenzie Lives Butler & Hoyt (1845) 50 That celebrated receptacle of Chancery papers..the draw or bushel-basket..of his venerable predecessor. 1862 LOWELL Biglow P. 2nd Ser. III. 108 Once git a smell o' musk into a draw An' it clings hold. 1898 E. N. WESTCOTT David Harum 143 They're in the draw there. 1929 in WENTWORTH Amer. Dial. Dict. (1944) 178/2 The draw sticks. 1971 Amherst (Mass.) Record 28 July 15/1 Wanted to Buy. Two draw file and adding machine.