Sunday, August 31, 2008

Tick Tick Tick ... V

I guess time doesn't flow in order does it - A, B, C, D? It just sort of goes where it feels like going.*

Every beginner knows that rapid development is crucial at the start of a game of chess. The opening is all about time isn't it? White moves then Black moves then White then Black and so on and on and on with each side trying to get their pieces out ahead of the other. Whoever's in front in the race has the advantage.

Niggling away at the back of my mind, though, there's a vaguely remembered snippet of a conversation involving some Grand Master or other (Gurevich? Malaniuk?) who when asked something along the lines of,

If you like the Dutch Defence so much why don't you play 1. f4 as White?


That extra tempo is going to hurt me.

* Haruki Murakami, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle Vintage Books 2003

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Chess in Art XII

Le chevalier Cifar observe le camp ennemi jouer aux échecs

de Carrion (14th cent.)

[BNF Paris]

Croisés refusant de combattre

de Tyr (attr, 14th cent.)

[BNF Paris]

[Chess in Art index]
[Chess in Art collected]

Friday, August 29, 2008

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Name the guilty men

About thirty years ago - or maybe it was a million - I was invited to play in a simultaneous exhibition given at a primary school which sent pupils to the secondary I then attended. Having been reading some opening theory, perhaps for the first time, I thought I would try it against the master giving the display: and so, for the first and last time in my life, I rolled out the Czech Benoni and was duly rolled over without a struggle, the word "life" being just about the last that could be applied to my position. What made my choice particularly stupid was that the master, William Hartston, was in fact the author of the book, Benoni, which I had been reading.

I still have the book and still like it: but wasn't his most famous book of the era. That was How To Cheat At Chess, a book written so long ago I can't find a decent image of the cover to post on here. Indeed, younger readers - or indeed half the authors of this blog - may never have heard of it and may not even know who Bill Hartston is, let alone recall when "are you playing for a win?" was a favoured method of almost-offering a draw.

Well, he said, settling down in his armchair, Hartston was a strong international master who was an early favourite to become the first English grandmaster, a title, however, that he never ultimately obtained.

He was also perhaps the first English chess professional to find that writing about the game was rather more lucrative than playing it, not least as a result of the publication of How To Cheat At Chess in 1976. I was fortunate enough to be given a copy a few days ago when I was back in England. It's quite dated now, in a number of respects (notably as regards women) but it's still an amusing read, not least because it retails several entertaining anecdotes involving skullduggery in international chess events, often Student Olympiads which Hartston attended. Some of these may have been embroidered a little for publication (his recollection of this episode, for instance, differs a little from David Levy's) and real names are omitted, but when, after our game, I asked Hartston who was the opponent who asked him "you vant draw at moof tventy?" - after fifteen moves, the extra five moves being "for the spectators" when there were none - he was quite happy to tell me it was Florin Gheorghiu.

Anyway, rereading the book the other night, I wondered if it was not time,that I found out who the other masters of sharp practice were, more than thirty years after Hartston wrote about them. So I thought I'd ask. If you can convincingly identify any of the subjects below, can you tell us in the comments box?
  • The Belgian player "languishing in a continental prison for illicit currency dealings".

  • The Swedish player who conned his English opponent into agreeing a draw after having sealed a blunder, and the Englishman concerned.

  • The American player who invited his teammates to laugh at the poor sealed move of his English opponent (and that opponent).

  • The Hungarian and Yugoslavian masters who complete their scoresheets inaccurately in order to deceive their opponents into thinking that the time control has (or has not) been reached

  • The player who won a county championship by falsely informing his last-round opponent that he had lost his penultimate game, thus making his opponent think that he was half a point ahead - rather than behind - and that a quick draw would therefore suffice for the title.

  • The Yugoslav who in a lost position loudly accepted Gheorghiu's draw offer (which the latter had promised to make, a promise he had not honoured).
No speculation please, this is a respectable blog. But if you happen to know the guilty men in any instance, my, ah, thirst for historical truth and accuracy is just begging to be quenched.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Tick Tick Tick ... IV

Timekeeping for Tigers

As I prepare for my imminent arrival at life's first time control I find my thoughts have also turned to the question of how I’ve been spending my time when seated at a chess board.

As SonofPearl rightly said in the comments box to my post on Peter Wells' difficulties at the Staunton Memorial,

"You don't need to be a great player to know that time management is as important a feature of the game as accurate calculation, opening preparation, intuition etc."

Strange, then, that of the countless books, magazine articles and blog posts the game generates hardly anything is written about how to make the best use of the clock during a game. Indeed, amongst the far too many books I’ve bought over the years I can only think of two - Simon Webb’s Chess for Tigers and John Nunn’s Secrets of Practical Chess - that actually address this area in any depth.

Webb’s chapter on clock control suggests that the best way of finding out where your time is going is to make a note of the clock times after every move. This quickly becomes second nature*, the difficult part being rembering to take the trouble to review the game at some later date**. It takes a little bit of work but it's almost certainly going to help your chess more than another hour or two spent reading some new openings book.

I played this game …

… for the Other Club midway through last season. It has the rather pleasing attributes of being (a) an interesting Interesting French Exchange
and (b) a win for me but more importantly for today's purposes it demonstrates rather clearly many of the problems I have with time management when playing chess.

All the moves were to be played in an hour and a quarter. I ended up using 72 of those 75 minutes but taking a second look at it I have to admit that an alarming proportion of the time I spent "thinking" was at best wasted and even counter productive in some cases.

1. e4 e6, 2. d4 d5, 3. exd5 exd5, 4. Nf3 Bg4, 5. c4 Bb4+


I was still within my opening knowledge at this point but nevertheless I think the pause for thought was quite appropriate.

I’ve faced lines with an early c2-c4 a bunch of times over the years and until this game had always played set-ups based on … Nf6, … Be7 and … Nb8-d7-b6-d5. This time, however, I wanted to try out John Watson's suggestion from Play the French 3. As I was about to head into positions I hadn’t actually played before spending a little time reviewing the main plans and whether or not there were any particular tactics to look out for seems time well spent. That said, given the short time control for the game taking 5 minutes for this is probably a little indulgent.

TOTAL TIME SO FAR: 6 minutes

6. Nc3 Ne7, 7. Be2 dxc4, 8. 0-0 0-0, 9. Bxc4 Nc6,

It's not until White's next that I ran out of 'automatic' moves so I'm at a loss to explain why it was that I spent two minutes each on moves seven, eight and nine. It might have been justified had I not just had a decent think on move five but to do both is just ridiculous.

With the contest just leaving the opening stages I'd already managed to dither away 8 minutes of the game. Proportionately I'd already given away just as much time as Peter Wells lost against Smeets by failing to turn up on time.

TOTAL TIME SO FAR: 12 minutes

10. Be3 Bxf3

TIME SPENT ON MOVE: 14 minutes

Oh dear.

My idea was to exchange on f3, take on d4 then after White replies Qxb7 gain some time by knocking the queen around or perhaps even trap her. In fact this is just a bad plan but that's not relevant in terms of clock management. More to the point ... Bxf3 is a classic case of Don't Analyse Unnecessary Tactics (DAUT).

Even if it works it’s obvious that after … Bxf3, Qxf3 Nxd4, Qxb7 there will be a lot of variations to consider. Had I thought sensibly it would have occurred to me that I should hold this line back to analyse only if I could not find anything better. Perhaps then I might have chosen … Rb8 (setting up the idea of taking on f3) or more likely … Nf5 (simply adding to the pressure on d4 with no difficult tactics to analyse). As it happens both of these moves can be found in Watson's book. In any event, a different thinking process would perhaps have taken three or four minutes at most to produce a move. Not only would I have saved ten minutes I would probably have played better too.

TOTAL TIME SO FAR: 26 minutes

11. Qxf3 Nxd4,

I took two minutes on this which would seem to indicate that I lacked confidence in my plan. In fact it's not too late to back out and find a different way to play. The trouble is, as John Nunn pointed out, after a very long think it can be psychologically difficult to choose a different path and admit the time has simply been lost. Of course the worst of all possible worlds is to worry about things for two more minutes then play the move anyway.

At this stage although I've already used up over a third of my time for the entire game and yet I'm only just out of book.

TOTAL TIME SO FAR: 28 minutes

12. Qg4 Bxc3


I hadn’t considered that White might simply sacrifice the pawn and go for a direct attack. Without much thought at all I gave up my bishop to stop the knight bouncing over to the king side. This was definitely an occasion where I'd have benefited from a couple of extra minutes to weigh the benefits of eliminating an attacking piece against handing White a pair of unopposed bishops on an open board.

Of course having used up so much time on move ten I was now in a position where I'd have to cut down on the analysis and hope for the best to a certain extent.

TOTAL TIME SO FAR: 29 minutes

13. bxc3 Nf5, 14. Rad1 Qc8, 15. Bg5 Nd6, 16. Qxc8 Nexc8, 17. Bd5 Re8, 18. Rfe1 Nb6, 19. Bf3 Nbc4, 20. Bf4 Rad8


John Nunn:
“Chess is all about making decisions. Postponing a decision doesn’t improve it. Try to get into the habit of asking yourself: is further thought actually going to be beneficial?”

So what to do? Bring my last piece into the game or play ... Kf8 before or after swapping rooks on the e-file. At the time I wasn't clear whether exchanging rooks would help me or merely emphasise the strength of his bishops. In fact after a few months to think about it I'm still not clear what's best. I frittered away a few more minutes here simply because I couldn't decide on what course to take.

Sometimes you've just got to choose one plan or the other

TOTAL TIME SO FAR: 43 minutes

21. Kf1 Rxe1,

Unfortunately I chose one plan then the other and worse still spent ten minutes doing it.

TOTAL TIME SO FAR: 48 minutes

22. Rxe1 Kf8, 23. h3 h6, 24. g4 g5, 25. Bc1 c6, 26. h4 f6, 27. hxg5 hxg5, 28. Be2 Kf7, 29. f4 gxf4, 30. Bxf4 Re8, 31. g5 Rh8, 32. Bxc4 Nxc4, 33. Re4 b5, 34. gxf6 Kxf6, 35. Be3

An interesting moment. I'd already seen his rook was vulnerable to a knight fork but on the other hand his bishop attacks my a-pawn. With a bit more time to think I might have put these two ideas together and realised the a-pawn can't yet be taken without allowing a knight check on d2.

My dawdling earlier had left me with little more than a quarter of an hour to finish the game by this point. The rook ending is obviously much better for me but is it winning? With pawns on one side of the board general principles suggest my knight should be better than his bishop so perhaps I want to keep minor pieces on the board anyway. Pressed for time I made the exchange after less than a minute's thought. It worked out well in the end but in less favourable circumstances this could have been the point where I let the game slip away.

Needless to say, had I not haemorrhaged the minutes away earlier in the game I would have had plenty of time for a proper think here.

35. ... Nxe3, 36. Rxe3 Rh2, 37. a3 Ra2, 38. c4 bxc4, 39. Rc3 Ke5, 40. Rxc4 Kd5, 41. Ra4 c5

I hadn’t foreseen that he might go after my a-pawn but when he played Ra5 it occurred to me that he might not actually have the time to take it anyway. Since there’s nothing to be gained by worrying about this, since there’s nothing I can actually do to stop him capturing the pawn even if I’d wanted to, I just pushed … c6-c5 instantly and hoped for the best. Normally I'd have lost some time to self-recrimination and worries that I'd thrown the win away but I'd finally woken up and actually started to play sensibly (timewise at least).

Incidentally, throughout this ending I was plagued by the recurring thought that it would be an awful lot easier had I actually read some of the rook endgames book (John Emms’) that has been sitting on my shelf for many years. Things turn out pretty well - though your guess is as good as mine as to why I moved my king in front of the pawn on move 51 - but in a less straightforward position my lack of basic endgame knowledge could have cost me a lot of time which in turn might have made the difference between winning and drawing the game.

42. Rxa7 Kc4, 43. Ke1 Kb3, 44. Kd1 c4, 45. Rb7+ Kc3, 46. Ra7 Ra1+, 47. Ke2 Rxa3, 48. Rd7 Kc2, 49. Rd2+ Kb3, 50. Rd1 Ra2, 51. Kd1 Kc3, 52. Rd8 Ra1+, 53. Ke2 Kc2, 54. Rb8 Rd1, 55. Ra8 Rd2+, 56. Ke1 c3, 57. Ra2+ Kd3, 58. Ra1 Re2+, 59. Kf1 c2, 60. Ra3+ Kd2, 61. Ra2 Re8, 62. Kf2 Kd1, 63. Ra2 Rf1+, 64. Kg2 c1=Q, 65. Rd7+ Qd2+ 0-1

There’s no need to do this of course, Fritz takes just a few moments to find mates in 9 after both Ke2 and Ke1, but with my nerves shredded and just three minutes to go I wanted to be able to stop thinking and ensure there was absolutely no way I could lose. White resigned at this point but I think I might have been tempted to make him actually mate me. It shouldn’t go wrong of course but Black is close enough to flag fall to make playing on justified.

So happily enough it all worked out in the end but it could easily have been very different. With a better clock handling I would have been able to play the opening and early middlegame much quicker and saved the time for critical moments later on.

I found the very similar problems in many of my games last year. Just as I said of Peter Wells, it leaves me wondering how many ECF grading points I chuck away every year through poor time management

* I've been following Webb's advice religiously ever since I bought the second edition of his book in the early 90s.

** Sadly Webb neglects to mention simply recording the move times alone will not be of much use to you. After more than a decade of painstakingly keeping track of the time taken for each chess move I made in serious games it was only earlier this summer that I actually got around to making any attempt to systematically analyse the data I'd been gathering. This is a pathetically embarrassing state of affairs, the only possible benefit of which is that it's led to this aside - and I do love a good footnote.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Surprise, a prize

My long unbeaten run in correspondence chess is over, stretching to nineteen games before I was finally, earlier this month, obliged to resign one. A shame: I'll never achieve a sequence like that again. Still, there is some consolation in the knowledge that one of those nineteen has won the Surrey County Chess Association's 2008 prize for the Best Game In County Correspondence Matches. You've probably already read about it on Chessbase or in the papers.

Normally I never win anything: even if I'm in the running, there's always a last round in which I throw it all away. One of the virtues of correspondence play - and indeed, of Best Game Prizes - is that there's no last round for me to face.

The game, in which I beat Lorin D'Costa, is here. (I am of course not Rafa Tymrakiewicz, you need to scroll down in the menu box until you reach the appropriate entry.) You can also find it here. So good, he blogged it twice.

Oh, a diagram? Well, I can't really show you the position before a decisive coup, because there weren't any: I don't win that sort of game. But I'll give you the position before Black's 12...Be7. Quite likely he should have preferred 12...Nc6 instead, but either way, it wasn't until I started constructing the diagram that I really noticed what had been going on: I chose to use the set pieces up in start position function, because, looking at Black's first rank, they're practically all still there.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Improve Your Chess VIII: Improve Your Chess!?

This is the penultimate installment of this series, and it is different to all the others, including the next. In each other article I suggest ways to improve your chess directly or less directly linked to one way that I improved mine. This article is different. Instead, here are various things I've been thinking about, without reaching any conclusion. I'm not sure if these things are related to chess improvement, or not: maybe, maybe not. Btw, each subsection can be read separately or skipped entirely. They are not in a particular order, and they are more or less independent of each other.

The final installment of the series next week, incidentally, may well include the most important single thing I did to improve my chess. But first, something else, or maybe nothing . . .

Winning Ugly
I've not played a game I've been really proud of for quite some time. Comfortably over a season, at least. Instead, most of my wins from the season just gone have to me seemed bitty, inconsistent, lop-sided, or boring. Yet in the years where I didn't improve, I played many games I was chuffed to pieces over.

Now, I've not read John Watson's famous books, but friends who have say one thing he emphasizes is that in modern chess winning is ugly. I think what he means is the grand plans of the past, the positionally perfect games, logical as clockwork - games won in such ways are gone, at least between players of equal strength. The reason? I'm not sure, maybe the way computers have shown how chess is far more tactically random than previously realised, maybe that Kasparov's reign demonstated how pieces were far more dynamic than previously understood; that pawns are less the souls of chess than ever before.

Whatever the case, I think being psychologically contented to win ugly might help improve your chess, because it brings your way of thinking closer to the reality of the game itself. Here is an example from a game I played in February. I am white and it's my move:
This position is the outcome of successful opening preparation. I'd realised who I'd likely face before the game, and noticed he always played the Open Ruy Lopez as black. So I'd prepared 5.d3 for this encounter, which rules that out. Visibly flustered, he'd gone into a version of the Closed Spanish where he managed to lose two (!) tempi and then misplay the resultant position anyway. Clearly, in the diagram, there is a lot of wind gusting around his king, and this spells trouble.

After I won the game, a spectator I knew was blinking at the final position, so I said hello. He couldn't believe it was the final position, because my knight was still on g3, black's pawn on h5. How had I not played Nxh5 at some point? He was incredulous - and indeed, Nxh5!? was a plausible move many times, not least in the diagram position. But, I said, it was never clear, and anyway, winning material was a cleaner solution. "Yes, but . . ." he mumbled, infatuated with the glamour of sacrifice. But in the diagram position there is no need. Exchanging material, releasing some of the tension and surrendering a part of the centre with the positionally-ugly 23.axb5 axb5 24.Rxa8 Bxa8 25.dxc5! just wins material, thanks to the threat of Bb3 combined with the pin on the d-pawn. I won eleven moves later.

Conclusion? Chess demands ugly play, so be ready to win ugly. Maybe.

The Sicilian is Different
Each of the last five undisputed World Champions have, at one stage of their career or another, played a substantial number of games on both sides of the Sicilian. I'm not sure, but I don't think the same has always been true of their challengers. I think that the Sicilian - I mean, the open Sicilians, the complex mainlines, where a simple pawn exchange in the opening unbalances the position fundamentally, where all other material is left on the board - is different to all other openings. Maybe it's the degree of difficulty, maybe the direct blending of tactical and positional phases, maybe that attack and defence are routinely combined, often on the same sector of the board - I'm not sure. But I am sure it's different.

The Sicilian is something else. And I think it helps improve our chess if, for a certain period of time at least, we commit to playing it with both colours in the mainlines. Why? I'm not really sure. The Sicilian forces us to think. The Sicilian forces us to be constantly alert to shifting strategical feature and an array of tactical opportunities. The Sicilian reminds us how difficult chess is. That kind of thing. Perhaps it's rather like, if you want to be good at pool - practice snooker.

The Sicilian puts us in our place: players struggling very hard with some very difficult things. Now, of course, the results won't necessarily be pretty, but maybe this teaches us a lesson too. For instance, here are the evaluations only of the last 8 moves of a recently friendly game I played as black against a strong opponent in an Open Sicilian. Exclamation marks correspond to moves which are Fritz's first choice, ?! to moves suboptimal by at least a pawn; other marks to the shifts in evaluation given with varying severity. We left theory on move 14 when the position was already =+:

14. ? ! ( -/+) 15. ?? (-+) ?! 16. ?! ?! 17. ?! ?? (=+) 18. ! ? (=) 19. ?? (-+) ?? (=) 20. ! ! 21. ?? (-/+) ! 22. ?! ! 23. Resigns?? (-/+ of about 1 pawn, says Fritz).
My conclusion? If you've not before, then commit to playing the mainline Sicilians with both colours for a significant period of time. The Sicilian is different, and forces us to be different players. This whole experience helps us improve. Maybe.

Your Own Chess Language
Chess has a language: "plus-equals", "passed pawn", "middlegame", "attack", and so on. However, chess itself is a wordless game, not an argument couched in certain key terms. Finding the right balance between thinking in words and analyzing positions and sequences is not an easy thing to do. Too much wordage and we risk confusing ourselves, talking ourselves around in circles; too little, and we don't grasp the fundamentals of the position, instead spend all our time looking for fleeting tactics that are never there.

Being aware of this is one thing. Possibly another, is to develop our own chess language, prioritizing certain terms to ourselves when they reflect problems we regularly face more often than others. For instance, a few years ago I had a spate of games where I got pieces trapped. I realized that there was no neat term for "piece-trapping tactic" like pin, fork, etc. So I made myself consciously check for "piece traps" in every game I played, and increasingly this kind of mistake has left my play.

Or more recently, reviewing some games with the computer, I realized that whilst I was playing many stages of the game reasonably, I was handling the part when the position explodes - when all plans come to fruition, where threats are made each move, when three different unclear endgames are available with every second exchange - particularly badly. In short, I was playing the complications badly. Having realised that, I now try to recognize complications when they occur, calm myself down, remind myself it's meant to be a struggle, and compose myself. My new awareness of the word complications also helps in not thinking for too long in positions that aren't, well, complications.

Now, complications isn't a word that one sees in the book titles of chess literature. There isn't an Informator symbol for it, either. Nonetheless, for me it's become at the centre of my chess vocabulary - the intersection of one of my main problems with the game and the reality of the game itself.

Does developing your own chess vocabulary help you improve? Maybe!

Player Types
"I don't really know this stuff," I said in our second post-mortem in a month, sat on the black side of the position after 1.e4 e5, "but I thought I'd vary. I figured you'd have come up with an improvement in that Sicilian line you lost in last time."
"No ? ? ? . . . ! ! !"

What was strange about this was that in our first game, I'd found a very simple improvement for him, but still hadn't fixed the line from my point of view. However, the improvement was an unthematic move (punting e4-e5 in a Closed Sicilian, rather than the usual f4-f5, as he had unsuccessfully tried.) And in our second game? It had been a Closed Spanish, and when I'd prevented him from making the usual kingside manouvers for white by breaking first on the queenside - he'd swapped off as many pieces as possible and offered a draw. I had no reason not to accept.

On the way home I was puzzled. The whole thing in some way reminded me of the second game here, against a different opponent, where white in a Closed Sicilian had been prevented from playing the thematic f4-f5, and so instead had exchanged material into a totally lost endgame. Compare white's pawn structure on move 20 to that on move 25 in that game, and you'll see what I mean.

From this, I speculated that there is a certain type of player who always wants to play the same game. Each game they want to execute the same thematic same plan (usually a kingside attack in a closed position - a King's Indian or Stonewall being typical; maybe it's the "safety" of the closed position mixed with the single-minded simplicity of purpose - mate - that attracts) and if they can't . . . they instead exchange pieces and hope the endgame is drawn.

Conclusion? Players who try to play the same game each time can't improve their chess, so stop doing so if you are one and wish to improve. Also, such players are relatively easy targets if you can recognize them as such, susceptible to severe misjudgements in the transition to the endgame as well as confusion in middlegames that do not follow the pattern they know. In general, recognizing and understanding such "player-types" and their limiations help us improve our chess by overcoming our own limitations, and exploiting the weaknesses of others more clearly. Maybe.

Reading with Empathy?
In my advice about simulating over-the-board chess in training, I briefly discuss trying to read chess books with the ethos of simulation in mind. This involves only reading chess books with a proper set, and being willing to put the book aside and study the positions and games in it without the actual book to hand. That is, on our own - like during an actual game. I admit there that I find this a difficult thing to do, especially with opening books.

When we read this way we are fundamentally trying to objectively understand what's going on on the board in a situation close to otb; typically this involves an expert usually of Grandmaster strength explaining the position and the game. Often the explanations of the game itself will include interesting asides about what the players were feeling, what the tournament context was (last-round must-win, etc) and so on. In the past I've tended to filter this stuff out as "entertaining but irrelevant" in an attempt to come closer to the "objective truth" and "Grandmaster understanding" I assume is on offer.

But maybe this is a mistake. Maybe it is better to "read with empathy" - to try to think about what it's like from an annotations for a top player to be at the board. A position I previously used before in the series can serve again as an example:
Here Nunn writes how he was "dumbfounded" by 16...Nxe4 and that "for several minutes I just couldn't see the point of it . . . Then I suddenly saw the idea." The game continued, 17.Qxe4 Bb7 18.Rd5 Rc8 19.c3! Qc4 20.Qxc4 Rxc4 21.Bg2 Bxd5! 22.Bxd5 and then black played 22...Rxh4! to which Nunn writes: "This move is the key point which it took me several minutes to see at move 16."

Reading the whole of his annotations with empathy (for the rest of which see Secrets of Practical Chess) we see his mood change from complete surprise, to sudden realisation of the unfortunate truth, to grim determination. We also see how quickly he manages to analyze a hidden tactic six moves and five captures from the diagram position: "several minutes".

So what? Well, my feeling is that reading such annotations with empathy, we develop a much more involved intuition for what it is really possible to do in chess. That is, for that we can expect human beings to do at a chess board - and what is hard to do. Not only that, we can relate it to how they are feeling during the game: whether dumbfounded, excited, caught-up, or grimly determined. And in doing so, we open ourselves up for thinking differently at the chess board. In particular if we read the annotations of stronger players this way, perhaps we come to understand how they are at the chess board better, which enables us to be more like that ourselves.

Now, I don't know if this is true or not. But I think we see something comparable in the history of our game and other games. Once Steinitz had demonstrated a defensive technique that made the romantic openings more or less obsolete at the highest level, other leading players followed. Once the hypermodernists had shown the centre needn't be occupied, players at all levels were able to follow their lead. Or in football, when total football changed the way teams approached the whole game. I believe something similar also happened in snooker, when Alex Higgins showed it possible to open the reds in more positions than previously thought possible.

Conclusion? Try reading annotations with emapthy, rather than just the search for objectivity and understanding. Maybe it will help you be more in tune with the experience of playing chess, which will have a useful practical effect.

Overall Conclusion?
Maybe, that because we can't know in advance what will help our chess, we should leave ourselves open to all sorts of changes, always ready to reject, rethink, revise, or alter what we are doing or think we know. Embracing such uncertainty is not easy, but there are a lot of different and confusing things involved in trying to improve your chess. Or, maybe not.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Tick Tick Tick ... III

Missed Opportunities

One of the things about the approach of a big birthday is that it inevitably leads to a review of life so far and thoughts of what might have been.

Chesswise, at least, for me this process could be worse. I've lost any number of games in any number of stupid ways (e.g. here) but I can't say I regret any really important losses if only because I've never been in a position where winning or losing really mattered. Sure I've sulked for the rest of the night and even into the following morning but that's about it. I wonder what it would be like to recall winning positions against, say, Ivanchuk and Anand but on both occasions I'd missed the simple tactical sequence that secured the win. That, I rather think, would tend to keep me up at night from time to time.

A hundred years ago such was the fate of one S. Lipschuetz who must have spent much of the rest of his life kicking himself after failing to beat Zukertort and Lasker.

White to play

White to play

today's positions have been taken from Geoff Chandler's Contribution to Master Chess: A course in 21 Lessons, Pergammon Press 1985. My database suggests in the second position there was a Black pawn on c5 and the White rook was on f4 not d4.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Chess in Art XI

Two men playing chess

Alan Boileau

[Chess in Art index]
[Chess in Art collected]

Friday, August 22, 2008

My Eye, My Eye

Some entertaining internet stuff recently has caught my eye, recommended for your perusal on a lazy and rain-laden and bank-holiday-weekend Friday.
  • First up, you might not think that a blog called USCL news and gossip would promise much entertainment, but don't let the name fool you. Recent articles have featured: a T-shirt with the slogan Thou Shall Blunder on it - imagine facing that over the board; a report on how chess in the US is exploding with lawsuits - on which note, see also; entertaining and honest annotations to an interesting game; a humorous post comparing Susan Polgar's husband Paul Truong with Sam Sloan, now accompanied by a poll in the side bar; testosterone; and, well, much else besides. Definitely worth keeping an eye on the whole thing, and I've added it to our sidebar.

  • Secondly, ever wondered what would happen if you crossed a chess board with a subway map? Tom Brown has, in multiple posts across his blog. In fact he's constructed such a map showing every move for every piece on every square of the board, in subway map style. To the right is d5. If you explore his blog you'll find the rest.

  • Next stop is Grandpatzer who seems to have answered the question Was Alekhine Unaware of the Noah's Ark Trap? with the surprising: yes, he was.

  • Finally, The World Team has been winning against high-class opposition again. This time they beat 15th World Correspondence Chess Champion Gert Jan Timmerman at the website Chess Games in a complex struggle. From the looks of the website's newsletter 31.b4!! was the key move, a move with thousands of hours of computer analysis behind it no doubt. The World's next game is against well-known correspondence Grandmaster Arno Nickel, who's out for revenge with the white pieces after a previous loss with black, and you can find out more as well as how to join in the fun here.
And that's it for today. Enjoy the extended weekend.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Tick Tick Tick ... II


"Chess", Morgan argued yesterday, "is a carnal, primitive 'hobby' that satisfies bloodlust ...."

I think I have to agree although I'd probably insert "and stimulates" in between those last two words. Every time I see Peter Wells, for example, I get an almost overwhelming urge to give him a slap and yell "SORT IT OUT FOR CHUFF'S SAKE" into his nearest available ear.

I should perhaps explain such an extreme reaction so let's take a look at Wells' performance at the recent Staunton Memorial. The comments that follow are taken from the round-by-round reports on the Staunton website.

Round One:

White to play

“Sokolov-Wells saw the Englishman outplay his formidable opponent, but agree a draw in a position where he stood substantially better, but had little time on the clock”

Round Five:

“Peter Wells gained a dangerous-looking attack against Smeets' king, but used a huge amount of time on the clock. A massive time-scramble saw Peter finally lose the thread at move 34, and when his flag fell three moves later, he was already losing on the board as well.”

Round Six:

White to play

“Peter Wells played the sharpest game of the day, against Cherniaev, and should certainly have won against the latter's extremely optimistic play. However, the clock was again Peter's great enemy, and he repeated moves in a position where he was objectively winning”

*"Feck me Alexander. Now I'm going to end up on some blog with an eejit 1000 elo points my inferior telling me how I should play chess."

Round Nine:

Black to play

“L'Ami-Wells … White maintained the initiative, but went astray around move 25, and when he offered the draw a couple of moves later, it was doubtful whether he really had enough for his two pawn deficit. However, Peter's clock was doing its usual nasty things to him”

All these favourable positions and not a single win to show for them. Yet Steve Giddens is too kind to Wells I think. In reality it’s Peter who is “Peter’s great enemy” and it’s Peter who “was doing [his] usual nasty things to him[self].” If we ignore his short draws in rounds 4, 8, 10 and 11** and easy win against Bob Wade in round 2 then we can see Wells actually found himself in severe time trouble in two-thirds of the half dozen games he actually played out.

Wells' performance for the tournament was just two elo points less than his current rating so finishing with five points from eleven games is far from a disgraceful outcome. Nevertheless the fact remains that had he taken full advantage of his opportunities he could potentially have wound up the tournament amongst the leaders. It leaves me wondering how many elo points he chucks away every year through poor time management.

Wells, of course, is a notorious time trouble addict and seems totally unable (or is that unwilling?) to cure the problem but that isn't what drives me potty. Not exactly. It's not just the fact that an extremely strong player could be even stronger, it's that an extremely strong player seems to be going out of his way to avoid fullfilling the potential of his natural talent.

I went to Simpsons-in-the-Strand for six of the eleven rounds and Wells was late every single time I visited. Just a minute tardy for the final round it’s true but usually it was about five minutes. Are you thinking that's not a big deal? Perhaps not but it if he could have added the lost time to his clock at the end of his game against Cherniaev it would have been enough to allow him to play on for a possible win. Probably this applies to the other games too and of course Wells could have put the missing minutes on his clock if he'd wanted to, albeit at the start of the game rather than the finish.

For his defeat on time against Smeets Wells actually turned up something like ten to fifteen minutes after the round began. He simply gave away ten percent of all the time he had at his disposal for the first session. That's a reckless indulgence for anybody it seems to me but for a person who routinely ends up playing their last several moves with their flag hanging it’s just positively idiotic.

I guess after a career spanning two or three decades Peter Wells is not going to change his habits now and I suppose you could argue that it's his attitude towards the ticking clock, both at the board and in life in general, that helps to make him the player that he is. I'm not sure I really believe that to be true though. I certainly don't understand why it should be true. I really don't see why Peter Wells can't be a talented Grand Master and turn up for games on time. For my blood pressure, if not for his rating, I really wish he'd sort it out.

* Photo (click it for a closer look), as before, by Vad. He neatly caught the bald patch on the back of my head as I leaned in to find out how close Peter Wells was to losing on time for the second successive round.

** against Short (25 moves), Adams (23 moves), Speelman (15 moves) and Timman (17 moves) respectively.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Britain's inaugural chessboxing event

Bethnal Green Working Men's Club, Friday 15 August

I like to tell myself that I am not a violent person. The feebleness
of my right hook is matched only by the lack of dignity I display upon
being assaulted myself. My knees go weak at the sight of blood. I
don't like war (controversial, I know) and when I recently stubbed my
toe on the District Line down to Kew I felt the tiniest tear begin to
form in the corner of my left eye. It is beyond me why I don't wear
glasses, just to officially consummate my weediness. And yet, I could
never honestly describe myself as a full-blown pacifist, and nor could anybody
reading this blog. Why? For the simple reason that we are chess

Violence, in its crudest form, can be imagined as something requiring
body contact: fisticuffs, muggings, taekwondo. But when one brings an
adversary to the ground with a single punch it is not the crack of the
skull in itself that is thrilling but the knowing fact that you are,
for the time being at least, superior. Quite apart from its vulgar
military overtones ('how warmakers love to play games!' screams
Bronowski in The Ascent of Man) chess is a violent pursuit. In
competitive play we exert huge energies on a weekly basis in order to
destroy the morale of people who are more often than not complete
strangers. The very best of us, like Bobby Fischer, take great
pleasure in 'the moment when I break a man's ego.' Delivering checkmate is
just as satisfactory as battering an opponent senseless with the fist,
only far more damaging. At least a knockout punch gets things over
with quickly.

And so the relatively recent marriage of chess and boxing – as
mentioned previously on the blog here and here – only makes explicit
what anyone who has played the former long enough knows too well: that
it is a carnal, primitive 'hobby' that satisfies bloodlust in a
superficially unobvious way. It is as if some passer-by in The Sixth
Sense had shouted 'oi, Bruce! You've got a bloody great hole in yer
chest!' But this does not mean that chessboxing – which made its
debut on British soil five days ago at Bethnal Green Working Man's
Club – is pointless or doomed to failure.

There is one obvious appeal to chessboxing. If one were normally to
ask a decent, upstanding, non-chess playing member of society to come
with you to a chess event, they would rightly tell you to take a
running jump. If you mention, however, that the chess will be
interspersed with people punching each other, and that there will be
both a bar and an after party, then you may have more success. I
certainly found this to be the case on Friday, when I was joined by two
'decent', 'upstanding', non-chess playing chums. In fact the biggest
surprise was just how few chess players there were in attendance: not
once did I see the familiar bearded face of an habitual 170-er or an
unpleasant junior with an inversely proportionate knowledge of opening
theory and the real world. Instead, the Bethnal Green crowd was
composed mostly of casual boxing fans attending for the sheer novelty
value. 'Take his bishop!' yelled one jack-the-lad before a single
move had been played in the evening's first bout between 'German chessboxing
sensation' Sascha Wandkowsky and Holland's Hubert Van Melick.

It is probably for the best that there were none too many ECF points
floating around in the audience. Play was not of a high standard
(1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.d3 e6 4.Be3 was Van Melick's botched attempt at a
Closed Sicilian, for example) and there were repeated technical
difficulties with the relay software that ensured we lost track of the
position every five moves or so. This might not have been so much an
issue if the 'commentator' had had the slightest clue as to what was
going on over the board, but his kibitzing was inane and free from
analysis (think David Pleat, but without the dark past). He also took
at least thirty seconds to realise that Wandkowsky had delivered mate
in round 7 of his contest. And this was all capped off by the
organisers inexplicably managing at first to have a light square in
the left hand corner of a computer generated display board. Truly,
this was not one for the purists.

I rather feel that these quibbles are beside the point, however. This
was not a quirky attempt to popularise chess (as Justin complained of
the Britain-Russia ice chess game two years ago) but an exhibition of
a fledgling hybrid sport, one that has every much to do with boxing as
it has with the Royal Game. I was informed by a charming lunatic in
the lav that the boxing was far from impressive too, and I have no
reason to doubt him. But from a position of ignorance I was able to
find it curious and exciting; with any luck, this is what Bethnal
Green's non-chess playing fraternity thought about the chess, too.
Chess and boxing are natural bedfellows, and certainly the evening's
main event between Stewart Telford and Tim Woolgar proved to be a much better
demonstration of both. Woolgar, London chessboxing's head honcho, at
least seemed vaguely au fait with the black side of a Philidor. For
the sport to succeed, however, stronger competitors from both chess
and boxing shall need to be found. As such it is the duty of Woolgar
et al to ensure that their next event shows both sports in their true
glory. In chess terms this means making sure the bloody display board
works and finding a commentator capable of providing simple yet
accurate analysis for the baying masses.

But it is a highly promising start: as we were dutifully reminded by
our compere on Friday night, the 100-strong crowd in Bethnal Green did
mark the largest paying audience for a chess match in Britain since
Kramnik beat Kasparov in Hammersmith back in 2000…

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Adams Wins

At 41 minutes past noon yesterday Loek van Wely pushed a knight to c5 and offered Michael Adams a draw. At 41 minutes and not many seconds past noon Adams accepted and thereby secured the half point he needed to finish clear first in the strongest chess tournament held in Britain in the last two decades (according to the Staunton website at least).

I'll be coming back to the Staunton on Thursday but for today since Adams-van Wely wasn't much of a final game ...

... take a look at a position Morgan acquired during a casual encounter played in the bar the day before.

Black to play

Black's managed to get just about everything en prise but was still able to find a very pleasing combination to win the game.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Improve Your Chess VII: The Habits of Talent

The Incident of the Lucky Pen
"Darling, just give me the damned pen."

"What pen?" she says, so innocent. "You don't have time to look for it now. Just take that one instead," she goes on, wafting me toward some grotty biro.

"What pen? The lucky pen. The black one. The one I told you about. The one I won with last Tuesday. I left it on the table this morning."

"The sleek-looking one? That writes so nicely? Not seen it. It's probably in your bag."

"It's not - I -" and then, I see it.

There on the bookshelf, tucked inside one of her folders.

She knows I know, she sees I see.

Across the table we eye each other.

Who's closest?

Who'll get their first?

A mad dash and . . . I grab it first. Lucky, I say to myself, scampering toward the door, feeling ready at last for the game tonight.

"You know it makes no difference," she says glumly. "It's just a pen. But good luck!"

. . . and, yes, of course I still know now what I also knew then. The pen was not a lucky pen, invested with magic properties. It was just a pen, black ink, available from a newsagent around the corner, along with dozens like it. So what that I had won with it the week before? I also won wearing a certain pair of socks, having washed my hair with a certain shampoo, having been a certain number of minutes early or late, having had a certain sandwich for lunch, and none of these things I thought of as lucky. And I know they make no difference. Not like my lucky pen.

What was I thinking? I had never been a superstitious person, after all. But as I strolled relaxed and confident to the club, I wasn't thinking about much at all apart from getting to the game along with my lucky pen.

Trying to understand superstition
But a few weeks before, I'd been thinking a lot about superstition, luck, the little acts of ritual top players acquire, their odd beliefs. Like seventh World Champion Vassily Smyslov's belief he was kept alive after his eyesight failed for some divine purpose, related in some unknown way to harmony and endgame studies. Like twelfth World Champion Anatoly Karpov only washing his hair after defeats. Like thirteenth World Champion Garry Kasparov's belief that his lucky number was, well, number thirteen. Like Grandmaster James Plaskett's beliefs that coincidences weren't just coincidences, something suggested too by Grandmaster Jonathan Rowson in the Acknowledgments to one of his books. Like . . . the list could go on and on.

I'd been thinking how these little beliefs must have some benefit to the players who employed them. Something along these lines: what's the point of worrying about the result of your next game, if you've managed to convince yourself it's particularly related to a certain pair of gloves? Then all your anxiety, all your nerves - all these little things that punch around before your games like little fists in your stomachs - could simply be smoothly tucked away by use of superstition - in a favourite pair of gloves.

Or, you're at the board itself, and you start to lose track of the position, miscalculate, and suddenly all your doubts balloon up - wouldn't it be nice to puncture them by tapping on a favourite tie-pin? That is, your lucky tie-pin, the one you always fiddle with when calculating clearly? I'd been thinking that if I could really get myself to believe something like that, then maybe I would be able to arrive at the board itself in a better state of mind. How about a lucky pen? Then I could look at my pen as though it determined all the luck in the world, and so concentrate fully only on the board itself.

Would I try it? Maybe. After all, one thing that improving at chess had taught me, was that I wouldn't know in advance what would work, what would not work. Maybe superstition would work, maybe it wouldn't. Who knew? But I wanted to work one thing out first. Why were more talented players frequently more superstitious than less talented players? My guess was as follows in the next three paragraphs.

Why are strong players superstitious? Why aren't weaker ones?
The way I guessed it was that for the most talented players, the world outside of chess is never demystified. No nihilist biology teacher ever convinces them that all their actions and feelings and thoughts are nothing but confused ciphers for the brutal and basic wishes of their genes - they are too busy playing around with the chess set in their desk draw, coming to terms with the passed pawn's lust to expand. They are never disappointed to find out there is no tooth fairy swapping their milk teeth for coins, or no Santa delivering gifts, or no real Lord of the Rings - because last weekend some company magicked them off to Moscow, where an ancient white-bearded creature - just like Gandalf in fact - clarified for them what black gets in return for the Sicilian ..Rxc3 exchange sacrifice. Meanwhile, because of their talent, the world on the chess board becomes increasingly demystified as they grow-up. Maybe there are dragons in the real world, maybe not - but certainly not in the Sicilian, because they have mastered the logic of this oddly-named variation by the age of ten, and all the intricacies follow by their late teens. For the talented chess player, the world is thoroughly mystical, enchanted with irrational forces, the whims of the goddess Caissa wafting around arbitrarily: but the chess board is the one objective plane of cause-and-effect. The phrase fire on the board is just an advertiser's mystical metaphor for dynamics.

For the less talented player, like myself, things are the other way around. The chess board remains a mystical place, full of impossible goings-on: Grandmasters perform incredible feats of calculation, make the International Master who creamed me look like an idiot - what . . . ! ! ! And positions we are sure are winning turn out dead-lost, and we practice against computer programmes three-pieces up and they magically turn it around, random combinations appearing out of nothing, like a sky of crows flung from a magician's hat, and all the remarkable improbabilities the world would never allow come alive. The great players of the past aren't just great players - they're titans, or magicians, or whirlwinds, or pythons. Elsewhere, we've already learnt otherwise, learnt the world's cruel lessons. That the world is not flat, as our childhood feelings tell us. That the horizon not infinite, that the stars are there all the time, that the sun does not rotate around us. And so, thanks to this disenchantment, this initiation into the dry factual state of being called adulthood, we've already learnt to dismiss our innermost feelings as fabrications, our fundamental intuitions as idiocies - already learnt that the miraculous is impossible amidst the deterministic routines of the real world. Impossible. Impossible anywhere, that is, but amidst the beautiful unpredictability of the chess board, where all laws come undone.

What does all this mean? The talented chess player benefits from living amidst a highly-subjective world, whilst the chess board for him remains solely the realm of objectivity. All the strange habits of talent acquired in the real world - all the superstitions, the lucky objects, the little rituals - make perfect sense to the talented chess player, who does not know he is constructing totem poles in his shirt pockets. The less talented player scoffs at these habits, because he has never had cause to create them for himself. But for the talented player, these little acts of madness, the momentary subjective nothings, function to keep the world as crazy it is, so they can come to the chess board and once again find it the zone of crystalline truth and artistic clarity, and meet the facts of the fight with as much objectivity humanly possible.

Or something like that. Out of all this thought, anyway, came the following basic reasoning: talented players acquire, by accident, strangely-subjective habits in the real world. These paradoxically function to keep their thoughts at the chess board itself as objective as possible. But whilst less talented players such as myself do not acquire such habits as a matter of course, there was no reason not to choose to develop them consciously and deliberately. That way we can make use of the various functions of superstition and ritual, such as concentration, calmness, focus, and so on.

And so, I bought myself a lucky pen.

No-one knows in advance what will help improve their chess, what not. However, there are reasons to believe that superstitions or similar based in the real world and off the chess board help talented players achieve their full potential at the chess board itself. Paradoxically, this is because they allow the talented player to be more objective at the chess board. Less-talented players do not acquire such superstitions normally, but can acquire them by choice. However, this should all be kept in perspective. Whilst I did acquire myself a lucky pen, and whilst my chess did improve, I think the majority of the improvement came from more direct methods such as those previously discussed.

The final round of the Staunton Memorial starts today at 12noon at Simpson's-in-the-Strand, and will probably finish between 5 and 6pm. So several of us are going along after work at 5pm to see the games, and we plan to go out after, have a drink or two, and so on. All are invited to join us.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Tick Tick Tick ...

As of today, dear reader, I have just one month left of my thirties.

I must confess I'm not hugely keen on growing older but at least up to now I've been able to comfort myself with the widely held notion that the 17th of September will bring a re-energized fresh start for me. Unfortunately this morning during an ill-advised googling expedition I found an old article in the Daily Telegraph that began,

The belief that life begins at 40 is a myth. Research has found that the fourth decade heralds the beginning of the end.

Time, I think, to get few a easy chuckles by mocking those less fortunate than myself. Normally of course that would mean a visit to Chess Now* but today I'll go the other route and take a look at a choice example of the embarrassing resignation.

The position below is taken from Geoff Chandler's chapter on Tactics and Combinations in Master Chess: A course in 21 Lessons, Pergammon Press 1985**.

Black to play

White is threatening 1. Rxh7+ Kxh7, 2. Rh1+ Bh6, 3. Qxh6 mate.

Although Black threw in the towel here he has a move that not only saves the game but even wins if White tries to force a mate by sacrificing the rook on h7. You work out what it is while I spend the day getting ready for my impending doom.

* e.g. I, II or III

** a book I have mentioned several times before (an
endgame study, an endgame technique and a double bishop sacrifice)

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Chess in Art X

Albert, Duc de Bavière affronte son épouse aux échecs

Hans Muelich (1552)

frontispiece to The Book of Jewels of the Duchess Anne of Bavaria

[Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich]

Partita a scacchi

Sofonisba Anguissola (1555)

[Muzeum Narodowe, Poznan, The Raczynski Foundation]

[Chess in Art index]
[Chess in Art collected]

Friday, August 15, 2008

When Termites Attack

Judging by the overflowing crowd at the venue last night, or by the Grandmasters merrily analyzing away in the bar after their games, or purely by the entertaining chess being played, one would think this year's Staunton Memorial Tournament another unqualified success.

Yet organizer and arbiter Eric Schiller's interesting Behind The Scenes article suggest a problem with certain metaphorical termites: a problem which threatens the very future of the event. These termites, says Schiller, are people who complain on the internet about certain aspects of the event - such as the inclusion of underdog Bob Wade - whilst attacking the organizers personally.

"The foundations of the event are ... being undermined by a tiny minority of “termites”," writes Schiller, going on:
The organizers are subjected to abuse for many decisions, often under circumstances beyond their control, as the termites would know if they had ever in their lives attempted to put on a Grandmaster chess event ...

Termites have an affect. They nibble away and cause the true chess workers endless grief, and organizers and staff grow tired of it and become less enthusiastic about repeating the experience. We have lost many good organizers and staff because of this. None of us are making any money on this ...

The termites threaten to destroy the Staunton, as they have destroyed many fine tournaments in the past. Keep in mind the hard work required to put on a major chess event and don’t become a termite! I hope we’ll have another fine event next year, but the insidious insects try to make this less likely.
Indeed, it would be a real shame for London to lose the Staunton Memorial, and I've often wondered why Dutch sponsor Jan Mol hasn't considered moving the event to Holland.

Still, the negative comments on the internet are clearly in the minority, and it's usually best not to engage in such squabbles anyway. On which note, the tournament website has today introduced a positive response, in the form of a new page called Quotes. In fact already there's two enthusiastic comments there to read - one from Shaun Taulbut and one from Andrew Martin - and there is also an email address provided for fans to send in comments. Will local chess-loving Londoners - who perhaps feel lucky to have this tournament held here each year - follow suit and email in their support to help bolster this event?

Or will this summer see the last Staunton Memorial - with all that remains a dust-pile at the centre of our city, the termites scuttling off in search of fresh wood for next summer?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

England's Number One?

Following yesterday's rest day for the players (though no day off for the organisers who've been busy on the internet), the Staunton Memorial resumes this afternoon at Simpsons-in-the-Strand.

At the halfway point, van Wely is in second place with 4/6 closely followed by Smeets, Timman, Short and Speelman on 3.5/6. Of these five Smeets and van Wely have the advantage of not yet having played either Cherniev or Bob Wade. The latter pair are the tournament back markers and by some margin the lowest rated in the event, so the two dutchmen should probably be considered as having their noses some way in front of the three former candidates.

Out ahead of everybody, however, sits Michael Adams who has a very perky 5/6. Handing out spankings to Werle, Timman, Smeets and Wade has given him a rating performance for the first half of the tournament that works out to a shade over 2800 and he's looked almost totally invincible so far.


Adams was fortunate to survive a dodgy moment against Nigel Short on Tuesday. If my database's memory serves this was the the first time England's top two have faced each other for seven years* and Nosher thought it worth wheeling out Alekhine's Defence for the occasion. Rumours that he was briefed on the finer points of 1. ... Nf6 by our own Angus French have yet to be confirmed but in any event Short obtained a fine game and at move fifteen reached this position ...

Black to play
Adams-Short, Staunton Memorial (6) 2008

Adams played 15. Bd2 apparently totally missing Black's idea. It could have been a lot worse but as it turned all he suffered for the oversight was the loss of any possibility of playing for an advantage. The game burned out to a completely level position and was agreed drawn five moves later. Who was it who said the good player is always lucky?

Curiously the day before his encounter with Short, Adams had missed another simple (by his standards) tactic.

Black to play
Wade-Adams, Staunton Memorial (5) 2008

Wade had just retreated his queen from c2 to d1 in response to the capture of a pawn on c4. After a few minutes thought Adams played 35. ... Nd5. It's certainly an attractive move since it leaves Black a pawn up with a knight blockading the isolated queen's pawn which is infinitely superior to White's horrible bishop on e3. It's difficult to imagine anybody surving this against Adams, least of all a semi-inactive opponent several hundred rating points out of his depth.

Wade did indeed resign a few moves later but just like Nigel Short it seems Mickey Adams doesn't always pay attention to Tuesday's second aphorism. It may be slightly harsh to point this out since he is winning anyway but in the diagram above Black has a neat tactical sequence that ends the game at once. I realised this while I was watching the game waiting for Black to play. Not that I'm a tactical genius you understand. Andrew Stone pointed the key move out to me no more than five nanoseconds after Wade had retreated his queen.

Adams is obviously one of the greatest chess players the country has ever seen. According to his performance during the first half of the Stauton Memorial has lifted him back into the world's top 10. Doesn't that illustrate the underlying attractions and frustrations of chess?

If a player of Adams' class can make such simple mistakes what chance do the rest of us have? Chess is just impossibly difficult. Though not, it would seem, too difficult for Andrew Stone.

* Not quite their first game this century as we'd thought yesterday. It seems they played three games in 2001, the last being a 33 move draw in the 4NCL in May of that year.