Saturday, February 28, 2009

Bad book covers VI

Forcing Chess Moves, Hertan, New In Chess 2008.

[thanks to PG]

[Bad book covers index]

Friday, February 27, 2009

People also play good moves now and then

Mamedyarov-Kurnosov, Moscow 2009

21...Qd2!! 0-1

Following the Mamedyarov-Kurnosov "cheating" controversy - in so far as there was anything to follow, in the absence of anything that resembled evidence - I found myself having some sympathy for poor old Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, who seems to have made a bit of a fool of himself.

It's very easy, in the current climate, to get suspicious of an opponent. Moreover I can imagine how it must play havoc with a grandmaster's mind, to try and play one's best against an opponent when one's ability to think and concentrate is being overwhelmed, not only by the feeling that one is being cheated, but the certainty that, as a result, today's efforts will be futile. And once your head's been got at, you've next to no chance anyway: and whatever you do next isn't likely to be all that rational.

Still, why sympathise with a man who seems on this occasion to have got it badly wrong? Perhaps because everybody needs a friend when they get it wrong, and perhaps because everybody gets it wrong sometimes. I remember getting it wrong myself. Not over-the-board - the level at which I play is yet to face that particular agony to any degree, although our time will surely come - but in email seven years ago, in a competition where computer use was not permitted and where (as far as I could tell, from previous games I had played) they normally were not used.

Not dissimilarly to Mamedyarov's situation, I was on the White side of a theoretically-approved line - and within the space of a few moves found myself in a lost position after a couple of surprising tactical blows culminating with a queen going from one en prise square to another.

The game went as follows:

1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 c6 5.a4 Bg4 6.Ne5 Bh5 7.f3 Nfd7 8.Nxc4 e5 9.g3 Qe7 10.Bh3 Bg6 (the aforementioned theoretically-approved line, this is supposed to be very dicey for Black) 11.O-O f6 (the book has 11..exd4 but I couldn't see how delaying it was any improvement...) 12.b3 exd4 13.Ba3 (because I can use the time to put a bishop where it hurts) 13...Nc5 14.Qxd4 Nba6 15.e4 Nxb3 (I probably missed that one, but still, no problem) 16.Qe3

after which, although a little uneasy after Black's last few unexpected moves, I remained confident: I expected the Black queen to move and then to have a breakthrough in the centre, presumably with e5.

In retrospect, that was the beauty of pre-computer correspondence chess: despite all that thinking time, despite being able to move the pieces, you could still think you were winning and yet find yourself immediately lost the next move you received. Because when I next received a move it was the highly surprising 16...Qc5!!

which brought about my resignation without further play. Perhaps a little prematurely, but I'd attribute it to shock as much as to the realisation that I was a pawn down for nothing.

Shock and more than shock. Because I didn't believe it. Players at that level surely don't play moves like that: computers do. People don't expose the queen to attack and then play it part-way down the very diagonal along which they are being attacked. Ordinary players don't always play ordinary moves. Sometimes they play good moves, sometimes they even make sacrifices and sometimes they even sacrifice the queen. But even in email chess, they don't usually play like that. I sent a complaint straight off to the controller and consulted with my friends who had computers (I, at the time, did not) to ask whether they thought it suspicious. The controller told me there was no evidence and no case to answer. I wasn't at all pleased with their reply and said so. And, in saying so, indeed in having said anything at all, I reckon I made a fool of myself.

Because looking at it again years later - with a computer - I can't see what I was complaining about. Yes, of course, the last move is a belter - though it possibly didn't need to be seen in advance, before 15...Nxb3, as I had thought, given that 16...Qf7 also seems to survive. So it's not at all hard to see, not now, how Black might, say, have had one move planned but had a last look round for something else and found this wonderful alternative.

Maybe they didn't even have anything good planned. Maybe they'd just meant to put the b3 knight back on c5, which leaves White with enormous, winning compensation for the pawn - but until the last minute they hadn't realised they could do better, they hadn't realised they were actually close to winning. This hadn't even occurred to me until now, until I looked at the game again to write today's piece. I was so sure that I'd been done, so sure that I'd been turned over, that I'd assumed Black had had it under control all the time. But suppose he hadn't? Suppose he'd thought he was close to losing and that only a bad mistake by White could get him out of it?

In fact, if he'd used a computer it's most unlikely he'd have got into the position that he did, because the computer would have told him how bad it was! Rybka, for instance, rates White's position as 1.00 or better from before move ten (and while I know that this was seven years ago and things have moved on, I doubt it would have been enormously different then). Indeed, it's only at my plausible but disastrous fifteenth move that the tables were turned.

I thought 15.e4?? would allow me to break though to Black's king while protecting the queen from an exchange - but it turned out that I didn't have time for either and didn't need to find it. Rybka assures me that 15.Rad1! (not the only move, as it goes) would suffice after which Black tries - and he has nothing better - to exchange off some heavy pieces with 15...Rd8 it comes to grief after 16.Qxd8+ Qxd8 17.Rxd8+ Kxd8 18.Rd1+ Ke6 19.b4

and now after the knight moves the rook will come to d7 and it'll soon be over. Which isn't obvious from half-a-dozen moves back - but even won positions aren't always obviously won. Chess isn't supposed to be obvious.

Still, it's mostly obvious to me that I got it wrong in 2002 as it seems pretty obvious that Shakhriyar Mamedyarov got it wrong in 2009. Both of us rushed to judgement: whereas had I taken my time and thought about it, as I so often do not after a chess game, I might have reflected that there was more evidence that a computer had not been used than there was evidence than it had.

Stil. Maybe he did use a computer. Maybe he didn't use one until the last minute because by that stage he thought he was lost without one. Maybe I can't know that for sure either. We can none of us know it for sure any more. I suspect, in fact, that the real damage done to chess by computer-cheating will be that: the mental damage, the destruction of trust. And perhaps the loss of joy in beautiful moves: because we replace the reaction how did you think of that? with its opposite, who thought of it for you?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Psycho Cowboys R Us

It is not often that I can say that I've trumped my friend and fellow blogger EJH's chess achievements but last Tuesday I managed to win with the black pieces. I can't claim I wasn't very fortunate, to be precise I can't claim I wasn't dead lost for long periods during the middle game, but nevertheless I ended up mating him with Queen and King against King in the blitz finish and victory was mine.

The game began with 1. c4 but pretty soon transposed into a Classical Dutch - which should please recent visitor to our comments box Psycho Cowboy.

After eight moves we'd reached a position ...

... that was quite familiar to me as I've also had this ...

... and this ...

... in the past twelve months.

My opponents were spread across the whole spectrum of playing strength (130s, 110s, 170s respectively) but curiously they all responded with bxc3. Well it's curious to me because I'm pretty sure that I'd prefer keeping the pawns in order with Qxc3 here.

I'm no expert on these lines but I very much doubt that there are any grounds to say one move is objectively better than another. It seems to me that the choice here is entirely a matter of taste and personal style.

So, valued readers of the S&BCC blog, I'm interested to know whether you would prefer to recapture with the pawn or the queen and why? In short, would you prefer this ...

... or this ...

All answers gratefully received.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Black and white

The current issue of the London Review of Books does me the honour of printing a letter, written to correct, very mildly, a passage on a piece about poker written by Paul Myerscough. Writing of a court case in which a club owner was prosecuted for hosting games of poker, Mr Myerscough said:
Poker, he [the club owner - ejh] argued, was not a game of chance, but a game of skill, and shouldn't therefore be covered by the Gaming Act. The case was hopeless, and not just because the only people who knew anything about the game were either in the gallery or in the dock (at one point on the third and final day of evidence, the judge interrupted to ask for clarification of one of the most basic rules of the game). Under the 1968 act – and even less ambiguously under the Gambling Act of 2005 – games of chance are defined as also including those which combine skill and chance. Given that even a game like chess, which most people regard as a game of pure skill, involves an element of chance – the players draw for the white pieces, an enormous advantage between two players of similar ability – it isn't clear that the law's definition of a game of chance defines anything at all.
The discussion of chess didn't seem to me to be right (although the point about poker not being a game of chance manifestly is) so I wrote in to correct it, observing that players don't actually draw in the sense that Mr Myerscough appeared to mean, and that the term enormous may be something of an overestimation.

It was perhaps a little too long, and was edited a little. Regrettably, the editing has made me seem to say something that is not only incorrect, but which I didn't actually say in the original email. Apparently, I say:
There is often a draw at the start of a tournament to determine who will have white in the opening game (and black in the second and so on) but since the players are expected to play an equal number of games, any advantage is negated.
But of course, that isn't right: that's not how the draw in a tournament works, and nor would the players expect to play an even number of games with Black and White. Very much the opposite.

What I originally wrote was this:
there often is a draw at the start of a match of tournament. In the case of a match, it will determine who has White in the opening game (and Black in the second and so on) but we would expect an equal number of games to be played, thus negating any advantage. In the case of a tournament (where each player has a number and the first round will be 1v12, 2v11 and so on) players draw for their number and because there are usually an even number of players, half of them will have an "extra" White and half an extra Black
I guess you can see why they edited it. But they confused, as I did not, a match with a tournament, or rather they elided them. But if we're discussing the relative advantage of an extra White or Black, the difference is an important one.

That's not the only oddity in the letter. I went on:
...according to Jonathan Rowson in Chess for Zebras, white scores about 56 per cent at all levels of competitive chess, from world-class down to the lowest level of club player. Is that an 'enormous' advantage? Certainly black wins plenty of games and some players – I'm one of them – have a preference for black.
Well, so I say. As it happens, so far this year I've played three games with the white pieces, all of which I've won. I've played four with the black pieces and I am yet to score as much as half a point.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Sir Andrew Preview Plays Chess

A couple of weeks ago I played for the other club in what resulted in the kind of mismatch you wouldn't have thought possible in a league chess match. I'm pretty sure that our bottom board would have beaten their top board with ease and had Other Club C stayed at home and Other Club D travelled instead I'm fairly sure we would still have won without dropping a point.

Total whitewashes are pretty rare in themselves but it wasn't so much the fact that we won 6-0 that stands out for me, it was more the manner of our victory. Our captain won inside fifteen minutes - the resignation was by no means premature given that he was already a queen and rook up - and when I delivered mate an hour and a half or so later there was only one game remaining. The home team's top board was battling on gamely a rook and several pawns down but eventually threw in the towel when he was faced with either mate or losing his other rook.

It was not too surprising to discover after the match had ended that none of their guys had much experience playing chess under tournament condiditions. Our team was made up only with middling club players, and I was on board three rather than my usual four or five, but it was very much bows and arrows against lightning nevertheless. This sort of thing is never that much fun for anybody of course but the home side seemed to enjoy playing serious chess and we had the unexpected bonus of an early start to our journey home.

My own game, I have to say, was a rather unusual experience.

By the time we were notching up our first point I'd got my pieces into this formation.

White had played,

1. d4
2. e3
3. Nc3
4. Be2
5. Bf3
6. a4

and hereabouts Morecambe and Wise's famous routine with Andre Previn floated into my mind. White's play reminded me very much of Eric's attempt to become a concert pianist. Individually the notes were fine but as a whole they lacked harmony and they sounded (or looked in this case) somewhat odd.

White continued

7. b3
8. Ba3

which brought us to this position

At this point it occurred to me that considering his inexperience White was actually playing pretty well indeed. He'd brought his bishop to the h1-a8 diagonal putting pressure on my centre and preventing me from placing my own bishop on b7; he'd delayed the development of his king's knight thus retaining the option of putting pressure on my weak e6 point with Ng1-h3-f4 and now he was forcing the exchange of my dark squared bishop leaving me with weak squares in the centre.

Despite their unconventional appearance my opponent was playing all the right moves - though not necessarily in the right order.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Club News, Update!

Rather a scarcity of club news today; in fact, the only news there is is from the London League.

Firstly, the first team, who beat Metropolitan 1 on Thursday 6½ to 4½ with my game adjourned. This leaves the League Table looking rather exciting. That is, if you find battles for second place exciting, since no-one looks like they'll beat Wood Green this season. But at least four teams including ourselves are in contention for the runner up spot...
Meanwhile a week earlier on February 12th Streatham Thirds got a very creditable 4-4 draw against DHSS on February 12th. The result leaves the team around mid-table with four matches to play.

Finally, in non-club news the issue of cheating has reared its ugly head once again:
At the Aeroflot Open, top seeded player Shakhryiar Mamedyarov [on] Sunday accused his opponent Igor Kurnosov of cheating, and after talking to the organizers, Mamedyarov has now withdrawn from the tournament.
There's a lot of debate and who's right and who's wrong, what one should and shouldn't do with one's suspicions, and so on. But the big issue to me is: how are large open tournaments going to cope with this kind of thing, if as seems plausible cheating becomes increasingly common and hard to detect? The Linares of this world should have no problem protecting themselves (a handful of players, complete control over venues and security) but tournaments the next tier down? I'm not so sure...

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Probably Got Nothing To Do With Chess IV

This "Game" that you are part of (whether you like it or not) is being played out today. The stakes are very,very,high. It would be in your interest and your families interest to find out the "Truth".

Or so it says here.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

There are more questions than answers II

Here are five more chess-related quotations taken from non-chess centric sources. (Remember the last time we played this game? No, didn't think you would.) Once again you are encouraged to identify the author of each. Some clues: a) is a former Poet Laureate; b)'s best friends get to call him TC; c) was one of Timothy Leary's early psilocybin guinea pigs; d) has a manifesto to his name; and e) has appeared on this blog within the past two weeks.

Have fun. Or take a stroll outside, the sun's lovely.

a) 'I've tended to like figures who were rebellious and extremely competent and sometimes rather arrogant. At the time that Bobby Fischer was having a prominent chess match with Boris Spassky, I was one of the people who rather liked Fischer's impossible attitude toward the rest of the world and his ability to get away with it (up to a point) because he was so good at what he did, so gifted.'

b) 'When they had played a while, the King made a false move; on which the Jarl took a knight from him; but the King set the piece on the board again, and told the Jarl to make another move. But the Jarl flew angry, tumbled the chess-board over, rose, and went away. The King said, "Run thy ways, Ulf the Fearful." The Jarl turned round at the door and said, "Thou wouldst have run farther at Helge river hadst thou been left to battle there. Thou didst not call me Ulf the Fearful when I hastened to thy help while the Swedes were beating thee like a dog." The Jarl then went out, and went to bed.'

c) '
Chess is a game too noble to be left to the chess-players.'

'A simple game of chess which doesn't interest me in the least -- man, whoever he may be, being for me a mediocre opponent. What I cannot bear are those wretched discussions relative to such and such a move, since winning or losing is not in question. And if the game is not worth the candle, if objective reason does a frightful job -- as indeed it does -- of serving him who calls upon it, is it not fitting and proper to avoid all contact with these categories?'

e) 'I understood and yet for a moment was perplexed. After all, it's not always that easy to just slip into a strange name, like a costume. Thousands upon thousands of them are ready at hand; the thought, however trivial, paralyses one's choice, which is even further paralyzed by the feeling, albeit entirely hidden and barely conscious, of how imponderable the choice is and how grave the consequences are. Like a chess player who, having found himself in a dilemma, most wants to leave everything as it had been but feels his hand forced to make a move, I said, "Braunschweiger." I knew neither any person by that name nor the city whence it came.'

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Grass Arena VI


"Then the Fox came in - doing nine months - and things brightened up in the rag shop. First thing he done was to fix with the screw for me to sit opposite him at his table. Next we straightened the doctor's orderly with tobacco, so I got a jar of malt every week and a pint of milk every day. I was getting as strong as a lion. We were fucking about on the table all day, having a laugh and telling jokes. The times started to fly. I had about a month to do when the Fox said to me one morning, just after we'd got in the shop, 'Listen, if I told you about a game that if you were waiting for seven o'clock on a Sunday night for the pubs to open, and you was playing this game, you'd forget the pubs wasn't open and not worry about the time, what would you say?'

'I'd say there ain't no such game.'

'There is Johnny. It's not really a game though - more like olden day warfare. It's called chess. And I'll teach you the moves if you want to learn.'"

John Healy, The Grass Arena

Today's post dedicated to Allen "It's not a proper knighthood" Stanford who may yet have a good deal of time available to contemplate a chess conversion ala Healy.

It's not entirely clear to me why our American cousins consider an alleged $8 billion fraud to be more worthy of prosecution than the attempt to destroy cricket as we know it but still, it's better than nothing isn't it?

Filthy Onlooker

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The other Master Game

During England's second innings in Antigua yesterday I was following the Guardian's over-by-over coverage when, shortly before the declaration, I read the following entry:
This story from Jeremy James may even be true, who knows: "Many years ago when the world was young and all our futures were before us (mine jolly nearly wasn't) a sadistic TV boss sent me off to get an interview with the West Indies team. 'And I want to see Wes Hall bowling to you.'

Cor. Wes was very decent about it, or so I thought until I saw him disappearing over the horizon. I didn't even have time to back into the side netting before my stumps were splattered - by an orange. Is this the origin of the word 'jaffa'?

Jeremy James. I know that name. "Sadistic TV boss". Jeremy James and TV. Surely that has to be the Jeremy James who presented The Master Game.

I sent my own email to The Guardian:

Reading the comment from Jeremy James, mentioning "a sadistic TV boss", I wondered - is your correspondent the Jeremy James, who presented The Master Game when I was a young chessplayer? If he is, he should know that a lot of people remember his show with great affection.

A few overs before the tea interval I had my answer: it was the Jeremy James who presented that great show.
Ay, guilty, I was that.
He added, perhaps a little obscurely:
Mixed chess is almost as lethal as mixed hockey. Forget those dreamy erotic scenes of a King tracing a woman's lovely naked curves; think being hit very hard over the head with it. Much, much more dangerous than an orange.
Ah, maybe. Anyway, his reply was accompanied by a rant the Guardian had received from one Jeremy Douglas:
Yes yes the Master Game. That was absolutely superb, back in the days when the BBC knew how to televise chess. But this arcane knowledge had been utterly lost by the time of the Kasparov-Short match. The key insight was to show the game AFTER it happened, rather than live as was inexplicably the case during the World Championship match. They also got the players to do a "stream of consciousness" commentary to give the impression of a live game and show you why they made the moves they did. It was straightforward and excellent.

I have no idea why the BBC and Channel 4 both messed up their chess coverage to quite the extent they did. The only thing worse than Carol Vordermann on Channel 4 was the Newsnight - yes, Newsnight team trying to cover the match on the BBC. I guess they thought "Oh these people seem quite intelligent, and you have to be intelligent to play chess, so these intelligent people would be good at covering chess even though they don't necessarily know the rules"... wrong wrong wrong... aargh... it pains me to remember it...
Up to a point, Jeremy. But isn't that rather unkind to William Hartston?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Guess the dedication

Which chessplayer ended their dedication of a chess book with the following phrase?
....particularly Alexander Michael, with the assurance that I shall never play him so much as one game of chess.
(A bonus point for naming the book.)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

To trick or not to trick

Here's a nice little trick - if you think it's worth your while.

1. d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 e6 5.e3 Nbd7 6.Bd3 dxc4 7.Bxc4 b5 8.Bd3 Bb7

8...Bb7 (which Steffen Pedersen calls the Wade Variation) is probably the main move, though Anand played the riskier 8...a6 against Kramnik and other top players sometimes prefer it. (8...Bd6 and 8...b4 are also playable though much less often seen.)

Anyway, after 8...Bb7 play habitually proceeds 9.O-O a6 - mark that sequence well, you need to remember this - 10.e4 c5

and now because 11.e5 isn't going to work after 11...cxd4 12.exf6 dxc3 White normally plays 11.d5, known as the Reynolds Variation, in which many grandmaster games have been played and which is currently seen as all right for Black. (Provided that is, a number of pitfalls are avoided, starting by not capturing on d5, which error was committed against me one weekend in the 4NCL.)

All right, but what if we play 9.e4 instead of castling? This is the trick. If Black, knowing that the idea is to move the bishop first and then the a-pawn (and possibly not knowing much more theory than that) plays naively 9...a6 then White has 10.e5!

Now Black is suddenly in huge trouble. If this is not immediately apparent, the point is that after the natural 10...Nd5 and the subsequent exchange on d5 Black either doesn't have the freeing ...c5 any more, because after 11...cxd5 there's no c-pawn, or, after 11....exd5, is going to lose very quickly to something involving e6 with the Black king trapped in the centre. Pedersen calls the position after 11...cxd5 "very good for White" while Vera (Gambit, 2007) calls it "clearly unfavourable for Black". Black gets a dead bishop: White gets a big space advantage and an attack on the king.

So why is 9.e4 more rare than 9.O-O? Largely because if Black knows what they're doing (or thinks about it instead of playing the automatic move) there is 9...b4!

9...b4 is, by the way, playable in the main line with 9.O-O, but not so good because there, the central e4 square is available for the knight: now it's not, and as we know that 10.e5 doesn't work when the pawn's already on b4, White must play 10.Na4 after which the knight can now come to d5 and we have 10...c5 11.e5 Nd5.

This position is no disaster for White - many fine attacking games have been won from here - but we can see that Black has successfully got in both Nd5 and c5, the moves he wanted to play. In general it's not so testing as the line with 9.O-O and for that reason is less popular with grandmasters. (Come to that, the whole 5.e3 line may be less testing than 5.Bg5, though that's a very complicated story.)

However, my experience has been as follows. I've tried the trick 9.e4 four times (I think) all against players rated a little lower than I. Every time, they've followed up with 9...a6?, allowing me to play 10.e5. Now as it happens I've not won all these games - I actually think I may only have won one of them - but nevertheless, a plus-over-minus position is not to be sniffed at after fewer than a dozen moves if somebody's going to hand it to you. The problem with it is - in order to try the trick, you have to play the second-best line. If they know what they're doing, you've deliberately put yourself in an inferior line. But on the other hand, everybody does seem to fall for it.

So what do you do? How far are you prepared to base your openings on what you hope your opponent doesn't know? Or put it another way - how far are you prepared to play for tricks?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Study the endgame

"Why Study the Endgame?" asked fellow-blogger Jonathan B last year. Especially "when there's so much of it," and "you never get one."

Good questions, but I'm guessing that his recent draw with me - when a pawn up in an endgame, with a much better bishop than my offside knight - in our rapidplay tournament may have convinced him that some study may just be worth it.

And lo, Jack Rudd's just posted an endgame test for us all to try out. It's white to move and, says Jack, the "time has come, ladies and gentlemen, for you to use the Comments Box to its full potential: evaluate the position, giving analysis as appropriate."

Ladies? And for that matter, Gentlemen? Never mind. Jack - already an IM and still improving - adds: "in a later post, I shall be giving the game, its significance, and my own take on what I think of this position. But for now, it's in your hands." That's certainly something to look forward to, so do head over and give your opinion. My breathtaking insights are already posted.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Probably Got Nothing To Do With Chess III

Can the future ever erase the past? Rose has a Cross mother and a nought father in a society where the pale-skinned noughts are treated as inferiors and those with dual heritage face a life-long battle against deep-rooted prejudices.

Or so it says here.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Chess in Art postscript : Evans' Gambit

Guest post by Martin Smith

You'll remember, for who could forget, the massed ranks of "The Chess Players" that signed off ejh's Chess in Art series (Chess in Art XX). Of the thirty or so players, kibitzers, and random revellers that Justin assembled for us in his farewell gallery of six pictures, two stand out. They appear in Merlyn Evans' febrile, searing image

Encouraged by its date of 1951 I inflicted the hyper-hyphenated description "angst-ridden-cold-war cadavers" on his tortured protagonists (see Chess in Art Collected), because it looks, doesn't it, so much a picture of its time: that anxiety-plagued post-war era. They wrangle at the board as if the world could end any moment in a nuclear cloud of mutual assured destruction; and their game with it. They, and humankind, are in the ultimate time trouble: zeitnot was the zeitgeist.

Except that it isn't, or rather, wasn’t. What you have before you is the artist's later version (with some small details missing), as a print, of a painting created over ten years earlier in 1940. The image was therefore not inspired by the Cold War, which hadn’t yet been invented. What a difference a date makes.

Some fortuitous research has unearthed that Evans' inspiration (though that makes it sound more uplifting than one would wish) for his original picture was the notorious 1939 Ribbentrop-Molotov non-aggression pact by which Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union agreed to lay off each other so as to gobble up such small fry of Europe as took their respective fancies – mutually assured annexation, in fact. Evans, a man of the left carrying no party card, railed against this apparent betrayal of the little guys in his violent pictorial denunciation.

In reality it is impossible to read these historical specifics from the picture, and Evans doesn't attempt a caricature of the dramatis personae; though there are obscure clues in the 1940 version, such as HEGEL on the book in the bottom right hand corner (he was, allegedly, the philosopher of totalitarianism). No; these contorted chess players have a more general resonance, though not, I think, as a representation of evil (as suggested by David Fraser Jenkins in 1985, in the Tate exhibition catalogue of Evans' political paintings) for that would be reading too much in retrospect. Rather, armed with the date of the original, we see Evans' flayed and flailing figures (rendered in a now-dated manner of sinewy surrealism) in an orgy of exultation as they grab the spoils of their conspiracy. It is an enduring indictment of cynical superpower self-interest: chess as Realpolitik; not, Mr Jenkins, as Satanic ritual.

Evans’ socialism grew from his childhood in the slums of Glasgow, leavened perhaps from lodging, when a student at the Royal College of Art, for a few years in the 1930s among the comfortable middle class Victorian terraces of Streatham (which tasty titbit of local history endears him forever to this contributor to the Streatham and Brixton Chess Club blog). He was a student, teacher and practitioner of his art, and would maybe have known, therefore, about a worthy antecedent of his image. As ejh pointed out to me, there is a more than passing resemblance to Gillray’s 1805 lampoon The Plum Pudding In Danger... which William Pitt and Napoleon carve up the sea and land as their choice slices of the global sphere of interest; plum pickings all-round. Now this is caricature, good and proper, and no mistaking the target; and as a comic device Boney's manic eye still stares with Messianic vision, but these days from Steve Bell's Tony Blair [who also parodied Gillay - ejh].

Plum confections were served up again in 1872 by Lewis Carroll and John Tenniel (Chess in Art XVIII), this time as cake...

...though in the looking glass world Alice had to "hand it round first, and cut it afterwards". More caricatures, Disraeli and Gladstone this time, but the same motif as in Gillray and Evans: two rivals divvying up the scoff, which is just meat and drink to the political artist.


The Political Paintings of Merlyn Evans 1930-1950. The Tate Gallery, 1985.

[Chess in Art index]

Friday, February 13, 2009

Worst Move On The Board VII

T. Chivers - M. Daniels, Internet Blitz 2009.

In the above position our leader and blog founder has just played 37.Kc5-d6. Black's reply was the worst move on the board: what was it?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Last Friday's Problem

Last Friday I asked for an assessment of this position

Black to play

and I'm pleased to say the post generated a number of helpful (to me) responses.

The diagram is in fact a theoretical position from a Dutch Defence sideline. I found it after looking at the mainline of the Classical Dutch that begins

1. d4 f5, 2. c4 Nf6, 3. Nf3 e6, 4. g3 Be7, 5. Bg2 0-0, 6. 0-0 d6, 7. Nc3.

It seemed to me that the three options for Black that are usually suggested at this point,

7. ... Qe8

7. ... a5

7. ... Ne4

could all be considered to contravene fairly basic opening principles. Are we not generally taught to avoid developing our queen or moving the same piece twice while ensuring pawn moves either add to our control of the centre or open lines for piece development?

Looking at the position afresh it seemed to me that getting the queenside pieces out with 7. ... Nc6

was much more natural and began to explore why this move wasn't thought to be a sensible idea.

Neil McDonald's Starting Out: The Dutch Defence (Everyman 2004 - mentioned here) doesn't mention 7. ... Nc6 at all - perhaps not surprisingly given the introductory/generalist nature of that book - but I was able to find some analysis in Simon Williams' more specialist Play the Classical Dutch (Gambit 2003).

Williams gives the queen's knight move a "?!" and suggests the following sequence*:-

8. d5 Ne5, 9. Nd4 Nxc4, 10. Nxe6 Bxe6, 11. dxe6 c6, 12. Qd3 d5, 13. Qxf5 Bb4, 14. Qc2 ("! +=" - SW) Qe8, 15. Bh3 Bxc3 16. Qxc3 Qh5, 17. Kg2 Ne4 18. Qe1

and thus we reach the puzzle position which Williams thought was clearly better for White.

Leaving aside the rather curious change in assessment between moves 14 and 18 it wasn't clear at all to me that the first player was better here so I decided to consult our esteemed readership on the matter. I can't say the responses helped me understand why White should have the advantage but they certainly generated a fair few ideas I hadn't previously considered.

What's the moral of all this? I can't say I'm completely sure. That we shouldn't take opening theory at face value? - possibly. That I spend too much time worrying about openings? - probably.

I still don't know what I really feel about 7. ... Nc6, maybe it's OK(ish) maybe it isn't, but I think I learned something from the experience anyway. By looking at the possibility of moving the queen's knight on move seven I began to consider White's advance d4-d5 - a common theme in these lines - in a little more depth and I've now got a stronger grasp not only on why ideally Black would like to be able to respond with ... e6-e5 but also the difference it makes if Black has already been able to double White's pawns with ... B(orN)xc3/bxc3.

Perhaps to get anywhere near an understanding of chess we have to understand what isn't played as much as what is?

* There are variations along the way that we shall ignore for today ...
9. ... exd5 ("?" leading to "White is better")
10. dxe6 ("+=")
13. ... Ne4 ("?!" leading to "Black has no play for his lost pawn")
16. bxc3 ("?" leading to "=+")

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A bishop for a king

Here's a nice position:

What's nice about it? What's nice about it is my record with it, playing the White pieces.

I played it first just over ten years ago now, the game transposing from the English. I'd become sceptical of the worth of the systems - against a KID set up - that books on flank openings recommended. Mostly I would try an English set-up with g3 and d3, expecting that my results would improve with practice, which they did not. Occasionally I improvised some nonsense with g3, c4 and b4. Finally I found myself coming to the reluctant conclusion that, just as the Reti anti-Slav systems really aren't as good for White as playing against the Slav, so the Reti anti-King's Indian systems probably aren't as good as playing against the actual King's Indian. Which I had always been afraid of, and which I knew nothing about.

But as it turned out, I was move-ordered into the Fianchetto Variation, in a club game in November 1998, against a strong player who (game below) played 7...d6 where everybody else had previously taken on d4. Not fancying the c5 exchange and early queen swap I pushed the d-pawn, anticipated an early debacle and - somewhat to my surprise - walked away a convincing winner (or anyway, a winner) at the end of the evening.

I gave the Reti option one more go, a few months later. (In fact I won the game, but I often prefer to abandon a distrusted variation after winning my last game with it - it's a bit like Holden trying to get a proper goodbye from Pencey.) Then I played the Fianchetto Variation again. I won that one too. And the one after. In fact I won the first seven games I played with it.

Such things do happen. (When living in Newcastle some years ago - in fact, not long after I started playing the Fianchetto Variation - I started watching Hartlepool, who promptly won the first seven games in which I watched them. This would have been less remarkable had they not been second from bottom in the league at the point when I began.) Still, while they happen, they do not happen very often and I doubt there's a chessplayer in the world who wouldn't feel attached to an new opening with which they won their first seven games.

The eighth, by the way, was a draw. I was on my fourteenth before I lost one. And my score, in the unlikely event that I've counted it properly, from OTB games from 1998 until last Saturday, is as follows:

P 33 W 21 D 7 L 5

which I calculate as 74.24%, a figure which if it were to be repeated across the chess world would bring about the demise of the King's Indian.

Indeed, even if you take my results after the initial thirteen-game unbeaten run was ended, I still score 62.5% which is more than enough to be getting on with. (I've not included any lightning games I've played with it, since [a] I don't have the scores of these games and [b] I don't play lightning any more, but I can't resist mentioning that while I've never beaten an IM at normal time limits, I did use the Fianchetto Variation to beat an IM at a 2000 five-minute tournament in York.)

What's so great about it? I don't really know. And if I'm to be honest, in a number of these games I've been worse, sometimes much worse, in the middlegame, but recovered to win or draw. But I speculate that most KID players like to play the big-pawn-chain game, which they don't really get in the Fianchetto Variation. Normally both sides commit themselves and it's whoever has the most nerve and experience that prevails. But the Fianchetto Variation isn't like that, it's much more non-committal and Black is perhaps less clear as to what plan to follow. I don't know. All I know is, it seems to work.

So why doesn't everybody play it? Of course at GM level it's a different story and there are variations which are thought theoretically stronger for White, and these involve playing an early e4. But there is a little secret, which I'll let you into here. It's not for Black to play 7...cxd4 8.Nxd4 in the game below, giving us this position:

That's an old variation of the Symmetrical English and one not only a little better for White but not too dissimilar in style to the Fianchetto Variation anyway. I do really well from that position too.

No, the problem comes if Black has the willingness to play a Grunfeld instead, giving us something like 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.c4 Bg7 4.g3 d5!

I've found over the past couple of years that more and more players are choosing this option - maybe it's been recommended in a book, maybe the word's got around, whatever. (It's been the almost inevitable choice of email opponents, as it happens.)

After ...d5 Black can try a solid, play-to-draw option with ...c6 or can take on c4 with ...c5 to come, opening everything up for the g7-bishop. So White may take on d5 immediately (which I do) but provided Black knows to play ...Nb6 before touching the other knight, life seems to me to be, in contrast with the KID, no easier for White than Black.

Of course White too, has options - provided he hasn't played an early Nf3, he can take on d5 and then play the sharp e4, thus 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.g3 Bg7 4.Bg2 d5 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.e4!

which is a lot harder for Black to defend (though of course it's perfectly possible to do so). However, to play that line I have to leave my knight on g1 - which is inconvenient for somebody who likes to play 1.Nf3 or 1.d4 and 2.Nf3, avoiding Budapests and Benkos. Still, perhaps now everybody is discovering the secret, I shall have no option.

As it stands, the Fianchetto Variation is still my pride and joy, my opening of openings. Seventy-four per cent, it's scored me. Barely worth Black turning up. I wish I'd discovered it ten years before I did. But then again, I wish that of a lot of things.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Never seem to find the time

Sorry about that. It was just something that happened to be on my mind. Really, I've not been listening to this muso stuff for twenty years now. Anyway, I understand all this music from the early Seventies is back in again now? Worries me that, when the kids start liking the music I used to like when I was a kid.

Anyway. The particular madeleine that inspired this temporary voyage to my youth was a chess game I played on Saturday. Not a good one, though of course they never are. The previous evening I got a call from Jesús at the club, saying that the opponents, who were travelling from Zaragoza, would like to start at four rather than the normal four-thirty, was that all right with me? Muy bien, I said. Suits me, I thought, I'll just get home half-an-hour earlier.

So I was at the club in good time for four o'clock. And while I wasn't at all taken aback that none of the opposing team were present at the starting time of their own choosing, or indeed five minutes later when we started the clocks (about half my games here begin with an absent opponent) I was still a bit surprised to find myself in the bar twenty minutes later still waiting for them to turn up. In truth we were pretty much expecting a default when they appeared at 4:25 - just right for the original start time they'd asked to change - and so we all began with a twenty-minute advantage on our clocks.

Twenty minutes is a large chunk out of the ninety minutes, thirty extra seconds a move notwithstanding, so I was surprised further when in the early middlegame my opponent left the room and didn't come back until fifteen minutes of his time, let alone the time I'd taken to move, had elapsed.

Cut a long story short, my position had taken its usual middlegame route downhill from a promising start and I unwisely tried to reverse the trend by sacrificing an exchange for largely imaginary compensation. However, while I was hanging on in quiet desperation, he lost his nerve, opened up his king for no obvious reason and I went on to win.

Afterwards, he asked whether I thought he was winning and I said surely, sin duda, of course he was. I couldn't tell him a clear winning line immediately, but I was sure he had plenty to choose from. Well, he said, maybe. But it's difficult to find the right moves when you've so little time on the clock.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Club News!

Let's get the inevitable out of the way first. Wood Green battered our first team in the London League Division 1 on the 4th. Still, facing four GMs, three IMs, and outgraded on most boards by 20 or so points, perhaps the final score of 10-2 was about par. The highlight from our pair of points was a bottom board victory for Barry Morris, who finished off his opponent quickly with a crisp sequence of sacrifices from the diagram position. You can find the full game to play through at the bottom of this article. And alas, it's bad news elsewhere in the London League: our third team losing in Division 4 to London Deaf on Friday 23rd January, 6-1 with one game adjourned.

But at least it's good news from the Stoneleigh Trophy, the Surrey rapid competition for teams of four, where opponents face each other twice per evening. Two weeks ago today we beat Guildford 5-3, and thus won the Trophy. Let's hope the Trophy is still around next year, because only three teams entered this year. Personally I really enjoy this event, although maybe it's hard not to when your score for the season is 3½ from 4.

And there's more good news from the Croydon League, where our A team beat Coulsdon's A team on the 27th of last month. The game that clinched it being an impressive victory for David Varley on the bottom board, where he was outgraded by almost 20 points. "This result leaves us in good shape with 3 points from a possible 4 and two matches left to play," writes captain Richard Tillet. "Following the rescheduling of the home match against Crystal Palace, there are no more matches until April. The next one, away at West Wickham, is on 9 April and could decide the destination of the Croydon Shield"

And that's it for this installment - except of course for the firework display from our sole victory against Wood Green, for you to play through and enjoy:

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Probably Got Nothing To Do With Chess II

Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police Bureau is summoned by an official of the Party to lead a corruption investigation.

Or so it says here.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

A Short Organum for Chess

Or, 'That wacky Brecht: what will he think of next?'


'Yesterday, after a game of chess, Brecht said: "If Korsch comes we shall have to work out a new game. A game in which the positions do not always remain the same; where the function of the pieces changes if they have stood for a while on the same square: then they become either more effective or weaker. Like this, the game does not develop; it stays the same too long.'

Walter Benjamin, 'Conversations with Brecht', 12 July 1934.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Friday Problem

Black to play

So White has the bishop pair and an extra pawn that may be tricky to hold. Black has completed his development and planted his knights in the centre of the board although they may be vulnerable to pawn advances.

Today's problem isn't one of those positions where there's a clear cut line of play to find. What I want to know is who, if any one, is better and by how much?

You may also want to take a punt at why I'm asking. I'll be getting back to that next week.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Confused? You will be

Try and follow this carefully, because I shall only write it once.

There I was, reading my copy of Practical Endgame Tips by Edmar Mednis, pusblished by Cadogan in 1998. The first chapter is a bit of didactic entertaiment entitled Resigning Too Soon in which a selection of masters do precisely that: on page twenty-three a section starts called Causes of Unnecessary Resignation and it picks its way entertainingly though points numbered (1) to (6).

Then on page 27, it all goes haywire...

(7) ....the happenings from Diagram 30, K.Darga - L.Lengyel, Amsterdam International 1964, after White's 41st move, involve genuine GMs.

The time control had been reached and Black, dissatisfied with the slight advantage possible after 41...Bxh4+ 42.Ng3, went in for tactics:

[page 27 then ends and we find ourselves at the top of page 28, looking at a diagram. Confusingly, it is not numbered 30 - ejh]


K.Darga - L.Lengyel
Amsterdam International 1964


...when the shocked and momentarily blinded German GM resigned! Neither Black nor White had noticed that after....

42.Rxe2 Bxh4+

White saves the rook and wins the game with the pedestrian 43.Ke3.

[Hang on, you're saying - what six to where? There's no such piece! As it goes, I was saying the same thing. So we read on, hoping to find out what we've missed...]

(8) Indeed the position of Diagram 31, Veselovsky - L.P Psakhis, USSR 1980, is resignable for White. His king is caught in a back-rank mating net.

All that Black has to do is play the simple 1...Kc3, whereupon the game is over. Yet Black preferred a move with a double threat and chose:


Black threatens both 2...Ra1# and 2...Bxf4. Though surprised by the move, White looked no more and did the expected: he resigned! Yet, by being fancy instead of simple, Black had...

[and we move to the top of the double-column page, again, where the following diagram is placed:]


USSR 1980

...thrown away the win. White draws with the unexpected 2.Bh7+!

(a) 2...Bxf4+ 3.Bg8+ and 4.Bxa2
(b) 2...Kc3 3.Rc4+!! Kb3 4.Bxd3 Rd2+ 5.Ke1 Rxd3 6.Rxh4
(c) 2...Kc5 3..Rc4+!! Kxb5 4.Bxd3 Rd2+ 5.Ke1 Rxd3 6.Rxh4

[OK, that one worked all right, even if the diagram was numbered wrong again. So we just swap the diagram numbers and get on with it, right? But no, because we still haven't got a R6xe2 anywhere. So the first diagram's still a mystery. Well, plough on...]

(9) White's need in Diagram 32, Kofman-Sachetti, Budapest 1947, is clear: he must prevent devastation after the threatened 1...Qxh3+. Since there is no 'obvious' way of doing that, White resigned! The correct approach would have been to rack his brain to see if there isn't something special in the position to offer hope. If White had looked hard enough, he would have noted that Black's king is poorly placed. Voilà, the answer is:

[thus ends page 28 and page 29 begins with another diagram...]


Bucharest 1947

[in which no queen of any kind appears to be available to wreak devastation at h3 or anywhere else. The text continues, starting with a White move although the diagram is annotated B, meaning Black to play...]

1. Re8+! Kd7 2.Re3 Qf2

2...Qf4 or 2...Qh4 lose to 3. Rxd4+! Qxd4 4.Rd3! Qxd3 5.Ne5 Ke6 6. Nxd3. This variation shows that all the tactics work out in White's favour. Yet to find this White has to look for it!

3.Rxd4+ Kc6 4.Rd2 Qf1+ 5.Kh2 and White wins.

White has a substantial material advantage and will win with care.

[All right, looking at the diagram we may at least have located the missing R6xe2. But it's numbered 33, not 30. Or 31. And for that matter, where's diagram 32?]

(10) Both sides are ready to win Diagram 33, Carlos Torre-NN, New York simultaneous 1924, White to move. If Black were not threatening mate starting with 1...Rc1+, White's passed pawns would be decisive. However, the famous Mexican - who was strong enough to defeat Emanuel Lasker in Moscow International 1925 - saw no way to cope with BlacK's threat and resigned! Of course, playing the simul was a distraction yet if Torre had concentrated harder on the


New York simul 1924

value of his passed pawns, the correct move would have come to him easily enough:

1.Rd6!!, and White wins in all variations:

(a) 1...Rc1+ 2.Kxd2 Rxd6+ 3.Kxc1 Rxf6 4.g8Q+.
(b) 1...cxd6 2.f7+.
(c) 1..Rxd6+ 2.g8Q+ Kd7 (2...Rd8 3.Qxd8+ Kxd8 4.f7) 3.Qf7+ (White can also first play 3.Qxh7+ and then return to the main line) 3...Kc6 (3..Kxd8 4.Qe7+ Kc8 5.Qxd6 cxd6 6.f7) 4.Qe8+ Kb6 (4...Rd7 5.Qxd7+) 5.Qe3+ (pinning the rook!) 5...Kc6 6.Qxc5+ Kxc5 7.f7.

And as that one seems perfectly all right (save for the strange numbering of the diagram) I can get myself out of that constricting small type, relax, sit back and ask - did you follow all that?

I don't suppose you did (even if you were viewing it in the right browser and resolution, without which I imagine this posting is a jumble of nonsense). I mean I didn't, not at first and not for quite a while. Still, just in case there is anybody who can view this properly, who's waded through it all and who still gave a monkey's by the end of it, here's a short set of test questions.

1. Can you ascribe the right diagrams to the right games?
2. Can you re-number them so that they are correct and in order?
3. Can you explain why a threatened mate in one of the passages is described only as a check?
4. Can you explain why the publisher never managed to do any of this?

Wednesday, February 04, 2009


I remember the end of the game well.

I was confident. Even I could see the position was very good for Black. There didn’t seem to be anything sensible for White to do and better yet he had next to no time for the eight moves left before the first time control. As White paused for thought, and just as I was wondering if he would resign or try to struggle on with something like Rf4, I noticed his flag had fallen.

“Time” I said softly not wanting to disturb the games going on around us.

My opponent continued to stare at the board.

“Time” I repeated, slightly louder, thinking he hadn’t heard me the first time.

Still no response.

“You’ve lost on time mate”
, louder still while tapping the clock for emphasis.

Even this failed to elicit any reaction whatsoever. He didn’t stop the clock, didn’t offer his hand, didn’t look up, didn’t even blink. He just continued to sit there eyes cast down not acknowledging either me or the situation in any way.

I have to admit I was a little thrown at this point. Over the years I've had a few strange reactions from opponents when they've lost - I even had one guy who responded to losing a piece by standing up and walking out of Golden Lane without pausing to stop the clock or say anything either to me or anybody else - but never have I experienced somebody outright refusing to accept that they've been beaten.

Slightly taken aback I wandered off to inform my captain I’d won the game. After spending a few minutes checking how my team mates had got on I returned to the board to find my opponent shuffling pieces around. Seeing he was no longer catatonic with the trauma of defeat I punted a few words of conversation. I recognised his face but couldn’t place him and wanted to satisfy my curiosity.

“Have we played before?” I asked.


Not exactly the kind of response that will earn you a raconteur’s reputation but at least I knew he’d regained the power of speech. I tried again.

“I thought we’d played last year. Do you play the Pirc?”


A man of few words you might think.

“There must be somebody else around who looks just like you.”


And that was that.

Mulling over this exchange on my journey home I resolved to check my growing conviction that we had indeed previously crossed pawns. As it turned out it didn't take long to track down the score sheet of the game we’d played ten months earlier.

The game had gone pretty much as I’d remembered it. I was White and the game began 1. Nf3 d6, 2. d4 Nf6, 3. Nc3 g6, 4. e4 Bg7,

I remembered getting a very comfortable position before blundering a piece for a couple of pawns and I remembered being ground down remorselessly without the slightest hint of any counter chances.

I also remembered the amicable conversation we had after the game finished.