Friday, December 31, 2010

The twelve puzzles of Xmas

Trautner, 1960

Helpmate in seven

[Thanks to Martin]

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The twelve puzzles of Xmas

Siers, 1953

Mate in five

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The twelve puzzles of Xmas

Anderssen, 1842

Mate in four

Monday, December 27, 2010

The twelve puzzles of Xmas

Kirillov and Selivanov, 1997

Mate in three

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The twelve puzzles of Xmas

Heathcote, 1910

Mate in two

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Friday, December 24, 2010

Apparently Got Something to do with chess V

Christmas Bonus week here at the S&BC Blog: we're suspending the usual Mon-Wed-Fri schedule and posting something every day. In case you missed them, yesterday's unusual Thursday post was Chess in Art: Nothing is wasted, only reproduced and Tuesday's was Duffer's Delight III.

Three moves is all it takes to challenge* the outcome of the game... In Marcus' world, battles are fought every day - on the street, at home and in school. Angered by his sister's death, his father's absence, and pushed to the brink by a bullying classmate, Marcus fights back with his fists. One punch from expulsion, Marcus encounters CM, an unlikely chess master who challenges him to fight his battles on the chess board. But Marcus has some hard lessons to learn before he can accept CM's help to regain control of his life.

Or so it says here.

Chrimbo tomorrow. I hope you end up with something interesting in your stocking. Personally, I'm hoping for Chess Rumble. It sounds pretty good, don't you think?

Well, that's me done chess blogging for another year. Happy Christmas and a good New Year to you all.

* It seems that Amazon have got it wrong and the correct line is:- three moves is all it takes to change the outcome of the game ...

... to do with chess Index

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Chess in Art: Nothing is wasted, only reproduced

Much to my regret, I haven't managed to get to the London Chess Classic, either this year or last: though following it on the internet is one thing, seeing it for yourself is surely quite another. But time and distance don't always permit.

Last year, reading reports of the tournament, something struck me about the portraits of the players. Something to the effect of "where have I seen that before?" But I never found time to mention it, and the moment passed.

Don't I know you from somewhere?

Still, when this year's tournament took place, I noticed that they were using the same portraits (albeit with some new ones, since the line-up wasn't precisely the same as last year). So I thought, this time, that I'd ask about it.

The portraits, it seems, were produced by a company called Create Services, who if I understand correctly are headed by Mark Rivlin, a member of Hackney Chess Club. I wanted to find out who'd produced the portraits, and then to ask them whether they felt they'd been inspired by anything in particular. So I asked:
(a) were the portraits produced by any one individual in particular?

(b) did they have any particular inspiration?
Don't Luke twice, it's all right

Mark was kind enough to forward my enquiry to the artist, Jonathan Payne, who replied to them thus:
(a) were the portraits produced by any one individual in particular?

All the portraits were produced by Jonathan Payne, a graphic designer working for London based design agency Create Services.
Howell of recognition
(b) did they have any particular inspiration?

The inspiration for the illustrations was the London Chess Classic, the highest level chess tournament in London for 25 years. The intention was to provide a vibrant backdrop for the venue at Olympia.

To give the competition a unique branding, a sense of occasion and a dramatic setting it was felt the use of strong, fresh colours and a focus on the individual players, highlighting the caliber of the competitors, was essential. Also by using this particular strong style it was possible to give all the competitors equal billing, with similar tones and expressions.
Well, I don't know about that - is Luke McShane's expression really similar to David Howell's? - but that's another point entirely. What was bothering me was the question of inspiration, which I'd always thought of as an artistic concept, rather separate from the question of who had actually commissioned the work. So I asked again:
Dear Jonathan

Thanks very much for your email.

When I asked about inspiration, I didn't mean the event for which they were commissioned: I was wondering whether they were inspired by any particular artist or artists, by any particular artworks.


That question's received no reply at the time of writing this post. So, by way of a possible answer, here are the celebrated portraits, now in the National Portrait Gallery, that Julian Opie painted for Blur.

[McShane image: Susan Polgar
Howell image: Chessbase

Thanks to Mark Rivlin, Jonathan Payne and Martin Smith]

[Chess in Art Index]

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

MUAFs, Mediocre Pubs and The Royal Game

Christmas Bonus week here at the S&BC Blog: we're suspending the usual Mon-Wed-Fri schedule and posting something every day. In case you missed it, yesterday's unusual Tuesday post was Duffers' Delight III.

A memory:-

We were in the Holland Tringham, one of those pubs at the far end of Streatham High Road. I can't remember why we'd been at the Library now. Was it for T.C.'s talk on the games of Gioachino Greco? If so, that would make it April 2008 and that feels about right.

There were a few of us, maybe nine or so, and only one board. We'd decided against a consultation game for some reason, opting instead for one in which we'd each make a move in rotation. Since we were an odd number, we ended up playing moves for alternate sides. A strange start to a most unlikely evening.

We'd been playing for around twenty minutes before she came over. In her twenties, absolutely stunning and the very last person that you'd expect to ask, "Can I play?" I don't know what it's like down your way, but hereabouts playing chess in a public place is most unlikely to attract any attention whatsoever, least of all from mysterious unfeasibly attractive females, so naturally we said yes.

If there's one lesson that life teaches us it's that MUAFs are to be indulged. I'm not sure that we expected much. A legal move if we were lucky, perhaps something like Bc1-a6 or pawn to h1 if we weren't. What we got though, wasn't just a legitimate move, it was actually a very good one. The sort of move that gets better the more you look at it. It earned her a brief moment of silence and us a surprise that felt, to me anyway, almost as if a small rift had broken out in the space-time continuum. Set your internal monologue to "WTF?"*

Now, look. I understand that even though women are but a tiny proportion of chess players there are still loads of them out there. I get that women play chess; I get that some of them will be good at it; I get that some of them will be young; I get that some of them will be very good looking; I get that some of them will be all of these things and black too, as our MUAF happened to be. Such women might be rarities compared to the typical white, male, ageing and rather shabby looking club-chesser, but it's not hard to grasp that they do, nevertheless, exist. Running in to one at random in a not particularly great pub at the end of a not particularly great road in South London, though? Bollocks; it could never happen. Except that it did**.

She stayed around for another minute or two, dispelling in the process any initial thoughts that she'd perhaps just got lucky with that one move. Clearly she'd played before, and not just a little bit. After she took another turn, however, she sodded off, saying that she couldn't stay because she was on the way to the cinema with her boyfriend. I wondered then, as I wonder now, what precisely he made of her visit with the local chess folk. God only knows, but I go the impression he wasn't entirely unused to waiting around like this (I refer our honourable readership to the comments I made some moments ago).

Who was she? Since she dropped no glass slipper, I haven't the faintest clue. All I can tell you is that judging by her accent she had probably grown up somewhere in the Caribbean and that I had never seen her before that night and I've never seen her since.

The Holland Tringham: the unlikely setting for today's story

Well, that's the memory anyway. The old magician's saying,

Miracle = Good Yet Standard Magic Trick x (Time + Retelling)

is going to be at work here, but that's how I remember it now. My MUAF encounter is, I think, almost a great premise for a short story. Almost, but not quite.

Firstly, the fact that it actually happened notwithstanding, it just sounds too unlikely to be credible. Try to get away with presenting something like this as fiction and you'll just end up sounding like Jeffrey Archer.

Secondly, Stefan Zweig got there long ago, this being exactly the plot of his classic yarn, The Royal Game. OK, you have to switch-in the 1940s for the 21st century and substitute 'ocean liner heading to South America' for 'Streatham pub'; 'world champion' for 'motley array of club chessers'; and 'refugee from Nazi-occupied Austria' for 'MUAF'. The core of the plot, though - exceptionally unlikely person stumbles across a bunch of chess amateurs and turns out to be extraordinarily good at the game - is exactly what Zweig's novella is all about.

I say all this now because Radio 3 broadcast an adaption of the story - Zweig's, not mine - last Sunday. It's available on i-player until Christmas Day and it's well worth a listen if you haven't already heard it. My only disappointment with the play is that they cut my favourite bit, the radio script including the line,

"A man who was once fallen victim is always at risk ..."

without Zweig's wonderful,

"... in a case of chess poisoning, even if you're cured, it's better not to go near a chessboard."

at the end. Other than that, though, I've no complaints.

As a bonus, should the play not be enough for you, the broadcast also includes a pair of chess-themed readings, one taken from Anne Bronte's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and one from a Spencer Holst short story called, simply enough, "Chess". If anybody here was sufficiently well read the Bronte story might already have appeared in our A Literary Reference series, but we're not so it hasn't.

Zweig's book used to be known as The Royal Game and is now called Chess.
Why the change? I've no idea, but I blame international capitalism

As much as I'm fond of The Chess Club Murders, I've now installed the Beeb's version of The Royal Game as my favourite chess related radio play of all time. Well, that's first out of the two that I've heard if I'm honest.

We need more drama with a chess theme on the radio. Perhaps the BBC could be persuaded to adapt Desmond Lowden's Grandmaster - [opening titles; another scene] - the pilot for which is currently kicking around the offices of Impala Press (Film Division) and no nearer to being made into an actual TV programme than when it was published as a script in 2006.

I think I shall start the campaign myself - just as soon as I finish work on my petition to get a few more MUAFs in Streatham's pubs.

* I really wish that I'd made a note of the position and the move that she made. Alas not. The two great lost positions in my life are this one and the one in which I turned down T.C.'s draw offer in a club rapidplay a couple of years ago .

** For those of you who aren't familiar with the Holland Tringham, I should point out that it's not exactly the sort of watering hole that is typically frequented by even remotely attractive people, let alone attractive women, let alone attractive women who play chess.

NB: Thanks to Gerard Killoran on EC Forum, for the original tip that The Royal Game was due to be broadcast.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Duffers' Delight III

Christmas Bonus week here at the S&BC Blog:
we're suspending the usual Mon-Wed-Fri schedule and posting something every day.

It seems like I might owe Jeffrey Archer an apology. That's not something you get to write every day is it? Perhaps you're thinking that since it's the season of goodwill to all men - even Tory jailbird perjurers - that I've gone a bit soft on the guy who once offered a sex worker thousands of pounds because he hadn't even met her, let alone slept with her. Well, no, on this occasion I genuinely think that I was wrong and he was right.

Jeff with some old friends

My memory is hazy now*, but I was at Southampton University at the time so it would have been at some point between 1989 and 1992. A friend of mine, a young fellow we knew as Billy F-A, had read a collection of short stories penned by the "master story teller" (ahem) one of which happened to have a chess theme.

"What does [x] mean?", Billy asked me, reading out a line that supposedly included a chess term.

"Doesn't mean anything", I replied.

"Really? What does [y] mean, then", Billy tried again.

"That doesn't exist either. He's just made it all up."

Our lovely scribe, it turned out, had come up with a bunch of crap that kind-of, sort-of, sounded like chess expressions, but that existed only in his fertile imagination. At this distance, there's only one that I specifically remember: Archer's use of the phrase "seven-pawns attack".

"There's no such thing as a 'seven-pawns attack'", I rather grandly told my friend, "and if there was it would be rubbish. By the time anybody pushed that many pawns they'd be checkmated."

Billy seemed rather put out that an author might be so slapdash with his research - these were innocent times - but there the matter rested.

Was it this one?
You can buy it here for a penny to find out. Rather your money than mine.

Enough with the reverie. Fast-forward twenty years, and you find me at Albany Chess Club playing the Black side of a game that started thus:-

1 e4 e6, 2 d4 d5, 3 e5 c5, 4 c3 Nc6, 5 Nf3 Qb6, 6 a3 Nh6, 7 b4 cxd4, 8 cxd4 Nf5, 9 Bb2 Bd7, 10 g4 Nh6, 11 h3

Albanyist v JMGB
London League, October 2010

Eleven moves in, seven pawns pushed! Who'd have thought it?

It's a funny looking position, but well known to theory - I'd reached it twice previously in correspondence games - and since the White side has been played by chessboard geniuses such as Alexei Shirov (e.g. against Sadvakasov at Astana in 2001) and 'Mr. Advance French' himself, Evgenny Sveshnikov, I think we can assume that White's play isn't just total garbage and the seven-pawns attack is playable after all. More than that, I discovered later, this isn't even the only way White can push (nearly) all his pawns in the Advance French.

10. h4 Rc8, 11. h5 Be7, 12. g4

instead would have brought us here

Foxwoods Open, 2007

and Shabalov was over 2600 when he played that game, so presumably he had some sort of a clue as to what he was doing.

There you have it: conclusive proof that Jeffrey Archer isn't always full of shit. Not only is it sometimes possible to throw seven pawns forward, it can even lead to fascinating chess. That London League game probably set a personal record for combined late castling (move 19 for him, 22 for me) and turned out to be a highly enjoyable - if mostly incomprehensible to me - slugfest.

So, sorry to Billy F-A for giving some poor advice and sorry to you too, Jeffrey Archer: you were right all along.

Duffers' Delight:
I - an early ... Be6 in the Queen's Gambit Accepted.
II - some Dutch mentalism from Simon Williams.

* Some of the details in this old anecdote might be slightly wrong, but, sorry, I can't be arsed to check. Partly this is because I'm lazy and partly because it's kind of appropriate for a blog post about Jeffrey Archer to have a few inaccuracies, don't you think?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Be the chess player, not the chess piece

The chessmen are as rigid on their chessboard
as those life-sized terra-cotta warriors whose vows
to their emperor with bridle, shield and sword
were sworn by a chorus that has lost its voice;
no echo in that astonishing excavation.
Each soldier gave an oath, each gave his word
to die for his emperor, his clan, his nation,
to become a chess piece, breathlessly erect
in shade or crossing sunlight, without hours -
from clay to clay and odorlessly strict.
If vows were visible they might see ours
as changeless chessmen in the changing light
on the lawn outside where bannered breakers toss
and the palms gust with music that is time's
above the chessmen's silence. Motion brings loss.
A sable blackbird twitters in the limes.
- poem number one from White Egrets (2010) by Derek Walcott.

[NB: Christmas Special Service this week at The S&BCB - we'll be publishing each and every day.]

Saturday, December 18, 2010

When we were Kings XVII

Nosher was ickle ...

Sunday Times Magazine
December 18th, 1977

Gordon Burns talks to Nigel Short, aged 12, the boy chess champion, at his home at Atherton, near Bolton.

Nigel: I get up at half-past seven with a bit of luck. Okay, with a lot of luck. The badge on the blazer I wear for Bolton school is a cock-on-a-trumpet. It means getting up early in the morning. That’s its significance.

Mrs Short: I wake him in the morning with a kiss and a ‘rise and shine’, but he doesn’t. Rise or shine, I mean. Not like his older brother, Martin. Nigel’s very untidy. He’s so forgetful with everything. Martin went to the grammar, but because of his special chess abilities everybody told us Bolton School was the only place for Nigel. Bolton School’s one of the top schools in the North. Very Tom Brown’s Schooldays-ish.

Nigel: I get up and put my uniform on, tie and all, before I get washed. I only ever have toast and tea for breakfast, always after Martin, and then I go back and clean my teeth.

Mrs Short: That’s something we’ve tried to teach their dad, to clean his teeth after he’s eaten, not before. They’re always at him to change, aren’t you?

Nigel: No.

Mrs Short: It’s get up, say nothing and out, isn’t it, Nigel? Chip off the old block.

Nigel: It’s about five miles from here to the school, so I leave for the bus about 8 o’clock.

Mr Short: He’s too idle to move, is Nigel. Moving from one place to another is a big problem.

Mrs Short: We call him ‘Mr. Plod’.

Nigel: Used to call me. When I was little.

Mrs Short: Well, I sometimes still do. But he’s got loads of nicknames, haven’t you? There’s ‘Dylan’, because of his teeth, after the rabbit in the Magic Roundabout. And ‘Chubby’ because of his chubby chops…

Nigel: And ‘Chess-Fluff’. There used to be a kid at school they called ‘Chess-Puff’ but he’s left now so there’s nobody left to call. Bolton School’s answer to John Curry, he was. I stay to dinners, which are quite good actually. Rice and curries I like, because hardly anybody else does, which means you get seconds. Salads are the only things I’m not mad on – there’s nothing in them. They bore me. They’re cold as well.

Mrs Short: He likes anything Chinese-y or Italian-type food. He likes Greek now as well, don’t you?

Nigel: No. An’ I’m not mad on peanuts like the papers say. ‘Peanut power’. Phhh! Fans send me nuts and little boys bring bags of them to me at competitions. KP even sent a box and it cost £1.08 just to post it.

Mrs Short: It’s like the Beatles and their jelly-babies. Now we know exactly how that sort of thing happens.

Nigel: I go to the chess club at school in the lunch-hour, but mostly I just lie around. They’ve got the radiators on and lounging-type chairs and carpets down, an’ it’s better than being chucked outside.

Mrs Short: The chess room’s in the school pavilion. Very picturesque. Very sort of novelish. Very ‘Tom Brown’s …’

Nigel and Martin: We’ve had that one!

Nigel: It’s straight home at 4, unless I’ve got a match. It’s usually a fight getting on the bus, which is a special one we’re not supposed to use, but it saves you 20 minutes. First thing I do when I come in is swop (sic) my uniform for a pair of tatty jeans like these. I don’t like trousers much, they’re not comfortable, but I’m not all that bothered about clothes. I pick them, mam gets them, and I don’t care what I wear once I’ve got it. We get things out of a catalogue sometimes, and sometimes I might buy something with my winnings. I bought a mirrored coffee-table with a chess-board in it out of the £43-50 I won the other week, the first really big thing I’ve bought.

Mrs Short: Otherwise they get 35p a week each from their grandma – 30p for Jonathan, our youngest – and if they want anything from me they ask for it. I’m paying 40p a week for Wings for them at the minute, the history of aviation. And they’ve started to collect Britain’s toys, building up to playing war games. We get a top Russian chess magazine sent and British Chess and the National Geographic from a friend Nigel plays correspondence games with in America. He learned to read from chess books, because he understood the notation.

Nigel: I might look at a story in War Lord occasionally, which is a children’s comic really, or pick up a chess book, but I never read papers. I watch the news on the television. I like the violence.

Mrs Short: He’s having you on. Honestly, he’s really the most passive person really.

Nigel: I like people getting shot. Blood and everything. We’re not affected by it.

Mrs Short: No matter how much he’s had to eat, without fail, he’ll go into the biscuit tin on the way to the television.

Nigel: I like beefburgers for tea, pies, anything. Then after tea, unless I’ve got a match, it’s homework, I’ve got a little desk in my bedroom and I always get it done, but my dad’s hurrying me. Never Martin, mind, always me. I’m always finished by half-past seven and then we might play board games – Risk, Monopoly, Campaign, Totopoly – or darts in the hall cupboard. I like Abba, and occasionally we’ll listen to records in my mam’s bedroom. No, I don’t like any of this Punk. We go to church Sunday mornings, we’re Methodists, but I don’t pray at nights. I know you’re supposed to, but I haven’t prayed for a year.

When we were Kings Index

Friday, December 17, 2010

Bad book covers XVI

The Zukertort System: A Guide for White and Black, Bogdanovich, Mongoose, 2010

[Bad book covers index]

[Thanks to Jacques Parry]

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

When we were Kings XVI

Simuls were front page news ...

Korchnoi Simul
London Chess Classic, Thursday 9th December
Photograph by Angus French

Simuls. Don't we just love them? It's funny really: clearly in terms of a test of the amateur's chess strength a simultaneous display is entirely meaningless and yet they remain incredibly popular. I'm not sure it's that difficult to work out why, though. They're great fun.

Personally, I had a marvellous time at the simuls that GM Chris Ward gave at the S&BCC a few years back - even the one in which I was the first to throw in the towel - and, judging from the Korchnoi events at the London Chess Classic, it seems I'm not alone in my affection for them. Even at £40 a ticket, yesterday's Korchnoi simul was sold out a long time ago. As was last Thursday's and as were the two he gave in 2009 for that matter.

I love the concentration on the first two guys' faces ...
and has the fellow two boards in just played a French against Korchnoi?
If the chance to do that isn't worth £40 I don't know what is!

Photograph by Angus French

I mentioned last year - [WwwK VII] - that Korchnoi's appearance as the 2009 Classic's Guest of Honour led to a full-page interview in The Independent and even a nod on that day's front page. It makes interesting reading, even now, although there not being any mention of the tournament itself still strikes me as a bit of a shame. What isn't particularly surprising, perhaps, is that the simuls that Korchnoi had given weren't mentioned either. I mean, simuls aren't news, are they? Well, not now, maybe, but, as unlikely as it might seem, they were once - and front page news at that.

The Times 15th August 1977
Click for a closer look
(Click again when you get there for a very close look)

The Times
Monday August 15, 1977
page 1

Mr Karpov stoops to check his juniors
By Robin Young

A Russian visitor to London was attacked in a crowded hotel room yesterday by 10 English boys, 20 bishops, and a handful of queens. Anatoly Karpov, the world chess champion, was pitting his skills in a simultaneous clock game against 10 of England’s best under-17 players.

He has proved virtually invincible since he took the world title in 1975, when Bobby Fischer defaulted. In 11 tournaments since, he has won nine, an unprecedented run of victories for a reigning champion.

His opponents were drawn from the most brilliant generation of juniors Britain has produced. Four had qualified for the British men’s championships and were playing Karpov on their rest day from the finals at Brighton.

Mr Brian Walden, the former Labour MP for Birmingham Ladywood, and erstwhile West Midlands junior champion, opened the match, in a stuffy room at the Londoner Hotel, and assured Karpov he would not have an easy time.

The English boys had been briefed by Mr Leonard Barden, London Evening Standard chess correspondent, on Karpov’s games, particularly the dreaded Karpov variation to the Sicilian defence, and had discussed strategy with Mr Robert Wade, the chief national coach.

“I was very worried”, Mr Wade said, “when Daniel King [aged 13] asked me what Karpov would do in reply to a Pelikan variation. That is something that has been particularly strongly analysed in the area of the Soviet Union where Karpov originally comes from, the Urals. I would not like to have tried it.

As the games got under way, Karpov, wearing a blue suit with draped jacket and wide flared trousers, seemed the only cool person in the room. He finished several rounds of moves so swiftly that he was able to sit down and take a rest while all his opponents were pondering what to do next.

Nigel Short, the world’s best 12-year-old, playing board number one, opted for the Morra gambit with which he defeated Jonathan Penrose at Brighton last week. Perhaps as added gamesmanship, he also pointedly studied a chess article in a copy of Soviet Weekly from time to time.

He survived 59 moves before giving up hope of a draw and had the distinction of making the world champion pause long enough to draw up a chair and study the situation.

Meanwhile, Tony Williams, aged 16, of Clark’s Grammar School, Guildford, found himself offered a draw by the world champion on move 24. Williams, who had chosen the English opening, felt he had a sleight advantage but probably not the knowledge and experience to hold it. Wisely, in the experts’ view, he took the draw, and with it the Lloyds Bank Junior Trophy for the best game of the day.

Top stuff. By the way, that Tony Williams mentioned at the end there? That's GingerGM Simon Williams' brother that is.

Viktor's on the way
Photograph by Angus French

Anyhoo, is it me or has this year's London Chess Classic got more coverage in the general media compared to 2009? We've had David Howell on Radio 5 Live (see Monday's post); Magnus Carlsen in The Guardian's Sports Section (Small Talk) and Magnus once again in The Daily Telegraph telling us about his Perfect Weekend*.

The publicity the Classic brings chess is positive development, for sure. I'm guessing that the Korchnoi simuls won't be an addition to the list, but while the folk who took him on probably won't be seeing their names on the front page of The Times like Nosher, Danny King et al, I'm sure they all thoroughly enjoyed themselves nonetheless.

Late Update:-
Some games from the first Korchnoi simul (+20 =4 -1 for the Viktor) can be found here.

Even Later Update:-
It seems I'm not the only S&BCCer who enjoys simuls. Here's London League Third Team Captain Gary Smith taking on Viktor the Terrible yesterday.

Photograph by Angus French

Not sure how the game turned out but we hope to have an update from Gary asap.

* I can't remember who it was who tipped me off to Magnus' Telegraph interview. I thought I'd seen the link on the EC Forum, but if so, I can't find it now. Anyhoo, thanks to whoever it was, and apologies for not naming you here.

When we were Kings Index

Monday, December 13, 2010


Here’s something you won’t see very often. I don’t think I’ve done it before, and I’m not sure whether I’ll ever do it again, but today I have a little something for you on endgame technique.

If you were listening to Radio 5 Live on Friday night you might have heard David Howell interviewed by Colin Murray (with Pat Nevin and Perry Groves!) on Kicking Off [ You've got until Thursday night to listen to this: skip to 2:25 for the Howell interview ], the first time ever that chess has featured on the Beeb's weekend sports preview programme. Howell talked about drawing his game with Anand: no small achievement for sure, although it seems the boys had been hoping to interview Luke McShane, presumably because he’d beaten Magnus Carlsen a couple of days before. McShane, however, was still busy with Kramnik and it wasn’t until around 9:35 (after seven and a half hours of play and five minutes after the radio programme was over) that he finally secured his draw.

Watching the moves come in over the internet, I really only had one clue as to what was going on:-

  • I knew that there are two standard ways to draw KR v KRB;
  • I knew that one of them was called the ‘second rank defence’.

I inferred from McShane’s rook, therefore, that he might be OK and yet I also knew that the theoretical status of his position was really only half the story anyway. As it turned out, Luke had it all in hand. Rather sporting of Vlad to stalemate him at the end there, I thought.

Unlikely Chess Pundit #487

McShane – Kramnik inspired me to take another look at a correspondence game I'd played in 2009. It's worth looking at today, I think, because I utilised the other main defensive technique for these endings.

A draw for me too, then, although there were several factors that greatly enhanced my ability to conduct this defence successfully. Not the least of these was the fact that I could play my moves after consulting Nunn’s Secrets of Pawnless Endings (Gambit, 2002). Probably almost as important was the time control - at three days per turn my game was far from the rotten experience of having to draw a technical ending after several hours of play - and furthermore, from a purely chessical point of view, the position at which we reached KR v KRB,

was probably about as favourable for me as it could be. My king is in the centre of the board while White’s is cut off and, better still, his/her pieces are huddled together in the corner.

51 … Ra4, waiting (1/49) 52 Rh5+ Kc6, 43 Kf3 Rc4, 54 Ke4 Rg4, 55 Bd4

4 moves played/46 before I can claim a draw.
White was obviously going to put his bishop on d4 allow him to bring his king forward so I switched sides with my rook to give it more room to operate. The other advantage of this manoeuvre is that it will take White another couple of moves to make any progress with his King. As Nunn points out, your defensive strategy always involves dragging things out for as long as possible. That way, even if things go wrong, the other guy might run out of moves before he can do you any damage.

55. … Kd6, 56 Kd3 Rg3+, 57 Kc4 Rg2, 58 Rh6+ Kd7, 59 Kd5 Rd2! 60 Rh7+ Kd8

It looks like White’s made quite a bit of progress since the last diagram: my king is trapped on the back rank now and White’s bishop shields his monarch from checks. In fact, it was exactly this formation – the Cochrane Position - that the defender is aiming for. As it happens this precise position, except the pieces were on the e-file rather than the d-file, arose is Budnikov – Novik, USSR Ch 1991, and is given on page 175 of Nunn’s book.

The good news is that this position is utterly drawn and White’s already taken up 20% of his time just to reach this point. Just another 40 moves to go! The bad news? Nunn gives two examples of people losing from the Cochrane Position – and one of them was Judit Polgar! There’s a fine line between ‘drawn’ and ‘lost’ when you’re playing KRB v KR. For example, according to Nunn, if you were to push the king to e6 and the bishop to e5 White would have a forced win.

61 Ra7

Switching sides with the rook achieves nothing, objectively speaking, but on the other hand a waiting move at this point gives Black a chance to go wrong and White the opportunity to find out if Black knows what he’s doing.

61 … Rd1!

A waiting move, and easy to play when you’ve got an endgame manual in front of you. Black’s path is narrow: with the White rook still on h7, according to Nunn, 61 … Ke8?? would have lost because ideas based on 62 Ke6 Rxd4, 63 Rh8 mate.

62 Ke5 Kc8!

White can’t make any progress from the Cochrane Position without his bishop, but it’s pinned so first he has to move the king. The easily remembered rule is: whichever side the attacking side goes, you go the other way with your king. That way, when White moves his bishop your rook keeps his king away from yours. One more tip from Nunn: 62 … Ke8 - the equivalent of what Polgar did - wouldn’t lose here, but it makes the job a whole lot harder so it’s best avoided.

63 Rh7 Rd2

Again, Black can - must! - just wait. As long as Black has the nerve to be patient, White won’t ever achieve anything moving the rook along the rank.

64 Bc5 Rd7

This is why the Cochrane Position saves Black. Once the king and bishop move - which they have to do if White’s going to make any progress - Black can switch his rook to the second rank. With the rook on d2 Black’s king is going to escape and what’s more White’s king is cut off again.

65 Be7

White’s got to do something to avoid the exchange of rooks and this is as good as anything. In fact, Budnikov - Novik went the equivalent of 65 Rh8+ Kc7 here, so I had to think for myself now. Fortunately, just like the middlegame, endgame analysis is infinitely easier when you know what you’re heading for, and when thinking about my next move I was able to calculate my way to the game’s final position. The only thing I didn’t quite foresee was which rank the White rook would go to on move 70 (I’d expected White to put it on c2 but in fact in went to c8 ).

65 … Kb7, 66 Ke6 Kc6, 67 Rh5 Rd1, 68 Rc5+ Kb6, 69 Bd6 once again White has to use the bishop to block the rank to allow his king to advance 69 … Rh1

So what’s White going to do now? Coming forward with his king won’t help at all – 70 Kd5 Rh5+, 71 Be5 Rxe5+, 72 Kxe5 Kxc5 is an immediate draw and after 70 Kd7 Rh7+ White has to head miles away from the action to escape the checks – so the only thing to do is move the rook.

70 Rc8 Rh6+ 71 Kd5 Rh5+ 72 Be5 Kb5 73 Rb8+ Ka5

And here we have the Cochrane Position again, the only difference from move 60 is that the board has rotated 90 degrees anticlockwise. Possibly recognising that he’d made no progress, White now played 74 Ra8+ and offered a draw. This surprised me a little because, while I’m fairly sure that I would have been able to hold the draw in the end, there’s still a long way to go. It felt like I’d been defending this ending for ever and I was astonished to discover that I wasn’t even halfway to the 50 move mark when White offered to split the point.

So defending KRB v KR in an internet correspondence game turned out to be highly educational and quite fun. That said, I’m quite sure the same experience over-the-board would have been very different and I rather doubt that I'd be able to save the game in those circumstances. That the London Chess Classic is played with incremental time controls only makes McShane’s achievement against Kramnik even more impressive. Definitely worth missing a chat with Perry Groves for a performance like that, I'd say.

Stout defence required:
Michael Caine and the boys prepare to defend KR v KRB against the Zulus at the Spion Kop Open, 1900

Post Script:
One last thing about Friday night. The modern world being the technological wonder that it is, I was able not just to combine listening to the radio with watching a chess tournament, I was also able to kibitz on the EC Forum too.

A little after 9pm, I posted a message suggesting Keith Arkell was probably enjoying the end of McShane – Kramnik. Theoretical draws they might be, and yet Keith, you may recall from our interview with him last year, has scored 17/17 from such endings over the years.

Lawrence Cooper answered the next morning, however, writing that Arkell in fact had missed all the action because he was playing in the Classic blitz tournament. Not only that, but while Kramnik was failing to grind Luke down, Arkell was busy turning 17/17 into 18/18! A truly astonishing record.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

What happened next XV

Yesterday's position
was, as several readers recognised, from a game at the Blackpool Zonal in 1990 between Paul Motwani and Murray Chandler.

Black, who is winning easily, finished the game with the witty 30...Rxf4!, taking advantage of the possibility of 31...Rg8, winning the g7 knight, should the rook be recaptured, and taking further advantage of the apparent failure of either player to see that White's previous move, 30.Nxg7, was in fact 30.Nxg7+. Knight takes g7 check.

Although the illegality was subsequently discovered, the result stood, on the grounds that White's resignation trumped other considerations. One can speculate that the fact that White was already lost may have made this rather easier for him to bear: and then speculate further on how this mutual error actually came to occur. From White's side of the board, might this have been another instance of a hidden king, the bishop on e7 obscuring the king on e8? Possibly. But the bishop, unlike the queen, is not bigger than the king.

I had a discussion, at the British Championships in Scarborough once, with a Streatham and Brixton teammate, about the ethics of saying "check" when such is delivered. He said that he always said "check", and considered it a basic courtesy. I, on the contrary, said that I never said "check" in a competitive game, not least because the opponent might take it as an insult to their intelligence. But perhaps, if a grandmaster (as Chandler was, though not yet Motwani) can overlook that check has been delivered, then no such insult can be assumed?

Of course, if both players overlook that check has been delivered, there's nothing that can be done. But did Motwani overlook it? Or did he see it, but then suffer such a shock at Chandler's unexpected and apparently devastating response that he forgot?

[This game originally came to my attention via Keith Arkell at the English Chess Forum.]

[What happened next? index]

Friday, December 10, 2010

What happened next? XV

From an international event in the 1990s. Position after White's 30th move.

What happened next?

[What happened next? index]

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

I'm Liable To Jump All Over Your Pony

Starsky and Hutch: old-school cop show to the max. David Soul, did you ever play chess on TV again? Don't give up on us, baby.

Monday, December 06, 2010


Marcel's passion for the game was overwhelming. On his honeymoon in 1927, he spent the days studying chess problems and most of the nights sleeping off his chess jags ... his enraged bride, Lydie, crept downstairs one night and glued all the pieces to the board.

The Complete Chess Addict (Mike Fox & Richard James, 1987) on Marcel Duchamp

Mrs Condry-Chivers' Secret Weapon

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Every Picture Tells A Story: Tell Us Another One.

Blog 3 in a series of collaborative posts. This one by Martin Smith, with comments by Richard Tillett.

This is the third episode of our hunt for the gents of Hereford Chess Club, as portrayed in a lost painting of the early 19th Century by "obscure" artist, Thomas Leeming. As we explained in the first episode, our curiosity was aroused by a reproduction of the painting in a book on interior design by Professor Mario Praz, and at this point of the story (see second episode) we have been pointed in the direction of Hereford City Museum and Art Gallery to see the original.

Mario Praz got his image of the painting from the art collection of his friend Ian Greenlees, but it had been sold on in 1991 after Greenlees' death, though we didn't know to whom. The Sotheby's auction catalogue for the sale named the sitters in the picture, and one of them was the artist himself. However, one of the reproductions - we couldn't be certain which - had been printed the wrong way round, so we couldn't be 100% sure who was who.

Sotheby's named the figure third from the left as Leeming. In the Praz volume he is the burly figure playing a move: so he could be the artist, and if he was a chess player, too, that would be highly satisfactory.The detail here shows the board the wrong way round, as ejh commented on our last blog, which suggests that Praz (or more likely, his printers) had inadvertently reversed the image. If so then Leeming is the standing figure at the back, and this is how he would look if we turned him the "right way round".

Painting himself into the picture makes perfect sense: he does a group portrait, and then with a sly touch he pops himself in, the artist as observer. So is this Thomas Leeming, artist and - maybe - kibitzer? Could he, too, have been a member of the Hereford Chess Society?

A reply from Hereford would, by referring to the original, give us the answers we want. But we have plenty to think about while we wait. The Sotheby's catalogue, for example, with the illustration below, says that the picture had been shown in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition of 1818, and names a couple of others Leeming had displayed there at one time or another. If so, maybe Leeming wasn't quite so obscure after all. And the auction guide price they give of £6,000 - £8,000 suggests a picture of some quality, especially at 1991 prices. It actually sold for £7,200 which, allowing for inflation, is about £11,500 in today's money.

The Greenlees/Praz version as sold at Sotheby's in 1991.
(Sotheby's black and white reproduction)
Catherine Willson at Hereford Art Gallery replies. She generously provides lots of useful information including who is in it (yes Leeming is there), that it was shown at the RA Summer Exhibition (we thought so), and to top it all she sends us a reproduction, which is more than we expected (that'll settle matters once and for all).

We can see straightaway that it's the Praz book that has it the wrong way round, and Leeming is third from the left, standing. Sorted.

Thomas Leeming. Hereford Chess Club. 1815.
By kind permission of Hereford Museum and Art Gallery, Herefordshire Heritage Services ©

Pause. "Hang on a minute. There's a dog."

Look again. "OMG. It's a different painting!"
"Hereford" and "Greenlees" - as we start to call them - are not the same thing at all!
We have not just one, but two Leemings.

The more you look, the more you see the differences. Not just the pooch, but also the pictures on the walls. And there's that clutter in the left foreground of "Hereford", which appears to comprise a gentleman's cane, three books and some sort of small box, maybe containing what's left of someone's lunch.

This looks like the Regency equivalent of the bicycle clips, plastic carriers, and briefcases that adorn the floor of Streatham and Brixton Chess Club on match night.

This is getting most confusing: two versions of the same scene? So which came first, "Hereford" or "Greenlees"? Which one was exhibited at the RA in 1818? And if "Hereford" isn't "Greenlees", where is the "Greenlees" now?

To cap it all, if you compare the cast list given in the Sotheby's catalogue and Catherine Willson's notes, the fourth figure from the left (one of the pair playing chess prominently in the centre) is different. "Hereford" has a Samuel Beavan in dour black, but "Greenlees" seen in full colour has a Mr. Buckson in racy red.
So different productions with one change to the dramatis personae. What on earth is Leeming up to? It seems that the more we know about Leeming and the gents of Hereford the more there is to find out.
Maybe the Royal Academy, where one of the versions was exhibited, can help. I'm a Friend of the RA - it's time to put my subscription to work and use the facilities.

And that version in Hereford must be worth a look. So we make an appointment with Catherine Willson to visit. And we'll continue the story on the 15th January in the New Year.

To convert old prices into today's equivalent we used Measuring Worth.
Thanks again to Catherine Willson, Collections Officer: Fine and Decorative Art, at Hereford Museum and Art Gallery for engaging with our obsession.
Every Picture Tells A Story Index
Chess in Art Index