Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Thank you Sir, can I have another?

Black to play

The London Chess Classic begins on Saturday and the Open being run alongside the main event has got quite a field. A quarter of the 200 entrants are titled players. 13 Grandmasters, 22 International Masters and 16 FIDE Masters! Your correspondent expects to be employing Jonathan Rowson's line - "Today I learned" - fairly often.

In twenty-five years chessing I'd never played in an Open tournament until this June, but The Classic will already be my fifth. I'd been doing OK without achieving anything special, but the fourth, at Imperial College a few weeks ago, didn't go well at all:-

Round 1:
White against FM 2341 – lost.

Round 2:
My opponent didn’t turn up so I was re-paired Black against a 197 who happened to be loafing around the tournament hall – lost.

Round 3:
Black against a 179 – lost.

Round 4:
White against an unrated player (but who finished on 2.5/5 with a TPR 178 ECF) – draw.

Round 5:
Obviously the last thing that you want when you’ve scored +0 =1 -3 is to be paired with a 190-graded thirteen-year-old, but Isaac Sanders is who I got – lost.

My haul for the weekend was a solitary half-point and a TPR of 144 or 151 if Round4Guy plays at the same level for a whole season. Fun it most definitely was not.

Enjoyable, no, but at least the beating I took at Imperial College seems to have done me some good. I played another six games over the following two and a half weeks and, even though I had Black in all of them, I scored +3 =2 -1 at 189 – seventeen points above my published grade.

My first game after the IC Open was a club match at Guildford the very next day. It reminded me of the Simon Williams' Play Like Tal DVD which I’ve been watching recently . Not that I was playing like Tal, of course. It's just that I seemed to have become temporarily infected by the old Latvian’s taste for creating chaos on the chessboard. It makes a change from Berlin Endgames, I suppose

The DVD is structured around Tal’s most interesting games. You follow the action and every so often you get to choose from three candidate moves. If you get it right the game continues. If you get it wrong Williams tells you why and the DVD takes you back for another go.

It’s an interesting concept and I suspect ‘thinking practice’ like this is one of the most effective training methods you can adopt if you’re trying to improve. Anyhoo, I’m going to steal the format today for the position at the head of today's blog which is taken from my Guildford game. It’s Black to play and I’m going to offer you three choices:-

18 … Bxf3

18 … Bc5

18 … Nxc1

Not so much Play Like Tal as Play Like an S&BC Blogger. If you want a clue, the game appears below and although I think I might have made the right choice I suspect it was for the wrong reasons.

Photograph from Brian Eley

Monday, November 28, 2011

Constable Savage again

Steinitz used to play all-comers at Simpson's coffee-house in the Strand for half a sovereign a game. (Now an old-English style of restaurant noted for its roast beef, Simpson's still has on display the board and pieces used by such legendary players as Staunton, Zukertort, Blackburne, Tarrasch and of course Morphy himself. The board is a big one, 60cm square.)
David Spanier, Total Chess

I don't know if the Simpson's chessboard had on a plaque on it when Spanier wrote those words (Total Chess was first published in 1984), but it does now. It reads

An original chess board and men in use at Simpson’s-in-the-strand since 1826 and played upon by the following champions:

H. Staunton Paul Morphy W. Steinitz
J. H. Zukertort I. Gunsberg H. Bird
J. H. Blackburne S. Winawer J. Mason
S. Tarrasch M. Tchigorin D. Janowsky
S. Tinsley and Doctor E. Lasker

Then, after a full stop and a dash*, the name “R. Keene” appears. It’s kind of funny, in a ‘spot the odd one out’ kind of a way, but, then again, who in the modern day other than Raymondo has a better call to be there?

With the Staunton Memorial tournaments [e.g.] and other events [e.g.], Keene’s name has become synonymous with chess at Simpson’s. Rather odd, then, there was no mention of RDK whatsoever when the ECF published CJ de Mooi’s announcement that a blindfold simul would be conducted by Nigel Short in London next year.

It’s my pleasure to be organising another major chess event at Simpson’s in the Strand on 20th August 2012.

That's how the ECF President (who is/was not acting as the ECF President) began before he went on to explain how he is

looking forward to another wonderful event following on from the Staunton Memorial Dinner at the same event (sic) last year

A dinner which is itself an event intimately associated with Raymondo and yet not even the slightest hint of a mention of our man can be found. A dog that didn’t bark in the night if ever there was one and it didn’t take long to find out from the horse’s mouth, if I might be forgiven for mixing my animal metaphors, that he will indeed be helping to make the simul happen.

Before I go on, I should probably make a few things clear:-

  • I wish the simul well and hope it is a big success. I doubt I’ll be attending – an invitation seems unlikely and I don’t hold a “high position” in a Chess Association and therefore am not eligible to make an “application” for a ticket – but I’m sure those who do will enjoy themselves hugely.

  • I have no particular problem with Keene being involved per se. Of course, by promoting and ‘endorsing’ the simul, and by allowing CJ to use his position as President in the announcement, the ECF have once again allowed – encouraged, even - the boundaries between private and public activity to be blurred. Even so, Raymondo being closely involved with an ECF event wouldn’t bother me as long as both it and he were subject to appropriate management and supervision.

  • I have no beef with ECF nor with any individual within it. It is unfair to single out anybody in particular, but since he has come in for some unreasonable personal criticism on the EC Forum recently, I will say that I find Andrew Farthing’s commitment to engaging with the ordinary chesser to be both refreshing and highly praiseworthy. Many other folk within the federation have been kind enough to spare me some time over recent weeks and months and I can say that without exception I have found them all to be genuine people who are doing what they feel is best for chess in what I consider to be difficult circumstances.

  • OK, one exception. People tell me that the real-life CJ is very different to his TV persona which may well be true for all I know, but I’ve never met him, and I didn’t get where I am today by watching Eggheads, so I can only judge him on his public announcements and his actions in and around the chess world. I’m afraid that, as a result, I find him to be a bit of a twonk. A twonk, moreover, whose word should not necessarily be mistaken for his bond.

    Still, twonkishness notwithstanding, it remains true that CJ has done a lot of good for chess in this country since becoming President. Assuming that he is willing to up his game a bit in terms of accountability, and supposing the ECF are both willing and able to hold him accountable where necessary, I see no particular reason why that shouldn’t continue for a long time to come.

  • Finally, when I talk about the ECF I mean the whole ECF not just ‘the board’. After all, the recent AGM re-elected CJ as President with barely a dissenting voice.

Caveats over, here’s the problem: while the ECF are busying pretending Ray doesn’t exist they can’t manage him or CJ. They can’t manage anything at all and the situation will only get worse as the federation has to get itself into ever more contorted positions to ensure that it's looking the other way each time the pair buddy-up.

The story so far:-

CJ goes to an event he claims he is running himself – but which is subsequently acknowledged to be jointly run by Ray – and comes back with a bucketful of cash.

Ray turns up at the opening ceremony at Sheffield.

After CJ has a “hissy fit” at the closing ceremony, Ray uses his twitter account to give the pot a massive stir.

Q to ECF: And now CJ’s going to be hanging out with Ray again next summer?
A from ECF: I can’t say that I’d noticed.

Is that the ECF line? They’ve decided to endorse and publicise an event without knowing who was running it? That’s a recipe for getting yourself bitten on the bum sooner or later for sure, but, of course, that’s not what’s really going on is it?

Our Federation are trying to square a circle by promoting the fiction that if CJ calls it a private initiative then his actions have nothing to do with them. Not even if the initiative is announced on their website and publicised by their Director of Home Chess (a person I both like and respect, incidentally).

It’s a policy that's already got them into a rather bizarre situation. Our sometime visitor/commenter Roger de Coverly is quite right to point out that ignoring the guest of honour at your Championship’s Opening Ceremony is rather rude, but I suppose the ECF feels it can do nothing else. Why? Perhaps because then it would have to answer the question that it ‘no commented’ in August and, probably more significantly, they’d also then have to address the issue of whether it’s a tremendously good idea to have a President who goes around doing whatever he happens to feel like doing at any given moment.

Never grows stale

I must admit I’m getting a sense of déjà vu finishing off this post. In the immediate aftermath of the Sheffield closing ceremony going nuclear I felt the ECF should review its relationship with its President, I said it again when everybody seemed to have kissed and made up and I’m saying it once more now. I accept that the ECF is in a difficult position, but that's more reason to take action not less.

With regard to Keene, it’s clear that he isn’t going to go away just because the ECF pretend he’s not there. Neither will the CJ-RDK mutual admiration society disband itself simply because the federation is ignoring it.

Bottom line: Ray is getting ever more closely involved with ECF activities and there’s much less chance of the whole thing ending in a(nother) car crash if we all acknowledge what’s going on.

Ray Keene Index

* the punctuation is rather reminiscent of a scene from Dario Fo’s The Accidental Death of an Anarchist

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Nightmare over for The Riddler

[Don't let today's bonus post stop you from reading Martin's excellent Broadmoor Chess Club versus The World from yesterday]

I thank the reader who sent me these cuttings (the text of which you can read at the conclusion of today's post)

“Not guilty.” That’s what the jury said. The judge's direction was to dismiss the allegation, the prosecution having decided to offer no evidence at all after some of what they had intended to present to the court had been ruled inadmissible. Colin English had been held in custody for eighteen months awaiting trial for the killing of Therese Terry. Twenty years ago today he walked out of Liverpool Crown Court a free man.

This failed prosecution from so long ago is of interest to us because the quashing of the murder charge brought an end to much more than English’s imprisonment. The collapse of the trial also put a stop both to a book that a certain Raymond Dennis Keene was intending to write* not to mention his suggestions that the Prime Minister should draft in a think-tank of chessers to help tackle the issues of the day. What it didn’t kill off, however, was the myth that had grown up around the case.

The Black Queen Murder Mystery in brief: English was suspected of involvement in the disappearance of Terry, but the police couldn’t prove it so brought in a chess Grandmaster – RDK himself – to solve the devilish crime. “Police pass sinister poser to Times chess man” in The Times on Saturday 21st July morphed into “Grandmaster breaks the code in mystery of hidden grave” in The Sunday Times on the 22nd. Write a chess book in a weekend? A mere triffle. Raymond Dennis Keene cracks murders overnight!

That’s how the media told it at the time. That’s how Ray tells it now. If you take a look at his CV, you will find the sole entry for 1990 reads,

1990 Dramatically solves the Black Queen Murder Mystery for Lancashire police.

The myth lives on.

“It is like something out of Batman,” said Keene yesterday.
“The Joker has given the police an insane clue but thinks they are too stupid to solve it. So the police call in Batman.”
The Sunday Times 22/07/90

“Times chess man cracks ‘missing woman’ riddle” was the headline that appeared on the front page of The Times on Monday 23rd July, an article we reproduced last year. How to justify it now we know that nobody was convicted of the crime? OK, so English wasn’t found guilty as a result of Keene’s intervention, but did Raymondo perhaps help the police …

… identify a suspect?
No. Colin English was arrested in June. RDK didn’t get involved until late July.

… find a corpse?
No. Therese Terry’s body was never found.

… identify the area where Terry’s remains might be discovered?
No. True, Keene did suggest a likely location, but the officer in charge of the case, Detective Superintendent Fletcher, “had believed for some weeks that Mrs Terry was buried near Limerick” (The Times 24/07/90 Volunteer Detectives), i.e. long before Ray was ever contacted.

… in any way at all?
Perhaps is the best that we can say here. Our man Fletcher was quoted as saying “Thanks to Mr Keene, we may be much closer to solving this mystery” (The Sunday Times, 22/07/90), but, then again, The Garda “confirmed that they had read Mr Keene’s analysis but had not launched any new lines of enquiry as a result.” (The Times, 24/07/90).

So what exactly did Keene do? Remembering the case on chessgames, back in 2004 he writes,

the information i (sic) derived from the diagrams supported what the police already felt they had deduced in the case

I like that ‘supported’. Still, whether or not you conclude that Raymondo simply reflected back to the police what they had told him about the case - and whether or not you decide that Fletcher’s comment to The Sunday Times was merely polite PR – even if we take Keene at his word, it’s clear that his involvement in the investigation into Terry’s disappearance falls an awfully long way short of solving the case, “dramatically” or otherwise.

Multiple front-pages in The Times; coverage in all the national press; world-wide attention (Ray claimed interest from America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Italy**). It was - and is - a great story, and it must have been an exciting time for RDK. Still, while it's easy to see why the press lapped it up, and although it's perhaps understandable that Ray got a bit carried away and maybe even came to believe the hype, the fundamental truth remains: the 'Black Queen Murder Mystery' is a media-created myth and nothing more.

I drew heart from my recollection of a Sherlock Holmes story, “The Dancing Men”, in which Holmes breaks a singularly barbaric and recondite code which utilises little figures of dancing men. This case was redolent of that fictional forerunner
The Times 23/07/10

And here, with the conclusion of the Colin English/Therese Terry case, we end our Raymondo Memorial Sergeant Pepper tour:-

23rd July, 2010
Times chess man cracks ‘missing woman’ riddle

13th January, 2011
Keene's Gambit

10th February, 2011
Keene's Move

17th February, 2011
Checked Again

27th November, 2011
Nightmare over for The Riddler

If there’s one thing we can all agree about Ray, it’s that he’s super-GM standard at publicity, both for himself and for chess in general. The Black Queen Mystery and the Keene-Miles affair mark the high point and the nadir of the RDK PR machine. It’s curious - but somehow not a coincidence, I’m sure – that in such a long career the two extremes should come so close together.

Twenty years ago today? For sure, and yet the fact that Keene is a skilled media manipulator and the aftershocks of his departure from the (then) BCF remain very contemporary issues for British chess. We'll back with more on that tomorrow.

Nightmare over for The Riddler
By John Ryall

Brighton Evening Argus

THE Chess Board Mystery ended in checkmate for detectives.

Colin English, the Sussex man they called The Riddler, was formally cleared of murder today.

Mr English, 31, was held in custody for 18 months accused of murdering vanished divorcee Therese Clare Terry. The 45-year-old disappeared from her home in Preston, Lancs, in January last year and has not been seen since.

After the verdict at Liverpool Crown Court he said he was convinced Mrs Terry, last seen in January 1990, was still alive. He said: “She informed everybody she was leaving to return to Australia. She had not ties, no home, no family here, and it was not a great mystery that she had gone again.”

Mr English, 31, from Holters Way, Seaford, had been kept in custody since his arrest in June 1990. At Liverpool Crown Court today he was cleared by a jury on the judge’s directions after prosecuting counsel John Rowe, QC, yesterday offered no evidence on the charge of murder.

The decision to abandon the case against computer designer Mr English followed two weeks of legal arguments about police evidence. His solicitor, Paul Rooney, said after the case his client plans to sue the police.

Mr English was nicknamed The Riddler after he drew a chess puzzle which police believed would lead to where Mrs Terry was buried.

Fraud charges against Mr English involving Mrs Terry’s money were left on file. Yesterday, friends called at Mr English’s home to celebrate with his wife, Yvonne, 32, who has three children. She said: “I’m so relieved this nightmare is over.”

Mystery of the vanishing lady
By Paul Bracchi

Brighton Evening Argus

WHERE is Therese Clare Terry? That is the question which remains unanswered nearly two years after she disappeared.

Police believe she is dead. But they failed to produce the single most important piece of evidence in any murder investigation – a body. Yesterday, the Sussex man accused of killing her walked free from court after the case against him collapsed.

Today, the mystery of the ‘vanishing lady’ continues. If divorcee Mrs Terry is dead, where is her grave? If she is alive, why does she not come forward? The bizarre story has all the elements of a classic detective novel – but the last page is missing.

Chapter One: Mrs Terry leaves her Lancashire home in January last year and travels to Ireland with a mystery man. She is never seen again.

Chapter Two: Police arrest her friend, Colin English, from Seaford, and hold him for questioning over her disappearance.

Chapter Three: Mr English is nicknamed The Riddler after he sets detectives searching for the missing woman a series of chess puzzles.

Chapter Four: Chess grandmaster Raymond Keene is brought in to crack the code. He believes the ‘journey’ begins in Sussex and ends in Limerick. Irish police begin the search for her body.

Chapter Five: English, who later says the chess riddle was an elaborate hoax, is charged with murder but is cleared by a court.

The final chapter …? The story made headlines in newspapers around the world. Mr Keene, an organiser of the Hastings Chess Congress, emerged as a central character in the plot. He was presented with a puzzle, featured on this page, and told: “Solve it.” The Times chess correspondent immediately went to work.

He said at the time: “I realised the figures that look like sevens – what police had taken them to be – were maths vectors symbolising movement.”

Mr Keene believed that:
The figures on the triangular British Isles were I Sussex, II London, III Preston.
The bigger drawing was a cross section of Ireland and was not only a map but a chessboard.
Like a chessboard, the large map was cut in two and a mirror image made so there are two Dublins shown as IV and two Corks shown as V. Limerick is VI.

Mr Keene said: “I was able to pinpoint where certain players were on certain dates and elements were the confirmed by police.” The trail ends in Limerick with the message BK BP Do This is where he thought Terry was allegedly buried.

Mr English later admits the puzzles were an elaborate hoax to get police off his back.

* See The Chess Murder in Hans Ree's, The Human Comedy of Chess

** See his interview with Cathy Forbes, CHESS November 1990 (vol 55, #8)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Broadmoor Chess Club versus The World

The last few posts in this series have been piecing together the story of chess in Broadmoor high-security psychiatric hospital since it opened (originally as an "Asylum") in 1863, and most recently we've enlisted the patients’ house journal, the Broadmoor Chronicle, to help us.

In this episode we are going to look at the matches that Broadmoor Chess Club started playing (at home as you'd expect) against local clubs in the late sixties into the seventies. It's interesting to see what they got up to; and it's not. What's remarkable is that it's so ordinary, chess-wise. And it's not.

The first mention of a chess match against outsiders was in March 1969 when Broadmoor took on Reading CC over six boards in the Norfolk room. Here is the score card:
ADN (from Essex house) won on top board, his swan-song perhaps, before leaving for the “world outside the walls” as we saw last time. GW gets a mention in the Chronicle's report by DGT: “he strove to out do his man, and won a most valuable point for our side”. DGT came clean with something we could all admit to at one time or another: “I for one, played like a zombie”....

...and we share his pain.

Play like a zombie, lose like a zombie... and this one was nailed by Vic Ballard, who is still playing for Reading Chess Club today. I managed to track Vic down (the only survivor of the match that I could find) and spoke to him, hale and hearty, a week or so back, and he generously provides us with some recollections of the match over forty years ago.

Vic particularly remembers all the hanging about as the Reading team went through security, and then even more in the playing hall until the patients were brought in, one by one. The visitors were told that their opponents' play might be affected by their medication; but even if that were so, it didn't inhibit their hospitality - the host team prepared copious refreshments in an adjacent kitchen, which were then plied liberally to their guests.

Vic also remembers that a couple of warders, burdened with massive bunches of keys, paced up and down until the session ended. The patients were then called away, block by block, and only when they had disappeared were the visitors allowed to leave to be counted out through security.

Not your typical away match.

In the February 1969 Chronicle, Broadmoor Chess Club posted its ambitions for further matches: “St. Benedict's school want to send a team on Saturday 22 March, DHSS chess club may be able to come and play us some time, and there is also the possibility of a Board of Trade team coming down from London some time”.

There is no record of matches against the last two (did the civil servants get cold feet?), but here is the score card for the St. Benedict’s match:
A thumping victory for Broadmoor (and, no that's not some twist on a "3-1-0" scoring system - each pair slugged it out over several games) that attracted an ever so slightly smug comment in the Chronicle: “better luck next time St.B’s”. This time GW won on top board for the home side, and the rest of the team cleaned up too . But perhaps it is significant that when the plucky, but out-gunned, pupils of St. Benedict's called up Brother Oliver (a teacher presumably) the rout was stemmed. But let's not begrudge Broadmoor their only recorded victory. Although, as for the "next time", please pick on someone your own size....

....which they did – in shape of local club, Bracknell Precision (a works team), who put Broadmoor in their place.
This was reported in January 1970, along with the following rather rueful, even critical (and anonymous) comment: “As we all trooped back to our respective houses at the end of the evening I could not help suppress the feeling that some of the interlectual (sic) “so and so’s” we have among us have been shown up in their true colours…Admittedly Bracknell fielded a reasonable side, but is was not all that strong...” Oh dear!

And there had already been some serious soul-searching by Sandy R in the December 1969 issue, noting that Broadmoor lost all its matches on the previous season, and quoting “a friend’s” suggestion (and he wouldn’t be the first to float this one) to play in reverse order of strength.

Indeed, in 1970 Broadmoor lost yet another one – to Richmond Chess Club who played there several times, as we learn from information kindly furnished by Richard James.

This is an extract from the Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club Newsletter No. 4 (probably November) 1970, written by the editor, Alan May:
Suggested friendlies by other clubs have met with a discouraging response until this season when a letter was received from the Broadmoor Hospital. Richmond had been suggested by the Surrey authorities as suitable opponents for the in-mates chess team. (I have my own dark private thoughts as to why Richmond was selected!)……
…. Philip Poyser took charge of the team and the match was played at Broadmoor (of course) on Saturday 24 October……..a good time was had by all. Playing conditions were ideal, a plentiful supply of food and drinks was provided and all our team were released about 7.00 pm…..
……Well, we won. In fact we won 9 - 1 with Phillip Pratt doing the decent thing to encourage the opposition. I gather that we were assured of a marked psychological advantage before the kick-off. As the drawbridge was lowered to receive our party of gladiators, a patient was heard to remark that we looked fantastically strong. The herculean performance of the team undoubtedly strengthened this belief but despite the one-sided result we have been invited back and it seems likely that a return fixture will be arranged some time next year.
Indeed, this was to be the start of run of annual fixtures against Richmond.

1971 saw Broadmoor take on Basingstoke CC. Although marred by no-shows, the match was close, the home side (as with their football and cricket teams, now known as "Patmoor" - surely a cosmetic, and thin, disguise) going down 2½ – 3½, with Günter again making a draw on board 1.
On into 1972 and another match against Richmond, which merited a passing mention in the Chronicle. It saw Richard James in action (he played in them all) and remarkably he still has the score of that game, as well as some from other years. He played our old friend GW, who revealed himself to be one Günther Wiora. Restoring him his full name suddenly makes him a real person. Here is the game:

As for matches against Richmond there were, as we noted, several over the years, and here is another extract from the Richmond and Twickenham’s club’s newsletter, of June/July 1975, headed "Broadmoor Matches" and written by Phil Poyser, also a veteran of the initial 1970 encounter (and who will get another, rather unexpected, mention later in this series):
On the afternoon of Saturday, 22nd March, a team of 9 Richmond & Twickenham players met at the Rising Sun (Schooner Inn), opposite Marble Hill Park, and journeyed in three Club members' cars to play a match against a team of Broadmoor Patients in the hospital at Crowthorne, Berkshire.
The result was: Richmond & Twickenham 8½ pts! Broadmoor ½ pt.
This match has been an annual event since 1970 and this was the fifth of the series. An earlier fixture had to be cancelled by the Hospital on the day before owing to staff problems. Although we have always won these matches (so we should with all our practice ) the patients take defeat well and always ask us to come again. We play in a comfortable well heated room and generous refreshments of tea, soft drinks, sandwiches and cakes are provided.
There has never been any shortage of willing players for these matches……
The visits, Phil noted, were much appreciated by the patients, and their attentiveness to the needs of the Richmond visitors, offering copious quantities of tea and cake, had now become the stuff of legend.

Broadmoor Chess Club's home venue.

The matches against local teams petered out for some reason; but judging from the keenness of the patients, and the willing enthusiasm of the visitors, it must have been some objective impediment: attrition of players on the Broadmoor side, say, or a bureaucratic hitch. In this connection there was a report in the Chronicle of 1972 of a meeting of the Recreation Committee, which may be germaine. Dr McGrath, the CEO, was present and asked that “arrangements for outside made formally by an official here…in order to establish a legal relationship with visitors for legal protection.” A straw in the wind, maybe.

We'll end on this recent reminiscence by Richard James, echoing the themes of fellow chess visitor Vic Ballard:
What I remember - the warders (probably not the right word as they made it clear to us that Broadmoor was a hospital, not a prison) with enormous bunches of keys: the matches being the most enjoyable of the year because of the refreshments and the fact that there was no pressure to play well: remembering that we probably shouldn't ask our opponents what they were in for: making very sure we didn't leave anyone behind as they could well believe that any of us were just as insane as them. Then we (or at any rate I) started to think about what it means to be sane or insane, normal or abnormal. We were a pretty eccentric bunch; it was just that our insanity wasn't criminal.
A salutary thought.

So. Well done Broadmoor Chess Club! Chessing like the rest of us; striving to win, against the odds; and if not winning, then enjoying the game and the society - and the tea and the cakes. But chessing under lock and key.

And welcome to the unanonymised Günter Wiora, about whom there is a bit more to say, next time.

Richmond and Twickenham Chess Club is
here, and a special thanks again to Richard James, and Vic Ballard.

Thanks to ejh for this on St. Benedict's, depressing as it is.

Asylum Index.

Friday, November 25, 2011

We've all been there...

And if you like that - after the jump, two more examples of Argentinian cartoonist Quino's chess-related work to enjoy.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Whatever happened to the Polugaevsky Variation?

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 b5

When I was young, fresh and foolish, as opposed to old, tired and cynical, I used to play the Sicilian Najdorf. In fact I seem to have played it almost right the way through my teenage years, something which surprised me when I looked it up in the course of writing this piece. I'm not sure I learned anything from those years playing the Najdorf other than I'd learned nothing from those years playing the Najdorf, so after I started playing chess again, a couple of years after university, I dropped it. But, during those teenage years, my problem was, as with any other Najdorf player, what to do against 6.Bg5, since of the many possible alternatives, none seemed to be quite secure.

I seem to have mostly played the Poisoned Pawn with 6...e6 7.f4 Qb6, although eventually I moved over to the old main line with 6...e6 7.f4 Be7. But I looked at more or less everything at one time or another. Including, although I never actually played it, the Polugaevsky Variation with 6...e6 7.f4 b5.

I was, almost certainly, first attracted to the line by the long discussion of its development that takes up more than a quarter of Lev Polugaevsky's book, Grandmaster Preparation, which was issued by Pergamon in an English translation (by Ken Neat) in 1981 and swiftly recognised as a classic. The work the author had put into its creation
Sometimes you see books that have been written in one month. I don't like that. You should take at least two years for a book, or not do it all
was evident, and in some ways mirrored by the twenty years, off and on, he had been prepared to put into the variation that took his name, trying always to keep alive a line too tactical in nature to be anything but fragile.

In his long chapter The Birth Of A Variation, Polugaevsky* went from its birth almost right up to the time of publication, to the point where two extra short sections had to be added just before the book came out, one, by Neat, giving these two games, and an addendum by Polugaevsky giving this one (as did Neat) as well as this one from the same match, and this one from later in the year.

Anyway, if I try and give too many of the games that are referred to in the book, I will never finish this piece and you will never read it, so onwards. Polugaevsky devotes most of his time to what he considered the "most critical" continuation, 8.e5 dxe5 9.fxe5 Qc7

after which there are two lines which most concern him, 10.exf6 and 10.Qe2. After the first of these, the game normally continues 10...Qe5+ 11.Be2 Qxg5 12.O-O (there are alternatives, of course, but we're skimming rather than swimming here) after which Black looked to be in a lot of trouble

until Polugaevsky came up with 12...Qe5!

which (after many games and much analysis) looked satisfactory for Black.

However, scarcely had that resource been discovered than Polugaevsky had to find a reply to 12.Qd3 instead

and although he found a response, it proved inadequate: the blow being sufficiently severe that he abandoned the variation (or, as he has it, The Variation) for more than a decade.

I won't go into the whys and wherefores, or what he discovered that brought him back to his variation, but rather observe that he was also discouraged for a long while by the other major line he discussed after 9...Qc7, which was 10.Qe2.

I mean why not keep more pieces on, if almost all of yours are developed and almost none of the opponent's? Play then usually went 10...Nfd7 11.O-O-O Bb7 12.Qg4 (though other ideas are given, notably 12.Qh5 and 12.Nxe6). Then Black's two ideas - both resulting in "colossal complications" - were 12...Qb6 and 12...Qxe5.

Never mind the colossal complications, one of those options always looked ludicrously dangerous to me, while the other looked to be another move by a piece already developed without the virtue of grabbing any material for it.

To be honest, I don't recall whether I ever seriously intended to play the Polugaevsky, and if so, whether I'd opted for 12...Qb6 (I am sure I was never in a million years going to take on e5) or for another line that Polugaevsky tried, in the 1979 Riga Interzonal. This involved, instead of 11...Bb7, Black playing 11...Nc6

which he did in his game against Grunfeld (given above, and analysed in the extra section added by Ken Neat).

Who knows? It never happened. I never played it, not even once. I took much of the Eighties off, as far as playing chess was concerned, and when I came back to the board at the end of the decade, although there was a new world champion who championed the Najdorf, he wasn't one to play the Polugaevsky. And, although I didn't really think about it at the time (I was on to safer, Scheveningen ground by then) I don't recall seeing any other leading players try their luck with 7...b5. Not then, not since and not right now.

So it's been more than twenty years since I had any real knowledge of contemporary Najdorf theory - thank God - give or take a brief reacquaintance with it during the Kasparov-Short match, though not the 6.Bg5 line (unless you count this).

Where did it all go, eh?

So, as far as I am concerned, it's as if I fell asleep when the Polugaevsky Variation was alive and thriving: then, when I woke up, having forgotten all about it, it was no longer there. And now I've remembered it, and I'm wondering what happened and where it went. Was it refuted? Did it go permanently out of fashion? Or is it, in fact, still being played quite happily by grandmasters even today, but as I'm neither a Najdorf player nor a reader of databases, I just don't know about it?

[* I've chosen to render the surname thus, rather than Polugayevsky, even though the latter variation is the one given in the book. Both have been used previously on this blog!]

[Polugaevsky photo: Perluka Farinn]

Monday, November 21, 2011

WwwK XXI: When we Stopped Being Kings

Thirty years ago today, a golden age ended ...

WwwK Index

The Times
Saturday November 21, 1981
Page 1

Masterful Karpov retain chess title
By Harry Golombek

Viktor Korchnoi resigned the eighteenth game of the world chess championship match at Merano yesterday without resuming play, and this meant that Anatoly Karpov won the match 6-2, retaining his title in the most convincing and crushing manner since the present system of world championship contests was instituted after the Second World War.

The decisive game was probably the best of the match and an excellent illustration of one of Karpov’s chief virtues as a player: his power of seizing the initiative and increasing it move by move until the pressure is too great for his opponent to bear.

The win was all the more creditable in that the opening, a Ruy Lopez in which Korchnoi used the open defence, was a speciality of the challenger. In fact, the relevant section in the Encyclopedia of the Openings, a modern standard work, was written by Korchnoi.

Even so, Karpov was able to surprise him with a new move that made the variation Korchnoi employed almost unplayable. It was a tactical move that, by weakening Korchnoi’s Queenside position, also affected his position in the centre. There was a flicker of resistance on the challenger’s part when he tried a counter-attack six moves later. But it was soon extinguished and the remainder of the game was a copy-book example on Karpov’s part of how to take advantage of the greater command of space.

Karpov’s match victory gained him a prize of 500,000 Swiss francs (about £144,000) while Korchoi had to be content with 300,000 Swiss francs. But the contingent rewards of retaining the title are more considerable.

Moscow: Karpov sent a telegram reporting “mission accomplished” to President Brezhnev of the Soviet Union yesterday.

“I and all the members of the Soviet delegation have felt your daily support, the concern and interest of our dear country,” he wrote – AFP.
Game by game, page 4
Leading article, page 7

The Times
Saturday November 21, 1981
Leading Article, Page 7

The other pawns in the game

The World Chess Championship, which was won yesterday by Mr Anatoly Karpov, very much as expected, has left a rather sour taste. The quality of the chess, according to the experts, was poor. Mr Viktor Korchnoi, the embattled challenger, did not do himself justice. His place in the history of chess is secure. But his fate, on the three (sic) separate occasions when he has challenged for the title of the world champion, has been to be number two.

On this third, and presumably final, tilt, Mr Korchnoi’s age was clearly against him. Chess at this level is only superficially a sedentary game. It requires great stamina, concentration and physical fitness. The twenty years which the challenger was giving to the Soviet champion was too heavy a handicap. That is the most likely explanation for the weaknesses in Mr Korchnoi’s play – not just the blunders to which grand masters, like ordinary mortals, are sometimes prone, but a certain flatness and stereotyped quality in his opening play, and a lack of bite in most of his games.

Mr Karpov, though he has attracted some criticism for his somewhat conformist attitude to chess which is, after all, a very political game in the Soviet Union, is a worthy champion. He is one of the greatest positional players the game has ever seen. There is nothing flashy about his game. His results in international tournaments have been most impressive. The games which he loses in the course of a year can be counted on one hand. The margin by which he defended his title on this occasion, six games to two, draws not counting, was in chess terms over-whelming.

But as all enthusiasts of the game know, the challenger was struggling under a more baleful handicap than merely a difference in years. Mr Korchnoi is an exile from the Soviet Union. He left, as have so many distinguished performers in other fields, because he could not stand what he regarded as the oppressive system. Whatever the rights and wrongs of his particular case, he has shown great courage in fighting for his beliefs and making a new life for himself; and he has earned the vilification of the Soviet establishment as a result.

Moreover, he has left behind him in the Soviet Union a wife and a son. The Soviet authorities will not let them go. Mr Korchnoi has bitterly denounced the authorities, on many occasions, for this ungenerous and indeed senseless refusal. The circumstances of his marriage are his own affair. What is not in doubt is that he wants his wife and son to be allowed to go to the West. He has even said, putting the matter into chess terms, that their continued detention in the Soviet Union means that he started every game in the championship two pieces down. That may be a funny way of expressing it, but his psychological handicap is obvious enough.

Now that the championship is over and the coveted title remains in the Soviet Union, it is surely time for the Soviet authorities to do the decent thing and let Mr Korchnoi’s family go. The World Chess Federation has, from time to time, made representations on Mr Korchnoi’s behalf, seemingly to no avail. As usual, politics and sport do not mix very easily. It might be too much to expect that Mr Karpov himself could put a word in the right place. But the Soviet authorities would be doing one of the great players of the game, and themselves, a small service if they could now relent.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Bad book covers XXIII

Grandmaster Versus Amateur, Aagaard and Shaw (eds), Quality Chess, 2011

[Bad book covers index]

Friday, November 18, 2011

Five Years Ago Today

On the day of my fifth birthday, I ate all the chocolate fingers from my cake, and then redecorated the entire lounge with them just as my friends arrived. You can expect much the same today here on the S&BC blog on our fifth birthday: a burst of excitement from me, soon turning ugly in public once the comments come in. Maybe.

Yes, it all kicked off five years ago today with a post where I tried to assess the scale of the impact our new little corner of the internet was likely to have on the chess world:
It's the news the chess world has been waiting for.

No - not that Fischer has returned, and will face an unretired Kasparov, in an unlimited match. No - not that The Master Game is back on BBC2. No - not that Hydra has created a 32-piece tablebase that proves once and for all that 1. g4 wins outright, whilst everything else is a draw. No - it's not the low-down of what Kramnik was doing in his toilet after all. No - Wood Green have not lost a London League match. 

Think bigger.

Think better.
That's right - think the S&BC blog.

So what's changed since then? Well, a Fischer-Kasparov rematch looks even less likely, to the relief of M.Adams everyone's forgotten about Hydra - although maybe Houdini is about to pull off the same trick, and to some at least Kramnik's toilet antics remain a mystery. But Wood Green have lost a London League match, albeit with no thanks to any of us.

Still, it seems to me we have a fair bit to celebrate: from shining lights into the murky realities of the chess world to investigating the place of chess in art; from featuring entertaining blunders to highlighting local brilliancies; from the bliss of favourite moves to bitter realities of red pills; from chess in bad book covers to chess in great literature; actually - stop me. There's too much to even begin to list or classify.

So: let me just say instead thank you to my fellow writers for such an interesting five years, and invite our readers to let us know in the comments how they expect our next five years to shape up. The Grob proven a forced win anyone?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Ten years ago this week

or, A Modicum Of Respect

I obtained a measure of revenge not only by eclipsing Tony in terms of chess performance but also by sleeping with his girlfriend, which was definitely satisfying but perhaps not entirely gentlemanly.

Sunday Telegraph, 18 November 2001

[Nigel Short index]

Monday, November 14, 2011

A rare event II

White to play and seal a move
JMGB v Drunken Knight, October 2011

I have Malc Pein to thank for this one. The commentary room of the British Championship in 1990, a snippet of chess knowledge passed on: a bishop totally dominates a knight when they are separated by two squares. Trivial if you already knew it, but I didn't and, twenty years ago though it might have been, I've never forgotten that moment.

I came to learn that Malc's* bishop/knight aside was one of those little nuggets of wisdom that turn out to be extraordinarily powerful, today's game being a case in point. More of that in a moment. Right now I've got a move to seal.

It looks like it should be relatively straight forward. I'm a pawn up, I've got a bishop on an open board and what's more his knight is miles away from the action. A simple case of mopping up, then?

Objectively speaking that might be right, but nothing's really that easy in chess is it? Especially not when you've been playing for three hours and you're on the verge of what will be a notable scalp. Chuck in a history of ballsing things up at the last moment and things start to look a little trickier.

Still, long story short, I took my time and managed to come up with what looked to be a winning line. 38 Kb4 a5+, 39 Kxa5 Nb3+, 40 Kxb5 Nd4+, 41 Kc5 allowing 41 ... Nf3 forking e5 and h4.

Initially I didn't fancy being just one pawn up with everything on the same side of the board. It was only after failing to find anything else that I returned to this position and discovered that it would actually be very good for me. 42 Kd5 leaves Black in all sorts of trouble since after 42 ... Nxh4 I have the simple 43 Be4! leaving his knight without any moves whatsoever.

This much I calculated at the board and it was enough to persuade me that 38 Kb4 was the move that I wanted to seal. Later I realised that instead of taking the pawn Black could try 42 ... h5. Then, regardless of what your engine might tell you, 43 gxh5 Nxe5! is just a draw, but instead I can play 43 g5 and now if 43 ... Nxh4 I have 44 Be4 again.

"No Garry,  two squares"
Photograph from Chessbase

Black resigned without resuming, so this game turned out to be another adjournment that didn't happen. It's a shame that we didn't get to 'finish' the game, but I got a lot of pleasure out of sealing that move. Game in x, then wind the clock back y minutes and play to the end has it's advantages, but if that had been what we we'd had here I wouldn't have had the time to think things through in the same way. Maybe we would have ended up in this position anyway,

but I can imagine it happening with me 'blundering' a pawn and only realising at the last minute that it couldn't be taken. The result might not have been any different, but it wouldn't have felt even remotely the same.

It would have felt like I'd fallen into it rather than earned it. Rather than earned my share that is. Like I say, for this win Malcolm Pein deserves at least part of the credit.

* Yes, I know it's not really Pein's, but I always think of it as his.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Broadmoor Chronicled

This series is now following the fortunes of chess in Broadmoor Hospital which started out, in 1863, as an "Asylum for Criminal Lunatics". We have already registered a number of chess-playing patients (Richard Dadd, Edward Oxford, Reginald Saunderson, Robert Coombes, F.J.C.) and we are continuing now to follow the house journal, the Broadmoor Chronicle, as our guide.

The Chronicle's chess column was a regular feature of the magazine in 1963 and 1964, until it disappeared from view. Then, in January 1967 it popped back up with a piece “For Chess Fans”. And what a come-back! It made the intriguing revelation that in the 1920s Broadmoor had a proper Chess problemist in its ranks, good enough to have his compositions published in the national press. Fascinating, tantalising, and a mystery in more ways than one, as we'll explain in a separate post. In 1967 readers were challenged with one of his “easier problems”.

Mate in two.
Broadmoor Chronicle, January 1967.
Originally: The Daily Telegraph, July 1922.
(But please see the footnote before you try and solve it)

Throughout the rest of that year, and into 1968 there were the familiar references, now and then, to chess competitions in Gloucester House (they were no longer called "Blocks"), Essex, Monmouth, and so on; but virtually nothing of chess content until March 1969. Then, for the benefit of any frustrated and tortured soul still on tenterhooks, P.J.W. of Gloucester House gave the solution to the "Broadmoor Problemist" puzzle (above) set a mere two years before.

Anyone now thirsting for a fresh challenge would have found it in P.J.W.'s column, where he offered another fiendish teaser from the in-house Torquemada of the 20s. This time the setting had the black king removed, and would-be solvers stared into the another abyss of feverish nights, and angst-ridden days of labyrinthine retrograde analysis to determine where it should be placed. Solutions would be verified, if recent experience was anything to go by, in 1971. If only, if only, the misprint had been spotted before going to press.

Talking of fiendish teasers, here's a minimalist problem, though not set by their own man, which the Chronicle offered its readers as a treat for Christmas 1972. Mate in two.

Solution in a couple of years' time - so, back to the story. In March 1969 a one-off item headed “Chess Club” reported a six-board match against Reading Chess Club. Broadmoor chess had come of age and was confident enough to take on outsiders, and that too is worth a second look, later.

The following month the Chronicle announced, poignantly, and with an air of finality, “A.D.N. has left us…he was the life and soul of the chess club.” So, another stalwart chesser hung up his pieces for the last time. But. Not so fast. The Chronicle continued: “We wish him a successful and happy future in the great world outside these walls”. Discharged, not deceased, and (let's hope) still fit to play - on the far side.

Times they were a-changin’ for others, too, as it was also reported from the Recreation Committee of 20 February 1969 that “negotiations are taking place to let patients from the ladies’ wing who are genuinely interested [join the men to play chess]…I have it on good authority that the Physician-Superintendent (i.e. the CEO) is considering the matter in a favourable light…” Not until January 1972 is there a further reference to “the ladies”, for whom "mixed-seating" had now been installed for the chess, and also (the ladies hadn't been hanging about) for bridge; and, it said, table tennis (seating? table tennis?). There was at least one lady though, as we'll see below, for whom chess had a particular attraction.

But we have skipped an item from 1970 that may have some resonance in our bureaucratic world on our side of the walls. An Extraordinary General Meeting of the Bridge and Chess Club had been called – all the more extraordinarily, observed P.J.W., "as it was a baking hot day in the middle of Summer" - to discuss the separation of the two sections into autonomous clubs. The Chairman sternly ruled, however, that as not all members of the bridge section had been informed of the meeting, no formal decisions would be taken. For the time being, then, any sub-Machiavellian scheme the chessers had for sovereign status was thwarted. The discussion, however, meandered on till close of play. “A non-event, but an important one,” B.S. (a chesser, btw) dryly observed.

Machiavelli says "He who wishes to be obeyed
must know how to command."

Sound advice, Niccolò.

When the issue was ventilated again in October at the AGM, the proposed split was defeated by two to one, though there were mutterings that it would have been a damn good idea “because of the noise” - but quite what the chessers had been doing to cause such a nuisance is left to our imagination.

In March 1972 one of “the ladies”, Penny Cassandra, as she dubbed herself, insisted that "one is never too young or too old to discover the enjoyment and satisfaction" of playing the game. She went on to offer some “Chess Anecdotes” including a potted history. Unfortunately there was a minor slip in her otherwise well-informed article, and it was seized on by correspondent P. Kelly in Shenley Hospital (on the other side of London -the Broadmoor Chronicle had now spread its wings) who quoted H.J.R. Murray’s history of the game to add ballast to his position.

Ms Cassandra had written that Spanish cleric Ruy Lopez had played in a tournament in 1944, raising a chessical eye-brow or two among those in the know, P.K. included. Penny readily admitted her error, and on the counter-attack claimed Jacobus de Cessolis’ ancient volume to be superior, as a bible of chess, to Murray's, tossing in a reference to Forbes' 1860 History for good measure. Mr. Kelly of Shenley Hospital had clearly met his match. He was not heard of again.

In 1972 the cataclysmic Spassky-Fischer World Championship match didn't pass unnoticed, and from what better vantage point than Broadmoor to assess the psychology of the challenger. In a one-off and prescient piece B.S. diagnosed as follows: “the point is that Fischer has (as a result of declining to take on Further Education, and deciding to concentrate exclusively on chess) an undeveloped personality”. Which proved to be, unfortunately, only too true.

Bobby, lost to the world.

February 1973: the chess column now hits its stride again, relying mostly on monthly problems, and appearing regularly until the middle of 1977 sometimes under the nom de plume “Sartor” (who must have been the snazziest dude on the Block, or just a chap named Taylor). From then on it appears but less consitently, reflecting the halting appearance of the Chronicle itself.

The principal columnist, now P.C.G., was reporting real chess news: Candidates semi-finals, British Championships, Mestel youngest GM ever in UK, and the like. Some of these articles were really quite advanced chess-wise (one was devoted to the theme of "domination" - P.C.G's favourite), and writing in one column about himself, he says that “in answer to PK4 I spent my early chess mastering the French Defence, and after many years I switched to the complicated Scheveningen Variation of the Sicilian.” P.C.G. clearly had form, and one wonders what he did to get it.

Maybe that’s enough edited highlights to give the flavour of the rich vein of chess activity in Broadmoor, as brought to us by the Broadmoor Chronicle. There are some particular episodes yet to be related in detail (the Broadmoor Problemist of the 1920s; G.W. from foreign parts - we mentioned him last time, Broadmoor chessers contra mundum), so there will be more, in two year's next time.

Footnote added after post and in light of comments.

As you will see from the comments box, the diagram above is wrong, and has errors introduced by your blogger. This is as it should be.

Apologies to all readers. Please see the comments box for further grovelling.