Wednesday, January 30, 2013


Inter selecta
Hyper, hyper, hyper
That's what we make ya
Making moves yeah...

 No, not that Artful Dodger

Not that this will come as any surprise, but I've been talking a lot of guff of late. Increased self-awareness as a result of a few problems I've had, together with a desperate desire to improve my game, having rather plateaued, are to blame. 

This article, written in October, was perfectly good until I went on a results-oriented rampage. IM John Cox, in the comments, was absolutely right in what he said. However, I guess part of the entire concept of improvement is those epiphanic moments when you work out for yourself what other people have told you to be true.

Take Monday night. I had this position against FM David Haydon, having had rough equality for most of the game, but it appeared a draw was likely once all the bits had been hoovered off. 

Here, I had a practical decision to make. Should I play 33... Bc5 or 33... e5? I reasoned that I was unlikely to lose anyway, and I might as well make life more difficult for my opponent by giving him zugzwang to worry about. With the bishops on, that cannot happen. So I hoovered them off too.

33... Bc5 34. Kd3?

And now I realised that my opponent had missed the point. The g4 square and, indirectly thus, the e4 square are essential to white if he is to hold. With an adrenaline-fuelled flourish, I whipped out 34... Bxd4 35. Kxd4 e5+ 36. Kd3 h5.

Black is winning, and it came as much as a surprise to me as it did to my opponent. The game finished 37. g3 g4 38. f4 exf4 39. gxf4 Kc5 40. Kc3 h4

All I'd done is play the little wooden things, without any thought of a result. Might this be a turning point?


Monday, January 28, 2013

Random Rook Endings III

Black to play
Schlechter - Rubinstein, San Sebastian 1912

If we're talking practical rook endings - Random Rook Endings II - as opposed to theoretical - Super Things II; Random Rook Endings: Lesson Number One; BORP? XVI - it seems there’s one chesser above all others who’s our go to guy. With all due respect to messers Mednis (Practical Rook Endings, Chess Enterprises 2003), Korchnoi (Practical Rook Endings, Edition Olms 2003) and Muller (Chess Endgames 8: Practical Rook Endings, Chessbase dunno*), conventional wisdom holds that Akiba Rubinstein will always be The Man.

Mihail Marin wrote a highly entertaining chapter on Rubinstein’s Rook endings in Learn from the Legends. He didn't include Ruby’s game against Schlechter from San Sebastian in 1912, though. Perhaps it wasn’t meaty enough to make the cut for his book, but it was, as it happens, the first example of Rubinstein’s rook ending prowess that I ever saw**.

It might not look like Black’s got much of an edge in the position at the head of today's blog. Well, it doesn’t to me anyway. Sure, White’s got a couple of loose pawns and Black’s king is closer to the centre, but it’s not that serious is it?

In fact, the game is all but over. Why? People who understand these things better than I do say it's all about the activity of the rooks.

Rook and pawn Index

* Chessbase seem curiously reticent about publishing the release date of their products
** In the endgames chapter of Master Chess: A course in 21 Lessons (Pergamon Press)

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Cover version: Langridge / Johnson / Schubert

Philip Langridge and Graham Johnson, Schubert: The Hyperion Schubert Edition, Complete Songs 4 (Hyperion, 2000)

[Cover version index]
[Thanks to Richard James]

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Board Beside Me VI

It has to be said, it's always a pleasure to play at The Plough for the Drunken Knights. Especially against friends, as happened on Monday against a fellow conspirator on these pages. If any of you are bothered, it was a rather dull draw and the club in the name of this blog picked up a surprise victory.

No, no. Knight with a k...

Anyway. The previous Monday, something extraordinary happened. No, the playing hall wasn't dry, but thank you for asking. Instead, a Grandmaster, a former British Champion no less, did this:

Unfortunately, what happened next wasn't quite enough to make it into our worst move series, but it was nonetheless pretty desperate. 

Yep, you've got it. Presumably believing his rook to be on h1, as one might, 29. cxb4 happened. Resignation followed the moment that our hero saw a rook piling down the c file towards his shocked face.



The Board Beside Me Index

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Enjoy a fine game and somebody else's notes

Readers of our 19 December column will have noticed a reference to a 2007 piece written by Ray Keene for Chessville, which annotated a game Levitt-Howell from 2005. These annotations, commented our writer,

are remarkably similar to those provided by Levitt in the original article that appeared in the November 2005 issue of CHESS.

Naturally, readers without easy access to that issue of CHESS may not have realised quite how "remarkably similar" Ray's notes were to the originals.

So, as a helpful service, we now reproduce the original piece from CHESS - and Ray's version in Chessville. We also reproduce an email which was sent on Tuesday 8 January to Ken Surratt, Managing Editor at Chessville. The email contains a list of the similarities between the two pieces.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Super Things II (RRE: Lesson Number Two)

White wins

If Philidor is the starting point - Random Rook Endings: Lesson Number One - Lucena follows very close behind. de la Villa writes of telling his pupils, "most Rook + Pawn vs. Rook endings, if played accurately, end up in a Philidor or Lucena position." Exaggeration or otherwise, it's obviously true that all rook endings are built on these two.

Philidor is your basic drawing mechanism, Lucena is how you win.  Knowing how to convert from the position at the head of today's blog, and knowing whether or not you can reach it (on the left: you won't; on the right: you will) is the difference between a half-point and victory.

The Novag Super Expert is, we have established, a super thing. If truth be told, though, it's not too hot when it comes to technical rook endings.

I set up a bunch of theoretical rook positions, playing them out giving myself and the machine five minutes each. Here it is having a bash at Lucena and struggling. Well, it found 'the bridge' in the end, I suppose. If nothing else it does at least show the Super Expert knows the fifty-move rule.

Rook and pawn Index

Monday, January 21, 2013

Random Rook Endings II

[Author's note: We'll have a bonus post for you tomorrow. In the meantime, enjoy this one ...]

White to play
Aronian - Anand, London Chess Classic 2012

Chess books seem to divide rook endgames into the theoretical (endings with a rook and a single pawn, or perhaps two, against rook - e.g. Random Rook Endings: Lesson Number One; BORP? XVI) and the practical (games played out with rooks and multiple pawns on each side). I suppose Aronian-Anand, from last year's Classic, falls somewhere in between.

At first sight White looks in a spot of bother although, as it turns out, the draw is not that far away. It all seems rather simple when you see how the game finished, but, straightforward or not, when Angus showed the game to me at one of our coffee shop/endgame study meets it took me quite a while to strip away the fluff and work out the right line all the way to the end.

Rook and pawn Index

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Other Talent of Bill Hook: Another Look

Almost exactly a year ago we posted about Bill Hook, his chess and his art. It was prompted by his autobiography "Hooked on Chess".

We had a good look at his paintings, and some of his photographs, and were able to admire the range and depth of his talent. The blog finished with the hope that someone might get in touch and show us more of his work.

Well, someone did. In October last year the delightful Mimi Hook, Bill's wife, stumbled on our blog and made contact - opening up a treasure trove of Bill's art. Wonderful. You'll find it all on Mimi's Facebook page.
Mimi Hook.
Selecting from Mimi's gallery (though bearing in mind that those images, and thus the ones below, are photographic reproductions), let's have a look at another sample of Bill's paintings, with the added bonus of Mimi's guidance on subject matter. First though, a reminder of this domestic portrait of the lady herself by Bill (in the book, as we saw last time), crafted with unobtrusive and affectionate admiration for his partner-in-life.

Although many of Bill's paintings show him to have been an exuberant full-spectrum colourist - as we'll see later below - the richness above is fashioned from a palette reduced to an essential minimum. The effect of is of calm and reassurance; as if to complement to Bill's own exuberant activity.

As you look through Bill's portfolio, you can't help but be impressed by the variety of his subject matter, encompassing all the genres of the discipline. There are competent - maybe more than competent - life studies, executed when a student...

...and, as we saw last time, stop-in-your-tracks portraiture.

He could also convey atmosphere, as in this local scene done in conventional style that could have been good enough - more than good enough - to have been a poster for the British Virgin Islands Tourist Board.

The skein of fishermen, labouring along the water's edge, is especially evocative ... and he found a limping rhythm also in the procession of verticals across the cluttered roof-scape shown below; but this time human presence is implied - he has composed a kind of still life, XXXL.

This next suite shows him turning up the volume, in carefully choreographed blocks of vibrant colour. They are in what might have been his signature jig-saw style...

Left to right: a shebeen in BVI; harpoon fishing; grave-yard in Ibiza; Fisher's.
... if full-blown abstraction hadn't taken him in this direction:

As Mimi says, the underwater feel is apparent on the left, whereas - as she sees it - it's the centre of the earth on the right in another favourite of her's.    

Last time we saw an obviously chess-themed composition, this "semi-abstract":

"Fisher's" (on the right of the strip of four above) is another chess painting: a geometricized group of engrossed players at the legendary club. Mimi says that Bill called the next one "Absorption" - possibly a chess hint. But, she says, not everyone agrees that there's a chess player in the composition. Is that one, centre-left, surveying the board, lost in thought, and, with chin in hand, striking a typical chesser's pose?  

This more comprehensive survey of Bill Hook's paintings confirms that he was an artist of considerable talent. Thanks Mimi for giving us the opportunity to showcase his work again, and make it better known - among an audience that he surely would have relished: his fellow chess players (and anyone else looking in, of course).

Bill Hook (2008) Hooked on Chess.  Pub. New in Chess.


The Barbican in London has a Duchamp season coming up, including a screening of two Duchampian chess films on the 24th March. One is of him playing Larry Evans "underwater" (as their blurb puts it). Cue another look at The Other Talent of Bill Hook's Friend.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Super Things

In which your humble scribe indulges himself in rose-tinted nostalgia, like you do when you reach a certain age

We'll be hearing more from Stewart Lee in the weeks to come. Hopefully, in better quality video clips

The Novag Super Expert is a thing. A thing with a silly name to be sure – conceived, it seems, by marketeers labouring under the impression that chessers of their time would consider a common or garden expert to be woefully inadequate as an electronic play friend – but a thing nonetheless. A very good thing, in fact.

Gather around, kiddiwinks, and let me tell you a tale of how chess computers used to be:

  • Plastic reigned supreme;
  • If you wanted to move a piece you had to press it into the board and then press it into the square that you wanted it to go to;
  • There were lights on the side of the board, one for each file and one for each rank. When it moved it would fire up two of them and if, say, they were the ones on the h-file and the sixth rank you knew that whatever stood at h6 was what it wanted to move. Then – after a bit more pressing – another two lights came on and to show the destination.

It was all a bit of a faff, to be honest.

Then Super Expert came along, part of generation of chess machines that turned things around. For a start, each square on these new boards had its own light. Better still, they were ‘auto sensory’: you shoved the pieces around just like any normal set and the Bloody Iron Monster knew what had moved and where it had gone. Better stiller, they were neither iron nor plastic. They were made of wood and looked great. An infinite improvement over the cheap appearance of their predecessors.

This particular machine could play a bit too - in the 2050-2100 range apparently. Laugh it up if you must young ‘uns, but back then that was pretty much as good as it got.

It was the late 1980s. We didn’t know it, but times were a changing. Fritz was coming and he was bringing his mates. Grey squirrels arriving to pretty much wipe out their red cousins, the stand alone machines.

Be kind about our lack of foresight. We'd barely stopped playing with our Spectrums and our VIC20s. We had no idea of what was possible. At the time things like the NSE were considered hot stuff.

The Novag Super Expert. It got to be King for a few short years before it quietly slipped away.

It seems some folk do still buy stand alone chess machines. I asked the ever helpful staff at Malc’s Chess Emporium who these people are. The 'slightly older' customer, was the rather tactful reply. People who’ve already been playing for some time; people who aren’t so confident with PCs. Newbie chessers? Never. They buy software.

Sad really. Do the folk who own(ed) Fritz 4 ever dig it out and give it a game for old times’ sake, as I did with my Super Expert only last week? I doubt the idea would ever occur to them. Not that they'd be able to run the old stuff on their computers now even if they wanted to*.

It seems things simply aren't quite as fashionable as they once were. That's why HMV and Blockbuster are in the poop, after all.

It's progress, I suppose, and the chess world is hardly going to be immune to it. Still our world was once Stewart Lee's world of matter too. We once had stand alone chess machines, and you can file them somewhere between letters and sticks in your list of super things.

* An observation I owe to Martin at C&B.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Elephant in the Room

 "We can still win. We can still win. We can still win, if we just remember"

Would you like to hear a bizarre fact? No? How dare you. I'm going to tell you anyway.

Here is my grading history. As you can see, I've been fairly close to that 200 milestone for a while.

Yet I've never beaten anyone graded 200+. Not with white anyway...

Cheers, Tommie

Interesting, no? What makes it even more odd is that my finest ever win with the lighter bits came in 2003, aged 14, when I beat Mark Lyell, graded 199, in the final round of the London Open. Mark was very good about it.

Now, I regularly get results against titled opposition with white, including against Grandmasters, but only ever chops. There are many possible reasons for this.

1. I'm not good enough

No. I've beaten many very decent players. Here's one famous example

2. My repertoire with white isn't attacking

No. F'nar!

3. I offer draws when I hold an advantage against much stronger players

No. I play to win. I'm also respectful.

4. My awareness of the hoodoo means I play differently 

Possibly. On Monday evening I played IM Mark Ferguson with white in the London League. Just after the time control, I was faced with a decision.

White to play. You'd certainly hope so, wouldn't you?

I've become a big fan of the Rowsonian concept of playing for one, two, or three results in any given position. Here I can muck the queens and play for two results. Or I can play 32. Qf5 and go to war. 

The latter option is objectively a little better, though I can't possibly lose the queenless ending. A draw against an IM is an excellent result for me, but THE HOODOO! and WHAT IF I'M WINNING?! and WHAT IF Qf5 IS SHIT? and PANIC!

Mainly the hoodoo, though. 

I was becoming anxious and, seeing no clear plan and with plenty of time on both clocks, I took the pragmatic approach, exchanged queens and offered a draw after 32. Qxc6 Rxc6  33. Rd2 f6  34. Kg2 Ba5  35. Re2

My play had become results-oriented. I was guilty of wanting, of being affected by history. Guilty of being affected by a fairly meaningless statistic that is actually probably mostly down to my opponents making things as hard as possible. 

My advice? Just play the little wooden things. Empty your heads of trivia and just play. Otherwise, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man of the Caissic world may well trample all over your city.


Lyrics copyright Chris T-T and Xtra Mile Recordings

Monday, January 14, 2013

Random Rook Endings: Lesson Number One

Black to play

It could have been any tournament hall or any club room at any time. As it happens this potential half-point was thrown away at Benasque in July of 2011.

Angus - he of A wild miniature fame - finished the tournament strongly and ended up scoring more points than either EJH or me. It’s fair to say, however, that he took a little while to get going. In the first round he found himself on the White side of one of his favourite openings playing against a much lower-rated opponent and yet still managed to acquire a lost position within fifteen moves. That he eventually saved the game we can attribute to his fighting spirit and the other guy being unaware of what to avoid in the position we see above.

My post-game suggestion was … Kf4 trying to get to g3 to both attack White’s h-pawn and support the advance of Black’s f-pawn. At the time it seemed like a very good try to me. It still does. I'm not sure that a definitive judgement from me as to whether advancing the king leads to a winning position or not has much value, but I can tell you this for sure: it's better than ... Rxh3 which is what Black actually played.

The problem with Black's choice isn't so much that reducing the number of pawns on the board will usually makes things easier for the defender. It's that in this specific position White answers Rxb4 reaching an immediate theoretical draw. Not just any draw, even, but the Philidor position: very probably Lesson Number One for anybody who has undertaken any study of rook endings whatsoever as it's the most basic defensive technique available.

What a shame for Black. The strategy that underpins Philidor's drawing plan is so simple that it would take no longer than five minutes to master. Just a few moments study would have allowed him to continue playing for a win. Instead, rather than the chance to go on to claim a major scalp he gave up an immediate draw.

This sort of thing is easily done and I suspect rather common. Certainly, I've blundered into something similar myself (against Ravia Haria at Gatwick, June 2011). I suppose it will keep happening as long as the average chesser fails to get even as far as Lesson #1 for rook ending study.

It won't happen to me, though. Not again.

Not for a while, at least.

scene of the crime: chessdom

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Bad book covers XXVII

Chess Traveller's Quiz Book, Hodgson, Everyman, 1993

[Thanks to Harvey Kelly]
[Bad book covers index]

Friday, January 11, 2013

Funny how things turn out

Long-haired opponents are the most dangerous. They always want to attack, and they know the openings well. - Vlastmil Hort, 1975
I wrote about Tony Miles just the other day. Just the week before, when I was composing the piece, I went to get my hair cut, at New Joan's in Huesca. I'm doing the same this morning, as it happens.

On the wall of the barber's is the poster depicted below.

I don't know exactly when it's from. in the UK I might guess "between the wars", but in Spain, for obvious reasons, that expression doesn't exist. As for the translation - Jaque is "check", while fijador is "gel", though I'm far from sure that people actually said "gel" back then. Peinado means "cut" or maybe "styled", but do we, in fact, say "well cut" or "well styled" in English? Probably not. Perhaps "well turned out" might be an adequate translation.

Thinking of chess in conjunction with hair put me in mind of a celebrated spat towards the end of 1973 in the letters column of CHESS. This was kicked off by a letter in the October issue by one Stanley Lorley, who appeared to be attempting to win an award for the composition of the letter likely to be viewed by future generations as most completely and utterly wrong.

Extra points, surely, for invoking "politeness" while referring to people as "harlots" and "tramps". (We are most fortunate that bizarre misanthropic abuse is a thing of the past in chess publications.)

Back in 1973, however, it was apparently a different story. I don't know what the women so politely described as harlots thought about the letter - but as the November issue revealed, the tramps were very much not ashamed of themselves.

These days this would be a massive internet fight within minutes, but forty years ago one had to have a lot of patience to follow a flamewar, and it was not until December that a Leopold Winter fought back on behalf of the old age pensioners, issuing a challenge to the tramps to come and have a go if they thought they were hard enough.

Below Mr Winter's letter, however, was one from Wolfgang Heidenfeld, which took a distinctly different point of view.

I don't have a subscription to CHESS these days (nor did I in 1973, thank you for asking) but I'd be impressed if today's letters were as entertaining as these. Still, being just as baffled by the modern world as Mr Lorley was in his day, I have no idea why these letters come out in different sizes.

Anyway, that seems to have been the end of the ruck, though on the subject of how-things-have-changed, I did see this letter in the issue for February 1974.

Obviously one hopes somebody was able to do something for Mr Jefcoate's friend, but what particularly struck me was the phrase
I wonder whether there has ever been an electronic push-button chess board
It surely can't be too long before younger chess players begin to ask, in connection with electronic push-button chessboards, whether there was ever any other kind.

But back to 1973. I trust Mister Lorley lived long enough to see England producing a number of players equal and even superior to George Thomas, a development about which he must have been decidedly ambivalent, given the length of many of these players' hair.

But what of Sir George, who died in 1972, the year before Mr Lorley wrote his letter invoking the late gentleman and Baronet?

His Wikipedia entry includes the phrase "he never married", which might elevate some readers' eyebrows, given that it used to be obituarists' code for "gay". In point of fact, historiography doesn't appear to know whether or not George Thomas was gay, and quite likely, nowadays, most people couldn't care less either way. It wasn't like that forty years ago. I do find myself wondering what, if anything, his obituaries said in 1972. Or what Mr Lorley would have said.

[Poster: Recuerda Conmigo]
[Speelman image: Chess Analyses]

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Chess Is Like... Horse Racing?

Wednesday December 19, 2.45pm, Ludlow

"And it is Tour Des Champs now about to be pressed again to the outside by Take Of Shoc's, and they have been the first two, rather having a game of chess with one another at the moment, they've been trading blows for quite some time..."

Happily, Allthekingshorses came second. 9 ran.

The underpromotions had become ridiculous

Take a bow, Gareth Topham. Perhaps the most ludicrous analogy in our series yet.

With thanks to Peter Turner.

Chess Is Like... Index

Monday, January 07, 2013


White to play

A happy new year to you all. I trust each and every one of you, our esteemed and most valued readers, have had a good Christmas - or whatever holiday break it is that you do or do not celebrate - and 2013 finds you in excellent form.

Enough with social niceties. Time to resume blogging.

My announcement for today is that I have a New Year's Resolution. Yes, such things are normally dead in the water by now, but I have one and what is more it's still alive: by the time the year is out I aim to have published 52 blog posts on rook and pawn endings.

Why do this? First and foremost it's to force myself to actually look closely at these positions for a full twelve months. I don't expect it will 'improve' my game. I'm simply not playing enough at the moment for it to be likely that any kind of study would lead to better results. Actually, the very fact that I'm not playing as much 'real chess' as I'd like is one of the main motivations for doing this.

I'm not able to play club chess as much as I'd like just now, but I didn't want to give up the game totally. I needed to find some kind of chessic activity to fill my time, and I got to thinking "why not focus on one particular area of the game? Why not rook and pawn endings?" Not for any particular reason. Just because.

So that's what I did. These posts will just be a diary I keep along the way. Let's see how it goes.

In the meantime, allow me to redirect your attention to the position at the top of today's post. It is, fairly obviously, White to play.


The choice, in 2013, is yours.
BORP Index