Monday, March 30, 2015

A Good Book That May Well be Useless

49 Black resigns
Shirov - Timman, Wijk aan Zee 1996

If you’ve spent any time with endgame books recently, this position may well be familiar to you. You’ll find it all over the place. Partly because it’s an interesting position, both instructive and deceptive in its apparent simplicity. Mostly because Timman managed to do something even worse than making the worst move on the board. He resigned the game in a position which is not in fact lost.

Benjamin devotes two entire pages to Shirov - Timman. Around three-quarters of that he spends on the position in which the Dutchman threw in the towel, showing what could and should have happened. I don’t really consider myself qualified to pass judgement on the quality and accuracy of his analysis, but when compared with other sources - e.g. Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual or Muller and Lamprecht’s Secrets of Pawn Endings - Benjamin’s coverage can hardly be described as skimpy.

It is a comprehensive and detailed analysis of a position that bamboozled two chessers who were part of the world’s elite at the time the game was played. It is also a very clear example of Liquidation on the Chess Board’s fundamental flaw.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Brixton Byways 10: Howzat

In the last episode we found some helpful corroboration of the likely Year Zero of Streatham and Brixton Chess Club, viz 1871. This was the moment of stellar creation when, out of the void of the Stockwell, Kennington, Camberwell sector of the ever expanding chess universe, there appeared the nebulous form of the Endeavour Club of North Brixton. Over the following decades it tracked ever southward, touching down in the 1920s at the Half Moon Hotel by Brockwell Park, where the outer reaches of the eastern Brixton fade into the lower slopes of Herne Hill, with the upper crust of Dulwich just visible beyond. It had by then condensed into an entity referred to as Brixton CC.

As we noted in that episode, the club President, speaking at the 50th anniversary garden party in 1921 (reported in the British Chess Magazine of August in that year), told how Brixton CC had been making its mark on the Surrey chess scene in a way by which it would want to be remembered. For starters, it had won the County Championship several times. And now the club was now about to make its mark on the London scene. But, to add our own comment, in a way that it might have preferred to forget.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

End of the Immortal

Ray's Times column for 28 February, or the opening two paragraphs anyway. The advertising material's a lot of fun but in fact the subject of today's piece is the Immortal Game, rather than the history of dining at Simpsons-in-the-Strand.

Notes are based on. "Based on", you may have guessed, is Ray's new get-round for using other people's notes to write his columns. Instead of just copying out notes from Kasparov's My Great Predecessors series with very slight changes, he just copies out notes from Kasparov's My Great Predecessors series with very slight changes and flicks in "based on". (Or if not from Kasparov then from elsewhere, as often as not something by his lapdog Steve Giddins.) I reckon most other people would be sacked for this, but Ray's not been sacked for a great deal worse.

Anyway, this is how Ray wrapped up his largely copied-out column:

neglecting to mention that his description of White's eighteenth is actually plagiarised from Euwe

rather than, ah, "based on" Kasparov.

But that's not the subject of today's piece either.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

At the chessboard with Lucy Mangan

Guardian last Friday:
Whether you agreed with what was being said or not, there was the odd and welcome sense of being talked to as an adult by an adult – at least until Phillips interviewed Tony Blair, which was, as ever, like being addressed by a calculating machine trying to manoeuvre its way between irritating, human-shaped obstacles so that it can get to the chestful of cash on the other side of today’s chessboard.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Work Avoidance

"Can Black draw with 53 ... Bxf3 54 Kxf3 h2 ?"
Joel Benjamin: Liquidation on the Chessboard

An interesting conversation about chess improvement broke out in the comments to 10 Types of Chesser III last week. I particularly liked the comment from An Ordinary Chess Player which ended with,
I'm pretty sure all the computer stuff is just a trap. I was reading an online review of ChessBase and the blogger was all glowing about how great it was going to be for his game, but a couple of years later his rating was still the same. I think most amateurs use the computer like the television and the smartphone: as a way to avoid work.
and began,
Rolf's basic idea is that you improve by testing yourself.
The conversation between AOC-P and Niall is well worth a read if you haven’t already seen it. "Rolf", by the way, is one Rolf Wetzell who apparently went from 2000 ish USCF to 2200 in his 50s. Impressive stuff.

Anyhoo, back to Benjamin’s book. I have certain reservations about the book - next week I will deal with my principal concern, in the meantime you can find a contribution from Tim Harding on the issue of typos and misprints in the comments to Sixty Memorable Annotations #32 - but one thing I like very much about Liquidation on the Chess Board is that every chapter ends with a series of exercises. The position at the head of today’s blog being one of seventeen puzzles to be found in the chapter on bishop versus knight endings.

I chose this problem partly because it sets us up for next week’s post and partly because it leads to a rather lovely and instructive (to me, at least) pawn endgame. Do spend a moment to think about it if you can. Alternatively, if you fancy a bit of work avoidance - and what is this blog for if not that? - then the solution as given in a video made by one of the players involved can be found below.

King and pawn Index

Sunday, March 22, 2015

...and I am glad

Encountered by chance in a Sheffield remainder warehouse last month...

In vast quantities it has been remaindered
Like a van-load of counterfeit that has been seized
And sits in piles in a police warehouse

Clive James

[Ray Keene plagiarism index]
[Ray Keene index]

Friday, March 20, 2015

On the Chequer'd Field Array'd

Interviewed on BBC Radio 3 on Wednesday 11th March: Hannah Kendall, one of "Five Under 35 - Contemporary British Women Composers" featured in Composer of the Week.

"On the Chequer'd Field Array'd" is "a piece for solo piano in three movements, the title is taken from the 1763 poem Caissa by Sir William Jones and depicts the three sections of a game of chess (the opening, middlegame and endgame); each taking inspiration from different sources".

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Great Chessboxing Swindle: Marsh Madness

Here's a load of old tosh (or most of it) from the Standard last week. It's about chessboxing. Chessboxing and the Standard - what chance does that give us?

Monday, March 16, 2015

10 Types of Chesser III

01 Those who don’t train;

10 Those who don’t train, but say that they do.

37 ... Rf5
Andersson - Brynell, Malmo 1994 

Nobody does any chess training. Not really.

OK, that’s not entirely true. My friend and (for the most part former) blogging colleague Tom Chivers did a tonne of work in the year before he wrote his Improve Your Chess series back in 2008, Jonathan Hawkins evidently didn’t go From Amateur to IM and beyond without putting his back in to it and that Matthew Webb chappie is grafting away Up North somewhere. Those three are pretty much it, though.

Fair enough. Chess training is bastard hard work and it’s not exactly difficult to find something more pleasant or less demanding (or both) to do. So what if that thing is less productive in the greater scheme of things? Much less productive. Much much less productive.

Like blogging for instance.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Brixton Byways: 9. Fast Forward and Backtrack

The series Brixton Byways set out to describe the ancient history of the Brixton bit of the Streatham and Brixton Chess Club combo, insofar as we have been able to reconstruct it. By episode 6 we had got to the end of the 19th century, just tipping into the 20th, and about as far as we then wanted to go, when the series morphed into the ancient history of the Streatham bit. Further surprises arrived: especially for current members of the Club (your blogger being one). It seems that Streatham CC went back further that anyone had supposed.

Now we return to Brixton again. Back, in fact, to where we started. But in order to backtrack we need to go forward and follow the club into the 1920s.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

A bad smell

Take a look at the image attached to this tweet, from the Varsity Match that took place last weekend. I've written about that match before, but it rolls around once a year and once a year some obvious points require restating. So take a look at that image. What does it tell you about the Varsity Match? What does it tell you about the institutions involved?

Monday, March 09, 2015

Sixty Memorable Annotations

#32: Al-Rakib Abdulla - Nigel Short, Dhaka 1999

60 Rd8!?

Only a player with complete confidence in his understanding of pawn endings should consider this move
Joel Benjamin (Liquidation on the chess board, New in Chess 2015)

That sounds a bit like the Soltis quote. The one RdC tipped us in the comments box to Grandmaster Preparation: (King and pawn) Endgame Play. Except that Benjamin goes an awful lot further than

Never to trade down into a king and pawn ending unless you could safely bet your first-born child on the result. The reason is that K+P endgames are 90% *calculation*. No matter how much book theory you know, even a world class player can err badly.
In Liquidation on the chess board he suggests that trading down isn’t always a good idea even when you know for sure that the game should end in a draw.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

"Football is a bit like chess..."

Football is a bit like chess: it's not just the piece being moved that matters, it's also the effect that move has on all the other pieces.
Mal Peet, who died last week.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

We Are Not Amused X

It's been a long time coming: a pretext for another "We Are Not Amused" post - and I'm not referring only to yesterday's Chess Queen reference by Jonathan. The last WANA was just about two years ago, provoked by a faux pas from a prestigious London gallery in its display of Duchampian chess-art. Now it is the Evening Standard - London's free evening paper dished out so liberally on weekdays at the capital's tube stations etc - that has caught the eye.

As free-sheets go, the Standard's reportage is not as superficial as some, and the paper is noteworthy for its well-informed arts reviews on a Thursday. A recent one (26th February) had a headline with a familiar ring to it, and it is that which has prompted today's Chess in Art post, reverting, exceptionally, to its old Saturday slot.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Definitely Got Something to do with chess XI

The queen, now the most potent piece on the board, surprisingly did not exist in the early days of chess in India, Persia and the Near East. She was born around 1000 AD in Europe, but by 1497, when Isabella of Castile ruled over Spain and much of the New World, she had come to rule the game.

Or so it says here.

... to do with chess Index

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Minor point

I was vaguely following Giri-Domínguez Pérez from Tblisi when it suddenly seemed to me that there was something a bit unusual, or unfamiliar about the ending.

What it was, was that - from move 40 to move 56 - they were playing with four minor pieces on each side. No major pieces, but a full set of bishop and knights. Am I mistaken, or is that a balance we don't often see?

You get plenty of major piece endings, since it's the minor pieces that come out first and get swapped off, which they are always liable to be when there are in close conjunction with one another. But in order to reach a four-minor-piece ending (or a rookless and queenless middlegame, if you will) you need them to leave one another alone on a full board while a file or two opens up - and the rooks and queens to wipe one another out while their smaller counterparts miraculously survive.

It's my impression that this doesn't happen very often. Am I right? And what would happen if you tried to take on Ulf Andersson in a game of no-rooks-no-queens?

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Back in the Saddle

[NB: Posted by Jonathan B, but written by Jack Rudd]

Unlikely as it may seem, the recent East Devon Congress was my first individual tournament for five months. All the others I might have played in during that time were ones I opted out of for one reason or another: Torquay clashed with the 4NCL, the London Classic and Gibraltar were events where I was on the other side of the desk, and Hastings proved less enticing than a holiday with my girlfriend in Sweden.

a good reason for missing chess tournaments

The omens going into the tournament weren't particularly good. I was in poor form against strong opposition (1½/6 in this season's 4NCL, 1½/3 in the Devon League, 1½/3 for Somerset), my depression was hitting me fairly hard, and last year's performance in this tournament was preying on my mind. I'd had 4/4 going into the last round, needing only a draw with white to win the tournament - and I suffered a horrendous crisis of confidence. I played a passive anti-Marshall line, went completely wrong, and crashed out in 20 moves.

So I went into this tournament with some trepidation, and gradually relaxed into it. My round one game against Meyrick Shaw gave me some early challenges to face, but I rose to them and won pretty convincingly. My two games on the Saturday were bizarre encounters where my opponents went wrong very early on, and I was on 3/3 going into the final day.

My round 4 game was against my fellow leader, Dominic Mackle. It was a topsy-turvy encounter, one in which I kept on missing his tactical ideas, and ended up in a piece-down ending... and yet somehow managed to draw it. It wasn't exactly high-quality chess, but it entertained the spectators, and left me and Dominic joint leaders going into the last round. Dominic would have white against Steve Dilleigh, I would have black against Alistair Hill.

So, in a situation where I needed to win with black, hoping to erase the scars of last year's final round, what approach did I take? Would I play something solid and try to squeeze something out? Would I play something sharp from the off and try to hit him with an attack?

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.c4 c5 4.d5


Double exclamation marks there not for move quality, but for attitude. I could have approached the game as if it were one with everything at stake; instead, I played a crucial last-round game as if it were one with nothing at stake. Because that's what I needed to do; it got my mind out of the tournament and into the game, and I played with the freedom and expressivity my play demonstrates at its best:

I freely confess I was lucky in that my opponent had no real line against the Blumenfeld; what he chose is hardly theoretically critical. But I wasn't lucky that I gave myself the opportunity to find that out; I made a good call for the situation. I played the opening that Jack Rudd would play... and it won me the game and the tournament.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Meet the New Boss

Yesterday it was all about the Soviet Man. Today, meet the New Boss.

Monday, March 02, 2015


draw agreed
Yudasin - Osnos, Leningrad 1987

S&BC Blog favourite Nigel Short on Kasparov, circa 1993:-
He’s very Soviet … He’s very much a Soviet man … 
There was one Soviet grandmaster who explained to me what Soviet morality is. It’s very simple. To the Soviet man, "if I fuck your wife that’s good, but if you fuck my wife that’s bad."
Kasparov Short - The Inside Story (Grandmaster Video)

Not that you hear much of that sort of thing nowadays. Clearly if Oceania is mates with Eurasia then Oceania has always been mates with Eurasia. The mate of the moment representing absolute loveliness, it follows that any past or future disagreement with him must be impossible.

Anyhoo, last week (SMA#31) we had Viktor Korchnoi giving GM Joel Benjamin a ticking off viz-a-viz the "ABCs of chess". This week’s king and pawn action continues the theme. As it turns out, not all of them there Russians knew the basics. Although it will take a little bit of that Soviet mentality for us to discover that.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Once again with the 600 million

I think Brett Popplewell's Sportsnet piece on Eric Hansen actually came out last year, but I hadn't seen it until it was linked to on the English Chess Forum late last month.

Hard to miss was the following:

Some 600 million people play chess
They don't, of course.

[605 million index]