Monday, November 30, 2015

DG XXXVII: Out of place

So Mig’s unhappy. Personally in a grump? Grumping for pay? A mixture of the two? Is there any distinction any more? Who can say?

One thing’s for sure, though. Mig is crosspatch and the object of his ire is Jonathan Manley and Kingpin’s recent three-parter "We Need to Talk About Garry".

To be honest, WNtTAG didn’t really do it for me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m perfectly willing to buy into the general thesis that How Life Imitates Chess is a load of old knolly and Gazza is not tremendous at recognising when he’s out of his depth. It’s just that the laying out of the detail of the argument in Andy Lewis’ articles left me a tad cold.  It was OK. It was worth a read. No more than that, though.

That said, I found We Need to Talk About Garry considerably more appealing than the protracted twitter-whinge that His Master’s Voice Mig Greengard produced in response. There’s a certain irony in Mig complaining about "paid trolls" and "fact-free" writing, I feel.

Let us review the key moments of the Kasparovian subplot of these DG posts.

  • The Bossman makes a random and entirely unsubstantiated assertion that, "There are many studies showing positive effect of chess on delaying, improving dementia/Alzheimer’s. Also good results with Down (sic) Syndrome." When asked he fails to provide any details of what these studies might be. (Doctor Garry is In)*
  • Mig gives a contemptuous response to the very idea of providing evidence to support this claim (DG XVIII) ...
  • ... subsequently promises to "post all the materials we have when I get home" but never does so (also DG XVIII)** ...
  • ... asserts that there is "strong evidence of cognitively stimulating leisure activities" helping with dementia and references a specific piece of research that he says backs this up (DG XX) ...
  • ...  however it turns out that the study by Doctor Akbaraly and others was not as Mig described it (DG XXI)  ...
  • ... and he has misrepresented the research paper’s conclusions (DG XXII).

After all that, going large with a complaint about Kingpin’s supposed lack of facts seems rather out of place to me.

Chess and Dementia Index

The bit about Down’s Syndrome is worth remembering. Dementia is what I happen to be interested in as it was my area so that bit of the tweet is what sparked a series of blog posts. The Down’s Syndrome claim is equally worthy of attention, of course.

** Making this commitment out of the blue and then not following through does rather give the impression that Mig was happy to make a promise that he had not the slightest intention of keeping. A year on, I find the whole thing rather curious. The motivation for Mig choosing to behave this way entirely escapes me.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Bark, little doggie

Mig is upset.

Ad hominem attack? Which one?

This one, apparently. Maybe this one and this one too.

What should he do about it?

Maybe this.

Will he do it?


Friday, November 27, 2015

Played On Squares 6: Empire Days

This is an unplanned supplementary to the series tracking the chess playing tendencies of the Bloomsbury Group in the first half of the twentieth century. Earlier posts examined Maynard Keynes, Roger Fry and Leonard Woolf, and much chess was played by them, albeit of a social sort. Keynes's father, though, had played seriously for Cambridge University in the 1870s and was President of its chess club; but he could hardly be said to have been a Bloomsberry. The only real chesser in the Group - one who played, for example, in proper chess tournaments - was Marjorie (aka "Gumbo") Strachey (1882-1964). It was a pleasure to be able document her participation in Margate in 1936 and 1938, and Hastings 1935/6, and to show her in a tournament setting.

From LSE Women's Library; Ref TBSH/6/3/80
Also in the National Portrait Gallery
Marjorie provided the subject for what was to have been the last episode of the series, one which finished on an ominous note: that if more turned up about her chess you would be the first to know. In fact, just a few days later, your blogger stumbled upon Marjorie once more: in rather interesting chess company, and claiming a remarkable scalp, one that implies that she could really play. So we have an excuse to return once again to our favourite Bloomsberry.

This subsequent, and unexpected, encounter with Marjorie was in the British Library, and it serendipitously encouraged the pursuit another of our guilty secrets, as shared occasionally on the Streatham and Brixton Chess Blog: the savouring of near-forgotten chess magazines. A couple of years ago we told the story of the Streatham and Brixton CC Knightmare! - appearing for three issues only from 1977-79 in a series beginning here. Also close to home geographically, if not so much historically, was the West London War-time Chess Gazette - its hey-day was 1941 to 1948: we told its story here.

Now Marjorie gives us the pretext to rescue from obscurity The Social Chess Quarterly. This short-lived journal - it ran from 1930 to 1936 - provides evidence of certain form of Edwardian chess-life, one that is now (unless I am missing out on something) extinct. It also speaks of an ambitious project that anticipated the ill-fated National Chess Centre by nearly a decade. The story of the SCQ is one that deserves to be told on its own account, but it also a necessary lead-in to our fresh encounter with Ms Strachey, who we will get to in Episode 7, together with another old friend.

Perhaps this episode 6 sits rather uneasily in the Played On Squares sequence, but I couldn't think of anywhere else to file it.

Thursday, November 26, 2015


Just a little side-note relating to the Stephen Moss piece. On the English Chess Forum thread devoted to the article, one John Foley informs us:

John links to here rather than to the page which actually advertises Stephen's talk, a page he will be aware of since he wrote it himself. It contains this passage:
It might also be surprising to the general public that the author of these lines was also a candidate in the elections referred to, where he was an ally of the "ousted" Chief Executive and Marketing Director, and in which contest he was defeated by an enormous margin.

For some reason John decided to leave this out, as if he were a disinterested critic.

It may be that he didn't wish to draw attention to his role because one of the major reasons why Phil Ehr and chums got booted out was that they were considered responsible for bullying a number of long-term servants of English chess, both on the ECF board and outside it. (You won't have read a word of this in Stephen Moss's article, of course, though you'll find a link to a piece by John Foley.) John was, and continues to be, part of that effort.

Guilt? Hypocrisy?

Probably not. Probably just myopia.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Magic words

Back to Stephen Moss's not-entirely-balanced Guardian piece and that characteristically aggressive section from Nigel Short. Today, though, we'll be looking at the comments at the top end of the passage (and elsewhere) rather than the string of insults at the bottom.

First point: what's this?
It is very different in a game like football, where everybody has their heroes...why should you give any money to Wayne Rooney?
Is Nigel really under the impression that there's no resentment of what top players get paid in football, or that they're closer to everyday football people than top chess players are to everyday club players? If so, he really needs to talk to some football people. he would find out otherwise.

Second point: if we accept that there's a "disconnect between the top players and the club players", might that have anything to do with the way in which our most prominent players chooses to conduct himself? I mean I don't detect a great deal of resentment of Mickey Adams, for instance. On the contrary, he's much-liked. So is Luke McShane. Similarly David Howell, Gawain Jones and pretty much every other leading player.

But Nigel, not so much.

Why would that be, do we think?

So here's a little something for Nigel. A very little something.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Well worth repeating

Ray, the Times, last Friday:

Well worth repeating indeed. Here's the first half of his column:

and here's the first half of his column for 11 December 2014.

Monday, November 23, 2015

The decline of the "The Decline of English Chess" article

The Guardian’s Stephen Moss wants to get a debate going. Which is nice.

I think it fair to say that the reaction to last Friday’s Grandmaster crash: the inside story of how English chess pawned its future has been mixed. There are certainly plenty of people who liked it, but equally you won’t struggle to find some folk who feel that a critical review of TGSM’s piece would be at least as long as the source material itself.

"It’s an interesting article"; "Well worth reading"; "Stephen Moss is a good journalist who is interested and informed about chess". All comments from the EC Forum thread.

On the other side of the coin we have Jon Manley observing the similarity between a short passage in the Guardian article and something that had appeared on the Kingpin website a few days earlier, EJH of this parish having his say and Dennis Monokroussos opening a not altogether favourable review with the phrase "longish and questionable".

No matter. The Guardian’s Stephen Moss responded to Monokroussos's blog post by making clear that the "main thing is to get a debate going about these issues."

There are are number of 'issues’ you could debate with Grandmaster Crash... How about this passage, for instance,
The government’s ruling that the game is not a fully fledged sport denies British chess the recognition and financial support it needs to compete with established giants such as Russia and Ukraine, and fast-rising powers such as China and India
Does the ruling really do that? In the glory days chess didn’t have the recognition and financial support that supposedly comes from being considered a sport either. It didn’t seem to do us any harm back then*.

Talking of things that are supposedly signs of The Fall and yet - curiously - were also happening during the height of the Golden Age, how about the prominent position the article given to Nigel Davies’s 'defection' to Wales? Why is this supposed to be some kind of measure of how bad things have got? As opposed to when he he did exactly the same thing in 1989, I mean.

The truth of the English chess is in decline narrative is that it’s a story that’s been told for a quarter of a century now. It’s very strange that John Nunn gets a nod in passing in Grandmaster Crash ... without any mention that he himself had written a decline article as long ago as January 1991. It’s hard to imagine why anybody writing about the decline of English chess wouldn’t want to include an account of how long we’ve been talking about the decline of English chess. The very length of the debate is central to the story, wouldn’t you say?

In truth, though you wouldn’t know it from reading The Guardian, since John Nunn put pen to paper (as I imagine he would have done back then), the fall of English chess from the position we had once enjoyed has hardly been off the agenda. What is more, if you look around it doesn't take long to find a much richer discussion of the possible causes - the break-up of the Soviet Union, changing domestic socio-economic conditions, students now graduating with five-figure debts, increasing housing costs for instance - than anything The Guardian’s Stephen Moss has to offer.

Here’s the bottom line: Grandmaster Crash ... has little if anything new to say and demonstrates nothing save for showing that articles written about the decline of English chess are not as good as they used to be.

And The Guardian’s Stephen Moss’s subsequent "the main thing is to get a debate going"? That’s no different to Quentin Tarantino saying that nobody was talking about slavery until he made Django Unchained.

* James Plaskett’s Playing to Win (Batsford, 1988) begins, "On the 23rd May 1986 I sat in the public gallery of the British House of Commons and listened to a debate on chess where the issue of how much money the Government should allocate to it was inextricably linked to the question "What is chess?" and under which department should it fall?"

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Grossly immature

There's quite a few things, not all of them good, to be said about Stephen Moss's Guardian piece yesterday, but this passage, perhaps, stands out as much as anything.

Especially the last part. You really wouldn't have thought it possible, with Nigel's long history of puerile sexism, to quote him calling other people
grossly immature
without irony.

But Stephen Moss did.

[Nigel Short index]

Friday, November 20, 2015

No such thing as sexism in chess

To:, 7 November 2015.

Dear Dominic

I'm a member of the English Chess Federation (membership number 4166) and my attention was drawn by a sentence attributed to you by the Times newspaper on October 27. It claims you said the following:
There is no such thing as sexism in chess.
As this statement seems on the face of it absurd, I was wondering whether you were correctly quoted and if not, what exactly you did say.



(No reply received by time of publication)

[Dominic Lawson index]

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Bookshelf II

This one is mine. Part of mine. Probably the part I use most often.

There's more of it, of course: here's about half of it, as badly photographed as I could manage

and here's roughly the other half, excluding the Rough Guides at the top and the books, nothing to do with chess, mostly out of shot at the bottom.

Probably many readers have much larger collections, if you'd call them that: it makes them sound more coherent, both in the way they were acquired and the way they're organised, than they usually are.

Monday, November 16, 2015

1 e4 e6, 2 d4 d5

Later on, and especially after 9/11, I came to appreciate more fully the important contributions artists and entertainers provide within a free society.

Ken Weber, Maximum Entertainment

Sometimes it feels rather strange to be writing about chess.What relevance has chess this morning when people are being murdered in the street for no other reason than that they were out on a Friday night?

A sign of the times, sadly, that I feel the need to link to the specific story. Just so that should somebody stumble across this blogpost in the future they’ll know which particular terrorist atrocity we're talking about. Which city? Which country? How many dead this time?

A few days ago I went to the cinema to see He Named Me Malala. It is, you probably know, the story of the young Pakistani woman who was shot for defying the Taliban by speaking in public for the right of girls to go to school.  The education of females, it had been decreed by those who sent the gunman, was "unnecessary".

And so it is, in the sense that the world wouldn't stop turning if girls aren’t sent to school alongside boys. Equally - as magician turned financial guru Ken Weber would tell you - the sun would continue to rise each morning even if everybody suddenly stopped doing card tricks. Ditto if nobody made films anymore, for that matter.

These things aren’t "necessary". It’s just that the more of them that stop happening the more the world gets shittier.

If you ended up here this morning, there’s more than a reasonable chance that - like me - chess is your thing. Chess is your art. Chess is your entertainment. We play chess, we watch it, we write about it. We obsess about it.

This is our contribution to a free society because this is us doing what we choose to do.

So we carry on. Not despite the fact that the freedom to decide for ourselves how we spend our lives is under attack, but because it is. We carry on with our choices, precisely because it is trivial, absurd and totally meaningless to those who couldn’t ever understand what the game means to us.

We carry on because we want to. It just so happens it’s also our own little way of saying fuck you.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

An evening with Ilya Merenzon

Email to Ilya Merenzon, CEO of AGON, 12 November 2015.

Dear Mr Merenzon

In your Report of September 7, 2015 to the FIDE Executive Board, you write:

I wonder then if I could ask you about the claim you make that there are "600 million players globally".

The report gives as a source for this information YouGov March 2012 but in fact the YouGov survey gives no such figure and YouGov have specifically stated that the figure does not come from them. They say:
I am afraid that we do not have any further information about this and about how that figure was arrived at.
I wonder whether you would be able to provide a proper and verifiable source for the figure you give and if not, whether AGON will withdraw it.

Looking forward to your reply


Reply, same date:

Dear Justin,

Can you please introduce yourself (I mean the organization you represent)?

Regarding data: YouGov is not authorized to provide detail on the research given that we paid for research and own results and YouGov is not distributing it without our authorization. Study commissioned by us took place in India, Russia, Germany, US, UK. Numbers that we cite are conservative approximation and we are prepared to give more details if need be, but first I’d like to know who I am talking to.



Friday, November 13, 2015

War Game 9

Our investigation of chess in World War 2 - in War Game # 4 through to #7 - described how Great Britain had become the rallying point for combatants who, having escaped occupied mainland Europe, now aimed to help expel the German invaders from their home countries. Thus Dutch, Norwegian, Czech and above all Polish and French fighters found a place of relative safety here, to regroup and contribute to the Allied war effort.

Among those taking refuge were a number of strong chess players who happily engaged in whatever domestic chess action there was, including, as time went on, organised matches against teams of British servicemen. Foremost among these refugee chessers was the already famous Dr Savielly Tartakower - he had been decorated in the First War (in which, incidentally his brother was killed) - albeit he was now known as Georges Cartier. It was said that his real name was difficult to pronounce.

One easier to say may have been that of Maxime Chauvet, mentioned in our earlier posts. Lieutenant Chauvet was a talented player (although by no means as strong as "Tarta") who briefly charmed the domestic chess scene, particularly in London. He appears to have arrived in 1941 serving in an Intelligence Corps with the Free French (the Bureau Central de Renseignements et d'Action) before he was called away in the summer of 1943. Here he is caught on camera, in uniform, at the Sidcup Congress in August 1942 in which he came 4th.
From BCM September 1942 
Apologies for the orange cast to this, and the next, BCM scan.
Intrigued by this genial Frenchman I have been digging around and, in the course of a piece of fruitful cross-channel co-operation with Dominique Thimognier of the vraiment formidable site Héritage des Échecs Français, we have begun to recover the Chauvet story - though some mysteries remain.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Not making waves

It's that time of year when my subscription for New In Chess is up for renewal, a matter which in my mind is always linked with the question "can I stand much more Nigel Short?" which, to Nigel's credit I suppose, I have always so far answered with a yes.

I'm not sure the answer would be the same if the question I asked was "can I stand both Nigel Short and Dominic Lawson?", since Nigel's columns have other virtues to make up for his studied obnoxiousness and half-digested English, and even the obnoxiousness has a certain illustrative purpose to it. It adds character, even if the character is someone you'd cross a city to avoid.

Lawson just bores me though. I'm sorry about that: I just find him mediocre. The last time he wrote in New In Chess it was a long, dull piece about how the world of chess was in mortal danger because we're using computer evaluations when watching chess live, an article which was a rather greater threat to my interest in chess than the phenomenon of which it warned. If he's written again, before the piece in the latest issue, I've missed it - which would be an easy thing to do - but I've now seen the four pages he's produced on the three seasons of his radio show, Across the Board, about which I've previously written twice. One thing I can't deny - he's done well to get in so many episodes of a show which, by his own account, may not have interested a single person in the game of chess.

Monday, November 09, 2015


Tweet your favourite #chess bookshelf! asked Jonathan Manley of Kingpin fame. What follows is not my favourite exactly. Just all my Pirc/Modern books.

The Modern Defence (Keene & Botterill, Batsford 1972), The Pirc Defence (Botterill & Keene, Batsford 1973), La Defense PIRC en 60 parties (Le Monnier, Bernard Grasset  1983), New Ideas in The Pirc Defence (Nunn, Batsford 1993), Winning with the Modern (Norwood, Batsford 1994)

we saw last week - all secondhand. Here are the rest.

Becoming a Grandmaster (Keene, Batsford 1976)
Not a specialist Pirc / Modern book, but worthy of inclusion here nevertheless.  "This is the first book to be written by a British Grandmaster" goes the back-cover blurb and very obviously a rushed out 'cut and paste' job to make sure that it was. It’s still an interesting read, though. Perhaps not quite as interesting as it might have been if Ray had really put his back into it.

Anyhoo, BaG has a section on the books that Ray had written and a part of that is on his Pirc and Modern work with George Botteril from the early 1970s.  I particularly rather like his games against Gligoric (Berlin 1971) and Hecht (Teeside, 1972).

An Opening Repertoire for Black (Marovic & Parma, Batsford 1987)
A book from the days when you could cover the Queens Gambit, the Benoni, The French Defence and the Pirc - not to mention all the sidelines - in a single tome. No idea why this didn’t go in The Great Terror that saw 100+ chess books flogged off (this sister book, RDK’s An Opening Repertoire for White, certainly did, as did John Nunn’s second book on the Pirc), but it’s still here.

AORfB dates from a brief dabble with the Pirc from my student days. That also happens to be the period when I happily bought any old shite. In the Austrian attack sub-section of the Pirc chapter there is no game quoted that was played after 1975 - more than a decade before the book was published.  Even allowing for the fact that theory developed much more slowly in those days, Batsford were really taking the piss with this book.

Trends Classical Pirc (Hodgson, Trends Publications 1989) & Trends Pirc without Classical (McNab, Trends Publications 1990)
Anybody else still have booklets from this series? 100 unannotated games with brief chapter introductions. Stuff like this became impossible to sell the very second that we all got our own databases.

Tiger’s Modern (Hillarp Persson, Quality Chess 2005)
A Christmas present from the first time I considered taking up the Modern which would be circa 2010. I’m still to get around to actually playing 1 ... g6 against 1 e4 or 1 d4 in a real game. I did give it a punt against 1 f4 at Golders Green in August, at least.

The Philidor Files (Bauer, Everyman Chess, 2006)
An impulse purchase inspired by the idea of developing a repertoire that would allow me the option to play the ending 1 e4 d6, 2 d4 Nf6, 3 Nc3 e5 4 dxe5 dxe5 5 Qxd8+ Kxd8 as well as 3 ... g6. Never played it as yet - although I did  have a go on the White side against Julien Shepley at Hampstead a couple of months ago. After the game Julien pointed out the downside of the system: it can be difficult to generate winning chances as Black. He kindly avoided mentioning that he had just rolled me over rather easily, nevertheless.

The Pirc in Black and White (Vigus, Batsford 2007)
The one that restarted it all. I’d been vaguely thinking of taking up the Pirc and borrowed a copy of this book from Angus. A swift flick through later, I decided that I didn’t much fancy the 4 Be3 variation.

Before I got to give TPiBW back, though, I suffered a leaky bottle catastrophe in my bag. One of the casualties was Angus’s book. Upshot one: Angus got a new copy and I ended up with the water damaged version. Upshot two: I had another look and decided I might be able to deal with the 150 Attack after all.

Dangerous Weapons: The Pirc and Modern (Palliser, McNab, Vigus Everyman Chess 2009)
Technically I bought this new. but it was much reduced - less than a fiver if memory serves. One of the lines recommended in this book is 1 e4 d6, 2 d4 Nf6, 3 Nc3 g6, 4 Be3 Bg7, 5 Qd2 0-0, 6 Bh6 Bxh6!? - That’s Vigus’ annotation. It's "The aggressive move" and "The 'dangerous' choice" according to him 7 Qxh6 c5

7 ... c5

Whatever Vigus might tell you, this line is total junk. Not that I’ve let that stop me doing rather well with it.

Chess Developments The Pirc (Vigus, Everyman Chess 2012)
I actually bought this brand new.  My last new openings book ever I think. Vigus downgrades his assessment of the 6 ... Bh6, 7 Qxh6 variation to "rather risky" which is still more than a tad optimistic.

The Perfect Pirc-Modern (Moskalenko, New in Chess 2013)
A birthday present. This is the latest in Moskalenko's series of alliterated titles for New in Chess. Here’s hoping that The Bollocks Blackmar-Diemer and The Lachrymose London will follow.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Definitely Got Nothing to do with chess IV

You must be out of your Goddamn mind if you think
The President is gonna bring the nation to the brink
Of meddling in the middle of a military mess
A game of chess, where France is Queen and Kingless
We signed a treaty with a King whose head is now in a basket
Would you like to take it out and ask it?

Any hope of success is fleeting
How can I keep leading when the people I’m
Leading keep retreating?
We put a stop to the bleeding as the British take Brooklyn
Knight takes rook, but look! We are outgunned.

No one really knows how the
Parties get to yes
The pieces that are sacrificed in
Every game of chess
We just assume that it happens
But no one else is in
The room where it happens.

[ do with chess index]

[Thanks to Richard McAleavey]

Friday, November 06, 2015

Contributory factor

Know Attila the Stockbroker? Course you do. Professional poet for most of his adult life, previously a stockbroker for rather less time than that, known for works like Contributory Negligence and his collaborations with John Otway.

Anyway just the other day I happened to contact him* on Twitter and he surprised me by saying this, presumably in response to my Twitter handle mentioning chess.

What is the gentleman's problem with this? Well apparently...

Well I never knew he played at all. But this is interesting, isn't it? I'd always thought that lots of older players found the change from descriptive to algebraic, which in the UK at least took place in the Seventies and Eighties, hard to handle, and even now I assume that some players never managed it and continue to write their moves using the older style. But I'd never heard previously that it was a problem for younger players, who aside from having the advantage of youth, when it is easier to adapt, would generally have seen literature in both styles from soon after having learned the moves - and hence had little difficulty.

Well all right, Attila is older than me - fifty-eight - and would have been fifteen, for instance, when Fischer beat Spassky. So that was old enough to have been made uncomfortable by the encroachment and eventual takeover of descriptive by algebraic. I'd not previously heard, though, of anybody from the Fischer-boom generation who was sufficiently discombobulated to stop studying the game. Are there any more examples, personal or anecdotal, of this syndrome?

[* it so happens that he went to a school where my father-in-law then taught and I wondered if they remembered one another - they don't.]

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Death of a subscription

Congratulations! Well, self-congratulations. Anyway, this made me laugh.

What we're invited to believe here is that Nigel's defection to another federation (a perfectly reasonable move in itself and one I might make myself one day) has something to do with the personage of CJ de Mooi, or is in some way justified by that gentleman's autobiography - which, while it makes no mention at all of the English Chess Federation, does claim that its author once killed a man. Much like CJ's statements while President of the ECF, this is not believeable. The difference this time, perhaps, is that nobody can be found who is gullible enough to believe it.

Cobblers: if anybody was to be concerned about CJ's moral character, the time for that was when CJ was rampaging about Sheffield defaming other ECF officials, or making claims about money that changed every time he made them or, especially, when he saw fit to touch the Federation for a large sum of money which he then distributed to competitors with an absence of documentation.

Because if you were concerned about how an organisation is governed, absolutely the first and most important thing that would alarm you would be gross financial irresponsibility. Wouldn't it?

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

When You’re Mates With a Chesser

AZ: Strictly did a special chess dance routine J. You should watch it. I think it’s to get you on board. 
JB: What??? 
AZ: Watch it online. On i-player. 
JB: Are you having a turn? Are you sure this actually happened?

JB: The board’s the wrong way around. 
AZ: Really!!! That’s all you can say?

Monday, November 02, 2015

Sixty Memorable Annotations

#33: Honfi - Gurgenidze, Kislovodsk 1968

5 ... h5

While some of the players of the twenties might just have played Black’s first four moves I don’t think anyone but a modern - not even Nimzowitsch - would have played ... P-KR4 so early. Black is fixing his grip on KB4 for his knight and the blocked position means that the loss of time does not matter.

C. H. O’D. Alexander (The Modern Defence, Keene and Botterill 1972)

I think I’m over it now. The compulsive completely unnecessary purchasing of new openings books, I mean. It might have taken 25 years but I think I’ve moved on.

Coincidentally or otherwise, I seem to have developed a raging 'purchasing of secondhand openings books' habit of late. Methadone to my previously preferred heroin perhaps. If nothing else, it is at least cheaper.

At the moment I"m mostly collecting old books devoted to the Pirc/Modern complex. John Nunn’s New Ideas in the Pirc (1993), for instance. Ray and Botters’ books from the early 70s, of course. La defines PIRC en 60 parties by Jacques Le Monnier ("un theoricien francais de reputation internationale" allegedly) even.

My latest addition, David Norwood’s Winning with the Modern, I picked up just last week.

Nozzer's book is rather interesting in its own quirky, somewhat ramshackle kind of a way. Much like the opening itself, I suppose. Anyhoo, while WWtM contains lots of fascinating games, many of which are by the author himself - as positive a sign in the 90s as it is today - it has to be said that the book hasn’t been put together with quite as much thought as might be hoped for.

On page 58 Nozz writes,
One possible idea that has just crossed my mind is to try 8 ... d5!?
Any reader who has worked his or her way through 1 to 57 might reasonably suspect that this is not just be an expression but could be literally true. The notion of advancing the queen’s pawn a second time popping into Norwood’s head as he was in the middle of typing out the page.

"If this idea is codswallop, then Black needs some new ideas against 8 Be3" is Norwood’s conclusion. Other than 8 ... e5 (which is assessed as better for White), Winning with the Modern doesn’t supply them, though. So if the speculative pawn push doesn’t stand-up the book’s suggested line against the Classical becomes unplayable and you can’t switch to ... Bg4 systems instead because WWtM has Black committed to a very early ... c6 to give an extra option against the Austrian Attack.

It is by no means an exaggeration that the entire book hangs on a move which has just come off of the top of Norwood’s head and which he analyses for less than half a sentence.


Talking of the Austrian Attack, WWtM's suggestion there is the Gurgenidze system. It’s an interesting choice that that has Black rejecting the usual Pirc-Modern strategy of a dark-square counterattack in favour of a light-square blockade. Dodgy or otherwise (my guess is the former) it does at least have the merit of being something that Norwood was prepared to play himself. The chess world would be a whole lot better place, I feel, if somebody passed a law banning authors from recommending lines that they had not punted in rated games

Not that Winning With ...  was the first book to take a close look at The Gurg*. Keene and Botterill had an entire chapter on it. It’s where I found the Alexander quote at the top of today’s blog.

There’s something rather lovely about somebody discussing modernity whilst using descriptive notation. It’s as anachronistic as K&B’s choice of
Divers Blockading Attempts
as their title for the section of their book that describes a range of different systems that are related to, but subtly different from, the Gugendize proper.

Don’t let an overdose of quaint blind you to the fact that the game that Alexander is annotating - Honfi against Gurgenidze from 1968 - is great fun. Black pretty much bashes in White’s head using just minor pieces and pawns. At the moment the decisive blow is delivered on move 26 Gurgenidze's king is still in the centre, his rooks lie untouched on their original squares and his queen has only made it as far as e7.

Superb stuff. Just the sort of thing that inspires me to take a closer look at Norwood’s analysis, in fact. If I don’t get distracted by some new old book purchase, that is.

* Copyright John Hickman

Sunday, November 01, 2015

"There is no sexism in chess"

Times, October 27. Not sure what Dominic is trying to say here, but has he asked Nigel Short?

[Dominic Lawson index]