Tuesday, 20 October 2020

Can I Be Bovvered........?

 ... to write another match report from the Coventry Online League? Just about, I suppose, though the fact that I am already feeling de-motivated by Week 2 is not a good sign for future matches.

Anyway, the A team lost 5-3 last night to Warwick University B (and yes, the result may well be a major factor in my disinclination to spend too long on this) - which hardly augurs well for our fixture against Warwick Uni A! On paper/ratings, this probably should not have happened, but online chess is a young person's game, and with Jude and Billy sitting this week out, we were struggling to field many/any young persons! Andy W might just about count under normal circumstances, but even he is positively geriatric compared to the student demographic. So the writing was on the wall, even when the University made a late switch and brought in an ungraded (ECF) and unrated (chess.com) player instead of their intended Board 3 at the last minute.

I had been rather heartened to be told that the University Board 4 was very new to chess - surely our gnarled veteran Capitalist Bernard would hoover up some points for us? Well, within about 2 minutes of the match starting I got put right on that score. First there was a pop-up message telling me that Bernard had gone off line, and not long after, this was followed by 0-1 appearing in the results. Apparently Bernard played 1.... e5 in response to 1 e4, but that move never reached the server and while he was waiting for his opponent to make a second move, he was actually being timed out. This "accident" was then followed by a loss on the board in his second game - mate does tend to end the game, after all - so we were 2-0 down and Bernard's work was over for the evening. Before anyone else had finished even one game.

Andy paid the penalty for having too high a rapid rating by getting stuck on Board 1 where his University opponent sported a rapid rating of around 1950 - and a bullet rating of over 2400! I didn't see the games, and I have to admit I have not felt moved to rectify that omission, but they didn't end well for Andy.

Mike at least did the expected thing by beating his unrated opponent 2-0, though apparently there was very nearly stalemate in Game 2. And he also bemused me by failing to deliver mate in one during his rook v lone king ending, and preferring mate in two. Also, he very nearly failed to join the match in time, which would have been a complete disaster. What with Bernard's experience I guess it must be an old people and technology thing! Which means its probably my turn next.

The numerically astute amongst you will have deduced that this made the score 4-2 to the University, so it was down to the Captain to save the day for Kenilworth. Of course, he was unable to do so. I had a totally drawn king and pawn ending in Game 1, but managed to "do a Firouzja" and misplay it horribly. Even after making the "wrong" move, I had a second chance to rectify matters but failed abysmally to do so. At least in Game 2, I managed to equalise my own score by winning a piece on move 10.

Both our teams are in action next week, with the B team taking on Warwick Uni B, and the A team facing Sutton Coldfield. No guarantees, but there could even be 2 match reports next week. Or none. But probably not one. Its all or nothing as far as I'm concerned!

Wednesday, 14 October 2020

The First Ever Online Kenilworth Derby

The C&DCL Online Autumn/Winter (take your pick, I don't know what it's officially called!) League kicked off last night with our two teams clashing in the first ever KCC online derby. There is an interesting mix of teams playing, since as well as the usual suspects of Warwick Uni (2 teams), Coventry and Nuneaton, we also have Shirley from the Leamington League, plus Sutton Coldfield and Birmingham University from the Birmingham League, making up a nine team Division 1.

While our A team squad is slightly higher rated than the B team, there is not much between the two to be honest, so the result of last night's match was anything but a foregone conclusion, though in the end, the club hierarchy was maintained as the A team won 5.5-2.5 to secure early bragging rights.

I played Bernard C on Board 1, and we kicked off with a total mess of a game. I was better from the opening, then I was clearly worse. Then it was level. Then I was winning, and then it was a queen ending where Bernard had an extra pawn. It may well have been a draw, but as I soon put my queen en prise, endgame theory missed out on the opportunity to be enriched by the subtle manoeuvrings of the two players. Game 2 was less eventful. Bernard sacrificed a pawn for activity, but I battened down the hatches and was seemingly getting on top when he grabbed his pawn back, which walked into the loss of a piece or, as played in the game, mate.

So honours even there, but the A team took a decisive grip on the match on Board 2, where Mike scored 2-0 against Ben.  Game 1 was a very brief encounter, where Mike won a pawn and then a whole rook after Ben walked into a discovered check tactic. The return was a long game where Mike won a couple of pawns early on and eventually converted in an opposite bishops ending. Two impressively convincing games by Mike, with little of the randomness on show elsewhere.

The match may have swung on the Round 1 Board 3 encounter between Jude and Tom (who has joined our Coventry League online squad on a season long loan from Leamington!), where Jude's White opening did not go entirely to plan and he was rather short of squares for his pieces. However, at a crucial moment Jude uncorked the move Qg4 which simultaneously attacked a loose bishop on h4 and a loose rook on c8 and brought the game to an instant end. Game 2 was drawn, though Jude seemed to be a solid pawn up in the final position.

Board 4 saw two hammer and tongs games between Billy and Solomon, which ended up with one Black victory each. Solomon struck first, winning an exchange and repelling Billy's kingside attack before winning with a bucket load of extra material. Billy bounced back in Game 2 with some excellent tactics that first won two pieces for a rook, and then an exchange, leaving him a piece up. Solomon managed to grab a couple of pawns along the way, but Billy gradually marched his king into the White position to secure the win.

So both teams are up and running, and the early evidence suggests they should each be reasonably competitive, though we are yet to see what strength Warwick University unleash. It will be fun watching the Shirley team sort out its board order, since they started with Don Mason on Board 4, sporting a chess.com rating of under 1000, so it could be some time before he makes it to his natural habitat on Board 1! Good to see Coventry fielding Joshua and Lionel on the top two boards - which is where they would have been if they had elected to play for us! So thank goodness they opted out, or I would have been pushed down to Board 3. I would never have been able to live down the shame!

Monday, 12 October 2020

Deviant Behaviour

Prompted by a throw-away remark by Artistic Bernard a couple of weeks back, last Thursday night I encouraged those attending the KCC Online Club Night to try some of the new chess variants/deviants that have been investigated/championed by Vladimir Kramnik and tested by AlphaZero. 

For those not familiar with these new beasts, you could do worse than check them out in this extensive Chess24 article. Four of these variants, together with several of the more familiar and long standing ones such as 3 Check, King of the Hill and Horde (visually the most striking!), are now available at chess.com. Plenty of glitches in the system still (these are mainly BETA versions), but full marks to chess.com for making these options available online for the curious to investigate. Shame about the lag, though!

I tried out three of the Kramnik-inspired variations - giving "No-Castling Chess" a miss, since it sounded as though it would be too similar to "Normal Chess". (Which, quaintly, is sometimes referred to as simply "Chess"!). But in fact that is also a criticism which can be levelled at some of those I did try - especially when the protagonists forget the rule variations which they are playing! So "Torpedo Chess", in which pawns can move two squares on any move, not just their first, was a bit of a damp squib, since unless you get into a pawn storm attack, or a pawn race ending, the desirability of using the option seldom arises. Now that certainly shouldn't be the case in "Capture Anything Chess", where you can capture your own pieces/pawns as well as your opponents - especially useful in opposite bishop endings where it becomes virtually impossible to stop pawns queening! However, I just couldn't get my brain to think creatively in such terms and I sadly never got to capture any of my own pieces. Not so Joshua, who seemed to take to the new rules much more readily than anyone else, and who totally surprised me by playing R on f1 takes his own pawn on f2 to generate a crushing attack against my King. And when he had, inevitably, gone wrong and blown a completely winning position, he did it again by temporarily staving off my "forced mate" by playing K on g2 takes his own rook on f1 to run away! 

The most intriguing new variant, in some ways, has to be "Sideways Pawns Chess", which does exactly what it says on the tin. You can move your pawns (but not capture) one square sideways as well as in their normal forwards direction. This is a very useful device, indeed, for repairing your pawn formation or for surprisingly attacking enemy pieces. And, of course, in the end game it can make a mockery of normal play - think opposite bishops again for a start. I was lucky that against Josh it was a R v R&P ending, and although he shifted his pawn from the h file to a central one to increase his winning chances, he then went and left in en prise to ensure a draw anyway. Some things just don't change!

And then I somehow got inveigled into a non-Kramnik variant called "Fog of War", in which you can only see your opponents pieces when you can capture them, and where the aim of the game is to capture the opposing king, not checkmate it.  This did my brain in, and I don't think I will be trying it again. I didn't have a clue what was going on for the whole game, but thankfully I was playing Capitalist Bernard, so that didn't affect the outcome of the game. At least now I understand where the expression, "I haven't got the foggiest" came from.

Well, you may like to try some of these in the privacy of your own home, but I think I will be giving them a pretty wide berth from now on. One evening of deviant behaviour was quite enough for me - no matter what my criminal record might say - and I'll be back at Lichess this Thursday playing the good old fashioned "Normal" variety. At our level, "Chess" is still plenty complicated enough, without tinkering with the rules. Judging by the number of decisive games at the Norway Chess tournament currently going on, even at Super-GM level it is still very easy to lose.

As a bit of harmless fun, these variants do have some interest and amusement value, but if I see a proposal at the next LDCL AGM to convert the League to "Sideways Pawns Chess" - or any other deviant form of our beloved game -  I shall be casting the KCC votes against!

Thursday, 8 October 2020

Points Per Game Mean Prizes!

A glorious double triumph for KCC - in the space of a few nano-seconds last night, we were declared winners of the 2019-20 Leamington League Division 1 and Division 2 titles!! I doubt the club has ever had such a magnificent evening. Without having to move even a single pawn!

The wise burghers of the League decided that rather than just throw the unfinished season onto the scrapheap of history, divisional winners would be decided based on points per game - an entirely reasonable decision given that many teams had only one or two matches still left to complete their fixtures. And, of course, this was the decision taken in various other sporting competitions, such as the EFL Divisions 1 and 2.

When the League was suspended Kenilworth A sat proudly atop Division 1, with 18 points from 11 matches - a point clear of Banbury A (12 matches) and Olton A (11 matches) - so the maths was pretty simple and our 1.636 points per match had won us our 11th League title. Purists might point out that we still had to play the teams in 2nd, 3rd and 5th positions, and if I was from Banbury or Olton, I would definitely feel slightly aggrieved at being denied the chance to make up the lost points. But we were due a break having been runners up 4 times since our last victory in 2014 - twice by a single point! Many congratulations to those who piled up the points and helped us to our triumph - Pink, Page, Baruch, Donnelly, Phillips, Charnley and Riou-Durand. Heroes all!

And then, remarkably, another title fell into our possession when the C team were declared winners of Division 2. At the end of play, we were 2 points adrift of Banbury B, but with no less than 3 matches in hand, so our points per match score of 1.333 actually put us "comfortably" ahead of their 1.273. ( A low scoring/equally matched division!) So hot on the heels of our B team's 2018-19 title triumph, the C team have followed up 12 months later. Even though the last thing we wanted was to get yet another team promoted to Division 1! We just don't know our own strength. So many congratulations to the C team heroes - Wood, Shearsby, Zarev, Shurrock, Goodwin, Riou-Durand, Watson and Rogers!  And especial mention to Captain Dave Shurrock, who - Guardiola like - steered both the B and C teams to the Division 2 title in consecutive seasons. A truly amazing achievement, Dave.

And if anyone is interested (we must have an anorak or two in the club besides me?) Division 3 went to Solihull C (1.8 pts per match) and Division 4 to Stratford C (1.786 pts per match).

The Stanley Gibbins trophy went to Banbury's IM, James Jackson with 8.5/9. Not bad on Board 1 of Division 1, though if I had found a not too difficult perpetual check he would have "only" got 8/9! Very honourable mentions to 2 of Kenilworth's finest - Joshua with 9.5/11 and Will with a perfect, but not enough games, 5/5!

Well, we've certainly now got reasons enough for an end of season celebration club dinner. Shame it's not allowed. But one day.......I'm sure our Social Secretary is already planning something suitably spectacular!

And, in the circumstances, there can only be one song to play us out.  Sing along - you know you want to!

Friday, 2 October 2020

Prediction competition

For anyone with a chess24 subscription, they are currently running a very interesting series on the top 50 chess players of all time (as picked by Jan Gustafsson and Peter Heine Nielson) - https://chess24.com/en/learn/advanced/video/hall-of-fame-the-50-greatest-chess-players-of-all-time/intro-50-great-players

They are releasing 2 new videos every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and as of yesterday the list stood at:

50. Niezowitsch    49. Karjakin    48. Portisch    47. Polugaevsky    46. Kamsky    45. Moroczy    44. Leko    43. Winawer    42. Najdorf    41. Timman    40. Chigorn    39. Gelfand    38. Geller    37. Pillsbury

As part of yesterday's Thursday night chess session, Mark and myself had a go at prediction who the remaining 36 choices are going to be. We independently came up with 27 names in common:

Fischer, Kasparov, Karpov, Capablacna, Alekhine, Morphy, Steinitz, Lasker, Euwe, Botvinnik, Smyslov, Tal, Petrossian, Spassky, Kramnik, Anand, Carlsen, Topalov, Caruana, Bronstein, Rubinstein, Korchnoi, Keres, Larsen, Aronian, Polgar and Bogoljubov

That leaves 9 differences to see which of us has the greater chess knowledge.

Mark's remaining 9: Ding, Svidler, Fine, Short, Grischuk, Radjabov, Nakamura, Adams, So

My remaining 9: Tarrasch, Ivanchuk, Zukertort, Shirov, Staunton, Schlechter, Beliavsky, Taimanov, Morozevich

Other than showing I have a much better classical chess education than Mark, and I can remember peopel from more than 15 minutes ago, we shall see which one of us has done a better job. Others are welcome to join in the competition, but since I'm certain to get all 36 correct, I don't envy your chances of winning.

Update: Two more names got announced today - Schlechter and Ivanchuk. I haven't double checked the maths yet, but I believe that puts me 2-0 ahead already.

Wednesday, 16 September 2020

KCC Takes the High Road in First Ever International Match

A convincing win for KCC in its first ever international, by 15.5-8.5 against Castlehill, Dundee in a  12 board double-round rapid match, played on Lichess, on September 15th. The match was arranged through a contact of Andy W, so thanks to him for the initial idea and to Ray Noble of Castlehill for responding so enthusiastically and efficiently to our challenge. The match duly passed off (seemingly!) with no organisational hiccups, save for the temporary pre-match misplacement of his Castlehill opponent by one of our less tech-savvy members!

Although I found it impossible to keep track of the match score, we actually trailed at the halfway point, going down 6.5-5.5 in Round 1, but then we got a collective second wind and ran up a 10-2 score in Round 2 to end up as comfortable winners. But as is usual in our matches - and online is no different to OTB in that respect - the final score doesn't always bear much relationship to the actual flow of the games, and we were somewhat flattered by the margin of victory!

For the second consecutive online  friendly, we were led into battle on Board 1 by our 10 year old phenomenon Jude, though this time he was really up against it, with his opponent, Declan Shafi, fresh from representing Scotland on the U-20 board at the recent online Olympiad! Jude had a pretty good opening in game 1, but dropped an exchange to a knight fork and was struggling thereafter. He eventually won the exchange back, but by then had shed a couple of pawns, and more fell off in the knight ending. Game 2 was much shorter as an e6 thrust caused consternation in the Black ranks and material was lost. So a tough night for Jude, but more great experience, and its quite something that, in the online sphere, he is already fully deserving of the Board 1 slot in the team.

I managed to balance the scores by winning 2-0 against Andre Babin on Board 2. I was not doing much in game 1, but after winning a pawn, I somehow then immediately got serious threats against the White king and back rank which ended with mate. Game 2 was going well for me, but Black rather needlessly gave up the exchange, and did it in the worst possible way, as it then cost a further piece. I may not have played the most accurate moves (alright, no "may" about it!) but I had so much extra material that even after giving back an exchange and a pawn (and missing the forced win of a rook) to simplify, I was still well ahead and duly clinched the point.

Andy split the points on Board 3, but he was very lucky indeed to do so. He dropped a piece as White just out of the opening and was totally lost for long periods of game 2. Somehow, though, he managed to induce some very bad moves from Ray Noble and rose, phoenix like, from the ashes of his position to win a knight ending.

More good fortune on Board 4, where Joshua faced Michael Dugdale. He was totally lost in game 1 but managed a Houdini-like escape for a draw in an ending where White looked likely to queen at any moment - and should have! (This was, amazingly, the only drawn game of the whole match.) In Game 2 he then managed to transform a winning position into another lost one, by getting a piece trapped. This time, round, though, he stirred up enough confusion to completely turn the tables. His bishop had been trapped for many, many moves and Black just didn't bother to take it, knowing he could collect it whenever he wanted. Except he waited one move too long allowing the bishop to sacrifice itself and open up a Black piece to capture in exchange. Joshua finally won in a rook ending where he had too many pawns. So 2.5/4 on these two boards, when we could quite easily have scored zero!

Thankfully Lionel played two pretty good games on Board 5 against Robert Jackson, winning against the French in Round 1 - never has the Fort Knox variation looked less secure - and then notching a quick triumph with Black in Round 2. Ben was also very efficient in notching up two wins against Andy Rowe on Board 6, but Bernard R balanced things out by being woefully inefficient on Board 7 and lost both games to Ed Walton. One expects better from an England international!

Apologies for glossing over these boards, but I was in a hurry to get to Board 8, where there were two super talented juniors in opposition. While we fielded Billy, one of England's best 8 year olds, Castlehill had 8 year old Rishi Vijaykumar, one of Scotland's top junior talents. Rishi played a very mature game in the first encounter and got a strong grip on the position before trapping Billy's queen, but game 2 saw a complete reversal. Billy won a piece quickly after a very unorthodox opening, but then blundered it back - at which point he moved into turbo overdrive and unleashed a whirlwind of dynamic attacking play, where he was in total control of the tactics and won lots of material. So honours even between 2 very talented youngsters after two strikingly different games.

Mike has not taken to online chess as enthusiastically as some of us, and with his modest rating found himself way down on Board 9, where he was not surprisingly too strong for Subhayu Banerjee, winning 2-0. Game 1 should have been over very quickly after exemplary opening play from Mike, but missing the win of the Black queen/mate he had to navigate some slightly choppy waters before annexing the full point. Game 2 did not go so well, and he stood worse at one point, but thankfully he was able to punish a tactical slip to win an exchange, and although the ending took a long time to convert he was always going to win.

Bernard C was in a ruthless mood on Board 10 against Trevor Harley, and took two quick wins - he certainly played less moves than anyone else on the night! Ed split the points on Board 11 against Marten Kats, bouncing back to win well with Black in game 2 after a first game disaster. And it was the same story for KCC debutant Solomon on Board 12, where he swapped White wins with Norman Waugh (a Professor at Warwick University who was actually playing from Kenilworth!), coming back very strongly in game 2.

So a very enjoyable match, and a good evening for KCC. On Lichess rapid ratings we outgraded Castlehill, averaging 1883 to our opponent's 1814, so I suspect we must have over-performed given the final score. Which makes a nice change!

No more friendlies in the pipeline at the moment, so all attention will now turn to the forthcoming Coventry Winter League, where I still hope we will be able to field 2 teams, despite some of our members with "dual citizenship" deciding to jump ship. What's that you say, Kevin? Agreed, mate. I will also love it if we beat them!

Wednesday, 2 September 2020

Non-Existent Cup Will Not Be Sitting in Non-Existent KCC Trophy Cabinet

Oh well, second place is nothing to be ashamed of. Which is where a 5-3 defeat in the final round of the Coventry Trial Online League left us. And with honours even on the extra boards 5 and 6, the overall match was lost 7-5, with no KCC player managing anything better than 50% over the two rounds. And some of us not even managing that!

The vagaries of the chess.com platform put the University's 6 players in the following order by ECF grade:- 159, 142, 221, 111, 99, 76. It's probably fair to say that none of their team played to their grade - which was a shame, as if they had we should have won with our team lining up 195, 163, 174, 184, 164, 115! Apart from Lionel, making his debut on Board 3 and drawing a very short straw, you would have thought that we should have no difficulty annexing the 4.5 pts needed to win the league encounter, or indeed the 6.5 pts needed to win the overall match.  But if last night taught us all anything, it's that online chess is a beast of a very different colour. And that you should be very, very wary of intelligent and energetic students sporting improbably low grades!

I should probably have been winning out of the opening in Rd 1 with White against Jonathan Fowler, but within a few moves my position started to collapse, and even when I thought I had landed a cheapo at the end, it turned out I was the one being cheapoed and a piece fell off. Round 2 was marginally better, but after matching my opponent's slightly dodgy opening set-up with an equally dodgy one of my own, I was momentarily in big trouble, before winning a piece, though at the cost of 3 pawns. In attempting to break up a big pawn mass all I succeeded in doing was to give White connected passed f and e pawns, and when a 4th pawn dropped off, I feared the worst. Somehow I finally got my extra piece to do something, though, and in mutual time trouble I was able to sac this knight for enough pawns to reach a drawn rook and pawn ending. But I must have been dead lost for quite a few moves.

Much better stuff was played on the next two boards. On Board 2, Andy W delivered a quick win in Round 1 against Arjun Pyda, but Game 2 saw him on the receiving end of a similar direct attack on the White king. It seems that Adorjan was quite right - Black is definitely OK!

Lionel played an excellent game with White against Andi Dicu on Board 3 and finally won in a rook and pawn ending, but the return game did not go so well. The opening went wrong for Lionel, but he seemed to have come through the worst of it when he suddenly lost a lot of material, presumably in time pressure. Still, sharing the points against such a strong opponent was an excellent debut performance.

The match basically swung against us on Board 4, where Joshua played a good game against Chun Chui to reach a winning ending. Which he then not only didn't win, but even managed to lose when he self-cheapoed himself out of a rook. Tragedy! The return encounter was rather tame by comparison and a fairly boring draw was the logical and inevitable outcome.

And talking of tame, Mike had two short draws of under 50 moves combined against Vincenz Bill on Board 5.  A quick time-limit and a computer screen are clearly not Mike's ideal conditions, and at least he has given me the idea for this week's song!  As the excellent Steve Forbert so shrewdly observed, all those years ago, "you cannot win, if you do not play!"

When Billy turns up he definitely comes to play/win, and draws are clearly anathema to him. There was no danger of any of them against Ziad Fakhoury in this match. Game 1 was characterised by an unfortunate mouse slip in the opening by Billy, when Kf8 appeared on the board instead of 0-0! This seemed to completely discombobulate him, and he lost rather a lot of pieces rather quickly. Which is also exactly what happened in the return encounter, though this time Billy was in his "force of nature" mode and just demolished the Black position for a convincing win.

So congratulations to Warwick University for a comprehensive win - and for a similarly convincing victory in the League itself, where they clocked up a 100% match record. And thanks to League Chairman Colin Green for proposing, developing and administering the competition, which has been good fun. A bigger and better event should be starting in October, probably with a few more rules and constraints, and I'll be in touch with everyone to try and round up enough players for at least one KCC team, as soon as I know details of format, dates etc. So watch this space. In the meantime, we have our international friendly against Castlehill Dundee (September 15th) to look forward to, so if you haven't signed up for that, please get in touch and do so now! I am hoping/trying for a record KCC turnout in this match.

Wednesday, 26 August 2020

Firing on All Cylinders

It was back to business as usual this week, as KCC returned to winning ways in the Coventry Trial Online League. We outpointed Rugby comprehensively by 9.5-2.5 over the full 6 boards, and by 6.5-1.5 on the top 4 boards which count for the league result.

Rugby's top players seem to have largely shunned the online world so far, and only Simon Turner of their established Division 1 squad was in action against us. In the first game he sacked a pawn against me for a bit of play. I didn't play that well, but then neither did Simon, and before you knew it I had won a whole piece. And then I started to play like a total idiot. I couldn't see even one move ahead, and Simon simply started picking off my pawns. Three to be precise. While my extra piece did absolutely nothing. I was pleased to take the draw when it got down to rook, knight and 2 against rook and 5. Game 2 possibly saw a mouse slip on move 1, as Simon  opened with 1 d3, when he has played 1 d4 in every game of his I've ever seen! He played rather passively and I was able to win a pawn and get a nice juicy one of my own onto d3. In rounding this up, Simon dropped a piece and this time round I managed to make it count.

Andy W was back from his holiday in Crete to take over Board 2 duties against Dave Riley. Alexei Shirov's chess autobiography was famously entitled Fire on Board, but on the evidence of Andy's first game, his would be Chaos on Board. He won an exchange by good opening play, but then lost control big time, as Dave played some imaginative stuff, including a bishop sac. Andy's king looked as though it was a goner for all money, but somehow he shed enough material to stave off mate. Inevitably the game ended in a draw, even though Andy was a pawn down and facing connected passed f and g pawns in a rook ending. White could/should certainly have played on as he was now winning! Game 2 was slightly less manic. But only slightly. Andy should have won a piece in the opening, but didn't and had to settle for a pawn. This then became two pawns, but in an opposite bishops ending. The position was totally drawn, but Dave went slightly wrong and suddenly White was probably winning. However, the resignation which then came was definitely premature - but I don't suppose Andy was too bothered!

Joshua was in ruthless form on Board 3 against John Hall. Game 1 featured a crushing attack against the Black king, but Game 2 was something of a grind before Joshua won with some extra pawns in a knight ending. Skipping a board, Ben showed even less mercy, winning both games against Pavel Scerbakovs in a combined 31 moves. In fact he had finished his second round game before anyone else had finished their first!

Back to Board 4, where Mike finished off the League match with a 1.5 pts haul from his two games against Stephen Belding. Game 1, with Black, could hardly have gone any better, as the last 12-15 moves seemed to consist of nothing but Mike either taking material or giving check. Or both at once. Game 2 was far less entertaining. Mike got an edge against the Albin Counter Gambit but failed to turn the screw at the right moment and drifted into a slightly inferior position before a timely draw offer secured the half point.

But all this is by way of a warm up for Matt's heroics on Board 6. Answering a late call to arms, after Billy found himself needed by Warwickshire Bears in the online 4NCL, Matt found himself up against Nigel Malka. With an OTB grade of 129, Nigel "should" have been on Board 2, but the vagaries of the chess.com rating system had him on Board 6 instead. So full credit to Matt for notching a sparkling win in Game 1. An excellent exchange sacrifice was followed up by a brutal knight fork which brought the game to an end in just 21 moves. This game certainly warrants publication!  Matt couldn't repeat the magic in Game 2, but a 50% score on the evening was an excellent result.

And so its on to the title decider against Warwick University next week, when the League wraps up its 5 week run. We could well get blown out of the water if they suddenly wheel out all or even some of their big guns, but there's no point worrying about that. What will be, will be - as that widely respected philosopher Doris Day so memorably sang!

Wednesday, 19 August 2020

When Everything That Could Go Wrong, Does Go Wrong

Now I understand why football managers can completely lose it on the touchline, when things go against their team. I certainly felt like losing it as I watched us go down 3-5 against the Warwick University Alumni team in Round 3 of the Trial C&DCL Online League last night. Our opponents had lost both their previous League matches, without fielding anyone graded more than 127 in either match. So I thought I should try to make it at least a slightly more equal contest - while ensuring we won, of course! - and selected our team accordingly.

First two shocks of the evening, the Alumni wheel out FM Peter Batchelor (221) on Board 1 and Tom Thorpe (182) on Board 2.

Third shock of the evening, Mike joins the match, and promptly disappears, with the chess.com connection-ometer (I don't know what else to call it!) shining bright red and saying Member Offline. Even though he was able to continue sending me desperate e-mails throughout the disconnect. Anyway, I suppose if you are going to have connection issues, best to have them when you are outgraded by 60 ECF points. First game duly lost, as Mike was unable to reconnect and was timed out. At which point the second game started automatically, and he was several minutes down when he was finally able to join the match. He got cheapoed out of a pawn in the opening, but put up a good fight before inevitably going down to defeat in the end.

But all was not hopeless, because on Board 4 Billy had done what Billy does - and won 2-0 against Hok Chiu. The first game was pretty painful viewing, though, as Billy established a completely won position with a monster passed pawn on e7. But he then missed a chance to win the exchange (and keep the pawn) with a Nf7+ tactic exploiting back rank and discovered check (and almost smothered mate) themes, and instead found himself losing an exchange and the e7 pawn. Shock number four! But not to worry, he promptly rounded up a couple of pawns in compensation, and when Hok left mate in 1 on the board, Billy pounced for victory.  Thankfully there were no shocks in Game 2, which has to go down as one of the most one sided encounters I have ever seen. As Billy delivered mate (with rook and knight) on move 23 (with Black), White's 3 queenside pieces were all still standing on their original squares, having declined to take part in the struggle!

So with Boards 1 and 4 cancelling each other out, the match was to be decided on the middle boards. On gradings, it was a toss-up on Board 2 between Joshua and Tom Thorpe, but Bernard C's 53 point edge over Jack Huffer on 4 was surely going to give us a 2-0 win there, and more or less secure the match for us. Cue more shocks! In Game 1 Joshua was seemingly surprised by an early d5 by Black in the Dragon and although playing seemingly good moves was soon worse, and then had to suffer (eventually a pawn down) for 90 moves before securing the draw. In his defence, 21 of the top 25 games (by Black player rating) in this line have ended in Black victories - with the other 4 being draws - so its clearly not a bad move!! Maybe the secret is to not get into this position in the first place?

Whether by accident or design, in Game 2 Tom played an excellent move order against one of Joshua's pet Black defences, and put the pressure on from an early stage. When our man tried to solve his problems tactically it all went horribly wrong, as he found himself a piece down, and in attempting to get a couple of pawns for it, compounded the problems and ended up two pieces down.

But still the non-playing captain, squirming on the sidelines, could hope for match victory when we inevitably cashed in our massive rating superiority on Board 3. But - and I think you're ahead of me here - the shocks weren't over yet! In Game 1, Bernard, with the Black pieces, staked all on a king side assault, but after getting his queen and rook to the h file to hit h2, found the attack halted by a single White knight on f1. And when you've got 14 points worth of material being neutralised by just 3, its odds on that the spare 11 points might be able to make its advantage felt elsewhere on the board! In desperation Bernard tried to confuse the issue with a knight sac, but White defended very calmly and won even more material to wrap up the victory.

And if that wasn't agonising enough, Game 2 was responsible for the biggest shock of the night. And not in a good way. Bernard played a textbook game, building up a dangerous attack against the Black king, eventually sacrificing a piece for a couple of pawns and an ongoing initiative. In desperate time trouble (less than 10 seconds at several points), Black went wrong and the White pieces flooded into the shattered Black kingside.  All that was needed was the move Bxd5, regaining the piece, as any recapture led to the immediate loss of the Black queen due to a follow up Re7+. But with time to spare Bernard - possibly thinking he had already captured the Black knight - played the immediate Re7+ allowing the apparently doomed knight from d5 to take it. Instead of being up several pawns with an overwhelming position, we were a rook down. All credit to Bernard at this point for not just going outside to howl at the moon, and by some extreme bluffery and trickery he was able to wangle a perpetual check. Thankfully, this tragic last fence stumble didn't cost us the match - we would have lost anyway. But watching it happen was sheer agony.

Its a funny old game, this online chess lark, and no mistake!

Saturday, 15 August 2020

Kenilworth online chess ratings (June/July 2020)

For reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with laziness on my part, we will be combing online club ratings for the Months of June and July. A reminder, though surely by now it shouldn't be needed, that this is based solely on rated games played between club members in the months of June and July, with previous ratings not mattering, and everything being calculated from scratch. I stress the importance of the word rated there - anyone who is unhappy with their position should consider why they decided to play some of their games as casual.

A word on the players present first. New additions or returns to the list for this period were Andy Ward, Ed Goodwin and Roy Watson. It looks as though those last two may only have been temporary in their attendance, but I think we can all agree that is at least as much their loss as it is our gain. Two losses from the list were Ben (though he will be back in August) and Algys, who is officially resident in another country now (though that hasn't stopped Lionel, so perhaps it isn't really an acceptable excuse at all.

Two additional decisions also had to be made this month. I have, in my great wisdom, decided that atomic chess does not count for rated purposes (if it did, Andy Ward would be considerably higher up the list) but that ultra-bullet chess does count (more on the importance of that below). Anyone wishing to appeal these decisions should apply to Gavin Williamson, since he is going to be getting plenty of practice at addressing those in the near future.

Anyway, enough prelude, and on to more important things.

Most active player

A comprehensive victory for Jude these months, with a total of 87 games played against fellow club members. This is the point where ultra-bullet chess makes its first important appearance, since this is heavily composed of the 57 games of ultra-bullet chess he played against Paul. I think I can reasonably confidently state that is more games than the rest of the club combined have ever played.

Most welcoming player

A new award this month, but I felt it was important to recognise capitalist Bernard (as Mark assures me he prefers to be known) as the only person in the club to have played at least one game against all other active club members this month. It's almost as if he cycles around everyone he can find until he beats somebody. 

Most points scored

Remember those 57 games of ultra-bullet chess I was talking about. Well, it turns out Paul is (comparatively) rubbish at ultra-bullet chess, so Jude scored a total of 41 points from those games, meaning he also wins this awards as well, with a grand total of 61.5 points (almost twice this next highest score).

Overall ratings (with changes from the previous month)

Just keep remembering those 57 games of ultra-bullet chess

Jude Shearsby (+4)
Mark Page (-1)
Andy Ward (new entrant, provisional rating as less than 10 games played)
Joshua Pink (-1)
Paul Lam (-3)
Bernard Rogers (0)
Ed Goodwin (new entrant, provisional rating as less than 10 games played)
Andy Baruch (-1)
Bernard Charnley (0)
Roy Watson (new)
Matthew Smiglarski (0)
Lionel Riou-Durand (-5, provisional rating as less than 10 games played)

In summation, Paul, stop playing ultra-bullet chess with Jude. It's making you come out as a worse player than me, and if that isn't sufficient motivation, I don't know what will be.