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.

Thursday, 13 August 2020

You'll Never Win Anything With ..... Old Codgers

Alan Hansen famously got it wrong with his comment about kids, but I'm pretty sure I will be proved right with my alternative assertion. At least based upon the result of our friendly match against Stockport, where a 7-3 reverse for KCC was especially noteworthy for the remarkable fact that no-one over the age of 10 scored even a half point for us! Bookending our team on Boards 1 and 5, Jude and Billy must have been bemused at what their elders were getting up to.

Artistic Bernard got possibly the most lost position ever seen in his first game against John Reed, after a Benko Gambit went horrendously wrong. He bounced back with the King's Gambit in game 2 and was a pawn up with a very compact position, when the ticking of the clock caused him to rush his kingside pawns up the board with ruinous effect, as a probable win turned into a loss.

Ben fared no better on Board 3 against Dan Sheppard. He seemed to be outplaying his opponent in game 1, but after stern defence the White pieces jumped out and grabbed material, before time pressure caused the total collapse of the Black position. In game 2, Ben's London System (boooo!) went wrong and most of his pawns fell off in the ending.

More woe on Board 4, where capitalist Bernard managed to fritter two good positions away against Stockport captain Gareth Griffiths. The first should have been an easy draw - until he got a piece fatally pinned. In game 2 he won two pieces for a rook straight from the opening, but then played a series of moves that were totally incomprehensible to the watching audience (me, Joshua and Lionel). He should have lost a whole piece, but somehow wriggled out by giving up two pieces for a rook. Then he grabbed a pawn or two and should have been winning, only to collapse for no obvious reason and get himself mated.

I am reminded of a great joke, which finished, with a slight amendment for artistic effect, with the punch line: "They've let the club down; they've let the team down; but most of all they've let themselves down."

Thankfully, the two mighty atoms in the team were in superb form, and at least salvaged some much needed pride for the club. Billy was like a hurricane, and just swept Peter Taylor off the board with dynamic attacking play that crashed through with decisive effect in both games. Jude, on the lofty heights of Board 1, played two very good games against a strong and very experienced opponent in Andy Stoker. The first game was very complicated, and Jude played superbly to set up a winning position, but at the crucial moment he missed a beautiful rook sacrifice that would have clinched the full point. Disturbingly, amongst the watching few, only Joshua found the winning move! Game 2 appeared to be going badly, but with some brilliant attacking play Jude completely turned the game around and was again on the verge of winning. But faced with strong defence, he couldn't quite bring home the bacon and then had to really buckle down to draw a difficult rook ending.

So great stuff from our juniors, while the less said about the seniors the better! But seriously, this was a match to make you pause and think about the superb play of Jude and Billy. To say they are in their element in these online matches is an understatement. The way they can create dynamism and activity from almost any position is quite frightening. I'm glad it was Stockport on the receiving end and not me!!

Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Poor Stuff - But We Won Anyway!

Week 2 of the C&DCL Trial Online League, and it was KCC v Coventry. Two of our 7 person squad were unavailable so we played over 5 boards with the top 4 counting for the League result. (Any KCC member who is not signed up for the squad is welcome to join if you fancy playing in any of our three remaining games). There was more online club glory, as we registered an even bigger League win than last week, taking the overall match 7.5-2.5, and the League segment, 6.5-1.5.  But as to the quality......... well, there simply wasn't very much on view at all!

I certainly did not set a good example on Board 1 against Bava Manickam. Our first game ended abruptly when Bava suddenly resigned in an equalish position right out of the opening. Turns out his computer had auto-rebooted and this had triggered an involuntary resignation. Which was rather unfortunate, but at least the chess gods were not enraged by crimes against the game, unlike our second game. On the Black side of a London System (boooooo!) I won a pawn with a cheapo. Then I took a second pawn. Then I missed mate in 1! (Queen from c3 takes an undefended rook on e1 - not the most difficult move to spot!!) Then I took a third pawn. And then I started self-destructing. Bava got two pawns back and was very active. Then I missed another mate in 1!! (Qh7-b1 - a rather longer move to spot this time - but still!) And then finally I did spot a mate in two, but not before I had been briefly lost. Embarrassing stuff, but a win is a win. Or in this case, two wins are two wins.

Mike had a very tough evening against Sam Cotterill on Board 2.  He won a pawn from the opening as Black, but allowed a White passed pawn to d6 and a knight to e4 which totally froze his position. Mike defended ferociously, and in the end Sam decided to allow a perpetual check rather than risk an ending of rook against 3 pawns. Which my engine tells me was drawn anyway. But Mike was not so fortunate in Game 2, as his promising/winning position in a very difficult double rook and double minor piece middle game went up in smoke as he totally lost the thread. Even Sam overlooking mate in 1 (are you spotting a theme, here?) at the end could not change the outcome.

It was an all Kenilworth/all Coventry battle on Board 3, where Joshua came up against Ed. The first game was over in no time and almost defied belief. I could describe it, but you wouldn't believe me, so you had better see it for yourselves.

Strange things happen in cyberspace.

As they did in game 2, where Josh at least played far more sensibly, but even so got into a little bit of trouble. Nevertheless, the game came down to an opposite bishops ending, where Ed had three connected pawns, two of them passed on e6 and f5. It was impossible for Ed to lose. But somehow he managed it! Full marks to Josh for perseverance, but this was a ridiculous result.

With one glaring exception, Ben's games against Kate Donegan on Board 4 were much more correct and logical, and he was the third Kenilworth person on the night to end up with a 2-0 score. Game 1 saw a textbook example of how to play against the Exchange French as Black, but after excellent work by Ben to get a totally won position, he left a rook en prise to White's king. Thankfully, however, Kate neglected to take it and the crisis passed, with Ben eventually making his extra piece count in the ending. In Game 2 Ben won a pawn, but Kate got a lot of play against the White king with all three heavy pieces massed on open lines. I felt sure that Ben would have to take a draw - and be glad to do so - but he found an excellent defensive set up (with his queen on h2!). When Kate got careless and let White's extra pawn start rolling down the d file, the Black position fell apart as the White queen emerged from hibernation with devastating effect.

On Board 5 Billy split the point against Pete Smith, with the London System triumphing in both games (booooooo!). With White, Billy didn't hang around, sacking a piece on h7 on move 10. It was totally unsound, but thankfully Black didn't take the piece, and instead Billy was just well on top and after winning a piece a few moves later the result was never in doubt. Though at the end, Billy had under 11 minutes on his clock, so he had had to use up a fair bit of thinking time! Game 2 was a disaster for Billy, as he simply blundered his queen away on move 14. Pete went for the h pawn hack attack, and when he played 14 Bxh5 Billy snapped it off with Nxh5. Unfortunately there was a White bishop on g5 and it just took Billy's queen, which was still on its original square. Somehow Billy briefly got a second piece for the queen, but the material deficit was simply too much to fight against, though it took till move 51 for mate to be delivered. At which point Billy's clock showed 17 minutes left. Not quite up to last week's speed record, but still coming in at an average of under 8 seconds a move!

Next up for us in the League is a match against Warwick University Alumni, but before then we switch platforms to Lichess for a 5 board friendly against Stockport. All of which is keeping me way too busy!!

Thursday, 6 August 2020

KCC Online and On Song!

After two friendlies, KCC made it's online competitive debut this week, in the first round of fixtures in the Coventry Online Trial League. Six teams came under starter's orders -  one each from ourselves, Coventry, Nuneaton, Rugby and Warwick University, with a University Alumni team rounding things up to an even number.

First up we faced Nuneaton, who had also been our first ever online opponents when we beat them 6-4 in a friendly on June 26th. That had been a double round 15m + 10s match, and the format stayed the same for this League encounter, except that now we played over 7 boards compared to 5 previously. However, only the top 4 boards counted for League purposes.

On paper the match looked reasonably equal on the League boards, but we had a big rating advantage on 5, 6 and 7. The KCC engine room here duly delivered a 6-0 whitewash, with double victories for Bernard C, Ben and Billy. Bernard had to overcome some stiff resistance from John Rayner for his victories, whereas Ben was always in control against Jiri Stepan, and was masses of material up when he delivered mate in both games.

But the most remarkable encounter came on Board 7, where Billy was up against another of Paul's Academy students, Henry Wood - though they may not have known they were facing each other while playing the match. In Round 1, it took Billy 69 moves to reel in the point after a very tough game - though at the end his clock showed more time (15 mins 51 secs) than he started with and his average time per move was under 10 seconds! But this was positively pedestrian compared to the second game, where Billy again had to really dig in to secure the win in 73 moves from an initially unpromising position. At the end of this game Billy's clock read 18 minutes and 52 seconds, so that his average move time was under 7 seconds! (For comparison, in the quicker of my two games I averaged 38 seconds per move!) Billy's reward for these two very hard fought victories was a measly 4 point chess.com rating gain - I think we can safely say Henry is somewhat under graded.

The top 4 boards couldn't match the pace set lower down, but we still ended up with a convincing 5.5-2.5 triumph in the League match. It should have been 6.5-1.5, but we'll come to that later!

Board order is decided automatically according to players' chess.com rapid-play ratings, which meant that Andy W, making his online debut for us, was on top board, where he was up against Tony Green. There was a rather chaotic and entertaining clash in Round 1, which ended when Andy bamboozled Tony into losing a piece. This was a really good scrap. The Round 2 encounter was not, as the players drew after just 19 moves - albeit that Tony was down below a minute by then, which more than offset his better position.

On Board 2, I had a couple of very enjoyable games against Paul Davies. I dropped (sacked?) a pawn in the early middle game, but had plenty of play thanks to active pieces and a slightly weak White king. But Paul defended well, and reached a position where he could have swapped off queens and gone into a double rook ending which it would have been impossible to lose. Luckily for me, though, he kept the queens on and fell for a cheapo next move which won back the pawn and totally opened up his king. I then surprisingly managed to calculate a 4 move sequence involving the sacrifice of a bishop and the march of my own king to g6. Here it threatened to take a white rook, while I simultaneously had all 3 heavy pieces attacking f2. Paul could have prolonged the game if he had given up the rook, but in trying to save it he walked into mate. Game 2 was rather one sided, as Paul went wrong in the opening and couldn't develop his kingside pieces. With his king stuck in the centre, I got in Ra8+ on one side of the board, followed next move by Qh5 on the other - a one-two, left-right combination that won lots of material.

Honours were even on the other two boards. On 3, Mike and Colin Green had two draws, but really there should have been two decisive games. Mike was pushing for the entirety of the first game, before missing a win in a complex minor piece ending, while Colin was well on top in the return game but missed a strong f2-f4 and then f5 pawn push which would have won material, and instead the game ended relatively quickly with a repetition.

Which leaves Board 4, where Joshua was paired against another Nuneaton junior, Thomas Glenn, who had split the points with Ben in our earlier match. Round 1 went well for us, though Joshua was made to work very hard for the point, which was only secured by a one move cheapo at the end! I tuned into their second game after mine was over, to find Joshua a clear exchange up, though the position was complicated. However, as soon as I started watching our man seemed to lose the plot, first giving up a bishop for a useless Black knight which was doing nothing on a5, then needlessly returning the exchange and eventually being forced to give up another exchange to stave off mate. The resulting ending was hopeless. A fine performance by Thomas, but I think Joshua will be a bit disappointed with that effort!

So an 11.5-2.5 overall win for us in the end, but our 5.5-2.5 league win was only good enough for third place in the inaugural table, as Coventry beat Rugby 7-1, and Warwick Uni beat the Alumni 6.5-1.5.

All the games can be viewed online - but only by members of the KCC chess.com club!

We have League fixtures on the next four Tuesday evenings, so the results will come thick and fast. And added to that we have our friendly v Stockport coming up next week, though regrettably our scheduled match against the Isle of Wight has had to be postponed. Busy times, indeed!

Tuesday, 4 August 2020

I'M not an IM, I'M an IM Slayer!

Strange things can happen in the weird and wonderful world of online chess, and one certainly did to me a couple of days ago, when I won a Lichess Blitz game in 7 moves. With Black. Against an IM!  Now admittedly, this wasn't the world's strongest IM, and he did just put a piece en prise, but beating Africa's 122nd highest rated active player has to be some kind of achievement, surely? It is rather a big continent after all!!

This game got me thinking back to a day, many years ago (40 for goodness sake!), when I beat another IM (from Singapore), this time in "proper" chess. Though once again it may not have been the world's strongest IM - albeit that at 2310 he was more than impressive by my standards! The game is not one of my greatest moments, and it is almost certainly the luckiest win of my life. But so what? I won. Against an IM!!

My reward in the next round was to play Willie Watson, later a GM (and a man who played chess like a "drunk machine gunner", according to Boris Spassky) but who at that time was only rated 2320 and was not even an IM. To say that Lady Luck did not help me in consecutive rounds is something of an understatement!

I shall have to look more closely at my old games to see if there are any more IM scalps I can dredge up, but at the moment I'M struggling to think of any! Though I do recall a rather more convincing IM scalp being notched by Paul a few years back when he played a masterpiece to defeat Richard Palliser. A future Game of the Month, I think!

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

July 2020 Grading List - KCC Report Card

Maybe it will come as a big surprise (it certainly did to me), but there is a new grading list out, as a reminder that some over the board chess was indeed played in the first half of 2020. Even though it feels as though we have been in suspended animation for years and years.

Another surprise is that collectively, KCC has had a "good lockdown", as we have far more risers (13) than fallers (8) in the latest list, perhaps indicating, as our esteemed Webmaster pointed out to me, that we should strive to play as little chess as possible, since this is clearly the secret to becoming stronger. Or at least higher graded, which is perhaps a more realistic ambition.

The phenomenon that is Jude topped the KCC performance charts in the latest list, somehow registering another double digit grade increase - which don't forget actually only represents about 10 weeks of competitive chess. This takes his rating rise to 69 points in the last 24 months! And he added another 9 points to his rapid play grade, though here he was exceeded by Billy who went +11.

Jude now sits at the top of both the standard and rapid play English national rankings for his age group (Under 11), while Billy is 2nd/3rd on the two national lists in the Under 9 age group. This is really quite amazing and we should all be very proud of their remarkable achievements.

Our other junior players also kept going in the right direction, with William at +4 (hardly a fair reward for a 100% seasonal score (5/5) for us!) and Vincent (making his debut on the list as a Kenilworth player, and also scoring 100% for us, with 2/2) at +5. Noah has also got his first ever grading and comes onto the list at a very respectable initial level. However, our almost no-longer-a-junior, David, showed early signs of transforming into an old codger by (a) not playing any/many games and (b) keeping his grade exactly where it was 6 months ago. Could these  two facts possibly be linked in some way?

Top of the Form

Jude                           +12
The Club Organiser    + 6
Lionel                         + 5
Vincent                       + 5
Andy B                       + 4
William                       + 4
Chris                           + 3
Joshua                        + 3
Dave                           + 2
Drago                         + 2
Phil                             + 2
Billy                            + 1
Paul                            + 1

No change

Andrew P
Andy W
Bernard R

New Kid in Town


On the Naughty Step

Bruce                          - 8
Ed                               - 6
Ben                             - 5
Mike                           - 2
Nick                            - 2
Roy                             - 2
Bernard C                   - 1
Tony                           - 1

Amongst the real old codgers I emerged as the best performer (admittedly several miles behind Jude!), though I think my +6 result owes more to them finding my lost grading points from before Xmas than for my achievements in 2020. Excellent gains were also recorded by Lionel, Andy B, Joshua and Chris, and a shout out to Dave, Drago, Phil and Paul who all saw rating gains in the new list.

The club collectively gained 50 points, while losing 27, for a nett gain of 23. We still have 28 people on the active grading list, since while Steve, Stuart and Matt have all fallen into the inactive category, they have been balanced by Lionel, Noah and Vincent.

There has been a complete transformation at the top of the club ranking list, as perennial Top Dog (an official title, in case you were wondering!) Paul, has seen himself fall to an unprecedented 4th place, behind yours truly, Andy B and Andrew P.  But I'm sure the natural order of things will be restored once normal chess activity resumes. Until then, I will try to stay humble and promise not to remind people that I am currently Kenilworth Top Dog ......  more than once a week. Nor will I mention that my "reign" (does that word indicate delusions of grandeur?) as Joint British 65+ Champion has been extended to 2 years. The M in my initials could almost stand for Modesty, he said modestly.

No less than 6 of our number managed to keep their grades static, which can mainly be attributed to inactivity. Of course, we're all inactive at the moment, but the Static 6, as I like to think of them, all seem to have anticipated the shut down and gone into OTB hibernation early. Let's hope that when the metaphorical spring arrives they will emerge from their burrows - just like Punxsutawney Phil! I fear, though, that Algis has played his last game for the club, as he has returned to Lithuania for his new job. Good luck Algis, and it has been a pleasure to have you in the club for the last few years. And Drago's move to London means that he is unlikely to be able to play for us in the near future, at the very least, which will be a big loss to the club. Though Joshua manages to lead a double life between places about 100 miles apart, so if he tried.....?

As if that wasn't sad enough, I now have to turn to the part of these bi-annual reports which deals with the laggards and under-performers who have lost grading points in the last 6 months. But only by exposing this group to public naming and shaming are they likely to be motivated to reverse the decline and stop bringing shame on themselves and the club. This may seem harsh, but compared to the show trials/kangaroo courts I have been contemplating I think they are getting off lightly!

I don't know how Bruce managed to rack up such a large grading decline in the new list, but at least we can all draw comfort from the fact that none of that loss came in KCC matches! I am also pretty sure that most of Ed's loss was not achieved when playing for us, but the same almost certainly does not apply to Ben. Clearly work and literary pressures were getting to him in the early part of the year!

Well, its anyone's guess at the moment whether there will be a January 2021 grading list - and even if there is, it will surely look a lot like the July 2020 one. So we will probably be carrying these grades around with us for longer than usual. For some reason, I quite like that thought!

Saturday, 18 July 2020

Wafer Thin

The mighty KCC went down by the agonising score of 10.5-9.5 in our ground breaking, inter-regional encounter with Harrogate Archbishops on Thursday evening. The two teams looked very closely matched on paper, and so it proved in practice, as there was hardly a sheet of Andrex or a wafer thin mint between us at the end.

(The appropriate video clip could have been inserted here - but its not in  the best of taste, so I rather surprisingly decided to restrain myself!)

With 10 boards in action, it was impossible for me to work out what was going on during the match, especially as I was engaged in two protracted struggles that totalled 176 moves over the two games, which left me totally exhausted.

We played 2 x 15 minute +10 seconds games each on Lichess, with the following results:-

Kenilworth            Harrogate Archbishops

1 Paul                     Mate Ther                      0.5 - 1.5
2 Mark                   Leon Wooldridge           1.5 - 0.5
3 Joshua                 Mick Stokes                      0 - 2
4 Mike                    Paul Pritchard                1.5 - 0.5
5 Jude                    Jonathan Round              0.5 - 1.5
6 Bernard C           Clifford Marcus              0.5 - 1.5
7 Ed                       Brian Coop                        1 - 1
8 Ben                     Steve Revell                      2 - 0
9 Bernard R           David Harasym                 2 - 0
10 Billy                 Cameron Funnell               0 - 2

As is inevitable in relatively quick chess, a number of games had the wrong result! Some of us got very lucky - myself included, as I briefly went to -13 in my first game before drawing! (having been +5 a moment earlier). Bernard R, who clocked up a tremendous 2-0 score from his lowly berth on Board 9, was incredibly fortunate in round 2, but his first game was a real tour de force, and almost qualified as game of the match. Ben also went 2-0 for us, and mixed one convincing win with one fortuitous one, but poor old Joshua went against the trend and managed to lose two winning positions! The first game was excellent and he was totally in control until it went horribly wrong, and the second was also winning - albeit briefly - until his rooks on g2 and a8 were cruelly skewered by a White queen on b7!

It was great to have both our young guns in the team, with Jude playing way up there on Board 5, only to run into Harrogate's two time (and reigning) blitz champion. He found a great save in Game 1 to secure perpetual from a lost position, and was close to a draw for much of  Game 2 as well. Billy was heavily out-graded on Board 10, but came within touching distance of a draw in Game 1, and very nearly landed a killer blow to White's wandering King in Game 2, after throwing the kitchen sink at his opponent.

Mike racked up an excellent 1.5 points, although he was in dire straits (ie lost!) in Game 1, and worse at times in Game 2 before taking control and finding a very nice combo to finish the game. Ed split the points with an old friend on Board 7 via two draws - though the result in both bordered on the miraculous, as he seemed to be totally lost each time! Bernard C should have split the points on Board 6, but after going down in the first game his strong opening play in the return (which won an exchange very quickly) was not followed up, and he was first losing before reaching another difficult, but apparently, winning position late on, that then slipped away to a draw.

Having played through all the games, though, I can safely say that by far the best chess was played on Board 1, where - alas - Paul was edged out by Harrogate's star teenager. He just came up short in game 1 with Black, where the players engaged in a lengthy bout of tactics that White handled excellently, but Game 2 was a real tragedy after he achieved an overwhelming position right out of the opening. In big time pressure Paul went all in only to have to take a perpetual, when a calmer approach would probably have brought home the win that his energetic play really deserved.  This game was the best of the match in my opinion. But don't take my word for it - take a look for yourselves!

One that got away for Paul, but still the best result he has achieved for the Club in 3 years!!

And a final reminder that the game was played to raise money for the NHS, and specifically the Harrogate Hospital and Community Charity, and anyone who would like to contribute can still do so here. The total raised as I write this (July 18th) is a remarkable £301.95 - or over £370 with Gift Aid.

For a friendly, especially online and with a rapid time limit, this was quite an intensive competitive experience, for which many thanks to Harrogate, and especially my friend Mick Stokes, the Archbishops' Captain. I can't promise the same each time, but we have more friendlies lined up in the coming weeks against the Isle of Wight and Stockport where we can but hope the results will be different! And after that ..... who knows?? Maybe its time to think of going international?!

Tuesday, 14 July 2020

Game of the Month, July 2020

Looking through the previous instalments in this series, I was shocked to discover that I have made less appearances in it than a certain Roy Watson. Which can't be right, on any number of levels.

So, to right this egregious wrong, I have dusted off one of my own games, from an altogether distant past. And not just any game, but one which I have long considered to be amongst the best games I have ever played. In fact, maybe the best.

It was played in New York, two days after my 30th birthday, in a 5 round Swiss played on successive Wednesday nights at The Game Room in Upper Broadway. Amazingly, I came first with 4/5 (including a half point bye) winning the princely sum of $100 (and given that sterling was having a very bad time of it around then, that was not far off £100.)

My opponent subsequently became an IM, and was the top seed in the tournament with a USCF rating of 2388 at the time, so this was a very satisfying win for me. Especially when you see the way it happened!

* This is the 12th instalment in the Game of the Month series, and the roll call of appearances now reads:-

Andy B 3 (+2 -1)
Mark 2 (+2)
Roy 2 (+1 -1)
Ben 1 (+1)
Bernard C 1 (+1)
Carl 1 (+1)
David P 1 (-1)
Jude 1 (+1)

Given current levels of OTB activity, I suspect I may soon be at the top of this leader board, faute de mieux. (Look it up!!)

Saturday, 27 June 2020

Brave New World

KCC made its match debut in the online world last night, and emerged victorious by 6-4 in a friendly against Nuneaton. The match was played on chess.com, over 5 boards, double round, with a time limit of 15 mins + 10 secs for each game.

We had tried to balance the teams to provide a close contest, but our plans were slightly derailed when Bruce's plan to participate from his car in Tesco's car park, Hereford, was thwarted by technological problems. Luckily, Joshua was on stand by to deputise at the last moment, although this did somewhat tilt the balance in our favour. Nevertheless, in ECF terms, there was not much between the teams except on Board 4, where Ben was a strong favourite. But more of that anon!

So the team which actually took to the field in this ground breaking encounter was:-

1 Mike
2 Bernard C
3 Joshua
4 Ben
5 Billy
(Teams had to play in order of their chess.com rapidplay rating)

I joined the massed throng of spectators (0) towards the end of Round 1, and was delighted to see that Billy had already won convincingly with the Black pieces over John Rayner (last seen drawing with Dave in the KO Cup Semi-Final!). But this was balanced by a dreadful loss by Joshua against Colin Green which featured the blundering of a bishop on move 7. He says it was a mouse slip, but in about 3 months of on-line club nights, he hasn't perpetrated a single one of them, so I have my doubts. We were back in front when Bernard scored a tremendous win over Paul Davies on Board 2, where he found a fantastic sequence of positive moves. No wonder Paul eventually dropped his queen under such pressure. This easily got my vote for Game of the Match.

Regrettably, though, my arrival found Ben in a rather dreadful position, and his junior opponent, Thomas Glenn, despatched him with considerable efficiency to level the scores! However, we still went into the second round with a 1 point lead after Mike defeated Tony Green with Black on top board after a truly chaotic and very complicated game. However, at the end it became obvious to me that there could only be one outcome to this chaos - Tony would lose on time. And the inevitable duly came to pass!

And so to Round 2.

Joshua made up for his disastrous showing in Round 1 with a quick win, that ended with the crushing Nf6+ winning the Black queen. Billy almost made it 2/2 on the evening, but after winning an exchange he wasn't able to finish Black off, and had to settle for a draw. Things looked distinctly dodgy for Mike on Board 1, but perhaps Tony had been unnerved by the events of game 1, as he agreed to a draw when he seemed to have a clear advantage. Something went very wrong for Bernard in the opening, and by the time I saw the position he was an exchange down and facing two connected queenside pawns. He somehow conjured up tremendous counterplay with a rook and two mighty bishops, but just when I thought he had a draw within reach he went wrong and the material advantage became too great to fight against. So the match was in the balance at 5-4 to us, but thankfully Ben made no mistake this time around and secured a dominating endgame win, finishing too many pawns up to count, and clinching a 6-4 victory for KCC.

No-one on either side scored 0/2, so the plan to try and balance the teams was pretty successful, despite our last minute enforced reshuffle.

Apart from Bruce's technological woes, I think everyone enjoyed the experience and it seemed to go pretty smoothly, for which thanks are due to Joshua and Paul Davies, who were the respective team administrators, while myself and Colin Green had rounded up the players. And thanks to Nuneaton in general for inviting us to play, and for helping us while we got familiar with the process.

There might soon be a small summer league for a few local clubs, and I would hope that we will be able to raise at least one team, and preferrably two. To that end, anyone else who would like to throw their hat into the ring for future matches should in the first instance join the chess.com Kenilworth on-line club here. (And don't forget our lichess club where we run our Thursday night club evenings every week. Contact Joshua for details if you haven't already joined.)

Saturday, 13 June 2020

You Just Kinda Wasted My Precious Time, But Don't Think Twice, It's Alright

Its now at 12 weeks (I think - I may have lost count!) since anyone was able to play chess Over The Board, and all I can say is thank goodness for the internet. Of course, online chess has its problems, especially the never absent elephant in the room, cheating, but hopefully the smart algorithms of the major platforms weed out the culprits to leave a level playing field for the rest of us who just want to play chess. And boy, do we play!? 

Thanks to Joshua, we were very quick off the mark with our very own Kenilworth online club on Lichess, which has become a regular Thursday night institution for some of us, and a more infrequent stop for plenty of others. But that still leaves another 6 days and about 20 hours per week, when we can cast our search for an opponent just a tad wider, and take on the whole world. So I thought I would take a quick peek to see just how active the 17 KCC online club members are.

Now, bear in mind that I have had to restrict the search to just the single platform of Lichess (as I don't know user names for anyone on other sites), and also that the numbers I have collected relate to life-time, not lock-down, activity. So plenty of people were already active online pre lock-down, when everyone still thought that Covid 19 was a local postcode. With that in mind, here are the activity lists for the KCC online fraternity. (Numbers accurate at mid-day, Saturday June 13th.)

We start with the Ultra-Bullet category. Which is 15 seconds per player for the entire game! Not a suitable pastime for the old timers, or even the middle aged! Which explains why Jude is way out on his own as a practitioner of this scary format with 562 games, well ahead of Paul (who is old enough to know better) on 142. The only others brave/stupid enough to even dip their toe in the Ultra-Bullet water are Matt (29 games) and Billy (11).

Moving up to the slightly slower Bullet category (typically 1 min +0, but also available as an old man's version of 2 mins + 1 sec)  we find the same two leaders, but with rankings reversed. Paul is the most active Bullet player from the KCC ranks, with 3.025 games, some way clear of Jude's 2,294. The less predictable names of Matt (1,276) and Bernard R (971) come next, followed by me (862) and Billy (362). Ben (327), Joshua (147) and Lionel (83) complete the list.

So just the 9 active Bullet-eers, but numbers start to mount when we move into the much more respectable area of Blitz (typically anything from 3 mins + 0, through to 5 mins + 5 secs). So now we need a proper list, on which we find a runaway leader:-

Matt                 5,186 (No wonder he didn't have the time to play OTB for us last season!!)
Mark                1,441
Paul                 1,330
Joshua             1,086
Lionel                789
Bernard R          766
Jude                   512
Algis                  486
Ben                    322
Billy                   123
Bernard C            30
Andy B                21

It's quite clear that neither Bernard C, nor Andy B, has yet discovered the joys of playing against the wider world. Perhaps just as well, given how it can take over your life. Isn't that right, Matt?!

Perhaps befitting the demographic of the club, it is in the Rapid category (10 mins to about 25 mins per game) that we find the widest levels of participation, with no less than 16 of the 17 KCC Online members having played at least 1 game. And if I gave you ten guesses, it's unlikely you would be able to successfully pick the man in second place!

Matt                 1,539
Roy                  1,403 (Amazing - as he didn't know the internet existed before lock-down!)
Jude                    165
Ben                     154
Bernard R           141
Joshua                  76
Mark                    65
Billy                     48
Andy B                45
Algis                    37
Bernard C            35
Lionel                  18
Paul                     14
Phil                        3
Noah                      1

Now, some club organisers would be massively affronted that someone could play 1,403 games on-line since lock-down - all at time limits which we play in the KCC online meeting every Thursday, without playing a single one of those games with his "mates". But not this one. No, I won't hear a word said against the man.  But only because I'm abusing him so loudly myself, I can't hear what anyone else is saying.

There are plenty of other time-controls/variants available on Lichess, but as I don't have anything to do with them myself, I regard them as somewhat irrelevant, but for the sake of good order, here's an aggregated assessment of activity at slow play and chess variants:-

Matt        335
Jude        102
Joshua       68
Billy          29
Ben             8
Bernard R   5
Lionel         1

And in case you are interested, the overall winner in terms of games played, is - as you'd expect since he's been first in three of the categories - Matt, with 8,365, which is almost double of his closest challenger, Paul (4,511), while the bronze medal goes to Jude (3,641).

Interesting as this all is (and it is interesting, isn't it?), what we really need to know is how much time we have all wasted, I mean spent, playing chess on-line? Well, we're in luck, because I've got those very numbers. And here they are:-

Matt                 54 Days    16 Hours
Roy                  11 Days      4 Hours
Mark                10 Days    17 Hours
Paul                  10 Days    16 Hours
Bernard R          7 Days    11 Hours
Jude                   7 Days       0 Hours
Joshua                5 Days      5 Hours
Lionel                5 Days       0 Hours
Algis                   3 Days     5 Hours
Ben                     3 Days     4 Hours
Billy                    1 Day     15 Hours
Bernard C                           18 Hours
Andy B                               15 Hours
Phil                                       1 Hour
Noah                                     1 Hour

So, Matt seems to be the biggest time-waster by far ……… but is he?? He has been a member of Lichess for over 4 years, so he's averaging something like 12 days per year playing chess on that platform. Whereas Roy has been a member for less than three months, so he's averaging close to 50 days a year on Lichess! I knew there wasn't much to do in Fen End, but that's plain ridiculous. As is the fact that Dave hasn't spent a single second playing even one game of chess since he registered with Lichess!

But leaving Dave out of this, in honour of all the precious time the rest of us have "wasted" playing the greatest game ever invented, let's finish with the incomparable Nobel Prize winner, Mr Bob Dylan. (And if you don't like the music, you can enjoy a ride on the Metropolitan Line to Northwood.) After which I'm off for a few blitz games on chess.com (just so it doesn't look as if I've wasted any more time!)