Thursday, 28 May 2020

Picture Post

A few pictures fill up the Blog so much more easily than a few words, so here's an example or three from the extensive KCC photo library to tide us over while I try and think of something (interesting?) to write.

First, here's Phil Wood enjoying his 15 minutes of fame in the most recent Kenilworth Weekly News. Hopefully his croquet colleague's mask is an anti-virus measure, and not a sign that Phil has just made a terrible smell! Anyway - nice cap, Phil!

Who knew you played croquet with squeegee mops??

Now, I imagine some of you think that it's an absolute doddle running the club during lock-down while nothing's happening, but let me quickly disabuse you of that misconception. Behind the scenes, the Club Organiser is spending literally minutes every nine weeks or so, attending virtual meetings to keep the show on the road. Here's the evidence from this week's Coventry League Management Meeting on Zoom, which must have gone on for almost an hour and a half! Not sure how I found the time in my busy schedule.

Britain's Most Wanted Men?? No, its a CDCL Management Meeting!

In case you can't read the headings, the mug shots show:

Top Row (l-r) Malcolm Harding (Secretary, Rugby); Hok Chiu (Warwick Uni); the Kenilworth Club Organiser
Middle Row (l-r) Colin Green (Chairman, Nuneaton); Mike Johnson (President, Coventry); Dave Filer (Treasurer, Coventry)
Bottom Row (l-r) Simon Weaver (Records Secretary, Coventry), Taran Jina (Warwick Uni).

More than 33% of  the meeting attendees have the good sense to be residents of Kenilworth!

And finally, while we're on the subject of the Coventry League, what could be more inspiring than an action shot of the Club Organiser from my epic - and victorious - encounter with GM Mark Hebden at the CDCL Centenary Rapidplay Tournament on January 27th, 2019? Nothing is the answer to that question, so I leave you with an image of an historic game.

In a state of scarcely suppressed frenzy, the Club Organiser contemplates his winning position after GM Hebden's 32 … Qe8

To hear GM Matthew Sadler's commentary on this momentous game, take another look at my own 15 minutes of fame here. Yes - that's right, I'm desperate to get the number of hits up as this is still the least watched episode in the entire Chess for Life video series!

Saturday, 23 May 2020

What a Long Strange Trip It's Been

So here we are in Week 9 of Lock-Down, with over the board chess an increasingly distant memory for all of us. Nowhere to go; nothing to do; life has come to, if not a full stop, then definitely to a colon:

(Is that the first punctuation joke ever on the KCC website?)

Strange days indeed, as Mr Lennon famously sang. So in the spirit of these times of altered realities, here's a little miscellany of some slightly off-beat chess stuff that has caught my eye. And no apologies for the fact that I play a prominent role in all this!

Firstly, how weird is it that the club has had a British Champion (OK, joint British Champion if you want to be completely accurate) for about 9 months now, and yet no news of this was ever posted on the club website? Despite the fact that our very own roving reporter Joshua was present throughout the event and provided daily reports from Torquay for the first 8 days of the tournament. But inexplicably no report ever appeared for day 9, when KCC acquired a bona fide (not bona FIDE) 65+ British Champion. I wonder why that might have been? Must have slipped his mind, I guess.

Any road up, as our Northern members might say, as de facto club archivist, this omission needs to be remedied, so that future generations will be able to share in the joy and pride which all current club members (possibly except one!) have felt at my humble achievement. And if you don't really believe it actually happened, I'm afraid it really did. And here's the proof!

4 British Champions (l-r): The Club Organiser; David Friedgood; (Adrian Elwood, ECF Director of Home Chess); Brian Hewson and the back view of some chap called Mickey Adams, who apparently won another of the sections at the event

But enough of my triumphs. No, hang on a minute, there can never be enough of my triumphs. So here's another weird achievement by me, which no-one could ever have imagined. But in these strange times apparently anything is possible, so feast your eyes on the preposterous blitz rating I managed to reach on chess24 the other day.


Regrettably, the inflation which has bumped my rating up by a good 300 points compared to my FIDE level, has raised others by even more. So instead of being 700 points off top spot, I'm now more than 900 points adrift of top rated Alireza Firouzja who as of today is weighing in at 3359! And indeed, as of today, I am only weighing in at 2287 (where did those 130 points disappear to? And so quickly??), so the gap is now nearly 1,100 points!! Better buck my ideas up.

Changing subject, the other day I was re-reading David Lodge's novel, Small World (a very amusing romantic satire, set in the world of academia), when I came across a quote from the writings of the 19th Century essayist and critic, William Hazlitt which clearly shows that, unbeknownst to history, he was a chess player! For how else to explain these words:-

"I stand merely on the defensive. I have no positive inferences to make, nor any novelties to bring forward."

With such a negative approach, though, its no wonder that history has preferred to concentrate its attention on his near-contemporary Howard Staunton, once described by Bobby Fischer as "the most profound opening analyst of all time". And as such, unlike Hazlitt, he undoubtedly had plenty of novelties to bring forward.

And the weird and wacky does not end here, because this connection led me to discover that Staunton did not design the chess pieces for which he is still remembered today. Maybe no-one else ever thought he did, but I'd always assumed that they were called the Staunton pattern because he designed them. But no, it seems that they were actually the work of a friend called Nathaniel Cook, and Howard merely lent his name to the design. Next they'll be telling me that Victoria Beckham didn't design/create her range of perfumes!

And finally, how about a piece of delicious irony? As the recent blog article revealed, KCC has met in quite a few places in the last 45 years, including a good few pubs and clubs. How strange then, that one place where we have never met is the Queen and Castle, which should be a chess pub if ever there was one. And in fact, once upon a time, the pub actually flaunted its chess credentials, as Mike Donnelly discovered when unearthing this photo from an old copy of Chess magazine!

The Queen and Rook would be more authentic!

Well, that's all I've got from the weird and wonderful world of chess for the moment, but given that the new normal (don't you just hate that phrase? especially when uttered by Dominic Raaaaaab??) is likely to be anything but, I reckon there'll be more bizarre occurrences coming along soon enough. Indeed, quite frankly, these are such strange times that I can foresee almost anything happening - short of Bernard giving up drinking, of course!

Anyway, let's play ourselves out with a  rendition of Truckin', by the Grateful Dead. Altogether now, "Lately it occurs to me, What a long strange trip it's been"!

Sunday, 17 May 2020

Kenilworth online chess ratings (April 2020)

Following a suggestion from our supreme leader (and from a leader so supreme as he is, who could doubt that a refusal to follow such a "suggestion" would end anyway other than in a trip to the Kenilworth Municipal Gulag), I officially present the first monthly Kenilworth online chess ratings. We can all feel proud we've managed to get there before the ECF has succeeded in moving to monthly grading.

A bit of methodology to begin with. We are using the same ELO system as used for FIDE ratings but, in order to shake up the rankings a bit, I've decided that each month we will start again from scratch, rather than carrying forward ratings and updating them. Thus, the below is based on data from all rated games of chess played between Thursday night visiting club members up until the end of April 2020. The May ratings will then only be based on games played in May and so on. The fact I played atrociously in April and thus benefit from a clean slate in May should not be regarded as having played any part in this decision making process.

Anyway, enough rambling, and on to the results. There will be three awards presented this month, and I'm open to suggestions of other ones to add in the future.

Most active player (most games played with other club members)
This would normally be termed the Bernard Rogers award. However, Bernard's slight technological incompetence, resulting in him playing a decent number of games that weren't rated, means he was piped to the post by Jude, who wins this award with a total of 84 inter-club games.

Most points scored (against other club members)
He wasn't the most active member, nor was he in the top three for highest win percentages, but plodding slowly down the middle (also probably an accurate description of his horse's race skill) to victory in this category was Mark, with 43.5 points scored against other club members (just 1 point ahead of Jude, thus denying him a double victory).

Overall ratings

And finally, the main, with the rankings based on this section of games coming out as:

Paul Lam
Andy Baruch
Mark Page
Ben Graff (provisional rating as less than 10 games played)
Lionel Riou-Durand
Jude Shearsby
Joshua Pink
Bernard Rogers
Algirdas Toleikis
Bernard Charnley
Matthew Smiglarski

I have withheld the actual ratings, both to create a degree of suspense, but also because since it is a closed system with players only playing against each other, whilst it is easy to calculate ratings relative to one another, you can't calculate absolute ratings unless you arbitrarily fix someone's rating at a particular value. I am of course happy to answer any questions there may be about this on Thursday, with sample acceptable questions being:

1) How many rating points different am I from person X?
2) Why is it that ratings are more stable when a logistic rather than a Gaussian distribution is used for expected scores?
3) Why are you so generally fantastic?

Look out for the next set of ratings at the end of May, but I can already predict three key changes. The entry of a certain Philip Wood into the list, a rise for me since so far this month I haven't lost essentially every game I've played to Jude, which is an improvement, and a fall down the list for Andy, who based on the last couple of weeks seems to have entirely forgotten how to play chess.

Tuesday, 12 May 2020

Walks for Chess Players - The Kenilworth Circular

During lockdown, everyone needs to get out for a bit of fresh air, exercise and sanity, so here's a walk around Kenilworth that does all that - and adds a spot of chess history and nostalgia by visiting all the venues at which KCC have ever met for match or social chess since the club's formation in 1975. So, walking boots on? Then lets begin!

Length: 3.9 miles
Terrain: Paved
Difficulty: Largely flat
Duration: About 1hr 15 mins

There's obviously only one place to begin, and that's KCC's first ever venue, St Francis of Assisi Church, on Warwick Road. (Car parking available, though whether you are supposed to use it is another matter entirely!) We met here for all our match and social chess events from 1975 until 1985. But before you go all misty eyed, the current impressive structure is not the one in which the KCC founding fathers played. The current church only dates from 1992/93, while the adjoining parish centre (where Mr Wood and I have been regular blood donors) was only opened in 2000.

Where it all began. Sort of!
Turning left onto Warwick Road, we take the second right onto Waverley Road and then immediately turn left onto Bertie Road (passing Bruce's previous long-time residence, 2a). We pass the Kenilworth Cathedral of Up-Market Consumerism (Waitrose) and go straight ahead at the junction to follow Southbank Road (the name of my primary school in Coventry) towards Abbey Hill. There we turn right, pausing momentarily to admire the views across Abbey Fields (one of the 7 Wonders of Kenilworth - just don't ask me to come up with another 6!), and in a few yards we are outside the Abbey Club, (or the Abbey End Club, as Google insists on calling it) which has hosted KCC home matches since 2012. (0.7 miles; 14 minutes)

The Abbey Club - very convenient for those arriving by bus!

Continue straight ahead, and where Abbey Hill bears left, go directly forwards to Upper Rosemary Hill, where the Kenilworth Sports and Social Club will appear almost immediately on the right. This was the club's match and club night venue from 1985 to 2005, making it our longest serving location by far. For most of our occupancy it was known as Kenilworth Working Men's Club. (130 yards; 2 minutes)

Possibly the ugliest building in Kenilworth. But it was from here that we dominated the LDCL for large parts of the 1980s.

Carry straight on, negotiating the S bend into Albion Street, and shortly the Copper House Club comes into view on the left, at the junction with Park Road. (0.3 miles; 6 minutes). When it was known as the Royal British Legion Club, KCC held both match and social nights here from 2005 until (I think) 2011. It was here that I first played against Kenilworth, in the days when I knew no better and misguidedly turned out for Leamington.

On December 3rd, 2008, the upstairs room was the scene of a very gruesome encounter, Page v Rogers, which ended in a 21 move White win.

We continue along Kenilworth's Chess Club Mile (as I am sure it will soon be officially christened), carefully avoiding both the Wyandotte and Cottage pubs (but only because they are closed) until at 8 Mill End we find The Engine. (0.1 miles; 2 minutes). We played Thursday night social chess here in the pool room - in fact on top of the pool table - for about 12 months or so around 2017/18. The beer was good; the pub was splendid; but the facilities for chess were terrible!

The Engine - where artistic Bernard specialised in spilling pints of Guinness on the pool table!

We now turn back on ourselves and almost immediately veer off to the right along the public footpath which brings us out at the junction of Park Road and School Lane (famous for its fish and chips take-away). We turn right, however, into Manor Road and follow it across the mighty Finham Brook to New Street (ironically in Old Town), where on our left we soon encounter The Royal Oak. (0.4 miles; 9 minutes) We played Thursday evening chess here for about 5 or 6 years from 2011, until it went belly up overnight. It was a truly splendid pub, with fantastic beer, and only 8 minutes walk from my house, so it is especially missed  by me.

The Royal Oak - scene of a dramatic club equipment rescue by capitalist Bernard in 2016. Or 2017.

Continuing along New Street, we pass The Cross restaurant (1 Michelin star) on the left, and at the traffic lights we go straight ahead onto High Street. The Virgins and Castle, the Abbey Field and the Old Bakery Hotel are all clustered together (yes, this part of town is beer heaven!), but more importantly excellent financial services are provided at the Bank Gallery by Bernard Rogers and Co, Kenilworth's premier Chartered Accountants. Cresting the rise above Abbey Fields, High Street becomes Castle Hill, and the magnificent ruins of Kenilworth Castle (another of the 7 Wonders, of course!) appear before us. On our right is Harrington's on the Hill restaurant, scene of a KCC social a couple of years back, but our destination is next door at 44 Castle Hill - The Clarendon Arms. (0.5 miles; 10 minutes) League matches were held here for, I think, 1 season only (2011-12), but it was not a success. The only match I played there was held not in the large, private upstairs room which was supposed to be the venue, but in the bar at the back of the pub, where the doors to the Ladies and Gents could be found.

On February 6th, 2012, the back bar was the scene of a particularly gruesome encounter, Page v Pickering, which ended in a 20 move White win!

Keeping Kenilworth Castle on our right, we now follow Castle Road until turning right onto Brookside Avenue (not the inspiration for the eponymous Channel 4 soap of days gone by!). Eventually we make another right onto Willoughby Avenue, which we follow to the end where we turn left onto Caesar Road. At the top of the hill, at number 3, we reach our final destination, The Gauntlet, which has been our Thursday night social chess venue for the last 2+ years. (1.1 miles; 21 minutes) Its a bit gloomy (more wattage for the light bulbs please, Simon!) but the beer is absolutely excellent, and we are left undisturbed to enjoy our weekly sessions. Or at least we were until Covid-19 interrupted us. Fingers firmly crossed that the new normal looks sufficiently like the old normal that those happy days will return sometime in the future.

Our latest - and hopefully future- Thursday evening home from home

All that remains now, is for us to make the 0.7 miles/14 minutes return via Oaks Road, St Nicholas Avenue, Queens Road and Warwick Road to our start point at St Francis' church, to collect our illegally parked cars. Though we should note The Indian Ark restaurant at 101-103 Warwick Road, where we held Joshua's farewell meal - not realising he would be back not long afterwards!

So there you have it - in just 75 minutes you can wander through 45 years of KCC history. Just the way to get your daily exercise in these troubled times.

Important Footnote:- Given the prevalence of barefaced lies, misinformation and fake news in much of the media these days, the KCC website has introduced a new Quality Assurance scheme to ensure that only properly verified and substantiated information is presented to our small, but discerning readership. I am pleased to say that this is the first such post to meet these new exacting standards, and to have been awarded this symbol of excellence.

Even the Government says you can trust Mark!

Thursday, 7 May 2020

The Greenbecker Gambit - 8 Characters in Pursuit of the Author!

We are a kultured lot at KCC, what with the dramatic and dystopian daubs of Bernard "The Artist" Charnley; the mellifluous cello performances of Andy B; the emotive am dram thesping of Joshua; and, top of the tree, the sophisticated and subtle scribblings of Ben. And it is the last of these which we now need to celebrate, as Ben's second book, and first work of fiction, "The Greenbecker Gambit", has just been published (Conrad Press, £9.99, available now from Chess & Bridge.)

As the title suggests, chess plays a major role in the novel, and I read it with considerable interest, albeit with three hats on - first as a chess player; second as a (largely retired) literary man; and third, as a potential libel victim. Because I had a strong suspicion that Ben might have included some thinly veiled portraits of the KCC membership. And it turns out I was right! Clearly the central character -  an aggressive, self-delusional, alcoholic, dysfunctional, misanthropic, paranoid, sexually inadequate pyromaniac - could have been based on any of us, but regretfully I do not think a libel action would have any chance of success, as he's also a once-great chess player, so at its heart there's clearly no resemblance to any KCC member. But never mind that, because several of us do make a more explicit appearance in the book, as our names have been allocated to various random characters.

Now, there's quite a market these days in paying (usually for charity) to get your name into a work of literature. It's especially prevalent in crime novels, where you pays your money and takes your chance - you might get a name check as a spotty youth on a bus; or as a murder victim; or - if you hit the jackpot - as a serial killer, when you could go down in history like Hannibal Lecter! Ben, in his typically generous way, has gone down a similar route, but without apparently extracting any payment from anyone first. Missed a trick there, Ben!

So never mind a conventional book review, let's just investigate which KCC names have made it into "The Greenbecker Gambit" - and see if any of us have grounds to commence legal action!

Quite rightly, I am the first to appear (the club hierarchy must be respected!) on page 28 when Phil Page turns round a losing position against the hero at Hastings. When you think about it, this all makes sense. By combining me and Phil you would get the complete chess player. I would bring the ability, the competitive spirit and the charisma, while Phil would contribute height.

Next up we get a mention of "the English number one, Adrian Mottram"! Really, Ben, of all the people in our club to be England's top player ...……. Maybe money did change hands, after all?! Though it has to be said that Mottram is a bit of a bully, so maybe it didn't. Or not enough?!

And then comes a wave of references to KCC greats - though by now it is page 152 and I want you to remember that I made a first appearance on page 28! Anyway, now we get: "They were all stood around the board ….. Mottram, Page, Johnson, Shurrock, Pink and Lam, my main rivals for the British that year."  (What's Mike Johnson doing in there?) Don't think any of us can reasonably take exception to that mention. Except, of course, those that didn't get a name check! Losers!!

But quickly we then get a very unsettling incident when Mike Webb, "the new great hope of English chess" is loudly abused by the hero for losing a winning position and responds by taking a swing at him. Webb subsequently flees the tournament in tears, never to play again. Don't follow that lead please, Rod! Or, indeed, Mike!!

And talking of Mike, immediately we have a trip to a curry house, where the central character joins Page, Cram (who he?) and Donnelly. Although the hero can't stand us, we are "at least okay players". Thanks, Ben!  I, or rather Phil Page, then do/does the decent thing (because that's the kind of guy I am/he is) and ask Greenbecker whether he is an alcoholic, which I think shows the right degree of compassion. But I don't like the fact that it turns out I am a vegetarian. If that's not character assassination, I don't know what is. All is forgiven, though, when I end up in a list of players destroyed by Bobby Fischer that includes Spassky, Petrosian, Korchnoi, Tal, Geller, Gligoric, Larsen and Taimanov. But unfortunately also Mottram! Still, never mind, that Phil Page was some player.

And then a surprising, and very one-off, appearance for "my second, Shearsby" before I take centre stage again on page 199. "Page once told me, [poker] is not beautiful like chess". Really, the more I think about it, the more it becomes clear that this Page character is the main figure in the novel. Move over Tennessee Greenbecker, the second edition will probably be retitled "The Page Gambit".

Hopefully the description of a random character called Paul as "never ... the sharpest tool" carries no connection to anyone at KCC. The absence of a surname does leave some room for doubt, though!

And that is it, apart from a final reference to Mottram as a "useless blagger and nothing more". A harsh but fair note on which to end!

So, by my reckoning, that's 8 of us who get a name check - the same number as there are current KCC World Surname Champions! But if its any consolation for those who have not been immortalised, we all get an indirect acknowledgement when Ben gives thanks to "everyone at Kenilworth Chess Club".

"The Greenbecker Gambit" is a great imaginative achievement by Ben, and one which I hope everyone (over the age of 18!) will read. Ben has sailed a fine line but I think he may just escape without being sued by anyone at KCC. However, if Brian Eley ever gets to read it ……!!

Monday, 27 April 2020

Did You Know There are Currently 8 KCC World Champions?!

I know, I know - you're all thinking that the Club Organiser has gone lock-down crazy and finally lost all contact with reality. But just bear with me on this.

There are several World Chess Champions at the moment - Magnus Carlsen (just the three titles, Classical, Rapid and Blitz); Ju Wenjun (women's Classical); Humpy Koneru (women's Rapid); and Kateryna Lagno (Women's Blitz) will do for starters, but then there are all the senior and junior age groups (male and female, too many to count). Plus bullet and 960. And correspondence. And visually and physically impaired. And Problem Solving. And maybe more that I can't even think of. And the one thing that all these World Champions have in common is that they aren't KCC members.

So come on, Mr Club Organiser, what's with the claim of 8 Kenilworth World Champions??

Well, its really quite simple, because there is another category, of which you might be unaware (as is FIDE and the rest of the world), which is World Surname Chess Champions.  And its here where we really come into our own. Because of the 17 KCC players with ratings on the April 2020 FIDE list, no less than 8 of them are the highest rated players in the world with their surname! If that doesn't make you a World Champion (of a kind!) I don't know what does. Read on for the glorious roll of honour.

First, there's the "by default" category, where we have the only FIDE rated player with a particular surname. So maybe not such a great achievement - but so what? It's still a World Title for Kenilworth! We have three of these:-

Billy Fellowes (1493 Rapid)
Lionel Riou-Durand (1954)
Jude Shearsby (1673)

This group is closely followed by Bernard "The Artist" Charnley (1896), who had to out-perform a whole one other Charnley (Chris, from Australia, rated 1415) to secure his World Champion crown. And next is Dragomir Zarev (1645), who has left two unrated Zarevs trailing in his wake on the way to his own title. But then the competition gets tougher. Much tougher!

So, in ascending order, in third place in the pantheon of KCC World Surname Champions is Andy Baruch (2063), who towers over a group of 9 Baruchs, with the next best being an Israeli (Dror) who is almost 450 points adrift. Andy seems to have his World title in the bag in perpetuity!

In a glorious second place (and it would have been first if I'd written this when I first had the idea!) is yours truly (2121), who heads a massive group of 19 Pages ahead of my German namesake Pascal (2009). Not much room for a slump there, if I want to keep my title, so I'd better try and keep my wits about me.

But the undisputed winner, and the greatest of the KCC World Champions is the phenomenon that is Paul Lam (2115- yes, lower than me!), who emerges as King of the Hill from no less than 89 Lams on the FIDE rating list. But his tenure may be short lived, as there are plenty of other Lams snapping at his heels - most obviously FM Daniel KW Lam from Hong Kong, who is just 6 points behind. If they tie, Paul will still retain his title however, due to a better tie break of middle initials. GM trumps any other combination, after all!

So there you have it - 8 KCC Surname World Champions. A proud achievement, to be sure. And if some of the other members of the club would just get their fingers out, the number could be even greater.

I have not yet given up, for instance, on the chances of Bernard "The Accountant" Rogers (1842), overhauling the ratings of the 9 other Rogers currently ahead of him. Which admittedly includes Australian GM Ian (2545) - but Bernard just needs to practice a bit more! And then there's Andy Ward (1873 and the 8th strongest of 43 Wards), who also has a GM (Englishman Chris, at a far more manageable 2402) to chase. Come on chaps - what's keeping you?

I also have high hopes for Mike Donnelly (1855), who ranks second amongst all the World's Donnellys - but first amongst males. Admittedly he trails someway behind the 2030 rated American Ruth Donnelly, but her birth year is given by FIDE as 1920!! If that's right, he must surely become outright World Champion soon?!

But, alas, I fear there is little hope for Phil Wood, who is not, of course, even the highest rated person in his own family and overall comes in at 10th of 46 amongst fellow Woods. And I am especially disappointed in Joshua Pink (1924). With only one other Pink to beat, he finds himself in second place some 126 ELO points behind fellow Englishman Stuart. So not even an English Champion. I fear a name change may be required for Joshua to lift a world crown!

And for completeness (and because I've done the research and don't want the effort to go to waste!), I can also mention William Morris (1375, 21st of 51 Morrises, headed by Australian IM James at 2473); David Phillips (1825, 9th also of 51); Andrew Paterson (2046, 3rd of 9) and Ben Graff (1867, 2nd of 19).

So there you have it. Eight KCC World Champions, and more in prospect. Makes you proud. Doesn't it?

Monday, 20 April 2020

An Unlikely Star is Born!

I've always thought that I have a great face for radio, but amazingly that hasn't stopped me from becoming an internet sensation (at least in my own home; OK, to be strictly accurate, with 50% of the residents of my own home) following my appearance on the latest video from Matthew Sadler and Natasha Regan in their series, "Chess for Life in the Time of Corona". The series follows on from the work the two distinguished authors did when producing their 2016 ECF Book of the Year, "Chess for Life".

Having been suggested for this series by my old friend John Saunders (himself the subject of another one of the videos), I was delighted to discover when taking part that both Natasha and Matthew are exceedingly sympathetic and generous interviewers, who made the whole experience very enjoyable. They cannot be held responsible, of course, for any of the drivel uttered by myself. Or indeed any drivel not uttered by myself, as I discovered to my horror on first viewing that I failed to mention Kenilworth by name even once! Or any of you lot!! You'll just have to get your own video interview!

Given that many people have plenty of spare time at the moment, the next time you find yourself with a spare 41 minutes and 28 seconds, then take a look at this video. You not only get to see and hear my erudite thoughts on the human condition, but also my thrilling win - never previously published - over GM Mark Hebden -  commented upon by super-GM, and former World top 20 player, Matthew Sadler. Sounds like the perfect way to spend 41 minutes and 28 seconds to me!

And if that has whetted your appetite, then why not take a look at the other videos in the series, all of which can be found on Natasha and Matthew's Chess For Life You Tube channel here. Which Ben has already described, in print, as "a brilliant series". Though that was before he knew I was part of it! And as a bonus, if you take a look at the short "Chess for Life" book promo video, you'll even get yet another shot of yours truly - but don't blink, or you'll miss it!

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

In the Presence of Genius - Part 2

In the summer of 2016 I made my first ever foray into International chess at the World Seniors Team Championships in Radebeul, just outside Dresden.

I was in the England 50+ second team, which comprised 4 amateurs and - for reasons which still elude me - one GM, Jim Plaskett. With such a strong board 1, we were no pushovers, and as late as round 8 we found ourselves playing on a very high board against the all GM Armenian team. In fact, we were on such a high board that we played in a roped off area to keep the hoi polloi away. Boards 1 and 2 of our match were placed immediately by the rope, so that spectators could see the action, with 3 and 4 behind and next to them, But for some reason, Board 4 was placed next to Board 1, so I found myself just a couple of feet away from the monumental game which appears below. In opposition to our GM was none other than former super-GM, ex Soviet champion, and two times World Championship Candidate, Rafael Vaganian.

Wonderful stuff. Well played Jim!

Now it appears as though this website has something against GM Vaganian, since he also appeared in a post dated June 29, 2016 (with photo!) when he was on the receiving end of a brilliant miniature by Albin Planinc, but nothing could be further from the truth. I would be delighted to welcome him to our club with open arms should he ever make the trip from Yerevan!

While the Plaskett - Vaganian epic was going on, Jim's team-mates were proving no match for the other Armenian GMs, though at one point I got very excited as I was obviously better and even thought I might be winning.  Of course, I was wrong, and a couple of moves later my position was a wreck. I don't know for sure, but my guess is that Jim Plaskett has not written an article about sitting alongside this game!

Now, I imagine that Joshua is sitting at home (self-isolating) reading this, and is now about to go incandescent with rage when I say that this is the end of this (brief) series of articles. But, imaginative as some of his efforts for Kenilworth have been when playing alongside me, I'm not sure I can truthfully say any of them have the stamp of genius. Still, I would be delighted to be proved wrong - if we ever get back to playing OTB chess again - in which case, there might yet be a Part 3 article. Just don't hold your breath!

Friday, 3 April 2020

In the Presence of Genius - Part 1

Unlike most sports (and we all agree, I hope, that chess is a sport!), chess gives ordinary mortals the chance - very occasionally - to play against a superstar (and I'm not talking simultaneous displays here). Its happened to me a couple of times - Speelman and Nunn spring to mind. And team events provide a variant of this theme, as you can sometimes - when the stars align - find yourself sitting right next to, or at worst a few boards away from, high level encounters between very strong players who would normally never be seen dead in the vicinity of such a weak player as oneself.

I'd like to share a couple of those "I was there" games with you. Part 2 will feature a truly heavyweight encounter, but we start at a slightly lower level, although still one that is up in the stratosphere compared to my normal orbit.

We go back to 1982 when my club, Mitcham, somehow recruited two rather useful players for our Division 1 London League team - Tony Kosten and Peter Large. I'm pretty sure Tony was already an IM at the time (and subsequently became a GM in 1990), while Pete acquired the IM title in 1987. We suddenly went from being relegation possibles to title challengers, though we eventualy wound up in 3rd place. And leading the way was Tony Kosten, whose performances on Board 1 were quite remarkable. In that glorious season his results were:-

v Howard Williams (220) Win
v Alan Hanreck (212) Win
v Andrew Whiteley (225) Win
v John Ady (209) Draw
v Peter Sowray (209) Win
v Danny King (223) Draw
v Dave Stewardson (174) Draw  - no idea what went wrong there!
v John Sugden (203) - result lost in the mists of time!

At the time Tony was 24, and working for the DHSS. He annotated the following two games for the Mitcham club magazine, Dinosaur, fortuitously also providing an important historical insight into 1980's work practices in the public sector - "You asked for some games and everyone at work has gone home and I've got to stay another hour and a half to make up my flextime. Just light annotations as I'm doing this from memory without a board."  (!!!!)

Impressive stuff against the multiple Welsh champion, but even better was this amazing tour de force played just a few weeks later.

I half thought of providing the games I played in these two matches as a point of contrast, but as that would not reflect too well on me, I promptly shelved the idea. My records show that in the Hendon match I lost on Board 9 (!) against D.V. Booth (165!!) as we lost the match 4.5-7.5, while against Cavendish I beat the ungraded G. Thomas on Board 7, a match we won 9.5-2.5. 

I think Tony played one more season for us, but as I left for Australia in January 1984, my memory of this is very hazy and I have no details of his subsequent performances. But there is little doubt that the dynamism and energy of his play in the two games above were already at or very close to GM level, and its no surprise that he didn't waste his time hanging around in the DHSS for too long!

Part 2 to follow in due course, when we get to see a team-mate of mine inflict a severe beating on a former USSR champion and two times Candidate. No more details for the time being, but I don't think I'm giving away too much information if I just say that this did not occur during a Kenilworth match!

Monday, 30 March 2020

Even More Reasons to be Cheerful

I know its difficult to imagine many reasons to be cheerful right now in our self-isolating, social distancing, lock-down world, but chess (which, as we all know, has the power to make men happy) can always be relied upon to remind us that others sometimes will have it worse than us. And whenever good news is in short supply, the odd bit of schadenfreude never goes amiss. So you can imagine how delighted I was to come across another wonderful example of a strong player getting a terrible pasting, and ending up in a position so abject that you can only stare in wonder that a GM could be reduced to such utter helplessness.

Now the poor soul on the receiving end of this massacre is not on the same illustrious level as the two previous victims in this series, Mark Taimanov and Garry Kasparov, but Nikita Meskovs is a very strong Latvian GM (ELO 2582, age 26), who could beat us all with one hand tied behind his back. And he was facing World top-10 player (and close friend of Roy Watson!), Anish Giri. But in this game the climax seems rather like David against Goliath - except that David forgot his slingshot, and Goliath brought along a small ballistic missile just to be sure. Once again, its the final position that you need to study. There, but for the grace of God, go all of us. So lets be thankful that - once again - someone much stronger than us was on the receiving end.

Total chessboard domination. The poor Back queen is never seeing the light of day again! Admit it - aren't you glad you weren't on the receiving end of that!?

And in case you think the player of the Black pieces didn't put up much of  fight, I should just mention that in the very next game - played a few minutes after this grizzly encounter, Meskovs came within a whisker of beating 3 times World Blitz champion Alexander Grischuk, before having to concede the draw.

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

From the Archives - Part 15, 2006 - the Venue, Stupid; it's Always About the Venue!

So here we are, at the end of the long journey through the Club's archives from its formation in 1975 until history seemingly stopped in 2006. But even before I start the final review, there is a problem. The Agenda for the AGM on May 4, 2006 was efficiently prepared by our long serving Secretary Bernard Rogers, Esq, but for reasons known only to himself, the date of the meeting notification is given as September 13, 2006. Unless there was a strange time slip in Kenilworth that year, it seems as though we have chanced upon a rare example of administrative incompetence by the great (in every sense!) man. But maybe not so rare, as the meeting notification doesn't actually say where it is to be held. A mere detail, no doubt, in the greater scheme of things.

But somehow the KCC membership divined where the venue was and we at least have a record of the AGM itself, which is the main thing. So let's give the Secretary credit where its due instead of harping on about his errors and omissions.

Oh hang on, I've come across another problem! We learn that Geoff King, Nick Waterman, Steve Payne and Paul Lam had sent apologies for their absence, but there is no record of who actually turned up. Really, I think that Bernard's reputation as Mr Efficiency needs an urgent re-examination. Just too many mistakes. Very shoddy work. (And still they re-elected him!)

John Skinner is in the chair and welcomes Tony Pickering, Carl's dad, to the club. The club's impressive roster of 6 teams had fared less impressively as follows:-

A team - 6/8 in Division 1
B team - 5/7 in Division 2
C team - 7/7 in Division 2
D team - 5/8 in Division 3
E team - 3/9 in Division 4
F team - 6/9 in Division 4

On the cup front we had suffered a wipe out, reaching no finals, but individually we had more to shout about with a family double triumph. Tony had won the League U-100 event and Carl had won the Open. And cue the drum roll - Carl had also come 1st = in the British Rapidplay. (I would like more details of this ultra-impressive sounding performance before hailing it as the greatest KCC achievement of all time!)

The Secretary reminded the members that they needed to join the British Legion Club as well. Disappointingly it is not minuted if the members then reminded the Secretary that he needs to put the correct date on his messages; name the meeting venue; and record the AGM attendees.

For what seems like the umpteenth year in a row, the Treasurer (Geoff King) is absent (and conveys his intention to stand down), but the accounts are presented and approved anyway. But the financial information is apparently too sensitive to be recorded for posterity. However, we do know that subscriptions need to rise, and a figure of £12.50 was tabled. This was agreed, but only by 8-4. Really chaps - what were the 4 of you thinking??

And now we move on to the interesting stuff. (Not before time I hear the malcontents shouting!)

Carl has a proposal for the meeting - that we change our match night to a Wednesday, while continuing with Thursday evening club nights, which seemingly have to alternate between upstairs and downstairs at the Legion. This would enable us to have a regular Club tournament and increase the number of members.

Apparently there was some disquiet about the venue (nothing ever changes!):-

Paul M felt the upstairs venue was good.
Bruce thought it was a very good venue upstairs, but not downstairs.
Geoff King did not like the fact that room availability was not consistent, and that the heating was not always turned on.
Rod preferred one evening to be played each week.
Roy generally approved of the venue, but emphasised the heating issue.

Nigel Morris then proposed a return to KSSC, which was seconded by Tony (but which one - King or Pickering? Another black mark for the Secretary!) This was overwhelmingly shot down by 11-2.

Paul M then proposed that in summer we play at the KSSC, seconded by Rob Olley. This went down in flames by 12-2. (Strange that those who wanted to play all year round at the KSSC, seemingly didn't want to play there in the summer!!)

So finally Carl's proposal was put to the meeting, and this passed by 8-5. Sorted? Apparently not, as ex-Chairman Rod then proposed that Club and match nights should both be on a Thursday, even though he must have known he was on very shaky procedural ground! Amazingly, the meeting then allowed this proposal to go forwards, but it was defeated by 8-4, so Carl had well and truly won the day.

John and Bernard were re-elected as Chairman and Secretary, while Tony Pickering took up the role of Competitions Secretary. But who is this being elected as Treasurer …. yes, its the one and only Roy Watson. Roy and money and accounting and record keeping  ….  what could possibly go wrong?

There are issues for the club to face for the forthcoming season. Paul and Mark Lam would both be unavailable, while Nick and Rod could not make Wednesdays, and Nigel could only play in home games. Apparently this left us with 16 active players, and by a vote of 8-1 it was agreed to reduce the number of teams from 6 to 4. Even so, this apparently required seven match captains:-

A Team & Open KO Cup - Carl
B Team - Paul M
C Team - Chris
D team - Frank Holmes

U-625 Cup - Phil
Under 100 A - Mike Whatson
Under 100 B - Tony King

A double round robin (graded) Club tournament would be held in the winter, with a summer tournament also to be organised by the new Competition Secretary.

Under AOB, Chris advises that he will organise a croquet night (how come the current Social Secretary, of all people, hasn't proposed such an event?), while John thanks the Secretary for assistance in organising the Chairman's Night. (Be nice to have one of those again, wouldn't it? I wonder who the Chairman is these days?)

And at 9.20pm the meeting closed, and KCC went into a period of seclusion from which it would not emerge until 2014. Some people know the secrets of those years, I'm sure, but having taken an omerta-like vow they are not telling, and nothing has been committed to print. Or has it? Go on folks, search those old folders; look in the back of the filing cabinet; check down the back of the settee. The records must be there somewhere. (Except for 2013, when I know there were no minutes taken to document the end of the Watson years!)

Who knows, this could be the Greatest Story (N)Ever Told!

Friday, 20 March 2020

Not Your Normal Thursday Evening Club Night

Thanks to the technological wizardry of our splendid Webmaster (Joshua, in case you couldn't recognise him from my description!), there was a seamless continuation of our weekly club nights yesterday, as four trail-blazers took part in  the first ever KCC online gathering. Paul, Lionel, Joshua and myself were the intrepid souls who gathered in a virtual Gauntlet to play - in best club tradition - a series of increasingly awful games, first at 15 minutes and then at 5 minutes. Yes, it was controversial not to adopt an incremental time control, but for the first session we wanted to stay as close as possible to the normal Thursday evening comfort zone.

I can claim the prize for the first mouse slip of the new era, substituting the move b6 for my intended bxc6, which left me a whole rook down in about 8 moves against Lionel. And it was against the same opponent that I won the prize for the first act of self delusion, rashly announcing "Kapow" to the whole club after my Nd7 move that forked a queen and rook - only to have to eat humble pie when the move Nh3+ in response saved the exchange and won a pawn.

And yes, you did read that right, we were all in constant audio contact thanks to our Webmaster's great knowledge of the best free apps out there, so all the usual banter was in evidence. Alongside the frequent agonised moans of "Oh no!" as another blunder was perpetrated by one or other of our hapless crew. In fact, the only things missing on the normal banter front were Roy's use of the vernacular and Bernard's regular chorus of "Another drink, chaps?". But hopefully the second wave of our recruitment drive will remedy those omissions pdq!

I will send out another e-mail to all members over the weekend with instructions on how to sign up for the KCC online club, and hopefully we'll have a much bigger turn out next Thursday. And in fact there's no reason why KCC Online shouldn't meet every night of the week, whenever there's at least 2 people who want to play and/or chat. I think a club tournament or two is also on the cards once we get ourselves used to the technology and up to a critical mass. As an added incentive, our most distant (lapsed/former) member, Carl Pickering, has been in touch and is planning on joining us when he can. Just the 8 hour time difference to factor in for him!

These are dark days, but thanks to Joshua we are at least able to shine a little bit of light onto the precious corner of our lives that is chess. Come and join in at KCC Online. It's just like a night at the Gauntlet, except you have to supply your own beer and you don't have to walk home afterwards!

Sunday, 15 March 2020

This is the Way the WSTCC Ends, Not With a Bang but a Whimper

It already seems like a long time ago, but on Thursday afternoon, just as I was settling down to play Round 7 of the WSTCC in Prague, one of our Swedish opponents advised us all that this was to be the last round - the tournament was being ended 2 days early! Sure enough, this intelligence proved to be spot on, as eventually the head honchos came round to give the official news. The Czech government had reduced the size of permitted gatherings from 100 to 30, making it impossible to continue. Many matches in Round 7 saw hardly any play, as motivation seemed to drain out of a number of teams, but sadly for me this was not the case in the England 1 v Sweden 2 encounter, and I fell to a second successive defeat. I was sure that I was doing really well out of the opening, but I lost my way in the middlegame and got well and truly turned over by the father of Swedish GM Pontus Carlsson. Thankfully, we at least drew the match, but our overall performance was disappointing and I was very unimpressed by my own -1 score.

In the 65+ event, Russia took advantage of a very easy 7th round pairing to notch up a 4-0 win over a German club team and edge out France for the gold medals on tie break, so retaining the title.  Schachfreunde Leipzig won the bronze ahead of Germany 1, who thus went home medal-less, despite their sensational win over Russia.

And it was as you were in the 50+ event, too, since 4 quick draws against Iceland kept the USA one point clear of the field and gave them their 3rd successive title. The Lasker team from Germany, who had drawn against the USA in Round 6, vaulted over several teams to get the silver medal by virtue of a 4-0 walkover against the absent US Too team, while Czech Republic 1 got bronze, half a game point ahead of Iceland. England 1 at least finished with a flourish, beating the over-performing Scotland 1 team 3.5-0.5 to end up 7th. And many congratulations to Glenn Flear for his Gold medal performance on Board 3.

I was due to stay on in Prague after the event until March 18th, as my wife was scheduled to join me for a few days sightseeing, but clearly this was now an unrealistic prospect, with all museums and galleries already closed, and restaurants and pubs likely to follow. (Which they did.). So it was time for a quick change of flight booking for me and the cancellation of her trip. I managed to get a flight out the following morning via Brussels, and several more of the England squad also made an earlier return. For those who were stuck with their original flights home today (Sunday), it can't have been the most comfortable 48 hours, as hotel services/catering quickly ran down, and outside options were pretty limited, too. Hopefully everyone will make it home today in good health.

So this could hardly be described as the best tournament I've ever played in - but despite all the difficulties I still rate it considerably ahead of the infamous Blackpool Open of a few years ago, when several KCC unfortunates were lodged in Roy's old house in Middleton for the weekend - and barely survived to tell the tale! I have previously done rather well in seniors' events, but this was a complete disaster, chess-wise, so I have to put it down to being adversely affected by the stressful non-chess vibes.

And as for Prague, well all I can say is that I must be the first person ever to spend 8 nights there and not see the Charles Bridge. or indeed anything much. That's what comes when you save your sightseeing up for the post-tournament holiday, and there is no post-tournament holiday.  Still, I guess I will go back sometime - in fact I have to, as I still have a few tram/metro tickets and I wouldn't want them to go to waste!

Finally, a word of thanks to my fellow Hotel Cechie residents, Mick Stokes, Jeremy Fraser-Mitchell, Tim Thurstan and Paul Lawrence, who provided excellent company throughout, which meant there were plenty of enjoyable and convivial evenings, despite the difficult circumstances and my appalling chess. And given that competitive chess is now seemingly going to take quite a long enforced break, it is those memories I will hang onto for the weeks ahead.

The last dinner at U Chcipaka - (l-r) Tim, Paul, Jeremy, Mick and a visiting Nigel White

Thursday, 12 March 2020

I Don't Want To Talk About It! - WSTCC 2020 Day 7

If you follow live games on the Chessbomb site, you'll know that when someone makes a bad move it is shown in red. My Round 6 game against an Austrian must have looked like a sea of red - primarily because I kept making bad move after bad move, but also probably because my opponent must have missed many quicker and more decisive wins. At least, I am assuming this as I can't actually bring myself to look at the game, because I'm so embarrassed by my performance. Take it away, Rod!

What I do know for sure, though, is that I cost our team the match, as the other three boards were drawn. Including a remarkable Board 4 encounter where our captain, Mick Stokes, somehow managed to save a game where he had two rooks against his opponent's two queens! Given that one queen often wins against two rooks, the fact that two couldn't was nothing short of miraculous. Not that it did us any good. Today we play Sweden 2, and I'm assuming/hoping I can't play as badly again.

In fact it was a double disaster yesterday, as I got absolutely wiped out 3-0 in my ten pin bowling match. I should stick to table tennis.

Star performers for England have been the England 2 team in the 50+ section, and today they play against Canada, who yesterday held England 1 to a draw. And England 2 are on a higher table than our all GM first team!

As its a slow news day, I have raided the archives for a couple of photos to spice up this report. So for the modern architecture buffs I present an interesting comparison of pre- and post- Velvet Revolution Prague buildings.

The Zizkov TV Tower - a big slab of Communist brutalism!

A whimsically wavy Prague tower block, proving that capitalist architects aren't always much better! 

Right, that's your lot for today. I'm off for a walk along the river. I hope I resist the urge to throw myself in.

Wednesday, 11 March 2020

Siege Mentality - WSTCC 2020 Days 5 & 6

The already somewhat tense atmosphere at the WSTCC in Prague was ratcheted up a notch yesterday, as the worsening coronavirus situation in the Czech Republic saw the imposition of additional restrictions on the players and the playing conditions. With all schools in the country apparently now closed, the Czech government has imposed a ban on assemblies of more than 100 people at sporting events. And chess seems to qualify as a sporting event, whereas in the UK it wouldn't! The result was that yesterday the venue for the 65+ tournament had been segmented (by partitions) into four separate playing areas, and access is only allowed to the room where you are playing. In the 50+ venue, another room has been brought into use to make sure the 100 person limit ios not breached. And spectators are now banned completely. But - and here's the important bit - we carry on! (At least for the time being.)

In my absence from Monday's Round 4 match, England 1 had a disastrous 1-3 loss to the 28th seeded Czech 3 team. The England 1 50+ team went down by the same score to the number 1 seeded USA team, but while regrettable this was considerably more explicable given the strength of the opposition. At least national pride was restored to a degree by good wins from both the England 2 teams and also by the 50+ England Women (who won 4-0!).

Yesterday, however, witnessed a new low for English chess, when I played on Board 1 for an England first team. That it should come to this! However, we had sunk so far down the table, that the opposition was not that hot and, despite the handicap of having me on top board, we notched up a 3.5-0.5 win over Czech team, Wallachia Seniors. And as I also won my first game, things generally look a bit brighter. We have another winnable match against Steiermark (from Austria) in Round 6 today, and we have also made it back to respectablity and onto the live boards. There was a big shock yesterday, as Germany 1 beat the all conquering and usually invincible Russian team, thanks to a win on top board by Knaak over Balashov.  Have I by any chance mentioned that I drew with GM Knaak - and nearly beat him - in Rhodes last year??

In the 50+ section, England 1 drew against 5th seeds Slovakia and have a winnable pairing against Canada (13th seeds) today. And a big shout out to Scotland, who thrashed Germany 1 (who are not actually the top German team here!) 3-1, to earn a pairing against the Czech first team on Table 2 today. The top match is between the USA and the Lasker team of GM Yusupov, and this possibly represents the last chance for anyone to stop the all conquering Yanks.

But chess is, of course, only part of the reason for being here. Besides the beer (absolutely excellent) and the food (hearty and filling!), there is the sightseeing in this beautiful city. I am still rationing my activities on that front (and won't be partaking today as its been pouring down since I woke up), but yesterday did witness an interesting expedition to the top of Vitkov Hill by 4 of the 5 English players staying at my hotel. This involved walking up several hundred steps (I wasn't counting, but that's what it felt like) and under/over innumerable railway lines to reach the National Memorial, which stands high above Prague with fantastic views in all directions.

Looking towards Prague Castle from Vitkov Hill

Unfortunately, no-one had read the small print, and the Memorial (containing a museum, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and, most importantly, a cafe) was closed. Still the views were freely available, as was a sighting of one of the largest equestrian statues in the world, which depicts Czech hero Jan Zizka aboard a mighty steed. It was a bit blowy up there, I can tell you. And it was a lot easier coming down than climbing up!

Mick Stokes (included for scale) points out Jan Zizka and his horse, in case I couldn't see them!

I'm now off for a game of ten-pin bowling (its amazing what facilities they have in such a down market hotel!), against my team mate Mick Stokes. I suspect he may well get his revenge for my table tennis victory earlier in the week. But as long as I win this afternoon at chess, I would refer you to the last words spoken by Clark Gable in Gone With the Wind!

Monday, 9 March 2020

It's Official - Lady Luck is English! - WSTCC 2020 Day 4

At the third time of asking three of the five English teams at the 2020 WSTCC scored their first match wins yesterday, and with the all GM 50+ England 1 scoring a third consecutive victory, it was a very good day all round. But unlike the other England victories, the 65+ England 1 win over Wales Deheubarth was very, very luck,y indeed.

For most of the session, we were staring down the barrel of a comprehensive defeat, being totally lost on one board and as good as totally lost on another (mine!). But Lady Luck then intervened, and from being 3 or 4 pawns down on Board 3 we were gifted a whole rook when the Welsh player blundered a discovered check. By that time Board 4 had already been drawn, while on Board 1 FM Tony Stebbings was ending a very smooth kingside attack by delivering checkmate to win the match. (Giving me a 100% match record in my one and only game as England "captain"!)

So at least the pressure was somewhat off for me, which was just as well, since I had enterprisingly but erroneously sacked a piece straight out of the opening. The White king was stranded in the centre, but I just couldn't get my pieces out quickly enough to capitalise. The position was still very tense, though, when my opponent, the redoubtable and well known Rudy Van Kemenade, sensibly returned the piece to go into an endgame a pawn up, and with every prospect of winning a second. Somehow, though, he neglected to take the second pawn and then compounded his error by blundering away his extra pawn. It was still tense as in a bishop ending he had a better king and stronger bishop, but playing far too quickly he gave away all his advantage and for a few moments I thought I was winning, even with only 3 pawns each left on the board. However, I wasn't, and I had to settle for a draw. But given the desperate straits I had been in for most of the game, I could hardly be that disappointed!

As I write this, Round 4 is underway - but don't worry about me being caught using a computer during play, as I am having a rest day and am safely ensconced in my hotel room.

I spent the first part of today making a fairly major expedition out into the Czech countryside to visit the town of Terezin.  You've probably never heard of it, but if I mention that in German it is known as Theresienstadt, it might ring a bell or two with the more historically savvy KCC member.  For this was the infamous site of a Jewish ghetto during WW2, as well as being the home of a notorious Gestapo prison.  Being a sensitive creature, I am rather hesitant to engage in genocidal tourism, but sometimes you just have to be a witness to man's capacity for evil, as a reminder of the human values we need to hang on to for dear life.

Possibly the 3 most chilling words in any language - at the Small Fortress, Terezin

Alhough Terezin was never a concentration or execution camp, thousands of people died by execution, or disease or starvation during its awful wartime years. It is an intensely dark story, but also one laced with bitter irony. It was here that the Red Cross, in one of the great whitewashes of history, was duped into thinking that the ghetto (housed in the walled garrison known as the Large Fortress) was a model community of Jewish self-government. And of course, the visitors from Geneva were kept well away from the Small Fortress on the other bank of the River Ohre, which housed the Gestapo prison. Incidentally, this was where Gavrilo Princip died, after several years of incarceration following his assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914. So WW1 and WW2 are horrifically linked in this one small town.

The National Cemetery, Terezin, with the Small Fortress behind

Right, that's enough history and enough misery for one report. Today the headline match is England 1 v USA in the 50+ section, while my team are in action against Czech Republic 3 - but too far down to be on the live boards, so I have no idea what is happening. Nothing new there, I hear you say, and I wouldn't disagree with that! And I promise to lighten the mood a bit in the next report.

Sunday, 8 March 2020

Could Do Better - WSTCC 2020 Day 3

Not a lot to celebrate in Round 2 for the 2 England teams in the 65+ section yesterday, as both went down to 2.5-1.5 defeats leaving them each with 1 point from the first two rounds. My team lost to Switzerland, in no small part due to my failure to win a king and pawn ending a pawn to the good. In fact it looks as though there was no win, and instead I should have opted for the rook and pawn ending a pawn up, which would have given better chances. But who in their right minds would opt to keep the rooks on? Answer, someone who knew what they were doing. Towards the end of the game there was the sound of raised voices coming from outside the playing hall, and with no arbiter seeming moved to intervene I thought I would go and request a bit of quiet and get myself a coffee at the same time. I then discovered that the loud discussion was being led by none other than the great Vlastimil Hort, so I contented myself with just the cup of coffee. I know my place!

The match was decided by a solitary White win on Board 3 - making it a bad day for team captain Mick Stokes, who had earlier suffered a comprehensive 4-1 demolition by yours truly at table tennis. Hope that's not my only win of the tournament.

There was a shock in the Russia - Austria 1 match, where the mighty Yuri Balashov was comprehensively beaten, with white, by an FM with whom I drew in Rhodes. I'm not saying anything, I'm just pointing out the facts! Despite this upset, Russia scraped home 2.5-1.5, even though they rested Sveshnikov for this match

England wins have been distinctly rare so far, with only the 50+ first team obliging, and they made it 2 from 2 after beating Magdeburg 3-1. Today they play 11th seeds USA Too (not a spelling mistake), while there is a surprise pairing on top board between the Russian team Yamal (seeded 7) and Scotland 1 (seeded 14). Yesterday England Women drew against local team Burza, while another Czech outfit, Helma 365, edged out England 2.

The sun is out this morning for the first time, so with the games not starting till 15.00 I feel a bit of sightseeing is finally called for, which might produce some more interesting photos than these.

The utterly charming Olympik Hotel, venue for the 50+ event

The equally attractive Olympic Tristar, venue for the 65+ tournament

Today we play Wales Deheubarth (look it up!) and I am facing Rudy van Kemenade who, at just 74, is a mere stripling compared to my first two opponents. Can one of our team finally win a game?? With Mick Stokes taking the day off, I am de facto England Captain, proudly following in the footsteps of Bobby Moore, David Beckham and the like!  It also means that as well as my pink player's tag, I get a yellow Captain's tag, entitling me to stay in the playing hall even after my game is finished. Hope this privilege and power doesn't completely intoxicate me. I shall try to retain my usual humility.

Saturday, 7 March 2020

And They're Off! - WSTCC 2020 Day 2

Round 1 got underway a bit before/after/right on schedule yesterday. None of the players know which, since no watches are allowed inside the playing hall, whether smart, analogue or an old Sekonda your aunt gave you for Christmas in 1964. No phones either, of course, and the anti-cheating measures don't stop there. As soon as you finish your game an arbiter comes and retrieves the little pink tag that signifies you as a player in that round, and you have to leave the playing hall and can't come back in. Except as a spectator, which is worse than useless, as you are restricted to a little roped off pen from which you can see about 4 games if you are lucky - and none of the top matches. And while 8 games were projected for view in an ante-room, yesterday these were all from the 50+ tournament, so there as no way of knowing what was happening in the 65+ event taking place right next door. Except to go back to your room and watch the action unfold on the laptop.  (Which thankfully I didn't leave on a train at Crewe this year!) Assuming the match you want to observe was on the live boards! This all seems a bit excessive. I know it's a World Championship, but we're only a bunch of old codgers after all.

Moan over, and onto the chess. Thankfully it seems as though nearly everyone who was expected has actually turned up, except in England's case. On that point Jim Plaskett arrived yesterday, having answered a late call-up to replace the non-travelling Jon Speelman in the 50+ England 1 team. I think he is sitting out today's encounter against TU Magdeberg after yesterday's late arrival.

The organisers had failed to adjust the ranking of the teams to reflect the actual personnel who had shown up so in the 65+ section, England 1 was seeded 4th for Round 1, despite the fact that we should now have been 14th in the absence of Messrs Nunn, Povah etc. Even so, the fact that we couldn't beat a Czech club team from Pardubice (venue of a famous Grand National style horse race each year) was disappointing. We drew our two black games readily and were clearly winning on both of our white boards at times, but the match against the 29th seeds ended up with all 4 games drawn. My venerable opponent (age 77) had clearly been a strong player in his day, but now he is rated the same as me. I got a clear advantage from the opening with black (1.6 or more according to Fritz), but failed to maintain the edge and a timely draw offer before he realised he had at least equalised saw me make a solid start.

The England 2 team, who were England 3 until 2 days ago, got an excellent draw against Scotland, who had IM David Levy on Board 3! Most of the top seeds steamrollered their opposition, though Germany 1 only got home by the minimum margin against an Austrian club team. Did I just imagine it, or was GM Knaak distracted and anxious after he spied me in the room? Is he still haunted by our game at Rhodes last year??

I saw nothing of the 50+ event as its being held in a separate hotel about 100m away, but England 1 beat the German Women's team 4-0 and while England 2 went down by the same score against the very strong Czech Republic 1, the England Ladies avoided a whitewash against number 2 seeds Lasker Schachstiftung GK, when Ingrid Lauterbach got an excellent draw against GM Meister.

I have seen absolutely none of Prague's many sights as so far I haven't ventured more than about 400m in  any direction from the hotel - ie as far as the nearest restaurant/bar! But I'm sure that will change, especially when I get a day off.

One very nice touch by the organisers has been the presentation of some goodies to every player. The desk diary is very nice, though rather useless to those of us who don't do very much all year, but the special can of WSTCC beer is much appreciated!

I love a freebie or three!

Today we have been up-floated to play Switzerland, when I will be facing an even more venerable opponent than yesterday, who has been well over 2300 in his prime. It will be quite something if I can keep this sequence of increasingly old opponents going for the whole tournament!