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.