Tuesday 28 November 2023

Top of the league (temporarily) - Part 2

I am pleased to follow up Mark's report with the second installment of this hopefully many part series, coming just 14 days after the first (which I would argue is much more impressive than Mark's second installment of his "Railway Station Named After a Grandmaster!" series, seeing as that took over 4 years).

Tonight's victims were the fine people of Olton. They decided to field 2 players named Reynolds on the bottom 2 boards, all but guaranteeing 2 draws would occur, and so it duly proved. Harry was the first to finish, in a game somewhat lacking in sparkling excitement. The Robert variety of Reynolds played an early b3 setup, Harry easily equalised, and then nothing much happened until a draw was agreed. Mike's game was at least a little more interesting, as he had the decency to sacrifice/blunder a pawn at some point on the white side of a Queen's gambit accepted, but appeared to end up with almost exactly 1 pawn's worth of compensation, so once again a draw was agreed relatively early.

That left Andy and myself to decide the match. I had (unusually for me) a relatively successful opening as black, and was soon a little better against Mark Cundy in a Caro-Kann. By move 40 we had reached the following R+4 against R+3 endgame.

Now, unlike R+3 versus R+2, some 4v3 endgames actually give the stronger side winning chances. Unfortunately, I don't think this is one of them, and I compounded the issue by quickly bungling into a position where the only way I could even try and make progress was to swap a pair of pawns off into said 3v2 endgame. However, since Andy was better but not yet winning against Alan Lloyd at this point, I thought I might as well play on.

Fortunately, my appalling technique was not to prove an issue in the end, as Andy did indeed bring home the match for us, defeating Alan in very much his own style. Andy played 1.g3 and then a very slow setup against the KID. He then proceeded to very slowly advance his kingside pawns against Alan's king which, combined with some seemingly well calculated tactics, eventually won material and left him with 2 unstoppable connected past pawns. Seemed like a well played game as far as I could tell (not that anyone should trust my analysis of these things).

At this point I really should have offered a draw to win the match, but basically by the process of inertia I continued to limp on for a few more moves. Eventually, after 114 moves and with the last pawns about to be swapped off a draw was finally agreed, with I'm pretty certain no progress at all ever having been made from the position at move 40 above.

However, with Andy's victory, a 2.5-1.5 win was achieved, and we are once again (temporarily) on top of the table.

A Bit Slow out of the Blocks!

Its been 6 weeks since the last A team match, during which time those of guilty for causing the loss against Banbury A (ie me) have had to watch while other teams - most noticeably that nice group of people collectively referred to as Kenilworth B, have been accumulating points and challenging our lead at the top of Division 1. So last night's home encounter with Shirley B was a long overdue chance for the A team to return to the top of the table, especially as we were playing the bottom team.

After our long hibernation, I expected us to come out the blocks on the B of the Bang - like Usain Bolt on a good day.

I was disappointed. It was more like this.

And surprise, surprise, it was our superstar Jude who was slowest away and who then got blown off the board by Jonathan Dale's h pawn advance and exchange sac. For a demonstration of how to respond to this tactic I would refer Mr Shearsby to the recent game Dale-Pink, where this tactic was effortlessly - correction, I mean chaotically - refuted. But Jude was by no means alone in his suffering, as I also went totally wrong in the opening and lost a pawn, with a terrible position to boot, against Keith Ingram. Fortunately, though, Keith neglected to push a pawn to d6 which would have virtually blown me off the board, and after grabbing that very pawn a move later I hung on and eventually jumped out to win with my own passed d pawn. Though not before missing a two move forced promotion of this pawn and prolonging the game many moves more than needed.

Thankfully, the Kenilworth players in charge of the White pieces were altogether more convincing. Javi took on Dave Thomas's favourite Open Spanish, and after what I suspect was lots of theory eventually complicated the game sufficiently that Dave blundered a piece. Bruce was also in piece-winning mode against Nigel Foster, trapping a Black knight on h5. I don't know about surprise, fear or an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope, but such ruthless efficiency was sadly well beyond both Jude and myself last night.

So 3-1 to us eventually, but a real let off as it could so easily have been 2-2. So for now, we are safely back at the top of Division 1, though we may only be there for 24 hours as our B team are in action tonight, and could have vaulted back to first place by the time you read this!

After such a plethora of videos I'm loth to add my usual musical contribution ......... but, what the hell?! Of course there's going to be a song. It wouldn't be a proper match report without one. So how about another stirring anthem from Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul? Music like this demands to be played! Often and loud!!

Wednesday 15 November 2023

Another Railway Station Named After a Grandmaster!

It was a very long time ago (July 30.2019 to be specific) that the first - indeed only - contribution to the KCC  Blog on this topic occurred. For those whose memory isn't what it used to be, here is the station that prompted the initial post.

Named after not 1, but 2, GMs Torre can be found just outside Torquay

Well, its been a long wait, but today has just produced contribution number 2, in what can now be called a series. 

Some people might say I'm cheating, but everyone in the chess world knows who Gata is, so no surname is needed!

Gata is a small town somewhere slightly inland between Calp and Denia, south of Javier's old home city of Valencia. But don't take my word for it. Here's a map!

Wikipedia tells me that it has an "unusually large number of bars and restaurants per capita." Sounds like my kind of town! And, spookily, that it is known for its wicker industry - doubtless connected to Kevin of that name, once a well known openings' analyst. Who I drew with, from a position of strength, in the London League in 1988.  Everything's connected in this wonderful chess world of ours!

Banana skin avoided!

Matches against underdog opponents can be tricky affairs. Particularly in the Coventry League KO, where a handicap system provides a further challenge. Last night we played Coventry B, needing to win at least 3-1 to go through. Despite having a significant rating advantage on every board, there was no room for complacency. All it takes is a mistake here, or a position fading to a forced draw there, and the pressure can really begin to tell. Mark had left strict instructions that we would all need to play to win, and in the end we got over the line with something to spare. 

I finished first against Margarita Nasibova. Having offered a chance for early simplification, Margarita spurned this, electing to try to keep the queens on. However, this allowed me to pick up a pawn, and a second soon followed. It was just one of those positions that more or less played itself, and for once I managed to win without any drama.

Keatan was next to bring home the full point. I really enjoyed watching his game against Mike Johnson. Keatan played with a lot of energy, pushing Mike onto the defensive and having tied him down, picked up the spoils elsewhere on the board. A nice effort that made it 2-0.

At which point I was pretty confident we were going to win 4-0.  All credit to Bava Manickam for giving Javier a good game on Board 1 (something I know from my own experience is not easy to do!) But Javier's class told, as his rooks ultimately exerted a tight grip on the second rank. In conjunction with a monster passed pawn, it was just too much to defend against. So 3-0 and the match was won.

Mike's game against Kate Donegan was very interesting. Mike built up really good kingside initiative, and seemed to me to be smoothly going through the gears. However, all credit to Kate for her determined defence. Somehow an opposite bishop ending eventually ensued, in which Mike was a pawn up but struggling to find a way through. With both players low on time, it seemed that Mike had found an excellent queenside break, but post game analysis showed that while he had the better practical chances, with best play it was indeed a draw.  Something the players agreed to in the dying embers of the night. All credit to Kate, and of course Mike had been one of the heroes the previous evening for the B team. It just goes to show how little margin there is in these matches.

So 3.5 - 0.5! The banana skin had been avoided, and we march on in our quest for silverware! 

Tuesday 14 November 2023

Top of the league (temporarily)

I think the headline says it all really. It might be mainly because we’ve played more games than other teams, but the point still stands that the “Bad” Kenilworth team are currently sitting on top of the table (I’m open to suggestions for a better nickname for Kenilworth B, as I’m not sure that is the best).

It was all looking a bit ropey at many points during our match against Stratford however. The first game to finish was Andrew P, who seemed to have rather a tough time against Ben Larkin on board 1. It was some version of the silly Ng5 line in the two knight’s defence, so white wins a pawn but loses loads of time getting his pieces chased around. Unfortunately, whilst Andy was gaining time on the board, he was losing it on the clock, so whilst I still think he probably had compensation, his being 30 minutes behind was slightly concerning. Trying to make something of the compensation in time trouble proved impossible, and therefore we were 1-0 down.

The less spotted Andy Baruch soon levelled the score. The opening was so earth shatteringly dull I can’t bring myself to describe it, but against Richard McNally that can only be regarded as a success. Andy looked to be slowly outplaying him, until he found a clever tactic that involved letting Richard take a piece with check on Andy’s back rank, but with the tactic somehow resulting in Andy being a piece up. The conversion took somewhat longer than was optimal (for reasons that will make sense in two paragraphs time) but nonetheless we were level.

Mike had a comparatively smooth win, with perhaps one exception. Playing white against a stonewall Dutch, I expect Mike was delighted when his opponent played Rf6, then Rh6, then Nf6, and trapped his own rook. I’m not convinced Mike took the exchange in the cleanest way possible, but nonetheless he was the exchange up, and remined the exchange up until he converted it into a winning king and pawn endgame. Now we just needed a draw for victory – how could I mess this up.

The answer as to how was that I had already turned down a draw offer, as I hadn’t been convinced Andy was going to win his game (why I had more faith in myself than him is a mystery, given my current level of play). It was all going so well – playing as black, I won the exchange and a pawn against Sam Cotterill, and had a large lead on the clock. Then I totally messed it up into a level position, then declined a draw, then horribly blundered into a position where Sam had two pieces and an extra pawn against a solitary rook. I don’t know how easy the position below is to convert, but I feel like it should be possible. However, the pressure of trying to win for the team proved too much, and in the end Sam not only failed to do so, but blundered away both his kingside pawns, to somehow end up losing.

I therefore technically ended up winning the match for the team, but in such a way as to lower even further the already very low quality of my play for the season. Still, top of the league in such a situation – how bad must the other teams be?

Friday 10 November 2023

CE-ing is Believing (Well Almost)

 The C and the E team (CE - geddit?) were both in action at Banbury last night. While Banbury had four matches on, as per usual the person with the key to the venue was amongst the last to arrive. Still, at least this allowed us all to catch up with each other in the somewhat bracing air, and then in the venue while the pieces were being set up. Who needs the Pump Rooms!

As per usual we started at around 7.45. I did not see a huge amount of the E team match, but the juggernaut continues. Solomon, Patrick and Steph all won well to maintain their personal 100% records in the league this year, as the team sweeps all before them. That's now four wins from four, with a whopping 11.5 individual game points won and only a single half a point dropped. Go team!

I wish I could report on a similarly successful night for the C team, but it was not to be. Perhaps any outfit which is relying on me to bring a dash of youth to the proceedings is going to struggle! In all seriousness we never looked like replicating the D team's success against these opponents a couple of weeks ago. Forty-five minutes in, I thought Mike's game against Paul Roper and Paul's encounter with Mal Waddell both looked pretty flat and drawish. I told myself that the beauty of league chess is that it is so unpredictable and you never know what is going to happen. Except this turned out to be wrong. Both games ended in draws.

My own tussle with Nick Martin was marginally more interesting, but only marginally. We reached a late middlegame that was reasonably poised when Nick offered a draw. I couldn't face the prospect of potentially turning down two draws in a week and losing both, so I took it. When we analysed the position afterwards it soon became clear that this was the right decision.

Unfortunately, the decisive game was Bernard Rogers' battle with Francesco Poderico which looked very difficult from the outset. Francesco secured excellent looking central passed pawns and space to attack. I thought Bernard did brilliantly in making a real fight of it, finally succumbing to the pressure with just seconds left on his clock. An heroic attempt to hold the game, but just not quite enough.

By my reckoning that's Banbury's first win in four recent games against the C, D and cup team at their place. Still, maybe now they'll be keener to open their doors on time, and let the next visiting Kenilworth team in!

Tuesday 7 November 2023

The future looks bright! So keep smiling...

For the second time in a month, I played in a Kenilworth team that drew 2-2 with Olton B, as the D team secured a well-earned point last night. This was all thanks to superb efforts from Keatan and Dhairya!

An hour in, Keatan and Phil were both in endgames, while my game and Dhairya's were both barely out of the opening, but ultimately it would prove to be a long evening on all four boards.

I thought Phil was holding Andy Cottam. Even when Andy picked up a pawn, his remaining structure did not look too hot, and I was still hopeful. Despite Phil's best efforts, Andy then played really clinically to bring home the point and to put the visitors 1-0. (Big shout out to Phil though for his fine win against Leamington last week.)

Dhairya then struck the first blow for youth, by finishing next against Warren Archibald on Board 4. I really admired Dhairya's patience, and the way in which he slowly but surely built up an overwhelming position, which he then executed very nicely. An excellent effort to level the score.

Yet the player of the night award must go to Keatan. He turned down a draw in an ending that looked very level, despite being short on time. He then played brilliantly to tie Rob Reynolds in absolute knots, bringing home the full point. This was Keatan's best performance of the season and shows what an asset he is on top board! Exceptional stuff! It was just as well really...

On Board two I was up against Richard Liszweski, who I don't have a very good record against. My previous 7 days had already consisted of (1) Missing a forced win and having to settle for a draw against a much lower rated opponent in the Coventry League (2) Turning out for Shirley in the Birmingham League and going from lost to won, before turning down a draw and losing. So it's fair to say I was not in the best of spirits. As we all know, when you are down, the chess gods generally do not smile on you, and so it proved. We had a very tough game, which swung a bit, but I just seemed to go wrong in the late middlegame. I battled till 10.30, but in some ways the fact that Richard did not close the proceedings out cleanly almost made it more excruciating. Ultimately Richard found a way through to level things up at 2-2. Laughing at the swings and arrows of fate might be a bit much, but I'm doing my best to muster a weak smile!

Still a very good result for the team and that's the main thing! Hats off to Keatan and Dhairya. They say that youth is wasted on the young. That is definitely not the case when it comes to Kenilworth D!


Thursday 2 November 2023

X Certificate Stuff

At least it was on Boards 3 and 4 of our Coventry League encounter with Rugby A on Tuesday, where neither Ben nor I had any reason to be happy about scoring half a point each against Martin Wilson and Dave Riley respectively. I'm fairly sure we were both winning at one stage, but I strongly suspect we were then both losing not long afterwards. So while relief was the order of the day, happiness was definitely nowhere to be seen. How could you be happy after playing like we did??

Thankfully, there were two rather more praiseworthy efforts going on higher up the board order, as Javi and Bruce each scored a full point, to see us comfortably home in the end with a 3-1 victory. Javi despatched Simon Turner on top board after trapping the White queen. Simon could only get two Black minor pieces in return, and the win for Javi followed soon after. Bruce had an exciting game against Tom Burgess on Board 2. He seemed to be well on top, and although things got a bit messy he picked up two knights for a rook. Black got some play with one of his rooks, but in trying to activate the other one he walked into a very decisive knight fork.

Anyone thinking this week's musical number might be Ken Dodd singing "Happiness" is going to be sadly disappointed. Believe it or not, I do still have some standards! I think this is much more acceptable.

Wednesday 25 October 2023

When Is 2.5 ≠ 2.5?

When it's a Leamington League Cup match, of course. As then we need a tie break to see who has actually won. And, as I'm sure you are familiar with, Rule 22 says "In Team Knock-Out Cups, if the matches are drawn the result shall be decided by board elimination." For which we have very good reason to be thankful, as it enabled us to scrape over the line against Olton in our first round Open KO Cup match this week. It really shouldn't have been necessary, since we had a clear rating advantage on every board, and at various stages of the evening it looked like it was going to finish about 4-1 to us. But there's many a slip twixt cup and lip!

We had a very strong team out, but the expected flow of points just didn't happen. Javi was the first to finish, on Board 2 against Mark Cundy, but after a lot of opening theory had been put on the board, it turned out White had precisely no advantage, and when it came down to opposite bishops and hardly any pawns on the board, a draw was inevitable. Quite a bit later Jude followed suit, but after a very much more exciting game against Alan Lloyd on top board. Jude won (or Alan sacked) a pawn and sometime later Alan sacked a piece. I gave up looking at the position as it was too difficult for my brain, but - possibly the least likely outcome after all these complications - it ended as a draw. So Olton had done a good job of neutralising us on the top two boards, but there was nothing to worry about, as we had a 2-300 point rating edge on the other three, so the match was surely a foregone conclusion, right? Wrong!

But it all happened in a bit of a haze as far as I was concerned, since I was far too occupied with my own game against Richard Reynolds on Board 3 to see what happened on the other two boards. All of a sudden, though, I looked around the room and discovered mine was the only game still in progress. What had happened? Well, first Joshua had contrived to lose on Board 5 against Richard Liszewski, having seemingly been virtually winning from a very early stage of the game. Super-spectator Paul Lam subsequently rattled off a few lines which would have been a big improvement on Joshua's play - and I have such confidence in Paul's analysis that I christened him LamFish - KCC's human answer to StockFish! This could have been a total disaster, but for the fact that Bruce rose to the occasion and struck back with a win against Rob Reynolds on Board 4. I last noticed this game sometime after 22.00, when it had been in progress for over two and a half hours - and just a single pawn exchange had occurred. I thought Bruce might be better, but with30 pieces/pawns on the board who can tell what's going to happen? Thankfully what happened was that Bruce sacked a piece for two pawns and a massive pawn roller supported by a strong bishop pair. He was winning, but then he messed it up, only for Rob to return the favour and Bruce was able to bring home the full point which we - ultimately - seriously needed.

So now I knew that I only needed a draw to win the match for us on tie break. I had been better for the whole game and as we descended into mutual time trouble my advantage got bigger and bigger. But I missed an elementary winning line and both players were floundering around in a bit of a daze when news of the other games was finally conveyed to me. I immediately set about swapping off as many pieces as possible to avoid any major accidents, and eventually we came down to a rook and pawn ending - and Richard immediately blundered a pawn away to give me another winning position. But - quite in character - I eschewed this latest opportunity and simplified further, when a little thought would have enabled me to win a second pawn, as Javi pointed out to me as soon as I had agreed the draw (still a pawn up and still with a possible winning plan that I could have tried, risk-free). But I had had enough! Another massive disappointment for me, though, having failed to win from a queen for 2 minor pieces advantage against Richard just a couple of months ago in the Phil Holt Memorial Team Tournament. I dare not look to see how many rating points those two games have cost me!

Well, a happy ending, of sorts, but without Bruce's win on Board 4 we would have been sunk. All credit to Olton for a massive team effort, which just came up short. And all credit to the Leamington League for their inspired adoption of Rule 22. Jimi Hendrix once sang that "If 6 turned out to be 9, I don't mind", but you'll notice Jimi very pointedly did not say anything about numbers 4 and 5. As it transpired in this match, I would definitely have minded if 4 had turned out to be 5! 

Friday 20 October 2023

Up for the Cup!

 Last year we entered the U8750 Cup as the defending champions, only to fall at the very first hurdle. Returning to Banbury, a week on from our triumph in the League, we made it through to the next round but it was a tougher evening than the final score suggested. It is fair to say that on a rainswept night, there was more than a storm or two raging at the board...

All the early action was on Board 4. Banbury's Chris Evans looked very keen to avenge his loss against Katya in last week's League game, and launched a brutal assault on Bernard Roger's kingside, straight out of the gate. Chris threw his pieces forward with the force of a hurricane, leaving Bernard desperately trying to batten down the hatches. Bernard put up a good fight, but for the second week in a row Chris was the first to finish. Unfortunately, this time he had put Banbury 1-0 up.

My view from Board 3 was certainly not the best at this stage of the proceedings. Keaton's position against Nathan Manley on Board 2 was also pretty dreadful. He was down material and I feared we were on the brink of going 2-0 down. But as they say, it's often darkest just before the dawn, and if the sun did not exactly start to shine, this is when everything started to change.

Firstly Solomon who was making a welcome appearance on Board 5, steadied our nerves a bit by bringing home the full point against Richard Meakins. I didn't see a huge amount of this one, but Solomon always looked very comfortable to me, and while credit is due to Richard for a good effort against a stronger opponent, Solomon had got the job done with something to spare. So 1-1.

On Board 3, I was up against Mal Waddall for the second week in a row, with the same colours. I switched openings from my improvised efforts last week which had secured a great position and ultimately the win, and went for something more tried and tested. Predictably, I got a lot less from it and soon we were in a very tight game, which always looked destined to go to the wire, as it ultimately did.

Meanwhile, our debutant Paul Badger was giving Paul Rowan the run around on Board 1, with a terrific looking kingside attack, albeit Paul Rowan was defending doggedly. So my guess as to the final match score at this stage was that we would likely draw 2.5-2.5, with us going through on board count (so no margin), but then lightning struck! 

Nathan had been drifting into time trouble, and while he still had much the better position, it was clear that the strength of Keaton's resistance was beginning to tell. Nathan had four minutes left to Keaton's forty-four, and just seemed to be losing the thread, when astonishingly he dropped his queen to a knight fork and immediately resigned. I doubt Keaton will see this as having been one of his better games, but he showed real strength of character. It was clear that his practical match play and never say die attitude had won us the point.

As a captain, I was delighted that we were now 2-1 up and that thanks to Paul, we were also clearly winning on Board 1. However, as a player, I now had to resist Mal. He had clearly realised that he was going to have to win our game to give Banbury any chance. Just as earlier in the week against Coventry, I found myself in a minor pieces endgame, but this one was a lot more active. At one point I thought I was better, at another Mal managed to get his knight onto a killer square and I clearly wasn't. Somehow I brought things back to equality, and reached a moment where I might have actually been ahead again. (While we both thought so at the time, subsequent analysis showed that it was not clear cut.) Mal had 4 minutes left, I had 20 seconds and happily took the draw he offered. So 2.5-1.5.

But we weren't quite done. Paul Badger needed at least a draw. Up the exchange and with a lot of play, it seemed like he was very close, but Paul Rowan is a real fighter. As the clocks ticked down, Paul Rowan generated some counterplay with a passed pawn that reached the second rank. At all times Paul Badger was better, but playing on embers it was easy to envisage a mistake being made. Paul Rowan eschewed a perpetual check that would have cost Banbury the match, but the reality was that he did not have anything better and Paul Badger did not give him another chance to split the point - forcing resignation in the final seconds. An amazing debut performance! 

So, a tense and stormy night. I didn't feel the same euphoria as last week, when driving home on soaking wet roads. More a sense of relief that we'd got the job done. Now we can plan for the next round. With the squad we've got, we're certainly going to give reclaiming the Cup a good go!