Sunday, 8 December 2019

Chess History Rewritten - Was Rubinstein Really a Mancunian?

The chess history books will tell you that the great chess master Akiba Rubinstein was born in Poland on December 1, 1880. But don't believe everything you read - fake news is not a modern invention, after all.

Chancing on a couple of his games recently, I was immediately struck by the fact that Rubinstein was a man who loved fianchettoing his knights - and as all devoted readers of the KCC Blog will know, this is one of the core characteristics of the Manchester School of Chess (see post dated January 14, 2019 by that other well known Mancunian, Joshua Pink). Take this game for instance:-

Or this one, when the fianchettoed knight is at the heart of a Rubinstein victory:-

Or even this one, where the knight is only fianchettoed for 2 moves:-

Fairly conclusive stuff, I think. A Mancunian if ever I saw one. From Didsbury, possibly. Or maybe Withington. But definitely from the south side of the City, I'd say! Although when you play through the following game, you may feel that only someone born in Heaven could have played such a brilliant combination. This is truly Rubinstein's Immortal Game. And thanks to being on the losing end of one of the greatest finishes ever, Georg Rotlevi has also acquired a degree of immortality. Even though he most definitely did not come from Manchester.

Wow, what a game! Seems like Rubinstein knew how to fianchetto his bishops as well!!

Friday, 6 December 2019

Fifteen (Games) 'til Christmas

Due to a peculiar set of circumstances, which I maintain are entirely not my fault, I am playing rather a lot of chess in the next few days. Perhaps even the hitherto unremarked upon record for the number of games by a Kenilworth Chess player, between the 7th - 10th December is about to fall?

Tomorrow I kick off with six or seven rapidplay games at the London Chess Classic. On Sunday, it's six games at the Coventry rapidplay. All of which will hopefully leave me well practiced for the B team match against Rugby on Monday and the encounter with Coventry on Tuesday night!

I'll write a blog next week, as to how it all goes. I'm already worried as to what I am going to do with my time between the 10th December and the Shropshire weekender on the 4th and 5th January. In hindsight, I probably should not have voiced this concern on the home front, but there we have it!

Thursday, 5 December 2019

European Youth Blitz Championship - Billy Punches Above His Weight Again!

After his brilliant top 10 finish in the European U-8 Rapid Championships, KCC's young superstar Billy Fellowes was always going to find it hard going in the Blitz event, since there was no U-8 tournament and he had to play in the U-10s - giving away up to 2 years to many of his opponents. But we shouldn't be surprised by now that Billy rose splendidly to the challenge and gave a terrific account of himself in this exceedingly tough competition. He finished in 51st place in a field of 150 competitors, scoring 5.5/9. As a measure of the standard in this event, and a sure sign that most of the field was probaby heavily under-rated - the top seed (a Russian lad rated 2145 - which is even higher than me!!) could only finish 12th. And just think, Billy will still be eligible for this event in 2 years time - what a mighty force he will be by then! Well done Billy!

And well done to honorary KCC member, Elis Dicen who followed up her own top 10 placing in the Girls U-10 Rapid event with a tie for 10th-18th place (12th on tie break) in the Girls U-10 Blitz, scoring a terrific 6/9.

And both these amazing youngsters also performed excellently in the Team Rapid event which took place between the two individual championships. Further details of these highly impressive performances, and more background on the Estonian adventure/experience can be found on the CCA Facebook page.

The standards that these two youngsters have reached over the last few days in Tallinn is truly outstanding, and I have nothing but admiration for their stupendous achievements. Except for a tiny degree of envy at their outrageous talent, if I'm totally honest!

I guess they must have quite a good coach. Wonder who that could be?

Banana Skin Avoided

All went well for KCC when we successfully avoided any slip-ups in the first round of the Coventry KO Cup on Tuesday.

Playing away against Second Division Rugby C, we started with a 1.25 points handicap disadvantage, meaning we needed to win 3-1. So one of us could have an accident (even a big one!) but the other three had to be on form. And before we started our task got a bit easier as Rugby C found themselves hit by a late withdrawal, and so had to default on Board 4. This gave Jude the evening off, as he had been due to make his Coventry League seasonal debut for us.

Things went smoothly enough, and I was never really worried about the match, although - as is usual with us! - we didn't always have everything under total control on every board!

I finished first, having won a pawn very early despite a rather lacklustre opening, and then snaffling a second not many moves later. My opponent found a seemingly clever move which set me up for a big cheapo, but even though I hadn't seen it coming, it actually allowed me a reply which stopped the cheapo; attacked a rook; and attacked a knight as well - now that's the sort of move I could do with more of! There was no defence to all the threats and we were one up.

Meanwhile Drago was having an interesting game on Board 3, in which he got powerful central pawns on c5 and d5; a monstrous bishop on b2; a killer knight on e4; and a marauding queen on g3. The pressure against the Black king - and g7 in particular - was too much and Drago was able to crash through witha  piece sac on f6, winning many pawns and an exchange.

Ben's game on Board 2, though, was anything but interesting, and he was having to work very hard to get any action going with the Black pieces, as the position had all the fluidity of set concrete. But by sheer determination - and a little help along the way - he finally managed to unleash a splendid tactical shot, jumping his knight onto the d2 square where it could be captured three ways - by a knight, rook or queen! Each capture lost the exchange, though, so it looked like a case of job done - but in chess we dont have a must capture rule, and White could have avoided material loss and traded into a queen ending at the cost of getting doubled f pawns. Its not at all clear whether this would have been that much better for Black, but fortunately for us, White forgot he wasn't obliged to capture and fell in with Ben's plan, losing material and the game.

So that was us safely through to round 2, where we will have a home tie in early February against Division 3 side Nuneaton D - to whom we will have to concede a 2.25 points handicap start - meaning we will only be able to afford to drop a half point if we are to make it to the semi-final.

Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Another Night, Another Defeat

For the second successive week the A team came up short in a crunch match at the top of the table, this time going down conclusively 1-3 against Banbury A. And for the second successive week, our conquerors catapulted themselves to the top of the table.

The match featured the divisions two biggest hitters, Banbury's International Master James Jackson, and our very own points machine Joshua, and they didn't let their adoring publics down, as both added another win to their season's tally to maintain a 100% performance for their respective teams - 5/5 for James and 6/6 for Josh.

Joshua was first to finish - of course! - with a surprisingly one sided win over Paul Rowan on Board 2. Black decided to give up a piece for reasons which completely escaped me, and after that it was plain sailing for Josh all the way into a simple bishop ending. Where he was the only one with a bishop - simple!

But already the writing was on the wall for the match result. Bernard C was consuming large amounts of time to get into a terrible position against Carl Portman on Board 3. He rather neglected his kingside development and pretty soon found himself obliged to recapture a piece on e7 with his king. Not surprisingly a tactical refutation followed almost immediately and Bernard crashed and burned in gruesome fashion. But at least it was quick and suffering was kept to a minimum.

Which was not the case for Mike and I in the remaining two games. Regrettably Mike's calm demeanour was disrupted very early on when he got his pieces in a terrible log jam on the queenside, and when his queen was attacked on b3 it only had the c2 square to go to, upon which Gary Jackson played b4 winning Mike's knight on c3, as there was a rook pinning it from c8. The only surprise thereafter was that the game actually continued for quite a long time. Mike somehow claimed a second pawn for his lost knight and even managed to break up the Black king's position to give some vague hopes of turning the game around, but a piece is a piece after all, and the inevitable eventually came to pass.

Of course, the secret of beating (or at least not losing to) Banbury A, is to win over the bottom three boards, because you are probably going to lose on Board 1 - especially if you are giving away a 40 grading point deficit. And having failed to implement part 1 of that strategy, the fact that part 2 duly happened was of no great significance for the result - it just emphasised the margin of Banbury's victory.

I improved on last season's game against James Jackson, but once I had reached the point where the engine had said I was equal and I had to think for myself, things started to go downhill. I felt I had no choice but to go into a double rook and minor piece ending, where White's knight on e4 dominated my woeful bishop on e7. I found it very hard to get in the freeing pawn break f7-f5, as James put the squeeze on the Black position. When it eventually happened it cost me a pawn, but at least my bishop sprang to life and so did my two rooks. The White king started getting checked around the board and for a few moves all three results seemed possible. But the White king ran to safety, while a White passed pawn on h6 was a monster. With best play its possible I might have reached the drawn position of rook and knight against rook, but best play didn't come into it, and in big trouble on the clock and on the board I was put out of my misery by a knight fork which won on the spot. Yes, even after my wretched bishop got out into the open, that cursed White knight was still bossing the board! Why are strong player's pieces always so much better than your own, I wonder?

So we reach the Christmas break with one of our players on 100%, myself on 58% ……… and no-one else above 50%! Not exactly the stuff of champions. Maybe we can turn it round in 2020, he said optimistically/self-deludedly!!

Monday, 2 December 2019

European Youth Rapid Championship - Billy is a Top Ten Hit!

Fantastic news from Estonia, where the remarkably talented KCC mini-superstar Billy Fellowes has had another sensational tournament, to finish in a tie for 6th-9th place in the European Rapid U-8 Championships. Scoring 6.5/9, Billy ended up one point from a medal; the top West European; and behind only Russian and Ukrainian rivals. After a relatively slow start in the first three rounds (50%), Billy then went into turbo-overdrive scoring 5/6, with his sole reverse coming at the hands of the 1588 rated Ukrainian top seed, who ended up with the silver medal.

And there was another top 10 finish for KCC to celebrate, as Elis Dicen, who has visited the club several times in the last few months (most recently just last Thursday!) with sister Imogen and dad Dennis, scored 6/9 to finish in a tie for 7th-11th in the Girls U-10 tournament and the top West European player.

Both these young stars still have a team rapid tournament and the blitz championships to look forward to, so they will have plenty more opportunities to terrorise Europe before they come back home. More news will almost certainly be available in due course, courtesy of coach extraordinaire Paul, on the CCA website here. Or for those of you who indulge in what I believe is referred to as "social media" (no idea, don't ask me!), Paul has an up to the minute Facesnapinstatwitchatbook news page here.

Good luck to both Billy and Elis for their next two days of intense and hectic chess competition.

Friday, 29 November 2019

A Coventry League Match ..... on a Wednesday????

I guess this must have happened before, but it was a new one on me. When Warwick University asked to change the date of our match away against Uni A, a Wednesday night turned out to be the best solution. Or at least it did when I agreed the switch, but then Dave decided to go to Belgium to drink the local bars dry, and Drago found himself in London playing for Barclay's Bank, and we suddenly had only 3 players. And with the A and B teams having played on Monday, and the C team in action on Thursday, it looked like we might not even have a full team. Cometh the hour, though, cometh the man - and that man is called Phil. Serendipitously Phil couldn't play in the C team match as his brother was arriving from Germany to visit that very day, so he was instead available (and willing!) to be drafted in to our Cov League team a day earlier.

Having just drawn 2-2 against Uni B the previous week, our chances against Uni A were obviously not too good. But you never know what team they will field, and in the end they left more 190+ players out of their side than we have in our entire club (2 - and neither of them has played a game for us this season!) Even so, the odds were stacked against us when we finally found Room B2.05 in the Science Building. But in what has otherwise been a sobering week for the club (except in Dave's case, I presume) we rose manfully to the challenge and somehow came away with an excellent 2-2 draw despite being out-graded on every board.

And things didn't start off too well when Mike got unceremoniously rolled over by a very aggressive Romanian student on Board 2. The Black king found itself stuck in the centre, and even though White had a fianchettoed knight on b2 for the whole game, the remaining forces honed in on the Black monarch and eventually forced the win of Black's queen.

Ben finished next, on Board 3, and it was more disappointment for us, as he had played an excellent game and was better the whole way ... and then suddenly it was a draw! I have no idea what happened at the end, but it looked like without a full point in that game we were doomed.

However, Lady Luck then turned in our favour, as my game went from dead level to completely winning almost without me realising such a dramatic swing was happening. I had been trying to develop a very slow kingside attack while my strong Serbian opponent was playing on the queenside. But in the blink of an eye, the whole picture flipped and abandoning the kingside attack - which was going nowhere - I won a key queenside pawn which put me in complete control. Rather than suffer a protracted defence against my now mighty passed b pawn, Black sacked two more pawns in the centre to set up a fork of a rook on a4 and a knight on e4 by a queen on e8 - but, thankfully for me, there was a tactical escape from the double attack, and when I forced the last pair of rooks off to leave me two pawns and position up, Black resigned.

Which left Phil needing a draw to save the match. For most of the night I had been fearing the worst, as every time I looked at his game, his position seemed more and more depressing. But Phil dug in for the long haul, First World War style, and adopted the Verdun-inspired mindset of "Ils ne passeront pas!" And they absolutely didn't passeront - right down to a king and pawn ending, where Phil was able to keep the White king at bay and secure the required match saving draw and an unexpected point.

So a small ray of light in an otherwise disappointing week. Thank heavens for small mercies!

Black Night

Who'd have thought that Deep Purple would ever be an appropriate soundtrack for a Leamington League chess match? But that was regrettably the case this week, as Kenilworth A failed the test on our first serious examination of the season, relinquishing top spot in the Division 1 table to our conquerors in the process.

We've had a pretty good run against Olton lately, winning comprehensively in the league earlier this year and beating them in the Cup Final, too, so the law of averages said that would have to come to an end sometime. Even fielding our strongest side so far this season couldn't overturn the odds.

Andy B made his 2019-20 league debut and pressed for the whole game against Alan Lloyd on Board 2, though without ever making any serious inroads into the Black position. The game was probably about level when Andy offered a draw, but given the state of play in the match, we could have done with him playing on.

David P was struggling against Mark Cundy on Board 3, and gradually shed a pawn or two. I was expecting his pieces to spring to life and deliver a rousing counter attack on the White king, which had castled long - but it never happened and eventually the material advantage told for Mark.

Thank goodness for the ever reliable Joshua on Board 4, who kept his 100% (league) record for the A team this season by despatching Richard Smith. I saw virtually nothing of the game and have no idea how convincing a victory it was - but quite frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn! A point is a point and we needed it.

But alas it wasn't to be enough, as the law of averages also caught up with me on Board 1, where I failed to make it three wins in a row against Phil Holt, and fell to what used to be my traditional defeat in rather excruciating circumstances. Deep into a game where I had been slightly worse throughout, I thought I saw a clever way to line up a perpetual attack on White's queen by giving up a pawn on g6. But I had overlooked a neat tactical trick which saw Phil counter the attack on his queen by attacking mine, and in the time it took to say "Rats!" my position collapsed. I could have given up a pawn, but for some reason decided to give up an exchange instead and the game should have ended on the spot. But bizarrely/cruelly Phil then needlessly blundered the exchange and a pawn back leaving me just a pawn down in a rook and opposite bishops ending. But my pawns were all on vulnerable squares and Phil cleverly traded off the rooks to win all my queenside pawns. Even opposite bishops can't save you when you are three pawns down.

And it really was a black night for the club all round, as the B team failed to win a crunch match they had at their mercy against Shirley, and the D team went down 0-3 at home to Solihull E, which included a very annoying default. And also spare a thought for Noah, who came within one or two moves of his first league victory only to falter at the eleventh hour after playing a really good game against the very experienced Dennis Horsley.

And maybe there's a song called Black Week somewhere? Because the C team went down 3-1 to Banbury B last night to complete a clean sweep of all four of our teams within four days. I think the lads need to be called in for extra training - though Jude is exempt after his excellent win last night. Clearly we need more 9 year olds in the teams to show us the way.

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

When Three Points Is Not Enough...

I am hoping my questionable form of late has passed under the radar. Presumably most (?!) would excuse my performance at the board, given the cutting edge captaincy skills I bring to the table. Other than the separate emails advising the team of both the wrong date and the wrong venue for Monday's match against Shirley, these continue to be top notch. Details, details! My profound insight that this was a match it would be really helpful to win surely counted for something. Albeit, it was of course somewhat disappointing that we didn't...

It was one of those nights that really epitomize what league chess is all about. Dark, wet and with a lot of road works in the Shirley area. While Shirley were bottom of the table, the average grades were virtually identical and it was always going to be very tight.

Mike was giving away a few grading points to Phil Purcell on board one, but always looked comfortable. He got to play an idea he had first thought of ten years ago that placed a lot of pressure on Black's f6 knight and required very accurate play to defend. Phil burnt through time, but found a way to ease the pressure and simplify to a level position. Certainly a draw that Mike had the better of.

Meanwhile, Bernard seemed to be level on board 2, I was better on board 3 and Jude was better on board 4. Thank goodness nobody placed a flutter. On board two, Jonathan Dale just seemed to turn equality into a slight advantage and then further turned the screw. In a heavy piece endgame, his superior pawn structure and weaknesses in Bernard's seem to make it increasingly difficult for Bernard, and eventually Jonathan broke through to win the point.

Sitting on Board 3, I generally spend some of my time watching Jude's games and some of it watching Jude's opponents to assess where they are on the worried/ despairing continuum. Dave Thomas had the look of an extremely worried man for most of the night. Jude won the exchange and had a lot of possibilities on the king side, but Dave defended well. It all got quite messy and a draw looked like a fair result - but another game we had the better of.

I was playing Keith Ingram on three and this also got away for us. In a complex middlegame, Keith overlooked a tactic and I picked up a pawn. Unfortunately, Keith had a very strong knight and I felt I had no choice but to exchange into an opposite coloured bishop ending with a promising passed pawn. Only a win would get us anything and I played until I was under 5 minutes, by which point Keith was clearly holding everything, so another draw. It is rare to lose a match where a team has the better of three of the games. Chess can be very cruel sometimes, but we will re-group and go again.

So what of my title of this piece, I hear you ask? Indeed. It was a massive night for the A team too. They went down by the same margin. So three points between us and nothing but pain for our supporters. The B team still have to play Rugby before Christmas. I've made a note to combine an instruction to win with the right venue and date instructions. Such a formula has to be unstoppable! Doesn't it?...

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

A Match of Two Halves

But not first compared to second, instead top compared to bottom, since our 2-2 draw against Warwick University Blast night saw us win on the top two boards and lose on the bottom two. Unfortunately there was no tie break by board count or elimination, so 2-2 it had to stay and one point for each team.

My game was over in half an hour, of which I'd used 5 minutes - and truth be told I could have played the whole game in 30 seconds as I didn't have to think once. I employed a rather dodgy opening that is exceedingly sharp and tactical, but luckily my opponent's theoretical knowledge ran out before mine and he simply dropped a piece - the move Qb4+ won a loose White bishop on h4. I was tempted to go home, but a sense of captain's duty prevailed and I stopped to watch the rest of the match. It wasn't always pretty viewing!

Uni B levelled the scores with a win on Board 4. From a very staid opening Black nevertheless whipped up a big attack along the g file against Dave's highly compromised kingside (shattered pawns on h2, f2 and f3). It looked like curtains to me, but resourceful play by Dave somehow staved off the mate threats and he reached a (bad) position a pawn down. But one careless move relieved him of the need to try to defend a losing ending, as he could only avoid a back rank mate by giving up a rook.

All this time Ben had been suffering the tortures of the damned on Board 3 where a White knight on e4 was absolutely killing the Black position and especially Ben's dark squared bishop which was roaming around but simply hitting thin air. Ben tried a pawn sac but it simply made the Black position worse and White remorselessly turned the screw before the move pawn to d6+ (guarded by that killer knight on e4!) won a whole rook.

So now we needed a win from Mike on Board 2 to level the scores, and fortunately it was never in doubt. He achieved a dream like position for White from a Benko Gambit, and used the passed a pawn that Black had so kindly donated to restrain any Black queenside play. Then he responded to a rather strange f6 move by planting an octopus knight on the square e6. Black tried an exchange sac to eliminate White's a pawn, but Mike simply ignored it and after forcing a queen trade ended up in an overwhelming rook ending where the pawn on a7 paralysed Black's rook on a8. When the White king got to b7 winning the rook for a pawn it was time to resign, although for some unfathomable reason several more moves were needlessly played before Black hoisted the white flag.

A slightly disappointing result overall, but there's no denying some of the University's ungraded overseas students are pretty sharp cookies! And they do have youth on their side, which is certainly not a quality we were overly-endowed with last night!