Friday, 19 December 2014

Graves of Famous Chess Players: No 6 in a series of ......?

Well, in this case "famous" might be stretching it a bit, but there's no doubt whatever that Samuel Tinsley (1847-1903) was a very strong player, who should probably be better remembered in British chess history. According to the Chessmetrics website, he achieved a peak rating of 2588 in December 1890, and a ranking high of world number 21. And his achievements were all the more impressive, as he reportedly only began to play seriously when he was in his forties.

Tinsley's chief claims to fame are that he participated in two epic tournaments - Hastings 1895 (a mammoth 22 player all play all) and the even stronger London 1899. Pillsbury created a sensation by taking first place at Hastings with 16.5/21, ahead of Chigorin, world champion Lasker, Tarrasch and ex-world champion Steinitz. Our hero finished some way adrift of these all-time greats, coming 21st with a score of 7.5/21 (+7 =1 -13). His biggest scalps were von Bardeleben (who lost an immortal game against Steinitz in this tournament), Janowski, Mason and Gunsberg.

Four years later he fared less well, essentially coming last of 14 in a double round (!) apa, as the 15th player, Richard Teichmann, had to withdraw after only 4 games. Tinsley's wins came against Chigorin, Showalter and, twice, Cohn, with draws against Janowski, Mason and, twice, Lee. The tournament saw a brilliant win by Lasker who lost only 1 game (against Blackburne, though he won their other game) and scored at least 1.5/2 against every other opponent. He finished an incredible 4.5 pts clear of a three way tie for 2nd between Maroczy, Pillsbury and Janowski.

Samuel Tinsley is buried in what is now called Brockley and Ladywell Cemetery - which makes this a first venture south of the river in this series! - in yet another large and largely neglected Victorian cemetery. I have to record my thanks to an excellent 2012 article by Martin Smith on the Streatham and Brixton Chess Blog, which contains far more information than I have provided here. Without this sterling piece of detective work, I would never even have known of Tinsley, nor of his resting place - and I would certainly never have been able to track down the grave amongst the romantic but completely overgrown wilderness that makes up most of the cemetery.

The wording on Tinsley's headstone has become very worn, but Martin Smith records that it originally read:-

Till He Come
In Loving Memory of
Born 13th January 1847
Died 26th February 1903
"The waters closed over him"
"Death to Sin"
"Life to Righteousness"
Also of Sarah Ann
Wife of the above
Called home July 26 1925
Aged 84

(The lowest line is damaged and lost)

And so to a game. I can't pretend I'm aware of any Tinsley masterpiece, so here is his greatest ever scalp - a win against the mighty Mikhail Chigorin, ascribed a retrospective grade of about 2725 by Chessmetrics when this game was played and a peak of 2797/world number 2!!

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Glass Half Empty or Half Full?

A draw against Olton B wouldn't normally be any cause for massive celebration, but such have been the woeful results of the A team in the first half of the season that any point is very gratefully received. And if you had forecast a drawn match last night at any time other than about 10.29 pm you would have been laughed out of town.

For a start, the normal selection problems meant that we were missing Paul Lam yet again, and for reasons both diverse and improbable, nearly all possible substitutes. (Does anyone know if Andy Baruch still exists?) But cometh the hour, cometh the man, and reigning Clubman of the Year Stuart Blaiklock bravely stepped up to the plate and answered an 11th hour call to duty - and took a giant step towards retaining his trophy in the process. Then we had to contend with the fact that Carl had returned from Bangalore only the day before, while I had got back from Germany only a few hours before the match. And then we learned that Olton B were fresh from an excellent 2-2 draw against a Solihull team with an average grade of 182. Oh yes, and then it emerged that Alan Lloyd was making a very rare appearance for Olton B.

Finally the match started and it got even worse! Stuart opened with the Philidor Defence, and when White played 3 d4 we waited with bated breath to see whether he would remember not to repeat the 3 ... Bg4 blunder of Count Isouard and the Duke of Brunswick against Morphy at the Paris Opera. Thankfully, those nights at the Royal Oak have not been wasted, and the game proceeded along more acceptable lines. However, Carl was clearly still in another time zone and keen to get home asap, since his Board 3 game with Rob Reynolds lasted no time at all before ending in a not entirely unexpected draw. But by then, we were already in serious trouble, as Josh had suffered a complete mental aberration and dropped a piece for virtually nothing against Gary Hope. For some strange reason, he is keen that I present the opening phase of the game for all to see:-

Guess the result competition!

Back to that game shortly......

As the evening progressed, I was getting nowhere against Alan Lloyd, and when I realised my plan to win a pawn was completely unplayable, I had to go into full scale retreat mode and try to hang on. By this stage Stuart had shed a queen side pawn, but reached the time control with some chances of a draw in a queen and minor piece ending. Sadly, shortly afterwards White won another queen side pawn and Stuart had to resign against Rob Wallman after a brave fight against the 51 grading points difference.That's what's called taking one for the team.

Josh had been playing on and on a piece down, and even though a white pawn got to h7, he somehow managed to confuse the issue so much that he won back his piece and swapped off into a rook ending where he had the only remaining pawn. It was a stone cold draw, but unbelievably, as the moves were bashed out at blitz speed, I happened to look across and see the black pawn not only queen, but also not even get taken by the white rook. A miracle had occurred and he had won a game that will encourage generations of players never to resign, no matter how lost they may be. After this complete turnaround, Alan decided to offer me a draw as despite being a pawn up in a bishop v knight ending, he had no way of ever getting his king in.

So amazingly it finished as a 2-2 draw - and very much a "Glass Half Full" evening as far as we were concerned!

Monday, 1 December 2014

Back to the drawing board

Just as it seemed we might have been overcoming our little slump, and had registered two consecutive victories, the A team came crashing back to Earth in our last game, a defeat against bottom of the table Stratford. It was however, a close run thing with us only let down by some mishandling of the clock.

Carl managed to get himself into a horrible position out of the opening, missing a tactic which exchanged queens and left him with doubled, isolated pawns and badly placed minor pieces. I had already resigned myself to watching a log a depressing defence, when a mistake by his opponent threw away all of the advantage, and a quick draw was agreed. Not long after that two other games came to a relatively early conclusion as well. Mine started with a reasonably respectable sideline of the modern defence (1.e4 g6 2.h4) and I ended up being able to grab a pawn for not much compensation. My task of converting this advantage was, however, made considerably easier by my opponent showing a remarkable lack of urgency, and losing on the clock with 7 moves still to make (which must be something of a record).

The news from Mark's game was less positive. After declining Richard McNally's offer of a free pawn with the Smith-Morra gambit, Mark seemed to be making the very sensible decision to avoid making the position too tactical, in a game against a player known for his speciality in that style. Unfortunately, when I came back a few minutes later, the position had exploded into insanity, with queens and pieces flying everywhere. Analysis after the game seemed to indicate that Mark should have been fine, but unfortunately he was outplayed in the position at the board, so the match remained level.

This left everything hanging on Dave's game on board 4, which had transitioned from him having a small opening advantage with more space, to being a pawn down but with an excellent pair of bishops as compensation. However, this is where my former comment about time comes into relevance, as Dave was unable to negotiate the position fast enough, and eventually lost on time. A close match, but yet another defeat in perhaps the second swiftest fall from grace currently occurring in the world of sport (after Borussia Dortmund being bottom of the German football league, of course).

P.S. Apologies for the delay in writing this report; I was clearly too distraught to remember to do so previously. On the plus side, this means our next game is now tomorrow, so hopefully I shall have better news to report very soon.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Celebrity Quizzers "more popular than KCC" Shock!

Our normal Thursday evening regime of high quality social chess was rudely interrupted on November 6th, when a bunch of blokes off the telly elbowed us aside as a Celebrity Quiz Match was staged at The Royal Oak. Attracting a near full house, the self styled "Dream Team" was in town to play against local stars "The Usual Suspects". The evening was part of the prize the local team had won for triumphing in a nationwide Great British Pub Quiz competition. As the jovial compere joked, second prize was a visit from (ex ECF President and Egghead) CJ De Mooi, while third prize was two visits from CJ.

The TV celebrities are seen below during their own internal battle to select a champion to take on the locals' own champ in an individual head to head to find the evening's "Mega-Brain".

From left to right, the Dream Team comprised:-

1) Mr Somebody, from Educating Yorkshire - never seen the programme so no real idea who he is or why a teacher was in an all-star quiz team. But as long as he's an inspiration to the kids he's a winner in my eyes.
2) Pat Gibson, from Eggheads - a quiz legend who's won almost every quiz show you could think of. Usually more than once!
3) Shaun "The Barrister" Wallace, from The Chase - very sociable guy (who was formerly in the legal profession, rather than a coffee maker at Starbucks if you're in any doubt).
4) Paul "The Sinnerman" Sinha, also from The Chase - very clever guy with one of the worst nicknames ever.

Over a number of exceedingly difficult rounds the Royal Oak locals regularly outscored both The Dream Team and the "hors concours" KCC All Stars who wisely sat well to the back of the room to hide their ignorance. Despite reaching a peak strength of 9 people, we were unable to score more than 6/10 in any round, while the two heavyweights were clocking up 8 or 9 each time.

Some of the questions were VERY hard - a fact confirmed by our own quiz supremos Bernard "The Accountant" Rogers; Joshua "The Mathematician" Pink; Paul "The Powerlifter" Lam; Nick "The Doctor" Mottram; Phil "Mr Croquet" Wood and Roy "The Northerner" Watson. We were definitely Vanarama Conference standard compared to the Premier League quality of the two competing teams. At the end of the night, the Royal Oak's finest had vanquished the Dream Team, and their star man had also scored a thrilling 10-9 individual win over The Sinnerman to secure The Mega-Brain title. (Though unlike me, neither of them knew that the horse that came second to Desert Orchid in the 1989 Cheltenham Gold Cup was Yahoo.)

Many congratulations to The Usual Suspects for a stunning double triumph and an amazing breadth of general knowledge - delivered at a speed which would have done credit to a 1 minute bullet game. Also thanks to our genial landlord Simon, for putting on an excellent event, though some of our more fundamentalist members were disappointed that the clocks and sets had been removed for the evening and no late night blitz session was possible. After three successive nights of league matches I was, by contrast, mightily relieved at the complete absence of any chess boards. And as I had a rotten headache this morning, I'm pretty sure I had a very good time.

But above all else - welcome back to Roy. Thursdays haven't been the same for the last couple of months, but thankfully he has now returned from the distant wilds of Lancashire to the altogether more convenient wilds of Fen End!

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Off the mark at last

The A team, at our fourth attempt, finally managed a win yesterday, with a reasonably comfortable 3-1 triumph over Shirley. I’ll go over the less interesting matches quickly, before we get to the main event.

The first game to finish was Dave’s, who had black against Jonathan Dale. In a Qc2 Nimzo-Indian white played rather passively, and hence Dave seemed to get a very equal position without too much difficulty. When white then left his kingside rather exposed, Dave turned down the opportunity to win a couple of pawns (which may have in turn given his opponent an attack), and instead found a tactical way to win a queen for a rook and knight. I thought perhaps he could have played on a little here, but his opponent’s position was solid and a draw with black can hardly be considered a bad result.

Mark then put us into the lead, courtesy of a win over Keith Ingram. In a Najdorf Sicilian, White chose what looked to me a slightly strange mix of plans, retreating his knights to b3, but then choosing to castle kingside and play f4. Mark was left with an isolated pawn on d6, but as compensation had excellent squares for his pieces, and was able to simplify into a double rook endgame a pawn up. He was soon able to put both his rooks on the seventh rank, and even someone whose endgame technique is as rudimentary as mine knows that such a position should be winning sooner rather than later.

The first half of my own game, with white against Matthew Long, went well, as we played into a relatively main line of the Winawer French (e4 e6 d4 d5 Nc3 Bb4) where white plays an early Qg4. I carefully pointed all my pieces towards the black kingside, then realised he hadn’t actually castled yet and if he did so queenside they would all turn out to be on the wrong side of the board. However, much to my surprise and relief, he did castle kingside and soon I had a very strong attack, and a position rated +3 by the computer. However, here my own incompetence as an attacking player took over, so that rather than delivering mate, I smoothly managed to transition into an endgame a pawn down. Fortunately for me, the opposite coloured bishops meant I was able to hold on relatively easily, leaving us 2-1 ahead.

Moving on to our feature presentation. I think it is fair to say that Phil has been somewhat out of form over the last few months, and has been subjected to a fair amount of gentle abuse as a consequence (and at least some genuine rage after last season’s game in Stratford.) Therefore, by way of balance, it seems only right to present his crushing victory over a 160 graded player on board 4 that sealed the win. I’m sure we all hope this means the real Phil is now back for league chess, and the piece blundering one only shows up in future for Thursdays at The Royal Oak. I haven’t had time to put the game through a computer so there will be a lack of good analysis to go with it, but I think the ease of the win speaks for itself.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Graves of Famous Chess Players: No 5 in a series of ......?

Having been stuck in Kensal Green cemetery for what seems like an age, it is now time to take a tube ride - New Vaudeville Band, anyone? West Brompton is ten long stations from Kensal Green change at Paddington (and if necessary  Earl's Court, too!), where we find another of London's "Magnificent Seven" High Victorian cemeteries.

Brompton Cemetery is unique in being managed by The Royal Parks. This is a truly spectacular architectural site, with many listed monuments, while the cemetery as a whole is listed Grade II*. The colonnaded central section is truly awesome. Unlike Kensal Green, Brompton is quite a busy place, as not only is it more central and accessible, but it operates as a short cut for pedestrians and cyclists between Chelsea and Earl's Court. And, according to Wikipedia, because "it is a popular cruising ground for gay men." Now they tell me! Should I be offended that no one cruised me on my visit?

But why are we here, you ask? Well, we have come to visit the grave of the great Polish chess master Johannes Zukertort (1842-88), a man who so nearly ascended to the very summit of chess, but lost the first official World Championship match to Wilhelm Steinitz in 1886. The match was something of a road-show, with the first five matches in New York, then four in St Louis and the last 11 in New Orleans - poignant, as that city's greatest chess son, Paul Morphy, had died there in 1884.

Zukertort had convincingly won the great London tournament of 1883 with the massive score of 22/26 in the 14 player double round event, ahead of Steinitz (19), Blackburne (16.5) and Chigorin (16), so his right to a shot at the title (which Steinitz could reasonably, but unofficially, claim since his match victory over Adolf Anderssen in 1866) was indisputable. History was so very nearly different, as Zukertort led 4-1 after the New York session, despite losing the first game. Unfortunately, his poor health - which ultimately saw him killed by a heart attack just two years later - took its toll under the stress and strains, and while still level after the St Louis games (by which time there had only been one draw!) he collapsed in New Orleans and ended up a 10-5 loser with five draws.

Zukertort's grave has probably been the most celebrated of all chess players' over the last couple of years. GM Stuart Conquest led a campaign to install a new headstone after discovering (in 2011) that the original had fallen into disrepair and had even become buried. A joint effort between the chess community and the UK Polish community (the Polish Embassy donated £2,000!) ended successfully with the rededication of the grave on June 26, 2012. You can read more about the ceremony, watch Stuart Conquest's speech, and see pictures of the pristine new headstone, at my good friend John Saunders' chess blog here.

When I arrived at Brompton almost exactly two years later, though, there was quite a transformation. Luckily I had some idea of where the grave was located - in the shadow of one of the stands at Stamford Bridge - since while the headstone was still looking pristine, it had almost vanished into the vegetation.

Taking my life in my hands, I even ventured into the undergrowth to bring you a close up or two.

So there we have it. The cycle of neglect that seems to afflict most graves, judging from my observations of two major cemeteries, has already recommenced. One good reason to opt for cremation. Another being you won't be pursued in death by morbid grave hunters like me!

And so to our illustrative game. Not much debate here. A true immortal game.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

It's Deja Vu All Over Again

Perennial league champions Olton came to Kenilworth on Monday, defending a perfect Played 4/Won 4 record this season against the reigning champions with their perfect Played 2/Lost 2 record. By the end of the evening, both records were securely intact, as player availability, or rather the lack of it, unfortunately meant we were staring defeat in the face before a ball was kicked.

Poor old Phil, once again valiantly answering the call to arms, was both massively out-graded and, not surprisingly, the first to finish on Board 4. Facing a Leningrad Dutch, he played a desperately passive response and was worse out of the opening almost immediately. At some point he dropped the exchange and in next to no time Mark Cundy had chalked up the first point for Olton.

David O'Neill, making his A team debut on Board 3, was the next to finish. Meeting Richard Smith's Catalan type set up with an early d5/c5 Tarrasch set-up, he got a reasonable position but then became overly nervous about his IQP and co-operatively lined his rooks up on e6 and c8 so that the white bishop could go from g2 to h3 to win the exchange, and soon after the game. Are you spotting a theme here?

On Board 2, Carl was engaged in a tough fight with Alan Lloyd and seemed to be pressing throughout. He reached a complex minor piece ending where he may have had a slight edge. But by the time control it was nothing significant and a draw was agreed.

My game against Phil Holt on Board 1 saw my intense preparation wasted as early as move 5, but in fact I got a pleasant position from the opening anyway, as Phil uncharacteristically resisted playing an e5-e6 pawn sac for three successive moves. We reached an ending where I had bishop against knight with pawns on both sides of the board and Phil having one set of doubled pawns. Advantage to me, you'd think, but I never came remotely close to doing anything with it and the position was dead equal when we agreed the draw to leave Olton 3-1 winners.

So while our visitors went home as red-hot favourites to regain the league title, a relegation struggle looks on the cards for the A team.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

How The Mighty Have Fallen!

Two games into the defence of our first league title in 26 years and its still like watching Norway in the Eurovision Song Contest for the A Team this season - Kenilworth, Nil Points! Not only did we allow Banbury B to follow in their A team's footsteps and record a 2.5-1.5 win, but it couldn't even be classed as a big surprise, as they managed to field a team that out-graded us (and their own A team)!

In Paul's absence, I had a really interesting game against Fide Master James Jackson on Board 1, after he uncorked a major opening surprise by leaving a knight undefended on d4. I resisted temptation for one move and then took it, and even though I had to give up my rook on a8, I got a very playable position with a pawn for the exchange. After I removed his dark square bishop I may even have been very slightly better, but in severe time trouble I started to go wrong and despite some inaccuracies by White which should have left me with a dead equal position (according to Fritz) as late as move 46, I had neither the brain power nor the time to find the right moves, and was eventually overrun by 2 connected queen side pawns - about ten seconds before I would have lost on time.

Joshua had a typically crazy game on Board 2 against Paul Rowan which eventually yielded our only win of the night. In a mutant KIA type position he feinted to sacrifice on the king side, and then rushed over to the queen side to grab a pawn at the cost of his centre. Black had a big phalanx of pawns but neglected to push them at the crucial moment and when he went passive to stop Joshua's passed a pawn, they fell off.

Carl played a solid - some (not me I hasten to add) might say boring - game on Board 3 to draw against Dan Rowan with 2 rooks and a bishop against his opponent's two rooks and a knight. There were divergent opinion's afterwards as to whether the bishop was better or worse than the knight, which probably means that a draw was a fair result.

So once again Phil found himself occupying centre stage with the match outcome in his hands. After various vicissitudes, a seemingly level rook and knight ending was reached, but then all hell broke loose. Nick Martin went horribly wrong and lost a queening race by several tempi. But Unfortunately, Phil went horribly wrong by having less time, and despite being a queen up in the final position, he lost on time while his opponent had the grand total of 3 seconds on his clock. A very unlucky break for us and for Phil, but in a perverse sort of way it is becoming quite exciting to see the new ways Phil keeps coming up with to lose winning positions.

I don't want to be unduly alarmist after just 2 matches, but history does sound a word of warning for us. In 1937-38 Manchester City got relegated from Division 1, the season after winning the title. Could lightning strike twice, I wonder?

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Mixed fortunes

After a fairly disastrous start to the season both for myself and the teams I have managed to drag down with me, the B team headed to Solihull last night with me in particular in need of a good result. The pressure was also raised by the fact that, amongst the 21 games of league chess taking place in the room, were two with average player grades over 200. Clearly, this was not an evening for my usual level of incompetence.
We were also welcoming a new player to competitive chess for Kenilworth, David O’Neill, who we appear to have successfully poached from Warwick University, and his game was in fact the first to finish. After a fairly normal London System opening (1. d4 d5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Bf4 c5 4. e3 Nc6 5. c3 Qb6 6. Qb3 c4) white went badly wrong, playing Qc2 and allowing the very nice tactical shot Bf5! Objectively, the nest move after this is probably to retreat the queen to c1 and accept being slightly worse, this isn’t something easy to do with white on move 7, so David’s opponent plunged in with 8. Qxf5 Qxb2. Black soon emerged the exchange and a pawn up without white having anything like adequate compensation. Some imprecise play from David allowed his opponent to generate some counterplay with the two bishops, but after the game transformed to a mating race, the superiority of the rook became clear and the win was wrapped up before the time control.
Not long after I managed to scrape to a win in my game as well, my first of the season. Since this game is slightly less awful than my previous efforts this season, I think it might just about be acceptable to share it for the contempt of the group:

Now 2-0 up and feeling considerably better, I went to check on the other boards, and was pleasantly surprised. Dave had played the standard IQP position he seems to commonly get with white, and although he was slightly worse in the endgame (2 bishops vs. bishop and knight) his knight was on an excellent square and a draw seemed the most likely result. Phil had also recovered magnificently from a very dodgy opening, where he had played e6 and g6, then allowed a white bishop to get to h6, and both white knights to point at the f6 square. Somehow, he managed to tactically squirm out of the bind, and was now a pawn up in a pure queen endgame where, as the books will tell you, he was playing for two results.
Unfortunately, they turned out to be the wrong two. His opponent was trying to bring his queen around the back to force a perpetual check, and Phil carefully moved his king to avoid all the perpetual threats. He did indeed succeed in avoiding any possible perpetual checks, but at the cost of creating a very elegant helpmate in 3, which his opponent duly played for an unexpected and rather unpleasant turnaround. By this point Dave was now playing a same coloured bishop endgame with equal numbers of pawns, but all his pawns had managed to become fixed on the wrong colour. Probably a draw with accurate defence, but a horrible position to play when short on time, and he was unfortunately not able to hold the draw.
Final score: Solihull B 2 – Kenilworth B 2

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

A Team falls at the first fence!

Banbury A 2.5 - Kenilworth A 1.5

Any thoughts that retaining the league title would be easy for our heroic superstars, were summarily dispelled at Banbury on Tuesday evening, when we came a cropper in our first match of the season. The omens were not good, as the last time that our foursome had turned out for the A team together, a truly calamitous defeat had occurred at Stratford last season.

But as big a turn up as the match result itself was, there was an even more earth shattering occurrence, as after scoring 17 wins and 3 draws in his first 20 games for the club, Joshua lost to Carl Portman. After a sensible opening the game went rather crazy after Joshua completely opened up the kingside. He won a piece for 2 pawns, but Black seemed to have oodles of compensation - especially as, and I'm sure he won't mind me saying this, neither White's queen's bishop nor queen's rook made a single move in the entire game. A rather brutal checkmate finished proceedings. But I understand that many wise chess masters say that this is what can happen if you don't develop your pieces.

Phil was the next to succumb, after a rather passive looking game against an English/Reti type set up. The white queenside pawns advanced, a knight or two jumped in and a black pawn fell off. And then it got worse. Or so I'm told, as I didn't really see much of the action. Anyway, it was enough to put Banbury A 2-0 up.

At this stage things looked really bleak, as neither Paul nor I were obviously winning - but clearly we had to try. In a rook and minor piece ending, I was trying to make use of a good knight against a bad bishop, but I missed the chance to swap the minor pieces off and cut the White king off on the a file. Instead the bad White bishop suddenly became good and I was in a bit of trouble. White might have had a winning position for one move, but he went the wrong way with his king and even though I had to give up my knight for 2 pawns, White was left with a bishop and the wrong rook's pawn, so it was a draw.

In all the excitement I missed the climax of Paul's game. He had been pressing for much of the game, but a Black knight apparently stranded on a4 actually caused him a lot of difficulties in co-ordinating his pieces. An ending arose and, with both players inevitably in horrendous time trouble Paul seemingly sacced a piece unsoundly but Black didn't see the tactical refutation and White emerged with a pair of mighty connected passed pawns which won the day. Unfortunately, too little and too late, and we were sent homeward to think again.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

A new dawn

And so it came to pass that a new season was upon us, and we travelled off to the thriving metropolis of Leamington for our first game. A combination of two matches in an evening, various excuses for absence (both plausible and implausible), and a team captain off playing for some other team, left me back in interim charge of the B team, and saddled with a very motley crew of chess players, few of whom will have been expected to have been playing this match before the start of the season. Nevertheless, despite these handicaps, some almost reasonable chess was played, with the exception of course of my game.

Joshua Pink vs. Steve Burnell

Having decided that the openings I played last year were far too sensible, I decided to rectify this, with the game beginning 1. e4 c6 2. Nc3 d5 3. Qf3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Nd7 5.Nh3. having successfully misplaced all three of my developed pieces, I was pleasantly surprised as I developed a healthy kingside attack during the game, the particular highlight being my h3 knight re-routing itself via f2 and g4, thereby almost justifying my placement of it in the opening. Despite not being able to find a mate, I was still very satisfied to enter a bishop endgame a pawn up, and carefully calculated a winning king and pawn endgame I could force a transposition to. However, unfortunately, due to my inability to count above 7, it turned out my winning endgame was in fact a dead draw, and by the time I realised it was too late to back out. The only thing that made me feel a little better was that on my last move of the game, I had a choice to force a draw by promoting a pawn to either a queen, rook or bishop, not something you can usually manage. Thankfully, my hand didn’t reach out for the knight, and a draw was agreed.

Ben Egid vs. Carl Pickering

During the game, this seemed like a very sensibly played Reti opening by both sides, with a relatively early draw agreement being a fair reflection on the balance of play. It was only when I briefly listened in to the post-mortem afterwards that it became clear that Carl’s opponents plans, if the game had continued, would have almost immediately wrecked his own position and give n us an advantage. Still, there was no way to know at the time this would have been the case, and an early draw with black can hardly be considered a bad result in a team match.

Dave Shurrock vs. Ben Graff

There was clearly a difference of opinion over this game. I think that Dave was much better from very early on in an advance French, and deservedly converted that advantage through the middle-game. It transpired later that both players thought the game was more or less even, and it was just a particular inaccuracy on one move by black that led to the loss. Still, since I thought white was better, and white won the game, I am going to blindly stick to my original idea, no matter what evidence is produced to the contrary. After all, it is what all good chess players do (I think).

Alejandro Bonillo vs. John Harris

Anyone who knows John's games from the Coventry league will be aware they follow a very traditional pattern. He will obtain a crushing position out of the opening, this advantage will slowly dissipate over time, until finally in time trouble he will blunder and lose the game. For a long time I feared the same would happen here, as after a typical exchange sacrifice on c3 in a Sicilian Dragon, more and more piece exchanges kept occurring, with each brining white slightly closer to just being the exchange up in an endgame. However, in mutual time pressure just before the first time control, John found a very elegant mate with a rook and knight trapping the king in the corner, and secured the victory his early play had merited.

Final score: Leamington 1 – Kenilworth 3

A nice convincing start to the season though, given only one of the people playing will be a regular player for the team over the rest of the season, perhaps not too much should be read into the overall result.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Graves of Famous Chess Players: No 4 in a series of ......?

Well, here we are again and amazingly we still find ourselves in the romantic, semi-wilderness of London's High Victorian Kensal Green cemetery. Not far from the neglected grave of Charles de La Bourdonnais, unofficial world champion for at least 16 years (1824-40), stands an altogether grander and more imposing monument to England's only claimant to such a title. At plot 24419/SQ71/RS can be found the last resting place of the chess titan who was Howard Staunton (1810-74).

Thanks to the efforts of the Staunton Society, a new memorial and headstone were created in the 1990s, although these are already showing some ravages of time.

From the time he beat the Frenchman Charles de Saint-Amant in Paris in 1843, until he lost to Adolf Anderssen in London (1851), Staunton was recognised as the world's best player. According to Bobby Fischer: "Staunton was the most profound opening analyst of all time. He was more theorist than player, but nonetheless he was the strongest player of his day... In addition, he understood all of the positional concepts which modern players hold dear, and thus - with Steinitz - must be considered the first modern player."

Praise indeed, but there is more. Of course, every chess player around the world knows Staunton because of the eponymous design of chess pieces we all use - and will till the end of time, I dare suggest - but he also organised (and played in) the world's first ever international tournament (London 1851); wrote a best selling book (The Chess Player's Handbook); and wrote a highly influential chess column in the Illustrated London News for nearly 30 years. But despite all this, he has hardly left us a single famous game. And his posthumous reputation was forever tainted by the controversy of his "avoidance" of a match with Paul Morphy. The game below is no Immortal Game, or Evergreen Partie, but it does feature a positional exchange sacrifice (at a time when such things were hardly known) followed later by some nice tactical flourishes to produce a winning endgame. And it was played by an English "world champion". We aren't going to have one of those again for a long, long time.

Monday, 18 August 2014

4NCL rapidplay tournament

The 4NCL team rapidplay tournament is taking place in Daventry on Saturday 4th October. Full details are available below:

4NCL rapidplay

In brief, teams of up to 6 (4 people play in each round), starts at 13:00 with 7 rounds at a time control of 10 minutes + 10 seconds/move. There is no requirement for people to play in the main 4NCL to be eligible, and the entry fee is only £30 for the whole team.

If anyone is interested in playing please do let me know and I will see if we have enough to get a team together.


P.S. As a side note, there is also an individual rapidplay competition taking place on the Sunday 5th, which is free to enter if you are also playing the team event. However, there is no obligation to play in this as well so I will leave that up to individuals to decide. If for some reason you wish to play in the individual but not the team event, that costs £15.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Leamington League Jamboree

As the start of the new season draws inexorably nearer, a message from Jason Madden at Leamington:

To all LDCL chess players
The League Jamboree takes place on Tuesday 2nd September at the Leamington chess club venue(Home Guard club Portland street).
The Jamboree (traditionally the Leagues curtain raiser) is an easy going competition designed to blow the summer cobwebs off.
Teams of two compete in two pools of strength over four or five rounds to determine the winners. Each team of two must be from the same club and have a combined grade of no more than 280.
Entries to J. Madden
Tel. 01926650115
Mob. 07432660335

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Graves of Famous Chess Players - No 3 in a Series of .......?

What started off as a throwaway posting of me in a snazzy holiday shirt, has developed into a bit of a compulsion for me now, and I'm still not entirely sure where this series is going to stop!

It's one of chess history's strange twists, but two figures who are forever inextricably linked by their momentous (unofficial) world championship match(es), are also inextricably linked in death. Louis Charles de la Bourdonnais (1795-1840) was the victor in the epic struggle against Alexander McDonnell, who featured in the previous instalment of this series. By one of life's (death's?) twists of fate, the two men are buried only a stone's throw apart in Kensal Green Cemetery, in North West London.

La Bourdonnais' grave (2796/SQ 108/RS) lies at the far side of Kensal Green, near the wall that borders the Grand Union Canal. The area is largely overgrown and untended, with most of the headstones now anonymous, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that la Bourdonnais' is still clearly identifiable, in the shade of a large tree.

La Bourdonnais is widely judged to have been the strongest player in the world from at least 1824, when he came to London and gave the locals a good pasting, until his death. In 1821 he had also beaten his own teacher Alexandre Deschapelles, and so his reign as "world champion" may have even extended to 19 years.

No remembrance of la Bourdonnais could pass without presentation of his most famous game - possibly the first recorded chess immortal. The final position is truly a thing of beauty.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

July 2014 gradings

New gradings are now available to view: Kenilworth

Particular mentions should go out to:

1) Rajen Parekh for the largest grading increase of any of our members, a very healthy 16 points.

2) Paul Lam and Carl Pickering for new career high grades (at least as far back as the online records go). It can't now be long before Paul breaks 200.

3) Stuart for getting his first grade at last, and impressively managing to break 100 in the process.

4) Roy and Mark for being the club's most active members over the last 6 months. Mark also managed to just stay ahead of me in the gradings, but the gap is now down to just 3 points. I'm coming for you old man.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

The Mystery of the Sealed Move Envelope

While it may come as a surprise to some of the younger members of the club (not that we have many!) in the olden days, there was no such thing as a quick play finish, and at the end of the evening it was usual for one player to seal a move and the opponent would take it away and only open it when the game recommenced sometime - often weeks! - later.

This all seems to belong to another world now (except in the Birmingham League!), but I was suddenly reminded of the process by the very sad recent news of the death of English International Master Andrew Whiteley at the age of 67. In 1989 I played an epic game against Andrew, but it sticks in my mind for the bizarre events that occurred during the adjournment. Some ******* or *******s broke into my flat one Saturday afternoon/evening when I was out watching Coventry City draw 1-1 with West Ham at Upton Park.

The intruder(s) opened the sealed move envelope, doubtless hoping to find a Postal Order (another concept probably beyond the ken of the younger readers!) from my Auntie Flo or something similar. Doubtless they were very disappointed, but so was I, as this clearly meant that I had lost the game. All I could do was throw myself on the mercy of my opponent, and very sportingly Andrew declined to claim the game, and also didn't take up my offer that he could substitute another move for the sealed move if he wished. I don't know whether many people would have been as sporting as he was, especially as he was in grave danger of losing to me!

The resumption was a catalogue of missed opportunities for me, but on reflection I can't really complain too much, as by the laws of chess I had lost the game the moment the envelope was opened. Anyway, it was a massively exciting game, and while Andrew played many better games in his distinguished chess career, it was very nearly the game of my lifetime.

So R.I.P. Andrew Whiteley, International Master and the most sporting opponent I think I have ever played.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Graves of Famous Chess Players - No 2 in a series of ....... ?

Well, this is almost as much of a surprise to me as it is to you, but against all the odds, this thread has acquired a second article. Alright, he's not as famous as Morphy, I'll grant you, (see No 1 in the series), but at least he's rather closer to home than New Orleans, in Kensal Green cemetery, London. (Grave 392/182/PS), very near the western entrance. Luckily for all, I decided against taking a selfie of me at the graveside. A replacement headstone has been installed relatively recently, though there is no indication as to exactly when, or by whom.

Alexander McDonnell (1798-1835, born in Belfast) was the strongest "British" player of his time, and owes his chess fame to a mammoth series of games with the French player Louis Charles de la Bourdonnais that was, to all intents and purposes, an unofficial world championship. In total the two played 85 games across 6 matches between June and October 1834, all in London. According to the Irish Chess Union, the two men played almost every day except Sunday, with games starting at noon and lasting as long as seven hours. McDonnell won the second match (meaning he was, briefly, unofficial world champion) and was ahead in the last when it was broken off. The overall score for McDonnell, though, was +27 -45 =13, showing de la Bourdonnais to be the clearly stronger player. (They didn't draw many in those days, did they?!)

One of McDonnell's best games was the 50th:-

Monday, 16 June 2014

Adventures on the Dorset Coast

I've just returned from a brief sojourn on the south coast, to take part in the Bournemouth chess congress. The weekend did not start promisingly as, after a somewhat tedious train journey in a carriage with some rather overly excitable football supporters, I arrived just in time for the first round on the Friday evening. My opponent proceeded to play the French against me (boo) and I was so enraged by this opening choice I managed to blunder the exchange after about 20 moves, leading to a swift and rather depressing loss.

I awoke on Saturday morning to find I had a bye in the morning round (the risks of losing your first game). Normally when I play in congresses I find this an annoyance as it means you’ve travelled all that distance and paid your money to end up not having a game. However, in view of my appalling play the previous evening, I decided a morning off would probably do me some good, so set off to explore the town. Having never visited Bournemouth before, I was interested to see if there was anything in the town worth visiting; there was not. However, there is some very nice countryside in the surrounding area, so I decided a 10 mile walk might suitably prepare me for the afternoon’s contest.

Somewhat surprisingly for an idea of mine, this actually proved a good strategy, and I sat down feeling fresh for my game with black against a 193. Managing to get the Balogh defence on the board (1.e4 d6 2. d4 f5) raised my confidence somewhat, and I managed to ground my opponent down in a good bishop versus bad knight endgame to claim the win. In the evening there was a handicap rapidplay tournament, with each game lasting twenty minutes but the two players having different proportions of this time depending on their grade. The net result of this (at least for those of us towards the higher end of the grading range) was many games against 100-110 rated juniors, where they had 18 minutes and we only had 2. Needless to say, these were not easy games to win. The success of the format can probably be best judged from the fact the winner was graded 107, with the joint runners up respectively a 60 rated 7 year old and GM Keith Arkell. Certainly a format worth exploring in the future.

On to the Sunday where, in a tribute to the victors from the night before, I decided to play the Italian game with white. After a handful of logical looking moves from both sides, I was reminded of the perils of deciding ones opening choices based on football results, as I realised I had absolutely no idea what plan I should be adopting in the resulting position. Cowardice being the better part of valour (at least I think that is the phrase), I decided to swap everything off into a completely level endgame. Not hugely exciting but I suppose a reasonably comfortable draw against someone graded 198 is not something to be too disappointed by.

Unfortunately, as so often happens when I play players graded higher than myself, none of the games were particularly interesting or worthy of publishing. This is mainly because I have far more faith in myself to defend slightly worse endgames than I do to play well in complicated tactical positions, so I tend to try and keep the games as simple as possible. I’ve therefore decided to show my game from the final round with black, which was another successful outing for the Balogh defence, this time securing a draw against a 203 graded FM. Not the most aggressive play from either side, but an interesting (at least to me) rook endgame, where black just has sufficient resources to hold on despite a threatening looking white position.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

The Thoughts of Chairman Josh

Our esteemed webmaster was, as ever, far too modest in his previous post when saying that nothing important happened at this week's Leamington League AGM. Because he only went and got himself elected as League Chairman - presumably the youngest in League history by at least 20 years. He thus follows in the illustrious footsteps of ex-Chairman Bernard, and possibly other Kenilworth luminaries of whom I am unaware. Anyway, I am sure the whole club sends its congratulations/commiserations. (Delete as applicable.)

We now await publication of Chairman Josh's Little Red Book. Who knows what radical route he will lead us along, but I hope he remembers that even the longest journey starts with a single step. I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm already quaking in my boots at the "re-education" process that doubtless beckons. If its a choice between a stint on the collective farm or playing the Grob in every game, I'd better get my pitchfork and wellies now!

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Visual Proof

At last, conclusive visual evidence of our triumph this season, in the form of this image from the League AGM of the two trophies the club has won:

I'm aware that really it should be our glorious captain in this picture, but unfortunately he was not present at the event. I did try superimposing Phil's head over the top, but the resulting image was too disturbing for public consumption. By way of compensation, I'll present a second picture, this time from the celebratory meal, in which Phil is in his rightful central position. Apologies to Stuart that this is one of the ones he took rather than that he is in, but people seemed to react to Stuart's presence by pulling a variety of strange faces, so none of them were really usable.

As regards other news from the AGM, I don't believe anything came up that should materially affect us as a club. The divisional structure is remaining the same so we will once again have one team in each of the four divisions, and all the cups, individual competitions etc. are remaining the same as they have been this season.

Monday, 2 June 2014

2014 AGM - The Highlights!

All members should have received a copy of the minutes for this year's AGM, which was held at The Royal Oak on May 27. For those who prefer a more concise record of events, the main decisions arrived at were:-

1) After too many sub-free years, a membership fee of £10 will apply for season 2014-15, though there will be no charge for juniors. Those members who play league chess will also need to (a) join the ECF at minimum Bronze level (last year that cost £12 if done on line) and (b) be members of The Abbey Club (£20 per calendar year).

2) We will again enter 4 teams in the Leamington League, one in each division, plus one team in each of the three cups.

3) Club Officials for 2014-15 will be:-
Club Organiser: Mark Page
A Team and Open KO Cup Match Captain: Joshua Pink
B Team and U-700 KO Cup Match Captain: Mike Johnson
C Team Match Captain: Mike Johnson
D Team and U-120 Match Captain: Steve Payne
Webmaster: Joshua Pink
Social/Events Secretary: Bruce Holland

4) New uses were found for two of our cups that have not been competed for recently. The Tilley Cup will be awarded at each AGM to the Player of the Year, as decided by a vote of members. The first winner of the cup in its new guise - and with no room for doubt given his stupendous, unbeaten 14.5 pts from 16 games - is Joshua Pink. The Soesan Trophy will also be awarded by vote at the AGM for Clubman of the Year, to recognise such qualities as sociability, improvement, commitment to the cause and all round good-eggishness. The popular winner this year is Stuart Blaiklock.

And don't forget that we will continue to meet each Thursday evening from 7.30 pm throughout the summer for social chess.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Make mine a double

Since Mark has once again decided he is too lazy to write this report, it falls to me to inform you of the joyous news that Kenilworth has won its first league and cup double since records began (though since no-one seems to have any records, that might not be quite as impressive as it sounds).

We travelled to Leamington with a five person team, and the additional presence of Phil as a non-playing captain (his only contribution to the evening being to lose the toss so our opponents had three whites) and Dave as a spectator meant that fittingly all seven people who have played in the A team this season were present for the match. The only negative was that since all the cup finals were being held in the same venue it was somewhat crowded, so rather difficult to watch the games on other boards. Consequently I will apologise in advance for any errors in my game summaries caused by attempting to discern what was happening form halfway across the room.

Four of the five matches ended in draws. Paul ended up in a slightly worse position with black against Alan Lloyd, playing a reverse Grand Prix attack (1.c4 Nc6 2. Nc3 e5 3. g3 f5), but with some precise play was able to equalise, and a very early draw was agreed. Mark's game, I think it is fair to say, lacked a consistent narrative thread. In a somewhat eccentric King's gambit position (1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 Nc6 3. f4 Qh4+ 4. g3 Qe7) I was of he opinion that Mark was slightly worse out of the opening with white. Coming back 15 minutes later he had an absolutely crushing position after his opponent wasted a number of moves putting his pieces on much worse squares. The next time I came back his opponent was a pawn up with probably a winning endgame, the time after that Mark was once again winning, but very short on time, and on my final return a draw had been agreed. Either a very complex game that I was unable to fully understand the subtlety of, or lots of blunders that ultimately evened out.

Andy Baruch was playing a dangerous game on board 3, attempting to unbalance the position against an opponent who seemed content to play for a draw with white. Fortunately, just as it looked as if he had pushed too far and was in danger of falling into a difficult to hold endgame, his opponent rather generously accepted a draw. I am not sure the rest of his team will have been too happy about this in view of the final result. Finally, on board 5, Carl completely outplayed his opponent, reaching an endgame two pawns ahead. Unfortunately, it was a notoriously difficult to win opposite coloured bishop endgame. A discussion took place away from the board, with Mark and Andy of the opinion Carl had a win, whilst I was arguing in favour of a draw. Much to my surprise, and despite Carl winning a third pawn, I was proved correct and there was simply no way to make progress, so Carl finally had to agree to a draw.

This leaves just one game left to discuss, as Kenilworth's leader, star player and emotional inspiration was playing on the forth board. Since everyone already knows the result, I will just leave you with the game itself, so everyone may bask in the brilliance/tremendous amount of good fortune that is my play.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Graves of Famous Chess Players - No 1 in a series of .......?

All those of a nervous disposition should look away now! Here I am a few years ago paying homage at the grave of the great Paul Morphy, unofficial world champion between the years 1858-61. The Morphy family tomb can be found at the St Louis No 1 Cemetery in New Orleans. (Slightly dodgy area - I recommend going on a guided walking tour!) You would think I could have chosen to wear something slightly more respectful, wouldn't you?! As I don't have anymore photos of me at famous chess-players' graves, number 2 in this series could be a long time coming!

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

End of the line

Mark has delegated the writing of this match report to me, I believe because he cannot bring himself to suitably praise the awe-inspiring brilliancy of my play (more on that later). Last night was the final A team league game of the season, and we travelled to Leamington with our hosts needing a draw to avoid relegation, so no chance of an easy end of season game against a team lacking motivation.

Andy Collins vs Phil Wood

Phil adopted the intriguing strategic idea of playing the classical Dutch, then moving all his pawns and pieces away from the defence of the e6 pawn, then blocking of all the possible squares he would ever be able to defend it from, then allowing his opponent to play Ng5, winning the pawn and forking a queen and rook on f8 and d8. There then followed that age old chess question; are a rook and a pawn better than a bishop? Unfortunately for Phil the answer, as always, was yes and his opponent quickly rapped up the game.

Leamington 1 - Kenilworth 0

Carl Pickering vs Tom Darling

Carl played the Veresov (1.d4 d5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Bg5) and, after taking on f6, reached a very nice position where black's doubled pawns gave him a huge number of targets to attack. Black was never able to repair his structure and eventually went down in an endgame where white's knight completely dominated black's bishop.

Leamington 1 - Kenilworth 1

Mark Page vs Dan Aldridge

After playing a slightly unusual anti-Sicilian line (1.e4 c5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. Bb5) Mark reached a point where he had the two bishops, but the blocked nature of the position made them very hard to utilise, and he may even have been slightly worse. However, in time pressure, his opponent very obligingly pushed forward in the centre, opening up diagonals for the bishops against his king, and a level position transformed into a crushing mating attack in no time at all.

Leamington 1 - Kenilworth 2

Steve Burnell vs Joshua Pink

Since it was the end of the season, I decided the time was right to have a massive hack at one of my opponents. It did at least lead to an interesting game.

Final score: Leamington 1 - Kenilworth 3

And so, as Mark finds himself banned from the city of Leamington after helping to relegate his former team, the rest of us look forward to the cup final in May and wonder, as we so often do, which piece Phil will blunder in that match.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Normal Service at the LDCL "Lightning" Tournament

No Kenilworth triumph to report at the 2014 league individual blitz, which for unfathomable reasons continues to be styled as the Lightning Tournament. Phil Holt of Olton won the title for the umpteenth time, though only after a play off with debutant Olivia Smith of Solihull, after they both scored 8/9.

I finished third (possibly shared, but I didn't hang around to find out) with 7 - six wins plus a loss to Olivia Smith, and draws with Phil Holt and R. Gil. I can only dream nostalgically about that great night in 2010 when I won the event, though I was a Leamington player in those days. Carl Pickering was victorious for Kenilworth in 2008, and these are the only two times since 2005 that Phil hasn't won the tournament!

Mike Johnson was the only other Kenilworth player to play this year, and he did the decent thing by losing to me in Round 1 - though having played the very strong move Bd6 attacking a piece on e7, he forgot to follow up next move with Bxc5 which would have won a very juicy pawn. Not sure about Mike's final score, but he was around or just above the 50% mark I think.

Anyway, I can actually remember one of my games, and as it was a win over a strong player (who wiped me out in a recent league match) it gives me the opportunity to try and post a game on this site for the first time. So if Joshua's instructions on how to do it work, hopefully you will now get the chance to play through my Round 8 game against Alan Lloyd of Olton.