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.