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.