Friday, 23 October 2015

A clean sweep

After Mark’s somewhat depressing report from Tuesday’s Coventry League game, I feel the need to bring you somewhat better news from the A team’s Leamington League game on Monday, where we took on Banbury B. Some people might say that this report coming out after Mark’s from a later game shows him to be more efficient than me; I would argue it shows I have more worthwhile things to be doing with my time. Gratuitous abuse aside, let’s move on to the games:
On board one, Andy was playing black against Neil Staples’ English Opening, and succeeded in offering a gambit on move 5, not the easiest to do with black in any opening, least of all the English. Despite Andy’s reassurance to the contrary after the game, I still maintain that Neil should have tried grabbing and holding onto the pawn, but instead he gave it back and Andy came out with a clear advantage from the opening. From then, after an exchange of queens, he just kept grabbing pawn after pawn until he was four pawns up in the endgame when Neil finally decided to call it a day. A very clean victory, provided the opening was sound.
Mark played the Moscow variation against Chris Evans’ Sicilian Defence (1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. Bb5+), and got the usual slight space advantage that results from this variation. He had an advanced pawn on e5 which was cramping his opponent’s position, but always ran the risk of falling off if not properly looked after. However, Chris got slightly overexcited by the prospect of attacking this pawn and ended up fatally neglecting the safety of his own king. You know when there are white knights on f7 and g5, with a black king on f8, that things aren’t going to end well for black and, despite some mild time pressure, Mark collected a whole bunch of material towards the time control, forcing a resignation almost immediately after.
Bernard’s battlefield promotion to board 3 seemed to be well justified during the opening of his game, as his Sicilian defence ended up in a position resembling a French Defence, but with the light-squared bishop outside the pawn chain. Whilst most chess books will tell you this is a considerable success for black, in practice it often turns out that black would rather retreat the bishop back behind is pawns, as the queenside can end up rather unprotected. The game degenerated into a random tactical mess as both players ended up very short on time approaching the 35 move mark. Fortunately, however, Bernard’s problem was less severe than his opponents. When Nick asked how many moves he had left to make (answer, 5) and looked down at his clock to see 2 seconds remaining, not even some Paul Lam still desperate blitzing could save him from defeat. As a postscript to this report, both players managed to commit rules violations during this game. To prevent embarrassment I shall refrain from providing details of their various indiscretions, but perhaps we should consider investing in a copy of the rules for them as a Christmas gift.
Finally, my game provided yet another example of how not to play the opening, although unusually on this occasion it was provided by my opponent. As black, he played an early b6 and Bb7, and then transposed into a modern Benoni structure, where neither of these moves serves any real purpose. In some slow systems you could perhaps get away with this loss of tempi, but the Benoni is so sharp that giving away two moves more or less guarantees black a lost position. I don’t think I played particularly precisely after that, but my advantage never truly went away, and a fairly routine victory was achieved.
Final score: Kenilworth A 4 – 0 Banbury B
Now that is a solid result; bring on Leamington next week.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

We Wuz Robbed!

At the risk of sounding like Steve McClaren or Tim Sherwood, we are playing better than our next to bottom position in the Coventry League would imply, and this was most definitely the case with last night's 3-1 defeat away against Warwick University B. Quite frankly, I'm sick as a parrot that we lost this one. Facing the only 100% team in the League, and with our very own Paul Lam only able to command Board 2 in the University team, this looked like a massive challenge for our plucky squad, but we gave it a real go.

On Board 3, Ben and George Vikanis (erstwhile Banbury board 1) played at whirlwind speed, reaching the time control when the Board 1 and 2 games had managed 12 and 11 moves respectively. Ben won a pawn, but Black's small army of two rooks and a bishop ganged up on the white king. Things went bad for us and what had looked likely to be a win ended up a loss. Choker.

Dave was making his seasonal debut on Board 4 and had a good position from the opening on the black side of a Queen's Indian/QGD sort of structure against Roy's conqueror from last week. Unfortunately the white pieces suddenly got very active after a timely e4 break, the tactics went against us and we were 2-0 down.

On Board 2 Mike had an epic game against Paul. Right out of the opening, Mike sacced a knight but got a massive pawn centre on e4 and d4 in compensation. When one of these Black pawns fell off , I mentally wrote the game off, but the next time I looked the position had got incredibly murky and once again Mike had engineered two connected passed pawns. It looked like he was winning as Paul's position was near total collapse. But I need hardly mention that the clock was being put under considerable strain in this encounter, so things inevitably became frantic. Even so, Mike will have been disappointed (more football manager speak!) to blunder a whole rook away when he was on the verge of a famous and much deserved victory. Even a "Phil style" knight move at the end (not noticed by either player) could not save him, as Paul had mate in 1 at that moment.

I had finished seconds earlier on Board 1, after a third successive Cov League game in which I managed to save myself from a difficult/losing position. Playing against Peter Williams, whose last recorded grade was 217 in 2013 (and who has a personal best of 231!) I made a misjudgement straight out of the opening and found myself grovelling against two rampant black knights and a strong passed d pawn. Right on the time control, though, Black went wrong, and a couple of precise moves and some lucky tactics saw me win the pesky d pawn and swap off into a double rook and knight ending. More exchanges followed and I was left with an extra b pawn in a single rook ending with 3 pawns each on the king side. The b pawn got to the seventh rank but my rook was stuck on b8, and I think that with correct play Black could have held, but he let me get a passed h pawn and with the Black king on f6 I was able to play Rb8-g8 and when the b pawn was captured by the Black rook I had h6-h7 and there was no way to stop me from queening.

It says we lost 3-1 in the record books, but as far as I'm concerned it was a travesty of a sham of two mockeries of another travesty. And you all know you can trust my opinion, don't you?

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

An Ice Cold Dose of Reality

It was always going to be tough in the First Division of the Coventry League, and our first home match against Warwick University A was a case in point.  We fielded an almost unchanged team from our opening match at Rugby, with Carl replacing Mike D on Board 2, while our opponents - despite kindly omitting players graded 221 (!!) and 165 from their first match - still weighed in at an average of 173 for their top 3 boards, and their ungraded Board 4 is presumable around 160 strength.

Not surprisingly, given the grading disparity, Roy was first to finish on Board 4. He lost his d pawn on the white side of a QGD (seldom a good idea) and mercifully shortened his suffering by dropping a rook (for the second week running!) to a queen check.

Meanwhile on 2, Carl threw the kitchen sink at his opponent, with a piece sac on g6 netting a couple of pawns and a threatening position. However, Morgan Blake defended sensibly and clustered a heap of minor pieces around his king to ward off any possibility of mate. He then struck out in the centre with a well timed counter, and Carl's position fell apart.

Last week's hero on 3, Ben, went down in a totally different way. He got himself lumbered with doubled isolated c pawns and found his 2 bishops were no match for Felix McPeake's 2 knights which dominated the blocked position. Despite a prolonged grovel, the pawn weaknesses eventually told and we were 3-0 down.

And for a long time it looked like it would be 4-0, as I was under the cosh against Ioannis Lentzos, who I recognised as a fellow sufferer from this year's British Championship - though despite both of us loitering around the bottom boards for the whole two weeks, we managed to avoid being paired against each other. I got into all kinds of trouble in the opening and was happy to escape the early middle game only a pawn down. It should have become two, but instead White played an f6 pawn push to open up my king. The attack was repulsed, but at the cost of a pawn, and we went into a rook ending. But White then made a calamitous mistake which lost his extra pawn. I had two ways to take it - the first would have won in three very easy to see moves, while the second was a draw. No prizes for guessing which I chose. I didn't deserve to win - but I should have!

So a sobering 0.5-3.5 thrashing for us. Next up its Warwick University B (and our very own Paul Lam!), when our proud unbeaten away record (1 match!) might just find itself under threat.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Still in the hunt

After our somewhat unimpressive start to the league season (2 defeats in three matches), it once again looks like Kenilworth's best chance of some silverware this season will come from the cup competition. With that in mind, our first round tie against Olton, who we have already lost to once in the league this season, took on extra significance. Running through the boards in order:

Phil Holt - Paul Lam. As per usual, Paul and I are going to have a fundamental disagreement about the quality of one of his openings with black. He thought he was slightly worse, but in general was quite happy with his position and felt he had a clear plan for what he was aiming to do. I on the other hand, thought he was just worse more or less straight away (imagine playing a Ruy Lopez 2 or 3 tempi down, having exchanged one of your more important minor pieces). However, what cannot be denied is that, after Phil blundered in time trouble just before the first time control, Paul emerged an exchange up, with queen and rook against queen and bishop, with 3 pawns apiece. Not a trivial win, but one we would nevertheless expect him to convert. Unfortunately, a couple of unusual tactical oversights led to him blundering first one pawn, and then his remaining two, meaning it was now queen and rook versus queen, bishop and 3 pawns, and a whole lot less clear. Wisely, Paul now decided to offer a draw before he also put his rook en prise, and the point was shared.

Andrew Paterson - Alan Lloyd. A Kings Indian player with black himself, it was almost inevitable that, finding himself on the white side of the opening this time, Andy would choose the most boring line possible, the exchange variation. A virtually symmetrical pawn structure results, with white having very slightly greater piece activity, but the vast majority of games will slowly wind down into draws. However, white always has the hope that his slight space advantage will open up tactical possibilities, and so it proved here as Andy was able to grab a pawn on the queenside, and gradually convert this advantage to a very smooth success.

Mark Cundy - Mark Page. Mark's game, I think it is fair to say, was perhaps a little less smooth, even if the same overall result was ultimately achieved. Fresh from his first coaching session at the age of (insert insulting number here) we were all hoping for a smooth positional victory, hopes that were somewhat confounded when, on the black side of a Najdorf defence, he found himself a pawn down after only around 15-20 moves. He was ultimately able to win it back, but only at the expense of an inferior position where it appeared his opponent was going to able to slowly press for the rest of the game, with a draw the best result we could hope for. However, clearly Mark's coaching has at least taught him some cheap tactical tricks, as an oversight by his opponent was swiftly punished, and the most likely result reversed in the matter of a few minutes.

Joshua Pink - Francis Batchelor. This game very nearly went down as a smooth victory, as from the white side of a Sicilian Dragon, I found myself a few tempos up on the normal move order, and hence my kingside attack was crashing through long before black got any real counterplay going on the queenside. Sensing imminent catastrophe for his king, my opponent started throwing all his pieces forward in a flurry of unsound sacrifices. Unfortunately, in my attempts to be ultra-cautious and not spoil my fine position, I kept declining material, and soon found myself under severe attack without even having as many pieces for it as I could have done. A flurry of very concerning tactics around the time control (you know things have gone really wrong when I find myself with less than a minute for 4 moves - not my usual style) eventually, and fortuitously, resolved themselves in my favour and, after a series of mass exchanges, we ended up in an endgame where I had a knight and 5 pawns, and my opponent a rook and 2. Most likely a winning advantage, but a difficult one to convert, requiring precise play to avoid the rook becoming too active. Or, alternatively, my opponent might just blunder the rook and give me the game for free.

Richard Smith - Carl Pickering. A slightly confusing game this one. Carl's opponent played a very aggressive line against Carl's Dutch defence (1. d4 f5 2. h3 Nf6 3. g4) but, after Carl declined the gambit, entirely switched strategies and started to play extremely passively. This gave Carl ample time to build up a fine position, win a pawn, and transition into a close to winning heavy piece endgame. Some good defence meant he was unfortunately unable to convert, but a well played game where I don't think Carl was worse at any point.

Final score: Kenilworth 4 - 1 Olton

The score could perhaps have been even more impressive at one stage, but nonetheless, I don't think this is a result we can complain about. Next up is either Solihull or Stratford in the semi-finals.

Carve Their Names With Pride!

Tuesday October 6th was an historic day for Kenilworth Chess Club, as we made our debut in the Coventry League, with an away match against Rugby A. Having been fast tracked straight into Division 1, there are going to be no easy matches for us this season. Sure enough, although our first match saw us only slightly outgraded on average, we were heavily outrated on Boards 3 and 4, and indeed only on Board 1 did we have any rating advantage. But the team rose splendidly to the challenge and, right at the death, secured a dramatic draw in a match which had been too close to call all evening. Gentlemen a-bed in Kenilworth shall think themselves accursed they were not there!

The new campaign has its first hero, and his name is Ben! He played a really excellent game against Nalin Kadodwala's Alekhine, and after getting all his pieces onto very strong squares jumped in with a Bxg6 sac and some nice tactics which won material. This was a massive boost for the team. And it looked likely to get even better as Roy recovered from a very ropey opening to get a crushing attack against Jamie Kearney's long castled king. With a nice bishop sac on d6 (which should never have been accepted) he ripped open the a, b and c files and had the White king at his mercy with queen and two rooks threatening mayhem. But he rushed to win his piece back instead of playing directly for mate and the position eventually stabilised into Q+R+2 for Roy against Q+R+1. I expected a draw (though the White king was floating about in the middle of the board so Roy still had an edge) when I was alerted by a heartfelt cry of "Bollocks!" from across the room. My heart sank. Roy had made a bone-head blunder and lost a rook. What a disaster, after such an enterprising game.

And then Mike went down to Bob Wildig on Board 2 after a very tense struggle. He played a very enterprising opening as Black which ended with a Black pawn getting to e3. It stayed there for many moves, but it always looked like a sitting duck. Eventually the tactics which were keeping it alive ran out, and once it fell off the game went downhill, putting us 2-1 down.

And so to a position I have been in a few times before, where I had to win to save the match. I guess this is what happens when you play stodgy chess, and are nearly always the last to finish. Anyway, I got nothing from an insipid opening against Jonathan Cox, and had to play quite carefully to avoid being worse. We got into a double rook and knight ending where I thought I was pushing for an edge, but then things started to go wrong. I made an inexplicable knight tour from d2 to c4 to e5 to d7 to c5 only to find that when he played b6 the only square I could go to was a4. Meanwhile the Black knight jumped right into my position and I was grovelling. Luckily time trouble intervened and Jon started to go wrong. We got down to a rook ending with level material, but he pushed a pawn to e3 and I rounded it up. But then I played a stupid move which left a pawn en prise but very luckily he didn't take it. Then he mistakenly swapped off the rooks thinking he was invading with his king down the h file, but I had an easy way to generate a passed d pawn which he couldn't stop.

So a drawn, and highly exciting, match where the team performed above expectations - although the bad news is that most of the other teams in the league are likely to be stronger - and some considerably stronger at that. Nevertheless, our intrepid squad (we few, we happy few, we band of brothers!) is up and running, and we at least have our first point on the board.