Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Opposite ****** Bishops

The final match of the first half of our inaugural Coventry League campaign saw us make the short journey to play Coventry A.  Both teams were on 50% at the start of the evening, so a close match was expected - and so it proved.

With him having no PTA, WI, WRVS or PDSA meetings scheduled, Stuart was finally able to make his League debut, and found himself facing Dave Filer, who had beaten Roy a few weeks ago in the match against Coventry B. Despite being heavily out-graded, Stuart played a model game, and although he temporarily shed a queenside pawn, he soon won it back, and even stood better in the final position, though with no way to make progress. Still, a very creditable draw. I would tell you what the opening was, but Stuart seems to use a notation of his own, and his score sheet defied all my attempts at interpretation.

Things didn't go so well for last week's hero, Ben on Board 3. Against Ed Goodwin's French he tried a strange system involving f4 and B to d3 to c2, but without castling or playing d4. Ed seemed to open the position up favourably and ultimately annexed a piece to put Coventry one up.

I had been pressing very slightly against Dave Ireland on Board 1, but without actually having any advantage. In an equal rook and pawn ending I went very slightly wrong and lost a pawn, but the position was much simplified and even I couldn't contrive to actually lose.

Which left Carl on Board 2 playing against our very own Joshua. (The Coventry A board order was actually against the rules, as they knew very well, but short of looking like bad losers, what can you do?) Joshua played in, shall we say, primitive fashion against Carl's Caro Kann and went for the jugular. However, Carl stood firm and sensibly fled the danger area by castling queen side at the right moment. Then he began to jump out. And then he began to annex some material. And then he was three pawns up and only opposite bishops were left. The position required some care, but it was clearly winning. Unfortunately Carl saw but rejected the right idea, and instead ended up with two pawns against none, but with no way to force either one home. So one of the great injustices of chess - opposite ****** bishops - came to Joshua's rescue, and denied Carl a deserved win. And so we lost by the narrowest margin, 2.5-1.5, and go into the winter league break in sixth position.

We've been competitive in every match except one, in what is a much stronger league than in recent seasons, despite only once fielding our four highest graded players. We might be hard pressed to repeat these heroics after Christmas, but we should already be safe from the possibility of finishing last, which was my sole aim at the start of the campaign. Thanks to everyone who has turned out for us, especially Ben who has been both an ever present and a heroic match winner on more than one occasion.

We still have one more game before Christmas, with an away KO Cup match against Division 3 Rugby C, who get an enormous start on handicap, on December 8th so that we have to win at least 3.5-0.5 to get through. News of this in a couple of weeks time, when I'm hoping I won't be reporting on a Cup giant-killing!

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Storm Barney Fails to Blow KCC Off-Course

It was a wild and windswept night as our intrepid Coventry League squad set out for North Warwickshire to take on pre-season favourites, but apparent under-performers, Nuneaton A. We had our strongest team of the season in action, and we certainly needed it as our opponents fielded their strongest side and enjoyed large rating advantages on boards two and four, where they played the White pieces.

Strange events began to occur very early on. I strolled over to look at Ben's position on Board 4, and had trouble assessing the material situation. He seemed to be down a bishop and a pawn. But then I looked closer and while he had a queen, Colin Green did not! Yes, the Nuneaton man had got his queen trapped right out of the opening on a4. Maybe because he had nothing better to do, he played on for the best part of another 2 hours before resigning, after the position slowly evolved via exchange after exchange into queen versus bishop.

But because of this delaying tactic, we were actually one down, as Mike had succumbed to a vicious early attack from Phil Briggs, from what I guess was a Blackmar-Diemer Gambit. The game did not make pretty viewing and Mike was rather depressed by the standard of his play. Time to gird those loins for the fights ahead, Mike. We need you!

The other two games were rather more conventional. On 3, Carl played a variation of his rather turgid QP opening against Tony Green's Chigorin style set up. Nothing much happened until an ending arose in which Carl had a bad bishop and Tony had a good knight. The Black king was also more active and it looked as though the position could be difficult to hold. Surprisingly, though, no sooner had the clocks been put back than a draw was agreed. Possibly a lucky escape for us, though maybe it was difficult to actually make progress for Black.

Which left me, again, as the last man standing. I played a highly enterprising (ie unsound) opening, but Andrew Paterson (yes, it was another inter-necine battle!) didn't try to refute my play, but just made sensible moves instead. He then spiced things up with an interesting pawn sac, which left me with doubled isolated c pawns. The position was very complex, and just before the time control, I made what I thought was a winning lurch with a knight jump to b5 and a pawn push to e5, which had twin threats to win either an exchange or a piece. However, Andy had calculated better and he was able to take both my c pawns so that at the time control I was a pawn down in a rook ending, and possibly losing. But he immediately went wrong and I was able to reach a drawn position as my active rook blockaded his passed a pawn and simultaneously attacked his shattered king side pawn structure, so that he couldn't make any progress.

So an excellent 2-2 draw for us, and while our winning run stopped at 2 matches, we extended our unbeaten run to 3. Quite galling, therefore, to discover that we actually dropped a position to 6th as a consequence of other results. One more league game to go for us in the first half of the season, with next week's local derby against Coventry A.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

What Kind of Chess Player Are You?

Here's a mildly interesting way to pass a spare five minutes (of which I seem to have quite a few these days!). Take the Chess Personality Test here.

For what it's worth, I am apparently a Surgeon in the mould of Emanuel Lasker. Feel free to post your result as a Comment below, so we can see what the overall profile of the club is. I think I can fairly confidently predict which category our esteemed Webmaster and First Team Captain will fall into.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Chugging along

This week presented us with a potentially tough fixture, against previously unbeaten Shirley (admittedly, they had only played 2 games thus far). We were therefore delighted when this match was marked by a rare sighting of the lesser-spotted Baruch, a rare and delicate creature that often goes into hiding when spooked by, for example, being asked to play in a chess match. Nevertheless, on this occasion Andy was present and seemed to equalise very easily as black against Matthew Long. It was a symmetrical English, and Andy was either completely equal or perhaps even slightly better when, out of nowhere, he simply blundered a pawn. Fortunately, as so often happens on these occasions, the two tempi it took for his opponent to capture the pawn and then retreat his piece gave Andy time to create at least some compensation in the form of more actively placed pieces. His blunder thus converted itself into a sound positional sacrifice as his opponent was forced first to give back then pawn, and then convert into a worse rook and knight endgame. A slow grinding win was probably achievable but Andy decided to go for something more comprehensive when, after an exchange of rooks, he sacrificed his knight to end up with 4 extra pawns. A knight would usually struggle against that many pawns, even if they were isolated and a long way back, and in this case they were connected and quite a way forward. Thus, they simply steamrollered home and the transformation for pawn blundering incompetence to smooth victory was fully achieved.

Andy Paterson, on board 2, once again opened with the slightly limp variation of the English which he seems to have taken up recently, which his opponent responded to with a King's Indian Defence set-up. Andy's more aggressive instincts then took over and he began pushing all his pawns forward, ending up with pawns no c4, e4, f5 and g4 whilst none of his opponents pawns had passed the third rank. The key in such positions is usually whether black can undermine and ultimately collapse the white pawn centre with a well timed break, but on this occasion Andy's opponent opted for passive defence instead. Whilst this gave him an optically sound position, it meant that Andy's advantage in space was never challenged, and consequently he found it much easier to manoeuvre his pieces to better squares, whilst black was more or less paralysed, and eventually found the optimum configuration to push through his advantage to victory.

Mark, as always seems to happen when we play Shirley, found himself up against Keith Ingram, this time with the black pieces. A Najdorf Sicilian duly resulted, in which Keith went for an early Bh3 threatening both f5 and various potential sacrifices on 36 against Mark's uncastled king. For a number of moves there seemed the possibility of both attempting pawn storms and trying various piece sacrifices. However, as so often happens when this many attacking options are available, white kept waiting for the optimal possible moment to attack, and consequently never did so, allowing back to create the usual Sicilian counterplay on the queenside. By means of a queen infiltration, Mark was eventually able to grab some material, which ultimately proved sufficient to decide the game. Notably, for all the possible attacking chances white had towards the start, by the time he resigned the white kingside attack had progressed no further than the position around move 12. A salutary lesson in the dangers of waiting too long for the perfect moment to strike.

Finally, in my game, my opponent blundered a pawn on move 3. I am aware that some people might consider what he played a sacrifice, but my very solid results in this position have led me to conclude that is really is pretty much just a pawn. Fortunately for me as well, my opponent repeated a line which I very recently lost in (I believe my only classical chess loss in this variation) during a county championship game, and hence is one of the very few positions I have actually bothered to look up and check. My usual brief and incoherent notes are presented below:

Final score: Kenilworth A 4-0 Shirley A

A very fine result, an almost competent performance, and I believe if you scroll down Mark will have more good news to report to you from the Coventry League.

There's No Justice In Life!

If we felt hard done by a couple of weeks back when we lost a match we should have won against Warwick University B, then the boot was most definitely on the other foot last night, as we edged home 2.5-1.5 in our latest Coventry League match. But apart from relief, embarrassment was probably the greatest emotion from our narrow and undeserved victory over league basement dwellers Coventry B (whose record is now Played 5, Lost 5).

The team, chosen several weeks/months ago, underwent a late change as Stuart was forced to miss his Coventry League debut by a PTA Meeting. Kids, eh? But like the trooper he is, Stuart rustled up his own substitute and Roy returned to the team in his place. And it was Roy who was the first to finish on Board 4, eventually being unable to delay his seemingly inevitable blunder any longer and losing the exchange against Dave Filer in what was surely a totally drawn position.

For once I was not the last to finish, as on top board I grovelled to a draw against our very own Bernard C, who played a nice opening and soon planted a knight on c4 which radiated strength and near paralysed my position. I was forced to play for exchanges, but things were still slightly awkward. However, after Bernard declined a chance to open up the queen side for his a1 rook through a timely a3 break, it became difficult to find a plan to make any progress and just before the time control he offered a draw which I was in no position to decline.

The one ray of light in the match had been Mike's position on Board 2, as he completely outplayed Bob Holmes on the White side of a Bogo-Indian set up. First he occupied some strong squares; then he won a centre pawn; then he occupied the important open file; and then he pushed his passed e pawn to the seventh to force resignation. A very smooth victory that looked almost effortless.

Which left the match all square and Ben grovelling on Board 3 against John Harris. The middle game was very complex, but when it simplified to Q & R each, Ben had an extra pawn but a near lost position, as his pawn structure was in ruins and his two pieces unable to co-ordinate. The extra pawn went, and White could have had a draw by perpetual whenever he wanted, or exchanged into a rook ending with definite winning chances. Instead he took a meaningless pawn which allowed Ben's passive queen to jump into f3, with a Rd1 follow up now impossible to stop. From nowhere Ben had a mating attack, and from looking like a loss we had won. It was impossible not to feel sorry for John, and indeed our opponents as a whole, since they didn't deserve this. And they certainly don't deserve to be stuck on zero points, having now lost four matches by the minimum score.

We will need to play better than this next week, when the fixture list sends us into the wilds of North Warwickshire to play a very strong Nuneaton A side. This Coventry League malarkey is turning out to be a very interesting ride!

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Step 4

I am away in Devon at the moment, doing rather badly in the Beacon  50-65's tournament (age not grading!) at Exmouth. In my absence Ben has filed the following report with news of a really excellent win in the Coventry League - our first! - against Nuneaton B.

Take it away, Ben:-

Mark had asked me if I would stand in as captain for our home match against Nuneaton B. Given I had vaguely thought we were playing away; wasn't sure who our team was; where the equipment was stored; or how to work the clocks, I was the ideal candidate for this honour. Fortunately Mark was kind enough to write the team an e-mail on all of these points, which stood us in good stead. Perhaps most crucially he added as step 4 "commence game and win." Whilst Mark's 100% record (if only - its actually 83%!) has been key for the team so far, on this occasion it was the clarity of team instruction which seemed to do the trick.

Mike reacquainted himself with Maurice Staples after some battles going back over the years. It looked like a very tight game, with no quarter given and a draw was the right result.

Similarly Carl's game looked pretty even from what I could see and ended in a draw around the same time.

At this point things were not looking particularly clear. Dave had sacrificed a pawn for a lot of pressure in a position dominated by Queen's and Rooks. I had survived a difficult opening and was basically level. At this point my opponent metaphorically launched himself at me, sacrificing a Knight to open up my King. Enterprising from him and nerve wracking for me but I managed to defend and his position and his time both deteriorated rapidly. His flag fell, but in a position he said he would have resigned post time control anyway.

This left Dave needing to draw to get us the two points. It looked very double edged but Dave had an opportunity to repeat moves and his opponent agreed the draw.

So our first win of the season which makes up a bit for the near miss against University A.

With Mark back in the fold next week to add his skill to his instructions, Step 4 might become a bit more taken as read going forward. Fingers crossed!