Wednesday, 30 November 2016

A bitter night...

We were at home to Rugby last night, in the Coventry League Divisional Cup, on the coldest night of the year so far. Sadly, our Chess ended up doing little to warm the heart.

Things started strangely when Rugby told us at 6.45 that they were a player short. My attempts to let Roy know this failed and he was of course the first person to turn up at the Club. He was very gracious about no longer having a game, so thanks Roy for that... All jokes re previous questions on his reliability should now cease... (Albeit Roy, just a gentle reminder that the next Cup game is on the 13th.)

Hence we started 1 - 0 up and whilst we were a little out-graded (I think) it wasn't by much. For a large chunk of the evening things looked good, unfortunately just not the last bit. Mike was the first to finish on Board two. A typical Mike game against Simon Turner. Kings castled on opposite sides of the Board and Mike all guns blazing on the king side. Certainly Mike looked to have all the chances, but Simon defended well and Mike became the first Kenilworth player to a thousand draws in the season (or some such.) Again a case of so close, but no cigar...

My game against James Kearney wasn't great. Quite quiet, with the Queens off early for the second night in a row for me. James burned through his time, but managed to make incremental improvements. I misjudged where he was likely to place his Bishop and ended up in a very difficult position. We ended up in an ending with him having Rook, Bishop and Pawns vs my Rook and more pawns. I did get quite a bit of play, but the end was sadly inevitable...

This left Dave, who is definitely this seasons points machine, but sadly it wasn't his night either. Dave looked to me to be better throughout, but it ended up wildly complicated, with both Dave and Patrick Reid very short of time. Dave swapped Rooks when perhaps there was a tactical shot on, but even from the comfort of the sidelines I wasn't 100% sure and it was very tricky. However, after the exchange of Rooks, Patrick's Knight became the dominant piece and Dave's position became untenable. Dave definitely deserved more, but of course has got more for us on many occasions this season.

So we lost 1.5 - 2.5 for our second successive defeat in this competition. Dave's the captain the next time we play in this and Carl will be back - I'm sure it's just a matter of time until we get things moving!

I did also reflect on Leamington v Coventry League this season. Kenilworth A are second in Division 1 and the B and C teams are joint top of Division 2. Great stuff and we just need to find a way to capture a fraction of this form when on Coventry duty!

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Seeing Double

After a prolonged hibernation due to the vagaries of the fixture list, the A team sprang back into Leamington League action last night with a tricky match against a rather useful Solihull B. Our top two players were, Achilles-like, resting in their tents, and so squad depth was once more put to the test. Happily, we sailed through with flying colours, notching up a very impressive 3.5-0.5 win.

After the first few moves I thought my new glasses had developed a fault and I was seeing double - our two White players had chosen the same variation against the French, and our two Black players had chosen the same variation of .... another opening. (We don't need to give too much information away, do we?) Apparently, we have now adopted team openings! Naturally, though, any similarities didn't last very long.

Ben was first to finish (at 8.20!) with a rapid and very boring draw on Board 4 against Julian Summerfield. Clearly the players had taken their cue from the equally turgid 12th game between Carlsen and Karjakin being played simultaneously. Or else Ben had a very pressing engagement!

But then the real excitement started. Andrew played a splendid game with the black pieces against Tom Thorpe on Board 1. He found a long combination which first won an exchange for a pawn, but subsequently appeared to lose at least another pawn. However, he had seen it all coming, and he promptly delivered a mating attack to force an early resignation!

I was generally in control on Board 2 against Neil Clarke, apart from one slightly dodgy moment when he could have sacked a piece for a couple of pawns to mess things up and generate some play. Missing that chance, I forced the win of the exchange, and then set up a decisive attack with two rooks and a bishop that was about to win more material or deliver mate when he resigned.

Which left Carl in play on Board 3 against Tony Sadler. Although I was sat next to this game, I could hardly bear to look for most of the evening. Tony threw the proverbial kitchen sink at Carl's king, and at one point was two pieces down but with horrendous threats down the h file. I feared for Carl's chances but somehow he kept avoiding mate and when I next checked the position had resolved itself into two rooks for white against Carl's rook, bishop and three pawns. As 2 of them were connected, it looked like a clear win for Carl - until he simply put one of them en prise. All Tony then had to do was give back the exchange to eliminate Carl's g pawn, and leave a totally drawn R&P v R position where his king was right in front of Carl's last pawn. But he missed his chance, and making the most of this reprieve, Carl got his g pawn to g3 where finally Tony gave back the exchange to eliminate it. But his king had strayed to the f file by this time and Carl's c pawn looked likely to win the day. Instead of which Tony made things much simpler and blundered into mate as the clock ticked down. Epic stuff! And much more exciting than the World Championship!!

Friday, 25 November 2016

Exchange Rate Crisis

On a night when there were more Sicilians in a single room than at any time since the making of the Godfather films, Kenilworth somehow only managed a 2-2 Cov League draw against bottom placed Coventry A. This was all due to the fact that it is clearly not only the pound which has collapsed since the Brexit vote - an exchange is also now not worth what it once was.

But I am ahead of myself, because firstly, congratulations have to go to Dave, who scored an excellent win on Board 4 with the Black pieces, playing a model Sicilian in which White pushed and pushed until the point where Black jumped out and took over all the good squares and files freed up by White's pawn advances. So a second consecutive win for Dave, who takes over as our top performer for the season.

Regrettably this was due to the fact that I lost for the second game in a row, with White, to a lower graded player. How I pine for those early season matches, when I was unbeaten and the team were getting soundly thrashed. Or does that sound too egocentric? Dave Ireland administered my latest beating, navigating through a sea of complications to exploit an extra pawn.

And now we return to the exchange rate crisis. Ben was an exchange up against our very own Bernard C on Board 2, and seemed to be winning, while Mike was an exchange up against Ed Goodwin on Board 3 and had a massive passed (and extra) c pawn to boot. Looked like 2-0 to us on those boards and a comfortable match victory. But incredibly the Coventry players hung in there and took their chances when they came along to emerge with 2 draws. So not only did we have to settle for a draw, but I had the added guilt of being responsible for us not winning. I guess this is what is known as a double whammy.

Anyway, that's it for League action for a few weeks, but we go into the mid-season break in sixth position with just 3 points. Thankfully that is two more than Coventry have. My New Year's resolution is to try and lose less often. This may be easier said than done.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Ben is Back!

The good news from Division 1 of the Coventry League is that last season's sex- I mean points - machine and Clubman of the Year, Ben Graff was right back to his best on Tuesday night in our away match against Nuneaton A. After a difficult start to the campaign, he showed great "bouncebackability" (courtesy of Iain Dowie) to chalk up an excellent win against Colin Green. He first won a pawn and then traded down to a queen ending. Colin gave up a second pawn to maximise his chances of perpetual check, but Ben kept his cool, avoided all the tricks and shepherded his c pawn all the way down the board to queen.

The bad news is that by this stage we had already lost the match. I went down in flames on Board 1 against our very own Player of the Year, Andrew Paterson, who put aside any sense of club loyalty by absolutely crushing me with the black pieces in 26 moves. The moral of this tale is don't just play the same moves you know in one opening variation when you are actually playing a completely different variation. I really should know that - the clue is in the word different after all. Anyway, so much for my unbeaten start to the season.

Carl was suffering against Maurice Staples on Board 2, having voluntarily taken on doubled f pawns on move 3. By way of chess justice, White's 4 v 3 majority on the queenside eventually yielded up a passed pawn, but Carls' self-compromised 4 kingside pawns couldn't follow suit until it was way too late. A White c pawn yomped down the board and won the Black rook.

Which meant that we needed Mike to win on Board 4 to draw the match. His opponent started 1 a3, which is not the most respectful of opening moves. It transposed to a London System, where White castled queenside, and eventually felt obliged to justify his first move by following up with b4 which was not a good idea. With the White king looking very draughty, we had every reason to hope for a Black win, but unfortunately it didn't come, as after White snatched a red hot pawn on d5 in mutual time trouble, Mike offered a draw. White accepted and Nuneaton won by 2.5-1.5.

Friday, 11 November 2016

Something to do with a Brewery?

Now that got your attention!

I was scheduled to play Steve Rumsby on Monday in the individual open rapid KO and I can honestly say that the Chess was completely faultless. So why not publish these masterpieces I hear you say...

Well unfortunately no moves were actually played. My first hint that something might be wrong came when I entered Banbury's RAF venue to a startled look from the regulars (both of them) who told me Banbury didn't play on a Monday. Albeit, individual games did sometimes take place, so surely things were OK.

However, time ticked on and no sign of Steve. I phoned his house. His wife answered. He'd set off for a match. Praise be! Unfortunately, he'd headed to Kenilworth... I rang the Abbey Club and we had a nice chat.

Sadly, in all of our emails arranging the match, which had led to us being completely aligned on the date and start time, neither of us had ever mentioned the venue...

Just the sort of organizational capacity you'd hope for from the League Chairman and Fixtures Secretary...

I fear our re-arranged match will be less faultless in terms of the actual Chess. But I'm hopeful we'll manage to be in the same county and some moves might get played!

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Can you see the similarity?

You would be amazed how often people mention to me the similarities they see between the Manchester United team of the late 1990s and Kenilworth B. Ok - strictly speaking you wouldn't be - as this has never actually happened, but stick with me as I explain...

After three September matches had left us top of Division 2, we then had six weeks without a game. Just as Manchester United once skipped the FA cup to play in the world club championship, leaving whilst top of the Premier League and returning many weeks later to find they were still top, Kenilworth B found themselves in a remarkably similar position. Of course where as Manchester United had been sunning themselves in Brazil, we had been spending up our time racking up an inordinate number of losses in the Coventry League (especially me.) But no matter, we were still top of the League despite our long lay off, as we headed to Daventry last night to play their A team.

No team bus, no throng of autograph hunters on our arrival. Just the usual bitterly cold November night and some vague musing as to where best to park. Once through this, we settled down and ground our way to victory!

Mike drew with Kevin Bowman on 2. It looked quite interesting to me. [Mark might have had a different view.] Phil seemed to go from even against Abbie Stevens into a superior endgame which he won very comfortably. Dave definitely cementing his man of the match/ player of the week status won comfortably against Alan Ely for his second victory in successive nights. Go Dave!

So we were 2.5 - 0.5 up, which just left it for me to fail to make the same escape from "ground hog" day that the Coventry League team had made the previous day. My game against Stephen Willetts followed a pretty familiar pattern for me of late. It was very long (well over 100 moves, I'd lost track by the end and we were both down to a minute or two each on the clock.) It was very complex and exciting, with me on the defensive for a lot of it. Ultimately we got down to Queen, Bishop and three (Steve) vs Queen and 5 (me), but in the flurry at the end I missed the best defence and extended my recent run... To be fair, Steve's last grade was 176 and I didn't play badly. As we all know Chess is great when you win and painful when you don't, but there's always another game!

Most importantly the Manchester United esq/ Kenilworth B march on! Albeit, the speculation that Roy Watson is doubling as a super agent and is poised to make Anish Giri our next signing (doubtless to replace the current misfiring Board 1!) remain unfounded. (At least I hope so...)

So not the best night for me personally, but a great one for the team and we move on... We were close to promotion last year and we are really giving this a great shot!

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Escape From Groundhog Day

After the first three Coventry League fixtures of the season things looked pretty bleak for our plucky squad. Three matches and three defeats. Three defeats by 3.5-0.5, in fact. Three defeats by 3.5-0.5, with just a solitary draw on Board 1, actually. In each and every match. We badly needed to escape from this recurring nightmare. Thankfully, just like in our debut season last year, Nuneaton B came to our rescue!

Not that it was easy. They (slightly) outgraded us on every board for a start, and they came in to the match with a 100% league record from their first two fixtures. But even so, it was such a relief to be in a reasonably balanced encounter and not to be facing one of the University juggernauts.

Mike D was first to finish on Board 3, readily holding a draw with Black against Dave Kearney. It was a strange sort of Pirc where both sides got some good squares, but didn't seem to have any obvious ways to improve. Mike assures me it was strategically tense and subtle, and that he might have tried a promising pawn sac, but in truth it didn't score high on spectator appeal.

Carl followed soon after with a more exciting draw on Board 2 against Tony Green. A balanced middle game erupted into some nasty tactics when Tony gave up two minor pieces for a rook and two pawns. Carl's king was open, and his two bishops didn't have any good diagonals, but Tony likewise had problems getting his rooks into the White position, and a draw by repetition seemed a fair result.

Then things moved decisively in our favour. In a complex position, originally arising from an Owen's Defence - but looking for all the world like a French - Dave and Mike Maher had a complex Board 4 encounter, that I didn't see too much of. Dave was pressing against the Black king, but Mike seemed to be infiltrating down the b file to get at the White king. I have no idea who, if anyone was winning, but Mike managed to lose on time with one move to make. Dave had become the first Kenilworth player to win a Coventry League Division 1 game this season, and we were at least sure of our first match point. It just needed me not to mess up for it to become two match points.

My game had been very tense and exciting almost from the beginning. White (Phil Briggs) went for a big kingside pawn push in a Closed Sicilian and I tried to break open the centre with my own pawn advances. It was mighty difficult and I was not sure whether I was better or worse for almost the entire game. (Fritz tells me it was generally level-ish, but it was well beyond my non-silicon brain to appreciate this.) But then right before the time control I found a couple of good moves to win a pawn and break up the White pawn mass, and in hastening to win his pawn back, Phil overlooked a sneaky bishop pin, which led to a forced win of the exchange for me. I then hastened to swap the queens off and found a slow but inevitable way to win, with Rook and 4 against Bishop and 4, which secured a 3-1 victory for us.

And not only did we kick start our League points total, but we also managed to climb off the bottom of the table as Coventry A remain pointless, albeit with a game in hand on us. We would be facing a relegation 6 pointer against them in a few weeks time, if it weren't for the fact that there is no relegation!