Thursday, 30 November 2017

Should I stay or should I go

Often during a match, you have to make an assessment of the match position and likely outcome and decide if you should stay on and play on for a win or play safely and go and accept a draw. Last night no such decision could be made as most of the games were even and all outcomes likely. At about 10.05, the dust settled and would you believe it, we had either won or were winning every game. Who saw that coming!

The only game where one side held an advantage for most of the time was board 3 where Bernard was playing Frank Jimenez. The advanced French by transposition had left Bernard with a good position in an unusual line of this defence and he quite quickly won an exchange as a result of a tatical oversight. The position became a little bogged down but eventually black broke through on the kingside. When white lost a knight he resigned and Bernard got the early bus!

Dave on board 4 was playing a new Shirley player Ken Mycock. Playing white he faced a Ruy Lopez berlin defence and as usual with this defence black gets a slightly cramped but solid position. With neither side interested in a draw, play continued right up until the time control. When both sides were down to about two minutes and a few moves still to play, black opted to try and infiltrate whites queen side with his queen and win the a pawn. With the black queen offside, white attacked in the centre and unfortunately black missed a mating threat at the end of a short sequence. Black resigned when mate was inevitable.

Mike was playing white against Jon Freeman on baord 2. Another transpositional game that  produced a sound line of the Bogo-Indian. Black allowed white to expand his queen side, essentially blocking in his pieces by preventing the freeing move c5 and allowing white full reign in the center. Whilst black remarshaled his forces white attention turned to the king side and his resulting king side attacks ultimately proved conclusive.

Ben was playing Dave Thomas on top board and a long queens pawn game ensued with the advantage shifting back and forth. The resulting ending left white with a bad bishop and black with a severely penned in bishop of the same colour. White's refusal of blacks draw offer was probably a mistake in hindsight and was made as a result of the match position rather this his game position. Sometimes you just have to go! Playing on in an inferior ending is often risky and black was able to create a a passed centre pawn which proved decisive as white had to give up his bishop for it. When black queened a pawn for the second time, white had to concede.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Playing for laughs

This blog may well confuse you, relating as it does to our Coventry League match against Nuneaton B, which took place last Tuesday. Heck, I've even managed to play twice for Kenilworth since that night, so what can I say? Busy and all that, I suppose. To compound matters, I've lost the notes Mike sent me on his game, I saw nothing of the other games and we lost 2.5-1.5, but other than all that I am absolutely thrilled as I sit down to finally write these probably not especially informative (see above) words.

So, let's go back in time to last Tuesday... With our embattled leader taking the night off to watch Rob Brydon, it fell to the rest of us to ease the pressure on him (obviously we failed), as we took on Nuneaton B for the second time in a handful of weeks. Having defeated them in the Divisional Cup not that long ago, identical teams lined up with the same colours for the re-match, but unfortunately the result did not go our way.

Carl drew with Tony Green and Mike drew with Dave Kearney, before Dave succumbed to Mike Maher to leave us 2-1 down. Dave said of his game, “With black pieces, I played a Nimzo-Indian defence. Unfortunately I didn't play the opening very well and had to allow white to double my kingside pawns. I managed to sacrifice a pawn to provide some counter play but this only left me with a drawn out inferior ending. White played well and I was unable to hold the ending."

So that left me.. A few weeks ago, my game against P Briggs was one of my most traumatic defeats of the season (and there have been a lot of candidates, let's be honest.) That night I had built up a great position, lost my way and somehow managed to lose an endgame in which I was probably winning as my clock ticked down to zero. For a horribly long time it looked like history was going to repeat itself. I played the opening well, built up a lot of pressure and was really firing into Black’s position. However, some very good defending followed and in the end Phil gave up his Queen for two Rooks, which ended my attack. I was convinced I was still better, but his Rooks co-ordinated well and suddenly I was really up against it. I dropped a pawn and was in all sorts of danger of getting mated or having my Queen pinned to my King. By some miracle I found the best defence and Phil then went for a tempting check that seemed to ease the pressure.

With my flag literally hanging Mike blundered a Rook, to leave me up Queen v Rook but with no time. Why anyone likes analogue clocks I do not know, as when up against it is helpful to have some idea as to whether you have ten seconds or a minute... I agreed the draw and the subsequent check showed I had been at about 45 seconds, so it was probably the right decision, although very frustrating as a full point would have salvaged something.

It's one of those seasons!

As Rob Brydon might have said in Gavin and Stacey - we are a cracking bunch of lads - so surely our luck will turn soon!

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

de Boer, Shakespeare, Koeman, Bilic, Pulis ........ and Page??

Five top flight managers have bitten the dust already this season, and Ladbrokes now make Kenilworth A supremo Mark Page hot favourite to be next. Another shocking home defeat has led to calls for his head from the irate fans (Bernard and Doris Bonkers), and despite a vote of confidence from the club's Executive Committee (comprising the Secretary, Treasurer and Coventry League Captain), Page looks like a dead man walking, as his expensively assembled squad (combined cost £0) stumbles and bumbles it's way towards the relegation zone.

A 3-1 home defeat to Solihull A last night had the crowd (officially recorded at zero) streaming towards the exits long before the final whistle, and the place that they once called Fortress Abbey now offers easy pickings to any visiting team. The manager has clearly lost the dressing room, and could be seen berating club stalwart Carl Pickering after a rather turgid draw (correction the most turgid draw ever) on bottom board against Neil Clark. (It's games like this that will give the Exchange French a bad name if it's not careful.) But this game was a model of accuracy compared to the rest of the match!

And the criticism came back to bite Page in the posterior in no uncertain terms, as he played a disastrous game against Nigel Towers and got his Queen trapped on a2 after grabbing a pawn that was so hot it burned his hand when he captured it. Too punch drunk to resign, and foolishly thinking the match might yet depend on him, a glassy-eyed Page played on for another 30+ moves a queen for a rook down, before succumbing to the inevitable defeat. "Do I not like that," was all the comment he could muster post-game.

Veteran striker Andy Baruch showed tantalising glimpses of his former prowess on his return to the team after an extended stay on the sidelines, but despite pressing for most of the game against Tom Thorpe on board one, his lack of match fitness told and he was eventually relieved to agree to a draw in a slightly worse position in a same coloured bishops ending.

Which left mercurial talent Andrew Paterson to try and rescue the match against evergreen Ray Carpenter on Board 2. The opening was absurd, but for once it wasn't Andrew's fault. Ray's first few moves were b6, Bb7, d6, e6, c6, Be7, g5 and h5. Our man tried to respond in classical style, but couldn't resist trying to find an immediate refutation of the Black set-up. A White bishop was hanging on g6 for many moves and it got so complex it made my head ache. Every time I looked at the board, Black seemed to have more material than White, but maybe I was mis-counting. Because soon I heard Ray offer a draw, only to be met by the response, "I'd like to play on a bit." One move later Andrew resigned. Yes the draw offer and rejection had both been made in a totally won position for Ray. Payback time for the fortunate declined draw in last season's KO Cup Final Board 1 encounter between Paul and Phil Holt?

An ashen faced Page has come out fighting today, telling the media that he expects to be in charge for the rest of the season, and is hoping to free up funds for some wheeling and dealing in the January transfer window. Page may have to sell before he can buy, though, and with the latest valuation of his entire squad coming in at £0, he has little wriggle room. His best hope seems to be to pick up a free transfer or two, while there are even rumours of a shock swoop to bring retired Kenilworth giant (and still quite a big chap) Bernard Rogers back to the club. Though surely things can't be that desperate??

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

We finally managed to find a team that we could beat - other teams are available

After two disappointing results, the B team finally managed to get the upper hand in a match.

Mike played Colin Searle and the opening was played at the usual breakneck speed (by Colin anyway) followed by the rest of the game being played at about 40 seconds a move. Mike managed to trade queens and left black with weak pawns. This allowed Mike to gang up on blacks d6 pawn but good defensive play by black caused all the pieces to be exchanged off leaving a drawn ending. With Colin down to his last 55 minutes, a draw was agreed. Subsequence analysis the following day indicated that the real square to attack would have been e6 rather than d6 but who can see that was a game is played at that speed!

After his last two games Phil opted to play a super solid game against Richard Dobedoe's Birds opening using double fianchettoed bishops. After One and a half hours play, there has been no exchanges although white was building up pressure on the kingside. White then sacrificed a bishop for two pawns and attempted to attack the black king. Unfortunately the position became very complex and a number of opportunities were missed by both sides in the rush to get to the time control. White efforts to generate a successful attack used up so much time that he was unable to play the ending with his remaining few minutes and had to resign when he lost material.

Dave was playing Peter Drury who used a Pirc defence. White was allowed to play a5 which effectively stopped black queen side expansion and also allowed him to establish a knight on b6. Rather than sit of his position black opted to attack on the king side with f5 but unfortunately this only allowed white to win a kingside pawn without any counter play. A second pawn soon fell to leaving black with a difficult ending to defend. Black resigned soon after the time control.

The only loss of the evening for us was in Ben's game against Richard McNally. A long complex game simplified to a double rook, minor piece and pawns ending. White initially had an extra pawn but black managed to win this through a cleaver tactic. However white always had five minutes more on the clock than black. This additional time ultimately proved decisive and illustrates that in our division the board one games can be decided on the very slimmest of margin or advantage.

Nose Bleed Territory

As I sit here typing this report, Kenilworth are tied for first place in Division 1 of the Coventry League after a 3-1 win away against Coventry Chess Academy last night. Well, OK, a pedant might say that we are actually second. Warwick University A do have two games in hand on us, and they do have a slight game point difference (+13 compared to our zero!), but then we have alphabetical order advantage, so it's a bit of a toss up as to who is leading really. Wouldn't you agree?! Anyway, I'm pretty sure we've never risen to such a dizzy height before, so let's enjoy it while it lasts. (Probably not very long.)

Last night's match was almost a Kenilworth love-in, given that six of the eight players are KCC members and another has also played for us - albeit only once, a couple of seasons ago. It was very good of Paul to field his weakest team of the season to make our lives easier, but I'm sure that was an unavoidable coincidence rather than a show of favouritism towards us.

Ben finished first on Board 2, drawing easily against David Phillip's London System. I am coming to the conclusion that this opening should be banned at club level for being too boring and formulaic. if I had played this as a junior, I reckon I would have lost interest in chess in double quick time. God put an e pawn on the board so that White could push it two squares on the first move. Anything else is simply wrong! Bobby Fischer agreed, and his character and judgment were completely irreproachable after all. (Rant over - until Stuart plays this opening against me again on a Thursday evening at The Gauntlet!)

And then the Board 4 game between double agent Roy Watson and KCC loyalist Nick Fesenko finished, with victory going to our man (that's Nick in case you are confused) even though he was a very, very lucky boy! Before the game I gave him strict instructions not to lose to Roy under any circumstances, but for most of the game it seemed he had decided not to listen to me. Straight from the opening the Black position looked to be in ruins. The Black king had to run to d6 and all the queenside pieces were still on their original squares, whereas Roy had developed virtually every piece and shattered the Black kingside structure, at the cost of a measly (doubled) pawn. Even Red Adair (any relation to GM elect James Adair - who beat Paul at the recent 4NCL Coventry Open - I wonder?) would have been hard pressed to troubleshoot this position. A bit later I looked again - amazed to discover that Nick was still alive and now two pawns ahead with queens off the board - just as Nick made a horrendous blunder that allowed Roy a very elementary combination to win a piece. I had to look away, but when I made my next trip to view the "game" it was to discover that Roy had missed the winning move and Nick was now the small matter of 5 (count them, five!) pawns up. We had the point (in fact the decisive point) - but I think chess was the real loser here!

I finished next after a tense but ultimately uninspiring game against Paul. Luckily the crowds had not flocked in to see this heavyweight encounter, as not a lot happened. Opposite side castling and pawn advances occurred, but this was largely posturing, as neither king came under anything that could be called an attack. We reached a position with RRBN v RRNN in which Paul had doubled e pawns, while I had a backward f2 pawn on an open file. Fritz says it was dead level, and the two players agreed. I am ashamed to say, though, that I was 15 minutes down on the clock - against Paul!! And he was additionally distracted by also having to oversee his two other teams (comprising 8 juniors!) as well. I really need to speed up.

I think Paul's draw offer may have occurred because it was obvious all evening that we were eventually going to win on Board 3, and after the complete turnaround in the Roy v Nick encounter, our match victory was basically never in doubt. With Black, Andy Ward sacrificed a piece against Mike on move 5 (Nxe4), and after 6 fxe4 came Qh4+ 7 Ke2 Qxe4+ when Black had two pawns for the missing knight. The White king had to dance around a bit, but it soon became clear that Black's attack simply wasn't happening. The White pieces gradually emerged and swapped off, leaving an ending of BN v B in which the two pawns had no chance. With Mike's knight about to start a demolition tour of the board to annex Black's pawns, Andy resigned.

So a rather flattering 3-1 score-line in our favour, entirely due to the outrageous reversal of fortunes on Board 4. Thanks Roy! (You can take the man out of Kenilworth, but you can't take Kenilworth out of the man.) Meanwhile, looking at the bigger picture, massive congratulations to Paul for his amazing achievements at CCA. In the Div 2 and Div 3 matches, two of his juniors notched up excellent wins against much higher rated adults, and the sight of 9 juniors (some of them very junior indeed!) playing on a single night for one club in the Coventry League is something I never thought I would see. If Kenilworth's recent entry to the Coventry League was a slight boost to a rather moribund competition, then the arrival of 3 CCA teams has been like a blast of fresh air, and we all owe Paul a massive vote of thanks for bringing a new and wholly unexpected vibrancy to the local chess scene. (And also for remembering his roots and letting us have the 2 points!)

Thursday, 9 November 2017

At least we managed to find the venue!

The good news was that we managed to find a venue that the B team had not had to visit for many years in the Leamington League. The bad news was that there was almost no more good news that evening. In fairness to Rugby A they are quite a good side but we felt that we just handed them points due to carelessness.

Ben was playing Patrick Reid for the second time in a few weeks. Whereas his previous encounter had ended in a draw, this game did not despite us having the white pieces. Ben pursuit of a tactic allowed black to gain significant control of Ben's second rank. Despite being short of time, black was able to convert this advantage into a win.

Mike's game against David Phillips was a London system. It looked like white knew the chosen opening line fairly well and this was confirmed at the conclusion was he said that he had played the same position only recently. White's opening played left him with an advantage and black could only draw the game.

Phil's game against Alan Phillips was a short affair featuring a Dutch defence. White's opening play allowed some tactical play to happen which left Phil with a piece less. Further to this Phil failed to take the advantage of an hour and half of free time to visit the Merchant Inn - a particularly good pub in Rugby and not that far from the venue.

Dave's game looked like the only game where we could possibly has got a full point. White irregular version of an irregular sicilian game him no advantage and allowed black to infiltrate his position and break up his kingside pawns. However, despite the promising look of the position, white was able to defend adequately. Both players got very short of time and in the final moves of a time scramble black missed the chance to win white's f pawn and then left his rook without a flight square. Game over.

So that was that. However, we now move to playing Stratford in the next match. 

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Three is a Magic Number

Not just a song title - three also happens to be the number of consecutive Coventry League matches in which we have now avoided defeat; the number of successive home matches in which I have been material up (a pawn; a piece; two pawns) but failed to win; and -most importantly - the number of players that Nuneaton A arrived with last night!

Thankfully they had warned us in advance, so Dave was able to enjoy a night off while chalking up a win from the comfort of his own armchair The rest of us just needed to draw the actual match to secure the two points. And we did it!

Mike played a very strong game against Bob Buckler on Board 3, and won quickly after a bishop sacrifice on g2 destroyed the White defence and won a pawn thanks to a follow up queen fork. But this was the least of Bob's problems, as he had somehow managed to leave himself with 9 seconds (3 x 3 - are you twigging something here?!) for 12 moves! Even Paul has never quite got himself into that predicament. Unsurprisingly, in a losing position, the task of reaching the time control proved impossible and we were 2-0 up.

It looked for most of the evening as though 2-0 would become 3-0, as for once I had quickly obtained a winning position against our very own Andrew Paterson. He overlooked a rather elementary cheapo by me that won a pawn straight out of the opening, and then compounded it by losing another one. I could have won an exchange for a pawn, at the cost of allowing him two rampant bishops, so instead decided to content myself with advancing a pawn to c2, figuring it must win. Andrew grabbed one pawn back as I completed my development, but then found a good way to eliminate my monster c2 pawn by offering his g pawn. I decided to decline this, but after a lengthy sequence it turned out that by a single tempo he could walk his king from g1 to d2 and win the pawn anyway. In a bishop ending it was suddenly me who had to play carefully to secure the draw, but I managed this and the match was won.

Which was just as well, since Carl was seemingly well outplayed by Colin Green with Black, after a Pirc Defence. I think Carl's problems occurred very early - move one in fact, as his score-sheet showed 1 e4 d4 2 Nf6 Bd3 3 g6 Be3 4 Bg7 f3 and so on for 13 moves - when he suddenly noticed that he had been writing down White's moves as Black and vice versa, ever since forgetting to record Black's first move d6. No wonder he was confused and played some ropey old moves. Under pressure late in the game he fell for a monster knight fork which won material and, soon after, the game.

Never mind, it was still two points in the bag and a very respectable league position ahead of our first ever match against Coventry Chess Academy. Watch out Paul - we're coming for you!

Monday, 6 November 2017

The Twelve Knights - Tania Sachdev Simul

After another pretty disastrous week at the chess board, Saturday was a chance for some light relief as I took part in the "Twelve Knights" simultaneous event with Indian Women's Grandmaster Tania Sachdev. This had been organised by Carl Potman. Carl does so much for local chess and this was another terrific occasion  - thank you Carl. Tani has been the Indian Women's champion twice and the Asian champion once and it was a real honour to take part. If anything,  just being around some chess in a bit of a relaxed environment was exactly what I needed. Everybody was so nice, especially Tania and it was really good fun. OK - it didn't hurt that for the first time in far too long I actually managed to win - and with a good tactic!

I had reached the stage where it had seemed to me that ever winning again was somewhat unlikely. I had even considered purchasing a lucky horse shoe, to try and shake things up but ruled such a move out as way too risky, essentially on the grounds that I would most likely either find myself in a lightening storm on the way to the venue and said horse shoe would act as the conductor that saw me electrocuted. Or perhaps more prosaically that if this didn’t happen it would probably fall on my head and render me unconscious during play… It was fair to say that my morale/ confidence levels were not high. And my only remaining option was just to turn up and get on with it…

That said, I had nothing to lose and it was a chance just to enjoy playing and being around chess – that’s why we all play after all. I've struggled to work the software so have written the game moves out below with some analysis. As you will see, I get completely outplayed and end up down the exchange with my King side on the verge of implosion. Having spent quite a lot of time at my board earlier in the game, I think Tania (fairly) thought she had the game well under control (to say the least) and played the losing mistake very quickly at the end. 

I can't claim this is a work of brilliance. In truth I get a big slice of luck (not something that has happened for a while on the board!) Of course I should have lost really. But the tactic at the end is pleasing on the eye. In the final position I am down a Knight and a pawn and both my Queen and remaining Knight are attacked, but I have a forced mate in one...

Tani Sachdev v Ben Graff

1. d4      N-f6

2. c4      N-c6

3. N-f3   e6

4. N-c3  d5

5. B-f4   B-b4

6. e3      0-0

7. Q-c2  BxN +

8. PxB   N-e4

9. B-d3  f5

10. h3    B-d7

11. g4    B-e8

12. 0-0-0  Q-e7

13. K-b2  R-b8

14. R-b1   N-a5

N-a5 is a mistake and is where Fritz says I start to go wrong. dxc4 Bxc4 b5 is given as a slight plus for black. I should see this. The point is if White takes the otherway I can skewer her Queen and Rook by bringing my Bishop onto g6. 

My basic thought in this position is that Tania's Queen side might present some opportunities if I can open up some files. As it turns out, she proves to be far more skillful at ripping open my King side than I do her Queen side.

15. cxd5   exd5

16. K-a1 

Walking into what will eventually prove to be the white King's tomb, but such a prospect seems a long way off right now.

16...   b5

I think I just miscalculate. Because Tania was only playing twelve of us, there was not all that long to think things through and the next few moves aren't great by me,

17. PxP  RxP

18. N-d2 


18. ...      NxN

19. BxR  g6

Fritz says g6 is terrible, but it thinks everything else is pretty terrible too. I'm clearly well and truly on the canvas.

20. QxN   PxB

21. Rh-g1+ B-g6

22. Q-d3   Q-d7

23. h4       K-f7

24. R-g5   h5

25. Q-e2   R-b6

26. Rxh5   Q-c6

I wonder... Q-c6 is the best move as it sets the trap. Fritz doesn't particularly like Rxh5 because of Q-c6, but says after R-c1, whilst Black can pick up a bit of material, White is massively winning. What Tania misses is the lack of ways to defend her King.

27. R-g5 which Fritz gives as terrible.

27. ......   Qxc3+

28. Q-b2 played in an instant and the game is over..

28....         N-b3+

The Queen can't take the Knight it is pinned and after the pawn takes it, R-a6 is mate.

If you see the threat 28. R-b2 is a way out, but Fritz gives the position as back to roughly level after a long combination. 

So of course I am fortunate and as a whole it is not a great game - but the final position is pretty cool. Tania was very gracious and racked up nine wins and a draw in her other games, from her perspective this was no more than an occupational hazard that can sometimes occur in simuls. From mine - well it made me feel a bit better. It was my first stoke of luck of the season and I did see the tactic which is something. I think I still have someway to go to get my play back to where I want it to be, but it was a start!

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

I Love the Smell of Victory in the Evening!

No points for recognising the title reference, but two points for Kenilworth last night with a much needed, first Coventry League Division 1 victory of the season over Coventry A. It was a close run thing, and for once it didn't all depend on me as the last game in progress. This time Carl was the hero who successfully got us over the finishing line for a much needed 2.5-1.5 win.

Mike is a class act on Board 4 in the Coventry League, and duly brought in the first point of the night after winning from the White side of a complex Catalan/Slav or something similar (I missed the opening moves) against Bava Manickam. At one point there were many pawns and pieces on the board, then I looked back again and most of them had disappeared except that Mike was an exchange and a pawn up in a winning position. No idea if it was a brilliancy or a blunder - but either way it was a point for us!

Unfortunately, Ben then continued his rather calamitous early season form by losing  with the White pieces to our very own Bernard C on board 2. It was a highly original opening, but Bernard, as befits a man steeped in chess knowledge, simply occupied the centre (none of this hypermodern rubbish!) and eventually broke through to win material after a flurry of tactics. Simple when you know how, I guess. There's not much one can say to cheer up Ben as his bad run continues, but if its any consolation to him, he did break the world land speed record in his exit from the room  - a record which has stood since 1982 when it was set by an opponent of mine at the conclusion of this game from the National Club Championship:-

Digressing a little bit further, I have very fond memories of this match (played on a Sunday afternoon in rural Buckinghamshire if I remember correctly), as not only did I have this crushing win, but my team won 6-0 and the day was capped off with a seriously large number of celebratory pints of Young's Bitter at an excellent pub in Wimbledon village. Work the next day doubtless brought the mood of euphoria to a quick halt.

So where was I? Oh yes, the match was now tied 1-1, and soon it became 1.5-1.5 when I drew against Dave Ireland on Board 1. It was a highly dramatic game, where my king was stuck in the centre and seemingly ripe for the chop, but I had snaffled a pawn on a2 next to White's castled king by way of compensation. The position was very complicated, and both players made mistakes. However, Dave made the most serious one, and with an excellent return of my extra pawn I engineered a double threat to win a piece and deliver mate. Unfortunately, I then captured this piece one move too quickly and Dave cleverly managed to hem in my extra piece - a knight on g8 - with pawns on g5, e5 and d6. Check it out for yourselves, but there was no way the knight could ever get out. And to make matters worse, I had a rook stuck on h8 as well. The only way to extricate this rook was to play Ne7 and allow the capture of my extra piece, producing a totally drawn double rook ending. A great fight from both players, but more points for spirit than accuracy.

Which may probably also be said about the decisive Board 3 game between Carl ánd Ed Goodwin. The opening looked to have gone wrong for Carl, but things were deceptive, and his knight was much better than Ed's bishop, while he had an active queen and an open f file to work with too. After many adventures Carl started winning Ed's queenside pawns, but then Ed invaded with queen and rook to seemingly threaten at least perpetual. But Carl drove the White king up the board to h5, and then overloaded White's defences with mate threats of his own. Ed blundered into one of them when also about to lose on time, but by that time Carl was winning on material as well.

Our unbeaten run now stands at a whole 2 matches (!!), but a strong Nuneaton A are up next, so we will have to be on top form to keep the sequence going. But I have faith in our boys! Then again, I also once had faith in Tony Blair as Middle East peace envoy, so maybe my judgement shouldn't be given too much credence!