Wednesday, 21 February 2018

And in Third Place, Winning the Bronze Medals ........

I'm jumping the gun a bit, but as far as I can see, there is no-way in which we can now be stopped from finishing (at least) third in Division 1 of the Coventry League this season, even though there is one round of fixtures to go. This will be our best result yet, improving from the 6th place in our debut season (12 points from 14 matches), via 4th place last season (11 points from 12 matches), to 3rd in 2017-18 (15 points from 14 matches). Even if we lose our last match against University A by 0-4 (which we probably will), we can't be overtaken - even if Nuneaton B win their last match against Coventry Academy A by 4-0 (which they probably won't).

We have reached these lofty heights thanks to last night's less than convincing 2.5-1.5 win over luckless Coventry A, who were going down by the minimum margin for the fifth time this season. For us it was a fourth win by this score - on such fine margins do a season's fortunes turn!

It was a highly competitive match, as our encounters always are. Dave notched our first point, beating Bava Manickam on Board 4 after a very exciting encounter. In a typical opposite castling Sicilian, with both sides hurling themselves at the other's king, Dave faltered in a good position and seemed to have thrown away his advantage (in his opponent's time trouble!). Thankfully, though, there was a further twist to come, and Dave annexed the full point thanks to some crucial assistance.

In what has become a depressingly familiar experience this season, though, Ben was going down the gurgler against our very own Bernard C on Board 2. For some reason Ben steadfastly refused to castle on the Black side of a KIA, but in avoiding any nasty accidents to his king he managed to drop a key queenside pawn, which eventually gave Bernard two connected passed pawns (a + b) plus bishop v knight, plus active rook v passive rook. There was no escaping the inevitable.

Then we were back in front again as I managed to beat Dave Ireland for the first time ever (at the 8th attempt). Black never quite equalised from a side variation of the Sicilian, and although my play was not as precise as I would have liked, I kept an edge through the early middle game. When I threatened to put a knight into b6 with ruinous effect, Dave went wrong (in time trouble) and found himself dropping two queenside pawns for minimal compensation. Going one better than Bernard, I ended up with three passed pawns on the a and b files, and it only needed one of these to force resignation when it was about to queen on a8.

While Dave and I were going over our game, Mike was busy saving an ending a pawn down against Ed Goodwin to clinch the match, though seemingly neither player was aware that this was the case. Earlier Mike seemed to be winning the strategic battle against yet another Dutch Defence when he arranged his e4 push. Ed conjured up counterplay down the g file, though, and Mike was just not able to consolidate his advantage. In the quick play finish Ed apparently missed several (tricky) wins and Mike eventually navigated his way to a draw which sealed the match for us.

Next week we are in KO Cup Quarter Final action against Coventry F, before we conclude our league season against the all conquering University A. I am predicting one win and one loss from these two matches. No prizes for guessing which is which!

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Double Delight

Two Division One wins on successive evenings have made it a good week for Kenilworth Chess Club. After our recent Double Defeat, it's a relief to be able to report on a Double Delight. No matter what the knockers say, I'm all in favour of these double d headlines.

We started off on Monday with a convincing 3.5-0.5 win over bottom club Solihull B. At least it was convincing in the end, though at times it looked likely to be a lot closer.

The first point was notched on Board 1, where Andy played an excellent and efficient game. When some tactics blew up in the middlegame he annexed a couple of pawns, before returning one to reach a completely won ending. Andy gets a lot of stick for not playing too often, but I think it's only fair to set the record straight. He has now played 21 times for Kenilworth since 2013, and his record reads won 10, drawn 10, and lost only 1 (to James Jackson). Not too shabby. Having said that, this was his first Kenilworth win for 427 days - so it was about time he got his finger out!

Surprisingly, my game was next to finish, as I won against Neil Clarke on Board 3. I say surprisingly, since from a complicated but broadly level position, he unleashed an H-Bomb of a move which I had completely failed to see coming. My queen and king were on the same diagonal, and he suddenly threatened to switch a hitherto dormant bishop from h1 to d5 with calamitous effect. And he was also threatening my loose bishop on h3. Thankfully, I kept my nerve and found the only playable line, which involved giving up my queen for two minor pieces, but surrounding his king in the process. I was threatening perpetual/mate dependent upon his response, and he should have returned the queen immediately to reach a probably drawn rook and bishop ending where my extra doubled pawn was not much use. In big time trouble, though, he went wrong and had to give up his queen for just one piece. A further inaccuracy allowed me to re-establish a mating net with doubled rooks on the seventh. A lucky win, but I'll take it.

Shortly afterwards, Andrew P drew against Tony Sadler on Board 2, after a fairly torrid evening. For most of the evening I thought he was worse, so this was something of a success from a team perspective. All that remained was for Mike D to complete a successful demolition of Julian Summerfield's Stonewall Dutch. After easily defusing Black's heavy piece attack down the h-file with the calm move Bh1, he chose the right moment to break in the centre and used some tactics to win lots of material.

The following night we had a "home" Coventry League match away at Coventry Chess Academy A. (Yes you did read that right!) Once again the match was like a KCC social/convention.

Ben drew very quickly on Board 2 against David Phillips, in a game which was devoid of any interest whatsoever as far as I could see. I'm surprised both players managed to stay awake. Mike had a rather more interesting struggle against Alan Phillips on Board 3, but the result was the same. Alan started off with the ultra-trendy and aggressive d4/Bf4/h4 set-up, but then rather backtracked by castling kingside. Mike countered in the centre to equalise and proceedings came to a fairly early end.

Thankfully, the other two games had a bit more going for them, and the match deadlock was broken on Board 4, where club stalwart Dave Shurrock beat club stalwart Roy Watson in bizarre circumstances. Dave had a slight edge as White, but Roy seemed to be defending well, when all of a sudden he must have crossed over into "Roy-world". This is seemingly a parallel universe where time becomes suspended. With three moves to make, Roy looked at the position. Then looked at it some more. Then some more again. And he only stopped looking when Dave pointed out that he had lost on time. Yes, Roy had thought for 8 minutes and done nothing. This has improved Roy's Coventry League record for us this season to Played 0; Points 2. Maybe this should be our new strategy - export players to other clubs and get them to lose against us twice a season? Especially if, like Roy, they also provide coffee and biscuits during the match!

Almost immediately the match was over, as Paul offered me a draw just before the time control and I naturally accepted. Paul had been exerting some pressure for much of the game, but Fritz says the position had never strayed far from equality. The game was still in the balance with plenty of scope for mistakes, in a highly unclear and unbalanced position and time trouble a real issue. I was certainly in no mood to chance my arm with the match on the line, so I was happy to split the point and give us two very welcome Coventry League points, after a run of 1 point from the last 3 matches.

This week's matches have put us into fourth place in each League with near-identical records - Played 9, Points 9 in the Leamington League, and Played 12, Points 13 in the Coventry League. Are we average or what?!

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

League leaders just too strong on the night

With Rugby pushing to win the league, they fielded a strong team against our regular B team.

Ben's poor run continued with white getting the better of the opening and a lasting advantage into the middle game. White managed to create some counterplay but it proved to be too little too late with the Bishop and five versus rook and 2 proving just to be too strong.

Mike secured the only points of the evening with a good win against a now unfashionable Queens Indian defence. White central initiative allowed him to win an exchange but had to jettison a pawn in order to activate his rook in the resulting ending. Black chances of drawing the ending were quickly quashed by some excellent play that forced his king into a mating net.

Phil young opponent played a London system that was unfamiliar to black. Taking an opportunity to sacrifice a bishop on h7, white's attack was such that he was able to regain his piece and win a second pawn. After the dust had settled, white's solid play saw him convert his additional material into a win.

Dave played white against a Nimzovitch defence and early play gave him a space advantage on the queen side. However, clever defending by black allowed him to gain equality. With white short of time and ideas, black won a pawn and exchanged off into a rook, bishop and five against rook, knight and four ending. White resigned when he was unable to stop a pawn queening.

100% - The Champions of what we always wanted (honest!)

When the season starts, you can but dream. We were a whisker away from the Division 1 and 2 titles in the Leamington League last season and won the Open Cup. We might well have hoped we would go one better this year and bring home a stash of silverware. As the winter set in, reality bit, along with the cold and it’s become clear that those prizes are going to have to wait until next season…

But what’s that you say? Indeed, all is not lost. For we have won something after all and for the first time in Kenilworth’s history! Last night we were crowned champions of the Coventry League Divisional Cup (Group A no less.) OK – it’s only the second time we’ve entered it, but hey.  It would be slightly disingenuous to say that this is the one we really wanted to win, but it has been good fun and we’ve ended up with a 100% record.

What a night it was… At home to Coventry C we needed to win 3-1 and we started very brightly as Dave brought home the full point pretty quickly to put us 1-0 up. At which point it all became more challenging. Toward the time control, I was in a wild position with Black against John McCan. He’d attacked on the King side, been pushed back and was attacking on the Queen side, but I was pretty solid and had good counter chances. At the start of the campaign I would have played it out without hesitation, but the season has not gone well for me. Part technical issues, but also part psychological – I’ve certainly lost a bit of confidence of late. Hence, I was happy to take the draw. I know I have a lot of work to do to get my game back to where I want it to be – but lots of games left and I’m already thinking about how I might re-work things in the closed season. We had an interesting post-mortem, in which it was clear that it was all very double edged and John played it all very well.

So 1.5 – 0.5 as the time control approached, and boy was it looming up on Rod as his clock ticked down to almost nothing with quite a few moves left to be played. Rod was up against Simon Webster on four and it was totally wild. You have to say, Simon played very well and held his position together very nicely and it wasn’t obvious how Rod was going to break through, particularly with so little time to think about it. Rod really wanted to try and bring home the full point, but it just wasn’t possible. So a draw was agreed which left the score at 2-1, meaning Carl needed to beat Dave Filer to lead us to glory.

The only problem was, Carl’s chances of doing this appeared to be minimal. In a Bishop and five v (same colour) Bishop and five ending there appeared to be absolutely no way through. Dave was playing really well and it looked impossible. Then finally at the death, Dave succumbed. He pushed a pawn onto the same colour square as the Bishops and after Carl fixed it there he had another target. The pawn could not be held and once it had fallen, Carl pressed on with a passed pawn to bring home the full point. An excellent effort by Carl, who brought us to glory! It had looked impossible, even minutes earlier.

Thanks also to Mike and Nick who have also been part of the Divisional Cup squad this season – it’s been a really enjoyable and successful effort. I’m very happy to manage a squad in this competition next year – when hopefully we can repeat this success. Whilst also hopefully winning a host of other trophies!

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

And Then it was Downhill All the Way

If we stop to think about it, I imagine that most of us could identify the absolute high point of our chess careers. Not so much in grading terms, as after all grades cover a 6 month period (12 till not that long ago), but as regards a specific performance or a specific game. Of course, those of an optimistic nature may not be ready to admit that their peak has already passed, but once you get to a certain age you have to accept that whatever is your greatest moment so far is going to be your greatest moment ever.

I have reached that certain age, and I can assuredly say that my chess peak has been and gone. It was reached sometime in the late afternoon of Saturday, July 22nd 1983, (at Islington Town Hall, I think) when I was much better (I could say winning, but that's not quite true) against someone who, at the time, was the 44th highest rated player in the world (according to the Chess Metrics database) and who would subsequently qualify for two Candidates' Tournaments (convincingly winning matches against Yasser Seirawan and Nigel Short in one of them!) and rise to be the 4th ranked player in the world just six years later.

The chess colossus in question was Super Grand Master Jon Speelman (graded just 246 at the time), who I found myself playing in Round 5 of a Chequers 30 minutes tournament. I was obviously on a going day, as I had 3.5/4 coming into the game. These semi-regular rapid tournaments (30 mins per player - no increment, of course, as digital clocks didn't exist) in North London were rather lucrative, being generously sponsored by someone called Ali Amin if I recall correctly), so not surprisingly a few strong players turned up to grab their share of the cash. Plus the likes of me, who had nothing better to do on a summer Saturday with no football match to go to.

Here's the game. Feel free to share my pain.

You'll notice from the times, that he had not had to think too much. I don't imagine he was ever remotely worried that he wouldn't win, even after his careless blunder. He certainly moved up a gear or two as soon as he needed to.

After this harrowing experience, I'm amazed to report that I got my act together sufficiently to win my Round 6 encounter against Theresa Needham (181J at the time) and finish in a tie for 5th place (4.5/6) with Peter Large, Mike Basman and Mike Surtees. We each received the princely sum of £25, while Speelman, William Watson and Geoff Lawton each took home £200 for being joint 2nd (5/6). The £500 first prize was won outright by Shaun Taulbut (5.5/6).

By the way, did I mention it was a rather strong tournament?! I certainly kept illustrious company that day