Tuesday, 24 April 2018

The Great Comeback Goes Belly-up!

It was a sight few of us ever thought we would see again, but last night at the Abbey Club, Bernard (R not C!) once again sat down as part of a Kenilworth Chess Club team - for the first time in six years!! For the sceptics amongst you, here is the photographic proof.

You are not dreaming - this really happened!

The stage was set and the tension in the air was palpable. Would this be a triumph along the lines of the impossible return of Buffalo Springfield?

Or, dare we dream, on a par with the unbelievable comeback of Sprinter Sacre to win the Champion Chase for a second time in 2016?

Regrettably the answer was to be no in both cases! The rustiness was evident as Bernard fell under a vicious kingside attack from Ken Mycock. Temporarily Bernard was a rook up, but a piece had to be returned, and with some pawns for the exchange, Black soon won the ending. Now we just have to hope that Bernard's return does not follow the same path as Bjorn Borg, who after an 8 year break, returned to tennis and lost 12 matches in a row before retiring a second time!

Still, sad as Bernard's loss was, the rest of the team did the business to clinch a 2.5-1.5 win over Shirley A and so secure a third place finish in the league. I finished first after a strange game against Jonathan Dale. He played some very provocative moves in the opening, and I was duly provoked to sacrifice a piece completely unsoundly. He didn't take the piece immediately but instead attacked my queen, but I could ignore this and save my piece in the process. I won a pawn, but Black had some play for this when he made a terrible oversight and lost a piece. Then an exchange. Then a few more pawns. After 15 rather unnecessary moves he resigned.

Andrew then put us two up with a hard fought win on Board 1 against Phil Purcell. After a Slav of some variety White had powerful centre pawns, but Black had two passed pawns on b4 and a5. White launched what looked like a strong attack on the Black king, but Andrew defended well and somewhere along the line simply took a piece to win the game.

Meanwhile Mike had completely outplayed Gordon Christie with Black to reach a winning position, but then went wrong and ended up in an opposite bishop ending a pawn up. There was an unedifying period of completely meaningless shuffling of the kings and bishops in a position that was so drawn I would have fancied my chances of holding it against Stockfish. About two moves short of coming into 50 move rule territory, Mike finally agreed to the draw and the match was won.

So a happy ending to the season, even if Bernard's "Impossible Dream" return proved to be just that!

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Kingmakers for a night

Finally there, the final game of the season. However this isn't any old game, it an opportunity.

Banbury had to win to keep their promotion hopes on track. With fourth place almost certain, the only motivating factor for us was the possibility of denting Banbury C title hopes along with Banbury B from a few weeks previous.

Dave was the first to finish playing Nathan Manley with the black pieces with a Sicilian defence. Unfortunately Nathan was having a bad day at the office and lost an exchange too easily. With a second loss of an exchange looming, he resigned.

Phil had the white pieces against Arthur Hibbitt. Following the opening exchanges in a Benoni, black accidently lost a piece leaving Phil to win.

The games on the top two boards were very tense and long. Ben was playing a London system against Dan Rowan. A complex middle game gave both sides opportunity but an ending was eventually reached with both sides very short of time. When the dust finally settled, Ben was two pawns down in a bishop ending but sides were down to their last minute. Dan won the ending with ten seconds to spare.

Mike was playing Paul Rowan. Some unusually over ambitious opening play left Mike with a difficult middle game. When the ending was reached he was two pawns down but had active pieces. However, cometh the moment cometh the Mike. Sixty moves of complex technical play left Mike with a bishop ending a pawn down that black felt that he couldn't make any more progress. Draw agreed.

So that was it, a final victory for Kenilworth on the final game. I resisted the temptation to grab the union jack flag from the side (Banbury play at a Rafa venue) and put it around myself and run around the club room on the grounds of poor taste and inappropriate behaviour.

Banbury thanked us for ruining both the B and C team's promotion chances. I couldn't help thinking that they were missing the point. We love Banbury we love going there, we love playing them and we like to be in the same division as them!

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Olton 1 Rest of the World 7

Strange goings on at Olton on Tuesday night, as the home team's all conquering A team, already confirmed as this season's league champions, went down 0.5-3.5 to a by no means full strength Shirley A, while the now relegated Olton B were losing by the same score to a strong Kenilworth A team.

In fact we very nearly racked up the first 4-0 score of the season in Division 1, as Carl was winning for most of the evening against Richard Reynolds on Board 4, but somehow let Richard survive to a rook ending where he was only one pawn down. Endgame doyen Andy Baruch pronounced the position won for Carl, but, despite trying for what seemed like a hundred moves (involving multiple repetitions!), he went for the wrong pawn push and it was only a draw.

Earlier there had been wins for Andy, Andrew and myself to secure the match victory. Andy finished first on Board 1 against Gary Hope. I didn't see much of the action, but he assured me it was a good game which featured a well judged piece sac. Certainly the final position was nice, as despite still being a piece down, he pushed a pawn to the seventh rank and next move it was going to the eighth to win the game.

I should have been first to finish, but after arriving at a completely won position by move 15, I was continually thwarted by Rob Wallman's sturdy defence when it looked for all the world as though I was winning at least an exchange. My advantage had all but disappeared when he blundered a pawn in my time trouble, and he then compounded the problem by saddling himself with a weak pawn on e6. In a heavy piece and opposite bishops position, I was able to work my way into his kingside along the dark squares while his bishop was tied down to defending the e6 weakness. Although I missed a couple of quicker wins at the end, the position was too overwhelming to mess up and Rob resigned when faced with unstoppable mate.

Then Andrew clinched the match with a hard fought victory with the Black pieces over Rob Reynolds on Board 2. Despite it happening inches away from me, I still missed most of the game, only being aware that after a careful opening Andrew was starting to turn the screw and pressurise the White position. When my game finally finished it was clear that Andrew was completely winning, having a rook against a knight and - even more importantly - an unstoppable h pawn.

Our win removed any chance Olton B had of avoiding the drop in their first season back in Division 1. It appears as though they will be replaced by Rugby A, who should buy our B team a drink or two for their terrific win over Banbury C on the very same night, which has put Rugby in pole position. And they also owe our C team a few drinks for a recent shock win over Banbury B, who were also strong promotion candidates.

The A team now quickly moves on to our final match of the season next week against Shirley, which will decide whether we finish third or fourth (big deal!). Stay tuned for a match report which, I can already assure you, will reveal a Kenilworth team selection bombshell!

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

2018 LDCL Blitz Tournament

This year's LDCL Blitz tournament takes place at Solihull's Chess Club venue, The Blossomfield Club, The Wardens, Widney Lane, Solihull, B91 3JY, on Wednesday 25th April, starting at 7:30pm.

Hopefully a number of KCC members will feel moved to take part. Myself, Ben and Mike J tend to be regulars, while Dave has also been known to put in the occasional appearance. Those with a very long memory will recall that Carl is a former winner (2008!).

Entry is £1 per person, all monies collected will be returned in prizes.
There will be 9 rounds at 5 minutes per game, paired on the Swiss system.
Prizes will be awarded in the Open and Minor sections, grading limit for the minor will depend on entries. If there are enough entrants there will be 3 sections - Open, Under 140, and Under 100, as last year.

Entrants should arrive before 7:30 in order to ensure a prompt start. (And to have any chance of finding a space in the car-park!)

Friday, 13 April 2018

Bobby Fischer; a Personal Pilgrimage - Part 4, the Church and the Grave

According to Google Maps, it would take 25 minutes to walk the 2 kilometres from the Bobby Fischer Center to Laugardaelakirkja, but as Mrs Club Organiser and myself were both a bit under the weather, and as it was about zero degrees with a bitingly cold wind, we opted for the three minute car ride instead. (Actually it took about 5 minutes, as I managed to take a wrong turn, which looks totally impossible unless you enlarge the map!)

The arrow straight approach road - more of a lane really - is across flat, open country, though snow capped mountains frame the scene to the north. Passing a turn off to Selfoss Golf Club (easily avoided, even by me) you shortly arrive at the small cluster of buildings that make up the settlement - not even a village - of Laugardaelir. There are a couple of houses, a big farmstead surrounded by an unappealing collection of large, run-down, barns and sheds, and a tiny, modern, white church with a  small graveyard. This is not where you would expect to find the final resting place of the 11th World Chess Champion.

The Church itself is very picturesque, and once inside it is warm, light and airy. But you have to wonder where it gets its congregation from, as it feels as though you are in the middle of nowhere.

The main part of the graveyard is to the side of the church, but Fischer's grave lies alone, immediately inside the front gate to the churchyard, hard up against the wall. While the view to the church is appealing, the view beyond the headstone is anything but - a giant agricultural skip and general dilapidation, which even the brief appearance of the charming Mrs Club Organiser in the video below can do little to dispel. An ironic continuation in death of the tragic struggle of Bobby's life and character, perhaps - the two extremes of beauty/truth and ugliness/falsehood fighting to have the final word?

The grave is marked by a very simple headstone. I stand there feeling incredibly sad that such a supreme talent should have ended up here, after what - despite its glorious triumphs - was largely a wasted and ruined life. He cheated himself of so many possibilities, and he cheated the world of so much uncreated beauty on the chessboard. That it should come to this. That he should end up here.

RIP Bobby
I feel that my words are not doing justice to the moment. Even to myself I can't express the range of emotions that came flooding over me in this deserted, bleak, bone-achingly cold graveyard. How can you even begin to reconcile this emptiness with the awesome beauty and majesty of his great games? Games like this one, for instance?

But luckily the thirteenth world chess champion was moved to rather greater eloquence on his visit to Laugardaelakirkja, and thankfully the words were captured for posterity.

Many years ago I stood by the tomb of Paul Morphy on a swelteringly hot day in New Orleans. He was called "the pride and sorrow of chess", but no-one could have known that another American would eventually come along to lay even greater claim to that description. In 2018 I stood by the grave of Robert James Fischer on a freezing cold day in the Icelandic countryside. Chess, like love, like music, has the power to make men happy. But death will always eventually deliver checkmate.

The pilgrimage ends.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Almost there (for some)!

It's April and so must nearly be the end of the season. Not so this year. The snow in December and January means that there is a backlog of games in Div2 and these delayed fixtures may stretch into May.

Fortunately for the B team, we had been lucky with the winter weather and this was just a scheduled end of season fixture with the aim of not haemorrhaging any more points. Our opponents, Deventry, were also mid table and presumably had much the same objective.

First to finish was Dave playing white against Abbie Stevens. As per the reverse fixture, Dave has a good position out of the opening. However this time a speculative king side sacrifice by black failed to generate sufficient play and once the queens were exchanged the ending was winnable.

Mike's game against Andy Foulds was a complicated affair. However, after a flurry of moves up to the time control, a draw was agreed.

Phil had black against Andy Johnson. During a complicated middle game position, white allowed black to generate a powerful passed d pawn. Unfortunately in trying to win this pawn, white left his queen en-pris.

Ben's game resulted in a long rook and bishop against rook and knight ending. White pawn structure left black with an advntage but a draw was agreed at the time control.

So there it was 3-1 to Kenilworth with one game to go against promotion seeking Banbury C.

Friday, 6 April 2018

Bobby Fischer; a Personal Pilgrimage - Part 3, the Museum

Arriving in Selfoss from Reykjavik, you cross over the Olfusa River and take an immediate left turn at the roundabout to continue on the N1 Icelandic Ring Road towards Vik. This is Austurvegur, and you are looking for number 21. After a couple of hundred yards, immediately opposite the impressive Landsbankinn building, you cross the road and park. You have arrived at The Bobby Fischer Center.

The Bobby Fischer Center, Selfoss
The Museum is open for three hours a day in the summer months, between mid-May and mid-September, but this is February, so I (plus a reluctant Mrs Club Organiser) am being admitted by special request at 11.00 for a private viewing, thanks to a very nice lady, Aldis, who is a member of the Center's Executive Board.  We are early - there can be no question of missing this appointment! - and right on time Aldis arrives to let us into the Museum. The entrance is on the north side of the building at the western end, where some steps, a door and another flight of stairs lead to the first floor which the Centre shares with the Selfoss Chess Club. How inspirational a venue this must be! Below are a couple of shops selling who knows what (I think one was a florist), but business was not exactly brisk while we waited!

The Stairway to Heaven

The Museum is - apparently - one of only three in the world devoted to an individual chess player, the others being for Max Euwe (Holland) and Emmanuel Lasker (Germany).

So nearly there.......
The Museum is very light and spacious, and contains a surprisingly large amount of memorabilia relating to Bobby's chess career - especially the 1972 World Championship Match, of course - and his later Iceland years from 2005. There are photos, magazine covers, newspaper articles, cartoons, original and facsimile score sheets for Fischer games, coins, medals and much more. A TV monitor plays an old BBC documentary about Bobby, that I have to confess I was not aware of. And Aldis gives a very interesting and informative presentation of Bobby's life, and especially about his later years and the founding of the Centre.

Inside the Bobby Fischer Center
The centrepiece (should that be centerpiece?) is a replica of the chess table on which the 1972 match was played. The original is in the National Museum of Iceland, but regrettably is not on display. (Which explains why I did not visit the National Museum of Iceland.) The table was signed by both the players after the Match, and the curators are concerned that these will fade if displayed. You might think this was not an insuperable problem, but I couldn't possibly comment!

The most poignant exhibit is also the most banal. Five very second-hand paperbacks that Bobby ordered at Bokin, but which he never lived to collect.

And then, after just over an hour, its over. I could have stayed all day, but both Aldis and Mrs Club Organiser had other things to do. I don't suppose I will ever be in Selfoss again, so that was a once in a lifetime experience. What a massive vote of thanks is owed by chess fans the world over to a few determined people who founded, developed and now run this amazing place. I imagine the Chess Hall of Fame in Saint Louis is ten times glitzier, but I'm sorry Rex, I find it hard to imagine that it could begin to compare with the profundity of the Selfoss experience. And I doubt it could compete in the T shirt stakes!

Coming soon to a Thursday evening at The Gauntlet
So there you have it. A whole Museum devoted to Bobby, in a small town of less than 7,000 people in the Icelandic interior. But why there? Why Selfoss? A place he never visited, and with which he had no connections.* The answer, of course, is because this is where Bobby Fischer is buried. So I'm warning you now, to get your handkerchiefs ready. Because the next stage in my pilgrimage is to the grave site, ├índ if you think I've been maudlin and sentimental already, you ain't seen nothing yet.

But first another of our lesser known Fischer games. And what could it possibly be, except for the game on the T shirt!!

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Bobby Fischer; a Personal Pilgrimage - Part 2, the Bookshop and the Chair

On the corner of Klapparstigur and Hverfisgata in downtown Reykjavik, is Bokin, a second hand bookstore.

Anyone speak Icelandic?
When I visited, it was a Sunday, so not surprisingly it was closed, but no matter. Because its not so much what is inside the shop that is important, but what used to be there. And anyway, most of the books are in Icelandic which would have made browsing rather pointless. (Did you know that there are more books published in Icelandic per capita native speaker than any other language in the world? Well, on those long, dark winter days there's not a lot else to do, is there? Which might also explain why Iceland has more Grandmasters per capita than any other country in the world.)

Spot the difference!
And it's also not so much the front door that matters here, either, since the significance, at least for us Fischer pilgrims, is around the corner behind the glass frontage along Hverfisgata. Bobby Fischer was a frequent visitor to Bokin after his return to Iceland in 2005, spending many hours sitting in a quiet area at the back of the shop, where he could both watch the world go by and keep an eye out for any journalist (or pilgrim?) who might threaten his privacy.  It is even said, though I cannot vouch for its truth, that he used Bokin as a kind of PO Box, having his mail delivered here.

A chess set now sits poignantly on a table where Fischer whiled away the hours - but he wasn't sitting on that chair!
But something vital is missing, and for the final piece of this part of the jigsaw, we need to travel about 35 miles away to the small town of Selfoss. I say small, as the population is only around 7,000, but even so it is the fourth largest town/city in Iceland outside the Reykjavik area (behind Akureyri, Keflavik and Akranes). (And its chess club has a Grandmaster, six times Icelandic Champion Helgi Olafsson.) But what it lacks in size, Selfoss makes up for in other ways, as there is nowhere else on earth where you can get closer to Bobby Fischer. And at the Bobby Fischer Center one of the museum exhibits is the very chair in which Bobby used to sit at Bokin!

Bobby sat here!
Eagle-eyed observers can see the chair in its original location at Bokin in the photograph on the wall behind. Where its also noticeable that there was no table and no chess set in evidence.

And so did the Club Organiser! Although he seems to have made the chair disappear!!
Is it sad and pathetic to invest so much emotional significance in a chair? Probably, but I'm a sentimental old codger at heart, so I'm not going to apologise. And as artefacts go, this one certainly brought a lump to the throat, despite its simplicity, even banality. To be this close to Bobby, though, is no everyday experience.

The next instalment of my pilgrimage will present a fuller appreciation of the Bobby Fischer Center (not my spelling - and he was American after all!), but it must first be time for another of Bobby's lesser known masterpieces.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Bobby Fischer; a Personal Piligrimage - Part 1, Introduction

Interviewer: What is Fischer?
Bobby Fischer: It is my name.
Interviewer: Could you describe that name?
Bobby Fischer: Just a name with seven letters.
(Sarajevo, 1970, quoted in "Chess Meets of the Century" by Dimitrije Bjelica)

But surely the most magical and profound seven letters in the history of chess. For those of us who came to serious chess in the late 1960s or early 1970s, there could only ever be one chess hero. Robert James Fischer; born Chicago, March 9th, 1943; US Champion eight times (every time he played), starting at the age of 14 and finishing at just 23, and including the 1963-64 event when he scored 11/11. Along a rocky road lasting just over a decade he took on, virtually single handedly, the might of the Soviet chess machine, finally becoming World Champion in Iceland in 1972 in the Match of the Century against Boris Spassky. Chess was never so important; never so popular; never so sexy.

But it wasn't easy being a Bobby fan. The frustrations at all the false starts and turns along the road to the world title were as nothing compared to the disappointment that was to follow. Because Bobby virtually disappeared. He grew more and more reclusive; more and more demanding; and less and less the stuff of hero worship.  He played again just once, a sanction busting, sensational, but ultimately irrelevant rematch against Spassky in Yugoslavia. He won easily, but I have to confess, I can't recall a single game from the match. He was now a peripheral figure. In still later years the decline continued, and he became a virtual global pariah due to his virulent anti-semitism, and anti-US sentiments. In 2005 he was rescued from a Japanese jail (on the verge of extradition to the US) by the country of Iceland, the very place where he had bestrode the world like a Colossus in 1972, and died there on January 17th, 2008. He was (how could it be anything else?) 64 years old.

But the chess, the chess! I can't find it in myself to excuse what he did and said after 1972, but his games up till then were just so awesome, and his journey so astounding and thrilling, that he will forever be my greatest chess hero. And while I wouldn't have wanted to invite him to dinner, I will forever be a fan. With games like this (only the third most famous against either of the Byrne brothers!) who wouldn't be?

So what is a an ageing and ambivalent Fischer fanboy to do? How to bring together the extremely varied emotions and memories that those seven letters evoke, and - hopefully - achieve some kind of personal clarity? Well, sitting on my backside in Kenilworth was certainly not going to deliver this kind of result, so I decided to go on a journey; a search; a pilgrimage to try and somehow connect with Fischer's life - and his death. Now to my knowledge (highly imperfect, so don't quote me!) Bobby Fischer only came to Britain once in his life, when he took part in a consultation game for BBC Radio in 1961. (He partnered Leonard Barden against Jonathan Penrose and Phil's late brother in law, Peter Clarke.) So any pilgrimage has to look further afield. The US would be possible, but besides the apartment in Brooklyn where he grew up (Apartment Q, 560 Lincoln Place), Bobby's life was either peripatetic or secretive, so there isn't really anywhere else that might help in my quest. And besides, it's all too long ago and too humdrum. What we need is somewhere visceral; somewhere dramatic; somewhere with more recent associations. There is, in fact, only one place on earth to go if you want to get close to Bobby.

And so - to Iceland!

It doesn't get much more visceral and dramatic than this!

Where the pilgrimage will shortly land in Part Two.