Tuesday, 31 December 2019

More Reasons to be Cheerful

In the first post on this subject (August 31, 2019), I presented a game lost in three moves by a former Soviet Champion, with the hope that it might console us a bit when we - as we inevitably would - lost a catastrophic game. But there are other types of loss which can be even more painful and more disheartening - those that happen when you are just outplayed from beginning to end. You get no chances; no counter-play; no activity - its just defend, defend, defend until in the end you get put out of your misery and have to concede that not only have you lost, but you have been given a lesson.

Fear not, though, dear readers, for such a disaster can befall even the best, as I will now show you. I won't reveal the players until you've had a chance to play through the game, and in particular until you've had a chance to study the final position.

Wow! Have you ever seen greater domination of the chess board than that? Look at the Black pieces, huddled pathetically in the top right corner of the board, while the White army bestrides the world like a Colossus (thank you, Mr Shakespeare). Surely this is a case of master versus amateur? Only a complete patzer could get so outplayed. Well, apparently not!

The player of the White pieces was, indeed, very strong - the great Vassily Ivanchuk - and as the game was played at the 1991 Linares Super Tournament, its clear that the Black pieces must also have been the responsibility of someone not too shabby. And that is indeed the case, since it was the one and only Garry Kasparov, possibly the greatest chess player of all time, who was on the receiving end of that almighty shellacking. I doubt he has ever been so outplayed in his life, and he cannot have been in a very good mood at the end!

So here we have another reason to be cheerful - if even Garry can be made to look like a total beginner, there is hope for us all yet. So let's all have the ambition for 2020 of playing like Kasparov - only not like in that game!

Monday, 23 December 2019

Christmas Quiz 2019

Yes, its that time of year again, and here it is - the annual KCC Christmas Quiz. And this time it is possibly the best yet - or rather its definitely the hardest yet! But its guaranteed to provide hours (and hours and hours) of entertainment - or more likely frustration. Still, we spend all year wasting our time on a fundamentally pointless game, so this is the perfect quiz for a chess player!

Below you will find a really rather touching, yet dramatic, short story marrying politics, romance and adventure. Maybe not up to the level of KCC's published author, Ben, but its the best I could do in the circumstances. Because within the story I have hidden a number of chess players' names, and your task is to find them. Some are very obvious; some are the product of such tortuous prose that it will be clear that there must be a hidden name in there; but some of them are very difficult; and several, dare I say, are virtually impossible!

Now its only a short story, but within it your task is to find:-

37 (oops! updated now to 41) Grand Masters (of whom 4 are deceased) including one (no actually two!) world champions and two (make that three!) women's world champions
3 (no make that 6!) International Masters, including a former British Champion; a former World Junior Champion; and one who was murdered! (And one you'll never, ever have heard of.)
13 KCC members

Most names appear once; some a few times and a few rare beasts appear many times. You get one point each time you spot a hidden name. The most appearances by a single name is a remarkable 22 - but even so I'm not expecting anyone to get this even once!! Just to make it more difficult, in at least three cases, (I've lost track of the exact number!) names can be found hidden inside even longer names. Two pairs of GM's share the same surname; and 3 KCC members share their names with either GMs or IMs. These all count double when you find them. So here's the short story - the rest is up to you!

Love Conquers All

Steep Hill, Ipswich was not where you would have expected a political revolution to start, but MI5 had been watching the place like a hawk – ever since the left wing activist known as Deep Red Ken had taken up residence. It was all quiet at first without any untoward incidents. While the original Red Ken had a thing for newts, the most exciting thing about his near-namesake was that he liked to keep a gerbil or two and a pet springbok. But when Baron Ian Nash, or the Aristocratic Anarchist as he was lampooned by the tabloids, paid him a clandestine visit at the midnight hour, the alarm bells started ringing again in Whitehall. This was “a potentially explosive combination,” joked the Home Secretary in very poor taste – a possibly live, possibly dud atomic weapon had gone missing from Russia recently, and until it was tracked down, no-one could feel entirely safe. Indeed, morale in the secret services was at a very low ebb; the missing weapon was like a smoking gun at their heads.

“Follow Ken,” commanded the Home Secretary. “I want to know what he’s up to. He’s the kingpin. Keep a very close watch on him. He’s a very dangerous fellow, especially if he’s teamed up with another group of thugs like the Aristo’s anarchists.” So MI5, of course, did their master’s bidding.

And the plot thickened as the trail led them to Holland, and a sleazy jazz club in a run down, graffiti daubed building – lit only by an old gas lamp -  on Rijksmuseum Road, Amsterdam. As a mournful saxophone played, and a would be heart-throb songsmith crooned away, the watching agents witnessed a surprising rendezvous with glamorous Mayfair socialite Ellin Back, dubbed London Nelly by the popular press.

“Fancy that!” whispered Agent No 1. “Any idea how a militant weirdo like Deep Red Ken finds a rich woman like her?” “No idea”, replied Agent 2. “Nor how Ellin found him. They should be on opposite sides in the class war, don’t you think? And I thought she had better taste in men than that! Now, do we grab him or risk it by letting him walk out with her?” “We’ve still got nothing concrete to hold him for yet,” moaned Agent 1. “I’m not a gambler, so we’ll just have to keep watching him until he lets his guard down – even for a minute will do.” So the two agents settled back, deep in the shadows, to enjoy the smooth jazz music, which had now been supplemented by a drum machine dub over a twangy guitar.

Back in the UK, the Baron was becoming rather unhinged by the stress of the whole affair, and also by the absence of Nelly. “I’m really missing my woman tonight”, he muttered. “Why did I ever introduce that man and woman. I’m to blame for that. Oh good grief, I’m even talking to myself now! I’m turning into a lame duck.” And he began to recite a psalm, as if the power of prayer could calm his nerves and send her back to him that very night.

But former deb Ellin did not return that night, nor anytime soon. Because she and Ken were out of control, in a whirlwind romance which sent them travelling across Europe, with ever more mystified British spies on their tail. One week it was a cruise up the Nile, then it was back to the Netherlands, via Italy and Spain. The two seemed to have a special rapport – life was just a bed of roses, all kisses and smiles. But their behaviour was driving the watching authorities crazy, and when they ended up in Berlin it was like waving a red rag. “Germany, now is it?” seethed the Home Secretary, slamming his fist down on the table like a hammer and knocking over a desk-lamp in the process. “This is a calamity. They’re scoring all the points in this contest and making a laughing stock of us.”

But apart from an irate politician, a couple of disgruntled spooks and a pining aristocrat, no-one else cared. For this was a triumph of love across the class divide. And who doesn’t like a story with a happy ending?

By my reckoning, the maximum score possible is now a (further) revised 154 (119 GM references; 11 IM references and 24 KCC references - remember some names score more than 1 point). Good luck. You will need it. The solution will appear here in due course - when I decide the suffering has gone on long enough!! For now I leave you with, if not a clue, then at least a hint. Just remember that a number of Chinese/Asian GMs do have very short names!

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

From the Archives - Part 14, 2005 - a New Chairman and a New Venue

For possibly the first time, the Club starts to look very like our modern day incarnation. Of course, my own glorious entry on to the stage is still some years away, but other than that nearly all our current key players are already on the scene.

May 2005 - Its AGM time again, though we have to guess that the venue is the Sports and Social Club as the Secretary is keeping his cards close his chest on this matter. On the 5th of the month some 15 members are in attendance, and the cast list comprises mainly names that would be very familiar to anyone joining the Club today. The only people not still either members or Thursday night attendees are Rob Olley, Frank Holmes, Tom Swallow, Nigel Morris and the late John Skinner. Five more people sent apologies, but - pointedly - the Secretary tells us that Adam Sykes did not. I think that constitutes a rap across the knuckles!

Rod is still the Chairman (for the next couple of hours at least!) and reports that the A team had finished 5th in Division 1, with the B team 3rd in Division 2, and the C team a lowly 8th (though never in danger of relegation) in the same division. The D Team would finish mid-table (some matches unfinished) in Division 3, while in Division 4 the E and F teams had finished 4th and 7th respectively. From across the years, considerable congratulations are in order to all those who enabled the Club to field 6 teams. A tremendous effort.

Three of our Cup teams had lost in Round 1 of their respective competitions, but Kenilworth 1 had reached the final of the Under-100 event (for a 4th consecutive year) where they lost to Rugby. Meanwhile, in the League individual competitions, Carl had lost his title to Steve Burnell, but no-one else managed to reach a Final.

On the domestic front, we seemed to be a year in arrears, as it is reported that Rod had won the 2003-04 Tilley Trophy and Phil the 2003-04 Plate. At least the Club Lightning Championship was up to date, and Paul had won with a 100% score, while John Skinner won the grading prize.

Rod ended his report by announcing that he was standing down as Chairman due to "other commitments" (watching TV? making model aircraft? walking the dog? work? - who knows?!), which prompted our ever-effusive secretary to give a stirring eulogy to the glories of the "Webb years". Bernard noted that Rod had (1) taken on responsibility for organising the Club Tournaments; (2) overseen an increase to six in the number of club teams; (3) raised club night attendances to their highest for many years; (4) overseen our award of BCF Club of the Year; (5) introduced the successful Chairman's Night; and (6) introduced Curry Nights. Wow! Now if only our current Chairman could similarly stir himself to such levels of devoted club service...…..

The accounts have not survived, but in the absence (yet again) of the Treasurer, Geoff King, it was reported that we had made a small surplus for the year, so subscription levels were left unchanged.

On the LDCL front we once again had people in key positions of power - Phil was taking over as Individual Tournaments organiser and Carl had (foolishly?) volunteered to act as Trophies Officer. The meeting voted on the proposed change to the LDCL time limit to 90 minutes for the whole game, and with 6 in favour and 8 against (plus one wishy-washy abstainer), the Club decided it would vote against the resolution at the League AGM. There was clearly an under-current of radicalism within the League, as there was also a proposal to automatically give the home player the black pieces in individual tournaments. The dyed-in-the-wool conservatives of KCC, though, were having none of this and decided we would vote against this, too. Computer says "No", and so does KCC!

Rod's successor as Chairman would be John Skinner, who was elected unopposed after being nominated by Carl. The Secretary and Treasurer retained their positions without a vote.

Ahead of a proposed Team Formation Meeting, the AGM decided to run 6 teams again - and once again found 6 volunteers to captain them:-

A - Carl Pickering
B - Phil Wood
C - Nigel Morris
D - Chris Aldridge
E - Mike Whatson
F - Frank Holmes

The Club tournament had made "disappointing progress", so the AGM decided to revert to three all play all sections for 2005-06. Everyone in the Club wanted to play, except for Paul and Mark Lam, and Nigel Morris. So, the strong players basically.

In an unexpected burst of enthusiasm, the meeting decided that we should obtain a stall at the carnival if possible.

Big Brother was alive and well, and knew that neither Len Krombeen nor Nick Waterman had coughed up their subs at the Sports and Social Club. Having been named and shamed, the meeting closed at 9.00pm.

September 2005 - 20 people attend a team formation meeting on the 1st of the month and sort out player allocations, but there are also big organisational matters to discuss. The Club has moved to the Royal British Legion Club (why?), though initially on a temporary basis. But what will that do to Club nights, as it seems the Legion cannot always provide the upstairs room on a Thursday?

Fascinatingly we learn that Chris would not be able to make Monday evenings; Nick Waterman and Nigel Morris can't do Tuesdays; and Nick M and Rod can't do Wednesdays. Bernard is strongly in favour of keeping club night on a Thursday, and Chris wants club nights and match nights to be kept together. But Geoff King is in favour of Monday nights.

Problems, problems. However, when Tom Swallow proposes that we move permanently to the RBL and rearrange league matches for those weeks when we can't have the upstairs room, it seems as though a light bulb has been switched on, since the meeting then votes in favour of this by 14 to 3, with another 3 mysteriously either abstaining or disappearing. Maybe they had realised they couldn't make Thursdays and shouldn't have turned up in the first place?

The Chairman and the Secretary were mandated to meet with the RBL Chairman and Steward to negotiate the terms of our transfer.

This is all very interesting, but what I really want to know is, who on earth are D and N Ardebili who attended this meeting and presumably played in our teams that season? I'm pretty sure I've never heard them mentioned before … and I think I would have remembered!

So there you have it. There is now only one more year of AGM minutes to review. The Club records are almost exhausted. As indeed am I. But hopefully I can just about summon up enough energy to complete this 31 year walk down memory lane in the next, and final, instalment of From the Archives.

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

A White Christmas Comes Early to Kenilworth

There was no snow in  Kenilworth last night, but it was still most definitely a total white-out, as our rearranged Coventry League match against Coventry A ended with four decisive games, all won by White.  The more perceptive amongst our readers will thereby deduce that the match ended 2-2. A good result for Coventry, given that half their team was out of the country when the match should have originally been played!  And a good result for us against the league leaders. It was a very tense encounter, and it can be fairly confidently said that on no board did the correct result occur, although the overall match score was about right (and directly in line with ratings).

It is almost inevitable that there will be internecine encounters in this match, and despite Coventry turning up without either Joshua or Bernard C in their team there were still two such games, although even in this mini-match honours were also shared. Mike's disastrous run of results continued as he finished first with another loss against Lionel, who thus joins Joshua, Bernard C and Ed in the Kenilworth Hall of Shame for winning against us. (Whisper it, but I am in there too, for having given the likes of Bernard R and Carl regular thrashings in the years when I misguidedly played for Leamington. But at least I have never won, or even played, against Kenilworth since I joined the club!) But an extra spoonful of shame is awarded to Lionel for (a) having lost for the B team the night before and (b) winning against Mike from a bad/losing position.

But if that was an unlucky break for us, Lady Luck balanced things up on Board 4 as Ben came back from a losing position to beat Ed in the other civil war encounter. Ed's Dutch was doing rather well until he hallucinated and put a bishop directly en prise. Even then he had play and tricks, but Ben carefully navigated the rocky waters to level the score. This was a very happy moment for me, as when I had looked at the position shortly before I had miscounted the pieces and thought Ben was a rook down!

Almost simultaneously I won against Dave Ireland on Board 2, but the position had been totally drawn until a few seconds before the end, when Dave simply blundered a piece under pressure from the clock. A sad end to a very interesting game - albeit one where I never had any edge at any stage, until I was gifted a bishop!

Now if you were paying close attention, you will have been shocked by the last paragraph. What was the Club Organiser and Team Captain doing on Board 2 when he has been on Board 1 in every match he has played so far this season? And he is the highest graded active player in the club? Did he forget the board order rules and play someone ineligible above him on Board 1? Or had he put his hand in his pocket and brought in a hired hand? The answer is …. none of the above! The game marked the return to competitive action of our very own Paul, who by fortunate happenstance was available to make what was only his third appearance in three seasons - and first ever for us in the Coventry League! Regrettably, though, this selection coup only served to extend Paul's run of KCC results over those 3 seasons to played 3, lost 3! He had a very intense struggle against Henrik Stepanyan, which saw Paul win an exchange in the middle game, though the position was very complicated and White definitely had compensation. But the clock eventually caused some inaccuracies to occur and Paul lost back his exchange advantage, before ending up in a lost rook and pawn ending.

Still, a thoroughly enjoyable and well fought match. They won't be losing any sleep in Moscow Central Chess Club over the quality of the games, but they must surely have appreciated the fighting spirit. And they know all about white-outs in Moscow, too!

Sunday, 8 December 2019

John Skinner, RIP

Roy has passed on the very sad news that John Skinner died at the end of November. John was a club stalwart for 25 years or so, from around the mid-1980s right through to about 2010.

The funeral will be on Tuesday 10th December, at 11.15 at Canley Crematorium.

Roy will doubtless provide a full obituary in John's memory after the funeral.

Chess History Rewritten - Was Rubinstein Really a Mancunian?

The chess history books will tell you that the great chess master Akiba Rubinstein was born in Poland on December 1, 1880. But don't believe everything you read - fake news is not a modern invention, after all.

Chancing on a couple of his games recently, I was immediately struck by the fact that Rubinstein was a man who loved fianchettoing his knights - and as all devoted readers of the KCC Blog will know, this is one of the core characteristics of the Manchester School of Chess (see post dated January 14, 2019 by that other well known Mancunian, Joshua Pink). Take this game for instance:-

Or this one, when the fianchettoed knight is at the heart of a Rubinstein victory:-

Or even this one, where the knight is only fianchettoed for 2 moves:-

Fairly conclusive stuff, I think. A Mancunian if ever I saw one. From Didsbury, possibly. Or maybe Withington. But definitely from the south side of the City, I'd say! Although when you play through the following game, you may feel that only someone born in Heaven could have played such a brilliant combination. This is truly Rubinstein's Immortal Game. And thanks to being on the losing end of one of the greatest finishes ever, Georg Rotlevi has also acquired a degree of immortality. Even though he most definitely did not come from Manchester.

Wow, what a game! Seems like Rubinstein knew how to fianchetto his bishops as well!!

Friday, 6 December 2019

Fifteen (Games) 'til Christmas

Due to a peculiar set of circumstances, which I maintain are entirely not my fault, I am playing rather a lot of chess in the next few days. Perhaps even the hitherto unremarked upon record for the number of games by a Kenilworth Chess player, between the 7th - 10th December is about to fall?

Tomorrow I kick off with six or seven rapidplay games at the London Chess Classic. On Sunday, it's six games at the Coventry rapidplay. All of which will hopefully leave me well practiced for the B team match against Rugby on Monday and the encounter with Coventry on Tuesday night!

I'll write a blog next week, as to how it all goes. I'm already worried as to what I am going to do with my time between the 10th December and the Shropshire weekender on the 4th and 5th January. In hindsight, I probably should not have voiced this concern on the home front, but there we have it!

Thursday, 5 December 2019

European Youth Blitz Championship - Billy Punches Above His Weight Again!

After his brilliant top 10 finish in the European U-8 Rapid Championships, KCC's young superstar Billy Fellowes was always going to find it hard going in the Blitz event, since there was no U-8 tournament and he had to play in the U-10s - giving away up to 2 years to many of his opponents. But we shouldn't be surprised by now that Billy rose splendidly to the challenge and gave a terrific account of himself in this exceedingly tough competition. He finished in 51st place in a field of 150 competitors, scoring 5.5/9. As a measure of the standard in this event, and a sure sign that most of the field was probaby heavily under-rated - the top seed (a Russian lad rated 2145 - which is even higher than me!!) could only finish 12th. And just think, Billy will still be eligible for this event in 2 years time - what a mighty force he will be by then! Well done Billy!

And well done to honorary KCC member, Elis Dicen who followed up her own top 10 placing in the Girls U-10 Rapid event with a tie for 10th-18th place (12th on tie break) in the Girls U-10 Blitz, scoring a terrific 6/9.

And both these amazing youngsters also performed excellently in the Team Rapid event which took place between the two individual championships. Further details of these highly impressive performances, and more background on the Estonian adventure/experience can be found on the CCA Facebook page.

The standards that these two youngsters have reached over the last few days in Tallinn is truly outstanding, and I have nothing but admiration for their stupendous achievements. Except for a tiny degree of envy at their outrageous talent, if I'm totally honest!

I guess they must have quite a good coach. Wonder who that could be?

Banana Skin Avoided

All went well for KCC when we successfully avoided any slip-ups in the first round of the Coventry KO Cup on Tuesday.

Playing away against Second Division Rugby C, we started with a 1.25 points handicap disadvantage, meaning we needed to win 3-1. So one of us could have an accident (even a big one!) but the other three had to be on form. And before we started our task got a bit easier as Rugby C found themselves hit by a late withdrawal, and so had to default on Board 4. This gave Jude the evening off, as he had been due to make his Coventry League seasonal debut for us.

Things went smoothly enough, and I was never really worried about the match, although - as is usual with us! - we didn't always have everything under total control on every board!

I finished first, having won a pawn very early despite a rather lacklustre opening, and then snaffling a second not many moves later. My opponent found a seemingly clever move which set me up for a big cheapo, but even though I hadn't seen it coming, it actually allowed me a reply which stopped the cheapo; attacked a rook; and attacked a knight as well - now that's the sort of move I could do with more of! There was no defence to all the threats and we were one up.

Meanwhile Drago was having an interesting game on Board 3, in which he got powerful central pawns on c5 and d5; a monstrous bishop on b2; a killer knight on e4; and a marauding queen on g3. The pressure against the Black king - and g7 in particular - was too much and Drago was able to crash through witha  piece sac on f6, winning many pawns and an exchange.

Ben's game on Board 2, though, was anything but interesting, and he was having to work very hard to get any action going with the Black pieces, as the position had all the fluidity of set concrete. But by sheer determination - and a little help along the way - he finally managed to unleash a splendid tactical shot, jumping his knight onto the d2 square where it could be captured three ways - by a knight, rook or queen! Each capture lost the exchange, though, so it looked like a case of job done - but in chess we dont have a must capture rule, and White could have avoided material loss and traded into a queen ending at the cost of getting doubled f pawns. Its not at all clear whether this would have been that much better for Black, but fortunately for us, White forgot he wasn't obliged to capture and fell in with Ben's plan, losing material and the game.

So that was us safely through to round 2, where we will have a home tie in early February against Division 3 side Nuneaton D - to whom we will have to concede a 2.25 points handicap start - meaning we will only be able to afford to drop a half point if we are to make it to the semi-final.

Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Another Night, Another Defeat

For the second successive week the A team came up short in a crunch match at the top of the table, this time going down conclusively 1-3 against Banbury A. And for the second successive week, our conquerors catapulted themselves to the top of the table.

The match featured the divisions two biggest hitters, Banbury's International Master James Jackson, and our very own points machine Joshua, and they didn't let their adoring publics down, as both added another win to their season's tally to maintain a 100% performance for their respective teams - 5/5 for James and 6/6 for Josh.

Joshua was first to finish - of course! - with a surprisingly one sided win over Paul Rowan on Board 2. Black decided to give up a piece for reasons which completely escaped me, and after that it was plain sailing for Josh all the way into a simple bishop ending. Where he was the only one with a bishop - simple!

But already the writing was on the wall for the match result. Bernard C was consuming large amounts of time to get into a terrible position against Carl Portman on Board 3. He rather neglected his kingside development and pretty soon found himself obliged to recapture a piece on e7 with his king. Not surprisingly a tactical refutation followed almost immediately and Bernard crashed and burned in gruesome fashion. But at least it was quick and suffering was kept to a minimum.

Which was not the case for Mike and I in the remaining two games. Regrettably Mike's calm demeanour was disrupted very early on when he got his pieces in a terrible log jam on the queenside, and when his queen was attacked on b3 it only had the c2 square to go to, upon which Gary Jackson played b4 winning Mike's knight on c3, as there was a rook pinning it from c8. The only surprise thereafter was that the game actually continued for quite a long time. Mike somehow claimed a second pawn for his lost knight and even managed to break up the Black king's position to give some vague hopes of turning the game around, but a piece is a piece after all, and the inevitable eventually came to pass.

Of course, the secret of beating (or at least not losing to) Banbury A, is to win over the bottom three boards, because you are probably going to lose on Board 1 - especially if you are giving away a 40 grading point deficit. And having failed to implement part 1 of that strategy, the fact that part 2 duly happened was of no great significance for the result - it just emphasised the margin of Banbury's victory.

I improved on last season's game against James Jackson, but once I had reached the point where the engine had said I was equal and I had to think for myself, things started to go downhill. I felt I had no choice but to go into a double rook and minor piece ending, where White's knight on e4 dominated my woeful bishop on e7. I found it very hard to get in the freeing pawn break f7-f5, as James put the squeeze on the Black position. When it eventually happened it cost me a pawn, but at least my bishop sprang to life and so did my two rooks. The White king started getting checked around the board and for a few moves all three results seemed possible. But the White king ran to safety, while a White passed pawn on h6 was a monster. With best play its possible I might have reached the drawn position of rook and knight against rook, but best play didn't come into it, and in big trouble on the clock and on the board I was put out of my misery by a knight fork which won on the spot. Yes, even after my wretched bishop got out into the open, that cursed White knight was still bossing the board! Why are strong player's pieces always so much better than your own, I wonder?

So we reach the Christmas break with one of our players on 100%, myself on 58% ……… and no-one else above 50%! Not exactly the stuff of champions. Maybe we can turn it round in 2020, he said optimistically/self-deludedly!!

Monday, 2 December 2019

European Youth Rapid Championship - Billy is a Top Ten Hit!

Fantastic news from Estonia, where the remarkably talented KCC mini-superstar Billy Fellowes has had another sensational tournament, to finish in a tie for 6th-9th place in the European Rapid U-8 Championships. Scoring 6.5/9, Billy ended up one point from a medal; the top West European; and behind only Russian and Ukrainian rivals. After a relatively slow start in the first three rounds (50%), Billy then went into turbo-overdrive scoring 5/6, with his sole reverse coming at the hands of the 1588 rated Ukrainian top seed, who ended up with the silver medal.

And there was another top 10 finish for KCC to celebrate, as Elis Dicen, who has visited the club several times in the last few months (most recently just last Thursday!) with sister Imogen and dad Dennis, scored 6/9 to finish in a tie for 7th-11th in the Girls U-10 tournament and the top West European player.

Both these young stars still have a team rapid tournament and the blitz championships to look forward to, so they will have plenty more opportunities to terrorise Europe before they come back home. More news will almost certainly be available in due course, courtesy of coach extraordinaire Paul, on the CCA website here. Or for those of you who indulge in what I believe is referred to as "social media" (no idea, don't ask me!), Paul has an up to the minute Facesnapinstatwitchatbook news page here.

Good luck to both Billy and Elis for their next two days of intense and hectic chess competition.

Friday, 29 November 2019

A Coventry League Match ..... on a Wednesday????

I guess this must have happened before, but it was a new one on me. When Warwick University asked to change the date of our match away against Uni A, a Wednesday night turned out to be the best solution. Or at least it did when I agreed the switch, but then Dave decided to go to Belgium to drink the local bars dry, and Drago found himself in London playing for Barclay's Bank, and we suddenly had only 3 players. And with the A and B teams having played on Monday, and the C team in action on Thursday, it looked like we might not even have a full team. Cometh the hour, though, cometh the man - and that man is called Phil. Serendipitously Phil couldn't play in the C team match as his brother was arriving from Germany to visit that very day, so he was instead available (and willing!) to be drafted in to our Cov League team a day earlier.

Having just drawn 2-2 against Uni B the previous week, our chances against Uni A were obviously not too good. But you never know what team they will field, and in the end they left more 190+ players out of their side than we have in our entire club (2 - and neither of them has played a game for us this season!) Even so, the odds were stacked against us when we finally found Room B2.05 in the Science Building. But in what has otherwise been a sobering week for the club (except in Dave's case, I presume) we rose manfully to the challenge and somehow came away with an excellent 2-2 draw despite being out-graded on every board.

And things didn't start off too well when Mike got unceremoniously rolled over by a very aggressive Romanian student on Board 2. The Black king found itself stuck in the centre, and even though White had a fianchettoed knight on b2 for the whole game, the remaining forces honed in on the Black monarch and eventually forced the win of Black's queen.

Ben finished next, on Board 3, and it was more disappointment for us, as he had played an excellent game and was better the whole way ... and then suddenly it was a draw! I have no idea what happened at the end, but it looked like without a full point in that game we were doomed.

However, Lady Luck then turned in our favour, as my game went from dead level to completely winning almost without me realising such a dramatic swing was happening. I had been trying to develop a very slow kingside attack while my strong Serbian opponent was playing on the queenside. But in the blink of an eye, the whole picture flipped and abandoning the kingside attack - which was going nowhere - I won a key queenside pawn which put me in complete control. Rather than suffer a protracted defence against my now mighty passed b pawn, Black sacked two more pawns in the centre to set up a fork of a rook on a4 and a knight on e4 by a queen on e8 - but, thankfully for me, there was a tactical escape from the double attack, and when I forced the last pair of rooks off to leave me two pawns and position up, Black resigned.

Which left Phil needing a draw to save the match. For most of the night I had been fearing the worst, as every time I looked at his game, his position seemed more and more depressing. But Phil dug in for the long haul, First World War style, and adopted the Verdun-inspired mindset of "Ils ne passeront pas!" And they absolutely didn't passeront - right down to a king and pawn ending, where Phil was able to keep the White king at bay and secure the required match saving draw and an unexpected point.

So a small ray of light in an otherwise disappointing week. Thank heavens for small mercies!

Black Night

Who'd have thought that Deep Purple would ever be an appropriate soundtrack for a Leamington League chess match? But that was regrettably the case this week, as Kenilworth A failed the test on our first serious examination of the season, relinquishing top spot in the Division 1 table to our conquerors in the process.

We've had a pretty good run against Olton lately, winning comprehensively in the league earlier this year and beating them in the Cup Final, too, so the law of averages said that would have to come to an end sometime. Even fielding our strongest side so far this season couldn't overturn the odds.

Andy B made his 2019-20 league debut and pressed for the whole game against Alan Lloyd on Board 2, though without ever making any serious inroads into the Black position. The game was probably about level when Andy offered a draw, but given the state of play in the match, we could have done with him playing on.

David P was struggling against Mark Cundy on Board 3, and gradually shed a pawn or two. I was expecting his pieces to spring to life and deliver a rousing counter attack on the White king, which had castled long - but it never happened and eventually the material advantage told for Mark.

Thank goodness for the ever reliable Joshua on Board 4, who kept his 100% (league) record for the A team this season by despatching Richard Smith. I saw virtually nothing of the game and have no idea how convincing a victory it was - but quite frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn! A point is a point and we needed it.

But alas it wasn't to be enough, as the law of averages also caught up with me on Board 1, where I failed to make it three wins in a row against Phil Holt, and fell to what used to be my traditional defeat in rather excruciating circumstances. Deep into a game where I had been slightly worse throughout, I thought I saw a clever way to line up a perpetual attack on White's queen by giving up a pawn on g6. But I had overlooked a neat tactical trick which saw Phil counter the attack on his queen by attacking mine, and in the time it took to say "Rats!" my position collapsed. I could have given up a pawn, but for some reason decided to give up an exchange instead and the game should have ended on the spot. But bizarrely/cruelly Phil then needlessly blundered the exchange and a pawn back leaving me just a pawn down in a rook and opposite bishops ending. But my pawns were all on vulnerable squares and Phil cleverly traded off the rooks to win all my queenside pawns. Even opposite bishops can't save you when you are three pawns down.

And it really was a black night for the club all round, as the B team failed to win a crunch match they had at their mercy against Shirley, and the D team went down 0-3 at home to Solihull E, which included a very annoying default. And also spare a thought for Noah, who came within one or two moves of his first league victory only to falter at the eleventh hour after playing a really good game against the very experienced Dennis Horsley.

And maybe there's a song called Black Week somewhere? Because the C team went down 3-1 to Banbury B last night to complete a clean sweep of all four of our teams within four days. I think the lads need to be called in for extra training - though Jude is exempt after his excellent win last night. Clearly we need more 9 year olds in the teams to show us the way.

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

When Three Points Is Not Enough...

I am hoping my questionable form of late has passed under the radar. Presumably most (?!) would excuse my performance at the board, given the cutting edge captaincy skills I bring to the table. Other than the separate emails advising the team of both the wrong date and the wrong venue for Monday's match against Shirley, these continue to be top notch. Details, details! My profound insight that this was a match it would be really helpful to win surely counted for something. Albeit, it was of course somewhat disappointing that we didn't...

It was one of those nights that really epitomize what league chess is all about. Dark, wet and with a lot of road works in the Shirley area. While Shirley were bottom of the table, the average grades were virtually identical and it was always going to be very tight.

Mike was giving away a few grading points to Phil Purcell on board one, but always looked comfortable. He got to play an idea he had first thought of ten years ago that placed a lot of pressure on Black's f6 knight and required very accurate play to defend. Phil burnt through time, but found a way to ease the pressure and simplify to a level position. Certainly a draw that Mike had the better of.

Meanwhile, Bernard seemed to be level on board 2, I was better on board 3 and Jude was better on board 4. Thank goodness nobody placed a flutter. On board two, Jonathan Dale just seemed to turn equality into a slight advantage and then further turned the screw. In a heavy piece endgame, his superior pawn structure and weaknesses in Bernard's seem to make it increasingly difficult for Bernard, and eventually Jonathan broke through to win the point.

Sitting on Board 3, I generally spend some of my time watching Jude's games and some of it watching Jude's opponents to assess where they are on the worried/ despairing continuum. Dave Thomas had the look of an extremely worried man for most of the night. Jude won the exchange and had a lot of possibilities on the king side, but Dave defended well. It all got quite messy and a draw looked like a fair result - but another game we had the better of.

I was playing Keith Ingram on three and this also got away for us. In a complex middlegame, Keith overlooked a tactic and I picked up a pawn. Unfortunately, Keith had a very strong knight and I felt I had no choice but to exchange into an opposite coloured bishop ending with a promising passed pawn. Only a win would get us anything and I played until I was under 5 minutes, by which point Keith was clearly holding everything, so another draw. It is rare to lose a match where a team has the better of three of the games. Chess can be very cruel sometimes, but we will re-group and go again.

So what of my title of this piece, I hear you ask? Indeed. It was a massive night for the A team too. They went down by the same margin. So three points between us and nothing but pain for our supporters. The B team still have to play Rugby before Christmas. I've made a note to combine an instruction to win with the right venue and date instructions. Such a formula has to be unstoppable! Doesn't it?...

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

A Match of Two Halves

But not first compared to second, instead top compared to bottom, since our 2-2 draw against Warwick University Blast night saw us win on the top two boards and lose on the bottom two. Unfortunately there was no tie break by board count or elimination, so 2-2 it had to stay and one point for each team.

My game was over in half an hour, of which I'd used 5 minutes - and truth be told I could have played the whole game in 30 seconds as I didn't have to think once. I employed a rather dodgy opening that is exceedingly sharp and tactical, but luckily my opponent's theoretical knowledge ran out before mine and he simply dropped a piece - the move Qb4+ won a loose White bishop on h4. I was tempted to go home, but a sense of captain's duty prevailed and I stopped to watch the rest of the match. It wasn't always pretty viewing!

Uni B levelled the scores with a win on Board 4. From a very staid opening Black nevertheless whipped up a big attack along the g file against Dave's highly compromised kingside (shattered pawns on h2, f2 and f3). It looked like curtains to me, but resourceful play by Dave somehow staved off the mate threats and he reached a (bad) position a pawn down. But one careless move relieved him of the need to try to defend a losing ending, as he could only avoid a back rank mate by giving up a rook.

All this time Ben had been suffering the tortures of the damned on Board 3 where a White knight on e4 was absolutely killing the Black position and especially Ben's dark squared bishop which was roaming around but simply hitting thin air. Ben tried a pawn sac but it simply made the Black position worse and White remorselessly turned the screw before the move pawn to d6+ (guarded by that killer knight on e4!) won a whole rook.

So now we needed a win from Mike on Board 2 to level the scores, and fortunately it was never in doubt. He achieved a dream like position for White from a Benko Gambit, and used the passed a pawn that Black had so kindly donated to restrain any Black queenside play. Then he responded to a rather strange f6 move by planting an octopus knight on the square e6. Black tried an exchange sac to eliminate White's a pawn, but Mike simply ignored it and after forcing a queen trade ended up in an overwhelming rook ending where the pawn on a7 paralysed Black's rook on a8. When the White king got to b7 winning the rook for a pawn it was time to resign, although for some unfathomable reason several more moves were needlessly played before Black hoisted the white flag.

A slightly disappointing result overall, but there's no denying some of the University's ungraded overseas students are pretty sharp cookies! And they do have youth on their side, which is certainly not a quality we were overly-endowed with last night!

Sunday, 10 November 2019

I Almost Forgot.......

……. that we won a Coventry League match last Tuesday! Playing away to Coventry B, we recorded an ultimately comfortable 3-1 win over last season's Division 2 champions, who are finding life in Division 1 rather tough.

The match, however, was actually quite competitive for virtually the whole evening. I finished first on Board 1, winning with White against Sam Cotterill, despite a definite opening slip by me. Even though I knew the line quite well, I carelessly waited one move too long to play g4 driving the Black bishop away from h5, and ended up in a distinctly awkward position for a few moves. But after playing the opening very well, Sam rather drifted in the middle game, and once he recaptured the wrong way on e4 the tide turned very quickly in my favour. I won an exchange which then became a whole piece.

But we weren't ahead for long. Despite having a population of well over 300,000 compared to our 25,000 or so, half of Coventry's team were Kenilworth residents, and one of them, former KCC star Kate Donegan, struck back decisively by beating Ben on Board 2. At some point Kate sacrificed a piece for 3 central pawns, and when it came down to rook and 5 v rook, knight and 2, it looked decidedly dodgy for Ben as the White king had got into a strong position supporting connected, passed e and f pawns. Ben was trying franticly to blockade/attack them, but in the time it took me to blink, Ben's rook simply disappeared from the board - while the White rook and all the pawns were still there! Our fate was sealed and Kate had an excellent win.

While all this was going on, Dave was having a very strange game against Nigel Morris on Board 4. Mainly because the board and pieces were totally mismatched - the squares were small, and the pawns & pieces were giant. And with few exchanges, the board looked over-crowded for the whole game. I found it all very disconcerting and would have declined to play, but Dave is clearly made of sterner stuff and took it all in his stride. The position was almost totally blocked, but when I had just about given up any hope of progress, Dave found a killing piece sac which opened up the White king, and his queen and rook then powered into the position to deliver an unstoppable mate.

But still the match was not won, with the clock a big enemy for us on Board 3. Drago, who had stepped in late to replace an unwell Mike D, was an exchange up against Kenilworth resident number 2, and ex-KCC stalwart, Mike Johnson which then became a whole rook. But Drago's time was slipping away well below 5 minutes (no increment) and to my consternation he was still writing all the moves down. In contrast, and despite the rules, Mike - who had about 20 minutes left - was recording about one move in every four! I almost couldn't bear to look, but thankfully Drago had it all under control and got the job done with a couple of minutes left on his clock, to wrap up a 3-1 win.

Thursday, 7 November 2019

The Hustler

Ben's recent article on chess in New York brought back memories of my own time there in (gulp!) 1984/85.

There was no league chess as we know it, and the only time I ever played at any of the famous New York chess landmarks was shorty after I arrived in September 1984. At the now defunct Manhattan Chess Club, where Fischer was once a member (though not in the same premises that I played in, on West 57th street near Carnegie Hall and the Russian Tea Rooms), I scored 3/4 in the NY September Open, losing only to future IM Dimitri London (USCF 2457 then, and still a highly respectable 2422 ELO now!) in Round 2. Serves me right for playing the Ponziani!

Thereafter my chess was restricted to participation in four small tournaments at the Game Room, which was a (quite respectable!) basement establishment somewhere high up on Broadway beyond Columbus Circle. I guess that they catered for bridge and other card players and goodness knows what else, but my memory totally fails me on this point now.

In their 5 round Swiss No 6 (Oct/Nov 1984; 1 game per week on a weekday evening)  I scored 4/4 plus a Rd 2 bye to finish first and pick up $100. Then in Swiss No 7 (Nov/Dec) I pocketed another $100 for scoring 3.5/4, plus another Rd 2 bye.  Quite what I had against playing in Round 2, I have no idea. My scoresheet tells me the last round was played on Boxing Day 1984. In this tournament I played the greatest game of my life against another future IM Jay Bonin (2388), that was so brilliant (though I say so, myself!) that it deserves an article all its own.

It was after one of these games that I very nearly saw Woody Allen, and very nearly (in my imagination anyway) appeared in his film Hannah and Her Sisters. As I walked along Broadway to go and catch my bus home, there was a film crew set up outside a Tower Records store, with tracks laid on the sidewalk (sorry, pavement) and a film camera sliding up and down, shooting through a floor to ceiling window into the store. I walked on, not having a clue what was going on, only to have a "what on earth?!" moment a few months later when going to see the film (this was well before Woody fell out of favour!), and recognising a scene as the one I had watched being prepared.

Thereafter, I played in two Quads at the Game Room. These were 4 player all play alls held over a single Sunday. On April 21st 1985 I scored 2.5/3 and took home the first prize of $30, but on May 5th my winning tournament run came to an end as I could only manage 2/3, and the $30 jackpot went the way of one G. Dimitrov (2062) who absolutely slaughtered me in our (Rd 2 of course!!) encounter with the Grand Prix Attack.

So my New York chess record ended up at won 12; drew 2; lost 2. And I ended up (briefly) with a USCF rating of 2303!

But this is all rather gentrified and several miles removed from Ben's New York experiences of street chess (even if some of it was played indoors!), and in fact one of my most memorable moments in New York occurred one workday lunchtime (July 9th, 1985) when I chanced upon 2 chess hustlers taking on all comers in the street near the ill-fated World Trade Centre, where I worked on the 83rd floor. For stakes of $3 a game, I sat down and played two games against a 20-something hustler who turned out not to have grasped the fundamental fact that he was supposed to take money off me, and not the other way around. Because, yes, I out-hustled the hustler in both of our five minute games -and luckily for all KCC members, I subsequently reconstructed them and they are now seeing the light of day for the first time ever.

Here's Game 1.

And here's Game 2.

So two nil to the Limey, but hustlers always have to have the last word, and my opponent then deducted two dollars from my winnings for "clock hire". It seems like not all hustlers have Paul Newman's class and style!

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Time Was Against Us

Having drawn against Solihull B last time out, playing Solihull's A team was always going to be something of a challenge and so it proved. Albeit, things could have been very different had it not been for the cruel nature of the clock.

Phil Wood had heroically stepped in at very short notice on the Sunday night, as Mike was ill and the original replacement had a family matter to deal with. However, his board three encounter with Paul Roper (who is finding Kenilworth an increasingly good customer) did not go to plan. Paul uncorked a beauty of a tactic in the opening which gave him an incredibly strong position. Phil really made Paul work for it, but sadly there was little he could do to prevent us going 0-1 down. Still a really valued effort at such short notice.

My own position against Tony Sadler was unclear at this point, but Andy Ward was well up on his 180+ opponent on Board 1 and Jude was winning against Nigel Towers on Board four. Jude as ever played with incredible maturity way beyond his years. He is not the teams top point scorer for nothing! Perhaps there was a chance for the win, but it wasn't obvious and in the end Nigel held out for a draw. Nigel said afterwards that he would not enjoy playing Jude a year from now, but it has to be said he did not look like a man who had enjoyed the previous three hours of his life! Another great effort from Jude against a very strong and highly respected opponent. So 0.5 - 1.5.

I don't have the best of records against Tony and we ended up in a position where I had ripped his king side apart, only to find myself in huge danger down the center. I certainly did not find the right plan and found myself having to back off, deep in survival mode. Tony pressed forward, picked up a pawn and seemed to be closing in on victory.

I felt bad that Andy's efforts were going to be in vein, but then disaster struck on Board One. Somehow Andy had lost on time in a great position. An incredibly painful way to lose and Andy had deserved so much more. It is only a matter of time until play of his quality yields some points, but tonight was just not his night. So the match was lost 0.5 - 2.5.

However, by some miracle my own game was not. I sacrificed a second pawn to give myself an incredible Senitz Knight that completely dominated the board. Tony's king had very few squares and I picked up first one of my lost pawns and then the other. I had all the play, but was down to a minute and a half on my clock to Tony's five. An ocean of time compared to the previous match, but I couldn't see the win. There was one there, as we established afterwards, but Tony had surly missed victory himself earlier in the night, so a draw was a fair result.

So in the end a 1-3 result. Not a disaster, but had Andy and I had a little more time to think, things could have been very different. Not to worry. We have a crunch match coming up next, against Shirley. A real four pointer if ever there was one. I know we sometimes give Jude tips on slowing down, but maybe we all need to take lessons from him as to how to play more quickly!

Sunday, 3 November 2019

Washington Square Revisited - The Only Thing Worse Than Taking the Money

I knew I had already left it too late really. It was starting to get dark, and the barriers were already being erected down sixth avenue in readiness for that evening's Halloween parade. Still, there it was. We had spent most of the day at the Metropolitan Museum and the children were tired and in need of a rest. They had headed back to the hotel with Katharine, which meant I had a couple of unscheduled hours at my disposal. What better way to use them than with some chess in the park and at the chess forum across the way?

Some of you might have seen my piece earlier in the year for Chess magazine. Then in glorious sunshine I taken in Washington Square, The Chess Forum and the Marshall club. I had played the hustlers and rubbed shoulders with the stars, including the US number 2 ranked female player, Irina Krush. This return was always going to be a much more fleeting visit. A shorter and more transient chess fix in a week that had consisted of museum visits, a trip up the Empire State Building and the more general back and forth of family life with teenagers.

The Washington Square tables were nearly empty as dusk drew in, but I spotted a familiar face through the gloaming. Leroy Mack. As affable as ever, with plans for work and plenty of chess in the park over the winter. A true warrior and a gentleman. We played and talked. I would love to say he remembered me from our previous games, but he didn't. He must have played thousands of people at his marble table since our last encounter. Not that it mattered. We gossiped like old friends. Our chess a common language that bridged our most likely quite different lives. We had an enjoyable game. We both said at the end that we knew we would play each other again one day, and really meant it.

I was then challenged by the self-styled strongest player in the park that day. He told me that what I'd done against Leroy "don't mean nothing." That he didn't want a donation. That we would play a straight bet for five dollars. I had white and soon my position was overwhelming. All you can give anyone is your strongest game and I knew from very early on how this one was going to end. Finally he resigned and handed me a five dollar bill I did not want, but was not brave enough to refuse.
"That's all I got, man," he said. Referring to his chess game rather than the money. We shook hands respectfully and I left the park for the Forum, somehow feeling as if I had stolen something.

The Chess Forum is on Thompson Street, a couple of blocks from Washington Square. They serve no refreshments, but it is only a few dollars an hour to play there. I started off against Kyle, who comes in every day, but normally plays the same person. "I know his style as well as I know anything in life," he told me. "Your style is a little different," he said with a smile. I then played his friend and then a few games with an "inconsistent expert," called David, who used to live in New York, but was now just a visitor. "My wife wanted to go to her dancing class, so where the hell else would I head?" he asked me. He had a curious style, tending to open with moves like e3, but he was considerably stronger than my previous opponents. In the end, I won 3-1, but it was more about the bonding than the chess.

What other game gives you a passport to any city? A way of walking in off the street and bonding with strangers? I knew why David would come here when his wife was dancing, just as he knew why I would hole up at the Forum while my family rested. We were both of us drawn to these few wooden tables and the black and white chess men that sat between us, keen to travel together to that place where briefly nothing else matters, save the game unfolding in front of you.

Finally, I left the Forum and walked back through Washington Square, the chess tables now all empty. The whole of sixth avenue was lined with those waiting for the Halloween parade. The sidewalks smelt as much of marijuana as Washington Square had itself. Heavy rain was forecast, but it did not come. Even so, this was one of those moments when you notice that summer has well and truly fallen away and even the autumn is beginning to bleed into winter.

As I walked back to the hotel and my family, I reflected on a couple of hours of affirmation, playing chess in New York. Even if I could not share the unusual feeling of having won a game I would prefer to have lost. The five dollar bill I did not want, burning a metaphorical hole in my pocket.

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

They Also Serve, Who Only Stand and Spectate

You can never have too much Milton in your match reports, can you? Anyway, we'll get back to the title of this piece at the end, but for the moment let's concentrate on last night's Open KO Cup First Round tie away at Shirley, where we began the defence of our Trophy. (Which currently resides on my mantelpiece and is in need of a good polish!)

Given that we had already chalked up a 4-0 league win against our opponents this season, and that they were missing their board one from that match, it won't be a massive surprise that we secured a semi-final place (against Leamington) with a 4.5-0.5 victory.

But there were one or two anxious moments at the start, when it looked as though the debut appearance in our Open team of Jude was going to go horribly wrong when he got his (white) queen trapped on e6 after a crafty Bc8 retreat by John Freeman. Oops! But Jude made the best of a bad job and got a rook in return, and when Black tragically returned the favour a bit later and walked into a knight fork, he was suddenly the exchange and several pawns to the good, and the win came soon after.

After that stroke of extreme good fortune, the match was never in doubt. Andy, making his seasonal debut and playing his first game of chess for almost 6 months, simply sped out of the blocks (drug test?) on top board against Jonathan Dale and had Black on the ropes in no time at all. He won a pawn with much the better position, but it seemed scant reward for a totally dominant position, and I suspect he may have missed a quick win. Still, he kept the advantage and finally secured the point in a rook and opposite bishops ending when his a pawn lurched down the board and couldn't be stopped.

I finished next, after unleashing a thunderbolt against Keith Ingram on Board 2 that won a piece from a clear blue sky. Only a couple of moves earlier the position had been totally level and heading for a rather boring draw, but my 22nd move set up a big threat and Keith thankfully walked right into it. See if you can guess Black's idea with a big Boom! moment on move 24.

With the match won, I adjourned to the bar, and our little group was soon joined by Joshua who surprisingly had failed to keep up his 100% A team record and dropped our only half point on the night to Dave Thomas. (OK, it was a Cup match, not the A team, but if he's relying on technicalities like that to keep his status, its clear he's rattled!) Even for Josh, the opening was slightly unusual, as he uncorked Na3 on move one. I suppose he knows what he's doing. Although our man pushed and pushed all the way to a 3v2 rook ending, Dave defended stoutly and held the draw.

Which left Mike in play against Gordon Christie on Board 4, and this seemed by some way the richest and deepest game of the evening. From the bits I saw, it looked as though Mike played a really good game. sacrificing an exchange for a pawn and masses of activity, which threatened to overwhelm White's defences. While Gordon tried to hold back the torrent of Black pieces, it was in vain and Mike won material and the game. Excellent, dynamic chess.

So what was all that stuff in the title about, I hear you say? Well, the match last night was graced by a spectator who comfortably out-graded everyone else in the room, since none other than our number one (non-) player Paul dropped in on his way home from Birmingham to see Jude in action and lend his support to the team. Judging from the score, his presence certainly didn't do our morale any harm, and if we can't have him in the team, then having him there, silently intimidating the opposition ("we're so strong we don't even need Paul!") is the next best thing!

BTW I go away on holiday for seven days, and in that time no less than 4 match reports appear on the blog, none of them written by me! What on earth is going on?? I'm not at all sure I like sharing this platform with anybody else. I shall have to up my blogging game!

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Proving a Point

I was sat at my desk this time yesterday unsure whether to weep or type. Still, weeping is not really the done thing where I work (unless things get really bad.) On the other hand as light blogging is positively encouraged (quite possibly) I had no choice but to tell the tale of our Coventry League debacle against Rugby. However, in the back of my mind was the thought that we were in action against Solihull B the following day and I was dreaming of redemption. The plan had been to call this post, "What a difference a day makes," and to regale you with the story of a 4-0 win so emphatic that we were awarded the Division 1 title on the spot. I suppose there is a reason why you can't write blogs before a match has taken place, as the reality last night was much much tougher.

These are big games for the team, as we try and secure our Division 1 status and in the end the point we picked up in a 2-2 draw doesn't represent a bad night's work. Unusually we out-graded our opponents, although only marginally and on paper these looked like two very evenly matched teams. So it proved, even if the result was in doubt until 10.30 and we were the ones who were scrabbling to get anything from the match.

Jude got us off to a decent start with a draw against fellow junior Daniel Chen. The opening was played at break neck speed and they were in an opposite coloured bishop ending almost instantly. I always thought it had draw written all over it. That said, Jude proceeded to make quite a bit of it, but Daniel showed good technique at the end. Despite being down to bishop and one against Jude's bishop and three, Daniel's king was blocking one of Jude's pawns, with his bishop and other pawn completely locking out the other two. Daniel knew to just hold his bishop on the relevant diagonal and there was no way through for Jude. Still, a useful half point to kick us off.

Andy had one of those nights on board two where it just didn't work out. He was in a great position against Paul Roper, and I was certainly expecting a win, but a slight miscalculation undid all his good work. We've all been there, but painful nonetheless. So that put us 0.5 - 1.5 down. I didn't see much of Mike's game, but from what I did, he was always in control. However, this ultimately ended in a draw against Nigel Towers to make it 1-2.

My own game against Praveen Joy was one of the wildest and most complicated I have had for a while. I seemed to get a good position out of the opening, but it was extremely tactical. I managed to win bishop and knight for rook and was pressing on the kingside, while Praveen hammered away on the queenside. There were all sorts of possibilities for both of us and my main problem was that I simply could not calculate any of it quickly enough. At one point Praveen had twenty five minutes to my ten, then a little later twenty to my five. I was definitely better, but the position was fraught with danger. Still, only a win was any good and I felt I had no choice but to press on. Ultimately with three minutes left, I sacked a pawn, to open things up - more on instinct than concrete calculation and suddenly Praveen was massively on the back foot. It still wasn't easy to mitigate his ongoing threats with no time to analyse them, but I found a way to break through and force mate. One of those moments players dream of when suddenly your attack fully falls into place. No matter that by this point I had 50 seconds left on my clock to his 40 seconds! I expect in the cold light of day I was always winning, but it was terrifying at the time. (And still is if I think about it too much.)

So I suppose I get to award myself the man of the match award - this captaincy lark is terrific! In all seriousness, a good team effort and another useful point. We play Solihull A next, in a couple of weeks. We know from the Olton experience that we have nothing to fear, but we will have to find a little more to get something out of that one. We know we have it in us! I'm certainly hoping there will not be a Halloween theme to my next post...

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

The Power Of The Bishop Pair

A truly disastrous night for us in our first home game of the Coventry League season. Mark was away, but equally Rugby were missing Bob, so the teams were reasonably matched on paper. If not the sixty four squares when the action got under way. None of the clocks were properly set and it took a combined effort by both teams to fix this. Perhaps this was an omen. As the night went on, things certainly did not improve...

Mike's position against Dave Phillips on board one always looked very difficult. David had queen and knight threatening to mate on h7, and David's game plan consisted of finding a way to kick out Mike's defending knight on f6. Eventually he did and that was that. On board four, Dave Shurrock was playing Alan Phillips and seemed to be winning for most of the evening. However, while up an exchange it was far from easy. At least Dave earned what proved to be our sole half point.

On two and three, bizarrely, Drago and I ended up with similar looking positions (me against Jonathan Cox, Drago against Simon Turner.) We both reached heavy piece endings with two knights against two bishops. My position was always harder to play than Jonathan's even if not actually losing for most of the night. Drago's position was probably a little better, but the power of the bishop pair on both boards was plain to see. Both games went to the wire and on another night, we probably would have got something from the two games - albeit not enough to make a difference. As it was, we both lost.

So we went down 3.5 - 0.5. Sorry Mark. At least the clocks are now on the right setting for next time, so that's a positive! We've also amply demonstrated the strength of the bishops, which I suppose is something, even if they were our opponents bishops... We'll try and put things right next time.

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

First loss of the season

It all started quite well with Leamington A only having three of their regular players. However, last years relegated team is still quite strong on the top three boards.

Dave won fairly quickly against Friso Jansen with the white pieces. Black had emerged from the opening a rook down. Despite efforts to try and hold the position together, further pieces were exchanged leaving an easy ending.

Phil looked to have quite a good position against Rob Gill. However, whilst the rook ending looked good for black, Phil was unable to make progress and a draw was agreed.

Lionel had the most lively game of the evening against Tom Darling. An unusual line of the French defence, Milner Barry gambit variation left him with the opportunity to go two pawns up after the knights had been exchanged. However, the positions was not without complexity and risk. Tom played well to generate some counter play and unfortunately a miscalculation left white with an excellent attack. Tom finished off with an subtle queen sacrifice to mate black.

Jude had to play an exceptionally long game against Andy Collins.This in itself is extremely difficult for someone so young. An even game resulted in a rook and minor piece ending where white had advanced central pawns and black advanced queen side pawns. Black managed to shore up his king side and infiltrate whites queen side with his knight. With both sides very short of time, black succeeded in blocking white's passed pawn and promoted his own.

Friday, 18 October 2019

The Division One Carnival

For the B team, finally making it into Division 1 this season, has already been something of a roller coaster. (You see what I did there..) Having lost narrowly to last year’s runners up (our own A team), we had followed up with victory against the champions Olton A. My own contribution to this fantastic achievement consisted of asking Dave to captain and cheering the team on from 3000 miles away. Given that, I really wanted to put on record another massive well done to Joshua, Mike, Dave and Jude for their amazing achievement. The question was, could we follow that against a Banbury A team who had an International Master (James Jackson) on Board one and Carl Portman, fresh from his battle with Karpov on three. (See this month’s Chess for more on Carl’s exploits – I hear there are lots of other interesting reads as well!)

They always say that Division 1 has something of a carnival atmosphere (ok no one ever does) but we were still somewhat taken aback to find an actual carnival in full swing in the centre of Banbury on arrival. Had the local residents heard of our triumph against Olton A? Were our achievements seen as being on a par with Norwich’s triumph over Man City? Was the town in a near frenzy of excitement, because of us? Possibly, possibly, albeit the candy floss and rides proved too much of a draw and we did not get any spectators – they were obviously all content to wait for this write up…

It had been a slightly bizarre week on the selection front with A, B and C matches taking place and a Coventry League game (which was ultimately cancelled) but we had Mike on one, me on two, Phil standing in on three and Jude on four. Their grade average was nearly 30 points higher than ours, slightly distorted by James’s whopping 226, but we still had a lag of between 15 and 19 points on the other three boards. It was always going to be tough, and so it proved, but what an effort.

After 45 minutes, Jude and I were level, Phil’s position was unclear and Mike was playing brilliantly against James. As the evening progressed, Jude was the first to finish, drawing comfortably with the uber-strong Dan Rowan. Jude played simply and sensibly with incredible maturity and Dan never looked like making anything of white. A calm, controlled game, which just underscores how comfortable Jude is at this level – and what a great start to the season he has made.

I was next to finish on two, against Georgs Vikanis. A rare first for me, in that I don’t think we have played before (but happy to stand corrected.) Against a N-f3, c4 set up, I managed to get quite active, with a strong bishop and some nice pawn levers. Georgs pushed a bit, but I had a very well placed defensive knight on d6, and a possible queenside push that made him reluctant to fully commit to an attack. Equally, with everything fully under control, I wasn’t convinced that I wanted to go all in either, so a draw was probably inevitable.

Mike seemed to get a super strong position against James, with his queen and knight angrily massed close to James’s king. Equally, James’s queen seemed to be marooned in the middle of the board and very short of squares, with Mike’s rooks well placed to attack it. I did not see exactly what happened, but listening to Mike and James discussion afterwards, it seems that possibly a slightly too passive knight move gave James a moment to breath and turn the tables. Eventually a bishop (James) v knight (Mike) endgame ensued. Unfortunately Mike had a much more fragmented pawn structure and it was a great board for the bishop with pawns on both sides of the board. Even so, James technique (despite Mike’s strong defence) was impressive to watch. Fair to say from the way he closed it out that James is not 226 for nothing!

On Board three, Phil was the last to finish. I didn’t see how Carl managed to get on top, but he ended up in a position with rooks and queens honing in and a knight really making things awkward. I thought Phil was done for, but strong defence saw him push Carl back. However, the material cost was too high and ultimately the three pawns Carl picked up were more than enough. With an exchange of queens inevitable, the game was done. Nice play by Carl, but Phil definitely made him work for it.

So 3-1 to Banbury A, but we were by no means outclassed. A number of their players remarked on how strong all the Kenilworth teams seem to be this year, which is always nice to hear. The B team now has a double header coming up, away to Solihull A and then home to Solihull B. Something to look forward to. We certainly look like we are making the transition to Division 1. Who knows, we might still need a B team float at the Kenilworth carnival at the end of the season, to celebrate our triumphs. Or at the very least – the effort we are putting in. Division 1 may not be a piece of cake, but we all earned at least a stick of candy floss last night.

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

It's Not How You Win, It's Whether You Win!

The A team extended its 100% record to 4 games at Rugby last night with what was ultimately a clear-cut 3-1 win, but as with so many of our matches, the final score did not look likely for much of the evening. Especially when our normal "points machine", Mike, suffered a very sudden and embarrassing reverse on Board 3 against Jonathan Cox. After seemingly making all the running and pressurising Black's IQP, Mike went horrendously wrong and ended up getting checkmated by a queen on h3 and a knight on f3. Regrettably Mike's fianchettoed bishop had gone AWOL from g2 - and even a fianchettoed knight, so beloved by the Manchester School of Chess, would have been useless in repelling this particular attack.

This was a major blow, as we were not doing all that well on a couple of other boards. In particular, Joshua had played the opening in typically idiosyncratic fashion, and appeared to just be getting crushed to my untrained eye. But what do I know? Not for the first time he seemed blissfully unconcerned and just kept playing, while avoiding losing any material - though he doesn't always comply with that second condition! Somehow he was able to eke out some squares for his hitherto pathetic collection of minor and major pieces, and before you could say boo, he was two pawns up and into a rook ending! One of the extra pawns fell off, but with White's king cut off Josh was able to show fine technique and queen his last pawn.

On Board 4, Bernard C was engaged in some very strange manoeuvring against Dave Riley, which was not guaranteed to bring a warm glow to the average Match Captain. (And I fully acknowledge that I am most definitely an average Match Captain.) However, I needn't have worried as our artist in residence clearly knew what he was doing. The next time I looked he was several pawns up and despite his king looking to be in a mating net from a rook, bishop, pawn and king there was in fact no threat at all, and Bernard simply queened a pawn to win the game.

By which time I had also won on top board against Rugby's stalwart, Bob Wildig. I misplayed the opening somewhat (that's what sitting next to Joshua too many times does to you!) and came close to losing a pawn on d5 which would have spelt ruination. Thankfully the crisis passed, and with Bob rather hemmed in on his back two ranks I started to apply some pressure. His position may have been defendable, but it was very difficult, and gradually my pieces infiltrated to strong squares. In mutual time trouble, Bob had to give me a passed b pawn to avoid losing material and my active pieces were enough to shepherd this through to b8 for the win.

So a fourth straight win, and we still haven't got any of our three highest graded players to the board! And I'm not holding my breath that this state of affairs will change much, either!! So well done to those who have got us this far, especially the oft-maligned Mr Pink (we all love you really, Josh! You do know that, right?) who has run up a rather impressive 4/4 to start the season. Let's keep the run going!