Sunday, 28 April 2019

My last league game as promised in match write up.

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Medals Galore! - Day 9 at the World Seniors

And one of them is even coming home to Kenilworth! Regrettably not with me; and regrettably not from FIDE, but you can't have everything. But Andy did indeed win a gold medal through his sterling contribution to the England 3 team, who annexed the Stewart Reuben created prize for the British Isles team finishing the most places above its seeding position. And if you don't believe me...…

Andy (left) looking rather sheepish as Stewart Reuben tells the mystified audience that he has won his own competition!

Triumph! The England 3 65+ team out-perform 11 others to win a very small cup. (Andy's Gold Medal probably available for viewing by prior arrangement and subject to security checks.)
Apologies for the rather poor quality of the photos of this momentous event but (a) I have a very cheap phone and (b) I was a long way from the stage!

Andy's team secured this esoteric cup by winning their final match 3-1 against Wales, with yet another excellent win for Andy over ex-Welsh champion, FM Iolo Jones (who I should have beaten earlier in the event).

Neither I nor my team could manage a final round victory, but I and we did the next best thing by drawing against number 9 seeds Austria, who out-graded us on every board - just the 230 in my case! - and who had beaten England 1 a few rounds before. I drew against FM Adolf Herzog. He started with a blitzkrieg attack that suggested he was going for total war and not intending to take any prisoners. However, I successfully withstood the onslaught and then threatened to open up a second front. However, I then switched back to the kingside for a final push for victory, but Black took advantage of my extreme time shortage to construct a bunker-like defence which I could not invade. Still, I was happy with my 2199 TPR and a 15 point rating gain.

But all this is by way of a prelude to the main news of the day, which was the silver medals won by the England 1 team - in the real competition, not a Mickey Mouse Cup. A 3-1 triumph in the last round over the all-IM team of St Petersburg put them just one point behind perennial winners Russia, and ahead of France and Israel on tie break.

The silver medal winning England team - (l to r) Dignitary; IM Robert Bellin; IM Nigel Povah (captain); Ian Snape; and FM Tony Stebbings (Board 5 John Quinn absent)
That's quite enough for today, but when I am back home tomorrow (or soon after) I will provide a wrap-up of other news. And I have plenty of photos left! Like this one, which is specially provided for our Classicist/Greek Specialist, Mike Donnelly.

The acropolis at Rhodes - not quite up to Athens standards! Still, it will be nice when it's finished!

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

A win's a win!

After much delay, here is a report on the game last week - Solihull E versus Kenilworth D.
Chris, White, playing Penny Wood on board three, was first to finish.  Fairly quickly Chris seemed to get his king into a horrendous position with a king on g3 and pieces a plenty crushed around his king and well advanced pawns in front of the king position. The saving grace was a zig-zag of pawns across the boards so  that Penny could not break through. Drawn offered by Chris and accepted.
William opened with something weird and a position arose that I could not understand (nothing unusual there then!) A very 'dynamic' position with Bishop and two (William) versus Rook slowly sank into the mud, everything seemed to slow down and a draw was agreed.
I was playing Paul Silverman in a Slav which seemed to go OK if unspectacular. The battle resolved around my attempt to swop my Knight for his Bishop, which I achieved. There followed a very interesting endgame (at my level) of a Bishop and Knight (me) versus two Knights (Paul) which I think Paul will be using in his coaching with the kids. I won this struggle after a poor move by Black allowed full rein to my Bishop. Black resigned before I promoted.
Final score 1:2
A while back Joshua showed me how to post a game. So I am going to have a go with my game. With any luck it will appear shortly.

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Finally Some Photos! - Days 7 & 8 at the World Seniors

Another double round report, but first I have to clear up the outstanding issues from Round 6, which was coming to a climax as I penned my last epistle from Rhodes. Andy duly proved himself the team hero by converting his extra pawn (and 2 bishops against a bishop and knight), so that England 3 had another excellent win over Turku, and earned themselves the dream pairing against England 1 in Round 7 yesterday. Meanwhile my absence proved to be a body blow from which England 2 could not recover, as they sadly went down 2.5-1.5 to a Danish club team, and so played one of the tournament backmarkers, Finland  Karhut yesterday. (For those of you wondering, Karhut is not a suburb of Helsinki, or a reindeer encampment somewhere near the Arctic Circle, but rather the Finnish for bears!)

I was back in the team on Board 1, and had to play the only 2000+ player on the Karhut team. I tried to slowly outplay him, but only succeeded in pushing slightly too far and he jumped out with a vengeance. I was on the ropes, but luckily I found a few only moves, and he couldn't quite find a winning plan so I escaped with a draw, while the team won easily, 3-1.(Thankfully my game was not on the live boards so I never have to show it to anyone!)

Meanwhile the England 3 - England 1 encounter did not go well for Andy. For the very first time in the tournament he was completely outplayed, after going wrong very early in the opening against former British champion Robert Bellin. The game did not last long as the White forces came crashing through on the kingside and in the centre, where the hapless Black king found himself looking very forlorn. Although, England 1 also scored the full point on Board 2, the third team acquitted themselves very well with two draws on three and four - where the rating disparities were at their greatest.

The Palace of the Grand Masters in Rhodes Town - mere humans only get 2 rooks, but GMs get 3!

And so to today (Rd 8), where I was once again on sightseeing duty with Mrs Club Organiser. In my absence England 2 had an excellent 2.5-1.5 win over Belgium, while Andy's England 3 had 4 quick draws against a Danish team that outrated them on every board. I guess some teams are running low on motivation by now!

Leading up to the Palace of the Grand Masters - this is the Street of the Knights!
At the top of the 50+ competition, the USA are now 2 points clear after a draw with Iceland ( a game they were winning easily until one of their GMs blundered a piece to a knight fork - there is hope for all of us!), and an easy win over Austria today. Tomorrow they have been down-floated to a team (Argentina) with 6 match points less, so I think we can safely say they will retain their title. England 1 had a catastrophic loss against Italy yesterday, which has basically ruined their medal chances, and they were less than convincing against Athens Vets today, with GMs Plaskett and Ward both conceding draws to 1900 rated opposition. Even a big win against Germany in Rd 9 (highly unlikely anyway) will probably not be enough to get them into a medal position.

They really like their chess pieces in Rhodes - topiary in the shape of a pawn!

In the 65+ section, though, England 1 will almost definitely medal if they can eke out a win against the all-IM St Petersburg team, to follow up a big win against Iceland today. Russia inevitably lead, but are only a point clear of Germany. However, they have a much easier pairing and are also ahead on every single tie-break, so they are red-hot favourites to retain their title.  I finish with a game against a 2337 FM from Austria called Adolf, while Andy's last opponent is Iolo Jones of Wales who I should have beaten a few days ago.

Its been fun, but I'll still be glad when it stops!

2nd Division champions elect

The penultimate game against Banbury proved to be a rather strange affair. Everyone had a plan.

Banbury had decided that they needed to stop Mike from winning and try as hard as possible to pick up points on the lower boards. Anything as long as Kenilworth didn't win. We had decided that we just needed a single point and so there was no need for heroics as we also had a game in hand.

Phil had a prior Easter engagement and so was unavailable. Fortunately, Bernard R was available and very kindly agreed to step in. With Phil gone and everyone moving up a board, Banbury's plan was dealt a blow as no one one was playing who they expected to be playing.

The top board game was the most interesting with Daniel Rowan set to play a complex line and muddy the water a little to try and gain an advantage against Mike. Not much seems to surprise Mike and he just shrugged off the wild play and neutralised the position and draw was agreed. I didn't see the post match analysis so I don't really know what was sound and what was not.

On his elevated 2nd board, Dave was playing Nick Martin. Refusing to play anything that was aggressive, Dave soaked up the pressure with dull play leaving Nick desperate to generate any sort of attack. He finally managed to generate some king side play, but this allowed more pieces to be exchanged and a refusal by Dave to try and win material left white in a lifeless position that was only ever going to be drawn.

On board 4, Bernard played a very solid slav defence against Mal Waddell. With black having more space, more time and an advantage, white was struggling to get anywhere. With the Banbury plan compelling him to carry on, he watched the outcome of board three with interest.

On board three, Ben was playing Arthur Hibbitt. In the middle game white had doubled pawn but had opened up the h file. Black managed to almost equalise but then refused Ben's draw offer as it wasn't part of the plan. Unfortunately, playing on from an even position, black allowed Ben to gain an advantage and further attacking attempt by black simply resulted in him losing a rook.

With the match now at least draw, the plan was busted. However, Mal still had to come down to the bar to get permission to accept a draw from his captain. With Bernard's draw, the match was won and we were promoted.

As a footnote to all this, teams plans are fine but nearly all plans have an assumption or a pre-requisite. For Banbury C, the pre-requisite was that Banbury B would win away at Olton. Unfortunately, the B team had a bad day at the office and came away on the end of a 3-1 defeat. All plans null and void!

So there we are, one game to go but we are already promoted. First division chess beckons the B team. Boom, as the young like to say.

Sunday, 21 April 2019

GM Survives by a Whisker - Days 5 & 6 at the World Seniors

There was almost a massive shock at the World Seniors in Round 5, as 5 times East German champion, GM Rainer Knaak (just the 2482 ELO!), had to hang on for grim death for about 30 moves to avoid losing to little old me! I had an extra pawn in a rook and pawn ending, and tried my very hardest to notch a second GM scalp of 2019 (and my entire lifetime!) to save the match for England 2 against the mighty German first team, but in the end his natural talent, and my lack of it (plus the fact that all rook and pawn endings are drawn), meant I had to concede the half point as he was about to capture my last pawn. In fact neither of Germany's GMs could beat their far-from GM opponents, and it was only on Board 3 where they were able to exploit their significant rating advantage.

The whole game had been a strange experience for me, as he played the excruciatingly boring London System, which even attempts to spice up with 5 h4, cannot be described as anything other than the opening of the anti-chess player. (Sorry Paul (and Jude!), but that is simply the truth!) I wondered if GM Knaak had perhaps been having lessons recently at the CCA? Anyway, after finding himself unable to deliver mate, or even get close to opening the h file, he suddenly found his kingside and centre pawns under serious assault from my queen and rook. But rather than play safe he pushed a bit to hard and went past the drawing point. Although he got his own rook to f7, he had to be very careful about his own king safety (the biter bit!) and so ultimately felt obliged to swap off queens and drop a pawn. Then the torture began, but at the end, he had his half point, though I had the glory - but not as much as I would have liked!

While all this was going on(over 5 hours), Andy had an enterprising, but decidedly brief draw against an Austrian FM, in which he sacrificed a pawn just out of the opening and did enough to convince his strong FM opponent fairly quickly that it gave full compensation. Being a man who understands an extra pawn far more than positional niceties, I was less than sure. Andy's England 3 team went down narrowly to a strong Vienna team, to remain just one point behind my England 2 team - and also England 1, who had another disastrous day at the office by losing 3-1 to Austria.

At the top of the 65+ tournament, Russia restored some sense of order by convincingly seeing off the previously 100% scoring Finland (who would have lost to England 3 in Rd 1 if Andy had found a relatively easy winning move against his GM opponent!!) and joining them at the top of the table. As I write this report, 2.5 hours into Rd 6 (I am having my first rest day, to celebrate the arrival of Mrs Club Organiser) Russia are pushing hard against Israel, while Finland are on the back foot against Iceland, though all 8 games are still in progress and there are plenty of blunders waiting to be made. My England 2 team are looking like going down to the Danish club team Norresundby, but Andy seems to hold the destiny of the England 3 v Turku match in his hands. He is better against a slightly lower graded player (the first non-titled opponent he has faced!) but faces plenty of work to bring home the full point.

In the 50+ section, the USA marched on by seeing off Italy yesterday, while England 1 stuttered to an unconvincing win over a much weaker Canadian team. However, this still put them in joint second place, and has produced a real medal-showdown encounter against Armenia today. Current verdict (of Stockfish, not me!) is that the match will be very close. (Speelman and Vaganian have just drawn on top board and the other 3 games are about equal.) USA are already 1-0 up against Iceland, and better or winning elsewhere. And they have rested their Board 1, Alexander Shabalov, who has 4.5/5, so you might have expected them to be vulnerable today. The sooner Russia decide to enter a team, or Mickey Adams reaches 50 the better, as otherwise they seem simply too strong for the opposition.

Friday, 19 April 2019

Life in the Old Dog Yet - World Seniors Day 4

Andy was smiling again today, as he finally found himself with a 1 next to his name in the results column. And an excellent 1 it was too, as he downed Norway's top board, a 2200 FM. I missed most of the game, so can't say too much, especially as the live transmission failed after about 20 moves so the game score is woefully incomplete. By the time I did get to see any of the game Andy was two pawns up in a rook and knight ending. And as those two extra pawns were connected passers it was a decisive advantage. He very efficiently shepherded them home to force a somewhat belated resignation. A very good game, I suspect. Which helped England 3 to a shock 3-1 win over Norway 1 that amazingly puts them on 50%. But just you wait till Magnus gets to 65 - no-one will be winning against them on top board then!

I was very caught up in my own game, where I eventually salvaged a draw against Sweden 2 which saw us tie the match after 4 draws. A rather disappointing result, as I was the only player not to outgrade his opponent. I thought I was OK from the opening (a  Closed Sicilian) but somewhere I must have gone wrong as my queenside counterplay seemed to be a move or two behind White's kingside attack. But in fact I think I overestimated the dangers and I was more or less fine all the way - until I answered a Nf5+ pseudo-piece sac by putting my king on the wrong square. It cost me 2 precious tempi to rectify my mistake, but helped by my opponent's slightly indecisive play in time trouble, I successfully defended until he surprisingly went for a repetition. He was disappointed and I was relieved - until I found out that the engine thinks I was better in the final position! But truthfully, such a possibility never occurred to either of us!

More titled opposition awaits tomorrow - Andy will get his 5th in a row against an FM from Vienna, while I will be playing GM Rainer Knaak, as England 2 take on Germany 1. Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye.......

England 1 50+ had a superb 3-1 win over the all-GM team of Iceland today, and have a relatively friendly pairing against Canada tomorrow which should cement them as medal contenders. Leaders USA saw off Armenia today, with the only decisive game being the demise of former Soviet superstar Rafael Vaganian at the hands of  Alexander Shabalov. England 1 65+ had a traumatic narrow loss to Sweden 1 today, with a loss on time in a totally drawn position on Board 1 deciding the match.

Mrs Club Organiser arrives in Rhodes tomorrow which is both good news and bad news as far as these reports are concerned. On the one hand I will be reunited with my missing laptop, but on the other I will have less spare time. So enjoy them while they last!

Main talking point away from the board today was that I got to shake hands with a man who has shaken hands with Fischer (many times I expect). The person in question was Icelandic GM and multiple national champion, Helgi Olafsson, who kindly signed my copy of his terrific book, 'Bobby Fischer Comes Home'.

If I hang around with these strong players long enough, some of their ability must rub off, right? Wrong!

We Are Going Up! We Are Going Up!

Playing for both the B and C teams this year has been to experience a wide range of emotions. The C team's desperate battle for survival. The B team's seemingly stoppable march to glory. Monday night saw the C team ultimately survive in Division 2. On Tuesday, the B team had a chance to win the thing and finally we did it!! Dave our captain might well write more and I apologise for blogging first, but in my excitement I felt I had to write something now!

This is the culmination of a multi-year quest. Two years ago, we had gone into our final match against Leamington knowing that victory would see us go up. We hadn't been able to do it. Last year (not helped by my own disastrous form) we were nowhere near. This time everything was different. Throughout these seasons, we have had the same core of four players. Mike, Dave, Phil and me. A massive shout out to Josh for his 4/4 this year and to Bernard Rodgers for his cameo on Tuesday. We did promise when we missed out at Leamington that one day we would put things right and now we have...

Eleven wins and a draw going into Tuesday's match against third placed Banbury C and we still weren't home. Banbury B's own excellent form meant they were still just about in with a shout. They needed to win their two remaining matches and see us lose ours if they were going to prevail. A long shot for them perhaps, but not impossible. (One draw from the two games was all we needed.) Over the last few months I have been trading regular emails with Gary Jackson as the battle has played out. His final one on this subject coming on Wednesday morning, congratulating us all! Thanks Gary - Banbury B will be the team to beat next year I am sure...

If Monday had been tension packed, Tuesday somehow wasn't. Perhaps it was because none of the games were particularly wild. Perhaps we just had enough belief that this was going to be our year. That we had come too far to do a Devon Loch. Mike and Dan and Dave and Nick drew. Bernard was well ahead on the clock against Mal and looked quite a bit better on the board to me. I was level with Arthur Hibbitt in probably the most off balance game of the night. I actually quite liked my position but after the previous evening's exertions, I was really short of energy. I was very confident Bernard was not going to lose, so I offered a draw. Arthur declined and played the most aggressive move, which looked tempting but was probably the wrong choice. Suddenly I was better. At which point Arthur blundered and dropped a rook. We've all been there. The noise in the club room at the crucial moment hadn't helped him. I think psychologically when you you are on the attack, it is easy to forget to defend. Just one of those things, but we now had at least the point we needed to win the League. Perhaps a slightly anti-climactic final moment, but we would have taken victory in whatever form the chess gods deemed to offer. Bernard and Mal agreed the draw very soon after to actually win us the match outright

It turned out we did not need any of it. Banbury B lost to Olton that same night. We would have gone up even if we had lost. But it is always much better to win! One game to go against Daventry (which sadly I can't make) but that is now just a victory lap. Albeit, chances to go a whole season unbeaten are few and far between and I know we will not want to blow that...

We've had to fight hard for each other as a team. A lot of our matches have been close, both in terms of final score and over the board. Bizarrely, the only team we have beaten 4-0 has been Banbury B! What has seen us through has been that between us, on every night, we have found enough to bring home the points. I know we can't wait to strut our stuff in Division 1 next season. I'm already dreaming of our first match. Kenilworth B (Division 2 Champions) v Kenilworth A (hope upon hope Division 1 champions!) Who could ask for more!

Thursday, 18 April 2019

So, This GM Said to Me...... - Day 3 at the World Seniors

I was just minding my own business, about 20 minutes into today's England 2 v Wales match, when a passing GM said to me, "Bd3 in the opening? That's the move of either a genius or a w****r." "Which do you think?" I asked. "I haven't made my mind up yet," he replied, and they were the last words I had with him today!

As the move had previously been played by the great Alexander Grischuk, I definitely think that genius was the correct answer. Regrettably, I was unable to follow the example of my hero (who beat Caruana in this line), and blew a position that was more than +2 for many, many moves, and jumped to +6 for one move. Very annoyingly I missed the win, and so the 14 times Olympiad player and former Welsh Champion Iolo Jones was able to scramble a draw against me. But nevertheless, this was enough to clinch a 2.5-1.5 win for England 2, which has given us a pairing against Sweden 2 in Round 4 tomorrow. (Already, we now only need to play Sweden 3 and we will have the complete set of 1, 2, 3 and 4!)

Andy, meanwhile, finally got on the scoreboard with a fairly unexciting draw on top board for England 3 against reigning (and certain to be again) Women's 65+ World Team Champions, Mongolia Ladies. (You guessed it, for the last 2 competitikns, they have been the only female team to enter!)  England 3 went on to win and will play Norway tomorrow. (And yes, there are a lot of Scandinavian teams here!)

In the 65+ section, England 1 scored 4 draws for an excellent 2-2 result against reigning champions Russia, but in the 50+ tournament England 1 went down by the narrowest margin against defending champions USA. A brilliant finish by John Emms was not enough to balance losses for Speelman and Plaskett. More tough pairings for our lads tomorrow, too, with the 50+ team playing #3 seeds Iceland, and the 65+ team taking on #5 seeds, Sweden 1. The top board matches are, respectively, USA v Armenia and St Petersburg v Finland.

Oh yes, to put you out of your misery, the GM from Para 1 was Jim Plaskett. Ever since I lost a 1 Euro bet to him last night about whether Pat Jennings was still alive (he is!), me and Jim have been best buddies! Bet that makes you all jealous!!

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

IMs 2, KCC 0 - World Seniors Day 2

It was inevitable that Professor Elo should be proved right today, and that 2 random chess players from Kenilworth should lose against 2 random IMs from Sweden and Belgium who each enjoyed a sizeable rating superiority.

Andy put up the better fight against Belgian Jan Rooze, having a safe equality for a long time and then missing a near forced but very long line that would have netted him a piece for several pawns. Stockfish gives him a very small edge at the end of the line, but White would have been in no danger of losing. And once again, Andy's England 3 team went down by the minimum margin to stronger opposition. Tomorow they play the world champion Mongolian ladies team, which should make for interesting viewing!

I lost against the Swede Nils-Gustaf Renman. He played a bad move in the opening which I met with a Stockfish approved pawn sac to get the 2 bishops and mess up White's kingside pawns. Annoyingly, though, there was an even better move, which I saw, but misjudged and rejected. In the game I went wrong and started to come under some strong pressure almost immediately, but I defended rather well, as my opponent seemed to dither a bit. However, short of time I went wrong and allowed a nice, but very simple, tactic that gave him 2 passed pawns and as my knight could only stop one of them, I had to resign. England 2 also went down by the minimum score, and now face Wales tomorrow.  (As do England 2 in the 50+ section.)

Elsewhere, England 1 tomorrow find themselves against the top seeds and defending champions in both categories, with the 50+ team taking on USA, and the 65+ team facing Russia (who only scraped home today.) An exciting day is in prospect!

Right Results, But in the Wrong Order - World Seniors Day 1

What a day it (nearly) was at the World Seniors yesterday. In Round 1, Andy was playing GM Yrjo Rantanen of Finland. The fact that he now has an Elo of 2283 tells you he is not the man he once was. And the game proved it. He threw the kitchen sink (also known as the h pawn) at Andy, but our man responded by attacking even more ferociously down the a, b and c files against the White king. Stockfish gave him +4, but unfortunately that was with Black to move! Still he was +1 or 2 for a long period of the game, but then disaster (old age) struck. Andy's attack petered out and the GM finally started to get some kingside play. It was still equal, but Andy had lost tne thread and committed a blunder that was about on a par with mine at Crewe station the previous day. A very near miss, and a real choker after playing so well. And the win would have given England 3 a shock victory over the number 8 seeds, who today will unleash their second GM, the rather better known Heikki Westerinen.

Meanwhile I was playing a much lower rated player from Sweden 4 in my role as Board 1 for England 2. I was slightly better for most of the game, but not really getting anywhere despite having the 2 bishops. He offered a draw, but I turned it down (of course) and then played a terrible move which just lost a pawn for nothing. I staked everything on an unconvincing attack down the a file but meanwhile Black started hoovering up my kingside pawns after prising open the centre with a timely f6 break. I was busted, but for once Caissa took pity on me and what she tooketh away mosr cruellyfrom Andy she donated to me, most undeservedly. Black took the wrong pawn, and found himself obliged to give up an exchange, but he had so many pawns he was still winning. But he missed an only move that would have kept his advantage and allowed me to cut his king off on the back rank. I just needed to get my other rook in  the game and it was curtains. He hopped around with his knight, but it ran out of good squares, and with my king getting all the way to d8, a mating net emerged and I had luckily won a game I should have lost! And England 2 beat Sweden 4 by 3.5-0.5.

It was actually England vs Scandinavia everywhere you looked:-

England 1 4-0 Oslo
England 2 3.5-0.5 Finland Sisu (aaarrrgggghhhh!!!!)
England 3 0.5-3.5 Finland 1

England 1 4-0 Sweden 3
England 2 3.5-0.5 Sweden 4
England 3 1.5-2.5 Finland 3 (Really Finland 1 in the 65+, but there's some strange numbering going on here!)

Many of the favourites rested their biggest names, but there were still plenty of legends in action. And they didn't have it all their own way. Joel Benjamin was held to a draw by a Scot rated only 2132, while France's 4 IMs could only muster 1.5 points against Norway's sub 2200 team.

Today both Andy and I have IM opponents, so don't expect too much good news in the next report. But as I've (a) managed to switch to a room with a seaview and (b) found the apostrophe on Andy's tablet's keyboard, I feel like a winner already today!

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

One Match, One Move, One Game (We Are Staying Up!)

Occasionally a season can turn on one match, one game, even one move. So it proved for the C team last night as we survived in Division 2 at the expense of our opponents, in the most unlikely of circumstances. If I am still shaking a little as I write this, you will see why when reading on!

Perhaps it does not do to dwell on the debacle that had been our campaign to date. Six matches lost 1.5 – 2.5. A fraction more luck here or there and we would have been clear of this relegation fight. Equally though, the struggle to get our strongest team out very often had also been a factor. There is no way around the fact that teams generally end the season with the points tally they deserve, even if they do not necessarily accrue those points in the right order. We had no one to blame for being in the relegation mire other than ourselves…

Still for all that, driving to the game last night on one of those evenings when you can just feel winter turning to spring, we were somehow just about still alive. A win against Shirley would keep us up. Defeat and we would be relegated. A draw and we would need something from our final game with Stratford, but everyone knew that tonight was going to decide things one way or another. (Well apart from Roy, who confessed afterwards that he had no idea, but he clearly plays better when not troubled by such practicalities!)

The Shirely team arrived early, clearly keyed up. Their C team is on to win Division 3, but this would count for nothing if their B team went down, so the fate of two Shirley teams was at stake. For Kenilworth, with our B team (I don’t dare say it – let’s just say going very well) we were at serious risk of not being able to offer members any Division 2 chess next year. Something a club of our standing should be able to take for granted, but no longer could. It was all going to turn on what happened over the next few hours.

The statistics favoured Shirley. I had an eight point grading advantage over Dave Thomas on Board 1, but Bernard was giving Gordon Christie twenty three points (albeit this is mainly down to Bernard’s decision to play in the World Seniors rather than a true reflection of his real strength relative to Gordon’s.) On Board three, Jude who has done so much for the team this year was giving John Freeman thirty one points and on four Roy’s opponent Fred Dickinson had a twenty five point rating advantage.

Who cares for the numbers, you could well say, but the truth is for a lot of the night the chess was going Shirley’s way too. Jude was the first to finish, losing to John. Jude played well, but John is always wily, and from what I saw he appeared to net a piece in the late middle game, after which it was all over. So, 0 – 1. Not Jude’s night, but better ones will undoubtedly follow.

Roy was the next to finish on Board three. He had been under pressure out of a Budapest Gambit but eventually seemed to get on top and shattered Fred’s kingside pawns. In a same coloured bishop ending Roy made Fred suffer (and fritz suggests missed a win) but it always looked like a draw was likely and having turned down previous offers, Roy finally acquiesced. 0.5 – 1.5

It was around 9.45 at this point. Bernard and Gordon were in a knight and pawn ending. I thought Bernard stood worse. He certainly had a more fragile pawn structure. Meanwhile I was winning. I seemed to take a lot of initiative out of the opening and was starting to turn the screw. Dave sacrificed a pawn. I captured (which Fritz says is correct) but it had been a good practical choice by Dave as suddenly everything was a lot more complicated and I started to both burn time and lose ground.

Then almost simultaneously, there were two momentous happenings. Gordon and I both blew up. Bernard’s endgame skill had meant that he was starting to ask questions, but really Gordon was safe. A terrible miscalculation suddenly meant that Bernard’s pawns had broken free and could no longer be stopped. Unfortunately, at precisely the same moment, I miscalculated too and somehow conspired to drop the exchange on a board that looked great for Dave’s rooks. So 1.5 – 1.5, but it felt like Bernard’s heroics were going to count for nothing.

I had five minutes left to Dave’s twenty. A knight and a pawn for his rook. A queenside pawn chain that looked extremely vulnerable and no obvious way forward. As everyone crowded around the board, I realised that I actually had two things going for me. First, no one expected anything, all the pressure was on Dave to bring the point home. Secondly, I did have one or two tricks. They were not sound. With best play, I would have been finished, but there was nothing else for it. When all else fails, hit and hope.

I picked up another pawn and in effect invited Dave to try and net my knight, which he obligingly did. Unfortunately, he had missed that with his king on a1, behind pawns on a2 and b2, his back rank was vulnerable. To his horror, I could take his rook with my queen with impunity. While he was welcome to recapture, my remaining rook would then mate him. Even worse, as well as massive problems on the back-rank, Dave’s own queen and a handful of his pawns were suddenly in my sights. By the time he had fixed these problems, I had gone from -3 to +5 and was playing with rook and six versus rook and two. I was down to two minutes, but that was more than enough.

Had Dave played a3 before rounding up my knight we would have been relegated. Just as we would have been if Gordon had not gone wrong. I sat in the bar with Bernard and Roy afterwards and we talked about the evening. More reflective than jubilant. Celebrations should really be for winning titles, but we were still proud of what we had achieved against the odds. It had been way too close for comfort. We all felt for Shirley who must have been printing their tickets for 19/20 Division 2 a mere ten minutes before they were relegated.

Sometimes all that you can do is to hang in there and as a team we had done that. Gordon and Dave had ultimately both made mistakes, but we had been ready to capitalize on them.

This season is now done. Next season is just waiting to unfold. One match. One game. One move at a time.

That Was Not a Good Start - Day 0 at the World Seniors Team Championships

Yassoo, or at least something like that. Anyway, hello from Rhodes where Andy and I have arrived safely and ready to do battle for England in the 2019 World Seniors Team Championships, which start this afternoon (Tuesday). Yesterday was for travelling, and things did not go smoothly to say the least.

The journey all went to plan, it was what happened to one of the passengers en route that was the problem. Because when we changed trains at Crewe on the way to Manchester Airport I managed to leave the bag with my laptop and other stuff on the first train, only noticing its absence as our train was about to depart and the first train was already off and on its way to Edinburgh. *********!!! was approximately what I said upon discovering my colossal blunder. (That is the first Colossus of Rhodes refefence, but doubtless not the last!) Thankfully, Mrs Club Organiser was immediately on the case (ouch!) and by the time we landed in Rhodes the missing item had already been located and should now be winging its way back to Kenilworth. Though I could really do with it here, of course!

We travelled on the same flight as most of the Irish team, but then history repeated itself at the luggage carousel when, just like at Dresden last year, we found ourselves standing next to Jon Speelman, who had just arrived via Athens. He was very disappointed to learn that Bernard (or that big ****** as he referred to him)# was not with us this year.

What else to report? Well, the air con is not working in the hotel and the rooms are ****** hot as a consequence, even though the outside temp is only about twenty. And Andys resolution to have a dry tournament lasted about 10 minutes from arrival at the hotel! (Apologies for the lack of an apostrophe there, but Im (and there!) using Andys (!) spare tablet and I cant (!!) fully work out the keyboard.)

Anyway, we await the draw for Round 1, when we hope to do Kenilworth and England proud.

# This conversation may not actually have occurred. But it would have been fun if it had!

Thursday, 11 April 2019

It's the Hope that Kills You

I wasn't going to bother writing up the A team's final league match of the season this week, away against already-relegated Leamington A, because I was already resigned to the fact that it was an ultimately meaningless encounter. Despite us chalking up our fourth consecutive score of 3-1 or better, the league table looked likely to end up with us in second or even third place, even though we have built up a massively superior game points score to every other team. Olton A, Solihull A and Banbury A could all overtake us by winning their games in hand, and with the only direct encounter left being a Solihull - Olton match, my money was on Banbury who seemed to have the easiest fixtures and who would come out first if they won their three remaining games.

We duly got the two expected points against Leamington, thanks to very efficient wins with Black on Boards 2/4 for Andrew and Mike, and draws on Boards 1/3 for myself and Joshua. I went from +5 to 0.00 in one move at the end of my game against Tom Darling, allowing perpetual check when an alternative king move would have confirmed the decisive advantage I had enjoyed since move 2!

But the excitement for the week was not over, as I then discovered that Banbury A had rather carelessly lost that same night against Shirley A, despite averaging 184 against Shirley's 162, and they compounded that mishap the very next night by losing against Solihull B, this time averaging 184 against just 150! So Banbury are totally out of the running (despite James Jackson's monstrous 10/11 score on Board 1) and its all eyes on the Solihull A v Olton A encounter - or it would be if I could dare to look. A draw or a Solihull win will give us the title. Which would have been ours already if …….. if so many things, of course, and it would be unfair to single out one game/mistake that was more significant than any other. Although I have my own ideas on that, but in the interests of team spirit it is best that I keep them to myself! Especially as everyone else could readily point out that I have the worst score of any of the regular players, so ultimately I am more to blame than anyone!! Definitely not responsible for our likely near miss are Joshua and Mike who jointly top scored with 7.5/9 (83.3%).

Irrespective of the final Division 1 placing, we still have a KO Cup Final appearance to look forward to against Olton A in early May, so there is still a chance that some A team silverware will be sitting on my mantelpiece for the next 12 months. I'd better make sure we haven't run out of silver polish!

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

The Kenilworth Chess Club Grand National - and the Winner is....!

Late drama before the start of the 2019 KCC Grand National with two last minute non-runners to report. First, Corrupt Accountant was withdrawn after the RSPCA intervened on learning that his rider, Bernard Rogers, was putting up 6 stones overweight. "Unimaginable cruelty has been averted," said a spokesman, following with some advice to a non-plussed Mr Rogers that he should "go on a diet".  More drama was to follow when it was discovered that Bruce Holland, the rider of Just Bruce, was not intending to turn up until just before 11pm, so the horse had to be withdrawn.

Which left 27 runners to line up in front of packed stands at Aintree racecourse. Ahead of them lay 4 miles 2.5 furlongs and 30 of the most famous fences in the world. Unlike the real version, however, where the first prize alone is £500,000, the KCC National boasted a total prize fund of diddley squat! Still, who can put a value on glory?

And then the tapes went up and the field set off at its customary madcap pace across the Melling Road towards the first fence. Well, almost all the field, as Bold Carl (Carl Pickering) and Paul Superstar (Paul Lam) were already going so slowly that they didn't have the pace to get off the ground to jump the first fence, and both refused. And then there was the usual mayhem amongst those who did make it that far, as Banjo Paterson (pulled up or fell in his first 5 point to point races) and Smart Teacher (only finished three of 14 point to point races) both came down, putting Andrew Paterson and Andy Ward out of the race as well. 

So already the field was thinning out, but the extra space didn't help Bernard much at fence number 2, where Bernard Charnley was unseated, thankfully without any lasting damage. Even though he looked the absolute image of Munch's The Scream as he flew through the air, towards a very bumpy landing

No casualties at fences 3, 4 and 5 as the race settled down, but Nick Mottram then fell at fence number 6 - the fearsome Becher's Brook - on Nicky Nutjob. I think we could have seen this coming as the horse had started 71 hurdle races, but pulled up on his one and only start over fences. Also down here was Diamond Joshua, who had once threatened to be quite a good horse over hurdles, but who ended up as a big disappointment over fences. No parallels intended with the chess career of his jockey, Joshua Pink!

Mr Johnson went at fence 7 (Foinavon) putting Mike Johnson out of the race, and at the Canal Turn (fence 8) Impish Jude was a casualty. Well done to pilot Jude Shearsby, though, on getting a horse who had never run in a steeplechase before this far.

Onto Valentine's Brook (fence 9), where another of the no-hopers, Dr Donnelly (guess the jockey!), fell and at fence 11 the six time point to point winner Web Master, under Rod Webb, refused - just as he had done in his last ever race. (Before this one, of course!)

The survivors then approached The Chair - fence 15 and the biggest on the course, where, in front of the grandstand, Beer Goggles came to grief. A top class hurdler, but very dodgy over fences, and the sight of this obstacle was enough to scare the bejesus out of him. Dave Shurrock was unseated, but luckily a St John's Ambulance man was on hand to provide a reviving pint of Slaughterhouse Saddleback bitter.

At the end of the first circuit Algis Toleikis had to pull up on Baltic Magic who despite being a safe jumper, was well behind and in need of a lie down. Pulling up too was Stuart Blaiklock on Captain Stuart, who seldom raced over further than 2 miles and who had no intention of changing that statistic today.

This left just 13 horses to head out on the second circuit, with all the pre-race favourites still going well, but a few of the lesser fancied horses clearly struggling, and soon they began to fall out of contention.

First, Mighty Mark, winner of just a single chase (at Towcester in 1993) went at fence 17 as the author of this drivel could find no excuse to let him go any further, and at fence 18 Mr Watson (ridden by the dashing eye-patched Roy Watson) fell, bringing down the freewheeling Ukrainian Star (Nick Fesenko) and thus ending the international participation in the race.

At the fence before Becher's the last of the outsiders departed, after a gallant effort from the outclassed two time chase winner Hello Steve (Steve Payne), and now just nine were left standing - eight top class horses and one no hoper plugging on miles behind. 

It had been a miracle that the high class Ballyandy had got this far under Andy Baruch, as he was a much better hurdler than chaser, and so it was no surprise when he fell at fence 22 (Becher's Brook, second time around).

Pulling up before the Canal Turn (fence 24) was the prolific Philip's Woody, whose 13 chase victories were all at 2m 5f or less. He had given Phil Wood a terrific spin around, but a lack of stamina was sure to get him in the end.

Over Valentine's and the next three fences the race developed into a terrific struggle between some truly great horses. Captain Chris (Chris Aldridge) led the field back over the Melling Road and onto the racecourse proper (that's what the commentators always say at this point), with two Cheltenham Gold Cup winners, Kicking King (Tony King) and Sizing John (John Ambler) in close attendance. A bit further back in fourth was the talented Puffin' Billy, ridden by up and coming talent Billy Fellowes. This was a horse who had once beaten Grand National runner up The Last Samuri in a 3m chase, but over the extended 4m 2f here his stamina was just beginning to give out.

But lurking right behind the leading four were two horses, Mathew (Matt Smiglarski) and Ben Nevis (Ben Graff) who seemed to be going better and better as the race progressed. This was the point when stamina really came into play, and where even very good horses could find the extreme race distance pushing them beyond their limits.

Captain Chris was the first to give way. A three time Grade 1 chase winner at up to 2m 5f, and beaten only a neck in the 2012 King George VI chase over 3 miles, he was running on empty over the 29th fence, where there was nothing between the Cheltenham Gold Cup winners Kicking King (2005) and Sizing John (2017). But still Mathew and Ben Nevis were staying on from behind, and once over the final fence it was these two who forged clear. Two real course specialists who were guaranteed to get every yard of the marathon trip. Past the Elbow, only now did Mathew give way and at the line the winner of the KCC Grand National was Ben Nevis - who had won the real Grand National 1980.

So many congratulations to Ben Graff on winning the first (and probably last) running of the KCC Grand National. And for not giving the answer away to anyone else, as he had a rather strong suspicion that he was destined for glory!

Mathew was a gallant second, as befitted another real Grand National winner  - but as his triumph came back in 1847 he was just conceding a few too many years (130 in fact) to stand much chance of outspeeding Ben Nevis after the last!  Kicking King just hung on for third ahead of Sizing John, with Captain Chris a weary fifth and Puffin' Billy an excellent sixth for his young jockey.

The finishers were completed by the plucky Magical Morris, although he was so far behind that most of the crowd had already gone home when he crossed the line. Still, a great effort by the old boy, who must have given his young rider, William Morris, a thrilling experience.

The Result

    Horse                             Rider
1 Ben Nevis                      Ben Graff
2 Mathew                          Matt Smiglarski
3 Kicking King                  Tony King
4 Sizing John                    John Ambler
5 Captain Chris                 Chris Aldridge
6 Puffin' Billy                     Billy Fellowes
7 Magical Morris               William Morris

So much for the Grand National and so much for the jumps season. Now its the turn of flat racing. KCC Derby anyone? (Watch this space!)

Thursday, 4 April 2019

The Kenilworth Chess Club Grand National - Runners and Riders

Most of you will know that besides chess, horse racing is my other great passion. So as interest builds towards the 2019 running of the self-proclaimed "World's Greatest Horse Race" (that's the Grand National if you didn't know!), at Aintree on April 6th (this coming Saturday, as I write), I thought it would be fun if we could have our very own KCC Grand National.

So from the thousands of racehorses that have performed over the years, I have manged to assemble a field in which each horse has an association - some closer than others! - through its name with a member of KCC. So every one of our current members will have a runner in the great race. Some of these horses have long passed on; some are retired; and some never competed in a steeplechase in their lives, but all of them did at some time take part in either a National Hunt race (fences, hurdles or bumper) or a Point to Point race. Some of these horses were quite good; a few were very good indeed; and some were pretty useless. A bit like KCC - except that none of us are very good indeed, of course!

Below you will find the runners and riders for the race, and then sometime next week - after the real event has taken place - I'll report on the KCC version, and one club member will have the proud distinction of winning the Grand National! Who will it be?? The clues are all there, of course!

Here we go, then, with the horses in alphabetical order. Find your horse and cross your fingers for luck.

      Horse                                                Rider
1    Ballyandy                                         Andy Baruch
2    Baltic Magic                                     Algirdas Toleikis
3    Banjo Paterson                                 Andrew Paterson
4    Beer Goggles                                    Dave Shurrock
5    Ben Nevis                                         Ben Graff
6    Bernard                                             Bernard Charnley
7    Bold Carl                                          Carl Pickering
8    Captain Chris                                    Chris Aldridge
9    Captain Stuart                                   Stuart Blaiklock
10  Corrupt Accountant*                         Bernard Rogers
11  Diamond Joshua                              Joshua Pink
12  Dr Donnelly                                      Mike Donnelly
13  Hello Steve                                       Steve Payne
14  Impish Jude                                      Jude Shearsby
15  Just Bruce                                         Bruce Holland
16  Kicking King                                     Tony King
17  Magical Morris                                 William Morris
18  Mathew                                             Matt Smiglarski
19  Mighty Mark                                      Mark Page
20  Mr Johnson                                       Mike Johnson
21  Mr Watson                                        Roy Watson
22  Nicky Nutjob**                                  Nick Mottram
23  Paul Superstar                                   Paul Lam
24  Philip's Woody                                  Phil Wood
25  Puffin' Billy                                        Billy Fellowes
26  Sizing John                                       John Ambler
27  Smart Teacher                                  Andy Ward
28  Ukrainian Star                                   Nick Fesenko
29  Webmaster                                        Rod Webb

*  This in no way implies any professional impropriety by our esteemed Chairman! If there had ever been a horse called Honest Accountant, I would obviously have chosen that instead.
** This in no way calls into question the mental stability of our esteemed Club Doctor! If there had ever been a horse called Nicky Completely Normal, I would have obviously have chosen that instead.

The 29 runners are lined up on the start line. The tension is palpable. Place your bets and ……. watch this space for the race commentary and the result!

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

A step closer to promotion

The match against Shirley was important for two reasons. Firstly, winning would take us to within one point of promotion and secondly it would prevent the gap between our C team and Shirley from widening any further.

The match didn't get of to the best start with Phil losing early on against Gordon Christie. From a promising looking position, a error by black lost a pawn and weakened his position to the point of collapse.

Dave was playing white against Fred Dickson in a Scandinavian Defence. The early middle game was fairly even but then black stopped playing actively and allowed white to build up pressure on the king side and get his pieces onto more active squares. This forced black to shore up his position and get his pieces onto the correct squares to defend the king side. With nothing moving and white reluctant to push any further forward, a draw was agreed.

Ben won two pawns in the opening and exchanged into a rook and pawn ending with an advantage. Although it was initially difficult to make progress in the ending, black engineered a way to get his king in amongst white king side pawn. White resigned when the loss of further pawns was inevitable.

Mike's game against Dave Thomas was by far the most interesting game. White used an unusual move order that black allowed transposition into an unfavourable line of the Benko gambit. Whilst black regrouped his pieces, white launched a central attack that left black with weakened pawns which white then set about winning. With three seconds left and three pawn and an exchange in deficit, black resigned.

So that was it, a successful evening and now Banbury B can only equal our score at best. One point from the next two games and we win the league.

Important victory against Stratford

Keeping up our promotion challenge requires us to keep winning matches. So a match against Stratford is likely to be tough one as they generally have strength in depth in their regular team.

First to finish was Phil who was playing Colin Searle in a dutch defence. The game simplified into an ending where Phil had more space but could not utilise it in any useful way. Draw agreed.

Dave was playing David Gardiner in a London System game. White chose a sharp line but black defended adequately. The position looked balanced but then white managed to lose his bishop after it became trapped. White played on in an attempt to obtain a perpetual check but black managed to get his king into safety. White resigned when the queens were forced off.

Mike was playing Richard McNally with the black pieces. Having missed an opportunity to reach equality, black played an unfavourable ending in a blocked up position. White progressed the position and looked to have winning chances but some careless play in time trouble saw him fall into a trap which left him two pawns down and lost.

Ben had an extra pawn for most of the game against Richard Dobedoe. Unfortunately, he swapped off into an rook and pawn ending that turned to be surprising difficult to win. With both players down to their last few minutes, White lost his extra pawn and the ending looked even. Fortunately, at that point, Stratford lost on board 1 and the match was lost and so Richard agreed to a draw rather than risk a time scramble.

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

After the Lord Mayor's Show

Yet another resounding win for the A team, as Solihull B were swept aside 3.5-0.5 last night at the Abbey Club. But it all felt like a bit of an anti-climax to me after last week's same score triumph against champions Olton A. Nevertheless, it did take us two points clear at the top of the table and kept the pressure on the three chasing teams that can all still overtake us with their games in hand. It also boosted our game points difference to a whopping 16 - 10 of which have come in the last three weeks!

My sense of ennui may have been partly due to the fact that Solihull only managed to field three players, as the usually ultra-reliable Ray Carpenter failed to show for his Board 3 appointment against Joshua - who consequently established a new club record for the furthest distance travelled to not play a game of chess. I'm sure that on occasions he has won faster (time wise) against an actual opponent than he did last night against no-one, as he had to wait till 20.30 to claim the full point.

After his desperately poor show against Banbury A in his last appearance, I had demoted Andy to the lowest board he has ever played for Kenilworth, and the wake-up call duly worked a treat as he saw off Nigel Byrne after building up a very strong attacking position in the early middle-game. Now that's what I call good man-management. Fergie could have learned a thing or two from me about how to motivate your players. (I mean Sarah, of course, not Alex!)

The win was clinched when I unfortunately had to agree a draw on top board against Nigel Towers. After an interesting opening I got a very slight edge with Black but Nigel found some good moves and gave up a pawn to reach a position where a permanent attack on my bishop from his rook, plus pressure against f7, meant I couldn't make any progress in a rook and opposite bishop ending. Despite my extra pawn making it all the way to f2. But going no further. Ever. Still, a big improvement on our game last season where I got my queen trapped and lost ignominiously!!

Another big score was finally secured when Andrew beat Julian Summerfield on Board 2 after a very interesting game. Andrew had two rooks and a pawn against a queen, and in what looked like a very tricky position found a lovely combination to force the trade of the rooks and queen, leaving him  with a passed b pawn in a same coloured bishops ending. The pawn was used to force the Black king away from the centre and Andrew's king then marched in to gobble up Back's kingside pawns for an exemplary conversion.

Meanwhile, on the same night, not only were the D team drawing at home against Stratford D (see Roy's already-published report) but the B team were engaged in a key promotion/relegation encounter away against Shirley B. With any luck there will be a report of this match too (a 2.5-1.5 victory), as our boys got to within one point of securing the Division 2 title (2 games left) and also opened the door for our C team to possibly leap-frog Shirley B at the foot of the table and save themselves from relegation at the 11th hour. We shall see, but it is clear that Division 2 is where all the excitement is for KCC right now!

No Fools tonight - not even April ones

Boards for the 'D' team had been set up for us in the main body of the club. This sacrifice by the 'D' Team was the main factor - of course [and contrary to Mark's write up] - in a resounding win for the 'A' team.

So it was against a background of pop music, drinkers and snooker (and a small complaint from our opponents) that Kenilworth D took on Stratford D.

Nick (Mottram) played Richard Buxton in a less than thrilling match which petered out into an opposite bishops endgame with all pawns 'un-get-at-able' and a draw.

I played Michael Dullenty who dropped three pawns in the opening, although two of these could not be defended. After duly recapturing these pawns, Michael, for no apparent reason, simply gave me another pawn which if he recaptured  ran a serious risk of mate. Two pawns up, then exchanging the remaining pieces and his final pawn resulted in three pawns supported by my King v his King. Game over.

Chris faced a new youngster on the block - Harry Brenchley who has been playing competitively for about six months. Welcome Harry!  Chris seemed to be a pawn down fairly early on and went into a bishop v knight endgame. The simple device of placing his pawns on the opposite colour to Chris's bishop enabled Harry to pick up more pawns. Chris went on to lose - but not before making a cheeky offer of a draw,

Match result 1.5 - 1.5.

P.S. It was nice to see Tony turn up as observer to support his team. Much appreciated, Tony!