Wednesday, 29 May 2019

From the Archives - Part 1, 1975/76

At the recent club AGM, Chris turned up with a bucket load of chess-related stuff (books; sets; clocks; scoresheets; computers; files) that had been gathering dust in his garage/shed for many years. While some of this was so past its sell-by date that no takers could be found, a surprising amount found a new home, and as current Club Organiser, I felt it was my duty to take possession of two folders worth of old Club records/correspondence (we are pre-email here, of course). And when I started to look through it a couple of days ago, I found a veritable treasure trove of information, of which all but the longest standing club members (Bruce and Bernard) will be blissfully unaware - and even they will have forgotten most of it! So I thought I should share some of the more interesting fragments of club history with you.

January 1975 - KCC has just been formed (only 3 years after the Fischer chess boom!) and the club is looking for friendly matches ahead of joining the Leamington League in the 75-76 season. Bruce is leading the admin effort, and makes sure to enclose a stamped addressed envelope in communications! Leamington, Automotive Products and Barford are identified as the most likely opponents. The Club meets on Thursday at St Francis of Assisi Church on Warwick Road.

March 1975 - Ouch! In possibly the first ever KCC match, on March 20th, the club gets thrashed 0-7 at home by Leamington in a friendly.

June 1975 -  The club bounces back to see off Automotive Products 5-2 in an away friendly on June 9th, and one week later gives Barford a good whooping by 6.5-0.5. A major expenditure of £4.16 is made on 8 roll-up boards.

July 1975  - We enjoyed beating Barford so much, we did it again! This time at home by 4-2 on July 3rd. There is a managerial casualty as the Treasurer (Brian Daniels of Windy Arbour) resigns, due to a clash with his singing rehearsals.

August 1975 - On the 27th of the month, we formally apply for membership of the LDCL. Were we accepted? The records don't say, but I'm assuming the answer was yes!

September 1975 - At the LDCL AGM on September 15th, our A team is placed in Division 1 (with Banbury, Daventry, Leamington, Rugby, Stratford and Warwickshire Constabulary) and our B team in Division 2 (with AP A, AP B, Banbury B, Banbury C, Barford, Daventry B, Daventry C, Leamington B, Rugby B, Rugby C, Rugby D and Stratford B. Three days later KCC holds an EGM to prepare for its debut competitive season.

October 1975 - In what may be the first ever KCC league matches, the A team goes down 1.5-3.5 in a Div 1 match at home to Stratford A, and the B team loses 1-2 to Stratford B. Colin Searle wins on top board for Stratford A, while Kenilworth A's sole victor is Barry Rowe on Board 3. The only winner for the B team is ….. Bernard Rogers. Did Barry or Bernard score our first ever win, I wonder? One week later the B team beat Automotive Products B 2-1 at home, with Bernard winning again on Board 1.

November 1975 - Chess must be booming in Kenilworth as another 8 roll up boards are purchased. But the price has already increased to £4.80. If only they'd bought 16 in June, the Club would be 64 pence better off, Probably the upheaval of finding a new Treasurer was to blame for this monumental inefficiency. On November 20th a Club "Lightening (sic) Tournament" is held with 14 players. The winner is Graham Brightwell with 7/7. Bernard scores 3.5 and Bruce 3.

December 1975 - And now £9.80 is spent on 4 chess sets. I cannot understand how Tournament Chess Supplies is no longer trading 44 years later given the vast sums being spent by KCC.

May 1976 - The first season is over, and the A team scored 7/24 in Div 1, while the B team finished with 15/24. Bruce proved difficult to get to the board, managing only two appearances all season, while Bernard chalked up 5/6 for the B team, and 1/2 for the A team. At the AGM (May 6th) the draft club Constitution is up for adoption. If it was agreed and never amended, we have been unconstitutional for many, many years!

Thrilling stuff, eh? Almost makes you feel you were there.

Friday, 24 May 2019

Game of the Month, May 2019

Its been rather a long wait since the previous article in this series, but I hope you'll agree that all good things are worth waiting for. Here we come within an ace of witnessing a KCC Grand Master scalp - even if it is a GM that none of you have ever heard of!

The game was played in Rhodes at the recent World Seniors' Team Championships, on Board 1 in the match between Finland and England 3, and features, as White, GM Yrjo Rantanen, against our own Andy Baruch. Despite falling some way below his lifetime peak of 2465, Rantanen still had a near 250 rating point edge over Andy, so the odds were very much stacked against our brave warrior. But in a very tense and exciting game, in which both sides launched the kitchen sink at their opponent's kings, Andy had the chance to land a killer blow. Unfortunately the moment passed, and although he was still better, there was no obvious breakthrough. Andy should have reconciled himself to a draw, but after several hours of knife edge chess, he went and spoiled everything, probably through tiredness and lack of match practice, by a one move blunder. I can speak from experience when I say its very tough to put these GMs away. They don't like losing, however ancient they may now be!

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Ee Aye Addio, We've Won the Cup!

I don't know why all those Scousers were getting so excited last night at winning a mere Semi-Final in kickball or whatever it's called. The real excitement was to be found at Tyseley Working Men's Club where the mighty KCC were triumphant in the Final of the Leamington League Knock-Out Cup on a night of high drama. Regrettably not even our most avid supporters (Dave and Ben Bonkers) were able to make the long trip to see us beat Olton 3.5-1.5 and pick up the Cup for the third time in four years and the seventh in all.

I sensed that it might be our night when I caught sight of a road-sign on the way to the match. With amazing speed and dexterity, fellow passenger Mike was able to grab a quick photo.

The uncannily accurate Predict-a-score road sign. (My attempts to find a matching one saying Kenilworth 3.5 have sadly failed!)
We had our strongest side out (given the small matter of Paul's unavailability and ineligibility!) for the battle against our perennial rivals Olton, but we did face an especially tough task on the top two boards where Olton are especially strong. I was hopeful, though, that our powerful engine room on Boards 3, 4 and 5 would pull us through. If any extra motivation were needed, Olton had just pipped us by a single point to the league title, despite us taking 3 points out of 4 against them this season.

Enough of this waffle - to the match!

Such is Joshua's style and tempo of play that he nearly always finishes first, and this match was no exception. He played one of his pet unsound openings as Black against Richard Reynolds on Board 4. Almost inevitably, though, Joshua got plenty of play for his pawn sacrifice and a sufficiently unbalanced, dynamic position to pose major problems on the board and on the clock. He won his pawn back and provoked a major weakening of White's kingside, all the time building up a massive time advantage. I missed the conclusion, but I imagine time pressure induced a serious mistake from Richard and we had our first point.

This was followed soon after by a second win for us, as Andy despatched Mark Cundy on Board 3 in a highly entertaining game. Andy lurched forwards with his pawns on both sides of the board against Mark's Leningrad Dutch and gained a shed-load of space. But there were a few holes in Andy's position, and he needed to be careful. However, we needn't have worried as Andy played the crucial phase of the game splendidly, and made decisive inroads into the Black centre and kingside - a knight on g5 proving especially dangerous to the Black king, which suddenly found itself threatened with the move Rh7 mate. This could only be averted at significant material cost and so Mark resigned.

Meanwhile on Board 5, Mike had been nursing an edge against Rob Reynolds from a very early stage of a Catalan structure, where Black failed to solve the eternal problem of such lines, his light squared bishop. But Rob is devilishly difficult to beat, and he dug in and defended his worse position defiantly, right into a bishops of the same coloured ending where there was no way for Mike to get his king into the Black position.

So 2.5-0.5 to us, but we could still lose the match on Board Elimination if Olton won the top two boards. But there seemed no danger of this, as although Andrew was struggling against Alan Lloyd on Board 2, I had got a completely winning position against Phil Holt on top board. So what could possibly go wrong? Read on....

Andrew did indeed fall to defeat against Alan, after White played an exemplary game against the Dutch - not a good night for that opening! When Andrew had to make the double retreat Nc6-b8 and Be6-c8 in the first 10 moves or so, it seemed clear that something had gone badly wrong. He never managed to free himself against Alan's pressure, with the White bishops particularly dominant. So now it was 2.5-1.5, and all to play for in the final game.

I had not played a great opening after Phil surprised me with an unusual variation of the Alekhine, but with the position about level he went wrong and almost accidentally I was suddenly threatening a queen sac to win a piece due to Black's weak back rank. To escape this Phil had to allow me to get a knight into d6 followed by Rxb7 winning a pawn and reducing the Black position to total passivity. Indeed his rook had to go to f8, and his two knights on a6 and c7 were completely useless. In true Phil style, though, he managed to get his queen active and threatened perpetual. I could have let him, as it would have won the match for us, but this would have been wimpish in the extreme - and I'm desperately in need of the grading points after a disastrous few months. (Moreover, as Phil famously turned down Paul's draw offer when it would have won the match for Olton in a previous cup final against us, I guess he wouldn't have taken the draw anyway.) So we played on and my position got even better. I was completely winning and then …. as time ticked away - one good move would seal the deal but ...… instead a blunder and from nowhere Phil uncorked Ra8 which contained a killing threat of Ra1 with what looked like unstoppable mate on f1, g1 or h1. I played a move to stop it and he then uncorked a tremendous knight sac to force the move anyway. I broke out into a cold sweat. It felt as though I had cost us the Cup. I had to give my queen up for a rook and knight, and hope that my passed b pawn could pose enough of a threat to stop his queen running amok. Instead of grabbing a pawn to give himself a passed d pawn and a guaranteed perpetual at worst, Phil tried to win my b pawn which constituted my only active play. But he couldn't do it and I succeeded in establishing a kind of fortress where my rook, knight and b pawn had his queen incarcerated on b7 and b8. Even now it should still have been a draw I suspect, but in a desperate attempt to win Phil flashed out a g5 push only to recoil in horror when I played Rc7+, as his queen was on b7 and he'd walked into a skewer. Talk about drama! All we needed was a fat lady singing, to bring down the curtain on an epic night. Why can KCC never do anything the easy way?

Four of the triumphant/self-satisfied five: (l to r) Joshua, The Club Organiser, Andy, Mike
(Andrew having already departed with his tail between his legs)
So this means double success for the club this season, with the KO Cup victory to put alongside the B team's Division 2 Championship. (And we were within 1 point of the Division 1 title, too!) Now we have two reasons for an end of season celebration. If only we had a Social Secretary...….. well, hopefully after next Monday's AGM we will!!

A disappointing promotion

With the league already won, the final game was was just another match. The only matter of interest was to see if we could avoid losing and therefore finish the season without a loss.

Ben was away on business and Bernard R kindly agreed again to play on board 4 for the B team. Other than that, we fielded the team that has pretty much been the norm since September.

Bernard won fairly quickly against Abbie Stevens. A temporary knight sacrifice saw him reach an ending with two extra pawns. So far so good.

Phil didn't have a good game against Kevin Bowman and lost a piece during the middle game. Faced with the prospect of losing further material, Phil resigned.

Dave was playing Andy Johnson in a fairly sharp game. Having sacrificed a pawn to open up some lines against the black position, Andy faltered in the middle game allowing back to give back the pawn and reach an level ending. However, when Andy exchanged off minor pieces to get into a Queen and rooks ending, black stood very slightly better. Andy offered a draw and Dave had to decide if to play on or agree and hope that Mike could draw his game against Steve Willetts. Mike's position didn't look too bad and so Dave took the captain's decision to agree the draw and see what happened.

Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there! Steve, just had a lot more time than Mike and managed to win his ending leaving the B team with only one and a half points on the night.

A disappointing end for the team as it had done so well over the course of a long season. We have used just four regular players and two exemplary guest player, Joshua and Bernard, finishing four points clear of Banbury B.

Next season, it will probably be all change as new grades and players may distribute the squad around the B and C teams.

Everyone deserves a rest except for Dave who has to go back to Captaincy school.

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Postscript - 2019 World Seniors Team Championships

I left a few loose ends in my last round report from Rhodes last week, so having just about got over the jet-lag and the cultural re-orientation I'm now able to wrap things up. I rather (completely?) ignored the 50+ results , as the winners had been a foregone conclusion for most of the tournament. The USA duly retained their title, using 4 of the 5 GMs who had won in Germany last year, with Igor Novikov replacing Sergey Kudrin.

The victorious USA team. (L to |R) Dignitary, Shabalov (born Riga), Benjamin (born Brooklyn - who let him in the team?), Novikov (born Kharkov), Ehlvest (born Tallinn), Yermolinsky (born Leningrad), Dignitary

On the shuttle bus back to Rhodes airport, Andy had the privilege of sitting opposite GM Ehlvest and, flushed from a recent analysis session with Jon Speelman, thought he would make contact with another former superstar (Olympiad gold medal winner in 1988 as part of the Soviet team.) Andy: "Hope you've remembered the most important thing - your gold medal?" Ehlvest: silence. Andy (not deterred): "So did you have a good time in Rhodes?" Ehlvest: grunt.  At which point Andy got the message and made do with talking to me! Seems that not all GMs are approachable.

The England 1 performance in the 50+ event was rather disappointing, finishing sixth on tie-break, though level on match points with Bronze medal winners Israel. A surprise loss to Silver medallists Italy in Round 7 was their undoing, and they finished with a fairly uninspiring draw in the last round against Germany. There were two great individual successes, though, as captain John Emms won the individual Gold medal on Board 3, and Keith Arkell the Silver on Board 2.

The Board 3 prize winners (l to r): Igor Novikov (USA - Bronze); John Emms (England - Gold); Karen Movsziszian (Armenia - Silver) 

The Board 2 prize winners (l to r): Joel Benjamin (USA - Bronze); Artashes Minasian (Armenia - Gold); Keith Arkell (England, Silver)

But this is all very well, I hear you say, what about a photo of our very own Club Organiser. Well, faced with such a popular clamour, what can I do but concede?

The England 2 65+ team (l to r); Mick Stokes (captain); The Club Organiser; Bobby Fischer!! (on t-shirt); Brian Hewson (Bronze medal winner, Board 5); Geoff James; David Bray

And working on the principle that you can never have too much of a good thing.....

In play (and later to lose) against IM Renman (Sweden 1). One point if you can identify the opening.

In play (and much later to draw) against FM Herzog (Austria). Ten points if you can identify the opening!

So that more or less wraps things up. Overall it was an enjoyable event, with good team spirit and a pretty good location/hotel, though the travel was slightly awkward due to limited flight options. I would have preferred the 09.30 starts as in Dresden, but I accept I am in a minority there. I felt the standard was decidedly less vicious in the 65+ section than I encountered in my two tries in the 50+ event. This year I felt I could give anyone a decent game and have some chance of a result - mind you, I didn't have to play Sveshnikov or Balashov, which might well have changed my opinion significantly!

Before I sign off, how about a bit of schoolboy humour, in the shape of a composite team that could have been put together from the various participants? This would actually be a pretty useful team at chess, but in the funny names competition they would have won the gold medal in a canter. 1 WGM Tatiana Grabuzova (2323 - Russia Women 50+); 2 FM Bengt Hammar (2206 - Sweden 1 65+); 3 WIM Natalia Titorenko (2153 - Russia Women 50+); 4 Herman Van de Wynkele (2129 - Belgium 65+); 5 FM Heimo Titz (2096 Vienna 65+).

But I can't finish on such a low brow note, so here are a couple of snaps from the Acropolis at Lindos, especially for our classicist, Mike D. Its hard going to get up there, but as you can see, its well worth the effort - even for a philistine like me!

Admit it, you can't get much more kultural than this, kan you?!?