Tuesday, 21 January 2020

Lightning Does Not Strike Twice - But Still We Sparkle (A Bit)

The defending champions were in town last night. Having lost to us earlier in the season, Olton A were taking no chances, with a line up of Holt, Lloyd, Cundy and Smith. Still, what nights like the previous Olton match and our game against Kenilworth A last week have shown, is that the B team need not fear anyone. We have a squad of players who are all capable of getting results against higher rated opponents. I have no doubt that we will stay up. Yesterday we just had one of those evenings where we perhaps got a little less than we deserved.

On Board 4, Richard Smith appeared to walk into a trap against Jude. However, Richard is a very wily player and when I next looked, he seemed to have dug himself out and as the game progressed just seemed to get on top. A good learning experience for Jude. Chess is a game of fine margins and matches like this are where Jude gets to hone is craft for the years to come. A good effort, and we were a bit unlucky not to pick something up from this one.

If Jude had been winning on board 4, Lionel always looked to me to be losing with black on board 3. Down a pawn and in what looked superficially to be a tricky position, Lionel played with great skill to hold Mark Cundy at bay. It was not until about 10.20 that Mark was forced to concede that victory was not possible and to offer the draw. Very nice play from Lionel, who is increasingly making his presence felt.

For the first 45 minutes, boards 1 and 2 had virtual mirror image positions on them. Both Phil Holt and I had bishops on h6, honing in on bishops on g7. Eventually the games diverged. Phil seemed to pick up a pawn and while Mike did a great job of making it difficult, eventually Phil found a way to crash through the centre to decisive effect.

All of which rendered my game on board 2 academic, which was probably just as well. I was in a very strong position out of the opening, found a nice tactic and won rook for knight and pawn. Alan by way of compensation had a strong passed pawn, with a bishop controlling the queening square and a strong knight. We both thought it should be a win for me, but as ever chess is not an easy game. I drifted into desperate time trouble and never really found a way through, so in the end a draw was a fair result. I would certainly have taken that at the beginning of the night.

So a 1 - 3 defeat, but more than enough to suggest that we will pick up some points, going forward.

Friday, 17 January 2020

2019 Christmas Quiz - the Answers!

I think everyone has suffered enough, and its time to put you all out of your misery with the answers. Or at least some answers, since it turns out that the level of incompetence displayed by the quiz setter was actually off the scale. We owe this knowledge to the one and only Joshua Pink, who - not content with attempting to solve the quiz in the normal manner - devoted his Christmas holidays to writing a computer program to interrogate my short story and check it against the FIDE rating list of titled players! I bet he's a fun person to play Charades or Monopoly with.

Anyway, the distressing outcome of this hi-tech exercise was that Mr Pink found somewhere close to 600 hidden names compared to my last assessment of 328. Which was itself more than double my initial estimate when I set the quiz! Luckily, the full 600 name solution remains solely in the possession of Mr Pink, where I hope it will stay, but it does fall to me to provide the "human" answers. So here is the list of the GMs, IMs and KCC members I challenged you to find, with the number of instances they appeared in the short story. How many did you find?!

41 live + 4 deceased GMs

Michael Adams 1
Zoltan Almasi 1
Bassem Amin 1
Vishy Anand 1
David Anton 1
Tal Baron 2
Benjamin Bok 1
Bu Xiangzhi 6
Emre Can 1
Jorge Cori 1
Ding Liren 3
Daniil Dubov 1
Jan Krzysztof Duda 1
Jon Ludwig Hammer 1
Vlastimil Hort 1
Hou Yifan 4
David Howell 1
James Howell 1
Ju Wenjun 2
Danny King 5
Erwin L’Ami 1
Le Quang Liem 17
Li Di 22
Li Chao B 22
Li Shilong 22
Lin Chen 5
Ma Qun 11
Ni Hua 7
Alexandr Predke 2
Markus Ragger 1
Richard Rapport 1
Ray Robson 1
Ivan Saric 1
Nigel Short 1
Wesley So 7
Tan Zhongyi 1
Wang Hao 1
Wang Yue 1
Chris Ward 1
Wei Yi 1
Yu Yangyi 1

Tony Miles 1
Gyula Sax 1
Leonid Stein 1
Mikhail Tal 2

168 GM references

14 IMs

Robert Bellin 1
Isik Can 1
Werner Hug 1
Ilya Kan 2
Li Bo 22
Li Ruofan 22
Li Wenliang 22
Li Yankai 22
Li Zunian 22
Lin Ta 5
Lin Weiguo 5
Lin Ye 5
Robert Ris 5
Simon Webb 1

136 IM references

13 KCC members

John Ambler 1
Mike Donnelly 1
Billy Fellowes 1
Ben Graff 1
Bruce Holland 1
Tony King 5
Paul Lam 8
William Morris 1
Mark Page 1
David Phillips 1
Joshua Pink 1
Andy Ward 1
Rod Webb 1

24 KCC references

Total 328 references

Theoretically I could post a copy of the original short story with all these hidden names highlighted (just to prove they are all there!), but as there are names within names, and names within names within names, I fear I would need so many colours that it would all look like one big mess, and I'm sure no-one wants to see the KCC website brought into such disrepute.

Right, that wraps up the third annual KCC Christmas Quiz, leaving me with about 11 months to come up with the 2020 version.  Whether that will be enough is anyone's guess, since at the moment I don't have a single idea!

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Even the Losers Get Lucky Sometimes

And so do those who draw! Yesterday it was like the great escape at the Abbey Club, as somehow we managed a 2-2 draw with Nuneaton A as the second half of the Coventry League season got underway. We should have been dead and buried and served up on toast (not an appetising mix of metaphors!) but, at the 11th hour, Lady Luck decided to smile on us big time.

The evening had started more sedately as Mike drew on Bd 2 against Paul Davies. Mike pressed and forced a couple of concessions in Black's position, but Paul defended and honours were even. The rest of the games, though, were real fights and went right to the wire (we were playing the awful non-increment time limit of G/90) until they all finished virtually simultaneously.

On possibly his farewell appearance for the Coventry League team before moving to London, Drago failed to replicate his excellent C team Leamington League win of the previous day, and eventually went down to Colin Green in Board 4. I had thought he had the best position of all of us at several points in the evening, but my judgment was well off in my own game, so maybe that was wrong. Anyway, its been great having you on board this season Drago, and you have been a really valuable and reliable member of the club. Shame it was such a short association, but best of luck with your new job and new life down south.

So we needed 1.5 points from the other two games - but logic said we were going to get none. Ben was a pawn and position down against Tony Green on Board 3 when suddenly I became aware of a cry of anguish from somewhere off to my left and it transpired that Tony had got a rook trapped and had, impossibly, managed to lose.

But that was nothing compared to what had just happened in my game against Phil Briggs. From a very exciting opening and middlegame, and after turning down 2 draw offers, things suddenly went horribly wrong for me. The White queen somehow switched from a terrible square on h3 to a humungously strong square on a7, from where it targeted my suddenly exposed king. In time trouble I made a horrendous blunder by "cleverly" threatening a rook sacrifice of my own to deliver mate. But in chess, each side moves in turn, and I had left forced mate on the board. But then incredibly, and despite having seen the mate, Phil played the wrong check and I was still in the game. A few random moves seemed to have brought me back to possible equality until I put a piece en prise due to a pin. But thankfully Phil missed the tactic and swapped the queens off instead! With both of us under 2 minutes he then offered a third draw, and I decided that I had best take it before I made another blunder. Mike then pointed out a very strong move for me in the final position, but fortunately Mr Fritz has confirmed it wasn't winning. But who cares? My brain had gone and I was happy with the luckiest draw I have had in a long time …. well, since last Monday when I escaped from a totally lost position against Ben!

Now we just need to hope we didn't use up our season's quota of luck in one match!

Tuesday, 7 January 2020

The Battle of Kenilworth - Another Skirmish Breaks Out

The new decade began with the second A team v B team match of the season, and just as with the first encounter, it was very difficult to tell the difference between the teams for much of the night! In the end the score was - again - 2.5-1.5 to the A team, but there was hardly a sheet of paper between the sides, even though the A team was, miracle of miracles, at full strength.

A new decade begins! Kenilworth B (left) prepare to take on Kenilworth A (right). From top: Mike v Andy B; Ben v Mark; Andy W v Joshua; Jude v David P
The game Donnelly v Baruch used to be one of the classic encounters of Warwickshire chess. Time may have moved on somewhat since those halcyon days, but they still both know how to wield a pretty mean pawn. I was expecting a very quick draw, but Andy surprised me by playing a very enterprising opening which completely imbalanced the structure - and then turning down Mike's draw offer. But I needn't have worried, as a draw was agreed several moves later, after Mike comfortably defended against Andy's attempts to press in a double rook ending.

Another draw offer was then declined by the A team player on Board 3, even though at the time the Black position looked desperate to me. But Joshua did not become (until last night!) Mr 100% by accepting draw offers, even when the sword of Damocles is hovering directly above his head. I don't know what Herr Fritz or Mr Stockfish have to say about the earlier and subsequent play, but my non-silicon brain thought Andy W was doing all of the pushing in this game and must have been close to winning. But optimism goes a long way, as Joshua's games often demonstrate, and the game finally ended in a draw, but only after all of Joshua's frantic late attempts to dig a trap for Andy to fall into, had failed to trap their prey. (Amusing anecdote:- Before the match started, Joshua took great delight in showing us the excellent Rh4 move he had played (in the opening!) against FM Marcus Harvey at the Shropshire Open that weekend. I don't know about anyone else, but I certainly had an internal chortle when I then saw Andy play an excellent Rh4 move against Joshua just out of the opening!)

Meanwhile on the "youth" board, David P was turning the screw on Jude's position in a 4 rooks ending, which was reached almost straight out of the opening.  David's rooks were on d7 and d8, and Jude's on e7 and e8 - a delightful symmetry! But here David surprised Jude by playing Rxc7 winning a pawn, as whichever White rook was captured (both now being en prise), a Black rook would be loose as well. From a position of rook and 6 v rook and 5, David (or must we now call him Jose Raul?) played an impressive endgame that subsequently became rook and 3 v rook and 1, all on the kingside. And after a long, heroic defence Jude finally had to resign, but it was another remarkably mature effort from our star nine year old.

Which put the A team in the lead, but events on Board 2 had earlier seemed likely to see a B team victory, as Ben was outplaying me. He had the advantage (with Black!) straight out of the opening and I was completely unjustified in turning down an early draw offer (yes, there were a lot of them about last night!). I then made a crass oversight which meant that my bishop on a5, which I had willingly trapped by playing b4, was suddenly in serious danger. In making sure that it didn't fall off I overlooked another threat which saw my rooks forked by a Black knight, and suddenly Ben was completely winning. However, he hesitated for one move and all of a sudden I leaped out from nowhere and won back my exchange while simultaneously winning a pawn and getting a passer to c7, with another just behind on b5. Ben's only hope was the opposite bishops, but as there was still a pair of rooks on the board I thought it must be winning for me. However, time was very short and my b5 pawn fell off. With neither of us in a fit state to continue, I offered a draw and Ben had no choice but to accept, sealing an A team victory by the minimum margin.

Definitely not title-winning form from the victors, and not relegation form from the losers. But we've all heard about teams being too good to go down, so come on you B-teamers, get some more points on the board to avoid any nail-biting 4 pointers at the end of the season!

Friday, 3 January 2020

2019 Christmas Quiz - an Update

Sorry, but its not yet time for me to put everyone out of their misery by providing the answers. Instead, there are some further adjustments to the number of hidden chess players you are looking for. And you are looking for them, aren't you?!

Clearly whoever set the quiz was totally incompetent, as with virtually everyday I find some more examples which the "setter" had failed to spot. Having already made two upwards adjustments which had raised the target to 154, I need to let everyone know that the total has now edged up to ………  328!! Yes, it has more than doubled. Which does not reflect at all well on the quizmaster. Regrettably, however, the hidden GM with the most references in the quiz (22) now turns out to share his name with 2 other GMs - and 5 IMs! Add in a further 1 GM and 3 IMs who also share that name but with a single extra letter added, and the recount has reached massive proportions.

Clearly the amount of research undertaken for the setting of this quiz was woefully inadequate, but what can I say? You just can't get the staff these days. I blame the teachers!

So just to be clear, you are now looking for:-

45 GMs (4 deceased), including 2 World Champions and 3 Women's World Champions, totalling 168 references
14 IMs, totalling 136 references
13 KCC members, totalling 24 references

The only good news to come out of this organisational fiasco is that if you find the most commonly hidden name, on each of the 22 occasions it appears in the text, you will notch up 176 references immediately - always assuming you can name the 3 GMs and 5 IMs that share this (very short) monicker.

Experience tells me that there are almost certainly more obscure chess players waiting to be discovered in the original text, but I have decided I am not going to look for them! So let's all agree that the official target is 328. And no more!

The answers will appear sometime next week. I bet you can hardly wait!

A Bigger Trophy Cabinet Will Soon Be Needed!

Another great triumph for one of KCC's amazing junior talents, as Billy Fellowes has retained his U-8 title at the highly prestigious, and tremendously strong, London Junior Chess Championships. Last year Billy won this title as an under seven, with a remarkable score of 6.5/7, and this time around, as a fully-fledged under eight, he went one better and won with a clean sweep - yes, 7/7!! More details, as always, on the CCA website, where you can also read how Billy came third in the U-10 event, despite giving away 2 years to most of the field.

A bigger trophy cabinet is probably already needed to contain all Billy's cups and medals. And I don't think it will be long before he needs a whole room - maybe something like this!

Source: Ballota - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Poljud_-_the_trophy_room.jpg

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

John Skinner

For about twenty years John Skinner was a member of Kenilworth Chess Club from the mid 1980's to the mid 2000s. Sadly, John died on Tuesday, 26th of November, 2019, aged 89. Along with a couple of other club members - Bernard and Phil - I went to John's well attended funeral which was held a few days later on 10th December.  

I knew John throughout this period and by way of celebrating this part of his life, I wanted to share with other club members some personal recollections.

He started at the club around the same time as myself when the club met in the crypt of the Catholic church in Kenilworth, St Francis.

In the world of chess, Bobby Fischer was his idol. His favourite open as Black was the King's Indian Defence and he followed closely the wisdom as set down by Golubev in his book on the matter (although John usually refered to him as Gorbachev!). As White the Reti was his favoured approach. Both of these served him well at Kenilworth - and I presume before this. John was a lifelong chess player and it formed a very big part of his life. As long as he was playing – which was up until just a couple months before his death – he was studying! I am not a good enough chess player to say whether John himself was any good but I always took him to be a middle-ranking club player who was regularly selected to play in various club teams.

And John fully engaged with the life of the club. He came along on a couple of weekend chess 'jollies' to such exotic locations as Huddersfield and Runcorn! We all knew how to have a good time back in those days!

He also took an interest in club juniors. When a very young Paul Lam started attending - in his metaphorical short trousers - John was always happy to give him advice and a few pointers. These were the days when Paul had 'no idea' what he was doing and John would advise not just what Paul was doing that was wrong – but took the time to explain why it was wrong.

But let Paul speak for himself:-

'I'd known John since joining the club almost twenty years ago but other club members will have known him even longer. Like many others at the club he was very kind and helpful towards me as a junior. The first time we played, I naively neglected my development in order to launch a crude pawn storm against John's castled king, only for John to rebut it and slaughter me mercilessly, teaching me a valuable lesson!

I found John to have a great sense of humour and you could chat to him about a range of things, other than chess. He had some good stories about his time in the police force! At the 2001 British Chess Championships in Scarborough (I was playing in the U13s and he was in the Atkins tournament - or it could have been the Yates), he kept my mum company in between rounds and I gather they spent most of the time talking about gardening!

Roy and I paid him a visit earlier this year and although frail, he was still sharp as a tack. We had an excellent time! When Roy suggested that the two of us play a game, his response was 'So that's why you came here Roy, you sadist! You just wanted to witness an execution!'

Remembering John's penchant for the cut and thrust of attacking play, I opted for safety first against his Latvian Gambit. It was a young guy running away from an old guy, oh the shame! John played superbly to hang with me to the endgame, when I found a decisive pawn sac, provoking the comment 'Well that was a dagger to the heart'. Feeling somewhat guilty, I offered an honourable draw, only for him to respond 'Not having it Paul, I'm not Joan of Arc', cracking a smile. Not the turn of phrase he was looking for I think, but I understood!

RIP John, you'll be missed.'

Bernard Rogers was always particularly glad to see John on a Thursday night – not least because he was the only club member who could keep up with Bernard when it came to beer consumption. And keep on playing tolerable chess! John was a man of many talents.

I understand John served his National Service in the RAF military police, loved it, and so, in civvy street, became Police Constable Skinner eventually reaching Sergeant in the Coventry Force after a period in the C.I.D. - and it was a 'Force' in those days, not a 'Service'. John could be a bit sensitive and it was not possible to say anything critical about his beloved Police Force. In fact there were lots of areas of life that were off limits. He was not averse to putting his hand in his pocket in support of causes or to undo what he considered an injustice – a quality I greatly admired. 

I was born in the early 1950s when morality, values and the general view of the world was very different from today. Now, John was a policeman in precisely this era and he must have found the social revolution of the sixties a major challenge. John's clarity about his views and values made it easy to navigate around them and maintain an easy, long term, friendship.

Throughout this period John was restless and lived for a while in Ireland – breeding dogs – then in the Scarborough area and then for a time in Blackpool. But he kept up his links with the club and would always come along when he was back in the area.

For a good part of the time I knew John I would visit him at home on a weekly basis and play a few one-hour games. He also played Tom Swallow (ex-club member) on the same basis. Cakes and scones were provided by his partner Eileen who would pass comment about what the neighbors would think - me turning up early afternoon, pulling the curtains together (to be clear - to keep the sun out) staying for two/three hours and then leaving a smile on my face! Lovely woman and a great support and companion to John. They had what seemed to me the best of all possible domestic worlds by living in adjoining bungalows and NOT knocking a door through. That way each others' company was on tap when they needed it but a tap that could be turned off by either John or Eileen when they had had 'enough'. I have never seen a happier couple.

I think John and Eileen met in the early eighties, a few years after their respective wife and husband had died.

A bit of a 'culture vulture' and avid fan along with Eileen, of University Challenge, Countdown and the Times crossword. He had a penchant for 'classical' music but also, fifties 'rock and roll'. He was a proficient drummer and mouth organist AND, I understand, a bit of a smoothy on the dance floor.

So, John was a man for whom I had great respect. He made a valuable contribution to local chess and I found him good company. He is someone I will always remember fondly.