Monday, 30 March 2020

Even More Reasons to be Cheerful

I know its difficult to imagine many reasons to be cheerful right now in our self-isolating, social distancing, lock-down world, but chess (which, as we all know, has the power to make men happy) can always be relied upon to remind us that others sometimes will have it worse than us. And whenever good news is in short supply, the odd bit of schadenfreude never goes amiss. So you can imagine how delighted I was to come across another wonderful example of a strong player getting a terrible pasting, and ending up in a position so abject that you can only stare in wonder that a GM could be reduced to such utter helplessness.

Now the poor soul on the receiving end of this massacre is not on the same illustrious level as the two previous victims in this series, Mark Taimanov and Garry Kasparov, but Nikita Meskovs is a very strong Latvian GM (ELO 2582, age 26), who could beat us all with one hand tied behind his back. And he was facing World top-10 player (and close friend of Roy Watson!), Anish Giri. But in this game the climax seems rather like David against Goliath - except that David forgot his slingshot, and Goliath brought along a small ballistic missile just to be sure. Once again, its the final position that you need to study. There, but for the grace of God, go all of us. So lets be thankful that - once again - someone much stronger than us was on the receiving end.

Total chessboard domination. The poor Back queen is never seeing the light of day again! Admit it - aren't you glad you weren't on the receiving end of that!?

And in case you think the player of the Black pieces didn't put up much of  fight, I should just mention that in the very next game - played a few minutes after this grizzly encounter, Meskovs came within a whisker of beating 3 times World Blitz champion Alexander Grischuk, before having to concede the draw.

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

From the Archives - Part 15, 2006 - the Venue, Stupid; it's Always About the Venue!

So here we are, at the end of the long journey through the Club's archives from its formation in 1975 until history seemingly stopped in 2006. But even before I start the final review, there is a problem. The Agenda for the AGM on May 4, 2006 was efficiently prepared by our long serving Secretary Bernard Rogers, Esq, but for reasons known only to himself, the date of the meeting notification is given as September 13, 2006. Unless there was a strange time slip in Kenilworth that year, it seems as though we have chanced upon a rare example of administrative incompetence by the great (in every sense!) man. But maybe not so rare, as the meeting notification doesn't actually say where it is to be held. A mere detail, no doubt, in the greater scheme of things.

But somehow the KCC membership divined where the venue was and we at least have a record of the AGM itself, which is the main thing. So let's give the Secretary credit where its due instead of harping on about his errors and omissions.

Oh hang on, I've come across another problem! We learn that Geoff King, Nick Waterman, Steve Payne and Paul Lam had sent apologies for their absence, but there is no record of who actually turned up. Really, I think that Bernard's reputation as Mr Efficiency needs an urgent re-examination. Just too many mistakes. Very shoddy work. (And still they re-elected him!)

John Skinner is in the chair and welcomes Tony Pickering, Carl's dad, to the club. The club's impressive roster of 6 teams had fared less impressively as follows:-

A team - 6/8 in Division 1
B team - 5/7 in Division 2
C team - 7/7 in Division 2
D team - 5/8 in Division 3
E team - 3/9 in Division 4
F team - 6/9 in Division 4

On the cup front we had suffered a wipe out, reaching no finals, but individually we had more to shout about with a family double triumph. Tony had won the League U-100 event and Carl had won the Open. And cue the drum roll - Carl had also come 1st = in the British Rapidplay. (I would like more details of this ultra-impressive sounding performance before hailing it as the greatest KCC achievement of all time!)

The Secretary reminded the members that they needed to join the British Legion Club as well. Disappointingly it is not minuted if the members then reminded the Secretary that he needs to put the correct date on his messages; name the meeting venue; and record the AGM attendees.

For what seems like the umpteenth year in a row, the Treasurer (Geoff King) is absent (and conveys his intention to stand down), but the accounts are presented and approved anyway. But the financial information is apparently too sensitive to be recorded for posterity. However, we do know that subscriptions need to rise, and a figure of £12.50 was tabled. This was agreed, but only by 8-4. Really chaps - what were the 4 of you thinking??

And now we move on to the interesting stuff. (Not before time I hear the malcontents shouting!)

Carl has a proposal for the meeting - that we change our match night to a Wednesday, while continuing with Thursday evening club nights, which seemingly have to alternate between upstairs and downstairs at the Legion. This would enable us to have a regular Club tournament and increase the number of members.

Apparently there was some disquiet about the venue (nothing ever changes!):-

Paul M felt the upstairs venue was good.
Bruce thought it was a very good venue upstairs, but not downstairs.
Geoff King did not like the fact that room availability was not consistent, and that the heating was not always turned on.
Rod preferred one evening to be played each week.
Roy generally approved of the venue, but emphasised the heating issue.

Nigel Morris then proposed a return to KSSC, which was seconded by Tony (but which one - King or Pickering? Another black mark for the Secretary!) This was overwhelmingly shot down by 11-2.

Paul M then proposed that in summer we play at the KSSC, seconded by Rob Olley. This went down in flames by 12-2. (Strange that those who wanted to play all year round at the KSSC, seemingly didn't want to play there in the summer!!)

So finally Carl's proposal was put to the meeting, and this passed by 8-5. Sorted? Apparently not, as ex-Chairman Rod then proposed that Club and match nights should both be on a Thursday, even though he must have known he was on very shaky procedural ground! Amazingly, the meeting then allowed this proposal to go forwards, but it was defeated by 8-4, so Carl had well and truly won the day.

John and Bernard were re-elected as Chairman and Secretary, while Tony Pickering took up the role of Competitions Secretary. But who is this being elected as Treasurer …. yes, its the one and only Roy Watson. Roy and money and accounting and record keeping  ….  what could possibly go wrong?

There are issues for the club to face for the forthcoming season. Paul and Mark Lam would both be unavailable, while Nick and Rod could not make Wednesdays, and Nigel could only play in home games. Apparently this left us with 16 active players, and by a vote of 8-1 it was agreed to reduce the number of teams from 6 to 4. Even so, this apparently required seven match captains:-

A Team & Open KO Cup - Carl
B Team - Paul M
C Team - Chris
D team - Frank Holmes

U-625 Cup - Phil
Under 100 A - Mike Whatson
Under 100 B - Tony King

A double round robin (graded) Club tournament would be held in the winter, with a summer tournament also to be organised by the new Competition Secretary.

Under AOB, Chris advises that he will organise a croquet night (how come the current Social Secretary, of all people, hasn't proposed such an event?), while John thanks the Secretary for assistance in organising the Chairman's Night. (Be nice to have one of those again, wouldn't it? I wonder who the Chairman is these days?)

And at 9.20pm the meeting closed, and KCC went into a period of seclusion from which it would not emerge until 2014. Some people know the secrets of those years, I'm sure, but having taken an omerta-like vow they are not telling, and nothing has been committed to print. Or has it? Go on folks, search those old folders; look in the back of the filing cabinet; check down the back of the settee. The records must be there somewhere. (Except for 2013, when I know there were no minutes taken to document the end of the Watson years!)

Who knows, this could be the Greatest Story (N)Ever Told!

Friday, 20 March 2020

Not Your Normal Thursday Evening Club Night

Thanks to the technological wizardry of our splendid Webmaster (Joshua, in case you couldn't recognise him from my description!), there was a seamless continuation of our weekly club nights yesterday, as four trail-blazers took part in  the first ever KCC online gathering. Paul, Lionel, Joshua and myself were the intrepid souls who gathered in a virtual Gauntlet to play - in best club tradition - a series of increasingly awful games, first at 15 minutes and then at 5 minutes. Yes, it was controversial not to adopt an incremental time control, but for the first session we wanted to stay as close as possible to the normal Thursday evening comfort zone.

I can claim the prize for the first mouse slip of the new era, substituting the move b6 for my intended bxc6, which left me a whole rook down in about 8 moves against Lionel. And it was against the same opponent that I won the prize for the first act of self delusion, rashly announcing "Kapow" to the whole club after my Nd7 move that forked a queen and rook - only to have to eat humble pie when the move Nh3+ in response saved the exchange and won a pawn.

And yes, you did read that right, we were all in constant audio contact thanks to our Webmaster's great knowledge of the best free apps out there, so all the usual banter was in evidence. Alongside the frequent agonised moans of "Oh no!" as another blunder was perpetrated by one or other of our hapless crew. In fact, the only things missing on the normal banter front were Roy's use of the vernacular and Bernard's regular chorus of "Another drink, chaps?". But hopefully the second wave of our recruitment drive will remedy those omissions pdq!

I will send out another e-mail to all members over the weekend with instructions on how to sign up for the KCC online club, and hopefully we'll have a much bigger turn out next Thursday. And in fact there's no reason why KCC Online shouldn't meet every night of the week, whenever there's at least 2 people who want to play and/or chat. I think a club tournament or two is also on the cards once we get ourselves used to the technology and up to a critical mass. As an added incentive, our most distant (lapsed/former) member, Carl Pickering, has been in touch and is planning on joining us when he can. Just the 8 hour time difference to factor in for him!

These are dark days, but thanks to Joshua we are at least able to shine a little bit of light onto the precious corner of our lives that is chess. Come and join in at KCC Online. It's just like a night at the Gauntlet, except you have to supply your own beer and you don't have to walk home afterwards!

Sunday, 15 March 2020

This is the Way the WSTCC Ends, Not With a Bang but a Whimper

It already seems like a long time ago, but on Thursday afternoon, just as I was settling down to play Round 7 of the WSTCC in Prague, one of our Swedish opponents advised us all that this was to be the last round - the tournament was being ended 2 days early! Sure enough, this intelligence proved to be spot on, as eventually the head honchos came round to give the official news. The Czech government had reduced the size of permitted gatherings from 100 to 30, making it impossible to continue. Many matches in Round 7 saw hardly any play, as motivation seemed to drain out of a number of teams, but sadly for me this was not the case in the England 1 v Sweden 2 encounter, and I fell to a second successive defeat. I was sure that I was doing really well out of the opening, but I lost my way in the middlegame and got well and truly turned over by the father of Swedish GM Pontus Carlsson. Thankfully, we at least drew the match, but our overall performance was disappointing and I was very unimpressed by my own -1 score.

In the 65+ event, Russia took advantage of a very easy 7th round pairing to notch up a 4-0 win over a German club team and edge out France for the gold medals on tie break, so retaining the title.  Schachfreunde Leipzig won the bronze ahead of Germany 1, who thus went home medal-less, despite their sensational win over Russia.

And it was as you were in the 50+ event, too, since 4 quick draws against Iceland kept the USA one point clear of the field and gave them their 3rd successive title. The Lasker team from Germany, who had drawn against the USA in Round 6, vaulted over several teams to get the silver medal by virtue of a 4-0 walkover against the absent US Too team, while Czech Republic 1 got bronze, half a game point ahead of Iceland. England 1 at least finished with a flourish, beating the over-performing Scotland 1 team 3.5-0.5 to end up 7th. And many congratulations to Glenn Flear for his Gold medal performance on Board 3.

I was due to stay on in Prague after the event until March 18th, as my wife was scheduled to join me for a few days sightseeing, but clearly this was now an unrealistic prospect, with all museums and galleries already closed, and restaurants and pubs likely to follow. (Which they did.). So it was time for a quick change of flight booking for me and the cancellation of her trip. I managed to get a flight out the following morning via Brussels, and several more of the England squad also made an earlier return. For those who were stuck with their original flights home today (Sunday), it can't have been the most comfortable 48 hours, as hotel services/catering quickly ran down, and outside options were pretty limited, too. Hopefully everyone will make it home today in good health.

So this could hardly be described as the best tournament I've ever played in - but despite all the difficulties I still rate it considerably ahead of the infamous Blackpool Open of a few years ago, when several KCC unfortunates were lodged in Roy's old house in Middleton for the weekend - and barely survived to tell the tale! I have previously done rather well in seniors' events, but this was a complete disaster, chess-wise, so I have to put it down to being adversely affected by the stressful non-chess vibes.

And as for Prague, well all I can say is that I must be the first person ever to spend 8 nights there and not see the Charles Bridge. or indeed anything much. That's what comes when you save your sightseeing up for the post-tournament holiday, and there is no post-tournament holiday.  Still, I guess I will go back sometime - in fact I have to, as I still have a few tram/metro tickets and I wouldn't want them to go to waste!

Finally, a word of thanks to my fellow Hotel Cechie residents, Mick Stokes, Jeremy Fraser-Mitchell, Tim Thurstan and Paul Lawrence, who provided excellent company throughout, which meant there were plenty of enjoyable and convivial evenings, despite the difficult circumstances and my appalling chess. And given that competitive chess is now seemingly going to take quite a long enforced break, it is those memories I will hang onto for the weeks ahead.

The last dinner at U Chcipaka - (l-r) Tim, Paul, Jeremy, Mick and a visiting Nigel White

Thursday, 12 March 2020

I Don't Want To Talk About It! - WSTCC 2020 Day 7

If you follow live games on the Chessbomb site, you'll know that when someone makes a bad move it is shown in red. My Round 6 game against an Austrian must have looked like a sea of red - primarily because I kept making bad move after bad move, but also probably because my opponent must have missed many quicker and more decisive wins. At least, I am assuming this as I can't actually bring myself to look at the game, because I'm so embarrassed by my performance. Take it away, Rod!

What I do know for sure, though, is that I cost our team the match, as the other three boards were drawn. Including a remarkable Board 4 encounter where our captain, Mick Stokes, somehow managed to save a game where he had two rooks against his opponent's two queens! Given that one queen often wins against two rooks, the fact that two couldn't was nothing short of miraculous. Not that it did us any good. Today we play Sweden 2, and I'm assuming/hoping I can't play as badly again.

In fact it was a double disaster yesterday, as I got absolutely wiped out 3-0 in my ten pin bowling match. I should stick to table tennis.

Star performers for England have been the England 2 team in the 50+ section, and today they play against Canada, who yesterday held England 1 to a draw. And England 2 are on a higher table than our all GM first team!

As its a slow news day, I have raided the archives for a couple of photos to spice up this report. So for the modern architecture buffs I present an interesting comparison of pre- and post- Velvet Revolution Prague buildings.

The Zizkov TV Tower - a big slab of Communist brutalism!

A whimsically wavy Prague tower block, proving that capitalist architects aren't always much better! 

Right, that's your lot for today. I'm off for a walk along the river. I hope I resist the urge to throw myself in.

Wednesday, 11 March 2020

Siege Mentality - WSTCC 2020 Days 5 & 6

The already somewhat tense atmosphere at the WSTCC in Prague was ratcheted up a notch yesterday, as the worsening coronavirus situation in the Czech Republic saw the imposition of additional restrictions on the players and the playing conditions. With all schools in the country apparently now closed, the Czech government has imposed a ban on assemblies of more than 100 people at sporting events. And chess seems to qualify as a sporting event, whereas in the UK it wouldn't! The result was that yesterday the venue for the 65+ tournament had been segmented (by partitions) into four separate playing areas, and access is only allowed to the room where you are playing. In the 50+ venue, another room has been brought into use to make sure the 100 person limit ios not breached. And spectators are now banned completely. But - and here's the important bit - we carry on! (At least for the time being.)

In my absence from Monday's Round 4 match, England 1 had a disastrous 1-3 loss to the 28th seeded Czech 3 team. The England 1 50+ team went down by the same score to the number 1 seeded USA team, but while regrettable this was considerably more explicable given the strength of the opposition. At least national pride was restored to a degree by good wins from both the England 2 teams and also by the 50+ England Women (who won 4-0!).

Yesterday, however, witnessed a new low for English chess, when I played on Board 1 for an England first team. That it should come to this! However, we had sunk so far down the table, that the opposition was not that hot and, despite the handicap of having me on top board, we notched up a 3.5-0.5 win over Czech team, Wallachia Seniors. And as I also won my first game, things generally look a bit brighter. We have another winnable match against Steiermark (from Austria) in Round 6 today, and we have also made it back to respectablity and onto the live boards. There was a big shock yesterday, as Germany 1 beat the all conquering and usually invincible Russian team, thanks to a win on top board by Knaak over Balashov.  Have I by any chance mentioned that I drew with GM Knaak - and nearly beat him - in Rhodes last year??

In the 50+ section, England 1 drew against 5th seeds Slovakia and have a winnable pairing against Canada (13th seeds) today. And a big shout out to Scotland, who thrashed Germany 1 (who are not actually the top German team here!) 3-1, to earn a pairing against the Czech first team on Table 2 today. The top match is between the USA and the Lasker team of GM Yusupov, and this possibly represents the last chance for anyone to stop the all conquering Yanks.

But chess is, of course, only part of the reason for being here. Besides the beer (absolutely excellent) and the food (hearty and filling!), there is the sightseeing in this beautiful city. I am still rationing my activities on that front (and won't be partaking today as its been pouring down since I woke up), but yesterday did witness an interesting expedition to the top of Vitkov Hill by 4 of the 5 English players staying at my hotel. This involved walking up several hundred steps (I wasn't counting, but that's what it felt like) and under/over innumerable railway lines to reach the National Memorial, which stands high above Prague with fantastic views in all directions.

Looking towards Prague Castle from Vitkov Hill

Unfortunately, no-one had read the small print, and the Memorial (containing a museum, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and, most importantly, a cafe) was closed. Still the views were freely available, as was a sighting of one of the largest equestrian statues in the world, which depicts Czech hero Jan Zizka aboard a mighty steed. It was a bit blowy up there, I can tell you. And it was a lot easier coming down than climbing up!

Mick Stokes (included for scale) points out Jan Zizka and his horse, in case I couldn't see them!

I'm now off for a game of ten-pin bowling (its amazing what facilities they have in such a down market hotel!), against my team mate Mick Stokes. I suspect he may well get his revenge for my table tennis victory earlier in the week. But as long as I win this afternoon at chess, I would refer you to the last words spoken by Clark Gable in Gone With the Wind!

Monday, 9 March 2020

It's Official - Lady Luck is English! - WSTCC 2020 Day 4

At the third time of asking three of the five English teams at the 2020 WSTCC scored their first match wins yesterday, and with the all GM 50+ England 1 scoring a third consecutive victory, it was a very good day all round. But unlike the other England victories, the 65+ England 1 win over Wales Deheubarth was very, very luck,y indeed.

For most of the session, we were staring down the barrel of a comprehensive defeat, being totally lost on one board and as good as totally lost on another (mine!). But Lady Luck then intervened, and from being 3 or 4 pawns down on Board 3 we were gifted a whole rook when the Welsh player blundered a discovered check. By that time Board 4 had already been drawn, while on Board 1 FM Tony Stebbings was ending a very smooth kingside attack by delivering checkmate to win the match. (Giving me a 100% match record in my one and only game as England "captain"!)

So at least the pressure was somewhat off for me, which was just as well, since I had enterprisingly but erroneously sacked a piece straight out of the opening. The White king was stranded in the centre, but I just couldn't get my pieces out quickly enough to capitalise. The position was still very tense, though, when my opponent, the redoubtable and well known Rudy Van Kemenade, sensibly returned the piece to go into an endgame a pawn up, and with every prospect of winning a second. Somehow, though, he neglected to take the second pawn and then compounded his error by blundering away his extra pawn. It was still tense as in a bishop ending he had a better king and stronger bishop, but playing far too quickly he gave away all his advantage and for a few moments I thought I was winning, even with only 3 pawns each left on the board. However, I wasn't, and I had to settle for a draw. But given the desperate straits I had been in for most of the game, I could hardly be that disappointed!

As I write this, Round 4 is underway - but don't worry about me being caught using a computer during play, as I am having a rest day and am safely ensconced in my hotel room.

I spent the first part of today making a fairly major expedition out into the Czech countryside to visit the town of Terezin.  You've probably never heard of it, but if I mention that in German it is known as Theresienstadt, it might ring a bell or two with the more historically savvy KCC member.  For this was the infamous site of a Jewish ghetto during WW2, as well as being the home of a notorious Gestapo prison.  Being a sensitive creature, I am rather hesitant to engage in genocidal tourism, but sometimes you just have to be a witness to man's capacity for evil, as a reminder of the human values we need to hang on to for dear life.

Possibly the 3 most chilling words in any language - at the Small Fortress, Terezin

Alhough Terezin was never a concentration or execution camp, thousands of people died by execution, or disease or starvation during its awful wartime years. It is an intensely dark story, but also one laced with bitter irony. It was here that the Red Cross, in one of the great whitewashes of history, was duped into thinking that the ghetto (housed in the walled garrison known as the Large Fortress) was a model community of Jewish self-government. And of course, the visitors from Geneva were kept well away from the Small Fortress on the other bank of the River Ohre, which housed the Gestapo prison. Incidentally, this was where Gavrilo Princip died, after several years of incarceration following his assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914. So WW1 and WW2 are horrifically linked in this one small town.

The National Cemetery, Terezin, with the Small Fortress behind

Right, that's enough history and enough misery for one report. Today the headline match is England 1 v USA in the 50+ section, while my team are in action against Czech Republic 3 - but too far down to be on the live boards, so I have no idea what is happening. Nothing new there, I hear you say, and I wouldn't disagree with that! And I promise to lighten the mood a bit in the next report.

Sunday, 8 March 2020

Could Do Better - WSTCC 2020 Day 3

Not a lot to celebrate in Round 2 for the 2 England teams in the 65+ section yesterday, as both went down to 2.5-1.5 defeats leaving them each with 1 point from the first two rounds. My team lost to Switzerland, in no small part due to my failure to win a king and pawn ending a pawn to the good. In fact it looks as though there was no win, and instead I should have opted for the rook and pawn ending a pawn up, which would have given better chances. But who in their right minds would opt to keep the rooks on? Answer, someone who knew what they were doing. Towards the end of the game there was the sound of raised voices coming from outside the playing hall, and with no arbiter seeming moved to intervene I thought I would go and request a bit of quiet and get myself a coffee at the same time. I then discovered that the loud discussion was being led by none other than the great Vlastimil Hort, so I contented myself with just the cup of coffee. I know my place!

The match was decided by a solitary White win on Board 3 - making it a bad day for team captain Mick Stokes, who had earlier suffered a comprehensive 4-1 demolition by yours truly at table tennis. Hope that's not my only win of the tournament.

There was a shock in the Russia - Austria 1 match, where the mighty Yuri Balashov was comprehensively beaten, with white, by an FM with whom I drew in Rhodes. I'm not saying anything, I'm just pointing out the facts! Despite this upset, Russia scraped home 2.5-1.5, even though they rested Sveshnikov for this match

England wins have been distinctly rare so far, with only the 50+ first team obliging, and they made it 2 from 2 after beating Magdeburg 3-1. Today they play 11th seeds USA Too (not a spelling mistake), while there is a surprise pairing on top board between the Russian team Yamal (seeded 7) and Scotland 1 (seeded 14). Yesterday England Women drew against local team Burza, while another Czech outfit, Helma 365, edged out England 2.

The sun is out this morning for the first time, so with the games not starting till 15.00 I feel a bit of sightseeing is finally called for, which might produce some more interesting photos than these.

The utterly charming Olympik Hotel, venue for the 50+ event

The equally attractive Olympic Tristar, venue for the 65+ tournament

Today we play Wales Deheubarth (look it up!) and I am facing Rudy van Kemenade who, at just 74, is a mere stripling compared to my first two opponents. Can one of our team finally win a game?? With Mick Stokes taking the day off, I am de facto England Captain, proudly following in the footsteps of Bobby Moore, David Beckham and the like!  It also means that as well as my pink player's tag, I get a yellow Captain's tag, entitling me to stay in the playing hall even after my game is finished. Hope this privilege and power doesn't completely intoxicate me. I shall try to retain my usual humility.

Saturday, 7 March 2020

And They're Off! - WSTCC 2020 Day 2

Round 1 got underway a bit before/after/right on schedule yesterday. None of the players know which, since no watches are allowed inside the playing hall, whether smart, analogue or an old Sekonda your aunt gave you for Christmas in 1964. No phones either, of course, and the anti-cheating measures don't stop there. As soon as you finish your game an arbiter comes and retrieves the little pink tag that signifies you as a player in that round, and you have to leave the playing hall and can't come back in. Except as a spectator, which is worse than useless, as you are restricted to a little roped off pen from which you can see about 4 games if you are lucky - and none of the top matches. And while 8 games were projected for view in an ante-room, yesterday these were all from the 50+ tournament, so there as no way of knowing what was happening in the 65+ event taking place right next door. Except to go back to your room and watch the action unfold on the laptop.  (Which thankfully I didn't leave on a train at Crewe this year!) Assuming the match you want to observe was on the live boards! This all seems a bit excessive. I know it's a World Championship, but we're only a bunch of old codgers after all.

Moan over, and onto the chess. Thankfully it seems as though nearly everyone who was expected has actually turned up, except in England's case. On that point Jim Plaskett arrived yesterday, having answered a late call-up to replace the non-travelling Jon Speelman in the 50+ England 1 team. I think he is sitting out today's encounter against TU Magdeberg after yesterday's late arrival.

The organisers had failed to adjust the ranking of the teams to reflect the actual personnel who had shown up so in the 65+ section, England 1 was seeded 4th for Round 1, despite the fact that we should now have been 14th in the absence of Messrs Nunn, Povah etc. Even so, the fact that we couldn't beat a Czech club team from Pardubice (venue of a famous Grand National style horse race each year) was disappointing. We drew our two black games readily and were clearly winning on both of our white boards at times, but the match against the 29th seeds ended up with all 4 games drawn. My venerable opponent (age 77) had clearly been a strong player in his day, but now he is rated the same as me. I got a clear advantage from the opening with black (1.6 or more according to Fritz), but failed to maintain the edge and a timely draw offer before he realised he had at least equalised saw me make a solid start.

The England 2 team, who were England 3 until 2 days ago, got an excellent draw against Scotland, who had IM David Levy on Board 3! Most of the top seeds steamrollered their opposition, though Germany 1 only got home by the minimum margin against an Austrian club team. Did I just imagine it, or was GM Knaak distracted and anxious after he spied me in the room? Is he still haunted by our game at Rhodes last year??

I saw nothing of the 50+ event as its being held in a separate hotel about 100m away, but England 1 beat the German Women's team 4-0 and while England 2 went down by the same score against the very strong Czech Republic 1, the England Ladies avoided a whitewash against number 2 seeds Lasker Schachstiftung GK, when Ingrid Lauterbach got an excellent draw against GM Meister.

I have seen absolutely none of Prague's many sights as so far I haven't ventured more than about 400m in  any direction from the hotel - ie as far as the nearest restaurant/bar! But I'm sure that will change, especially when I get a day off.

One very nice touch by the organisers has been the presentation of some goodies to every player. The desk diary is very nice, though rather useless to those of us who don't do very much all year, but the special can of WSTCC beer is much appreciated!

I love a freebie or three!

Today we have been up-floated to play Switzerland, when I will be facing an even more venerable opponent than yesterday, who has been well over 2300 in his prime. It will be quite something if I can keep this sequence of increasingly old opponents going for the whole tournament!

Friday, 6 March 2020

Under Starter's Orders - WSTCC 2020 Day 1

At 15.00 CET this afternoon (Friday, March 6th) the 2020 World Seniors' Team Chess Tournament will get under way, and for the fourth time I am part of the England delegation. Though sadly without the support of any KCC team-mates this time around. This year the event is taking place in Prague, but it has not been a smooth path here, either literally or metaphorically. Finally, though, everyone is taking their place on the grid and the action is about to start. Well, I say everyone, but more of that below.

Last week there was a sudden furore about accommodation, as the whole England squad (at that time amounting to 30 players) found themselves being shifted from their booked hotels, in many cases to several kilometres away from the playing venue. I have been rather more fortunate, distance wise at least, as I have only moved about 200 metres - and to somewhere that looks a bit better than my original hotel. Still, the fact that we are now spread over at least 3 different hotels is not necessarily conducive to team cameraderie. However, there are 5 of us in my hotel so there is at least some corner of a grey Prague suburb that is forever England.

A Room With a View - of Sorts! Wish You Were Here?

Then at the weekend, it became apparent that a number of our players had decided to withdraw from the event. In the blink of an eye, I went from Board 3 in the England 2 team (65+ section) to Board 2 in the England 1 team, as 4 of the first team, including John Nunn, withdrew. We are now down to 2 teams, but are still fielding a full complement of 3 teams in the 50+ event. However, I'm not sure that England can ever again claim to be a serious chess nation when I am in the first team at a World Championships! We are most definitely not the Number 4 seeds anymore!!

The pre-tournament excitement wasn't over, though, as the day before I was due to travel, Lufthansa sent me an e-mail saying my Munich-Prague flight had been cancelled. Cue panic, but thankfully about 30 minutes later they had rebooked me via Brussels with only a slight change of timings. Phew! At Birmingham Airport I encountered two of the Welsh contingent who were in the same boat (or more accurately plane) - except that they had turned up knowing nothing of the change of plans. Luckily for them, the substitute routeing was later than the original flight!

Thankfully things have subsequently gone quite smoothly, although there is still complete uncertainty over which teams will actually turn up - and who will be playing in them. I have already spied the great Artur Yusupov and word has it that GMs Sveshnikov and Balashov are definitely here, so the Russians still have their big guns on board. The big uncertainty - at least to me! - is whether the US superstar squad in the 50+ event will turn up. If they do, they will start as big favourites again having won for the last 2 years. The very strong Georgia team seems to be an absentee. Although the England 1 team has been weakened by the withdrawal of Jon Speelman, we still have an all GM team who should be medal contenders.

So, we're all assembling at the start, but with just a few hours to go no-one knows who the actual runners and riders will be.  All will be revealed when the pairings emerge after the Captains' Technical Meeting this morning. And then it will be a case of, to mix my sporting metaphors, "Gentlemen, (and Ladies) start your engines!"

To follow the results in detail use this site, otherwise you'll just have to rely on my irregular and far from comprehensive witterings here. Don't expect too many photos, though, as my phone will not be allowed anywhere near the playing hall.