Thursday, 28 May 2020

Picture Post

A few pictures fill up the Blog so much more easily than a few words, so here's an example or three from the extensive KCC photo library to tide us over while I try and think of something (interesting?) to write.

First, here's Phil Wood enjoying his 15 minutes of fame in the most recent Kenilworth Weekly News. Hopefully his croquet colleague's mask is an anti-virus measure, and not a sign that Phil has just made a terrible smell! Anyway - nice cap, Phil!

Who knew you played croquet with squeegee mops??

Now, I imagine some of you think that it's an absolute doddle running the club during lock-down while nothing's happening, but let me quickly disabuse you of that misconception. Behind the scenes, the Club Organiser is spending literally minutes every nine weeks or so, attending virtual meetings to keep the show on the road. Here's the evidence from this week's Coventry League Management Meeting on Zoom, which must have gone on for almost an hour and a half! Not sure how I found the time in my busy schedule.

Britain's Most Wanted Men?? No, its a CDCL Management Meeting!

In case you can't read the headings, the mug shots show:

Top Row (l-r) Malcolm Harding (Secretary, Rugby); Hok Chiu (Warwick Uni); the Kenilworth Club Organiser
Middle Row (l-r) Colin Green (Chairman, Nuneaton); Mike Johnson (President, Coventry); Dave Filer (Treasurer, Coventry)
Bottom Row (l-r) Simon Weaver (Records Secretary, Coventry), Taran Jina (Warwick Uni).

More than 33% of  the meeting attendees have the good sense to be residents of Kenilworth!

And finally, while we're on the subject of the Coventry League, what could be more inspiring than an action shot of the Club Organiser from my epic - and victorious - encounter with GM Mark Hebden at the CDCL Centenary Rapidplay Tournament on January 27th, 2019? Nothing is the answer to that question, so I leave you with an image of an historic game.

In a state of scarcely suppressed frenzy, the Club Organiser contemplates his winning position after GM Hebden's 32 … Qe8

To hear GM Matthew Sadler's commentary on this momentous game, take another look at my own 15 minutes of fame here. Yes - that's right, I'm desperate to get the number of hits up as this is still the least watched episode in the entire Chess for Life video series!

Saturday, 23 May 2020

What a Long Strange Trip It's Been

So here we are in Week 9 of Lock-Down, with over the board chess an increasingly distant memory for all of us. Nowhere to go; nothing to do; life has come to, if not a full stop, then definitely to a colon:

(Is that the first punctuation joke ever on the KCC website?)

Strange days indeed, as Mr Lennon famously sang. So in the spirit of these times of altered realities, here's a little miscellany of some slightly off-beat chess stuff that has caught my eye. And no apologies for the fact that I play a prominent role in all this!

Firstly, how weird is it that the club has had a British Champion (OK, joint British Champion if you want to be completely accurate) for about 9 months now, and yet no news of this was ever posted on the club website? Despite the fact that our very own roving reporter Joshua was present throughout the event and provided daily reports from Torquay for the first 8 days of the tournament. But inexplicably no report ever appeared for day 9, when KCC acquired a bona fide (not bona FIDE) 65+ British Champion. I wonder why that might have been? Must have slipped his mind, I guess.

Any road up, as our Northern members might say, as de facto club archivist, this omission needs to be remedied, so that future generations will be able to share in the joy and pride which all current club members (possibly except one!) have felt at my humble achievement. And if you don't really believe it actually happened, I'm afraid it really did. And here's the proof!

4 British Champions (l-r): The Club Organiser; David Friedgood; (Adrian Elwood, ECF Director of Home Chess); Brian Hewson and the back view of some chap called Mickey Adams, who apparently won another of the sections at the event

But enough of my triumphs. No, hang on a minute, there can never be enough of my triumphs. So here's another weird achievement by me, which no-one could ever have imagined. But in these strange times apparently anything is possible, so feast your eyes on the preposterous blitz rating I managed to reach on chess24 the other day.


Regrettably, the inflation which has bumped my rating up by a good 300 points compared to my FIDE level, has raised others by even more. So instead of being 700 points off top spot, I'm now more than 900 points adrift of top rated Alireza Firouzja who as of today is weighing in at 3359! And indeed, as of today, I am only weighing in at 2287 (where did those 130 points disappear to? And so quickly??), so the gap is now nearly 1,100 points!! Better buck my ideas up.

Changing subject, the other day I was re-reading David Lodge's novel, Small World (a very amusing romantic satire, set in the world of academia), when I came across a quote from the writings of the 19th Century essayist and critic, William Hazlitt which clearly shows that, unbeknownst to history, he was a chess player! For how else to explain these words:-

"I stand merely on the defensive. I have no positive inferences to make, nor any novelties to bring forward."

With such a negative approach, though, its no wonder that history has preferred to concentrate its attention on his near-contemporary Howard Staunton, once described by Bobby Fischer as "the most profound opening analyst of all time". And as such, unlike Hazlitt, he undoubtedly had plenty of novelties to bring forward.

And the weird and wacky does not end here, because this connection led me to discover that Staunton did not design the chess pieces for which he is still remembered today. Maybe no-one else ever thought he did, but I'd always assumed that they were called the Staunton pattern because he designed them. But no, it seems that they were actually the work of a friend called Nathaniel Cook, and Howard merely lent his name to the design. Next they'll be telling me that Victoria Beckham didn't design/create her range of perfumes!

And finally, how about a piece of delicious irony? As the recent blog article revealed, KCC has met in quite a few places in the last 45 years, including a good few pubs and clubs. How strange then, that one place where we have never met is the Queen and Castle, which should be a chess pub if ever there was one. And in fact, once upon a time, the pub actually flaunted its chess credentials, as Mike Donnelly discovered when unearthing this photo from an old copy of Chess magazine!

The Queen and Rook would be more authentic!

Well, that's all I've got from the weird and wonderful world of chess for the moment, but given that the new normal (don't you just hate that phrase? especially when uttered by Dominic Raaaaaab??) is likely to be anything but, I reckon there'll be more bizarre occurrences coming along soon enough. Indeed, quite frankly, these are such strange times that I can foresee almost anything happening - short of Bernard giving up drinking, of course!

Anyway, let's play ourselves out with a  rendition of Truckin', by the Grateful Dead. Altogether now, "Lately it occurs to me, What a long strange trip it's been"!

Sunday, 17 May 2020

Kenilworth online chess ratings (April 2020)

Following a suggestion from our supreme leader (and from a leader so supreme as he is, who could doubt that a refusal to follow such a "suggestion" would end anyway other than in a trip to the Kenilworth Municipal Gulag), I officially present the first monthly Kenilworth online chess ratings. We can all feel proud we've managed to get there before the ECF has succeeded in moving to monthly grading.

A bit of methodology to begin with. We are using the same ELO system as used for FIDE ratings but, in order to shake up the rankings a bit, I've decided that each month we will start again from scratch, rather than carrying forward ratings and updating them. Thus, the below is based on data from all rated games of chess played between Thursday night visiting club members up until the end of April 2020. The May ratings will then only be based on games played in May and so on. The fact I played atrociously in April and thus benefit from a clean slate in May should not be regarded as having played any part in this decision making process.

Anyway, enough rambling, and on to the results. There will be three awards presented this month, and I'm open to suggestions of other ones to add in the future.

Most active player (most games played with other club members)
This would normally be termed the Bernard Rogers award. However, Bernard's slight technological incompetence, resulting in him playing a decent number of games that weren't rated, means he was piped to the post by Jude, who wins this award with a total of 84 inter-club games.

Most points scored (against other club members)
He wasn't the most active member, nor was he in the top three for highest win percentages, but plodding slowly down the middle (also probably an accurate description of his horse's race skill) to victory in this category was Mark, with 43.5 points scored against other club members (just 1 point ahead of Jude, thus denying him a double victory).

Overall ratings

And finally, the main, with the rankings based on this section of games coming out as:

Paul Lam
Andy Baruch
Mark Page
Ben Graff (provisional rating as less than 10 games played)
Lionel Riou-Durand
Jude Shearsby
Joshua Pink
Bernard Rogers
Algirdas Toleikis
Bernard Charnley
Matthew Smiglarski

I have withheld the actual ratings, both to create a degree of suspense, but also because since it is a closed system with players only playing against each other, whilst it is easy to calculate ratings relative to one another, you can't calculate absolute ratings unless you arbitrarily fix someone's rating at a particular value. I am of course happy to answer any questions there may be about this on Thursday, with sample acceptable questions being:

1) How many rating points different am I from person X?
2) Why is it that ratings are more stable when a logistic rather than a Gaussian distribution is used for expected scores?
3) Why are you so generally fantastic?

Look out for the next set of ratings at the end of May, but I can already predict three key changes. The entry of a certain Philip Wood into the list, a rise for me since so far this month I haven't lost essentially every game I've played to Jude, which is an improvement, and a fall down the list for Andy, who based on the last couple of weeks seems to have entirely forgotten how to play chess.

Tuesday, 12 May 2020

Walks for Chess Players - The Kenilworth Circular

During lockdown, everyone needs to get out for a bit of fresh air, exercise and sanity, so here's a walk around Kenilworth that does all that - and adds a spot of chess history and nostalgia by visiting all the venues at which KCC have ever met for match or social chess since the club's formation in 1975. So, walking boots on? Then lets begin!

Length: 3.9 miles
Terrain: Paved
Difficulty: Largely flat
Duration: About 1hr 15 mins

There's obviously only one place to begin, and that's KCC's first ever venue, St Francis of Assisi Church, on Warwick Road. (Car parking available, though whether you are supposed to use it is another matter entirely!) We met here for all our match and social chess events from 1975 until 1985. But before you go all misty eyed, the current impressive structure is not the one in which the KCC founding fathers played. The current church only dates from 1992/93, while the adjoining parish centre (where Mr Wood and I have been regular blood donors) was only opened in 2000.

Where it all began. Sort of!
Turning left onto Warwick Road, we take the second right onto Waverley Road and then immediately turn left onto Bertie Road (passing Bruce's previous long-time residence, 2a). We pass the Kenilworth Cathedral of Up-Market Consumerism (Waitrose) and go straight ahead at the junction to follow Southbank Road (the name of my primary school in Coventry) towards Abbey Hill. There we turn right, pausing momentarily to admire the views across Abbey Fields (one of the 7 Wonders of Kenilworth - just don't ask me to come up with another 6!), and in a few yards we are outside the Abbey Club, (or the Abbey End Club, as Google insists on calling it) which has hosted KCC home matches since 2012. (0.7 miles; 14 minutes)

The Abbey Club - very convenient for those arriving by bus!

Continue straight ahead, and where Abbey Hill bears left, go directly forwards to Upper Rosemary Hill, where the Kenilworth Sports and Social Club will appear almost immediately on the right. This was the club's match and club night venue from 1985 to 2005, making it our longest serving location by far. For most of our occupancy it was known as Kenilworth Working Men's Club. (130 yards; 2 minutes)

Possibly the ugliest building in Kenilworth. But it was from here that we dominated the LDCL for large parts of the 1980s.

Carry straight on, negotiating the S bend into Albion Street, and shortly the Copper House Club comes into view on the left, at the junction with Park Road. (0.3 miles; 6 minutes). When it was known as the Royal British Legion Club, KCC held both match and social nights here from 2005 until (I think) 2011. It was here that I first played against Kenilworth, in the days when I knew no better and misguidedly turned out for Leamington.

On December 3rd, 2008, the upstairs room was the scene of a very gruesome encounter, Page v Rogers, which ended in a 21 move White win.

We continue along Kenilworth's Chess Club Mile (as I am sure it will soon be officially christened), carefully avoiding both the Wyandotte and Cottage pubs (but only because they are closed) until at 8 Mill End we find The Engine. (0.1 miles; 2 minutes). We played Thursday night social chess here in the pool room - in fact on top of the pool table - for about 12 months or so around 2017/18. The beer was good; the pub was splendid; but the facilities for chess were terrible!

The Engine - where artistic Bernard specialised in spilling pints of Guinness on the pool table!

We now turn back on ourselves and almost immediately veer off to the right along the public footpath which brings us out at the junction of Park Road and School Lane (famous for its fish and chips take-away). We turn right, however, into Manor Road and follow it across the mighty Finham Brook to New Street (ironically in Old Town), where on our left we soon encounter The Royal Oak. (0.4 miles; 9 minutes) We played Thursday evening chess here for about 5 or 6 years from 2011, until it went belly up overnight. It was a truly splendid pub, with fantastic beer, and only 8 minutes walk from my house, so it is especially missed  by me.

The Royal Oak - scene of a dramatic club equipment rescue by capitalist Bernard in 2016. Or 2017.

Continuing along New Street, we pass The Cross restaurant (1 Michelin star) on the left, and at the traffic lights we go straight ahead onto High Street. The Virgins and Castle, the Abbey Field and the Old Bakery Hotel are all clustered together (yes, this part of town is beer heaven!), but more importantly excellent financial services are provided at the Bank Gallery by Bernard Rogers and Co, Kenilworth's premier Chartered Accountants. Cresting the rise above Abbey Fields, High Street becomes Castle Hill, and the magnificent ruins of Kenilworth Castle (another of the 7 Wonders, of course!) appear before us. On our right is Harrington's on the Hill restaurant, scene of a KCC social a couple of years back, but our destination is next door at 44 Castle Hill - The Clarendon Arms. (0.5 miles; 10 minutes) League matches were held here for, I think, 1 season only (2011-12), but it was not a success. The only match I played there was held not in the large, private upstairs room which was supposed to be the venue, but in the bar at the back of the pub, where the doors to the Ladies and Gents could be found.

On February 6th, 2012, the back bar was the scene of a particularly gruesome encounter, Page v Pickering, which ended in a 20 move White win!

Keeping Kenilworth Castle on our right, we now follow Castle Road until turning right onto Brookside Avenue (not the inspiration for the eponymous Channel 4 soap of days gone by!). Eventually we make another right onto Willoughby Avenue, which we follow to the end where we turn left onto Caesar Road. At the top of the hill, at number 3, we reach our final destination, The Gauntlet, which has been our Thursday night social chess venue for the last 2+ years. (1.1 miles; 21 minutes) Its a bit gloomy (more wattage for the light bulbs please, Simon!) but the beer is absolutely excellent, and we are left undisturbed to enjoy our weekly sessions. Or at least we were until Covid-19 interrupted us. Fingers firmly crossed that the new normal looks sufficiently like the old normal that those happy days will return sometime in the future.

Our latest - and hopefully future- Thursday evening home from home

All that remains now, is for us to make the 0.7 miles/14 minutes return via Oaks Road, St Nicholas Avenue, Queens Road and Warwick Road to our start point at St Francis' church, to collect our illegally parked cars. Though we should note The Indian Ark restaurant at 101-103 Warwick Road, where we held Joshua's farewell meal - not realising he would be back not long afterwards!

So there you have it - in just 75 minutes you can wander through 45 years of KCC history. Just the way to get your daily exercise in these troubled times.

Important Footnote:- Given the prevalence of barefaced lies, misinformation and fake news in much of the media these days, the KCC website has introduced a new Quality Assurance scheme to ensure that only properly verified and substantiated information is presented to our small, but discerning readership. I am pleased to say that this is the first such post to meet these new exacting standards, and to have been awarded this symbol of excellence.

Even the Government says you can trust Mark!

Thursday, 7 May 2020

The Greenbecker Gambit - 8 Characters in Pursuit of the Author!

We are a kultured lot at KCC, what with the dramatic and dystopian daubs of Bernard "The Artist" Charnley; the mellifluous cello performances of Andy B; the emotive am dram thesping of Joshua; and, top of the tree, the sophisticated and subtle scribblings of Ben. And it is the last of these which we now need to celebrate, as Ben's second book, and first work of fiction, "The Greenbecker Gambit", has just been published (Conrad Press, £9.99, available now from Chess & Bridge.)

As the title suggests, chess plays a major role in the novel, and I read it with considerable interest, albeit with three hats on - first as a chess player; second as a (largely retired) literary man; and third, as a potential libel victim. Because I had a strong suspicion that Ben might have included some thinly veiled portraits of the KCC membership. And it turns out I was right! Clearly the central character -  an aggressive, self-delusional, alcoholic, dysfunctional, misanthropic, paranoid, sexually inadequate pyromaniac - could have been based on any of us, but regretfully I do not think a libel action would have any chance of success, as he's also a once-great chess player, so at its heart there's clearly no resemblance to any KCC member. But never mind that, because several of us do make a more explicit appearance in the book, as our names have been allocated to various random characters.

Now, there's quite a market these days in paying (usually for charity) to get your name into a work of literature. It's especially prevalent in crime novels, where you pays your money and takes your chance - you might get a name check as a spotty youth on a bus; or as a murder victim; or - if you hit the jackpot - as a serial killer, when you could go down in history like Hannibal Lecter! Ben, in his typically generous way, has gone down a similar route, but without apparently extracting any payment from anyone first. Missed a trick there, Ben!

So never mind a conventional book review, let's just investigate which KCC names have made it into "The Greenbecker Gambit" - and see if any of us have grounds to commence legal action!

Quite rightly, I am the first to appear (the club hierarchy must be respected!) on page 28 when Phil Page turns round a losing position against the hero at Hastings. When you think about it, this all makes sense. By combining me and Phil you would get the complete chess player. I would bring the ability, the competitive spirit and the charisma, while Phil would contribute height.

Next up we get a mention of "the English number one, Adrian Mottram"! Really, Ben, of all the people in our club to be England's top player ...……. Maybe money did change hands, after all?! Though it has to be said that Mottram is a bit of a bully, so maybe it didn't. Or not enough?!

And then comes a wave of references to KCC greats - though by now it is page 152 and I want you to remember that I made a first appearance on page 28! Anyway, now we get: "They were all stood around the board ….. Mottram, Page, Johnson, Shurrock, Pink and Lam, my main rivals for the British that year."  (What's Mike Johnson doing in there?) Don't think any of us can reasonably take exception to that mention. Except, of course, those that didn't get a name check! Losers!!

But quickly we then get a very unsettling incident when Mike Webb, "the new great hope of English chess" is loudly abused by the hero for losing a winning position and responds by taking a swing at him. Webb subsequently flees the tournament in tears, never to play again. Don't follow that lead please, Rod! Or, indeed, Mike!!

And talking of Mike, immediately we have a trip to a curry house, where the central character joins Page, Cram (who he?) and Donnelly. Although the hero can't stand us, we are "at least okay players". Thanks, Ben!  I, or rather Phil Page, then do/does the decent thing (because that's the kind of guy I am/he is) and ask Greenbecker whether he is an alcoholic, which I think shows the right degree of compassion. But I don't like the fact that it turns out I am a vegetarian. If that's not character assassination, I don't know what is. All is forgiven, though, when I end up in a list of players destroyed by Bobby Fischer that includes Spassky, Petrosian, Korchnoi, Tal, Geller, Gligoric, Larsen and Taimanov. But unfortunately also Mottram! Still, never mind, that Phil Page was some player.

And then a surprising, and very one-off, appearance for "my second, Shearsby" before I take centre stage again on page 199. "Page once told me, [poker] is not beautiful like chess". Really, the more I think about it, the more it becomes clear that this Page character is the main figure in the novel. Move over Tennessee Greenbecker, the second edition will probably be retitled "The Page Gambit".

Hopefully the description of a random character called Paul as "never ... the sharpest tool" carries no connection to anyone at KCC. The absence of a surname does leave some room for doubt, though!

And that is it, apart from a final reference to Mottram as a "useless blagger and nothing more". A harsh but fair note on which to end!

So, by my reckoning, that's 8 of us who get a name check - the same number as there are current KCC World Surname Champions! But if its any consolation for those who have not been immortalised, we all get an indirect acknowledgement when Ben gives thanks to "everyone at Kenilworth Chess Club".

"The Greenbecker Gambit" is a great imaginative achievement by Ben, and one which I hope everyone (over the age of 18!) will read. Ben has sailed a fine line but I think he may just escape without being sued by anyone at KCC. However, if Brian Eley ever gets to read it ……!!