Wednesday, 26 August 2020

Firing on All Cylinders

It was back to business as usual this week, as KCC returned to winning ways in the Coventry Trial Online League. We outpointed Rugby comprehensively by 9.5-2.5 over the full 6 boards, and by 6.5-1.5 on the top 4 boards which count for the league result.

Rugby's top players seem to have largely shunned the online world so far, and only Simon Turner of their established Division 1 squad was in action against us. In the first game he sacked a pawn against me for a bit of play. I didn't play that well, but then neither did Simon, and before you knew it I had won a whole piece. And then I started to play like a total idiot. I couldn't see even one move ahead, and Simon simply started picking off my pawns. Three to be precise. While my extra piece did absolutely nothing. I was pleased to take the draw when it got down to rook, knight and 2 against rook and 5. Game 2 possibly saw a mouse slip on move 1, as Simon  opened with 1 d3, when he has played 1 d4 in every game of his I've ever seen! He played rather passively and I was able to win a pawn and get a nice juicy one of my own onto d3. In rounding this up, Simon dropped a piece and this time round I managed to make it count.

Andy W was back from his holiday in Crete to take over Board 2 duties against Dave Riley. Alexei Shirov's chess autobiography was famously entitled Fire on Board, but on the evidence of Andy's first game, his would be Chaos on Board. He won an exchange by good opening play, but then lost control big time, as Dave played some imaginative stuff, including a bishop sac. Andy's king looked as though it was a goner for all money, but somehow he shed enough material to stave off mate. Inevitably the game ended in a draw, even though Andy was a pawn down and facing connected passed f and g pawns in a rook ending. White could/should certainly have played on as he was now winning! Game 2 was slightly less manic. But only slightly. Andy should have won a piece in the opening, but didn't and had to settle for a pawn. This then became two pawns, but in an opposite bishops ending. The position was totally drawn, but Dave went slightly wrong and suddenly White was probably winning. However, the resignation which then came was definitely premature - but I don't suppose Andy was too bothered!

Joshua was in ruthless form on Board 3 against John Hall. Game 1 featured a crushing attack against the Black king, but Game 2 was something of a grind before Joshua won with some extra pawns in a knight ending. Skipping a board, Ben showed even less mercy, winning both games against Pavel Scerbakovs in a combined 31 moves. In fact he had finished his second round game before anyone else had finished their first!

Back to Board 4, where Mike finished off the League match with a 1.5 pts haul from his two games against Stephen Belding. Game 1, with Black, could hardly have gone any better, as the last 12-15 moves seemed to consist of nothing but Mike either taking material or giving check. Or both at once. Game 2 was far less entertaining. Mike got an edge against the Albin Counter Gambit but failed to turn the screw at the right moment and drifted into a slightly inferior position before a timely draw offer secured the half point.

But all this is by way of a warm up for Matt's heroics on Board 6. Answering a late call to arms, after Billy found himself needed by Warwickshire Bears in the online 4NCL, Matt found himself up against Nigel Malka. With an OTB grade of 129, Nigel "should" have been on Board 2, but the vagaries of the rating system had him on Board 6 instead. So full credit to Matt for notching a sparkling win in Game 1. An excellent exchange sacrifice was followed up by a brutal knight fork which brought the game to an end in just 21 moves. This game certainly warrants publication!  Matt couldn't repeat the magic in Game 2, but a 50% score on the evening was an excellent result.

And so its on to the title decider against Warwick University next week, when the League wraps up its 5 week run. We could well get blown out of the water if they suddenly wheel out all or even some of their big guns, but there's no point worrying about that. What will be, will be - as that widely respected philosopher Doris Day so memorably sang!

Wednesday, 19 August 2020

When Everything That Could Go Wrong, Does Go Wrong

Now I understand why football managers can completely lose it on the touchline, when things go against their team. I certainly felt like losing it as I watched us go down 3-5 against the Warwick University Alumni team in Round 3 of the Trial C&DCL Online League last night. Our opponents had lost both their previous League matches, without fielding anyone graded more than 127 in either match. So I thought I should try to make it at least a slightly more equal contest - while ensuring we won, of course! - and selected our team accordingly.

First two shocks of the evening, the Alumni wheel out FM Peter Batchelor (221) on Board 1 and Tom Thorpe (182) on Board 2.

Third shock of the evening, Mike joins the match, and promptly disappears, with the connection-ometer (I don't know what else to call it!) shining bright red and saying Member Offline. Even though he was able to continue sending me desperate e-mails throughout the disconnect. Anyway, I suppose if you are going to have connection issues, best to have them when you are outgraded by 60 ECF points. First game duly lost, as Mike was unable to reconnect and was timed out. At which point the second game started automatically, and he was several minutes down when he was finally able to join the match. He got cheapoed out of a pawn in the opening, but put up a good fight before inevitably going down to defeat in the end.

But all was not hopeless, because on Board 4 Billy had done what Billy does - and won 2-0 against Hok Chiu. The first game was pretty painful viewing, though, as Billy established a completely won position with a monster passed pawn on e7. But he then missed a chance to win the exchange (and keep the pawn) with a Nf7+ tactic exploiting back rank and discovered check (and almost smothered mate) themes, and instead found himself losing an exchange and the e7 pawn. Shock number four! But not to worry, he promptly rounded up a couple of pawns in compensation, and when Hok left mate in 1 on the board, Billy pounced for victory.  Thankfully there were no shocks in Game 2, which has to go down as one of the most one sided encounters I have ever seen. As Billy delivered mate (with rook and knight) on move 23 (with Black), White's 3 queenside pieces were all still standing on their original squares, having declined to take part in the struggle!

So with Boards 1 and 4 cancelling each other out, the match was to be decided on the middle boards. On gradings, it was a toss-up on Board 2 between Joshua and Tom Thorpe, but Bernard C's 53 point edge over Jack Huffer on 4 was surely going to give us a 2-0 win there, and more or less secure the match for us. Cue more shocks! In Game 1 Joshua was seemingly surprised by an early d5 by Black in the Dragon and although playing seemingly good moves was soon worse, and then had to suffer (eventually a pawn down) for 90 moves before securing the draw. In his defence, 21 of the top 25 games (by Black player rating) in this line have ended in Black victories - with the other 4 being draws - so its clearly not a bad move!! Maybe the secret is to not get into this position in the first place?

Whether by accident or design, in Game 2 Tom played an excellent move order against one of Joshua's pet Black defences, and put the pressure on from an early stage. When our man tried to solve his problems tactically it all went horribly wrong, as he found himself a piece down, and in attempting to get a couple of pawns for it, compounded the problems and ended up two pieces down.

But still the non-playing captain, squirming on the sidelines, could hope for match victory when we inevitably cashed in our massive rating superiority on Board 3. But - and I think you're ahead of me here - the shocks weren't over yet! In Game 1, Bernard, with the Black pieces, staked all on a king side assault, but after getting his queen and rook to the h file to hit h2, found the attack halted by a single White knight on f1. And when you've got 14 points worth of material being neutralised by just 3, its odds on that the spare 11 points might be able to make its advantage felt elsewhere on the board! In desperation Bernard tried to confuse the issue with a knight sac, but White defended very calmly and won even more material to wrap up the victory.

And if that wasn't agonising enough, Game 2 was responsible for the biggest shock of the night. And not in a good way. Bernard played a textbook game, building up a dangerous attack against the Black king, eventually sacrificing a piece for a couple of pawns and an ongoing initiative. In desperate time trouble (less than 10 seconds at several points), Black went wrong and the White pieces flooded into the shattered Black kingside.  All that was needed was the move Bxd5, regaining the piece, as any recapture led to the immediate loss of the Black queen due to a follow up Re7+. But with time to spare Bernard - possibly thinking he had already captured the Black knight - played the immediate Re7+ allowing the apparently doomed knight from d5 to take it. Instead of being up several pawns with an overwhelming position, we were a rook down. All credit to Bernard at this point for not just going outside to howl at the moon, and by some extreme bluffery and trickery he was able to wangle a perpetual check. Thankfully, this tragic last fence stumble didn't cost us the match - we would have lost anyway. But watching it happen was sheer agony.

Its a funny old game, this online chess lark, and no mistake!

Saturday, 15 August 2020

Kenilworth online chess ratings (June/July 2020)

For reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with laziness on my part, we will be combing online club ratings for the Months of June and July. A reminder, though surely by now it shouldn't be needed, that this is based solely on rated games played between club members in the months of June and July, with previous ratings not mattering, and everything being calculated from scratch. I stress the importance of the word rated there - anyone who is unhappy with their position should consider why they decided to play some of their games as casual.

A word on the players present first. New additions or returns to the list for this period were Andy Ward, Ed Goodwin and Roy Watson. It looks as though those last two may only have been temporary in their attendance, but I think we can all agree that is at least as much their loss as it is our gain. Two losses from the list were Ben (though he will be back in August) and Algys, who is officially resident in another country now (though that hasn't stopped Lionel, so perhaps it isn't really an acceptable excuse at all.

Two additional decisions also had to be made this month. I have, in my great wisdom, decided that atomic chess does not count for rated purposes (if it did, Andy Ward would be considerably higher up the list) but that ultra-bullet chess does count (more on the importance of that below). Anyone wishing to appeal these decisions should apply to Gavin Williamson, since he is going to be getting plenty of practice at addressing those in the near future.

Anyway, enough prelude, and on to more important things.

Most active player

A comprehensive victory for Jude these months, with a total of 87 games played against fellow club members. This is the point where ultra-bullet chess makes its first important appearance, since this is heavily composed of the 57 games of ultra-bullet chess he played against Paul. I think I can reasonably confidently state that is more games than the rest of the club combined have ever played.

Most welcoming player

A new award this month, but I felt it was important to recognise capitalist Bernard (as Mark assures me he prefers to be known) as the only person in the club to have played at least one game against all other active club members this month. It's almost as if he cycles around everyone he can find until he beats somebody. 

Most points scored

Remember those 57 games of ultra-bullet chess I was talking about. Well, it turns out Paul is (comparatively) rubbish at ultra-bullet chess, so Jude scored a total of 41 points from those games, meaning he also wins this awards as well, with a grand total of 61.5 points (almost twice this next highest score).

Overall ratings (with changes from the previous month)

Just keep remembering those 57 games of ultra-bullet chess

Jude Shearsby (+4)
Mark Page (-1)
Andy Ward (new entrant, provisional rating as less than 10 games played)
Joshua Pink (-1)
Paul Lam (-3)
Bernard Rogers (0)
Ed Goodwin (new entrant, provisional rating as less than 10 games played)
Andy Baruch (-1)
Bernard Charnley (0)
Roy Watson (new)
Matthew Smiglarski (0)
Lionel Riou-Durand (-5, provisional rating as less than 10 games played)

In summation, Paul, stop playing ultra-bullet chess with Jude. It's making you come out as a worse player than me, and if that isn't sufficient motivation, I don't know what will be.

Thursday, 13 August 2020

You'll Never Win Anything With ..... Old Codgers

Alan Hansen famously got it wrong with his comment about kids, but I'm pretty sure I will be proved right with my alternative assertion. At least based upon the result of our friendly match against Stockport, where a 7-3 reverse for KCC was especially noteworthy for the remarkable fact that no-one over the age of 10 scored even a half point for us! Bookending our team on Boards 1 and 5, Jude and Billy must have been bemused at what their elders were getting up to.

Artistic Bernard got possibly the most lost position ever seen in his first game against John Reed, after a Benko Gambit went horrendously wrong. He bounced back with the King's Gambit in game 2 and was a pawn up with a very compact position, when the ticking of the clock caused him to rush his kingside pawns up the board with ruinous effect, as a probable win turned into a loss.

Ben fared no better on Board 3 against Dan Sheppard. He seemed to be outplaying his opponent in game 1, but after stern defence the White pieces jumped out and grabbed material, before time pressure caused the total collapse of the Black position. In game 2, Ben's London System (boooo!) went wrong and most of his pawns fell off in the ending.

More woe on Board 4, where capitalist Bernard managed to fritter two good positions away against Stockport captain Gareth Griffiths. The first should have been an easy draw - until he got a piece fatally pinned. In game 2 he won two pieces for a rook straight from the opening, but then played a series of moves that were totally incomprehensible to the watching audience (me, Joshua and Lionel). He should have lost a whole piece, but somehow wriggled out by giving up two pieces for a rook. Then he grabbed a pawn or two and should have been winning, only to collapse for no obvious reason and get himself mated.

I am reminded of a great joke, which finished, with a slight amendment for artistic effect, with the punch line: "They've let the club down; they've let the team down; but most of all they've let themselves down."

Thankfully, the two mighty atoms in the team were in superb form, and at least salvaged some much needed pride for the club. Billy was like a hurricane, and just swept Peter Taylor off the board with dynamic attacking play that crashed through with decisive effect in both games. Jude, on the lofty heights of Board 1, played two very good games against a strong and very experienced opponent in Andy Stoker. The first game was very complicated, and Jude played superbly to set up a winning position, but at the crucial moment he missed a beautiful rook sacrifice that would have clinched the full point. Disturbingly, amongst the watching few, only Joshua found the winning move! Game 2 appeared to be going badly, but with some brilliant attacking play Jude completely turned the game around and was again on the verge of winning. But faced with strong defence, he couldn't quite bring home the bacon and then had to really buckle down to draw a difficult rook ending.

So great stuff from our juniors, while the less said about the seniors the better! But seriously, this was a match to make you pause and think about the superb play of Jude and Billy. To say they are in their element in these online matches is an understatement. The way they can create dynamism and activity from almost any position is quite frightening. I'm glad it was Stockport on the receiving end and not me!!

Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Poor Stuff - But We Won Anyway!

Week 2 of the C&DCL Trial Online League, and it was KCC v Coventry. Two of our 7 person squad were unavailable so we played over 5 boards with the top 4 counting for the League result. (Any KCC member who is not signed up for the squad is welcome to join if you fancy playing in any of our three remaining games). There was more online club glory, as we registered an even bigger League win than last week, taking the overall match 7.5-2.5, and the League segment, 6.5-1.5.  But as to the quality......... well, there simply wasn't very much on view at all!

I certainly did not set a good example on Board 1 against Bava Manickam. Our first game ended abruptly when Bava suddenly resigned in an equalish position right out of the opening. Turns out his computer had auto-rebooted and this had triggered an involuntary resignation. Which was rather unfortunate, but at least the chess gods were not enraged by crimes against the game, unlike our second game. On the Black side of a London System (boooooo!) I won a pawn with a cheapo. Then I took a second pawn. Then I missed mate in 1! (Queen from c3 takes an undefended rook on e1 - not the most difficult move to spot!!) Then I took a third pawn. And then I started self-destructing. Bava got two pawns back and was very active. Then I missed another mate in 1!! (Qh7-b1 - a rather longer move to spot this time - but still!) And then finally I did spot a mate in two, but not before I had been briefly lost. Embarrassing stuff, but a win is a win. Or in this case, two wins are two wins.

Mike had a very tough evening against Sam Cotterill on Board 2.  He won a pawn from the opening as Black, but allowed a White passed pawn to d6 and a knight to e4 which totally froze his position. Mike defended ferociously, and in the end Sam decided to allow a perpetual check rather than risk an ending of rook against 3 pawns. Which my engine tells me was drawn anyway. But Mike was not so fortunate in Game 2, as his promising/winning position in a very difficult double rook and double minor piece middle game went up in smoke as he totally lost the thread. Even Sam overlooking mate in 1 (are you spotting a theme, here?) at the end could not change the outcome.

It was an all Kenilworth/all Coventry battle on Board 3, where Joshua came up against Ed. The first game was over in no time and almost defied belief. I could describe it, but you wouldn't believe me, so you had better see it for yourselves.

Strange things happen in cyberspace.

As they did in game 2, where Josh at least played far more sensibly, but even so got into a little bit of trouble. Nevertheless, the game came down to an opposite bishops ending, where Ed had three connected pawns, two of them passed on e6 and f5. It was impossible for Ed to lose. But somehow he managed it! Full marks to Josh for perseverance, but this was a ridiculous result.

With one glaring exception, Ben's games against Kate Donegan on Board 4 were much more correct and logical, and he was the third Kenilworth person on the night to end up with a 2-0 score. Game 1 saw a textbook example of how to play against the Exchange French as Black, but after excellent work by Ben to get a totally won position, he left a rook en prise to White's king. Thankfully, however, Kate neglected to take it and the crisis passed, with Ben eventually making his extra piece count in the ending. In Game 2 Ben won a pawn, but Kate got a lot of play against the White king with all three heavy pieces massed on open lines. I felt sure that Ben would have to take a draw - and be glad to do so - but he found an excellent defensive set up (with his queen on h2!). When Kate got careless and let White's extra pawn start rolling down the d file, the Black position fell apart as the White queen emerged from hibernation with devastating effect.

On Board 5 Billy split the point against Pete Smith, with the London System triumphing in both games (booooooo!). With White, Billy didn't hang around, sacking a piece on h7 on move 10. It was totally unsound, but thankfully Black didn't take the piece, and instead Billy was just well on top and after winning a piece a few moves later the result was never in doubt. Though at the end, Billy had under 11 minutes on his clock, so he had had to use up a fair bit of thinking time! Game 2 was a disaster for Billy, as he simply blundered his queen away on move 14. Pete went for the h pawn hack attack, and when he played 14 Bxh5 Billy snapped it off with Nxh5. Unfortunately there was a White bishop on g5 and it just took Billy's queen, which was still on its original square. Somehow Billy briefly got a second piece for the queen, but the material deficit was simply too much to fight against, though it took till move 51 for mate to be delivered. At which point Billy's clock showed 17 minutes left. Not quite up to last week's speed record, but still coming in at an average of under 8 seconds a move!

Next up for us in the League is a match against Warwick University Alumni, but before then we switch platforms to Lichess for a 5 board friendly against Stockport. All of which is keeping me way too busy!!

Thursday, 6 August 2020

KCC Online and On Song!

After two friendlies, KCC made it's online competitive debut this week, in the first round of fixtures in the Coventry Online Trial League. Six teams came under starter's orders -  one each from ourselves, Coventry, Nuneaton, Rugby and Warwick University, with a University Alumni team rounding things up to an even number.

First up we faced Nuneaton, who had also been our first ever online opponents when we beat them 6-4 in a friendly on June 26th. That had been a double round 15m + 10s match, and the format stayed the same for this League encounter, except that now we played over 7 boards compared to 5 previously. However, only the top 4 boards counted for League purposes.

On paper the match looked reasonably equal on the League boards, but we had a big rating advantage on 5, 6 and 7. The KCC engine room here duly delivered a 6-0 whitewash, with double victories for Bernard C, Ben and Billy. Bernard had to overcome some stiff resistance from John Rayner for his victories, whereas Ben was always in control against Jiri Stepan, and was masses of material up when he delivered mate in both games.

But the most remarkable encounter came on Board 7, where Billy was up against another of Paul's Academy students, Henry Wood - though they may not have known they were facing each other while playing the match. In Round 1, it took Billy 69 moves to reel in the point after a very tough game - though at the end his clock showed more time (15 mins 51 secs) than he started with and his average time per move was under 10 seconds! But this was positively pedestrian compared to the second game, where Billy again had to really dig in to secure the win in 73 moves from an initially unpromising position. At the end of this game Billy's clock read 18 minutes and 52 seconds, so that his average move time was under 7 seconds! (For comparison, in the quicker of my two games I averaged 38 seconds per move!) Billy's reward for these two very hard fought victories was a measly 4 point rating gain - I think we can safely say Henry is somewhat under graded.

The top 4 boards couldn't match the pace set lower down, but we still ended up with a convincing 5.5-2.5 triumph in the League match. It should have been 6.5-1.5, but we'll come to that later!

Board order is decided automatically according to players' rapid-play ratings, which meant that Andy W, making his online debut for us, was on top board, where he was up against Tony Green. There was a rather chaotic and entertaining clash in Round 1, which ended when Andy bamboozled Tony into losing a piece. This was a really good scrap. The Round 2 encounter was not, as the players drew after just 19 moves - albeit that Tony was down below a minute by then, which more than offset his better position.

On Board 2, I had a couple of very enjoyable games against Paul Davies. I dropped (sacked?) a pawn in the early middle game, but had plenty of play thanks to active pieces and a slightly weak White king. But Paul defended well, and reached a position where he could have swapped off queens and gone into a double rook ending which it would have been impossible to lose. Luckily for me, though, he kept the queens on and fell for a cheapo next move which won back the pawn and totally opened up his king. I then surprisingly managed to calculate a 4 move sequence involving the sacrifice of a bishop and the march of my own king to g6. Here it threatened to take a white rook, while I simultaneously had all 3 heavy pieces attacking f2. Paul could have prolonged the game if he had given up the rook, but in trying to save it he walked into mate. Game 2 was rather one sided, as Paul went wrong in the opening and couldn't develop his kingside pieces. With his king stuck in the centre, I got in Ra8+ on one side of the board, followed next move by Qh5 on the other - a one-two, left-right combination that won lots of material.

Honours were even on the other two boards. On 3, Mike and Colin Green had two draws, but really there should have been two decisive games. Mike was pushing for the entirety of the first game, before missing a win in a complex minor piece ending, while Colin was well on top in the return game but missed a strong f2-f4 and then f5 pawn push which would have won material, and instead the game ended relatively quickly with a repetition.

Which leaves Board 4, where Joshua was paired against another Nuneaton junior, Thomas Glenn, who had split the points with Ben in our earlier match. Round 1 went well for us, though Joshua was made to work very hard for the point, which was only secured by a one move cheapo at the end! I tuned into their second game after mine was over, to find Joshua a clear exchange up, though the position was complicated. However, as soon as I started watching our man seemed to lose the plot, first giving up a bishop for a useless Black knight which was doing nothing on a5, then needlessly returning the exchange and eventually being forced to give up another exchange to stave off mate. The resulting ending was hopeless. A fine performance by Thomas, but I think Joshua will be a bit disappointed with that effort!

So an 11.5-2.5 overall win for us in the end, but our 5.5-2.5 league win was only good enough for third place in the inaugural table, as Coventry beat Rugby 7-1, and Warwick Uni beat the Alumni 6.5-1.5.

All the games can be viewed online - but only by members of the KCC club!

We have League fixtures on the next four Tuesday evenings, so the results will come thick and fast. And added to that we have our friendly v Stockport coming up next week, though regrettably our scheduled match against the Isle of Wight has had to be postponed. Busy times, indeed!

Tuesday, 4 August 2020

I'M not an IM, I'M an IM Slayer!

Strange things can happen in the weird and wonderful world of online chess, and one certainly did to me a couple of days ago, when I won a Lichess Blitz game in 7 moves. With Black. Against an IM!  Now admittedly, this wasn't the world's strongest IM, and he did just put a piece en prise, but beating Africa's 122nd highest rated active player has to be some kind of achievement, surely? It is rather a big continent after all!!

This game got me thinking back to a day, many years ago (40 for goodness sake!), when I beat another IM (from Singapore), this time in "proper" chess. Though once again it may not have been the world's strongest IM - albeit that at 2310 he was more than impressive by my standards! The game is not one of my greatest moments, and it is almost certainly the luckiest win of my life. But so what? I won. Against an IM!!

My reward in the next round was to play Willie Watson, later a GM (and a man who played chess like a "drunk machine gunner", according to Boris Spassky) but who at that time was only rated 2320 and was not even an IM. To say that Lady Luck did not help me in consecutive rounds is something of an understatement!

I shall have to look more closely at my old games to see if there are any more IM scalps I can dredge up, but at the moment I'M struggling to think of any! Though I do recall a rather more convincing IM scalp being notched by Paul a few years back when he played a masterpiece to defeat Richard Palliser. A future Game of the Month, I think!