Wednesday, 16 September 2020

KCC Takes the High Road in First Ever International Match

A convincing win for KCC in its first ever international, by 15.5-8.5 against Castlehill, Dundee in a  12 board double-round rapid match, played on Lichess, on September 15th. The match was arranged through a contact of Andy W, so thanks to him for the initial idea and to Ray Noble of Castlehill for responding so enthusiastically and efficiently to our challenge. The match duly passed off (seemingly!) with no organisational hiccups, save for the temporary pre-match misplacement of his Castlehill opponent by one of our less tech-savvy members!

Although I found it impossible to keep track of the match score, we actually trailed at the halfway point, going down 6.5-5.5 in Round 1, but then we got a collective second wind and ran up a 10-2 score in Round 2 to end up as comfortable winners. But as is usual in our matches - and online is no different to OTB in that respect - the final score doesn't always bear much relationship to the actual flow of the games, and we were somewhat flattered by the margin of victory!

For the second consecutive online  friendly, we were led into battle on Board 1 by our 10 year old phenomenon Jude, though this time he was really up against it, with his opponent, Declan Shafi, fresh from representing Scotland on the U-20 board at the recent online Olympiad! Jude had a pretty good opening in game 1, but dropped an exchange to a knight fork and was struggling thereafter. He eventually won the exchange back, but by then had shed a couple of pawns, and more fell off in the knight ending. Game 2 was much shorter as an e6 thrust caused consternation in the Black ranks and material was lost. So a tough night for Jude, but more great experience, and its quite something that, in the online sphere, he is already fully deserving of the Board 1 slot in the team.

I managed to balance the scores by winning 2-0 against Andre Babin on Board 2. I was not doing much in game 1, but after winning a pawn, I somehow then immediately got serious threats against the White king and back rank which ended with mate. Game 2 was going well for me, but Black rather needlessly gave up the exchange, and did it in the worst possible way, as it then cost a further piece. I may not have played the most accurate moves (alright, no "may" about it!) but I had so much extra material that even after giving back an exchange and a pawn (and missing the forced win of a rook) to simplify, I was still well ahead and duly clinched the point.

Andy split the points on Board 3, but he was very lucky indeed to do so. He dropped a piece as White just out of the opening and was totally lost for long periods of game 2. Somehow, though, he managed to induce some very bad moves from Ray Noble and rose, phoenix like, from the ashes of his position to win a knight ending.

More good fortune on Board 4, where Joshua faced Michael Dugdale. He was totally lost in game 1 but managed a Houdini-like escape for a draw in an ending where White looked likely to queen at any moment - and should have! (This was, amazingly, the only drawn game of the whole match.) In Game 2 he then managed to transform a winning position into another lost one, by getting a piece trapped. This time, round, though, he stirred up enough confusion to completely turn the tables. His bishop had been trapped for many, many moves and Black just didn't bother to take it, knowing he could collect it whenever he wanted. Except he waited one move too long allowing the bishop to sacrifice itself and open up a Black piece to capture in exchange. Joshua finally won in a rook ending where he had too many pawns. So 2.5/4 on these two boards, when we could quite easily have scored zero!

Thankfully Lionel played two pretty good games on Board 5 against Robert Jackson, winning against the French in Round 1 - never has the Fort Knox variation looked less secure - and then notching a quick triumph with Black in Round 2. Ben was also very efficient in notching up two wins against Andy Rowe on Board 6, but Bernard R balanced things out by being woefully inefficient on Board 7 and lost both games to Ed Walton. One expects better from an England international!

Apologies for glossing over these boards, but I was in a hurry to get to Board 8, where there were two super talented juniors in opposition. While we fielded Billy, one of England's best 8 year olds, Castlehill had 8 year old Rishi Vijaykumar, one of Scotland's top junior talents. Rishi played a very mature game in the first encounter and got a strong grip on the position before trapping Billy's queen, but game 2 saw a complete reversal. Billy won a piece quickly after a very unorthodox opening, but then blundered it back - at which point he moved into turbo overdrive and unleashed a whirlwind of dynamic attacking play, where he was in total control of the tactics and won lots of material. So honours even between 2 very talented youngsters after two strikingly different games.

Mike has not taken to online chess as enthusiastically as some of us, and with his modest rating found himself way down on Board 9, where he was not surprisingly too strong for Subhayu Banerjee, winning 2-0. Game 1 should have been over very quickly after exemplary opening play from Mike, but missing the win of the Black queen/mate he had to navigate some slightly choppy waters before annexing the full point. Game 2 did not go so well, and he stood worse at one point, but thankfully he was able to punish a tactical slip to win an exchange, and although the ending took a long time to convert he was always going to win.

Bernard C was in a ruthless mood on Board 10 against Trevor Harley, and took two quick wins - he certainly played less moves than anyone else on the night! Ed split the points on Board 11 against Marten Kats, bouncing back to win well with Black in game 2 after a first game disaster. And it was the same story for KCC debutant Solomon on Board 12, where he swapped White wins with Norman Waugh (a Professor at Warwick University who was actually playing from Kenilworth!), coming back very strongly in game 2.

So a very enjoyable match, and a good evening for KCC. On Lichess rapid ratings we outgraded Castlehill, averaging 1883 to our opponent's 1814, so I suspect we must have over-performed given the final score. Which makes a nice change!

No more friendlies in the pipeline at the moment, so all attention will now turn to the forthcoming Coventry Winter League, where I still hope we will be able to field 2 teams, despite some of our members with "dual citizenship" deciding to jump ship. What's that you say, Kevin? Agreed, mate. I will also love it if we beat them!

Wednesday, 2 September 2020

Non-Existent Cup Will Not Be Sitting in Non-Existent KCC Trophy Cabinet

Oh well, second place is nothing to be ashamed of. Which is where a 5-3 defeat in the final round of the Coventry Trial Online League left us. And with honours even on the extra boards 5 and 6, the overall match was lost 7-5, with no KCC player managing anything better than 50% over the two rounds. And some of us not even managing that!

The vagaries of the platform put the University's 6 players in the following order by ECF grade:- 159, 142, 221, 111, 99, 76. It's probably fair to say that none of their team played to their grade - which was a shame, as if they had we should have won with our team lining up 195, 163, 174, 184, 164, 115! Apart from Lionel, making his debut on Board 3 and drawing a very short straw, you would have thought that we should have no difficulty annexing the 4.5 pts needed to win the league encounter, or indeed the 6.5 pts needed to win the overall match.  But if last night taught us all anything, it's that online chess is a beast of a very different colour. And that you should be very, very wary of intelligent and energetic students sporting improbably low grades!

I should probably have been winning out of the opening in Rd 1 with White against Jonathan Fowler, but within a few moves my position started to collapse, and even when I thought I had landed a cheapo at the end, it turned out I was the one being cheapoed and a piece fell off. Round 2 was marginally better, but after matching my opponent's slightly dodgy opening set-up with an equally dodgy one of my own, I was momentarily in big trouble, before winning a piece, though at the cost of 3 pawns. In attempting to break up a big pawn mass all I succeeded in doing was to give White connected passed f and e pawns, and when a 4th pawn dropped off, I feared the worst. Somehow I finally got my extra piece to do something, though, and in mutual time trouble I was able to sac this knight for enough pawns to reach a drawn rook and pawn ending. But I must have been dead lost for quite a few moves.

Much better stuff was played on the next two boards. On Board 2, Andy W delivered a quick win in Round 1 against Arjun Pyda, but Game 2 saw him on the receiving end of a similar direct attack on the White king. It seems that Adorjan was quite right - Black is definitely OK!

Lionel played an excellent game with White against Andi Dicu on Board 3 and finally won in a rook and pawn ending, but the return game did not go so well. The opening went wrong for Lionel, but he seemed to have come through the worst of it when he suddenly lost a lot of material, presumably in time pressure. Still, sharing the points against such a strong opponent was an excellent debut performance.

The match basically swung against us on Board 4, where Joshua played a good game against Chun Chui to reach a winning ending. Which he then not only didn't win, but even managed to lose when he self-cheapoed himself out of a rook. Tragedy! The return encounter was rather tame by comparison and a fairly boring draw was the logical and inevitable outcome.

And talking of tame, Mike had two short draws of under 50 moves combined against Vincenz Bill on Board 5.  A quick time-limit and a computer screen are clearly not Mike's ideal conditions, and at least he has given me the idea for this week's song!  As the excellent Steve Forbert so shrewdly observed, all those years ago, "you cannot win, if you do not play!"

When Billy turns up he definitely comes to play/win, and draws are clearly anathema to him. There was no danger of any of them against Ziad Fakhoury in this match. Game 1 was characterised by an unfortunate mouse slip in the opening by Billy, when Kf8 appeared on the board instead of 0-0! This seemed to completely discombobulate him, and he lost rather a lot of pieces rather quickly. Which is also exactly what happened in the return encounter, though this time Billy was in his "force of nature" mode and just demolished the Black position for a convincing win.

So congratulations to Warwick University for a comprehensive win - and for a similarly convincing victory in the League itself, where they clocked up a 100% match record. And thanks to League Chairman Colin Green for proposing, developing and administering the competition, which has been good fun. A bigger and better event should be starting in October, probably with a few more rules and constraints, and I'll be in touch with everyone to try and round up enough players for at least one KCC team, as soon as I know details of format, dates etc. So watch this space. In the meantime, we have our international friendly against Castlehill Dundee (September 15th) to look forward to, so if you haven't signed up for that, please get in touch and do so now! I am hoping/trying for a record KCC turnout in this match.