Wednesday, 24 February 2021

Not Fit For Purpose?

Another week, another three games ruined by connection issues with And this time we are on the wrong end of two of them, which goes a long way to explaining two defeats for our teams in Division 1 of the Coventry/Leamington Online League. Thankfully there looks sufficient light at the end of the OTB tunnel for me to assume that its not another lockdown heading in our direction, because I'm not sure I could stand another edition of our local online league with so many games arbitrarily decided by issues. Thankfully I have not been affected myself in any of the league games (though I lost a random bullet game today a whole queen up due to an inexplicable disconnection), but last night both Bernards were on the receiving end, while Ben was a beneficiary. Coming after two disconnection victories last week, this is simply not satisfactory.

Onto the chess itself, and the A team lost its 100% record, going down 5-3 to reigning champions Nuneaton A. I got my revenge for a drubbing at the hands of Colin Green before Christmas, by winning 2-0 this time around. Both games followed the same script. I was winning almost straight out of the opening; then Colin equalised or nearly equalised; and then he made a big mistake which let me score the win. I'm not complaining, but it would be nice to play a good game from beginning to end just once. Anyway, that's 8/8 for me so far, so I'm a happy bunny!

Jude had a tough time against Tony Green on Board 2. He was on the worse side of the draw in Game 1, and in Game 2 Tony's knight absolutely dominated Jude's bishop in a minor piece ending. We needed a win to tie the match (this was the last game going) and I suspect Jude went all-in to try and get a victory, but unfortunately this never looked likely.

Mike lost Game 1 to Paul Davies through a mouse slip which just put a piece en prise. Game 2 was a heavyweight encounter in which Mike was a tiny smidgen better when a draw was agreed - despite all the major pieces and two sets of knights being on the board. This was not a good result for us, as it took Nuneaton to  4 game points, but unfortunately Mike apparently could not see the current match score. He'd also had issues trying to join the match in the first place. Two more counts against

But the real disaster occurred on Board 4, where Artistic Bernard ended up with a big fat zero against Thomas Glenn.  He was totally winning in Game 1, but overlooked that a key pawn was falling off with check, and then self destructed from a still favourable position. Tragedy. But not as big a tragedy as Game 2, where the game never started on his computer and he was counted out by Even 50% on this board and we would have tied the match, so this was absolutely crucial.

And more disasters to record in the B team match against Sutton Coldfield A, where we went down agonisingly by 4.5-3.5. Once again we had a 2-0 score on top board, where Dave continued his recent excellent form with 2 good games against John Mildenhall. I especially liked his Black win against the London System. Someday soon, White players will get the message and play a proper chess opening! This takes Dave to a splendid 6/8 for the season. We got a lucky break on Board 2, where Ben won Game 1 against Mircea Mesesan thanks to a disconnection. But in Game 2 he got a right going over and lost in 18 moves, so much material down I couldn't count it all! I'm afraid a 28% accuracy score says it all!

Will returned to the team on Board 3, and found himself up against it, grade-wise against Andy Lake. But he played a really splendid Game 1 and was very unlucky not to win after making it all the way to an opposite bishops ending with two extra pawns. Game 2 went less well, though, and he had either a total hallucination or a mouse slip and lost his queen.

Which leaves Capitalist Bernard on Board 4, where he went down 2-0 against Marek Soszynski - who I played on Board 1 in the pre-Xmas League, so this was a very decent Sutton Coldfield team! This made it was a very bad night for the Bernards - and you know what they say, when the Bernards are strong, KCC is strong! And vice versa. Game 1's calamity was self inflicted, though, as Bernard had a clear edge with White when, spending a whole 14 seconds of his remaining 11 minutes, he blundered a rook. With check, just to make it worse. But Game 2 saw the unwelcome return of his previous connection problems, and in a totally equal position, and 13 minutes on his clock, he got timed out. And there went the match.

This is all getting beyond a joke. Suddenly the prospect of a mid-winter drive to Banbury or Nuneaton looks quite appealing, compared with the mental anguish being caused by the online experience. And its not even my problem, which is making me all the more bitter/frustrated/angry/despondent/annoyed/desperate/vexed/suicidal. (Delete where not applicable - but, here's a clue - they're all applicable!)

There's only one song for my present mood - and its rather powerful stuff! You have been warned. But make sure you check out the video at 2 mins 25 secs, when Johnny Cash briefly looks like the spitting image of Russell James!

Its the B team's turn to take on Nuneaton next Tuesday, while the A team are in action a day earlier against Warwick Uni A, who now seem to be the only unbeaten team in the league. I suppose it will all come down to which team's players have paid their internet bill on time.

Sunday, 21 February 2021

Where Does the Time Go?

Its just over 9 months since I put together an article on the amount of on-line chess being played by KCC members - and how much time was being spent/wasted (you decide!) in the process. You can read the original article here. Well, I thought it was about time we caught up with developments since last June and - taking a leaf from the notebook of our leader - this update will be data driven!

Again I have to stress that this analysis is based solely on activity on Lichess, mainly because that platform presents the information in such a user friendly way that it makes this task very easy. So if you want to hide the amount of time you spend playing chess online, you just need to use a different platform, and no-one will be any the wiser!

We start with the Marmite category, Ultra-Bullet. Last June only 4 KCC members had even played this Godless format, and 9 months on, this number has risen to 6. Ben dipped his toe in the water and played 5 games, while Noah played just the one. I think we can deduce that they are not converts to the 15 second game. Matt has also turned his back on Ultra-Bullet, and even Billy seems not convinced that he should be wasting his time on this random mouse clicking. But - oh dear, oh dear - Jude and Paul clearly remain smitten, playing 3,265 games between them in the last 9 months. We need to help them fight this addiction!

There are four newcomers to our Bullet activity list, led by Solomon, who didn't even exist (as far as KCC is concerned!) back in June 2020. Andy W was somehow left off my earlier analysis, as I'm sure he was an on-line aficionado before most of us, while we can also now include Noah and Ed as active Bulleteers. Well, maybe not Ed, as a single game hardly counts. And Lionel has clearly decided that Bullet is not for him, and has given this format a wide berth in recent months. But really, there is only one headline in this section, and that belongs to Paul - who has played about 1,000 more bullet games in the last 9 months than everyone else in the club put together. And given that Jude and Ben alone have played almost 4,000 games between them in that period, you should by now be able to see that we are talking big numbers here! In fact, KCC members have now played more Bullet games than any other form of chess. And there was me thinking we were chess purists!

Paul also leads the recent activity table for Blitz chess, though here he has been pushed all the way by Matt, who has consequently easily retained his overall "lifetime" lead in this category. Strong showings from Joshua and Ben here - don't you just love that home-working experience!? Any hopes that Solomon may have had of climbing the table have probably been scuppered by him getting a non-home working job. Shame after being a new chart entry at number 7 for the June-February period!

Matt may be well ahead in the Blitz category, he has been knocked off the top rung of the Rapid ladder by that long forgotten KCC member, Roy. He still won't play against his mates on a Thursday evening, or turn out for the club in friendly or league matches (all of which are played at Rapid time limit!) but he certainly will play - lots and often - against random dudes from around the world. With the result that he has played 3+ times as many rapid games in the last 9 months as anyone else! Was it something we said?

All this data-work is very tiring, and I'm running out of steam now - but we've still got three more tables to go, so I'd better get a second wind. We're now on to the odds and sods category, which embraces Classical and Correspondence time limits, plus all the variant forms of chess offered by Lichess, such as 960, Atomic, Horde, Racing Kings and more. (No, I don't know what some of them are, either.) Small numbers are the order of the day here, with only Solomon and Billy managing more than 100 games in the last 9 months. Consequently Matt has maintained his clear lead in this rather unglamorous and ill defined sector.

And so what do you get when you put all these formats together? Who is the big cheese of KCC online chess? It's Paul! He has managed to turn round a deficit of nearly 3,900 games compared to Matt into a lead of almost 5,000 games! In just 9 months!!  And Matt's second place is under threat from Jude, who has more than halved his deficit, and at current rates of activity will overtake Matt well before the end of the year. I am also in trouble as long as Ben keeps working from home, and my 4th place seems unlikely to last into the summer.

Rather worryingly, Lionel seems to be losing his enthusiasm for online chess - either that or he has defected en mass to Andy B is a totally lost cause as we already knew - in fact I'm surprised to see he's even played 2 games in the last 9 months! -  while Phil must ask himself over and over, "Why did I ever play those three games?" But at the other end of the table, we can now all see why Paul is so busy these days - its not the online coaching, its the online playing that is taking up all his time! Or is it? Because we are still one table away from completing our data report. And its the most eagerly awaited table of them all, as we finally get to see how much time everyone has wasted playing online. Lights out; drum roll; suspenseful silence; and the winner is ............ Matt. Of course, its Matt. He had such a big lead over the rest of us, having been a particularly early fan of online chess, that he is not going to be caught for a long, long time. (If ever!) He still has 39 days of online activity in hand, so despite Paul's sterling efforts in the last 9 months, which have seen Roy knocked down into third place, it will still take him around 6 years to catch up!  Impossible to know how much of Solomon's life time total occurred during the last 9 months (my guess is quite a lot!), so he has been an impressive lockdown performer, and so have Jude and Roy.

But clearly a lot of our members could up their game and waste a lot more time playing chess. In fact, its disturbing to see how little time some of them spend - what else have you got to do, guys?? OK, maybe don't answer that. Anyway, the target you should aim for, as recommended by many independent experts, is to spend about 7 days 20 hours per nine month period playing chess online. This will give you the perfect life:chess balance. Any more and you are dangerously addicted, any less and you are simply not showing sufficient commitment to the game. Amazingly, I seem to have exactly hit the optimum. Excellent. But its only what you would expect from the most well adjusted individual in the club, I suppose. But let that be a guide and inspiration to you. Just try and be more like me, and happiness and lifestyle satisfaction will undoubtedly follow! Meanwhile, a target for the club collectively is to achieve a total time spent playing online of one year. I reckon another 12 months of lockdown and we should be there! Won't that make us proud?!

And I leave you with a word from The Grateful Dead, who were obviously very early practitioners of online chess given the lyrics of "Uncle John's Band". Because as the clock strikes midnight and you keep telling yourself, "one more game; just one more game", who hasn't wondered, just like them, "What I want to know is, where does the time go?"

Wednesday, 17 February 2021

Fourteen and a Half is a Big Number

At least, it is when it's the total points scored by our two teams in Week 4 of the Coventry & Leamington Online League.  Out of a possible 16. Though as always, Lady Luck had to put in an appearance or two during the evening, but more of that later!

There was excitement before the matches when I got a frantic call from Bernard C telling me he had joined the wrong match. By the time I had sorted this problem out for him and he had extricated himself from the B team match, I'd had an urgent e-mail from Ben telling me the B team had too many players and had been infiltrated by an unknown fifth columnist (surprisingly not answering to the name Joshua or Lionel!)  Despite being on the same team as him about 8 times pre-Xmas, Ben was seemingly unable to recognise Bernard's user name. Anyway, problem sorted, but coming hot on the heels of last week's earth-shattering default shock, I feel the pressures of captaincy are beginning to get to me. 

But to the chess, and first to the A team, who ran up an unexpectedly convincing 7-1 win over a slightly depleted Sutton Coldfield A, including a clean sweep in Round 1. Mike got us off to a flying start on Board 3 with a very quick win over Marek Soszynski - which I later found out was due to a disconnection issue. The first time that we have ever been on the right side of such an incident, I think. Not a lot happened in Game 2 which ended in a draw. On Board 4, Artistic Bernard made the same score against Rob Marks, but with considerably more chess content - though not all of it good! Bernard tells me he made a finger slip in the first game (play on a proper computer like the rest of us, Bernard, and then you can blame it on the mouse!), but it turned out to be an inspired pawn sac which opened up lines against the Black king and the White pieces stormed in with decisive effect. Game 2 was bizarre. Bernard lost a piece. Then he won it back. Then he started winning pawn after pawn, and in a single knight ending he had 4 extra pawns. Which he somehow failed to win. The charge is gross carelessness, and I hereby pronounce that Mr Charnley has been found guilty! Bring on the rack!!

For the second week running we chalked up a 4-0 score on the top two boards. Jude had a measured build up in Game 1 with White against Andy Lake, but when the time was right he lined up his pieces down the g file and won a piece. Game 2 was absolutely manic, with each side throwing the kitchen sink at the other's king after opposite-side castling. Jude was always just ahead in the race, and despite missing an absolute cruncher (26...Qb6) he was still in time to land the decisive blow to cap a massively exciting game. I may have (accidentally) played a good game against Mircea Mesesan with Black, though I was helped enormously by my opponent giving up a pawn which only served to put his king in a mating net. I also started off quite respectably in Game 2, with a clear plus, but at an early moment I missed a crushing rook sac that would have won on the spot. Thereafter we kept exchanging blunders, whereby I would neglect to play the winning move, and Black would neglect to play the drawing reply. In my time trouble the game went totally out of control as Black's a pawn yomped down the board, while I tried to deliver mate. We should have ended up with 4 queens on the board - and amazingly with a drawish position - but Mircea made a terrible mistake and allowed me to force mate after all.

After last week's heartache, the B team were due a change of luck, and they got it in spades against Leamington - trumping the A team with a near perfect 7.5-0.5 win. Tom Darling is clearly an even more unforgiving Captain than me, as he changed the entire Leamington line-up from their match against our A team last week. (Or was he just showing off that Leamington have so many players to choose from? The answers simple, Tom - two teams) Whatever the reason, our lads seized the moment - or carped the diem as they would have said in Ancient Rome - as we chalked up 2-0 wins on Boards 1, 2 and 4. Dave, Ben and Solomon showing ruthless efficiency (not to mention fear, surprise and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope) against, respectively, Ben Egid, Mike Nevin and Reshmi Vayyapuri.

On Board 3, Billy was giving away about 40 ECF rating points against Jon Griffiths and had a really tough first game, as the advantage edged and flowed before Billy ended up in the same knight and rook's pawn v knight ending as Bernard did in the A team match. Like Bernard, Billy had to concede the draw, but unlike Bernard, he hadn't started with an extra 4 pawns, so it was an altogether more correct outcome! Game 2 wasn't going our way, and Black was on top, when the game ended abruptly in Billy's favour. Whether it was another disconnection or a loss on time, I don't know, but it was the final proof that Lady Luck is indeed currently residing in Kenilworth. This week, at least.

The A team will obviously stay at the top of the table after this week's matches, while the B team will probably have soared to the dizzy heights of just below half way. Next week, it is the B team's turn to take on Sutton Coldfield A, while the A team encounter the pre-Xmas champions, Nuneaton, who gave us a good thrashing in our most recent encounter.  Stay tuned, and who knows what strange video material might turn up in next week's match report? After all, you weren't expecting Monty Python, were you?!

Wednesday, 10 February 2021

Missing In Action

Week 3 of the Coventry/Leamington Online League, and our two teams maintained their contrasting records, with the A team stuck on 100% and the B team on 0%. But it was so nearly smiles all round. Let's deal with the good news first.

The A team had an excellent 6.5-1.5 win over Leamington, which will - at least - keep us in a tie for the Division 1 lead. Jude and I both managed 2-0 wins on the top boards. I won against a new Leamington player, Paolo Turrini - from Luxembourg, no less, and the strongest Turrini in the world, ahead of two Italians and a Frenchman! (And 2-0 victor over double agent Pink last week.) I was dead lost very quickly as White in the first game, but then my opponent made a truly dreadful move that turned out to be a self-mate. In Game 2, I sacked a piece for 2 pawns, but the resultant "attack" was quickly defused when White gave back an exchange. I was temporarily pushed back, before jumping out to win another pawn, and the game ended when my opponent resigned rather prematurely. (Especially when judged against some other standards - see last week's rant and below!) Jude was up against Ola Olaleye and somehow fashioned a win from what looked like a hopelessly blocked position in Game 1 - talk about making something out of nothing - chessboard magic! Game 2 looked a far more convincing performance from what I could see, and Jude won Ola's queen in a time scramble to cap another excellent evening's work. I think we are in danger of getting rather blasé about Jude's performances - they are truly remarkable!

Mike drew both games against Tom Darling on Board 3. Nothing was blundered in either game as far as I could see - by either player! Quite remarkable for online chess! Mike got nowhere as White against Tom's Dutch Defence, but Game 2, while relatively brief, was more exciting as Mike tried to spice things up. Bernard C added another 1.5 points to our already healthy score on Board 4. He tried everything to win as Black in Game 1 against Omar Khemoudj, doubtless feeing under pressure to make a large rating advantage count. But Omar defended very well, and no doubt to his horror Bernard eventually found himself in a rook and pawn ending 2 pawns down! Thankfully his king came to the rescue and all the pawns were liquidated. Game 2 was another spirited encounter, but Bernard made no mistake this time, and found some nice tactics at the end to clinch the win by a direct mating attack from two rooks and a knight.

And so to the bad news, as the B team lost out by the narrowest margin and in most unfortunate circumstances, to Shirley A. When the A team match finished, I checked the B team score and was delighted to find that we had seemingly won, 3.5-2.5, over just three boards. But then Ben broke the bad news that Will had gone missing in action and failed to show for the match! And we had actually defaulted on one board and lost the match. I felt as deflated as the US basketball team at the 1972 Olympics, when they thought they had won, only for an extra three seconds to be played  ........  and then this happened!

So Will is now on the naughty step for having simply forgotten the match - which I find amazing, as it clearly suggests he has other things to do during the week. I am unlikely to forget any of my current appointments, as I have so few of them. I'm also very surprised that Will should have become the first KCC player to default in an online match - in my mind I had many other candidates ahead of him for that achievement! 

On the boards actually played we had plenty to be proud of. Dave, promoted to Board 1 for the first time, scored two splendid draws against Don Mason. As White he lost a pawn in Game 1, but hoovered all the key pieces off and then ensured the draw by winning back his pawn to leave an opposite bishops ending. In Game 2 he looked to be coming under a serious attack on his king, but he kept his cool and had enough counterplay to force Don to repeat the position. Ben had a terrific evening on Board 2, scoring a 2-0 win over Jonathan Dale. Readers of last week's report will not be surprised to learn that both games ended in mate. Ben was under pressure in Game 1, and lost a pawn, but when White took a second it turned out to be a blunder as it cost a rook to a neat tactic. Game 2 saw a veritable explosion of middle game tactics as Ben found a terrific sequence to win a piece. And later a queen. Unfortunately, the match slipped away on Board 3 (or was it 4? difficult to tell in the circumstances!) where Bernard R's 0.5-1.5 reverse against Chun Chui saw the club's only playing loss across both matches. Game 1 was heading towards a draw, when Bernard dropped a pawn and immediately threw in the towel, which seemed a bit premature. (The engine gave it as -3.3. Maybe he took my words last week too much to heart?!)  In Game 2, Bernard was pretty solid all the way into a rook and pawn ending, which he drew quite comfortably.

So high marks to both teams for excellent efforts last night, and it will surely not be long before the B team gets off the mark - maybe next week against Leamington? The A team take on Sutton Coldfield A, in what is likely to be a very close match. 

Monday, 8 February 2021

Online Grand Prix - Round 4 Update

Last Thursday saw round 4 of the KCC Online Speed Chess Grand Prix, with a first Blitz event - introduced at the request of the club's younger members. And it was indeed youth to the fore, as Jude lived up to pre-event expectations to occupy - as forecast here! - first place, in a field of 9. I chased Jude hard to finish two points behind, just pipping Joshua for second by winning our last minute encounter, when we both berserked in desperate search of an extra point. Improbably, Algis - not exactly renowned for his speed of play - also decided to berserk in one game, but the loss of 90 of his 180 seconds, as well as his increment, did not really play to his strengths! I doubt he will make that mistake again!

Quite a shake-up in the Grand Prix standings, not least because Lionel, previously lying 2nd=, failed to make it to the start line. I guess he took French leave! Noah made his Grand Prix debut and chalked up three good wins, as did Matt, who somehow managed to get through 16 games in 90 minutes. This was a pace even Jude couldn't match. Being an old slow coach, I could only finish 11 games.

So here is the updated table after Round 4.

Round 5, in March, will see the changes rung again, as we will have our first ever Chess 960 event. With opening prep removed from the equation, success will be down to pure chess ability. Oh well, it was nice being in the lead for a month or two!

More online news - the KCC stranglehold on LDCL online events came to an end at the weekend, but Bernard R and Ben finished a more than respectable 3rd and 4th in the latest Blitz tournament to fly the flag for the club.

And if you want any proof that these are abnormal times (though I imagine you've probably gathered that, by now) I can report that I have somehow got my Blitz rating on chess24 to the ludicrously high level of - exactly 2500! Talk about rating inflation. To put this in perspective, though, this is some 900 points below the top ranked Blitz player on chess24, England's very own David Howell, who currently weighs in at exactly 3400! (With Magnus down in 8th place at a measly 3200 - what is it with all these round numbers?!)

Wednesday, 3 February 2021

KCC Edge Close Encounter of the Second Week

Another week, another 4.5-3.5 win for the A team in the second round of fixtures in the Coventry & Leamington Online League. After a wafer-thin win over the B team in Week 1, last night saw a repeat score, and thankfully an altogether more convincing performance, against a very strong Shirley A side. Everyone contributed to an excellent win. I took leave of my senses and rested our 100% performer from last week, Bernard C, (rotation, rotation, rotation!) while also bringing myself into the side to - I thought - lead from the front. But I got the first shock of the evening when discovering that Jude had added 40+ points to his rapid rating at the 11th hour, to bump me off Board 1. So much for my intense preparation for a heavyweight battle against Don Mason!

The match got off to a flying start as Billy - who else?! - exchanged wins with Gordon Christie on Board 4 in - what else?! - double quick time. Both games were over before anybody else had finished one! Billy clearly didn't listen to the words of last week's song, or he might have capitalised on his winning position in Game 2 and scored a memorable double. As it was, a 1-1 tie from 2 very tactical and messy positions (Billy's favourite territory!) was a really fine result anyway, given the 30 (old) ECF grading points gap.

Jude struck another blow for the Young KCC Guns, by making light work of another 30+ ECF grading points disadvantage and easily holding Don to a draw with Black in Game 1 on top board, but the return was a rather grizzly affair. Jude's opening looked to be in urgent need of repair, and his queenside castled king got completely over-run in very short order. Ouch!

Mike was also giving away about 30 ECF points, but exchanged wins against Iain Galloway. In a far from uncommon online experience, though, he won the wrong game. He was on the ropes for most of Game 1 , but with White failing to land a knock-out blow, Mike eventually emerged from the back two ranks to win a pawn or two and the resultant rook ending. The boot was on the other foot in Game 2, as Mike transitioned to a seemingly winning bishop v knight ending. But for some reason he failed to capture a Black pawn which stood very en prise on f7. A few moves later this pawn had become an unstoppable passed e pawn.

Which leaves my encounter on Board 2 against Jonathan Dale, where for once it was KCC with the 30+ points advantage. In Game 1, I thought I was doing everything right with an extra, passed pawn on d6 in a rook and minor piece ending. But I got my rook misplaced and was getting worried that this extra pawn was about to drop off, when he suddenly put a bishop en prise. Then he walked into a knight fork and lost his rook. Then I got a new queen, and eventually I delivered checkmate. Game 2 saw me get an edge with Black and win an exchange, but at the cost of weakening my kingside. In trying to get an attack, though, White walked into a pawn fork which lost a piece, and in  attempting to escape this, he dropped a rook instead. Then I won the White queen. Then I took all his pawns. And then I got a second queen and delivered mate.

Such experiences are unfortunately very common in the online world - even when an opponent has several minutes left and a ten second increment, many people seem inexplicably reluctant to resign. We (doubtless including me on occasion) seem to bring a bullet/blitz/no-increment mentality to relatively slow paced games and continue playing long after we should have done the decent thing. We're the ones who are suffering, after all, so why drag it out?? Rant over, but please - let's all resolve not to play on one or two queens down, unless there is some actual point. It really doesn't look good!

Next week's fixtures see the A team up against league newcomers Leamington, while the B team will take on Shirley A. We've softened them up for you, lads!

Hope you enjoy the music which plays this report out. Though I have to confess I don't remember ever hearing it before. Think I got confused with 2001: A Space Odyssey!