Wednesday, 24 March 2021

The Curtain Falls

After an eventful, and not entirely enjoyable, online season, Kenilworth A have finished second in Division 1 of the Coventry & Leamington League. Of course, we should have won, but in a disastrous final match we somehow managed to only draw 4-4 against 6th placed Coventry A. Another half a point, and the title would have been ours, but unfortunately our last minute lapse allowed Nuneaton to overtake us a week later, when they won their game in hand. Despite us scoring 4.5 more game points.

What if ......? If only Bernard C hadn't lost by a disconnection against Nuneaton A; if only Joshua hadn't decided to turn out for Coventry in a meaningless match for them and then scored his first win ever against me in a competitive game; if only Bernard C hadn't opted out of our match against Coventry to avoid playing his other club; if only Ben hadn't inexplicably scored 0/2 on Board 4 against Ed Goodwin in that crucial match, when the following week he powered his way to 2/2 on Board 1 for the B team against Joshua! Anyway, good job it was an inconsequential online League, or it might really have upset me.

But in an exclusive scoop, I am able to present the moment when Joshua - looking uncannily like Sir Alec Guinness - realised the enormity of his mistake.

The B team found it tough going, but they were competitive in virtually every match and almost finished on a high, going down by only 4.5-3.5 to Coventry A in the final match of the season. And their earlier win over Leamington ensured they avoided finishing bottom. The match against Coventry featured possibly the game of the whole season - an incredible win by Billy against Sam Cotterill with a thrilling king march the length of the board. The fearlessness - and brilliance - of youth!

What an amazing game from one so young. And just look at that remarkable final position!!

Now, I don't want you to think I'm going on and on about this, but more film has just arrived showing further remorse on Joshua's part (now looking amazingly like Dennis Law), as he refuses to celebrate his win over me. 

I'm sure Joshua will be really keen to make it up to the whole club when we resume socialising, and I for one am looking forward to the life-time supply of free drinks he will doubtless offer by way of reparation!

Monday, 15 March 2021

Online Grand Prix - Round 5 Update

The March edition of our monthly online arena tournaments on Lichess, saw us leave the straight and narrow and try our hand at the abomination that is Chess960/Fischer Random. I had never previously played a single game of this mongrelised version of chess, but being a shameless pot-hunter (no matter how small, or even non-existent the pot) I obviously threw my hat in the ring to try and defend my position atop the Grand Prix leader board.

But, alas, the effort was in vain, since for the second month running Jude emerged - at the end of 2 hours intense play - as a clear winner, and in the process he jumped to first place in the Grand Prix table. And this despite conceding two games to absence/disconnections. But with a couple of successful berserks at the start of the event, and a speed of play which the old codgers in the event just couldn't match, Jude finished two points ahead of Joshua, who owed his silver medal to my failure to draw the most elementary rook and pawn ending ever in our individual encounter. Bizarrely, I was the only person all night to build up a head of steam and secure even a single double points win, but after this rip-roaring start I went downhill and was massively relieved to finish a point ahead of Solomon and Algis, who both showed a great affinity for this version of chess. In fact, Solomon can consider himself very unlucky to miss out on the podium, as he not only had the highest rating performance of the tournament, but his 4 wins from 5 games had the single loss (to Bernard R) right in the middle, so he missed out on any double points wins. Timing is everything, it seems! A rather less positive shout out to Ben, who had a terrible night. And to think it was his idea to play Chess960! (Though I have to say it was indeed a great idea, and (surprisingly) I enjoyed it so much I might well try it again!!)

Lionel's absence from a second consecutive event has seemingly scuppered his chances of Grand Prix victory, and it almost looks like a two horse race now, as Joshua would need a couple of wins - and for Jude and me to underperform badly - if he is to mount a challenge. But you'll notice, I did say "almost" - as I haven't yet decided on the final rules. I may yet opt for a "best x results" scoring system to determine the winner - where "x" is a number that I have yet to decide upon! Moreover, nobody (myself included) can be absolutely sure how many more legs this Grand Prix is going to have. Eventually all will become clear when I unveil the KCC roadmap out of lockdown  - though if I were a betting man (and with the Cheltenham Festival starting tomorrow, I may well be) I would make 3 the strong favourite.

April's event - duration and format yet to be decided upon by the Tournament Committee - will take place on Thursday, April 1st. Now, why is everybody laughing? I just don't see what's so funny, myself.

Wednesday, 10 March 2021

It's Too Late - Billy is Already a Hero!

Never mind the match scores this week, there's only one place to start, and that is the remarkable performance by Billy in scoring 2/2 on Board 2 for the B team against Warwick University A. Game 1 was a real back and forth struggle, but Billy prevailed after finally winning material. Game 2 looked dicey for a spell, as Billy had to shed a couple of pawns to save a wandering bishop deep in enemy territory, but then the turbo kicked in, and from nowhere his pieces jumped out and took lots of Black's pieces. So it's no good taking the advice of this week's song - Billy is already a hero! Clearly a first day back at school was just what he needed!

Sadly, this terrific score couldn't turn the match in the B team's favour, as our brave lads went down 5.5-2.5, but yet again - and don't get the idea that I am perpetually biased in these judgments - we could have won. The score was standing at 3.5-2.5 to the University, but Ben was much better against Jonathan Fowler, and ahead on the clock, on Board 1, and Bernard R, despite failing to think for more than a nano-second on any move - was an exchange up against Anish Ramakrishnan and giving the Black king a very hard time to boot. Then, as with Solomon last week, as soon as Ben started consuming lots of time, the quality of his play went rapidly downhill, and a probably winning position became a loss.

Meanwhile, the engine was showing mate in 14 for Bernard when ...... he disconnected, of course, and got timed out. (What was that phrase of George Santayana again? Oh yes, "Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.") Bernard has clearly expunges all the previous disconnections from his mind. Post-match, though, there then followed an amusing exchange where Warwick Uni graciously tried to concede the game to Bernard, and Bernard graciously refused to have any truck with such a thought. Talk about "After you Claude. No, after you Cecil!" Still, its good to know there are nice guys out there, even in the cesspit of online chess, so many thanks to Anish and Jonathan for their great sportsmanship. Oh yes, and in all this I almost forgot to mention that Bernard had a one or two move win of the White queen in Game 1, but refusing on principle to devote more than 10 seconds of his 13 minutes time, he chose to play a losing move instead! Ben had earlier drawn his first game, after being slightly better throughout, while Will had a tough night against Anuman Goel. The engine said he was winning in Game 1 after a piece sac against his king, but in practice it was very difficult to stave off the Black threats. Game 2 was going absolutely fine until Will neglected to swap off his bishop on h3 for the White one on g2 and instead got it trapped. First day back at school clearly not so positive for Will!

And so to the A team's match against Banbury A, which ended in a convincing 6.5-1.5 win for KCC, which keeps us right in the hunt for the League title. Regretfully, though, my 100% seasonal score bit the dust. After a very scrappy, and possibly lucky win in Game 1 against Dan Rowan, I then had a very scrappy and possibly lucky draw against him in Game 2. I was probably just losing at various points, but frustratingly, I then missed a one move win of a piece.  Jude had two very exciting games against Banbury's US recruit Ryan Karloff, which finished with honours even. After winning an exchange with a nice tactic in game 1, Jude must have been disappointed to find that the position was anything but easy to convert, and in fact it then turned against him and he found all his pieces dropping off. Game 2 was a great fight, with White going for Jude's jugular, but calm defence and strong counter-attacking won the day for Jude.

But we ran away with the match on Boards 3 and 4, where Mike and Bernard C both notched up 2/2 scores. Mike was playing Banbury's answer to Bernard R, Chris Evans, who still had over 13 minutes on his clock at the end of each game. Mike played a text-book dismantling of the Maroczy Bind in Game 1, and then a text-book dismantling of the King's Indian in Game 2. There was a brief moment of concern in the second game, as after winning an exchange following intense positional pressure, Mike dropped a couple of pawns to two very tricky Black knights, but he soon re-established control and eventually won with an unstoppable passed a pawn. Board 4 was a bit of an enigma, but will hopefully stand as a deeply satisfying cathartic moment for Bernard. After last week's soul-bearing musing on the tragi-comic aspects of blundering, Bernard turned things right around this week by winning from one, if not two, lost positions against Paul Friend! It would be rude to go into more detail, but the games are there online for everyone to see, after all!

Only one match left for the A team, a crucial encounter next week against Coventry A, while the B team have two matches left, starting with Banbury A. Good luck to both

Wednesday, 3 March 2021

The Comic Blunder Syndrome (Though Nobody's Actually Laughing!)

Right, let's get the chess out of the way, first.

On Monday the A team chalked up a 5-3 win over hitherto 100% leaders, Warwick University A. I won two surprisingly good games on top board against Joe Varley to take my season's score to 10/10, but this was counter-balanced by Jude's tough evening on Board 2 against University captain, Jonathan Fowler. A pawn sac in Game 1 was never quite enough, and the extra pawn proved decisive in the ending. Game 2 was a tough struggle, but Jude was under pressure and short of space, so when the tactics started they were not in his favour. Mike swung the match decisively in our direction on Board 3, with another 2-0 result against Feargus Roth. Mike got given a free piece in Game 1, but Game 2 was a terrific fight ending with Mike infiltrating the Black position to win several pawns. Artistic Bernard split the points with Anuman Goel on Board 4, despite blundering material in each game - and giving rise to the philosophical musings below! Luckily in Game 1 his own blunder was later trumped by his opponents, but Game 2 was a bit of a disaster as he was 2 pawns up when he fatally blundered a piece.

But it was classic KCC agony on Tuesday, when the B team went down 3-5 against reigning champions Nuneaton A, in a match they could - and should - have won. Two points went west from totally winning positions, while Nuneaton could only claim to have let half a point slip away. Dave had another good night on top board, drawing easily with Colin Green in Game 1 before absolutely demolishing his Pirc in Game 2 to deliver a mating attack and take his own score for the season to an undefeated 7.5/10. Ben drew two very tough games against Tony Green on Board 2, but Back should really have won both. In Game 1 Ben was totally outplayed in Tony's pet Philidor, and the game looked resignable as Ben's pawns started to drop off. But then opposite bishops appeared on the scene, and despite being two pawns down, Ben adopted the French cry from Verdun, "Ils ne passeront pas", and held on for a miraculous draw. In Game 2 Ben won an exchange from seemingly nowhere but faced big problems getting his queen and rook working against Tony's queen and knight. But when Tony eventually allowed Ben's queen right into the White position it looked all over. But Ben took the wrong White pawns and got his queen stuck offside. Despite plenty of wriggling, Ben was then unable to stop a perpetual check. Absolute tragedy on Board 3, where Will had a very tough pairing against Paul Davies, who has been an absolute points machine for Nuneaton recently. Game 1 was a disaster, as Will's knowledge of Petroff theory ran out on move 4, and his king got massacred in the centre. Game 2 initially appeared to be another horror show, as Will got a piece pinned against his queen and it fell off. I zoned out for  few minutes, but when I came back, the position had completely turned around and the engine was showing +3 for Will. Paul had to give back the piece and his king was at the mercy of White's queen and two rooks. When I came back to the game again, the Black king was on c3 and a complete sitting duck. Will correctly turned down Paul's draw offer. But Will was in desperate time trouble and just couldn't find a winning move - of which there were many at various times, most noticeably a one move fork of king and queen - and inevitably the lack of time cost Will dearly in the end. A great pity, after a terrific effort, as Will missed out on what would have been a great scalp. Less tragic, but equally costly, was Solomon's performance on Board 4 against Thomas Glenn. In Game 1 Solomon was three pawns and five minutes up, but as soon as he started to think the quality of his play went down drastically and he managed to lose all three pawns back and had to concede the draw. Game 2 saw him under some initial pressure after a Morra Gambit, but the engine was showing around +3 for us when he made the incomprehensible move Re7 (Qf6 was excellent for Black) which totally shut all his pieces in, and he ended up getting mated soon after.  So a golden opportunity for a massive B team victory ended up in a cruel defeat. Great effort though, guys!

But look, folks. There are bigger issues to worry us than mere chess match results. Life, the universe and all that jazz, right? So who better to guide us through the metaphysical world than our own artist in residence, creative thinker, and all round Renaissance man, Bernard C? So moved to existential angst was he by his own efforts on Monday night, that he felt impelled to share his philosophical musings with me (big mistake!) and so now to a wider public. It takes a special kind of person to bare their soul like this, and to confess to their own inner doubts and frailties. And Bernard is that special kind of person. Now, stay awake at the back of the class, and try to follow his line of thought. You never know, you might actually learn something!

"I am prompted [to this philosophical reflection] by having developed an aspect to my play recently that could be termed comic blunder syndrome. This particular condition prevails when the blunder is not a misreading of a complex position, but when making moves with happy optimism in ordinary configurations, ignoring completely basic tactics or captures!

Of course, blunders per se are painful but this comic variety at the chessboard has a special agonistic quality that bring existential meaning into question in a way I’m sure Jean Paul Sartre, the philosopher, must have appreciated as a chess player himself, never mind the artist and chess aficionado, Marcel Duchamp. Also occurring is the idea of the ‘abject’ as developed by another philosopher, Julia Kristeva, where, in her book 'The Powers Of Horror'(!), the abject refers to the human reaction to a threatened breakdown of sense, including vomiting!

In our scenario, at this abject moment at the chessboard, all chess status is thrown into confusion, usually accompanied, if not by the above, by adjectival decoration not to be heard in any respectable tearoom (but entirely possible in this online era). Of course, the absurd has a role to play in these moments as Albert Camus, another chess player and author of The Myth Of Sisyphus, would have noted and with approval from the Dadaists.

The underlying thought I had to these philosophical and other references is that chess has this way of echoing or rehearsing the dilemmas of life. The blunder, especially in its comic appearance, parallels in sign language the moments in life where meaning is in crisis. Fortunately a blunder in chess, even in comic garb, is not life significant (unless you are contesting at the genetically modified [gm] level or perhaps need to get a life!).

But could it be, as these philosophical and artist personas might have argued, the comic blunder syndrome is the place to rediscover why and how you play chess or even life!?!"

Well said, Bernard. Exactly what I was thinking. Especially the bit about the vomiting!

But that's quite enough highbrow stuff for the KCC Blog. I know my readership, and they don't do highbrow for more than a few minutes at a time! After these intellectual thoughts, there could only possibly be one song to finish with.

But a warning - some slightly earthy language, so minors or those of a sensitive disposition, look away now. For the rest of us, it's singalong time! And how great is it that it's also known as Bruce's Song?!