Monday, December 24, 2007

My chess moment of 2007

That's the chess year wrapped up - for most people, anyway, save those of you playing at Hastings and those of us playing the first Casino Jaque Open in Huesca.

The year's highlights - for the club - included Streatham and Brixton's fourth place in the London League and the second team's shock promotion: also a shock are the colours in the Surrey League website. In that league, S&B came a very good third: and actually won the Croydon League, which they never did when I was playing in it.

That's my old team: my new team, Casino Jaque, escaped the threat of relegation on the last day of the regular season, a highlight of my year. My only game of real note this year - give or take a nice win over Michael Yeo in the 4NCL - involved knocking over a 2477-graded Bulgarian in Benasque, the strongest opponent by some margin that I've ever beaten. While in rather more consequential international chess news, we finally have an undisputed world champion again for the first time in a decade and a half.

Lowlights would include the almost entire failure of the BBC to cover the world championship tournament - and from my point of view, discovering that an administrative cock-up deprived me of my first ever win over an International Master.

Of perhaps greater consequence was the boneheaded decision of the Aragonese Chess Federation to exclude resident non-Spaniards from their championship: so much for gens una sumus. But of certainly greater consequence was the death of Loki, Streatham chessplayer, decades before his proper time and before we had even met.

So my chess moment of 2007? Had my Bulgarian opponent actually had the IM title he had earned, it would probably have been that game at Benasque. As it is, I have to look elsewhere. I had considered choosing "Mad" Mike Basman's ravings about the infantilism of the population in a recent issue of Chess Monthly, reading, which at least gave me a laugh during an otherwise miserable Metropolitan tournament in October. Or I could select the moment I was told that this blog had been selected as the ECF Website of the Year.

But for sheer entertainment value, the opening paragraph from Nigel Davies' July 2007 column for the Chess Café sticks in the mind:
Back in the 1990s the woman who used to cut my hair invited me for a meal and to play chess against her husband and a family friend. She was slightly taken aback when I asked to be compensated for my time, but I explained that chess is what I did for a living and that this was essentially a chess engagement.
Marvellous. This blog is taking a break until the third of January: may my colleagues and I wish a sociable holiday period and a generous 2008 to all our readers.

LATE NEWS: I think my chess moment of 2007 might actually be "logging on on Xmas day to find out that the Xmas tournament in Huesca has been cancelled". I dunno, barred from one, the next one cancelled at the last minute. A very Merry bloody Xmas to you all.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Old in Chess V

Tis the season to be jolly so what better time for the announcement of the confirmation that next year's Anand - Kramnik World Championship match will go ahead after all. Happily my pessimism of a month ago turned out to be totally misplaced and, according to the press released published on the Chessbase website on the 19th, a twelve game contest will be held in Bonn next October.

I've read in the past that the reason for the tortuous negotiations that invariably seem to accompany chess matches is that to make even the smallest concession to the wishes of one's opponent is to grant him a significant psychological victory and ensure the momentum of the struggle is against you even before the first pawn is pushed. If so, Anand might already be 1-0 down because it seems he's just rolled over and totally become Kramnik's bitch.

Vishy doesn't seem to have got anything at all out of the pre-match skirmishes. He expressed his desire not to play in Germany but has ended up going there anyway and he hasn't got the draw odds a champion would traditionally expect (a blitz play-off on 30th October will decide the title if necessary). He's not even going to get any extra dosh as the world title holder - the prize money will be split equally.

Ah well. Perhaps he just wanted to get the match on or maybe he's just a reasonable human being.

So why is this nugget of contemporary chess news appearing under the Old in Chess banner? Well, it must be confessed that even Speedy Malc got there before us on this one, publishing his announcement all of three days ago.

I'm off to bury my shame under a mountain of mince pies and drained beer bottles.

Merry Christmas all.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Chess is easy, it's the quizzes which are difficult...

My answering machine took a phone call from Geoff last night. I can't tell you exactly what he said, not because it's confidential but because there was so much crackle on the line it sounded like the radio communication in the boat towards the end of Apocalypse Now. In between the static I caught some phrases which - once I'd listened to the recording several times - sounded a bit like this:
.....sorry....column this week.....gone into .....village in the Black coverage....publisher can't get hold of me here.....Coulsdon International....out of the prizes again....after Hastings....see Peter Sowray at Wokefield Park.....
and after that the phone went dead. So either he has had his head cut off or he will, we hope, be back early in the New Year. The meaning of the last reference escapes me.

Anyway, this leaves us looking for a space filler for our last Saturday column of the year. And what better item with which to fill the space than the annual Chess Café Holiday Quiz with its traditional lorryload of prizes - none of which I shall be winning, as the number of questions I am sure I know the answer to is precisely two. (One hopes, by the way, that the questions are more accurate than the descriptions of the prizes, or at least the designation of James Rizzitano's Queen's Gambit Declined as a "classic".)

Nevertheless, in a repeat of the exercise that was so spectacularly unsuccessful last year, readers are invited to pool their resources and provide answers in the comments box below. We have about three weeks.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Big Centre

Here's a position from a game I played for the Other Club a month or two ago.

I, as Black, have just played my ninth move. Care to guess the move order that brought us here?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Knight before both bishops

1.b4 e5 2.Bb2 f6 3.e4?! Bxb4 4.Bc4

I remember coming across this unlikely gambit in an old David Levy monograph on the Sokolsky Opening, which I used to play as a teenager. My reaction, at the time, was bafflement: "how did they think that one up?". I was even more surprised to find a player called Fischer on the White side of the gambit, which I therefore assumed to be some other Fischer, of whom I had not heard, until I discovered that it was a simultaneous game played during Bobby's famous US tour of 1963-4. (He played his famous Evans Gambit offhand game against Fine not long before - perhaps that's where he got the idea of trying out this line.)

I still confess myself surprised, though - surprised that Fischer played it, surprised that anybody ever played it. Surprised still more to discover, while writing this piece, that Tartakower turned over both Reti and Colle with the gambit. Nevertheless, I still think it's a load of old bosh, though I've never actually played either side of it: as White I always bottled out with 3.b5, and as Black I normally go 2...Bxb4, if you can talk about "normally" where such a rare opening is concerned.

What's also surprising about the sequence is that it involves the development of both White bishops (indeed, of three bishops in all) before any knights have come out. It's startling, when you think about it, how rarely this is the case, for either side. In fact I can't, even after some thought, think of a totally respectable variation where this is the case.

There are various Modern Defences where the Black bishops go to g7 and g4 - selecting one particular move-order in that opening is impossible, but as White I might very well face a sequence like 1.Nf3 d6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.d4 Bg4

which has been played by rather more grandmasters than the aforementioned Sokolsky gambit.

Other sequences for developing the bishops before the knights include, for Black, in the English Opening, 1.d4 e6 2.c4 b6 3.e4 Bb7 4.Nc3 Bb4:

which is fine for Black, although White has not chosen the best line - and for White, a line in the Nimzowitsch-Larsen,1.b3 c5 2.Bb2 d5 3.e3 Nc6 4.Bb5

which is also fine for the side deploying the bishops, but which may not be the other side's best choice.

Which, if it says anything, perhaps says that there may well have been something in the old chess proverb "knights before bishops": even if it be only that its opposite, "bishops before knights", very rarely applies. One wonders why. Because they're targets, when developed too early in the game? Or because knights both attack and defend, more easily, pawns (and squares) in the middle of the board?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Can Amateur Chess Players Defend? At All?

I'm going to surprise our readership today with not only a serious-minded post, but one about one of the most difficult things in chess - defence. Furthermore, I'll even suggest how we might improve our defensive capabilities. But first...

... place yourself in the black player's seat, in the position to the left with you to move.

It's a serious league game, and you know your team mates are struggling: your result might well prove crucial. As for you- you have twenty minutes left on your clock for the rest of the game. It's been an uncomfortable, uneven affair, your lower-graded opponent smoking out your king at the cost of material for the last ten moves. He's now a rook down - but has a clear and immediate threat of mate in two, beginning 35.Qh5+.

Which move do you choose to play?

Which variations do you analyze & how do you evaluate them?

And how much time on the clock does it cost you?

I'll return to the position at the end of this post, but for now consider the question as to why is defence in chess so difficult. Firstly, I'd like to suggest, there are undoubtedly psychological elements involved. The spectre of defeat looms over our thoughts, there's the embarrassment of potentially being on the receiving end of a brilliancy, there's the sheer instinctive, extreme discomfort that comes of facing someone out to kill us, or so we feel.

But there are more intrinsic chess reasons involved too. One defensive slip & we're mated, no matter how many previously perfect moves we've made. But for an attacker, several inaccurate moves in a row may merely lessen their initiative, rather that dissolve it or cost the game. Many unsound attacks win games through the sheer will to get at the opponent's king & the confusion thus caused. So many attempted-defences fail due to one seemingly-random oversight. This is the nature of chess for humans; the scales are tilted in the attacker's favour. (If you're not convinced, consider how many games have you won with sterling defence, compared to those won through attacks, traps, strategical superiority, positional understanding, endgame knowledge, or - just plain luck during complications? How many can you recall seeing won through defence at club level?)

So, what can non-professional, ordinary club players such as myself do about it? Many things no doubt, but I wish to suggest just one right now as most important. Remember that Botvinnik used to play seven hour training games with a radio playing, surrounded by cigars, to get used to the distractions that often accompanied playing conditions back then? Remember that Rowson says in his two books on chess improvement how crucial it is that we practice concentration? I suggest that to improve our defensive capabilities, we simulate over-the-board defending at home.

There are several ways we might do this. Play a risky opening against Fritz, except do it with a proper set and a proper clock, all phones switched to off. And make it the only chess thing you do that day, so you simulate too the bitter taste of defeat that comes with a failed defence. Or set up positions that featured famous defensive victories, such as Petrosian's, & play those out against a strong computer - but again, setting them up on the board with the clock ticking. Or play out such defensive positions against club-mates. Or finally, try out moments such as the above one from practical club play yourself, similar to that which you might encounter at the board, and measure yourself against what actually happened & what should have actually happened.

Speaking of which, how did you get on with the above position? If you played 34... Rg8, then you made the same mistake my 2221 Elo/195 ECF graded opponent made during the game, after which it's a draw: 35. Qh5+ Kg7 36. Rg4+ Kf8 37. Qh6+ Ke7 38. Qf6+ etc. Instead, there is a tightrope walk to a win that starts with 34...Rb1+ 35.Kh2 Qc1. Here I had thought at the board that 36.Rf4 at the least saved me, and as we analyzed in the postmortem it seemed that way too: 36...Qh1+ 37.Kg3 Rg8 37. Rxf7+ Kh8 38.Rf8. The 'we' I mention includes not only my opponent but three other very strong amateur chess players, incidentally, and this we all missed that now after 38... Rb3+ 39.f3 Rxf3+!, it's all over for white. As for other moves at the diagram - 34...Rb4 draws as does 34...Qa1+ with the correct follow up; the others lose.

If you analyzed all of that- congratulations, and you don't need to practice defence, after all! But, if not, well...

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


[Edit: Forgot to include this originally ... don't forget tonight's the night of the chess club quiz. Kick-off at 7:45pm at the usual venue in Woodfield Grove. See you there.]

Today's position arose in game twelve of the 1958 Botvinnik - Smyslov match and then again more recently in the somewhat less exalted circumstances of my game for the S&BCC London League 2nd team against Athenaeum earlier this month.

My opponent played 11. ... Re8, to my eyes an eminently sensible move, but Smyslov, and if you weren't already familiar with the game the arrow is a bit of a clue, retreated his Bishop.

I know this is not an uncommon manoeuvre in this line, see the near identical positions below, and (I think) I understand the general point ... the Bishop is a bit exposed on f5, potentially vulnerable to Nf3-d4 or perhaps e2-e4 at some point so tucking it away safely on h7 removes it from danger. What I'm totally unable to grasp is why he needs to do it at this precise moment.

OK, the Reti is hardly the kind of opening where every tempo is crucial but consider Petrosian - Furman, 1975, which after Smyslov's retreat continued,

12. Bc3 Re8, 13. Qb2 Bd6

and now White played 14. Ne5 ("!" - Ray Keene *) blocking the advance of the e-pawn. Had Black not played the Bishop retreat first, of course, White wouldn't have got there in time.

So why 11. ... Bh7? Am I missing something or is Black just fannying around?

Capablanca - Lilienthal, 1936

Nikitin - Goldenov, 1965

Smyslov - Keres, 1951

* BTW: I found all the material for today's post in Ray Keene's Flank Openings - a book unlike a lot of RDK's output in that it's pretty useful.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Quick update

Do you remember the Brixton speed chess player, about whom we wrote last month, claiming to be a Jamaican speed chess champion raising money to go and visit his ailing father?

We can provide you with more recent news. He was spotted the other day - in Cardiff. Last year (see the video in the previous post) he was in Edinburgh - this year, he's been seen in London and Cardiff. I wonder whether he tours the whole of Britain, or just the various capitals? Does he do day-trips to Paris and Brussels?

I wonder, too - how long he has been doing this? Is his father actually ill? How good is he? Somebody, surely, must recognise him. So - who is he really?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Old in Chess IV

Back in the day most chess players were banged out of their nuts on drugs. Look at these two hippies - they're so out of it they haven't even noticed they're playing two games on a single board ... and the one on the left is about to snort a bishop.

Photo from: New In Chess 1993/5

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Scorebook Notes V

[English grandmaster Geoff Scorebook writes a regular column for the Streatham and Brixton blog. Geoff is well-known as a hardworking professional and a regular on the European club and tournament circuit.]

Who'd be an author? I have a book coming out soon, or maybe I don't, having had a rather terse meeting at the publishers' office the other day. I should have known something was up when they invited me into the office to "have a chat about your manuscript" instead of just sending me an email like they normally do.

Well, they showed me into the office and we chatted about the weather and the Hertfordshire Congress - I finished just out of the prizes - for about thirty seconds before my editor - I'll call him Ed for the sake of anonymity - mentioned with his head towards my manuscript, which he had in front of him on his desk. "Anyway, Geoff", he said, "your MS. Ah....interesting."

I wasn't sure I liked "interesting" - it's a word grandmasters say about moves they think are bad but not having yet worked out precisely why. "You think so?" I replied, rather than ask him directly what he meant.

"Mmm, yes," he said. "Winning with the Queen's Gambit Declined. Well, I can't say you're not an....ah....optimist. Still, we have to be as professional chessplayers, don't we?"

To the best of my knowledge Ed last played a serious game of chess in the Blackpool Open about four years ago and lost to a local club player, after which he was heard saying, very loudly, in the nearest pub, that that was it for him, as he could make more money watching other people play than he could make playing himself - a reminiscence I thought it best not to discuss at that particular moment. "Yeah", I laughed instead, "if we weren't optimists we might as well give up, mightn't we?"

He gave me an odd look for some reason and then shook his head as if trying to dislodge something he'd misheard. "Ah, yeah. Right. book. That is your final draft, isn't it?"

You cheeky bastard, I almost said, but did not. No, I thought I'd send you a half-finished version for a laugh, I almost said, but did not.

"Er....yes", I actually said. "Why do you ask?"

"Oh, certain....ah...eccentricities in your....ah...approach", Ed replied. I wished he'd come to the point, but he always did fart around too much when you should have been decisive, that's why he couldn't make his living playing chess.

I inclined my head, inviting him to explain what he meant. "Well....for instance", he continued, flicking through the pages, "specifically, here on page...29. You write this whole variation needs more research".

"Well, so it does", I said. "Most variations need more research when you think about it. That's what I do. I research them."

"Mmmm.....yes," he replied. "But I don't seem to actually...see any of it here. Let me give you another example. Here on page 53, you write: readers will find it rewarding to carry out their own analysis."

"And so they will", I said,. "They'll learn more from getting off their lazy arses and doing some work themselves than they'll ever get just from reading what somebody else has written."

"Yes, I don't...doubt it", said Ed. "But that does...ah...raise the question as to why they should actually bother reading what 'somebody else' - specifically...ah, you - has written. Not that you...ah, have, or not that much, anyway. Besides, sitting on their lazy, mmm, arses, is what they actually want to do. Not to mention what this...ah, company would like them to do. Needs them to do, in fact."

I raised my eyebrows, not too offensively. "Look, Ed", I said. "I'm just starting them off. Pointing them in the right direction. You know, give a man a fish and he eats today, teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime."

"Yes, I see", Ed said. "Brain food, isn't it, fish? And they're certainly going to have to do a lot themselves." He flicked through the manuscript again. "Another...ah....thing. We've been compiling the game index for the back. Something very...ah...strange."

"Go on", I said, examining the ceiling.

"Well, it's cast of names..."

"Yeah", I said, "I've got Kamsky, Kramnik, Botvinnik, Petrosian, everybody really."

"Well, not quite...ah, everybody. Hamlet, but no prince. Specifically, no Scorebook. The narrator is absent. Like in Proust, ha ha."

"But I don't play the Queen's Gambit Declined," I said. "I'd rather play almost anything else. I'd rather play the sodding Benoni."

"Mmm, yes, I know" he said again, pressing his fingertips together. "Which makes it all the more...ah...strange that you take the opposite approach in this....manuscript", he said, leaning heavily on the last word, presumably to make it clear that he had deliberately not said book. "We have a collection of...mmmm...lines that you do not play, suggestions do not analyse and games in which you, eh, do not....appear."

"Well," I said, cheerfully, "I wouldn't want to give away all my best ideas, would I?"

"No...mmm...apparently you would not", he said. "Although you do appear to have just, ah...given something away".

And after that he said a few things, not all of them polite, one of which was that his firm were not Everyman and didn't put out just anything provided most of the page numbers were in the right order. And that, ah, specifically, if I wanted to be paid anything on top of my initial advance I would have to, ah, produce something, ah, different, something ah, better, and something ah, soon.

So for the last couple of weeks your correspondent has been sitting at home with his computer and his chess set, trying to whip up winning chances in unplayed lines that are unplayed for good reasons. Still, at least it's original analysis. Very original analysis. If it were any more original I'd be making it up as I went along.

Who'd be a grandmaster?


Friday, December 14, 2007

Bridge Too Far?

"Incidentally," wrote ejh in response to an unusual sartorial query aimed our way from chess-blog demigod Edwin Meyer, "are people really discussing smart clothing on a chess site? Is this a first?"

Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. But the world of Bridge has certainly been discussing what to wear, since players of the game have been told officially to smarten up their act, reports the BBC:
Bridge... is to get a new behaviour policy to clamp down on rowdiness and unsuitable attire.

The English Bridge Union is planning to introduce the national policy in a bid to tidy up players.

Top British and European player Tony Forrester supported the policy, saying that clothing did affect play.

He criticised men of all ages who attended tournaments "in shorts, smelly T-shirts, sandals, no socks".
Does chess need smartening up too?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

"The best game I've ever played"

- that's how Streatham & Brixton Chess Club's Alan Hayward described his win on Tuesday night in the Surrey League against Coulsdon's Marcus Osborne. And so here at the blog, we're very happy to present the sacrificial slugfest in question:

Alan also kindly provided some notes, writing of 8...Bxc3+ that Marcus "is Graded 18 points higher than me and when he gave up his fianchettoed bishop, I thought I've got a chance of winning today", and after 14...Nxe5: "There always seems to be a little bit of luck in a lot of games I win and I thought I had a good game sacrificing a Pawn , but after 15 Bf4 nxc4 I did not realise I would be 2 Pawns down"!

Which makes me wonder. What's the best game you've ever played? (And would you like to see it published on the blog?)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A logical explanation

Poets do not go mad; but chess players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers - but creative artists very seldom. I am not attacking logic: I only say that this danger does lie in logic, not in imagination.
Thus spake GK Chesterton. Was he on to something? It seems to me that there is some strength to what he says, even if it is not logic as such that's to blame, but its applicability to chess and its inadequacy in the face of chess. It's the capacity of chess both to be reducible to logic in principle and to be beyond it in principle: part of the obsessive, addictive quality of chess is in the contrast between the near-infinity of variations, on the one hand, and their simplicity, their closeness, on the other.

Everything is there. Nothing is hidden. The pieces are small in number, and extremely limited in their powers. These are exactly defined and completely understood. Nothing is hidden - potentially, everything can be found. Yet not everything can be calculated, not because it is out of reach but because it is out of human reach.

The more one reaches, the more it is out of reach: and the greater one's reach, the more this is true. The more you know, the closer you get, but the more you know, the more you realise you don't know. A little learning is a dangerous thing, but not, perhaps, quite so dangerous as a lifetime's.

If it were simply about imagination, creativity, the problem wouldn't arise: the boundaries would be non-existent, the possibilities limitless. It's precisely because the chessboard is so small and the pieces so circumscribed, that there is a problem. The logician grasps the problem and the method: and being a logician, they know that a solution, logically, is there. But as they have no way of arriving at it, it's a sequence with a beginning but no end. That's the trap: that's what brings on obsession. And obsession brings on madness.

Do enjoy the festive season.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

"Un pueblo abierto"

Last week saw Zaragoza play host to the individual championship of Aragón, and what I'd like to do is present you with some kind of report. I shall, however, not be doing so, since, in a mean-spirited action which still has me spitting blood several months after I first heard of it, the Aragonese Chess Federation decided to change its rules this year - and, in an act of official discrimination just about as blatant as can be imagined, excluded non-Spaniards from taking part in the competition.

Hence, although I live and work in Aragón, although I am a member of the Federation and pay no less for the privilege than anybody else, I am not permitted to play in its championship. I live here, but I do not belong here. I am an outsider. I am persona non grata.

This is not, as I have said, some ancient tradition, understandable but sadly in need of modernisation in the 21st century. This is new. This is a rule change made this year. Somebody had to think it up, to pass it at a meeting and to write it down, to ask what impact it would have and decide that if anybody was affected by it, if anybody was unhappy about it, it didn't matter. Somebody had to decide that it was all right to discriminate.

Note that this is not a national championship, but a regional one. It is not the championship of Spain, but the championship of Aragón. There might be a case for restricting entry to Aragonese players, for sure, though even then one might wonder if it would be more civilised, more inclusive, to include those who had been resident in Aragón for a certain period. I could understand that. But that is not the case. You can be Galician, Cantabrian, Extremeduran, Andalusian, Catalonian or what you will. You do not have to live in Aragón, which I do. That's OK. But live here and be a foreigner - and no matter what contribution you make to Aragonese life, the door is barred. And you're supposed to be all right with that.

What's the reason? Ostensibly, the reason is that the competition is a qualifier for the Spanish championship, which does have the sort of entry restrictions I mention above. Uh-huh. Except that, as everybody knows, in those circumstances all you have to do is restrict the qualifying places to people who are qualified. As happens in all sorts of competitions, in chess and other sports. You don't have to restrict entry to the whole qualifying competition. You only do that if you want to.

Why am I so angry about this? Well, perhaps you have to have been on the wrong end of discrimination to understand it, but basically, as I say, I live here. I am not transient. I moved here and I moved here in order to stay here. This is supposed to be my home. But home is a place where you belong. It is not a place where the doors are slammed against you. If they are, then you can never belong and it can never be home. And I am angry about that. I'm angry about the sheer needlessness of it and the sheer bloody stupidity involved. Why on earth should it be hard, why should it be a struggle, just to play chess?

Because chess is everyday life. It's not a difficult social issue involving housing shortages or health services or political rights. It's everyday life. You cannot bar people from everyday life. You cannot say that people may not come into this or that bar or that they cannot enter this or that shop or that they may not enter your chess tournament. And if you do any of those things, they are going to be angry about it and they are going to have an opinion about the people who do it. You exclude, you discriminate, when you absolutely have to. And not otherwise.

When I first heard about this rule change I wrote to the secretary of the Federation to say how upset I was. We then had a short exchange of emails, which, whatever its intention, made me angrier than before. It wasn't just being told that it wasn't "personal" (nor was it "personal" when the State of Alabama decreed that people should rink at separate water fountains). It was being told the following:
puedo decirle que Aragón es un pueblo abierto y hospitalario y los ajedrecistas aragoneses tambien
"I can tell you that Aragon is an open and hospitable place and Aragonese chessplayers are the same".

Now, in the circumstances, I don't know quite what to make of that. But I do know that there are words for people who discriminate and there are also words for people who say one thing while they are doing the opposite. And if this rule-change is not reversed, I am inclined, very soon, to start using them.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Chess, The Theatre, A Hospital - and, Photographs.

Remember this - The Chess Players, a chess-based theatre performance in St George's Hospital, Tooting, that ran early November? And that also featured games between Streatham and Brixton Chess Club members and the staff, patients and visitors of the hospital? Well, we not only have our First Team Captain's rather amusing account of his loss (!) to a passerby at the event, but some intriguing photographs that I'm sure will make every reader wish they'd been there to see the real thing.

First, the photographs:

And here's what happened to Captain Martin Smith:

"A random passer-by was inveigled in to playing my good self. After we had sat down he began explaining that he was writing a book on how to generate and solve Sudoku puzzles that would have unique solutions. He'd written his own computer programme and wondered how he could get a publisher. I pinched myself and mentally checked whether St.George's had a psychiatric wing. He then explained he was also planning to write a chess programme based on control of squares, ignoring tactical considerations completely (more pinching and reality check). He'd stopped active playing five or so years ago when he was with Hayes chess club graded 135 or so. He then wheeled out a pretty decent Scheveningen Sicilian a la Kasparov and out played me positionally before finishing off with some pretty back rank tactics. Smith 0 – 1 Random Passer-by."

Now then, do any captions for the photographs suggest themselves to our readers? And finally - thanks to Sarah of Lightning Ensemble for the photographs.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Anyone for 20 Seconds Chess? How about £2,000?

What do we want from a chess tournament in London? Big prizes, exciting format, proper sponsorship, an attractive venue, media-savvy website - all the kinds of things that might excite players & intrigue outsiders?

Well then, how about Twenty Seconds Chess: a one-day speed event with a first prize of two thousands pounds, consisting of group stages followed by a knockout, sponsored by Lexmark, held at Bush Hall - an ornate venue better known for hosting rock concerts?

What else should you know? Perhaps that the event was conjured up in association with the English Chess Federation - an organisation sometimes maligned for not pursuing such dynamic ventures? That more events appear to be planned, according to the website? That the 2 points for a win, half for a draw scoring system might have learnt a lesson or two from football? (As with the "FA Cup Style" pairings, one supposes.) That the event is held on Saturday 19th January 2008? That there are 300 places available to players? That in the knockout stage, four "very special guest players" join the competition?

So, how do you fancy your chances?

Saturday, December 08, 2007

The Interesting French Exchange II

Geoff Scorebook is away.

I'm happy to dispel rumours that,
(a) his canoe has been found floating in the Thames;
(b) we at S&BCC Blog have cashed in his life insurance policy and are preparing to head off to a new life in Panama.

Fear not. Mr. Scorebook will be back next week.

In the meantime, back to the French Exchange.

Often when books talk about Black being able to win against 3. exd5 it's in the context of some kind of long ... slow ... grind, exploiting every small advantage that comes along. Gurevich-Short, Manilla 1990, as mentioned on the blog a few weeks ago, is a good example of this kind of approach.

However, as Andrew mentioned in the comments to the initial post, the variation can often degenerate into a opposite sides castling and a mutual hack against the enemy king.

For example:-

Now where did I leave that Spanish phrasebook?

Friday, December 07, 2007

Knight to the rescue - the answer

Wednesday's position was taken from a correspondence game Horton-Townsend, IECG 2007, concluded earlier this week.

The answer was that the move 1...Ng5+ - 41...Ng5+, in the actual game - does not, in fact, save Black. My opponent thought it might: so did I, at first, which is why I had intended 40.Qe3 (which also wins) rather than 40.Qd6 as played.

The remarkable reason (which may or may not have been given in Wednesday's comments box by now - I'm on holiday in the Basque Country and prepared this posting in advance) occurs in the position after 40...Nf7 41.Qe7 Ng5+ 42.Kg4 Nxe6 43.fxe6! Rxf4+

Now, although any capture leads to a draw by perpetual check (beginning 44.Kxf4 Qd4+ or 44.gxf4 Qg2+) 44.Kh3!!! is an extraordinary winning move: see the game below or, better, work out the variations yourself first.

(I was particularly pleased with the win: I've now gone ten games without defeat in competitive email play and may be close to winning a tournament outright for the very first time. After something like eight years of trying.)

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Interesting French Exchange

The Most Boring S&BCC Blog Post Ever?

Three short draws in the Exchange French ...

Hort-Petrosian, Hastings 1977/78
1. e4 e6, 2. d4 d5, 3. exd5 exd5, 4. Bd3 Bd6, 5. c3 c6, 6. Ne2 Ne7, 7. Bf4 O-O, 8. O-O Bf5, 9. Bxd6 Qxd6, 10. Ng3 Bxd3, 11. Qxd3 Nd7, 12. Nd2 1/2 - 1/2

Seidman - R. Byrne, USA Ch. 1959
1. e4 e6, 2. d4 d5, 3. exd5 exd5, 4. Bd3 Nc6, 5. c3 Bd6, 6. Ne2 Qh4, 7. Na3 a6, 8. Qd2 Nge7, 9. Nc2 Bf5, 10. Bxf5 Nxf5, 11. Qg5 1/2-1/2

V. Malisauskas (2530) - Gausel. E (2485), Norway 1992
1. e4 e6, 2. d4 d5, 3. exd5 exd5, 4. Nf3 Bg4, 5. Be2 Bd6, 6. c3 c6, 7. O-O Ne7, 8. Re1 O-O, 9. Ne5 Bxe2, 10. Qxe2 Ng6, 11. Nxg6 hxg6, 12. Nd2 Nd7, 13. Nf3 Re8, 14. Qxe8+ Qxe8, 15. Rxe8+ Rxe8, 16. Bd2 Nf6, 17. Re1 Rxe1+, 18. Nxe1 1/2-1/2

You can play through these games below if you think you can stand the excitement.

It's not difficult to see why the French Exchange has a reputation for extreme dullness when it's so easy to find examples like these (I got them from MCO XIV, an Andy Martin tape from Basman's Audio Chess series, and a quick search of ChessBase respectively).

Still, over the next little while I'm going to have a go at saving the variation's honour. I've started with these games just to show I'm not totally deranged and I do understand that games in this line can easily have little content - if that's what both players want.

CJS Purdy once wrote,

"Many French Defence players fear the Exchange Variant because it has the reputation of being terribly drawish. I need not waste space on that idea, and you'll see why later on."

Well, I think idea is worth spending some time on. Unfortunately, the interesting bit starts next time.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Knight to the rescue?

White to play: Black's last move was a knight retreat from e5 to f7, attacking the queen.

If White plays 1.Qe7 can Black save the day with 1...Ng5+, e.g. 2.Kg4 Nxe6 3.fxe6 Rxf4+?

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Way To Do It...

It's Streatham and Brixton Chess Club first teamer John Carlin who is white to play in the diagram position today, pitted against Peter Taylor in our recent London League Division 1 clash against Cavendish Firsts.

See if you can find the spectacular move that effectively won the game for white, and thus helped us achieve the slimmest of victories on the night, the match finishing 6½-5½ to us. You can also play through the whole of this thumping miniature, and thus find the solution to this puzzle, at the bottom of this post.

Monday, December 03, 2007


I was nosing through Edward Winter's marvelous Kings, Commoners and Knaves the other day when I came across this rather wonderful game.

Small reward available for anybody willing to play this opening against Wood Green on Wednesday.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Old in Chess III

Short-Kramnik, Amsterdam 1993

"... in the middle of the night Short suddenly woke up and started to wonder why on earth Kramnik had resigned in the final position. His nocturnal brain-racking did not yield any clues. Kramnik's explanation the next morning was a little more helpful: 'Because I was stupid'. More amazed than amused Short kept searching for a waterproof winning method. Whether he found it, as he suggested several times, or not, as others claimed several times is only partly relevant."

Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam

"I was somewhat surprised by Kramnik's decision to throw in the towel, but I was too embarrassed to reveal my ignorance at not having seen the path to victory."

Nigel Short

New in Chess 1993/5

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Pawn squares

Although I don't have the exact quote to hand, Viktor Korchnoi once explained why he didn't play the King's Indian with reference to Soviet military tactics in the battle of Stalingrad - or possibly the siege of Leningrad, which he lived through as a boy. He compared the rush of Black's kingside pawns to the way in which soldiers of the Red Army would rush across no man's land in the face of unremitting fire, hoping that the survivors would overwhelm the enemy guns.

I was reminded of this recently when playing through a game Sengupta-Safin, Sangli 2000, while looking at certain lines in the Exchange Spanish in connection with a current correspondence game. On move 22 Black moved a pawn from c7 to c6 and thereby managed to create an unusual pawn formation: the pawn square.

If Korchnoi was reminded of the Second World War, I'm put in mind of all those squares of soldiers at the battle of Waterloo: or maybe of the defensive formation of Roman legionnaries, the testudo (tortoise) which proved so successful against everybody except Asterix. I'm also reminded a little of the famous knight square from the thirteenth Kasparov-Short game in 1993. But maybe what works with the infantry isn't what works with the cavalry.

It looks potentially very effective to me: the pawns mutually defended and lots of squares attacked. Are there any other examples of the pawn square from recent (or other) grandmaster practice? Might it come to vie with the Irish Pawn Centre in the popular imagination?

Geoffrey Scorebook Is Unwell

Unfortunately we will not have any Scorebook Notes this weekend: Geoff informs us that he went down with a nasty cold a couple of days after being caught in the rain and cannot do anything except sit in bed and watch old Foxy Openings videos. Next week, if he recovers, he is off for a short holiday in the sun (or so he says) but we hope to have him back with us in a fortnight.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Goring, Goring Arsenal

I am fairly sure that proper chessplayers do not do their opening preparation while watching the football on the box. I, however, do: why not multitask when you have the chance, that's how I see it.

So on Tuesday evening I settled down to watch the second half of the Sevilla-Arsenal game with a cat on my lap, a pocket chess set in my hand and a few useful books (notably Emms and Kaufman) within reach should the cat permit. Now I'm not so foolish to think that this is the ideal environment for studying the main lines, but I saw no reason not to have a look at the Goring Gambit just in case anybody ever thinks it's worth a pop against my 1...e5.

I'm not so good at studying openings using a book: inevitably I get sidetracked, not necessarily by the football but by asking what if? questions. Which is what you're supposed to do, actually, but the trouble is that I start asking them at the first opportunity and then never actually get on to the part where you learn some of the lines you wanted to learn. In truth the normal outcome is that I decide the variation I want to play has a big problem with it and start preferring the line for the other side.

So it was on Tuesday. The players were barely out of the dressing-room and the pieces barely set up: I was looking at the position after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.c3 dxc3 5.Nxc3 Bb4.

Now I remembered from earlier perusals that White normally plays 6.Bc4 and although 6...d6 is often played, both Emms and Kaufman recommend 6...Bxc3+ 7.bxc3 d6, on the grounds that if 6...d6 7.Qb3 Bxc3+ White can take with the queen instead.

All right, I thought, while registering the fact that Arsenal had had a penalty turned down. Suppose White plays the same game and switches his move-order to try and avoid Black's idea? Suppose the queen comes out first and White plays 6.Qb3.

Now if 6...d6 7.Bc4 and you've got the position Emms and Kaufman wanted Black to avoid. But neither of them mentions this move-order, so is there anything obvious for Black in this position? Nothing I could see, not with one eye on the telly anyway, so I started asking myself if Black had a useful alternative to 6...d6 - what might he gain by White playing the queen out so early? And after a few minutes I came up with the answer: 6...Qe7.

Now of course if White puts his f1 bishop on the desired square 7.Bc4 we have 7...Na5 since if 8.Bxf7+ Kf8 seems to win a piece. Excellent! But let's ask the question again - can White do something different? By now I was really rocking and it wasn't long before I came up with the idea of leaving the f1 bishop where it was and trying 7.Bd2! instead.

Because now if 7...Bxc3+ we can play 8.Bxc3 and then if 8...Qxe4+ 9.Be2 and surely White has compensation for two pawns with the king and queen lined up like that.

So Black probably plays 7...Nf6 and then, get in! White has 8.O-O-O!

and you have a position I'm sure Robin Haldane would love to play. Well, I thought, there's a nice bit of original theoretical work for you, and I put the set aside so that the pussycat and I could relax and watch Sevilla coasting to victory in greater comfort.

In the morning, of course, I took another look and realised that my reputation as a theoretician probably needs to rest on rather stronger foundations than a few minutes' freethinking in the company of a cat and the Champions' League.

I was, after all, supposed to be studying this from the Black point of view, and half the reason I play 1...e5 is that a lot of people like to play stupid gambits in which they give up their centre pawns for practically no compensation, provided the Black player has a bit of experience and knows how to go about exchanging off White's short-term activity.

So, among other objections, 6...Bxc3+ 7.Qxc3 Nf6 looks perfectly adequate (we should get ...d5 in rather than ...d6) or indeed 6....Nf6 with the same idea. And no doubt a short visit to the computer screen would teach me rather more about this deeply unsound variation than I actually learned while watching the television.

Still, it might, as they often write, be good for a blitz game. And it's better than spending 45 minutes watching some football match that I'm not actually all that interested in. God yes. The day when I have absolutely nothing better to do than watch the Champions' League is still some way off.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Staying Power

After my recent post on Short’s … Qb6 against Gurevich during the last round of the 1990 Manila Interzonal, it occurred to me I should look the game up in Dominic Lawson’s “The Inner Game”, an interesting, if often flawed, account of Nosher’s journey to his World Championship match with Kasparov in 1993.

I tracked down the relevant passage on pages 32 and 33,

In the last round Nigel was paired against Mikhail Gurevich of the Soviet Union, then ranked the fourth strongest player in the world. Gurevich had the advantage of the White pieces. He needed only a draw to qualify. Nigel needed to win.

The night before the game I spoke to Nigel on the telephone. He seemed strangely tranquil … Gurevich, however, according to one of his co-nationals, arrived at the board ‘with a deep sense of foreboding’.

The comes the interesting bit ...

After four and a half hours’ play, Gurevich extended his hand and offered his congratulations. ‘He behaved like a gent,’ Nigel said immediately afterwards, ‘because it must have hurt like hell.’ Just how much became obvious only later. Since that single game threw him out of the world championship cycle, Gurevich has not won a major tournament, and his world chess ranking over the succeeding three years dropped precipitately. ‘It’s strange’, Nigel mused later as we discussed the fate of Mikhail Gurevich, ‘how one game can destroy a man’s career.’

It seems reports of Guervich's death turned out to be exaggerated. The former Soviet's rating on the current list is not much below Short's (2627 as opposed to 2649). It's true that puts him at equal 100th against Nigel's 59th equal but he made it one round further in the World Cup in Russia this week. Nor was it Nosher playing in the Candidates matches in Elista over the summer. Mind you, Gurevich did end up with a bit of a spank from Leko so whether he appreciated his achievement is another question.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Double Bishop Sacrifice IV

Justin may think he's missing easy tactics, see yesterday's blog, but I've managed to blunder two queens and a rook already so far this week, and that's not counting Monday when the time I waited for my opponent to turn up was less than the actual game lasted.

A tactical exercise is in order.

Those with elephantine memories may recall that a few months ago I started a series of posts (in order one two and three) about Double Bishop Sacrifices.

I thought it was about time I got back to series. Today's game is Kuzmin-Sveshnikov, USSR championship 1973 (which I found in John Nunn’s book, Secrets of Practical Chess).

Firstly, why can White only draw if he plays Bxh7+ straightaway?

As a clue, let me tell you the actual game finished 16. Nb6 Nxb6, 17. Bxh7 Kxh7, 18. Qh5+ Kg8, 19. Bxg7 Kxg7, 20. Qg4+ Kh7, 21. Rf3 1-0

Secondly, calculate how White would have won if after 16. Nb6 Black had tried
16. … Ra7
16. … Rb8

This is all far too advanced for those of us who struggle to avoid leaving pieces en prise but I hope the rest of you enjoy it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Miss Easy Tactics! with Justin III

[Our pedagogical series in which we look at a portion of a game I played the previous weekend in which some obvious tactic is overlooked. Readers are invited to practice their skill by seeing if they can spot what was missed.]

Horton - Abos Rosico, Huesca Provincial Championship 2007. Last round, top board. Having missed a few wins on the way (which would not, as it happens, have affected the final placings) White instigated the following sequence:
1.h5 gxh5 2.g5 a4 3.g6 a3 4.Rf8 a2 5.Ra8 Ra3 6.Rxa3 Kxa3 7.g7 a1=Q 8.g8=Q.
At this point a draw was agreed. But there is something terribly wrong here. What is it?

The game is given below. (Report, in Spanish, with photos).

Monday, November 26, 2007

Deja view all over again

Strange to think that despite being widely regarded as one of the greatest players in history, Capablanca never won a match as World Champion. The Cuban won the title easily, beating
an old and ailing Emmanuel Lasker in 1921, then spent half a decade avoiding a challenge from Alekhine. Time ran out in 1927 of course, whereupon Alekhine returned the compliment and never allowed Capablanca a rematch.

Fast forward eighty years and since the end of Mexico City I, along with most of the rest of the chess world no doubt, have been eagerly awaiting the Anand-Kramnik showdown. Expectations are high, not only because of the inherent interest in such a contest but also due to ongoing doubts around legitimacy of a claim to the crown based on tournament rather than match success.

(Aside: The Red Hot Pawn forum has a lengthy debate/discussion/row about this - though frankly if you can bother your arse to read all twenty pages of it you're a better man than I. Alternatively visit the BCM Blog for a conspiracy theory involving Kramnik, a piece of kitchenware and a real trophy held hostage until Anand wins a head to head challenge.)

Last Wednesday, ChessBase reported an interview with Kramnik from Moscow's Sport-Express Daily. When asked about the forthcoming match, Vlad the former Impaler, said the not entirely reassuring:

"I can say that there are no problems on my side. I have signed the contract and sent it off. I know that Anand is having discussions with FIDE, but I do not know the details. On this subject, you should ask the FIDE leadership and Anand himself."

Worse news followed in yesterday's Guardian when Leonard Barden confirmed:

"Fide's planned Anand v Kramnik championship showdown, scheduled for autumn 2008, has already run into problems. A German sponsor is lined up, but Anand has objected to Germany as a venue on the grounds that Kramnik's manager is German. The Indian also wants draw odds as holder in place of Fide's wish for speed chess tiebreaks if the classical games finish level.

Not too surprising then, given the history of our game at the highest level, but nonetheless depressing.

Hopefully somebody somewhere will bang a couple of heads together and get this match on. Here's hoping we won't be waiting six years for it to happen.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Old In Chess II

Death of a Magician

"We phoned each other quite often and a few days before I was to leave for the Olympiad in Manila, I received a letter from Misha. It went as follows:

Dear Genna,

I am sorry to say that, for the moment, I cannot do the story on the tournament which I promised you - I have been feeling very poorly. Monday I will be treated in Moscow in another of my perennial appointments with the doctors. Probably there will be an operation soon, but I will have plenty of time and facilities for writing. I wish you and your entire, least russified (let's put it this way) team every possible succes.

Warm regards,


This was the last I heard from Misha. But before he was admitted to hospital he played another blitz tournament in Moscow, beating Kasparov and claiming third place behind Kasparov and Bareev, but ahead of Smyslov, Dolmatov, Vyzhmanavin, and Beliavsky.

Some days later, on June 28, 1992, Mishal Tal died in that Moscow hospital."

Genna Sosonko, New in Chess 1992/5

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Scorebook Notes IV

[English grandmaster Geoff Scorebook writes a regular column for the Streatham and Brixton blog. Geoff is well-known as a hardworking professional and a regular on the European club and tournament circuit.]

Awful weather we've been having, and it seems to be raining more on some of us than on others. Last weekend, while everybody else was in Halifax playing in the British rapidplay, I thought I'd see if there were easy pickings elsewhere so I went to play a weekend congress elsewhere to see if I could trouser a few quid to pay the mortgage. Not exactly ideal tournament conditions, a school classroom, but nobody cares what the tournament hall was like if you're out of there at the end of the day with the winner's cheque in your pocket.

Anyway, I should have known things weren't going to go exactly to plan when I saw there was another GM among the competitors, but never mind, half a loaf is better than no bread and bread is what we were both there for. All weekend it was ratcheting down outside and we felt like we were wading our way through the games too, never really getting into form but against club players it's not so important and come Sunday morning we were both on 3/3 and drawn together for the penultimate round. I had the Black pieces but like a gentleman he went straight into the Exchange Variation and we'd swapped off half the pieces and agreed a draw before most of the players had finished writing their names on their scoresheets.

Well, that left us several hours to go before the fifth round and not much to do, with it raining so hard, but sit in the analysis room and rink tea. When the draw went up for the last round I was downfloated, playing someone on three points, a chap with a Scandinavian name, Danish or Norwegian or something, presumably over here for a holiday or something. "Are you enjoying our English weather?" I asked him, but he just sort of nodded back so I guessed his English wasn't very good. Nor was his rating, so I was looking forward with some optimism to at least a half share in the first prize. It was a bit noisy - because the rain was bouncing off the roof - but I put that out of my mind and after just a few moves I had taken control, my rooks on d1 and e1 and his king still in the centre.

And then, while I was leaning over the board, I thought I felt something drop on my nose. I looked up, but I couldn't see anything, so I took out my handkerchief and wiped my face, then leaned back over the board. And then it happened again. A little splash, on my nose. I wiped myself again and took another look up to the ceiling: and although I couldn't see anything I realised that the roof must be leaking. It was quite an old school and presumably they couldn't afford to make repairs: and the rain, torrential as it was, had found a way through.

Maybe this happened every time it rained heavily and whoever was underneath just had to get out of the way, I thought, so I leaned back in my chair. I looked around to see if anybody else was affected, but as far as I could see nobody else had even noticed: not the other GM, already two pawns up and wandering around the hall waiting for his opponent to resign, not even, apparently, my opponent, who was massaging his skull so hard I thought he was trying to put his fingers through it. He probably wouldn't have noticed if I'd poured a bucket of water over my head, let along a couple of raindrops.

Three, even. I saw another drop. I must have been leaning directly over my queen rook: it fell right into the middle of its turret. Plink. I looked up at the ceiling again and then down at the rook. Up and down again. Up and down. Plink. There it went again. A second drop, oddly adjacent to the first rather than right on top of it. Maybe the wind took it on the way down, I thought.

It was still my turn to move and I couldn't think about what was going on on the board at all, except for the square d1 and the rook that stood on it. I looked up and down again. I couldn't really be hearing a plink, it couldn't be that loud. Don't let yourself get distracted, you'll start to imagine things and then you'll start missing things on the board. I clutched my hands to the side of my head to try and keep it in place. It's all right, I thought. You're better, don't let it bother you, just play a move and get up and have a coffee. So I just reached out played my pawn to h3, hit the clock, wrote the moves down, and I was just going to get up when another one came down. Plink. And as I got up out of my chair I thought I saw another.

"You all right?" asked my grandmaster colleague, who came up beside me at the refreshments table. "You look like you've got St Vitus' Dance or something. Your head's going up and down like Andy Pandy."

"No, I'm fine", I said. I should have told him about the drip, but I didn't want to look like I was making excuses, what with him winning easily and my game still to be won. Wait until we're done and then talk about it, that's the professional way. "Just a crick in my neck", I lied. "Looked like more than a crick", he said. "Looked like somebody was putting an electric charge through it. Which would be bloody dangerous outside, in the wet and everything", he laughed. I shrugged and muttered something about it being my move, though both of us could see it wasn't. But I went back to my board and sat down. There was now a thin covering of water across the top of the rook and the next time a drop fell I definitely heard a plink.

I had to do something about it, but when I looked around, the tournament controller was nowhere to be seen. So I spoke to my opponent and said, "could we move the table, do you think?" and pointed to the flooded rook. But he just shook his head and said "please, to no talking please" while waving his hands in front of his face in a gesture indicating that I should stop. Plink. Another drop in the top of the rook.

I could have tried moving the rook to another square, but then it would just have dripped on the board instead. Never mind. It was my opponent's turn to move and his position was uncomfortable and he looked more uncomfortable still. This wasn't just because of his position, though: he suddenly tutted very loudly, got up and reached into his pocket, took out some tissues and a biro - which, I could see, had leaked. He had ink all over his hands.

I got out of my chair to offer him some assistance, but, automatically moving towards him, I went too close to the board and my hand flicked into the rook and it toppled over, falling leftwards and jettisoning its load on to the b1 square. He tutted again, much more loudly this time, and before I could replace the rook, he'd picked it up and put it back on the d1 square and wiped the water off b1 - with the dirty tissues into which the pen had leaked. Which left a nasty, dark smudge all over the previously pristine white square. He tutted again, looked at me, shook his hands about a bit more, made a move, pressed his clock, and hurried away to the toilets to go and clean himself up.

That was my chance: the top board game had finished now, so I moved that table away and shifted ours so that the drop fell somewhere to my right, not on the pieces, not on the board and not on me. When the chap returned there was more tutting and gesturing, but he had to sit down and got on with the game: both clocks were running short of time and in his hurry he made a couple of very poor moves, exposing his king to a run of checks which brought it out into the open on the queenside. He was getting agitated, smudging his scoresheet with his still-inky fingers and starting to take the same interest in the drip to my right that I had taken when it was happening right in front of me.

I was short of time as well, having spent most of what I had left calculating another series of checks and seeing if there was a mate at the end of it - and there was. Bishop takes pawn on a5, check, the king takes it, now queen c7 check, king to b5. Queen b7 check, king to a4 and now the rook goes to a1 check, and when the king comes to b3, hiding behind his b4 pawn, there's queen d5 check and mate in a couple of moves. Six moves to go before the time control, and a large crowd round the board. Here we go, I thought, give them some entertainment. So I sacrificed the bishop, allowing myself a little flourish of the wrist for the spectators. He took it, queen check, king move, queen check, king to a4 as I'd expected and I slid the rook along the first rank, reached out to press the clock and...... had got stuck. I'd not moved it to a1 at all. The ink smudge had trapped it. It had got as far as b1 and then stopped: the felt had got caught up with the ink and only my hand had travelled the last inch or so. The rook was still on b1. It wasn't check at all. It wasn't check. I still hadn't pressed my clock and my flag was about to fall. I started to wonder whether I should try to adjust the rook to a1 anyway - but he didn't wait, either for the adjustment or the clock, but his queen came over from g6 and took the vulnerable rook, with check. I was a rook and piece down for nothing. I was out of time. My king had a flight square on h2. I wondered whether to bother moving it.

As I was wondering, my flag fell. Everybody started clapping and congratulating the Scandinavian. My grandmaster colleague shook his had and said "well played, Peter". "Thanks very much", my opponent replied. "I always thought I was in with a chance." I signed the scoresheet and sloped off. I saw no reason to hang about: I'd finished just out of the prizes. So I made my way straight to my car: getting absolutely drenched as I did so.

Who'd be a grandmaster?


Friday, November 23, 2007

Fast one

In the two and a half enjoyable years I lived in Brixton (which is why I always insist on saying the club's full name rather than abbreviating it) I was offered many, many things for sale just outside the Tube station. Some of which were actually legal. But not once was I ever offered chess.

I'm a very long way from South London now. But reading the Brixton forum of the Urban75 website yesterday, I saw the following posting, made on Wednesday night:
There's a man outside the tube challenging people to games of speed chess. He says he's raising money to go and see his sick dad in Jamaica. He also says he's Jamaica's number one speed chess champion, even if it's all a load of cobblers - the chess is good
On further investigation he turns out to be the bloke in the film below, seen in Edinburgh during the Festival in 2006.

So - have any of our readers seen him? Is he still there? Has he raised enough money to go home and see his ailing dad?

Thursday, November 22, 2007


Believing in the interconnectedness of all things as we do here on the S&BCC Blog, today's post is directly linked to two recent articles.

This position is taken from Kasparov - Anand, Reggio Emilia 1991, the tournament discussed last Sunday. Gazza has just played 24. Rh4 , "A nice move that tickles my queen from its ideal position" as Anand puts it.

Anand then goes on to say of his reply 24. ... f4,

"I simply played this instantly. I did not calculate anything, but felt that 24. ... Qf6 should be losing. In fact, it is very close to it. After 25. Qe3 White had an incredible attack. The point is that without my queen hanging around in the centre I get no chances to counterattack his king. For example with Rac8, Rc2 followed by Rc8 and perpetual. All these lines I miss if I withdraw my queen. 24. ... f4 is simple and natural."

It seems to me this is a pretty good example of John Nunn's concept of DAUT in action(Don't Analyse Unnecessary Tactics - as you may remember from this post).

Anand reasons he needs his queen in the centre of the board to facilitate a potential counter-attack against White's king. Why bother, then, to calculate any variations when her majesty retreats? Sure the might hold on but by following Nunn's advice you avoid two unpleasant scenarios:-

(a) losing time analysing a move that doesn't work so you have to play the alternative anyway
or worse,
(b) over looking a tactic so you end up playing a move that turns out to be trash.

Still, you have to have a lot of faith in your intuition to play this way, especially when you're playing the World Champion and he's got a pair of rooks thundering up the h-file.

Nice one Vishy.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

What did I miss?

On Saturday, for whatever reason, the Scotland v Italy match was live on terrestrial television in Spain, kicking off at six o'clock our time. This posed a problem for those of us who, while desirous of watching the match, were playing in the eighth round of the individual championship of Huesca Province. Which kicked off at four. (It's not a new experience for me: this game took place on the same day as the World Cup Final and extended sufficiently far into the first half of that game for me to miss both of the goals.)

How to play properly while nevertheless keeping one eye on the clock? I solved the problem, as you might imagine, by playing not very properly at all. Ineptly, to be honest, which ineptitude started with a passive fourth move - game at foot of article - which, had it been replaced with 4....c5, might have led to a quick win for Black. (The line features in John Cox's book on d4 deviations, which I really ought to have remembered, since I reviewed that book for Kingpin.) Anyway, at about the time the match started my opponent had let slip a promising early middlegame. By half-time, I was a couple of safe pawns up and hoping for a resignation and home for the second half.

As it was, my game limped on for almost another hour, and after it was over I rushed to a bar, just in time to catch the last couple of minutes, and the couple of thoroughly dubious refereeing decisions which led to Italy's winner and Scotland's elimination. Dubious, but not, perhaps, quite as dubious as my play - and attitude - over the preceding dozen or so moves. Since, in between his resignation and my departure, my opponent had time to show me a move he thought would have drawn the endgame, even though he was two pawns down.

But would it? I'm not so sure, but I've not been able to find a clear winning line. Can you do better? The diagram at the top of the column shows Faro Perella-Horton, Huesca 2007, if White had played 37.Rd2-b2 rather than 37.Rd2-h2. The question is as simple as the answer is not: is the position a draw?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Dangerous Game

I scrape part of my living by trying to teach some English to Spaniards, mostly young. There's a level of interest in the language which, when you're used to an English attitude to languages (where if you can say "je m'appelle Justin" it's considered an achievement) is hard to believe. Here, in a town of around fifty thousand people, there's around a dozen private schools of English, catering for all ages, and an official Escuela de Idiomas which teaches its students French, English and German. There's also a couple of bilingual primary schools (where a large proportion of the lessons are given in English - or French) which is, I believe, twice as many as there are in the whole of England.

Despite this, there are far fewer English books in bookshops and libraries than you might expect (though rather more than there are Spanish or French books in most English bookshops and public libraries). And some of those that are available are written specifically for the purpose: short books in English of a certain standard, these standards being defined pretty clearly. Personally I always advise students not to bother with this and to try and read a proper book instead - I tend to recommend Thomas Hardy or Graham Greene - but they are used and read by a lot of people.

Which is why I came to be looking at Dangerous Game in one of Huesca's public libraries. It's obviously been used for many years in teaching English, since not only does the edition I am looking at date from 1992, but is a reissue of a book first published in 1977. What you can't see from the cover reproduced above - which is a different edition to mine - is the picture on the cover of my copy, a picture which depicts not just a chessboard, but a snarling cat. Naturally this combination attracted my attention and I borrowed the book to investigate it further.

It's the story of a writer, living alone in his house, his wife having died years before, who plays a weekly game of chess with his friend Louis. Meanwhile he suffers daily from visits from a poltergeist. The spook eventually kills him (though not before the cat makes its appearance) and this story takes place over ten chapters. Each one of these is prefaced by a diagram showing a chess game - no particular game, as far as I could see - in progress.

The contents page shows the position after Black's first move. Each chapter then shows the position after each succeeding pair of moves and on the final page there is a big diagram showing the final position, in which White has delivered mate. (After that, there are comprehension questions for the students.)

The diagrams go as follows:

Now what's remarkable about this game is that despite the players being obviously of no great ability, White possesses the combinational vision to find a queen sacrifice which forces mate, and which, as far as I can tell, does so even if Black plays the rather stronger 11...Kc6 rather than 11...Kb7 allowing mate in one.

He takes a bit of a risk, though, since Black can win on the spot as long as he doesn't greedily take the queen at the very first opportunity. All for the love of the game, I suppose, though why the White player suddenly turns into Adolph Anderssen, having played the first few moves like Joe Bloggs, I can't imagine. Maybe he suddenly turned on his computer, which wouldn't have been much of an option in 1977, but might have worked in 1992?

It's a mystery. I know who we could ask, though. According to the copyright page:

The Publishers would like to thank Dr Jonathan Mestel for acting as a chess consultant.