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.

Monday, November 19, 2007


"There are games in chess won by the same style, same manner, same number of moves and even same moves. There are doubles. I think any chess master has his own experience with these doubles."
- Ljubomir Kavelek, quoted in James Plaskett's, Playing to Win

Recently I wrote a lengthy account of a game I won in a particularly pleasing (i.e. unusual) manner several years ago.

Compare that game with another I played against the same opponent 18 months later:-

In the original post I forgot to mention the similarities between my game and
Leko-Gurevich from the Elista Candidates matches in the summer, so I thought I'd make amends here.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Old in Chess

Today I intend to honour the Speedy Malc* approach to chess journalism by dedicating the Sunday S&BCC blog to some really old news.

I was flicking through a New in Chess from 1992 the other day when I found a report on the recently completed tournament in Reggio Emila, Italy. It was an incredibly tough event with all ten participants rated in the world’s top fourteen. Anand, then a rising young gun, won it ahead of Kasparov and Karpov. Ivanchuk, astonishingly the second highest rated player in the world back then just as he is now, was also there.

[bonus trivia question: without looking it up, try to guess the other six players]

Dirk Jan ten Guezendam:

The funny thing with Anand is that among the experts there is absolutely no consensus about his true potential. His results are impressive and he may have beaten the World Champion twice in a row [that's a reference to Kasparov of course. Anand beat him at Reggio Emilia and at Tilburg immediately before the Italian event - JMGB ] … but for many it is difficult to believe that someone who plays so easily and so loosely can be made of the stuff that World Champions are made of.

Two former World Champions then gave their opinions on Vishy’s potential,

Mikhail Tal gets twinkling eyes when he talks about Anand’s formidable talent, but Anatoly Karpov cannot get too excited. ‘He is very talented and this was a great success, but I still don’t see a future World Champion in him.’

While Kasparov was quoted as saying,

'In a match it would be quite easy to get him trapped in different openings. But he’s got a good knowledge of chess, he follows it. He’s working.’

There's lots of talk in the article about Anand challenging for the title in 1996. I wonder if any of them could have guessed it would be another 15 years before Vishy would actually take the crown.

* Rather to my annoyance Speedy Malc is doing better than normal today in that although he's reporting the end of the European Team Championships, which ChessBase, for example, covered nearly two weeks ago, he is at least not writing as if the event is still in progress.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Scorebook Notes III

[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.]

I tell you what, I need a drink. I won't be having one in my local for a while, though, not after last night.

I was struggling with a problem in the Slav - I lost a game with it at Hull and as a result I finished just out of the prizes. The more I looked at it, the less I thought I understood it. I could play this move, but then the other guy plays that and he's got a draw if he wants it. I can play another move instead, put then he's got a nasty little check, like the guy played at Hull. So maybe I have to play my first idea instead. So I look at it for a few minutes before remembering I've already gone through that, he's got that drawing move, so I have to play something else and then he's got the check and....

....round and round it went. Wouldn't get out of my head. I tried to think of a different move but all my mind would do is switch between the two alternatives I'd tried already. If A, he goes B. If C, he's got D. So I play A but then B. Driving me up the wall.

So I thought I'd give it a rest and watch the telly for a bit, but I still couldn't clear my mind enough to take a fresh look at it, even watching A Place in the Sun which ought to be enough to empty anybody's head. OK, I thought. I'll go for a walk in the park, that's what Botvinnik liked to do. A nice walk and when I come back I'll have a mug of hot chocolate and go to bed and try again tomorrow.

So off I went, round the corner and up towards the park. It wasn't a bad evening, if a little cold, but of course I'd forgotten that the park closes early when the nights draw in. Well, I never really knew, to be honest, I don't go out a lot. So I wasn't sure where to go to carry on walking and just at that moment, two things happened: the wind got up a bit, and I noticed a pub on the corner, the Chequers. Too cold to stay out, I thought, and besides, when did I last have a pint? With Keith and Simon and their lot at the 4NCL a couple of months ago....more than a pint, I'm sure, if only I could remember it. I can remember the quick draw the next morning and the sponsor being none too pleased. Next time, he said, could I maybe manage to get more moves on the scoresheet than I had drinks on the bar tab? Fair enough, I mumbled. Which is all I could do, to tell the truth.

The next 4NCL weekend, a few days ago, I stayed on the wagon just in case anybody was watching, so I thought, looking at the pub, it's about time I had another one, so in I went. It was mostly empty, a couple of blokes playing darts and another two or three watching a match on the telly and that was about it apart from the barman. "Pint of best", I said, and just as I ordered, I noticed that they had a chess set behind the bar. I shouldn't, I thought. You've had enough for one evening. Just watch the match and drink your pint and then it's home for hot chocolate and a good night's sleep. But it was too late, I said it automatically: "could I borrow your chess set?" And the chap handed it over, I took it over to a table with my pint and set up the pieces.

There were only thirty-one of them, plus a draughts piece to take the place of a missing black pawn, but that was all right because in the variation I had been thinking about a couple of pawns go off early anyway. So I went through the moves from the starting position, off went the draughts piece and when I got to the position I'd been looking at....yes! Maybe there was something! Playing through the earlier moves, instead of staring at the same position for hours, suggested a sequence that might just be promising. If I maybe tried....

"Are you winning?"

It was one of the blokes who'd been playing darts: him, and a dog, a little terrier thing who didn't seem to be on a lead. I don't like dogs, never have done, certainly not since I got bitten on the leg when giving an open-air simul at the Lambeth Country Show: some hippy's dog seemed to think I was threatening his master when I reached out to shake his hand. "Sorry mate, normally he only does that to policemen", the bloke had said as he took me, hobbling, to the first-aid tent while his friend kept hold of the dog, saying "good dog, Spliffy!" rather too enthusiastically for my liking.

So me and dogs don't get on and I was too busy looking at the dog, in case it went for my ankles, to reply to the bloke's stupid question. Not that I hadn't heard it a million times before, or a million and one times now, as he asked it again:

"Are you winning?"

I could have said something to the effect that this was the funniest thing I'd ever hard, truly brilliant and more than that, truly original, even better the second time he said it, and was the gentleman a professional comedian, but something told me that he mightn't take it well and neither might the dog. So I said "well, I don't know really".

"You don't know", he said, gesturing with his head towards his mate with a sort of come-and-watch-this-we've got-a-right-one-here sort of look. His mate joined in:

"If you don't know, why not ask the bloke you're playing? The Invisible Man." He came over, leaned over the table from my side and looked ostentatiously into space, then waved his arms about on the other side of the board as if trying to see if anything was there.

"Nothing!", he exclaimed. "He must be playing the empty chair", pointing as he said it to the chair on the other side to mine. "Must be an unusually talented chair."

"Dunno what it's doing in this pub then", said the first man. "Either that or this bloke isn't very good. Can't even beat an empty chair."

I wasn't going to stand for that. "Actually, I'm a grandmaster", I said.

"Oooooohhhh!" said the first man, and everybody started laughing. A grandmaster. He's a grandmaster. Can't beat an empty chair, but he reckons he's a grandmaster."

I wasn't going to rise to the bait, so I just shrugged my shoulders and turned back to the board. But they weren't going to leave me alone. "You're a grandmaster, you say", said the second man. "That's a really good player, yeah?"

"Yeah", I agreed.

"Well, if you're so good, how come you don't even know if you're winning?"

I could see that no answer I gave was going to do me any good, so I didn't give one. But that wasn't the end of it. The bloke with the dog started on me again.

"All right then, Mister Grandmaster", he said. "You reckon you're a grandmaster. Well I tell you what. Play my dog."

His mate cracked up. But the first man held his hand up for silence. "No, seriously. Play my dog. Take him on if you fancy your chances. We'll believe you're a grandmaster if you can beat my dog."

"That's a good idea", said the barman. "Him against the dog. And then the chair can play the winner!" Now everybody cracked up, except me, and I could hear people saying things like "winner stays on" and "my money's on the dog".

I didn't know what to do. I could see I was going to have to make a fool of myself one way or the other, whether I agreed to play the dog or refused to. Meanwhile the dog had already bounded up into the chair opposite. "Oh, the chair and the dog can play in consultation then", I said brightly, but this time nobody got the joke. Or nobody wanted to laugh at my jokes.

So I put the pieces back in the starting position, the draughts piece out of the way on a7, and I put pawns of either colour in my hands. Feeling like the whole world was looking at me and laughing, I got up and held my hands out in front of the dog. Much to my surprise he jumped onto the table, licked my left hand and went back to his chair. I opened my hand and there was a black pawn in it.

So I had white. Everybody in the pub had gathered round the table. I sat down again. What should I play against a dog, I wondered. The Orang Utan? The Bird's? Better play something sensible, I thought to myself, God alone knows why. So I reached out and played the d-pawn two squares forward as I normally do.

"Nice one", said one of the spectators. "You've got him now", and his friends laughed again. The dog leaned forward and hung his tongue out of his mouth. There was silence except for the football commentary in the background. I had no idea what the dog was going to do. Knight f6? I found myself wondering whether to play a Tromp or just put a pawn on c4 as usual. Then I realised, this is insane. You're wondering which part of your opening repertoire to use against a dog.

I waited. The dog stayed exactly where he was. Nothing and nobody moved for at last a couple of minutes. But eventually I turned round and looked at the dog's master. "Is he going to play or not?" I asked him.

"Of course he's not", the man said. "He's a bleedin' dog, isn't he?"

More hilarity among the spectators.

"Well, I win then, don't I?" I said, and started to get up.

"Hang on a minute, mate", said the man. "Has he resigned?"

"Has he what?" I shouted.

"Has he resigned?" asked the man, not raising his voice. "Has the dog resigned?" His friends were beside themselves with laughter. "He's not in checkmate, is he? Even I know that. So he can't lose unless he resigns, can he?"

"He could lose on time", I said, realising, immediately I spoke, the obvious reply. "But you haven't got a clock, have you?" he said, triumphantly. "So you can't win on time either, can you?"

"Perhaps it's an Invisible Clock", said his mate who'd been looking for the Invisible Man, and repeated the routine, waving his hand about to try and locate the clock, before looking under the table to see if he could find it there instead. The spectators were doubled up. They started slapping one another one the back, and one even slapped my back as if I, too, was enjoying the joke.

"Shall we call it a draw?" the dog-owner said. "No point in staying here all night. Well, obviously there is", he added, "but not to play chess. We'll call it a draw. Can't say fairer than that. Come on Freddie", and he walked away. I looked back at the dog, only to find that while I'd been arguing about the result, he'd leapt back on the table and had started drinking from my pint. Before I could complain, Freddie jumped down onto the floor and followed his master out of the door.

"Is he going to sign the scoresheets?" I asked under my breath, but everybody else had gone back to the bar, still laughing, and saying "grandmaster!" to one another, which made them laugh even more.

Well, I thought, it's not been a total disaster, at least there's that new idea in the Slav I thought I'd spotted. I'd thought I'd spotted....but what had it been? I couldn't remember. It had gone. I was going to try and run through the moves again, but everybody was pointing at me and laughing. I got up and ran out of the pub, using a different door to the one the man and his dog had gone out of. I kept on running till I got home, slammed the door and went to bed without even having my hot chocolate first.

Never again. I still can't remember what it was. Every time I try, as soon as I move the white pawn to d4, all I can think of is that stupid dog.

Who'd be a grandmaster?


Friday, November 16, 2007

Ronan Bennett's other diagram

If you're anything like me, once you'd discovered that the final diagram in Ronan Bennett's Zugzwang isn't zugzwang, your likely reaction will have been to check the other "zugzwang" diagram, i.e. the previous one on the same page, to see if there is anything wrong with that one too. So here it is: The caption reads: After 50.a4. Zugzwang. Black is running out of moves.

Until I'd taken the trouble to examine the other diagram correctly, I took this one as being straightforward enough. Black has everything covered: he has the f-pawn adequately protected and White's central pawns are in no position to advance. Black's pawns, however, are in no position to move: and it is this sad circumstance that is his downfall, as it means that one or other of his pieces must move away from the f-pawn, or from f8 allowing the queen to move to that square and subsequently take on f7 (or worse). It is zugzwang: Black loses because of his compulsion to move.

Or is it? Is it really? I don't know that it is. Because I can tell you for certain that this is a won position for White whoever has the move.

I started looking at the position and wondering, what if it was White to play and he did play 1.d4? Black must play 1...Qxe4 which abandons the f-pawn anyway. So, 2.Qxf7+ Kd8 3.Qe6 and what's happening here?

Obviously Black can take the d4 pawn, but only at the price of allowing the d6-pawn to be taken, with a check that enables White to play a further check putting his queen somewhere like c6 that defends the remaining pawns. Or Black can play his queen onto f4 (and subsequently g3 or h2) and hope to defend the d6-pawn.

But in fact, he can't, because beginning with the paradoxical 4.Kh7, White can gradually manoeuvre the king closer to the Black pawn and eventually take it. The variations are far too plentiful for me to show them, as one might imagine where queen endings are concerned, but I am quite sure that eventually, we will reach something like this with White to play:

Now is that ending won for White? I don't know for certain. I do not possess the knowledge or experience of queen endings (or the tablebases) which would tell me. However, I am pretty sure that it is, it's certainly a good practical winning try and I'm sure if I reached that position in a game I think I would expect to win. Moreover, it's some distance away from the impression I previously had - that White, in the original game, could make progress only because it was Black's turn to play.

But there's more. There is a better line, one I confess I did not find myself and probably never would have done. (You might, in fact, like to try looking for it yourself before finding the answer below. I imagine it would make a very good endgame exercise - but only, I think, for the advanced pupil.) From the diagram, White to play, what is the best move?

What did you find?

My computer found 1.Qh6!!

Now there are rather fewer lines than before and they are rather more definitive:

(a) 1...Kd8 2.Qf8 exchanges queens and wins ;

(b) 1...f5 2.Qg6+! followed by 3.exf5 promotes ;

(c) 1...f6 2.Qg6+ Kd8 3.Qg7 Qe5 4.Kf7 wins the f-pawn. Now Black can win the a-pawn but White will win the d-pawn in advantageous circumstances, e.g. 4...Qe8+ 5.Kxf5 Qe5+ 6.Kg6 Qe8+ 7.Kf5 Qxa4 8.Ke6 and wins, or 6...Qg3+ 7.Kf7 Qxd3 8.Qf6+ Kc7 9.Qe7+ Kc8 10.Qxd6 and wins ;

(d) 1...Kd7 2.Qf8! Qg5+ 3.Kxf7 and the point, very hard to see in the original position, is that when White's king is checked he can put it on the eighth rank and then interpose with his queen.

I would love to provide you with an online play-through to demonstrate these variations: as it is, you'll have to use a board! But I think they demonstrate that in the initial position, even if it is White's turn to move, he still wins.

So - is it the compulsion to move, in the position above, which is the cause of Black's defeat? I really don't know. It is true that, having to move, he is obliged to dismantle his own defences. As opposed to the other diagram, where he had no defence in place, he does have one here - but, having the move, he cannot maintain it.

Now on one view, and it's a view I probably agree with, that is zugzwang. Let us have a look at Bennett's definition again:
In chess it is used to decribe a position in which a player is reduced to a state of utter helplessness. He is obliged to move, but every move only makes his position worse.
On this definition, zugzwang merely requires that a player's compulsion to move compels him to lose. It is his move, and he must hand over his position to his opponent when he does: that is enough. Nor, incidentally, does it say that he must lose as a result of his self-inflicted disadvantage: he must just "make his position worse".

But there is a view that implicit in the concept of zugzwang is something else - that were it not the player's turn to move, he would not be forced to lose. Such as is the case in this simple position, for instance:

Black to play must move 1...Ke8 or 1...Kc8, both of which lead swiftly to defeat - whereas if it were White's turn he could make no progress, other than to inflict stalemate.

Clearly the first position is not of that type. Considered simply as a position, it makes no difference who is to move, White wins either way. But considered as a game position, the player to move must do himself harm.

To me, that's zugzwang: at the very least, it's an element of zugzwang, and I think it's more than that. But I can imagine a purist taking a different view.

Sometimes chess is all about facts. Checkmate is a fact, and a drastic one at that. But sometimes, in chess, it depends. Sometimes it depends what you mean. Is this zugzwang or is not? Does it depend what you mean by zugzwang - and if so, what do you mean by it? Is there any true zugzwang in Zugzwang?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

JB's Favourite Moves II

If, as I suggested a while ago, our choice of openings tells us something about ourselves, it must be equally true for our favourite moves.

We've had quirky openings (from Justin and Tom), and the odd bizarre king move, but as often as not, our favourite moves so far have involved a good deal of wildness (or is that randomness? - see here here and my own first choice here and decide for yourself).

One of my all time favourite moves, on the other hand, is really quite mundane - nothing more than a quiet offer to exchange queens. It's not the move itself but the context in which it was played that continues to impress me nearly two decades on.

In the last round of the 1990 Manila Interzonal, Nigel Short found himself paired as Black against Mikhail Gurevich. The situation was clear, if not particularly rosey for our hero – while the former Soviet only needed a draw to qualify for the candidates matches, Nigel had to win.

Not exactly tossing caution to the wind, Gurevich played into the Exchange variation of the French Defence and after,

1. e4 e6, 2. d4 d5, 3. exd5 exd5, 4. Nf3 Bg4, 5. h3 Bh5, 6. Be2 Bd6, 7. Ne5 Bxe2,8. Qxe2 Ne7, 9. O-O O-O, 10. Bf4 Re8, 11. Qg4 Bxe5, 12. Bxe5 Ng6, 13. Bg3 Nd7,14. Nd2 Nf6, 15. Qf3 c6, 16. Qb3

they reached this position.

Now the idea behind 16. … Qb6 is apparent, even to me. If White captures then … axb6 is, in effect, a developing move because it opens up the a-file for the Rook. If White doesn’t capture then the Queen is stuck doing nothing on b3.

It seems Black is slightly better in this position and … Qb6 is not, in many ways, a difficult move to find. Still, to offer an exchange of queens in a position where the pawn structure is symmetrical and both sides have castled on the same side yet you have to win at all costs … that shows balls of steel I think.

In the pub after the recent Metropolitan tournament Andrew cited fighting spirit as the key weapon in a chess player’s arsenal. I’m sure he’s totally right, and it’s the character Nosher shows in slowly grinding down his opponent after the Queen swap that keeps this game right up there as one of my favourites of all time.

Perhaps it’s because I know, deep down, that I don’t have that prepared-to-go-to-any-lengths will to win myself that I admire this game so much.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Stop Press!

The Evening Standard isn't a newspaper I would generally recommend for very much in particular - but, today's issue is an exception.

Because the chess column, I'm told, features a win by a certain chess club's President... So I'm off to pick up my copy now.


Here's a scan for those who missed it:

And the solution also:

(Click the images for larger versions.)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Don't Analyse Unnecessary Tactics

Tom and I have been discussing tactics recently. I told him I was trying to eliminate tactical sequences from my games as much as possible – and he told me it was not possible to be a strong player without a thorough grounding in the tactical elements of the game.

He’s right of course but what I had in mind is encapsulated in this quote,

“ analysis is an error-prone activity. Overlooking one important finesse can completely change the result of the analysis. If it is possible to decide on your move on purely positional considerations then you should do so; it’s quicker and more reliable.”
John Nunn, Secrets of Practical Chess p.21 Gambit 1998

In short, Don’t Analyse Unnecessary Tactics (or DAUT).

For a long time I didn’t understand positional chess at all. If I wasn’t playing for a direct attack against my opponent’s king I felt uncomfortable and never really knew what to do. I just bluffed my way through games waiting for opportunities to win material through tactical tricks.

I remember distinctly the game that changed my mind. It was played in the Surrey League against a player who has been rated in the 150s for many years (and still is).

I'll put the game up to play through first then go through my thoughts during the game in some detail below.

I was White and the game opened,

1. e4 e6, 2. d4 d5, 3. Nc3 Nf6, 4. Bg5 Be7, 5. e5 Nfd7, 6. Bxe7 Qxe7, 7. f4 a6, 8. Nf3 c5, 9. Qd2 Nc6, 10. 0-0-0 b5, 11. dxc5 Nxc5, 12. Bd3 Bb7

I’m not sure castling queenside is the most accurate idea but I was playing for a direct attack, possibly with a Bxh7+ sacrifice or perhaps a pawn storm with h2-h4-h5-h6 and maybe hurling the g-pawn forward too. Unfortunately for me, Black has avoided this possibility through the simple expedient of leaving his king in the centre for the time being.

Not knowing how to proceed, I remembered the suggestion that if you can’t think what to do you should improve your worst placed piece (who originally said that btw?). The trouble was all my bits seemed to be on good squares already. Eventually, completely happy with everything else, I decided that my best bet would be to bounce my knight around to occupy d4.

13. Ne2 Nb4

A small piece of tactics – one of the very few in the entire game. Of course, if White takes the knight on b4 he loses his Queen to … Nxd3+. Not a bad trap to set in itself but the trouble is White can get out of it by playing a move he’d like to anyway and in getting his king of the semi-open c-file he shows Black has just lost time.

14. Kb1 Nbxd3, 15. cxd3

I was much happier now and at this point I realised I had a ready made plan to follow. I was going to stick a knight on d4, try to exchange all the heavy pieces along the open c-file then win an ending of knight against bad bishop. I also saw that if I left my pawn on d3 it would cover the important e4 and c4 squares, preventing Black’s knight getting into my position.

15. … Rc8, 16. Ned4 g6

I was already set on my plan so it took me a few moments to work out why Black played this move. He wants to prevent me playing f5 but as I’ve explained that wasn’t on my agenda at all. In any event, I really think Black should have castled then gone for counter play with … f6 at some point. He spends most of the game trying to dig himself into a solid bunker but he leaves himself without any active play at all – just the sort of position I most prefer.

17. Rc1 Kd7, 18. Rc2 Na4, 19. Rhc1 Rxc2, 20. Rxc2 Rc8, 21. Rxc8+ Kxc8, 22. Nb3 Kb8, 23. Qc2 h6, 24. g3

Evidently with his last move Black wants to move his queen to the c-file without allowing a knight to g5. He’s been, and continues to be, very compliant with my plans but if he hadn’t swapped rooks he’d have left me the open file all to myself.

At this point I wanted to swing my other knight to d4 but I didn’t care to give him any chance of messing me around on the kingside by playing his queen to h4. I knew I could always return to my long term plan because it was so firmly embedded in the fabric of the position. As a result I didn’t feel the need to rush things (a crime of which I’m often guilty).

24. … Qc7, 25. Qxc7+ Kxc7, 26. Nfd4 Kb6, 27. Kc2 Nc5

So I’d achieved the first part of my plan and I remember sitting there wondering how I was going to force him to exchange knights when he suddenly played this move. Perhaps he thought the knight on the rim was dim but I was very happy getting to my knight v bishop ending.

Incidentally, the game’s second tactical line is here.

28. Nxc5 Kxc5, 29. Nb3+ Kb4??, 30. a3+ Ka4, 31. Nc5+ wins the bishop on b7 so Black can’t penetrate with his King and I can exchange knights in comfort.

28. Nxc5 Kxc5, 29. Nb3+ Kb6, 30. Kc3 a5, 31. a3 Bc6, 32. Nd4 Bd7

Black played this move instantly which surprised me somewhat. Surely he’s not worried about me exchanging my knight for his horrible bishop (something I’d never have done). Whatever the objective merits of the king and pawn endgame, I can’t believe Black has more practical drawing chances there than in the minor piece ending.

Incidentally, I played the knight to d4 because, aside from being an obviously good square, I wanted to avoid Black playing …d5-d4, sacrificing the pawn to open up the line for the bishop. I thought this might be a good practical chance for him – even though I assume the ending must be lost. At least he gets some play that way though.

33. b4 Be8, 34. Nc2 a4

Black offered me a draw at this point and, perhaps trying to bluff me that he was unconcerned about the position, wandered off to get up a cup of tea. I was going to turn him down instantly but then suddenly decided to pretend to consider the offer as he left the table. I liked the idea of him going to the kitchen and coming back all the while hoping I’d accepted the draw only to be deflated when he got back to the board.

In fact I’d already worked out the winning plan. I’d played 33. b4 to block the queenside then I was going to work my knight around to g5 to attack h6. He would have to play …h5 and then I could re-route the knight to g5 to attack f7. Fool proof. The only problem was I couldn’t work out the knight’s tour sequence to get my horsey from d4 to where I needed to be. After a few minutes of failure it suddenly occurred to me to start at g5 and work backwards – and as soon as I’d had the thought the solution came to me in a flash.

First though, there’s time to improve the position of my king. There’s no need to rush – as is demonstrated by Black spending the remainder of the game just shuffling his king and bishop back and forward.

35. Kd4 Kc6, 36. Ne3 h5,

I had time to start really enjoying myself at this point. Back at move 33 I’d initially intended to get around to f3 by playing Ne3-back to c2-e1-f3. When I got here though I decided it would be prettier to avoid going back to a square the knight had already visited. I was really getting into the knight’s tour theme.

37. Ng2 Bd7, 38. Nh4 Be8, 39. Nf3 Kb6, 40. Ng5 Kc6, 41. Nh7 Kb6, 42. Nf6 Bc6

And now I just need to lose a tempo. I chose h4 because I liked the idea of all my pawns being on dark squares. Perhaps h3 might have been more cautious though.

43. h4 Bb7, 44. Ne8 1-0

Black resigned because after White plays Nd6 the pawn on f7 is going to fall.

So there you go. A very satisfying win that contained only a couple of tactical sequences – neither of which actually happened in the game. OK, my opponent was rather helpful in that he chose to try to sit back and try to construct an impregnable defence rather than seek active counter-play but this game convinced me I had some positional ability after all.

The game remains one of my favourites. It’s particularly pleasing to look back at a more or less full board at move 15 then see the game unfold more or less entirely as I’d wanted it to – even finishing off with an ending position of the type I’d envisioned some 25 moves ahead of time.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Elsewhere in the Blogosphere...

Four interesting posts on four very different chess blogs caught my eye recently.
  • Firstly, the BCM Blog draws our attention to this petition calling for "One Member One Vote" at the ECF as a means to reinvigorate English Chess. The petition's initiated by Peter Sowray, who has got some interesting things to say. For instance:

    "I've been an official of the ECF for over a year now and I've never come across an organisation where it's so difficult to get things done. Walk into any ECF meeting and you think you're attending Nitpickers Anonymous.

    "If we're serious about reversing the decline [in English chess], it's going to take a lot more than the efforts of a few individuals. We must get the Federation working more effectively and encourage more people to get involved.

    "But who's going to participate unless his or her views are valued. Enfranchisement is the key. One Member, One Vote."

    Make sure you read the comments over at the BCM blog, too, before making your mind up.
  • Meanwhile, over at The Closet Grandmaster, they've been debating and voting on the question of whether a FIDE title is equivalent to a University Degree. This quote in particular caught my eye, although I won't add as to why: "There is no comparison in terms of difficulty between getting a gm title and getting even a PhD degree. Being an academic, I have met so many idiots finishing PhD degrees that the comparison sounds just plain stupid."
  • And over on the new blog of Barnet Chess Club, the question of when to resign or not has been raised once again. No comments yet - but the blog is little known, so do give it a visit and have your say to help them get going.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


A couple of days ago, ChessBase reported that a player in the Dutch Chess League (a team captain no less) has been caught using Pocket Fritz during a match. His game was declared lost and he has now been banned for the remainder of the season and the next two years.

This reminds me to two things:-

(1) I once, during a London League match, saw Stewart Reuben recording his moves on a PDA rather than writing them down. I've no idea what program he was using and I'm not suggesting at all that he was using a chess engine (I've no doubt he wasn't) but it did strike me as strange at the time. I was very surprised his opponent did not object to this - I certainly would have done.

(2) During a chess tournament many years ago, a friend of mine was playing a junior player who kept disappearing when it wasn't his move. Deep into the middle game, my friend made a move, pressed the clock and went off in search of the junior to tell him it was his turn.

My friend found his opponent in a room nearby. He was standing next to a board with their position on it. In fact the move my friend had just played was already on this board. This room was full of a bunch of other young chess players and ... one of the arbiters of the tournament.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Scorebook Notes II

[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.]

Hello all. I'm going to put in some serious preparation for Hastings this year - last year I was only just out of the prizes - and it looks like I might have some extra time to do it as I've just lost a very time-consuming but very lucrative private pupil whose mother withdrew her from classes just yesterday. Poppy's her name, but Princess Pushy, I called her, though not to her face. Not to her mother's either. PP, perhaps, for Poisoned Poppy.

PP attends a posh exclusive school, much more expensive than the one I went to, and has private horse-riding lessons, private tennis lessons, private Italian lessons, and - until this week - private chess lessons too. She's not very good, not very good at all, and had a bad habit of knocking over all the pieces whenever she didn't understand something I was trying to explain. "Stupid game", she would pout, "who plays it anyway? Only the sort of moron who doesn't know what clothes to wear and couldn't afford them if they did". Then she'd fold her arms and glare at the board for ten minutes while I took as long as possible to set the pieces back up again, trying to look at my watch, without her noticing, to see if our time was nearly up.

Still, I managed to teach her en passant and some mating patterns and even an opening or two and she seemed to have started to enjoy it when she began winning games against her schoolfriends. If you can call them friends: PP would always call them "that little bitch Melissa" or "that dreadful Annabel", at least when she was talking about one of them on the phone to another. If she started enjoying herself, she would get chatty and start telling me about how she hated violin lessons and the names of all the pop stars that her mother didn't know she liked.

Anyway, there was some sort of school championship and she'd reached the final, and she thought she had the cup in her hands already. The game was played last Monday afternoon and on Monday evening the phone rang and it was her mother.

"Mr Scorebook", she began, in the sort of voice that sounded like she was addressing a board meeting after a poor set of financial results. But she normally talks like tht anyway, so I wasn't too worried. "Hello, Mrs Pendragon", I said. "Did Poppy win today?"

"No, she did not", she said, as she might have addressed the board member who was going to be blamed for the losses. "And she's very upset: she's been crying in her bedroom for hours and I've had to cancel her violin lesson. I want you to know that I hold you responsible."

"Oh, poor Poppy", I said, trying to sound worried about the girl rather than my income. "What happened?"

"You happened", she said. "Your advice happened and it happened to be wrong and she happened to lose the final and I happen to be the one who has to pick up the pieces".

"Ah," I asked, "which advice exactly?" Had she moved too quickly, I wondered, or touched a piece and then refused to move it? She'd done that a few times in lessons and never really understood that it was a rule that applied to everybody. "I don't care what the stupid World Champion has to do", she'd say. "It's my house and I can do what I like."

"It was the bishop", said Princess Pushy's pushy mother.

"And the act....?", I started to say before remembering who I was speaking to. "I mean what actually about the bishop?"

"You told her it was stronger than a knight. But against Josephine today she had a bishop for a knight and she lost. So your advice was wrong, wasn't it?"

Oh, God, I thought. It's probably not worth my trying to explain, I thought. I'd better try anyway, I thought. "Look..." I began, only to be cut off with a "don't 'look' me". I could see what was coming but I've never been one for early resignations so I thought I might as well give her her money's worth while I still had it.

"Mrs Pendragon, it's a general rule", I said. "Sometimes the bishop is better and sometimes the knight and sometimes they're about the same. It all depends."

"Depends on what?" she demanded, her voice reaching the sort of pitch that suggested she'd made her fortune as an opera singer rather than from her husband's plastics company. "Depends on the individual circumstances", I unwisely replied and then unwisely added: "it's not so simple."

"Simple?", she screamed. "Simple? Are you calling my Poppy simple?" It was like a verbal earthquake laid on especially for me. "So sometimes it's better and sometimes it's worse and sometimes it's neither and it all depends on whatever suits you?" By this time I was holding the phone at arms' length. "Mr Scorebook, you're worse than the blasted divorce lawyers and twice as expensive. You're a charlatan, a total charlatan and I don't want Poppy to listen to you any more. Your contract is terminated." And so was the phone call - before I could point out that I didn't actually have a contract and she still owed me for the last two lessons.

So that was that. And now I've got just a little more time on my hands and rather less money in my pocket. Hey ho. Who'd be a grandmaster?


Friday, November 09, 2007

Ronan Bennett and the curious case of the missing zugzwang

I've been reading Ronan Bennett's novel Zugzwang (Bloomsbury, 2007) for a review in a future Kingpin. Hopefully I shall be reviewing it in conjunction with Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union - since the two novels share, in chess, a major theme - provided the latter item, almost as late in arriving as the average issue of Kingpin, ever reaches me. (I don't know. However slow the post in the old Soviet Union, I still reckon the Chabon might have travelled faster between Dnepropretrovsk and Minsk than it has between England and Spain.) My thanks, therefore, to Jon Manley of Kingpin for allowing me to use, in this posting, material provided for use in his magazine.

Writing for a chess magazine, the aspect of the books that must concern me most is their chess content: how chess is presented, how it is explained, whether it seems to me accurate, whether it seems to me to communicate to the reader what chess is and what sort of a struggle one undergoes when playing it. And perhaps to see how a novel, in which chess is depicted, is read by somebody with a good understanding of chess.

But in the case of Zugzwang, chess is not only depicted, it plays a sizeable role in the novel: indeed, it provides its central theme, which is accurately and usefully defined by the author:

Derived from the German, Zug (move) + Zwang (compulsion, obligation). In chess it is used to decribe a position in which a player is reduced to a state of utter helplessness. He is obliged to move, but every move only makes his position worse.
Thus can be described the situation in which the novel's chief protagonist, the St Petersburg psychiatrist Otto Spethmann, finds himself as the plot unfolds. Despite his many travails, including a spell in prison and several attempts on his life, he is, nevertheless, occasionally able to pursue a game of chess with his friend, the pianist Reuven Kopelzon, a game in which the theme of zugzwang plays a decisive role. According to Bennett, who writes a Guardian chess column jointly with Danny King, "the game bears a remarkable similarity to King-Sokolov, Swiss Team Championship, 2000" - a small inexactitude, as it happens, since there are two Sokolovs among top-level chessplayers and it is therefore conventional to append their distinguishing initial, in this instance A for Andrei. But it is a very minor error. It doesn't misinform or mislead.

The same cannot be said, though, about some of the diagrams that accompany the novel, showing us the closing stages of the game. Two of these were spotted by the journalist Stephen Poole, who reviewed Zugzwang for the Guardian:
unfortunately near the end the publishers have allowed two of the chess diagrams to become decoupled from the positions stated in the captions.
I give one of these below, taken from page 226.

It is captioned: After 46...Qc7. Can Spethmann win the all-important f-pawn?

As can be seen at a glance, the queen is not on c7 but stands on a different square entirely. Moreover, if the reader has been following the game, all the pieces save the Black king will seem misplaced - which is probably because the diagram actually appears to show the position after 44.Qg7! The other diagram to which Poole refers, on page 196, is - for my money - even worse, claiming Black has just moved, even though his king is actually in check, delivered by the white queen. The queen, for its part, is unprotected and on an adjacent square, having apparently placed itself en prise for no obvious reason.

I say "at a glance" advisedly, because that is how easy it is to see that the diagrams are wrong, and how easy, therefore, it should have been to put them right. One must be fair: it is not trivially simple to get a diagram right, as I have found out to my cost more than once on this very blog when I have had to correct a diagram after publication. Even in professionally-published chess books, errors in diagrams are far from unknown. But diagrams with explanatory captions, which must surely have been seen by writer, editor and proof-reader, in a respected publishing house - yet simple errors remained uncorrected? It's not good, to put it at its mildest. I think it matters, too - it is as if a map were included labelling England as Scotland and Scotland as England, or if a photo of Harold Wilson were to be captioned Charles De Gaulle. It is an error of that order.

Still, as I say, these errors have been pointed out at least once in reviews. But to my knowledge, no reviewer has yet drawn attention to the strange claim that the second of two diagrams on page 261 shows Kopelzon in zugzwang - when plainly it does not.

The caption: After 52.Kg7. Black is in zugzwang. Whatever Kopelzon does, he will lose the f7-pawn, and with it the game.

The position is at least correct, and the second part of the statement is as well, but the first, very obviously, is not. The cause of Sokolov/Koplezon's defeat is not his compulsion to move, nor does that compulsion oblige him to relinquish the defence of anything that is currently defended. Because the f-pawn is not, as it stands, defended: or put another way, it is attacked twice and only defended once. No other piece can come to its defence, nor can it save itself by moving. It is already lost. If it were White's move he could proceed to take it, though in fact there are faster ways to win, one being to exchange queens (after which either d4+e5 or Kf6 will do the job) and another being to take the d6 pawn with check and then exchange queens.

But there is no zugzwang. It is just a won position. It is a position in which zugzwang plays no role at all, a position in which the concept of zugzwang is of no more relevance than the idea of the fork or the theory of the superfluous piece.

Zugzwang it is not, so why label it as such? Anyone who does not play chess and yet tried to understand the idea of zugzwang from the diagram and its caption would either fail entirely to do so, or would gain a false understanding of what it is. Anyone who does play chess will do well, I think, to confine their response to the raising of an eyebrow.

Chess is difficult. It is difficult to play well, difficult to understand, difficult to explain. It is therefore difficult to explain many concepts in chess to people who do not play. This is so even if we neglect the major problem that to try and explain may oversimplify the processes described, or prove patronising to people who are already familiar with them. It's hard, and maybe more than hard: it may be a dilemma admitting to no proper solution.

It cannot, however, be right to present examples which are simply wrong. Which purport to demonstrate a concept which simply is not present in the example presented. At best, they can only confuse the reader. At worst, they sow the suspicion that the concept is not understood by the very writer who is expounding it.

In a novel which is built around this very concept, this is particularly unfortunate. It is, however, easily remedied. One trusts that all the errors mentioned here will have been put right when the paperback is issued*.

[* = edited to add: apparently it's already been issued, see comments!]