Saturday, 19 December 2009

A Heavyweight Encounter

Well, it’s been a few months since I posted now. Time flies when you are having fun! My wife and I went to South Africa for our honeymoon for a couple of weeks and had the most amazing time. Of course when you get back from such an amazing adventure it’s easy to feel a bit jaded and restless. Between that and the build up to Christmas I simply haven’t got round to posting. The longer it’s been the harder it is to break back into it. Now that I’ve written this post I can feel the momentum building again!

The main impetus for this post was to report on the epic showdown between my team, Hebden Bridge A and Huddersfield in the Calderdale League. Both teams came into the match unbeaten. Indeed, neither team had even lost one game! As you may remember me relating in one of my earliest posts, Huddersfield are the current champions, the strongest team in the league on paper and the favourites to win again this year as a result. I gave us a chance of upsetting the established order at the beginning of the season, but thought it would be difficult for us.

We played the match on neutral territory in Halifax as Huddersfield’s usual home venue wasn’t available and this possibly gave us a tiny psychological advantage as I’d guess that “fortress Huddersfield” has not been breached in the Calderdale league for a number of years.

As we were the “away” team, we played with black on all boards and were marginally out-graded on every board except the top board (where both players had the same grade).Unusually for a fixture at this level the game on board one was the first to finish and it finished in our favour. Our top board seems to have Huddersfield’s top board in his pocket at the moment. He scored 1.5/2 against him last season and I’d not be surprised if he repeats or improves on this result again this year. It would certainly be fair to say that Huddersfield’s board one needs to revise his choice of openings if he is to try and buck the current trend. He played a Four Pawns Attack against our man’s Benoni and (as I’ve tried this line against him myself on several occasions) I can vouch for his ability to absorb the pressure and then kill you on the counter attack. 0-1 to Hebden Bridge.

Next to finish at the other end of the match was board five. Huddersfield’s captain equalised the match score by taking advantage of a positional slip from our player fairly early in the opening. White won a pawn and maintained a positional bind that our man couldn’t break. The rest was about 2 hours of torture. 1-1

The remaining three boards went right to the very death and, as the tension in the room started to become really acute I managed to salvage a draw in my game on board 4. I had gained a pretty good position out of the opening and begun to start looking for ways to press for an attack when I over looked a defensive resource and lost a knight for a pawn. The only other compensation was that I had a good initiative and some pressure against my opponent’s king which meant that I was pretty much obliged to just “go for it”. My opponent defended accurately but in fending off my attack he lost another pawn. It came down to an end game where I had a knight and four pawns against white’s bishop, knight and two doubled pawns and I was able to hold on for the draw and even overlooked a possible winning chance (see below). So with two games to finish it was still level pegging.

In the position above, I'd been hanging on for a while and by now was fairly confident I could hold for a draw. "Oliver" has just played 46.Bc3 to which I replied (pretty much straight away I'm ashamed to admit) with Ne4. Of course had I thought for a few minutes I might have found:

46...g5+! 47.Kxg5 Ne4+ 48.Kf4 Nxc3 winning back the bishop and maintaining a pawn advantage. It must be said that the resultant position looks hard for black to win but I could have had fun trying!

Next up our board three took a full point with a win on time. He had the better position when the game ended and had put his opponent under pressure for a long period. This had translated into a big time advantage on the clock which proved decisive. Suddenly we were up one point with one game to finish and looked like we might pull off a massive upset.

On board two our captain had been holding on in a tricky position for a long time. In a double rook ending Huddersfield’s man had a space advantage but it looked very difficult to exploit. Right up until the end it looked like our captain’s rear guard action would get us the draw we needed but sadly it wasn’t to be. White managed to get a passed pawn and it was all over. Final score 2.5-2.5!

What all this means is that Hebden Bridge A have a tiny advantage in the league based on our better “board count” in all matches (we have 19 wins to Huddersfield’s 16 over 5 matches played each).However, before the half way point is reached we still have to play our B team (who are third in the league) and Huddersfield play Halifax (who are bottom) so that points gap could be reduced to 1 point if we only win 3-2 and they win 5-0, which is entirely plausible.

So, if neither side drops any points for the rest of the season it could all come down to the last match in April when we will be at home and playing the white pieces. That is a fairly mouth watering prospect. Now we need to make sure we reach that match unbeaten!

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

An Equine Tribute

My wife’s pony died recently. As a child she had pestered her parents for no short period of time before they had given in and bought her and her older sister each a horse. The white pony was named, “Cream Puff” and for the last 33 years she has been a much loved companion and faithful friend.

My wife hasn’t seen so much of her trusty stead since she flew the nest but every time we have been up to visit her mother a part of the ritual of arriving at the house has been driving past the field where the horses live and shouting a loud “Hello” to them. Spending time with them during our stays was as natural a sitting down to dinner. A couple of weeks ago, when we got married, my mother-in-law presented my wife with one of Creamy’s shoes as a good luck charm so it was all the more poignant for her to loose her friend just a week later.

I’m not much of horse fan myself but I can understand that a special bond must exist between horses and their owners and even though I can’t empathise, it doesn’t seem right to let Creamy’s passing go unmarked on this blog. The horses I know best are on the knights of the chess board so maybe the appropriate thing to do is dedicate a game to her. Of course I’ve picked a game in which a galloping knight plays the starring role. It’s not much of a way to celebrate Creamy’s long years and happy times but I’m afraid it’s all I have to offer.

Sharing the Burden of Responsibility

It’s time for another Calderdale League update readers. A week last Monday (the 28th), Hebden Bridge A played away to Belgrave in Halifax. Meanwhile, at the same venue our comrades in the B team were playing Courier A, who we had beaten in our first match of the season. (I may well post separately on this match as I saw one very interesting game that deserves some coverage.)

The A team made heavy work (although we were all playing black) of defeating Belgrave 3.5-1.5 with all the games being tightly contested for a long period of the evening. In the end we won on board 1 and board 5 and drew the other three games. What is pleasing to see so far is that everyone in the team has made a good and pretty much equal contribution to our first two successes. Boards 1,2,3 and 5 have all scored 1.5 from 2 matches and board 4 has made two draws.

My own game on board 3 was drawn. To tell the truth, I should have won it fairly comfortably. I chose to develop sensibly against a Reti system which transposed into a Catalan/Slav type position when white elected to play d4 instead of e3 or b3. Having succeeded in gaining a fairly comfortable positional advantage (see diagram on the left) I managed to avoid a tempting piece sacrifice after a long think.

This position (my 15th move) was critical for me. I had been looking for ways to get at white's king and one idea I had looked at was a piece sacrifice starting with 15....Bxg3 and following 16.hxg3 up with 16....Qxg3 17.fxg4 Qxh4 when the white king is exposed and I should pick up a third pawn (g4 or d4) for my piece. I tried to calculate the variations that might arise after Qxh4 but the plausible continuations were too numerous to manage. In fact, during analysis after the game my computer found a tactical flaw in my plan which I hadn't uncovered which is 18.Rxe8+! Rxe8 19.Be1 protecting the knight on h4 and maintaining a two piece advantage! I'm can't be sure my opponent would have found this but I'm glad I didn't give him the opportunity.

Ultimately I realised that if I played the sacrifice I would have to rely on my gut instinct and a positional justification. After further reflection I decided that in this case the positional justification wasn't strong as I already had a tangible positional advantage. White's structure is badly damaged and his pieces are not all placed on good squares. I therefore resolved to try and find a different method of capitalising on this even though retreating the bishop on g4 would give white some time to re-group.

I'm sure that playing 15....Be6 was the right choice here and my opponent said after the game that he would have been happy if I'd played 15...Bxg3. We very quickly looked at the position that would have arisen after the short forcing sequence and I wasn't wild about the resultant possibilities.

Despite the fact that this crucial decision took me quite a long time to make I'm glad that I reached the right conclusion. Often in the past I have found that I am unable to make objective decisions about retreating pieces from attacking outposts if I believe that an alternative direct method is available to me, no matter how risky. I need to be more aware of this tendency in my play and try to avoid making decisions based purely on my desire to attack and maintain the initiative.

Having selected the right continuation here I managed to maintain some control of the game and picked up a pawn in the middle game and another one as we transposed to the end game. The diagram below picks up the stor of the endgame.

I should take some comfort from having made the correct decisions at key points in the opening and middle game but it was disappointing to have missed out on a win when it was staring me in the face on a few occasions.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

A Solid Start

Hebden Bridge A made a good solid start to our new league season with a 3.5-1.5 victory over Courier A (from Halifax) last Monday (the 14th of September). As the match was a home fixture our team played with the white pieces and won fairly comfortably in the end against the team that finished just behind us in last year’s campaign.

It would be fair to say that Courier’s team was weaker than it had been last season as they’d lost one of the best players from their line up. Never the less, it was a good result for us. This was emphasised as our B team (also playing at home) did very well against the champions (and favourites for the title again in my view) Huddersfield, losing by the narrowest of margins, 3-2. This result suggests that Huddersfield may not be capable of the high board count I was afraid they would achieve again this season and gives us grounds for optimism provided we can keep winning or matches.

Hebden Bridge B are just about the strongest I’ve ever seen them with a good level of playing strength right through to board 5. They may well be a factor in the season this year if they can wheel out the same team for every match. It’s good to see our B team looking so healthy after having gained promotion from the second division last season.

My game in the A team’s match was not of the most stupendous quality. I played well in the opening and capitalised on some provocative play from my opponent. However, having gained a good positional advantage I didn’t handle his subsequent attempts to complicate the situation as well as I could have done and was fortunate to see him miss a few good opportunities.

Not one of my best games for sure but it’s nice to start the season with a win. Incidentally, this game continues a fairly rich seam of from that I’ve struck with the white pieces in the closed variation of the French Tarrasch. I was planning to post an entry about lucky opening variations at some stage and this one is certainly a strong candidate for me. Keep an eye out for more on “lucky openings” in the near future.

Friday, 11 September 2009

A Shiny New Season is Dawning

As a new chess season looms large in Calderdale can I find fresh grounds for unjustified optimism? Of course I can! Show me an “over-the-board” (OTB) player who doesn’t feel a surge of excitement about the untold stories that lie in wait over the coming months and I’ll show you a dead man. The very fact that OTB is seasonal in nature means that it provides a very welcome adrenaline injection for club players. No matter how much online or correspondence chess you play you never get the same buzz that you get at the start of the season. I’m sure every amateur sports person would testify to getting the same feeling, no matter what their sport.

So, what should I expect from the new season? Well, last year in the Calderdale league my team, Hebden Bridge A, finished second in the first division and I made third place in the Calderdale Individual Championships. Frankly, I’d be delighted with a similar performance this season. In the league, the champions, Huddersfield A, are almost certainly going to be the strongest team and will probably win again this year. The season will probably boil down to our two matches with them and I give us maybe a 1 in 5 chance of winning either of those ties. I can’t see anyone else taking points off them so we’d need to win all the rest of our matches (certainly not a given) and probably match their board count as well. Hebden Bridge A are capable of winning the league but it will be very difficult indeed.

From an individual perspective I was pretty happy with my Calderdale Championship result last year and I know from having played in it for 3 years now that it is a very open tournament indeed with the top 15 to 20 players all capable of beating each other on their day. I’ll be happy if I’m in contention again this season come the final round in March. The area where I want to make big improvements is in my league performance. Last season I did no better playing board 3 in our “A” team than I had done in either or the previous two seasons playing on board 1 for our “B” team and I was in the same division for each of those seasons! I need to tighten my game up this season which will probably mean deploying a slightly more reserved opening repertoire. Last season I simply lost too many points to players graded below me. In addition to this I lost twice in our matches with Huddersfield and that cost us dearly we lost at home by an odd point and drew away. If I’d drawn both games we’d have drawn and won those matches. On such fine margins will the success of our season be decided.

The new season starts tonight with Hebden Bridge A, playing Courier A at home, a tough opening fixture. I’ll be posting a journal entry on this blog for every game I play in Calderdale so if you want to have the pleasure of watching my suffering unfold as it happens do tune in regularly.

A Very Happy Anniversary

I know that September the 11th is not the best day to publish a blog post entitled "A Very Happy Anniversary"! The selected title isn't designed to provoke controversy. The simple fact is that I should have posted this item 2 days ago when it would have celebrated the third anniversary of today's game. Sadly, I struggled to finish the commentary on time and now that I try to think of an appropriate alternative title I can't come up with one that conveys the right sentiment without seeming equally inappropriate in some subtle way or other. It seemed better to just go with what I had and recognise that the title isn't a good one for the date. I hope readers will forgive me.

As I cast about in my game books to try and find a suitable effort to put on this blog for my first game posting I realised that the game below was played on the 9th of September, 2006, almost exactly three years ago. "What convenient timing" I thought. It also happens to be one of the best over-the-board games I’ve played and it therefore must qualify as suitable first game to publish.

This game was my first league match for Hebden Bridge B in the Calderdale League, Division 1. We were playing against our own “A” team and, as I was playing on board 1, I was, naturally, playing the clubs highest rated player.

At this point I should ‘fes up to a couple of factors that swung the outcome of this game in my favour before we even sat down to play. The first is that I was new to the club and therefore very few players knew anything about either my opening repertoire or my style. The second was that I had managed to get some inside knowledge on my opponent from a colleague and, as I also knew that I would be playing black, I had the chance to prepare for this game with a fairly good idea in my mind about the direction that the game would take.

Play chess online

Despite the fact that I had the advantage of my opponent in terms of preparation for this game, I still regard this as one of my very best efforts as I don’t think I really made any errors or missed any opportunities here. It isn’t very often that I can say this about any of my games!

I hope you enjoyed this one. Feel free to post any thoughts or improvements you find.

Who is Intermezzo?

Before I start posting games and comments I guess that I should probably share some personal chess history with you. I came to chess fairly late at 17 years old but (with some excellent tutelage from a family friend who spotted me getting battered by a chess computer whilst visiting our house over the Christmas holidays and subsequently offered to teach me how to play better) I became firstly proficient and then addicted!

Serious competitive play began when I went to university and I’ve been playing league chess (with the occasional congresses thrown in) ever since. A few years ago I started to play chess online and I now use the excellent correspondence web site, Redhotpawn (RHP), to try and keep my game as sharp as I can year round.

As you will see in future posts, I’ve chosen to use my “nom de guerre” from RHP on this blog simply because I feel more comfortable publishing my games without the antagonists’ real names against them. I do this more as a mark of respect for my over-the-board opponents (who may not want their names on the internet) than any personal desire to remain anonymous.

My next post will be a game with some commentary and hope it will bring readers some entertainment.

Friday, 4 September 2009

By Means of an Introduction

Ok, so I hope that my profile (top right) will accurately set your expectations as to the tone of voice you will hear coming from this tiny corner of the blogosphere. In terms of content you can expect the following types of post:

  1. Self-indulgent and wallowing analysis of my own (lamentable) performances as my chess season progresses both online and over-the-board
  2. Some “special guest” posts providing decidedly absurd, and hopefully, amusing, commentaries on games from the “anals”
  3. Randomly themed offbeat strands of chess related conversation posted with the aim of gathering opinion and provoking amusing “tete-a-tete"
  4. Links to any chess humour that I stumble across on the internet and am not clever enough to have thought of myself

If I can dream up any other creative ways to help you, the reader spend more time thinking about chess than you reasonably ought to then I will. Always remember, the basic premise here, “if chess is heroin then this blog will be my methadone”. In other words, reading this blog won’t be as much fun as playing chess but hopefully it will be diverting enough to take your mind off the fact that you aren’t playing it right now. Also, remember that like any good group therapy session it will work much better if you all join in!