Sunday, 28 November 2010

The sweatshirt of victory!

It’s old, it’s jaded, it’s a bit dirty, it’s certainly not fashionable and it’s not even that warm anymore. Yet my grey sweatshirt has been my lucky charm so far this season. I haven’t yet lost when wearing it and on Wednesday night I collected the latest piece of evidence to support the argument that this garment is my lucky charm. Having lost two games in a row I came back into form with a really nice win and I was wearing the sweatshirt.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not particularly superstitious and I normally laugh along with everyone else when I hear stories about sports people who believe that certain rituals performed before or during an event will help them to succeed. Sure, I’ve had the occasional “lucky pen” that has carried me through a streak of games and of which I have idly thought, “I’ve won the last four games writing with that pen” before promptly losing the fifth in horrendous fashion.

No, this is different. This run with the sweatshirt has actually started to influence my behaviour. For example, when I play for my other club in Leeds I normally go to the matches straight from the office. In seasons gone by I would have gone in my work clothes but this season I’ve started to take a change of clothes with me to the office so that I can change before I go to chess club. Ostensibly, I tell myself that this will make me feel more relaxed and comfortable at the board and that might be true but the reality is that the first item of clothing to get packed into my bag is the sweatshirt. To be totally honest, I’ve even thought twice about laundering it if I think it won’t be washed and dry in time for the next fixture. This is deep-seated behavioural change!

My current job role brings me regularly into contact with information analysts who produce performance indicators and so I’m only too aware of the potential pitfalls of seeing “trends” in data that isn’t comprehensive enough to support your thesis. Knowing this only too well then it is at this point in the season that I feel I have played enough games to start doing some statistical analysis of my performance with and without the sweatshirt.

The graph below plots my approximate rating gains and loses after each of my games so far this season. These results are all from competitive games and include a couple of rapidplay results.

I think this chart clearly shows that my performance with the sweatshirt is much better than without it. This Wednesday’s game gave me the strongest proof yet. After a mini-slump of two defeats in a row (admittedly to very strong players who I’d at least expect not to beat) I bounced back with a the very nice win below against a player rated marginally higher than me.

This is my first win with the White pieces since last season!

So, what next for the Sweatshirt of Victory? Well, I have a match tomorrow and I intend to wear the garment for that. Having made this crackpot theory public part of me hopes that I wear it and lose just so that I can free myself from the prison that I have now created for myself.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Has anyone seen our chess team?

This week was Division 2 week in the Calderdale Chess League. John Kerrane brings us a report on one of the last fixtures in the summer individual knockout as well as news of the 'D' team's home fixture. But first, has anyone seen our 'C' team? Pete Rawlings' men were due to play away against Todmorden 'C' on Monday night but it would appear that they did not! All the games were defaulted according to the League website. If anyone finds our 'C' team please return them to the Trades Club on Holme Street.

Now for John's report which appeared in this week's Hebden Bridge Times.

On Monday evening, the second semi-final of the Calderdale Chess League Summer Individual KO Competition was decided at Hebden Bridge Chess Club, between Dave Wedge and his son Matthew. After a close endgame, Matthew found himself in zugzwang – the only moves left to him all led to disaster – and resigned. The final of this summer competition will be an all-Hebden Bridge affair between Dave Wedge and Martin Fairhurst, and with luck, we may get it played before Christmas!

At the same time, the club’s training team, Hebden Bridge D, were playing at home against Halifax B, and found themselves outclassed by the visitors, going down ½ - 4½. The only bright spots for the home team were Dan Crampton’s draw in a crazy game on board 5, and Paul Dearden’s fine play on board 4 before he succumbed to his opponent’s greater experience.

The individual results were:

Hebden Bridge 'D' - Halifax 'B'
D. Pugh 0 - 1 A. Dawson
J. Todd 0 - 1 B. Wadsworth
B. Fernley 0 -1 J. Nicholson
P. Dearden 0 - 1 D. Summerskill
D. Crampton ½ - ½ J. Gilhooly
½ - 4½

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Howell wins again in Halifax

Today I’m posting a report from Adrian Dawson about the British Rapidplay Championships 2010 which took place over the weekend at Halifax’s North Bridge Leisure Centre.

David Howell:
British Rapidplay Champion again!
Saturday and Sunday saw some of the greatest sportsmen in the country descend on Halifax to use the most important part of the human body as they competed for the title of British Rapidplay Chess Champion 2010, and the first prize of £600. Grandmaster David Howell proved why he was the strongest player there, scoring 10.5 out of 11, half a point short of a perfect score! Howell was one of 5 Grandmasters participating but there was also a good sprinkling of International Masters and a Female International Master present. Second, third and fourth places were taken by GMs Mark Hebden, Matthew Turner and IM Richard Palliser.

In total 14 local players competed with varying degrees of success. All the scores below are out of 11 except for the one day event which was played over 5 rounds.

Open: M.Parsons 6, L.Keely and D.Ursal 5.5
Major: D.Patrick 4.5, R.Clegg 1.5 (withdrew)
Intermediate: D.Colledge 6.5, A.Gonzalez, P.Whitehouse and C.Velosa 6, P.Hughes 5.5, A.Dawson 4.5, B.Donkersley 4.
Minor: T.Sullivan 6.5
One day event: J.Nicholson 1/5

Here is a game with a pleasing finish played by Halifax’s Darwin Ursal in the Open section.

Many thanks to Adrian for supplying us with that report at express speed! Special mention should be made of Hebden Bridge player Matthew Parsons, who scored more than 50% in the Open playing against the very best in the competition. I gather that this performance is rated at approximately 195! Our own Terry Sullivan also performed well in the Minor section.

In round 2 Matthew made it onto the display boards (the top 8 boards were digital and games from these were broadcast live on the Championship website) were he played, and put up good resistance against, Grandmaster Aaron Summerscale. Here is that game.

Finally, it doesn't seem right not to provide readers with one of the tournament winners games. Howell played arguably his closest rival for the title, Mark Hebden, in round 7 on the Sunday morning. Evidently he had prepared something special for his opponent over night because the game worked out very well for him as you will see below. The notes in this game are shamelessly stolen from Jon Speelman's column in The Independent!

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Wright leads Hebden Bridge back to the top

In today's post John Kerrane reports on a busy night for Hebden Bridge Chess Club on Monday evening as both our 1st Division sides hosted fixtures at the Trades Club. This article also appeared in Thursday's Hebden Bridge Times.

Belgrave, from Claremount, Halifax, has been the surprise team in the Calderdale League first division this season, with a series of very good results early on in the season. However, their run came to a shuddering halt on Monday evening, when they visited Hebden Bridge Chess Club at the Trades Club, Holme Street, to play Hebden Bridge ‘A’.

Without one of their regular players, the home team still scored a resounding 4½-½ victory, with quick wins for Matthew Wedge-Roberts, Andy Leatherbarrow and Alastair Wright settling the issue early on. They only dropped half a point when Dave Wedge, on board 1, was forced to settle for a draw when he ran out of time just before checkmating his opponent in a simple endgame. This results puts Hebden Bridge ‘A’ back at the top of Division 1.

The individual results were:

Hebden Bridge ‘A’ – Belgrave
D. Wedge ½ - ½ G. Farrar
A. Wright 1 – 0 Malcolm Corbett
M. Parsons 1 – 0 L. Johnson
M. Wedge-Roberts 1 – 0 M. Barnett
A. Leatherbarrow 1 – 0 A. Gonzalez
4½ – 1½

Here are some of the games from this fixture.


It was a different story for the club’s ‘B’ team, playing the mighty Huddersfield ‘A’. The visitors fielded a very strong team, and duly walloped the home side 4-1. Only Pete Olley and Dave Sugden managed creditable draws, while the rest of the ‘B’ team were easy meat for their higher-graded opponents.

The individual results were:
Hebden Bridge ‘B’ – Huddersfield ‘A’
P. Olley ½ - ½ L. Keely
D. Shapland 0 – 1 C. Booth
M. Syrett 0 – 1 D. Firth
J. Kerrane 0 – 1 R. Boylan
D. Sugden ½ - ½ R. Sutcliffe
1 – 4

There is just time for me to let you know that Courier ‘A’ doled out a 0 – 5 execution of the hapless Todmorden ‘A’. This result means that Hebden Bridge ‘A’, Courier ‘A’ and Belgrave are all on the same number of points after 5 matches with Hebden Bridge top by virtue of their superior board count. Huddersfield ‘A’ are 3 points behind the leaders but they have a match in hand to play against Halifax ‘A’. You can see the latest league standings on the Calderdale Chess League website.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Lenin vs Hitler: Who won?

Did Hitler and Lenin trade blows over this board?
Like many chess enthusiasts I was interested to see some news coverage (just over a year ago) about an etching from the 1900's of Hitler and Lenin playing chess together. Well, the story has now been resurrected from the bowels of the internet by Telegraph journalist, Guy Walters. Evidently both the etching, and the chess set that the two men are supposed to have contested said game upon, are being auctioned by Mullocks in London today. If you have a spare £10,000 or so, you might fancy bidding.

For the historians out there I suppose that the debate about the provenance of these artifacts is all very interesting but as a chess player what I'm really interested in is the missing piece of the puzzle. I am talking of course about the scoresheet for the game which would surely refute any lingering doubts about the authenticity of the other items. Not only would the missing scoresheet add exponential value to the board and the picture it would also answer the crucial questions that every chess player really wants to know the answers to. "Who won the game and what moves were played?"

Fortunately for you dear reader the answer to these tantalising questions is close at hand for, in the year or so since the story first came to my attention, I have been conducting my own investigations into this fabled over-the-board encounter. I msut confess that for a long time my best efforts were totally ineffectual but then, quite by chance only a few weeks ago, after a pleasant exchange of banter with someone I played a game against online, I stumbled across our humble blog's first exclusive scoop!

You see, the person I had been playing against turned out to be none other than Lady Cynthia Blunderboro whose Father, Horace (the 4th Duke), was instrumental in organising the game and was actually present when it was played. Most importantly of all however, he kept Hitler's copy of the score sheet! A player of no little ability herself, Lady Cynthia has kindly agreed to re-tell the story of the game and provide some commentary on the moves exclusively for this blog.

Lady Cynthia Blunderboro
“I must confess that I was rather surprised when Intermezzo mentioned the sudden appearance of the Lenin and Hitler etching and chess set during the course of our online chat. I say this only because I had hitherto assumed that the encounter was common knowledge. Daddy first told me the story when I was a teenager and I remember the morning vividly. It was the 31st of January, 1933 and Adolf Hitler had just swept to power in Germany. Daddy had almost choked on his toast when he read the story about it in that morning’s newspaper.

“Good God!” he spluttered “who would have thought it possible?”

Naturally, I had enquired as to the nature of his outbourst and he quickly explained that “young Addy” had been an acquaintance of his during his time at the British Consulate in Vienna during the early 1900’s. He went on to recount that they had met at a chess club (he forgot which!) and played a few friendly games. Despite the fact that Daddy described the then 20-year-old as “an uncouth and loutish layabout with absolutely no class whatsoever” the two of them became regular playing partners. In fact I suspect that Daddy only tolerated Hitler’s company because he was rather easy to beat.

On one such night of contemplation Hitler prevailed upon my Father on the subject of political dogma which, even then, was a favourite hobby horse of his. At some point, quite inadvertently, Daddy found himself proclaiming that some of his “best friends” were political thinkers. By the end of the evening (and, I fancy, rather too much schnapps!) Daddy found that he had agreed to introduce Hitler to Lenin the next time the latter was in town. Never one to let anyone renege on a promise, Hitler pestered my Father remorselessly until the meeting had been arranged, the more so when he discovered that Lenin was a keen and very proficient chess player.

Finally, and after much pulling of strings, Daddy managed to arrange for the pair to meet and play a game of chess as the pretext to an “intellectual discourse” on the merits of Bolshevism. I should add that in order to achieve this he had to considerably over-inflate both Hitler’s chess playing strength and his intellectual regard for Lenin. The two men met at the home of a prominent Viennese Jew who knew Lenin well and who owed my father several quite large favours. Daddy described to me that on the night of the encounter, after the exchange of some brief and rather stiff pleasantries, it was agreed that the game of chess should take place immediately.

By means of a closing remark I should mention that Daddy only saw Hitler once more after that night in 1909 and on that occasion Hitler went so far as to cross the street to avoid having to talk to him. Daddy later told me that he didn't even recall having kept Hitler's scoresheet from that night until, many years later, he was turning out the pockets of a very old smoking jacket in search of a telegram from the King that he had misplaced. His search for the telegram was unsuccessful but he did turn up two fluff covered lemon drops, a saucy picture postcard and Hitler's scoresheet."

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Underdogs put in their place

Down boy!
Last Monday evening the chess players of Calderdale gathered at Hebden Bridge Chess Club for the first round of the 2010-11 edition of the Calderdale Individual Championship. The Trades Club has hosted the Championship for a number of years now and, in the past this geographical location may have deterred some of the eligible players from further down the valley from taking part. That was certainly not the case this year however as the competition attracted the strongest field for years in terms of both quality (6 players graded over 150) and quantity (43 entrants).

Certainly the ordnance at the top end of the field is pretty impressive. Headed by the 200 rated Darwin Ursal, who is Halifax’s new recruit and then followed by Chris Booth from Huddersfield, our very own Dave Wedge, who is the reigning Champion from the last two seasons, and Matthew Parsons, Courier’s John Morgan and Alastair Wright, the Hebden Bridge ‘A’ team Captain.This represents the sternest of tests and must surely produce plenty of high quality chess and bags of tension as the rounds progress.

The strength at the top of the field this year also had another consequence. It turned the first round into a bit of a procession. In the last few years there have been some notable surprises with lower ranked players drawing, and on occasion even beating, some of their so called ‘betters’. This was not the case this year as the top half of the draw won every game against the bottom half who left with not even a half point to show for their labours. To be sure there were some close run contests. John Morgan survived an almighty scare against Barrie Wadsworth and Matthew Parsons had to work very hard to grind down Brian Corner.

Sadly, your correspondent is not participating in this year's competition due to a planned vacation that will mean I am away for the final round (the only one in which a half point bye is not permitted). All this having sneakily arranged the departure for the second week in March thinking that the competition would take place (has it has done for years) on the first Monday of each month. I must have a stern word with the League fixture secretary! Ah well, at least readers of this blog will have a dedicated reporter for the duration of the tournament. I shall do my best to regale you with the story of the tournament round by round. Sadly, there was not a great deal of top quality fayre from round 1 with most games being decided by blunders or oversights. We also ran out of carbon copy score sheets and so I was only able to collect a limited number of games from the top few boards and of those a decent number were impossible to decipher!

A comprehensive list of entrants and results can be found by selecting the ‘Calderdale Individual Championships 2010-11’ tab at the top of the page. The next round is on Monday, December the 13th and we will have a brand new batch of score sheets with which to capture proceedings.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Huddersfield turn the clocks back on the Champions

Winter is well and truly here folks. The nights are dark, the weather is wet and cold and the long nights of stress and trauma at the chess board beckon beguilingly! Of course the herald of winter’s arrival is the end of British Summer time. However, this year some strange regional variations of the usual wind back seem to have occurred. For example, whilst the rest of Calderdale were busy putting their clocks back by an hour a couple of weeks ago, the chess players at Huddersfield Chess Club seem to have been busy turning their clocks back two years!

I say this because when Huddersfield arrived at the Trades Club to play our ‘A’ team a couple of weeks ago they seemed to have brought with them the kind of form they last produced when they were the unrivalled “big beasts” of Division 1 in the 2008-09 season. Last season Hebden Bridge toppled them from their thrown, less by their own efforts than by Huddersfield’s own failings it must be said, but nevertheless, our ‘A’ team were the only unbeaten team in the Division last season and that was good enough for the title.

It is hard for me not to feel partly responsible for the ‘A’ team’s painful demise for after they had blown away our ‘B’ team in the derby match a few weeks earlier I believe I may have hexed them by predicting that they would be at least two points, and possibly four points, ahead by Christmas. How I have jinxed them with my vanity!

Anyway, painful though it may be, let us gaze upon the wreckage of the defeat for amongst the smouldering ruins there were some treasures that had been left undamaged. First and foremost of these was Matthew Parsons superb demolition of Dave Firth on board two. Matthew describes it in his own words below.

“I beat Dave Firth in 19 moves. I would like to feel it was absolute genius on my part, but although neither myself nor my opponent, (nor Leo Keely who analysed it with us afterwards) could find a defence for Black in the final position, I imagine the computer will find something earlier. However, as I always try to tell people who are scared of how I played in this game, and wont play like that themselves, practical defence over the board is bloody hard, and we are not Fritz. Nor anywhere close to it.”

Matthew makes an excellent point. Often, even the best players in the league can’t find the correct method of defence when positions become terribly complicated. Ultimately, playing the kind of attack Matthew plays below comes down to whether or not you are confident enough to follow your instincts. Sometimes even when you can’t see the checkmate you can smell it!

Probably the best game I’ve seen this season that one. As I analysed it with Fritz even the computer took quite some time to reach a solid assessment of the position after 14…d6 so that indicates how deep the complications ran.

The other plus points of the match were Alastair Wright and Pete Olley’s draws on board 3 and 4. Whilst Alastair maintained his own unbeaten start to the season against the resolute defence of Richard Boylan, Pete scored for the first time in a game full of complications which I must admit I haven’t had the chance to look at in detail.

The Wedge family had a disastrous evening on the top and bottom boards. It must be said that this happens only once in a blue moon so needless to say the timing was unfortunate although their opponents deserve credit for capitalising to the fullest extent.

So this result really flings the Division 1 title race wide open again. The current leaders are Belgrave with a 100% score after 4 matches but they still have to play both Hebden Bridge sides and Huddersfield so if they still stand unbeaten at Christmas they will deserve to be in the lead. Meanwhile Hebden Bridge ‘A’ and Courier ‘A’ have each lost one match. They play each other in the last match before the Christmas break and that will be a crucial encounter with Courier looking a much stronger outfit than they were last season.

That leaves Huddersfield. They have not only lost one match, but also drawn one and that puts them a further point behind Courier and Hebden Bridge (assuming they win their game in hand against Halifax). They can gain ground with a win against Belgrave and hope that the other two draw their match. If that happens then it will be very, very close indeed when we all sit down to eat our Christmas turkeys!

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Celebrating the 'Magician of Riga'

Mikhail Tal (1936-92)
10 top Grandmasters are currently contesting the Tal Memorial Tournament in Moscow. Tuesday, the rest day, was the day on which, had he still been with us, Mikhail Tal would have celebrated his 74th birthday. It therefore seems entirely appropriate for this humble blog to pause for a moment’s thought and reflect on the great man’s works.

In these times of hyperbole the term “genius” seems, in a sporting context at least, to be applied to almost anyone who has had a good day at the office. Most people who don’t know any better would probably define every Grandmaster as a “genius”. However, there can’t be very many players who have been described by a fellow World Champion as a genius. Yet, iron-willed World Chess Champion, Tigran Petrosian, once said that Tal was the only living chess genius that he knew and Mikhail Botvinnik famously commented,

“If Tal would learn to programme himself properly then it would become impossible to play against him.”

This is a wonderful compliment but of course the quote also contains a veiled reference to Tal’s penchant for speculative, intuitive play. Botvinnik seemed to be suggesting that Tal’s unwillingness to “programme himself” was a weakness in his game. Personally I think that, although Botvinnik may well have been right to an extent, he was also missing the point. Tal was Tal. He just played the game the way that felt right to him. This didn’t mean that he wasn’t capable of winning arid, positional games. It just meant that, he loved to let his fertile imagination have a free reign whenever he got the opportunity. In certain types of position he was capable of doing things that no other player could do and he was also capable of stirring up mind-boggling complications in positions that were apparently benign.

In order to celebrate the “Magician of Riga’s” birthday then I’d like to post one of my favourite games of his. Most of the notes to this game are taken from “The World’s Greatest Chess Games” in which this particular encounter features. The start position in the viewer below is from the key moment in the game but I’d highly recommend that you play through the whole thing because this game certainly shows that Tal was capable of deep strategic manoeuvring as well as tactical pyrotechnics. Indeed, one of the reasons I am so fond of this game is because it demonstrates a wonderful fusion between tactics and strategy. The final sequence of moves is truly breath taking with pieces arriving from all across the board to help deliver checkmate. Please enjoy, and be inspired by, Mikhail Tal at his very best!

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Syrett and company go 'trick or treating' in Todmorden

John Kerrane (left) took his cloak
off before the game began
It may have been the day after Halloween but Hebden Bridge ‘B’ were still in the mood to dispence some tricks and treats over the chess board as they travelled to Todmorden on Monday night in Calderdale League Division 1.

Had the team knocked on the door of the Todmorden Working Men’s Club in appropriate fancy dress then I propose to you that the following costumes would have been suited to their performances…

On board 1, Dave Shapland may decide to assume Joseph Blackburne’s mantle as ’The Black Death’ for he has now conducted 6 of his 7 competitive games this season with the black pieces and has an excellent score of +4 =2 -0! These statistics include his win on Monday against Chris Edwards. Unusually, Dave deployed the Sveshnikov Sicilian (which he tells me he has only played once before over the board, against the same opponent) and won by playing very actively in a Queen-less middle game. Objectively, he had no advantage, but Chris made a critical mistake as the penultimate pieces on the board were exchanged and Dave buried him clinically.

Chris left the club wondering what the dark lumps that had appeared during the course of the evening under his armpits were.

Unfortunately, Andy Leatherbarrow donned the likeness of the ‘Headless Horseman’ as he surged forwards in cavalier fashion against Scott Gornall. In the endgame a pawn race developed where Andy pushed his king’s side pawns and the monarch himself up the board and Scott countered in the centre. It looked like Andy would break through first but then, suddenly, he found that white could defend his position and obtain connected passed pawns on the 7th rank which Andy’s lone Rook could not stop.

Scott left the club looking like a man who had been for a walk in the wind, or been caught in the back draft of a high-speed train. Tousled yet invigorated.

Team Captain, Martin Syrett had a ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ type of night. He was thoroughly routed in the opening as Mike Huett deployed the Blackmar-Diemer Gambit against his Scandinavian Defence and profited by winning both the exchange and a pawn. However, Martin then transformed himself by means of a cunning swindle that enabled him to win a Rook for nothing and after that it was one-way traffic.

Mike left the club clutching an empty glass vial that he had found after the game by the side of the board. The label on it was written in his opponent’s script and read, “Formula X”.

On board 4 Terry Sullivan’s hapless foe must have wondered if the moon was full for he was savagely mauled by the werewolf of Hebden Bridge! Encountering a Grand Prix Attack in response to his Sicilian Defence, Terry unleashed wave after frenzied wave of tactics that all seemed to flow quite naturally from the position. His poor victim was quite unable to cope with the ferocity of his attack. This game was definitely the most exciting of the evening!

Paul left the club in a mess of bloody, ragged chunks and will have to be sewn back together before the next match.

Finally, John Kerrane, put on his longest and blackest cape as he became a be-whiskered Count Dracula and slowly sucked the life out of Bob Pratt’s game on board 5. Winning first one pawn and then another, John kept Bob’s counter play under close control before slowly strangling him in a pawn and bishop ending.

Bob left the club clutching at two strange puncture marks on his right wrist that he was sure hadn’t been there before he’d shaken hands with his opponent at the start of the evening.

The final score was an excellent 4-1 to the ‘B’s. They may yet survive in the division if they can get something out of their encounters with Belgrave and/or Brighouse in their last two matches before Christmas.

Todmorden ‘A’ – Hebden Bridge ‘B’
C.Edwards 0 – 1 D.Shapland
S.Gornall 1 – 0 A.Leatherbarrow
M.Huett 0 – 1 M.Syrett
P.Edwards 0 – 1 T.Sullivan
B.Pratt 0 – 1 J.Kerrane
1 – 4

Whilst all this was going in Todmorden, the ‘A’ team were engaged in mortal combat with their old adversaries Huddersfield ‘A’. I will post a full report of the match once I have all of the games available for publication. For now I will simply, and with a heavy heart, provide you with the match card.

Hebden Bridge ‘A’ – Huddersfield ‘A’
D.Wedge 0 – 1 L.Keely
M.Parsons 1 – 0 D.Firth
A.Wright ½ – ½ R.Boylan
P.Olley ½ – ½ A.Aguirre
M.Wedge-Roberts 0 – 1 R.Sutcliffe
2 – 3