Thursday, 30 June 2011

Rates of interest

The Yorkshire Chess Association released their new 2011 grading list earlier this week. These new ratings are based on all games played between 1st of June 2010 and 31st of May 2011. I’ve collected (and slightly edited) the list for Hebden Bridge Chess Club members below. You can also go to the YCA’s website and have a rummage around for even more details.

I’ve edited the list above in order to remove any inactive players. Here are some points and comments about this list points that I think are worth making as team captains start to plan for next year’s league campaigns.

  • Both Dave Wedge and Matthew Wedge-Roberts will not be available as Dave is now working down in Cambridge during the week and Matthew is off to university. We wish them both the best of luck

  • The highest new entry on the club list is Pete Leonard who makes an appearance near the top with a brand new grade of 158! Whilst it must be said that this grade has been calculated from a relatively low volume of data (7 games) we must congratulate Pete on this excellent result and also provide a well-meant word of warning to him that next season is likely to provide him with a much greater challenge as this new number will propel him into the upper reaches of the ‘A’ or ‘B’ team. I'm sure this will be something he will look forward to.

  • Josh Blinkhorn takes the prize for “Most Improved Player” of the season increasing his rating by 15 points from 121 to 136. Congratulations to Josh for this result and I fancy there is still more improvement to come from him in the coming years.

  • Other players with double digit improvements were Matthew Wedge-Roberts (+13), Dave Shapland (+11) and Dave Sugden (+10). Trevor De Luca improved by 14 points but that is based on only one game played last season.

  • I should also mention Matthew Parson’s increase of 8 points which is significant because it elevates him to the lofty heights of 174 and places him amongst the elite players in the Calderdale league operating above the 170 mark. For the record these players are:
  1. Leo Keely (Huddersfield) 175
  2. Matthew Parsons (HebdenBridge) 174
  3. David Keddie (Huddersfield) 174
  4. John Morgan (Courier) 173
  5. Chris Booth (Huddersfield) 172
  6. David Firth (Huddersfield) 170
All I can say about this list is that I hope Huddersfield ‘A’ aren’t able to field all 4 players that fall into this bracket on a regular basis next season. There must be something in the water over there! Incidentally the 5th Huddersfield player on the list is John Lavan and his new grade is 169! That’s a pretty frightening Huddersfield ‘A’ team they might have there.

In my view this new annual list and the ongoing live ratings (Jon Griffiths the YCA Grader has announced his intention to publish monthly lists next season as well!) raise some interesting questions about how league teams should be selected and organised for the coming season. At present the Calderdale League guidelines states that...

"All players must be listed in order of known playing strength. Yorkshire grades used for reference."

The quandary is should captains be using the live ratings or the 2011 ratings to help them determine this? Which should take precedence? Bare in mind that at the outset of the new season both the annual rating and the live rating will be the same but as the season progresses the live rating will change and become a more accurate reflection of a player’s current strength than the 2011 rating and the more games a player plays the greater the potential disparity between the two. Should captains therefore swap players around during the course of the year based on live ratings or continue to use the 2011 rating to guide board order regardless of current from?

Let me provide an example of how this current 'static' system of selection can affect both teams and individuals during the course of the year. Last season Hebden Bridge ‘B’ correctly deployed Pete Olley on board 1 because his 2010 rating was higher by a 10 point margin than the team’s board 2, Dave Shapland. However, Pete struggled on board 1 and as his live rating dropped and his colleague’s grades rose it might have made sense to swap the board order to reflect the form. We decided not to do that because we wanted to be consistent and use the 2010 grade to decide board order as we would have done in previous seasons despite what the live grades told us. There was nothing wrong with that approach but as a result Pete endured a tough and dispiriting season and his rating plummeted. This season he will operate at a different level but the point remains that the live grading system could allow team captains to modify their board order to reflect the form of their players.

The second related issue becomes apparent when we consider those players who have grades that have been calculated from a small base of games in the previous season and here I will use the other Pete (Leonard) as an example because it illustrates the point neatly. On the basis of 7 games played last season he has a new grade of 158 which should dictate that he must be deployed in the upper reaches of the either the club’s ‘A’ or ‘B’ team next season despite the fact that he hasn’t yet played a rated game against opposition graded higher than 140. Now, it may well be that Pete will acquit himself with great ability in this rarified atmosphere (as I happen to think he may) and completely justify this new rating. Alternatively he might struggle against the standard of opposition he will be compelled to meet and have no way of dropping down the board order to operate at a level that suits his live rating and allows him to rebuild his form and confidence.

At the heart of the matter is the fact that the current grading system doesn't express a preference for the number of games it believes are required to calculate a robust rating. I seem to remember that in days gone by players who had played less than 10 rated games in the previous season got an 'E' (for estimated) placed after their grade and this enabled team captains and tournament organisers some room for latitude as they assessed the player's strength. Now that we don't have this standard it appears that there is a danger some new players will have to be thrown in at the deep end before they are ready and at the expense of more experienced players who perhaps should be playing further up the board order.

Having considered all of the points above it seems to me that neither of these issues (having two ratings and the lack of a minimum games standard) will really cause a problem if teams are required to use the live ratings as a means of deciding their board order. If this regulation is put in place then (hyperthetically) if Pete Leonard did struggle next season and performed poorly then he could drop down the board order and find the right level to play at instead of being trapped on a high board for the whole season getting walloped. The same regulation could have allowed Pete Olley some relief last season as well. I’ve been in that position before myself and it isn’t a nice experience.

Of course the subject of gradings and how they are calculated and applied always stirs up passionate debate amongst chess players and it is certainly no different in Calderdale. For the record my opinion is that live ratings are a good idea but I also believe we need to adapt our league regulations and guidelines to reflect the new system. Specifically I think it is important that all team captains in the league use the same criteria to select their team order. They should all use the live rating or all use the annual grade and the regulations should be amended to enforce the preference.

I would be very interested to hear readers views on the subject of ratings or feedback on the new club list.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Two Knights the night

It was just over 15 years ago now. May 1996. I entered the Morecambe Chess Congress Minor section over Spring Bank Holiday weekend. I won with a score of 5½/6. I think the prize was about £200, pretty good money for a Minor.

That was the last occasion on which I won an individual competition. A pretty abysmal record I’m sure you’ll agree. Of course I haven’t played very many congresses in the intervening years and I have played my part in some team victories during that time but even still, one congress in 15 years. Not good.

But then last month I entered the Victoria Gardens Blitz tournament in Leeds. It’s just a bit of fun. Leeds Chess Club are the hosts and the Victoria Gardens Hotel is the excellent venue. The format is fairly informal but never-the-less enticing. Participants pay a £5 entry fee and play a 7 rounded Swiss tournament with 10 minutes each on the clock. It’s a winner-takes-all type of affair (well actually the winner takes 45% of the entry fee and the runner up 20%) but you get the idea!

As it happens this edition (they try to organise one every month) was the best attended yet with 17 players involved. As one of the highest rated entrants I was expected to do well. Of course it’s never as straightforward as the ratings suggest it will be and although I did manage to win with a score of 6/7 there were certainly some hiccups and lucky breaks along the way. You have to have a bit of good fortune in blitz chess.

I got off to my customary slow start. In the first round I managed to obtain a dreadful position from the opening and compounded my troubles by getting into terrible time trouble. Late in the middle game I managed to conjure up some desperate tricks and was most relieved when my opponent missed a mating combination. In round four, sharing the lead with one other player, I was felled by this rival who played excellently in a complicated game and fully deserved to take the sole lead. Sadly for him he then fell to pieces completely and lost his next couple of games to disappear from the top of the leader board.

In rounds 5 and 6 I was fortunate enough to be able to enter into a pair of Two Knight’s variations against two of the stronger players in the competition. This pet opening enabled me to pick up two wins out of the opening when normally I’d have expected long and difficult scraps. I’ve given these two miniatures below. Both were won on the 20th move and gave me some pleasure. The Two Knights has a habit of doing that in my experience!

My final dose of good fortune came in the final round when I played a colleague from Leeds Chess Club. He played Larsen’s Opening (1.b3) which he knows inside out and I inadvertently followed a mainline for about 15 moves! The outcome was that he obtained a favourable double rook and pawn ending and as I desperately tried to hold the position he made excellent inroads. Eventually I decided to abandon passive defence and doubled my rooks on the e-file. At that point one of his rooks was on f2, his king was on g1 and he had pawns on g2 and h2. The game ended when he played …Kf1??

Lucky old me!

Friday, 10 June 2011

Spanish theme for the club's summer programme

John Kerrane reports today on the latest event in the Hebden Bridge Chess Club summer programme.

As part of its summer programme, Hebden Bridge Chess Club ran a fixed opening tournament on Monday evening at the Trades Club, Holme Street. This time the 16 players taking part had to begin every game with the Spanish Opening, or Ruy Lopez, in 5 rounds of 15-minute-a-side-games.

The clear winner was Darwin Ursal, a guest from Halifax Chess Club, with a maximum score of 5/5, with Hebden Bridge’s Nick Sykes close behind on 4/5.

The surprise statistic of the evening was that, of the decisive results, there were 22 wins for Black and only 13 for White. This was a bit of a puzzle, as the Spanish is considered to be one of White’s strongest openings, and one in which White’s first move initiative last the longest.

The answer maybe, as Nick Sykes suggested, that very few of the players present employ the opening regularly as White, but many more must be familiar with some way of countering it as Black, so they were better prepared to meet the line than to play it themselves.

On the previous Saturday, Yorkshire Chess Association hosted the Northern Regional Girl’s Chess Championships, in which one of Hebden Bridge’s young players, 10-year-old Robina Murray, distinguished herself by coming second in the under-12’s section. She now goes on to the national finals in London in July, and the club wishes her the best of luck and steady nerves.

I’ll finish this post off by publishing the remainder of the activities planned at the club over the summer recess:

June 13th – Summer Knockout Competitions
June 20th – Analysis Evening with Matthew Parsons
June 27th – Summer Knockout Competitions
July 4th – How good is your chess?
July 11th – Club AGM
July 18th – Opening Surprise tournament
July 25th – Summer Knockout Competitions
August 1st – Analysis Evening with Pete Leonard

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Brighouse Rapidplay turns 20

Round 1 of the Brighouse Rapidplay gets underway with the tournament's eventual winner, Ben Hague, sitting on the left of the table nearest the camera
Today Halifax’s Adrian Dawson reports on the 20th edition of the Brighouse Rapidplay tournament which took place last Saturday. By way of an appetiser I'd like to offer readers a tasty morsel of an endgame from the final round of that tournament to get their juices flowing. In the position below White is a pawn up in a simple ending and should convert to a win easily enough if he can figure out how to get his king past the Black barricade. What is the simplest and most clinical way to do this? The solution is at the end of this post.

White to play from Shapland vs. Mahoney,
Brighouse Rapidplay 2011 - Round 6

Hebden Bridge's Matthew Parsons (right) had a difficult
start to the day but bounced back with a strong finish
Saturday saw Brighouse celebrate the 20th anniversary of their highly successful Rapidplay Chess Tournament, which is “Open” to all-comers and was once again well attended by both local players and players from further afield. All in all 39 players competed, 19 of whom represented clubs from Calderdale or play for one of the Calderdale teams in the Yorkshire League.

The outright winner was Ben Hague (rated 229) from Oldham who scored an excellent 5½/6. Ben has now won the competition for three consecutive years and his patronage is widely appreciated. Second and third places went to local players Phil Watson (203) and Dave Shapland (180) of Hebden Bridge who both scored 5/6. Phil picked up the second prize on the tie-break mechanism of totting up the sum of the players’ round-by-round scores. Despite missing out on the prize money this result was an excellent achievement by Dave Shapland as he was seeded 6th in the draw.

Hebden's Nick Sykes (left) deployed his
trademark Schliemann variation of the
Spanish Opening successfully in round 1
 There were four grading prizes distributed. Dave Firth (169) from Huddersfield won Grading Prize ‘A with a score of 4/6’; Eric Davies (118) won Grading Prize ‘B’ with the same score. Grading Prize ‘C’ was won by young Peter Hepworth (101) from Huddersfield also with a score of 4/6. This was a tremendous achievement for Peter who will, no doubt, go on to achieve more such results with his attacking play. Grading Prize ‘D’ was won by John Light (76) of Leeds with a score of 3/6. Further results and photos can be found on the tournament website.

The Brighouse Chess Club extended it’s gratitude to the Salvation Army who hosted the event at their Citadel in the centre of Brighouse. The competitors were grateful to Bill Bardelang and Bruce Bendall for running the event so successfully and also to the event’s Director, Ronnie Grandage.

In addition to Adrian’s report I’d just like to make special mention of the other Hebden Bridge player’s who participated in the event. Matthew Parsons made an excellent recovery after a disappointing start to the event and scored 4/6. Nick Sykes conversely started off like a speeding bullet with 3/3 but then lost his remaining games to finish on that score. Dave Sugden scored 3½/6 and Terry Sullivan scored 2½/6.

I’d like to sign off by giving Dave Shapland’s best result of the day in his round 2 match against Barnsley’s Andy Drabble.

Puzzle answer: 1.a4+! the point being that if Black captures the proferred pawn with 1…Kxa4 then 2.Kc4 deploys that most deadly of endgame tactics, zugswang! Black is compelled to play his only legal move 2…f5 whereupon 3.exf5 will lead to a straight forward win for White. Black could instead retreat his king with 1…Kc6 for example but then the White king will also advance, or White will play 2.b4 and the king will infiltrate with decisive effect.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

End of season review - Part 2

Today I’m continuing with the end of season review. This time I’ll be focusing on Hebden Bridge ‘B’. Here’s how they finished in League Division 1.

It must be said that this result constitutes a pretty good performance from the ‘B’s whose main objective this year was always going to be to escape relegation. As the season kicked off it appeared that they were well placed to do that for the team looked reasonably strong on paper. With a new grade of 158 Pete Olley took up board 1 duties and Dave Shapland returned from a two year sojourn with the ‘A’ team to occupy board 2. The regular side was completed by Andy Leatherbarrow on 3, team Captain, Martin Syrett on board 4 and John Kerrane on board 5.

Sadly, in the early part of the season Captain Syrett wasn’t able to put out his best team. On match day one the team were away at Courier ‘A’ but they travelled without Pete Olley, who was unavailable. Due to the oddities of the fixture schedule all four Hebden Bridge teams were playing on that day and so Martin was unable to find a replacement the result being that the team defaulted on board 5 in a 4-1 defeat.

Circumstances were even more challenging on match day two. This time Alastair Wright nabbed both Dave Shapland and Andy Leatherbarrow to replace missing members of his ‘A’ team and Pete Olley was again unavailable. This led to Martin having to promote himself from board 4 to board 1 in the home fixture against Halifax ‘A’ and also having to draft in emergency support in the form of Terry Sullivan, Dave Sugden and Steve Priest. Baring in mind the make shift nature of the side a tied match against Halifax was a good result.

It was ironic that when Martin was finally able to put out his best side it should be against one of the best teams in the league. The third round saw the two Hebden Bridge teams in League 1 go head to head and, inevitably, the ‘A’ team run out 4-1 winners. Dave Shapland (on board 2) and Dave Sugden (deputising for John Kerrane on board 5) managed to draw their games.

Finally, good news followed for the ‘B’s as they travelled to fellow strugglers Todmorden on November the 1st and scored their first victory of the season by a convincing 4-1 margin. After this match the team lost at home to Huddersfield ‘A’ and then, disappointingly, away to Belgrave in a tight match that they seemed to have under control at one point. This just left Brighouse left to play in the first half of the season and it finally seemed that some good fortune would come the ‘B’ team’s way as Brighouse arrived with only 3 players. Despite this Hebden made terribly heavy weather of the fixture and only just wheezed over the line when Dave Shapland beat Bruce Bendall on board 2 to secure victory by the narrowest possible margin.

The team started the second half of the season just above the relegation zone and needing to get themselves an early win to steady the ship and settle the nerves. Sadly they were singularly unable to achieve this as they first let a promising match position slip away at home to Courier and then managed only a draw away to Halifax when once again a victory seemed to be on the cards. Another heavy defeat at home to Hebden Bridge ‘A’ followed before what now appeared to be a critical fixture at home to the bottom side, Todmorden.

This fixture took place on the 7th of March. Todmorden confounded Hebden first by bringing a very much stronger line up to the match then they had managed to present at the home fixture and then by winning comfortably 1½ - 3½. This result seemed to cast the ‘B’s into something of a despondent mood for they almost failed to get a team together for the next match away at Huddersfield. In the end Dave Shapland managed to draught in some emergency replacements from Leeds Chess Club to help out and a full team of 5 players ran a depleted Huddersfield side terribly close losing 3-2 in a tense fixture.

Finally, this Dunkirk spirit seemed to galvanise the team for the run in and, needing to win both their remaining fixtures to have any hope of survival, they managed to do just that. First of all Martin Syrett secured a nail-biting 3-2 home victory against Belgrave and then Dave Shapland carried the day with a decisive victory over Robert Broadbent on board 1 in the final match away to Brighouse. In the end Halifax went down in flames in the final set of fixtures against the already relegated Todmorden to give Hebden Bridge an even more comfortable margin of safety.

It’s been a hard (and at times desperate) slog against relegation this season for the ‘B’s. However, in the end, when disaster loomed, the team performed well and did enough to merit their survival. Quite what the team will look like next year remains to be seen.

Below is a player by player summary of the ‘B’ team’s performance this season. A quick note on the players stats below before we dive in. All the numbers refer only to the Calderdale League matches and the ratings differential is based on accumulating the YCA live rating scores for each league game played. The end-of-season ratings are calculated in a slightly different way. Live ratings only provide a transient flavour of a players form rather than a solid assessment of their entire season so readers should view the stats below as a guideline only.

Pete Olley – Board 1
Rating (at the start of the season): 158
Score: 1½/10

It’s been a tough and dispiriting season for Pete who picked up board 1 responsibilities due to his clearly superior rating at the start of the season rather than because he coveted the job. That said, he fought hard in every game he played and managed up a couple of good draws against Leo Keely and Darwin Ursal. It should also be pointed out that he scored a further half point on board 5 for the ‘A’ team when he was ‘promoted’ up to their ranks. Never-the-less I’m sure Pete will have learned from his games this season and will be looking forward to a less high profile role next season as well as a chance to re-build his confidence.

Analysis of Pete Olley's league games in 2010-11

As his best game I’ve selected this smooth and work-man-like draw against Darwin Ursal.

Dave Shapland – Board 2
Rating: 148
Score: 8½/14

It was something of an anus mirabilis for Dave this season. Certainly he was sometimes guilty of being “over enthusiastic” with the White pieces and to prove this it should be noted that his two White wins both came against players rated lower than himself. However, his form with Black certainly merited the nom de guerre afforded to him in these pages earlier this season in honour of Halloween (and Joseph Blackburne!) – The Black Death. His unbeaten record with Black assumes even more impressive proportions when you consider that four of those eight games were played on board 1 and he turned out two wins and two draws in that position.

Analysis of Dave Shaplan'd league results in 2010-11

Dave certainly contributed to the end of season spurt that secured the team’s status in League 1 and I’m giving his final “Hurrah!” against Robert Broadbent as his best effort of the year.

Andy Leatherbarrow – Board 3
Rating: 139
Score: 4½/12

Pardon the pun but it was a checkered history for Mr Leatherbarrow in 2010-11! In the first half of the season he was a pitiful shadow of his usual self as he lost one game after another in ever more desperate and creative fashions. Time trouble usually played a part in his downfall. For long periods of games he seemed to do himself excellent justice only to fall apart or blunder at a critical moment in the end game. Ultimately he did manage to get himself together and achieved the considerable feat of taking a whole point off John Morgan (albeit via a time forfeit) in the first match of the second half of the season. Following this result he then steadied the ship in an admirable fashion by resolutely drawing his remaining games to score +1 in the second half of the season. He also scored 1½/2 for the ‘A’ team.

Analysis of Andy Leatherbarrow's league results in 2010-11

Andy certainly salvaged himself some pride and contributed to the home run resurgence that carried the team through its troubles to safety. Here is his aforementioned victory against John Morgan.

Martin Syrett – Board 4
Rating: 137
Score: 5½/13

It wasn’t a vintage year for Captain Syrett in the league as he’d be only too willing to admit himself. That two of the five wins in the table below were garnered through defaults explains why his live rating has dropped slightly over the season. Once again the Calderdale Individual Championship was a happy hunting ground for Martin though as he picked up a grading prize by scoring 4/5. In achieving this he shared second place with such illustrious companions as Mathew Parsons and Dave Wedge. This excellent result will no doubt carry his end of season rating upwards and counteract his league form somewhat. Martin also made a critical contribution to the ‘B’ team’s survival by claiming the decisive victory in the penultimate fixture at home against Belgrave.

Analysis of Martin Syrett's league results in 2010-11

I’ve chosen to give this game against Mike Barnett as Martin’s best of the season. From a purely aesthetic perspective many of Martin’s victories are pleasing to the eye but this one has the additional impact of being delivered under great pressure.

John Kerrane – Board 5
Rating: 125
Score: 5½/10

John did stirling work for the ‘B’ team this season particularly in the early part of the schedule when Andy and Martin were struggling with their form. Although one of his victories was a default the remainder of his results exhibit a pleasing symmetry: three wins, three draws and three defeats. John’s style is based on a solid positional understanding and his trade mark English Opening has once again served him well this season.

Analysis of John Kerrane's league results in 2010-11

I could give any one of his smooth victories as his best game of the season but instead I’m going to replay his draw against Matthew Wedge-Roberts in the second derby fixture of the year because I think John brought his very best play to this encounter and should probably have won against a player who finished second highest in the points scoring list for the season.

Some of the challenges faced by Martin Syrett in getting a regular team of 5 players together are expressed only too vividly by the lengthy supporting cast of players who stepped in to help out. Let me do them honour by concluding this post with a recording of their contributions:

Dave Sugden 2/3
John Mahoney 1/1
Neil Bamford 1/2
Steve Priest 1/2
Terry Sullivan 1/2
Tony Ibbitson ½/1
Phil Rhami ½/2

I hope that readers will offer their opinions about the 'B' team's performance this season. I'm sure the players themselves will have plenty to say! Who do you think we should have playing in the 'B' team next season? Please do post your comments below for others to see and consider.