Wednesday, 27 July 2011

British Chess Championships underway

It’s the premium event in the British chess calendar (ok we now have a super Grandmaster tournament to look forward to in December in London as well but that’s a bit different) and it just got started yesterday. The British Chess Championships are taking place down the M1 in Sheffield this year. The location couldn’t be much more enticing for Calderdale players and there will no doubt be several taking part in the host of different competitions. This year I list myself amongst their number. I won’t be travelling down until the second week as I’m playing in the Under 160 Championship and also in the afternoon open tournament taking place in week 2. I can’t wait!

2010 Champion,
Mickey Adams
I have no idea how much opportunity I’ll get to watch the Championship itself but hopefully I will get a chance. The British Chess Federation has done a great job getting sponsorship in this year and that must have played a big part in enticing the strongest line up for years. The charge is led by reigning champion and British number 1, Michael Adams. He is joined by Nigel Short, David Howell, Gawain Jones and Nicholas Pert to complete the top five rated players but there are also another 6 Grandmasters competing. It should be a fantastic competition and if any of you are off work I highly recommend a day trip to Sheffield to catch one of the rounds as the atmosphere is always great. If you can’t make it to Sheffield then you can watch the top games (hopefully 14 boards) live here. The rounds start at 2.15pm everyday and finish on Friday the 5th with a rest day this Sunday.

Whilst the top players scrap it out in the main event there will be hundreds of club level players fighting it out for the honours in a range of competitions for various standards of player and age group. This is where I’ll be next week. Hundreds of games will be contested. Usually many of these would go unnoticed and unloved accept by the players who played them. This year Hebden Bridge Chess Club would like to try and change all that by giving some of the plucky losers a chance to get their name in lights.

It's for this reason that I’ve decided to put up some awards to celebrate the worst of British chess. Competitors in the Championships will be able to submit their games to compete for 3 'prestigious' awards:
  • The Grossest Blunder Award
  • The Dullest Game Award
  • The Obduracy Award

You can find out more about these awards and see any entries that I receive over the two weeks on a new page that I’ve set up specifically for the purpose. It’s just a bit of fun but I hope we’ll get the chance to give some club level players at the Championships a bit of the limelight. If you know anyone who’s taking part over the next two weeks please let them know about this competition and help us celebrate the worst of British chess!

Of course I’d like to think that none of my games will find their way onto this new page but somehow I figure that will be unlikely. I can guarantee readers that they won’t miss a beat though because during week 2 I will be posting a daily diary on these pages and publishing all my games, good or bad as well as my reflections on the rest of the goings on at Ponds Forge.

I’ve also been building up a wealth of blog post material to publish in week 2 so there will be lots and lots of new content during the course of next week. Be sure to come back regularly for updates and entertainment as some of our columnists will be making appearances to help celebrate the championships. It should be fun.

Friday, 22 July 2011

How to beat a Grandmaster

In today’s post our club’s top rated player, Matthew Parsons, shows us how he beat his first Grandmaster recently on the Playchess website.

“Blitz Chess is certainly not classical chess, but beating a GM is no less hard. First off you better make sure you have a decent mouse, as you don’t want a mouse slip spoiling it all just about when you are to deliver checkmate! Blitz players are not understanding and will not give take-backs.

I was really pleased recently when I was able to beat a GM for the first time on playchess. In round 1 of a Wednesday night blitz tournament, I beat GM Jakob Meister, FIDE 2494, whose playchess rating at the start of the game was 2568, mine being 1889. 1889 is a bit low for me, I’m normally in the mid-1900‘s, with my highest grade being around 2042.

Now I’ve beaten plenty of FM’s on the server, drawing with and beating a few IM’s, but I have never gotten anything off a GM. Intriguingly enough I had been drawn against this same opponent a few times in recent tournaments in the 1st round, and we had had some close games, but he had won them all.

There’s no secret to beating players of this level. Good chess is good chess, and whilst I knew I couldn’t match him on classical play, I thought I could really narrow the difference in ability by doing my best to unbalance the position and force him to think rather than just playing on a GM’s pattern recognition and experience. After all, we only had 3mins each on the clock, if I could just get an advantage...”

Thanks to Matthew for taking the time to send us this interesting game and annotations.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

End of season review - part 4

Today I’m posting the final part of my 2010-11 season round up and in this chapter I’ll be focusing entirely on the Calderdale Individual Championships of 2010-11.

The competition took place between November and March with each of the 5 rounds being played on the first or second Monday of the month at Hebden Bridge Chess Club’s home venue, the Trades Club. This edition of the championships was, in terms of both strength and depth, the most competitive I can recall with a good range of entrants from across Calderdale taking part. John Kerrane organised the event with his customary aplomb and round 1 took place on Monday the 8th of November.

If readers are interested in the individual results from each round or the original reports then you can read them by clicking on the hyperlinks embedded in the appropriate sub-heading below.

Round 1: Underdogs put in their place

Down boy!
On paper it looked like the most open competition in years with the top 6 players all rated over 150 and a lengthy tale beneath that of 37 contestants. Naturally as the competition progressed some of the competitors dropped out. In particular we missed both Darwin Ursal who entered but never actually took part and Chris Booth, who did play in the early rounds but was unavailable for the final rounds. The absence of these two effectively thinned the list of favorites down to the reigning champion Dave Wedge, Matthew Parsons and previous winner Alastair Wright (all of Hebden Bridge) and John Morgan of Courier.

However, while all of these players seemed to possess the consistency and quality required to win, it also seemed certain that some of them would slip up against lower ranked opposition because this competition always produces the odd upset or two along the way.

That didn’t happen in round 1 where, quite unusually, all of the higher rated players succeeded in overcoming their opponents. Statistically this was always likely but in reality the result was quite unusual. Many of the games were decided by blunders or totally dominated by the higher ranked players but some of the underdogs did bite savagely before being reduced to submission. In particular the two players who would become the tournament’s dominant forces had to struggle late into the evening to secure their first points. John Morgan survived a substantial scare against Halifax’s Barry Wadsworth in a game that unfortunately I do not have available to publish, and Matthew Parsons had to grind down Huddersfield’s Brian Corner in an endgame that meant their game was the last to finish.

Two of the other top seeds however showed their dominance with crushing victories.

Priest vs. Booth is game 1 in the viewer at the end of this post
Wedge vs. Dawson is game 2 in the viewer

Round 2: Revenge of the underdogs!

The underdogs bite back!
The second round took place on the 13th of December and on this occasion the lower graded players were in no mood to roll over for their superiors. Having won every single game in the first round the top half of the draw found circumstances to be rather more challenging as they set their sights on maintaining their perfect start.

Aside from Chris Booth, who took a half point bye in round 2, all the top seeds were in action and the highest profile casualty was the eventual winner of the tournament, John Morgan. The fourth seed could only hold a draw against Nick Sykes despite having a considerable grading advantage over him. John deployed an old favorite opening line of his with the Black pieces playing 1…a6 and 2…b5. On this occasion Nick managed to neutralise it fairly easily and even overlooked some chances to maintain a decent advantage before the game finally simplified into an equal endgame. This was to be the only blot on an otherwise clean sheet during the tournament for John whilst Nick drew several more times in later rounds but remained the only other unbeaten player in the whole competition.

Sykes vs. Morgan is game 3 in the viewer at the end of this article

Other notable instances of overturning of the odds were attained by Terry Sullivan who held a draw against the sixth seed, Pete Olley; Dave Sugden who also held a draw against Todmorden’s Scott Gornall and Steve Priest who managed to purloin a win from Chris Edwards when his opponent committed an atrocious blunder in time trouble. In addition to this win the underdogs also secured victories when Josh Blinkhorn beat Belgrave’s Mike Barnett (the runner up last year) and, most satisfying of all, Hebden Bridge ‘D’ team’s James Todd scored a full point from Brian Corner who had troubled Matthew Parsons so grievously in round 1. This game deserves another publication in recognition of the achievement.

Corner vs. Todd is game 4 in the viewer

The other top seeds maintained their momentum. On board 1 Dave Wedge dispatched a Hebden Bridge colleague and former champion, Andy Leatherbarrow. Matthew Parsons made light work of Martin Syrett and Alastair Wright beat Paul Edwards. These results left Dave, Matthew and Alastair on perfect scores along with Josh Blinkhorn and Huddersfield’s Robert Sutcliffe who overcame Dave Milton in the last game of the night to be completed.

Round 3: Parsons toils to set up showdown with champion

Dave Wedge beat Alastair Wright in the
board 1 clash of round 3
Things began to get really interesting in round 3 as the number of leaders dwindled setting up more evenly matched contests full of promise and intrigue. At the end of the night just two players had managed to maintain their 100% records and they were Hebden Bridge’s top two players, reigning champion Dave Wedge and Matthew Parsons. That they achieved their perfect scores by very different methods was really the story of the round.

Dave seemed to have been handed the more difficult task when the draw pitted him (for the second round in a row!) against a club colleague and former champion in the form of Alastair Wright. Alastair has a track record of taking points off Dave in this competition and everyone fully expected a dour and merciless struggle. In the event it was all over rather swiftly and in savage fashion as Alastair, playing Black made the fateful decision not to play the Alekhine’s Defence (1.e4 Nf6!?). This opening has been a favorite play-thing of his in the past but it had also recently been adopted by his opponent. Alastair was obviously wary of what preparation Dave may potentially have made and decided to meet 1.e4 with Nc6 instead. However, he then somehow managed to transpose in the Max Lange Attack which is a well known graveyard for the ill-prepared. Alastair soon selected the wrong continuation in a forcing line and was summarily dispatched in brutal fashion.

Wedge vs. Wright is game 5 in the viewer at the end of this post

This early evening execution meant that Dave was able to observe first hand the discomfort of his neighbour for, on board 2, Matthew was being taken the full distance by the spirited Robert Sutcliffe. It seems that, having missed an opportunity to secure a decent advantage in the middle game, Matthew had allowed his opponent to get back into the contest. As the late evening settled in the two arrived at a very complicated endgame position with little time to assess it. In these sorts of situations instinct tends to be very important and Matthew’s blitz skills carried him to victory as he seemed to sense the right moments to take risks in search of the full point.

Sutcliffe vs. Parsons is game 6 in the viewer

The fifth player with a score of two before the round began was Josh Blinkhorn. He had the misfortune to be drawn against the returning top seed Chris Booth who finished him off in clinical fashion. On board 4, John Morgan attoned for his draw in round 2 by defeating Matthew Wedge-Roberts and he now joined Chris and Belgrave’s Angel Gonzalez on 2½/3. Meanwhile the rest of the large group that had been on 1½/2 were surprisingly peaceable as a series of draws left them a little further adrift of the leaders.

Round 4: Chess lovers mate on Valentine’s night!

Let us be clear that a bacchanalian orgy did NOT take place
at the Trades Club on Valentine's night
While Calderdale’s canoodling couples cosied up for a romantic evening on Monday February the 14th, the competitors for the Calderdale Individual Chess Championship title took their seats for another climactic battle. Of course the scheduling of the fourth round meant that there were some absentees. Most notable of these was Chris Booth, who, having already takena half point bye, now forfeited a full point and, now out of contention, he withdrew from the final round as well. This left the way clear for the rest of the leading pack to slug it out for the title.

It was no surprise that most of the attention was focused on the board one clash where Dave Wedge defended his title against Matthew Parsons. A win for Dave would have left him needing only a draw in the final round to defend his crown, a win for Matthew and we would have a new champion. In the event of a draw John Morgan and Angel Gonzalez were lurking half a point behind them preparing to pounce. The match up didn’t disappoint and the pair struggled long into the night. In the end Matthew emerged victorious to take sole lead of the competition on 4/4.

Parsons vs. Wedge is game 7 in the viewer at the end of this post

On board 2 John secured his opportunity to shoot for the title with a fairly straightforward victory over Angel.

Gonzalez vs. Morgan is game 8 in the viewer

These results meant that John would play White against Matthew in the final round and would need to win that game to lift the title. A draw for Matthew would be enough for him to take it.

Behind these two there was now a chasing pack of 5 players on 3/4. Dave Wedge was one of these and he was joined by one of his victims from earlier in the tournament, former champion Andy Leatherbarrow, Todmorden’s Scott Gornall, Huddersfield’s Robert Sutcliffe and Hebden Bridge’s Martin Syrett. Robert in particular had shown impressive form in reaching this score having taken the tournament leader to the brink in round 3 and then beating the in form Dave Sugden in round 4.

Sugden vs. Sutcliffe is game 9 in the viewer

Round 5: Morgan picks Parson’s pocket for the title

And so, it all came down to one last heavy weight encounter. With Chris Booth and Dave Wedge now withdrawn or trailing in their wake respectively, John Morgan and Matthew Parsons settled down to slug it in the final round out at the Trade’s Club on the 14th of March. With so much at stake and with Matthew needing only a draw it is little wonder that John stayed true to his style and maintained a tense and strategically complex game for as long as he possibly could. In the end he was able to create a passed pawn and finally the pressure was too much for Matthew and he had to concede the championship to John.

Morgan vs. Parsons is game 10 in the viewer at the end of this post

Elsewhere the minor places were being decided. On board 2 Dave Wedge tore Robert Sutcliffe apart to claim the top grading prize and finish the tournament on a creditable score of 4/5. Scott Gornall and Andy Leatherbarrow drew on board 3 which enabled Martin Syrett to beat Alastair Wright and claim the next grading prize by finishing level on points with the dethroned champion. The last two grading prizes were claimed by Hebden Bridge’s Josh Blinkhorn and Todmorden’sTom Webster who both won their last round fixtures.

Syrett vs. Wright is game 11 in the viewer

So for the first time in a long time the Timeform Trophy left Hebden Bridge and now resides with John Morgan at Courier until next year’s championship kick’s-off. Congratulations to John on his achievement because this year’s championship was as competitive, if not more, than any I have ever taken part in.

Games Viewer

If you can't see the game viewer below then you may need to download Java. Your web browser should prompt you to do this but if it doesn't then you can get it from - it's free.

Final Standings of all players are given below.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Pass the can opener

Let's have de bait!
Lets start this post with a quote from the man who created chess ratings.

“The process of rating players can be compared to the measurement of the position of a cork bobbing up and down on the surface of agitated water with a yard stick tied to a rope and which is swaying in the wind.”
Arpad Elo, Chess Life, 1962

Yorkshire chess players might want to add a response to the quote above:

“Yes, but having three different ways of measuring the cork’s position isn’t going to make the task any easier is it?”

I recently posted on the new YCA grading list for 2011 and made some observations about them. In particular I said that I felt that, in light of the availability of these new grades alongside the YCA live rating and the proposed new monthly ratings, the Calderdale League needed to clarify it’s position on which of these statistics team captains should be using to help them decide on board order. I asked readers for feedback.

It seems that I have inadvertently opened a can of worms because I got lots of feedback! Thanks to all who took part in the discussion which was the most active we’ve ever had on the blog. Having allowed the comments to roll on for a little while I feel like now would be an appropriate time to try and summarise some of the opinions that have been expressed and maybe to make some recommendations to the league in advance of the AGM which takes place on Monday the 18th of July at the Lee Mount Working Men’s Club in Halifax.

What’s the problem?
The main challenge in my view is how best to ensure that team captains can continue to construct their teams in strength order in a consistent fashion. If some use the live ratings and some use the annual ratings then there may end up being disputes about board sequence.

Why is this important?
You may well ask. Some people are saying that I’m creating an issue that doesn’t exist. To a certain extent they are right. The issue doesn’t exist right now but I think when the new season begins it could start to cause problems and I’m keen to avoid disputes between team captains who may end up using different standards to sequence their board order.

The issue is important because it creates a consistent framework for us to carry out match play. Nearly everyone I know who plays league chess wants to feel that their team is deployed using the same standards as their opponents.There is a perfectly justifiable element of status involved too. If you are a board 1 player you want to be pitted against the other team’s strongest player. Many of the best players in the league are participating in matches because they want to test themselves against the best players at other clubs and if they didn’t feel that was happening then they might decide to stop playing in the league. In the same way, board 5 players want to know that they are playing their opponents weakest player and would feel picked on if they weren’t.

This is why the various new ratings (annual/monthly/live) cause us a potential problem. Which rating should captains be using to help them decide who is their strongest and weakest player and will the opposing team captain (and players) feel compelled to agree when they present their team sheet?

What are the rules?
The current League regulations state that…

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

Generally, there is nothing wrong with this regulation. Captains should be (and are) using the YCA ratings to help them determine a player’s strength and justify their board order. If they believe that a player is actually slightly stronger or weaker than his grade (which can be the case when a player’s grade has been calculated from a small number of games played in the previous year) then he can use his judgement and present his team in way to reflect this.

All of this is fine but it is based on captains using the current annual grades as their guide and also assumes that the captain is best placed to understand his players’ current form and strength. The live grades have fundamentally changed this situation because now anyone can get a very accurate idea of any players current form and strength simply by referring to the YCA website and I believe this gives captains less room for latitude in their team selections than previously.

Next season I’ll be captaining Hebden Bridge’s ‘A’ team and will be wanting to ensure that our strongest player is playing on board 1 against our opponents strongest and our weakest player is playing on board 5 and confronting the other team’s weakest. I’ll use the live grades to help me judge the form of my players and if I need to change the board order during the season to reflect the form then I will do so. Likewise I’ll also be studying the opposing team’s form and will want to make sure that this is reflected in their board order. If I don’t think that is being done then I’ll speak to the other team captain before the start of the match and discuss it. The live grades enable me to do this when previously the annual grades did not. Naturally, other team captains may adopt the same approach.

Of course we mustn’t be too pedantic. If there is a very small difference in the live grades of two players then I think it doesn’t matter too much what order they play in. In the same way if a newish player is in the line up then it wouldn’t be right to insist they play in a position merited only by their live grade because it won’t be robust enough to be totally reliable and in this instance the opposing team captain’s judgment should be respected.

What should we change?
I don’t think we need to change very much. In fact I think the current wording in the league regulations is fine (besides that it will be real torture to amend the league's consititution). However, I do think the league should offer some guidelines to team captains at the start of the season which should include:
  • Clarification that where the current regulations say “Yorkshire grades” they mean the most up to date grades available i.e. the live grades.
  • Guidance on how to raise concerns about board order. This should be done between the captains before the match starts. In this way if one captain isn’t aware of the current live grades then he can be informed by his counterpart and the two can then have a sensible discussion before play begins. If neither captain is aware of the current lives grades then there won’t be an issue!
  • Confirmation that once play has begun it will be assumed both captains are happy with their opponent’s board order. Subsequent protests to the league can be viewed as bad form unless voiced before play began.
  • An indication that some latitude be allowed for a player who is being played out of strict rating order when that player’s grade has been calculated from a small number (less than 10?) of games or when two players with a marginal difference in grade (3 points or less?) are played out of sequence.
This will ensure that some consistency and common sense prevails throughout the season and will enable players to play their matches knowing that they’ve been pitted against the right member of the opposing team.

Of course there is a whole separate issue around which grades to use for the Calderdale Individual Championship. This competition is unusual in that it adopts the same format as a weekend congress but takes place over 5 months and not 3 days. This gives rise to some interesting challenges where live grades are concerned. However, in this case I can’t see how live grades can be used because a Swiss System tournament has to have a static list of players in rating order before the first round draw and that list cannot be re-drafted based on the players’ new lives grades after each round has taken place. Let’s not go there!

I hope that this proposal sounds sensible, rational and fairly straightforward to implement and I also hope that it will enable the league to make the best use of the new rating system. What do you think? Please post a comment below to make your views known.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Like the view?

This post is primarily a test to see what readers think of this new game viewer I'm trying out. Personally, I think this is superb and it is also quite easy and quick to use.

Update 15/07/11: After early feedback I've now tried loading up multiple games into the viewer (one advantage that it has over the previous one I was using) they are all in the Two Knights Defence which continues a recent theme. I've tinkered  with the default colours a bit purely for aesthetics (I think it looks nice anyway!) and have a couple of the games with notes in to see how people think the comments are working.

Some early lessons.
  1. You need to have Java installed on your computer to see the viewer. If you don't have it your browser should prompt you but if it doesn't and you can only see a blank space below then you can download it for free here. I promise it's worth the effort.
  2. I'll need to learn some lessons about putting in the game annotations as this viewer displays them slightly differently to Fritz. As a note for anyone wanting to send me games in future, it only displays annotations if you add them "after move" and not "before move". It also doesn't work very well if you intersperse single words between moves in sub variations which is a style that works very well in Fritz and Chessbase but not here.
  3. Finally, please ignore the error message that is displayed on some of the boards when you bring them up. One you start playing through the games they work fine and I haven't been able to figure out what the error message actually means yet!
Please feel free to feedback more now that I've updated this.