Wednesday, 28 September 2011

The dark art of games(wo)manship

Rudyard Kipling: Somewhat less deadly than his wife
“The female of the species is more deadly than the male.”
Rudyard Kipling

“If cunning alone were needed to excel, women would be the best chess players.”
Adolf Albin

A couple of weekends ago, as I watched live coverage of the FIDE World Cup Final in Khanty Mansiysk my wife took an interest (most unusual) and asked about the lady commentator, GM Anna Sharevich. We started to talk about women in the game and I explained that there was a women’s World Champion and that most top female players played in specific, women only tournaments. Quite rightly she asked me why there were separate women’s events and titles when the game of chess conferred no physical advantage to men as it does in most sports. “Surely men and women should compete together” she said and cited show jumping (horse riding is her favourite pastime) as an example of a sport where men and women compete on equal terms.

Of course my wife is right (she almost always is I find) to point out this strange state of affairs in chess. I must admit I struggled to justify why women competed separately from men although I did point out a very significant exception to the rule. Judit Polgar. When I provided my wife with Judit’s potted curriculum vitae and went on to add that she had performed very well at the same World Cup in reaching the quarter-finals and losing to the eventual winner she simply nodded and said “Well, there you go”.

That discussion caused me to reflect a little on the differences between women and men and how they think. I don’t want to get embroiled in a gender debate and I’m no scientist but, I reasoned that physiologically, there must be some attributes that are more prevalent in one gender or the other and that those attributes must have an impact on the workings of the mind even if it’s at a trivial level. I’m fairly sure that male and female GMs approach preparation and in-game-analysis in the same way but at an amateur level, perhaps different approaches are more apparent.

Of course there was only one course of action for me to take at this point and I immediately logged on to exchange instant messenger correspondence with this website’s most illustrious contributor, Lady Cynthia Blunderboro. Our chat progressed thusly:

Intermezzo: Do you think women approach chess in a different way to men or display any attributes more or less prominently then their male counterparts?

Blunderboro: Generally I’d say no because such a blend and balance of skills are required to excel and the best players, men and women, tend to demonstrate these universally. However, remembering the words of Rudyard Kipling, I’d suggest that maybe we ladies bare chess grudges longer than men do, and, baring in mind the words of Adolf Albin, perhaps we occasionally display greater levels of imagination in our deviousness.

Intermezzo: I assume that you have examples in mind?

Blunderboro: Of course. Shall I write you a blog post?

Intermezzo: Yes please!

So now, I’ll hand you over to Lady Cynthia who, as always, has an intriguing tale to tell.

Hello again fellow chess-heads! The gender debate surrounding the royal game has long been a cause of heated discourse. Personally I find such chatter to be rather dull as generally speaking it is, like the game itself, dominated by male opinion! Questions such as “Why don’t more women play chess?” and “Why are women not as good at chess as men?” tend to be questions that men ask when they want to pontificate about the perceived masculine intellectual attributes they possess. The truth of the matter seems to be that, proportionally, we women are at least as good at chess as men. Should any of my undoubtedly overwhelmingly male readership be interested in a more balanced female perspective on such matters then I can hardly do better than to direct you to the excellent Goddess Chess website.

From a Lady’s perspective, I’m not convinced that our approach to chess or the attributes we display are really all that different to men’s. Certainly I’m unable to recall any examples that would support such a theory. What I certainly can provide evidence to support is that when it comes to clear thinking, cold-blooded ruthlessness and down-right craftiness at the chess board, we ladies can behave in a most ungentlemanly fashion!

Today’s story begins in 1932 when I was 10 years old and attending St. Ethel’s boarding school for girls. Of course I was a member of the school chess team and we regularly played matches in the local chess league as well as against other schools around the country. At this early stage in my career I was not by any means an expert but the fire of competitive spirit was certainly stoked during my school days. This was never more evident than when St Ethel’s played our annual match against our great rivals, St Agnes’ Catholic School for Girls. By the time I represented St Ethel’s for the first time in this fixture it had already taken place 35 times previously and our school held an 18-17 lead. In 1932 then I had, for the first time, been offered the opportunity to defend the honour of St Ethel’s in this unfolding legend of inter-school rivalry. I was selected to play on the bottom board, board 10.

If further incentive to succeed were needed that day it was provided when I arrived for the match (which we played on a Saturday afternoon in our school library that year) and discovered that my opponent was to be Prunella DeLauncy. I knew this girl and we already detested each other. Prunella was the daughter of Sir Stephen and Lady Margaret DeLauncy who owned DeLauncy Castle, the nearest estate to my own family’s holdings. Although our families were not especially friendly we did operate in each others ambit on numerous social occasions and so I had already had numerous run-ins with this odious little girl. Prunella was three years older than me and took every possible opportunity to belittle, bully and taunt me for being smaller, weaker and younger than her. I reasoned that, on this occasion at least, her physical advantages would be of no use to her and resolved to take full advantage of the fact that the controlled conditions of the competition would prevent her from cheating. An deep irony baring in mind what was to take place that day.

When we took our seats at the board she looked at me as if I were something unpleasant and smelly that she had stepped in on the street and could barely bring herself to shake hands with me. When the handshake did come it was half-hearted and limp. At this point, as I looked along the two lines of players on my right, I noticed to my amusement that she was stationed beneath several girls who looked to be about my age whereas I was clearly the youngest in our team. This gave me a fresh injection of confidence for now I felt that my playing abilities would be a match for hers.

Sadly, on that wet autumnal afternoon I was to be disappointed and even devastated by my own naivety. The game started off well enough. She responded to my king’s pawn advance with the Sicilian Defence. I chose an anti-Sicilian line I’d been studying and elected to play it safe by swapping the queens off very early in the game. I felt confident of securing at least a draw from my enemy until we reached the diagram position below where Prunella was to play.

By now Prunella had begun to openly express some dissatisfaction with her position. Perhaps she felt that she ought to have already secured a decisive advantage against a player three years her junior, perhaps she had simply staged these emotions in order to prepare the way for what now came next. After a relatively short think of only a couple of minute she aggressively bashed out the move 18…Bc6, whacked her clock and then sat back smugly with a sneer on her face and her arms folded across her chest.

As I considered my response I noticed that her facial expression was slowly changing from smugness to concern. After a couple of minutes her face reddened, she muttered something to herself under her breath and then suddenly stood up, her chair scrapping noisily on the wooden floor as she did so, and stormed out of the room in disgust. The eyes of all the players followed her as she left. Amazed and excited at what had just occurred I studied the board again looking for the error that she obviously felt she had committed. It didn’t take long to for me to realise that she had left her pawn on f5 unprotected.

“A free pawn!” I thought. “Is there a trap?”

It took only the briefest of moments to check that after I captured with 19.Rxf5 there was nothing unpleasant that was going to happen to my king and saw that if she played 19…Rd1+ 20.Kh2 Bb8+ then 21.g3?? would be a dire error on account of 21…Rh1 mate! However, I soon saw that instead of this I could play 21. f4, or even better 21.Bf4 and would have simply gained a two pawn advantage.

“She must have missed 21.Bf4”, I reasoned and then wrote down the move 19.Rxf5, played it and pressed my clock confident that I had secured a decisive advantage.

Five minutes passed by and then another five. There was no sign of Prunella, where was she? I began to get restless, had she given up in dismay or been rendered physically unwell by her error? I was about to go and speak to the match referee when the door of the library creaked open and Prunella slowly crept back in. She looked like she had composed herself and she returned to our game tight lipped and serious. She sat down at the board, looked at my move and sighed meaningfully and then with a depressed air about her she responded as I had anticipated with 19…Rd1+. I played my only move 20.Kh2 and then she rocked back in her chair her expression completely transformed once again. Suddenly she was leering at me with a malignant twinkle in her eye. She paused only long enough to let me register that something was a miss before reaching forward and playing not 20…Bb8+ but the move 20…Be4!

I stared at the board in disbelief. My rook and knight forked by the bishop. How had I missed it? It was clear I had been duped by an acting performance of consummate skill. She had wanted me to think that she had made an error and so all I had done was look for one. It was a brilliant diversion. Looking only for a mistake I had found one and completely missed the best rejoinder! I couldn’t even escape with 21.Ne3 as Bxe3 simply reinstated the threat.

At that point, I confess that my world fell apart. I have never again since felt so abject at the board. Playing on in a mist of demoralised inertia I continued on auto-pilot until Prunella finally ground me down with her extra piece in the end game. To make matters even worse St Ethel’s lost the match by a score of 4½-5½! My naivety had lost us the match and it took me months and months to recover from the trauma of losing that game to Prunella DeLauncy who I should add, I never played again in the annual encounter as my game improved rapidly enough to stay above her in the board order in subsequent years. Never the less, in each year that I took part I had to endure her hard, sneering gazing on me every time I caught her eye.

I thought I would never have the chance to avenge that painful defeat. But then, over twenty years later, in 1953, fate dropped an opportunity into my lap. I received a letter from the St Ethels’ Head Mistress of that time informing me that the annual chess match against St Agnes’ had reached it’s 50th edition (the fixture was not held between 1940-45 on account of World War II) and, to commemorate this, a special anniversary match between chess-playing alumni from each school was to take place alongside the traditional match for the pupils. Of course I accepted the invitation to take part as, by this point in my life, I was an accomplished player and wanted to repay in some way the chess education I had received from my old school.

The day of the match arrived. Once more the venue was St Ethel’s School Library. I had arrived early and was enjoying chatting to several old friends who I hadn’t seen for years when suddenly on of them drew my attention to the library doorway. Prunella DeLauncy had just arrived. I hadn’t expected her to attend but I would guess that she wouldn’t have wanted to miss another opportunity to flaunt her success of 21 years previously. There she was, as tight faced and smugly superior as ever. She glared at me as she made her way over to her team mates and I found myself yearning for a re-match even though I imagined that she would not be their top board player.

When we saw our Captain’s match card I couldn’t believe what I saw, for Prunella was indeed playing on board 1 for the St. Agnes Alumni team. Her game must have improved somewhat over the last twenty odd years for I was sure there were others in the St.Agnes line up who had previously been her betters. As we sat across from one another I could sense her disdain but forced myself to be polite and looked up smiling at her.

“Good luck”, I said as I shook that limp, cold hand.

For this return game I was fortunate once again to have the White pieces. My improved skills as a player in the intervening years between our encounters had given me the confidence I needed to play for a small but enduring advantage out of the opening. I played solidly, possibly too solidly and Prunella, to her credit defended staunchly, and at times, resourcefully. As the game meandered on my advantage dwindled and I began to realise that Prunella, whilst having no winning chances herself, had succeeded in neutralising my attacking potential completely.

Stubbornly, for in all other circumstances I would have offered a draw, I played on, politely declining her curt offer of a draw when the queens came off the board as the end game began. We were now the last board playing and the match was tied at 4½-4½. Vainly I scoured the position for any opportunity to create complications and managed to find a clever way of sacrificing a pawn to reactivate my pieces. I conjured up some significant problems for my opponent and she began to spend more and more time trying to solve them. Finally though, she dug herself out of trouble yet again and, with both our clocks down to their last two minutes, we reached the position below.

I had just checked the Black king and Prunella moved it with 61…Kh6. I sat staring intently at the board. The position, with equal material and opposite coloured bishop was drawn I had to accept it and offer to share the honours. My clock was almost spent. But then, a glimmer of an idea came into my mind, perhaps there was a way and I could try to win it without any risk of losing. Quickly I checked it again and glanced at my clock. One minute left. Prunella had a little more but not much. To make this work I had to blitz her and rely on her disdain of me and need to belittle me. I could use that to my advantage.

Very swiftly we now both banged out the moves…
62. Bf4+ Kg7
63. Be5+ Kh6
64. Bf4+ Kg7

I’d made a point of calling out “Check” throughout this sequence. First of all because I knew it would annoy her and secondly because it was integral to my plan. I paused here for a couple of seconds with my hand hovering over the bishop. Prunella, flushed with adrenaline looked at me intently expecting that the repetition of moves would follow and enable her to thwart me again and draw the match. However, I now played 65.Bd6 and called out “Check” again. Immediatley Prunella’s hand darted out to her king and moved it back to h6. She pressed her clock again and then said, mockingly, “That wasn’t check.”

“Sorry! Yes, you’re right. My mistake” I replied as I paused again for a few seconds. I must have had about twenty seconds left. I used ten of those to allow Prunella to realise the full horror of her mistake before playing 66.Bf8!

“But that,” I said “is checkmate. If I’m not mistaken.”

And so it was that on this occasion it was Prunella who was left devastated. My vengeance felt very, very sweet and my team mates crowded round to congratulate me on my play. Later on, at the local pub they also congratulated me on my gameswomanship. The ultimate compliment.

As a post script to this story I should add that recently I was most surprised to find this last little set piece (listed as being played by NN and NN) in Christian Hesse’s new book “The Joys of Chess:Heroes, Battles and Brilliancies”. The position features in a chapter named “Gamesmanship” and I will end this article with a quote that features at the beginning of that chapter which seems very appropriate to the subject and an object lesson for all chess players regardless of their gender.

“As a medium for demonstrating one’s mastery of the game the board and pieces are, in fact, most unreliable.”
William Hartston

Addendum: 01/10/2011
Since I published this post (by a bizarre coincidence) Chessbase have put up a very interesting related article on their website which I would commend to all readers interested in the gender discussion. It turns out that some research now suggests that there are differences between men and women when it comes to how they approach their chess playing. Or, rather, there are differences to their approach when men play against attractive women! Evidently a man playing a game against an attractive woman is much more likely to essay an aggressive opening system and take more risks to try and win the game. On the other hand, women are unlikely to change their approach when playing against men, regardless of whether or not they think they are attractive! So, there you go, some kind of answer to the original question I posed in the introduction to this post.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Half full or half empty?

Which one are you?
It’s all about your frame of mind isn’t it? I mean, whether you perceive the proverbial glass to be half full or half empty. Sometimes it’s a close call though. Monday night’s first round match of the Calderdale Evening Chess League left me puzzling over which view to take. Ultimately I think I’m a “glass-half-full” kind of chap. Perhaps I should explain my dilemma.

I’m new to this team Captain business and whilst the logistical dealings of organising a team and getting them to a venue come to me easily enough I hadn’t anticipated some of the thoughts and feelings I’d experience on game night itself. I found myself paying quite a lot more attention to the status of my colleagues’ games and at the end of the night I found myself weighing up the value of the result much more extensively than I might have done if I’d just been participating as a player.

As I prepared Hebden Bridge ‘A’ for the season I did so with the goal of winning the League 1 title in my mind. Huddersfield won last season with our team a close second and I wanted to create a team capable of winning the title back from them. I think we have such a team but we’ve had to re-build. Dave Wedge has done sterling service for the ‘A’ team on board 1 for many years, but a career opportunity has taken him away to Cambridge. His son Matthew, coincidentally, has achieved a place at Cambridge University studying Mathematics and he was one of the ‘A’ team’s top performers last season. In addition, last year’s Captain, Alastair Wright, has decided to offer his services to Todmorden ‘A’ this year. That left just Nick Sykes and Matthew Parsons from last year’s squad.

So, we’ve started again. Matthew Parsons is now on board 1. He would have been even if Dave was still here due to his higher rating. We have managed to secure the services of Darwin Ursal on board 2. He was a board 1 player with Halifax ‘A’ last season but, as they were relegated, he wanted League 1 chess so we’ve have him on a “season’s loan”. Darwin hopes and expects to go back to Halifax next year assuming they can get one of their two teams in League 2 promoted. Last season I was in the ‘B’ team but playing on board 1 or 2. This year I’ve switched teams but will operate on board 3. Finally, we have drafted in Pete Leonard who was probably the club’s surprise package last year as he returned to league chess for the first time in many years and performed admirably in the ‘C’ team. In the end, on paper anyway, we actually have a stronger line up than last year so I’m confident that we can compete.

Round 1 took us away to Todmorden for the first tie of the new campaign. I suspected they would be able to generate a strong line up. Martin Hamer and Andrew Clarkeson (both very strong players) were only guest stars last season but this year I suspect they will be regulars. The addition of Alastair Wright on board 3 gives them a powerful top order. And so with my new Captain’s head on I suspected we’d have to win on the lower boards to win the match. In my experience this is always where things are decided in League 1 as the best teams can all field very strong and evenly matched players on the top 2 or 3 boards. Baring in mind that we’d all have the Black pieces this fixture seemed like it would be one of the season’s toughest encounters.

Half way through the evening I admit I was worried. On board 1 Matthew appeared to be under pressure but was holding his own against Martin. On board 2 Darwin was playing his favourite Sicilian Dragon variation but Andrew appeared to know his way about and was playing accurately in the opening phase. My own game against Alastair had begun disastrously as his chosen move order completely flummoxed me. I had ended up with a terribly uncoordinated mess (king forced to f8 by a massive White knight on d6 (!), queen’s bishop trapped at home with no prospects of escape, rooks disconnected and a knight on the h-file) and was reduced to hunkering down to a long night of misery grovelling for a draw.

Boards 4 and 5 appeared to offer the best cause for optimism. Pete had achieved a huge passed pawn on the c-file straight out of the opening against Chris Edwards and seemed in control of things and Nick seemed to have a very satisfactory position from another Sicilian Defence against David Innes.

There was a brief moment mid-evening when disaster seemed imminent. Darwin had his queen trapped in the centre of the board and, to my eyes at least, there appeared no way out without giving up material. As you’ll see from the game analysis below, it turns out my assessment was correct (most unusual) but Darwin found a tricky response and Andrew overlooked the correct reply. Darwin went on to play the resultant endgame very actively and accurately and deserves great credit for overturning a -2 previous score against Andrew (admittedly one of those losses was in the lightning chess format).

By the time Darwin had won his game Matthew had agreed a draw against Martin Hamer, an excellent outcome given he had Black, and I had finally given up the fight against Alastair who played accurately and without fuss to convert his huge positional advantage. My queen’s bishop was still on c8 when it was trapped at the end of the game! All of this left the scores even from the top 3 boards, proving once again my opinion that League 1 games are decided on the lower boards.

Pete Leonard put our noses in front with his first League 1 win against Chris. That left us a point up with one to play and it appeared we would win the match as Nick seemed to be well in control of his game. Sadly he then overlooked a tactic that left him with too much ground to make up and he resigned in disgust.

At the time it felt disappointing to draw the match when we seemed to have it in the bag despite my own abysmal contribution. The glass was half empty. Nick was gutted at blundering in a winning position and I felt thoroughly dispirited from the molestation I had suffered. However, by the time I had gotten home and tucked myself in I was feeling a bit more positive. Looking at the Todmorden line up before the match I’d have taken a draw if you’d offered me one and the other three members of our team had all performed extremely creditably. I also reasoned that other teams (even our closest rivals) would struggle to achieve a drawn match if Todmorden put the same team out for every home tie.

A few days later I’m now convinced that my optimism is well founded for the champions, Huddersfield ‘A’, stumbled to a 3½-1½ defeat away to Brighouse in their first match of the season. Suddenly our draw seemed all the more like a point gained rather than a point lost. Recent history suggests that Huddersfield are more than capable of recovering to challenge for the title. Last year they draw their first match and lost their second but then went on a 12 match winning streak to claim victory. They’ll hope to do the same again but for the moment my glass stays half full.

Whilst we are on the subject of optimism let us pause to appreciate this quality in Martin Syrett, our ‘B’ team Captain, under whom I served with great pleasure last season (and in previous years also). Martin has been the ‘B’ team Captain for a number of years now and he labours under the most difficult circumstances. He knows that the best he can hope for each year is for his team to maintain their League 1 status. He knows that if the ‘A’ team find themselves a player or two short he will be expected to weaken his line up to support their title bid. Yet despite these travails he maintains a jovial and easy-going demeanour no matter how desperate the situation appears to be.

Last year the ‘B’ team appeared doomed for the drop and yet he led the charge to safety as we rallied to win our final two matches and stay up at Halifax’s expense. This season I think he has cause for a little optimism. In contrast to the ‘A’ team he has only lost one player. Me. In addition he also has access to some players who distinguished themselves in League 2 last season. On paper they like a big hitter on board 1 to help protect the rest of the troops but all of his regulars are rated within 5 or 6 points of each other and that should provide him with the chance to rotate them a bit in order to give them all the chance to win some games and test themselves on higher board.

Sadly, on Monday night at least, it didn’t work out for the ’B’s. Matthew Wedge Roberts guest starred on board 1 for his final match before heading off to university and he did well to draw with Courier ‘A’s number 1, John Morgan. John was last season’s individual super star as he collected not only the Calderdale Individual title but also the prize for best individual score in the league. I posted their game in the express report on Monday. John appeared to have most of the pressure in the game but Matthew knuckled down and held his position to prevent his opponent breaking through.

On board 2 Andy Leatherbarrow played tenaciously against Dave Patrick and pushed him all the way to the end of the night’s play (when does Andy ever play a game that is over in an hour or less!) but in the end an extra pawn in a rook ending wasn’t enough for a win.

It was further down the order that the ‘B’ team’s night went sour. Captain Syrett seemed to be doing well but then lost a piece as the endgame approached and went down swiftly to Robert Clegg after that. On board 4 Pete Olley seemed to be a certain winner before he also capitulated in dramatic fashion. Finally, Dave Sugden, so solid and dependable on board 1 for the ‘C’ team in League 2 last season, seems to have had an early catastrophe in his game and also lost.

Hebden ‘B’ matched up favourable grading-wise on the bottom two boards so (having drawn boards 1 and 2) the margin of the 1-4 score was disappointing. They next face Todmorden ‘A’ at home before playing their derby match with the ‘A’ team later in October, so they may already be looking at another slow start to the season. Martin’s side should be able to compete and pick up points against the likes of Brighouse, Belgrave and Huddersfield ‘B’ later in the Autumn. They’ll need to if they are to help Mr. Syrett is to continue performing his little miracles.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Let battle commence!

Today John Kerrane provides us with a report on Monday night’s Calderdale League round 1 matches. Match score cards and some of the games from each fixture have also been added. I'll be publishing some annotated games from these matches later in the week.

To use the game viewers simply select the game you wish to view from the drop down list above each board. Each viewer displays a random game from the selection. The games are presented at a rate of one move every 3 seconds. To play through them at your own pace select the "=" button and then move forward and back with the arrow buttons.

Hebden Bridge Chess Club started the new Calderdale Chess League season with a bang on Monday evening, with all four of their teams in action.

The A team, playing away against Todmorden A, were held to a draw by the home side, who were aided by a win for Alastair Wright, former Hebden A team captain now playing for Todmorden, against the new captain, Dave Shapland. However, a win by new A team member Pete Leonard evened the account. The individual results were:

Todmorden ‘A’ vs. Hebden Bridge ‘A’
M. Hamer ½ – ½ M. Parsons
A. Clarkson 0 – 1 D. Ursal
A. Wright 1 – 0 D. Shapland
C. Edwards 0 – 1 P. Leonard 1
D. A. Innes 1 – 0 N. Sykes
2½ – 2½

The B team, playing at their home venue, the Trades Club, Holme Street found it hard going against Courier A and went down 4-1. Matthew Wedge-Roberts and Andy Leatherbarrow, on boards 1 and 2, managed creditable draws, but the visitors’ lower board players proved too strong for Hebden B. The individual results were:

Hebden Bridge ‘B’ vs. Courier ‘A’
M. Wedge-Roberts ½ – ½ J. Morgan
A. Leatherbarrow ½ – ½ D. Patrick
M. Syrett 0 – 1 R. Clegg
P. Olley 0 – 1 D. Colledge
D. Sugden 0 – 1 G. Thompson
1 – 4

The C team, also playing at home, held a strong Todmorden B side to a 2 ½ - 2 ½ draw, this time with strong play on the lower boards. The individual results were:

Hebden Bridge ‘C’ vs. Todmorden ‘B’
T. Sullivan 0 – 1 R. Tokeley
T. DeLuca 0 – 1 P. Logan
J. Kerrane 1 – 0 G. Bowker
S. Priest ½ – ½ R. Stoelman
N. Bamford 1 – 0 R. Pratt
2½ – 2½

As these game viewers are still relatively new to this blog I'd like some feedback from readers. Can everyone see these ok? Do they display correctly? Do you like them? etc.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Parsons knows

Matthew Parsons will be filling the
Dave Wedge-shaped vacancy on
board 1 for the 'A'  team this season
Today’s post comes courtesy of Hebden Bridge Chess Club’s highest graded player, Matthew Parsons. In a post from earlier this week we covered off his successes at the Huddersfield Rapidplay and the Club Lightning competition but Matthew had started his warm up routine for the new league season even earlier as he explains below.

Over the Bank Holiday weekend in August I played in the Major Section (Under 170) at Leyland Chess Congress. With my ECF grade of 167 taking preference over my YCA (174), which would have placed me in the Open, I could have expected to be one of the favourites for the 1st prize. There were two other players with the same grade as me and one higher, Abigail Pritchard, who was graded 168. She, like myself, did not have the best tournament. I finished on 3.5/6, with 3 wins, 2 defeats, and 1 draw.

As you will see from the games below, the 2 defeats were nothing to do with my opponent beating me, but rather foolish errors from myself. In round 1 I over-pressed against a weaker opponent, searching too hard for a win, only to blunder in time trouble and lose. In round 4 I had a totally won ending which I messed up in terrific style.

My play was sporadically good, but I was definitely very rusty having not played over the board since March, where as many of the other players in the tournament had played in various sections at the British Championships in Sheffield earlier in the month. I also found myself exhausted each day, much more so than normal. That said, it was a good warm up for the league season and hopefully any rustiness is now out of my system.

In fact I finished 2nd at the Huddersfield Rapidplay Open Section last weekend, beating the top seed Peter Shaw in round 1 in the process, a player graded over 200. My play on this day was at another level to how I played at Leyland.

Here are the games from Leyland with my own annotations.

My thanks go to Matthew for taking the time to provide this report and annotated games to us. I hope that other players will find his thoughts enlightening and entertaining.

The Calderdale League season begins next Monday the 19th of September with all four of the club’s teams in action as both leagues 1 and 2 kick off. A full list of the season’s fixture can be found on the new Calderdale League website and all fixtures pertinent to Hebden Bridge teams can be found by visiting the “Calderdale League Fixtures 2011-12” page on this site.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Lightning victory for Parsons

The new Calderdale Evening Chess League is just around the corner (it starts next Monday) and, in the time honoured tradition, Hebden Bridge Chess Club held its annual Club Lightning Competition to give club members the opportunity to limber up in a light-hearted yet competitive way.

In addition to this contest several members of the club joined other Calderdale players at the Huddersfield Rapidplay on Sunday the 11th of September.

Today’s post reports on the outcome of both competitions and we begin with John Kerrane’s report for the Hebden Bridge Times.

Report by John Kerrane
 As the new Calderdale Chess League season approaches, Hebden Bridge Chess Club held their regular warm-up, the annual Lightning Chess Trophy competition, on Monday at the Trades Club, Holme Street.

With the current lightning champion, Dave Wedge, retiring from active play for the club, the competition was wide open, and several of the stronger players were in contention from the outset. The early leader was Matthew Wedge-Roberts, but he was overhauled by Matthew Parsons, who finished the evening with 5/6, while Wedge-Roberts, with 4½/6, came second.

This result confirmed Matthew Parsons’s fine form for the beginning of the new season, after he finished second in the Huddersfield Rapidplay Congress the previous weekend in a very strong field. He managed to beat the strongest player in the competition, Peter Shaw, in the first round and was, in fact, the only player not to lose a game.

Next week, the club’s players, after limbering up, must get down to some serious business when the league matches start in earnest, with all four of the club’s teams in action on the first night.

So, Hebden Bridge Chess Club has a new Lightning Champion in the form of Matthew Parsons. He was a worthy winner. The final ranking table of all entrants is published below.

I know that some contestants were very interested in the software I used to generate the pairings and enter the results. It’s a piece of free software called Sevilla and I found it very easy to use. It probably saved us 30 minutes of time working out the pairings in between rounds so I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who wants to run a competition at club level.

The format of lightning chess often leads to some quite comical circumstances that you simply wouldn’t see in any other form of the game. In particular the rules dictate that there is no need to announce check and that any king left enprise can be captured to end the game. Likewise, any illegal move that isn’t picked up on before the next move is due to be made has to stand. When you only have 10 second to make each move these idiosyncratic rules come into play more often than you might imagine. I won two of my games on Monday night by capturing my opponent’s king and I've witnessed a game of Lightning chess that ended with one player having two bishops operating on the same colour squares! Neither player had the slightest idea when the error had occured.

A particularly amusing episode took place on Monday in the final round as two of the club’s less experienced players battled it out for the final point of the round. Tim Wilton-Davis was playing White and was up an exchange and several pawns and appeared to be cruising to a win when Tim Whelan, playing Black, gave check with his one remaining piece, a knight. When the buzzer went 10 seconds later Wilton-Davis advanced a pawn and, immediately realising his blunder, actually got up from the board in disgust to storm off. Meanwhile, Whelan, totally absorbed in proceedings, didn’t seem to notice Wilton-Davis' distress and didn’t notice that his opponent's king was enprise! When the buzzer sounded again he also advanced a pawn at which point Wilton-Davis returned to the board with a smirk to move his king out of check and he went on to win the game. Whelan meanwhile remained completely oblivious of his oversight!

As a parting shot for this post I'd like to publish Matthew Parson's excellent win against Peter Shaw from the Huddersfield Rapidplay. This was a notable scalp for Matthew and he went on to be undefeated for the rest of the day tying for second behind Shaw who managed to win all but one of his remaining games to win with 4.5/6. The game below is published using a new game viewer (yet another!) by Casaschi. I'm hoping to use this viewer more often in future as hopefully I will be able to display all the games in a single league fixture through a single viewer. It's only draw back is that it isn't so good with annotations and commentary (there is a limit to the number of characters one can have in the PGN file) and so for single games with commentary I hope to use another viewer that is best for this purpose. As always I'd value feedback on the viewer below.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

"Lost on time"

Ok, so the cover looks like it was designed
by a simpleton, but don't let that put you off.
This book is superb!

They are the words chess players hate seeing at the end of a scoresheet. Yes, today’s post is all about time forfeits. It’s also a first opportunity for me to offer readers a bit of a book review for a title I purchased recently called “The Joys of Chess” by Christian Hesse. I purchased it last month and it was the first chess book I had bought in quite some time. My attraction to it probably reflects my changing needs as a chess player, or, to be more precise, a chess publisher. That’s because this book is not an opening treatise or a self-help manual. It is pure entertainment and there is a bucket load of material here for a chess blogger.

To be blunt, I can’t recommend this book heartily enough. Rarely has the title of a book so aptly reflected its content. This work is a gem that has been some years in the making. Hesse has been gathering material throughout his 30-year career as a chess player (he is a Professor of Mathematics by trade). The format of the book makes it very easy to dip in and out of and so you don’t need to spend hours at a time pouring over it with a board. In my household we call this type of publication a “good toilet book” because you can easily consume a chapter during the course of a call of nature! The chapters are mostly fairly short and there are enough diagrams in it to allow you to follow the course of any play without having to use a computer or a board. The subjects are many (there are over 50 chapters in here) and varied cover such diverse topics as “Chess and Psychology”, “Quantum Logic in Chess”, “Retreats of Genius”, “Brilliant Bad Moves” and “Provocation”. I already know that I’m going to be sharing and expanding on some of the contents of this book here on the blog for a long time to come. Fans of Tim Krabbe’s “Chess Curiosities” will love it.

Amongst the chapters is a section called “Time and Time Forfeits” and it is from here that I would like reach for some entertaining examples for today’s post. I’ve written about time management and time trouble on these pages before and the drama of "zeitnot" can be most compelling for spectators watching a game. For the participants however it is exceedingly stressful and yet, some players across every level of competitive chess get into habitual time trouble.

On occasions the likely outcome of a game can be completely turned on it’s head due to one player blundering in time trouble or even running out of time. I’ve only forfeited on time in competitive play once or twice and I can well remember the anguish of feeling like I had wasted my efforts on a game that I had “thrown away”. Let’s face it, most time forfeits are conceded when the game situation is still unclear and often complicated. Losing in such a way with the potential of the game unfulfilled can leave a deep psychological wound.

For example, Hesse mentions Nigel Short’s traumatic loss in the first game of his World Championship match with Garry Kasparov in London in 1993. I had not long started playing chess at the time of this match and remember it vividly. Short had a winning position at the board but over stepped the time limit and forfeited the game. He never really recovered from that loss and went on to lose the match by some margin. As a small diversion however I'd like to recommend the following You Tube clip to readers which is very funny indeed and cleverly made...

Right, back to the task at hand. Hesse references two further examples of time forfeiture that I was not aware of.

Position after 35.Bc5.
Spassky vs. Hort, Game 15
Candidates quarterfinal, Reykjavik, 1977

The position on the left was reached in the penultimate game of a Candidates quarterfinal match. With the match score level the Czech superstar Vlastimil Hort had succeeded in giving himself a wonderful chance of qualification after gaining a winning advantage with Black in this position. An eyewitness to the encounter, Australian Grandmaster Ian Rogers, picks up the story.

“Hort had 4 minutes left in which to reach move 40, and his hand was over the queen about to play the winning move 35…Qg4. Just one of several variations is 36.Rf2 (36.g3 Qh3 is just as bad) Rd1+ 37.Rf1 Rxc1 38.Rxc1 Qd1+ 39.Kf2 Bc5 and White must resign. But Hort’s brain refused to let his hand play the move and the numerous spectators witnessed the horrific drama as Hort’s clock ticked down to zero and he lost on time.”

This is a bizarre case that seems to be analogous to a golfer getting the yips and being unable to execute his putting stroke. Hort was later moved to say in an interview “It was the blackest day of my life”. Truly it scarred him deeply for he was unable to win the last game of the match with the White pieces and lost the match never again to qualify for the Candidates cycle.

Hesse then recounts another extraordinary rabbit-in-the-headlights case of time forfeiture.

Position after 39.Kh3
Larsen vs Gheorghiu, Olympiad
Siegen, 1970

This case (on the right) occurred in another high profile and high stakes environment, the Olympiad, but this time there was some history between the two players that seems to have effected the Romanian’s psyche. He had a terrible personal score against Larsen and admitted that he found playing the irrepressible Dane to be extremely wearing. Never-the-less, in the position above he had managed to secure a winning advantage and needed now only to play 39…Nf3 (threatening 40…Ng5 mate) and Black will be able to convert his material advantage after, for example, 40.Kg2 Ng5+ 41.Kf1 Qxc4+ 42.Qe2 Qxd5. Instead of doing this however, the history books recorded another point in Larsen’s favour. In their book about the Siegen Olympiad, David Levy and Raymond Keene described what happened.

“Eye-witnesses of this remarkable encounter report that Gheorghiu stretched out his arm to play the decisive move 39…Nf3, but just at that moment the said arm was seized by a convulsive shake to such an extent that the Romanian grandmaster was not able to move the piece to the target square. As he tried to summon up the willpower to overcome this unfortunate case of paralysis he over-stepped the time-limit.”

The Larsen hoodoo had triumphed once again.

At least in both of these two cases the victims were aware of their imminent plight despite their physical incapability to doing anything to mitigate against it. In this last case from my own files the victim remained blissfully unaware of what lay in store for him.

Position after 61...Kc5

This is the final position from my third round encounter at the recent British Championships. It had been a tough battle and I had had my opponent on the ropes for much of the game. Having missed some chances to convert my pressure into a win, White now had the better of an endgame that was however, most likely, still drawn. Both of us were down to our last 2 minutes to complete the game and I was expecting my opponent to offer me a draw or try and play for a win. As I sat and waited, along with a gathering crowd, it became apparent to me that my adversary was not aware of the time crisis he was facing. He sat looking at the board as his clock ticked. He didn’t look up, he just thought... and thought... and ran out of time!

When I informed my hapless foe that he had forfeited the game he stared at me with glassy, vacant eyes and then, as realisation dawned on him, he shook his head miserably and said "I didn't realise. The game is drawn. It's a draw." But unfortunately it wasn't, he had lost!

I would only like to add by way of a salutory note that my opponent had arrived 20 minutes late for the start of the game. I leave it to readers to draw the moral from this tale of woe. 

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Who is "T.M.W.D.W.M.T"?

I’ve been light heartedly toying with the idea of referring to club members only through the medium of amusing pseudonyms during the course of the forth coming season. I probably won’t do it but it for a few minutes I enjoyed brain storming a few ideas. One idea came very quickly to mind and that was a 'handle' for one of our club's newest members, Pete Leonard. Pete joined us last year and quickly made a name for himself by scoring 6/7 for the ‘C’ team during the latter half of last season and ending it with a new Yorkshire rating of 158. Quite a debut!

Over the summer months I’ve had the chance to play a few games against Pete and chat to him about his ‘first’ chess career back in the 1970’s and 80’s. After an analysis evening at the club he mentioned that he’d once played in a simultaneous event against one of my chess heroes and member of the true all time greats, Mikhail Tal. When my jaw dropped open in amazement Pete proceeded to dumbfound me even further by telling me that he secured a draw against the former World Champion with the Black pieces and using Alekhine’s Defence! Now I was really impressed and asked him if he would send me the moves for publication here on the blog. Today I am delighted to be able to present Pete’s draw with Mikhail Tal.

As Pete himself points out the game was not particularly in keeping with the great man’s usual modus operandi. In fact it’s pretty dull and all those who attended the analysis evening that Pete was asked to host at the beginning of August to replay this historic game were probably a little surprised to spend most of their time analysing a technical endgame rather than a labyrinthine, tactical, atom bomb. Never mind. I did at least manage to dig out some further details of the simultaneous display itself with help of the chess historian par excellence, Edward Winter from Chess Notes.

I sent Mr Winter an e-mail and asked if there was any good way to find out about the details of the simultaneous display which, at that point, Pete thought had been played in 1977. Mr Winter kindly and politely responded that he couldn’t really help because if he did then he’d open the flood gates for similar requests that he simply didn’t have the time to deal with. But he did say that he’d had a cursory glance through some reference material and wondered whether I had provided him with the right date because the only simultaneous display he could find that had been played by Mikhail Tal in Luton was given in 1973.

Of course Mr Winter’s brief research turned out to be completely accurate and Pete later confirmed that on closer inspection of his handwriting it turned out his game had indeed been played in 1973. I was therefore pleased to be able to tell him that both Tal and Svetozar Gligoric participated in that simultaneous event at Stockwood High School in Luton on the 16th of July, 1973. Tal’s score that day was +39 -0 =3!

Now I truly am impressed because achieving one of only three draws out of 42 games played that day is a fantastic effort. In fact, ever since I found out about Pete's back story I have been jokingly referring to him as "The Man Who Drew With Mikhail Tal" or, palendromically, as "T.M.W.D.W.M.T" for short. Maybe we'll use that acronym to strike fear into the hearts of our enemies next season for if we can deploy "T.M.W.D.W.M.T" in the lower reaches of our 'A' team then how good must the rest of the side be?