Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Hastings update

I'm currently on 1½/2 at Hastings; my first-round victory against Chkhaidze got a mention in the daily commentary.

My second-round game featured two recent winners of the Brilliancy Prize; I won it in last year's event, while Simon Williams won it the year before. Expectations were high going into the game; we did not disappoint.

Unfortunately, chesspublisher fouled up when trying to process this game. It's available on the commentary link, though.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

If it's just after Christmas, it must be Hastings

Yes, it's that time of year again. The time when I go off to the Hastings International Chess Congress, which has some claim to be England's longest-running tournament. (The British Championship started later - 1904 to Hastings's 1895 - but has been running every year (except the war years) since, whereas Hastings didn't run between 1895 and 1922.)

This year, the live game coverage has been expanded from five games to twenty, so there's every chance you'll be able to watch my games live. Not in the first round, though; I'm on board 24, with black against a Georgian player called Nikoloz Chkhaidze, rated 2203.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

A Christmas Present For Our Readers

Merry Christmas, everyone.

This is a story I originally wrote for a Neighbours forum; the characters in the story are from the show. The game I feature here is a real game, and the tournament situation described in the story is a real situation. Those of you who enjoy these things may want to figure out what game and what tournament are being referenced here. (Note: the game may not necessarily come from the tournament.)


I looked thoughtfully at the pairing list on the door. Not that any of the top pairings would have changed, but it served as a way of anchoring myself in the reality of the situation.

1.Kinski, Ezekiel (7½) v Jeffries, Lisa (7½)
2.Kinski, Rachel (7) v Brown, Ringo (7)
3.Hoyland, Summer (6½) v Hunter, Justin (6½)
4.Parker, Bridget (6½) v Kirk, Benjamin IK (6½)
5.Freedman, Donna (6½) v Napier, Declan (6½)
6.Timmins, Breanna (6½) v Jones, Callum (6½)

The pairings continued to board 35, but my reading on was interrupted by Summer's bouncing up to me.

"Hey," she said, "good luck."

"Thanks," I replied. "You're probably the only one wishing me it."

An expression of mild sympathy came into Summer's eyes.

"No, don't." I said, before she could say anything to go with it. "I know what my name is like on Ramsay Street. Zeke's just about the only one on there to give me the time of day."

"Zeke can see what you're really like," said Summer, in explanation of this. I snorted in response; Summer has, despite having been friends with me for five years and thereby knowing me better than perhaps anyone, maintained a touching faith in my general good nature.

Summer turned to go into the tournament hall. As she was going in, I suddenly thought of something.

"Sum?" I called out.


"Smash that sexist pig for me, won't you? I'd hate to see his name in the prize list."

Summer smiled and went inside.



I sat there and looked at Zeke's first move. Normally, in such a situation, I'd have just pushed my c-pawn and offered a draw. But two things stopped me: first, I didn't think Zeke would have taken it – he hadn't agreed a quick draw yet in the tournament – and second, the thought of coming back here for some playoffs did not appeal to me.


Zeke stared at this in surprise; he'd obviously prepared enough to know I never played this.

2.d4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.f4

And I was right; he wasn't in the mood for a quick draw. I cast my mind back to rounds 6-8, where this sort of play had put Zeke into the lead with wins against Bree, Taylah and Summer. Well, this was certainly the day to defend well if ever there was one.

4...a6 5.Nf3 Nd7 6.a4 b6

There was a sudden flurry of activity from board five. Looking up, I was unsurprised to see the familiar sight of Donna Freedman agreeing a quick draw. Why had this girl entered the tournament, anyway?

7.Bd3 e6 8.0-0 Ne7 9.e5

Hmm. Zeke wanted to cut off my pawn-breaks by getting his in first. Well, developing as normal must still be right.

9...Bb7 10.Ne4

Should I take that? Would his bishop be good in the absence of mine? Hmm, this one would require serious – ow. This is so not a good time for caffeine withdrawal to kick in. Play a couple of safe moves, and then get a coffee.

10...d5 11.Ng3 c5 12.c3 Nc6

Zeke sunk into thought at this point, and so I went off to the hotel's on-site coffee bar, and tried to find the least overpriced drink on its menu. I'd just about managed this when Donna came up to me.

"Rare footage there, Donna," I said sarcastically.

Donna shrugged. "Like your round 7 game, then," she countered.

"I agreed a quick draw with my sister," I pointed out, "after I'd just lost a horrible game to Ringo spigging Brown. You've agreed quick draws with everybody."

"I've won three games," corrected Donna.

I rolled my eyes and sipped my coffee.

"There are too many games in this tournament anyway," she continued. "Why is a local junior championship eleven rounds long?"

"Because," I answered, "Paul Robinson, in his infinite wisdom, wanted to get his name in his own paper, and sponsor a tournament like the big international events. And he didn't consider why those events are nine or more rounds long, and why this doesn't apply to local kiddie events. Anyway, back to my game."



What have I done, Sweet Jesus, what have I done... I hastily checked myself here. I had no wish to find myself thinking of lyrics from musicals in yet another chess game. I dragged my mind back to the position. Two captures on f5, his knight landing there... ugh, no, there was no way I was getting into that.

13...exf5 14.Bxf5

So now what? Nf8, to prevent the e6 break? No, he'd play Bg5, and my position would get blown open... better castle and hope to weather the storm.

14...0-0 15.e6 Nf6 16.exf7+

This, I thought, wasn't getting any better any time soon. Take with the king and the knight comes into g5; take with the rook and I lose it...

16...Kh8 17.Bc2 Rxf7 18.Ne5 Re7 19.Bg5

Right. Could I play knight takes knight here? Ah, no, rook takes knight kills that. Well, that leaves only one choice.

19...Qd6 20.Bxg6 Nxe5 21.Nf5

And that, I thought, is probably that.


I got up from the board and looked at the other games. Board four was just finishing; Bridget Parker wrapped up a nice win against Ben Kirk.

"Well done," I said to her, when we were out in the corridor. "Nice game."

Bridget smiled. "How's it going in yours?"

"Obviously," I said, "I can't comment on that. Your reaction could be construed as advice."

Bridget nodded. "Fair enough. How do you think the other games are going?"

I thought about this. "Board two could go either way. Six is looking good for white, as is three." With this, I went back to my board.


That, I thought, is a relief. Had he played 22.dxe5, I suspect I would have been congratulating him on winning the tournament shortly afterwards. This gave me some counter-chances.

22...Rxg7 23.dxe5 Ne4 24.Bf5

He's losing it, I thought. The pressure's finally getting to him. Surely bishop takes knight was better. This just gives me an extra tempo when I take the pawn...

24...Qxe5 25.Bh6

I sank into thought here. Something was screaming at my brain, trying to attract its attention. While I was thinking, the games on boards three and six finished the way I expected, meaning that a loss would leave me tied with Summer and Bree as well as Bridget.

Hang on, surely this couldn't work, could it? I hadn't been building for an attack at all, but the opportunity to play this sacrifice had just shot up out of nowhere...



All of a sudden, I had a crowd of spectators round my board. Zeke nearly leapt out of his chair on seeing this move, but played the forced response.

26.Kxg2 Rg8+

The variations swirled around in my brain. If he went back to h1, ...d4 was going to be deadly. Hang on, what about Qf3? No, that was fine: queen takes bishop, queen takes queen, knight f2 mate. If he went to h3, I'd have rook g3 check... yeah, looked pretty good.

27.Bg4 d4

For the first time in the game, Zeke looked visibly perturbed. Running short of time, he played the obvious move, the one to get him out of both the pin and the battery I'd been setting up.


Yes, I thought. Got you. This will be the one. The game that makes it all worthwhile. As I was savouring this thought, the board two game finished. A beaming Rachel Kinski immediately came over to watch mine.

28...Bc8 29.Bxc8 Rg3+

I could sense the atmosphere building up in the crowd, but by now it was irrelevant. Okay, maybe the impressed look that Rachel was giving me wasn't irrelevant.


He couldn't take the second rook, because queen takes pawn would have been mate. But this allowed the whole point of the combination to happen.

30...Qe7+ 31.Kh5 Qe8+ 32.Kh4 Qd8+ 33.Kh5

Rachel was biting her lip here. I think somewhere in her mind was the hope that I hadn't actually got a win here, and was just going to go for the perpetual. Not a chance, I thought. I've calculated this to the end.


Again, he couldn't take this. The queen would recapture with mate.

34.Kh4 Rg6+

Slowly, the reason for the mysterious queen moves dawned on the crowd. If the king now went back to h3, queen takes bishop check would finish him off.

35.Kh5 Rxh6+

And if he took this one, it was mate on g5.

36.Kg4 Qxc8+ 37.Kf4 Qe6

Zeke took some time to catch his breath here, but eventually shook his head and extended his hand.


"For someone who was exhausted and had no confidence in her own ability," observed Summer, "you produced some pretty awesome chess there."

"Thanks," I said. "I was lucky, though. Zeke missed several wins in the middle there. I'm not sure I deserve this title."

"Don't be silly," sighed Summer. "You always do yourself down like this; you beat Zeke because he fumbled a winning position under pressure and you didn't."

I pondered on the truth of this as I sipped a drink that seemed almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.

"You know," continued Summer, "this could be just what you need. You took a couple of calculated risks in the game, and it paid off. You might find this approach works well in the rest of your life."

This was traditionally the point at which I would make a sarcastic comment at the expense of Summer's family, but for once I was in the mood to take her advice. "How do you mean?"

"You might want to build bridges with the Ramsay Street lot," suggested Summer. "Zeke already likes you; I'm sure the others will once they see past your reputation."

I raised an eyebrow at her.

"And if ever you wanted a place to start," Summer carried on with a twinkle in her eye, "I see the tournament runner-up is sitting over there with nobody to talk to at the moment. You might want to provide her with some company."

I looked from Summer to Rachel and back again, my mind whirling around. I suddenly sensed something, a feeling that I had had at around move 25...

"See you later," I said to Summer, getting up from the table. "I feel there's a calculated risk here I need to take."

Monday, 22 December 2008

Pictures from Coulsdon

The two players who got IM norms at Coulsdon last week; the picture on the left is of Rawle Allicock, seen here in conversation with Nicholas Tavoularis. The picture on the right is of Yang-Fan Zhou.

Opening Concepts: Queen's Gambit, Chigorin

The Queen's Gambit, 1.d4 d5 2.c4, has at its heart a simple strategic idea, that of exchanging the white c-pawn for the black d-pawn and then establishing a centre with a later e2-e4. There are a number of ways black can meet this idea, but they tend to fall into a small number of distinct categories:

1) Preventing white from carrying out this plan in the first place by defending the d5 pawn with a pawn: this is mostly the province of the Queen's Gambit Declined, 2...e6 3.Nc3 Nf6/Be7, although there are some lines of the Slav, 2...c6, which could also fall into this category.

2) Allowing white to carry out his plan, but only at the cost of a pawn: this idea arises in lines of the Slav, 2...c6, and semi-Slav, 2...e6 3.Nc3 c6; this usually requires white to consciously play one of the gambit lines, otherwise the play will mutate into cases 1) or 3).
3) Allowing white to carry out his plan, but exploiting the weakness that arises as a consequence of it, namely the semi-backward and somewhat weak pawn on d4. This is the strategy of the Queen's Gambit Accepted, 2...dxc4, and the Chigorin, 2...Nc6 (see the diagram on the left).

So what are the ideas behind the Chigorin? Well, two stand out immediately: the idea of playing ...dxc4 followed by capturing on d4, and that of playing ...e5 thanks to the support from the knight on c6. For example, if white plays 3.Nc3, black can reply with 3...dxc4, and then 4.d5 Na5 renders it rather tricky for white to get the pawn back, whereas 4.e3 allows black to immediately break in the centre with 4...e5.

The obvious counter to both those ideas is the development of the other knight with 3.Nf3, which is what I played against Tim Seymour in our game at Coulsdon. His response was to renew the threat against the d4 pawn with 3...Bg4, after which I played 4.cxd5. Now 4...Qxd5?! would allow easy development of the white pieces with gain of tempo after 5.Nc3 (this is generally applicable to the Chigorin, incidentally: if white can play cxd5 Qxd5 Nc3 without the knight's being pinnable with ...Bb4, he's probably got a good game), so Seymour played 4...Bxf3, after which I had a choice.

I could either play 5.gxf3 Qxd5 6.e3, after which 6...e5 leads to double-edged play, or I could play 5.dxc6 Bxc6 6.Nc3 e6 7.e4. This is what happened in the game, giving me the position shown above here.

The pawns on d4 and e4 form an impressive classical centre, but they are easily attackable, and this informs black's choices over the next few moves: 7...Bb4 8.f3 (the only reasonable way to defend the e4 pawn; 8.Bd3? would drop the d-pawn) Qh4+! 9.g3 Qh5 (now the f3 pawn is another pawn I have to worry about) 10.Be3 0-0-0 (note that the rook is developed straight into an attacking position against the d4 pawn) 11.Bg2 f5, and we have the position above. Notice that my impressive centre is still there, but black has developed nearly all his pieces to squares where they attack it directly or indirectly. (The knight will be coming to f6 to attack the e-pawn.)

The position here is certainly full of tension, and it's a shame that the actual game was then a bit of a let-down; just a few moves later, black made a blunder which converted his temporary sacrifice of the e-pawn (he has no good way to defend it after I play 12.Qb3) into a permanent one, and I won in fairly short order in the endgame.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Coulsdon Christmas Internationals

As I said two posts ago, I have been away for the past week, at the Coulsdon Christmas International. I said, at the time, that I was only going to be an arbiter, but fate decided otherwise. Stephen Crowdy was too ill to travel back to England, and I was the only rated player available to take his place in the Challengers.

Illness proved to be a recurring theme in the Challengers section: Roger Hutchings was taken ill after three games, and there was much rearranging of fixtures while we waited to see if he was going to be well enough to play his games later in the week. Eventually, it turned out that he wasn't, and he withdrew from the tournament. Still, by playing three games and scoring one point, he ensured that he would get a partial rating from this event. As did John Torrance, who played seven games and scored one and a half points.

There will be more posts about Coulsdon in the next few days, but not just yet. Coulsdon to Bideford is a five-and-a-half hour journey, and I'm a bit tired.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

A game from the 4NCL

This game, a win by me against a Scottish IM, proved to be critical in Bristol 1's 4NCL match against Barbican 2 on Sunday; we ended up winning 4½-3½.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Coulsdon Christmas Internationals

Next week, I will be out of the area, at an international chess tournament. This is not unusual for me. What is unusual, however, is that I am not attending as a player, but as an arbiter.

The event in question is the Coulsdon Christmas International; the CCF run three international events a year, and a number of players have got title norms or FIDE ratings from them, as you can see here.

There are two points of North Devon interest here. The first is my attempt to get myself a FIDE Arbiter norm. The second is the attempt of Roger Hutchings, who has emerged from retirement this season, to get himself a FIDE rating. To get a full rating from the event, he has to get at least one point with John Torrance also getting at least one point. If John Torrance fails to score one point, Roger can still get a partial rating, but he then needs to score at least one point against the rated players.

Handicap Blitzes

In the run up to Christmas, both Barnstaple and Ilfracombe are running Handicap Blitz tournaments next week, Barnstaple on Monday and Ilfracombe on Tuesday.

Each round of these events lasts 20 minutes, with the following distribution of time for the two players:

Each player's grade is rounded to the nearest multiple of 10. Then:

If the two players' effective grades are the same, they get 10 minutes each.
If the two players' effective grades differ by 10n, where n is less than or equal to 8, the weaker player gets 10+n minutes and the stronger player gets 10-n minutes.
If the two players' effective grades differ by more than 80, the weaker player gets 18 minutes and the stronger player 2 minutes.

I don't know whether I'll be around for these events. If I am, I suspect I will be playing with 2 minutes to my opponent's 18 in every round.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Club Championship Table

This table does not include the result of Clarke v Marriott, which was in progress when I left.

Jack Ruddx11111117
Peter Marriott0x111½
Peter Sandon00x112
Jon Munsey00x0½011
Richard Smith1x1½
Steve Clarkex½½
Rob Oughton0½½x113
Theresa Garrett001x12
Rick Dooley000x0
John Howard000000x0
Roger Neat½x½
Doug Macfarlane½x½
Sue James0x0

Never miss a second opportunity

There are some situations in chess where you have time to set something up and get it just right, and some where you have to act quickly to take advantage of a temporary situation. One of the commonest sorts of chess mistake consists of thinking a situation is of one type when it is of the other. In the featured game here, black makes a mistake of this type, but is lucky enough to get a chance to put it right.

The position above arose in the game Dooley-Oughton. Rob Oughton, black to play here, can make a good central pawn break here with 12...d5, exploiting the inability of the e-pawn to capture it without allowing a fork. This will then give him the opportunity later to decide the central pawn situation in his favour: either he creates a protected passed pawn with ...d4, or he plays ...dxe4 to give himself a mobile pawn majority on the kingside.

Instead, Rob thought he had all the time in the world to make the central pawn break and played 12...Bb7?!, setting up extra protection for the d-pawn when it does go to d5. Play continued 13.Re1 Re8 (he can't now play ...d5 because the e-pawn would hang), reaching the position on the right here:

Now white played 14.Bd2?, and black got the second opportunity he'd been waiting for, and played 14...d5, giving him the advantage. He went on to reach a winning position a few moves later.

But there was a way to make things much more difficult for black: 14.c5! cripples the pawn break before it starts. This way, 14...d5 would be harmless because white could just play 15.cxd6, and the positional factors would be slightly in white's favour - the c6 pawn would be isolated and weak. In fact, it's not easy to find a constructive plan for black after 14.c5, simply because so much of his piece placement is devoted to getting ...d5 in.

Indeed, this is a common theme in the opening black chose; in many lines of the Benoni, white snuffs out a potential black pawn roller with a timely a4-a5 advance to make ...b5 impossible without allowing an en passant capture. A common way for black to stop this is to play ...b6 before the pawn reaches a5, thus ensuring that the en passant capture never takes place. The same idea could have happened here as well, with ...d6 on move 12 or 13, which would alter the dynamics of a c5 advance from white.

Friday, 5 December 2008

4NCL, it's fun to play in the 4NCL...

Yes, it's one of those weekends again; I am off to play in the 4NCL. Let's hope I can repeat my feat of last time and beat another grandmaster.

My team, Bristol 1, are currently bottom of Division 1B; our second team are fourth in Division 3. The seconds will be hoping to keep up their good form to make a push for promotion; the first team will be engaged in the usual desperate struggle against relegation. Our opponents this weekend will be Gambit ADs and Barbican 2, both strong but beatable.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Club Championship Table

The club championship table again; Neat v Smith was in progress when I left.

Jack Ruddx11111117
Peter Marriott0x111½
Peter Sandon00x112
Jon Munsey00x0½01
Richard Smith1x12
Steve Clarkex½½
Rob Oughton0½½x12
Theresa Garrett001x12
Rick Dooley00x0
John Howard00000x0
Roger Neatx0
Doug Macfarlane½x½
Sue James0x0

Title Decider?

The game between me and Peter Marriott is usually the one that decides a Barnstaple internal tournament these days. The last time he beat me, he went on to win the summer tournament. Ever since then, I've had the upper hand, but the games haven't been easy.

Tonight's offering had all the usual levels of excitement and insanity. Neither of us is known for orthodox handling of the openings, and my 6.g4!? was about par for the course.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Growing a chess club

Barnstaple Chess Club itself is not in a bad way at the moment. We have, by my reckoning, fifteen active members, of whom thirteen are signed up for this year's Club Championship. We are not losing money, we have a good club atmosphere, and our internal club events are well attended.

But the long-term trends are not good. We've suffered a slow decline in membership that's been visible during my six years at the club; if we are to survive, we need to do something to counteract this. At the moment, we are engaged in the passive strategy of making the club known to anyone who actively seeks out the information (for example, having it listed in the ECF Yearbook), which is all well and good, and some people occasionally come along on the strength of it.

The question is: is there anything more active we can do? This one is over to you, blog readers. In particular, I'd like you to post your suggestions using the comments option on this post, so we can all discuss them.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Mauritius final results

Mauritius finished the Olympiad with seven match points; their eleven matches produced wins against Seychelles, Surinam and Jersey, with a draw against South Korea.

Roy Phillips got 5 out of a possible 11 (four wins, two draws, five losses) for a rating loss of 1.6 points.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Bideford v Barnstaple

Bideford v Barnstaple match played at Barnstaple Chess Club on Monday 24th November. Bideford had white on the odd boards.

1Jack Rudd2151-0Peter Marriott143
2Peter Sandon118½-½Steve Clarke125
3Roger Neat1141-0Richard Smith108
4Rob Oughton1001-0Rick Dooley84

Opening Concepts: Hippopotamus

There are a number of chess openings that fall into the category of "universal systems"; sets of moves that can be played against most reasonable setups by the opponent. The Stonewall Attack, featured in the Matoewi-Phillips game here, is one such, and another is the Hippopotamus.

The position on the left here, taken from my game against David Grant at the Wellington College International, is a typical Hippo position. It started off 1.e4 d6 2.d4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.Be3 a6 5.a4 b6 6.Qd2 Bb7 7.f3 Nd7 8.g4 h6 9.h4 h6 10.Nge2, reaching the diagram, after which I replied 10...Ne7. Those ten black moves, in some order, constitute the Hippopotamus. Note that there are some subtleties in my move-order:

a) I started off with ...d6 and ...g6 because those don't immediately commit me to a Hippo. Had white played 3.c4, I would have changed tack with 3...Nf6 4.Nc3 Bg7, transposing to a King's Indian. Only once the knight had gone to c3 did I firm up my choice of opening.

b) I played 4...a6 for similar reasons: if white does not play 5.a4, I will not immediately rush to commit my b-pawn; it may be better left on b7 or advanced straight to b5 in some lines. Once white had played 5.a4, though, I needed to play 5...b6 in order to prevent his crippling my structure with 6.a5. (Not that this is necessarily the best move, but it cuts across my plans.)

c) I made sure to play 9...h6 before 10...Ne7 because, with the white queen and bishop lined up on the diagonal, the bishop can come to h6 if I play them in the other order.

Now, you may ask, once black has those ten moves in, what does he do? Well, that depends on what white does. If white chooses to make few pawn moves himself, and develops followed by castling quickly, there is often good play to be had with ...g5 and ...Ng6 or ...b5 and ...Nb6, aimed against the king on the relevant side. Alternatively, if white has committed himself rather more, black can play for a central pawn break.

The latter was what happened in this game. It continued 11.Ng3 d5 12.Bg2 (note that white cannot close the centre with 12.e5 because it all falls apart after 12...c5 13.f4 g5!) c5 13.f4 Nf6 14.g5 Ng4 15.Bg1 cxd4 16.Bxd4, reaching the position on the right here. I then completed my set of central breaks with 16...e5, blasting open the centre and giving me a position where I had the two bishops in exchange for white's having a central passed pawn.

Post-game analysis showed that this was not objectively justified, but the positions that resulted were extremely complex and hard to find the right moves in over the board, which is about par for the course with the Hippo. And this is the critical feature of the opening that determines whether you should play it: it's not really suitable for chasing an objective advantage that you can easily exploit, but it's highly appropriate for chasing an unclear position, one likely to be won by the player who is happier in sharp tactical melees.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

More Mauritius Results

Mauritius lost their round 5 match against Honduras, but won their round 6 match against Surinam. Roy Phillips got wins in both matches, and here they are.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Club Championship Table

The club championship table, updated to take account of last night's results (except for Marriott v Sandon, which was still in progress when I left):

Jack Ruddx1111116
Peter Marriottx11½
Peter Sandon0x11
Jon Munsey00x0011
Richard Smith1x12
Steve Clarkex½½
Rob Oughton0½x1
Theresa Garrett01x12
Rick Dooley00x0
John Howard00000x0
Roger Neatx0
Doug Macfarlane½x½
Sue James0x0

Monday, 17 November 2008

Visual Errors

This position appeared in tonight's club championship game between Jon Munsey and Richard Smith. White is two pawns up, but has been under heavy pressure for most of the game.

Now black could have maintained this heavy pressure with 26...f3 27.gxf3 Bxf3, with the possibility of 28...Re8 in the offing. This would have given him quite substantial compensation for his sacrificed material.

Instead, he thought he could finish the game off immediately, and played 26...Re3+??. This proved in the game to be the right decision, as white blundered in response with 27.Kf2, allowing 27...Re2#. However, the right response was the simple 27.dxe3, after which Richard's planned 27...Rd1+ 28.Kf2 Bxe3+ has one small flaw: it isn't mate. 29.Bxe3 leaves white a rook up with a winning position.

Why did Richard overlook this? It was probably a "visual error", one caused by not actually seeing how the pieces are going to be moving. The bishop on c1 isn't capable of moving to e3 in the diagram position, so it's harder to see that it will be able to do so when the d-pawn moves away. In addition to that, it's been useless and motionless for so long that it's hard to think of its playing a vital part in the game.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Mauritius update

Mauritius's Olympiad results so far:

Round 1: lost 4-0 to Turkmenistan.
Round 2: won 4-0 against Seychelles
Round 3: lost 3½-½ to Brazil.
Round 4: lost 3-1 to Lebanon.

Roy Phillips's results so far:

Round 1: lost to IM Amanmurad Kakageldyev 2449
Round 2: beat Kurt Meier, 2037
Round 3: drew with GM Darcy Lima, 2488
Round 4: lost to IM Fadi Eid, 2388

Nothing especially thrilling so far for player or team. If Roy gets some good results in the next few rounds, there's still a reasonable chance he could get an IM norm.

Blind Spots and Beamed Headlights

I have a love/hate relationship with county matches. The "hate" part is all about the travelling I'm required to do for them; any county match further from home than Taunton requires leaving Bideford at 08:30 and getting back at 00:10 the following day. Of course, part of this is because I play for a county in which I no longer live, but, given how much North Devon is represented in the county team, playing for Devon probably wouldn't help much.

The "love" part is all about the matches themselves. Meeting all my old friends from the Somerset League, getting practice playing serious games against tough opposition without its having an immediate effect on my FIDE rating, and on this occasion, winning 11-5 against Hampshire. Nowadays that's not such an amazing result, but when I first started playing for Somerset in 1987, Hampshire were by far the strongest team in the region, and beating them still gives a sense of achievement. (It's a little as if one's national football team beats Uruguay.)

In this particular county match, I also got the opportunity to notice some weaknesses in my own play; this is not something into which I usually have great insight, so I'm pleased when it happens. Take the following two positions:

This is the position after I played 20...Bd5, after which my opponent played 21.c4, attacking my bishop. A natural enough move, but I'd completely missed it. And the reason I'd missed it was that I have a blind spot in my play - I habitually overlook moves that allow en passant captures, even if the capture is not any good. (I had considered 21.c3 and was not going to capture on c3 had Yeo played it, so it certainly wasn't a case of rejecting the move based on how I would have responded to 21.c3.) As it happens, the move I'd overlooked probably wasn't the strongest anyway, but on other occasions it might have been.

From the diagram, play then continued 21.c4 Bf7 22.c5 Nxc5 23.Nxc5 Qxc5 24. Rac1 Qd5, and my opponent's next move was the natural and good 25.Bxf5, winning his pawn back.

I had also considered another move for him here, and this was 25.Bc4, attacking my queen. Some thought reveals why this is not a good move: I can play 25...Rxe1+ 26.Qxe1 Qd7, and white isn't getting his pawn back any time soon.

However, my mind had been distracted by another option for black there, and that was the positional queen sacrifice 25...Qxc4. This is probably not as good as the simple line I've just given, but it attracted itself to my consciousness a little like an oncoming car's headlight does when it's set to "beam", and it would take great effort to restrain myself from playing it in the game. This is, I suppose, an inverted blind spot: when an opportunity to create an unusual material balance occurs, I have to make a special effort to notice anything else.

Trying to find blind spots and beamed headlights is not easy, but it's probably something that will pay off for most players looking to improve their game. I hope it's something that will improve mine.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Unreasonable Alternatives

I believe it was Andrew Soltis who said that "most chess players blunder when faced with a choice of two reasonable alternatives". The reasoning is clear: when you've only got one reasonable move you can make, you just play it and, if it loses, you were losing anyway. When, however, you've got more than one, you've got to analyse all of them, and occasionally the process short-circuits, and you pick the wrong one.

The diagram above, taken from today's Mauritus-Seychelles match in the Olympiad, is a good example. Roy Phillips, playing white here, has just played 11.e5 to try to exploit his lead in development. How could his opponent respond?

Well, one obvious choice is to play 11...Nh6, hoping that the king will not come under too much fire if white goes in for 12.exd6 exd6 13.Re1+. The other option is to try to keep the centre closed with 11...d5, hoping that won't weaken the c5 pawn too much.

In the game, Kurt Meier decided that his best option was to keep the centre closed with 11...d5?, but he soon wished he hadn't. The game continued 12.Na4 Rb5 13.c4 Ra5 14.b3 e5 15.Bd2, giving us the position on the right. It is now clear that black will have to give up material, the c5 pawn is still weak, and he has ended up opening a vital file for white's rooks anyway.

Now this line is not very difficult to calculate, in and of itself. It's also not particularly guaranteed by the general nature of the position; had black's e-pawn already been on e6 in the first diagram, his choice of move would have been perfectly fine, because he would have been able to defend the c-pawn with ...Bf8. Which I think explains why the blunder happened: the move played made sense, and would have been the right move in a similar position. It just so happened that the specific features of the actual position were such that the move itself was a losing blunder.

2008 Olympiad

The 2008 Olympiad has started, and on this blog I will be providing coverage of one of the teams. Not, as you might have guessed, one of the six federations that make up the British Isles, but instead the island nation of Mauritius. Of course, the reason for this is that this is the team with a North Devon connection: former Barnstaple player Roy Phillips is on top board.

The team did not make the best of starts, losing 4-0 to Turkmenistan; Roy lost to IM Amanmurad Kakageldyev (2449). In round 2 they face another African side, Seychelles - this match looks highly winnable.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Opening Concepts: Sicilian Dragon

Today's Opening Concepts article is on the Sicilian Dragon, beloved choice of juniors everywhere. It is characterized by the moves 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6, reaching the position shown on the left.

There are many moves white can play here - 6.f4, 6.g3 and 6.Be2 all have their advocates - but the most aggressive and theoretically critical line is the Yugoslav Attack, 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 Nc6 8.Qd2 0-0, after which there is an important theoretical fork. One important line is 9.0-0-0, after which black can make the thematic Sicilian central advance 9...d5!?; sacrificing a pawn for open lines - the sacrifice line runs 10.exd5 Nxd5 11.Nxc6 bxc6 12.Nxd5 cxd5 13.Qxd5 Qc7 (this does not drop a rook because 14.Qxa8 Bf5 forces white to give the queen up with 15.Qxf8+.)

The other main option white has is to prevent the ...d5 advance with 9.Bc4, to which black usually responds with 9...Bd7. White's usual plan from that position is to build up a kingside attack, starting with something like 10.h4, after which many games have been won with some combination of h4-h5 (which, if met with ...Nf6xh5, is followed up with g2-g4 to kick the knight back), Be3-h6 and an exchange of bishops, and 0-0-0 to bring an extra rook into the attack. Black in turn will try attacking on the open c-file with moves like ...Nc6-e5, ...Qd8-a5, and some rook to c8 with the possibility of sacrificing the exchange on c3.

However, there is another way for black to play this position, and that is to forestall white's plan with a move like 10...h5, the Soltis Variation, giving us the diagram on the right. The idea is quite simple: without an h4-h5 advance, it's much harder for white to open a file for his rooks. He now has to work for g2-g4, but even then, it's not so easy: after ...h5xg4, h4-h5 can often be met by ...Nf6xh5, and there's no easy way to kick the knight away.

And so we come to a game I played recently: I had the white side of this position and tried to build up an attack by redirecting my c3 knight over to f4 to support an h4-h5 advance. Unfortunately for me, this allowed black an attacking idea of his own: ...a7-a5-a4 to take advantage of the absence of a defending piece. My king's position ended up smashed to pieces, while my own attack never really got off the ground.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Team Blitz Results

The annual team blitz was once again contested by the teams of Bideford, Holsworthy, Barnstaple A and Barnstaple B. All these teams had a constant set of four players playing, except for Barnstaple B; they had a squad of five players from whom they picked four each round. It was a double-round all-play-all, and the results went as follows:

Round 1: Bideford managed a 3-1 victory over Barnstaple A; Holsworthy managed a victory by the same scoreline over Barnstaple B.

Bideford, Holsworthy 3; Barnstaple A, Barnstaple B 1

Round 2: Barnstaple A beat their B team 3-1; Bideford beat Holsworthy on the top two boards and lost on the bottom two.

Bideford, Holsworthy 5; Barnstaple A 4; Barnstaple B 2

Round 3: Bideford beat Barnstaple B 4-0; Barnstaple A and Holsworthy drew 2-2.

Bideford 9; Holsworthy 7; Barnstaple A 6; Barnstaple B 2

At this point, we stopped for refreshments, including Steve Knight's famous egg sandwiches. One of the Barnstaple B players had to leave at this point, so the remaining four players played all the remaining games.

Round 4: Barnstaple A beat Bideford 2½-1½; Holsworthy beat Barnstaple B 3-1.

Bideford 10½; Holsworthy 10; Barnstaple A 8½; Barnstaple B 3

Round 5: The crucial deciding result came in this round, as Bideford managed to beat Holsworthy 4-0, with Barnstaple A beating Barnstaple B 3½-½. These results meant Bideford only needed 2 points against Barnstaple B to take the title.

Bideford 14½; Barnstaple A 12; Holsworthy 10; Barnstaple B 3½

Round 6: Bideford wrapped up the title by beating Barnstaple B 3-1; Barnstaple A got second place with a 3-1 win over Holsworthy.

Final scores: Bideford 17½; Barnstaple A 15; Holsworthy 11; Barnstaple B 4½

Leading scorers for each team:
Jack Rudd (Bideford, board 1) 6/6
Peter Marriott (Barnstaple, board 2) 6/6
Theresa Garrett (Holsworthy, board 3) 5/6
John Howard (Barnstaple B; two games on board 3 and three on board 4) 2½/5

I would like to thank my team-mates Roger Neat, Jon Munsey and Peter Sandon for their contributions to our victory, and everyone, particularly organizer Richard Nash, for making it a fun evening.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Wellington College International

This weekend, I shall be mostly be playing in the Wellington College International. This is an international event taking place over two weekends; the idea is to allow people to make title norms without having to take time off work.

If I play any interesting games there, they might end up on this blog.

Opening Concepts: Ruy Lopez

Opening Concepts will be an occasional series devoted to the ideas behind certain chess openings. Specifically, it will deal with issues relating to those openings I have spotted in the games of North Devon players.

So let's start with the Ruy Lopez, as featured in the game Garrett-Dooley. One of the most popular openings there is, it starts 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5, taking us to the position above here.

Now why, you may ask, is the bishop developed to b5, rather than the more "classical" square c4, where it attacks f7 and inhibits black's ...d5 break? Well, the answer is quite simple: the bishop is there to threaten Bxc6 followed by Nxe5.

Except, of course, that it's not that simple. If black replies 3...a6, white can't win a pawn immediately with 4.Bxc6 dxc6 5.Nxe5 because of 5...Qd4, and the fork of the e5 knight and e4 pawn wins black the pawn back with probably the better game. No, the force of the Bb5 idea is something slightly more subtle: it creates a potential threat, rather than an immediate one.

Let's carry on with the Garrett-Dooley game. It continued 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.d3 Bc5 6.0-0, reaching the position we see on the right here:

Now look at the subtle difference between this and the last diagram: white has played d3, protecting her e-pawn. This means that when black played the careless 6...0-0?, white could (and should) have won a pawn with 7.Bxc6 dxc6 8.Nxe5, exploiting the opening's thematic idea. Had black been alert to this, he would have prevented it with 6...b5 or 6...d6.

Which leads us on to the real reason why white plays Bb5 in the Ruy Lopez: it is to encourage black to play ...a6 and ...b5 early on. The bishop ends up on the same diagonal as it would have done had it gone straight to c4, but black has weakened his queenside to get it there. A number of lines in this opening then go on to attempt to exploit this weakening with a4, with the aim of either giving black a weak pawn on b5 or (if he advances it to b4) establishing a nice square on c4 for the knight.

Are these lines particularly good for white or black? It's hard to say; theory in critical openings like the Ruy Lopez changes all the time. But one thing is easy to say: if you are going to play this opening, don't forget the reason the bishop went to b5 in the first place.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Club Championship table

The current situation in the Barnstaple Club Championship:

Jack Ruddx111115
Peter Marriottx11½
Peter Sandon0x11
Jon Munsey00x011
Richard Smithx11
Steve Clarkex½½
Rob Oughton0½x½
Theresa Garrett01x12
Rick Dooley0x0
John Howard0000x0
Roger Neatx0
Doug Macfarlane½x½
Sue James0x0

Team Blitz

A reminder to everyone that the first North Devon League event of the season, the Team Blitz, takes place on November 10th at Barnstaple Chess Club. A fast and fun event, with each player's having just ten minutes for an entire game. Some people might say that this would make no difference to the way I play; I couldn't possibly comment.

The event is likely to be a double-round all-play-all, with entries from Bideford, Holsworthy, Barnstaple A and Barnstaple B. The first three of those teams will be fighting hard for the title; the last will be fighting hard to finish with some points.

Bideford, whose team will consist of me, Roger Neat, and two from Jon Munsey, Rob Oughton and Peter Sandon, will probably be seen as favourites: we have a good record in this event in recent years, with Jon and me in particular gaining from our speed of play.

Barnstaple may be weakened by the likely absence of their captain Steve Clarke. Still, a team with Peter Marriott, Richard Nash and two from Steve Knight, Rick Dooley and Richard Smith is still not a pushover by any means.

The Holsworthy team are somewhat more of an unknown quantity, because their players mostly do not play at the Barnstaple club. Nevertheless, a team composed mostly of Smollocombes and Garretts is also pretty strong at this level.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

The North Devon Chess Blog

Hello, everyone.

This is the North Devon Chess Blog; I will be trying to keep it up-to-date as a resource covering chess in North Devon.

This will mostly consist of news relating to Barnstaple Chess Club, seeing as this is the club of which I am a member. Should I have access to news relating to Ilfracome Chess Club, or anything else in the region, I will be more than happy to put it in.

So, to kick off: Barnstaple Chess Club. The club meets on Monday nights from about 7pm onwards, at the Alexandra Road Resource Centre, not far from the bus station. It has about fifteen active members, thirteen of whom are signed up for this year's club championship.

The following game was played in the club championship: