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.