Saturday, 16 September 2017

Graves of Famous Non-Chess Players - Number 2 in a Series of ....?

Just when you thought my morbid tendencies had run their course, I'm afraid I have to disappoint you with another instalment of my latest riveting series. (And I have more to come, too - you have been warned!)

The small island of Mallorca was the scene of the very famous Palma Interzonal in 1970, when Bobby Fischer scored a great victory with 18.5/23 - no less than three and a half points ahead of Larsen, Geller and Hubner who tied for second with 15 points. Also qualifying for the Candidates matches were Taimanov and Uhlmann with 14 points. Both Taimanov and Larsen may have subsequently wished they hadn't qualified given what Fischer did to them (6-0 in case you didn't know!)

So the chess connection is well established, which gives me an excuse to present a couple of photos of the grave of the famous poet and novelist, Robert Graves - how appropriate is that?! Graves (1895-1985) is best remembered for I Claudius, though presumably most people, myself included, only know that work through the brilliant BBC serial of the 1970s rather than the original novel. He spent much of his life in the beautiful Mallorcan village of Deia, about 30 km north of Palma, high in the Serra de Tramuntana, though a more local connection for us is that, surprisingly, he attended Hillbrow School in Rugby for a time. Graves' former house is now a (very interesting) museum and he is buried in the cemetery adjacent to the village church of San Juan Bautista. Rather annoyingly for me - as I like to be the first to document such things - there is a picture of Graves' grave in his Wikipedia entry, but I am able to present original images here, courtesy of Mrs Club Organiser. So blame her for the fact that the gravestone inscription is almost illegible! (But it was a very sunny day and a very light coloured stone, so go easy with the criticism, please.)

And the chess connection is actually even stronger than I have so far made out, since in a few weeks time, another major event will also take place in Palma de Mallorca, with the staging of the fourth and final leg of the Fide Grand Prix series, from which two players will qualify to the Candidates tournament to determine the next challenger for Magnus Carlsen. I'm sure you will be joining me in hoping that nobody scores enough points to oust my favourite player, Alexander Grischuk, from his current qualifying position.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Losing Start

No joy for plucky little Kenilworth (population 22,413 in the 2011 census) against giant Banbury (46,853) as Division 1 of the Leamington League spluttered into life in Oxfordshire last night. While Banbury A were relegated last season, their B team was not, and suitably rebranded as Banbury A they wheeled out their strongest possible team against us. Despite that, and some fairly serious absentees on our side, the two teams sported almost identical average grades though, this hid big discrepancies on the top two boards.

Andrew strove manfully to defy a 30 point disadvantage against James Jackson on Board 1, he ultimately went down in an ending where black's 2 bishops were too much for Andrew's 2 knights. Crucially, the white king was incarcerated on h2 and could never get out. I had a 20 point edge over Gary Jackson on Board 2, where we continued our "debate" in a variation of the Najdorf. I tried something slightly different and it worked a treat, though only after Gary missed a chance to trade queens in the early middle game. From then on his king, which had castled queenside, was in big trouble. Once the a-file was opened it was inevitable mate, and the score in the "debate" went to 4-0 in my/Najdorf's favour!

Mike took the fight to Georgs Vikanis on Board 3 - at least to a certain point. Unfortunately he then made a relatively early draw at a moment when this virtually sealed our match fate. Because while not as bad as the terminal accident that befell Bernard C on Board 4 at Banbury at the end of last season, Ben had unfortunately also made a complete Horlicks of the opening against Carl Portman. He was basically losing from a very early stage as he could hardly move. One pawn was shed to try and get some activity, but it hardly improved matters. He eventually made it to a king and pawn ending, but as Carl had two connected passed pawns on the sixth rank supported by his king, the result was inevitable.

So not a great start to the Division 1 season, but with 60% of the first team squad spending the evening in somewhere other than Banbury such results can hardly be thought surprising. As the largely forgotten American singer/songwriter Steve Forbert once wrote, "You cannot win if you do not play."

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

2017-18 Fixtures Published

All the Leamington League and Coventry League fixtures are now available on this site on the appropriate tabs. Get those diaries out and reserve the dates for your team(s) now!

Friday, 11 August 2017

That's A Wrap

I'm hoping no-one has been waiting for me to update them on the final two days of the British Championships - there are much quicker ways to get the news than this website!

Anyway, in my last round game in the Over-50s tournament I managed to chalk up another win to finish on 4.5/7 for a share of 5th place with IM (and former British Champion) Paul Littlewood. Not such a good achievement as it may sound, as I didn't play a single higher graded player all week, and my performance was almost exactly in line with both my ECF and FIDE grades. Meanwhile, in what was his penultimate round, Paul went down rather badly with Black to an unknown Frenchman, who presumably qualified by residence. On the same day, Ben put in a hard shift in the Rapidplay event to score 4.5/9, matching his 50% score in the long play tournaments.

Only Paul was in action on the Sunday, bringing his British Championship campaign to an end with a very memorable game - and a finish that deserves pride of place in these Reports. Let Paul set the scene:-

"I played 1.Nc3 with the intention of move-ordering my opponent into a line with which he was unfamiliar. Because I’m so smart, I managed to move-order myself into the White side of an Open Sicilian…something which I have not seen over the board for years! I was left to navigate my way through the thickets which, surprisingly, I was able to do to the extent that I found myself with a clear advantage after 19 moves. Unfortunately, by that stage I had run myself down to just 13 minutes to my opponent's 57 minutes, with 21 moves to go to the time control. Two appalling moves in succession followed from me and I found myself staring defeat in the face. With just several minutes  left, Tactical resourcefulness came to the fore and I spotted a filthy swindle. Whether or not my opponent would fall for it was another matter....." Find out if there's a happy ending by playing through the game now!

Its often better to be a lucky player than a good one!

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

The Return of the Romantic

I am delighted to be posting on this site for the second time, a mere two years and two months after my first contribution! As readers of this site will be aware, I was part of the intrepid KCC contingent that travelled to Llandudno, Wales to play in the 2017 British Chess Championships. I was the sole KCC representative in the Main Event and scored 4.5/9, matching my 50% score from my last Championship in 2015. 

Me before the start of round 4, courtesy of the British Championships website

The main motivation however behind being present at the Championships was so I could support the Coventry Chess Academy (CCA) members playing in the junior sections. An unprecedented nine of them competed in age sections ranging from under 8 to under 16, showcasing skill, resilience, determination and effort throughout the event. Some were challenging for medal positions right up to the final rounds and, to my knowledge, more than one England junior squad norm was scored (bringing the recipient closer to selection for the national team). It wasn’t plain-sailing the whole way through. There were blunders, mid-tournament roadblocks and missed opportunities, but these are all part and parcel of the chess tournament experience (including my own). As I said to everyone, each setback or loss represents an opportunity for growth and improvement; a useful lesson for life, not just chess. And the chess on display was at times awe-inspiring. Highlights included Iolanda Ercsei's round 5 masterclass, David Phillips taking a 171-rated opponent to school, Manvith Sandhu defeating last year's British Champion in his age group, Silas Bowcott-Terry scoring 4/7 despite being seeded second from bottom in a field of 41 and Jude Shearsby finishing the tournament playing on the heights of 2nd board. Simply brilliant. Moreover, alongside the serious stuff, everyone had a lot of fun and we took away some very fond memories of our time in Wales.

I spent every morning and evening during the Championships with the CCA's members; watching, encouraging, analysing and preparing. What preparation I did for my own games usually took place the wrong side of 00:00! The nature of my schedule had an impact on my choice of opening and style and too often I found emotions drawing me into the type of battles which were not always to my best advantage. My best performance was probably in round 1 against International Master Craig Hanley, a game in which I stood better and was even winning at various points before I committed errors under time pressure. He went on to achieve a share of first place, losing his playoff to the eventual tournament winner, Grandmaster Gawain Jones. Talk about fine margins! My play ranged from precise, controlled efforts to emulating a drunken machine gunner over the chessboard, which gave the commentators a field day. The only thing that can be said with any certainty is that the brand of chess I displayed was not nearly as dubious as my fashion sense during the event (please see Mark's last post for context)! On reflection, I suppose that scoring 50%, almost exactly what would have been expected of me based on my tournament seeding, was a satisfactory showing under the circumstances. I wore my heart on my sleeve the whole tournament and the results were, if anything, entertaining for everyone concerned. Moreover, I just about managed to play respectably enough to avoid embarrassing myself completely in front of the CCA's members!

I'm pleased to present one of my better efforts from the Championship. It came with the White pieces in round 7 against a young female player, Katherine Shepherd. Katherine is a former member of the England Junior Squad and has a FIDE rating of 1929 and an ECF grade of 173. She was a fellow competitor at the last British Championship I played in, at the University of Warwick in 2015, in which she defeated none other than Mark! She also has a number of notable wins or draws against titled players, so I knew she was not to be taken lightly.

In the game I reverted to a romantic opening of my youth, the French Wing Gambit. I was introduced to this offbeat but enterprising gambit via a Nigel Davies video at the age of twelve and was instantly enamoured. Over the next decade, I used it frequently and with devastating effect, claiming the scalps of dozens of club and county players. However, all indications in the last few years pointed to it having passed its use-by-date. An increasing number of French adherents were finding antidotes to the gambit, equalising with worrying ease and steering the game down dreary paths that left few opportunities for dynamic play. After a fortunate draw against Mark in a Coventry League game, I decided that enough was enough and, with a heavy heart, cast my beloved opening onto the rubbish heap of history. Or so I thought until round 7 of the 2017 British Chess Championship when I once again assumed the mantle of the Wing Gambiteer! Up to that point in the tournament, I had opened with only 1.Nc3 and 1.d4, while the majority of my recently published White games began with 1.g3. None of these choices seemed palatable to me in the circumstances. Through my preparation, I learned that Katherine was well-acquainted with the kind of queen’s pawn openings that I play as White and while ordinarily I would have been content to gradually outplay her in a strategic game starting with 1.g3, I was loath to follow this path due to the tiring nature of a schedule that involved coaching before and after every one of my rounds. In the course of my preparation, I did however notice that she was an exclusive devotee of the French Defence against 1.e4. Memories of past glories with the Wing Gambit were invoked and I was overcome by pangs of nostalgia. Before I knew it, I once again had the position after 4.b4 set up on the chessboard and was engrossed in analysis. I confronted my worst fears - the Black responses that had once seemed to sound the death knell of my beloved opening - and discovered lines for White that appeared to offer excellent practical chances and led to play that resonated with the spirit of the opening. I took further confidence from the opening’s absence in my recently published games as Katherine would be unlikely to expect or prepare for it.

 A pleasing attacking win and an enjoyable throwback to my misspent chess youth!

New Season - Early Fixtures

The provisional fixtures for the Leamington League have now been published on the LDCL website, but should be viewed with care at the moment as we still have a number of problems to resolve before they are finalised. However, we can at least be certain about the matches for the first few weeks:-

Leamington League

A team
Tue Sep 12 v Banbury A away

B team
Mon Sep 11 v Kenilworth C (H)
Wed Sep 27 v Daventry A (A)

C team
Mon Sep 11 v Kenilworth B (A)
Mon Sep 18 v Shirley A (A)

D team
Mon Sep 18 v Banbury E (H)
Mon Sep 25 v Nuneaton (H)

Coventry League

Divisional Cup
Tue Sep 26 v Nuneaton C (H)

Division 1
Tue Oct 3 v Rugby A (A)

As soon as the fixtures are finalised (hopefully this week), they will be made available on this website so that you can all ink in the dates which your Match Captain would doubtless like you to keep free. Our Leamington League and Coventry League Squads are essentially the same as last season, so you will almost certainly be in the same team(s) as then.

Just a reminder that the captains this season are:-

Leamington League
A team and Open KO Cup - me
B team - Dave Shurrock
C team and U-700 Cup - Mike Johnson
D team and U-120 Cup - Steve Payne

Coventry League
Div 1 and KO Cup - me
Divisional Cup - Ben Graff

A new league season also means a new ECF membership year, so I hope everyone is responding promptly to their renewal e-mails from the ECF.  And if anyone has still not paid their 2017 Abbey Club membership subs, you really need to do so now!

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Grey Thursday ....... Briliant White Friday!

Things improved slightly after Wednesday's nadir, with all three of us drawing on Thursday, though Ben did manage to lose his morning game, so it was not all sweetness and light. But on the law of averages we were due a good day sometime and thankfully it arrived yesterday, when the KCC team chalked up a 4-0 scoreline.

Ben must be star of the show as he accounted for half the points/wins all by himself to finish on 2/5 in the Morning Open, and 3/5 in the U-180 Championship. So 50% overall, and a good performance against strong opposition. Paul reverted to an (unsound?) opening of his youth to overwhelm his young female opponent (who beat me in the 2015 Championship) with a brutal kingside attack that produced mate on the board. This took Paul to 3.5/7. My win was more sedate and owed everything to a one move oversight by my opponent which allowed me to win a pawn and swap queens off. The resultant position gave the lie to the myth that all rook endings are drawn. I am now on 3.5/6, but have no reason to feel happy as I haven't played a single opponent of a higher grade.

Finally, I must assume the role of KCC Style Correspondent, and report that for the last two days Paul has been guilty of fashion crimes by turning up wearing fewer clothes than anyone I have ever seen at a chess board. Maybe he got confused and thought that he was attending a power lifting event? I think Sir Stuart Milner-Barry or Harry Golombek would have had an instant coronary if they had found themselves seated opposite Paul. Less flesh from now on please, Paul!

Don't expect anymore reports from me as I have to dash back to Kenilworth tonight so that I can go to Merthyr Tydfil tomorrow for an 80th birthday party (not mine!). If it's not North Wales, its South Wales!

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Black Wednesday

It wasn't quite as bad as Norman Lamont's experience in 1992, but yesterday was not kind to the KCC contingent at the British Championships. Half a point out of four is pretty disastrous, however, you cut it. Ben managed our sole draw in his morning tournament, so the afternoon session saw us go 0-0-0 - and I don't mean queenside castling.

Paul seemed to be playing a good controlled game against a WGM from Poland (how she qualifies for the British, I'm not sure!) but when I returned to his board around the time control, his position had been decimated and the end was inevitable. Something clearly went horribly wrong. I thought I was playing a good game, but near the time control my opponent found some good counterplay and I reacted badly. I was completely busted, but he played one inaccurate move (which won the exchange rather than the game!) and I found some clever moves to get my small army aiming at his king. I sacked a bishop which he couldn't take as it was perpetual, but declining it looked like possible suicide as my three pieces chased his king across the board. However, when I had to play one non-check, he found the only winning move - a far from obvious bishop retreat - and it was all over.  Ben tells me he should have won his morning game, but in the afternoon he "played like a drain. And not a particularly good one."

Tuesday had been much better for us. Ben had two draws with Black against strong opposition, I got a draw after some strange adventures, and Paul won against one of those dreaded juniors by simply completely outplaying him.

So, we're all over half way now and the standings are:-

Paul 2/5
Me 2/4
Ben 1/3 and 1.5/3

All eyes are now on Paul to see if he will actually draw a game in the tournament or continue his run of decisive games. BTW, while Paul does battle today against an ungraded Irishman on Board 38, his extremely fortunate first round conqueror will be playing Gawain Jones on Board 2. Fine margins!

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Oh, I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside

All 3 KCC members are now up and running at this year's British Championships in Llandudno.

Paul was first out of the blocks with a Saturday start in he Championship itself, and the black pieces against IM Craig Hanley. I was following his progress on-line during my own journey to Wales. At Oswestry he was already slightly better, and by the time I got to Llandudno his advantage was even bigger. But it was a very difficult and complex position, and mistakes started to occur (by both players) From being pawns up, Paul became position down, as White was able to march connected centre pawns forward to decisive effect. An unfortunate game for Paul, who was clearly wining at some points. He bounced back on Sunday with a straightforward win, but as I saw nothing of the game, I can't be any more specific. Yesterday, with Black against one of Wales' top players, Richard Dineley, Paul missed a chance to break out with a timely c5 pawn push, and then found himself on the backfoot as White used his space advantage and two bishops to great effect to win a well played game.

I began play in the over-50s on Sunday, and had a crazy game. I sacked a pawn out of the opening, but it was totally unsound. However, my Welsh opponent played too passively and when I sacked a second pawn to open the a and b files against his king I was winning. At the crucial moment I had a very long think. There were 4 candidate moves. I chose the second best, but the first (a rook sac) was +6 for me! Despite pushing right to the end my opponent defended well, and it was only a draw. I got my lost half a point back yesterday when yet another Welsh opponent blundered on move 40 to give me the win. I had burped a pawn on b7 early in the game and then spent a lot of moves hanging on to it as he chased my queen around. Finally I got my act together and began to target his weak kingside, but he defended very well. In time trouble I let him have the pawn back thinking I had a decisive attack, but there was a defence which should have led to a queen ending with me a pawn up. Thank goodness he missed it and walked into mate instead! Surprise news from this tournament is that GM John Nunn has already dropped half a point, and IM Paul Littlewood is only on 50%.

Ben only started play yesterday (Monday) but already has two games under his belt. He lost in the 5 day Open event in the morning (you will not be surprised to learn I was not present for this) but had a good win in the afternoon in Round 1 of the U-180 Championship. Playing against the older brother of an even stronger microbe who beat me earlier this year, Ben cheapoed his way to an extra piece in just 11 moves - and with the Black pieces to boot!

White: Rajeiv Ratnesan
Black: Ben Graff

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 g6 4. Bxc6 bxc6 5. 0-0 Bg7 6. d3 e6 7. Nc3 Ne7 8. Be3 d6 9. e5 Nd5 10. Ne4 Nxe3 11. Nxd6+ Qxd6  The game went on for some time, but Ben duly brought home the full point.

So all 3 of us already have a win to our names. Plus the sun is out. What's not to like? Actually, one thing. Seagulls are b****y noisy. To borrow a phrase from East Enders - they're doing my 'ead in!


Friday, 28 July 2017

Preview - KCC at the 2017 British Championships

One day to go now before the 2017 British Championships get underway at the Venue Cymru in Llandudno. (Could that be any more Welsh?)  KCC will be directly represented there by:-

1) Paul, who is playing in the Championship itself (9 rounds), where he is, at time of writing, ranked 67th out of 102. Just the 13 GMs and 13 IMs for Paul to worry about, and he is highly likely to face one in the very first round,

2) Myself, playing in the Over 50s Championship (7 rounds), where I am ranked 10th out of 33. Number 1 seed just happens to be Grand Master John Nunn, former member of the World Top 10, who would be ranked 5th if he was playing in the main event. I think we can guess who is going to win the Over-50 title. (Clue - its not going to be me.)

3) Ben, putting the rest of us to shame with multiple entries:-

The Under-180 Championship - 5 rounds - ranked 14th of 29
The Morning Open - 5 rounds - ranked 31st of 35
The Rapidplay - 9 rounds - ranked 16th of 37

So Ben will just be playing the 19 games over 6 days. This compares very poorly with Joshua at Warwick University in 2015, when he managed 43 over 12 days. Some people just won't put the effort in, I'm afraid.

A number of Paul's Coventry Chess Academy juniors will be playing in various age group championships, and we wish them well. In particular to David Phillips in the U-14 event, who played once for our D team a season or more back.

As the only two active contributors to this website will be in action, its quite possible that a report or two from North Wales might appear here over the next 10 days. Unless things are going very badly, of course, when a diplomatic silence may well be in order.  Anyway, that will have to do for now. It's time for me to pack my bucket and spade, root out my favourite knotted hanky from the back of the wardrobe and slap on the Factor 50 sunscreen. A week at the British seaside paying chess - what could be better?!