Thursday, 15 February 2018

Double Delight

Two Division One wins on successive evenings have made it a good week for Kenilworth Chess Club. After our recent Double Defeat, it's a relief to be able to report on a Double Delight. No matter what the knockers say, I'm all in favour of these double d headlines.

We started off on Monday with a convincing 3.5-0.5 win over bottom club Solihull B. At least it was convincing in the end, though at times it looked likely to be a lot closer.

The first point was notched on Board 1, where Andy played an excellent and efficient game. When some tactics blew up in the middlegame he annexed a couple of pawns, before returning one to reach a completely won ending. Andy gets a lot of stick for not playing too often, but I think it's only fair to set the record straight. He has now played 21 times for Kenilworth since 2013, and his record reads won 10, drawn 10, and lost only 1 (to James Jackson). Not too shabby. Having said that, this was his first Kenilworth win for 427 days - so it was about time he got his finger out!

Surprisingly, my game was next to finish, as I won against Neil Clarke on Board 3. I say surprisingly, since from a complicated but broadly level position, he unleashed an H-Bomb of a move which I had completely failed to see coming. My queen and king were on the same diagonal, and he suddenly threatened to switch a hitherto dormant bishop from h1 to d5 with calamitous effect. And he was also threatening my loose bishop on h3. Thankfully, I kept my nerve and found the only playable line, which involved giving up my queen for two minor pieces, but surrounding his king in the process. I was threatening perpetual/mate dependent upon his response, and he should have returned the queen immediately to reach a probably drawn rook and bishop ending where my extra doubled pawn was not much use. In big time trouble, though, he went wrong and had to give up his queen for just one piece. A further inaccuracy allowed me to re-establish a mating net with doubled rooks on the seventh. A lucky win, but I'll take it.

Shortly afterwards, Andrew P drew against Tony Sadler on Board 2, after a fairly torrid evening. For most of the evening I thought he was worse, so this was something of a success from a team perspective. All that remained was for Mike D to complete a successful demolition of Julian Summerfield's Stonewall Dutch. After easily defusing Black's heavy piece attack down the h-file with the calm move Bh1, he chose the right moment to break in the centre and used some tactics to win lots of material.

The following night we had a "home" Coventry League match away at Coventry Chess Academy A. (Yes you did read that right!) Once again the match was like a KCC social/convention.

Ben drew very quickly on Board 2 against David Phillips, in a game which was devoid of any interest whatsoever as far as I could see. I'm surprised both players managed to stay awake. Mike had a rather more interesting struggle against Alan Phillips on Board 3, but the result was the same. Alan started off with the ultra-trendy and aggressive d4/Bf4/h4 set-up, but then rather backtracked by castling kingside. Mike countered in the centre to equalise and proceedings came to a fairly early end.

Thankfully, the other two games had a bit more going for them, and the match deadlock was broken on Board 4, where club stalwart Dave Shurrock beat club stalwart Roy Watson in bizarre circumstances. Dave had a slight edge as White, but Roy seemed to be defending well, when all of a sudden he must have crossed over into "Roy-world". This is seemingly a parallel universe where time becomes suspended. With three moves to make, Roy looked at the position. Then looked at it some more. Then some more again. And he only stopped looking when Dave pointed out that he had lost on time. Yes, Roy had thought for 8 minutes and done nothing. This has improved Roy's Coventry League record for us this season to Played 0; Points 2. Maybe this should be our new strategy - export players to other clubs and get them to lose against us twice a season? Especially if, like Roy, they also provide coffee and biscuits during the match!

Almost immediately the match was over, as Paul offered me a draw just before the time control and I naturally accepted. Paul had been exerting some pressure for much of the game, but Fritz says the position had never strayed far from equality. The game was still in the balance with plenty of scope for mistakes, in a highly unclear and unbalanced position and time trouble a real issue. I was certainly in no mood to chance my arm with the match on the line, so I was happy to split the point and give us two very welcome Coventry League points, after a run of 1 point from the last 3 matches.

This week's matches have put us into fourth place in each League with near-identical records - Played 9, Points 9 in the Leamington League, and Played 12, Points 13 in the Coventry League. Are we average or what?!

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

League leaders just too strong on the night

With Rugby pushing to win the league, they fielded a strong team against our regular B team.

Ben's poor run continued with white getting the better of the opening and a lasting advantage into the middle game. White managed to create some counterplay but it proved to be too little too late with the Bishop and five versus rook and 2 proving just to be too strong.

Mike secured the only points of the evening with a good win against a now unfashionable Queens Indian defence. White central initiative allowed him to win an exchange but had to jettison a pawn in order to activate his rook in the resulting ending. Black chances of drawing the ending were quickly quashed by some excellent play that forced his king into a mating net.

Phil young opponent played a London system that was unfamiliar to black. Taking an opportunity to sacrifice a bishop on h7, white's attack was such that he was able to regain his piece and win a second pawn. After the dust had settled, white's solid play saw him convert his additional material into a win.

Dave played white against a Nimzovitch defence and early play gave him a space advantage on the queen side. However, clever defending by black allowed him to gain equality. With white short of time and ideas, black won a pawn and exchanged off into a rook, bishop and five against rook, knight and four ending. White resigned when he was unable to stop a pawn queening.

100% - The Champions of what we always wanted (honest!)




 
When the season starts, you can but dream. We were a whisker away from the Division 1 and 2 titles in the Leamington League last season and won the Open Cup. We might well have hoped we would go one better this year and bring home a stash of silverware. As the winter set in, reality bit, along with the cold and it’s become clear that those prizes are going to have to wait until next season…

 

But what’s that you say? Indeed, all is not lost. For we have won something after all and for the first time in Kenilworth’s history! Last night we were crowned champions of the Coventry League Divisional Cup (Group A no less.) OK – it’s only the second time we’ve entered it, but hey.  It would be slightly disingenuous to say that this is the one we really wanted to win, but it has been good fun and we’ve ended up with a 100% record.

 

What a night it was… At home to Coventry C we needed to win 3-1 and we started very brightly as Dave brought home the full point pretty quickly to put us 1-0 up. At which point it all became more challenging. Toward the time control, I was in a wild position with Black against John McCan. He’d attacked on the King side, been pushed back and was attacking on the Queen side, but I was pretty solid and had good counter chances. At the start of the campaign I would have played it out without hesitation, but the season has not gone well for me. Part technical issues, but also part psychological – I’ve certainly lost a bit of confidence of late. Hence, I was happy to take the draw. I know I have a lot of work to do to get my game back to where I want it to be – but lots of games left and I’m already thinking about how I might re-work things in the closed season. We had an interesting post-mortem, in which it was clear that it was all very double edged and John played it all very well.

 

So 1.5 – 0.5 as the time control approached, and boy was it looming up on Rod as his clock ticked down to almost nothing with quite a few moves left to be played. Rod was up against Simon Webster on four and it was totally wild. You have to say, Simon played very well and held his position together very nicely and it wasn’t obvious how Rod was going to break through, particularly with so little time to think about it. Rod really wanted to try and bring home the full point, but it just wasn’t possible. So a draw was agreed which left the score at 2-1, meaning Carl needed to beat Dave Filer to lead us to glory.

 

The only problem was, Carl’s chances of doing this appeared to be minimal. In a Bishop and five v (same colour) Bishop and five ending there appeared to be absolutely no way through. Dave was playing really well and it looked impossible. Then finally at the death, Dave succumbed. He pushed a pawn onto the same colour square as the Bishops and after Carl fixed it there he had another target. The pawn could not be held and once it had fallen, Carl pressed on with a passed pawn to bring home the full point. An excellent effort by Carl, who brought us to glory! It had looked impossible, even minutes earlier.

 

Thanks also to Mike and Nick who have also been part of the Divisional Cup squad this season – it’s been a really enjoyable and successful effort. I’m very happy to manage a squad in this competition next year – when hopefully we can repeat this success. Whilst also hopefully winning a host of other trophies!

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

And Then it was Downhill All the Way

If we stop to think about it, I imagine that most of us could identify the absolute high point of our chess careers. Not so much in grading terms, as after all grades cover a 6 month period (12 till not that long ago), but as regards a specific performance or a specific game. Of course, those of an optimistic nature may not be ready to admit that their peak has already passed, but once you get to a certain age you have to accept that whatever is your greatest moment so far is going to be your greatest moment ever.

I have reached that certain age, and I can assuredly say that my chess peak has been and gone. It was reached sometime in the late afternoon of Saturday, July 22nd 1983, (at Islington Town Hall, I think) when I was much better (I could say winning, but that's not quite true) against someone who, at the time, was the 44th highest rated player in the world (according to the Chess Metrics database) and who would subsequently qualify for two Candidates' Tournaments (convincingly winning matches against Yasser Seirawan and Nigel Short in one of them!) and rise to be the 4th ranked player in the world just six years later.

The chess colossus in question was Super Grand Master Jon Speelman (graded just 246 at the time), who I found myself playing in Round 5 of a Chequers 30 minutes tournament. I was obviously on a going day, as I had 3.5/4 coming into the game. These semi-regular rapid tournaments (30 mins per player - no increment, of course, as digital clocks didn't exist) in North London were rather lucrative, being generously sponsored by someone called Ali Amin if I recall correctly), so not surprisingly a few strong players turned up to grab their share of the cash. Plus the likes of me, who had nothing better to do on a summer Saturday with no football match to go to.

Here's the game. Feel free to share my pain.



You'll notice from the times, that he had not had to think too much. I don't imagine he was ever remotely worried that he wouldn't win, even after his careless blunder. He certainly moved up a gear or two as soon as he needed to.

After this harrowing experience, I'm amazed to report that I got my act together sufficiently to win my Round 6 encounter against Theresa Needham (181J at the time) and finish in a tie for 5th place (4.5/6) with Peter Large, Mike Basman and Mike Surtees. We each received the princely sum of £25, while Speelman, William Watson and Geoff Lawton each took home £200 for being joint 2nd (5/6). The £500 first prize was won outright by Shaun Taulbut (5.5/6).

By the way, did I mention it was a rather strong tournament?! I certainly kept illustrious company that day

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

A win!

On Monday night we played Coventry B in a Divisional Cup Game that had been postponed before Christmas due to the snow. We needed to win 3-1 to win given the handicap system - and guess what? We won 3-1! This season has been pretty awful but the Divisional Cup is one event where we still have a chance of glory.


Dave playing against Kate struck the first blow, opening the position up with her King stranded in the center and nicely converted. Mike soon followed with a nice win against John Harris for 2 - 0.


My game against Bernard appeared to be heading for a draw from early on. The Queens came off and a lot of wood was traded, but Bernard proceeded to make some headway and things got very tactical. I managed to find an "only" move to hold things together and we agreed to split the point around the time control, with everything becalmed once more.


Rod making his debut in the Cov League was the last to finish - a wild game with Mike Johnson in which honors were also shared. His half point secured us all the points!


We host Coventry C on Tuesday and look extremely well placed in this competition, which is something.


Despite the draw, I am looking on my own season with stunned horror. (Obviously I followed this draw up by losing again the following night.) It has never been worse. But it's Kidlington this weekend and I continue to hope against hope for an upturn in personal fortune.


What is it that they say? Sometimes it is the hope that kills you. I guess we've all been there.

Double Defeat

The Coventry League fixture list gave us Division 1 encounters with Nuneaton A and B on successive Tuesdays, and with a certain symmetry we went down to successive 2.5-1.5 defeats. Any aspirations we may have had for a top three finish have been well and truly blown out of the water. Last night's defeat to Nuneaton B was particularly galling, as for a long time a draw looked like the minimum we could hope for.

But I get ahead of myself, as the previous week we had lost against their A team, on our first visit to Attleborough Liberal Club. I don't know how many Liberals were actually on the premises, but a conservative guess, and I don't want to labour the point, would be not many.

Nuneaton A managed to wheel out their top four against us, which probably made them slight favourites. There were not very exciting draws on Boards 1, 3 and 4 for me (against double agent Andrew Paterson); Carl (against Paul Davies) and Mike D (against Colin Green) where we never seemed to have any advantage at any stage of the evening, so the match was decided on Board 2 where Ben went down to Maurice Staples with black. White seemed to play a very controlled game, slowly building a kingside attack, while Black's queenside play against a long-castled king never got off the ground. Something horrible eventually happened in Ben's time trouble and a piece fell off.

The Nuneaton B encounter was a lot more exciting, though the end result was unfortunately the same. Carl finished first, but not in a good way. Facing an exceedingly tepid Exchange Slav, Carl spiced things up with a kingside pawn advance. However, when he pushed with g4 this was met, unexpectedly I imagine, with a piece sacrifice and after fxg4 the reply Qxg4+ forced Carl's king onto the middle of the board where it perished in surprisingly quick order. Either this was a crushing attack and a very good game by Dave Kearney, or Carl defended dreadfully. I couldn't possibly comment. (No really, I couldn't, as I didn't see what happened!)

This loss on Board 3 was quickly balanced on Board 1 where I was essentially gifted the full point by Phil Briggs. After a somewhat unusual Sicilian that was probably misplayed by both sides, we quickly reached a position where Black was going to be slightly better in a double rook and minor pieces ending due to two bishops and pressure along the c-file. At least if White had swapped queens that would have been the outcome. But in trying to keep my king on the centre, Phil put his queen offside and let me grab his c2 pawn with my queen. He had been relying on the move Rc1 in response, spearing my queen against a loose rook on c8, but only when I took the pawn did he notice that I was threatening Qg2 mate. Phil could have bailed out into a queen-less position a pawn down, but in trying to keep the queens on, he walked into another tactic that won a whole rook.

Ben was not getting anywhere against Tony Green on Board 2, and indeed Tony started taking over as he advanced on the queenside to gain space while Ben didn't seem to be doing anything much at all. Things then went seriously wrong when Ben had to trade off a Black rook which had got to d2, and allow a Black pawn onto that square. With White's queen stuck on d1 to blockade the pawn, his knight struggling to find any squares, and his king wide open, Tony's queen and bishop jumped into the kingside dark squares and forced the win of Ben's knight in exchange for the d2 pawn. The outcome of the resultant ending of bishop v no bishop was as predictable as you would expect.

But not to worry, as we were two pawns up on Board 4 in the battle of the 2 Mikes (Donnelly v Maher). Well, we had been two pawns up, but then it became one, and then we were in a rook and pawn ending. Our Mike went all in by pushing his passed e pawn to e6 and then creating another passer on the a line. But his king was miles away from the action and Black was able to block the e pawn with his king and get behind the a pawn with his rook. Eventually all the pawns came off and Black was able to secure a draw with about 30 seconds left on his clock. This was definitely one that got away, as Mike was winning on the board and on the clock for most of the evening.

So there you have it. Refined Kenilworth (population 22,000) proves no match for Warwickshire's largest town, gritty Nuneaton (population 86,000). I guess that means you can stick your gentrification in your pipe and smoke it!

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

January 2018 Grades - KCC Report Card

The January 2018 ECF grading list has just been published and here is a summary of how club members have fared, chess wise, over the last six months.


Top of the Form

Mike D +8
Carl +8
Bernard C +6
Rod +6
Paul +5
Mike J +4
Stuart +2
Tony +2
Chris +1
Nick F +1


As You Were

Bruce =
Nick M =
Roy =


See Me After Class

Dave -5
The Club Organiser -4
Andrew P -4
Andy B -3
Phil -3
Steve -2
Ben -1


So from our 20 members with current active grades we had 10 risers, 7  fallers and 3 non-movers. Collectively we gained 43 grading points and lost only 22, for a net club gain of 21 points - which I think is the best result since I started monitoring our performance. Given that almost all our teams are faring worse this season than last, it seems that either (a) the grading system is not fit for purpose or (b) our members are reserving their good chess for when they are playing for other clubs or in individual tournaments.

Strong gains were registered for the second successive list by Mike D, Carl, Paul and Rod, while it's also nice to see Bernard C and Mike J clawing back some of their recent losses and returning to more realistic grades. For the second list in succession Stuart has managed to increase his grade despite still never being seen anywhere near a chess match - and this time he's also been joined by fellow absentee Nick F. Congratulations also to Tony and Chris on their improvements.

But then there are the problem cases, headed by Dave, myself and Andrew P. At least two of us can claim we have match captaincy distractions that have affected our performance - what's your excuse Andrew?!

Although it's hard to claim much credit for KCC, Paul has finally recovered his club top dog status (and returned to the heady heights of 201), despite a record for us in the last 6 months of played one, lost one! But while you can take the man out of Kenilworth, you can never take Kenilworth out of the man, so we'll still claim him as one of our own!

Of course, these grades are relatively unimportant for match purposes, as team eligibility and board orders are still determined by last July's grades.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Karma in Solihull?

Last night at Solihull we had a double header. The A team against Solihull A, and the D team against Solihull E. So prepare for a special bonus "twofer" report.

The D team match was over first. Tony drew on Board 3 against one of Paul's mighty microbes, and Mike J drew on top board against Penny Wood. which left Matt to decide the match against a 104 graded opponent on Board 2. I'm pleased to report that the Thursday evening school of hard knocks at The Gauntlet has served Matt well, and after more than matching his opponent he won a pawn and established a winning position. But instead of taking a second pawn and keeping decisive threats against the White back rank, he tragically undid all his good work in trying to win instantly and dropped a rook to a queen check. Most unfortunate and most undeserved, but the D team thus went down to a 2-1 defeat.

I'm able to recount all this in detail as my game against Tom Thorpe had ended quite early in a draw after what was a very boring game, despite him playing the "interesting" move 1 e3, and I was in the unusual role of spectator for much of the evening.  And it wasn't making pleasant viewing, since in addition to the sad demise of the D team, I was having to watch the A team struggle in each of the three remaining games.

On Board 4, Ben had taken a hot pawn in a 2 c3 Sicilian after an enterprising sacrifice by Paul Roper, I imagine this is well known, but it didn't seem to be to Ben or his opponent (and certainly not to me!) as they both consumed lots of time in a very tense position. Ben suffered the tortures of the damned to hang on to his extra pawn and gradually get his pieces out, but just when he seemed to have achieved this he dropped a key pawn on e6. If Paul had captured with a rook, I wouldn't have been enthusiastic about Ben's survival chances, but instead he took with a bishop. The crisis had passed and a draw was swiftly agreed.

It was equal purgatory for me on Board 1, where Andrew P started off by building up a big attack on the f file against Olivia Smith's king, but when this failed to break through he found Black's counterplay on the queenside coming rather fast. A pawn fell off on c4 and the White pieces lost all co-ordination, essentially looking as though they had landed on random squares when someone had emptied a set onto the board. When you have a loose rook on h5 that isn't threatening the Black king, you do kind of wonder what it's doing there! Around the time control, though, there was a flurry of activity and when I next looked most of the pieces had come off and Andrew had somehow won his pawn back. So another draw from a game where we could very easily have slipped to defeat.

(BTW, with the two games at Solihull on Wednesday, plus the Cov League game on Tuesday, Kenilworth faced female top boards in three successive matches. This must be a first!? And we ended up with one defeat and two draws. Memo to Club Recruitment Officer - sign up some women players!)

But I have saved the worst to last. Since on Board 3 Carl was simply horribly lost against Ray Carpenter. As White he mislaid (or sacrificed, who knows?) a pawn fairly early on in a Closed Sicilian. Try as he might, he couldn't get good squares for his pieces, while Ray established a monster knight on d4. Eventually the crisis came. Carl tried to activate his queen at the cost of giving Black a massive passed pawn on c3. Ray picked up a second pawn and parried Carl's queen incursion. Almost any move would have won. Instead he needlessly captured a third pawn with his queen, and this allowed Carl to get his own queen to a7. His bishop was already on h6 and his rook on f1. All of a sudden he was threatening both Qg7 mate and Qf7 check followed by Qf8+ and after Rxf8, Rxf8 mate. Ray's clock was declining rapidly towards zero and under this sudden pressure he blundered. A draw was still to be had with Nd4-e6 which would have guarded both g7 and f8, leaving Carl with a perpetual after Qf7+/Kh8/Qf6+Kg8/Qf7+. This would have been a major success given the position he had two moves earlier, but instead Ray defended with Nf5 only to find that after Rxf5 he was completely lost. A recapture would allow Qg7 mate, and after a queen check the White rook retreated to f2 and Carl was just a piece up and the mate threats were all still there. Incredibly Carl had won, and instead of losing the match we had not merely saved it but actually won. An amazing turnaround.

So there you have it. Karma in Solihull. Matt lost undeservedly to lose the match for the D team, and to balance things out the cosmic forces decided to let Carl win undeservedly and win the match for the A team. Its good to know there is a harmony of sorts in the universe. The gods take with one hand and give back with the other! Though I doubt that's much consolation for the victims of this cruel reversal of fortune.

Rats! We Had to Play a Chess Match

After consecutive wins in the Coventry League against Nuneaton D (KO Cup) and Rugby A (Div 1) when our opponents declined to field any players against us, Warwick University B went and spoiled our run of 4-0 crushes by turning up with three people last Tuesday. And unfortunately for us, this was enough for them to secure a 2-2 draw and split the points.

This was especially disappointing as Mike won very convincingly on Board 3 to propel us to a 2-0 lead. His opponent gave up a pawn on b7 very early, then another one a few moves later and then a third on around move 20. She played on until Mike had a bishop and about 4 pawns to her 2 before deciding enough was enough.

But that was as good as it was destined to get for us, because on the top 2 boards both Ben and I messed up from good/very good positions and managed to gather precisely zero points. And to add insult to injury we both ended up being mated!

So not the greatest evening's entertainment, but the draw was enough to leave us in 4th position in Division 1 with a rather useful cushion of 5 points over the fifth placed team.

Monday, 15 January 2018

The harsh winter wind continues to blow into 2018

The B versus C fixtures opened the second half of the season but unfortunately the B teams fortunes didn't improve with a new year.

On top board, Ben was playing Rod in a line of the closed sicilian. Just to emphasis the nature of closed, there were no exchanges for the first hour and forty five minutes of play. With time running out white decided to attack the king side and it all looked so promising. However, Rod excellent defending was very resilient and white's initiative run out leaving black with the slightly better endgame prospects. With both sides now short of time a draw was agreed.

Mike D was playing Roy Watson in a Kings Indian defence. Black was able to temporarily sacrifice a piece to leave white with a isolated pawn. The resulting posotion allowed black more space and opportunity and ultimately white lost a rook via a fork whilst trying to defend his pawns.

Phil was playing Nick on board three and his queens pawn position looked okay out of the opening. White opted to play on the queen side but over extended himself and lost a queen side pawn and found himmself in a rook and knighth ending. Black cleverly managed to exchange rooks leaving white with an ending that was too difficult to defend.

Dave played Make J in another very slow closed sicilian position. When the queens were exchanged white had a slight advantage but offered a draw. At that point in the match the B team were one point up from one game and only needed a point from the other two games with the white pieces. Surely we could get that and a draw as agreed between the players.

Don't call me surely. Match drawn 2 all.