Tuesday, March 31, 2009

You brought two too many

The above position appeared in a game I happened to witness last Saturday: the names have been removed, if I may paraphrase the late Ronald Belford Scott, to protect the guilty. It occurred after 57 moves and White was to play.

White, the team captain, a player graded a little below 2000 and aged a little less than sixty, had been much better, or even winning, for much of the game but had missed a tactic in the ending that won a piece and left White with two pawns against bishop and pawn.

Black, pondering how to make that advantage count, had spent the last ten or so moves manouvering. White was under the clear impression that his opponent, some forty years younger, was making no progress. He had therefore started to suggest that the position was a draw and that Black might like formally to accept that state of affairs. Black, for his part, had started to feel that White's persistent efforts to secure the draw were exceeding the normal boundaries of chessboard etiquette.

Having nearly reached move sixty, the maximum allowed for by the scoresheet, Black indicated that fresh scoresheets were required. The job of passing them to the players fell to your correspondent. White, however, having played 58.Kf5, said out loud, on being offered the scoresheet, that the position was drawn and so he wouldn't need it.

He was right, too. In a way. Though, as it happens, the game continued to move 65, it was already over. No further scoresheets should have been required. I had brought two too many.

[Thanks to AA]

Monday, March 30, 2009

What Happened Next? IX

Position after Black's 37th move, and white to move.

What happened next?

PS. Those who enjoy this series may also wish to check out Jack Rudd's teaser (solution here).

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Definitely Got Something To Do With Chess But Probably Rubbish

"Checkmate!" That was the last word uttered to Charlie Chan and Prefect of Police Claude DeBevre by a dying reporter. The man had been murdered ... stabbed to death and left to die in a vacant hotel room. It is the second murder in 24 hours at the Transcontinental Chess Tournament, and Charlie Chan has been summoned from a peaceful and long-deserved vacation to help solve the crime before international scandal ruins the tournament's good name!

Or so it says here.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Chess in Art postscript : Games Go On

Guest post by Martin Smith

More "Games of Chess in Art" in which the artist uses moves from real games as the raw material for their image.

Last time Frenchman Dominique Digeon rendered a Kasparov-Karpov duel as a floral fantasy. The first of this week's artists, German Ugo Dossi, has, rather unhelpfully for my purposes, given the game away with its details at the top his work. As soon as you read the title "Spassky vs Petrosjan Moskau 1969" you want to interpret it in chess terms. It is game 19 of their World Championship Match, in which Spassky took apart Petrosian's Sicilian in a mere 24 moves with an incisive King's side attack (note for artists who wish to do this sort of thing – choose short games).

No walk in the paradise garden this time. Vorsprung durch Technik; all straight lines, perfect curves, and simple colours on a neutral background. It's organised and correct, nothing is wayward or haphazard. It is a triumph of precision engineering in which the pieces zigzag (zigzug?!) to their allotted places along tracks that might be incised by a machine-tool; they haven't just wandered there by an accident of growth à la Digeon. To help his subsequent endeavours Dossi designed a spirograph-like device, the "sensograph", for creating progressing curvilinear patterns. As you play the Spassky game and compare it with the image, you see that Dossi has depicted the game with elegant clarity, leaving out the pieces and letting the moves paint the picture. It would look rather stylish inscribed on perspex gracing the atrium of a corporate HQ (as indeed do other works of his).

In the work he also alludes, in the lower half, to a musical analogy, which puts me in mind of a comment, in a Jeremy James/Ray Keene (or Bill Hartston) conversation on TV decades ago, likening the 6th game of the Fischer-Spassky 1972 match to a Mozart Symphony. So, a sound of music perhaps; but whatever Julie Andrews might claim, Dossi's "do re mi" coda is less exalted than full-on Mozart, and simply suggests the idea of a game played in perfect pitch. Either that or he has led us, cunningly, into Von ingenious Trapp.

Dossi is a well connected chess artist who has discussed with Vladimir Kramnik the nature of beauty in the game. Vlad invokes poetry as an appropriate metaphor as, in a different way, has Marcel Duchamp, to whom we shall return for a longer discussion of whereat lies beauty in chess. For the moment let's stay with Spassky's demolition job on Iron Tigran. A curious coincidence is that it has been the subject of another "Game of Chess in Art" work (of 1992) by Greek artist and chess historian Nicholas Sphicas.

24. Ng5!! 1-0. From the game Spassky Petrossian
(World Championship Match) Moscou 1969 [game 19]

It's one of a series in which Sphicas depicts remarkable moves, each given their own context and signification. Here we have an undulating chess board upon which sits two lamps (the opponents?) exuding separate clouds of symbols that combine and resolve to reveal the pieces in their final relative positions. They are dominated by an XXL knight and accompanied by mysterious motifs reminiscent of, say, Juan Miró, a dyed-in -the-wool surrealist. You may find it odd, then, to see a depiction of a game of chess, the application of conscious intellectual engagement and rational endeavour, as the condensate of unconscious processes. It almost seems to suggest that Spassky and Petrosian had lost control and were having a fit of the vapours.

One commentary refers to the metaphysical (i.e. what does the answer "42" mean, actually?) bent of Sphicas's work. In these Games of Chess in Art we have seen French Decadence and German Thoroughness, so now we Rosbifs have a suggestion for a national stereotype for the Greeks: Philosophical. Well, I've read that the lamp in Ancient Greek art is associated with the philosopher Diogenes and symbolises his search for truth and virtue.

Perhaps that helps, though Plato, and the nature of knowledge, may be relevant, too. I mention him because he also provides a pretext to drop in a Streatham and Brixton reference. At some time he must have inspired the street planners of our borough.

More moves after a second adjournment.


Ugo Dossi

The Chess-Theory Virtual Art Museum: Nicholas Sphicas Artwork

[Chess in Art index]
[Chess in Art collected]

Friday, March 27, 2009

A Bad Move IV

Black to play

In comments box to a post I'd written at the beginning of the February I said

"... I disagree with the idea that competitiveness breeds bad manners. Being a dickhead breeds bad manners"

Except that I didn't say that. What I actually said was,

"... I disagree with the idea that competitiveness breads bad manners. Being a dickhead breads bad manners"

"Crumbs" said our regular commenter Campion.

At the time I dismissed this as just a typo that needed no explanation but then a couple of weeks later I was thumbing through an essay I'd written in December of 2006 and found,

"As such, the area both reinforced existing delinquent behaviour and was a good breading ground for new forms of it ...."

A mundane example perhaps but nevertheless a reminder that we rarely make a mistake for the first time. In spelling as in life we repeat the same erroneous patterns over and over again.

Chess board errors hurt ... but not this much

And then there's chess.

Of late I've been having a look at how I went astray in the position at the head of today's blog.

How did I go wrong? I'm still counting the ways but for a start there's miscalculation and the arguably greater sin of failing to realise that this was not the kind of position where playing a knight to the edge of the board was likely to work out happily.

Last time, T.C. suggested ... Qc8 as an preferable alternative to the game continuation ... Qxd5 agreeing with An Ordinary Chessplayer's comment to the original post. Avoiding the queen exchange in this way is Fritz's suggestion too.

I had in fact considered this sneaky queen move during the game but quickly dismissed the idea because although it defends my bishop on f5 and facilitates ...e5-45 - which was what I was trying to achieve with the erroneous ...Qxd5 and ...Na5 as played - it also gums up my back rank and in particular keeps the rook on a8 locked in. My scoresheet tells me I spent a total of five minutes on ... Qxd5 but I doubt I spent even ten seconds on ... Qc8. I certainly didn't pause long enough to consider how White might have responded had I played that move.

When I looked at the game with Fritz and saw ... Qc8 might have been the best move after all (our silicon friend suggests I would have been slightly better had I slid my queen one square to the right) I comforted myself with the thought that it was a slightly odd looking idea and at least I would now not overlook a similar oppportunity next time it cropped up. Then, a week after the game was played, I suddenly remembered an email encounter I'd had at the end of 2008.

Black to play

I'd wanted to prevent e4-e5 with ... Qd8-c7 but was worried about Nc3-b5. Forget for the moment any question of whether the knight move is anything for Black to worry about. If you wanted to stop White advancing his king's pawn by moving your queen to the b8-h2 diagonal and were worried about the knight coming to b5, wouldn't it occur to you to think about moving her majesty to b8 out of Neddy's reach? Well I'm afraid it didn't occur to me even though I had several days to think about it.

And here's an other example that popped into my head just a few days ago. It's an over-the-board encounter, also from last December,

Black to play

I played ... Kf7 fully realising that White could get his bishop out of trouble with a subsequent check from c4 but never even thinking to investigate how White could cope after ... Kf8.

It seems as if I have a chess pattern lodged in my brain that's really quite unhelpful. It's not that I consciously think "without exception I must connect my rooks" but that's how it turns out when I'm playing.

Learning something new - for example when moving knights to the edge is more likely to be a decent idea (see ABM III) - is hard enough at my age. Today's element of my bad move seems to me to be more about unlearning a faulty template I think I already 'know' - and that appears to be significantly more difficult to do something about.

Well, at least I'm having a go. Who knows ... maybe simply trying hard to understand our errors is what breads or even breeds success in the long run.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Grass Arena VII

John Healy v Leo Shea
Hastings Chess Club Rapidplay 2009
White to play

Back at the end of February I wrote a little ode to Allen Stanford that included a passage from The Grass Arena describing John Healy's introduction to our favourite game.

Regular S&BC(C as was then) Blog watchers will perhaps recall we'd previously published a series of puzzles based on Healy's games. For the most part these were thirty years or more old ...

1975 - TGA
1976 - TGA II
1980 - TGA III and TGA V (although note the contribution to the comments box that suggests the date for this one may be inaccurate)

... but in the middle of the series was an endgame position (TGA IV) that appeared to come from a club match in 1997. The conclusion of Healy's book, originally published in 1988, suggests he'd given up the game. Was 1997 a typo or had he come back to the fold?

It seems very possible that Healy was indeed playing in the late 90s because - aside from our own Arts Correspondent's encounters with him (see comments box to TGA and TGA V) - Healy, it turns out, is still an active player today.

Many thanks to Jon Manley for sending us the position at the head of today's post. In the traditional fashion it's White to play and win ... although speculation as to how White's rook ended up on c4 is also welcome.

We hope to have more on John Healy soon. I may yet even get around to writing something about the chess content of The Grass Arena as I'd planned some time ago.

As noted in the original posts, TGAs II-V were taken from www.thegrassarena.net

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

When will they ever learn?

The Apprentice is back tonight: the best part of an hour of shouting, sacking and bullying for people who get off on that sort of thing.

I imagine there will be lots of invocations of "hard work" as the foundation of success, a principle not necessarily applicable to the PR for the show which is in the best traditions of the lazy invocation of chess in contemporary journalism, seeing as the list of contestants includes one James McQuillan whose puff describes him as a "football referee, sports fanatic and former child chess champion". How much of that is true, I wonder? The reffing? Probably. The fanaticism for sport? Quite likely. The child chess champion? I'd like to be convinced. Mr McQuillan suffers, he tells us, from "foot in mouth syndrome" and I wonder if this may not be more true than he imagines.

The "child chess champion". I don't know that we've seen this one rolled out since Andrew Flintoff helped win England the Ashes, something neither he nor they are likely to do again this summer. Freddie, you may recall, was described to the wondering world as having been, when at school, a chess champion in Preston. Or maybe he wasn't. Maybe he just played for his county as a schoolboy. Or was a "top player at school". Or maybe, when anybody tried to find out anything specific it proved harder to locate than a duck in Basil Fawlty's trifle.

"How does the horsey move again?"

PR monkey see, PR monkey do. PR monkey see "chess", PR monkey write "chess champion". (At least they haven't described him as a "prodigy", an all-too-common touch. Or at least they haven't yet.) Still, PR monkey not that dim, since PR monkey well aware that every hack in universe will copy it out without bothering to ask, or check. And I suppose every hack in universe isn't so stupid either, since nobody's going to know either way and nobody's going to ask them. Or nobody except a chessplayer. And a chessplayer, by definition, is a nobody.

"Of course it's crap but so was the Amstrad"

Well, nobodies though we are, let us ask, given that to my knowledge, nobody else has. Is there actually the slightest evidence that Mr James McQuillan, former child chess champion, has ever been champion of anything or anywhere, when a child or at any other time? I've never heard of him, and chess is a very small world indeed. Can anybody put me right? To be fair, Mr McQuillan is 32 - it says here - and it he had been a child chess champion it would have been a long time ago, before anything would ever have appeared on the internet. Which is just as well, because if you Google "James McQuillan" chess nearly all the references are to the claim Mr McQuillan is making and none of the remainder give us any reason to believe it.

I'd like to believe it, though. I'd like to believe that believe that this wasn't just another example of "it's-only-chess-so-we-can-make-it-up" and that Mr McQuillan had ever been chess champion of anything, anywhere. Or, shall we say, anything that would be considered an actual champion in any other field of sporting endeavour, since I have a suspicion it will turn out that he was, indeed, champion of class 2B when he was thirteen. So it would actually be true. Or sort of true. Or true as far as it goes. It just wouldn't go very far.

Maybe if Mr McQuillan goes far enough, somebody could ask him.

[Update Wednesday PM: English Chess Forum thread investigating same question with as yet not dissimilar conclusions]

[Thanks to Sean, Carl Hibbard]

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

What Happened Next VIII

Vyzmanavin-Kramnik, Moscow 1994

Yesterday we left Vyzmanavin in an easily winning position having just played 53. Be4-f3 against Kramnink in their Armageddon shoot-out from the PCA Speed Chess Grand Prix tournament in the Kremlin.

At this point, as Morgan pointed out in yesterday's comments box, Vyzmanavin offered Kramnik a draw. But, leaving aside the question of why anybody would do such a thing when two comfortable pawns up, why would they split the point when failing to win sees them knocked out of the tournament?

IM Pein takes up the story
"... and now Vyzmanavin, under the impression he was playing the Black pieces (!) when he would go through on the Black-wins-a-drawn-game rule, offered a draw. A shocked Kramnik retained sufficient presence of mind to accept, then got up from his chair in a daze. His opponent also got up and starting pacing around on stage, wondering whatever had possessed him."

- Chess Magazine 59(4), July 1994

Insert your own wah-wah-wah-waaaaaaaaaahh sound here.

My friend and fellow blogger Morgan Daniels
celebrates his correct answer to "What Happened Next? VIII"

Monday, March 23, 2009

What Happened Next? VIII

Vyzmanavin-Kramnik, Moscow 1994

We join the Moscow leg of the PCA Speed Chess Grand Prix at the semi-final stage with Alexei Vyzmanavin taking on Vladimir Kramnik for the right to face Vishy Anand in the final. Two 25 minute games had ended in draws so the match was resting on one of those Armageddon shootouts. White, Vyzmanavin, started the game with six minutes to Black's five but absolutely had to win because a draw would see Kramnik go through.

When the position at the head of today's blog was reached both players' flags were hanging as they furiously bashed out their moves. Fortunately enough for Alexei, though, his last move, 53. Be4-f3, left him winning
"... easily by 53. ... Be8, 54. Bd5 Bg6, 55. Be6 Be8, 56. g4 since, after Black runs out of kingside pawn moves, 56. ... Bxc6 loses to 57. Bf7, 56. ... Bg6 to 57. Bd7, and 56. K moves to 57. Kd6"

- IM Malcolm 'formerly speedy' Pein, Chess Magazine 59(4), July 1994

But what happened next?

What Happened Next? Index

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Apparently Got Something To Do With Chess But Probably Rubbish II

"... Alexandra and Haidee learn that their missions are even more desperate than they first seem, for both are players in a dangerous game, a game that began more than a millennium before either of them were born and that has the power to affect the fate of human civilization itself."

Or so it says here.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Chess in Art postscript : Game On

Guest post by Martin Smith

The Chess in Art series showed twenty-four or so games, but in only a miserly two was the action on the board both reasonably legible and half-way plausible: Jonson v Shakespeare (Chess in Art XVI) and Gardel v Holmes (Chess in Art XX) both of which have been discussed in Chess in Art collected.

So the balance between Chess and Art has been weighted heavily towards Art. To tilt it back towards Chess what better than some works showing games only; ones that have actually been played, by real people, using proper pieces, with the board the right way round. Surprisingly, a number of artists have made this apparently unrewarding subject their particular métier; which brings us, d'abord, to contemporary French artist Dominique Digeon, and others will follow.

When you first look at these Games of Chess in Art turn off the chess-chip in your brain and see them as works of art pure and simple. Non! Ceci n'est pas un échiquier. It's a composition; an arrangement of elements, with its own meaning attached; an art-work. Let it speak as art. Deal with it on its terms. Then, when you succumb to your craving, and see things in black and white, you may have your chess buzz.

In this work of Digeon's (the title will come later) there's a tiled background decorated with floral emblems sporting white or black centres. Tendrils or vines wriggle and snake across what could now be a trellis, wrestling for a place in the sun, or slinking low to hide from it. They twine into ropes and knots, making a dense thicket in the top right hand sector. It's a lush image of serpentine energy; in a gallery you would stop and look. Mon Dieu! It is Art Nouveau with a Growmore overdose. Horticultural Rococo.

Could it also be a handy journey-planner?

London Underground map 1926
(Note: Brixton didn't get on the map until 1974)

Looking again you can see the lines/vines as the pieces tracking over the board: a Lopez bishop on a familiar odyssey; the a1 rook threading its way along the third rank to g3 (a District line manoeuvre); and there's another Spanish career - the g1 knight to f3, h2, g4, h6 and f5. You can immediately see a lot of the moves, even more when you know it is game 20 of the Kasparov-Karpov World Championship Match, New York/Lyon, 1990. It is a Spanish Zaitsev and a no holds barred pitched battle, which Gazza won with a furious king’s side attack. For Karpov things fell apart, his centre could not hold. Play through the game (it's at the end), check it against the art-work, and see how faithfully the artist has rendered the moves, nearly all of them, into the one image.

Maybe the visual analogy with the Underground map is superficial. The game-picture is not a static snapshot. Even an unchessical viewer armed with the title "Kasparov-Karpov" would see it as more than a mere diagram or map, and as an expressive depiction of the action in a game – though without a chess-chip they wouldn't understand what this particular one is all about.

Dominique Digeon has produced more chess/art works in this manner, and in radically different styles. He obviously knows his chess, and takes his art seriously. Another Frenchman, rather more well-known, was chess master and artistic colossus Marcel Duchamp, who asserted pithily that, while not all artists are chess players, all chess players are artists. Would he have thought, then, that it is chess playing artists who produce the best Chess in Art works? And what would he have made of Dominique Digeon's échecs fleuris?

More moves, and more about the riddle of Duchamp, after an adjournment.


The Chess-Theory Virtual Art Museum: Dominqiue Digeon

Clive Billson: A History of the London Tube Maps

[Chess in Art index]
[Chess in Art collected]

Friday, March 20, 2009

Blue or Red Pill?

Petrosian-Tal, Curacao 1962
White to play

Sometimes chess is a decision between two clear cut options.

Take today's position for example. Does White want to exchange minor pieces or not? On the one hand all rook endings are drawn (who said that by the way?). On the other, knights are - often? usually? - better than bishops when the pawns are all on the same side of the board.

The choice is yours.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

An invitation to Benasque 2009

It's time for my annual invitation to the Benasque Open, the international chess tournament high up in the Spanish Pyrenees in July.

This year the tournament is taking place 3-12 July inclusive: they've changed the schedule a little bit, playing eleven rounds where they've previously played ten (and going from a Friday to a Sunday rather than a Thursday to a Saturday). An entry form with information in English* can be found by clicking here.

Last year more than four hundred players attended, including dozens of titled players. You'd be welcome.

The top tables in the 2007 tournament

[* nearly]

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A Bad Move III

Having spent a few posts looking at a good move from Ward-Williams (2004) it's time to get back to one of my lemons.

Regular visitors to the S&BCC blog will perhaps recall that in a recent game 'due' to a severe miscalculation (miscalculations actually) I exchanged queens

and followed up with ... Na5 which led to a position

that is clearly favourable for White after Nd2.

I say 'due' because as inaccurate as my calculation was I don't actually think my mistake was a tactical error at all. Instead I would attribute it to a fundamental lack of understanding.

After being taught how the pieces move one of the first things we learn about chess is that knights on the rim are dim. So what was I doing even thinking about a line where my horsey ended up on the edge of the board?

Well for a start I think I was misled by the fact that sometimes, quite often in fact, Black does play ... Na5 in the Classical Dutch. A week before the game in which my blunder appeared I had played this

in an email game and the very day after A Bad Move II was published I had this

against T.C. in one of our Thursday lunchtime blitz games.

This is an example, I think, of what Rowson calls the Trappings of Analogy - attempting to replicate a pattern in circumstances in which it does not apply in other words.

In these last two examples ... Na5 is a decent move. Perhaps this is because in both of them the centre is blocked and therefore Black has time to reroute the wayward knight. In my experience Black often gets to play ...b7-b6 and thereafter has the option of re-routing the piece to c5. Actually in the email game mentioned my knight bounced all the way to f3 via b7, d8, f7 and g5. I had not foreseen exactly how this would happen but I did realise right from the off that playing my knight to a5 was, despite appearances to the contrary, it's first step to joining the king side attack.

If we return to the actual game position we can see the situation is very different.

Here the centre is fluid

- and talking of patterns I really should have appreciated the dangers of White's c and d pawns given the structure is directly analogous to the mobile pawn centre (e5 and f5) Black hopes to achieve in the Classical Dutch -

and Black will get severely biffed if he takes time out for the elaborate knight manoeuvres described above so the knight is just trapped.

All things considered then, yes on a better day I would have hoped that I would have noticed that there are direct tactical reasons for not playing my knight to a5 but before I even got around to calculating any lines I should have been thinking

this is not the kind of position where ... Na5 is likely to work.

At base, I feel, my problem was not that I calculated badly but that I was calculating the wrong thing in the first place.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Being an average chess player, I have of course resigned many times in the past. It never gets easier: I sit staring at the ruin of my position, barely able to admit to myself the fact of my failure, the glum reminder of my mediocrity, the terrible truth of defeat, gradually mustering the effort to turn down the king, stop the clock, hold out my hand, and congratulate my opponent.

My resignation today, as editor of this blog, is tinged with different emotions. I am due to become a father shortly, and this happy event simply leaves me without the necessary time to properly edit the blog. So, I resign.

But that's not the end of the story, and my resignation heralds changes for the blog as a whole. The first change is the frequency of posting: my fellow-writer ejh is about to get very busy too, so rather than guaranteeing a post every day we're going to guarantee four a week (but possibly more will arrive.) Secondly, we're going to retitle the blog 'The Streatham & Brixton Chess Blog' - thus splitting it off from the club. In the absence of a replacement editor, both club officials and my fellow writers reluctantly agreed that this was the right move. Thusly and thirdly, this opens up possibilities for new content and writing from outside the club - something to look forward to in the hopefully not-too-distant future. One negative effect for content is that club news will now be sent around via email. However, I'd still like to feature games played by us amateurs - and perhaps these might become readers' games in general, featuring efforts from further afield. 

Anyway, I'm sure that these changes will shortly become self-evident, and thanks for reading this announcement. We resume normal but different service shortly.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Club News: Last Ever Update

Welcome to the last ever club news update; a bumper update featuring no less than two fascinating games to play through.

We start this week in the London League's top division, where our First Team beat Mushrooms 1 on Thursday last week 7-3, with two adjourned. That scoreline looks more convincing than apparently the match actually was, with all three of the top boards being lost for us at one point - yet we recorded two wins and a draw from them. Lower down the board order our new player Nick Fordham also recorded his first victory for the team, a fine dynamical game in the Modern Benoni that featured an unusual material imbalance - three minor pieces versus a Queen:

Well played, Nick.

Elsewhere in the London League the news is also pretty good. On March 2nd our Second Team squeezed past East Ham by the narrowest of margins (5½ to 4½) to put them mathematically safe and beyond the threat of demotion. Meanwhile the Third Team has won one and lost one, losing against a very strong Albany team on March 9th 5½ to 1½, plus one adjourned, but back in February beating Metropolitan 4-3 in a violent match that featured no draws.

Finally, Captain Angus French writes that we find ourselves unexpectedly atop the Surrey League, and indeed we do thanks to a 5-3 victory against Guildford back in February. That match was also notable for the following victory for Martin Smith, where an apparently quiet system soon erupts into a wild position with both sides attacking. Enjoy:

PS. Those curious as to why this is the last in this series will find out tomorrow!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Apparently Got Something To Do With Chess But Probably Rubbish

"... the nuns of Montglane Abbey are forced to unearth a secret buried for a thousand years within their fortress walls. As the women scatter across the world they take with them the pieces of a mystical chess set given to Charlemagne by eight mysterious Moors. Embedded in each piece of chess service is a code. Whomever reassembles the pieces can play a game of unlimited power - a game that will bring about the end of all kings."

Or so it says here.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

"In all this excitement I kind of lost track myself"

Horton-Surtees, Preston Open 2001, third round, position after White's 32.Rf1-f3.

This is the third of this week's inexplicable brainstorms. In the above position, with two rooks and a knight for a queen and a couple of pawns, White, who is winning without enormous difficulty, agreed a draw.

In truth I can't remember who offered it, though it should, by rights, have been me. But why I would either offer or accept one should be unclear to anybody who actually looks at the position, as I presumably must have been doing, in some apparently limited sense, at the time,

Nor will the time record help us out, or at least not all that simply, since although White was short of time he was not oppressively so, and Black was rather worse off. After thirty moves White had six minutes to reach move forty, but Black, for his part, had only three.

Did I lose my nerve? I don't think I did, not really. What I did lose was a knight. Or rather, I didn't lose a knight. It was the knight I didn't lose that I think I lost. I didn't lose it - I lost track of it.

I can't remember exactly how it happened, but I do recall that one way or another, I was under the impression that I had a piece less than I actually had. I don't think it was that specific: I don't think I believed I had only one knight, that the position as it stood was either this

or this

either of which would, as it happens, be not drawn but lost pretty easily for White.

No, I think that I had just become confused in a general way about the material balance: I think that I had decided that I had a couple of rooks for a queen and two pawns, and somehow lost track of the fact that I was, additionally, a knight to the good.

A few moves before, we had been in the following position, after Black's 27...Kg7-f8:

and which at first impression looks both promising and highly dangerous for White. On the one hand, he is threatening to win a piece: on the other, his queen is looking likely to fall victim to Black's rooks. The latter was in all probability uppermost in my mind and I had to calculate carefully to ensure that I would win both rooks in return for the queen, and not only the one. Having reassured myself that this was so, we then had a series of exchanges, played at what must have been a decent pace:

28.Bxg4 Nxg4 29.hxg4 Rxg4 30.Qxg4

and then the other rook came across and was exchanged for the queen

30...Rg8 31.Qxg8+ Kxg8 32.Rf3 thus bringing us to the position at the top of the column. Where White is winning, but does not realise this because he doesn't realise how much material is left on the board.

So he offers a draw, hoping perhaps that Black (who, he imagines, is strictly speaking winning) will accept because of his precarious clock position. And my diagnosis would be that, having concentrated on the aspect of queen-and-two-rooks, which had just been concluded, White - no doubt aided by the rapid series of exchanges - somehow forgot all about the fact that at the start of the sequence, he had actually been winning a piece.

Maybe the strength of the opponent played a role. Mike Surtees, as well as being one of the most innovative players in the country, is also one of the strongest players in the Northwest and at the time was graded 196. Maybe in some way or another it seemed improbable to me that I could just have won a piece.

Take these elements together: the exchanges, the clock situation, the inherent improbability of the situation and the possibility that the second of the two material imbalances followed, and perhaps therefore superseded, the other. You have an explanation of sorts for the inexplicable.

But you still have a draw in a won position against a strong player. You still have what you have.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Best Ever Chess Book Cover

I don't always agree with the choice of bad chess book covers collected by my fellow-blogger ejh; a couple I even almost like.

However, the following chess book cover has to be the very best ever (click to enlarge):

The ballsy swashbuckle of a Nxf7 sac, subtly blended with the sweaty glamour of disco. A rainbow of excitement beamed down at the chess board from the ceiling, like lazers from our sacrifice-loving eyes. How it reminds us all once again of that old fundamental truth, that nothing is black and white in chess. It is like a dream I had, quite literally!


PS. This cover also impressed me.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

What was I thinking of?

Horton v Geiger, IECG theme tournament 2004. Position after Black's 16...Nc6-a5.

i) What should White do now?
ii) What do you think that he did instead?

Is there a difference between the merely bad and the almost incomprehensible, and if so, what would it be? I've spent some little time writing about bad chess but this is my week for the inexplicable, the sort of chess that's not so much about somebody missing something obvious as about somebody obviously going missing. On Tuesday there was the pawn up that never was. Today we have the resignation that should never have been considered. Because that's what hasppened in the position above: White resigned.

There is, of course, no shortage in the literature of players resigning when they should not and I imagine that if I searched my scorebooks I could find other examples where I have perpetrated that particular blunder (and others where I have been the beneficiary). However, when considering these cases we habitually note that the player resigning was the victim of a comprehensible error. They saw something and did not see something else. They saw the obvious, the obvious both to them and us: they didn't see what was obscure. Time is finite, human capacity the more so. They resigned and they should not have. But they did not see something hard to see. That much is easy to understand.

People err. But they may err in identifiable ways and we can identify these instances as follows: we know what they saw - or thought they saw - and what they did not see. Is it something different if we can't see what they thought they saw?

Not so long ago, looking at the MacCutcheon Variation with a view to playing that line in a tournament, I recalled that I'd played it in an email theme tournament half a decade before. Three games with Black and three with White (else I would not have been playing 1.e4). I had a look through the scores to see if there was anything to learn and looking at one game which I'd lost very uuickly, couldn't immediately recall why it was that I'd resigned. I entered the position on a computer, to find out. To my surprise it wouldn't tell me. I was expecting to be given an evaluation of minus two or so: instead I found that it was close to equal, and the more I fiddled about to see if the evaluation was misleading, the more equal that evaluation became.

How odd. What had I been I thinking of? For sure, White is losing a pawn, presumably unexpectedly: after 17.Rbb1 bxc5 he's not, as he may have hoped, going to have any immediate tactics on the a-file because after 18.Ra1?? there is 18...Nb3+ ending the game. But still, Black's rooks aren't playing, his king is uncastled and his bishop is as bad as the French Defence bishop often is: whereas White's two rooks are liable to fit the a and b files like the cartridges of a rifle. Is there nothing, really nothing to play on for?

I've been known to resign a little early in my day (see comments, for example) and perhaps the temptation is all the greater in a correspondence game where it's not quite so likely that the opponent will give you anything back for free. Still, it was a correspondence game. Every point in resigning, earlier than you would over-the-board, when you know you're lost. But what's the point when you don't yet know you are? There's no sunny afternoon to go and enjoy, no ticking clock to prevent you spending as long as you like looking for chances. So - quite literally - what was I thinking of?

On consideration, it may not be entirely incomprehensible. I've sat here trying to work out why I jacked it in so early and the best that I can think of is that though I considered renewing the skewer threat with (17.Rbb1 Bxc5) 18.Ke2, I saw that Black could then play 18...Qa3. Then if White tries to repeat with 19.Kd2, Black has 19...c4 and the queen and knight get away. Still, you would have thought that you could play on a bit with 20.Ra1 Qc5 21.Bg6 Be8 22.Nd4 Kg8 23.Bh5 and at least make Black prove you haven't got the bind for a pawn that appears to the naked eye. Or you could even find 19.c4! and be right back in the game.

If it takes some finding, that's one thing. But if it takes some finding, on looking at a position, to work out why you resigned - isn't that another? What was I thinking of?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Good Move III

"So how did the game go ..."

asked Angus in the comments box to AGM II (which itself followed AGM).

It went like this Angus:-

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Could it be a picture in your mind?

Gavín Roche - Horton, Aragón v Casino Jaque, Aragón Team Championship, 7 March 2009, position after White's 30.g3.

Black's holding this more than comfortably against a player ranked a good hundred points above him and thinks he'll maybe have a punt at winning so he goes 30...Rd5 to which White responds with 31.Rxd5 exd5 32.Qf4.

There follows a short period of sparring: 32...Qc4 33.Qf6 Qc6 34.Qg5 d4 35.Re1 Qe6 36.Rd1 Rc5 37.Qd8+ Kg7

before the queens come off: 38.Qxd4 Qxe5 39.Qxe5+ Rxe5 bringing about the following position

in which Black is confident that he can meet 40.Rd6 with 40...Re6, because if the rooks are exchanged he'll win the ending a pawn up.

If the rooks aren't exchanged, it'll be harder work, thinks Black, but he'll still have all the chances with his extra pawn. And as he awaits White's move, he has a look at the pawn structure to see what the best way to make progress might be.

Monday, March 09, 2009

A Good Move II

Black to play

If you haven't already had a look at the comments box to Friday's post take a moment to consider this position.

We're joining Chris Ward - two time simul giver at S&BCC in recent years - against Simon Williams at the 2004 British Championship. Black was 'only' an International Master at the time but secured a GM norm at the tournament before qualifying for the title itself at Hastings a couple of years ago.

Anyway, back to the game. In his Sunday Telegraph chess column Nigel Short pondered what Chris Ward might have been thinking at this point and concluded,

"The Wood Green grandmaster was presumably content here; White's bishop is theoretically superior to Black's and d4 is a secure blockading square."

So what is Black to do?

T.C. wanted to play ... a5-a4 here but most of our commenters wanted to get on with things on the kingside with ...f5-f4. It turns out this is the right idea but perhaps not the best way to go about it.

As Psycho-Cowboy points out Black has the more than slightly surprising ... Nh8 ("!" according to Nigel Short and Simon Williams himself in NIC Yearbook 78 although I reckon it deserves at least a "!!" - one ! for the quality of the move and one for a combination of balls, vision and sense of humour),

getting ready for ... g7-g5.

"A clever regrouping. Black is obliged to play for f4 to obtain counterplay and this move prepares it."

as Nosher puts it although you may prefer Psycho-Cowboy's,

Get the Dutch kingside attack going!!

Club News will return next Monday.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Possibly Got Something To Do With Chess

Special Agent Patrick Bowers had only met one man who made him truly afraid. Until now. When he's called to North Carolina to consult on the case of an area serial killer, he finds himself in a deadly game ... Can he unravel the pattern and save the next victim? Or will the Illusionist win the game by taking one of his opponent's pieces? Thrilling, chilling, and impossible to put down, "The Pawn" will hold suspense lovers in its iron grip until the very last page.

Or so it says here.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Chess in Art postscript : Naughty Boys

Guest post by Martin Smith

In Chess in Art XX ejh treated us to Thomas Eakins' much analysed masterpiece The Chess Players of 1876.

It shows Eakins' father, Benjamin, watching Bertrand Gardel (White), erstwhile teacher of French, losing to friend and artist George W. Holmes (Black). It has been written about geo-politically by R. W. Torchia (1991) who sees in it a celebration of the strength of American Chess (remember Paul Morphy) which is, in its turn, a metaphor for emergent American economic power; and chessically by H. T. Dearden (2008) who ingeniously reconstructs the position and invites us to find mate in five.

By the way, Mr Dearden, in Cluedo-style, deduces that the coup de grace was delivered in the parlour just before lunch, though one doubts that Gardel had much appetite for it after such a thrashing.

We should say a few words about the picture compositionally too, noting the counterpoint of the chairs against the decline of the players, echoed also by the graceful pose of the cat. It is an artistic decision, not mere coincidence, that depicts her at a somewhat indelicate public toilette, one of the species' less appealing habits, for this gives the artist the shape he needs to fill aesthetically an otherwise empty space. What he doesn't want is another moggie in the attention-seeking mould of Shvarts (Chess in Art XVII) rumbustiously honing its hunting skills on discarded pieces. But, better resist the temptation to over-analyse the feline contribution to chess in art and stay focussed on, say, the pyramid established around the board by the three veterans. The strong illumination from the right picks out the concentration on their faces and the expressive choreography of their hands. The clock creeps into this arc of highlights, and one sees that Gardel is obliged to play the white pieces by the demands of the composition rather than because, prosaically, he had black last time. The white queen peeping from the drawer is no accident either. Yes, it tells us about the state of the game, but she also closes the circle of lights at the heart of the scene – a black queen wouldn't do.

All this speaks of Eakins' rationalism. Everything is ordered and explicable. There is not a hair out of place, not even, we are led to believe, on the nether regions of his cat. Eakins was a man of practical scientific enquiry as well as an artist in the school of American Realism. He gave a paper in 1885 to the Philadelphia Academy of Sciences on the musculature of the horse, and with his enthusiasm for the emergent techniques of photography collaborated with Eadweard Muybridge to analyse equine motion, and indeed conducted his own experiments on human movement.

Based on the flimsiest of circumstantial evidence (namely: he was interested in photography) I suggested in a comment to the earlier post that Eakins might have used a camera and/or studio lighting to assist him with the Chess Players. I can't corroborate this, unfortunately; indeed the sources say he got his first camera in 1880, four years after the painting. Nonetheless; shame to dump a decent theory in the face of contrary facts, so I'll hang on to it for a bit just in case some rather more helpful ones turn up.

Thomas Eakins (1902)

Having lauded Eakins the artist, scientist, and rationalist let's just mention, en passant, his dark side, the Mr Hyde to his Dr. Jekyll. A clue was given in 1886 when he insisted on raising the loin cloth of his male model to prove a point to his female students concerning the attachment of certain muscles (or, so it is said). This time his spirit of even handed enquiry (for that was his defence) in the face of Americanised Victorian prudery landed him in seriously hot water and he was sacked from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts for his pains. But where there was smoke, or steam anyway, there was fire. Not just an isolated incident it was alleged, and what about those young ladies in states of undress in his studio, unchaperoned to boot, and those pictures, photographs even, of unclad young men?

Art students wrestling in the nude
Thomas Eakins (1883)

Like his boys, the Eakins industry also has had a field day, some going so far as to discern an inclination to incest.

Not that devotees of the S&BCC blog Chess in Art series would be excited by such matters, so we'll return forthwith to higher-minded themes such as Eadweard Muybridge's murder of his wife's lover. Sad to have to refer to this, as he was a son of neighbouring Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames - just five miles from Streatham - whom we play in the Surrey League. Not that we should taunt our opponents with this juicy gobbet of scandal when we meet; after all, it was long ago in 1874 in San Francisco that, cuckolded, Muybridge wreaked his dreadful revenge on an unfortunate, but evocatively named, Major Larkyns (life imitating Cluedo once more). Hardly any surprise, though, that in accord with the standards of the time they judged that Larkyns got his comeuppance and Muybridge walked a free man into the sunset, his reputation intact. He returned eventually to Kingston leaving behind, we would assume, his Wild West brand of marriage guidance counselling (much to the relief, no doubt, of the bedhoppers of that good Borough). His effects are on display in the excellent Kingston Museum.


Robert Wilson Torchia. The Chess Players by Thomas Eakins. Winterthur Portfolio 1991.

HT Dearden. "The Chess Players", Chess, September 2008.

The Eadweard Muybridge Bequest
. Royal Borough of Kingston-upon-Thames.

[Chess in Art index]

Friday, March 06, 2009

A Good Move

Black to play

Having spent a post or two on a bad move of mine, today we'll end the week looking at a much better effort from somebody else.

So ...?

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Where does it all go, eh?

Have a good look at the position below - it's Black to play - and decide what move you'd like to play.

Take your time. Take as long as you like.

It's the sixth and final round of a Lloyds Bank Under-16 tournament in 1981. I have accumulated three and a half points out of five and I have the Black pieces in the final round. My opponent has erred slightly in the Najdorf theory which I then felt it necessary to know, because having castled earlier than is recommended, the subsequent knight check on d6 allows a winning queen exchange (via the check on d4) if the capturing bishop is then recaptured. Noticing this, he has decided to play the position a piece down and gone 20.Qd2-g5!?!

He took this decision really quite quickly - just a couple of minutes' thought. But I, having taken only about ten minutes to reach the diagrammed position, thought for much longer. Much, much longer. I thought for longer than I had thought over any move I had played in my life. In fact I thought for so long, not only did my opponent get up several times from the table, I actually did the same myself. Twice.

Without going into detail (or caring to) the point is that Black's king, not unusually in this variation, is in serious danger. After the threatened check on h5 there may be no easy escape for it towards the queenside given that the queen may come to the seventh rank. This might mean that bringing the queen rook to the rescue via a7 might lose that very rook to a skewer: meanwhile although Black still has a free check on d4, is this actually a good idea given that White can put rooks on d3, or d1, or both?

By the time I was ready to select a move, forty-seven minutes had elapsed. I chose the queen check 20...Qd4+ which is actually a good move, quite possibly a winning one: the follow-up, after 21.Kh1, of 21...Ra7 is less strong (21...e4! is the computer's choice) but still seems to hold the draw. However, I was under real pressure now (though not particularly from the clock) and after 22.Bxh5+ Rxh5 23.Qxh5+ Rf7 24.Rd3 Qc5 25.Rfd1 Be7 26.Rg3

I failed to find the one saving move (you may like to locate it yourself) and after 26...Qxc2?? succumbed to a mate in four. There was some sort of extra incentive for the prizewinners, a place in the Lloyds Bank Masters or the BCF junior squad or something, I forget what: as it was I finished half a point short and was never heard of again. And it's a good thing too.

I've always remembered those forty-seven minutes though: since then I've twice had opponents think for an hour or more on a single move, but never got close to it myself. Until, that is, the Saturday before last, playing the Breyer Variation against Zaragozan FIDE Master Fernando López Gracia, when after White's 22.Nh4-f5! I found myself in the following position.

Once again, take as long as you like. Or at least, take up to an hour - because that's how long I took. Maybe an hour. Maybe more.

Why? The simple answer is "because I didn't know what to do". The more complex explanation is that at first I thought I must be winning, then I thought I must be losing and it took me the best part of an hour to decide that I had no alternative that I could rely on.

I was under the impression, in the first place, that I had done nothing wrong and that therefore the sacrifice must be unsound. (This isn't right, as it happens: the bishop belongs on e7, not g7 and for that matter the queen has probably gone to the wrong square.) But the more I tried to find the winning line, the more I found myself looking at a sequence such as 22...gxf5 23.Bxf6! Bxf6 24.Nxh5 and after that the queen comes to g5 or h6 and Black never, it seemed to me, quite has the time to play ....f4 before White plays exf5 and the bishop or the rook, or both, join the attack.

I spent a long time trying to work out if I had a defence after 24...Bh8 and never, quite, deciding whether I did or whether I did not. The problem was, that if I had overlooked so much as a small detail, my king was open and alone with the White pieces homing in on it: however, if I was right to take - and I was sure that in principle I would be - then the right sequence would win the game for me. I was aware that I was taking too much time: but at the same time, I was aware that it might be worth it.

Moreover, if I did not take, then what should I do? I didn't fancy 22...Bh8 very much (besides, he seemed to have the promising sacrifice 23.Bxf6 Bxf6 24.Nxh5 so I wasn't saving myself any bother that way) but the only other idea I had would be taking witha knight on e4 and then picking up the f5 knight at the end of the sequence, e.g. something like 22...Nfxe4 23.Nxe4 Nxe4 24.Bxe4 gxf5 25.Bxf5. However, although that might constitute a way not to get imediately mated, I couldn't look at the resulting position, by any means that I tried to achieve it, and tell myself that I had anything other than I prospectless position that my opponent ought to find it very easy to win. And yet, you know, if I take on f5 I might be winning...

We each had ninety minutes for the game, plus thirty seconds a move. I'd actually played the first eighteen moves almost instantly, such that my side of the clock showed ninety-eight minutes, a very rare occurrence at that time limit. I took a few minutes apiece over the next three moves (I'd always previously played 19...Kh7) and neither my handwriting nor my memory is such that I can be sure how many I had left before, or after, my 22nd move. This time I didn't get up: I sat and thought, and sat and thought, and eventually decided that some sort of tactics were surely in order if I were to give my opponent a chance to go wrong. So I did indeed play 22...Nfxe4 and he chose 23.Bxe4, which is good, and then after 23...gxf5 selected 24.Bh6, which is not. He'd missed my 24...f4! after which, amazingly, despite my open kingside and his three pieces within it, I was back in the game:

and after his further error 25.Bxg7? and my second consecutive surprise failure to recapture, 25...Nb3! I was, strictly speaking, winning.

It's not the fork that matters - Black will be very lucky if he gets time to take the rook, though naturally it doesn't hurt to be threatening it - so much as the fact that White needs to move the queen and has no useful square (he'd like a dark one on the kingside) to move it to.

Now it was his turn to think long and hard and eventually the game continued 26.Bh7+ Kxh7 27.Qc2+ Kxg7 28.Nxh5+ Kh6 29.Nf6 Rh8 30.Qf5 and although Black had played seven consecutive good moves with hardly any time on the clock, the eighth proved beyond him and he played 30...Bc8?? which loses a won game.

White played 31.Ng4+ Kg7 32.Qf6+ Kg8 33.Nxe5. This is what Black had overlooked - the knight cannot be captured because the b6 queen is loose. (30...Qd8 or 30...Qc7 are promising.) 33...Qb7 34.Nc6 Rh5 35.Re8+ Kh7 and Black resigned.

Twenty-eight years, less a month, between two games: in some ways it seems less than the hour between two moves. Because the games look and feel so very similar, as if nothing had changed in the player of the Black pieces, from the fifteen-year-old boy to the middle-aged man. On the board, everything changes in an instant: let alone in the eternity of a whole hour. But nothing really changes. Not even in half a lifetime.

If time means anything, it is, where I am, still five minutes short of noon. But for some reason I think I need a drink.