Saturday, June 29, 2013

Friday, June 28, 2013

Stuck in the middle with you

Here's a column Ray wrote for the Spectator, in the issue for 25 June 2011. It's called In Medias Res.

In the column he annotated the game Carlsen-Nakamura from the tournament in Medias, Romania.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Ray plagiarises Kasparov: Private Eye chips in

Private Eye, issue 1343, 25 June 2013, page 29

Plagiarism: what happened next
Predecessors II

[Thanks to Jonathan]

[Ray Keene index]
[Ray Keene plagiarism index]

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Predecessors Predecessor

A couple of years before he wrote the article Great Alexander for the Spectator, which plagiarised wholesale Garry Kasparov's My Great Predecessors, Ray Keene wrote a piece for the same magazine, called Harry's Game, which appeared in the issue for March 12, 2011. In the article, Ray annotated the game Reti-Capablanca, New York 1924.

The Harry referred to in Ray's title is the late Harry Golombek who, as Ray observes, produced noteworthy game collections honouring both those players.

I happen to possess copies of both books: the game from New York was annotated by Golombek in the one devoted to Reti. Here's the front cover of my copy, complete with the author's name misspelled on the front cover.

Ray goes on to say that his annotations to Reti-Capablanca are based on Golombek's.

With notes based on Golombek's. But they're not. Patently, they are not based on Golombek's.

How can we can say that with confidence? Because they are, in fact, not "based on" anything, but plagiarised - and not from Golombek but a different place entirely.

Where do you think that might be?

There's a clue in our title.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

GMs of BO

I’ve been pondering Britishness recently. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about British chessers. More precisely still, I’ve been asking myself who are the Grandmasters of British origin? It’s not as easy a question to answer as you might think.


Nationality used to be straightforward. Where you were born, where you grew up, where you lived: all the same place.

Things are different now. I am Essex for cricket, Southampton (Hampshire) for football and Surrey for chess – a rather neat map of the course of my life. Counties for me, countries for a lot of folk these days.


People like Jacob Aagaard, Alexander Baburin and Bogdan Lalic, for instance. Good men and true, no doubt, and they may or may not be or have been considered British in some sense. Not from around here, though, and clearly not of British origin.

What about Jim Plaskett, though? Born in Cyprus, apparently, and currently living in Spain. Does he count? I say that he does.

And William Watson? How would he respond if we marked his card as ‘Iraqi’ on the basis that he popped out in Baghdad? With Wellington’s line about being born in a stable not making one a horse? Who knows? Certainly not me, I haven’t asked him. Anyhoo, I’m counting him too (Watson, I mean, not The Duke).

Murray Chandler caused me some problems, although thinking about it I’m not sure why. Somehow he feels somehow British to me. Perhaps because when I started chessing he was a permanent fixture in the England national team. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t seem to have much of a Kiwi accent. Maybe I’m just confusing ‘British’ with what back in the day we used to call ‘Western’ or ‘First World’ – terms which in retrospect seem largely to have been used as a shorthand for ‘White but not communist’.

Bottom line: Chandler was born in Wellington and settled in England later in life. Hell, at the age of 20 he was still playing Olympiads for New Zealand. So, as much as I’d like it to be otherwise, Murray’s not making the cut.

Afraid not

Having looked a bit about what ‘origin’ means, it’s time to move on to ‘Grandmaster’. Even that’s a little slippery from a definitional point of view.

I’m interested in the highest over-the-board title which has been earned by right. None of this GM-Emeritus stuff and not a GM of Problem solving or correspondence chess either. Not that there’s anything wrong with being any of those things. It’s just not what I want to count today.

Should I count Penrose under these criteria? He’s a ‘real’ GM apparently and yet an award given thirty years after the fact doesn’t seem quite what I’m trying to get at here. Feel free to mentally add him in if you see fit, but I’m not going to.

After all, if we’re going to count Penrose shouldn’t we include Bill Hartston as well? He could have had a post-dated Grandmastership too, he just chose not to pursue it. You’ve got to draw the line somewhere and whatever FIDE might say, mine comes down with JP on the wrong side I'm afraid.


Nationality, if it means anything at all, is self-defined. If you rely on assumption, emotion and Wikipedia – as I have done here – any list that you might end up with tells you more about the compiler and the accuracy of web-based encyclopedias than it gives you an ‘objective truth’.

Still, for what it’s worth, and please feel free to correct me or argue differently, here is my list of Grandmasters of British origin. I think there are 44 of them.

[NB: I have a debt of gratitude to this EC Forum thread and the work done by Jack Rudd, Paul McKeown and Chris Kreuzer in particular]

Adams, Michael
Anagnostopoulos, Dimitris
Arkell, Keith
Conquest, Stuart
Davies, Nigel
Emms, John
Flear, Glenn
Gallagher, Joe
Gormally, Daniel
Gordon, Stephen
Haslinger, Stewart
Hebden, Mark
Hodgson, Julian
Howell, David
Howell, James
Jones, Gawain
Keene, Ray
King, Daniel
Kosten, Tony
Kumaran, Dharshan
Levitt, Jonathan
McDonald, Neil
McNab, Colin
McShane, Luke
Mestel, Jonathan
Miles, Antony
Motwani, Paul
Norwood, David
Nunn, John
Parker, Jonathan
Pert, Nicholas
Plaskett, James
Rowson, Jonathan
Sadler, Matthew
Shaw, John
Short, Nigel
Speelman, Jon
Stean, Michael
Summerscale, Aaraon
Turner, Matthew
Ward, Chris
Watson, William
Wells, Peter
Williams, Simon

Double Six Index


Monday, June 24, 2013

Sixty Memorable Annotations

#19: Carlsen - Kramnik, Tal Memorial (Blitz) 2013

41 Rxb7

After this move the endgame is drawn according to FinalGen program.
Alex Baburin, Chess Today (12th June 2013)

Oh aye? A machine making a definitive judgement on an ending like this? Not drawing or drawing chances, but drawn. End of.

What's all this about? The online Nalimov (SMA#13) can 'only' do six-man endings, and while there's a 'for pay' version that does seven, even after b7 drops we'll still have eight here.

Angus filled me in. Final Gen is an 'endgame tablebase generator'. Unlike Nalimov it can cope with positions with any amount of pawns, just as long as each side only has a single piece each. Which means it can sort out any rook ending.

Flippin eck. Are we done here?

O Deep Thought Computer, the task we have designed you to perform is this: We want you… to tell us… The Answer.

”The Answer”? The answer to what?


The Universe.



But can you do it?

Yes… I can do it.

You can!

There, there, there is an answer? A simple answer?

Yes. Life, the Universe, and Everything… There is an answer. But I’ll have to think about it.

At this point in the Hitchhiker's story, a couple of guys burst into the room. They're not happy. Not by a long chalk. Turn the machine on, they say, and they'll be out of a job. "You just let the machines get on with the adding up and we’ll take care of the eternal verities", they wail before threatening an all out strike of philosophers and working thinkers.

And maybe I'd strike too. After all, what's the point in me sitting up half the night trying to understand why some rook ending is or isn't lost if some poxy machine can give me 'won in x' or 'drawn' at the push of a button?

Yes, maybe I'd withdraw my rook-endgame-wittering labour.

Who will that inconvenience?

Except I don't need to. I'm saved by the very same thing that saves Majikthise and Vroomfondel.

Angus downloaded FinalGen and set up a position that we'd been looking at. Rook plus 4 versus rook plus 3. The extra fourth pawn being a passed on the queenside.

We'd been struggling with it. Is there an answer? A simple answer? Yes there is. Can FinalGen do it? Yes it can. But it will have to think about it.

OK, 18 months or so for a response isn't quite the seven and a half million years that Majikthise and Vroomfondel get before Deep Thought comes up with "42". Still, it's long enough not to get worried that rook endings are over just yet.

Which just goes to show: in rook endings, as in life, it always pays to remember the words on the cover of your guide.

With thanks to Angus, Matt F and my collective twitter feed

Sixty Memorable Annotations Index
Rook and pawn Index

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Knightmare! Scenarios: 2. Alice in Blunderland

This is the second episode of our Knightmare! series, in which we celebrate the magazine produced by the young turks of Streatham and Brixton CC for three issues in the late 1970s. The first episode explained that Knightmare! was a product of a golden ten-year period in the club's fortunes - the like of which, to be frank, we have not seen since. After having set the scene, the series now moves on to some Knightmare!ish articles about more or less serious chess, and other things besides.

Rather than straightaway jump in at the deep end, we will take it gently in this episode; but that's not to say we will be safe in the shallows. Today we look at two articles that verge on the hallucinogenic. They were in typical Knightmare!-style demonstrating that, unlike your average chess mag, it would do anything for a laugh.  

We begin with a piece by sometime club president Steve White: "The Wonderland of Chess" (from issue No.3) in which he reveals his taste for something a little bit Volga, as well as a deeply impressive knowledge of literature usually thought more suitable for children. His commentates on one of his own games and endeavours to demonstrate that chess and nonsense may occasionally cosy up and embrace in mutual satisfaction. Steve was for a long time a stalwart of the Club, and was last heard of emigrating to foreign parts. But it was not for this Knightmare! piece that he felt it wise to leave the country. He departed much later, in the 1990s, to follow his engineering career, and last had an ECF grade ("inactive") in 1996 of 143 (in old money) - though previous to that he may well have been stronger.

His article is the provocation for the strap-line to today's post. "Alice in Blunderland" has a decent pedigree in chess scribbling, but also has a worthy antecedent elsewhere as the title of track 5 of Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band's album, The Spotlight Kid, issued in 1972, which could have been the mood music for Knightmare! To conjure up the atmosphere of those heady days in the 70s we suggest you try it at maximum volume.


Now at full blast? Then we give you the introductory paragraphs to Steve's piece - reproduced in facsimile as seen in Knightmare!  If it appears a bit fuzzy and rough around the edges do not adjust your set; it's the Captain Beefheart effect.

Now we continue the article in transcription, and in true looking-glass fashion White is Black. 

Careering on, we reproduce, after the break, another classic of absurdist annotation by Steve's Volga henchman and fellow Knightmare!ista Ken Coates. Steve and Ken shared a flat at the time a few doors down from Madame "I'll take luncheon vouchers" Cyn, although they were, Ken assures us, too chess-fixated to notice. Ken, by the way, can now be found ploughing his furrow with Crowthorne Chess Club in Berkshire, and with BCM Dragons in the 4NCL.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Plagiarism: what happened next

[After publishing Wednesday's post, demonstrating how Ray Keene had plagiarised Garry Kasparov in the Spectator, I telephoned the Spectator offices to make a complaint of plagiarism. I was asked to put the complaint in an email, which I was naturally happy to do. The text is reproduced below.]

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

From: Justin Horton

Dear Sir

I telephoned your magazine today to make a complaint about plagiarism. I was requested to make that complaint via email, which I am therefore doing.

The complaint concerns the article "Great Alexander", written by your chess correspondent Raymond Keene, an article which appeared in your issue for 4 May 2013.

On looking at the game annotations in the article it became apparent that Mr Keene had copied them, essentially word-for-word, from another source. Specifically, this source is the book My Great Predecessors, Part One, published by Everyman in 2003 and written by the former world chess champion Garry Kasparov. I see no proper alternative to describing this as plagiarism and crude, blatant plagiarism at that.

I would invite you to read this short piece, which provides full details of Mr Keene's plagiarism.

[At this point in the email a link to Wednesday's post appears - ejh]

Obviously it is up to your magazine to decide what action you should take in this matter. I will only add that this is far from the first time that Mr Keene has engaged in plagiarism, nor even the first time he has done so in your magazine.

Yours sincerely

Justin Horton

[Meanwhile on Twitter...]

[And on Chessgames...]

UPDATE FRIDAY 1210 BST. Here's Ray's latest claim:

Anybody inclined to take this seriously might like to ask themselves:
  1. Why would anybody do this?
  2. Whose name is actually on the copyright notice?

UPDATE UPDATE FRIDAY 1645 BST. Curiously, all the recent postings have disappeared from Ray's page. Which is what happened last time.

[Ray Keene index]

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


Last month - in the issue for 4 May 2013 - Ray Keene had a column published in the Spectator. It was called Great Alexander and it annotated the game Alekhine-Rubinstein, Carlsbad 1923.

Here's the diagrams, to which Ray refers in his notes.

Here's the introduction.
Here's the game itself.
And here's the conclusion.

An interesting column, I thought. An interesting game with particularly interesting notes. All the more interesting when you find out where Ray plagiarised them from.

Well, what else would you expect from a plagiarist of world championship class?

Tuesday, June 18, 2013


"I had to be in for half six... there was a curfew at half nine"

I've been rather enjoying the Pimlico Open. Every Thursday at 6:30 for five weeks, I get to keep my game up to speed and speed my game up to keep going. And it's going all right, so far. Two wins and a draw mean I'm in a share of the lead. But I very, very nearly blew it last week.

In this position, I managed to not immediately see that my king could shepherd the passed pawn from the c file. Over about five minutes, I terrified myself into thinking that I had to bail out for a draw with 47... Kf4. It's just as well that blindness can be temporary.

Tournament Diaries Index

Monday, June 17, 2013


When you need cheering up there's nothing quite like laughing at the problems of others. Victoria sponge, maybe, but nothing else. On Saturday evening I needed both.

So call me a misanthrope if you will, but there I was wiping the crumbs from my lips whilst having a chortle at Magnus Carlsen's latest rook ending debacle. Our F.W.C., having gone well beyond misfortune and carelessness, is making such a habit of failing to hold drawable rook endgames he's surely earned the right to have the phenomenon named after him by now.

At the Candidates' Carlsen lost against Ivanchuk - Magnus versus you; EFing rook endings - and then in May he went down against Wang Hao. Given his form in this area, it probably shouldn't have been a surprise when things went tits-up once again, this time around against Caruana at the Tal Memorial.

They're ten a penny, then, but if there's one thing that stands out about this particular Maggie Hoo Hoo it's why he lost. Apparently, it came down to a position with kings and a rook each and just one single pawn for Black. Carlsen thought it would be drawn. Turned out it wasn't.

Deceptively difficult, these rook and single pawn positions eh? Even when you have an elo comfortably over 2800.

It's an odd one isn't it. Carlsen's supposed to be The Man when it comes to endings - and maybe he is - but for some reason when the game is reduced to nothing but rooks and pawns he often fails to locate the cow's arse with his proverbial banjo. Aside from losing drawable positions, against Kramnik at the Tal Memorial Blitz he added 'not exploiting winning chances' to his repertoire of rook ending mishaps. More of that next week.

Why? Who knows? It's a conundrum, to be sure.

Still, if nothing else it does at least give us something at which we can chuckle when we find ourselves in between cake. Every cloud, eh Magnus?

Rook and pawn Index

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Definitely Got Something to do with chess IX

From being little more than toys, in the late 1970's, chess computers have risen to challenge the mightiest grandmasters on the planet. Kasparov himself narrowly succumbed to Deep Blue in 1997, but since then the champions such as Kramnik and Kasparov himself have held their own against the best silicon monsters. Then, in mid-2005, Grandmaster Michael Adams, a world title contender, was swept away by the all-devouring Hydra in a match which may well mark the advent of machine supremacy in the ultimate thinking game

Or so it says here.

... to do with chess Index

Friday, June 14, 2013

Chess goes to the movies: Charlie's Angels


Once upon a time...

THREE FOURTH GRADE SCHOOL PHOTOS FILL THE FRAME, side by side by side. These are three very different girls.

NATALIE, with a page-boy cut and wearing a Catholic schoolgirl's uniform, sports glasses and braces; a bit awkward and gangly, even shy.

ALEX, formally dressed with perfect pig-tails, is sophisticated and self-possessed; a class act, even at ten.

DYLAN, wild blond hair and faded T-shirt, has a jaded, street-wise smirk; even at this young age, her isolation and disillusionment are masked by seeming confidence.

... there were three very different little girls.

The triptych remains on screen. Now it shifts into:



NATALIE, working the A-V equipment at school, hides her face in embarrassment, uncomfortable with the camera. FREEZE.

ALEX, in riding gear, accepting her steeple-chase trophy. She knows where to look for the camera. FREEZE.

DYLAN, smoking with her tough-girl friends in the girls' room of her reform school, is caught on camera. She flips it off. FREEZE.

Who grew up into three very different women.


They're all WOMEN now, in their early twenties.

NATALIE, a research fellow at MIT (and beautiful, but not flaunting it) demonstrates a chess-playing computer program to a room of impressed advisors.

ALEX, valedictorian at Oxford, passionately delivers her address to a crowd of rapt students, faculty and parents.

DYLAN, in leather and a helmet, steps off a Harley. She sees a punk with a mohawk slapping around his girlfriend. She decks him, then enters the back door of a seedy punk bar.

With three things in common...


With photographs again. The women, as they are now: Natalie, Alex, Dylan. All gorgeous, all self-assured.

They're brilliant. They're beautiful. And they work for me.

Now, FIREBALL EXPLOSIONS completely fill the screen.

My name is Charlie.

ANGEL SILHOUETTES appear, in flames.

Well that was how it went in an early draft of the script, anyway. By the time the movie actually reached the screens things were somewhat different. For a start, Nathalie had stopped being the designer of a chess machine and become the winner of a TV quiz show instead.

And that's kicking your ass.

Chess goes to the movies Index

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Worst Move On The Board XVI

Lahno-Artemiev, FIDE World Rapidplay, round nine, last Friday. Position after 68...Qf5-e6+.

It's not the first time I've borrowed one of these from Chess Today (to which publication, I should add, I recommend you all subscribe) and this one is from their issue 4595.

Naturally, almost anybody can find a really bad move in almost any position. But can you find the very worst move in this position? And can you do so at rapidplay speed?

[Worst Move index]

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Negative Thinking?

"In hindsight, I don't want to be like the people I've liked"

Last Friday, a day after this game was played, I had an entirely separate lengthy discussion with the other Krakens about a particular poker hand. I argued that, despite playing marginally suboptimally, the fact that I had gone into battle with a precise plan vastly outweighed the minor mathematical and strategical leaks. And I still think I was right.

Now, contrary to popular belief, chess and poker are different animals. Obviously, having a plan is important, and executing moves with a certain degree of moxie can convince your opponent of things that aren't there, but there is absolutely no way that 10. dxc5 should be any good here.

Back story! A few weeks ago, I was absolutely destroyed after the standard 10. Re1 c4, and I didn't fancy reliving that particular memory. In addition, after a long day of training for my new job, I was a bit fuzzy and fancied some fruit. So I convinced myself that opening up the position for my two bishops wasn't entirely dreadful. And, after 10... Nxe5 11. Nxe5 Qxe5 12. Be3 Nf5 13. Bd4 Nxd4 14. cxd4, I went on to win.

Were my actions correct this time? Despite knowing I'd led myself down a very sketchy path, I felt comfortable with what I was doing. Perhaps this showed and convinced my opponent that there was some hidden merit to it. 

Either way, going into tomorrow's third round, I'm in a seven-way tie for 2nd. Get there, one time.

Tournament Diaries Index

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Ed Smith's Luck Paradox

So, following on from yesterday (Why Luck Matters) ...

Ed Smith, we know, believes that luck doesn't play much of a role in chess. He writes this on page 202 of his book and, just so we know it wasn't a casual aside, he repeats the claim on page 203. There are "chess-type sports (where chance is negligible)" and "backgammon-type games (where chance is very important)", he says.

Bad luck Warney

All well and good, but in an earlier chapter, Smith asks himself the question

What do I mean by 'luck'?

and decides

Luck is that which is beyond my control.

True, he goes on to muddy the waters somewhat by introducing the concept of chance - and for Smith chance is related to probabilities and is therefore non-random (and therefore not luck at all) - but by the end of the chapter he returns to his original proposition:-

Luck is what happens to me that is outside my control.

What is included here? Well,

Winning the lottery is luck. My genes are luck. My parents are luck. It is luck if an opponents drops a catch when I am batting.

If Warne grassing a sitter is luck then an opponent blundering his or her queen certainly is. In fact every move our opponents play must be luck, since it is by definition outside of our control.

For Smith, then, chess is both a game that is more or less without luck and also, according to his own argument, it's 50% luck at least.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Why Luck Matters

... and admitting it matters even more

White to play

Today we're all about luck. Luck and rook endings.

Fortunate rook endgames and the writings of Test Match Special new boy Ed Smith made me realise something: it's not the idea of luck in chess per se that I dislike so much, it's the luck narrative.

What Sport Tells us About Life. It sounds like something that Mig Gazza would write, doesn't it? It is, in fact, a half-decade old book by pro-cricketer, journalist and radio commentator Ed Smith. And what exactly does sport tell us about life? Quite a bit, it turns out.

For now we'll focus on the eighth chapter - the one from which the title of today's post is borrowed. 9 short pages that Smith later parlayed into another interesting tome (LUCK: What it means and why it matters). The essence of his idea, though, can be found in a passage from the earlier work.

Sitting around waiting for luck to come your way is as misguided as thinking that good things always come to those who 'want it enough'. The truth is that determination and desire are necessary but not sufficient. We have to try like crazy; we have to retain a relentless sense of determination; we have to make sacrifices and take the road less travelled. And yet there are still no guarantees. Even after all that, we may come up empty-handed.
(my emphasis)
Ed Smith: What Sport Tells us About Life, Penguin 2009

Note the slant here. For Smith it is the absence of recognition of the concept of good fortune that makes it's acknowledgement all the more important. 'Luck' might be unfashionable politically in a meritocratic world*, it may not be useful in a sporting context where championship-winning careers are unlikely to be forged in a warm bath of comforting excuses, and yet it exists all the same. Ignoring it doesn't make it go away.

And here we reach the nub of my problem with how the concept of luck is (ab)used whenever chessers gather together. The irony is that whilst outsiders - Smith included - usually make the mistake of considering chess to be a game without luck, for those of us within the chess world it's often the explanatory tool of choice.

We are the very opposite of the world Smith describes. We wonder why the result of any given game went one way rather than the other and what we don't really try to understand we ascribe to the magic of fortune. Where victory on the chessboard is concerned, the truth is that while luck might be present, necessary even, it is never sufficient  in and of itself.

So it's not so much that I don't think that luck exists in chess, it's more that I don't think that it's particularly important. Certainly not so significant that we can ignore trying, determination, sacrifices and roads less travelled, anyway.

White to play

Having spent an entire post banging on about how luck is talked about far too much, let me talk about luck for a bit. That special kind of luck that every chesser knows - the art of being right for the wrong reasons.

Today's rook ending could have arisen in Dominguez-Perez v Topalov, Thessaloniki 2013 had Toppy retreated his king to b8 rather than chomped the b6 pawn as happened in the game. It's an idea that generated a bit of chat over at the EC Forum recently.  I already fessed up to one instance of 'correct assessment, faulty analysis' on the thread. Here's another,albeit of a different stripe.

From the starting position I wondered if there was any mileage in White sacrificing the b-pawn with

1 Kf6 Rxb6+
2 Kg5

using the time to eat the g-pawn and force a queen on the f-file. Black's king looks miles out of position - it's four whole tempi away from where it wants to be - but eventually I concluded that after

2 ... Kc8
3 Rg7 Kd8
4 Rxg6 Rb5+
5 f5 Ke7

it would be a draw. Turns out that I was sort of right. Sort of.  Tablebase confirms the final position is drawn, but the one after Black takes on b6 with check certainly isn't. One of White's next four moves deserves a "??". Which one?

Tomorrow: Smith's Luck Paradox

Rook and Pawn Index
Double Six Index

* Smith mentions that in reality the present orthodoxy is more concerned with the idea of meritocracy than the practice. I was reminded of this rather tart observation just last week when James Caan's critique of a society "where people get jobs based on who you know rather than what you can do" was immediately followed by the revelation that he employs his own daughters.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Knightmare! Scenarios: 1. Chess in a Time of Letraset

Back in the mid 1970s, as the post-war baby-boomers were hitting their stride, a group of young chessers had a dream: to put Streatham and Brixton Chess Club on the chess map (on a conventional map it is in Inner London, in the south-west corner, a district of the London Borough of Lambeth strung out along the A23)

Before the war the club had its moments, principally in Harry Golombek's day in the 1930s. Then, after some post-war decades of bumping along as usual, the 1970s infusion of youthful idealism resulted in a glorious revival of the club's fortunes. It surged to the top of the prestigious London Chess League, stood astride the Surrey League, performed creditably in the National Club Championship...the roll-call of achievements went on and on. Of course chess clubs can go down as well as up, and the purple patch lasted just ten years - but from where S&BCC is today, fielding three teams lower down the London League, just holding its own in the Surrey League, we look back in wonder…although we continue to flourish in our own modest way (new members always welcome!) and, unlike some other unfortunate clubs that have fallen by the wayside, we are still here to tell the tale.

And the tale we will tell, in a series of posts starting today and continuing over the next months or so, is of the dream that turned into Knightmare! - the fabled chess magazine produced by enthusiasts in the club for three issues in 1977, 78 and 79. It took the chess nation by storm. The series will relive those heady days: the personalities, the articles, the games, the poetry, the blood, the sweat and the beers…

Friday, June 07, 2013

The last Sicilian

Ten years ago tomorrow, on the 8th of June 2003, I played my last Sicilian.

It was in Newmarket, in the final round of a weekend congress: my opponent was Martyn Goodger. I told myself beforehand that if I won the game, it would be the last time I played the Sicilian. I did indeed win the game, and sixty quid to boot for coming joint second in the congress. A nice enough game to be on the Black side of (16.Ba4 might have been a little more awkward). Since then, I've usually played 1.e4 e5 and occasionally 1.e4 e6. But never 1.e4 c5.

I'd played a lot of Sicilians up to then. Mostly with the Black pieces, since I haven't played 1.e4 since the mid-Nineties. Of course I started off, as a junior, playing 1...e5 but my first Sicilian with Black, or at least the first recorded in my scorebook, was on 19 April 1979. Regrettably the scorebook does not record the occasion, though it does give the opponent, a C Ward (not impossibly this one) and the game is rather inaccurately recorded as a Sicilian Taimanov. Which was presumably my intention, although in fact the game began 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.Nc3 a6 4.d3. I lost in 21 moves.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

The Endless Enigma part 5,209

White to play

Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends. Not my quest to document every last aspect of my appearance at May's Golders Green Open - that ends today (it has to, the June edition is on Saturday). This post, rather, concerns a story that's been running as long as the game's been played and will be coming back for encores as long as pawns are still being pushed. A little something called, "Weaker Player fails to seal the deal against Stronger Player".

One for the kids

The diagram at the head of today's blog shows the position I reached out of the opening against Peter Poobalasingham (FM). I'd swapped queens early doors and, I think, achieved a pleasant advantage. Then I got behind on the clock. Then I tried to speed up. Then I blundered. Then I resigned.

Exeunt stage left pursued by the bear of missed opportunity.


I might just as well have told you about the time I reached this position ...

White to play

... as White against Robin 'The Hack' Haldane and only just managed to draw it . Or this one ...

White to play

... also with the White pieces, this time in a London League match with plenty of time on my clock. I was up against somebody who'd have been the highest graded player I'd ever beaten had I managed to notch the full-point ... but I didn't so he isn't.


Chessers routinely failing against higher-rated opposition in positions that they'd win easily against their peers? See also Phil's rook ending save (or 'save' if you prefer) from Monday. What is this? Not an endless enigma - that's only half right.

It goes on and on for sure. Today's three performances are merely those that most readily spring to mind when I consider my own games of the past few months. There's no puzzle here, though. It's just what happens.

Weaker Player gets good or even winning position against Stronger Player, but only draws or even loses. It will be playing at board near you very soon. Come and see the show.

No it's not inevitable, and yes, it involves chance, but it's certainly not random. You can call that luck if you want, I'd understand if you did, but for me it's just playing chess.

(Note to self: really must get around to writing that Double Six series as promised two years ago)

Monday, June 03, 2013

Get Lucky

At about 9:15pm last Thursday, I felt like this.

About half an hour earlier, I'd been faced with this position and was feeling decidedly more daft than Daft Punk.

I don't play tournaments, as a general rule. As I've previously mentioned, I prefer shorter sessions, and playing two or three games a day really doesn't appeal. I don't have the time or money to play in long events either. So, the Pimlico Open, played over five consecutive Thursdays, felt like the perfect antidote. I could approach it like a 'serious' series of league matches, just turning up and playing, still reasonably fresh. A very quick time control of G80 + 10s too! Sounds good, right?

Well, yes, it is good. But you still have to turn up and play reasonably well. And try not to be completely outplayed, which is exactly what happened.

As for how I drew, I don't feel that's enormously important. In the initial ending position, my opponent had less than five minutes remaining. Even with a small increment, that's not much, especially considering I had half an hour. Still, I can feel fortunate that my opponent didn't find 58. Kd5 in this position, possibly the most clear-cut of his opportunities.

What is important is how I still felt the pressure of the situation, despite the positive approach I outlined above. I suppose I've come too far to give up who I am. If I'd lost in Round 1 of a 5-round tournament, I could tenderly kiss my chances of winning it and whisper in their ear that I'd be back next year. As it is, 4½/5 will still be good enough. I got lucky.

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