Saturday, February 28, 2015

Friday, February 27, 2015

Streatham Strolls to Canada

The series Streatham Strolls offered a virtual tour of the chess history of our locality. It was not exactly "psycho-geography", but after setting out from the Streatham/Tooting/Balham borderlands we found ourselves in some unexpected places, conjuring up some unanticipated heros of chess-times past.

One was Samuel Tinsley (1847-1903), conscientious Victorian chesser, journalist and church-goer, who, as a Lewisham-man, lived but five miles to the east of our patch.

Samuel Tinsley
as portrayed in the account of the 1895 Hastings tournament.  
Back in 2012 his grave had only just been identified by the Friends of Brockley and Ladywell Cemeteries after some curiosity about its whereabouts. Upon its (re)discovery we strolled east, hot-foot, to investigate.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

But not yet

Chess is to be made a compulsory subject in Spanish schools.

Or rather, "Chess is to be made a compulsory subject in Spanish schools",  as Stephen Moss told us in a Guardian article last week, linking to a piece does indeed make that claim:
chess is to become a compulsory subject for Spanish schoolchildren.
Another authority advancing the same proposition is the World's Worst Chess Correspondent, whose Times column for February 11 declared that
the Spanish Parliament is predicted to vote through measures which will make chess lessons compulsory in all Spanish primary schools.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Sixty Memorable Annotations

#31: Benjamin - Korchnoi, Jerusalem 1986

The game was adjourned here (remember adjournments, anyone?) and I sealed 57 Kd1.
... now I seemed to hold: 57 ... Kd3 58 Ke1 e2 59 g5 fxg5 60 g4 Ke3 leads to a real stalemate, while 60 ... Ke4 61 Kxe2 Kf4 62 Kf2 Kxg4 63 Kg2 gains White the opposition and draws. 
I knew this couldn’t be correct. Korchnoi had played too quickly and confidently and the position didn’t look like it should be a draw. Before leaving the table, Korchnoi looked at me and said, 'I know something about triangles.' I was lost in more ways than one, because I still didn’t see the win. Fortunately Dmitry Gurevich, who was 'classically trained' in the endgame (i.e. he grew up in the Soviet Union) showed me the potential finale ... 
I ran after Korchnoi and resigned, apologising profusely for my ignorance. Quite perplexed, Korchnoi told me, 'It is the ABCs of chess!'
Joel Benjamin, (Liquidation on the chess board, New in Chess 2015)

If you’re reading this then - like me - you’ve probably been playing tournament and/or club chess for quite a while. Decades, most likely. I’ll venture to suggest that - like me - you’ll have spent a few quid on chess books and DVDs along the way.

The ABCs of chess, though? We don’t have them.

Sure, like Larsen we know about opposition and the square. We might be familiar with that mutual zugzwang position ...

... that crops up quite often in king and pawn endgames (in that rather fiendish puzzle from Aagaard’s Grandmaster Preparation: Endgame Play that we had a few weeks ago, for example). I dare say we 'know' about triangulation too. We almost certainly do. Well, know of it.

We don’t know this stuff, though. Not really. Not like we know our actual ABCs.

We’re not fluent in chess. So while we might - with a bit of effort - be able to work out precisely why it’s time for White to resign at move 57 in Benjamin - Korchnoi, we’re not likely to know for sure that ... Rb1 would win at move 47.

47 ... Rb1

So heading for that position would be a bit of a risk which in turn means that we can’t play those late middlegame/early endgame positions properly.

Black to play

And that is why, despite all the time, effort and money we put in we are nevertheless, to a greater or lesser extent, no bloody good at chess at all.

King and Pawn Index

Review copy of Liquidation on the Chess Board supplied by New in Chess 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Newly Discovered Interest II

Oh yeah, there was also this. The photo in New In Chess is, I think, this one (or one very similar).

Now when you see Boris Johnson in a photo like that, what do you see? Do you see what Boris and the promoter want you to see? Or do you remember, for example, this, or this, or this?

So perhaps Boris and chess are a good fit after all. If only because in chess, as in the career of Boris Johnson, you can get away with anything provided nobody asks any awkward questions when the time comes to ask them.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Newly Discovered Interest In Chess

Boris Johnson, a keen chess player.

Such is the claim in the latest New In Chess. Evidence for the contention in the caption is welcomed*. But not, especially, anticipated.

[* Of course Boris used to be Ray's editor while Ray was recycling old material at the Spectator, but I don't think that really counts.]

Thursday, February 19, 2015

New plagiarist, old plagiarist

So Rupert Murdoch does sack plagiarists then.

I wonder who's the chess columnist for The Australian?

[Ray Keene index]
[Ray Keene plagiarism index]

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

10 Types of Chesser II

Lefties and Righties.

In the good old days even the elite GMs mostly stuck to one side of the board or the other.  1 e4 or 1 d4, that was the question. I’m not sure exactly when it happened - perhaps Leko adopting some queen’s pawn openings in 2003 marks the turning point - but some time between now and the turn of  century things changed.

Kasparov was a rarity. He might well play anything against anyone (6 x 1 e4, 3 x 1 d4 against Short in '93; 6 x 1 e4 in 8 games against Anand in ’95 but only trying 1 d4 and 1 Nf3 in his first couple of Whites; 5 x 1 e4, 2 x 1 c4, 1 x 1 d4 against Kramnik in 2000).

His opponents openings in the same matches? 10 x 1 e4; 9 x 1 e4; 6 x 1 d4, 1 x 1 Nf3 respectively. That’s typical of how it was back then. Today the top guys are much more likely to mix it up.

For today I’m pretending that this doesn’t exist

What about us, though? Ordinary club and tournament chessers. We tend to stick to one or the other. Sure, there are the guys who like the Flank Openings, but broadly speaking* we tend to be either king’s pawn or queen’s pawn. Even those of us who - like me - often start 1 Nf3.

My question is not why. It’s fairly obvious why.

Being ready for everything as White would be a massive task. I’m not entirely convinced that it would impact on the results of our games that much actually. It certainly feels like it would, though, and that’s reason enough to stick to one or the other.

No, my question is not why but how. How we come to make the choices that we do.

I play 1 Nf3 and 1 d4 now because I like it that way. Why did I start playing it though? Why did I stick with it. Was it arbitrary? Chance? Honestly, I don’t know.

When I switched from 1 e4 the motivation was lack of desire to take on the various branches of the Sicilian. Today we might add the Petroff or Berlin as reasons to make the change. There’s certainly a tonne of theory for all of those, but more so than the KID, Grunfeld, Nimzo-Indian? The argument doesn’t seem convincing.

So 1 e4 or 1 d4. Which are you? More importantly, how did you end up that way? Answers other than habit are particularly welcome.

* although not entirely. The S&BCB arts correspondent did once utterly batter my French Defence after switching from his customary opening move.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

DG XVII: Campaigns

So Kasparov has decided to "call out" Bill Clinton. Has made a "campaign" of it, mark you. I imagine that’s about as terrifying as being the target of an S&BCB crusade against the citing of imaginary research studies.

Anyhoo, our man was strolling about London at the weekend. As it happens I was but a few hundred yards north at the time. Such a shame we didn’t bump into each other. We could have gone to one of the many fine cafes in the area - I would have recommended this one - and had a bit of a chin wag. Since our theme for today is delusions of significance, let’s file that one alongside Staunton - Morphy and Fischer - Karpov as one of the great chess meets that never quite happened.

Something else that happened on Saturday that you might have missed: the appearance of Dementia hits women hardest - study on the Guardian website. Amusing reading it is not.

It seems the Graun’s article is based on a "study" from Alzheimer’s Research UK which will not be published until March. Now you might join me in feeling that generating news articles on the back of research that nobody can read yet is very much not cool. Let’s go with it, though, and consider whether the solution suggested - concerted government action - is at least a more plausible response to the problem - devastating health condition combined with long-term underfunding of services and research - than the glib unsubstantiated assertions of somebody who was once rather good at a board game.

Chess and Dementia Index

Monday, February 16, 2015

Bent Larsen’s Best King and Pawn Endgames: The Square

White to play
Larsen - Uhlmann, Candidates’ Quarter-Final match (9) 1971

Here’s a critical decision for Bent Larsen. Black has just played 58 ... Ke5. Does White swap bishop for knight or not?

If our hero gets this decision right he’ll win not just the game but the match too. Balls it up and he’ll have to play the final game needing a draw to go through.

What would you do? For those that want it, the answer  can be found after the jump.

Friday, February 13, 2015

County Counting: 7. Local Derbys - They Also Ran

This series has been exploring the Surrey County Association Match Books, which gave chapter and verse on Surrey's matches against, in the main, other counties. An exception, which we looked at last time (episode 6), was the sequence against "Croydon", which was actually part of Surrey, hence the latter was obliged to present itself as "The Rest". We tracked the matches between these two sides over several decades up to the late 1920s, noting the dominance of the "Rest of Surrey" - which you might expect - and a couple of anomalies, not to say errors, in the way the Match Books recorded them - which you might not.      

By and large the British Chess Magazine (BCM) seemed disinclined to report these contests, so we were left, at the end of episode 6, with a rather bloodless account. Now we have some fulsome reportage of two of them from the BCMs of 1902 and 1903, and from the local Croydon Guardian weekly newspaper (CG), that weren't to hand earlier. They describe what were indeed the first two matches (as we suspected, in spite of their omission in the Match Books), and they give us the atmosphere of those early Local Derbys. They also give an insight into the esteem in which chess, and its local clubs, were held in those far-off days. All this follows in this episode, into which we can also squeeze a game of chess.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

10 Types of Chesser

There are 10 types of chesser in the world. Those who understand the binary number system and those that don’t.

That might be my most favourite joke ever*.

As it happens, I’ve often thought that we - chess players - can divide ourselves into two clearly delineated groups in lots of different ways. Here’s one that occurred to me about 10 years ago:-

You can separate out chessers into those who would rather score +4 =0 -2 from six games and those who would rather finish with +2 =4 -0.

Go unbeaten, or notch more wins at the price of picking up a couple of defeats along the way. Back when the thought first came to me, you’d end up with 4 points out of six 6 in both cases. These days where the modern 'three-for-a-win' scoring system in place a Super GM would choose the former because s/he'd end up with 12 points rather than 10, but that doesn’t never applies to us Ordinary Joes, does it? Our choice remains a value judgement rather than an objective decision.

For most of my chess days I would have very much preferred to have 0 in the losses column if it were possible. For the last few years, though, I’ve switched over somewhat. Come to accept that sometimes defeats are the price you pay for the wins you take risks to achieve (see SMA #8, for example).

And yet part of me still dreams of being that guy who is uber-difficult to beat. When Nige recommend that we "adopt a hero" recently, my thoughts immediately went to Bent Larsen, yes, but also to Ulf Andersson as well. Larsen detested draws. Ulf, I suspect, would rather go +1 =15 -0 than +15 =0 -1.

Anyhoo. +4 =0 -2 or +2 =4 -0. Which are you?

* Aside from one by Roy 'Chubby' Brown, perhaps, but that’s far too rude for a family chess blog such as this one.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

DG XVI: Not So Brilliant

Garry Kasparov is shocked. Shocked, I tells you.

You wonder how the erstwhile World Chess Champion finds the time to lecture the President of the United States of America. What with having to get himself to Oslo to pick up his Nobel Prize for sorting out dementia and all.

It’s not that I disagree with Gazza’s central thesis (that Putin is a bit of a see-you-next-Tuesday) you understand. More that I find it hard to value somebody’s opinion on Topic A if I know that they’re prepared to claim authority on Topic B despite having little knowledge of and even less interest in whatever that other subject may be.

Could it possibly be that Sarah Hurst’s assessment of leading chessers
... chess brilliance has nothing to do with high intelligence in other areas, but tends to give top players a false idea of their own high intelligence. They equate their FIDE rating with their IQ. In fact they have devoted so much time to chess that they may not be so brilliant at other things.
applies here?

Chess and Dementia Index

Monday, February 09, 2015

Bent Larsen's Best King and Pawn Endgames: The Opposition

White to play
Larsen - Gligoric, Moscow Olympiad 1956

If I wasn’t doing pawn endings this year, I might well have spent 2015 looking at the games of Bent Larsen. Partly because Santa brought me a copy of Bent Larsen’s Best Games for Chrimbo, but mostly because I can’t help but feel history has not been kind to Mr L.

What do you know about Larsen? There are two things that will top pretty much everybody’s list: he got bapped 6-0 by Fischer in the Candidates’ semi-final of 1971 and Spassky smashed him up in just 17 moves in the USSR v Rest of the World match that kicked-off the When we were Kings era. If we were looking for a third Larsen factoid we might well go with him being the first GM to lose to a computer in a tournament game back in 1988.

Seems a bit harsh that those should be the most significant footprints that the Danish Grandmaster should leave in the sands of chess history. He could play a bit, after all.

Larsen became a Grandmaster by scoring 14/18 (77.7%) - the highest score on the first board - at the Moscow Olympiad in 1956. Today’s pawn ending came in his game against Gligoric, White trading all the pieces from here ...

White to play

... to reach this winning king and pawn position.

Black to play

In his notes to the game Larsen points out that if Black had done nothing White would win be generating an Outside Passed Pawn with c3, b3 and c4. Gligoric, he said, "does his best to muddy the waters" with by preventing this simple plan.

33 ... b4

Now Black can answer 34 c3 with 34 ... b3. White’s still winning but now he has to be careful because if he just carelessly tries to mop up the e-pawn and head to kingside Black will get to queen his own pawn.

So how’s Larsen going to secure the point? A clue: it will come down to opposition. Specifically, who has it in this position.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Lurid and gratuitous

Good Lord yes. And young men left their curtains open when they were in bed with the light on, since they weren't up to anything they shouldn't have been and nobody was looking besides.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015


And answer, of course, came there none...

On: 3 January 2015
Re: Your chess correspondent

Dear Sir/Madam

Attached is a large portion of Raymond Keene's chess column in the Times of 12 December 2014.

As you will notice from looking at the other documents attached, much of the column has been copied out directly from a column that appeared in the Times for 15 December 2010. You will also notice that it's not the first time: that column had already been substantially copied out on 29 November 2011 and again on 16 March 2013.

Is it normal Times practice to reuse large chunks of previously-published material without informing the readers?

Yours etc

 [Ray Keene index]

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

There's a clue in the name

Ryan Gilbey, interviewing David Oyelowo in the Guardian:
He recently told his son about The Queen of Katwe, a new film in which he will play a man who inspires a boy to become a chess grandmaster*.

[* It says here]

Monday, February 02, 2015

Grandmaster Preparation: (King and pawn) Endgame Play

Black to play
Wang Yue - Liu Qingnan, Xinghua 2012

I do not want to pretend that I can add anything significant to your understanding of pawn endings ... 
My only observation is that a great number of pawn endings are misplayed if they get slightly complicated - even by grandmasters. It is not obvious what the reason for this is, but it could be because pawn endings are primarily about calculation, Most of us find calculation impossible even at the best of times, many grandmasters included. 
Jacob Aagaard, Grandmaster Preparation: Endgame Play (Quality Chess, 2014)

Or as Angus reflected after we’d studied the position at the head of today’s blog (which comes from Aagaard’s excellent book), "There’s nothing you can learn that will help you with this. You just have to work it out."