Summer Chess League

As you saw last week, traditional chess leagues such as the London League, are still surviving with a reasonable amount of success, although works-based leagues such as the London Commercial League are dying. At the same time, new leagues are starting up which take a very different approach to club chess.

Take, for instance, the Summer Chess League. There are two clubs in West London, Hammersmith and their neighbours south of the Thames, Battersea, who are doing a great job in moving away from the traditional concept of what a chess club should be, using Twitter, promoting social chess and taking the game into the community. Both clubs have sponsorship, Battersea from a local removals company, Bishops Move, who use a chess logo, and Hammersmith from the London Chess Centre. Compare, for example, my club, Richmond, just a few miles away. Most of our committee members have no idea about what these clubs are doing. When I suggested making more use of social media at last year’s AGM I was interrupted by a colleague (who has now joined another club) telling me that this was no use: instead we should be putting posters in libraries. Facepalm, as the young folks say.

Battersea have a venue with a large hall which can seat more than a hundred players. Last year they started a summer chess league there, in a small way. This year, the league has really taken off.

There are three divisions, with teams consisting of four players. Division 1 has attracted 8 teams, Division 2, for teams with an average grade of 150 or below, has 12 teams, and Division 3, for teams with an average grade of 120 or below, again has 8 teams. The tine limit is 60 minutes on the clock, with an increment of 30 seconds per move. The leagues are run on the Swiss System, with four rounds, and there are social evenings to start and end the season.

The pairings are published several days in advance, so that you can prepare for your opponent, and all games are published online as soon as they become available: a great service for both players and fans.

The league’s tagline is ‘London’s Lighter League’, and the social side of chess is very much to the fore. Teams are encouraged to design colourful logos and give themselves catchy names. Players are encouraged to buy drinks at the bar.

Players in the first round included a grandmaster, Keith Arkell, and two international masters and former Richmond Junior Chess Club members, who faced off against each other in this top board encounter from the match between the Battersea Horses and the Lords of Hackney.

Gavin Wall, representing the Horses, decided to depart from his normal opening repertoire against Hackney Lord Richard Bates.

A highly entertaining, if inaccurate encounter. Gavin missed 33. Qg5+ followed by Na4, 34. Qh6+ was still winning. Richard in turn missed a win with 47.. Qe3.

The game on board 3 from the same match produced some even more entertaining chess. Another former Richmond Junior, Mike Healey, was the White Horse against current Richmond Juniors coach Bob Eames, the Dark Lord.

Bob could have drawn by playing 52.. Kf5, but if you’re on 30 second increments in a wild position with queens flying round the board and exposed kings, these things happen.

These games must have been great fun for the spectators. Watching creative players who aren’t afraid to take risks at a relatively fast time control is very different from watching your typical elite GM tournament. I guess this is what the Summer Chess League is all about.

Will you catch me taking part? Certainly not. As an antisocial person who prefers boring, risk averse chess this league isn’t for me. It’s great that it’s happening and proving so successful, though. Congratulations are due to the Battersea players and their colleagues from Hammersmith other London chess clubs for setting it up. I wish them all the best for the future.

Richard James

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London League

Although the London Commercial League has finally turned over its king and stopped the clock, the London League itself is still going strong, just has it has been since the 1888-89 season.

There are currently four open divisions (top three played over 10 boards – top division reduced from 12 a year ago, Division 4 over 8 boards) plus two grade restricted divisions (4 boards each).

For the last 16 years, the league champions have been Wood Green, a team ostensibly representing a rather nondescript North London suburb. In fact the team has little or nothing to do with Wood Green, except by historical accident. The team is heavily sponsored and most of the players, including the likes of Luke McShane and Jon Speelman, are paid to take part. This season, as usual, they won all their matches, by an average score of 9-1. Members of other clubs have mixed feelings about this: some consider it unfair, and that the league loses some of its interest because everyone knows in advance who the winners will be. Others, though, are pleased to get the chance of taking on a famous grandmaster once a season.

I’m pleased to report that this season, my club, Richmond & Twickenham, finished second. I hasten to add that this is nothing at all to do with me: the last time I played in the London League was in the 2000-01 season. Instead credit is due to our captain Gavin Wall for his ability to recruit strong players and inspire them to play their best. After the 1963-64 US Championship, in which Fischer famously scored 100%, Hans Kmoch congratulated Bobby on winning the exhibition, and Larry Evans, who finished, second, on winning the tournament. Wood Green win the exhibition every year, and, at least as far as we’re concerned, this year Richmond won the league. We don’t get our name on the trophy, though.

We have actually won the league twice in our history: in 1975-76 and 1987-88. Recently, some of our longer serving members, who joined the club 40 years or so ago, were reminiscing about who might have played in those teams. As it happens, I was club secretary for a few years in the mid 70s and kept detailed records of our results, which I still have. So I tabulated the results, posted them on Facebook, and also sent them to my clubmates. If you remove Wood Green from the equation, the teams were roughly comparable in strength to those 42 years on. The average age, though, was a lot lower.

Our squad was headed by Michael Stean, team captain Andrew Law and future IM David Goodman, with former international Michael Franklin a board or two below them, and other young players such as Jon Benjamin, Peter Sowray and Julian Hodgson on the lower boards. I was already a Richmond veteran at that point, in my tenth season with the club. No one else who represented Richmond that season still plays for us, although several current members joined the club shortly afterwards. Peter Sowray, who is still involved with junior chess in the Richmond area, remarked that he didn’t remember his game from the match against Athenaeum, but he still remembered Jon Benjamin’s win against Tim Harding. As it happened, Jon annotated the game for RAT, the club magazine, which I was editing at the time, so it was interesting to compare his notes with what his team mate Michael Stean would, the following year, refer to as the ‘bloody iron monster’. Today’s engines, of course, are far more monstrous than when Michael made that remark.

1. e4 d6
2. d4 g6
3. f4 Bg7
4. Nc3 Nf6
5. Nf3 O-O
6. Bd3 Nbd7

This was first played in a game between Cochrane and Bannerjee (whom I wrote about a few months ago) in 1850. By the time of this game it was generally considered inferior to what was then the main line, Nc6. More recently, 6.. Na6 has become popular.

7. e5

The strongest reply, played by Max Weiss against Louis Paulsen in 1883.

7.. Ne8
8. h4

Going for a crude attack. Ne4 is the main line here, while Ng5 and Qe2 are also strong.

8.. c5
9. e6 fxe6
10. h5 cxd4
11. hxg6

The three games on my database reaching this position all continued 11. Ne4 with White scoring 100%. The engines are happy to play black, but of course it’s not so easy for humans to defend this type of position. Jon prefers a typically creative piece sacrifice.

11.. dxc3
12. b4

This was Jon’s brilliant idea, preventing Qa5 when the black queen defends along her 4th rank. Neither this nor Tim’s reply impress the engines, which think Black’s winning after h6, hxg6 followed by Rf6, or the immediate Rf6 among other moves.

12.. Qb6
13. Qe2

My computer tells me Jon should have preferred 13. gxh7+ Kh8 14. Nh4 Rf6 15. Qh5, when Tim should sacrifice a knight and both rooks for a perpetual: 15.. Nf8 16. Qxe8 e5 17. Ng6+ Rxg6 18. Bxg6 Bh3 19. Qxa8 Bxg2 20. Rf1 Bxf1 21. Kxf1 Qc6.

13.. Rf6
14. g4 Nf8

Instead, 14…hxg6 15.g5 Rf7 16.Bxg6 Nf8 17.Bxf7+ Kxf7 and White has nothing to show for his material deficit.

15. gxh7+ Kh8
16. g5 Rf7
17. g6 Rf6
18. Ng5 Bd7
19. Be3 Qxb4
20. Rg1 Nc7

The losing move, overlooking White’s threat. He had to play 20.. e5 21. Nf7+ Rxf7 22. gxf7 Nf6, with, apparently, a slight edge for Black.

21. Nf7+ Rxf7
22. gxf7 e5
23. Rxg7 Ng6

Falling on the sword, but after 23.. Kxg7 humans play Qg2+ and promote on h8, while computers play Qh5, announcing mate in 9.

24. Rg8+ 1-0

Athenaeum’s team was headed by the legendary Bob Wade, with Correspondence GM Keith Richardson on board 2. Several of their other players were involved with Bob in writing projects. Tim Harding himself is now a respected chess historian: I’ve just bought his most recent book, to which I might refer in a future post. Hilary Thomas, on board 10, wrote some books on Tal, edited a short-lived magazine – and then changed his name to Richard Pentreath. I won’t provide a link. Jon Benjamin sadly died in 2000 at the age of only 41. A highly creative and imaginative player, who played for the sheer enjoyment of the game rather than to reach the heights his talents deserved, he is still much missed by his many chess playing friends.

Richard James

Editor’s Note: Richard has had a number of books on chess published that can be found at Amazon:

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Jacob Bronowski

Before you read on, here’s a problem for you. It’s White to play and force checkmate in 3 moves. You’ll find the solution at the end of the article, but you might want to solve it yourself first.

Last week’s obituary of the London Commercial Chess League touched briefly on Dr Bronowski.

Jacob Bronowski was born in Poland in 1908 to a Jewish family which fled to Germany during the Russian occupation of Poland in the First World War and moved to London in 1920.

He was a top mathematics scholar at Cambridge University, where he also played chess, but his talents and interests were not just in the realm of science (or STEM subjects as we’re expected to call them today). He also had a passion for literature, and, specifically, poetry.

Although Bronowski played mostly in club and county events, he was clearly a pretty useful competititor. He was active in Yorkshire chess circles between 1934 and the outbreak of the Second World War, when he was a lecturer in mathematics at University College, Hull. He played as high as Board 2 for the strong Yorkshire county team, which would suggest he was round about 2200 strength.

In 1936 he won the Brilliancy Prize for this game in the Yorkshire Championship.

White’s opening play was far from impressive, and, in the diagrammed position, Bronowski came up with an extraordinary idea: a passive exchange sacrifice involving a queen trade. The idea is that White will have grave problems trying to defend b2, after which his position will inevitably collapse.

The engines, with their cold iron logic, love the concept of the exchange sac, but consider Black’s attack is much stronger if he avoids the queen swap. Instead, they propose 14.. Qb6 15. Qc2 and, only now, 15.. Rab8 when, after 16. Bxb8 Rxb8 17. Rd2 Qa5 Black has a winning attack.

They add that White’s 20th move failed to meet Black’s threat of c4 followed by Nb3, and instead suggest that he could have lashed out with 20. b4, when Black is better, but not clearly winning. Not an easy move to find over the board, though.

In the next game, Bronowski beats a future British Champion who overlooks a tactical point.

White’s 22nd move was not best (b4!), but set a trap. Black must have overlooked White’s 25th move. Instead he had to play Bb5, deflecting the rook from f1.

These games, along with last week’s offering, suggest that Bronowski was a player of considerable creative imagination with a tricky, tactical style.

It may not be surprising, then, to learn that he was also a distinguished, but not prolific, problemist, his earliest composition having been published when he was still in his teens. Most of his problems were either direct mates or reflexmates (a form of selfmate where both sides have to deliver mate on the move if they can do so).

The problem at the head of this article was his last to be published in the British Chess Magazine, in 1970, four years before his relatively early death.

The key move is 1. Nb7!. The star variation is 1.. Kc5 2. Rh6! followed by a bishop mate. After 1.. Kc6, the more prosaic 2. Ra6+ leads to similar bishop mates. Finally, 1.. Kb6 is met by 2. c4 Kc6 3. Ra6#.

Finally I must acknowledge my sources for this article:

Edward Winter’s Chess History page on Bronowski
Steve Mann’s Yorkshire Chess History page on Bronowski

Richard James

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Commercial Break

I guess 94 is a pretty good age, but it’s still sad to have to mourn a passing.

I was sorry to hear that the London Commercial Chess League has decided it has no choice but to close down.

The league website reports:

“On June 5th 2018, The Executive Committee of the London Commercial Chess League took the unhappy, but nonetheless necessary decision, to dissolve the League. With the withdrawal of DHSS (The Department of Health and Social Security), BBC and TFL (Transport For London), the League was left with just three clubs, with four, possibly five teams for next season. This is clearly insufficient for a meaningful league, and would only delay the inevitable if we attempted to run for another season.

“It is clear that the League has run its course in the face of the changed nature of the modern world. With fewer and fewer commercial enterprises based in London, and even fewer of then having “works teams”, which used to be so common for every sport in the past, the League has effectively lost its raison d’être. Add to this the ever increasing security issues surrounding access to company buildings in the evenings, the Committee felt it had to face the fact that the writing, that has been on the wall for some years now, must finally be taken note of.”

As you will see, the league, founded in 1924, at first proved very successful, reaching a peak just before the Second World War. After the war the numbers soon rose again, reaching a second peak in the late 50s/early 60s. The Fischer boom saw another increase, but from 1980 onwards there was a rapid and inexorable decline. I played in the league for one season – 1984-85 – myself, but that’s another story for another time.

Chess has changed a lot in the past half century, but, more importantly for the London Commercial League, work patterns have also changed a lot.

The LCCL was probably never a league where you’d find many really strong players, but in its time it attracted some distinguished figures from other walks of life.

Here’s a game from 1962. The engines approve of White’s excellent combination starting on move 17, but think he should have kept the queens on at move 22. It’s understandable, though, to trade off into what appears to be a won ending.

Yes, this was THE Dr Jacob Bronowski, the celebrated polymath best remembered today for his TV documentary series The Ascent of Man. At the time he was the National Coal Board’s Director of Research. It was no doubt in part due to his support that the NCB won the league in the 1962-63 season.

The Bronowski Trophy is still held in his honour, a mini-league between teams representing the London Commercial League, along with the legal, banking and insurance professions. In the past, the Civil Service also used to take part. There are still, as I write, a couple of postponed matches still to be played in this season’s competition. It’s not, at the moment, clear whether it will survive the demise of the LCCL. The London Banks League seems to have been renamed the City Chess Association, which runs a Swiss tournament with various banking teams, legal and insurance teams, plus a team from Athenaeum, a central London chess club.

I’ve written before about how our culture of evening chess leagues has held back the development of the game in this country, but even so it’s sad to lose a part of chess history in this way.

Nevertheless, it’s not all doom and gloom in the London chess scene. New leagues are being formed, new clubs are being formed, and several long established clubs are actively promoting chess in the community, and increasing their membership as a result. I’ll consider this further over the next few weeks, along with more on Dr Bronowski.

Richard James

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The Wrong Rook’s Pawn

Every Russian schoolboy (and girl) knows that if you have just a king, and your opponent has a rooks pawn along with a bishop which doesn’t control the promotion square, you can draw if your king can reach the corner.

Let’s look, for example, at this position from a game in the 1991 Richmond Junior Championship.

Black was winning easily but erroneously queened a pawn on a1, which White captured with his knight. Black’s bishop took back, and White played his king from e2 to f2, reaching this position. You’ll see that he could have drawn most simply by playing g4, moving his king to h1 and waiting for his opponent to shake hands. But no matter: this position is still drawn.

Let’s play on a few moves.

1.. Kg4
2. Kg1

This move or g3 will draw: other moves lose.

2.. Kg3
3. Kh1 Kf2
4. Kh2

Now the white king is safely in the corner everything draws.

4.. Be5+
5. Kh3

If you don’t know this ending it might look natural to head towards the pawn, but this move loses. Instead Kh1 and g3 are both easy draws.

Now it’s up to Black to find the winning plan. At this point there are seven winning moves to choose from: five safe bishop moves along the h2-b8 diagonal, Kg1 and h6. His choice, as you’ll see, isn’t the quickest, but it’s good enough.

5.. Bg3
6. Kg4

It’s crunch time. Black now has only one winning move. Did he find it? Can you find it?

The only winning move is 6.. h6. The plan is to defend this pawn with the bishop and then force White’s king away.

A sample variation: 6.. h6 7. Kh5 Bf4 8. Kg4 Be3 9. Kh3 Kg1 10. Kg3 Bd2 11. Kh3 Be1 12. g3 Bd2 13. Kg4 Kg2 14. Kh4 Bc1 15. g4 Bg5+ 16. Kh5 Kg3 17. Kg6 Kxg4

He didn’t find this plan, though. Instead the game continued:

6.. Be5

Now White has one drawing idea: 7. Kg5 Bg7 8. g4. Without this pawn Black would be winning, but now he has no way of making progress.

7. Kh3

Now Black’s winning again. He has the same seven moves as two moves ago, and this time finds the quickest win.

7.. h6
8. g4

Black again has seven winning moves – bishop moves on the h2-b8 diagonal, Kf1 and Kg1. Bg3 is the neatest and quickest move, forcing White to play g5 and covert the h-pawn into a g-pawn, mating in 14 moves. Bf4, to defend h6, takes one move longer.

Alas, he chooses something else:

8.. Bf6
9. Kh2 Kf2
10. Kh3

There’s still nothing wrong with hiding in the corner: Kh1 is once again an easy draw, but this should stll give White a half point.

10.. Be5

Now the white king can’t return to the corner. There are two legal moves: a 50-50 shot. White still doesn’t really want to force the black pawn onto the g-file, does he? Perhaps he should try the king move instead. What do you think?

11. Kh4

The wrong decision: after 11. g5 hxg5 it’s an unexpected stalemate! If Black plays anything else the draw is also clear.

Now Black made no mistake. The game continued 11.. Bf4 12. Kh3 Kf2 13. Kh4 Kg2 14. Kh5 Kh3 15. Kg6 Kxg4 and White resigned.

If you like the sort of endgame questions like those I posed here, you’ll find a lot more, all based on games from the RJCC database, in CHESS ENDINGS FOR HEROES. The first draft of both this and CHESS OPENINGS FOR HEROES will be completed this summer.

Richard James

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The Frightful Revisited

Chapter 3 of The (Even More) Complete Chess Addict is entitled ‘The Frightful’. The worst players of all time. The worst tournament performances of all time. The worst games of all time. The worst moves of all time. The worst games and moves of the best players.

Over the past few days I’ve encountered two games which would certainly qualify for the next edition, should I decide to write it at some point.

As I write, the Altibox Tournament is taking place in Norway. This position arose in the pre-tournament Blitz. World Champion Magnus Carlsen was White against Lev Aronian.

In this position Aronian had just played 51.. g4. Carlsen had to decide which way to capture. With only a few seconds left on the clock, he chose to take with the h-pawn, and you don’t need me to tell you what happened next. The correct capture would have ensured the draw.

Now we turn the clock back more than a century, to 19 November 1915, and a simultaneous display given by the great Capablanca, a player renowned for his accuracy, at the Franklin Chess Club, Philadelphia. One of his games, against William H Snowden Jnr, reached this position, with Capa having to decide how to get out of check.

The game continued 47. Kh4 Nxe4 48. h6 and White eventually won. I’m sure you will have no problem finding improvements for both players in this sequence.

My source for this game was Edward Winter’s Chess Notes, essential reading for anyone with any interest in the byways of chess history.

If, as I’m sure you did, you managed to find the correct answers to these two positions, feel free to tell your friends that you can play chess better than Carlsen and Capablanca. Yes, we’re talking about a simul and a blitz game, but, even so, you’d expect any strong player to find the right move in a nanosecond or two.

It’s reassuring for those of us with no pretensions to being good at chess to know that even the best players in the world can make really stupid moves from time to time.

Richard James

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Missed Opportunities

Last time I left you with this position, from a training game in which I had the black pieces against an 8-year-old pupil.

White had just checked on h8, and discovered that after I played Kd7 his queen was unfortunately trapped.

It doesn’t look very interesting, and, but for my tactical incompetence, it wouldn’t have been very interesting. Let’s play on.

30. Qxa8 Nxa8 31. c4 Nxe4

I noticed that the white rook was overworked.

32. Be1 f5 33. cxb5 axb5 34. Ra3 Nb6 35. Ra7 Nc4 36. a4 Qg7

White’s done the right thing so far. If you’re playing in desperation mode you’re not trying to find the objectively best move, but the best way of gaining some sort of counterplay and retaining practical chances. Now, though, he has to defend g2 and has no good options.

After the natural 37. Rc2 Black has lots of winning moves, but the quickest and nicest is Ned2, cutting off the rook’s defence. You might or might not consider this a Novotny Interference: the interference with the rook is deliberate, but the interference with the bishop accidental.

Instead White chose a move which should have lost much more quickly.

37. g3 Nxg3

There was a mate in 5 here: 37.. Rxg3+ 38. Kf1 (or 38. Bxg3 Qxg3+ and mate next move) 38.. Rg1+ 39. Ke2 Qg2+ 40. Kd3 Nb2+ 41. Ke3 f4#. I really should have seen this but automatically captured with the lower value piece.

Never mind: I still have a forced mate.

38. Bxg3 Rxg3+ 39. Kh1 f4

This is mate in 8, but there were two mates in 7: 39.. Qg6, threatening Qe4+ and meeting Re1 with Qc2, and 39.. Rg2, planning Qg3.

40. axb5 f3

Still winning, although it’s not quite so easy now. Here Qg6 was again mate in 7, while Qf7, Qh7 and Qg8 were all mate in 8. I was moving too fast and had completely overlooked the idea of checking on the long diagonal.

41. b6 Qh6

Again Qg8 was more efficient.

42. Rxc7+ Kd8 43. R1xc4

The rook was needed on the back rank. After 43. R7xc4 I have to find some tricky moves: 43.. Rh3 44. R4c2 Ke7 45. b7 Qf4 46. b8Q (46. Rf1 f2 47. Rfxf2 Rxh2+ 48. Kg1 (48. Rxh2 Qf1#) 48.. Rxf2) 46.. Rxh2+ 47. Kg1 Qg3+ 48. Kf1 Rh1# 44.. Ke7 is not at all obvious, I think.

Now I again have mate in 5, but again I missed it. I should have sacrificed my rook: 43… Rg1+ 44. Kxg1 Qe3+ 45. Kh1 Qe1+ 46. Nf1 Qxf1+ 47. Kh2 Qg2#

Playing the queen move first, as I did, should only draw. White now has rook and knight for queen, a lot of checks and a dangerous passed pawn.

43.. Qe3 44. Rc8+ Ke7 45. R4c7+ Kf6 46. Rf8+ Kg6 47. Rg8+

47.. Kf5

I thought I was winning after this move but had missed an important defensive resource.

Instead, I had to play either Kf6 or Kh6, when White can either take the perpetual check himself or capture on g3, when Black will have no better than a perpetual.

For example: 47.. Kf6 48. Rxg3 Qe1+ 49. Rg1 f2 50. Rf1 Qe4+ 51. Nf3 Qxf3+ 52. Kh2 e4 53. b7 Qf4+ 54. Kh3 Qf3+ 55. Kh2 or 47.. Kh6 48. Rxg3 Qe1+ 49. Rg1 f2 50. Rf1 Qe4+ 51. Nf3 Qxf3+ 52. Kh2 Qf4+ 53. Kg2 Qe4+ 54. Kxf2 Qxh4+.

48. Rxg3 Qe1+ 49. Rg1 f2 50. Rf7+

Not the immediate 50. Rf1 because of 50.. Qe4+ 51. Nf3 Qxf3+ 52. Kh2 Kg4 and Black wins.

White has to force the black king to e4 first.

50… Ke4

I still thought I was winning here because I’d overlooked that White could play 51. Rf1. The best I can do is 51.. Kxd5 52. b7 Qxb4 53. R1xf2, but this should be an easy win for White.

Fortunately for me, my pupil missed the idea as well, capturing the queen without pausing for thought. The rest of the game is not interesting.

51. Rxe1+ fxe1Q+ 52. Kg2 Qd2+ 53. Kg3 Qxb4 54. b7 Kxd5 55. Rc7 (Nf3 would have made it harder for me, but he’d lost concentration at the end of a long game and was playing instantly.) e4 56. Nf1 Qb6 57. Ne3+ (A one move oversight, but it only hastened the end.) 57.. Qxe3+ 58. Kg2 Qb6 59. Re7 e3 60. Kf3 Kd4 61. Rd7 d5 62. Re7 Qb2 63. Rf7 Qf2#

Afterwards, as we both had time to spare, he watched as I entered the game into ChessBase. I pressed a button so that he could see the names of famous players who’d played the same opening moves as him. I then pressed another button so that he could see the computer analysis and pick up when one of us made a mistake. Finally, I printed off the game for him (in scoresheet mode) so that he had a complete record. He was amazed at how much you could learn if you recorded your games. I’m not sure how much he learnt, but I learnt a lot from this game. Perhaps I should have been kind to him and offered a draw at the end.

Richard James

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The Modern Italian

I’m thrilled that one of my private pupils has won a couple of Under 8 tournaments recently. However, I have a couple of problems.

One is that he always plays the Giuoco Pianissimo with white, while spending a lot of time watching videos on disreputable openings online. I’ve shown him lots of games with different openings and suggested he tries them. He prefers to stick with what he’s familiar with, but he’ll not make the next step forward until he learns how to play different openings. The other issue I have is that he won’t record his games, even though he knows how to do so. He tells me his opponents play too fast. At this age, if his opponents play fast he’ll automatically play fast as well, and will either forget to record his moves or will miss some out and get confused.

So in our most recent lesson we played a training game on the clock (25’+5″), both of us writing our moves down. He got most of the way until I started playing fast because I was running short of time. I also insisted that he tried out a different opening system, and helped him a bit with it. I gave him the white pieces.

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5

Here I explained that one aim with White is to try to play d4 at some point. He asked me how to do that and I showed him 4. c3. He’s seen this before but, as it hasn’t been reinforced regularly at home, he’d forgotten the move.

4. c3 Nf6

I now gave him the choice: d4 or d3. If you play d4 here the ideas are easier to understand but you need to know a bit of theory. If your opponent’s studied this and you haven’t you’ll probably run into trouble. Likewise, if you’ve studied it and your opponent hasn’t you may well score a quick win. Alternatively, you can play d3, which, I explained, is sometimes played by Magnus Carlsen. In this system the individual moves are not so important: it’s more about understanding ideas and plans. He decided to go with Magnus.

5. d3 d6

A complex and flexible position typical of 21st century chess. Both sides have a wide range of plans at their disposal. White will look for the most favourable moment to play d4 while Black might also be thinking about playing d5 at some point. Learning to appreciate openings popular with top grandmasters is an important part of chess culture and will enable you to get more enjoyment and benefit from following live games online.

In this position the most popular moves are, in order, O-O, Bb3 and Nbd2. Bb3 might look strange at first: we all learn early on in our chess careers not to move pieces twice in the opening except to avoid or make a capture. White has two ideas: to be able to drop the bishop back to c2 if Black plays Na5, and to avoid being forced to move the bishop should Black play d5 at any point. Likewise, Black will often play a6 followed, without being prompted, by Ba7 in this sort of position. It’s all rather sophisticated. Assuming we want to stop our pupils playing Four Knights type positions, should we encourage them to play this system, or to play 5. d4?

My pupil’s next move, Bg5 is very natural, especially as he knows the idea from the Giuoco Pianissimo, but rarely played by stronger players as it’s a bit inflexible. I guess it should only be played after your opponent has castled. It should have worked on this occasion, though, as my play between moves 8 and 12 was poor.

6. Bg5 h6 7. Bh4 a6 8. O-O O-O

This would probably have been the right time to play g5: after White has castled but before Black castles.

9. Nbd2 Be6

Maybe not the best move but I wanted to see what he did. When I was learning chess the received wisdom was that you should trade on e6 in this sort of position. You’re losing control of the important d5 and f5 squares which you might want to use for a knight and giving Black what might become a useful half-open f-file. On the other hand, Black’s pawn formation becomes rather inflexible, which may be why strong players sometimes trade in this situation. 9.. g5 is possible but you’d have to be confident in your assessment of the position after Nxg5. The engines think at first that White has enough play, but if you leave them long enough they come round to preferring Black’s extra piece.

10. Re1 Bxc4 11. Nxc4 Qe7

This and my next move are both bad mistakes. If I want to unpin I really have to bite the bullet and play g5. Trying to unpin with Qe7 followed by Qe6 doesn’t work in this position.

12. d4 Ba7

12.. exd4 was slightly better as Black would be hitting e4. Now White has a very large advantage if he finds 13. Ne3. The threat is 14. Nd5, and if Black tries 13.. Qd8, then 14. Ng4 destroying the black king-side. It’s now too late to unpin: 13.. g5 loses to 14. Nf5. This opening is rather more poisonous that it looks. Just a couple of sloppy moves from Black and, in just 13 moves, White has a winning position.

I suggested this as an option but my pupil decided he preferred to chase back my knight on c6.

13. d5 Nb8 14. Qe2 Nbd7 15. Rad1 g5 16. Bg3 Kg7

I missed a tactic here: 16.. Nxe4 17. Qxe4 f5 18. Qc2 f4 when Black is better – an idea familiar from other openings such as the King’s Indian Defence.

17. Ne3 Bxe3 18. Qxe3 Nh7

He was stuck for a plan here. I suggested he might advance on the queen side starting with c4 or perhaps try to undermine my king side pawns by playing h4. He decided to play b4 rather than the more accurate c4, and, when I stopped his queen side plans, switched to the king side.

19. b4 b5 20. h4 g4 21. Nh2 h5 22. f3 gxf3 23. Qxf3 Nhf6 24. Rc1 Nb6

The knight should probably have stayed on d7, but even so White was better. My pupil’s last few moves have been excellent. Now the engines look at the rather ineffective bishop on g3 and try to reroute it or trade it for the black knight by playing 25. Bf2 with the idea of Be3 and Bg5. But instead White is seduced by the idea of playing a few queen checks.

25. Qf5 Rg8

25.. Rh8 was better, with the idea of Rh6. Now 26. Rf1 followed perhaps by a bishop manoeuvre to g5, would be a powerful plan. Instead White chooses a check which turns a good position into a bad position. All checks should be considered, but not necessarily played. All Qg5+ does is chase the black king where he wants to go.

26. Qg5+ Kf8 27. Qh6+ Ke8

Three moves ago I was practically lost, now I’m practically winning, and all because of a couple of checks. Now White spotted that his bishop on g3 was in danger, but chose the wrong way to defend it, closing off his queen’s escape.

28. Re3 Rg6 29. Qh8+ Kd7

He still looked happy here – until he noticed that his queen had no escape. In a slowplay game resignation at this point would be justified, but in rapidplay, and by now I was well behind on the clock, having been explaining the position while my time was running, anything might happen.

You’ll see the rest of the game next week.

Richard James

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What the Papers Say

Last week you saw my game against Ron Bruce (who had previously lost to Alekhine in 12 moves) from Paignton 1976. There are two further stories to be told about this game, reprinted here from RAT, the Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club Newsletter/Magazine with kind permission from the author, editor and publisher.

The story so far. Those few RAT readers who actually play through the games may recall that I published a mildly amusing but somewhat inaccurate game I played at Paignton in the last issue. Anyway, imagine my surprise when I forked out seven of my hard-earned pence for the New Inflationary Evening Standard on my way home from work on Monday 31st January. I turned, as is my wont, to the Leisure Page, read my horoscope – Leo, would you believe – laughed at ‘Clive’ and ‘Bristow’, Bridge with Rixi – ah! Chess with Lenny, and read the following attached to the diagram on your left (or even below) (translated into Algebraic for trendies and Eurofreaks).

“R.M. Bruce v R. James Paignton 1976. Black’s pawn is about to queen, so White’s effective choice is limited. Should White (to move) play (a) 1. Rxg7+, (b) Bxg7, or (c) another move- and which (if any) of these alternatives saves the game?

“Par times: 30 seconds, chess master; 1 minute, expert; 3 minutes, strong club player; 5 minutes, average club; 8 minutes, weaker club or school; 20 minutes, average.”

Curious, for a reason which will become apparent later, I turned to the solution and read:

“In the game, White chose (a) 1. Rxg7+ and resigned after Kh8 since he has no more useful checks. The Richmond chess magazine claims a draw by (b) 1. Bxg7 Qxb7 2. Bxb7 Kxg7 3. c6 a1Q 4. c7 Qf1+ 5. Kh2 Qf2+ 6. Kh3, but then f4! 7. gxf4 Qe3+ wins as Black will win White’s pawn on the seventh. So Black wins in all variations.”

Now this refutation had been claimed to me a few weeks previously by RAT reader Nevil Chan (Harrow – we get around) but looking at the position again I thought I could cope with it. In any case I was under the impressiou I had given 5.. Qe2+ rather than Qf2+ in my notes. But surely Leonard Barden couldn’t be wrong. Had I really failed to solve the problem with the regulation 3 minutes, or, as some have claimed, 5 minutes? Would I be consigned for ever to the category of ‘weaker club or school’, or, even worse, to the grey mass of mediocrity indicated euphemistically by the terse ‘average’? Was ‘RAT’ to become a byword for shoddy analysis? Would I become known all over London as a perpetrator of inaccurate annotations?

I rushed home and checked that I had indeed, as I had thought, given 5.. Qe2+. First blood to me. I then set up the position and found that again, as I had thought, after 5.. Qf2+, Kh1! draws. (After 5.. Qe2+, Kh1 loses to Qd1+ and Qc2+ but if 5.. Qf2+ White’s king can go to h3 when Black checks on either d2 or e2). I checked this analysis at the club later that evening with David Goodman amongst others and my findings were confirmed. Right again, the position is, as I claimed, a draw.

Returning to 2018, here’s the critical position with Black to play. After 5.. Qf2+ 6. Kh3? f4! Black is winning: 7. gxf4 and now Black can choose either Qe3+ or Qf1+, with an eventual fork picking up the passed pawn. So White must play 6. Kh1! instead. Now Black can try again: 6.. Qf1+ 7. Kh2 Qe2+. This time 8. Kh1? loses: Black has time to zigzag to the c-file and pick up the pawn. So now White has to play 8. Kh3! leading to a draw. It’s a bit confusing at first, isn’t it? After Qf2+, Kh1 draws while Kh3 loses, but after Qe2+, Kh3 draws while Kh1 loses. For those of you who teach chess, this position, or, for a harder puzzle, the position in the first diagram, might be a good quiz question. Possibly something I might use in CHESS PUZZLES FOR HEROES! Anyway, back to 1976/7 for the second story.

Incidentally, as my notes were already rather too long, I neglected to include the following conversation which took place immediately after the game.

RMB: I should have played Bxg7 but forgot that my rook was defended by my king’s bishop.
RJ: After Bxg7 I play Qxb7 Bxb7 Kxg7 and my pawn queens.
RMB: Oh, yes.
Enter Harry (Golombek), an old sage.
HG: I see vice triumphs over virtue once again.
RMB: Not at all. My opponent played very well.
Exit, pursued by a bore.

It was only back at the hotel that I realised that Black had problems as White could push his c-pawn.

Of course all this happened more than 40 years ago, while it was 38 years before this game, almost to the day, that Ron Bruce lost to Alekhine. Time passes. Everything’s different, but again, everything’s very much the same. I’m still here and still playing chess. Leonard Barden’s still here, and still writing a regular column (online only these days) in the Evening Standard.

Richard James

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Alekhine Number Part 2

I left you last time in Plymouth in 1938. Now we’re going to move forward 38 years and sail round the South Devon coast until we reach the seaside resort of Paignton.

Regular readers may recall that I played in the Challengers there in 1974, sharing first place in my section, so now it was time for me to try my luck in the Premier. In Round 5 I had the black pieces against Ron Bruce, who lost the 12-move game against Alekhine you saw last week.

I annotated the game for RAT, the Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club newsletter/magazine. Here, with my contemporary notes (a few minor amendments), is what happened. I’ve added some other comments, mostly from my computer, in italics.

1. c4 g6
2. g3 Bg7
3. Bg2 c5
4. Nc3 Nc6
5. d3 e5

The Botvinnik System, which can be played by White or Black. It is also an effective equalising system against the English or the Closed Sicilian, and gives Black good winning chances against passive or planless White play. The disadvantage is the hole on d5, but Black can attack on the K-side with f5, on the Q-side with b5, or even in the centre with d5, depending on White’s plan. (I’d learnt this from Ray Keene’s book Flank Openings and played the set-up a lot with Black at the time.)

6. e4

More usual is 6. Nf3 d6 (Not 6.. Nge7 7. Ne4 d6 8. Bg5) 7. O-O Nge7 when White can play for Q-side expansion with Rb1 and a3, or equine occupation of d5 with Nf3-e1-c2-e3. Hmm. 6.. Nge7 is often played, and 7. Ne4 very rarely played in reply. After 8. Bg5 Black seems equal: 8.. h6 is usually played but other moves are possible. I’m not sure where that variation came from.

6.. d6

Giving White the option of developing his knight on an inferior square.

7. Nge2

Not so good is Nf3 when the knight will soon have to move again to allow f4. Another plan is 7. f4 Nge7 8. Nf3, when Hempson-James London Chess Congress Open 1976 continued 8.. Nd4 9. Nxd4 cxd4 10. Ne2 (better Nd5=) with a slight edge for Black, but I eventually lost by choosing an artificial plan in what should have been a winning position.

7.. Nge7
8. O-O O-O

Although the position is symmetrical I felt I had some advantage here as I suspected I was more familiar with the position than my opponent.

9. h3?!

I was right! This is quite unnecessary as yet.

9.. Be6
10. Kh2 Qd7
11. Nd5 f5
12. Bg5 h6
13. Be3 Kh7
14. Qd2 Nd4
15. f4

Black has gained a tempo. The position is once again symmetrical but this time it is my move. Now to find something useful to do with it.

15.. Rab8
16. Nec3 Nxd5
17. Nxd5

Guess what. Black has gained another tempo. Relatively best was 17. cxd5. The engines tell me Black should trade on e4 and f4 before playing b5 here.

17.. b5
18. Rae1?

Leaving his position en prise, but Black is threatening bxc4, fxe4 and Bxh3 as well as what he plays in the game. Perhaps best is 18. fxe5 dxe5 19. b3. The engines tell me trading on d4, then on f5 before playing b3 is equal.

18.. bxc4
19. dxc4 exf4
20. Rxf4 Rxb2!?

Flash Harry strikes again! But first 20.. Bxd5 would have made life easier, answering 21. cxd5 Rxb2 22. Qa5 with Nc2. The engines have a slight preference for Bxd5, but it’s more complicated than my note suggests. My move is perhaps the more practical choice.

21. Qxb2

White’s best practical chance.

21.. Nf3+
22. Rxf3 Bxb2
23. exf5 Rxf5
24. Rxf5 gxf5

Not 24.. Bxf5 on account of 25. Bxc5. Not the right reason for rejecting Bxc5. After 24.. Bxf5 White should play 25. Bc1 Qg7 26. Re7 Qxe7 27. Nxe7 Bxc1 28. Nxf5 gxf5 reaching a bishops of opposite colour ending where Black has an extra pawn but White should have no problem holding the draw.

25. Rb1 Bxd5?

Now this puts the win in jeopardy. After either Qg7 or Bg7 Black should win without too much trouble. If 25.. Bxg7 White has 26. Rb7, a nice echo of Black’s 20th move (perhaps not surprising considering the symmetrical opening) but after simply 26.. Qxb7 27. Nf6+ Bxf6 28. Bxb7 Bxc4 Black is two pawns up in a double Bishop ending. I think the question mark is rather harsh: Black should still be winning after this move. My computer thinks this the fourth best move, having a slight preference for Qg7, Bg7, or, best of all, Be5.

26. Bxd5 Bg7

After 26.. Qg7 White plays 27. Bc1 when a) 27.. Bxc1 28. Rb7 when the resulting bishops of opposite colours ending is drawn despite Black’s extra pawn, or b) 27.. Bf6 28. Rb7 Be7 29. Rxa7 and it is not clear how White can make progress. After 26.. Qg7 27. Bc1 Black’s best move is Qc3, which retains winning chances. Instead of Bg7 or Qg7 Black could also consider either Qe8 or Qe7.

27. h4

Necessary here or next move to create a haven for the king.

27.. Qa4

This, however, is a mistake which I hadn’t noticed at the time. Instead 27.. Qe8 is best, with possible infiltration via h5 or e5 depending on White’s next move. 27.. Qe7 is also preferable to Qa4.

28. Rb7 Qxa2+
29. Kh3 a5

Black has no convenient defence to the threat of Bf4-xd6-f8/e5 but plans to queen his a-pawn, if necessary giving up queen for rook to reach an ending where the central pawn configuration prevents White’s Bishop from returning to stop the pawn.

30. Bf4 Qa1
31. Bxd6 a4
32. Bxc5

Not 32. Bf8 a3 33. Rxg7+ Qxg7 34. Bxg7 Kxg7 and the a-pawn cannot be stopped. But White has a better defence in 32. Ra7 (Rooks Belong Behind Passed Pawns!) 32.. h5 (perhaps not obvious but best according to the engines) 33. Bxc5 (or 33. Bf8 Kh8!) 33.. Qf1+ 34. Kh2 Qe2+ 35. Kg1 Qd3 36. Kg2 f4 37. gxf4 Kg6 when Black may be winning. This is very much a computer line, though: at my level it wouldn’t be possible to find all those moves over the board.

32.. a3
33. Bf8 a2
34. c5 Qf1+
35. Bg2 Qa6?

The winning line is 25.. a1Q and now a) 36. Bxg7? Qh1+! or b) 36. Rxg7+ when Black can choose between i) 36.. Qxg7 37. Bxg7 and not 37.. Qc4? when 38. Bf8 loses to Qg4+ and f4 but 38. Be5! Qxc5 39. Bf4! sets up a fortress position and draws but 37.. Qe2! preventing Be5 and winning and ii) 36.. Kh8 37. Bxf1 Qxf1+ 38. Kh2 Qe2+ 39. Kh3 Qe8! winning the bishop with a technical win, so White’s best try is c) 36. Bxf1 Qxf1+ 37. Kh2 Qf2+ 38. Kh3 Qf3! 39. Rxg7+ Kh8 40. Kh2 Qe2+ 41. Kh3 Qe8 reaching the position after Black’s 39th move in variation b(ii)). A computer writes: Variation b(i) after 37. Bxg7 is interesting: Qe2 is the only winning move. 37.. Qe1 also only draws after 38. Bd4!: Black has to prevent Be5 and threaten Qg4+ at the same time. In variation b(ii) I slightly prefer 38.. f4 to Qe2+. And in variation c, 38.. Qf3 certainly doesn’t deserve an exclam: 38.. Qg1! is mate in 5.

36. Rxg7+?

Missing the draw after 36. Bxg7! Qxb7 37. Bxb7 Kxg7 38. c6 a1Q 37. c7 Qf1+ 38. Kh2 Qe2+ 39. Kh3 and draws. Indeed, but there’s a bit more to it than that, and a story behind this position which will be continued next week.

36.. Kh8

White resigns. A curious conclusion.

Richard James

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