Category Archives: Richard James


Over the past two weeks I’ve considered the view that the whole structure of English chess is really not suitable for the 21st century.

Over the past decade or so various groups of modernisers have attempted to get their candidates elected to positions on the English Chess Federation board, but, while some of them have been successful it has always ended in tears.

It’s been clear for a couple of years now that another group, based loosely around the organisers of the highly success London Chess Classic and Chess in Schools and Communities, has been trying to get its nominees into positions of influence on the board. Their representatives are opposing the current holders of the positions of Directors of Home and International Chess in the forthcoming elections next month.

In principle I’m in favour of much of their agenda (and should add that some of them have been good friends of mine for many years), but the way they have gone about things has made them a lot of enemies, and it seems to me extremely unlikely that their candidates will be elected. Two of their number, already on the board, are standing unopposed, although I understand that unsuccessful attempts have been made to find candidates to oppose them. They may possibly be in danger of defeat, though, from None of the Above, such is their unpopularity in some quarters.

Take, for example, the English Chess Federation forum. The English Chess Forum has existed for some time now. Like all forums it attracts a number of eccentrics, illiterates, obsessives and single issue fanatics, but it also hosts a lively debate about many aspects of English chess. Of course, sometimes posters (and whole threads) are critical of the English Chess Federation, and so some of those on the ECF board, seeing this criticism as something that might deter, or might in the past have deterred, potential sponsors, advised their board members not to post there and instead set up their own lookalike English Chess Federation Forum. On one recent occasion it was alleged that the English Chess Forum was described as ‘toxic’.

But their own forum has not proved very popular with posters, most of whom have preferred to continue using the original. Moderators have sometimes been slow to remove pseudonymous posters (both forums understandably operate a ‘real names only’ policy). And recent discussions concerning disputes among members of the ECF board have been potentially more damaging and ‘toxic’ than anything on the English Chess Forum. The whole episode has made the ECF, in the eyes of many, look rather foolish. In my opinion it would have been much better to set up a blog to enable board members to communicate with the chess playing public while working closely with the original forum to encourage positive debate on a wider range of issues.

It also appears that those who are seen to stand in the way of ‘progress’ are destabilised. The excellent Lawrence Cooper left the post of International Director a couple of years ago, having, as far as I understand it, had enough of the constant arguments. Alex Holowczak, the young, energetic and hard working Director of Home Chess, has recently been targeted. Lawrence and Alex are two of the most popular people in English chess and, I would have thought, people you really want to keep on your side.

I guess it’s, in some ways, the same problem as we have with FIDE, and perhaps a similar problem to the one that would face Jeremy Corbyn in the unlikely event that he should become Prime Minister. If you don’t like the system do you try to tweak it from within or overthrow it? In attempting to overthrow the system they’ve alienated the very people whose support they need, and who would, in many cases, be generally in favour of modernisation.

There are two fundamental problems, it seems to me, with regard to modernising the ECF. Chess players in this country tend to be very conservative (with a small c), very resistant to change and reluctant to provide financial support for their national federation, whether through Game Fee or through membership, which might, for example, go towards supporting our national teams at all levels (open, women, seniors, juniors etc). They’re not going to vote for modernisation any more than turkeys are going to vote for Christmas.

The ECF is essentially an amateur organisation, and, as in any amateur organisation, you’ll have a mixture of excellent people who work hard for the love of the game and those who like attending boring meetings, hearing the sound of their own voice and generally feeling important. Most of the current ECF people come in the former category, but this hasn’t always been the case in the past. What you can’t do without upsetting a lot of people is impose professional standards on an amateur organisation.

Although I have a lot of sympathy with their agenda, the modernisers have succeeded in alienating many of the most popular and influential people in English chess over the past couple of years. But without a radical overhaul I fear for the future of chess in this country. A recent poster on my Facebook wall suggested that chess has no future either as a professional game or as a recreational hobby, but only as a learning tool for young children. I hope he’s wrong but this is the way things seem to be going. I guess, though, that the current set-up will last another 15-20 years and see me out.

Richard James


A 21st Century Chess Club

Last week I considered the development of chess clubs and chess administration here in England since the 19th century and explained how little has changed over the best part of 200 years.

Chess became very popular among children of secondary school age (11 to 18) after the Second World War, and, for 35 years or so, the average age of entry into competitive chess gradually declined. For the past 35 years the main focus of junior chess has been in primary schools, with the game gradually becoming less popular among secondary school children. This is one reason why, as Garry Kasparov recently pointed out, we currently have no IMs under the age of 18.

The typical chess club outside Central London meets once a week from about 7:30 to 11:00, usually in a church hall or the function room of a pub. A larger club such as Richmond will have about 40 members. Many clubs are much smaller and have perhaps 10 or 20 members. The times and, sometimes, the venues make them unsuitable for younger children. They’re also difficult for older children, who are under a lot of academic pressure with homework in the evenings. Half a century ago, when I was a teenager, you’d give up chess for a week or two while you were doing your last minute revision, but for most of the year you’d have time to play chess in the evenings. These days, with children having several hours homework a night, this is no longer possible for most of them. Those few teenagers who are still playing in evening leagues will tell you in the September before their public examinations that they won’t be able to play all year.

So chess is now played in ghettos. Young children play at school. Older children tend not to play at all. And adults, mostly middle aged or above, play in the evenings at times not suited to children. If you want to get children and adults playing together you need chess at weekends. As it happens, there’s quite a lot of chess played at weekends, but not all of it is suitable.

One of the good things about chess in this country is that there’s a thriving weekend tournament circuit including both slowplay tournaments over two days, perhaps with a Friday evening round, and rapidplay tournaments over one day.

There are also regular county matches, ranging from open events down to events for players graded under 100, whose teams tend to be selected from players in local leagues so don’t attract many children. County chess is still successful in the South East of England where there are several counties who can field teams of similar strength, but is struggling in less heavily populated parts of the country.

Finally, there’s the 4NCL (and also the Junior 4NCL) which takes place at hotels on the outskirts of nondescript Midlands towns. This season the lower southern divisions of the 4NCL take place in Telford, in the West Midlands, about 150 miles from London. If you enjoy the social side of things it’s fine, and the league seems (I’ve never played in it) to be very well organised, but it’s a very long way to travel for a couple of games of chess. Even county matches often involve time-consuming journeys across London.

So let’s invent a different sort of chess club, which will be attractive to adults, to children and to families. Let’s also invent a totally different chess structure for this country.

Our new ideal chess club will meet at weekends Saturday or Sunday afternoons, as well as in the evenings. It will run structured chess courses for children (which may also take place in early evening slots) using a proper chess course such as the Steps Method. The lower levels would not require professional teachers but might be run by parents or adult members of the chess club. The club may also run tuition for adults. Just as in, for example, cricket clubs, there will be a 1st team, a 2nd team, perhaps a 3rd team, as well as junior teams at various age groups. Stronger juniors would, of course, be able to play for the senior teams if they were good enough. There would be inter-club matches in local leagues on weekend afternoons with 4 hour sessions. Evening leagues currently only have time for a 3 hour, or sometimes even a 2½ hour session. If you play to a finish in one session the games will often degenerate into a time scramble (or two time scrambles if you’re playing n moves in n minutes followed by a quickplay finish) with a random result. In my local league slowplay, with a choice of adjournment or adjudication for unfinished games is still the default option. There are many who believe that adjournments and adjudications have no place in 21st century chess, but those who make the decisions in the Thames Valley League don’t agree with this. The games might run from 2:00 to 6:00 or from 3:00 to 7:00, giving children plenty of time to get home to bed while adults will, if they choose, be able to spend the rest of the evening with their friends in their favourite hostelry or curry house. Local leagues of this nature could be used as feeders to the 4NCL, using a pyramid structure like that used in, for example, football in this country.

Evenings could be used for rapidplay leagues, with double round matches. The time limit would be 30 minutes per player per game, or an equivalent time control using increments. Children playing in these matches would get home earlier than they would from a 3 hour session, while adults will have more time to enjoy a few pints in the pub afterwards. It would also be possible, for example, for a junior to play in the first match, to be replaced by an adult arriving late from work for the second match.

To implement this you’d need major changes to the whole structure of chess. You’d need to phase out evening chess leagues and county matches, and, while you’re at it, abolish the National Club Championship, which should have been put out of its misery years ago. You’ll also need to persuade chess players that they’ll need to pay a lot more if they want a club that’s open longer hours. Parents, at least in more affluent areas, will be very willing to pay membership fees if they think their children will benefit.

Sadly, I really don’t see anything like this happening in my lifetime, though. It reminds me of the tourist who was lost in Ireland. He asked a local in the nearest pub how to get to Dublin. “If I were you, sir”, came the reply, “I wouldn’t start from here”.

Richard James


History Lesson

Garry Kasparov recently commented that England, a force in international chess, currently does not even have an International Master under 18.

If you’ve been following my posts you’ll be aware that I’ve proposed some reasons for this. My next series of articles will look again at what’s happening in chess, and, in particular, in junior chess, here in my part of the world.

But first, a brief history lesson.

The earliest chess clubs in this country started in the mid 19th century, but were little more than groups of friends meeting to push their pieces round the board. With the advent of affordable public, and later, private transport, more formal chess clubs sprang up around the country in the late 19th century. The Surrey Chess League started in 1883 and the London Chess League in 1888. If you look at the players in these early matches you’ll find clergymen and military men, doctors and lawyers, accountants, teachers and civil servants, largely, but not entirely, middle class and also largely male. In those days men typically worked from 9 to 5 while their wives stayed at home to look after the children and run the house. Before the first world war, the middle classes would usually have one or two servants as well. A typical office worker would arrive home from work at about 6:00, eat the delicious meal that his wife had prepared for him, and then perhaps spend the rest of the evening drinking in his local hostelry or attending a club where he could pursue his hobby, which might, in our case, have been chess. So the matches in his local chess league, perhaps the Surrey League, would start at 7:30, to give him enough time to travel, perhaps to an away venue. If he was playing in the London League, though, he wouldn’t have time to go home first, so he’d eat at a restaurant after work, giving him just enough time to reach the match venue by 6:25.

As far as I’m aware, this sort of club chess seems to have been more popular in the UK than elsewhere. While there was a strong chess culture in the UK, though, the really strong players were more likely to come from the coffee houses of central and Eastern Europe, and later, from the factories and collective farms of the Soviet Union, than from the genteel British chess clubs. The evening start times meant that you had only 3 hours, or, in some local leagues 2½ hours for the game. Typically the time control would take you to move 30, and games unfinished at that point would be adjudicated, or, later, adjourned. For many years there was a perception that British players were deficient in endgame skills for this reason. (This has not been true for several decades, though. Consider, for example, Nunn, Speelman, Arkell and Hawkins.)

When I started work in a central London office in 1972 things weren’t a lot different from the 1890s. My job involved writing computer programs to analyse market research data. I’d punch the program onto punch cards and leave the deck of cards out for a driver to take to our computer centre in Slough. The next morning I’d receive a printout with compilation errors, fix the errors by lunchtime and put the cards out again. The rest of the day there would often be nothing to do so we’d spend much of the afternoon in the pub across the road or play bridge in the office. If there was a new Batsford chess book out I’d go down to Foyle’s to buy one of their first copies. Otherwise, I’d spend time in the local library, perhaps reading a book or magazine article about how, in the future, as computers took out the drudgery of life, we’d all have far more leisure time, working only three days a week. So it was usually no problem for me to get home and out again to my Thames Valley League matches, or to stroll down to St Bride’s Institute for a London League match.

But, as we now know, computerisation had the opposite effect. By the mid 80s we could type our programs directly into the computer, correct the compilation errors at once and provide our clients with their survey results the following day. Rather than having more free time we were all working longer hours. I left my office job to work freelance in 1986, but the trend has continued. To afford the absurd price of property in somewhere like Richmond you have to work silly hours earning silly money, and you probably won’t have time to play chess yourself, or even to teach and play with your children.

The world has changed a lot since 1972, and, of course, a lot more since 1883. Chess has changed a lot as well. But our chess clubs, and the whole administrative structure of chess in the UK, is still very much the same. You belong to a club, which is affiliated to its county chess association, which is in turn affiliated to its regional chess association, and finally to the English Chess Federation. So my club, Richmond, goes through Surrey and the Southern Counties Chess Union before it reaches the ECF. Those who like to play more often will be members of several chess clubs, quite possibly in different counties. Nowadays many evening league games are played to a finish in one session, but in the Thames Valley League, where I play my chess, slowplay with adjournment or adjudication at the end, is still the default option.

In the 1960s, when I started playing chess, there was far less academic pressure than today, so I was able to play chess in the evenings, only stopping for a few weeks before my public examinations. One or two children still do this, but most are unable to fit evening chess in with their homework.

I believe, and this is something I’ve been saying for the past 40 years, that much of the overall structure of chess in this country is stuck not just in the 20th but in the 19th century, and that this is one reason for our decline over the past 20 years or so. But there are some organisations and people who want to produce something more appropriate to the 21st century. A structure that takes 21st century lifestyles into consideration. A structure that allows more inclusivity. A structure that appreciates that chess is popular with younger children and that, unless they see chess as a game for all ages the will soon stop playing. Next week I’ll give this more consideration.

Richard James


London Chess Fortnight 1975 5-day Open R5

In the last round I didn’t get my expected pairing of Black against Robert Bellin. Instead I had my third consecutive white (and my fourth in the tournament) against Belgian international Richard Meulders.

The game was an English Opening, with my opponent choosing the Botvinnik Blockade, a plan which I had often used myself, and still use now on occasion, having learnt it from Ray Keene’s book on Flank Openings.

1. Nf3 c5
2. c4 Nc6
3. g3 g6
4. Bg2 Bg7
5. Nc3 d6
6. O-O e5
7. d3 Nge7
8. Rb1 O-O
9. Ne1

The recommended plan. The knight’s going to c2 and e3 to enable me to establish a knight on d5.

9… Be6
10. a3 a5
11. Nc2 Qd7
12. Ne3 Bh3
13. Ned5 Bxg2
14. Kxg2 Rab8
15. Bh6 f5
16. Bxg7 Kxg7
17. e3

Forty years ago I was aware of the idea of meeting f5 with f4 to blunt the attack in this sort of position, and that was certainly an option either here or next move. I must have thought f4 was not possible for Black here.

17… h5
18. h4 f4

Black is happy to sacrifice material for a speculative attack.

19. exf4 exf4
20. Nxf4 Rxf4

Of course. The engines prefer White but it’s not so easy to defend this sort of position over the board, especially against a strong player like my opponent.

21. gxf4 Rf8
22. Nd5

This is already a mistake leaving White in a lot of trouble. It looks natural, I suppose, to trade off an enemy piece but I really shouldn’t have allowed the black knight into d4. The correct plan, which is what I played two moves later, was Re1, meeting Rxf4 with Re4, when White has good chances of defending successfully.

22… Nxd5
23. cxd5 Nd4
24. Re1 Rxf4
25. Re4 Qf5
26. Rxf4 Qxf4
27. f3 Nf5
28. Qe2 Nxh4+

It’s not so easy to decide which of five possible king moves is best. The engines prefer Kh1 although it doesn’t look obvious to me that the corner is going to be the white king’s safest option. Black’s still a lot better though. He’ll have two connected passed pawns for the exchange while the doubled d-pawns are both weak. Kf2, holding onto the f-pawn for the time being, is the engines’ second choice but they still think Black has a winning advantage. This position is an excellent example of how well the queen and knight work together as an attacking force.

29. Kh3 Nxf3

The only defence now is Kg2 when Black’s a lot better but has nothing immediate. Instead the game and the tournament end on a note of anticlimax when I fail to notice the mate threat.

30. Rf1 Qg4#

A disappointing end to the tournament but still, overall, an excellent result for me. A few months previously at Ilford I’d demonstrated that I could lose games regularly by making horrendous blunders, but here I proved that, on a good day and with a following wind, I could more than hold my own against anyone below master standard.

Richard James


London Chess Fortnight 1975 5-day Open R4

Going into Round 4 I was on 2½ points and expecting Black against a strong player. Instead I received my third white, being paired against another promising teenager, Peter Sowray.

I already knew Peter, who was to join Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club for the new season the following month. Peter, of course, is still very active today both as a player and a teacher, and still very well known to me as a good friend and colleague, who ran Richmond Junior Club for a few years after the first time I left.

This was another long game but there’s really not a lot to say about it. Peter handled the opening in experimental fashion, choosing a type of hippopotamus formation.

1. Nf3 g6
2. e4 Bg7
3. d4 d6
4. Nc3 Nf6
5. Be2 a6
6. a4 b6
7. O-O e6
8. e5 Nfd7
9. Bg5 f6
10. exf6 Nxf6
11. Re1 O-O
12. Bd3 Qe8
13. Qe2 Bb7

Not liking his position, Peter decides to give up a pawn to free his game.

14. Qxe6+ Qxe6
15. Rxe6 Bxf3
16. gxf3 Nh5
17. Be4 Ra7
18. Rd1 Nf6
19. Bxf6 Bxf6
20. Bd5 Kg7
21. Ne4 Bh4
22. Ng3 c6
23. Bb3 d5
24. Kg2 Raf7
25. Rd3 Bg5
26. c3 Bc1
27. Re2 h5
28. Nf1 g5
29. Rd1 Bf4
30. Rde1 Nd7
31. Re7 Nf6
32. R1e6 g4

There was no need for desperate measures. 32… Rxe7 would have given drawing chances. Now I should have played the immediate Rxf7+ followed by Rxc6.

33. Bd1 Bc1

Missing another chance to take on e7. This time I find the correct response.

34. Rxf7+ Rxf7
35. Rxc6 Bxb2
36. Ne3 b5
37. axb5 axb5
38. fxg4 hxg4
39. Bxg4 Nxg4
40. Nxg4

After a sequence of exchanges I’ve won a second pawn.

40… b4
41. cxb4 Rf4
42. Rc7+ Kf8
43. Kg3 Rxd4
44. b5 Rd3+
45. f3 Rb3
46. Rc5 d4
47. Rd5 Ke7
48. Kf4 Ke6
49. Ke4 d3
50. Rxd3 Rxb5

My two extra pawns are enough to win. I have to keep the minor pieces on the board to avoid a drawn rook, f and h pawns against rook ending.

51. f4 Rb4+
52. Kf3 Bc1
53. Ne3 Rb5
54. h4 Bb2
55. Kg4 Bg7
56. Ra3 Rb1
57. Ra6+ Kf7
58. Ra7+ Kg8
59. h5 Rg1+
60. Kf5 Rh1
61. Kg5 Bd4
62. Ra8+ Kh7
63. Ng4 Rg1
64. Kf5 Rb1
65. Nf6+ Kg7
66. Ne4 Rb5+
67. Kg4 Rb1
68. Ra6 Rg1+
69. Kf5 Rh1
70. Rg6+ Kh7
71. Ng5+ Kh8
72. h6 Bc3
73. h7 Bg7
74. Re6 Bc3
75. Re8+ Kg7
76. Rg8+

Black resigned.

Four long games against fairly strong opposition. Four endings, Three wins and one draw, leaving me up with the leaders. As I’d had the white pieces three times I was bound to be black in the last round and my likely opponent was, if my memory serves me correctly, Robert Bellin.

Find out what happened in the last round next week.

Richard James


London Chess Fortnight 1975 5-day Open R3

I’d started the tournament with 1½ out of 2, and, as expected, I was paired against another higher graded opponent in Round 3. This time I had White and found myself sitting opposite a strong Manchester player, Dr Graham Burton, who is still active today.

Here’s what happened.

1. Nf3 c5
2. g3 Nc6
3. Bg2 g6
4. d3 Bg7
5. e4 d6
6. O-O e5
7. Nc3 Nge7
8. Nh4 Nd4
9. f4 exf4
10. Bxf4 O-O
11. Nf3 Bg4
12. h3

A careless mistake, losing a pawn. Now Black plans to trade everything off and win the ending.

12… Nxf3+
13. Bxf3 Bxh3
14. Bg2 Qd7
15. Qd2 Be6
16. Bh6 f5

This looks a bit loosening.

17. Bxg7 Kxg7
18. exf5

Stockfish prefers d4 here, when it thinks White is close to equality.

18… Nxf5
19. Ne4 Nd4
20. Ng5 Bf5
21. Rae1 Rae8
22. c3 Rxe1
23. Rxe1 Ne6

A mistake, allowing me to win the pawn back. Nc6 was correct. But I missed my chance to play the tactic 24. Bxb7 when 24… Nxg5 25. Qxg5 Qxb7 is not possible because of 26. Re7+

24. Nxe6+ Bxe6
25. Qe3 Re8

Another poor move, walking into a pin. Rf6 maintains the extra pawn.

26. Bh3 Kf7
27. Qf3+ Bf5
28. Rxe8

Rather inaccurate. 28. Qd5+ leads to an immediate draw.

28… Kxe8
29. Bxf5 gxf5

Black still has his extra pawn, but with his king side pawns split and White’s active queen a win looks unlikely.

30. Qd5 Kd8
31. Kf2 Kc7
32. Kf3 Qa4
33. Qxf5 Qxa2
34. Qxh7+ Kb6

White regains his lost pawn and the game seems to be heading towards a draw.

35. Qh2 Qd5+
36. Ke3 Qg5+
37. Kf3 a5
38. g4 Qd5+
39. Ke3 a4
40. Qf4 Ka5
41. g5

White’s g-pawn is beginning to look dangerous. Black now has to be careful.

41… b5

This is too slow. Qg2 was the way to draw. Black has to activate his queen and play for a perpetual check.

42. g6 b4
43. cxb4+

The pawn on c3 was required to restrict the black king’s options. The winning move was Qf6, preparing Qd8+ in some lines, hitting d6 and potentially controlling Black’s promotion square.

43… cxb4
44. g7

But here Qf6 would only draw as Black now has the safe b5 square for his king.

44… a3
45. bxa3 bxa3
46. Qf8 a2

Black had a perpetual check here with either Qg5+ or Qe5+ but instead he mistakenly goes for the four queens ending.

47. g8=Q

Of course Black can’t trade before promoting because of the impending skewer.

47… Qe5+
48. Kf3 a1=Q

In four queens endings the player with the first check usually wins.

49. Qa8+ Kb5
50. Qgb8+

There was a mate in two: 50. Qc4+ Kb6 51. Qcc6#

50… Kc5
51. Qc7+ Kd4
52. Qc4#

So a lucky win for me against a significantly stronger opponent, but, in all honesty, not a very good game. Black’s endgame play was surprisingly poor considering his grade.

With 2½/3, due for Black, and sure to be paired against another strong player, would my luck run out in round 4? You’ll find out next week.

Richard James


London Chess Fortnight 1975 5-day Open R2

In the second round of the London Chess Fortnight 5-day open I had black against a promising young player called Colin Crouch. Colin, of course, later became an International Master, and was sadly lost to us a few months ago.

I’ll skim through most of the game quickly. There’s one interesting position coming up which I’ll consider more closely.

1. d4 g6
2. c4 Bg7
3. Nc3 d6
4. e4 Nd7
5. Be3 e5
6. d5

This is very much what Black’s hoping to see in this line.

6… Ne7
7. Bd3 O-O
8. Qd2 f5

Black has a King’s Indian type position which a couple of extra tempi. In the King’s Indian Black’s queen’s knight often goes to c6 and then to e7, while the king’s knight often goes to d7 from f6, to prepare f5. In this game the knights have reached d7 and e7 in two moves rather than four so Black can get in f5 very quickly.

9. Bh6 Nf6
10. Bxg7 Kxg7
11. exf5 Bxf5
12. f3 c6
13. Bxf5 Nxf5
14. dxc6 bxc6

The engines like Black here but the central pawns might become loose later on.

15. Nge2 Qb6
16. Na4 Qe3
17. Rc1 Qxd2+
18. Kxd2 e4
19. f4 e3+
20. Kc2 Rfe8
21. h3 h5
22. Nac3 a6
23. Rhd1 Rad8
24. Nd4 d5
25. Nxf5+ gxf5
26. cxd5 cxd5

The engines prefer Nxd5 here. Trading knights on c3 is probably not a good plan as White is able to surround and win the e-pawn.

27. Rd4 Ne4
28. Re1 Nxc3
29. bxc3 Re7

Again not best. Kf6, preparing counterplay on the g-file, looks like an improvement.

30. Kd3 Kf6
31. Rxe3 Rxe3+
32. Kxe3

Reaching a rook ending where White has an extra pawn. Is it enough to win?

32… Ke6
33. Kf3 Rc8
34. Rd3 Rc4
35. Kg3 Ra4
36. Rd2 Rc4
37. Kh4 Rxf4+
38. Kxh5 Rc4
39. Kg5 Rxc3
40. Re2+ Kd6
41. Kxf5 d4

Now it’s a race. Black has a central passed pawn advancing down the board while White has two connected passed pawns on the g and h-files.

42. h4 d3
43. Rd2 Kd5
44. g4 Kd4
45. g5 Ke3
46. Rh2

This leads to a draw. The question, which I’ll return to after the game, is whether White can improve by playing Rd1 instead. The engines will tell you White’s winning, but are they right?

46… d2
47. Rxd2 Kxd2
48. g6 Ke3
49. g7 Rc5+
50. Kg6 Rc6+
51. Kh7 Rc7
52. Kh8 Rc4

Black just manages to draw by eliminating the h-pawn on his way to skewering the white king and queen.

53. g8=Q Rxh4+
54. Kg7 Rg4+
55. Kf7 Rxg8
56. Kxg8

Now the result is clear.

56… Kd3
57. Kf7 Kc3
58. Ke6 a5
59. Kd5 a4
60. a3 Kb3
61. Kd4 Kxa3
62. Kc3

And the draw was agreed.

Let’s return to the position after White’s 46th move alternative: Rd1. White’s hoping to gain a vital tempo in comparison with what happened in the game.

Here’s a sample variation as analysed by Stockfish and Houdini:

46. Rd1 Ke2
47. Rb1 Rc5+
48. Kg4 d2
49. g6

Now if Black promotes White has gained the necessary tempo to win, so instead he tries…

49… Rc4+
50. Kh5 Rc5+
51. Kh6 Rc6

51… Rc1 52. Rb2 Ke1 53. Rxd2 Kxd2 54. g7 Rc8 55. h5 and White wins.

52. h5

The pawns must advance together. Not 52. Kh7 Rc1 53. Rb2 Rh1 54. g7 Rxh4+ 55. Kg6 Rg4+ 56. Kf7 Ke1 57. Rxd2 Kxd2 58. g8+ Rxg8 59. Kxg8 and Black wins.

52… Rb6
53. Rxb6

(53. Rg1 Rf6 54. Rg2+ Rf2 55. Rxf2+ Kxf2 56. g7 d1=Q 57. g8=Q and according to the 7-man tablebases 57… Qd7 is the only move to give Black a draw.)

53… d1=Q
54. g7 Qd2+
55. Kh7 Qd7
56. h6 a5

The engines give White a winning plus here but are unable to find a way to make progress so it looks to me like it might be some weird sort of positional draw unless someone out there can prove otherwise. A sample computer generated variation:

57. Rf6 Qc7
58. Kh8 Qc3
59. Rf8 Ke3
60. Ra8 Qf6
61. Re8+ Kd3
62. h7 Qd4

If you know how White can win this please feel free to let me know.

Next time, onwards and upwards into round 3.

Richard James


London Chess Fortnight 1975 5-day Open R1

The Evening Standard London Chess Fortnight, organised by Stewart Reuben, took place in August 1975 at a hotel in Earls Court, West London. The main event was an 11 player all play all tournament which was memorable for providing Tony Miles with his first GM norm. (Miles 7½/10, Timman and Adorjan 7, Sax 6, Nunn 5½ etc).

Among the subsidiary events was a 5-day open Swiss in which I took part. My first round opponent, AA Aaron, seemed, from his name, determined to make the top of the grading list (he clearly hadn’t taken Jacob Aagaard into account). I had the white pieces and opened quietly with a double fianchetto. We’ll skip quickly to the interesting bit.

1. Nf3 d5
2. b3 Nf6
3. Bb2 g6
4. g3 Bg7
5. Bg2 O-O
6. d3 Nbd7
7. c4 dxc4

Rather obliging, trading a centre pawn for a wing pawn.

8. bxc4 Nh5
9. Bxg7 Kxg7
10. d4 c5
11. d5 f5

Again rather obliging. Black now has a backward e-pawn.

12. Nbd2 Ndf6
13. Qb3 Qc7
14. Qe3

The engines prefer Qc3 here.

14… f4

The engines tell me 14… e6 is possible here as after 15. dxe6 Bxe6 16. Qxe6 Rae8 White’s queen is trapped. He can try 17. Ng5 to set up a potential fork but Black can just move his king, leaving the white queen stranded.

15. Qe5 Qxe5
16. Nxe5 Nd7
17. Nd3 fxg3
18. hxg3 Rb8
19. a4 b6
20. e4

With a nice position for White, which, over the next few moves, gets to look even better.

20… Nhf6
21. Ke2 Re8
22. Bh3 Nf8
23. Bxc8 Rexc8
24. e5 Ne8
25. f4 a6
26. Rab1 Nc7
27. Ne4 b5
28. axb5

The other capture was also possible: 28. cxb5 axb5 29. d6 exd6 30. Nxd6 Rd8 31. axb5 Nfe6

28… axb5
29. Ndxc5 bxc4
30. d6 exd6
31. Nxd6 Nd5

Black chooses a tactical defence based on the knight fork on c3. The alternative was to give up his c-pawn: 31… Rd8 32. Nxc4 Nfe6 33. Ne4

32. Rxb8

Now I had to decide which rook to capture. As it happens, the other one was better, although at my level it was too hard to calculate:

32. Nxc8 Nc3+ (32… Rxb1 33. Rxb1 Nc3+ 34. Ke3 Nxb1 35. e6 and Black will have to give up one of his knights for the e-pawn.) 33. Ke3 Nxb1 and Black will be unable to keep his c-pawn while stopping White’s e-pawn.)

32… Rxb8
33. Ra1

The wrong plan. Charlie the c-pawn is Public Enemy No 1 and needs to be stopped. I should have played 33. Rc1, hoping to be able to round him up.

33… Rb2+
34. Kf3 Rb8

Missing an opportunity, according to the engines. Passed pawns should be pushed, even at the cost of a knight. A sample variation:

34… c3 35. Ke4 c2 36. Kxd5 Rb1 37. Ra7+ Kh6 38. Nd3 Rd1 39. Rc7 Rxd3+ 40. Ke4 Rd2 41. Ke3 Rg2 42. Ne4 Ne6 43. Rc3 Kg7 44. Kd3 h5 45. Rxc2 Rxc2 46. Kxc2 h4 47. gxh4 Nxf4 with a draw.

35. Ra7+ Kg8
36. e6

I have no idea why I didn’t just take the pawn here, when White should be winning.

36… g5

Again I don’t understand why he didn’t push his pawn:

36… c3 37. e7 Nxe7 38. Rxe7 c2 and now the only way to draw is to let Black queen while setting up a perpetual at the other end of the board: 39. Nce4 (If White wants to stop the promotion it will cost him both his knights: 39. Nd3 Rb3 40. Ke4 Rxd3 41. Rc7 Rxd6 42. Rxc2 and Black is winning) 39… c1=Q 40. Nf6+ Kh8 41. Nf7+ Kg7.

Now the cutest way to draw is 42. Nh6+ Kh8 (Black will be mated if he takes either knight: 42… Kxh6 43. Ng8+ Kh5 44. Re5+ g5 45. Rxg5# or 42… Kxf6 43. Ng8+ Kf5 when White can choose between 44. g4# and Re5#) 43. Nf7+ Kg8 44. Nh6+, repeating moves.

The second cutest way to draw is 42. Ng5+ Kh6 (Kh8 is also a draw) 43. Kg4 and this time Black has to give a perpetual check to avoid getting mated.

37. e7 g4+

37… Nxe7 38. Rxe7 gxf4 39. gxf4 and White retains a vital pawn along with his extra piece.

38. Kxg4 h5+

38… c3 might lead to an amusing finish. Taking on f8 is good enough but the nicest way to win is to underpromote to a knight on e8. 39. e8=Q is no good because of Nf6+ 39. e8=N Rxe8 (39… c2 40. Rg7+ Kh8 41. Nf7#) (39… Kh8 40. Nf7+ Kg8 41. Nh6+ Kh8 42. Rg7 leads to mate) 40. Nxe8 and White wins.

It would have been good to win the immortal five knights game in this way. Perhaps I should emulate Alekhine and publish this variation as if it actually happened.

39. Kf3

Good enough, although there was no reason not to take the h-pawn. Now White can win the c-pawn and his extra piece decides. No further comment is required.

39… Nxe7
40. Rxe7 c3
41. Nce4 Nh7
42. Nxc3 Nf6
43. Nce4 Rb3+
44. Kg2 Ng4
45. Re8+ Kg7
46. Kh3 Rb2
47. Kh4 Nf6
48. Nxf6 Kxf6
49. Kxh5 Rb3
50. Kg4 Rd3
51. Ne4+ Kg7
52. f5 Kf7
53. Re6 Rd1
54. Nd6+ Kg8
55. f6 Rf1
56. Re8+ Kh7
57. f7
and Black finally resigned.

So I won my first game after an interesting but flawed struggle. Tune in again next week to find out what happened next.

Richard James


Ilford Interlude: Forty Years On

I was planning to return to my occasional series highlighting some of my better tournament performances in the 1970s, but you might be amused to see my worst performance.

For many years a weekend tournament was held in the East London suburb of Ilford over the Whitsun Bank Holiday weekend, and I played several times in the 70s. This is the other side of London from me and involved a long commute on three trains. Here’s what happened in 1975. Is it really forty years ago?

The first round went well. I managed to draw against a promising teenager named Shaun Taulbut, a future IM who is currently the Chairman and Co-Editor of the British Chess Magazine. In the second round I was paired against Richard O’Brien, a prominent player and organiser who later became well known as an author and publisher. I reached an equal position but played too passively and was driven back in the ending. This was before the days of quickplay finishes and if your game was still in progress when time was called someone (usually Bob Wade at Ilford) came round to adjudicate. In this game I was deservedly awarded a loss.

I was hoping for an easier game in round 3, but no such luck. I was again facing a stronger opponent. I reached an active but slightly loose position with Black and then this happened:

Choose a move for Black. You probably did better than my choice of Rbd6, inexplicably walking into a knight fork.

I finally encountered a low rated player in round 4 and, having the white pieces, was expecting to treble my points tally.

1. c4 e5
2. Nc3 Nf6
3. Nf3 Nc6
4. g3 d5
5. cxd5 Nxd5
6. Bg2 Nxc3
7. bxc3 e4
8. Ng1 f5
9. f3

Timman chose the pawn sacrifice 9… e3 against Larsen (Bled/Portoroz 1979 ½:½, 50) but my opponent preferred a different way of giving up a pawn.

9… Bc5
10. fxe4 O-O
11. d4

And now, not liking my central pawns, he gave up a piece.

11… Nxd4
12. cxd4 Bxd4

This is quite tricky for White. My silicon assistant tells me 13. Bb2 Bxb2 14. Qb3+ Kh8 15. Qxb2 fxe4 is White’s best bet, but he still has to untangle his position and his king will remain stuck in the centre. But 13. Qb3+ Kh8 14. Bb2 doesn’t work: Black has 14… Be6 15. Qxe6 Bxb2 16. Rb1 Bc3+ 17. Kf1 fxe4+, regaining the piece with a winning position.

This was still much better than my move, though. No doubt without much thought, I moved my threatened rook to its only square, b1, overlooking the obvious reply Bf2+ winning my queen and eventually the game.

With just a half point from my first four games and having lost in such a ridiculous fashion, I was very tempted to withdraw from the tournament and went so far as to write a note to the controllers, but I eventually decided to return the next day and play the last two rounds.

Round 5 featured another blunder, but this time I was the beneficiary. In this position my opponent played 19. h4, unguarding the g3 square and again allowing a knight fork. The game continued 19… Ng3 20. Qf3 Nxf1 21. Rxf1 h6, which wasn’t best (21… e4 instead), when White won a pawn after 22. Qh5 Kh7 23. Bxh6, but it was still enough to win the game.

In the sixth and final round I had the white pieces. A series of exchanges led peaceably to a rook ending. In this position I had to decide on a plan. Going after the b-pawn with Kd3 was fine for a draw. Going after the g-pawn with Kf4 was also fine for a draw. Instead I decided to go after the d-pawn and played Kd5, which, after my opponent’s obvious reply, was sadly not fine for a draw. Another absurd oversight, my third in the last four games.

By that time I was a reasonably competent player so how could I possibly have made so many crude mistakes within two days? I still find it hard to explain. Making one mistake is perhaps explicable at my level, but making three mistakes can only be attributed to a complete loss of confidence and an inability to deal with bad experiences. The long train journey home was not a lot of fun.

Meanwhile I had some more tournaments coming up. The following month Kingston Chess Club held a weekend tournament to celebrate their centenary. I scored 2/5 against a fairly strong field: not brilliant but a definite improvement. Two of my opponents in that event are both currently active on the English Chess Forum: Kevin Thurlow and Nick Faulks, who is also secretary of FIDE’s Qualifications Committee.

That summer a big international chess festival took place in London, and that was to be the venue of my next tournament. Would I manage to avoid silly mistakes there? Find out as this series continues.

Richard James


Chess Games for Heroes (2)

Here’s another Chess Games for Heroes offering in which students are shown a game, asked to find the best move in certain situations, and are rewarded with points for making good choices.

Game 2
Howard Staunton – Alfred Brodie
London 1851

This game was played in the first ever international chess tournament, held in London in 1851. Howard Staunton, the winner of this game, was one of the strongest players in the mid 19th century as well as the organiser of the tournament. Alfred Brodie was an amateur drafted in at short notice when some of the expected players failed to arrive on time. Can you play as well as Staunton?

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6

Choose a move for White

3. d4

5 points for this move, Nc3, Bc4 or Bb5. 3 points for c3 or Be2. This is the SCOTCH GAME.

Choose a move for Black

3… exd4

5 points for this move, Black’s only good reply. 2 points for d6, Nf6 or Nxd4.

Choose a move for White

4. Bc4

5 points for this move, Nxd4 or c3. Nxd4 is the main line of the SCOTCH GAME. 4. c3 is the GÖRING GAMBIT. 4. Bc4 is the SCOTCH GAMBIT. White plays for quick development rather than stopping to take the pawn back.

Choose a move for Black.

4… Bb4+

3 points for this move. 5 points for Nf6, Black’s safest reply, which is a variation of the TWO KNIGHTS DEFENCE. 3 points also for Bc5, Be7 or d6.

Choose a move for White

5. c3

5 points for this move, gaining time by attacking the bishop. 2 points for Bd2.

5… dxc3

Choose a move for White

6. 0–0

5 points for this move, bxc3 or Nxc3. White again goes for quick development but taking the pawn on c3 was also good.

6… Qf6

Choose a move for White

7. e5

3 points for this move. 5 points for Nxc3, probably the best move. 3 points also for bxc3, Bg5, Qc2 or Qb3. White sets a trap, hoping Black will capture the pawn.

Bonus question 1: what would you play if Black played Nxe5 here?

5 points for Nxe5.

Bonus question 2: what would you then play if Black played Qxe5?

10 points for Re1.

7… Qe7

Choose a move for White

8. a3

2 points for this move which is a bit slow. 5 points for Nxc3 or bxc3, taking a pawn back.

8… cxb2

Choose a move for White

9. Bxb2

No points: this is the only sensible move. Otherwise Black will capture the rook on a1 and get another queen. Lose 5 points if you played anything else.

9… Bc5

Choose a move for White

10. Nc3

5 points for this move, getting the knight out onto a strong square. 2 points for Qc2 or Qd3.

10… d6

Choose a move for White

11. Nd5

5 points for this strong move, attacking the black queen. 2 points for exd6.

Bonus question 3: What would you play if Black played Qe6 now?

10 points for Nxc7+, a FORK winning the queen.

11… Qd8

Choose a move for White

12. exd6

5 points for this move. This capture opens two lines of attack for White: the e-file and the long diagonal. 3 points for e6 and 2 points for Re1.

12… Bxd6

Choose a move for White

13. Bxg7

5 points for this move, capturing a pawn and trapping the rook in the corner. No points for anything else.

13… Bg4

Choose a move for White

14. Re1+

5 points for this move, moving the rook to the open file, checking the black king and setting a trap. 5 points also for Bxh8: capturing the rook must also be good.

14… Nge7

Choose a move for White

15. Nf6#

10 points for this move. White spots a clever checkmate. 5 points for Bxh8 which will also win easily.

Howard Staunton won this game by developing his pieces quickly and opening lines for an attack on the enemy king. Black played a risky opening, accepting the gambit pawns. He then made two mistakes. He should have played Ba5 rather than Bc5 on move 9, to capture the knight if it went to c3. His 10th move, d6, was also a mistake, allowing Staunton to open the e-file.

Finally he overlooked the checkmate but he was going to lose his rook on h8 anyway. It would still have been easy for Staunton to win the game.

If you didn’t score well on this game think about how you can develop your knights and bishops quickly. Exchanging pawns will help you open lines for your pieces. Castle quickly and then use your rook in the centre of the board.

Richard James