Category Archives: Richard James

Paignton Challengers A 1974 Part 4

Going into round 5 I was on 3/4 and had white against an experienced tournament player who, back in 1962, had won the Barstow Cup, which appears to be the individual championship of the Civil Service Chess League.

He chose a passive variation of the Old Indian Defence which left him short of space and without any realistic pawn breaks.

1. c4 Nf6
2. Nc3 d6
3. d4 Nbd7
4. e4 e5
5. d5 c6
6. f3 h5

Looks rather odd: I suppose he wanted to prevent a later g4. Be7 is the usual move here.

7. Be3 Qc7
8. Qd2 Be7
9. Bd3 Nf8
10. Nge2 Ng6
11. b4 a5
12. b5 c5

Blocking the queen side, but only White has chances on the king side.

13. Ng3 b6
14. Nf5 Bf8
15. O-O-O Bd7
16. h4 O-O-O
17. Rdg1 Ne7
18. g4

The first pawn break.

18… g6
19. Nxe7+ Bxe7
20. g5 Nh7
21. f4

The second pawn break.

21… exf4
22. Bxf4 Bf8
23. Qh2 Bg4
24. e5

The third pawn break.

24… Bf3
25. exd6

Stockfish recommends the exchange sacrifice 25. Qh3+ Bg4 26. Rxg4 hxg4 27. Qxg4+ Kh8 28. Re1.

25… Qd7

Unexpectedly deciding not to take back on d6, when White would still have stood clearly better.

26. Bf1 Bg7
27. Bh3 Bg4
28. Bxg4 hxg4
29. Na4 Kb7
30. Re1 Rde8
31. Qg2

Giving Black a chance. There were several much better alternatives, for instance 31. Bd2, threatening Bxa5. Bd2 also controls e1 so there’s a second threat of Re7, followed, after two captures on e7, by Re1.

31… f5

Black misses the best try: 31… Qf5, threatening the bishop on f4 as well as infiltration with Qd3. Stockfish at first considers the position equal but eventually finds a way for White to thread his way to a win starting with 32. Bd2.

31… Qf5 32. Bd2! Qd3 33. Rxe8 Rxe8 (33… Qa3+ 34. Kc2 Rxe8 35. d7 transposes) 34. d7 and now Black can try:

A) 34… Rd8 35. d6+ Qf3 36. Qxf3+ gxf3 37. Rf1 f5 (37… Rxd7 38. Rxf3 f5 39. Bxa5 Rxd6 40. Re3 bxa5 41. Re7+ Kc8 42. Rxg7 Nf8 43. Rg8 Rd8 44. Nxc5+–) 38. Rxf3 Nf8 39. Re3 Nxd7 40. Re6 +–

B) 34… Qa3+ 35. Kc2 Qxa4+ 36. Kb1 Qa3 37. d6+ Ka7 38. Bc3 (only move) when Black’s defences are all insufficient:

B1) 38… Rg8 39. Bxg7 Qd3+ 40. Qc2 Qe3 41. Bc3 Rd8 42. Re1 Qf4 43. Qd3 g3 44. Be5 Qg4 45. Bxg3 +–

B2) 38… Rb8 39. Bxg7 Qd3+ 40. Qc2 Qe3 41. Bc3 Qf3 42. Re1 Nf8 (42… Rd8 43. Kb2 Rxd7 44. Re7 Qb7 45. Qe2 Nf8 46. Rxd7 Nxd7 47. Qxg4 +-) 43. Re7 Rd8 44. Re8 Rxd7 45. Rxf8 g3 46. Be5 g2 47. Bh2 Qg3 48. Bxg3 g1Q+ 49. Qc1 Qxg3 50. Qd1 Qxd6 51. Qxd6 Rxd6 52. Rxf7+ Kb8 53. Kc2 +-

B3) 38… Qxc3 39. dxe8Q Qa1+ 40. Kc2 Qxa2+ 41. Kd3 Qxg2 42. Qxf7+ Qb7 43. Re1 Qxf7 44. Re7+ Kb8 45. Rxf7 Bd4 and now not

B3a) 46. Rxh7? g3 47. Re7 Kc8 48. Re1 (48. Re2 Bf2 49. h5 g2 50. Rxf2 g1Q) 48… g2 49. h5 g1Q 50. Rxg1 Bxg1 51. hxg6 Bd4 –+ but either

B3b) 46. Ke4! g3 47. Kf3 Nxg5+ 48. hxg5 Kc8 49. Rc7+ Kd8 50. Rb7 +- or

B3c) 46. Re7! Kc8 47. Ke4 g3 48. Kf3 g2 49. Kxg2 Nf6 50. gxf6 Bxf6 51. Rc7+ +-

Would I have found Bd2 in the game? Who knows?

Black’s actual choice, though, made it easy for me.

32. Re6 Qd8
33. Rhe1 Bd4
34. Re7+ Ka8
35. Nxb6+ Qxb6
36. Rxe8+ Rxe8
37. Rxe8+ 1-0

I was now on 4 points out of 5, playing on board 1, and, for the first time in my life, in with a chance of winning a tournament.

My opponent in Round 6 was, I think, the Allan Gardner who is still active today as a player and organiser in Bolton, and is still very much the same strength as me. I started off with the Modern Defence, but my opponent, who may well have read Ray Keene’s Flank Openings, headed for a King’s Indian Attack rather than occupying the centre. I in turn chose to transpose into a Sicilian Defence, opting for the Staunton set-up which had also been recommended by Ray Keene in various contemporary publications.

1. e4 g6
2. Nf3 Bg7
3. g3 c5
4. Bg2 Nc6
5. O-O d6
6. d3 e6

I’ve often played the Botvinnik blockade, e5, in this type of position.

7. Re1

White’s plan is familiar against the main line of the King’s Indian Attack, but not really appropriate here.

7… Nge7
8. Nbd2 O-O
9. Nf1 Rb8
10. h4 b5
11. Rb1 a5
12. Bg5 e5
13. Qd2 Be6
14. Ra1 f6
15. Bh6 d5
16. Bxg7 Kxg7
17. N3h2 dxe4
18. Bxe4 Bd5
19. Bxd5 Nxd5
20. Nf3 Qd7

At this point I chickened out and proposed a draw, which was accepted. I’m probably slightly better here and could well have played on.

Richard James

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Paignton Challengers A 1974 Part 3

So, going into Round 4 I was on 2½/3 with the black pieces against one of the stronger players in my section. My opponent gave me the opportunity to try out a line recommended by Keene and Botterill in their book on the Modern Defence. The game would, like my first round game, eventually reach an ending with rook and 4 pawns against rook and 3 pawns on the same side.

1. e4 g6
2. d4 Bg7
3. Nc3 d6
4. f4 c6

Not so fashionable these days when a6, under the influence of Tiger Hillarp Persson, is often preferred. Keene and Botterill recommended a6 against an early Be3, but a6 in this position was relegated to their final chapter on the Avant Garde.

5. Nf3 Bg4
6. Be3 Qb6
7. Qd2 Bxf3
8. gxf3 Nd7
9. O-O-O Qa5

So far both players are following the book. Keene and Botterill gave three variations here, f5!?, Kb1 (the move almost always played today) and Bc4, my opponent’s choice.

10. Bc4 b5
11. Bb3 Nb6
12. Nb1

Rather craven. Keene and Botterill quoted a 1971 game between Adorjan and Jansa in which f5 was played. Qd3 and Kb1 have also been tried here.

12… Qxd2+
13. Nxd2 d5
14. c3 Nf6
15. Bc2 Nfd7

Not a very impressive choice. 15… Bh6 to pin the f-pawn, possibly followed by a later Nh5 (a sort of left-handed Nimzo-Indian plan) would have been more to the point.

16. b3 e6
17. h4 f5
18. Rdg1 Nf6?

Simply leaving a pawn en prise. I should have played Kf7 instead.

19. exf5 exf5
20. Bxf5 Kf7
21. Bd3 Bh6
22. Nf1 Nh5
23. f5 Bxe3+
24. Nxe3 Nf4
25. Kd2 Nxd3
26. Kxd3 Nd7
27. Rh2 Rhg8
28. Rhg2 Nf6
29. fxg6+ Rxg6
30. Rxg6 hxg6
31. Ng4 Nxg4
32. fxg4

Reaching a rook ending where White has a good extra pawn and every expectation of winning.

32… Rh8
33. Rh1 Re8
34. h5 gxh5
35. gxh5 Kg7
36. h6+ Kh7
37. Rh5 Re6
38. Re5

At this point both players had to calculate the pawn ending after the rook exchange. I guess we both just assumed it was an easy win for White. White is indeed winning quite easily, but he’ll have to negotiate a queen ending to score the full point.

38… Rxe5 39. dxe5 Kxh6 40. Kd4 Kg6 41. Kc5 Kf5 42. Kd6 b4 43. c4 d4 44. e6 d3 45. e7 d2 46. e8=Q d1=Q+ 47. Kxc6 and White should win.

Instead I preferred to keep the rooks on the board, heading for rook and 4 against rook and 3, although, with the black king badly placed, White should still win.

38… Rxh6

Reaching the first time control.

39. Re7+ Kg8
40. Rxa7 Rh3+
41. Kc2 Rh2+
42. Kb1 Kf8
43. a4 bxa4
44. bxa4 Ke8
45. Rc7 Rh6
46. Kb2 Kd8
47. Rg7 c5

Losing another pawn, but there was nothing any better.

48. Rg5 Rh2+
49. Ka3 cxd4
50. Rxd5+ Kc7

At this point time was called at the end of the first session. White had to decide which way to capture on d4. Every Russian schoolboy (or girl) knows that rook, a and c pawns against rook is very often a draw, and the tablebases confirm that is indeed the case here. Taking with the pawn should win, though. The difference becomes clear later on.

51. cxd4 Kc6
52. Rc5+ Kd6
53. Kb3 Rh1
54. a5 Rb1+
55. Kc4 Rc1+

The second time control.

56. Kb5 Rb1+
57. Ka6 Rb4
58. Rb5 Rxd4

White has followed a winning plan, giving up his d-pawn, and now, because Black’s pieces are further away, White can promote his a-pawn.

59. Ka7?

But instead White makes an inexplicable error. He was winning easily with either Kb6 or Kb7, but now the black king can get close enough to draw.

59… Kc6
60. Rb7 Rd8
61. a6 Rh8
62. Rb8 Rh7+

Another sealed move after time was called at the end of the second session (which must have been a short session after dinner). I guess we continued the following morning.

63. Ka8 Rg7
64. Rh8 Kb6
65. Rh6+ Kc7
66. Ka7 Rg8
67. Rf6 Rh8
68. Rf1

At this point the tablebases tell me Black has five moves which draw: Kc6, Rc8, Rh4, Rh3 and Rh2. It’s interesting to see why other moves lose. Fortunately for me I managed to find one of the drawing options.

68… Kc6
69. Rc1+ Kb5
70. Rc7 Rh6

The only move to draw.

1/2-1/2

I’d scored 1½ points from two rook endings in which I could easily have scored only ½. I was starting to agree with Ken Norman that endings were far from boring, and that playing them well reaps its reward.

Richard James

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Paignton Challengers A 1974 Part 2

I left you last time after the first round of the 1974 Paignton Challengers A Tournament.

In round 2 I had the black pieces against a friend and clubmate, Geoff Davies, and was content with a short draw in a position in which I might well have played on. If you read my column two weeks ago you’ll realise that I’m still more than happy to take a short draw with black against friends. Perhaps this is one reason why I never made much progress as a serious competitive player.

So onto round 3, where I had white against a lower graded opponent.

In those days I liked to play against big centres with black, choosing the Modern Defence, and with big centres with white, hence my choice of the Four Pawns Attack against my opponent’s King’s Indian Defence. I’d learned this from the Batsford book on the King’s Indian by Barden, Hartston and Keene.

Here’s what happened.

1. d4 Nf6
2. c4 g6
3. Nc3 Bg7
4. e4 d6
5. f4 O-O
6. Nf3 c5
7. d5

Main line 4PA theory so far. Now Black usually plays 7… e6 (b5 is an interesting alternative) when after 8. Be2 exd5 White has to choose which way to recapture. At the time I favoured taking with the e-pawn, which, to be honest, is not a very good move. Despite a couple of rather horrible losses I generally scored well with it because my opponents weren’t familiar with the position and chose incorrect plans.

7… Nh5

German writers would remark that this move was “nicht stellungsgemäß” (my favourite word at the time) – not appropriate to the position. In lines where Black plays e5 rather than c5 he’s going to move his knight from f6, often to h5, and play the f5 pawn break. But, confused by White’s opening, he plays an inappropriate move and constantly refuses to avail himself of the e6 break. If you don’t play your pawn breaks in cramped positions you’ll end up getting squashed.

8. Bd3 Na6
9. O-O Bd7
10. Be3 Nc7
11. a4 a6
12. a5 Nf6
13. h3 Qc8
14. e5 Nfe8
15. Ne4

So far so good, but Stockfish prefers the immediate Qe1 here.

15… Rb8
16. Qe1 b5

Finally Black plays a pawn break.

17. axb6 Rxb6
18. Bc1

It’s fairly natural to defend the pawn, but Stockfish again prefers Qh4.

18… Bf5
19. g4 Bxg4

I’ve speculated in a previous article that, at this sort of level, more games are lost by unsound sacrifices than are won by sound sacrifices. It’s understandable that Black, not liking his position very much, lashes out in this way. Stockfish considers 19… Bxe4 20. Qxe4 e6 a much better defence.

20. hxg4 Qxg4+
21. Qg3 Qxg3+
22. Nxg3 f5
23. Ne2 Na8
24. Rb1 Nec7
25. Bd2 Rfb8
26. Bc3 R6b7
27. Bc2 Nb6
28. b3 Nbxd5

Black decides to sacrifice another piece for a couple of pawns. By this time I’d have been wishing I knew how to mate with a bishop and knight.

29. cxd5 Nxd5
30. Kf2 Nb4
31. Bxb4 Rxb4
32. Rfe1 Bh6
33. Kg3 Bf8
34. e6

Good enough, although the pawn might become a target here. Better was exd6 followed by Nc3 and Nd5, playing for an attack on the black king.

34… Bg7
35. Rh1 Bf6
36. Kf2 d5
37. Rhg1 R8b6
38. Bxf5 Kh8

Reaching the time control. (In Round 2 and subsequent rounds we were playing 38 moves in 2¼ hours.) Now it’s easy: I can return one of my extra pieces for a mating attack on the g and h files. He might have tried Rxb3 instead.

39. Bxg6 hxg6
40. Rxg6 Kh7
41. f5

Retreating the rook to g4, g3 or g2 was slightly more efficient.

41… Bh4+
42. Nxh4 Rxh4
43. Kg3 Rh6
44. Rxh6+ Kxh6
45. Nc3

The sealed move. He could have resigned here and saved us both the trouble of resuming.

45… c4
46. Nxd5 Rxb3+
47. Rxb3 cxb3
48. f6 exf6
49. e7 b2
50. Nc3 Black resigned

So, 2½/3 and things were looking good. Tune in again for next week’s exciting episode.

Richard James

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Paignton Challengers A 1974 Part 1

I haven’t considered myself a serious player for many years, but back in the early and mid 70s I was a regular on the British tournament circuit.

This new series takes a look at some of my more successful events.

For several years I’d been playing at about 1800 strength but the latter months of 1974 saw a dramatic improvement. I put this down to reading two books. Think Like a Grandmaster, by Kotov, first got me thinking about how to make decisions in chess. I followed his advice about writing your move down before playing it, and found that this practice cut out a lot of the blunders which had previously been common in my games. Looking at my scoresheets from the period, I was crossing out my moves and changing my mind several times every game. Of course you’re no longer allowed to do this so I eventually had to revert to playing my move before writing it down. I’d also read and enjoyed Keene and Botterill’s book on the Modern Defence, which, for the first time, gave me a viable defence to 1. e4 (no 1. e4 e5 for me in those days).

It’s strange how some things never change. At the end of August 1974 I took part in the Berks & Bucks Congress, which, then, as now, comprised several small Swiss sections of about 16 players each. Not so many sections now, as then, of course. Playing in a section in which I should have scored well, I failed to win a game, scoring three draws and two losses in the five round event.

So I wasn’t feeling confident when I travelled down to the Devon seaside resort of Paignton with my friend Ken Norman a few days later. Paignton is another tournament which hasn’t changed its format much in the last half century or so. There’s a popular Premier section, usually won these days by local resident GM Keith Arkell, and various grading restricted sections below (though again not as many as in the Fischer boom days). So while Ken competed in the Premier, I settled down in the Premier Reserves A.

In those days I didn’t appreciate endings so probably had mixed feelings on reaching a rook ending a pawn up after winning my opponent’s isolated d-pawn.

Of course positions like this are meat and drink to the aforementioned Keith Arkell, but not so easy for me. Let’s see what happened. This was the position after Black’s 32nd move, just before the first time control (for the first round only we were playing 34 moves in two hours followed by 17 moves per hour). I guess I felt at the time that White should be winning because of Black’s doubled pawns, but wasn’t quite sure how to make progress.

33. Rb7 Kh7
34. Rf7 Kg8
35. Rf5 Ra2
36. Kg3 Ra3
37. Rf3 Ra4
38. Rf5 Ra3
39. Rb5 Kf7
40. Rb6 Rc3
41. h4

In principle I want to keep as many pawns as possible on the board and don’t want to undouble his pawns, but I couldn’t find any other way of getting my king up the board. The computer seems to agree with me.

41… gxh4+
42. Kxh4 Ra3
43. Kg3 Rc3
44. Rd6 Ke7
45. Rg6 Kf7
46. Ra6 Rb3
47. Rc6 Ra3
48. Rc4 Rb3
49. Re4 Kf6
50. f4 Rb5
51. f5 Rb7
52. Re6+ Kf7
53. e4 Rb3+
54. Kf4 Rb1
55. Rc6 Rf1+
56. Ke3 Rg1

I’ve made some headway over the last 15 moves, but what do to next? I seemed to think that I could only make progress by giving up my g-pawn, while my opponent apparently believed me and, for several moves neglected to win my g-pawn. Here I should have played Rg6 when I can eventually advance my e-pawn while retaining my g-pawn. A sample variation: 57. Rg6 Re1+ 58.
Kf3 Rf1+ 59. Ke2 Rb1 60. Kf2 Rb3 61. Ra6 Rc3 62. e5 Rc2+ 63. Ke3 Rc3+ 64. Kd4
Rg3 65. e6+ Kf6 66. Ra7.

57. Kf3 Rf1+
58. Ke2 Rg1

Missing his chance for Rf4

59. Kf3 Rf1+
60. Kg2 Rf4

Taking his second chance. Now the game should be drawn.

61. Rc7+ Kg8
62. e5 Rxg4+
63. Kf3 Rg1
64. Ke4 Ra1
65. Rc8+

This was the sealed move so we must both have been playing very quickly. I suspect (but don’t now remember) that we adjourned for a couple of hours and resumed later in the evening. During the interval I complained to Ken about having reached ‘another boring ending’. Ken, then as now an endgame aficionado, told me that unless I agreed with him that endings were interesting he wouldn’t give me a lift back home to London. So I had to play the game out.

65… Kf7
66. Rc7+ Kf8
67. Kd5 Rd1+

Just after the adjournment Black makes a fatal error. Most moves draw here: even Ke8, because White can’t avoid the checks without losing a pawn. (67… Ke8 68. Rxg7 Ra5+ 69. Kd6 Ra6+ 70. Kd5 Ra5+ 71. Ke4 Ra4+ 72. Kf3 Ra5 73. Kf4 Ra4+) But this moves lets me get my king to e6 safely, after which the win is simple.

68. Ke6 Rd8
69. f6 Re8+
70. Kf5 gxf6
71. Kxf6 Kg8
72. e6 h5
73. Rg7+ Kh8
74. e7 h4
75. Rf7 Kg8
76. Rg7+ Kh8
77. Rg4 Kh7
78. Kf7 1-0

So a lucky win for me after some not very impressive endgame play by both sides.

Find out how the tournament continued for me next time.

Richard James

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Adventures with 1… e5 (5)

Regular readers of my posts might be wondering what had happened to my attempts at playing 1… e5 in reply to 1.e4 this season.

Since my last article in the series I’ve faced 1. f4 followed by four consecutive 1. d4s. My last two games, though, saw me facing 1. e4 again, both times against slightly lower graded opponents.

For many years now it’s been against my principles to play serious chess unless there’s an ‘r’ in the month. The league chess season used to finish at the end of April, but it now drags on until the end of May, with cup matches continuing well into June. I really prefer to have more than a couple of months break between seasons.

The first game was in our last league match of the season, against Kingston, who were finding it difficult to field full teams since the sad loss of their captain, Chris Clegg, a few months ago.

I was sitting opposite their new captain, but three of the Kingston players had failed to appear, so I guessed my opponent was not really in the mood for a serious game, while a solid draw would do our prospects no harm.

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bb5 Nge7

The Cozio Variation. I’d been looking at 3… g6 and 3… Nge7 but it was so long since I’d last faced a Lopez that I’d forgotten which one I was going to play as well as all the analysis. My opponent told me he’d have played the Exchange Variation against 3… a6.

4. d4

Perfectly playable, of course, but not White’s most dangerous option.

4… exd4
5. Nxd4 g6
6. O-O Bg7
7. Be3 O-O
8. c3

8. Nc3 is more to the point but Black still has several playable replies.

8… d5

Leading to complete equality. Now a series of exchanges simplifies the position.

9. exd5 Nxd4
10. Bxd4 Qxd5
11. Bxg7 Kxg7
12. Qxd5 Nxd5
13. Na3 Bf5
14. Rfd1 c6
15. Bd3 Bxd3
16. Rxd3

Offering a draw, which was immediately accepted. I’d intended to offer a draw on my next move anyway.

Not a very exciting adventure, I’m afraid, but I can’t really complain about achieving equality with the black pieces so quickly.

The league programme may have finished but we were still in the cup, with a quarter-final match against Division 2 side Hayes, who currently meet in Uxbridge, by the standards of the Thames Valley League a long journey and one which most of our players were unable or reluctant to make, so I had little choice but to play. Again, I had the black pieces and found myself facing 1. e4. My only previous game against my opponent, back in 2001, had started 1. f4 but since then he’s changed his opening repertoire.

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. d4 exd4
4. c3

Not unexpected from what I knew about my opponent.

4… d5

He told me after the game that he has a good record against weaker players who take the pawn, but stronger players prefer this move.

5. exd5 Qxd5
6. cxd4 Bb4+
7. Nc3 Bg4
8. Be2 Bxf3
9. Bxf3 Qc4

9… Qxd4 10. Bxc6+ has netted a few victims. Qc4 is attributed to Capablanca, and indeed the earliest game with it on my database is Marshall-Capablanca Lake Hopatcong 1929. Transposition from the Danish Gambit is also common. Both my opponent and I were familiar with this line. If you play e5 in reply to e4 you really ought to know it.

10. Bxc6+ bxc6
11. Qe2+ Qxe2+
12. Kxe2 O-O-O
13. Be3 Ne7

Still travelling a familiar route.

14. a3

Rad1 is more often played here, but Black scores well. a3 might be slightly more accurate.

14… Bd6

The only game in my database with this move was agreed a draw at this point. The other games all saw Black preferring Ba5.

15. Ne4 Nf5
16. Rac1 Rhe8
17. Nxd6+ Rxd6
18. Kd3 Red8

Played without much thought. Nxd4 was an alternative, giving White fewer options, which didn’t occur to me until the following move.

19. Rc4 c5

Here I spent some time considering the respective merits of Nxd4 and c5. They both seem to lead to equality.

20. Rxc5 Nxd4
21. Bxd4

There was no real need for this exchange. Instead Kc3 was about equal.

21… Rxd4+
22. Ke3 Rd3+
23. Ke4 Rd2

Again played too quickly. I should have preferred 23… R8d4+ 24. Ke5 Rd2 when Black will win a pawn as the white king is exposed a potential f6+. Maybe not so obvious at my level, though.

24. Rhc1 R8d7
25. R1c2 Re7+

Slightly inaccurate again. The safe way to draw was 25… R7d4+ 26. Ke5 Rd5+ when White has nothing better than repetition.

26. Kf3 Rd3+

My draw offer was accepted immediately. White could have tried to avoid the checks by 27. Kf4 Rd4+ 28. Kg3 Rd3+ 29. f3 but there’s really not much there.

Again not very exciting, I’m afraid, but both games demonstrate that a well-timed d5 can give Black easy equality in many open games.

Richard James

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Children of the Revolution

Here’s a question for you. What’s slow, green and free range? Sounds like a children’s riddle, doesn’t it? A dinosaur egg, perhaps?

Before I tell you the answer, though, I have another children’s riddle for you. Why is it that, when children’s lives should be better than ever before, children in the Western world increasingly see themselves as unhappy and increasingly suffer from a range of physical and mental health problems? (I could give references and may well do so at another time and in another place.)

There is a growing movement towards a different approach to education: an approach promoting ‘slow’ child development, starting formal education later rather than earlier, a ‘green’ childhood, restoring children’s connection with nature and the outdoors, and a ‘free range’ childhood, teaching children self-reliance by giving them more freedom and independence in their spare time.

Child psychologist David Elkind’s book The Hurried Child was first published in 1982. From the blurb to the 25th anniversary edition: “…by blurring the boundaries of what is age-appropriate, by expecting – or imposing – too much too soon, we force our kids to grow up too fast, to mimic adult sophistication while they secretly yearn for time to act their age.”

It may well be that your life is so busy that you’re not aware of the ‘slow movement’. The concept of slowing down in all aspects of our lives was popularised by Scottish born Canadian journalist Carl Honoré in his 2004 book In Praise of Slowness. In his 2008 book Under Pressure, Honoré considers a slow approach to parenting and education. He asks (quoting again from the blurb) “whether we are going wrong in some fundamental way”.

You will probably know that, here in the UK, children start formal schooling at the age of five. In many other countries, children don’t start formal education until six or even seven. The 2011 book Too Much Too Soon?, subtitled Early Learning and the Erosion of Childhood, edited by Richard House, comprises a series of essays by experts on early years education questioning the idea that the earlier children start learning to read, for example, the better they do. Of course some children are ready to learn to read very young (I was one: I could already read fluently before I started school not long after my fifth birthday) but many are not.

Richard Louv’s seminal book Last Child in the Woods was first published ten years ago. According to the blurb in my edition, Louv “directly links the absence of nature in the lives of today’s wired generation to some of the most disturbing childhood trends: the rise in obesity, attention disorders, and depression”. There are many who share his concern about children’s increasing disconnection with nature. David Bond’s 2013 film Project Wild Thing, for instance, tackles the same subject.

Parents are, quite understandably, concerned for their children’s safety so they either keep them at home staring at a screen or sign them up for a continual frenzy of ‘improving’ activities. Those of us who grew up in the 1950s and 60s experienced a very different childhood. New York journalist Lenore Skenazy was accused of child abuse after writing a column about how she let her 9-year-old son ride home alone on the subway. As a result of this she founded the “free range kids” movement, encouraging parents to give their children more independence and self-reliance.

Of course this is only one side of the argument and there are many experts who take the opposite view but, speaking personally, I find their views of considerable interest. None of them are advocating a return to the sort of childhood I experienced 50-60 years ago: they are all looking at how latest research can inform parents and teachers how to help their children live in the 21st century. You may well disagree completely and think our current parenting and teaching methods are fine as they are. You may well think their views are impractical and idealistic, but maybe the world needs, and has always needed, impractical idealists.

The answer to my riddle then, is that perhaps we’ll see a revolution in the whole concept of what childhood should mean in the 21st century. Perhaps we shouldn’t be encouraging our children to do too much too soon. (And you might understand why I wasn’t impressed when a fellow chess teacher asked about Under 6 tournaments in his area, and why he wasn’t impressed with my reply.) Perhaps we should do more to ensure that children spend time outdoors and find ways to connect with nature. Perhaps we should give children more freedom and independence. Perhaps the childhood of the future will be slow, green and free range. Perhaps it will be more holistic, with schools seeing children as individuals, identifying their particular talents and interests and finding activities which they might like. It’s not just about being ‘progressive’, though. For many children there’s a lot to be said for old-fashioned concepts such as academic rigour and discipline as long as it’s placed within the context of the children’s lives.

Perhaps you’re unfamiliar with these ideas, in which case your homework for this week is to read some of the authors I’ve mentioned here. You might expect educationalists who hold these views to be sceptical about encouraging mass participation in chess by very young children. They might also be sceptical about the whole business of promoting chess (or anything else) as something that ‘makes kids smarter’. You might also want to ask yourself what part chess will play in the lives of the Children of the Revolution. Perhaps more children will start chess later rather than earlier (yes, a few children will be ready to start early just as I was ready to start reading early). We might see children taking up fewer extra-curricular activities but taking them more seriously. We might see parents and teachers encouraging children to play chess because they want to become good at it rather than because it might make them smarter. In the short term we might see fewer children playing, but more children will continue to play into their teens and on into adulthood. I just wonder how much of this will happen in my lifetime.

Richard James

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A Modest Proposal

I’ve written many times about the problems facing junior chess here in the UK. Two weeks ago I considered GM Simon Williams’s critique of what’s happening at top levels of junior chess. Last week I looked at some contradictions in the public perception of chess.

Today I want to highlight the one thing that is really not working and see how we might go about putting it right.

A lot of what we do is great.

Promoting chess in secondary schools is great, and the ECF is quite rightly putting a lot of effort in this direction. At present, though, it’s not easy to get that much interest outside single-sex selective schools.

Junior Chess Clubs are great, especially for parents who want to fast-track their children, for children who are doing well at school and want to take things more seriously, and for children who want to learn the basics in a non-competitive environment.

We run some great tournaments, at least they would be great if more of the participants were developing their skills in tandem with gaining experience in competitions.

There are a number of very devoted parents out there, doing a wonderful job in encouraging their children to play chess, and, in many cases, doing a lot of voluntary administration as well. Only a small number, though. We need to make it much larger.

Putting chess on the curriculum is great: more children will learn chess, they’ll learn the basics correctly rather than being taught at home by parents who are unaware of their own ignorance. It might also make them smarter. We can then feed them through to competitions and junior chess clubs when they’re ready.

There’s a lot of great work going on in junior chess in this country, and yet the whole set-up is ineffective. If you look at what actually happens in primary school chess clubs in my part of London you’ll see why.

There are some school clubs which are reasonably successful, where there’s a member of staff who is committed to chess, who is present in the classroom to ensure children are quiet and well-behaved, and who encourages children to take part in both team and individual competitions and to join junior chess clubs, but these schools are very much in a minority.

A few weeks ago I spoke to a friend and colleague, an IM who has, for some years, been running an after-school club at a primary school very local to Richmond Junior Club. I asked if he had any players who might be good enough to represent Richmond in national competitions. No, he told me. It’s just a low-level fun club, although there was one boy who might be good enough next year.

A year or so ago I emailed another friend and colleague, another IM, about the players at another local primary school where he’s been running the chess club certainly since the last century. I asked if any of his players were going to take part in our forthcoming individual tournament. He replied that his members were only interested in taking part in team tournaments where they represented the school, not in individual competitions.

Now my two friends are both outstanding players, brilliant chess coaches and great guys. The two schools are among the highest rated state primary schools in the country. So we have two fantastic teachers working in fantastic schools, who, at least in these two schools (I’m well aware that they both get better results elsewhere) produce very few if any children who reach a reasonable level of chess proficiency or take a long-term interest in the game. IMs and GMs, along with many others, including myself, are trying to make a living providing low-level entertainment for children who are not serious about chess and whose parents don’t want them to be serious about chess. It would be a much more productive use of their time if they were teaching smaller numbers of children who were ambitious to succeed, but, the way things are at the moment, they can earn more money doing what they’re doing, and who can blame them?

We first need to make sure that more children learn chess. I can’t see chess on the curriculum in the UK being made compulsory in the near future, and, personally, I wouldn’t be in favour. So let’s put together an attractive package for a potential sponsor. We’ll put a couple of chess sets in every junior classroom (Year 3/2nd Grade upwards) in the country. (Yes, a project of this nature was started by the ECF a few years ago but turned out to be a complete fiasco.) Just putting chess sets into schools without accompanying instruction won’t work, though. We’ll also produce some attractive, colourful, child-friendly posters to go round the room showing the rules of chess. We’ll encourage children in Year 3 to play mini-games so we’ll also produce some mini-game posters. We’ll encourage teachers to get those children who wish to do so to play chess before school and at break times. We’ll provide an information pack for class teachers. We’ll produce a booklet giving the rules of chess, some mini-games, some basic advice on tactics and strategy, and links to recommended resources, email this to schools and ask them to forward it to all parents.

Let’s then set up a network of chess academies providing individual and group tuition, competitions, and time and space for children who enjoy chess to socialise with each other. In more affluent areas parents should be happy to pay for this. These academies will also provide tutors for schools who are ambitious to excel at chess.

We also need to flood the media with positive stories about competitive chess, particularly as played by older children and young adults, both male and female. At present chess has a good reputation among the general public for ‘making you smarter’ but a poor reputation as a hobby, which is one reason why many parents want their children to ‘do’ chess but not to be good at chess. Last week’s post considered the image of chess players. They are seen as geeks who either dress too formally or too informally, have poor social skills, will probably go mad (like that Fischer chap), are almost all male (wasn’t there a player who said women were useless at chess the other day?), are either very young or very old, and are so unhealthy that they will probably drop dead at the board. Getting away from these stereotypes and promoting a positive image of chess should be a top priority.

While I continue to support primary school chess clubs because it’s better for schools to have a club than not to have a club, the current model of the primary school chess club led by a professional chess teacher is, in my opinion, demonstrably not fit for purpose. By continuing to support it we are letting down both the children and the wider chess community. Surely we can come up with a way of using our talented chess coaches to teach children who want to learn and improve rather than just running low-level children’s entertainment.

Richard James

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Schrödinger’s Game

You will no doubt be aware of Schrödinger’s cat, which is simultaneously both alive and dead.

It occurs to me that public perception of chess is full of similar paradoxes.

Times journalist Tom Whipple, writing about Nigel Short’s views on women’s chess, chose to tell us the reason why he game up competitive chess in his teens:

“No, the reason I quit aged 15, at a time when my friends (or rather, given I played competitive chess, tormentors) were starting to go to the pub, was something else. It was because I looked round one day and realised I was myself in a minority: I was the only person in the immediate vicinity not wearing a bow tie.”

He then, by way of further explanation, that he quit because chess was ‘too geeky’. A quick search of the ECF grading database reveals that his grade at the time he quit was a not terribly impressive 74. So I’d suggest that he quit because he just wasn’t very good at the game. Or perhaps he’d never been taught to play well.

Perhaps Mr Whipple played chess in a different universe to me. There was one junior a few years ago, now an IM, who used to wear a bow tie regularly. Another junior, now a GM, was wearing a bow tie the first time I met him, but that was because he’d just been to a party. I wouldn’t say that bow ties were de rigeur in the Thames Valley League, though.

But there’s a different stereotype, isn’t there? Chess players are often portrayed in the media as scruffily dressed, wearing anoraks, unwashed T-shirts and torn jeans, with their sandwiches in a carrier bag.

So there you have Schrödinger’s chess player, who simultaneously is geekily well-dressed and sporting a bow tie, and is badly dressed with an anorak over his T-shirt.

You might have thought a highly regarded journal of record (well, not everyone has a high regard for their chess correspondent) would encourage its writers to avoid lazy stereotypes.

I think the paradox stems from the perception that chess is for geeks, and that there are two public, and rather contradictory, views of geeks: the bow tie wearing eccentric mathematician and the scruffy trainspotter. But serious competitive players are, in one sense, anything but geeks. You need a lot of mental toughness to succeed in chess at a high level. We should be celebrating our best players, male or female, juniors, seniors or inbetweeners, for that quality as well as for their talent, hard work, commitment and dedication to chess.

I don’t think is the only paradox in the public perception of our game.

On the one hand chess is seen as something which requires genius level intelligence, an astronomically high IQ, to master. On the other hand it’s portrayed as a game so easy that it’s suitable for mass participation by very young children. Schrödinger’s game, very easy and very hard at the same time. This always reminds me of what the great Artur Schnabel said about Mozart’s piano sonatas: too easy for children and too difficult for artists. So parents are often totally confused about what chess really is. The answer to this question is, as CEM Joad would have said, it depends what you mean by chess.

If you mean learning how the pieces move, then, yes, it’s easy for most young children. If you mean playing ‘real’ chess, considering alternatives, thinking ahead, that’s something very different. You don’t need a very high IQ to do this but you do require a certain amount of cognitive and emotional maturity which most young children don’t have. Parents who have some knowledge of ‘real’ chess understand this, which is why, for instance, Magnus Carlsen’s father dropped the game for a few years when his 5-year-old son found it hard to get beyond the moves of the pieces. Parents who don’t understand ‘real’ chess, which, here in the UK must be about 80-90%, have no understanding that their children aren’t really playing chess because they don’t know how to play real chess themselves. You can tell when you ask kids joining a school club to name the rook and they tell you, as they nearly always do, it’s called a castle. You know they’ve been taught the moves by someone who has never read a chess book, and who was taught the moves himself by someone who had never read a chess book.

And this perhaps explains another paradox.

The other day I received my six-monthly royalty statement from my publishers. It’s gratifying that Chess for Kids is still selling well, and providing me with a significant amount of money every year: the only book I’ve written which has done this. However, The Right Way to Teach Chess to Kids isn’t selling at all. Unless something remarkable happens it’s never going to get anywhere near paying off its advance.

In a sensible world it would be the other way round. If you really do see chess as a very hard game you’re going to need a guide on how to teach it. If you’re not a proficient player yourself you need to learn enough to help your kids. Even if you are a proficient player you’ll appreciate that some guidance on how to go about teaching something so difficult wouldn’t come amiss. All parents wanting to teach their kids chess should read a book on the subject first. And there’s really no other book on the market which will help you in this way.

There are, on the other hand, plenty of attractive books on the market teaching the rudiments of the game to kids. Once you’ve read my book on how to teach chess you’ll then, when you think your kids are ready, want to buy them a book. You might choose mine, but you might prefer one of the rival volumes which teach very much the same material in different ways. It’s up to you: it doesn’t really matter too much which one you prefer. In a world where chess was recognised for what it really is, my book for parents would sell many times more copies than my book for kids, rather than the other way round.

The right, non-confusing message we’re putting out about chess should be that, although it’s fairly easy to learn the moves, it’s really a game for older children and adults at which some exceptional younger children with exceptionally supportive parents can excel, a game which requires mental toughness as well as intelligence.

Richard James

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Simon Says

Nigel Short is not the only grandmaster to have made controversial statements in chess magazines recently.

An interview with Simon Williams in the May 2015 issue of CHESS will no doubt attract less interest, but, in my opinion, what he has to say is much more important, at least for those concerned with junior chess, than Short’s attention-seeking soundbites.

You might know Simon for his creative and imaginative attacking play, for his devotion to the Dutch Defence, or for his excellent books and GingerGM DVDs, so you might express some surprise that he has strong views on junior chess.

Simon was the subject of the magazine’s 60 seconds with… feature. Here’s what he had to say about the ECF’s selection policy for major junior events (I presume he means the World and European Youth Championships).

“At junior level, I have been amazed in the past by the level of some players who have represented England. My impression has been that only wealthy families, who are willing to pay a large amount of money, can send their kids to tournaments and not always for the right reasons. Not for long-term improvement, but as another thing that they can put on their CV.

“Meanwhile chess tuition and improvement for juniors seems to be stuck on an artificial level in England. No long-term plans are in place. How can a coach teach a child everything in the space of a week at a world junior event?

“Parents are really in a tough position and I admire any who supports their child with coaching and travelling, but it would really help if there was more support available from the national federation. At this rate England will struggle to generate any future grandmasters.”

Trenchant stuff from Simon. His views should be taken seriously by everyone concerned with junior chess in England. It’s many years since I’ve had any direct involvement with elite players so it’s good to hear what I believe to be an honest opinion about how things are at the moment.

Let’s take his points one by one.

If you read my articles regularly you’ll know that, a generation ago, we were one of the world’s leading powers in junior chess. You’ll also be aware that we’re now very poor in terms of strength in depth (people I meet who haven’t followed chess news recently are surprised and dismayed by this), and you’ll be aware of my views on the reasons for our decline.

A few years ago our policy was only to invite one player from each age group to represent the BCF/ECF in the World and European Youth Championships. Complaints were received that talented players who wanted to take part, and whose parents could afford to pay, were not able to do so. So the rules were changed and (relatively low) rating targets were set. The ECF is, according to its website, unable to take financial responsibility but does offer a bursary fund which can provide some financial support in cases of genuine need.

In recent years we’ve been sending more players to these events but, although a few players have finished in or near the top 10, our overall scores tend to be on average just above the 50% mark. Should we be satisfied with this? Simon, I guess, thinks not.

The next point he makes is that some of the participants are taking part because being able to say they’ve played for England looks good on their CV rather than because they have any genuine interest in long-term chess development. This is something that concerns me as it happens here in my area on a local scale. In our area there’s an excellent selective fee-paying secondary boys’ school which is very big on chess. Their teams perform well in competitions both locally and nationally. They offer all-rounder scholarships with reduced fees for boys who demonstrate excellence in more than one area, including sports, arts and chess. So every year several parents ask me to provide references for their sons. Perhaps they’ll send them along to Richmond Junior Club for a few weeks or book a couple of private lessons in the hope that their chess will improve as a result. And if they get in they will suddenly find they have too much homework and stop playing chess. Most parents, it seems to me, sign their children up for chess not because they want to give their children a lifelong interest but because they think they’ll gain extrinsic benefits from chess, and, once they’ve received those benefits they’ll give up the game.

Simon goes on to make the point that, while it’s all well and good providing a coach for the duration of the tournament, children really need to be working with a coach on a regular basis throughout the year. Well no doubt most of them are, but perhaps not all of them. In an ideal world the child’s regular coach would be in contact with the tournament coach in advance. To what extent this happens I really don’t know.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Simon’s impression is that the events are expensive to take part in and, while there is, at least in theory, some financial support available in cases of genuine need, it’s mostly the wealthy parents whose children take part in these events. I guess the only answer to this is sponsorship, and no doubt the ECF are actively pursuing this as I write.

Just as a digression, though, I wonder to what extent these tournaments offer value for money. They often take place at distant venues, the conditions are often less than optimal, many of the participants are either underrated or unrated so it may well not do your rating any favours, there is a feeling that these events exist mainly to make money for both the organisers and FIDE. Yes, it’s great to represent your country, to work together as a team with your friends, to make new friends from other countries and cultures. But there are those who think that sending a team to an open Swiss event on the continent would offer better value for money. Of course if your only reason for entering your children is because playing for England in the World or European Championship looks good on their CV this may not be an option.

Coincidentally, or perhaps not, the magazine’s Executive Editor, IM Malcolm Pein, also brought up the subject of costs in this month’s editorial. In comparison with other activities, chess is relatively cheap, but for many families in the more deprived inner-city areas where Chess in Schools & Communities operates, even taking part in local events can be a problem.

“It is worth mentioning that the CSC program in Newham and in other boroughs around the UK, including Cardiff, Liverpool and Teesside, is starting to produce some useful junior players… Unfortunately there is little awareness in some quarters of the practical difficulties faced by children from inner-city areas in travelling to tournaments or even affording entry fees.

“CSC is working to ensure as many children as possible have a chance, but my experience with organisations like EPSCA (the English Primary Schools Chess Association) and the UK Chess Challenge has not been uniformly positive, even though I am Honorary President of the former.”

Well, I’m not sure how constructive it is to criticise organisations without mentioning specifics, but I’m still sympathetic. Anyone who knows me well will be aware that, although many of my pupils have gained a lot of enjoyment and benefit from playing in the excellent events run by EPSCA and UKCC I also have reservations about them. But that, perhaps, will be for another article. Meanwhile, the comments made by both Simon and Malcolm need careful consideration by those involved in junior chess in England.

Richard James

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Baking Flans for Nigel

Well, there’s been a lot of chess in the mainstream press recently, hasn’t there? As usual, it hasn’t presented the chess world in a good light, but they say there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

First we had Wesley So and his motivational notes to himself. A rather heavy-handed decision by the arbiter, I thought. He should have been given a time penalty before a forfeit. But why on earth he thought he was allowed to write such notes I can’t imagine.

Then there was Gaioz Nigalidze (whose surname is an anagram of Aidz Nigel) and his rather unsuccessful use of the Toilet Gambit. If he really was consulting his mobile which was crudely hidden in the toilet cubicle he deserves, at the very least, a lengthy ban from competitive chess.

More recently, the media worldwide have been making plans for Nigel. Short, that is. You can’t have failed to notice that, several weeks after the article was published in New In Chess, Nigel’s views on women’s chess were picked up by an English newspaper and subsequently went viral.

Short’s concluding paragraph:

“Men and women’s brains are hard-wired very differently, so why should they function in the same way? I don’t have the slightest problem in acknowledging that my wife possesses a much higher degree of emotional intelligence than I do. Likewise, she doesn’t feel embarrassed in asking me to manoeuvre the car out of our narrow garage. One is not better than the other, we just have different skills. It would be wonderful to see more girls playing chess, and at a higher level, but rather than fretting about inequality, perhaps we should just gracefully accept it as a fact.”

To be honest, although some might question ‘hard-wired’ it didn’t concern me too much. I was rather more concerned about Short’s gratuitous reference earlier in the article to Fischer and Susan Polgar (of whom he is no fan) as both being of Hungarian Jewish descent. But his views were taken out of context by the world’s media who interviewed various female players about the prevalence of sexism in chess. As he has a track record of making rather unpleasant sexist remarks in New in Chess and elsewhere I don’t really have too much sympathy for him in this case. I guess we could all agree with him, though, when he says that it would be wonderful to see more girls playing chess.

Here’s my take on the subject.

Anyone who has, as I have, spent any time in schools will be well aware that there are significant differences between typical boys and girls but how much is due to nature and how much to nurture is the subject of continuing debate. I have my views and, if you’re prepared to buy me a pint I might in turn be prepared to reveal them to you.

But what we are is not just a question of how our brain is wired. There are the genes we inherited from our parents. There are also a lot of chemicals floating around our bodies, most notably for our purpose, testosterone.

Now your view of the typical male might be one of macho testosterone-fuelled aggression and competitiveness, and, in one sense, this ties in very much with chess. At about the age they take up chess boys tend also to be obsessed with fighting and weapons, and the idea of chess as a battle is very appealing. Because chess is by its nature competitive it will appeal more to boys than to girls.

In his (controversial, and, in some circles, unpopular) book The Essential Difference, Simon Baron-Cohen puts forward his theory. “The female brain is predominantly hard-wired for empathy. The male brain is predominantly hard-wired for understanding and building systems.” He goes on to describe what he means by a system. “I mean by a system anything which is governed by rules specifying input-operation-output relationships. This definition takes in systems beyond machines, such as maths, physics, chemistry, astronomy, logic, music, military strategy, the climate, sailing, horticulture and computer programming. It also includes systems like libraries, economics, companies, taxonomies, board games or sports.” Baron-Cohen’s academic critics, most notably Cordelia Fine, dispute that this difference is hard-wired, instead believing it’s created by other factors such as social conditioning.

Well, I’m not sure about all Baron-Cohen’s example systems. Many women are interested in music and horticulture, for example. But chess is very much a system according to his definition which again might explain why it appeals more to males than females.

My view is that there is no evidence to suggest that males have inherently more (or less) chess ability than females, but that males are more likely to be attracted to chess, and more likely to want to excel at chess, than females. How much that is due to nature or nurture, well, you pay your money and you take your choice.

The other reason for the shortage of chess-playing girls is, in my opinion, socio-cultural. Chess is perceived by the public very much as a male activity rather than a female activity. In my part of the world, schools will typically offer two after-school clubs most evenings, often one which they perceive as being mainly for girls (perhaps dance or drama) and one which they perceive as being mostly for boys (perhaps football or chess). So most of these clubs attract mostly boys, and the few girls who come often get discouraged and soon give up.

Schools round here don’t seem particularly concerned about the shortage of girls in their chess clubs. Perhaps, as girls these days tend to outperform boys academically, they’re happy to promote chess as an academic-type activity at which boys may outperform girls. Perhaps they see chess as a constructive outlet for boys’ natural competitive and aggressive instincts. While I quite understand this it poses a big problem for the chess community.

So what can be done to get more girls into chess, to encourage them to try to excel at chess, and to maintain their interest as they get older?

Encouraging schools to put chess on the curriculum as a non-competitive problem-solving activity, as Chess in Schools & Communities are doing, is a step in the right direction. CSC’s evidence is that girls perform at least as well as boys in such an environment. Children with a talent for chess can then be identified and encouraged to take part in competitions, perhaps with separate events or sections for girls. Schools might also look at running different types of chess club, with the aim of learning and developing skills rather than taking part in low-level competitions.

The chess community could help by promoting positive stories about girls and women participating successfully in chess events (and, no, this doesn’t mean publishing lots of photographs of attractive young women who just happen to play chess) and getting the message across to both schools and parents that girls as well as boys should be encouraged to take up chess.

Finally, we need to ensure that sexual harassment in the chess world is just as unacceptable as consulting your mobile in the toilet. Let’s do everything we can to encourage more girls and women to play chess rather than staying at home baking flans for Nigel.

Richard James

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