Category Archives: Richard James

1977 Major Open Part 1

Returning to the consideration of some of my less bad tournaments, we turn to the Major Open in August 1977. The Major Open was then, as it is now, the tournament below the British Championship itself.

My one previous appearance at the British, in 1973 at Eastbourne, where I played in the First Class Tournament, the section below the Major Open, had been a disaster as I collapsed completely due to fatigue in the last few rounds. This time I knew I was a stronger player and hoped I was also mentally strong enough to cope with 11 rounds over 12 days.

In the first round I had white against an ungraded opponent from a prominent local family of chess players and chose the exchange variation of the Ruy Lopez. His response was not the best (6… h5 is to be preferred) and left me with a slight advantage. His decision to give up bishop and knight for rook and pawn on move 18 didn’t turn out well and I was eventually able to score the full point in a long game. A more efficient 53rd move (Bg7 rather than Be5+) would have shortened the process.

In the second round I was paired against a German player, who might or might not have been the Josef Böcker who was rated 2200+ in the late 1980s, and was faced with one of my favourite systems, the Botvinnik Blockade.

1. c4 g6 2. Nc3 Bg7 3. e4 c5 4. g3 Nc6 5. Bg2 d6 6. Nge2 e6 7. a3 Nge7 8. Rb1
a5 9. Nb5 d5

I should imagine this was a complete oversight, missing the knight fork after the exchanges on d5.

10. cxd5 exd5 11. exd5 Bf5

Already desperation although moving the knight would have kept me in the game. Now there was no reason for White not to take the knight: 12. dxc6 Bxb1 13. cxb7 Rb8 14. d4 is just winning because the bishop is coming to f4.

12. d3 Ne5 13. Be4

Better was d6 with advantage to White. Now it seemed natural to displace the white king, but the engines tell me I should have preferred Qd7, hoping to regain the pawn.

13… Bxe4 14. dxe4 Nf3+ 15. Kf1 Qd7 16. Kg2 Qxb5 17. Kxf3 O-O 18. Bg5 f6 19. Bf4 g5 20. Bd6 Qd7 21. Bxc5 f5 22. Kg2 fxe4 23. Nc3 Rf5 24. Qb3

Instead 24. Bxe7 Qxe7 25. d6 maintains the extra pawn with advantage. Now I regain the missing pawn and have an attack down the f-file.

24… Nxd5 25. Rhd1 Bxc3 26. bxc3 Qf7 27. Bd4 Rf8 28. Rd2 b5 29. Qc2 e3

Choosing to force a draw by perpetual check.

30. Bxe3 Nxe3+ 31. fxe3 Rf1 32. Qb3 Rxb1 33. Qxb1 Qf3+ 34. Kh3 Qh5+ 35. Kg2 Qf3+ 36. Kh3 Qh5+ 1/2-1/2

Richard James


Deserving Irving

I wrote a few months ago about Fred Reinfeld. I really ought to consider his contemporary and occasional collaborator Irving Chernev (1900-1981).

History has been much kinder to Chernev, than to Reinfeld. There’s something of a feeling, isn’t there, that Chernev=Good while Reinfeld=Bad? By all accounts Chernev was a nice guy and a real enthusiast for chess, while Reinfeld, although the stronger player, was a rather unpleasant man writing his books for money rather than for love. Although Chernev’s books are outdated, some of them still have value and his passion for the game shines through all his writing.

It’s time to look at the Chernev books in my chess library.

I have two books of chess trivia, inspirations for The (Even More) Complete Chess Addict.

The Chess Companion (1968) is described as “A merry collection of tales of chess and its players, together with a cornucopia of games, problems, epigrams and advice, topped off with the greatest game of chess ever played”. The first half comprises (mostly) chess fiction, by the likes of EB White, JM Synge and Stephen Leacock. Then we have a collection of interesting games and puzzles, some trivia and epigrams, and finally, the Greatest Game (Bogolyubov-Alekhine Hastings 1922, since you asked). All very enjoyable and entertaining, but I’m not sure how much of it would meet with Edward Winter’s approval. Wonders and Curiosities of Chess (1974) is very much the same recipe as the second half of The Chess Companion.

Winning Chess (1949) is a collaboration between Chernev and Reinfeld, a guide to basic tactical ideas illustrated with simple examples. Still, I think, a very useful book for novices.

My other Chernev books are all games collections. The 1000 Best Short Games of Chess (1957) does what it says on the tin. The games range in length from 4 to 24 moves and come with light annotations. The provenance of the games doesn’t always stand up to historical scrutiny (the first game, predictably, is ‘Gibaud-Lazard’ which wasn’t as Chernev claimed, a tournament game, and, as we now know, lasted longer than four moves), but if you want a collection of miniatures, perhaps for coaching purposes, or just for an enjoyable read, you won’t go far wrong.

Logical Chess: Move by Move (1958) is perhaps Chernev’s best known, and also most controversial, book. He presents 33 games, all annotated in depth, literally move by move. He even manages to find something different to say every time 1. e4 or 1. d4 is played. The other day a novice player at Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club had a copy with him and assured me he’d be a very strong player by the time he’d finished the book. However, Logical Chess was slated by John Nunn a few years ago, and it has to be said that not all of the notes stand up to modern computer analysis.

The Most Instructive Games of Chess Ever Played (1966) is a collection of ’62 Masterpieces of Modern Chess Strategy’. Well, relatively modern, given that the games range from Steinitz in 1873 to Petrosian in 1961.

The Golden Dozen
(1976) gives us ‘the twelve greatest players of all time’, along with 9 games by each of numbers 3-12, 10 games by number 2 (Alekhine) and 15 games by number 1 (Capablanca), all annotated in depth. The first edition, which I have, is a handsome hardback published by Oxford University Press.

Chernev returned to his beloved Capablanca for Capablanca’s Best Chess Endings (1978), with 60 complete games, all of which Capa won in the endgame. Again, much useful material for study and tuition as long as you can accept the reservations over Chernev’s style of annotation.

Chernev had a personal preference for strategy over tactics and enjoyed games where the winner followed a simple strategical plan from beginning to end. This type of game is very instructive for intermediate players, perhaps more so than tactical games, but if you’re annotating games of this type there is often a tendency towards annotation by results and over-simplification. But, if you’re writing for weaker players you have to generalise and over-simplify. Novices have to learn the basic principles of chess before learning when and how to break them. Inevitably there are also analytical errors which can be discovered easily by switching on an engine.

The first game in Logical Chess is a case in point. Chernev is very critical of White’s 9th move, but the engines are still happy with the first player’s position. The real mistake is 10. dxe5, a horrible move allowing a black piece to approach the white king. In the final position White could have played on with the computer defence 18. Bxf7+. Now 18… Kxf7 19. Qd5+ is a perpetual check, while after, say, 18… Kf8, White sacrifices his other bishop: 19. Bf4 Qxf4 20. Bh5 Nf6 21. Rxf2 Nxh5 22. Qd5 when he’s two pawns down but has some practical chances. Earlier, the computer is not impressed with Black’s 16th move, instead preferring to complete its development calmly with O-O-O.

Chernev, although not the strongest of players, had an unerring eye for a good game and was meticulous in consulting as many sources as possible before writing his annotations. Many of his books still have value today. Both Logical Chess and The Most Instructive Games have a lot of invaluable material for chess coaches, although you might like to check the analysis and the current state of opening theory first. The Golden Dozen seems to have been underestimated: that and Capablanca’s Best Chess Endings, Chernev’s last two chess books, are worthy of consideration because of the excellent choice of games and the clarity of the annotations. John Nunn might advise swerving Irving, but for intermediate players and those who are teaching them, some of Irving’s books are still deserving of your attention.

Richard James



You’ll find a lot of chess playing royalty in The (Even More) Complete Chess Addict, but this isn’t about that sort of royalty.

A few weeks ago I received my six-monthly royalty statement covering sales of Chess for Kids and The Right Way to Teach Chess to Kids between January and June 2015.

Chess for Kids had 1930 home sales, 22 export sales and 146 electronic sales, giving me earnings over the six month period of £600.08. It’s the only book I’ve written that has covered its advance and made a profit.

The Right Way to Teach Chess to Kids, on the other hand, had only 55 home sales and 61 electronic sales, minus 4 export sales returns. Many of those would have been bought by parents on the recommendation of myself or my friends and colleagues. It’s nowhere near paying off its advance, and, barring a miracle (such as the ECF setting up a formal junior chess structure and recommending the book to parents), never will.

Now it strikes me that, in a sensible world, the sales ratio between the two books would be very much the other way round. The Right Way to Teach Chess to Kids is the only UK-centric book on the market for parents and teachers who want to introduce chess to young children. Now, whether you’re a parent or a teacher, if you want to teach your kids something new you’d find out about it first, wouldn’t you, to make sure it was really going to be suitable? And if you knew about it already you’d want some advice on the best way to teach it. In which case you’d have no choice but to consult my book. Once you’ve read my book you might decide that chess is not going to be suitable for your children, or that they are too young and it would be best to wait a year or so. Or you might decide that you should start teaching your children chess and that it might be a good idea to buy them a chess book. Now there are quite a lot of chess books for young children on the market, all of which teach essentially the same material (how the pieces move plus some elementary advice on tactics and strategy) but in different ways. You might like my approach, a story using subversive humour and illustrated with cartoons, or you might prefer a different method: it doesn’t really matter too much which you choose.

I sometimes hand round flyers in local primary schools offering parents a free session for them and their children. I will visit their house at any convenient time, bring a proper chess set with me, and spend between half an hour and an hour with them, talking through a game with the child and explaining to the parents how they can best help and support their children’s interest in chess. Or if they prefer they can visit me and see a wide range of coaching materials. Whichever they want: either way there’s no charge. Because of all the enjoyment chess has given me over the years I’m more than happy to give up my time for free to ensure that kids get a good start in chess. But how many takers do I get? None. A big fat zero. And every school I visit it’s exactly the same. Many parents want their children to learn chess because they see it as beneficial. But most parents, at least in my part of the world, are not prepared to help their children learn. Why? Because they wouldn’t want their children to have Top Trumps lessons, and they see chess as a trivial kids’ game like Top Trumps rather than what it really is: an exceptionally difficult game, more suitable for older children and adults, which younger children will probably need a lot of help to understand.

Yes, chess can be a very powerful learning tool, but only if it is broken down into its component parts. In my opinion playing more or less random moves is not chess and children who are just doing this will derive little benefit and no lasting interest in the game, but unless they’re getting more adult help than they’ll get from a school chess club once a week, that’s all they will do. I know that children will learn more in an hour’s one to one session with a good teacher than they’ll learn in a term at a school chess club. How can we get the message across to parents that teaching your children the moves in half an hour and signing them up for their primary school chess club is really not the best way to go about introducing your children to one of the world’s most complex and profound games?

Richard James


Don’t Panic!

Finally the election results are in and it’s clear that the conservatives have won an overwhelming victory, while their erstwhile coalition partners have suffered a humiliating defeat. Two of their number were even beaten by Not This Candidate, which seems to me very much like losing a game to David Edward Fault.

But wait! It seems there’s been a mistake. A recount has discovered a lot of missing votes and it seems that one of the opposition party has, after all, won a seat. It also transpired that the Chairman of the Governance Committee had made what appears to me to have been an inappropriate intervention, threatening to resign if Not This Candidate failed to win election as CEO. Now I may know as much about governance as Wayne Rooney knows about classical ballet, but I thought that one of the points of the Governance Committee was that it should remain impartial, at least in public.

All in all, a shambles which would have embarrassed the Walmington-on-Sea chess club. There was also the fiasco over the live coverage of the British Championships a few months ago, which led to an intemperate exchange of emails and the suspension, later withdrawn, of the Director of Home Chess. And more was to follow when the new Publicity Director, when asked to comment on a news item, made some, in my opinion, inappropriate and disparaging remarks.

What, then, of the modernisers? They are now only represented by the energetic and well-respected Malcolm Pein, who, after the missing votes had been found, won a narrow victory over the incumbent Director of International Chess. (There’s a suspicion that ECF President Dominic Lawson, although politically conservative, has some sympathy with those who seek to modernise the ECF.) Although they may well have been highly successful in their professional lives, it’s not clear that the other modernisers had the right skills to work within the voluntary organisation that is the ECF. Much of what they did seemed, at least to me as an outsider, to be motivated mainly by a desire to confront and annoy the conservative element of the ECF board. There were allegations of bullying and harassment (whether or not these were justified I don’t know) as well as complaints that questions were not being answered and enquiries not being addressed.

So the best we can hope is that the new ECF Board will be able to work together more harmoniously than in the past. That, at least, would be a start. While I have no doubt that both groups have the best interests of English chess at heart, there seems to be no way they are able to work together. Meanwhile the Pearce Report on Governance has come up with some suggestions which might prove helpful. We shall see.

But at present, it’s clear that the ECF doesn’t want to be modernised. It wants to remain as a low-level voluntary amateur organisation running the national grading list, the British Championship, the County Championship and a few other bits and pieces while various major and successful events and projects such as the 4NCL, Chess in Schools and Communities and the UK Chess Challenge run externally and independently.

Wearing my chess player hat I’m reasonably happy with this situation. There’s something to be said for having a fairly informal national structure run on a shoestring and, if all you want to do is to play in your local league and enter a few congresses, it’s all absolutely fine. But at other levels there’s a need for something more structured, better organised, more professional. If you’re a grandmaster you’ll need this. If you want to represent your country at any level, whether in a women’s team, a junior team, a senior team or whatever, you’ll expect – and deserve – something professional. Wearing my chess teacher hat I also see that our current junior chess structure is confusing and inconsistent, with various people trying to build their own empires instead of working together harmoniously. There’s no national structure, no formal national chess syllabus or coaching course, no proper national junior championships (compare the French Junior Championships with what happens at the British Championships). Our children deserve better and I don’t see how the ECF, the way it is at the moment, can provide this, or that it even has very much understanding of the issues involved.

Richard James


Islington Open 1976 Part 3

1976 was the year Christmas came six days early for me.

Just look at what happened in my games in the last two rounds at Islington.

Going into Round 5 on 2/4 I was paired with the white pieces against Paul Littlewood, who had a grade of 214 at the time of the game. Paul had been British U18 Champion in 1972 and British Under 21 Champion in 1975, and would later become an International Master and win the British itself in 1981.

1. e4 c5 2. c4 Nc6 3. Nc3 a6 4. g3 Rb8 5. a4 e6 6. Bg2 Nf6 7. f4 d6 8. Nge2 Qa5 9. O-O b5

We’re only on move 9 but already Paul gives me an early Christmas present, blundering a piece to a simple tactical idea which is very common in this type of position.

10. e5 Nxe5 11. fxe5 dxe5 12. d3 Bd7 13. cxb5 axb5 14. Bg5 b4 15. Bxf6 bxc3 16. Bxe5 cxb2 17. Bxb8 bxa1=Q 18. Qxa1 c4 19. Be5 cxd3 20. Nf4 f6 21. Bc3 Qa6 22. Qb1 Qxa4 23. Nxd3 Bd6 24. Bb4

Chickening out by heading for the ending. In principle, with an extra piece, not many pawns and the enemy king exposed, I should keep the queens on the board, but sitting opposite such a strong opponent clouded my judgement. The right plan was to play for the attack with 24. Qb6 Ke7 25. Qf2.

24… Bxb4 25. Qxb4 Qxb4 26. Nxb4 Ke7 27. Rc1 Rb8 28. Nc6+ Bxc6 29. Rxc6 Rb1+ 30. Bf1 f5 31. Rc7+ 1/2-1/2

Again chickening out by offering a draw in a position where I could still have tried to win. On paper a draw was an excellent result but with a bit more courage I might have won. The story of my life, I guess.

In the final round I had black against another strong young opponent, Glenn Lambert, who was graded 205 at the time of the game. The following year he was beat Eugenio Torre in the Lord John Cup in London. Torre had beaten Karpov in Manila in 1976, and was to do so again in London in 1984. Sadly, Glenn was later diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease, dying in 2003.

But in this game he was about to give me another early Christmas present as it seems he wasn’t in the mood for playing chess.

1. d4 g6 2. c4 Bg7 3. Nc3 d6 4. Nf3 Bg4 5. g3 Bxf3 6. exf3 Nc6 7. d5 Nd4 8. Bg2 c5 9. dxc6 Nxc6 10. Bd2 h5 11. O-O Nh6 12. Re1 Nf5 13. Rc1 O-O 14. f4 Rc8 15. Bh3 Ncd4 16. b3 a6

Up to this point the engines have a slight preference for White’s bishops, and here prefer 17. Nd5 e6 18. Ne3, to trade off a pair of knights and gain control of the vital d4 square. The way White plays it, though, is fine for Black and over the next few moves I gain the advantage.

17. Bg2 b5 18. cxb5 axb5 19. a4 Qb6 20. Nd5 Qa7 21. axb5 Nxb5 22. Rxc8 Rxc8 23. Qe2

Another indifferent move. Black can either pin the bishop (Rc2 or Qa2) or drive the queen away:

23… Nbd4 24. Nxe7+ Kf8 0-1

White’s 24th move just loses a piece in obvious fashion, but there was still no need to resign, bearing in mind what happened when I was a piece for two pawns ahead in my previous game. I guess he just wasn’t in the mood for playing chess. This sometimes happens, of course, in the last round if the tournament hasn’t gone well for you. The was, remains, and will probably always remain the only time I’ve beaten an opponent graded over 200 in a slowplay game. The following year I was able to tell everyone that I should be world champion: I’d beaten Lambert, who had beaten Torre, who had beaten Karpov.

So I finished on 3½/6, having played four opponents graded over 200 for one of my best tournament results. I was very lucky on the last day, though, as Paul Littlewood uncharacteristically lost a piece in the opening while Glenn Lambert seemingly had little interest in playing chess that day. Something else I just noticed while writing this: my opponents that day had something else in common: they shared the same second name: Edwin.

Richard James


Islington Open 1976 Part 2

My third round opponent was Kevin Wicker, a prominent player and author during the 70s and early 80s. He was joint British U18 Champion in 1970 and very active for some years thereafter before disappearing from the chess scene sometime in the mid 80s. I played Kevin three times in the 70s, being fortunate to draw twice (Bloomsbury 1973 and Charlton 1977) but on this occasion I was out of luck. His grade at the time of this game was 201.

My opening wasn’t very impressive: I usually play too negatively against strong opponents and my opponent launched an attack against my castled king.

1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. e3 Bb4 4. Nge2 O-O 5. g3 Re8 6. Bg2 c6 7. O-O d5 8. cxd5 cxd5 9. d4 e4 10. Qb3 Nc6 11. Nf4 Bxc3 12. Qxc3 Bg4 13. h3 Bf3 14. Bxf3 exf3 15. Qb3 Qd7 16. Qd1 g5 17. Nd3 Qxh3 18. Qxf3 Ne4 19. b3 Re6 20. Bb2 Nd2 21. Qxd5

I decide to grab a centre pawn, also hitting the g-pawn. The engines now think Black has is doing well if he defends his g-pawn with Qg4 or Ne4 but instead my opponent plays more directly, ignoring the g-pawn and threatening mate.

21… Rh6 22. Qxg5+ Kf8 23. Ba3+ Ke8 24. Qg8+ Kd7

Now I have two plausible checks. Nc5+ leads to a perpetual check in all variations but instead I make the wrong choice and Black soon manages to evade the checks. I guess it looked natural at the time to capture the pawn but surely bringing another piece into play, even without any calculation, is more likely to be correct.

25. Qxf7+ Kd8 26. Qf8+ Kc7 27. Qf7+ Kb6 28. Bc5+ Ka6 29. Nb4+ Nxb4 0-1

In the fourth round I had black against an ungraded opponent who launched a premature king-side attack.

1. d4 g6 2. c4 Bg7 3. Nc3 d6 4. e4 e5 5. d5 Nf6 6. Be2 O-O 7. Bg5 h6 8. Be3 a5 9. g4 Na6 10. g5 hxg5 11. Bxg5 Nc5 12. h4 Qe8 13. f3 Nh5 14. Nb5 Qd7 15. Nh3 Ng3 16. Rh2 f5 17. Qc2 fxe4 18. fxe4 Ngxe4 19. O-O-O c6 20. dxc6 bxc6

I’ve won a pawn and opened up the centre against the white king, but here Qxc6 would have been a simpler and stronger alternative. Now White decides to sacrifice a piece to set up a pin on the d-file.

21. Nxd6 Nxd6 22. Qxg6

White could instead have regained the piece by playing Be3, followed by c5 when the knight moves away, but this is also good for Black.

22… Ne6

This is not good for Black, though. The right move is Nce4. Now White should play 23. Bd3, with dangerous threats against the black king. The engines claim equality for black only by sacrificing his queen after 23… e4 24. Nxe4 Nxe4, and there’s no way I would have found that over the board.

But instead…

23. Bg4 Qf7 24. Qc2

Not wanting to trade queens is understandable but now Black has an attack as well as an extra piece.

24… Nd4 25. Rxd4 exd4 26. Bxc8 Raxc8 27. Bf4 Qxc4

Either a strange decision or an oversight. After Nxc4 Black’s just a rook ahead. For some reason I choose the ending with an extra exchange, but it’s still more than enough to win.

28. Bxd6 Rf1+ 29. Kd2 Bh6+ 30. Ng5 Qxc2+ 31. Kxc2 Bxg5 32. hxg5 Kf7 33. Bc5 Rd8 34. Rd2 Rf4 35. Rd3 Rd5 36. b4 axb4 37. Bxb4 c5 38. Bd2 Rf2 39. Kb3 Re5 40. a4 Ree2 41. Kc2 Ke6 42. Kd1 Ke5 43. Be1 Rg2 44. Rd2 Rxd2+ 45. Bxd2 Kd5 46. a5 c4 47. a6 Kc6 48. Bf4 Kb6 49. Be5 d3 0-1

Richard James


Islington Open 1976 Part 1

Continuing my series featuring some of my less bad tournaments from the 1970s, we reach the 1976 edition of the famous Islington congress, which, in the 1970s, used to attract a very large entry every December.

In 1976 I played in the Open section and in my first game had White against a promising junior with a grade of 148.

We’ll whizz through the first part of the game:

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 g6 4. O-O Bg7 5. c3 e5 6. d4 cxd4 7. cxd4 exd4 8. Nbd2 Nge7 9. Nb3 O-O 10. Nbxd4 Qb6 11. Be3 Nxd4 12. Nxd4 Qa5 13. Qb3 a6 14. Bc4 Nc6 15. Nf3 Ne5 16. Nxe5 Qxe5 17. Rab1 Rb8 18. Rfd1 b5 19. Bd5 Bb7 20. Bc5 Bxd5

21. Rxd5

No idea why I gave up a pawn like this. Looks like some sort of miscalculation. Instead Qxd5 was equal.

21… Qxe4
22. Rbd1 Rfe8
23. f3 Qe6
24. Qa3 Rbc8
25. Rd6

Making matters worse. Now my computer tells me that Qc4 gives Black a winning advantage.

25… Qe2
26. R6d2 Qe6
27. Bf2 Qc6
28. b3 Bc3

Black’s last few moves have not been the most accurate and now I win the pawn back.

29. Rxd7 Bg7
30. R7d6 Qc2
31. Qxa6 Ra8

I’m now a pawn ahead (perhaps I shouldn’t have taken on a6) but Black can gain compensation by playing 31… Bf8 32. R6f5 Re2. Instead he obligingly heads for an ending which I manage to win.

32. Qxb5 Qxa2 33. R6d2 Qa6 34. Qxa6 Rxa6 35. Rd8 Ra8 36. Rxe8+ Rxe8 37. Kf1 Bf8 38. Re1 Ra8 39. Rb1 Bd6 40. h3 Kf8 41. b4 Ke8 42. b5 Kd7 43. b6 Rb8 44. Ke2 Kc6 45. Kd3 Rd8 46. Kc4 Kb7 47. Rd1 Rc8+ 48. Kb5 Rc6 49. Ra1 Rc2 50. Ra7+ Kb8 51. Bd4 f5 52. Rxh7 Bf4 53. Bc5 Be5 54. Re7 Bf6 55. Rf7 Bd8 56. Bd6+ 1-0

My second round opponent was the US master Ed Formanek, who would become an international master the following year. He often played in England and had a BCF grade of 228 at the time. I had the opportunity to use my pet line against the French Advance, with which I scored very heavily for several years.

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 4. Nf3 Nc6 5. c3 Nge7 6. Bd3 cxd4 7. cxd4 Nf5 8.
Bxf5 exf5 9. O-O Be7 10. Nc3 Be6 11. Qb3 Qb6

Qd7 and Rab8 are the usual choices in this position. Heading for an ending with two sets of doubled pawns might not be wise against a Heffalump.

12. Qxb6 axb6 13. b3 h6 14. h4 Kd7 15. Bd2 Rhc8

It’s natural to double rooks but I should have preferred f4, freeing my bad bishop.

16. Rfc1 Ba3 17. Rcb1 Nb4 18. Ne1 Rc6 19. Kf1 Rac8 20. Nb5 Nc2 21. Nxa3 Nxa3 22. Rc1 Nc2 23. Nxc2 Rxc2 24. Rxc2 Rxc2 25. Ke1 h5 26. Kd1 Rc8 27. a4 Ra8 28. Bb4 b5 29. a5 b6

Giving White a passed a-pawn doesn’t turn out well.

30. a6 Kd8

Incomprehensible. Ra7 or Kc8 would keep me in the game. Now it’s just lost.

31. Bd6 Kc8 32. a7 Kb7 33. Bb8 Rxb8 34. axb8=Q+ Kxb8 35. Ke2 Kb7 36. Kf3 Kb8 37. Kf4 Kb7 38. Kg5 g6 39. Kf6 Kb8 40. Ke7

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