I was planning to return to my occasional series highlighting some of my better tournament performances in the 1970s, but you might be amused to see my worst performance.
For many years a weekend tournament was held in the East London suburb of Ilford over the Whitsun Bank Holiday weekend, and I played several times in the 70s. This is the other side of London from me and involved a long commute on three trains. Here’s what happened in 1975. Is it really forty years ago?
The first round went well. I managed to draw against a promising teenager named Shaun Taulbut, a future IM who is currently the Chairman and Co-Editor of the British Chess Magazine. In the second round I was paired against Richard O’Brien, a prominent player and organiser who later became well known as an author and publisher. I reached an equal position but played too passively and was driven back in the ending. This was before the days of quickplay finishes and if your game was still in progress when time was called someone (usually Bob Wade at Ilford) came round to adjudicate. In this game I was deservedly awarded a loss.
I was hoping for an easier game in round 3, but no such luck. I was again facing a stronger opponent. I reached an active but slightly loose position with Black and then this happened:
Choose a move for Black. You probably did better than my choice of Rbd6, inexplicably walking into a knight fork.
I finally encountered a low rated player in round 4 and, having the white pieces, was expecting to treble my points tally.
1. c4 e5
2. Nc3 Nf6
3. Nf3 Nc6
4. g3 d5
5. cxd5 Nxd5
6. Bg2 Nxc3
7. bxc3 e4
8. Ng1 f5
Timman chose the pawn sacrifice 9… e3 against Larsen (Bled/Portoroz 1979 ½:½, 50) but my opponent preferred a different way of giving up a pawn.
10. fxe4 O-O
And now, not liking my central pawns, he gave up a piece.
12. cxd4 Bxd4
This is quite tricky for White. My silicon assistant tells me 13. Bb2 Bxb2 14. Qb3+ Kh8 15. Qxb2 fxe4 is White’s best bet, but he still has to untangle his position and his king will remain stuck in the centre. But 13. Qb3+ Kh8 14. Bb2 doesn’t work: Black has 14… Be6 15. Qxe6 Bxb2 16. Rb1 Bc3+ 17. Kf1 fxe4+, regaining the piece with a winning position.
This was still much better than my move, though. No doubt without much thought, I moved my threatened rook to its only square, b1, overlooking the obvious reply Bf2+ winning my queen and eventually the game.
With just a half point from my first four games and having lost in such a ridiculous fashion, I was very tempted to withdraw from the tournament and went so far as to write a note to the controllers, but I eventually decided to return the next day and play the last two rounds.
Round 5 featured another blunder, but this time I was the beneficiary. In this position my opponent played 19. h4, unguarding the g3 square and again allowing a knight fork. The game continued 19… Ng3 20. Qf3 Nxf1 21. Rxf1 h6, which wasn’t best (21… e4 instead), when White won a pawn after 22. Qh5 Kh7 23. Bxh6, but it was still enough to win the game.
In the sixth and final round I had the white pieces. A series of exchanges led peaceably to a rook ending. In this position I had to decide on a plan. Going after the b-pawn with Kd3 was fine for a draw. Going after the g-pawn with Kf4 was also fine for a draw. Instead I decided to go after the d-pawn and played Kd5, which, after my opponent’s obvious reply, was sadly not fine for a draw. Another absurd oversight, my third in the last four games.
By that time I was a reasonably competent player so how could I possibly have made so many crude mistakes within two days? I still find it hard to explain. Making one mistake is perhaps explicable at my level, but making three mistakes can only be attributed to a complete loss of confidence and an inability to deal with bad experiences. The long train journey home was not a lot of fun.
Meanwhile I had some more tournaments coming up. The following month Kingston Chess Club held a weekend tournament to celebrate their centenary. I scored 2/5 against a fairly strong field: not brilliant but a definite improvement. Two of my opponents in that event are both currently active on the English Chess Forum: Kevin Thurlow and Nick Faulks, who is also secretary of FIDE’s Qualifications Committee.
That summer a big international chess festival took place in London, and that was to be the venue of my next tournament. Would I manage to avoid silly mistakes there? Find out as this series continues.