Not Just for Christmas

The day before Nette Robinson’s chess gig you read about last week, I was lucky to be able to attend another great chess evening.

GM Matthew Sadler and WIM Natasha Regan visited my chess club to give a talk based on their new book Chess for Life. Matthew also played some simultaneous blitz chess before and after the talk. This volume looks at how chess players can maintain or even increase their playing strength in their forties, fifties or later in life, and was inspired in part by Matthew’s successful return to the game after a gap of 10 years.

The book features a series of case studies outlining this theme, along with interviews with a variety of players ranging from top grandmasters (Judit Polgar, Nigel Short, John Nunn, Jon Speelman, Yasser Seirawan) to strong amateurs.

Some chapters cover opening choices. We learn how Pia Cramling has made subtle changes in her 1. d4 white repertoire over several decades, and how Sergei Tiviakov developed and modified his pet Black defence to 1. e4: the Scandinavian with 3…Qd6.

Two of the book’s heroes are Capablanca and Keith Arkell, both of whom favour a style involving playing simple moves quickly, putting pieces on good squares and heading for the ending. Such a style will require less energy and be less stressful, leading to fewer time scrambles, and as such will be attractive to many older players.

Here’s Matthew Sadler describing his preparations for the 2013 London Classic Rapid tournament:

“I decided that I needed some inspiration, someone I could try to copy. A player who took decisions quickly, whose style was smooth and effortless who would help me out of the agony I was currently experiencing when trying to formulate a plan. You can imagine that I thought at once of Capablanca!”

Matthew demonstrated this Capablanca game which wasn’t included in the book, making particular reference to the way Capa used his knights. When one knight left a square there was another ready to take its place. This was an interesting idea for me as I’d read elsewhere about having your two knights on different circuits, which seemed like more or less the opposite advice!

What Matthew and Natasha didn’t know was that, for a short time between 1922 and 1923, Edward Guthlac Sergeant, the loser of this game, was living in Teddington, about half a mile from our club venue where the talk was taking place! About five years later, my mother and her family would move to Teddington, running a grocer’s shop just round the corner from Sergeant’s previous address. In 1934 they’d move again, into a house at the far end of Sergeant’s road, which is where I spent the first two years of my life. But that’s a story for another time and place.

In the second half of the evening Natasha spoke about Keith Arkell, and in particular his love of the QGD Exchange Variation and rook endings. Natasha provides some interesting statistics in the book. His results with the QGD exchange against 2400 players between 1987 and 2014 are nothing special: 16½/34, but against players rated 2200-2399 he scored a massive 27/34, and against players rated below 2200, an extraordinary 21/21.

Keith reaches a rook ending in 14.7% of his games compared with an average of 9.1%, well above the other players considered in this book. In comparison, Capablanca’s rook ending score was 11.6% and Karpov, rather surprisingly, slightly below average at 8.8%.

This game has everything: a QGD Exchange leading to a rook ending where Keith has an extra pawn with four pawns against three on the king side: one of his specialities.

You can see some photographs of the event here.

Meanwhile stop for a moment and think about the title of Matthew and Natasha’s book, which, by the way, I’d strongly urge you to buy.

Chess for Life. Chess is a game for all ages, not just a game for small children in primary school chess clubs. You can still play chess, and maintain most of your strength, into middle age and beyond. Think for a moment of the great Viktor Korchnoi, who recently left us. There was an old slogan for people thinking about buying their children a pet for Christmas. A pet is not just for Christmas: a pet is for life. The same is true about chess. Last week we heard how Nette Robinson brought chess into the community through combining a blitz tournament with a jazz concert. Matthew Sadler and Natasha Regan are bringing chess into the community through a series of talks based on their book. Next week you’ll hear about another new idea about how to take chess out of the ghetto: one in which the aforementioned Keith Arkell is playing a part.

Richard James

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About Richard James

Richard James is a professional chess teacher and writer living in Twickenham, and working mostly with younger children and beginners. He was the co-founder of Richmond Junior Chess Club in 1975 and its director until 2005. He is the webmaster of chessKIDS academy (www.chesskids.org.uk or www.chesskids.me.uk) and, most recently, the author of Chess for Kids and The Right Way to Teach Chess to Kids, both published by Right Way Books. Richard is currently the Curriculum Consultant for Chess in Schools and Communities (www.chessinschools.co.uk) as well as teaching chess in local schools and doing private tuition. He has been a member of Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club since 1966 and currently has an ECF grade of 177.