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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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 ( or 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 ( 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.