Summing Up the Season

It’s time, I guess, to summarise my performance last season. While you’re reading this article you might like to consider the position above.

Black, observing that his rook on a8 was threatened, played Rh8 here to which White replied with Nf3. What do you think about these moves? All will be revealed at the end of the article.

In the November 2017 issue of CHESS, my slightly younger contemporary, James Essinger, remarks that, although his grade is 164, he considers himself a better player than when his grade was 196 as a junior back in the late 1970s. As a result of my games last season my grade went up by a modest three points, from 165 to 168. My highest grade, 178, was also in the late 1970s, although I made 177 in 2013. If I’d taken all my chances, not lost that game to a much lower rated opponent, not missed some simple tactics, not agreed draws in two totally won positions, I might even have made my highest ever grade.

If James is correct, and he’s a better player now than when he was over 30 points higher 40 years ago, then I must be a very much better player now than when I was 10 points higher 40 years ago.

I have no doubt that standards have improved in that time: ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’ and all that, but by that much? I’m not sure. I think there are stylistic issues. As you will have noticed, I tend to play safe and avoid taking risks, whereas James describes his chess as ‘Byronic’: “I try to think of some really cool moves and hope to triumph through romantic ingenuity”.

Looking at my games, I’m not sure I’m playing any worse than 40 years ago, but I’m also not convinced I’m playing a lot better. You only have to look at the many missed simple tactics in my games. Still, it’s gratifying, I suppose, to know, or at least hope, that my brain is working as well as it ever was. What has got worse, though, is the unpleasant physical symptoms of playing chess, the anxieties, the negative thoughts. I’d assumed that, as I got older, these would improve while my brain would start to work less well. In fact, the reverse seems to be the case, although I think I’m rather better than I used to be at dealing with losses.

I rather suspect that, for amateurs like me who aren’t studying the game seriously, many of us are able to maintain our strength, such as it is, into our sixties, and perhaps beyond. It’s much harder, of course, for professional players.

I think there are lessons I can learn from last season’s games, particularly with regard to looking for tactics and clock handling, although at this stage in my chess career it’s rather too late to make much difference.

Returning to the position at the top of the article, this is from one of my early games in the 2017-18 season. I had the black pieces in this rather strange position. I’d given up a pawn, hoping to win the exchange by trapping the white rook on e7. I debated, without coming to any serious conclusion, whether to move my threatened rook to c8 or h8, both of which seemingly had their advantages. 0I mentally tossed a coin and selected the h8 square (Rc8 would have been fine). What you’ve no doubt seen, but neither my opponent (graded 180) not I had, was that Qxe6 would have won a piece. The bishop looks very safe, but, curiously, both black pawns are pinned. I went on to win the exchange, and no doubt should have won the game, but after getting slightly short of time and panicking I returned the material to secure a half point.

So much for trying to avoid missing two-move tactics. In this position I missed a one-move tactic, but so did my opponent. I guess it’s not so obvious given the unusual nature of the position. At some point in the future I’ll let you see the complete game.

Still, onwards and upwards, or, more likely, onwards and downwards. We’ll see.

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.