Game of the Season 2017-18! Votes please…

All 10 Games of the Month from last season in Bristol&Bath. Please submit votes for your favourite! We have made our choice just in case, but there is a people’s vote as well as an editor’s pick, so get choosing! Comments, emails, and Facebook votes all welcome.

This season was the first full one for the Bristol Chess Times – one of our initiatives was a ‘Game of the Month’ (GotM). This relied on submissions from players, or captains, but also on us to look around at tournaments or on other websites where games are published. This is a known bias – one month we were so starved of games that we had to go with one of mine – but hopefully this will only spur on more game suggestions for next year!

GotS

*Rest assured as co-editor my effort in October is exempt from winning Game of the Season (GotS) but let’s have a recap of the 10 ‘Games of the month’ and we’ll let you decide the rest:

September

Remember September? Perhaps this swift ‘Greek Gift’ win from Aron will jog your memory:

October

This lively game was a crucial part of Horfield B’s surprise win over Downend A early in the season:

November

Perhaps this all-out war between Lewis and Oliver, who clearly agreed to a ‘no castling’ rule before the game, will get your pick:

(December had no GotM)

January

We went with a bumper edition in January, to pull out 4 defensive/counterattacking  wins with Black. First up was Rich Wiltshir’s cool defence to claim joint first in the Clevedon Congress major:

Next was tournament organiser Graham Mill-Wilson showing disregard for a knight settling next to his king for most of the game and getting the job done to win the minor section:

League newcomer Waleed Khan played a classical game here from a Sicilian position, developing and centralising until a deadly pin was enough to force resignation:

And finally for January, a deadly and accurate finish emerging from another seemingly normal Sicilian by Steve Woolgar:

February

Devon didn’t know what hit it when Thornbury’s Lynda Smith won the day with a smooth and controlled attack:

March

Back to the league and the ever-enterprising Mike Meadows was elegantly unhinged here by university’s Ethan Luc:

(April had no GotM)

May

Finally, Jerry Hendy was under some pressure in this league game but gives up three pawns for a resignation:

Phew! 10 is a lot of chess games. But we have picked a winner! We’ll announce both the ‘people’s vote’ and the ‘editor’s pick’ soon.

One thing I notice is that all of these games are wins. A draw can often be an epic struggle and worthy of any prize, so maybe next season we’ll have of few more of those.

 


 

mikecircle

Mike is co-editor of the Bristol Chess Times and plays regular league and tournament chess

Two Latvian Gambit games from the Bristol Open 2018

Avid readers will recall that on June 15th I gave this advice for a must-win tournament situation against 1.e4: Play the Latvian Gambit – “…2.f5… Bd6, sack a rook and win the tournament in a blaze of glory”. That very night the Bristol Spring Congress commenced and as if I had scripted it – a player called Mike played the Latvian twice, won twice, and (jointly) won the tournament in a blaze of glory.

Unfortunately for me it was FM Mike Waddington – who in a cruel twist of fate also beat me with White after I played an ambitious f5, miscalculating after arriving 27 minutes late. But that’s another story.

Mike appears to also have a soft spot for the Latvian Gambit (and a better understanding of it). Here are his two wins which helped him on the way to 4.5/5 in a very competitive open field:

Gambit accepted: the exf5 line

“The best way to refute a gambit is to accept it”. After 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 f5 White can play 3.exf5 – and the game is on.

latvian1

Mike appears to have read my advice (scroll to 3. exf5) and goes for e4, Qe7, Nc6 and rapid bishop development:

After Nxc6 dxc6, d3 and Bxf5 Black has some control and is not any material down – the engine gives it -0.44 (small advantage for Black). After a few more moves (play through the game below) the queens come off and Black is fine with the pieces on good squares and White’s d-pawn isolated.

The middlegame was not a typical Latvian tactics fest – but Mike eventually wins the endgame after a favourable exchange of the last piece.

Main Line

Mike got a second chance to play the Latvian and got the main line where the queen enjoys an early outing to g6: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 f5 3.Nxe5 Qf6 4.d4 d6 5.Nc4 fxe4 6.Nc3 Qg6

The engine gives it around +1 here, but as I discuss in the original article it is often officially good for White but actually difficult to play. For example in our game here, it becomes a dangerous prospect for White to castle on either side of the board.

Mike manages to get in d5 and gets the classic Latvian bishop to d6 after: 7.Ne3 c6 8.Bc4 d5 9.Bb3 Nf6 10.Ne2 Bd6. Looks comfortable enough:

And it gets uncomfortable for White after some pretty natural moves – f4 was played here to try to avoid the oncoming assault on the king:

After f4 we have Bg4 and the pressure switches to the centre and White’s queen is quickly needing some space. Lewis gives up the exchange instead but there is no real compensation. Mike ends up three pawns up after giving back the exchange to get a comfortable ending:

Well done to Mike who also won against 4th seed Graham Moore (and against me, but that’s less impressive), to tie 1st place with IM Alan Merry.

We hope to see some more Latvians played at the top level soon!

…And in fairness to Mike’s other victims, here is my game:


mikecircle

Mike is co-editor of the Bristol Chess Times and plays regular Bristol chess

Celebrating one year of the Bristol Chess Times

The 20th July is International Chess Day!  It is also dangerously close (a matter of days) to the first anniversary of the relaunched Bristol Chess Times.  Happy Birthday to us!  I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the last year and everything we have achieved and learned as well as looking ahead to the future.

 

prelim
A shot from the inaugural Bristol Chess Times Invitational Tournament held in May 2018

Setting up a chess blog 12 months ago, it was difficult to know how successful we would be.  Myself and my co-editor Mike Harris have talked long and hard about providing a blog that can be enjoyed by all chess players world wide whilst still covering the regional elements of chess in the South West of England.

Looking back on the last year we have published a remarkable 93 articles covering all manner of topics and local authors including:

  • Tournament reports across the South West
  • Game of the month and league reviews
  • Exciting game reports from the league
  • Quirky and dubious opening recommendations
  • A monthly problems column (thank you Christopher Jones!)
  • Historical pieces on past players, clubs and editions of the Bristol Chess Times (thank you John Richards)
  • Book reviews
  • Items for sale

Its fair to say that some topics are more popular than others but I wanted to extend a massive thank you for the feedback and encouragement we have received.  Looking ahead into year two it is clear where we can continue to improve to provide the chess players of the South West (and beyond) with an entertaining and engaging online magazine.

Helping the Bristol & District Chess League

One of the primary objectives of the Bristol Chess Times is to help the Bristol & District Chess League grow and encourage new members.  Lets look at some key statistics over the last 12 months:

  • 17,298 views on the Bristol Chess Times
  • 9,280 unique visitors
  • 93 articles
  • 12 different authors
  • 735 visits to the “Find a club” page

The final statistic for the “Find a club” page is key as we want more and more prospective players in Bristol to find chess clubs and get in touch.  On the “Find a club” page we have links (and phone numbers) to all 16 clubs in the league.  Of the 735 visits to this page i’ve broken out how many prospects clicked through to each individual club (please note that despite my protestations not every club in the Bristol & District chess league has a website in the year 2018…):

  • North Bristol – 60
  • Clifton – 55
  • Cabot – 51
  • Downend & Fishponds – 44
  • Horfield & Redland – 44
  • Hanham – 31
  • South Bristol – 28
  • Bristol University – 20
  • Bath University – 7

Whilst its difficult to tell how many of these prospects actually joined the clubs they contacted (please do get in touch if your club has had players join as a result of the Bristol Chess Times) its encouraging to see these kinds of numbers, especially as the online visibility of the Bristol Chess Times will only continue to grow and grow in the upcoming years.

Given that most chess clubs vary in size from 5 to 40 players, the kind of numbers seen above are really encouraging as the addition of only 5 new players to a club can make a real difference.

Which leads us to the next logical question…

Did the league grow in the 2017/18 season?

Working closely with Jerry Humphreys of Downend & Fishponds chess club we have identified a two key metrics that we will be tracking for the health of the league moving forward:

  • Total number of players in the league
  • Total number of players who played at least 5 games

I am in the process of working with Match Secretary Dave Tipper to identify these metrics from past years but the data is still a little patchy.  However we are able to compare the data from the year before the relaunched Bristol Chess Times and last season.

Total number of players in the league 

  • 2016/17 – 329 players
  • 2017/18 – 337 players

An increase of 2.4%.

Total number of players who played at least 5 games

  • 2016/17 – 254 players (77% of the league)
  • 2017/18 – 260 players (77% of the league)

An increase of 2.4%.

So lets not get too carried away but its fair to say the league stabilised in the last year. Its also difficult to attribute all of that effect to just the Bristol Chess Times as several other clubs (hats off to the noisy neighbours North Bristol Chess Club) have done sterling efforts in their own self promotion.

However, I also feel its really important to acknowledge how important slowing and stabilising the decline of over the board league chess is.  Historical data from 1998 to 2006 shows that the number of league players over that time declined from 467 to 320.  In the last 12 years the league size would appear to have remained relatively stable. Therefore any upward trend, no matter how small, can be seen as a positive step forward.

Looking ahead into the next 12 months, we can expect to see the online visibility of the Bristol Chess Times increase as articles are indexed correctly by major search engines and more and more chess players share our articles (hint hint).

ECF Website of the Year 2018 Nomination

One final highlight of our first 12 months in business is the recent nomination for ECF Website of the Year 2018.  Whilst we were unfortunate not to win due to not being “ordinary” enough (see the committee statement here) my thanks goes out to all those who recognised our efforts and nominated us.

Looking ahead with the Bristol Chess Times

So its been a hell of a year and one that has truly laid the foundations for success in the years to come.  At the risk of banging a tired drum, the clubs in the league who have supported and engaged in digital promotion have really benefitted.  North Bristol Chess Club have had a cracking season of growth whilst my own club, Horfield & Redland, have launched a new website and its members have been very active in the Bristol Chess Times. At the AGM last September we had a list of 23 members but by May 2018 we now have 33 players representing us.  A remarkable growth in membership of 43%!

jon
Thanks for everyones support!

League Chess in 2018 is alive and well in the South West of England and across the UK.  Too often I hear the cry and lament from players about the decline of league chess. But the efforts and ambitions of a small group of individuals and the statistics from the last 12 months indicate that by embracing modern digital tools we can not only halt the decline, but stand ready and primed for success in the future.

Until next time.


mecircle

Jon Fisher

Jon is the Editor of The Bristol Chess Times and Publicity and Recruitment Officer for The Bristol & District Chess League. He plays for Horfield Chess Club and has been known to play 1. b3 on occasion.

 

 

 

Problems in July with GM Jones

This problem of mine recently won 1st Prize in a 2017 tourney of the American magazine ‘StrateGems’. (Yes, the founder of the magazine misspelt ‘stratagems’, and his mistake has been immortalized! The capital “G” is intentional, but not that vowel in front of it.) You may want to avert your gaze and read the next article in BCT straight away, because when it comes to what you can do with a set of chess men this problem is at the opposite end of the spectrum from playing a game of chess. However, I’m hoping that a few readers may read on from curiosity or morbid fascination or whatever.

The problem is ‘helpmate in 3.5 moves’. As you may know, in a helpmate we have a sequence of black and white legal moves in which Black and White conspire together to produce a position in which Black is mated. Just in order to be sound it has to be the case that it looks very unlikely that White could mate Black and that is certainly the case here! In a helpmate in 3 we’d have Black kicking off a sequence of moves leading to mate but as this is in 3.5 move we actually start with White – so we have WBWBWBW sequences. “Sequences” plural, because there is a second part: (b)Pc4>e4 – when that pawn is shifted the (a) solution no longer works but a new solution now does.

You may like to consider how on earth White could mate Black here. Or you may prefer just to read on. (Or that other option – switching to another BCT article – remains open, of course.)

Screen Shot 2018-07-19 at 20.46.08
“White was pleased to get Black out of book early in the game”…A help mate in 3.5 moves

SOLUTION BELOW

The white rook is so immobilized that it looks as though it will have to be the white bishop that does the legwork. It seems that there’s a real risk that when the white bishop moves Black will have no option but to capture the white rook or even administer mate himself. The only alternative after a move by the white bishop is to interpose one of the black Knights, but these give check. There may be a possibility then, though, of playing PxN, and it might be a good thing to get White’s one other combatant, the c2P, involved in the action in this way…

Even so, the only way in which the white rook is going to be able to participate in giving mate is if the mate is by double check…

Putting this all together, you might (or may already have; if so, well done!) come to the first solution (confusingly, because in most helpmates Black begins problemists always write helpmate solutions as though Black had started the game): 1…Bxg6+ 2.Ncd3+ cxd3 3.Ne4 Bf5 4.Rhc6 dxe4. And similar ideas work in (b) 1…Bxb5+ 2.Nfd3+ Bxd3 3.Nb3 cxb3 4.Qc6 Bc4. Move by move the solutions show the same strategy (or should I say “strategems”?!), but the details are all different, which really is a prerequisite for a problem like this, and one reason why the tourney judge gratifyingly had such a favourable impression of it.

Screen Shot 2018-07-19 at 20.47.33
The final position is a pleasing double check

chriscircle

Christopher Jones

Christopher holds the Grandmaster title for Chess Problem Composition and uses his skills to write a regular column for the Bristol Chess Times. He is also a longterm Horfield Chess Club player (where he is acting secretary).

Does your chess need a palete cleanser?

There is something to be said about not giving a damn in chess.  As aspiring amateurs we often find ourselves trawling YouTube videos, congress book stalls and other sources of knowledge for the definitive answer to our self improvement.  We desperately pour over each game looking for the secret kernel of truth that will lead to a couple of extra rating points. We self categorise and insist on playing a certain way because “thats who I am”. Ive spoken before about amateur players categorising themselves as a certain type of player (“Im a positional grinder”) and the dangers that this can bring.  Perhaps sometimes we just need to stop all this philosophising and just play? So what does happen when we stop caring and leave our baggage at the door?

sven-481475-unsplash
Wash your mouth out! Other analogies to playing carefree chess are also available…Photo by Sven from Unsplash

It was last week when I found myself on the wrong end of a bad blitz session online.  Going full tilt (its a poker term for those who haven’t heard this before) meant I kept playing and playing and playing, losing more and more rating points and perhaps most importantly of all playing worse and worse chess.  Having lost over 200 points in ELO I did the right thing and shut down the browser window.

How could this happen?  I know my opening repertoire inside out.  Some of them I’ve been playing for years. Ive been studying tactics and endgames yet I’m hanging pieces for fun.

I was in a bad mood.

I had a bad taste in my mouth.

Back to basics

The next day was the Second Chess Patzer Blitz Arena Tournament on Lichess (do check out the ChessPatzer movement here – Ill be doing a future piece on these crazy streamers).  I had a trip to IKEA planned and knew I couldn’t take part but could probably squeeze a few games in. Remembering my disastrous play the day before I approached it with a kind of “f*** it” attitude and decided I would simply toss pieces up the board and play.  Enough with the systems Ive studied endlessly and the memorised lines. Still smarting from the day before and with half an eye glaring at my new 200pt lower rating I clicked enter.

My first opponent in the Chesspatzer Tournament popped up.

Oh Joy.

An FM with a 2389 rating.

Im black.

He opened with c4.  In true care free fashion I played something novel and burned a pawn just because I could and I didn’t know what I was doing anyway.

I won in 19 moves!

Ok it was a crazy game of online blitz so we can’t put to much weight behind the result but it is still my largest victory by a country mile.  At the time my opponent being almost 700 ELO above my rating.

My point is that for the first time in a while I stopped thinking about the ratings and the openings and the sidelines and all the other stuff and just played.

I felt free and liberated.  From move three I was having to actively think and check lines.  the autonomy of bashing out the first 15 moves of theory that I know off by heart had gone and I was actually playing chess.

By move 16 he was going to win the exchange.  I didn’t even blink.  I didn’t care.  I would just attack his king where previously I would have been racked with guilt searching for the right move.

By the time I delivered the killer blow on move 19 I was probably just as surprised as my opponent. Suddenly reality returned and I was left staring at the screen wondering what I had just done.

Im back” I confidently declared as i moved onto my next game and promptly lost to a 1500 rated player as I resorted to my established repertoire and habits.

Cleansing the palete

Somehow I achieved one of my best results in all my years of chess by playing an opening I didn’t know, sacrificing material I didn’t know I could afford and ignoring the fact that my opponent was titled.

As amateur chess players we often spend an age defining ourselves and the way we want to play.  Whilst this can be great and is part of the joy of establishing your chess persona, sometimes you do just need to swill your mouth out.

Just once every now and then.

Try playing a game that really pushes your comfort zone.  That really challenges everything that you have defined about yourself and the game.  Most importantly, don’t give a damn when you do so.

Apart from my immediate loss to ChessPatzerWAL straight after this game (Well done BTW), I clawed back 150pts of the 200 I had lost almost immediately.  I am convinced that a lot of those subsequent victories were because of my “system reboot” game where I stopped caring, cleansed the pallet and remembered how to play chess.

Regular readers can see this post as the unofficial third article in my summer series on assessing your chess, in particular your opening repertoire.  The earlier articles can be found here:

Summer is a great time to seek changes and improvements in your game.  It would also appear to be an especially a great time of year to stop caring.

Until next time.


mecircle

Jon Fisher

Jon is the Editor of The Bristol Chess Times and Publicity and Recruitment Officer for The Bristol & District Chess League. He plays for Horfield Chess Club and has been known to play 1. b3 on occasion.

 

 

 

GT Rapidplay report and Bristol tournament news

One of the hottest days of the year and a massive cycling event blocking a lot of roads in the centre of Bristol wasn’t the best day for chess – but the hardiest fans still arrived ready for a different kind of heat over the board (and the actual heat).

If you’re ever having a bad day, then my performance in this tournament may cheer you up. Casually late for round 1 I was lucky to get a half-point bye, then an undeserved win with White in round 2 gave way to four straight losses. From the benign to the blunderous and then the classic ‘forget your own surprise opening and burn a rook’.

But there was also some good chess happening – first of all in the Open there were many Cliftonites (Cliftonians?) setting the pace but one newcomer Antony Stannard from North Bristol managed to work his way through the pack to get to board 1 for the final round – a win over IM James Cobb would steal the title. Sadly no heroic tale this time, as James calmly took the title ahead of the other IM Cobb (Charlie, looking on from board two in the final round).

open
Anthony a pawn down in an ending – close but no cigar

In the major it was a cleaner sweep for North Bristol with Graham Iwi pipping Gareth Cullen to the post. Here is Graham surviving some pressure from Steve:

major
I assume that the next move was Rd8+, forcing the rook trade and then retreating the queen to cover the c3 pawn.

More North Bristol success came in the form of Waleed Khan who came third and also took the grading prize. We bring you one of his games against the top seed in the major. After some solid opening play, Gareth is on the attack – but Waleed finds the shuffling manoeuvre of Kh8, then back to g8, and Kh8 again to dodge the various attacking ideas – and he ends up a rook ahead with no danger left:

Well done to Clifton (particularly Igor and Dave) for organising, Geoff for arbitrating, and for North Bristol for a resounding success!

As for me I’ll hit the books.

News about upcoming tournaments

South Bristol Rapidplay (message from Roy Day):

To all our past entrants, friends and anyone that intended playing in the annual South Bristol chess clubs open tournament this year; I have been organising this tournament now for several years and thought I would give it a rest this year.
I apologise to all who may have intended playing but maybe this year with the present hot climate it may be for the best and we do not have air conditioning
All the best to all chess players

Downend Summer Tournament:

If you’re up for something a bit different then this may be up your street – a well-structured innovation from Downend to fit around busy summer calendars. Four nights of blitz chess but only your best three results count towards the total. So if you missed round 1, not to worry! The next round, conveniently after all the football and tennis excitement, is the 17th of July at Downend. You also play opponents with White and Black, so you can claim immediate revenge for that cheeky swindle…

Bristol Summer Congress:

Same place, similar huge field (probably) and cooler weather (probably) on the 24th-26th August.


 

mikecircle

Mike is co-editor of the Bristol Chess Times and plays regular league and tournament chess in Bristol

A useful technique for assessing your chess opening repertoire

Competitive chess is traditionally a winter sport and therefore the summer months provide the ambitious amateur an opportunity to review the state of their chess.  Chess players love to tell themselves stories (‘I am just like Tal’ or ‘I’m so Karpovian it hurts’) but the reality of the situation is often very different. Today I would like to talk you through a technique or framework that I’ve been mulling over to help club players assess their opening repertoire.

In a previous article (“Is the Scandinavian holding me back?”) I reviewed my opening statistics for the last two seasons of competitive chess in the Bristol & District Chess League.  The findings were fascinating, breaking many of the assumptions that I had about my personal chess ability and skill.  For those who haven’t read the article, a thorough review of 54 competitive games revealed a considerable personal weakness when I face 1. e4 compared to almost all other moves.  It wasn’t the objective score per se that shocked me so much as the fact that if you had asked me what my strongest opening was I would have comfortably stated the Scandinavian. This statistical review led to me thinking about other types of assessment, which lead to my proposal for a new tool for amateur players.

“Do you feel lucky punk?”

It occurred to me that whilst just looking at raw statistics is pretty much what every chess player does, it doesn’t quite capture the human element and the different types of chess game that we have all experienced at different times in our chess career.  For example, the loss in a won position, the lucky escape, the bore draw or the “how the hell did I win that?” type scenarios.

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At the conclusion of same games you know that both you and your opponent held the half point confidently…
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…whilst other times you know you took too many blows to the face because your opponent had faster feet.

It occurred to me that if we could create a classification for these emotional descriptions of game and then apply them to our games could this lead to a new level of insight about our repertoires and types of position we excel in?  Well lets give it a go!

To start us off I have identified six types of game:

  1. “I was amazing” – Totally deserved.  You played well throughout, perhaps utilising a favourite line, and sealed a comfortable full point.  Whether it was tactical or positional is not relevant at this stage, simply that you controlled the game and deserved the point.
  2. “Fair play mate” – Sooner or late you and your opponent had to shake hands.  This is the type of game where perhaps you probed a bit, so did she.  Perhaps you were up and then let your opponent back in.  Not a blunder per se more good play from the opposition.  In a solid draw, both parties have little room to argue over the result.
  3. “Ouch, I deserved that.”– A loss.  You were either never in the running or perhaps your opponent just knew more than you.  Perhaps you knew you were drifting and punched out with an unsound line.  Perhaps you were slowly crushed to death under the weight of your opponents play.  Either way, you recognise that your score sheet doesn’t deserve anything other than a zero in the column.
  4. “Phew! Let me buy you a drink” – This could be a win or a draw but either way your smile is bigger than it deserves to be!  Somehow you were up against it and have wriggled free from your opponent’s grasp. Perhaps they committed a gross blunder in the endgame.  Perhaps you tried the cheekiest most unsound move and it paid off.  Whilst it is possible to play in a lucky way (for example, always trying to get your opponent into time trouble”) sooner or later it will run out.  Look in the mirror and ask yourself if you truly understand the position you just escaped from or understand how you got into that mess?
  5. “I just about held that” – This type of game is a draw. But unlike the solid draw above, I’m classifying this as the type of game where you walk away with a share of the points but were only ever really playing for two results – a draw or a loss.  These are the kinds of games where you never felt like or indeed actually had any winning chances.   I also don’t consider these types of game a lucky escape.  You have justified the draw with good defence and play but victory was never in reach.  In football (soccer for our American friends) we might refer to it as “parking the bus”
  6. “Nooo, what have I done?” – The worst type of game.  We have all been there.  Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.  Great play that at the last minute has somehow turned to dust.  Typically thee games involve gross blunders but it can also be that we achieve a winning position and somehow let it slip through our fingers over several moves.  Perhaps we achieve a great position and implement the wrong plan?  Whatever happened, these ones hurt. A lot.

So there we have my six definitions of the different types of game that I am sure we have all experienced at some stage.  Im sure some readers may think of others or quibble with my particular definitions but for now, lets see how we could use this framework.

So is the Scandinavian really holding me back?

Again using the same 54 games dataset as previous, I worked my way through the 17 games of the Scandinavian that I have played in competitive OTB in the last two seasons.  Obviously applying this technique requires the chess player to be completely honest with themselves (unless you work through it with a friend or coach).

Here are my results:

  1. “I was amazing” (a deserved win) – 2 games
  2. “Fair play mate” (a deserved draw) – 3 games
  3. “Ouch, I deserved that” (a deserved loss) – 5 games
  4. “Phew! Let me buy you a drink” (a lucky win or draw) – 3 games
  5. “I just about held that” ( a solid tough draw that was never going to win) – 4 games
  6. “Nooo, what have I done?” (a tragic loss) – 0 games

I don’t know about you but I find this really interesting as an additional level of analysis to the statistical breakdown that most players start (and stop) with.

As a quick recap, from our 17 game sample of the Scandinavian I had scored 41% against opposition typically ranked 10 ECF / 75 ELO lower than me. Not great.

But by applying our framework we start to see that even in games where I scored some points, often they were in positions where I was lucky or was holding onto the draw.  Seven of the 17 games (1 win and 6 draws) I was able to classify as either a lucky escape or defensive rearguard action.  This does not install confidence that I know how to play the kinds of positions I am getting in the Scandinavian.  It also goes someway to explain the amount of games in the “Ouch I deserved that” column (5 games).  If you are constantly clinging on then sooner or later you will fall off.

Another telling piece of analysis is that it shows I have not been unlucky or riddled with blunders.  None of my games with the Scandinavian featured horrific blunders.

The application of this technique has really helped reinforce a belief that I already suspected regarding my play in the Scandinavian.  That is that my tactics are mostly good but I don’t seem to understand or play well in the positions I find myself.

I haven’t been swindled.

I haven’t thrown won games away.

I was never winning them in the first place.

Conclusion

I have found this technique a fast and rapid way to get some additional insight into my opening repertoire and fully intend to apply it to the rest of my games.  I feel that for the amateur player it could prove to be a valuable tool to break the cycle of telling ourselves false narratives around our play.

Its human nature in chess to remember the glorious wins whilst forgetting the crushing defeats but perhaps a lot of amateur players are missing a trick by blinding themselves with this bias.

Across the six types of game I have defined it seems possible to indicate a type of approach or teaching need for each type of game that you play with an opening:

  1. “I was amazing” – You obviously know the opening and understand the plans associated with it.  Well done!
  2. “Fair play mate” – You again understand the opening well but perhaps need to work on identifying the right plan to help you push ahead and convert those draws into wins.
  3. “Ouch, I deserved that” – Go back to school!  Something has gone wrong for you and if you are having a lot of games classified in this category then start at the beginning again or get a new opening.
  4. “Phew, let me buy you a drink” – A tricky conclusion.  Being lucky can feel great but it may be holding you back in the long term.  For example, always fluking a win against 1600 opposition may all be well and good but that might also explain why you don’t beat those 1800’s you so desperately want to.  Is your luck blinding your inadequacies in understanding?
  5. “I just about held that” – You get it.  You understand the opening.  But is it enabling you to push on.  Having learnt the opening, how do you find winning lines or should you look for something a little more double edged?
  6. “Noooo, what have I done” – Study tactics. Study endgames. Your problem isn’t the opening.

I hope you have found this technique interesting and can see the potential in spotting flaws (or even maybe coaching others).  Its early days and I am sure some readers have some comments on the classification scheme.  Keep talking to me and let me know how you get on using it.

Until next time!


mecircle

Jon Fisher

Jon is the Editor of The Bristol Chess Times and Publicity and Recruitment Officer for The Bristol & District Chess League. He plays for Horfield Chess Club and has been known to play 1. b3 on occasion.

Chess Myths – Creativity

The hidden inventiveness of chess

I used to think GM’s were all the same. They were all at least 50 years old, they played only the most mainstream openings, they never sacrificed anything and they won games by grabbing a pawn and hanging on to it.

This was when I was still at school and before the internet boom. Kasparov and Short were on TV when I was 6; I had learnt to play a year before that but I don’t think I watched it or knew what it was – and I didn’t find out they were both aggressive, highly creative players until much later (just think of Kasparov’s immortal game and Short’s infamous king-walk).

In 2018 we have an abundance of creative players, not least the exciting junior Richard Rapport. Check out any of his games for some fresh ideas, but meanwhile here’s a finishing attack against none other than Levon Aronian from 2016:

rapport

Here Rapport unleashes Rh1+! Whichever way White takes it there is devastation to follow (Nxh1 and Nf3+ or Kxh1 and Bxd4 followed by Qh4+ and mate soon) – but the more important point is that Rapport had to imagine this idea before he played the rook manoeuvre over to h5, as if the attack fails then it is really out of place there.

That’s how these young GM’s do it! But no, I thought GM’s had to be super patient, super restrained, super technical and super ruthless. And this is how I think many people outside chess still see it. Imagine for a second you don’t know the rules. You see on TV someone studying for 25 minutes and moving a pawn forward one square – you see the crowd going wild. What the…? As an observer you are hardly going to appreciate creativity here – because you won’t be seeing everything they are – chess is not naturally a spectator sport in this way.

But take IM Danny Rensch’s analysis of Gelfand’s extraordinary queen sacrifice here, saying he fell off his chair. This is more like the reaction you want for chess – seeing moves that are unexpected and intuitively creative – like a cheeky drop-shot in tennis. But creativity takes many forms and it is difficult for chess commentators to bring it all out.

From watching a lot of mainstream TV interviews with chess players over the years, the non-chess-playing interviewer often seems fascinated that the chess elite ‘spend their whole lives within 64 squares’ – they ask how a person can do it, they ask if it ever gets boring, they ask if they miss out on normal life. They are both in awe and also a little condescending towards the GM who is often attempting to debunk the myths of calculating 30 moves ahead, seeing every possibility, or of an inevitable descent into paranoia. What they never ask about is creativity.

The fact is that in chess, like in art, there are principles. To be good at art, you can learn the principles, but to be a great artist, you need to break them. Great chess players know when to break the rules – and they do it surprisingly often.

Every game is different. And to improve at chess it’s not just about openings, and not just endgame technique or tactics. You have to adjust how to approach your own thinking about chess positions.

And yes – part of this is your own brain – your own ideas and imagination. You will have many previous learnings about chess (doctrines like “passed pawns must be pushed!” or certain styles like Nimzowich’s ‘overprotection’). Let them advise you but don’t let them control you. The real fight is happening in your own mind – balancing impulses against logic, the innovative against the tried-and-tested, the right brain against the left brain if you will. Just let your creativity have influence – and have trust in your own moves.
See this video (or the game below) by Ronen Har-Zvi called ‘Trust your calculations’ where he focuses on a wild game from Dr. John Nunn. Notably Vishy Anand also said that the first time he beat a GM he learned to “believe in his own moves”.

I have a very different view of GM’s now – in fact almost the opposite from my 10-year old self. Sure they are technically very good, and sometimes win games by grabbing a pawn and hanging on to it. But to get there they had to hone their own style, and their own personal take on the game. They had to create something.

Here’s the game between Nunn and Anthony – played in Bristol in 1981!


mikecircle

Mike is co-editor of the Bristol Chess Times and plays regular Bristol chess

Beyond the fundamentals

The Soviet school of chess espoused a diligent focus on the fundamentals. Here’s Kramnik describing the tenets of his training:

 

“Botvinnik’s example and teaching established the modern approach to preparing for competitive chess: regular but moderate physical exercise; analysing very thoroughly a relatively narrow repertoire of openings; annotating one’s own games, those of past great players and those of competitors; publishing one’s annotations so that others can point out any errors; studying strong opponents to discover their strengths and weaknesses; ruthless objectivity about one’s own strengths and weaknesses.”
– Vladimir Kramnik

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Find the time, cultivate the habits and you too will develop a robust foundation of skills. For the majority of players, this program alone will be sufficient to eventually reach their chess goals. It’s reliable, safe and proven by test but it’s not all-encompassing.

There are unexpected factors which influence performance. You are doing chess a disservice to bundle them together as luck. I view breaking down ‘luck’ into learnable skills as a pivotal facet of whether coaching will be successful. Let’s look at how this works, drawing upon best practice from mental game training in poker.

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  • Diagnosis (unconscious incompetence)
    I have a student whose raw calculation ability wouldn’t be obvious from reviewing his games. Curious oversights litter his play and are holding back progress.
  • Awareness (conscious incompetence)
    Before this leak can be plugged, the student needs to know precisely what’s wrong. Having a mentor diagnose and explain a weakness will speed up this process.
  • Harness (conscious competence)
    Concrete strategies are presented to the student. We implemented a blunder check routine, discussed critical positions and measured the number of times he left the board during a game. The specifics here are less interesting than the model.
  • Mastery (unconscious competence)
    Once the routines have been successfully embedded by the student, they no longer require his conscious focus. It’s time to find another weakness and the cycle starts over.

Presented in this way, the journey looks almost trivial but I can assure you it isn’t. Combatting psychological biases is complex and fascinating work. Progress is non-linear and difficult to predict. To help, I’m developing new coaching techniques in tandem with my dissertation research on practice in mathematics. Not yet ready to go public though!

Chess pretends to be a game of perfect information. Disguised within its simple structure are sources of variance. Recognising, harnessing and finally mastering these hidden variables will elevate your game beyond the fundamentals.

(editors note – This article originally published on 14th April 2018 on Makepeace with Chess. Republished with kind permission from the author)


Chris Russell

Chris Russell

Chris is a part-time member of Downend and Fishponds and formerly played for Bristol University. He is now based in London where he co-founded Makepeace With Chess.

 

Problems in June with GM Jones

The late great American composer Milan Vukcevich specialized in problems showing interesting things happening on on the lines on which a threat (often a threat of mate) is being defended. As such his problems are often more closely related to the game of chess than many I have quoted in Bristol Chess Times! Consider this mate in 4, which won 1st Prize in ‘Chess Life’ in 1988:

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Clearly we need to find a move that threatens mate. It turns out that this move is by the rather out-of-play Nc1, but it’s not immediately obvious that 1.Na2! does carry any threat. White is angling after possible mates by Nb4 and Nc3, but these threats are at present defended respectively by the bQ and the bR. Aha! But there is a threat, 2.c4+! This move, to the intersection of the lines h4-b4 and c7-c3, would present Black with an impossible dilemma. If he replied 2…Rxc4 then the R can be decoyed away: 3.Nb4+! Rxb4 (the point is that …Qxb4 is longer possible) and now another square the Rook had been guarding is available to White: 4.Qc6#. Something very similar would happen after 2…Qxc4: 3.Nc3+ Qxc3 4.Be4#.

But of course it is Black to play and he has two first moves that defeat the threat. One is 1…Qa4, pinning the cP. But something similar (but more spectacular) happens now: 2.Qc4+!. Now we have 2…Rxc4 3.Be4+! Rxe4 4.Nc3# (this wouldn’t have worked as a threat because after 2.c4+ Rxc4 3.Be4+ there’s 3…Qxe4)

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4.nc3 is the first of several pretty mates

and 2…Qxc4 3.Nc3+ Qxc3 4.Be4#.

Screen Shot 2018-06-23 at 09.08.59
and again…

Finally, Black can defend with 1…Nxc2, and this time (hurrah) it’s 2.Bc4+ that works: 2…Rxc4 3.Nb4+ Rxb4 4.Qc6#

Screen Shot 2018-06-23 at 09.09.14
Perhaps the most conventional mate by actually utilising a queen!

and 2…Qxc4 3.Qc6+! Qxc6 4.Nb4#. There are other black first moves which fail uninterestingly.

Screen Shot 2018-06-23 at 09.09.30
Perhaps the prettiest of all

When moves such as these are to the intersection of two orthogonal lines of guard the device or motif or theme, call it what you will, is described as a Plachutta interference. The better-known situation in which the move is to the intersection of an orthogonal line of guard and a diagonal line of guard is known as a Nowotny interference. These interferences do sometimes crop up in games, and there are probably other occasions on which a player has failed to spot such an opportunity.


chriscircle

Christopher Jones

Christopher holds the Grandmaster title for Chess Problem Composition and uses his skills to write a regular column for the Bristol Chess Times. He is also a longterm Horfield Chess Club player (where he is acting secretary).