Whose attack is faster in a tactical Semi-Slav?

In the latest episode, we showcase a tactical explosion in the Semi-Slav from a recent Division 1 clash between Horfield A and Horfield B. We look at the idea of a bad plan is better than no plan and how the speed of a players attack can be deceptive.

 

Whose attack is faster in a tactical Semi-Slav? – (23 minutes long)

If you are enjoying our game reviews and would like to nominate one of your games for the channel then please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Please do remember to subscribe on YouTube and share with your chess friends!

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.

Practical decisions in the Symmetrical English

In episode 1 of the newly launched Bristol Chess Times YouTube channel we look at a game from the recent Division 1 clash between Clifton B and Horfield C.  A quiet opening sees both sides manoeuvring before white finds a way to disrupt the pawns in front of blacks king but he loses the e-file in the process.  We start our analysis in the middle game where several key positions arise in quick succession that present white with a number of tricky decisions. Lets pick up the action…

 

Practical decisions in the Symmetrical English – (20 minutes long)

If you enjoyed the video please remember to Subscribe on YouTube and share with all your chess friends!  We aim to produce a range of monthly videos and articles on the Bristol Chess Times so please get in touch if you feel there is an interesting game we can cover.

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.

Welcome to The Bristol Chess Times YouTube Channel

Today we are delighted to announce the launch of The Bristol Chess Times YouTube channel! We feel video is the perfect format for talking through the cut and thrust of your typical amateur league chess match and have worked hard to present a clean and professional looking approach. We hope you subscribe, share and most importantly enjoy!

Our first video is simply a short introduction (three minutes) to the YouTube channel outlining mine and Mike’s ambitions for pushing The Bristol Chess Times and the Bristol & District Chess League forward.

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.

Why don’t amateurs play mainline openings?

I will confess that I had an alternative name for this blog post that went something along the lines of “Wading into the Sicilian swamplands”. However I decided that sounded more like a pulp fiction thriller than a conversation on amateur chess player habits.  In addition I feared it would put too much emphasis on the Sicilian rather than the wider aversion of amateur chess players to tackle openings more usually employed by the professionals.  Across the amateur chess scene you are more likely to see Owens Defence (1…b6) than a Berlin but why is that and what are we so afraid of?

 

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What shall we play today? Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

So unfortunately I fall into the category of amateur chess club player.  To give you an idea of the kind of club player I am I’ve broken down some facts about my play for you:

  • My OTB grade has hovered between 145 – 155 ECF (1788 – 1863 ELO) for the last 10 years.
  • I tend to play in Majors at weekend congresses where I occasionally win a prize
  • Recently i’ve played at the bottom of several Open tournaments where I claim the odd scalp and end up dining out on that far more than the three games I lost in the endgame (of which with best play I should probably have drawn two)
  • The type of openings I play include the Nimzo-Larsen Attack (1.b3), the Scandinavian (1…d5) and the Clarendon Court (1.d4 c5 2. d5 f5?!)

Like a lot of club players, I console my lack of progress (and justify my opening choices) by saying things like “I don’t have time” (note – I really don’t, my children are 2.5yrs and 13 days old) or “My openings drag my opponents out of book“.

But heres the thing.

The entire amateur chess scene says this.  The choice of obscure / semi-sound / non-mainline openings for time poor amateurs is further reinforced by a huge range of system style books and DVDs. As a result it is not unusual to watch a game in a Minor or Major section of a tournament involve 10 opening moves of system style openings where both players are overlooking obvious opportunities on the board in the name of getting to “their desired set up” (as dictated by whichever latest book or DVD you have studied this month).

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing overly wrong with this approach and indeed works well for a large number of club players.

Earlier in the year I wrote several pieces on reviewing your opening repertoire but also how, in my opinion in the amateur world sidelines are the new mainline.

However, is it ultimately limiting the growth of many players? This question is based on a recent eye opening experience that has challenged my belief in this approach.

Time to kill with a stale repertoire

As regular readers will know, I recently suffered a serious accident which has left me convalescing in bed for the last five weeks. As a result i’ve played a lot of rapid chess (10 minutes, no increment) online.

Forced to rest with a lot of time to kill and a growing believe that my repertoire needed updating I started playing anything in order to spice things up.  This radical approach led me to start playing…whisper it…the Sicilian.

1…c5

I know.

Take a moment.

If you were to ask my partner in crime at the Bristol Chess Times, co-editor Mike Harris, my personal opinion of the Sicilian he would probably tell you that its not safe for work and should be broadcast after 9pm in the evening. I hate the Sicilian.

Its complicated, it has entire libraries of theory and literature and every player has a special anti-Sicilian sideline (I’m looking at you 2.b3 weirdos) which makes studying it a nightmare.  Of all the possible opening moves available, I have never played 1…c5.

Well I guess circumstances eventually forced my hand and it turns out that i really like the Sicilian!

Its fun, its tactical and at no point have I bothered to learn any names of any variations.

That last point is key to my message today.  When I first started throwing the C-pawn forward I just started applying sound opening principles to see what happened.  I was just playing chess rather than starting from the position of looking for a new book or DVD involving the words “Crush”, “Win” or “Beat”.

I started winning.  I started winning cool exciting games. Beating 1900’s and 2000’s become the norm rather than the exception. My online rapid play grade went from 1840 to 1950 ELO, a personal best.

Lets look at the numbers taken from my rapid games on Lichess:

  • Scandinavian Defence – Won 38% / Drew 4% /  58% (24 games)
  • Sicilian Defence – Won 59% / Drew 0% / 41% (29 games)

Obviously being 10 minute games amongst amateurs the number of draws is very low. However, the difference is stark!

Noticing my general happiness in my chess improving following the adoption of the C-pawn, I decided to look up the variation I had naturally been playing.  Turns out its called the Scheveningen Variation and has been championed by none other than Gary Kasparov in the past.

Hold on.  This doesn’t compute. Im an amateur player. Every book, DVD and YouTube video  tells me I should be playing a system style opening that crushes all before me and yet I seem to be having fun and winning using a mainline opening played by possibly the greatest world champion of all time.

I shouldn’t be having fun. I certainly shouldn’t be winning because I haven’t learnt any theory in this behemoth opening that has always terrified me. Whats happening?

Style beats theory

Turns out that there is something about the Sicilian that resonates with me.  I genuinely don’t know whether that is that the plans make sense to me, I like the types of tactics or it dissolves into endgames that make sense to me? It could be all three to be fair.

Whatever it is, my personal style seems to connect with the Sicilian and it has really reinvigorated both me personally and my results. Ive learned a valuable lesson.

How much are amateur chess players holding themselves back by not playing mainline openings due to a fear of a lack of time and an intimidation of theory?  How much are club players short changing or even stunting their chess development by burying their heads in their hands because mainline openings are scary?

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“Curses! A mainline opening…(sigh)” Photo by taha ajmi on Unsplash

Ask someone else what your style is

Amateur chess players are famous for telling themselves stories about how they play (“Im a tactical wizard” or “Im a positional master“) but often the reality is far different.  Today I have spoken about how I have accidentally found a love for a mainline opening after shunning it for years.

Remember my point is not to go into realms of time consuming study. I have no more time in my daily life now than before and have still not studied any Sicilian Scheveningen theory (although somebody did mumble something about the Keres Attack, g4, blah blah something something).

Therefore, in my opinion, perhaps the most important challenge for amateur players is identifying their actual personal style rather than starting from the position of which time saving system shall I play? Given we often tell ourselves stories my best recommendation would be to ask your club mates, friends or coach about how they think you play.  Work through several of your games and look at the raw data, even if that data is from blitz games online. You might just surprise yourself over what you learn whilst saving yourself both time and money on that next “Beat everyone with this system” DVD you were eyeing up.


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 (Yes. I know its not a mainline…).

GM Nicholas Pert wins Bristol Qualifer of UK Open Blitz 2018

A disappointing level of stress was caused by the UK Open Blitz Bristol qualifier held last week. In my previous advert for the event, I assumed 15 rounds of blitz chess would be hell for the poor arbiter having to control the event; this was not the case! In the most anti-climactic event of the year (for the arbiters), the arbiting team even felt calm during the event!

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The playing hall at Bristol Grammar School with live scoreboard! Photo credit @ Anita Thorpe

At 11am, all 42 players had arrived and were ready to do battle with barely enough time on the clock to remember how the horsey and the castle move. Leading the seedings was England’s number 9 and part of the England Olympiad team, Grandmaster Nicholas Pert. It was also great to see the return of Bristol League veteran and Fischer slayer IM James Sherwin who took the 2nd seed spot.

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Bristol legend IM James Sherwin (right) was seeded 2nd for the event. Photo credit @ Anita Thorpe.

It was also nice to see a cohort from the “Noisy Neighbours” of North Bristol, including chess celebrity Fiona Steil-Antoni who made her Bristol League debut against South Bristol this season.

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Top board clash! GM Nicholas Pert and WIM Fiona Steil-Antoni battling it out. Photo credit @ Anita Thorpe

It only took until Round 3 for the first “upset” when Jim Sherwin lost to the Czech player Krystof Sneiberg. By the Round 5 break, Nick Pert was on 5/5, with a chasing pack on 4/5 including Sherwin, Steil-Antoni, Sneiberg, Lewis Martin and Paul Hampton. A well-deserved lunch break was given to the players at this time before the remaining 10 rounds started.

In the next 5 games, Nick Pert continued his dominance; only dropping a draw to Steven Jones put him 2 points ahead of the field on 9.5/10. Sneiberg and Martin trailed on 7.5 and Jones on 7 were the chasing pack vying for the second qualification place. For the female qualification places Fiona led on 6.5, with Alice Lampard and Erika Orsagova on 4.5 and Dorota Pacion on 4 fighting for the second spot. The Bristol juniors were also faring well – Ollie Stubbs on 6 and Chirag Hosdurga on 5.5.

Whilst Nick Pert continued to dominate the field to win the event on 14.5, the battle for 2nd became very tense as Sneiberg held a half point lead heading into the final few rounds. Despite blundering a rook in the penultimate round, Sneiberg managed to hang on to his lead and finished on 12.5 with Jones finishing on 12 and Martin on 11.

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Plenty of space for pacing although blitz tends not to lend itself to meandering long walks between moves. Photo credit @ Anita Thorpe
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Blitzing in full swing. Photo credit @ Anita Thorpe.

The female qualification places were equally tense. Fiona confirmed her place in the Women’s Final finishing on a valiant 8.5, but once again 2nd place became a tight affair. Both Lampard and Orsagova finished on 7 points, but the Bristol University student Lampard won out on tiebreaks to take her to the Women’s Final on 1st December.

Rating prizes were also awarded to the best scorers in a given rating band. Steven Jones won the A group band with 12, Michael Ashworth winning the B group with 9 points and Chirag Hosdurga taking the C group prize on 8 points beating Oliver Stubbs and Martin Quinn by being the lowest rated player.

Overall, the event was a pleasure to control and many congratulations to the winners! Hopefully this is an event that will grow and continue to be a staple in the calendar – however if you can’t wait till then, the Bristol Open Blitz Championships are being held on the 25th November. Entry form found here.


TomThorpe

Tom Thorpe

Tom is an International Arbiter and used to play for North Bristol in the Bristol League. Now based in Exeter, he still pretends to play chess in-between organising events.

 

The Forgotten Lady Champion who defeated Emanuel Lasker

Here on the Bristol Chess Times we have previously written about the often over looked Mary Rudge who could be considered the unofficial first womens’ world champion. Not many of her games survive but one of note is her adjourned victory against Emanuel Lasker in a simultaneous display in 1898.  Even in a simultaneous display, defeating the reigning men’s world champion in the 19th century was no mean feat. Lets take a look.

Before continuing if you are wondering “Who is Mary Rudge?” then I strongly recommend you read John Richard’s excellent thesis on her life and times as a pioneering female chess player in the 19th century.

Very little is known about this particular simul other than it was held in the Imperial Hotel but whether that is Bristol, London or elsewhere is unknown.  It is understood that Lasker was running out of time in general and a number of games went to adjournment. He graciously conceding defeat due to best play resulting in a win for black (modern computer analysis of the final adjourned position indeed shows a sizeable advantage to black of -3.23).

The combatants, Emanuel Lasker and Mary Rudge

With little more historical context available, lets look at how one of the finest female players of the 19th century handled the second world chess champion.

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The final position shows whites sacrificial play has come to nothing and as soon as blacks king gets safe, then the world champion is lost

So a calm defensive approach from Mary seals her a famous win against the second world chess champion.  At no point in the game does she really probe the world champions defences but she comes away with the full point through solid defence and tempting her romantic era opponent into some profoundly unsound sacrifices.  Indeed, one of the common observations of modern GM’s is their super defensive powers compared to their predecessors.  Its interesting to note how disruptive a good defender would have been in the 19th century when swash buckling sacrifices were the expectation of the day.

Our previous article on Mary Rudge was very warmly received so I am pleased to finally get an annotated game of hers on The Bristol Chess Times. I hope you enjoyed this historic game, especially if you are interested in the history and development of the womens’ game.


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.

Three challenges facing Chess960: A fan perspective

So I recently suffered a serious accident resulting in me spending a lot of time in bed watching chess videos (everything in life has a silver lining). In the past week I have been enjoying the excellent coverage of the Sinquefield Cup being broadcast by the St Louis Chess Club during which the topic of Chess960 has cropped up on multiple occasions amongst the commentary team and the worlds elite players.  Indeed on the 10th – 14th September the chess club will be hosting five matches of Chess960 between 10 elite players (including the 960 debut of Gary Kasparov) with a total prize fund of $250,000. With interest in Chess960 supposedly growing (especially at the top levels of chess) I thought I would take a moment to highlight three challenges facing this variant of chess from my own personal perspective as an “average” chess fan. 

What is Chess960?

Very briefly, Chess960 is a variant of classic chess first proposed by Bobby Fischer in 1996 in Buenos Aires.  It involves the randomisation of the home rank pieces for each player therefore rendering each players home preparation moot.  There are 960 possible combinations for randomising the starting positions of the home rank pieces, hence the name Chess960.  The classical setup of pieces (you know the one which can take a lifetime to master) would be considered position 1 of 960.

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One of 960 starting position for a game of Chess960. Guess we aren’t playing a Berlin then…

Routinely Chesss960 is often referred to as the ultimate test of pure chess skill.  Whilst I recognise that this can appeal and be an interesting variant for some fans and players, in my opinion there are a number of challenges from an entertainment perspective that need to be resolved if Chess960 is to garner a large following and interest in the established chess community.

Challenge 1: Identity

The number of chess fans tuning in to watch the Sinquefield Cup has been impressive with the show broadcast in over 200 countries and daily YouTube videos racking up views in excess of 100,000 in 24 hour periods.  Indeed the St Louis Chess Club broadcasts are easily setting the bar for the pinnacle in chess broadcasting.

In round 8 of the Sinquefield Cup Alexander Grischuk played 1.f4 (Birds Opening) to an explosion of delight to the fans in the YouTube chat, on Twitter and around the globe. Several people phoned into the live studio to ask excited questions of Jen Shahade, Yasser Seirawan and Maurice Ashley about the Birds Opening.

Why?

Because, putting chess ability to one side for a moment, many chess fans love to construct their identities and styles of play (“I’m Karpovian, quiet and positional” or “I attack like Tal“) and openings (“You just can’t beat my London“).  To the average club player, identifying with a particular opening helps anchor them in the exceedingly complex game that we all love.  They know that they will never be a GM (or hit 2000 ELO for that matter) but in some spheres and realms it is enough to dream that we understand a little of this great game.  Hence when Sasha Grishchuk casually tosses the f-pawn forward on move 1, amateur fans around the word rejoice because they feel a connection, they relate and (whisper it) connect with it.

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Even Chess Arbiter Chris Bird enjoyed seeing 1.f4 on the board. Photo credit to @LennartOotes

Chess960 kills an amateur players identity dead.

There is nothing to hold onto. Nothing that is recognisable or relatable. Those openings that I’ve worked so hard on and are the reason we follow certain GMs results is suddenly gone and the amateur is set adrift in the sea of “pure chess skill”.  Leading us nicely to the second challenge in my view.

Challenge 2: Complexity

Chess is hard. Thats why we love it.

But the consistency of the starting position atleast helps give some level of understanding (even if often we are only just holding on with our fingernails) to the average chess fan.  A chess fan rated 1800 would be considered a strong club player. But when those players watch classical chess we are already starting with a 1000 point deficit compared to a Super GM.  By randomising the starting position to one of 960 possible variations, as a spectator, my ability and understanding plummets even more.

Now for a game that already suffers from an accessibility issue in terms of new people learning the game, do we really want to be making it harder for people to engage?

Don’t get me wrong. I totally understand why elite players would be interested in Chess960 as they have already mastered the classical position.  But if elite players find 960 more challenging then it is especially so for your average chess fan and infinitely so for newbies to the game.

From an entertainment perspective, in what other sport would organisers say: “Hey you know what?  Lets make it more complicated for the viewers“.

Challenge 3: History & Commentary

Chess players love history.  They love the mystique of famous matches and clashes. They love the cool names of variations and places.  They love the great stories that Yasser Seirawan casually drops into conversation when commentating about the time he was blitzing with Boris Spassky or some other such legend of chess.

Again Chess960 eliminates this aspect to the entertainment side of the game.  Admittedly, Chess960 is very young in comparison to classical chess so does not have such a rich history.  However, by reducing (a deliberate choice of word) the game to one of 960 possible starting positions it makes it very difficult to commentate on or make accessible to the casual chess fan.

At no point can someone say, “Ah yes this reminds me of the 2017 match between Carlsen and Nakamura using starting position 758“. Even if they could it will take decades for comparisons and useful commentary to start to appear.

Also, how do you name variations when a variation very very very rarely ever appears again? The short answer is you don’t.

Which leaves the commentary team just talking about the “pure test of chess skill” on the boards in front of them.  Maybe I’m old fashioned but I personally feel the chess viewing experience is lessened when the rich tapestry of chess history is removed.

Conclusion

In conclusion, It is not my intent to attack Chess960 itself. Im sure a great many players around the world enjoy the variant.  My intent was to raise question marks over how this version of chess can be marketed and promoted to the masses.

The St Louis Chess Club and others such as Chess.com are doing sterling efforts to promote chess and raise participation levels globally.  But with so much effort and research gone into making chess exciting and engaging to watch, is Chess960 really a step forward or is it a niche sub-variant for players of a certain high standard?

With $250,000 prize fund it certainly looks like Chess960 is starting to be taken seriously.

My question is by making it harder to follow, removing any sense of chess identity and eliminating chess history from the commentary are the chess masses going to as easily engage? Is the ultimate test of pure chess skill really what your average chess fan is really looking for?

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.

 

 

 

UK Open Blitz Championship comes to Bristol

The UK Open Blitz Championships is an innovation by the ECF, with 8 qualifying tournaments across the UK. Qualifiers range from Belfast to London, Edinburgh to Cardiff, but perhaps the most important qualifier being Bristol! Each qualifier will provide 2 main qualifying places to the Grand Finals as well as 2 female qualifiers to the Women’s Final held later in the year.

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“Blitz chess kills your ideas. ~ Bobby Fischer”

“Like dogs who sniff each other when meeting, chess players have a ritual at first acquaintance: they sit down to play speed chess. ~ Anatoly Karpov”

On the 8th September, we will be making a usual return to Bristol Grammar School but instead playing in the newly built 1532 theatre rather than the 6th form centre. Starting at 11am, strap in tight for a whopping 15 rounds of FIDE-rated blitz chess to find out who will qualify for the Finals! There will be several grading prizes on offer as well to everyone playing, so players of all ages and abilities can come and compete for a prize. Also prepare for one stressed out arbiter trying to keep everyone under control, including regular writer for the Bristol Chess Times, Mike Harris!

“In blitz, the knight is stronger than the bishop. ~ Vlastmil Hort”

The Grand Finals will then take place on the 1st December in Birmingham with a prize pool of over £5000, with 1st prize in the Grand Final being £1000 and the Women’s Champion taking home £500; not bad for one day of Blitz chess! Everyone who qualifies to the Finals Day will receive a prize, so qualifying is not only honourable, but profitable!

“He who analyses blitz is stupid. ~ Rashid Nezhmetdinov”

For full details, rules and to enter the tournament, visit:
https://www.englishchess.org.uk/uk-open-blitz-championship/


TomThorpe

Tom Thorpe

Tom is an International Arbiter and used to play for North Bristol in the Bristol League. Now based in Exeter, he still pretends to play chess in-between organising events.

Problems in August 2018 with GM Jones

I’ve previously referred to the late Norman Macleod, the second British problem composer to receive (in 1991) the title of Grandmaster of Chess Composition, who was a strong player (scoring 7 / 16 on Board 3 for Scotland in the 1958 Olympiad) and who latterly played for Gloucestershire. His chess composing talent spread over many styles of chess problem, and is seen to good advantage in this fairly traditional one:

 

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1st Prize, Variantim 1988
Mate in 3

Solution Below

An experienced solver looking at this position might note that White is lined up against e5 (Bxe5# is thwarted only by the bRe1) and d5 (Rxd5# is thwarted only by the bBg2). This might lead the experienced solver to consider what happens if White places a piece on the intersection of Black’s two lines of guard, e1-e5 and g2-d5, i.e., on e4. If we ignore for the moment Black’s other two main defenders, the Rd1 and the Bh2, then moving either wN to e4 would do the trick, threatening both Bxe5 and Rxd5, and if …Bg2xNe4 then Bxe5# and if …Re1xNe4 then Rxd5#. (These moves to e4 are termed by problemists Nowotny interferences. They do occasionally crop up in actual games!)

However, Black’s other two defenders come to his rescue. Whichever white Knight goes to e4, a new line of guard is opened – so if 1.Nde4+? then 1…Rxe4! and if 1…Nge4+? then 1…Bxe4!.

So we need to hold these possibilities in mind while seeing if we can make a different threat, which may induce Black to weaken his defences. And the move we’re looking for is 1.Bf6!, threatening 2.Bd8 and 3.Bc7 (and if 2…Ne6 3.Be7). This threat is difficult to meet. In fact, the only way that Black can defend is by threatening a check, which, if allowed, would prolong proceedings beyond 3 moves. One way Black does this is by 1…d4, enabling him to meet 2.Bd8 by 2…Bb7+. But this move blocks the d1-d5 line, so we can now move the d2N to e4 (which is check!), and we do now have 2…Rxe4/Bxe4 3.Rd5/Bxe5#.

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One potential solution starting with 1…d4

Similarly, 1…f4 meets 2.Bd8 with 2…Bh3+ but blocks the h2-e5 line, allowing 2.Nge4+! Rxe4/Bxe4 3.Rxd5/Bxe5#.

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A second try beginning with 1…f4 also falls to checkmate.

Excellently matched play on diagonal and orthogonal lines – I’m not surprised it won a First Prize!


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).

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.

 

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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.