Does your chess need a pallet 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?

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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 pallet

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.

 

 

 

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.

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#.

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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#

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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.

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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).

Attacking chess then and now – Mike Wood commemorated

Mike Wood will be remembered as someone who always preferred risky and exciting lines of play. The Evans Gambit and the Milner-Barry were among his favourites as White and here are some examples of his style of play.

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“An Evans crushing” administered by Mike Wood in 1961

Robert Wildig was probably Bristol’s best chess prodigy (after David Wells) in the early 1960s. He played for Horfield in those days and in this game he succumbed to a crushing in the Evans.

W.A. Oddy (was it Bill?) was in the middle of the Bath top three between Bob Northage and Ron Gregory for many years. Here Mike throws the kitchen sink at him.

And here is a game annotated by Tyson Mordue for the D&F magazine “Versus” back in 1985. “Who needs Tal?” indeed!

Mike generously left money to both the Bristol League and Downend and Fishponds and the D&F committee have been pondering how best to commemorate this. Part of it is being used to provide a trophy for the best attacking play in games on our website and this year there were 23 from which to choose. Committee members and team captains were asked to rank the three games which best reflected Mike’s style of play.

In third place is this wild game between two of our club members in the Pentyrch match. Neil and Richard certainly entered into the spirit of this always friendly occasion.

Second is a fine example of attacking play by Henry Duncanson, soon, sadly, to be lost to Bristol chess.

And first place goes to Aron Saunders for a game that is notable especially for the maturity of an eleven year old’s play. He was the clear winner, nominated by five of the ten voters and with three first choices. It should also come as no surprise that this game featured as the first Game of the Month on the re-vitalized BCT last September.

Incidentally, fourth, fifth and sixth places were filled by Toby Kan, Jack Tye and Oli Stubbs, showing that the senior players had all better watch out next year


ianpickup

Ian Pickup

After leaving school Ian trained as an accountant, therefore missing his true vocation, to take over from John Arlott as the BBC cricket correspondent.

Reviewing my opening repertoire: “Is the Scandinavian holding me back?”

Its June and chess is in lazy season. The cut and thrust of the league has finished and we have to rely on weekend congresses and one-day rapid plays to see us through the long sunny months of Summer.  Traditionally I take this opportunity to review my chess with a full 360 degree review.  Following in the advice of the excellent book Chess for Tigers by Simon Webb, every few years I review my opening repertoire to see if I am falling down anywhere. Whilst on holiday this week I started by poking around some of my opening statistics with some interesting findings.

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Despite the surprise of many friends, this actually is a sound opening for black! (Photo courtesy of Chris Lamming)

At the start of last season I set myself the goal of reaching a personal best of 160 ECF / 1900 ELO.  The grades don’t come out until July in England but I suspect I have come dangerously close but not close enough.  My current estimates put me at around 158 ECF / 1885 ELO. Close but no cigar!  Whilst I appreciate there are bound to be multiple areas of my game to improve (for example, spotting one move mate threats which cost me two games this year), lets break down where those pesky few points could be being dropped in my openings.

White

This analysis is relatively straight forward as I only play the one opening with white…

Nimzo-Larsen Attack

27 games / 54% / 158 ECF or 1885 ELO average opponent

Everyone knows I enjoy a good 1. b3.  Lets face it I’m not going to change this up until it starts doing me a serious disservice.  Over the last two seasons I have scored a respectable 54% with it against strong opposition in the top two divisions of the Bristol & District Chess League.  A score of 54% seems to be about average with what a player with the white pieces should be scoring but it did lead me to question if I could be doing better with white by switching to something more conventional?

That may be the case but I think its fair to say I’m not under performing with white and seeing as a really enjoy these types of games why fix what isn’t broken?

Black

I’ve broken down this analysis into two groups – 1.e4 and 1.d4.  Only a small handful of games started with anything else and many of those that did, transposed back into mainline e4 or d4 openings anyway (I’m looking at you 1. nf3 players…).  I have not included the “other” openings category as they are two small and varied in number.

Scandinavian Defence- 1.e4

17 games / 41% / 151 ECF or 1833 ELO average opponent

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The numbers suggest I may have already gone wrong in this position

“I’m really enjoying and playing well with the Scandinavian”

“It really suits my style of play and the 2.nf6 lines give me plenty of room to play for a win”

Um. Well yes.  Thats what psychology can do to you!  I have been confidently trotting out the 2. nf6 Scandinavian for almost two seasons now believing that its treating me well.  The fact of the matter is I have barely scraped in with a performance of 41%.  To make matters even worse it turns out I’ve only won 3 of those 17 games (18%. Ouch!).  So why do I so passionately defend and even recommend this opening to friends and club mates?

Well it turns out that I draw with it a lot.  8 times out of 17 to be exact. For a player desperately questing to both improve their grade and perform in the top local leagues, draws with the black pieces against strong opposition go a long way to cementing a perception of an opening.

I did actually double check the figures but the numbers don’t lie.  My record with the Scandinavian reads:

  • Played: 17
  • Won: 3
  • Drawn: 8
  • Lost: 6

In addition, the average grade of my opponents is 151, slightly worse than my current predicted grade.  Although the sample of 17 games is relatively small, my predicted grade would seem to indicate I should be scoring atleast 50% with the Scandinavian against this level of opposition.

I checked the numbers in the database and black is scoring 46% at pro levels.  Overall my numbers would seem to suggest I am underperforming with the Scandinavian and this important defence to the kings pawn may need to be looked at over the summer.

Queens Gambit Declined and assorted 1. d4 defences

11 games / 59% / 146 ECF or 1795 ELO average opponent

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Blissfully unaware of how well I’ve been playing these positions

“I’ve always hated facing the queens pawn”.  

“Never do well against it.  Can’t stand it when they shove the d pawn forward, urggg”

Again my bias and psychology has been playing to the fore when the numbers actually tell a different story.  In stark contrast to my performance against 1.e4 I have actually been scoring remarkably well against the 1.d4 openings.

A cracking 59% with the black pieces which actually rises to 71% (7 games) when you factor in I changed the way I play against 1. d4 at the start of this season.  Again I double checked the numbers and was stunned to see that I have been comfortably handling the d-pawn all season long.  So solid has my performance been that it made me wonder if it had not been a contributory factor to my victory at the recent Frome congress.  At the time I had bemoaned getting three blacks over the weekend but actually my worst result came in a drawn Scandinavian whilst two cracking victories against 1.d4 had brought home the metaphorical bacon!

As a ringing endorsement for those people who recommend not losing too much sleep over opening study, I have been generally playing “good instinctive moves” against 1.d4, pretty much because I assumed I have a terrible record against it.  Freed from the burdens of opening theory I have also hit upon playing in a way that befits my personal style.  I should definitely review my 1.d4 games further to see what it is about those pawn structures and style that appeals to my play.

My average opponent strength in these d4 games is the lowest out of all the openings (approximately 10 ECF or 75 ELO) but the scores I am achieving reflect this, indicating my d4 openings are yielding what one would expect.

Perhaps the most pressing concern is how can I have such a large swing in performance between my responses to e4 and d4? Since my transition to the “Care-free Defence” (editors note – patent pending) there is a stark difference of 30% in performance!

Conclusion: “Is the Scandinavian holding me back?

So there we have it.

Twelve months on from when I set myself the goal of achieving 160 ECF / 1900 ELO I believe (July ratings pending) I have fallen short by a handful of rating points.  If you had stopped me in the local club and asked me where I thought it was going wrong, prior to this I would not have stated the Scandinavian Defence as a potential problem.

Perhaps 41% is not the worst ever score with black against 1.e4 but its clear that I am able to perform well with black as highlighted by my 1.d4 performances.  I think the thing that bothers me is the win column.  An 18% return of victories just isn’t good enough in my opinion (especially when one of those was against a much weaker opponent).  I’ve been painting a false picture about my performance with the Scandinavian due to holding multiple strong players to a draw with it.  In hindsight, there are very few games where I have been pushing my opponents for the full point.

In addition, my analysis of opponent strength seems to indicate that my White and d4 defences are scoring as expected if not better against my opposition.  However, my results with the Scandinavian are a good 10% below where you would expect them to be over a large number of games.

The Scandinavian is very popular at club level and has an excellent reputation.  To be clear, I’m not saying its a bad opening. But the important question to ask is is it right for me?  As I strive to creep ever closer to competing against the top players in the local leagues is it the right kind of opening to give me wining chances?  Perhaps an alternative defence to the kings pawn might have netted me those scarce few points I needed to hit my  personal goal?

Overall, a very useful exercise that yields some interesting questions.  I thoroughly recommend all amateur cub players perform this kind of analysis atleast once every two years as I have done.  Its amazing the stories we like to tell ourselves and how we can be actively missing out on areas of improvement we didn’t realise existed.


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.

Sometimes everything just flows – Bristol Chess Times on Twitch

So its 22:13 on a Tuesday and I’ve just finished live streaming the first Bristol Chess Times stream on Twitch.  If you don’t know what Twitch is then don’t worry, ill explain more about our live TV channel another time.  The most important thing is i’ve just played a beautiful game of Chess…

 

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It always seems to be the casual, non-thinking kind of games when everything just works.  As I sat here chatting away to the unknown masses watching online (Ahem – ok more like one man and his dog but hey everyone has to start somewhere) the game drifted into one of my favourite sidelines of Larsen’s Opening.  A 21 move masterpiece involving massive material imbalances?  Don’t mind if I do!

Its late and I won’t analyse it for you.  Just enjoy it for the simplicity of late night blitz conjuring up something magical.

 

I’ll be tweeting out the schedule for the live streams when we get the setup just right but in the meantime please do follow us or watch the live streams by visiting twitch.tv/bristolchesstimes

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.

Game of the Month in May: “Who needs pawns?”

All of the divisions in the Bristol & District Chess League were decided in April. However, as is often the case, a small handful of matches ran into May as a result of previous postponements etc.  Despite only a handful of matches we received a wonderful entry for Game of the Month in May from Jerry Hendy of Keynsham Chess Club.  Here is Game of the Month for May and the last entrant to this years BCT Game of the Season competition.  

I hand over to Jerry for the annotations and film quotations…

Well last league game of the season and it was a humdinger. Real knife edge stuff, first one way then the other and both positions hanging together by a thread. For the curious, the quote after move 32 is paraphrased from the film “Sherlock Holmes faces death & the Musgrave Ritual”

Bath vs. Keynsham, Division 3

  • Board 1
  • White: Jerry Hendy (141), Keynsham Chess Club
  • Black: Tony Husband (145), Bath Chess Club

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Ouch! The queen runs out of squares

…Where shall the Black queen go? Deep down below.  Away from the thunder, let her dig under…

1 – 0


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.

From the Frontline: Frome Congress 18th – 20th May 2018

It was one of the sunniest weekends of the year but that didn’t stop almost 200 “wood pushers” descending on the small Somerset enclave of Frome (or Froooome as some online chess streamers call it) for the 29th edition of what turned out to be a cracking congress. It was my first time of entering and had heard many good things from my friends in the Bristol & District Chess league.  Rather than give you a staid, high level summary of events I thought I would report on a more personal level my journey through the weekend.

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Despite the surprise of many friends, this actually is a sound opening for black! (Photo courtesy of Chris Lamming)

I took a half day from work and a very leisurely train journey south (through places I had never heard of) which brought me to Frome at about 15:30pm.  The first round wasn’t starting until 18:45 so I checked into the George Hotel and contemplated life (AKA watched YouTube videos) until wandering along for round 1.  I was entered into the Major (u165 or u1950 for our non-British readers) and with a rating of 154 found myself as 17th seed in a field of 44 players.  A healthy sized tournament hall and a wonderful book stall from Chess Direct added to the feeling that this was a step up in both congress standards and size.

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OOOO…a big one!
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A great spread from Chess Direct was on offer all weekend. Take my money!

Round 1 – Outplayed and left begging for a half point

The perennial question of weekend congress players, should I take a Friday night bye?  Nay!  Thou shalt battle hard to take an early lead over the lazy people (and those travelling from very far away) to stamp your claim on the tournament from day 1.

Alternatively, you could be comprehensively outplayed in the opening by a player of the black pieces who knows your surprise white opening off by heart because they themselves play it.  What are the chances?!

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Grovelling for the half point my Friday night heroics had got me nowhere fast…

After two hours,  I was left in a queen endgame with shattered pawns.  Fortunately, the best that either one of us could hope for was a perpetual so we shook hands at around 21:00 and I left with a half point.

The same score as if i’d ticked the bye box on the entry form and sat in the pub instead.

Still I consoled myself by saying I had warmed up the chess brain cells.  To be fair, my opponent had played well and indeed left me grovelling for the half point.  Some players might have tried to force the situation given I was graded almost 20pts (150 ELO) above my opponent but it was a classic example of respecting the board position and the way my opponent had played rather than worrying about grades.

Round 2 – Dodging a bullet, riding your luck

Saturday morning arrived and after a very enjoyable Egg’s Royale in the hotel bar, I plotted my game plan for the day on the 20 minute walk to the venue. I decided my plan would be to win.  Both games.  A devilishly complex approach which demonstrated my strategic genius (sigh).

I found myself paired with the black pieces against an opponent whom I had never met but talked to regularly online.  I knew he was a reader of The Bristol Chess Times so it quickly dawned on me that he probably knew all my opening repertoire.

This is a serious problem as most amateur players will tell you.  We don’t tend to have back up repertoires.  Damn.

The game started well before a serious lack of middle game planning meant I drifted into an inferior, defensive position.  Trying to unclamp myself I played probably my worst move of the weekend which simply dropped a centre pawn, gave my opponent an open e-file and pretty much the game in the long term.  Miraculously, the error was missed and my opponent continued with his queenside stack that had been brewing for the last 5 or so moves.  I quickly rectified my mistake and counter punched against my opponents king leading to the game opening up for both sides.

After move 30 the game had really opened up and I presented my opponent with an opportunity to trade queen for two rooks with very interesting play.

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An interesting decision for White was declined. Should White exchange Queen for two rooks. Especially when a quick Bh3 also looms? Hmmmm

Again the opportunity was turned down and I went on to grind out a better end game with a passed d-pawn.  A win is a win as they say, although I certainly felt like I had gone unpunished throughout this game.

Round 3 – Grinding

The field had packed together after two rounds with only one person in our 44 strong section being on 2/2. I was one of about 15 players squished together on 1.5.  Clearly my grand plan of “win all games” would pay dividends in this situation.

Suffice to say it did.  In rounds 1 and 2 I felt inferior middle game planning had got me in hot water and I had been lucky to score what I had.  However, Round 3 was a classic example of Karpovian (admittedly with an amateur slant to it) grinding of small advantages.  Queens came off early, pawn structures were fixed and minor pieces shuffled for dominance.  My opponent erred with a rook manoeuvre to the congested middle of the board where my knight was actually stronger and he was forced to give up several pawns.  The material difference was enough I converted the win after a long 3.5hr slog.

The first game I felt I deserved.

So the master strategy was working well.  I returned to the George Hotel ordered some faggots and peas with an IPA and wondered when I became middle aged.

Round 4 – “Why aren’t I winning and how is he still in this?”

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The top boards battling it out on Sunday morning. Horfield’s Bob Radford pegged back David Marshall with a draw to give me a shot at the title (Photo courtesy of Chris Lamming)

Come Sunday morning, I found myself on the second from top board being one of three people on 2.5 /3.  One sole individual was still on 3/3 whilst the chasing pack of 2/3 was very large and one mistake away from catching up.

This game was my favourite from the weekend for many reasons.  In what became a running theme for the weekend, it required enourmous amounts of patience in a slightly better position.  Having won the exchange relatively early on I spent the next 30 moves wondering why it wasn’t enough to win as my opponent seamlessly held his position together with the power of the two bishops. Even when I felt I had broken through and was going to win even more material he seemed to find all the right moves (in all the right order) to keep the game alive.

As we entered the fifth hour of play with an open board and advancing passed pawns for both sides we entered “squeaky bum time” as Sir Alex Ferguson would call it.  My opponent had a dangerous looking passed c-pawn that I was using both my remaining pieces to keep an eye on.  I include the key position below for your analysis. Black to play and win.

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Black to play and win. Solution below.

This is the move that I was most proud of and also surprised my opponent.

51. Rxc7

My opponent thought for several minutes before offering me the draw after 51. Bxc7.  I believe that he thought we would be entering an opposite coloured bishop ending with me a pawn up.  I refused straight away as I’d noticed a rather surprising move.

52…e2!

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The rook sacrifice works when despite having an open board and two bishops, White is lost. A pleasing visual end to the game

Unbelievably with an open board and my opponent with two bishops, the pawn cannot be stopped.  My incredulous looking opponent thought for a few minutes before trying the only move that carried any hope to save the day but I was wise to the trick: 53.Ba4+ Ke7 (not Kf8?? when Bc7+ gets the black squared bishop back in time) 0 – 1.

I must pass on my thanks to my opponent for a cracking game that he hung to til the very end. Its fair to say I had nothing left in the tank at this stage and with only an hour before round 5 was due to start I went and lay on the grass in the sun.

Round 5 – Surely I’ve earned the GM draw?!

There isn’t much to say about Round 5.  Two of us found ourselves on 3.5 / 4.  I was mentally exhausted and faced playing with the black pieces for a third time.  It was sunny outside.

The game was drawn in 10 moves.

In al seriousness, both me and my opponent had fought through some very tough games (almost 14hrs of chess up until that point) and I felt an early handshake was a prudent move to ensure a share of the spoils.  Our early finish did enable two others to catch us on 4 /5 resulting in a four way split for first place but I have no hard feelings about that.  Its very very hard, in my opinion, to come clear first in a five round Swiss with a field as large as 44 players.

Thoughts on the Frome Congress

Well on a personal level, I obviously enjoyed it with one of my best performances in tournament chess.  Being unbeaten all weekend gave me a grading performance of 172 (1990 ELO) and was a just reward for not topping up my suntan like the rest of the UK.

But moving beyond my personal tournament, I feel my mindset and approach to the weekend was greatly helped by the friendliness of the congress staff and all Somerset competitors, many of whom I was meeting for the first time. I genuinely enjoyed my time and all the people I met.

The prize money was generous and four sections (Open, Major, Intermediate and Minor) meant that it really is a tournament for players of any ability.

I would heartily recommend this congress to anyone, especially if you embrace the weekend and take your time getting to and exploring this small Somerset gem of a town.  Good pubs, good accommodation and sunshine all round! They also give you real money when you win! Whats not to like?

I will definitely be returning next year.

Thank you Frome Congress!

P.S. Some excellent photos of the event by Chris Lamming can be found here.


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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 May with GM Jones

The British problemists’ magazine, The Problemist, recently challenged readers to compose ‘homebase helpmates’. There were some excellent responses to the challenge, none better than this one by the German composer, Norbert Geissler:

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Helpmate in 5.5. Solution Below.

A few words of explanation first. In a helpmate, Black and White make moves whose sole purpose is to reach a position in which Black is mated. In this case, “5.5” means that White plays first and mates on his sixth move. In a homebase helpmate, all the pieces on the board are on their starting squares. It really is a challenge for composers, subject to this limitation, to find positions in which there is a unique sequence of moves leading to mate. In Geissler’s problem, you might think that there is no way that the wN can be limited to one unique route, or that if the bQ has to move its movement(s) can be uniquely determined. But the German composer has skilfully surmounted these difficulties. You may like to have a go at solving it before reading further, though there’s no shame in deciding quickly to read on to get the solution, as it’s not easy to solve!

It turns out that we have to get the bK to the corner and the bR to g8. The way in which this is done is as follows: 1…Nc3 (this is actually a white move: by convention helpmate solutions show the white and black moves ‘the wrong way round’) 2.Kf8 Nd5 3.Kg8 Nxe7+ 4.Kh8 Nxc8 5.Qg5!! Nd6 6.Rg8 Nxf7. I’ve given 5.Qg5 two exclamation marks because it is remarkable that, when all that the move must accomplish is to get the Q out of the way, there is only square that doesn’t stymie the solution.

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Final position after 6…Nxf7 #

If you fancy having a go at composing homebase helpmates let me know. (I have a computer program to test helpmates for soundness.)

This month’s other problem, also gleaned from the most recent issue of The Problemist, is another helpmate, but this time a ‘golden oldie’:

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Laszlo Lindner
2nd Place, Negy oszag csapatversenye 1950
Helpmate in 3 

Solution Below

In this position, it looks too easy: Black plays his P to b1 to unpin the wB, which then goes to a4 and then d7 to give mate. However, White does have to make a move after 1.b2, and, although the d4N (not required for the mate) has plenty of moves available, it turns out to be difficult to find one that doesn’t get in the way. In fact there is only one. And then there is the further difficulty that after the wB has got to a4 it is Black for whom it’s difficult to find a move that doesn’t get in the way. Again, we find that there is only one – which, nicely, captures the white Knight. The solution runs: 1.b2 Ne2! 2.b1N Ba4 3.Bxe2! Bxd7.

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Final position after Bxd7#

If you would be interested to see a sample copy of The Problemist let me know – or, better still, go to the British Chess Problem Society website where there is plenty more readable material.


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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).