Mental health and 5-aside chess – A small board with a big impact

The UK government recently appointed a Minister of Loneliness and Social Isolation but the problem has been known about and warned about for years and I know you’re all asking yourselves “So what is chess doing about it?” Well – a lot, and every day.

Last week I caught up with Ryan Child from Bristol-based charity 5-a-side chess – who use the game of chess to welcome all-comers and to start conversations about chess, life, mental health, the universe and everything… “Your first move is Hello, don’t you know.” [visit the 5 aside chess website]. ‘5 aside’ refers to 5 pieces (and 5 pawns) each to start with, played on a 5×6 board instead of the usual 8×8 – incidentally the same idea on a 5×5 board was a recommendation of mine for coaching.

1. 5aside chess

The delights of the game! A drop-in session of 5 a side chess is underway.

Here is the full interview:

BCT: Why chess?

Ryan: Chess is a game that represents so many of the core, mental attributes that seem to be slipping away in today’s ‘instant’ society. In one game of Chess you are required to show great discipline and really think through your actions. And there’s no doubt that with everything at our fingertips today, the need to think things through and plan is quickly falling away. For example, when people use twitter they are able to bash and criticise others without having to contemplate that person’s emotions or feelings. That emotional disconnect is really unhealthy, and I think Chess is a great counterbalance to that. Where every action is thought through and, subsequently, so is the effect it has on the person sat opposite you.

BCT: How did 5-a-side chess start?

Ryan: 5asideCHESS was started back in 2015 as a social project. The idea was to give out 1,000 chess boards to venues across the country. This was just before the curve of all the ‘board game’ cafes that have sprung up in the last few years. We wanted people to have more of a chance to connect. It worked to certain degree but we want people to be more engaged in the project now.

2. HELLO people

The initiative has cross-party MP support from David Warburton (Somerton and Frome), Heidi Allen (South Cambridgeshire) and Darren Jones (Bristol).

We have also developed a big mental health side of the project, because it’s just so prevalent in society today, and I think we can make a real and tangible difference. Our Blog mostly focuses on this, with tips for dealing with issues, first-hand accounts and interviews with experts. We are also starting a podcast of the same nature this summer.

BCT: Can people join even if they don’t know the rules of chess?

Ryan: Yeah, absolutely. The whole idea is that anyone can get involved. The board is a smaller version of the traditional one, and you have fewer pieces. So the game is shortened, with the same rules, and so offers a quick way to learn the game because you move through the phases much quicker.

BCT: Can you describe a typical day/session of 5-a-side chess? How does it work?

Ryan: So we have a team of volunteers called HELLO PEOPLE in Bristol, Bath, Birmingham and soon London who go out and sit in cafes with our boards, teaching people to play and also just giving the general public the chance to connect. In May, everyone will have the chance to be a HELLO PERSON because the Chess Pack will be going on sale at www.regencychess.co.uk.

HELLO PEOPLE sit with a ‘Do Disturb’ sign in cafes, nursing homes, homeless drop-ins and other venues where people may want to connect. Anyone who wants to play can sit for a while and play with absolutely no judgement and just for the simple reason of playing Chess and having a chat. Games typically last around 10-15 minutes.

3.Do Disturb

A DO disturb sign.

BCT: What sort of impact can you see happening? And what feedback have you received?

Ryan: Probably the watershed moment for me was in December of last year. I was at a nursing home in Bristol playing a guy with Down’s Syndrome and Dementia. He was actually the son of a Brigadier. Anyway, after about 5 minutes of playing he started telling stories about his childhood, about how his aunty had taught him to play while his dad walked around the house with all these subordinates following him around. It was a great story. And, it’s worth saying that we weren’t really playing, more he was moving the pieces around. Anyway, he was taken back to his room and the main supervisor, a woman called Jenny, started telling me that they had never heard him talk about any of his childhood ever. He’d been in that nursing home for 5 years.  There are a lot of other stories like that, but it’s a pretty good one in terms of showing just how much impact chess in general, but particularly our small and accessible game can have in terms of connection.

BCT: Can you share any plans or aims for the future?

Ryan: Our new partnership with Regency Chess means that from May onwards the project can make itself sustainable, which is a huge development for us. The sale of our Chess Pack, which include a sign, a board and a HELLO PERSON membership, will mean the money can be spent on furthering our message of connecting and promoting good mental health through Chess. Essentially, we want our members to be ambassadors for the core message of connecting and fighting loneliness and social isolation. We have seen the benefits for elderly groups, homeless people, men and women in rehab and also students. In fact, our Chess and Music lunches at Bath University have been a big success and if anyone wants to come own and join us they are more than welcome.

4.-Music-and-chess.jpg

Music and Chess – two things that need great harmony – at Bath University.

BCT: Would it benefit you to connect with anyone else in the chess world? (E.g. Leagues, Event organisers, Ambassadors, Players?

Ryan: I think to have players endorse the program would obviously be beneficial. We are planning on running a 5aside world championship in Birmingham actually. To me the potential is limitless and I would certainly encourage anyone in the Chess community that may want to reach out to do just that.

~ end of interview ~

The Bristol Chess Times will post any developments on the world champs, or any other events, and we are inviting anyone with similar initiatives and stories about the game to write columns for us. Look out for Ryan at local (8×8) chess tournaments too – and challenge him to a game of 5-a-side! Many thanks to Ryan for the fascinating interview and best of luck for the project!


mikecircle

Mike Harris

Mike is a regular pretender in Bristol’s top division and can also be seen propping up local tournament ladders. He writes a regular column for the Bristol Chess Times and plays a solid 20 openings a season.

 

Beating the boredom in the French Exchange

Several years ago I was an avid French Defence player.  For several seasons in the league and congresses my default move against the kings pawn was to push 1…e6.  Its a great opening with dozens of fascinating variations and different plans and systems.  In the world of amateur chess thou there was just one problem.  No one would let me play these lines.  Instead, anyone below 2000 would make me play the exchange variation, my dreams of exciting double edged positions that I was familiar with dashed by move three.  If only there was a way to avoid the symmetry, avoid the exchanges, avoid the tedium of the exchange positions at amateur level.  Lets give it a go…

The propensity of amateur players to default to the French Exchange variation basically killed my love of (what actually is) a great opening.  Sadly I would estimate easily 50% of my games in the French were exchange variations. Now before any readers jump on me and say “hey Jon, the french exchange is a great opening you just don’t play it like Anatoly Karpov“, I know that.  Thats my point.

Unless you plan on playing like a Super GM then the French Exchange variation is boring at amateur levels as piece after piece is removed from the board and hands are quickly shaken.

Well my experience in the French has always rankled me and having written a piece several weeks ago on avoiding symmetry in another bane of the amateur chess scene, I got round to asking myself why I should simply accept the symmetry in the French Exchange.  Having dabbled with the the nf6 Scandinavian recently I initially toyed with the idea of ignoring the capture 3. exe5 and playing Icelandic Gambit style with 3. Nf6.

Note to self:  The French Exchange is not the Icelandic Gambit!

I quickly came to the conclusion that this move is rubbish! The best that can be said is that it gives white a pawn.  Lets move on.

The Scandi-French Exchange?!

However, contemplating the Scandinavian did make me ask the question why not simply capture with the queen on move 3 instead of the e pawn?

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 Qxd5?!

Screen Shot 2018-04-15 at 22.11.40

“Why does everyone recapture with the e-pawn?” he says…

In theory it shouldn’t be terrible as its a bit like a Scandinavian defence and if John Bartholomew says its ok to retreat a queen to d8 then who am I to argue?!

A quick look at the statistics in the database shows I’m not completely insane:

  • Played 911 times
  • White scores 54%

The numbers are encouraging and straight away could we be looking at a way to mix up the position and avoid the symmetry and exchanges so associated with the French Exchange?

The obvious follow up for White is 4. Nc3 (as played in 614 games). Instead of retreating the Queen though we do have an interesting resource of 4…Bb4 (as played in 719 games – I suspect we are in transposition territory here but thats encouraging as it means we are moving further away from the French Exchange right?!).

From this position there are a range of moves available but two in particular stand out and cause me concerns for the player of the black pieces:

#1 – 5. Nf3: Played in 465 games and scoring 61%

Or

#2 – 5. Qg4: Played in 56 games and scoring 67%

#1 – 5.Nf3

For the sake of this article I am not going to explore the myriad of move options available to white in the nf3 lines.  As I am sure you can appreciate, if the white player so wishes they can just start to play normal developing moves such as Bd3, 0 – 0 whilst there appears to be some favourable statistics for Black if they fianchetto their Queen’s bishop with an early b6.  I have included one line that demonstrates a potential route that hopefully highlights how far removed from the “traditional” symmetry of a French Exchange this position is:

1.e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 Qxd5?! 4. Nc3 Bb4 5. Nf3 Nf6 6. Bd3 b6 7. 0-0-0 Bxc3 8. bxc3 Bb7

A different kind of position to the usual French Exchange and both players have plans ahead.

#2 – 5. Qg4

But what we really need to look at in detail is 4. Qg4.  With this move scoring an impressive 67% is our early queen manoeuvre already busted?  I’ve faced early Qg4’s in the past against other lines in the French and its never that fun.  White’s threat is the g7 square, whilst preventing development of the g8 knight.  Hmmm. There is however a remarkable, hard to see, unintuitive move (in my opinion) that suddenly holds this position together for Black.

5…nc6!

5…Nc6 miraculous defends the h8 rook by threatening the d4 pawn!  

Defend the kingside by developing on the queenside obviously!  Now if White takes on g7 then the d4 pawn drops and the rook on h8 is also defended.  All for the added benefit of developing a new piece.  As you can tell, I like this move.

White spends a tempo defending d4 with 6.Nf3 followed by 6…Ne7.  In the database I found 10 games in this position and the computer evaluation is unbelievably close to 0.00.

White has tried:

  • 7.Bd2 – 6 games (-0.20 evaluation)
  • 7.Qxg7 – 4 games (0.00 evaluation)
  • 7. a3 – 0 games (but seems reasonable to me – 0.00 evaluation)

As with the 4.Nf3 lines, I am not going to explore every variation in this article but again it seems to me that Black finds themselves in an equal position, lots of play on the board and with some opportunities to complicate by giving up the g7 pawn.  It certainly feels like we are a long way from the French Exchange that the player of the White pieces wanted to take us into.

Conclusion

There is obviously a lot more detailed analysis to be conducted on this “Scandi-French Exchange” but on first glance I like what I see, particularly for the amateur player.  A quick Google revealed that none other than Hikaru Nakamura has been known to try it in blitz. To be fair he is one of the best blitz players on the planet so he could probably play anything but hey, I take it as an endorcement.

I’m sure there must be some weakness to this treatment of the French Exchange but initial review suggests its likely to be that White is not really threatened and follows simple, easy  development and both players get a playable game.  The move 5…nc6 seems to remove the sting from whites most trying response of 4. Qg4, which is a relief.

In terms of our objectives of avoiding symmetry and exchanges:

  • The e file remains closed (a common problem in the French Exchange)
  • The position is unsymmetrical with different plans available to both players
  • Amateur (sub-2000) players will be out of their (very small) French Exchange book

Finally I will leave you with an entertaining 18 move game that I found in this line (admittedly through transposition) from the Pardubice Czech Open in 2007 which shows some of the bite in this line for black.

Lovely stuff!


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.

 

 

 

 

Razzle Dazzle

Tournament reports make me sad. They follow the same old tired format and frankly I’ve had enough. This one comes without a single annotated game or pre-match photo. Your mileage may vary.

The Southend Easter Congress promised to be a seaside special and we were duly greeted by torrential rain. I’d journeyed with Muswell Hill teammate Simon ‘The Increment’ Wilks. We also had the pleasure [sic] of Jerry’s company and, on occasion, his support. Although whether he was there to watch the chess unfold or to marvel at the longest pier in the world was in some doubt.

Screen Shot 2018-04-14 at 16.33.48

For the serious player a congress provides an unrivalled opportunity to get lost in the game. The format (and weather) didn’t leave us much option with two 90 min + 30s/move games per day. This allowed for deep prep before the morning round and next to no prep each afternoon. It was a pleasant cross between posh 4NCL chess and local pub league fare. I took home several new opening ideas plus a mixed bag of results.

Analogue Chess in a Digital World

Tournament logistics aren’t as well suited to those with a more casual interest. At Southend the congress office displayed a live feed from the top 3 boards. As far as I’m aware, a new initiative for this year which seemed to attract a steady audience. But here we run into a fundamental problem: the real action is not on show because it’s happening inside the players’ heads. There is scope to present a spectacle for the layman without descending into being crass, however it requires exceptional commentators and tools to appeal to casual and serious chess enthusiasts alike.

The potential chess fan has the internet. With it comes an enticing array of alternatives to visiting local tournaments. You could follow the world’s elite from home with Chess24 or the ChessBrahs’ entertaining, astute commentary from the recent Candidates tournament. Or watch chess.com lead the way into the e-Sports market. Their Pro Chess League finals were held in San Francisco last weekend and streamed to over 23k peak viewers. Sadly, the UK blitz scene wasn’t represented with our London teams finishing 6th and 8th in their pool. It’s tough for analogue chess to compete with all that.

Screen Shot 2018-04-14 at 16.37.49

To remain relevant in the face of digital chess, weekend congresses have to adapt. To be clear, it’s not my intention to single Southend out. The live feed addition alone puts it streets ahead of the competition. But we feel that the face-to-face chess world needs heaps more active promotion. A dash of razzle dazzle will help move away from its same old tired format. Ready to step up?

Screen Shot 2018-04-14 at 16.38.04

(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.

March 2018: League Review and Game of the Month

Champions! Breaking in the business end of the league calendar, March saw the crowning of champions in the league and county championships – firstly huge congratulations to North Bristol B for winning Division 4, and to Horfield A for winning Division 1 – both fairly convincingly in the end!

March saw the Bristol congress cancelled due to venue issues but there was plenty of tournament action – Downend’s Toby and Jack became Gloucester county champions for their age groups – well done! With their clubmate Oli Stubbs currently leading the Bristol Grand Prix, the juniors are still leading the way in Bristol!

League Round-up

Divisions 2 and 3 are yet to be settled – and how close they are! It’s been another epic struggle between the div 3 giants Keynsham and Yate – the former are a mere point ahead with a few matches left. Our pick of Hanham for Dark Horses for the title at the start of the season didn’t go so well – but there’s always next year! Divison 2 is even closer – and it has many bearings on promotion/relegation discussions – will the South Bristol teams swap over? (The A team have been caught by Clevedon and Clifton B in div 1; and the B team currently top div 2). Same question for Clevedon – though they could complete a tremendous comeback in div 1 and stay up – and if Horfield C can finish well, could they really put 3 teams in div 1? Cabot are hovering above the relegation zone in divs 2 and 3 – can they clamber out of them in time? All that to be seen – and no doubt discussed at length in club AGMs!

Upcoming in April

As if the league wasn’t providing enough drama, we have the cup finals coming up! Downend strolled through the semi-finals and are in a position to ‘do the double’ – can they win the Major and Minor cups? Their opponents are Bath and Clevedon respectively. Since we did so well in our predictions for the semis (sarcasm: we got 1/4) we are going with a resounding NO! Bath and Clevedon are picked to triumph because of good late form.

Chipping Sodbury Rapidplay is on the 29th April (entry form is here) and there is also the National Clubs championships – The Forest of Dean have a team – best of luck to them.

Game of the Month

We’ve got a stonker of a game for you! March’s GotM comes from the University’s Ethan Luc. He faced the always enterprising Mike Meadows in an impressive win against Downend A .

 

Screen Shot 2018-04-07 at 12.46.09

A lovely tactical game between both players wins this months Game of the Month

His own notes are embedded in the game, but we have tried to make sense of it as well: Meadows goes for a Morozevich-esque e5 break from a Chigorin transposition. He gets a decent position and accepts the gambited pawn, though White has good development and still that central advanced pawn.

Mike’s position naturally flows into attack mode and after a bishop swap he takes stock and hangs onto the extra pawn with f6. The move after that he advances again with e4 and e3 – a dangerous pawn. The cramping of White’s position forces the win of the exchange – though with the spare move Ethan threatened to win one back.

However he eschews this, eliminates the passed pawn and drives black’s attack back instead. He had seen that another crucial pawn would fall and this makes way for his own central pawns. His king had been driven to the centre though – so plenty of tactical ideas to dodge. What follows is a demonstration of trust in passed pawns – White’s d pawn basically goes through in every variation – whichever pieces got swapped off in the tactics, the rest were hapless in stopping the pawn – which simply strides through the warzone and promotes.

Ethan Luc (173) vs. Michael Meadows (175)

The league finishes next month! As well as keeping a watchful eye over that we are looking ahead to any summer happenings – there are usually a lot of fun quick-play tournaments and friendly games going on. Let us know about any we don’t advertise and good luck to everyone playing in April.


mikecircle

Mike Harris

Mike is a regular pretender in Bristol’s top division and can also be seen propping up local tournament ladders. He writes a regular column for the Bristol Chess Times and plays a solid 20 openings a season.

Patience when attacking a d4 opening system

Its well known that your average club player has little time to study chess.  What time is available is often recommended to be spent on tactics training or endgames, especially for those players below 2000 ELO. As a result, amateur chess is often littered with “system-like” openings or rare sidelines from more mainstream cannon fodder. I faced one such system style opening this week in Division 1 of the Bristol & District Chess League.  The game was fun in terms of its various phases but also instructional in-terms of how players evaluate their positions.

Neither me or my opponent are certain of the exact name of the opening but it revolved around a d4, e3, c3, Bd3, Nf3 structure with white’s black squared bishop remaining inside the pawn chain.  It might be a Zukertort but we are uncertain. Answers on a postcard!

As with most system style openings, my black repertoire was quickly sidelined (da-dum tsshh – here all week!) and I found myself playing a series of non committal developing moves that resulted in my opponent starting to build pressure against my castled king position.

Screen Shot 2018-04-02 at 16.39.38

Whilst I knew that it takes time for the sting in most d4 systems to come to fruition, I couldn’t help but sit facing my opponent and feel that they had had the better play in the opening 10 moves or so. My position felt like it was only two weak moves away from collapse with a pawn storm coming and plenty of risk for a shattered queen side.

Whilst I was telling myself horror stories at the board, it turns out that post game analysis shows black is better with an evaluation of -0.63. If you had asked me at the time, I would have predicted +1.50 to white such was the nature of my next few shuffling moves to untie myself.

The game continued.

Believing myself to be close to trouble I adopted a strategy of unpinning my queen and breaking in the centre.  The strategy worked and my opponent abandoned their queenside attack plans and chose (in my opinion) a weaker defensive plan that allowed me to expand and launch some threats of my own on the kingside.

In a complete reversal of my perception from several moves earlier, I felt like I was winning big here.

Feeling good I had launched g5?! My opponent had been forced backwards and their kingside was looking loose.  I felt like my plan of a kingside attack was obvious and clearly winning.  Again, if a commentry team had interrupted the game and asked my opinion I would have comfortably stated -2.50 to black. The reality of the post-game analysis is only a small advantage to black of -0.23 (a whole factor of 10 out in my evaluation!).

Whilst it looks impressive this position is one of the reasons why I decided to write about this game.  Throughout the game both mine and my opponents evaluations are sharply at odds with the computer analysis.  Both me and my opponent felt that black is comfortably winning here but the reality of this situation is that white is absolutely fine to win the pawn on offer after 19. fxg5 hxg5 20. Nxg5 Rg8 21. f4 Bh6 22. h4 they stand at a comfortable +0.62 edge.

If white had accepted the pawn then it was holdable despite all the kingside pawns being advanced, how does black continue the attack?

The game continued to the next phase which is best summed up by the slow realisation that my attack is not as good as I thought and that white has found a way to simplify and exchange down the position. Black has emerged a pawn up but white threatens a nasty build up of pressure on c7.

I turned down a draw offer, mostly due to the match situation at the time which necessitated a win by me. At this point if you had asked me my opinion of the position I would have been a mixture of nerves and dejection that somehow I had let a promising attack (that was never really there in the first place!) slip.

But if at first you don’t succeed then try try try again.  Sure my attack had gone but I had sealed a small material advantage as well as an extra 10 minutes on the clock. It was then that I realised I had some tempo to my favour by moving the queen to b6, thus creating a threat on the d4 rook and the h2 – b8 diagonal was looking juicy.  With a plan in place, the game continued.

Fast forward and the planned strike on the h2 square has been a success, tearing apart the kingside at the expense of all my centre pawns.

The position below is the stuff attacking dreams are made of.  The kind of position that makes you sit there and think “there has to be a win here, I just need to find it“. In the end, the culmination of my plan involved a very pretty tactical series that resulted in the win.

33…Rxd2 34.Rxd2 Qxe3+ 35.Kg2 Qxd2+ 36.Qxd2 Rh2+ 0 – 1

 

A nice way to finish an enjoyable game that seemed to have several key stages. What I find most telling is the stories that amateur chess players often tell themselves in positions (its one of the reasons I enjoy watching Grandmasters online talk through their games).

A key lesson for me was my personal evaluations of the game swung from “losing big time” to “winning big time” to “probably drawn you fool“.  The reality is that the game was actually much much closer all the way through until the culmination of my second plan to attack the h2 square sealed the win.

The game also contained a second valuable lesson in terms of learning to accept that an opportunity may have gone but you can still regroup and go again.  I had been convinced victory was not far away when I played 18. g5 and yet ultimately my opponent defended and I was forced to rethink and rebuild an entirely new attack.

In the amateur chess world we all like to imagine ourselves as the “Bristolian Tal” (ok just me then…) and when these fantasies are dashed against the rocks of our opponents position it can be easy to become dispirited into a draw or even a loss.  The ability to pause and say “no, it has not all been for nought, there is still a way forward” was a key step in helping seal this important win for the team.

A valuable lesson indeed.


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.

 

 

How can British chess clubs benefit from the 2018 world championship?

The 2018 candidates tournament is over and what a thrill it was.  The chess world is unanimous in its praise of all eight players approach to the tournament that decided who would face the world champion Magnus Carlsen, in November. Fabiano Caruana has emerged as the challenger and there is sure to be an increased interest in chess in the United States as a result.  With America braced to experience a chess boom, the Bristol Chess Times asks how British clubs could benefit from the world championship match being held in London?

fabi

Fabiano Caruana photographed moments after he sealed his place as the World Championship Challenger (editors note – I cannot find the image credit for the photographer, if anyone knows please contact me)

It is fair to say that the Carlsen – Caruana match of 2018 is likely to be one of the most highly anticipated chess clashes in recent memory. This is down to their respective abilities and styles but also due to the various stories the western media can spin on it. For example, “First American to compete for world crown since Bobby Fischer” the headlines have been crying since Caruana sealed his final victory on Tuesday (poor old Gata Kamsky…) . So with the world media eagerly casting its gaze upon London in November, how can British chess clubs capitalise?

Its been eighteen years since the chess world championship match was last held in the UK and 25 years since a British born candidate battled for the crown.  Last year I wrote several impassioned pieces to the Bristol chess community (and wider UK chess scene) about embracing digital technology to help promote and grow chess clubs.  As part of my call to arms I pointed out that the Bristol & District Chess League experienced a massive boom in membership in 1993, the year of the Kasparov vs. Short match.  League membership over 1993 / 94 was an astonishing 635 league members (from 450ish in 1992) and indeed the numbers remained above 500 until 1998 (today it hovers around the 300 mark). Admittedly, the league did not see an equivalent boom for the London held Kramnik vs. Kasparov so perhaps the lack of home grown talent didn’t pull in local interest?

But its fair to say that in 2018 and in an age of ubiquitous connectivity the amount of online searches and general public interest in our ancient game is likely to increase again in the run up to and during the championship.  Those clubs that are prepared to ride this wave of renewed interest will reap the rewards in terms of membership so lets look at some ideas for British clubs cashing in on world championship fever.

World Championship Fan Parks & Events

If football can have fan parks I fail to see why chess players can’t hire a room in a pub and stream the delights of Jan Gustafsson and Peter Svidler (editors note – other streaming services are available).

jan

The double act of Jan and Peter would make a great Chess Fan park when pumped through speakers on a large screen in the back of pub!

I constantly hear British players bemoan the lack of Chess on the TV and sometimes wonder if they have ever heard of the internet? The quality of streamed chess from major providers such as chess.com and chess24 really is very high (lets not talk about the official world chess coverage) and I love the idea of opening up the club house or hiring a room with some boards where the club members of all strengths and abilities can get together and watch the highlight of the chess calendar together.  Imagine running some fun blitz events around the sides where passing members of the public could stop and ask questions about chess and how they can get involved.

 

Social Media and mobile friendly websites

At the risk of banging a very worn down drum, if your club hasn’t updated its website with clear contact details and at the very least set up a Facebook and Twitter account then now is the time to get on it.  You have 8 months before the world championship begins and all that lovely juicy online search traffic starts Googling “chess club in my local area“. If you don’t believe me that this has an effect then talk to either Horfield chess club or North Bristol chess club in the Bristol league who have both seen growth in excess of 25% this season since starting online promotions.

Hold open nights for beginners

How many times are you sat blitzing in a pub with a mate when someone walking past, stops and wistful looks down at the board?  You all know the type of person I mean.  They pause for what they think is a few seconds and are still stood gazing minutes later.  They often depart by saying “I used to love chess at school” or something similar.  Its these people who, come the world championship, suddenly spark up the courage of their convictions again to contact a club.  Lets make it easy for them shall we?

Why not start publicising events and welcome evenings in conjunction with the world championship games?  “In celebration of the Chess World Championship we welcome all beginners free of charge to a our club on Tuesday” etc etc. Perhaps the games are again screened in the background and some stronger players are on hand to welcome and provide some light coaching.

Conclusion

Above are just three ideas that a proactive chess club could embrace to help make the most of the world championship match.  Carlsen vs. Caruana promises to be one to remember and will certainly help alter the public perception of chess with two young players, raised in the age of powerful chess computers and the internet, battling it out for the ultimate prize. Its not often that such a clash occurs on our shores and I feel it would be a real shame if British chess clubs did not grab this golden opportunity to (re)invigorate themselves.

Finally, if you like any of the ideas above or are planning any other activities with your local club then i’d love to hear about it.  As a community if we share ideas then we can ensure that clubs across the country benefit and help one another when the World Championship rolls around.

We have 8 months.  The work starts now.


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.

The unlikeliest chess move part 2 – the heavyweights

Let’s dive straight into Queens, Rooks and Kings – in our search for the most unlikely move possible. The short version of this puzzle is that it requires you to come up with a notated move – so what you actually write on the scoresheet – that implies an unlikely position on the board.

Here’s part 1 if you missed the preamble.

Queens

Each piece on the chessboard has its own magical qualities – but let’s start with the most powerful. The Queen can do most manoeuvres available (knight moves, castling, promoting and ‘en passant’ they have some trouble with). But there is one other thing they can’t do – and that’s be the discoverer in a discovered check! (Try it out, they really can’t). Going back to our themes we are left with ‘Checkmate’, ‘Captures’, and ‘More than one of the same piece able to move to the same square’. My proposal nearly offered all three – until I realised that a capture actually makes the positions of the queens and kings less precise.

“Qa1b2#”

So its Queen b2 mate – but the ‘a1’ implies there must be another queen on the a-file, and a third on the 1st rank and both able to reach b2 – although a2 and b1 together is actually impossible as moving to b2 wouldn’t then attack any new squares).

Unlikely-queens

Qa1b2# needs three queens on almost exact squares

The very close runner-up was the same but with the capture “Qa1xb2#” – it still implies 3 queens, but the other two could now be on a2 and b1, and the enemy king can now also be on the diagonal as well as the b-file or 2nd rank. On the flip side there must be a piece on b2 to capture.

Rooks

Before we begin – and this may be contentious I don’t know – but despite its name ‘castling’ is actually a king move; you move the king first and the rook leaps over to the other side. So we’ll leave it to the kings. My proposed rook move is this:

“Rbb2#”

Doesn’t sound so bad, right? A rook moves to b2 and delivers mate, and another one could also have done so. But here’s the catch; let’s say the rooks are on b1 and b3 – writing Rbb2# doesn’t clear anything up – you would write R1b2#, or R3b2#. So let’s think again – what if the rooks were on different files, say a2 and c2? Well then it becomes Rab2# – or Rcb2#… So what’s going on? The rooks have to be on a different file and rank – but then how do you deliver mate by moving a rook, when another rook already threatened all the new squares you threaten?? Okay you guessed it – discovered checks.

Unlikely-rooks

Rbb2# surprisingly implies a discovered check and mate.

Kings

I mentioned castling queenside (“0-0-0#”) to deliver mate in part 1, but is that the most unlikely? Although I have a hunch that castling kingside with mate is even less likely, I have not gone for either of these moves. The reason is only the practical one – if a player sees a chance to mate by castling, they are very likely to try to engineer it for the sheer aesthetic pleasure (or sadistic whim, depending on your outlook on chess). So I am going for the more prosaic:

“Kxa1#”

Unlikely-kings

The king can only discover a checkmate – taking a piece in the corner

Sadly there is no fun to be had with multiple kings, and there is no notation for stalemate. So the best for the king is a discovered checkmate on an unlikely square. But never fear, this is not the overall winner. The fun is reserved for the lightweight pieces – who are in action in part 3!


mikecircle

Mike Harris

Mike is a regular pretender in Bristol’s top division and can also be seen propping up local tournament ladders. He writes a regular column for the Bristol Chess Times and plays a solid 20 openings a season.

Seeking asymmetry in an anti-London system

The London System has a reputation for being solid and unexciting.  It can be a very frustrating system to play against as black because white can just adopt a series of system like moves and they will achieve a playable game, in a familiar position. Regular readers will know that I have tried to find ways to combat the London via the move order 2…Bf5 and then using principles from Chigorin’s defence. But what happens if white just decides to continue with their normal set up?  Lets take a look.

I suppose you could say that this article is the third entry in my exploration of fighting the London system using principles from Chigorin’s defence.  For those readers not familiar, my original anti-london article is here, whilst an addendum to the Nc3 lines can be found here.

In these prior articles, my approach to the London had been based on 2…Bf5 and 3. c4.  The move c4 has been recommended by numerous authors in the London system against 2…Bf5 and it was the d4, c4 pawn formation that originally inspired my thinking around an early Nc6 and e5 i.e. Chigorin’s defence.

However, there is an obvious draw back.

Despite 3. c4 being the objectively best response, white is not obliged to play it! Instead, the white player can simply continue to adopt the “classic” London set up as shown below.

Screen Shot 2018-03-19 at 22.19.48

The “Classic” London System setup where the first 6 or so moves can be bashed out and help the Black player with any problems they might have sleeping.

As anyone who has ever faced the London will testify, it is this setup that gives the system its reputation. Rock solid with opportunities to launch kingside attacks if Black ever threatens to exchange off the f4 bishop by exchanging on g3 and opening the h file. If my proposed approach to combating the London with 2…Bf5 was going to work then I would need to find a line that created an asymmetrical structure and a presented a playable plan for Black.

Avoiding symmetry by copying whites moves?

So lets begin.  Obviously when searching for an asymmetrical position the best thing to do is mirror several of whites moves in the early opening (sigh – I know but trust me there really is little else to do that doesn’t give white an edge). The opening line is as follows 1. d4 d5 2. Bf4 Bf5 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. e3 e6 5. Bd3

Its the move 5.Bd3 that irritated me for so long in this position as it just results in swopping off of pieces and leading to symmetrical pawn structures. That was until I noticed the remarkable statistics in my database for the move 5…Ne7. Played in 13 games it scores a lowly 38% for white with a computer evaluation of +0.28.  Surely a move worth exploring further.

There are two moves here for white, either 6. 0-0 or 6. c3 (continuing with the usual London setup).  Lets look at 6. c3 first.

Line #1 6. c3

If white continues to follow the London system by rote then black can unbalance the position with a plan built around an f6, g5 spike, hitting the bishop before castling queenside.

Black clears the way for queenside castling and also has the nice option of a kingside pawn storm with h5 coming.  Not something white is typically used to in the London system.

Admittedly, white could play 8.h4 here to prevent 8…g5 but that leads to 8…Bd6 when the usual white plan of falling back to g3 and then opening the h-file after the exchange on g3 is not available.  The best move then is 9. Bxd6 Qxd6 10. Nd2 and black again castles long.

If white plays to deny the g5 spike then Black can exchange the black bishops and has a choice of recapturing with the c pawn, f5 knight or even queen (as shown) and castling long.  

Lets be clear.  As was often the case in my previous articles on the London, I do not claim a refutation to white in this position.  Rather I like the asymmetrical nature of the position and the ability of this setup to run counter to many of the usual plans that white tries to adopt.  In the final position of this line, the computer evaluation is -0.29 to Black.  Equality.

Line #2 6. 0-0

We have seen that if white tries to stick rigidly to the usual London structure then we can achieve an asymmetrical position and nice attacking chances on the kingside with f6 and g5.  Now lets see if that approach works after whites other most logical move, 6. 0-0.

Again in this line we use the f6, g5 threat to create an asymmetrical position and begin a kingside attack. Objectively the computer evaluation is +0.57 to white but I like Blacks options.  In the two variations explored above we see how in both lines black’s plan remains the same – Castle long and Kingside attack.

Conclusion

It took me a while but I am greatly encouraged by this line for black in our 2…Bf5 anti-London system. Whilst objectively c4 is a good response by white (indeed we see it reappear in the 6. 0-0 lines), our approach of Ne7, f6 and g5 give us a wide of options and a clear plan to reach an interesting and asymmetrical position should the white player insist on sticking to their “classic” London structure.

Most of all, I like the fact that this approach results in whites key attacking plan of exchanging on g3 to open the h file before launching a kingside attack being unavailable.

The London system is not going away anytime soon in amateur circles.  I hope that this article (and my earlier ones) have helped inspire you to tackle this solid white system in a new way straight from move 2.  Do let us know at the Bristol Chess Times if you trial our approach and if you have anymore thoughts on the “theory”.

Good Luck!


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.

 

The unlikeliest chess move – revisited

Is there anything left that computers can’t solve? My attempt at beating the machines a few years back resulted in the creation of a very different type of problem. I wanted to know what the least likely move in chess would be. I wasn’t interested in best moves, accurate moves, or stunning moves. Just one that makes you wonder how you got there.

I was pleased with the result – there was much discussion over the puzzle during an annual Christmas Curry evening with my chess club, and it uncorked a few bits of chess magic to appreciate and admire. However, I fell into the other trap of modern creativity – it had already been done before. Four years ago. And solved. By a much better player than me – GM David Smerden’s blog

Okay so it turns out, all was not lost by any means. On deeper inspection (after the initial heartbreak) I realised that my puzzle was crucially different by being much less logical than Mr. Smerdon’s – probably part of the reason he is a GM and I’m not! His answer to ‘The most unusual move in chess’ was still about best moves – about trying to win (or draw) a chess game. In contrast mine is purely about possible strange notations and what they say about a position. The delights and surprises are in mentally constructing ever wackier positions until you find the limit of impossibility (or a simpler way to notate the move).

smerden image

GM Smerdon’s composition is a superb idea – the best move for White is actually to promote to a bishop on a8 – utilising the bishop’s weakness to eventually force stalemate

The puzzle

If I could trace back my curiosity for ‘unusual moves’ it would be something like 15 years ago, perhaps a match for my school, where I first had to notate a move like ‘R2e4’. The nuance of having to specify that the rook moved from ‘2’ (2nd rank) to clarify which rook was moved to the e4 square could be viewed as an imperfection of ‘modern’ notation (in the old days you would write ‘e2-e4’ if you moved any piece from e2 to e4). But I do not take this view, as this puzzle and its various gems wouldn’t be able to exist without it.

Going back a step, it was clear that ‘R2e4’ would be less likely than a bog-standard ‘Re4’. Moreover, ‘R3e2’ was even more unlikely, as it implies there is one rook on e3 and one rook on e1 (by the way, if there were rooks on say d2 and e1, you would write ‘Rde2’ to move the one on d2 to e2 – as the files take precedence over the ranks.) But I went a bit further into less and less likely moves. How about Ba8 check? It’s not so clear – the bishop cannot check a king itself by moving to a8 (or any corner square).

So this search is one for the most unlikely move in chess.

Consider a move like ‘0-0-0 checkmate!’ Quite unlikely! Although it has been played before in many real games. This thread shows many of these. Strangely it starts with a miniature from a former world champion actually declining to play 0-0-0 checkmate, instead choosing Kd2 mate, perhaps rather like Ronnie O’Sullivan’s famous 146 break , he was happy enough just to show he could do it.

So to the point – ‘unlikely (but possible) moves’. The question became this:

“What’s the most unlikely move to appear in a legal chess game?”

[Note – we are not including annotations in analysis such as ‘!’, or ‘??’. Nor does it include move numbers, for example ‘7.gxh8=N++’. No – this puzzle is just about what you must physically write on the scoresheet.]

Some themes

This is reverse engineering in a sense – rather than seeing a position, finding the best move and writing it down, we see a move written down with no other context – and figure out what it tells you about the position. Back to our Ba8+ example, we find out that the check must be by discovered check, because a bishop moving into a corner attacks no more squares than it was attacking before.

Setting about this problem in a ‘human’ way, a number of ‘unlikely’ themes spring to mind:

  • Castling
  • Check
  • Checkmate
  • Captures
  • More than one of the same piece able to move to the same square

[Note: As far as I know, there is no official notation needed for either en passant or stalemate – so they don’t make it into this puzzle.]

It stands to reason that a checkmate is always more unlikely than a check – or a non-check. So our solution must be a checkmate. It also became clear to me that the theme of ‘More than one piece able to move to the same square’ had the largest scope for unlikeliness. Especially for queens – because you only start with one.

A solution?

There are too many interesting nuggets here to share in just one article. I have decided on my candidate solution for the ‘unlikeliest move’ – which I will share soon enough. But in checking over my own thoughts and explorations for this puzzle – I found something quite surprising; the unique qualities of each piece make for some very different types of thinking in finding their own unlikeliest move.

Therefore I will structure the rest of the musings on this puzzle by piece – part two will cover Kings, Queens and Rooks, and part three Bishops, Knights and Pawns. But here’s a little taster:

Unlikely-knights

Black to play and mate in one? Easy! Nxh8 mate! But which one?

If a knight on the rim is dim, then a knight in the corner must be… mourned for? (Editors note – Keep smoking whatever you are smoking Mike!). That is, unless, it can deliver checkmate! Which move did you choose? ‘Nfxh8#’? or ‘Ngxh8#’? Because therein lies the unlikeliness of all this. Forgetting the position a moment, if the notated move was just ‘Nxh8#’ then the king could easily be on f7 and just be mated directly with the knight. Not so unlikely – and has undoubtedly occurred before. But introducing a second knight by stating the move ‘Nfxh8#’, suddenly there must be a knight g6 as well (the only other square with access to h8) and so the king must be somewhere else – and must be mated by discovery! Hence the concoction above; there are other variations of course, but it shows how much is implied by a single notated move: The two knights must be on f7 and g6, there must be a piece on h8, the king must be on either f6 or g7, two rooks/queens must be on the same file and rank as the king, and other pieces must block all the other squares around him. Quite a kingdom for a horse move!

If you want to give this puzzle a mulling over during the next few weeks, we’ll be back with parts 2 and 3! If you arrive at any candidate ‘unlikely moves’ – please do send them in!


mikecircle

Mike Harris

Mike is a regular pretender in Bristol’s top division and can also be seen propping up local tournament ladders. He writes a regular column for the Bristol Chess Times and plays a solid 20 openings a season.

How not to play the Icelandic Gambit

Sometimes you play a game, irrespective of the result, that reminds you why you love chess. Ive been playing the nf6 Scandinavian for about 18 months but have yet to play the exciting Icelandic Gambit over the board. Fortunately I found myself facing an open minded opponent who was more than wiling to dive into complications.  I found the game very instructional from a psychological as well as theoretical perspective.  Lets take a look.

icelandgambit

Would the Icelandic Gambit offer an exciting tactical mess of a game?  Yes.  If Black knew how to play it…

The game was Board 6 of the Horfield (my team) vs. Clifton match of Division 1 of the Bristol & District Chess League. My opponent was Anton Muller who has virtually the same grade as myself (and attacking mentality).  My thanks to him for the game and permission to share.

So a great escape that highlighted all the great human elements of chess.  Throughout the game the plans and stories that I told myself led to inferior positions as I misplayed the opening and drifted into an inferior middle game.  However, in the end it was clock that was my friend not the position and the old adage of the person who makes the penultimate mistake wins.

Perhaps the most instructive lesson for me was the psychology of realising your position is busted but still has dynamic potential.  In my opinion the move 25.Nxf2 was probably the best move I played in the game and yet it actually results in a +5.00 swing to my opponent in the evaluation.

With regards to the opening, if you are interested in the Icelandic gambit then I hope this example game helps you learn how not to play the 6. Bd2 lines.  I feel I should have played Nc6 early on when he offered a queen swop and after recapturing then I would have had an immediate threat on c2.  it just didn’t feel very gambit like.

My thanks (and apologies) to my opponent for the game.  Fortunately the match result was 3 – 3 so everyone saved face in the end.


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.