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.


mecircle

Jon Fisher

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

Problems in 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.


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).

What is the 4NCL?

Hey Bristol! Chris, the captain of the Celtic Tigers here to give an update of what it is like playing a weekend of 4NCL chess.

The 4NCL is the top league of England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, played over 5 weekends from November to May. (2 games a weekend, 3 on the final weekend). In Division 3 & 4 you have a team of six, in divisions 1 & 2 you have a team of eight.

tiger
“Grrrrr”

Hundreds decend on a preselected location, and you play one game each day and also stay the night in the venue. This adds to the social fun of the event, as you can play chess long into the night (or get a good night sleep, the choice is yours!)

What is the cost?

  • Team membership fee, which is about £100 for registering a team. (So
  • £62 per night for accommodation (inc. Breakfast), 1 night per weekend.
  • Transport to/from the location.
  • You must be a gold ECF member of above if an ENG federation player.

Is it worth it?

I have been playing for the Celtic Tigers since I began in the 4NCL about 5 years ago, and I have never looked back, it’s my favourite league in the UK and Ireland, and I am always looking for the next weekend away. The Celtic tigers release a newsletter after every weekend, so if you want to see a detailed account of a weekend, visit our website. Here are the locations for the 18/19 season.

The Celtic Tigers are have just been promoted to division 1 for next season, and are bringing a second team into Division 4 South for next season. Follow our progress on twitter (@CelticTigersCC) or facebook (Celtic Tigers 4NCL Chess)


Chris S

Chris Skulte

Chris Skulte from Australia has been playing chess on and off since age 5. Living in London now for 6 years, he is manager of the Celtic Tigers, and also plays regularly for Hammersmith. He recently hit his lifetime goal of crossing 2000 FIDE, so now needs to work out what to do next.

 

Bristol Chess Times – May 1993

Originally a bi-monthly publication in the 80’s and 90’s the Bristol Chess Times delivered the latest league updates and news in a pre-Internet era (editors note – hard to imagine waiting so long for news of Downend and Fishpond’s losses).  Here is another BCT from May 1993 showcasing how the league has changed and remained the same in the last 25 years.

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Hot topics from 25 years ago included:

  • the introduction of the BCF game fee;
  • Clifton reaching the semi-finals of the National Club Championship by beating Kings Head of London (including fun match report);
  • Sun Life reaching the National Minor semi final;
  • The latest standings from all 6 divisions;
  • David Collier denying IM Chris Beaumont a hayrick of victories in the Bristol Congress

Here is the PDF to download – BCTMay93

Enjoy!


johnrichardsblog

John Richards

John has been playing for Horfield for longer than anyone else cares to remember (but was actually 1983). Never quite managing to get to a 180 grade, he is resigned to the fact that he probably never will. He set up the original Bristol League website and has been, at various times League General Secretary, Recruitment and Publicity, Chess Times Editor, Bristol 4NCL Manager and an ECF Arbiter.

 

 

You can’t calculate what you can’t see

I was playing online blitz early in the morning this week when my opponent fell into a well known mating trap on move 8.  The mating pattern is very pretty and always satisfying but it also occurred to me that it appeared to be one of those positions that everyone seems to fall into.  Bemused at why this would be the case I decided to look at some statistics and noticed that despite being a relatively rare line, every time I had had the position my opponent had walked into the trap.  I’ve talked about the difference between amateur and professional players before and this sequence is another lovely example.

The line in question stems from the Chigorin Defence of the Queens Gambit Declined.  After 7…Nxe5 it first appears that black is losing a knight.  However, it doesn’t take too much calculation to spot the checkmate threat on d1 should white decide to snaffle the knight on e5.

Indeed after white allows 7…Nxe5, black has equalised and discretion is the better part of valour for white with recommended moves such as Be2 or Nbd2.  However, in the four times I have had this position arise in my games, all four times I have delivered checkmate on d1 on move 8.  Now we can argue that these games are online and amongst amateur players but I do find it fascinating the confidence with which the black knight is snaffled on e5.  Sometimes the white player plays the mistake instantly, sometimes they think for a long while and still play the move. Why is this?

It is a common mantra amongst chess professionals and coaches that good players know when to start burning time in complex calculation.  Knowing when to invest time is a key skill. However, as well as knowing when to spend time calculating you also have to know what to calculate.  If you don’t see a threat or are blind to its existence then you will not calculate and obviously miss the risk resulting in losing to checkmate on move 8. The position in our line we are analysing, I believe, is a very good example of a position that the amateur mind struggles with.  There are a number of factors at play in the position, one or all of which could contribute to this very common mistake.  Lets list them out:

  • A queen less early middle game – Only two pieces are developed by either side and the queens have left the board.  Why would white necessarily be on the look out for mating threats against his own king?  Indeed, he or she has to calculate the knight capture doesn’t lose material (and it doesn’t) but an actual mate threat is not on whites radar;
  • The threat only arises from a vacated square – The checkmate is only possible by white releasing the power of the bishop onto d1 by vacating f3. Threats occurring by vacating squares are intrinsically harder to visualise when calculating;
  • The knight capture wins material – Whats not to like about winning material?! Greed is a powerful bias;
  • Its easy for white to believe black blundered – Until a move earlier the knight on f3 was pinned.  Following the exchange of queens this is no longer the case but it is easy to see how white would think black had miscalculated and blundered by grabbing the e5 pawn by telling themselves that black thought the f3 knight was pinned;
  • The capture on e5 creates nice threats on blacks king – As well as all of the above points, the white pieces start to build a lovely threat on f7 against blacks king.  Its easy to see how white could spend time calculating future threats and attacking options while simultaneously missing threats against his own king.

Having read the above list now lets look at the position side by side with the board flipped. Try looking at each board position and then running through the kind of thought process that white would be walking through.  I don’t know about you, but I actually think the threat is harder to see from the white side of the board because the position for white seems so appealing.

The same position from both white and blacks perspective.  Hard to believe that a mate in 1 threat exists and how the board can appear  so different from either side.

To be fair, I don’t know how many of the above factors contribute to the blunder 8. Nxe5 but it is highly likely some of them play a significant role (NB – Not a lot of people know that I am professionally trained in the analysis and evaluation of human error in complex environments.  A story for another time…).

Here we have a tempting position for white with many positive features such as material gain and kingside attacks combining with a very subtle, hard to see, totally unexpected terminal threat. A nasty combination for the amateur chess player to comprehend which seems to be the chess equivalent of all that glitters is not gold and bring me nicely to the title of this blog post.

You can’t calculate what you can’t see.

In our example, the amateur white player can calculate for as long as he or she likes but if they do not recognise the danger of checkmate then they will simply run analysis on the safety of their developed pieces and the opportunities for future attacks. Many stronger rated players could often laugh and scoff at such a blunder as 8.Nxe5 but I believe this would be unfair.  Human chess players (amateur and professional alike) are not computers. They do not calculate everything.  They only choose to calculate what stories they tell themselves.

“She’s just blundered that knight.  Surely she cannot take my pawn on e5?”

“If I take it then f7 looks weak”

“Queens are off.  There are no real threats at the moment.  I don’t see how he is gaining the piece back it must be a blunder”

“My f3 knight is no longer pinned!”

If your internal dialogue is spinning stories with a different narrative to the reality of the position on the board then the amateur player is in trouble.   In my games 100% of amateur players blundered and walked into checkmate on move 8.  Of the 9 Master Games in the database I looked at 0% of professionals did. Indeed the skill set  to remain completely objective when looking at any position is likely one of the key defining characteristics of weak vs. strong players.

I just loved this example as it seems to fall into that rare category of positions that really seems to befuddle the amateur mind.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

April Review – Season’s end!

A smattering of matches remain but the champions are crowned! Let the summer transfer market begin..

Its been a cracking season for the Bristol league – new players, resurgent clubs, and a fighting season that we all like to see. Some players will hang up their boots for the summer while others battle through, either way we all have the frantic negotiations of club AGM’s to look forward to. There will be much to discuss, new teams – new league? – promotions and relegations and new goals for 2018-19.

Division 1

Horfield A have been threatening the title in recent years but have often been pipped – this year they boasted a regular side of nearly 190 average strength and were ready to claim the throne. They lost their first match of the season back in September and languished for a bit (back when Horfield B were top) but since then they have dropped just one match point – never really letting anyone get close. An incredible 33 points won them the league this year by a mile – with 3 players on 200+ performances and also an unbeaten 198 from Steve Dilleigh (who incidentally is unbeaten for 50 games with the White pieces in all competitions).

Major KO

Downend and Bath finished strong in the league to secure 2nd and 3rd places – but they know the real chess is all about the cup. The match report by Ian Pickup is very entertaining – and the scoreline was about as close as cup finals always are – 4.5-3.5 to Downend. Well done!

cupfinal
It all went down the last game of the cup (photo credit: Dave Tipper)

Division 2

This one was close – it was a three or four horse race for a while and even in the last month it was touch and go between Horfield C and Clevedon B. They both secured their promotion spots (whether they take them remains to be seen) and fought all-out for the trophy. Clevedon were not slipping up and Horfield, a point behind, had a must-win to keep the pressure on but succumbed and lost their final match. Clevedon mopped up their match later in the week with a fine 4-2 away win. Also finishing strong was North Bristol A, winning the last match to nab fourth.

Minor Cup

The only club to win two trophies this year were the medium-sized Clevedon. The cricket club will be well-adorned this summer – a great achievement from an inauspicious beginning. The final was a bloodbath in which all three juniors stomped home to victory whilst a gentleman’s draw on the top board sneaked Clevedon over the line.

Division 3

A two-horse race for a lot of the season, Keynsham and Yate had their inaugural struggle for the crown; there was nothing in it until the last few months when Keynsham raced away with it – including an impressive 14 wins this season from long-time Bristol player Duncan MacArthur. Will we see Keynsham threaten in Div 2 next year?

Division 4

One certified promotion is that of North Bristol B, who have earned the honour of winning a trophy by the highest margin – they are 10 points ahead of nearest rivals University C and wrapped up the league with many matches to spare. The club have enjoyed many spoils of late after they changed venue and gathered interest from many new players. Newcomer Chris Smith and youngster Chirag Hosdurga are on 180+ performances!

Division 5?!

The re-instating of a division 5 would be a great achievement for the league. With the World Champs being held in London this year surely there will be another chess resurgence in the UK (following the recent boost in online player numbers) soon enough. Let’s hope Bristol is ready for it!

In Summary:

  • Div 1 – Horfield
  • Div 2 – Clevedon
  • Div 3 – Keynsham
  • Div 4 – North Bristol
  • Major KO – Downend
  • Minor KO – Clevedon

Individual performances

We like to give an extra shout out to players performing well above their grade or for other miscellaneous stats!

Playing above their grade

  • Jonathon Long (University): +48
  • Max Walker (Clevedon): +37
  • Pete Marks (Horfield): +34
  • Kwame Benin (Harambee): +30
  • Alan Papier (Clifton): +28
  • Chirag Hosdurga (North Bristol): +27
  • Christian Brown (Bath): +27
  • Elmira Walker (Downend): +26

Fighting chess (no draws, at least 10 games and at least 1 win)

  • Christian Brown (Bath)
  • Mauro Farina (Bath)
  • David McGeeney (Cabot)
  • John Conway (Cabot)
  • Christian Ryan (Clifton)
  • Fedor Turetskiy (Downend)
  • Matias Candelario (Horfield)
  • Mohammed Hassan (North Bristol)

Most games played

Richard Palmer (Downend): 29

Highest Performance

IM Chris Beaumont (Clifton): 230

Club with most active players

Downend: 44

Tournament Round-up

Chipping Sodbury Rapidplay kept the pieces moving and the local tournament calendar ticking on – you can read all about it in this lovely pictorial report; with Open and Major sections combined it sounded like a barnstorming event with many new match-ups and challengers.

minor section
Alex Vaughan very pleased with his win of the Minor Section (photo credit: Chris Lamming)

Coming up in the Summer is the Frome Congress and the Bristol Summer Congress – as well as many smaller tournaments and friendly get-togethers. Until then, enjoy the long awaited weather out there folks.

 


 

mikecircle

Mike is a regular player in the league and co-editor of Bristol Chess Times.