Two Latvian Gambit games from the Bristol Open 2018

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

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

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

Gambit accepted: the exf5 line

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

latvian1

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

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

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

Main Line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


mikecircle

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

GT Rapidplay report and Bristol tournament news

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As for me I’ll hit the books.

News about upcoming tournaments

South Bristol Rapidplay (message from Roy Day):

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

Downend Summer Tournament:

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

Bristol Summer Congress:

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


 

mikecircle

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

A useful technique for assessing your chess opening repertoire

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

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

“Do you feel lucky punk?”

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

Screen Shot 2018-07-01 at 12.17.26
At the conclusion of same games you know that both you and your opponent held the half point confidently…
Screen Shot 2018-07-01 at 12.17.42
…whilst other times you know you took too many blows to the face because your opponent had faster feet.

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

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

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

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

So is the Scandinavian really holding me back?

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

Here are my results:

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

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

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

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

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

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

I haven’t been swindled.

I haven’t thrown won games away.

I was never winning them in the first place.

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time!


mecircle

Jon Fisher

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

From the Front Line – Bristol Spring Congress

A massive field and many new players this year – the Spring Congress was as tough as ever.

The Bristol tournament scene continues to go from strength to strength with a whopping 117 entrants to the Spring Congress – including a GM, two IM’s and a host of other masters in a very competitive Open field.

The British weather was compliant also – not taunting dedicated chess fans with too much sun streaming through the windows.

I entered the Open but I also had clubmates from Horfield in every section to cheer on, and a good excuse to loiter around the top boards and try to ‘improve by osmosis’.

The Open was more than twice the size of some previous tournaments which meant that drawn games were likely to cost you at the top. After 3 rounds nobody had a perfect score – though plenty on 2.5.

Before the final round there were three on 3.5 and GM Arkell lurking on 3. The Merry-Arkell match-up (seed 1 vs. 2) was the final round everyone wanted to see – this time Merry sealing the deal – he couldn’t take the prize outright though as Mike Waddington beat Graham Moore to also finish on 4.5.

Another dream final match-up was for the title of Bristol League champion – between league players only. Patryk Kryzyzanowski was leading on 3, whilst a host of others (including myself) were on 2.5. Steve Dilleigh got the honour of trying to leapfrog Patryk – and was doing well in a rook ending, up a pawn and with a slightly easier king position – could Steve emulate Carlsen and squeeze it to steal the title? After some calculated risks to keep his rook active, Patryk did enough to hold it and is now Bristol champion!

Over the last year the juniors have been threatening a takeover, this time the prize was shared between one of them (Yuyang Wang) and 3 ‘non-juniors’ (Bob Radford, winner on tiebreak; Brendan O’Gorman; and Chris Strong) with 4/5 each.

Bob won a crucial game in round 3 vs. Max Walker, where he showed tremendous resolve to come back a piece down – making use of a few tempi and some useful central pawns and eventually forcing a rook to drop – winning this game gave him the best progressive scores overall and the title of major champion!

More good news for my own club (Horfield) with Mike Jennings sharing first place along with three others: Daoyi Wang, William Taplin and John Harris.

It was a fantastic weekend for Bristol chess – the organisers have done a great job raising interest and ensuring everything runs smoothly; more players, more newcomers, more non-Bristolians and more prizes.

We’ll be back soon with analysis of a few games from the Open section.

Look out for the Steve Boniface memorial on the 24-26 August for more high quality chess bouts!


mikecircle

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

Attack against e4 – The Latvian Gambit 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 f5!

This aggressive opening with Black could be your next surprise weapon – highly recommended for a must win game.

The Latvian is one of the most aggressive sound openings out there, but it is underused and largely unknown. If you’ve ever considered it before – you may have run it past an engine. They give it roughly a +1 after 3.Nxe5 (my engine lands on 1.17, meaning that it thinks White is even more than a pawn up, for nothing).

This alone may put you off reading any further – and if it does please do stop now. This opening is not for the faint-hearted. 2…f5 is basically an unmistakable statement that you intend to sack a lot of pieces for checkmate. If its stats you want, I’ve played this in Bristol league and tournament games about once a season for the last 4 years and I’ve won all 4 games – admittedly three against slightly lower rated opponents but one of them against a top coach.

It’s not played at the top level but there are a few masters and even world champions who dabble – even the great Bobby Fischer lost to it. Okay so Fischer was 11 at the time – but this game does show important attacking themes. Black benefits from the f-file being open quickly, and the bishop on d6 (staring at h2) is very typical for Latvian attacks. Because Black played f5 so early, White had no chance to calmly claim or block the centre, which means those nice diagonals are open for bishops.

Let’s see how the bishops can quickly triumph if White is greedy:

Aside: What’s a pawn worth?

Is an extra pawn going to win you the game? For Grandmasters maybe yes. It also may be the case in simple positions – one open file, obvious squares to contest, the player a pawn up can comfortably force trades and win with a pawn breakthrough. Again, simple positions. But if you are a long way off an endgame, forget about the material. It’s never just about the material, and in the Latvian gambit material is pretty much out the window.

move2

Back to move 2 – why f5?

First of all we must see the method behind the madness of f5. You should have a reason for every move you make, and it turns out f5 has many.
With e4 and Nf3 White is saying: “I’m going to castle kingside as soon as possible, distract you with defending e5, and have a comfortable life”
So what do we say in return? “Don’t get too comfy. Take my e-pawn, by all means; I’ll take yours. Or take my f-pawn and I’ll attack your only developed piece (with pawn e4 to e5). Castle kingside if you like, but I’ll quickly get a rook on the open f-file”

More strategically – you are opening the f-file for your own rook and threaten quick development by castling kingside. White can’t just let you do this, they must find something else to call an advantage.

After 2…f5!? we have several continuations. I’m not going to go into huge detail – I want to make you aware of the types of positions you get, and if you like what you see you can learn more about it on thechesswebsite.com, buy the book by Tony Kosten, or get a board out and try it yourself.

The main thing I want to tell you is that the engines have this one wrong. Well not totally wrong, but despite the evaluations a human playing White will have some major difficulty against the Latvian – unless of course they know it in great depth, which I would suggest is unlikely.

More to the point – the natural 3.Nxe5 is nothing to be scared of. The move to be mildly concerned about is 3.d4. But I will recommend a solid way to play in that case. Most of the time players will not play 3.d4 – and I’m talking about everyone below say 1900.

Why is this not played a lot?

There are some very simple answers here. It is sharp, a little bit wacky, difficult to play for both sides, and computers don’t think much of it. But the main reason I think is more psychological: Amateur players shy away from openings where they could lose quickly. Maybe it is fear of embarrassment, maybe it is the sunk cost of travelling to a venue to play a game of chess. But I’m here to convince you that is exactly the reason why you should consider these sorts of openings; because your opponent will have those same tendencies, and often will choose the safer (worse) option.

Let’s get down to some moves; so Black has two pawns en-prise – but the problem for White is they only have one move, not two. Either capture is okay for Black:

3. exf5

exf5

3…e4 4.Qe2 Qe7 5.Nd4 Nc6

and if they take our knight we take with the d-pawn, so that we recapture the f-pawn eventually and the other bishop settles on d6. They may try to hang on to the pawn but it’s not worth it.

6. Qh5+ Kd8

messy

and you can easily attack that pawn with d5, Qf6, Ne7 etc. G4 will lead to interesting games but Black should be better with the big centre and chances to make White’s queen look foolish.

3. Nxe5

Nxe5

3…Qf6
An alternative – for the real gambiteers, which I play on occasion – is 3…Nc6! 4.Qh5+ g6 5.Nxg6 Nf6! 6.Qh4 Rg8 7.Nxf8 Rg4! The engine still doesn’t love it but just look at the position below. Is White going to be loving life if they haven’t seen this before? We have rook takes e4 check coming (how many openings can say that?) with some awkward defence in store for White.

g6 line

Incidentally, Paul Keres dealt with 5.Nxc6 beautifully in this miniature.

After the main line 3..Qf6 we have 4. d4 d6 5.Nc4 and we recapture the pawn with fxe4; White stops us playing d5 with Nc3, but here’s one key move you’ll have to get comfortable with: Qg6. It seems strange to move the queen again, but we are okay – the knight comes to f6, we renew the threat of d5, and we can develop with Bd6, Bf5 or Bg4, castle and if needed tuck the queen back again with Qf7 and we are sitting pretty.

So after 6..Qg6 it is the start of the ‘main line proper’ – which is way too much to go into now, but Tony Kosten covers pretty much all the possible 7th moves for White:

mainline

Instead of capturing, White can of course ignore both pawns and develop:

3. Bc4

fxe4! 4.Nxe5 and either d5 or Qg5. Again things are going to get messy here. D5 is the most natural – but we do have to be comfortable with this line: 5. Qh5+ g6 6. Nxg6 Nf6! 7. Qe5+ Be7 8. Nxh8 dxc4 – and we are an exchange down but the knight is looking trapped – if White isn’t active then we can even walk the king over and take it.

Nxh8line

I don’t actually see Bc4 very often – but I’ll give a line that tempts White even more: 4..Nf6! Let these two games from Joseph Blackburne sway you. It’s the same opponent, who first tries to land a knight on f7, and then tries with the bishop – and gets pretty well crushed both times!

As I say, Bc4 is not too common. Among players who are unfamiliar with the Latvian, I believe the most common response will be:

3. d3

And this is just a different game. White tries to ignore the gambit and decides to save the light-squared bishop for defence. As Black we just continue with normal moves (Nf6, d6, Be7, 0-0) and plan on meeting exf5 with Bxf5.

The real test for you is when White decides to fight fire with fire, and opens up an attack on your e-pawn, with:

3. d4!

It’s a fairly decent move for White – but you’ll be okay if you memorise a few things:

  • Take the pawn that you threatened: 3..fxe4.
  • If they play Nxe5 and Bg5 then you’ll have to hold tight with Nf6 and Be7
  • Play either d5 or if you can’t then play d6 and kick the knight.
  • Remember the Latvian bishop – Bd6. For example in this game from Keres he plays d5 in response to Bc4, and his own bishop lands on d6. You don’t mind the knight staying on e5 – but you may have to get creative like Keres’ Kf8 and Kg7 to avoid tricks.

Conclusion

So – if you’ve read this far you hopefully view this opening as being worth a shot. With a bit of study, this is an awesome surprise weapon in your arsenal against 1.e4 and is a lot of fun to play.

Round 5 of a congress against the tournament leader who is half a point ahead of you? My advice is f5, Bd6, sack a rook and win the tournament in a blaze of glory.

I’ll leave you with none other than Boris Spassky employing the main line with great effect:


 

mikecircle

Mike is co-editor of The Bristol Chess Times and is a regular league and tournament player

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.

Screen Shot 2018-06-13 at 12.08.01
“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.

Screen Shot 2018-05-29 at 22.02.47
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

Screen Shot 2018-06-12 at 20.07.29
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

Screen Shot 2018-06-12 at 20.08.38
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.

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.

Screen Shot 2018-05-29 at 22.02.47
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.

Screen Shot 2018-05-29 at 22.07.35
OOOO…a big one!
Screen Shot 2018-05-29 at 22.07.44
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?!

Screen Shot 2018-05-29 at 21.55.50
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.

Screen Shot 2018-05-29 at 21.56.03
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?”

Screen Shot 2018-05-29 at 22.02.30
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.

Screen Shot 2018-05-29 at 21.56.18
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!

Screen Shot 2018-05-29 at 21.56.30
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.

Bristol juniors march on in UK Chess Challenge

The Delancey UK Schools Chess Challenge is the biggest junior chess tournament in the world. Over the last two weekends 10 Bristol League Juniors took part in the 2nd stage regional Megafinals. They all qualified! Congratulations to all the Young guns.

This year there were over 40,000 children, from over 1,000 schools and chess clubs participating across the UK in The Delancey Chess Challenge.

The stages of the UK Chess Challenge

From the initial school/club stage the best players go through to the regional Megafinals. These are held during April and May, and each Megafinal is divided into different age groups for both boys and girls, from under 7 to under 18. This year there were over 40 regional Megafinals taking place across the UK. This stage is a six round rapidplay, with a qualification score of 3.5/6.

Those that qualify from these Megafinals move onto the Gigafinal stage, when we are down to the best 1000 Players. There are three Gigafinal events; Manchester, Birmingham and London, all held in July.

image2
The coveted invitation to the Gigafinals

The Gigafinals are extremely competitive, with most top juniors across the UK playing (some graded over 200 ECF). Only the first couple of players from each age group will qualify from each Gigafinal, to the final Terafinal stage.

In the Terafinal there are no age group divisions, all players enter one big section. This is held in Daventry over the weekend of 15th/16th September. There will be approximately 150 players though to this final, standard play event (played over 6 rounds). There will be live boards in operation, GM’s in the commentary room, and various other activities.

To reach the Terafinal is a definite milestone in a youngster’s chess career. It highlights that they are one of the best (top 20 ish) players in their age group across the UK. The first prize of £2,000 is awarded for the final title of Strat champion.

Some of you adults out there will have previously played in the Terafinal. Don’t be shy of letting your club members know exactly who you are!

Results

The Bristol Megafinal, BGS – Saturday 5th May

There were six Bristol League Juniors (BLJ’s) playing in this Megafinal (6 round rapidplay event) and all of them qualified for the Gigafinal ! (to qualify for the Gigafinal you need to score 3.5/6).

Under 16 Supremo – Oliver Stubbs (Downend & Fishponds) 4.5/6

Under 14 Supremo – Max Walker (Clevedon) 5.5/6 !

Under 13 Supremo – Chirag Hosdurga (North Bristol) 4.5/6

Under 13 Suprema – Maria Eze (South Bristol) 3.5/6

Under 10 Suprema – Kandara Acharya (North Bristol) 5.5/6 !

Under 10 Qualifier – Jonathan Zeng (Horfield & Redland) 4.5/6

(Supremo/Suprema means 1st place in your age section)

A special mention has to go to Kandara’s sister Dwiti (not playing league chess yet) who won the combined under 8 section (both boys and girls) with an amazing 100% score of 6/6 !!

Also a special mention goes to Max Walker who came overall 1st in the combined under 12-16 age group. Max did this with an unbeaten score of 5.5/6

 

The Gloucestershire Megafinal, The King’s School Gloucester – Saturday 12th May

There were 3 BLJ’s playing, and all of them qualified for the Gigafinal!

Under 14 Supremo – Jack Tye (Downend & Fishponds) 6/6 !

Under 12 Supremo – Toby Kan ( Downend & Fishponds) 6/6 !

Under 12 Qualifier – Aron Saunders (Downend & Fishponds) 4.5/6

Fantastic full house scores from Jack and Toby, very impressive!

image1
Aron, Jack and Toby with their prizes and medals!

 

The Somerset Megafinal, Millfield school – Sunday May 13th

Only one BLJ playing in this Megafinal, but another qualification!

Under 12 Supremo – Samir Khan (Bath) 4/6

Fantastic result Samir.

 

Fixtures

Next, the Gigafinals:

Southern Gigafinal – June 30th

Midland Gigafinal – July 7th

Northern Gigafinal – July 14th

 

Last year we managed to have 4 qualify for the final Terafinal stage… This was a most impressive achievement.

Will any of our juniors qualify for the Terafinal this year? Watch this space!


 

john

John is a member of Downend & Fishponds Chess Club and the organiser of Chipping Sodbury Rapidplay and Junior Chess events

BCT Invitational – Clevedon haul another trophy!

Our first casual chess tournament in a pub – many thanks to the Windmill for having us and thanks to everyone who played! Here’s what happened…

The first Bristol Chess Times tournament went down a storm, 12 wood-pushers seamlessly blended into the usual pub antics – nodding along to the Spanish guitar playing or debating answers from the pub quiz whilst playing some intense rapid games. It was 4 teams of 3 – North Bristol, South Bristol, Clevedon and a rag tag bunch we named the Mercenaries. We didn’t have enough players until the night before so we played a bit of wait-and-see, but it all worked out in the end – making organiser/arbiter Jon very happy:

jon

Some eager beavers arrived to help set up, have a drink, or in Chris and Waleed’s case have a game of blindfold chess to warm up. Believe it or not, they are on about move 10 of a real game here and are deep in concentration..

blindfold2

Preliminaries

The first match-ups were drawn at random and saw the Mercenaries draw South Bristol and Clevedon face North Bristol. Each player faced off against their counterpart once with White and once with Black. Ben Edgell (Mercenaries) was a cut above the rest for the night as he proved why he is comfortably above 200 even when not playing regular chess. He scored 2/2 and his teammates gladly polished it off to march ahead to the final beating South Bristol 5-1. Meanwhile the other match had more evenly split teams and a much more even score of 3-3. This tournament favoured the bottom board for all tie-break situations, so as rising Clevedon star Max had won 2/2 on board 3 – Clevedon went through on board count.

Results:

  • Mercenaries 5 – 1 South Bristol
  • North Bristol 3 – 3 Clevedon.

prelim

Final

Due to the grading restrictions (team average had to be below 150) there were bound to be interesting matches where a few players had the pressure to make their grades count, while others acted as the underdogs – aiming to snatch points and prove their team’s grading strategy as correct. The mercenaries were the most skewed team – largely due to Ben who won 2/2 again, despite a tenacious Andrew at the helm for Clevedon. So Chris and Max had to win at least 3/4 to stand a chance. They both won their first round which helped – but in the second Chris looked in a lot of danger. He had lived up to his surname (strong) and had sacked a piece for an attack against up-and-coming Horfieldian Sam; who repelled the attack and was consolidating – though he had used some time getting there:

samchris2

Max was under some pressure from a classic pawn-storm from Waleed, but had his own play on the other side. They both played quickly and the dust settled even quicker – Max was a piece up and just had to mop up the resulting danger. He did so and completed another 2/2 – counterbalancing Ben’s whitewash on board 1. We were all checking the maths and had just about confirmed that Clevedon would win on board count when Chris somehow hung on to the draw (the only one of the night) and sealed Clevedon’s third trophy of the season by a clear margin.

clevedon

The bronze medal match was soon billed as an all-out rivalry between North and South – perhaps taking advantage of being on home turf the South of the River won this time convincingly 5-1.

Results:

  • Final: Clevedon 3.5-2.5 Mercenaries
  • Bronze medal match: North Bristol 1 – 5 South Bristol

Champions: Clevedon (total count: W6 D1 L5)

2nd: Mercenaries (total count: W7 D1 L4)

3rd: South Bristol (total count: W6 D0 L6)

4th: North Bristol (total count: W4 D0 L8)

A more casual game

Chess isn’t often categorised in the same bracket as checkers, cribbage or dominoes, but it is clearly adaptable enough to be a played as a pure pub game. This event was billed as such – and played as such, and everyone got into the spirit of “casual competitiveness”. More importantly, it gave the game and the league that little bit more visibility to casual players – during the night two friends enquired about the event, challenged me to a game and played alongside the tournament. Many other pub-quizzers and diners observed and walked on through, glancing at the games for a quick evaluation of the game – or in utter bemusement, we’ll never know. Whether casual players join the league or not – the game is being promoted and those who wish they’d kept up the game or wish they’s been taught before can get involved and have fun.

test

The invitational was a great success – but as always feedback is welcome and we may hold another one soon, perhaps even more teams and even shorter games!


 

mikecircle

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