The beer tournament

There is an annual open in France each year, known as “the wine tournament“, where the first prize is the winner’s body weight in wine (don’t ask me how he is supposed to transport his prize home – maybe the organisers include the cost of shipping in the prize…). Ireland’s Bunratty weekend open does not actually pay its prizes out in the form of Guinness, but I think it fair to say that  alcohol plays rather a large part in proceedings. With the hospitality for which they are famous, the Irish aim to ensure that the visitors enjoy themselves, regardless of the result. The bar never shuts, and, to allow the players to make maximum use of this without risking precious rating points, the event is not FIDE rated.

The formula has proved hugely successful, and this year’s event, played over this past weekend, attracted what must surely be the strongest field for a weekender anywhere in Western Europe. The field consisted of no fewer than ten GMs, headed by Adams and Short, plus a further eight IMs. The eventual result was a threeway tie for first between Adams, Short and Jones, with the first-named winning a blitz playoff, to take the trophy. Nigel Short was close to taking outright first place, having missed a win against Jones in the final round.

Along the way, there were a few accidents, presumably many of them at least partly alcohol-induced. French-resident GM Istratescu defaulted against Jones on Sunday morning, after turning up a few minutes after the 30-minute grace period. My sources tell me he had been “networking”  with the organisers until 4.30 Sunday morning. And in the final round, there were some splendid games. Short – Jones opened 1.e4 c5 2. b3 g6 3.Bb2 Nf6 4.Qf3 Bg7 5.e5 Ng8 6.e6 Nf6 7.exf7+ Kxf7 8. g4. As I said above, Short played a powerful attacking game and should have won. But pride of place in the final round went to the game Williams – Arkell, where the effects of a hard weekend were perhaps a little too visible:

[Event “Bunratty Chess Festival”]

[White “Williams, Simon K”]

[Black “Arkell, Keith C”]

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 Bb4+ 4. Nc3 c5 5. g3 Ne4 6. Qd3 cxd4 7. Nxd4 Qa5 8.Nb3 Nxc3 9. bxc3 Bxc3+ 10. Kd1 Qb4 11. Rb1 Bf6 12. g4 Qc3 13. Qe4 Qe5 14. Qg2 

Not exactly an everyday position from grandmaster play. Coincidentally, around this same moment, Short’s queen took up residence on g2, in his game with Jones. This gave the splendid spectacle of two fianchettoed white queens on the display boards, with the white players boasting a combined FIDE rating of around 5200!
14…Qd6+ 15. Bd2 Qa3 16. g5 Be7 17. h4 Nc6 18. Rh3 Qa4 19. h5 d5 20. Rc3 d4 21. Rd3 e5 22. g6 fxg6 23. Bg5 Bxg5 24. Qxg5 Bf5

All good creative stuff by Simon, but the ruthless (and alcohol-free) Fritz is stubbornly unimpressed. As readers of this blog will know, Shakespearean quotes have recently been a topic here. Looking at the diagram position,  though, it was not The Bard who came to my mind, but the words of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester:

All this to love and rapture’s due.

Must we not pay a debt to pleasure too?

25. Bh3 Bxd3 26. exd3 O-O 27. hxg6 Rf6 28. gxh7+ Kh8 29. Rb2 Raf8 30. Ke1 Qb4+ 31. Qd2 Rxf2 0-1

I think I may have to make a trip to Bunratty myself next year….

Rangers FC in administration crisis

“Of course, if I had been consulted earlier, it would be Celtic who would be in administration”.

The question we all dread – solution

I left you with the above position, White to play. I hope you looked at the sacrifice on f7 – but did you play it?

After 1. Nxf7, it is clear that the only critical reply is  1…Kxf7 (1…Rxf7 2.Nxe6 simply regains the piece, with a good extra pawn for White). White then follows up with  2. Qb3

Now Black has no way directly to defend the knight on e6, so it appears that White regains his piece, with an extra pawn. I suspect that many players will have stopped there. However, Black has an indirect defence:


The point is that Black attacks the enemy queen, so now 3. Nxe6 is met by 3…Qxb3, and White has no checking zwischenzug to rescue his knight; after 4.axb3, Bxe6, Black is just a piece up.

If you saw this far, then you did well, and I imagine that the great majority who did so will have abandoned 1.Nxf7 on the basis of this variation. But in fact, White is winning. He just has to find one more good move:

3. Bd1!!

With this simple move, White maintains the pin on the knight and prepares to recapture on b3 with the bishop, still maintaining it. Black has no way to defend e6, and White regains his piece, with a substantial advantage.

If you managed to see all the way through to 3.Bd1!!, then you are clearly a very strong player, because this last move is really pretty hard to spot. It is one of those “invisible” moves, that so often escape a player’s attention. Diagonal retreats are reputed to be the most difficult moves to spot.  Once the position after 2…Qb6 appears on the board, many players would find 3.Bd1, simply out of necessity (else White is losing a piece), but over the board, White needs to see it before he plays 1.Nf7! Despite being only three moves deep, this is much harder to see than many, considerably longer, variations.

The position comes from a game Jadoul – Soos, played in 1985. I have no other details, as Hendriks’ book does not give any, and the game does not appear to be in Megabase. But the talented Belgian master playing White saw the whole line and played it,  so he deserves our respect.

The question we all dread

I’m sure you have all had the experience: you are talking to a non-chessplayer, and reveal that you play the game seriously. Within no time at all comes the question we all dread: “So how many moves do you see ahead when you play?” If you are like me, you mumble something about it varying according to the position. The result is usually a sceptical look from your interlocutor, suggesting that they think you are full of shite, and you can’t be much of a player, if you don’t even know how many moves ahead you look.

But, as we all know, it really does vary. And what makes chess so difficult to play really well is that, very often, the hardest things to calculate and see are not the long variations, but something very short. Take this example, which I have just come across, again in Willy Hendriks’ wonderful book, which I am currently proof-reading:

A simple question: What should White play?  Answer tomorrow.

Moves we would all like to play (16)

It’s a long time since I did one of these, and all the previous ones were studies. This is from an OTB game, so someone really did have the pleasure of playing it. It is not difficult to find, but is lovely all the same.

White to play.

I had seen it before, but had forgotten it. I received a reminder this morning, whilst in the process of proof-checking one of the best and most entertaining instructional books I have ever seen – more about that at a later date.

For now, just try solving the position. Answer tomorrow.

PS. 13 Feb. White won with the spectacular 22.Bh7!!, taking the square g8 from the black king. Black loses everything, since 22…Bd6 is refuted nicely by 23.Qe8+! Qxe8 23.Bxd6+ etc.

This was a game Hommeles – Skoblikov, from the Dutch League 1992. I was reminded of it by seeing it in a forthcoming book by Dutch IM Willy Hendriks, which will be called “Move First, Think Later!“. Keep your eyes out for it when it is published in a few months’ time – funny, controversial and the best instructional book I have seen in years.

Record breakers

I am delighted to report that yesterday’s blog visitors shattered the previous one-day record, by almost 20%! My grateful thanks go to Ernie “Good Moaning” Lazenby, whose fulminations on the Egregious Chess Forum brought his termitic brethren running over here in such vast numbers. Having said that, I am a little doubtful whether Ernie really deserves the credit. The three posts which appeared under his name yesterday did not contain  a really major spelling error between them, surely persuasive evidence that his account has been hacked?

“If you want to be a record-breaking termite teaser, dedication’s what you need!” (photo:

The fuss was all over my blog post Termitewatch 13. Tempers seemed to get a little frayed. I was especially amused to see a dignified and intellectual contribution to the discussion by the forum’s chief censor, Carl “Old Mother” Hibbard, who, late yesterday evening, presumably with a glass or three of good cheer inside him,  responded to one of Ernie’s posts with the single word “Tosser”.  A tad harsh, you might think? Or was the epithet referring to me? I would invite you to visit the forum and judge for yourself, but curiously, Old Mother’s outburst has disappeared from the thread overnight – don’t tell me he had a sudden burst of self-moderation?

All in all, a red letter day. But I have a small request to the termitoidae: can you make just a fraction more effort next time? Another 37 visitors would push the daily record over a significant threshold. In the words of one of their number:

Try harder.

London Candidates – follow-up

Since my post on this subject a few days ago, more has become known. This Chessbase article sums up the latest picture. FIDE seem to be confirming that the event will be in London, between 23 October and 13 November.

One thing which has exercised minds has been the confirmation that Radjabov will get the wild card. In general, the wild card is usually reserved for a player from the host country, so some English noses have been out of joint that Adams did not get the nod. But now Russian chess organiser and trenchant critic of the whole episode, Ilya Levitov, has just posted something interesting on Twitter. He writes:

ILevitov Ilya Levitov

Азерб. платит, Раджабов играет, турнир в Лондоне. Всем хорошо. Осталось только научиться все делать по правилам с самого начала.
Translating this, it reads: “Azerbaijan will pay, Radjabov will play, the tournament will be in London. Good for everyone. All that remains is to learn to do things by the rules from the start.”
Then he adds:
ILevitov Ilya Levitov

Но остается непонятным, кто будет организатором турнира в Лондоне.
In English: “But it remains unknown who will be the organisers in London”
This is interesting information, and makes some sense. We know that Azerbaijan was one of the bidders, and they naturally wanted their man Radjabov in the event. The problem was that Aronian made it clear he would not play in Azerbaijan, because of the ethnic tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia. If Levitov is correct, then the decision to use London, but with the Azeris still funding the event, and Radjabov included, suits pretty much everyone.

And, as Levitov says, nobody knows who will be the organisers on the ground.  The Agon company, which seems set to run the event, apparently has no experience at all of staging a chess event, or a sports event in general. One imagines they will need someone on the ground in London, to do it for them. Maybe they will approach Malcolm Pein? Or Ray Keene? Or, God forbid, the Egregious Chess Federation?

Place your bets!

Termitewatch (13) – a case of entrapment

Amongst the termites, easily the most obsessed of all the Keene-haters is Justin “Care in the Community” Horton, of S&B blog fame. Despite his irrational belief that Keene is responsible for every bad thing that has ever happened in the world, from the Slaughter of the Innocents to global warming, he, along with colleagues from the Bedlam Brigade, operates a kind of virtual stalking campaign against Keene, following his Twitter account and bombarding him with comments and questions, in the hope of eliciting quotes, which can be used in further attacks on him. Rather than simply blocking them, Ray indulges their little game, carefully avoiding giving them the sort of quote they really want, whilst occasionally baiting the odd trap for them. Last night, Horton fell headlong into rather a nice one.

In response to a Keene tweet, Horton sent the following:

ejhchess Justin Horton
@Times_Chess You got the spelling right, Ray, but even if we overlook the absence of upper case, “its” should be “it’s”, should it not?

Keene acknowledged the fact, with a line from Shakespeare:
Times_Chess times chess 

@@ejhchess ” tis true, ’tis true ’tis pity, And pity ’tis ’tis true” Hamlet Act 2, scene 2, 97–99
Apparently in raptures at the thought that he had extracted an admission of error from his self-appointed Nemesis, Horton rushed to retweet the quote.
“Come on Yorick, tell me the truth – it was Keene that killed you, wasn’t it?” (photo:
Alas, poor Justin! It would seem that during his enforced detention at one of Her Majesty’s secure psychiatric hospitals a few years ago, our favourite termite should have spent more time in the institution’s library, mugging up on his Shakespeare. Had he done so, he would have realised that the full quote referred to by Keene runs as follows:
“That he’s mad, ’tis true, ’tis true ’tis pity,
And pity ’tis ’tis true—a foolish figure,
But farewell it, for I will use no art.”

Termitewatch (12)

With the London Candidates still little more than a glint in Kirsan’s eye, the ever-ambitious “Odious” Adam Raoof is already circling round, on the sniff for a chance of self-advancement. The Man Who Would Be CEO has piped up on the Egregious Chess Forum, saying “I hope that we can offer the organisers some assistance in getting the most out of the event”. I wonder if this is the royal “we”, or an offer on behalf of the Egregious Federation? If the latter, I am sure that the American /Russian organisers will be desperate to enlist the help of a federation, which has such a glorious track record of running major chess events. It would be the equivalent of recruiting the architect of the Tay Bridge as an adviser on a civil engineering project.

Or perhaps Odious Adam has been taking elocution lessons from Edward Winter, and his use of the pronoun “we” is an offer of his own personal services? In that case, I just hope the organisers do their due  diligence first. My spies tell me that speaking to those in charge of the London Classic might prove quite enlightening, for a start…

Full circle to the commentary box

The latest issue of New in Chess magazine arrived yesterday. It is as wonderful as ever, but I was particularly struck by two things.

The Carlsberg of chess magazines? On second thoughts, forget that – there’s no “probably” about it…

The first was a comment by Kramnik, on the subject of opening preparation. He made the interesting suggestion that the wheel may be turning full circle. Far from having to work more than ever, in order to keep up with the development of opening theory, he claimed that both he and other elite players are now working less than before. He says:

The times are changing. The opening knowledge of all players is now so huge that you cannot really make a difference in the opening anymore….You can see this recent tendency. Hardly any games are won in the opening any more. Even against a lower-rated player, you just don’t catch him anymore. Basically, these days you have to win a game with your playing qualities”

If he is right – and Kramnik should know – then I can only call for three cheers. Those of us who deplore the excess of opening preparation, to the exclusion of practically all else nowadays, can be greatly reassured by the thought that the top players are now spending less time on this aspect of the game, and more time on improving their endgame technique and raising their energy levels. Kramnik also makes the point that this approach suits Magnus Carlsen, who has never been a theory monster, to the same extent as the other top players. Carlsen strikes me as quite Laskerian in his approach, avowedly preferring to avoid a theoretical discussion and just fight in the middlegame and endgame.  Long may it continue!

The other revelation in  NIC 2012/1 came from the ever-frank and outspoken Nigel Short. Discussing his recent results, notably the London Classic, and the general issue of aging, he candidly confesses that he finds it really difficult to face extremely strong opposition these days, and that “these anxieties produce in me a chronic paralysis of action…Whereas a young enthusiast would relish the opportunity to cross swords with the world elite, for me it is the exact opposite”.

The chess world’s answer to Brian Johnston. Start baking your cakes now! (photo: Chessbase)

Never one to back down from confronting reality, he reveals that at the end of the last London Classic, “…I proposed to the director, Malcolm Pein, that perhaps he could invite me back in another capacity next year”. Thankfully, Malcolm is said to have “responded warmly” to this suggestion, and it looks as though next year, Nigel will be moving to the commentary box for the duration of the event. Those who have heard his immensely entertaining contributions to the commentary room over the past three years of the event will be delighted, although older hands, such as myself, cannot help feeling a tinge of regret at seeing one of England’s greatest players calling time on elite events. Anno domini, ’tis a cruel beast…

PS. Just for absolute clarity, I should emphasise that Nigel is very far from calling time on his playing career – organisers please note! All he is saying is that he no longer likes playing against members of the 2800 club day after day. As far as any kind of “normal” tournament is concerned, he is as keen as ever to play and do well. He makes the point in the NIC article that he won four first prizes in international events in 2011. Since the article was written, he has scored his best result for some years, in winning Gibraltar. So, in the words of the Russian saying, “there is still some gunpowder left in the powder-keg”!