Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Ghost Stories

I don't understand ... I don't see why Bg5 is a threat if the knight moves. What would be wrong with Qxg5? And anyway, what if the knight moves to d2?

Tom was emailing me about this position

which appeared in Swiss Cheese a couple of weeks ago. I'd written of suddenly (well, after several minutes thought actually) deciding to play h2-h4 to stop Black's 'threat' of kicking my knight away then playing ... Bg5 to skewer my queen and rook. What I hadn't explained clearly at the time was that there is no threat; the dangers of Black moving a bishop to my king's knight five square are completely imaginary as aside from anything else Qxg5 would be perfectly legal in reply. I was just seeing ghosts.

Last week I included the trailer for Ghost Stories in my post. Today I've got an interview with writers Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman for you. Nyman, by the way, is not only the creative force behind the Derren Brown show - including the in(?)famous chess simul - but also the man who came up with the moniker "Cynical Tom" for my friend and fellow blogger T.C.

(ignore the stupid voice-over from 0:40 to 1:05)

For those who don't have the time and/or inclination to watch the whole 10 minutes, the important bit for our purposes today comes right at the end (8:50ish onwards) when Jeremy Dyson discusses Dr. Richard Wiseman's theory concerning the evolutionary advantage of "seeing things where there are no things".

I'm certainly no expert but I can grasp the possible benefits for an evolving species to be able to create imaginary dangers out of the shadows. I'm just not entirely sure that it's particularly helpful for a chess player, that's all.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Grandmasters of the cats II


with his grandmaster, the late Vasily Smyslov, who died last Saturday.

I'm sad to hear of his passing: of all the world champions he was probably my favourite.

[Photo: Dagobert Kohlmeyer, Chessbase]

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Caption Competition



My friend and fellow blogger Morgan Daniels assures me that his gentleman's appendage has not made an appearance in his photograph.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Dodgy diagram II

David Vigorito, Play the Semi-Slav, Quality Chess, 2008. Page 86.

[Dodgy diagram I]

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Richmond etc

Three videos for your viewing pleasure today.

First up we have another video from Peter Lalic showing a selection of his photos from last Sunday's Richmond Rapidplay. Thanks to Peter once again for his contribution; his GCSEs' loss is the S&BC Blog's gain.

Next we have one from the file marked 'WTF?'...

... and finally there's this promo video for Ghost Stories which is on at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, until 17th April. It's a marvelous play, I urge anybody who might enjoy being genuinely scared to go see it, but its releveance to a chess blog? For that, my friends, you will have to wait until next Wednesday.


Monday, March 22, 2010

Go ahead, punk . . .

We're all familiar with the Favourite Moves series: moves we just love to play, or moves from other games that will always be in our affections.

But there's another type of favourite move: moves we love to face. Moves we sit there hoping our opponent will be tempted to play, moves that suit us down to the ground. Many of these can pass by in the course of a single game. If we leave traps, tempting undefended b-pawns, that kind of thing, we might be whispering to ourselves virtually every move, Go ahead, make my day. And then there are certain openings or variations we just love to be faced with.

In this sense, then, these are a few of my favourite moves . . .

. . . which is to say, after 1.e4 c5

2. Not-Nf3

are collectively some of my favourite moves to face as black.

And for more than one reason, too. It's not just that these positions are equal at worst for black, something anyway I feel is also true of many mainline Sicilians. It's not just that I'm suddenly much less likely to be on the receiving end of a miniature than after 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4. It's not just that the theory runs out so much sooner, that individual moves are so much less critical, that the positions are less susceptible to tactical surprises.

It's also what these moves say about my opponent. Relief spreads through my mind: aha! I think, my opponent is not up for fighting on the sharpest opening battlefield, is not theoried up to the eyeballs, will duck the critical continuations in the hope of a psychological surprise, prefers the easy life. You just made my day. Indeed I positively start to relax and enjoy chess after such moves.

Which is probably why the only game I have lost this season with black began 1. e4 c5 2. c3.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Definitely Got Something To Do With Chess III

Why not let your personality shine through with a theme wedding?

Or so they ask here.

... to do with chess Index

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Shadow of the Wind

‘My name is Julian,’ he said, stretching out his hand. ‘My friends and I were about to go and play chess in the pine grove, and I wondered whether you’d like to join us.’

‘I don’t know how to play chess.’

‘Nor did I, until two weeks ago. But Miquel is a good teacher ….’

The boy looked at him suspiciously, expecting the prank, the hidden attack, at any moment.

‘I don’t know whether your friends will want me there.’

‘It was their idea. What do you say?’

From that day on, Javier would sometimes join them after finishing the jobs he had been assigned. He didn’t usually say anything but would listen and watch the others. Aldaya was slightly fearful of him. Fernando, who had himself experienced the rejection of others because of his humble origins, would go out of his way to be kind to the strange boy. Miquel Moliner, who taught him the rudiments of chess and watched him with a careful eye, was the most sceptical of all.

‘That boy is a nutter. He catches cats and pigeons and tortures them for hours with his knife. Then he buries them in the pine grove. Delightful.’

‘Who says so?’

‘He told me so himself the other day, while I was explaining the knight’s move to him.’

The Shadow of the Wind
Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The latest Richmond Rapidplay is this Sunday, 21st March: see the website for details. I was hoping to be playing myself but instead I'll be making balloon animals at a party for three-year-olds. Really.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Swiss Cheese II

If, like me, you're prone to blundering material at the drop of a hat it might be useful to have a think about how to best to play when you've got a lost position. Time for Peter Lalic to step forward once again ...

Monday, March 15, 2010

All that glitters

Back in the days when I was still improving my chess, I was always on the look out for messy, interesting positions to stretch my mind with. I'd sit down at my board, put in my earplugs, start the clock, and treat the position as if it was OTB as far as possible. This position, from Stone-Tiruchirapalli, Watford Club Championship, 2010, would have been ideal one to perform such practice with:

Put yourself in the position of the black player. White has just played 1. Rg2, a move which contains an aesthetically-pleasing tactical threat. But how serious is the threat? Does black not have a concrete threat of his own to execute? Is there an outright refutation?

Black didn't play the strongest move at the board, whilst I didn't even consider it when Andrew Stone kindly sent me the position to mull over. See if you can do better, and tell us what you come up with in the comments.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Fiver

Every day around 5pm, The Guardian publishes an email dedicated to that day's football related doings which they call 'The Fiver'. Here's last Thursday's edition. If you don't fancy reading all the sporty stuff just scroll down to the end. The bit we're interested in is just above the copyright blurb and just after the 'Sign up to the Fiver' notice.

Lyon Kings, and Lille Bit Too Good?

Want the Fiver delivered direct to your inbox every weekday at 5pm(ish)? Then sign up today and forward it to your friends

Paul Doyle and Rob Smyth
Thursday March 11 2010


Florentino Pérez could have bought a mummified walrus whanger [, and had plenty of change. Or dozens of Balearic villas with ocean views and diamond-encrusted balustrades. Or something totally out there, such as several well-equipped public hospitals in any of the planet's least developed countries. Instead Florentino Pérez bought a football team that goes out of Europe before Fulham. Well done Florentino Pérez, you're a flippin' hero!

"You don't buy titles, you win them," sniffed the El País columnist José Samano following Real Madrid's richly deserved Big Cup elimination at the hands of Lyon. "The catastrophe suffered by this pharaonic Madrid team is as if an earthquake had destroyed the Valley of the Kings," warbled Orfeo Suárez in El Mundo. "Watching the competition to which they owe their legend from the sidelines will be their penitence and torment." So will enduring taunts from France.

"Who are the Galacticos?" nananananahed L'Equipe today before omnipotent Lyon overlord Jean-Michel Aulas stomped back to hold forth at great length, as usual. "It's mad, this is the most beautiful performance for me with Lyon [the club he's controlled for the last 23 years]," exulted Aulas before proving that the green-and-yellow scarf-clutching David Beckham is not the only person who can keep his mind focused firmly on his own image at all times.

"I shouldn't tell you this but I wept a little tear from the bottom of my heart - maybe that will make me more likeable, since people who cry seem to be popular," confided Aulas knowingly before adding: "Now our heads are full of wild dreams, notably coming back to the Bernabéu for the final." Manager Claude Puel, by contrast, kept his emotions in check as easily as his team nullified Kaká. Asked what he felt when the final whistle sounded, he droned: "Nothing special". Which is also a fair description of the most expensively-assembled team in the history of football.


"The tit for tat between me and Rafa will probably go on until one of us is no longer a Premier League manager" - Big Sam predicts that his row with Liverpool's manager will be over in three months.


With Jiggered Cup now such a bloated fiasco that the only excitement to be gleaned from a 4-0 win over Milan's geriatricos involved a man wearing a scarf to keep his neck-tattoo warm, the real excitement in the nearly-dead-now golden goose that is European football comes in the knockout stages of the Europa League, where most teams want to win the thing out of boyish enthusiasm rather than presuming it to be their entitlement.

Liverpool have already had good news in Europe this week, with Real Madrid's defeat increasing the chances of them sacking Manuel Pellegrini and replacing him with Rafael Benítez, and tonight they face Lille, with Steven Gerrard taking his Respect Tour to France; though sixth in Ligue Thesoundyoumakewhenyou'rewrestlingwithconstipation, Lille are a lively bunch, the top scorers in France.

No wonder Benítez is demanding Liverpool are more positive tonight than they were against Wigan on Respect Monday. "Pepe Reina was blaming the defenders for something that was wrong and the defenders were blaming the keeper," said Benítez, suggesting that it's fine to flash two fingers at the referee so long as you don't point one at your team-mates.

"I don't like it. If you are showing your disappointment with that sort of body language it is sending out the wrong message," added Benítez, a man whose body language in recent months has emitted all the positivity of someone who has accidentally run over both family pets, been sacked, burnt the roast, been given a vasectomy when all he went in for was an ingrowing toenail, failed to put the winning numbers on a lottery ticket, forgotten to set the Sky+ for Masterchef, and found his wife in the sack with Ian Rush, John Aldridge and Peter Beardsley.

In other news, Fulham are in Turin, where they have to make an Old Lady tremble in a manner not seen since Weird Uncle Fiver turned asexual after a cheese-fuelled epiphany. Fulham are without the suspended Danny Murphy but, given that Juventus are three places and 11 points below the septuagenarian shower that called themselves Milan last night, they have a decent chance. "I think given our position when I came to the club, I don't think many people would have given any credence to the fact we could be this far forward in our development now," said Roy Hodgson, a man whose decency, class and dignity shames almost everybody else in his sorry profession. A bit like the Fiver, really.

Follow Lille 2-1 Liverpool with Rob Smyth from 5.30pm [] and Juventus 0-0 Fulham with Paul Doyle from 7.30pm []


"Summer of '68 berets off to Lyon for humbling Real Madrid last night. Anyone else hoping Bayern, Bordeaux and Sevilla eventually join them in the semis so we don't have to hear Sky cheerlead on about how great the Premier League is for the 1,000,057th time? Please God, please" - Rufus Drayton.

"It was great to see Leonardo and Rafael reunited last night at Old Trafford. I wonder what the rest of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are up to? By the way, that's the worst Milan I've seen since Milan Baros!" - Alan Gernon.

"Thought you'd be interested to know that since your STOP FOOTBALL campaign er... stopped, the good work has been diligently continued by regional groups across the UK. Can I suggest a new Fiver feature with updates on the STOP FOOTBALL campaign, beginning with some very exciting news we've recently received from our brothers in Chester and Portsmouth" - Keith Withers.

"Re: John Gilfillan (yesterday's Fiver): Can I be the first of 1057 sad, Fiver pedants (now that's tautology) to point out that, no, Donald Smith is innocent. I give you exhibit A [] - Martin Dickson.

Send your letters to []. And if you've nothing better to do you can also Tweet the Fiver [] now.


The first gig of the Owen Hargreaves Comeback Tour in Altrincham tonight has been cancelled.

David Beckham has proved that you can have your cake and eat it, by wearing a green-and-gold scarf and then saying he didn't understand it was a protest against the Glazers.

The Inexplicable and Sad Decline of Forever Young Joey Cole will gather pace when he leaves Stamford Bridge in the summer.

Cesc Fàbregas has a 0.5% chance of playing at Hull on Saturday, according to his manager Arsène Wenger. And Arsène Wenger is an honourable man.

Derby and Nottingham Forest have each been fined £45,000 for their rumble at Pride Park in January.

And Internacional midfielder Sandro is busy learning England in his spare time, reportedly so that he can a) join Spurs for £6m in the summer and b) wring every last drop of F.U.N. out of those Mr Bean DVDs.


Turn off Deal or No Deal, dim the lights, lie back and think of a strangely compelling bald man: it's time for Football Weekly Extra [

In her piece on the England dressing-room being bugged, page 10 stunnah Marina Hyde quotes Peter Andre and Phil Neal, and uses the word 'panted'. What are you waiting for? []

David Beckham says he was unaware of the green-and-gold scarf he wore at Old Trafford last night. Pull the other one [, says Owen Gibson. It's got bells on!

And this week's Classic YouTube [] round-up puts the emphasis on classic, including as it does a women's football video from 1921, a clip of Jock Stein's sensational Celtic side of 1970, and – best of all – a sensational goal from Phil Clarkson.


Want your very own copy of our free tea-timely(ish) email sent direct to your inbox? Click here to sign up for the Fiver today [ And also, heaven forfend, if you want to unsubscribe.

1.D4, F5 2. G4?! or G4?!

If you have any questions about this email, please contact the user help desk: Copyright (c) Guardian News and Media Limited. 2010
Registered in England and Wales No. 908396
Registered office: Number 1 Scott Place, Manchester M3 3GG

Friday, March 12, 2010

An invitation to Benasque 2010

How would you like to play in the beautiful surroundings of the Aragonese Pyrenees, in the top international open in Spain? The annual Benasque tournament, which has been awarded that status, will celebrate its thirtieth edition this July. It's a ten round tournament (this being one fewer - mercifully - than in 2009) the first round taking place on Thursday 8 July, the last on the morning of Saturday 17.

You can print yourself out a copy of the entry form from here: the Benasque tourist office is here. You'd be very welcome. If you come, you may not wish to play a very long ending in the fourth round: it's the day of the World Cup Final.

Pop quiz: in the middle photo, name the players with White on board one and Black on board two. (If you can name any of the others, so much the better: but with one exception, maybe two, your quizmaster can't.)

Images: Chessbase, Luis Pita.

[Benasque reports 2009: 1 2 3 4]

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Swiss Cheese

“Did you deliberately drop the pawn?”

So asked my friend and fellow Morgan Daniels after our recent match for United Hospitals in the London Banks’ League*. I tried to pretend otherwise but pretty soon I had to admit the grizzly truth was that I’d just blundered it away. Having spent most of the thirteen moves that led up to this position

Black to play

looking out for tactics based on … Nfe4 I’d contrived to overlook the fact that after Black swaps bishops my e-pawn is going to fall.

After I’d fessed up Morgan told me that the way I played my next few moves made it seem like I’d done it on purpose. Funnily enough that was exactly what Peter Lalic had said after our game in the Surrey League played, without music, exactly a week earlier. I'd aimed for this position

and quickly played my intended Ng1-f3. In case you were wondering, yes I really did miss Black’s threat.

The truth is probably that I’m able to remain** calm after committing such hideous errors because I get so much practice at it. About a fortnight before the Lalic game I managed to do this

and this

in games played three days apart. In the first I’d seen a couple of moves before that f2-f3 was impossible but then when the time came I rejected my intended cxd5 and Qd3 thinking that I could bust the centre open by kicking his knight with my f-pawn and then advancing my e-pawn. In the second I thought was gaining a tempo to swap the dark-squared bishops but after Black’s reply I was reminded that I’d spent much of the evening before the game lecturing a beginner on Red Hot Pawn all about the weak-point at KB2 and how he tended to leave this square undefended.

Think I’m making this up for a blog post? If only that were true; and it’s not just that I’ve been blundering material away either. Sandwiched between my Banks’ League game and my encounter with Peter I got this position in a match at London Deaf Chess Club:-

After four(!) minutes' thought I played h2-h4 to prevent Black hitting the knight then bringin his bishop to g5 skewering my queen and rook. Quite a bit of my thinking time, incidentally, was spent wondering how I’d failed to see this threat before.

I have plenty of other examples I could have chosen. These are just the ones from games I’ve played since the beginning of February. When I blundered a central pawn away at the Torquay u-170 last November

recognise this pattern?

I dismissed it as a one-off abberation but now these one-time things are happening almost every single game.

Given that I'm able to drop material or invent phantom threats at any time it's amazing I've been able to score any points at all but incredible as it might seem I actually ended up with a positive score (+3 =1 -2) from the games I've mentioned today. I've been helped by large dollops of luck later on and the fact that some of the time my position after the lost material hasn't been so bad. You may want to amuse yourselves by having a guess at which result goes with which game. In the meantime I’m going to try to work out how to plug the holes in a brain that has suddenly turned into swiss cheese.

* What’s a team called United Hospitals doing playing in the London Banks League? What’s a team made up of three S&BC Bloggers and a biologist doing playing under the name of United Hospitals? Your guess is as good as mine.

** Well, appear calm anyway. Inwardly I’m experiencing an inner dialogue on the quality of my play that consists of a torrent of words beginning with S, F and C.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Star Wars Chess

If your bishop could speak, do you think it would ramble on apologetically like C3PO? When you swap pawns, ever imagine it's like trading an R2 for a storm trooper? It's the endgame and the kings square off against each other - does your mind turn to Luke Skywalker's confrontation with the Emperor?

If so, these violent and hilarious videos are the ones for you.

Yes, that's right. It's the brilliant death scenes from "Star Wars Chess", a PC and Sega game from 1994.

And there's more:

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Definitely Got Something To Do With Chess II

Deep Blue
In '97 I voted for you
As Sports Personality of the Year
I thought at least
You’d get the Overseas

Or so they say here ...

Bonus item: the bloke down the front proving that
if you've got a bald patch you're too old to mosh

... to do with chess Index

Friday, March 05, 2010

Ben Clissit leaves the Guardian

I didn't realise until the other day - when my copy of Private Eye arrived - that Ben Clissit, sports editor of the Guardian for a number of years, had left the paper. I know Ben very, very slightly: we were at the same Hertfordshire comprehensive, Ben a year or two below me, though the only time we've come into direct contact since then was in the late Nineties, when he was assistant sports editor and I spoke to him when trying to interest his paper in a story.

The reason for this small reminiscence is, in part, that Ben's elder brother Phillip actually started a chess club at our school: and while I don't recall Ben playing for our school side (one of the country's best, in our day, outside the fee-paying sector) I'm pretty sure I'm right in thinking that he shared, and shares, his brother's interest in the game. Which would make his departure from the paper a small, but not insignificant, item of bad news for chess. (Most news in chess is small but not insignificant. And most of it is bad.)

Anyway, a colleague thinks that the Linares scores may not have been in the paper, not the day he looked anyway. Might be something, maybe nothing. Might be connected to Ben's departure, maybe not. One small item of news, maybe one small item of not-news-any-more.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The Interesting French Exchange XII

A rose by any other name?

Forgive me for I have sinned; it’s been six months since my last TIFE. This post is long overdue and given that the series has now reached its twelfth post, and has just acquired its own Index, it’s also probably about time I got around to having a look at the thorny question of what a French Exchange actually is.

Which positions are lucky enough to be classified as an IFE and which must be considered to come from less thrilling openings? It might seem obvious that we should be looking for games that start 1 e4 e6, 2 d4 d5, 3 exd5 exd5 but Short – Heine Nielsen (TIFE VII) didn’t begin this way and that game certainly makes the cut. For much the same reasons that being born in a barn doesn’t necessarily make one a horse, we're going to have to move beyond the superficial cataloguing of opening move sequences if we really want to discover what counts as a French Exchange.

At last Saturday’s Essex v Surrey u-180 match for example I played a game as Black that kicked-off with 1 e4 c5, 2 c3 e6, 3 d4 d5, 4 exd5 and now 4 … exd5 and boomshanka

we’ve got ourselves an IFE haven’t we? Via the classical move order, I admit, it’s not immediately obvious why White would play 4 c3 but nevertheless to my eyes this is a position that can most definitely be thought of as a French Exchange.

Opening classification, for the Exchange French as elsewhere, can be surprisingly tricky. Consider the first game of the Alekhine-Capablanca World Championship match.

Is this an Exchange, a Winawer, an Exchange-Winawer or perhaps a Winawer-Exchange? Opinion seems to be divided with Uhlmann including the similar Evil Uncle Ernie - Uhlmann (see TIFE V) in the chapter of his book dedicated to the Exchange whilst John Watson treats such positions as Winawers. Whatever the precise technical classification though I suspect that most people, in the unlikely event that they gave a rat's arse in the first place, would consider this position

to be either a genuine French Exchange or at least close enough to be considered as one.

So why not this then?

1 e4 e6, 2 d4 d5, 3 Nd2 c5, 4 exd5 exd5 ?

I suspect that most people would argue that this is not an Exchange because an existing variation, the Tarrasch, has a prior claim and yet thematically speaking it seems to be very similar to an IFE. Obviously there’s the balanced pawn structure, the open e-file and the potential for an IQP (see Kasparov-Korchnoi and Tatai-Korchnoi in TIFEs IX and IV respectively) but there’s also the conventional wisdom that such positions are dull for Black and offer few winning chances. True, 4 Nd2 is even less likely than 4 c3 after 1 e4 e6, 2 d4 d5, 3 exd5 exd5 but does that really matter?

I’m not sure I’m going to convince the rest of the world that these lines should be C01s rather than C09s but they make sense as a variation of the Exchange to me. Curiously, just like the Exchange, once I stopped worrying about what I’d read about the IQP Tarasch and started to actually to play it I found that I rather liked the positions that arose. The ‘conventional wisdom’, for club players anyway, seems highly questionable to me.

Here’s an email game I played about a year ago. It ends prematurely and is not the most accurate encounter ever to grace a chessboard but I enjoyed sacrificing the pawn for a general lead in development rather than for specific attacking chances and I also liked my opponent’s pithy post-game conclusion: “Your activity was annoying”.

So, Blue or Red Pill moment … is this game an IFE or not? I say a most definite “Yes” and when I finally come to write my definitive tome on the variation - coming to a vanity publisher near you some day soon - I’ll be sure to include a chapter on the Exchange (Tarrasch). I'm sure there's plenty of people who'll say I'm wrong but perhaps the French Exchange, like all other forms of beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

The Interesting French Exchange Index

Monday, March 01, 2010

Curiouser and Curiouser . . .

Last week you were presented with the following position as a puzzle, with black to play and win. As revealed in the comments, the winning move was the rather lovely 16...Bd1!, intending 17.Re3 Bg4 winning the exchange.

I had never before seen a position where one player managed to get a piece to his opponent's back rank, without a single piece having been removed from the board.

Wondering if this was indeed a unique occurrence, I emailed intrigue-expert Tim Krabbé to find out. Joyfully, Tim replied with this lovely second example, presented here for your amusement:

The aficionado of the chess curiosity will also be pleased to note that black resigned without a piece having been taken, and that after 11.Bh8! white had every single one of his pieces on the edge of the board.

Let's just savour that moment again . . .

(PS. You know, there really should be a name for this kind of thing. Any suggestions?)