Thursday, 22 October 2009

4NCL Weekend One Preview

It's that time of year; the Four Nations Chess League is rolling around again. There are four Westcountry-based squads in the League this season: Bristol, Gloucestershire Gambits, Wessex (a team mainly composed of players from Dorset or Hampshire) and Brown Jack (a team from Swindon, named after the pub in which they play their local league matches).

This weekend, the fixtures for the relevant teams are as follows:

Division Two Pool A, Sunningdale

Round 1: Wessex 1 v Brown Jack
Round 2: Kings Head v Wessex 1, Brown Jack v Anglian Avengers

Division Two Pool B, Sunningdale

Round 1: Poisoned Pawns 2 v Bristol 1
Round 2: Bristol 1 v Cheddleton

Division Three, Daventry

Round 1: Wessex 2 v Bristol 2, Guernsey Mates v Gloucestershire Gambits, Bristol 3 v Iceni
Round 2: AMCA Rhinos v Wessex 2, Gloucestershire Gambits v Oxford 2, Nottinghamshire 1 v Bristol 3, Bristol 2 v KJCA Knights

I will be producing reports for Division Two throughout the season; I can also recommend Mike Yeo's match reports for the Wessex teams. Anyone who plays an interesting game in Division Two this season and would like to annotate it for my match reports, feel free to email me with your annotations. CBH or PGN files are preferred, although I will decipher text files if you send them.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Somerset- Hampshire report

Somerset- Hampshire match report.

I thought that after stepping down as match captain last season, I could enjoy some nice relaxing chess with none of the stress. Not yet at least. I was stand-in captain for the day.

This was the first match of the season, with Somerset defending the South West County Championship that they won last season, and hoping to build on our pre-season success in the WECU Jamboree. Roger Morgan is our new captain for this season. Sadly he was unavailable for the match, but nevertheless deserves a lot of credit for agreeing to captain and organise the teams. Not an easy job, but very much an essential one for Somerset chess.

When we arrived there was a slight problem. Namely Somerset hadn’t brought their 8 boards and sets. Hmm… not the best of starts to a season. As it turned out we were fortunate that Jim Fewkes could drive back to Yeovil, which was only about 30 minutes at most away, and for 8 of our players the match started about an hour later then anticipated.

Apologies to the people who were left waiting, and equally so to Hampshire chess.

When the match started it was difficult to tell exactly how close the match was, and there were no Hampshire grades written down, but from the few Hampshire players whose grades I could remember, it looked like a close match. I think Hampshire probably had slightly the stronger players towards the bottom, but at the same time any match where we have someone of Jack Rudd’s strength not on top board is always a good sign.

The match started fairly badly for us. Chris Strong won a couple of pawns but in return his opponent gained a strong attack, and finished with a flourish. The next game to finish was mine. Playing as black 12… Kg6 wasn’t exactly part of the plan, but it held together okay. We reached a position with R+ opposite coloured bishops where there was very little in the position, and I got offered a draw. I have to admit at this point when I looked around at the other games I was more then a little worried, but ultimately I decided I lacked the Arkell-esque grinding skills (for anyone unaware, Keith Arkell is an English GM who’s ground out more dull positions then the result of the planet combined) necessary to get anything from the position and agreed the draw. The next game to finish was Jack Rudd’s. The way Jack plays the positions after 1.e4 e5 2.d4 would probably cause me to switch openings if we ever played, and he scored another impressive victory. As Jack’s opponent put it after the match “I thought I’d avoid playing you on board 2”.

There was a fairly long delay before the next few results came in, before a flurry of results shortly after the time control. Chris McKinley’s piece sacrifice for 2 pawns looked visually very attractive, but ultimately it turned out that looking good was all that Chris’ extra 2 pawns did, and after the extra bishop gobbled them up, it was goodnight Vienna in short order. John Kilmister, Michael Cooper, Kells Stanton, and Kevin Paine all put up decent fights against higher grade opposition, but ultimately succumbed. On the plus side Chris Dorrington managed to beat a very strong opponent with black, Geoff Berryman ground out a tough endgame, and Jonathan Latham, David- Painter Kooiman, and Colin Stanton all got excellent wins as well, whilst Jim Fewkes held a slightly worse position to get a draw.

In case you wonder why having described the first few matches in so much detail, I’ve then summarised most of the remainder of the matches in barely a couple of sentences, I kind’ve decided to play 5 minute games rather then pay any attention to the match for a fair while after my game finished. Moving swiftly on…

When I went back to the playing hall it was dead level at 7 all, with 2 games remaining. I thought Gerry Jepps was winning; I can’t remember if it was an exchange up or a full piece, but he was material up at least. His opponent tried a rook sacrifice. It was either a moment of inspiration or desperation, and fortunately for us it turned out to be the latter. Gerry brought home the win shortly afterwards.

This left us with board 14- Stan Hill against John Wiseman. After blundering a pawn in the opening, Stan had put up impressive resistance, but a pawn is as they say a pawn, and John won out in a Knight and pawn ending.

So Somerset’s season begins with a hard fought draw. I’ve included my game below which you’re willing to use any which way you see fit. It’s not as interesting as I made it sound, but it’s short at least, so you won’t get too bored playing through it. Anyone else who wants to send me a copy of their game, I’m happy to annotate it, and add it to this report.

Board 3, Somerset- Hampshire

White: A. McDougall Black: B. Edgell

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bb5 Nf6

Yup, the Berlin defence. It’s an invitation to be bored really. The main line goes 4. 0-0 Nxe4 5.d4 Nd6 6.Bxc6 dxc6 7.dxe5 Nf5 8. Qxd8+ Kxd8 and then a few coma- inducingly dull hours of endgame fun.

4. Nc3

One of the many ways of avoiding the coma. This transposes into the 4 knights opening.

4... Bb4
5. 0-0 Bxc3?!

I guess not strictly an error, but having shown I’m quite content to spend an afternoon playing a dull position, why change strategy?
5… 0-0 6.d3 d6 7. Bg5 Bxc3 8.bxc3 Qe7 followed by Nd8- e6 is the main line.

6. bxc3 Nxe4

Sad to say I was already on my own at this point. I play 1…e5 in reply to 1.e4, have done so for a while, but don’t know the theory to one of the more common white openings beyond move 6. Wee bit embarrassing.

7. Qe2

Already the position’s a bit difficult for black. I probably should’ve opted for 7…Nf6, when both 8. Nxe5 and 8 Bxc6 look pretty good for white, but I can at least hope to get away with castling and then worry about how to deal with those 2 pesky bishops. My choice was, to put it bluntly, a bit thick.


Okay. I had seen that after Qxe5+ Kf8 was forced, and it all looked rather ugly indeed, yet I played it anyway. I guess I was hoping to drag my opponent down to my level of familiarity with the position rather then a position he’d seen countless times previously. Which is much more of an excuse then a rational reason.

8. Bxc6 dxc6
9. Qxe5+

Hitting g7, so my reply’s forced.


All looks rather horrible doesn’t it? I’m down on development by a long way, the king on f8 looks weak and blocks in the rook on h8, whilst white’s bishop can come to a3, the knight to e5 or g5 and the Rook to e1 in swift order.

10. Re1 f6

Not a move I particularly want to make. It does seem to invite the knight into e6 via g5 or d4, but I have to get the rook across to the e-file fairly quickly.

11. Qf4 Kf7

This encourages white to carry on the idea of bringing the knight into the attack, but it’s the only way of bringing the rook on h8 into the game.

12. Ng5+?!

I think white may have missed, or possibly missed the strength of, my next move. 12. Ne5+ looks like a better option. 12. Ne5+ Kg8 13. Nc4 Here Fritz recommends 13… g5, which I think you’d have to be made of metal to even consider. I was planning to grovel with 13…b5 and then after 14. Nxd6 cxd6 15.Ba3 Kf7 16.Bxd6 Be6 we’re in opposite coloured bishop territory. White’s extra pawn certainly gives him an edge, but I think it’s going to be very difficult to win it all the same.


Probably not deserving of 2 exclamation marks in terms of pure strength, but I think the visual impression of the move makes it worth the praise. As surprising at it may seem, the king is fairly safe on g6.

13. Ne4

Of course d4 just loses the knight on g5, as the queen is protecting the pawn, so the knight has to move. 13. Ne6 Bxe6 Rxe6 Kf7 is fine for black. White could play 13. Nf3, admitting Ng5 wasn’t the wisest move. Not sure I have much better then Kf7 repeating, when white could play Ne5+.

13… Nxe4
14. Rxe4 Qd6

I’ve only got the queen and the king off the back rank, and yet my king’s safe as houses. It’s a funny old game.

15. Qe3?!

Not the best square for the queen after my reply. Either h4 or f3 were better squares.


The clever little point here is that after 16. Re7 Qxe7! 17. Qxe7 Rhe8 the back rank threat means white has to give up the queen as well as the c2 pawn afterwards.

16. Rd4 Qe5

16…Rae8 is an idea when 17. Rxd6 Rxe3 18. Rxf6+ gxf6 19. dxe3 Bxc2 leaves us in another opposite bishops position, where ironically my active king gives me the slightest of edges.

17. Qxe5 fxe5
18. Rb4 b6
19. d3

Here I was offered a draw and spent a while thinking about it, more based on how I thought the match was going then the position. I can play on here and barring anything horrific shouldn’t lose, but at the same time I couldn’t think of a decent plan to make any head-way.


Monday, 19 October 2009

The frosty side of chess

League and congress chess here in the South-West tends to be a good-natured affair all round. It's not all that often that you see people get agitated about events in such environments, but Bill Frost's latest editorial is an exception to this.

He's commented on three issues. The first relates to the game Michael White v Richard Almond from Paignton this year; I will not comment on this one myself, but have invited Michael to be a contributor to this blog, so that he may put his side of the story.

The second and third involve teams I play for, so I will comment on them.

The Paignton Congress was followed by the WECU annual jamboree held at the very acceptable venue of the Tacchi-Morris Arts Centre in Taunton. This event has recently experienced a revival in popularity and on this occasion, a record number of entries was recorded. But, a rather sour note was introduced by the fact that Somerset entered two teams in the Graded Tournament and none in the County competition, despite the fact that the sum total grades of the first six players in the graded sections equalled the total grades of another side that entered the County competition.

OK, let's deal with that. The first point I shall note here that neither of Somerset's choices is individually unusual - Dorset have been entering a Graded team and no Open team for years, and Devon have been entering more than one Graded team for years also. The second is that that the rules of the competition mean you can't cheat by doing this. The Graded section has a maximum average grade for teams, so any team selection we made would have to fit under that.

And the third, and perhaps most vital, point here is Somerset's entry selection was chosen with reference to who was available - I was arbiting at Uxbridge, Ben Edgell was helping with the Trafalgar Square event, and a few more of our top players were also unavailable. We might still have been competitive with some of the other teams - but we didn't know that at the time. Not wanting a repeat of the 10-2 mauling at the hands of Devon a few years ago, we decided to put entries where we could ensure they would be competitive.

On to Bill's third issue:

Lamentably this example pales into insignificance when compared with another rather suspect practice which has appeared in team competitions in all the Devon leagues. All these events - the DCCA leagues, Torbay league and the Exeter and District league - are designed to provide genuine competition between the membership of the respective affiliated clubs. This is a laudable aspiration which we now find is being flaunted by the inclusion in some teams of players that have little or no connection with the club they are representing. In most cases the only games played by these "members" are in team events and they do not participate in internal club competitions. The rules of these events provide for participants to be "bone fide" members of the clubs they represent. This is a very airy term that needs to be tightened up by decisive and unambiguous definition. On one occasion when I asked a competition secretary the meaning of "bone fide" I was told that this was left to the discretion of the pertinent team captain! Wow!!

I don't know what situations have arisen so far this season that have caused this comment to be made, but I'll elaborate on the one that arose with reference to my club, Barnstaple. The Chess Devon website posted a message advertising the DCCA Team Rapidplay. I thought this looked fun, so tried to organize a team from Barnstaple to play in it. I got positive responses from Jon Munsey and Rick Dooley, but negative ones from Peter Marriott, Steve Clarke, Rob Oughton, Roger Neat, Richard Smith, Peter Sandon, Richard Nash, Theresa Garrett and Doug Macfarlane.

With only three players and nobody left in the club to contact, I had two options. Either I could withdraw the team, or I could invite somebody from outside the club to be our fourth player. I chose the latter option, posted an ad on Facebook, intending to say yes to the first player who answered the ad. As it happened, this was Ben Edgell. His 6 out of 6 score helped us to an easy second place, half a point off first; that's the way things go sometimes. The first response could just as easily have come from a much weaker player, and we'd probably then have finished somewhere mid-table.

Bill had his own solution to the problem of mala fide members, so let's have a look at it.

Like MP's who state that their claims for expenses are "in accordance with the rules", some clubs hide behind the definition of "bone fide members". Amongst many remedies that could be applied I would suggest that the rule be amended so that no person is permitted to play league matches unless the club can clearly demonstrate to the competition secretary that such member fully participated in internal tournaments during the previous season.

This, I think, belongs to the "cure is worse than the disease" category. Suppose I'm captaining a team from a sixth-form college. People come in, they are at the college - and therefore the club - for two years, and they leave. According to this proposal, I'd have to pick a team consisting exclusively of second-years. This is a particular case of a more general flaw with this proposal: it means players cannot move into an area and immediately start playing league chess. Does this sound like a policy that encourages people to join their local clubs?

And even for people who are settled in an area, the proposal has its flaws: it's perfectly possible to be a bona fide member of a club and not participate in its internal competitions. The club may have no internal competitions, and exist purely as a vehicle for playing league chess - I've come across a few. Or the player may have to restrict the number of times a year he goes to the club, either for health reasons, or because he has other commitments that take precedence.

There may be good ways to ensure teams are more representative of the clubs they draw from, but the proposal on the table isn't one of them.