Whilst visiting the wonderful Chaucer Bookshop in Canterbury last week, I stumbled upon this remarkable volume:
Apologies for the photo quality - mobile phone handsets are remarkable things, but not up to proper camera standards. Written by Spectator founder, Joseph Addison (he who was satirised by Alexander Pope under the name "Atticus"), the book is entitled "Days with Sir Roger de Coverley". Here is an exclusive sneak preview from the Contents page:
Page 4: The day Sir Roger wittered on for 12 hours about the ECF Membership scheme.
Page 6: The day Sir Roger wittered on for 13 hours about the ECF membership scheme.
Page 8: The day Sir Roger bored everybody in London witless going on about the ECF membership scheme.
Page 10: The day the whole world committed suicide to escape Sir Roger's witterings about the ECF membership scheme.
Earlier this week, I posted Yochanan Afek's recent prize-winning study, with the wonderful coup in the following position:
10. Qg5+!! and wins.
I mentioned at the time that, to any true endgame study afficionado, this move immediately evokes the name of Mitrofanov. The Soviet composer's famous study, also featuring an immortal Qg5 move, is as follows:
I L Mitrofanov, 1st Pr, Rustaveli MT 1967 (correction 1971)
and now the scene is set for the famous Mitrofanov Deflection:
7. Qg5!! Qxg5+ 8. Ka6 Bxa7 9. c7! and wins.
An astonishing study, which Harold van der Heijden has named as his all-time favourite. For a detailed discussion of its vicissitudes, I can recommend this article from Tim Krabbe's website.
Of course, moves such as Qg5!! are remarkable enough in compositions, but the chances of such a device being seen in a genuine OTB game would appear astronomically high. Yet there are a couple of cases. In the latest issue of EG, Yochanan Afek has an article on the subject, where he quotes the following remarkable position, taken from Informant 113:
Paragua - Debashish, New Delhi 2012
In the game, Black played the apparently forced 24...Kf8, and was mated, but no less a commentator than Garry Kasparov pointed out that Black could have saved himself, and written his name into immortality, with the extraordinary 24...Qg4!! Your engine will explain why.
There is of course one other similar practical case which comes to mind, and which Yochanan's article does not mention, and that was the remarkable game by Amos Burn, unearthed by Swiss historian Richard Forster, during research for his monumental book on Burn:
MacDonald - Burn, Offhand Gme, Liverpool 1910
Here, Burn produced the wonderful 33...Qg4!! and went on to win.
So, the moral of the story is: know your endgame studies, and never give up hope of being able to make use of the ideas you see in them! The odds may be rather long against you, but as every punter knows, "you've got to be in it to win it!".
The ECF have been asked, and I have agreed, to enter a team in the above event taking place 21-29 December 2012 in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates.
The ‘London’ team is - Nigel Short David Howell Stephen Gordon Simon Williams
The team has been assembled at no cost to the ECF - Sean Hewitt, Acting International Director
Shortly afterwards, I had a brief online exchange with one of the people involved, and purely out of curiosity, I asked who was funding the team. I could not elicit any more than the deadpan reply "Private funding", "private" in this context of course meaning "anonymous".
The identity of the sponsor does not in itself matter one iota, but it did set me thinking - why is it that so many sponsors of chess events wish to remain anonymous? In the normal world, the only two things which the rich habitually finance, whilst hoping to preserve anonymity, are drug deals and political parties - a pairing which I fear says something about the moral congruence of the two activities, but we will pass on from that for the present. Just about any other form of private funding is done with a view to publicity in some form or other. Even where there is not a straightforward commercial motive, the donor is usually hoping for some positive publicity - if the local millionaire sponsors a play, or the local football team, for example, it is usually with a view to enhancing his reputation as a patron of the arts or a pillar of the local community.
But when it comes to chess sponsorship, it is all so different. Funding chess events seems to be some sort of dirty little secret that the rich harbour - "OK, I'll sponsor your chess tournament, but only if you don't tell anyone it's me who's doing it!". For decades now, British chess in particular has been sponsored in this way, whether it is Olympiad teams, one-to-one matches for promising young Scottish GMs, or a Grandmaster's conditions at the British Championship.
What are these guys so ashamed of? Is chess really so seedy that even generous patrons, with (presumably) a great love of the game are nonetheless ashamed to be associated with it? Of course, a glance at the Egregious Forum is enough to make anyone feel ashamed at being associated with chess, and we know for a fact that several commercial sponsors have indeed been driven away by precisely that particular termite infestation. But I don't believe that is the whole story, if only because anonymous private sponsorship of chess long pre-dates the emergence of Old Mother Hibbard and his band of cretins.
No, there must be another reason. Perhaps it is the deeply anti-intellectual nature of British society, which makes sponsors so reluctant to be known as supporters of our game? Or maybe businessmen are (understandably) wary of being publicly associated with the long-standing tradition of bovine incompetence, characteristic of our national federation?
"Stone me, I've seen some lousy bishops in my time, but that takes the biscuit!" (photo: bbc.co.uk)
Whatever the reason, I feel it is a shame. Whoever is sponsoring the England team at the World Cities Championship is probably spending between £5k-10k, and I can't help feeling they deserve something in return, beyond that warm glow of satisfaction, from knowing one has acted generously. On the other hand, perhaps our anonymous benefactor is a fan of Tony Hancock, who so profoundly pointed out:
"To do one unselfish act, without thought of profit or gain, is the duty of every human being! Something for the benefit of the country as a whole! 'What should it be?', I thought - become a blood donor, or join the Young Conservatives? But, as I'm not looking for a wife, and I can't play table tennis, here I am, a body-ful of good British blood, and raring to go!"
From the latest EG, a cracking new study by my friend Yochanan Afek. For today, just the study and solution; more background will follow later this week.
2nd pr (provisional), Milescu 100 MT, 2012
White to play and win
The position is highly complicated, with White having a potentially winning material advantage, but all of his pieces en prise and with two Black pawns close to promoting. For clarity's sake, we will just follow the main line:
1. Rh5+! Kxg6 2. Qg8+!Kxh5 3. h7 Bxc6+ 4. Ke6!
Bd5+! 5. Kxd5 Rc5+ 6. Ke4
Rxe5+! 7. Kd3
a1=Q 9. h8=Q+ Bh6+
Now what? The WK is in check, the queens face exchange on h8, and the pawn on g2 is promoting. But now comes the miracle:
Do I hear you scream "Mitrofanov!"? More on that later in the week! 10...Kxg5 11. Qxa1 wins
White is winning on material, but is unable to extricate his bishop, because of the fork on e7. However, in winning the bishop, Black get his pieces boxed fatally in the corner, and an accurate sequence allows White to win a piece back or give mate. Note the subtle move 6.f3!, essential to take away the g4-square from the black knight.
Few people are aware that, before he became such a shining intellectual adornment to our nation's constabulary, Ernie "Good Moaning" Lazenby had a brief and unsuccessful career as a writer of television sitcoms. Thanks to some diligent research by myself and various of my Facebook friends, I am now able to reveal, for the first time, some of the shows our Ernie wrote, none of which, alas, ever saw the light of TV day, in precisely the form he intended:
Only Foals and Horses
One Foot in the Gravy
Third Rook from the Sun
The God Life
Last of the Summer Whine
The Bickerer of Dibley
Are You Being Saved?
Sum Movers do Ave Em
Moan about the House
"I have rotten a lit of shitcoms for the tollyvasion"
Lunch today with Viscount Monckton, and Lord and Lady Pearson. Planning live chess display where the pieces will be specially trained dogs.
canine chess-we plan living chess -the dogs will have mini mikes attached and by obeying simple instructions dogs will appear to play chess
The burning question is, though, will the dogs need to be Gold members of the Egregious Chess Federation, or will Silver or Bronze membership suffice? We await frenzied debate amongst the termites on the Forum...
I have recently translated the second part of an interesting interview with 2012 defeated world championship challenger, Boris Gelfand, for the Russian website Whychess. You can find the interview here.
I have always been a great admirer of Gelfand as a player, and was especially interested in his description of his typical daily routine. He spends time every day, solving endgame studies and other positions, and comments that he regards this as "a guarantee of longevity". Once again, this is something I have always urged on my students, and it is nice to see it confirmed by such a top player.
Here is a nice study on which to try to your hand today. It features in an excellent biographical article on Herbstman, in the latest issue of the endgame study magazine EG:
Product Review: Amateur to IM by Jonathan Hawkins (Mongoose Press USD 29.95)
I have spent much of my life telling people that the way to improve their chess is to study the endgame. Most of my listeners nod politely, assure me that they agree 100%, and then go home and spend the evening cramming their memories with some more opening theory. And few of them ever get any better at the game.
I have never spoken directly to Jonathan Hawkins, so he has never had the benefit of my sage counsel, but despite this, he took the advice anyway. As he explains in the Introduction to this book, about eight years ago, he decided that "being a (relatively) weak chessplayer wasn't for me", relatively weak in this context being about 2000 strength. He took the decision to do something about this, and to commit a large portion of his time to studying chess. Specifically, he started studying the endgame. Eight years on, he has gained 400 rating points, the IM title and has two GM norms.
This book presents a summary of much of the work he did. In some respects, it could be seen as an endgame textbook, although that is not really what it is meant to be. It would be a very incomplete one of those, since although it contains extensive sections on certain specific endings (R+PvR, and R+BvR, one particular K+P ending, some opposite-coloured bishop endings, etc) that is all it covers - the rest of endgame theory is not covered at all. The value of the book is in the way Hawkins summarises how he studied, rather than what. He shows how he gradually built up his understanding of the endings concerned bit by bit, how he drew the key lessons from each example, and how he summarised the essential points.
The most interesting question is why studying the endgame like this caused such a large improvement in Hawkins' play. Naturally, his results in endgames themselves improved - for example, after studying extensively the ending of R+B v R, which he describes as "My favourite ending", he subsequently earned half a point, when he defended the position successfully for 50 moves against Gormally at the 2008 British Championship. But that is only part of the story, of course. It was not just Hawkins' endgame play that improved, but his all-round play, middlegame as well. Precisely how this occurs has been written about by many authors - endgame study fosters a greater understanding of the capabilities of the pieces, helps one calculate better, etc, etc. These things are well-known.
But I think the really important thing about Hawkins' improvement is that in his work on the endgame, he analysed. He says himself that "I filled notebook after notebook with endgame analysis". And elsewhere, he writes that, in this book, "I also wanted to spark the reader's interest in analysis and investigation of positions". And there is the rub. What Hawkins did not do is what most amateurs do when they "study" chess, what Nigel Davies has described most aptly as "reading and nodding" - they open the book, play through the moves on a set, and nod sagely at the annotations, and assure themselves that they now understand and would in future play such moves themselves. They don't actually analyse positions for themselves, push the pieces round, investigate the moves that were not played in the game, etc. Grandmasters analyse games, amateurs play over them. Therein lies the difference.
Hawkins' book is a fascinating story of how an 18-year old 2000-strength player (and by definition, therefore, not a player blessed with exceptional natural talent, if he will forgive me for saying so) turned himself into a Grandmaster (he isn't one just yet, but it is clearly only a matter of time and opportunity) by a process of well-planned, assiduous work. As such, it is an inspiring story, and an example which any similarly ambitious amateur can follow, if he has the strength of character. "Amateur to IM" is a book which all those interested in chess improvement, be they players or trainers, should read, and I hope it sells as well as it deserves to.
As revealed on this blog a couple of weeks ago, the Egregious Chess Federation have recently shown the true nature of the protection racket, that is their compulsory membership scheme, by refusing to grade any event that omits to send in games of non-members, who do not want an ECF grade. Now Ronnie and Reggie's youthful enforcer, the new Director of Home Chess, Alex Holowczak (an earnest and well-meaning young chap, who will, I predict, in due course be chewed up and spat out by the sharks by whom he is surrounded on the ECF Board), has just wielded his baseball bat for the first time, with the following shameless announcement, published today on the Federation website: A short while ago, a notice was published on this website explaining the terms under which the ECF would grade events. The ECF is now in a position to confirm some events that will not be ECF-graded this season. Players in these events may not be aware of this, and this notice is designed to bring their attention to this. Note that any “& District” parts of the league name have been removed from the title for the purposes of this list. They are:
Bradford League | Calderdale League | Cumbria Chess Association | Doncaster League | Harrogate League | Huddersfield League | Hull League | Sheffield League | York League
So far as the ECF is currently aware, all competitions organised by the above do not intend to pay the Game Fee they may be liable for the grading of these events. As a result of this, the ECF will not grade any games submitted for grading by those organisations. This list may not be comprehensive, but is based on current information. If a league is listed above that should not be, then please contact me immediately.
Anatoly Karpov showed a very welcome return to form at the Cap d'Agde rapid event in France. After finishing joint first with Ivanchuk in the preliminary stage, he then overcame Chucky in a thrilling final, which saw the players need six extra blitz games to produce an eventual winner.
It was a fitting triumph for the 61 year old ex-world champion, since the main trophy at the event is named after him! It was also a deserved success for his play throughout the tournament, as he rolled back the years and outclassed a field of lesser GMs in a series of quiet manoeuvering games. It was vintage Karpov, and shows that, even though classical tournaments may be too much for him these days, he can still compete at rapid and blitz. It was his second rapid success in a row, as a few weeks ago, he top-scored in a rapid team event, ahead of such other veterans as Timman and Hubner.
Reasons to be cheerful , part 160-something - Karpov adds to his over 150 career tournament wins. (photo: Chessbase)
Here he wins in typically quiet fashion against a French GM, who has become a regular at Hastings in recent years, and has also gained over 100 Elo points in the past year. On this occasion, though, he was left scratching his head as to where he had gone wrong, like so many of Karpov's opponents down the years.
Oh dear! Methinks I doth annoy Carl "Old Mother" Hibbard, the Chief Censor of the Egregious Chess Forum. He Who Will Not Tolerate Personal Abuse has now branded me "a pip-squeak" (sic)! As far as I can gather, OMH is unhappy about my having quoted Prof Robertson's illuminating statistics on Forum usage, which reveal that out of 888 registered users, 800 have never posted anything at all!
Needless to say, having realised how much I annoy the little fellow, I shall make a point of continuing to do so. In fact, to paraphrase a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, I shall prod Old Mother with my pointy stick, "until the pips squeak"!
"What a silly billy the Old Mother is!" (photo: bbc.co.uk)