Yearly Archives: 2022

Kingston wrap up league season with win over Ealing ‘juniors’

Despite a hiccup on top board, Kingston remain undefeated in 2022, making it 18 matches in a row without a loss

There was a suspiciously seasoned look to the Ealing Juniors team we faced when we arrived at their sports ground venue near Acton Town. The fact that several of the Ealing team had beards rather gave the game away: they were struggling, as they have all season, to get out a B team filled with bona fide juniors and were filling in with older Ealing club members.

One junior did show up, however, played on top board and enjoyed a very good night. Xavier Cowan beat the redoubtable David Rowson, to suggest that his 1925 rating underestimates his true strength by some considerable distance. Cowan, opening as he usually does with d4, played a well-controlled positional game before it exploded into a riot of tactics which he navigated his way through with great skill despite being under time pressure.

On board two, Jon Eckert built up one of the powerful attacks in which he specialises, and went on to convert smoothly. Ljubica Lazaravic won a complicated game on board five, and I managed to eke out a win on board six, despite being under severe pressure in the early stages after my attempted King’s Gambit had gone horribly wrong. If my opponent had had more faith in his attacking powers and hadn’t gone into his shell, I would have been in serious trouble, but his passivity allowed me first to undo the damage and then to launch a kingside attack of my own that forced mate.

These were the decisive results in the match – 3-1 to Kingston. The games on boards three and four were drawn, but in rather different manners. Gregor Smith’s solid draw on board four was fairly conventional and peace was declared early, but John Shanley’s draw on board three was anything but conventional. In an incident that only came to light while they were playing the endgame, it transpired that Shanley’s opponent, Andrew Glass, had at some point managed to take his own piece – a bishop that somehow got removed from the board while he was making a capture.

Once the error had been spotted, the game had moved on so far that the players were deep into a time scramble and had stopped recording their moves. It proved impossible to track back, so a draw was agreed. The match result was, in any case, not materially affected, as Kingston had already secured their victory. This strange draw made the final score 4-2, bringing our league season to a suitably peculiar and unpredictable conclusion.

Stephen Moss, Kingston Thames Valley captain

Endgame masterclass from GM Oleksandr Sulypa

The Ukrainian chess team’s captain demonstrates the art of endgame play and explains why, even in time of war, his country is determined to keep fielding teams in international competitions

In a bonus edition of KCC Online, we invited Ukrainian grandmaster Oleksandr Sulypa to give a talk on calculations in the endgame. Oleksandr is coach and captain of the Ukrainian chess team, which is one of the top national teams in the world. They are current European champions and regularly feature on the podium in world and European championships. Sixteen Kingston club members attended the Zoom talk, which was well received and left a few of us wondering if we should brush up on our endgame theory in preparation for the 2022/23 season, when we will be playing a division higher.

In the well-researched talk, a number of important themes emerged. When we reach the endgame, there is usually not much time to consider the moves and hence knowing some solid endgame theory is invaluable. The strongest theme harkens back to Capablanca’s Chess Fundamentals – the importance of passed pawns. Once a pawn gets near the queening square, all sorts of tactics arise. Our first position was White to play.

Somkin, E v Vinogradov, D, Chelyabinsk 2005

A neat combination secures the win. 1. Nb6 axb6 2. Rd8+ Rxd8 3. Bxd8 and the rook pawn will promote.

We examined more than a dozen positions, analysing the tactical motifs in the endgame. It is recommended to start with studying rook endgames, since they are so prevalent – Oleksandr estimated that rook endgames accounted for 80% of all endgames. Whilst chess generalisations always have exceptions, it is hard to find exceptions to the rule that the rooks should be active. Don’t worry about saving or winning a pawn if you can get your rook active. One position caught the eye because one of the protagonists, GM Bogdan Lalić, is the father of one of our club members, rising star Peter Lalić.

Qendro, L v Lalić B, Bratto, 1995

The temptation to win a pawn by 1. f4 is strong, but would be a losing move after the response Rb2. The white rook must be activated immediately by 1. Ra8, after which analysis showed that Black cannot win.

Perhaps the most impressive endgame in Oleksandr’s talk was played by Vasyl Ivanchuk, as White against Levon Aronian, then of Armenia, at Linares in 2007.

Most club players would not think twice before playing 1. Rac1, but the Ukrainian number one had other ideas and played 1. Rcc1! This looks counter-intuitive, but is actually the start of a plan to play against Black’s isolani on d5. White drove away the temporary infiltration on his C-file and then won the endgame comfortably. Oleksandr was second and trainer to Ivanchuk from 1994 to 2001, when Ivanchuk reached world number 2.

An important conclusion from the lecture is that endgame positions do not always require heavy calculations if you can form a plan. For bishop endings, especially with opposite-coloured bishops, forming a plan is not so difficult. For example, If you know that your king needs to get to the corner square where it cannot be checked by the bishop, then you have a plan.

At the end of the talk, there was a more general discussion. What is his favourite chess book? My 60 Memorable Games by Bobby Fischer. During Soviet times the book was banned and so was held in particularly high regard. We also asked Oleksandr about the recent photo of him which went viral.

Image
Oleksandr Sulypa, manning a checkpoint in Lviv in February 2022

Oleksandr explained that in the immediate aftermath of the Russian invasion, he joined the territorial army and manned a checkpoint in Lviv. He is currently in Poland, with government permission, so that he can organise a Ukrainian team to play in international competitions – notably the forthcoming chess Olympiad in India, which starts on 28 July. Ukraine’s government is determined to show that, even in time of war, life – and chess – go on. This is a way of showing that the country is still functioning and preparing for a world beyond war. Several of the Ukrainian team’s key players have been dispersed throughout Europe, and Oleksandr is doing what he can to make sure they are ready for the Olympiad. If hostilities return to his home city, Oleksandr said he would return to do his duty.

See the source image
Mikhail Tal (1968)

Oleksandr was impressed that Kingston play chess in a pub and related a chess anecdote. As a boy, he had operated the demonstration board at a tournament where former world champion Mikhail Tal was playing. Tal called him over, “Boy, fetch me a coffee, mixed with some cognac.” The Kingston club committee encourages players to buy a drink, but does not stipulate that it needs to contain alcohol. Cognac does not necessarily lubricate chess genius: we are sadly not all Tals.

The Kingston club intends to stay in touch with Oleksandr, and offer any assistance it can to him and the Ukrainian team as it struggles to carry on functioning in the face of war. It might seem odd to be playing out pretend attacks and sacrifices at a time when real ones are bloodily taking place on a daily basis. But sometimes the assertion of normality in the face of brutality can itself be an act of resistance.

John Foley, chair of Kingston Chess Club

Kingston given another walkover as Surbiton pull out

We are starting to wonder if teams prefer not to come to ‘Fortress Willoughby

The match against Surbiton B scheduled for Monday 9 May was abandoned at three days’ notice when the Surbiton captain announced that he was unable to raise a team. This raised the question of whether the match should be deferred or defaulted, and after considering both options the Kingston committee felt that accepting Surbiton’s default was the better option. We had accepted Ealing Juniors’ default in April, and, with Surbiton and Ealing Juniors locked in a relegation fight in this division, it seemed ethical to treat Surbiton in the same way. We might otherwise have been seen to be favouring our neighbouring club. A default means a 6-0 defeat, which has significant implications for board count (the chess equivalent of goal difference), and that might eventually determine who goes down to division 3. So we reluctantly accepted Surbiton’s default. Our Thames Valley division 2 campaign is truly ending with a whimper, rather than a bang, but after a long and difficult season played in the teeth of the Covid pandemic it is understandable that a degree of exhaustion is setting in. It many ways, it is a miracle that clubs have come through this transitional year intact, and one hopes that next season will be a little less testing – in every sense!

Stephen Moss, Kingston Thames Valley captain

Graeme Buckley v Alan Scrimgour

Cavendish 2 v Wood Green, London League division 1 east, Millman Street Community Centre, London WC1, 7 April 2022

In a recent blog, Kingston stalwart Alan Scrimgour recounted his lifelong love affair with the Sicilian Defence. In this game, played for his London League team Cavendish, he demonstrated its potency by downing IM Graeme Buckley, who was playing for perennial London League champions Wood Green.

Ealing Juniors default hands Kingston Thames Valley promotion

A walkover adds a touch of bathos to Kingston’s rise to division 1, but we’re not complaining. We’re just happy to get there and are ready for the challenges ahead

It was not the way we would have wanted to claim a place in the first division of the Thames Valley League – an email from the captain of Ealing Juniors’ B team announcing they were unable to raise a team for a match due two days hence – but we’ll take it all the same. Ealing Juniors’ default gives Kingston an automatic 6-0 victory, and that is enough to confirm us as champions of Thames Valley division 2.

Ealing Juniors B are bottom of the division and, on paper, this was going to be a mismatch, so the default may have been for the best. No matter how quickly their standard of play is improving, there is little point in juniors coming up against players rated 700 points or more higher than them. Next season we will face Ealing Juniors A in division 1, and with their battery of 2000-plus players that will be a very different proposition.

Kingston have secured promotion with two games in hand – a terrific achievement and testament to how much stronger we have become this season. Thanks to everyone who played and contributed – as setter-uppers, packer-awayers, spectators, supporters, friends, allies. The team has been very easy to manage and the spirit at the club has been tremendous this season, which bodes well for the tougher challenges ahead next year in division 1, where strong outfits such as Hammersmith, Richmond and Ealing, as well as those pesky 2200-rated juniors, await us. Thanks also to Rick and his team at the Willoughby Arms, our home venue, for putting up with us.

Stephen Moss, Kingston Thames Valley captain (thankfully non-playing, except in dire emergencies)

The season is not yet over, but Kingston are promoted with two games in hand

The case for seeking draws in chess tournaments

Being quick on the draw can be completely rational in certain circumstances and where prize money is at stake. Just do the maths

John Foley

The re-emergence of weekend tournaments has drawn attention (no pun intended) to the use of draws. Chess purists would say that you should always try to win a game. By contrast, game theorists would say that you should always try to obtain the best payoff i.e. financial outcome. This divergence of perspectives gives rise to different draw strategies. We need to set aside the emotions and make a rational case for seeking a draw as players reach the last round.  It is more rational to be realistic rather than optimistic.

Photograph: R Nial Bradshaw

Last-round strategy

Let’s say you are in the fortunate position of coming into the last round of a tournament in joint first place, you are paired against someone with the same number of points and you are both a point ahead of the chasing pack. Let’s make this more concrete and assume that the first prize is £400 and the second prize is £200, and that these are the only prizes and this is shared among those in the top places. These figures are not atypical on the English chess scene. Not a lot of money, but enough to give pause for thought for an impecunious chess player.

What is the right draw strategy?  There are three outcomes arising from the game:

You win:          sole tournament victory and £400

You draw:        joint tournament victory and £300 (being half of the total prize money)

You lose:         zero 

The game theorist says you need to consider the probability of each outcome.  As a first approximation, there is an equal chance of a win, draw or loss. The “expected value” of the game is therefore:

(⅓ x £400) + (⅓ x £300) + (⅓ x 0) = £233

It is rational to offer a draw because you are guaranteed a return greater than the expected value from playing the game out. You avoid the possibility of defeat and get a share of the pooled prize money.  You are £67 better off than leaving it to the vagaries of a contested game. To express this in percentages, you get a 29% improvement in expected prize money by agreeing to a draw early on.

Young and ambitious players may prefer to slug it out. Youth knows no fear. Or they may lack objectivity and overestimate their chess skills. More seasoned performers will assess the opposition and, unless they are clearly superior, will often seek a draw.  Tournament organisers are wise to this temptation and seek to impose measures designed to avoid early draws. Nevertheless, the economic incentive remains. 

Penultimate-round strategy

By a similar argument it can be shown that, based on a reasonable set of assumptions typical of local weekend tournaments, if the tournament leader accepts a draw in the penultimate round, their expected value of the prize money is £267, whereas if they take their chances and play out the game the expected value is slightly lower at £256. The tournament leader can thus secure a small financial margin of £11, on average, by taking a draw in the penultimate round against the nearest challenger. That’s the price of a couple of beers if you live in London.

The outcomes can be summarised in this payoff matrix. This shows that it is always advantageous to seek a draw in the last two rounds. This decision must be made prior to or at the outset of the game. Try for a win only if you have grounds for believing you can beat the odds. Once the game is underway, then this analysis is superseded and depends upon the chances in your current position. Then the conventional strategy applies: If you are ahead, then go for victory; if you are at a disadvantage, try to get a draw.

The expected value of settling for a draw in the last two rounds of a Swiss

There are more substantial benefits of taking a draw before the final game. Nimzowitsch, in an article titled “The Technique of Tournament Play”, explained how he won Carlsbad 1929 ahead of Capablanca and others due to taking short draws to save energy.  The message is to save your efforts for the last round,when you may also have another drawing possibility.

Offering a draw can also have a psychological impact. Your opponent may believe you are lacking in confidence and therefore start focusing on you rather than the board. They may lose objectivity and take a more risky line. As a result, you may outperform original expectations. It is not as if you are bluffing. You are taking a rational approach to winning prize money.

We should acknowledge the legitimate fear that taking a draw could become habitual. We all know players who have a reputation as draw specialists. They are the chess equivalent of people who hug the middle lane on the motorway – ultra-cautious and annoying.

However, what is being advocated here is highly circumscribed. Firstly, the prescription is only relevant to Swiss tournaments where there are only a few top prizes and there is a shared prize pool for people scoring the same number of points. If you are in an all-play-all, then try to win each game. Secondly, it only applies to those two or three people in the lead – if you are in the chasing pack, then try to win your game.

Maycock takes second place in Southend

Kingston star shines brightly in a tough Easter congress, showing his fighting qualities to score six out of seven

While most of us were taking it easy over the Easter weekend, the more committed among the chess fraternity were fighting it out in two tough congresses at Daventry and Southend. GMs Danny Gormally and Mark Hebden led the way at Daventry, but at Southend – in a field which, though lacking any GMs, was still very strong and had its fair share of IMs, FMs and 2200-plus players eyeing titles – Kingston’s very own David Maycock enjoyed a productive weekend, taking second place and gaining a hatful of Fide rating points.

Maycock, with a Fide rating at the start of the event of 2183, was the ninth highest-rated player in the field, but he blazed a trail with four successive wins and ended the second day of the four-day, seven-round event in the outright lead, ahead of three players on 3.5/4 – Julius Schwartz of Scotland, England’s Thomas Villiers and the Swedish FM Joakim 2000 Nilsson (who seems, bizarrely, to have added his birthdate to his name – perhaps it’s a Swedish thing).

Maycock and Villiers met in round five. The latter, with White, ambitiously sac’d a piece but David coolly negotiated the resulting complications and attendant time trouble to simplify down to an endgame in which his bishop prevailed over Villiers’ extra pawns. That made it 5/5 and David could start dreaming of winning the tournament.

The dream didn’t, however, last long. He had the misfortune to have the black pieces again in the afternoon and to face another Catalan, this time against 2000 Nilsson (all Kingston players will henceforth be adding a number to their names to suggest unbending robotic efficiency). Maycock was doing well – his opponent even offered him a draw on move 10 – but, after a series of trades, the Swedish player created a passed a-pawn, the black rook was tied down in defence, and the more mobile white rook did the rest.

Maycock’s decision not to take a draw, which he revealed immediately after the game, caused some consternation among Kingston club members, who had been eagerly following and discussing the game on What’s App. Of course he should have taken the draw, some argued. He would have retained the lead in the tournament, and a short draw would have given him some rest ahead of the seventh and final round. The laconic Maycock had a neat answer to the draw advocates: “If I start taking short draws, it might become a habit.”

David Maycock, foreground left, in action against Epsom earlier in the season playing Kevin Thurlow

Some research by another Kingston star, Peter Lalic, revealed that in 54 rated games (classical and rapidplay) this season, Maycock has had only four draws. He’s a fighter who believes in playing to the bitter end, subscribing to American GM Ben Finegold’s view that you learn and get better by playing chess rather than not playing chess. “Never offer a draw; never accept a draw,” insists Finegold. “You don’t get better at chess by drawing. You want to go to king versus king. If you sat there and didn’t play chess for a year, you wouldn’t be a better chess player. You play 15 moves and you agree to a draw instead of playing 15 more moves, you just took away chess you could have played. Never even think about a draw; think about what chess move you should make. Live like a man; fight like a dog.” Maycock is a streetfighter, and more power to him. Lalic reckons his opponents will fear his reputation for never suing for peace.

He got his reward in round seven with a fine technical win over Fide master David Haydon (see game below). That victory secured second place for Maycock, who finished on 6/7, half a point behind Nilsson 2000. A great result for Maycock 2003, who ended up with some prize money (always welcome when you’ve shelled out on accommodation over Easter), a tournament performance rating of 2412, and 37 extra Fide rating points, taking him to elo 2220. An FM title (and more!) surely beckons for this most impressive young player.

Stephen Moss

Thomas Villiers v David Maycock

Southend Easter Congress (Open), Round 5, 17 April 2022

David Maycock, whose arrival this season has been a big factor in the revival of the Kingston club, made the early running in the Southend Easter Congress, winning his first four (yes, four!) games, with a 2800+ Elo rating performance. This was his fifth game at the congress – as Black against the tactically ambitious, 2219 Fide-rated Tom Villiers – and was played on Easter Sunday as the four-day, seven-round tournament reached its critical final stages. Maycock played with great control against Villiers, who, looking to blast open Black’s kingside, lashed out with a piece sac. The Kingston star had to play more than a dozen moves on the 30-second increment, but kept his cool, traded pieces – each trade increasing his advantage – and, with a passed pawn motoring, forced White’s resignation. A terrific victory for Maycock, which took him to 5/5 and maintained his clear lead in the tournament. Not that any chickens – or indeed Easter eggs – were being counted yet.

David Maycock: One of Kingston’s brightest new talents

Win over Richmond fuels Kingston 2’s late promotion drive

Surrey League division 4 match played at the Adelaide, Teddington on 12 April 2022

Kingston 2, after a slightly up-and-down season, finally came good in the sixth and final Centenary Trophy (Surrey League division 4) match at Richmond’s excellent new venue – the Adelaide Pub in Teddington. Our team of Jon Eckert, John Shanley, Stephen Moss, club president Lju Lazarevic (in her first game for the club in 2022), Adam Nakar and Jake Grubb proved too experienced for a Richmond side studded with new members. The latter were players who had been enthused by the game during lockdown, had played online and were now making the transition to OTB chess.

Richmond proudly announced last week that they had just signed up their 50th member – their highest level of membership for many years. They are one of the clubs that have returned stronger from lockdown than they were before – there has been quite a power shift among clubs in south-west London. Richmond seem to have gained more than most from an influx of new members who got enthused by chess during the pandemic (insert obligatory reference here to the pulling power of Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit). The loss of their previous venue at the start of this season seemed to have dealt them a mortal blow, but it’s actually done them a huge favour as they now have what, in chess terms, is a pretty well perfect venue. We are trying not to be too jealous of their good fortune.

The Adelaide pub in Teddington: Richmond’s excellent new venue has given the club a major boost

Richmond had surprised us at the Willoughby Arms last week, coming back against what was on paper a stronger Kingston side to draw 3-3. There was to be no such Lazarus-like revival for them this time, though, as their inexperienced team – well done to Richmond for having the courage to blood their new players by the way – were dispatched by the more battle-hardened Kingstonians.

The first win came on board six from Grubb – one of Kingston’s very own post-pandemic arrivals, here notching up his first victory for the club. He won on time – there was a huge disparity on the clock – but he was four pawns to the good and his position was commanding. I secured the next victory, winning a piece early on and patiently (for me at least) building an attack before crashing through with the heavy artillery to embarrass Black’s naked king. 

That was followed soon after by a draw on board three for Moss, finishing with king and five pawns and symmetrical structures on each side. Moss’s opponent, Michael Robinson-Chui, was one of the Richmond newbies – he even admitted to having been inspired by The Queen’s Gambit! – and this was only his seventh rated OTB game. He had lost his first four and won his next two, so this was his first ever draw in a rated game. Nor was it in any sense a fortunate draw. Robinson-Chui had greater activity in the final phase of the game, when each player had rook and bishop, and Moss had to make some unnatural-looking moves to hold the position. After struggling against this up-and-comer, Moss is now considering his team-mates’ ever more explicit suggestions that it may be time to call it a day. Like a boxer who has endured one or two fights too many, it would at least save him further punishment.

That draw on board three made it 2.5 to 0.5. Who would take Kingston over the line? Fittingly, it was Kingston talisman (and former Richmond treasurer!) Jon Eckert, playing on top board. He went a piece up early on, always held the upper hand, but was pressed hard by Levente Lencses, and was only sure of securing the point once he had forced an exchange of queens.

That was the match in the bag. Now it was about trying to win by as big a margin as possible to maximise our chance of getting promotion. That will be decided by the match between South Norwood and favourites Epsom 3 at South Norwood on 28 April. If Epsom win or draw they are promoted, but, if they lose to South Norwood, all three teams will finish on 3.5 points and board count comes into play. Thanks to our 5-1 win over Richmond, South Norwood will have to beat Epsom by 6-0 to go past us. As one of our members said on the Kingston What’s App group, if that happens we will be demanding a stewards’ inquiry.

On board two, John Shanley had been the exchange up and was pressing for a win, but he went wrong and the game came down to a knight v knight – plus some hard-to-defend pawns – endgame that was inevitably drawn. Meanwhile, on board four, the president was not having things all her own way against yet another chess-playing product of the pandemic, Ronvir Bilkhu. Lju had sac’d a piece for what she thought would either be a mating attack or a hatful of pawns. She got the pawns but not the mate, and faced a tough endgame with five widely scattered pawns pitted against bishop and two pawns.

A bishop is worth three pawns – unless they are on opposite wings. White to play in the game between Ronvir Bilkhu and Kingston president Ljubica Lazarevic. Lazarevic’s pawn posse eventually prevailed

Moss had had (and, playing with the extra pawns, lost) that precise endgame in a tournament at Bournemouth in 2012 – it features prominently in his book The Rookie. He confidently told Jake Grubb, when Grubb said he preferred Lju’s position, that the bishop would prevail. Moss was wrong and Grubb was right. Lju advanced her pawns on both wings and eventually forced Bilkhu to give up his bishop to stop her a-pawn, leaving one of the two connected pawns on the opposite side of the board to march home against a frustrated White king. An important victory for the Prez in the light of the divisional maths. Now it’s all down to South Norwood doing Kingston a favour.

This match concludes the Centenary Trophy season for us. Thanks to all the players who played across the six matches: Peter Andrews, Vladimir Bovtramovic, John Bussmann, Jon Eckert, Jake Grubb, Ljubica Lazarevic, Ian Mason, Max Mikardo-Greaves, Stephen Moss, John Shanley, Gregor Smith and Yae-Chan Yang. The team was entered to give both new players and returning stalwarts a few matches to bed back into league chess after a season and a half out, and it did its job well. The opposition was limited in the small league, but provided tough competition – as demonstrated by the fact that promotion is still in the balance and could go to any one of three teams. I hope everyone returns for 2022/23.

Adam Nakar, Kingston Centenary Trophy (Surrey League division 4) captain

David White (Hounslow) v Vladimir Li (Kingston)

Kingston 1 v Hounslow 1, Thames Valley League division 2, Willoughby Arms, Kingston, 11 April 2022

This match against Hounslow was Vladimir’s first outing representing Kingston. We had no doubts that he would justify our faith in him. During our introductory chess sessions, he had beaten Kingston’s finest, so now it was time for some real competition.

David White v Vladimir Li (foreground) conducting a post-mortem