Monthly Archives: February 2022

Peter Andrews (Kingston) v Michael Dams (Epsom)

Epsom 1 v Kingston 1, Surrey League division 2, Willoughby Arms, Kingston, 21 February 2022

The Kingston v Epsom clash produced some notable games. This is one where the advantage was unclear to the casual observer until matters resolved themselves with both players in considerable time pressure. Peter Andrews was not originally meant to play in this match and only stepped in as a substitute at the last minute when our team captain became indisposed. A supersub is born.

Will Taylor (Kingston) v Marcus Gosling (Epsom)

Epsom 1 v Kingston 1, Surrey League division 2, Willoughby Arms, Kingston, 21 February 2022

This decisive game shows Will Taylor launch an unstoppable attack against Marcus Gosling in the promotion match played at Kingston. Marcus said that he had only just taken up this defence. There is no good time to try out a new opening and you would have thought that the Fort Knox variation of the French Defence sounded solid, but there is always another chapter to read.

Supersub Andrews helps Kingston to thrilling win over Epsom

Surrey League division 2 (Beaumont Cup) match played at the Willoughby Arms, Kingston on 21 February 2022

Where to start?  It’s true that we’re only talking about the parochial world of Surrey chess but, within those confines, this was a hugely anticipated clash. This season has seen the birth of a new rivalry, between a re-established and ambitious Epsom and a rejuvenated Kingston. This was the fourth 2021/22 encounter between the two clubs, each one hard-fought. Both sides understood its significance, as it was highly likely that the victor of this match would go on to win the Beaumont Cup.

In recent days Kingston scouts had sniffed out rumours that Epsom were going to reinforce their team with one or even two more international masters. Were they worried that fielding one IM (Peter Large) was not enough to match Kingston? This fomented a great deal of speculation among the Kingston players about possible pairings and how to prepare for them. In the event, there was one especially intriguing match-up on board one, where Peter Lalic faced his stepfather, IM Graeme Buckley. The other end of the pairings, board seven, would see a generational challenge, as our Scottish national senior team player was up against the British under-12 championship runner-up.

I had decided to sit, or rather, stand, this one out as non-playing captain. This meant I could observe the play without being distracted by my own position, and enjoy (or worry about) each of the games. In the initial stages many of the players seemed to be understandably cagey, apparently not wanting to commit themselves too soon in the opening, with the result that, for me at least, several of the openings defied labelling. One exception to this was the Scrimgour-Patel game, where Alan essayed the King’s Gambit, confidently accepted by Zain, and another was the Young-Way opening, as Julian boldly chose Alekhine’s Defence. All the games except for board six were being played according to the Fischer time control, but on the top boards in particular the players used up a lot of time over the opening stages.

The Kingston players occupied the seating on the outside

As the first hour passed the outlines of the positions became more clearly defined and the players became more committal. Peter Andrews, our supersub on board three, playing instead of his captain, carefully built up a positional advantage and cunningly delayed castling in order to attend to more important aspects of his game. Suddenly there was a little flare-up of tactics which resulted in Peter temporarily having two queens on the board, both unfortunately en prise, but with his position subsequently improved.

Around the same time, the other Peter confidently rejected his opponent’s draw offer.  Alan’s King’s Gambit went from being strategically to tactically complicated; he acquired two bishops for a rook and several pawns, but his opponent’s rooks were inactive and his kingside in the line of fire of most of Alan’s pieces. How to take advantage of this? Alan played what looked to me like a winning rook sacrifice on h7, but Zain spotted that a check by his queen on the first rank allowed it simultaneously to return to defeat Alan’s threats. Kingston 0 Epsom 1.

Soon after this Kingston got on the scoreboard when Julian came up with a clever defensive exchange sacrifice which resulted in an agreed draw. Then John Foley, who had outplayed his opponent in the central skirmishes of a London System and won a pawn, successfully steered through the complications to win our first whole point.  Kingston 1.5 Epsom 1.5.

I hadn’t been able to follow what was happening in the Taylor-Gosling game because it was taking place near the far wall, but now I registered with surprise that Will had sacrificed a rook – two rook sacs in one match! Although Marcus Gosling had plenty of pieces, they were positioned in such a way that they were unable to come to defend his king, and Will’s attack crashed through – an excellently played game.

So Kingston had won the battle of the lower four boards 2.5-1.5, and everything depended on the top three pairings. Peter Andrews was winning in principle (ie positionally), but his opponent was creating practical threats against his king and time trouble was a factor for both players. The position exploded with each side attacking the opposition’s king, but Peter’s attack was the unstoppable one and just at that point Michael Dams lost on time. Now Kingston could not lose, but could they win? David Maycock had been holding the very experienced Peter Large well, but in another case of time trouble he lost his way and a pawn, then a piece. Kingston 3.5 Epsom 2.5.

Everything came down to the top two boards (as usual)

All eyes were now fixed on the board one family clash. The opening seemed to me to have followed an original course, with Peter (playing White) occupying the centre and Graeme sniping from the flanks, to the extent that his king’s knight was placed on h6. As the denouement drew near, with both sides down to their 10-second increments, the players reached a rook ending in which Black was pressing dangerously (see video below). However, Peter impressively kept cool and managed to reach a position in which he could give up his rook for Graeme’s past pawn while forcing Graeme to return the favour a few moves later. The tension was such that Peter admitted he wasn’t sure that it was a draw right up till the final moments, which appropriately finished with just kings left on the board. Peter had ensured that bragging rights were with Kingston, as we edged the match 4-3.

With three wins out of three and this key victory against our most dangerous rivals, we are now favourites to win the Beaumont Cup. However, we still have to make sure we beat South Norwood and Surbiton 2 in the final rounds. Further dramatic encounters with Epsom undoubtedly lie ahead, and we greatly look forward to them.

David Rowson, Kingston Beaumont Cup (Surrey League division 2) captain

Your match reporter providing a live feed of developments

Peter Andrews (Kingston) v Ronald Harris (South Norwood)

Kingston 2 v South Norwood 2, Surrey League division 4, West Thornton Community Centre, 17 February 2022

Peter Andrews, making his league debut for Kingston, won a dramatic game on top board against South Norwood veteran Ron Harris, who sac’ed a piece early on and launched an all-out attack, blitzing out moves in an effort to unsettle the Kingston debutant. Andrews, though, remained cool under pressure, neutralising the Harris onslaught and securing the win that set Kingston on their way to a 4.5 to 1.5 victory. After the game, Andrews, a league player of 40 years’ standing despite being a new member at Kingston, pointed out that he had last played Harris in the 1985-86 season for Hendon v Mushrooms in the London League “when I was rated about 100 points higher and he was about 450 points higher!”

Strong Kingston second team surprise South Norwood

Surrey League division 4 match played at West Thornton Community Centre on 17 February 2022

A trip to South Norwood is never undertaken lightly – it is one of Kingston’s more demanding trips – and to come away with a convincing victory was very satisfactory.

Kingston are still working out what their attitude is to division 4 of the Surrey League: are we aiming to win promotion or should we treat this team as a training ground for our new players? In an earlier match this season against Epsom 3, the club played an experimental side with four newcomers, all of whom lost. This was admirable but perhaps made it a little too easy for ambitious Epsom, who have made it clear they are eyeing promotion. Against South Norwood, partly by accident and partly by design, we fielded a much stronger team, with an average rating across the six boards of over ECF 1700. In the end, this proved more than enough to secure the match and raise hopes of possible promotion, which would be useful if the club want to add a third team in the Surrey League next season.

South Norwood v Kingston, with Moss characteristically missing in action. Photograph by Paul Dupré

Peter Andrews, making an auspicious debut for the club, played a dramatic game on board one against South Norwood veteran Ron Harris, who sac’ed a piece playing Black against Andrews’ English opening and then proceeded to blitz out moves in an all-out offensive that was always going to end in death or glory. Andrews could easily have gone wrong in the resulting melee and was way behind on the clock, but he stayed cool, neutralised Harris’s attack and eventually took the spoils. An excellent start for a player with a lot to offer to the club as it builds for the future.

John Bussmann, in combative form as ever, won a complex game on board two, and Jon Eckert, who is having a fine season for Kingston, overwhelmed his opponent on board three. Andrews, Bussmann and Eckert are three very strong players to be involved in a division four match, and winning on all three of the top boards was not a complete surprise.

I played Black against the wily Ken Chamberlain on board four and played tedious (and not very good) moves against Ken’s well-rehearsed Queen’s Gambit. A cheapo cost me the exchange, but luckily the bishop I had for rook proved reasonable compensation, with the white squares in front of my opponent’s king ripe for exploitation by queen and bishop, and Ken accepted my rather desperate offer of a draw.

The Kingston captain Adam Nakar, who had just driven back from Eastbourne and must have been knackered – oh, the joys of evening league chess! – still had enough energy to play a long game against an opponent who fought till the end despite being a piece down and almost managed to get back into the game by creating a passed pawn for which Nakar had to give up his surplus knight. But that left the Kingston skipper with a pawn that queened first, and Kingston had their fourth win of the night.

South Norwood’s John Ganev gained a consolation victory on board six against Max Mikardo-Greaves, but that left Kingston handsome 4.5 to 1.5 winners and only half a point adrift of Epsom in the division four table. That makes the match between the two at Kingston on 7 March all-important, and Nakar will have to decide once and for all whether he is blooding new players or looking to win promotion by fielding the old campaigners.

The friendly rivalry between Kingston and Epsom – in this division, in Surrey division two, and in both the Lauder Trophy and Alexander Cup – is shaping up to be the theme of the season, and if both clubs stay on their upward trajectory could become a defining feature of future seasons too. Both are still adrift of Guildford in terms of playing strength, but emulating that behemoth is now the goal for both.

South Norwood were as usual excellent hosts, with the traditional half-time tea and biscuits – quaintly signalled by the dinging of a bell – much appreciated. Your correspondent certainly ate more custard creams than he made worthwhile moves. It struck me that South Norwood really are a model club in many ways, with an excellent attitude to club chess (competitive but always gregarious), a very well-run venue and an ability to get the best out of their relatively small pool of players. More power to them: they have been in continuous existence since 1881 and give a sense that they know exactly what they are about. They may not be glamorous but they are mighty effective, and don’t seem to suffer the vicissitudes of other clubs, which is surely what explains their longevity. More planet than meteor.

Stephen Moss

Michael Basman’s love note to Bird

Legendary IM Michael Basman gave a presentation on the games and legacy of H.E. Bird

John Foley

Michael Basman treated us last night, the evening of St Valentine’s, to a lecture – more of a love note – to Henry Bird, one of the historic figures of English chess. Although primarily known as an openings innovator and chess instructor, notable for having founded the UK Chess Challenge, Basman has a keen interest in chess history, as befits a chess player who studied history at university.

The topic of the talk was unknown in advance to the assembled Kingstonian cognoscenti. We half expected a detailed analysis of some games in which Basman had narrowly failed to beat the Soviet legends Tal and Botvinnik back in the late 1960s/early 70s when Basman played for England. Perhaps we could have been treated to a discourse on the Fried Liver Attack which Basman had popularised in his early instructional pamphlets, having translated the term from the somewhat more stylish word Fegatello, an Italian dish. Instead, we were given a thoughtful and masterly account of the evolution of international chess in the Victorian period.

Michael Basman lecture

Basman devises his lectures as he devises his openings – with an element of surprise. We never know what we are going to get until it happens. There are, however, some constants. First of all, Basman is an excellent verbal communicator. He speaks fluently and authoritatively with an irrepressible wit. Given the subject matter, avian puns were unavoidable, in this case mainly from the audience sadly. Secondly, pure thought must be unadorned by technology. So the presentation notes were handwritten on loose sheets of A4 paper. The absence of staples meant that at one point the sheets inevitably got mixed up. Suddenly we had a vision of a hapless prime minister making a disjointed speech to the Confederation of British Industry. Fortunately, our speaker retrieved the situation without having to resort to ruminations on Peppa Pig.

I recall a presentation Basman gave at the London Chess Conference in 2016. The topic was “A survival guide to teaching chess”. I had expected stories of teaching chess in the classroom or of setting up a national schools chess tournament or even an academic account of chess didactics. Instead, we were given a financial survival guide based on Basman’s well-publicised dispute with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs regarding the application of VAT. Suffice to say that a pedagogue representing himself was no match for Queen’s Counsel, resulting eventually in the loss of the case and a financial disaster. Instead of Powerpoint slides, the presentation used large colourful posters held aloft by an attractive assistant. This episode was surreal to say the least. The attendees said later that they had no idea about tax law but that it had been very amusing.

Henry Edward Bird was born in Portsmouth in 1830 (or 1829 according to other sources) in a period when chess in England was in its infancy. Bird was to prove crucial in popularising chess and played a vital part in the development of the game during the 19th century. He was a railways accountant and wrote a book on the subject. The coming of the railways was fundamental to social and cultural change. Indeed, we can trace the emergence of chess in English towns to the arrival of the railways. So in his profession, Bird literally carried chess to the population (see also the Kingston railway connection).

According to Basman, Bird should be much better known. He attributes Bird’s relative obscurity to losing out to Howard Staunton (b. 1810) in what we would today call the information war. When chess history comes to be rewritten, Bird will earn his rightful place in the pantheon of masters.

One cannot help but surmise that the reason for the choice of topic is that there are biographical parallels between the lives of Basman and Bird. Both are notable chess players who arguably did not get the recognition they deserved. They are both openings innovators. Bird lends his name to Bird’s Opening (1. f4) and the Bird’s Defence in the Ruy Lopez. Basman has popularised offbeat openings (Grob, St George Defence) and his name is attached to various other openings (eg Basman-Williams attack against the King’s Indian). Bird and Basman were also both popularisers of the game. Bird had a vision of the newly emerged industrial working classes adopting chess and wrote several chess books, as has Basman.

We learned that Bird did not particularly favour the Bird’s opening. This leads us to the main takeaway from the evening: our openings repertoire is too narrow. Bird liked to try many different openings, including 1. g4 and 1. h4. His contemporaries were unsettled by this unpredictability, which was his main purpose. Eventually, 30 years after he started playing it more regularly, the Bird’s opening was credited to him in 1885.

Bird was of the romantic school of chess and relished sacrifices and attacking play. He played all the greats, including Horwitz, Anderssen, Falkbeer, Boden, Blackburne, Gossip, Mason, Macdonnell and Winawer. He played Morphy on the latter’s trip to England in 1858. Bird witnessed the rise of Steinitz and the scientific “accumulation of small advantages” school which went on to dominate chess strategy.

Bird had clear opinions on his chess contemporaries and the chess scene. He was playing before the invention of chess clocks and analysed the prospective introduction of chess time controls. He categorised players according to the time control at which they best performed. The comparison was measured in moves per hour. He warned against slow time controls as this would take chess out of the reach of the casual chess player and the working man. He recommended that around two hours was a suitable length for a game. This was a prescient observation given the rise of rapid and blitz chess in modern times. His views are completely in line with leading players of the present day. When I discussed this topic with Alexei Shirov, he told me that he wants two hours tops for a game, if only to minimise the chance of cheating.

Basman went on to look at some of Bird’s games from his book Chess Novelties and Their Latest Developments published in 1895. He handed out for inspection a first edition of this book, which had previously been in the possession of G.H. Diggle (1902-93), the eminent historian of chess in the 19th century.

Cantab v Bird 1891 from Chess Novelties

One of the games we looked at was Cantab v Bird 1891, a casual game played against somebody presumably associated with Cambridge University. It illustrates Bird’s aggressive style of all-out attack. The text uses an older form of descriptive notation which is still a pleasure to read due to its spaciousness and verbally guided placement of the pieces.

Following the talk, Basman organised a unique rapidplay Bird tournament. It comprised a one-round Swiss complete with pairing cards. The uniqueness lay in the selection of opening moves. In the spirit of Bird, and fellow traveller Basman, the players were bound to play a wider variety of openings. Basman noted that there are 20 moves available on the first move for each player. He therefore obligingly brought along isocahedral (ie 20-sided) dice, which each player rolled to randomise their first moves. Having rolled the die, we consulted the table of moves, inevitably called a Bird Table, corresponding to the number on the die. The Bird Tournament passed off in good spirit. Basman’s win on top board against Peter Lalic was offset by Pat Armstrong’s win for the opposing team on bottom board against Mehran Moini, who hasn’t touched a pawn in 40 years. “I thought we were playing for the same side?” said a bemused Basman to Armstrong when the results were totted up.

That’s not a glass of beer – it is a dice shaker.
Alan Scrimgour (in blue), David Maycock (brown)

Footnote: the idea of randomising the opening moves stems from the feeling that chess has been extensively analysed and that some changes are required to bring creativity back into the game. An alternative method, Neoclassical Chess, developed by Gabriel F. Bobadilla from Spain, involves randomising the first three full moves. Randomising the opening moves may make some people uncomfortable, but the main alternative approach is Fischer Random, which has the downside that the starting position is different.

All were happy at the end of the evening. Thereafter, it was down to the bar to play blitz.

Andrews and Maycock tie in Kingston blitz tournament

Club starts regular internal event in an attempt to give more purpose to social chess

As a club, Kingston has not in recent years been good at using its non-match evenings profitably. This is something we hope to change, and on Monday 7 February we held an internal blitz tournament that aimed to combine the fun of social chess with a steely edge of competition. Ten Kingstonians attended, spread across a large ratings range, and there were five rounds at a time control of 10 minutes and five seconds – as John Bussmann remarked, not quite blitz and not quite rapidplay but something in between. We plan more of these events as we develop a structure for social chess, and will experiment with different controls.

David Maycock, the highest-rated player in attendance, was in imperious form and disposed of your correspondent in round two without having to use any brainpower at all. But he faced a tough struggle in round three against the 2000-rated player Peter Andrews, who joined the club just two weeks ago. Maycock had a small edge throughout, but Andrews defended adroitly and the king and pawn endgame was drawn.

Neither player encountered much turbulence in the final two rounds and both ended up on 4.5 points from 5. With time pressing, FM Julian Way, who had masterminded the tournament and done the pairings – at some cost to his own performance in the tournament – had the bright idea of awarding the trophy to new member Andrews rather than forcing the two players into anything so crude as an Armageddon play-off. Maycock already has quite enough trophies and took the runners-up prize, a box of caramel chocolates, which most of those present seemed to think preferable to the little mock-silver cup. A successful experiment and one the club intends to make a regular part of the calendar.

Stephen Moss

Robin Haldane (Streatham) v David Maycock (Kingston)

Kingston v Streatham, Surrey League division 2, Willoughby Arms, Kingston, 31 January 2022

The experienced league player Robin Haldane and the up-and-coming David Maycock met on Board 2 of the Kingston v Streatham match.

Had it continued, 33.Re1 Rxg2 34.Qxg2 Bxg2+ 35.Kxg2 Qd5+ 36.Kg3 Qxc5 Black’s extra pawns guarantee a win. A victory for youth over experience.

Kingston crush Streatham in surprisingly one-sided match

Surrey League division 2 (Beaumont Cup) match played at the Willoughby Arms, Kingston on 31 January 2022

As a rather fairweather Fulham FC fan for 50-plus years, I’ve enjoyed seeing the club’s recent statistically improbable results (Reading 7-0, Bristol City 6-2, Birmingham 6-2). Kingston have only played two matches in the Beaumont Cup so far this season, but 6-1 and 6-0 with one game to be decided (and we have the superior position) has us beginning to parallel Fulham’s run. Sadly, promotion to the first division of the Surrey Trophy will not give us a Premier League payout.

Kingston v Streatham

The visit of Streatham triggered memories of their absurdly strong teams of the late 1970s/early 1980s, when on different occasions I found myself playing Glenn Flear and Andrew Martin on boards three or four. Streatham are now a less glitzy team, but still very competitive. So does the 6-0 score flatter Kingston? I don’t think so, except, without false modesty, in my own case, as in the opening Martin Smith smoothly refuted my attempted refutation of his Sniper Defence (Attack?) and only went wrong under time pressure. The final position was very nice for me:

David Rowson v Martin Smith: The final position

Black’s queen is lost, and the attempt to divert my queen by 33…e3 does not work, as after 34. Qxe3 Qxd6 I still win his queen with a knight fork. At least Martin did not leave empty-handed as he sold a couple of copies of his indispensable new book Movers and Takers: A Chess History of Streatham and Brixton 1871-2021.

All the other games were interesting, exciting or even slightly mad. Jon Eckert was the first to win, with characteristically ferocious attacking play. Alan Scrimgour and his Scottish compatriot fought over a single square, f4, and once Alan controlled that it was remarkable how his opponent’s game fell apart. Julian Way converted his extra pawn by persuading Chris Bernard to go for a king and pawn ending which turned out to be easily won for Julian. John Foley established a passed pawn on the torturous square of d7 (if you’re White) and methodically went about squeezing his advantage.

Peter Lalic can’t help but be original. His signature flank pawn moves in the opening were a feature again, as he advanced early to h5 (I’ve resisted writing “Harry the h pawn”, until now that is) to be gambited. His opponent, ex-Kingstonian Graham Keane, fought back well, but in the position for adjudication Peter is a pawn up with each side having rook and minor piece.

The position for adjudication on Board 1

I’ve left the star attraction till last: the ding-dong encounter between David Maycock and Robin Haldane. David told me beforehand that he was expecting Robin to play the Göring Gambit, but when this duly happened he made what looked to me like a serious oversight on move 6, with the result that it was hard for him to defend his f7 pawn. Nevertheless, with great tactical creativity, he fought back, forcing Robin to make tough decisions on almost every move. The tables were not just turned, but overturned, and White soon had to resign.

Before the match we were, I think, quietly confident, but could never have expected such a dominant result. Our next match is probably our biggest test, against Epsom on 21 February. Unlike the English Football League Championship, this is a sprint, not a marathon, so that match, out of just five in total, is crucial.

David Rowson, Kingston Beaumont Cup (Surrey League division 2) captain

P.S. The Lalic-Keane game was eventually agreed as a draw between the players. In the final position, White had a small plus, but it was not deemed sufficient to press for a win. That result left Kingston winners by the imperious margin of 6.5 to 0.5, but Captain Rowson and his troops are trying not to let the success go to their heads. [SM]