Monthly Archives: May 2022

Kingston overcome Coulsdon to power into Alexander Cup final

Alexander Cup semi-final between Kingston and CCF (Coulsdon), played at the Willoughby Arms, Kingston on 30 May 2022

Kingston team
Top: Maycock, Taylor, Lalić, Jogstad, Rowson, Li, Healey
Front: Andrews, Scrimgour, Foley (captain), Way
Coulsdon team
(Top) Paul Jackson, Ian Calvert, Chris Howell, Mark Gray, Matt Darville
Adam Faulkner, Martin Faulkner, Nick Edwards, Balahan Bharat Kumar (Chino Atako was yet to arrive)

Kingston ran out 7-3 victors in a spirited match against CCF (Coulsdon) in which Kingston did not lose a game. Kingston are now in the final of the Alexander Cup for the first time since 2018. The previous occasion that Kingston won the Alexander Cup, the open knockout for teams in the Surrey League, was 47 years ago in its centenary year of 1975/76. The final against Wimbledon will be played at a neutral venue. No date has been set, but it is likely to be held at the start of next season in September. This year’s competition was beset by Covid delays affecting the fixtures.

The final score does not do justice to the hard-fought encounter. The Kingston team outrated Couldson, especially on the lower boards. However, ratings count for little in knockouts, and the two Coulsdon juniors on boards nine and 10 played well, with the experienced Kingston players unable to find a weakness. Six of the 10 games were drawn, and three of Kingston’s four wins came with the white pieces.

Our innovation during this match was to use a whiteboard to display the results as they came in. This ensured that all the players were aware of the match situation, which is a vital consideration when offering or accepting draws. Several of the players made nervous glances towards the board, wondering if their game would turn out to be match-critical.

Mark Gray (left) and Martin Jogstad agree a draw after a tense encounter on board one

On top board, Martin Jogstad (Kingston) and Mark Gray (Coulsdon) had a tense encounter in the last game to finish. Martin tried a kingside attack from a semi-slav. However, Mark deftly fended off the threat and launched a counter-attack on the queenside. They had a queen and four pawns each. Martin was not tempted to enter a pawn race because his king was vulnerable to checks, whereas Mark’s king could find shelter. So the game ended with perpetual check, the outcome of the match already determined.

Mike Healey decided to complicate against Chino Atako

On board two, Chino Atako always seemed in control as white in a Catalan against Mike Healey. This may have been an illusion as the engine indicated otherwise. As they reached the heavy pieces endgame, Chino had an ominous extra outside passed pawn. Mike decide to complicate – for which he needs little excuse in normal circumstances – by launching his kingside pawns at Chino. After the queens and most pawns were swapped off, Mike was able to hold the rook endgame.

Chris Howell contemplating Peter Lalić’s all-purpose 1. h3 opening

On board three, Peter Lalić and Chris Howell were level going into the endgame. Peter’s rook was more active but unable to do very much until Chris unwisely advanced his kingside pawns. It is always tempting to “do something” rather than wait patiently. The pawns became vulnerable, and Peter was left with a rook and the g and h pawns against a rook. There was a nice passage of play when Chris offered his rook which, if captured, would lead to stalemate. Peter found a way out of the swizz-attempt and concluded the game expertly. It should be noted that Magnus Carlsen was unable to convert this exact ending against Vladimir Kramnik in a blitz game in 2013.

David Maycock focused on getting active squares for his pieces

Board four comprised positional manoeuvring by Martin Faulkner and David Maycock in the exchange variation of the Queen’s Gambit Declined. The game was level until Martin unaccountably allowed a knight fork which won the exchange.

Vladimir Li saw a winning rook sacrifice

On board five, Vladimir Li didn’t get the start he wanted against Ian Calvert, who sprang the fashionable Scandinavian for which he had prepared well. Whilst the position was still balanced, Ian offered to exchange queens, but Vladimir responded by a surprise rook sacrifice against the king. The sacrifice could not be accepted and the rook remained behind enemy lines, wreaking havoc.

White to play (solution at end of report).

Nick Edwards, the Coulsdon captain, let the advantage slip away in his game

On board six, Nick Edwards held the advantage for most of the game in an Old Indian. He doubled his rooks on the open h-file against David Rowson’s king. It looked like curtains for the Kingston player. However, just when it looked like Nick was going to break through, he shifted his attention to the queenside. He missed a winning check on move 31, and the game petered out in a draw soon after.

Julian Way (right) played effortlessly against Matt Danville (Coulsdon)

On board seven, Julian Way played the game of the match. Facing another Scandinavian, he played classically to prompt a weakness on the king’s file. Julian doubled rooks and, when the time was right, shifted them to the h-file, where they penetrated with devastating effect.

As usual, the top four boards were the last to finish

Solution to problem: 17. Rxb7! If the king captures the rook, then 18. Rb1+ leads to mate in three. Black captured the queen, but after the zwischenschachs 18. Rc7+ Kb8 19. Rb1+ Ka8 20. gxf3 white is winning.

John Foley, Kingston Alexander Cup captain

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

Thames Valley League division 2 match played at Actonians Sports Club, London W5 on 23 May 2022

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 memorable (if unusual) conclusion.

Victory in the match meant we remained undefeated as a club in 18 matches during this calendar year, though it is surely tempting fate to mention this just ahead of our all-important Alexander Cup semi-final against CCF on 30 May. It also confirmed that we had topped the second division of the Thames Valley league with nine wins out 10 – our sole defeat was in the first match of the season when we found the long journey to Maidenhead a little too testing. The most striking statistic was that we had a positive board count – chess’s equivalent of goal difference – of plus 34, conceding only 13 game points out of 60.

It is fair to assume that next season, when we will be up against battle-hardened first-division teams, will be a good deal tougher. But for the moment let’s gaze on this season’s final table and enjoy having – after a few early worries when Richmond set a hot pace – won the league by a distance. Many thanks to our rivals for making it an enjoyable season and less of a walk in the park than it might look. The one-sided scores belied some hard fights, and we were extremely fortunate to beat Surbiton B in our second match. Thanks, too, to all the Kingston players who turned out and made the captain’s job so enjoyable and stress-free. Well, relatively stress-free anyway.

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