Monthly Archives: October 2022

Michael Basman: pioneer, teacher and populariser of chess

IM Michael Basman, who died on 26 October at the age of 76, was an innovator who passed on his love and deep knowledge of the game to countless players in Surrey and beyond

David Rowson

At the start of his chess career, Michael Basman might have been seen as part of the 1960s wave of young English players which also included Ray Keene and Bill Hartston, foreshadowing the English chess explosion of the 1970s. But Basman was never just part of a movement: he was much too individual and original for that. He was a great innovator at the board, a pioneer of neglected opening systems, but perhaps most importantly he developed new ideas about the teaching and popularisation of chess.

As long-time Kingston Chess Club member Julian Way remembers, Basman was always sceptical about established principles and didn’t like second-hand received knowledge. Julian studied with Basman as a junior, and then much later he had some mentoring from him, which assisted Julian in his approach to teaching chess himself. “Mike was a very original teacher,” he says. “He approached the game like a beginner, not an expert, in the sense of having a humble, open mind. He was unafraid to question everything. He liked to read the books of the early masters, going back as far as Ruy Lopez, as he felt they had an uncontaminated approach. He was a great teacher because he valued the progress of beginners as much as stronger players.”

MIchael Basman demonstrating the games of Henry Bird at a talk he gave at Kingston in February 2022
(photo: John Foley)

Basman told Julian that he felt his life’s mission was to popularise chess. “He had the idea of putting lessons on audio tape, instead of into books, realising that listening could be a valid alternative learning methodology to reading.” He launched the UK Chess Challenge in 1996, which encouraged huge numbers of schoolchildren to participate in the game – around 50,000 annually and more than a million since its inception. Basman was very interested in how a good cadre of teachers could be produced. Julian explains, “His vision of chess teaching was to take people who knew little or nothing about chess and train them.” He was above all concerned to find people who had some teaching skills, or at least good communication skills, and direct them towards teaching chess.

Basman’s father was originally from Armenia; Basman himself studied for a time in the Armenian capital, Erevan, and won the city’s championship whilst there. However, he was a Surrey local, attending Surbiton County Grammar School and playing for several clubs in the area, starting with Surbiton as a junior and making a significant contribution to local chess right to the end of his life. He had many career highlights, including draws with two ex-world champions, Mikhail Botvinnik (Hastings 1966-67) and Mikhail Tal (Hastings 1973-74). In 1967 he led the English team at the World Students’ Championships, at which they finished third and scored a surprise 3-1 win against the Soviet Union. Basman won the top-board game against Vladimir Savon. His best result in the British Championships was first equal with Hartston in 1973, though he lost the tie-break. He became an international master in 1980.

The following is a game which Mike played against another uniquely creative player, Albin Planinc. Black’s opening is provocative in the extreme; some would say foolhardy, others brave, but it works out surprisingly well. In the 1974-75 edition of Hastings Mike only scored 5.5/15, but this included wins against Ulf Andersson, Pal Benko, Michael Stean and Jonathan Mestel, as well as Planinc. His fighting spirit is shown by the fact that he only drew one game out of the 15.

Michael Basman v Peter Lalić

Bird Rapidplay, Kingston, 14 February 2022

This game was played when Mike Basman visited Kingston Chess Club to give a talk on the Victorian chess player Henry Bird. He pointed out that Bird (who gave his name to the Bird’s Opening 1.f4) played a variety of unconventional openings but rarely the eponymous opening. In order to recreate the same spirit of unconventionality, Mike devised a format that evening whereby the first move for Black and for White was randomised. It was on this basis that the opening moves for his game against Peter Lalić were determined. Ironically, given that both Mike and Peter play unconventional openings, it is perfectly possible that they would have played the same opening as occurred in the game even if they had not been constrained to do so.

The Old Indian Attack is characterised by 1. d3 and 2.Nf3, so White is holding back from occupying the centre with pawns. The opening was first essayed in competitions during the 1850s and was popularised by Aron Nimzovich at the turn of the 20th Century. Nimzovich’s seminal Chess Praxis was Mike’s favourite book. (Mike preferred the simplified spelling of the Riga master’s name.)

We would have forgotten these games but a couple of months later Mike unexpectedly produced a booklet on Henry Bird which included a brief overview of the master as well as the games from the Kingston Bird Tournament. I reproduce his annotations below. We are grateful for having received this publication which draws parallels between the lives of Bird and Basman. Mike Basman died on 26 October 2022.

John Foley

Peter Lalić and Mike Basman playing Chinese chess in Epsom

Peter Lalić (Ashtead) v John Foley (Kingston)

Ashtead 1 v Kingston 2, Surrey League division 2, Peace Memorial Hall, Ashtead, 25 October 2022

This game was played on top board in the match between Ashtead and Kingston’s second team. In the Surrey League, players may play for more than one club provided that they are playing in a different division. So Peter Lalić, who loves to play as often as possible, plays for Kingston in the first division and for Ashtead in the second division. Hence inevitably Kingston team-mates can face each other as here. It was a friendly encounter, even though Peter was gently ribbed by Kingston loyalists. After the game, we spent half an hour analysing game variations which Peter incorporated into his extensive annotation.

Jack Buckley (Ashtead) v Ljubica Lazarevic (Kingston)

Ashtead 1 v Kingston 2, Surrey League division 2, Peace Memorial Hall, Ashtead, 25 October 2022

Ljubica Lazarevic

I had been rather apprehensive about our away match to Ashtead. I’ve discovered of late that evening league matches are somewhat disagreeable with me – a match seems to guarantee no sleep that evening, leaving a less than bouncy and cheerful Lju come the morning. I’m also rather, dare I even say it, rusty, chess-wise. Whilst a very reasonable commute from Kingston, I also had the additional (irrational) fear that the car wouldn’t start having not touched it for a month. Graciously, I had made my peace with what fate the universe held for me, and off I went.

Jumping into my trusty Jazz as it purred away down an unusually quiet route down to Peace Memorial Hall, everything was looking better than I feared, that is, until I discovered I was up against a junior. I reminded myself that I had made my peace with the situation, and sat down and got ready to play at the specially issued “junior”-sized chess board on the #7 slot.

Onlookers may have been somewhat surprised to have seen that not only had board 1 migrated next door to my young opponent and me, but also leading out the determined Ashtead team was a certain Kingston stalwart in the shape of Peter Lalić. Surrey Chess Association rules specify that you must nominate your strongest players for your first team, which was the case with Peter, and it was nice to see him supporting a very ambitious Ashtead eyeing up promotion. And ambitious they were. The victors of the evening, scooping up an impressive 4.5 points across the seven boards. Kudos to them, and they will certainly be a team to watch this season, along with frenemies Epsom.

As the lone Kingston victor from the match, I was kindly volunteered to submit my game. I must admit, despite the win, I enjoyed this game. It had been a long while since I’ve played and had a pretty good understanding of what was going on, and being able to come up with (sometimes wanting) plans. My junior opponent also had opportunities too – a youngster who has only recently obtained a rating and will undoubtedly only get stronger. I can claim the bragging rights from the first scalp.

On to the game! For those of you who value the finer points of chess, you may want to avert your gaze now…

Strong Ashtead side see off challenge of Kingston 2

Surrey League division 2 match played at the Peace Memorial Hall, Ashtead, on 25 October 2022

Although reigning Surrey division 2 champions, Kingston’s second team are under no illusions that this season will be tough. Our prize-winning side has now sailed into the top division leaving a ragbag of old-timers and young hopefuls to crew the new ship. Julian Way’s side is up against four strong club first teams – Epsom, Surbiton, South Norwood and Ashtead – and will be a likely candidate for relegation. Better this than the alternative that we get promoted and end up having to play ourselves in division 1. Guildford seem to manage this regularly but we are more sensitive souls.

Our first encounter in the division, away to Ashtead, was far from being a disaster. Indeed, the pluses outweighed the minuses. Kingston offered stiff resistance to a strong Ashtead team that outrated Kingston by well over a hundred rating points per board.

Former club president Ljubica Lazarevic won her game on board seven. A critical position was reached where her young opponent missed a tactic which would have given some counterplay.

White to play. You can find the answer on the game page referenced above.

Julian Way drew with Phil Brooks on board two, which given Way’s experience and strength was not a surprise despite the rating disparity. More unexpected were the draws secured by Max Selemir against Bertie Barlow on board five and Gregor Smith against Ian McLeod on board six. Terrific results against formidable opponents.

The youthful Selemir promises to be a key player for Kingston in future years, while Smith, who is captaining Kingston 2 in the Thames Valley League this season, gets better with every match after returning to competitive chess from a long lay-off, and will hopefully also be a vital member of the club in years to come as both player and organiser.

Kingston’s struggled on the higher boards. Kingston first-team star Peter Lalić was for once pitted against his regular team on board one – intriguingly, he has decided to play for four different clubs in the main four divisions of the Surrey League this season – and got the better of current club president John Foley in a hard-fought battle. Foley was level for much of the close manoeuvring game, but chose the wrong moment to reposition his knight, losing a vital tempo after which Peter secured the win efficiently.

On board three another multi-club player, Ashtead’s Seb Galer, overcame the resilient Peter Andrews with White, and on the board below, in the battle of the Jonathans, Hinton (author of the much-admired A Gnat May Drink) beat Eckert. That made it 4.5-2.5 to Ashtead, and while it never looked as if Kingston would spring a surprise nor did the home side have it all their own way.

It was the second loss on successive days for Kingston, as the day before the club’s third team had been defeated 2.5-1.5 at home by Hounslow C in Thames Valley division X, which provides an excellent training ground for players new to league chess.

Stephen Moss and John Foley

Kingston C lose to Hounslow C on div X debut

Thames Valley division X match, played at the Willoughby Arms, Kingston, on 24 October 2022

A number of players new to league chess have joined Kingston since the end of lockdown, and to give them game time in a relatively unpressurised situation the club has joined division X of the Thames Valley League. This is a four-board (car-full) league suitable for average club players and those building up their skills. These matches give plenty of playing practice to those who enjoy chess and want to get competitive game experience. This was also my debut as a captain of a Kingston chess team – a daunting prospect which I relish.

  • Hounslow C had the veteran David White on top board against Kingston’s up-and-coming Hayden Holden. Despite being massively outrated by 437 points, Hayden gave a very good account of himself before eventually succumbing to pressure.
  • Kingston’s club secretary Greg Heath got a creditable draw against an opponent 122 points ahead of him on current ECF ratings.
  • My defeat on board three came after 60 moves when I messed up what should have been a drawn ending and allowed an unstoppable passed pawn.
  • Colin Lyle won on board four in his first-ever rated game after checkmating his opponent in eight moves. An auspicious start! Congratulations to Colin.

Overall a lot of positives can be gained, despite the disappointing result.

Stephen Daines

Jasper Tambini (Surbiton) v John Foley (Kingston)

Played at Surbiton 25 April 2018

John Foley

The recently published games on this site of Peter Lalić against Jasper Tambini evoked a memory of a game I played a few seasons ago against Jasper. It may appear that Jasper has a hard time against Kingston players; I do not know his full record. What is clear is that his games are memorable win or lose.

This game was noteworthy for Black’s two sacrifices: a Greek gift on the 12th move, a momentary opportunity which if not taken immediately will evaporate on the next move, and an exchange sacrifice on the 18th move which maximises the mobility of Black’s pieces whilst gaining a preponderance of pawns.

Jasper Tambini (Wimbledon) v Peter Lalić (Kingston)

Kingston 1 v Wimbledon 1, Surrey League division 1, Willoughby Arms, 17 October 2022

The match-up between Jasper Tambini and Peter Lalić, two highly creative young players, promised to produce fireworks and it did not disappoint. The game was short, sharp and violent, with Lalić enjoying a successful first outing in the Nimzowitsch Defence. His victory on board two was crucial in securing a narrow 4.5-3.5 win against a tenacious Wimbledon team. It was Kingston’s first match back in the first division of the Surrey League after winning promotion last season.

Peter Lalić in action at Yo Sarnie, which was hosting Epsom Chess Club. Photograph: Dariusz Dworakowski

Their previous encounter in a league match at Kingston.

Kingston overcome scare to beat Wimbledon

Surrey League division 1 match played at the Willoughby Arms, Kingston on 17 October 2022

Well that was close! So close that with five games finishing virtually simultaneously at around 10.30pm it was not immediately clear which team had won. There was confusion over one result which we initially chalked down as a win and believed was enough to see us over the line, but it had gone the other way and everything hinged on Mike Healey v Neil Cannon on board four. Healey, with Black, won and Kingston had the match by 4.5-3.5. Let’s not run it this close every week guys.

Kingston were on paper the stronger team, but as their relieved captain David Rowson said after the match ratings don’t tell the whole story and Wimbledon had brought a very experienced team to the Willoughby. I’d predicted a 6-2 win for Kingston. As usual I ended up looking very silly.

The initial results went Kingston’s way, but not without alarms. Alan Scrimgour and Wimbledon’s Stephen Carpenter drew on board seven – an excellent result for Carpenter who was heavily outrated and playing Black. David Maycock won a wild game on board one against Russell Picot, who had seemed certain to prevail after smashing through on the kingside with his rook to launch what looked like a mating attack. But Maycock, playing on the increment, created complications, forced Picot’s king into no man’s land and set up his own mating net. It was classic kill or be killed, and Picot succumbed. An incredible game, an incredible win – and, as it turned out, the decisive reverse of the evening for Wimbledon.

David Maycock, Kingston’s board one, won a wild game against Russell Picot. Photograph: Brendan O’Gorman

On board two Peter Lalić was up against another highly creative player, Jasper Tambini. Lalić essayed the Nimzowitsch Defence (1 e4 Nc6), and what followed was 21 moves of more or less controlled violence from both players. Tambini launched his kingside pawns up the board in an all-out assault; queens and knights became entangled in the centre; neither player bothered with anything as dull as castling. But when the smoke cleared it was Black’s all-powerful centralised knight that was controlling affairs, and a tactical sequence meant Tambini was destined to lose his queen.

That made it 2.5-0.5 to Kingston, and I was feeling smug about my prediction. Rowson drew with Tony Hughes on board six; Peter Andrews shared the points with Craig Fothergill on board eight. So far, so good. But then Wimbledon struck back with a win for the very strong junior Shahvez Ali against Silverio Abasolo, who was making his league debut for Kingston, on board three. Ali won a pawn and had a well-placed bishop against marooned knight. Abasolo, an important addition to Kingston’s strong first team, fought hard, but Ali is a cool customer and has great technique. A titled player in the making?

That made it 3.5-2.5: close but surely Vladimir Li was winning for Kingston against Mark Dubey (who also played the Nimzowitsch Defence, which is clearly on the rise) on board five. He certainly felt so after the game and was disgusted by what happened, when in a time scramble he chose the wrong option and lost a piece. I tried to console a distraught Li with Nietzsche’s handy old aphorism: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Useful for anything except real – as opposed to metaphorical – death.

Mike Healey secured victory for Kingston with a win over Neil Cannon. Photograph: Brendan O’Gorman

The scores were tied and now it was all down to Healey. Wimbledon’s Cannon, with White, had the edge in the early part of the game, but no encounter with Healey is straightforward. The undergrowth became dense, the forest dark, both players got lost on several occasions, and there were blunders aplenty. But when some light emerged, Healey had a pawn on e2 and a rook about to move to d1 to complete the coronation. Cannon, faced with material wipe-out, resigned. Kingston had won, but the match could so easily have gone the other way and Wimbledon, who have not had an easy time over the past couple of seasons, could take plenty of consolation from the manner of their defeat, especially playing away. They remain a formidable force.

Stephen Moss

Kingston ousted from Lauder Trophy by Epsom

Kingston v Epsom, Lauder Trophy, Willoughby Arms, Kingston, on 10 October 2022

Graeme Buckley and Susan Lalić face David Rowson and Julian Way

It was a bad night for Kingston, as the holders of the Lauder Trophy suffered the indignity of going out in this season’s preliminary stage, beaten 4.5-1.5 by a strong Epsom team. Kingston’s stellar run was brought crashing down. The last time Kingston lost a match was in November 2021 when Epsom 3 beat Kingston 2. So, Epsom has started and finished our unbeaten run.

The Lauder Trophy is a tournament in which the teams are restricted in the total rating of the players, and the main challenge to captains is to spreadsheet juggle their players to form a team which comes in under the limit. Epsom captain and prime mover Marcus Gosling has finally found the winning formula: international masters on the top boards and underrated juniors on the bottom boards.

Alas, Kingston were not able to counter this pattern and lost on the bottom three boards. David Rowson secured a draw on board one against IM Graeme Buckley, though did wonder later whether he should have played on given that the tide was running strongly against Kingston. The Buckley family were out in force for Epsom, with Graeme’s wife Susan Lalić defeating Julian Way on board two. Their daughters Emma and Lucy obtained a point between them on boards three and four, Emma gamely stepping in after 30 minutes to face Alan Scrimgour on board three when the scheduled player Epsom failed to turn up. Meanwhile, Susan’s son Peter Lalić was playing some thematic games in the garden, being too strong to fit into the Kingston line-up.

Being objective, the games were not of the highest quality. However, our board six Stephen Daines was impressed by his young opponent Maya Keen, who outplayed him in the endgame. Stephen hasn’t played a rated game in 40 years, but as a Willoughby pub regular he decided to join our chess club having seen how much everybody enjoys themselves. The pub landlord, who is very keen on his trophy cabinet being filled with silverware, looks forward to asking Stephen how he got on.

The photographs show that another match was also in progress alongside the crunch Lauder clash – Kingston B suffered a surprise defeat to an outgraded Surbiton C in division 2 of the Thames Valley League. It really wasn’t a great night for Kingston in terms of results, but the upside was the chess-related energy at the Willoughby. We had 24 players upstairs, together with parents and spectators. In the garden, where you can play in heated and well-lit beach huts, there were at least a dozen players. So in total there were nigh on 40 players at the club tonight. Who said chess was dead?

Stephen Daines prepares to face the music against Maya Keen on board six in the Lauder Trophy

Kingston congratulates Epsom on a convincing victory and wishes them luck in the next round against Guildford.

John Foley

The whiteboard placed on the stage at the Willoughby Arms gives the final score against a triumphant Epsom