Author Archives: johnfoley

About johnfoley

President, Kingston Chess Club

Paul Dupré (South Norwood) v John Foley (Kingston)

Kingston 2 v South Norwood 1, Surrey League division 2, Willoughby Arms, Kingston, 4 December 2023

This was the final game to finish in Kingston second team’s 6-1 victory over South Norwood 1 – a result which encourages us to believe we can survive in this testing division (we were close to being relegated last year). John Foley came into this game off the back of two uncharacteristic defeats, and winning this thrilling encounter was a great restorative. Paul Dupré plays his part with some bravura attacking chess. A memorable meeting between two stalwarts of the game, and with a nice gloss on a game played in Surrey more than a century ago.

Note to readers: the moves and variations in the game below are all clickable.

Creassey Tattersall v Henry Stephens Barlow Surrey Championship 1904 was played in Thornton Heath, south London. The game moves are incomplete but we have the attacking opening. With such a wonderful name, I had to check him out. Creassey went on to become an expert on Persian rugs. Barlow worked at the Admiralty. In 1900, Tattersall defeated Frederick Soddy in the Varsity Match. Soddy went on the win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1921 for his work on radioactive isotopes.

Christmas Brain Camp

Chess and games camp for 7 to 11-year-olds from 18-21 December at Holy Cross Prep School, Kingston upon Thames KT2 7NU

John Foley

Following the successful summer chess camp which the children enjoyed, parents asked if I could run a camp to coincide with the Christmas holidays. Happy to oblige, the camp will run at a local Kingston School.

Update: the Camp will be running a week later than originally advertised because many schools would not yet have broken up if we had adhered to the original date.

The camp is for any child who enjoys playing board games. Prior knowledge of chess is not required. The event comprises lectures and demonstrations on various games such as draughts, halma and chess. We have a compendium of 36 instructional games. The children practise the games against other children and the instructors. There are some fun puzzles and maths-related activities.

The children who attend will obtain more confidence in playing games and will have spent an enjoyable few days in a friendly environment.

This is not a chess training event. It is an event to delight and inspire children who enjoy games and like having their brain stretched.

To register or find out more.

John Foley (Surrey) v Colin Mackenzie (Middlesex)

Middlesex v Surrey under 2050 county match (board 1) played at All Saints Church, Child’s Hill, London NW2 on 14 October 2023

This was the opening county match of the season. The four home counties (Middlesex, Essex, Kent, Surrey) scrap it out to see who progresses to the national finals later in the season where they invariably play strong teams from Lancashire and Yorkshire in a remote Midlands location. The home team usually has a strong advantage in getting all their 16 players out. With our weaker team, the pressure was on me to perform.

All Saints Church, Child’s Hill, London NW2

Previously, we had played in the adjacent community hall of All Saints church. This time we played in the nave of the church itself. The setting was lovely except there was only one toilet in the vestry for 64 players (the under 1650 team was also playing), which was literally inconvenient. This gave me every incentive to finish my game early.

Surrey lost 10- 4. Match card

David Maycock v Venkat Tiruchirapalli

Alexander Cup board 1 game played at Streatham on 3 October 2023

A remarkable victory by David Maycock over FM Venkat Tiruchirapalli in the opening match of the season. The game features two exchange sacrifices and ending with a beautiful zugzwang. One observer called the game “grandmasterly”, and it certainly underlines the 19-year-old’s great potential.

The position after White’s 33rd move

Convincing start to Alexander Cup hat-trick campaign

Alexander Cup first round played over 10 boards at St Thomas’s Church, Streatham on 3 October 2023

Kingston, playing away to Streatham & Brixton, won 7-3 in the first round of the Alexander Cup, which is the knockout competition for teams in the Surrey League. This was the opening fixture of the season for Kingston’s first team, which won impressively on the top five boards. In spite of the summer break, the team has come back refreshed and ready for action. No doubt the fact that most of the top players participated in the Kingston Invitational has helped to expand their opening repertoires, strengthen their positional nous and sharpen their tactics. Although the final result was convincing, during the match the games ebbed and flowed and after two and a half hours Kingston was only edging ahead 4-3.

Lost in thought: Peter Andrews (left, facing) alongside David Rowson

The highlight of the match was the win on board 1 for Kingston by David Maycock (ECF-rated 2289) against Venkat Tiruchirapalli (2320). This was their second encounter in the Alexander Cup this calendar year – David also beat Venkat in last season’s semi-final in January. Venkat played the Breyer Variation against David’s Ruy Lopez, but soon got into trouble. David, who had prepared for the encounter, made not one but two exchange sacrifices to leave Venkat in zugzwang with queens still on the board. This was a sublime game which the team members praised afterwards as being among David’s best so far in his promising career.

On board 2, Streatham’s Phil Makepeace (2176) avoided early complications by going for a double fianchetto in a queen’s pawn opening. Vladimir Li (2263) put his queen’s bishop outside the pawn chain and waited for White to do something. Sure enough, White opened up the position, after which the Vladimir’s more actively placed pieces dominated the board. At 9:01pm our on-site commentator Stephen Moss sent an update on WhatsApp to the club faithful: “Vladimir’s position against Phil Makepeace is wild. Monster calculation required.” Two minutes later he was obliged to issue a correction, “Ignore my last message. My stupidity. For wild read complex, but Vladimir had it under complete control and his opponent has just resigned.” This is the burden upon a chess commentator – how to rapidly assess a complex position between strong players.

David Maycock (right) v Venkat Tiruchirapalli: Martin Smith watches while Stephen Moss frets over the match score

Kingston’s Mike Healey (2236) against James Toon (2097) on board 3 was the first game to finish in just over an hour and notched the first point to Kingston. Mike belied his reputation as a purveyor of chess anarchy by playing a splendidly practical game. He thought it was dull; we found it delicious. He went a pawn up, traded off pieces and that was that. He could take the early train home.

The board 4 game between Streatham’s Robin Haldane (2076) as White and Silverio Abasolo (2226) was a delight to watch. Robin advanced his pawns in the middle and on the kingside with aggressive intent. Silverio was completely calm about the situation and to while away the time watched some other games until Robin finally launched his attack. Silverio was fully prepared and had massed several pieces against Robin’s f4-pawn in an obverse strategy to overprotection. Once the position opened up, it was clear that Silverio held the upper hand. However, Robin had some tricks up his sleeve and, although down to just a few minutes, he reeled off some fancy moves. Silverio had seen it all and won a piece for two passed pawns. The endgame was blitzed out by both players. Whereas ordinary players might try to stop the passed pawns, Silverio opted to go for checkmate directly. It was not obvious how he was going to mate with rook and bishop against a king on the flank, but with the reinforcement of the king into the fray he achieved victory in the nick of time.

Matthew Tillett (1988) of Streatham put up strong resistance in the Pirc Defence to Peter Lalić (2251) on board 5. Peter described the game as uneventful, by which he meant there were no sacrifices or wild attacks. Peter focused on improving the position of his pieces and sidelining the enemy knight on the queenside. As the pieces were gradually exchanged, the relative advantage of Peter’s pieces became evident. It was a slow and systematic victory.

Whereas on the top half of the team list, Kingston scored 5/5, on the more evenly matched bottom half Kingston scored only 2/5. Peter Andrews (board 8) and Alan Scrimgour (board 10) took draws, having checked the match position. On board 6, Ben Simpson (1977) defended well against Will Taylor (2091), who left himself with too little time to prosecute the attack. When Ben forced the exchange of queens, Will’s attack was bust and Streatham took the point. On board 9, Kingston’s Julian Way essayed the Three Knights Game a little too casually, leaving his king stranded in the middle unable to castle. Mark O’Neill finished off the game with a sacrificial flourish.

David Rowson was making no progress on board 7 and his offer of a draw was refused by Azizur Rahman. As the game drifted into completely drawn territory, David adopted a stoic demeanour. Suddenly, out of the blue, David complicated matters by sacrificing the exchange for a couple of pawns and an advanced outpost for his knight. Nobody could work out who was winning as the worn-out players entered a time scramble. In the dramatic finale, they each had a minute left on the clock. Rahman allowed a knight fork against king and rook. David picked up his knight and played it to the wrong square, but before he released his finger he switched squares to deliver the fatal blow. The victory came after two hours and 50 minutes of intense concentration.

The time control was 75 minutes plus 10 seconds for each move. This match was the first played under the new arrangements for three-hour matches in the Surrey League. Both teams had non-playing captains – John Foley for Kingston and Martin Smith for Streatham. During the match, the captains conducted detailed discussion about how to interpret the new arrangements whereby the clocks are stopped after three hours of play and the result of each game is to be “determined” by agreement between the captains and the relevant players, with the default being adjudication. Fortunately all the games were completed with 10 minutes to spare, so the new arrangements did not need to be activated.

Kingston has won the Alexander Cup for the past two seasons. We will now face Coulsdon at home in the semi-final, with Epsom or Wimbledon waiting should we progress to the final. On a personal note, Martin Smith kindly purchased a copy of my new book for beginners, Checkmate!, which has just been published. It is to be an addition to the Streatham chess library and a recommendation to Streatham juniors. To be fair, I had previously purchased a copy of Martin’s magisterial history of Streatham and Brixton Chess Club. Authors in the chess sphere provide support to each other.

John Foley, Kingston Alexander Cup captain

Chess Corner launched at Kingston Fairfield

A touch of New York chess hustler style comes to Kingston with the hugely popular unveiling of three concrete chess tables at Fairfield in the town centre

The official opening of the Chess Corner at Kingston Fairfield took place on Thursday 28 September. The event was a great success, bringing together a large number of players young and old, chess club members and council officials. The three chess tables were sporting impressive chess sets provided for the occasion by Kingston Chess Club.

The officials opening the Chess Corner: From left: local constabulary, John Sweeney, Kathryn Woodvine, John Foley, Alan Scrimgour, Stephen Moss

The opening formalities were led by John Sweeney, the local councillor for central Kingston, who had stepped in at the last moment to replace the chess project initiator Nicola Nardelli, another councillor from central Kingston, whose flight back to the UK was delayed. After a brief speech he handed over to John Foley, president of Kingston Chess Club, who thanked Kingston Council for funding this splendid project and hoped it would mark a resurgence of chess in the royal borough.

John Sweeney and John Foley cutting the ribbon

The ribbon was cut to the applause of the company present. The contingent of juniors who had waited patiently finally got their chance to play chess. The tables had been wiped down and the sets were ready for action. Soon everybody was playing chess, taking phone pics of the chess or just watching the action. Spectators were arriving continually throughout the afternoon into the evening. John Saunders, the noted chess journalist, who lives in Kingston, took some splendid photographs.

Youngsters eagerly playing chess, with their friends recording their moves for posterity
A young player showing the delight that chess can bring
… and another for whom delight has turned to disaster. We’ve all been there
Kingston club president John Foley (left) taking on an opponent in a blitz game
A skateboarder drops by. ‘I enjoy all board games’, he quipped

The photographs below were taken by Leila Raivio.

John Foley proudly shows off his new book, published on the same day: Checkmate!

Several people came along who would like to pursue chess competitively – they were duly signed up by Kingston Chess Club. We were also delighted to meet two teachers from nearby Kingston Grammar School, whose pupils are likely to use the facility. Two chess players who had known each other at university in Moscow (!) 15 years ago discovered that they both lived in Kingston. The children present came from a wide variety of schools in and around Kingston.

After the event, several of the participants repaired to the Albion pub, where we commandeered two tables on which blitz chess was played with clocks through the evening.

Convivial (but competitive) blitz in the Albion pub after the official launch of Chess Corner
The event brought together established members of Kingston chess club and new players eager to join

Anybody wishing to play on the tables in Chess Corner should bring their own sets. We are working on arrangements whereby sets can be borrowed from nearby Kingston Library or the Albion pub.

John Foley

Student life in the 1970s

Three members of the club, Peter Andrews, Stephen Moss and John Foley along with another contemporary decided to visit their their old college one summer’s day to enjoy the atmosphere and to recapture some of their past. Another member of the club, David Maycock, filmed the day. The resulting video provides a diverse set of personal stories. These are not to be taken as representative of current college life. One of the themes is how different student life was half a century ago compared with now. Some viewers found the video insightful and even delightful.  

Other videos from the day are in the pipeline. We are also contemplating producing a video about chess players. 

Rowson and Abasolo honoured at annual club dinner

The event was held at Monty’s Nepalese Restaurant in Kingston on 29 June 2023

One week after our AGM, 21 members gathered for the annual club dinner, this time at a Nepalese restaurant in a central location in Kingston, to celebrate the best season in our history. To facilitate conversation, there was a seating plan which placed members alongside others of a similar age and rating. This technique seems to have worked because a memorable evening was enjoyed by all.

The highlight of the proceedings was the prize-giving. This year we dispensed with our former categories, such as the player who achieved the best performance. Instead we focused on one captain and one player who made the crucial difference. David Rowson received the prize for Captain of the Year for having steered our first-team players to win both Surrey League Division 1 and Thames Valley League Division 1. The prize for Player of the Year went to Silverio Abasolo. His results during the season were admirable, but the crucial one was his game against IM Chris Baker which he managed to win from a rather dubious position to enable Kingston to retain the Alexander Cup – the premier knockout cup for the Surrey League.

Silverio Abasolo receiving the player of the year award from club president John Foley. Photograph: Jon Eckert

This season Kingston also won the knockout cup for the Thames Valley League, as well as Division X in the Thames Valley League under the stewardship of Stephen Daines. To add icing to the cake, our 4NCL team, having started the season in Division 4, won promotion to Division 2 (a third-division team having pulled out, allowing accelerated promotion).

The prizes were handed out by club president John Foley. Unfortunately the new secretary had forgotten to bring the glittering baubles, so a bar of chocolate was handed over as an exchangeable token instead. The president made an engaging and witty speech setting out the facts above. When he finally sat down after 15 minutes, there was relief amongst those assembled who had been warned by the secretary to expect a speech lasting at least an hour.

Valuing the players in a chess team

It is time to modernise the way players are valued. Their contribution to the team’s performance should take into account the importance of the game given the margin of victory. I examine the recent Alexander Cup victory by Kingston

John Foley

This was the most successful season in our history. At our recent annual general meeting, the number of games played by each player was praised. Each person’s contribution over the season makes a difference. Traditionally there have been prizes awarded for the best performance over the season. At Kingston, we have trophy dedicated for that purpose – the elusive Silver Queen. However, this year we did not award the prize or pore over the game statistics, which was a welcome relief. Instead, we paid tribute to the effort made by our players. There were no defaults – we managed to get a full team out each match. This season we had 60 matches, double that of last season. Each match is a challenge in terms of assembling the team and travel logistics, quite apart from fretting about the chess itself.

We can reflect on what went well. Most of all, credit goes to the players. According to our club survey, most of our members are seeking to improve their chess. This is why we try to give each member as many games as possible. Even a draw can make a difference in a tight match. We want our players not only to perform well, but also to have a fighting spirit. No accepting draws to save some Elo points, but instead strive for a team victory. Several matches turned on just one game. If only there were a way to place a precise value on each player’s results, taking into account the importance of their game towards the overall result. Fortunately, there is a rigorous way of doing this – the Shapley value of a game.

Lloyd Shapley was a game theorist who won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2012. His big idea was to find a way to unravel the contributions made by each member of a team towards a result. This problem could happen in many diverse contexts, for example sharing the cost of a taxi after a chess match where people travel home to different destinations, or indeed the cost of a celebratory meal.

Alexander Cup Team 2023
Alexander Cup winning team v Battersea, 14 April 2023 Photograph: John Saunders

To illustrate the Shapley concept, consider the relative contribution made by members of our victorious Alexander Cup team, captained by Ljubica Lazarevic. We got a bye in the first round and won all three matches from the quarter-final. To keep things simple, I include only the five players who played in each round. Others made sterling contributions – one person winning both the two games they played – but we cannot evaluate their contribution to a match in which they did not participate.

To keep personalities out of this, I shall call the players Albert, Bill, Colin, Dylan and Ethan, A, B, C, D, E. Their results were as follows:

The traditional way of valuing contributions is to conclude that players B and C performed best because they got the best percentage results. There are two issues with such a inference. Firstly, the higher the board, the stronger the opponent. Of course, this is also a problem with the traditional method. A mitigating factor is that the players are in strength order so, at least in well-matched teams, the ratings of the opposing players are correlated. A more practical consideration is that we want to keep our assessments amenable to simple calculations. If we wanted to be precise, and take into account the expected likelihood of winning based upon Elo ratings, then our calculations would become unwieldy. The second issue is that securing a result in a tight match is more important than winning a game in a match in which one team thrashes the other – the winning point is diluted. This is where we can use the Shapley approach.   

We start by considering all the possible combinations of the results of the players. With five players, there are 31 different combinations comprising five single results, 10 pairs, 10 triples, 5 quadruples and one quintuple. In each case, the test is if that combination of players’ results would have secured a victory. If you want to perform a similar calculation yourself, the combination listing for five players is set out at the foot of the column.

Against each combination you indicate whether it would have won the match. The results of the other five “irregular” players remain the same – they are not being evaluated. If a match could have been won, then all the players named in that combination are given a score of 1, otherwise zero. A drawn match can be ignored in the context of a knockout cup – we are only interest in results which contribute to a victory.

Having carried out the calculations, the rankings are as follows:

This shows quite a different picture from the traditional format. Perhaps the most notable difference is in relation to player D, who has been ranked equally with players B and C. This can be explained by what happened in the semi-final when player D only scored a draw and players B and C won their games. Our “irregular” players had racked up three points out of five games so that the five regular players needed to score 2.5 points. In fact, they won four games and drew one. Under this scenario, any combination involving results from only one or two players would be insufficient. However, if we look at combinations of three games, then whether we score 2.5 or 3 Kingston achieves victory. Hence, the contribution of Player B is worth the same as for players B and C. We can recognise D as equally deserving praise. 

Another aspect of the Shapley approach is that it is a fairer description of the relative contribution of each player. On the traditional approach, B and C are given all the plaudits. However, under systematic scrutiny we can see that the contribution of all the players is much closer: each player contributes around one-fifth to the success of the team, with relatively small differences, which places three players at 21%, with the other two players being slightly below 20%. This is surely more reflective of how the team members and captain felt about their relative contributions. 

Shapley values are different from Elo ratings. Both depend upon performance, but Shapley takes into account the state of the match, whereas Elo ratings only take into account the two players concerned.  Shapley is about co-operative teams, whereas Elo is about competing individuals.

Chess should start to rank team players according to game theory. Each chess league, as a service to their constituent clubs, could publish the Shapley rankings for each of the players. Other sports can follow. This is what happened with Elo ratings, which other sports such as football adopted after several decades.

England win silver at the World Team Championships, Astana 2019. Photograph: Maria Emelianova

Combination table for five players

John Foley v Peter Lalić

Kingston Summer Blitz, Willoughby Arms, 19 June 2023

The summer blitzes at Kingston have proved popular, attracting players from other local clubs. The giantkiller prize in the tournament on 19 June went to Kingston president John Foley, who defeated Peter Lalić in round 3 (in the game shown below) and David Maycock, who lost on time, in round 4.