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.
Ashtead 1 v Kingston 2, Surrey League division 2, Peace Memorial Hall, Ashtead, 25 October 2022
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…
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.
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.
Kingston v Epsom, Lauder Trophy, Willoughby Arms, Kingston, on 10 October 2022
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 1 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 2. Their daughters Emma and Lucy obtained a point between them on boards 3 and 4, Emma gamely stepping in after 30 minutes to face Alan Scrimgour on board 3 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 6 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?
Kingston congratulates Epsom on a convincing victory and wishes them luck in the next round against Guildford.
A glorious queen sac can be irresistible and fans will always applaud it. But winning the game is even better – a lesson I learned the hard way in this totemic position from early in my playing career
An instructive position! Context later, but what would you, as White, do here? Do you long for the security of exchanged queens? Qxb8, Ne4, Rhe1 or maybe even f4 straightening out the doubled pawns? White is after all a pawn up; the rest, as they always say, should be a matter of technique.
Should White keep the queens on with Qg5, then point everybody at g7? Surely Black’s kingside couldn’t survive the firepower of White’s entire army? Or is this a mirage?
Is Rd6 your choice, preventing the queen exchange with an awkward self-pin? Dominating Black like a sumo wrestler sat on a cat?
Or is there something else – something which makes your heart beat faster, dreaming of glory. A taste of immortality. A portal in time to the great chess romantics of the past. To be included in great tomes of tactics books and legendary sacrifices. A kiss from Caissa herself? Can White play Qxf6?!?!
Let’s split the options into four:
The Dull – f4
The Daring – Qg5
The Dominating – Rd6
The Dramatic – Qxf6
Bet bet bet now! (Obligatory Banzai! music). Betting ends.
Now for some background.
A long time ago, I had started work as a chess teacher. In an effort to test this new-found professionalism, having spent most of my chess life up to this point hacking and worshipping the g5 square, I entered a proper chess tournament (as did future team-mate FM Julian Way). The tournament went bizarrely well. I finished joint fourth with IM Chris Baker in a very strong field. GM Keith Arkell came first, netting the princely first prize of £100.
In round seven I was paired with White against FM (and future GM) Michal Matuszewski, the pre-tournament dark horse. I had been having a strange tournament, scoring my first ever win against an IM, but also suffering in a couple of terrible games. I was very, very nervous, and then shocked to find myself in the above position having played some offbeat nonsense and invested very little time. Here I sank into thought. What to do?
Thanks to my friend and chess history devotee Kevin Henbest, I was thoroughly familiar with the game Nezhmetdinov-Chernikov, surely one of the most beautiful queen sacrifices ever played:
Now, back to my game. Somehow I was a pawn up against an FM, but here I was with a chance to emulate the great SuperNezh himself. My usual calculation was failing me completely; the sacrifice was like a black hole drawing my thoughts away from every other line. Qg5 and Rd6 looked good, then dangerous, then drawish and seemingly dissipating my advantage, then a blur of lines I couldn’t concentrate on because THEY WEREN’T THE GLORIOUS QUEEN SAC!
After attempting to consider the alternatives I returned to stare longingly at Qxf6. I couldn’t see the win, but felt it must be there. Surely only a coward would shy away from such a move? Having taken nearly an hour, I punted.
The game went as follows:
A few months later, proudly showing this game to my friend, FM Thanasis Tsanas, he responded with utter disgust. “You were winning! Why would you play this? Karpov would never play such a move!”
I had been fully expecting praise, maybe even light applause, for my bravery. Yet here was an FM telling me off! Something in me, a crazed romantic, got a lesson that day. Rare and entrancing as a queen sacrifice is, it should not come at the expense of the position. Chess wins are not the result of hit and hope.
What would I do today? Well, older and wiser, I now realise many games between strong players are decided not by tactics or queen exchanges, but by domination – controlling the board and not allowing your opponent’s pieces space to breathe. Rd6 is the key move, and the computer agrees. While the other moves should win with perfect play, Rd6 is the truly brave move – self-pinning, calculating to see that everything is working tactically, and having faith in one’s pieces (and scorn for your opponent’s prospects).
Alexander Cup semi-final between Kingston and CCF (Coulsdon), played at the Willoughby Arms, Kingston on 30 May 2022
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 9 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.
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.
On board 2, 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.
On board 3, 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.
Board 4 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.
On board 5, 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).
On board 6, 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.
On board 7, 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.
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.
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.
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 Gamesby 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.
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.
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.
Being quick on the draw can be completely rational in certain circumstances and where prize money is at stake. Just do the maths
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.