Author Archives: Peter Andrews

About Peter Andrews

Captain, Kingston first team in the Surrey League. Keen on cricket. Former central banker.

Peter Andrews (Surrey) v Christopher Skulte (Middlesex)

Played at All Saints Church, Childs Hill, London NW2 on 24 February 2024 on board 14 in the SCCU Open category county match between Middlesex and Surrey

This was a game of high drama played in a crucial encounter between Middlesex and Surrey. Middlesex had home advantage and a substantial ratings plus, but the Surrey players performed superbly and ran out winners in the 16-board match by 9.5 to 6.5. That meant Surrey ended the regional stage of the county championships top of the table, unbeaten on 6/6, and progressed to the quarter-finals against qualifiers from other regions. This was a rollercoaster encounter between Peter Andrews (pictured), playing for Surrey, and his Middlesex counterpart Christopher Skulte. Peter said he felt dizzy by the end, while Chris admitted there were times in the game when he found it difficult to breathe. Remind me why we play chess when we could be relaxing on a Saturday afternoon.

Depleted Kingston spring surprise at Wimbledon

Wimbledon 1 v Kingston 1, Surrey League division 1 match played at St Winifride’s Church Hall, Wimbledon on 15 February 2024

Confidence in advance of this match was not high, given the depleted team we were able to field: Thursday is an inconvenient evening for several regulars, and illness took out Vladimir Li and Julian Way in the 24 hours before the match.  Some team-mates thought our situation resembled that of Henry V before Agincourt: 

O that we had now here But one ten thousand of those men in England that do no work today.  What’s he that wishes so?  …. The fewer men the greater share of honour.  

That was perhaps an exaggeration: Kingston Chess Club does not yet have 10,000 members; Nick Grey and Charlie Cooke, stepping in at short notice, ensured we had as many players as Wimbledon; and the ratings of the two sides were almost equal. But if the thought helped stiffen our sinews it was a good one.

Charlie Cooke faced an uphill battle on board 8 with Black against the higher-rated John Polanyk. Having neutralised a dangerous-looking attack, a small slip allowed an exchange sacrifice which eventually won at least a piece. Jon Eckert and Nick Grey on boards 6 and 7 drew relatively early. Nick was frustrated that his edge from a better pawn structure did not crystallise into a win, but his was one of the boards where we were outrated, so this was nevertheless an important contribution.  

Alan Scrimgour had found himself in a line of the French Defence known better by his opponent.  Kings castled on opposite sides, and Alan sacrificed the exchange to try to drum up an attack; he accepted a draw offer when he realised that there was not much there. John Foley equalised the score with a convincing win with black against Wimbledon secretary Gordon Rennie.  He has analysed this in more depth in the Games section.  From my observation point on the next board, he built up the pressure impressively to reach this position after 22 Re3.

My own game finished shortly after John’s.  At the time, I thought it had been an anodyne draw, with my opponent successfully neutralising the slight disadvantage of an isolated pawn. Imagine my frustration when Stockfish showed me three distinct winning opportunities I had missed, each of them instructive.  

That left the scores level at 3-3, with Kingston apparently slightly worse on both remaining boards.  Luca Buanne, on his league debut, faced Dan Rosen’s Grand Prix attack.  This game, which was a tense but fairly balanced struggle from the outset, is provided in full in the Games section, with annotations by Luca and John Foley. The rest of the team started to focus on his game around this critical moment, after 37. Rc1 by White.

So it all came down to board 1. Peter Lalić, against the IM Alberto Suarez Real, played a trademark queenless middle game.  Around the point the other games were over, he was a pawn down but solid and with reasonable activity, and his chances to hold were improved because his opponent was down to a minute on the clock while Peter still had more than five.

Thus we won the match, securing our position in division 1 and (such is the closeness of the race) keeping us in with an outside shot at the title. To beat a 2400+ IM in that ending starting from a pawn down was an epic performance. Peter will remember with advantages what feats he did that day[1].  

Peter Andrews, Kingston captain in Surrey division 1

[1] Shakespeare was of course expert in the pressures and rewards of Surrey League chess.

Kingston A storm to victory at Wimbledon

Thames Valley division 1 match played at St Winefride’s Church Hall, Wimbledon on 1 February 2024

Wimbledon captain Ian Heppell said before the start of the match that this was the strongest Thames Valley League team they had turned out this season. They had IM Alberto Suarez Real on board 1, and, although Kingston had a rating advantage on the other five boards, they all looked likely to be tight.

One privilege enjoyed by Kingston members is Vladimir Li’s occasional series of lectures on positional chess, a key message from which is that positional and routine chess are very different things; even in quiet openings, players must be alert to tactical opportunities which can destroy the positional build-up. My game against Neil Cannon on board 5 illustrated this nicely. Black slightly mixed his plans by playing b6, which weakened his knight on c6, and then not following up immediately with Bb7.  After nine moves, he was already lost. 

With that quick goal in the net, Alan Scrimgour dodged a bullet against Tony Hughes (who was in form, having won the first Kingston Blitz at All Saints Church the previous day). After playing against Tony’s English much as he would as White against a Sicilian, Alan had launched a queenside foray with his queen and rook. For a moment, in the position below, White had the chance to win the exchange:

White could have played 17. Ndb1 and won the trapped rook for his knight. Fortunately – for Kingston at least – he missed the backward step (a common theme in my reports), Alan extricated himself, and a draw was soon agreed as simplification was about to occur.

Next to finish was Vladimir Li, who had White on top board against Suarez Real. After a King’s Indian Defence, Vladimir’s 16th move prompted an interesting debate later among the Kingston players:

Vladimir went with 16. Qb3. Black’s queen is his most active piece, defending several weak spots. Although after 16…Qxb3 17. axb3, the b-pawns are doubled, Black cannot get at them, and the semi-open a-file may be of use. Stockfish suggests 16. Qd2 as the best move – 16…Rac8 17. Be3 Qa5 18. Bf4 Qb6, but the evaluation (level) is the same. Vladimir was concerned that if the black queen was not challenged, Black could reorganise, moving his queen’s bishop to f5 and knight to d7 or e4 (though in such a line he would have to ensure that g4 would not win the bishop).

In the game, Vladimir got the sort of position the late world champion Tigran Petrosian would have loved, in which, although he had no immediate breakthrough himself, Black had no useful way to activate himself, and instead retreated his knight to e8 and bishop to f8 to hold the weak d6 point. Vladimir had a substantial time advantage as well, so the IM could not reasonably turn down a draw; clearly a good result for Kingston on the one board where we had a rating disadvantage.

IM Alberto Suarez Real and FM Vladimir Li analyse their game while Peter Andrews reflects on his rapid victory

Boards 2, 3 and 4 went the distance. On board 3, Silverio Abasolo had an early edge with White against Dan Rosen. In the position below, both sides must have missed that White had two ways to get a significant advantage:

The best move might be 15. Qe3, attacking the a-pawn. If 15…Kb8 16. e5 dxe5 17. Rxd8+ Qxd8 18. Qxe5+ wins, so White will win the d-pawn. If 15…b6, White can play a move which is the more daring option anyway: 16 Rxd6!, and after 16…Rxd6 17. e5 the fork wins back the rook, leaving White a pawn up.

After that, Black took the initiative. In this position, he perhaps “played for two results” by going for a slightly better ending rather than leaving the queens on:

30…Qf6 would have left White suffering: 31. Bg2 Rde8 32. Qd2 Nb6 threatens Nc4 and unbelievably the queen would be trapped in her own backyard, and White would have to give up the exchange. So 33. b3 is necessary, and White has multiple problems: the front rook is almost trapped, and Black threatens to land on f2, or pick off the weak white pawns. Instead he played 30… Qxe2. After 31. Bxe2 Rf2 32. h4 gxh4 33. Rh1 c5  34 Rd2 d4 35. Nd1 was a surprisingly effective defence. Pieces were exchanged, Silverio recovered his pawn, and in the final position (below) his passed pawn more than compensated for his less solid pawn structure and a draw was agreed.

For a long time, spectators found it difficult to evaluate Julian Way’s position against Ian Heppell on board 4. In the position that arose after 14…fxe6, which both sides had allowed voluntarily, were his doubled pawns sufficiently compensated by the two bishops, the extra open file and a central pawn mass? 

Alan Scrimgour (left) watches on as boards 2, 3 and 4 reach their conclusion

Vladimir aptly described Peter Lalić’s game on board 2 against Russell Picot as “flowing like music”. Most of Peter’s games this season have started with him allowing an early queen exchange on d8 or d1. His opponents are attracted to preventing his king from castling, and probably by the thought that with queens off they improve their chances of a draw against a highly rated player. But this can be an illusion. Queenless middle games can require precision, and Peter has far more experience of handling such positions than most of his opponents will ever have. As in Julian’s game, there was an important point at which the two players allowed a sequence of moves which they must have evaluated differently.

Beware sharks (as well as octopuses)! Wimbledon’s playing room, a nursery by day, is awash with curious objects

A tremendous win by Peter to complete an excellent night for Kingston. It felt like a return to the “steamroller” first team of last year and propelled Kingston to the top of Thames Valley League division 1, though Hammersmith in second place have three matches in hand and must be warm favourites to win the title. Still, we were greatly encouraged by this performance, and enter the second half of the season in good heart.

Peter Andrews, Kingston 1 Surrey League captain and captain on the night in this match

Coming to terms with missed opportunities

In chess there are out-and-out blunders – bad moves that are obvious in retrospect. And there are missed opportunities – glorious (but hard-to-find) moves that elude you. Which are harder for a player to deal with?

Peter Andrews

Peter Andrews reflects on what might have been

What is the difference between a blunder and a missed opportunity? Do we feel differently about them? Are they a metaphor for life? Can our friends enjoy our creations even if they were only unearthed after the event? Or, if you prefer to avoid mental anguish over the Christmas season and would rather not address these philosophical questions, you could just enjoy some of my near-misses and see if you could have done better.

Blunders v missed opportunities

It is not unusual when analysing a game using an engine to find that the computer evaluation of one’s position falls sharply after a move, meaning that the move was a mistake. Sometimes the move was bad: it failed to deal with an obvious threat, lost a piece or compromised the position. We would call such a move a blunder – a player of our ability should have been able to see what was wrong and avoid it, and there were reasonable alternatives available. Probably we knew before we got there that the machine would disapprove of our choice.  

Sometimes the change in evaluation comes as a surprise and the reason is not obvious. Perhaps there was only one move which would have maintained the evaluation, and anything else was inferior. And perhaps that move was not one that a player of our ability would expect to find over the board, with all the usual pressures – time shortage, concern about the position in the match, and so on. In such a case we might refer to a missed opportunity.  

I recently drew with Frank Zurstiege in a Thames Valley League match against Hounslow but missed a lovely trick to convert my positional advantage into a winning endgame. The opportunity arose in this position:

That Hounslow game also contained a missed opportunity for my opponent in a king and pawn endgame, where a misguided pawn advance by me permitted an instant counter-strike that would have won the game for Black. Happily (for me at least) my opponent missed it and his opportunity was lost. In the next day or so, if I awoke at night, the possibility of having lost that game in such a manner made it difficult to nod off again. The missed opportunities on both sides in that game made me ponder other such moments in my 50-plus years of competitive chess.

The three examples below set a high bar in terms of both the significance of the opportunity and the degree of mental anguish which followed (though there is, as you will discover, a pleasurable coda to the third “missed” opportunity). All three games were against players higher rated than me, so winning would have been at least a worthwhile achievement and maybe one of those red-letter days to be enjoyed for the rest of one’s chess career. They might have given me the illusion that I could really play at the same level as these people, rather than approach it occasionally like an FA Cup upset. 

They all involved good play up to the point of the opportunity. Perhaps that is to be expected. If one is to have an opportunity against a player stronger than oneself, it is natural that one has to play above oneself. And they feature attractive play at the critical point. Combining these factors means that the opportunity will be rare – there may never again be another chance to beat that particular opponent or play that particular combination.

All that leads to a regret so palpable that it can resurface after over 40 years. It is an emotion slightly different from that of the memory of a blunder. It is a sadness at something unfulfilled, rather than embarrassment or humiliation – a little like being out in the nineties at cricket before one has made one’s maiden century. No surprise, no shame, but the chance of a lifetime forsaken. Fortunately, to the best of my recollection, none of the three examples below was costly for my team, so there is no guilt on top of the regret.

In each of these examples, I give a diagram showing the crucial position, to allow you to find what I missed before the winning move is shown, alongside some game context.  

Position 1: Brandon Kwan v Peter Andrews

This position was included in Chess magazine’s Find the Winning Move in October 2023. I was Black in this game, playing for the Bank of England, against Brandon Kwan of Barclays in the final of the City Chess Association‘s Major Cup on 17 May 2023. Barclays, perennial league winners, are the Manchester City of the CCA. Kwan is a little stronger than me, rated in the 2080s at the time of the game. I failed to find the brilliant win.

Why did I miss this? I had about six minutes to Brandon’s two, and the opportunity to win material and keep an advantage in an important game was so clear as to preclude spending precious time on looking for something else. Fundamentally, I did not see the mating net that Black could weave in mid-board. A shame after achieving such a crushing position as Black against a stronger opponent in only 23 moves. Because I won the game and the BoE won the match anyway, the regret is less sharp than it would have been, but mere competitive success pales alongside not having played the game that I might have done.

Position 2: Peter Andrews v Marcus Osborne

I was White against Marcus Osborne for Kingston B against South Norwood on 29 May 2023, less than two weeks after the Kwan game. Marcus is rated around 2250. I must have only a dozen or so wins against players over 2200 in my life, so it would have been one to remember. And it was an important match – avoiding a large defeat meant that Kingston B avoided relegation from Surrey League Division 2.  

I felt at the time, and Stockfish confirmed the next morning, that I had outplayed him up to this point, but time was short and I was not surprisingly worried that his passed d-pawn, supported by his queen, would promote near my king and mate me. I felt that 32. Rf7 was the right move, but if 32… d2 33. Bxg7+ Rxg7 I could not see how to win. The answer of course is 34. Qd8+ Rg8 35. Qf6+ mating, a backward diagonal queen move, notoriously hard to see. 

Having missed Rf7, I blundered in the time scramble and got mated. Fortunately we won the match anyway.

Position 3: Glenn Flear v Peter Andrews

Sometimes the lost opportunity is an illusion. In March 1981 I played the strongest opposition of my life. I played IM Paul Littlewood (and lost in 18 moves) in the National Club Championship on 8 March, GM John Nunn in the Oxford University college league on 12 March, and David Goodman, also in the college league, on Friday 13th. I lost both of those as well, unluckily against Nunn where I blundered away a draw just before the 30-move time control (that game was a candidate for this column too, but belongs in the blunder rather than the missed opportunity bucket). On the Saturday I was due to play for Oxfordshire against Surrey in a county match. In those days few university players played for Oxfordshire (whereas the Cambridgeshire county team more or less was the university plus some dons), so the county side was very weak and on this occasion I found myself, with some trepidation, on board 1 against Glenn Flear, already close to 2300 and on his way to becoming a GM. 

As I looked at the game for the first time since then, it was clear that the modest 37. Kh1 is a draw, although he might have missed it or been reluctant to concede it against a much weaker opponent. Writing this blog has finally exorcised that regret, as compensation for reliving more recent ones. Perhaps if you have an idle moment over the holiday season, putting your old games through an engine will similarly console you.

So what of the other questions with which I started? Are these missed opportunities over the chessboard a metaphor for life? I can think of a few occasions in my professional life when I should have said something in a meeting that I did not, which might have led to better career outcomes as well as better policy-making, and the odd occasion in my personal life. But those lost opportunities were mainly a failure of courage, whereas my first two examples above were really failures of imagination. Perhaps the last example leads to a saner conclusion: there are all sorts of alternative avenues which one might have tried, some of them superficially attractive, some of them pressed by those around you, but often they might not have made much difference; you end up with what you deserve.

And as for my last question: can one’s friends enjoy our creations even if they only come to light afterwards? That I leave to you.