Author Archives: stephenmoss

Kingston 3 overwhelmed at South Norwood

Surrey League division 4 match played at West Thornton Community Centre, Thornton Heath on 26 January 2023

A trip to South Norwood is never easy – and this was one of the harder ones. The logistics of the journey from Kingston to south-east London make it hard enough – campaign medals should be struck for all those who join the expedition – but here an inexperienced Kingston 3 team was up against a much stronger South Norwood 2 side. The result was never in doubt, and Kingston were on the wrong end of a 5-1 defeat.

The undoubted high spot was new recruit Mark Sheridan’s terrific draw with Black on board 2 against the highly rated Mohammad Sameer-Had. Mark played the Petrov Defence, equalised and, recognising the rating differential, sought to trade pieces to reach a drawn endgame. It was in fact Sameer-Had who, fearing the loss of a pawn, offered the draw, so a moral victory for Mark and a real coming-of-age result.

Promising youngster Shaurya Handu also secured a draw on board 5, but elsewhere thing went less well. The ultra-attacking Ron Harris had too much firepower for David Shalom on board 1; Sean Tay and captain Stephen Daines went down fighting on boards 3 and 4; and Jaden Mistry fell for a nasty trick that resulted in mate against the wily veteran Barry Miles. A learning curve for Jaden, but a bitter one. Young players don’t just have to learn chess; they have to learn to tap into their inner resilience too. The game has many knockbacks.

Stephen Moss

The boy who took on the golden-age greats

Larry Evans was just 16 when he wrote his first book – a self-published monograph on the great Vienna tournament of 1922. Some of the analysis is a little wayward, but it’s still a remarkable achievement

Michael Healey

This season I have been mainly losing to people younger than myself. Other people as well, but it’s the youngsters doing the most damage. In revenge, I felt the need to savage a book written by a teenager.

In 1948 Larry Evans, aged just 16, was already a strong player. In three years he would be US champion, then go on to become an IM, a GM, US champion a further four times, and a second to Bobby Fischer. He would also become one of the most celebrated chess columnists and writers, famously co-authoring Fischer’s My 60 Memorable Games (which I still have not read).

As part of his development, the teenager not only discovered the 1922 Vienna tournament‘s scores, but took it upon himself to annotate each of the 103 games, and then self-publish the result. At 16! As Evans later admitted, “Youth is so presumptuous!” Sixty-two years later, he was asked to review his first work for a new edition of Vienna 1922, with computer assistance, sadly dying before the result was published. Thus this is both Evans’ first and last book – an alpha and omega one might say.

Larry Evans, in his early thirties, in action at the Amsterdam Interzonal in 1964. Photograph: F N Broers

Vienna 1922 was a 15-player all-play-all tournament featuring a lot of big names, though lacking Capablanca and Lasker, who had contested the world championship the previous year. The field was as follows, with Chessmetrics December 1921 world ranking in brackets: Alekhine (3); Rubinstein (4); Tartakower (6); Tarrasch (7); Bogoljubow (10); Spielmann (11); Maroczy (12); Réti (13); Grünfeld (20); Sämisch (23). Bogoljubow and Rubinstein were perennial world championship contenders; Alekhine would succeed to the title in 1927. Some other names may also ring bells!

Completing the field were local bunnies Sándor Takács, Heinrich Wolf, Imre König, Hans Kmoch and Vladimir Vuković. Kmoch and Vuković went on to become better known as chess writers. Kmoch’s most notable book is Pawn Power in Chess, published in 1956, while Vuković produced two of the most famous chess books of all time – The Art of Attack in Chess (1963) and The Chess Sacrifice (1968). 

In Vienna 1922, Evans’s comments are pithy, but usually humorous and accurate in equal measure. Each round is given a succinct summary, and each game a brief prologue. So what happened? Here is the scoretable:

This was to be Rubinstein’s last great hurrah. He won five in a row between rounds 10 and 14, and went undefeated all tournament, but was clearly leading a charmed life in some games. Tartakower was a deserved second, hunted down after a start of 6.5/7. Third was … Wolf?! Indeed, Wolf led the tournament in round 10, only to receive 0 from the next two games. Though several games from this tournament made his own best games collection, Alekhine lost a whole three games, despite benefiting from a bye against Spielmann, who missed the last two rounds due to illness. It is quite clear that König and Kmoch suffered, even when their games were looking promising, and sought out draws whenever possible. Neither won a game. Maroczy had a very solid tournament, only losing one game. 

Whilst going through the book I realised the drama of the tournament wasn’t coming across very well, so I made my own progressive (if slightly messy) scoretable.

Here I discovered one issue with the book: several round summaries feature the wrong match pairings and results. The table I constructed demonstrated just how well Tarrasch had finished (six wins and two draws in the second half of the tournament). In round 10 he defeated Réti with a lovely king march.

34. Kh2 Nd6 35. Rg7+ Kh8 36. Rd7 Nb5 37. Kg3 Nxc3 38. Kf4 Nb5 39. Ke5 Re8 40. Kf6. Black resigns. The plan is Kf7 and Bg7#. If Rg8 Kf7 and the threat of Rd8 is game-ending.

The openings played are testament to their era and the influence of “hypermodern” ideas. Because these ideas were new, openings can look inaccurate or overindulgent to modern eyes. However, the differences in strength are also a factor. Weaker players strive for drawish lines; stronger players play some slightly fishy stuff. For this reason, many of the most entertaining games are those against König and Kmoch, whom everyone was clearly desperate to dispatch. This was how Rudolf Spielmann, with Black, did the job against Kmoch in round 4.

This was not the only game where I had cause to doubt the teenager/septuagenarian’s commentary. In round 9, Kmoch was again the victim of a crazed stronger player, Ernst Grünfeld:

As the tournament progressed I found myself really rooting for Kmoch, only to be disappointed each time. The summary before Vuković-Kmoch pretty much covered being a Kmoch fan (“Black hangs his queen!”). I genuinely bashed my head into the table. 

There were a number of blunders throughout – possibly because it was a long tournament, but more likely because back then they didn’t register thousands upon thousands of tactical puzzles and tomes of theory. They had to reason things out themselves, without a bank of patterns and tricks. Sometimes it’s utter nonsense, as in this game between Vuković and Spielmann.

The positional chess can be quite impressive though, as in the following game between poor old Kmoch and Siegbert Tarrasch.

Certainly, as a disciple of chaos myself, I didn’t really trust young Evans’s nous in the crazier positions. Which was a lesson in itself: given most chess books these days are written by grandmasters with supercomputers, it’s useful to be able to challenge what you’re being told, and sometimes find out you’re actually correct. Sometimes.

As you might expect from conversion of an old descriptive book without diagrams to algebraic with plentiful diagrams, there are regular typos; these don’t detract from the games though. In all seriousness, to achieve what he did in this work is quite astonishing. Evans the teenager found the time, determination and sheer cojones to analyse games from the top tier of chess a mere 26 years before – games by players who, he admits, were at that stage all stronger than he was. Not only did he contribute to chess scholarship in the process, but he protected chess legacy and brought obscure games to a wider audience:

“My main reason for writing in 1948,” Evans said, “was to preserve the games which were then largely unavailable except for a handful of collectors.” It is little wonder he went on to be so beloved by chessplayers in America, and around the world.

Kingston get vital win at Surbiton in titanic clash

Thames Valley League division 1 match played at the United Reformed Church, Tolworth on 24 January 2023

The two teams do battle at the start of an epic local derby. Kingston players on the right of each board

What a tremendous match this was. Surbiton had put out a very strong team and clearly meant business. They were slightly outrated on boards 1 and 2, but with players as good as Mark Josse and Chris Briscoe had nothing to fear from the killer Kingston duo of David Maycock and Peter Lalić.

Josse played his usual Sicilian and David offered an early knight sac which really put the proverbial cat among the pigeons:

Engines are a little equivocal about the sacrifice, giving Black a small edge, but in practical play it gives White excellent chances, with the Black king marooned in the centre and Black underdeveloped and lacking coordination. Josse accepted the sacrifice and it led to a game of great complexity. It was the last game to finish, so let’s leave the result for a moment.

The first game to finish, after two hours’ play, was board 6 – a draw between Peter Andrews and Surbiton captain Angus James, two players with similar ratings and rock-solid techniques. Peter played a Sicilian and was never worse. Next to finish was Briscoe v Lalić. The latter had played the Nimzowitsch Defence. Briscoe had a decent edge and a time advantage, but Peter showed his usual resolution to equalise the position and was quick to accept a draw when it was offered. 1-1.

Vladimir Li looked to have a space advantage against David Scott’s French Defence, with a phalanx of pawns pushing forward on the kingside. But later analysis showed that the apparent advantage was illusory. Scott countered skilfully and the position was level when a draw was agreed with time starting to run short after 30 moves. The Thames Valley incremental time control of 65 + 10 is just a bit too swift for chess at this level. Administrators please take note.

When would we get a positive result? Not yet. Next to conclude was the board 4 game between Kingston captain David Rowson and Altaf Chaudhry, a dangerous opponent, especially in a time scramble. Chaudhry played the Nimzowitsch Variation of the English Opening (1. c4 e5 2. Nf3) – it was a big night for Nimzowitsch – but David marshalled his pieces cannily and by the middle game appeared to be calling the shots. But Altaf will always complicate and usually when time is short. In the position below, what should David play?

He chose 25… dxe5, and Altaf was able to trade down to equality. Better is 25… Bxe5 because Black will win a kingside pawn: 26. Bxe4 fxg3 27. fxg3 Bxg3 28. hxg3 Bxe4. White’s g-pawn also becomes vulnerable. Engines reckon this is one that got away for Kingston, but when time is running short these critical decisions are far from easy. Altaf reached an equal endgame and the game was drawn. 2-2.

All the while, Kingston president John Foley and Surbiton’s Liam Bayly had been locked in a highly technical struggle on board 5. Foley, with White against an opponent he knows well, had successfully sought to unbalance the position, but left himself with a backward c-pawn. He cleverly resolved the situation by allowing himself to be saddled with doubled d-pawns which he correctly calculated would be dangerous in the endgame.

Nxg6 is feasible here because of the possible fork of king and rook by checking with the queen on g3 after first capturing the knight on e4, but 27… Rc3 holds the position for Black. John actually played 27. Rc1 and, in time trouble, Liam took the rook, giving John control of the c-file. Had Liam doubled his rooks instead, he would have had a slight edge. As it was, it was John that had the advantage and, by trading queens and advancing his pawns, he eventually broke through Liam’s defences. Playing this sort of endgame in a time scramble is nightmarish.

At last then we had a winner on the night: 3-2 to Kingston and just the Maycock-Josse game left. By now both players were on the increment, but it was David who was pressing, forgoing what looked like a perpetual, driving Mark’s king across the board and eventually delivering mate. A brilliant win and a terrific way to end a keenly contested match, which Kingston won 4-2 to put them level on points with Richmond A and Hammersmith A at the top of the Thames Valley division 1 table.

Stephen Moss

Kingston beat Ealing to kickstart Thames Valley title challenge

Thames Valley League division 1 and Surrey League division 2 matches played at the Willoughby Arms, Kingston on 23 January 2023

A full playing room for the double-header v Ealing and Ashtead. The flags are a hangover from the World Cup

It was a busy night at Fortress Willoughby, with the first team in action against Ealing A in Thames Valley League division 1 and the second team facing Ashtead, runaway leaders of Surrey League division 2. Both matches were extremely one-sided: Kingston overwhelmed Ealing, who were missing several of their stars and defaulted on board six, 5.5-0.5, but Ashtead had no difficulty brushing aside Kingston 2 6-1. The win over Ealing keeps our title hopes alive, but the heavy defeat to Ashtead leaves us rooted to the foot of division 2.

In the Ealing match, David Maycock (despite being under the weather), Peter Lalić and Vladimir Li kept up their extraordinary winning run on the top boards. Black on board 1, David gained an edge in the opening and marooned White’s queen uncomfortably in the middle of the board. His opponent, Tony Wells, gave up the exchange in a bid for counterplay, but it never really materialised, and David found a neat tactic to win the other rook and bring the game to a speedy conclusion.

On board two, Peter Lalić, following on from a supremely confident tournament victory at the weekend, also gained a nice edge in the opening, and then sac-ed a rook to force mate (see below).

25. Rxb7+ wins. 25… Kxb7. 26. d6+ Kc8 27. Qa6+ Kd7 28. Qb7+ and Black resigns. Mate in one is unavoidable.

Vladimir Li, with Black on board 3, had a sharp game with Mark Winterbotham. Li got the better of the opening and had a central pawn phalanx heading for promotion, but with time running short Winterbotham conjured up a counter-attack that looked promising. Eventually, though, Vladimir snuffed it out, exchanged queens, and his connected passed pawns were unstoppable.

Kingston board 3 Vladimir Li (foreground, right) got the better of Ealing’s Mark Winterbotham in a sharp struggle

Will Taylor drew on board 4 against an old-school opponent who insisted on slow play – just 35 moves on the night with the option of adjourning or adjudicating. Neither was necessary as they agreed the position was drawn. On board 5, Kingston captain David Rowson had a nailbiting game against Harry Symeonidis, who played the very imaginative Nxh7 in the position below.

Unfortunately for Symeonidis, he failed to follow it up in the optimum way. “He should have played 20. h5, not g5,” explains David. “The position was a bit messy after that and I was anxious, even though I was piece for pawn up. However, he didn’t find a way to complicate my life too much and I was able to simplify to a won ending.” With the Ealing default on board 6, that made it an emphatic 5.5-0.5. An impressive win by David and his team.

The high spot of the second-team match, for Kingston at least, was Peter Andrews’ draw with the highly rated Phil Brooks on board 1, after opening fireworks produced a level middle game and peace broke out. On board 2, Jon Eckert lost to another very highly rated player, Gareth Anthony, in a keenly contested French Winawer. On board 3 John Bussmann, playing his first league game of the season, succumbed to the experienced Dan Rosen. John was plus 2 early on but said he played too timidly, failed to open lines of attack and got into an ugly closed position.

Another veteran, Jonathan Hinton, beat the promising Kingston youngster Max Selemir on board 4; Bertie Barlow and I had a short draw on board 5 – I had a slight edge and a braver man would have played on; Wayne Clark’s Vienna Gambit on board 6 allowed him to build an irresistible attack against Kingston’s Charlie Cooke; and on board 7 Byron Eslava faced a tough league debut against another strong Ashtead regular, Ian McLeod. Byron lost, mislaying a few pawns en route, but was far from disgraced. All very character building. Possibly.

Stephen Moss

Kingston see off Streatham to reach Alexander Cup final

Alexander Cup semi-final played over 10 boards at St Thomas’s Church, Streatham on 17 January 2023

Given that the two teams were evenly matched in terms of ratings, for Kingston to win 7.5-2.5 and thus progress to the final of the Alexander Cup, which the club currently holds, was a remarkable achievement. Streatham had very strong players on the three top boards, yet they were all beaten by Kingston’s “Three Musketeers” (David Maycock, Peter Lalić and Vladimir Li) to set the tone for an extraordinary evening. We were missing several significant players, yet in the end it barely mattered as Jon Eckert, Max Selemir and Gregor Smith stepped up superbly in a side brilliantly organised by captain Ljubica Lazarevic.

I was unable to be at the match, so have relied on notes supplied by Peter Andrews, who drew with Streatham captain Martin Smith on board 6. “The games were much closer than the match score suggests,” says Andrews. “Four games (Peter Lalić , John Foley, Gregor and Lju) went to single minor-piece endgames, and Will Taylor to R+P v R, so it was a late night!”

The board one match-up was a classic, with David Maycock playing Black against Fide master Venkataramanan Tiruchirapalli. “David had to give up a piece when his opponent promoted,” says Andrews, “but he had time to win a second pawn for it and his two connected passed pawns eventually won the game, though opposing pieces were gathering round his confined king.” Later analysis showed that Tiruchirapalli had one gilt-edged opening to cement his mating chances, but he got the move order wrong and the opportunity was gone.

Kingston’s David Maycock beat FM Venkataramanan Tiruchirapalli in a high-class game on board 1

On board 2, Peter Lalić was in technical – rather than tactical – mode (though clearly the dividing line between the two is not hard and fast), winning a pawn, reducing down to a knight and six pawns v bishop and five pawns endgame, and forcing resignation after 45 moves. Can chess really be so simple? In Peter’s hands, apparently yes it can.

According to Peter Andrews, “Vladimir’s game was wild but his opponent’s king was trapped in the centre”, while John Foley, with Black, had what Andrews called a “smooth” win, playing with great efficiency and technical nous to trade down to a won endgame.

Max Selemir, making his Alexander Cup debut, won relatively quickly, while Gregor Smith – another debutant in the competition – had a tougher struggle but eventually prevailed, turning an endgame which looked potentially tricky for him into a win. Peter Andrews conjured up a perpetual to draw; Jon Eckert also had a comfortable draw; and the self-deprecating Will Taylor said he “skilfully converted my middlegame advantage into a pawn down rook ending, which I barely held.” Lju, stepping in for an unwell player on board 10, lost a hard-fought game, but by then the match was over and her work was done.

Stephen Moss

Kingston B outgunned by strong Hounslow A side

Thames Valley League division 2 match played at the Willoughby Arms, Kingston, on 16 January 2023

It was always going to be tough in division 2 of the Thames Valley League, and playing against a Hounslow A side when we were outrated on virtually every board and missing some of our higher-rated regulars was always going to be a big ask. We went down 5-1, but as always it wasn’t without a story.

Before the off, there was a rumbling coming from board 2, where Max Selemir’s opponent took a dislike to our beautiful new chess sets. The board was apparently too big! Eventually an alternative was found and the game was able to proceed. Max’s opponent also insisted on slow play – a relative rarity in evening chess these days.

Unflustered, young Max played his exciting attacking brand of chess and, after a complex exchange, found himself two pawns down but with an initiative as compensation. However, Max’s experienced opponent stifled Max’s assault and managed to play his 35th move with four seconds left on the clock, reaching the time control and winning the game. 

Following a communication mix-up between me and John Foley, we found ourself one player short at the start of play. After a quick phone call, John – fresh off the back of 12 hours of exhausting classical chess at 4NCL at the weekend – kindly agreed to come over to the Willoughby as fast as he could and play on board 1. Facing a 15-minute time deficit, John blitzed through the opening and achieved a strong position. However, facing a complex endgame in which he felt he had an advantage, the time deficit caught up with him and he unfortunately flagged.

A great effort from John and an exciting game, marred only by John’s opponent asking why he was not recording moves when his clock dipped below five minutes. John’s opponent believed that, with a 10-second increment, moves had to be recorded till the bitter end, but he was wrong (moves only have to be recorded when the increment is 30 seconds; otherwise the “five-minute rule” applies).

The points were shared on boards 3 and 4. On board 3, Charlie Cooke played confidently against Leon Fincham’s 1. g3, and the game came to a quiet draw. On board 3, I managed to gain a positional advantage out of the opening against David White, but frittered it away and ended up swindling a draw by repetition in what was a losing endgame. Thankfully, my advanced pawn gave my opponent enough to worry about in a time scramble. 

On boards 5 and 6, it was great to give opportunities to two of our third-team stalwarts, David Shalom and Sean Tay. Both put up a good fight against strong opposition, but in the end the points were Hounslow’s. Sean especially battled bravely, and would probably still be playing now if it wasn’t for us having to stop the game at 10.30pm – another victim of the league’s archaic time controls. Sean’s rook-and-pawn endgame went to adjudication, but we have agreed to a Hounslow win due to Sean’s opponent’s overwhelming pawn majority. 

A busy February now faces Kingston B, with a game every Monday of the month. Hopefully our first victory is just around the corner. 

Gregor Smith, Kingston B captain in the Thames Valley League

CSC/Kingston 1 enter promotion race after perfect 4NCL weekend

Supersub Foley inspires CSC/Kingston 1 to dual wins as the team acclimatises itself to the heady heights of division 3

The unexpected elevation to division 3 of the 4NCL has not fazed CSC/Kingston 1, who won their third- and fourth-round matches at the weekend and are now eyeing another step up. It was a tremendous result after a week of uncertainty over who would actually be in the team at Daventry.

A few days before, the situation looked grim. Star player Peter Finn had Covid and another strong player had dropped out. All sorts of stopgaps were being considered, but would have been little more than sticking plasters given the strength of the league’s division 3, to which we were promoted at the end of 2022 when another team dropped out.

Happily, the fears did not materialise. Indeed it was a triumphant weekend for the team, who thumped Ashfield 1 5.5- -0.5 on Saturday (Ashfield recorded a minus score because they defaulted a board and were accordingly penalised) and then defeated Oxford 2 in a much closer match on Sunday.

The key to the success was that the talismanic Finn had recovered from Covid and pronounced himself fit to play, and Kingston president John Foley stepped in to replace the indisposed player. Foley admirably volunteered to cover the default on Saturday, so that his five team-mates all got games, and then won a long encounter on Sunday to secure a 4-2 victory.

The two wins leave the team on six points after four rounds – we were given one-point byes in the first two rounds, played before the promotion had been agreed. There are several sides which on paper are stronger than CSC/Kingston 1 and they have a head start because we missed the opening weekend, but after these two victories we are breathing down the necks of the leaders. Warwickshire Select 1 will be favourites, but at least we now have an opportunity to challenge for back-to-back promotions.

Stephen Moss

The art of chess survival on the streets of Mumbai

How would 11-year-old Kingston junior Jaden Mistry fare at the outdoor “Chess Arena” on the seafront in India’s bustling commercial metropolis?

Malcolm Mistry

Jaden Mistry (left) takes on Raju, his first opponent in Mumbai’s outdoor chess arena. Photograph: Malcolm Mistry

A recent holiday back home in our native city Mumbai was meant to be a relaxing Christmas break with family and friends. Little did I imagine the intended time off from my demanding work schedule, and a well-deserved pause for my 11-year-old son Jaden from doing his homework and playing league chess for Kingston, would have some surprises in store.

With an estimated population of 27 million, Mumbai is the second most populous city in India after the capital New Delhi. Located on the west coast of India overlooking the Arabian sea, Mumbai never sleeps: it is the epicentre of fashion, the commercial and entertainment capital of India, and home to both the mega-rich and the poor.

As in most parts of India, cricket is the sport that defines the city and unifies people across all social groups. Chess may not yet have the universal appeal of cricket, but it is catching up. Encouraged by a growing number of enthusiastic parents, schoolchildren now take chess seriously as a sport, aiming to emulate old heroes such as former world champion Viswanathan Anand (“Vishy”) and new stars such as Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa (“Praggy”).

Both Vishy and Praggy hail from the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, and in part thanks to their achievements chess is most popular in the south. Club chess and coaching are increasing in Mumbai, though still not at the same pace as in the south of the country, but intriguingly one can also now often find chess being played in cafés, malls and workspaces.

An interesting open-air spot along the picturesque Arabian sea where I accidentally discovered street chess being played by young and old alike was on the promenade at Carter Road in Bandra, an up-market suburb of Mumbai. The promenade itself, a mile-long walkway along the Arabian sea, is popular with fitness enthusiasts and casual walkers. Carter Road is one of the most expensive areas in Mumbai, filled with cafés, street food stalls and fine-dining restaurants.  

Strolling with Jaden on a pleasant Christmas Eve morning, we were intrigued by an array of marble tables and makeshift benches and chairs made from a mix of wood, stone, iron and steel at the northern end of the Carter Road promenade. We asked some locals about them, and were told that players and spectators were usually to be found in the evenings at the so-called “Chess Arena”, as well as occasionally in the mornings on weekends and holidays.

A kibitzers’ paradise: Onlookers loudly offer advice in a mix of languages. Photograph: Malcolm Mistry

A local resident who was himself a social chess player gave us some background on the arena. He said that, drawing inspiration from open-air chess in the parks of New York, two chess boards set in marble and stone were initially erected in 2009 by the Carter Road association, with help from the local council. Subsequent interest from visitors prompted the council to add another 14 boards, though the monsoon rains from June to September and the salty sea breeze have since corroded some of the metallic structures, reducing the number of playable chessboards to about a dozen.

Armed with this history of the Chess Arena on a promenade where I walked with my wife on our first date (on 26 May, 2007, to be precise), I couldn’t help but reflect on the positive changes that my childhood city had undergone in recent years. Encouraged by Jaden, who in a café not far away from the promenade was being told about his parents’ first date, our natural instinct was to try to play a quick morning game on one of the medieval-looking marble boards. To our disappointment, we discovered there were no pieces – and no players either. I promised Jaden we would come back in the evening with our own chess pieces.

For Jaden, the wait until evening was the longest in his two-week of holiday back home in India. When the time arrived, I don’t think I have ever seen him get ready more rapidly. Soon we arrived at the same spot as in the morning, and were pleasantly surprised to see five of the chessboards already occupied. These were serious chessplayers, though playing without clocks.

There were also a number of onlookers loudly offering advice in a mix of local (Marathi) and national (Hindi) languages. I was impressed by the focus of the players and their indifference to the banter. The post-mortems after the games were even more intriguing, with the spectators having memorised the moves better than some of the players, who generally did not keep score.

Sensing Jaden’s impatience, I approached one of the players, who had just won a close game, to see if he would play a game with my son. He agreed, and with twilight descending we moved to another chessboard nearer a streetlight. Jaden’s first Chess Arena opponent was called Raju, quite a common name in India. He said he was a frequent player at the arena and reckoned he was rated about 1500.

Raju asked Jaden in a strong south Indian accent if he was a newcomer to the arena. Jaden explained how he had got involved in club chess in a pub in Kingston, London. Jaden’s recently acquired southern English accent, accentuated by a tinge of an Italian accent left over from having spent the previous eight years in Italy, and his opponent’s south Indian accent meant each of them repeated the same sentence twice to ensure they understood each other. But the beauty of chess is that, as with mathematics, it has a language of its own. A few moves into the game, Jaden and Raju seemed to understand each other perfectly. So here we were, within no time, my son making his international street-chess debut in his birth city and opting for e4 as White.

A carnival of chess: The buzz and vibrancy of the arena will be lasting memories. Photograph: Malcolm Mistry

Faced with high-decibel traffic in this busy Mumbai suburb, and surrounded by curious and vocal onlookers, this was a spectacle Jaden had never encountered in the UK during his short chess career. He asked me if I had any earbuds to reduce the sound – not something I consider carrying in my pockets. Soon the focus of the onlookers at other boards shifted to Jaden’s game. The fact that he was by far the youngest player that evening encouraged the vocal chess engines to offer even more uninvited expert opinion. Raju politely reminded the spectators that their shadows falling on the board were dimming the already obscured streetlight.

The game lasted about 45 minutes and, after a rapid exchange of material towards the end, the players agreed a draw. The result drew applause from the spectators. One of them introduced himself as a chess player and coach, and invited me to visit his Facebook page, claiming to be a 1600 Fide-rated player and offering to coach Jaden. Raju later told me it was quite normal to be greeted by self-acclaimed chess trainers and experts, who might or might not have the credentials to coach.

As for Jaden, he appeared relieved to be off the mark in his international chess career. Inspired by his new-found confidence, he quickly made a New Year resolution to score his first points for the Kingston third team. Raju, perhaps sensing he had let an 11-year-old off with a draw, quickly asked Jaden for a rematch. The two of them ended up playing twice more, with honours even at the end of the evening – Jaden had won one, lost one and drawn one. Much to my amusement, our two hours at the Chess Arena had seen a succession of players and spectators observing and commenting on different boards in a variety of regional dialects, some of which I couldn’t fully comprehend myself.   

We visited the Chess Arena a few more times during our stay in Mumbai. I lost count of the number of games Jaden played, but what is embedded in my memory – and perhaps in Jaden’s as well – are the buzz and vibrancy around the Chess Arena. In many ways, it felt nothing less than a carnival of street chess.

Kingston edge past Guildford in crunch Div 1 clash

Surrey League division 1 match played at the Guildford Institute, Guildford on 9 January 2023

Guildford are the reigning champions in the Surrey League; Kingston, with no disrespect to several other strong sides, might be seen as their main rivals for this year’s division 1 title. So this encounter away at Guildford was always likely to have a crucial bearing on the fate of this year’s championship.

Both teams were very strong, with all 16 players involved rated above 2000, and the top boards contested by stellar talents. Alex Golding, one of the UK’s strongest young players, faced Kingston’s David Maycock on board one, and got his team off to the best of possible starts with a win in what was the first game to finish.

Golding, with White, played the Glek Variation of the Four Knights (characterised by White’s early g3). Maycock turned what can be quite a stodgy opening into a much sharper position by playing d4 and following it up with a pawn sac that gave him attacking chances. But he used up far too much time on labyrinthine calculations – he admitted later that he “overthought” the position – trying to turn what was no more than +1 into something more decisive. Golding, playing good, pragmatic moves, was soon an hour ahead on the clock; David was playing on the increment and went wrong, dropping a piece and soon after the game.

On board two, Peter Lalić was up against IM Nigel Povah. Peter chose his favoured Dunst Opening – it was a night for offbeat opening aficionados to savour on the top boards – and the first 16 moves were wild. But Povah, perhaps influenced by Golding’s win on board one, then offered a draw, and Peter, who feared his opponent’s bishop pair, accepted. Still advantage Guildford.

Kingston immediately landed a counter-blow on board three, where Vladimir Li, with the black pieces, defeated Roger Emerson in a powerfully played Queen’s Gambit Declined where he locked up the centre before storming through on the queenside. A magnificent game by Vladimir and a crucial riposte by Kingston, leaving the match all square.

Kingston’s Julian Way (in grey sweater) gets the better of Guildford captain Nigel White in the final game to finish

Kingston president John Foley’s dictum that the top boards are generally the last to finish proved not to be the case on this occasion. The top three boards were already done and dusted, but it was to be a good half hour before we had another result as the other five games were all nip and tuck.

The next result came on board eight, where Peter Andrews, playing the English, drew against James Toon. Two-all. Craig Young then restored Guildford’s advantage by beating Kingston captain David Rowson on board five in a game in which Rowson, essaying an Old Indian Defence which transposed into a King’s Indian, felt he was playing catch-up throughout. He never did quite catch up and Guildford were ahead 3-2.

We were, though, still very hopeful. Julian Way was material up against Guildford skipper Nigel White on board six; Will Taylor certainly wasn’t worse against Clive Frostick on board four and indeed said later that he felt he had stood better and had a half-hour time advantage at one point; and on board seven, Alan Scrimgour, who had played his time-honoured Sicilian, had a small time advantage and marginally more mobile pieces in a rooks-and-knight endgame against Sebastian Galer. Had I been a betting man, I would probably have plumped for a 4-4 draw being the likely outcome at that point.

But it proved better than that for Kingston. In the Galer-Scrimgour game, the time advantage became crucial, with Galer starting to struggle to find good moves and eventually blundering to give Scrimgour a vital win. Now, for the first time in the match, Kingston held the advantage. A memorable victory suddenly looked possible.

With both players running short on time, Frostick and Taylor agreed a draw. That left the score tied at 3.5-3.5, with Way v White to decide the match. Theirs had been a complicated, well-contested game. Julian had countered White’s Sicilian Defence with the Moscow Attack and, after some strategic shuffling, the game reached this position:

White chose the right move, Nxe4, but used the wrong knight for the capture. The knight he chose, the one on the c-file, gave Way a significant plus, because it opens up the a3-f8 diagonal. Taking with the knight on f6 would have given Black (or in this case White as Black, if you get my drift) a slight advantage. The game proceeded: 23…Ncxe4 24.Ne7+ Kf8 25.Qb4 Nxg5 26.Nxc8+ Kg8 27.Ne7+ Kh8 28.Nc6 Qa8 29.Nxd8 Bxg2 30.Nxf7+ Nxf7 31.Qc3, and Way is left with several ways to win. The dangers of a mate on g2 are nullified by the immediate threat of a forced exchange of queens on the back rank.

The game continued for a few moves more, but Black’s (ie White’s) cause was hopeless. Way had played calmly to convert his advantage, oblivious to the spectators clustered around the board, and Kingston had won the match 4.5-3.5 to go top of the Surrey League division 1 table. Kingston last won the Surrey Trophy – the cup awarded to the winners of division 1 – in the 1974/75 season, and before that, for the only other time in its history, in 1931/32. Thus we have been division 1 champions just twice in the 140 years the Surrey League has been in existence. Is it too soon to dream that this could be the year of a historic third success?

Stephen Moss

CSC/Kingston 2 shape up well against big guns in 4NCL

CSC/Kingston 2 win on Saturday but lose on Sunday against very strong opposition to leave them joint third in the table after the first two 4NCL weekends

Even division 4 of the 4NCL can be very strong, as the new CSC/Kingston team discovered at the weekend. On Saturday, against the Gloucestershire-based club of Wotton Hall, we were outrated on every board but still managed a miraculous 4-2 victory, with wins for Maurice Lawson, Petr Vachtfeidl and Jon Eckert, and fighting draws on the top two boards by Daniel Sparkes and Peter Hasson against opponents rated 2200 or more. A tremendous performance by the team, ably marshalled as ever by Kate and Charlie Cooke.

On Sunday the opposition, Average Wood Pushers A, were even stronger. All their players were rated above 2000 and their average rating was 2099 – surely more than good enough for division 3, to which they look destined to win promotion. We were outgraded by an average of 270 points a board, and went down to an honourable 4.5-1.5 defeat, with another excellent win for Petr Vachtfeidl and a fine draw for Peter Hasson against another player rated 2200. Both Vachtfeidl and Hasson had memorable weekends.

On the other boards, Maurice Lawson fell foul of some neat tactics by Aidan Rawlinson; Max Selemir launched a bold attack that didn’t quite work out as his opponent mobilised his bishop pair to good effect; and Jon Eckert’s Grand Prix attack made little headway against Mitchell Burke’s expertly played Sicilian. But the prime idiot of the day was me, as I managed to resign against Yaoyao Zhu (rated 2056) in what I later discovered was a drawn position, as shown below.

It looks hopeless – at least I thought so. And, even though I had oodles of time, I didn’t bother to calculate or count the moves. It actually ends in forced stalemate: 47… Kb6 48. Ke5 Kc6 49. Kf6 Kd6 50. Kg7 Ke6 51. Kxh7 Kf7 52. Kh8 Kf8 53. h7 Kf7 1/2-1/2

I am so mortified I have had to share this Réti-ish position with the world immediately as a sort of catharsis. Don’t trust your eyes; trust your brain! Calculate, calculate, calculate. Or as Tartakower might have said: “No one ever drew a game by resigning.” I am utterly furious with myself. Bang goes the prospect of sleep tonight. What a desperately painful game chess is.

So a good weekend for CSC/Kingston 2, but a very bad weekend for me. Maybe it really is time to retire!

Stephen Moss