December 2009

Tue 1st: November Report
Wed 2nd: Another Puzzle failure
Sat 5th: Mobile Phones
Wed 9th: Phil-loss-ophy
Wed 16th: Beneficial Decision

Tue 1st: November Report
H C Kings 2 2 0 0 4
Cheddleton A 2 1 0 1 2
Newcastle A 2 1 0 1 2
Stafford A 2 0 0 2 0
Div 1 table at 13th Nov

This week's matches: Kings v Cheddleton and Newcastle v Stafford mark the halfway point in this small but strong division, and will give an important clue as to whether Cheddleton's defeat to Newcastle was merely an aberration or indicative that their hold on the title may be slipping. Stafford meanwhile will be keen to get rid of their unenviable record of being the only team in any division without a point to their name.

Macclesfield 6 3 3 0 9
Meir A 7 2 4 1 8
Newcastle B 6 4 0 2 8
Newcastle C 6 2 2 2 6
Cheddleton B 4 2 2 0 6
Alsager A 4 2 1 1 5
H C Rooks 4 2 1 1 5
Stafford B 5 0 2 3 2
H C Knights 6 0 2 4 2
Fenton A 4 0 1 3 1
Div 2 table at 30th Nov

Defending champions Macclesfield moved to the top on the last day of the month with a demolition job on Fenton. They displace Meir A, who have been the surprise package of the year so far, though why one should be surprised by a team based on Handley, Hill, Ferry, Healey and fuller doing well I'm not quite sure. Rooks are also on the up, season on season, having already surpassed last year's meagre 3 point return.
Fenton A, Knights and new second division boys Stafford B have been cast a little adrift. Rather surprising in the case of Fenton and Stafford, less so for Knights who have lost the services of top board Andy Raeburn - as Meir are showing, a top board can make a big difference.
Plenty of draws in this division - a third of the matches have ended with the 2½ - 2½ scoreline, so despite the odd inevitable drubbing, the second seems as competitive as ever.

Cheddleton D 4 3 0 1 6
Cheddleton C 3 2 0 1 4
H C Pawns 4 1 2 1 4
Kidsgrove A 4 1 2 1 4
Fenton B 4 1 1 2 3
Alsager B 3 0 1 2 1
Div 3 table at 26th Nov

First sight of division three, and the question already seems to be "Can the Cheddleton teams be stopped?". Last season's second and third placed teams Newcastle C and Stafford B have promoted themselves to the second, so perhaps we should not be surprised if the answer to that question is no.
A more interesting observation is that Pawns have already picked up more league points than in the whole of last season - well done to them.

Newcastle D 4 3 1 0 7
Fenton C 3 2 1 0 5
Cheddleton E 4 1 1 2 3
Meir B 5 1 1 3 3
Kidsgrove B 4 1 0 3 2
Div 4 table at 25th Nov
Cheddleton F 5 3 2 0 8
Fenton D 4 3 1 0 7
Cheddleton H 5 2 1 2 5
Meir C 4 1 1 2 3
Hassell 4 1 1 2 3
Cheddleton G 4 1 0 3 2
Newcastle E 4 1 0 3 2
Div 5 table at 29th Oct

The big mystery in divisions four and five is how Newcastle, with almost the same squads for their D and E teams manage to top division 4 and bring up the rear in division 5. I guess it just shows that I these divisions every board matters.
Having an obvious bias I hope I am wrong in predicting that in due course Fenton and Cheddleton will power past Newcastle to contest the division four title.
Division five is our competition for teams of a modest standard, with clubs being much more interested in the opportunity to blood players than in fielding the strongest permissible side in an attempt to win the league. Early signs are that Fenton  D and Cheddleton F will be the most dangerous opponents, but there is plenty of time for that to change.
There has been a pleasing number of juniors turning out in the fifth; sixteen I believe. Add in the Scattergoods playing for Pawns in division 3, and definitely not forgetting Craig and Megan, we see that the Association is far from being an adult only one.

Two of the cup competitions are now underway. For many years the Open, previously the 8 board, has had a big four of Cheddleton, Holmes Chapel, Newcastle and Stafford who only go out to each other. Creda (now Meir) drawing with Stafford in 2002/3, though losing on board count, has been the most recent threat to this. Unsurprising then that Newcastle and Holmes Chapel have progressed to the semi-finals. The other two of this big four were drawn against each other. Unfortunately the match had to be postponed, fortunately an alternative date has been found before the semi-finals are due to be played.
In the Intermediate Cup, successor to the U110, Holmes Chapel and Alsager triumphed respectively over Meir and Kidsgrove and will now meet in one of the semi-finals. The other will be contested by Newcastle and Fenton whose paths were eased by the withdrawal of their original first round opponents.

Holmes Chapel are laying early claims to be Club of the Year, with Kings leading the way in division one, Rooks and Pawns clearly improving, and ther cup hopes all intact. Meir A and Newcastle D are early leaders in the "surprise package" stakes, though whether their relative performances are better than some lower placed teams is clearly open to debate.

So far 158 players have appeared, with George Scattergood leading the "Most Active" stakes with 11 games, two ahead of Richard Blackwell, Paul Clapham, Dave Fuller, Martyn Harris, Steve Hill, Alex Richardson and Pete Shaw.
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Wed 2nd: Another Puzzle failure
Tonight saw Newcastle A entertain Stafford A in the first division of the North Staffs League, and RR found himself white against Ray Hyde, a player of dangerous standard returning to the game. Once again RR missed a "puzzle" move, once again it did not cost. I think I shall write an article on how to be lucky, or maybe it is just the other side of the coin that bears RR atrocities.
RR v Ray Hyde after 49 ... B(e7)c5+

Let us start with the puzzle. In the diagram left white is to play and draw. Think your thoughts, but bear in mind that in the game at this stage RR had a little over 4 minutes, his opponent just over 2. Now to the game in pictures - I haven't the time today for an extensive move by move report.
RR v Ray Hyde after 8 0-0 0-0

RR had used the opening to create an IQP for his opponent, though as tends to happen is a little behind in development as a result (see right). After
9 Nbd2 Qb6, 10 Be2 Re8 RR is concerned about sacrifices on e3, particularly with a knight threatening to come into g4 as well. However Nb3 now puts paid to these worries, at least temporarily.
RR v Ray Hyde after 14 ... a6

The next big decision came on move 15 (left). RR elects to give up the bishop pair to disrupt the pawns around the black king:
15 Nxc6 bxc6, 16 Bxf6 gxf6
By move 22 RR is winning a pawn, but has to suffer a backward a-pawn to do so (right):
RR v Ray Hyde after 21 ... B(d7)b5

22 Bxb5 axb5, 23 Rfd1 d4, 24 exd4 c4, 25 bxc4 bxc4
We see that black also has a dangerous looking passed c-pawn. RR correctly calculated that this pawn can be rounded up, at the expense of his own a-pawn. The "puzzle" position is then reached many moves and much time later, with of course less than best play in the interim. Certainly RR's brain had already started to go into hibernation, and he had declined a proffered free pawn. His plan? had been to bring the knight into action to help dislodge the bishop which was blocking access to the h-pawn, but simply set up a fork.
With limited thinking time RR thought "I'm losing", and decided that giving up the exchange would give him the best chance of preventing a black win in the time available. Consequently he played RxB, and indeed black sued for peace after plan A of using the rook to hoover the white pawns failed, as did plan B to find a position to return the exchange to advantage.
Spectators suggested that Ke2 and grabbing the h-pawn might well give better practical chances for white, particularly as there must be a good chance of reaching a R+B  v R ending which would be particularly hard to finish off in black's remaining time.
However the more astute amongst my readers will have noticed the line
50 Ke2 Bxb6, 51 Rc6+ Rd6 (what else?), 52 Rxd6+ Kxd6, 53 h5
and black cannot prevent the exchange of his f-pawn and then has the wrong bishop for his rook's pawn. Simple draw.
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Sat 5th: Mobile Phones
I hate loath and detest mobile phones, and the selfishness that they often engender in their users. However automatic loss of game does seem rather an excessive response by the chess powers, as not only the perpetrator but also their opponent is denied a full game. Given that at least one of the players is likely to have travelled for the game, and either or both may have foregone other entertainment to play, the rule hardly seems designed to encourage continued participation.

Why have a specific mobile phone rule? There are two aspects to their menace in the chess arena - disruption and cheating.
The disruption aspect is covered at least in part by Article 12.6 of the rules:
It is forbidden to distract or annoy the opponent in any manner whatsoever. This includes unreasonable claims or unreasonable offers of a draw.
Cheating on the other hand should be dealt with by banning the cheat from the game entirely - rules should outline what is acceptable and penalties should in general be directed at handling those who whilst acting in good faith inadvertently transgress.

However mobiles are a sufficient menace, with some people unable or unwilling to accept that their use is inappropriate in some settings, that it does seem sensible to have some standard sanction to express our displeasure and apply pressure to their advocates to live without them for the duration of a chess session. By far the worst aspect of the current rule is that it is not applied uniformly - a ringing mobile does not lead to automatic loss as much chess is played without an arbiter present to enforce the rules, those at fault fail to resign, and opponents say nothing for the understandable reason that they want a game or the bad one of being afraid to do so. Consequently the rule ends up being 'optional', surely the worst possible outcome. Not only do those who seek to enforce the rule leave themselves open to generating bad feeling, but those who don't may end up with a weakened sense of the need to follow other laws of the game.

No doubt there are several standard penalties that could be specified; indeed some leagues simply issue a warning on the first occasion a phone rings. A standard time penalty could be used. For example the clocks could be adjusted by a net 5 minutes in favour of the non-offender. This time is deducted from the offenders clock except that where the non-offender has less than 5 minutes left on his clock part of the adjustment is used to increase his time to 5 minutes, and where the deduction would reduce the offenders time below 5 minutes their time is reduced only to 5 minutes with the balance added to the non-offender. Or choose your own numbers. This does not of course compensate players on other boards for the distraction, but defaulting others for a distraction which may well be no greater than others that are heard at many venues is hardly the most satisfying experience.

In team play we also have the option of a team penalty - say deduct half a point from the team score. This may effectively result in a bigger penalty than the current automatic loss, in that if the phone owner was going to lose anyway, automatic loss is from the result point of view equivalent to no penalty.
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Wed 9th: Phil-loss-ophy
Is chess a game of skill? Regular readers will have seen enough defeats-from-the-jaws-of-victory and undeserved draws and wins for them to doubt the "game of skill" claim. But does that make it a game of luck, or a game of lack-of-skill?

Is it easier to attack or defend in chess?
Champions of defence will point out that all they need to do is sit there making moves that enable them to prolong the game and wait for the attack to be misplayed or proved unsound. Aggressors will say that even if the attack is unsound, just one mistake by the defence may prove fatal, whereas mistakes by the attacker whilst being damaging to his chances are far less likely to be immediately terminal.

And what of second thoughts? Are they better than first ones, or does it merely appear that way?

Which brings me to RR's latest game with white when he takes on Cheddleton's Phil Birks in a second division clash. We join the game after RR's 10th move of a cautious opening.
RR v Phil Birks after 10 Nbd2

The tension in the centre is the main feature of the position, and I had been expecting b6 from black over the last few moves so that he has the choice of hanging or isolated pawns should I ever capture on c5. However Phil opts to increase pressure on d4 -
10 ... Ne4, 11 Rc1 Bf6 and RR gets to win a pawn:
12 Nxe4 dxe4, 13 Nd2 cxd4, 14 Nxe4 Be5, 15 f4 d3, 16 fxe5
How does one decide whether to play Bxe5, which will presumably also see the liquidation of the enemy knight, rather than the pawn capture played. Swapping pieces when material up can hardly be wrong, yet I decided that the latent threat posed by my dark-squared bishop despite the advanced e-pawn being blockaded would still be more powerful than black's knight. Doubled isolated pawns would not normally be regarded as contributing much to a supposed one pawn advantage, but here they provide a lot of central control.
16 ... dxe2, 17 Qxe2 Qa5 and black has a fork of a- and e-pawns.
RR v Phil Birks after 17 ... Qa5

(My first thoughts (and original plan) had been for Bc3 in this position, but convinced myself that I didn't like the look of Qd5 hitting the knight; an unfounded fear as home analysis revealed. Rejecting also Bd4 and knight-in-the-hole Nd6 RR came up with)
18 Qh5 h6 (Prevention is better than cure: now white doesn't have Ng5, whilst after Nf6+ black can safely play Kh8.
Or is it? Qxa2 and clearly white's b-pawn is not long for this world. Black's queenside will win any long game so black needs an attack before black can get his knight to the defence. Where is it?
18 ... Qxa2, 19 Nf6+ gxf6, 20 Qh6 (gxf6 and black has time to play king in the corner and Rg8) and the game ends as a draw with repeated checks.)

19 Rf6 (As previously noted Nf6+ achieves nothing (other than to unguard d2). I though I had done well to find this move, though Phil had been expecting it. What neither of us saw was the continuation
19 ... Qb4 when 20 Rxh6 gxh6, 21 Nf6+ Kg7 and black lives)

19 ... Rfc8, 20 Rxh6 Kf8 (gxf6 not possible in this line - white can recapture with the queen as his knight is not threatened.)
21 Rxe6 Ne7, 22 Rf1 g6, 23 Qh7 1-0
Crass materialism never being far from RR's thoughts, for his last move he spent time looking at
23 Rxe7 Kxe7, 24 Rxf7+ Kxf7, 25 e6+ with Qxa5 to follow and a very substantial material advantage. However the line is not forcing, besides which surely there is a kill here.
23 Qh8+ Ng8, 24 Nf6 fxe6 and black gets to scramble for a few more moves. Hence the chosen move after which it is clear there is no escape.

And finally a health warning. Few players are able to look good whilst losing as they contribute to their downfall by choosing the wrong plan, over- or underestimating threats, playing bad moves or missing good ones, and even slipping in the occasional downright blunder. Do not make the mistake of believing that games reported in my diary show the true quality of those of RR's opponents who kindly lose to him. Phil, and all the others, would be only too happy to take advantage of you in any game you played whilst labouring under that misconception.
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Wed 16th: Beneficial Decision
RR v Ben Zitha after 30 ... Ng5
Alsager A provided our final opposition of 2009, with Ben Zitha my personal opponent. After 30 moves of shadow boxing we reached the diagrammed position in which Ben's knight on c4 balanced RR's superior pawn structure. here RR decided to open the position without first moving his bishop, a decision that costs a pawn:
31 a4 Nxf3+, 32 Nxf3 gxf3 holds material equality but leaves RR's King exposed and h-pawn seriously weak
32 ... bxa4, 33 Qxa4 Nb6, 34 Qb3 Rxc2, 35 Qxc2 Qxb4
RR v Ben Zitha after 35 ... Qxb4
Ben has his pawn, but given his 2 isolated pawns and some doubled ones, I hardly feel alarmed. Moreover the clocks are on my side, mine showing a few minutes more than his as he passed the 5 minutes to go mark. With major pieces now free to whizz around the board, there is plenty of scope for error.
36 Rb1 Qc4 I had expected Qd6 with a "though shalt not enter my position smile", though trying to exchange queens is perhaps natural.
37 Qb2 Na4, 38 Qb7
38 Qb8 would be a good practical move here as it would probably waste some of his time working out that he has to play Qc8 (possibly after Qc1+) - Rxb8 leads to a mate whose completion I shall leave as an exercise to the reader.
38 ... Nc3, 39 Rb4 (Not Rc1 Ne2+) Ne2+, 40 Kh2 Qc5 threatening Qd6+
41 Ne5 Kh7 Not wishing to use tie down a major piece to the defence of the f-pawn.
Unfortunately for Ben he had overlooked Rh4+ 1-0
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