Sing-a-Long at Hay

It’s not often that you get to experience chess set to music. Mickey and I made a visit to the Hay Festival on the final weekend. For me it was a happy chance to wander about, taking in a bit here and a bit there of Hay’s unique atmosphere popping in and out of lectures and glorying in a nice sunny day. For Mickey it was to take on challengers in The Telegraph tent at Blitz. Here’s where is got weird and wonderful – the other Telegraph tent guest that that day was Cerys Matthews giving a lovely intimate performance of songs from her new book Hook, Line and Singer: A Sing-a-long Book while chess fans were blitzing it out with Mickey a couple of feet away. Chess and sing-a-long: is this the next chess-boxing?

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Chess and Squirrels

My study has been groaning under the ever increasing weight of chess books for some time and in an effort to free up some space on my bookshelves I asked Malclom Pein if the Chess in Schools Charity might have a use for some of the more antiquated tomes. Local CSC organiser Robert Chandler came to pick them up, I had planned to link up with him for an event in Bristol last year but it hadn’t panned out. We came up with a plan for me to do a simul at one of the schools in his area, the Westbury on Trym Church of England Academy, which sports one of the cutest logos I’ve seen. Every year at the London Chess Classic, the good news of the increased number of new chess teachers, students and schools involved with the charity is announced and it was great to get more involved at ground level.

It only remains for me to wish my new friends, the Westbury on Trym Academy team, good luck at the National U-11 event at Uppingham today.

4NCL Finale

We got home from St Petersburg after 9pm on Thursday evening just in time to vote in the council elections.By Saturday morning we were on the road to Hinckley for the final 4NCL weekend, in fact it was also my first of the season and it was good to meet up with my Wood Green teammates and new recruits. I started with an interesting game with Peter Wells -after my exertions in Russia another long endgame was not especially welcome but my opponent erred late on and I managed to win. At dinner that evening Lawrence Trent was kind enough to explain the 2Nf3e6 3g3 Sicilian to me (amongst other things) but the next day I went my own way in a game in that line with Graham Morrison. My opening scheme proved underwhelming but I triumphed in the end.
As expected the big match came against Guildford on the Bank Holiday Monday in which a draw would enable them to take the title. There were a number of surprise guests on both sides but it seemed fated that no matter how the board orders were shuffled I would end up playing Laurent Fressinet who took the same plane back from Russia as me;another lengthy game was the result, I thought I had a massive position from the opening but the tricky 15…Ne4 limited the damage. We eventually ended up in a rook and pawn endgame where I had an extra pawn, I initially imagined this would be a fairly easy draw, but as this game and the subsequent Carlsen-Wang Hao game showed it is not that simple. Unfortunately the 4-4 draw was of little use to Wood Green but the hard fought match involving many homegrown players was a fitting finale to the season.

Paris – St. Petersburg Rally

It was a pleasure to participate in The Alekhine Memorial. An unexpected treat at the the Paris opening which was held in the Louvre in fine style was a private guided tour of a few of the highlights including some up close personal time with La Joconde. No reproduction or photograph in any way does this portrait justice. I can highly recommend the Ruinart champagne they were serving, they also had some rather spectacular tomato based snacks that were supposed to be squirted directly into your mouth; not all the guests seem au fait with this advanced snack delivery system and were walking around looked like they had stumbled off the set of Dexter.

The venue was a well appointed marquee in the Tuilleries and coinciding as it did with the first good weather of the year this was a very pleasant place to play. The juxtaposition of art and chess continued in St. Petersburg as the venue there was St. Michael’s Castle, a branch of the Russian Museum which houses the portrait gallery. We took a tour on the evening of Opening Ceremony – the sequel, one rather lovely touch was in the modern section of the gallery where many notables were on display such as Stanislavski and Gagarin – but you had to look up to find the latter, they had placed him way above our heads!

The tournament got off to an unexpectedly good start for me as I won my first two games. The first win was a bit fortunate as Vishy didn’t seem to do a lot wrong but suddenly ended up in a hopeless endgame. The next day I was happy with my game vs. Svidler. My next two games were less cheering; I had a double Black and was under pressure from the start, Gelfand showed fine technique for which he deservedly received a special prize. I escaped by a miracle against Fressinet. The next few rounds saw missed opportunities as I let an edge slip vs. Vitiugov and failed to convert an extra piece against Aronian and missed some chances vs. Vachier Lagrave. I was on the worse side of the draw against Ding Liren, but despite this still had some hopes to win the event if I could win with White against Kramnik in the last round. Strangely the same last round pairing I had in the LCC and will have in the upcoming Dortmund event. I managed to come up with a new idea against the Berlin variation and had a nice position but overestimated my chances and he grabbed the advantage before the time control. Again I was the last game going and was unable to hold the draw.
A disappointing end and I felt I should have made more of my opportunities but with a number of long games averaging over 56 moves it was a demanding event.

Baden Sweep!

Baden-Baden TeamBaden-Baden completed a perfect 15 wins in the very competitive Bundesliga. I have always enjoyed playing in this testing competition, and this season scored a solid 6/9. As far as I can see the only two flaws to the German league are the fact that all the games are only FIDE rated once the season is complete – ridiculous with the monthly rating list, and also the decision to only confirm the team orders shortly before the action begins is bizarre for what is otherwise a very professional event.

From Gibraltar to Baden-Baden

Battle on the Rock

I would have been pretty happy with 7.5/10 before the event, but it shows how hard it is to win open events these days that 4 players managed to amass 8 points. One of the special appeals of the Gibraltar tournament is the varied array of chess themed evening entertainment. One new feature was the Battle of the Sexes, watching this with a glass of wine in hand ( I recommend replicating this bit at home) was rather entertaining. See for yourself.

Ice Palace

Winter Wonderland in Baden-Baden

I haven’t had a lot of big tournament invitations in recent times apart from Gibraltar and the London Classic but this year is shaping up more promisingly, starting with a strong event in Baden-Baden whose powerful club team has won the Bundesliga for the last 8 years, I was happy they fulfilled their long time plan to organise a tournament. My games were interesting although few ended decisively; I finished the event on a high getting back to 50% with a late win with Black against Fabiano Caruana.

The tournament hotel was the exceptional Brenners Park hotel and spa in Baden-Baden, a beautiful spa town by the Black Forest. The weather has not been nice anywhere during this extended winter, but this can be forgiven in Baden-Baden which is a winter wonderland with the snow on the ground. The event ran very smoothly, particularly for a debut effort, and thanks are due to Hans Walter Schmidt, Sven Noppes , Christian Bossert and Dr. Markus Keller for quality of organisation.
I should also mention the efforts of my fellow chess.com blogger Lawrence Trent who manfully put in long hours in the commentary room.

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London Classic Revisited

After my debacle last year, I approached the London Chess Classic with a certain amount of trepidation, but after a good start winning a couple of decent games against Gawain Jones and Judit Polgar things went considerably better. However, I lost to Magnus Carlsen, where I made one of the least excusable errors in chess allowing my time to run very low in a pleasant position thinking the position was too safe to lose. As some players in the candidates have also found the 40 moves in 2 hours time control without increment means you have to handle your clock responsibly or pay the penalty. I then scored a rather fortunate victory versus Viswanathan Anand, but it was nice to beat the World Champion! I slipped up against Luke McShane in a lengthy struggle, generally well played by both players but I have highlighted a couple of key moments where we went wrong.

It is great to have such a special event in London and just as pleasing to see the evolution of the Chess in Schools Charity which supports the event, making massive strides with an ever increasing number of coaches and pupils involved. Malcolm Pein has also pulled off a great coup in securing additional funding of £689,000 from the Education Endowment Foundation.

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Bunratty Masters Champion!

To bring things up to date, and because for a change I won a chess tournament, I am writing about my most recent event and will wrap up the LCC, Baden-Baden, and Gibraltar soon. I garnered a lot of enjoyment and chess education in weekend tournaments, and it is sad to now see few interesting events of this type in England. Fortunately the scene is much more vibrant in Ireland and they are very welcoming to English players, so I was happy to make my second visit to Bunratty for their event.
Although the tournament has a big social side ( one of my opponents almost fell off his chair during our game, and needless to say it wasn’t due to shock at my move) the chess is quite serious, and due to the magic of sensitive boards rather than trying to decipher my Guinness stained scoresheets evidence of my play remains. I have made a few comments to my first 5 games (round 6 was a bit brief!)
In round 1 I was happy to adjourn to the bar with a point on the board fairly quickly, admittedly more due to luck than judgement.

The next morning game with Mark Orr I have annotated in a little more detail, his rook ran into trouble in an unusual manner.

Round 3 I was lucky again as I gambled in an unpromising ending and got rewarded for it.

In the stamina sapping third game on Saturday I managed to avoid major errors, which is often good enough at that stage.

On Sunday I achieved a more promising moves played to drinks consumed ratio as I scored a swift victory in the morning and halved out in the afternoon.

Thanks to all involved with the event especially www.blackthornetransport.co.uk ,Gary O’Grady and Gerry Graham for their great efforts.

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Eurocup in Eilat

Not long after the London Grand Prix I was heading for the Eurocup this time held in Eilat in Israel. This made for a grueling and expensive journey which may explain why the number of teams participating fell from 62 in 2011 to 34. Unfortunately the organisation was unimpressive; the playing hall was much too small causing my chair to be knocked on a regular basis by players returning to their boards. It was also rather warm which is rather more serious than it used to be bearing in mind the draconian ECU dress code.
The hotels were very pretty but despite paying in full and in advance, the hotel tried to expel at least four of our group from our rooms several days prematurely and before one of my games I was sufficiently concerned about this possibility to pack our belongings in case the hotel followed through on their threats.
The team wasn’t favoured by the disgracefully bad pairing system that was totally lacking in logic and fairness and considerably worse than the poor effort they had used previously. It is unclear why the ECU is so reluctant to remedy this long standing problem.
Still there are no good excuses for a bad result and I didn’t play as well as would have liked.
On a brighter note, Tara and I stayed on as tourists for a few days afterwards and had a good time visiting the Old City in Jerusalem, floating in the spectacular Dead Sea, and spending a relaxing day in Tel Aviv before heading home.

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Last Minute in London

Around lunchtime the day before the opening ceremony, I got a late call up to the London leg of the FIDE Grand Prix substituting for Peter Svidler for that one event only. Despite the lateness of the invite, openings-wise I fared quite well, but was tired towards the end of the event and felt I should have picked up a few more half points from the positions I had.
The rules were the usual FIDE mishmash: it’s not clear why Sofia rules are used during this event when they aren’t during the World Championship match when they would actually be useful. The event was also unusual for unintentionally employing two different time controls; we started with 40/2 followed by 20/1 but now things got confusing as in the first couple of games you were only credited with your additional 15 mins plus 30 seconds once your regular time had elapsed rather than on move 60. The additional increment would have been welcome in my first game with Wang Hao. To remedy this flaw from round 3 onwards, we received the increment on move 60 as is the norm.
This event was the first to be organised by Agon although it is clear that they won’t have time to implement their main ideas until at least the London Candidates. Obviously they are serious about chess and I was impressed with their concepts concerning branding and presentation of the game several of which were new to me. I hope they can be successful with the big problems of finding sponsors, and creating a proper World Championship cycle.

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