European Team

The European Team Championship competition was held in a pleasant hotel in the centre of Warsaw, the organisers made a good job of airport transfers, providing reliable internet access and decent meals and playing conditions. The chess side of things was less smoothly run, it was hard to ascertain the point of metal detectors at the entrance of the playing hall when the players were reminded to turn off their mobile phones before the game. As usual zero tolerance created problems as the lifts became log jammed shortly before the games.

Luke McShane had taken time off work for the event so we had a good team out but things didn’t quite work for us. Just as at the last European Team, we took on Greece in round 2, unfortunately our performance isn’t improving as we lost by an even heavier 3-1 this time. History continued to repeat as the next day we, for no obvious reason other than the inadequacies of the pairing system, we faced the strongest other team on the score group, Russia. I butchered an easy win against Grischuk but the 2-2 draw still wasn’t bad and after a couple of wins we were in good shape heading into the free day.

Disappointingly we finished with 4 consecutive tied matches, I’ve mentioned some key moments in my own games from rounds 6, 7 and 9. The last round coincided with my birthday: this wasn’t a positive alignment last time this occured whilst on England duty, against Caruana at the Dresden Olympiad, as I lost a fine position. At least this time I eventually salvaged half a point, although my play was no more convincing.

Many thanks to all those who generously supported the team.


Bilbao Bonus

I enjoyed my first visit to Bilbao, a beautiful city with excellent views and great food. We took the opportunity to check out the Guggenheim Museum before catching our flight home.
The tournament was intense with six games in a row at the challenging time limit of 40 moves in 90 minutes with no increment. I was satisfied with my result, but my final score was rather flattering as I won both games with Maxime Vachier Lagrave, the first would have been drawn but his last second elapsed whilst he was making his 40th move. In the second I spent the whole game trying to prevent my position falling apart, but after the dust had settled on some timetrouble confusion I was suddenly winning.

Simul at Bickleigh on Exe Primary School


I visited Bickleigh on Exe Primary School last week for an informal chat with the pupils of the chess club and to give a simul. A very eager and well behaved group of children, and I hope this will inspire them to even more success in the future! Congratulations to all and especially to Maddy Cotton for playing the best game.

P.S Many thanks for the beautifully illustrated letters I received from the children afterwards. Much appreciated!

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From the Arctic Circle

The World Cup was held in a small hotel near Tromso airport: given the eye watering prices in Norway it was suggested to me by a FIDE official that the room rates would have been excessive in the better hotels in the centre where the Olympiad will be sited, although this seemed to be contradicted by the amounts journalists were paying to stay there. The local organisers and staff were helpful, but the big problem was the food which was not good at all in the hotel, and with only a few shopping centre eating spots as other options nearby, the culinary situation was undesirable. I was one of the players who suffered with an unpleasant stomach bug which meant I was often forced to skip meals before the games. Of course playing whilst sick is an inevitable occurrence for any professional player but it was annoying at such a big event.

The chess organisation could have been better, the only announcement of note at the player’s meeting was that each individual tiebreak match would begin their second game 10 minutes after the finish of the first as at the previous Cup. This was then abruptly reversed in an announcement just before the clocks were started for the first tiebreak. The airport style security checks before entering the playing hall were also unwelcome, especially in combination with the absurd zero tolerance. The checks were in any case of dubious efficiency as journalists were often not checked and could mix freely with the players inside. If FIDE want to genuinely combat computer cheating, the key first move is to introduce some serious penalties rather than the pathetic ‘punishments’ that have been handed down to those that have been caught so far. A minimum ban of 5 years with the possibility of fines in addition to the loss of prize money and the stripping of all FIDE titles would be a good start.

I wasn’t thrilled to be paired with an underrated Chinese player Wan Yunguo in the first round, and disappointingly missed a chance to press in the first game. After playing well for a while I made an odd oversight:

The second game was also drawn and we headed to tiebreaks. I was initially doing well, then in trouble in the first game before it finished in a draw, but I won the second straight out of the opening, my preparation being one positive in the event.

In round 2 I had a pleasant edge in the first game against Yuriy Kryvoruchko but missed endgame chances although given the short time control it was an easy error to make.

In the second game I had good prep again and we agreed an early draw. I was also pressing in the third game but my opponent resisted typically robustly and I couldn’t convert. Several commentaries suggested I was outplayed in the next game (Chess Today was an honourable exception). I can only imagine they didn’t actually look at the game as in fact I just self destructed in a comfortable position due to a very bad error which is still rather painful.

There has been a lot of talk about how much luck is required in this event,it seems to be popular to consider the KO format particularly random, but I’ve never really found this to be the case in any of the matches I played. You decide your own destiny by how you react in the critical moments for better or worse. It is true that some matches are extremely close and the loser can reasonably feel unfortunate but this applies to very few games.

It was rather depressing for me to have to head back so early, but I have been impressed by the inspired pairing of Susan Polgar and Lawrence Trent in the commentary room whilst watching at home. However there frequently seems to be a problem with the clock times which don’t display accurately.

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Dortmund Win!

I was happy to be invited to play at the Dortmund Sparkassen Chess Meeting again after a few years break; I had played there quite regularly since my debut as long ago as 1992. After checking out my pairings before the event I wasn’t very optimistic about my chances , many of the opponents had proved tricky adversaries in the past and I had an additional Black game which rarely helps. However expectations can be misleading, and the first round proved to be my only setback, as I squandered a decent position.

I haven’t tried the main line of the Berlin for some time, but decided to give it a go in round 2. This seemed to catch Andreikin by surprise and I got a healthy clock lead and an extra pawn albeit one that was not easy to convert.

As I had spent some time working on the Berlin I decided to give it a try with Blackagainst Caruana, a risky decision as he is well prepared on the White side. Although he hit me with a strong novelty I managed to respond well, and he then blundered when settling for perpetual was a sensible option to allow me a fairly easy win.

After an uneventful draw with Peter Leko, in my next game against Wang Hao fortune smiled on me:

After the free day I was Black against Naidtisch who played in typically aggressive style in a QGD.

The next day I won against Khenkin who erred in the opening after which things went smoothly.

Up to this stage Vladimir Kramnik was also in good shape and we were frequently tied for the lead, however in this round he was beaten by Andreikin and I had a point lead.

I played a solid draw with Meier the next day whilst Kramnik played a lengthy game with Caruana. It looked although Fabiano had saved a draw with a determined rearguard action but he made a bad blunder in the final timecontrol so my lead was cut to half a point before the last round.

Fortunately I was able to steer the game towards a draw with kramnik to an early repetition without many dramas and secure a very satisfying tournament victory!

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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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