I followed my good performance in the Major Open with a dismal performance at the e2e4 Sunningdale International. The only positive thing which can be said about it is that a loss was not my most common result; I had four losses and five draws. It’s hard to say what exactly caused such a collapse, but I can honestly say that my standard of play was not as bad as the results suggest. In one of the drawn games I was completely winning but fell for a thinly-veiled stalemate trap, and in three of my losses I had the draw in hand but overpressed trying to win. Had I not played in this event my first FIDE rating would have been close to 2100; as it is it may drop below the 2000 mark. A more extensive report including games will follow at some point after I get home.
I’ll do a proper report with some analysis of my games when I have time, but for now this is just a quick update on how I did in the end. The second week didn’t go as smoothly as the first, and I ended up with a +1 score of 6/11. This isn’t as good as I’d hoped for at the end of the first week, but is still a decent result when you consider that I was one of the lower seeds. My final rating performance was encouraging: 2124 FIDE and 186 ECF. A more detailed report, as well as the weekly progress reports which I’m getting behind with, will have to wait until after my next tournament, which starts on Wednesday and finishes on Sunday.
I’m currently playing in the British Major Open, and I thought I’d use the rest day to give a quick update here. So far it’s going rather well; I’m on 4/6, with a rating performance of 2184. I need 3.5/5 in week 2 in order to qualify for next year’s British Championship (main section), so that’s the aim.
In other news, the new English Chess Federation grades came out last week, and I’ve had a modest increase to 162. However, this was quite heavily affected by my poor performance in Paignton at the start of the season; if this was discounted (which seems reasonable, given that I was just starting to study then), my new grade would be in the 170s. My ECF performance at the Major Open so far is exactly 200, but it remains to be seen whether I can maintain that level over an extended period.
Earlier this month I played in the Blackpool Chess Conference, the largest weekend tournament in the country. I decided to enter the Open section rather than going prize-money-hunting in the Median; a decision which could have been embarrassing as I was the lowest-graded player by far. In the end I scored 2/5, and although one of those points was a bye, I think I played well enough and certainly learned something.
I arrived in Blackpool in time to see my first round pairing and do a bit of preparation. As a result I was able to bang out the first 20 or so moves in a couple of minutes; a novel experience as in past years’ games I have normally been deep in thought by about move 5!
When preparing for my second round game I found that my opponent, a Ruy Lopez player, had faced my favoured Arkhangelsk Variation once before (it was in fact the only game of his after 1. e4 e5 which appeared in my database). Unfortunately for me he had entirely forgotten that game, which had been played some years before, and played a different line which I had forgotten how to refute.
In the third round I had a bye, as I was the lowest-graded player on 0/2 and there was an odd number of players. In the fourth I faced Phil Wheldon, who was fresh from an excellent performance in Gibraltar where he defeated GM Juan Manuel Bellon Lopez, but was not doing so well in Blackpool.
In the final round I made it to board 12, where I had my first experience of playing with a nice wooden DGT set in a tournament. Here’s the game, which I haven’t yet got round to annotating:
In all, an encouraging tournament despite the slightly disappointing 1 win and 3 losses, and I will definitely be playing in Opens in the future. I expect my next tournament to be the Durham Open near the end of April.
This weekend I participated in rounds 5 and 6 of the Northern 4NCL in Harrogate. The weekend didn’t start well, as when I arrived at Durham station on Saturday morning no trains were running in either direction due to signalling problems. I’d planned to get into Harrogate at 12:43 pm, which I thought would be a comfortable cushion as the games started at 2 pm, but I was proven wrong and eventually arrived at the board flustered and out-of-breath at 2:50 pm. If the following game isn’t my finest effort, then the conditions at least partially explain why:
The next game was very nearly a disaster, but turned into one of the most miraculous escapes I’ve ever had in a long time control game. My team, Cheddleton 2, were paired with the very strong Bradford DCA Knights A, and I felt that I needed to win for our team to have any chance of winning or drawing the match. I was pretty sure I’d be playing David Patrick, and I’d managed to find a few games of his in my database so I spent some time preparing. I had white, and having seen that he played the French Defence I went on to look briefly at his other games. I saw that he played the Exchange Ruy Lopez, the Exchange Caro-Kann and closed c3 or Nc3 Sicilians as white, and combined with his preference for the French this painted a picture of a player who likes to play solid lines and avoid tactical complications at all costs. Consequently I started searching for plausible ways to get tactical complications in the French, and after quickly ruling out the Wing Gambit I started looking into the line 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 Nf6 4. e5 Nfd7 5. Bd3 c5 6. c3 Nc6 7. Ne2 cxd4 8. cxd4 f6 9. Nf4?! I stayed up quite late investigating this, whilst also looking at some games in the mainline Tarrasch variation which I normally play. I was in such an agony of indecision about what to play in the morning that I woke up several times during the night with moves after 9. Nf4 running through my head, but unfortunately I didn’t dream up any brilliant ideas! At breakfast the next morning I decided that I would be just as uncomfortable as my opponent in the ensuing positions, and that if he knew what he was doing I was likely to be worse, so I resolved to play the usual 9. exf6 instead.
All in all, a disappointing weekend’s chess, but somehow I am still unbeaten in 4NCL games. My team continues to do quite well overall, and managed to win 3.5-2.5 on Saturday before losing to the leaders on Sunday. My next tournaments will be the BUCA Championship this weekend, followed by the Blackpool Chess Conference two weeks after that.
Last weekend I attended the London Chess Classic, which proved to be every bit as exciting as it was last year. Highlights included an unusual encounter with Viktor Korchnoi, watching IM Lawrence Trent and GM Stephen play giant blitz chess (which can be seen here), and of course watching Vishy, Carlsen and the other top players slugging it out in the main event. I was playing in the Weekender Open section, and was very pleased to score 3/5, with a 191 grading performance (which equates to about 2178 FIDE).
In the first round I was paired with Mike Lexton, and a quick search 5 minutes before revealed that he played the Dragon. I went for the 9. O-O-O and 10. Qe1 line, which he wasn’t very familiar with, and I emerged from the opening a pawn up. Unfortunately I was unable to convert this to a win, and the game was eventually agreed drawn after about 60 moves in a rook and pawn ending.
In the second game I was black against Jonathan Wells, who also managed to draw with Mickey Adams at the Paignton simul in September. He played the fianchetto variation of the King’s Indian, and, without knowing any theory, I developed awkwardly with b6 and got a cramped position. I was fortunate to get a draw, as my opponent missed some strong attacking ideas.
In the third round I was white against Isaac Sanders, a young lad of 12 (I believe) who plays great chess already and whose rating is shooting up. The opening was a Sicilian Najdorf, and I again played 6. Be2, as I did last month against Anastasios Nezis, but after 6…e5 my opening knowledge came to an abrupt end. I played reasonably and the game was fairly equal most of the way through, but my opponent kept pressing and a few endgame inaccuracies eventually allowed him to win.
A post about my day 2 games, both of which I won, will follow.
I came to the venue much better rested on day 2 of the Rapidplay, and was resolved to make up for day 1 by winning most of my games. I was paired against Martin Seeber in round 7 (the first of the day), who at 131 was significantly lower graded than me. However, the game turned out to be anything but a walkover, and I was worse or even lost for much of the second half of the game. In the end it was sheer determination which won it for me.
Round 8 was a reasonably good victory on the black side of a Ruy Lopez, against Abigail Pritchard, with whom I drew last year in Blackpool. In round 9 I was doing well, but stumbled. Here’s the game:
Round 10 featured a crazy opening king walk, and is presented below:
I won round 11 on the white side of a Tarrasch French, and so completed a good comeback, with 4/5 on the second day. My next tournament will be the London Chess Classic next weekend, where I’ll be playing in the very strong Open Weekend section. I’m really looking forward to it, as it was a great event last year and promises to be even better this year, with Carlsen, Kramnik and Anand all playing in the main tournament.
Here are three games from the first day of the British Rapidplay. I started the day with a smooth tactical smash of a Scheveningen Sicilian. Here it is:
I followed this by being slowly outplayed in round 2, and making a draw from what had been a better position in round 3. In round 4 my opponent showed me the dangers of playing the King’s Indian Defence without being really familiar with all the major book lines:
This was followed by a quick loss in round 5, which I may show later, and then in round 6 I was paired with Andrew Baxter, the only person who had beaten me in the previous year’s tournament. The game was stodgy and slow moving – hardly typical of the King’s Indian Defence. I won a pawn, and my opponent was getting visibly frustrated with the back-and-forth piece shuffling as I slowly went about trying to win. Unfortunately, just as I was making progress I blundered a piece. Here’s the game (annotations may follow):
I’ll post some more annotated games from the tournament later. My annotations to these games have not been checked with a computer, and as always I’d be glad to have comments or suggestions about where I might have played better.
I’ve just got back from playing in the Major (U171) section of this year’s British Rapidplay in Halifax. I scored 50% – 5.5/11 – with a grading performance of 155. I was in the bottom quarter of the field grade-wise, and performed a little above my rapidplay grade of 150, but it’s still a slightly disappointing result.
My results were not at all evenly distributed between the two days of the event; I scored only 1.5/6 on Saturday, but came back strongly with 4/5 on Sunday. My opponents were, on average, higher-graded on the first day, but I think tiredness (and dehydration) had an impact on my poor score that day. I had to get up (after five hours’ patchy sleep) at quarter to six in the morning on Sunday, and helped set up for a couple of hours at the venue before playing. I had just one bottle of water with me, and the taps at the venue were labelled ‘non-drinking water’, so I was pretty thirsty by the time I got to my Travelodge after the day’s play. I’ll consider getting there the night before next year, although it would mean paying for an extra night’s accommodation. Even so, playing under adverse conditions can’t always be avoided, so look out for a post about my ideas for training for them later in the week!
GM David Howell won the very strong Open section with an impressive 10.5/11 (a repeat of his performance two years ago). I’ll be posting some of my games from the event over the coming week, and you should expect to see all the usual blunders, unsound sacrifices, and crazy time scrambles of rapid chess!
For Sunday’s game I was again not sure who my opponent would be, so I looked up the games of Holmes Chapel’s bottom three boards, all of whom could have been put on board 5. I focused mainly on the games of David Bennion (rated 2014), Saturday’s board 5, and initially felt like I was trying to prepare for Vasily Ivanchuk. ‘Chucky’ plays just about every opening in existence, and David Bennion plays both 1. e4 and 1. d4 quite regularly, which is unusual at club level. Fortunately a more thorough look through his games revealed that he does play e4 significantly more often, and after 1… e5 he usually goes for the Bishop’s Opening, so this is what I was expecting.
When I arrived at the venue I found that I was indeed paired with David Bennion, but he surprised me on move 2 with Nf3, and we went into a Giuoco Piano. At 5. c3 my book knowledge came to a sudden end, but I vaguely remembered seeing a game of his where he had played like this against a strong opponent, and my memory of that game helped me to play the next two moves. He soon seemed to be on unfamiliar ground too (the disadvantage of playing a wide variety of openings), and I think with 9. Rxe4 he made a mistake (though I’ve yet to run it through the computer). Here’s the game:
With that a successful weekend for both me and for the team (who won both matches) was concluded. Thanks to Malcolm Armstrong for analysing the game afterwards with me, and thanks to Simon Edwards for inviting me to be on the team.