Monthly Archives: March 2011

Tough Guy 2011: Braveheart II

On the 30th of January I participated in ‘Tough Guy’, as announced here, and the memory of the pain has now faded sufficiently for me to write about it. 😉

I travelled down to Wolverhampton the night before with a number of other Durham students, and we arrived after dark so as to make setting up camp difficult. Here’s this post’s only nugget of chess content: on the coach journey I prepared against the Blackmar-Diemer Gambit, which as a King’s Indian Defence player I could still meet via the move order 1. d4 Nf6 2. Nc3 d5 (preventing a Pirc transposition) 3. e4. The night proved to be as tough as I’d imagined Tough Guy itself would be, as the temperature dropped into the minuses and I was unable to keep warm, even whilst wearing two jumpers, a ski jacket, hat and gloves and inside my sleeping bag.

We emerged from our tents at 7 am, having had a few hours’ broken sleep, and in my case to a breakfast of cold pasta. The event didn’t start until 11 am, so I passed the hours in a state of high tension, with my mindset alternating between ‘it can’t be that bad’, and ‘I can’t feel my toes now, so I’ll be frozen solid within the first mile’. From 9 am the excitement really began to build as participants started streaming in, some dressed as ballerinas or superheroes, and a few particularly brave or foolish individuals without tops or wearing only a ‘mankini’. After collecting our race numbers (for which I was made to do pressups on my knuckles), we finally managed to find our way through the crowds and the confusion to our starting position.

I’ll skip quickly over the wait to start, which featured a Scottish band with bagpipes and drums, a rugby ball being kicked around, people peeing in the midst of the crowd in little wooden urinals, a furious duck fight between starting groups separated by a fence (we’d been given little plastic ducks to throw in the first water feature and attempt to find at the end), and occasional glimpses of the magnificently-moustachioed Mr. Mouse, the event’s founder. Finally, at a few minutes past 11, our group was off, letting out a massive roar and shielding ourselves against the redoubled effort of the groups still waiting to pelt us with ducks.

The race began with a slide down a steep, muddy hill, and then we were into the ‘Country Miles’, the portion of Tough Guy that’s essentially just a cross-country run to spread the field out. It did start with a few nasty ditches of icy water to scramble through, but with those over there were several water-free miles which in retrospect were bliss compared to what lay ahead. The ‘Ghurka Grand National’ – a series of barriers to jump over or roll under – and ‘Slalom’ – where the path goes about 10 times up and down a steep hill – were accomplished without too much difficulty, and then began the ‘Jungle Slalom’, the only really objectionable bit of the Country Miles. This consisted of a muddy ditch filled with waist-high cold water, and the path went diagonally back and forth across this ditch, I would guess about ten times (though it felt like more). The water was full of large ice chunks, which hacked up your shins upon each plunge down into the water, and the scramble up the muddy bank on the other side was at times only possible with pushes or pulls from fellow competitors. Finally, a sign announced the start of the ‘Killing Fields’, and my heart sank as I realised that the Jungle Slalom I had just completed had been just a taste of the pain ahead.

The Killing Fields began with a large log climbing frame, and as you ascended the gaps between logs became alarmingly large, with my legs fully extended to bridge the gap, and shorter people really struggling. The ‘safety net’ far below looked less than encouraging, and, while it would probably have been enough to prevent death, I expect you’d still have broken a bone if you’d fallen. Over the climbing frame and into the water again; icy water to your waist or chest punctuated most obstacles, taking your breath away each time, and numbing and cramping your limbs. I’ll skip through the fire, the tire tunnels (which ripped off any exposed skin), and a variety of other obstacles and fast forward to the most hideous of all: The Torture Chamber.

The Torture Chamber was a new attraction for this year’s Tough Guy, so none of the participants knew what awaited them as they wormed their way on their bellies into an underground chamber. As you got further in the sound of grown men screaming all around you made some people hesitate, but there was no turning back now. Upon entering the chamber I paused, crouched, for a few moments, trying to work out what the danger was and avoid it, but all that could be seen in the darkness was the faint outlines of things dangling from the ceiling, and they were too numerous to be missed. I proceeded on hands and knees and soon knew what the screams were about as I was knocked flat on the ground by a powerful electric shock. Onwards, through several rows of electrified tape, and then I was mercifully at the exit, which took the form of ‘Vietcong Tunnels’. These were narrow, pitch-black concrete tunnels, and I chose to lie on my side and push myself along with a leg, in the process sustaining an impressive-looking graze (though I didn’t notice it at the time). A light at the end of the tunnel, and out, headfirst into more freezing water.

So it continued. Climb, wade through water, run, more water, climb, jump off a high plank into water. Then came the head dunks, and for me and I think many people these triggered a worsening of my condition. A number of planks were laid across the surface of the water, and to proceed you had to submerge yourself completely in the icy water, fumble your way to the other side of the plank, breath, and repeat.

Obstacle 26 out of 28 was a large figure-of-eight through a lake, alternating between climbing frames and wades or rope walks. My last memory during the event is either repeatedly trying and failing to pull myself out of the water, or wandering around in a daze asking people which direction to go in. My next is a hazy recollection of a period in a barn with a woman repeating the words ‘severe hypothermia’. Apparently I was pulled out of the race and warmed up by St. John’s Ambulance volunteers, for which I’m grateful, as I was obviously in no condition to continue to the end (but equally had no intention of leaving the course voluntarily). Tough Guy is supposed to be about ‘mind over matter’, but it seems to me that the phrase has little meaning when you have no mind left.

It is frustrating to have come so close to finishing and failed, especially as I was on target to finish in the top two hundred out of over five thousand competitors. I feel obliged to return next year and try again, but in order to succeed and avoid succumbing to hypothermia once more, I will have to get fatter, not fitter.

Weekly Progress Report #24

I achieved the 12 hour target again this week, doing 20 minutes extra. A new distraction has cropped up, in the form of ChessCube qualifiers for the Commonwealth Chess Championships.  These take the form of 2 minute ‘Warzone‘ tournaments, with both time and material odds, and whilst I realise that they themselves are certainly not improving my chess, the chance to play in the Commonwealth Championships in South Africa would.  I have qualified for the final of the U2200 section, which is on Sunday.  Here’s the breakdown:

Monday: ~20 minutes playing blitz on ICC

Tuesday: 65 minutes playing on ChessCube

Wednesday: 1 hour lesson with GM Damian Lemos, 2 hours preparation for the evening’s local league game and 1 hour 40 minutes playing it (unfortunately not against the expected opponent)

Thursday: 15 minutes preparation for 90 30 games later in the week

Friday: ~1 hour playing on ChessCube

Saturday: 1 hour playing on ChessCube

Sunday: 20 minutes solving tactics problems (CT-Art and ICC TrainingBot), 1 hour reviewing old games, 1 hour 10 minutes opening work, 1 hour preparing for various kinds of material odds (for the ChessCube Warzone tournaments), 30 minutes playing on ChessCube

The target remains at 12 hours, and the Warzone chess will continue for better or worse this week until Sunday.


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.

Weekly Progress Report #23

I just managed the 12 hour target this week, with 12 hours 20 minutes.  I’ve restarted lessons with GM Damian Lemos after a break, and I’ve (probably) dropped to second place in the Durham City Chess Club championships after drawing my game on Wednesday.  I’ll write a report about the club championship once it’s over, as it’s been interesting.  Here’s the breakdown:

Monday: 1 hour lesson with GM Lemos and 10 minutes reviewing the material, 2 hours 20 minutes playing a Team 45 45 league game

Tuesday: Nothing recorded

Wednesday: ~3 hours playing a club championship game

Thursday: ~1 hour analysing the club champs game

Friday: 2 hours lesson with FM David Eggleston, 25 minutes playing on ChessCube

Saturday: 2 hours playing and 5 minutes analysing a Team 45 45 league game

Sunday: 20 minutes playing on PlayChess

Term has now finished, but I will be keeping the weekly target at 12 hours for the holidays in an effort to encourage myself to revise.  I may even have to set myself an upper weekly limit if it doesn’t happen. 😉

Weekly Progress Reports #21 & #22

Apologies for the delayed weekly progress reports.  I exceeded the 12 hour target in both of the last two weeks, doing 14 hours in the first and 25 hours 40 minutes in the second (most of which was playing and analysing in Blackpool).  Here’s the breakdown:

1st week

Monday: 10 minutes preparing for, 2 hours playing and 15 minutes analysing a Team 45 45 league game, 1 hour 40 minutes opening work

Tuesday: Some time looking at various British Grandmasters’ opening repertoires, but I’m not counting this towards the weekly total

Wednesday: 45 minutes preparation for, 1 hour 50 minutes playing and 15 minutes analysing a Club Championship game (with which I took the lead in the standings – next game tonight)

Thursday: 45 minutes analysing some of my recent game, 3 hours 30 minutes playing a 90 30 game

Friday: 35 minutes opening work

Saturday: University Chess Society, of which I’m only counting the 15 minutes of problem solving I did

Sunday: 2 hours playing a Team 45 45 game

Week 2

Monday & Tuesday: Nothing recorded

Wednesday: 10 minutes preparation for and 3 hours playing a local league game

Thursday: 10 minutes analysing Wednesday’s game, ~2 hours opening work

Friday: 55 minutes opening preparation, 45 minutes preparation for, 3 hours 35 minutes playing and 20 minutes discussing my 1st game at Blackpool, 10 minutes preparation for the next morning’s game

Saturday: 2 hours 30 minutes playing and 20 minutes discussing my 2nd Blackpool game, 1 hour annotating both games (which I will publish in due course), 15 minutes reading a new chess book, 2 hours 15 minutes preparation for the next day’s game

Sunday: 20 minutes preparation for, 5 hours 55 minutes playing and 20 minutes discussing my final two games at Blackpool, ~2 hours reading a new chess book on the train home

The most obvious shortcoming in the last two weeks’ study is that tactics problems have been more or less forgotten in all my opening exploration.  The good news is that I do now have the broad outline of my repertoire worked out.  A report on my weekend’s games at Blackpool will be forthcoming within the next few days.

Opening Repertoire

I said in my last weekly progress report that I’d say something about the general opening work I’m doing at the moment.  I’m trying to decide on an opening repertoire which will serve me all the way up to 2500, and there are a number of decisions I’m having difficulty with.  If you’re an opponent looking to see what I play, then by all means read on – you won’t find too much information that won’t soon be in databases anyway. 🙂

Let’s start with my white repertoire.  1. e4 is ‘best by test’ and I’ve played it all my life, so I see no reason to change that.  My first dilemma comes on move 3, after the common moves 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6.  I’ve almost always played 3. Bc4, the Giuoco Piano, in the past, but I’m considering switching to the Ruy Lopez with 3. Bb5.  A friend recently offered the opinion that learning all the extra theory associated with this move really isn’t worth it at my level, as the positions I get are unlikely to be significantly better than after 3. Bc4.  I think he’s absolutely right, but what I’m not sure about is whether or not a switch to 3. Bb5 will be desirable/necessary at some point in the future, when I’m higher-rated.  If so, then it would seem to make sense to take it up now, and start getting experience in the positions.  A quick search in MegaBase showed that 3. Bb5 is played almost ten times as often as 3. Bc4 at GM level, presumably for a reason!  Furthermore, I’m not aware of any Grandmasters who play 3. Bc4 exclusively or nearly so.  Rodriguez Vila, Movsesian, Tiviakov, Bologan, and plenty more play it frequently, but all have the Ruy Lopez as either their main or a major secondary weapon.  Thoughts?

A second area of indecision comes as black after 1. e4.  Taking up some sort of Sicilian is a serious possibility, but for now let’s assume I stick with 1…e5, which is of course a perfectly good option all the way up to the highest level.  For the last few years I’ve been meeting the Ruy Lopez with the Arkhangelsk Variation (1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O b5 6. Bb3 Bb7), but this has been played so little at high levels that I’m not sure if it’s a ‘serious’ enough approach to use all the way to GM.  I’m also not a huge fan of the positions after 7. d3, which have become popular and seem to be causing difficulties.  For these reasons I’m thinking about taking up a different defence to the Ruy Lopez; the Marshall appeals in some ways, but it’s very theoretical and I’d probably have to face an anti-Marshall about as often, so the main lines of the Closed Defence (Chigorin, Breyer, Zaitsev, Smyslov etc.) come into consideration.

Finally, my approaches as white against the French and Caro-Kann Defences may be due a rethink.  Against the French I play the Tarrasch variation, with 3. Nd2, and whilst I’m happy enough with the resulting positions it’s not as ambitious as the main lines after 3. Nc3.  Against the Caro-Kann I play the rather rare (though recently quite fashionable) Fantasy Variation with 3. f3; again I’m not really dissatisfied with it, but it is very much a sideline and I feel I should be playing mostly main lines.

I’d be very interested to hear your opinions on the questions raised in this post, but I may not share my conclusions or decisions here in order to keep some things secret from future opponents!

Weekly Progress Report #20

I did 18 hours and 50 minutes of chess study this week, exceeding my 12 hour target.  Unfortunately that didn’t include playing at the British Universities’ Chess Association team championships, as Durham had to pull out at the last minute because of transport problems.  Here’s the breakdown:

Monday: 20 minutes CT-Art, 20 minutes playing Chess960 with WGM Merula on ICC

Tuesday: nothing recorded

Wednesday: 2 hours group lesson with FM David Eggleston, 1 hour 10 minutes opening work

Thursday: 3 hours 40 minutes opening work, 15 minutes preparation for the evening’s game, 1 hour 25 minutes playing a local league game

Friday: 1 hour 20 minutes opening work, 1 hour 15 minutes preparation for and 2 hours 30 minutes playing a Team 45 45 league game

Saturday: ~3 hours playing and analysing with a similar-strength player at and after Durham Uni Chess Society

Sunday: 40 minutes opening work, 65 minutes playing 15-minute games on PlayChess

A lot of time recently has been spent on this mysterious ‘opening work’.  Some of this is concrete work on openings and variations I am committed to playing, but most is a general investigation of lines which I might want to take up.  It’s not the most satisfactory use of time in general, but there are a number of gaps or problems with my opening repertoire as it stands which I feel I need to fix as soon as possible.  I’ll write about this in more detail soon.