Saturday, 31 March 2007

European Championships in Dresden

post by Martin Seeber

Dresden is getting closer for us. Sophie's first game is Tuesday afternoon. The draw is interesting. She would play Nadezhda Kosintseva from Russia in round one if the top plays bottom in the draw, but if the draw is split in half it would be someone rated about 190-200. Its all a bit like the dream of the Olympics (although it's the Europeans) when its just great to compete and take part. Having said that Sophie wants to do well and she has been very nervous all week.

Chess is the most fantastic game. It seems to produce a totally different game each time you play. Its full of secrets which you have to learn to progress. Sophie has enjoyed the challenge of chess since she was about 10. In her first UK chess challenge final at Sheffield she sat down in round one to play Sarah Hegarty who was three times champion. I took her photo and made a right fuss of her, gave her a few tips. I think my daughter expected to win. Hegarty went e4 and sophie went e5 back, this is her no compromise a straight fight. Hegarty won but Sophie gave her a game.

On Tuesday she'll need to fight again.

Chess in the attic, December 1983

Chess Express December 1983

I've been in the attic again, and this time it's December 1983; one of the most exciting months ever in the world of chess:

Earlier in the year, a 20 year old Garry Kasparov had romped through his first candidates match with Beliavsky, and seemed on an unstoppable march to the world crown.

In the semi-final matches, held that month in London, Kasparov had to face the great Viktor Korchnoi, whilst the other match remarkably brought together the hungarian Pinter Ribli and 62 year old Vassily Smyslov, some 26 years after he'd previously held the title.

With the matches in London, and Tony Miles beating World Champion Anatoly Karpov in the final of the much lamented BBC Mastergame, chess in the UK was buzzing.

To coincide with it all, a new chess newspaper was launched: Chess Express, promising news every fortnight and boasting an unbeatable array of feature columnists: Kasparov, Karpov, Nunn on endings, Speelman on the middlegame, and Keene on the openings. This was exciting and ambitious. Unfortunately too ambitious, and it folded after just 8 issues. On the bright side, it got me playing the Saemisch against the Nimzo-Indian and a few notable scalps bagged.

Kasparov versus Korchnoi was clearly the big event. They'd played once before, a monumental tussle in the Benoni at the Luzern Olympiad and, after Kasparov's victory there, it seemed that even Viktor Korchnoi would pose little trouble for Garry.

For a couple of years Kasparov had been trouncing anyone who dared to play the Queen's Indian against him; he played Petrosian's a3 system and you waited, usually not for very long, for him to tear apart your king. Only a mad-man, would dare to venture the defence, but that's just what Korchnoi did as Black in game 1:

So Korchnoi led, and for the next 4 games he held Kasparov at bay; had he held the difficult rook endgame in the 6th who knows what might have happened. After that though, Kasparov upped a gear and finished the match in style.

Chess blogs: best of the week

Two chess stories on the blogosphere caught my eye this week for wackiness: firstly there was Boylston Chess Club pointing to a plan to cover chess on the radio, If you find televised chess too interesting, and the BCM blog introducing us to chess and jazz, You got the blues?. Not on a par with Chess Boxing, but getting there.

I'm interested in what we can achieve with new media, and not so new like video, in helping us to learn, develop and even promote chess. So, it's good to see Boylston providing a guide to some of the chess video material that's becoming available on the web, Chess video goes mainstream.

Friday, 30 March 2007

Chess: rating psychology and exhaustion

Chess can be mentally and physically exhausting; and this is especially true for a lower rated player facing higher rated opposition.

I've already written, in Beating Grandmaster Danny Gormally, about how a difference in reputation and ratings often leaves a player psychologically beaten even before a piece has been moved. A game I played earlier this week in the Northumberland County Championship illustrates some further factors:

My opponent, Chris Wardle, has had a good season and is improving, but nonetheless he is rated some 50 BCF points (about 400 Elo points) lower than me. So, despite the fact it was a dead game in terms of the Championship, there was no way I could allow him an easy game.

The lack of easy games, i.e. games missing a competitive edge or games that may be agreed drawn early (after a level opening or middle game) between players of similar ratings, is one of the factors that makes it more difficult for the lower rated player. Not only do they have to raise their game and match you through the opening and the middlegame, but invariably they will have to maintain their concentration and competitiveness through long endings; Simply, they need to play more moves to earn their result.

In our game this week, Chris (as Black) battled hard, at least matched me through both the opening and middlegame, and reached the following ending where with the opposite coloured bishops a draw seemed the obvious result. I even have to be a little careful as Black's king is well centralised and his d-pawn quite advanced.

chess opposite coloured bishops coathup wardle 1

My thought process on reaching this position was:

Quick check that I wasn't actually in any danger of losing. OK, 2 solutions: I can bring my king across to stop the d-pawn on the light squares, or I can exchange off Black's g-pawn, sacrifice my bishop for the d-pawn, and I'm fine because Black's bishop is the wrong colour to queen the h-pawn.

The bigger problem was how on earth could I drum up any winning tries. An idea came to mind based around enticing Black's king out of play, i.e. by giving up my bishop for Black's d pawn when it queens, in which case, Black's king on d1 wouldn't be able to assist his bishop in stopping my pawns. I would then be winning if I had captured both Black's king side pawns and had my g and h pawns vs. Black's bishop, or if I had outside passed pawns on the a and h file vs. Black's bishop.

This is the second factor, the stronger rated player will avoid the lines that lead to simple equality and instead be continually examining the weaker player with testing plans.

Of course, in this position, Black can defend in a number of way and none of these tries should be sufficient. In the game though, Chris failed this final examination, he didn't spot any danger and instead played into White's hands by following the 'logical plan' and forcing his d-pawn through to queen:

Play went:

1. Ba4 Kc5 2. Kg2 Kd4 3. Kf3 Kc3 4. Kg4 d4 5. Kh5 Bc1 6 Kxh6 Be3 7 Bd1 d3 8 Kg6 Kd2 9 Bg4 Kel??

Even now, Black could have held the game by retreating 9. ... Kc3, winning White's a pawn in exchange for his d pawn with a simple draw by giving up his Bishop for White's final pawn on the king side.

10. h4 gh 11. gh d2 12. h5 d1=R 13. Bxd1 Kxd1 14. h6 reaching the position below:

chess outside passed pawns against lone bishop

Only at this stage did Black realise that his position was lost, and after 14. ... Kc2 15. h7 he resigned.

As I thought about this post, I was reminded of a couple of quotes (probably mis-quotes):

On the subject of reputations, Kasparov (I think) during his first world championship match with Karpov said:

"before I'm able to win against him, I first have to prove that I'm able to draw against him"

And Karpov himself, when asked in the early 70's what English players could do to improve, had asked what we do now. When he received the reply: "I don't know, I guess we play a lot and study the openings a lot", he said

"do the opposite, study the endings"

Chess survey

Chess survey: 21 Thoughts is looking for chess players worldwide, of all standards from absolute beginner to grandmaster, who would be interested in taking part in a short online survey about chess training and coaching.

If you would like to take part, please send an email to: survey AT 21thoughts DOT com, and we will be in touch shortly.

Chess in the Attic: top chess players 1982 style

top chess players 1982 fide ratings

Yesterday I decided to discover a vast collection of lost chess manuscripts; either that, or I was tidying the attic.

Flicking through some copies of "Chess" magazine from 1982, the headlines were hardly memorable: "Miles wins British Championship at last" seemed to be the highlight. Actually, in my chess house, 1982 will always be remembered as the year before my first appearance at the Britsh (U16 in Southport) and an unusual opening gambit from Cathy Forbes.

The July rating list caught my eye though: the top 3 were predictable enough, but Robert Hübner, a German best known for walking out of tournaments, was a surprise at number 4. The actual rating points is the most interesting though, Karpov's 2700 was good enough for 1st place in 1982, but would only get him 21st place in 2007, and Hübner's 2630 would wedge him in between Azmaiparashvili and Sutovsky in 84th spot.

Korchnoi, the elder stateman of the top 4 in 1982, but still active 25 years on, remains within 6 rating points of his 1982 figure.

Rating inflation has been talked about many times before: Rob from Tennessee uses it to argue that Paul Morphy is the greatest player of all time, although according to Wikipedia he doesn't come close.

Here's Morphy turning on the style at the Opera:

Thursday, 29 March 2007

European Chess Championships: Kosintseva sisters

chess players Nadezhda and Tatiana Kosintseva

Earlier this week Chess Tales profiled Antoaneta Stefanova, one of the favourites for the women's title at the European Chess Championships, starting next week in Dresden. Some of her strongest opposition will come from the Kosintseva sisters, Nadezhda and Tatiana.

Nadezhda is top seed for the event, whilst her younger sister Tatiana is rated just a handful of Elo points lower. They are famed for their uncompromising chess, although their match up from the recent Russian Women's Championship where they tied second, would seem to suggest otherwise:

Nadezhda Kosintseva - Tatiana Kosintseva, December 2006
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. Nc3 Nf6 5. d3 h6 6. O-O a6 7. Be3 d6 1/2-1/2.

In this game from the Corus tournament in January, Tatiana gets the better of Grandmaster Gabriel Sargissian, who then turned in a 3021 Elo performance at the Ruy Lopez tournament:

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. d3 Bc5 5. O-O Nd4 6. Nxd4 Bxd4 7. Nd2 c6 8. Ba4 d6 9. c3 Bb6 10. Bb3 O-O 11. Nc4 Bc7 12.Bg5 h6 13. Bh4 g5 14. Bg3 Ne8 15. d4 Qe7 16. f3 Ng7 17. Bf2 Be6 18. Ne3 Bd7 19. Qd3 Rad8 20. Rfe1 Kh8 21. Rad1 a6 22. Bc2 Bc8 23. b4 Nh5 24. Nf5 Qf6 25. g3 Ng7 26. c4 Rfe8 27. d5 cxd5 28. cxd5 Bd7 29. a4 Rc8 30. Rc1 Bb8 31. b5 axb5 32. axb5 Bc7 33. b6 Bd8 34. Bb1 Ra8 35. g4 h5 36. h3 hxg4 37. hxg4 Nxf5 38. exf5 Kg7 39. Kg2 Ra5 40. Rh1 Rb5 41. Qd2 Bxb6 42. Bxb6 Rxb6 43. Be4 Rh8 44. Rxh8 Kxh8 45. Rh1+ Kg8 46. Rh5 Be8 47. Rxg5+ Kf8 48. Rh5 Qd8 49. Rh8+ Ke7 50. Qg5+ Kd7 51. Qxd8+ Kxd8 52. g5 Rb2+ 53. Kg3 Ra2 54. f6 1-0

Chess player of the week: GM Alexandra Kosteniuk

women's chess grandmaster Alexandra Kosteniuk

We all know that Alexandra Kosteniuk is beautiful and a superb chess player; some of us even know that she is a film star, fashion model and poet. Well, I'm pleased to be able to report that she is also a really nice person.

I emailed Alexandra earlier this week to ask if she could give a little bit of advice to Sophie before she heads off to the challenges of the European Championships next week. The email was sent more out of hope than expectation, but full credit to Alexandra: she replied immediately, asked me for Sophie's contact details and has sent her a warm, friendly and much appreciated good luck message.

For this reason, Grandmaster Alexandra Kosteniuk is the innaugural "Chess Tales: Player of the week".

Alexandra does a regular podcast, and you can also access a library of her TV and video footage.

Wednesday, 28 March 2007

Sending the queen home

Last week in the search for heroic chess failures, I wrote about the difficulty spotting 'backwards moves', and mentioned Bronstein enthusing about a position where the White queen returned to d1 to deliver the knockout blow.

Malcolm Pein picks up on the same subject today in The Daily Telegraph: when to beat a retreat. This time it's the Black queen returning to d8, and Magnus Carlsen failing to find the stunning finish in his rapid game against Leko from the Melody Amber tournament.

You've got 2 hours to tell 50 teenagers about chess

Mike Nicholson, a chess player from Hexham, a market town in rural Northumberland, contacted me a few days ago to tell me about the latest challenge he's facing:

Next week, he's got a 'captive' audience of 50 teenagers, and 2 hours to tell them about chess. The goal, keep them entertained, enthuse them about the game, and even get a few of them to start playing.

Has anyone ever handled a similar situation? Any tips, suggestions or advice for Mike?

Chess and social networking

chess reddit social news

Have you noticed the little buttons at the bottom of the posts on Chess Tales for reddit, digg and Ever wondered what they do?

In the increasingly Internet driven world we can access more news and information than ever before, but how do we see the wood for the trees?

Social news sites, like reddit and digg, address that problem. They let you rate stories you like (and those you don't like) and share that information with everyone else. Cut the bad stories and just go straight to the ones the world says are worth a read. That's the theory anyway. They also do other clever things, but I'll let you visit their sites to find out more. is also about sharing things you like with the world, but this time your bookmarks. Instead of storing them on your computer, you store them online. You can then access them from anywhere, and also share them with other people. Again, there are lots of other advantages that are worth discovering.

It's all part of the phenomenom of social networking online; new ways to build business relationships, meet new people, share information and interact. MySpace is the biggest operator in this field, with some 100 million young (and not so young) members.

You could argue that chess players are amongst the pace-setters in niche social networking. Our online playing sites such as Play Chess, ICC, Buho 21 and Chess Assistant bring together thousands of people online every day.

I'll be talking about social networks and the future at an event in late April, contact Anna Brown at Service Network for more information.

Let me know if you've make use of social news and social networks, and which are the most chess friendly.

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

On the same wavelength as Anna Zatonskih

It seems it must be a day for talking about chess blunders, as this was also the subject of blunder day, the second post on WGM Anna Zatonskih's new blog.

Thanks to Chess News and Events for the link.

Not many top players seem to be blogging, we'll cover a few of the best over the coming weeks on Chess Tales.

Soul destroying chess blunders

Chess can be the most soul destroying sport; in what other game can you play beautifully for 4 hours, dominate your opponent, and then throw it all away in a split second of madness?

That's the way top level (or even club level) chess is, where a single blunder, no matter how good your previous moves have been, can lose you a game in an instant; all that mental effort you've expended over the course of the game just wasted.

Blunders in chess come from a variety of sources: mental fatigue, the pressures of a ticking chess clock (as happened to Nigel Short), impatience, or simple oversight.

Rarer is a combination played in the wrong order, but it happens. You calculate a winning combination, check a few other lines, then go to play your 'win'. Only you don't! In your haste you play the moves in the wrong order or simply forget to play the first move. This position from the Paris Championships back in 97 is a case in point:

After a double edged middle-game, I'd gained the advantage with White against Maria Nepeina-Leconte, a Ukranian International Master. I thought for a while, saw a winning combination, checked my analysis, and went to play the line. I played my first move correctly, but then managed to mix up the variations in my head and hastily played the wrong second move:

1. Ng6! (Ne6!! is even better) fg 2. Qxh6??

I had calculated and intended to play Rf8+ which wins simply, but for some reason my hand moved the Queen.

2. ... Bf5 3. Rxf5?

White could still force a draw with 3. Rb3!, but now Black is winning.

3. ... gf 4. Qe6+ Kg7 5. Qd7+ Kh6 6. Qxf5 Re1??

Which allowed me to escape with a draw by perpetual!

Monday, 26 March 2007

The Bolivian National Blitz Chess Championships

There are some experiences money could never buy; I was once offered the opportunity to play football with Masai tribesmen, absolutely priceless! These experiences leave you with the most wonderful memories and have often arrived in the most unexpected and surprising ways; Playing in the Bolivian National Blitz Chess Championsips is up there with the best of them.

Back in 2001, and following quick introductions the day before, I turned up at a sports stadium in the centre of Santa Cruz de la Sierra as a special guest invitee to the tournament.

(aside: Santa Cruz capital of the sweltering eastern plains is Bolivia's economic powerhouse, and home, according to Mario Vargas Llosa, to the most beautiful women in South America.)

Things in Bolivia seldom seem to run on time or quite according to plan, and of course, this tournament was no exception. On arriving at the stadium, 1o minutes before the expected start, I was told we were playing at a different venue, and coaches would be along shortly to transfer us.

An hour later, still no coaches and I was wondering why we simply hadn't walked. As we piled hastily into players cars and drove and drove, I began to realise why. We left the city far behind, paid our toll on the highway towards Brazil and bumped along as the road degraded into dirt track. Some 20 km out of the city, we arrived in a small village, took a left off the 'main road' and meandered through the houses before reaching the long approach to a 'Ponderosa' style ranch.

Round the back, was a long open-air veranda, bellowing 'bolivian fiesta' music, a huge ice filled dustbin complete with bottle upon bottle of beer, and the chess boards arranged on tables on the veranda. So this was chess bolivian style!

My main concern was not the beer being passed around liberally, nor the music, nor the opposition which included IM Johnny Cueto, and a young soon-to-be-grandmaster Osvaldo Zambrana. No, my biggest concern was that I was supposed to be meeting a potential father-in-law for the first time back in the city that evening. Oh well, how long could a blitz tournament last?!

A half decent tournament, including a draw against Johnny Cueto, slight intoxication, a last round in almost pitch darkness, and it was still before 7pm. I wouldn't be too late, just 'bolivian late' getting back to the city. What they'd neglected to tell me, was that no-one was going back to the city; it was churrasquera / fiesta time! Unfortunately duty got the better of us, and with some desperate pleading that we really did have to leave, one player took pity, foresook his beer temporarily and ferried us the kilometre or so back to the main road.

A bus journey sat next to a chicken later and I was in the city with one of the most incredible memories starting to burn itself indelibly into my brain... I suspect some of those guys are still partying.

If you fancy a game in Santa Cruz, visit the plaza and play in the open air or contact Javier Monroy at the local chess association.

Santa Cruz

Sunday, 25 March 2007

Chess champion escapes

This story about a chess champion who managed to escape made me smile. It's been a long weekend!

Further research reveals Emilio is a 2477 rated International Master who even has a fan blog. Let's hope he makes it to Grandmaster and keeps us royally entertained for years to come.

!Vamos Emilio! y suerte.

Build your own online chess shop in 5 minutes

Fancy yourself as an online chess retailer? Let me tell you about 3 (ok, 2.5) ways to do it; and one, if you've got a fast connection and even faster fingers, really is just about possible in 5 minutes. One of them I've tried, one I wouldn't contemplate, and I'm giving serious thought to the other 0.5.

Route 1: You want the potential to make the biggest profits; you have time and money to invest; you are willing to risk heartache, despair, family breakdown and sleepless nights.

This is the one I wouldn't contemplate, and it involves going the 'whole hog': researching the market, analysing your competitors, registering a domain, building your own sleek online store (not as difficult as it sounds with the great templates and simple front end of a product like shopify becoming available), negotiating with wholesalers, holding stock, managing delivery, dealing with customers, promoting the business, etc., etc.

If this you, give me shout under my 21 Thoughts guise, and if I can't persuade you not to, I'll do my best to help you.

Route 2: The 5-minute route

Thanks to an offering called Zlio you can now build your own online shopfront without any of the hassles of actually having a shop. Register, choose the products you want to offer from a range of other vendors, e.g. Amazon and, and let them deal with all the rest. You get a commission on each sale that you share with Zlio.

The downsides: it's only available in France and the US at the moment (UK coming soon), chess supplies from the available vendors are limited, and you still have to promote it and get visitors to your store.

If you are serious, my advice is make it niche and promote, promote, promote. Let me know how you get on.

Route 2.5: Don't!

If you already have a blog or website, take the simple route and host adverts (be an affiliate) for an existing chess store, e.g. the London Chess Centre, that pays commissions on customers you send to their shop.

Good luck and happy monetizing!

Antoaneta Stefanova warms up for the European Chess Championships

Antoaneta Stefanova from Bulgaria will be second seed at the European Chess Championships which start next week in Dresden.

She had a near meteoric chess rise as a youngster, representing the Bulgarian men's team at the 2000 Olympiad, when she was only 21 years old, and winning the women's world champion title in 2004.

Since then, her career has stuttered a little and she has struggled to make consistently good scores in top-level events. Despite this, she has every chance of succeeding in Dresden, and would be a popular winner.

Her warm up included a themed 'Ruy Lopez' tournament this week in Spain, where her score of +1 =3 -3 against very strong opposition was enough to gain her a few rating points.

Over the next week, I'll profile some of the other women players who could make an impact in Dresden.

This game from Wijk ann Zee shows Antoaneta at her best as she dispatches talented Cuban Grandmaster Lazaro Bruzon:
1. c4 e6 2. g3 Nf6 3. Bg2 d5 4. Nf3 dxc4 5. O-O Nbd7 6. Na3Bxa3 7. bxa3 Nb6 8. a4 Bd7 9. a5 Ba4 10. Qe1 Nbd7 11. Rb1 c512. Rxb7 Bc6 13. Rb1 Be4 14. Ra1 Rb8 15. Ba3 Qxa5 16. Qc1 Qb517. Nh4 O-O 18. Bxe4 Nxe4 19. Qc2 f5 20. f3 Nd6 21. Ng2 Rb622. Nf4 Re8 23. e4 fxe4 24. fxe4 Qc6 25. Rae1 Nb5 26. Bc1 Ne527. Qd1 g6 28. Nh5 Rd8 29. Nf6+ Kh8 30. Ng4 Nd3 31. Nh6 Re832. Re3 e5 33. Qg4 Qe6 34. Qg5 Nd6 35. Ref3 Nxe4 36. Qh4 Nd637. Nf7+ Kg8 38. Ng5 Qe7 39. Rf7 Qxf7 40. Rxf7 h5 1-0

Saturday, 24 March 2007

The Isle of Man International Chess Tournament

The Monarch Assurance International Chess Tournament, at Port Erin on the Isle of Man, has steadily grown in stature and size over the last few years, but still retains a small, close-knit and friendly quaintness.

Just a few years ago, it was the 'hidden gem' of the chess world. At my first visit in '97, there were just 28 players, but 20 of them were titled (Grandmasters, International Masters and FIDE Masters).

The chance to play the very best is why you enter these tournaments, and the '97 event was one of the most difficult but rewarding challenges I've ever faced: having lost a hard fought encounter with Tony Kosten in the 1st round, I was expecting something easier in the 2nd round, but discovered my opponent was an even higher rated Israeli Grandmaster, Eran Liss. I uncorked a sharp line pioneered by Polugayevsky against his Grunfeld Defence, and was promptly blown off the board. It transpired that Eran had analysed the line the month previously for an Israeli magazine.

A good win in the 3rd round was rewarded with a game against Dutch Grandmaster Eric van den Doel, and then the 'relief' in the 5th round of 'just' having to face Andrew Ledger, a strong International Master. Fortunately some good chess in the last 4 rounds, against 2 FIDE Masters and 2 untitled players, allowed me to post a decent score.

If you are looking for a relaxed and beautiful place to play chess against some of the world's top players then you can do far worse than Port Erin in the Autumn.

Two quick wins, that helped me recover my pride at subsequent Isle of Man tournaments:
Roger Coathup - Keith Allen, Monarch Assurance 2001
1 d4 f5 2 e4 fe 3 Nc3 g6 4 f3 ef 5 Nf3 Nf6 6 Bg5 d5 7 Bd3 Bg7 8 0-0 Bg4 9 Qe1 Bf3 10 Rf3 Kf7 11 Qh4 Qd6 12 Re1 Nbd7 13 Bf4 Qb4 14 Bc7 e6 15 Qf4 Qb2 16 Qd6 Rhe8 17 Bb5 Nf8 18 Be8+ Re8 19 Bd8 h6 20 Qc7+ 1-0

Mel Young - Roger Coathup, Monarch Assurance 2003
1 e4 c5 2 c3 Nf6 3 e5 Nd5 4 d4 cd 5 Qd4 e6 6 Nf3 Nc6 7 Qe4 f5 8 Qe2 Qc7 9 g3 b6 10 Bg2 Ncb4 (it's fun to play shock moves like this; it's known to theory, but not that well known) 11 c4 Ba6 12 Na3 Rc8 13 b3 Nc3! (Black's knights lead a merry dance in this game) 14 Qe3 Nbd5! 15 cd Nd5 16 Qd4 Bb4+ 17 Kd1 Ba3 18 Bd2 Qc2+ 19 Ke1 Bd2 0-1

Sophie hopes to make checkmates in Europe

You can check out the Hexham Courant newspaper's coverage of Sophie online: "Sophie hopes to make checkmates in Europe"

Friday, 23 March 2007

Chess in Australia

One of the great things about Chess Tales is that our readership is spread all over the world, from China to the States, Egypt to Iceland, Bolivia to Scandanavia and all over the rest of Europe. It's particularly pleasing to see people from unexpected places like Saudi Arabia, Libya, Vietnam, Japan and the Phillipines, and from chess meccas like Moscow and Reykjavik. As a film buff though my favourite so far has to be Skokie, Illinois (answers on a postcard please!).

I was just getting ready to bemoan the lack of Australian readers, and even question whether chess was played there, when we got our first visitor from 'down under' (Laverton, Melbourne). Aussie Grandmaster Ian Rogers used to play regularly in Europe, but players making the long journey are definitely a rarity.

International Master and profilic author Gary Lane is an Englishman who went the other way. He now represents Australia, and even had the temerity to mercilessly slay 'our own' Nigel Short at the last Olympiad.

Gary and I played at the Isle of Man tournament a few years back, where he found an excellent 'surprise' move that won on the spot with almost all the material remaining on board. Check out Gary's regular column at Chess Cafe, and be sure to pose him some difficult questions.

Roger Coathup - Gary Lane, Port Erin 2003
1 d4 Nf6; 2 c4 g6; 3 Nc3 Bg7; 4 e4 d6; 5 Be2 0-0; 6 Bg5 Na6; 7 h4 e5; 8 d5 c6; 9 h5 h6; 10 Be3 Nc5; 11 Qc2 cd; 12 cd Qa5; 13 Bd2 Bd7; 14 hg fg; 15 a3 Qc7; 16 f3 Nh5; 17 b4 Na4; 18 Rc1 Ng3; 19 Rh2 Qb6! 0-1 White is powerless against the threat of Qxg1

Sophie's on board for Europe

"Sophie's on board for Europe" was the front page headline in the Morpeth Herald yesterday. Look out for more chess in today's Hexham Courant, with features on Sophie and also on Jack Bradshaw, the new county U15 champion.

It also transpires that Sophie was already a movie star: Cluedo. Happy viewing!

Thursday, 22 March 2007

Chess Tales in the bdaily

The bdaily, a North East business newsletter, ran a Chess Tales story today: NE schoolgirl in bid for European chess glory.

The search for heroic chess failures

Chris Wardle's "Haymarket" post set me thinking about heroic chess failures, those chess players who have achieved a Eurovision style 'null point'. Taimanov and Larsen made a good stab at it in the '71 candidates, but don't really qualify because their opponent was Bobby Fischer on a hot streak.

I consulted my bible on all matters relating to chess statistics (the 2 dozen or so tournament tables in 'Korchnoi's 400 Best Games') and was bitterly disappointed to find the closest contender, Cuellar at the '73 Interzonal, had managed a princely 3 draws out of 18 games; definitely failure, but not heroically bad.

I then remembered I was making up the rules in this game, and could change them with impunity, so I switched tack to heroic blunders. One game sprung to mind immediately, Short marching his king up the board in a 'won ending' and setting up a self mate in the only way possible; fortunately, Streatham and Brixton have already written about this and a host of horrors: "The Worst Move On The Board". In fairness to Short one of his other king marches, against Timman, has gone down amongst the great manoeuvres of chess history.

One thing the S&B site talked about was the difficulty in spotting pieces moving backwards (in Short's case the killer was a Bishop returning to c8 to deliver mate) which made me smile and remember a conversation with Bronstein; David was buzzing with excitement, as he enthused about a position where a Queen had returned to d1 to deliver a knockout blow, and how even some of the very strongest players had failed to spot it.

In a possibly unbeatable bid for worst game by a World Champion, I present:
Viktor Korchnoi - Boris Spassky, Leningard 1948
1 e4 c5; 2 Nf3 d6; 3 d4 cd; 4 Nd4 Nf6; 5 Nc3 g6; 6 f4 Bg4; 7 Bb5+ Nbd7; 8 Bd7+ Qd7; 9 Qd3 e5; 10 Nf3 Bf3; 11 Qf3 Qg4; 12 Nd5 1-0

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Chess on TV: an apology

Apologies to those who waited patiently to watch the feature on ITV Tyne Tees tonight; they had a delay completing the piece.

On the bright side, the reporter assures me that the finished story looks fantastic and that they are hoping to air it on either Thursday or Friday evening this week.

The 'film' set at Matfen Hall

Yesterday was a long day with radio first thing, TV and Newspaper in the afternoon, and a league match to play in the evening. Everything went really well though.

The BBC Radio Newcastle interview ran all morning as a main news headline "local schoolgirl dusts off her knights for European battle", we'll try and get a podcast to download.

In the afternoon the Morpeth Herald sent a photographer who met up with us at Matfen Hall and grabbed a few pictures, but the highlight had to be the 3-hour TV shoot with Alastair and Ben Chapman from ITV Tyne Tees. Looking at the footage on the monitor, our small news piece was shaping up like a work of film art: low angles, close ups, rotating boards, dwindling candles in a darkened library (very "Tales of the Unexpected"). The guys are editing the piece this morning, and hopefully it should air on the 6pm news this evening. If ITV are kind to us, we'll get a copy to play from the blog.

The library restaurant at Matfen looked great for the piece, and thanks are due to David Hunter and the staff there who were incredibly helpful.

Ok, I wasn't being entirely truthful before, of course the highlight wasn't the TV shoot, it was my game of chess against Dave Weldon in the evening. Unfortunately for Dave, I seem to save my one good game / season for our encounters:

Roger Coathup - Dave Weldon, Hexham 20th March 2007
1 d4 Nf6; 2 c4 e6; 3 Nc3 d5; 4 cd ed; 5 Bg5 Be7; 6 e3 Nbd7; 7 Bd3 Nf8; 8 Nge2 Ne6; 9 Bh4 0-0; 10 0-0 c6; 11 Qc2 g6; 12 f3 Nh5; 13 Bf2 f5; 14 Rad1 Bh4; 15 g3 Bg5; 16 e4 fe; 17 fe de; 18 Ne4 Bh6; 19 Bc4 Kh8; 20 d5 cd; 21 Bd5 Qe7; 22 Qc4 Bg7; 23 N2c3 Ng5; 24 Bc5 Rf1+; 25 Rf1 Qe5; 26 Ng5 Qg5; 27 Ne4 Qe5; 28 Rf8+ Bf8; 29 Bd4 1-0

We'd turned up for the match a man short (my mistake!), but fortunately John Morton, David Henderson and Paul Dargan also delivered to keep our slim title hopes alive.

ITV News Stills

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

Chess in the media

One of the things that struck me most when visiting South America was the status accorded to chess. Not only was the game played in the streets and parks, but the tournaments and players were given lots of column inches, often even front page, in the daily newspapers.

In the UK, commentators like Malcolm Pein in the Daily Telegraph do a sterling job, but are limited to small pieces buried deep in the paper. It seems that this is the case in the States as well, witness the recent pleading to save chess from Susan Polgar, ground-breaking player turned lobbyist and chess businesswoman, in her blog.

So, we're going to enjoy riding our wave of publicity at Chess Tales (TV, Radio and now Newspaper) and hope it's not our last. On the other hand, we might just all emigrate to Peru.

Monday, 19 March 2007

Sophie's build up to Dresden

Martin Seeber writes his first post for Chess Tales:

Sophie's participation in the European chess championships is a very exciting adventure.

Tomorrow ITV will record an interview with Sophie including a fun game against their reporter. They've challenged Sophie to win in 25 moves. So we are looking for a Queen sacrifice and a red faced reporter. Its all going to be filmed in front of a big fire which reminds us all of the beauty of chess on those Northern winter nights.

Sophie is preparing for the tournament. Firstly, we have decided the best approach is to be more attacking than usual and we've picked White systems which are a bit more aggressive than Sophie's usual repertoire. The reasoning behind this is Sophie will be out-graded by many opponents and will need to fight hard for points.
We're learning the 4 pawns attack this week.


Talking European chess on BBC Radio

Just a quick snippet to let you know you can hear Sophie talking about the upcoming European Chess Championships on BBC Radio Newcastle tomorrow morning. She's due to be on air at 7.20am.

Chess on Tyne Tees Television

Tyne Tees Television are going to run a news feature about Sophie's participation in the European Chess Championships. We are filming tomorrow for an expected slot on the 6 o'clock news on Wednesday evening.

The coverage will be shot in the drawing room at Matfen Hall hotel in Northumberland, where the oak panelled walls and roaring fire should provide a atmospheric backdrop to the chess imagery.

The planned format is an interview with Sophie, a game between her and the reporter, and an interview with myself as the 'chess guru'. We'll try to get a copy of the footage for the blog.

Meantime, we are looking to borrow an ornate chess set to complete the scene; any offers, please drop me an email on roger at 21thoughts dot com.

Sunday, 18 March 2007

Great sites to play chess online for free


If you are looking for a great site to play online chess, I have a couple of recommendations and best of all they are both free of charge.

Buho 21 is based in Spain and offers the cleanest and best interface I have come across. Register, download the java application, and you'll be playing chess in no time. There is an active community of strong players, mainly from Spain and Latin America, and getting a game is no problem. There are a couple of downsides, the server was a little unreliable earlier this year, and the number of master players tends to be limited.

Following the server problems on Buho 21, I started playing at Chess Assistant. This is the playing site of the Russian chess database vendor. The interface is cluttered and non intuitive at first (like the ICC), but repays your perserverance. This is definitely the site if you want to play masters and even grandmasters on an almost daily basis. Finding an ad-hoc game can sometimes be slow, but there are countless tournaments you can enter throughout the day.

Thursday, 15 March 2007

Introducing Sophie

Sophie Seeber is a 17 year old schoolgirl from Ponteland High (near Newcastle) who has just 'bagged' the opportunity of a lifetime, she's been selected to represent England in the European Chess Championships in Dresden next month.

Sophie will be accompanied at the tournament by her dad, Martin, and I've persuaded them both to blog their adventures here on ChessTales. Martin's famous for his boundless enthusiasm and once checkmated me with Black in 16 moves: something for which I've forgiven him (almost!).

The tournament is great news for the North East as well as Sophie; it's the first time the region has had a representative at such a prestigious event. In the women's section, Sophie will be competing against 9 of the top 20 ranked players in the world, including Antoaneta Stefanova, the 2004 World Champion from Bulguria, and top seed Nadezhda Kosintseva from Russia.

It's an expensive affair and any local business interested in sponsoring Sophie would be most welcome. Please contact me and I'll put you in touch.

Watch out for Sophie and Martin's posts over the coming weeks.

Saturday, 3 March 2007

Samaipata, the best chess club in the world

Few places can claim as magical a location as Samaipata. This gem of a town perches 1800 metres up in the Bolivian Andes; Parque Amboro, the edge of the Amazonian jungles and the most biodiverse place on the planet, flanks it to the North and East; the road in and out hugs the top of vast precipices; there are series of majestic waterfalls; and last, but not least, there is El Fuerte, one of the great Inca edifices and a world heritage site.

My first visit also revealed something else amazing, which needed a double take: driving (bouncing) along the main street we passed the local museum and then a house which I swore had a sign saying "Amigos del Ajedrez" (friends of chess). Stop, reverse, did it really say that, unbelievably it did. Ok, for those of you who don't play chess, why is this amazing:

  1. Well, Samaipata may be beautiful, but it's remote and only has about 1000 people
  2. Chess clubs in England can't afford their own buildings
  3. Heavens, chess clubs in England can't even afford their own sign!

Amigos del Ajedrez, Samaipata isn't just a chess club though... it's the best chess club in the world. Push open the door (which, by the way, appears to be open 7 days / week, 24 hours / day) and you'll find out why. The club is on three floors sweeping around an open courtyard (complete with giant chess set). There are tournament rooms, lecture rooms, tables flanking the staircase, a reading room complete with portraits of all the world champions, a chess cafe, a restuarant, computers, a vast (and full) trophy cabinet and accomodation. Most importantly, there is a constant buzz as players, including hordes of enthusiastic juniors, flow in and out all day. I knew chess was more important in South America, but this has to be seen to be believed.

I've played in Samaipata twice, been warmly welcomed each time, and then lined up for their most talented youngsters to take 5-minute pot-shots at. On my first visit I chatted with a Prof. Wolfgang Paulin, a German who had founded the club in 1997, and on my second with the principal trainer, Prof. Rolando Luna. I've never been anywhere like it.

Samaipata also boasts everything you'd expect of an small Andean town, deeply rutted mud and clay roads, a butchers with meat 2 or 3 times a week, tablecloths over window-sills to indicate bread is available to buy, the most welcoming and friendly people, and fresh fruit dropping from the trees. Its location also means it offers rustic restaurants, tours of the jungle, and accomodation including backpacking, cabanas and stunning houses. What's more it's on the newly opened Che Guevara trail, he fought a skirmish here shortly before his death in nearby Vallegrande.

If you get the chance, visit!

If you've been to the Moscow Central Club, or somewhere else great... bring on the debate!

Playing Vladimir Kramnik and beating Gormally

Back in Autumn 2005, I was luck enough to play the World Champion, Vladimir Kramnik, and then beat Grandmaster Danny Gormally.

I wrote about them back then, and for completeness here are the links:

playing Vladimir Kramnik
beating GM Danny Gormally

What's the best chess clock in the world?

"what's the best chess clock in the world?" was a search query someone used on Google this week that sent them to my online shop. They didn't buy (this time!), but it did inspire me to start this blog, answer their question (crowdsource!), collate a few of my old posts and hammer out some new ones... so here goes:

Digital clocks have been with us for a while now, and have become standard in the International tournament world. They are also essential if you want to play with incremental time limits, i.e. you get some extra time everytime you play a move. DGT are the brand I've used, and I believe are the most widespread.

However, I'm not a big fan of digital and prefer a traditional analogue clock. You can't play incremental limits with them, but they do give you immediate and clear awareness of the time you have remaining. Most importantly, if you are buying it for home use, they look so much more stylish. My favourite is the wood encased, large faced, and distinctly east european feeling clock from INSA.


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Chess Tales by Roger Coathup: A collection of online articles about chess and chess players.