Sunday, 7 August 2016

15 Moments (Part 3: Games 11-15)

This is the final part of the review of my own playing season. (Click for Part 1 and Part 2).

At this stage in the season, Redcar were definitely in the driving seat for a league and cup double, especially as we had already beaten Middlesbrough Rooks in both competitions. It is, however, a big mistake to relax the efforts before the job is done and we were very aware that just one match defeat would reignite the title chase.

SM vs. David Oates (Darlington)
Darlington had been strengthened by the return of David Oates. Remarkably, we shared the top spot in the local grading list, at 214. At the end of an interesting game a winning tactic appeared. 32 Re8+ (and if 32 ...Rxe8 then 33 Qxd5.) The game continued 32 ...Kg7 33 Qg4+ Kf7 34 Qg8+ 1-0.

Bob Harding (Westgarth) vs. SM
I last played Bob back in 1992, when he was a Middlesbrough Rook! The Rooks were the second Middlesbrough team back in those days, behind Middlesbrough A. This had been a very tough game but Black's passed pawns exert terrific influence on the position and it should be no surprise that a winning tactic is available. 41 ...Rb1+ 42 Ke2 Rb2+ and the knight is lost to the skewer, so 0-1.

SM vs. Bob Harding (Westgarth)
Having not played Bob for so many years, it was ironic that we should play each other in two consecutive matches. This time it was in the Tom Wise KO Cup semi-final. Black found his pieces tangled after 13 Bd3 h6 14 Nc4, winning a piece. 1-0.

SM vs. Mike Hardman (Great Ayton)
Mike is very difficult to beat, as his record on board 1 over the years will show. This very tense game was decided by an unexpected kinight sacrifice, 25 Ng4. Now 25 ...hxg4 26 Qh2 cannot be allowed, but the knight is also on the way to a better square. 25 ...Qd8 26 Nh6+ 1-0

Steve Dauber (Darlington) vs. SM
And so, we conclude with the final of the Tom Wise Knockout Cup. Steve and I had played side-by-side for Elmwood over the course of a whole decade and have played each other many times. Steve held an advantage in the middlegame, with his bishop pair causing me problems. However, a late, sacrificial counterattack changed the course of the game. 

We both missed stronger continuations in my time trouble but in this position the advantage is with Black, despite the material discrepancy. 28 ...Nxg3+ lights the blue touch paper. What cannot play 29 hxg3 due to 29 ...Qh3+ and 30 ...Qg2 checkmate, so he tried to run away with his king with 29 Kg1, but there was nowhere to hide. 0-1, 34.

This brought my personal score for the season to 15/15 and increased my grade again, this time to 221.

Thus Redcar A won the Cleveland A Division and the Tom Wise Knockout Cup.

I have yet to make a decision on whether or not to play again for the 2016-7 season.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

15 Moments (Part 2: Games 6-10)

Following on from yesterday's post, here are some moments from games 6-10 of my recent chess season.

SM vs. Brian Ellis (Thornaby)
This was my first-ever game against Thornaby, although I did play Brian Ellis twice back in the early 1980s. One of the Thornaby team refused to play against me. In this position I thought it would be a good idea to prevent Black from castling, so I played 9 b4. 9 ...Qxb4 10 Rb1 and 9 ...cxb4 10 Nb3 were the ideas. In the game, Black tried 9 ...Qb6, but after 10 bxc5 dxc5 11 d6 Bd8 12 e5 the writing was on the wall (1-0, 20).

SM vs. Bill Wilson (Hartlepool)
Bill offered me the exchange on d7, but I preferred to keep the pressure at maximum. After 29 Rg1, Bill resigned, with material equality still on the board. This was in the Tom Wise Knockout Cup, so we were still hopeful of a league and cup double.

Paul Gregory vs. SM (Middlesbrough Rooks)
A big match against our main title rivals. Paul was Cleveland Champion just a couple of years ago and a tough game was always in prospect. Here, with both clock flags hanging and the match depending on the result of this game, I checkmated his king with 45 ...Bf7!

Sean Cassidy (Stockton) vs. SM
Sean and I used to play lots of friendly games when we were both at Elmwood, but this was our first serious encounter. His king never quite found safety in this game. 22 ...f3+ brought matters to a swift conclusion: 23 Nxf3 Nf4+ and 0-1.

My game against Sean was my last on board 2. My run of wins had given me a new grade which meant I had to play on board one for the rest of the season.

Bernie Price (Hartlepool) vs. SM
I only made one big blunder all season, and here it is. I played 26 ...Bb4, overlooking 27 Nxc4! dxc4 28 d5, when my bishop is trapped on e6. I glanced to see the position on board 2, and saw what I believed to be another lost position. Julian, it seemed, was the exchange down to Bill Wilson and the queens were about to be exchanged. Two losses would see us lose the match and undo a lot of our good work in the league so I couldn't resign. I reached an endgame with two pawns against the spare bishop (plus a rook each) and Bernie ran very short of time, which allowed me turn the game around (0-1, 72). Julian won too. He hadn't been the exchange down at all; his water bottle had obscured his second bishop from my view.

So the league and cup campaign continued, with Redcar now clear favourites for both titles...

Friday, 5 August 2016

15 Moments (Part 1: Games 1-5)

Having returned to local league chess for the first time in a decade, I wasn't sure how successful I could be. 10 years of absence is always going to produce a large amount of rust. 

The season provided a very interesting experiment. Which parts of my game would be weaker? Which parts would be (more or less) unaffected?

The 15 games I played for Redcar in the Cleveland League and Tom Wise Knockout Cup all had interesting moments. Following my personal review of the season, I have selected one brief moment from each of the games.

SM vs. Andrew Killick (Stockton)
Andrew and I used to work together at Yarm School. We also played for Elmwood when we had a super team that also included Mike Closs, Steve Dauber and John Garnett, so we know each other's game very well. My first move for 10 years was the same one I played when I last faced Andrew over the board - 1 c4! Andrew played very tactically, trying to exploit my rust, but despite using a lot of time on the clock I managed to navigate my way through his sacrifices (1-0, 45).

Bill Wilson (Hartlepool) vs. SM
Bill was a new opponent for me. Hartlepool had a tough season in the A Division but never stopped fighting. In this game I crowned a white-squared strategy with 16 ...Qc4, after which White must lose material (0-1, 19).

SM vs. Jonathan Sams (Darlington)
This was a tough game. White's endgame advantage consists of one pawn, but a neat liquidation increased the winning chances. 26 Rc7+ and one pair of rooks is coming off, no matter how Black replies. After the exchange, Black's pawns will be a shade more vulnerable and chances of counterplay will be reduced. (1-0, 38)

David Richardson (Westgarth) vs. SM
'Dangerous Dave' and I first played in the Middlesbrough Junior Chess Congress back in 1982. His attacking prowess cannot be taken lightly. However, in what became a running theme through my season, I managed to increase my advantage with a timely liquidation. It is unusual to swap two bishops for knights on consecutive moves, but after 31 ...Bxe3 32 Bxe3 Bxc4 33 bxc4 Rb2 the advantage grew (0-1, 42).

Paul Perrett (Middlesbrough Rooks) vs. SM
Middlesbrough Rooks were always going to be one of the toughest teams to face in the league. However, this was is the Tom Wise Knockout Cup and they were not at full strength, so we were able to progress comfortably to the second round. Paul was in my Under-9 county team a long time ago. He excels in attack and here he is limbering up for a knight leap to g5 after an exchange of bishops. At this key moment of the game, I was able to cut the lines of communication within his ranks with 24 ...Ne3! when all of the tactics are in Black's favour (0-1, 35).

This brought us to Christmas 2015, with Redcar on top of the league and into the second round of the cup. Great drama awaited us in the New Year...

Monday, 11 July 2016


July 2016 marks the end of my 28th consecutive year of teaching chess in schools.

When I first started, back in September 1988, it was with the thought that it would be great to get a full year out of it but that I would definitely take another job as soon as one came along (it hasn't, yet...).

1988 - when the world was still in black and white
The first year set the scene for much of what was to follow. Working in schools is never as easy as some people have the ability to make it appear to be. Back in 1988 schools were very different in many ways. There was absolutely no security, for one thing. No fences around the schools, no buzzers on the doors, no visitor badges, nobody asking any of the obvious questions. Anybody could come and go as they please. I worked in one Middlesbrough school for six months and never once encountered a single member of staff. My CRB certificate went unchecked wherever I went.

What else was different? Headteachers would still teach. They enjoyed teaching. Schools didn't have computers; not even in the school office. Index cards and filing cabinets ruled the world of information. Cups of tea (rare in themselves; sometimes I never found the staffroom after being in a school for a decade) came without rubber safety lids. Back then, if someone - no matter what age - ran into you, it was fair game to tell them to watch where they were going.

I never trained as a teacher. In fact, apart from attending a course with Bob Wade - the same one who appears in my foreword to The Batsford Book of Chess: From Beginner to Winner, I had no training of any kind. I really did make up my own style as I went along, picking up various (hopefully good) teaching ideas and techniques from a whole host of teachers and TAs. I have known lots of great teachers across the decades. Plenty of bad ones, too. The Headteacher of a school in Billingham once told me he was switching an established group of chess children for a new group, claiming the first group were 'really horrible children. They don't appreciate anything and I don't want them to have opportunities like this.' A strange message from a strange man. An early eye-opener about the scope of a school's ethos.

It always disappoints me when teaches spend every possible minute out if their class when I am there. Yes, everyone is busy. But should it be normal for a teacher not to ask how their own class is getting on? Not once, over the course of a whole school year?

Fortunately, I have known numerous fully committed and fiercely loyal teachers and TAs in my time. I will always be very grateful for their efforts.

My initial intention when I started working in schools was specifically to create good chess players. I found it frustrating when our county teams struggled against more experiences teams, although looking back we did make rapid progress as we went from being no-hope novices to qualifiers for the national finals.

County team success in 1993
My premise changed over the course of the first five years or so. I began to see the general opportunity as more important than the chess achievement. Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door. Give people an opportunity - no matter how small - to better themselves and you may be able to cut out the middleman and head straight for a better world.

I don't need to prove anything about the benefits of chess. They should be too obvious. The important detail is that the skills we encourage to develop are definitely transferable.

Strong chess players can make very poor tutors. Great teachers can be novice chess players. Which is the better combination of the two? The one with the great teacher - every time. Great teachers can teach virtually anything. Strong chess players can really struggle to find the most suitable level to be able teach chess successfully.

What does teaching chess in schools entail? A plethora of skills one wouldn't normally suspect were required. Lifting and rearranging furniture - and making sure it is all back in the correct place afterwards. Making sure children are collected by their parents at the end of an after-school session. Not really the chess tutor's job, but who else is going to do it? Taking the register if the teacher is late into class. Maintaining classroom discipline. Not upsetting teachers from neighbouring classrooms with the unmistakable sounds of children having fun. Finding another room to make way for someone else. In the distant past I fell for the 'one where we use the school hall and get booted out shortly after starting because it's nearly lunchtime.'

One learns to avoid the more obvious traps, over time.

The largest class I've ever had? Over 65 - in a Secondary School. They had messed up the internal timings and sent three groups at once. The most members of staff I have had talking loudly in classroom during a chess session? Six, four years ago. The smallest room I've ever been expected to use? A broom cupboard.

How many work-related bus journeys have I had during the school year 2015-6? The nearest estimate is 1020. Add a few trains and taxis, plus some lifts from very kind people, to build up the whole transport picture.

A decade came and went. Another soon followed; a third is now almost complete. An almost unbelievable amount of time has flown by. I already passed the stage - some time ago, in fact - of seeing my former chess pupils in their new lives: Headteachers, barristers, secretaries, footballers, parents...

Now I find children of my former pupils attending my sessions. It's a great feeling, showing progression. Although it can be a bittersweet experience. I recall a time when I was usually the youngest 'teacher' in a school. Now I often find myself working alongside staff less than half my age. Hello, Mr Chips.

One day I'll tell you the real story.
2016 - still going
How much longer will I continue in schools? All I can promise is that I am committed to my 29th year...

Sunday, 3 July 2016

7th Mike Closs Memorial Tournament

Four players contested this year's Mike Closs Memorial Tournament. The venue, for the fourth consecutive year, was Marsh Towers.

The defending champion, Julian Allinson, was back to try and defend his title and former champion David Baillie was one of the three challengers out to try and stop him. Julian and David are the only two people to have played in all seven memorial tournaments. They were joined by Kevin Winter, who has played in most of the events, and fellow CSC Teesside tutor, Richard Harris, who was making his debut.

The players selected an envelope to determine their number in the draw for pairings.

Play was soon underway...with just five minutes on each clock.

The first cycle in the 'all-play-all four times' allowed the players to use their favourite openings, but the second cycle imposed randomly drawn openings that were all based on Mike's favourites; mainly very sharp gambits.

At the end of the first cycle, the defending champion had already staked a strong claim to be crowned again.

First Cycle

5.5/6: Julian Allinson
3/6: David Baillie
2.5/6: Kevin Winter
1/6: Richard Harris

The second cycle saw the following openings: Sicilian Wing Gambit, Sicilian Dragon, Modern Defence, Black Lion, Modern Benoni and Milner-Barry Gambit.

Second Cycle

4.5/6: Julian Allinson
3.5/6: Kevin Winter
2.5/6: Richard Harris
1.5/6: David Baillie

Kevin and Richard both won more points in the themed cycle than they did in the first, whereas Julian and Dave did the opposite. Nevertheless, Julian, despite losing a game against Richard, had already done more than enough to secure first place.

Final Scores 

10/12: Julian Allinson
6/12: Kevin Winter
4.5/12: David Baillie
3.5/12: Richard Harris
Julian takes the title again!
Well played, everyone!
Reports on previous events:

6th Memorial Tournament

5th Memorial Tournament

4th Memorial Tournament

3rd Memorial Tournament

2nd Memorial Tournament

1st Memorial Tournament

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Mike and the Caro-Kann

As we saw yesterday, Mike Closs had a number of weapons in his arsenal to take on the French Defence. After his normal 1 e4, he played many times against 1 ...e6, but it is a little odd that so few people tried the related move 1 ...c6. Somehow the Caro-Kann was rarely seen in Mike's games. As far as I know, he never played it as Black, preferring openings based on a kingside fianchetto (Pirc, Modern, Sicilian Dragon), although he did have a brief spell with the French Defence a long time ago.

With White, he varied his response to the Caro-Kann without ever settling on a favourite. After 1 e4 c6 2 d4 d5, I certainly saw him play 3 Nc3, 3 Nd2, 3 e5 and 3 exd5 (the latter two against me when I twice surprised him with 1 ...c6).

Today's game sees him using the Advance Variation and reveling in the standard space advantage before arranging a tactical denouement.

Mike Closs vs. Kyle Kinnie
Redcar Open, 1995

1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 Bf5 4. Nc3 e6 5. Be3 Bb4 6. Nge2 Ne7 7. Ng3 g6 8. Bg5 h5 Black's kingside pawn play is reminiscent of a Gurgenidze System, although it would be useful if the bishop could fill in the weaknesses on the dark squares. On the other hand, the pin on the knight is quite annoying for White.

9. h4 Nd7 10. Be2 Qa5 11. Qd2 Rg8  Rather than commit the rook to a particular position, Black should have stayed more flexible with 11 ...c5 or even 11 ...0-0 12. O-O Nb6 13. a3 Bxc3 14. bxc3 Na4 15. Rab1 Just in time, as Black was building serious pressure on the queenside. The counter-threat against b7 stops Black from gaining the advantage.

15 ...Nb6 16. Rb3 Kd7 17. Rfb1 Rae8 An important moment in the game. White stands better, but how can he inject a little more poison into the position?

18. Qc1! Making way for the bishop to retreat from g5 to d2, when it can play against the black queen. I like this creative idea very much. 18 ...Rc8 19. Bd2 Nc4 Black cracks under the pressure. 19 ...Qa4, although not entirely satisfactory, avoids the tempo-gaining 20 c3-c4 and is probably the best try. Once b7 drops the writing is definitely on the wall. 20. Rxb7+ Rc7 21.Bg5 Rgc8 I can't recall a single game in which Mike threw away such an advantage. I really like the way he now swaps off all three sets of minor pieces, almost on successive moves. He undoubtedly had the final position of the game in his mind, even from this distance. 22. Bxe7 Kxe7 23. Qg5+ Ke8 24. Nxf5 exf5 25. Bxc4 dxc4

26. e6 Qa6 27. Rxc7 Rxc7 28. Rb8+ Rc8 

Go on then, Mike!

29. Qf6!! and Black resigned, 1-0. Just try and find a successful defence!

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Mike and the French Defence

We continue our tribute series to the late, great Mike Closs with a fabulous game he played against the French Defence.

The French Defence featured very regularly in our chess conversations, as it was the defence I most often played against his habitual 1 e4. Mike would try to trick me into revealing my thoughts on various lines, presumably with the idea of saving them up and using them against me. No such luck. Then, as now, I kept my cards close to my chest.

Mike Closs vs. Peter Hempson
Redcar Open, 1995

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2

Mike played so many lines against the French, including the Advance, 3 Nc3 and the Wing Gambit. However, the Tarrasch was his most regular choice.

3 ...Nf6 4. e5 Ne4 An unusual line, advocated by GM Daniel King on his French Defence DVDs (actually, in those days it was still Foxy Openings video tapes!).

5. Bd3 f5 6. exf6 Nxf6 7. g4

No messing around from Mike! Black must react to the threat of 8 g5 followed by a quick Qh5+.

7 ...g6 8. h4 e5 9. g5 e4 10. Be2 Ng8 11. Nb3 Bf5 12. Bf4 Bd6 13. Qd2 Ne7 14. O-O-O b6 15. f3 Mike's favourite occupation: opening lines!

15 ...Nbc6 16. fxe4 Bxe4 17. Rh3 

Wonderfully original play by Mike, who is already planning on swinging the rook across to the queenside.

17 ...Qd7 17 ...a5 is an interesting alternative, with the intention of embarrassing the knight on b3.

18. Bxd6 Qxd6 19. Re1 O-O-O This looks logical, but is perhaps inferior to both 19 ...a5 and 19 ...0-0. As soon as Black's king castles queenside, Mike steps up a gear and lets him have it.

 20. Ba6+ Kb8 21. Nc5!

He was very strong when he held the initiative.

21 ...Na5 22. Ra3 Rhf8 23. Ree3 Nf5 24. Rec3 bxc5 25. Rxa5 Nxd4 26. Rcxc5 Qf4 Tempting, as it appears to substantially dilute the attack, However, Mike proves it to be an error. Black should have tried the unlikely-looking 26 ...Qxa6 27 Rxa6 when 27 ...Rf1+ 28 Qd1 and now not the obvious 28 ...Rxd1+, which leaves White in control, but 28 ...Rxg1!!, when 29 Qxg1 allows 29 ...Ne2+ and 30 ...Nxg1.

27. Rab5+!

Mike's attack is spectacular and even more impressive as it looks as if Black has secured an exchange of queens. How is Mike to crown his attack without his favourite attacking piece....?

27 ...Nxb5 28. Rxb5+ Ka8 29. Bb7+ Kb8 30. Bxd5+ Kc8 31. Be6+ Rd7 32. Bxd7+ Kd8 33. Rb8+ Ke7 

Go on then, Mike!

34. Re8+! Rxe8 35. Qxf4 Kxd7 36. Nf3 and after this remarkably late debut move by White's king's knight, Black resigned, 1-0