Chess is a difficult game. When the World Champion (well, one of them at least) can win a tournament having scored only two wins from 12 games, and the best player in the world can win only one game from 12 – and still come second in the same tournament - then it really brings home how tricky it can be to actually win a game of chess.
Opening knowledge is going deeper and deeper, analysis with super-strength computers is sharpening up the tactical vision of most players and endgames with few pieces can be solved perfectly at the click of a mouse.
Are we now close to the ‘draw-death’ predicted by a line of players going all the way back to the great Capablanca? I don’t know. Shuffle Chess, or Fischerandom Chess to give it the trendy name, which keeps the same basic rules of chess but with random starting positions for the back line pieces, has not caught on and doesn’t seem likely to. The only chance it would have is if Bobby Fischer himself would actually play some public matches of this form of chess but then Fischer would always attract publicity no matter what he did.
So despite the lack of blood in the games of the leading players, we still log on in our thousands to watch them play but are more often than disappointed to see a 20 move draw in a peculiar variation of a Sicilian Defence, in which the players pretend to battle for the key d5 square for an hour or so.
Fortunately, club chess is still a million miles away from top-level GM chess, despite us all having potential access to the same software, databases and the like. We can see French Winawers, Sicilian Dragons, 150 Attacks and even Budapest Defences! We can hustle our opponents in mutual time trouble and maybe even win the most drawish of endgames! We can even set little middlegame traps ending in the most elementary of traps, and fall for just the same amount of traps in return! We can spend ages analyzing a particularly sharp and critical opening variation, only to face a rare sideline on the night and lose hopelessly due to lack of basic knowledge!
All of this fun to be had…and still club chess goes on declining sharply. In 10 years time, will the average chess fan really be happy with a weekly ‘fix’ of a quick draw between two world champions or will he pine for the old days when he could go to his local chess club once a week and worry and fret over which team will beat which other team, how many points will be needed in the final run-in of the season, will we get a board six to play next week etc etc.
Still we battle on. We play in venues colder than can possibly be healthy, venues that are completely lacking in any sort of creature comforts, we come home smelling of smoke, we play in tiny huts and endure local yobs throwing bricks at the walls. We put up with opponents who have never once turned up on time, we put up with discos next door.
We must all really enjoy the struggle.
The Tom Wise K.O. Cup 2004
With all due respect to the other teams, I do believe that the semi-finals of this season’s cup feature the four most dangerous teams in the A division.
Champions Elmwood take on Middlesbrough Rooks. Elmwood’s cup pedigree is second to none but the Rooks, having now all but conceded the title race (Elmwood need just a win and draw from their last four matches to clinch it), will be eager to salvage something from a disappointing season. The Rooks struggle to get their full side out in the early stages of the cup and often come undone, but I’m sure they will be at full strength for this big clash.
The other semi-final should be extremely interesting. Peterlee, so often a major threat for the A division title but never quite living up to their promise, will be up against Middlesbrough Wasps.
The Wasps had a disappointing start to the season but have improved of late. Just a couple of matches ago they crushed (an under-strength) Peterlee in the league.
Last season, Peterlee and The Wasps both reached the semis but were knocked out by Elmwood and Athenaeum respectively. If both sides are at full strength it will be a very tough battle.
The Plate tournament is also intriguing. Stokesley and Synthonia will both be hoping that this season’s A division experience will give them the edge but it will be very close.
B division leaders Elmwood Juniors will play Upper Eskdale and should go into the match as clear favourites, but you can never tell with the cup.
All of these cup battles will be played at The Touchdown (Hartlepool) on Monday 19th April. Should be a very good night of chess.
Junior Chess Championships
When an eight year old wins the county U-18 title, you can rest assured that he has talent.
For the full story of the recent County Junior Championships, please visit the Chess Links Project section of this site:
(Relevant link here when ready)