Sunday, 29 July 2007

New Stuff!

Hello everyone,

Please find two new columns enclosed for your perusal and enjoyment: 'Entertainment' and 'Book Reviews 26'. Post some comments by all means!



Sometimes - just sometimes - chess players like to spend an occasional evening away from the board of squares and seek their thrills and spills elsewhere.

In a period of particularly non-competitive spirit, I recently chanced a number of different ways in my quest to be entertained.

First up: a unique footballing treat in the form of a friendly match between second division Darlington and Premiership Sunderland. Darlington’s quest for play-off glory at the end of last season had not so much fizzled out as had been extinguished just as surely as it had been dumped right in the middle of the North Sea. Could their pre-season rebuilding strengthen them enough to give the Championship champions a run for our ticket money? Well...not really.

The waterlogged pitch didn’t even level the playing field; the skill-gap glared like a bald head at a Rockabilly reunion. Sunderland should have scored in the first minute and it was only a matter of time before the back of the home net bulged. In fact, Darlington, not short of effort, did well to hold the Black Cats to a mere 0-2 score line. Grim stuff. The black and white men could be in for a very tricky season.

The next slab of entertainment was much better. Have you ever seen Blondie in concert? They were sensational at Harrogate, from the moment they launched into ‘Dreaming’ to the second they finished their explosive encore. Clem Burke must be one of the most under-rated drummers in history. He has to be seen - and heard - to be believed. With his massive drum kit surrounded by Perspex to avoid deafening the rest of the band, he hammered away all night, more often than not leading the songs in and closing them out with a last rumble and smash. Every now and then he would hurl a drumstick high in the air and then catch it on the way down and continue with his pounding.

The whole band was on great form and all seemed to be thoroughly enjoying what they were doing. Debbie Harry is, of course, the focal point. She oozes ‘cool’ and class and has the audience permanently in the palm of her hand. For the first few songs her hair was perfectly styled and in place. Just before ‘Accidents Never Happen’ she slipped on a head band and ruffled her hair, punk-style. The audience went wild.

All the favourite songs were there, including ‘Heart of Glass‘, ‘Atomic‘, ‘Hanging on the Telephone’ and ‘Rapture‘. The two most recent albums were represented by ‘Screaming Skin’, ‘Good Boys’ and, of course, ‘Maria’.

After the last tour, rumours circulated that Blondie would take to the road no more. I’m delighted the information was inaccurate. On this form, they could go on forever but next time they are in town make absolutely sure you get to see them. You’ll thank me for it!

Two nights at the Saltburn Comedy Festival completed a busy week. The invited acts were all trying out their shows for the forthcoming Edinburgh Festival.

I was unable to get a ticket for the first night of the Festival and the second night, featuring Norman Lovett, clashed with the football.

Festivals can often be a bit of a curate’s egg and this one was no exception. The first of the two nights is best described as ‘disappointing’. Swearing may well have its place in comedy; in the right context and used sparingly it can certainly emphasise a joke, punctuate a punchline and provide a cue for laughter. Used indiscriminately, fired around every couple of seconds like so many bullets from a drunk’s machine gun, they achieve the dubious distinction of becoming intensely irritating and dreadfully dull at one and the same time. Still, many other people in the audience seemed happy enough to laugh on cue so it’s probably a case of ‘to each, his own’.

The final act of the Festival was, for me at the least, the highlight. Jason Manford was a very good stand-up comic, masterful with ad-libs and skilled in the art of dealing with hecklers. It was mainly observation comedy, similar to Peter Kay’s stand-up routines. Very good fun!

For further details of this ambitious Festival, pop along to:

Hopefully there will be a similar event next year.

So, dear readers, did you go to any of these events too? Add a comment and share your thoughts, by all means!

Saturday, 28 July 2007

Chess Book Reviews 27

Chess Book Reviews 27

Play 1...Nc6!
By IM Christopher Wisnewski
Everyman Chess

‘Are you constantly struggling with the black pieces?
Can’t make up your mind which openings to play?
Are you for something new: an all-in-one to your problems?
Look no further!’

It’s so tempting to try and find a book to cover every eventuality for a single colour! How much easier one’s chess preparation would be. Can it be that the unlikely looking 1...Nc6 could fit the bill?

Let’s take a look at the suggested repertoire…

IM Wisnewski suggests that against:

a) 1 e4 Nc6 the unusual Nimzowitsch Defence is worth a try; e.g. 2 d4 d5 and now 3 exd5 Qxd5; 3 e5 f6; 3 Nc3 e6 are the recommendations. The latter is an interesting choice; it was recommended in Watson’s recent Secret Weapons volume on the French Defence, although the present work gives a slightly different variation.

b) 1 d4 d5 2 c4 Nc6 and eagle-eyed readers (or even Helen Keller) will be able to spot that it is actually 2...Nc6 that is recommended here. The point is to cut out the messier 1 d4 Nc6 2 d5 lines and therefore limit the amount of material to be studied. Yes, it’s a full-blown Chigorin Defence Black is going for. There has been a lot of interest in this formerly neglected defence and I think it’s only a matter of time before it enjoys a spell of real popularity.

c) 1 c4 Nc6 2 Nc3 e5 leads straight into the main lines of the English Opening, with the English Four Knights being the destination of choice.

d) 1 Nf3 Nc6 is a pushy response, ‘threatening’ 2...e5 followed by a reversed Pirc set-up, in which IM Wisnewski recommends that Black should try a sequence featuring …d5, …f6, …Be6, …Qd7,…0-0-0 and …Bh3 with an attack quick enough to scare any KIA addicts witless.

All very interesting stuff, and written up with great enthusiasm.

There’s a very helpful index at the end of the book, which adopts the unusual method of listing all of the games alphabetically by ‘Black player’ and then repeats the process by ‘White player’. This is informative when one is trying to see which top players take up which side of the argument.

It’s easy to see at a glance that IM Wisnewski has included 15 of his own games, upholding the honour of 1...Nc6. I always like to see that the author has experience, and trust, in the lines he is writing about. For if he doesn’t, then why is he recommending them?

With lots of original analysis and some extremely unusual positions (particularly in the Nimzowitsch Defence section), this could indeed be a an excellent way to put together ‘a complete chess opening repertoire for Black’ and one that would, when mastered, provide you with some fascinating, fresh games.

The Survival Guide to Competitive Chess
By GM John Emms
Everyman Chess

‘Are you making the most of your chess talent?
Do you always perform to the best of your ability?
Do your results match up with your understanding of the game?
If the answer to any of these questions is ‘no’ then read on!’

This interesting new book, from one of Everyman’s top authors, takes a novel way of trying to improve the reader’s game. GM Emms really bares his soul by using mistakes - often very costly ones - from his own games. A lot of chess players dread the idea of their mistakes being found out and displayed, but here the author bravely tells all, based on the idea that he can remember his thoughts from his own games and this information can be used to explain the mistakes made.

There are four chapters: ‘In the Heat of the Battle’. ‘Winning, Drawing and Losing’, ‘Clock Control’ and ‘Opening Play’. The titles will give you a clue as to the general content of each chapter.

More specifically, good advice is given on such topics as ‘Check Every Move!’, ‘Avoiding High Risk/Low Reward Tactics’, ‘The Poker Face’, ‘Grinding Out Endgame Wins’, ‘Draw By Reputation’, ‘The Perils of Time-Trouble’, ‘Guarding Against Complacency’ and many others.
Here’s a few random examples of his thought-provoking advice…

To deal with bad positions, GM Emms recommends pretending to yourself that it was someone else who got you into trouble and that you can fight harder - and forget your past mistakes easier - if you imagine you are trying to retrieve the position from someone else’s bad play.

‘Keep it simple, stupid! (KISS)’ is excellent advice to follow when in time-trouble. Remembering this could enable to keep a cool head when the temptation is to lash out to force an adrenalin-fuelled quick decision.

Don’t be afraid of going into endgames, especially dull-looking ones when trying to beat weaker players. If they really are weaker then mistakes will surely happen and it doesn’t matter whether it’s on move 20 or 50.

This is a good book; easy to read, instructive and very informative. The unique method of a strong Grandmaster showing a lot of his worst moments rather than his best is an inspiration to us all. Recommended reading!

For further details about Everyman chess books, please visit:

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Archive Update

Lots of UNCUT! columns have been added to the archive (dating back to 2001 and 2002). Steve Henderson is doing an excellent job of helping me transfer the columns across. The UNCUT!s stopped at number 60 so there are plenty still to come. Then there will be 24 issues of book reviews to add, plus a mountain of junior news, reports, games etc to archive.

Expect some brand new content very soon, dear readers!

Monday, 16 July 2007


Things may look a little disjointed at Marsh Towers for the first week or two as I bring an archive of my work from the Cleveland Chess Association website over to here. Bit by bit, every one of my book reviews, UNCUT! columns and junior reports, from 2001 to 2007, should find their way to Marsh Towers.

However, don't think that means there will be no original content for those who followed the earlier columns in real time. Oh no! There'll be plenty of new stuff so come back soon and see.

I have decided to date all archive material from the Cleveland Chess Association site as predating this blog, so if you are interested in reading the old UNCUT! and book review columns then please keep an eye on the blog archive, where all the old columns will be dated from 2001 onwards and added very frequently. Some will be augmented by historical comments.

Saturday, 14 July 2007

Chess Reviews: 26

Dear Readers,

I am pleased to present the first real new blog content for your perusal.

I am very grateful to Steve Henderson, Cleveland Chess President and all round good egg, for his many years of support in hosting all my previous online columns.

We are working on bringing the entire archive of reviews etc over from the Cleveland Chess website ( ) to this blog. In time, I am hoping to diversify and produce reviews for books other than chess (although works on the ‘little black and white men’ will naturally continue to make up the bulk of what will be found here).

So without further ado, please feel free to don your spectacles and run your beautiful eyes over the following brand new issue…

Chess Book Reviews 26

Improve Your Chess in Seven Days
By IM Gary Lane
Batsford Chess

The book’s mission is simple enough: seven chess lessons, one for each day of the week, aimed at players who would like to improve their chess but lack the time (or inclination) for deep study.

The chapters offer a plethora of tips on aspects of the game from the opening to the endgame, plus advice on how to avoid blunders and how to swindle valuable points from lost positions.
IM Lane is the ideal author for such a book. His style is always very readable and his great experience as a chess teacher and writer enables him to communicate with the reader with consummate élan.

In the section ‘Strategy versus Tactics’ Lane reveals a good way to win more games. Using predict-a-move he suggests that you can often guess the move your opponent would like to play and set a cunning trap in anticipation.

There is much of interest in this book, particularly for the club player, but everyone should find something of interest and amusement. With Gary Lane’s customary humour well to the fore, this is an entertaining and instructive read.

Transpo Tricks In Chess
By GM Andrew Soltis
Batsford Chess

GM Soltis seems to have discovered a niche with Batsford. This is another slightly off-centre work with an unusual subject matter.

A lot of clever players use transpositions to force the game into patterns they are more familiar with, or to avoid the opponent’s favoured lines. For instance, Kramnik used 1 Nf3 consistently on his way to the ultimate chess title, switching between regular Queen’s Gambit lines and slippery English-based variations to counter respective opponents.

This is the first time I’ve seen a book totally dedicated to such transpositional tricks.

There’s some very interesting stuff here. In seven chapters, GM Soltis takes the reader on a guided tour of move-order tricks from the double King-pawn openings all the way to the Flank Openings.

Even top players can be confused by transpositions. GM Soltis looks at the move order….
1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 exd4 4 Bc4!?
Apparently, in an ECO volume GM Polugaevsky considered 4 …Nf6 5 Ng5 d5 to be in White’s favour. Yet on the same page he gave a different move order to the same position ( 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 Nf6 4 Ng5!? exd4 5 Bc4 d5 ) and considered it equal.

Surprises await the reader in every chapter. For example, after 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 White more often than not develops and defends with 5 Nc3 but in doing so gives up any ambition of achieving the Maroczy Bind. However, how about the cunning 5 Bd3!?

Soltis opines that after 5 …e5 6 Nf3 and 7 c4 is good for White, as is the alternative 5 …Nc6 6 Nxc6 bxc6 7 c4 g6 8 b3.

Up against a Benoni player in your next game? You could give this a try…
1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 c5 4 d5 exd5 5 cxd5 d6 6 Nf3 g6 7 Nd2
Now one recommended recipe for Black is 7 …Nbd7 to meet 8 Nc4 with the nullifying 8 …Nb6. However, after 8 e4 it turns out that White has done a little bit of home cooking himself. Black has been tricked into a Classical Variation, without the option of lines with an early …Na6 or …Bg4!

Very interesting! And typical of the thought-provoking material to be found in this original work. There’s no guarantee that this book will help you put points on the tournament table but you will be able to get more of your favourite positions on the board.
For further details about Batsford chess books, please visit:

Play the Grunfeld
By IM Yelena Dembo
Everyman Chess

The Grunfeld Defence enjoyed a revival when Garry Kasparov added it to his repertoire in the 1980s and dragged a theoretical debate with Anatoly Karpov kicking and screaming into the 1990s. In fact Kasparov’s score with the Grunfeld wasn’t that great and it even contributed to his World Championship defeat to Kramnik in 2000 when the latter hammered a firm nail into the coffin of The Boss as early as game 2.

However, with several top players and a whole host of club players following in the footsteps of the 13th World Champion, the Grunfeld retained it’s popularity and there’s certainly been no shortage of books on the subject in recent years.

One of the downsides of following fashion is that the average player simply hasn’t got the time to keep up with all of the latest top-level developments. In this new book, IM Dembo advocates a sensible-looking repertoire based mainly on variations which do not follow the absolute main lines.

For example, in the famous line: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nxc3 6.bxc3 Bg7 7.Nf3 c5 8.Rb1 0–0 9.Be2
9 …cxd4 10 cxd4 Qa5+ 11 Bd2 Qxa2 12 0-0 is eschewed in favour of the (much) lesser-analysed but eminently playable 9 …b6

Against the trendy 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nxc3 6.bxc3 Bg7 7.Bc4 c5 8.Ne2 Nc6 9.Be3 0–0 10.0–0

…two options are considered, namely 10 ...Na5 and 10 …Bd7. Both of these steer well clear of the really critical lines following the more common 10 …Bg4, thus cutting down a lot of study time.

All of White’s major - and minor - options are considered, including the tricky 3 f3, with which White hopes to trick Black into a Saemisch King’s Indian. 3 …e5 is the fun solution offered. The weird 4 g4 and 4 h4 are also analysed.

The bibliography shows the depth of research at the same time as revealing the extent to which the Grunfeld has already been covered. Bill Hartston’s book has been omitted; a pity, because it predates the Adorjan and Dory book by over a decade, yet the latter is highlighted as the first important book on the subject.

Nevertheless, despite this minor historical quibble, this strikes me as being a well-written book and a very useful repertoire. Grunfeld aficionados will naturally lap up any new material on their favourite opening and this one would make an excellent addition to their bulging libraries.
For further details about Everyman chess books, please visit:

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

New Blog

Hello everyone and welcome to my new blog.

Some of you may remember my columns over at the Cleveland Chess site. I am hoping to transfer the archive of chess news, book reviews etc to this blog.

My new columns will all be posted here at regular intervals. Having my own place means I can write about anything I like; the content will not be merely chess-centered.

Expect book reviews, chess news and my views on anything and everything I find of interest.

The format will change from time to time as I grow accustomed to the new style but hopefully there will always be something of interest to someone.

Best wishes to all!

Under Construction

Under Construction - Drop in again soon and see when I'm ready for you!