Thursday, 28 August 2014

Batsford Book of Chess: Further Information

Further information on my book, which is due for release on 4 September 2014.

From the Batsford website:

The Batsford Book of Chess is a landmark, full-colour chess instruction book, authoritatively written and beautifully designed. Arranged in the form of a course, it will take you all the way from tentative beginner to formidable chess player. 'Quick Start' reference pages help you retain the information you've learned, and puzzle sections let you test yourself as you go. To illustrate more advanced strategy and tactics, the author uses world-class 'chess heroes' such as Bobby Fischer and Mikhail Tal to bring the concepts to life.

Essential topics include:

• Pieces and Moves: the very basics, covering the chessboard, notation, the names of the pieces and how they move, plus an overview of chess etiquette

• What Chess is All About: an exploration of chess culture and history

• Winning, Drawing and Losing: Covers the various ways of winning at chess, and how games are drawn

• Six Openings for Life: Coverage of six of the best chess openings, each illustrated by a different 'chess hero'

• Tactical Weapons: An examination of forks, pins, skewers and other tactical devices, followed by illustrative games from Tactical Hero Mikhail Tal

• Positional Play: Looks at good and bad positions, plus the art of planning, seen through the games of Positional Hero Tigran Petrosian

• Human Factors: Typical mistakes and blunders you'll need to steer clear of

Easy to follow, yet more thorough and more challenging than other chess instruction books on the market, this book is an essential companion for all budding chess champions.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014


Review copies have been distributed and events are being planned.

The big release date is 4 September 2014!

Friday, 22 August 2014

Glenn Tilbrook in Saltburn

Glenn Tilbrook
Spa Hotel, Saltburn
Having enjoyed Glenn Tilbrook's excellent show at The Arc last December, I was delighted to see he was returning to Teesside so soon. Not that the advertising poster was much help, which somehow managed to get the date wrong by a few days.

I'd only been to the Spa Hotel once before and that was to see Nine Below Zero (Glenn's collaborators on The Co-Operative album). On that occasion it had become clear that bagging one of the front tables was preferable to taking a chance with the outer seats, because some members of the audience preferred to talk to each other - very loudly - instead of watching the band. With that in mind, front row seats were duly grabbed - although it didn't solve all the sound problems of the evening.

Indeed, from the very first number, Glenn spent a significant part of the first half of the show struggling to fully communicate various issues regarding the on-stage monitors. Even though everything sounded fine from our side of the show, things were clearly not right on stage. Eventually, the problems led to him abandoning an acoustic version of Black Sheep and taking an unscheduled break of five minutes. He returned and started Black Sheep again, this time with electric guitar rather than acoustic, which he kept for the rest of the show.

Less experienced artistes may have suffered a lot more but Glenn remained ultra-polite throughout the problems. Fortunately, he works without a written set list and he can adapt his repertoire according to circumstance. On this evening we were treated to a fine selection of Squeeze classics plus songs from The Co-Operative and his most recent solo album, Happy Ending (by the way, both of those are definitely worth picking up) and other eras, and even a few unexpected covers.
Set List

Ter-wit Ter-woo

(At this point, talented guitarist 11-year-old Leon Tilbrook - Glenn's son! - took to the stage and after a couple of blues numbers there followed a duet on the next number - Take Me I'm Yours - before leaving Glenn solo again for the rest of the show.)

Take Me I'm Yours
Up The Junction
The Truth
Black Sheep acoustic, abandoned
Black Sheep with electric guitar
Chat Line Larry
Black Coffee
Another Nail in My Heart

Annie Get Your Gun
The Elephant Ride
Love Potion No.9
Melody Motel
Some Fantastic Place
I Hear You Knocking
Oh Well
Slap and Tickle
Everybody Sometimes
Is That Love

''What would you like to hear?'' asked Glenn, as he emerged for the encore, whereupon he was met with a deluge of requests. Cool For Cats was a popular choice, but one he had to decline (he wasn't confident about getting anywhere near Squeeze-mate Chris Difford's trademark vocal delivery). Nevertheless, he pulled out three popular choices to conclude the evening's entertainment.

Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)
Ice Cream (with semi-obligatory audience sing-along)
Goodbye Girl

Little anecdotes occasionally punctuated the songs. The best concerned a Scottish barber who had convinced himself he had talent, even though his sample song was nothing more than a poor version of Lola. This was why Glenn now wears his hair longer than he did when we saw him at The Arc.

Long hair!
Elsewhere, we heard about Beach Boy Dennis Wilson (about whom the song Dennis is about) telling Squeeze not to split up at the end of their Jamaican tour of 1982 (advice they didn't follow) and the way to gauge a person's age (it depends on whether they call festivals ''pop festivals'' or not), which led into Persephone (with its Bolan Deborah roots clearly showing).
Sound issues aside (which should have been ironed out pre-show), this was a very entertaining evening. Hopefully Teesside won't have to wait too long for a return visit.

As usual, Glenn was on hand for a quick chat after the show.
Follow the latest Tilbrook news and tour dates over at his official website.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

New Music

More new music has arrived at Marsh Towers.

Reviews will follow soon...

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Movie Treasures

Movie Treasures
Kirkleatham Museum
12 July - 19 October 2014

Last Autumn we enjoyed a visit to the Invasion exhibition at Kirkleatham Hall Museum. This time they had an exhibition devoted to Movie Treasures, featuring authentic costumes, props and cinema posters from the world of films.

Here are a few (mainly self-explanatory) photos from the exhibition.

Authentic ''Buffy the Vampire Slayer'' cross

She doesn't look particularly reluctant

The Boots of a Spice Girl
Played and signed by Chuck Berry
The exhibition runs until 19 October 2014. For further details head for this website.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Chess Reviews: 246

This is the last review column of a very busy week. More will follow later in the month.

I have saved Peter Lalic's book until the end of this particular series and I must declare an interest right at the start. Peter has been my friend for a number of years and he gave up a lot of his time to create monthly videos for the Mike Closs Memorial website during the initial memorial season.

In fact, the Accelerated Dragon - 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 g6 - was one of Mike's favourite openings. Back in the mid-1980s we prepared some lines together (it was the first opening we analysed together in depth) and went on to try them out in county matches and Open tournaments.
The much-missed Mighty Mish
Mike had great success with the opening while I struggled to generate any play on the black side of a Maroczy Bind rather too often for comfort. I dropped the Accelerated Dragon from my repertoire but Mike kept it for the next couple of decades. Various memories of those days came back to me while I was reading Peter's book and some of those memories will follow towards the end of this review.

In Play the Accelerated Dragon, his debut book from Everyman Chess, Peter Lalic presents a repertoire for Black and splits his analysis into six main parts.

The Main Line: Yugoslav Attack Attempts
The Main Line:  7 Bc4
The Main Line:  Classical Variation
White Deviations
Maroczy Bind:  Strategic Ideas
Maroczy Bind:  Gurgenidze Variation

The introduction explains why he prefers the Accelerated Dragon to the normal Sicilian Dragon. ''The critical difference'' is ''in waiting flexibly with the d-pawn: in the majority of variations, when it does advance, it will accelerate straight to d5.''

Peter also makes six promises in his introduction regarding the content and repertoire:

1) Prepared with this repertoire, you'll never have to fear the Yugoslav Attack

2) Clear, consistent plans instead of transposing into (sub-)standard Dragons

3) Flexibility to fight for a win or to simplify for a draw

4) A reliable scheme of development (....g6, ...Bg7, ...Nf6, ...0-0 in that order) against almost anything

5) Positional understanding, transcending move orders

6) The most effective variations

Staying with the introduction, we find the first manifestations of two key features of Peter's writing style: 1) his humour and 2) the frequent references to pop culture (especially films; ''Enter the Dragon'' being an easy starter). Anyone familiar with Peter's articles for CHESS Magazine - or who has spoken with him in real life - will already know what to expect. Knowing him and then flagging up his stylistic writing preferences in a negative manner is a little bit like walking near the sea wearing sandals and complaining that one's feet are getting wet. So it is safe to say that readers can expect a bombardment of humour, some of it certainly gratuitous.
Peter at the 2011 British Chess Championship.
His mother, Susan, is on the next board.
A major selling point of the Accelerated Dragon over it's regular cousin is, of course, the option of playing ...d7-d5 in one go rather than wasting a tempo on ...d7-d6 along the way. Peter is at his best when he is explaining how, when and why Black should make the pawn lunge. It is effective against both the Yugoslav Attack and the Classical Variation (coverage of which takes us almost exactly to the halfway point of the book's 176 pages) as these snippets show:

Peebo vs. Kupreichik
USSR Team Ch. 1968
8 ...d5! and Black won in just 18 moves.

Fuller vs. Miles
London 1975
 8 ...d5! (0-1, 38)

White Deviations is a brief overview - 15 pages - of early options to the main lines. Peter doesn't see any reason to fear any of them and he offers dynamic play for Black in each case, or at least an easy transposition back to the main lines.

The Maroczy Bind is covered over the course of 59 pages. It's a tricky subject and Peter admits ''5 c4 basically kills our thematic ...d5 counterstrike and with it any dynamism for the foreseeable future.'' He offers an outline of Blacks options, boiling down the advice into five main parts.

1) Trading pieces to relieve congestion.

2) Manoeuvring through a dark-square strategy.

3) Provoking b2-b3 for further weaknesses.

4) Undermining c4 with ...b7-b5.

5) Flanking e4 via ...f7-f5.

The specific line Peter recommends against the Maroczy Bind is 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 g6 5 c4 d6 6 Nc3 Nf6 7 Be2 Nxd4 8 Qxd4 Bg7 - the Gurgenidze System.

It seems to me that this is the weak point in Black's repertoire. If White is happy to draw there's not a lot Black can do about it. See, for example, Peter's illustrative game number 45, showing Spassky vs. Petrosian (Game 3, World Championship match1969). That's fine for Grandmasters in top-level tournaments and matches, but not so good for club players or those who regularly compete in weekend Swiss tournaments. I am never happy to play an opening that allows the opponent to draw more or less at will. It is precisely in this section of the book that I would recommend further reading an extended study to try and come up with an alternative way of playing, probably by avoiding the Gurgenidze System altogether.

Apart from my reservations regarding the Gurgenidze System, I can recommend Play the Accelerated Dragon to club players who would like to learn a new opening from scratch. Peter's lively writing style and genuine enthusiasm for the subject make for an interesting and engaging reading experience. This is an instructive book and good attempt to try something a little different to the norm (in some ways similar to Charlie Storey's book on The Sniper).

Meanwhile, going back to the 1980s and our own experiences with the Accelerated Dragon, I recall two grim experiences playing against the Maroczy Bind.
G. Smith vs. S.M.
Cleveland vs. Northumberland, 1986
I must have mistimed something because White forced a clear edge here 20 b4 Nd7 21 c5 and try as I might I couldn't shake off the pressure. There was once chance towards the end but I missed it.
G. Smith vs. S.M.
Cleveland vs. Northumberland, 1986
I played 37 ...Bb8? view a view to blockading the passed pawn, but as it turned out the fact that the bishop was en prise to the rook limited my options. Both 37 ...Be5 and 37 ...Rd2+ would have given reasonable chances of holding the game. As it happened, we reached move 40 and the was adjudicated as a win for White. (Adjudications! Remember those...?)

An earlier game on the Black side of a Maroczy Bind wasn't from an Accelerated Dragon, but from a 3 Bb5+ Anti-Sicilian. I struggled throughout the game and should have lost.
G. House vs. SM
Penrith Major 1985
42 a4! bxa4 43 b5 looked to put White on the path to victory, but by some miracle I managed to scramble to the next position...
G. House vs. SM
Penrith Major 1985
...when a draw was agreed.

That was another thing about preparing the Black side of Open Sicilians back in the 1980s; so many opponents ducked the issue with 3 Bb5+ or 2 f4/2 Nc3 3 f4 that one could go months without being able to play 3 ...cxd4 and show off one's preparation. Luckily, John Nunn came to the rescue in the mid-1980s with his classic book Beating the Sicilian and more and more 1 e4 players suddenly switched back the main lines.

John Nunn to the rescue!
It's clear, looking back, that the Accelerated Dragon simply didn't suit my style. In both of the examples given above I managed to leave my opponent with his better bishop, giving me no opportunity to head for the standard endgame of good black knight vs. bad white bishop (the one operating on the white squares!). It was some time later that I saw how to head for such endgames, when I spent a decade playing alongside John Garnett at Elmwood chess club. John, who recently finished as runner-up at the prestigious Major Open section of the British Championship, is an expert in such matters and his best Accelerated Dragon games are very instructive indeed.
John Garnett, with 2014 British Champion 
Johnathan Hawkins looking on
Mike Closs had rather more success against Maroczy Binds than I did. Instead of putting up with a slightly worse position and a long, grim defence, he usually found some wonderful tactics to solve his problems.
R.McDermott vs. Mike Closs
Cleveland Open 1987
White set a little trap here, but Mike saw further. 15 ...Ba4 16 b3 Bxa1 17 bxa4 Bg7 18 Bxc5 dxc5 19 Nf6+ Bxf6 20 Rxd8 Rfxd8 21 f4 Bd4+ 22 Kf1 e5 and it is clear to see that Black has the advantage (0-1, 42).

R.McDermott vs. Mike Closs
Cleveland Open 1987
His best result with the Accelerated Dragon came later the same year when he played A.J. Norris, who was graded 208 (Mike and I had both recently been pleased to crash the 170 barrier). It was another Maroczy Bind and another tactical solution.
A.J. Norris vs. Mike Closs
Tyne and Wear Open 1987
34 ...Rxg2!! A thunderbolt! 35 Nxg2 Rxc4 is checkmate and 35 Rxa5, intending 36 Nxg2, fails to 35 ...bxa5 with check.

Norris battled on but fell for another tactical blow shortly afterwards.
A.J. Norris vs. Mike Closs
Tyne and Wear Open 1987
39 ...Nc6+! and 0-1, 49. (Incidentally, this was the year Mike remembered to pack his chess books for the congress but forgot to pack his underwear.)

When people didn't play the Maroczy Bind, Mike's tactics simply came earlier on. I lost count of the number of times I saw him uncork this trap.
Ron Stather vs. Mike Closs
Cleveland Championship 1986-7
8 ...Qb4 9 Bb3 Nxe4! and White cannot avoid the loss of material. Ron proceeded to sacrifice large amounts of material and succeeded in chasing Mike's king around for a while, but the Mighty Mish has the last tactical laugh.
Ron Stather vs. Mike Closs
Cleveland Championship 1986-7
 42 ...Qxg1+! 0-1.

A good note on which to finish this extended column.