Sunday, 6 October 2019

P.P. Arnold at Middlesbrough Town Hall

P.P. Arnold
Middlesbrough Town Hall
2 October 2019
The first stop on the tour for The New Adventures of…P.P. Arnold – her first solo album for 51 years – made for an excellent evening of soul and blues in Middlesbrough last night.

Arnold, a former Ikette, has worked with an extraordinary rage of people over the course of her lengthy career, including Mick Jagger, The Small Faces and Roger Waters, usually on backing vocals.

However, this tour brings Arnold to the front of stage and, backed by an eight-piece band, she is able to showcase her material and powerful voice.

Steve Craddock (Ocean Colour Scene, Paul Weller et al) is the leader of the band and his guitar work is exemplary.

The set list brought together prime cuts from all across her career and merged them with the material from the new album and three top shots were saved for the impressive encore.

Arnold turned 73 the day after the gig but age has had no apparent impact on her voice or energy. At various times during the show she talked a little about her experiences from a lifetime in the business, such as the time Mick Jagger took her a walk during the 1966 Ike and Tina Turner UK tour and persuaded her to stay in England to pursue a solo career. The stories never outstayed their welcome though and nor did they kill the pace of the show.

It was a very entertaining evening, albeit one with a smaller audience than one might have expected; with approximately 150 people, the show was in The Crypt rather than the main room. However, that suited those of us who enjoy intimate gigs just fine.

Apart from the excellent music, one was left with the impression that the drummer looks remarkably like Jack Harper (the conductor) from On The Buses, which kept me smiling all evening.

Keep up to date with the P.P. Arnold news and tour dates over at her official website.

Sunday, 29 September 2019

Project 30: Year 3, Round One

I am pleased to confirm the return of the two main Project 30 tournaments for 2019-20.

The draw for the first round of both events was made immediately after yesterday's Mike Closs Memorial Tournament, with one draw being made by the players and the other by Evie and Jessica, two local juniors who happened to be on hand at The Keys.

Project 30 KO Tournament

Each of the rounds will feature one game played at the normal time limit (36 moves in 90 minutes followed by an extra 15 minutes on each clock to play to a finish). Colours will be decided immediately before the games in the usual fashion.

Drawn games will require a replay with colours reversed, which can be played at any time limit agreed by both opponents. If both players cannot reach agreement the aforementioned timings will be used.

Round 1 Pairings

Matt Jackman v Peter Harker

Paul Weightman v John Garnett

Graham Edwards v Kevin Waterman

Richard Harris v Mike Creaney 

Sean Cassidy v Rayelynn Posadas

David Baillie v Sean Marsh

Mike Pointon v Royce Parker

Project 30 Rapidplay Championship

The first round will feature two games will be played (one with each colour) with 30 minutes on each clock. Players winning their mini-matches will progress to the next round. Players losing their mini-matches will be eliminated. In the event of a 1-1 tie, the players will contest two five-minute games and keep on doing so if further scores of 1-1 are recorded.

The second round will feature Rapidplay matches of four games, the semi-final will feature six games and the final will feature eight games, with all of these rounds following the same tiebreak method as the first round (if required).

The number of players in the Rapidplay event has doubled this year and a number of players will be making their Project 30 debuts.

Round 1 Pairings

David Baillie v Matt Jackman

Paul Weightman v Richard Harris

Graham Edwards v Mike Pointon

Mike Creaney v Sean Cassidy

John Garnett v Sean Marsh

Rayelynn Posadas v Royce Parker

Peter Harker v Kevin Waterman

The games in both sections need to be played by the end of November 2019.

10th Mike Closs Memorial Tournament - Report and Results

Today brought the 10th Mike Closs Memorial Tournament, played in honour of my great friend.

Unfortunately, illness meant a disappointed Matt Jackman had to withdraw before play began, but four players were still enough to produce an excellent set of tough battles and totally uncompromising chess - just the way Mike always liked it to be.

In fact we were able to play a double-round robin with 20 minutes on each clock rather then the 10 we originally intended. The extra thinking time certainly came in useful as the games were all very complicated.

We reduced the number of set openings too, but they were still variations of the Sicilian Defence, which was one of Mike's great favourites throughout his chess years.

The players chose a Poldark-themed photograph to determine the order of play. I was hoping they would leave Demelza for me, but I was left with George Warleggan instead.

Who would you choose?
With food at the ready, it was time for battle to commence.

The Return of the Infamous Boogie Bites

Round One


Richard Harris 0, Sean Marsh 2

Royce Parker 2, David Baillie 0

The opening round featured the Najdorf Variation of the Sicilian Defence.

Something strange happened at the start of the first games. The back door unexpectedly blew open, as if Mike himself had arrived to observe the games

David and I both played the Sozin Attack with White; a real blast from the past - Fischer's favourite weapon against his own favourite defence.

My second game against Richard saw me end up worse towards the end but he eventually lost on time.

Royce scarified a piece in the second game against David and for a while it didn't look like there was enough compensation, but things swung back in Royce's favour when both players were very short of time on the clock.

Round 2

This time it was the Scheveningen Variation.


Richard Harris 0, David Baillie 2

Sean Marsh 2, Royce Parker 0

Royce came out fighting with the Keres Attack (6 g4) and even though he lost two pawns there was definitely compensation due to his very strong knight, which was very difficult to challenge. Black's extra material did eventually tell, but it was not an easy game. I played the Sozin Attack again in the second game and the complications favoured White from early on.

Meanwhile, David and Richard had two great battles, the second of which seemed to go on forever before Richard unfortunately ran out of time again.

Round 3

The final round brought the Accelerated Fianchetto Variation into play.

Accelerated Fianchetto


Royce Parker 0.5, Richard Harris 1.5

David Baillie 0, Sean Marsh 2

Richard won his first game against Royce with a very nice checkmate, after both sides had spent some time attacking with queens and rooks. The second game looked good for Richard too, but Royce played very resourcefully in the endgame to create enough counterplay to make the first and only draw of the tournament - in the very last game to finish.

My first game with David saw my excellent opponent create a typical space advantage, which was only broken when a key pawn dropped off, after which the tactics were in Black's favour. David made an uncharacteristic early error in the second game which brought about a defeat.

Final Scores

Sean Marsh, 6/6
Royce Parker, 2.5/6
David Baillie, 2/6
Richard Harris, 1.5/6 
I was very pleased to be able to spend a day in the company of such genuine gentlemen. I am sure we all learned a great deal playing the openings with which we were all unfamiliar.

There was still time for the traditional post-tournament meal, which was enjoyed by all concerned.

Thank you, everyone!

The 11th Mike Closs Memorial Tournament will happen some time during 2020.

Index of Tournament Reports

1st Mike Closs Memorial Tournament, 2010

2nd Mike Closs Memorial Tournament, 2011

3rd Mike Closs Memorial Tournament, 2012

4th Mike Closs Memorial Tournament, 2013

5th Mike Closs Memorial Tournament, 2014

6th Mike Closs Memorial Tournament, 2015

7th Mike Closs Memorial Tournament, 2016

8th Mike Closs Memorial Tournament, 2017

9th Mike Closs Memorial Tournament, 2018

10th Mike Closs Memorial Tournament, 2019

Thursday, 26 September 2019

10th Mike Closs Memorial Tournanent - Sicilian Inspiration

As we will all be playing the Sicilian Defence at the 10th Mike Closs Memorial Tournament - from both sides of the board - I thought it would be useful to offer a little 1 e4 c5 inspiration. What better way can there be but to present two previously unpublished games by Mike himself?

The first game came in one of our favourite competitions. The late-1980s were the glory days for Guisborough Chess Club and we always did reasonably well in the National Club Championship. One year we managed to win a chess clock for reaching the semi-finals.

In 1988 we were paired with a very strong Durham City side. We lost very narrowly (I lost to International Master Colin Crouch on board one, having gone a piece up with my Dutch Defence but failing to keep control in mutual time-trouble).

Meanwhile, Mike played a brilliant game against one the North East's strongest players.

Back in those days, when we both dreamed of crashing through the 200 barrier with our British Chess Federation grades, any win against someone 200+ was rightly considered to be a very fine achievement. Mike was very proud of this game and the result. In fact he would always prefer to win and have the team lose than the other way around! This would sometimes cause odd situations during which the depressed team (on the very rare occasions we lost a match) would have to share a car with him on the long journeys home and listen to him when all he wanted to do was tell us all - repeatedly - how brilliantly he had played!

Mike Closs v Ken Neat
Guisborough v Durham City

National Club Championship 

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nc6 6.Ndb5 d6 7.Bf4 e5 8.Bg5 a6 9.Na3 b5 10.Nd5 Be7 11.Bxf6 Bxf6 12.c3 0–0 13.Nc2 Bg5 14.h4 Bh6 15.g4 Bf4 16.Qf3 Be6 

This really is heavyweight Sicilian play. Ken offers a pawn sacrifice to seize control of some central squares - and any opening up of the game would appear to be in Black's favour, as White's king lacks a stable home.

17.Nxf4 exf4 18.Qxf4 Ne5 19.f3 Qb6 20.Be2 b4 

A second pawn sacrifice. Now 21 Nxb4 a5 with ...Rxb2 to follow is not acceptable for White, so he must capture with the c-pawn and hope Black's activity along the c-file won't prove too irksome.

21.cxb4 Rfc8 22.Qe3 Qb7 23.Qd2 

Ken, an excellent and extremely experienced player, would have been well aware of the need to stir up further trouble before Mike can consolidate his position and enjoy his extra material. However, Black's next sacrifice does not achieve the desired effect, despite the visual attraction. In fact the best chance here was the classic Sicilian break with 23 ...d6-d5, which would have split open centre and activated the bishop on e6, giving chances to both sides.

23 ...Rxc2 24.Qxc2 Qxb4+ 25.Qd2 Qb6 26.b3 Rc8 27.Rd1 Rc6 28.Qd4 Qa5+ 29.b4 Qa3 30.0–0 h6 31.Kg2 Rc3 32.Qxd6 Bc4 33.Qxe5 Rc2 34.Rf2 1–0

Mike could have forced a checkmate with 34 Rd8+ Kh7 35 Qf5+ g6 36 Qf6, which would have reduced Black to a few insignificant checks, but the text was good enough to force resignation, so it doesn't matter very much at all.

It is strange how things change. We looked all set to take Guisborough into an extended spell of greatness but so many of our players had to leave the area in search of work (this was the 1980s, remember. If you think things weren't too bad then you weren't there).

I started working for myself and had to stop playing in the local chess scene for a decade. Mike joined our greatest rivals - Middlesbrough Rooks - and had more great success with them. We eventually reunited at Elmwood had a sensational decade together.

This game shows a typical success with White. Mike does all the normal Sicilian moves, makes a couple of little threats and his opponent cracks under the pressure. Having Black against Mike could be an intimidating experience and few could ever pass the test.

Mike Closs - Vidal Madria
Middlesbrough Rooks v Whitby


1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 e6 4.d4 cxd4 5.Nxd4 Nf6 6.Be3 Be7 7.f4 d6 8.Qf3 Bd7 9.Bd3 Qb8 10.0–0 Nxd4 11.Bxd4 Bc6 

12.Qg3 h5 13.e5 h4 14.Qh3 Nd7 15.Rae1

15 ...dxe5 16.fxe5 Nc5 17.Bb5 Qc7 18.Qf3 0–0–0 19.Bxc6 Rxd4 20.Nb5

Black is now losing material and will find no compensation. Some players would have played on for a while with black, but Vidal - Whitby's top player for some years, before he left the country - clearly knew Mike was never going to let such an advantage slip away, so he resigned. 1-0

The South at the Princess Alexandra Auditorium

The South
 Princess Alexandra Auditorium, Yarm
22 September 2019
The New Beautiful South were created in 2008, a year after The Beautiful South came to an end. The name then changed again to the stripped-down version of The South. There have been more changes of personnel than names; the group is now fronted by Alison Wheeler and (former saxophonist) Gaz Birtles, who share the lead vocals.

Their repertoire features classic songs from The Beautiful South days, such as Rotterdam, Perfect 10, Old Red Eyes is Back, Bell Bottomed Tear and, of course, their top hit, A Little Time. There was also room for Dream a Little Dream and material from The South's own Sweet Refrains album, including Pigeonhole.

The singers were in great voice and the band on excellent form. The only oddity was the disparity between the respective lengths of each part of the show. There was no support but the first half lasted just a shade over half an hour. The second half was a little over an hour so the split seemed uneven and it seemed almost as if they were acting as their own support act during the first half.

Nevertheless, the second half was clearly crafted to gradually bring the dancers in the audience to their feet - and it worked well, with Alison and Gaz leading the way by example; they even came out to dance with the audience a couple of times.

It was a very entertaining evening and another feather in the cap of the Princess Alexandra Auditorium, whose range of events continues to expand at a very impressive rate.

News and tour dates can be found over at the official website for The South.

The Bluejays at Billingham Forum

The Bluejays
Billingham Forum
20 September 2019

It didn’t take The Bluejays very long at all to return to Teesside. They followed up their relatively recent appearance in Yarm with a date in Billingham, which brought an otherwise dull evening alive with the a world of Rock n Roll spanning several decades.

The show was essentially same as the one in Yarm, taking the audience through a whistle-stop tour of the genre from Bill Hailey, through the usual suspects, including Elvis, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis, to reach Buddy Holly at the interval.

Then the British movement was covered, starting with Cliff Richard (formerly the cutting edge of British Rock 'n' Roll and still going strong today, of course).

We were also treated to classic cuts from Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, The Big Bopper, Ritchie Valens. Yes, the story of Rock 'n' Roll is replete with bittersweet memories and tragedies, but the classic songs defiintely live on and there will never come a day when the music dies.

The Bluejays really tore it up in style and with good humour too (‘we always tell them to leave a few empty seats to give plenty of room for dancing’.)

This is the third time I have seen The Bluejays and I am sure it will not be the last.

Catch up with their news and tour dates over at their official website.

Wednesday, 25 September 2019

10th Mike Closs Memorial Tournament - History

The Mike Closs Memorial Tournament has built up a significant history since the first event, back in 2010.

The venue for the inaugural event was La Fez in Marske, a Mexican restaurant. I am not sure if it is a comment on the quality of the play, but the la Fez closed down shortly afterwards.

In 2011 we occupied the Cleveland Bay in Eaglescliffe, with another all-star cast of chess stars.

Future Grandmaster and British Champion, Jonathan Hawkins, was the guest of honour and he demonstrated his win over Grandmaster Stuart Conquest.

The magnificent Middlesbrough Reference Library was the venue for the 2012 event, which was the last of the three large-scale tournaments.

From 2013 up until this year the venue has been Marsh Towers.

The full stories of our memorial events can be found by clicking on the titles below.

1st Mike Closs Memorial Tournament, 2010

2nd Mike Closs Memorial Tournament, 2011

3rd Mike Closs Memorial Tournament, 2012

4th Mike Closs Memorial Tournament, 2013

5th Mike Closs Memorial Tournament, 2014

6th Mike Closs Memorial Tournament, 2015

7th Mike Closs Memorial Tournament, 2016

8th Mike Closs Memorial Tournament, 2017

9th Mike Closs Memorial Tournament, 2018

Tuesday, 24 September 2019

10th Mike Closs Memorial Tournament - Try These Gambits

As mentioned yesterday, the theme of the 10th Mike Closs Memorial Tournament will be the Sicilian Defence.

Mike was a great expert on the opening from both sides of the board. As White, he didn’t care which variation he faced. As Black, he favoured the Dragon and Accelerated Fianchetto variations, with the occasional Najdorf thrown in for good measure.

He didn’t always play the main lines as White; sometimes he preferred a Wing Gambit, which he found particularly effective after 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 and only then 3 b4.

Mike always liked to attack and was noticeably weaker when forced to defend. Fortunately for him, he usually seized the initiative early in the game and was rarely forced into defensive mode.

Anyone wanting to explore attacking opening lines could take a leaf from Mike’s book and try one or more of the following lines.

1 e4 e6 2 Nf3 d5 3 e5 c5 4 b4
French Wing Gambit
1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 b4
Sicilian Wing Gambit
1 e4 e5 2 d4 exd4 3 c3 dxc3 4 Bc4 cxb2 5 Bxb2
Danish Gambit
Mike never had anything particularly explosive against the Caro Kann. He liked the Advance Variation and dabbled with the Exchange Variation too, but generally speaking he didn’t have any particularly notable successes against 1 ...c6. Nor did he have anything especially potent against the rarer defences, such as Alekhine’s Defence. The point was he liked to play the percentage game and saw little need to spend time on openings that were unlikely to occur at club level at the time.

However, put 1 ...c5, 1 ...e5 or 1 ...e6 up against his 1 e4 and he could be absolutely devastating.

Nobody seems to play any of the above gambits any more. Perhaps they are due a revival?