Thursday 1 September 2005

Chess Reviews: 3

Hello, folks! Thanks for dropping by. With the new season about to start it seems timely to take a look at some brand new opening books. You never know, one or more of these could be useful to freshen up your own repertoire….

Ruy Lopez Exchange
by Panczyk & Ilczuk

Players wishing to avoid the main lines of the Ruy Lopez yet still drum up good winning chances with 1 e4 would appear to have numerous options. However, a lot of the older, romantic openings are really struggling in a theoretical sense and it is extremely difficult to gain a serious edge against a 1 ...e5 exponent who knows his stuff. Indeed, seeing a King's Gambit or Vienna Game appearing on the board is more likely to come as a pleasant surprise than an unpleasant shock.

One attempt would be to try the Exchange Ruy Lopez. Naturally, one would have to have some knowledge of all the other Black defences after 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 but as 3 ...a6 is probably still the most expected reply then White can cut out a whole load of memory work by bypassing all the long and difficult main lines.
Emanuel Lasker showed it is possible to beat very strong players with this; his most famous games was of course his defeat of Capablanca in a key game of the famous 1914 St Petersburg tournament. Despite the best efforts of the second World Champion, it's popularity was never very high until Bobby Fischer shocked the world by winning three games with it in the 1966 Olympiad. Although the world had to take more notice of it after that, even Fischer didn't play it consistently so I don't think the theory developed particularly quickly. Nevertheless, it remained a good surprise weapon in the right hands and is still a very valid very to play.

At the base of White's strategy is the superior endgame he obtains by doubling Black's pawns so early in the game. The resulting structure theoretically gains in strength for White after each exchange. In a pure ending, White's Kingside pawn majority will be able to force the creation of a passed pawn but Black is very unlikely to do that with his crippled Queenside. Consequently, some Black players try to buck the trend at the earliest opportunity. Some try an early ...Qd6 and castle long; others stick by the older idea with an early ...Bg4 and then offer the sacrifice after h3 h5!? (which White should clearly decline).

The first chapter deals satisfactorily with the early sidelines for both sides and then quickly concludes that 5 0-0 is the only way to play for an advantage. The subsequent five chapters deal with all the positions following 5 0-0. First we see some unusual tries for Black, such as 5 ...Be6 and 5 ...Qf6 (neither as bad as they appear at first glance) and then we really get stuck into the main meat of the whole opening. Chapters 3 and 4 deal with 5 ...Bg4 and 5 ...Qd6 respectively and the final two chapters take a good look at the well established main line 5... f6 6 d4 followed by either 6 ....Bg4 (chapter 5) or 6 ...exd4 (chapter 6).

In most of these lines, White seems to retain no more than a slight edge and a lot of the illustrative games end in draws. I think you'd need to very confident about your technique to play in this way; there is often a major difference between the concept of heading for a superior ending and actually taking it to its desired conclusion. I played the Exchange Variation at the start of my time with Guisborough chess club in the early 1980s, but I simply wasn't up to the task of converting the advantage and shortly afterwards dropped it from my repertoire.

VERDICT: If you are wanting to take up an opening in which you are likely to have the better of the draw most of the time, then I would recommend this book to you as a very thorough guide. Best of all would be if you were willing to take on the main lines of the Ruy Lopez and wanted an occasional weapon to slip in from time to time. You could even exaggerate the threat by pausing for a few seconds after 3 ...a6, just to keep the opponent guessing.

The Scotch Game Explained
by Gary Lane

Another memory I have from my early Guisborough days is the way that Stuart Morgan made the Scotch Game look exceedingly strong. His harmonious play was well matched with the opening and a lot of his opponents simply didn't seem to have anything planned against 3 d4. At that time, the Scotch was considered an obscure opening but Kasparov brought its reputation kicking and screaming back into the chess world when he used it in his 1990 World Championship match with Karpov. Since then it has become a very respectable alternative to 3 Bb5.

Gary Lane's books have come in from a bit of criticism from some reviewers but I have always found his works extremely readable and suitably enthusiastic. His new book on the Scotch certainly lives up to his stated aim of 'providing a repertoire for White that requires low maintenance and can be learned in a weekend'. Lane runs through all the main variations and often gives them a slight twist to take play away from the main thickets of theory. For example, in the Mieses Variation he gives 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 exd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nxc6 bxc6 6 e5 Qe7 7 Qe2 Nd5 8 c4 Nb6 9 Nc3!? as his main line instead of the more common 9 Nd2 or 9 b3.

A bit of local colour is added when a couple of Eggleston games are referenced in the Scotch Four Knights chapter (although it doesn't say T. or D. - an omission chess books would do well to remedy sooner rather than later!).

I must admit that despite seeing a lot of Stuart Morgan's games all those years ago, the Scotch always was a bit of a mysterious uncharted country to me. Gary Lane's lucid explanations and cleverly chosen repertoire are helping me to plug the gap in my knowledge.

VERDICT: Of the three 1 e4 books this month, this is definitely the one I would choose to learn something new from and there is plenty of interesting material here for those already Scotching their opponent's intentions.

Italian Game and Evans Gambit

by Jan Pinski

The problem with studying old romantic openings such as the Italian Game and Evans Gambit is that one ends up thinking that everything is absolutely fine for Black (providing he knows his theory). As a decent alternative to the Ruy Lopez, these two lines are both sadly lacking. I was therefore interested to see what the author would make of them and how he would be able to inject some enthusiasm into the subject.

Unfortunately, I came away from the book struggling to find out how to create any sort of problems for Black. Typical comments by the author:

‘In positions like this you can beat even grandmasters. Obviously before this can happen, they will have to die from boredom…’

‘The main line (of the Moller Attack) is also completely harmless and the main problem Black needs to worry about is how to create winning chances’

Pinski concludes that White must play 5 d3 to try and win with the Italian Game and this is the subject of chapter 4, where after the very first diagram we read: ‘Black should always equalize without any real effort.’

So, in just over 50 pages we find that the Italian Game is not really worth playing for White, but of course you could still get away with it down at the club unless your opponent remembers to break with …d5 when convenient.

The enthusiasm is stepped up once we get to the Evans Gambit. This was an opening in slumber until Kasparov amazingly revived it with several wins against top-notch opposition, including Anand. However, once again it seems like Black’s resources are more than adequate and White players will really struggle to make an impression with this gambit.

The author’s sweeping statement that ‘although the Spanish gives more promise of a theoretical advantage, the Evans Gambit gives better chances of actually winning the game’ doesn’t really hold water.

I was also disappointed by the lack of historical context. In 1981, when Karpov successfully defend the world title against Korchnoy, he employed the Italian Game as a surprise weapon. In game 8 of the match there was a very interesting battle, one of the finest scuffles of the whole match. In game 10, Korchnoy equalized earlier and after that Karpov returned – with devastating effect - to the Ruy Lopez. What wasn’t known to Karpov and his camp was that Korchnoy had consulted with Italian expert Jonathan Mestel three years prior to the Merano match with a view to using the opening as a surprise weapon himself. This is a good bit of historical colour, but the whole Karpov – Korchnoy episode is relegated to a mere side variation.

Later on, we are treated to a couple of Chigorin – Steinitz clashes to demonstrate the Evans Gambit. The play of Steinitz doesn’t escape strong criticism, but here was an opportunity to add a little flesh to the story and explain the reason behind the telegraph match and Steinitz’s stubbornness. He had developed a very dim view of gambit play and challenged Chigorin to a short contest. ‘Let us play two games, you opening one and I the other. You will play the Evans Gambit in attack and the Two Knights Defence in the defence, and I will prove to you that the sacrifice of a pawn which these gambits entail will lose against the opposing game properly played.’

The First World Champion kept his extra pawn but it is clear that White has some compensation….

Steinitz lost the mini-match (played by telegraph) 0-2 and this led to their second World Championship match, in which he duly took revenge.
We do get some historical background to Captain Evans himself but this does come across as rather ‘cut and paste’.

VERDICT: All in all, this book is unlikely to win any new adherents to these ancient lines or even enthuse those who already dabble. It is best seen as a guide for Black and as such it could be useful.

Starting Out: Slav and Semi-Slav

by Glenn Flear

It is always a great pleasure to read an opening book written by an acknowledged expert on the lines in question. One of the first really good books on the Slav was Flear’s ‘The Slav For The Tournament Player’ back in 1988. In 2003 he returned to the subject with ‘The a6 Slav’, a line so new in 1988 that it was covered in less than five pages.

Back in 1988 he also included a chapter called: ‘Avoid the Semi-Slav!’ so he must have changed his opinion since then.

This new book covers both openings in good detail. After a brief introduction, the first 119 pages cover the various lines of the Slav, including the lines where Black tries the ….g6. Even though the …a6 lines remain very much the trend in modern chess, the more conventional lines are given excellent coverage too, as is the rarer – but solid – Schlechter system. Flear also covers the early gambit attempts by White and concludes that Black should be fine against all of them.

Any player wishing to take up the Slav as a winning weapon must be aware of the danger of White shutting up shop with the Exchange Variation. The author recommends an early …a6 to create some imbalance and also comments that the drawish statistics are a bit misleading, as the Exchange Variation is often chosen as a route to a mutually convenient rapid draw. As it’s been recommended in a few books over the years as a good way to play for White, Slav players should not be lulled into assuming peaceful intentions every time the opponent swaps off the pawns, so this chapter is particularly useful.

The Semi-Slav is covered in the next 100 pages. The complications arising from the Botvinnik Variation are legendary and it should come as no surprise that the games of Shirov are well quoted as examples.

Segunda – Vera, Benidorm 2002
White went on to win. If this sort of tactical mayhem appeals to you, perhaps you should take up the Semi-Slav!

However, the Meran System is also a very tricky beast and Flear quotes one game in which Kramnik played a novelty on move 29!

Illescas-Cordoba – Kramnik, Madrid 1993

Kramnik played 29…Kf8! as opposed to the older try 29…Bxd6 and drew 10 moves later.
Of course, such lines are unlikely ever to be relevant at club level, but Flear does a good job of explaining the early moves leading up these long lines.

Following a short chapter on early deviations - including the popular line 7 g4!? – the book concludes with 12 quiz positions to test your understanding of the material studied.

As is customary with the Starting Out range, the book likes to flash up the occasional ‘Tip’, ‘Note’ and ‘Warning’ and these often carry wisdom far beyond just the opening in question. For example, a good tip is: ‘Go through your own games (as soon as possible after you have finished) and get your opening sorted out for the next time. Don’t hesitate, do it straight away!’ and in an excellent note we find out that: ‘If the centre opens up in positions with opposite-side castling, flank attacks lose their potency.’

VERDICT: This is an excellent book for the reader wishing either to take up the Slav and Semi-Slav, or an existing Slav fan who wishes to increase his understanding further. The Grandmasterly wisdom is also much appreciated and such snippets of advice will stand the reader in good stead.

For details of Batsford chess books, please visit:

For details of Everyman chess books, please visit:

Happy reading!
September 1st 2005

Archive: UNCUT! 41

The Sean Marsh Chess Column
*Column 41*
* *September 2005* *

Dear Readers,

The chess world was saddened by news of the recent death of Leslie Stuart, one of the greatest local characters.

He won the famous Northumberland Zollner Trophy in 1949 and 1951 and was runner-up in the British Championship in 1952.

Leslie a Darlington regular in his latter days was always ready to encourage juniors.

This month’s column is a small collection of vignettes from the illustrate various chess moments from his long and fascinating life…

The Pin Variation
Although throughout his latter years he tended to avoid modern theory - often resorting to the London System and King’s Indian Attack, in which the main battle will usually take place in the middle game - he did enter a major theoretical debate from the Black side, with the Pin Variation of the Sicilian Defence.
After 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 e6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 Bb4 Leslie specialised in the enormous tactical complications resulting from the critical White attempt: 6 e5 Ne4 7 Qg4 Qa5!?

Tim Wall worked with Leslie on this variation and used it against some very strong players. An article in the BCM (July 1996) by Andrew Martin shed a little light on the depth of preparation involved in this line. The statistics are very much in White’s favour, but over the board it is clear that the better-prepared player will have the better chances.

The line even made it into the GAMBIT book ‘101 Chess Opening Surprises’.

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Bb4 6.e5 Ne4 7.Qg4 Qa5 8.Qxe4 Bxc3+ 9.bxc3 Qxc3+ 10.Kd1 Qxa1 11.Nb5 d5 12.Qb4 Nc6 13.Nc7+ Kd8 14.Qd6+ Bd7 15.Nxa8
16...Qd4+! An original idea; by provoking Bd3, Black ensures the Rh1 is hanging after ….Qa1+
16.Bd3 Qxe5 17.Bf4 Qa1+ 18.Bc1 Qe5 19.Bf4 Qa1+ 20.Bc1 Qe5
with a repetition in the offing. Graham Burgess gives Leslie credit for the analysis, but unfortunately changed his surname to ‘Stewart’ in the process.

Personal Encounters
The first time I played Leslie was at the Redcar Open 1988, when he had made an effort to return to regular chess tournaments after a lengthy absence. He defended well for some time but slowly the position was resolving itself in my favour. Eventually I built up a winning advantage, but it had cost me a lot of time on the clock. In my time trouble, things started to go wrong.
Leslie stepped up a gear and created numerous difficulties for me, eventually turning the tables. I was clearly upset by the turn of events (not least because the same sort of thing had happened two rounds prior to this encounter, when I had lost on time having completely outplayed – for once! – eventual tournament winner David Mooney).
Leslie made a point of chatting to me throughout the remainder of the event. He apologised more than once for the ‘swindle’; he didn’t have any reason to do so, of course, rather than to cheer me up.

After 24 moves the position was clearly winning for me.

My 41st move was very bad but with my flag hanging and the time-control at move 45
41 Qxf7?? g5+! 0-1

Thereafter we would chat at various tournaments but didn’t meet over the board until many years later, at the Middlesbrough Open 2002. We reached this position from the opening:

I won the game and in the post-mortem Leslie made reference to Black’s opening scheme, calling it ‘Willie Winter’s’ opening. Like many others, I had been brought up calling this set-up after Botvinnik but a quick Chessbase search proved quite revealing; Leslie was of course quite correct, and there were several examples of William Winter adopting that particular pawn structure before Botvinnik popularized it.

Our third and final encounter was my very last Rapidplay game to date. Needing a win to share first place at one of Graham Marshall’s Hartlepool events, I provoked complications and my octogenarian opponent was up to the challenge.

A pawn sacrifice was followed by: 21 Bxg5 hxg5 22 Nxg5 Bf5 23 Be4 Qc8 and now…

24 g4! brought the attack forward. Leslie battled hard after emerging a piece down; he was never easy to finish off. In this same tournament he defeated a famous former county champion and made an impressive ‘plus’ score overall.

The 1952 British Championship
The following article first appeared in the Durham County Chess Bulletin, November 1988. It is a fascinating piece of writing and I thought it would make a fitting tribute to reprint it here. (I am very grateful to Paul Bielby for granting me permission to do so.) So here, for the first time since 1988, is the full, unexpurgated text of this fantastic article….

Chester 1952; Blackpool 1988. A Very Personal View
By E.L. Stuart
1. Chester
When in the late Spring your editor suggested I might write a piece describing the 1952 BCF Congress at Chester, I mentioned that I was going to Blackpool in the summer, and we agreed it might be quite interesting instead to compare, or contrast, the two BCF Congresses I would have participated in at a remove of 36 years. The word is contrast - the difference nearly that of chalk from cheese; and that most hackneyed expression is in fact apt, since the Congresses were markedly dissimilar both in 'flavour' and content.

First, Chester - where I arrived pretty naive and open-eyed, after a nine year 'lay-off' from outbreak of was in 1939 to my return to England in late 1948 followed by a three-year parochial stint in and around Newcastle. Focus of interest, the Championship: entry gained by beating Gerald Abrahams (see long article in the July 1988 BCM) in the NCCU Final, much to his surprise and even more mine.

The Congress comprised: British Championship (Swiss) with 28 competitors; Major Open; First Second and Third Class; and Juniors (Under-18). No Ladies Championship (one competitor, Eileen Tranmer, in the Championship); no 'Veteran Championship' (one 'veteran' also in the Championship, E.G. Sergeant). Total entry just over 100.

Two preliminary points seem worth making for any younger readers. First, there were then very few congresses indeed in England, except for the BCF and Hastings and the Paignton Congress, inaugurated the year before, only a very occasional congress in celebration of something or other. None, of course, of the weekend congresses no so prolific. Secondly, there were no 'gradings'; it was several years later that a first grading system (in bands - 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B etc) was instituted. So that unless someone had a 'reputation', or had been encountered over the board, his strength was largely a matter of surmise.

The Congress seemed to me well enough organised; good playing arrangements, adequate information, satisfactory control, Rate of play, 40 in 2.5 hours - flatteringly Grandmaster style. Pretty lengthy adjournments. Of the tournaments other than the Championship, I could say very little. Perhaps the most interesting point is that the winner of the Major Open, ahead of S. Milan of Stockport, was a US airman stationed at a camp nearby.

As to the Championship itself, it was, by common account, one of the weakest ever. This was largely because it coincided with the Helsinki Olympiad, where England finished 16th; thus, there were missing Golombek, Milner-Barry, Jonathan Penrose who, playing in his first Olympiad and one of the youngest of all the competitors, scored a splendid 65% on board 1/2), Barden and Hooper. Alexander was otherwise occupied.

Then well-known competitors, perhaps recalled by some readers, included: Bob Wade, Peter Clarke, Alan Phillips, Gerald Abrahams (mentioned above), Barry Wood, H. Israel and Scottish Champion, J.M. Aitken. All readers will know two other competitors; Tom Wise and Peter Oakley (then, however, of Chesham).

I at that time knew, apart from Abrahams, only R.F. Boxall, a strong player who dropped early out of the chess scene. I hadn't played Tom Wise - though that was soon remedied, since we met in the first round.

Far from offering a round-by-round commentary, which would interest no one, I want to make, with hindsight, a few general points. Two linked by common theme; consistency, or rather, the lack of it. Sergeant, for example, scored 4.5 from his first five games, but only one draw from the other six; he may have tired, but even A.Y. Green, a much younger man, leading at the end of the first week, then lost four games in a row.

Alan Phillips, well in the lead later with seven points out of eight games finished on the same score (he blamed me(!) When I met him again for the first time, a couple of months ago in the Manchester Congress since he lost to me in the ninth round and continued downhill. I should add, however, that he'd by then (36 years) got over it, inviting me home to share a bottle of wine, etc!).

The other manifestation of lack of consistency was in the nature of the play. Many up-and-down games, with the advantage dissipated, or even changing hands; a lack of incisiveness, of the 'killer' instinct. (I'm not disassociating myself from this; quite the contrary - I still suffer from it. I recall that in a league match last season, my opponent losing the exchange in the early opening by an error, I made such a meal of it that by the adjournment I'd lost nearly all advantage - in fact winning only by an adjudication appeal. At the adjournment I jokingly remarked to Dave Mooney who'd been playing on the other side nearby, 'You’d have finished that off a bit more efficiently' to which, with characteristics terseness, he replied: 'He’d have been dead!')

I might add - though the point won't be new to the majority of readers - that in that era there was less incisiveness and 'bite' in the early opening generally, a more leisurely build-up. In that context it will be common knowledge that was then far less 'theory', but beyond that even quite strong club players still often aimed in fact at no more than a decent position, to enable them to get on with the real game. Higher up, of course, and even more so at the top, it was already very different.

The other general point - with hindsight playing an even greater part - is the pervading amateurism. Not only in a narrow sense - there was then only one 'professional' player (Wade) - but in the general approach and atmosphere. Something of what has been said in the previous few paragraphs is, I suppose, itself an illustration of this.

So (it's obligatory, isn't it?) to the result - in doubt, as is usual, till the last round. And that saw a strange turn of events; Wade, leading with eight points and Phillips lying second with seven both lost; H. Israel and I on six and a half played to a hard endgame draw; and the three players on six, Boxall, Clarke and P.N. Wallis all won. So Wade ended up clear winner, with no less than six sharing second place (still a record?). Peter Oakley and Tom Wise finished around mid-way, Peter catching up a by then rather dejected E.G. Sergeant and beating Abrahams on the way, and Tom making a fine finishing burst of three and half from four.

Alan Phillips had the consolation of sharing first place with Barden only two years later (1954). Bob Wade won again in 1970, in an immeasurably stronger Championship.

2 Blackpool
Facts point much of the difference. The Congress comprised: British Championship (68 competitors, including David Walker and Peter Hempson, runner-up at Washington; eight grandmasters, 24 International Masters, one WGM; three WIMs); Major Open (88 competitors, including Tim Wall and me); British Ladies Open Championship (three woman Masters); British Veterans Championship (including that indefatigable pair of regular past winners, H. Golombek and P.C. Hoad); an All-Play-All of several sections; 6 (Swiss) 5-day tournaments; British Junior Championships for every year from Under-9 to Under-18; plus two differentially-graded weekend tournaments And a One-Day Quickplay. Over 500 competitors in all (a BCF record), including over 270 juniors (no less than 4 in the Under-9 section).

Surveying all this, I was again open-eyed, even though several weekend tournaments had acquainted me with the sight of these babes-in-arms! (Indeed, since Blackpool, as recently as Harrogate, I found myself playing in the Open a - very composed - 12 year old (149j), one of Brian Eley's protégés; the pair of us must have been contenders for an age-gap record!).

Organisation overwhelming, All games in one vast hall, with two 'analysis rooms'; incredibly swift posting of results; half a dozen demonstration boards, very efficiently maintained; a full daily commentary in a another hall with an IM and the BCM National Organiser, and 'audience participation' (Dunce's caps for suggestions shown to be inferior; I soon won one on the occasion my game finished early and was about to gain the distinction of being given another - for a tactical stroke in a baddish but complex position - only that Murshed went on himself to play this line...and duly lost). naive as ever, I found out only after round six one other interesting organisational item, and that was that for 10p one could get photocopy of any game in one's tournament - or even perhaps in an y of the main tournaments - I had begun to wonder why couple of my opponent s had seemed well prepared for me, but the play served me in good stead in a later game when I concluded that my 205 rated opponents was addicted to a particular Bishop sortie and quite put him off by not allowing it!

The whole atmosphere at Blackpool was very different from that at Chester…chess, chess, chess. A ‘Chessic’ function every evening, including a Speelman simul, a ‘question and answer’ session with IMs in attendance and the odd GM looking in; a session - very useful for juniors and the odd adult - of brief coaching with IMs at £1 a go, as well as the inevitable Lightning.

A good deal of time was spent avidly following results and post-game analysis (and doubtless, ‘preparation’), with may of the younger juniors ‘skittling’ away like mad. (And I haven’t mentioned the ‘top of a tram’ Tournament the day before formal play - which secured more publicity than anything else). What also contributed to a sense of pervasive chess was the timing of the Tournaments; while the main events started at 2.15 p.m. the hall was a very busy place from 9.30 a.m., so that when one looked in to see whom one was meeting in the next round the scene looked much the same.

All this, of course, will be ‘old hat’ to those who have attended BCF Congresses in the this modern era; and they will be blasé, as I was not, about the sight of all the ‘Mums’ (nearly all very middle-class) watching adoringly their talented offspring!

So much for the atmosphere or ‘flavour; - a bit of a hothouse effect, I reflected, though at the same time very stimulating.

As to the real object of the exercise, and therefore the course of events and the play, what to say? Those interested in the leading results and perhaps in picking up some tips will have looked at the BCM and/or Chess. For the rest, it’s by now stale, anyway, and intrinsically less newsworthy than the Short v Speelman match or the latest International Congresses.

I’ll say only that I think it was generally conceded that Mestel had deserved his victory, but I didn’t see anything like the general enthusiasm which greeted the win by the universally popular Wade at Chester. I’m not, of course, suggesting that Jonathan Mestel is nit very popular - only that there was a tangible reaction to Bob Wade’s win; perhaps people are these days more ‘buttoned up.’

A little local colour. In the Championship, David Walker, in my estimation, and with fingers crossed, could feel content, with only half a point under 50% and only the same half point below GM Rogers (graded 2535!) and IMs Wells, Pritchett and Large; all his points were scored against rated opponents, with an average nearly 100 points above his own. Peter Hempson finished on the same score, after an exhilarating four and half in the first six rounds, in which he beat both GM Plaskett and IM Hebden.

My own interest this time round was in the Major Open. It was, of course, a very much stronger tournament than the Chester Major Open, though I should judge the relative disparity is a good deal less marked than that between the two Championships. Tim Wall was the other Northeast contestant. He, too, had, I would think, reason to be content. A score of six and a half in strong company - and he was unlucky not to score higher; I myself saw two endgames where very persistent opponents resisted (not ‘to the death’, since they obstinately refused to die!) in difficult (though not losing) positions.

I achieved only my minimum aim - a 50% score, though I was told, consolingly, by one of the controllers that I had a achieved ‘half a FIDE rating’! What the implication (if any) of that, or even of a full FIDE rating may be - save some sort of ‘Chessic snobbery’ - I haven’t an idea!
Did I, before the digression, make my point about ‘chalk and cheese’? Readers must judge. But so it seemed to me.

What I think it boils down to is what I adumbrated vis-a-vis Chester: professionalism. In the narrow sense, this is to state the absurdly obvious; count, and savour the GMs (even with Short and Speelman missing - preparing fore their match - and Nunn in a tournament abroad) and, if you can borrow some fingers, count the IMs. One doesn’t need to speak of their preparation and mastery of opening t theory and of technique.

More to the point, for us lesser mortals, is the extent to which these professional elements have seeped, or even cascaded, down to the very strong non-professionals(and, one should add, to the average or average-plus tournament and club player). Given a concrete advantage not merely material but positional) and these days the win doesn’t slip away; and the ‘draw’ is held. There is a near-universal; toughness now, stemming I think, mainly from so much tournament play, but also from so much excellent instructional literature and, for the younger generation, from coaching.

At Blackpool a reflection of this increased ‘toughness’ was to my mind the more onerous session of play in the main tournaments; 40 moves in two hours, then, without a break, after 20 in an hour; and, if then unlucky (or lucky?) enough to get an adjournment, resumption after an interval just long enough to get a meal. I pretty well circumvented all that! Only two of my games went beyond the four hours.

You’ll be saying that all these obiter dicta have nothing to do with the case - as some Gilbert and Sullivan character proclaimed. I have indeed strayed from my given theme. And enough is enough.

...and with those wise words it seems it is time to bring this month’s column to close…

Sean Marsh
September 2005