Tuesday 31 December 2013

Gig List 2013

2013 was a fabulous time for gigs. Here's an index for the year. Click on the name under each photo to find the review.


Bridie Jackson and the Arbour Single Launch

Lee Rocker with Buzz Campbell, as part of the excellent London Bass Guitar Festival
Gretchen Peters
Amy Macdonald
Wilko Johnson
Ian Hunter

Ian Siegal

John Foxx
Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell
Nine Below Zero
Mark Knopfler
Jack Jones
Midge Ure
Bridie Jackson and The Arbour at the Walled Garden Festival

The Kennedys
The Who

Julia Fordham
Patty Griffin (Birmingham)
Patty Griffin (Union Chapel)

Fleetwood Mac
Alison Moyet

Cara Dillon
Bryan Ferry
Patty Griffin Sheffield

Patty Griffin Royal Festival Hall
KT Tunstall


Glenn Tilbrook
I wonder what opportunities 2014 will bring?

Monday 30 December 2013

Chess Reviews: 230

Continuing our round up of recent chess literature, we find a pair of handy repertoire books. One for Black and one for White.

A Cunning Chess Opening Repertoire for White
By Graham Burgess
256 pages

This is Graham's first opening book for 12 years. It offers a full repertoire for White, starting with 1 d4. The ''cunning''aspect is revealed in the introduction:

''The aim is to direct the game into structures where the opponent's specialized knowledge of their preferred openings will not be relevant.''

To this end, the repertoire has been very carefully constructed. A further aim is to ''limit Black's opportunities for counterplay, and rule out most of Black's gambit options.'' The repertoire is based on ''three main pillars'', namely:

1) Queen's Gambit: 1 d4 d5 2 Nf3 followed by c4
2) Torre Attack: 1 d4 Nf6 2 Nf3 e6 3 Bg5
3) Counter-Fianchetto: 1 d4 Nf6 2 Nf3 g6 3 g3

I imagine a lot of people would automatically flick through the book to find the section on the King's Indian Defence. How to balance avoiding the main lines while retaining chances of an edge? The recommendation here is to head for fianchetto territory and then throw in a very early 6 a4.

''White grabs space on the queenside and keeps a great deal of flexibility with his central pawns and piece development.'' Black has to think carefully about his strategy. In some cases, the a-pawn will continue all the way to a6 to cause disruption, but an early ...a5, to stop the pawn in it's tracks, makes a subsequent ...c5 positionally undesirable. 6 a4 is clearly not the biggest problem KID players will ever have to worry about, but it's the originality that's important; a recurring theme throughout the book.

Some of Black's defences are met by more standard lines. For instance, The Queen's Gambit Declined is met by 5 Bf4. Elsewhere, there are some sharper plans. In one of the most challenging replies to the Torre Attack, White is advised to play a gambit.

1 d4 Nf6 2 Nf3 e6 3 Bg5 c5 4 e3 Qb6

The recommendation here is to play the critical 5 Nbd2, allowing Black to try his luck with 5 ...Qxb2. It would then be the old battle between material and development. The resulting lines are somewhat unexplored and once again there is plenty of scope for original analysis.

The repertoire is definitely sound and will certainly make opponent's think for themselves more frequently than they do when following longer theoretical lines. By generally avoiding an early crisis in the tactical department (due to dodging gambit lines) a player adopting this repertoire should be able to improve their positional middlegame skills too, based on a good understanding of what each line is trying to achieve.

In some cases, one could point to the lack of bite with the openings on offer. There is also the problem of what to when facing the same opponent repeatedly (in club chess one could encounter the same players year in, year out). Will the Torre Attack, for example, continue to offer good chances against a well prepared opponent who is facing you and your cunning repertoire for the fourth or fifth time in two or three years? Probably not. If I were to follow the book's complete repertoire I would look to add few extra bits and pieces of my own to extend the armoury and throw one or two surprises out to my opponents.

A Vigorous Chess Opening Repertoire for Black
By Or Cohen
320 pages

From ''cunning'' to ''vigorous''. What should we expect to see for Black? Which wild gambit will we be asked to adopt? Let me end the suspense by revealing that the backbone of Black's vigorous repertoire is none other than...the Petroff Defence.
I know what you are thinking.

It seems that not since the glory days of Frank James Marshall could anyone hope to successfully apply the word ''vigorous'' to the this defence (by the way, play through some of Petroff-hero Marshall's game with 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nf6; you should find them most enjoyable).

The author nails his colours to the mast as soon as possible. The first sentence of the introduction tells us:

''1 ...e5 is the most reliable continuation against 1 e4. No one can doubt this anymore. In fact, recently 1 ...e5 has been the reason for many elite players to switch from 1 e4 to 1 d4, 1 Nf3 or even 1 c4.''

He goes on to put forward his case for the defence. ''The beauty in the Petroff is that Black hardly has to make any concessions for his relatively active piece play and the absence of weaknesses in his structure.''

The recommendation of the Petroff comes with a suggestion to combine it in one's repertoire with a different weapon (a Sicilian) to have more than one way of playing in tournaments. The role model for this approach - and for the whole book - is Boris Gelfand.

Before getting on to the analysis of the Petroff, the author deals with all of White's alternatives to 2 Nf3. ''You, as Black, should be quite confident if you encounter other moves than 2 Nf3 after 1 e4 e5!''
The thoroughness of the book is apparent very early on, with analysis on the very rare Portuguese Opening (1 e4 e5 2 Bb5), followed by other harmless deviations. Later on there is analysis on other rare birds, such as the Cochrane Gambit and the Halloween Gambit.

There's nothing too surprising about the recommendations against White's more respectable second-move choices; for example, the King's Gambit is well held by 2 ...Bc5 and the Vienna by 1 e4 e5 2 Nc3 Nf6 3 f4 d5! No, the author seems convinced that 2 Nf3 is the only way for White to play if he seeks an advantage. The remainder of the book's main content - from page 93 to 309 - is fully devoted to the Petroff.

Obviously, in certain lines Black can play for a win just like in other opening. A lot of White players these days castle long and initiate a kingside pawn storm. There will always be chances for both sides in those sort of lines. But what of the more traditional Petroffs? The ones Karpov used to draw painlessly in game after game. How will they be welcomed into a vigorous repertoire?

There's no getting away from the some of the completely unambitious lines at White's disposal, such as 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 Nxe5 d6 4 Nf3 Nxe4 5 Qe2.

The only way for Black to win is to wait patiently for White to make mistakes. If the first player plays sensibly he can draw if he wants to. The author's comment - ''If you are an ambitious player, the Petroff should not be your only defence against 1 e4 in a must-win situation'' - is quite correct; vigorous play by Black to force the game after 5 Qe2 will probably rebound badly.

Black has rather more dynamic chances in an old line the author is keen to rehabilitate, namely: 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 Nxe5 d6 4 Nf3 Nxe4 5 d4 d5 6 Bd3 Nc6 7 0-0 Be7 8 Re1 Bg4...

...followed by 9 ...f5 and an attack on the kingside, while offering the b7-pawn to the hungry white queen when slips out to b3. Chess fans with long memories may recall Korchnoi playing this way in one game of their titanic 1974 Candidates Final and coming unstuck. Cohen has put a lot of work into this variation and, judging by the illustrative games, is clearly not afraid to practice as he preaches.

Korchnoi played 15 ...Bh4 here, back in 1974. However, Karpov defended coolly with 16 Rf1 and went on to win. The book recommends 15 ...Bd6 instead presents some very interesting games and analysis to support the improvement. There's nothing there to enhance the Petroff's dull reputation; quite the opposite, in fact. The play is highly tactical and White must defend with great skill to avoid being swept away.

Well, it seems there is still life in the old Petroff! Yet one should keep in mind the author's advice that one needs another defence to 1 e4 to complete the repertoire as not all opponents will agree to steer away from the calmest of Petroff ponds and into the stormiest of tactical seas.

I am impressed by the writing of Or Cohen. He has taken on a controversial subject and produced a very interesting and thought-provoking book. I'm sure Frank James Marshall would approve!

Sunday 29 December 2013

CSC Teesside Update

CSC Teesside Update
Winter 2013

It's been another very busy term for our Teesside chess schools. We have started curriculum sessions in more new schools, set up additional after school chess clubs in some established schools and taken on one more chess tutor.

The CSC continues to expand in other areas too. The 1st Education Conference - as part of the London Chess Classic - established new and interesting links with chess schools and projects from all around the world.

New initiatives are already in the pipeline and further details will follow early in the New Year.

I have already reported on our very special London trip (see part 1 and part 2) so here's a round up of two other important events. Shorter versions of both reports have appeared elsewhere; these extended versions feature more photographs.

Yarm Chess Championship
28 September 2013

The following piece is from a press release, written by myself in conjunction with Yarm School and issued just after the tournament.

It's 'Check Mate' for Yarm School Pupils

It was check mate for youngsters at Yarm Preparatory School as they played host to local primary schools at the keenly fought Inter-School Chess Tournament.
Yarm pupils won both the U9 and U11 titles after pitting their wits against seven local schools including Errington, Ings Farm, Brambles, Throston, Whale Hill, Westgarth and John Emmerson Batty. Nearly 100 children took part in the tournament, which was organised by Sean Marsh from Chess in Schools and Communities (CSC.) The 19th Yarm Chess Championship saw 22 teams of four players in action, battle their way through five highly competitive rounds in the Under-9 and Under-11 titles.
The ‘Yarm H’ team (Matthew Anthony, Ihsaan Mahmood, Shrish Nair and Luke Nargol) were crowned champions of the Under-9 section after a close title race with Throston in Hartlepool. The Under-11 section saw ‘Yarm B’ (Jack Bailey, Abhinav Ramisetty, Max Newbold and Edward Adams) and ‘Yarm D’ (James Thomson, Jai Trivedi, Tharun Suresh and Michael Shipman) chased each other all the way to finish on 16 points each.

Bill Sawyer, Headmaster of Yarm Preparatory School, said: “It was an excellent day of chess. Teams of boys and girls came from all over Teesside (Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Marske, Redcar) and everyone - champions or not - improved their game and gained valuable experience. I would like to thank every pupil who took part as well as Chess in Schools and Communities for organising the tournament, which we were delighted to host.”

Yarm School regularly offers a range of extra-curricular opportunities to students, with clubs, societies and activities available at lunch times and after school for pupils.

Mr Sawyer added: “Extra-curricular activities are important to any student, and as a school we value them very highly. Tournaments like this one, deliver an opportunity for students to hone and demonstrate their skills, as well as providing them with valuable experience for future contests.”

‘Westgarth A’ (Marske) also had a good day, finishing third overall and in the top place for the Chess in Schools and Communities teams.

Sean Marsh from Chess in Schools and Communities said: “It was great to see so many players from so many different schools enjoying playing chess, making new friends and enjoying the experience, whether they became champions or not. Chess in our area continues to flourish and expand and I am proud of what we are all achieving together.”

CSC Teesside Training Day
9 October 2013

We were delighted to welcome back John Foley for the third CSC Teesside training day.

The venue was the Middlesbrough Community Learning centre, who provided wonderful facilities and as much tea and coffee as we could drink.

12 people enrolled on the course, including teachers, TAs and strong chess players. We split them into four groups and then it was over to John to reveal some of the secrets of teaching chess. John highlighted several key areas of the CSC curriculum and invited input from the four groups at various junctures. This generated several sessions of valuable group discussion and a fruitful exchange of ideas.

Following a break for lunch, we resumed refreshed and ready for an afternoon of challenges. John impressed and amused us all with his fine selection of problems (not just chess, but encompassing the art of logical thinking also).
A good time was had by all. We even caught two teachers indulging in a game of chess at one point, which gave me the idea of organising a Teesside Teachers' Championship. Maybe one day...

Thank you to everyone who made the day such a success and especially to John for delivering another excellent and instructive day of CSC training.

For further details about the Chess in Schools and Communities Charity, please head for the official website. As a charity, the CSC welcomes all donations, small or large. Donations can be made via various methods on the home page of the website.

The dedicated Teesside page can be found here.