Tuesday 31 March 2020

Project 30: What Did I Miss? (5)

We now present the concluding part of the current series on missed opportunities.

This is the position we saw yesterday.

White to play
I played 35 Qe6?? but my hopes of a fine finish turned to dust after 35 ...Qxe6 36 Rf8+ Qg8! which is considerably different to the line I was hoping for (as posted yesterday).

I had completely missed that the black queen could drop back immediately. This was due to three factors.

1) The clock situation. We were both down to our last few minutes.

2) Matt's incredible resourcefulness. He just never gives up looking for ways to turn the trend of a game, which makes him very hard to put away - regardless of the size of the advantage.

3) The desire to finish off the game quickly and in style. My intended checkmate pattern was a pretty one and it clouded my judgement.

Going back to the position before 35 Qe6?? we can find several superior paths. These include: 35 Rf8+ Rxf8 36 e8=Q; 35 Rd1; 35 Rf7 and, best of all, 35 Qe5! which forces a checkmate which can only be delayed slightly by 35 ...Qf6.

It is never easy to accept it when excellent positions slip away into unexpected defeats. One of the major differences between masters and the rest of us is the way in which the former can keep control of their positions to ensure winning positions don't evaporate as often.

This brings our current series to a close but more new content will follow soon.

Thank you to everyone who supported the third year of Project 30. I learned a lot from my own games against Dave Baillie, John Garnett (in both events), Richard Harris, Sean Cassidy, Matt Jackman and Peter Harker - all of whom caused me lots of problems over the chess board but remained - of course! - fabulous friends at all times.

Monday 30 March 2020

Project 30: What Did I Miss? (4)

John Garnett - SM
Black to move
Yesterday I left you with this position. Black has just sacrificed a bishop. What is best continuation from here?

24 ...Bh4! would have given Black a decisive advantage. This denies White the important defensive resource of Qf2 (as played at a key moment in the game). The threat is 22 ...Rxf3 23 Rxf3 Qxf3 and the white king will be checkmated very soon. A sample line would end with 24 ...Bg3+ 25 Kg1 Bf2+ 26 Kf1 Rg1 checkmate. It is the introduction of the bishop into the dark squares that makes all the difference.

Our final example of missed opportunities comes from the Rapidplay semi-final.

SM - Matt Jackman
White to play
This had been a wild game and now that a large advantage had been established I was looking for the most efficient way to conclude matters - especially as we were both down to the last two or three minutes on the clock. There were various ways to win - including moving the a1-rook to anywhere sensible - but I believe in the power of passed pawns and played 33 e6. After the subsequent moves 33 ...Nxa1 34 e7 Qd6 all is still going well and there are several 'finishers' available.

White to play
The one I chose was well intentioned, but not fit for purpose. I played 35 Qe6, hoping to deflect the Black queen from the defence of the back rank. The specific line I had in mind was 35 ...Qxe6 36 Rf8+ Rxf8 37 exf8=Q+ Qg8 38 Bxg7 checkmate.

However, this did not happen because Matt threw a considerable spanner in the works.

What did I miss after 35 Qe6?

Tune in tomorrow for the final part of our series.

Sunday 29 March 2020

Project 30: What Did I Miss? (3)

In the second game against Dave Baillie, I had this position, as posted yesterday.

Sean Marsh - Dave Baillie
I played 20 Nxd7 but missed the stronger 20 Nxe6!, deflecting the bishop from the defence of c6. After 20 ...Bxe6 21 Rxc6 White would be a sound pawn up and the rest of Black's central pawn structure would have been severely compromised.

The next missed opportunity came against John Garnett in the first round of the Rapidplay event. We ended up playing six games during a very long, tiring and memorable evening: two Rapidplay games in the club championship, two in the Project 30 event and then two five-minute games for the Project 30 tie-breaker.

This position occurred in the first of the Project 30 Rapidplay games.

John Garnett - SM
Black to play
Black is a pawn up and has high expectations of a successful attack on the enemy king. With queen, two rooks and two bishops all pointing the right way, I felt it was time for a sacrifice and I played 23 ...Bxh3! This tears away part of the king's defence and should have opened up the position for a decisive infiltration.

John captured the bishop with 24 gxh3 but I followed up with the incorrect 24 ...Rxf3? after which John repulsed the attack with careful moves: 25 Rxf3 Qxf3 26 Qf2! Qh5 27 Rf1 and even though Black isn't doing badly in terms of material, with three pawns for a piece, I couldn't ever shake John's knight from the weak d5-square and he went on to convert his advantage in fine style.

At the time I felt I must have missed a better attacking option. My intuition told me the sacrifice should be good, but the resulting position clearly lacked a certain something.

Black to play
It turns out I went wrong very quickly after the sacrifice. This is the key position. What did I miss?

Tune in tomorrow for the answer.

Saturday 28 March 2020

Project 30: What Did I Miss? (2)

David Baillie - Sean Marsh
Yesterday I gave this position. White looks to be in trouble, but Dave found the superb move 34 Rf5!

Black to play
I had missed this completely. The rook attacks the queen and the knight. If the queen captures the rook it is no longer defending the rook on e8 and White would checkmate the black king with 35 Qxe8.

It is fortunate that I was able to check White's king with my queen, which solved one of the problems. 35 ...Qa1+ If White were to now hide the king away with 36 Kh2 then I could play 36 ...Nhf6, keeping the advantage, but Dave played 36 Rf1, attacking my queen again. The queen has to defend the rook on e8 again, to prevent checkmate, which meant I was forced to play 36 ...Qe5, after which the game was drawn by repetition of position (37 Rf5! Qa1+ 38 Rf1 etc). A brilliant tactical 'save' from Dave.

Incidentally, this was our first draw in a full-length game since we shared the point in our very first encounter, back in 1984 (although we did draw a blitz game in the 8th Mike Closs Memorial event).

We started a replay almost immediately, this time with 30 minutes on each clock. It was another uncompromising encounter.

SM - Dave Baillie
White to play
Black's bishop on d7 could be classed as 'bad' as it is locked in behind the pawns. However, it is holding some key white squares together. We were both angling for our ideal circumstances to trade. I was waiting for ...b7-b6, prompting the knight, when after Nxd7 Qxd7 Bb5! the pin on the black knight would be highly unpleasant. Meanwhile, Dave was waiting for me to block my bishop's diagonal before committing himself to ...b7-b6.

Sure enough, after 19 Ne1-d3 Dave immediately replied with 18 ...b6 and I matched his pace with 20 Nxd7. It was as if our thoughts were connected by a single dialogue on how this particular episode should be resolved.

After those moves, White obtained an edge, Dave played very actively and eventually held the endgame of Rook and Knight v Rook with excellent defensive technique. We then played a third game, with just five minutes on each clock, which was wild and could have gone either way before Dave eventually lost on time.

However, rewind a little, to this position.

White to play
Instead of going down the intended route with 20 Nxd7, I had the opportunity to play a much stronger move, which would have given me a significantly more substantial advantage than the one gained in the game. What did I miss?

The answer will be given tomorrow.

Friday 27 March 2020

Project 30: What Did I Miss? (1)

The third year of our Project 30 events drew to a close last week. Some events had to be postponed due to the current emergency but they will be rescheduled when the smoke clears.

I enjoyed my games in the Rapidplay Championship and the KO event even though every round brought hard work against tough opponents (I have junior chess stars Jessica and Evie to thank for the round-by-round pairings).

The highly competitive nature of the games brought out many good moves and ideas but the occasional blunder or missed opportunity was always waiting in the wings, ready for an instant appearance at the most inopportune of moments.

Here are a few of the opportunities I missed in this year's Project 30 games.

The first example is from round one of the KO tournament.

David Baillie - SM
Black to play

Black is the exchange up (rook for knight) and has the safer of the two kings. Dave's last move, 32 Rf1-f3, was to defend the weak pawn on e3. White's position is about to collapse under the pressure. 32 ...Nhf6 looks to be Black's best move now, just improving the position of the knight before resuming the attack on White's weak points.

However, I thought it would be a good time to simplify the position, to reduce the potential for any tactical counterblows and to head for a steady endgame win.

32 ...Rxe5 33 dxe5 Qxe5

White to play
If Black can bring the knight from h5 back to f6 his advantage will be obvious. There is an extra pawn and all of White's pawns are isolated and potentially very weak. His king is also a real cause for concern due to the lack of defensive cover. Dave was also very short of time on the clock...but he played his next move instantly, which changed the course of the game. What had I missed?

The answer will be given tomorrow.

CSC War Cabinet

Good afternoon, chess players.

I hope you are all being sensible and keeping safe during the current emergency.

You would be forgiven for thinking chess has taken a rest while the ongoing situation prevents our school visits.

However, in reality, the CSC War Cabinet is working very hard on a whole range of new and very exciting plans which we will unveil in due course.

I don't think anyone who likes chess will be disappointed in what we are going to offer in the near future.

We are missing our schools and pupils but please stay tuned, stay indoors and await further announcements. I know you will recognise these as good moves in the struggle against this new and dangerous opponent. 

We will win this battle if we all keep playing as best we can.

Tuesday 24 March 2020

Project 30, Year 3: Results Update

Following on from the update at the start of March, we now present the final scores of the Rapidplay tournament.


Matt Jackman 1-4 Sean Marsh (1, 0, 1, 1, 1 from my point of view)

This was the third time I had to play Matt in Project 30 Rapidplay matches. We also met in the first two Project 30 KO events, at the 1st Celebratory Tournament and in this year's club championship for The Buffs (1-1). That's a lot of games (22) against the same opponent.

Our latest match was tough and tense. I will return to some of the key moments in a future post. The score should have been closer; Matt turned down a draw in the fifth game, knowing he needed a win.


Sean Marsh 4-0 Peter Harker

For obvious reasons, we reduced the number of games from eight to six. The games were combative, with a steady stream of interesting ideas and unusual moves from both players. When we reached 4-0 we spent the rest of the session playing a number of every interesting Blitz games.

Peter had played marvellously this year to reach advanced stages of both events and I am sure the experience gained will help him make a significant jump forward when chess activity resumes.

It was a real pleasure for me to face two of my former juniors in the last tow rounds of this year's event.

Thus ends the third Project 30 Rapidplay event.

Due to the current emergency, the final of the KO Championship between Matt and myself will not be played. We are calling it a tied place, to mark this strangest of years with something a little different and to enable us to resume Project 30 - when the time comes - with a clean slate.

All other Project 30 events for this season have been postponed and that includes some of the most anticipated of all, including the Third Celebratory Tournament, the return of GM Matthew Sadler and WIM Natasha Regan and a sequel to the 1st Teesside International Women's Invitational Tournament.

Thank you to everyone who has supported the Project 30 events over the first three years. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

Wednesday 18 March 2020


This week, as the enormity of the world situation became apparent to me, I had to make some tough decisions which would have a major impact on my own lifestyle and, much more importantly, those of others.

None of my decisions were taken lightly but I believe time will show them to be the correct ones.

Just like so many other self-employed people my entire future career is now precarious and uncertain.

We are on the verge of a complete lockdown in the UK. The coming months will be a major test for all of us, regardless of all factors. Rich, poor, educated, uneducated, qualified, unqualified, privileged, unprivileged; it doesn’t matter. The current problem is widespread and indiscriminate. It is going to change the lives of every single person. Numerous aspects of our lives will never be the same again.

The delay in closing the UK’s schools has not been helpful. I have watched as class sizes have been cut in half and have understood the panic and fear among the front-line workers - even though they have managed to remain completely professional at all times.

Teachers, more often than not the easiest target when people want to start gratuitously criticising others, have, alongside all other school staff, displayed immense courage and commitment in recent times. I know for certain that some of the staff are more at risk than others due to various ailments yet they have still been there every day to provide for the children.

The children have been magnificent this week too. They should not be going through this dreadful experience. Somewhere along the line they have been failed.

 Now is not the time to judge the actions - or inactions - of others. The panic-buyers clearly have a much lower panic threshold than the rest of us. We do not know how we would act if we crossed our own personal thresholds. Perhaps we will soon find out.

I am very fortunate to have a small circle of special friends who will always be there to help me (and vice-versa, of course). Many others are nowhere near as fortunate; their instincts and actions will be different. We all have our own battles. Some of them are internal and highly damaging.

Every single person now faces unparalleled challenges, which would have been unimaginable just two weeks ago. We are at a crossroads where suddenly the differing scenarios of ‘everything is important’ and ‘nothing is important’ coexist.

I hope we can find a way to replace anger with understanding, to forestall hatred with love and to use kindness to navigate away from selfishness. This time, we all need to be on the same side.

Please take care, everyone.

We are all valuable and fragile in equal measure.

Wednesday 11 March 2020

Clannad at The Sage

The Sage, Gateshead
7 March 2020
Having experienced Moya Brennan's music for the first time last year, I was keen to investigate the work of Clannad. I almost left it too late to actually see them, as they announced their ‘In a Lifetime’ Farewell World Tour in September 2019.

The tour, with dates up to October 2020, is to commemorate 50 years of their journey through music.

The mainstays of the group are Moya Brennan, her brothers Ciarán Brennan and Pól Brennan and their uncle, Noel Duggan.

50 years in an incredible amount of time to be active in the business. Their music is rooted very strongly in folk, but has proved expansive over the decades, embracing several genres including Irish, Celtic and even the world of television soundtracks.

The Sage looked to be almost completely sold out in the weeks running up to the evening, with only a tiny scattering of available seats. On the evening there were noticeable gaps dotted around, which was presumably due to the extraordinary panic caused by anyone who has sneezed over the last couple of weeks.

Clannad treated us two sets of exttoaodonary music, followed by a double-barrelled encore. Hihglouights included In a Lifetime, Hourglass, Celtic Dream, I Will Find You, Theme From Harry's Game and a suite of music form the Robin of Sherwood which closed the first half.

The musicianship was of a fabulously high quality and Moya's voice carried all of the gentle power one would expect. At times the music was positively hypnotic, drawing the listener into another world.

It must be a very emotional tour for Clannad and while it is hard to believe their musical journey is entirely over (it would be a surprise if Moya Brennan wasn't back on the road in her solo guise after another year or so) this tour is almost certainly the final opportunity to catch the full family group all together. I am pleased and relieved I managed to do exactly that just before it was too late to do so, as this proved to be a very memorable evening indeed.

Gabrielle Aplin at the Wylam Brewery

Gabrielle Aplin
Wylam Brewery, Newcastle
6 March 2020
Three years have flown by since I last saw Gabrielle Aplin at London's ULU. It was one of my top gigs of 2017. I was pleased to discover the third leg of the current 12-date tour was at a North-eastern venue.

The release of Dear Happy, her powerful third album and first as an independent artist, is the driving force behind the current tour.

Wylam Brewery may seem an unlikely name for a gig venue. It was not so easy to see the lake and other park attractions at nighttime, but the colourful trees made a bold attempt to light up the dark. Inside, the gig hall was of a size and design typical of the smaller venues; similar to ULU, in fact. It was standing only, as expected. People of greatly varying ages were there, with a strong bias towards to the younger generation. The room was already starting to fill up when we arrived, which was a surprise. Usually the crowd gathers only towards the time the main act is due on, but the two support acts both played to an already packed hall.

The support came in the form of first Nick Wilson (acoustic pop) and then Emily Burns (synth-pop), both of whom engaged well with the appreciative audience. Emily already had sections of the audience singing and dancing as the evening warmed up very nicely for the main event.

Gabrielle Aplin has a strong stage presence; that much is made clear from the moment she presents herself to the audience. The Newcastle crowd gave her a very warm reception and the reality of an excellent evening ahead was never in doubt.

The songs from Dear Happy made up nine of the 16 on the set list. My Mistake is still my favourite from the new album. This version was just Gabrielle alone on the stage with the keyboard.

Prime cuts from English Rain and Light Up The Dark rubbed shoulders with the new songs. It is a sign of confidence in her own material that Gabrielle can leave out the cover of The Power of Love, which brought her to the attention of the prime-time audiences when it was used for the John Lewis Christmas advert back in 2012. No, this evening it was all original material.

Set list 

Until the Sun Comes Up
Like You Say You Do
Panic Cord
Heavy Heart
Waking Up Slow
My Mistake
Nothing Really Matters
Losing Me
Please Don't Say You Love Me
Dear Happy


Sweet Nothing
Miss You

It was a very fine evening indeed one which showcased Gabrielle's undeniable talent. Being an independent artist in the music industry is never going to make for an easy journey but we are grateful for her continued efforts. The crowd at the Wylam Brewery certainly showed appreciation and hopefully Gabrielle will keep the North East in mind next time she tours.



Tuesday 3 March 2020

Ultimate Bowie at The Georgian Theatre

Ultimate Bowie 
The Georgian Theatre, Stockton-on-Tees
29 February 2020
This is not the first time I have seen the Ed Blaney's Ultimate Bowie tribute act and it is not the first time David Bowie has featured on this blog either. It was, however, the first time I have seen Ultimate Bowie in such an intimate setting (the last time was at Billingham Forum).

The smaller venue suited the show perfectly, especially as it started the punky Earthling persona.

Over the course of the evening we were treated to classic songs from various Bowie eras, split into two excellent halves, moving through prime cuts from Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Pin UpsDiamond Dogs, Young Americans, Heroes, Lodger, Station to StationScary Monsters, Let's Dance and Earthling. That clearly represent an enormous range of styles and it was an impressive performance all round by the band.

The respective set lists will tell their own stories on how far reaching and lengthy the evening was (it was definitely worth missing the last bus home).

Set One

Sacry Monsters
Little Wonder
John I'm Only Dancing
Space Oddity
Moonage Daydream
Sweet Thing
Suffragette City
Drive In Saturday
Queen Bitch
Life on Mars

Set Two

Diamond Dogs
Rebel Rebel
Absolute Beginners
Young Americans
Boys Keep Swinging
Golden Years
Let's Dance
Under Pressure
Jean Genie
Modern Love


Ziggy Stardust

I know many people who shudder at the thought of going to see tribute acts. They are missing out, as there are plenty of fabulous ones out there. Indeed, I have two more Bowie nights already lined up for 2020. For now, it is enough to say the Ultimate Bowie act is firing on all cylinders and is better than ever.