Thursday 31 December 2020

In Equal Measure

It doesn't make sense to blame the year.

Other people can be blamed for tardy and inappropriate actions and we can be blamed for not always giving our best - but blaming a year makes no sense at all.

The world does not reboot on 1 January. We are not in a television show.

Revisiting some of my earlier blog posts on the strange circumstances in which we find ourselves charts the almost unbelievable developments of the last 10 months.

From the enormity of the situation becoming apparent, back in March, through the infested waters of May swiftly followed by highlighting the shame of my generation and then coming up to date with the notion that all people either create or destroy - yes, it all makes for a startling narrative.

We all know people who haven't made it through the emergency. Some have been taken by the virus and others in ways almost certainly related to the situation. Some were take by their own hand; others by illnesses exacerbated by the dark and depressing times in which we live.

It is hard to see a way through the lies and incompetence and it is pointless to dwell on who did or didn't do as they should have done. Suffice to say, washing hands to the tune of Happy Birthday was extremely unlikely to ever be an effective frontline defence against an artificially enhanced virus which was always going to bring the world to its knees for at least two years.

The emergence of new spikes and virus mutations were always extremely predictable. People are angry, bored, lonely and confused. Of course a significant number of them will break the rules, either occasionally or regularly.

It will take some time for the long-term effects of the virus to be known and the side effects of the bewildering array of vaccines which have all somehow appeared simultaneously will also take time to manifest themselves.

Forget the blame game; it is far too easy. Let's go inward.

The lives of every person have been changed. Physically, mentally, emotionally; so much has changed. Who can claim to have changed for the better? Who has not aged more in the last few months than during any other comparable time span?

The stronger of the people amongst us have a responsibility to help anyone who is struggling, for so many reasons; not least of which is the certainty that the roles can be reversed at any time. Who can make the clown laugh?

Personally, the last few months have presented to me the challenge of navigating the steepest learning curve since I started working for myself, back in 1988. The challenges have been different this time and certain aspects of my life have changed beyond recognition.

Some friends have drifted away; others have become much closer. Events, dreams and desires are all seen from a new perspective. When the darkness descends I endure a tidal wave of emotions and it seems every wasted opportunity and every mistake I ever made are all etched more deeply in my mind. Keep busy; keep creative.

Very few things will ever return to how they were and that will take a lot of getting used to. In fact, the world as we know has had it and my advice is to await the opportunity to squeeze as much fun out of life as you possibly can, before it is too late.

To bring this mini-series of posts full circle, I will say again: We are all valuable and fragile in equal measure.

Where do we go from here?

Influential Music of 2020

This has obviously been a very difficult year, with the arts suffering very badly.

Musical experiences have been few and far between. When it comes to new releases, these are the five I have listened to the most.


Jah Wobble remained very active during 2020, putting out lockdown tracks with impressive regularity. He (together with the Invaders of the Heart) was one of the very few people I saw 'live' this year. The timing turned out to be extremely fortunate.

Jah put his new material out on two strictly limited CDs (just 100 of each). I have even more admiration for his work now than ever before.



Reissued material from Iggy Pop's 'Bowie Years.' In fact it was a good year for Iggy Pop releases, with two more significant compilations: You Think You're Bad, Man? - The Road Tapes 73-74 and From K.O. to Chaos - The Complete Skydog Iggy Pop and The Stooges Collection.

The songs and their delivery provide a timely reminder of the important of resilience, defiance and energy.


This was a surprise. Get Back Into The World is by the Sensible Gray Cells. They are The Damned's   Captain Sensible and Paul Gray, together with Johnny Moped drummer Marty Love.

The humour is impish; the songs catchy. There is also a decent amount of observational material.


Stray Cats at their best. This album features tracks from various nights of their excellent 2019 tour. I reminder of how things were - giving rise to the desire for a return to normal as soon as possible.


'Bring it back, bring it back, bring it back again...'

Wednesday 23 December 2020

Project 30 Chessmas Zoom Quiz

The previous Project 30 Zoom quizzes for both adults and juniors had been very well received and for the Chessmas Special I thought it would be fun to combine the two groups and invite even more people besides.

This was our second event in three days and it followed hard on the heels of the 11th Mike Closs Memorial Tournament.

The questions ranged from Christmas song lyrics to tricky chess puzzles and even included a memory test.




The participants included juniors, parents, strong club players, CSC tutors, colleagues and, of course friends.

Nevil, Natasha, Paul Weightman, Zac, Mike and Alice were all making their Project 30 Quiz debuts. The icing on the Chessmas cake was definitely when the great Kineke Mulder joined us from Austria.

Chess-wise, Adrian Thomas of the Voodoo Sheiks is a self-confessed non-player, but he more than makes up for it the questions which do not involve chess moves!

John Garnett looked to have seized victory when we counted up the scores, but - wait! - we had promised bonus points for those who dared to dress up for the occasion. Suddenly, Mike and Alice overtook John, thanks to the bonus points earned by their festive accoutrements.

Congratulations to the new champions!

Final Scores

40/52: Mike and Alice Sturman

39: John Garnett

37.5: Royce Parker

36: Katie and Niamh Sidgwick

34: Catherine and Jessica Lloyd, Rebecca and Isla Horlock

32: Hannah and Lucy Cartman, David Baillie, Nevil Chan

30: Paul and Zac Welling

27: Mike and Natasha Pointon, Adrian Thomas

26: David Hardy

23: Kineke Mulder

22: Dave Edmunds

20: Richard Harris, Paul Weightman

Thank you, everyone!

This was the last Project 30 event of 2020; a year which quite clearly finished a very long way from where it started, in so many different ways.

No matter what happens next in the world, Project 30 will return in 2021 for more fun and frolics.

Meanwhile, here is a new festive tune for you to enjoy, featuring the great Adrian Thomas on guitar and drums. Take it away, the The Don't Look Now Band!

Monday 21 December 2020

11th Mike Closs Memorial Tournament

The 11th Mike Closs Memorial Tournament continued the long-running series of events in fine style.

I didn't want to miss a year in the roll of honour of this series, which meant an enforced switch to an online event. This did have some advantages, especially regarding the people I could invite who would not normally be able to attend.

Indeed, thanks to the very welcome participation of Kineke Mulder, it was our first international tournament of the series.

For 2011, I wanted:

A fun celebratory event, continuing the series I set up to honour my late friend, Mike Closs.

A welcome distraction from the strange events of 2020.

Time spent with friends.

The players were an excellent group of my former juniors, work colleagues, teammates and fellow CSC tutors. Most of all, they are all very loyal friends of mine. All have helped me considerably over the course of many years (many decades, in some cases).

David Baillie

Nevil Chan

Dave Edmunds

John Garnett

David Hardy

Peter Harker 

Richard Harris

Matt Jackman

Kineke Mulder

Mike Pointon

Royce Parker

IM Richard Palliser

Kevin Waterman

Some of the players were keen to show off their marvellous festive livery and, in some cases, their secret preparation.

Mr Hardy sporting Manchester's
finest jumper since Bert Trautmann

Mike had a little helper!

A relaxed and ready Nevil

Dave Edmunds in full festive mode

Royce is all ears - and other usual openings

Kevin is clearly ready for the Caro-Kann

Peter and jumper, with matching beards

Richard almost stole the show - his lights up!

The players contested a five-round Swiss tournament and the games were very lively.

Here are screenshots from each of the five rounds (click on an image if you need it enlarged).

International Master Richard Palliser is the new champion! Richard drew with Matt Jackman in the second round. Matt drew with Dave Edmunds later on, allowing Richard to seize victory.

Final Standings


IM Richard Palliser, 4.5/5


Matt Jackman, 4/5


Nevil Chan, 3.5/5

3/5: Dave Baillie, Dave Edmunds and David Hardy

2.5/5: John Garnett 

2/5: Peter Harker, Richard Harris, Royce Parker and Mike Pointon

1.5/5: Kineke Mulder, Kevin Waterman

Thank you, everyone!

It is clear to see that this was the strongest event in the series.

Dave Baillie and I are the only people to have attended all eleven tournaments. Dave has played in all of them; I sometimes play but prefer to watch. Last night I imagined Mike Closs and I were watching and enjoying the games together, just like we always used to. He would have enjoyed the feast of fun and chess.

Friday 11 December 2020

Best of the Year: 2020

It can be a difficult task to nominate the best gigs of the year.

Last year, despite being to more gigs than ever before, the choice was made easy by the four Stray Cats concerts.

For 2020, I can easily fit the best gigs into my top 10 and, unfortunately, there is still room to spare. I can even post my annual 'Best of the Year' selection early, safe in the knowledge that there will be no more gigs between now and 2021.

I enjoyed every gig I attended in 2020 but early in March the shows suddenly came to and end. I had a large of amount of new gigs lined up. Some are still hoping to go ahead on rescheduled dates; others have gone for good.

Well, these were definitely the top eight shows of 2020 and I loved every minute of each one.

They are presented chronologically and the links situated beneath each image will take you to the Marsh Towers reviews for each one.

Just looking at these photographs and revisiting my reviews brings back the excitement and joy live music brings to my life. My heart rate increases; my feet start to move and I want to sing...

Oh well; maybe next year.

Judy Collins at The Sage

She Drew the Gun at the Georgian Theatre

Jah Wobble and the Invaders of the Heart at The Cluny

The Sound of the Sirens at The Cluny 2

She at the Georgian Theatre

Ultimate Bowie at the Georgian Theatre

Gabrielle Aplin at the Wylam Brewery

Clannad at The Sage

Thursday 10 December 2020

Teaching Adult Beginners

Mark Rivlin, editor of the newsletter for the English Chess Federation, contacted me recently to ask for a few thoughts on teaching chess to adult beginners. This was for a piece he was writing on the ECF website.

Mark and I at the 2019 London Chess Classic

This is what I told him...

Here are some thoughts on teaching adult beginners.

One of the biggest mistakes made when teaching anyone how to play chess is dumbing down the material. This applies mainly to juniors but can also happen with adults.

Here are some pointers:

A coach may feel uncomfortable when teaching juniors and hides in an over-reliance on the teacher/pupil status. This fails to take into account the two-way process of the learning experience.

A coach is unable to convey the message from a position of greater skill and experience.

The desire - on either a conscious or subconscious level - to prove to the student the teacher is superior.

These - and other mistakes - build walls and project boundaries that can be difficult to overcome. There are other mistakes just waiting to be made when teaching adults how to play chess.

These include:

Being unable to take the lesson seriously, which can become a scenario of two friends chatting.

Not understanding the skills necessary to successfully convey the message to a pupil who could be of an age equal to - or greater - than the tutor.

Not structuring the ongoing work and lessons as one would do when teaching juniors.

A fault common to teaching both juniors and adults is the use of money as the sole motivation. Without wishing to stray too far into the tautological territory of false gods, I am sure we are all familiar with teachers who are clearly counting up their figures as they simultaneously count down their days to retirement.

Successful teaching requires, as a starting point, a potent desire to enrich the lives of others and a passion for the subject in question.

The dubious art of dumbing down is on the increase. One cannot help but notice the familiar patterns whenever chess is featured on the news. The presenters simply have to smirk, sheepishly, while they reveal how bad they are at playing chess. Then it seems obligatory to follow through with, ‘Mind you, I’m good at checkers.’

Placed against such a backdrop, the reasons people pitch their lessons incorrectly when teaching adults is understandable. An additional factor can be added: the vast majority of chess tutors are not trained teachers.

This particular obstacle can be overcome as the tutors develop their own style and build up a significant amount of experience.

However, the situation will always be problematic until the almost-universal dumbing down is countered.

Some people want to learn how to play chess merely to enjoy playing the game. Others want to learn the basics and then improve their skills and enter tournaments. No one approach is better than any other in this respect. There is more than enough room for everyone in the chess world.

The average person who plays chess will never elevate their ratings to a level that the majority of established players will find impressive. There is a great deal of snobbery in chess and giving the human brain a number is good way to ensure it continues.

Good tutors will avoid the pitfalls noted above and will treat all students with the greatest of respect - whether they are juniors or adults. They will ensure the lessons have relevant content and are not excuses to show off their own talent or to talk down to ‘lesser’ players.

Patience is required from both sides. Adults will find some aspects very hard to grasp, just as juniors do.

If a tutor or experienced chess player would like to put themselves in the new student’s shoes then all it needs is for the tutor to try doing something new. For instance, try learning how to play a musical instrument. Then think about how long you would keep it up if you had a tutor for music lessons and they were obviously frustrated by your lack of talent or just wanted to show how much better than you they are with the instrument.

There is an enormous difference between dumbing something down and making it more accessible. The two are not as interchangeable as people would have you believe.

In the wise words of Anna from the rather appropriate The King and I:

‘It's a very ancient saying,

But a true and honest thought,

That if you become a teacher,

By your pupils you'll be taught.’

Advice for Beginners

Learn the very basics of a small number of openings (one for White; two for Black - to cater for 1 e4 and 1 d4 by the opponents).

Learn how to finish off an opponent when you have a much superior force. Just knowing a few standard checkmates will considerably increase your confidence and results.


Do not neglect chess books. There is an enormous variety on the market. Take advice from experienced players regarding which books would best suit your current playing strength.

Play through the moves of your games and try to understand where you went wrong and what you need to do to avoid the same mistakes happening next time.

Try solving a small number of tactical chess puzzles, several times a week.


Do not be afraid of playing against higher-rated players. You would like to beat them, but you cannot do so without playing them.

Analyse the games yourself before you use a computer to do so. This will improve your own analytical powers and when you compare notes with the chess engine you will also see what sort of tactics you are missing.


Vary your tournaments. Play in some in which you think you will do well and choose others in which you are aiming to gather experience and gain knowledge.

Set sensible targets for yourself before each tournament.


Go to your local chess club (when allowed to do so).

Keep going through the pain-barrier of defeats. Accept that 'you either win, or you learn.'

Remember that every chess player in the world was once a total novice. The ones who are good players now simply had more determination to keep going.


You can sign up for the Newsletter of the English Chess Federation for regular news updates and exclusive content by following this link.

Thursday 3 December 2020

The Delancey UK Schools' Chess Challenge 2020-21

We are delighted to report that the long-running UK Chess Challenge has been confirmed for the school year 2020-21.

The current emergency had an unfortunate impact on chess but Sarah and Alex Longson rose to the challenge and somehow managed to move all of the stages from the Megafinal onwards online during 2020.

This was a magnificent achievement and it ensured juniors from all across the United Kingdom could continue to enjoy competitive chess despite chess clubs having to endure an enforced hiatus.

Sarah and Alex have worked very hard indeed to adapt the event to cater for all of the unexpected challenges.

Big plans are in place for 2020-21 and entries are being taken right now.

This is the rallying cry from their website:

One of the world’s largest junior chess competitions

Fun, educational and aspirational

Schools from all across the UK take part

We welcome complete beginners and will help prepare players to play in competitions

Regional and national leaderboards and prizes for schools

Chance for individuals to compete against the best at National level

There are two levels of entry this time.

The Basic package is free!

The Gold package ensures schools will receive the familiar box of prizes, as in all previous years.

My own schools have enjoyed participating in the UKCC every year since it first started.

I strongly recommend entering this magnificent event and the Gold package is definitely the option I would choose.

Head to the UKCC website for further details.

Meanwhile, Sarah will be one of our very special guest speakers at this year's (online) London Chess Conference, 'ChessTech2020'.