Thursday, 16 February 2012

Division 2, Third Weekend (Rds 5 & 6)

by John Carleton

De Vere Sunningdale Park in February
We arrived at the southernmost venue in the 4NCL panoply determined, as promised, to show what we could do to ignite our season and begin in earnest the big battle against relegation. The snow cover gave the grounds of Sunningdale Park a Christmas-card feel on the crisp sunny Saturday morning that awaited us but provided an extra worry for the captains and management of teams such as ours.

Thus concerns about travel conditions from the North added to pressure on the captain already feeling the heat about his lack of IT skills in general, specifically the apparent lack of skill of texting ability [here, unlike one slightly more high profile manager, I can categorically state that I have sent a text and quite often notice when I receive one], lack of a cat, let alone a bank account in the cat's name, poor results, mounting criticism of the Martin Johnsonesque policy of trusting the players, not to mention general concerns over recent hand-shaking fiascos.

All-in-all it was another 4NCL weekend and the team were looking forward to keen competition.

Christmas card scenery awaited us
South Wales Dragons were missing some of their big guns so surprisingly perhaps, we were the higher rated team. The match started brightly for us with all our whites [on the even boards] generating play. As to be expected our black boards were experiencing some pressure too but, it seemed, not to the same degree. Dave Latham on board 3 was first to down tools agreeing the draw in a level but not totally flat position. Andy Smith on board 5 was playing one of his offbeat lines but had run into an opponent bent on knocking him off the board and looking quite capable of doing it. Top board saw Nick mixing matters with John Cooper who could claim an edge but was not having matters all his own way. Steve on board 7 had turned down a draw after ambivalent advice from his captain ["please yourself" as I recall]. Thereafter his instincts to play on were proved correct by Rybka which demonstrated gain of material, but his analysis did not match his instincts and Steve soon found himself defending an awkward ending.

Peter on board 6 delivered us a win to gain the lead, firstly he forced his opponent to sacrifice, then leaving his king to keep out the first wave of the attack, finally launched unstoppable counter play on the long diagonal. Andy Mort's advantage on board 8 by now seemed to be only minimal. Sheila's control appeared to spread across the board but opponent Jeff Smith, showing tenacity and skill, managed to dig in and engineer enough exchanges to reduce that control and a draw was agreed.

I reached a draw by, having finally found a way to break into my opponent's position, joining him in a time-scramble, not startling inaccurate for that genre but typically leading to great changes in the nature of the position, but then repeated moves once too often [past the time limit of course] allowing him to claim the draw in a position in which I would otherwise have been entitled to play on. Andy Mort too produced a surprise, managing to a reach a difficult but probably won ending which proved a quick win when his opponent went astray.

John Carleton
So we were two up with three games in play, varying through difficult to very difficult to hopeless. Nick on board 1 was in "very difficult", an ending with rook, bishop and 3 pawns against rook, knight and 4 pawns all the pawns on the kingside. Despite Nick's careful defence John converted the victory in fine style, an excellent game not least because of the quality of the resistance shown by the Atticus player. In the "difficult" Steve finally scrambled a draw after having hovered on the brink for a few moves. Andy Smith had been totally lost for many moves and so resigned the "hopeless" with a clear conscience and the team headed for Sunningdale town centre and sustenance.

Jades Fountain Sunninghill
We started with a toast with the wine provided by Dave Robertson, recuperating after illness and therefore unavoidably missing, for the first time ever, a Spirit of Atticus weekend. Whereas it was admitted that substitute wine taster Nick did an adequate job it was noticed that the bouquet was not perhaps given the attention it deserved [and would certainly have got from Robbo] and the waiter was not kept waiting nearly long enough before being told that the wine was fine. The toast was to Dave himself and his unsuppressable optimism, spirit and love of chess. Thereafter, over the next four hours we enjoyed a pleasant banquet, interspersed with long gaps inducing pangs of acute hunger. The management of the restaurant were shamed into providing free wine in recompense for the delays and this, it was generally agreed, added to the quality of discussion, particularly on the topic of diplomacy in modern Britain, in which area it transpired that we had several experts.
Next morning saw us start play bottom of our section of Division 2 because the only team previously below us, Rhyfelwyr Essyllwg, albeit only on game points scored, had landed a fine victory against our opponents of the day, Brown Jack, and had thus overtaken us. These erstwhile opponents might justifiably be called 'boing boing' Brown Jack because of their yo-yo antics between Divisions 2 and 3 in recent years, but in our brief experience of the 4NCL we had also found them perfect exemplars of the great competitive yet sporting and friendly ethos which is a hallmark of the league.

The match was tense from the start with our odd numbered boards demonstrating early pressure with the white pieces and our even boards likewise less comfortable. Thus on board 1, Nick was setting up gentle long-term pressure and on board 2 I had unnecessarily allowed a slight weakening of my pawn formation and as a result was facing long range discomfort. Board 3 was brewing nicely with Andy Smith lining up Paul Girdlestone's king position but Paul countering classically with central pressure. Board 4 saw Sheila take a small space disadvantage in return for simplifying exchanges and on board 5 Dave Latham was starting to eye the black king position, his advantage in space granting some room to manoeuvre. Peter on board 6 had accepted a slightly inferior French ending but his game terminated abruptly when he demonstrated the old adage that "the mistakes are all there just waiting to be made" when a blunder dropped the exchange, resignation soon following. Steve on board 7 had the more comfortable position but stage by stage his opponent became more active and a level ending justified the draw. Andy Mort on board 8 came out of the opening phase well gradually, it seemed, taking control. However as her position became critical Megan Owens struck back and guided matters into a flat drawn ending, peace terms quickly being concluded.

With the approach of the first time control matters cleared up. Dave won impressively on board 5 having systematically stripped the black king of defenders. Nick's pressure was neatly broken up by Peter Richmond and a position which neither side could attempt to win saw the draw agreed on board 1. Andy and Paul on board 3 gave great entertainment in a time scramble which saw Andy's aggressive and optimistic play justifiably rewarded by the full point. Thus we had just two games in progress. I had a slice of luck when my opponent left a pawn en prise but thereafter he blocked virtually the whole board and I had no winning chances and thus Sheila was left in play against Mike Truran who was clearly determined to give this blocked position with 3 minor pieces and 5 pawns each where he had a space advantage and potential targets his best shot to try and draw the match. Gradually the drama unfolded with plenty of support from team mates for the gladiators and the tension mounting as it became clear that Mike had some dangerous possibilities based on his various knight tours. The game reached its climax with the 50 move rule imminent and Mike setting up his most dangerous possibility, a deadly zugswang following if Sheila got it wrong. Sheila didn't get it wrong and the draw was agreed; Atticus hugs all round after finally winning a match in this tough season.

The well appointed and spacious playing room for the Division 2 players at Sunningdale

The long and belated journey North was thus bearable and we look forward to continuing our fight against the drop back to the Northern League in the upcoming 4NCL matches. On my return I was greeted by congratulations to the team from Dave Robertson who had watched the action from the gradually emptying tournament room via the webcam. The pictures he watched doubtless recalled the days of his youth when the equally dashingly handsome actors and beautiful actresses adorned the silver screen to provide tension, but never more than for this production.

Division 2, First Weekend (Rds 1&2)

by John Carleton

De Vere Staverton Park
Captain: John Carleton
The memories of a year earlier when the 4NCL adventure began for the Spirit of Atticus came flooding back when we were greeted this year, as then, by a beautiful sunny November morning. The butterflies in the stomach that were in place in anticipation of the unknown last year were active this time with the prospect of upgrading ourselves from medium sized fish in a small pond to life in the big pool. And what opponents were likely to be more fearsome than our first round opponents, the Sharks?

At this point I should emphasise that Spirit of Atticus for this campaign, like the England Rugby Union team in the recent World Cup, explored new levels of preparation unanticipated by their rivals. Some matters cannot be revealed because of their revolutionary impact, but let me ask,"does your team have target setting?" Atticus did. "Does your team gather round their computers to sing along with video clips [The Jet song from West Side Story; the Jets, of course, sworn enemies of the Sharks] thoughtfully provided by their support staff?" Atticus did.

Rd1: Spirit of Atticus v Sambuca Sharks
This left four games in play: Dave R on board 8 had equalised comfortably with the black pieces but in trying to break into his youthful opponent's position walked into a sucker punch and selected playing on with rook and pawn for a queen as his best practical chance: this was not, as you will anticipate, a great chance and in due course Dave succumbed leaving three of us playing, with Sambuca Sharks better in each game. Andy S on board 2 had gradually moved to neutralise the slight but nagging pressure he had been under throughout when a time trouble blunder lost a piece and ended his resistance. Peter and his opponent on board 5 had constructed a position where Peter had acquired a bad bishop; however the pawn formation had become blocked and after extreme care and some suffering Peter was able to complete the exchanges that made a draw inevitable. Last to finish was my game against Thomas Rendle: a sharp skirmish in the opening saw us progress to an ending where Thomas had two pawns for the exchange. When this extended to three pawns a loss for me seemed inevitable, but a couple of small errors on his part were enough for me to generate activity sufficient to wriggle into a straightforward theoretical draw. Thus we set off somewhat belatedly for our traditional post match celebration, following a match of many ifs and buts but one where we had contributed fully to the tension in the narrow defeat.

To return to the weekend itself and the first match; after welcoming new recruits, Andrew Smith and Dave Latham, the team were soon locked in battle. The early stages seemed fairly level which we took as a good sign as there was a chance we could be swept away if we started badly. There was a flurry of activity around the 3-3½ hour mark; Dave L had drummed up some initiative as black on board 4, turned down a draw but having initiated play in the wrong sector of the board, resigned when prohibitive material in arrears with no activity. This was balanced by Andy M on board 7 who had had his draw offer turned down by an opponent who could sense long term attacking options. Unfortunately for him this was not backed up by suitable short term choices; a simple sequence netted the exchange and a straightforward win for Andy. Sheila on board 3 had emerged from a dodgy opening with some activity for a pawn and when her opponent moved in for the kill with what was anticipated as a pseudo-sacrifice but succinctly demonstrated to be a real one by Sheila, the point that gave us the lead was not long delayed. Steve on board 6 put in a measured display to hold the half point as black in a game that never varied significantly from level.

Brabenecs in Northampton
This time we ate English style in Northampton, close to our hotel. Steve's assiduous research was applauded by one and all, for it was he who had found the Brabenec Restaurant some months before, and he has immediately been installed as assistant to the deputy Entertainment Secretary.

The food was much appreciated and, hard though it will be to comprehend by those who know us, I got the impression that the drink was appreciated even more than the food. The conversation was as ever, varied, inspiring and lucid. We were graced by Jeannie Latham's presence and look forward to welcoming her on a regular basis even if Dave should be unavailable for a particular match. It was Sunday morning when we retired, looking forward to the challenges of the new day.

We were higher rated than our opponents 3Cs and we settled down with confidence for we felt that they would have been unsettled by their defeat to the impressive, largely North Wales based opponents, called South Wales Dragons. As a team who has regularly beaten higher rated opponents we should have expected that one day the tables would be turned, and, after two and a half hours or so it might have dawned on us that this was the day. The games where we were making the running seemed few and far between: on board 3, Sheila had ventured into the home ground of well-known Trompowsky aficionado Alan Walton and an interesting and rather obscure position arose. On board 2 Andy S appeared to be on the verge of breaking through into his opponent's rather undeveloped position.

Rd2: 3C's 1 v Spirit of Atticus
The rest of the match did not look promising: my game on board 1 was set for long term action on opposite sides of the board and my position looked reasonable; this changed when I rashly opened up lines in the centre meaning that the pawn cover round my king was extremely scant. Dave L on board 4 was, as white, struggling to get play. Peter on board 5 set up what appeared to be a fairly balanced position with maybe an edge for his opponent Graham Burton. Only after the draw was agreed did the players establish that Peter's situation was in fact extremely dicey and we were fortunate to get the draw. Over the bottom three boards, the Spirit of Atticus team had between them something in the region of one hundred and fifty years extra chess experience over their opponents. This did not show with Dave R on board 8 and Steve on board 6 in very poor positions and Andy between them struggling to equalise.

Our destruction was complete approaching the first time control: Dave L duly obtained enough to draw on board 4 and Sheila also agreed a draw in a position where maybe most would have preferred her opponent.

Dale James against me did not rush into matters, calmly playing defensive moves before launching his cavalry against my king. Where his knights led the heavy artillery soon followed and I was blown away. Andy's opponent on board 2 played some clever defensive/counter attacking ideas with both sides short of time: those watching from our side could only admire this intense battle whilst feeling, on Andy's forced resignation that this may have been the one that got away. There is no criticism of our player here nor complaint concerning the match result, since the bottom three boards proved the three that got away for 3C's, experience having the last word and three of our elder statesmen managing to capture three difficult draws. We thus lie equal bottom of our section, and, like the Rugby Union Board before us we will not stand idle for a moment faced with this grave situation. Extracts from the first report of the management committee include the following:
  1. We have no comment regarding the unsubstantiated dwarf throwing allegations in Northampton on Saturday night.
  2. A moratorium on target setting is now in place whilst we consider the whole matter; we will in the meantime hope for the best like we always have.
  3. We will ensure that the new song [to a tune by a band called the Village People, we believe] ♪ "It's fun to play 'gainst the AMCA" will be ready for distribution in good time for the second round of matches. 
  4. In brief we intend to enjoy this season's competition and camaraderie every bit as much as we did last season.

The Northern 4NCL 2nd Weekend, 15-16 Jan 2011

by John Carleton

Wychwood Park, Crewe
It was a big sporting weekend in Crewe with Port Vale the visitors to Gresty Road on Saturday to play the Alex [The match of hate as it is known locally since Stoke's fairly recently acquired lofty status]. Fortunately, two of our stars [heading for the other major sporting event in Crewe] Andy and Mike managed to elude the police cordon at Crewe Station and joined their colleagues at the second superb venue for the fledgling 4NCL Northern League. This time we knew a bit more about our opponents and were expecting a tough match against fellow 100% scorers Cheddleton 2 in our Saturday fixture.  We were not to be disappointed in this expectation.

The match soon settled into a series of headlong collisions with quarter neither being given nor expected with the possible exception of board 6. Andy approached me fairly early on saying that the positions were going to be pretty drawish and would a draw be O.K. Trying to fathom where three and a half points might come from was proving quite taxing so I was agreeable to reducing that problem to trying to work out from where a further three points might come. So as anticipated, this game was agreed drawn quite early in the proceedings. Meanwhile in my game we were trying to recall some heavy Nimzo theory which was taking quite a bit of time. You may be surprised that I needed quite so much time since I had actually played the variation before [unlike my opponent]; this should not connected in any way to my having a deteriorating memory but at the moment I can't quite recollect why I took so long. Meanwhile board 2 was rapidly turning into a Dutch Defence tribute afternoon. Peter, with scarcely a glance to the queenside, took on the mantle of the Ginger GM and overwhelmed his opponent's king's defences; a smooth Atticus victory with a snappy finish.

Captain: John Carleton
On board 3 Dave Robertson had started slowly but his opponent lost time when he had prospects of a promising initiative. Dave needed no further invitation and soon whipped up a ferocious attack which ensnared the black king. Many people were worried whether, playing board 4, Dave Stuttard, with his somewhat idiosyncratic style, would be ready for the generous time allowance and positional emphasis of the 4NCL. Of course they should have been worried whether the 4NCL would be ready for Dave. Suffice it to say that on this occasion even his captain was more than a little concerned that he might not have quite enough for the two pieces sacrificed.

In addition Mike on board 5 had been under pressure, was forced to jettison a pawn and although he was fighting back,  the match, despite our two fine wins, could depend on board 1. This had progressed to an ending where I had the notional advantage of two pieces against rook and pawn and could play on for a long time but was having trouble coming up with winning ideas. My plans for an early trip to the bar seemed in jeopardy when Mike lost on time with a move to make to the time control in a drawn ending. At this point Dave Stuttard's opponent was forced to resign [obviously, oh ye of little faith!] so  peace negotiations swiftly followed in my game to wrap up a satisfying 4-2 win.

Giovannis, Crewe
And so, pausing for a only few drinks at the golf club bar, the team embarked on our traditional in-depth post match debriefing session before heading into Crewe town centre for a meal. Robbo's researches had indicated that Giovanni's offered a particularly interesting selection of wines and so even the traditional beer drinkers decided this was the opportunity to broaden their horizons and to embrace the produce of the grape. As a result of this pioneering decision it was felt by many that the conversation reached new heights, although recollection of said discussions proved somewhat elusive on Sunday.

The dawn of a new day saw us move up from the competition's 5th highest rated team on Saturday to the 4th highest team on Sunday so we felt we must have had a good evening. We were however wary of Jorvik, who had looked in good shape in the previous round. Our wariness had grown to real concern quite early in the round 4 encounter with our opponents looking more comfortable overall. Jos Wooley had a small opening edge against me. On board 2, Peter was our brightest starter, looking very comfortable as he built up big pressure on the black centre. Dave on board 3, with a willing partner from Jorvik [Richard Mounce], embarked on some hot Najdorf theory which had the non-aficionados amongst us bemused. Dave Stuttard on board 4 appeared very relaxed as he lost/sacrificed a pawn in the opening, swapped queens and then converted the material situation to an exchange deficit. There was some concern in the Atticus camp that this game might not last too long. Mike was under big pressure on board 5 but was digging in and showing real determination. Andy on board 6 had realised that we required a win and, accepting a potentially loose position, had grabbed space and was generating some initiative.

The well appointed playing room at Wychwood Park, an ideal setting for rounds 3 & 4.
All the games came to a head with the approach of the time control: board 3, after some startling adventures fizzled out to a draw. Andy made his space count on board 6, gathering material as his opponent attempted to break out. Jos outplayed me in the crisis position I had provoked which meant the match was all square. Mike liberated his position and even grabbed a pawn but was content to agree a draw as matters were changing on board 4. Dave had won back the exchange for a [weak] pawn which duly dropped off. Thereafter, he gave a text book demonstration of play with two bishops against bishop and knight and once again delivered the full point. This enabled Peter to agree the draw in what was surely a winning ending [but posing real problems of coordination] to bring victory by the narrowest margin.

Another weekend of tough chess thus saw us sitting proudly at the top of the division, but with nearly every match close and unpredictable we look forward to more uncompromising battles in the forthcoming rounds.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

The Northern 4NCL First Weekend

by John Carleton

Redworth Hall
John Carleton
The first weekend of the newly formed northern branch of Britain's most prestigious team tournament got under way at Barcelo Redworth Hotel, beautifully appointed albeit bewildering in its internal geography, on the outskirts of Darlington.

With only the lists of registered players to guide us we anticipated a possible rough ride from Manchester Manticores in our Saturday match and perhaps a more straightforward task on Sunday facing Bradford DCA Knights B team. As is frequently the case in such matters the actuality proved somewhat different. 

Round 1

Manchester Manticores were without their two most highly rated registered players and because of a late cry-off were doomed to scoring the only defaults of the weekend [one in each round]. Thus Spirit of Atticus scored the first point in the history of this branch of the competition and approached the task of adding to this score with relish. At the outset Dave Robertson on board 4 seemed most likely to notch our first "genuine" win quickly setting up a mobile centre which soon converted to a bone in Black's throat in the form of a big passed pawn on d6. This likelihood soon vanished as Steve Connor had settled into a very smooth rhythm on board 3 with the black pieces, Steve boldly favoured two knights against two bishops, set up a bind that netted a pawn and left his opponent facing only further discomfort and material loss. The resignation appeared early at first glance but a little study showed it to be totally justified.

Peter Ackley on Bd2
Peter Ackley on board 2 agreed a draw in a somewhat stodgy position each side facing a strongly placed opposition knight severely restricting their options. As [true for both sides] the "cure" of removing the knight was even worse than the original illness, and correctly judging that the match was progressing rather well, Peter agreed a draw.

My match reached the outcome that seemed inevitable fairly soon after my opponent unsoundly sacrificed a piece in the opening. Then, after a rather sketchy opening [as ever, understatement is one of my strengths], Mike on board 5 sprung into action. Firstly a pawn was shed to obtain some elbow room. An exchange sacrifice soon followed and White was defenceless; Mike clinically delivered the full point.

Meanwhile Andy Mort our scheduled board 6, did not have the afternoon off. Instead he played against Bradford's reserve and the extremely tough battle that resulted saw Andy victorious approaching 4 hours play. In completing this match Andy set a record for a gap between successive Atticus games of approximately 35 years [If any Atticus old-timers fancy a pop at this record we will be glad to accommodate their attempt]. This left Dave alone still in play against his opponent who many felt showed a commendable if somewhat surprisingly long-lasting interest in the ending of king, two knights and two pawns [Dave] versus king and bishop [Himself]. Dave was in due course victorious. 

Preparations for Round 2
With scarcely a backward glance at Yorvik and Cheddleton 2 still locked in battle and the splattering of games in the other matches round the room, we hurried to the bar to gather our strength. After a couple of drinks we had a couple of drinks more and then boarded our taxi headed for what Dave's assiduous research had revealed is one of the finest curry houses in England outside of Bradford. In fact, the length of the journey was such that we thought we might actually arrive in Bradford.

Before we could get amongst the food we had of course to stock up on drinks, and at this point came the most tense phase of the entire weekend: the waiters gathered round the table, five of the Atticus team fidgeted nervously and the sixth, Dave submerged into a trance. Dave sniffed the wine before him, his face inscrutable. Then, furrowing his brow and looking skywards Dave seemed to be summoning divine help to fathom some mystery before suddenly awakening to announce to the assembly that this was a very fine wine. The relief was palpable; waiters returned to their duties, the team threw the wine down their throats with gusto and the excellent food was enjoyed by one and all.

Round 2

And so, the match against Bradford B got underway, and it quickly became apparent that our youthful opponents were ready for battle. They had lost the day before to their senior team, [containing the highest rated players on view for the weekend] but the margin of 4-2 was not undeserved and hinted at their potential.

The Surtees Conference Room, where conditions were of the usual 4NCL high standard
photo © Pat Bennett (Holmes Chapel)

Nonetheless, Steve was once again the man in a hurry, opening the scoring for us by the simple expedient of grabbing a pawn and exchanging down to a won ending which he duly won avoiding his opponent's attempts to cause confusion. 

Robbo meanwhile was involved in a tactical melee which saw him emerge with 4 pawns for a piece; alas by then all routes for the white pieces were heading for Dave's king and he was helpless as the Bradford player levelled the match scores with an all round impressive performance.

Board 2 was next to finish; despite playing the black side of an exchange French Peter soon found himself in a lively position. He quickly adapted to the changing face of the game and assumed almost total control. It is possible Peter's opponent missed some tactical chances to extend the fight but the result was a reward for Peter's controlled aggression. My game was next to conclude doubling our advantage; the position suddenly went from somewhat advantageous for me to overwhelming as my opponent tried to attack more quickly than was warranted by the position. We thus needed one draw from the bottom two boards to clinch the match and for a good while Andy on board 6 seemed to offer Atticus the better prospects for this happy outcome; we were soon disabused of the notion that matters would be easy when his opponent stoked up a sustained attack to break through decisively for another impressive Bradford victory.

By this time Mike had gradually worked his way back into the game [from a position arising from an extremely sketchy opening on this occasion] and had exchanged to an ending where he had even gained a not very valuable pawn. The draw was his for the asking and in making the request Mike ensured a happy start for the Spirit of Atticus who now lie 2nd in the newly formed league [on alphabetical order!].

On the evidence of this first weekend, the competition promises many close matches and interesting chess over the coming months.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

4NCL & The Spirit of Atticus

John Carleton
We are pleased to announce that a 'Spirit of Atticus' team has been entered for the new Northern 4NCL which has been advertised on our website over the previous few months.

We regard the Northern 4NCL as an exciting development which will hopefully grow in the forthcoming years and will counter the southern drift which has gradually afflicted the mainline event. We also see the entry of an Atticus team into the competition as a very natural development.

The team has been entered under the captaincy of John Carleton and if you might be interested in playing some or all of the matches please contact him on (0151) 724 4515 or email John directly. The 'Spirit of Atticus' team is open to any interested party wishing to be available for selection.

We look forward to playing competitive chess under pleasant conditions and a civilised time limit, although it must be admitted that all time limits tend towards the uncivilised once chess players get involved!

The format is the same as the main 4NCL, viz. each weekend hosts a game on Saturday afternoon/evening [start 2:00pm] and a game on Sunday morning/afternoon [start 11:00am]. The normal pattern for the games 'at a distance' is for competitors to stay overnight on the Saturday at the venue at the reasonable rates negotiated by the organisers but it is not uncommon for players to play on just one of the days of the weekend.

The weekends to be used are the same as for the 4NCL itself, and details may be found on the 4NCL site or see Mike Truran's contact on our homepage.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Collusion or Conspiracy?

Fischer v Korchnoi, Curacao Candidates 1962
There have been many accusations of collusion, either of players deliberately losing (often to help a friend get a norm), of players agreeing draws or teams agreeing to throw matches to prevent another from winning an event.

Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis claim that Soviet players colluded in world chess championships held from 1940 to 1964.

They argue that players agreed draws amongst themselves to improve their chances. The most famous instance, the 1962 Candidates' Tournament, concerned the allegations of collusion by the Soviets.

The three top finishers, Petrosian, Geller and Keres drew all twelve of their games against each other, in an average of only 19 moves. Soon after the tournament, Fischer publicly alleged that the Soviets had colluded to prevent him from winning. His main allegation was that Petrosian, Geller and Keres had pre-arranged to draw all their games.

Yuri Averbakh
Fischer's allegation has long been accepted as correct. Yuri Averbakh, who was head of the Soviet team at the time, admitted collusion in a 2002 interview, 'Keres wanted to conserve energy, and Petrosian and Geller were good friends with a history of drawing with each other.'

Fischer's complaint titled 'The Russians Have Fixed World Chess' published in Sports Illustrated (August 20th 1962), forced FIDE to change the format of future Candidates' Tournaments beginning with the 1966 cycle. They were replaced by a series of elimination matches to prevent collusion and to avoid further embarrassment.

Could such collusion, between players, teams or even clubs happen in amateur chess? Of course it can. Last year in the MCA league, match re-arrangments in Division 1 during the second half of the season led to accusations of collusion. A delay of over four months occurred before two clubs got round to playing their crucial 'decider'. And John Carleton's article 'Fair Competition' eloquently details the extent to which officials will go to, to win at all costs i.e. to prevent another club from winning the league competition fairly.

A disturbing feature is that the collusion took place under the very noses of the league officials. This is bad enough but worse, the officials have failed to take any action or condemn the behaviour and another club has gone to the extent of publicly congratulating the 'winners'. This bizarre twist should be an alarm call to any self-respecting player because it begs the question - where does the collusion end - two clubs, three clubs?

By any reasonable measure and on the evidence available, that's the direction in which things are moving in the Merseyside League.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Arctic Securities Rapid: Anand and Carlsen lead with 2.5/3

The first half brought the result many expected: the World Champion and the world's highest ranked player won both their games against their lower-ranked opponents, and drew the encounter against each other. But it was not all smooth sailing. In his game against compatriot Jon Ludvig Hammer Magnus stared disaster in the face. First day report with poignant videos by Europe Echecs.

This rapid chess tournament is taking place in Kristiansund from Saturday, August 28th to Monday, August 30th 2010. It is a double round robin with four players: Magnus Carlsen, Viswanathan Anand, Judit Polgar and Jon Ludvig Hammer. On Monday there follows the finals between the two leading players, together with the bronze final for third place. Time controls are 20 minutes + 10 seconds increment per move.

Introduction and excerpts from the press conference before the tournament.

Interviews with the players

In the second video report the "blunder of the day" is vividly described by Jon Ludvig, who apparently like all Norwegians speaks a very high level of English. Starting at 1:57 min into the video he talks about the missed chance, while the thumbnail on the top left (from 2:14 min) shows Magnus playing 39.Rd2?? and Hammer immediately recapturing with his h-rook – and realising what he has missed at 2:21 min. Heartbreaking to watch.


Text: Courtesy of Chessbase