Christmas Blitz Tournament

The Club called, and many came, members and friends, to celebrate Christmas and the end of the calendar year with an online Blitz tournament. Well, not just any Blitz, but one with simultaneous chats and video links on the club’s Zoom channel. So, it resembled as much a party of good old times.

24 participants, mostly members and a few friends, plus some on-lookers. Three father-son teams competed, even playing each other, well Christmas is family time. The fathers performed better than their sons, Tom better than Max, Richard better than Adam, and Ken’s son Felix looked on Zoom even happier than his father. We chatted about the right age for children to start playing chess. Conclusion is, any age is right. This evening however, it was not the Juniors who took the Blitz crowns as you would have expected, but the adults.

Special prizes for the event went to:

  • Under-10: Max
  • Best female player and among top-10: Raluca
  • Best senior and highest endurance with 16 games: Richard
  • Runner-Up and overall winner: well, read on

Not that it was all about chatting. Chess did matter, a marathon for three long hours. The club’s undisputed Blitz genius Thomas (T-Bone, peak December rating 2401) competed and was early leading the pack, in his usual berserk mode, a specialty of Arena tournaments on lichess. You can double your points when starting with only half of the already short time. So, Thomas was immediately charging ahead. Unfortunately for him, and we still feel honoured by his participation, he had to drop out at one point because he competed in two other international competitions this evening.

The lead was soon taken by a challenger who won one game after the other, and in Arena tourneys winning streaks also double points. But then, suddenly, he was disqualified. The lichess system somehow decided that he was cheating. Was it a software running simultaneously, was it his too good to be true performance, we don’t know what lichess detects and how the algorithm works. Sad enough, that happens. The club’s attitude is clear: we expect everyone to be clean, and we will look into each case where doubt is raised. Honestly, sometimes it is difficult to deal with when there are no clear answers.

The fight did go on: Liam was charging ahead. Liam has continuously improved his skills since he joined the club two years ago. And he was relentless also this evening, rarely leaving a point behind while others were taking short breaks. And in the final of three gruelling hours, two more contenders came closer, Tom and Christof. We know Tom as as successful bridge player, European Junior champion and English Champions League winner, and in autumn he made a clear statement of his chess ambitions when he won 4 of the 8 weekly Blitz tourneys of the club. Now it all boiled down to the last few minutes, and to the last game, between Tom and Christof. Would the game be finished before the deadline of 9pm? If not, its result would not count and Liam would be declared winner, the same if the game ended in a draw. If there were a winner, he would win not just this last game but also the tournament. It was a bitter fight. Huge advantage from the beginning for Christof. Stubborn fight back by Tom, trying to use whatever small chances were remaining, moving his king all the way up to the opposite ranks. And with Christof, you never know, in Blitz even more so. The later computer evaluation shows how Caissa’s favour switched from one side to the other, from plus 8 to minus 7 and back, well, Blitz games are not high quality. Tom could have won a rook, Christof could have queened. Then, seconds away from the deadline 9pm, foto-finish looming, each side at risk of losing on time, Christof promoted his last pawn only to be taken, then it was Tom queening only to be taken as well. But he still had another pawn on the board. Last man standing, and last man running. Tom it is, the winner, the champion.

What an evening, but what a year. The right spirit to the end, giving hope for our club chess when it will resume at one time in 2021.


The MindSports Centre – The Time is Now

John White – PR Officer of Hammersmith Chess Club and Member of the London League Chess Committee:

The world has changed forever in the last six months. Every aspect of our lives has been affected and the consequences will be profound. If there is one positive to come out of this earthquake, it is the chance to examine our lives, priorities and where we want to go. This is scary stuff but also an opportunity to radically alter our direction.

The chess world has not been immune. Look what has happened.

Essentially a complete absence of OTB chess, online chess has become the norm, the club night has been put on life-support, the issue of cheating in chess has consumed column inches in such august organs as the Guardian – as well as the chess press – and probably the worst thing, for me at least, the social side of our brilliant game has gone.

Nine months ago, I was lucky to enjoy the delights of the Bunratty Chess Festival for the first time – chess was the main reason I made the journey to the West of Ireland, but the craic and genuine camaraderie is the key ingredient of this superb tournament. Covid-19 has robbed us of that.

I guess what I am saying, that just as in real life, where many of you are considering your options and maybe contemplating a radical new direction – chess has to do the same.

There has never been a better time to plot the future of chess. Everything should be on the table – the ultimate question being why do we do chess the way we do?

It is something that has preoccupied me since early June. My club Hammersmith has undergone a complete metamorphosis in the last five years (we were below 20 members, with an average age north of 60 and were definitely not diverse) – now we have a membership north of one hundred, a new venue (the YCBC), a thriving junior section, stable finances, an excellent website and social media presence. We have run numerous events within the club – with guest speakers like Jon Speelman and Danny King and chess weekends in Amsterdam, Cork and Wroclaw. This year’s trip to Lübeck for obvious reasons is on hold. In other words, we try to offer more than just club and league chess.

Now is the time for the next steps both for Hammersmith and I believe chess as a whole in the UK.

Over the Summer, one of the projects I have got involved in – in conjunction with partners – has been the creation of a Mindsports Centre. In many ways the concept has been given fresh impetus by the Covid-19 pandemic and the need for Bridge, Go and Chess (the three most prominent Mindsports) to have a permanent venue that they own, and can enjoy a successful future. In other words, to establish a beacon for Mindsports.

This article is to inform you of the reasoning behind the project, the progress so far, and why it will hopefully have a huge impact on the game we love.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Club chess in the UK today, in my experience, feels a bit like football did in the 1970’s and early 1980’s. The game for a start was run on a shoestring. Hardly any marketing or branding ideas.

At the time the fan and player experience were pretty dismal – the grounds were old and crumbling, the pitches were mud-baths, there was a large hooligan problem and the organisation of the sport was in the hands of the FA. The horrors of Heysel and Hillsborough were yet to come. The sport needed to change. And it did.

I think chess has to make the same changes.

Overwhelmingly, the venues I play chess at – this includes the Middlesex and Thames Valley Leagues, as well as the London League – are pubs, dingy community halls, or in some cases an even worse venue.

My point is, these venues are not attractive to women, young players (and their parents) or new people wanting to play chess.

The London League venue is held in a central London hotel room, in which 100-plus players are crammed in, with no room for your scoresheet and making a mockery of any social distancing. We need thirty odd nights at this venue to complete the League each season.

I know for a lot of members of chess clubs, the venues are fine. However, I throw this challenge at you – the club is not yours, per se. You are merely the custodians of it. Your responsibility is to run it efficiently and hand it on in rude health to the next generation of chess players.

Part of the reason for your existence is to help promote chess to new people.

Is it coincidence that the Netflix mini-series “Queens Gambit” has produced a sudden media interest in our sport or a jump in membership enquiries that Hammersmith Chess Club has received over the last few months?

My personal view is that chess, along with Bridge and Go, have to attain ‘sports’ status in the UK to help facilitate the evolution of our sports.

Why has chess achieved sports status in so many countries, but only has activity status here?

There have been numerous articles on the benefits of Mindsports in pupil performance, mental health generally and even physical well-being. My partner Karen is a Cognitive Behaviour Therapist working in the NHS in South London – the avalanche of mental health issues that Covid-19 has brought to the forefront in the past eight months is potentially cataclysmic. The imperative for Mindsports has never been higher.

The concept of having a place that helps promote, teach and give a venue worth playing our wonderful game in can only help raise the profile of chess and its status. In other words – it is time to take chess from the Combined Counties League to the Premier League. The possibilities are enormous with chess leagues being based there, national and international competitions, a learning and teaching centre resource and a highly visible demonstration of the ambition of Chess, Bridge and Go.

There have been attempts in the past to create a Mindsports centre but they have always failed – Malcolm Pein was involved in past attempts to realise this vision.

The real game-changer this time has been that members of the Young Chelsea Bridge Club and the Go Association have purchased a building in Hammersmith (see picture). The property is a former Salvation Army Hall near Ravenscourt Park. The Mindsports Centre is going to happen with or without chess. The big question is – will Chess get involved?

So far, Chris Skulte (Manager of the Celtic Tigers) and I have each invested £2.5k to fund the legal work, plus the initial site and structural surveys. We are both committed to this project.

The current building will be usable once some decoration and remedial works have been done to make it functional.

The centre will be run on a commercial basis with a company owning the asset and a management team running it day-to-day to make the asset sweat. There will be more information forthcoming in the next few weeks on the various options available. The Centre has to be a going commercial concern and produce a return for the investors.

If we wish to truly transform the premises into something that would be worthy of the title, the National Mindsports Centre, then it will require additional investment. There are various options on the table including adding two additional floors. The fourth floor would be transformed into a penthouse flat that would be sold for circa £1.2 million that would provide an immediate return for shareholders. The investment estimate will be between £1.5 million and £2 million pounds, and this investment has to come from chess players and chess enthusiasts.

I personally feel that the “fan” ownership model is the right way to go – to put it in simple terms, it would be chess players with a stake in the project.

Chris and I will be coming forward with a proposal in the next few weeks that will establish a vehicle that will raise funds for this investment. We will decide what form that vehicle will take – a limited company, a charity or a combination of both.

This is one of the most exciting projects I have ever been involved in and it gives an unprecedented (definitely the word of 2020) opportunity to transform chess in the UK once and for all.

The idea that chess could be played and enjoyed by players of all strengths in high-quality premises with a bar, café and restaurant on-site is something worth fighting for.

Please watch this space.

John White.
PR Officer
Hammersmith Chess Club

Christmas Gifts from Chess & “The Queen’s Gambit”

Recently, Hammersmith Chess Club was contacted by a national radio station. The reporter wanted to speak with female chess players who could share their opinion on the latest Netflix mini-series, “The Queen’s Gambit“.

The interview fell through, but with the festive season just around the corner, here are some thoughts to ponder over. Maybe we can all make someone smile this Christmas.

Spoiler Alert: If you have not watched this series yet, the following article will include quite a few light spoilers!

“Chess can also be beautiful”

These were the words of the protagonist, Elizabeth ‘Beth’ Harmon, a fictional chess genius who succeeded against all expectations on the world chess stage. As I feel the series only covered specific aspects of this mind sport, please find below a few additional reasons why chess can be beautiful:

It is widely known to improve cognitive abilities such as reasoning, making decisions effectively, the capacity to solve problems, the accuracy of performing tasks and many more. Academic research in the sector even examined the effect on social-affective development of children and adolescents (Sala & Gobet, 2016 / Sigirtmac, 2016 / Aciego et al, 2013).

What made me realise that existent research is only scraping the surface is this incredible and very insightful article written by a 22 year old man under the pseudonym Simon, and published by Frederic Friedel @Chessbase (Friedel & Simon, 2020) on autism and chess.

The article mentions past studies that revealed a relationship between autistic people and chess, but also speaks about Simon’s personal experience playing chess and the role of chess in training social skills and encouraging interaction with others.

There’s joy in chess for everyone, no matter what background one comes from, their age, gender, ethnicity, income, health status etc. There is no need to even buy a chess board, when you can easily make one. Some got very creative with it, the latter image reminding me of a chess game in Hangzhou against a talented junior player who drew the board and made the pieces from paper himself.

Credit goes to Martin Shaw







Credit goes to Otechknow

It is specifically magic when it brings together people from all walks of life, who most likely would not have crossed paths otherwise.

Chess can teach us a great deal about life and sometimes acts as a reminder of issues we have yet to tackle. One example is the ‘white moves first‘ rule, first adopted at a chess tournament in New York in 1880 according to historian Robert John McCrary, a reminder of white privilege and its lingering effects.

Another is a more subtle one, related to the role of each chess piece. Each game tells a story and each experience of playing a chess match is unique. Chess has evolved at least at a pace similar to nowadays society, from being used as a training tool for warfare to teaching us the true value of teamwork and collegiality.

Why is chess beautiful to you? Who are you going to challenge for a match this Christmas?

Where is Mr William Schaibel?

In the series, Beth learns how to play chess from the orphanage Janitor, Mr William Schaibel. He also sends her the money for a chess tournament entrance fee. A similar pattern is witnessed in a 2016 movie the “Queen of Katwe“, with missionary Robert Katende coaching and mentoring Phiona Mutesi in Uganda. Robert scrapes together the funding the children of Katwe require to join a chess tournament at a school in Kampala.

While neither Mr Katende or Mr Schaibel were chess experts, they chose to share their knowledge and teach someone else. It makes one wonder how society nowadays would look if more individuals did the same. How likely is it for an orphan to come across a Mr Schaibel? How frequently are children in Uganda or other developing countries receiving guidance from someone like Mr Katende?

Some will ask, why teach another how to play chess? The aforementioned people surely needed different types of support. Here are my two pennies worth:

Granted, Mischel’s Marshmallow Test is still considered a means to measure future success, why not teach young children chess, to help nurture patience and the ability of waiting for that greater reward?

The Marshmallow test was born following an experiment run in the late 1960’s to early 1970’s by psychologist Walter Mischel and his colleagues over a period of several years. The experiment determined that children with the ability to wait for a better reward, rather than immediately accept the one marshmallow or treat they were offered on the spot, were more likely to become successful in the future.

More recent research established that variables such as one’s environment and financial status will considerably affect the results of this experiment and merely teaching someone to ‘delay gratification’ was not meant to guarantee future success (Watts et al., 2018). Which is why teaching chess should be part of the solution, more so since it also creates a safe social environment.

If you know how to play chess, teaching someone else will be mutually helpful. Apart from the universally-known argument that happiness gained from helping others lasts longer, playing chess happens to be a good method to stimulate the brain and keep it active. Research in the area has covered the role of chess in preventing or slowing down Alzheimer’s disease. It has also been used in mental health therapy and more generally, it is just a great creative outlet.

So, if you’re lucky enough to spend Christmas home with your family this year, do invite them to play a game of chess. I feel it is one of those mind sports that really brings generations together and has the potential to reduce loneliness and improve communication.

If you are somewhere far away from your family, chess might be the way to enjoy some great moments with your flatmate(s). It might also be worthwhile looking into volunteering opportunities in your neighbourhood. I recently found out my club mates had previously challenged inmates from Her Majesty’s Prisons to a game of chess. Given the Covid-19 safety measures, this might not be possible right now, but I’m quite sure there are people out there who would love nothing more than a video call and chatting over an online game of chess.

Afer all, as poet John Donne very well said, “No man is an island”. What made “The Queen’s Gambit” series memorable to me was the help and guidance Beth received from her lifelong friend Jolene, from Mr Schaibel, from Benny, Harry, Townes, and from many others. You might also find family where you least expect it.

“Let’s play”

This is Anya Taylor-Joy’s final line as the mini-series reaches an end. The scene is filmed in a Russian park and I found it to be one of the most meaningful and uplifting concepts introduced in the series.

Credit goes to Netflix
Credit goes to Koren Reyes Photography

It focuses on being outside and having fun whilst playing chess – age and gender becoming irrelevant. Given the current situation, it made me wonder why we do not have more/any chess tables outside in the iconic British parks, or in markets and squares. It would surely by an inexpensive initiative, with great social and educational outcomes, especially in a country such as the UK, where low levels of numeracy continue to be an issue.

If you are able to support such an initiative, please get in touch. I’m currently looking into the best ways to reach out to the local government and submit a community development proposal!



Hammer Firsts vs. Cavendish: Round 6 – The LL Online Open Division

Yep, in this holiday season the games come thick and fast. The next Hammer challenge was Cavendish – one of the strongest clubs in London and armed with a huge history. I have to say, the last time our clubs clashed in anger was a Division 2 match in May 2019. The result a stunning 7.5-2.5 win for the Hammers. A definite statement win at the time, for a club aiming for the top division of the LL.

The Hammer team comprised of the following total heroes – in board order: Ryszard, Carsten, Chris D and Jonathan.

Like last week, before I go to the match report – were you able to identify Week 5’s concealed chess figure? It was the great Viktor Korchnoi – a true fighter of the chess board. In this week’s report another historical figure lays hidden. The clues are once again in bold, and please enter your answers in the feedback.

Before I go to the match report, I must first evoke the great Stephen Sondheim and refer to the chorus from Cell Block Tango in the brilliant musical Chicago. Please forgive the editing:

“They had it comin’
The had it comin’
They only had themselves to blame
If you’d have been there
If you’d have seen it”

Yes, you guessed the Hammer crew were on top form. After three draws and two gut-wrenching defeats, a win was long overdue.

This was a great result. First the scorecard:

Board 1 saw Ryszard playing White against a tough opponent. His FM-titled opponent ventured the Benoni and this is what ensued:

At this point hostilities were ceased and a truce was called – it was quite a double-edged position, a wise move by our man.
Hammer 0.5 – 0.5 Cavendish.

Although not a Celtic Tiger performance, it was definitely the performance of a Tiger.

Carsten on Board 2 played ultra-solid – he was never in trouble and the game was long drawn before it was actually agreed – however Carsten had to be accurate – Q & P endings are never easy.

Carsten has been so solid in this competition – never in danger and taking draws where appropriate.

Hammer holding the line at 1-1.

Still all to play for.

Chris D on Board 3 played a total peaky blinder – this game is worthy of close study, especially the re-routing of the white bishop manoeuvre. The decisive error was black playing f4, but I think Chris was strategically winning anyway. This was a brilliant win. The ending was devastating with memories of a stunning world championship game in the mid-1960’s.

Hammer deservedly ahead at 2-1.

The fate of the match was over to Hammer stalwart Jonathan – under immense pressure he delivered. Two weeks ago, I commented on a definite change in his match approach – this was again on show – excellent time management and excellent tactical and strategic control.

His fearless attitude brought a win and a 3-1 victory for Hammer. In the end it was a win in time, but his position was strategically won.

A fabulous win by the Hammer crew: 3-1, woo hoo!

Lord Clueless is ecstatic – Hammer so deserved this win and remember what I wrote last week: “In fact the injustice will spur us on next week against Cavendish. I know it will” – I predicted it!

Lord Clueless is in supreme mental health and order has been restored in chess cyber-world.

Hammer power is on the march.

Hammer Firsts vs. Metro-giants Round 5 – the LL Online Open Division

The latest encounter in the LL Online Open Division saw Hammer go head-to-head with Metropolitan. There are no easy games in this League.

The Hammer team comprised of no holds barred fighters – in board order: Ryszard, Carsten, Jeremy and Chris (Krasen).

Like last week, before I go to the match report were you able to identify Week 4’s concealed chess figure?

It was the longest holder of the world championship Emmanuel Lasker… a true titan of the chess board.

In this week’s report another historical figure lays hidden. The clues are once again in bold and please enter your answers in the comments!

So, to the match…

This was definitely a case of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory – Hammer were so unlucky. Jeremy was holding his own comfortably and one rash move deprived him of a certain draw, and Krasen (Chris) had a won game when the curse of online chess struck in the form of a mouse slip. Damn the technology!

This gave the following scorecard:

From a Hammer point of view the Board 1 clash was amazing. Whilst watching it, I thought it was a complete masterpiece by Ryszard. The cold, unforgiving eye of Stockfish had a different view – unsurprisingly.

However, from the human point of view this was a great game to watch, with Ryszard playing the black side of a French Winawar in a style that would have even made the originator purr with approval. Just an amazing game:

There is so much to admire about Ryszard when he is in this form – this is full frontal assault chess and sums up his credo “That chess is his life”.

Board two saw  the Great Dane, Carsten, in a game that got very tactical early on then with both players running short of time saw a draw agreed. This was definitely the pragmatic and right choice. It was definitely a no holds street fight at the beginning but settled down in a yoghurt that had been out of the fridge for too long.

Here is the game:

Match score 1.5-0.5 in Hammers favour.

Board 3 saw Brexit in the form of Jeremy playing the black side of a Sicilian – let’s be frank, Jeremy played really solidly. He is feeling his way back into chess and hence he is not yet up to full speed. If he was in his usual form, I am convinced he would have played Nb4 and he would not have been so carped off.

See what you think…

Finally, we get to board 4 and an act of unspeakable cruelty – the mouse slip-gate scenario. Chris (Krasen) had played beautifully – moving well and then tech issues hit him laterally. For some reason the screen zoomed in and he was trying to play his move – when the mouse-slip happened. This was so unfair – it was such an obvious mouse-slip but the world of internet chess is as unforgiving as its real-life counterpart.

I am absolutely gutted for Chris – unlike Trump world, he totally deserved to win – in my mind he did. Chess can be so unfair.

He was sitting so comfortably in his Merano chair as well:

So, Hammer were beaten again, by the smallest margin – again. The world is not right.

1.5-2.5, and the league table looks like this:

Lord Clueless is bereft – Hammer in his mind won this match – in fact the injustice will spur us on next week against Cavendish. I know it will.

Lord Clueless, still in good mental health.