A Tale of Christmas Chess…

08.12.16 – London League 3 – Wimbledon v Hammersmith

The last LL3 match before Christmas took place at the hallowed hall of Golden Lane. Our opponents were Wimbledon 2 and they were not in a giving mood.

The narrative of the night strikes a familiar theme to those who have read the chronicles of LL3 Hammer this chess season. So close and yet so far….. again!! As ever, the devil was in the detail.

The night did not start well – Bajrush had to pull out but luckily Robin Lee stepped in at the last minute. On top of that we were out-graded by an average of 18 points per board.

In essence the match came down to two critical games where Hammer contrived to snatch a defeat and a draw from the jaws of victory. This was really hard to take, particularly for the two Hammer heroes involved – Adam and Safi.

Adam’s opponent was our Yasser – the irony is that Yasser plays for us in the Middlesex League and Adam is his captain! Adam played an outstanding game achieving an overwhelming position both materially and positionally.

Unfortunately he had consumed too much time on the clock and a scramble ensued. These are always a nightmare to play especially when you know you had a won game just a few moves earlier. The reversal of fortune affected Adam and the loss became inevitable. To be honest it was daylight robbery, and a couple of consoling pints in the Shakespeare did not ease the pain. It was chess at its most cruel!

On another day Adam would have converted.

Safo, on the Black side of an exchange Lopez, played so inventively and was two pawns up in a won endgame Unluckily he fell for a tactic and a subsequent perpetual check. I felt for Safi because he played so well and was coasting to certain victory. Another case of daylight robbery.

The glorious defeated were Matteo, Sheikh, John Wooley, and Robin.

The latter three had games they probably wish they could quickly forget. Sometimes you just have those nights and the lads have to put it down to that. They shall return in 2017 better and stronger!

Matteo should have drawn but he pushed hard for the win. It was one of those situations where one is so focused on victory that your sense of danger goes south. Another half-point disappeared!

The three winners of the night were Paul, Orial and my good self.

Paul played so solidly and won in good style. He really is coming back into his best form.

Orial had an amazing game that resulted in a time scramble but he held his nerve and triumphed in grand style. A really good victory.

As for me playing a la Karpov I totally strangled my opponent. Up to move 45 all was good and I should have closed the Kingside up and then played on the Queenside. My biggest personal chess challenge is translating positional superiority into victory. This transition is one I struggle with. However, with a 40 minute deficit on the clock my opponent was under severe time pressure and blundered in a probably drawish position. After the Adam and Safi results I was just glad that Hammer were on the right side of a result!

Overall a loss was the result – the scoreboard does not lie. However, on another night and if Santa had been in a more generous mood, Hammer would have won 6-4.

You win some, you lose some. On a personal note I want to wish all my chess fighting Hammer colleagues a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

See you next year!
John.

Result: Wimbledon 6 – 4 Hammersmith

Blitz Tourney Round TWO!.. & London 5

Ladies & Gentlemen, SAVE THE DATE – the second round of our club Blitz tournament takes place on Monday 19th December at our home venue.

For those of you with a sharp memory, you’ll recall that the first round in September saw a whopping 17 members show up, with points awarded depending on overall finishing positions at the end of the evening. The current roll of honour looks as follows:

  • Winner – Bajrush (17 points)
  • Runner Up – David (16 points)
  • 3rd (Joint) – Brian, Matteo (15 points)
  • 5th (Joint) – Chris, John W, John R, Robin (13 points)
  • 9th – Sheikh (9 points)
  • 10th – Giovanni (8 points)
  • 11th (Joint) – Paolo, Matt (7 points)
  • 13th (Joint) – Ken, Rich, Danny, Mike (5 points)
  • 17th – Phil (1 point)

With a further two rounds to go before prizes are awarded there is quite literally everything to play for! Entry is entirely free, and you don’t even have to be a member – can’t say fairer than that!!

In other news, our London 5 team played last night. Continue reading if you’d like to know how they got on…

06.12.16 – London League 5: Kings Head v Hammersmith

In our fourth match of the season we came up against the old and venerable Kings Head club. Despite the result, we accounted well for ourselves despite being out graded by up to 30 points over three boards.

With the Christmas bunting out, would the Hammer team be feeling festive by the end??

I saw little of any game apart from my own. David playing black on top board lost a minor piece early on and did well to hang on for so long. It was a courageous effort and he managed to post double Rooks along the a-file, but alas it was all in vain and the inevitable checkmate occurred.

I had the White pieces on board 2 and started with an outrageous opening that was able to exert some pressure against an uncastled King. My opponent defended well though. Eventually pieces got swapped off, Queens and opposite coloured bishops emerging, the game became locked and a draw was offered, which I accepted.

Nick on 3 playing a Kings Indian defence, unfortunately fell to a Knight fork of King and Rook. Against a veteran of the Kings Head Club, and former captain no less, there was no shame in the defeat.

Things looking tasty…

Andy built up a strong centre after a rapid development, and then defended stoically in the face of a sustained counter from his wiley opponent. After swapping pieces he entered the endgame with a slight positional advantage, only to lose it all & resign after blundering his Rook. Bad luck!

Robin.

Result: Kings Head 3.5 – 0.5 Hammersmith

Metro Land

01.12.16 – London League 4: Metropolitan 3 v Hammersmith

It’s normally a tough selling job finding cause for celebration in a drawn match, but that was certainly the case when we tied the score at 4 points a piece against Metropolitan 3. We’d salvaged a draw against their 4th team in our last match-up so we looked to be up against it as we stepped-up against their “big brother”.

In terms of paper-grades our opponents outranked us by over 10 points a board. But as any scholar of the game knows, matches are played over 64 black and white squares. They’re thankfully not decided by a pools panel who consult the ECF database!

The heroes of the night were Andy, Robin and John, each clocking-up victories against their higher-graded opponents, and each a great example of dynamic attacking chess.

Andy swept aside his opponent with a well-calculated kamikaze Bishop attack on their advanced h3 pawn. It was soon curtains with Queen and Rook waiting in the wings.

Robin looked under the cosh in a wildly open position, with roughly one minute left on the clock for both players. But one inaccuracy later, and Robin left the board beaming having delivered check-mate. A real lesson for anyone about remaining calm as the seconds tick away.

John’s win was built on a strong positional plan around pawn structures and how best to leverage to his advantage. Well, that, and a marauding Knight with fork opportunities at every turn. His opponent resigned a whole piece and 3 pawns down. Impressive stuff.

Brian had clearly been inspired by the final match of the World Championship between Carlsen and Karjakin! Taking his lead from that match, he agreed a draw in record time, but still with lots of “spaghetti on the board”.

The less said about my game, the better. I was two pawns up but under time pressure allowed a back-door perpetual check. No shame, but still felt like it represented a missed opportunity.

Details of the other games are sketchy at best – though I do have a near-perfect recollection of the buzzer noise that sounded every 5 minutes to let someone into the venue! I’m reliably informed that Orial’s opponent has an unbeaten run lasting 5 years, though I can’t swear to how many games he’s played in that time.

Special mention to David Pearson who made his debut for the team – better luck next time! – and to Dan Rugman who stepped in to cover a last-minute withdrawal. Ruggers, consider yourself the first name on the team-sheet next time.

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So, lots of positives to take forward. We’re unbeaten after 4 games, there’s lots of competition for places, and we’ve already racked-up more points than we did in the whole of last season. Genuine progress! As a result we find ourselves in the “Europa League” spot, breathing down the neck of the top 4.

I think we all deserve a little break after all that, and as luck would have it that was our last game before Christmas! Enjoy the down time, and have a wonderful Christmas and New Year. We go again in January!

Dave.

Result: Metropolitan 4 – 4 Hammersmith

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A (Muswell) Hill to Climb

01.12.16 – Middlesex League – Muswell Hill v Hammersmith

After notching up three fine wins in the first three games of the season, the Middlesex League team were on cloud nine. However, as with most things up on that ninth cloud, we were eventually going to come crashing back down.

Twenty minutes walk from the nearest tube station, Muswell Hill United Reformed Church was our venue for the night. With no less than four players pulling out in the week of the match, and the substitutes pool fully depleted, we showed up with just six players and started the match 0-2.

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N10… a mission to get to!

On another day this might have been all right; after all, we did out grade them by 22 points on average. You would not have guessed this looking at the chess though. It was a night for blunders and missed chances.

Nick was the first to lose. His young opponent played well and one too many mistakes forced an early resignation.

Matt’s game seemed a little closer, but he entered an endgame an exchange down that he was never going to hold.

Jeremy did not look comfortable form the start. Some overly passive opening play allowed a devastating attack down the Kingside. A vicious pin from which it was impossible to escape led to our third loss and a 5-0 scoreline.

John and Adam had very different games but finished with the same result. John had the black pieces and equalised easily from the opening. He couldn’t find a way to improve any more though, and the game slowly petered out into a dead draw.

Adam found a nice tactic in the middle game to win a pawn and seize a big initiative. Instead of continuing to press though, he decided to swap off pieces. A miscalculation at the start of the endgame gave the pawn straight back, and there wasn’t much left to play for.

If there was any honour to be saved, it was Carsten to the rescue. Despite showing up half an hour late, he played a good game. Carsten’s moves were very accurate, and it wasn’t long before his opponent was forced to give up a piece for a pawn. There’s no coming back form that sort of deficit against Carsten; the night ended with the Danish Dynamo scoring our only win.

Result: Muswell Hill 6 – 2 Hammersmith

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On a more positive note, we are top of the league and guaranteed to still be there at Christmas!

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We have also had 19 members playing in the team this year – a testament to the club’s huge recruitment efforts and increasing strength in depth.

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As you can see, we’re back underway very early into the new year, with crucial away matches on the first two Thursday’s of January. Please contact Adam if you’re keen to play in either of those.

 

The Sicilian Masters

28.11.16 – London League 5: Hackney v Hammersmith

This was a night for the Sicilian Masters, and the c3 anti-Sicilian paid off in shovels and spades for Brian on top board.

With the White pieces, he posted a commanding Rook on d5 that became totally surrounded by the enemy. His opponent was yet to prevail, and once a White Knight and Bishop came to support the Rook, the blood bath could begin.

The stranglehold on the Black pieces was a beauteous sight of complete domination. The Rook was then offered in sacrifice near the end, but by then the White Knight had a beautiful fork of Black’s Queen and Rook that finally was taken with 2 minutes on the clock, at which point Brian’s opponent resigned.

With White’s a and b-pawns having passed the 6th rank together, White’s victory was anyway inevitable.

Unfortunately for John, employing a Sicilian Scheveningen, White got his English Attack launched. With the Black h-file open and the White Queen coming down it, Black could not survive and John resigned just a few moves later against the Hackney Captain. Bad luck.

On board 4 Nick cleverly won a minor piece as White’s Austrian Attack looked a bit ambitious. In any case, Nick then got his Rooks doubled and with a possible back row mate on either side, a cliff-hanger of a game ensued. Nick won the exchange and went a Rook up, but it took his passed h-pawn reaching the back rank for his opponent to resign!

With my game a default, victory was complete.

Robin.

Result: Hackney 1 – 3 Hammersmith

The Richmond Mission – Impossible…?

24.11.16 – Thames Valley League: Richmond & Twickenham v Hammersmith

This past Thursday saw your TV Hammer (a cooler version of MC) take the journey down to Teddington, to take on a strong Richmond team in Division 1 of the Thames Valley League.

Not only a tough task at the best of times, but with travel woes on top and the closure of Teddington High St due to turning on the Christmas lights, it was taking on the mantle of Herculean proportions! Fortunately the Hammer team are made of stern stuff in the “getting to where I’m going” department and our team duly assembled at the designated time and place – Christchurch Hall, Teddington.

The team was already missing two of our strongest players in Carsten and Tony, and this helped exacerbate the grading difference between the teams. Although overall it probably would not have made much difference.

TV Hammer were out graded by an average of 31 points per board, with Bajrush facing a 52 point deficit on top board!

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Tom using Stockfish for his post-game analysis

You probably realise by now that things did not turn out well…

The roll of honour in defeat reads as follows – Bajrush, Paul, Jeremy, Adam, Orial and Alex.

This was hard to take, especially Adam’s loss where a blunder in a position where he had both material and positional advantage after using his London opening to great effect against a Queen Indian style setup, cost him dearly. A smart tactic netted him his opponents Queen for a Rook and Minor piece. Unfortunately an oversight lead to the loss.

Bajrush, Hammer’s on WOSF (Wily Old Silver Fox) was totally outplayed by an IM and really I could truthfully say there was nothing he could have done.

Paul also had an edge after an extremely complicated middle game against a 213-rated opponent, but he just faltered at a critical moment and the loss became inevitable.

Jeremy’s game I did not see, but again he gave his all for the team.

Orial had a brilliant game with chances for both sides, indeed in the critical position I think he had the advantage. Sadly, he could not consolidate and another victory appeared on the Richmond side of the scoreboard.

Alex was forced into a speculative attack which left his King naked. This was duly exploited by his opponent and Alex joined the ever-lengthening list of casualties. It was starting to resemble a day on the Somme – would TV Hammer succumb to an 8-0 drubbing?

This did not happen thanks to an amazing escape deliberately and cold-bloodily played for by Sheikh, and your over-cautious reporter. Ours were the last two games to finish.

I had the advantage when a draw was agreed. Indeed, looking at the position a win for me was more than probable. However, knowing my unrivalled ability to blow such positions and the match result already decided, I took the easy option. A draw against a 170 opponent was enough on the night.

Sheikh’s ending was lost both from a positional and material viewpoint. However, in mutual time pressure he spotted a stalemate combination that his opponent walked straight into. Clear thinking under time pressure is a great quality that Sheikh has and the final position was totally original. Despite being a Queen, Rook and Bishop down he had no legal move. A brilliant save!!

So in the end it was Mission Impossible, and to be honest even with the addition of Carsten and Tony I doubt the result would have been any different.

TV Hammer have now played the top four teams in the league, a tough opening to our schedule of matches. Hopefully we can now get some points on the board and cement our position in Division 1 this season.

Keep the faith, go TV Hammer and cue the soundtrack to “U Can’t Touch This“…. till my next dispatch from the TV front, farewell!

John.

Result: Richmond & Twickenham 7 – 1 Hammersmith

Training Evening with Tony Niccoli

21.11.16 – A first for Hammer, and one more step on the road to creating a vibrant, learning culture at our Chess Club, as ECF trainer Tony Niccoli gave us an evening of his finest teaching!

It was a brilliant training session last night for 12 members of the Club. The clarity and format of the evening was perfectly pitched, and the subsequent working in pairs to solve the problems set for us by Tony was just right.

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Tony gets into his stride… silence at the back!

There were two themes to the evening. Firstly, the importance of the outside pawn, and Second, the power of the pin. Even a Lombardy and Fischer game ending was brought into the mix!

The former was illustrated by the use of the three problems, and the learning was delivered in a measured way with plenty of audience participation. Having nailed the importance of this concept we were able to transfer these elements to the second theme – the power and use of the pin.

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A crowd of eager Hammer members looks on intently!

Again, using problems of increasing difficulty we were shown how to exploit the power of the pin to it’s maximum effect. Some important concepts were highlighted, such as:

  • Not cashing in & taking the pinned piece too soon
  • Using the power of the pin to improve your position
  • Using the pin to ensure your opponent runs out of moves and is forced to surrender material (incorporating elements of zugzwang)
  • Increasing the pressure of the pin by bringing all your pieces to bear on it

Concepts that were new to some attendees and probably forgotten by the others. This was real eye-opening stuff, delivered in a manner that will stick.

Regardless of your strength, anyone would benefit from the content delivered in a  very professional and logical way by Tony. This was borne out with some of the trickier examples proving a significant challenge to our players rated 160+, indeed it’s fair to say not everyone got the right answers first time round.

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Proof that homework can be fun… !

The evening ended with homework. Tony gave each attendee a puzzle sheet to take away and work on. A definite case of back to school days and a great way to follow-up on the lessons learnt.

On behalf of the club I wish to thank Tony for the huge effort he put into the evening, and his immeasurable patience with us!

To all Hammer members who did not attend, you missed a real treat and an evening that would have improved your game!

Another one will follow!!!

John.

 

An Ealing Comedy… or Victory?

21.11.16 – Middlesex League: Ealing v Hammersmith

On a wet and dark November evening, what could be more enjoyable than playing in our third (and first away) Middlesex League match?

Our hosts Ealing 2 were as friendly as ever. Their venue is one of the nicest to play in, with large tables, big comfortable chairs and digital clocks combining to make for a supremely enjoyable experience.

Having resoundingly beaten them 6.5-1.5 at our venue, we went into the match with a lot of confidence, despite a smaller grade gap than before.

In the spirit of squad rotation, no less than five players were making their season debuts in the League. A particular mention has to go to Carsten and John for stepping in following late dropouts.

Only one game was over within ninety minutes. Newcomer Danny blundered in a winning position, and for the first time this season we were losing the match.

Fortunately boards five through seven were on hand to rectify the situation. Solid wins from Hammersmith stalwarts Robin and Nick, and a top class performance from new member David, saw us take a 3-1 lead. This meant that John’s loss on board four was not the end of the world, and left us needing three draws on the top three boards.

Adam was pleased to be up against the same opponent he had played in the return fixture, again with the White pieces. Unfortunately, his opponent had done his homework and this time played a much better defence to Adam’s London System. The game headed into a Rook +3 pawn vs. Rook +2 pawn endgame, but after much manoeuvring in time trouble all Adam could do was to settle for the draw.

Carsten and Paul heavily out graded their opponents, and were therefore both surprised by the resistance they came up against. Neither looked to get a significant advantage from the opening or middle game, but their experience and technique were always a little too much for their opponents. In a time scramble at the end, the victories were sealed, as was the team’s win.

Next up is likely to be our toughest test so far – a trip to Muswell Hill on December 1st. Our sights are now firmly set on the Christmas #1 spot!

Result: Ealing 2.5 – 5.5 Hammersmith

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On The Scoreboard… At Last!

17.11.16 – London League 3: Hammersmith v Mushrooms 2

Stop the press!! Hold the front page!! The internet may crash!!!!…. Hammer 1 finally got a half-point and are on their way in London 3!

For those of you who know their American Football, Hammer 1 were starting to look like the 2016 Cleveland Browns of the London League 3. Despite huge potential and tenacity we had nil points… just like the unfortunate Browns!

That all changed last night with a fighting draw against Mushrooms 2 at Golden Lane.

I have never been involved in a match that veered so violently as the results of the individual games came in. At one stage Hammer 1 were 4-1 up with 5 games to be decided. Within the blink of an eye we were trailing 4-5 and all attention switched to the last game.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man, and that man was Jeremy. A truly titanic struggle ended in…. more of that later!! Here’s the blow-by-blow account:

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The Hammer 1 team deep in the action

Paul, Sheikh and Adam were the first to finish – all clocking up really impressive victories.

Paul’s victory – his first of the season – on the white side of a very complicated French Winawer, represented a welcome return to form of our player of the year last season. A really excellent win.

Sheikh’s win was equally welcomed. Playing black against the Closed Sicilian, Sheikh was under severe pressure and facing a pawn roll on his Kingside. With the added complication that his King was there and gradually having his protective pawn shield eroded. However, in a remarkable turnaround Sheikh triumphed. A definite example of the motto – it is never over ’till it is over!!!

Adam’s victory with white, utilising the London setup against the fianchetto version of the Dutch was very smooth. Indeed, over a pint later on in the pub Adam opined that this was his best victory since his entry into League chess. He has promised to annotate it for the website. A great performance.

The draws of the evening went to Bajrush and Orial.

Our wily silver fox of a Chairman, Bajrush was under pressure for much of the game but then assumed the initiative and was threatening a checkmate at the end. Unfortunately there was not enough material to prosecute the attach and the game ended honours even. Bajrush never gives up trying to win and he epitomises what the Hammer spirit is all about.

Orial will now be known within our club as the “Wizard of Dingle” thanks to his miraculous escape in this game! An exchange and pawn down, he threw caution to the wind and went on the attack, forcing his opponent to concede a draw. A brilliant rear-guard action.

And so to the fallen!

John Wooley had a very messy position and was under real pressure. He defended tenaciously but in the end the wall was breached and he resigned in a very difficult position.

Alex was the unluckiest loser – despite being substantial material up, he succumbed to a simple mate due to time pressure. A very tough loss and another example that chess can really hurt!

Matteo playing on board 8 suffered his first loss in League Chess against a very experienced opponent. He cam out of the opening with quite a constricted position while his opponent gradually built up the advantage. Matteo fought back, nearly achieving equality until, with his Queen offside  and under threat he had to surrender material. The end was long but never really in doubt. He will learn from this!

Your captain was doing well and then threw away the advantage with the move c4. Having missed a simple intermezzo earlier that would have provided a definite advantage, the loss was fully deserved. At this level of chess you have to take your chances.

So it all came down to the final game – could Jeremy get us to 5-5? Would he be the hero or the… zero…?

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Attention turns to Jeremy’s game… could he save the result?? No pressure!!

A really complicated game ended up with Jeremy being a piece and two pawns down. However, under time pressure he was able to penetrate his opponents King position with his Queen and Rook. The two pieces were like the hammer and anvil, and a checkmate ensued. Rome was saved and Jeremy was roundly congratulated by his fellow team members.

Points on the board is the moral of the story. Hopefully Hammer 1 can now build on this and achieve our goal of staying in Division 3.

Keep the faith and go Hammer!

Result: Hammersmith 5 – 5 Mushrooms

Monday 21st – ECF Trainer Tony Niccoli

Ladies & Gents – a reminder that ECF trainer Tony Niccoli (ECF 198!) will be down at the Club on Monday 21st November to run a FREE session of training, analysis and insight!

It’s an enormous treat for the club & we’re really looking forward to seeing as many of you as possible. Our members have given Tony a number of recent & interesting games to run through with his experienced eye. Will be a great opportunity to learn and improve your game.

Entry is FREE, there’s no need to pre-register and you don’t even need to be a member – this session is open to anyone & everyone! We’re looking to start at about 7pm… see you there!