Hammersmith Chess Club summoned to UK Parliament

Hammersmith Chess Club often leads the way in the London chess community, bringing together various chess players from all over Europe (from various mainland clubs to Cork, Ireland) – This time however, our travels took us closer to home, as we were invited by UK Parliamentary Chess Club for an exhibition match along with a private tour.

The traditional first move was played by Hammersmith MP Andy Slaughter vs. Hammersmith Secretary Adam Cranston.

A very respectable 1.e4 played by Andy Slaughter MP

The match was underway – 6 Hammers vs. 6 Parliamentarians in a 2 games per board rapid match-up, with Adam Cranston as team captain, and Christopher Skulte as the official photographer.

Many of the games were going the distance, and part way through, Hammers were in the lead 3.5-1.5 with tense matches across a lot of the boards.

Eventually the experience of the Hammersmith players came through and we took the match 9.5 – 2.5. While competition was rife over the board, the teams came together to share our passion for the game after the final king was laid to rest, with some detailed analysis discussing what could have been.

Post-match we were treated to a private tour of UK Parliament by Peter Hornsby, sitting in on live sessions of the House of Commons and House of Lords (walking past ex-Prime minister David Cameron at one point), as well as learning about the history of the building.

We were also lucky enough to be joined on the tour by Political Advisor Chris Waterman, whose many jokes kept the team entertained throughout the tour.

Overall it was quite the memorable evening for those Hammers lucky enough to attend, and we would like to thank Peter Hornsby and the UK Parliamentary Chess Club for inviting us along for the evening.

Christopher Skulte

100 league games for Hammersmith Chess Club

My memory fails me when it comes to my opening lines, but I clearly remember the day, the circumstances and the game highlights (a lowlight) of my first league game for the club. It was the 1 April 2019, and I remember it because it was my exciting first day of retirement. Before that, I had worked abroad, so I had not yet attended any club evening, but here I was on the High Street in Staines, searching for the playing venue. I approached another person on the dark and empty street who seemed as clueless as me, and he turned out to be John White, what a coincidence. My first contact was made.

The later evening did not continue as well. I lost my game, and since it was the last game of the match, I learned a new sensation, losing not only a mere game, but letting the team down. Welcome to the world of league play.

I was lucky enough to be invited to many more games, and now that I join those who have played 100 or more league games for Hammersmith, I look back to not only my early disaster but mostly a realm of positive experiences which I would never have made as a mere internet or tournament player.

The most visible difference to tournament chess is the camaraderie. It starts when players are called for the next match. From my short one-time experience as captain of a London Summer League team in 2019, I know how stressful it is to organise a team. The captains have to set up a squad. They have to make the difficult decisions about whom to select for the team of the day. It is not all about nominal rating but also about the diversity of players. Giving Juniors the chance to play higher rated opponents is an important aspect.

The club has fielded a record 15 teams this season, and on some days and especially far away matches it is challenging to find a sufficient number of players. That is when team captains´ skills come to the fore. They make sure that everyone knows what is at stake. In urgent need, there is always someone standing up and sacrificing an evening at home for club duty, sometimes just before the start of the match. And the camaraderie continues after the matches. It rarely happens that all stay on until the last player has finished its game Most players have to get up early next morning for work or school, or have someone waiting at home. Let’s not forget, these are evenings away from family and friends, or the regular TV drama. But there is always a team member around accompanying the last game. You never walk alone.

I am a slow player, and as a consequence I am quite often among the last of the team to finish the game. When it is a tight match it could mean becoming a hero. But for each winner there is a loser, and unfortunately I was often enough sitting on the wrong side. Losing a game is one thing, but losing a decisive game for the team leaves quite a different and lasting impression, and then it is nice to have a mental post-mortem with a chess friend in an adjacent pub.

Captains summarise the events of the previous match day for the whole squad in team-specific WhatsApp groups or via email. They caress the individualists, praise the successful, uphold the unlucky ones, keep the spirit in difficult times, week by week, and prepare for the next round. I have nothing but praise for the captains (well, read below), irrespective of whether they win a cup, avoid relegation or silently suffer in defeat. The club needs these heroes. Just one small pinch of salt. How comes that in my 100 league games I got Black 60 times and White only 40 times? Not knowing the statistical probability (or unlikelihood) of such a head or tail ratio when tossing the coins and deciding on colour, it seems quite conspiratorial to me.

Coming from abroad, the league system looks unstructured, and it bloody well it is. While in Germany there is a clear hierarchy of club competitions with the Bundesliga at the top of the pyramid, but here around London the Hammersmith Chess Club could win the competition in one of the different leagues it is competing in (and at half-term we are leading in 2 top leagues), but never be promoted to a higher regional or even national level, the 4NCL being a quite different animal. But, being an anarchy, it has its charms. In a comparable German chess club like Bayern Munich, my rating would restrict me to one of their 15 teams (coincidentally the same number as Hammersmith) and I could enjoy maybe 10 league games in a season. Here in Hammersmith I am free to play in each of the four local leagues, and even in 2 divisional teams in the same league (that however is strange to me, and unfair to smaller clubs). Whenever I was not travelling, I was raising my hand to play, and while I was not always selected, I was able to accumulate up to 30 games per season. What an experience. London truly is the chess capital of the world, and Hammersmith at its very centre.

Being the Mecca of chess, one would expect that time controls are clearly defined, just as the start of Ramadan is determined by Mecca. That is far from being the case. Time controls differ between the leagues, and even in the same league could differ from one round to the next, and in a match there could even be different time controls for different boards. Very strange. And time controls are short. Since I am an older player (I guess I am in the oldest 1% percentile of our club), I need more time to think, or so I believe. That has a few consequences. Compared to standard tournament play, having 15-30 minutes less in a league game is like an eternity for me. Fortunately, the average age of the league player seems to be higher than in a tournament. One in seven league games I played against people older than me, with a score of 12/14. So it seems they struggle even more, and it indicates that the average age of other clubs is higher than ours. For the statistics, I played only one in every seventeen league games against a junior. And I only played twice against female players, but fortunately there is now a women’s division in the London League, congratulations! Also there is the odd game where the home team still uses analogue clocks. Not that I mind the nostalgic ticking sound, but playing without increments is like triggering a time bomb for me. Since I don’t play lotteries, I herewith give notice to captains that I am no longer available for these fistfights.

Also in other ways, league chess seems to be more challenging than tournament chess. You only learn just before the game whether you play White or Black. You cannot prepare against your specific opponent. And your typical opponent can be 200 points lower rated, or 200 points higher. So, your success rate mainly depends on the strength of the opponents you get. In Swiss style tournaments this levels out around your own strength, but in league chess it depends on the relative strength of your own team. With Hammersmith being more often on the strong side, my average opponent was 100 points lower rated, so my 60% success rate does not look good anymore. Nothing to be proud of, my win ratio should have been higher, I did not beat the statistics. Not even in my best period of the unfinished season 2019/20, when I scored 7.5/8 in the London League, the one draw conceded against GM John Emms (oh yes, about that I am proud). Anyway, no time to celebrate then, because the pandemic stopped all further OTB play for some time. But it has returned more energetic, and the London League with more divisions looks more anarchic than ever, but its home is now at our MindSports Centre. I love it.

As my first one, my 100th league game was in the Thames Valley League. This time I had Black, and I won, and with it saved a match point for Hammersmith. And now I dare to look back at my first game where I missed the draw, and I am relieved to state that no human being would have found the solution, or would you? The idea may be easy to spot but the move order and the very precise follow-up moves are crucial. This is a challenging calculation and visualisation teaser. White to play and draw.

Christof Brixel – Jack Sheard, Thames Valley League, 01/04/2019

Just ignore Black’s queenside march, White cannot stop the pawn promoting. White has to establish a “perpetual net” around Black’s king. The starting critical move order is Nf6 and Rh5, followed by Bh4.

The engine line goes: 1.Nf6! Rb2+ (a3 2.Rh5 a2 3.f5+ finally draws in a different, dramatic long sequence which is not shown here) 2.Ke3 d4+ (the best try) 3.Kf3! a3 4.Rh5! Ne7 and there are two choices, a more human one and the engine suggestion.

Human continuation

5.Rg5+ looks the only way forward, but the follow-up requires precise calculation: Kh6 6.Rh5+ Kg7 7.Bh4! (difficult to find) Ng6 8.f5 Bd5+ 9.Nxd5 Nxh4+ 10.Rxh4 exd5 11.c6 (now obvious) a2 12.Rh1! Rb1 13.f6+! Kg6 14.c7 a1Q 15.c8Q and now it is Black who gets a perpetual

Silican continuation

5.c6 is the engine suggestion, an intermediate move the reason of which becomes obvious in below lines: a2 6.Bh4! and now

a) Be2+ 7.Ke4! Rb8 8.c7 Rc8 9.Rg5+ Kh6 10.Rh5+ Kg7 10.Rh7+ Kg6 (Kf8 11.Nd7+ =) 11.Bg5! Nf5 (a last trick) 12.gxf5+ exf5+ 13.Kd5! (13.Kxd4 loses) Bf3+ 14.Kd6 =
b) Bd5+ 7.Nxd5 Nxd5 8.Rg5+ Kh7 9.Rh5+ Kg7 10.c7! (therefore 5.c6) Nxc7 11.Bf6+ Kg6 12. Rg5+ =
c) a1Q 7.f5+ exf5 8.gxf5+ Nxf5 9.Rg5+ Kh6 10.Rh5+ Kg7 11.Rg5+! = and now not Kf8 12.Rg8+ Ke7 13.Re8#

Christof Brixel

A Word from the Chair – Halfway through the Season – Time to Reflect and Plan Ahead

Hammers, the season of 2023-24 is racing ahead with a mass of activity and an avalanche of good news and new initiatives.



First, I want to thank all on the Hammer Committee for their hard work – all of them volunteers who help ensure this club stays solvent, relevant, entertaining, and providing value for money. In particular, I must thank Adam and Gastón for their efforts that go way beyond the call of duty.

We have just had our first Committee meeting of 2024 and high on the agenda were the results from our members survey – overall the results were extremely supportive and positive about what the club is trying to do and already does. Fair points were made about training for beginners and events we could run – your committee has taken these on board and planning to incorporate this into our development plans.

I also want to thank all 15 Hammer captains – to get a team of chess players to a venue on time is not an easy task and all our captains do an amazing job. We are unique in that we have a different captain for each of our teams – that is incredible, and shows the commitment of Hammer members.

Our junior club goes from strength to strength with tremendous work from Tom, Luna and Luke helping things run smoothly along with the herculean efforts of Andrew and Frank. I must also thank Frank for captaining our Junior LL team and give the future Hammer stars the experience of long play chess and getting an official grade.

On the competitive front our Hammer 1 teams in the TVL, Middlesex and London are performing outstandingly well – indeed all the Hammer teams are having pretty good seasons – we do seem to have the measure of Battersea in particular.

All that happens in our club is down to volunteers – as some of you know in a previous life, I was a member of Rotary Club in South London – indeed I even served as President. The central motto of Rotary was service above self – in other words using your skills and connections to help your community was in your DNA. I want every Hammer to embrace this ethos. I need volunteers to help run this amazing club you are all part of. Some of you will be able to contribute substantially others due to work and other commitments will only have limited time. It does not matter – literally every little bit helps.

I implore you all to get in contact with Adam or myself and tell us how you can help. I also urge you all to think about standing for election to the Hammersmith Committee – the AGM is just under 4 months away. We are a club of 200 members, incredibly diverse, welcoming, and safe for all. We need you to help us grow our club in every way – I have said this many times – this is not Adam’s chess club or my chess club it is YOURS – please get involved.

On a final note, I want to single out Matteo our Treasurer who has announced to the Committee he will be standing down from the position after nearly 5 years in the post – he has provided great service and knowledge to this club, and I thank him for all he has done for Hammersmith Chess Club.

The future of this club is in your hands, do not forget that.

So, Hammers, GET VOLUNTEERING!!!!!!!!!!!!

John aka Lord Clueless
Hammersmith Chess Club Chairman

All aboard the Hammer Express – Next stop: PARIS (28th – 30th June)

Come one, come all.

After a plethora of trips to Amsterdam, Cork, Wroclaw, Ostend to name a few, Hammers will again rally together to build bridges, lasting friendships, and amazing memories. In June we travel to our noisy neighbours, as we visit Paris, France. (Sign-up form at the end of the article)

Paris has a renowned chess history – before chess clubs were a thing, over 260 years ago, the well-known French philosopher Diderot wrote as early as 1762 that “Paris is that certain place in the world, and Café de la Regence is that certain place in Paris, where one can find at any time the best chess players in the world.”

Now is our chance to write ourselves into the history books of this city.

Next step was sitting down with the wonderful Benji Portheault in a secret location (can you guess? – amazing Thai and Guinness) to plan, what we hope to be, a trip not to forget!

The trip will involve:

  • Eurostar to Paris (leaving Friday, returning Sunday)
  • Saturday match at the famous Blitz Society (max. 25 players)
  • Parisian late-evening festivities
  • Exploring the Catacombs of Paris
  • An exclusively prepared feast at the Japanese fusion restaurant
  • Walking tour of Paris (paying respects to the grave of 4th world champion Alexander Alekhine).

For budgeting purposes – we expect the cost of the trip to be approximately £550 + drinks (includes travel, accomodation, special dinner, chess, tours).

If you are definitely in, or are thinking about it, can you please fill out this form, and we will be in contact.


P.S. Congratulations to Hammersmith 1 in the London League, who are currently top of the table at the time of this article. Hats off to captain Jim Stevenson.

P.S.S. Honorary mention to our first team captain in the Middlesex League, Luke Lau, whose team currently top the table with 6W – 0D – 0L. Can this “first-time” Hammersmith captain maintain his perfect record?

From your Hammer on Tour organisers: Chris & Benji