Match Report – Witney 1 v. Cumnor 1

On May 9th the first team had its last match of the season, away at Witney

This was actually a rearranged match, Witney were missing a few of their players for the original date, and as it was more or less a dead rubber we agreed to move it to the very last day of the season so we could face their full strength – maybe we are too nice …

So on a sunny early summer evening, far removed from the dark of the reverse fixture in the Old School with broken heating, we found ourselves to be out-rated on every board. Despite that there were a lot of interesting games, but I’ll keep things short so the main focus can be on Nigel’s extremely fine game on top board.

On board 6 Andrey faced a newcomer who does look fairly useful …  Darryl certainly knew how to play against the Chigorin defense to the Queen’s gambit, winning material in the late middle game and converting fairly easily. Witney 1 Cumnor 0.

On board 5 John faced Howard Searle, meeting the Modern Defence with an Austrian attack which looked promising for a while but ended in a fairly early draw. Witney  1 1/2 – Cumnor 1/2.

Liam was on board 4 against Adam Sieczkowski, a junior that I know to my own cost is very useful.  An extremely complicated game resulted, with Adam pressing on the Queen side, and in the end his better coordinated pieces pushed through. Witney 2 1/2 – Cumnor 1/2.

Mark’s game against Francis Parker was the first of a couple of games to feature heavy material sacrifices. It all started with a Two Knight’s Defence, Francis playing the Ulvestad variation , a line which Mark said after the game he had never seen before. Madness soon ensued, Mark going a rook down but with the black king in the centre and mating threats based on an advanced pawn on c6. I have to say whenever I saw it I never really believed Mark had enough, and while he won back some of his material the game went into an R+B v. R endgame that Mark couldn’t hold. Witney 3 1/2 – Cumnor 1/2.

On my board, 2, I face Mike Truran. As the one time we have played before we went into a Modern Benoni, Mike this time playing the Taimanov Variation, aka the Flick-Knife Attack . Once considered almost a refutation of the Benoni, Black is now considered OK, but it is certainly good to know the theory if you are going to go down this line. And indeed Mike and I followed book lines until move 15 when I deviated saccing a pawn to get a chance an the initiative. This proved to be just the warning tremors, two moves later I sacced a knight to open up Mike’s king and many round the table thought I had a winning attack. Unfortunately Mike found the only defence, a line I hadn’t deeply looked as it involved moving his king to a square where I could check and apparently gain tempo, and then I failed to follow up properly – repeated sacrifices followed but in the end I resigned because, as Liam put it, I “had run out of things to sacrifice”. And to add insult to injury even if I had found the correct follow up the semi-conducting monster shows that the initial knight sacrifice was unsound, though the refutation is not that easy to see. Oh well, such things never bothered Tal … the only difference being he tended to get away with it! Witney 4 1/2 – Cumnor 1/2

I would normally have filled out some of the details above, but pride of place must go to Nigel’s excellent win on top board against Dave Hackett – one which Matt Rose judged of such high quality as to win the Ray Starkie prize for the best game played in the OCA this year! The turning point of the game was a fine line closing combination which netted Nigel the exchange, a plan he must have seen some moves before actually playing it. Here it is, watch out for 21 d5!:

Nigel had now won material, but Dave has a definite initiative, and he proceeded to throw what he had at the White king – which Nigel calmly refuted with nerves of steel, just taking whatever gifts Dave offered until there was nothing left despite the alarming concentration of black pieces near his king. I was particularly impressed by 32. Ne2, I thought while watching 32. Nf3 was obvious, but as Nigel explained on f3 there is always the chance of Rxf3 opening up the white king’s position, and also from e2 the knight gives useful cover to g3. Anyway here’s the whole game:

In the final position b8=Q+ will defuse all Black’s remaining threats, and leave the win trivial. And so quite possibly the last game to finish in the whole of the OCA season wins the best game prize – Well played Nigel! Simon Terrington has published a YouTube video discussing the game.

So the final result in a match filled with exciting games was 4 1/2 – 1 1/2 to Witney

We finish the table second from bottom, but in reality part of the mid-table pack that represented how closely many of the matches have been fought this season, a result we can be proud of given the loss of some of our stronger players at vital points in the season.

 

 

 

 

Match Reports: Cumnor 1 v. Banbury 1 and University 1 v. Cumnor 1

 

I’ve got a bit behind on the match reports for Cumnor 1, unfortunately ill health has left me rather low in energy, but here is an attempt to catch up on the two matches that we’ve played. Unfortunately we lost both 5.5-0.5, but in fact the raw results hide two somewhat different stories.

Firstly against Banbury 1, played a while ago on 31st March. Here the story is quite simple – Banbury were better than us. In fact when a team turns up with James Jackson IM on top board, and as good a player as Paul Rowan on board 6 you know you are going to be in for a tough night. Mark saved our blushes with a good draw against Georgs, but that was it as far as we were concerned:

So simply we were outplayed, nothing to add save for the top boards being a night for the hypermodinists, featuring two Pircs and two Alekhine Defences. Well played Banbury!

On April 28th we went to Wadham College to face the Champions elect, University 1.

Despite again facing a titled player on top board and having a somewhat weakened team due to illness the match was much closer, and we can, I think, feel unlucky with the final score – a comment echoed by one of the University players as we left. Debutant Callum and Andrey both had excellent winning chances, as did Nigel against his FM opponent and Liam nearly held a draw, only for it to slip away in time trouble.

Nigel’s game was excellent, despite his loss here it is in full. Under a bit of pressure early on Nigel decided to sac a piece for two pawns for activity. This turned out to be an excellent decision, giving Tom the eventual choice of accepting a perpetual check or playing for a win by returning the material. Understandably Tom chose the latter, but Nigel was better through much of the rest of the game, only to make a tired looking blunder when time was getting short:

It was my turn to save the team’s blushes, scrambling a draw for the second time this season against Max French. The game went straight down one of the more important variations of the so-called “Modern Main Line” of the Modern Benoni. This is a line where rather than trying to smash Black off the board, White initially spends more time stopping Black’s counter play and setting up a solid position from which to grind an inactive black down. I avoid the main main line with 10 … Nh5, stopping Bf4, which while not as solid as an earlier b5, tends to leave Black less passive – the latter is not my style. After that I slightly misplayed the queen side, 18 … Bd7 is a definite improvement as indicated, and Max slowly built the pressure until like Nigel I sacced hoping for activity and specifically a perpetual check. Which is what happened, though as you will see not quite in the way I expected after Max missed a cheapo when we were both short on the clock!

In fact I missed a chance to get a significant advantage near the end (i.e. after move 40), this month’s tactical quiz – can you find it? Warning: Not at all trivial, especially with seconds left on the clock!

So it could have been so much more but the final result was

In fact I think with a weakened team we can be tremendously proud of giving them such a good match, on another day who knows?

Answer to the tactical quiz

The point is black doesn’t have to take the bishop at once, white has the queen en prise and has to deal with this, allowing black to grab a pawn and the much more important black squared bishop, as opposed to the white squared one. This leaves black a strong passed pawn up with the initiative in a Q+opposite squared bishop ending, both very useful advantages.

Match Report: City 1 v. Cumnor 1

 

Last Monday, the 21st March, saw the first team in action away at City 1, on Polstead Road in North Oxford

We were weakened due to illness and the absence of a top player or two, but unfortunately so were City, their captain Phil Hayward having contracted the evil lurgee – Hope you are better now Phil! Nett result was that while we were somewhat outgraded it was not totally without hope, but we would probably need a bit of luck …

As usual I shall go through the games in more or less the order they finished.

Tony finished first. He is obviously learning from his time at Cumnor, as he dropped a pawn early on. And then to be honest I didn’t see what happened after that until he stood up having resigned. City 1 Cumnor 0

Another Bicester loanee, Andrey, was next. Andrey has been having a fantastic season at the top of the second team with a 100% record, helping drive them up to second place in division 3, and here he managed to notch up his first win for the first team – well done Andrey, in this form many more are to come! The game itself was interesting, a roller-coaster with both Andrey and Lanre having chances, with a wild first half and an instructive endgame for the second half. From the first half let’s pick one of many possibilities for our first tactical quiz, from very early on in the game. In the position below white has just played g3, what’s black’s best continuation in the given position?

Answers to the tactical quizzes are at the end.

Anyway the opening and middle game went as follows:

Amongst this madness there are some positional themes going on. Early on Andrey has noted white’s backward pawn on d2, and has made it his plan to attack it – note how he takes with the rook on move 14 rather than the pawn in order to leave the way to it open. Generally this is a good idea, try and leave lines to weaknesses open, though in this specific instance 14 … cxd3 does also look pretty good, the pawn on d3 more or less splitting white’s army in half.

All the above lead to an instructive endgame position where Andrey has a decision to make at move 35 (Yes, I know I’m going to start talking about endgames – d’Souza-Eva, Terrington, stop laughing at the back there!)

Should black take the rook and go into the pawn endgame? The possibility of an outside passed pawn for Black on the queen side is a plus, that is on the queen side black has a 2-1 majority which could be very dangerous in a pawn endgame, but the more immediate issue is that after the exchange of rooks White’s king will be much better centralized and active than Black’s, and for me this is the much more important observation – Andrey swapped off rooks, but I think he should try and activate his king first before he does this. Mr Stockfish and the game continuation seem to agree:

In the final position Black is in real trouble. If it were black’s move, and if he had to move his king he would lose very quickly – after something like Kd8 White can play Kc6 and eat all Black’s queen side pawns leading to a winning endgame. So all white has to do is move has pawns until black runs out of reasonable pawn moves and the black will have to move his king, so losing – The technical term is zugzwang, and this idea of forcing your opponent into  a position where if they could pass they would be OK, but having to move loses, is very common in endgames. A not unreasonable continuation following this theme might be

where white wins by advancing his a pawn, and while black is dealing with that the moving his king to the king side and eating black’s pawns there, and queening either the g or h pawn. Note especially the zugzwang after move 45. h5, where any move by black loses very quickly, but if he didn’t have to move he would be OK

Luckily (and it’s not the first time I will use this word) Andrey’s opponent didn’t spot the zugzwang possibility! I have a lot of sympathy for this, I find it very hard myself, and the game in fact continued

So in the end just one tempo in it, Andrey making contact with white’s king side pawns first was all it took to win. An interesting and instructive game, and I hope it shows that pawns endgames are both interesting and very difficult! And well done again Andrey on your win, the whole game was

That made it City 1 – Cumnor 1

Next to finish was me. To save embarrassment all round I won’t show the game, many apologies to Matt for the result, this went beyond luck. I will however report the exchange after the game

Ian: “Sorry Matt, I didn’t deserve that”

Matt: “I blundered and you spotted it. And I only spotted the trap in the opening because I found it about 2 years ago when somebody played the same line against me”

Ian: “Yes, I know. It was me!”

Aren’t we supposed to learn things? Anyway tactical quiz 2 is the little combination Matt found (twice!) against me:

I’d played (twice) Re1 last move to support e6 in response to the expected d6. Why is it not a very good plan, and in particular why is Bxe6 poor? Answer at the end, and somehow the game made it City 1 – Cumnor 2.

Liam was next, another roller coaster of a game where either side could have won, but again luckily it was Liam who made the second to last blunder, to misquote the learned Dr Tartakower. Here is most of the game, what is the nice move that Liam found that finishes it off rapidly at the end?

Amazingly it was now City 1 – Cumnor 3 and we couldn’t lose the match!

Soon after Mark finished on board 2. Outgraded he had been under the kosh most of the game, with Ross having strong pressure on the king side. To be honest I was amazed Mark had survived that long, but eventually the tightrope walking came to an end and Ross caught Mark’s king with his doubled rooks on the open h file against a king side castled king. City 2 – Cumnor 3

That left Nigel and Arya on top board. Nigel had thrown everything including the kitchen sink at Arya in a fantastic attacking game:

It might not all be amazingly sound, but defense is harder than attack, and holding it all together when the match depended upon it was a great display by Arya, it would have been so easy to go wrong – and well played Nigel, very entertaining stuff, and Liam and I kept spot perpetuals or better which on deeper thought went away, it was a great game on which to finish such a close match.

So City 3 – Cumnor 3 in the end, a result we can be very proud of, even if we rode our luck:

Still fourth!

Next up the big mid-table derby against Banbury.

Answers to the tactical questions. As these are real games they are a bit more messy than normal tactical quizzes, but I’ll show the main lines. Firstly from Andrey’s game while dxc4 as played is pretty good Black can get a winning advantage by

This idea of a queen attacking a rook from the centre of the board after g3/g6 or similar comes up once in a while; it’s worth remembering.

The trap now officially named after Matt Brown goes

when either White drops at least a pawn (the a1 rook drops in many lines), or (least bad) leaves his king almost completely open to attack (as I know very much to my cost).

Liam’s game finished off

 

Match Report: Cowley 1 v. Cumnor 1

 

Thursday 10th Feb saw us travel to far end of old Oxford town, to Rose Hill Church to play Cowley 1

A win for either team would see them go second in the league, but it would be a tough one for us, missing a few of our top players we were giving away over 100 rating points per board (about 15 in old money). But try we must, and try we did, and in the end the match was close on almost all the boards, and could have gone either way.

“Almost” I stress. The exception was mine. Advice to anybody playing a wunderkind: Don’t get your queen trapped on move 14. This turned out to be a very poor strategical decision on my behalf when playing Kenneth Hobson, rated 2090 at a very tender age, and I only carried on after losing it for a rook to avoid losing a miniature. The less said about it the better, apart from me apologizing to Kenneth for playing on; I should have resigned on the spot –  and probably would have done if I wasn’t off the beer at the moment.

All the other boards were keenly fought. On board 4 Tony got a fine result drawing with Graham Cole. In a classical French Defense early on Graham established a knight on d6, but as time went by it was clear it was more impressive than effective. The queens came off, then the knight, and a draw was agreed in a position where it was far from clear how either player could make any progress.

On board 6 Andrey was facing Bob Waugh, a tough one indeed for him. Early on Bob seemed to have pressure, but Andrey fought it off and then came up with an pawn sac to open the g file against Bob’s king which was sitting on g1 – when I saw it I have to admit I didn’t really believe it but it certainly showed imagination, and did offer practical chances. But Bob is an experienced warrior, grabbed the pawn, and survived to tell the tale ending up material up in an endgame which he did in the end convert but not without a fair bit of excitement along the way – well done Bob, and bad luck Andrey, one slip and it could have gone the other way.

On the other 3 boards we had real winning chances. Going in increasing order of those chances Gareth was white against Rich Weston on board 5. All was going fairly routinely until, in a slightly better position, Gareth offered the Greek Gift:

Any chess player above the very casual should know this idea, sacrificing the bishop on h7 (or h2) to draw the king out, which will get attacked with Ng5+ and then the queen coming into the attack, on h5 or g4. And all my ex-colleagues at MCS are probably smiling now as I was well known for offering dodgy Greek-gift type sacs at any opportunity – a game against Liam contains a fine example of the rubbish I can come up with, and that has even made it as a Lichess Puzzle. Anyway the game continued with Rich finding what is often the best continuation

The king is out in the open, and the queen ready to come into g4. Is it enough for the bishop? To be honest Stockfish thinks not, and given my vast experience of bad Greek Gifts I have to in principle agree. As a rule of thumb the attacking side tends to need one more attacking piece over and the the above the queen and knight, often it is a rook coming in via the third rank. However I stress “in principle”, certainly at most club players level white has real chances. Rolling forward a few more moves comes to the crunch moment

Here Gareth played the obvious Nh7+ picking up the exchange, but removing his best placed piece and dissipating his initiative, which is everything in this position. Now it is very easy to play other people’s positions when material down, but the cool Be3 leaves the position about equal according to Mr Stockfish, white having compensation for the material sacrificed due to the open position of the black king and better development. But very easy for me to find with an engine, very hard to find while a rook is on offer at the board with the clock ticking. Anyway Rich gained the initiative from that point, and carried on to win very effectively, his two bishops dominating the white rook:

Board 3 was closer – Mark Sayers was facing his bunny, Will Burt (Will’s words, not mine!) I can’t deny this possibility was in my mind when I chose the board order – Mark has had two very nice wins in his last games against Will. And for a long time it looked as though it might be 3 out of 3, Mark going two pawns up in the opening. Will had pressure in compensation but it certainly didn’t look enough, and on its own Mr Stockfish agrees. But Mr Stockfish doesn’t look at the clock, and dealing with Will’s pressure ate a lot of Mark’s time, so while Mark did sort his position out time was running short, and in the scramble it eventually went pear shaped – well played Will:

Oh dear! Well at least we had Nigel on Board 1 showing us all how to play. Against Mike Handley’s Dutch he managed to obtain a very nice position where Mike’s bishops in particular seemed to be very ineffective – and play against weak e and f pawns bagged the both of them. Now I’ve made clear how little I understand the Dutch before, so I’ll quote Nigel on some of his thoughts and then show the game:

Where he seemed to go wrong most was in not developing the Nb8, which should have been ready to retake on f6 (which is why I chopped off the Nf6 as soon as it looked like he was about to play Nbd7). Then Dutch players aim to get in Nf6-e4 at some point and as soon as I pinned the f6 N I felt my control of e4 was good.
I think I was most pleased by the move by which I returned my N from b3 back to d2. I vaguely remember reading that strong players can admit to themselves that they got it wrong and can go back to square one. My N should probably have gone to c3 in the first place, but having gone to d2 it should have stayed there to support e4.

As can be seen Mike’s bishops didn’t get into the game until right near the end, and by then, like Mark, he was another victim of the clock after sorting out his troubles – he lost on time.

So I have to say I think Cowley deserved to win, but the score line doesn’t quite do us justice, and given the rating difference we can’t be too displeased.

Down to fourth, I’ll still take that!

Next off to Wantage in the cup.

Match Report: Didcot 1 v. Cumnor 1

 

So last Thursday, the 24th January, saw Cumnor 1’s first match of 2022, away in the Deep South at Didcot.

Following our great first half of the season a win or a draw would see us go second, over taking Banbury, and as such we got out about our strongest side. Unfortunately, at least for us, Didcot also had pulled out all the stops and the match card looked very closely balanced:

Don’t be deceived by Joe Conlon’s rating – he is a very strong titled player coming back to “proper” chess after a bit of a break.

Well, what to say … After riding our luck a bit through the first half of the season the chickens came home to roost, so I’ll keep this short but the most important thing is we were outplayed – Didcot were definitely the better team on the night. I’ll gloss over Mark and Eldar who both had games they probably want to forget, and while Liam had more chances it probably won’t feature amongst his top 10 either. Even Nigel, one of our three draws, I know was not happy with his play. So that leaves me, and especially Stuart.

My game was fun if not wonderfully correct:

I got move-ordered in the opening going into a setup Peter obviously knew much better than I, and my 10. O-O was just very short-sighted, I knew the form his attack would take and I castled straight into it. Having no sensible counter-play I managed to make some complications with 20 Nfd5 which I muddled through  into a better endgame, which I then misplayed. Thankfully for me Peter missed a horrible blunder by me near the end (in time trouble) and it ended as a draw – probably overall a fair result, though I came away feeling a little lucky.

Stuart’s game was also not a thing of subtle strategy, here it is, along with some annotation that Stuart sent around:

I first wandered over at about move 15, and was amazed to see Black’s King so open – “this looks fun” was very much my thought. I don’t play 1.d4? nor the Kings Indian (except by transposition), so I don’t know if this is mainline theory but it does look like a good try by white! Stuart did everything but win it – he just needed to get the knight out and get on with the attack rather than worry about niceties such as the e4 pawn – something it is much easier to say when firstly it is not your game, and secondly somebody has kindly provided some analysis! Anyway Joe survived Stuart throwing the kitchen sink at him, and an honourable draw was the result – and a good game to look over.

So 4.5-1.5 was the final result

Oh well. Well played Didcot again, and I really shouldn’t feel upset that we are “only” third in the table!

 

Match Report: Cumnor 1 v. Cowley 1

I’m not a great fan of memorizing the names of mating positions. I don’t see what it gains you. It’s the experience needed to recognize the possibility of reaching the setup which is important, not the label it has been given. So when Jon d’Souza-Eva told me earlier in the week “It’s only taken me 30+ years to land a Canal’s Mate” I really couldn’t have told you what that position was, or that  the position Jon had reached is in fact “Boden’s mate”. But … some things stick in your mind, and the name “Arabian mate” is one of them

It’s so called because it’s one of the few checkmating positions that is valid in both the older Arabian version of the game, and the modern form; around 1500 the Bishop and Queen’s moves changed from the older, slower form to the long range terrors we know and love today, but the Knight and Rook stayed the same. A related bit of trivia is that the oldest known piece of endgame theory still considered (mostly) correct dates back to 1257 and is a study by an Arabian player of a K+R v. K+N endgame. The game has been around a while!

Anyway enough trivia, though the relevance will become apparent later. On Thursday we welcomed Cowley 1 to a nice and toasty Old School (yes, the heating has been fixed!). It was great to see so many familiar faces, but also a bit of a relief that Cowley weren’t quite as strong as they could be. In fact the two teams were pretty evenly balanced:

All to play for! As usual I’ll report in the games in roughly the order they finished.

Liam, after last week at Banbury, caught up for lost time by dropping a pawn fairly early on. The compensation was fairly nebulous, really only Bob’s queen being a little short of squares. I’ll spare Bob’s blushes for what happened next, let’s just say partially because of that Bob managed to walk into a nasty tactical sequence which ended up dropping a whole rook – tricksy pieces knights! Cumnor 1 Cowley 0.

Mark was next to finish, playing Will Burt. After starting 1 e4! it entered a Two Knights Defence, a line where White gains a pawn but gives Black the initiative; it’s a very sound gambit. Now I myself don’t go down this line, it somehow seems wrong to me to be on the defensive as White out of the opening, and I would be especially nervous about this against such an imaginative attacking player as Will! Early on I strongly suspected a Burt miniature was about to occur, but Mark held it all together very nicely, and after 16 … fxe4 ( Rxd4 is better ) he took the advantage and won in some style. The complete game is

Well played Mark! Cumnor 2 Cowley 0.

Nigel was next. I’m not quite sure what happened here, out of a Grunfeld it all looked very even to me last time I looked, and then it was all over. Mike tried to explain it to me at the end but my head was still full of my own game so I couldn’t quite take it in – I think the essence is in a forcing line Mike found a move order that Nigel didn’t anticipate that forced win of material. Cumnor 2 Cowley 1

At that stage it all looked pretty tense to me. On board 3 I thought I was better, but Gareth seemed to be in a mess on board 6 and was dropping pawns, and I didn’t really believe Tony’s sac of a piece for two pawns (soon to become 3), gut feeling was that Rich’s pieces were better. So I had to play for the win! As black!

Mine was a fun game. Graham and I have played any number of times, most of them very interesting. We know each other’s repertoires inside out and in fact all the rated games have ended as draws, showing how close the competition is. As is my want I played the Pirc against Graham’s 1 e4!, and the first surprise was Graham played 4 Nf3 instead of his usual more aggressive line, and went into the so called Classical Variation:

The Pirc is a flexible hypermodern system, the character of the game often being determined by white’s fourth move; 4 Nf3 or 4 g3 usually, but not always, lead to more positional lines, any other fourth move and Black should suspect more neanderthal tendencies in their opponent. This is both a strength and a weakness. White being able to determine the nature of the battle is not to everybody’s taste, and indeed no lesser a authority than Gary Kasparov has said the Pirc is “hardly worth using in the tournaments of the highest category”, as it gives White “too many opportunities for anybody’s liking” (though by example Kramnik, for instance, differs). So if you want a system rather than an opening the Pirc is not for you. However if you like to play in a wide variety of positions, and enjoy the challenge of using your flexible position to best to exploit how white has set out his board, well the Pirc may be what you are looking for.

So how to go about working out what to do against the myriad of White’s choices? Well, you guessed it, it’s time for another edition of “Ian Bush witters on about Pawn Structures.” Black plans to challenge white’s centre with (typically) at least one of e5 or c5 causing tension, and how that tension is resolved will lead to pawn structures characteristic of other openings. So one gets things like the “Benoni Pirc”, the “Dragon Pirc”, the “Ruy Lopez Pirc”, the “Philidor Pirc” and the “Kings Indian Pirc”, and it is the last one which occurred in the game. And given those pawn structures you can follow the plans characteristic of those openings.

That a Kings Indian type game is possible is not too surprising from the above position, for if the next moves could be 5 … 0-0 6 c4 [illegal] it would be a bona fide Kings Indian.

In that opening typically black will play e5, white will resolve the tension in the centre with d5, so grabbing space, and the game usually then involves black attacking on the king side (after f5) and white on the queens side; white’s attack is usually quicker, but black’s is against the white king – a very intense and exciting game normally result.

The big difference in the Pirc is white’s c pawn is not on c4 but on c2, and it will take a move or two to get it to c4 as white will have to find a way to move the c3 knight out of the way. Given speed is of the essence all other things being equal I genuinely think black is better in this type of position – certainly I am rarely unhappy when white chooses this structure and have a good record against it.

But are all other things equal? Let’s see how we got to the position just before Black is planning f5. Suspecting Graham had something prepared (in fact we both guessed correctly our opponents, he deviated first …) I went slightly off piste and played in a slightly provocative style:

So all things are not quite equal. Graham is a bit better developed than I would like, and my knight is on d7 rather than e7, blocking my white squared bishop – for those who don’t know the Kings Indian that is already developed on its best square, c8, and often proves crucial to the attack. That said I still think if Graham attacks on the Queen side he will be too slow, so, correctly I think, he played g4 to stop my f5 plan. Well in chess sometimes a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do, and I had to play f5 anyway, totally unable to calculate all the complications that would result – but if I don’t play it where else am I getting counter play? Here’s the complete game:

As you can see it got very complicated, and I was quite pleased to find the temporary pawn sac with 15 … Ndf6, Rxf5 just tempts Bd3 in the near future. Anyway I muddled through into better position, but then agreed a draw! Why? Well the real reason is that about move 22 I saw Gareth get up, asked the result, and found out somehow he had won! So just a half point was enough for the match –  and up about 5 minutes on the clock and up (as I thought) in the position I took a Captain’s decision and decided to cash in, which after a little thought Graham (down to his last couple of minutes of normal time) agreed. Cumnor 3.5 Cowley 1.5, match won!

However as Bob Waugh pointed out afterward my last move, Nf5 to stop Rg3, is a blunder. So for this weeks quiz

  1. After 26 … Nf5 what should white play to simplify to an essentially equal ending?
  2. What should black play instead to keep his advantage? This is a real game so there are a couple of options.

So what had happened on Gareth’s board? Well the last time I saw it the position was something like

Two pawns down and facing the two bishops on a fairly open board you might understand why I was not too hopeful … But Gareth has beaten GMs, and that doesn’t happen without reason, so sorry David – but here’s what most of what happened:

So second quiz of the week – White to play and mate in 3.

Last to finish was Tony’s game. I didn’t really see the finish, but as I said he had sacced a piece for two pawns, and in fact got a third one back. However I never really quite believed it, and in the end Rich pushed through for the win. Cumnor 3.5 Cowley 2.5

Answer to the quizzes: Firstly Bob Waugh’s simplifying line which gives Graham a drawn endgame

When black is marginally better but white should hold.

Next what I should have played – there are a couple of possibilities, the mainline is best, but the second line is almost as good and simpler:

And Gareth’s mate in 3, which should look familiar!

So a win, but a bit by luck rather than judgement, if I were Cowley I would feel myself a little unlucky:

Back up to second, if you had told me that at the start of the season I would never have believed you, despite being a Leicester City fan!

So now we take a break for Christmas – can we continue this for the second half of the season!?

Match Report: Banbury 1 v. Cumnor 1

Well another Thursday, another match, but for the first time this season not at the Old School. Yes, Cumnor 1 were on the road, traveling to the northern edge of OCA-land at Banbury. Second verses third we thought this would be a tough one, and so it proved. We were a couple of players short of full strength while Banbury turned out a very strong side with James Jackson IM on board 1. If we were going to get anything out of this we would have to overturn an average rating difference of almost 200 points per board (about 25 in old money).

Also apologies for the briefness of this report, and for being a little late, work and then the 4NCL over the weekend have intruded on the more important business … I’ll just briefly go through the boards in order saying what I remember from last Thursday.

On top board Nigel dropped a pawn fairly early on, but got a bit of compensation in terms of pressure down the open c file. Play was interesting for a while, but it never looked like enough and indeed James pulled through to win.

On board two Gareth dropped a pawn fairly early on (you may notice a theme developing here) but got a bit of compensation with slightly more active pieces, but again it never looked enough and Georgs secured the win.

On board three I dropped a pawn fairly early on .. But at least this time it was deliberate! I played the Smith-Morra Gambit against Gary’s Sicilian defense. Gary played an unusual line, I went slightly on auto-pilot missing the best moves early on with routine play, and as much in frustration with myself then offered a piece to open up the king file before Gary had castled – a form of the Nd5 sac to all Sicilian aficionados out there. As soon as I moved I could see it was utter, utter rubbish, but I kept a poker face and had moved sufficiently quickly to persuade Gary I was still in book … Nett result he declined the knight and I got sufficient compensation for the pawn gambitted. An interesting game followed where I had pressure, especially down the d file against a backward pawn on d7 and chances of a k side attack, but Gary slowly freed his pieces until, when it was still probably more or less equal, I missed a tactic and dropped a piece. Well played Gary!

On board four Liam failed to drop a pawn early on. Against Dan’s 1 d4? a pretty symmetrical game resulted, with pieces fairly quickly swapped off into a king and lots of pawns ending, which was quickly agreed a draw.

On board five I think, but am not totally sure, Tony dropped a pawn fairly early on. Chris with his super-speed play developed some threats, but Tony found a nice bit of tactics to get out of it, simplifying down to an ending which again was quickly agreed to be a draw.

On board six our debutant Andrey, another player on loan from Bicester, showed his naivety at the first team level by failing to drop a pawn early on. Instead he played extremely well and probably had the better of a draw against Mal – certainly whenever I looked I thought he had marginally the better chances. It ended in a tricky knight and pawn ending which I certainly wouldn’t fancy playing from either side, but it was drawn after some inventive attempts from both black and white – Andrey forking Mal’s king and knight with his own knight in an effort to force a pawn through was particularly nice, unfortunately declining the sac defused the threat.

So 4.5-1.5 to the home team, given the strength difference I think a very respectable result for us:

We drop to third

Still doing well – if you had told me after 5 matches that this would be the table I would have been utterly amazed!

Anyway last match of the first half of the season at home to Cowley on Thursday, let’s see if we can end a superb first half of 21-22 with another result!

 

Match Report: Cumnor 1 v. Witney 1

Another Thursday, another match at the Old School! Starting the season with 4 home matches is a little unusual, but so it is and as such last night we welcomed Witney 1. Like City 1 in the before times Witney 1 were an extremely strong team, one of the three team “league within a league” that with University 1 regularly fought for the Division 1 title. But, as I’ve said before, we live in strange times and we wondered who would turn up to face us.

In the end it was a set of familiar faces but lacking one or two of the superstars that Witney can turn out – with all due respect to Mike Truran not seeing Marcus Harvey FM on top board was a bit of a relief! In fact the two teams were incredibly evenly matched, with just a few points difference in the average rating:

So while we were a little out-rated on the top boards, we were just favourites on the bottom 3 – but on all boards both players could be expected to have real chances.

So at 7.30 pm we kicked off with 1 d4? played on all 6 boards (“O tempora! O mores!” to quote the philosopher Cicero) and perhaps, given the similarity of strengths, unsurprisingly it was over 2 hours before a game finished – and thankfully the electric heaters more or less filled in for the broken central heating in the hall. In fact I was the first to finish. Danny played a quiet line against my Modern Benoni, quickly swapping down to a late middlegame where both players had R+R+N+N+7 pawns, and offered a draw. I declined, thinking myself marginally better, and we played on. And then I over pushed. I saw a forcing line that I thought won me a pawn, but to my horror realised half way through I had missed a knight fork on f6 at the end. I managed to limit the material damage to a pawn, but what a pawn, a passed one on d5, soon to reach d6. Luckily for me Danny missed a couple of opportunities at this point and I managed to exchange down to a double rook endgame just a pawn down with crucially a bit more activity for me – which was soon drawn after I managed to establish both rooks on his second rank. Cumnor 0.5 Witney 0.5

Next to finish were Mike and Stuart on top board in a very classical looking Queens Gambit. Mike lined has pieces up against Stuart’s king side and while I had little time to think about it at certain points it looked like a sac on g6 might open up the black king, but nothing quite worked and Stuart held it all together very nicely. I particularly liked

where Stuart coolly played h4 which keeps lines nicely closed; though it looks simple you have to carefully work through white’s attacking options before playing it. Anyway as the game progressed Stuart repulsed the attack and started to have his own opportunities, but with no obvious way through a draw was agreed. Cumnor 1 Witney 1

Gareth against Alan was another game where Witney seemed to have some pressure, but the Cumnor player managed to repulse the attack, and in this case push through to win very nicely. Gareth’s method was plenty good enough, but can you spot the short cut he missed in the position below?

White to play and win

The whole game was

Played Gareth! Cumnor 2 Witney 1

Gareth and I then discussed the remaining boards in the club room – as Gareth put it 3 draws to win the match but it was far from clear to me, Eldar needed to hold a difficult ending, Mark looked worse to me against Howard, but on other hand I thought Tony had a few winning chances. But when we went back in it was all over!

I don’t actually know the order in which the games finished, so let’s look at Eldar’s first. As white he had misplayed the opening slightly against Dave Hackett, losing a number of tempi. Now there are openings where this doesn’t matter, but unfortunately this was the Taimanov variation of the Modern Benoni, a.k.a. the Flick-knife attack i.e. the sharpest line of one of the most sharp openings. Losing a tempo, even as white, is not good news here! What happened was that Eldar played a5 to stop Black’s queen side expansion, but unfortunately that failed to make room for his bishop when it was forced to retreat next move and it had to go to e2, which just got in the way of everything. As a result Dave gained a lot of time and early on Benoni-geddon seemed to be going on, the kind of position I dream of as black – look at the position after move 20:

The Q side pawns are marching, the black rooks are doubled on the half open e file, black pieces are working, while white’s are not, scattered more or less randomly across the back few rows. Further Black was very much up on the clock. But somehow Eldar held it all together, and with  21 … Nd3? the pressure started to lessen. Eventually it simplified into a still difficult R+N v. R+B endgame – even now his pieces were not working that well and were a bit awkwardly placed. But held it Eldar did, a tremendous defensive display – and bloody knackering I bet as well! The game is below, and this made it Cumnor 2.5 Witney 1.5

Tony’s game allows another episode in the occasional series “Ian Bush witters on about Pawn Structures.” Tony played 1 d4 for about the first time in 3 years – The English is his usual poison, but knowing that that’s Derek’s favoured opening he decided to avoid it, and ended up playing a very unusual variation of the Benko which transmogrified into something like a Kings Indian where black has used c5 as the primary pawn break. Anyway at his move 14 Derek started to change the pawn structure with 14 … e6:

When the pawn structure changes it’s always a good idea to stop and think. Here there are 3 main possibilities

  1. Play 15 dxe6
  2. Let black play exd5 and take back with the e pawn creating a Symmetric Benoni structure
  3. Let black play exd5 and take back with the c pawn creating an Asymmetric Benoni structure

I think we can dismiss 3) as clearly inferior. Black gets the hope of counter play with his passed c pawn and maybe pressure down the e file, and further I well know that in Asymmetric Benoni structures the white squared bishop can just get in the way, so White having the two bishops is not a big issue. But which out of 1) and 2)?

Well 1) is definitely a good option. Black is going to get a glaring weakness on d6, and white can get at it through a knight on b5 and down the d-file. Black can’t really stop the former by a6 due to the weaknesses it creates on the Q side, and stopping the latter by blocking with a minor piece on d4 is not possible, white will just swap it off. So Black has to play for d6-d5 which will either lead to an opening of the position where white has the two bishops, and more space, and a weakened K side and c pawn to aim at, or, after e5, white establishing a monstrous knight on d6. I know who I prefer. Picking a sample line using Stockfish’s preferred moves gives something like

It’s clear white has the easier game – and note d5 doesn’t work in much of this due to the e5 and Nd6 idea.

What about plan 2), the symmetric Benoni structure? Well we know all about this from Liam’s game against City 1. White wants to

  1. Keep minor pieces on to maximise his space advantage
  2. Keep control of e4
  3. Then advance on the k side and win

This is in fact what Tony did, but didn’t quite find the best execution

Black has managed to get rid of a second minor piece, and should now play Bxb2 and he is fine – in fact Stockfish thinks slightly better. In the actual game Derek played 17 … Qd7 which is not so good blocking the knight re-routing to the king side, and Tony soon got an overwhelming position based on a quick f5 and opening the f file. And then … well I’ll spare Tony’s blushes.

White really wants to play 16 exd5 in the above, but can’t because of Ng4, planning an invasion on e3 and possibly a nasty check with the bishop from d4. So white is forced to swap off knights first. But this does suggest the right way to play the symmetric Benoni plan, 15 h3! to stop the knight coming into g4, and also giving a useful bit of luft after Bd4+. Following this leads to something like

where white has a nice attack, but arguably black has more counter-chances than in plan 1) above. Note also how the white queen bishop goes to d2 to avoid swapping pieces.

Which of the plans is better. Mr Stockfish puts them about the same – ultimately it’s a matter of taste, and I can see attractions in both. Anyway an interesting game, and as indicated above Tony got an excellent position but missed the win, Derek finding his equalising chance. So Cumnor 3 Witney 2.

That leaves Mark’s game. Howard played a London system. Mark used a Kings Indian type set up against it, but seemed to be under a little pressure most of the game, with Howard pressing against some weak pawns on the Queen side. Going into injury time it looked as though Howard was about to win his pawn and, well, I don’t have the score but the below gets the essence of position, what did Mark (Black) play at the end which resulted in Howard’s immediate resignation? Anyway final score Cumnor 4 Witney 2

So all in all a very tough match, which maybe we were a little lucky to win – certainly I feel I got away with murder and on another day other games could also have gone against us. But to quote the contemporary philosopher Dr. G. Lineker (Leicester) “They all count the same!” (https://twitter.com/garylineker/status/1261190324115910657)

Still top of the table, but I suspect when University 1 visits Didcot on Monday that will be end of that – so let’s enjoy it while we can!

Match Report: Cumnor 1 v. Oxford University 1

Last night we welcomed University 1 to the Old School – possibly the first time this has ever occurred given our recent promotion to the top tier. Of course we expected this to be a tough match, University 1 have been winning everything for a number of years now, but when the first of their players arrived it turned out we may have a glimmer of a chance – a number of their strongest players were busy over the weekend so could not play. That said when the rest of the team arrived while it was true that it was not as strong as we feared we were still somewhat outrated, especially on the top boards. This was not going to be easy!

I say “when the rest of the team arrived” that in itself was a bit of an story. I won’t name names but a couple of their players missed the Cumnor bus stop and ended up at the Greyhound in Wooton. A rescue car was sent out and they started their games about 20 minutes late. We didn’t even start their clocks – maybe we’re too nice …

Partially because I don’t have a long train journey today, partially because I didn’t see too much of the other games this week (I was trying to dig myself out of the mess I made of the opening) this weeks report will be much shorter than last time, and so apologies for the lack of deep, laser like analysis of the intricacies of all the games :)

Nigel was first to finish, losing to Filip Mihov. No shame there, Filip’s record in OCA competitions is remarkable, 24/26 in the now 3 seasons he has been playing. It was a Kings Indian but Nigel’s king side play just didn’t seem to kick off, while in next to no time Filip had lots of open lines on the queen side. Cumnor 0 University 1.

Gareth was next. Gareth grabbed his opponents Queen Knights pawn. It was poisoned, a nice line closing combo won a piece for his opponent and it was always going to be difficult from then on. Cumnor 0 University 2

Mark was next, but for reasons I’ll explain below yet again I didn’t see the important part of his game. Mark was on the white side of an advance French, and while very early on Chris seemed to be doing nicely against Mark’s centre as the game progressed Mark’s position seemed to get better and I was very hopeful. Then the next thing I know is Mark had lost – apparently dropping a piece in a winning position. Bad luck Mark, we’ve all been there. Cumnor 0 University 3

The next few games all finished fairly quickly. The first was mine against Max, about 10 minutes after Mark’s finished, and the time scramble was why I missed much of his and the other games from this point. I’d misplayed the opening dropping a pawn, but had managed to make enough of a mess that I was back in the game. Both of us made mistakes in ever increasing time pressure, until right at then end we repeated moves. In a position where I had a winning combination … I’ve put the position below, try to solve it in less than 15 seconds with a clock ticking against you. But that was the match gone, Cumnor 0.5 University 3.5

White to play and win

I missed the majority of the last two boards. All I’ll say is both our unbeaten guest star Tony and Liam looked pretty comfortable in their games, Liam in particular having nice pressure against his opponents weakened pawn structure. Anyway the important bits happened while I was scrambling against Max, and both in our favour.

So the final score was Cumnor 1 2.5- University 1 3.5.

Rather than looking on the missed chances I think we can be pretty pleased – we expected nothing from this match, and somewhat out gunned we gave them a real run for their money.

Still top of the table!

Witney 1 is next week, a top 2 clash, another tough match.

Busy Nights at the Club Coming Up

The over the board Chess season is now up and running. For the next two weeks, 21st and 28th October, both teams will be playing League Matches. The Club will be open for social Chess but there numbers will be down as 12 players will be involved in the matches two weeks running.

Cumnor One will be playing against Oxford University 1 on the 21st and Witney 1 on the 28th, both matches will be at home. Cumnor One currently sit top of division one with two wins from two but these two matches will provide some tough games for the first team. Oxford University 1 will be playing their first match of the season as the University teams as they need fit their matches around the academic year.

Cumnor Two will be playing their first matches of the season after two false starts. They will be playing Cowley 3 on the the 21st and then Oxford University 3 on the 28th both of the matches will be away from home. Originally Cumnor two’s season should have started against Abingdon School on the 4th October but it was postponed due to Abingdon’s Michaelmas fair. Then the Oxford University 3 fixture was also rearranged after they had some issues with the fixture pile up.