Thursday 31 December 2009

Hastings and Gibraltar

I don't know what effect it had on blog readers, but the phenomenal London Chess Classic earlier this month at Olympia seems to have re-energised me. I've been down to Hastings to take some photos (which I'm hoping will appear on a website very soon) and sensed a more positive mood amongst the British chess community. I watched the round one games and was generally impressed by the quality of play. I sat in on a game post-mortem with Keith Arkell and enjoyed his good-natured and informative comments on his first round win. Since then he has had one of those typical Arkell endgame grinds at which he excels - usually a good sign that all's well in Keith's world.

As well as writing and editing the magazine, I've also been involved in the preparations for the next Gibtelecom Chess Festival in Gibraltar. It starts in about three weeks and now boasts a remarkable line-up on players. There are three 2700+ players, Bacrot, Vallejo Pons and Movsesian - plus two players who have been a heartbeat away from the world championship - Mickey Adams and Gata Kamsky. The tournament is famous for its generous women's prizes and this has attracted two of the three highest rated women players in the world, Humpy Koneru of India and Hou Yifan of China (see photo above), as well as the Women's World Champion, Alexandra Kosteniuk. Such is the growing reputation of the tournament that it doesn't necessarily have to go looking for star players any more - some of the big names you see above asked if they could play there.

I've also heard a whisper or two about a couple of legends of the game who just might be visiting the Rock in 2010. No names yet, but watch this space.


Wednesday 23 December 2009

Anand to have Carlsen as a second for the World Championship with Topalov (or is he?)

A recent newspaper interview indicates that Vishy Anand is to have Magnus Carlsen as one of his seconds for the World Championship match with Veselin Topalov In April 2010.

Anand broke the news himself in an interview given to an unnamed staff reporter on the Calcutta Telegraph. Asked whether Indian GM Surya Sekhar Ganguly would be his one of his seconds, Anand replied: "He may be. I am not sure. Seconds are a very secretive thing. Even if I tell you that he will be one of my seconds, the rival camp will not believe me. But one thing is for sure, Magnus Carlsen (the world No. 2) will be one of the seconds."

By the time of the match Carlsen may well be world no.1 so it does seem slightly strange that Carlsen should support a player whom he would surely hope to challenge in a subsequent world championship (assuming Vishy retains his title, of course). Any cooperation between Anand and Carlsen would involve Vishy revealing his box of opening tricks to his future challenger. But perhaps it would also reveal something of Carlsen's modus operandi to the wily champion.

With his immediate target in mind, Anand must be hoping that this early revelation of the ace in his hand will deal a psychological blow to his Bulgarian challenger - much in the same way that, earlier this year, the announcement that Magnus Carlsen was being coached by Garry Kasparov was timed to boost Carlsen's challenge against Topalov in the 'Pearl Spring' super-tournament in China. I'm just wondering whether it means that Anand will get a degree of Kasparovian support at second remove - Garry tells Magnus, and Magnus tells Vishy? Veselin Topalov and his team have occasionally been accused of paranoia - but maybe they really are all out to get him.

But HOLD THE FRONT PAGE! It seems that the interviewer could have messed up. ChessBase News are now reporting that Anand may have said 'Nielsen' and not 'Carlsen'! This would make sense as Peter Heine Nielsen has been Anand's second on several occasions. To which we can only say "OH! CALCUTTA!"...

Sunday 20 December 2009

Chess in Guyana

While I was working as press chief at the London Chess Classic in London, many thousands of miles away one of my oldest chess friends was doing his bit at the grass roots level to popularise the game, and with considerable success.

David Stevenson and I learnt our chess together at the Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe, back in the 1960s and we were both members of the Cambridge University Chess Club in the 1970s. We've stayed in touch for 40 years and still meet up whenever we can though David has long since settled in the USA.

A few months ago David made a bold career move and decided to become a voluntary teacher in a developing country. If it had been a chess move, we'd have to annotate it 'exclamation mark, question mark' - "interesting"! Anyway, in a spirit of adventure, David took the plunge and now finds himself teaching maths in Georgetown, Guyana - for virtually no money and in what most of us European softies would consider to be incredibly difficult living conditions.

As well as teaching, David has taken the opportunity to start a chess club at his school, St Stanislaus College in Georgetown. And in a matter of months he has coached them to winning the Guyana National School's Championship. David can be seen in the above photo, flanked by his victorious team.

Some links...

Kaietur News

WorldTeam Blogspot (worth reading for David's description of some of the privations he has to put up with)

The photo above shows David holding the trophy, with the successful team around him.

Whilst saluting David's achievement as coach, I hope he also gets the chance to show what he can do on a chessboard himself while he's in Guyana. He has not played much competition chess for many years but, as a player who used to rank regularly in the 180s in the (then) BCF Grading List, my guess is that David could be the best chessplayer currently domiciled in Guyana. Though it once used to send teams to the Olympiad, a sharp downturn in the economy affected chess in the country and Guyana is (I think) no longer a member of FIDE.

We've just had a fantastic couple of weeks of big-time chess in London but, at this time of year, we should also stop to think of all those volunteers like David, all over the world, who give their time to organise and popularise our game. They are the lifeblood of chess.

Dave, if you get to read this: well done, have a great Christmas and a happy new year.

Saturday 28 November 2009

New Chess Player's Blog...

I'm still suffering from chess blogger's cramp. I have to do so much chess writing in other contexts that the blog occupies a rather low priority at the moment. Apologies.

I've just spotted this new blog by the Anglo-Russian chess player Maria Yurenok - Maria's Chess Adventures. Looks very interesting. Glad to see that Maria is also a cat lover!

I'm going to be the press chief at the forthcoming London Chess Classic tournament so there may be more scope for blogging then (and also a bit of tweeting too). In the meantime I've got to clear my desk - magazines seem to take longer to write and edit every month.

Sunday 11 October 2009

Chess Players Run The World

Apologies for the long silence. I've still been here, beavering away at the magazine, website, Britbase, Gibraltar website, etc, but haven't felt very bloggish for a while.

But now I do. Occasionally I stumble on something interesting on the web about a chessplayer who has left the game, gone away - and is now quietly running the world. This familiar story goes back to the dawn of (chess) time and includes along the line the remarkable tale of the group of chessplayers who congregated at Bletchley Park and helped to shorten WW2 by means of their amazing code-cracking skills. Always remember that story when some non-chessplaying infidel challenges you with a question such as "what have chessplayers ever done for us?".

I came across a similar story whilst googling recently. Nick Patterson, born in London in 1947 of Irish parents, was a very strong chessplayer of the 1960s and early 1970s and was one of the formidable posse of strong players who made the Cambridge University Chess Club the strongest in the UK at that time. Had he carried on with chess he might well have rivalled the likes of Hartston and Keene for strength but he turned to the groves of academe.

In fact, during the past 35+ years Nick Patterson has migrated from one Cambridge to another - the one in Massachusetts in the USA. He says he is a "data guy". But this doesn't give any idea of the vast span of highly critical and significant areas in which he has worked - cryptography, high finance and the human genome. He has turned his data skills to all of these high-profile areas of research. I'm rapidly going out of my depth, so I'll pass you onto a link which I found from the New York Times. It is three years old but very interesting...

Nick Patterson interview in the New York Times

Tuesday 19 May 2009

New Ivanchuk Drug Test Shock Horror

Chess has been rocked by another drug scandal. Yesterday, after the traditional MTel Masters soccer match, where the chessplayers line up against a local side, Vasyl Ivanchuk once again refused to take the obligatory post-match urine test prescribed under the rules of the Bulgarian Football Association. He faces a lengthy ban...

... don't worry, I'm only kidding. But the joke is not original. What actually happened was that, as Ivanchuk limbered up for the game, the 'team doctor' approached him and warned, "After the match, we have a urine test laid on for you!" Ivanchuk is said to have 'appreciated the humour'. Hmm, I wonder. What's the Ukrainian for "are you taking the p***?"

Well done, Evening Standard!

Having taken the mickey out of the London Evening Standard in my previous blog entry, I'm only too pleased to retract everything in this one and say "well done, Evening Standard". Leonard Barden's daily print column has been restored (though at the cost of withdrawing the online column, it seems. Oh well, can't have everything). The newspaper was remarkably quick to respond to readers' opinions.

Friday 15 May 2009

The Remorseful Day

What's with all these people suddenly saying sorry? Is it perhaps a symptom of swine flu or is it an ailment in its own right? The fat cats of major banks were the first people to go down with 'sorry flu' with their profuse apologies for cocking up the world's economy and paying themselves unjustifiable mega-bonuses (I couldn't help noticing that the cure for the disease didn't extend to paying any of the money back).

Now the disease (apologitis ratbagiensis, to give it its full Latin name) has taken hold at Westminster as afflicted MPs and party leaders vie with each other in expressing their oh-so sincere regrets for helping themselves to rather more of the tax-players' money than they should have. It's clearly a painful malady as the air rings with heartfelt cries of "it's the system that's at fault", "it was a genuine mistake", "I've already paid it all back", "the money was just resting in my account", etc, etc. No, wait a minute, that last one came from an episode of Father Ted more than ten years ago - but you get the general idea.

A few weeks back, lodged neatly between the bankers' outpourings of remorse and the politicians' mea culpas, there was another public airing of the five-letter 's-word'. I read this report online...


LONDON - The London Evening Standard launched a campaign today apologising to Londoners for its performance in the past, as the newspaper kicks off a three-week publicity attack ahead of its relaunch on May 11.

The print campaign, created by McCann Erickson, apologises to Londoners for losing touch, taking them for granted, and being negative, complacent and predictable. All of the executions begin with the word "sorry" and use the Standard's Eros logo.

The campaign comes in response to market research, commissioned by the newspaper’s new editor, Geordie Greig, which found that Londoners felt the paper was too negative and did not meet the capital’s needs.

The approach will be seen as critical to that of the former editor Veronica Wadley, who edited the Standard for seven years before its acquisition by Alexander Lebedev.

So, when 11 May finally arrived, what did the Evening Standard apologists actually do? Well, for a start, they reduced Leonard Barden's long-running and much-loved chess feature from five appearances a week to a solitary one (on Friday), though still publishing the other four online. It's at if you want to read it and there is a comment box at the end where you can express your feelings about the situation (more and more people are doing so). Good to have it online but it is a retrograde step to remove it from the printed newspaper where it is much more likely to be read by occasional or casual chessplayers and where it has provided high quality enjoyment for tired commuters and valuable publicity for competition chess since the early sixties.

Only now can we chessplayers fully appreciate what the earlier report said about the Evening Standard "losing touch... taking [people] for granted... being negative", etc, etc. For us, things were rather better before the newspaper suddenly succumbed to a fashionable attack of 'sorry flu'. Given the Standard's admirable propensity for expressing sorrow, there is still time for them to do so again, whilst at the same time restoring Leonard Barden's column to the print version of their paper on every weekday as before. But there is no need for the newspaper to shell out further cash on an expensive publicity campaign. See the image above, where I have adapted the poster the Standard used earlier this month as part of their relaunch. In a spirit of reconciliation I'm prepared to let them use my artwork for free.

Thursday 7 May 2009

4NCL: Jonathan Rogers Annotates...

Whilst at the 4NCL in Daventry on Monday, I bumped into FM Jonathan Rogers of Barbican (see photo). Jonathan recommended to me his ninth round win against Mark Ruston which featured an attractive queen for two pieces sacrifice.

Jonathan followed up the sacrifice with a less spectacular but highly potent move which he tells me a number of GMs failed to find when he challenged them. He has very kindly let me have an annotation of the game to feature here.

(Unfortunately, Jonathan's annotation is too long to fit in a pgn4web window, so I have simply appended the PGN code which you will need to copy and paste into the chess software of your choice - JS)

[Event "4NCL 2008/9"]
[Site "Hinckley Island"]
[Date "2009.05.02"]
[Round "9.1"]
[White "Ruston, Mark"]
[Black "Rogers, Jonathan"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "B23"]
[WhiteElo "2092"]
[BlackElo "2337"]
[Annotator "Rogers, Jonathan"]
[PlyCount "44"]
[EventDate "2008.10.04"]
[EventType "team-tourn"]
[EventRounds "11"]
[EventCountry "ENG"]
[SourceTitle "EXT 2010"]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceDate "2009.11.30"]
[SourceVersion "1"]
[SourceVersionDate "2009.11.30"]
[SourceQuality "1"]
[WhiteTeam "Sambuca Sharks"]
[BlackTeam "Barbican II"]
[WhiteTeamCountry "ENG"]
[BlackTeamCountry "ENG"]

1. e4 c5 {For the first time in 22 years and the second time in my life. I was
inspired by the assurance that these days, no one under 2500 dares to play 2
Nf3 and 3 d4.} 2. Nc3 {I hadn't actually looked up my opponent on any database,
so apparently this observation is right.} e6 3. g3 a6 4. a4 d5 5. exd5 exd5 6.
Bg2 Nf6 7. d4 cxd4 8. Qxd4 Nc6 9. Qd1 Bb4 ({White's opening has been dubious,
especially the insertion of 4 a4. Black should perhaps have taken better
advantage of this by playing} 9... Nb4 {, threatening 10...Bf5, with good
development after} 10. Nge2 Bc5 {. But it turns out that Black will not regret
putting his bishop on b4; it never moves again...}) 10. Nge2 O-O 11. O-O Re8
12. Bg5 Bg4 13. f3 ({Instead} 13. h3 Bxc3 14. hxg4 {would have been quite
reasonable for White. The text is weakening, but White clearly wanted to put
his knight on f4.}) 13... Bf5 14. Nf4 d4 $1 {I had decided now to sacrifice
the queen!} 15. Ncd5 Nxd5 $1 16. Bxd8 Ne3 17. Qc1 Raxd8 ({I did not consider
releasing the pressure with} 17... Nxf1 {- Black does not want to give White
time to consolidate with} 18. Bxf1 {and 19 Bd3.}) 18. Rf2 {My next move is
very difficult. I had not seen it in advance, and none of the IM or GMs to
whom I showed this position afterwards found it either, even though they knew
that something was there to be found. It seems that one needs to be at the
board, discarding the more obvious alternatives first ...} Na5 $3 ({I had
wanted to play} 18... Nxc2 19. Rxc2 Re1+ 20. Qxe1 Bxe1 {but then realised that
here White can play} 21. Rxc6 {. But this line did give me a clue - that this
knight on c6 should be moved; and I had also seen that I should want to
discourage White from freeing himself with c2-c3. So now I gave serious
consideration to what is a most unusual attacking manoeuvre!}) {Here it is.
Now the threat is 19...Nxc2 followed by Nb3, and Black will pick up both White
rooks! It is astonishing to see how helpless White is against the oncoming ...
Nb3. Later we thought that White needed to respond to this with 19 Ra3 and
were not sure whether Black should simply capture it, or increase the pressure
further with 19...Rc8 (but then how to respond to 20 Rd3? However a computer
provided a further surprise by preferring Black in this position, and gave the
continuation 19 Ra3 Rc8 20 Rd3 Bxd3 21 Nxd3 Nb3! 22 Qb1 Nd2 23 Qa2 Rxc2. Here,
having crashed through on c2, Black is doing very well because the White queen
cannot move (save from a2 to a1!) and the bishop on b4 is immune on account of
...Rc1+. He can consolidate his grip with ...a5 and double the rooks on the
c-file at his leisure. The idea of the knight hopping from a5 to d2 in order
to interfere with White's protection on c2 is most artistic. My opponent had
little time left and understandably collapsed: his next move was designed to
prevent the knight on e3 from moving on account of Qg5.} 19. Nh5 d3 $1 {
Instantly decisive. This would also have been the response to 19 Bh3 Bxh3 20
Nxh3.} 20. cxd3 Nb3 21. Qb1 Nxa1 22. Qxa1 Rxd3 {And now there is no good
defence to ...Rd1+.} 0-1

Saturday 25 April 2009

Celeb Chessplayer No. 954

Frances Barber is a highly accomplished and very attractive British actress. In today's (25 April) Telegraph, she mentions that she is a chess player...

"I love playing chess with a friend. He's a special friend. He's not an actor and he's a very good chess player, but I'm not elaborating further – he's so new that something might go wrong."

Though not wishing to spoil Ms Barber's chances with said special friend, it would be interesting to know his identity - if indeed he is a 'very good chess player' as she claims.

Monday 20 April 2009

Bolton Easter Congress

I'm testing some new code for displaying games in an online viewer on this blog. I'm using Chess Viewer Deluxe, written by Nikolai Pilafov and based on Michael Keating's very popular MyChessViewer which I used to use for BritBase. It looks pretty good and, unlike most viewers to date, allows you to move pieces around on the board. It was quite easy to set up. I might well start using this for Britbase proper.

For testing purposes, here are three games from the Bolton Easter Congress sent to me by Mick Norris and Rod Middleton.

(2020 editorial note: this blog post has long since been overtaken by time and the original code used to display it is no longer allowed by modern browsers - but you can still enjoy the games which now appear in pgn4web format - JS)

Tuesday 10 February 2009

Raaphy Persitz (1934-2009)

Raaphy Persitz, one of BCM's oldest friends and contributors, has died aged 74. I was sent the sad news by Amatzia Avni, who also kindly appended the following tribute to Raaphy. I am indebted to Amatzia on both counts. The news of Raaphy's death came as a particular shock to me as, only a couple of weeks previously, he had sent me a fax saying how moved he had been by the tribute I had written to Bob Wade in the January issue of BCM. That was typical of his kindness towards me which dated back to when I took my first tottering steps as BCM editor in 1999. We never actually met in person but spoke occasionally on the telephone and exchanged faxes (Raaphy didn't seem to communicate by email). As a long-time reader of the magazine I had enjoyed his 'Student's Corner' column in the magazine, which was initiated by Abe Yanofsky in the early 1950s and which Raaphy inherited in 1958. I was particularly delighted when, in 2004, after I had written about his 1954 feat in winning his Varsity match game and a county match against English no.1 Hugh Alexander on the same day, Raaphy consented to write another 'Student's Corner' column (which appeared in the May 2004 issue of BCM). I never succeeded in getting him to write another one but it was such a pleasure to have him write for the magazine during my spell as editor.

R.I.P. Raphael Joseph Arie (Raaphy) Persitz
Born 26 vii* 1934 (Tel Aviv)
Died 4 ii 2009 (Tel Aviv)

* Gaige's Chess Personalia gives May rather than July for Raaphy's month of birth but all online sources give July - can anyone tell me which is correct?

I shall be writing more on Raaphy in the March issue of BCM. I should be grateful for any reminiscences that others may have of him - please send to me at or append to this blog entry.

The photo shown above is of the Oxford University team which won the 1953 British Lightning Club Championship - left to right: Raaphy Persitz, John B Sykes, Leonard Barden, OI Galvenius, David M Armstrong. (note: the 2008 ECF Yearbook seems to think that this lightning championship was first contested in 1954, but BCM confirms it first took place in 1953).

What follows is Amatzia Avni's personal tribute to Raaphy...

Ordinary people have a mixture of good qualities and bad ones. After 20 years of friendship with the late Raaphy Persitz I can attest that he was a distinct type: one sided, positive-only; pure gold.

I first met him in 1989. Just wrote my first chess book (in Hebrew) I was searching for someone to write me an introduction. The word was that Persitz was back in town, after long years abroad. Having seen glimpses of his amazing linguistic skills, I contacted him and he agreed immediately. He didn’t know me, hadn’t read a single sentence of the book, yet he didn’t hesitate: “yes, sure, I’ll be glad to”.
That was typical Persitz: always ready to help, unconditionally. The introduction, needless to say, was a sheer delight, a class or two above the rest of the book.

In latter years he gave me a hand several times, polishing my texts and making them more reader-friendly to English speaking readers. Somehow he seemed to know what I wished to express better than I did. His suggestions enabled me to convey my meaning in a clear and precise manner.

Raaphy was modest and reserved. Once I called him and realized that he was upset. “My mother had passed away some weeks ago” – he said. I was puzzled why he didn’t tell me the sad news at the time. “I didn’t want to bother you” – was his reply.

A couple of years ago I stumbled upon Bruce Hayden’s old book “Cabbage heads and chess kings”. One of the book’s articles was headed “Raaphy Persitz – star or comet?”. I learned that in the 1950s Persitz won some bright victories in England against Penrose, Alexander, Milner-Barry and others. Searching in Chessbase I found out that he also did battle with some outstanding international players. Yet in all our meetings and hundreds hours of conversation he never said a thing about that!

Persitz was a master of understatement. I learned that if I wrote “very fine” or “extremely strong”, the ‘very’ and ‘extremely’ would fly out of the window. If I made a firm stand on a certain issue, he would add “probably”’ “apparently”, or “it may be argued that”, because it was indeed only an opinion, not a fact. Over time, following his train of thought made me improve the way I expressed myself and thought about chess.

Persitz’ distinctions in chess, in linguistics and in journalism are evident to anyone who ever read his chess books and articles. He also excelled in economics, but I am unqualified to comment on this.

God bless you, Raaphy. I feel privileged to have known you.

Amatzia Avni