Game Changing Simul

On Saturday Chester welcomed GM Matthew Sadler and WIM Natasha Regan to the Hoole Community Centre. There they entertained around 40 members and guests from as far away as Stockport and London.

Following an entertaining talk and games analysis about AlphaZero from their book Game Changer there was an opportunity to buy copies of Game Changer and to have books signed.

Freya and Jasmine with Matthew and Natasha

At that point the serious simul business started. The organisers had jumbled together a few types of boards and arranged the tables suitably far apart to reduce the grandmaster edge as much as possible. And early on that seemed to be helping the participants gain some chances.

Ready to go. Chris and Dave (right) discuss tactics whilst Matthew and Natasha (back) do the same.
Ethan focuses on the task ahead.
Stephen, Jack and Andrew play their openings.
Colin plays on the queenside whilst Matthew contemplates Stockport sharks Allan and Andy.
John looks on as Sam makes his move and Colin gets ready.
Nick prepares to make his move.

As the community centre management started to wonder when it might finish, Matthew kicked up a gear (many of the photos were too blurred to use as he sped round the hall – it transpires that when not working, writing, playing, studying openings, or reviewing books he also runs regularly).

Matthew devises a cunning plan against Freya’s queenside expansion. Ethan and Chris get ready to move.
Chris wonders how best to get some winning chances from his piece sacrifice.

Chester knock out first team players were amongst the last to finish. Chris and Colm’s attacks were ultimately pushed back leaving Daniel as the last hope of any result against Matthew.

Matthew calmly parries Colm’s attack, defending his king with his queen on the h1-a8 diagonal.
Dan is the final player to finish. Material up he faced a tricky conversion, but looked unlikely to lose…
Disaster strikes…Dan, Black to move, centralises his king with ..Ke6, allowing the unfortunate Bg4

In the end the one on one blitz pressure proved too much and Matthew completed his 100% sweep. For his efforts Dan won the best game prize, a signed centenary mug.

After coming tantalisingly close to a result, Dan has to be satisfied with a signed mug as consolation.

But what of the secondary simul you might be asking? Or might not. WIM Natasha was joined by your writer (and Chester league individual champion) Phil in a tandem simul against those players preferring less extreme opposition. I couldn’t honestly claim our results were spectacular. Well not spectacularly good anyway. Playing my first simul I let the side down early on by allowing Ian Clayton to inflict a cunning ..Nh3+, forking our king(g1) and queen (f2). Prospective new member Dave played in AlphaZero style crushing us by pushing his h-pawn all the way to h3 (just as Natasha had explained in her talk!) Other players perhaps showed more respect than was merited; John Sutcliffe resigned a couple of times when we were only a couple of pawns up in an ending. Where we failed to impress we hopefully entertained…

Jixin assists Jasmine with algebraic notation as she takes action in the centre.
Ian prepares to play ..Nh3 whilst Jasmine prepares some further sacrifices.

Thanks to everyone who helped make the event a success. Thanks in particular to Matthew and Natasha for coming all the way from London and devoting so much energy to the talk and simuls. And thanks to Stephen Chapman for generously taking and providing over 100 photos including the majority of those above.

Phil Skippon to run Chester half marathon, raising funds for junior club clocks

Junior Club organiser Phil Skippon, pictured below receiving the Townsend trophy last year, has set himself a possibly tougher task to complete the Chester half marathon on Sunday May 19th.

Phil receives the Townsend Trophy from John Carleton

Starting at the racecourse around 9am he hopes to arrive at the Town Hall around 11am. He’s aiming to raise funds for the junior club to purchase additional chess clocks. If you’d like to sponsor him please contact him directly or you can use the club email Good luck to Phil!

Graham Bromley Receives Centennial Award at Dinner

Last Thursday the club held its Centennial Dinner at The Architect. Well situated in a private dining room 18 of our members enjoyed excellent food and a few celebratory drinks.

First team captain and elite junior coach John Carleton was the main speaker, regaling the group with stories since the club’s founding in 1919. He entertainingly led into the pop classic “It’s fun to play at the YMCA” (the YMCA being the club venue for many years).

The other highlight was the presentation of a lifetime service award to Graham Bromley. Graham has helped develop the club over many years and held several official roles including president, treasurer and junior organiser.

Graham Bromley about to receive a centenary mug (including logo he designed!) signed by members

Thanks to Paul Watson and Ray Williams for organising a fantastic evening!

Chester Chess Club Hosts Centenary Rapid Tournament

The tournament begins with Phil Crocker and Matthew Carr on stage and Mike McDonagh below

On Sunday April 7th the club hosted a rapid tournament to celebrate its founding a hundred years ago in 1919.

The organisers’ target was to attract 100 entrants, one for each of the years. After a worryingly slow start there was a late surge in entrants with the target hit with just minutes to spare.

Chester was well represented with 17 players young and a bit older. UK players came from as far as Halifax, Colwyn Bay and Birmingham to play. Internationally we had entrants from Brussels (former club member Tom Wiley) and three of the finest players from the Brombach club in Chester’s twin town in Germany near Basel. Polish, Spanish, Swiss, Bulgarian, Irish and Slovakian chess federations were also represented

The atmosphere was unusually jovial for a chess tournament, helped perhaps by the cut-price coffee and flapjacks on offer. Notwithstanding the pleasant environment, the tournaments were all hard fought.

In the Open Grandmaster Stephen Gordon triumphed with 5/6 closely followed by Chester’s number one John Carleton, former member Paul Townsend and Henrik Stepanyan on 4.5/6. Chester player Steve Connor finished just a half point back on 4/6.

GM Stephen Gordon secures first place, holding John Carleton to a draw in the final round

In the Major Michael Connor and Philip Zabrocki finished on 5/6 with Paul Watson being the top Chester player on 3.5/6.

In the Minor Robert Owens finished clear first on an impressive 5.5/6. Nick Pendlebury was the top Chester player on 3.5/6 with Ben Woodfinden and Jack Yang the top Chester juniors on 50%. Chester juniors and brother and sister Ethan and Caitlin Challoner both did well to score 2/6 in their first adult tournament. Seren Fletcher was the youngest Chester participant also playing her first adult tournament and gaining some useful experience.

Caitlin Challoner puts her Chester chess teacher Phil Skippon under pressure, with brother Ethan opposite

Thanks to everyone who helped make the tournament happen: Mike McDonagh (overall lead), Graham Bromley (finances and more) supported by Chris Doran and Steve Lloyd (multiple other tasks). On the day Matthew Carr kept everything running smoothly and Jixin Yang helped out invaluably. And last but not least the catering provided by Melinda Crocker got many 5 star reviews and attracted no end of celebrating winners and despondent losers.

A selection of further photos follow, and we look forward to seeing everyone again for the 150th…

An all Chester match in the Open with Steve Connor taking on John Carleton
Chester junior Seren Fletcher concentrates hard
All that thinking needs flapjack for fuel
Dave Bryan and Steve Lloyd take the white pieces
Chris Doran and Colm Buckley face off in the Open
Jack Yang deep in thought with league rival Sue Parry to his right
Brombach’s finest players sample England’s finest cuisine
Former member Tom Wiley in action on the top tables
Former Chester member Paul Townsend takes on GM Stephen Gordon
Graham Bromley and Ray Williams ponder their next moves with Phil McKeown to the far right
Paul Watson and Ray Williams in a key Major match-up
Brombach Club President Markus Haag faces John Carleton on the top tables on the stage

Schachmatt in Inzlingen

Last weekend I had the pleasure of playing in the 10th Wasserschloss Open in Inzlingen, organised by Chester’s twin town club Brombach. It’s situated in the top floor of a grand “water-castle” in a picturesque village near the border of Switzerland, France and Germany at Basel.

I’d previously met a couple of the organisers Markus Haag (right) and Andreas Kuglstatter (left) in Chester

Before the tournament Andreas generously showed me around Basel and their chess club. Brombach have a dedicated room (ie no one else uses it to state the obvious which is difficult to understand in the UK) which is also free. Apparently local government support for clubs in Germany is the norm.

Brombach’s dedicated and free of charge chess club

The tournament went quite well for me. I salvaged a draw from a losing endgame in round one, won a couple, was crushed by the number 2 seed in round 4 and then won in the final round to finish 5th on 3.5/5. In England it would have been joint 3rd but they use tie breaks in Germany which cuts down on the hassle of splitting a £20 prize 7 ways I guess. Best of all was a raffle at the prize giving where I won a voucher for the castle restaurant. I was also interviewed for regional newspaper Badische Zeitung with their article referencing (in German) our upcoming centenary and picturing my first round game:–167710353.html

Now Germany is known for being excellent at many important things like making beer, sausages and high quality cars. Less well-known is the outstanding contribution to chess vocabulary through the effective use of combining words together (Wortbildung or word-building as a self-referencing example). We have Zugzwang (much better than move-compulsion), Zwischenzug (in-between-move) and relevant to the final position in my 4th round game kaput. I was fortunate enough to be able to demonstrate all of these concepts in the tournament as illustrated in the following fairly straightforward four puzzles.

1) How does Black to move most cleanly put White in Zugzwang?
2) How does Black to move put White in Zugzwang?
3) Which Zwischenzug can Black play against Bxf5?
4) What German word beginning with k best describes my position as White in round 4?

Before giving the answers I’d like to thank Andreas, Markus and the other organisers for arranging a splendid tournament. They will be visiting Chester on the weekend of 7th April to play in our centenary rapid tournament and to sample the delights of Chester and Liverpool.


  1. ..Rf3 forces White to give up a pawn. The remaining pawn can easily be stopped by Black’s king and rook.
  2. ..Qc6 and White’s king must move away from the pawn. With the pawn on a7 and the king on a8 White gets a well-known stalemate, but if the pawn is still on a6 there is no hope of that.
  3. ..Nxc4 hits the bishop on e3. If White moves that away then ..gxf5 follows with Black having destroyed White’s centre and in some lines remaining a pawn up.
  4. Kaput!

Sat May 11th – AlphaZero talk, Book Signing and Simuls with GM Matthew Sadler and WIM Natasha Regan

Keep Saturday May 11th afternoon free if you can. Starting at 2pm we’ll be hosting a special centenary event in the hall at our Hoole Community Centre venue (CH2 3AU).

We’ll start with a talk by Grandmaster Matthew Sadler and Women’s International Master Natasha Regan relating to the subject of their new book Game Changer. The book describes how the AlphaZero computer taught itself to play chess in a matter of hours knowing only the rules of the game and then proceeded to beat the world’s strongest dedicated chess program Stockfish. It also covers some of the wider implications of such artificial intelligence (AI) on other fields.

For those interested in buying a copy of the book Matthew and Natasha will then be signing copies of their book.

I’ve been lucky enough to get an early copy. I wasn’t really expecting to learn much which might improve my chess, but was pleasantly surprised with the analysis of AlphaZero’s games which the authors use to identify better human strategies (such as aggressively pushing your h-pawn!)

We’ll then conclude with a couple of simultaneous displays (simuls). In the simuls Matthew will take on around 25 opponents at the same time. Separately Natasha will take on a group of juniors in a tandem simul assisted (or maybe hindered) on alternate moves by club president Phil Crocker.

Matthew is currently the highest graded player in England with an incredible grade of 283. As a professional he reached the number 14 rating in the world and even now as an amateur he is ranked in the world top 50. He’s represented England several times and earned an individual gold medal in the Chess Olympiad.

Natasha has played for England at both the Manila and Moscow Chess Olympiads. Also an expert at Go, she represented England in the 2008 Mind Games in Beijing. Together with Matthew she also wrote the 2016 ECF book of the year Chess for Life.

Anyone is welcome to attend the talk and book signing. Non chess playing parents may well be interested in the topic of AI which is likely to have big implications in areas such as health care and self-driving cars in coming years. However, please let Phil know (on his email or if you are intending to attend so that we can manage seating capacity.

For the simuls places are limited. To play Matthew there is a charge of £10 (£5 for experienced juniors) to help us recover some of the costs of the event. The junior simul with Natasha and Phil is free but please book a place so that we can arrange to have sufficient boards. Again, please contact Phil if you wish to participate in the simuls. See you in Hoole in May!

Making Moves on the Rock

The Gibraltar tournament has established itself as one of the leading tournaments in the world. It features an incredibly strong  Swiss tournament along with some side tournaments for the not quite so gifted. There are also a bunch of social activities which add to the atmosphere. For example I played against Wesley So and Kateryna Lagno in a tandem simul the day before the tournament started.

I had the consolation of being one of the last few games to finish but the result was never really in doubt.

There are so many grandmasters there that you are almost guaranteed to bump into someone like Ivanchuk at the breakfast buffet. Chester 1 stalwart Steve Connor was also there in an official capacity doing something very important connected with the website.

I played in the Challengers A tournament. My first moment of fame came when I was paired against top seed Melissa Castrillon from Colombia in round one. That meant that my game had the ceremonial opening move played on it and Melissa, the dignitary and my hands made it into the global media reporting (see the final photo on the link):


In this first game it started quite well as my almost sound pawn sac led to the following position:

As Black to play I thought for quite a while but meekly retreated my knight as I failed to find any appealing active line. However, the computer immediately spots a clear advantage with 19..Bh2+ 20Kf1 Ne5 21Qe2 d4! exploiting the possibility of a ..Bc4 pin.

Nothing really went particularly well from a results perspective after this point and I ended on 2/5 after a diabolical final round blunder:

As Black I just played 30..Rd8-d3 to encourage 31 Qg3-g6 with an amazing move in mind. See if you can spot Black’s 31st which seemingly threatens unavoidable mate but actually leads to mate in 4 for White! (Answer at the end of the report). I’d love to say I was short on time but in truth I tool several minutes checking and re-checking my analysis before playing my move. Nobody wants to be the idiot who plays a really flashy sacrifice which doesn’t work, right?

I was a touch dejected after this but thought I might at least get away without anyone in Chester noticing a poor move played many miles away. That thought was shortly dashed when Dave Robertson, who had seen it live online, emailed me to say that I was actually in contention for a ‘prize’ for a WMOTB.

If like me you’ve never heard of a WMOTB, it stand for worst move on the board. Now we’ve all doubtless played some terrible moves in our time but it is rare that one gets the chance to play the very worst move which also looks quite plausible. As forum poster Justin Horton clarified:

“It’s a winner if we can’t cook it. All kinds of ways to lose a queen for nothing, but none of them nearly as bad a move.”

Despite the mixed results I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Gibraltar and would recommend playing there if you get a chance. There are convenient low cost flights from Manchester to Gibraltar and plenty of accommodation options.

In between games I climbed the Rock several times. There are several points of military historical interest to see together with the famous monkeys. The monkeys aren’t too dangerous, but as Malpas and Gibraltar regular Richard Bryant can explain, they are quite partial to Magnum ice cream. Anyway, a few photos I took climbing up the Rock before the answer to the WMOTB puzzle:

Answer: 31..Rg5 32Qe8+ Kh7 33Nxg5CHECK 33..hg 34 hg+ mating. Instead 33..Qb3 threatening ..Rg3 should be winning for Black.


Dowling wins the Christmas Blitz

Thanks to everyone who turned up for the Blitz, with special thanks being reserved for David Hulme without whose involvement the tournament could not have been ran.  On the night Dan Dowling won the prestigious title of Chester Chess Club Christmas Blitz Champion after a fine overall performance.  Going into the tense final round there were four players tied for first, including both young Sam Burchett and the slightly older Phil Crocker.  Dan emerged victorious against Sam and John likewise against Phil.

1st = Dan Dowling, John Carleton
3rd  James Lee

Thanks go to Phil McKeown for his kind donation of a bottle of wine as the prize for the winner of the evenings festivities.  There was a good turn out of 24 people which we hope to see again in future years.  Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Chester and District League Individual Championship 18-19 – Open Section

The League Individual Championship was this year held on the 1st and 2nd Of December at the Town Crier in Chester. This year’s Open Section was appreciably stronger than last years competition, with 6 players entered being rated over 170.

The Open Section Entries were:

Phil Crocker – Chester
Colm Buckley – Chester
David Jameson – Colwyn Bay
Mike McDonagh – Chester
Nathanael Paul – Malpas & Oswestry
Richard Bryant – Malpas & Oswestry
Ray Williams – Chester
Steve Lloyd – Chester
Haydn Parry – Holywell
Dewi Jones – Holywell

Rd 1

Colm Buckley 1/2 Phil Crocker 1/2
Mike McDonagh 1 Dewi Jones 0
Richard Bryant 1 Steve Lloyd 0
Ray Williams 0 Nathanael Paul 1
David Jameson 1 Haydn Parry 0

Rd 2

Nathanael Paul 0 David Jameson 1
Haydn Parry 1 Dewi Jones. 0
Phil Crocker 1 Ray Williams 0
Steve Lloyd 0 Colm Buckley 1
Richard Bryant 0 Mike McDonagh 1

Rd 3

David Jameson 1/2 Mike McDonagh 1/2
Nathanael Paul 0 Phil Crocker 1
Colm Buckley 1/2 Richard Bryant 1/2
Dewi Jones 0 Steve Lloyd 1
Ray Williams 1 Haydn Parry 0

Rd 4

Phil Crocker 1/2 David Jameson 1/2
Mike McDonagh 1/2 Colm Buckley 1/2
Richard Bryant 0 Nathanael Paul 1
Steve Lloyd 1/2 Haydn Parry 1/2
Dewi Jones 0 Ray Williams 1

As has already been noted by Phil in the previous post to this the final round results left 3 players tied for first place.

Final Standings

P. Crocker, D. Jameson, M. McDonagh 3/4
C. Buckley 2.5/4
N. Paul, R. Williams 2/4
R. Bryant, S. Lloyd, H. Parry 1.5/4
D. Jones 0/4

The round-robin blitz play-off for the title was won in convincing fashion by our Club President Phil Crocker and thus he gained the title of Chester and District League Individual Champion for the 2018/2019 season.

Chester Successes in Wrexham Rapid and Chester League Championship

Mike McDonagh came joint second at the Wrexham Rapidplay. He conceded just two draws in reaching 4/5 without getting a chance to play the winner. Jixin and Jack Yang shared the slow starter prize.

Mike nearly added the Chester and District League Championship the following weekend. Unleashing his inner Magnus Carlsen all he needed to do was beat reigning champion Colm Buckley in a microscopically better R+N ending in the final round. Meanwhile on the top board David Jameson and Phil Crocker had already unleashed their inner Carlsens by contriving a move repetition a few moves out of the opening, confident of their chances in the blitz playoff. Ultimately Mike only managed a draw and, perhaps tired from these exertions, blundered into a mate in the final blitz match against your reporter.