As we previously announced we have set up a Chester online group on Lichess. Membership is free and easy to set up. We will hold our first session for playing slowish blitz (5min+3sec per move increment) on Thursday 26th March at 7.30pm-9.30pm. To take part you need to first join the Chester team: https://lichess.org/team/chester-chess-club noting your real name on your request and then join the tournament Chester Thursday Arena https://lichess.org/tournament/l8ZBbXrJ. (Ignore the event labelled “battle” which I set up in error and can’t delete.) It will be run in the form of a tournament but you don’t have to take it overly seriously and you can take breaks between games if you wish.
Herewith an indulgent and rambling account of my recent trip
to play in the weekend tournament in Germany
run by Chester’s twin town Lörrach.
If you’re short of time or lacking the patience to endure another bad beat
story, feel free to stop after the Executive Summary. As an additional warning,
be warned that in line with the current fashion for active learning (as opposed
to skim reading in front of the TV) there will be a series of problems to be
To be honest I hadn’t planned on writing a tournament report. However, it transpires that there is a growing German readership of our Chester club website, so it would seem churlish to disappoint them. Our recent online match has been picked up by the local newspaper, apparently with brewing interest from regional outlets. To make this clientele feel more like they are reading terse German prose, I have wherever possible obfuscated and elongated the write-up. Three words have been preferred to one and the arcane selected over the simple.
I flew to Basel.
The weather was windy. The food and beer was good. The locals were hospitable.
I played a few too many weak moves to win the tournament. I burnt some wood. I
Planning the trip
An international trip isn’t something your normally would
leave until the week before as chess players normally operate. I was invited to
play around August giving at least 6 months to sort things out. Actually
getting a personal invitation is pretty rare at club level so I had the
opportunity to push my luck with some negotiations.
It’s a little-spoken fact that chess tournament prize money
is insufficient to sustain most professional players. Instead they typically
rely on money from coaching. There is also the practice of holding out for side
payments before agreeing to play a competition. This is euphemistically known
The negotiations over conditions dragged out over a few
months. ELO 2000 doesn’t really give you that much leverage, but the
opportunity to add another country to the international nature of the village
tournament had to be worth something I figured. We finally settled on
limo-service transport from the airport and a guided tour of Basel’s
famous Morgenstreich Fasnacht celebrations. Just a word of warning in case you
get into these sort of negotiations: organizers can be very keen to get you to
the tournament, but getting you home really isn’t as important to them.
Preparing for opponents before the tournament
In my experience around 90% of pre-game preparation is wasted,
most often by guessing the wrong first move. Before a weekend tournament begins
you of course don’t even know who you will play so the odds are even worse. I
decided to just have a quick look at the database information of the top player
as beating or drawing against him would likely be necessary for winning the
tournament. Spoiler alert: he didn’t show up for the tournament. At least that
was only a few minutes wasted.
That time would have been better spent preparing some stock
answers for the (in retrospect) obvious conversation topics I would be
presented with on the trip:
What did I think of Brexit?
How about that Boris bloke?
And what’s your view on Megxit?
The good news was that Easyjet flies from Manchester to the Swiss city of Basel, just a few miles from the tournament venue in Germany. That was also the bad news as flying a budget airline presents a bewildering array of choices. I settled for terminally slow boarding, hand luggage only and a random seat. I couldn’t afford to take more bags as the local hotel didn’t accept arrivals after 11pm and the flight wasn’t arriving much before then.
Ignoring the woman with pornographic headgear sat on the
opposite aisle the flight seemed unremarkable. Banking capital Basel
didn’t seem like an obvious hen party rival location to Dublin,
Prague etc but maybe tastes are changing.
What to read on the way to a tournament is always a tricky choice. In retrospect I should have selected Gufeld’s seminal Exploiting Small Advantages. Instead, partly in a bid to look a little less out of place I went for a novella, with a seemingly oxymoronic title connected with taciturn Americans. I spent some time in rounds 1, 4 and 5 regretting that choice. The book wasn’t so bad though.
As the flight approached Basel
there was an announcement to say that actually they’d noticed that it was a bit
windy, maybe a bit too windy for them to fancy having a go at landing. But all
was well they explained as they had enough extra fuel to fly around Basel
for an hour or perhaps to drop us off in Lyons
or Zurich instead. Eventually they
decided to roll the dice and have a go at landing. That just about worked out
OK and soon I was striding through Basel
airport in search of my lift. Normally finding someone in airport arrivals
isn’t so difficult but Basel
airport is situated right where France,
Germany and Switzerland
meet so you actually have to exit through a door for your country of choice
before you meet anyone. I plumped for Germany which fortunately proved correct.
I was met by local club member Andreas Kuglstatter who kindly drove me to a
small guesthouse near the tournament.
Friday preparations for round 1
After a typical German breakfast buffet including delicious
bread from the local bakery I was picked up gain by Andreas. We visited the
local Vitra Design
Museum which included quirky
displays like Ikea posters over the last few decades and the (apparently
famous) Hadid firestation. Supposedly this distinctive building contained a
small blunder in that the fire engines couldn’t fit in.
Next up was a home-cooked meal at Andreas’ house together with local club president Markus Haag and families. As the world stumbles from one crisis to the next it was reassuring to learn over a feast of goulash soup, dumplings and rösti of the first world problems faced by Brombach chess club. Avid readers of last year’s report may recall that Brombach has the benefit of a free chess room 24/7. More wants more though and it transpires that a bitter factional fight is now underway over replacing the club’s beer fridge. My memory may have failed me a little but I believe one group wants to buy a basic cooler, another has secured a sponsored option, and yet another group is offering to make a contribution towards their preferred means of chilling their beers. No resolution is currently in sight.
Round 1 – Friday evening
This round’s problem is to construct a series of legal moves whereby Black to play (with loads of time to invest in this task) can transition from the nicely advantageous middlegame in the first diagram to the somewhat suspect endgame in the second diagram.
Frustratingly my opponent now played without error despite being left with little more than the 30 second increment. All of my attempts to offer him chances to confuse things were rebuffed. With perhaps a small advantage himself he now made an illegal draw offer. I have detected an emerging trend for players to offer draws whenever the possibility crosses their consciousness rather than offering after making their move. In the recent Chester 1 v Chester 2 match I think it happened on two of the five boards. Now the pragmatic approach would just have been to fake tank for a couple of minutes and then accept the offer. I decided to take a stand for correct protocol. “Remis” seems to be the local way of offering a draw. The interchange took place in German, with the following translation fairly faithful to the German:
Opponent: I offer to you draw.
Me: First of all you must play.
Opponent (slightly louder I think): I offer to you draw. Do
Me: Yes, I understand. First of all you must play.
Opponent: I must play a move first?
Opponent: Plays the obvious move to secure a draw
Me: Offers handshake
It occurs to me now that this was another area of weak pre-tournament
preparation. To aid those facing similar situations in future, and with a
little help from Google Translate the following rebuttals may be useful and
easy to memorise:
Ich sage wann es Remis ist
[I’ll say when it’s a draw – A la Bobby Fischer]
Sicher lachst du. Die Hölle müsste erstarren, bevor ich
davon träumen würde, Remis von jemandem zu akzeptieren, der so schlecht
bewertet ist wie Sie
[Surely you’re having a laugh. Hell would need to freeze
over before I would dream of accepting a draw from someone as lowly rated as
Round 2 – Saturday morning
After a tense and fairly even middlegame including an
exchange sacrifice to open up my opponent’s king my opponent blundered a rook.
He lost interest in continuing shortly thereafter.
Round 3 – Saturday afternoon
My young opponent unleashed his inner Grischuk to spend an
inordinate amount of time over the first fifteen or so moves. Unfortunately as
sometimes happens it was a case of long think – wrong think. None of his ideas
worked out and he resigned around 10 moves later seemingly in complete despair
at his position. Even his resignation included a blunder. At the start of the
game he had as is becoming customary carefully avoided shaking hands. Now he
forgot his hygiene plans and held out his hand. This quick game was well-timed
as it enabled a swift shift to the evening adventures of burning wood.
Preparation for round 4’s game against a local FM
Once a year in a few local villages there is a local
tradition of having a bonfire on top of the local hill. This is linked to the
Fasnacht celebrations which mark the start of Lent. Germans being Germans it is
all carefully organized with all households leaving out their spare wood such
as Christmas trees and cuttings for the local fire service to collect. It was a
little wet and windy so the firemen got the opportunity to throw petrol on the
fire to accelerate the burning process (Don’t do this at all yourselves boys
Washed down with a mulled wine and wurst there is also a tradition of throwing discs of burning wood off the hill into the valley below. I understand this has generally proven quite safe except a century or two ago when the local castle burnt down. If this really really excites you then let me know and I can show you a video of the process.
Back at Andreas’ house he offered to research my round 4 opponent against the top seed. We quickly determined he played all kinds of odd stuff. Rather than study any of that I decided to just play 1c4 and see what happens.
Round 4 – Sunday morning
My opponent played quickly and confidently, reaching a -5 position without undue effort. Your challenge is to find the right plan for White (me).
A – Stick your knight on d6. That’s worth a rook according
to a certain Kasparov. No need to calculate.
B – The Black knights are excellent defenders, particularly
if one end up on d5. It’s vital to exchange one when Black will be defenceless
on the dark squares.
C – By manoeuvring the queen to e4 and placing the rook on d6 White can exploit a pin on the c6 knight winning material in all lines.
Let’s just say my moves weren’t the best and my opponent
demonstrated that a Failed Master (ie a mature player who has clearly failed to
make IM or GM) knows a lot more about piece placement than a FFM (a failed
failed master i.e. someone who hasn’t even made FM).
Fast forward a few moves and we reached the following position. Your challenge is in 15 minutes or less to find the only move that keeps White with a playable (if slightly worse) position.
I just couldn’t see a plausible move and gave up a piece and shortly thereafter the game. C’est la vie. So ist das Leben.
Round 5 – Sunday afternoon
My theoretically knowledgeable opponent played the London
system. Quite worryingly it seems that there are named variations and sub
variations within this opening, all of which he had analysed in detail. I must
have played a sub-optimal move somewhere which luckily led him astray and gave
me a small advantage. However, given my reading material choice for the trip my
mind wasn’t up to the task and we agreed a draw. That was enough for 3/5 and
fifth place on tiebreak.
Lights On in Basel
The plan now was to hightail it to a hotel in Basel
ready for the Fasnacht celebrations there. At 4am
all the lights in the city go out and there is a parade of Fasnacht folk with
lanterns. If you want to know more then I recommend wikipedia as sadly I didn’t
get to see it. As a corona virus measure Switzerland
decided to ban all gatherings of over a thousand people and so it was
Going to Basel
was now pretty pointless so I’m indebted to Andreas for putting me up in his
house for Sunday night. I got to sample a few local beers and check out his DIY
home automation. Interestingly I discovered that Alexa despite being born
American doesn’t speak any English in Germany.
Monday – Plan B
The Easyjet return flight wasn’t until late in the evening. Andreas and Markus took the day off work and showed me around some of the local towns. Markus is a manager in the public administration of Bad Säckingen. He showed us round this town on the German side of the Rhein. There is a famous wooden-roofed bridge over the river and a fascinatingly decorated cathedral. Markus treated us to lunch nearby and whilst sampling the local schnitzel I learned that he has a wide range of work responsibilities including planning the trip of any outsized lorries across Germany that entered Germany in his territory. As he moved on to describe the processes for what he needs to do with corpses without relatives after 4 days I’m sure I detected a slight emptying of the restaurant.
Joking apart I’d like to thank Andreas and Markus and their
families for showing me such a good time. Well actually I only really need to
thank their families… having, as a Man U supporter, taken them both on an
Anfield tour last year I don’t see how they can ever even things up.
If you’ve made it this far then well done and it’s time to
add up your points.
Question 1 – the best way to spoil the nice advantage is: 26.. Qb2?! 27Re1 Rc2?! 28Qxb2 Rxb2 29 Rc1 when the computer says equal but White’s imminent invasion of the 7th rank leaves him for choice.
Question 2 – Kasparov gets top marks. As he says in his own book he’s arguably the best player ever. I played a combination of B and C and it all went wrong.
Question 3 – Qg4 blocks the deadly check on the g-file. Easy once you see it I guess.