New tricks at the Old Swan

Tim Wall 1-0 Ieysaa Bin-Suhayl

4NCL Harrogate Congress, Jan 6-8, 2017

It’s always nice to start the New Year in a positive way, and for me this was the first time I finished first (or at least equal first) in a chess tournament of any stature in nearly 20 years. They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but maybe the trick I’ve eventually learned the hard way is to just play solid chess – a far cry from the old days, when my games were full of dubious Basman-inspired Grob and St George adventures.

The Harrogate event was under the aegis of the 4NCL, and is in many ways a model for how to organise a weekend tournament. By teaming up with a company called Bridge Overseas, which arranges block bookings at hotels across the UK and abroad, mainly for amateur bridge players combining their favourite hobby with a holiday, the 4NCL gets a free playing venue and discounted accommodation, as long as they commit to booking a total of 80 hotel rooms or more over the weekend.

The venue was excellent from the point of view of a weekend tournament. The Old Swan is slap bang in the centre of Harrogate, just 2 minutes’ walk from the Assembly Rooms, where the Harrogate congresses of yesteryear attracted such stars as Tony Miles, Mark Hebden and local boy James Howell.

The top seed this year was GM Danny Gormally (2493), now resident in Alnwick, but – hotfoot from Hastings, which finished the day before – he found it tougher going than expected. After a draw in round 1 against Jonathan Wells (2012), and a shock loss against John Jarmany (Scarborough, 2118) in round 4, a frustrated Danny withdrew on a score of 2.5/4.

Even though Danny has spoken out against withdrawals from tournaments in his (at times painfully) honest and well-written account of a professional chess player’s life, “Insanity, passion and addiction: A year inside the chess world,” clearly the disappointment of finishing out of the prizes – coming just after a slightly below par performance at Hastings – was too much to bear for the GM. (Hopefully, he will recover his form soon. Certainly, players from the North East will wish him well, given the difficulties of making a career out of chess in these times of austerity and sparse chess sponsorship.)

Apart from Danny, there was a strong contingent of players from the North East, including leading junior James Moreby, Mick Riding, Paul Robson and Yichen Han.

I was lucky to get off to a flying start, wth 3/3, including this interesting game in Round 1. My opponent, 12-year-old Ieysaa Bin-Suhayl (Italy, 1988), seemed to be suffering from a nervous affliction, which led to him sniffling throughout the game constantly. Other players in the Open were distracted, but luckily, I was able to ignore it and just play the game.

Tim Wall 1-0 Ieysaa Bin-Suhayl

  • Event: Harrogate FIDE Open
  • Date: 2017.01.06
  • White: Tim Wall
  • Black: Ieysaa Bin-Suhayl
[ctpgn id="game_two"]
1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 Nf6 4. Bd3 c5 5. c3 $5 {The idea is to tempt Black
into giving White an isolated d-pawn, hoping that French Defence players are
more used to playing with the IQP themselves.} cxd4 6. cxd4 dxe4 7. Nxe4 Nxe4
8. Bxe4 Nd7 $1 {Well played. Black makes sure to blockade the vital d5 square
with his knight from f6.} 9. Nf3 Nf6 10. Bc2 Bd6 11. O-O Bd7 12. Re1 Nd5 13. a3
Bc6 14. Ne5 (14. Qd3 $5) (14. Bg5 {are reasonable alternatives}) 14... Bxe5 15.
dxe5 Qb6 16. Qg4 g6 {[#]} (16... O-O-O {is probably better, as it looks too
dangerous to take on g7 immediately.} 17. Be4 $14 {to guard g2. White now
threatens Qxg7}) 17. Qh4 $1 {Now this is a bit awkward, as Black does not
really want to castle kingside, where the dark square weaknesses could prove
fatal.} h5 18. Rb1 Rc8 19. Bg5 Qb5 {the start of a series of mysterious queen
manouvres, which don't seem to trouble White too much.} 20. Be4 Qb3 21. Bf6 Rg8
22. Bg5 Rh8 {Black offered a draw, but there's no need to repeat. (And the
position is changed anyway, as Black can no longer castle.)} 23. h3 Kd7 {
[#] Running for the hills, but Black gets caught in the centre. While opposite
colour bishops can give good drawing chances in the endgame, in the middlegame
they accentuate differences in king safety.} 24. Bxd5 $1 Bxd5 25. Be7 {Now Kc7
is met by Bd6+} Rce8 26. Qf6 Qc2 {It looks like Black might get to swap queens
with ...Qf5, but White's next puts a stop to that} 27. Rbd1 $1 Rh7 {[#]} ({
During the game I didn't notice the move} 27... b6 {giving the king a bolthole
via b7, but now I see that engines give the spectacular} 28. Bd8 $1 Rh7 29.
Rxd5+ $1 exd5 30. Qd6+ Kc8 31. Bg5 {as in the game, winning}) (27... Qf5 $2 28.
Rxd5+ $1 exd5 29. Qd6+ {and mates}) 28. Rxd5+ $1 exd5 29. Qd6+ Kc8 30. Bg5 {
and White wins. My young opponent continued sniffling for a few more moves,
but to no avail...} f6 31. Rc1 Qxc1+ 32. Bxc1 fxe5 33. Qxd5 Rd7 34. Qb3 e4 35.
Bf4 b6 36. Qa4 Re6 37. Qc4+ Kb7 38. Qxe6 1-0

After a off-beat response to the French, designed to throw booked-up juniors off the scent, a key moment occurred after 15 Qg4.

Maybe black should try here 0-0-0, offering the g-pawn. Instead …g6 weakened the dark squares, making it more dangerous to castle short in future.

The star move was Bxd5 followed by Be7, after which the opposite colour bishops work in white’s favour and the black king is in big trouble in the centre.

An inspector calls

My round 3 game was against my good friend David Spence (Anglian Avengers, 2156), who is a detective inspector for Suffolk Police. David took time off from catching criminals to travel to Harrogate with his partner, Charrie, and their baby daughter, who joined us for a while after the game in the pub. Our game was full of incident, as he was forced to castle kingside one move after launching a slightly optimistic …g5 attack against my king.

Later I was able to counter-attack against his draughty kingside as a planned sacrificial attack against my king misfired.

After a pleasant Saturday evening dinner with Paul Robson, Mick Riding, Danny Gormally and the Spence family, Sunday morning was when both I and Danny came unstuck. I lost in a theoretical Sicilian against a very well booked-up Steven Jones (Widnes, 2175), while Danny came under a thunderous kingside attack from John Jarmany straight out of the opening in a sharp Grunfeld.

In the last round, the morning’s victors, Jones and Jarmany, agreed to a “grandmaster” draw after 5 moves in a Ruy Lopez, leaving me the chance to catch them on 4/5. This I did after some adventures against James Moreby. I was very lucky to survive the opening, but then gradually outplayed him after swapping off the queens.

The tournaments were ably (as always) controlled by North East arbiters Lara Barnes (who is now the ECF Chief Arbiter) and Alex McFarland (like Lara, a top arbiter much in demand from FIDE at international events).

The trend of weekend Open tournaments increasingly being FIDE rated looks set to continue, meaning that (apart from prize money) these can be extremely serious affairs with vital rating points at stake for amateurs and professional players alike.

James Moreby 0-1 Tim Wall

  • Event: Harrogate FIDE Open
  • Date: 2017.01.08
  • White: James Moreby
  • Black: Tim Wall
[ctpgn id="game_one"]
1. c4 e5 2. g3 Nf6 3. Bg2 h6 $5 4. Nf3 e4 5. Nd4 d5 6. cxd5 Qxd5 7. Nc2 Qh5 $6
(7... Qe6 $5 {may be a better try}) 8. Ne3 Bh3 9. Qb3 $1 {[#] Suddenly Black
is in some trouble, with the b7 and e4 pawns difficult to defend.} Nbd7 {
What else? if 9...Bxg2 10 Qxb7 Bxh1 11 Qc8+ Ke7 12 Nf5+ would win my queen} 10.
Bxh3 (10. Qxb7 {is probably the critical test, as after} Rb8 11. Qxc7 Bc5 {
Black has counterplay, but is it enough?}) 10... Nc5 $1 {I used quite a lot of
time on this handy intermezzo and the previous move. Luckily, I'm escaping
with a decent position.} 11. Qc4 Qxh3 12. b4 Ncd7 13. Nc3 Nb6 14. Qb5+ Qd7 15.
Qxd7+ Kxd7 {Played with a sense of relief. The queenless middlegame is fine
for Black, as now his e4-pawn exerts a niggling cramping effect on White's
position} 16. a3 {White offered a draw here, but only Black can be better. And
only a win guaranteed a share of first prize!} a5 $1 17. b5 Bc5 18. O-O Rad8
19. a4 Kc8 20. Rd1 Rd7 21. Ba3 {James hoped to ease the pressure with
exchanges, but the d2 and a4 pawns are long-term weaknesses.} Bxa3 22. Rxa3
Rhd8 23. Ra2 g6 {[#] No need to rush. Black can slowly build up his position,
while it's difficult for White to break free. The ideal situation when you're
playing for a win in the last round...} 24. Kf1 Rd4 25. Ke1 Nc4 26. Nxc4 Rxc4
27. Raa1 Nd7 28. Ra3 Nc5 29. Rda1 Rd6 30. R1a2 Kd7 31. Kf1 Rcd4 32. Nb1 Rb4 33.
Nc3 f5 34. Ke1 Ke6 35. Rc2 Rdd4 36. Rca2 g5 37. Kf1 Nd7 38. Ke1 Nb6 39. Rc2 $2
{[#] The losing mistake, falling for a back rank (!) trick. The rest was
pretty much one-way traffic, even though there were some inaccuracies on my
part.} Nxa4 40. Rc1 Rdc4 41. Rca1 Nxc3 42. dxc3 Rxb5 43. Rxa5 Rxa5 44. Rxa5
Rxc3 45. Ra8 Rc1+ 46. Kd2 Rh1 47. Ra7 Rxh2 48. Rxb7 Rxf2 49. Rxc7 Rg2 50. Rc6+
Ke5 51. Rxh6 Rxg3 52. Rh1 f4 53. Ra1 Kf5 54. Ra5+ Kg4 55. Re5 e3+ 0-1