Chess Puzzle of the Week (152): Solution

R James – PE Littlewood Islington 1976
White to play

IM and former British Champion Paul Littlewood has generously made his collected games available for publication on BritBase.

I had the white pieces against Paul in Round 5 of the Islington Open in 1976. He uncharacteristically blundered a piece in the opening and we eventually reached this position.

If you’re familiar with the way I play chess you won’t be surprised to learn that I played 24. Bb4 here, trading bishops and queens – only to discover that I didn’t have enough to win the ending.

With Paul’s king in the middle of the board, and with more attacking units, I should have kept the pieces on the board. The most convincing continuation, according to my silicon chum, is 21. Qb6 Ke7 22. Qf2 threatening Bxf6, and with something like Nc5 also coming in soon. Play the position out for yourself, against a friend or, if you don’t have any friends, against an engine, and see what happens!

I’ve drawn so many winning positions over the years by trading off from winning middle games into drawn endings, and, to be fair, I’ve also drawn a lot of lost positions when my opponents did the same thing. There’s an important lesson to be drawn from this: it isn’t always the best policy to trade off when you’re ahead. If you have more, or better placed, pieces and the ending isn’t clearly won you should keep them on the board.

You can see the complete game here.

Further Thoughts about Chess Clubs

There are three activities a chess club might provide: social chess, competitive chess and chess instruction, which could be anything from teaching small children how the horsey moves to elite coaching for potential grandmasters.

This is something every club, whether an adult club, a junior club, a community club, a school club or whatever you happen to be, should consider.

You might decide to offer any one, any combination of two, or all three of these activities.

I often use the analogy of a swimming pool.

There are several reasons why you might visit a swimming pool.

You might want swimming lessons for yourself or your children.

You might want to hang out with your friends, having fun splashing around in the shallow end.

You might want to do serious training, either to keep fit or because you’re a competitive swimmer.

If a swimming pool tries to offer all these at the same time, no one will be very happy. If you’re doing some serious swimming you don’t want a load of kids getting in your way, and if you’re just having a good time you don’t want other users shouting at you to get out of the way.

So the pool will probably set aside specific times for different types of user in order to keep everyone happy.

Likewise, it’s a problem if your chess club has both social and competitive chess at the same time in the same room. If I’m playing in a league match I don’t want to be disturbed by conversation somewhere else in the room, and, at the same time, if I’m playing a social game I don’t want to be told to keep quiet by the match players. Some social players are happy to play in silence, but others are not.

Let’s say you’re paying £75 for your single room venue. You have a 6-board match this evening, as you do most evenings during the season. Most of the other players won’t come because they don’t want to sit there in silence, and perhaps also because your venue isn’t a particularly pleasant place to spend an evening. You can’t really charge the away team so you’re playing £75 for six members who will be reluctant to pay more than a few pounds for the privilege. I’m not an accountant and have no knowledge at all of financial matters, but this doesn’t sound good to me. In the words of Mr Micawber: Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds nought and six, result misery.

Just like the swimming pool, you’ll need separate rooms, times or venues for the different activities you want to provide, but how are you going to make it work financially?

One reason why venue prices are high in my part of the world is that they’re booked by professional teachers offering professional services for which people are prepared to pay significant amounts of money. People are very happy to pay £15 or £20 for something like a yoga class which will improve their health and well-being. They’re also happy to pay similar amounts for tuition groups which, they hope, will improve their children’s academic outcomes.

So, let’s suppose a tutor is paying £50 for an hour and a half, and has 10 students paying £20 each. Before deduction of overheads she’s making £150: not something that will make her rich, but well worth having.

Let’s propose a possible solution: you run a junior chess club before your club starts, using a volunteer coach from your club. You’ll be paying more for the venue, but the proceeds will enable you to balance the books. You might also attract new members for your club: some of the older children will eventually graduate and it’s also quite possible that one or two parents may want to join.

Of course it’s not so easy. You need volunteers who are prepared to offer professional level tuition and who have the appropriate chess and teaching skills. You also need a whole raft of safeguarding policies, child protection officers and so on. You can’t just open your doors as Richmond Junior Club did back in 1975.

Here in Richmond we tried this a few years ago but found little interest: parents who want professional chess tuition are already catered for by Richmond Junior Club, while most primary schools in the area have chess clubs for children who just want to play low level games with their friends. In your area, though, it might be different. It might be different in my area now, if we had a better venue and did more to advertise it.

You could also run other events: instruction, talks, simuls and so on, for which you could charge, and perhaps open them to members of other local clubs and the community at large. Could you persuade your top board to analyse some of his recent games in front of an audience, or perhaps take on the rest of the membership in a simul?

Other clubs have found other solutions. Our good friends at Wimbledon, for example, now have two venues meeting on different evenings: a church hall for matches, with special events (talks etc) on non match evenings, and a pub for social chess, preceded by a free junior club.

This sounds ideal if you can make it work financially. Pubs are great venues for social chess, where you can play and chat with your friends over a pint of your favourite tipple, but, for various reasons, are not always suitable for more serious competitive chess. There’s also always a problem with pubs in that the next landlord might not like chess.

Church halls, on the other hand, are, as long as they are warm, well lit and well ventilated, fine for match chess, as there will be fewer distractions than you’d get in a pub.

Ealing have one of the better venues in our area, within a sports club where they have a large, quiet room next door to a bar: an environment giving the best of both worlds. From when I asked them a few years ago, they also seemed to have a very good financial deal. I believe many continental chess clubs are also part of larger sports clubs.

Other clubs have been more ambitious: look, for example, at the Chess Centre in Ilkley, in its own dedicated building, which looks wonderful: exactly what chess clubs should be. I’m not sure how they raised the money to buy the premises, though.

If you’re lucky you might receive a bequest. Hammersmith Chess Club are now in a new Mind Sports Centre shared with the London Go Centre and the Young Chelsea Bridge Club, made possible by a bequest from a Go enthusiast.

Hammersmith’s John White wrote eloquently about the problems chess clubs face:

Overwhelmingly, the venues I play chess at – this includes the Middlesex and Thames Valley Leagues, as well as the London League – are pubs, dingy community halls, or in some cases an even worse venue.

My point is, these venues are not attractive to women, young players (and their parents) or new people wanting to play chess.

I couldn’t agree more.

He added:

I know for a lot of members of chess clubs, the venues are fine. However, I throw this challenge at you – the club is not yours, per se. You are merely the custodians of it. Your responsibility is to run it efficiently and hand it on in rude health to the next generation of chess players.

Part of the reason for your existence is to help promote chess to new people.

Again, I’m in complete agreement.

For me, this is a moral imperative, and one that is often ignored by clubs who seem not to want more members because it would give them more work to do. I’ll write more about this in a future article.

Hounslow A v Richmond B (11-10-21)

1. Jaspaul BAGRI (2173 FIDE) 0:1 Bertie BARLOW (1998)

2. Mat DYDAK (2088) Adj Raghu KAMATH (1885)

3. Seshagiri VADADDI (2065) 1:0 Sampson LOW (1833)

4. Leon FINCHAM (1900) 0:1 Ieuan FENTON (-)

5. David WHITE (1863) 0:1 Pablo SORIANO (-)

6. Frank ZURSTIEGE (1690) Adj Rob HUNTER (1540)

Sampson Low reports:

The B team kicked off their season away to an experienced Hounslow A team this week. Tough opposition who had been poised to possibly win division two way back in 2020 when lockdown stopped their season with seven wins out of eight.

But the score at the end of the night stood at 3-1 to Richmond with two adjourned games for Raghu Kamath and Rob Hunter in the slow play matches.

Points on the night came from Bertie Barlow on top board building an overpowering centre. New member Ieuan Fenton had a close game until the end and used his on-line bullet skills to create pressure and win on time in the final seconds. He was joined by fellow newcomer Pablo Soriano who came through a packed and complicated middle game with all pieces on the board to win in style. He gave his captain a few heart stopping moments by keeping his score sheet up to date with only a few minutes on the clock so keen was he to record his club debut. Sampson Low had been first to finish, losing in a sharp c3 Sicilian with his opponent sacrificing a black pawn early for the initiative and exposing white’s delayed development.

Raghu had a finely balanced game throughout with both players having exposed kings at the end and queen, rook, a couple of pawns and one minor piece each on the board. Spectators could not judge it either way as the sealed move was made.

A new and mature Rob Hunter played a steady game accumulating a better position and a pawn advantage at the end of play, but opposite coloured bishops and knights were still on in the endgame. Turning down a draw offer, Rob opted for adjournment.

A fantastic result against strong opposition: congratulations to Bertie, Ieuan and Pablo, and well played everyone!

Chess Puzzle of the Week (152)

In this position White, to play, has a knight for two pawns.

What, do you think, is the best way to continue in order to bring home the full point?

Do let me know what you think. If you’re sure of the answer private messages are preferred to replies to give others the chance to solve. This one’s more about judgement than calculation, although I do expect you to provide at least your first two moves.

Our social chess evening this week is on Thursday: come along then and show me your answer. Or play the position out against a friend and see what happens.

Chess Puzzle of the Week (151): Solution

Roiz – Holzke Rijeka 2010
White to play

As a lot of you noticed, White can win a piece here: 21. Nd3! Qxb3 22. Nc5 Qb2 23. Rab1, using a skewer to win the knight. It’s aesthetically pleasing that moves 21 and 22 see the white knight and the black queen move away and then return to their original squares. The difference is that the b3 pawn has disappeared, opening the b-file for a white rook.

Not too difficult once you’re told there’s something there, as several of you discovered, but the strong GM playing white missed it because he was thinking about strategy rather than tactics.

There’s a moral here: think about tactics all the time, in every position. Even the best players sometimes get it wrong.

This position was taken from The Secret Ingredient by Jan Markos and David Navara. You can read my review here.

The Economics of Chess Clubs

How much would you expect to pay for an evening out? Perhaps a meal at a nice restaurant with your family or a night in the pub with friends? Perhaps a football match or a concert, a visit to the theatre or the cinema?

I’d say certainly somewhere between £10 and £50: quite possibly, if you have expensive tastes, a lot more.

Taking your answer to this question into consideration, let’s think about the economics of chess clubs in the 21st century.

One of the big problems faced by all clubs, at least in my part of the world (an affluent London suburb), is that of finding a suitable venue. We’d all like to meet somewhere attractive, warm and welcoming that makes a good impression to anyone coming for the first time. But all too often we’re confined to back rooms of pubs or draughty church halls.

Chess club subscription rates in my area tend to be between £50 and £100 per annum, although they may have been in abeyance due to the lockdown. My club’s rates are lower at the moment, much to my disapproval, but I’m (as usual) in a minority of one.

Hiring fees for church halls and community centres in my area are roughly in the region of £22 per hour for a suitably sized room. As club matches last between 2½ and 3 hours, and you need time for setting up and putting away, you’ll need 3 hours at a minimum, but more likely 3½ or 4 hours (say 19:00 to 23:00).

Clubs (assuming, for the moment, there isn’t a junior section) tend to have relatively small memberships, perhaps 20 for a smaller club up to 50 for a larger club.

Let’s do some sums. Let’s suppose your club is relatively large, with 40 members. There is some demand for social chess so you meet throughout the year, with perhaps a short break for Christmas. Let’s say you pay £75 a week for your venue, and you also have to pay league fees (although local leagues are cheap, we’ll assume you play in the London League where you’re also paying for the venue). You’re going to want to maintain your equipment and will probably have an insurance policy. There may be other overheads as well. So you’re spending, say, £80 a week, which, multiplied by 50, makes your expenses £4000 a year.

You decide you need to pitch your subs at the upper end, £100 a year, so you have 40 members paying £100 each, which means you just about balance your books. Except you don’t. You probably want to offer half rate subs for unwaged members: juniors, seniors, unemployed, who make up, say, a quarter of your membership. You might want to offer free membership as a reward for members who have been involved in club administration for many years, or perhaps for the local IM who plays on top board and does a lot to make the club successful while also helping other members analyse their games.

You might, of course, strike lucky. Perhaps one of your members knows the landlord of a local pub. Perhaps, and we were lucky in that respect for some years, one of your members is in the congregation of a local church, and can get you the church hall at a reduced rate.

But otherwise it’s very difficult to balance the books.

Let’s think again about that £100 a year. For this you get, in principle, 50 evenings out plus some away matches as well. Let’s suppose you come to the club 20 times during the year. You’re paying, in effect, £5 for an evening out, which seems very cheap to me. If you come more often you’re paying even less. Even a subscription rate of £200 a year wouldn’t be unreasonable, and would enable the club to find a more attractive venue which would perhaps attract more members.

On the other hand, we, like many clubs, have quite a lot of members who only play for us a few times a year. Some of them are players who grew up in Richmond but no longer live locally. Others, in our case, are former members of Richmond Junior Club who feel a loyalty to chess in Richmond. There are also those who enjoy playing club matches two or three times a week and therefore belong to several clubs so that they can play in as many leagues as possible. If we’re their second or third club they may only play a handful of games a year for us.

If you’ve ever captained a team, especially in a higher division, you’ll be aware that the number of people thanking you for the invitation and telling you how excited they are to play is far outweighed by those who tell you they’ll play if you’re desperate and give the impression they’re doing you a favour by doing so.

For these players, £100 a year for, say, 10 games, is £10 per game, which, for players who are often reluctant to play, might be expensive. If you’re only playing 5 games a year, it’s £20 per game, which is probably unacceptable. And if you raise your subs to £200 a year you’d lose them completely. But you need these players to stay competitive in the top divisions of leagues and attract stronger new members.

There are alternatives. Back in the 1970s we had a ‘county membership’ category for those who had moved out of the area but wanted to keep in touch, which might cater for players like this. You might have different membership categories: match chess only, social chess only and both. You might also want to consider a ‘pay to play’ membership where you can either pay annually or, say, £5 per game or club visit. These days, this could perhaps be automated.

What do you think? How does your club work in terms of balancing the books and finding a suitable venue?

Do let me know. I’ll be continuing this series with articles explaining how we got here and what we might do about it.

Chess Puzzle of the Week (150)

Russ, Colin Albert Harry
2nd Comm., The Problemist Supplement, 2007

I was saddened to hear of the recent death, at the age of 91, of the problemist Colin Russ. Colin was a strong over the board player as well as a problemist, and will be remembered by some of our readersas an Athenaeum player in the London League.

Colin’s problems, composed over a period of more than 70 years, were always accessible to novice and less experienced devotees of the problem art. He aimed for simplicity rather than complexity in his compositions, preferring to entertain rather than win prizes for groundbreaking originality.

The problem world, like the chess world in general, needs popularisers like Colin Russ as well as pioneers.

This is a mate in 3: White plays and forces mate in three moves, against any black defence.

Even if you’re not familiar with chess compositions of this nature, do have a go at solving it.