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British Championship 2010 – A personal account by Ian Henderson

Introduction

Although I had a disappointing finish and didn’t quite make my target score of 4.5/11, I still had a good time at the championship, didn’t disgrace myself, and got an insight into some of the things I need to do to improve. Despite only scoring 4/11, I faced a tough line-up, and nearly all the players I played finished above me (including the two I beat!). This was the third long-play tournament I’ve played after a 6-year break from tournament chess (I qualified for the British at the Surrey Easter Congress this year), and there were signs of rust in some of my games – particularly in the Scandinavian where my opponents all somehow conspired to pick lines I haven’t faced in several years! I stayed in Canterbury itself for the first week with my parents, sister and toddler niece, but somehow had got the dates slightly wrong so arrived on Saturday to find the first round was on Monday rather than Sunday.

 This left a pleasant day to look round Canterbury and visit the ruins of St Augustine’s abbey. I then cycled up to the venue to find out who I was playing in the first round and watch Chris Briscoe win the rapidplay with exciting wins against IM Andrew Greet and James Adair (a particularly nail-biting game with Chris on about 5 seconds at one point!). I discovered I was playing one of the players who had come 2nd= in the rapidplay, Alex Combie. 

 

The venue itself was pleasant enough, but could have become uncomfortable had the weather been hotter since it wasn’t air conditioned. It was also quite a steep cycle-ride from the town centre, but probably good exercise – I was one of three players at the congress with Brompton folding bikes; of course my flamingo-pink one was easily the best looking! (Sadly it was stolen the day after I got back from Canterbury from outside the Rotunda in Kingston.) There was also a sports centre with 33m pool on the way to the venue, which I made use of several times.

Round by round summary:

Round 1 White v Alex Combie, Classical Kings Indian, 1-0 (see game viewer at the end of this article) 

A roller-coaster of a game to start with, lasting nearly 6 hours. After obtaining a strong position from the opening, I went wrong on move 27 when I got a bit complacent and failed to foresee a counter-strike against my centre. All of a sudden a torrent of pawns was rushing at my king, and I felt like I was rapidly losing control. With time short, both players missed tactical shots. After the time control my opponent over-pressed his attack, spurning chances to bail out to a level ending, and I was able to consolidate and march my centre pawns home. An exciting game, and fairly high quality, but not as straightforward as it should have been!

Round 2 Black v IM Jovanka Houska, Chigorin Defence, 1-0 

Another long game - the last to finish, to a round of (relieved?) applause - but rather more of a grind than the previous round. Jovanka comfortably won the title of British Women’s Champion again this year, and is a former fellow Berkshire junior (she generally beat me in our encounters, although I do remember winning once!). I equalised comfortably from the opening, playing an offbeat line of the Chigorin that I knew to be inferior but likely to set White problems. Knowing what I know about it, I’m not likely to repeat it, so don’t try your luck! A queen-less middlegame ensued, where I had a comfortable position but White slightly more space. I was able to pressure White’s d-pawn, tying her down, but mistakenly reduced the pressure somewhat by exchanging knight for bishop to reach a double rook ending, soon trading down further to single rooks. It’s interesting to note John Watson’s statistical analysis of rook endings in Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy (which I’m currently reading; an excellent book recommendation by Mark Hogarth), where Watson casts doubt on the old aphorism that “all rook endings are drawn” – something that influenced my thinking when I allowed the exchange of minor pieces. White gained the initiative, but I held on well until move 45 when I should have kept things simple (and equal) by infiltrating with my rook on the g-file, but instead miscalculated a risky queenside pawn advance. Eventually a R+2PvR ending ensued, where I may have had technical drawing chances as the pawns were bishop and rook pawns. Although I was aware that these endings are sometimes hold-able, I’d done little more than browse examples in Jon Speelman’s Batsford Chess Endings, so succumbed without too much ado. An ending I definitely need to study and practice properly.

Round 3 White v Ian Snape, Classical Kings Indian, 0.5-0.5

Fortunately, a much shorter game. Ian plays the Classical Kings Indian with both colours, and chose what I consider to be one of the most dangerous variations. I was well prepared for this, and chose a slightly unusual line, 15.g4. The idea is often seen at earlier junctures in the Kings Indian – White wishes to blockade the kingside before getting on with his queenside attack. Ian responded well, and a very blocked position soon resulted in a draw.

Round 4 Black v IM Chris Baker, Scandinavian Defence, 1-0

A swift but eye-catching crushing, after I went badly wrong in the opening. White played the unusual but tricky 6.Nf3 in a 2…Nf6 3.Bb5+ Scandinavian, and although I’ve had this position before and played the right move – the obvious 6…Nxd5 – I didn’t remember that this was ok, re-analysed it, and thought I spied a trap (White has ideas of Bxf7+ style combinations) but missed a detail at the end of my analysis which would have completely reversed my assessment. Now I’m playing chess more regularly, I’m coming across a surprising number of lines and ideas that I’d previously examined up to a decade ago, but have since forgotten – my games against Simon McCullough and Dave Ledger in later rounds are other examples. Fortunately a lot of this rust has been stripped away over the last season with the help of 40+ rapidplay games (a good arena for refining your openings) so my opponents this year better watch out! Anyway, instead of recapturing on d5 immediately, I took a slower route and White exposed my lack of development with some precise moves. By move 17 it seemed that I was bust, with my king on f8 and a pawn down for no real compensation. White then erred with 17.c4, but feeling my position was hopeless, I missed the nice countershot 17…Nb4 which brings Black right back into the game. I threw in the towel at move 25 in a hopeless position.

Round 5 White v Mark Josse, Slav Defence, 0.5-0.5 

A rather unambitious game on my part, and a result we were probably both satisfied with. I’ve often struggled against the Slav and Semi-Slav, and have been reconsidering my approaches to these openings recently. I was hoping to test some stuff against the Semi-Slav, but after 4…Bf5 the game settled into a solid but uninspiring Slav variation where neither side has much to complain about. Mark found a way to make it a bit more interesting by spurning a usual knight exchange, and after committing an inaccuracy or two, I was unable to stop his freeing c5 after which we traded down to an equal B+N ending and agreed a draw. Mark was modestly aiming for 5/11, but I thought he would do better than that and was really pleased to see him make it into the top half of the finishers.

Round 6 Black v Simon McCullough, Scandinavian Defence Portuguese variation, 0.5-0.5 

Another short game, but quite eventful. I was not relishing the chance to play Simon, as I’d beaten him with the same opening at the Surrey Easter Congress in an attractive miniature, and knew he would be well prepared for this encounter! Simon chose a more aggressive variation this time, but it was not the most accurate of games. Again I struggled to remember analysis of a sharp line I hadn’t played in some years, as in the game against Chris Baker. Fortunately I wasn’t punished this time though – perhaps my inferior moves saved me from some home preparation?! – and an interesting but flawed tactical exchange was agreed drawn after both sides had had chances.

Round 7 White v Lateefa Messam-Sparks, Nimzo-Indian Samisch variation, 1-0 (see game viewer at the end of this article) 

A convincing win decided by a nice exchange sacrifice. My opponent hadn’t met 4.a3 (an aggressive attempt to refute the Nimzo-Indian) before; unsurprising, since it’s not very sound. Black chose a playable line which, although not the strongest in my opinion, would have given her a decent game but for the questionable addition of an early h6. Play revolved around whether I could achieve the freeing e4 break. Once this came, White’s pieces sprung forward on the kingside and Black’s position quickly collapsed. Despite the previous day being the rest day (my partner Helen and I caught the bus down to Hythe to visit the wonderful Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch miniature steam railway), I’d had a disturbed night’s sleep beforehand – thanks in part to another competitor who had managed to lock himself out of his room (at the university hall of residence where I was staying) when he went outside to make a late phone call. I was beginning to get quite irritated with the loud conversation going on beneath my window, when the tenor of the conversation changed abruptly, and I heard him “assuring” his wife that it was a warm summer night and he would sleep out in the open if necessary! At that point annoyance turned to sympathy and I got up to let him in. So I was therefore relieved to have a relatively easy game.

Round 8 Black v FM Dave Ledger, Scandinavian Defence Portuguese variation, 1-0 (see game viewer at the end of this article)

A loss in which I went down quickly, without doing much obviously wrong. Dave had done his preparation, and chose a slightly quieter variation against the Portuguese after 3…Bg4 4.f3, but one which has more than a drop of poison. I rarely meet this sharp yet measured approach – most players prefer either the harmless 4.Be2 or 4.Nf3, or make all-out attempts to hang on to the d-pawn with c4. A reasonable-looking bishop retreat to g6 was quickly punished, as Dave advanced his f-pawn and opened the f-file, after which pressure on f7 became critical.

Round 9 White v Peter Shaw, Slav Defence, 0-1

I chose a quiet line again, as in my game against Mark, but Black surprised me by playing e5 in a position where it didn’t look possible. I failed to find the best response (winning a piece for two pawns but giving Black counterplay), and was under pressure from then on. Muddying matters with some speculative aggression against Black’s king, I managed to reach a R+B ending with opposite coloured bishops and decent drawing chances. My pawns were more vulnerable however and, short of time, I failed to defend sufficiently accurately, resigning soon after the time control.

Round 10 Black v Jasper Tambini, Scandinavian Defence Portuguese variation, 0.5-0.5

An improvement on round 8. I had a suspicion that my young opponent might try to repeat Dave Ledger’s straightforward round 8 win, and was soon proved correct. The Scandinavian has surprise value, and is good in league and rapidplay chess, but in tournaments like the British, where opponents can prepare, it was beginning to feel like a liability. Perhaps I should have chosen a different variation of the Scandinavian, but I was interested to see what Jasper would play and try my (admittedly unconvincing) improvement. White chose the same f-pawn attack idea as Ledger, to which I responded with a horribly anti-positional-looking f5, leaving my e6 pawn an appealing backward target on an open file. Like the d6 pawn in many variations of the Sicilian Najdorf, however, this turned out to be harder for White to exploit than it looked and, all of a sudden, White had some issues (a misplaced knight on g3 and a bishop on c1 that lacked prospects). I followed up with Kf7, and White was unable to find a way to take advantage of my unorthodox setup (though doubtless it wasn’t sound, and I won’t be repeating it!). My bishops found good diagonals, and White felt compelled to make exchanges on d5, allowing me to liquidate the e6 weakness, after which I stood slightly better. My opponent offered a draw soon after and, not feeling that I had realistic winning chances, I accepted.

Round 11 White v Martin Brown, Grunfeld Defence Exchange variation, 0-1

A calamitous note to end on, blundering away a rook in my opponent’s time trouble. I had had trouble deciding what to play against Martin’s Grunfeld, and my worries hadn’t been conducive to a good night’s sleep (I think Mark Josse’s insistence on taking only 1 hour to prepare would have been good advice here!). I’ve been trying early Bf4 lines recently, but the resulting positions are easier for Black to play, and I’ve not done particularly well out of them. So I decided to return to playing the mainline. I played an unusual move (12.Bd5), which set my opponent thinking for a long time. Unfortunately over the next few moves my opponent’s evident concern over the position and usage of large amounts of time tempted me to become over-optimistic about my chances, and I went wrong on move 18, missing a simple tactic. After this I was under pressure but, combined with my opponent’s handling of the clock, I was able to defend, and reached a position where I could exchange queens to an easily drawn rook ending. At this point in the last round, tired after two weeks of chess, and with a possible result in sight, I allowed my opponent’s time trouble to colour my thinking. I decided to keep queens on, “making my opponent think”, and “punishing” him for his poor use of time (I rarely find myself in a situation where my opponent is in time trouble, and reacted badly to the situation in this instance). My junior opponent played very well despite his lack of time and was clearly fresher than I was – in a Q+R ending I blundered horribly (after several minutes thought no less), allowing my rook and king to be simply forked, and had to resign immediately. Not a nice way to finish the tournament, but hopefully there’s a lesson to be learnt somewhere there!

Games Annotated by Ian from Rounds 1, 7 and 8

Game viewer by ChessTempo

See Mark Josse's account of the event