Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Hunter

Some results the Draw Specialist get are achieved easily (too easily, even). Some take a bit more work.

Yes, another draw on board 3. This one a bit different. I sacrificed a rook (R x b2+, he didn't see that coming) on move 21 for what I hoped would be a winning attack with a perpetual in hand. It wasn't a winning attack and he managed to find the way out of the perpetual. So I played on a rook down.

A glorious king-hunt, chased the White King from b1 to h3.

At one point the other rook was hanging, too, for at least 3 moves. Threats of mate in 2 (there might have been a mate in 1) were ignored, mainly because there was no way to defend them. Initiative is everything.

At the death he has a pawn ready to promote with check. (My king is on g5 by this point, his pawn is on g2 and g1 is guarded by his rook.) And then I finally forced a perpetual. Draw agreed on move 51; all I have left is queen and a few pawns, in just the right places.

Thirty moves played a rook down (a pair did get swopped at one point) achieves a draw. Is this a record?

My team-mates said I was lucky. I said I always had the draw. You just have to know how to play it.

Sadly, the team lost - to the bottom of the division, see last week - as Boards 5 and 6 yielded only half a point and Glen on 4, despite playing well (their board 4 got a bit distracted by the fireworks on 3), winning at one point, misplayed the ending and eventually lost a piece. 2-4. Heigh-ho.

Still, it was fun.

Bicycle Race

On the news today, a story about how Britain's cyclists are to be helped in their Olympic efforts (sigh) by technology designed for the Eurofighter. A helmet will give them a Heads Up Display while they are competing, showing info to help them in their quest for a medal. Mentioned was the power they are producing so they can find the "sweet spot" behind the leader. Other details I didn't catch, or possibly they didn't want to name.

Hang on. Is anyone else a bit disturbed by this?

Surely the Olympics are about the best athletes not about who has access to the best technology? (I leave aside the area of drugs for the time being.) There's already sufficient technology in the fact of the equipment available - the bike - to make competition an uneven playing field. (Compare motor racing: the best drivers are the best - but they have a huge technological advantage, everyone knows it, and the sport is diminished by it.)

I daresay there is an uneven playing field in the area of training facilities, nutritional advice (I'm still not talking drugs but I might be) and I daresay that the athletes of some countries which are poorer than GB are already at a disadvantage. And we are adding to this?

Now if the cyclists by training discover the sweet spot, fine, more power to them. If training improves their skills on pacing themselves and whatever else, good. The pursuit of excellence.
If the technology helps train them to know the sweet spot, well maybe, they still have to do it themselves to some extent, I suppose. (Thinks: this might have been the intention. Not clear.)

But if this is to be used in a race, no. Unless it is freely available for all athletes to use (or not, if they prefer not to).

I call on the British Government to put pressure on Team GB (or whoever is organising this initiative) to make this technology available to anyone who wishes it. In the interest of fairness.

We don't want to be a nation of cheats, do we? Oh.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Sing When You're Winning

Yesterday's chess match was one of the most thrilling ever. This is my report on it.

Background info: we are second bottom in the division. Our opponents, Clevedon, are second top, relegated last season from division 1. Promises to be a toughie. However our captain, Steve, points out that there are a lot of teams in the middle very close together and that if we win, we go third. I point out that actually we go fifth on board count. We compromise on "equal third" not worrying that other teams will also be playing tonight and some of them have to score points ...

Our team is:
Board 1: Andy, most improved player last season, stepping up to the mark again
Board 2: Steve, with no wins this season
Board 3: me, undefeated but mostly draws
Board 4: Glen, currently with the best grading performance in our club this season
Board 5: Phil, who gets into and out of positions you wouldn't believe
Board 6: Anthony, the smart one (but not today)

Odd board numbers are playing black, as usual.

I get to watch quite a few openings since my opponent is really taking his time (and seems to have had a tough day at work, given by his yawns). Glen has a strong centre, Andy seems to have a loose kingside, a shortage of space and no desire to castle; his opponent's king is also remaining in the centre, with an h-pawn advance. I play the usual Caro-Kan but in response to Nf6 I get not NxN ch doubling my pawns (I of course would play gxf6 like Miles against Karpov) but the retreat Ng3. Which seems to leave my white-square bishop a problem. I lock it in with e6 and start thinking about a Q-side fianchetto.

Meanwhile Andy has played Qxb2 and declines to play Qxa2 in response to Rb1. I can't see the trap ... still a pawn up is a good start.
I get in c5 and cxd4 rather easily and have to think what to do next. Nc5 looks good, forcing Bc2. What now? Develop the Q-side what a good idea. Nh5 really forces g6 but seems to do no harm - he doesn't even force off the dark bishops.

However Nc5 seems to lead inevitably to a threat of a rook on the seventh. Just as he's about to achieve it though, after a bit of swapping off, he offers the draw that I hadn't expected. I accept with alacrity. I wouldn't have offered one there, even with opposite bishops. This time it wasn't the Draw Specialist making the running in splitting the point. All done by half-nine and time to watch some others.

Andy is still a pawn up with a George Crockart-type structure and rooks going to be doubled on the c-file. Still squashed but looking like breaking out. Anthony is dominating the board with a massive space advantage but as pieces get swopped the defence looks easier and counter-play seems easier. Phil wins a pawn and looks comfortable. Steve has a nice-looking centre, but what to do? Is the sacrifice playable? Oh, there go a pair of bishops, perhaps not. Glen's opponent refuses a draw offer, quite a fair one I thought what with Glen's passed pawn securely blocked.

Richard is watching with me and I say prophetically "we could win this with four and a half or lose by the same" and he agrees. The match is heating up nicely. Anthony still looks like he is winning but if that passed e-pawn moves there will be mate threats (after some Q manoeuvres it does and there are, but he has it covered). 1-0.

Phil and Andy both have opposing Qs in their defence. Andy gets rid of his but Phil has to play very delicately, not taking a pawn until the second opportunity, but this seems to be his opponent's last desperate throw and suddenly Phil is a knight up with only rooks on in addition. Careful play and he closes it out. 2-0.

Andy is short on time. He's broken out, bits everywhere, particularly the knights look to have had sone fun, but he's repulsed although his opponent seems relieved. 2-1. Steve is losing. The sacrifice didn't work although I thought he missed a chance to win the piece back (surely Qe5+ works?) and he's got not just a Q in his defence but a rook too. So I go to watch Glen.

I'm not sure where it came from but his opponent misses some tactics and Glen goes a pawn up in a same-bishops ending. That pawn secures the sacrifice of the bishop so it's two v two all on one side but Glen has a bishop. Slightly behind in the race to the Q-side he plays the B to a3 where I would have gone to f6. But it seems to work - I don't think I would have advanced the black pawns, I think Kb1 was the way to go - and when Black resigns against a lone pawn and bishop with his K stranded I say "You've just won us the match, Glen." "Have I?" he says when Steve says "Excuse me, but I won it a few seconds ago". And he did too. Apparently there wasn't the mate his opponent thought and Steve has won with sixteen seconds left on his clock. A captain's performance. Even he can't quite believe his first win this season. Four and a half to one and a half against one of the strongest teams in the division.

So we are third. Or fifth. Or third equal. Or somewhere. And as Richard points out, if we lose next week we'll be back to second bottom. Still that's another day.