Regular readers of these blogs have long since been bored with death (along with many other subjects that I’ve spoken about) with my talk about how “If only I could play more, my results would be much better.” Well, to some extent my argument has been borne out by my recent improved results. Starting with the last three rounds of the British Championships, when I finally felt I had begun to get into a better rhythm, I followed that up with winning two tournaments: the Jessie Gilbert Memorial at Coulsdon, and then the British Blitz qualifier at Newcastle.
Confidence I might define as the state where it becomes easier to make the correct decision than the wrong one. Certainly when you feel confident you realize you have more options, and in my view it’s difficult to get to that state unless you are fully match fit. Have a look at Tiger Woods this season as an example. On the PGA tour when he first came back, Tiger was pretty awful. But tournament on tournament he became stronger, to the extent that he came very close to winning one of the last two majors.
Another one of the advantages of playing a lot is that you can often use some of your analysis that you weren’t able to use in your previous tournaments almost straight away. Such was the case when I faced Conor Murphy at Coulsdon.
John Saunders made an interesting point in the latest copy of chess magazine that in some ways (although certainly not from Mickey’s perspective) it’s perhaps somewhat disappointing that Michael Adams is still the dominant figure in British chess and that no-one has been able to “knock him off his pedestal” as Fergie would put it, with more colourful language added.
It’s certainly true that while the likes of Howell, Jones and McShane have edged closer in recent years and can certainly be expected to supplant him over the next ten, they haven’t quite achieved the level of international success that he was able to. It’s hard to hit the very top, and it’s not getting easier - the standard in the World Junior Championships which is taking place at the moment is utterly ridiculous - there are so many good young players now. The top seed is a guy from Iran, who apparently does about 20 hours on chess a day, which easily eclipses my 20 minutes a month.
Unless you are prepared to work extremely hard, or are uniquely talented (a la Carlsen), you are probably not going to reach the very summit of the game. Which is one of the reasons why we now produce good, but not great juniors. 16 year old Borna Derakhshani came closest to achieving an IM norm in Coulsdon. One of his victims was the unfortunate Chernaiev, who fell foul of some deadly tactical ideas.
When I arrived in Coulsdon it was like the last fifteen or twenty years had never happened. I first went down to that area in the late 1990s. Myself, John Naylor and a few others started to play for the team that the head of the Coulsdon Chess Fellowship, Howard Curtis, had put together. Howard was subsequently disgraced for events connected to the church, a sad episode. But most of Coulsdon hasn’t changed much. Sure, the cozy old pub, the Red Lion, that we used to hang out after matches has gone, as has so many similiar social hide-outs in England now.
The majority of Coulsdon though,seems stuck almost in time, perhaps because a large proportion of the population commute into London - it being part of the Surrey stockbroker belt, and don’t feel particularly inclined to reinvest in the local economy. Although commuting to London every day would completely exhaust me, playing chess is surprisingly tiring as well. And the problem with Coulsdon is that we had to play two games a day, which at my age is really too much.
It was only at the very end of the event that it hit me how tired I was. When I played Ali Hill in round six, I still felt fresh but one my weaknesses came to the fore, the inability to demonstrate patience. I went on the attack too early in the game, when White had done nothing wrong, and in some ways I was lucky to escape to an equal ending. And then things went wrong again, and when we reached the diagram position Black was very much in trouble.
Alexander Cherniaev is an interesting character. He comes across as being quite passionate about chess - sometimes too passionate, and like the guy who he used to work for, Anatoly Karpov, he loves to analyse. Sometimes this intensity can be a bit too much, like immediately before the game you don’t always want to be discussing intently a game that occurred several rounds ago - you want to be thinking about the matter in hand.
Still I like the guy - you need these passionate people in life, people who think deeply about chess, especially in this day and age when the obsession is what does the engine think about the position. If I had the money I’d hire him as a trainer because his knowledge of chess openings is very impressive. Although his result in Coulsdon was really dismal, and because of this he’s one of an ever-growing army of ageing chess pros to dip below 2400 (no doubt I’ll soon be joining the list).
He failed to win a game, and I think this was partly due to two factors, one of which was the fact he had to commute. I find it slightly sad in this day and age that the organisers could not find it possible to put up a Grandmaster in an IM norm event, so Alex had to commute from London. In fairness to Scott Freeman who was the main organiser, and who was kind enough to put me up in his house, he admitted he was running the event at a loss. The other factor in Alex’s bad result was no doubt the fact that he had to face so many underrated juniors. One of these was Conor Murphy, who bounced back immediately after his loss.
In the last round I took a quick draw against Gavin Wall and left for a lengthy journey to the Isle of Wight, where I was attending the wedding of Gary O’Grady to Marina, a Russian girl he met through work. It was rather surprising when I got to Southampton and got on the ferry to the Isle of Wight how short the journey was - only 15 minutes. Even better, the hotel was right next to the ferry terminal in West Cowes. Some of the other Grandmasters attending the wedding weren’t so lucky. Keith Arkell and Mark Hebden managed to take the slow ferry to East Cowes, because they assumed that was the only ferry terminal in the Isle of Wight. The only reason I managed to take the right boat was because when I was in email correspondence with Gary, he said take the fast boat. Mentally I patted myself on the back for making the right decision, as normally it’s the other way around.
The wedding itself took part in the serene surroundings of Osborne House, which famously is the old residence of Queen Victoria in her later years. That can’t have come cheap at all to hire as a wedding venue, I thought. Gary in general is a very nice bloke, not just because he splashes out money on chess players which he doesn’t have to do, he’s just a nice guy in general. In chess you need these benefactors really, people who are aware that the money in chess is rubbish, and that us poor grandmasters need some help. Of course after the wedding everyone got completely smashed, and the usual sentimental platitudes came out.
Perhaps the most amusing incident of the whole weekend was when Simon Williams and Blair Connell got stuck in a local pub, and hitched a ride with two jet skiers - not your conventional way of getting to the reception, I’m sure you’d agree.
The next tournament I took part in was the British Blitz championship qualifer, which took part in Newcastle. There were eight qualifiers which took part in different locations up and down the country, and obviously by far the nearest one for me to get to was Newcastle. I was top seed and the two biggest rivals on paper were David Eggleston and James Adair, and it didn’t take me long to be paired with one of them.
Danny Gormally is a talented English Grandmaster. He lives in the bustling market town of Alnwick, somewhere near Scotland.
Danny’s first DVD for Ginger GM, Improve Your Practical Play was released in September 2013.