Sunday, 31 July 2016

Irregular, like this blog

One of the great pleasures of the British Championship has always been that some people seem ready to play any old nonsense in the openings. I don't know whether that's because
  • they're not taking the tournament sufficiently, or
  • they're taking it too seriously, or (most likely)
  • neither, and the only person taking this too seriously is the present writer
but anyway: South Coast silliness kicked off in Round One with Wells v Birkett [1-0, 34] which was drawn to our attention by the ECF Twitter account.

The Modern never looked like this when Ray played it. This version's not so much an Irregular Opening as an opening from a parallel universe where no such thing as regularity exists. By comparison Claridge-Hansen v Pleasants (all the pinkish diagrams are from here) was relatively sensible

1. c4 e5 2. g3 h5 3. h4

in so far as I could work out why the moves were played. It was, however, even more brief [1-0, 21] than the effort above.

Simons v Brown wasn't irregular in so far as the Blackmar-Diemer possesses a name

1. d4 Nf6 2. f3 d5 3. e4

but I can't say that I was surprised to see it knocked over in short order [0-1, 21].

Modi v Mason's opening not only has a name, the Portuguese Gambit, I've actually gone so far as to play it -

1. e4 d5 2. exd5 Nf6 3. 3. d4 Bg4

and to be fair, [1/2, 17] was better than I did.

Friday, 29 July 2016

I can drive a tractor

Who's up for some tractor chess?

No really.

Saturday August 20, in the very small Spanish village of Hinojosa, in Molina-Alto Tajo district, the Siberia of Spain. In August it'll be a bit warmer than that suggests - and the kick-off's at high noon.

Friday, 22 July 2016

5. Mrs. Fagan's Politics

[This post by Martin Smith]

We start this fifth episode of the life and chess of Louisa Matilda Fagan by going back to May 1913 (and episode 3 once again) and that Hastings Congress dinner. The Mayor of Hastings rose to reply to a toast to his good self and was moved to observe, with mock irony, that:
"[he] had an idea that Mrs Fagan had strong opinions....the proceedings of some ladies were causing anxiety and if Mrs Fagan could use any influence he would feel greatly indebted to her. The worst of the ladies was - it was not confined to chess players - one never knew what their next move was going to be." (Hastings and St. Leonard's Observer 17 May).
Laughter ensued, said the report.
Had strong opinions.
Louisa Matilda Fagan published in 1898; 

but perhaps taken earlier? 
So just what were the "strong opinions", and so contrary, too, that were provoking such disquiet? What would the ladies play next? The British Chess Magazine of October 1897 may help us on the way to some answers...

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

No more heroes

And we're back in the tournament room.

We'll never see Viktor Korchnoi there again. Come to that, we'll never see his like again.

I was at that tournament. In fact I was at that analysis session too, sat just a few feet away while Jonathan Rowson and Viktor Korchnoi went through their game.

I don't remember that. But I remember being there.

Friday, 1 July 2016

4. Mrs. Fagan's Family

[This post by Martin Smith]

This is the fourth episode of a series on the life and chess of Louisa Matilda Fagan (née Ballard, 1850-1931) - earlier episodes are linked below. So far we have looked at her chess: she emerged on to the domestic scene in 1895, around the time of the formation of the Ladies Chess Club, and pretty much disappeared chess-wise (as did the LCC itself) when war broke out in 1914. She was considered, at some time in that career, to have been the strongest lady playing.

Now, in this episode, we will begin to reconstruct her non-chess biography (although there is - should anyone feel the need - one game of chess), though, be warned, it includes - as always - a fair degree of plausible supposition and guesswork. But before getting on with the job I will come clean and explain my fascination with Louisa Matilda (though surely I'm not the first to be in her thrall).

Mrs Fagan c 1897 
When looking at this photograph one has to make allowances for the conventions of late Victorian portrait photography which obliged the ladies to present themselves as demure and modest, and with none of the self-satisfaction permitted the male of the species (see painting below). Nonetheless, to me there is something striking about it (taken, as is likely, around 1897) and indeed the other published portraits of Mrs Fagan. In addition to her eye-catching - could we say Italianate - beauty there is an inward sadness that pervades the image. The declination of the lip, the faraway look, the veil of distraction; it is as if she is reflecting on some deep and troubling tragedy - yet without any hint of morbid melancholia. Although she avoids our eye, she faces us, and by extension life and its vicissitudes, with resolute composure and with serene forbearance and tolerance.

Could it be relevant that in none of the reportage, such as it is, of the social side of her chess career (the Congress dinners, the soirées at the Ladies Club), nor even in her BCM obituary (which we might have expected to refer to her personal circumstances and her nearest and dearest) is there scarcely a mention of her husband Joseph George Fagan; nor anyone else as her loyal escort, constant companion, and rock? Of her own published references to Joseph, the most telling comes in the BCM in October 1905, which we will deal with below; and now that we talking of her family life: nor is there any mention of children. This was all a stimulus to my curiosity about the enigmatic Mrs Fagan. So, in this episode we shall begin to try and get to the bottom of it, as we follow her through the long 81 years of her life, and begin to touch on the mores of Victorian society, and religion.