Chess news

On this page you can find Chess updates from Gibraltar's Community Chess Professional and Gibraltar International Chess Tournament organiser, Stuart Conquest.

Gibtelecom is a proud supporter of the development of chess in Gibraltar, having been lead commercial sponsor of the Gibraltar International Chess Tournament since its inception over a decade ago until a few years ago and still providing the technology for the event. Gibtelecom now contracts Stuart as Gibraltar's dedicated Community Chess Professional, working with the Gibraltar Sports and Leisure Authority on this initiative.


Girl Power

The first week of the 2014 Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival has been an unqualified success, the Augustus Suite at the Caleta Hotel being the centre of the action. Concentration is key! Treading silently so as not to disturb the players, one is aware of a collective focus of minds, as if an examination were taking place on every table. Digital display clocks mark the remaining minutes. Respectfully, amateur players stand alongside top grandmasters and guess their moves. There is no noise except a few whispers amongst the spectators. If a player's mobile phone makes any kind of sound, the game is awarded to the opponent. If a spectator's phone rings, the offender is escorted from the room and may not be allowed back.

The contrast between the hush of the playing areas and the laughter of the evening events might seem difficult to reconcile, but the game's very seriousness also makes it amusing. Chess players have evolved a healthy sense of humour in order to put up with losing! After a "serious" game, many will play a "casual" game, for fun. In the rapid chess event on Thursday evening, open to teams of four, record numbers signed up. Many were masters and grandmasters who wanted to relax - by playing more chess! The Chinese took part, so did the group from Martinique, and the Dutch producer of the daily Gibraltar chess show, Pete Doggers, went along to watch, even though all day he had been staring at a computer screen - with chess on it.

This evening at 9pm the Caleta Hotel hosts the second Battle of the Sexes. A male and female team, of six invited players each, will do battle over a giant chess board, the three games regulated by time, with an arbiter present to see that everything is fair. Last year the men just managed to win, 2-1. Players on both sides were drawn from among the top participants, the men clear favourites on rating, but maybe they underestimated their opponents! Tonight's entertainment promises to be extra special, with a good crowd expected. Can the girls take revenge?

"Our diagram today shows a key moment from the game between Pavel Eljanov (Ukraine), fifth seed in Gibraltar this year, and Germany's top female player, Elisabeth Paehtz. According to Nigel Short, if Elisabeth had played her rook to f1 here, she would have had a crushing position. White's King is locked in, and Black has threats of Rxf2 as well as (even stronger) Be5 check. Instead Elisabeth chose Be5 check first, but after g2-g3 White's king reached g2. Proving a win was no longer straightforward, and the game was agreed drawn a few moves later Elisabeth showed this game in her Masterclass. She has promised to play for the Female team in tonight's Battle of the Sexes. The men better watch out!

Searching For A Title

Probably the question I am most often asked is: "How do you become a Grandmaster?" It's a title one keeps for life, and is bestowed by FIDE, the World Chess Federation, on players who achieve certain pre-set and carefully monitored standards. At Gibraltar's soon-to-begin 2014 Tradewise Chess Festival we expect the final number of Grandmasters (GMs) to be around 70, a historical record for this kind of event I believe. But, who are these titled visitors converging on the Rock? What have they done to earn the letters GM?

They will all have passed the same test, but in different ways. Though there can be exceptions, typically one has to obtain at least three "norms", results matching the predicted performance a Grandmaster would achieve, in tournaments whose criteria must also meet strict requirements: for example, there must be a minimum of 9 games, taking place over at least 7 days. You cannot make a "norm" by beating the same player ten times in an afternoon! You must play at least three other Grandmasters from the minimum nine games for your norm to stand a chance.

I scored my first GM norm - when I was twenty - at a tournament in Ostend, Belgium, in 1987. I was deleriously happy, but one of my opponents was so upset at losing to me that he threw the pieces down and stormed out of the building! But I couldn't repeat this success for several years, and there were times when I doubted I would ever become a GM, especially since FIDE rules at that time stated that any norm would run out after five years. At last I won a big tournament in London, the Lloyds Bank Masters, and my second norm was made. 

Looking back, the most important person in my chess life lived a few doors' away, in St Leonards-on-Sea. For years he came to our house, always on a Thursday evening, to teach me chess. His name was Arthur Winser. I was nine years old when I first met him; Arthur was a retired gentleman of seventy, many times Sussex champion. Most impressively, his name was recorded twenty-five separate times as champion of Hastings & St Leonards Chess Club on commemorative boards on the Club premises. Above all, Arthur was a kind man who unselfishly chose to help me at a period when expert knowledge is the key to a child's rapid progress. At that time becoming a Grandmaster seemed an impossible dream. Despite his vast knowledge of chess, Arthur only played as a hobby. He was an amateur, not professional. I was his only pupil. 

Clichy, a suburb of Paris, proved a vital stepping stone on my journey. Almost by accident I made friends there, the result being that for at least a decade I was a member of their chess team in various national and international competitions. In one, the French League, I scored my third Grandmaster norm. I needed half a point from my last game: I vividly recall my elation when after a few hours' play my redoubtable opponent, at his peak a world top five player, offered me a draw. 

I was nearly there, but not quite. FIDE regulations now insisted I needed four GM norms, not three. Again, my friends at Clichy came to the rescue. In the summer of 1991 they organised an international Open for the first time, and invited me. Everything went perfectly, but I needed to win my final game. The diagram below shows the final position, and it was this game that gained me the coveted title. I was Black. With my last move I had moved my knight from d2 to b3, attacking the White bishop on c1. When the bishop moves, Black simply pushes his c-pawn one square, to c2, then promotes to a Queen on his next turn. White will have to give up his bishop for the new Queen, and Black will take the bishop with his knight. With an extra piece, Black wins easily. In the diagram position my opponent, Lucas Brunner, a strong Swiss player, resigned. With this victory (which also won me first prize in the tournament) I finally earned the Grandmaster title. I was 24. When I rang my parents from the Gare du Nord the next day I learned some sad news: Arthur Winser, my old chess teacher, had died. 

Last year three players achieved GM norms in Gibraltar: José Carlos Ibarra Jerez (Spain), Grigoriy Oparin (Russia, at the tender age of 15!), and female star Valentina Gunina (Russia). Grigoriy, an undoubted prodigy who now holds the full GM title, and José Carlos (also now a GM) will return to the Rock this year. It's interesting that 2014 marks a plausible centenary of one of the first uses of the term 'Grandmaster' in chess: it is said that Tsar Nicholas II gave the title to the five finalists of the great St Petersburg tournament of 1914. With such a strong field the 2014 Tradewise Masters is a golden opportunity for players to reach the necessary target for norms, probably 7/10. Let's see how many do.


World Youth In UAE

The numbers are astounding: 1,834 participants, joined by 1,815 accompanying persons, for whom in total some 2,500 visas have been issued: these are the figures for the World Youth Chess Championships, currently underway in Al-Ain, United Arab Emirates. The first-day pressure on the organisation was immense - just imagine the lunch queues! - but anyone who has attended a big international chess event, such as the biennial and much-loved Olympiad (the last one was in Istanbul, 2012) will have witnessed similar scenes of benign chaos. The best advice to players is: stay calm. 

The venue is the University, a vast, elegant and modern premises traditionally divided in half (men and women study separately), but opened up specially for the chess festival. One of the female students who showed us around told us she had never seen the "male" buildings until now. 

Chess in the UAE is taken seriously. I visited the plush headquarters of the Al-Ain Culture and Chess Club, and was impressed. Its President, Sheikh Sultan bin Khalifah Al Nahyan, is also President of the Asian Chess Federation. The neighbouring emirate of Sharjah has the world's largest chess club. For some years the training of young players has been a priority, the best advertisement of that policy being 20-year old Salem Saleh, UAE number 1, who holds the Grandmaster title. Mr Saleh has played in the last two Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festivals, and looks forward to his third visit to the Rock in January. His coach said to me, "There's no other event like it. To improve, Salem needs top opposition. Gibraltar has it."

While the 2014 Tradewise festival will feature participants from some fifty federations, here in Al-Ain children from 121 countries are taking part - proof, if any were needed, of how truly international the game of chess is. There are Open (mixed) and Girls only sections, from under-8 to under-18. The English delegation, for which I am one of the coaches, has 24 players. Wandering around the massive playing hall (there seem to be flags out for every nation) one sees tiny children still engrossed in closely-fought games four hours after they began. Last year's event, for which I was also one of the English team coaches, took place in Maribor, Slovenia. 

When I won the World under-16 championship in 1981, chess software had not yet been invented: there were no 3-million game databases, and the only way to prepare for your game was by studying a book. Now children as young as seven bring laptops with the latest chess information on them! As a coach, two of my pupils became World under-18 champions, and one, top English woman grandmaster Jovanka Houska, won the European under-20 title. Jovanka herself now coaches, and one of her students here, 12-year old Akshaya Kalaiyalahan, began yesterday with a spectacular victory: see Diagram. It's White to move. How did Akshaya force checkmate in wonderful style to earn her first point of the championship?

Anyone winning a medal here has performed exceptionally well. Akshaya finished equal 3rd in the European Girls' under-12 in Budva, Montenegro, a few months ago. Incredibly, for one so young, she already holds not just the title of British Girls' under-18 champion, but also joint British Women's champion! Let's hope Akshaya comes to play in the Gibraltar Junior International Chess Festival next summer. 

An American in Paris

In the position on the right Black's King is checkmated: the game is over, yet most of White's pieces have disappeared. What's happened to them?

Nigel Short, who in January returns to the Rock for the 2014 Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival, demonstrated this game in Morocco this week, describing it as one of his favourites. It's certainly one of the most famous chess games of all time, an "evergreen" much anthologised in chess literature. By playing it through you will be tracing a page of history.

It was played in 1858, in a remarkable setting for a chess game: the Duke of Brunswick's private box at the Paris Opera. We are told that the Duke, a keen player, was aided in his deliberations by a second chess-loving noble, Count Isouard.

The Duke and the Count played Black; facing them, a young man from New Orleans, Paul Morphy. During a visit to Europe lasting just a few months, in which he played and beat most of the leading masters, Morphy gained such respect and admiration that he was soon being called the best chess player in the world.

Paris was the scene of further sensation when Morphy challenged eight opponents, blindfolded, winning six games and drawing two, in a display said to have lasted ten hours.

"Where his skill gained one admirer, his manner made ten warm friends", states Morphy's manager and confidant Frederick Milne Edge, in the biography of Morphy he wrote in 1859. But by then Edge and Morphy had already severed ties; Morphy returned to America, and though he did visit Paris in the 1860s, meeting well-known chess players on a private basis (and, it is said, looking over their games with them), for reasons which even today are open to speculation Morphy never agreed to play chess in public again. He died age 47.

Set up a chessboard in the initial position: play over the following moves, given here in standard algebraic notation, and you should reach the diagram position at the end.

K - King; Q - Queen; R - rook; N - knight; B - bishop. Pawn moves only show the destination square. Captures are marked with "x", checks with "+", while an exclamation mark "!" means: good move!

Paul Morphy v Charles, Duke of Brunswick

1.e4 e5 The double advance of the King's pawns, a standard 19th century opening, is still popular today. 2.Nf3 d6 Philidor's Defence. 3.d4 Bg4 Black's first mistake, because it helps White develop pieces quickly - Paul Morphy understood better than anyone in his day the concept of time in chess. 4.dxe5 Bxf3 Or else he loses a pawn. 5.Qxf3 dxe5 6.Bc4 Threatening checkmate in one move - Black sees it of course, but a better defence here would be to defend the weak f7 pawn with his Queen. 6...Nf6 7.Qb3! Double attack: on f7 and also b7. Black must lose a pawn. 7...Qe7 To my mind this move shows that the Black players were no pushovers. If White captures on b7, then Black checks on b4 and exchanges Queens, easing pressure. Morphy doesn't take the bait, but develops another piece. 8.Nc3 c6 9.Bg5 b5 Allowing a fairly obvious sacrifice, but Black's position was already untenable. 10.Nxb5! cxb5 11.Bxb5+ Nbd7 12.0-0-0 White castles on his Queen's side. If Black now tries the same the game would end in two moves: 13.Ba6+ and 14.Qb7 mate. 12...Rd8 13.Rxd7! Rxd7 14.Rd1 Bringing his second rook into the attack. Black has no defence. Qe6 15.Bxd7+ Nxd7 Now it's checkmate in two moves. 16.Qb8+! Nxb8 17.Rd8 mate.

"One of Morphy's immortal combinations" says Max Euwe, fifth World Chess Champion.

Incidentally, there is a curious connection between Paul Morphy and Gibraltar. Morphy's great-grandfather Michael was British Vice-Consul in Malaga between 1779 and 1789; he even exchanged letters with the Governor, General Sir George Eliott. Michael's son, Diego, became father to a son, Alonzo - who was Morphy's father

Best In The World

World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen was photographed giving a chess lesson to Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg this week. Carlsen is certainly hot news, and chess may be at a tipping point as a result, as big names like Barclaycard - who have just announced their support for a European chess-in-schools project - reconsider the game's appeal. Garry Kasparov recently observed how difficult it would be to invent a game like chess today, one which would still be enjoyed hundreds of years from now. Most computer-style games, he wrote, depend on graphics and latest special effects. How many are still played even five years after their first appearance?

Compare with chess. The diagram position was first published in 1737, in a volume of chess problems composed by Philippe Stamma. A later version of this book, published in 1818, is now in the Garrison Library. The surprising task is: White to play and win. The solution is at the end of this article.

Here on the Rock we are about to launch the 12th edition of our local brand, become world famous, the Tradewise festival. It has drawn record numbers in all sections. More Grandmasters than ever before - about 70 - will take part, but also numbers of entries in the Amateur and Challenger events have risen, proof that players of all levels are attracted to what the festival has to offer. Perhaps the most impressive figure is the number of different federations represented: 60. The first event of the festival takes place on the evening of Sunday, January 26th, when French number one Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, and former Indian women's champion Tania Sachdev, offer early arrivals at the Caleta Hotel the chance of a simultaneous game as a pre-competition warm-up. Spectators are welcome. These exhibition games, now become a traditional opener to twelve days of chess, will start around 8pm.

Our oldest competitor, George Ellison, from England, who is attending the festival for the first time, is 81; our youngest, Viviana Galván Cipriani, from Spain, is only 9. Three players from Mongolia are making the journey: our first ever participants from this nation. Six Chinese are taking part, including 14-year old Wei Yi, already ranked number ten in his country, as well as last year's top female, Zhao Xue. 2013 champion, Nikita Vitiugov, whose exceptionally cool nerves under pressure led Grandmaster commentator Simon Williams to dub him the 'Iceman', also returns to the Rock, but so does Nigel Short, who so nearly won again last year. Michael Adams, UK number one and world number 13, will have his own ideas about the destination of the £20,000 top prize, as will Vassily Ivanchuk, from the Ukraine, who holds the Gibraltar record score of 9/10, set in 2011. Former Russian women's champion Natalia Pogonina, who has over 100,000 Twitter followers, makes her second visit. She tweeted favourably about Gibraltar this week - those 140 characters will have taken news of our festival to more than three times the population of the Rock.

For all information, as well as live commentaries, Masterclasses, and interviews, the dedicated festival website, powered by Gibtelecom, is - well worth checking out on a daily basis. Festival venue is the Caleta Hotel. The festival closes on Thursday, February 6th, with a banquet and prizegiving - and discothèque!

It seems fitting that Gibraltar, itself a melting pot of historical, cross-cultural influences, now plays host to a game whose own history goes back centuries and spans continents. One key element of chess etiquette is post-game analysis, where opponents who may have fought tooth and nail for five hours, sit down amicably and discuss the moves. The winner should be gracious, the loser philosophical and respectful, while both can be optimistic for future battles. For Gibraltar, voted best in the world two years running, the Tradewise festival seems to be winning year after year.



Solution: after 1.Rook e4 to e1 check, Rook b6 to b1 (only move), 2. Rook e1 to c1 (the key move), Black will be checkmated by White's g4 pawn, when it becomes a Queen on h8.