Guernsey 2014 - By Ian Campbell & Nick Hawkins

Nick Hawkins

It was 5am at Lime Street station, and I was practicing my cricket cover drive. This can only mean one thing: It is the annual jaunt to Guernsey with Ian to play chess in a tournament with the highest average age of player outside Bhutan. I feel quite sprightly at 58, which says everything. Elderly chess is quite a lark if you are old enough to remember the Goons, Monty Python , and the Carry On films. The atmosphere in the tournament is of a group of naughty minor public schoolboys (the players) being instructed by a Headmaster who , though possessing a stammer (which gives way to Olivier- like oratory when required for effect) probably was a Bletchley Park code breaker in a previous life. Here is an example of a pre-game announcement from the stage: (Headmaster/tournament controller) “We have an important update on the minestrone soup situation” (Naughty schoolboy cad in a stage whisper) “ To hell with world peace this is what really matters.” (much sniggering follows) (Headmaster/tournament controller) “There will be a minestrone soup starter at the dinner on Wednesday” (Naughty schoolboy with appearance and demeanour of a Monty Python Chartered Accountant) “Will there be an alternative?” Headmaster/tournament controller) “Yes, you can have the soup or not have the soup!” (Cheers and guffaws) Headmaster/tournament controller  clears his throat and announces “Will you raise arm if you are coming on your own to the dinner, and two if you are bringing a friend”. The only female in the room announces with the urgency of a breathless debutante “I am bringing four people!” (Wolfish, if slightly past it cove at the back) “You are going to need to be very flexible then”!!! Much  juvenile chortling follows. (Headmaster /tournament controller “ Ladies and Gentlemen please start the white clocks.” This actually happened, and it is a major part of the unique atmosphere of the event.

Ian arrived at the station at about 5.15 am looking slightly cheesed off. I have known him for 39 years and he has been either slightly peeved to mightily cheesed off for all of that time. I knew it was going to be good fun at this stage! If you ever get the chance to see Ian playing someone who keeps him at the board in an obviously drawn position I urge you to do so. The full gamut of his acting repertoire pours forth as he vents his silent disdain for the vassal! (He plays quickly to try and win on time as well!)

We arrived after a wonderfully uneventful journey, and were soon in conversation with FM Oliver Jackson. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Oliver, imagine a human being comprising of three psychological influences. Firstly he has the persistence and will to triumph of Wily Coyote (remember him trying to trap his nemesis the road runner in those cartoons?) Second, he has the sheer dastardliness of Dick Dastardly (of Dastardly and Mutley fame in Wacky races). Third, and most important, he has the sheer mean, vicious, arrogant aggression and utter mercilessness of Lee Van Cleef as Angel Eyes in the spaghetti western films with Clint Eastwood. Here is my conversation with him after round 1 “How did you go on” I asked. “I won in the King’s Gambit in 11 moves”. “An endgame then” I offered. Oliver has a fine sense of humour to match his attacking talent, and Ian and I shared many laughs with him at the event, not least when the three of us swapped carry on style innuendos for quite some time, for no reason at all! He was not short of a pithy quip to sum our efforts at the board either! He said to Ian “You and I would make a good tandem chess team. You keep it tight at the back, and I will do the business in attack.” At this point I interjected with “How are you going to attack with Ian playing 50% of the opening moves!!!” At this point the subject was quickly changed!

I suppose I should say something about the venue and the chess itself. We stayed at the venue itself the Peninsula Hotel. Although the weather was vile for the whole week, it did not matter as we were well fed and the rooms were nice. Much better than the Bed and Breakfast set up of previous years. Round 1 was rather disturbing for me as I gradually started to feel a headache and sweats coming on about 20 minutes into the game with Chris Cooley (2088). I was white against his Pirc so I played simple chess and just kept him bottled up. I did this so well that he was more or less squashed onto the back two ranks. More black players are doing this sort of thing now, and it is of course, exhausting for everyone concerned. After a few hours I was not feeling good so plunged forward with a central pawn charge to try and get the thing over. It was a bad move, and I followed it with several more howlers to resign in 21 moves.  Having taken full advantage of my mistakes,my opponent seemed surprised and somewhat relieved, but added that two other players had similar symptoms. This was the Guernsey “gyp” rather than the dreaded “ghastly bug”of last year, and fortunately a couple of paracetemol, a hot drink, and a rest, brought me back to fine fettle for the rest of the week. Thank heavens for that. I was reminded of the words of the Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu who said “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to success: tactics without strategy is merely the noise before defeat.” Physically unable to sit tight on my opponent forever I was certainly noisy, but now it was time to earn some points.

My next two games were solid draws with two players around 2000, one with me black (against a guy who had been 2280 at his peak against my 2120 of my peak) and one with me white. I felt fine, and both openings started out with 1 c4. Clearly I was in a John Edrich mood (1960’-70’s gritty England left hand opening batsman (I am a left hand bat))rather than a Wayne Larkins mood. (A much freer spirit) I felt happier. Ian will doubtless tell you of what had happened to him, but I hope he is honest about round 2!!

So it was round 4, and to my surprise I had white against the Guernsey Fide Master Fred Hamperl. I drew with Fred (me white) 2 years ago in this tournament, and I hoped to beat him this time. Fred is a very aggressive player, but like Oliver Jackson he is not an “all court” player as he has definite opening preferences. I avoided these and played another English opening. Fred played very aggressively, but so did I and the game became interesting. I used my extra space to attack the side his king was not on, and mine was. This was double edged, and Fred played well. He had an outpost in my camp after a Queen exchange, but I found a truly fighting defence giving up a pawn to bring my rook, bishop, and knight into support my advanced queenside pawns. My moves flowed like a Hungarian rhapsody, and I felt physically fantastic and full of adrenalin and confidence. I sacrificed a pawn, and then in a carefully pre-calculated onslaught an exchange. My mobile advanced pawns swept Fred away and he had to resign. Through his disappointment, he did congratulate me on “a marvellous endgame.” A fine player, and a fine sporting representative of Guernsey chess. This was very typical of the good relations and sportsmanship between opponents at the event. Fred is only 48, so he has many years of play left, but organising the event must impair his preparation.

So it was time for round 5. With my sixth FM scalp under my belt, I should have been looking forward to this one, even though I was black. However, I was up against non other than Graham “Usain” Bolt!!  Graham is a genuine character who treats the event as a social holiday with some chess games thrown in. He likes a few pints. He is a dangerous maverick type of player who seems to show no nerves. This was not going to be easy despite our friendly relations over the years. On top of this he now opens with 1 g3 , 2 Bg2, and 3  d3 etc. In my twenties and thirties I relished playing against this “spin” bowling, but now I prefer more pace on the ball in the opening as I find I concentrate better then. Due to the bad weather Ian and I decided to do some opening analysis together. We came onto this game and eventually decided upon a  rare third move for black. It seemed perfectly ok. The actual game went as planned and then on the fourth move  Graham played a move that threatened to dismantle the black position. I played the check Ian and I had looked at in some lines, but I was spooked, played absolutely horribly in the opening, and had to mount a futile king side demonstration as Graham took my badly cramped position apart. I resigned before I lost material as I was sick of the sight of my position. Talk about after the Lord Mayor’s show! As I resigned, I said to Graham “Ian helped me to prepare that opening”, and with superb comic timing and speed Graham said in a totally deadpan way “I paid him”!!!!! Brilliant! Even Ian, who was on the next board laughed at that one! Naturally several pints were consumed and eventually several of us had a right good laugh in the hotel reception area. If I had to lose like this, I am glad it was to Graham. Oliver Jackson said “You did a kingside attack that was never going to lead to mate”, and I replied “It was that or resignation”!

Round 6 saw me black against an 1818 (about 150) Swiss player. I was very determined to win this one and literally crushed his London System opening with a brutal attack on his king. My old problem of concentration kicked in during time pressure at the end and I let him slip out into a draw by simply blundering my protected past extra pawn on his seventh rank. I could hardly believe it, and neither could the spectators. My opponent had been a nervous wreck for the previous two hours of this four hour game and now he had escaped with a a totally unmerited draw.

Just the last round to go then and I was white against the 9th highest ranked player a 2195 called Rowan Brown, only 36 years old, and a former London schoolboy champion. Funnily enough, I felt totally relaxed before the game as I had decided that I was going to revert to the attacking style of my late 20’s whatever the outcome. He was ready for battle in a Pirc defence which was fantastic for me, and I sacrificed a pawn and launched a strong kingside attack which forced resignation in 24 moves. Again, my excellent calculation of variations and feel for the initiative had led to the win. My opponent resigned and did my final attacking moves for me!! Very sporting, and we had an excellent analysis session together. He took a very hot pawn in that game, but this made it a sharp game so he deserves credit as well.

So 3.5/7 and a gain of 19 FIDE ranking points. Not bad, but I know I can do better against the normal players. I can always rouse myself against the higher rated sharper players, but I must play better against spin and medium pace, or “dibbly-dob” bowling as Ian calls it. With white Ian seemed to be taking the Jack Simmons approach. He kept it flat and quick with precious little spin. As black he kept low in the water!

Over to Ian.

I arrived at Lime Street station in a baffled state of mind. " Where am I?" followed by " What am I doing?". However, there was more than the usual philosophical cause as I was off to a chess tournament when I have decided not to play any competitive chess for a while. No wonder I was cheesed off!

The Peninsula Hotel is great value for money. A comfortable en suite room, eat what you like for breakfast and a more than decent three course meal for dinner at a cost of £60 a night. One could survive on that alone although the enjoyment factor might leave something to be desired. The hotel is a trifle remote and the bus services infrequent but the weather precluded exploration for any but the hardiest souls. Alas, there was nothing else but the chess for me to focus upon. What joy!

Round One saw me paired with a German FM. Super! Just like playing Andreas only with a longer time limit than an evening match. My optimism knew no bounds, as anybody who knows Andreas would readily comprehend, and was further boosted when my opponent avoided all my preparation for the game by playing something new. 1 d4 d5 2 Nf3 Nc6 expecting e3 or g3 from the stodger but I played 3 Bf4 which comes with a recommendation from IM Gary Lane as it is difficult for black to free himself with e5. An exchange of bishops on d6 was met by cxd6 strengthening the centre and opening the c file. Nevertheless I castled queenside, held off his attack and then had the ridiculous idea of throwing my own kingside pawns against his castled position. Can you imagine that? Ian attacking a German FM who is also low on time. I won queen and pawn for two rooks before the time control and had opened up his kingside leaving his king with precious little cover. Maybe it is winning for white but tiredness, related to the tension of the game and my lack of practice over the preceding two months, made the option of forcing perpetual check an attractive one. My opponent was puzzled by my decision and was met with the usual reply. "I don't dye my hair grey". Any practical decision always riles the idealistic side to character but I was very satisfied by both the result and the manner of achieving it. My opponent was never better during the game and the result well earned. Well, that was my view and my confidence suitably boosted by the game.

It didn't last long! Round two saw me paired with black against a junior player from the Netherlands. The fifth best U16 from there and over 150 ELO points above me. Preparation didn't take long. The Hippo! 

I managed to go wrong early on despite my experience in this opening. My opponent had a cold but still managed to look determined and his choice of the Austrian Attack suggested grandad was going down. In flames. Good strategy in my opinion as most older players, and their hearts, do not like the heightened tension of tactical complications and much prefer players trying to tire them out in simpler positions despite having played them for donkeys years. A nervous mistake landed me under heavy pressure and  move 16 saw white able to interpose a check on the uncastled king. Having to move the king gives white an advantage of 1.7 according to Houdini but white retreated a bishop attacked by a pawn allowing black to castle queenside and immediately reduce the advantage to 0.5. Judicious exchanges( frantic swapping! ) further reduced the advantage to zero and we reached the following position. Starting at a8; 2b3n1/4kp1p/pp1p4/2pP1P2/2P5/1P1BN1KP/P7/8 White to move


Black has just retreated the knight to g8 with the evident intention of playing f6 trying to create a fortress on the kingside. Nick thinks white can break any fortress by obtaining the maximum activity for the remaining forces and therefore has a winning advantage. Houdini does not agree and suggests the position is equal. I am ambivalent on the matter. Experience suggests white ought to be able to break through but I am quite good at grovelling on the back three. I play the Hippo! What is certain in the analysis room is rarely clear at the board. Besides, the opponent is probably adept at all the latest wrinkles in tactical openings like the Najdorf but is hardly likely to have the experience of squeezing wins out of space advantages. That comes with much experience. For whatever reason, white sacrificed the pawn by playing 33 f6+ followed by Bf5 exchanging the bishops. This plan weakens the black kingside can choose between passive defence or advance queenside pawns and then attack the a2 pawn with the knight thereby creating a passed pawn. Which queens first? The white h pawn or a black pawn on a1 or b1? It certainly helps to know the result before deciding who should win. As it happened, the white king was on g8 and the pawn about to arrive on h7 only to find the black knight moving to f6 would fork both King and pawn before surrendering itself in order for the black passed pawns to thrive. At the end I asked my shell-shocked opponent why he had sacrificed the pawn and he mumbled something about wanting to win. There are times when a suggestion to analyse the game would be an act of unkindness.

Much more detail than usual as this game was pivotal to my tournament. The result column is unforgiving. As in nature, idealistic notions like justice have no place there. Enjoying good fortune is a rare treat for the elderly who have used up all their luck by staying alive for so long.

Round 3 and a pairing against my nemesis, Kennneth Norman, against whom I always play badly. Flashing out the London System we quickly arrived at move 10 only for him to play a plausible line I hadn't analysed in my preparations. I started to play hesitantly and he gained the advantage only to consolidate rather than press the attack. A moment's respite allowed me to gather my thoughts and realise I was losing again. Desperation drove me to concoct a plan of action. Was it any good? Who cares! I started bashing out moves again. Confident and quick. This sudden turn of events unsettled my opponent who offered a draw which was accepted with relish. There is a lesson to be gleaned from this episode. The opponent will not offer a draw if you have your head in your hands or look like you have sucked on a sour lemon. Look like you mean business and they may have second thoughts, especially when they have the black pieces.

Two out of three against 2150 average was more than I could have hoped for on that wretched platform at Lime Street. Two out of four was not entirely satisfactory as I had a chance to transpose into a Benoni only to decline and find myself at a space disadvantage against a more experienced player who made good use of it. This was the day of the gale blowing at full force across the exposed Atlantic coast. The remnant of a storm in the Caribbean or so the weatherman said. It was more fun losing in the safety of the hotel than out there sampling nature.

Round 5 saw me paired against somebody older than myself and over 100 points lower as well. Another London system saw me pressing on the queenside with my opponent solid and difficult to break down. Had he chosen to sit tight and do nothing then a draw would have ensued but my opponent fell victim to the desire to do something. I could see his plan had the makings of a horrible tactic which would win exchange and pawn for me and the difficulty was to allow him to pursue his plan without giving the game away. I managed to make a couple of normal moves and sit on my hands while my opponent moved his bishop to attack my rook. One quick look and I bashed out my tactic. He had a look at it and resigned. A swindle? If you want but it seems to me one player sees something the other does not and that happens quite a lot.

Round 6 and I have black against another Dutchman. He played a highly entertaining game with GM Petursson in Round 5 accepting a double rook sacrifice only for his king to be cut to pieces by the Grandmaster. I had few illusions about the nature of the coming game and readied my Hippo for the onslaught. Fun and games started on move 9 when my opponent sacrificed a pawn on f5. On move 13 I blundered a pawn in a quite juvenile manner only to find I could win another pawn and have the two bishops into the bargain. On move 16 my opponent offered a draw. Well, I knew I was winning, and so does Houdini giving an advantage of 1.3, but the terrible blunder was preying on my mind. Could I play accurate chess for another three hours against a tactician determined to attack at any opportunity? Flesh is weak and so am I. A guaranteed 50% for the tournament and a probable white in the last round was too much to refuse. Yes, I know........

Round 7 and white against another Dutchman though a steadier player this time. Another London System produced a better position sufficient to offer a draw and it was over. Four points from seven games and 32 ELO points safely pocketed. Heaven, I'm in heaven until we arrived at the airport to find the plane delayed by two hours and a long drag home.

I enjoyed my week away and I even managed to enjoy the chess. Playing the same people year after year still holds no attractions for me but fresh faces in a familiar surrounding gives me a boost. Another useless lottery ticket may yet drag me back to another encounter with Atticus and the unspeakable new time control but for the moment......where did I put that couple of quid for my Euromillions ticket?

Ian C