The Leiden Chess Tournament 2015 - By Nick Hawkins and Ian Campbell

Nick Hawkins

I arrived at John Lennon Airport at 4.06 am. I was due to meet Ian at 4.15am, but at 4.30 am he had still not arrived. Suddenly I noticed him charging in like an irascible black rhino. He was clearly mightily cheesed off !  After a brief rant against Childwall taxi drivers, he noticed the immense throng of people coiled in the queueing zone.  “Is this the @@~~~~??” he snarled. This led to five minutes of mutual hilarity whilst Ian calmed down.  What is it that leads us to do this sort of trip? I feel there are two reasons: 1. We have both been absolutely bitten by the chess addiction mosquito. 2. We have such a good laugh and a holiday as well as the chess.

The trip over was unremarkable, and eventually we arrived at our very comfortable hotel in Leiden. So far so good. We were in the 'A' tournament which had about seven grandmasters in it, and David Howell as the top seed.  Of course, we needed to ensure we accumulated some points in what was going to be a strong tournament played in the July heat. It was only when we arrived in the venue that we realised the heat and humidity in the room would be a real factor over 5 hour plus games. Also, Ian and I were at a disadvantage in not being able to untangle the Dutch site to see the games of our opponents in the tournament, but some had games on other sites we could see.

We took care of the basics and found a great restaurant which became a real favourite. In round 1 I was playing a chap called Bert, a 2160 rated player, who had been nearly 2300 at his peak. He was a couple of years younger than me, and I was pleased to be white. The game never really ignited as I played a slow system against his Two Knights defence. I was still “strengthening” some of my sharper stuff, so I had to go to a reserve line. Fritz, when consulted after the game, gave the first 23 moves as “0.00 =”. We were in a Queen and Knight endgame with seven pawns each. My opponent had just offered to exchange queens, and Fritz estimated the position after the exchange as “0.00 equal.” This was all fine except that I did not exchange Queens.  My reasoning was that I had a little less space, and about 20 minutes less time, and thus the ending would be an unwinnable one, and had a small chance to go wrong. I felt that keeping the queens on was safer as it had an insurance factor I found reassuring. This was correct, but unfortunately I made a couple of inaccurate moves, and had to lose a Knight by force which was game over. Why did I make the inaccurate moves? I simply did not realise how accurately I needed to continue to play in time pressure against an opponent using his time and playing good moves. With normal best play the position was drawn, but with play slightly below this level (and my mistakes were quite plausible ones) this is all academic.  I was cheesed off with myself, but Bert was a smashing bloke and I wished him well. He went on a reign of terror beating an IM and a GM in the next two rounds. It took young Howell to subdue him!

Round 2 saw me black against a 2049 player in his forties.  The game began as a quiet Queens Indian opening, but it livened up as my opponent tried to come forward and I counter-attacked. I developed attacking chances and made a rook offer which could not be accepted and forced his queen further back. I kept going forward offering a knight and was ready to sac my queen at one point. I was having a real “go”, but my opponent would not go away and eventually we both hit time pressure. Fritz showed that I was winning when I offered a draw (which my opponent accepted at once), but I could not risk not putting something on the scoreboard. I was pleased with my play, but 1.5/2 had slipped into 0.5/2. At least I was on the scoreboard.

I had black in round 3 against a 2038 rated player in his mid- sixties who had been 2260 at his peak. It was a Bogo-Indian, and after 20 accurate moves by both sides (“0.00 equal” said Fritz) we shook hands on a draw in a totally drawn position. I was satisfied with my play and had settled down to 1/3. I was thinking less about round 1 now, but Bert and I kept discussing it. “Your moves were generally very good indeed,” he told me. A gent!

My round 4 opponent was a 2043 rated player in his early 40's who had been over 2200. I had found quite a lot of his games and they were generally impressive. I liked his organisation in the openings, and he seemed a strategic all court player with a good technique. I had white but did not fancy 1 e4 because he generally played closed positions in openings I find difficult to break down. So I had to choose an opening to upset his Semi –Slav based repertoire against non-e4 openings. I decided on the Colle rather than the Exchange –Slav. I even predicted the opening moves correctly, but I could not work up an edge never mind an attack. Worse was to follow when he began to obtain a “niggle” in the middle game (Fritz kept giving him 0.3-0.5 advantage to confirm this when it was used after the game) and the heat and humidity in the room became difficult. Eventually he won a pawn, and then another, and that was enough for me to go and have a beer and analyse the game with him. He deserved to win, and again my mistakes were slight rather than glaring in the earlier part of the game.  He did very well in the event, and I even got to meet his Dad! 1/4 was not good, and two straight losses with the white pieces (rare for me) did not bode well.  And I was not playing badly!

I was white again in round 5, and I said to Ian that I was going to win this one, as three consecutive losses with white was unthinkable. My opponent was a 24 year old 1993 rated player who had risen from being a 1700 in about 2 years. He certainly was efficient at beating players in the 1800-1900 bracket, but that was not going to help him against me, as I was in full combat mode! I opened with the English opening and he played for a type of crude slog attack. I nipped this in the bud and developed nagging pressure on him. He made a mistake and I ramped up the pressure with some good all court play. He began to crumble under some accurate blows, and I swopped off into a winning endgame and crushed him. It was 40 moves of brutally cold positional logic. I felt a lot better!  2/5 felt more respectable.

We took a half point bye in round 6, and there was a rest day the following day so we had two days off. Even before our two days off Ian and I had gone off to Delft one morning to see the house in which Vermeer the artist was born. It had been turned into a museum celebrating his life and work. We both thought it was great, and our trip was complete when we noticed a great crested grebe and its voracious and noisy chick on a canal. Ian took pictures. On the first of our two days off (and we were glad of them) we went to the Euwe museum in Amsterdam.  I had been there before, and I knew Ian would like it. The staff showed us around the vast collection of books and video materials, and Ian commented to me that I would live there if I was based in Amsterdam. Definitely!  Watching my chess hero Alekhine was a fascinating experience. It is well worth another visit, but the chance of getting to play on the giant board outside is zero as the local players do not acknowledge visitors. On the second of our rest days we went to Rotterdam and spent several hours in the glorious local art gallery which had some wonderful paintings including the best two early works by Dali I have ever seen, a tremendous late Picasso, and some sensational impressionist works. Ian likes the 15th -17th Century stuff more than I do, but there was plenty to keep us both happy.

As well  as the visits, my favourite part of these trips was some of our mad discussions! In one I played the role of a dragon on Dragons’ Den whilst Ian was asking for £12 million for 3% of his chess piece covers business. These consisted of knitted fluff from his naval! We both adopted mad voices and the conversation was truly hilarious! On other occasions on the train, I would be an interviewer and Ian would be the Director of Corporate Lies at the Rough-cut Cider Company, or Head of Ethical Deviance at Death Cigarettes.  Ian was born to play these roles!  I was born to dream them up!

Back to the chess and round 7 loomed. In round 7 I was black again and I was facing a 2041 rated player in his mid - 30’s. I knew little about him except that he seemed to be a 1d4 player and played sensible chess. For some reason I was not quite focused on the job in hand, and I felt too relaxed. This was probably due to the two days off! The game kicked off into the Reshevsky variation of the Rubinstein Nimzo-Indian, and I played a very hypermodern line as opposed to my usual solid stuff. I have had some good wins against this variation including beating an American 2300 at the Benedictine 10 minute event in Manchester in 1981 (!) (I beat a Russian IM in the next round, and narrowly lost, having played a brutal attack, to GM Bloc in the next round, but I digress!! Happy days!) The theory is better understood now, but just like Reshevsky himself, the aim is to give black nothing by playing e3, and Nge2, and then gradually crawling forward in the centre if allowed. Black is not allowed to double the white c pawns.  For black, the relatively slow approach gives him time to organise play and the result is usually attritional warfare. This time though, I moved very quickly whilst my opponent took his time. Eventually I was 45 minutes up on the clock, and I was thinking about using this factor later in the game. Unfortunately, there was not a later to the game. My moves looked fine, and Fritz later confirmed they were perfectly ok for equality, but they had the seeds of decay in them, in that I had not taken a very simple measure (more pressure in the centre) to stop  white eventually getting in e4 and freeing his dark squared bishop. Drat and double drat! Fritz reckoned I was only a bit worse, but I can say that it felt very much worse and my opponent played some good moves to win convincingly in 29 moves. He was as surprised as I was at the deterioration in my position. When we analysed it, I immediately remedied my mistake in the game, and he said “You would never lose now”, which is correct, but that is why time is there to be used. David Howell won the event, and he is in time pressure in every game he seems to play, but he has very playable positions. A real lesson there. 2.5/7 put real pressure on my next game with white.

Game 8 saw me white against a 64 year old 2017 who had actually been 2300 at his peak nearly 40 years earlier. I found out after the game that he did not claim the FIDE master title because he did not think it was worth paying for! He had draws with Hodgson and Plaskett under his belt amongst other good results. In the game, however, I decided to avoid his unusual variation of the Sicilian and opted for another English opening. The game became a main line with black playing a quick Bb4. I played an unusual move that had been played a few times by Tony Miles (who I spoke with on several occasions and liked a lot) and he went into deep thought. He played some very crafty moves and so I went into deep thought. We played at a very slow pace, and agreed an early draw in a position in which it was difficult to do anything. I had prepared a seven move variation leading to a perpetual attack on his queen if he did his more obvious plan, and he said “Yes, but you could even go for my king instead.”! We had a good chat and it was clear he had been a really good player and was still dangerous. 3/8. Ian and I both had set a minimum score of 3.5/9 as “acceptable” before the tournament.

So round 9 it was …the final round. We were due to fly back on the same day so we both hoped to have a shorter rather than a long game. As it was Ian had white against me! We have been computer paired against each other three times before in tournaments, and I might talk about them another time!

Enjoy this homage to the Hippo, or salute to the great crested grebe!


White Ian     Black   Nick

Mutual Hippo

1 g3   g6

2 Bg2 Bg7

3 d3     d6

4 Nd2   Nd7

5 e3      e6

6 Ne2    Ne7

7 0-0     0-0

8 h3    h6

9 Rb1 Rb8

10 b3   b6

11 Bb2 and Ian announced “Enough”!? And how could I refuse after such a mighty and thrilling battle!  1/2-1/2 

So 3.5/9 each. I gained two points! Ian lost a few. We need to play more often to stay tournament ready. As Ian was playing some rather elderly players, I startled him and some fellow diners at breakfast one morning with the following casual remark “They will be exhuming your next opponent about now!”

We enjoyed the whole thing, and we might just do it again. It is hot and humid though!  Chess is quite simply the star of the show, despite the modern trend towards safety first play in tournaments.

What of Ian? He took off by himself on some days on his travels and looked a bit tired in some games, but I think he enjoyed it too. We never missed an opportunity for a “Carry On” style double entendre (Oliver Jackson would have been proud of us!) and the best one was one night in the restaurant when I ordered a Belgian light ale. A few minutes  later a  very attractive blonde waitress came over and said to me “ Are you ready for your blonde?” and in my best  Kenneth Williams voice I said  “That’s very kind, but I was hoping for a drink first!” (The beer was called Leffe blonde)  Much chortling all round!! They even gave us free cake on the last day!


Over to Ian.

Russian proverb; " I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet."

Overtaken by the plausible yet foolish desire to invest the last dregs of optimism in the promise of a forthcoming holiday I found myself brought back to earth when the taxi driver turned up fifteen minutes late having "got lost". The world turns while I am transfixed in a dream. Not an unfamiliar scenario.

No longer do I enjoy the process of transporting my physical presence from one airport to another and I find it difficult to relax until I have arrived and begun the process of orientating myself to a new location. A trip to the tourist centre for maps and a good walk around the local area always improves my confidence and feeling of belonging. Out with the camera for snaps of canals and, er, more canals. The only thing more beloved by the Dutch is the bicycle. Most of the local residents are very friendly, speak English, and their hospitality is exceedingly generous towards visitors. Until they get on a bike. I have to say the demarcation between pavements, cycle lanes, and roads for cars is less than clear to visitors and it is easy to find oneself unexpectedly confronted by a cyclist or have one fly closely past at a disconcerting rate of knots. Far too often for my liking.

The opening ceremony in the City Square was crowned by the sight of two Grandmasters pedalling on exercise bikes while playing a game of chess. Doubtless this is a perfectly natural combination but it didn't always appear to be greatly to the liking of Grandmaster Howell although there are far more unpleasant ways of earning an honest crumb. Perhaps it was the suit and tie he had chosen for the ceremony or perhaps he shares the British view that riding a bike on our city streets is akin to signing a suicide pact. Oh well, when in Rome and everybody seemed to be enjoying themselves so we joined in the spirit of it all.

Denksportcentrum. A mind sports centre. Riding a bike whilst playing chess may be unusual to the English but utterly alien is the existence of a place where evenings are devoted to the exercise of the mind in one form or another. Fancy that! A place where thinking is encouraged and even catered for. Even more, there seem to be loads of them in different parts of the country. I don't pretend to understand the policies which enable them to be financed but their very existence is a shock to this poor soul spending a lifetime in the scout hut mentality which drives us to practice our 'geeky' activity in the back rooms of pubs and social clubs.

As we were to discover, the existence of the mind sports centre allows the locals to promote a cheap and cheerful type of FIDE tournament in which working people can play at the weekends and evenings, after work, without having to incur the expenses of playing in tournaments like the 4NCL etc. There seems to be a number of such tournaments during the year and I was to find a number of players are regulars on this circuit giving them a definite advantage over those of us adopting a more leisurely approach to life. Leiden is halfway between Rotterdam and Amsterdam and there is an excellent train service running regularly between these two cities giving opportunities for many players to enter the tournament. It is another world!

Nick and I don't entirely agree on the relevance of chess in our joint enterprise. I much prefer to wander about and see other places. How people live and organise their lives. How they design the buildings that have meaning to them. Parks, statues and churches. And in Netherlands; canals. Chuck in a liberal dose of art galleries followed by something decent to eat and I am most content. Chess does at times assume the role of an add-on rather than the principle reason for being there. All this should not lead to an inference that I have no concern for the tournament at all as I have no great liking for losing bundles of points from my ELO rating or losing to anybody other than a 'respectable' opponent. As Nick often mentions to me, I do have a habit of doing too much and getting more than a little tired when I should be fresh and ready for the battle. Doubtless this is sensible advice but my memories of these trips rarely focus on the tribulations of bits of plastic and those minds inclined to move them.

I might complain about the playing conditions but there was far more room than our place when both the first and second team are at home but we don't play in July. The heat and humidity means being seated near one of the overhead fans can be an advantage to those reared far nearer the Atlantic than the locals. More relevant is the fact I haven't played much real chess over the past year and playing slow games on the internet is no substitute as rapidly became clear in Round One when facing a younger, more ambitious 2336 FM. My London system yielded something resembling equality but the need to find an energetic plan left me bumbling along in a fog as the necessary levels of concentration, honed to sharpness by continuous play, were conspicuously absent. My resignation was somewhat premature, to say the least, as I had completely miscalculated the variation but I certainly saved myself any unnecessary effort in a lost cause.

Round 2 and black against a 2200 FM albeit my age. I do well and had the opportunity to send my queen off to the queenside with the intention of annexing one or two vulnerable pawns but my opponent was marshalling his forces for an attack on my king. Had I something on the tournament board, such as a point, I feel I would have gone for the win but settled for a draw. Post match analysis demonstrated a defence I should have seen after the pawn grabbing but good old Self was agitating for a safety first policy getting a draw and my Spirit acquiesced.

Round 3 was the pivotal game of the tournament for me. I was black again against a sprightly 72 year old FM rated 2100+ and rather than play something sensible found myself jammed on the back three ranks in a manner familiar to my team mates at Aigburth. Despite being allowed to exchange a couple of minor pieces my opponent was doing a good job of keeping me penned in and I finally decided to sacrifice a pawn in order to reach a sort of sensible position.

Using Forsyth notation ( Google it! ) we reached the following position after 74 moves:

2r5/2r3k1/3q3p/P1pPpPp1/1pR1P1P1/1P2Q1K1/8/2R5  White to move

In return for the pawn I had achieved something of a blockade but white is better. Even so, care is required. It had been a long game and a hot afternoon. Add in the effects of grovelling on the back three ranks for fifty moves and I was feeling very tired. I had already foolishly offered a draw in the hope of ending the torture but my opponent had rightly rejected it. Time to advance the passed pawn, one might think.

75 a6     Qxa6

Even now I wince at the way I roused myself and snapped off the pawn in a manner that must have alerted the opponent to the danger in which he now found himself. Simon Webb in his book 'Chess for Tigers' would advise me to act nervously and play the move as if it were the last thing on Earth I would wish to do. White cannot take on c5 as 76 Rxc5 Rxc5 77 Rxc5 Qa7 and the pin is quite deadly. I retired to the toilet and on my return found the opponent had played 76 f6. I looked at it and immediately thought I don't want to take it with the king as he will double on the f-file and break in. Fortunately.....

76 f6       Qxf6

77 Rc2     ......             At this point of the game my thoughts were utterly chaotic. I had been hanging on for a draw for 70 moves and then I am presented with two pawns by my opponent. With 17 minutes against my opponent's 6 plus an extra 30 seconds per move I certainly had some time to compose myself but instead plunged in.....

77 .....      Qf4+           ......and proposed a draw. Why? Tired and wanting it to end. Feeling sorry for my opponent. The heat and humidity. I don't need to win that badly. A sense of fairness in chess honed by twenty years of being an arbiter. Probably all these and more. I had planned to play 78 Qxf4 gxf4+ but, in truth, was 110% certain he would admit he had blundered twice and agree the draw. Not a bit of it!

78 Qxf4    ......           My opponent and I are on the same planet but we don't share it.

                                    I was so shocked by his rejection of my friendly offer that I blundered horribly with 78...exf4 and after 79 Ra2 found I could not advance my king to the central e5 square without being mated and resigned shortly after.

Of course it was all my own fault by forgetting competitive chess is a ruthless affair. I simply hadn't come equipped for a battle of this nature. I had packed a bucket and spade rather than a suit of armour and my opponent had taken advantage of my unwillingness to go the final mile. So be it.

The rest of the tournament turned into a damage limitation affair aided by some opponents who obviously felt in similar vein. I have to admit this incident did knock the confidence out of me and I was unable to recover. No consequence as there were other things to do and lots of art galleries, new places to see and walks to exercise the body. Such things also heal the ailing mind but have no place in a chess column.

I had a wonderful time in Leiden. The Euwe Centre with all the black and white images of the old champions is something I will cherish. My abiding memory is the unstinting hospitality and friendliness of all the people we met during our stay. What is life without good people to share it with.