Board of the Kings

In which I take stock, and decide to move on…

The world is changing: I feel it in the water, I feel it in the earth, and I smell it in the air.

…Though that last smell could be me, of course.

And I feel… old. Well… middle aged, anyway.

I am, of course, properly middle-aged, and even older than my esteemed colleague and occasional adversary Dr H Gee of this parish, another gentleman given to occasional musing on the onward thundering of Time’s Winged Chariot.

And I feel that, as the world changes, I need to follow suit.

As the two or three regular readers of this blog will know, I don’t kid myself that I am Mister-Height-of-Popularity with my employer. I have had the same job title now for more than twenty-four years – which might be the explanation, or might be the consequence…. who knows. Anyway, what with the way things are going in the UK Universities (see also here), I have decided it is probably time to make some changes.

One is that this blog is re-locating. It will be moving to a new site (to be announced) where it will be known henceforth as:

“A scientist does pawn”

…Which brings me to my second announcement.

I will be taking voluntary redundancy from my job at the University, and devoting myself full-time to attempting to become a chess master in my sixth decade.

The two or three regulars of this blog will know that I had a Dark Past, many, many Winters ago, as a Teenage Chess Fiend.

I have to blame Steve Caplan, and Stephen Moss, for helping to re-awaken the Dark Hunger in my soul for pawn, mating threats, combinatorial fireworks and zugzwang.

Now, chess is typically considered a young man’s game, but I think I can show these young whippersnappers that us Old Farts are not totally past it.

And in any case, since I gave up chess at the age of eighteen, in chess years I am not even twenty yet.

Getting back to the current day job, in the present financial climate all the UK Universities are keen to shed grumbling old geezers, so terms are on offer. With a bit of luck, the settlement should give me at least a year hunched over my chess books and my computer before I actually have to think of some way of earning a living. Hopefully not too honest a one.

For instance. I could make use of my knowledge of complementary medicine and join Cromercrox as a Celebrity Nutritionist.

And if that is not enough, I can always send The Boss out to work full time. The kids will both be in full-time education (or nursery, at least) from this coming September, so I could even become a chess-studying house-husband.

So…. this blog, in its new guise and home, will henceforth be cataloguing my progress in my new career (or rather non-career) direction. Though it may digress back into science from time to time.

Meanwhile, as a taste of things to come, here is a chess game from my long-ago Geek Years. Enjoy – especially the two Steves. Or stop reading, if you are pawn-averse.


A Elliott – S Hughes
Oxford Inter-School League Match, Nov 1978

1. e4 e6
2. d4 d5
3. Nc3 Bb4

The Winawer variation of the French Defence (1…e6)

4. e5 c5
5. a3 Bc3: +
6. bc: Ne7

A typical starting position in the Winawer variation. 6 ..Ne7 allows Black to meet 7 Qg4 with castling King-side or perhaps with ..Ng6, if Black does not fancy the complications of 7. Qg4 Qc7 8. Qg7: Rg8 9. Qh7: cd: 10. Ne2 etc

7. Nf3

Opting for something a bit less manic, but not without teeth

7. ….h6

To prevent a later Ng5 if Black castles King-side

8. a4

An important move. White is planning to develop the Queen’s Bishop on a3 to take advantage of Black’s weakness on the dark squares.

8. …Qc7
9. Bd3 Bd7
10. 0-0 c4

A committal move, closing the centre. This usually signifies that Black intends to castle Queen-side and try and launch a pawn storm against the White King with the g- and h-pawns. However, it would be better to keep the tension in the centre a while longer with …Nbc6 and 0-0-0.

11. Be2 Nbc6
12. Ba3 0-0-0

The position is now set, a typical type in this opening, with a fairly fixed pawn centre and the players castled on opposite sides. Black plans his King-side attack, while White will attack on the Queen side down the a- and (open) b-files and on the Black squares. The question in such positions is always – who will get there first?

13. Nd2

Re-deploying the Knight toward the Queen-side.  It also means Black cannot gain time by attacking the Knight with g5-g4

13. …g5 (diagram)

Starting the planned advance.

After black's 13th move

White to play

14. Qb1 !

This looks a bit of a cumbersome way to get the Queen into action, but appearances can be deceptive.

14. …Rdf8 ?!

Black changes his plan, now deciding to try and open the f-file with f6. It would almost certainly have been better to stick to his first idea with Rdg8, h5, g4, h4 etc

15. a5 f6

White’s a-pawn cannot be taken, and Black does not want to block it with a6 as this would leave the b6 square weak

16. Bd6

Emphasising Black’s dark-squared weakness and also protecting the pawn on e5.

16.      …Qd8
17. Qb2

Intending Rfb1 with the threat of mate on b7

17.    …Nb8

An ugly move, but it makes space for the Bishop to go to c6 and protect b7

18. Rfb1 Bc6
19. Bc5

Forcing Black’s reply, which leaves b6 weak

19.     …a6 (diagram)

But now White has a nice tactical shot:

After black's 19th move

After 19... a6

20. Bc4:! fe:

Capturing the Bishop allows White’s Knight to c4, when the threats of Nb6+ or Nd6+ leave Black in dire straits, e.g. 20 …dc 21. Nc4: Nd5 22. Nd6+ Kd7 23 c4 or Nb7:

21. de: Nf5

The Bishop is still taboo

22. Bd3 Rf7
23. Bf5:

Deciding to remove Black’s only actively-placed minor piece

23. …Rf5:
24. Bd6 Nd7 (diagram)

Probably worrying about Nb3-c5-b7, but White has another way to pry open Black’s position.

White to play

After 24... Nd7

25. c4! g4

Trying for some counterplay with ..Qh4 and perhaps …Rh5

26. cd: Bd5:

Wanting to open the diagonal for the Bishop, with ideas like …Qh4 and if g3 …Qh3. – but Black is too late

27. Qc3+ Bc6
28. Ne4 Qh4 (diagram)

A desperate attempt to conjure up a threat, e,g, with ..Rh5, but allowing the decisive blow.

White to play

After 28...Qh4

29. Rb7: ! Kb7:
30. Rb1+ Bb5

30…Ka7 Qc6: is no better

31. Rb5:+ !

A second rook sacrifices itself to remove a defender

31.    …ab:
32. Qc7+ Ka6

And Black resigned, not waiting for 33 Nc5+ Nc5: 34 Qb6 mate (diagram).

The unreached final mate


About Austin

Middle-aged grouchy white male. Hair greying but hasn't all fallen out yet. Spreading waistline ill-concealed by baggy jumper.Semi-extinguished physiology researcher turned teacher. Known for never shutting up. Father of two children (aged 6 and 2) who try to out-talk him. Some would call that Karmic Revenge.
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15 Responses to Board of the Kings

  1. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    Y’know, I believe there’s more money in professional poker than in chess. Anyone with a strong track record of dealing with university red tape should have an excellent grasp of bluffing, while dealing with idiotic reviews and post-presentation questions will have taught you the requisite patience and poker face skills. Maybe you could consider a day job in poker while you hone your craft?

  2. Austin says:

    Interesting idea, Cath. I’ve never been much of a card player, but I’ve heard of a fair few professional chess players who play poker too. And I’m pretty sure you;re right about the money.

    …And both games have featured in James Bond movies.

    Not sure about the “patience and poker face”, though. I always tend to say something smart-arsed and get into trouble. Would have to work on that to play poker…

    • Bob O'H says:

      Apparently the way to make money is to play online poker in the morning, against drunk Americans (and possibly Canadians, eh Cath?). Online drunk chess lacks an appeal, though.

  3. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    You’d have to change the name of your new blog, though. How about “A flushed scientist does pawn”?

  4. cromercrox says:

    Zugzwang. Nice, woody word, that. And you’d be welcome at my Celebrity Nutrition clinic anytime. But you’d have to play Scrabble.

  5. stephenemoss says:

    Austin – this looks so interesting, I’ll have to return to it later. There are just too many good blogs to read at the moment on OT, and not enough time. And I’m in the midst of a house-moving weekend – completely pooped and another full day of packing coming up tomorrow.

    • Austin says:

      Ouch. Sympathies, Stephen. Moving house is a seriously stressful business. Once a decade is more than often enough for me.

      • stephenemoss says:

        On this occasion it’s my mothers house (she died not long ago), so perhaps not as stressful, but just as much work!

  6. Steve Caplan says:


    Very nice game! Real domination positionally, with that superb bishop on d6! The nice thing is that whereas I would often find myself in such advantageous positions–often under time pressure–rarely would I be able to follow through so beautifully with the tactical continuations you found again and again!

    Definitely worth going back to the Board of the Kings! Perhaps I should take lessons from you.

    • Cheers, Steve. Of course, you’re getting a rather slanted view of my chess prowess as I’m only showing you the rare good stuff!! It is a bit like all those papers we physiologists publish which say “Figure 1 shows a typical experimental record…” when everyone knows damn well that it will be the best recording you ever got, or at least the second best.

      Re chess tactics, I always used to believe broadly in the Bobby Fischer line that “tactics flow naturally from a superior position”… though of course you do have to spot the tactics, or at least enough of them.

      As a pre-computer chess player, I reckon I learned tactics two ways; from reading annotated books of master games, and from playing endless 5 minute and blitz chess (pretty much every weekday in the school lunch hour). The annotated games show you the tactical motifs, and once you are aware of them you can check in any likely-looking positions whether the tactical trick or sac might actually work. I think my first two chess books were Chernev’s Logical Chess Move by Move and Fischer’s My Sixty Memorable Games., BTW.

      On the other hand… I shudder to think how much time I must have wasted, in the many games when I had the White side of the open Siciilan, trying to work out if I could play the Tal-style Knight or Bishop sac on either b5 or e6. I’m not sure I ever actually managed a single one…!

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