WHAT THE PAPERS SAY
Read Toby Neal's Column in the Shropshire Star on Tuesdays for the latest Shropshire Chess news. Here are some recent cuttings.
If you have a news item email - TNeal@shropshirestar.co.uk.
Grandmasters check in - 22/12/2015
It's Grandmasters galore for Shropshire Chess Congress, with a best-ever first prize of £1,000 - made possible by a generous sponsor - bringing the superstars flocking in.
Latest entries to the competition being held from January 8 to 10 are English Grandmaster Danny Gormally, and Jahongir Vakhidov of Uzbekistan, a Grandmaster with a FIDE grade of 2546, making him by far the strongest entrant in the entire history of the tournament, which dates back to the early 1970s.
They have thrown their hat in the ring in the Open section, which already had three Grandmasters and three International Masters signed up, a vindication of the organisers' efforts to raise the status and profile of Shropshire's premier chess event, which is held at the premises of Wrekin Housing Trust in Telford and attracts over 140 players of all abilities in three strength sections.
There are over 90 entrants so far but those entering now have missed a significant "D-Day" as Dec 21st was the last day for entry before an £8 late entry fee comes into effect.
Given that it is the strongest field ever in the Open, chances of a home winner in that section must be rated at nil unless all the Grandmasters collectively fall under a bus, and Shropshire hopes of success will rest in the Major and Minor sections.
Congress details are at www.shropshirechess.org .
In Shropshire Chess League, Priorslee Lions are roaring again, going in at half time in the season in joint first position in Division One. In a top-of-the-table clash, the Lions came up against Shrewsbury's Telepost A, who were able to field their strongest side, but still went down to a 4-1 thumping. It means that four points separate the first six teams, any of which could realistically take the title if - and it's a big if - they can consistently turn out their best players.
The relegation battle looks equally tight. Wellington A remain on just one point at the foot of the division but Oswestry A, just off the bottom, have a set of players who are strong enough to make the team title contenders rather than relegation candidates.
Spanish Lessons at Telepost - 15/12/2015
It's not often that a chess player demonstrates such skill that those watching break out into applause, but 14-year-old Spanish exchange student Celia Gillis left onlookers spellbound in a thrilling grandstand finish to her last ever appearance for Shrewsbury.
With just seconds left on her clock and in a tricky endgame, Celia played every move instantly and with great accuracy to beat Keith Tabner. As it was the last game to finish and everything depended on it in an epic encounter between Shrewsbury B and county town rivals Telepost B, a small crowd gathered to watch, and everyone clapped in admiration at what they witnessed.
Celia's win secured both points for Shrewsbury, who now head Division Two. She is returning to Spain, and as a sort of thank you for all she has done for the team was given the honour in her last game of playing on top board - something that has raised some eyebrows as her grading is 139, which is 11 points lower than that of Daniel Lockett who was played on board two, although by common consent Celia's grading seriously underestimates her talents.
Ludlow A are now in second place and, with an influx of some very strong players, are looking good for the second half of the season.
Shropshire Chess Congress is still weeks away but players planning to take part have just a few days left to make an important decision - whether to pay now, or pay later. December 21 is the deadline for entries after which there is a £8 "fine" for late entry, which would raise the adult fee in the Open section from an already eye-watering £35 to a whopping £43.
While the fees are a record for the competition, so is the first prize by some considerable margin, at £1,000, although the prospects of a local winner are virtually nil, as it is already the strongest field in the tournament's history, with three Grandmasters and two International Masters so far signed up to take part. Shropshire will instead be looking for home winners in the Major and Minor sections, where the on-time adult entry fee is £25 - it's £20 for juniors - and the first prize is £300 in each section.
The tournament is from January 8 to 10 at the Wrekin Housing Trust in Telford.
Treble Top - 08/12/2015
It's as easy as A, B, and C for Shrewsbury's Telepost chess club - as their A, B, and C teams are topping all three divisions in Shropshire Chess League.
The A-teamers went to Wellington missing some of their strongest players, but were nevertheless still too powerful for struggling Wellington, who started the match with only four players as Derrick Powell was a last-minute cry-off due to his multiple sclerosis. B-team player John Storey arrived a bit later looking for a little relaxed social chess but found himself immediately roped in to a division one battle.
Telepost are two points clear at the head of the table but it goes without saying that they will face much tougher opposition who will take full advantage if they continue to be unable to field their best team.
They take the place of early league leaders Church Stretton A, who were toppled following a thumping defeat at the hands of reigning league champions Priorslee Lions A, who seem to be recovering their form after a mixed start to this season's campaign. The Lions moved to a 4-0 score before Trevor Brotherton was able to save the visitors from a whitewash.
Flag to the rescue - 01/12/2015
A whole queen down, Vinny Crean rode his luck against Grabias Yaroslaw - with a little help from the clock - and took Telepost B to a victory when sees them heading Division Two.
The running score was level in the Newport B v Telepost B match with only the encounter between Yaroslaw and Crean to finish, and it all looked over when Crean suddenly had to lose his queen or be mated. Watching Newport players thought the match was now in the bag, but Crean dug in and, with seconds left on the clock, Yaroslaw missed a back row mate and instead chose another check which Crean blocked and several seconds later Yaroslaw's flag fell, causing him to sink in his chair and Crean rising in his - 3-2 to Telepost.
A new pair of glasses seems to have done wonders for Eugene Raby, who in round two of the county individual championship won his first over-the-board game in three years, his opponent being Newport's Chris Lewis.
Raby said: "Playing the Black pieces I opted for a Sicilian Defence and gave the Basman-Sale variation a try. It was an exciting game and Chris had winning chances but I came through good in the end.
"I now have new glasses. In my first few games of the season I had a blurred board. Now I can see in 3D."
Incidentally the Basman-Sale variation turns out to be an original counter-attack which many players with the white pieces will never have seen before.
Overseas stars thwart Newport - 24/11/2015
Shrewsbury A, missing four regular players, called on "International Rescue" as they salvaged a point against the odds in their encounter with title contenders Newport A in Shropshire Chess League.
On a wild and windy night Shrewsbury's international recruits, Spanish exchange student Celia Gillis and Nigerian doctor Olusegun Ilesanmi, made a storming finish, with Ile's win securing a running score of 2-2 and then Celia, in a complicated endgame, drew against Nathanael Paul, which meant of 2.5-2.5 match result.
In the top of the table clash, Telepost A took both points against Church Stretton A, which leaves them equal on points at the head of the league.
Division Three is shaping up to be a close battle at the top, with Telepost C with their noses just ahead. In the other direction, Wellington B continue to have a historic score of minus one point, having been penalised a point for defaulting the first game of the season under a new get-tough league rule, and failing to have achieved any points since.
Shropshire teams were in action in the latest round in the Four Nations Chess League, with Shropshire 1 drawing both matches, and Shropshire 2 securing an emphatic win in the first match, but a narrow loss in the second. Shropshire 3 went down to two defeats against higher graded teams.
Wellington left deflated - 17/11/2015
Shropshire Chess League's controller has become "hard man Vinny" as he puts his foot down to stamp out the scourge of postponements.
On the way to a recent fixture, John Storey of Wellington B had a damaging encounter with a Keep Left sign and deflated a tyre, meaning he and Martin Walsh never turned up. When word reached the match, Newport C reluctantly agreed to Wellington captain Derrick Powell's request to play the two games for which players were present, and play the other two involving those missing due to the motoring mishap at another date.
But when the issue went to Vinny Crean he ruled that the games involving the absent players must count as Wellington defaults - that is, automatic losses - which means that Wellington B, who "won" on the night 1.5 - 0.5, now lose the match 2.5 - 1.5.
Vinny said: "As league controller I made the decision that the result of the Newport C v Wellington B match will stand. In the past there have been many circumstances in which teams have been left short of players on a match night. However, we have never entertained these unplayed matches to be rearranged. It would have been unprecedented to allow the bottom two boards to play on another night. "Half the Wellington team arrived and played - I class this as a minimum team configuration."
Telford B are topping Division Two after a knife-edge victory over Priorslee Lions B in which the clocks played a crucial part, as explained by Telford's Roger Brown.
"It was 2-2 with my game to complete, and I was two pawns up. Looking at the clock at the crucial point my opponent Michael Reynolds had three minutes left and I had 12 seconds left in an ending with a knight each and pawns. He made an illegal move which meant I got two extra minutes on my clock - fortunately Gary White was able to configure Priorslee's electronic clocks - the knights were swapped off, and it led to a win for myself and the team."
Among the welcome new blood to the league this season is George Kolbusz, playing for Telford. George - it's an anglicised version of his name Jerzy - recently moved to the area, living in Telford, and he spends several months of the year in France. Graded a very useful 161, his previous club was Denton, the Stockton side of Manchester.
Church Stretton are early pace-setters - 10/11/2015
Church Stretton are early Shropshire Chess League leaders with a victory over Oswestry A maintaining their 100 per cent record so far this season.
On top board Brian Whyte and Trevor Brotherton drew, and on board two newcomer Charles Higgie chalked up his first win for the home team, but the damage was done on the bottom three boards, where Stretton enjoyed a clean sweep.
Reigning league champions Priorslee Lions A went through all of last season undefeated, but are not having things all their own way this time round, having suffered their second defeat, going down to Shrewsbury A.
Against Newport A, Wellington A were for the first time this season able to field their strongest available team but were beaten nonetheless and now prop up the rest of the division. The match was played at the new optional incremental time limit of 75 minutes plus 15 seconds a move.
In Division Three action a shredded tyre on the way there meant that two Wellington B players didn't make it to the fixture against Newport C with the upshot that only two games were played, but it was agreed that the remaining two - it's four-a-side in this division rather than five as in the upper two - should be played at a later date.
Shropshire Chess Congress reaches for the stars -03/11/2015
Shropshire Chess Congress is reaching for the stars and giving Britain's top players a thousand good reasons to join the fray in a major step up in the status of the event, the most prestigious in the county's chess calendar.
First prize in the strongest section has been boosted to an incredible £1,000, a record amount which is more than double that of the last congress, and this single prize is not far off the entire prize fund of just a few years ago. The hike in the prize money has been made possible thanks to an anonymous sponsor.
And already several Grandmasters and International Masters have signed up to play, raising the prospect of January's competition being the most star-studded ever. The downside for more mortal players is that the adult entry fee in the Open section has gone up £10 to an eyewatering £35.
Among other innovations at the congress, which is from January 8 to 10 at the Wrekin Housing Trust in Telford, is the introduction of a Friday evening round, something last seen around 25 years ago. However, the Saturday evening round is being dropped, meaning that it will stay a five-round competition.
For the first time, digital clocks will be used throughout, and the new technology sees incremental time controls adopted for the first time, with a rate of play of all moves in 90 minutes, plus 30 seconds a move - in other words, players have an initial 90 minutes on the clock, but every time they make a move they get an extra 10 seconds, making games in theory open-ended, although in practice making little difference to overall times.The congress is FIDE rated, which means it now has international standing.
One of the organisers, Steve Rooney, said: “We are delighted to be hosting three of our top English grandmasters, Keith Arkell, Stephen Gordon and Mark Hebden, at this year's congress, but there will undoubtedly be fierce competition for the top prize led by the three IMs which include French women's champion Sophie Milliet, former winner and Shropshire-born John Cox, and young Midlands prodigy Ameet Ghasi.
“There are three sections which enables players of all abilities to get involved. It should be a fantastic weekend of chess and we will also be transmitting the top ten games live on the internet which really puts Shropshire in the spotlight.”
Full details and entry form are on the Shropshire chess website www.shropshirechess.org .
The congress is a big tournament with three sections, the Open, the Major, and the Minor, encompassing all abilities. There are five rounds, with players being paired in each round against an opponent on equal points, meaning that the final round sees the leaders going head to head in their bid for glory.
International flavour in Shropshire league - 20/10/2015
Three new players - all of them "internationals" - had their debuts in Shropshire Chess League in a match which also saw the first whitewash of the season in Division Two, as Shrewsbury B hammered Newport B 5-0.
Shrewsbury fielded Spanish exchange student Celia Gillis and Nigerian doctor Olusegun Ilesanmi on boards two and three, while Newport had a new addition in the form of Jaroslaw Grabias from Poland.
Celia, who is only available to play until Christmas, was playing fellow teenager Athar Mehmood and she won after an entertaining tactical battle, and Ile was in a winning position against Stuart Ross when Ross' time ran out.
Jaroslaw showed he knew his stuff against Ian Davies, but made a mistake which cost a piece and ultimately the game.
Away from the league, Newport's Chris Paul won the Minor section for players graded 110 and below with a perfect score of six out of six at the Quinborne Rapidplay, winning £120. Telford's Steve Szwajkun came joint third with a score of four out of six in the same section with five other players, earning him a £5 prize.
Raby checks in at Wellington - 13/10/2015
The Church Stretton A v Wellington A encounter in Shropshire Chess League was notable for two reasons.
One was the return of Eugene Raby, who had not played over the board chess since 2012 when he played for Coddon - or Priorslee Lions as they are now called.
He lives in Wellington and has joined Wellington's ranks, and marked his comeback with a draw.
The other notable feature was that the teams played at the new optional time limit of 75 minutes per player, plus 15 seconds a move.
The way was cleared for captains to agree to play at this time control by the annual meeting of Shropshire Chess Association, and a new influx of digital clocks among clubs has made it possible. Each player has an initial 75 minutes to complete all the moves of the game, but every time they make a move they get an additional 15 seconds on top. The "normal" league time limit is 95 minutes for the entire game.
Coincidentally or not, the match had an early finish, although there was one hiccup as it was discovered afterwards that one of the clocks wasn't adding the additional time when moves were played.
For the second time this season Wellington were shorthanded, with their fifth player crying off through illness at the last minute, and Stretton chalked up a 3.5-1.5 victory.
Young chess stars shine - 06/10/2015
Shropshire's young chess stars have had a taste of national action by taking part in the junior section of the Four Nations Chess League in the latest round of games held at Birmingham Airport.
County junior organiser Simon Maydew said they played for Midland Monarchs, who are managed by International Master Lawrence Cooper.
Simon said: "Players selected to play in the team were Tommy Gilmour from Priorslee Lions, and from Newport Juniors. A potential rising star is Edison Xu, aged eight, who has just moved from China, and Zach Maydew. As well as playing matches, coaching was also provided to a number of chess masters.
"This builds upon Dominic Holmes from Newport Juniors who was recently selected to represent England. The junior team finished third out of 18 teams in Division Two, so it was a really good performance. Both Tommy and Edison had scores of four out of five."
Back on the local scene the Shropshire county individual championship is about to start, with a renewed drive to attract more entrants, as numbers have been falling away in recent years. The competition is a seven-round Swiss tournament and the deadline is October 8, with an entry fee of £10. More details on the Shropshire chess website.
Reigning league champions Priorslee Lions have acted to make an enduring impact on the league trophy, as Gary White of the club explains.
"We were presented with the trophy back in July at the Shropshire Chess Association AGM, but the engraved names of the winners only went as far as 2011. The trophy has now been extended with a new block of wood - many thanks to Alan White at Apex Patterns for turning that for us free of charge. This accepts the new silver-plated band with the names of the latest winners nicely engraved. Many thanks also to Shropshire Trophy & Bowling Centre of Shrewsbury, for supplying and engraving the band at such a favourable price."
Wellington sink to new low - 29/09/2015
A defeat for the reigning league champions, a thumping win for Telepost in the Shrewsbury derby, and a historic score for all the wrong reasons for Wellington B - it's been quite a start to the new season in Shropshire Chess League.
Having completed last season undefeated, title holders Priorslee Lions A were brought down to earth by a loss at the hands of visitors Newport A, while Telepost A gained the county town bragging rights with a 4-1 victory over Shrewsbury A.
For the Wellington club, it was a near disastrous start to the new campaign, thanks to a double whammy of recent loss of players and player unavailability, and also a fixture list which had both the A and B teams scheduled to play on the same night for their first matches.
With Wellington's resources unable to stretch, the B team had to default - which means they may have made history by having the lowest score ever in the annals of Shropshire chess, at minus one point, thanks to the newly-introduced rule in which teams are docked a point if they default matches without good reason.
And Wellington A played Oswestry A with just three players as a result of Derrick Powell making a long and fruitless trip to Oswestry in the mistaken belief that it was an away fixture, and a newcomer on board five crying off on the day through a work emergency.
Oswestry were themselves fielding newcomer Charles Higgie from Malpas on third board. That Wellington salvaged a point was due to a great escape on top board where Tiago Faustino was in a miserable position and subject to an unbreakable pin. However in increasing time trouble Brian Whyte made one or two inexact moves from which Faustino was able to take advantage and win the endgame.
Elsewhere there was Shropshire glory at Paignton Chess Congress, where four county players took part - Paul Broderick, Dave Gostelow, Windor Peck and Richard Bryant.
Bryant managed shared first place and £250 in the under-180 tournament (180 is a grading level). Windsor Peck managed to win £50 , third, and an under 114 grading prize in the under 135 graded tournament .
New season kicks off - 22/09/2015
Shropshire chess league action is under way for the new season with Telepost B and Priorslee Lions B both making winning starts in Division Two.
Division One games begin this week with the county town derby of Telepost A v Shrewsbury A being the pick of the bunch, while Priorslee Lions A, who won the league championship last season with surprising ease considering that on paper they were by no means the strongest side, will be entertaining Newport A.
The team lists suggest there is not any significant injection of new blood within the division, so the clubs with strength in depth will be at a significant advantage, and any defaulted matches could prove disastrous to a team's hopes thanks to the introduction of a new rule which will see a point deduction imposed on no-show team, unless the default is for a legitimate reason like extreme weather - not being able to turn out the best team is not considered a legitimate reason.
Time for change - 15/09/2015
Shropshire chess is looking to "go digital" in the coming season with a drive to encourage more clubs to invest in digital chess clocks.
Shropshire Chess Association is in effect making clubs a buy two, get five offer on digital clocks, to increase the pool of digital clocks that will be available to use in the annual Shropshire Chess Congress, the biggest event in the county chess calendar which is attended by well over 100 players from all over the country.
Under the scheme, clubs will get five digital clocks, but only pay for two, and the association will pay for the other three. The deal will be that when congress time comes, the clubs will let the clocks be used in that competition.
The association's plan is to buy 40 clocks in all - it has negotiated to pay £35 per clock for the DGT2010 model.
Currently most clubs use traditional wind-up chess clocks with moving hands, which are simple and cheap. However, it can be difficult for players in time trouble to judge exactly how much time they have left, and traditional clocks cannot cope with incremental time controls.
Digital clocks give players an exact countdown in seconds of the time they have left, and make incremental time controls possible. This is significant as Shropshire Chess Association's annual meeting has agreed to give teams the option in the coming season, where captains agree, of playing at an incremental time control of 75 minutes plus 15 seconds a move, instead of the league's "normal" 95 minutes for all the moves of the game. In other words, each player has 75 minutes to play their game, but each time they press the clock after making a move they will get an extra 15 seconds on top. Although in theory this makes games potentially open-ended, experience shows that it will make no difference to when games finish.
Historic moment for Nick Rutter - 08/09/2015
Nick Rutter has written himself into the Shropshire chess history books as the county's greatest champion.
Newport player Rutter has become Shropshire individual champion for the tenth time, which means he has overtaken David Everington, who in his long chess career has racked up nine championships.
Rutter has been at or near the top of the Shropshire chess pile ever since moving to the county in the late 1980s. He quickly made his mark, being champion for the first time in 1989.
For a long time he was been Shropshire's highest graded player, at or near the 200 mark, although in most recent times has been overtaken in this respect by Nigel Ferrington of Telepost.
Rutter's current grading is 202, while Ferrington is 212 making him, on paper, Shropshire's strongest player. In any event, the pair are significantly ahead of the rest of the field and are the dominant players in the county.
As for Everington, he continues to be a tough proposition for any opponent, 50 years after first becoming Shropshire's chess king.
This Shrewsbury player first became individual champion in 1965, shortly after leaving Priory Grammar School and in an amazing run was county chess champion for six consecutive years in the early 1970s.
New penalty for defaulting a match - 21/07/2015
No-show teams face a crackdown in Shropshire Chess League next season with a new penalty being introduced in which they will be docked a point if they default a match.
The issue has blown up mainly as a result of the experience of Church Stretton A, who were promoted from division two last season with the help of three 5-0 walkovers when opponents defaulted. Stretton were so strong that they would no doubt have been promoted anyway - and there is a a suspicion that that was the underlying problem, in that teams were reluctant to travel to the south Shropshire town just to get a thrashing.
"I think it was because of the perceived strength of Church Stretton," said Stretton captain Steve Rooney, who brought the matter to the table at the annual meeting of Shropshire Chess Association - Stretton were more unhappy than anyone else with the defaults.
The debate on a proposal to introduce penalties for defaulting a match proved finally balanced, but the principle was passed on an 11-9 vote, and a subsequent vote rejected the idea of having just a warning for the first offence. It means that the point will be docked automatically for a first offence.
In a related discussion about the number of postponements which were being agreed between themselves by team captains, it was resolved that in future all teams seeking a postponement must deal directly with league controller Vinny Crean. In this case the underlying concern was that teams were postponing games for non-exceptional reasons, such as being unable to get their best team out.
And the league will see a newcomer in the 2016/17 season, as the meeting approved an application for Brewood Chess Club to play in the Shropshire Chess League, even though Brewood is in Staffordshire. It will mean that the constitution, which stipulates league clubs should be based in Shropshire, will need to be amended.
Another significant change, being introduced in the new season, is that where digital chess clocks are available, team captains will, if they wish and they agree, be able to play at a time control of 75 minutes plus 15 seconds a move, instead of the league's "normal" 95 minutes for all the moves of the game.
The effect would be that each player will have 75 minutes to play their game, but each time they pressed the clock after making a move they would get an extra 15 seconds on top. Although in theory this makes games open-ended, experience shows that it will make no difference to when games finish, as a vast number of moves would need to be played to create a late finish.
Crackdown on postponements - 14/07/2015
Changes in the Shropshire Chess League which could see a major crackdown on teams which cry off from playing league games without good reason are up for discussion as county officials meet tomorrow, Wednesday, July 15.
It follows concern about the number of times teams postponed or defaulted games last season in circumstances which were anything other than "exceptional" - such as extremes of weather.
In Division Two, Church Stretton romped to promotion and the division title helped along the way by no fewer than three 5-0 walkovers when opposition teams defaulted. Steve Rooney of Stretton said: "It is a thoroughly unsatisfactory way to win and may also cause us some embarrassment with our club venue as they have had three bookings cancelled at short notice."
There were other instances in other divisions in which teams asked to postpone matches because they could not raise their best team.
New measures to deal with the problem are to be discussed at Shropshire Chess Association's annual meeting being held at the Telepost club at Shrewsbury at 7.30pm. Under the moves being proposed are that any postponements must go through the league controller, who will decide whether to allow them, and that any team which is unable to play a fixture will be docked two points.
Another suggested rule change would give an optional alternative time limit in cases where digital clocks are available. The current league limit is that each player has 95 minutes to complete all the moves of the game. The alternative available, if captains agreed, would be an incremental time limit of all moves in 75 minutes, plus 15 seconds a move, from move one.