I arrived at the Peterborough Bridge Club with my usual few minutes to spare before the kick off of a five round, two day, 70/15 time controlled, all-play-all, tourney and was very happy to see the familiar face of fellow St Johnite Mark Lim in attendance: nothing better than having more than one St Johnite in a tourney, I say – well, maybe 5 no-shows and a full-point tourney win with no effort might come close, but it's a terribly close run thing indeed.
After a quick check of the first round pairings the nervousness started bubbling up in me as if my guts had decided to take up training for the 2019 bubblegum-blowing world championships. Yes, I was to face the 14-year old wunderkind Ieysaa Bin-Suhayl (201). But how bad could it be? I had black, and it wasn’t as if he played d4 and knew the Benko inside out wot wiv playing it his own damnself. Harry (128) for the win, eh?
Before the game commenced I spotted tourney director, the very capable Francis Bowers, and approached him with some trepidation. The reason for my soft and somewhat sidling steps? I had heard through the grapevine that our Francis had, though stopping short of hiring Magnum P. Ice-cream to do some digging on me, been putting the feelers out for information as to whether this reporter met the qualifying clauses to take part in a tourney closed to those not of the Cambridgeshire persuasion.
And so it was with passport in hand I approached the big man to show him that I was indeed born in Cambridge back in nineteen-hundred and frozen to death. Presenting my passport and wincing at the photo, he smiled in satisfaction at seeing Cambridge writ large as my place of birth and I made the mistake of attempting some humour: ‘Of course,’ I quipped, ‘it was Cambridge, Massachusetts.’ To which he, with no smile I could define, said: ‘but you were born in Cambridge, right?’ I nodded my assent and legged it to the board before my natural disposition to say, ‘yes, Cambridge, Massachusetts.’ got me in trouble the likes of which any Brexit minister would be familiar with.
Now at the board, there he was: not quite a baby-faced assassin, but the 201 wunderkind sitting in front of me pawing his pieces as if willing them to flight by sheer noggin-power alone. Settle down, Harry, I thought, he might be 201 but he’s no Cap’n Dave Payne and so at least I won’t have to face being flatulated into submission by some seriously noisome Welsh emissions. And with that thought fresh in what passes for my brain we were off!
For the first 10 moves it was soon-to-be NM Bin-Suhayl vs IM Sielecki as I banged out what I hoped the first of a 30 move learnt line, but it was not to be. My oppo deviated with a slight inaccuracy which took me out of the book, but left him slightly weakened. The next few moves saw me destroy his pawn structure, doubling a pair of white pawns and then another pair of pawns. It was on the second doubling, which half-opened the f-file, that I realised he would, at some point, sac his rook for my knight and open up my castled king.
Not too shabby against a 201, eh?
Still, I pressed on and made some moves and was looking good until it came to a choice for me to take an advanced white pawn with queen or rook. I calculated I was going to face the rook sac either way, but taking with the queen would allow me play against his only other threat, a single dangerous advanced pawn. I took, he looked at me and smiled for the first time in the match, a sure sign he knew he’d gone from being down to being up.
And up he was. I defended the rook sac, but in the end it returned to evenish material, but him with a pawn up on my kingside. It was, of course, enough for a high-rated player to win but I wasn’t done yet. I sallied about, avoiding queen exchanges looking for a perpetual check and forced him back a bit. Always one move away from the perpetual, I baited a pawn which he was, naturally, too inured in chessness to take and finally succumbed to a forced queen exchange and resigned on the spot.
After the game he said I’d acquitted myself well and it was the first time I believed anything a 14 year old had ever said.
I looked over to Mark’s board, but he was finished already and, in truth, I didn’t get more than a couple of glances at his games save for the last one which will, of course, be saved till last in this report... so on to the next round!
Next up for me was Nicholas ‘Per’ Lees (101) and I presumed son of the second seed David Lees (215) and so I was prepared for a youth player no doubt much better than his almost six month old rating suggested. I was white and we went into a Sicilian Rossilimo which he promptly messed up allowing my queen and knight a very powerful position against his uncastled king.
Yous in trouble, me lad!
The quick (thank Christ for that, I hear you cry) summary of the match is that half the moves I made were checks as I forced his king from its starting square down the middle of the board and all the way to b4 in search of a mate.
Of course, no summary of mine would be either short or complete without a ubiquitous piece of Hoskinsian idiocy. I provided that in spades by thinking for the first [and not last] time in this tourney that I had checkmate only to find he had an escape square. However, all was not lost, he was in disarray and I think, quite rightly, went for broke to get some counterplay. Unfortunately for him I had a forced mate in 4 if his queen ever left its defensive post, which it duly did to provide me with my first win of the competition and its accompanying celebratory jiggling of me man bits.
With tiredness starting to raise its head like a student playing poker with her principal, the last round of the day was upon us. I was to face Tony Hancock/Jimmy Tarbuck look-alike Patrick ‘The Martian’ Sartian (119) with the black bits. I played the Petroff against his 1e4 2Nf3 which then went into the four knights and finally into the Noa gambit! Absolute joy and a chorus of angels singing in my ears! The Noa gambit is so bad for white if black knows how to play it that our cold-blooded friend Stockfish usually sees white as two down even if they don’t lose a piece, which they usually do, very early in the game.
But forget not dear readers that it was Hopeless Harry Hoskins playing this game and, after forcing a great position against the little green man for the first 10 or so moves …
2 up with even material after 10 moves? This is a job for fuck-up man!
...I went for the kill too fast and neglected a crucial bit of prep in rook centralisation. The result of this was to allow him back in the game briefly, but I still had the bishops, his knight en prie and a mating net and so, after sacking a pawn to get his king where I wanted it brought in my bishop and said, ‘I think that’s mate, mate.’ delighted with the prettiness of it all and also the way I managed to say it softly and in a gentlemanly manner into a megaphone.
To say my face went redder than a baboon’s backside when he uttered, ’uh,uh,uh,uh,ah’ and moved his king with a practised flick of the finger to an escape square would be an understatement. It was burning at the embarrassment and then at the shame of knowing I now had no mate, had allowed his knight to escape, ruined my position and would face an endgame in which I would struggle to draw.
And struggle to draw I did – for another shedload of moves I fought to hold his material majority but in the end it was too much. I even threw in an illegal move for good measure after thinking on a move for a while and then forgetting I was in check! A disappointing end to the first day with what should’ve been a win.
I walked back towards my digs with Mark and discussed the day’s events, we parted company at his car and I headed into the kebabby to get some food, walked up to the counter to order, heard someone vomiting loudly in the lavvies and retreated to Papa John’s for a pizza and chocolate brownie to console myself - it was not enough.
Tomorrow would be, as the very supportive Delsey told me via email, another day. And so it would be, but not one that would start well for yer boy Hoskins.
Sunday morning and I arose, and then got up. Second and final day of the tourney and check-out time from my digs. I should, if you will be so kind to join me in a recollection, mention that it was an unserviced B&B and so on checking out I was to leave my key in my unlocked room and vacate the property, leaving the internal lobby door locked behind me and the front door open.
I duly did as I had been instructed and, as the internal lobby door clicked shut behind me immediately wondered how I was going to get out of the locked front door! I then immediately wondered how I was going to get back in through the locked lobby door! I then realised that the front lobby was no more than two and a bit feet across and felt more trapped than all my pieces put together when I used to play the KID.
What to do? Well, I rung the owner of the digs, but of course no answer. Now 10AM, I could hear my clock ticking at the tourney and imagined a player rubbing his hands in delight at the possibility of a no-show. And with that I began to bang on the door as if it was a good-looking person. When no-one answered I banged on it like it was a mortal enemy and, finally, at five past ten another resident let me back in and then out. Free at last, oh my lord I’m free at last!
Still, not the best start to the day and I legged it to the venue – with time for a ciggy, natch – already 15 minutes closer to flagging to play a beret-wearing chap by the name of Peter ‘The drunkard’s snack of choice’ Wienberger (111). Fortunately I was white, unfortunately he went into the French and I went into the exchange. But a boring game it was anything but to be! He played his queen out on move three and I got a splendid position quite early which I then, in typical style, proceeded to bugger up.
To say I had a bit of a death wish in this game would be playing things down as a Chilean miner. I thought I saw a mate – again! – and managed to hang my queen and knight in the process of never achieving it. One of the pieces had to go and so it was adieu to my trusty steed, but by this point I thought, ‘aw, fuckit, let’s have some fun’. I proceeded to sac pretty much everything else to get a position that might force a win if he wasn’t careful, but ended up with options to force a draw.
Although he had a couple of extra pawns and rook/queen/bishop to my queen/bishop, my sacs had put him in a tight position and there was difficult play for him at every turn. Still, he danced about trying to avoid perpetual checks and occasionally allowing me to advance my C pawn – not very dangerous one would think, but one square more and it would be on the sixth rank and in the action, turning my perpetual threats to both mating and queening threats.
Finally I saw my chance to employ the old baited pawn manoeuvre! If he took it it was mate in two, if he didn’t it was tables turned and Harold Houdini back in the game. And take it he did! After that, and in resigned tones, he said: ‘I think you have me now’ to which I actually apologised for mating him as it seemed so unfair (though not unfair enough for me to do the man-bit-jiggling victory dance three inches from his face for a quarter of an hour).
With the last round upon us it was time to take stock. After a little bit of rustling, I saw I was on two out of four and in contention for top spot as the highest other player in my category [although it was an all-play-all there was a prize for the highest U140 player] was on 2 and a half. Mark was, I think, though may be wrong, on three and so possibilities for a win were possible for both St Johnites.
I prayed for an easy oppo in the last round but drew a 157 whilst the guy leading my section got an e66. Mark prayed for an easy oppo and got the wunderkind (201). I’ll leave you to draw yer own conclusions about God.
My final game was to be the sharpest and most interesting, according to both me and my oppo, game of our tournament. We had chatted over ciggies, he of the electronic variety and I of the proper, earlier in the day and basically told each other our openings and so when he went into the Bird and I the Froms neither of us looked surprised.
What followed was castling on opposite sides and crazy pressure on each king. In actual fact, Stockfish says that I was something like 5 down but my attack looked so much more dangerous and my oppo's time was getting so short that I don’t blame him for defending when he could've given it the beans.
With him down to 2 minutes with only the 15 second increment to save him, all the pressure was finally released. He had three passed pawns, rook, knight and bishop and I had two pawns and two rooks. And with that the push began. The pawns came upon me like a drunkard on spilled beer, but in my usual fashion I ignored the threat to make some threats of my own. Somehow I managed to get a pawn to g3, all I needed now was a rook check and it was mate. I cleverly, or accidentally the less charitable reporter might say, allowed a rook fork from his knight, and calmly moved one of the threatened rooks to a8 threatening mate!
His time was now shorter than a list of the funny anecdotes Theresa May has ever told and he had to defend the back rank mate, but only to allow me to nip to f2 with my other rook. I had no mating threat now due to the position of his pieces, and he would soon queen with one of his many pawns, but what I did have was a really cute move to force a draw:
Black to move cutely, or did he have more?
Under serious time pressure now, he moved his king back and forth to gain a little thinking time, and then held out his hand. No top spot for me as the guy I was in contention with had crushed the 66, but joint second in the U140 category and a fun game drawn against a much higher rated oppo to end my tourney made me happy enough.
Though it was, of course, not quite the end for all St Johnites’ tourneys …
On board three, Mark Lim was in a brutal endgame against the wunderkind and I was able to watch the last of it. With nothing on the board but his king and rooks, Mark faced king/rooks and bishop. It looked a thankless task and with under a minute on his clock to his oppo’s eleven, the St Johnite was dropping more sweat than a sprinkler system on a hot summer's day.
Hell, it was one of the most exciting endgames I’ve ever seen, with Mark struggling to keep in the game for a draw and fighting time pressure and his opponent's extra piece. He kept it up, though how I do not know, for many more moves than I would’ve thought possible until finally exchanges came and it was time to bow out. Great game, I think, and a fitting end to a nice tourney.
After the prizes were given out, Mark was kind enough to give me a lift to the station and we went our separate ways, perhaps happy in the knowledge that we’d done okay and tomorrow would indeed, be another day.
Ciao for now