Jon Speelman's Agony Column #37

by Jonathan Speelman
1/19/2017 – Niel Hickman, a retired judge in his sixties, used to get regularly beaten up in college by the young Tony Miles, and then by the likes of GM Jim Plaskett. He now lives in Norfolk, does Guardian crosswords and writes a bit – on jurisprudence and chess. Niel has submitted two games, a tragedy from 2011 and a very nicely played attacking effort from 2015. They are annotated and explained by him and Jon Speelman. Agony and ecstasy.

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Jon Speelman's Agony Column #37

This week's games are by Neil Hickman, a retired District Judge who now lives in Norfolk.

Neil, who is in his mid-sixties, was educated at King Edward's School Birmingham – the alma mater years earlier of Hugh Alexander and, while he was there, Tony Miles, whom he says he “spent quite a lot of my teenage years being regularly bashed flat by.” He went on to Worcester College Oxford, finishing his degree the year before I started mine.

He writes: “I started playing club chess in Bedford in the mid-1970s, getting regularly bashed flat this time by the likes of Jim Plaskett, but also learning to win the odd game against decent players, including a draw against Andy Ledger, just after he had gained his first GM norm.

Bedfordshire being a fairly weak county, I played a number of county games as well. I became a district judge in 2000, retiring in 2016 on my 65th birthday. Having retired to the depths of Norfolk I play for Wymondham Club, do the Guardian crossword, and write a bit; I had a little book of legal reminiscences published last year, and as a spin off from work I did for the Bedford Club website, I am thinking of self-publishing a collection of noteworthy British games, because there doesn't seem to be a decent one since Fred Reinfeld's pot-boiler of many years ago (and because looking at a lot of classic games with the assistance of Fritz, even an amateur like me may have something useful to say).

My wife is actually a pretty competent player (it was a running joke that she played a casual game against me on the morning before I went off to play for Bedfordshire for the first time, and beat me) but too sensible to take the game seriously. Neither of my children plays the game, and the grandchildren (now four of them) are probably too young to be troubled by it as yet.

Both of the games he sent me, involved sacrifical play but in the “Agony” he missed his mark:

[Event "Bedford C v Kents"] [Site "Luton"] [Date "2011.10.31"] [Round "?"] [White "Hickman, N."] [Black "Perkins, A."] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B14"] [Annotator "Hickman,Neil"] [PlyCount "68"] [EventDate "2011.??.??"] [SourceDate "2015.07.13"] 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 cxd5 4. c4 e6 5. Nf3 Nc6 6. Nc3 Nf6 7. cxd5 exd5 { NH I was surprised by this. Surely Black shouldn't be inflicting an IQP on himself when he doesn't have to? JS This way the c8 bishop gets some air, but indeed.} (7... Nxd5 {is much more common.}) 8. Bd3 Be7 9. O-O O-O 10. Re1 { JS Here or indeed before castling, I would have played h3 to prevent the pin.} Bg4 11. Be3 a6 12. h3 Bh5 13. Be2 Rc8 14. Rc1 b5 {[%eval 81,0] NH I thought White was ok here. Fritz agrees - JS It's uninspiring but perfectly playable and ...b5 was unnecessary and weakening.} 15. Ne5 Bxe2 16. Nxe2 Na5 17. b3 { Played on the basis of "See what he wants to do, and prevent it"} Bb4 $2 { JS Black definitely doesn't want to exchange the black squared bishops and so further weaken c5.} 18. Bd2 Qd6 19. Nd3 (19. Ng3 g6 20. Re3 {NH is very much better for White, according to Fritz. But aiming quietly for the hole Black had kindly created on c5 seemed the right thing to do}) 19... Bxd2 20. Qxd2 Nc6 21. Nc5 h6 $2 {NH I don't like this. It seems to create an unnecessary weakness } ({JS Indeed} 21... Ne4 {was much better.}) 22. Ng3 g6 {[#]NH Virtually forced. I now thought for 12 minutes, leaving myself with only 15 minutes for 13 moves to the time control, and decided to go for broke.. .} 23. Nf5 $5 { NH What Hans Kmoch called "The Benoni Jump" JS A nice intuitive sacrifice though Black should be able to draw.} (23. Rc2 Kg7 24. Rec1 {JS is a tad better for White but nothing special.}) 23... gxf5 24. Nb7 $1 {Black had missed this move, which made 23 Nf5 playable} (24. Qxh6 $4 Ne4 $19) 24... Qc7 25. Qxh6 Nh7 $2 (25... Ne4 26. Rxe4 dxe4 27. Qg5+ {NH and perpetual check}) 26. Nd6 {NH By now Fritz is giving this as +2.72 and Black's last move was actually a blunder.} Qd7 27. Rc3 f6 {[#]} 28. Rg3+ $2 {NH Panic is starting to set in, as the illegibility of the scoresheet reveals. I had 2 minutes left for my last 6 moves and fell to bits.} ({Fritz cold-bloodedly suggests} 28. Qg6+ Kh8 (28... Qg7 29. Qxf5 {NH (the move I had missed)} ({JS But not necessary. Simply} 29. Qxg7+ Kxg7 30. Nxc8 {wins}) 29... Rc7 30. Qxd5+ Kh8 31. Rxc6 {with a winning attack}) 29. Nxc8 Rxc8 30. Rce3 $18) 28... Kh8 29. Re6 $2 {[#]} (29. Nxc8 Rxc8 30. Qf4 {is still better for White according to Fritz - but in reality the game has got away by now}) 29... Nxd4 $1 {Just in the nick of time, Black remembers that he is supposed to be the 180+ player and proceeds to squash me flat.} 30. Nxc8 Nxe6 31. Nb6 Qf7 $2 (31... Qc6 {won the N, but it doesn't really matter}) 32. Nxd5 Neg5 $2 33. Rc3 $4 (33. Nf4 { NH almost equalises... JS Yes White has real chances here even if} Re8 { "should" be better for Black}) 33... Qxd5 34. Rc7 {NH I threaten mate, don't I. ..?} Qd1+ {NH And even with no time left I could see the fork coming. Sometimes chess can be an infuriating game. JS Indeed it can be utterly vile. Anything I added would be platitudinous at best. Just a shame!} 0-1


[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "2013.01.31"] [Round "?"] [White "Hickman, N."] [Black "Ganger, S."] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B01"] [Annotator "Hickman,Neil"] [PlyCount "51"] [EventDate "2013.??.??"] [SourceDate "2015.07.13"] 1. e4 d5 2. exd5 Qxd5 3. Nf3 (3. Nc3 Qa5 4. Nf3 c6 {would lead to the game though} (4... Nf6 {and}) (4... Bg4 {are more common})) 3... c6 {NH Ganger suggested afterwards that this was book, but it looks distinctly slow to me. JS You often want to retreat the queen from a5 so it's fine in itself.} 4. Nc3 Qa5 5. Bc4 Bf5 {JS Playable but I'd want to pin the knight either immediately with} (5... Bg4 6. h3 (6. b4 Qh5 {but not} (6... Qxb4 $2 7. Bxf7+)) 6... Bh5 7. d4 e6) ({or after} 5... Nf6 {first, though White can then play} 6. h3 {if he wishes.}) 6. O-O e6 7. d4 Nf6 8. Re1 {[#]} Bd6 $6 {NH This exposed piece is a bit of an invitation} (8... Be7 9. Ne5 Nbd7 {JS was normal. Unless White can get something immedaitely then it shouldn't amount to too much.}) 9. d5 { NH Exposed piece on d6, king in centre, lead in development...} cxd5 10. Nxd5 Qc5 $6 {JS This allows White to get purchase.} (10... Nxd5 11. Bxd5 Qc7 12. Nd4 O-O $1 ({Certainly not} 12... Bg6 $2 13. Nxe6 $1 fxe6 14. Rxe6+ {and for example} Kf8 15. Qf3+ Bf7 16. Rxd6) 13. Nxf5 exf5 14. g3 Nc6 {is a bit better for White, but nothing tremendous.}) 11. Nxf6+ gxf6 12. Bb3 Qc7 $2 {JS This encourages a huge attack} 13. Nd4 $1 Bg6 {[#]} 14. Nxe6 $1 {JS A very nice sacrifice which intuitively looks right, though it requires quite a bit of calculation to be certain.} fxe6 15. Rxe6+ Be7 {NH I confess I had only looked at} (15... Kd7 16. Bf4 {and Black can resign}) {JS Yes when I looked at this I wasn't absolutely sure that Black couldn't defend and found it hard to keep my eye from straying to the engine to make sure.} 16. Qf3 $1 Bf7 (16... Nc6 17. Bf4 Ne5 18. Bxe5 fxe5 19. Rd1 $1 Rb8 (19... a6 20. Rxg6 {is the same - at least Rb8 defends against Ba4+}) 20. Rxg6 $1 Rf8 21. Qh5) 17. Bf4 Qa5 18. Rxe7+ Kxe7 19. Qxb7+ Nd7 {[#]} 20. Bd6+ $1 {NH According to Gerald Abrahams, if you sacrifice once you should be prepared to sacrifice again - "you owe it to your opponent"} ({Unsurprisingly, the prosaic} 20. Rd1 {also wins} Rhd8 (20... Bd5 $5 21. Bxd5 {is simply horrible}) 21. Bd6+ Ke8 22. Qe4+ Ne5 23. Ba4+) 20... Kxd6 21. Rd1+ {NH The point of the bishop sacrifice is that it gets the R into play with gain of tempo, avoiding e1 (JS where it's en prise to the queen.)} Ke5 22. Bxf7 {[#] NH Dr Euwe once suggested that if you had queen and either bishop or rook against an exposed king on an open board, there would almost certainly be a mate somewhere. White doesn't really need to see much more than Euwe's Rule in this position} Nb6 23. Qe7+ Kf5 24. Qe6+ Kg5 25. h4+ Kh6 ({ NH Black has had enough.  } 25... Kxh4 26. Qh3+ Kg5 27. Qh5+ Kf4 28. Rd4#) 26. Qxf6# {NH An enjoyable little punch-up for White, at any rate. JS Neil is hugely underselling himself here - a very nice attacking game!} 1-0

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Jonathan Speelman, born in 1956, studied mathematics but became a professional chess player in 1977. He was a member of the English Olympic team from 1980–2006 and three times British Champion. He played twice in Candidates Tournaments, reaching the semi-final in 1989. He twice seconded a World Championship challenger: Nigel Short and then Viswanathan Anand against Garry Kasparov in London 1993 and New York 1995.


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