Coaches’ Corner

The Coventry Chess Academy’s coaches are an integral part of our club. They help to organise sessions, teach our members, supervise play and offer guidance. They’re also very good chess players in their own right! They all come from a diverse range of backgrounds; what unites them is a commitment to the aims and ethos of the Coventry Chess Academy and the welfare of its members. In this section, we will be publishing interviews with our coaches so you can get to know them a little better!  

 

Roy Watson

In our long-awaited third edition of Coaches’ Corner, we fix the spotlight on a man who needs no introduction: the inimitable Roy Watson! Roy has been a regular coach at the Coventry Chess Academy since its inception and is a hugely popular figure among members thanks to his trademark sense of humour, easy-going nature and boundless energy.

Roy has considerable experience of playing chess at club and county level and five decades of experience working with children in the social work profession, both of which have proved invaluable to the CCA. Though Roy is far too modest to admit it, he is a rather handy chess-player in addition to being a great coach, as he proved at the recent Hereford Chess Congress. Playing in the Major (Under 155 ECF) section, Roy was one of the lowest-graded competitors, but overturned the odds to finish undefeated and outright first with 5/6!

For anyone who is musically inclined, you may be interested to know that Roy boasts a falsetto that Michael Jackson would have been proud of. A recent pub quiz revealed his staggering knowledge of the Mr Men series of children’s books! And, as we shall see from his interview, his interests outside of chess are numerous and varied. Roy is happily retired along with Pam and they enjoy a large extended family with many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He kindly gave up the time to answer our questions and give us a warts and all account of life on and off the chessboard.

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  1. Tell us a little bit about yourself, your chess background and how you started playing
I grew up in North Manchester and I suppose in my heart I still regard this as ‘home’ – even though I have not lived there for nearly fifty years! I went to Brighton when I was nineteen to study economics and then became a social worker with children and families for pretty much all my working life.
I learned chess when I was about thirteen – but only because there was a girl I fancied in the school lunchtime chess club – and because it meant I could stay indoors during lunchtime. Not the best of motives for learning – and in any case I was quickly spurned by the object of my love. With that, my chess career such as it was, shuddered to a halt
I did not play chess again until I came to Kenilworth when I was about thirty when in chess terms I was already well ‘over the hill’ with my best years such as they might have been well behind me. Not surprisingly progress was slow – some might say none existent. I have grubbed around in the lower reaches of the chess world ever since. However, I am confident that I continue to get as much pleasure from my chess as many a much stronger player than myself.

  1. What is the appeal of chess for you?

Number one is the social aspect. Seeing my mates. Having a chat and a laugh. And playing chess. This attitude has probably knocked many grading points off my standard of play. But I am content with that. Many chess clubs are like mortuaries with everyone dead serious. Kenilworth Chess Club has never been like that. Nevertheless when playing I still like to do my very best and the grading system means that no matter how good or weak you are you can still get a good game.

I still have chess ambitions and if I could see a substantial rise in my grade before I lose it, I would be a very happy man. I can always dream! But time is running out and I have too many other interests.

  1. What is your best chess memory/moment?

Best/worst? – its all a blur to me! But it is nice when you are the last board in your team to finish and you win – by luck or skill who cares! – and so the result is a team victory.

  1. What is your worst chess memory/moment?

My worst chess moments are numerous. I do have a tendency to blunder mainly because when I am winning or at any rate think I am winning I get too excited – ‘I’m winning! I’m winning! I’m winning! Oops I’ve lost’. ‘Tis a horrible feeling.

  1. What is your favourite chess game?

I do not follow top class chess so I offer you one of my games.  Played by me as White, York 2012 U150 against a much stronger player.  I offer it partly because both of us were greatly amused at the turn of the game and because it is a great illustration of  the resources that are often available to you if you can just find them. Here we go:-

1.d4 d5; 2.c4 c6; 3.cxd4 Qxd5; 4.Nc3 Qd8; 5.Nf3 Nf6; 6. Bg5 Nbd7; 7.e3 h6;8.Bh4 Qa5; 9.Bd3 Nd5; 10.Qc2 Nb4; 11.Qd2 Nxd3+; 12.Qxd3 b6; 13.0-0 Ba6; 14.Qe4 Bxf1; I though the game was over for me at this point but just saw a chink of light that I did not think went anywhere but was worth a fling. 15.Qxc6 Rd8; 16.Nd5 – from zero to hero in one move!!! f6; 17.Nc7+ Kf7; 18.Qe6+ Kg6; 19.Qg4+ Kh7; 20.Ne6 f5; 21.Qh5 g6; 22.Nfg5+ Kg8; 23.Qxg6+ Bg7; 24.Qxg7#
My comment to self at the time –“A classic demonstration of nil desperandum since there are usually hidden resources due to the time taken by the ‘winner’ to get to his good position.”

  1. Do you have a chess hero or inspiration?

I do not follow chess closely enough to know much about the Grandmasters and to have a favourite.

Whilst not exactly a hero and at the risk of sounding a bit cheesy it is my mate – the one and only Paul Lam. It is not so much his actual play I admire as his attitude to the game and to youngsters.  Clearly there are lots of players – including local ones – who are at least as strong as Paul but I think the kind of understanding he has of the game means that he can – and does – explain the game to people like me and youngsters so that OUR enjoyment of the game is enhanced. I have a deep respect for people who give up their time and energy for others and Paul has done this in spades for the young people of Coventry.

  1. Do you have any funny chess stories?

Chess and humour is not a cocktail that readily springs to mind. ‘Oh how I rolled on the floor  after my kingside attack was defeated by brilliant tactical manoeuvring!’ Not really a rib tickler.

But one of the best is very recent. And that is at the British Chess Championship where we saw Paul head to head with A.N. Other. One of our Academy players sidles up to the board and advises Paul how to play!! Love it. Not any old local chess league match, mind, but the British Championships!! Fortunately at seven years old he was too young to appreciate that this is possibly the worst ‘sin’ that can be committed during a chess match. A word from his coach might be in order though!

  1. What are your interests outside of chess?

I have a few interests outside chess – too many really since it means I do not put enough into chess. I love playing at sculpture – I can by no means be described as a sculptor but love messing around with materials and seeing what comes up. My current interest is exploring relationships between sculpture and music.

I am also interested in music. In my teens I was a keen soul fan before moving onto much more pretentious stuff when I was at university. I then discovered 1950’s rock ‘n roll and finally I am something of a fan of contemporary ‘classical’ music – Eighth Blackbird and the like.
I read quite a bit  mainly popular science and history.

  1. What do you enjoy most about your involvement with the Coventry Chess Academy?

I love the enthusiasm of the kids and their freedom from the self-imposed restrictions that I, like many adults, have acquired as I have become older. A lot of the children are very creative – I suspect because they do not know what they are not supposed to do. This is a great attitude. I can see with my own eyes how virtually all of them are able to take this attitude and combine it with coaching and slowly and surely improve their chess.

I get tremendous pleasure from the beaming faces to be seen when winning children come out of a playing hall so very chuffed with themselves. It is also great to see them successfully managing their emotions when they have not been victorious.
Perhaps more satisfying, at a deeper level, is seeing the role played by chess in helping the children grow all round as people. For example, the ability of our eight year olds to sit still for half an hour at the board, in silence and behave politely towards their opponent is no mean achievement. I know of many an adult who has not achieved this. The Academy children stand out at congresses not least of all for this.
It all makes me very proud!!

  1. Give us a good piece of chess advice
Three words you do not see together too often are ‘Roy’ and ‘chess advice’.  But for what it is worth….
Chess is a ritual form of warfare and Paul regularly quotes from Sun Tzu and ‘The Art of War.’ And of course there is Clausewitz who wrote ‘On War’, a summary of Napoleon’s approach to warfare. But I like to quote from a Second World War general – George S Patton. He summarized it all up by saying that winning is all about getting there ‘fastest with the mostest’. Which Bobby Fischer reduced to ‘sac, sac, mate’.
Even simpler – do not drop pieces!!
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Andy Ward

In our second edition of Coaches’ Corner, we get to know one of the most recognisable faces at the Coventry Chess Academy, our Assistant Director, Andy Ward!

Andy joined the Coventry Chess Academy’s coaching staff in April 2016 and in a relatively short period of time has made a tremendous impact, resulting in his appointment to the vacancy left by our much-missed former Assistant Director, David O’Neill. Coincidentally, like David, Andy’s academic background is in chemistry! He holds a First Class Honours degree in the subject and currently teaches it in a secondary school while studying for his PGCE at the University of Warwick.

Andy is a strong county-level chess player with an ECF grade of 159. As we will see, despite being a relatively recent addition to our team, his links with Coventry and chess stretch back a long way! He kindly took the time out to answer our questions which you can read below.

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  1. Tell us a little bit about yourself, your chess background and how you started playing

I was born in Coventry, but have lived as far north as St Andrews in Scotland, and as far south as Brighton. I learned how to play chess from the age of 8 from my dad, who gave me my first chess books (by GM Daniel King, though I forget the title). From that point, I went on to represent my school in the Coventry Schools Chess League (on opposite sides of the board from the present Academy Director). At university, I helped to resurrect the St Andrews University chess team, playing in the regional leagues around Dundee, before I returned to Coventry to focus on a teaching career. In 2016 I managed to win tournaments north and south of the border, winning the Tayside and Fife rapid play, and the Coventry club summer tournament.

  1. What is the appeal of chess for you?

Chess has always appealed to me for 2 main reasons. Firstly, it is the ultimate game of wits. There is no element of chance, which makes the result completely down to you and makes winning more enjoyable. On the flip side, it can make losing tough to accept since there is nobody and nothing else to blame. From my own experiences, the good moments in chess usually outweigh the bad.

The other appeal of chess is that you can always improve and learn more about the game. It is said there are more possible games of chess than there are atoms in the universe, which means that the game never gets dull. New ways of playing are emerging all the time, computers are becoming ever more advanced and making unusual ways of playing more fashionable. In short, I don’t see myself getting bored any time soon.

  1. What is your best chess memory/moment?

My best chess moment was in fact a defeat, playing against GM Anish Giri at Warwick in October. I found myself a piece up against Giri, who nearly made a game-ending blunder before realising his error just in time. He commented ‘Did you see that, or was it luck?’-I had seen it about 10 moves in advance, of course. Although I then gave the piece back and lost the ending, it was a great experience against one of the world’s top players.

  1. What is your worst chess memory/moment?

My worst chess moment was on the Scottish tournament circuit, facing up against one of Scotland’s up and coming junior players. With my pieces swarmed around his king, my opponent looked despondent and made one last attempt to stop my attack. I had the choice of forced checkmate in 10 moves, or trapping my queen for nothing. Of course, I rushed in and got my queen trapped. My 12-year old opponent ran away from his chair, got all of his friends around who started laughing and pointing at the board. I stubbornly fought on, but with a very red face had to resign in the end.

  1. What is your favourite chess game?

Without question, Nigel Short’s famous ‘king walk’ game against Jan Timman (http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=1124533). More than anything, it is a powerful example that the king can also be an attacking piece and what you can achieve by tying up your opponent’s position.

  1. Do you have a chess hero or inspiration?

My modern day chess inspiration is the ‘Ginger GM’, Simon Williams. In addition to his extravagant, and often unsound, attacking style of play, he demonstrates the perfect attitude for how we should play the game. Playing in the right spirit is something I try to take into my own games, and helps not to feel so bad when things don’t go your way. Also, he is an inspiration for fellow gingers like myself in need of an inspiration other than Paul Scholes.

Further ago, the late great Mikhail Tal is my favourite player. Playing his chess in the Soviet Union, he refused to leave his free-flowing personality and approached life and chess in a way we can take inspiration from. Despite having serious health problems for most of his life, he produced some of the most incredible attacking games and went on one of the longest unbeaten runs in competitive chess.

  1. Do you have any funny chess stories?

In the 2015 British chess championships, I was up against former England junior Jamie Tilston. Going into a rook and pawn ending, he chose to offer a draw, or so he thought. I hadn’t heard him, and played on for another 45 minutes before the game was drawn. Afterwards, he said ‘Now at this move you turned down my draw offer’, to which I replied ‘what draw offer?’. My opponent looked stunned and said ‘So you tormented me for another 45 minutes?!’. Moral of the story: make sure your opponent hears your draw offer!

One of the most enjoyable parts of tournament chess is the people you meet along the way. In my time in Scotland, I got to know a player from the Perth Chess Club quite well and we would look out for each other in tournaments. At the Ayr congress, both of our games finished early and we went out for dinner. It just so happened that the restaurant made the best smoothies you have ever tasted, and we spent the entire evening in there drinking smoothies until closing time. The slight problem was I must have consumed my body weight in sugar, and didn’t sleep all night. Somehow I won my first game the next day, but then sugar crashed in the afternoon and nearly slept at the board! No sugar before bedtime on tournaments, members.

  1. What are your interests outside of chess?

Outside of chess my main interest is the subject I teach on a daily basis, science. The subject has more of an impact on society than most people know, and every week great work is being done which keeps up my enthusiasm for the subject.

Although I don’t play as often as I used to, cricket has been my main sporting interest and I spent several summers playing village cricket in Scotland. The team I played for had a ground which overlooked the famous Forth of Firth, which always gave me the perfect excuse for getting a golden duck. Work commitments this made this harder this year, but I am looking at getting back into the game in 2017.

  1. What do you enjoy most about your involvement with the Coventry Chess Academy?

The most rewarding aspect of working with the CCA is the development you can see our members making on a weekly basis. This is not just in terms of their chess skills (which improve at a lightning speed rate sometimes), but their confidence and social skills. You will often see that these are related, and that as a member improves with their chess, they will become more confident, or vice versa. It is of course fantastic to see our members take home trophies and medals, but just as important is the social side of the Academy which has turned our members into young people of great maturity.

  1. Give us a good piece of chess advice

Above all, you cannot let your head go down when a game isn’t going your way. It is very easy to stop looking for the best moves when you make a mistake, but the very best players keep trying to find ways to fight on. If you don’t believe that, play against a stronger player with some extra pieces-they will still make it tough for you.

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Bernard Charnley

Former art teacher Bernard joined the Coventry Chess Academy’s coaching staff in 2015, bringing with him a wealth of experience over the chessboard and in the classroom. Since then he has emerged as a familiar face and popular figure for all at the Academy, enriching sessions with his wide-ranging knowledge, profound insight and patient manner.

Bernard was a strong county-level player when he took a two-decade long break from competitive chess. His return to the chessboard in the last few years has proved nothing short of a renaissance. In 2015, he came third in the British Senior Chess Championships held at the University of Warwick. He enjoys a current ECF rating of 170 and a FIDE rating of 1962. During the 15/16 chess season he engaged in an excellent battle of the generations over two matches in the Coventry Chess League against fellow Academy coach and former prodigy, Candidate Master Peter Williams Jr, almost half a century his junior. The outcome: a very creditable win apiece.

Bernard very kindly gave up the time to answer our questions about chess and life beyond the board, which we reproduce below. We hope you enjoy reading as much we enjoyed conducting this interview!

Bernard Charnley

Bernard playing in the 2016 Warwickshire Chess Championships

  1. Tell us a little bit about yourself, your chess background and how you started playing

I was born in 1948 so could be described as a chess ancient, although I’ve yet to graduate to white beard level. I was taught chess by my two years older brother who decided he needed a sparring partner. I was about 10 and spent a year practicing the word “resign” and getting used to “checkmate”, until I joined the local library. Here I made the magical discovery of two long shelves of chess books. Within a year, with the help of Nimzovich (My System) and Znosko-Borovsky (The Art Of Chess Combination) and other magic keys to chess know how, I had my first win against my brother. This delight turned into a winning run with its finest moment being my first Greek Gift sacrifice, checkmate and my bro turning his interest to the new USA style coffee shops just opening up in the country!

  1. What is the appeal of chess for you?

It is a fascinating, imaginative world, where a collaborative battle of ideas takes place. As a material hands on parallel to thinking itself, there is no end to what you can discover.

  1. What is your best chess memory/moment?

Probably the first round win in the Sunderland U18 in I think 1966, against I was told afterwards, the just new winner of the London U18 championship. I think the game might still be on Chessbase database. Also in that year being invited to a British U18 training weekend being run by Bob Wade IM. It was also when I was accepted at art college and gave up chess for the art world for several years.

  1. What is your worst chess memory/moment?

Leaving my queen en prise (more than once). It must be my generous nature guys and gals.

  1. What is your favourite chess game?

Several, but I’ll offer Reti v Alekhine, Baden-Baden 1925 (http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=1012326). Won by Alekhine with an inspiring stand out example of combinative play for our budding Academy stars. The great games of chess are recorded and live forever – imagine, this game was played nearly 100 yrs ago!

  1. Do you have a chess hero or inspiration?

Ditto the above Alekhine, but also as a youngster, Mikhail Tal, who loved nothing better than a sacrifice, sound or otherwise!

Now I’m a touch older, I’ve learnt that these attacking aces were always great positional and endgame players. Their finest combos usually flowering out of clever positioning and often mopping up the debris of sacrifice with technically smart endgame play. A player to inspire now is Magnus Carlsen, who conjures up games that highlight one or other of these skills with equal wizardry. Equally impressive is Susan Polgar – check out this amazing video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2wzs33wvr9E

  1. Do you have any funny chess stories?

Funnily enough, no! But, talking about Magnus Carlsen, here is what Ivanchuck, one of the strongest players in the world had to say after losing to Magnus:

“Some scientist needs to explain to spectators Einstein’s relativity theory. Before his explanation, he says: ‘I have to suffer a lot explaining something I don’t understand myself.’ This relates to my game: I didn’t understand anything!

Which comforts me as I often find myself in that position!

  1. What are your interests outside of chess?

Apart from family (three grownup boys and grandchildren), mainly paint and paint brushes, as in oil painting. If anyone’s near Liverpool over the Summer, one of my pics managed to find its way into the John Walker Gallery in Liverpool. Just for entertainment purposes for the Academy gang, you can see my painterly efforts online at bernardcharnley.co.uk

I also do a fair bit of reading. It’s fun when you find a writer who captures you with the world and characters they create. It also helps you to see people and situations from different points of view.

I follow different sports, especially footie and my team is Stoke City FC, the Potters!  I also go head to head with my sons each season with Prem Fantasy Football.

  1. What do you enjoy most about your involvement with the Coventry Chess Academy?

Just to be part of such a brilliant project. I really believe chess is a great way for children of all ages to expand their imagination and thinking. At the same time, the game offers a safe and friendly way to socialise, accept knocks and successes gracefully, be resilient and make good friends. It’s a pleasure to contribute to that. Mind you, after 2-3 hours of the wonderful enthusiasm of the Academy members, I often like to lie down and recover in a darkened room!

  1. Give us a good piece of chess advice

It’s very funny to see how our younger players often try to break the land speed record for making a move, and wondering why they have a growing pile of their own pieces being lovingly collected by their more careful opponent. So my piece of advice is Think Before You Move (TBYM). And unless you are Einstein or maybe Magnus Carlsen or Susan Polar (see her stunning blitz games on the video), give yourself at least 10 seconds and longer. Maybe try sitting on your hands!

Here for free are some Think bubbles : Why did my opponent play that move? Was it just wood shifting? Does it attack one of my pieces? Threaten a check? What tactic to look out for with their move? How can I prevent their idea? Ok, so if no threat, what is my plan, tactic, threat, attack? Last of all, does my move leave one of my pieces unprotected? This last being the famous Blunder question, neglected at your peril as I and many chess players know from experience.

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