As rock philosopher Pete Townshend of The Who once wrote, they were talkin' 'bout my generation with the age limit now reduced from 60 to 50 in the European Senior Team Championships that took place recently in Halkidiki, Greece. There was a lot of old friends and - ahem - contemporaries of this columnist playing; and indeed, I even contemplated putting my own name forward to play for Scotland.
Previously “seniors” was defined as over 60, but in arguably one of Fide’s more popular decisions of late, a few years ago they brought the new age limit more into line with other sporting senior tours, such as golf and tennis, to meet the demand and growth of the baby boomer-generation, and now there are two sections in senior competitions in chess - over-50 and over-60.
The grandmaster title is the top prize in chess and usually requires three very demanding tournament performances, called norms, and reaching a higher international rating - all of which can be far too demanding for those who may also have a demanding job and family. However, in retirement, one of the best ways to do so is to win the World Senior Chess Championship - and this is exactly the route used by America’s Larry Kaufman in 2008 to finally become a grandmaster.
Board-game activities like chess are also said to promote mental well-being, so all this growth of international competition at senior level should be applauded. Another positive is that, playing in the senior competitions can - and often do - see many feats of giant-killing going on, with lower-rated players, perhaps playing at this level in the international arena for the first time, catching out the odd titled players here and there.
In the European Team Championships in Halkidiki, Russia took the over-65 title while Israel took the over-50 title. But it wasn’t all plain sailing for the victors, as Scotland’s Ian Marks, rated only 1888, had his moment in the limelight by became the giant-killer of the tournament, beating both his highly-rated Russian and Israeli opponents. Most memorably the former, as he beat his first grandmaster (and a Russian one!) who was rated nearly 500 points higher than him.
GM Nikolai Pushkov - Ian Marks
European Senior Team Ch., (1)
Old Indian, Wade-Tartakower Variation
1.Nf3 d6 2.d4 Bg4 The Wade-Tartakower variation - named after the New Zealand/England IM Bob Wade and Savielly Tartakower, the Polish-French GM - leads to dynamic and unbalanced middlegames. It's also a good method of avoiding the London System set-ups, which is extremely popular in senior chess. 3.c4 e5!? If you are looking to bamboozle an ageing Russian GM, then this is the way to do it! What Black is looking to do is sacrifice a pawn for very rapid piece development to try to see early complications on the board. The development is indeed rapid, but with accurate play, White should be safe and just a pawn ahead. 4.dxe5 Nc6 5.exd6 Also an option is the immediate 5.Bg5 as it stops the natural flow of Black's development. 5...Bxd6 6.Nc3 Nge7 For his pawn, Black is ahead in development with his pieces in ideal positions to strike - but it takes White making an error to give Black the advantage. 7.Bg5 f6 8.Bh4 Qd7 Black continues with his plan of developing his pieces - now he's looking to castle queenside and play ...Rhe8 to have both his rooks dominating the open d- and e-files. 9.Bg3 Bxf3 10.gxf3?! White still has his pawn, but this recapture just looks plain wrong, as White's pawn structure is now unbalanced. It looks dangerous opening up the central files by recapturing with 10.exf3!? - but this does look better. 10...0-0-0 11.Bxd6 Qe6+ 12.Be2 Rxd6 13.Qa4 and White will soon be castling to safety on the kingside with good prospects of holding on to his extra pawn. 10...Ne5 11.e3?! Another weak move. White should have played 11.Bxe5 and ask Black just what he has for the pawn? Black can't recapture with the bishop, as it sees the queens being exchanged. Instead, he'd have to play 11...fxe5 (If 11...Bxe5 12.Qxd7+ Kxd7 13.0-0-0+ White is much better.) 12.Qd3 0-0-0 13.0-0-0 where in my eyes, White - with a firm grip on the white-squares - looks to me to be just a pawn ahead, and threatening ideas such as h4 and Bh3. 11...Qc6! Now White begins to realise that Black has serious threats to regain his pawn - and maintain the pressure on the d- and e-files. 12.Be2 0-0-0 Much stronger than trying to immediately recapture the pawn on c4 - Black just gets on with the job of mounting more and more pressure on the central files. 13.Bxe5 Bxe5 14.Qc2 Qe6 With White's king stuck in the middle of the board and prevented from castling on either wing, Black moves his queen over to the kingside to pressure the weak pawn structure created by 10.gxf3. 15.Ne4 Nc6 16.a3 Qh3 17.Nd2 White can't defend his weak kingside pawns with 17.f4? as it loses on the spot to 17...Bxf4! 18.exf4 Qg2 19.Rf1 Rhe8 winning. However, this move does allow his king to get to safety with queenside castling to still be in the game. 17...Qg2 18.Rf1 Bxh2 19.f4?! This is what we could call a “senior moment”, with a series of miscalculation from Pushkov, who wrongly believed he could embarrass the Black bishop locked in on h2. However, now was the time to castle and challenge Black - as after: 19.0-0-0 it is difficult to see how to prevent White playing Bd3, Be4 and f4 with good prospects. 19...Rhe8! 20.Bf3?? One error begets another in a tragic sequence of blunders as the pressure mounts. Instead, White had to bite the bullet now by castling queenside, even although Black looks better: 20.0-0-0 Nd4! 21.Qd3 Nxe2+ 22.Qxe2 Bxf4 23.Rg1 Qh3 24.Rxg7 Be5 and Black has the more active pieces and greater prospects heading into the endgame with his outside passed h-pawn. 20...Rxe3+!! Splat! White position collapses, and the rook can't be taken as it leads to a forced mate after 21.fxe3 Bg3+ 22.Kd1 Qxf1#. 21.Be2 0-1