Monday, October 20, 2014

Chess Thoughts

Student vs International Master at Glen Eira Chess Club

After my birthday a couple of days back, and a head clearing trip to New Zealand, I've been thinking about my life, where it has got to and where I want it to go. As I get nearer to the age of 50, it seems to me more important to be using my time as productively as possible, and so with this in mind, I've tried to make some chess decisions. In this respect I've had to look at my different roles as a player, writer, administrator and coach.

I suppose the main changes that have come about are a shift from a player to other activities within the game. In fact, this year I've had a pretty average year. After a lay off from the long game, I haven't really found form at the 90 - 30 level of chess and as a result, both my results and rating have suffered. Especially bad was my performance at Doeberl at Easter, where I was sick for 2 of the 4 days but played badly even by those standards. I have had the odd good result, but I feel less strong now than I have for about 10 years. So will I do anything about this? Probably not! I intend to keep playing, but I'm currently getting as much enjoyment from seeing the improvement of my students than from my own good results. It was always my ambition to get to 2200 FIDE (back in the 1980's when I had some ambition, getting to 2200 and seeing your name published in the back of an Informator was a little more special than getting to 2200 nowadays!) when I was younger which is something I've done, so I find myself without a driving ambition. I guess I could aim for FM level, and I've thought about it over the years, but it seems like a lot of work which I'm not sure I'm prepared to make at the moment. I think getting back to 2200 will be a big enough task for me, and perhaps one that I might not be prepared to make.

Since coming to Australia, I've found that I've enjoyed helping out with chess administration. I've taken part as a club official, an arbiter, a tournament organiser, a fund raiser and general dogsbody helping clean and set up at various clubs and events. Over the past 12 months my efforts have been directed at a new club in my local area. Glen Eira Chess Club has filled a need for a chess club in the inner south east suburbs of Melbourne since Elwood chess club dwindled and finally ceased to exist a few years ago. To me, club chess is vitally important as a social hub for the game and as a place where young players can develop their game. When I arrived in Australia, I was shocked by the lack of chess clubs, and I'm happy to say that his is the second club I've helped to bring into existence. Glen Eira Chess Club doesn't have a formal structure yet. It has a tournament schedule and a core membership but the only leadership and organisation comes from me and the few people that want to see it succeed. So a big goal of mine this year will be to establish Glen Eira Chess Club as a fully functioning entity with a structure, and personnel to ensure it maintains itself into the future.

Coaching has become the biggest part of my life in chess. Mostly, this has been done at the very basic level, working with very young kids and teaching them how to play the game. Then perhaps introducing them to some basic ideas and patterns and engaging them in chess activities to try to excite them. The result has been that I've worked with thousands of kids, mostly around Melbourne, and that some break through to a level when they can start playing in adult competitions. To some extent, it was a group of these kids that gave me the impetus to start Glen Eira Chess Club. A bunch of relatively strong kids needed a place to play near home, so we started the chess club in the area. My role at my work is changing, and although I will still be coaching I'll be doing considerably less than before. So I want to use the coaching I'm doing to ensure that I strive for the very highest quality of teaching. I want to work with all levels of student, from absolute beginners to strong players, and help develop strategies for working with these different levels.

I've always enjoyed writing, and this blog has helped me to express myself in both chess, and non chess subjects. I have written sporadically for some publications as well. This past year I have written less than previously, and I want to turn this around. I was very surprised to see this blog highly placed on a google search for 'chess blog' when I was looking for some other blogs to read. I've never really tried to reach out with it, it is more something that I enjoy doing and I emphasise a local aspect to it. This year I want to write more, and perhaps even explore some areas that I've been unwilling to look at before, such as chess theory. I intend to write weekly articles about Glen Eira Chess Club, and at least one other chess article per week.

And seeing this is a chess post, I'd better put a chess game into it! Congratulations to Russian Aleksandra Goryachkina for successfully defending her World Junior Girls title with an impressive 11/13, a full 1.5 points clear of the field. I'll be using some positions from her games this week to show to my students and as kids love miniatures, I'll be talking about the shortest win of the event.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Another Year Flies By

Yesterday was my birthday. I was born October 18th 1966 which means I turned 48, getting closer to the dreaded 50. As the years pass I notice time moves quicker and quicker, and I suppose it means that I am more concerned with making sure that I fill my time up productively. Saying that, my ideas of what is productive has certainly changed over time. Of course chess is a big part of my life, but it might just be that my view of chess has changed somewhat too. It's time to reflect on the last year, and make some goals for the remaining years in my 40's.

To be honest, there isn't that much that the average person can do in 2 years, but every little thing counts. I mean, some people have some amazing goals. Take a look at this bucket list of Photographer Alon Dande. While there are a few things on that list I'd love to do, let's get real. I have a finite amount of money and time. Much of that bucket list involved travel, and I also want to see new places and experience new things. This year has been good for travel with trips to Hong Kong and New Zealand. Having emigrated from England, these places seem like trips of a lifetime on the other side of the globe, though now I'm an Aussie citizen these places are relatively short hops.

Stunning scenery of Fjordland, New Zealand
Cruising Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong, on a junk.
I'm not sure I'm going to be able to top the beauty of New Zealand's south island, or find a city to top Hong Kong's vibrancy in the next two years, but there are certainly some plans that Caroline and I are making. While there's plenty of Australia still to explore, not too far away Singapore, Japan and India are all appealing, while next year we plan to visit relatives in England and spend some time in France. At some stage in the not too distant future, Caroline and I want to revisit North America and spend time in Glacier National Park and up into Canada. Hopefully, there will be scenery to challenge that of New Zealand. This site is seriously whetting my appetite.

Just over a year ago Caroline and I saw Buffalo close up in Yellowstone
While travelling is so important for Caroline and I to plan and do, there are other things that I love to do. Reading is one of those joys. I probably spend too much of time reading fiction, but I can get so absorbed in a book, unlike TV or film which tends to wash over me. A few days ago I finished reading this year's Booker Prize winner, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, by Australian author, Richard Flanagan.

2014 Booker Prize winning novel
Now I've read lots of good novels, as well as a fair amount of mediocre and bad stuff as well. I enjoy books of almost all genres, crime, thrillers, fantasy, dystopian, historical, romance and many other things that I struggle to categorise. If I was pushed to make a choice, which is something I rarely like to do (typical Libran personality, though I have no belief in astrology), I would have said my favourite novel was The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, another Booker Prize winning novel. However, as Narrow Road is sinking in more each day, it is gradually replacing Remains of the Day as my favourite novel. It reminds me much of another novel that I loved, Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks. Flanagan explores a number of basic human emotions, such as love, hate, fear and uses the gruesome story of the building of the Burma railway during World War 2 as his centrepiece in the plot. The writing is amazing, the techniques bring the stories and plots to life in a way that I've rarely read before. If I could read another book anywhere near as good as this by the time I'm 50, I'll be very happy.

One part of my life that has sadly lapsed over the past 12 months has been keeping fit through running. I had managed to get up to about 15 kilometres  and then just let I pulled a back muscle and stopped running for a couple of weeks. I then procrastinated, and let all the good work go to waste. Well, I have now decided to stop procrastinating (not just regarding running) and just to get on with it. Actually, I've been running a few times since coming back from New Zealand a couple of weeks ago and I was pleasantly surprised that I wasn't too bad. I can still run 5 kilometres without much problem, though not quickly, and this gives me a base to start building up again. The plan is to get up to half marathon distance, though I'm not concerned with speed. If all goes well, I would like to run the Great Ocean Road half marathon over the weekend of 16th May 2015. That is 6 months to get myself in shape and to get to the distance under me. Having a goal certainly helps to motivate me to get out and run, especially in these early days when it is still a bit painful. I'm not sure whether I'll follow a training plan, of which there are many. However, the main gist of all these plans is to take one long run each week, and back it up with shorter runs or some form of cross training. I think I should be able to manage this, and starting running again has reminded me just how much I enjoy it when I'm out doing it.

I also intend to write this blog more often. I'm coming up to 500 posts, but lately the posts have been few and far between. I like writing and another life goal would be to write a book. I guess I am most qualified to try to write a book about chess, but the inspiration doesn't seem to come. For now, I'll post more on this blog, with some chess posts coming up for the rest of this week. I guess I should do this sort of thing for chess too. Unfortunately, my students have had far better years than I have, which in some respects is good. For now I'll leave it there. Travel, read, and run. Sounds like a plan, as long as there is some good coffee thrown in.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Too Much Chess?

Can there be such a thing? Well it is a bit mind blowing at the moment. The first Grand Prix tournament in Baku is seeing Caruana cement his second place in the ranking list, and make a bid for first. Int he live ratings he is only 12 points behind Carlsen. Caruana's rise is definitely for the good of chess, and his challenge to Carlsen has enlivened the chess world. Whatever the result of the upcoming World Championship in November, what most of us will be thinking is the likelihood of a future match between Caruana and Carlsen.

Beisdes the Grand Prix event, there are other important events happening at the moment. The World Junior, coming hot on the heals of the World Youth Championships, is taking place in India and sees a strong field including 5 players rated above 2600. Unfortunately, there are no Australian players in either the boys or girls tournaments. I'm not sure why this is the case as the tournament would have been a great experience for the young players involved. Chinese superstar Yi Wei will be a tough player to beat and sits on 3/3, though I'm hoping for a good performance from Jan-Krystof Duda from my father's home country of Poland. In the girls event, the favourite is defending champion Aleksandra Goryachkina from Russia. However, Goryachkina has already dropped half a point and is on 2.5/3, the same score as second seed Meri Arabidze from Georgia. Both these talented teenagers will be playing in the women's world championship, if it actually goes ahead!

Another talented young player, Maxime Vachier-Legrave is playing at the PokerStars International on the Isle of Man. This has brought back fond memories for me as the last tournament I played before leaving the UK to emigrate for Australia was in the Isle of Man. Unfortunately, I had a stinking cold for the first few rounds and played very badly, but still had a great time there. This time round, Vachier-Legrave is leading the tournament on 4.5/5, but he has a bunch of very strong players packed behind him. For me personally, it is inspirational seeing players who I have played fighting it out at the top level.

Finally, I have been looking at games from the past again. For some reason, the greats of the past who were so inspirational fascinate me more than the current batch of players. Anyway, I have been looking at some games from the great St Petersburg tournament of 1909 which was jointly won by Rubinstein and Lasker 3.5 points ahead of a world class field. The tournament was run as a memorial to the great Russian player Mikhail Chigorin. After this great first event, there was quite a gap unti the next Chigorin Memorial, which was won by Botvinnik in 1947. The tournament became an annual event only in 1963 and was won by Polugaevsky in Sochi. Since 1993, the Chigorin Memorial has been run as a swiss event back in St Petersburg. This year's event starts on October 18th, an auspicious day in the history of yours truly!

In the Isle of Man, young Melbourne FM Chris Wallis is playing and has scored a draw against American GM James Tarjan who seems to be making a comeback to chess. However, I was really impressed with his finish to the following game against Israeli IM Eylon Nakar. Maybe I'm looking at too many of those old games, but I still enjoy a queen sacrifice to finish the game.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Glen Eira Club Championship

This week sees the start of the Glen Eira Club Championship. I'm hoping that this will become an important event in the Melbourne chess calendar, and as such will be competed for by a number of strong players. However, we want to make it something that the local players can compete for, and that up and coming juniors can aim to qualify for throughout the year. To get in to the Championship, which is a round robin event, you have to participate in a qualifier during the year, and place in the top 3. We've found this to be very successful in both helping to develop a local crowd to the club, and encouraging some stronger players from outside the area to join in.

The nine players who have qualified for the final include 1 International Master, 1 FIDE Master, 2000+ rated players representing England and Iceland, a Women's Candidate Master, and local players who have participated throughout the year. It is a nice eclectic field, and a fitting end to the year. We have avoided cash prizes for our qualifying tournaments which has reduced the cost of entry, but this final tournament will have cash prizes:

1st: $1000
2nd: $600
3rd: $400

Fee: $5 per night

The tournament is to be run on Friday nights starting on the 10th October at 7.15 pm and a 9-round swiss event will be run alongside it, The Reserves Championship. There will be no play on 31st October because of the Melbourne Chess Club's Cup Weekender (and as it's that scary Halloween thingy!!).  We have made the draw for the tournament, and the pairings are as follows:

Round 1 Friday 10th October:

 1 Rad Chmiel         1750 [0]       :     Rebecca Strickland 1540 [0]  
 2 Jerzy Krysiak      1355 [0]       :     Smari Teitsson          [0]  
 3 James Morris       2401 [0]       :     Sarah Anton        1640 [0]  
 4 Carl Gorka         2069 [0]       :     Josh Moore              [0]  
 5 Domagoj Dragicevic 2243 [0]       :     BYE                          

Round 2 Friday 17th October:

 1 Sarah Anton        1640 [0]       :     Carl Gorka    2069 [0]  
 2 Smari Teitsson          [0]       :     James Morris  2401 [0]  
 3 Rebecca Strickland 1540 [0]       :     Jerzy Krysiak 1355 [0]  
 4 Domagoj Dragicevic 2243 [0]       :     Rad Chmiel    1750 [0]  
 5 Josh Moore              [0]       :     BYE                     

Round 3 Friday 24th October:

 1 Jerzy Krysiak 1355 [0]       :     Domagoj Dragicevic 2243 [0]  
 2 James Morris  2401 [0]       :     Rebecca Strickland 1540 [0]  
 3 Carl Gorka    2069 [0]       :     Smari Teitsson          [0]  
 4 Josh Moore         [0]       :     Sarah Anton        1640 [0]  
 5 Rad Chmiel    1750 [0]       :     BYE                          

Round 4 Friday 7th November:

 1 Smari Teitsson          [0]       :     Josh Moore         [0]  
 2 Rebecca Strickland 1540 [0]       :     Carl Gorka    2069 [0]  
 3 Domagoj Dragicevic 2243 [0]       :     James Morris  2401 [0]  
 4 Rad Chmiel         1750 [0]       :     Jerzy Krysiak 1355 [0]  
 5 Sarah Anton        1640 [0]       :     BYE                     

Round 5 Friday 14th November:

 1 James Morris  2401 [0]       :     Rad Chmiel         1750 [0]  
 2 Carl Gorka    2069 [0]       :     Domagoj Dragicevic 2243 [0]  
 3 Josh Moore         [0]       :     Rebecca Strickland 1540 [0]  
 4 Sarah Anton   1640 [0]       :     Smari Teitsson          [0]  
 5 Jerzy Krysiak 1355 [0]       :     BYE                          

Round 6 Friday 21st November:

 1 Rebecca Strickland 1540 [0]       :     Sarah Anton  1640 [0]  
 2 Domagoj Dragicevic 2243 [0]       :     Josh Moore        [0]  
 3 Rad Chmiel         1750 [0]       :     Carl Gorka   2069 [0]  
 4 Jerzy Krysiak      1355 [0]       :     James Morris 2401 [0]  
 5 Smari Teitsson          [0]       :     BYE                    

Round 7 Friday 28th November:

 1 Carl Gorka     2069 [0]       :     Jerzy Krysiak      1355 [0]  
 2 Josh Moore          [0]       :     Rad Chmiel         1750 [0]  
 3 Sarah Anton    1640 [0]       :     Domagoj Dragicevic 2243 [0]  
 4 Smari Teitsson      [0]       :     Rebecca Strickland 1540 [0]  
 5 James Morris   2401 [0]       :     BYE                          

Round 8 Friday 5th December:

 1 Domagoj Dragicevic 2243 [0]       :     Smari Teitsson      [0]  
 2 Rad Chmiel         1750 [0]       :     Sarah Anton    1640 [0]  
 3 Jerzy Krysiak      1355 [0]       :     Josh Moore          [0]  
 4 James Morris       2401 [0]       :     Carl Gorka     2069 [0]  
 5 Rebecca Strickland 1540 [0]       :     BYE                      

Round 9 Friday 12th December:

 1 Josh Moore              [0]       :     James Morris       2401 [0]  
 2 Sarah Anton        1640 [0]       :     Jerzy Krysiak      1355 [0]  
 3 Smari Teitsson          [0]       :     Rad Chmiel         1750 [0]  
 4 Rebecca Strickland 1540 [0]       :     Domagoj Dragicevic 2243 [0]  
 5 Carl Gorka         2069 [0]       :     BYE                          

Obviously we want the games to be played on the night, though we are aware that some of the players will be unable to make a particular round for one reason or another. In this case, we are willing to allow rearrangements, though I'd highly recommend getting these arranged as soon as you are aware that you will be unable to make a game. There will be some players unable to rearrange as this will be the only night they can play. In this case, forfeits will have to apply.

I'll be writing more of this tournament as it happens, including games, fragments and pictures (hopefully).

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Longest Win of the Week

It's time to get back into looking at some endgames, and the best way to start is to download The Week in Chess  (TWIC) and sort the games according to how many moves were played in descending order. The latest TWIC is number 1038 and Mark Crowther has been running the site for over 20 years now, an amazing achievement and a great service to chess.

Anyway, once downloaded I like to look through some of the longest games, and see if there are any endgames which interest me. In the latest edition, I saw a game between A. Bergougnoux(1895)-J. Hebert (IM 2378) which reached the following position:

Like most club players, I'm guessing my knowledge of rook endings is pretty patchy. This game ended in a win for black, and my first thought was why isn't this is a draw? So I went to Averbakh's "Comprehensive Rook Endings" and looked at the section on where a rook fights against rook and doubled pawns. Here's what the Russian Grand Master and endgame expert has to say about these types of positions:

"Compared with the other forms of pawn structure, doubled pawns are less dangerous. We will first consider examples where the defenders king stands in the way of the pawns. In this case the result is normally a draw"

Ok, that is pretty much the same for rook and pawn versus rook endings, and it describes the position above. Averbakh then goes on to say that a passive rook, or when the defending king isn't in front of the pawn can affect the result. The examples he uses are excellent!

In this position, the defender has to use the same procedure as if the d4 pawn wasn't there. That is, wait till the pawn reaches the 6th rank, and then move behind the enemy king to start checking. 1.Rb7 Rg6 [Cutting off the white king] 2.Rb6

 2..Rg4!! [This is important. Heading for the back rank now is premature: 2..Rg1 3.Kc6! when either check fails] 3.d6 [3.Kc6 Rxd4 doesn't help white 4.Rb8+ Ke7 is a theoretical draw as the defending rook is behind the pawn and the king isn't cut off] 3..Rg1! [Now the rook heads for the back rank when there is no useful shelter for white's king]
White can make no progress. 4.Kc6 Rc1+ forces the king to retreat, while 4.Kd5 doesn't require any special treatment, so black could play 4..Rh1 gaining checking distance and waiting for white's king to try to advance. Now, if you look at the position in the first diagram, you'll see a position not unlike this one, a cast iron draw!

Sometimes, the draw is not so easy:
Here, for example, white has advanced the pawn to the brink of promotion, and the threat is Re8+, so black must seek drastic measures. 1.Rh2+ Kg6, and now that the black king is stalemated, 2.Re2!! and black's rook will keep diving in front of its white counterpart!

If the defensive rook is passive, things aren't easy, and maybe even impossible.
Black's rook is passive and white's king has penetrated the 6th rank. 1.Rd6 [Taking control of the 6th rank] 1..Rf8!? [A last attempt]
2.g5! [2.g7? Rf6+!! another stalemate possibility] 2..Ra8 3.g7 Rb8
White has a very simple plan. Rf6-f8, leading to a won pawn ending. 4.Rf6 Ra8 5.Rf8+ Rxf8 6.gxf8=Q+ Kxf8 7.Kh7 and white will promote on 3 moves.

Finally, take a look at this amazing technique!
Black's king is cut off, but the win isn't as straightforward as you'd think. Without the b6 pawn, white would build a bridge on the 5th rank, but that is now not possible. 1.Rd2+ [Driving white's king further from the action] 1..Ke7
[2.Rd5 fails to work after 2..Ra1 3.Kc7 Rc1 and white's king must go back to b8!] 2.Rd6!! [An unbelievable technique!] 2..Rc3 [Taking the rook doesn't help 2..Kxd6 3.Kc8 Rc2 4.Kd8 Rh2 threatening mate, but white promotes with check! 5.b8=Q+]
So what now? 3.Rc6!! [Building a bridge! If the rook isn't taken, then white's king will escape to c7] 3..Rxc6 4.Ka7, and black has no checks and cannot stop promotion!

So that's the theory, what about the example we started with?
I guess we've all been in this sort of position where we're struggling to draw against a much higher rated opponent, who just keeps playing and playing. Hebert changes the structure to try to upset his opponent. 1..f2. White still manages to keep playing solid moves. 2.Ra7 Kg5 3.Rg7+ Kf4 [A repetition is a good sign for the defender] 4.Ra7 Kg4
[My first reaction when I saw this position was to play 5.Ra3 cutting off black's king. 5..f4 and now throw the rook up the board 6.Ra8 when I don't see how black will progress. White played differently, but still good enough to draw] 5.Ra8 [According to Nalimov Tablebase, this position is drawn] 5..f4 6.Ra7 [Again, I like 6.Ra3 cutting off the black king. If 6..f3, white has the stalemate try 7.Rxf3!] 6..Kg3
In this position, after an heroic defence, the game ended. I'm not sure if white ran out of time, but I hope white didn't resign. According to Tablebases there is a move to draw, but only one. 6..Ra3+! [6..Rg7+ 7.Kf3 is hopeless for white] 7.f3 [Retreating the king back to g4 is no winning attempt] 
7..Rxf3+ with the same stalemate  theme! 8.Kxf3 stalemate!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Recharging the Batteries

Holidays and travelling can be many things. One can go somewhere for relaxation, or for adventure, to party or pamper, to discover new experiences or revisit favourite places. There seems to be no end of reasons for going somewhere. However, on coming back home, we are all hoping to be invigorated from our holiday experience and ready to jump back into normal life with a refreshed outlook.

This last week I've spent time in the southern island of New Zealand. I've been there before, and visited places both new to me and where I'd travelled before. I went with my lovely wife Caroline, and our friends Nick and Zoe, spending a week in Queenstown, with an overnight excursion to Milford Sound. The point of the holiday for me was to relax, walk a bit, see some of the most beautiful landscape in the world (and cleanest air and water), and spend quality time with those people I most value.

It's less than 4 hours flight to New Zealand, and we stayed in a lakeside apartment. The view from our apartment was already refreshing.

The view from our apartment
 We arrived on Nick and Zoe's anniversary which was a nice touch. It meant heading to town and a meal on Saturday night. The biggest noticeable difference between Melbourne and Queenstown is the amount of people and traffic. Even Saturday night in Queenstown was a gentle experience with no trouble finding parking or a place to eat. A week without queues or traffic jams was indeed a refreshing experience.
Anniversary couple, Nick and Zoe at Milford Sound
Queenstown is an adventure playground for those who are that way inclined. You can ski, bungy, canyon jump, white water raft, climb, mountain bike, jet boat etc. I must admit that I'm not into that sort of thing, but it doesn't stop me taking in the views of those who do.
AJ Hackett Bungy platform

Shotover Jet Boat
Queenstown was only a base for us, albeit a beautiful base. We hired a small car for the week which took us to some historic and scenic places. The area became populated in the mid to late 1800's due to the discovery of gold in the Otago region. Arrowtown is a living monument to this, with a Chinese Settlement area which preserves the buildings of the early Chinese miners.
Caroline giving scale to a hut from the early Chinese settlers to Arrowtown

Arrowtown was more than just history, nestled in magnificent scenery
There is no doubt that the area is amazingly beautiful. I'd be hard pushed to decide whether Queenstown or Wanaka were more stunning, not to mention Te Anau, or the areas between these places. The mountains, lakes, rivers and forests are beautiful. However, these are eclipsed by Fjordland, the scale of the beauty I'm unable to capture in pictures. You really do have to go there to experience just how amazingly beautiful this area is. I took my second trip to Milford Sound and was just as stunned as the first, perhaps even more so as the weather was completely different making the Fjord look totally different.
It was worth getting up at 5.45 am to get this view of Mitre Peak, Milford Sound

Mitre Peak, Milford Sound. Picture postcard beauty
So am I recharged? Absolutely! It was just the break that I needed. A week of losing oneself in a pristine environment to come out the other end ready to take on the world. Highly recommended!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Post Olympiad Chess Round Up

The recently finished Olympiad in Norway will no doubt be one long talked about. It was China's first victory in the open event, and probably not their last. With India coming in third without superstars Anand and Harikrishna, the focus of world chess certainly shifted away from Europe to Asia. There were category prize golds for Krygyzstan, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, making the event a big haul for Asian countires. Australia competes in Asian events, and the continental success came here too. Australia were one of the big achievers gaining 29 places on their initial ranking and moving from a starting rank of 60th through to 31st (equal 24th). While all the Australian team contributed, our stars were undoubtedly current Australian Champion Max Illingworth and 13 year old Anton Smirnov. To be honest, the future looks good for Australian chess with a group of young and ambitious players who should soon be making their breakthroughs for Australia. In the current top 20 by FIDE rating, there are 9 players born 1990 or after, and 4 of these are born after 1994. Australia has every opportunity to be looking at an all GM team representing us at an Olympiad in the not too distant future!

The women's event was equally successful for Asia. China came in second (a slight disappointment for the tournament favourites) and category gold medallists include Mongolia, Tajikistan and Thailand. Australia's women also performed excellently, like the men moving up from an initial ranking of 51st to 32nd (equal 27th). For the girls it was a real team effort with no stand out results, though maybe it should be said that Berezina's performance on board 1 was very good. Australia's women don't have the same promise of youth that the men have, though there are 6 players in the top 20 born 1990 or after. However, of the remaining 23 players, 17 are born 1990 or after, so hopefully some of these will achieve their full potential and push into the top places.

Unfortunately, while the play seemed excellent, the Olympiad will also be remembered for some not so nice things. On the final day 2 players died. The official site of the Olympiad confirms the deaths of Kurt Meier of the Seychelles and Alisher Anarkulov of Uzbekistan. These are both very sad losses.

Hot on the heels of the end of the Olympiad there came more fall out. Another sad loss for chess will be the retirement of Judit Polgar. When announcing her retirement, Polgar in the Times took a dig at sexism in the game. Having coached a number of girls, I've seen this first hand and part of coaching girls in this male dominated game is to constantly help them to cope with the institutionalised sexism that is rife in chess clubs.

The other news from the women's game that interested me was Ukrainian GM Natalia Zhukova's swipe at turncoat Kateryna Lagno. Lagno switched federations from Ukraine to Russia at a politically volatile time. Added to this, the Russian team entered their player list late so that Lagno could represent her new country. When asked about her ex teammate Zhukova said:

"Getting rid of the parasites is always painless. Well, love cannot be forced. If she doesn't want to play for Ukraine, why do we need such people? We didn't communicate at the Olympiad, she avoided it. Cleansing is always for the better"

Tromso was also host to a FIDE election where Garry Kasparov lost to Kirsan Ilyumshinov, who stays as FIDE President for another 4 years. There has been mixed emotions about this, but one of the first big things to come up was Magnus Carlsen's participation in November's scheduled World Championship match. The Carlsen camp have asked for a postponement to the match which has been rejected by FIDE. It is getting like the Olympiad all over again!

Anyway, I intend to get lost in analysing many games from the Olympiad, stick my head in the sand and hope that all the politics and nastiness in chess sorts itself out. Fat chance!