Thursday, April 16, 2015

Philidor's Defence

I have to admit, I've had a pretty good run with the Philidor Opening since I started playing it late last year. I prepared the opening for the Australian Masters in December, scoring a loss to FM Bill Jordan, but a win against FM Greg Canfell. At Glen Eira Chess Club I've scored a draw against FM Domagoj Dragicevic while at the MCC club Championship I managed a win against FM Jack Puccini.So 2.5/4 against titled players as black in the past 6 months. I guess most players would be happy with that, and as I've always struggled with black, I have been very pleased.

Of course, all good things must come to an end, and it is probably time for me to move on from the Philidor before people start preparing against me. I'll still play it every once in a while, but there are too many openings out there to be always playing the same thing.

It's a funny opening, the Philidor. It has this reputation of being solid but after my game with Jack Puccini I heard people saying they were surprised that such sharp positions could arise so early from the Philidor. The solid line has traditionally been the Hanham variation which is now more often than not being entered by the Pirc move order: 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.d4 e5 4.Nf3 Nbd7.
White's obvious choice is 5.Bc4, though there are some other options. One of these is a Shirov speciality, 5.g4!? The game Shirov-Azmaiparashvili from the European Teams Championship 2003 was a volatile game that ended in a draw.

After 5.g4, the variation 5..Nxg4 6.Rg1 is undoubtedly the most popular line and white scores an impressive 59% in my database with 347 games. In the latest Informator, number 123, there is an amazing game played by Swedish GM Pontus Carlsson. The game shows a typical piece sacrifice by white to open the position and activate his pieces while black's king sits in the centre.
White has control of the g-file and has doubled on the d-file. With black's king in the centre, and lack of development, white is fully justified with the move 11.Bxb5! In this particular game, black was mated 10 moves later!

Funnily enough, when I downloaded TWIC this week, the first games I looked at were those under the ECO code (C41) for the Philidor. And whose name should I see playing a game, but none other than Pontus Carlsson. So my thought was, I wonder if he played that crazy 5.g4 move again? I wasn't disappointed. Have a look at this position:

Carlsson as white followed up his Bxb5 sacrifice in the last game, with another sacrifice here. 16.Nbd5!, another justified sacrifice against an uncastled king and an under developed position.

These games show that the Philidor is anything but a solid option. Of course there are solid lines, but in the hands of certain players, the Philidor can transform into an exciting opening and middlegame. And Pontus Carlsson is just one such exciting player, who has had an interesting life. His story is a great read.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

MCC Champion

A big congratulations to IM James Morris for winning the Melbourne Chess Club Championship with a magnificent score of 8.5/9. James joins a list of Victoria's who's who in chess terms, winning with a commanding 1.5 point margin. Coming equal second were IM Mirko Rujevic, and Hoai Nam Nguyen who scored 7/9, both having played well against strong fields. I came in fourth with 6.5, and a large group finished half a point behind on 6. The most notable finisher in this group was Tristan Krstevski, the teenager scoring way above his rating, while the group half a point behind included WCM Sarah Anton, who won her last 3 games in a strong finish. The top player under 1400 was young Jody Middleton who also had a strong finish winning her final 2 games to finish on half points, 4.5.

It was a well run tournament by both the committee, and the arbiter IA Kerry Stead. The tournament was played in a friendly spirit but with great competitiveness, which was borne out by the amount of upsets each round. The MCC were fortunate to gain some strong juniors from Box Hill Chess Club after their move from Canterbury. If they remain at the MCC players like Zhi Lin Guo, David Cannon, William Maligin and Jody Middleton will soon be challenging the top players, much like MCC juniors IM Ari Dale and FM Jack Puccini etc.

I'm pretty happy with my performance. I lost a tough game in the last round to Hoai Nam Nguyen who played excellently against me and deserved the victory. There was one point of the game that was a bit confusing to me, though. We reached the following position where I have a problem of a bad bishop against a good knight.
The game continued 38..Rg8 39.Rb6 Ra8 40.R6b5, bringing about the following position:

The game then continued 40..Ra6 41.Kd2 Ra8 42Ke2 bringing about the surprisingly familiar following position:

At this point I stopped the clock and claimed a draw by repetition of positions. I called the arbiter over and was told that the claim was illegal and that it only stood as a draw offer. and that the claim by repetition of positions didn't count. To be correct, I had to write my intended move down, then stop the clock, and then claim the draw without actually making the move. To be honest, I couldn't believe it, as it seems counter intuitive to the whole procedure. First, one usually makes a draw offer after making a move, while secondly the position hadn't been repeated 3 times until I'd made my move. So as an ignorant player, I naturally felt that I had to complete the process of the repetitions for a claim to be made.

Alas, I was wrong. I never doubted Kerry's knowledge of the rules, and finished the game which Hoai won in excellent, and deserved style. But the rule seems so ridiculous to me, and counter intuitive to the way the game has been played. Rules are meant to be designed to assist in our play, to clarify situations, not to make things more confusing. I will certainly adhere to this rule in the future for as long as it exists, but it doesn't mean I agree with it. Hopefully, my experience will help others to understand a law and make the correct claim in the future, as I'm guessing there are a lot of players out there who don't know about this particular rule. I could go on about this and other issues, but I'll save that for another blog.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Incorrigible Optimists

Anyone that knows me will have no problems imagining me sat at a cafe, drinking a long black coffee (Americano for my non Aussie readers) and reading a book. While the coffee is always long black, the book could be anything. I almost always read fiction, but occasionally I'll read about history, or very occasionally, chess! Even the vast amount of novels I read can be about almost anything, and I usually have 2 or 3 books on the go at a given time. I find I can switch between novels depending on my mood, much like someone watching TV and switching channels until they find something they want to watch.

For example, I have recently finished a fantasy novel by Australian author Garth Nix. Clariel is a prequel to a series he wrote years ago which I really enjoyed. This new novel was no less enjoyable, in my opinion. While I was reading this, I was also reading an historical fiction novel set in Tudor times called Sovereign by C. J. Samson. Again, this is part of a series of books bringing mystery and detective genres into historical perspective, much like the Cadfael books did. I have yet to finish this one, and it is beginning to develop into a thick plot.

The book that I'm struggling to put down at the moment is called "The Incorrigible Optimists Club" by Jean-Michel Guenassia. Translated from the original French, the book is set in Paris during the early 1960's when France was embroiled in the Algerian crisis, and Europe was caught up in the Cold War. The book therefore has political issues weaving through it, but essentially it is about people, their relationships, their actions, and their stories. The main hub of the book is a teenager called Michel, somewhat of a rebel, around whom a series of fascinating characters revolve. One group of characters, and perhaps the inspiration for the novel's title (though I guess I won't really know this until I've finished the book), are a bunch of expats mainly from Eastern Europe, though there is a German in the group. This group meet at a typical Parisian cafe/restaurant where they socialise and play chess. They argue about almost every subject they can talk about, but it doesn't spoil their cameraderie (at least not yet).

While I can lose myself in novels like Clariel set in an imaginary world, or Sovereign looking into the distant past, it is novels such as The Incorrigible Optimists Club which resonate to me. I can't help imagining chess players or immigrants, or chess playing immigrants finding people of similar backgrounds, or who like similar interests, to make their new life in a new country happier. Here in multicultural Melbourne we have suburbs which may have a predominant ethnic background, while chess clubs such as the Melbourne Chess Club have a distinctly immigrant flavour running through its history even to the present day.

It is rare that I feel such an affinity for so many themes in a novel, from chess to cafe culture, time spent in Paris, immigration, and all the everyday feelings that a person goes through on a daily basis. Amazing! I could even be accused of having my fair share of incorrigible optimism.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Glen Eira Chess Club

Glen Eira Chess Club will be restarting after a short Easter break. The club will open this coming Friday (17th April) and the next tournament starts in the first week of May and will run for 7 consecutive weeks except for the 5th June where we will not hold a round due the Victorian Open being held. This second tournament costs $10 per player to join, and there is a $5 per week playing fee. The tournament will be ACF rated and the top 3 unqualified players will be able to play the Club Championship.

The first tournament of the year is finished! Glen Eira Chess Club had a successful start to 2015 with about 20 players regularly showing up to play at the club for the first quarter of the year. Meeting on a Friday night, Glen Eira Chess Club now has a regular group of players who give the club a nice vibe. There are players of all strengths, from beginners through to masters, and we take a slightly more relaxed approach than some of the more established clubs.

The first tournament of the year was the Glen Eira Summer Swiss, a 7-round event from which the top 3 players qualify for the end of year Club Championship. The 3 qualifiers were Carl Gorka (me!), Avto Frodiashvili, and FM Domagoj Dragicevic. The full standings can be seen on the tornelo site. It's was interesting to see the fight for third place in the tournament, with a group of players all in contention. Avto is a great addition to the club. Born in Georgia, he was strong as a junior, but gave up chess when emigrating with his family to Australia. He decided to take the game up again, and if I had to estimate his strength, I'd be putting him somewhere between 1700-1900. The other player in the tournament who greatly impressed me was Alistair McCutcheon, who has just started high school and has proved he can compete at a decent level. I think he is poised to jump to the 1400+ category which will make him a contender for a place in the Championship.

Future Glen Eira Club Champion? Alistair McCutcheon looks relaxed at Ballarat Open

The Club Championship will be starting in October and there are 3 qualifying places in each of the three regular swiss events held through the year. There are no exceptions made for anyone. If someone wants to play in our end of year Championship, then all they have to do is play a qualifier and come in the top 3 places. In fact, the 3 players already qualified may play again, and if they finish in the top 3, then it will be the fourth player who qualifies.

2016 Australian Championships

It has come to my attention that the 2016 Australian Chess Championship will be held in Melbourne and run by the Melbourne Chess Club. This is, of course, waiting for the official rubber seal, but I believe this to be a done deal!

It seems that the Melbourne Chess Club is taking on a bigger role in the Victorian chess scene this year, especially with Box Hill Chess Club having to take a back seat for a while. To be fair to Box Hill CC, they have made a pretty good job of moving locations. I'm not sure what the expectations were, but I'd have thought that they would have expected to lose a number of players initially, and then to build back up over time. The Box hill Club Championship started on Friday night with a field of about 40 players which is somewhat smaller than in previous years where they've had 60+ players, but is not such a bad effort.

A bigger problem for Victorian Chess is that Box Hill Chess Club can't host weekend events this year. Luckily, the MCC has stepped in to hold the Victorian Open which is held over the Queen's Birthday weekend near the start of June, a tournament that Box Hill has successfully hosted for a number of years. The tournament is limited to 92 players which I'm guessing will start filling up pretty quickly.

Before that the Melbourne Chess Club is holding an ANZAC Day Weekend tournament from 24th-26th April. I'd really like to play this tournament if I can somehow make some time off other commitments. Without having played in Doeberl and Ballarat, I feel a weekender is due, and a 6-round event including a Friday night is a format that I am used to playing from my English chess playing times.

The one tournament that I haven't heard anything about is the Victorian Championship which I would have thought would have been promoted already. This tournament has no fixed time, but it has been held over autumn/winter the past few years. I doubt I'd be able to play, but as it is the flagship event of Victorian Chess, it would be good to know something about it!

Slow News Day

One of the funniest threads on social media sources (in my opinion) is Slow News Day. My personal favourites are the sandwich board headlines outside shops, with "dramatic" headlines. eg.

I've spent much time laughing at this Twitter feed. I also use Twitter to follow the chess scene, and I was delighted to find another Slow News Day item in the chess feeds.

I checked out Twitter this morning and amidst the pictures of cats, and articles about World news and history that I follow, there was this drama unfolding which was the talking point of many chess twitter feeds.

However one looks at this:

- an over zealous arbiter going power crazy
- a rule about not being able to write things down
- a chess player ignoring a rule after being warned
- etc

If this constitutes news, then we in the chess world probably have to accept that chess will never command the front page of mainstream news like some other sports do.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Improving at Chess

Today I saw a great response by Garry Kasparov on Twitter to the question of how to improve at chess in the computer age.

I remember as a junior having little material to work with back in the early 1980's, and I then got a bulletin of all the games of from the 1981 Linares tournament. These were bare game scores, and I went through every game (there were 66 if my memory is correct) trying to understand the tactical reasons as well as the strategic reasons why moves were played. There were a lot of styles of players from the solid Karpov through the unorthodox Larsen to the attacking Christiansen. I worked on every aspect of the game, but especially the accuracy of moves, or the tactical justification of why moves are chosen.

I remember learning a lot about positional ideas, thinking about development schemes from certain openings, the strength of different castled positions, structural weaknesses and their exploitation, and the nature of exchanging. I tried to discover some endgame secrets, but I think I generally failed at that as my young mind was more into faster methods of winning games of chess.

Anyway, I think it is time to get back to this method and start looking at a tournament as a whole, the good, the bad and the ugly. It has been a long time since I've done this, and when I studied Linares 1981, it was the thing that pushed my rating up to the 1800-2000 standard (I was also playing a lot and analysing my games as best I could).

From that tournament here is a game between surprise winner Larry Christiansen and ex World Champion Boris Spassky. The game starts as an exchange Queen's Gambit Declined, but Christensen livens things up by castling queen side. The game becomes very sharp until it reached this position.
Christiansen as white unleashed the amazing looking move 23.Ne4! where it is attacked by a knight which is pinned, and a pawn which is pinned and a rook, but after 23..Rxe4 Christiansen wins the exchange by simply taking, 24.Qxe4 as both of black pieces that can take white's queen are still pinned!

Anyway, here is the game while I'm off to find the bare game scores of a tournament that I can work through.