Saturday, June 23, 2018

Playing on

It's a really difficult skill to move from defence to offence in chess. Imagine you've been soaking up pressure for a good while, and then your opponent makes an inaccurate move, or a few inaccuracies. Suddenly you have the chance to take the initiative and go for it. But this psychological shift is difficult to put into practice.

For a lot of players, when the pressure comes off, they are first and foremost relieved that they have survived. This doesn't lend itself to picking up the gauntlet, and going for the win. There can also be a lack of objective assessment. For instance, if I feel my position has been difficult, then I might be looking at the negative sides in my game rather than objectively assessing who is in the better position. Finally, there is an energy factor. It is generally tougher to defend than attack, and after a tough defence it might be that a player just doesn't have the energy to turn things around and start playing for a win.

My game is generally based on stodging positions and especially with Black, holding on to some fairly ugly positions int he hope that I'll be able to equalise and then take my opponent on in the endgame, where I feel confident. In the Box Hill Chess Club Championship which is coming to a close, I have had 2 positions where my opponents have offered me draws that I'd like to look at.

Here I was Black against young FM Luis Chan who had just played 17.Re1 and offered a draw. For the previous 15 moves I had basically grovelled, trying to cover any weaknesses I might have and develop some pieces. White has some difficulties with having over extended on the queen side, and I declined the draw offer and played on. The game should have ended a draw, but after some adventures from both sides, I managed to win this game.

This position is from last night, where White, FM Eugene Schon, has just captured my rook on c8. He offered a draw here, and after some contemplation I agreed. Again, I had been trying to equalise in this game for about 15 moves and I have probably just done it. I feel that I could have played on in an attempt to get something from this position, but my fighting spirit just wasn't at the same level. In this position, White is a pawn up and has the bishop pair, but Black will regain the pawn on d6, and Black's knight will probably be at least as good as either of White's bishops. White's pawn weaknesses are an issue.

So how to explain why I decided to play on in one game, but not in the other? To be honest, I can't explain it, it is totally inconsistent, and that has been a factor that has plagued my play this year. So for the rest of the year, I intend to play on whether I want to or not! I will force myself to keep playing moves, and to seek chances while there is still something in the position, a la Carlsen!

Perhaps I can also inspire others to not give in too easily to the temptation of taking a draw. After all, the logical conclusion to this is that eventually, our fighting spirit will wear down, and we won't put up the best defence in positions. So taking draws early, may lead to us losing defensible positions, because we can't put up enough of a fight.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Beautiful Seasons

Tomorrow is the Winter Solstice in Australia, the shortest day of the year. We are in winter after that, though it's been pretty cold the past couple of weeks, at least in Australian terms. I've woken to frost on my car in the mornings, and we had severe rain last weekend. But I personally like seasons, and wouldn't like to be living in an area without seasonal weather differences. Each season brings it's own beauty to the world, even winter. The rains bring water essential to life, and from death comes regrowth in the natural world. Even in the heart of a city, beauty can be found if you're looking for it.

A fallen leaf hosts drops of rain water on a sunny day.

Having a Goal

One of the key features of any endeavour is having a goal to aim at. It can keep us motivated and direct our efforts towards the final achievement. I have been lucky to combine 2 of my bucket list activities into one. I love travelling, and I enjoy running, so I have decided to run a half marathon in a different country, one I've wanted to travel to for a long time.

Next year, Caroline and I will travel to Nepal. I was originally thinking of playing in a chess tournament there, but I've changed my mind. The Kathmandu marathon takes place on April 25th, the anniversary of the 2015 earthquake and profits go to organisations which are helping to rebuild in the aftermath of that natural disaster which killed about 9000 people and injured over 20,000.

So it's time to plan an itinerary which we will be able to undertake including being in Kathmandu for the marathon. And it's time for me to start training for running 20+ kilometres at 1400m altitude. Exciting times!

Monday, June 18, 2018

Victorian Chess Championship 2018

Yesterday, the 2018 Victorian Chess Championship started at Box Hill Chess Club. The tournament is a 24 player Swiss event, open to the highest rated players entering. The field is wide open, as none of Victoria's top 10 players entered, leaving the title open to a new name this year. I must admit, I was surprised by the absence of some players, especially those who haven't won the title before, like some of our younger IM and FM players. But the winner can only come from the names of those who enter!

The field that has entered is quite interesting. If this field had been assembled this time last year, I'd have fancied my chances, as I was in excellent form, but my play this year has been pretty bad so far. The players in form this year are FM Domagoj Dragicevic, and John Nemeth, and I'd see these 2 as real challengers for the title. However, multiple NSW Champion, FM Greg Canfell would be considered the favourite if he hadn't had such a bad year last year. However, this year he seems to be coming back to some good form. Brothers Kris and FM Luis Chan have risen to the top of the ranks of players at Box Hill Chess Club, but only Luis is playing. He also has a good chance at the title.

But looking down the field, there are lots of dangerous players, and almost anyone could win this title if they can string a few results together and build confidence. And scoring results against these players for the top ranked will be difficult and could spell the difference between a high result and a mediocre one. In the first round, top seed FM Dragicevic was held to a draw by Bill Jiang (1900) and while all the other games went to the higher rated player, there were some pretty tough games being played.

Organiser, IM Leonid Sandler said that he thought this was the first time a brother and sister have played in the tournament, with Christopher and Cassandra Lim both playing. And he also feels it's the first time that 2 women have played in the Championship, as Sarah Anton joins Cassandra in the field. These are unconfirmed, but say a lot for diversity in the game which must be a good thing.

If you're a Facebook user, Chess Victoria's page has photo's of the event and will no doubt be posting more. And Box Hill Chess Club is showing the top games live on their live games webpage if you want to watch some chess on Sunday afternoons. I'll be giving a personal view of the tournament as I see it!

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Back to Blogging

This Blog is coming back to life. It has taken me 6 months to get used to a move to the country and the commute to work, but I think I'm there now.

I'll start by saying that I'm currently playing in the Victorian Chess Championships, more of that in the coming weeks. I'm interested in the upcoming FIDE elections, and of course, the upcoming Olympiad and World Championship match. As far as I'm concerned, chess is buzzing at the moment.

I'm still drinking lots of coffee, and finding good cafes in Gippsland to report on. I've let my running fall apart, but I want to get back in to it, as I might run a half marathon next year, but again more of that to come. I'm also still reading lots, and looking for the beautiful in the World around me.

Today, though, is just a gentle easing back to blogging with some nice photos of near where I live. I'll start talking chess, and ranting about subjects later.

Mist in the Latrobe Valley
The lazy Tarwin River
Good flow at Noojee Falls
A long commute, but I've been rewarded with some magnificent sunsets and rises

Friday, February 2, 2018

Endgame Technique

So how did you go with this position from my last blog post? It is black to play and win! The first question is which pawn should black give up, as any move Black makes drops a pawn. I guess most people would look at dumping the least advanced pawn, so a bishop move backwards or forwards calls out. 1..Bh4 2.Kxf4 Bd8 3.Kf3 Bc7

This is a zugzwang position. Any White move will lead to a worsening of the position. White's bishop is stuck preventing Black's king from coming to h2. So White must make a king move. As Kf2 allows Black's bishop to skewer White's remaining 2 pieces by Bb6+, the only move is 4.Ke2, though this allows Black's king to improve. 4..Kg3

Now if White's king moves, Black will play Kf3 and then Bg3-f2, flushing White's bishop from it's guard post. So White has to let Black's king in. 5.Bc5 Kh2 6.Bd4 Kh1 7.Bc5

White can only play a wait and see policy. But Black now has the winning plan of Bh2-g1 forcing White's bishop away from defending Black's pawn's promotion.

This is a very instructive technique. And even without this technique, I think my junior opponent should keep playing and making me suffer while he had even a 1 pawn advantage. It is something we all have to learn, and taking inspiration from the current World Champion, Magnus Carlsen, in this respect is the way to go. If there is any play left in the position, keep fighting!

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Start of Season Rust

The summer holidays give a well deserved rest to many people. Taking a break, a step back from normality, getting away and recharging are all worthwhile endeavours. The summer break comes to an end and we all have to get back to reality. Schools start back, holidays finish and it's back to work, and for chess players, the close season is over and we start our year.

Of course not all players take a summer break from chess. The summer can be a busy time with national championships and junior championships taking place. What that means, is when the new season of club chess begins, some players are decidedly rusty, while others are hotter than ever. There have been a few poor results by pretty good players in the past week, but I'll stick to myself!

I have changed clubs and now play at Box Hill Chess Club. For my sins I was the top seed at the Box Hill Autumn Cup (though I think I should have been second seed to Luis Chan as his FIDE rating is higher than mine) and had to play a junior about 600-700 points below me. Unfortunately, Shawn Zillmann is going to rise over 100 points from his excellent performance in the Australian Junior Championship, bringing him closer to 1700, and his rise is probably not stopping there, so he might be closer to 1800-1900 in real terms. While I'm close to 2200, and should still put players like this away most of the time, in real terms I was playing more like 1700 for this game, and really should have lost.

Shawn played excellently, though a little passively, but he defended and maneuvered well and the game was pretty much equal for much of it.Then towards the endgame, I blundered allowing Shawn a winning advantage of the chance to make an outside passed pawn which had to be dealt with, and while I was doing that, he cleaned up my pawns and went into a same coloured bishop ending with 2 connected pawns while I had none. We finally came to the following position.

Obviously, Black can't play 65..g1=Q as White plays 66.Bxg1 and after 66..Bxg1 Kf4 winning the final pawn. The easiest win (in my opinion) is simply to play 65..Bd6 (dropping it back to a safe square anywhere along the diagonal works) 66.Bg1 (to stop black playing Kh2)

Now Black can simply lose a move with his bishop when White will be in Zugzwang having to give way with either bishop or king. Ok, so I saw this over the bard, and was relieved when Shawn played 65..f4.

I played 66.Bf2 and 66..Bg3 is forced after which I played 67.Bg1 preventing his king from coming to h2.

At this point Shawn's head fell a bit and I could see he was resigned to a draw. I even felt a little sorry for him, as he truly deserved to win. But at this point he offered a draw, and I accepted thinking I'd make a miraculous save. Much to my surprise, this position is still winning for black, and I'm sure Shawn's IM coach will have told him how.

The question is, can you work out how to win this position for black, without using a tablebase or engine (as you're not allowed to use them in the game? I'll post the answer next time!