Tuesday, February 9, 2016

MCC Championship Round 2

The best thing about the start of round 2 of the 2016 Melbourne Chess Club Championship last night, was the participation of IM Guy West. As well as being a former Australian Champion, Guy has won the Melbourne Chess Club Championship on multiple occasions. I'm not going to try to work out how many, but 11 or 12 is about the number of times he has won the title. So it was fitting to have him playing in this historic Championship in the 150th year of the club.

Playing on board 3, Guy had a bit of a scary game against Anthony Hain who sacrificed a piece for an attack. Guy defended accurately and won to go to 2/2. The player from the top seeds who didn't make it to 2/2 was second seed IM Ari Dale who was held to a draw by another talented junior, Bobby Yu. The 2 other IM's, James Morris and Mirko Rujevic joined Guy West on 2/2, along with 5 other players. Of course, with this being a 9 round tournament, a lot can happen and a slip up early on can be made up for later.

The second round saw some great play, with a wild King's Gambit of Fratzeskos-Ly probably being my choice of game of the night. James Watson proved yet again that his 1777 (1663 ACF) rating is grossly inaccurate with a draw against Marcus Raine. There were upset wins for Jodie Middleton, Joshua Culbert and Alex Jones while Adam Lovegrove's draw with Axel Ahmer was a great result.

My game was a long hard slog, but the end of it was very pleasing for me. In fact, I'm even tempted to enter it for the brilliancy prize, as it is probably the best ending I've played. By the way, congratulations to Justin Penrose for winning the MCC brilliancy prize of the year for 2015 which was announced before the start of the second round. I'd never had to play my opponent, Anandaram Jothibabu before, but he played a tough game in a sporting manner. The position of interest for me was in this endgame:

Playing white, I had won a pawn but the position has opposite bishops and there is no easy way to progress. So I went for the breakthrough 46.d4. Taking advantage of the offside position of black's king and knight, I thought to create a passed pawn. At this point I didn't have a victory in sight, but was playing more intuitively. I felt the risk was worth it, and that the worst that could happen was the game could end a draw. 46..cxd4 forced, more or less 47.Kd3 Ng2

Now comes the second breakthrough 48.c5. As well as creating a passed pawn, this move lets my king through on the light squares. 48..dxc5 I was a little concerned about 48..Ne3, but apparently white is doing well after 49.Bf3 when white's d-pawn will become a major force. 48..d6

Anandaram now came up with the amazing 49..c4! This is an absolutely stunning defence which takes c4 away from my king, and gives black enormous counterplay based on his own passed pawns. The position becomes very random! 49.bxc4 Nf4 If Anandaram would have pushed his b-pawn straight away, I honestly don't know how the game would have finished. Both sides have 2 passed pawns and neither king can do much to help. 50. Kd2 Ne6?

Unfortunately, this move loses, and even in the couple of minutes I had left on my clock I was able to calculate, though I'll admit not to the very end! 51.Bxe6 fxe6 52.d7 Bc7 53.Nc5

Black will now lose his bishop for the white d-pawn. The question is whether he can get his pawns rolling towards the other end to cause counterplay. 53..e5 That will be 3 black passed pawns that white will have to deal with 54.Ne6 Ba5 55.d8=Q Bxd8 56.Nxd8

At this point, after a short think, I could finally see clearly a way to win which is rather fortunate seeing black might be a tempo or 2 away from winning himself here. 56..e4 57.Nc6 Kxg5 58.Nxd4 Kf4 59.Ke2 The plan was to block the e-pawn with the king, put the knight on b3 to block black's b-pawn, while supporting white's pawn which will sit on c5. Black can do nothing to stop this. 59..e3 60.Nb3 Ke4 61.c5

Black is clearly lost now, he must abandon his e-pawn to prevent white's pawn from promoting and then can merely sit and wait for white's forces to take his other pawn and then aid to promote the final white c-pawn.

Brilliant? Maybe not, but it was creative, intuitive, and technically sound, and a joy to play as my opponent found some remarkable defensive ideas. Here's the endgame in a viewer with some notes. I haven't fully analysed it yet, as I haven't had time and would value any feedback of ideas for either side.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

MCC Championship 2016

After the Melbourne Chess Club hosted the Australian Championships in January, it was expected that the MCC Championship, in its 150th year, would see a strong and big field. The MCC committee were hoping to attract as many past champions as possible, and had generated some appearance fees for those players.So it was with great anticipation that the tournament room was set up. Should we expect 50 players? Or 60 players? Maybe there might even be more?

In the end the field turned out to be a somewhat normal number, and the strength is not particularly stronger than in years gone by. Top of the field is IM James Morris, last year's winner. We had also thought that GM Darryl Johansen and IM Guy West, both multiple winners of the Championship would be playing. However, Darryl let us know of his inability to participate and Guy said he couldn't make the first round, and wasn't 100% sure whether he was playing. So second seed for the event was IM Ari Dale with IM Mirko Rujevic third. All told, the event is pretty strong for a club event, but there was still some disappointment that these ex champions weren't playing.

The size of the field finally settled in the mid 40's, again a little disappointing. I think that 50+ was expected seeing that last year, the field was in the high 40's. Saying that, there is still time for people to enter, and it may be that some players couldn't enter the first round and didn't get in touch. The club is accepting entries through till round 3, so the figure may very well rise towards 50.

As is often the case in the first round of a swiss, the first round saw a big rating gap with most pairings having a 300+ difference between the players. That didn't stop upset results from happening though. The biggest scalp of the night was claimed by Anthony Harris who beat ex champion Malcolm Pyke. The other wins against the ratings were for James Watson and Robert Frantzeskos, though James proved at the Australian Reserves that he is probably under rated, and Robert is coming back to chess and unrated is misleading.

There has already been a submission for the brilliancy prize from none other than FM Jack Puccini. As nice as Jack's play was, I'm sure his dynamic style will bring even more brilliant efforts from him. Here's his win against Jim Papadinis, the first brilliancy prize submission.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Celebrating Australia

Yesterday was Australia Day, a public holiday which in recent years has brought mixed feelings out. On the one hand we are celebrating a great nation which I'm proud to have emigrated to. On the other hand, the indigenous population have had their land stolen and atrocities committed throughout the past 200 years.

In chess terms, Australia is not one of the great nations and never has been. However, there is still much chess being played and a chess culture is developing. The Australian Junior Chess Championship recently concluded in Adelaide and the under 18 was won convincingly by Ari Dale. Ari joins a list of very strong players who have captured the title. The girls title was won by Zhi Lin Guo who has progressed excellently into the top 20 active women in Australia, and who will hopefully be fighting for an Olympiad place in the not too distant future.

The age group champions were:

U-16 David Cannon (Vic)
U-14 Bobby Yu (Vic)
U-12 Michael Ostapenko (Qld)
U-10 Brandon Soetanto (Vic)
U-8 Sayum Rupasinghe (NSW)
U-16 Girls ??
U-14 Girls ??
U-12 Girls ??
U-10 Girls ??
U-8 Girls ??

Unfortunately it isn't clear who won the girls titles as events were doubled up, so the U-18 and U-16 played in one section as did the 14/12's and the 10/8's. I'd assume that the winner of each section would take the older age group award, but seeing I don't know, I'm not going to guess, potentially get things wrong and upset people.

I know I've already been harping on about the inequality in chess representation between men and women, but this is another example. With the open events, it is fairly clear who won excepting for the odd tie that required a play off, but with the girls there is no recognition of their achievements. Pretty poor.

What isn't poor is the Australian Chess Magazine 50 Moves which I resubscribed to today, though again it would be good to see some female representation in the pages of the magazine, rather than just Cathy Rogers with her excellent photography. The other thing I'd like to see more of is coverage of Australian chess, of which there was little in this magazine. Ian Rogers is obviously an excellent writer and his articles are great. In the December issue he focuses on The World blitz and rapid Championships where he was reporting from the scene. This is great for Australian audiences, but I actually enjoyed Adrian Chew Lee's and Eunice Koh's article about the World Youth Championships more. I guess the local feel, and personal knowledge of some of the players brings it a little closer to my own world.

I hope to see articles by Australia's young talented travellers on their experiences in chess tournaments abroad, as well as as tournament reports of important events in this country. Those reports were always the backbone of the British Chess Magazine when I was younger in the 1980's. Having quality players writing about the events they participated in, with great chess content was inspiring and educative. All top British GM's would write for BCM back then, with articles from Nunn, Miles, Short, Keene, Speelman etc, it truly was an excellent magazine. Due to financial issues the BCM took a hit, and very nearly folded a short while ago. Well it is back, and is excellent!

Again, I bought an issue (I was annoyed by the online reader edition I bought and if I subscribe, it will be to the hard copy) and it seemed excellent. Articles by McShane and Howell on the London Classic, and the British knock out tournament were the top 2 articles, but other contributors include Australia's own David Smerdon, Pentala Harikrishna and Krsten Muller. Like the Australian 50 moves, there is little of local interest, which again is a bit disappointing, but there is an article by a female contributor, Ketevan Arakhamia-Grant.

I guess both magazines, 50 Moves and BCM are aiming at high end material, and they certainly both have that. I think they are both great, but they would be even better with more local news.

(Good luck to Justin Tan and Moulthon Ly in Gibralter, and I hope they bring us a brilliant report for a future 50 Moves magazine. They are both currently leading ex World Champion Anand!)

Monday, January 25, 2016

Is chess boring?

Yesterday Magnus Carlsen took the lead at the traditional Dutch year opener at Wijk aan Zee. He's young, a fashion model, a celebrity who appears regularly on TV talk shows in his naive Norway, and in the USA. He jet sets around the world, has an honourary guest at Spanish La Liga giants Real Madrid, and of course, is the World Chess Champion.

But that isn't enough for some. While Holland is hosting the elite of the chess world, the Dutch newspapers aren't all giving positive coverage. (my thanks to my Dutch friend JJ for pointing this out to me) The Dutch journalist Mohammed Benzakour wrote that "Chess Today is Boring". Perhaps the essence of the article is lost in translation, but what I gather Mr Benzakour is saying is that chess players are too normal for his liking. There aren't the quirky, social misfits of yesteryear.

And this is a bad thing?

Our top players don't smoke, don't drink large amounts of alcohol (at least not while on duty), they aren't the social pariahs of the past and more people than ever are accepting chess as an activity they like to play, or appreciate their kids playing. At least that is my anecdotal experience from coaching chess in Australia.

These are bad things?

The elite events in Holland (there are 2 Grand Master sections) has a mixture of young and older stars, local Dutch players, and female players, players representing countries across the globe from China and India, through the Russian republics and Europe across to America.

This diversity is a bad thing?

As well as this, there's more top class chess than ever being played. While the Wijk round robins have still 5 rounds to play, ex World Champion Vishy Anand stars in an amazing field at the Gibralter Open which starts tomorrow. Anand is another of the nice guys of chess who probably fits into the 'chess is boring' category, but both Nakamura and Short are also in the field, who are both fairly outspoken in the chess world. Though not enough for some journalists. And if that isn't enough, half way through Gibralter, another elite open starts in Moscow, the first stage of the Russian Cup. Look at the field! We'll then have a month, just enough time to get our breath back, for the Candidates tournament.

But, of course, all this great chess is a bad thing, full of boring players.

Sorry Mr Benzakour, but what a crock of shit!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Endgame Discovery?

After looking at 18th century games by the likes of Philidor and Bowdler yesterday, today I thought I'd get more up to date. I've been looking at games of Chigorin today. Yes, I know, I'm still over 100 years behind the times, but I enjoy looking at the history of chess, and an interesting position is exactly that, whenever or wherever it was played.

Chigorin is a well known historical chess figure playing 2 World Championship matches in the late 1800's against Steinitz. He lost both matches, but in them he proved himself a worthy competitor. He had a tactical flair and a great imagination, which I'd never really understood because I hadn't studied many of his games, and certainly not in any depth.

Here he is black against Isidor Gunsberg in a match they played in 1890. Chigorin came up with the magnificent line opening sacrifice 35..Rxf3!!. While the majority of white's pieces sit idly on the queen side, black's will penetrate the white position on the weakened dark squares around white's king. The rest of the game sees more imaginative moves bring black's pieces into the attack.

Of course by this stage in the development of chess, a player had to able to play in a rounded style, combining opening knowledge, endgame ability, tactical flair and defensive skills. Steinitz' new positional approach was taking hold of the game, and more comprehensive study was finding defensive resources against the old school of gambiteers.

The fighting qualities of all players is shown through their desire to win, and to play on in even positions. This is seen no more clearly in the games of the current World Champion, Magnus Carlsen. Chigorin had this tenacity too. I looked at an even endgame that he kept fighting on to eventually beat another heavyweight of that era, Tarrasch. The game has been analysed by many, including Kasparov et al. in "My Great Predecessors Volume 1" (MGP). Now I'm hardly one to criticise the great man, who is in my opinion the greatest player to have ever lived, but I think there might be an error in the analysis of this endgame by Kasparov and his team.

Here's the critical position from this endgame. The build up to this had been fascinating, as white worked hard to get blood from a stone. Here Tarrasch played 54..Rc1? "the decisive mistake" according to MGP. Instead black had to play 54..Rc2 winning a tempo by hitting the h2 pawn. The point in its effort to help promote the pawn, white's king will either have to go to c8, or c6 giving the black rook time to take on h2 and then bounce back to c2 to sacrifice itself for white's remaining pawn, giving a drawn rook versus pawn endgame.

After 54..Rc1 55.Ke5 Tarrasch played 55..hxg3 56.hxg3 Rc3 and he is indeed losing this position.

With black to move here, he would have no useful moves, so Chigorin simply played 57.Ra7! (after a couple of repetitions) leaving black in zugzwang.

My question is why did black have to capture on g3 on move 55? In my opinion, 54..Rc1 isn't a decisive mistake, but 55..hxg3 most certainly is. Instead of 55..hxg3, black has 2 defences which should draw.

Black can play 55..Rc6 cutting off black's king, or even 55..Rc2 returning to the position from before but a tempo down. I don't think that tempo makes a difference. After 55..Rc2 if white's king approaches the c-pawn then we go with Kasparov's plan of checking it until it goes to the c-file. The only other plan seems to be 56.gxh4 Kxh4 57.Kxf5

Now if black plays 57..Kh3, I can't see how white can win. Black's plan is simply to check the white king from the side until it isn't attacking g4, then take on h2. White can sacrifice the c-pawn and then win black's g-pawn with 58.c8=Q Rxc8 59.Rh7+ Kg2 60.Kg4, but according to Nalimov tablebases this is a draw.

Perhaps someone can refute my analysis, or perhaps I can be added to the list of annotators who have contributed something to endgame analysis?

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Thursday Thoughts

I've been reading about Thomas Bowdler today, for some reason. Probably because I was looking at games in the early history of chess and his name came up. Bowdler was a pretty strong player, capable of taking Philidor on at odds of pawn and 2 moves. They played 8 games winning 2 and only losing 3 to the great French player.

Bowdler is immortalised in the English language after he cleaned up Shakespeare for Victorian family audiences. To "bowdlerise" is to change or cut parts of a novel or movie that might offend. The advert for Bowdler's "Family Shakespeare" stated that "those words and expressions are omitted which cannot with propriety be read aloud in a family." Seeing that Shakespeare's plays are full of innuendo and sometimes outright filth, it would be interesting to see how Bowdler's censorship took the bard apart.

I wonder how the censor's knife worked on this Shakespearean classic put down:

"By my life, this is my lady's hand, these be her very C's, her U's, and her T's, and thus makes she her great P's."

If you're wondering what this means, try spelling the capitals, but instead of "and", use the abbreviation 'n, and it should all make sense :D

Censorship is a strange thing, and an issue that polarises people. In our internet age, material has become much more explicit than even just 35-40 years ago when I was in my teenage years. For example, I link to Kevin Spraggett's blog on this page, but if I was following the principles of Bowdler, I'd be setting content warnings about it. Personally, I fall more into the category of the allowing freedom of speech camp, though there are some limits that I find difficult to tolerate, usually based on hate or discrimination.

Which brings me to the bizarre banning of chess by Saudi Arabia. According to the Fatwa against chess, the game 'promotes hatred between opponents', 'promotes the potential for gambling', and may cut into prayer time. This is all taken from the twitter account of Musa Bin Thaily of the Saudi Chess Association, who also suggests that chess may not actually be banned, but rather there are some other factors being taken into account such as the authorities need to control individuals. As he says, open air music concerts are banned, but they happen. However, the opportunity is there for the authroities to close the concerts down.

So where's the logic in banning chess? It's a game, a pastime, an activity which promotes logical thinking. And it brings pleasure to so many people, myself included.Can this be a bad thing? I'll finish with another literary quote, this time by Charlotte Bronte which sums up my opinion of the Saudi Fatwa:

"Better to be without logic than without feeling"

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Time Zones

I love living in Melbourne, and I wouldn't want to live anywhere else in the world. But if there is a fault, it is that the world is still euro-centric (especially the chess world) and Australia is sitting on the GMT +10 time zone. This means that many chess events happen overnight for us, nd it can be difficult to follow live games and maintain a life.

I usually start Tuesday mornings by downloading the weekly chess magazine, TWIC, which comes out on a Monday in the UK. I then look at some games which happened overnight in Europe and was pleased to see that even great players like Mamedyarov are capable of playing moves that I'd feel bad about playing.

In 2016, if a 2700+ player comes up with a worse move than 38.c5?? allowing Qxb1, then I'll be very surprised.

Allowing an opponent to take a rook for free is more the province of junior chess, and the Australian Junior Championships are currently being held in Adelaide, a half hour behind the times of Melbourne! Today is a kind of rest day with the problem solving championship taking place in the morning, and the lightning championship in the afternoon.

The first titles have been decided. The under-10 champion of Australia is Victorian Brandon Soetanto, while the under-8 champion is Sayum Rupasinghe from NSW. Both these champions won after a play off, and both had to overcome another player from their home state. Congratulations to both these young national age group champions!

Even further in the future than Melbourne is New Zealand. The recent New Zealand Open Championship was a great success for the organisers who assembled a group of strong players from abroad, and a good turn out from home. The tournament ran at the same time as the Australian Championship which was an unfortunate clash. I'm sure a number of Australians would have travelled to NZ for the event if the clash hadn't occurred. The tournament was won by English GM Gawain Jones who has been to New Zealand before, and there were rumours at one time of him changing his federation to New Zealand. Instead he added Maroroa to his name, and his wife, IM Sue Maroroa, changed her federation to England.

It was a tough field with Wenjun Ju from China playing before heading to Wijk aan Zee to play in the b-tournament. The 2548 rated GM from China took the scalp of top seed Nigel Short on her way to joint second place. Short also ended well in second, along with another Chinese GM 2602 rated Qun Ma. There were 6 GM's in all and 5 IM's in the field of 66 players.

Nigel Short will be spending more time "down under" as he plays at the 50th Ballarat Chess Festival over Labour Day weekend in March. This is a great coup for the Ballarat organisers to attain the entry of such a high profile star, a Grand Master and previous World Championship contender. Of course, Short is also a controversial figure, which in some respects, makes it even better for Ballarat as his participation will certainly raise the profile of the event. Short will be giving simuls in Australia, in Adelaide and Sydney, and this will undoubtedly be newsworthy, if his New Zealand experience is anything to go by.

In Auckland, he played 20 women simultaneously, in a challenge dubbed "Beauty vs the Beast". This sort of language isn't politically correct, and that was picked up by a local journalist. In fact, Short has come in for a heap of criticism for his views on women in chess over the past 12 months, and I have to admit that I have not agreed with his views. But to finish on a positive note, Short is never one to back down from a challenge, and is an absolute devotee to chess. In another article, the piece that I like the best is:

"For me, chess has been a blessing, because I have had a life which has been fascinating," he explains. "There are jobs which would make more money, but it's not everything in life. I have so much of my identity wrapped up in chess: it's nice actually, to come here, to the other end of the earth, and people are still familiar with you. There is something which is very satisfying about that and it's always nice to be recognised."