Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Chess Diaries or Notebooks

Do you keep a chess diary, or chess notebook? How do you store your chess knowledge? Do you bother to store your chess knowledge? And is it advantageous to keep a notebook or diary? And if you were to keep a diary/notebook would it be a paper one or an online one?

It's an interesting topic, especially as much of what we play is stored either online, or in databases electronically. But what about keeping a notebook, or set of notebooks divided into different topics. Apparently super GM Yasser Seirawan filled over 30 notebooks in his career. And top coaches from around the world suggest the use of a notebook in your chess study. Here's an excellent article on exactly that subject, from UK GM Nigel Davies.

So let's assume for a second that keeping a notebook is a good thing. What would or should your notebook contain? Davies seems to talk in terms of individually tailored chess wisdom, while Seirawan seems to prefer different themes specifically documented. I guess, in the end, it would be down to the individual, with some guidance from a stronger player or coach. I don't think there is anything wrong with making it whatever you want:

a series of games that have impressed you

positions that interest you or that have pushed your ideas of thinking

a record of your games and ideas and progress

opening notes

tactical themes

endgame ideas

strategic or positional ideas

things that interest you about chess ie history, news, biography etc

In fact, writing a blog is a bit like writing a journal. However, I must admit to missing using pen and paper, while a gain a shine to my fingertips from the typing.

Anyway, if you do keep a notebook or journal or diary about chess, please let me know.


This was a position I posted yesterday. It is white to play and win. The key idea is the pawn break f3-f4-f5 which will eventually clear the way for the f7 pawn to promote. So white wants to move the king, but to where, or does it make a difference? The winning move here is 1.Ke3. The idea is to head white's king to the defence of black's queen side pawn majority as well as clearing the way for the f-pawn to advance. 1.Ke4 is also possible, but it is far less easy, and will rely on a winning queen ending which can be a bit messy. After 1..b5 2.cxb5 Kxb5 white's king is well placed to cut off black's c-pawn so the f-pawn can already be moved.


3.f4 now leaves black's king having to fall back to stop immediate promotion, but that will leave the white king to grab the c-pawn, and then the game.

This would be a nice position to put in a notebook under the heading of pawn endings, with perhaps a breakthrough theme.


Compulsive Reading

I must admit to being an avid reader. I primarily read fiction of all genre, and I read about chess, my main hobby and passion (and work). I prefer paper books to kindle or other e-readers but I'll also read online. I belong to the group that like to read more than one book at a time. I am currently reading "The Cuckoo's Calling" by Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling) and rereading "Never Let Me Go" by Kazuo Ishiguro. I also have a number of chess books open, but I won't bore you with them, or remind my wife to nag me to clear some of them away.

The online coverage of the Brexit referendum in the UK has been compulsive reading for me over the past week. I've tried to stick to news sites, but have sometimes been waylaid by opinion pieces, and non expert analysis. To be honest, I haven't been gripped by anything such as this since the 9/11 World Trade Centre destruction dominated the news on TV's. And once again, reading about it has been just as depressing from an outsider's point of view. For living in Australia now, though still a UK citizen, that is what I am, an outsider. An outsider with a distinct perspective.

Let's get something straight. If I'd have voted, I'd have voted to remain in Europe. Does this bias my opinion? Probably, but I guess everyone has a bias, and some certainly have more of an agenda to push than others.

So my justifications for remaining in Europe:

- I prefer Internationalism to Nationalism, and have started to appreciate Federal systems, while I am certainly against Monarchy as a form of rule in any sense, even as a rubber stamp.

- I was concerned about the elite economic community warning about the likelihood of recession in local and probably global terms.

- I was wary of the leave campaign's emphasis on immigration which struck me as close to racist incitement when it was being presented.


I must admit, I did have some sympathy for some leave policies, but overall I was in the remain camp. From what I've been reading, the majority of people are like me. There were 2 or 3 issues that swung the situation for them, and they voted on that, one way or another.

The aftermath has been absolutely gruesome.

The nation is divided and seems to be going through some sort of crisis. News media outlets are swinging between leave to remain support on an almost daily basis, and even individual writers and journalists are changing tune depending on situations.

The Parliamentary parties are really struggling at the moment. PM David Cameron made possibly the biggest blunder in recent UK political history by agreeing to a referendum that in his arrogance, he thought he'd win. When the vote came against him, he resigned within 24 hours, leaving the country and the Conservative party without anyone to fulfil the task of seeing the Brexit decision through to it's logical conclusion. The Labour party are equally divided with an all out coup from the centre of the party currently trying to put pressure on leader Jeremy Corbyn to step down. Opinion polls I've seen have shown the parties running about equal at the moment, but with leadership changes coming from both sides who knows how that will affect the way the country votes at a next General Election.

Financially, the UK and Europe (and the world) face an unsettled time. I've read about stock market crashes happening around the globe, wealth destroyed in the UK, pensions threatened for the future, and worries over trade agreements. If the news has it right, then it would appear that the EU do not want to treat kindly with the UK on its exit.

Socially, it is just as concerning. Racially motivated hate crimes are up by nearly 60% since the Brexit referendum according to police. Social media has been very strong about this issue, and to an outsider like myself, it appears very worrying. However, taking that aside, the news sites have shown enough worrying material to be concerned. The vote to leave seems to have galvanised those groups and individuals with racially motivated agenda as if they feel they have now a right to peddle their trade.

And linked to this, there have been accusations and generalisations which have polarised the public. People calling the race card are offending leave voters without racially motivated intentions. Older voters have been accused of swelling the ranks of leave voters, but again this is a generalisation. My 88 year old Mum and Caroline's 87 year old Mum both voted remain. Basically, generalisations about every group have not helped with the unity of the country. Regionally, Scotland won the Remain vote by the biggest majority but that still left nearly 40% voting to leave or in real terms, still a little over a million people. Meanwhile, many leave voters seem to be accusing remain voters of being bad losers, and telling them to just accept the situation. While there are always going to be loud advocates for both sides, being told that your opinions are unwanted when you are worried about racial harassment and how it might affect your family is somewhat intolerant. Calls by members of both leave and remain camps to show unity at this difficult time are a farce. The country is clearly not decided, with leave voters openly admitting they made a mistake.

It's sometimes said the worst thing is not knowing, and that seems to be the situation in the UK at the moment. Which way will things go? Will a Government invoke Article 50 and leave the EU or won't they? Will there be an economic crisis in the UK? Will the right wing grow in strength? Will the Tory and Labour parties suffer losses? Will the member countries of the UK leave? Until there is some resolution of these fundamental issues, I don't see that the UK will be sorting anything out, and the longer it takes to decide these issues, the worse things are likely to get.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Back to Chess

I have a week off and I don't intend to spend it dwelling on the lunacy that is the situation in my birth country, England (I did enough of that over the weekend!). Melbourne was bad enough today. After racist vs anti racist incidents in Carlton Gardens at the weekend, the city seemed particularly grim today. I was walking up Swanston Street today with a damp, grim, grey feel to the day. There were homeless sleeping in doorways while families passed ignorantly past them on this school holiday Monday.

I went to the State Library of Victoria to look at some chess materials in the Anderson Room. An ever growing resource, the Anderson room, is one of the largest collections of chess books in the world. There are many books and periodicals on display and a vast collection held off site that can bee asked for. I just went in to browse at a couple of things today. I looked at some recent New in Chess Yearbooks for a view of some opening ideas. I also read some interviews in the British Chess Magazine and New in Chess Magazines.

I was there for a good few hours and leisurely whiled the time reading about my favourite chess subjects, endings, history and player biographies. After his recent death, it was Korchnoi that I was interested in, and there were plenty of books on him or by him. I also had a brief look at the books on my pet opening, the Philidor (yes, I only have 1 pet opening!), but soon realised that my knowledge of the Antoshin Variation exceeds that outlined by Christian Bauer in his 2007 book "The Philidor Files", or any other book that was on the shelf. There was an interesting article in a New in Chess Yearbook, but that just confirmed ideas that I'd already come up with. Hmmm, maybe I should become an opening theorist?


Of all the books I looked at today, my best recommendation would be "Mastering Endgame Strategy" by Johan Hellsten. This book goes through a load of strategic concepts based around material considerations. Then the second part of the book has over 200 test positions. As I'm nearly hitting 50 year's of age, here's the 49th position from Hellsten's book.

White to play and win

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Pride

In the wake of the Brexit Referendum in the UK, I just want to assure anyone who reads this blog that I am not a proud man. I've seen that a lot of people are suddenly "Proud to be British", and I'm hoping that these are non Christians or they'd burn in hell for indulging in a deadly sin. I am not proud about anything in my life. I am happy to live with the person that I love and who loves me, in a wonderful part of the world, free from tyranny and poverty. I'm not proud of this, my story is much more humble.


I am the son of a Catholic immigrant and his Jewish wife. I am second generation British and according to a certain minority, that would make me an unwelcome guest in the country of my birth.

I was brought up to respect others and to decide for myself what beliefs I should choose. I chose the humanist way, and while I can be accused of a degree of political apathy due to inactivity, my beliefs are quite strong.

I have never been rich in western terms, have sometimes been poor and on the verge of destitution, but am presently comfortable, so any notion of low standard of living that I might indulge in is purely a first world problem.

I am tolerant of others regardless of religion, political outlook, ethnic background, nationality, gender, age or any other label that people can think to attach to people. I see myself as being innately no better or worse than anyone else.

I'm a republican and believe that elite status should be earned and not be born into.

I am an immigrant myself, and don't forget that. I bring things from my birth country to my new country, but respect the laws and traditions of the country I've adopted. I have no desire to live anywhere other than where I am now and I want to contribute to making here a better place.

I am happy to defer to others who have greater expertise than myself. I am not an expert in anything really, and a pundit in most things. I have learned over the course of the many mistakes in my life to say words that seem to come to many with difficulty: thanks; please; I don't know. I say these words with sincerity when they're needed.


In much of the above I am the same as all people, though some might not admit it.



The thing which scares me most about the Brexit Referendum is probably the intolerance that has divided the UK. The wave of anti immigration rhetoric, the misinformation from the leadership of both sides and the emotive, rather than rational, way in which the referendum was presented and voted upon.

There are already calls for referendum in Scotland and Northern Ireland while the Prime Minister, David Cameron, is resigning. It looks as if the immediate future for the UK will be tough. Assuming the UK Government carries through with the will of the majority of the people in the referendum, and leaves the EU it would appear to be the beginning of the end for that United Kingdom.

While so many leave voters are claiming to be proud to be British, I would warn against pride, not because I'm religious but because I'm humble. Apparently, in 1995 there was a vote to find Britain's favourite poem. The winner was "If" by Rudyard Kipling, the great British poet, born in India! It's a poem wrote in times of war, when Britain worked with allies, helped refugees, and fought against dictatorial fascism in the name of freedom. This would be something well read by many who voted in the EU referendum and dwelt upon by leave and remain supporters both. It has been an ugly time in the UK recently but hopefully, whatever way the future takes it, the hate, the lies, the bigotry that have come to the fore, will be replaced by the good that is inherent in most people.



If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, 
    But make allowance for their doubting too;   
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, 
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies, 
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating, 
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise: 

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster 
    And treat those two impostors just the same;   
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken 
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, 
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, 
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools: 

If you can make one heap of all your winnings 
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, 
And lose, and start again at your beginnings 
    And never breathe a word about your loss; 
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew 
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you 
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’ 

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch, 
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you, 
    If all men count with you, but none too much; 
If you can fill the unforgiving minute 
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Answer Time

Last week I put up some problems, and now here are the answers!

First the 3 problems that made up the Hastings 1895 solving competition which I posted here. If you got the correct answers in less than 2 hours, you were doing well!

White to play and mate in 3


1.Kb2 [intending Kc2 and e3#] eg. 1..Bxf7 [1..h5 2.Ng5 intending Ne6 mate; 2..e5 3.Qc2 with e3# to follow] 2.Kc2 and whatever black plays, 3.e3 is mate. The puzzle was set by Berger, but apparently there was a cook so it was changed to this puzzle here.
White to play and mate in 3

Mate is to be delivered along the a1-h8 diagonal. 1.Rb2 [threatening e5#] 1..Bxb2 [1..Rxe4 2.Qc3+ Re5 Rxf2# Or 2..e5 3.Rxb6#] 2.Qa3 [Threatening Qf8#] 2..Bxa3 3.e5# Absolutely beautiful puzzle by Gold. Apparently, the tries 1.Rxb6 and Rd4 are both defeated by 1..Rf5. 1.Rb2! Rf5 on the otherhand still allows 2..Qc3+ with mate to follow

White to play and mate in 4

This is fiendishly difficult! 1.Ke7 [with the idea Kf8, Qe8 and Rf4#] 1..Bb3 [black's bishop is the only piece that can move and it must stay on the a2-g8 diagonal defending the rook] 2.Kf8 Bc4 [2..Ba2 allows the alt. 3.Qc3+ Rd4 Qxd4#] 3.Qe8 and whatever move black plays, white has 4.Rf4# This puzzle by D.P is one which requires vision of the mating pattern rather than calculation, as do all of these to an extent.


I then posted this study which I saw in an old BCM.

White to play and draw

This is a stalemate puzzle set by F. Simkovitch. 1.b7 [gets rid on one piece] 1..Nxb7 2.Bc6 [Forking the knights, which looks like the end of the puzzle. However, the bishop will also get forked in return!] 2..Nd6! 3.Bxd5 Nf5+



Now, wherever the white king moves, a knight fork can be created. 4.Kh5 Be2+ 5.Kg6 Ne7+ 6.Kf7 Nxd5


7.g6! [white in turn threatens to promote] 7..Bh5 [ pinning the pawn] 8.Kf8 Nf6! [The last trick! 8..Bxg6 is already stalemate]


9.g7+ Kh7 10.g8=Q+ 10..Nxg8 stalemate, a beautiful final position with white's king not in a corner while all the black pieces are to the short side, and a nice theme allowing the pawn to promote.


Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Week Korchnoi Died

It must be a sign that I'm getting old, but I seem to be noticing the deaths of a number of my childhood heroes recently. David Bowie's death earlier this year was terrible. And from a chess perspective, I was hit with almost the same gut wrenching feeling when I heard Viktor Korchnoi had died earlier this week.

I started playing chess in the post Fischer time when it was all about the golden boy of Russian chess, Karpov, versus the rebellious Korchnoi. I have to say that I was enthralled by the play of both players. Karpov's handling of simple positions, and endgames, is still a mystery to me, while Korchnoi's willingness to defend ugly positions was amazing. I was just beginning to get interested in the world of chess, and chess theory and ideas, between their first and second matches. And while I've read about how close the 1974 ans 1978 matches were, unfortunately it was the 1981 match, convincingly won by Karpov which first really attracted my attention. Still, it didn't stop me following the play of both players, and looking at many of their games since then.

Korchnoi was truly an inspiration, his career spanning over 50 years, of which 30 were with him near the top of the game. And he just didn't stop playing! I can kind of understand that a player doesn't want to linger after his best, and might move on to other things. I understand it, but I don't personally subscribe to that sort of way of thinking. Like Korchnoi, I'll be playing chess as long as I'm healthy to do so, and if I can't play, then I'll read about, or study, the game.

There have been loads of tributes to Viktor Korchnoi this written this week, and I'm sure there'll be many more. My personal favourite of those I've read was the very personal tribute by Frederic Friedel on Chessbase.

Meanwhile, the MCC Monday night tournament, the City of Melbourne Open, continues without me, and it looks as if I won't be playing any more games in this tournament. The tournament is currently headed by FM Domagoj Dragicevic who beat Vishal Bhat in round 7. Dragicevic is now on 6.5/8, a point clear of the field. FM Greg Canfell, Mehmedalija Dizdarevic, Ray Yang and Tristan Krstevski are all on 5.5, with Vishal the only player on 5. There is then a big group on 4.5 but with only 2 rounds to go, it's really looking like Domagoj will be tough to stop.

And finally, I saw a post on Chesschat, the chess bulletin board, by Brian Jones asking for players to join the Correspondence Chess League of Australia (CCLA). So I decide to give it it a go, and will report on how things are going here. It's been about 30 years since I last tried to play correspondence chess but I didn't have the patience, and gave it up after not much time. Now I feel better prepared for it, and I also get the chance to represent Australia rather than England, where my FIDE rating is set.

Korchnoi-Larsen 1968 (from chess network company)

Finally, as a tribute to Viktor Korchnoi, I've been showing kids one of his games this week, a quick win against Larsen from Brussels 1987. Enjoy!



Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Value of Old Material 2

If a chess player wants to improve, then an excellent thing to invest in is a chess magazine or periodical. Finding the right one for each players needs and tastes can be quite challenging, and there is no universally good publication. A regional magazine is always good to subscribe to. This will give news about players and events that are familiar to you, and you'll be contributing to the local cause. Then there are the premier publications, such as New in Chess and Chess Informant. I used to really like New in Chess, but I have not enjoyed their format, or material recently .Informator is somewhat heavy, but has a wealth of great material for someone prepared to work. There are also online sites nowadays where chess can be followed in magazine format, such as Chessbase, or Chess24. I do visit these sites regularly, but I've always been more a fan of printed materials.

I grew up in England and so my local magazine was the British Chess Magazine. I have bought this over the years, but I started by going to my local library which stocked the BCM in their periodicals section. The material was diverse and their was anecdotal, and opinion pieces, as well as tournament reports and game analysis. I was never really too much into problems, though the BCM had an excellent section on these compositions, but I enjoyed the endgame studies which was written for a long time by the great British composer Charles Bent, and was then taken over by another great composer, John Beasley (I was looking at the BCM much during Bent's time). These writers would bring the whole world of study composition alive with stories of composition tournaments, cooks, and portraits of great chess study composers. I was looking through an old BCM (January 1978) and saw this great endgame study, reminding me a little of a study I showed a few weeks ago.

White to play and draw
I saw this and immediately thought about the Bron composition and leaving my opponent with 2 knights. However, this study involves a different technique to draw, which I'll post in a few days time.

In the same January 1978 BCM, the English chess historian Ken Whyld looked at some ratings data that has been created by Sir Richard Clarke who among other things in his notable life, devised the English ratings system in the 1950's. Clarke used data to rate players retroactively so as to compare players strengths from different era's. Whyld then used this rating data to try to formulate a list of the greatest tournaments from 1862-1960 (in modern times, Jeff Sonas has done similar work on his site chessmetrics). Whyld ranked the following tournaments as the strongest up to 1960:

Above FIDE Category 15 (average rating 2625+):

AVRO 1938
World Ch Tournament 1948
Budapest Candidates 1950
Zurich Candidates 1953

FIDE Catoegory 15 (average rating 2601-2625):

St Petersburg 1895-6
New York 1927
Garmisch 1937
USSR Absolute Ch 1941
Amsterdam Candidates 1956
Bled Candidates 1959

These were the 10 strongest according to Whyld, who actually listed the top 100 tournaments up to 1960. He did mention some notable omissions from the list, such as Carlsbad 1911. London 1922 and Hastings 1895, writing "The method of classification is rather against events with large numbers of competitors and weakish tails." We all might have our favourite tournaments in chess history, but the parlour games of comparing them seems to have been around for a long time! Sonas, for instance uses other formula to classify tournaments, and for him, Hastings is the third strongest of the nineteenth century, only behind Vienna 1882 and London 1883, though he gives Hastings a higher FIDE category than both that would put it in Whyld's top 10!

(My Australian friends might be interested in a reported win for Australian David Parr at the Guernsey Chess Festival in October 1977. Parr came equal 1st while another Aussie, Max Fuller was in the group half a point back. No games of Parr or Fuller were published in this magazine, but I'll keep searching for bits of interest to Australians)