Thursday, November 26, 2015

Endgames for 5 Year Olds

There are some very talented young players around, and when you work with some of them you can be truly amazed at how quickly they pick up some tough concepts. A lot of it is trial and error, but by playing through similar types of positions, again and again, kids can improve heaps in this area of the game, and their pattern recognition generally.

Just to make all the adults feel good, here were a few endgames I was looking at with a 5 year old student. These are the ones he was struggling with.

White to play and win
 I like this puzzle, and it wrapped up a part of the session we were working on quite nicely.

White to play and win
This one took some prompting in the end, but again, it reinforced some important endgame principles.

White to play and draw
The concept of drawing is difficult for a 5 year old who only thinks in terms of winning, rather than 'not losing'. However, the same sort of principles apply, just in reverse. It's also good to make a student look through the eyes of their opponent.

My next post will have the solutions (I won't say tomorrow, as the last time I did that I never posted the next day).

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Melbourne's Big Summer of Chess

There's going to be a mass of good quality chess in Melbourne, both to play in, or to spectate or follow this summer.

The fun starts this weekend, when Chess Kids, the company I work for hosts their National Interschool Finals. Actually, it's a huge junior chess festival starting on Sunday 29th November with a set of individual 7-round 15-0 allegro events. Then on the Monday and Tuesday the Chess Kids National Interschool Championship will take place. It is a 7-round 25-10 format with close to 300 players expected over both primary and secondary divisions.

All these junior events are being held at Queen's College, Melbourne University near the centre of Melbourne.

The weekend after this (5th-6th December) sees Melbourne Chess Club's amazing summer schedule start with the traditional Christmas Swiss. Perhaps the publicity for this has been overshadowed by other events coming to the club, but make no mistake that this tournament looks likely to be a good one. Visiting GM Arturs Neiksans from Latvia will be playing in the weekender. He is currently rated 2602, but might be even higher after his performance at the European Team Championship where he scored 4.5/7 including a draw with Arkadij Naiditsch. There are currently over 20 players entered, and this is a good opportunity to get some practice for the Australian Championships.

The MCC then hosts the Australasian Masters which will consist of two 10-player round robins. Chess Victoria President, Leonid Sandler has worked hard to get a GM norm event, and an IM norm event happening, and according to Leonid, this GM tournament might be the strongest ever in Australia. It certainly looks to be one of the strongest, with foreign GM's Neiksans, and Papin competing, and a strong local field including Melbourne based GM Darryl Johansen. I'll be playing in the IM event, so I should be able to bring some first hand reports of the goings on. The tournament runs from 12th-20th December

The Masters then goes out with a bang as it is immediately followed by the Victorian Blitz Championship which will also be hosted by the MCC. In recent years this tournament has proved very strong as players from the Masters join in with the best local players. I don't have details of this event, but it will probably be held Monday 21st December, a good lead in to Christmas.

The Christmas break will bring only a short relief to the summer of chess, as Box Hill Chess Club hold their traditional Australian Championship warm up event, the Canterbury Summer Swiss. After their move to Waverley/Essex Hills last year, Box Hill Chess Club have had to reinvent themselves a bit. One issue is that the club cannot hold weekend events at their current venue, but thanks to their strong organisational background, they have managed to find a venue for their summer event, the German Club in Windsor. For anyone who is short on practice before the Australian Championships, this is a must! It runs from the 27th December through to 30th December, and you can follow details here.

Then comes the big one, the Australian Championships and Reserves. Hosted by the Melbourne Chess Club in their 150th anniversary year, this is already shaping up to be an amazing tournament. Defending Champion, IM Max Illingworth entered early making it clear he intends to defend his title. But with 2 GM's and another 5 IM's already entered, Max will have to work hard to take the title again. I also intend to play in this event, running from January 2nd-January 12th 2016 at Fitzroy Town Hall. There is a rest day on 8th January when the Australian Blitz Championship will be held.

Phew...that's an unbelievable amount of chess this summer. But that's not all!!! (I've always wanted to say that, like in the adverts on the shopping channels). The MCC continues as Australia's premier chess venue to host the Australian Women's Masters event. Starting on 14th January, this will be 10-player round robin event and is shaping up to be the strongest ever women's event in Australia.

The Women's Masters finishes on the 22nd January, which leads nicely into the last event of the summer, Melbourne Chess Club's Australia Day Weekender. The Australia Day Weekender is, and has traditionally been, the first weekender of the year, even though it will seem like the last in a long line of chess events. Another great field is promised by the very first entry, hanging around after the Women's Masters, WGM Julis Ryjanova of Russia rated currently 2387!

That is an amazing amount of quality chess in Melbourne for players of all standards of players, and at various time limits. Long play chess fanatics have a dream summer coming up. And with the Victorian and Australian Blitz Championships being held here, the fast players should also be satisfied. And even if you are not a fan of long chess, nor the very fast chess, the MCC holds it weekly allegro 15-0 chess tournaments, and these will continue over the summer of chess! I'll be trying to follow as many of these as possible, so stay tuned :)

Monday, November 23, 2015

Pugilistic Chess

Yesterday saw the inaugural bouts in Australian Chess Boxing. I didn't attend, but it was apparently a great success with a decent crowd of people, media coverage in attendance including The Project and Channel 10, plus the competitors had an absolute ball.

Today I was talking to one of the fighters, Anthony Hain, who was talking about the event, and he showed me the chess game he played. He played the black side of a Two Knights Defence very well, and came away with a small material deficit compensated for by a huge lead in development. (to be honest,  don't know why sane people risk the Two Knights with white or black, but these guys were throwing punches at each other in between chess moves, so a combative chess game seems reasonable.

The Two Knights Defence is an ancient opening with many tricks and traps associated with it, and it starts with the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6
Whether you play this opening or not, it is good fun to look at with many typical opening tricks. It is a favourite among young juniors who are attracted to the possibility of a quick win when someone falls for their trap.

4.Ng5 [The pugilistic way of playing. 4.d3 is more likely to be seen in a 2700 GM encounter] 4..d5 [If this isn't crazy enough for you, then look up the Wilkes-Barre with 4..Bc5] 5.exd5 Na5 [Anthony, as black, opts for long term compensation not tempted into playing 5..Nd4 (Fritz, my favourite) 5..b5 (Ulvestad) 5..Nxd5? which allows the kids favourite Fried Liver Attack, 6.Nxf7] 6.Bb5+ c6 7.dxc6 bxc6

So far the players had made the fans happy with their aggressive chess (though the fans were probably more intent on seeing two chess players beating the crap out of each other!). In this position white's bishop must retreat, and the knight on g5 will also get chased away which will hand an initiative to black fort he sake of a pawn, or maybe 2. The question is, where should the bishop go? The traditional retreat has been to e2, but recently there has been a lot of attention placed on d3. On d3 the bishop looks to impede white's queen side development, but importantly it controls e4 which is where white's knight will drop back to when it gets kicked by h6.

All well and good, but in this chess boxing game, the bishop went a different way! 8.Ba4 I have to admit to knowing hardly anything about this move, once having read somewhere it was bad and never having looked at it again. Time to have a peek now :) Stockfish reckons that after the moves 8..h6 9.Nf3 e4 10.Qe2 black has a big advantage -1.34.

All well and good, oh great silicon monster, but you'd lose a chess boxing bout within the first minute of the first round of fighting! Unbelievably, the 2 chess boxers reached this position, from which Anthony continued to develop his advantage to winning proportions. Unfortunately, Chess Boxing Australia President Rafael Ward was the better boxer, and won the match on points, though I feel he would have had  struggle to hang on to the chess game for much longer.

Anyway, here's a great game with a great finish from a time when the Two Knights would have been all the rage, the middle of the 1800's. The black winner of this game is the relatively unknown player Edward Pindar who was nevertheless, very strong. He won the Manchester Chess Club Championship in front of players such as the great problem composers Kipping and Horwitz, the latter being of world class playing strength, having beaten Bird in matches. Anyway, Pindar was born in Russia (no surprise that he was good at chess!) but moved to England where he was a teacher, and very good chess player. Look at the climax to the game!

Black to play and win, see if you can find the best line for black before looking at what happened in the game!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Chess Tactics (cont)

The joy of writing a blog by oneself is that you have complete control over what you do, what you say, the direction and content. The downside is that when you suddenly become busy with life and work, the blog becomes redundant. That's what happened over the weekend. I mean, I can't complain, it's good to have a full life. It's just when I say that the answer will be posted "tomorrow", and on that day I don't even see my computer, it is a bit frustrating!

Anyway, continuing with things tactical, I posted this position:

I solved this puzzle on Chess Tempo the other day, and thought it was trickier than it looks. The problem has a rating of about 2040, so you can gauge your tactical strength based on that. It's white to play and win, but that is the only clue that you get. It took me just over 3 minutes to solve it, but my thinking was skewed at a couple of points.

I instantly saw the pin 1.Be4 and was tempted to play it straight off, but my time on Chess Tempo has taught me to search deeper, to look for your opponent's ideas, and to look for other opportunities. This is a thought process that can help maximise results if used properly. "When you see a good move, look for a better one", as the great world champion Emanuel Lasker famously said.

So I started to think about the f7 square, I noticed my rook on f1 is attacked, I considered taking on g6, and even 1.h5. This is what I like about Chess Tempo, the fact that you are in a game situation. You are still trying to find best moves, but have no idea in which way they are best, and often, the obvious try is not right, or the first move is right, but the following moves aren't as your opponent finds defences that you hadn't taken into account.

Eventually, I found the forcing line:

1.Be4 Rxe4 [pretty much forced or white is just taking on g6 with check] 2.Qxe4 Bxf1 [Again, virtually forced as black is already an exchange down, and white threatens Qxg6+, the main theme of the puzzle]

So this was the position that you had to envisage at the start of the problem, and calculate. Once I saw the idea 3.Qxg6+! I knew I'd solved the puzzle, but you had to see it before making the first move. 3..fxg6 4.Rxf8 leaving white an exchange ahead.

So, use Chess Tempo to:

- extend your vision
- develop tactical awareness
- practice your calculation skills

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Chess Tempo

Every chess player should work on their calculation and tactical ability. Most chess playing sites have a tactical solving element, but the one I use at the moment in Chess Tempo, and I advise my students to use it. 

While it has a number of features, the one I mainly use is a tactical solving training element, and I prefer to not work against the clock, although I will sometimes test my vision in timed tests.

You get a solving rating, and the site rates puzzles and then tries to match each solver up with a puzzle of roughly an equal level. If you correctly solve the puzzle your rating goes up and you'll start to get harder puzzles, while if you get it wrong your rating goes down and you'll get easier puzzles. (the puzzle rating also goes up or down depending on whether it is solved)

Solving puzzles like this helps a player to develop their imagination and improve their calculation skills. Or put another way, you work on diverse ideas, and how to accurately employ them.

Here's a puzzle that I was given today. See if you can solve it, I'll post the answer tomorrow. And improve your tactical ability by joining Chess Tempo and solving puzzles.

It is white to move, black has just played Rg8-g6. You don't know what your objective is (mate, winning material, saving a lost game etc), you just have to find the best line for white.

TIP: make sure you look at your opponent's ideas and resources.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Chess Events

Time to promote some events, and catch up some chess activities I've seen. I've always been of the opinion that I owe it to the chess community to give back some of my time and energy for all the enjoyment I've got out of it. A karma type of thing. It's great anyway meeting people with a similar interest.

I've been really lucky to be involved in chess coaching for the past 10 years and find out about lots of events for young players. Like in many countries the challenge for chess organisers in Australia is not developing new players at primary school level, but maintaining interest into high school and beyond. As a result, here in Melbourne, we have thousands of primary school players, but a small number of players making it to adult game.

At the end of August, the Victorian Inter- University Championship took place at RMIT. It was a pretty strong tournament held in a really friendly atmosphere, and in wonderful surroundings.

On the left, 2 of the favourites Zhigen Lin and Simon Schmidt

The amazing ceiling of the venue, Storey Hall
The winner of the tournament was Sunilson Suderson of Deakin, who wasn't the only strong unrated player in the field. Dara Akdag from Denmark studying at Melboure Uni has a FIDE rating of 2182 and finished second, ahead of local boy Thomas Feng.

At an even younger age group, I recently visited Hobart, Tasmania to help coach at a chess camp. There were about 25 kids, some of whom were getting pretty good, ranging from about 7 years old through to about 13 or 14. A Tasmanian Chess Camp means lots of coaching, and lots of outdoor activities, a blitz tournament, a simul, a barbecue and lots of fun. This is all thanks to the Hobart International Junior Chess Club, and especially the efforts of Mellissa Harvey.

Nearly empty scout hut, most of the kids were outside having a break from chess coaching.

I focussed on simple messages, though some of the material was quite tricky, including some very advanced ideas about pins. Although talking about such a basic concept as the pin might not seem that inspiring, when you show pins in game situations, and then set some tough puzzles about creating pins, exploiting pins, defending pins, and checking whether pins are good or not. Tactics are always good for juniors, and adding real game settings give the concepts some context, and kids love hearing stories about famous chess players (or not so famous chess players).

A blitz tournament was held on the Saturday evening, with some adults taking part to add some tough competition for the kids. It is great that adults should take the time to do this, as kids need role models, and targets in their development. Here's my game against the player who came second, Ross George. Please remember, this was a 5 minute game, and as far as I can remember, the move order is right!

There have been some films about chess over the years, and last week there was a showing of the film, "The Polgar Variant" at my local cinema. International arbiter (IA) Gary Bekker had the bright idea of running a chess demonstration in the foyer of the cinema before the film started, and I brought along some clocks and checked things out.

Zhi Lin Guo taking on members of the public
Gary Bekker playing Charlotte Dilnutt with publicity, all good for chess.
And finally, in the red corner...

The President of Frankston Chess Club, Rafael Ward, also happens to be the impetus behind Chess Boxing Australia. Here we get a combination of chess and boxing with the first to either checkmate or knock out being the winner. This weekend sees the inaugural Fight Knight. While boxers would have a good chance of knocking out chess players, apparently a competitor has to have a certain proficiency in both disciplines to compete.....shame :D

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Panchenko's Endgame Defence

This was the position I left on my blog yesterday, an exercise from Panchenko's book, "Mastering Chess Middlegames". Black is in a tough spot and has to find the best defence. So let's look at some candidate moves.

1. If black tries to defend the pawn on b6, there are 2 ways to do it.

- 1..Rb8 pinning the pawn on b6 doesn't look good and white can simply advance his c-pawn to exploit the pin 2.c4 Kg8 3.c5 followed by cxb5 with a winning advantage
- 1..Rf6? is strongly met by 2.Rf1! forcing an exchange of rooks. This is what actually happened in the game. White's king is more central, and his pawn structure is better. The game finished. 2..Kg8 3.Rxf6 gxf6 4.Kf2 Kf7 5.Ke3 Ke6 6.Kd4 Kf5 7.Kd5 1-0

2. Counter attack

- 1..Rc8! this gives the best chance for a draw, activating the rook, getting the king into the game, while trading pawns. To go for this, these basic endgame principles needed to be followed, and an assessment of the position with 3 v 2 pawns as a draw needs to be understood. 2.Rxb6 Kg8 3.Rb5 Rxc4 4.Rxa5

This is actually a good position to study and practice, as well as positions with an extra pawn on the king side. Black should be able to hold a draw here, but getting to know some technique wouldn't hurt!

Have a look at this classic position from the game Ftacnik-Littlewood Hastings 1982. The attacking rook is placed passively, and Littlewood decides to protect his passed pawn with his king. Ftacnik uses this to get his own king moving on the other side of the board.

It's white to play. Perhaps you could try this position as both black or white against a computer, or friend of about a similar strength to you before you look at the game continuation which is here.