Monday, August 3, 2015

Reading Materials

I've done a pretty good job of avoiding illnesses through 2015. That is, until Friday. Then, during the day I started to get short of breath, snuffly and thick headed. As per usual, I've not felt bad enough to stop me going to work but I haven't been running, and opted out of playing chess on Friday night. And with the winter being the coldest I've experienced in my 10 years of living in Melbourne, all I've really felt like doing over the weekend is sitting in a warm room reading a good book. The thing is, what constitutes a good book?

Well a good place to start is the longlist of the Man Booker Prize, which was announced a couple of days ago. I am always inspired by the Booker longlist and amazingly I just picked up Anne Enright's "The Green Road"  to read when I saw the announcement of the list on Twitter, including the book I was intending to read. The Green Road has started in amazing fashion, a most readable book about real, and difficult issues. If it carries on in this vein, then it will be a truly amazing read.

Anne Enright is a previous winner of the Booker Prize, but I've never read her before. The thing is, there is so much to read that we're never going to be able to read everything we want to read. I have bookshelves with the best part of 40 unread books. So I'm planning on getting through some of these before I buy anything new (except perhaps for some more longlist books!)

I go on holiday with Caroline in 7 weeks time and have a reading list before then. I've been reading a fantasy series by Australian author Kate Forsyth. I like reading fantasy series or detective series to break up some of the heavier reading.  I've read half the series and it is enjoyable with some interesting characters and a Celtic background. I'll hopefully finish the other 3 before we go to Europe.

Kate Forsyth's excellent fantasy series
Seeing we'll be travelling to France, driving around it, before heading to see family in England, I thought it would also be good to read something vaguely related to somewhere I'm going. I'll be driving around France with Caroline and one of our stops will be in the south western town of Carcassonne. I've read novels based around Carcassonne such as those by Kate Mosse, like Labyrinth and Citadel. But something sitting on the shelf waiting to be read is "Narrow Dog to Carcassonne" by Terry Darlington. It tells the story of a trip to France by 2 English pensioners who on their canal boat. I love reading books about unlikely adventures, and it almost classifies under the fantasy heading!

I'll also be going to Carcassonne, like Terry Darlington
The most amazing novel I've read in the past couple of years about unlikely journeys is probably Rachel Joyce's "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry". Funny, sad, bizarre and very real all rolled into one beautifully written novel. Well, I'm ready to read the sequel, "The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy". Harold Fry was a pensioner who received a letter from an old acquaintance, Queenie Hennessy, which inspired him to walk from Cornwall to Durham, about 600 miles (950 km). This pilgrimage enabled Harold to meet a numebr of interesting characters along the way, while we readers were treated to a wonderful unfolding of the storyline. The story seen from Queenie Hennessy's eyes promises to be as much as a roller coaster ride of emotions.

So that gives me some reading to do before I go away. Then I'll have the interesting task of choosing holiday reading! Oh, and I might be able to get some chess reading done at some stage. Probably not, though!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Malitis Memorial Update

Last week the British Championships started. This is a tournament I enjoy following as I knew many of the players involved. Some of the younger ones I never met as I left the UK over 10 years agao. Funnily enough, I spent years trying to qualify for the British Championship when the qualification criteria was tough. You either had to have a rating of 2320 or pick up a place from one of the qualifiers on the weekend circuit. Then, I finally qualified for the 2005 Championship, only to leave England a few months before the tournament.

No regrets though as I've made a great life here, and enjoy the chess scene in Australia. In fact, it is likely that I'll play in the upcoming Australian Championships being held in January 2016 in Melbourne. The tournament is being run by my club, the Melbourne Chess Club. Currently, the tournament in progress on a Monday night is the Malitis Memorial. Monday night events are longplay FIDE rated events, which is my preference. After an absence from the long game for a couple of years, my rating took a pounding on my return and dropped to a low of about 2080. I seem to have got it back together again, and my rating has jumped back up to 2161, and hopefully will jump more. Although saying that, my start in the Round Robin section of the Malitis Memorial, with 2 losses was not particularly inspiring.

The Malitis Memorial is split into 2 divisions, an 8 player Round Robin and a swiss for everyone else. This format seems to have drawn more players in (though that might just be a general upturn in chess club attendance) but I think I'd like to see a slightly different format, that I once played at the OHRA tournament in Amsterdam in the early 1990's. There they had small swiss events, 16 players, 24 players, or 32 players in rating groups. I think a 16 player, 7-round swiss would be an excellent format, and would basically split the top half and bottom half players. As I remember, the prize fund was also interesting. You earned prize money for every half point above half points. So instead of a set prize fund for the tournament, the prize fund depended on how many points you scored. This sort of system discourages players trying for draws, and rewards performance. It also spreads the prize fund out.

The Round Robin section is being dominated by IM Mirko Rujevic who has won all 3 of his games and sits a point clear already. David Cannon has 2/3, and the rest of us are floundering below. The swiss event also has a clear leader in Mehmedalija Dizdarevic who is the only player on 3/3. He is half a point ahead of Tristan Krstevski (who he plays) and Eamonn O'Molloy and then there is a big group of players on 2/3. The second tournament saw a number of late entries, and the number of players in the event has swelled to 35. Seeing the 7 round winter event has had considerably less players than that in the past, the MCC must be commended at attracting players through the door.

I was able to win my game against Simon Schmidt. Simon is a much improved player as is seen by his jump up the ratings. However, he misjudged an endgame against me and turned a draw into a loss.
Simon had offered a draw a long way back, but I soldiered on in essentially level positions up to this critical juncture. Although I had been pressing, there was never anything tangible, so I decided to go for it. 44..b4 45.cxb4 d4
So black has created a passed pawn that is a bit dangerous in the middle of the board. Still it should be no problem for white. 46.Rf3 Kd5 This was the last chance of winning.
Now, Simon correctly took my pawns on the king side, 47.fxg5 fxg5 48.Rf5+ Ke4 49.Rxg5 d3
To understand this position, you must know that neither side can win. The idea is that white will have to sacrifice their rook for black's d-pawn but will then use their king to help their g-pawn advance causing white to sacrifice their rook back again. The b-pawns are of consequence as they can be taken at will by black. Taking all this into account, white seems to left with 2 choices. 50.Rg8 and come behind the black d-pawn, or 50.Rh5 and drop the rook to the back rank.

a. 50.Rh5? d2 51.Rh1 Rc1 wins for black

b. 50. Rg8! 
50..d2! [50..Rd7 fails to 51.Re8+ Ke4 52.Re1 and white has control of the back rank]
Now there is only one move to draw 51.Re8! [51.Rd8? 52.Rc3+ Kh4 53.Rd3 builds a bridge for the pawn] 51..Kd3 52.Rd8+ Kc2
53.Kf4! White's king starts supporting his own pawn. The game would conclude with white having to sacrifice his rook when black's pawn promotes, but the g-pawn will coast white a rook back again. White has time to stop the g-pan and pick up both b-pawns.

c. 50.Kf2? This was the move that Simon played, and really my main hope of an endgame swindle.
50..Rc1! Guards the promotion square and prevents white's king from blocking the pawn. Meanwhile, black's king is in great position to worry about the g-pawn while white's king has moved to a considerably worse square. The game concluded. 51.Rg8 d2 52.Re8+ Kf4 [I think Simon had forgotten that my king could move this way after he had retreated his king. If the black king has to touch the d-file, then white would be fine as he could skewer the pawn] 53.Rf8+ Kxf4 54.Rd8 d1=Q 55.Rxd1 Rxd1 56.Ke3 Kf5 0-1

This is an important practical ending for club players to understand. This type of ending is quite frequent in games, and understanding the mechanics of it will maximise your results.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Run Melbourne Half Marathon

Over the past couple of years I've got a real buzz from running. I've gone through periods of regular training and had times when I don't do any for a while. So I decided to motivate myself by entering a half marathon. This was a great idea as it has kept me focussed on training and taken me from the 10 km runner to the longer distance.

My history as a runner is fairly recent. In fact 5 years ago, as an unfit smoker, the thought of running even 1 km would have been daunting. I started with a build up to 5 km, found that I enjoyed running and moved up to 10 km. I then had a go at the Puffing Billy, Great Train Race which I found too hard because of the hilly terrain. Perhaps that put me off running a bit. I caught a chill after the first time I ran against the train, and stopped training for about 2 months, maybe more.

I guess once I'd completed the Great Train Race, it was like there was nothing more to aim at as I hadn't set a further goal. I think that even as a casual runner it is important to set a goal, whether it be to do with time, distance, weight loss or some other random factor. Anyway, this year at the start of May I ran Puffing Billy again, and after it I immediately set myself the challenge of raising the bar. Puffing Billy is 13.5 km, and I entered the Run Melbourne half marathon of 21.1 km.

I trained sporadically after Puffing Billy, but managed to get myself comfortable at 15 km and perhaps a bit more. My longest run before today had been 19 km, but I only managed to go just over 17 km without stopping. So it was with some trepidation that I rocked up to the start line of the Run Melbourne half marathon this morning. The start was a bit of a shambles. I started in the third wave of runners, and we were lined up on the east side of St Kilda Road, opposite the Art's Centre which is where the race was to begin. We had to wait for the the faster runners to set off and then cross the road for our own start. However, by the time the first 2 waves had been set off, the fastest runners were doubling back up the road towards us,  and my wave of runners found we couldn't cross the road. It took a while, but eventually we started, about 20 minutes after the lead runners. No matter, the timing for the race is based on a chip, so everyone gets a time based on when they started compared to when they finished!

An early start, runners milling around Federation Square before the 7 am start

The race started at 7 am, while I crossed the start line about 7.20 am. However, the morning started for me at 5 am. There was no public transport early enough to get to the event, so I drove to within a couple of km of the run start. After the walk into town I waited around for the start, soaking up the atmosphere in Federation Square before the start of my first half marathon. There were lots of stalls representing different charities and organisations which partner the race. I was running for the charity Beyond Blue which promotes the issues of anxiety and depression, to some extent invisible illnesses which mean a lot to me

After the starting hiccup, running in a big group was really helpful, and was thoroughly enjoyable. The route took 2 laps around the south of the CBD and Botanical Gardens, and I found the first half, about 11 km, fairly comfortable. At about 13 km things began to get tough, and by the 16 km I had slowed considerably. I stopped at a drink station and even had to walk a little around the 18-19 km mark, but all told I had a good first effort.

Tired, but happy to have completed my first half marathon
I was hoping to get inside 2 hours 15 minutes, but ended just outside at about 2 hours 18 minutes, which all told means that I ran at a pace of about 6 minutes 30 seconds. I would very much like to improve this time, and I believe that if I worked towards it I could get inside 2 hours 10 minutes, and maybe even faster. So I'm setting myself a new goal of breaking 2 hours 10 minutes in an official half marathon. The question is which will be my next half marathon? I'd like to run 2 a year from now, but I doubt I'll be doing another in 2015, so I'll be looking for a new run in autumn 2016. Any suggestions?
A beautiful morning for a run, which went past Flinders Street Station

The view from Elizabeth Bridge, the start of the Race
Degraves Street, a good spot for a post run coffee

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Glen Eira Last Chance Tournament

Glen Eira's Third 7-round swiss tournament of the year has started with the strongest field so far. Each of the 3 qualifying tournaments through the year yield 3 places for the end of year championship. Our qualifiers from the first 2 tournaments were:

Carl Gorka
FM Domagoj Dragicevic
Avto Frodiashvili
WCM Sarah Anton
Rebecca Strickland
Daniel Poberezovsky

This is already a nice mix of players with some experienced and some wanting to try their hand at taking on strong players. When I created the Glen Eira Chess Club, this was exactly the idea I had in mind. In this area there are a lot of players, and a lot of young players who need experienced competition to improve. so we run tournament games rated on the Australian rating system with a time rate of 60 minutes + 10 seconds increment to push these kids to extra focus time.

The current tournament saw IM James Morris come along. James is a local living 10-15 minutes walk from the venue and he is the defending champion, being a supporter of our local club from its start. But James won't have things all his own way, as John Nemeth who more usually plays at Noble Park Chess Club has come along for the tournament. John is a 2200 strength player at least, and will add that extra experience that our young players need to compete against. I think he found his game tougher than he expected last night as he had to work a little to overcome talented junior Amit Ben Harim.

There were a lot of first round byes last night but of the games that actually happened 3 started with Dragon type formations. I played a Ponziani as white. I like the Ponziani and have pretty good results with it, though it doesn't really promise white anything. At least it gets my opponent's away from their extensive knowledge of main line Spanish or Italian games. My young opponent last night fell for a very typical trap that's worth knowing about.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.c3 [This move supports a d4 push, but also allows white's queen out to b3 or a4, something my opponent forgot] 3..d6 4.d4 Nf6 5.h3!? Not the best, but not the worst, but it might lure the unsuspecting into a trap.
So the question an inexperienced player might be asking is "Why can't I just take the e4 pawn?" This is exactly what happened and my opponent found out soon enough! 5..Nxe4? 6.d5 Ne7 7.Qa4+ forking black's knight on e4.

To be fair, I've fallen into this type of trap when I was young, and I would guess many other players have. My experience came from the move order 1.e4 c5 [I was a young, aggressive Sicilian player back then] 2.Nf3 d6 3.c3 Nf6 4.Be2
As the e-pawn is guarded by the a4 queen fork, I played 4..Nc6 5.d4. Excellent, now the e-pawn isn't guarded I can just take it! 5..Nxe4?? 6.d5
Black will lose a piece, as after the Nc6 moves, Qa4+ again forks the e4 knight.

What's worse, I remember falling for this type of trap more than once!

There is still time to join the tournament which has 6 rounds left! Just turn up next Friday at Carnegie Library, entry is just $10 and it is $5 per night to play. Everyone is welcome :)

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Henry Bird

I recently went on a chess camp for my company Chess Kids. We went out for a few days to Wodonga in country Victoria taking a group of about 35 kids with us and worked on chess (attack was the theme of the camp) and had some fun. A lecture that I was working on was about a nineteenth century attacker, and I had free rein to choose a player, so I opted for Henry Bird. He might not be everyone's first choice, but he played some pretty magnificent combinations, and had some great ideas about the game.

Bird was a kind of maths genius who became attracted to chess. He was a qualified accountant by trade, but by all accounts spent much of his life devoted to his passion of chess. Brought up in the time of Staunton, Morphy and Andersson, it is fairly natural that Bird had what we would consider now a reckless style. But he was good enough to beat Morphy, Andersson, Steinitz, Lasker and most of the other top players of the second half of the 1800's.

The kids loved a game I showed where he beat Lasker in 12 moves in a Danish Gambit, while I personally have a soft spot for another offhand game he played where he twice promoted to a knight.

If a 12 move win against the future world champ isn't enough (even in an offhand game), have a look at this position from my favourite.
MacDonnell-Bird consultation 1875

The game started as a King's Gambit and had been fairly mad to this point where white has just played Bg5 attacking black's queen. But, of course, it's time to sac! 17..Bxd5! 18.Bxd8 e3+ 19.Kg1 Bxc4 20.Bg5
Black's sac was sound, and he has come out of it with 3 minor pieces and a pawn for the queen, with the addition of the whopping passed pawns on e3 and f3. Now to finish in style! 20..f2+ 21.Kh2 e2 bringing both pawns to the 7th where they will cost white more material 22.Qd2
22..f1=N+! [It's always good to underpromote, and a knight fork of king and queen is even better!] 23.Rhxf1 exf1=N+ It must have felt unbelievably satisfying to underpromote for a second time! Afetr winning both of white's rooks, Bird went on to win, though he missed a quicker win later on!

Actually, the game that had me really intrigued was a win against the great Adolph Andersson where Bird sacrificed a rook on f7. Recently this sacrifice has hit the headlines when Chinese teenage superstar, Wei Yi came out with a brilliant f7 rook sacrifice at the Danzhou GM event.

Wei Yi-Bruzon Danzhou 2015. This position has already been talked about loads in the chess press. Wei Yi came out with the shot 22.Rxf7! opening up black's king, which has to go on a bit of a march after the obligatory capture 22..Kxf7 23.Qh7+Ke6 24.exd5+ Kxd5
And now another brilliant sacrifice to prevent black's king from escaping the queen side. 25.Be4!! Kxe4 26.Qf7 [Black's king is trapped behind enemy lines with no way back] 26..Bf6
After repeating the position, Wei Yi now came up with the part of the chase which is most difficult for amateurs, the quiet move! 29.Qb3! [The threat is Qd3#] 29..Kf5 30.Rf1+ Kg4 and deep in the heart of enemy territory, the black king didn't last much longer. Here's the whole amazing game.

So imagine my delight when I found a similar sacrifice by Henry Bird, against none other than Immortal game maestro Adolph Andersson.
Bird-Andersson match Paris 1878
White's pieces are ready to launch, but I wonder if the Immortal double rook sacrificer was expecting some of his own medicine? 1.Rxf7! Bxf7 2.Rxf7! Qg5 [declining the second rook. If he took then mate would eventually follow.] 3.Qxb7 Qh4 [Defending h7, while cheekily threatening h2!]
4.h3 Nf6 5.Rg7+ Kh8 6.Rxg6 [Threatening mate on g7, so black must give back some material] 6..Rg8 7.Rxf6
Another stylish move, putting the rook on a square black's queen attacks, but the queen cannot take as it still defends mate on h7! The great Andersson resigned after his last trick failed 7.e4 Qxe4 1-0 black is about to suffer heavy losses to avoid mate.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Malitis Memorial

The MCC is currently running a 7 round tournament commemorating the life of stalwart club member Edwin Malitis. The tournament is changing it's style this year from a straight 7-round swiss to an 8 player round robin for the top 8 rated players, and a 7 round swiss for all other players. This is an interesting format that is also being used at Noble Park Chess Club for their Masters and Challengers event, though they have a 10 player round robin backed by a 9 round swiss.

The Round Robin section of the Malitis Memorial was organised a little haphazardly with some doubt who the players were going to be, even as the first round was being played! I think that in the future it would be good to finalise a field for the top tournament prior to the starting date, and limit the second tournament to players rated below the lowest rated player in the top section. I think this was the method used by Noble Park, and they have used this format before. Anyway, the 8 players for the round robin are:

1. Tom Narenthran (2002)
2. Omar Bashar (1972)
3. Malcolm Pyke (2088)
4. David Cannon (1989)
5. Carl Gorka (2116)
6. IM Mirko Rujevic (2179)
7. Thai Ly (1974)
8. Simon Schmidt (2039)

The early leaders of this event are Mirko Rujevic and David Cannon who are both on 2/2 while Simon Schmidt sits on 1.5. The first round game between Malcolm Pyke and Tom Narenthran has been postponed.

The Swiss section has about 30 players registered which is a good sized field for the Malitis Memorial. In years gone by this tournament has struggled to get numbers playing and so having close to 40 players in 2 sections must be considered a good achievement by the MCC. The tournament is very competitive and I wouldn't like to pick a winner. Eamonn O'Molloy is the top seed at 1946 but 18 players are rated over 1700 and I guess they must all feel they have a chance, as will some lower rated players. In fact, after 2 rounds only 3 players have scored a maximum 2/2, David Lacey, Mehmedalija Dizdarevic and Tristan Krstevski. As a 7 round swiss, although the tournament is only just started, it is almost half way over, so there isn't time for anyone to have an off day, or they could find themselves dropping down the field.

My tournament has started abysmally with 2 losses. In the first round I lost to top seed, IM Mirko Rujevic from what I believe was a good position. Then in the second round I lost to young David Cannon after once again, getting a pretty good position with the black pieces.

Here is my first round tragedy against Mirko:

This endgame is absolutely level. Black is pressing cut can make no headway so long as white does nothing. However, like many amateur chess players (and with little time on the clock) I couldn't manage to sit tight and do nothing feeling the pressure rise. Moves like Bd2, or Bh4 and shuffling around would probably have lead to a draw. But as white I played 1.h4?. Mirko took no time to play 1..Ra1 2.Bd2 [A rook check on e1 must be prevented] 2..Rg1. It was about here that I started regretting pushing my h-pawn.

I defended my g-pawn by 3.Kf3 but Mirko deflected me with 3..e4+! after which there is no defence. 4.Kxe4 Rxg4+ 5.Kf3 Rxh4 and Mirko's passed g-pawn was decisive.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Sunday Evening Thoughts

It's been a long week at work for me, as the first week of a school term always is, but it's Sunday evening and I'm sitting relaxing with Caroline, our 2 cats Alice and Candy, and our Budgie Beau. I'm splitting the evening between chatting on social media, reading, talking to Caroline and laughing at our pets who are going crazy then crashing out. (Anyway, here are some gratuitous cute cat photos to grow readership on my blog!)



I'm getting more and more into Twitter these days, and I use it rather than a newspaper or TV news station as they are all terrible in Australia. I subscribe to a load of world news feeds and follow stories that interest me. The story that has been plastered all over Twitter the past few days has been the expenses claimed by politicians, with especial treatment coming for Bronwyn Bishop, the current Speaker of the House of Representatives. There's been a call for her resignation as it came to light that she spent over $5000 to charter a helicopter to take her 75 kilometres down the road to Geelong, claiming it in expenses (tax payers money) even though it was to attend a private party fundraiser. Since then, a whole range of expenses claims have followed, and not just of Bronwyn Bishop. The most amazing in my mind was while on a European trip, she and 2 aides racked up food and accommodation expenses of about $25,000 in 2 weeks. The whole trip cost around $88,000!

Fabulous Twitter meme from @WhereMyOstrich

I'm looking forward to my European trip with Caroline which will be in September, and will cost less than a tenth of that of the expenses hungry politician. We plan to hire a car, drive round France, nip into Belgium, Holland, Switzerland and Spain on the way and go visit relatives in England. Just like any holiday I've been planning, readers of this blog will probably get bored of hearing about it before I've even left the country! By the start of September, this blog will become a very Francophile place, as I'm looking forward to experiencing the culture, food and history of rural France. The current Tour de France only helps to whet my appetite and it is great to see a tough battle being fought with the British SKY team leader, Chris Froome in the Yellow Jersey.

Warming up and putting on the tights is usually enough for me!

At the end of Puffing Billy, I'm in the green looking one step from death, and that was only 13.5 km!

Of course my own endurance effort is coming up soon. Next Sunday I will be running the Age Run Melbourne half marathon. I went for a short jog today, but that is the last run I'll be doing before the start next Sunday morning. This week I'll be having some light cross training on my exercise bike, and then stocking carbs at the weekend. Hmm, maybe Bronwyn Bishop's food expenses were due to her carb stocking for a marathon! I wonder just how many carbs you can stock for $25,000!