Thursday, July 12, 2018

Summer Chess Season

It feels a bit funny talking about the summer chess season as I'm sitting in the middle of  an Australian winter. But I've become used to being on the periphery of the chess world. Australian chess has improved hugely since I've arrived inasmuch as there are more higher quality tournaments around the country, and the general quality of chess at the top level has risen. When I first arrived in 2005, Australia was ranked about 60th in the FIDE countries list, while now we sit in 44th position. This has been  achieved by a talented group of youngish players, as Australia's top 10 has only 2 players born before 1990. We are all hoping that our team can put in a good performance at the upcoming Olympiad in September.

The Olympiad will come after what appears to be a great summer season. I'll be posting more games from classic books, and analysis of events here in Victoria, but I'll also be following some international events as their are some that really excite me.

- The 2018 US Junior Championships start in a few hours and both the boys and girls tournaments will be great with plenty of fighting chess.

- Dortmund and Biel are the traditional summer festivals in Europe, and both tournaments have top 10 players and some talented lower rated players (not much lower rated!). I have to admit that I've been left a bit cold by the the elite chess series of tournaments we've had, as the same players keep coming up against each other. It is good to see some new faces challenging the elite.

- Danzhou might just be the most exciting tournament of the summer, especially for us in Australia as the time zone means that we'll be able to see quite a bit live. A stunning young field led by 24 year old Yu Yangyi, the current number 14 in the World while the new, 20 year old, Polish number 1, Duda coming up against 19 year old Chinese sensation Wei Yi. Even the oldest player in the field, Bu Xiangzhi, is interesting as he is the man who knocked World Champion, Magnus Carlsen out of the World Cup last year!

- The British Chess Championship is a tournament I always follow as I knew many players involved. Sadly, I personally know more players in the over 50 tournament than the Championship nowadays, so I'll be watching the results of some of the other events at the tournament. This year the Championship is being held in Hull which is where I went to university, so it has even more meaning to me.

- Sinquefield Cup dominates the second half of August, and it has absolute elite fields competing in sections for blitz, rapid and classical chess time controls. It will be probably the last chance to see a Carlsen-Caruana clash before their World Championship clash. While this is the most elite event of the summer, it isn't the most exciting for me. Saying that, I'll be following it much like many chess fans throughout the world.

It's great to follow elite tournaments, and easier to do so than ever before with websites such as chess24, chess bomb, TWIC, etc. Of course, watching isn't a substitute for playing, but analysing the games of others is an impsrtant skill to learn, and trying to analyse games in progress is a great exercise, like a 'guess the move' type of thing, but in real time.

You'll probably be hearing some more about these events on this blog over the next couple of months!

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

A Coffee in the Country

Moving out of the city was a refreshing change for myself and Caroline. Not everyone is made up to live in a city, however great that city might be. And Melbourne is a great city! I've lived in a few, and Melbourne is fantastic as cities go. I guess upbringing will play a part in a person's comfort zones, and both Caroline and I grew up in a town environment, moving to cities later in our lives. We've now moved back to a small town surrounded by lush countryside, albeit on the other side of the planet. How things go around...!

Misty view of the Latrobe Valley

For all my talk of not being a city person, I still love a good barista style coffee, and I haven't been disappointed with what I've found in Baw Baw Shire. The Drouin and Warragul areas in the Latrobe Valley have plenty of cafes dotted around, and every small dot on the map has a cafe or bakery. It is too much to try them all, though I'll give it a go! I even lower my expectations when I'm outside of Melbourne, though there is really no need. I guess when you're just an hour's drive away from Melbourne's south east suburbs, some parts of the city are going to filter to country towns (pun intended).

We go over to Warragul quite often, because it is bigger and has more shops and retail outlets and it's only 8 minutes drive. We also have a favourite cafe, Earth Market Cafe. They have a great and varied food menu, catering to many different food needs including gluten free, vegetarian and vegan options. I have a particular liking for porridge at breakfast and Earth Market's is excellent with a strong almond taste, and thick cut oats that you need extra milk with to break up and they serve it with banana or berries. However, check out the posts on their facebook page to see the quality and variety of food served.

Earth Market Cafe

The main reason for going to a cafe is the coffee, and Earth Market serve great coffee. They use Dukes coffee for those of you that like the Prahran hangout, or the Central Melbourne vibe, and my long black comes out full bodied, with a rich crema, and a mellow, slightly sweet, chocolaty/licorice flavour.

The Earth Market Cafe is a really chilled out place to hang out for a coffee. The staff are friendly and aren't hovering around you to see if you have finished your coffee (or to watch you wipe your eyes when you get to a particularly sad part in the book you're reading!). Its central location in Warragul makes Earth Market Cafe an ideal place to start off a days shopping, rest half way, or end up in to relax after shopping.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Game of the Day 5

Different Analysis Styles

One of the things we're taught is that after we play games we should analyse with our opponent, especially if we are playing a higher rated, or more experienced player. When we go through the game we get an insight into the thought processes of our opponent, and the more players we analyse with, the more different thought processes we encounter. It is then down to us to filter the good analysts from the less good, to take the best parts of a player's thoughts and be critical of their weaker ideas.

It is the same when looking through books of games annotated by Grand Masters. Each will have a different style of presentation based on their style of thought. Some have stronger opinions, some are more verbose, some look deeply into calculating variations, some pick only critical positions to examine, some try to uphold their ideas through their analysis, while others will seek definite proof of  the truth in various positions. But whatever the style of thinking that brings a great player to come up with their ideas, it is worth examining.

This is the 5th game that I'm showing and it brings a different analysis style than the previous games

GotD 1 was a game by Lasker analysed by Reinfeld and Fine. The notes aren't too deep, and only a couple of critical positions are examined in any depth.

GotD 2 was another from the same authors, although here we see to a greater extent what a hero Lasker was for, at least one of the authors, Reinfeld.

GotD 3 was from Tartakower's autobiographical games collection. Tartakower is very wordy and likes to bring wit into the analysis, though it can sometimes be cutting.

GotD 4 was a clasic from Rubinstein analysed by Kmoch who like Reinfeld, was writing about a player he somewhat idolised. And like Reinfeld and Fine, the notes to this game are sparse and designed more as general advice for less experienced players than a thorough analysis.

Today's game is from "100 Selected Games" by Botvinnik. Now Botvinnik is perceived as one of the legendary analysts of the game and he believed that publishing analysis gave him a forum to debate his ideas about chess, to put his ideas in a public space for others to criticise, and for him to discuss and defend. Botvinnik's analysis style combines the general ideas style of Reinfeld or Kmoch and adds more analysis of variations with more definite assessments. Sometimes Botvinnik's analysis can seem rather brutal, but he upholds his ideas of logical thinking through to the end. Logically speaking, we can see Botvinnik's analysis style taken to its conclusion through the analysis style of his great pupil, Kasparov. It must have been truly amazing to see these two working together!

100 Selected Games is written in the descriptive notation, like the other other books I've mentioned, but if players could go through these games and analysis, they would get a great deal of wisdom and ideas. The book takes us up to 1946 so Botvinnik's early career and his build up to being the strongest player in the World. I have chosen his game against Tartakower from Nottingham 1936. This was a truly great tournament with a super strong top of the field: Alekhine, Capablanca, Lasker, Euwe, Botvinnik who all held the World title at some point in their life. Bogolyubov and Reshevsky who both competed for the World title also played! Botvinnik's win over Tartakower was awarded the brilliancy prize for this great tournament and shows what a great calculator Botvinnik was, always happy to join in a complicated fight and trusting his fantastic calculation and logical thinking.

This is my favourite bit of the game. Black has just played Ng6. Botvinnik's thinking is clear and execution is deadly. He describes ..Ng6 as "the only way of freeing the king's road to the Queen side without giving up defence of f7. If the king succeeds in slipping away (eg after Qh6 Ke7) Black will have chances of salvation. But how can White prevent the Black king from fleeing?"

See for yourself in this great, and under rated game. Enjoy!

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Friday, July 6, 2018

Game of the Day 4

I have more than 1 book on Rubinstein, a player I'm fascinated with. Rubinstein learned the game relatively late in life compared to most great players at the age of 16. But already 10 years later he was beginning to establish himself as one the top players in the world. He was strong enough to be considered for a World Championship match against Lasker, but never got the chance to play because of the outbreak of the First World War.

Rubinstein's style was fairly universal, but he tended more toward the safe side of chess. He was a great innovator int he opening, a fantastic attacking player when he had the chance, great with the initiative, and solid in defence, but his true forte was the endgame, and especially rook endgames.

I have 3 books about Rubinstein and others that contain short parts about him. The most basic of the 3 biographies is "100 Selected games" by Hans Kmoch, a master strength contemporary of Rubinstein. The notes in this book are fairly simple to follow, and it provides a great introduction to Rubinstein. Much of this book is available to browse in google books.

The game I have chosen today is Spielmann-Rubinstein St Petersburg 1909. This tournament was a great triumph for Rubinstein who shared equal first with World Champion Lasker, and winning their individual encounter. Rubinstein also played a masterful pawn ending against Cohn in this tournament that everyone should know. Against Spielmann, Rubinstein came back from a bad position to win a rook endgame that seemed impossible to win.

Rubinstein was Black in this game, but if his opponent Rudolf Spielmann, a famed attacking player, could have found the best continuation here, we would have been talking about him rather than Rubinstein. See what you can find, and then check out the full game at the end of the article.

The main brilliance of this game starts from the following position:

White has more pawn islands than Black which makes Black's position preferable, but if White can swap his a and d-pawns for Black's d-pawn, the endgame with 3 vs 2 on the king side is almost certainly drawn. Rubinstein was aware of this and his play was directed against this. Have a look at the game with notes by Kmoch, and I will post a more detailed analysis of this endgame, which is annotated in Kasparov's "My Great Predecessors" volume 1 among others.

Anyway, enjoy the game!

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Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Game of the Day 3

Time to move away from Lasker, and on to "My Best Games 1905-1954" by Tartakower. Takrtakower, like Alekhine, wrote 2 volumes of best games, and these are both included in this book. I decided to pick a random game, so as I'm 51 years old, I chose game 51 from volume 1, Tartakower-Marshall New York 1924.

Of course, New York 1924 goes down as being one of the greatest tournaments in history. It was a star studded field with Lasker, Capablanca and Alekhine all playing. Marshall finished 4th behind the big 3, while Tartakower struggled and could only finish 8th. In his book, Tartakower entitles every game and he called this one:

Transmission of Weaknesses

The position he had in mind was this one. Black has a weakness on d5, but it isn't easy to direct an attack against it, so Tartakower changes the weakness to c6 which can be attacked easily on the c-file. 13.Nxc6 bxc6 14.Ne5 Bd7 15.Nxd7 Nxd7 16.Bxg7 Kxg7 17.Rc1 and the position has changed significantly.

Black's c-pawn is immobile as it must protect d5, so it becomes a fixed weakness that can be piled up on. Meanwhile, Black has no counterplay so White can be said to have a stable plus. It is not enough to win, but Black is on the defence here. Marshall played 17..Qf6 here which perhaps wasn't best (maybe 17..Qb6 was a better direction to try).

Tartakower played 18.e3 relieving himself of any possibility of losing the e-pawn and a move he would probably need to play anyway if he continues with a slow build up. Tartakower makes no mention of another possibility in this position. 18.e4!? taking advantage of the fact that Black's d-pawn is pinned. After a trade of pawns on d5, a new weakness has been created, an isolated pawn on d5, while White will also have a 2-1 majority on the Queen side. A typical line would continue after 18.e4 Nb6 19.exd5 cxd5 20.a4 Rad8 21.a5 Nc8 when Black is feeling the squeeze.

Tartakower was quite wordy in his analysis, which might appeal to some and not to others. However, this is a theme which occurs in many games, and also a missed opportunity that spoils advantages. It is a skill to play against a weakness, and a bigger skill to transfer the weakness to a more easily attacked point. Here's the full game with Tartakower's analysis which is well worth a read. He rips into Marshall somewhat!


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Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Gender Bias in Chess

Well, it was about a year ago that I wrote my last blog post about gender bias in chess so it's about time I wrote another. First, congratulations to the new Women's World Champion! Of course, you all know who I'm talking Well, I guess that's because no one takes the Women's World Championship seriously. But a big congratulations to Ju Wenjun of China for winning. She takes home a not unreasonable 120,000 Euros and the title for the next....well, we're not exactly sure how long she'll keep the title for, but at least 6 months, probably! Compared to the Open World Championship, however, this is rather pathetic. Carlsen and Caruana will compete for the rock bottom prize fund of 1,000,000 Euros with the winner getting somewhat more than half, and keeping the title for the next 2 years.

So where is the equity? At the present moment, the World of tennis is seeing Wimbledon being played where the men's and women's champions will receive the same prize money, as they have since 2007. Of course, men and women aren't allowed to play against each other in tennis, where in chess women can play in men's events and in their own separate women only events. But why? Either women aren't as good as men naturally, so they shouldn't be allowed to play together, or there is no difference naturally, so there should be just one title, or at least parity in prize money.

Perhaps if we had more women in positions of leadership in the chess world that might have an impact on retention of girls in chess and promotion of the game among girls and women. Alas, women aren't being admitted to these positions for one reason or another. Take the recent case of the English Chess Federation abolishing the position of director of women's chess. After complaints, they reissued the job, rejected 2 reasonable looking female candidates, and gave it to a man. I'm not saying that the man isn't also a reasonable candidate, but this is a perfect opportunity to entitle women to participate in leadership roles over an issue that they will be passionate about, more so probably, than any man! From what I've heard, the best man might have got the job, but the female candidates weren't given a particularly fair chance. Read about it here.

So without going into too much detail about the upcoming FIDE elections, how well will women be represented on the new Presidential team? Yes, it will be a new team as Ilyumzhinov isn't standing (cue a bunch of munchkins coming out of hiding breaking into song about the death of a witch!). All three candidates, Dvorkovich, Makropoulos and Short have female representation in their teams which is a good thing. The more women in leadership positions throughout the chess world, will surely encourage more girls and women into the game and give them a voice in a position of power.

Finally, this is a subject I won't let go. As long as I am writing this blog, and there is sexism, blatant or hidden, in the chess world, then I'll be writing about it. It's something we shouldn't tolerate in life generally speaking, and in our little corner of society as a chess community. Hopefully I'll get through to a few people and if I do it will be worth it.

Game of the Day 2

I had intended to post games and ideas from many of my chess books showing classic games and using them as talking points. But after posting yesterday's game, Lasker-Lipke Breslau 1899, I couldn't help but notice that the second game in the book is Lasker's amazing double bishop sacrifice against Bauer from Amsterdam 1899, so I will look at this game and go on to another book next (though I'd better not look at the next game in the Lasker book!)

While not quite the originator of this type of sacrifice, Lasker undoubtedly made it famous by this game. If you've never seen this game before, then be warned, it is fantastic. Lasker used Bird's Opening (like Magnus Carlsen did) and set up aggressively as if he wanted to attack from the start. When given the chance, Lasker took it with style!

Black expected White to play 15.Qxh5 when it is simple to shut down the attack with 15..f5. Lasker sped things up with 15.Bxh7+! sacrificing a piece, as he is already a knight down in this position. After 15..Kxh7 16.Qxh5+ Kg8 White has brought his queen into the attacking sphere but lacks support or targets. Another sacrifice helps with that!

Lasker opens up his opponent's position with a second bishop sacrifice, 17.Bxg7!!. With Black's king lacking cover, a White rook lift will be deadly, Rf3-g3/h3. Playing through the game with the comments from Fine and Reinfeld one sees the way that Lasker quickly developed a position from which to attack, and then forcefully followed that attack through. Another important thing to remember from this game is that a sacrificial attack needn't always lead to mate. Here, Lasker used the opening of Bauer's king to win more material than he gave up, eventually ending up with a queen and 2 pawns for a rook and bishop. Of course his position was also dominating.

Enjoy this game :)

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