Sunday, November 16, 2014

Ponziani at Glen Eira Club Championship

This week at Glen Eira Chess Club I had to play against FM Domagoj Dragicevic. The plan? Well go play, see how it goes and try my best! I guess that for the majority of working adults, this is essentially the way it works even if we would prefer to meticulously prepare for each opponent. More often than not, it's a matter of who plays better on the night.

Actually, I was fairly happy that Domagoj went for a line that I quite like. He gambitted a pawn and after a while seemed to get little, if any compensation for it. The opening was a Ponziani, and for those of you that haven't got the foggiest idea what I'm talking about, the game started 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.c3.

At this point there are 2 main moves, 3..Nf6 and 3..d5 and I've had to face both of these about the same amount. However, the types of positions are very different, with the knight move being more appealing to me, and less sharp generally. Domagoj chose 3..d5 and I responded 4.Qa4

When white plays 3.c3 there are 2 ideas. One is to play d4 and build a centre, the other is to develop the queen to a4 or b3. This position will certainly favour the player who has studied it the most, as there are lots of complicated lines. That tends to be why I prefer 3..Nf6 as black. Black's immediate worry is the e5 pawn, and Domagoj chose a gambit variation which holds on to it, but loses the d5 pawn. 4..Bd7. With black's queen unable to protect d5 it's a free pawn, 5.exd5.

Domagoj now played 5..Nd4 which to be honest, this would have thrown me if I hadn't recently played a game online in this variation, so had some idea of what was going on. The continuation 6.Qd1 Nxf3+ 7.Qxf3 is pretty standard and leads to an interesting position.

White is a clear pawn ahead, but black has a little compensation. White's queen can become a target to attack, and if black can get f5 in and develop behind these pawns, he will have some exciting pawn breaks in the offing. For some reason, Domagoj didn't play the mainline with ..Bd6 and ..f5, but chose 7..Nf6. Actually, I think that white is close to being just a pawn up, and maybe 8.Bc4 is best, but I played 8.Be2 and managed to work my way slowly into a good position, only to let it slip later. I'll post both my online game and the game against Domagoj.

The tournament is beginning to take shape, with a number of rearranged games having been played. I think the safest way of looking at it is like this. IM James Morris is on 100%, I've dropped half a point, Domagoj and Rebecca Strickland have dropped 1.5, while the rest of the field are further behind, except Sarah Anton who has lots of games to catch up.

The Reserves tournament is also competitive, and sometimes the results don't always reflect that. Max Phillips is leading the tournament though he has struggled in some of his games, and games will often swing to and fro between the players in this event. Saying that, if basic blunders can be made at World Championship level, such as the mutual blindness in game 6, then we really shouldn't be too hard on anybody.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

An Ending from the Hjorth Open

A funny title really, seeing that I'm only going to show a position and not a full endgame. And it wasn't as if I was playing, The Melbourne Chess Club used the long weekend to host the Hjorth Open as a tribute to IM Greg Hjorth who passed away in 2011.. I just dropped in for couple of hours on my day off over the public holiday weekend. It was good to meet some friends who I hadn't seen for a while and to browse some games and positions. I was there on Monday morning or round 6 out of 9, and the top 2 players from the event were playing, IM Max Illingworth-IM James Morris.

R-L IM Max Illingworth, FM Greg Canfell, IM James Morris, FM Chris Wallis
Nothing beats playing in a good chess tournament, but walking around, spectating can be a great experience too. There were about 40 games to choose from in the round I was there. There were high level contests on the top boards, but lower down was interesting for me as I knew so many of the players. I even managed to play a few blitz games with Tom Kalisch who didn't have an opponent for the round.

The endgame that caught my attention was between Richard Voon and Ray Yang.

Rook endings with 2 v 1 pawn are extremely common so it's a good idea to get to grips with them. Now I've put in a fair amount of work into my endgames over the past few years, but when I looked at this I couldn't remember having looked at these types of positions before, and couldn't work out what the result should be with best play. I put the position into Chessbase 12 and under a menu labelled "Report" I hit a button I'd never hit before called "Similar Endgames". The search brought up over 60,000 endgames with the same material balance, but only a small percentage of this group of games had a similar pawn structure. However, I was most impressed to find that this position has been seen in a game before!

The game Obukhov-Cherniak Belevanets Memorial Open 1991 reached this exact position with black to move, just as in Voon-Yang. After a bit of moving around, black was able to sacrifice his remaining pawn to reach a drawn position.

According to Nalimov Tablebases this is a draw, although it is fairly easy to see. Black will keep checking the white king which cannot escape checks and defend the e-pawn. By the way, with white to move in this position, it is a win as white plays 1.Rf6 and then hides his king on g6.

So I guess with a resource like that, the ending must be pretty drawn, and really we would have to say that Richard Voon managed to gain a half point by winning this game. But practically speaking, it is always worth playing on as the defenders job is difficult, and psychologically, it is very tough to keep holding on to a position where you have almost no chance of winning. Take the following position:

Here white has managed to bring his king past the pawns, but the position is still level. 1..Ke6, and the game should end in a draw. But in the game Giertz-van Vaalen Biel 1997 black played 1..Re7? allowing an exchange of rooks. 2.Rb7! the resulting pawn endgame is a draw 2..Rxb7 3.Kxb7 Ke6 4.Kc6 Ke5

It appears for black that his king is doing a great job of holding, if not winning the position! Unfortunately, white's next move brought him back to earth. 5.Kd7! Now when black takes on e4, white will play Ke6 and will just swing across to take on g6 and then promote.

The defending side must also have their pieces in the right positions. The rook must defend from the side at times, but must head to the back of the board to start checking at just the right moment. The defending king needs to do a job of both blocking the enemy passed pawn and defending his own pawn. This would be harder if the attacking sides pawns were further apart, and here we have one of the main secrets of this endgame. The closer the pawns are to each other, the easier it is to defend this type of position. If the pawns were 3 or more files apart the defence would be much more difficult.

Funnily enough the stats from my database search through Bigbase 2013 come up with 64 games with the same pawn structure as this, though with varying piece placements. Less than half of these games ended up as draws (28 games, or 44%), so there is a good reason for playing on in this type of position seeing the stronger side has nothing to lose. There is also good reason for putting some work into rook endings, as these happen more often than any other sort of endgame, and one of the main ideas is finding positions to head for which you know will give you the right result (win if you're the stronger side, or draw if you're defending). Simplifications to theoretically known positions will maximise your results,

I'll post some more about endgames regularly, and I'll revisit rook an 2 vs rook and 1 at some stage in the not too distant future.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Masters Meet

Glen Eira Chess Club saw a big moment this week when our 2 titled players met in the Championship event. The Championship event is still sorting itself out, with a few unplayed games still to be caught up on. The event also took a blow with the withdrawal of one of the higher rated players, Smari Teitsson. Unfortunately, Smari hasn't been that well, and can't commit to the tournament.

IM's James Morris (hoodied) and Max Illingworth at Hjorth Memorial

However, the games that are being played are interesting and exciting. The big favourite for the event is International Master James Morris. James had a great tournament at the weekend in the Hjorth Memorial at the Melbourne Chess Club, finishing second only to current Australian Champion Max Illingworth. Max had an amazing tournament and is clearly of Grand Master level, so it is certainly no disgrace to finish second to him. James took a bye in round  and then scored 7/8 losing only to Illingworth.

At Glen Eira this week, we had the match up FM Dragicevic-IM Morris. The game was a French, and it only took minor inaccuracies from Domagoj Dragicevic to allow James to blast open th eposition to his advantage. Once ahead, James is very difficult to stop, and he converted the game comfortably. The standings after 4 rounds are:

Carl Gorka (ME!!) 3/3
IM James Morris 2/2
FM Domagoj Dragicevic 2/3 (Bye)
Rebecca Strickland 1.5/3
Jerzy Krysiak 1/4
Rad Chmiel 1/3 (Bye)
Josh Moore 1/2 (Bye)
Sarah Anton 0/1 (Bye)

With a lot of make up games to play, these standings don't mean too much but I'm always happy to be on top of a tournament table. With FM Domagoj Dragicevic coming up next week, my stint at the top could well be in danger!

The Reserves event running alongside the Championship is looking like a Glen Eira Junior Championship with young talents Daniel Poberezovsky and Max Phillips leading the field. While Max has been a talent for some time now, Daniel certainly seems to be catching up, along with a bunch of up and coming juniors in the area.

James Morris doesn't do too bad in the neat writing competition.
To play through the above game easily, try the game viewer.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A Long, Long Weekend

I'd always found it amusing that Melbourne has a public holiday to honour a horse race. I've never been too interested in horse racing, and gambling is not one of my vices, but hey, it's a holiday so what the heck! At least that was my attitude until yesterday, when 2 horses died after running the 2014 Melbourne Cup yesterday.

Melbourne billboard (courtesy of

I guess at some stage in people's lives there comes a time that you just have to stop turning a blind eye to things that you don't think are right. While I've always been vehemently against cruelty to animals in any form, I've taken a back seat when it comes to openly criticising or taking any action. It's time for that to stop. I'm now going to be following anti horse racing sites like this one, and other animal support groups. At times it sickens me to be part of a race that can do so much wanton damage to other species on our planet.

I'd like to thank my friend Judge the Poet who quickly responded to my request for a poem on Twitter. Judge and his lovely partner Chava have been long term vegans and are fully aware of animal rights issues.

While I guess that I've always been on the anti racing side, I've always sat back and let it be an issue that didn't concern me. The figures are quite frankly appalling. The dramatically named website Race Horse Death Watch records all deaths of race horses on course in Britain and it has been doing this since 2007. In those 7 years it has catalogues 1171 deaths, or about 167 deaths a year. This means that on average, a horse is dying from racing about every 2 days in Britain. I don't know the figures for other countries, but I would guess it's similar, and that is only race course related deaths.

If you're an animal lover, or just a reasonable person, you can't believe that this is right. I can't believe that it's taken me so long to come out and say it!

Meanwhile, I am following the wonderful cartoonist Michael Leunig on Facebook, his art and messages really resonate with me. This quote appeared on the page yesterday, not long after the race finished:

Monday, October 27, 2014

Glen Eira Chess Club Championship

It's time to post about the club championship of the new club that I've helped to develop this year, Glen Eira Chess Club. In 2014 we've come a long way having established a regular membership, and in creating a structure for our years calendar which fits in with both the serious idea of chess events while keeping things fairly social. We've run a series of tournaments that were pretty successful this year leading to a Championship run in Round Robin format. Alongside the Championship we are running a swiss tournament called the Reserves.

The Championship looked to be a great tournament, but it has been beset by non attendance, and so far only half the games have been played that were scheduled. This is unfortunate, and is giving the event an unreal feel to it, or at least the feel of a tournament in the old days when club tournaments may have been held over several months. I'm hoping that things get back on track in the near future, and there was always going to be a bit of oddness to the event as we have a odd number of players meaning there is a bye each week. In fact, this coming week there is no round due to the Melbourne Chess Club's big Hjorth Open Weekender which a number of our members are playing in.

So far the Championship has seen FM Domagoj Dragicevic win both his games to take an early lead. Domagoj had a bye in the first round. Saying that, most of us have games to make up, so it is difficult to work out exactly who is ahead at the moment. In the next round, in 2 weeks time, the favourites meet as FM Dragicevic plays IM Morris. This may very well be a tournament decider.

FM Domagoj looking relaxed after winning his second game
The Reserves tournament has been much more regular. In some respects, I decided to help start the club in the area because of a crop of strong juniors who needed a place to play. These juniors are dominating the Reserves, with Max Phillips and Daniel Poberezovsky leading the event. Their game last Friday ended in this position.
With time running down, and it getting late on a Friday night anybody can run out of energy. I think that was what happened to Max Phillips here. As black he had a relatively easy win with 1..Bc2 guarding both b3 and b1. 1..Bc4 would win if white had to take as this would leave black a winning pawn endgame with an outside passed pawn as a decoy. . However, white can just drop his bishop back to b1 to hold the position. Max played a very lazy move, 1..b4, and Daniel immediately took his chance with 2.Bb3. The game ended in a draw and the 2 talented juniors are half a point clear in the tournament.

I was very happy with one move in my latest game. My opponent had played some poor moves and left himself dangerously weak on the back rank.

White's problem is how to get a rook to the back rank. I started by thinking about moves such as c4 and b3, but they just didn't seem to make it. I then found 24.b4! with the variaitons:

24..Nxc3 25.Rdc1 Bxb4 26.Rxc3! winning a piece
24..axb4 25.axb4 Nc3 26.Rdc1 Ra3 27.Rb3 when black will feel the lack of his h8 rook in the position.
24..Bf8 25.Bd2 Kg7 [25..axb4 was probably better] 26.b5 Rb6 27.Nc6 Bc5 28.c4 which will win a pawn ont he queen side for white, which is what happened.

Now all I've got to do is continue this good form through the rest of the event.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Chess The Hard Way

I know I only just posted about there being too much chess, but then we have 2 Grand Prix tournaments back to back. And as this event finishes, we'll barely have time to breathe before the World Championship match starts, although it's almost possible for another super-GM event to be thrown in, with the Petrosian Memorial overlapping the first few days of the World Championship match. It's just too much to take in!

So I've decided that besides playing, and keeping half an eye on the chess world, I'm going to step back in time to when chess tournaments were somewhat less frequent. I have borrowed a copy of a book by Canadian legend Yanofsky.

Hard Cover copy of Chess the Hard Way
"Chess the Hard Way" is a short book full of game fragments, games and anecdotes from before the start of World War 2 and Yanofsky's early life, through to 1952. The book was published in 1953 after Yanofsky became British Champion.

The author clearly promoting his newly won title.
The book shows chess at a much slower pace than today. In 1939 Yanofsky was selected to represent Canada at the Buenos Aires Olympiad. He went to New York to catch a ship to Argentina and then "realizing the United States Open Championship was being played in New York...I went ahead of the team to try to enter or, if not accepted, to watch". I find it amazing that Yanofsky should thnk that he might not be accepted into a tournament, but then again, in 1939 he was an unknown. In fact, 1939 was really a breakthrough year for him. In his first game at New York he drew with Reuben Fine who had recently come equal first with Keres at AVRO.

Then in the Buenos Aires Olympiad Yanofsky relates how he won a game against Dulanto of Peru which "created a minor sensation and resulted in Alekhine taking a great interest in me to the extent of watching all of my remaining games in the tournament and analyzing them with me after they were over".

This brilliant attacking game is indicative of Yanofsky's attacking style. Funnily enough, he loved playing the French as black so this game would have been a win against his own favourite opening.

Chess the Hard Way is a short book, being just 149 pages, but it is packed full of information about chess in the post second World War era. Yanofsky was one of only 2 players to beat Botvinnik at the Staunton Memorial tournament in Groningen 1946 (the other was Najdorf). Yanofsky stayed in Europe after Groningen, and his book brings alive just how difficult life must have been in the post war years. Things that we take for granted, such as ease of travel and crossing of borders were not so easy in 1946. For instance, Yanofsky travelled to Barcelona where he finished second to Najdorf in a tournament. Yanofsky received his entry to Barcelona 3 days before the tournament started which to him didn't seem like much time to get there from where he was in Holland. (Nowadays 3 hours may be sufficient) Due to bad weather flights were cancelled in Holland. In the end Yanofsky took a train to Paris, then on to the Spanish border. From the train he had to stay the night in France because the border was closed! Next morning he got a taxi to the border "which presented itself in the form of a chain across the road". He had to wait at the border for about half an hour until the Spanish taxis arrived to take travellers to the Spanish town of Port Bou.

The book is packed full of stories like this, games with analysis like that above, and Yanofsky's insights into the players he met and the times that he lived in. The last line of the book is worth noting.

"If this book serves as a guide and inspiration to the young chess 'hopefuls' of today, it will have well achieved its purpose. Let my example be their encouragement"

Yanofsky did not have it easy, but made the best of what he had which is all any of us can aim for.Perhaps like Purdy here in Australia, he was an inspiration for generations of Canadian chess players. His fighting spirit was not seen better han in his epic win against Golembek at the 1951/2 Hastings tournament. It's not often you see a win in an ending with queen and knight versus queen.

Both sides have just promoted and although the game should probably end in a draw, Yanofsky saw some chances and played on for a few more moves. 96.Qf5+ Kg3 97.Ne4+ Kg2 98.Qg4+

So where should the king go? Although it looks scary, Kf1 is the best move with no clear way that Yanofsky could see to win (Nalimov Tablebase claim 98..Kf1 is a drawn position). However Golembek played 98..Kh2?? and lost after 99.Qh4+ Kg2 100.Qg3+ Kh1 101.Qh3+ Qh2 102.Ng3+ where Golembek resigned.

Black is mated after 102..Kg1 103.Qf1.

Of the many qualities that a successful chess player needs, it is this will to continue fighting. Yanofsky fought on the board, and even fought just to get to the board! To me, his story is inspirational, and I'm going to forget about the Grand Prix series for a while and enjoy some games written in descriptive notation!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Chess Thoughts

Student vs International Master at Glen Eira Chess Club

After my birthday a couple of days back, and a head clearing trip to New Zealand, I've been thinking about my life, where it has got to and where I want it to go. As I get nearer to the age of 50, it seems to me more important to be using my time as productively as possible, and so with this in mind, I've tried to make some chess decisions. In this respect I've had to look at my different roles as a player, writer, administrator and coach.

I suppose the main changes that have come about are a shift from a player to other activities within the game. In fact, this year I've had a pretty average year. After a lay off from the long game, I haven't really found form at the 90 - 30 level of chess and as a result, both my results and rating have suffered. Especially bad was my performance at Doeberl at Easter, where I was sick for 2 of the 4 days but played badly even by those standards. I have had the odd good result, but I feel less strong now than I have for about 10 years. So will I do anything about this? Probably not! I intend to keep playing, but I'm currently getting as much enjoyment from seeing the improvement of my students than from my own good results. It was always my ambition to get to 2200 FIDE (back in the 1980's when I had some ambition, getting to 2200 and seeing your name published in the back of an Informator was a little more special than getting to 2200 nowadays!) when I was younger which is something I've done, so I find myself without a driving ambition. I guess I could aim for FM level, and I've thought about it over the years, but it seems like a lot of work which I'm not sure I'm prepared to make at the moment. I think getting back to 2200 will be a big enough task for me, and perhaps one that I might not be prepared to make.

Since coming to Australia, I've found that I've enjoyed helping out with chess administration. I've taken part as a club official, an arbiter, a tournament organiser, a fund raiser and general dogsbody helping clean and set up at various clubs and events. Over the past 12 months my efforts have been directed at a new club in my local area. Glen Eira Chess Club has filled a need for a chess club in the inner south east suburbs of Melbourne since Elwood chess club dwindled and finally ceased to exist a few years ago. To me, club chess is vitally important as a social hub for the game and as a place where young players can develop their game. When I arrived in Australia, I was shocked by the lack of chess clubs, and I'm happy to say that his is the second club I've helped to bring into existence. Glen Eira Chess Club doesn't have a formal structure yet. It has a tournament schedule and a core membership but the only leadership and organisation comes from me and the few people that want to see it succeed. So a big goal of mine this year will be to establish Glen Eira Chess Club as a fully functioning entity with a structure, and personnel to ensure it maintains itself into the future.

Coaching has become the biggest part of my life in chess. Mostly, this has been done at the very basic level, working with very young kids and teaching them how to play the game. Then perhaps introducing them to some basic ideas and patterns and engaging them in chess activities to try to excite them. The result has been that I've worked with thousands of kids, mostly around Melbourne, and that some break through to a level when they can start playing in adult competitions. To some extent, it was a group of these kids that gave me the impetus to start Glen Eira Chess Club. A bunch of relatively strong kids needed a place to play near home, so we started the chess club in the area. My role at my work is changing, and although I will still be coaching I'll be doing considerably less than before. So I want to use the coaching I'm doing to ensure that I strive for the very highest quality of teaching. I want to work with all levels of student, from absolute beginners to strong players, and help develop strategies for working with these different levels.

I've always enjoyed writing, and this blog has helped me to express myself in both chess, and non chess subjects. I have written sporadically for some publications as well. This past year I have written less than previously, and I want to turn this around. I was very surprised to see this blog highly placed on a google search for 'chess blog' when I was looking for some other blogs to read. I've never really tried to reach out with it, it is more something that I enjoy doing and I emphasise a local aspect to it. This year I want to write more, and perhaps even explore some areas that I've been unwilling to look at before, such as chess theory. I intend to write weekly articles about Glen Eira Chess Club, and at least one other chess article per week.

And seeing this is a chess post, I'd better put a chess game into it! Congratulations to Russian Aleksandra Goryachkina for successfully defending her World Junior Girls title with an impressive 11/13, a full 1.5 points clear of the field. I'll be using some positions from her games this week to show to my students and as kids love miniatures, I'll be talking about the shortest win of the event.