Sunday, January 7, 2018

Routeburn Track

The road to Glenorchy, the start of the Routeburn Track
About 8 years ago, Caroline and I walked the Milford Track from Te Anau, across mountains to Milford Sound. It was a breath taking experience, culminating in a cruise around the fjord at Milford. It is one of the most special experiences I have ever had the privilege to undertake. This time, I was able to take a day walk along the Routeburn Track. I took a guided walk with Ultimate Hikes which was great as our guide was knowledgeable on both flora and fauna in the region, and kept a steady pace.

The Routeburn Track winds from Te Anau to Glenorchy, or vice versa. I was staying in Queenstown, so I walked from Glenorchy. The drive to Glenorchy from Queenstown along the side of Lake Wakatipu is considered one of the most beautiful in New Zealand, which gets things off to a good start. The walk then climbs as it follows the Route Burn, the river that the track is named after.

The Route Burn through the forest
The flora is varied, with ancient native beech trees towering over dozens of different ferns and many varieties of trees and flowers. Unfortunately, mountain lilies weren't flowering, so I didn't get to see any, but there was plenty to see and the light was beautiful at times.

No end of ferns dominated the track.
Sun kissed ferns by the path

Trees and ferns dominate the track
We stopped for lunch at a meadow with the Routeburn Falls in the background. There were spectacular views all around, and one of the oldest trees known on the track, a red beech estimated to be between 800-1000 years old.

Lunch time view

The way from which we came
A flowering Ribbonwood partly obscures a most ancient beech tree.

We walked back the same way we had come with a detour for a native forest loop. The guide talked of forest regeneration, and how moss and fungi help support and maintain the forest. I learned a lot from the walk, experienced sheer, natural beauty, and walked further over uneven terrain than I have for a long time with my legs telling me so after. 

I saw an array of different birds on the track, including Paradise ducks, Robins, Riflemen and Fantails. We heard Yellowheads, but didn't see any. Once again, New Zealand is proving to be a wonderful natural paradise, with different delights to see each time I travel here.
Ribbonwood flower falls on ferns

Sweet yellow daisies were in abundance

I'd love this to be an orchid, but I don't know, not the clearest shot either!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Mount Cook

Today saw us take a short drive to Mount Cook. It is about 45 minutes from where we were staying in Twizel, so naturally we took about 4 hours to get there! It was a late start as we were both tired from travelling to New Zealand the day before. I think I managed about 1 hour sleep in the previous 2 days so it was only natural to sleep in a bit today.

Lake Ruataniwha
Once we started we took a quick detour to Lake Ruataniwha which was spectacularly turquoise, and then headed off. Except we took another detour back to Tekapo to see the lake which hadn't been at its best yesterday. Again, Lake Tekapo proved quite fabulous today. Then it was definitely off to Mount Cook, with a drive of about an hour from Tekapo, though it took us about 2 and a half because of the stops along the way. Lake Pukaki was absolutely brilliant today, and we just couldn't get enough of it.

Beautiful Lake Pukaki
Mount Cook, or Aoraki, is the tallest mountain in New Zealand at 3,754m, not bad compared to Mont Blanc, Europe's highest mountain at 4,808m and dwarfing Australia's Mount Kosciuszko which stands at 2,228m. Mount Cook is an impressive sight, and seeing the range of Southern Alps that it sits in, is breath taking. We had a drink in Mount Cook Village which has great views of the range, and then headed to Tasman Lake to get a view of New Zealand's biggest glacier.

Mount Cook peaking through the gap, seen from Mount Cook Village
It was a fairly tough walk to the viewing point for Tasman Lake up a number of steps. This was particularly tough for Caroline because of her conditions, but I was puffing a bit as well. Determination broke the pain barrier and Caroline made it to the top! There are plenty of other walking tracks around the lake, and there's loads of walking and cycling tracks through the whole area, mostly starting form Mount Cook Village. But the walk is worth it as at the top you are treated to views of the green lake, and the Tasman Glacier flowing from Mount Tasman, New Zealand's second highest mountain.

Mt Cook (left), Mt Tasman (centre right) with Tasman Glacier flowing from the bottom 
Tasman Lake has icebergs in it, and Kayaking in the lake close to the icebergs, and close to the glacier is apparently a big thing. We could see the icebergs, but the most wonderful view was of a butterfly on an Alpine Daisy! Tomorrow it is off to Queenstown...

Natures beauty

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

New Zealand Roadtrip

Today, Caroline and I set off on an holiday to the south island of New Zealand. We have been here many times before, but hope to see some new things this time around. I have to say that we are the least prepared we have ever been for a trip. We are road tripping for about a week and usually we have the entire journey mapped out with some possible side trips thrown in. This time around, our time has been so taken up with moving house that this holiday has crept up on us almost unnoticed.

Anyway, today has seen our arrival, flying into Christchurch, picking up a car and driving to Twizel where we are staying for 2 nights. Twizel is a gateway town to Mt Cook National Park which we'll be going to tomorrow. We took a scenic drive through the centre of the island, passing through Rakaia Gorge to the country town of Geraldine. From there, we drove to Lake Tekapo, where we have stayed before, and finally to Twizel. Although we hadn't planned our trip, the route we took was stunning.

After an overnight flight it was a bit of a long drive, but we broke it up by regularly stopping to look at the scenery. I'll try to post a bit more tomorrow and the rest of the holiday.

Expansive view above Rakaia Gorge

Rakaia River at Rakaia Gorge

Church of the Good Shepherd, Lake Tekapo

Mt Cook NP across Lake Pukaki

Fabulous clouds above Lake Pukaki

Monday, January 1, 2018

Happy New Chess Year

Happy New Chess Year!!

It is 2018 and the FIDE ratings are out. Magnus Carlsen still tops the Classical list with Caruana second, just 23 points behind. Mamedyarov is third after his amazing year. With it being a World Championship and Olympiad year, I think chess will be great to follow in 2018.

Is your rating where you want it to be? I'm very happy to have risen over 50 points last year to 2183, the highest I've been in over 10 years, and getting close to the highest I've ever been which is about 2230. I had an epiphany about my chess in 2017. I played a game early in the year which I lost and it was almost as if I hadn't really been too bothered about the game, before, during, or after. I asked myself why I'd even bothered turning up to play, and whether it was worth the effort to keep playing if there were games that I couldn't really care about. From this I took the most valuable lesson, and since then I have tried to put 100% of effort into every game that I've played, with some preparation, full focus at the board, and analysis after.

I am now 51 years old, but even a player my age can work hard at the game, strengthen small details in play, gain knowledge, and improve general calculation skills to become a better player. Setting goals help, so set a long term goal (make it a realistic goal) with some stepping stones along the way.

Most of all, enjoy your chess in 2018 (if you're playing in Sydney at the Australian Championships, I wish you all best and have some enjoyable chess)

In 2017 I visited England, and was there at the time of the Isle of Man International. Here's a photo I took :) (I'll add some more stuff in the coming months)

Number 1 on Jan 1 FIDE ratings list, World Champion, Magnus Carlsen

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Top Seed Loses

The first round of a swiss open almost always produces some shocks. Top players are held to draws, or sometimes even lose to players much lower rated. The biggest upset is when the top seed loses in the first round, and this is exactly what happened at this year's Hastings Congress.

There seemed to be an acceleration of pairings which was presumably used to enhance norm chances. In round 1, top rated Indian GM Deep Sengupta, rated 2586, was paired as black against English FM Adam Taylor, rated 2242. The opening seemed innocuous enough, a king of Reti/English opening where Black chose a Slav set up. The following position was reached:

Black had just played the novelty 10..Qd8-e7. White played the thematic central thrust 11.e4! I wonder if either player realised that this was already very good for White, maybe winning?

Black traded by 11..dxe4 [Not sure this is best, but everything else loses at least a pawn] 12.dxe4 Bg4

So far all seems to be logical, but White now launches an exchanging sequence which wins a piece. And this is the player rated 350 points lower! 13.Nxd7 Qxd7 14.Qxd7+ Kxd7 15.Bxd6 Kxd6

This little sequence was all forced and has brought Black's king into a poor position. White would like to play e5 forking king and knight, and by combining threats to trap black's bishop, he manages it. 16.h3 Bh5 [16..Be2 17.Re1 and after the bishop moves White plays e5+] 17.f4!

This leaves Black the choice of losing a knight to e5+, or losing the bishop to g4 and f5, either way, white nets a winning material advantage which he went on to win, though he missed a chance to win more easily.

It seems Sengupta had given upon this game. He played 23..Rad8?

White here played 24.Raf1, methodical and good enough to win. But he missed a good tactical shot which would have been found if he'd thought about searching for all checks and captures. 24.Nd5+! blocks the d-file interrupting the connection between Black's rooks. The same tactic could have been played on the next move as well, but wasn't. Never mind, white still went on to win and gained a great scalp.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Chess Ageism

Anand has just become the World Rapid Champion of chess at the age of 48. People have written the ex-World Champion off and there have been suggestions that he should retire. Perhaps this has been partly because of Kasparov's retirement in his early 40's, but whatever the reason, no one should be forced to give up something they enjoy doing and which they are good at.

We seem to have a feeling in chess that it is a province of the young. Young mostly means in a person's 20's, but we have seen a rise in prodigiously young talent as well over the past 20 years, with younger and younger children reaching high levels of play. And I am all for that, but to write off older players is demeaning and bad for the game and ageist.

When I was a young player, if the older, more experienced players weren't around to test myself against, then I might not have have made it to the 2200 level. At the age of 51, I intend to keep playing, and improving if possible, but mostly enjoying the game and playing it to the best of my abilities.

So what is old in chess? 50? 40? In the upcoming 2018 Candidates tournament, only one player, Kramnik is over 40. 4 out of the 8 players are in their 20's. Compared to AVRO 1938, it is similar with 2 players over 40 (Alekhine 46, Capablanca 50) and 4 of the 8 players in their 20's. However, not all tournaments have been like this. The first great modern tournament, Hastings 1895 had a field of 22 players. Only 6 of these were in their 20's while 10 were over 40, and 3 of these were over 50 (Blackburne 53, Steinitz 59, Bird 65). Of the 15 players who competed for the Zurich Candidates tournament in 1953, only 4 were in their 20's while 5 were over 40, Euwe being the oldest at 52.

It seems to me that there can be affects to one's chess as one gets older. Increasing health risk, and rowing family commitments are 2 obvious things can affect a players activity in a field. But we have seen longevity in chess from a number of players, historically Steinitz, Lasker, Smyslov and Korchnoi come to mind and more locally, Darryl Johansen who won the Australian Chess Championship at the age of 53. But to 'keep going' at chess it seems a deep love of the game and a purpose is needed. Also as a community we need to equally encourage participation by players of all demographics, regardless of gender, race, age etc.

I'll leave for another day the fact that Anand's great victory was marred by the boycott of many chess players of Saudi Arabia including defending Women's Champion Ana Muzychuk who said:

"In a few days I am going to lose two World Champion titles – one by one. Just because I decided not to go to Saudi Arabia. Not to play by someone's rules, not to wear abaya, not to be accompanied getting outside, and altogether not to feel myself a secondary creature"

And I'll not get into the Twitter story I saw where Swedish Grand Master Pontus Carlsson was abused online:

Thursday, December 28, 2017

First Day Out in Gippsland

Today was the 28th December which is my Mother in Law's birthday. She is still in England so celebrates half a day after us. While she was asleep, Caroline and I took to the road for our first day out in our new Gippsland home. Actually, we only drove for about an hour north into the foothills of Mt Baw Baw, to Noojee. Noojee is an aboriginal word meaning 'place of rest' and the tranquility of the area is noticeable.

Serene Latrobe River at Noojee
It was a gentle drive through rolling green countryside. We passed through towns we hadn't heard of such as Jindivick and Neerim and stopped on the road to view the fresh scenery.

Rolling hills of Baw Baw Shire

Tarago Reservoir from Little Charli's Lookout in Neerim
The main attraction was going to be the old trestle bridge at Noojee. We did stop in to have a look and walk around, though some parts were restricted due to fire damage.I guess that's a sobering thought one has to keep in mind wherever you are in Australia.

Noojee Trestle Bridge

Rain Forest Canopy from the Trestle Bridge
However, as is often the case when Caroline and I go off on a drive, the main attraction often gets overshadowed when we decide to check out something else. This can be a random path we decide to follow, or an attraction that we never meant to visit, but on a whim, go off to explore. So it was we went to Toorongo Falls after a spot of lunch in Noojee. Probably due to the heavy rain we had last week, the falls were flowing freely, and we were treated to some great views. The sub tropical rain forest area was lush with growth and the Little Toorongo River was gushing through the trees and ferns.

Flowing River

The Little Toorongo River cuts through the forest

Toorongo Falls flowing freely.

It was a beautiful drive through Baw Baw hills, into Noojee State Forest and back. It amounted to about 2 hours driving total though we were out for 6 or 7 hours. This bodes well for future outings from our new home.

I'll leave you with some less spectacular, but no less beautiful things that I saw today, a couple of flowers, and in the last picture, a butterfly (there were hundreds) amongst the flowers.