Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Australasian Masters, the Half Way Mark

I have to admit, I started this tournament reluctantly but have begun to warm to it. Playing one game a day, and putting maximum work into that game is excellent and there's a ton of material to be working through, in both preparation and analysis. The tournament's have both just crossed the half way mark with 5 of the 9 rounds having been played. By this stage it is already possible to see who's in form and who is fighting for places and norms.

The GM event has seen Anton Smirnov in great form so far leading the tournament with 4/5. Anton needs 2.5 for a GM norm and is half a point ahead of the field. Russian GM Vasily Papin who is making a return to Australia. The other GM's Kazhagaleyev, and Khunsnutdinov are on 3/5 which is ok, but nothing special. There are still some norm possibilities for some other players, the most likely being an M norm for Luke Li if he scores another 2.5. With 4 more rounds to go, the tournament is still wide open.

The IM event that I'm playing in is tight. There are 3 players on 3.5, IM's Kanan Izzet and Igor Bjelobrk and Yi Liu. This is a great performance from the young Queensland player who by his won admission has not played much chess this year. There are then another 2 players on 3/5, New Zealander Bob Smith and Bill Jordan. With 5 players separated by just half a point, we're in for an exciting finish. The best norm chance lies with Yi Liu, though he still needs 3.5 out of the final 4 games.

Unfortunately, I stopped Eugene Schon's norm ambitions form this tournament today. He is still on 2.5, just a point behind the leaders and could finish on a high score, but the IM norm now eludes him. I am on 1.5 after beating Greg Canfell yesterday and drawing with Eugene today. My play has been generally improving as the tournament moves on. I feel more confident about my play and calculation which bodes well for the future. I am not playing perfectly, or perhaps even as a strong as I have in the past, but I can at least see the possibility of getting back to a former playing strength.

In today's draw with Eugene, the following position was reached.
I was white and fighting for a draw so I thought in these terms.

1. trade queen side pawns
2. sacrifice my knight for black's h-pawn
3. draw the pawnless ending of rook and knight versus rook.

Seeing I had about 2 minutes plus increments, that was fairly good. The move Nc5 came to my mind, but I didn't choose it because I saw a drawing method which involved little risk to my mind.

Another boost to the confidence comes when good players praise your game. Today IM Mirko Rujevic told me he'd been impressed with my win against Greg Canfell the day before. I thought the position played itself, and it became obvious early that I knew more about the opening than Greg. Anyway, here is the game.

9.e5 was a new move on me, and after the game Greg said that he'd completely overlooked 11..Qa5. He spent about 40 minutes on his 12th move. In the final position it will be mate after 23.Bc4 Na4 24.Rb1 Qc3+ 25.Rb2 Qxb2.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Tournament Preparation

Too nice a day in Melbourne to prepare for a chess tournament!
I am currently involved in the 2014 Australian Masters event in Melbourne. There are 2 tournaments running, both 10 player round robins. One is a GM norm tournament, and the other which I'm playing in is an IM norm event. This is the 26th time the Australian Masters has been played since the first tournament in 1987. I've played in a few of these tournaments over the years with mixed results.

In 2005 I had an excellent tournament. I knew about the event a few weeks in advance, was able to put some work into my game, wasn't working at the time, and so could concentrate fully on the tournament. I scored 5.5/9 for a 2370 performance, the best of my career.

The following year, in 2006 I was given the task of running the tournament. With no chess preparation and organisational headaches leading up to the event, I played badly, not winning a game and luckily scraping together a few draws.

In 2008 I finished about par for the course finishing on 4/9. At the time I was quite active in the chess scene and regularly playing. I didn't prepare specifically for this tournament, but my playing strength was enough to maintain an ok score.

The last time I played was 2010 when I scored 3.5/9 but against a stronger field than in 2008. I was pretty happy with my play, had prepared somewhat for the tournament which reflected in my play.

This year has been probably the worst build up to a tournament for me in all that I've played, including 2006. I was working heavily in the past couple of months, and have had little time or energy to prepare for this tournament (I only knew I was going to play about 2 weeks ago anyway!). In fact, I was working on the day it started until about an hour before the games were due to commence. I arrived at the venue with not much time to spare before my first game, which proved to be a pretty painful loss to New Zealander, Robert Smith.

IM tournament favourite Kanan Izzet with Bob Smith sitting in the background
My plan for this tournament is a simple one, and that is to try to play myself back into some form. I have started working on the game, after the first round and already put up a better fight in game 2, though finally succumbing to Bill Jordan in a complicated game. This leaves me on 0/2, not a particularly auspicious start, but I have a feeling that chess is beginning to come back to me. I'll be using this event to kick start my game for 2015 and hopefully to get back to somewhere near 2200 strength. I plan to play a few tournaments next year and put some serious work into some weak parts of my game. Then maybe I'll be a competitive 50 year old from 2016 onwards!

Trevor Stanning (left) with tournament organiser Leonid Sandler

Olympiad team mates, Moulthun Ly (left) and Anton Smirnov

Sunday, December 14, 2014

It's Not All Chess

There are times when you can get so caught up in something that it seems to completely take over your life. That has been the case with me and chess over the past 6 months. My work has cranked up to more intense levels, and helping to set up and run a chess club has taken a lot of time. I also follow chess news and still try to analyse a bit myself, though not as much as I'd like. This blog will soon be taken over by chess as I play in the Australian Masters starting this Saturday and report about it here. So I thought it time to look at some non chess things, just to prove that there are other things to me than chess.

Combining a love of reading with a love history, I recently read Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. I'm not usually a big fan of historical fiction, but when a book is written as well as this, about as interesting a subject as the rise of Anne Boleyn in Tudor England, it is a sure winner. I can't really say I've deeply studied Tudor history though I did quite a bit of deep study into the Stuart period and that necessitated some background into Tudor times (there's always Blackadder if all else fails).

Now I can't say I'm much of a TV or film watcher, but the new TV adaptation of Wolf Hall is certainly something I'd be interested in seeing. I also get the urge to read more history. The only trouble is that whenever I get some spare time, non fiction is not really what I want to explore. I guess that is a consequence of examining so much non fiction in the form of chess literature. The program is due to air on BBC 2 in the UK early in 2015, and hopefully it won't be long in coming to Australia. I'll probably have read the sequel, Bringing Up The Bodies by then.

Are you a dog or a cat person? This question always amuses my wife Caroline, as I have claimed to be a dog person. We currently have 2 cats which I've become pretty soppy over and Caroline likes to remind me of my claims of being a dog person. She rightly wonders why we can't just all be animal lovers. And, of course, Caroline is absolutely right. The pets that we have had have come from animal shelters and I admire those who work at shelters, or advocate for them. With Christmas coming up, the usual problem with unwanted pets will no doubt come about, something which really angers me. Not all people are capable of looking after an animal, for one reason or another. Some of those do the right thing and don't try to keep a pet, while some carry on regardless, start to build a bond with an animal which then gets broken when the animal is sent away.

Proving I'm a not just a dog person

Gratuitous cute cat picture!
Last year Caroline and I decided on a gift at Christmas of animal adoption, and bought our good friends Nick and Zoe a gorilla sponsorship. This is the sort of gift that I'll be giving again, making a donation to an animal charity/sanctuary on behalf of someone else. A little bit of research is needed to make sure the organisation is worthwhile, and local organisations are always better to support to my mind.

While chess certainly promotes mind fitness, I also like to run for general fitness. Don't get me wrong, I'm no racer, but I do keep fit by stepping out the front door and running between 5 km and 12 km. I want to extend this to 20 km, but it is a long and slow process. I try to run 3 times a week, with one of these being a long run, usually at the weekend. I've been hampered by a time consuming work schedule, and a bout of some gastro type illness in the past couple of weeks, but I've still managed to get out a bit. The plan when I started this around early October was to get up to a distance of about 20 km by Christmas. Well, I'm a bit behind schedule, and I think 15 km is a more reasonable target. I'll just have to wait until the summer hits full temperature before I go for the big 20 km run!

This post has taken me a week to write, I've just had such a heavy workload, and awful time management and energy levels. Today was a good day where I was bale to spend much of it with Caroline. We spent a nostalgic few minutes at one point today having coffee and thinking about places where we've visited and where we want to go. The upshot of that is that we're going to try to read novels set in places where we've been. This should help us remember those places. Our holidays over the years have taken us to diverse places, including New York, Amsterdam, Hong Kong, Salzburg, Budapest, Kuala Lumpur, New Zealand and the Canary Islands. We've been to many other places in the UK and Australia, and individually, we've covered much of Europe, but the idea is to read novels which take us back to those places we travelled to together. I'll keep this blog updated about this little project next year. Now I'd better get some Christmas cards written.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Glen Eira Chess Club Update

Glen Eira Chess Club's first full year is coming to a close, with the Club Championship and Reserves tournaments nearly over. This Friday sees the last official night with one round scheduled. Both tournaments are essentially would up, though some final changes could still happen.

The Championship sees the master players leading the field. FM Domagoj Dragicevic is currently leading with 6.5 though he has finished all his games. Domagoj is guaranteed second place, though IM James Morris could still overtake him if he wins his remaining games. James is due to play Rad Chmiel this Friday and has one outstanding game against Sarah Anton. James is currently on 6 points so he needs only one win to take outright first. I'm sitting in third place with 5 points but can count myself fortunate to have come away with my game against Rad Chmiel with half a point. I can still be caught by Sarah Anton though she has to beat me and James which will not be easy. Though I can't speak for everyone, I've found the tournament enjoyable, and a great way to end a first year for the club at its current venue.

The Reserves event is currently being led by Max Phillips who has dominated the event. The fact that Max can still be caught is down to him missing games through illness. This tournament really highlights why this club was set up in the first place. I'd been coaching a bunch of kids who had really become too good and needed a different environment to practice. With no genuine chess club in the area, we could encourage the kids to travel across town to other clubs (and some of my students have done exactly that in the past) or we set up a new club to cater for these kids and the other chess enthusiasts in the area. These young players can't get enough chess and some of them will be making the trip to Canberra in January to play in the Australian Junior Championships.

Finally a quick shout to a couple of our players who have travelled interstate. IM James Morris, and Rebecca Strickland are currently competing in the Australian Young Masters event in Adelaide. James is the top seed in the Masters tournament which he won last year. Rebecca is competing in the second tournament, the Junior Masters which is for players below 2000. Rebecca is rated in the lower half of the field, but anything can happen in junior events, and the top seed has already lost a game on the first day. Junior ratings are very unreliable with most young players capable of beating players rated much higher than they, but also being able to lose to players much lower.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

How To Become a Strong Player.

Ari Dale of the Melbourne Chess Club has travelled to Europe the last couple of years to take part in serious competitions. I guess if Australia has a limited amount of events, then good players, or aspiring players have to seek opposition elsewhere. Ari had the result of his life last year, winning the third section of the annual Wijk aan Zee event in Holland So he was invited to play in the second tournament, the challengers, the winner of which will be invited to play in the prestigious top event with the likes of Magnus Carlsen playing.

The field for the challengers has just been announced, and it's going to be tough work, but an amazing experience for Ari Dale.

So in current rating order, that is:

2727 GM Navara
2668 GM Wei (only 15 years old)
2642 GM Shankland
2613 GM L'Ami
2608 GM Potkin
2606 GM van Kampen
2592 GM Timman (and all time legend)
2586 GM Salem
2554 GM Michiels
2552 GM Gunina
2514 GM Klein
2511 GM Sevian (only 13 years old, he'll be 14 when the tournament starts!)
2360 WIM Haast
2252 IM Ari Dale

Good luck Ari, have a great experience and know that you've got the whole MCC and Australian chess cheering you on!

Chess Victoria AGM

I was a bit surprised to hear that Chess Victoria had their AGM last week. I mean, I know that my new club, Glen Eira Chess Club, is only provisionally affiliated to Chess Victoria, and with no voting rights, but I'd have thought that we'd have heard something about an AGM, and possibly even have been invited along to it. But hey ho, it doesn't really bother me too much, and we're a club that doesn't really have any intention of getting into state chess politics at the moment. The members of our club are interested in the playing and social side of belonging to a chess club, and we've joined Chess Victoria to add extra legitimacy to the club, and so that we can officially rate our games in the Australian ratings list.

To be honest, I usually loathe AGM's and go only when I have to. Personally I am totally opposed to the voting procedure that takes place during a Chess Victoria election. Chess Victoria is made up of a number of clubs which are allocated votes depending on how many members they have, the more members, the more votes, up to a maximum of 5 votes. This is all well and good except that each member of the Chess Victoria committee also gets a vote. As there are 6 Chess Victoria committee places, this makes up quite a big block which can make it difficult to unseat an incumbent committee. Add to this that unelected life members also get a vote and clubs can begin to feel that their votes aren't worth that much.

Now these aren't new arguments that I'm spouting here, and they have caused some contentious debates in the recent past. However, the most recent AGM saw a very sad set of actions where stalwart chess administrator Trevor Stanning was nominated for an honorary life membership position but this nomination was rejected. The reason for this was apparently because of the voting process of Chess Victoria and Trevor's nomination was voted against by a block from Melbourne And Noble Park Chess Clubs. You can read about it in the latest issue of Box Hill Chess Club's newsletter, Box Hill being Trevor's club.

It is sad for Trevor as I'm sure that if there was a reasonable voting process in Chess Victoria, where all clubs felt they had a fair chance at getting a say or a go, then Trevor would have been made a life member without any qualms. His service to both Box Hill Chess Club and Chess Victoria are both to be highly commended. Maybe the committee of Chess Victoria need to look at the way that the organisation is conducted if we're going to honour any more long servers with life membership. And if Chess Victoria is interested in attracting more clubs to move from provisional status to full membership, like Glen Eira or Hobson's Bay, and to stop clubs like Frankston from leaving the organisation, then maybe these are issues that need to be addressed. Then perhaps when somebody renominates Trevor for a life membership, the AGM will give a resounding yes.

How Busy Am I?

I was talking to my friend Alex on Tuesday and he said that he'd seen this blog and really liked it. I thanked him and said he could tell when my life is busy and less busy by the frequency of my blog posts here. He was understanding as a busy person like himself would be and the conversation moved on. Well, my life has been very bust recently and as a reflection, this blog has died down. Saying that, I think I'm getting to grips with my new role at work, so I guess that means I can start blogging again.

Before getting into any chess, I just wanted to talk coffee. I may have found my favourite coffee in Melbourne, thanks to my wife, Caroline. Caroline works in Richmond and when I occasionally give her a lift to work it gives me a chance to try cafes in an area that I rarely go to. In Church Street, Richmond there is a cafe called The Fair Foodstore which I will be going out of my way to go back to because the coffee is simply fantastic. The coffee has a rich texture and fruity flavours, with a definite hint of apricot, and though I've not tried any food, the menu has plenty of interesting things on that I'd like to try and anywhere that does pulled pork can't be that bad! Go check out this review which also loves The Fair Foodstore.

For the past 6 weeks I have been so busy that the World Chess Championship seemed to slip by without me really noticing. I was aware that it was closer than last year, that Anand made more of a fight for it, and that Carlsen won, but what with a busy schedule, and a terrible time zone for watching the match, I really didn't see too much of it. And the high level chess has continued unabated with the Qatar Masters and Russian Championships on at the moment. Sorry, but I just haven't got the time to follow this much chess. I hear the results on Twitter or somewhere but don't seem to see many games or positions. It's just too much like hard work! Which is a shame because I've agreed to play in the IM section of the Australasian Masters starting next week. I am horribly unprepared, and badly short of match practice, but hopefully it will be fun and I'll get the chance to bring my game back up to scratch.

There'll be more blogging and some pictures during the Australian Masters but I'm keeping it short for now, as I'm just get back into this bloggin thing. I will be less busy after next week, so expect the blog to pick back up, at least for a while.