Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Playing Chess Online

For some of us, the amount of chess club events, weekenders, FIDE Internationals and team events that can be participated in during the year just isn't enough. When your an English chess player living abroad around Christmas/New Year, the thought that back home I'd probably be playing in one of the events at the Hastings festival makes me want to play chess! So what can I do?

Well besides making a bigger effort to join as many clubs, and play as many tournaments as is humanly possible, I can play online. There are 2 forms of chess to be played online: real time chess, and forms of correspondence chess. I would recommend that an improving player tries his hand at both of these. The internet has made both these forms of chess very user friendly.

Real Time Chess

There are dozens of sites to play chess on the internet, some free, some not and it is sometimes difficult to choose which is the right one for you. Signing up for a free site, like FICS carries no obligation and there are literally dozens of these. Some you can play for free, but get more features if you pay for a full membership which seems to have something for everyone. A rapidly growing site is where besides playing there are a heap of educational materials.

If you want to pay, the 2 premium sites online are the Internet Chess Club (ICC) and the Chessbase online site, Playchess. I personally use ICC, but I believe it to be a matter of choice as both have excellent features, including GM analysis, GM/IM simuls, tournaments, live relay of world class events, and of course a huge membership so there is always someone to play. For instance, today I logged in to ICC, set a challenge for some 5 minute games and was lucky enough to play 1 GM, 1 IM and a few other players around my own sort of strength. After playing the games, I had a brief look through them, and its helped me to understand a bit more about the openings I play (which is the main reason I play on these sites).
To play, you usually have to download a browser which enables you to access the site and when a game starts a board just opens up and you start playing, it couldn't be easier.

Slower Chess

Especially if you're new to chess, or if you like more time to think about your moves, there are sites where you can play games that last weeks rather than minutes. Correspondence chess has been around for an awful long time, but to many of us, it is cumbersome, time consuming and quite expensive. Online chess sites have cut out the expense of paying for stamps, and internationally recognised organisations play tournaments online by email. There isn't many sites more active than the Intenational Email Chess Group (IECG), and they even have an archive of their games online. In these games you would have a given length of time (eg 3 days) to send a move to your opponent via email. Then your opponent has the same time to send their move back and so forth. In this sort of chess you can spend more time studying each move, and learn much about certain positions which may arise in your games. A number of top players over the years have played correspondence chess to some extent, including Euwe and Keres in their early days.

Besides ICC I also use a site like this called Gameknot where the majority of games are at the rate of 2 or 3 days per move. You can play a number of games at any one time, and always have something to be thinking about. These sites can be used as an end in themselves, or as I'm doing, they can be used as a tool to help improve your normal rated chess. For instance, I am putting a lot of work into developing and extending my opening repertoire from the games I play on Gameknot. So far I have found it to be both challenging and friendly which has to be a good thing. And like so many other sites, it is free, but there is a premium membership which will open more features.

So try out some of these sites, or even search around for others. There is very little excuse nowadays for not being able to play enough chess, and you can play against people from all over the world, rather than getting stale sitting against the same opponent each week at the chess club.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Rook and Rook's Pawn versus Rook Endgame

These were the type of endgames looked at in the final session of the Melbourne Chess Club Endgame Group for 2010. Personally, I find these the easiest to classify and remember, though of course, that still won't necessarily make them easy to play. I got the idea for looking at these endings after I looked at the blog of Paul Cavezza, who regularly attends the MCC Endgame Group. Paul wrote a nice article on rook endings for beginners but I couldn't help notice that he didn't look at rook endgames where the stronger side has a rook's pawn. So, here's a look at the basics of these type of endings as we dealt with them at the Endgame group.

1. Pawn has reached the seventh rank, but it's king is in front.
The key for the defending side is to cut the attacking king off along the file, and have his own king close enough to the pawn. The defending king has to be 3 files or less away from the pawn. In this position white can make no progress as the only way he can force black's rook away from the b-file is to get his own rook to b8 or b7, but in the time it takes to do this, black's king will have reached c7 and it will then trap white's king.

When the defending king is 4 files away, white will have time to get his rook to b8. eg.
Here white plays 1.Rc3 Ke7 2.Rc8 Kd6! 3.Rb8 and forces black to give up the b-file which will allow white's king to escape. However, it still isn't easy to win this....check out Karsten Mueller's latest article which discusses this very ending. 3..Ra2 4.Kb7 Rb2+ 5.Kc8 Rc2+ 6.Kd8 Rh2 Threatening checkmate 7.Rb6+ Kc5 8.Rc6+! forcing the king to take as otherwise white plays 9.Rc8. 8..Kxc6 9.a8=Q+

2. The pawn has advanced to the 7th rank and the stronger side's rook sits in front of the pawn.

This is about the worst case scenario for white, unless black's king is away from the safe corner.
The only way white can make progress is if black decides to march his king to the queenside. 1.Kf2 Kh7 [1..Kf7?? 2.Rh8 Rxa7 3.Rh7 skewering the rook] 2.Ke3 Kg7 3.Kd4 Kh7 4.Kc5 Kg7 5.Kb6 Now that white's king defends his pawn black's rook becomes active. 5..Rb1+ 6.Kc7 Ra1 7.Kb8 Rb1+ 8.Kc8 Ra1 and whenever the white king defends the pawn it gets checked away with a draw inevitable.

This means that advancing the pawn to the seventh rank when the rook is in front and the enemy king is safe is a mistake.

3. The pawn has advanced to the 6th rank and the stronger side's rook sits in front of the pawn.

When the pawn is on the 6th rank it will give shelter to it's king on the square in front of it. If the defender uses the same technique as in the last example then they will lose. However, there is a defensive position called the Vancura Position (just as important in rook endgames as Philidor and Lucena positions) which is an important one to know.
Here, black's king is in it's safe corner and the rook sits on it's third rank attacking the enemy pawn and cutting off the white king from advancing to help it. Whenever the white king defends the pawn, it will be checked. 1.Kb5 Rf5+ 2.Kb6 Rf6+ 3.Kc7 Rf7+ 4.Kd6 Rf6+ 5.Ke5 Rc6 now the rook sits on the 6th rank cutting off the enemy king and threatening the pawn. This ties down the white rook to the pawn's defence. If white should ever advance the pawn, black must be able to play Ra6 getting to the same sort of position in the example above. eg  from the above position 1.Kb5 Rf5+ 2.Kb4 Rf6 3.a7 Ra6 4.Kb5 Ra1 with a draw.

These basic endgames provide some guideposts for us and aren't too difficult. Of course, practical examples aren't always so clearly defined. The pawn may be closer to home while both kings and rooks could be anywhere on the board. But for now, this is the basic knowledge that needs to be understood before attempting more difficult positions and before some other concepts are introduced.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


When I first moved to Australia nearly 6 years ago, the first area I lived in was Williamstown in the western suburbs of Melbourne. Caroline had a job in Werribee when we first got here so we spent a year in the west before moving to the south eastern suburbs, and settling in Elsternwick where we live now.

Well today I was able to revisit my old haunt as I took a trip to the west. It has been suggested that the best views of the city are from Williamstown but that is usually in the evening. On a 26C day, there is usually a bit of a haze over the city, but if you walk to the end of Gem Pier, you still get a pretty good view.

Melbourne CBD from Gem Pier

There is a great eating strip at Nelson Place, and on every third Sunday of the month, this area gets packed as a farmers market takes over the area. There used to be a great cafe called La Dolce Vita which has unfortunately closed, though it's place has been taken by a great looking Greek style cafe. I went for a coffee and cake in a place called Schwabs Galley. The coffee was passable but not excellent, but the place was friendly, clean and had a good menu, mainly Foccaccia's and savouries.

Nelson Place Restaurant Precinct

Driving around brought back some memories. Williamstown beach was very busy. One thing I don't remember is the number of speed humps there are on the roads. But there are loads of parks and wetlands about, and these were looking much greener than I've ever seen them.

Walking back along Gem Pier, the Commonwealth Reserve looking quite green!

Williamstown is a great place for walks along the front. I remember I used to walk to Hobson's Bay Chess Club from my house, cutting under the West Gate Bridge. And Williamstown is of historic interest to Melbourne being one of the first settlements in the region. For instance, at the end of Gem Pier on Nelson
Parade you have the Customs House, which is now a hotel. And for nature lovers, there are Pelican's, Black Swans and the usual mob of gulls!

All in all, Williamstown is a great place for a short trip for the day, and from the city you can even get a ferry to Williamstown, saving any bother with traffic on the West Gate Bridge!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Learning from your victories

It's one of the great cliche's of chess that it is easier to learn from your defeats than it is to learn from your victories. But that doesn't mean that you can't learn from your victories as long as you are objective about the game. Of course, if you have a coach this is easier as they can act as a devil's advocate asking you all the awkward questions that you would normally ignore because you had obviously played perfectly in your game. However, most adults don't have coaches and we have to do most of the hard work ourselves.

During the Australasian Masters I did hardly any thorough analysis of my games, and I am beginning to go through them now. I remember reading a book by Soviet trainer Vladimir Zak who stated that on average a chess player should be spending between 12 -15 hours analysis on each of his games. This included opening study and tactical practice resulting from the game, but it still seems a bit excessive. I have spent a few hours looking at my win against Vladimir Smirnov. Some of this was working on the opening, and I think I have a better understanding of the Dutch now, though I want to do some more work on this opening. However, I also addressed some interesting strategic and tactical issues that arose from the game. Try to answer the questions to these positions which arose during the games, or could have from variations.

1. It is Black to move, what is his best move?

2. What is white's best move?

3. What is white's best move?

4. What is white's best move?

5. What is white's best move?

6. What is white's best move?

What struck me from looking at this game was that I became very dogmatic in my thinking. It is generally regarded that when attacking on opposite sides of the board you make few, if any, moves on your defensive side, while pulling out all the stops on the other side where you are attacking. But because of this, both me and my opponent missed some amazing chances, and there were moves which I never even considered because I wasn't looking for anything on that side of the board.

1. Black should play 1..a5 holding White's queen side expansion. Instead he continued with his king side action.

2. White can play 1.Rfb1, because the f2 pawn is taboo. Although it doesn't look it, black's back rank is weak. I had decided the rook on f1 was needed for defence, and hadn't considered moving it.

3. White has the amazing 1.g4! decoying the bishop from it's defence, and after 1..Bxg4 white can take a piece 2.Rxa5. This resource was not seen by me, but luckily the variation didn't arise.

4. White can again play 1.Rfb1 as 1..Rxf2 loses to 2.Bxe6 Qxe6 3.Kxf2. Again, I wasn't looking at tactics in front of my king, and I'm not sure I'd have found them if I'd been forced down these lines.

5. White has another amazing resource, 1.Bh3 as the queen can't take on h3 because it is needed to defend e8. I prosaically took on a7 without looking at any king side possibilities. My move was good enough, but certainly not best.

6. Funnliy enough, after making no moves on the king side throughout the game, I now played 1.h4 preventing mating possibilities. A safe choice, but my opposite sides policy would have been capped off if I'd played 1.a7! and went for mate myself. 1..Bxg2 2.a8=Q [not 2.Kxg2?? Qh3+ 3.Kg1 Qxh2#] 2..Qh3 3.Qg8+ Kg6 4.Qae8+ Kg5 5.Qxg7+ Kf5 and white can choose between 4 mate in 1's.

So you can learn from your victories as long as you are objective. I will be looking at more unusual resources in positions where there are attacks on opposite sides of the board, and will be working harder on my tactical ability which is obviously not as good as it could be!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Australasian Masters: the finish

Round 8 of the Australasian Masters was played at Box Hill Chess Club and 2 players, Erik Teichmann and Bobby Cheng, were still in the hunt for an IM norm. But alas it was not to be as Bobby came up against a solid and in form Stephen Solomon, while Erik seemed to falter and took an eternity to try to find the right plan. It seems with the extra pressure of needing a result to score a norm has been too much for the FM's in this tournament, and I'm sure this has been the case to hundreds of players over the years. However, I believe that the future will be bright for these talented players, and I'm sure that at least one will become an IM in the not too distant future. It was good to See Guy West and Jean Watson among the spectators today.

Pairings and Results:
Solomon-Cheng 1-0
Illingworth-Steadman 1-0
Morris-Teichmann 1-0
Smirnov-Rujevic 0-1
Levi-Gorka Draw

And the Standings:
7. Solomon
5. Cheng, Teichmann, Illingworth
4. Smirnov, Morris, Rujevic
3.5 Gorka
2. Steadman
.5 Levi

So Stephen Solomon wraps the tournament up with a round to spare. James holds fast against Erik Teichmann, and there are good wins for Rujevic and Illingworth. It was also good to see Eddy Levi get off the mark, even if it was against me. The final position might be slightly better for me, but not by much.

Round 9

Sometimes at the end of tournaments there is a lack of fighting spirit, and we get a few quick draws. No such thing today as everyone was trying to squeeze the last bit from the tournament. My game against Stephen Solomon lasted over 4 hours and there was still a game going on then.

Pairings and Results:
Gorka-Solomon 0-1
Rujevic-Levi 1-0
Teichmann-Smirnov 0-1
Steadman-Morris 0-1
Cheng-Illingworth 1-0

Stephen ground me down in typical gritty fashion. Both Mirko Rujevic, and James Morris have come alive in the second half of the tournament and both finished with nice wins today. Smirnov beat Teichmann to catch the group in third place. But outright second place goes to Bobby Cheng after his victory against Max Illingworth today. Bobby was agonisingly close to a master norm missing by just half a point, but at just 13 he has time on his side.

Final Standings:
1st Solomon 8/9
2nd Cheng 6
=3rd Morris, Rujevic, Illingworth, Teichmann, Smirnov 5
8th Gorka 3.5
9th Steadman 2
10th Levi .5

All the results will be on the CV website.

More analysis of the tournament to follow in the next few days

 FM Mike Steadman visiting from New Zealand
Stephen Solomon against Bobby Cheng from round 8. Tournament organiser Leonid Sandler is in the background.
The Australian Masters Perpetual Trophy which will have Stephen Solomon's name engraved on it for 2010

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Australasian Masters Round 7

Excuse me if I gush a bit, but in round 7 I had my best result since arriving in Australia over 5 years ago. I didn't hold out much hope against Vladimir Smirnov, especially as my preparation for the game was a full days work, but perhaps this helped me to relax into the game. In contrast, Vladimir was under pressure to score a result against me with the black pieces to keep his IM norm hopes alive. He went all out for a king's side attack in the Dutch but it fell short and I won on the other side of the board.

We were again in the back room of Box Hill Chess Club as Friday is their main club night and there were events happening in the main allegro I think. So the DGT boards were not in operation, though the games were transmitted by the organiser, Leonid Sandler to the chesschat forum. The round was tense as the 4 FM's still in the hunt for a norm were all put under extra pressure in their games. The Pairings and results were:
Levi-Solomon 0-1
Gorka-Smirnov 1-0
Rujevic-Morris 1-0
Teichmann-Illingworth 1-0
Steadman-Cheng 0-1

Eddy Levi again saw a decent position deteriorate to a loss to the tournament leader. James Morris seemed to come out of the opening very well against Rujevic, but made a horrible blunder that cost him a piece and was visibly upset after the game. Max Illingworth sacrificed a pawn for piece activity which was eventually nullified by Erik Teichmann who took the full point and thus retains the chance of getting to the norm. And Bobby Cheng kept his IM norm chances alive with a nice win against Steadman.

6. Solomon
5. Teichmann, Cheng
4. Smirnov, Illingworth
3. Gorka, Rujevic, Morris
2. Steadman
0. Levi

Friday, December 10, 2010

Australasian Masters Round 6

The tournament has really become interesting as 4 of the FM's moved on 4 out of 6, and if any of them has a good run in, we could have an IM norm from this tournament. Once again, the main room of the Box Hill Chess Club was being used for other purposes, so we were relegated to the back room without the DGT boards. David Hacche was present helping Trevor Stanning with the running of the tournament in the absense of Leonid Sandler, but things are running very smoothly in this event.

Round 6 Pairings and Results:
Solomon-Steadman Draw
Cheng-Teichmann 1-0
Illingworth-Rujevic 1-0
Morris-Gorka 1-0
Smirnov-Levi 1-0

Mike Steadman nearly pulled off a big upset, but couldn't convert from an exchange up against Stephen Solomon. Bobby Cheng built up a very promising attack against Erik Teichmann and finished the game in fine combinative style. This might be the best game of the tournament so far. Rujevic was sloppy against Max Illingworth who is finishing off games clinically in this tournament. Vladimir Smirnov won against a terribly out of form Eddy Levi.
In my game, James Morris took advantage of some slack play by me and converted his advantage very nicely. The game started with a Hedgehog and I successfully got d5 in which looked to equalise. However, I then didn't find the right continuation, allowing James to take the initiative and gain the 2 bishops. Soon after I tried to create some perpetual chances, but gave away material which James took, and he avoided any drawing tricks. All in all, a nice performance from the young IM.

This leaves the standings as follows:
5. Solomon
4. Cheng, Teichmann, Illingworth, Smirnov
3. Morris
2. Gorka, Rujevic, Steadman
0. Levi

Stephen Solomon retains his lead, while the FM's pack in behind him. Any player on 4 points needs 2.5 from their remaining 3 games for an IM norm. Morris moves back to half points, after a very tough start to the tournament, and the rest of us are struggling to hang on.

The move that I really didn't like was 22..Qd7. I think after 22..Qd6 black is fine.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Australasian Masters Round 5

In round 5 of the Australasian Masters I suffered from an affliction that I guess most of us have been affected by. I had to delay my game for 30 minutes as I had to work until 4.30pm, the usual starting time. My opponent, Max Illingworth, had no problems with this which I thank him for. However, when I turned up I couldn't get focussed for the game and by the time I had settled down I was already worse. I tried a few tricks, but Max was completely up to the task of converting his advantage to a full point. It is an interesting problem for amateur chess players who play their games directly after work, and if anyone has any rituals they follow to get them in the mood for playing, then I would love to hear them.

Round 5 pairings and results:
Smirnov-Solomon Draw
Levi-Morris 0-1
Gorka-Illingworth 0-1
Rujevic-Cheng Draw
Teichmann-Steadman 1-0

Standings after 5 rounds:
4.5 Solomon
4 Teichmann
3. Smirnov, Cheng, Illingworth
2 Gorka, Rujevic, Morris
1.5 Steadman
0 Levi

Vladimir Smirnov put Stephen Solomon under some pressure, but the leader held on to the draw. Eddy Levi continued his horrible tournament, building up a promising looking position only for it all to collapse. Eddy has not been well during this event, and in this sort of company you will be found out if you can't give 100%. I didn't see much of the Rujevic-Cheng draw, but it was a messy sort of French where Bobby looked to have some pressure, but that was with his queen on a5. As the game progressed, the queen started looking more out of play and Mirko's position seemed to get better. Erik Teichmann continued putting pressure on Solomon with a fairly easy win against Mike Steadman who also looked as if he hadn't really got focussed in this game.

Australia has some great young talents, and the Australasian Masters is showcasing some of it, with 13 year old FM Bobby Cheng and 16 year old's IM James Morris and FM Max Illingworth.

 Young IM James Morris
Young FM Max Illingworth

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Australasian Masters Round 4

Before things started in the fourth round, there was a postponed game between Stephen Solomon and James Morris, which Stephen won. With this win, he moved into equal first place with Erik Teichmann, and the 2 were to meet in the fourth round. We had to move out of the main room at Box Hill Chess Club as there was a coaching session at the club, but we were in the main analysis room which suited fine. The only downside for the event was the lack of DGT transmission which has been expertly provided for by our hosts at Box Hill Chess Club. The fourth round was full of drama, the pairings and results were:

Solomon-Teichmann 1-0
Steadman-Rujevic Draw
Cheng-Gorka 0-1
Illingowrth-Levi 1-0
Morris-Smirnov Draw

I didn't see much of the top game, but when I looked early on, Erik seemed to be doing fine though the position was complicated. The game next to me was an amazing fight between Mike Steadman and Mirko Rujevic. At one point everything seemed to be hanging and both sides were about to promote, and to much amusement they both did promote so we had 4 queens on the board in a game at the masters! However, not long after the exchanges came and a draw was agreed. Max Illingworth and Eddy Levi did it the other way round, exchanging virtually everything except queen's and pawns, with Max a pawn ahead which he was able to convert, though not easily. Vladimir Smirnov seemed to have an edge for a long time against James Morris and the game eventuated in an ending of bishop and pawn versus knight. James was able to draw this, though I didn't see how. It may be a subject for the MCC Endgame group in the future. And then my game was a 5 hour epic, where it looked as if I was getting crushed in the opening with a Bxh7 trick, but it didn't quite work and I came into a queenless middlegame with the 2 bishops and an edge. After some inaccuracies from my opponent I won material, but then had to give most of it back to finally enter a winning rook and pawn endgame.

The standings after 4 rounds:
4. Solomon
3. Teichmann
2.5 Cheng, Smirnov
2. Gorka, Illingworth
1.5 Rujevic, Steadman
1. Morris
0. Levi

Black is allowing white to take on h7, which he did!
I've won a piece, but look at that wrong coloured a-pawn for the bishop. White has some drawing chances here if black isn't careful.
The final ending where I was able to first cut white's king off along the h-file, and then across the fourth rank. Even though it is a rook's pawn, white's king is just too far from the action. Apparently, Ian Rogers, who was present said this ending was theoretically winning for black, and I'll take his word!

Stepehn Solomon and Erik Teichmann before their top of the table clash.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Australasian Masters Round 3

Ok, so I'm actually writing this blog on the Masters a day behind, because the 4th round has finished but I write to get over the game I played which I don't want to analyse in too much depth each evening....I've got to get up at 6.30am! So round 3 of the Masters was a huge personal disappointment for me. I played a game much as I would have liked to and then just made one slack move which threw everything away. I suppose this sort of thing can happen, but it doesn't make it any less painful when it does. Anyway, it was good to see Ian and Cathy Rogers at the tournament and I felt pretty good when Ian praised the way I played the endgame in the first round against Mike Steadman.

Before the round started proper, the postponed game between Solomon and Rujevic was played with a fairly comfortable win for Stephen Solomon. Then, one game started 30 minutes early, between Levi and Teichmann which Erik won after a terrible blunder from Eddy who had built up a pretty impressive position only to give up a rook after hallucinating that his queen was on e3 and could go to h6 with mate, when in fact his queen was on f3.

Round 3 Pairings and Results:
Illingworth-Solomon 0-1
Morris-Cheng Draw
Smirnov-Steadman 1-0
Levi-Teichmann 0-1
Gorka-Rujevic 0-1

Morris-Cheng was an interesting game with James grabbing a pawn early on which allowed Bobby to develop and eventually he won his material back and the game petered out to a draw. I didn't see much of the Smirnov-Steadman game, but apparently Vladimir won a pawn and played a nice temporary sacrifice to simplify the position and then converted. The game between Max Illingworth and Stephen Solomon was the longest of the tournament so far at nearly 100 moves. In the end there was rook knight and pawn against rook bishop and pawn with Solomon having the bishop. After a lot of moves and over 5 hours of play, Max tragically blundered and the game finished a win for Solomon.

In my game I wanted to avoid allowing my opponent direct attacking chances, so perhaps letting him play the King's Indian Defence might not seem a particularly good plan. However it worked and the position became very stodgy with not a lot that either player could do. I exchanged my dark squared bishop for a knight which Mirko thought was bad, but the light squared defence I set up should have been solid enough. However, I blundered with 31.Bd3 losing an exchange and essentially the game. In fact, at that point there was an interesting drawing line that I rejected because I hadn't looked deep enough!

The blunder came in the following position:
Here I played 31.Bd3? and Mirko, who is always very quick to pounce on any tactical chance played 31..Be3+ and after I move my king he played 32..Bd4 winning the rook on c3.
Instead I should have taken the forcing line 31.Nxd6, which I rejected because I lose a piece after 31..Rxc3 32.Rxc3 Rxc3 33.Qxc3 Be3 (a nice zwischenzug) 34.Kh1 Bxf1 and black is a piece up.
However, if only I'd looked deeper then I would have seen that white has a perpetual with 35.Qc8+ Kg7 36.Qd7+ and black must move back to g8 or get mated. I'm sure we also missed stuff earlier on, but that is quite a nice line.

In the post game analysis, Mirko seemed pretty happy with his position and I would happily concede that black had a slight edge, but if white doesn't blunder, then black will have to take some risks to win.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Australasian Masters Round 2

The second round of the Australasian Masters went ahead without top seed Stephen Solomon who arrived in Melbourne after the games finished and will have to play 2 games a day on Monday and Tuesday to catch up. With no easy games, this will be tough, even for him. The second round started at 4.30pm at Box Hill Chess Club and at least 3 players are under the weather. Erik Teichmann had a nasty cough, Eddy Levi is not feeling great and I've had a nasty gastro which still hasn't cleared up.

The games and results today were:

Solomon-Rujevic (postponed until Monday)
Teichmann-Gorka 1-0
Steadman-Levi 1-0
Cheng-Smirnov 1-0
Illingworth-Morris 1-0

Leaving my game until last, the round was a great day for the white pieces. Bobby Cheng won a pawn against Vladimir Smirnov and allowed no counterplay. A very efficient win for the 13 year old. Eddy Levi used the Budapest against Mike Steadman but white managed to get through the complications with the 2 bishops and some hopes for an advantage. As the board opened, Mike got his queen and a bishop active and won a pawn. In the end, black was nicely cornered in a mating net. The game between Illingworth and Morris seemed strange. James seemed to get a great position in the early middle game but somehow allowed Max to unwind and then Max won an exchange and never looked back from then.

So on to my game. First, I was expecting Erik to play 1.b4 and he didn't disappoint. I chose a fairly safe line to play against him and it worked well as I got into a very playable middlegame. In fact, I'd be happy to play 1.b4 e5 2.Bb2 d6 again, and even Erik, an expert on Sokolsky's opening said it was quite a good choice. I then threw ..g5 down the board too early, before my opponent had committed his king, and Erik mixed it across the whole board. However, I was still in the game as Erik had left his king in the centre and he didn't look that comfortable in the position either. Anyway, I needed to keep control of the d5 square or else his bishop on b2 would come to life, but unfortunately I didn't do this. The game finished with a queen sacrifice which forces mate.

In the position below, I played ..g5 and got into trouble. White has not committed his king so my move didn't threaten his king so much as weakening my own.

Black has just taken a knight on c3. I was prepared for a simple recapture, and also for axb6, but Erik Teichmann blew me off the board with the line opening d5!! and I now have dire threats against my king along the long diagonal. I took on d5 with my b6 knight and Erik cooly played Qxc3 winning.

It was a pleasant analysis after the game with Eirk Teichmann who cheered me up by reminding me that I am already on more points than the player who finished last in the tournament last year! Thanks Erik, good luck in the rest of the tournament and hope you are feeling better soon.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Australasian Masters Round 1

The tournament got under way yesterday at Box Hill Chess Club. It is a strong field with an average rating of just over 2300 and 9 out of the 10 players have titles. I am the only one without a title, but I have been invited to play as I represent a foreign country (England) and I make up the requisite number of overseas players needed for the tournament to qualify for norms. The IM norm is set at about 6.5 which will be tough to reach in this field.

The Players:
1. FM Max Illingworth 2304
2. IM James Morris 2240
3. FM Vladimir Smirnov 2379 (Russia)
4. FM Eddy Levi 2228
5. Carl Gorka 2179 (me!) (England)
6. IM Mirko Rujevic 2296
7. FM Erik Teichmann 2388 (England)
8. FM Mike Steadman 2285 (New Zealand)
9. FM Bobby Cheng 2316
10. IM Stephen Solomon 2397

This is the playing order for the tournament and I was lucky enough to get 5, giving me 5 whites. Stephen Solomon won't be here until tomorrow so his first 2 games have been rescheduled for Monday and Tuesday. By the end of Tuesday the tournament will be back on schedule.

The time limit is not the usual 90 minutes plus 30 seconds increment per move. Instead, the organisers have gone with the longer time limit of 40 moves in 90 minutes, followed by 30 minutes to complete the game, with a 30 second increment from move one. It is a very generous time control which will probably stretch the games out to 5 hours.

The first round was swapped with round 3 to avoid Max Illingworth having to play 2 games in a day, so the first round pairings and results were actually:

Morris-Solomon (postponed until Tuesday)
Smirnov-Illingworth 1-0
Levi-Cheng 0-1
Gorka-Steadman 1-0
Rujevic-Teichmann 0-1

I didn't see too much of the other games, but Smirnov seemed to get a good position early against Illingworth and converted. Levi-Cheng was a long tough fight that lasted close to 5 hours. I have spoken to people who think Eddy could have held the position to a draw, but I didn't see it and the win goes to Bobby. Teichmann won an exchange against Rujevic after outplaying him in the opening. He was able to convert easily enough though he himself admits that he missed a number of quicker wins.

And then there was my game against the New Zealander, Mike Steadman. It was a strange game, I played 1.d4 but it ended up a French Defence. Mike got in a bit of a tangle early on, but I then started messing around with my queen and allowed him to take the advantage with a timely c5 advance. The position became a little messy with both of us unable to find decent plans until the position clarified into a double bishop ending where I was a pawn ahead.
It was interesting after the game that Mike Steadman, as black was trying to win this even though he was a pawn down. His reasoning was that if he could win the c5 pawn, then the ending would give him excellent chances with his connected pawn mass. Alas, he blundered his f7 pawn not long after this position and that left me with a fairly easy win as I had passed pawns on both sides of the board. It was an interesting game.

One of the interesting points of the game was after Black had played 28..Rxh2. White has a fantastic move that he never considered, because he forgot that he could do it!!! 29.0-0!

As white I had forgotten I could castle in this position!!

Australasian Masters and other things

Today was the start of a very strong Round Robin tournament that I am competing in, the Australasian Masters. I will be writing more about this in the days to come as it takes place over 9 consecutive days. I have played in a number of these tournaments over the years and they constitute the main way for Victorian players to gain IM norms on home ground. I even organised one of these events back in 2006 and I can say that it is no easy matter. Anyway, as I've already said I'll write plenty about the Masters this week.

Trevor Stanning (left) of Box Hill Chess Club, the host of the Australasian Masters, and Leonid Sandler, the organiser of the event.

I wrote in an earlier post that I had bought a biography and some people tried to guess who it was. The guesses included Keres, Larsen and Karpov, but it was in fact Alexander Munninghoff's biography of Max Euwe, the Dutch World Champion.
It is a really heartfelt account of an amateur who made it to the top of the World. Euwe seems much more 'human' than most of the World Champions I've read about. Max Euwe was a guy who could blunder, and did regularly; was a guy who played regularly in his home town even though he was way above everyone else; was a guy who didn't put chess above everything else, and when he tried to this, in the lead up the 1948 match tournament for the World Championship, he played some of the worst chess of his life. Euwe was a great chess player and administrator, with a life outside of chess. He was a family man, and loved mathematics and his teaching jobs as much as chess.

The book is beautifully written, bringing Euwe's life into perspective according to the times when he lived. His faults aren't apologised for, but it is obvious the author has no time for people who underestimate Euwe's role in the history of chess, and his right to be claimed an all time great of the game. After reading this biography I would have to agree. I can remember one of the first games I ever saw by Euwe was his amazing win against Geller from the 1953 Candidates tournament. I was stunned that anyone could play like that, and dreamed of playing a move like 22..Rh8 in my games, but alas it has never happened. Anyway, see for yourself...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

MCC Openings Group

Tonight was the first meeting of the Melbourne Chess Club Opening's Group. There were quite a number of people around which made for quite a lively group. The session was split into 2 sections.

First part was a discussion of some general things to think about when studying openings. These are my own experiences and opinions and people may have different views.

1. Don't forget the basics: it is important to keep in mind general opening principles such as developing your pieces and making sure your king is safe, especially when playing openings which seem to flout some of these laws. It is even important to understand the general ideas behind the openings you play as some variations may stray a fair way from these.

2. Don't become dependent on your openings: we all know players who play better in certain openings, and other players who can easily be put off by a non theory move.

3. Openings don't win you games: it is better to think that knowing the traps and ideas in the openings you play will avoid you losing games and get you into playable positions

4. Don't become dogmatic: opening theory can move on pretty quickly in certain variations, whereas average players can become very set in our ways. Changing openings regularly can keep a player fresh and up to date.

5. It is easy to get confused between variations: this is especially so of those trying to memorise variations, as opposed to those trying to understand opening ideas. To avoid this it may be a good idea to regularly review your knowledge, try out different openings, learn openings 1 at time, analyse the games you play in depth, especially in those openings that you are studying.

6. Too much opening study will mean neglecting other areas of the game: tactics, middlegames, endgames, technique, planning all need time devoted to them, and are probably more important than openings to most players. Too much opening study may result in a relative weakness of other parts of your game.

After we had a brief discussion of these basic ideas concerning the dangers of studying openings, I just had to mention how some sharp openings can lead to fairly stale middlegames, while some supposedly quiet openings can lead to rich middlegame positions. Understanding openings and trying different ones out is the key to finding the right ones for you, and ultimately enjoying the kind of chess you play.

After this we looked at this position:

Here it is white to move and I asked the group for candidate moves. If I remember correctly, this is what we came up with:

Now obviously, some of these are simply bad moves, some are interesting and some are really decent tries. I think this is a natural sort of breakdown of a group of brainstormed ideas. However, even the bad moves listed above can tell us something about the position which will give us a better understanding of the position. The above position arose in the game Morozevich-Vachier Legrave Biel 2009, and Morozevich's move, 13.Nf4 was a move that no one in the group guessed at. We had a quick look at some typical follow up's but went back to play some practice games from the above position with the group's favourite move, 13.Bg2. We found a number of good ideas for white and seemed to think white was doing well after this move. The following game is an example of this move in action from GM practice earlier this year, except the moves 12.h4 d5 have not been played. A number of the same principles come into play:

From the original position if white plays 13.Bg2 it is very hard for black to play something constructive. White is threatening g5-g6, and if black tries to play Ne5/b6-c4, white can play b3 to prevent it. There is also the plan of 13.Bg2 e5 14.Nf5 d4, but white has a promising sacrifice, 15.Ned4 when it is not easy for black to organise his defence.

It was an interesting session and I thank all who came along to the MCC tonight and got involved.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Chess Kids Victorian Schools State Finals

Today I was an arbiter at the Chesskids Victorian Schools State Finals. School teams that have qualified through zonal tournaments throughout the year came together to fight it out at Monash University today. About 400 kids turned up in 2 divisions, the Primary event for years 1-6, and the Middle School event for years 5-9. There were all levels of players, but although the tournament is run as an individual 9 round swiss, it is the team element that makes this sort of event magical. There are kid who will play chess at an adult chess club playing alongside those who will possibly not play chess outside of school in their entire life.

The competition is fierce at all levels. At the top end, players are trying to score as close to maximum points as they can in order to help their schools win, and for their own individual satisfaction. But there are also teams who know they probably won't be winning but it doesn't mean they don't try. The kids each compete against their own personal goals, maybe to score 50%, to be the highest scorer for their school, or just to win a game, and however well they do, in the end they are all winners. It is amazing to see these kids representing their schools and really tackling a tough game in an adult fashion.

 Rows of kids battling it out, here in the Primary section.
 School uniforms identify teams, and when players finish games, they often watch their team mates.
Intense concentration during the games.
But it essentially a fun day as the Patterson Lakes girls show here.

Both the divisions were hotly contested, witht he lead changing many times. The Middle School event turned into a fight between Mazenod, Brighton Grammar and Scotch College, with the Brighton Grammar tream finally triumphing. The Primary event was a fight between Deepdene Primary and Waverley Christian College, though Deepdene finally pulled away and won. The tournment ran very smoothly under the direction of Chess Kids manager David Cordover and his team of helpers and we can all look forward to the National event which will be held in late November.

My favourite moment of the day was when I had to answer a question. I walked to the board where the players had their hand raised and saw a checkmate at the board. I was about to announce the game as won, when the checkmated boy asked if he could castle. I told him that you're not allowed to castle when you're in check. He replied he wasn't in check, he was in checkmate and wondered whether he could castle out of checkmate!

 The trophy that is being played for.
The top boards of the Middle School events.

 David Cordover makes clear announcements at the start of the event which gets things running smoothly.
 How much pressure is there having an International Master and ex-Australian Champion watching your game. IM Robert Jamieson, one of the helping hands!
 More helpers working the admin desk. It's quiet now, but when the games are finishing its madness around these tables!
David Cordover with his young son, Elijah who also helped out around the tournament hall!

 It's a family day, with teachers, parents, siblings and friends enjoying the experience.
Find your place!!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Playtime Soon

Next weekend, Victoria enjoys a holiday all because of a horse race! And to make things even better, the extra day off is a Tuesday, so most people take the Monday off or throw a sickie, making it a 4 day holiday. So it looks very much like I'm going to take the opportunity to play in one of Victoria's prime weekend chess events at the Melbourne Chess Club over that long weekend. The MCC Cup Weekender has already attracted a field of about 50 players, with IM Stephen Solomon the highest ranked player. However, I'm sure with a week to go there will be a bunch of late entries, including some high rated contenders.

I'm looking forward to playing. I haven't played much this year, and feel pretty rusty though I've got a whole week to find some form! The main things I'll do this week will be some tactical exercises on either the chess tactics server, or chesstempo. I also like watching games played at the top level so I'll be tuning in to the games played at Nanjing (in fact, I'm watching games live now on ICC) where the top 3 in the World are all in action. The official site is in Chinese and English, but there are other places to watch the games live such as TWIC. The tournament has so far, to my mind, produced some very interesting chess and today's games are turning into rich middlegame positions in classical openings, the Spanish and the Slav. I'll also try to analyse some positions this week and get my calculation head back into gear. The last time I actually played a serious game over the board was in the Victorian Championships nearly 2 months ago. But then again, a break can freshen a player up.....can't it?

The MCC have to thank Jean Watson for her excellent design work in creating this flyer for the event. Jean is a member of both MCC and Croydon Chess Club and I can speak for everyone on the committee of MCC when we say thankyou to Jean for the work she did here, and also congratulations to both Jean and another MCC member Guy West on their recent marriage.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

MCC Endgame Group

Last night, the Endgame Group met at the MCC, and it was good to see a couple of new faces, as well as some who have been coming along for a while. As I haven't been looking at much chess for a while I decided to show some recent rook endgames that I'd seen analysed in Chess Today. But rook endgames are never that easy. I'll put up some positions that we looked at last night.

 This originally started as a rook endgame, but this is where it got interesting. This is how it is analysed by GM Alexander Baburin in Chess Today.
47.h4 The white king is more active than its counterpart, but Black's pawn structure is sound, so he should be able to hold. 47...g6?? This move weakens the f6-pawn and therefore it weakens the e5-pawn. [I would consider playing 47...h5 Then White can try 48.g3 Ke7 49.f4 exf4 50.gxf4 but after 50...g6 Black is OK: 51.Ke4 Ke6 52.f5+ gxf5+ 53.Kf4 Kd5=] 48.g4! h5 [48...h6 49.g5 hxg5 (49...fxg5 50.hxg5 h5 51.Kxe5 Ke7 52.f4 h4 53.Ke4+-) 50.hxg5 Ke7 51.f3 Kf7 52.Kd6 fxg5 53.Kxe5+-] 49.gxh5 gxh5 50.d4 exd4 51.Kxd4 Diagram # Despite limited pawn material left, White is winning: his king is still more active and he has a reserve tempo (f2-f3). 51...Kd6 52.Ke4 Ke6 53.Kf4 Ke7 54.Kf5 Kf7 55.f3 Kg7 56.Ke6 Kg6 1–0

The group eventually arrived at the same conclusions as the Grandmaster, but not without a bit of thought.

 Here, it is white to play. Can you find a winning plan and continuation for white?
This was the final position of the night, one which we used as a practical playing exercise. It is white to play and everyone in the group got the chance to play both sides of this position.

I'll give some answers to these above endgames in a couple of days. For now it's thanks to all those that came to the MCC Endgame Group last night making it a dynamic learning experience for all.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Back to Work: Back to Chess

The title makes it sound like a real grind, but when you're lucky enough to do something that you love, work is a breeze. When I came to Australia over 5 years ago, I couldn't believe my luck landing a job teaching chess. I basically get paid to preach the word about my favourite pastime! However, to start with I found it a bit tough differentiating between work and play. In other words, when I went to the chess club to play some games, it felt like I was going to work! As a result, my enjoyment of playing went down. That only lasted a short time, though and after about 6 months-1 year I was able classify my teaching as work, and my playing/studying as play.

And I'm even luckier now, as I have some top class chess books to look at over the next 6 months or even longer. I have recently found great enjoyment in the endgames, and I bought "Endgame Virtuoso Anatoly Karpov" by Karolyi and Aplin. It's a heavy tome with a lot of deep material, but thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding to play through over time. In fact, I've had such a good time with it, that I've also borrowed some other books on Karpov who is a player that I've never really studied that deeply. Karpov's great rival wa Kasparov, and in London I bought another book by Karolyi and Aplin, "Kasparov's Fighting Chess 1999-2005". While I've looked at many Kasparov games, they all seem to be from earlier periods of his play, especially the late 80's and early 90's. I am looking forward to working through these later masterpieces.

The above books are crammed full of analysis and variations, but are rather short on words, and there is nothing like reading descriptions of ideas, and accounts of events. With this in mind, I also bought in London Bareev and Levitov's "From London to Elista", the insider's accounts of Kramnik's 3 World title matches. Bareev was a second and so there promises to be some great information in this book assuming he is being candid, and of course, the analysis of the games should be good coming from a player of his quality.

Finally, I bought a biography in London. I'll give you a few clues, and you can try to guess which famous player this biography concerns:

He was born in the 20th Century.
He was champion of his country a record number of times.
He won over 100 tournamnets in his career.
He earned a doctorate at University.
He was married with children.

Hopefully someone guesses before I finish the book. :)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Last Day in Kuala Lumpur

Having not learnt by our experiences, Caroline and I decided to trek around some of the historic areas of Kuala Lumpur. So we took a train to KL Sentral which is just a short walk from the Malaysian National Museum. This was a fascinating place for me, mainly because I have such little knowledge of Malaysian and Asian history. Charting history back 200000 years, the museum tells the story of the development of Malaysia through it's various stages. The story is fascinating and whets the appetite for further study.
 Malaysian National Museum
Plenty of interesting exhibits like this fishing boat.
We then walked around the Planetarium towards the National Mosque. Unfortunately the great Mosque was closed to non-Muslims for the day, but there is still a sense of grandeur from the outside. Across from the Mosque is the KTM building and the Old KL Railway Station, both examples of nineteenth century architecture tinged with Middle Eastern and Indian influences. At this point the weather caught up with both Caroline and I and we ducked into Central market for refreshment and a rest.
 Muslim's only at the National Mosque
 The National Mosque is huge.
 KTM Building
After a rest we were able to walk a couple of blocks down to Masjid Jamek with it's amazing Mosque. This was open to the public, but strict islamic dress codes were required for entry. Caroline donned headscarf and gown to cover herself, but I wasn't prepared to do that and stayed outside. That just left us with a quiet evening in Kuala Lumpur before heading back the following day.
 Masjid Jamek
Caroline wears gown and headscarf to enter Masjid Jamek
The trip back to Melbourne was fairly eventful. There were no problems from the hotel to plane, but the fun began as we neared Melbourne. First, the estimated arrival time hadn't taken into account daylight savings time, so instead of landing 11.30pm, we actually landed at 12.30am. Then it took 45 minutes to disembark the plane due to the crew being unable to open the door. There was some talk of sick people needing to be checked upon by Melbourne health staff, but I'm guessing this was a smokescreen for the faulty door. Anyway, after that, things went pretty smoothly but we still didn't get home until well after 2am. Thankfully I didn't start work until 1pm the next day!