Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Day Trip to Oxford

I've never spent that much time in Oxford before, and was very pleased to be meeting some friends there. I was there about an hour early so went for a bit of a walk around the centre. There are some great old buildings with a rich history going back perhaps 1200 years. Besides the amazing University buildings, the museums and town houses, Oxford has a rich political and econmic history. Charles the first was based in Oxford for some time during the English Civil War of the 1640's, and of course, the Oxford Movement has recently been high in the British news as the Pope beatified John Henry Newman in his visit here last week. I met with some friends in a pub called The Jude the Obscure, named after the character from the Thomas Hardy book who perhaps may be described as the most tragic in the history of the novel.

 Old meets new in Oxford
 Bodleian Library
 Behind the Bodleian Library
 St Giles
 Ashmolean Museum
 Jude The Obscure
Oxford Castle

Monday, September 27, 2010

Trip to England Part 7: Stratford upon Avon

Royal Shakespeare Theatre, from across the River Avon
The Birthplace of the great William Shakespeare.
An early start, partly to have a full day and partly so no one would see me driving, was needed for the 2 hours drive to Shakespeare's birthplace, Stratford upon Avon. It was a very pleasane drive (actually, the whole manual driving thingy is coming back to me) through Newbury, across the Chiltern Hills, skirting Oxford and then on to Stratford. Not a lot had changed along the way and the journey was uneventful, though the speed of driving was a bit worying in places, especially the M40, where I was cut up by a transit van (nothing new happening there then).
The top of historic Sheep Street with the Town Hall at the far end.

Straford upon Avon is a beautiful old town brought to fame as the birthplace of the great bard William Shakespeare. As a result, theatre is the main trade of Stratford. There are a number of theatres around the town as well as references to famous actots. There are also links to historical figures around the town and surrounding countryside. Today I took a drive to nearby Edgehill, the scene of the first battle in the English Civil War of the 1640's.
The Garrick Inn. Shakespeare is not the only famous name remembered in Stratford.

The town itself is packed with historical buildings as well as modern architecture. Today I was lucky enough to be around at the same time as the food festival which closed many of the streets around Stratford. I was also lucky to see a group of people I hadn't seen in over 5 years. And yet again, like with my family, we just took things up as if it had been a few days. Friendship is something that doesn't need constant work, it transverses time and distance, and I am very lucky to have known so many great people over the years.

 Is your town library as beautiful as this?
 The Dirty Duck/Black Swan. Possibly the most famous pub in Stratford and within sight of the RST.
 The natural wonders are also a hit with tourists and locals, like this mute swan.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Basingstoke Chess Club

If you search a little there are some surprising things you can find out about Basingstoke. For instance, most people think of Basingstoke as a New Town mainly due to expansion in the 1950's and 1960's where a mass of London overspill moved to the town. But you can go back further than that. Thomas Hardy included Basingstoke in his Wessex in the 1870's-1890's. Nearby Basing House saw a battle in the English Civil War in the 1640's. And Basingstoke is even mentioned in Domesday Book of the 11th Century. In fact settlement perdates even that, with Roman roads running close to the ancient market town, and the remains of an even earlier iron age fort which gives testament to pre-Roman settlements in the region around the 6th Century BC.

Likewise, I was surprised to find that Basingstoke Chess Club is over 100 years old, established in 1898. It has had both up's and down's as a club (I suppose like most clubs) with varying membership numbers, though a constant group exist at the club and that ensures it's survival. Core members like Roy Ashmore (a pretty good bridge player as well), John Shaddick, and Joe French (his junior initiatives over the past 25 years have ensured that new blood keeps coming throught he doors at Basingstoke Chess Club) give the club a sense of continuity, while newer members such as Peter Beldaus (sorry Peter if you don't feel that new, I've not been at the club regularly for about 25 years!) continue the tradition of friendliness and openness that has been a part of the club since as long as I can remember.

Last night was a skittles night with the season in England only just starting here, after the summer holidays. Teams have to be arranged, memberships collected etc and players need to start finding a bit of form after the summer lay-off.
From the front, Basingstoke Chess and Bridge Club looks like an ordinary Edwardian house.
The extension on the back gives great playing facilities.
Holy Ghost Church on Sherbourne Road, the same street as Basingstoke Chess Club. The Chapel of Holy Ghost has been traced back to the 1200's, though I couldn't tell you when this present church was built.

Finally a couple of games, as best I can remember them :)

Trip to England Part 6: Basingstoke

Ok, not many people will know of Basingstoke, especially in Australia. Some claims to fame are that it was mentioned in Thomas Hardy's novels in the 1870's-1890's, Monty Python took the piss out of it as the most boring place in the World with lots of roundabouts (this is before Milton Keynes was developed), Ruth Ellis (the last woman hanged in England) and Tanita Tikaram both hale from Basingstoke.

The Lamb is the nearest pub to Queen Mary's College

After a fairly quiet morning where I drove my Mum for her health check up and then acted as chauffeur/packhorse on her weekly big shop I decided to take a slow walk to Basingstoke Town Centre. I walked past my old 6th form college, Queen Mary's (back in the days of class streaming, in elitist England, the most qualified bright sparks from all the local schools were herded together in a 6th form college and allowed a further 2 years of skiving, before they would hopefully move on to their 3 years of university indolence!). There had been quite some building and huge growth of flora around the college obscuring it from the main street, though I doubt it would have changed much.

Basingstoke is a town of old and new. Approaching the town from the south you can walk through the Memorial Park which was originally designed in the 1700's for Goldings House which no longer stands. The Southern end of the town retains a lot of its 'older' nature. Then you work your way down to the Malls which are totally modern. Completely covered, it's soul less American shopping. However, you don't have to travel far from the Malls in any direction to find the historical, or more traditional, aspects of the town.

Focal Point in the Memorial Park

The bird cage is another focal point of the Memorial Park

I then took a wander towards the cinema which now has a number of bars, restaurants and fast food places close by called Festival Place. I went into a place called Giraffe and the service was excellent, very friendly and laid back. Unfortunately, the coffee wasn't too good (it had an American filter coffee vibe), but it was a lot better than the stuff that Costa (supposedly a continental style coffee chain) served which I shall just term "indescribable". Actually I quite liked it in Giraffe, the staff's friendliness more than making up for the slightly inferior cup of coffee.

The White Hart Pub at the Northern end of the Memorial Park

St Michael's Church, a stone's throw from the Malls, and probably about 500 years old.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Trip to England Part 5: Driving and the Olympiad.

Today and to some extent tomorrow, will be fairly quiet days in Basingstoke, where I’ll be helping out my parents a bit. For instance, my Dad had a hospital check up today, and I drove him there. Now this might not sound like much to most of you, but the fact that my parents have a small manual geared car, whereas I’m used to a medium to large automatic made the episode quite a challenge. It really is unbelievable how much I’ve forgotten about driving manual cars, something that I learned when I was in England and used to be able to do without much thought. I now had to focus on using 2 feet to drive, using a clutch, finding the biting point and remembering the gear ratios. I am not a great lover of cars, like some people, so making driving easier would be high on my list of priorities in a car. Therefore, I would almost always choose an automatic to a geared car.

Tomorrow it is my Mum’s turn for a check up, so I’ll be a reluctant chauffeur again. I’ll also be heading to Basingstoke Chess Club tomorrow night which will be another blast from the past. I will also be spending some time following the fortunes of various teams at the Chess Olympiad, which started for real today. I will, of course, be checking out the English and Australian teams, the fortunes of the top teams, and my friend Jamie Kenmure who is captain of the Palau team. (Saying that, I don't see them on the start list so I'm not sure what has happened there.)

Today, most of my time watching the event was on board 1 game 1, first to see the top seeds in action, but then watching a fascinating battle between a much lower rated opponent trying to hang on to his super-GM opponent. Sam Collins used the Chebanenko Slav against Grischuk and got a solid but passive position. In the end, Grischuk could find no way through, and Sam Collins drew the game of his life. This was great for the underestimated Irish team, and as Sam Collins is a contributor to the excellent daily newspaper edited by GM's Baburin and Golubev, Chess Today, which I subscribe to, I hope to have some great material in the coming editions.

I’m going to spend some time looking through some games tonight and tomorrow. I downloaded a file of games from TWIC but it seems a bit corrupted. For example, one game is Kett (Georgia) beating Harikrishna (Thailand). In fact, Harikrishna of India beat Kett of Wales. There are also a number of part games where presumably the transmission has not been completed. But young Australian Grandmaster David Smerdon started in great style. And this helped the Australian’s to a maximum 4-0 win in the first round putting them half a point ahead of England, and Russia 1!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Trip to England Part 4

On the spur of the moment this morning I decided to go to London as a tourist, and I wrote some notes at certain times around the capital:

"If you’re thinking of travelling to London on a daytrip while staying outside the capital, make sure you have some spare cash. A ticket from Basingstoke cost 23.80 (about $50AUD). The train was punctual and comfortable which is more than I remember so that sort of appeased my shock at the price. The train went into Waterloo and if you walk out of almost any entrance of that massive terminus, it won’t be long before you see the London Eye. The Eye wasn’t there when I was last in London and I have to admit that it is pretty impressive. The Eye dominates the Southbank skyline.

However, the differences in the city seem fairly minor except for one. To me, it stinks. I’m not sure whether it was the traffic fumes or the filth from the Thames. But as I was walking along the Embankment (doesn’t that sound romantic?) from Westminster to Charing Cross, I almost felt sick from the smell. I cut North then to Trafalgar Square up Northumberland Avenue (past Scotland Yard which was looking even more sinister than ever with tarpaulin around the building shrouding it’s mysteries) and then carried on to Covent Garden where I had a coffee in a traffic free zone.

The bill at my café included a service charge which I thought was a bit cheeky for what was essentially a very average double espresso. So next I jumped the tube to Baker Street. Covent Garden is on the Picadilly Line (I never used that line much before) and I changed at King’s Cross. Baker Street is a tourist haven with Madame Tussaud’s and Sherlock Holmes. I, of course, was more interested in the chess shop on Baker Street!

From here it is a short walk south to Oxford Street (you are never far away from a Monopoly Square in central London) and where you meet the King (or should that be Queen) of shopping strips is the iconic department store, Selfridges. I had to go in….I don’t know why, I am no shopper but something seemed to drag on me…I didn’t even want to buy anything but ended up with a Selfridges bag from the foodstore/deli. One of my best memories of trips to London as a kid was the trip to Selfridge’s toy department which dominated most of a floor (4th if I remember rightly). The downside to my route was walking along Oxford Street which is a constant fight against foot traffic. Eventually I turned toward Soho down Poland Street and stopped in the Burlington Café for a snack and coffee. The coffee smelled rich and was delicious somehow merging a sort of spicy and sweet taste in a full bodied double espresso.

From Poland Street it’s a short walk to Shaftsbury Avenue where a couple of old friends brought smiles to my face. I used to drink quite often in the James Tavern on the corner of Shaftsbury Avenue and Great Windmill Street, and around the corner in Picadilly Square is my favourite statue in London, Eros. The God of love once ironically was pointing his bow directly at the Virgin Megastore which seems to have disappeared, suggesting that Eros still has some potency to despoil Virgins!

Coventry Street links Picadilly Circus to Leicester Square (did I do the whole Monopoly board today?), the whole area seems to me to be cleaner than I remember it being. However, it was no less busy than I remember and about this point I started to get fed up of the hustle and bustle of England’s capital. I caught the tube back to Waterloo and the train back to Basingstoke. All in all, I was only in London about 6 hours, and while I admit the sights and history are quite amazing, I’ve seen much of it before and the starkest change I noticed was the worsening of the residual pollution and smells.

There were a couple of things that I was intending to do that I never got around to. I was intending to carry on around to the National Portrait Gallery and take a short wander around, and then head down to that great chess venue, Simpson’s in the Strand. But I’d had enough. And if you’re wondering why I didn’t do Buckingham Palace and the Royal Gardens, then think that I’m a citizen of what should be the Republic of Australia!"
 Never mind Madame Tussaud's or Sherlock Holmes, here is the real attraction of Baker Street!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Trip to England Part 3

Since the last blog post, my time has been spent almost 100% on family meetings. I've met brothers, nieces, nephews, great nieces and nephews and extended family. Coming so soon off the flight it has been a bit exhausting, but seeing I've only got 2 weeks in England there is plaenty to pack in.

It all started on Friday evening, when I had a phone call from my brother to see if I wanted to go to the pub. To an Englishman this is an irrefusible offer, so I went off to The Portsmouth Arms doing my best zombie impersonation. It's an ok pub that does decent food and pretty good beer. I was drinking Fursty Ferret for most of the night.
Besides my brother, Jon, his wife, Angie and her son Ryan, there was Craig, my nephew and his partner, Lisa and probably others I'm missing as well. A lot of the talk was about Australia, especially seeing some people had travelled there, and those that hadn't seemed to want to.

The following day was a big family gathering. So a bad time for me to wake up at about 4am thinking it was the middle of the afternoon. I had time displacement a couple of times when I travelled to Australia originally, and my jetlag was awful then. Well, althugh the jetlag isn't bad, I couldn't get back to sleep for a long while and hit the family gathering on little sleep. It was amazing to see the differences in the younger members of the family, 5 years is along time in the life of the kids. And I was even treated to seeing a new member of the family, my 4 year old grand-niece Ruby. Again, things went as if I'd hardly left and it was all very comfortable.

A very shy 4 year old Ruby, with her mum, my niece, Vanya.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

England Trip Part 2

Well, I eventually got to England after an agonising 13 hour and 45 minute flight from Kuala Lumpur in cramped conditions with barely adequate service. I don't think I'll be flying Air Asia long haul again. I then made the mistake of packing my UK passport in my min luggage and having o travel through customs as an Australian citizen. The foreign national queue took abot an hour longer to get through customs than the UK/EC passport holders. But finally I got through and met up with my brother and his wife, Jon and Angie, who were there to pick me up.

The only observation on the way to my family's place was the amount of traffic on the roads which is much busier than in Australia. It was amazing to see my parents again for the first time in over 5 years, but I couldn't stay awake that much longer and crashed out for the night.

That first night I had a good 8-9 hours solid sleep and woke refreshed. I decided in the morning to take a walk to the town centre of Basingstoke to see what had changed in the time I'd gone. The walk from my parent's house to town is a couple of kilometres and hadn't changed at all. As I got closer to the town I passed through some of the older parts of the towns which are pretty quaint.
This lovely old building is called "Laarsen's Bar" but when I last it, it was a fairly rough pub called "The Three Feathers"

The older part of the town is really quaint, and there are still some shops that I remember from when I was last actually living in Basingstoke about 25 years ago. From Laarsen's Bar in the above picture, if you walk down the hill you come to a completely covered area (it didn't used to be) like a shopping mall. For me this has taken some of the character away from the town, but I suppose Basingstoke could be seen as a modern shopping town now. I did have an espresso and it wasn't as bad as I expected, still a bit weak though. I'm not sure how, but somewhere in the mall I must have twisted my ankle (probably looking in every direction but the one I was walking) so I got a bus back to my parent's.

In Australia I miss virtually nothing of the UK. It has been great to see my family here, people always being the most vivid memories of any move from any area (check your nostalgia button and see what the vivid memories are linked with and I'm guessing most of them will be associated with doing things with people). But a couple of things we don't get in Australia that I immediately latched onto are the breakfast cereal "Shreddies", and "Walkers Cheese and Onion Crisps".

Is this the best Cheese and Onion crisp in the World?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Trip to England Part 1

I wrote this in Kuala Lumpur where I had a 5 hour stop over.

"It’s been a while since I’ve flown long haul, and the last time I was spoilt by the excellent service of Cathay Pacific. That was over 5 years ago when I emigrated to Australia. I am now flying back to England to visit relatives, and I am travelling on the less lucrative, but incredibly cheap Air Asia. You do get what you pay for! Air Asia are using airbus rather than the more spacious 747’s of Cathay and there is no in flight entertainment. There is also a bare basic food service which you have to pre-order. Everything is aimed at cutting the price and getting people to places at affordable rates. It isn’t comfortable, it isn’t great, but it is value for money. Of course, the best the consumer can hope for is that the other airlines start to bring down prices in response, because I would happily fly Cathay or Singapore, or Malaysia long haul if they were just a couple hundred dollars cheaper.

The flight itself was no hassles and the ground staff were really helpful. At Kuala Lumpur I had to fill in arrival documentation, pick up my baggage and go through customs. Then I had to re-enter through departures. It would have made my life a whole lot easier if I could have gone through transit. Another annoying thing was the lack of wifi at KL, with the airport guarding their network. I suppose I could have gone into McDonalds, but I haven’t quite got that desperate yet. The good thing is that my phone works in Malaysia, so I’m guessing it will work in the UK too.

My first reaction when I got off the plane (and it was a bit of a walk to the terminal) was OMG, warmth!! It has been a cold winter in Melbourne this year, so to experience 25C at 7.30am was a shock. I had to take off my fleece, and change into my sandals. My feet will freeze when I sample a Stansted September evening.

One embarrassing thing about this trip is that I have no foreign currency and have absolutely no idea how much the Malaysian currency is worth. At KL airport, I needed a drink so I went to an ATM, put in my visa card, and then had no idea what was a reasonable amount to get out. Anyway, I think I might have enough left over for my 4 days here on the way back. Another bizarre thing that I do when I travel is not to change the time on my watch or phone, but I keep it at my home town time. If you have appointments it can be a bit risky, but when you’re on holiday I don’t believe you should be a slave to time. And if you really need to know the time, there are usually plenty of clocks around the place, and you can always ask someone."

Air Asia use airbus rather than Jumbo which is cheaper, but less comfortable.

The hustle and bustle at Kuala Lumpur Airport.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Serendipity, Synchronicity and Coincidence.

Three long words for the title of a blog post!

Serendipity is defined as "a propensity for making fortunate discoveries while looking for something unrelated" in Wikipedia.

Synchronicity is "the experience of two or more events that are apparently causally unrelated occurring together in a meaningful manner" according to Wikipedia.

Coincidence is defeined as "a chance occurrence of events remarkable either for being simultaneous or for apparently being connected" by the free online dictionary.

Now I'm not particularly sure of the differences between the three terms above but I was wondering whether there may be some chess scenario's that could be discribed by the 3 terms.

For example, I remember playing a game of chess against James Morris and both of us aiming for a similar position that James described as an English opening and I rationalised as a Sicilian. I wonder if transpositional ideas can be described by either of the 3 words above?

Last week I was thinking of some variations that I could look at with some of my students, and while looking through a recent TWIC I noticed a mainline of the 2 Knights opening where White retreats his knight on g5 to h3 rather than f3. I did some research and spent some time looking at some ideas and had planned to look at a game played by Fischer.

About 2 days later, this variation is analysed in depth by Yasser Seirawan on the excellent ChessCafe site. Are there elements of Serendipity, Synchronicity or Coincidence happening here?

The same sort of thing has happened numerous times when I've been preparing material for the MCC Endgame Group. I have selected some material and then seen it analysed shortly after, often by Alexander Baburin in his fantastic daily newspaper, Chess Today and sometimes, even by Karsten Muller in his articles at Chess Cafe. The most noatble of these was when we were looking at an endgame played by one of our members, Frank Lekkas, in an ending of Rook and pawn versus bishop and 2 pawns. We linked into this the ending of Rook and pawn versus bishop and pawn and looked at a game from late last year won by Kramnik.

In May of 2010, shortly after we had examined this ending in some depth, GM Karsten Muller wrote an article about it in Chess Cafe (check the archives section to find it).

So Serendipity, Synchronicity, Coincidence? Or has too much chess study scrambled my brains?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

MCC Endgame Group 8/9/2010

Every Wednesday at the Melbourne Chess Club, a group of players have met to discuss and practice endgames. I have been bringing some endgames as a starting point for the discussions and then we usually try to play out some endgames. For instance, tonight the main talking point was the recent endgame played between Shirov and Wang Yue at the Shanghai Masters that finished with the ever popular Rook and Bishop v Rook without pawns.

Have a look at the endgame from where we started:

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Coffee in Lygon Street

I had another Sunday with little to do, so I jumped in the car and drove without much idea where to go. I turned the radio to Triple M and heard that Carlton were playing footy away to Sydney so I decided to head to Lygon Street. Lygon Street is the centrepiece of the predominantly Italian suburb of Carlton just North of Melbourne CBD. It is a fantastic eating strip with loads of great Italian restaurants, as well as a mix of pubs, cafes, gelateria's and other types of cuisine.

After a bit of a walk up and down the street to check out where was busy and where was not (it was Father's Day after all) I found a place I had never noticed before so decided to give it a try. Seasons Provedore is a cafe full of sweet things on display, mouth watering cakes and chocolates as well as a big sign on the front inviting you to try their pancakes. It is situated on the West side of Lygon Street just south of Grattan Street, tucked neatly between the ultra popular Gelatissimo ice cream parlour, and the ultra expensive Borsari Restaurant. You have your choice of breakfast's and lunches but it's the sweets that are most tempting and I couldn't resist the apple crumble with my long black.

The crumble was generously spiced with cinnamon and interestingly finished with oats and pistacchio's, and the whole thing worked beautifully. The long black had a beautiful flavour, sort of caramel and without a bitterness to it. At moments I was unsure of the consistency of the coffee, as it seemed a bit thin, but it must have been my imagination as it held it's body to the end.

Like many people, I love going to Lygon Street to dine, talk, watch the people and cars and I would happily go back to Seasons Provedore :)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Victorian Teams Championship Round 4

On Tuesday 31st August, the MCC second team hosted Elwood Chess Club. Elwood turned up with a strong team outrating us on every board. The first game to finish was on board 2 where we had to forfeit as I couldn't find a fourth player for the night. But then our board 4, Victor Kildisas scored a draw against Doug Lindberg, getting us on the board. That left 2 games going, David beaumont was worse against Kerry Stead, and I was worse against Igor Goldenberg. At around the same time David sacked/lost a piece and I sacked/lost a pawn! We both fought on to the end showing our team spirit, but in the end both lost (though my game should have been drawn and I was pretty gutted by my final blunder) and Elwood CC were 3.5-0.5 winners.

The result means that we've jumped from a leader to a tailender over the space of 2 rounds. However, the division is incredibly close.

1. Noble Park CC, Yarra CC 6 points
3. Box Hill CC, Canterbury Juniors 5 points
5. MCC2, Elwood 4 points
7. MCC1 3 points

With only one win between first and last and 3 matches still to play, any team could win this contest. However, if I continue to make blunders like I did against Igor, then it won't be my team. This ending was deeply scrutinised by FM Bill Jordan the following night during the MCC Endgame Study Group with the conclusion that it should have been a solid draw.