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!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Stopover in Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur

 The Petronas Towers Kuala Lumpur

I arrived late afternoon after a good flight. The service on my Air Asia flight was excellent and I had an empty seat next to me making things that little bit more comfortable. Getting from the plane to a taxi was a breeze (customs and baggage was quick) and the ride to KL was easy enough besides the distance (an hour). It was only the last mile that was really busy, and this added a half hour to the journey.

The hotel I'm staying in is very close to the Petronas Towers (the largest twin tower blocks in the world) and after meeting with Caroline we took a short walk around the towers. However, I was pretty tired after the 12-hour flight, so we went to bed early.
 KL Central Market
The first full day started early with breakfast in the hotel and then a train ride to Pasar Seni and a walk around Central Market and Chinatown. The market goes back to the 1880's and has been redeveloped a few times, while in the 1970's a heritage group had to save the market from being demolished. Both Chinatown and the market are amazing, but quite in your face, though great for some time out. Back to the hotel in the afternoon and then a walk around the Golden Triangle district of KL. Navigation around KL is accomplished by moving from hotel to hotel, and looking up for landmark tall buildings. Pedestrians need to use the crossings because driving is mad here. For anyone who has been to Europe, imagine everyone driving around Paris on amphetamines. I have no idea how many lanes there are and I think that it's insignificant in the mind of the average Malaysian driver!

Day 2

Early morning and it's hot, hotter than yesterday. Caroline has her cmera ready for some good quality photo's and after breakfast we took a walk around the Petronas Towers towards Bukit Bintang. The walk was draining in the oppressive heat and humidity. We wait for some repreieve from the stifling weather as thunderstorms are forecast for the afternoon. A drink was needed so we stopped at U-Cafe below the labyrinthine Sengei Wang shopping centre. The Segafredo coffee they served was the best I've had since leaving Melbourne, full bodied and with a delicate flavour.
 Try U-Cafe for a good coffee
Lemon and Mint, a most refreshing drink

We walked around Sengei Wang, all 6 floors, which is a shoppers paradise and a cool haven on a hot day. But at last it was time to venture forth so bolstered by a lemon and mint real fruit drink (an absolutely fantastic combination, one of the most refreshing drinks I've ever had) we walked in the general direction of the KL Tower. Even so, the heat and humidity was too much and we had to duck into another mall along the way (this was about full time in the Grand Final Replay, c'mon Saints). Some excitement along the way was a police escorted cavalcade with someone obviously important in the convoy (no numberplate on the main car). I didn't get a photo, I didn't dare the way the police were eyeballing everyone.

 The KL Tower
 Carl and Caroline and the Petronas Towers