Monday, January 31, 2011

Get Fit Keep Fit

For many people a New year's resolution is to exercise in some form or other. People join gyms, buy bikes, join dance or yoga groups, start swimming, walking or running or doing whatever they feel like to get fit. It is a good cause for all people, and I was pleasantly surprised to see an article on just that topic in relation to chess. As a non physical sport, chess players can become lazy about physical fitness but as the author of the article says in summary

"You may be wondering how all this is related to your chess. But think about it. When you feel healthy, full of life and in spiritual upheaval, the four main emotional attributes of self-confidence, experience, concentration and adaptability strongly come to the fore. When your body and mind are in perfect shape, so will your chess."

Check out the whole article here.

So let me take myself as a case study. Some 10 years ago I was running 3 times a week between 25 and 40 minutes, and playing 5 a side soccer once a week. I was a non smoker, and drank a moderate amount of alcohol, perhaps 6-10 units a week. But soon after this I started smoking again ( a habit I picked up fairly young, but which I stopped in my early 30's) and stopped running. I still didn't drink much but I lost my level of fitness.

Now I am 44, overweight and unfit and it is time to do something about it. I have always enjoyed running, so I started this week on a plan that I found on the internet. I did something similar the last time I started but the cool running plan seems good and gives me a goal to follow. I also intend to use my wife's Wii fitness program, mainly for stretching and balance exercises. I could do these myself and there are plenty of sites to help out, such as this one.

The main thing is to have a goal in mind, and then the fitness doesn't seem quite so painful (and believe me, my first running session sent me dizzy and left me disoriented for a bit as well as leaving me with aching muscles). My goal is a combination of weight loss and the self esteem that comes from being able to run for a 30-45 minute session. I am giving myself 6 months to achieve these 2 goals and by setting a time frame I am focussing my efforts and staying positively minded.

I'll keep this blog updated about my fitness regime, but for now, I'm going to curl up and wait for the aches to stop!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Australia Day 2011

I've lived in Australia for 6 years, and I've been a citizen for close to 3 years, but in that time, I don't think I've spent Australia Day public holiday off work at the same time as my wife Caroline. So I took the day off chess and we went to the Domain Gardens in Melbourne to check out the open day at Government House and then wander through King's Domain to the city. Our timing couldn't have been better as we arrived at the Shrine of Remembrance at midday to the fanfare of a 21 gun salute.

Smoke rises from the guns before the shrine of Remembrance

It's a short walk across to Government House which opens its gates to the public every Australia Day. I was surprised how popular the open day was, as masses of people went through the gates with us. The state residence of the Governor General is typically lavish, both outside and inside. The lawns and gardens elegantly surround the palatial interior which houses beautiful furniture and art. The republican side of me wonders about the opulence and inferred deference to the British Monarchy. But from a purely artistic point of view, Government House is splendid.

Melbourne's Government House

The Rotary Club put on a picnic on the lawns of Government House so we availed ourself of the stereotypical Aussie sausage sizzle before heading into Melbourne CBD through King's Domain. The park was full of activity, food stalls, kids activities, exhibitions and community groups providing information. There was a rally of vintage cars that took me back to the days when I lived in Coventry which has its annual Coventry to Stratford vintage car run.

Lovingly preserved. The RACV vintage car exhibition in King's Domain.

Caroline and I then wandered into Melbourne CBD past a wood chopping event (do they really use chain saws?) and finally succumbed to a coffee in Degraves Street, between Finders Street and Little Flinders Street. We went to The Quarter for a coffee that was rich but not too strong. The long black was very enjoyable in the European feel surroundings, with plenty of wooden decor and photo's of European (mainly Mediterranean) scenes on the walls.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Australian Junior Championship Diary 5

As the tournament reached its final stages, so the preparation became more intense and the workload seemed to get higher. And although none of the kids I was coaching won any titles, they all performed in excess of the expectations. One of the key aspects in making this happen is setting goals and targets which are challenging but attainable. These goals can be set as a target score, or a target rating performance, though for each of my students it was a target score.

Giant Chess Set is very popular at the Party in the Park

Actually, I wasn't at the Championships today, I was at a 'Party in the Park' event in my home city of Glen Eira. It was a beautiful day to be playing and teaching chess in a park, though maybe it got a bit too hot at times (top temp of 29C). The event features a range of things from food stalls, to kids activities (bouncy castles, mini golf etc) and community and craft stalls with information and activities. Having a chess stall is a great way to promote chess, and while doing it you can meet some people.

Like for instance Phil from New York who likes an occasional game of chess and hot Indian food. We didn't actually play a game of chess but we did swap our favourite Indian restaurants in the area, and talked about chess in Washington Square Gardens in New York where open air chess is played. There was also a lovely lady called Mary Anne whose Father's birthday was today. Coincidentally my Mum's birthday is today, and that was all that was needed to start up a conversation that had nothing to do with chess at all, but more to do with the history of Melbourne.

Maybe not Washington square Garden's in New York, but still open air chess!

But saying that, there are plenty of people who want to play, or even learn. The youngest I tried to teach today was a 4 year old, but there were plenty of adults as well as kids having a go. And there are always a couple of fairly good players turning up and challenging me at these type of events. If you fancy having a crack, I'll be at the next Party in the park in 2 weeks time in Allnutt Park in Bentleigh.

The giant chess set is fun for all ages.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Australian Junior Championship Diary 4

Day 5 of the Championship 19/01/2011

Today a set of new tournaments started for under 12's and under 14's. while the under 16's and under 18's continued their events. Funnily enough, the strongest of all these new events is the under 12 boys tournament which probably has the largest number of players of all tournaments. The girls events have been combined, so that means all girls events have doubled up this year, which is a little disappointing, though the lack of girls in tournament chess in Australia is well known to players and organisers. Of course, how to change this situation is something we'd all like to find the answer to, but it doesn't look to be happening in the immediate future.

Chess Coaching at the Australian Juniors....what does it entail? Well it varies depending on the level of the player. There will be a level of preparation for each student. However, if your student is perhaps 1800 rated and playing in the Under-18's, they may need a different level of preparation from an unrated 6 year old playing their first long play tournament. There may also be some general coaching. For instance, I usually make my students work on some tactical exercises each day, and often these will be themed based on something that happened in one of their games. Of course, coaches also have to help their students deal with the elation of great victories, and the deflation of losses as well as suggesting good dietary and lifestyle behaviour during the event.

But perhaps the biggest interaction between a student and coach is post game analysis. Here a coach assesses a player's game, pointing out the good, the bad and the ugly and trying to correct the students thought processes, and point out alternative moves and plans. Here's an example of the end to an analysis session I had today with one of my under 14 students. Consider the following position:

Leading up to this position, white had basically been moving pieces back and forth (eg Bc2-b1-c2 etc) waiting for black (my student) to find a winning plan. Black had previously tried to penetrate with his rook on the a-file, but thought this wasn't getting him anywhere. But the most interesting point was that my student, as black thought the position was fairly even. We then talked about good bishops and bad bishops, about positions with all rooks exchanged, one pair of rooks exchanged, and how black's king can penetrate to e5. We looked at the pawns and agreed that white's were easier to attack, the king side ones especially look vulnerable. So in the end, I think my student agreed that he was positionally winning, and would possibly do things differently to the way he played in the game. 1..Rh3 [to which I thought he may be planning 2..Rh4 intending 3.Rf4 Re2 taking control of the seventh. But no, my student was intending a swift checkmate!] 2.Bb1 [Continuing the policy of "if I do nothing, what can you do?"] 2..Ree3 3.Bc2? Reg3+! ["If you continue to do nothing, I will checkmate you!"] 4.hxg3 Rh1#

A very nice checkmate for a player rated below 1000, and well worked out. And besides getting a good win in the National Junior Championships, hopefully my student will have learned some positional ideas from this game and will consider other ways to win games in similar positions where checkmates aren't possible or the opponent isn't quite so laid back about allowing them.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Australian Junior Championship Diary 3

The new shorter format of the Australian Junior tournament means that after just 3 days we already have some age group champions. So congratulations go out to all the under-10 players who tried their hardest, and played their best, but especially to the winners:

Under 8: Kevin Willathgamuwa
Under 10: David Cannon
Under 8 Girls: Jody Middleton
Under 10 Girls: Denali Durden

The play in all of these was fiercely competitive but the under 10 championship was a particularly tough field so many congratulations to David Canon. All these tournaments were played with 3 games a day over 3 days, so it became somewhat of a battle of endurance for these youngsters.

Here are a few interesting positions from the first couple of days.

Defending Champion, Bobby Cheng, in the first round as white here played the stunning 21.Nf5!

Black is a piece up against higher rated opposition, but there are threats to the king. So what should black play? 29..Kh8 threatening 30..Rf5 looks ok. Black unfortunately threw away the chance of an upset by playing 29..Kg7? running into 30.f6+ when to prevent mate, he must give up a rook.
In the under 16 Championships, 2 of the top rated players met in round 2. Alastair Cameron as white has a comfortable position against Nathan Hibberd and has a number of good candidate moves, though he couldn't resist playing 17.Nexg5 and after an almost forced sequence of 17..hxg5 18.h6 Bh8 19.h7+ Kg7 20.Rh5 f5 21.exf5, the following position was reached, where black has a choice of 3 captures on f6.
 The post mortem analysis suggested that white has good chances whatever black chooses, but 21..Kxf6 is the most tenacious. Black is under a lot of pressure and will have to defend accurately, but there is no knock out blow. However, black played 21..Rxf6 [21..Qxf6 loses to 22.Rxg5+ Kf7 23.Ne5+ Ke8 24.Rg8 Kd8 and now both 25.Qa3 and 25.Ng6 are both winning] 22.Rxg5+ Kf7 23.Rg8 with a winning position. The threat of 24.Ne5 is just too strong.
And just because I love endgames, I couldn't help but put the following position in which was reached in a game in the under 10's championship. White to move actually played 50.a5 following the dictate that "passed pawns must be pushed", but forgetting that "free pawns may be taken"! After 50.Rxh4 white would be winning because the black king is cut off along the rank behind white's pawn, while black's rook currently doesn't have checking distance. Never mind, the result turned out the right way, and white still won this game although theoretically it is a draw after 50.a5!

Tomorrow is a rest day from the main events while the ever popular lightning tournaments, and the problem solving take centre stage.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Australian Junior Championship Diary 2

Day 2 of the Championship 16/01/2011

Still no internet access at the site for me, so the blog is happening from home after each day. Today I arrived after having downloaded the games from the  tournament site, but when I opened them up there weren't many games. It seems that not too many of the kids recorded their games on the computer terminals provided, so I volunteered to upload some games, and some others also joined the fun. I seem to remember a previous tournament having a neat handwriting prize, and I think that should be re-introduced!

Anyway, what with uploading games and analysing some games of my students, the first half of the day seemed to disappear, and with few games to look at from the event I haven't seen much chess content outside my students games (and a couple of games from Wijk aan Zee, though that doesn't seem as important as the tournament I'm involved with at the moment!). So I was walking around the venue when it suddenly struck me that there must be quite a few ex-Australian Junior Champions hanging around as coaches, organisers, visitors or maybe even parents. So I went to look for some...

While the current Australian Junior Champion is actually defending his title, Zong Yuan Zhao was the most recent champion (2001) I could find. The very approachable current Australian number 1 ranked played is part of the New South Wales team here, and as can be seen by the photo, he lives on a healthy diet of yogurt and Victorian blood!

The 1997 Junior Champion was Geoff Saw, inspirational coach of some of Victoria's most talented current junior chess players and the man behind Darkhorse Chess Club.

David Cordover was the 1996 champion and is now the director of a successful chess company, Chesskids.

You'll be hard pressed to find an honour board in Australia without Ian Rogers name on it...Australian Junior Champion 1976, Australian Champion 4 times, and Ice lolly speed eating Champion.....

My apologies go to Stephen Solomon (Australian Junior Champion 1980) and Daryl Johansen (Australian Junior Champion 1977) whose pictures have been in my blog before, and to IM's Robert Jamieson and Guy West who I assumed wrongly had been champions in the past, and then put my foot in it by asking them! You can find a list of champions on the Australian Chess federation's website, along with other Australian Champions.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Australian Junior Championship Diary

Day 1: 15/01/2011

My home state of Victoria is hosting the National Junior Championships in the beautiful rural setting of Billanook College, about 45 minutes to an hours drive east of the centre of Melbourne. The tournament has changed format from previous years. What used to be a 2 week event has been fitted into 9 days starting on a Saturday and finishing on a Sunday. This will mean only one week of holiday is required for families who travel with their children to the event. The tournament has also split into more sections. Previously there was just 2 tournaments for under 18 and under 12's with the other age groups such as under 14 and under 16, under 10's and under 8's competing with older kids. Now each 2 year division has its own section, with the only proviso being that there must be enough children for that age group or it will be joined to another.

Of all the boys sections it looks as if there will be enough children for each section to be seperately run. In the girls divisions the under 18 and under 16 groups have been joined, as have the under 10 and 8 sections. Saying that, it looks as if this is the largest Australian Junior Championships in terms of participation on record, a fine effort by the organising team. And the sections are all incredibly competitive with some great Australian Junior talent on show, and of course some great talents of the future waiting to be unveiled.

 The main auditorium begins to fill for the opening ceremony

Chief Organiser Yew Sze Lim speaks at the opening ceremony thanking sponsors and introducing dignitaries such as (sitting right to left) Chief Arbiter Charles Zworestine, ACF President Gary Wastell, Chess Victoria President Leonid Sandler, and Billanook College representative, Robert Oakes, Principal of the College.

A star of the future? William Maligin looking happy after holding the second highest rated player in his section to a draw. Not bad for William's first long play event.

Monday, January 3, 2011

An Interesting Endgame

I play on GameKnot mainly to work on my openings and have some fun. But the last game I finished had an incredibly interesting endgame which I have tried to analyse. The start position was:

I was black and it was my move. The question that must be asked is who is better? At the time, I felt happy with black trusting that the bishop would work well in this position with pawns on both sides of the board. However, after analysing I think white is close to winning.

After a couple of moves the game had moved forward. I felt that black had good chances here, but it seems the position is roughly level. So this is probably the second time I overestimated my position in just a couple of moves.
It was a round here that I realised that I had to be careful and that white had a dangerous queen side initiative.

The full analysis follows in the pgn viewer, but if anyone has any ideas or variations that can change any evaluations, then please pass them on. My analysis has not made use of a computer, so it would be interesting to see any strong engine analysis.

Sunday, January 2, 2011


To the North of Melbourne, in the suburb of Eltham is the artists colony of Montsalvat. Named after the legendary home of the Holy Grail, Montsalvat was founded in the 1930's by the artist Justus Jorgenson, and the name Jorgenson stills resonates around the area. Today , for instance, we saw an exhibition of paintings and drawings by Michael Jorgenson, taken on his travels over the past 50 years. Besides paintings of areas of Australia, there were many of European spots which brought back some memories as places we've visited before.

The magnificent Great Hall of Montsalvat

Montsalvat has a rich history itself and is an architectural dream, reminding me in its ethos of Portmeirion village, made famous by the TV series, The Prisoner. It is a living artists colony, with studios, galleries, a restaurant and beautiful architecture all housed within the grounds. Today, there are all sorts of artists working there, from painters and sculptors, to jewellers, musicians and more unusual art forms such as guitar making, violin and flute making and wine making.

You never know who you'll meet in this magical place!

For visitors it is a treat to walk around the gardens and buildings, see exhibitions, and working spaces, and even the odd peacock that roam around the grounds. There is a small entry fee that I was happy to pay knowing that it would go to help upkeep this excellent place.

 Montsalvat has its own chapel.

 Through a beautiful arch, a view of an artists workshop

Back view of the Great Hall and surrounding complex.