Thursday, January 31, 2013

Critical Chess Observations

Time for some Grumpy Old Man Moments
(I've just read this blog post before publishing it, and wonder if I'm beginning to suffer from Victor Meldrew Syndrome)

I try to keep this blog as positive as I can, but let's get real, we don't live in a perfect world. So it's time to look at some issues that I've noticed in chess recently. So, starting with the Australian Junior Championships that just recently finished on the Gold Coast I couldn't help but wonder about both the quality of the fields, and the number of players in the event as a whole. Talking just about the numbers, compared to the event 12 months before in Melbourne which had 276 entries, this year's 2013 Championships had 224 entries, a drop of about 50 kids. Now there may be a number of reasons for this, but really someone should be asking the question of why this is so, and if there is anything that be done about it. As expected the majority of players in the tournament were from Queensland, but then surprisingly there weren't too many player from nearby New South Wales. I'm not the only one wondering about this. IM Alex Wohl said pretty much the same thing on his excellent blog.

On to quality. This year's under 18 Championship seemed a little stronger than last year's which is definitely a good thing, but when we look at the list of the top under 18's in Australia, only 5 of the top 20 were playing (note that Yi Yuan seems to be missing from the top under 18 list though he would be in it) and Oscar Wang played in the under 16 event. While Gene is a worthy Champion, shouldn't we be trying to maximise elite players in this event? I don't have a solution for this, but the issue needs raising. None of the top 10 under 14's competed in their age group, though it was good to see Michael Kethro and Jack Puccini take up the challenge at the under 18 level. At the lower age groups, the quality is pretty good, so the question is how to keep players coming back to the event in their senior years (and of course, the numbers participating in younger age groups is far greater than at the older age groups).

Moving on to the girls, there seems to be no thought as to how to improve these events. In fact, I heard the suggestion that the girls events be scrapped and girls play for the titles within the open section. I would fully support this, but I have my doubts that I'm in the majority. There was some frustration after the under 18's, 16's and 14's were merged into one tournament and some of the girls had to play with a time control that hadn't been advertised for their section. As it was the older girls dropped from 90 + 30 to 60 + 30 which is what the under 14's were scheduled to play at, and not many of the older girls, nor their parents, were happy with this change. To add insult to injury, they found out about this change after the appointed time for the round to start, so there wasn't really any time for discussion, or communication, or an apology, just a decision and let's get on with it! It's little wonder that girls don't really want to play in this event if their treatment is inferior to that of the open competitors. Only 1 of the top 10 rated girls in the country competed in Queensland and 39 in total compared to 46 the year before. Of course, the girls are firmly put in their place below the boys by the fact that their prize money is lower at every level. Now personally I'm not a fan of prize money at junior events, but if there is going to be prize money, why is one age group champion worth more than another? This is blatantly chauvinistic and unfair, however it is dressed up.

I have 2 final criticisms of the Championship. First, the entries list on the official tournament webpage was a bit clumsy, showing all competitors in one big long list in alphabetic order. Assigning entries by rating, and/or by the section they were playing in would have made that page more useful. Once tornelo started to be used to manage the data things were much clearer, so perhaps future organisers should look at employing a data entry program like tornelo or swissperfect that can do this job. Secondly, there was a play off needed for the under 12's where 4 players came =1st on 7/9. Now to my thinking, all 4 should have played in that, but only 2 went forward. If I was David Cannon (especially him because his tie break looked just as good as Denny Han's's), or Brendan Pierotti, or their parents, I'd be pretty aggrieved that 2 players went forward into the play off's that had tied with 2 players who were eliminated on tie break. If there are to be play offs, especially in junior events, shouldn't all players finishing on the same score be entitled to a chance at that play off? Otherwise, what really is the point when the various tie break systems can find us a winner?

Ok enough about the Junior Championship at which I really had a good time. Let's talk about FIDE's new proposal requiring licensing of players with their national federations. To be honest, I'm completely blown away by some of these ideas, and I will almost certainly give up FIDE rated chess if they go ahead. It appears to be overly bureaucratic and will become costly for both organisers and players. In fact, if I opted out of the FIDE system, but then played in a tournament which was FIDE rated, it could cost the organisers 50 Euros in fines! I am not happy about divulging private information about myself to a national chess federation (especially my passport number) and not happy to pay extra for the privilege of having my games rated in the international lists (actually I'm not happy about having to pay twice to have my games rated in both national and international lists!).

Of course, if there are others like me (perhaps many others) what will clubs do about their events? There are 3 FIDE rated club tournaments starting in Melbourne next week at Box Hill Chess Club, Noble Park Chess Club and Melbourne Chess Club. Will these clubs continue to FIDE rate their tournaments (Noble Park and MCC FIDE rate all their longplay events) even if it means a drop in numbers? I am eagerly following this issue and will come back to it in the future, no doubt.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Australian Junior Championships: The Winners

I am finally over the problems that I encountered leaving this event and travelling home, and I apologise for not getting this final report on the championships out sooner. In my opinion there was some good and some not too good to come out of the Championships, but that is probably the case with all tournaments. I'll start with the good, but this is all just my own opinion, so don't think I'm stating any official position here.

The venue wasn't spectacular (last time I was in Queensland the juniors shared a luxurious hotel with the senior championship!) but was more than adequate for the event. I've played in many sports halls for chess events, and always found them fairly comfortable. The surroundings of Bond University were pleasant, and there was plenty of safe outside space for kids to play in, though I'm not sure how many took advantage of this. The tournament was organised well by Andrew FitzPatrick and Gardiner Chess, and events ran more or less smoothly. The Tornelo management software worked well and enabled quick upload of games and results. The players conducted themselves well, and generally put their whole effort into each game. The competitiveness of each section can be seen by the fact that only one age group division (under 10's) was decided before the last round.

So a big congratulations to the winners. In the under 18's Gene Nakauchi was really the stand out and worthy winner of the event after his good showing in the Australian Open earlier in January. I think it was at Ballarat last year that IM Stephen Solomon told me in passing that Nakauchi was about to break through in a big way. It seems Stephen's prediction was right! In the under 16 top seed Oscar Wang found himself under pressure early, but fought back with an impressive run scoring 6.5/7 at the end of the tournament to overtake Punala Kiripitige and win this section. The under 14 was all about the Willthgamuwa brothers moving up divisions and much talk was whether either could win (many thought one of them would). But both were pushed back by Tom Maguire who gave away just 2 draws to win the title on an impressive 8/9. The under 12's was (predictably) the most competitive section ending in a 4 way tie for first. The play off was won, perhaps surprisingly, by Kerry Lin. I say 'surprisingly' because Kerry had only managed to finish =9th in the under 10's which was won convincingly by Kevin Willathgamuwa with a round to spare. The under 8's was also won convincingly by Christopher Lim, who also moved up to compete in the under 12 event where he finished on half points, a very good performance for a 6 year old!

The girls events were bundled into 2 divisions and the titles went to Nicole Chin (under 18), Zhi Lin Guo (under 16), Chloe Chin (under 14), Fiona Shen (under 12), Emily Lin (under 10) and Kamryn Durden (under 8). All the results are available on the tournament website.

The effort by all the players was excellent as there were some pretty grueling schedules and they managed to upload their games (965) after playing them. The coaches were working flat out to help their students, either with technical advice or moral support. My favourite coaches moment was sitting near to Jim Cannon who was working with some under 8 girls and having them in hysterical laughter over something or other. Good work Jim, let's make the game fun first and produce winners once the kids love the game!

Actually, that's left me in such a good mood that I'm going to leave the critical parts of this report till a later blog post. Congratulations to all players who put in such a great effort, and especially to the new Champions.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Travel Tips for those getting home from extreme Weather Affected Regions

The first and most important tip is don't expect anything to go your way. If you expect the worst, then you probably won't be disappointed and will manage difficult situations better.

The second tip is don't let your frustrations get the better of you. Getting angry only really wears you down more, and people are more likely to be responsive and helpful if you are calm and polite.

The third tip is try to laugh and keep your spirits high. It is easy to get stressed and upset, though the situation is really out of your control so not your fault. High stress levels are a serious health hazard and will also affect one's judgement, thought processes and energy levels, all of which will be needed in good supply during these types of extreme situations.

Extreme Queensland Floods: This is already becoming an iconic image of this year's disaster, courtesy of 7news

Case Study:

Travelling Virgin Australia from Gold Coast, Queensland to Melbourne, Victoria while Tropical Cyclone Oswald makes its way down the length of Queensland.

I was due to fly back from Gold Coast, Coolangatta Airport on Sunday 27th January, but a major cyclone blew into the region in the south east of Queensland sometime on Friday and by Sunday there was plenty of rain affecting the whole area. We'd seen and heard on the news of flooding to the north, where the cyclone was coming from and were on edge as to whether we would be able to fly home that day. However, it was still a bit disappointing when the call finally came to us from Virgin Australia that our flight had been cancelled (when I say we, there were a lot of families in the group I was with and many worked together to try and help each other out).

At this point contingency plans start to be looked at. So, was it possible to transfer to the bigger neighbouring airport at Brisbane, or was it possible to hire a car and drive, or would it be necessary to sit tight in a hotel and wait for the storm to pass? As the drive home involved 2 full days of driving, and no one wanted to stay any longer than necessary, the plan was to transfer the booking to Brisbane. A phone call from one of our group to her son in Melbourne had him waiting on the line to the Virgin call centre (no doubt everybody else affected had the same idea, as he was on hold for the best part of an hour) and eventually he managed to get a big group of us booked on to a flight leaving Brisbane on the 27th at 7pm. We were told we would have to make our own way to Brisbane, though in fact we later found out that buses were shuttling passengers from Coolangatta to Brisbane and we could have done this. Instead we all jumped on train and paid out for the 1 hour 45 minute journey to Brisbane Airport.

The train journey took us through flood ravaged areas, and didn't inspire hope of getting away. At Brisbane Airport, we were greeted with high winds, lashing rains and long queues. We waited for about 2 and a half hours for a flight which was delayed from 7pm to 8pm. We were boarded sometime near 9pm though it still seemed unbelievable that we would take off. The plane was rocking in the high winds while stationary so I personally was somewhat worried about how the plane would fare during take off. Then came some particularly poor customer service actions by Virgin Australia staff.

1. Pilot informs us that he has flown too many hours and will need to be replaced. This causes us to wait another half hour on the plane.
2. New pilot introduces himself and complains that he was dragged away from the TV where he was watching the Australian Open Tennis Final. He also informs us that the cabin supervisor changed flights and we have to wait for another cabin supervisor.
3. Another 20 minutes passes before we're told that the flight we're sat on has been cancelled as no more staff can be found. No apology offered, but we are told to pick up our bags, go home and call the Virgin helpline to get a new flight!
4. Staff back in the airport just repeat the message already told to us, and offer no further advice.

So we have no choice but to stay another night in Queensland, though we are told that Virgin will recompense us for our hotel bills (we will see!). Thank heavens for 21st Century technology, as smart phones, tablets and laptops were all immediately put to use to find a place to stay and we all managed to get in the same hotel (14 of us). By this time we were tired and despondent and it didn't really help the nerves when the hotel's electricity cut out soon after we arrived. I think it was a difficult night's sleep for many in the group who were worrying about how the following day would go, but I managed to sleep ok for maybe 6 hours. The next morning it was back to the phones, though my plan was to go straight to Brisbane Airport to try to sort things out at the Virgin service desk. This is eventually what I did, though others in the group had managed to reschedule flights, though they decided to leave Brisbane early and fly home via Sydney. En route to the airport, more signs of devastation became apparent with trees blown down and major flooding. At this point I think most of us had to admit our frustration the night before at being stranded in Brisbane had been wrong, and perhaps we were lucky that the plane hadn't tried to take off in the terrible conditions.

The scene outside my hotel after a night stranded in Brisbane
Back at Brisbane Airport, at the service desk I was able to smile and act friendly and I was soon placed on a flight direct to Melbourne at 4.55pm. I dropped off my bag, got my boarding pass and went through the security to the departure lounge for the long wait for my flight. At this point all of the group were splitting up. Half were off to Sydney, while half of us were going on later flights direct to Melbourne. We started to laugh about our situation and likened things to the TV show, The Amazing Race. (Today, I received an email looking at our situation from exactly this perspective. It's pretty funny, but especially for those who were there). All our flights were delayed, as were most of the flights that day, but we all managed to get off and all of us got back to Melbourne that evening.There were some doubts going through my mind until the plane was actually speeding down the runway and I'm sure that the others had the same doubts.

Due to the chaos of the day, my bag had been left in Brisbane, while another family had their luggage left in Sydney but they were all luckily returned to us today. It has been a nightmare travel experience for all of us but the worst we had to endure was some discomfort, some stress and disappointment and an extra night away from home. The real sufferers are those who are having to live through the floods in areas of Queensland and New South Wales and my heart goes out to those people affected by it. The images shown on the news have been truly frightening, and even that which I witnessed personally were pretty scary.

I'll leave you with a before and during image. Last Tuesday, I'd been walking around the Gold Coast having a beautiful day out. Just a few days later the storm came in, completely changing the surroundings.

Burleigh Heads beach on a typical summer's day (22nd January 2013)

The same beach on 28th January 2013, as reported on 7news

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Last day of the Australian Juniors

This post has been cancelled due to bad weather!

So far, due to high winds and torrential rains caused by Tropical Cyclone Oswald, I have had the most weird of days. First I discovered my flight from Gold Coast Airport back to Melbourne had been cancelled. Then I discovered that I had been rescheduled on to a plane at Brisbane, except there was no idea given on how to get there, so with some other parents and kids in the same condition I jumped a train to Brisbane Airport. I then stood in a queue for about 3 hours before being checked in and am now sitting at the gate, waiting to board my flight which is already 35 minutes late. So I will not be back in Melbourne before about 11pm local time.

Therefore, thanks to the Queensland weather this blog post in cancelled due to bad weather conditions. I'll be writing it in full tomorrow.

Surf up on the Gold Coast

Torrential rain and heavy winds at Brisbane Airport

A very wet Varsity Lakes train station on the Gold Coast

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Australian Junior's and Double Chins

The Chin sisters on board 1 in the under 18 girls
Sorry, but I couldn't resist the title! The penultimate day of the Australian Juniors saw some sorting out happen. In the girls under 18, the top seeds have risen to the head of the event, with Nicole Chin (right in the picture above) having a 1 point lead going into the final round. In round 7, she played her younger sister Chloe (left in the picture above) who is also playing well and currently in joint third. I'm not too sure who is in which position at the different age groups (U-18, U-16 and U-14) but all will be revealed tomorrow.

In the boys events, things have generally become clearer. In the under 18's Gene Nakauchi is now a point clear of Yi Liu who is himself a point clear of Yi Yuan and Pengyu Chen. The under 16 tournament is led by Oscar Wang who is half a point ahead of Punala Kiritipige who is a further point clear of the rest. Tom Maguire won both his games in the under 14's today and has taken control of the under 14 event, a full point clear of both the young Willathgamuwa brothers. And in the under 12's Denny Han has a clear point lead from a pack of 5 players!

The under 10 and 8's girls had to play 4 games today, and there was actually 1 draw, spoiling a perfect set of results. Those 2 girls who drew with each other, Cassandra Lim and Emily Lin are currently that half point ahead of the field. There are 2 more games tomorrow for these girls which should be a nerve tingling experience.

Tom Maguire (right) clear leader of the under 14 boys
Tomorrow should be pretty exciting as a number of minor places are up for grabs, and no one has actually won a title. There may be play offs to determine champions, and then there will be the prize giving, which is what all the kids want to be a part of. There is a combination of trophies and cash prizes, though there has been some debate as to whether cash prizes are appropriate, especially at the younger age groups. I don't remember winning any money prizes in junior competitions, but being elated to walk away with a trophy, or better still, a book prize! Then again, we are talking pre computer and mobile phone days. In fact colour TV hadn't been around too long in my house when I started playing junior chess, and Fischer was still World Champ, though only just! Anyway, enough old-man talk, here are the trophies.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Australian Juniors Lucky Day 7

Was day 7 lucky for anyone at the Australian Junior Championships? Well, I didn't feel too lucky walking to some students in the rain this morning.

Stormy weather on the Gold Coast
However I was lucky enough to see another native bird, an Australian Bush Turkey that apparently lives down the road from where I'm staying.

Australian Bush Turkey
At the tournament today there was a meeting of the Australian Junior Chess League (AJCL) which I was lucky enough to miss! I've been to enough committee meetings and AGM's over the past few years to last a lifetime! I'm not sure of the details of the meeting but one thing was decided (maybe!) and that is the next Australian Junior Championship will be held in Sydney in 2014.

Of the tournaments that have been in progress there are 5 lucky players heading the sections. The under 18 sees Gene Nakauchi maintain his half point lead over Yi Liu, with the rest of the field at least a further point back. This is now becoming a 2 horse race. Oscar Wang is a point clear in the under 16 from Punala Kiritipige and Martin Jack with the rest another point back at least. Tom Maguire has taken sole first place in the under 14 event, but there is a massive pack hot on his heels. There are 9 players within a point of first, so I'm guessing tomorrow's 2 games will be very important in sorting out the field. The under 12 is equally tight. Kerry Lin (only 9 years old) leads the field but 8 players are within a point of him and a further 8 are only half a point back. I think this will go to the wire, and I can see play off's looming in both under 14's and 12's. The under 18 girls, which also incorporates both the under 16's and under 14 girls titles, Nicole Chin is the sole leader, but a group of 5 players are all within a point of her including her sister Chloe, and of course the sisters are playing their game tomorrow with a draw really helping neither of them!

Today also saw the start of the under 10 girls, (which incorporates the under 8 girls title) who had to play 3 games today. This wasn't enough to split the field and 3 girls share first, Cassandra Lim, Lillian Lu, and Callie Brutnell. After 3 rounds, the tournament is still awaiting its first draw! Maybe we'll get one during the 4 rounds they have to play tomorrow which seems to be a bit excessive. I can understand that there can't be 3 rounds on Sunday as that will take to long, especially if there are play off's, but was there anything wrong in scheduling the event on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and having 3 games per day, like in the boys under 10's and under 8's?

To end this post, I'd like to show you lucky readers a game played by one of my students, Max Phillips who is playing in the under 12's and is the group just behind the leader Kerry Lin. In round 6 Max played black against Kevin Song who had been sole leader of the tournament before this round. The game was an amazing fight, with some great imaginative play, but perhaps Kevin was the lucky one for the game to end in a draw. Credit to both kids for playing such a great fighting game.

Lucky position 1: Kevin as white played 13.Bxh7+, going for the well known Greek Sacrifice. Max "believed" Kevin and played 13..Kf8, and when I asked him after the game why he didn't take on h7 he said I get mated. When I asked him to prove it....well, Max didn't look too happy. Kevin returned the favour as 14.e6 would have been very strong opening black's king's defences. Instead white played 14.h3. The game continued 14..Ngxe5 15.Nxe5 Nxe5 when we reach the next position.
After nicely opening the black king side, Kevin opened up his king giving Max a lucky tactical opportunity. 16.f4? and Max seized his chance with 16..Ng6! opening the e-file to great effect. After 17.Bxg6 it was lucky for Kevin that Max chose to go all in with a check 17..Bxe3+?, as the other capture 17..Rxe3 would have won a heap of material due to the threatened discovered check from the bishop on c5. The game continued until the end with black holding an advantage for most of the time, but being unable to extend it. However the final position was agreed a draw and I think that it was a bit early to be doing that. The game had a lot of play in it and although black may have been better, I think the game could have gone either way, so both players may have been a little unlucky not to have gone on and won this game.

This game was typical of under 12's chess with lots of excitement and tricks. Ok, there were a number of mistakes made by both sides, but there was also a lot of good ideas too.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

A Quick Australian Junior 2013 Post

Ok, it's late, and I'm exhausted so this will be brief. First the weather has taken a turn for the worse here, which is great for chess enthusiasts!

That large white block of cloud above the North East of Australia is Tropical Cyclone Oswald which is heading South towards where we are on the Gold Coast about half way up the eastern coast. Today there was plenty of grey clouds, and a fair amount of showers though nothing particularly heavy. What we get over the next few days is anybodies guess!

Anyway, with this weather there's no excuse to go outside and play, so chess is the order of the day. So, starting with the oldest, a draw on top board secured Gene Nakauchi's overall lead in the tournament, but helped the rest to close up. Yi Yuan and Yi Liu are half a point back and Thomas Pinnock (who is the next to tackle Nakauchi) a further half point down. Top seed Oscar Wang has finally taken the lead in the under 16 section. He is a point clear of 3 players, Punala Kiripitige, Martin Jack and the still impressive Clint Therakam who must really go down as the man of the whole Australian Juniors. Today Clint notched up another upset win against George Carolin-Unkovitch who is rated about 550 points above Therakam!

The under 14's might well be the closest of the lot, and it is unbelievably competitive. No one has reached 4/4 and a group of 4 players sit at the top on 3.5. However, there are a further 10 players within a point of these, so anyone that starts to accumulate points from now is going to be close to the top at the end of the tournament. To be honest, no one player has particularly stood out for me yet, so tomorrow might be a big day in establishing an order for this event. There is an outright leader in the under 12 in Kevin Song of Queensland. He is closely followed by a group of 5 players headed by top seed David Cannon. However, David hasn't played the most convincing chess and will hopefully find his full strength over the next full days.
From round 3, David had gotten into a horrible mess as black. If Max Phillips with white had played 43.Rxf7 Kxf7 44.Qc5, the game would probably have not lasted much longer and we would have had an upset. However, White played a blunder, 43.Ne2? and David took his chance with 43..Rxf2 44.Kxf2 Rf6+ and white's king has no good squares and black wins the knight and soon after went on to win the game. David has been pushed hard in most of his games, which I suppose comes with the territory of being top seed!

The girls under 18 event has a clear leader in Rebecca Strickland who has convincingly moved to 4/4. She is half a point ahead of Nicole Chin who is half a point ahead of 3 more players. This field is spreading out, but I'm not sure of the sections that the girls are qualified for, so it's difficult to know who is leading which event as the under 18's, 16's and 14's are all together. I'll try to get to grips with this and work out who is trying to win which section tomorrow. The younger girls are also bunched together in under 10's and 8's. These start tomorrow and have the onerous schedule of 3 games tomorrow, 4 on Saturday, and 2 on Sunday. There are going to be some very tired girls on Saturday evening!

And finally here are the winners from the lightning events!

Under 12's champion was Kris Chan from Victoria who scored an amazing 10/11, while the under 18 championship was won by Yi Liu of Queensland with a perfect 11/11. Congratulations to these 2 speed specialists. Full results can be found on the tournament website.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Australian Junior Championships: Major titles resume

Can you spot white's threat? Upsets happen, and this one came from the Under 12 Championships where one of the top seeds was taken down by a player rated 600 points below them. However, it shows how tough and competitive these events are. Of course white threatens Qd8 mate, which was stopped by the check 27..Qe5+. This is fine, but as a spectator alarm bells are ringing as focus can easily be lost at the under 12 level. White blocked with 28.Be4 and, yes you guessed it, black decided to win himself the pinned bishop. The game tragically finished 28..d5 29.Qd8# 1-0 Cholan-Yap Australian Under 12 Championship 2013.

After the excitement of the problem solving and lightning events yesterday, the main events began again today. There are titles to be decided for U-18, U-16, U-14, U-12 in open divisions and every age group in the girls only divisions. In fact starting with the girls tournaments, there has once again been a low turnout for the girls championship and even at 11am when the chess was due to start, there was still some debate as to what format was going to be used. In the end there are just 2 tournaments, an U-18 (20 players) and an U-10 (14 players) though I believe there will be champions in all age groups from U-18 down to U-8's. In fact, I don't know this for sure, but when I do I'll confirm it. The older girls started their event today, while the younger ones start on Friday and use the 3 games per day format. It is a bit difficult to tell who is competing in which age group, and I know some of the girls were disappointed that they didn't end up playing their preferred time control as the U-18 and 16's were due to play 90+30 while the U-14 and 12's were to play 60+30. In the end the older girls missed out and the 60+30 time control has been used. So far there have been no top seed casualties, but they all start to meet tomorrow for the main sorting of these events.

The boys tournaments which started today are the U-14 (35 players) and the U-12 (63 players) making them 2 of the biggest sections of the Championships. Both these events look amazingly competitive and I am hard pressed to pick a winner in either section. The format of 2 game per day for 4 days and 1 game on the fifth day will also lead to stamina issues toward the end of the tournaments, or even on the second games of the day. Already there were a number of players who didn't look so good half way through the afternoon game. The top seed in the U-14's, Rishi Dutta was held to a draw by Gary Lin rated 300 points below him, for example. In fact, in this section there are only 6 players on a perfect score including, ominously, both the Willathgamuwa brothers. However, it is early days yet. Actually, there is another (much) younger brother who will have 2 great role models if he decides to take up chess!

The under 12's is the biggest tournament in terms of participation and with 15 players rated over 1000 there is tough competition. Top seed is David Cannon who has been a junior champion before so knows what it takes to win the title. David started with 2/2 but the real fun starts tomorrow when the players rated above 1000 all begin to meet.

The under 16's and 18's resumed their events today. Punala Kiritipige was pulled back to the field by top seed Oscar Wang in the under 16's. There are now 2 leaders (Punala and Oscar) followed closely by surprise package Andrew Mather who is playing about 500 points above his 1312 rating to be on 3.5! Clint Therakam was also back to giant killing ways again today and he is one of 3 players a further half point back on 3. The top 3 players in the U-18 all won today and lead the field, Nakauchi 4.5, Yi Yuan 4, Yi Liu 3.5. It looks like one of these 3 will take the title and the top 2 play tomorrow.

Leader of the under 18's, Gene Nakauchi has played some very interesting ideas. Today against Jack Puccini he came up with an exchange sacrifice which caused his opponent no end of headaches.
Nakauchi as white played 25.Nxb3 and after the recature 25..Nxb3 had no hesitation in sacrificing the exchange with 26.Rxb3. Gene's queen side initiative and that massive protected passed pawn on b6 proved too much for Jack to defend.

Again the team at Gardiner Chess are doing a great job, as is arbiter Charles Zworestine and the Tornelo management system is working well at quickly updating results and storing the games that the kids themselves are putting into the computers.

Bumper Time for Chess

Today was a day off for me while I'm on the Gold Coast, so I explored a little. I'll brighten this blog post with some pictures.
Gold Coast beaches, Queensland
There's so much top class chess around it's hard to know where to look. Let's start in Australia. I'm currently in the Gold Coast coaching at the Australian Junior Championships which continue through till Sunday. There are age group prizes for U-18, U-16, U-14, U-12 and all girls only divisions to be decided yet. I'll be blogging more about this here over the next few days.

Then at the weekend there are weekenders happening in Victoria, Queensland and New South Wales over the public holiday, Australia Day. Straight after that, the clubs will get into their season in Australia, and for me that means playing (hooray!) the Club Championship at the Melbourne Chess Club.

Some intersting features of the Gold Coast seascapes
In the World of chess the biggest annual round robin of the year, Wijk aan Zee is reaching it's climax with world number 1 Magnus Carlsen and World Champion Vishy Anand in amazing form. The tournament ends on Sunday. Just starting today is the biggest swiss tournament of the year, the Gibraltar Open. There are a number of events at these big chess festivals, but the top section of Gibraltar has 246 players of which 8 are rated over 2700, 44 above 2500 and 104 above 2300! Gibraltar is a 10 round tournament and continues through until 31st January. As Gibraltar ends, so the second strongest swiss of the year starts in Moscow. In fact it has to be said that there isn't usually too much difference in the strength of the fields. Gibraltar definiely has an edge at the top, but the depth of the Moscow field is unreal, with currently 187 registered players above 2300 strength! The tournament runs from 2nd-10th of February.

Overlapping the Moscow open is Aeroflot, the super elite swiss, where you have to be 2400 to be in the top group. The field boasts 7 players above 2700 and 86 players in total with the lowest rated currently at 2411! Of course, there are a number of sections at Aeroflot too, with the b-group being a 130 player swiss ranging from 2549-2065. It has to be said, that not many tournaments have an under 2550 section! Aeroflot starts on February 7th and runs till February 15th.

Phew, that is an amazing amount of top class chess coming up in the next few weeks! It will give us a month to calm down before the London Candidates start!
Feeding the locals on the Gold Coast. Yes that's my arm they're perched on!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Australian Junior's 2013: The First Champions

Day 3 of the Australian Junior Championships on the Gold Coast of Queensland was the final day for the under 8's and under 10's. An action packed itinerary of 3 games per day ended in our first 2 champions. The under 8's was close till the finish and in the final round there was still doubt, but the leader Christopher Lim of Victoria won his last game and took the title. Dashiell Young of Queensland was second, and Jay Landau of Victoria came third.

Under 10's top boards for the last round

Under 10 Champ Kevin Willathgamuwa of NSW sees his opponent's first move

Girls playing near the top boards in the under 10's
Meanwhile the under 10's was decided with a round to spare. Kevin Willathgamuwa of NSW won the title with a perfect score of 9/9 and was 1.5 clear of his nearest rival, Luis Chan of Victoria with Queenslander Jason Wang coming in third.

Tomorrow is a rest day from the main events, though many will take part in the problem solving and lightning tournaments. Then on Wednesday the under 8's and 10's will be replaced by the under 12's and 14's and the girls while the under 16's and 18's finish their events. Today saw outright leaders emerge in both these tournaments. Punala Kiripitige maintained his lead in the under 16's with another win taking him to 4/4. He is a point clear of Martin Jack and top seed Oscar Wang who he has to play on Wednesday. This tournament is very difficult to predict as there are only 14 players with 9 rounds so some unusual pairings are likely to take place towards the end of the event and there seem to be some under rated players in the event meaning that no one has an easy game.

The under 18's is now led solely by Gene Nakauchi who won a nice game against Pengyu Chen. Gene is half a point clear of 3 players, though it is still fairly tightly packed in this group. There were some fireworks on the top 2 boards.

Pengyu Chen-Nakauchi saw black in sacrificial mood. 20..Rxe2 21.Nxe2 Bxf3 22.Nc3 Qg4 23 b3 was this sound, or was it necessary or forced? I actually have no idea but it was imaginative and interesting as was black's next follow up.
 A whole rook down, black played 23..Re1+ What an amazing move! The game soon saw exchanges leading to a position where white had 2 rooks and 4 pawns against black's queen and 5, which black played better and won.

However, the game of the day was probably the board 2 scrap between two of the top seeds Yi Liu and Yi Yuan. The game was a no holds barred King's Indian Defence with both sides fighting to break through on opposite sides of the board. Black had an alarming looking build up on the king's side but it was white who first won material.
White won a piece (he is an exchange down in the diagram above) with 27.c8=Q Rxc8 28.Qxc8 and was a long time up on the clock, though he took a good while on his next move after black played 28..fxg3
So imagine you're white and need to find a defence. You can afford to give back some material as you are a piece for a pawn up. What would be your candidate moves? 29.Bxb6, 29.Nxd6, 29.Be1, something else? White chose 29.Bxb6 and after 29..Nhf4 30.Nxf4 Nxf4 31.Bc4 Qh6, with the threat of mate, he had to give up his queen, though he got a ton of material for it.
32.Qg4+ Kh8 33.Qxg3 Rg7 34.Qh2 Rxg2 35.Qxg2 Nxg2 36.Kxg2
Black has a rook and 2 pieces for the queen, but unfortunately one of them goes straight away to 36..d5!.

It is well worth a look at this crazy game which can be found in a file of 300 games already recorded at the Championships.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Australian Junior's 2013 Day 2

Our great venue, Bond University on the Gold Coast
It's the middle day for the under 10's and under 8's while the older kids are getting into the swing with a double round of games today. In his introductory speech yesterday, Andrew FitzPatrick of Gardiner Chess spoke of the beauty of the surroundings. The tournament is being held at Bond University on the Gold Coast, and a walk round the campus promises beautiful views of the lakeland surroundings.

A university on a natural conservation area!

Great lakeland surroundings

Plenty of food and drink in the University Market Square

Colourful lakeland surroundings

Water fountain dominating the lake view
Bond University is the host and major sponsor of the event, and have provided excellent facilities for free. The playing area is a sports hall with air conditioning while the analysis rooms are spread around the sports centre. The main analysis rooms are in squash courts with carpeting put down. Apparently, the NSW room wasn't up to scratch because they moved to another room (though that sounds a bit soft to this "whinging Pom"!). There has also been some rumblings concerning the necessity of Charles Zworestine's pre round "readings from the book of Caissa", though this may be due to people seeing them before. Are they part of the Australian Junior tradition? Should they be?

As for the chess, things are going according to plan in the younger sections. Kevin Willathgamuwa of NSW is the player to beat in the under 10's, and so far no one has managed even to draw against him in the first 6 rounds. In the under 8's, Victorian Christopher Lim has proved equally successful and sits at the top of the table on 6/6. However, there are still 3 games to go and anything could happen in these tournaments with a number of players in with a chance.

Boards 3 and 4 in the under 10's hot on the heels of the leaders

Under 8 leaders, with unbeaten Christopher Lim in the red shirt
Top boards in the under 10's minus leader Kevin Willthgamuwa
The chess at the tournament has been easy and exciting to follow due to the use of the Tornelo management system and Andrew FitzPatrick's energy at uploading games live as they happen. The kids are then asked to upload their games to the system when they finish their games (though I have heard that some kids are being told not to do this by their coaches) so as to make the organiser's job easier in producing a pgn file of the event on its completion. So far, 204 games have already been uploaded by the kids themselves, along with some assistance from the team of arbiters and some parents.

The under 18's and under 16's had their tough day today with 2 games played and it left interesting standings. In the under 18's no one has made it to 3/3. Instead a group of 3 players are unbeaten on 2.5 while a big pack sits close behind. It is early days here but one of the favourites, Yi Yuan, lost a game today, and he'll have to find better form against the top players if he is to overtake them (Pengyu Chen, Gene Nakauchi and Yi Liu). The under 16's does have an outright leader on 3/3 with Punala Kiripitige winning all his games so far. Again it is early days, but this tournament looks wide open with some definite under rated players floating around. Take, for instance, local boy (well, Brisbane which isn't too far away in the scheme of things) Clint Therakam with a rating of 1191 finding himself on board 1 in the third round after wins against Eddie Han (1595), and Alex MacAdam (1720). Unfortunately his run came to an end when Punala beat him, but what a start to his tournament!

Under 16 top boards, giant killer Clint Therakam sits in the foreground on the right!
In this position from round 1, Clint Therakam as white tried to trick his higher rated opponent with 35.d7!? The game would probably have ended in a draw if black had played 35..fxe4 36.Qc4+ Kg7 37.dxc8=Q Qxc8 38.Qxe4 as pure queen endings are notoriously difficult to play, especially with little time on the clock. However, black fell into white's trap playing 35..Bxd7? Clint notched up his first scalp of the tournament with the snappy tactic 36.Qxd7! attracting black into a knight fork if he takes on d7 (Nf6+) so black kept his queen and soldiered on a piece down for a while, but in vain.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Australian Junior Chess Championships 2013

Today the 2013 Australian Junior Chess Championship started on the Gold Coast in Queensland. The tournament is a 9 day festival of Junior Chess in Australia broken into age group divisions. The under 18's and under 16's play one game per day for 9 days (they actually play 2 games tomorrow), while the younger age groups play for less days. Currently, the under 10's and under 8's are in progress, their's being 9 round tournaments over 3 days with 3 games per day.

The tournament started with an opening ceremony with speeches and instructions for the players.

In control, Andrew FitzPatrick

Words of wisdom from Chief Arbiter and AJCL President, Charles Zworestine

A word from our generous sponsors...

President of Queensland Chess Association, Mark Stokes
After the speeches, the tournament commenced pretty much on time in the sports centre of Bond University. While the older kids started their week long event the main focus for the first couple of days is the very youngest competitors who are sometimes quite high maintenance. The results and games are being recorded on the Tornelo management system so there is already plenty to see (91 games, though I haven't looked through that many yet!). Starting with the very youngest, the Under 8's are playing 3 games a day, and it really will be a test of stamina for these young kids. There is no outstanding favourite for this event, and my belief is that the winner will be the player who can still focus adequately towards the end of day 3. In the field of 17 players there are only 2 on 3/3 and they'll meet tomorrow, so good luck to Christopher Lim from Victoria, and Dashiell Young from Queensland. The under 10's sees an outright favourite in Kevin Willathgamuwa who is some 400 rating points higher than his nearest challenger, Luis Chan. The field is made up of 41 players and there are still 4 players on a perfect 3/3.

Hopefully, tomorrow I'll have some positions and stories from the event, but for now, some of the really little players...

The playing hall filling up

Oliver from Tasmania trying to remember his game plan

Jay from Victoria checking his carbon copy

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Women's Chess

Today I went to the Melbourne Chess Club where the inaugural Australian Women's Master's tournament is being staged. It is an 8 player round robin with the hope to grow it to a full tournament with norm potential in the future. In fact, arbiter, Jamie Kenmure has ideas not only to grow this event, but to resurrect the Australian Women's Championship.

These ideas are all very laudable, but to be honest I'm not sure that having women's only events is anything other than demeaning and patronising. We had a little discussion on this theme at the MCC today, and it seemed to sit a little uncomfortably with the players who I discussed it with. So I'll put my neck on the block as a player and coach. In my opinion women (and girls for that matter) shouldn't be treated any differently to men. I can't see why women should be considered as second class citizens in the chess world, nor why they shouldn't aspire to the very top of the World's game. Of course, if women are directed to a certain level, then it is unlikely they will progress much beyond that, just like anyone in any activity.

In her excellent book "How I Beat Bobby Fischer's Record" Judit Polgar recalls the Novi Sad Olympiad in 1990 as the time when she decided to not participate in exclusively women's only events any longer, setting herself the goal of breaking into the Hungarian men's (open) team, a feat that she managed, of course. This first volume deals with her performance up to that point so I guess we'll have to wait for the next volume until we hear her true feelings about women's only chess, although her wikipedia page gives an illuminating quote:

"I always say that women should have the self-confidence that they are as good as male players, but only if they are willing to work and take it seriously as much as male players"

It is this point of view that I also subscribe to, and for that reason I prefer to see all players in open's. Of course, there is an alternative side of the argument that US GM Jennifer Shahade eloquently expresses:

"If there were a 1:1 ratio of women and men in the chess world I would agree that all tournaments should be integrated. But a lot of women feel alienated at these mixed events, so it’s positive to have occasional all women’s events."

Ok, I have little trouble with this, as with junior, senior, or geographically closed events. However, when the standard for titles is dropped by 200-300 FIDE rating points (compared to men's titles) it seems that women are being encouraged to be content with a mediocre game. Yet we currently see Hou Yifan playing in the top section of Wijk aan Zee, more women are attaining the male GM title than ever before, and the most successful chess bloggers are both women, Susan Polgar and Alexandra Kosteniuk. Both have proved interesting and informative writers and their sites are visited by thousands of chess enthusiasts on a daily basis.

So that's a rant off my chest and I would be happy to get feedback about this as I'm not often opinionated on this blog. Anyway, back to the MCC Women's Master's. The tournament has only reached round 3 though 3 players are on a perfect 2/2, Megan Setiabudi, top seed Katherine Jarek, and Leteisha Simmonds (who won her game today while all the rest were still playing when I left, leaving Leteisha clear first). Good luck to all the players in the remaining rounds. Here are the players who were present at the start of the round when I was allowed to take a few snaps.

Tanya Kolak

Alana Chibnall

Megan Setiabudi

Katherine Jarek