Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Strong Westerlies at MCC Championship

The top of the table clash in the MCC Championship between established IM Guy West and up and coming junior Ari Dale was a bit of an anti climax. Guy won comfortably in a game where Ari never seemed to get going. It is interesting to see the opening choices on the higher boards as the players are working behind the scenes preparing before the games and aiming for certain sorts of games. It is instructive to follow their examples. Guy was white and has recently favoured a repertoire with 1.d4 and 2.c4. He has built a number of interesting combative systems that suit his flexible and aggressive style. However Guy can play a number of first moves and last night he reverted to 1.e4. So what does Ari think at that point? His main defence is the Caro Kann, though he can play 1..e5 and occasionally has played the Alekhine. So which to choose and why? Well I'm not sure what Ari had prepared for Guy's 1.d4 rep, but he tends to favour the Grunfeld. Did Ari prepare for 1.e4? If he did, then I wonder why he chose the Alekhine against Guy? If he didn't prepare for 1.e4, then I also wonder why he chose the Alekhine?

There are a lot of different ideas about preparing for games, but in my opinion it is better to play to your own strengths than to play against your opponent's weaknesses. Not that the Alekhine is a weakness of Guy's. In Big Database 2013 he has 13 games listed playing both sides of the opening (and there's 12 games in Ozbase, though quite a few cross overs). Funnily enough, there are no games listed with MCC stalwart and Alekhine expert FM Bill Jordan. I would be very surprised if Guy hasn't played a number of games over the years with Bill contesting the Alekhine Defence. In short, I would not really feel comfortable on either side of this opening against Guy West, and I think it was a mistake of Ari's playing this opening. After the first few moves, 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4 d6 4.Bc4 we reach a position that has occurred in Guy's games a few times and one in which he has had success. The next formative part of the game saw Guy build on the typical white space advantage and develop naturally, while Ari's pieces seemed to find bad spots, especially his light squared bishop. Guy was allowed a huge initiative on the king side which he easily converted.

Perhaps it was a brave decision by Ari to test Guy out on fairly unknown grounds. However, that is a place that Guy tends to feel extremely comfortable, and I was a little disappointed that Ari didn't trust his Caro against Guy.

While Guy stays clear at the top with 4/4, the surprise player in clear second is Phillip Drew who beat higher rated Sylvester Urban with the black pieces. A further half point back sits the bunch including FM Dragicevic, FM Wallis, and FM Stojic. So while the field is spreading out, the higher rated players are beginning to rise to the top.

Next week's games will push the tournament past the half way mark and then there is a break for the traditional Ballarat weekender so round 6 will be 2 weeks after the next round giving the players extra time to prepare. There is still a,long way to go in this event, but Guy looks in ominous form at the moment.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Now That I Have Some Time....

....I can do all those chess things that I always wanted to do. What exactly do I mean by this? Well as a tournament player I always felt obliged to be studying the game in the hope of excelling in my games. Of course I still would like to do well when I play, but as I only play online at the moment, and have no future tournament ambitions, I don't feel that "training" is so important. Instead I can look at what I want, study whatever I feel like, and play whatever opening takes my fancy at the time.

Funny really, as that doesn't sound like too bad a plan for training for a serious tournament player. For instance, I've started looking at some games in the King's Gambit, not that I have any intention of playing this venerable opening in my games. But it has made me think about concepts such as dynamic compensation for material loss, tactical implementation of strategic goals, identifying correct targets in a position, which are concepts relevant in chess generally rather than being specific to the King's Gambit. I have always tended to be a rather materialistic player, but I recently reviewed a book on the Catalan where I noticed that white often sacrificed his c-pawn for excellent piece play. In essence, this isn't really too different from what white is trying to do in the King's Gambit even though the Catalan is considered a quiet positional opening while the King's Gambit has always been considered as a mad hack.

The term dynamic compensation is a really mysterious one for most players. It is an intangible quality to a position which makes chess so amazing. For a player to be material behind but to have a superior position is one of the great battles in chess. Will the materialist hang on, or will the gambiteer destroy them? The majority of chess players tend to love sacrificial play and will therefore side with the gambiteer. However, it is no less risky to grab material and try to hold on and I've always been attracted to this side of the game.

So when looking at the King's Gambit who will I be supporting? Actually, to be honest, I'm just enjoying learning the names of all the Gambits and seeing some crazy games in actions! If you don't believe me, download the latest issue of The Week In Chess (TWIC) and go through the King's Gambits (ECO C30-C39) and have some fun. Here are the games from the last TWIC where the players were rated at least 2000:

Game 1 Pham-Pijuan is a crazy King's Gambit Declined with the mad (or bad) 5.Na4. The game descends into thrust and counterthrust with black looking good until white throws in the unexpected 15.Bf6 which black blunders to, and we then find black's king hunted to white's end of the board!

Game 2 Fier-Radulov sees quality GM Alexander Fier playing the Bishop's Gambit. The game takes a much quieter course, and ends with Fier forcing positional concessions in his opponent's pawn structure and winning a knight ending.

Game 3 Ustiyanovich-Melnichuk sees the centre completely open and black's superior development triumph in a bizarre miniature (I say bizarre because I can't really understand how anyone can play like this in a serious tournament game! Not surprisingly, the white player finished last in this round robin!)

Game 4 Gargatagli-Queralto sees the modern ..d5 and ..exf4 variation, which is the one that I chose as a tournament player. It is fairly easy to play and avoids a plethora of white tricks in the accepted variations of the King's Gambits. Quite instructively, black makes too many pawn moves early in the game and white sacrifices a knight to ensure that black's king will be a target for the remainder of the game.

Enjoy!! You'll be seeing a lot more of the King's Gambit on this blog!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Running Update

That is such a funny title as my running update is basically that I haven't done any for a couple of months! The last time I was running was in early December, then I traveled to England where friend and family commitments got in the way. When I came back to Australia I was initially jetlagged, and then came down with a heavy cold where I found it hard to breathe. That's been gone for about a week or a little longer, so there is no excuse but to start the exercise regime again. And there is no better motivation than a set goal (but more on that later!).

When I was last regularly running I was working out for up to 1 hour 30 minutes and going distances up to 15km. I was running 3 or 4 times a week averaging about 5.30-5.45 minutes per km. I was never too much concerned about pace, but distance is my main goal, and I would dearly like to run a half marathon (21km). Today, I went out for the first time in 2 months, ran about 3km (and that was exhausting) for a 20 minute workout which was made easier because I stopped to take a phone call after about 2km! Like all people who have lost fitness will know, when getting back to it, it is always the first week that is the hardest to get through. There is a mental hurdle to overcome just to get out, and then the disappointment with realising just how unfit you've become. After the first few sessions expect some aches because they will come! But of course it is not all bad. Once begun improvement comes quickly as you find a routine and progress to greater workouts.

The Train also races!

To be honest I had been putting this awful day of pain off. I knew it would be tough and had made excuse after excuse not to work out. But this changed today when I received an email from the Puffing Billy Railway notifying me of their 2013 edition. Last year I ran the race, and I have set myself the goal of running it again this year. In fact I just entered before starting this blog post. The race is just over 13km and there are a couple of painful hills, but there is also some beautiful countryside through the Dandenong Ranges and the fact that you are not only running with/against other people, but also against the steam engine Puffing Billy itself! Having entered the race, I now have to sit down and write a plan of how I will get myself into shape to actually run over 13km. I have just under 3 months to do this as the race is on May 5th. This week I have set the target of 3 running workouts with an aim of being able to walk at the end of the week. Next week I'll start building on this, but the progress will be careful to start with as the last thing I want to do is overtrain and cause an injury.

Me before the 2012 Puffing Billy Run

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

MCC Championship round 3

There are now only 2 players on 3/3 in the MCC Championship out of the 38 players. Ari Dale beat Chris Wallis, while Guy West won against Dusan Stojic. Last year Guy and Dusan dominated the club tournaments they competed in, and their individual encounters proved fascinating. Their game last night was another fascinating battle, and we outside the club were lucky that MCC provided live coverage. In fact, the MCC are putting in a big effort to improve the image of the website which has a combination of club information and multimedia presentations. It is both educational and entertaining. Paul Cavezza seems to be the driving force behind the MCC website, while Kerry Stead, the arbiter for the current tournament, also provides round by round reports. While Dale and West lead the event, it is still early days and any good run from virtually anyone in the tournament will move them up to the head of the field. Of course, if they get there Guy and Ari will be waiting.

While Guy's pedigree is well known, Ari is still a fairly new commodity. In fact Ari's progress has been so fast that it only feels like yesterday that he was a 1500 little kid! Now he is pushing FM level after a great tour of Europe including successful performances in the London Chess Classic, Prague Open (5.5/9 including a draw with IM Bejtovic) and Wijk aan Zee (8/9 in his section). With all that experience, and no doubt the coaching, I have a feeling this could be Ari's breakthrough year in Australia. The first litmus test will definitely be his match up with Guy next week.

I always like to point to the upsets of the week, but there were none really to mention. Alex Kaplan managed his second draw of the tournament with stronger opposition. In the first round, Alex drew with Laurent Michaille and this round he drew with Jim Papadinis. But I think the biggest upset of this round was the club itself. I wasn't there, but I know from experience how hot the club rooms can get during a hot spell. There is no air con in the building, and the club is really in no position financially to install it. So for a few weeks the players have to endure incredibly hot and stuffy conditions, and last night was one of those weeks. The usual arguments then arise. When will the club be able to install aircon? Wouldn't it be better to sell the ramshackle old building and relocate?  There is something to be said for both of these ideas, but neither will be happening so I won't waste my fingers in this post.

Watching the Stojic-West game live was intriguing. These 2 have played a number of critical games over the past 12 months so are well aware of each other's styles. To me it was fascinating watching the duel that swung one way, then another.

The first interesting moment. Guy as black has been angling towards a Hedgehog structure and I expected black to play 8..Be7 or 8..a6. Instead Guy closed the centre with 8..e5. At the time I thought this would suit Dusan's style, but both players have proved themselves quite universal in their ability to play various styles. (By the way, 8..e5 is the top move according to Stockfish!)

This was the next critical position. Guy blundered with 22..Ba6? (22..Nb6) and Dusan wasted little time with 23.Ng6!. The knight can't be taken (23..hxg6 24.fxg6 and white will play Qh4-h7 unless black sacs his queen) so essentially white has won an exchange. Now I'm not sure how long Dusan had taken to get to this position (or whether he relaxed somewhat, though I doubt that) but his game started to go downhill.
While watching I thought 27.Ba5 was an obvious try here (Stockfish also likes 27.Rc3, lifting the rook enabling Rac1 and Ra3 driving black's queenside back.). Dusan played 27.a4 which I didn't really get.
Here Dusan missed an outright win. As white he played 39.Ra8, while 39.Rd8 was very strong. There is no good way for black to defend his d-pawn, as 39..Rxd5 fails to 40.Rd7+ Kh8 41.Qb3 with mate threats linked with attacks on d5 and a7. After 39.Ra8 black defended with 39..Qf7and Dusan immediately blundered with 40.Rb1 allowing black to play 41.Bc4 and win the d-pawn. Black's central mass of pawns proved too much for Dusan to handle, and Guy won a great fighting game!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Reporting Hearsay

We all hear people say things, and often conversations then become forgotten. Well, I've heard a few people say a few things that I'm going to record here, so I don't forget them. I will not incriminate anyone by mentioning names, so don't bother asking!

1. Multiple people have asked me recently why don't I write a book about chess? Well, I would love to write a book about absolutely anything but the main reason for not doing so is that I have nothing specific to write about. Ok, I can write some blog posts here, but that's hardly the same as writing a book. Put into chess terms, I can't think of anything in particular that I am so inspired by that I would even attempt to write a book about. I've started reviewing some books and seen the trouble that top players have and if I was to write something I'd like it to be good and worthwhile. So in short, if I think of something to write about, then I'll go straight ahead and start writing a book. In fact, any suggestions would be seriously considered, so tell me what you'd like me to write a book about!

2. Why do IM's and GM's get everything for free when I have to pay? A student asked me that, though it's a question I've heard of a few times over the years. Actually it's a pretty difficult one to answer. My answer was that it was something that was earned by the player who had excelled in their chosen field, and tournament organisers want those strong players to play, so offer them that gratuity. I had to cover a laugh when I was told that some masters are crap, so why should they get free entry?

Apart form this amusing anecdote this is an interesting topic. Should GM's and IM's get free entry into events? To be honest I've never really had a problem with it. I have always been happy to pay entry into events which I don't expect to win and I always felt that the masters had earned the right to free entry. It means on those few occasions when I beat them it makes it that much sweeter. But there does seem some inconsistency. I mean, there are some very strong players without the master title, and FM's are pretty good players too, many of whom out rate masters who may have lost some strength. As an example, Australian Open champion Bobby Cheng is an FM with a FIDE rating of 2425. He would still have to pay entry fees to tournaments that a great number of masters who are rated below him would get in for free. I think it's time to change things and perhaps just give a rating limit for free entry. If you're above it, then you're in for free, if not you pay. Not only would this be fair to strong players without titles, but it would give masters that incentive to maintain their strength.

3. Are you really going to give up FIDE rated chess? A pretty easy one to answer really. Yes! After my blog post of February 4th quite a few people have expressed outrage, disbelief or sadness on my behalf, but most don't think it will be 'the end of my FIDE playing days'. Subsequent to this post, FIDE backed down on their proposed licensing laws. But is this the end of FIDE's continual ruination of our game? I doubt it very much. Our beloved leader has announced his desire to launch a world chess party, initially in Russia, but eventually a worldwide phenomenon. Sorry, but I'm not going to be a part of this new party. I love chess as a game and an intellectual pursuit, I'm not evangelical about it (though I can talk chess with the best of them, though i prefer preaching to the converted), and I don't feel the need to politicise it.

And I don't think we've seen the last of the licensing scheme. FIDE cancelled their proposed licensing scheme, but new proposals will be drawn up and presented to the next General Assembly. So this means we have a reprieve, and perhaps a watered down proposal will initially be pushed through, but it seems clearly obvious the direction that the current FIDE leadership want to take chess down. It's a direction I don't much care for so I'm abandoning ship now.

So, you all now know that when you say things to me, nothing is sacred! At this rate, I'll be turning into a journalist!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Viva Italia!

One of the wonderful things about living in Melbourne is the multiculturalism. I love the various nationality festivals, the suburbs which have developed national identities, and the great restaurants, cafes, bars and stores which bring another part of the world to this great cosmopolitan city. This weekend has been quite Italian for me. My wife, Caroline, and I went for a meal in Carlton's Lygon, Street. We went to a restaurant just off Lygon Street called Cafe Italia, where we both had a beautiful gnocchi meal which took me back to my visits to Tuscany. Both Caroline and I fell in love with the region when we traveled there a couple of times 10-15 years ago. The pace, the history, the surroundings, and the wonderful fresh food! These were things we reminisced about while having our meal. It's funny what you remember. She vividly recalled conversations she had with a waitress in Florence who had enjoyed our attempts at speaking Italian and sat with Caroline for a while to teach her more. I remember sounds. The sounds of the church near Castelfranco di Sopra ringing Ave Maria in the evenings; the sounds of wild boar snuffling for plums outside the farmhouse we stayed at, the sounds of laughter at bars, and the sounds of demonstrative drivers!

An aid to reminiscences
Of course we both remembered the flavours. There are the breads, the tomatoes, the cheeses, the wines, the prosciutto and other meats (I ate wild boar at a Trattoria in the Tuscan countryside). The gnocchi we had at Cafe Italia was great, soft potato with a rich tomato Napoli sauce and cherry tomatoes halved and tossed into the mix. To be honest, I'd had the same meal there before, and it was also great then. Tonight we kept on the Italian theme by having a pizza. Now I don't really do pizza, but we were with our friends Nick and Zoe and we all decided to head to Port Melbourne to try Caroline's recommendation of Mojo's Weird Pizza. The menu offered your usual types of pizza such as margherita, hawaiian etc. But then you get some interesting specialities as well. For instance I shared a "prickly pear" with Zoe which had prosciutto, caramelised onions, fetta, cheese and pear. I know it sounds strange, but it was unbelievably nice.

Best pizzas in town?
Now I don't know if it's true, but I remember reading somewhere that pizza was actually invented in New York, not Italy. Ok, it was invented by the Italian expatriate community in New York, but nevertheless, this dish which we associate with Italy is in fact an American export. The same can be said for Italy's number 1 chess player at the moment, Fabiano Caruana. Caruana was born in Florida and grew up in America, mainly in New York. Caruana is a duel citizen of Italy and the USA, but has represented Italy for the majority of his career. At only 20 years of age, he is currently ranked number 13 in the world, but had reached an amazing 5th spot in the January 2013 ratings list. Caruana will miss out on the Candidates tournament next month but will surely be a feature of top class chess for many years to come. He is currently competing with World Champion Anand and 4 others at a tournament in Baden Baden Germany. After 8/10 rounds Caruana is a point clear of the World Champion who is half a point ahead of the next challenger Arkady Naiditsch of Germany. Naiditsch has played perhaps the most interesting chess of the tournament and be said to be a little unlucky, having had 2 winning positions against Caruana but losing both of them.
This was Caruana-Naiditsch from round 3. Black could have won material and the game with 32..Qxg3 hitting the rook on e1, 33.Rxe2 taking advantage of the pin on black's bishop on f3, 33..Qg6 34.Bd3 Qh5 and white has an exchange threatened on e2 and a knight threatened on d5. Unfortunately, Naiditsch played 32..Qg2 and after 33.Nd4 he decided to give back the exchange by 33..Rxc4 but resigned only 5 moves later!

Yesterday the 2 met again and a similar fate occurred. Naiditsch developed a winning advantage but couldn't find those final moves, eventually going on to lose.

This time, Naiditsch was white and he missed 25.Rd1 where white has both his knights en prise, but taking either leads to disaster.

a) 25..Kxh6 26.Rd7! cutting the king's retreat 26..g5 preventing Qh5, 27.Nf5+ Kh5 28.Rg7! Rg8 29.Rg1 Rxg7 

And now the wonderful 30.Qh4+!! wins the game. 30..Kg6 (30..gxh4 31.Nxg7+ Kh6 32.Bf4#) 31.Rxg5+ with a forced mate in 10!

b) 25..Bxe3 26.Rd7+ Kxh6 (26..Kh8 loses to 27.Ng4)

and now it's mate in 2 with 27.Qh4+ Nh5 28.Bg7#

Now some would say that Caruana has been lucky, but I'm a bit more sympathetic. What makes a good player great is finding moves when the position is difficult, continuing to offer your opponent every chance of going wrong and then taking the opportunity to you when it's presented. We can all well play in good positions, but not many of us can play well in bad positions. It's great to see Caruana representing Italy as it gives us a more international feel at the top of the chess ladder and that can only be a good thing. And apart from that, Italy is an amazing country which I truly love visiting and I have absolutely no problem with an Italian player vying for top spots in international elite events!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Let's talk about Love

Well it is Valentine's Day! That amazing day when we celebrate being in love, or wanting to be in love. Contrary to popular belief, Valentine's Day was not invented by a florist, chocolatier, or a card maker. Much like other religious festivals, Valentine's Day has become commercialised, though this is not a particularly recent thing. The sending of Valentine's dates back probably to the 1300's.

St Valentine (Bassano)
The Christian calendar is made up of a number of festivals and feast days of saints. Some are more commonly known than others, others haven't a fixed date each year, and some days celebrate more than one saint. St Valentine's is annually celebrated on 14th February. At least that is the date for the Western branch of the Christian Church. The Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates Valentine's on 6th July. It's bizarre that the same religion should have denominations which can't agree on specific dates to celebrate their martyrs or even important festivals. You'd have thought an issue such as the resurrection would bind all Christians together, but in 2013 Easter Sunday is March 31st in the west, and Sunday May 5th in the east

Frank Dicksee's Pre Raphaelite classic, Belle Dame Sans Merci

Anyway, I'm not going to get into a religion bashing post. I'm actually interested in the history of Valentine's Day, the Western version celebrated on 14th February. There is quite some information on him, and due to excavations in Rome which have unearthed a catacomb and a Church dedicated to him, it is assumed that he was a real person. Valentine was sainted and given his feast day of February 14th as that was the day he was allegedly killed. He is supposed to have cured his jailor's daughter of blindness, and on the eve of his execution, wrote her a letter signed, "From Your Valentine".  Valentine may have been a Priest who performed illegal Christian weddings in pre Christian Rome, which would explain why he was in prison. This isn't the whole story, but it's pretty romantic so I guess it fits the bill.

So he was martyred on 14th February 269 AD in Rome. He is the patron saint of betrothed couples, but so much more. Valentine is also patron saint of bee keepers, engaged couples, epilepsy, fainting, greetings, happy marriages, love, lovers, plague, travellers and young people. Quite a diverse patronage! But then again, "Love is a many splendored thing"!
Shakespeare's Star Cross'd Lovers, Romeo and Juliet

Happy Valentine's to you all whether you are seeking love, are with you absolute soul mate, or anywhere between.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Melbourne Chess Club Championship

It was good to see a few more players enter the Melbourne Chess Club (MCC) championship bringing the number up to 39. This is still a bit disappointing compared to last year's total of 46, let alone the heady numbers of 2011 when we had around 60. Compared to other clubs it is also not a good sign. Currently Box Hill Chess Club and Noble Park Chess Club have FIDE rated tournaments running. Box Hill have a very respectable 64 players in their Autumn Cup, while Noble Park have 47 players for their Club Championship which is about a 10 player increase over last year. Should this be a worry for the MCC committee? I certainly think they should be asking why numbers are dropping for the club's flagship event. It may be unrealistic to maintain numbers in the 60's (though it may not), but I would have thought a field of at least 40 should be the yearly target.

The committee should not be too concerned over the quality of the field. 13 of the 39 players are rated above 2000 FIDE which means it is going to be a strong performance by anyone to win the championship. There is a live game being transmitted each week and yesterday was a great fight between IM Guy West and  David Beaumont. David played a Sicilian but Guy didn't go into the Open systems. Guy had to use all his strategic skill to aim at weaknesses in David's position. In the end David couldn't hold out, and Guy took the full point. Guy is joined on 2/2 by FM Chris Wallis, FM Dusan Stojic, Ari Dale, and Justin Penrose who took the scalp of IM Mirko Rujevic. Justin played the Centre Game and he and Mirko played an absolutely wild game which can be found on arbiter Kerry Stead's blog.

Paul Kovacevic followed up on his excellent win last week with a draw with ex club champion Malcolm Pyke. These 2 are half  point behind the leaders where they are joined by FM Dragicevic, Urban, Michaille, and Drew. Of course there is a long way to go, but it is always good to have points in the bag. Next week is teh last chance for late entries, so hopefully someone will enter and bring the total to 40 which would seem the minimum for respectability. I had intended to go to the club this week but events were against me. I will do my best to visit the champs next week.

Monday, February 11, 2013

How Amazing is Social Media?

So, I'm a bit of a technophobe, and fairly reluctant to try new gadgets, but I have to say that I'm completely blown away recently by the power of the internet. I'm currently following live feeds on Twitter and the BBC news site over the shock announcement that the Pope is to resign. Now as a non Catholic, I'm not going to make comment on this turn of events, but it is a momentous piece of news. In fact Pope Benedict will be the first Pope to resign in office since Gregory XII in 1415. I am now an avid follower of Twitter, and when I'm online I will have a tab with it running while I do other things. Besides following various chess tweeters, and some authors and book sites, it is the news that mainly interests me, and I find the BBC coverage usually very good. I always have an alternative site news running so as to get a second opinion, though this second site changes. Currently I am following Sky News, but I think I'll change soon.

My main point of contact with others online is through Facebook, and I've found it an invaluable tool for following the progress of my family back in the UK, and for promoting chess and this blog. I must admit that I'm not too bothered about the number of 'friends' I have, or interests I follow. I guess we all use these social media tools for our own ends.

But personally I find the most useful thing about the internet is the way it has made following chess so easy. There are some sites which I regularly follow and have done for a very long time. Top of the list are my favourite 2 sites, The Week in Chess (TWIC) and the Chess Cafe. TWIC is a chess news site while Chess Cafe offers regular articles on all aspects of the game. I use TWIC as my main portal for watching live games. On the site there is a live chess game page, and links to other live games happening around the world.  In fact, watching live games online is one of my favourite chess activities. My local chess club, the Melbourne Chess Club (MCC) has a digital board and I've been watching a game tonight which has been broadcast live. I see the game has just finished but I'm guessing the result has been put in wrong, as it looks as if white has forced mate rather than the game being a draw.

I also like to follow blogs. Some I have been looking at for a long time, while I like to try new ones out for a bit. My blogroll to the right of the page shows blogs I follow as do the links underneath. Some of these are updated more often than others and I've found a few more to follow. Kevin Spraggett's blog is excellent for chess. Spraggett is a Canadian GM and his chess posts are great reading material whether they are about parts of the game itself, or commentary about chess politics or culture. I also want to follow Denis Monokrousos' site as that also has a great deal of chess content. I'll be adding these 2 sites to the blogroll and following them for the next couple of months, at least until the end of the London Candidates.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Reading List

Now I haven't been reading much lately so it's time to get back into it. I have a kindle on my new laptop, so I'm going to read from that, but also got a load of books sitting on shelves waiting to be read. Usually I read fairly lightweight novels such as fantasy and crime fiction genres. I guess this is because the majority of the stuff I read is about chess and is usually pretty technical. However, when I actually do manage to read something with a bit more depth, I usually enjoy it. So this year I'm going to try to balance things out a bit, mixing some nonsense with some genuine literature.

A short while back I read an excellent book, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. It is one of the best books I've read for ages, and getting close in quality to my all time favourite, "The Remains of the Day" by Ishiguro. In fact 'Harold Fry' was so amazingly good in my opinion, that I couldn't believe it had been beaten to the Man Booker Prize, especially by an historical novel. So I bought that novel, "Bring Up The Bodies" by Hilary Mantel and intend to read it. Actually, it the sequel to "Wolf Hall" which had previously won the Man Booker Prize in 2009 and that is the first book I intend to read.

However, this book sits on my laptop and will be read on the kindle there. I will not always have my laptop with me, so when I'm driving around to and from work I really need to have a book with me. Now I could reread the Harry Potter series, or Tolkien (which I've already done too many times) but I intend to only read books that I have never read before this year. So here are the next 5 books that I've lined up to read:

1. A Street Cat Named Bob - James Bowen (This sounds great, a busker and a stray cat making their way together in London)
2. The Big Over Easy - Jasper Fforde (I've never read Fforde, but have read loads of Robert Rankin and thoroughly enjoy this type of novel comically satirising a genre of writing)
3. Moonlight Mile - Dennis Lehane (Mystic River is one of my favourite crime novels and I never read anything else by Lehane)
4. The Winter Ghosts - Kate Mosse (All her works are excellent weaving modrn and historical stories together based around the south of France)
5. In Pursuit of Glory - biography of Bradley Wiggins (I'm not usually a biography fan, but this one intrigues me. I'm interested to see if there is any mention of the seedier side of cycling)

This combination of fact and fiction should be light enough for when I'm travelling around, and in the meantime I have my kindle with some heavier books. I am always looking out for new fiction to read, so would be obliged by any recommendations. I also intend to read a fair bit of non-fiction this year (other than chess which sometimes comes across as quite fictional in a bizarre way!) especially history which used to be my pet subject when I was younger. On the kindle I currently have:

1. Wolf Hall - Hilary Mantel (Booker Prize Winner)
2. Bring up the Bodies - Hilary Mantel (Booker Prize Winner, but is it really better than Harold Fry?)
3. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austin (I've never read this, and recently visited Austin's memorial stone in Winchester Cathedral)
4. The Jerusalem Puzzle - Laurence O'Bryan (Follow up to the Istanbul Puzzle, which I've already read, these are great reads in the Dan Brown style of writing)

Jane Austin's memorial in Winchester Cathedral

I do intend to use the kindle more, and am considering subscribing to History Today or some other history magazine on kindle. Any advice or ideas about reading material would be gladly received. :)

Saturday, February 9, 2013

On Pubs

To be honest, since I've been in Australia which is nearly 8 years I haven't been a frequent pub goer. Perhaps I'm a different person to the one that left the UK in 2005, or perhaps the pub culture here is just different to that which I left behind? Ok, let's stop beating around the bush, I think the pubs in Melbourne are crap compared to those in England! Actually that's a slight generalisation as there are some pubs in England I wouldn't dream of going into, and some that I've been in and then left pretty quickly. But generally, pubs as I know them are much better in the UK. Here in Melbourne, pubs are too often dressed up gambling halls with pokies machines, and betting on horses/dogs. To add respectability there are often restaurants in the pubs, but I find the buildings more like big social clubs rather than pubs.
The Cat and Fiddle
One thing I especially miss about the UK is the country pubs. When I was back over Christmas we went to a few including the one in the picture above, the Cat and Fiddle which is an isolated building sitting on the Western fringe of the Peak District not too far from Manchester. It is the second highest pub in England, and a favourite with motorcyclists, cyclists and walkers. They serve decent food and real ales (I was designated driver that day so couldn't sample any) and if you're lucky you can sit next to the open fire.

UK pubs have a rich history and are often named after people such as royalty, places and animals, but there are many different pub names, and some with a great sense of humour. When I was growing up there was a contest to name the new local pub in my area, and the winner was the culturally pleasing Brahms and Lizst. Of course, this was rhyming slang for "pissed" so the name never was chosen, though the 2 bars were called the Brahms Bar and the Liszt Bar! And some of the pubs are old, very old. For history lovers, we are talking over 1000 years old in some cases! Just the architecture alone makes a tour of great pubs a worthwhile thing, let alone the interior, ambience and the real ales. (by the way, I've been in 2 of the pubs in the link above, wonder if you can guess which ones?).

England's oldest pub
The Olde Fighting Cocks is in the Guinness Book of Records s the oldest pub in England. How could anyone walk past this beautiful pub and not stop in for a drink? Of course, pubs in towns tend to have a different feeling, some of which are quite rough, but these are places I would avoid. A summer's evening, in a beer garden, with real ales and chatting happily to friends is an unbeatable experience. Let us visually compare this with an Australian offering!

Outside terrace of the Black Swan, Stratford Upon Avon
Possibly the best pub in Melbourne, The Rose Hotel in Fitzroy
I might be sounding a bit of  beer snob here, but Melbourne's best pubs are a long way off matching the quality of their English counterparts.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Time for some Classics

My lessons recently have focused on the tactical and some great attacking games. I think some of my young students are ready to take a look at some classic games. In his book "Modern Chess Preparation" Ukrainian Grandmaster and Olympiad team Captain, Vladimir Tukmakov devotes over a third of his book to looking at classic games claiming that for improving players, the "games of Capablanca are far more instructive than the extremely complex works of modern super-grandmasters". He goes on to say that strategic rules should be learned from "simple and logical examples" and that "the games of Capablanca not Alekhine, Botvinnik not Bronstein and Karpov not Kasparov" should be looked at.

So with this in mind, I am inspired to show my pupils 2 of the most famous games in history, both of them appearing in Tukmakov's book, as well as many other sources and I'll share them on this blog. In fact a little earlier this evening I looked through one of the games for the first time in a long time, and see in it one of the greatest knight outposts I can remember. Of course, this is the game Lasker-Capablanca St Petersburg 1914. I can't wait to see the kids faces when the queens are exchanged early on. Hopefully their disbelief will turn to resourcefulness when they are challenged to join Lasker in making the most of his other pieces. Another issue that is of paramount importance in this game is space which Capablanca had little of, and a permanent weakness on d6. Strategically it is a masterful game, and I hope the kids appreciate it for what it is.

To make things up to Capablanca I intend to show one of his masterful performances. I intend to show his game against Marshall where he had to defend against the Marshall Gambit. This will introduce the concepts of gambit play, attacking methods and defensive techniques, including giving back material which is something kids are always reluctant to do. I will again be interested to see the kids reactions to a game where the attacking player is the one who ends up losing.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Why Study Chess?

What inspires a player to study? Does one do it to improve, to research, for the fun of it? We are all eternal optimists hoping that we can still improve. I guess the fact that strong players maintained their strength late into their lives gives us all inspiration. However, the fact is that a player like Kortchnoi or Smyslov were absolute greats from a young age, so staying stronger later in life wasn't so much of a problem for them. Most of us aren't going to get much better after we hit 40 so why not just play and forget the study? Well, speaking personally, I find studying the game fascinating, its history, its characters, the games both great and relatively normal and the whole cultural melting pot that makes up this game of kings.

I coach kids and see very different reactions to the lessons I present. Some kids love stories and remember the most bizarre of things. Other kids enjoy puzzles, and even some chess based logical problems. There is an excellent monthly article at the Chess Cafe website by Jeff Coakley with some great testing puzzles. But what about adults? There are loads of products around to help players improve. For instance, there are books, DVD's, databases, computer playing programs, online chess clubs with online coaching. In fact there is so much stuff out there that it is almost impossible to know what will help you improve the most.

In my opinion adults can improve, even those of us above the dreaded 40, but having some knowledge of yourself is a very good place to start. We all learn in different ways, so do you prefer visual, audio or written learning? I love books and a chess board, but I probably learn more from playing through games in a database. I don't really enjoy DVD's, though I find short youtube type reports excellent. I hate playing computer programs, though I don't mind playing games at online chess clubs. What I find particularly useful is watching live games online, especially with Grandmaster commentary. As I said, we are all different so my likes and dislikes will be different to yours, but getting to know what you like can help you devise a program of study that can be enjoyable and rewarding. It may also be a good idea to ask a strong player to help you choose some products if you want to buy books or DVD's. There is so much that it's difficult to know what to get. Employing a coach for a few sessions can also guide you in the right direction.

Saying that, any study is better than none, though study directed at your own level will obviously be more effective. As for me, I enjoy looking at games of great players of the past (instead of beefing up my opening repertoire, or working on my positional understanding). I have some particular favourites who seem to somehow resonate with me. I particularly enjoy playing through the games of Reshevsky and Korchnoi. Both were immigrants, which I can empathise with, and both were great fighters which I fully appreciate. Although both were positional masters, they were both great tactical players and attacking players so when looking through their games you get the full range of types of game. Here's a couple of games that you wouldn't necessarily associate with these 2 heroes of mine, both in that most romantic of openings, the King's Gambit.

Firstly, the young Reshevsky playing a simul in Berlin aged about 8. Sammy was white, though I don't know the name of his opponent.

Secondly a game with Korchnoi as black against a King's Gambit specialist. This was played shortly before he emigrated in probably his last round robin in the Soviet Union before he left.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Time For a Completely Random Post

The beauty of writing a blog is that you can write about whatever you want to. Ok, so this one is supposed to be about chess and coffee, but these are just the main subjects that interest me, and the blog is, after all, about me and my world view. Now I've just finished my first week back at work after a long summer vacation (for those of you in Europe, Asia or North America who live upside down, it is summer here in Australia) and had about enough of chess. It's a shame, because there are some great chess events just finished, in progress or about to start, but today I can't bring myself to think about them, or anything else to do with chess.

I know what you're thinking. I'm currently speeding on caffeine and don't know what I'm talking about. Life without chess!! Sacrilege!! Well, you're wrong. I have had one coffee today, but in the heat of a 35C day, I tend to drink more water than anything else. And for the past week I've been feeling dehydrated from some gastro type bug that has me short of breath and tired. So no, I'm certainly not overfuelled on coffee. In fact, perhaps I haven't had enough recently. When I was in Queensland I was worried that there would be no good coffee, but I was pleasantly surprised. I was staying in Nobby's Beach on the Gold Coast and the local row of shops and cafes had some good coffee. I tried a few places, but really liked a little place called '52 espresso' which was cosy and had a pretty decent long black.

Blackboard Cafe, Varsity Lakes Queensland

I also need to give a big thankyou to Andrew FitzPatrick who pointed me in the direction of the best coffee in the University grounds (according to someone who told a friend of his who might have mentioned in passing etc). I have to say that Blackboard Coffee do a pretty good drink. Actually it reminded me somewhat of the coffee I had in Chez Dre the week before, with a fruity tang to it. All in all, I was pretty impressed, especially seeing the last time I was in Queensland I couldn't find a decent coffee anywhere! Then again, I was in Brisbane!

Anyway, enough about coffee and on to cats. If I appear to be rambling, then I have got the style just as I want. I also ought to apologise to any chess readers who are wondering when the chess content is going to appear. Take a look at the Chess tag and you'll find some chess content. I always considered myself more of a dog person than a cat person. But really, does such a thing exist? I mean why would an animal lover prefer dogs to cats? They are both great companions with admittedly different traits, but still we're talking cuddly domestic pets. Here's a funnier take on the differences:

So when my wife said to me about 4 years ago, lets get a cat, my initial reaction was "What? I prefer dogs!" Now my wife, Caroline, also loves dogs but our situation with work and life would limit the amount of time we could spend walking and caring for a dog. So it was agreed to get a cat. We got the black and white one in the picture below, called Candy. Actually, I have to admit that I almost immediately became very fond of my new little kitten. So did Caroline, and we decided to get another cat, the light tortoiseshell below called Alice. The 2 of them are great friends, with very different personalities.

My 2 cuddly companions
Anyway, yesterday we had the nightmare scenario of one of our cats not returning home. Alice, the tortoiseshell, went AWOL for about 36 hours. It's an unbelievably stressful experience, as you can't help but imagine the worst things happening to them. There's the possibility of abduction (more common with top breeds), injury, getting trapped somewhere, being frightened and running away from their own territory, as well as a number of other explanations for their disappearance. Knowing all this, and having a plan to recover your cat is really useful to know and I was indebted to this site for easing my mind somewhat about the likelihood of certain events.

And to end it this rather random set of musings, congratulations to the English Parliament for approving same sex marriages. Well done to the archaeological team for establishing the remains of Richard III (and I wish luck to the teams now trying to find the remains of Alfred the Great). I haven't run for too long, I need to start reading again, I want my holiday in the USA to start now (only 212 days to go), and I never knew that today was the day in 1819 that a certain Mr Raffles founded Singapore! Did you know that Changi Airport in Singapore has a butterfly garden? Neither did I until I went on a little exploration during my 2 hour stop there on the way back from England! Ok, now I've descended from random musings to utter gibberish, like an internet forum poster, so I'd better stop!

Butterfly Garden (courtesy of the butterfly consultancy)

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

MCC Championship

This is usually one of the strongest club events of the year in Australia, and this time round looks no exception to that rule. The field includes 2 IM's, MCC perennial's Guy West and Mirko Rujevic and another 10 players rated above 2000. There are a number of strong young players including Justin Tan and Ari Dale so it looks both strong and interesting. There were only 36 entries on the opening night, which might be considered a bit disappointing, but late entries are accepted up until round 3, so perhaps some more might throw their hat in the ring.

Most of the seeds seem to get through the first round, though there were quite a few draws for a first round of a swiss. The biggest winner of the night was MCC stalwart Paul Kovacevic, who upset young talent Justin Tan. Paul usually finds himself near the top boards facing a big seed in the first round of MCC events, and usually makes the seed sweat, even if he doesn't come away with a result. I remember Paul completely outplaying Guy West last year, or the year before, only to blunder at a critical moment allowing Guy a nice king hunt. This time Paul was clearly worse against the higher rated Justin, but he just kept making moves, and with queens on the board anything can happen, and it did:
Justin as white is a pawn up with the preferable combination of queen and knight versus queen and bishop. All he has to do is get out of check. 32.Kh1? Paradoxically, in this position the king is safer in the centre than the corner. Both 32.Kf1 and 32.Qd4 were better ways of escaping the check, and would have left white with a clear advantage. 32..Qf2! Immediately taking advantage of the situation, with mating threats on g2 and e1, white is forced to sacrifice a piece. 33.Nh5+ gxh5 34.Qg3+ Qxg3 35.hxg3 and black soon won.

The tournament is a nine round swiss so it is early days. Personally I'm interested to see how the Dale brothers go after their trip to Europe. Both Ari and Finley played lots of chess, experienced lots of chess culture, and (presumably) learned loads about chess. Ari's strength has not been fully tested yet as he won against Felix Wyss who he out rates by about 400 points, but Finley has already caused an upset holding FM Domagoj Dragicevic to a draw.

Next week I intend to drop in on the tournament and blog from a live perspective so hopefully the report will be a little more detailed. For a more detailed report, check out arbiter Kerry Stead's blog!

Finally I wish to thank the many people in the Australian chess community who showed friendship to me and disbelief in the system that made me write the last post on this blog. While I might not join in with the FIDE rated events anymore, I still intend to be an active member of the Australian and Victorian chess community!

Monday, February 4, 2013

The End of My FIDE Playing Days?

In the February FIDE rating list, my name didn't appear, and there seems to be no trace of me. Actually, this didn't come as too much of a surprise to me, as I'd been waiting for it to happen. You see, I'm a player who doesn't really fit into the new levels of professionalism that the international chess body seems to want to impose upon the chess world. But let's start at the beginning, because I'm not totally blameless and a Kafkaesque victim here.

A long time ago, I was a member of the British Chess Federation. This organisation changed to the English Chess Federation (ECF) which I have never been a member of. The main reason for me not becoming a member is that I emigrated to Australia and I felt the ECF no longer represented my interests (there are some other issues, but I'm not going to go into them here). FIDE require that all players be members of their federation, and I am not, and do not intend to pay the ECF for that privilege. So that is why I've been delisted in the FIDE rating lists.

Of course, I could change my federation to Australia, where I live and am now a citizen. In fact I inquired about this of the then International Ratings Officer Greg Canfell, who was pretty helpful and sent me all that I needed to provide to him for the switch. However, a stumbling block for me was the transfer fee that FIDE required for a player of my strength (2100-2200). To change federations would cost me 250 euros, which seems to me to act as a deterrent for players rather than an investment. I'm a player in my mid 40's who isn't likely to improve, but could be an active member of the chess community for many years to come, and a typical stepping stone type player for improving juniors. However, that is not going to happen, as I have no intention of paying 250 euros to change federation, and I have no intention of paying the ECF a membership.

So where does that leave me? I'm an amateur who enjoys long play games, not a professional or a master strength player. Firstly, I can still play chess games not rated under the FIDE system, which might turn into the majority of tournaments if FIDE continue with their new plans regarding player registrations. Also, if I want to change federation without incurring the 250 euro cost, then I have to play no FIDE rated games for 6 years, and prove residency within the country I wish to adopt. To me this is the preferable course of events, because I'm thoroughly sick of the amount of money the international chess federation wants to bleed from the players of its member constituents. I have toyed in the past with attempting to achieve FIDE and International Arbiters titles, and with gaining the FIDE Trainer qualification. But at the end of the day, it's all just a massive money making process for FIDE and doesn't really help member states or players at all. I think GM Kevin Spraggett sums it all up perfectly.

My immediate future will consist of writing this blog and other articles, coaching chess (without a FIDE Trainers qualification!), playing online at ICC, and playing some local tournaments when I can find the time. I'll continue to support my chess club, the Melbourne Chess Club, though I don't think I'll be able to play in many of the events there. I might go back to blogging live some of the rounds! Maybe after 6 years, I'll come back to the FIDE rated scene as an Australian. The way things are going though, I highly doubt it.