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!

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