Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Melbourne Chess Scene

Melbourne is a big, sprawling city of around 4 million people. It is situated around Port Phillip Bay and has various mountains surrounding it to the east and north making it a picturesque area to live. Chess in Melbourne is vibrant with a number of clubs situated around the town, as well as less intense venues to play. There is a healthy tournament scene and the city is lucky to be resident to a number of strong players including a Grand Master and a number of International Masters. At the other end of the scale, coaching organisations work throughout the schools network in Melbourne ensuring that a new crop of club players start to come through.

The flagship event of the year is the Victorian Championship, which is traditionally a round robin event. This year the tournament is pretty strong with top seed being 2400+ FM Bobby Cheng. Bobby is so far on 2/2 and is leading the event along with new IM Ari Dale. Of course there is a long way to go, but Bobby is certainly the player to beat. The tournament is held over a number of venues across the city in order to bring the top players to the chess playing public, and in order to not favour one club too much. While this can be inconvenient involving a deal of travelling around the city, and playing at different times of various weeks (clubs are open on different days) it is also an interesting format that doesn't seem to detract from the general strength of the field. One strange development is that one of the players in this tournament has recently been banned from one of the venue clubs and I'm not sure how that will be accommodated. The Melbourne Chess Club have banned David Beaumont at a rather inconvenient time as he is to play at the venue tomorrow night. If David is not allowed on the premises then that will throw the Victorian Championship into disarray and I don't know if the MCC have made allowance for David playing in this tournament or not. Of course, David could play at another venue, though this seems to me to detract from the Premier Victorian chess tournament. Hopefully, someone from MCC or Chess Victoria can clear up exactly what will be happening here.

***Addenda***: Apparently David Beaumont is not banned from the MCC yet. MCC Secretary, Sylvester Urban, informs me that David is still welcome to play at the MCC and therefore the Victorian Championship can go ahead as planned, at least for now.

Meanwhile, the MCC is running the City of Melbourne Open on Monday nights, a 9 round FIDE rated event which has attracted a mere 23 players. Rating favourites IM Mirko Rujevic nd Malcolm Pyke share the lead on 2.5/3 and the half point they dropped was against each other. If these 2 start winning against lower rated opposition then it could be a high winning score for the tournament, and a gap between 1st-2nd and the pack. But again, there is a long way to go, and a group of players will fancy their chances of halting the progress of the two top seeds. Box Hill/Canterbury Chess Club is currently about half way through its Club Championship. FM Chris Wallis is leading this event with 5/5 with a decent sized field of about 50 players. The other major chess club in Melbourne, Noble Park is also mid way through an event. The Noble Park Open currently has 3 leaders on 3/3, FM Dusan Stojic, Eugene Schon, and Michael Chan. One of Melbourne's newer clubs, Noble Park has consistently grown its numbers till now we see a good sized field of about 50 player with players of all strengths represented. Noble Park are to be congratulated on their growth, starting small with a definite aim at providing quality chess, developing slowly but surely so as to encourage new members and to eventually create a weekend tournament held in September (this year will be their second weekender), and now taking on the role of hosts of the next Australian Championship. Noble Park Chess Club can certainly be seen to be the new success of chess in Melbourne.

However, all clubs are doing a great job of providing local (and sometimes not so local) players with a venue to play their beloved game. Melbourne has a number of events coming up:

Victorian Open: Canterbury Chess Club will be hosting this one over the Queen's Birthday long weekend of June 7-10.

Victorian Junior Championships: Canterbury Chess Club are again hosting this over the school holiday period of June 28-July 12.

Croydon Chess Classic: Croydon Chess Club will be holding their annual weekender on July 13-14, and with only 52 places available, I'd hurry to enter this excellently run tournament, run by an extremely friendly suburban chess club.

Frankston Allegro: Frankston Chess Club is one of Melbourne's biggest in terms of membership, but not in terms of tournaments. So it is good to see them putting on events that may attract others down to their Southern venue. The tournament is being held on 20th July.

Best in the West: this is Hobson's Bay Chess Club's annual weekender, but I have heard nothing about it this year so far. It is usually held around August/September and is another tournament with a friendly atmosphere, held last year in the Western suburb of Altona.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Fitness and Charities

Over the past couple of years I've enjoyed taking up running as physical exercise. I used to run a bit when I was younger, but not like I am now. I try to get out 3 times a week and my main aim is to get fit enough to run a half marathon. I've run 15 km before so I've only got another 6 to find! I've had a few breaks from running in this 2 year period, mainly due to being unwell, but have got back into a rhythm and have found a way of fitting my 3 runs in each week during my very full timetable.

Eventually, I'd like to be a regular race runner, not for competitive reasons (I'm never going to be fastest anything!!) but for the challenge and hopefully to collect for a worthwhile charity. We are all individuals who's lives have been through many things, and because of this, each person may find certain charities more important than others. For instance, my father has diabetes, so that is a cause I feel that I would be happy to donate to and collect for. Also, as an animal lover, I know the need for income form the various shelters who do a magnificent job of looking after stray animals and fining them new homes. So beware, because I may be  asking you to donate in the future!

Funnily enough I remember driving along the beach road earlier in the year on a public holiday and there were some pretty crazy drivers down there, trying to impress I don't know who with their dodging and manouvering, overtaking and undertaking! But that day the major intersections saw collectors shaking tins at the parked cars and almost everyone, boy racers included, rolled down their window and threw some coins in. Of course, it was Good Friday and the Children's Hospital is a charity that most people will want to help.

There are of course many people already doing this and a group has come to my attention who are taking the challenge with the Ride to Conquer Cancer and if anyone wants to donate they can follow the easy instructions in the link. Even if you don't donate, then please read the story on the page because people who do these things usually have a reason for doing them and this story is as heartfelt as can be.

Cycling has never really been my thing, but my wife, Caroline loves it and will be going for the Round the Bay in a Day which happens in the Spring here in Melbourne. I'm not sure what length of ride Caroline is planning on doing or whether she will collect for charity (as a nurse she already does her fair share for society, besides donating regularly to charities), but she has started her training program and all going well will give it her best shot.

It's been a while...

I've found it difficult to keep posting on this blog for a number of reasons. Firstly, this is the busiest time of the year for me with work, and I've had a particularly heavy couple of weeks. Secondly, I've not been particularly inspired by anything to write. The Oceanic zonal produced some great results, but it is rather disappointing to see no live games in this day and age. Even without live games, there could have been some games published  after each round. My congratulations go to the winners, Igor Bjelobrk (now an IM) and Irina Berezina, and of course to all who competed. Young Victorian Ari Dale came away with IM title while other youngsters, Justin Tan and Anton Smirnov took FM titles. I have defended these titles in the past from people who claim they are soft by saying that when young players win them, they will eventually grow into them, and we have evidence of this with James Morris now reaching the 2400 level and Bobby Cheng quickly surpassing the 2300 level for the FM title he won.

I liked the finish to this game from 12 year old Anton Smirnov from Sydney. I'm always telling my students that they have to be aware of pawn pushes in the centre, and Anton opened the position to his advantage with 13.d5! Bxd5 [Actually, the really nice variation comes after 13..exd5 when white has 14.Nxg6!! clearing the way for the dark squared bishop to come to g5 and win black's pinned bishop on e7 14..hxg6 15.Bg5+-] 14.Nxd5 which wins a piece as black can't take back 14..Qxd5 15.Be4, and 14..exd5 15.Bg5

Meanwhile at the Melbourne Chess Club, the City of Melbourne tournament rolls on with a small field. It is all quite tightly packed as no one has managed to make it to 3/3 and so 11 out of the 23 players are within half a point of the lead. Unless someone starts to make a run, this could be a very close event. Hopefully someone will take charge as the event nears the half way mark. The MCC has also been hosting the Victorian Championship which started this week. I haven't played the Vic Champs for a few years now, and it is actually a tournament I miss. It is a bizarre event spread over a number of venues with sometimes 3 games a week. This year is a pretty good field (it is always a pretty good field!) and we can only assume the strength of the fields will get better in years to come as a new crop of talented youngsters join the ranks of established top players. Youth is represented by Cheng, Dale, Tan, Zelesco and Zuhao Li, while Dusan Stojic is only in his mid 20's and Domagoj Dragicevic about 30. There were no draws in the first round with wins for Ari Dale against FM Eddy Levi, IM Rujevic against FM Dragicevic, FM Cheng against Tan, Zelesco against Sirota, FM Stojic against FM Hacche and Li against Beaumont. But as they say, there is a long way to go yet!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A quick post

I've got 20 minutes to write this before the start of the super tournament in Norway with Anand, Carlsen et al. After all the issues over the venue for the World Championship, this event seems to have taken on extra significance, and the clash of Anand and Carlsen is eagerly awaited (it's round 2, tomorrow, with Carlsen white). It's great that we have so much top class chess throughout the year nowadays, as there is plenty for the fans. However it is also a shame that other major events have to take a back seat somewhat.

Currently there are a set of top class events in action. The US Championship has a great field with Gata Kamsky as top seed, and he is currently leading the event. There is also a women's Grand Prix tournament happening in Geneva with Kateryna Lagno (I always thought her last name was Lahno but what do I know) the early leader and Yifan Hou amongst the pack of chasers. And to finish off there is the unbelievably strong European Championships being held in Poland with an abundance of GM's (I lost count at 100) with many above 2700. I will take a moment to be patriotic and congratulate English GM Stephen Gordon on his start of 2.5/3 including a draw with Dmitry Jakovenko.

I was thinking earlier today about this and which events would take priority in certain people's minds. Of course the tournament witht he World Champ and number 1 is important, but so is a titled event such as the US Champs and the European Championship. The women's Grand Prix has ramifications for the Women's World Championship, so that too is a prestigious event. I suppose a lot will depend on whether any of the players are known personally to you. So for me, the Euro Champs is interesting while of course I'll be following the exploits of the top 10 players in Norway. However, I'll also be following local events which mean just as much to me, if not more, then these prestigious super tournaments.

Currently, I have friends playing in tournaments in Melbourne and Fiji and I'd obviously like them to do well. The MCC are holding the second Monday night tournament of the year, the City of Melbourne Open. There have only been 2 rounds so far, and only 3 players have a perfect 2/2, IM Mirko Rujevic, Malcolm Pyke and Bosko Mijatovic. Meanwhile there is a zonal tournament happening in Fiji. There hasn't been great coverage of this event with no live games being broadcast, but the last I heard, young Justin Tan who plays at both Noble Park and the MCC was leading the event. this tournament has great significance for Australian chess and Oceanic chess as titles may be awarded. There is still some play to go yet, though, as there is in the women's section where the class players IM Irina Berezina and WIM Emma Guo lead the field.

But of course, there is nothing like the tournament that you are personally playing in. Unfortunately, I'm not at the moment, though this may change on Friday if we get enough interested players along to Glen Eira Chess Club. The plan is to run a 60 + 10 tournament at the adult club with the tournament to be ACF rated. Saying that, we will see the turn out and gauge the feelings of our members. Whatever the outcome, at least I'll be playing some games :)

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Against the Odds

The World of chess has been talking of not much other than the venue of this year's World Championship match between Anand and Carlsen. FIDE announced yesterday that the match would go ahead in Chennai, India as had previously been said by President Illyumzhinov. Carlsen, his team and the Norwegian Chess Federation had all urged FIDE to open a bidding process so that all those interested in hosting the event may show their proposals with the best being chosen. However, FIDE awarded Chennai the match with no more said. Well, I'm not going to go into the rights and wrongs of this decision by FIDE; I'm not their biggest fan anyway. But I do have an interesting question about the match being held in Chennai. Will the venue be of more benefit to Anand as it's his home town, or will it be an added pressure for him playing in front of his home crowd for the first time (not counting his match in Delhi vs Shirov)? I guess the answer will depend on how the match starts and how open the players are to press releases and indeed how volatile the Indian press will be. Though if Indian media coverage of cricket is anything to go by, I think we are in for some great and not wholly impartial reporting :D

Home advantage is considered a major factor in many sports, with soccer coming immediately to mind. However, in chess this has not been established. There is no doubt that some players feel more at home in certain venues and this may affect their play. Some players don't play well when there is little natural lighting, and temperature can affect play (I am particularly bad in hot conditions). Company may also be a factor, with some players missing partners when away from home for a long spell, or even the fact that one may play better when travelling to a tournament with a good friend. I guess there are a whole multitude of factors that may adversely affect someone's play, and the moral of this is to know oneself and try to pick the optimum conditions knowing your likes and dislikes.

While I have enjoyed visiting chess clubs around the city of Melbourne (in fact I enjoy going to chess clubs all around the world as my wife Caroline can tell you when she was dragged to the Marshall Chess Club in Manhattan on a holiday there some years ago!) it is nice to have a fairly local venue that one can just nip round to once a week to play. In that regard, the Glen Eira Chess Club was created to fill a gap in this part of the city since the sad demise of Elwood Chess Club a few years ago. In our second week we were expecting the novelty value to have worn off a bit and for the turn out to drop off. However, while almost all who came the week before were back again, there were a few new faces to the club to check it out. This is what is great about a local club. If a core group can be established (and by that I mean maybe as little as a dozen players) then the club can begin building and having casual visitors is one way of keeping the club fresh and exciting. While it is good to have a local place to play, it is also important to get some variety of opponents so travelling to other clubs, and some tournaments would achieve this aim.

The visitors to the club, and the regulars had quite a fun evening as we ran a handicap tournament. Now these things used to be a regular part of chess clubs when I was growing up, but this form of chess has mostly disappeared, though time odds are often given. In our event an unbelievably complicated system was used where the lower rated player could choose time odds or material odds, and there were some great fun games, swindles and of course many blunders. However, no one minded as it was a fun event, and this is the thing that all clubs should be emphasising. We are playing a game, we are trying to spend a little of our time each week enjoying ourselves in a social atmosphere partaking in our favourite pastime. Of course we will try our hardest to do our best, but at the end of the day, for most of us, it is really a bit of fun.

As such, have a look at this magnificent odds hack by the great Philidor. I've been showing it to some of my younger classes to demonstrate, among other themes, the importance of building and maintaining a pawn centre. Philidor's opponent here is no push over. Atwood was considered a strong amateur (he was a mathematician) and in his book 'Chess History and Remembrances', Henry Bird said:

"Of the players who encountered Philidor, Sir Abraham Janssens, who died in 1775, seems to have been the best, Mr. George Atwood, a mathematician, one of Pitt's secretaries came next, he was of a class which we should call third or two grades of odds below Philidor, a high standard of excellence to which but few amateurs attain. One of most interesting features of Atwood as a chess player is that he recorded and preserved some of his games, an unusual practice at that time. These records have survived, among them the last games that Philidor played which were against Atwood at Parsloe's Club in London on 20 June 1795."

It seems unbelievable that anyone would be so good to be able to beat a relatively close competitor from such a material disadvantage. However, those were different times, and Philidor was an amazing player. By the way, Bird's book is now in the public domain and can be downloaded for free from Project Gutenberg.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Thursday Chess Observations

Is it my imagination or is the Informator not as good as it used to be? I remember getting a copy back in the 1980's, going through hundreds of games, loads of tactics and endgames, browsing positions throughout the book and basically getting loads from it. I can also remember someone saying that every good player should own at least 1 Informator, and with that 1 Informator and enough work, you could become a master. Well, maybe that was so, but hardly nowadays. I was looking through a recent Informator and the quality is still great, but the quantity is way down. The last Informator I read, back in the 80's had about 750 games in it, whereas the new edition has a little over 200. Now I know Informator has moved their production from 2 times per year to 4 times per year, but still that means the readers are only getting about half the amount of games we got in the past per year. There are some other nice features, but to be honest, I don't think Informator is really about Opening Labs or Player Profiles which are done much better by New in Chess and Chessbase. What made Informator stand out was the quantity and quality of their analysed games. Sad to say it isn't what it used to be :(

The latest Chess Informator
While we're on my imagination, I couldn't believe the size of the latest field for the Monday night MCC event. The recently concluded championship was a little down on numbers, but the first round of the City of Melbourne Open saw a very poor 20 people playing, while 4 others requested byes. I have to say that 24 for any MCC tournament is way below expectations ( the ANZAC Day Weekender tournament last week had a field of over 40 and the MCC has not been attracting huge weekend fileds over the past couple of years) and this is low enough for the committee to warrant having a look at things at the club. I will say that I've offered to help out when I can for the committee of the MCC again, but to be honest I have very little time, especially with trying to start another club on the other side of town. Anyway, while the field is small for the 2013 City of Melbourne Open, those playing in it I wish the very best of luck to. Top seed for the event is IM Mirko Rujevic and there was already a fairly big upset in round 1 when third seed FM David Hacche lost to Gary Bekker who is usually more noted for his skills as an arbiter than as a player. Gary does seem to have been putting some work into his game recently and his results have started to reflect this. I also guess that with such a small field for a 9-round swiss, the arbiter Kerry Stead will have some odd pairings to justify later in the tournament. I'm sure Kerry will be up to the task, as I know he takes these things very seriously and I hope he doesn't get a hard time from the players if some funny looking pairings come about.

1990 saw the 50th Informator produced
Ok, one last thing that I've been imagining this week. Is it my imagination or is the World Chess Championship not as prestigious as it used to be? I mean, the news all seems to be about the venue, Chennai in India. Magnus Carlsen's team have been expressing their concerns over the home venue for the champion, and the manner in which this venue was chosen. There is an excellent report on the chessvibes site. This came straight after an exciting Candidates tournament where at one stage Magnus Carlsen wasn't going to participate because of the nature of the qualification process to become a World Championship challenger. I remember a statement by Carlsen, or someone from his team, saying that it was more important for him to be number 1 in the World than World Champion. Perhaps as we become more and more interested in and governed by ratings, this will be the norm of the future. We have more rating periods than in the past (monthly compared to half yearly), we have FIDE ratings dropping to 1000 (I always wanted to get my rating to 2200 so as to get my name into the back of an Informator...another reason I don't think the Informator's are as good as they used to be!), and live ratings where we can follow the game by game rating changes for the top players. It is quite exciting, but are ratings becoming more important than titles?

Informator 14 covered the "Match of the Century", Spassky-Fischer 1972
And talking of the the World Championship, just what is the process...I mean how does one become champion nowadays? In the olden days of 750 game Informators, it was fairly simple. First you had to qualify from a zonal to an interzonal, and then proceed through a candidates event of either matches or a tournament. The World Championship cycle took 3 years to complete. I don't even know how long the cycles are supposed to take these days. In a couple of days time we have a zonal event happening in Oceania, in Fiji. Imagine (yes, I know I'm overusing this word somewhat today) that the winner of this zonal goes on to become world champion! What will they have to go through to do this, and how long will it take? I could look it up I suppose, but with the constantly shifting procedures and rules in FIDE I can't be bothered.

By the way, while I'm disappointed that Informators aren't as packed as they used to be, and while I'd like to see a regular and transparent World Championship cycle, I still enjoy Informators and will be eagerly following the unfolding saga of the World Championship. To me there is nothing bigger than a World Championship match, and seeing I share the same birth year as Informator and have grown up with it alongside me, I will not abandon it quite yet!