Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Some Midweek Chess

Imagine you're playing someone rated maybe 250-300 points below you. The game may not be a push over, but you are probably feeling confident that if you play with no major errors, then you should be a technically better player than your opponent. So play risk free, and wait for the chances to present themselves, which they surely must. The worst that could possibly happen is that by playing it safe, you end up with a draw, and only if your opponent plays above their usual game.

Sounds like a reasonable plan, and sounds like a plan used by most players. However, GM Simon Williams isn't most players! His philosophy seems to be more like, I don't care whether you're a beginner or a World Champion, I'm going to throw pieces around in the style of Tal, or Anderssen and smash you in the most brilliant way I can....or I'll lose in the process! It is a most admirable way of playing, and it has brought the 'GingerGM' a number of fans.

Yesterday at the British Championships, Williams was playing Richard Weaving who is no mug but at 2200ish, not in the same league as the GM (2480ish). But rather than playing it safe, Williams threw pieces around, creating half threats, full threats, bluffs and feints, before landing a knockout blow to finish the game.

White has sacrificed a pawn for this lead in development, but black needs only a couple of moves to get back on track, and to have a healthy endgame advantage. But it is white to play!

White to play and win!
(answer tomorrow:as it's the day after tomorrow...Williams finished the game elegantly with 1.Nf6+! Kh8 [1..gxf6 2.Qg4+ Kh8 3.Rg3 and black must part with the queen to avoid mate] 2.Rh3 1-0)

I was glad to see an old acquaintance, Don Mason, get a good draw against GM Peter Wells. Don used the age old method of mixing it as much as possible against a higher rated opponent. The opening was a Nimzo-Indian and Don chose one of the most aggressive systems, the Samisch, and eventually one of the most random positions of the tournament so far was reached:

Luckily this position was even too random for a GM to fathom, and it wasn't long after this that the game ended in a draw. I wish both these players well in the rest of the tournament. I used to play in the Birmingham League as did Mason, and I remember Peter Wells as a junior, Peter always being the strongest junior in our county, Hampshire. Don has another tough game in the next round against another GM, Mark Hebden while Peter plays Michael Yeo (am I getting mixed up, or is Michael another Hampshire player?).

There are currently 13 players on a maximum 2/2, 6 GM's, 5 IM's, and 2 FM's, including Australia's Gary Lane. The full rankings, and pairings can be seen here.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Summer Chess Action

That might seem a funny thing to say for someone who is in mid winter, but up in the Northern Hemisphere, it is summer holiday time and there is an absolute abundance of chess across Europe. Australian GM David Smerdon is currently on 3.5/4 in the Politiken Cup in Denmark, half a point off the 9 leaders, in this 10 round swiss. Things didn't look too clever for David yesterday, but he came up with a great save.
As white Smerdon had lost a pawn, then sacrificed a piece to gain nowhere near enough compensation in the form of activity. Here, he played 25.Rxf6!? Bxf6 26.Bxf6 Rf8, and white should probably take on h8 and try to grovel through a really bad ending a pawn down. Smerdon tried a different tack!
27.Ng4, and got away with it! Black should really now take the bishop on f6, but possibly thought of more. 27..h5?
Ok, so it's white to play and draw! Answer tomorrow :)
(It's tomorrow!!) David played 28.Re7! [threatening 29.Rg7# so black has to move a rook. He can't move the f-rook as there would follow (eg) 28..Ra8 29.Rg7+ Kf8 30.Ne5 and black will have to give up a lot of material to avoid mate. So he has to play] 28..Rh7 29.Nh6!+ Rxh6 30.Rg7+ Kh8 31.Rf7+ Kg8 32.Rg7+ with a perpetual draw, and an excellent save!
Smerdon is on the same points as legends Jan Timman and Lajos Portisch, and I'm currently watch Portisch holding his own as black in a Scotch game against Parimarjan Negi. Meanwhile across the Channel, the British Championships opened yesterday with no acceleration. The 11 round Championship will truly come around in week 2 when the placings are sorted out, but it's still quite interesting to see seeds fall, and some classy GM moves against amateur opposition. My favourite move of the first round (of the games I've seen so far) was GM Tony Kosten's winning move.
Kosten playing white has an amazing position, and just needs to find a coup de grace! There might be a number of winning moves here, but none are as stylish as 27.Rc6! 1-0

Grandmaster Glenn Flear had to concede a draw, but perhaps the biggest upset was William Foo beating IM Richard Bates. I know nothing about William Foo other than he is 16 years old (if you believe chessbase) but his play was mightily impressive against Bates. Bates took one risk too many, and Foo was able to win a pawn, which he converted remarkably easily.

I have to say that the website is excellent (especially so after the disappointment of the World Youth Olympiad website) with lots of info. Apparently, Keith Arkell won the Bullet challenge against Gary Lane on Sunday. You can see pictures and read about it on the Championship blog.

Monday, July 29, 2013

As One Ends Another Begins

It's turn around day for my interests in chess. I have been following the exploits of the Australian teams at the World Youth Olympiad in China for the past week or so. Today was the last round, and Australia 1 had a slight chance of picking up a medal if they won their match, and other results went their way. The only issue was that they had to overcome top seed Russia. The Australians gave it a very good shot, but in the end the Russian team, featuring a squad rated averagely above 2400, proved just strong enough winning the match by the closest of margins, 2.5-1.5. However, this left the Aussies in a disappointing 10th place (=9th). The event was dominated by India who started as the number 2 seeds, but in the end proved the only unbeatable team in the tournament. Second were Russia, and equal third were Turkey and Hungary.

Australia fielded 2 teams and the second team started from a middle ranking. Unfortunately this put them in the line of the host nation's mass of teams. China fielded over 40 teams, and some of the international countries had little chance to play anyone other than Chinese teams. Australia 2 were one of these. Despite this, the team did pretty well finishing in a bunch in the mid 30's out of a total of 72 teams. Reading the reports of team coach Ian Rogers on the chesschat forum, I couldn't help but feel his exasperation at this situation with the huge number of Chinese teams. Ian is a respected journalist, and not scared to speak his mind, so I will be keeping my ears open for his analysis of the tournament.

Individually, there was quite some success for the young Australians. Ari Dale secured an individual Silver medal on board 4 for the 1st team scoring an excellent 6.5/9. Bobby Cheng managed the same score on board 1 for the 1st team, a tremendous performance and finishing 5th best board 1! Yi Liu scored 5/8 on board 5 (finishing 5th), Anton Smirnov, playing well above his age bracket scored 4/8 on board 2 (11th), and Justin Tan 2/6 on board 3 (9th). The second team also had great performances, the highlights being Jack Puccini's 6.5/8  (15th) on board 3 and Zach Loh's 5.5/9 on board 2 (23rd).

And so my attentions immediately shifts from China to England, where the 100th British Chess Championships start today. Actually, there have already been some warm up events such as a 14 board simul given by GM Nick Pert, and an hour long bullet match between GM Keith Arkell and IM Gary Lane. I don't know what the final score was here, but I do know that Keith is an unbelievably strong fast player. There are some events that take place in the mornings and these will also have started, but the main opening ceremony is set for about 2 hours time, and the main championship will start about 30 minutes after that. For followers here in Australia, the games are starting about 11.30 pm. Shame for me, as I would have liked to have followed the events live. Never mind, I'll just catch up on the action the next day.

Now you'd think that a tournament without Michael Adams (leading in Dortmund so GB can hardly complain about his absence), Nigel Short, Luke McShane and Matthew Sadler could be considered a let down, but really this is looking like a pretty good championships. A grand total of 13 GM's have entered out of a field of over 100. I'm glad to say there are a few names I remember, but it is also heartening to see many new players reaching this level. While I would wish everyone good luck, it is with the proviso that we all like to see a good upset once in a while!

Now that's a lot of writing with no chess. So, I noticed that Aussie GM David Smerdon is playing the Politiken Cup in Denmark that started a couple of days ago and has started with 3/3. The tournament has some other interesting characters, notably legends of the board, Lajos Portisch and Jan Timman. Now they might not be as great now as they once were, but I'd love to be sat in the same tournament as them! Timman finished his game yesterday pretty quickly! His opponent somewhat imploded at the end!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

MCC Update

Since I moved to Australia about 8 and a half years ago, there have been 4 players who I've had a particularly bad record against. IM Guy West I have never managed to beat, I've scored a few draws, and lost quite a few. FM Dusan Stojic I have managed to win against, and have picked up the odd draw, but I must be at about -6 against him. My record against IM Mirko Rujevic perplexes me as I seem to get decent positions, but his sharp and imaginative sense at the chess board usually allows him to come out of things well. While I've beaten him, and drawn a few, I reckon I'm at -5 at least. And against Malcolm Pyke I have had a bad time. I don't remember the exact score, but he won a whole load back to back. I'm either up, level or no worse than -2 against everyone else I've played in Australia. (A bold announcement and if you are someone I've forgotten, then please don't hesitate to remind me)
Guy West and Dusan Stojic
What made me think about this was seeing the field for the Melbourne Chess Club's latest Monday night tournament, the Malitis Memorial. This mid year 7-round swiss has usually had small turn outs compared to other MCC events, but this year the tournament seems to holding it's own with the previous City of Melbourne Open and a field of 29 players are currently competing compared with 23 for the previous event. The top 2 seeds are from my nemesis group, Rujevic and Pyke and these 2 are currently on 2/2 and in the leading group of the event along with David Lacey, Tom Kalisch and Paul Kovacevic. It's still, of course, too early to tell what will happen but with only 7 rounds, the tournament will quickly sort itself out.
Malcolm Pyke

Mirko Rujevic
One player has asked for a bye for tomorrow's third round game in the Malitis Memorial. Jack Puccini is currently in China playing for Australia in the World Youth Olympiad, a team tournament for under 16's. Jack is currently playing board 3 for Australia 2 and has scored a magnificent 5/6, his only loss being to 2449 rated Russian FM Kiril Alekseenko. The MCC are also represented in the Australia 1 team with Ari Dale also having a stellar performance scoring 5.5/7 on board 4 although things were even better before the double round yesterday as it was the second game on the day he lost. All the young Australians are working hard to achieve the best results for their teams, and currently, the 1st team are 8th place (=7th) and the 2nd team are in 39th (=30th). There are still 2 rounds to go and both teams will be looking to improve upon their current standings.

In my last post, I complained about the lack of pgn games on the official website. Well, within about 1 hour of writing that post a pgn of rounds 1-6 was posted on the website. I was immediately ready to forgive the organisers, until I opened it and found it contained only the games from the live boards. To be honest, these games should have been posted to the site immediately, and it should have taken some time for other games to be manually loaded into a database. But I am now not going to hold my breath for the remaining games of the event to be published.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

A Quick Post

Well, I've been sick as a dog the past few days which means I missed much of the chess action in China at the World Youth Olympiad, as well as the start of Biel and Dortmund. I'm still feeling pretty rough so this post will be quick. The Australian teams seem to be doing ok at the Youth Olympiad. The 1st team is in the fight for the medals, and the 2nd team is competing in the middle of the tournament. This was pretty much as expected, and it is good that our kids, helped by their trainers should live up to expectations.

Today will be a make or break day with a double round which will see some teams catapult up the rankings, and some slide a fair way down. At the moment, round 7 is in action, and later today we'll have round 8. There are to be 10 rounds in all, with the tournament finishing on Monday.

There are some issues with the event. First, the official website is pretty bad. A lot of material has not been updated, and a couple of the links lead to blank pages. Now it wouldn't be such a bother if these pages weren't too important, but we're talking about "standings" and "pgn". In fact, the lack of published games has been really disappointing. The best place to find the results and scores is the chess-results server.

The other issue is the number of Chinese teams competing, about 40! While there is nothing in the rules against this happening, it makes the event a kind of Chinese tournament with a few other countries invited, rather than the international event it is meant to be. At the top of the tournament, these Chinese teams don't come into the equation too much, but in the middle, and at the bottom of the tournament, it is more than likely that they will be encountered. This is what the Australian 2nd team has found. Australia 2 are a mid strength team and rather than playing a group of international teams, they have played 5 different Chinese teams in the first 6 rounds.

Currently, Australia 1 in 8th place (joint 6th) and Australia 2 in 40th (joint 32nd). Good luck in the remaining 4 rounds!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Winning Start at the Youth Olympiad

Congratulations to both Australian teams at the World Youth Under 16 Olympiad. The Australia A-team is pretty strong with 2 IM's, Bobby Cheng and Ari Dale in the team. They came through a tough first round game against an unknown (and probably under rated Chinese team) to win 3-1 with no losses. Australia is also fielding a second team, which is also quite strong, led by rapidly improving, and in form Michael Chan. Michael has benefited from being a member of the ultra strong Noble Park Chess Club in Melbourne where he regularly gets competition against 2200+ strength opposition. The b-team also won 3-1 and now both teams will be up among the top boards for round 2, with the b-team playing the top seeds, Russia, while the a-team have an ashes clash against England's b-team. The tournament is 10 rounds and decided by match points so the next couple of rounds should see a big sorting out before the top teams come into contact and the fight for the medals begins for real.

I haven't seen any games yet by the Aussies, but the b-team will be on the live boards later today against Russia. While a daunting task for the young Aussies, they should consider the match a test of their current strength and see just how close they are to the highly rated Russian team. Being a fringe country to a large extent, Australian ratings tend to be a little under value, and with juniors it is impossible to gauge their strength until they reach a level. Now the Australian b-team are on average 400+ FIDE rating points behind their Russia rivals, but I know that the young Australian players can all play considerably above their published ratings. On the other hand, the Australian A-team must avoid complacency against England-B as the same sort of issues are at play, though it is the Aussies who are considerably higher rated than their English opponents.

Good luck to all the Aussie players today, and hopefully we'll start to get some games published soon.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Inspirational Jacques Mieses

I haven't played much chess this year (well, not so much serious chess) and the club I've been helping to set up is due to start a round robin event this week which should see fields of players fairly evenly matched. I have to admit, I'm feeling a bit out of form. I've played a bit online though it isn't the same. Nevertheless, it's still better than not playing at all.

Playing fast games online is a good way to force yourself to work hard tactically, and can hone your openings. I'm usually not a big advocate of fast games. I personally believe that the best way to improve at playing long play chess is by playing long play chess, and working as hard as possible at the board. But there are, of course, other methods including studying games and positions, solving tactical puzzles and, (ok, I admit it) playing fast chess. But I qualify these methods by saying that there has to be an objective involved with each training method.

Jacques Mieses (from Wikipedia)

Anyway, I played a game on using a favourite old opening variation of mine....not that it's good, but it is interesting. I was white in the 5-2 game which started 1.e4 d5 [and I already wished I'd opened with 1.d4] 2.exd5 Qxd5 [I'd almost forgotten that this could be played, expecting 2..Nf6. I've never really put much work into the Scandinavian which I suppose is due to it being considered a pile of rubbish when I was growing up. Now, besides being considered respectable, or possibly dangerous there are also large opening roadmaps to guide players.] 3.Nc3 [I think I read somewhere that 3.Nf3 is more accurate, but whatever!] 3..Qa5 4.Nf3 [I think I should look at some mainlines with 4.d4, but as Bigdatabase 2013 has over 30,000 games from this position, it makes things a bit daunting]  4..Nf6 5.Be2 [Very conservative play, but there's a reason for this. I'm waiting for black to move the light squared bishop] 5..Bg4 [...and there it is]

6.b4 [Ths move was a favourite of maverick German born player Jacques Mieses. Mieses was a pretty formidable player who liked some strange openings. In 1895 he drew a match with David Janowsky and  then played at the super strong Hastings tournament of that year. He played in some of the strongest tournaments of the next 10 years such as Paris 1900 and Cambridge Springs 1904 and won a strong tournament in Vienna 1907 ahead of Tartakower, Maroczy, Duras, Vidmar and Schlecter. In a time when positional chess was gradually taking over from the old swashbuckling school of the 1800's, Mieses still played Centre Games and Danish Gambit's, Vienna Gambit's and Scotch Gambits, King's Gambit's and as black he championed the Scandinavian. So it is always interesting to see what a player chooses against their favourite opening.] 6..Qh5 [I remember when I first saw this type of idea, in the 1990's, the choice for black always seemed to be between 6..Qb6 and 6..Qxb4. After taking on b4, white gets a great initiative on the queenside. 6..Qxb4 7.Rb1 Qd6 (or 7..Qa5) 8.Rxb7 and black's usual plan of queen side castling and attacks on opposite sides is immediately thwarted; 6..Qb6 is the safest and black should be ok with moves like ..c6, ..Nbd7, ..e6 and ..Bd6.] 7.0-0 Nbd7 [Persisting with hopes of queen side castling? I'm not sure. As black, I'd have been tempted to play 7..e6, put my bishop on d6 and castle king side, getting on with things. After 7..e6 white has to consider the safety of his b-pawn]
8.d4 [It's odd that I should really have been worried about my position here. I mean, black has played 3 queen moves, has a central king and lacks any meaningful development. However, white isn't really looking too hot either. I desperately wanted to put the question to black's light squared bishop with 8.h3, but was worried about a sacrifice on h3 to open my king up. It surely is not enough, but anything can happen in a 5 minute game] 8..e6 9.h3 [I couldn't resist. I didn't really believe in the bishop sac on h3 last move, and my opponent didn't try it instead playing...] 9..Bxf3 but after 10.Bxf3 winning time by hitting black's unfortunate queen again, I grasped the initiative and eventually went on to win this game.

It is always good to find an imaginative player and look at their games. It helps if the player is strong. Mieses was one of FIDE's original Grandmasters in 1950. He moved to England in the 1930's and his name has recently come back to prominence with his variation of the Scotch Opening back in vogue (1e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nxc6 bxc6 6.e5). This comes from his use of this opening at Hastings 1895, where Mieses didn't perform too well, but he still drew with Lasker and Chigorin in this variation which is no mean feat.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Some Chess to Follow

I think it's been a while since I mentioned that I'm going on holiday to the USA in September. There's only 8 weeks or 57 days left before I go, and I can hardly wait! The only problem is that while something exciting is looming in your life, time drags by slowly. So over the next couple of weeks I'm delighted to have some chess tournaments to follow which bring a personal touch to my observation.

The World Youth Under 16 Olympiad is being held in China, and I'll be following the exploits of the Australian Junior teams competing there. I've played almost all the young players there (with varying success!) and wish them the very best of luck. The teams have the expert GM guidance of Australian number 1 ranked player Zong Yuan Zhao, and legendary Australian GM Ian Rogers. Last year, the tournament was exciting and Australia had chances for a medal going into the last round. This year the tournament looks a little stronger at the top level, but the Aussie team matches up pretty well. It will be particularly intersting to see how IM Bobby Cheng compares to the other board 1's. Bobby is a prodigious talent who won the World under-12 championship a few years back. The question is whether his peers from more chess developed countries such as Russia or India have pulled ahead of him, or whether he can still hold his own. Of course it will be interesting to see how the whole Australian team match up on their respective boards. Especially exciting is Anton Smirnov, the number 1 rated player in the World born in 2001 who is playing on board 2 for the under 16 team despite his young age!

As I was born in England, I eagerly follow the British Championships, traditionally held at the end of July and beginning of August each year. This year is the 100th British Championship and 10 Grand Masters are among the players making the trip to the west country seaside resort of Torquay. Another English immigrant to Australia is playing. IM Gary Lane who originally hails from the West of England is in the field and I wish him good luck! Of course, part of the enjoyment of watching this event is that I know and have played against a number of the competitors, and will be hoping they do well. I guess GM Gawain Jones is the man to beat in the Championship after coming joint first in the Scottish Champs last week, but it is a pretty tough field. There are a whole series of events at the British, including age group championships, seniors championship (not long for me to be in this!), limited ratings events, one week tournaments, weekend and rapid and blitz events. There is usually a simul over the middle weekend, and a cricket match that I seem to remember IM Andrew Martin always had a lot to do with organising.

The World Youth Championship starts tomorrow, and as it finishes next week, the British Championships start. This gives me 3 weeks of uninterrupted chess excitement, and after the British is finished there will be just 38 days to go before I fly off to the USA!

Allegro, Allegro, Allegro!!!

As the World becomes a smaller place, city dwellers outnumbering country people, and time becoming a precious commodity, so it seems that 21st Century chess needs us to play at 21st Century speeds. At least there is a growing trend in tournaments with a faster rate. Or so it appears to me. I remember growing up in the UK and there being popular 30 minute, and 40 minute tournaments held monthly in London, either in Islington, or at the Barbican. Even those time controls now seem pedestrian.

Frankston Chess Club joined the ranks of organisers for weekend events, this past Saturday with what appeared a very successful 7 round allegro (G15) tournament. There was a good local turn out, and the event attracted players from other parts of the state, though I'm not sure any traveled from far outside the metropolitan area of Melbourne. But even that is good, as Frankston is situated about 40 km south of Melbourne's CBD with fairly easy access via car on the Eastlink, or on public transport via train. This distance will act as a deterrent to a lot of players unless they see something special to travel for. Luckily, it seems that was what was put on, and Frankston Chess Club will hopefully use their organisational skills to put on more weekend events to attract players down the peninsula.

The tournament was won by Chess Victoria President, IM Leonid Sandler who scored 6.5/7. Leonid is a fearsome fast player who has won the Victorian blitz championship in the past. Dimitri Partsi was the only player to hold Sandler, and Dimitri duly finished second on 6/7. It was very close after that, but Milenko Lojanica managed third with 5.5, though there were over 20 players within 1.5 of him. In all, over 50 players competed and it was great to see lots of prizes distributed throughout the field.
Melbourne currently has a gamut of 15 minute allegro chess tournaments. Firstly, most of the junior events run through the city are 15 minute tournaments. That is the interschool tournaments run by Chess Kids and Chess Victoria, and the monthly RJ Shield, and Rookies Cups. At the adult level, the Melbourne Chess Club has a weekly Saturday allegro event and most of the clubs run an allegro tournament at their club at some stage of the year for members to get away from the long play events for a short while. This is all good, and is encouraging juniors to play more and allows them to feel comfortable at adult clubs who provide this time limit, and may act as an introduction to the adult game. Meanwhile, the long play game isn't for everyone so it's good that there are alternatives for players around the city on a regular basis.

Coming up in August is an exciting event run by the Melbourne Chess Club, the Fitzroy Skittles. This is run as a knock out event, and depending on your rating you are assigned a number of points that you can lose throughout the event, the higher your rating the less points you are given. When you have lost the number of points that you were assigned to start with, you are knocked out the event. It is a fun system, and has become a fixture on the Victorian chess calendar. The MCC have already announced the inclusion of 2 IM's, Ari Dale, and ex Victorian Champion Igor Goldenberg, and the tournament usually attracts decent sized fields. In fact, I might see if I can get down to it this year.

So imagine my surprise when I get a facebook message from Frankston winner and CV President Leonid Sandler advertising an event on the same weekend in August. The Victorian Open Rapidplay tournament is to be held over the weekend of August 24-25 in Lorne, with sponsorship from a hotel group in the region. My initial reaction was what a great idea to have a chess tournament in the seaside resort of Lorne. Then when I realised it clashed with the MCC's allegro event on the 25th August I thought "who arranged that?" I could kind of understand if it was a different sort of tournament, perhaps an ACF rated longplay event, or even FIDE rated, but to hold 2 prestigious allegro tournaments at the same time seems a bit ludicrous to me.

So anyway, I had a bit of a dig at MCC President, Grant Szuveges about this, but he claimed ignorance of the organisation of the Lorne event, saying that it was all down to Leonid Sandler. Grant is not only MCC President, but also a committee member of Chess Victoria, so he should have known about the Lorne event. It is after all offering Victorian Open titles, whatever they are? Grant assured me he would not have agreed to hold such an event simultaneously with the Fitzroy Skittles, though to be fair he has been positive about the Lorne tournament, welcoming extra events on the calendar. I am less enthusiastic about the clash. I personally think the Victorian chess calendar is full to brimming with events, and as a result some events suffer from lack of numbers. A tournament in Lorne could be a great fixture but not at the same time as another tournament featuring virtually the same product nearby which has been established for a number of years. To my mind it is simply bad scheduling, and as much as I'd like to see an event on the Great Ocean Road succeed, I'll be pointing my students towards the already established Fitzroy Skittles at the MCC.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Hennig Schara Gambit

Everyone has favourite systems, and we all try to defend openings that get a bashing. Even some pretty decent openings come in for a bashing every now and again. Take the King's Indian Defence, or the Sicilian Dragon. Then again, if you're going to play a fighting opening, then you will also have to fight to defend your opening's reputation.

The system that I have a soft spot for is the Hennig Schara Gambit. When I was a young player, Kasparov was not yet World Champion and was playing the Tarrasch Variation of the Queen's Gambit (among other fighting systems). It was back then in the mid 80's that I first really became aware of the Tarrasch and the amazing piece play that black can generate at the expense of pawn weaknesses. Certainly at club level a player who is good with active pieces should consider openings such as the Tarrasch which offer excellent play for the expense of a pawn.

Black immediately challenges the centre, and after 4.cxd5 exd5 we will have a position where white can give black an isolated queen's pawn. In fact, positions with an isolated queen's pawn for black were those championed by Kasparov on his way to the World Championship in 1984. He successfully used the defence against Beliavsky, Korchnoi and Smyslov, and even used it against Karpov in their first match in 1984. Here is (essentially) the deciding game in the 1983 Candidates Final. It left Kasparov 8-4 ahead against Smyslov, needing only a draw to progress which he duly scored in the next game.

It wasn't until the 1990's that I became aware of an interesting sideline of the Tarrasch, the Hennig Schara Gambit. Instead of accepting an isolated queen's pawn, black sacrifices a pawn again for great piece play. I didn't really take it too seriously at first as I can't really say I am that inspired by gambit openings generally. I'm more the sort of player who grabs poisoned pawns and tries to hold on to them! However, I was fully converted by 2 articles written by Irish correspondence GM Tim Harding. Harding has been writing a monthly column at since the mid 1990's and many of his early columns were about odd openings that tend to crop up more often in correspondence play that over the board. His articles on the Hennig Schara (no 1, and no 2)were beautifully written and were good enough to make me believe in the opening. I've used it on a number of occasions, and have every intention of trying it out some more. As pawn sacrifices go, it is very enterprising, and there is no easy way for white to get anything out of the opening. The mainline goes 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c5 4.cxd5 cxd4!? [The Gambit] 5.Qxd4 Nc6 [While white's queen grabs a central pawn, black is able to develop quickly and aggressively] 6.Qd1 exd5 7.Qxd5 [Now white will be a pawn up out of the opening, but with the centre wide open it's anybodys game] 7..Bd7 [Black can play a pawn down in a queenless position as well which is also interesting. 7..Be6!?] 8.Nf3 Nf6 9.Qd1
So here's the main tabiya. After 9..Bc5 black has excellent minor piece deployment, and to add a further random feature to the game, black most often castles queen side to whites king side castling. My own favourite game, a win against ex Australian Champion Doug Hamilton was in this opening, but rather than singing my own praises, take a look at this recent game where a 2600ish GM gets smashed by a 2300ish player. Enjoy :D

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Melbourne Clubs Round Up

As this blog is essentially a personal thing, I tend to focus mainly on local chess which I am familiar with and which means much to me. So here's a brief round up of what's happening around Melbourne at the moment.

Frankston Allegro on July 20th

Sorry to plug my own club first, but hey that's life! Melbourne's newest chess club, Glen Eira Chess Club has been closed for a couple of weeks but will reopen on this Friday, 19th July with a social night and some blitz. Soon after that we want to start with some long play round robin events and our aim is to build our membership. To help with this we have a brand new venue, the excellent Carnegie Library. Like before, we will run a junior club from 6 pm - 7 pm and then an adult club after that. We welcome all comers to our friendly little club! (Coffee rating of the neighbourhood is 4/5 with some really good cafes in Koornang Road)

The club that has been my home for the past 5 or so years, the Melbourne Chess Club, has started a new Monday night FIDE rated tournament, the 7-round Malitis Memorial. Congratulations go out to IM Mirko Rujevic for dominating the last event, the City of Melbourne Open, and he is playing in this event as well. The MCC is the only club open 7 days a week in Melbourne, so there is plenty for everyone whether you are a Grand Master or a beginner. The allegro tournaments on Saturday afternoons maintain their popularity. Going back to the Malitis Memorial, the first round happened last night and the top 2 seeds, Rujevic, and Malcolm Pyke overcame tricky juniors (Finley Dale and Jason Chew) to start their tournaments off with wins. However, there were plenty of upsets on the night, though as players improve rapidly it is almost harsh to call their victories upsets when their rating may be well below their actual playing strength. I don't really want to get too much into the first round, but I would like to wish Tom Kalisch a good tournament return to the MCC :) (Coffee rating of the neighbourhood 5/5 with some of the best cafes around Melbourne)

Downies Auctions recently sold these for $75. Was it an MCC member who bought them?

Box Hill Chess Club have their Tuesday night tournament starting tonight. In fact it should be underway as I write this. The Winter Cup is a 7-round swiss and is supposed to be run at the same time as the Box Hill Masters which is a usually a 10 player round robin event. However, I haven't seem anything about this which is a shame as I have fond memories playing in it, and I truly believe that there aren't enough round robin events at the moment. Box hill Chess Club do have 'Grades' tournaments starting this Friday, and possibly this is taking over from their Masters event, though I don't know. (Coffee rating of 4.5/5 though Maling Road's Post Office Cafe is a 10/10 by itself)

Noble Park Chess Club is gradually taking centre stage in Victorian Chess as their tournaments keep attracting large and strong fields. Noble Park are currently running their Masters event which is a 10 player round robin which is pretty strong. Top seeds are FM Chris Wallis and FM Dusan Stojic but these guys will have their work cut out to win this very tough event. Alongside this a challengers event is being run, with the winner guaranteed a spot in the following year's Masters. This promotion based system is really good for chess development, and Noble Park should be applauded for using it. (Coffee rating comment :D)

Further from the centre of Melbourne, this Saturday sees an impressive looking allegro being held at Frankston Chess Club. Like other suburban clubs such as Croydon and Hobson's Bay, Frankston is quietly doing the right things by their members, which is basically listening to what the people want and growing in stature because of it. All these clubs have a friendly atmosphere, and while all the players are fiercely competitive during the games, the clubs definitely cater more for people who prefer a social atmosphere. Although I won't be able to go to the allegro this Saturday, it already looks to be shaping up to be an excellent event. Meanwhile Croydon Chess Club have just run their annual weekender and what an amazing success it was! Croydon Chess Club have decided to run 1 weekender a year and run it well. The tournament had a capacity of about 50 players and the number was reached with an IM and 4 FMs in the field. In the end, John Nemeth and FM Dusan Stojic, both of Noble Park CC, shared first placed on 4.5/5. On the other side of town, Hobson's Bay Chess Club have now announced their annual weekender, the Best in the West tournament. This has always been a popular event, and it is good to see it happening again this year. Hobson's Bay CC have had to deal with the recent death of their influential member and organiser, Peter Caissa who will be sadly missed by the whole Victorian chess community. I'm sure that this year's Best in the West will be a fitting tribute to Peter.
(Coffee ratings: Frankston/Croydon no data available; Hobson's Bay 3/5 Altona has some ok coffee, though when the tournament was in Yarraville I'd have pushed things up to 4/5)

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Monet on a Sunday

It's back to work to me tomorrow after a week off during school break. I have a relatively easy lead in with only half a normal week coming up as some schools start their chess programs in week 2 of term. Anyway, today was my last day off and I was blessed to share the day off with my wife, Caroline, so we decided to head to the National Gallery of Victoria to check out the Monet's Garden exhibition. I have seen some work of the Impressionist in Paris and New York, but never this much in one place. To have an exhibition devoted to just Monet, his life and work, was amazing. There was familiar work, but some stuff which I didn't know about and that really impressed me.
Springtime Through the Branches (courtesy Claude Monet Gallery)

This painting of the Clichy region of Paris appealed to me in it's composition (and as a chess player who has played at the annual Clichy Open, it took me back to the time I was there). In fact, the philosophy of Monet seems to be for the artist to provide an experience for the audience, and his paintings are images of light and movement. Looking at the image above, the trees in the foreground aren't still, and Monet's beautiful brush work helps us to feel the breeze that he obviously felt while painting this scene.

Monet is best known for the paintings of his gardens at Giverny, the Japanese Bridge and the water lillies series. Seeing so many of these in the exhibition gave us a great feel for this amazing garden, and the final room had a fantastic wraparound film of the last day of the season of his garden. Seeing the house with its distinctive green shutters, the overhanging archway for his rose garden, the lake with lillies and bridge, gave the exhibition and Monet's paintings of his garden a context, and gave us, the audience, a chance to see his inspiration.

The vibrant reflections that make the lake and water lillies so wonderful, and the use of light and texture were major themes of the exhibition. Earlier in his life, Monet spent time in London which he loved because of the fog: ‘I love London much more than the English countryside; yes I adore London … but what I love more than anything is the fog’

Reflections on the Thames (courtesy of
The whole experience took no more than a couple of hours, and seeing so many of these masterpieces, and finding out about Monet's life was a very pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon. I feel I have a better understanding of Impressionist art, and have even looked online at some of his contemporaries, friends, and influences. So not only did the exhibition provide pleasure and information but also, for me at least. inspiration to look more into art as a whole, a subject I've paid little attention to over the years.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

A couple of Ideas in the Opening

I've been easing myself into opening theory by looking at Michael Yip's Budapest Chess News (BCN). I've had a breeze through some games, and a couple of ideas have come to me from just looking briefly at his database.

The first position that grabbed my attention came from a Bird's opening. Now, I'll admit that I know very little about Bird's Opening (1.f4), but the game Capaliku-Hambleton Forni di Sopra 2013 needs very little theoretical knowledge. The game starts with the moves 1.f4 d5 (I'm with it so far) 2.b3 Nh6
For those of you who don't like the usual opening ideas, this should appeal! There have actually been some games played from a reverse position to this (ie, the Dutch) starting 1.d4 f5 2.Nh3. I admit to knowing nothing about this line either! Anyway, the Hambleton game continued 3.Nf3 Bg4 4.e3 Nf5 5.Bb2 e6 6.Be2 Nd7 7.0-0 Be7 8.Ne5 [8.c4 seems more in keeping with the Bird's generally] 8..Bxe2 9.Qxe2 Nxe5 10.fxe5 c6. Obviously, there could have been different moves up to this point, but this is the position that interested me.
So as white what should be played here? To me, white has 3 main options, 11.c4, 11.d4, or 11.e4. In the game 11.d4 was played, but I see more point in advancing on the central light squares. 11.c4 with the intention of developing Nc3 behind it seems a pretty reasonable idea. 11.e4 looks to undouble the central pawns. A sample line is 11..dxe4 12.Qxe4 Bc5 13.Kh1 Qg5 14.d4 Qe3 15.Re1 Qxe4 16.Rxe4 Rd8 17.c3 with a playable position for both sides.
Anyway, back to the game and after 11.d4 the game continued 11..0-0 12.Nd2, when Michael Yip suggests 12..Bg5 as an improvement over the game continuation of 12..Qa5.
I think it shows the strength of BCN that Michael Yip is prepared to stick his neck out, and try to improve on the games of strong players. Studying games, and by studying I mean critically analysing them, is the best way for players to improve their knowledge. It is hard work, but most rewarding. It is a good idea to work through some great annotated games so as to get an idea of what is expected in analysing a game. Try game collections by Botvinnik, Alekhine, or Karpov, or tournament books such as Zurich 1953, or Piatigorsky Cup 1966 to see some great annotations. When you've looked through games analysed by top players, then have a go at doing it yourself. The more you do it, the better you will get! Let's look at this move 12..Bg5!?

 - 13.Rf3 [Yip mentions this] 13..Qa5 [13..c5!?] 14.c4 f6 with advantage to black according to Michael, and I'm not arguing with him about this.

- 13.e4 [This is the move that interests me, because if white can rid himself of his weak e3 pawn, then his position shouldn't be that bad. Michael doesn't mention this move] 13..Ne3 [I don't think this is necessarily an easy move to find, but others don't impress: 13..Bxd2? 14.exf5 and white has great attacking chances on the king side; 13..Be3+ 14.Kh1 Nxd4 15.Qxe3 Nxc2 16.Qc3 Nxa1
and here, white has the excellent 17.Ba3!! (thankyou Stockfish) taking control of the key diagonal. In the case of 17.Rxa1, black has 17..Qe7 followed by c5; 13..dxe4 14.Nxe4 Nxd4 15.Qg4 Be3+ 16.Kh1 and white has great activity, especially directed at black's king in compensation for the pawn] 14.Rfc1 f5! [Trying to open the f-file now that white has taken his rook away] 15.exd5 Nxd5 16.Re1 Bxd2 17.Qxd2 f4
 So here's the end of my analysis line. Black is probably a bit better, because the knight seems better than white's bishop. Saying that, if white can manage a c4 and d5 type break then anything could happen. Of course, if white does play c4, then d5 will be almost obligatory, or the d4 pawn will be weak, but I think that both sides would feel they have a chance from this position.

 I have found Michael's analysis and work very useful as I ease myself into the crazy world of opening theory. In fact, I have to admit that it's a bit ironic that my interest in opening theory comes just after I give up playing internationally rated chess. Oh well, with some work on my openings I might be able to make a big come back at some stage :D

The Najdorf is a favourite with theorists, and as such is a nightmare for someone who is out of the loop. For example, the last time I looked at any Najdorf theory, the variation 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bg5 Nbd7 was considered a bit dubious for black. Now it seems like a viable alternative. I seem to remember white plays 7.Bc4 hoping for possible sacrifices on e6, f7 or d5. So I was a bit surprised when the game Paravyan-Mekhitarian Golden Sands 2013 continued 7..Qb6 [I think 7..Qa5 is the main move here] 8.Qd2 Qxb2 9.0-0 e6
Here white has the thematic sacrifice 10.Bxe6 [Not played in the game, or mentioned by Micheal Yip] 10..fxe6 11.Nxe6 [when black must lose time as white threatens to fork on c7] 11..Kf7 [11..Qb6 is strongly answered by 12.Nd5 when black has the miserable choice between 12..Qa7 or 12..Nxd5 13.exd5 when white's rooks will come to the b and e-files with devastating effect]
And now white has the fantastic 12.a3!! threatening to trap black's queen.

Now I'll be honest, I didn't find the 12.a3 move but I did find 10.Bxe6 while looking at the game. I checked the move with my engine, which also liked it, and asked chessbase 12 to find the novelty in the position. To my delight, 10.Bxe6 has been played before in an online game on the playchess server. Amazingly, the white player did find the 12.a3 move in the game, though the 2600+ rating suggests he wasn't a patzer like me. Anyway, the moral of the story is that studying openings can be fun, is not necessarily about memorising ideas, but rather about finding themes, and tactical ideas which prevail in certain openings. Once this understanding has been mastered, or while it is being mastered, variations can be examined, and opening knowledge can be built up.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Amazing Online Resource

Yesterday, I tried my hand at opening writing which went pretty well besides putting an apostrophe on the wrong place. I guess like anything else the more one practices, the better one will get, so I'll keep taking a look at openings in the future. One thing I am determined to do is get to grips with the Najdorf. It's an opening that I used to play, and I have tried to play on the white side, though certainly not from a critical perspective. To be honest, I'm not that interested in the Najdorf (or any other opening for that matter) to buy a book on the subject. I prefer to learn openings from playing, and analysing games. I might then use a monograph as a reference once I have some ideas of my own. I've always believed that this method avoids the hype and dogma that opening books invariably contain, and keep me thinking for myself and looking for positions that attract me, rather than positions which are supposed to be theoretically preferred. This is important as a good position and a comfortable position are not the same thing. Some players prefer static advantages, whereas others look for dynamic features in positions.

One person who is putting a lot of work into their chess is Canadian Michael Yip. Yip lives in Budapest and writes his fantastic blog, Budapest Chess News (BCN). If you haven't checked it out yet, then definitely take a look. Yip writes mainly about chess in his native Canada, and his residence of Hungary. But there is so much more than that. He produces a monthly file with heavily analysed games, that can be downloaded from Kevin Spraggett's site. He also has 3 other blogs, all about opening theory which he updates almost daily. These blogs cover 1.e4, 1.d4, and other openings. This tremendous work is absolutely free, and is well worth a look for anyone wanting to start out with some theoretical knowledge. I, for instance, will be using Yip's coverage of the Najdorf as my basis for studying this opening.

So today, I downloaded the July issue of BCN and haven't yet had a good look through it. There are about 120 heavily analysed games in the file that is stored in chessbase format. Take a look at Yip's coverage of the Najdorf between Caruana and Nakamura from the recently concluded Tal Memorial.

This is an amazing dedication to chess and chess writing, which inspires me to do more as well. I doubt that I will be able to put as much into studying the opening of the game as Michael Yip has, but I still intend to do more than I was previously doing. Watch this space!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Four Knights Opening

I was going to look at some Najdorf theory, but it really is daunting to get into if you haven't looked at any over the past 25 years. Unfortunately I gave up the Najdorf just as Nunn and Short were pioneering the English Attack which had been known as the Byrne System before the 1980's. The latest issue of New in Chess magazine contains one Najdorf game, an English Attack between Anand and Topalov from the recent Norwegian super tournament. In the magazine, the first 14 moves get no commentary which doesn't really help me understand the nuances of this opening. So I've decided to leave the Najdorf for another day when I feel up to the challenge of wading through the reams of games and analysis.

Instead I saw a game from TWIC which featured the h3 move that Kramnik used last year in the Scotch Four Knights Opening. The position comes after the moves:

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.d4 exd4 5.Nxd4 Bb4 6.Nxc6 [Someone fell for 6.Ndb5? last week which works well in the Sicilian Pelikan, but here loses material after 6..a6 when white's best is to drop back to d4 with his knight, losing the e4 pawn] 6..bxc6 7.Bd3 d5 8.exd5 cxd5 9.0-0 0-0
The mainline here is 10.Bg5 which seems like a natural enough move, but last year Kramnik used the move 10.h3 against Aronian in the 2012 Tal Memorial. That game ended in a draw, though it seemed as if Aronian was under a little pressure. Since then the line has come under top level scrutiny, with Karjakin, Morozevich, Wang Hao and Anish Giri playing this position for white among others. I have a database of recent games, and in 100 games from September 2012 until now white has scored 59% with the move 10.h3. Funnily enough, running Stockfish for 10 minutes on my laptop just brings up a level score for this position, -0.08 with 10..c6 as it's main move and 10..Re8 as the main alternative. Well these are 2 of the top 3 moves, but neither score particularly well for black. The move that is performing the best for black at the moment is the "pass the ball back to white's court" 10..h6. The obvious idea behind white's tenth move is to prevent black from using g4, especially for his bishop. So the prophylactic 10.h3 secures white's queen along the d1-h5 diagonal, and means that white will develop the queen to f3 most likely. So by playing 10..h6, black deprives white of the most natural move for their dark squared bishop, g5. White can still develop the dark squared bishop to f4 which is a pretty good square. Usually white develops the queen first 11.Qf3.
I guess this position is a vital one to understand. White has the better structure and white's pieces seem more centrally directed. After white plays Bf4 and connects rooks it will be time to plan on how to bring about the demise of black's centre. Because black's central pawns, whether they are on c6/d5 or c5/d5 are annoying and holding on to a lot of space. Black may have to work a bit harder with the pieces to coordinate them properly, but black's pieces have great shelter from the central pawn mass. Black has 2 natural files for the rooks, the semi open b-file, and the open e-file, and the possibility, at least temporarily, of shattering white's queen side by exchanging on c3. Saying that, giving up the bishop pair for pawn weaknesses is not a risk free strategy in this type of position.

The most high profile game played from this position is the all GM clash Quesada-Bacallao Cuban Ch 2013.
11..Re8 12.Bf4 c6 [interesting that black does not trade dark squared bishops by 12..Bd6. This plan seems to be scoring well for white. Also the c6 pawn prevents white's knight from using b5] 13.Ne2?! [Now I don't want to start criticising GM's for their moves (lol) but 13.Rfe1 seems to make a lot more sense, challenging the e-file, as played int he game Zelcic-Bayer Austria 2013. In that game, white simply centralised his rooks, and only regrouped his knight after black had played Bb4-d6, so as to recapture on f4 with the knight or transfer it to the king side] 13..Ne4 [Throwing the knight into the centre, taking advantage of white's last move. Also notice that white cannot develop a rook to the e-file for the moment] 14.Rad1 Qf6 15.c3
Black's bishop needs to retreat, but where to? In the game it dropped back to f8 but it certainly could have stayed more active on either c5 or d6.
15..Bd6 [and white can hardly play 16.Bxd6 Qxf3 17.gxf3 Nxd6 with an excellent game for black] 16.Rfe1 and black can force a similar structure to the last note after 16..g5!? 17.Bxd6 Qxf3 18.gxf3 Nxd6 and black is better
15..Bc5 [Covering both d4 and f2, though the down side is that that black will not be playing Rb8 in a hurry] 16.b4 Bb6 17.a4 [This queen side expansion is probably what black was wary of in the game] 17..a6 [17..a5 allows white to push 18.b5 undermining black's centre; 17..g5 is not so good here as after white's bishop retreats, a queen swap will not favour black eg. 18.Bh2Qxf3 19.gxf3 Nf6 20.a5 Bd8 and black's pieces have been pushed uncomfortably backwards] 18.c4! I think this move keeps white in the game eg. 18..Be6 19.c5 Ba7 20.Be3, a nice regrouping taking control of the d4 square and keeping the balance, though maybe not much more.

All in all an interesting little look at what seems an innocuous move. I'll leave you with a database of games :)

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Opening Study

Ok, so I'm curious. How much opening study do you do? What percentage of your time is spent studying openings compared to looking at other aspects of chess? I will admit that as I've got older, it has become a less consuming part of my chess study and I now spend more time looking through games, working through tactical puzzles, and looking at endgames. I have some vague opening ideas that have been picked up over the years, but to be honest, I'm no expert on any opening.

Now I guess this brings some good and bad. On the plus side, it makes me quite flexible and imaginative. I'm not tied to theoretical systems, and am not trying to uphold the honour of certain variations. I play a number of different openings, all equally averagely, and just kind of find myself in a middlegame position all of a sudden, which I just start working on over the board. As FM Bill Jordan once said to me "you can only be out-theoried by one move" as when you make that move which your opponent doesn't recognise they are also on their own to some extent. Of course, this is a simplification of the issue, as studying opening systems should enable players to develop feel for typical positions as well as knowing the best theoretical lines. On the down side I don't get many cheap points in games and have to work hard at the board from fairly early on in games. While my general understanding of chess might not be that bad, my specific understanding of certain openings will be poor meaning that I am missing chances of getting the best start to games.
The Tarrasch

So the question is, 'am I bothered about it'? Well in some ways yes, but generally no. I am well past the stage in my life where I have that many goals to achieve in chess, and virtually none of my goals are to do with playing myself. However, as I've started playing less chess, and less seriously, I've found that I'm enjoying looking at theoretical works more. I have started playing games on using a time limit of 3 days per game, and have started studying openings through that, like I imagine correspondence players do, though I would never consider myself one of them! I've also been working with stronger kids than in the past, and I could really do with helping them with openings as well as other parts of their game.
Sicilian Najdorf

So I've decided, at the age of 46, I'm going to start looking at openings again (probably the first serious opening study I've done in the past 25 years!). I will share some ideas here, though of course, you'll have to be ready to accept the openings that I choose. And talking about choosing, the whole subject of openings is pretty massive, so finding a starting point is a pretty daunting prospect. So I'll even tell you where I'm going to start looking. I'm going to try to go in depth into the following openings:

- Tarrasch Variation of the Queen's Gambit
- Four Knight's Opening
- Sicilian, especially Najdorf (my great favourite as a junior).

I think these systems offer a wide range of styles of play, from opposite side castling to isolated queen pawns, gambits to near symmetrical systems, pawn minorities, pawn majorities, and broken pawn structures compensated by pieces. I find these imbalances, and I suppose balances, the main interest in the opening and where it leads us to in the middlegames. I'll be playing these systems a lot as well, so if you do play me in a tournament, or online, there's a good chance I'll play one of these openings, if allowed. I remember back in the 1970's or early 80's in the UK, IM Mike Basman announcing that he would be playing 1.b4 or 1.g4, and the same things in reverse when he played in tournaments, allowing players to prepare for him. I think that was a pretty amazing thing to do, so I'm basically doing the same thing. Well almost, as I get bored easily by openings, so I apologise in advance if you've prepared one of those systems against me and I come up with something completely different! Of course, you can be content that I won't know that opening better than any other system I play!!
Four Knight's Opening
I will gratefully accept any help and analysis on these openings, and once I start publishing some opening ideas, I'll gladly accept criticism of them. Watch this space, and let's get these openings understood!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Teams Chess and Magazines

I've been away for a few days and when I arrived home I found a New in Chess magazine waiting for me. I haven't bought these magazine's for a long time, and had forgotten how much content they contain. I was browsing a bit, and reading quite a bit which is something that NiC magazine has over Informator style publications. I like the tournament reports, the interviews and editorial style pieces. In fact, I enjoy the written word much more than the symbols that all chess players eventually get used to, and even start using as language (after that it's "plus-minus"). It's good to read what top players were thinking during the games they analyse and their reasons for choosing moves and plans.

New in Chess magazine with excellent quality material
The current issue of New in Chess Magazine has tournament  reports from the Zug Grand Prix, the Alekhine Memorial, the Norway Chess Spectacular and the US Championships. All of these were great events, and all of them had great online live coverage which makes magazine reports seem somehow obsolete. However, the NiC reports bring an extra dimension with great game analysis and GM reports bringing inside information about the events. Besides these reports, the current magazine has interviews with GM's Topalov and Hammer, an historical article on Carlos Torre and interesting commentary articles by GM's Short and Ree. I guess that the New in Chess editorial team realise that live chess with Houdini style immediate analysis is giving many players all they need of chess analysis. So instead the magazine is filled with expert commentary, ideas, photo's and the emphasis is on quality of material.
Carlos Torre Repetto
The article by Nigel Short I found very interesting, and somewhat frustrating. Short's double page article contains no actual chess moves, but it tells his story of recent adventures in club chess. Nigel does a great job of describing the tension that team chess can generate, the bonds that can develop by playing regularly for a team, and some issues that only team chess can bring up, such as board orders and not knowing which players the opposing team will have playing on a given date. These were issues that I grew up with in the UK, and I've experienced the joys of winning games for my team and the misery of losing games that cost us matches (the worst being when you turn a winning position into a losing one, which feels a million times worse when the rest of your team are looking over your shoulder!).

So why did I find Nigel's article frustrating? Nothing to do with the article, which helped bring back some memories of team matches I've played. Rather it is because here in Melbourne, team chess seems to have died away again. When I first arrived here, there was a dwindling teams competition which finally died out for a couple of years. I then helped to rejuvenate it, and for the past couple of years there has been a teams event. However, we have heard nothing so far this year from Chess Victoria about a teams event. I'm beginning to think that the State body aren't the best organisation for running such an event, and a separate league organisation would be better. This was my original idea when I first hatched the plan over 2 years ago, but CV President, Leonid Sandler said it would be better under CV auspices. However, Chess Victoria is a voluntary run organisation that has its hands full with the events they currently organise, let alone taking on the burden of other tournaments. There's just too few people with too little time. A sad fact.
GM Nigel Short (second left) with Iranian Bronze medal winning team from the  2006 Asian games (from chessbase)
What I think we need is a dedicated league which perhaps can be incorporated into Chess Victoria, but which is a separate entity and responsible for the organisation of team chess across the city and even the state. It would be good if the chess clubs around Victoria became involved in the league administration, but a small and dedicated committee is needed, at least to start with. If the league grows, then so can the organisation. The feedback I received from the team's events was mostly all positive, so there are plenty of people who want this form of chess. It just takes a bit of work to organise. So should I try to organise a league, perhaps for 2014? Would anyone be prepared to help?

Friday, July 5, 2013

Last Day of Chess Camp

The 2013 Chess Kids camp finished with a day of serious play.After clearing out of our cabins, the kids had one more coaching session this morning before getting on with tournament games. The kids had been placed into 7 teams, and they were to play a round robin event. Before today, they had played 4 rounds so there were 3 games left to play. There was a great deal of tension around the games as each player was trying to win their board prize. In the end the event was very close which meant that our seeding of players into teams worked well. Before we headed off there was a prize giving, with loads of books, t-shirts, caps and other things given out tot he kids.

I think everyone had a good time and I'm sure all the kids will go away with some great memories of this camp, and with a better appreciation of chess endgames, and a better understanding of chess generally. Some parents came along, and they did a great job helping out around the scenes, making the jobs of the coaches somewhat easier. It meant I had more energy to spend on actual coaching, as I needed to do less child minding over the 4 days. I've already been talking to David Cordover about next year's camp. Last year we had a good time in Hobart, Tasmania, but we wanted to make it even better this year, and I think we succeeded. We won't sit still though, and hope to make it even better next time round!

I'm pretty tired after the camp so I'm leaving this post fairly short. Here's a final few photo's of the last day of the camp.

Good play is encouraged, good sportsmanship demanded

The Winning Team, l-r Ryan, Ethan, Oliver, Daniel and Yoni

Top board 1 player, Rebecca

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Chess Camp Day 3

The weather took a turn for the worse today, but when you're a chess player that's usually a good thing as it means more indoor time. Unfortunately, today was scheduled as excursion day, which meant we spent quite some time outside. The day started with a round of tournament chess before breakfast, and there is no doubt that the games are becoming tougher as the tournament goes on. Any early nerves, or excitement are over and the kids are just getting down to fighting it out with other kids around the same strength. With every game a tough game, and with chances of the result going any way, I am even more convinced that round robin formats are the best test of skill for players.
I was impressed by this position today. Mikaela, as black is a pawn down, but found a way to become material ahead. Can you beat the tactical vision of a kid? Black to play and win.

After the morning game we took off on our excursion for the day. First stop was A Maze n' Things in the centre of Phillip Island. Besides having a very big fence maze (the biggest in Australia), there are lots of interesting attractions to explore, including sensory illusions. The kids had great fun going round this (the adults did too!) and then we held a blitz chess tournament through lunch which included a barbecue. The blitz session was held outside, which was a bit cold, but none of the kids seemed bothered and the tournament was hard fought with Max Phillips (1212) being the winner on 6/7.

First stop for the day

None of the players lost their heads during the day

Al fresco blitz tournament and barbecue
After the blitz, we all got back on the bus, and headed to Phillip Island's chocolate factory. As can be imagined, this brought great excitement to everyone. The chocolate factory has an interesting tour exploring how chocolate is made, it's origins, history, flavours, manufacture and some activities for kids (and adults) to take part in. Of course, there's a shop and cafe with many specialty chocolates and other goods for sale.

Chocolate sculpture of "David"

Chocolate Moose :D
After all that, and some sports when we arrived back at the camp (basketball, rock climbing), the kids still had the energy to go through another coaching session on endgames before the evening meal. I obviously can't speak for the other coaches, but the group I worked with tried really hard, and the session went very well (we were talking about minor pieces in the endgame, and the differences between knights and bishops.

It's been a pretty exhausting camp but thoroughly enjoyable. Tomorrow we will all be heading off home (though not before more games and coaching) and hopefully all the kids will be taking some fond memories away with them. Friendships have been developed, chess skills have been improved, and fun has been had by eveyone.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Second Day at Chess Camp

The second day of the chess camp has been the hardest from the point of view of the kids and chess. They have had to play 2 tournament games, and have 3 coaching sessions, which perhaps on reflection, might have been too intense, especially for some of the younger ones. Saying that the sheer quantity of material that the kids are getting through, and the great quality of coaching, is paying dividends. I had a group of the least experienced players today in a session looking at pawn endings which is a subject they've already touched upon in other sessions. They recognised concepts such as 'opposition', 'passed pawns' 'shoudering' and 'breakthroughs' which made my lesson more of a reinforcement rather than pure teaching. As a result, I was able to test these kids ability to put these ideas into practice, and when one idea may have priority over another.

The kids have to play tournament games, and the position above is from a game this afternoon. The games are played at a rate of 25 + 10 and the kids have to record their games (some kids are learning to record!). After the games, the kids analyse their game with their opponent and a chess coach. I was watching the game above as it finished. It was black to play and the game continued 1..Rb2 2.Rxf4 Rf2 3.Kxe3 Rxf4 0-1 I asked after the game why not reply to 1..Rb2 with 2.Rh5+, and then after 2..Kd4 3.Kxf4?
The question is how does black win this? (Answer after the next post, hopefully tomorrow)

Of course, even though today was pretty full on in terms of chess, there was still some time to kick back and relax, and some fun activities were arranged to burn off some natural junior energy.
Elijah enjoying the "Flying Fox"

Isobel getting a "giant swing" adrenalin rush

Bobby was on target on the "archery range"

Answer to the chess endgame:
Those who wanted to run that pawn down straight away will be disappointed. 1..e2 only draws after 2.Rh1.

To win, black must create a Lucena type position with 1..Rf2!, cutting off white's king from the black pawn. Of course, all our kids will now know this technique and this win will be rudimentary to them!