Thursday, August 29, 2013


I know I'm getting boring, but that's how many days before I go on holiday to America! I can almost hear the call for me to go to the boarding gate. Only 18 days left. It's a great age to be, 18. I remember vividly going out on my 18th birthday with a couple of friends. We went to a pub so that I could legally have a drink and we were kicked out because the barmaid had gone to our school and thought we were underage. Ironic as we'd been drinking underage in that pub for over a year. Luckily, there's always another pub around the corner and I had my birthday pint or 2.

Is this what being 18 is all about?
At the age of 18 there are a whole set of rights that young people suddenly enjoy. Drinking alcohol, driving and voting are the ones that we normally associate with the age of 18. There probably isn't too much difference between what 18 year old's can do in UK and Australia. In both countries they can use weapons (gun licences in Australia, buy a crossbow in the UK), go to prison, enter legal contracts (eg buy a house, apply for a mortgage), make a will, serve on a jury or get a tattoo. Check this site out for the rights of 18 year old's (and younger ages too). In fact it looks like about the only things that 18 year old's can't legally do is adopt a child, supervise a learner driver, and drive a bus (for which you need to be older in order to have developed a miserable streak of cynicism so as to make passengers feel uncomfortable).

Tattoo's and Crossbows are allowed at 18 (source: rank my tattoos)
At 18 I wasn't even thinking of driving. In fact I never learned to drive until my 30's when I moved out of the city and found myself somewhat isolated without a car. At 18 I was pretty naive, and without any direction in my life. In fact, the only thing I really wanted to do was play chess. Unfortunately I wasn't good enough to do that full time. But all's well that end's well, and I eventually found myself in Australia where my love for the game has been rewarded with a full time chess coaching position with Chess Kids. Funnily enough, since I've started coaching I've become less interested in playing. I've given up international (FIDE rated) chess competitions because of the ever increasing bureaucracy that the governing body is imposing on national federations and organisers, which is basically making it harder to play in and run events, as well as making them  more costly. I had thought of throwing in the towel, coughing up the transfer fee of 250 Euros, and just getting on with it, but once again FIDE are attempting to introduce a player registration scheme (actually, they seem to have introduced it). This is a watered down version of the ludicrous registration proposal of earlier this year which caused me to turn my back on internationally rated chess in the first place.

Again I find it ironic that when I was 18 the thought of getting my name in the back of an Informator with a rating of 2200+ meant a great deal to me, and when I finally reached that goal about 7 or 8 years ago, it was like I achieved my goal. Since then my view of ratings has diminished and the FIDE rating which has dropped to 1000 level is not the thing it once was. And I think this is the main issue I have with the things FIDE are trying to introduce. FIDE are used to working for the top end of players, but they are imposing the same rules to players who have significantly different needs and desires. Widening the net to include a greater number of players to get FIDE ratings is ok, but there needs to be a widening of rules to accommodate these different strengths of players. Imposing the same registration and licensing rules for a player who might compete in one FIDE rated tournament a year (if that) with that of a professional players who plays hundreds of game each year is somewhat ridiculous.

The majority of my playing from now on will be online, probably at a site like where there are different types of chess available, articles and media resources, and different membership levels depending on how active a player wants to be. I will certainly not be an unlimited full member as I will not utilise the site this fully, but as soon as I get back from my trip to America (in 18 days time woohoo) I think I will sign up for a year.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Chess, World and Local

The Chess World Cup is coming to a conclusion with 2 play off matches to decide the semi finals, and I must admit that my 0% prediction success rate may be continuing. I'm not sure I like the omens of Kramnik missing a win against Vachier Legrave in the last game, but I'm still quietly confident that Kramnik can win the match. The other one could go either way, and I think it's safe to say that neither player really thought they would even have got this far and their 2 fairly quick draws in the normal games may reflect these feelings. In fact, Tomashevsky was so convinced he wasn't going to get this far in the tournament that he had agreed to play in the Poikovsky tournament which starts today! (Live games being played as I write) One player who was in Norway will be playing in Melbourne this weekend. GM Hrant Melkumyan is appearing in a very strong weekender in the west of Melbourne. This year's Best in the West weekender, organised by the Hobson's Bay Chess Club will be one of the strongest weekenders of the year in Australia, and almost definitely the strongest event not to be FIDE rated. A big field is assembling and I will be one of I presume many players who won't be able to play, but who will travel over to spectate and support the event.

The Melbourne Chess Club's 7 round swiss event on Monday nights finished this week with an emphatic win for IM Mirko Rujevic. Mirko dropped just half a point to second seed Malcolm Pyke and won the tournament by 1.5 points. Second place was shared by Jack Puccini and Richard Voon. Jack beat Malcolm in the last round to jump above him, and leave the second seed in the group a further half a point behind. Actually, it looked like quite a nice tournament with a few new faces, and some old faces who don't appear so regularly. Junior Ray Yang put in a good performance to finish in the group on 4 points. Scoring over half points from near the bottom of the seeding order is no mean feat. The next event is the MCC Open which is a 9 round swiss starting on Monday September 9th and running through to early November. Hopefully this tournament will see a good turn out. The tournament will miss one week due to the Melbourne Cup Weekender being held in the first week of November, but more on that event nearer the time.

I also need to mention another tournament coming up, and that is Noble Park's weekender in September. To be honest, I just can't believe how far this club has come in such a short time. It only seems like a little while ago, that I was spending  a lot of time with Domagoj Dragicevic and Memedalija Dizdarevic creating the new Noble Park Chess Club and hosting the Australian Masters tournament simultaneously. In hindsight, it seems like madness to take on 2 major projects without any guarantee of either succeeding, but both came about in the end. In fact, that all happened back in 2006, which really surprised me. The tournament was a pretty strong one, won by FM George Xie who became an IM at the event. He finished above GM Johansen with FM Sales in third. Behind them was GM Antic, IM Goldenberg and FM V. Smirnov (now an IM). Noble Park Chss Club was not a flash in the pan, and the club has grown its membership and is now hosting the country's most prestigious event, The 2014 Australian Championship next January. This is absolutely fantastic progress for such a young club. Noble Park's Classic Weekender will be held over the weekend of September 21st/22nd. It is to be a 7 round swiss played at a time control of 60 minutes + 10 second increment, which makes it an ACF rated time control. It is a pity I won't be in Australia to play it. I played last year and had a great time, and I urge anyone and everyone to play it this year, as I know it will be even better than last year's. (Hiding in one of my old computers should be some games from last year's event. I'll see if I can dig some out!)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Good Book

It's 20 days before we go on holiday. That means tomorrow it's down to the teens, and that means extra excitement. And I thought it couldn't get any more exciting when a parcel from New in Chess arrived yesterday. Ok, perhaps I'm exaggerating, but it's still quite exciting to get mail that isn't requiring you pay something. Mail, like books, is in jeopardy of being taken over by its electronic sidekick, and I for one will be sad if that happens. I admit, that email, smart phones and mobile internet access has made my life easier, and that I would now be lost without my chess database, but I still carry books around with me, and a notebook and pencil.

My work involves long hours, but with gaps between the schools and classes I have to visit. There is however, usually not time to drop back home, so I'm often driving around Melbourne all day. It can be pretty boring at times so I'm filling my time reading and working through chess books. I'm currently reading Peaches for Monsieur le Cure by the wonderful Joanne Harris.

I first read "Chocolat" probably 10 years ago and have read other novels by Joanne Harris (who by the way is excellent to follow on Twitter @Joannechocolat). Food and mystical themes pervade her writing and she has the ability to bring emotions to life through words. Try "Blackberry Wine", a novel narrated by a bottle of wine! I have a massive list of books to read as well, which is great except that the list is continually expanding and I don't have time to keep up. I have joined the social network "Goodreads" and have found interesting discussion about books, some reviews that I sometimes agree with, and sometimes take issue with, and recommendations for books which I would otherwise never have thought to read. It's even made me think about my reading habits, and I have decided it's time to read authors from more varied backgrounds. I've set myself the challenge of reading 80 novels before I die by authors from different countries. I would be glad to hear of any novelists from non English speaking countries that you could recommend, though I'd have to have it translated to English!

Chess books won't count towards the 80 (I'm going for fiction) which is a shame as I have chess authors from Bosnia, USA and Norway. I couldn't help but get Simen Agdestein's reissued work on the young Magnus Carlsen, and I've started reading this already. The story of the prodigious talent that is Magnus Carlsen from his first steps in chess until he became a Grand Master at just 13 is amazing and as it's written by someone who was right there to witness it and help in making it happen, this book was a must for me. A chess author that I really like is Ivan Sokolov, mainly because he loves to attack and talk about agressive systems. His new book is about the Initiative and Sacrifice, and though I've yet to really get going with it, it looks great. The American author I've purchased is a young player Daniel Naroditsky. He was only 14 when he wrote Mastering Positional Chess, and I want to see how a 14 year old comes across as a communicator. Of course there is no dounbting how strong Naroditsky is, but even the very strongest of players have not been able to convey their messages well. Anyway, the examples look good and there is a lot of commentary which is a good thing, but that is on a first glance.

So you can call me conservative, a Luddite or whatever, but I just prefer books to kindles, ebooks etc. And I'll be writing another blog post in the future about my love of bookshops compared to buying online....

Monday, August 26, 2013

Monday Is My Day Off

I work on Saturdays so I have Monday off. Well, in fact I have half of Monday off, except when there is something that needs catching up on. Actually, I pretty much work 7 days a week. But then again, when you turn your hobby into your work, there will always be an element of work following you around. For instance, last night I was watching the tie break play offs for the FIDE World Cup of Chess, and part of me is enjoying the spectacle, part of me is following the action like any chess fan, and part of me is wondering whether there are any lessons from the games that I can show my students. Every game of chess I play, every puzzle I try to solve, every game I look at are instructive to me and potential lessons to my students. So I guess for me work and play are not that far apart.

Today is a magnificent spring day. The temperature has cranked up a few degrees, there is bright sunshine and blue skies bringing highlights to the burst of spring colour which is coming into bloom. If I was a betting man, I would say we've seen the last of winter now, and Australia is full steam ahead towards summer days. But luckily I'm not a betting man. My predictions for the World Cup Quarter Finals proved to be spectacularly wrong with a 100% failure. Let's see how it goes for the semi finals. Actually, I have to admit to being a little put out that one of my picks didn't win. Ok, Korobov played averagely against Kramnik who won the match even though he wasn't playing his absolute best. But the other 3, Kamsky, Svidler and Caruana had their chances but just seemed to implode. I guess that even the top players are feeling the pressure in this event. Let's remember that they have little experience of knock out tournaments, or even of matches and these 3 all had the added burden of being a favourite. So I'm going to pick Tomashevsky to beat Andreikin, and Kramnik to beat Vachier-Legrave. Please don't go running to the bookmakers with those tips, I really am a bad pundit!

There are 3 weeks or just 21 days before Caroline and I head off to America. Our good friends Nick and Zoe have just left for their holiday and had a plane cancelled throwing their holiday plans into disarray. Thankfully, they are back on track now and living it up in Las Vegas before heading off to Florida for a big family get together. I just want to say that although my body is here, my mind and spirit is already in the USA with you both! Caroline and I have been planning this road trip for many onths now, and hope to see some amazing things, such as Sequoia, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon. But it is also the little things that you experience along the way that can make these things memorable. The last US road trip we did was about 10 years ago, through New England in the fall. Yes, we saw the amazing colours of the maples as the seasons turned. We went to New York, Boston, Montreal, saw Mount Washington, Lake Placid and Woodstock etc. But our best experience was at the end of a long drive when we thought our luck had run out with finding a place to stay for the night. Then we arrived in the small town of Indian Lake. We managed to book into a motel, and across the road was a bar where we spent a great night chatting and making friends with people who we'd never met before and will have never seen again. Of all the amazing experiences we had, the wonderful things we saw and did, it will probably be the openness and friendliness of that night which will be the enduring memory of that trip for me.

While I love chess, Caroline loves photography. On this trip I will be the official holiday snap taker, while Caroline will take the amazingly good shots that it takes the eye of a photographer to see. I'm not sure what makes a photo so different. How can one picture merely depict a memory, while another of virtually the same thing can be seen a art? Well I can see it once they have been taken, my problem is seeing the difference before the camera is clicked. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Fitzroy Skittles

Sunday Morning saw me drive to the inner city suburb of Fitzroy to the Melbourne Chess Club to catch up with some friends and watch some of the Fitzroy Skittles. It has to be said that Fitzroy doesn't appeal to everyone, and the MCC's location between the large thoroughfares of Brunswick Street and Nicholson Street just to the North of the city has it's detractors. But the club still has a healthy membership of over 150 and 30 players turned out today for the skittles.
Brunswick Street shopping is not to everyone's taste :D
Brunswick Street is a great eating strip with cafes and restaurants to suit everyone's taste. I turned up a little early on purpose so as to go for a coffee in one of my favourite cafes, Cafe Nova. However, Cafe Nova is now Cafe Ethos and it took me a little time for this to register. I walked in, looked at the place where I usually sit and it wasn't there, a booth  that had been replaced by an empty wall space. Still, I had a coffee which was ok and spent a pleasant time reading the novel "Peaches for Monsieur Cure" by Joanne Harris, famous for her novel "Chocolat".

It's been over 6 months since I'd been to the MCC, and walking round from Brunswick Street I was taken by how amazing the building looks. If you haven't seen it, then you should really go and look. Some local street artists undertook a job to liven up the outside of what is an essentially drab building. The back streets of Fitzroy are full of this 'art/graffiti' so the MCC is in keeping with the rest of the neighbourhood, but it is also distinct as a chess venue.

Street Art on the MCC
Street art on the MCC

Inside there was a great vibe, with a buzz of excitement as players waited around for the start of this unique tournament. I spent time chatting with people I hadn't seen for the best part of a year, and there was a really friendly feeling throughout the club today. President Grant Szuveges was running the show, and was acting as arbiter for the event. The event itself runs on the unusual format of a 'losing points' system. Every player is allocated a number of points depending on their rating, the top players starting with 1.5 and the lowest rated starting with 5 points. A swiss tournament is then played, and players are eliminated once they have lost the amount of points they started with. The top rated players in the event were IM's Igor Goldenberg and Ari Dale, but with only 1.5 points they both had little margin for error.
MCC President Grant Szuveges demonstrates what he'll do to anyone that touches his notepad! 

IM's Ari Dale (left) and Igor Goldenberg waiting for the first round to start
As the tournament is a swiss, the top players start to meet about the third round and then they start taking points off each other. The biggest fun is knocking someone out of the event, or "Skittling" them. The first players to be skittled don't usually happen until round 4 or 5, and by round 5 there were 5 players eliminated out of the 32 starters, and top seed Goldenberg was already down to just a half point left. In the end Igor survived until the very last match when he had to face fast improving junior talent Jack Puccini in the sudden death 11th round where both players just had a half point to lose (not sure what would have happened if the game had been a draw?). Igor Goldenberg won the game, and took the Fitzroy Skittles event for 2013.

The event was sponsored by the Red Triangle and life member Tino Fulgenzi who owns the Red Triangle was present at the start of the tournament. I had a brief chat with Igor Goldenberg before the tournament began asking him if he was making a comeback. He said he intends to play some chess in preparation for the 2014 Australian Championships which are being run by Noble Park Chess Club, and in which Igor wants to put in a good performance. The field of about 30 players may have been a bit disappointing, but there was a clash of events with Chess Victoria holding a Victorian Rapid Championship in the seaside town of Lorne over this same weekend. I believe they had about 20 players, so that makes 50 playing tournament allegro chess altogether this weekend. It's just a shame that it didn't happen in one place, as that would have made for a spectacular tournament. I asked FM Bill Jordan if he thought there was too much tournament chess happening in Victoria at the moment. His reply was simply that in the old days, the Skittles tournament would get fields of over 100 players, and it was probably due to the number of events in the calendar that many tournaments are getting smaller numbers. Is this what we want? Personally I'd rather see fewer events, but great numbers turning out for each one, but getting the right balance is certainly a matter of trial and error over the years.

Anyway, all in all it was a great fun event, and the MCC even ran a blitz tournament for those who were skittled early. It's these sort of things, giving the members some fun and something a bit different that can make a club more than just a tournament chess venue. So good on the MCC for hosting this and putting on a good show!

Tino Fulgenzi sponsoring the tournament walks around before the first round starts

The treasured notebook with all the players ratings and allocated points was not to be touched on pain of death!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Chess World Cup Predictions

So now we've come down to the quarter finals of the World Cup, I guess I ought to stick my neck out and make some predictions. Unfortunately, I'm a Libran who likes sitting on the fence. Fortunately, I think all that astrology business is a load of tosh and I'll go with what I feel.

Before sticking my neck out, I must say that I think the pairings for the quarter finals are excellent, and although some of the top players have gone in the previous rounds, that doesn't really diminish the quality of the final 8 who are all excellent players. Ok, enough rambling. I'm going with Kamsky to beat Tomashevsky, even though Tomashevsky has already knocked out some much fancied players including top seed Aronian. I'll also go with Svidler to beat Andreikin. Svidler has probably not played his best so far in this tournament (Andreikin's win against Karjakin in the first rapid game yesterday was pretty impressive), but he seems to get better as tournaments progress. I think Caruana will beat Vachier-Legrave, though the Frenchman has proven he is no push over. However, I think Caruana is playing the strongest chess of all so far. Kramnik-Korobov is for me the hardest one to pick. Kramnik is of course awesome, but Korobov is an incredibly strong player and the way he has made it through to this stage has been relatively comfortable. Also, I think I remember someone like Grischuk saying earlier this year (actually, maybe it was Ponomariov) that he thought Korobov was worth a top ten spot, and was probably the most under rated player in the top 100. Hmm, errr, we go, I'll stick my neck out as far as it will go, and I'm going with the upset of Korobov beating Kramnik!

As it happens, I'll be more than happy with any of the players going through as long as the games live up to expectations. I'm going to see the first hour of the games tonight before having to bed (damned time zones!) and I'll see how comfortable I am then. I warn you now, I'm usually pretty bad at predictions :D


Just under an hour into the games and there isn't much to tell between any of the games, as far as I can see. The most interesting game so far has been Vachier-Legrave-Caruana, where white sacrificed a pawn for some piece pressure on the queen side. As all my predictions are playing black today, I'd be more than happy with 4 draws tonight. However, there's a long way to go.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Some Local Chess To Look Forward To

Melbourne has some great chess coming up over the next few weeks, and I'll be following the action on this blog! First, all the clubs around Melbourne are active during this (long, hard...brrrr) winter season. Mirko Rujevic is in complete control of the 7 round swiss Malitis Memorial at the Melbourne Chess Club. He has scored 5.5/6 and sits a point clear of the the rest of the field. David Lacey, Malcolm Pyke and Justin Penrose are on 4.5 with young Jack Puccini and not so young Richard Voon on 4. The final round for this event is next Monday and although the draw has not been published yet I'm guessing it will be up to Justin Penrose to stop Mirko as Lacey and Pyke have already played him.

Before that, on Sunday, MCC is holding the annual Fitzroy Skittles event. This is a losing points rapid tournament where you are given a number of points that you may lose on the day before you are eliminated from the tournament, The higher rated a player, the less points they will have to lose. It is something different, a bit of fun, but of course played in a tournament format to give it that little bit more energy. There are already about 25 players who have entered, including 2 IM's, and I guess quite a few will enter on the day. I'll be there to watch for a while, and I'll post some things about it on this blog!

Meanwhile, the weekend after Hobson's Bay Chess Club are hosting what looks like the Victorian tournament of the year. Their annual Best in the West event has always been an enjoyable event, but this year it looks like it will be an unbelievably strong event, and almost definitely the strongest event in Australia this year not to be FIDE rated. The inclusion of GM Melkumyan from Armenia has attracted a number of strong Aussies to participate including IM's Cheng, Illingworth, and Morris who are all above 2400. I'll be at this one as a blogger too!

All writing and no play makes me rather miss chess though, so I'm happy to be helping to organise the new local club near where I live in Glen Eira. Glen Eira Chess Club is beginning to build a nice vibe and I always look forward to playing there. It's particularly useful for young players who need a local place to play serious chess against adults who can pass on valuable experience. Last week there was an exciting game between 2 young local talents, Max Phillips (= first Victorian under 12 Championship 2013) and Gal Dekal (self taught 13 year old who I would estimate to be in the 1200-1500 strength category (he beat a 1900 rated player the week before!). Gal chose to play a Dragon against Max, probably knowing that Max likes the Dragon himself. Max played a similar structure to what I had played against him the week before. Gal gained a big queen side initiative when Max made some weak looking moves, but Gal pressed too far on the queen side, leaving his king side vulnerable, and Max finished him off nicely.

Chess Again

I have to say that I was hoping that the knockout format of the World Cup would grip me in the days leading up to my holiday to America (just 27 days to go!). However, much like the big tennis events, the thrills and spills have kind of passed me by in the first week. There has just been too much action to really soak it all up, and I've rather preferred the edited highlights that I've seen on the chess news sites, like TWIC or Chessvibes. However, now that we're down to the final 16, I've taken a bit more interest. With only 8 matches on the go it is easier to keep up with all the action. I guess it is a bit like trying to follow all the action of a large Swiss event, compared with a 12 player Round Robin.

Anyway, now that it's been established that I have a limited attention span, the 2013 World Cup. My impressions of the first week have been:

- Boris Gelfand has been in amazing form so far
- Alexander Morozevich continues to be one of the most exciting players on the circuit
- No one can play their best if they're ill (unlucky to Aronian, though he will qualify for the next candidates)
- China has the potential to be the powerhouse of chess in the next 10 years
- Even the best of the best can blunder, especially under pressure (Grischuk, Svidler, Kamsky spring to mind)
- There's a great deal of young talent around, and events like this are where they can progress.

Australia's Igor Bjelobrk stood little chance against top 10 player Alexander Grischuk in round 1, but put up a brave fight. English hopes also didn't last long. Gawain Jones went out after play off's in the first round. I guess that his hectic schedule leading into the event wasn't the most conducive to a strong campaign. Michael Adams managed to get through the first round, but lost on tie break in the second round. I was a bit surprised by this, especially after his Dortmund form, and the fact that Adams is an excellent fast player. I can't say that I'm in to making predictions but I'll give it a go after this round, when the excitement should move up a notch. The second games of round 4 are due to start in less than 2 hours with Caruana, Kramnik and Kamsky holding one point leads while all the other games were drawn. Kamsky, in fact, came out with one of the games of the tournament yesterday, with a sacrificial attack against Mamedyarov (look for the piece sac on move 18 which gives white amazing chances. Black could defend but it's practically very difficult).

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Hidden Gems Twelve B Cafe, Hawthorn

Where does this passage off Glenferrie Road lead to?

Melbourne is a great city. It doesn't have the big WOW that some cities have, but it has a gentle vibe and it really grows on you. There are many suburbs to explore, each with its own distinctive flavour. On a Tuesday morning I find myself around the Camberwell/Hawthorn area and when I've got a bit of time to spare I head to the suburb of Glenferrie to chill out. Actually, I make a detour there now as I've found this amazing little cafe.
Twelve B Cafe
It doesn't look much from the outside, but this is one great little cafe with an absolutely fantastic coffee. In fact, there are just a couple of tables inside, and a couple outside, and to get to it, you have to walk up an alley from Glenferrie Road which leads to the train station. Actually, when I reread that last sentence it sounds terrible, but nothing could be further from the truth. The vibe is great, and the staff are genuinely friendly. I've been back 5 or 6 times recently and the quality of the Gravity coffee remains high. My long black is smooth and creamy, with little to no bitterness and a delicate sweetness. It's not an overpowering flavour or hit, which is great as it means you can have two coffees!

But what really makes it for me is the music, all old time records on vinyl played on a deck. I was in there this morning reading, having a coffee and some porridge while listening to Pink Floyd on vinyl. The music stopped, and the guy behind the counter stepped round and turned the record over. Brings back memories!
This is a must go to if you're in the area, great coffee, great atmosphere and real music. What more could you ask for?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A Typical Wednesday

My work as a chess coach sees me mainly driving from school to school running hour long sessions of coaching and playing for kids. I also do some more advanced coaching, and try to write a little bit as well, and of course try to keep up with chess news and look at some games and ideas. During the week I have some time between lessons to relax, or work, or do whatever I feel like doing. I always have reading material with me ("Life After Life" by Kate Atkinson, "The String Diaries" by Stephen Lloyd Jones, and the latest  New in Chess Magazine), and a laptop with mobile internet access.

So besides my work admin site, and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, I have dropped into a sort of routine about which sites I look at on a regular basis. I follow chess news mainly through TWIC, though I sometimes go to other sites if there looks to be a story of interest. I also seek opinions on chess forums in both Australia and England (I must branch out a bit here, and start looking at some more forum sites). Today, I learned from the Australian Chesschat forum the sad news of the death of Peter Parr. I had never met Peter but his role in Australian chess is legendary, as an arbiter, organiser, mentor, chess shop owner and a player. Memories of Peter Parr, and tributes from chess players who knew him can be found here.

RIP Peter Parr (image from CDS)

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

It's currently a typical Melbourne winter's day. There is a fairly strong breeze blowing, and rain is coming in showers. Funnily enough, the day started in a completely different manner, with sunshine and what felt to me like a surprisingly early sunrise. Needless to say that Melbourne is famous for it's 4 seasons in a day. My main concern is whether the rain will be coming down when I'm outside or inside. So far I've been pretty lucky this winter, as I have mostly seemed to avoid the rain. That luck has to run out sometime I guess! Talking about 'unlucky', GM Cori of Peru will definitely be feeling aggrieved being eliminated from the World Cup. Cori was involved in a potential big upset against Radjabov after finishing 1-1 in the Rapid games and taking the match to a blitz play off. Cori claims he thought the start time of the next round was 6.50, when in fact it was 6.15. After seeing players taking their seats online, he rushed to the playing hall, arriving 2 minutes late for the start of the game, and was forfeited. This seems incredibly harsh to me, especially as there were no written notices as to when the start time of rounds were to be. While the decision may have followed the letter of the law, it seems that the processes involved were rather sloppy, and this certainly needs tightening up, by organisers and FIDE.

I am somewhat luckier than Mr. Cori, as the rain has stopped just as I walk to head to my next class. Will the weather be as kind to me on the walk back?

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Well luck has stayed with me today, and I've been inside when it's been raining, though we're only half way through the day. Driving between jobs can be somewhat monotonous and I often fill the time listening to music, like I guess a lot of drivers do. But sometimes I just like to think either about the lessons that I'm to present, or chess in general, or anything else that comes to mind. Today, 2 subjects have been buzzing round my mind in spare moments. One is what I genuinely feel about the 'zero tolerance' rule that cost GM Cori his game, and the other is coffee!

I actually quite like the fact that a player can be forfeited if he isn't ready to start at the allotted time. If chess wants to be recognised as a professional game/sport then I think setting professional standards of organisation and behaviour is reasonable. Of course, the case involving GM Cori was anything but professional. A minimum expectancy from the organisers should be prior written instructions as to when rounds are to be played. In this case it was a verbal instruction given to players after the stress of having already played in a 2 game rapid match. The more I consider this, the more I personally don't think that this case was handled fairly and I have a definite sympathy with Cori.

Quite another issue is applying the zero tolerance rule to all events, and this touches on how different levels of events are treated. I'm sure if FIDE could get their way, then all FIDE rated events would have an automatic forfeit rule for players not present at the start of a playing session. But at the amateur level this is really not realistic. Take for instance, the FIDE rated tournament currently being played at the MCC, the Malitis Memorial. Players are travelling to the club after work on a Monday, through traffic which can sometimes be heavy and it cannot be expected that they would get to the venue for the start time of 7.15 pm every week. In fact. some players even let the arbiter know if they will be late in an act of courtesy to the club and their opponent. Thankfully, tournament organisers currently have the discretionary ability to state their own forfeit time for a game, and the MCC uses a 30 minute period of grace for a player to arrive after the start of the playing session. If a player has trouble with this, then postponements, and late starts (with the agreement of an opponent) are possible.

There are definitely 2 tiers to chess competition, and even if we all play under one rating system, FIDE have to understand that local club players have different needs to the top professionals. Getting sponsorship and full recognition at the top level is a different issue to getting a large number of bodies to play chess at lower levels, but both are equally important for their own reasons.

I'm the Expresso (from a meme site)

Coffee is a different subject that I have daily thoughts about. In fact, I may have a mild addiction to coffee, and I usually have 1 or 2 coffee's a day. We're not talking about instant coffee here, but the real thing. My preference is simply black coffee, either in short or long form. I don't take milk or sugar preferring the genuine taste of the coffee. Or at least, I hope to enjoy the taste of the coffee, though they aren't always great. I usually pick up a take away on my way to my first class in the morning. This class will be at 8 am each morning so an early pick me up int he form of a coffee is much needed. I tend to pick my coffee up from the Artful Dodger in Elsternwick which serves a very good coffee, strong and full bodied, but with s slightly sweet flavour. After that I tend to find somewhere to sit and have a coffee at some stage during the day. Today I was in the bayside suburb of Black Rock and had a pretty decent long black in Jacques, along with a tasty almond croissant.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Well, I'm sitting at home in the evening after a miraculous day of missing rain showers and staying dry. I suppose I should really apologise for going on about the weather, but I believe it has something to do with my English upbringing. With rain always around the corner, the English are weather obsessed, and if it's not too wet, then it must be too hot, or too cold, or too dry, or just "not quite right", or "about to deteriorate". Looking back on my day, I can say there were some real highlights. Starting a new book is always a risky thing, but "The String Diaries" has completely gripped me. It has the potential to be one of the best thrillers I've ever read (not that I'm particularly well read in that genre).

The other notable moment was when I was showing some of the kids I teach pictures of top chess players from my New in Chess Magazine. Comments included "Wow, he's just a kid" (on Carlsen), "Who's that old guy?" (on Gelfand, depressingly younger than me!) and "He looks weird" (on Ivanchuk). Sometimes it's a challenge working with kids, but there are times when it brings a smile to your face!

By the way, just 33 days before my holiday!!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Hennig Schara Time Again

I'm not sure whether I'm more excited by seeing the Petroff or Caro Kann getting smashed, or by the Hennig Schara or Evans Gambits being used successfully. I must say that I found the first round of the current World Cup a bit tedious. I started watching, but it held the same sort of fascination as watching the first week of a Grand Slam Tennis tournament. You are hoping for some big upsets, but at the same time you want the top players to go through so there are some great battles towards the end of the event. While I'll look at the matches, and the games and follow the event closely, I don't think I'll be getting into it in a big way until some players have been whittles away and there are maybe 16 left. Trying to find the excitement in 64 games is a bit like finding a needle in a haystack. Still, the results showed a couple of good upsets, so some players will have to come out fighting tonight to take the games into tiebreaks, especially Morozevich and Judit Polgar who both lost in game 1.

In the latest issue of TWIC, there was a game in the Hennig Schara which was quite remarkable. It was played between 2 lower rated players (2100-1900 ish) but it still showed some interesting points. First, the positions are so random that it only takes a smallish error for one side or the other to go wrong. This is a great way for a lower rated player to unsettle a higher rated opponent, which is what happened in this game. Second, Black fights aggressively for the initiative and is often attacking which is much the easier position to be in below master level.

Here's a couple of highlights from this game:

White just played 10.Qa4 and he must have had a bit of a surprise when his opponent played 10..Bc5!?. Of course, taking on g4 is bad 11.Qxg4 Qxf2+ followed by regaining the piece on f1.

Black had castled long into a dangerous looking situation, but white's king doesn't look too hot either. White decided on 17.Bb5? seeing black's knight has nowhere to go! Black launched the knight into the fray with 17..Nd4!! utilising the pin on the e-file. After 18.Ba4 Black won an exchange with 18..Nxf3+ 19.gxf3 Bd4! utilising the same pin to unleash this nice skewer.
What a great position with black's dark squared bishop being the star of the show! Black maintained his material advantage until the following position was reached.
Continuing in his inspired form, black finished the game with the excellent 27..Rxe3+!! completely smashing away white's defences. 28.fxe3 Qxe3+ 29.Kf1 Qxf3+ 30.Kg1 Qe3+ 31.Kf1 Rc1+ 32.Kg2
There are many ways to win this, like taking the queen 32..Rxa1, or checking with 32..Qe4+, but the quickest is the one black played, 32..Rc2+! and black resigned as it's mate next move.

A great game, and a great advertisement for the Hennig Schara. White played a move that theory regards poorly in the opening, 7.Nxd5?!, instead of the more usual 7.Qxd5. This was a move introduced into practice by ex World Champion Euwe in 1920. To be honest, it gives black an easy game after 7..Nf6, as black will always be ahead in development. In fact, after 7..Nf6 white scores a miserable 36% from 15 games in Big Database 2013. An exchange on f6 usually follows with 8.Nxf6+ Qxf6 when white normally avoids a check on b4 by playing 9.a3, but as we saw in the main game, black has all the play. One of my favourite players who regularly played the Hennig Schara is Pavel Cech and there is a game of his where 9.e4?! was played. There followed 9..Bb4+ 10.Bd2
Here black played a move we know from the previous game. 10..Bg4!! It really is a great opening where moves like this can be played!

Once again, I urge players to take a few risks, find some interesting openings that will scare those higher rated players, and mix it up. If you lose, well it would probably have also happened if you played safe. But there's always that chance that your strong opponent will lose the thread, or miss a trick and that could very well be game over!

Glen Eira Chess Club

At long last it appears that we are regaining some people at Glen Eira Chess Club. I think a combination of new venue, winter illnesses, poor weather and the climax of junior winter sports have contributed to our recent lack of numbers. But this week we came close to the 20 people through the door that we really want to sustain the club. Like any new venture, a core number of regular members will maintain the vibrancy and energy of the club, and that provides a platform from which the club can grow. At the moment there are a lot of juniors playing, but they are of a sufficient quality to justify their presence. Gal, who I struggled to overcome last week took a 1900 scalp this week, so I'm feeling better about the tough time he gave me.

Winter Robin (photo from BBC)
This week we continued the Round Robin events that we'd started the week before. The top group now has 6 players and we envisage the possibility of another 2 players maximum. We've come up with a snappy name. These will be called the Winter Robins. The second group is much larger than the first so it may be a tournament with some gaps, but most games will be played. Everyone seems to be enjoying the new venue and there is a friendly feel to the evening. Once again, I extend a welcome to anyone who wants to come along.

This week I had to play a student of mine who is quite good tactically. I chose as quiet a set up I could manage against his Dragon, and was lucky that he was feeling a bit off colour and made a couple of blunders. This is the game.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Importance of Elementary Endgames

I was playing a blitz game online and got into a pretty bad position as can happen. I was then let off the hook in the endgame which I thought I'd take a look at.

It is white to play and the win is fairly instructive. White has to advance the king threatening to exchange rooks by Rf7 simplifying into a winning king and pawn endgame. Like this:

1.Kd3 Ra7 [1..Ra3+ 2.Kc4 Ra4+ 3.Kb5 Ra7 4.Kb6 Re7 5.Kc6 Ra7 6.Rf7+! Rxf7 7.exf7 Kxf7 8.Kd7
with a winning position as white's king will be able to win the g-pawn] 2.Rf7+! Rxf7 3.exf7 Kxf7 4.Kd4 Ke6 5.Ke4 with a winning opposition:
With white to move this is a draw, but with black to move white wins. 5..Kd6 6.f5 Ke7! [6..gxf5+ 7.Kxf5 Ke7 8.g6 (8.Kg6 also wins) 8..Ke8 9.Ke6! (but not 9.Kf6? Kf8 =) with another winning opposition]
7.f6+! [7.fxg6? throws away the win 7..Kf8 8.Ke5 Kg7 9.Kf5 Kg8 (Straight back, ignoring the fact there are doubled pawns) 10.Kf6 Kf8 11.g7+ Kg8 and white's spare pawn move is useless as it will lead to stalemate] 7..Ke6
8.f7! Kxf7 9.Kd5 [This outflanking manouvre works as black's pawn is on the 6th rank so when white captures it, they will have a winning position. Note that this wouldn't work further down the board] 9..Ke7 10.Ke5 [Opposition] 10..Kf7 11.Kd6 Kf8 12.Ke6 Kg7 13.Ke7 Kg8 14.Kf6 Kh7 15.Kf7 and black must abandon the pawn and the game.

Unfortunately in the first position white decided that the pawn endgame is won immediately and went straight to it.
1.Rf7+? Rxf7 2.exf7 Kxf7 3.Ke3
[This position is a win with white to move, but a draw with black] 3..Ke7! [Opposition] 4.Kd4 Kd6! 5.Ke4 Ke6!
[We already saw this position as a win with black to move, but here it is white to move] 5.f5 gxf5 6.Kf4 Kf7 7.Kxf5 with a draw as white's king is not in front of the pawn.

Sunday in Melbourne

Flinders Street station is a well known landmark across the road from Federation Square. The station is over 100 years old, while just visible in the background in the centre, the Eureka Tower is less than 10 years old

I woke up to a fairly breezy day, but the sun was shining so Caroline and I headed out for some much needed spring weather therapy. We've both been feeling a little under the weather recently so a dose of sunshine and fresh air was needed. Actually, instead of fresh air, we headed to Melbourne CBD. I must admit, it's been quite some time since I've been to the CBD. When i first moved to Melbourne I used to go into the centre of Melbourne quite a bit, checking out the laneways and arcades, and spending time by the Yarra on the South Bank. But after a while Melbourne's other suburbs tend to grow on you and I've spent lots of time walking by the bay in Port Melbourne, Elwood, Black Rock or even down to Mordialloc. Inner suburbs like South Melbourne, Fitzroy, Carlton and Hawthorn are also great to visit, while I love where I live in Elsternwick.

Melbourne has many alleys, arcades and lanes to explore. This is Centre Place.
The last time I remember going to the CBD was for the Polish Festival in November 2012. Today there was no event happening in Federation Square. We took a walk around the city stopping in Issus in Centre Place for something to eat and drink. It was breakfast, so I had some porridge, and a long black. The food was no better than ok, but the coffee was amazing. It was probably one of the top 5 coffees I've had since moving to Melbourne over 8 years ago. The roast was strong but not overdone, the acidity wasn't overpowering, and the initial earthy/nutty taste was followed by a liquorice hit afterwards. A beautiful smooth coffee. However, we did have to wait a long time for the coffee as someone seemed to have forgotten we had ordered it!

Cafe Issus in bustling Centre Place serving great coffee
This winter's day reached a high of about 18C with glorious sunshine. So strolling around Melbourne's CBD and along the South Bank at a gentle pace was really pleasant. One of the things I like about Melbourne (and other cities) is the blend of old and new buildings. It makes the city modern with a feel for its past. While Australia doesn't have the historical culture of European cities, it is still apparent what is old and what is new in Melbournian terms. So we strolled along graffiti lined alleys, main boulevards, across bridges, on riverside walkways and even through the (love it or hate it) Federation Square. I have to say that it felt decidedly spring like today, and hopefully we are nearing the end of winter. There are only 36 days to go before I fly to America and at least one of our destinations is currently experiencing 30C+ temperatures, so I really need Melbourne to start warming up so I can acclimatise!

Something old (St Michael's), something new (Grand Hyatt Hotel)

Friday, August 9, 2013

With a Round to Spare

New British Champion, David Howell (photo: Chessbase)

The British Championship is done and dusted, with David Howell taken the title with a round still to play. In the second week Howell started with a draw against GM Hebden, and has then beaten GM Williams, GM Gormally, and IM Ghasi to put himself on an unbeatable 9/10. Tonight the top 2 seeds meet in what will probably be a tame affair. I am guessing that Gawain Jones will not want to be pushing himself too hard, as he starts the World Cup in Norway the day after. Jones sits in second, along with Hebden, 1.5 points behind Howell. There are then 8 players a further half point back playing for the minor places.

Round 1 of the World Cup actually doesn't start until Sunday, though the opening ceremony and players meeting are tomorrow. The tournament runs through to Monday September 2nd, with the 3rd being available for play offs. It's going to be amazing, with loads of thrills and spills. I have heard that one player will be unable to make the opening round, Egyptian player Adly has travel problems, and as far as I know will not play. This should give a win to Adly's opponent Moiseenko who was one of the players involved in the fair play incident from the last World Cup, when David Navara accidentally touched a piece but Moiseenko didn't worry about the touch move rule saying it was obvious what Navara wanted to do.

Finally, it was very sad to hear of another chess player dying in a road accident. Russian GM, 28 year old Igor Kurnosov was killed in a road traffic accident in the early hours of yesterday morning.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Good and Bad in Chess

I must be getting into the modern era of connected worlds, as I set up a Google alert for the term 'coffee house chess'. I've picked up some interesting emails over time but the latest is one worth sharing. Apparently, in Ohio, USA there is a Coffee House Chess League, and some great individuals doing some amazing work at grass roots level. Check out the article, it's uplifting. Of course, the success of chess in any area is largely down to the strengths of the local volunteer force. It takes dedicated individuals to run clubs, leagues, associations, and even tournaments. I've found out over the years that if you want something done, the best thing is to get up and try to do it yourself. Get a few interested, ask for a little help which will generally be given, and before you know it, a club, or league or tournament will be organised.

I guess because of this voluntary nature to much of chess officialdom (and because we're human!) most players like to see a good giant slaying game, where the higher rated player gets taken down a peg, or ten. In a few days time, the World Cup will be starting in Tromso Norway. The format is a 128 player knockout of mini matches over 2 games, with rapid/blitz tie breaks if needed. It is an exciting format, though just how well it works out a champion is up for debate which was used in the early 1990's in the famous Tilburg tournaments, causing some disdain at the time if I remember rightly. Funnily enough, that first Tilburg event in 1992 was won by the recent Dortmund Champion, Michael Adams, defeating last year's World Championship candidate Boris Gelfand in the final match. Gelfand has won a big knockout event as well, the World Cup in 2009. The number 1 seed for this event in current world number 2 Levon Aronian who has also won a previous version of this event, in 2005. Australian fans will be hoping for a miracle as Igor Bjelobrk faces number 4 seed Alexander Grischuk. And English fans will be hoping that the Gawain Jones won't be too tired after playing lots of summer chess, including the British Championships which finishes the day before the World Cup starts! Adams is also playing and will have had nearly a fortnight's break since his Dortmund win. I'm not going to be sticking my neck out with predictions, but the match of the first round that particularly interests me is Shirov-Yifan Hou. Shirov is a remarkable player, but can play fairly averagely at times, while the ex Women's World Champion is capable of almost anything on her day.

Meanwhile at the British Championship David Howell overcame Simon Williams to maintain his half point lead in the tournament from Mark Hebden. Hebden is also half point clear of the chasing pack which includes Gawain Jones, but the two top seeds are not drawn together in this round. Howell plays another Grand Master, Gormally, while Jones plays Ameet Ghasi. In between these 2, Hebden has to play 'Mr Rock Solid' Bogdan Lalic. There are only 3 rounds left and 1.5 points between first a fifteenth. It will be a nail biting finish!

Looking at what I've written so far, there's a lot that's good in the chess world. But let's make no mistake that there's some bad as well. I'm not a big fan of FIDE, but I was encouraged to see they are trying to develop an online playing server that has built in strict anti cheating detection software. After the cheating cases in Bulgaria, Dortmund and Russia, anti cheating measures are high up in the priorities of organisers int he chess world. But will the new FIDE site really be able to provide a better online service than the established commercial sites such as ICC, Playchess and Well we won't know for a while, as the site is currently running as a beta test version, no doubt working out whether FIDE will be able to deliver on their promises. So I registered, and joined the site, and have 30 days free membership to check it out. I downloaded the client software and apparently, all will be up and running from October and then full memberships will be offered. So I played a game, the interface was ok but generally speaking it seems no better than playchess, ICC or We will have to wait for the full product to see what features it will have that are new (if any) and the full playability of the site, including the number of regular members.

Finally, I'd like to say thank you to Michael Yip for mentioning my blog on a Canadian chess forum, and welcome to any new Canadian readers. And we've reached the 40 milestone! That's how many days before I'm out of here and on the holiday roadtrip of a lifetime.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Who's The Leader?

Last night saw the latest round of the Malitis Memorial at the MCC. The top 2 seeds, IM Mirko Rujevic and Malcolm Pyke met, and their game ended in a draw which keeps them in joint first place. Surprisingly the only player half a point behind them before the round started was Ray Yang, but Ray couldn't keep up his great start and lost to David Lacey. David finds himself in the chasing group, a point behind the leaders, along with Justin Penrose, Tom Kalisch, Anthony Hain and Paul Kovacevic. With this being only a 7 round tournament, and there only being 3 rounds left, I think we can say that this group is where the main prizewinners will come from. Of course, with a run of 3/3 players from behind this could still challenge for minor places.

Meanwhile at the British Championships David Howell maintained his half point lead with a draw against Mark Hebden. Hebden remains close behind in second along with Ameet Ghasi, Keith Arkell and Simon Williams. There is then a big chasing pack a further half point behind including top seed Gawain Jones who has started the tournament with a number of draws in the first week. I was able to catch the start of the games before going to bed last night (damn time zones!) and it was great to see Hebden playing the Hungarian Defence, 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Be7. I know it has a reputation for leading to cramped positions for black, but it is solid enough, and a tough nut for white to crack. Certainly 2639 rated Howell could only draw and it was a fully fledged battle, though I don't think black came out the opening badly. Simon Williams continued in his cavalier (coffeehouse!) style to take out Stephen Gordon. Williams again ditched a pawn for activity and and all of a sudden Gordon's king was wide open and Williams pieces were penetrating. In the end, a rook sacrifice was enough to gain the time to deliver mate. From move 16 onwards, Williams is interested in one thing, developing an initiative to generate a direct attack against white's king activating his pieces.

A fascinating match up is the game Williams-Howell on top board of round 8 (of 11). Howell is an excellent player, but he can expect Williams to throw everything at him. Equally fascinating for me is the board 2 game Hebden-Arkell. Having played the weekend circuit in the UK for many years, I saw these 2 GM's regularly cleaning up these small swiss weekend events. I've played both Hebden and Arkell numerous times and never managed even a draw against either of them, and have witnessed them both playing at the same weekender lots of times. In fact, I would have no clue how many times these great battlers have actually played each other, but I'd guess it would be hundreds of games! On board 3 Ghasi-Zhou brings 2 young talents together. Well, I understand Ameet Ghasi is not exactly a junior but I always think of him as a youngster from my days in the Birmingham league. I guess it just shows that I'm getting old!

A couple of nights ago I was following Aussie GM David Smerdon's progress in Denmark. Well, unfortunately he lost that game and dropped down the standings to equal 14th, whereas a win would have taken him to equal second. It just shows how brutal these big swiss events can be. Still it was agreat effort by David, who played his typical combative style of chess. The winner was Indian GM Parimarjan Negi who won a quick game against joint leader Sabino Brunello of Italy in the last round. Both players were evidently unhappy with the draw that would have secured equal first, and it was Negi that took the victory in an exciting game. I found white's use of his doubled h-pawns really interesting in this game.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Rest Day at the British

The British Championship is a 2 week marathon tournament with a rich history. The series of Championships goes back to 1904 when William Napier became the first champion. Since then, the event has been a showcase for British talent, and at times Commonwealth talent. Traditionally (though I'm not sure how far back this tradition began) the middle Sunday of the British Championship has been a rest day, or at least a day with no Championship games. This year, extra events included a weekender, a team blitz tournament, and a cricket match against a local team. It gives the Championships a social feel as well as the tough competition that is the main event.

However, just how tough is the British Championship this year? Certainly at the top it looks pretty good with over 10 Grand Masters, but it has been suggested that the event has become one of quantity rather than quality. I remember trying to qualify for the British back in the 1990's and early 2000's and it was a tough job. Automatic qualification went to anyone over 2320 (if my memory is correct) and the rest of us had to qualify through one of the weekend tournaments. This meant that the tournaments tended to be top heavy, with the majority of players over that 2320 threshold and some under that who qualified. As an example, lets compare the current event with the first event to feature Michael Adams, the 1985 Championship. First a big congratulations to Michael for winning the Dortmund Super Tournament ahead of Kramnik among others. Michael raced to an early lead which he didn't relinquish, and his play in the early rounds seemed remarkably easy, yet deadly effective.

Anyway, in 1985 there were 76 players though one had to withdraw after 5 rounds. The 2013 event has 106, though that in itself is not an issue in my mind so long as the standard is upheld. Naturally, you'd expect more players to be achieving greater standards. So players above 2320: 42 in 1985, compared to 21 in 2013. (the 1985 figure doesn't include Guy West, now an IM but 2310 at the time, or Joe Gallagher, 2305 then, and a GM now). However, at the top level 1985 looks weak compared to 2013, with the highest rated being only 2560. But when one realises that this mere 2560 player was Tony Miles, and other players of the quality of Chandler, Rogers, Speelman, Hodgson, King, Hebden etc were playing, it would be foolish to merely look at the top ratings and assign quality because of it. In my mind, the 1985 event was far superior in terms of overall quality than the 2013 event, it was an elite closed swiss event. The 2013 is also closed to an extent, but with so many players below FM standard, it can barely be called elite.

So the question I suppose must be is this what is really wanted? I mean, I tried hard to qualify for the British, and eventually managed it in 2003, though I emigrated to Australia a few months before the 2003 tournament, so have never played. And here in Australia, a similar debate happens over our Championship, though the ACF have stuck to their guns, and kept it at an elite level, ensuring that only the top 50 or so players in the country will be eligible to enter. Personally, I believe that the National Championship should be an elite event, and whatever needs to be done to make it so should be undertaken. To me, the British Championship has become a fairly decent swiss event, but without the international flavour. Compared to the annual events on the Isle of Man (unfortunately not happening any more) and Gibraltar, the British is a bit of a joke. But I think that the British has evolved to become this tournament, and nothing is going to change it from its current trend.

What could happen, and perhaps should, is the ECF (important now it isn't the British Chess Federation) could organise an elite English Championships. The British could continue in its format and no one would worry about the drop of standard because that is how the tournament has developed. But the real Championship for English players should be an elite event, perhaps going back to the rating limit cut off and allowing for a few qualifiers and wild cards, such as talented and perhaps under rated juniors. Or even a round robin format with a swiss qulifier for the following year, like what happened at Hastings. Ok, let's go the whole distance. Why doesn't the ECF work alongside the Hastings organisers and turn the dwindling New Year tournament into an English Championship? And before anyone starts shouting that Hastings isn't dwindling, I suggest they compare Michael Admas first appearance in the Premier in 1989/90, a category 14, 8-player double round robin event where Candidate Arthur Yusupov could only finish 5th, to the latest tournament over New Year 2012/13 which was a swiss with about 20 players above 2400, another run of the mill event. I hate to point it out, but the 1989/90 challengers event was probably stronger than the 2012/13 Masters!

But to be honest, I don't know why I'm grouching so much here. It's only 42 days till I go on holiday!! And at the top level of the 2013 British, the competition is genuine. David Howell leads the event by half a point, but there is a big pack of elite players close behind. In fact, the first 26 players are separated by just 1.5 points, and another half point behind are Emms, Lane and Bates who are all capable of making a charge in the second week. The fun starts again tonight, and this week there are 5 more rounds to sort things out.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Coffee Worries

Melbourne has the most amazing coffee culture, with loads of cafes, roasters, and critics around the city. The European style feel of Melbourne, and the waves of European immigration throughout the twentieth century, led to Melbourne growing its coffee culture and making it one of the coffee capitals of the world. The city is filled with European trained baristas. In fact, the 2013 World Coffee Barista Championship was held in Melbourne. But shock, horror!!! The title went to an American, and Pete Licata from Kansas is the 2013 World Champion.

A Melburnian at least came second, Matt Perger of St Ali's going one better than his third place in 2011!

Goodfoods great shot of Matt Perger, one of Australia's best barista.

While Australia has usually been represented well in these World Championships, in fact only 1 Aussie has won the event compared to 2 Americans and 4 Danes, since the competition began in 2000. So with that in mind, and with only 43 days left before going to the USA on my roadtrip of a lifetime, my trepidation of leaving good coffee behind is slowly being eroded. I know that in some of the places I'll be going, coffee will not be barista style, but I actually quite like the strong filter coffee that comes in most American deli's and diners. I'm certainly going with an open mind when it comes to coffee, and food for that matter!

But what about Denmark? This small country (which I've never visited, though I've always wanted to) boasts 4 World Champion barista. They all come from the capital, Copenhagen, which must surely be one of the best places to drink coffee and watch the World go by. Currently, Australian GM David Smerdon is fighting for a high finish in the Politiken Cup which is being held in the Danish city of Helsingor. Those culture buffs among you might be interested to know that Helsingor, in its English spelling Elsinore, is the setting for Shakespeare's Hamlet. Well, David has been playing pretty well, or at least he has been amassing a decent amount of points in his combative style. Currently, David is on 7/9 and is a pawn down against Robin van Kampen of the Netherlands. Both players sit in a group one point behind the leaders, GM's Parimarjan Negi and Sabino Brunello (who beat Smerdon in the last round). David has been writing a bit about his Danish tour on his blog and he has briefly analysed a fantastic game against chess legend Jan Timman.

Currently David is a pawn down in a double rook ending, which looks to my untrained eye as a difficult hold for him. But I'm hoping he'll draw the game. David is an excellent player, but certainly somewhat of a risk taker, which makes him a favourite here at Coffeehouse Chess.

Glen Eira Chess Club

Ok, over the past few weeks we made some mistakes in the running of this chess club. We started to build a regular number of visitors each week, and seemed to have a good thing going. Then we moved venue to a nicer space. Unfortunately, we didn't get contact details for our members so couldn't let them know about this. As a result we lost some bodies from the new place. As a result of this, I have decided that the most important thing for a new club is communication, and I'll be trying to write a short, regular newsletter for members to keep them up to date. This week we came close to getting 20 people through the doors which is really the minimum number we will need as a starting point to build the club.

While the venue is excellent, it has a security issue. Carnegie Library, where we play, closes at 6 pm on a Friday, and people cannot enter the building without a key, or unless someone opens the doors for them from inside. This is another issue we will have to overcome if we're to stay at this venue. For the past couple of weeks we have had only a couple of people through the doors, but this week we had enough to start some small round robin events. These will take place over the next 8-10 weeks, with some leeway for players to make up games if they cannot come to the club one night. There are still spots available for anyone who wants to play, and if we get enough players, we can even start another group. The players were roughly divided into playing strength groups, and over the space of time, these groups should establish into an upper and lower group with promotion and relegation. While I like the swiss system, I still prefer the old round robin system for a tournament, and my mind drifts back to my junior days when I'd turn up at the club and there would be a noticeboard with hand drawn crosstables that were gradually filled in throughout the year. Games that weren't played were obviously counted as double zeroes and tournaments could last a whole calendar year! Those were the days :D

The first step in remedying a problem is in identifying it. We have seen the mistakes we've made, and will try to make amends and ensure they don't happen again. Starting a new chess club from scratch is something that everyone at Glen Eira Chess Club is learning how to do. And I've just noticed that our website hasn't been updated with the new venue, which is another job to do!

My first game in our round robin was against a talented junior who is under rated (as they all seem to be) and can probably hold his own at 1400-1600 level. This boy is essentially self taught, has received a minimum of private coaching and just likes to play. Again, this reminds me of how things were in the old days when I was a junior. I managed to win the game, but not without a struggle, and not without chances for my young opponent. Here's the game with light notes.

I had a really enjoyable night on Friday. The games were played in great spirit, things were hard fought but not taken overly seriously, and it was good just chatting with people through the evening. Anyone who wants to come down to the club are very welcome, and we can accommodate everyone from beginners to seasoned tournament players. Generally, the emphasis is on making the club a friendly place to play, but we will be holding tournaments for those who like things to be more competitive. And finally, we are open to ideas, so if you want to be a part of the club, or if you are already a part of the club, what do you want to see happening? We'll do our best to please as many members as possible.

Friday, August 2, 2013

And The Magic Number Today Is....


Hmm, seems a bit random? Well, it's not, and it's nothing to do with numerology or any other bullshit destiny type thingo.

Holiday countdown playmobil Calendar (from
Today I'm starting my holiday countdown, like an advent calendar to my holiday, except it has nothing to do with Christmas, and there aren't any chocolates to open up. In 46 days, my wife Caroline and I will be travelling to the USA on a roadtrip of a lifetime.The reason I chose 46 as the countdown date is that's my age. Yes, I know you're staggering around in total disbelief that my youthful charm, and boyish looks in fact, cloak a man approaching his fifties. But it is true, I was born in October 1966, apparently while Jim Reeves "Distant Drums" was the number 1 song in the charts (drat).

Jim Reeves tragically dies at just 41 (wikipedia)

Funnily enough 46 days after we leave for holiday, will be another holiday weekend, the November Melbourne Cup Saturday comes 46 days after we leave for the USA. Spooky....

Did you know that Brodman Area 46 is a part of the brain that plays a role in sustaining attention and memory. I'd say they are pretty important things for a chess player. And in fact, would it therefore be more than a mere coincidence that my game of chess tonight lasted 46 moves? (Indeed it would, it actually lasted 35!)

The red shading represents Brodman Area 46 (wikipedia)

It is also no coincidence that Oklahoma is the 46th state of the USA. I say no coincidence because we'll be going nowhere it on our holiday. However, 46 hours into our trip we would have already experienced the magic of Sequoia National Park in California, and the biggest trees in the world. I think I read somewhere that one of the absolute biggest of these trees can have over a billion leaves on it! Another 46 hours on, and we would have driven a loop of Yellowstone National Park. Another 46 hours, and (hopefully) we would have seen dinosaur tracks in Northern Utah. Another 46 hours should have seen us to the Arches National Park, actually the part of the holiday I'm looking forward to the most. 46 hours after that, and we should be in Arizona and somewhere near Page and Lake Powell with its stunning views along the Colorado River. 46 hours later and we'd have visited the Grand Canyon and Sedona, which I found out yesterday is strongly marked by ley lines, but I'm not getting into that either! 46 more hours before we're flying home, and I reckon that I'll sleep for about 46 hours when I get here.

Am I excited about my upcoming holiday? Well I'm no more excited than Caroline, let's just say that! Just a warning, though. There'll be more posts like this as we get closer to the take off, and then I'll be switching from chess writing to fully blown travel writing mode.

Arches National Park (wikipedia)