Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year's Chess Resolutions

I wonder if anyone in the chess world makes New Year resolutions to do with chess? I mean, I certainly intend to run more regularly in 2015, hopefully getting fitter and thinner, but what can I intend to do in chess terms that I'm not doing now?

Should I set a goal to reach a rating, and is this even realistic as a resolution? I mean, resolutions are based on what you set yourself to do regardless of others, and a new rating depends very much on who you play against and how they play. Perhaps a more realistic resolution is to set how much to play. These past couple of years have been bad for me in terms of the amount of serious chess I have played. I've probably played less than at any time in the previous 20 years so maybe that would be a good start.

Resolution #1: To regularly play long play competitive chess (let's say at least 80 games in 2015)

What about study? I guess this is somewhat dependent on the amount of time that a working person can put into the game. My time is taken up with work, a life with my wife, chores, and other activities that I enjoy like running and reading. So before looking at what I should be studying, I really need to set an amount of time that I'd like to put into the game each week. Ok, well I think I should be able to put at least 10 hours a week into chess, that is only between 1 and 2 hours per day, and once I get into analysing one of my own games the time just flies past.

Resolution #2: To devote at least 10 hours each week to studying chess

Do I really need to resolve to do anything more than this? Probably not. I have set some realistic goals that will hopefully direct my thoughts and consolidate my play. Where I play and what I study are questions that I'll need to decide, and will be based on how my life shapes up in 2015. In the meantime what I can also resolve to do is stop procrastinating and get on with things. The 31st December is a great day for planning, but from tomorrow I need to be doing.

Resolution #3: No procrastinating

Well, that wasn't too difficult. Funnily enough these chess resolutions are very similar to the resolutions I should be making in life generally. Do more, make better use of my time, and get on with it!

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

MCC Youtube Channel

When I joined the Melbourne Chess Club committee some 5 or 6 years ago, little did I believe how the club would be turned around. It hasn't all been plain sailing but the MCC is a vibrant chess hub in Melbourne, Australia, and even further afield.

One of the new strengths of the club is its internet presence. The club website is attractive, easily navigable, and informative. The MCC's use of multimedia to make the club and the game more appealing has been excellent. Check out the club's Youtube Channel here.

The recent series of lectures by IM Guy West and GM Ian Rogers about Greg Hjorth are not surprisingly proving very popular. Meanwhile, here is an interesting tournament report by International Arbiter Gary Bekker about the 2014 Australasian Masters tournament

The MCC are determined for this branch of the club to grow and so more videos will be regularly uploaded to the channel. I'm heartened to see that there are contributions from players of all standards. I think it is important for all players to have their say, and while it is great to get the analytical skills of strong titled players like Ian Rogers or Guy West, it is equally important to hear opinions from players of all strengths.

Understanding Compensation

I realise that I am overly materialistic as a chess player, and my understanding of compensation is pretty weak. I'm not sure why this is, as when I was younger I enjoyed sacrificing and attacking chess. I guess that my sacrifices were always based on attacking or tactical ideas, and not on positional ideas. I tend to be a pawn grabber who tries to hold on to material. Is it possible to remedy this situation, or is it even necessary?

Of course it is important to fully understand all aspects of the game, and to be able to apply those ideas in your games, but I really have no problem adopting a style of play. And I suppose I am always going to be taking poisoned pawns, or defending against gambits. One gambit that I've never looked at too deeply is the Evan's Gambit, at least not in terms of working out a black repertoire.

As a lazy...oops, sorry, I mean time constrained player, I'm looking for repertoire choices that are easy to understand and not too complex to learn. The only trouble is, cutting corners and taking easy to learn lines can often mean playing inferior positions.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.b4!?

So white just gives up a pawn? What does white get for it? For the pawn, white will get a lead in development and an attack against some key squares and lines in black's position. The more white wins I see, the harder I find it to choose a line for black to play. When I was young, the Evan's was not considered fully sound and so was not seen around too much. That was changed in the 1990's when Kasparov, among others, started to play it. For players of my generation, it is still difficult to accept it is fully sound, but proving it isn't sound is something else.

4..Bxb4 - It is possible to decline the gambit, though against my nature. 5.c3

The question is, where should the bishop retreat to, a5, c5, e7, d6? Funnily enough, the latter move is the one I have been choosing as a repertoire, 5..Bd6 or the Stoneware Defence. But I have found it difficult to play this system. I have recently seen a game with Nakamura on the white pieces, where black has an extra pawn but can do hardly anything, an excellent example of compensation for a pawn.

Games like this do nothing to inspire me to play this variation. Black grabs a pawn, and then takes a pounding, hoping that white's haymakers don't connect and somehow he emerges a pawn ahead. I think I have to put some work in to find something a little more active.

I recently played games where I underestimated my opponent's compensation, sat back and allowed them to gain more than adequate compensation for a pawn investment.
I was black here against Bill Jordan and expected Bill to take my e4 pawn re-establishing material equality. Instead Bill played 15.Nd5 using his development advantage to create threats. For the rest of the game I was unable to fully develop my queen side, and although we both traded blunders later in the game, I lost the game mainly due to Bill's more active pieces.

Until I understand the concept of compensation for material I will always struggle with positions like this, but playing and thinking about them can only help improve my understanding.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Senior Moment

At the in between sort of age of 48 I still feel pretty young, except when I've just been for a run when I feel nearly dead. I guess my life has slowed down compared to what I was like in my 20's (playing chess on average 3 times a week is too much for me nowadays!) but I'm still pretty active and positive in my thoughts.

Just before Christmas I was sat in a cafe having my favourite long black and croissant with the radio playing in the background engrossed in a novel. Well, engrossed is a bit strong as the book wasn't particularly good. Let's say I was getting through the book as best I could with a dogged determination to finish it no matter what, typical of the British 'stiff upper lip spirit'. (Since then I've finished the book and I now wish that I'd listened to my reason and stopped reading early on. I'll admit "The Miniaturist' had its moments, but I really didn't enjoy it and essentially that is why I read novels!) Anyway, I had zoned out of the novel for a moment when I thought I heard the words "Bobby Fischer" from somewhere.

My first reaction was to think I was going a bit bonkers and secondly I sniffed my coffee just to make sure there was nothing funny in it. Surprisingly, "The House of Bread and Pastries" on Martin Street in Gardenvale do a very respectable coffee for what is essentially a bakery. I've certainly been to cafes which have served worse coffee. The coffee is smooth with a rich texture and a slightly roasted flavour. It isn't brilliant, but if it was the worse coffee I ever had I would die a happy man. At least in terms of coffee.

Ok, back to my senior moment. Hearing the name of a chess player for no apparent reason was a bit worrying, but then I heard it again, unmistakably on the radio. So I strained my failing hearing and there it was.

I think like Bobby Fischer.

I was so happy that I wasn't going a bit loopy, and that I wasn't going to have to call in work claiming I needed a mental health day off, that it didn't even register how crap the song was. At first. I had no idea who it was or even how to find out, but my smart phone and google were my friends and I now know that the song was "Cosby Sweater" by the Hilltop Hoods. See what you think. Am I getting old?

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Australasian Masters

The Australasian Masters tournaments took place between December 13th-21st. There were 2 events, both 10 player round robin tournaments, one qualifying for GM norms and the other for IM norms. The question was would any of the Aussie hopefuls score the required points for a norm.

Anton Smirnov deep in thought against Vasily Papin

In the GM tournament, things didn't start too well and only 13 year old Anton Smirnov held a realistic chance of scoring a norm. This would have been a remarkable achievement, but saying that, Anton went into the final round joint first with top seed  GM Murtas Kazhgaleyev needing to win his last game against GM Vasily Papin for a GM norm. Unfortunately for Anton and his Australian fans, Papin won the game, thus meaning Anton missed out on a norm and a famous tournament victory. The tournament was won jointly by the 3 visiting Grand Masters, Kazhgaleyev, Papin and Rustam Khusnutdinov. Anton Smirnov finished half a point behind and though he may be disappointed, he has an incredibly bright future ahead of him. The other Australian players were also young with all the home grown players under 25. They all had good moments, but none were firing all the way through.

GM Kazhgaleyev checks out the position of GM Khusnutdinov
The IM event was dominated by Kanan Izzat, who has left his home country of Azerbaijan to study in Australia. For the years he will be here, it will be Australia's gain as besides being a strong player, he is also a very pleasant young man. Kanan finished a point clear of IM Igor Bjelobrk and Yi Liu who had a very good tournament and who will be considered one of the favourites for the Australian Under 18 title in January. Eugene Schon was half a point back on 6/9 and topped the 2300 mark somewhere through the tournament so is now an FM. The rest of the field played averagely, sometimes good and sometimes bad.

Eugene Schon sneaking some refreshment on his way to the FM title
I would just like to point to an experience of mine in the tournament. During the second half of the tournament I had to play the 3 IM's in the event in consecutive rounds. My mind set was not positive going into these games. It was almost as if I gave these players too much respect and made poor choices because of this. I guess we all have a limit as to how well we can perform, and at the present moment I felt that Izzat was out of my league. That is a very defeatist attitude and it caused me to play very badly, make bad choices and play my worst game of the tournament. However, I'd lost this game before I even sat at the board. A similar sort of thing happened against Igor Bjelobrk, though I put up a better fight here. I felt that Igor was right at the limit of my capabilities and gave myself little chance to get a result. Actually, I managed to get an ok position, but then took an eternity trying to come up with plans, and eventually, just played a series of bad moves. I was also apprehensive against Mirko Rujevic and asked for a draw when I was probably a little better.

To be honest, it was a little humbling finding myself so short of confidence, although not to be unexpected after the lack of work or practice I've put into chess. Are there any ways for me to remedy this? Well, actually there are, and quite simple things such as playing a little more, analysing regularly and working on a narrow but solid repertoire. At least then I should be able to maintain my level. So those will be my new year's resolutions, but of course, resolutions are there to be broken, so we'll see how I go with them.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Australasian Masters, the Half Way Mark

I have to admit, I started this tournament reluctantly but have begun to warm to it. Playing one game a day, and putting maximum work into that game is excellent and there's a ton of material to be working through, in both preparation and analysis. The tournament's have both just crossed the half way mark with 5 of the 9 rounds having been played. By this stage it is already possible to see who's in form and who is fighting for places and norms.

The GM event has seen Anton Smirnov in great form so far leading the tournament with 4/5. Anton needs 2.5 for a GM norm and is half a point ahead of the field. Russian GM Vasily Papin who is making a return to Australia. The other GM's Kazhagaleyev, and Khunsnutdinov are on 3/5 which is ok, but nothing special. There are still some norm possibilities for some other players, the most likely being an M norm for Luke Li if he scores another 2.5. With 4 more rounds to go, the tournament is still wide open.

The IM event that I'm playing in is tight. There are 3 players on 3.5, IM's Kanan Izzet and Igor Bjelobrk and Yi Liu. This is a great performance from the young Queensland player who by his won admission has not played much chess this year. There are then another 2 players on 3/5, New Zealander Bob Smith and Bill Jordan. With 5 players separated by just half a point, we're in for an exciting finish. The best norm chance lies with Yi Liu, though he still needs 3.5 out of the final 4 games.

Unfortunately, I stopped Eugene Schon's norm ambitions form this tournament today. He is still on 2.5, just a point behind the leaders and could finish on a high score, but the IM norm now eludes him. I am on 1.5 after beating Greg Canfell yesterday and drawing with Eugene today. My play has been generally improving as the tournament moves on. I feel more confident about my play and calculation which bodes well for the future. I am not playing perfectly, or perhaps even as a strong as I have in the past, but I can at least see the possibility of getting back to a former playing strength.

In today's draw with Eugene, the following position was reached.
I was white and fighting for a draw so I thought in these terms.

1. trade queen side pawns
2. sacrifice my knight for black's h-pawn
3. draw the pawnless ending of rook and knight versus rook.

Seeing I had about 2 minutes plus increments, that was fairly good. The move Nc5 came to my mind, but I didn't choose it because I saw a drawing method which involved little risk to my mind.

Another boost to the confidence comes when good players praise your game. Today IM Mirko Rujevic told me he'd been impressed with my win against Greg Canfell the day before. I thought the position played itself, and it became obvious early that I knew more about the opening than Greg. Anyway, here is the game.

9.e5 was a new move on me, and after the game Greg said that he'd completely overlooked 11..Qa5. He spent about 40 minutes on his 12th move. In the final position it will be mate after 23.Bc4 Na4 24.Rb1 Qc3+ 25.Rb2 Qxb2.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Tournament Preparation

Too nice a day in Melbourne to prepare for a chess tournament!
I am currently involved in the 2014 Australian Masters event in Melbourne. There are 2 tournaments running, both 10 player round robins. One is a GM norm tournament, and the other which I'm playing in is an IM norm event. This is the 26th time the Australian Masters has been played since the first tournament in 1987. I've played in a few of these tournaments over the years with mixed results.

In 2005 I had an excellent tournament. I knew about the event a few weeks in advance, was able to put some work into my game, wasn't working at the time, and so could concentrate fully on the tournament. I scored 5.5/9 for a 2370 performance, the best of my career.

The following year, in 2006 I was given the task of running the tournament. With no chess preparation and organisational headaches leading up to the event, I played badly, not winning a game and luckily scraping together a few draws.

In 2008 I finished about par for the course finishing on 4/9. At the time I was quite active in the chess scene and regularly playing. I didn't prepare specifically for this tournament, but my playing strength was enough to maintain an ok score.

The last time I played was 2010 when I scored 3.5/9 but against a stronger field than in 2008. I was pretty happy with my play, had prepared somewhat for the tournament which reflected in my play.

This year has been probably the worst build up to a tournament for me in all that I've played, including 2006. I was working heavily in the past couple of months, and have had little time or energy to prepare for this tournament (I only knew I was going to play about 2 weeks ago anyway!). In fact, I was working on the day it started until about an hour before the games were due to commence. I arrived at the venue with not much time to spare before my first game, which proved to be a pretty painful loss to New Zealander, Robert Smith.

IM tournament favourite Kanan Izzet with Bob Smith sitting in the background
My plan for this tournament is a simple one, and that is to try to play myself back into some form. I have started working on the game, after the first round and already put up a better fight in game 2, though finally succumbing to Bill Jordan in a complicated game. This leaves me on 0/2, not a particularly auspicious start, but I have a feeling that chess is beginning to come back to me. I'll be using this event to kick start my game for 2015 and hopefully to get back to somewhere near 2200 strength. I plan to play a few tournaments next year and put some serious work into some weak parts of my game. Then maybe I'll be a competitive 50 year old from 2016 onwards!

Trevor Stanning (left) with tournament organiser Leonid Sandler

Olympiad team mates, Moulthun Ly (left) and Anton Smirnov

Sunday, December 14, 2014

It's Not All Chess

There are times when you can get so caught up in something that it seems to completely take over your life. That has been the case with me and chess over the past 6 months. My work has cranked up to more intense levels, and helping to set up and run a chess club has taken a lot of time. I also follow chess news and still try to analyse a bit myself, though not as much as I'd like. This blog will soon be taken over by chess as I play in the Australian Masters starting this Saturday and report about it here. So I thought it time to look at some non chess things, just to prove that there are other things to me than chess.

Combining a love of reading with a love history, I recently read Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. I'm not usually a big fan of historical fiction, but when a book is written as well as this, about as interesting a subject as the rise of Anne Boleyn in Tudor England, it is a sure winner. I can't really say I've deeply studied Tudor history though I did quite a bit of deep study into the Stuart period and that necessitated some background into Tudor times (there's always Blackadder if all else fails).

Now I can't say I'm much of a TV or film watcher, but the new TV adaptation of Wolf Hall is certainly something I'd be interested in seeing. I also get the urge to read more history. The only trouble is that whenever I get some spare time, non fiction is not really what I want to explore. I guess that is a consequence of examining so much non fiction in the form of chess literature. The program is due to air on BBC 2 in the UK early in 2015, and hopefully it won't be long in coming to Australia. I'll probably have read the sequel, Bringing Up The Bodies by then.

Are you a dog or a cat person? This question always amuses my wife Caroline, as I have claimed to be a dog person. We currently have 2 cats which I've become pretty soppy over and Caroline likes to remind me of my claims of being a dog person. She rightly wonders why we can't just all be animal lovers. And, of course, Caroline is absolutely right. The pets that we have had have come from animal shelters and I admire those who work at shelters, or advocate for them. With Christmas coming up, the usual problem with unwanted pets will no doubt come about, something which really angers me. Not all people are capable of looking after an animal, for one reason or another. Some of those do the right thing and don't try to keep a pet, while some carry on regardless, start to build a bond with an animal which then gets broken when the animal is sent away.

Proving I'm a not just a dog person

Gratuitous cute cat picture!
Last year Caroline and I decided on a gift at Christmas of animal adoption, and bought our good friends Nick and Zoe a gorilla sponsorship. This is the sort of gift that I'll be giving again, making a donation to an animal charity/sanctuary on behalf of someone else. A little bit of research is needed to make sure the organisation is worthwhile, and local organisations are always better to support to my mind.

While chess certainly promotes mind fitness, I also like to run for general fitness. Don't get me wrong, I'm no racer, but I do keep fit by stepping out the front door and running between 5 km and 12 km. I want to extend this to 20 km, but it is a long and slow process. I try to run 3 times a week, with one of these being a long run, usually at the weekend. I've been hampered by a time consuming work schedule, and a bout of some gastro type illness in the past couple of weeks, but I've still managed to get out a bit. The plan when I started this around early October was to get up to a distance of about 20 km by Christmas. Well, I'm a bit behind schedule, and I think 15 km is a more reasonable target. I'll just have to wait until the summer hits full temperature before I go for the big 20 km run!

This post has taken me a week to write, I've just had such a heavy workload, and awful time management and energy levels. Today was a good day where I was bale to spend much of it with Caroline. We spent a nostalgic few minutes at one point today having coffee and thinking about places where we've visited and where we want to go. The upshot of that is that we're going to try to read novels set in places where we've been. This should help us remember those places. Our holidays over the years have taken us to diverse places, including New York, Amsterdam, Hong Kong, Salzburg, Budapest, Kuala Lumpur, New Zealand and the Canary Islands. We've been to many other places in the UK and Australia, and individually, we've covered much of Europe, but the idea is to read novels which take us back to those places we travelled to together. I'll keep this blog updated about this little project next year. Now I'd better get some Christmas cards written.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Glen Eira Chess Club Update

Glen Eira Chess Club's first full year is coming to a close, with the Club Championship and Reserves tournaments nearly over. This Friday sees the last official night with one round scheduled. Both tournaments are essentially would up, though some final changes could still happen.

The Championship sees the master players leading the field. FM Domagoj Dragicevic is currently leading with 6.5 though he has finished all his games. Domagoj is guaranteed second place, though IM James Morris could still overtake him if he wins his remaining games. James is due to play Rad Chmiel this Friday and has one outstanding game against Sarah Anton. James is currently on 6 points so he needs only one win to take outright first. I'm sitting in third place with 5 points but can count myself fortunate to have come away with my game against Rad Chmiel with half a point. I can still be caught by Sarah Anton though she has to beat me and James which will not be easy. Though I can't speak for everyone, I've found the tournament enjoyable, and a great way to end a first year for the club at its current venue.

The Reserves event is currently being led by Max Phillips who has dominated the event. The fact that Max can still be caught is down to him missing games through illness. This tournament really highlights why this club was set up in the first place. I'd been coaching a bunch of kids who had really become too good and needed a different environment to practice. With no genuine chess club in the area, we could encourage the kids to travel across town to other clubs (and some of my students have done exactly that in the past) or we set up a new club to cater for these kids and the other chess enthusiasts in the area. These young players can't get enough chess and some of them will be making the trip to Canberra in January to play in the Australian Junior Championships.

Finally a quick shout to a couple of our players who have travelled interstate. IM James Morris, and Rebecca Strickland are currently competing in the Australian Young Masters event in Adelaide. James is the top seed in the Masters tournament which he won last year. Rebecca is competing in the second tournament, the Junior Masters which is for players below 2000. Rebecca is rated in the lower half of the field, but anything can happen in junior events, and the top seed has already lost a game on the first day. Junior ratings are very unreliable with most young players capable of beating players rated much higher than they, but also being able to lose to players much lower.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

How To Become a Strong Player.

Ari Dale of the Melbourne Chess Club has travelled to Europe the last couple of years to take part in serious competitions. I guess if Australia has a limited amount of events, then good players, or aspiring players have to seek opposition elsewhere. Ari had the result of his life last year, winning the third section of the annual Wijk aan Zee event in Holland So he was invited to play in the second tournament, the challengers, the winner of which will be invited to play in the prestigious top event with the likes of Magnus Carlsen playing.

The field for the challengers has just been announced, and it's going to be tough work, but an amazing experience for Ari Dale.

So in current rating order, that is:

2727 GM Navara
2668 GM Wei (only 15 years old)
2642 GM Shankland
2613 GM L'Ami
2608 GM Potkin
2606 GM van Kampen
2592 GM Timman (and all time legend)
2586 GM Salem
2554 GM Michiels
2552 GM Gunina
2514 GM Klein
2511 GM Sevian (only 13 years old, he'll be 14 when the tournament starts!)
2360 WIM Haast
2252 IM Ari Dale

Good luck Ari, have a great experience and know that you've got the whole MCC and Australian chess cheering you on!

Chess Victoria AGM

I was a bit surprised to hear that Chess Victoria had their AGM last week. I mean, I know that my new club, Glen Eira Chess Club, is only provisionally affiliated to Chess Victoria, and with no voting rights, but I'd have thought that we'd have heard something about an AGM, and possibly even have been invited along to it. But hey ho, it doesn't really bother me too much, and we're a club that doesn't really have any intention of getting into state chess politics at the moment. The members of our club are interested in the playing and social side of belonging to a chess club, and we've joined Chess Victoria to add extra legitimacy to the club, and so that we can officially rate our games in the Australian ratings list.

To be honest, I usually loathe AGM's and go only when I have to. Personally I am totally opposed to the voting procedure that takes place during a Chess Victoria election. Chess Victoria is made up of a number of clubs which are allocated votes depending on how many members they have, the more members, the more votes, up to a maximum of 5 votes. This is all well and good except that each member of the Chess Victoria committee also gets a vote. As there are 6 Chess Victoria committee places, this makes up quite a big block which can make it difficult to unseat an incumbent committee. Add to this that unelected life members also get a vote and clubs can begin to feel that their votes aren't worth that much.

Now these aren't new arguments that I'm spouting here, and they have caused some contentious debates in the recent past. However, the most recent AGM saw a very sad set of actions where stalwart chess administrator Trevor Stanning was nominated for an honorary life membership position but this nomination was rejected. The reason for this was apparently because of the voting process of Chess Victoria and Trevor's nomination was voted against by a block from Melbourne And Noble Park Chess Clubs. You can read about it in the latest issue of Box Hill Chess Club's newsletter, Box Hill being Trevor's club.

It is sad for Trevor as I'm sure that if there was a reasonable voting process in Chess Victoria, where all clubs felt they had a fair chance at getting a say or a go, then Trevor would have been made a life member without any qualms. His service to both Box Hill Chess Club and Chess Victoria are both to be highly commended. Maybe the committee of Chess Victoria need to look at the way that the organisation is conducted if we're going to honour any more long servers with life membership. And if Chess Victoria is interested in attracting more clubs to move from provisional status to full membership, like Glen Eira or Hobson's Bay, and to stop clubs like Frankston from leaving the organisation, then maybe these are issues that need to be addressed. Then perhaps when somebody renominates Trevor for a life membership, the AGM will give a resounding yes.

How Busy Am I?

I was talking to my friend Alex on Tuesday and he said that he'd seen this blog and really liked it. I thanked him and said he could tell when my life is busy and less busy by the frequency of my blog posts here. He was understanding as a busy person like himself would be and the conversation moved on. Well, my life has been very bust recently and as a reflection, this blog has died down. Saying that, I think I'm getting to grips with my new role at work, so I guess that means I can start blogging again.

Before getting into any chess, I just wanted to talk coffee. I may have found my favourite coffee in Melbourne, thanks to my wife, Caroline. Caroline works in Richmond and when I occasionally give her a lift to work it gives me a chance to try cafes in an area that I rarely go to. In Church Street, Richmond there is a cafe called The Fair Foodstore which I will be going out of my way to go back to because the coffee is simply fantastic. The coffee has a rich texture and fruity flavours, with a definite hint of apricot, and though I've not tried any food, the menu has plenty of interesting things on that I'd like to try and anywhere that does pulled pork can't be that bad! Go check out this review which also loves The Fair Foodstore.

For the past 6 weeks I have been so busy that the World Chess Championship seemed to slip by without me really noticing. I was aware that it was closer than last year, that Anand made more of a fight for it, and that Carlsen won, but what with a busy schedule, and a terrible time zone for watching the match, I really didn't see too much of it. And the high level chess has continued unabated with the Qatar Masters and Russian Championships on at the moment. Sorry, but I just haven't got the time to follow this much chess. I hear the results on Twitter or somewhere but don't seem to see many games or positions. It's just too much like hard work! Which is a shame because I've agreed to play in the IM section of the Australasian Masters starting next week. I am horribly unprepared, and badly short of match practice, but hopefully it will be fun and I'll get the chance to bring my game back up to scratch.

There'll be more blogging and some pictures during the Australian Masters but I'm keeping it short for now, as I'm just get back into this bloggin thing. I will be less busy after next week, so expect the blog to pick back up, at least for a while.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Ponziani at Glen Eira Club Championship

This week at Glen Eira Chess Club I had to play against FM Domagoj Dragicevic. The plan? Well go play, see how it goes and try my best! I guess that for the majority of working adults, this is essentially the way it works even if we would prefer to meticulously prepare for each opponent. More often than not, it's a matter of who plays better on the night.

Actually, I was fairly happy that Domagoj went for a line that I quite like. He gambitted a pawn and after a while seemed to get little, if any compensation for it. The opening was a Ponziani, and for those of you that haven't got the foggiest idea what I'm talking about, the game started 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.c3.

At this point there are 2 main moves, 3..Nf6 and 3..d5 and I've had to face both of these about the same amount. However, the types of positions are very different, with the knight move being more appealing to me, and less sharp generally. Domagoj chose 3..d5 and I responded 4.Qa4

When white plays 3.c3 there are 2 ideas. One is to play d4 and build a centre, the other is to develop the queen to a4 or b3. This position will certainly favour the player who has studied it the most, as there are lots of complicated lines. That tends to be why I prefer 3..Nf6 as black. Black's immediate worry is the e5 pawn, and Domagoj chose a gambit variation which holds on to it, but loses the d5 pawn. 4..Bd7. With black's queen unable to protect d5 it's a free pawn, 5.exd5.

Domagoj now played 5..Nd4 which to be honest, this would have thrown me if I hadn't recently played a game online in this variation, so had some idea of what was going on. The continuation 6.Qd1 Nxf3+ 7.Qxf3 is pretty standard and leads to an interesting position.

White is a clear pawn ahead, but black has a little compensation. White's queen can become a target to attack, and if black can get f5 in and develop behind these pawns, he will have some exciting pawn breaks in the offing. For some reason, Domagoj didn't play the mainline with ..Bd6 and ..f5, but chose 7..Nf6. Actually, I think that white is close to being just a pawn up, and maybe 8.Bc4 is best, but I played 8.Be2 and managed to work my way slowly into a good position, only to let it slip later. I'll post both my online game and the game against Domagoj.

The tournament is beginning to take shape, with a number of rearranged games having been played. I think the safest way of looking at it is like this. IM James Morris is on 100%, I've dropped half a point, Domagoj and Rebecca Strickland have dropped 1.5, while the rest of the field are further behind, except Sarah Anton who has lots of games to catch up.

The Reserves tournament is also competitive, and sometimes the results don't always reflect that. Max Phillips is leading the tournament though he has struggled in some of his games, and games will often swing to and fro between the players in this event. Saying that, if basic blunders can be made at World Championship level, such as the mutual blindness in game 6, then we really shouldn't be too hard on anybody.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

An Ending from the Hjorth Open

A funny title really, seeing that I'm only going to show a position and not a full endgame. And it wasn't as if I was playing, The Melbourne Chess Club used the long weekend to host the Hjorth Open as a tribute to IM Greg Hjorth who passed away in 2011.. I just dropped in for couple of hours on my day off over the public holiday weekend. It was good to meet some friends who I hadn't seen for a while and to browse some games and positions. I was there on Monday morning or round 6 out of 9, and the top 2 players from the event were playing, IM Max Illingworth-IM James Morris.

R-L IM Max Illingworth, FM Greg Canfell, IM James Morris, FM Chris Wallis
Nothing beats playing in a good chess tournament, but walking around, spectating can be a great experience too. There were about 40 games to choose from in the round I was there. There were high level contests on the top boards, but lower down was interesting for me as I knew so many of the players. I even managed to play a few blitz games with Tom Kalisch who didn't have an opponent for the round.

The endgame that caught my attention was between Richard Voon and Ray Yang.

Rook endings with 2 v 1 pawn are extremely common so it's a good idea to get to grips with them. Now I've put in a fair amount of work into my endgames over the past few years, but when I looked at this I couldn't remember having looked at these types of positions before, and couldn't work out what the result should be with best play. I put the position into Chessbase 12 and under a menu labelled "Report" I hit a button I'd never hit before called "Similar Endgames". The search brought up over 60,000 endgames with the same material balance, but only a small percentage of this group of games had a similar pawn structure. However, I was most impressed to find that this position has been seen in a game before!

The game Obukhov-Cherniak Belevanets Memorial Open 1991 reached this exact position with black to move, just as in Voon-Yang. After a bit of moving around, black was able to sacrifice his remaining pawn to reach a drawn position.

According to Nalimov Tablebases this is a draw, although it is fairly easy to see. Black will keep checking the white king which cannot escape checks and defend the e-pawn. By the way, with white to move in this position, it is a win as white plays 1.Rf6 and then hides his king on g6.

So I guess with a resource like that, the ending must be pretty drawn, and really we would have to say that Richard Voon managed to gain a half point by winning this game. But practically speaking, it is always worth playing on as the defenders job is difficult, and psychologically, it is very tough to keep holding on to a position where you have almost no chance of winning. Take the following position:

Here white has managed to bring his king past the pawns, but the position is still level. 1..Ke6, and the game should end in a draw. But in the game Giertz-van Vaalen Biel 1997 black played 1..Re7? allowing an exchange of rooks. 2.Rb7! the resulting pawn endgame is a draw 2..Rxb7 3.Kxb7 Ke6 4.Kc6 Ke5

It appears for black that his king is doing a great job of holding, if not winning the position! Unfortunately, white's next move brought him back to earth. 5.Kd7! Now when black takes on e4, white will play Ke6 and will just swing across to take on g6 and then promote.

The defending side must also have their pieces in the right positions. The rook must defend from the side at times, but must head to the back of the board to start checking at just the right moment. The defending king needs to do a job of both blocking the enemy passed pawn and defending his own pawn. This would be harder if the attacking sides pawns were further apart, and here we have one of the main secrets of this endgame. The closer the pawns are to each other, the easier it is to defend this type of position. If the pawns were 3 or more files apart the defence would be much more difficult.

Funnily enough the stats from my database search through Bigbase 2013 come up with 64 games with the same pawn structure as this, though with varying piece placements. Less than half of these games ended up as draws (28 games, or 44%), so there is a good reason for playing on in this type of position seeing the stronger side has nothing to lose. There is also good reason for putting some work into rook endings, as these happen more often than any other sort of endgame, and one of the main ideas is finding positions to head for which you know will give you the right result (win if you're the stronger side, or draw if you're defending). Simplifications to theoretically known positions will maximise your results,

I'll post some more about endgames regularly, and I'll revisit rook an 2 vs rook and 1 at some stage in the not too distant future.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Masters Meet

Glen Eira Chess Club saw a big moment this week when our 2 titled players met in the Championship event. The Championship event is still sorting itself out, with a few unplayed games still to be caught up on. The event also took a blow with the withdrawal of one of the higher rated players, Smari Teitsson. Unfortunately, Smari hasn't been that well, and can't commit to the tournament.

IM's James Morris (hoodied) and Max Illingworth at Hjorth Memorial

However, the games that are being played are interesting and exciting. The big favourite for the event is International Master James Morris. James had a great tournament at the weekend in the Hjorth Memorial at the Melbourne Chess Club, finishing second only to current Australian Champion Max Illingworth. Max had an amazing tournament and is clearly of Grand Master level, so it is certainly no disgrace to finish second to him. James took a bye in round  and then scored 7/8 losing only to Illingworth.

At Glen Eira this week, we had the match up FM Dragicevic-IM Morris. The game was a French, and it only took minor inaccuracies from Domagoj Dragicevic to allow James to blast open th eposition to his advantage. Once ahead, James is very difficult to stop, and he converted the game comfortably. The standings after 4 rounds are:

Carl Gorka (ME!!) 3/3
IM James Morris 2/2
FM Domagoj Dragicevic 2/3 (Bye)
Rebecca Strickland 1.5/3
Jerzy Krysiak 1/4
Rad Chmiel 1/3 (Bye)
Josh Moore 1/2 (Bye)
Sarah Anton 0/1 (Bye)

With a lot of make up games to play, these standings don't mean too much but I'm always happy to be on top of a tournament table. With FM Domagoj Dragicevic coming up next week, my stint at the top could well be in danger!

The Reserves event running alongside the Championship is looking like a Glen Eira Junior Championship with young talents Daniel Poberezovsky and Max Phillips leading the field. While Max has been a talent for some time now, Daniel certainly seems to be catching up, along with a bunch of up and coming juniors in the area.

James Morris doesn't do too bad in the neat writing competition.
To play through the above game easily, try the game viewer.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A Long, Long Weekend

I'd always found it amusing that Melbourne has a public holiday to honour a horse race. I've never been too interested in horse racing, and gambling is not one of my vices, but hey, it's a holiday so what the heck! At least that was my attitude until yesterday, when 2 horses died after running the 2014 Melbourne Cup yesterday.

Melbourne billboard (courtesy of

I guess at some stage in people's lives there comes a time that you just have to stop turning a blind eye to things that you don't think are right. While I've always been vehemently against cruelty to animals in any form, I've taken a back seat when it comes to openly criticising or taking any action. It's time for that to stop. I'm now going to be following anti horse racing sites like this one, and other animal support groups. At times it sickens me to be part of a race that can do so much wanton damage to other species on our planet.

I'd like to thank my friend Judge the Poet who quickly responded to my request for a poem on Twitter. Judge and his lovely partner Chava have been long term vegans and are fully aware of animal rights issues.

While I guess that I've always been on the anti racing side, I've always sat back and let it be an issue that didn't concern me. The figures are quite frankly appalling. The dramatically named website Race Horse Death Watch records all deaths of race horses on course in Britain and it has been doing this since 2007. In those 7 years it has catalogues 1171 deaths, or about 167 deaths a year. This means that on average, a horse is dying from racing about every 2 days in Britain. I don't know the figures for other countries, but I would guess it's similar, and that is only race course related deaths.

If you're an animal lover, or just a reasonable person, you can't believe that this is right. I can't believe that it's taken me so long to come out and say it!

Meanwhile, I am following the wonderful cartoonist Michael Leunig on Facebook, his art and messages really resonate with me. This quote appeared on the page yesterday, not long after the race finished:

Monday, October 27, 2014

Glen Eira Chess Club Championship

It's time to post about the club championship of the new club that I've helped to develop this year, Glen Eira Chess Club. In 2014 we've come a long way having established a regular membership, and in creating a structure for our years calendar which fits in with both the serious idea of chess events while keeping things fairly social. We've run a series of tournaments that were pretty successful this year leading to a Championship run in Round Robin format. Alongside the Championship we are running a swiss tournament called the Reserves.

The Championship looked to be a great tournament, but it has been beset by non attendance, and so far only half the games have been played that were scheduled. This is unfortunate, and is giving the event an unreal feel to it, or at least the feel of a tournament in the old days when club tournaments may have been held over several months. I'm hoping that things get back on track in the near future, and there was always going to be a bit of oddness to the event as we have a odd number of players meaning there is a bye each week. In fact, this coming week there is no round due to the Melbourne Chess Club's big Hjorth Open Weekender which a number of our members are playing in.

So far the Championship has seen FM Domagoj Dragicevic win both his games to take an early lead. Domagoj had a bye in the first round. Saying that, most of us have games to make up, so it is difficult to work out exactly who is ahead at the moment. In the next round, in 2 weeks time, the favourites meet as FM Dragicevic plays IM Morris. This may very well be a tournament decider.

FM Domagoj looking relaxed after winning his second game
The Reserves tournament has been much more regular. In some respects, I decided to help start the club in the area because of a crop of strong juniors who needed a place to play. These juniors are dominating the Reserves, with Max Phillips and Daniel Poberezovsky leading the event. Their game last Friday ended in this position.
With time running down, and it getting late on a Friday night anybody can run out of energy. I think that was what happened to Max Phillips here. As black he had a relatively easy win with 1..Bc2 guarding both b3 and b1. 1..Bc4 would win if white had to take as this would leave black a winning pawn endgame with an outside passed pawn as a decoy. . However, white can just drop his bishop back to b1 to hold the position. Max played a very lazy move, 1..b4, and Daniel immediately took his chance with 2.Bb3. The game ended in a draw and the 2 talented juniors are half a point clear in the tournament.

I was very happy with one move in my latest game. My opponent had played some poor moves and left himself dangerously weak on the back rank.

White's problem is how to get a rook to the back rank. I started by thinking about moves such as c4 and b3, but they just didn't seem to make it. I then found 24.b4! with the variaitons:

24..Nxc3 25.Rdc1 Bxb4 26.Rxc3! winning a piece
24..axb4 25.axb4 Nc3 26.Rdc1 Ra3 27.Rb3 when black will feel the lack of his h8 rook in the position.
24..Bf8 25.Bd2 Kg7 [25..axb4 was probably better] 26.b5 Rb6 27.Nc6 Bc5 28.c4 which will win a pawn ont he queen side for white, which is what happened.

Now all I've got to do is continue this good form through the rest of the event.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Chess The Hard Way

I know I only just posted about there being too much chess, but then we have 2 Grand Prix tournaments back to back. And as this event finishes, we'll barely have time to breathe before the World Championship match starts, although it's almost possible for another super-GM event to be thrown in, with the Petrosian Memorial overlapping the first few days of the World Championship match. It's just too much to take in!

So I've decided that besides playing, and keeping half an eye on the chess world, I'm going to step back in time to when chess tournaments were somewhat less frequent. I have borrowed a copy of a book by Canadian legend Yanofsky.

Hard Cover copy of Chess the Hard Way
"Chess the Hard Way" is a short book full of game fragments, games and anecdotes from before the start of World War 2 and Yanofsky's early life, through to 1952. The book was published in 1953 after Yanofsky became British Champion.

The author clearly promoting his newly won title.
The book shows chess at a much slower pace than today. In 1939 Yanofsky was selected to represent Canada at the Buenos Aires Olympiad. He went to New York to catch a ship to Argentina and then "realizing the United States Open Championship was being played in New York...I went ahead of the team to try to enter or, if not accepted, to watch". I find it amazing that Yanofsky should thnk that he might not be accepted into a tournament, but then again, in 1939 he was an unknown. In fact, 1939 was really a breakthrough year for him. In his first game at New York he drew with Reuben Fine who had recently come equal first with Keres at AVRO.

Then in the Buenos Aires Olympiad Yanofsky relates how he won a game against Dulanto of Peru which "created a minor sensation and resulted in Alekhine taking a great interest in me to the extent of watching all of my remaining games in the tournament and analyzing them with me after they were over".

This brilliant attacking game is indicative of Yanofsky's attacking style. Funnily enough, he loved playing the French as black so this game would have been a win against his own favourite opening.

Chess the Hard Way is a short book, being just 149 pages, but it is packed full of information about chess in the post second World War era. Yanofsky was one of only 2 players to beat Botvinnik at the Staunton Memorial tournament in Groningen 1946 (the other was Najdorf). Yanofsky stayed in Europe after Groningen, and his book brings alive just how difficult life must have been in the post war years. Things that we take for granted, such as ease of travel and crossing of borders were not so easy in 1946. For instance, Yanofsky travelled to Barcelona where he finished second to Najdorf in a tournament. Yanofsky received his entry to Barcelona 3 days before the tournament started which to him didn't seem like much time to get there from where he was in Holland. (Nowadays 3 hours may be sufficient) Due to bad weather flights were cancelled in Holland. In the end Yanofsky took a train to Paris, then on to the Spanish border. From the train he had to stay the night in France because the border was closed! Next morning he got a taxi to the border "which presented itself in the form of a chain across the road". He had to wait at the border for about half an hour until the Spanish taxis arrived to take travellers to the Spanish town of Port Bou.

The book is packed full of stories like this, games with analysis like that above, and Yanofsky's insights into the players he met and the times that he lived in. The last line of the book is worth noting.

"If this book serves as a guide and inspiration to the young chess 'hopefuls' of today, it will have well achieved its purpose. Let my example be their encouragement"

Yanofsky did not have it easy, but made the best of what he had which is all any of us can aim for.Perhaps like Purdy here in Australia, he was an inspiration for generations of Canadian chess players. His fighting spirit was not seen better han in his epic win against Golembek at the 1951/2 Hastings tournament. It's not often you see a win in an ending with queen and knight versus queen.

Both sides have just promoted and although the game should probably end in a draw, Yanofsky saw some chances and played on for a few more moves. 96.Qf5+ Kg3 97.Ne4+ Kg2 98.Qg4+

So where should the king go? Although it looks scary, Kf1 is the best move with no clear way that Yanofsky could see to win (Nalimov Tablebase claim 98..Kf1 is a drawn position). However Golembek played 98..Kh2?? and lost after 99.Qh4+ Kg2 100.Qg3+ Kh1 101.Qh3+ Qh2 102.Ng3+ where Golembek resigned.

Black is mated after 102..Kg1 103.Qf1.

Of the many qualities that a successful chess player needs, it is this will to continue fighting. Yanofsky fought on the board, and even fought just to get to the board! To me, his story is inspirational, and I'm going to forget about the Grand Prix series for a while and enjoy some games written in descriptive notation!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Chess Thoughts

Student vs International Master at Glen Eira Chess Club

After my birthday a couple of days back, and a head clearing trip to New Zealand, I've been thinking about my life, where it has got to and where I want it to go. As I get nearer to the age of 50, it seems to me more important to be using my time as productively as possible, and so with this in mind, I've tried to make some chess decisions. In this respect I've had to look at my different roles as a player, writer, administrator and coach.

I suppose the main changes that have come about are a shift from a player to other activities within the game. In fact, this year I've had a pretty average year. After a lay off from the long game, I haven't really found form at the 90 - 30 level of chess and as a result, both my results and rating have suffered. Especially bad was my performance at Doeberl at Easter, where I was sick for 2 of the 4 days but played badly even by those standards. I have had the odd good result, but I feel less strong now than I have for about 10 years. So will I do anything about this? Probably not! I intend to keep playing, but I'm currently getting as much enjoyment from seeing the improvement of my students than from my own good results. It was always my ambition to get to 2200 FIDE (back in the 1980's when I had some ambition, getting to 2200 and seeing your name published in the back of an Informator was a little more special than getting to 2200 nowadays!) when I was younger which is something I've done, so I find myself without a driving ambition. I guess I could aim for FM level, and I've thought about it over the years, but it seems like a lot of work which I'm not sure I'm prepared to make at the moment. I think getting back to 2200 will be a big enough task for me, and perhaps one that I might not be prepared to make.

Since coming to Australia, I've found that I've enjoyed helping out with chess administration. I've taken part as a club official, an arbiter, a tournament organiser, a fund raiser and general dogsbody helping clean and set up at various clubs and events. Over the past 12 months my efforts have been directed at a new club in my local area. Glen Eira Chess Club has filled a need for a chess club in the inner south east suburbs of Melbourne since Elwood chess club dwindled and finally ceased to exist a few years ago. To me, club chess is vitally important as a social hub for the game and as a place where young players can develop their game. When I arrived in Australia, I was shocked by the lack of chess clubs, and I'm happy to say that his is the second club I've helped to bring into existence. Glen Eira Chess Club doesn't have a formal structure yet. It has a tournament schedule and a core membership but the only leadership and organisation comes from me and the few people that want to see it succeed. So a big goal of mine this year will be to establish Glen Eira Chess Club as a fully functioning entity with a structure, and personnel to ensure it maintains itself into the future.

Coaching has become the biggest part of my life in chess. Mostly, this has been done at the very basic level, working with very young kids and teaching them how to play the game. Then perhaps introducing them to some basic ideas and patterns and engaging them in chess activities to try to excite them. The result has been that I've worked with thousands of kids, mostly around Melbourne, and that some break through to a level when they can start playing in adult competitions. To some extent, it was a group of these kids that gave me the impetus to start Glen Eira Chess Club. A bunch of relatively strong kids needed a place to play near home, so we started the chess club in the area. My role at my work is changing, and although I will still be coaching I'll be doing considerably less than before. So I want to use the coaching I'm doing to ensure that I strive for the very highest quality of teaching. I want to work with all levels of student, from absolute beginners to strong players, and help develop strategies for working with these different levels.

I've always enjoyed writing, and this blog has helped me to express myself in both chess, and non chess subjects. I have written sporadically for some publications as well. This past year I have written less than previously, and I want to turn this around. I was very surprised to see this blog highly placed on a google search for 'chess blog' when I was looking for some other blogs to read. I've never really tried to reach out with it, it is more something that I enjoy doing and I emphasise a local aspect to it. This year I want to write more, and perhaps even explore some areas that I've been unwilling to look at before, such as chess theory. I intend to write weekly articles about Glen Eira Chess Club, and at least one other chess article per week.

And seeing this is a chess post, I'd better put a chess game into it! Congratulations to Russian Aleksandra Goryachkina for successfully defending her World Junior Girls title with an impressive 11/13, a full 1.5 points clear of the field. I'll be using some positions from her games this week to show to my students and as kids love miniatures, I'll be talking about the shortest win of the event.