Thursday, April 30, 2015

Melbourne Chess Club News

Chess Street Art adorns the MCC

The MCC has a great vibe about it at the moment. I only turn up on a Monday which is great fun. The tournaments this year have been played in a competitive but friendly spirit. I also turned up to the Wednesday novice night, which was really fun, and it was good to meet a new group of players. Saturdays see the weekly allegro played and if participation rates are anything to go by, these tournaments are successful and enjoyable to the players who take part. So as I said, the club is absolutely buzzing at the moment.

So it comes as no surprise that the 2016 Australian Championship is to be organised by the MCC. What had been a rumour is now somewhat more.The tournament is scheduled for 2-12 January 2016, and will be held at Fitzroy Town Hall.

The blitz event is scheduled for Friday 8th January and will be held at the MCC and will be limited to 92 players.

I know the committee are looking to make the event a memorable one and as such anyone interested in providing commentary at the Championship should contact the MCC, or I could pass messages on!

And by the way, I was also told that a regular newsletter/club publication will be starting soon. This is a great initiative which hopefully will be supported by members of all strengths. I, for one, would be happy to write some articles on a regular basis, but interesting games and ideas by club members can make a club newsletter most interesting.

Last but not least, the current Monday night event which started this week, The City of Melbourne Open, is still accepting entries until round 3. And the next tournament on the horizon is the Victorian Open, held over the Queen's Birthday weekend of June 5th-8th. This is one of the most prestigious events in the Victorian Calendar. The tournament is limited to 92 players and about 30 have already entered, so if you intend to play, I'd think about getting an entry in soon.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

City of Melbourne Open

The traditional Monday night calendar at the Melbourne Chess Club starts the year with Club Championship and is then followed by the City of Melbourne Open. This tournament has been somewhat of a poor relation to the club championship which remains the MCC's flagship event. While this trend has continued this year, it perhaps isn't quite so noticeable. The City of Melbourne Open has a field of 40 players with an IM and an FM and a strong upper field for a club event. 31 players competed in the first round, with another 9 taking a bye  and I would guess some more might join the event.

While the City of Melbourne Open is not as prestigious as the Club Championship, it is open to all whereas the Championship is closed to club members only. So I am a little surprised that more non members don't play and also that members don't double up to play the City of Melbourne after the Championship. However, 40 was the target number of players that the committee of the MCC hoped for, so the tournament must already be seen as starting well.

And the first round didn't disappoint. Young FM Jack Puccini finds himself as top seed, which might be his first time as top seed in a Monday night event? Not sure, have to hope someone can confirm or refute this statement! Jack came through unscathed as did second seed, Ljubisa Nedimovic who I know nothing about other than he is from Slovenia and is rated about 2200. Third seed is veteran IM Mirko Rujevic, who was held to a draw by Rad Chmiel in an Open Sicilian which I'd have thought would have suited Mirko's style very well. But Rad is a dangerous player and though it looked to me as if Mirko was pressing, he couldn't break through. There were also upset draws for John Beckman, Tanya Kolak and Edwin Zou but apart from that everything went to plan. One result to notice is that Tom Kalisch was beaten by unrated Luka Papac, though I have no idea just what unrated means in Mr Papac's case.

I'm the fourth seed in this tournament and won, but not without some trouble. My opponent, Damien van den Hoff played unbelievably quickly through the game while I had taken probably longer than needed. In the following position I had 8 minutes on the clock before my move, compared to my opponent's 72 minutes!

I was black, and an exchange to the good, but I was a little concerned about the dark squares around my king. Defence isn't my strong point, and they do say attack is the best form of defence. 35..Re1! 36.Bh6 Qg1+ 37.Kg3

So what to do now? Putting a piece on e3 seems good, but I came up with a spectacular move that looks good but has a simple response that I saw about 3 seconds after playing the move. 37..R1e6?

My move vacates the e1 square for a queen check which will net a queen after some checks to remove white's king as a defender. It also prevents white from invading with Qf6 when mate is threatened and difficult to defend, especially with just a couple of minutes on the clock. Besides which it is a spectacular move! However, that doesn't make it right, and if white would have found 38.Rxc4, I would have needed to play a long game with little time on my clock. However, white spent the most time over any move he played in this game, 12 minutes, to find 38.Qg4? which let me finish off with 38..Re5 39.Rxc4 bxc4 40.Qxc4 Rxf5

Here white allowed a mating finish, taking a pawn with 41.Qxa6 when I played 41..Qe1+ 42.Kg4 [42.Kh2 Rxf3] 42..Rh5! with forced mate so my opponent resigned.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Philidor's Defence

I have to admit, I've had a pretty good run with the Philidor Opening since I started playing it late last year. I prepared the opening for the Australian Masters in December, scoring a loss to FM Bill Jordan, but a win against FM Greg Canfell. At Glen Eira Chess Club I've scored a draw against FM Domagoj Dragicevic while at the MCC club Championship I managed a win against FM Jack Puccini.So 2.5/4 against titled players as black in the past 6 months. I guess most players would be happy with that, and as I've always struggled with black, I have been very pleased.

Of course, all good things must come to an end, and it is probably time for me to move on from the Philidor before people start preparing against me. I'll still play it every once in a while, but there are too many openings out there to be always playing the same thing.

It's a funny opening, the Philidor. It has this reputation of being solid but after my game with Jack Puccini I heard people saying they were surprised that such sharp positions could arise so early from the Philidor. The solid line has traditionally been the Hanham variation which is now more often than not being entered by the Pirc move order: 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.d4 e5 4.Nf3 Nbd7.
White's obvious choice is 5.Bc4, though there are some other options. One of these is a Shirov speciality, 5.g4!? The game Shirov-Azmaiparashvili from the European Teams Championship 2003 was a volatile game that ended in a draw.

After 5.g4, the variation 5..Nxg4 6.Rg1 is undoubtedly the most popular line and white scores an impressive 59% in my database with 347 games. In the latest Informator, number 123, there is an amazing game played by Swedish GM Pontus Carlsson. The game shows a typical piece sacrifice by white to open the position and activate his pieces while black's king sits in the centre.
White has control of the g-file and has doubled on the d-file. With black's king in the centre, and lack of development, white is fully justified with the move 11.Bxb5! In this particular game, black was mated 10 moves later!

Funnily enough, when I downloaded TWIC this week, the first games I looked at were those under the ECO code (C41) for the Philidor. And whose name should I see playing a game, but none other than Pontus Carlsson. So my thought was, I wonder if he played that crazy 5.g4 move again? I wasn't disappointed. Have a look at this position:

Carlsson as white followed up his Bxb5 sacrifice in the last game, with another sacrifice here. 16.Nbd5!, another justified sacrifice against an uncastled king and an under developed position.

These games show that the Philidor is anything but a solid option. Of course there are solid lines, but in the hands of certain players, the Philidor can transform into an exciting opening and middlegame. And Pontus Carlsson is just one such exciting player, who has had an interesting life. His story is a great read.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

MCC Champion

A big congratulations to IM James Morris for winning the Melbourne Chess Club Championship with a magnificent score of 8.5/9. James joins a list of Victoria's who's who in chess terms, winning with a commanding 1.5 point margin. Coming equal second were IM Mirko Rujevic, and Hoai Nam Nguyen who scored 7/9, both having played well against strong fields. I came in fourth with 6.5, and a large group finished half a point behind on 6. The most notable finisher in this group was Tristan Krstevski, the teenager scoring way above his rating, while the group half a point behind included WCM Sarah Anton, who won her last 3 games in a strong finish. The top player under 1400 was young Jody Middleton who also had a strong finish winning her final 2 games to finish on half points, 4.5.

It was a well run tournament by both the committee, and the arbiter IA Kerry Stead. The tournament was played in a friendly spirit but with great competitiveness, which was borne out by the amount of upsets each round. The MCC were fortunate to gain some strong juniors from Box Hill Chess Club after their move from Canterbury. If they remain at the MCC players like Zhi Lin Guo, David Cannon, William Maligin and Jody Middleton will soon be challenging the top players, much like MCC juniors IM Ari Dale and FM Jack Puccini etc.

I'm pretty happy with my performance. I lost a tough game in the last round to Hoai Nam Nguyen who played excellently against me and deserved the victory. There was one point of the game that was a bit confusing to me, though. We reached the following position where I have a problem of a bad bishop against a good knight.
The game continued 38..Rg8 39.Rb6 Ra8 40.R6b5, bringing about the following position:

The game then continued 40..Ra6 41.Kd2 Ra8 42Ke2 bringing about the surprisingly familiar following position:

At this point I stopped the clock and claimed a draw by repetition of positions. I called the arbiter over and was told that the claim was illegal and that it only stood as a draw offer. and that the claim by repetition of positions didn't count. To be correct, I had to write my intended move down, then stop the clock, and then claim the draw without actually making the move. To be honest, I couldn't believe it, as it seems counter intuitive to the whole procedure. First, one usually makes a draw offer after making a move, while secondly the position hadn't been repeated 3 times until I'd made my move. So as an ignorant player, I naturally felt that I had to complete the process of the repetitions for a claim to be made.

Alas, I was wrong. I never doubted Kerry's knowledge of the rules, and finished the game which Hoai won in excellent, and deserved style. But the rule seems so ridiculous to me, and counter intuitive to the way the game has been played. Rules are meant to be designed to assist in our play, to clarify situations, not to make things more confusing. I will certainly adhere to this rule in the future for as long as it exists, but it doesn't mean I agree with it. Hopefully, my experience will help others to understand a law and make the correct claim in the future, as I'm guessing there are a lot of players out there who don't know about this particular rule. I could go on about this and other issues, but I'll save that for another blog.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Incorrigible Optimists

Anyone that knows me will have no problems imagining me sat at a cafe, drinking a long black coffee (Americano for my non Aussie readers) and reading a book. While the coffee is always long black, the book could be anything. I almost always read fiction, but occasionally I'll read about history, or very occasionally, chess! Even the vast amount of novels I read can be about almost anything, and I usually have 2 or 3 books on the go at a given time. I find I can switch between novels depending on my mood, much like someone watching TV and switching channels until they find something they want to watch.

For example, I have recently finished a fantasy novel by Australian author Garth Nix. Clariel is a prequel to a series he wrote years ago which I really enjoyed. This new novel was no less enjoyable, in my opinion. While I was reading this, I was also reading an historical fiction novel set in Tudor times called Sovereign by C. J. Samson. Again, this is part of a series of books bringing mystery and detective genres into historical perspective, much like the Cadfael books did. I have yet to finish this one, and it is beginning to develop into a thick plot.

The book that I'm struggling to put down at the moment is called "The Incorrigible Optimists Club" by Jean-Michel Guenassia. Translated from the original French, the book is set in Paris during the early 1960's when France was embroiled in the Algerian crisis, and Europe was caught up in the Cold War. The book therefore has political issues weaving through it, but essentially it is about people, their relationships, their actions, and their stories. The main hub of the book is a teenager called Michel, somewhat of a rebel, around whom a series of fascinating characters revolve. One group of characters, and perhaps the inspiration for the novel's title (though I guess I won't really know this until I've finished the book), are a bunch of expats mainly from Eastern Europe, though there is a German in the group. This group meet at a typical Parisian cafe/restaurant where they socialise and play chess. They argue about almost every subject they can talk about, but it doesn't spoil their cameraderie (at least not yet).

While I can lose myself in novels like Clariel set in an imaginary world, or Sovereign looking into the distant past, it is novels such as The Incorrigible Optimists Club which resonate to me. I can't help imagining chess players or immigrants, or chess playing immigrants finding people of similar backgrounds, or who like similar interests, to make their new life in a new country happier. Here in multicultural Melbourne we have suburbs which may have a predominant ethnic background, while chess clubs such as the Melbourne Chess Club have a distinctly immigrant flavour running through its history even to the present day.

It is rare that I feel such an affinity for so many themes in a novel, from chess to cafe culture, time spent in Paris, immigration, and all the everyday feelings that a person goes through on a daily basis. Amazing! I could even be accused of having my fair share of incorrigible optimism.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Glen Eira Chess Club

Glen Eira Chess Club will be restarting after a short Easter break. The club will open this coming Friday (17th April) and the next tournament starts in the first week of May and will run for 7 consecutive weeks except for the 5th June where we will not hold a round due the Victorian Open being held. This second tournament costs $10 per player to join, and there is a $5 per week playing fee. The tournament will be ACF rated and the top 3 unqualified players will be able to play the Club Championship.

The first tournament of the year is finished! Glen Eira Chess Club had a successful start to 2015 with about 20 players regularly showing up to play at the club for the first quarter of the year. Meeting on a Friday night, Glen Eira Chess Club now has a regular group of players who give the club a nice vibe. There are players of all strengths, from beginners through to masters, and we take a slightly more relaxed approach than some of the more established clubs.

The first tournament of the year was the Glen Eira Summer Swiss, a 7-round event from which the top 3 players qualify for the end of year Club Championship. The 3 qualifiers were Carl Gorka (me!), Avto Frodiashvili, and FM Domagoj Dragicevic. The full standings can be seen on the tornelo site. It's was interesting to see the fight for third place in the tournament, with a group of players all in contention. Avto is a great addition to the club. Born in Georgia, he was strong as a junior, but gave up chess when emigrating with his family to Australia. He decided to take the game up again, and if I had to estimate his strength, I'd be putting him somewhere between 1700-1900. The other player in the tournament who greatly impressed me was Alistair McCutcheon, who has just started high school and has proved he can compete at a decent level. I think he is poised to jump to the 1400+ category which will make him a contender for a place in the Championship.

Future Glen Eira Club Champion? Alistair McCutcheon looks relaxed at Ballarat Open

The Club Championship will be starting in October and there are 3 qualifying places in each of the three regular swiss events held through the year. There are no exceptions made for anyone. If someone wants to play in our end of year Championship, then all they have to do is play a qualifier and come in the top 3 places. In fact, the 3 players already qualified may play again, and if they finish in the top 3, then it will be the fourth player who qualifies.

2016 Australian Championships

It has come to my attention that the 2016 Australian Chess Championship will be held in Melbourne and run by the Melbourne Chess Club. This is, of course, waiting for the official rubber seal, but I believe this to be a done deal!

It seems that the Melbourne Chess Club is taking on a bigger role in the Victorian chess scene this year, especially with Box Hill Chess Club having to take a back seat for a while. To be fair to Box Hill CC, they have made a pretty good job of moving locations. I'm not sure what the expectations were, but I'd have thought that they would have expected to lose a number of players initially, and then to build back up over time. The Box hill Club Championship started on Friday night with a field of about 40 players which is somewhat smaller than in previous years where they've had 60+ players, but is not such a bad effort.

A bigger problem for Victorian Chess is that Box Hill Chess Club can't host weekend events this year. Luckily, the MCC has stepped in to hold the Victorian Open which is held over the Queen's Birthday weekend near the start of June, a tournament that Box Hill has successfully hosted for a number of years. The tournament is limited to 92 players which I'm guessing will start filling up pretty quickly.

Before that the Melbourne Chess Club is holding an ANZAC Day Weekend tournament from 24th-26th April. I'd really like to play this tournament if I can somehow make some time off other commitments. Without having played in Doeberl and Ballarat, I feel a weekender is due, and a 6-round event including a Friday night is a format that I am used to playing from my English chess playing times.

The one tournament that I haven't heard anything about is the Victorian Championship which I would have thought would have been promoted already. This tournament has no fixed time, but it has been held over autumn/winter the past few years. I doubt I'd be able to play, but as it is the flagship event of Victorian Chess, it would be good to know something about it!

Slow News Day

One of the funniest threads on social media sources (in my opinion) is Slow News Day. My personal favourites are the sandwich board headlines outside shops, with "dramatic" headlines. eg.

I've spent much time laughing at this Twitter feed. I also use Twitter to follow the chess scene, and I was delighted to find another Slow News Day item in the chess feeds.

I checked out Twitter this morning and amidst the pictures of cats, and articles about World news and history that I follow, there was this drama unfolding which was the talking point of many chess twitter feeds.

However one looks at this:

- an over zealous arbiter going power crazy
- a rule about not being able to write things down
- a chess player ignoring a rule after being warned
- etc

If this constitutes news, then we in the chess world probably have to accept that chess will never command the front page of mainstream news like some other sports do.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Improving at Chess

Today I saw a great response by Garry Kasparov on Twitter to the question of how to improve at chess in the computer age.

I remember as a junior having little material to work with back in the early 1980's, and I then got a bulletin of all the games of from the 1981 Linares tournament. These were bare game scores, and I went through every game (there were 66 if my memory is correct) trying to understand the tactical reasons as well as the strategic reasons why moves were played. There were a lot of styles of players from the solid Karpov through the unorthodox Larsen to the attacking Christiansen. I worked on every aspect of the game, but especially the accuracy of moves, or the tactical justification of why moves are chosen.

I remember learning a lot about positional ideas, thinking about development schemes from certain openings, the strength of different castled positions, structural weaknesses and their exploitation, and the nature of exchanging. I tried to discover some endgame secrets, but I think I generally failed at that as my young mind was more into faster methods of winning games of chess.

Anyway, I think it is time to get back to this method and start looking at a tournament as a whole, the good, the bad and the ugly. It has been a long time since I've done this, and when I studied Linares 1981, it was the thing that pushed my rating up to the 1800-2000 standard (I was also playing a lot and analysing my games as best I could).

From that tournament here is a game between surprise winner Larry Christiansen and ex World Champion Boris Spassky. The game starts as an exchange Queen's Gambit Declined, but Christensen livens things up by castling queen side. The game becomes very sharp until it reached this position.
Christiansen as white unleashed the amazing looking move 23.Ne4! where it is attacked by a knight which is pinned, and a pawn which is pinned and a rook, but after 23..Rxe4 Christiansen wins the exchange by simply taking, 24.Qxe4 as both of black pieces that can take white's queen are still pinned!

Anyway, here is the game while I'm off to find the bare game scores of a tournament that I can work through.

A place in the World

I had an interesting conversation with my lovely wife Caroline today. She suggested that the best years of one's life are the 30's generally, when a person is young enough to enjoy life to the full while old enough to have experienced life and to have found their niche. Obviously, this is a huge generalisation, but in essence the idea is correct. Our best years are those times when we have vigour and energy to get on with doing things, but have enough life experiences to feel comfortable in what we do and the way we do it.

The thought of living in a different country to the one I was born in grew in me from my twenties, but the thought of moving to Australia didn't take hold to my late 30's. Even then, the circumstances were right with Caroline also wanting to try life away from England where we were born. Our combined strength made things happen and we emigrated to Melbourne which we'd never even visited before. We instantly fell in love with the place and haven't thought about living anywhere else in the 10 years we've spent here. I can't imagine living anywhere else for the rest of my life.

While I work hard, and fairly long hours, I do get time for other things. For instance, it is great to live so close to a bay, and the sea. In England I never lived near the sea, so it was always a big thing to go there. I guess I still get the same buzz going to the bay now, even though it is a 15 minute walk away and I often jog to the bay. A coffee and a walk by the bay is a regular part of my life with Caroline, whether near the city in Port Melbourne, near where I live in Elwood, or further down the peninsula, in Mornington, or any of the great bayside towns.

Spirit of Tasmania Dwarfed by Queen Mary II at Port Melbourne
Melbourne's (and Australia's) cultural diversity is something that I think is very desirable and it was amazing when we had the Twitter hashtag #Illridewithyou a few months back in the wake of anti Muslim hostility following the Sydney siege in December. So it was really sad to see that hostility rise again today with the Reclaim Australia rallies across the country being met with counter rallies, with violence and intolerance being part of the demonstrations. To some degree I'm glad I missed it and only caught up with events by news.

No, I was blissfully unaware of the stand off in Federation Square because I spent the day in the Macedon Ranges with Caroline. Victoria is an amazingly beautiful state with great coastline, mountains, some fantastic rivers, and a short but interesting history which finds many of its roots in the gold rush of the mid 1800's. The Macedon Ranges are to the North West of Melbourne, maybe an hour by car. This part of the Great Dividing Range is linked with the history of Australian gold but predating European colonisation it was a part of the Wurrundjeri territory, and sacred sites exist in places like Sunbury which is where the Dividing Range really starts. We didn't stop driving until we reached Macedon. We were lucky with both the weather (which can be atrocious with very limited visibility at times) and the autumn colours.

Deep reds in the Memorial Gardens

Bright and vibrant by the roadside in Mount Macedon

Avenue of Honour, Mount Macedon
From Macedon it is a short hop to Woodend, and another short hop to Kyneton, both beautiful little Victorian towns. Kyneton is historically important with many buildings built in the mid 1800's. It also has a chilled out buzz about it.

Historic Piper Street in Kyneton

'Duck Duck Goose & Larder', originally a Old Kyneton Market

Royal George Hotel, first licensed in 1852.
It was a beautiful day out with Caroline, where we both visited places we'd never been before. We learned things about the history and geography of Victoria which makes us feel even more as if we've found a place we belong while having the ability to enjoy it.

Friday, April 3, 2015

MCC Championship

I'm not sure what to say about this. I'm almost embarrassed by my good showing so far, when there have been times over the past months when I really haven't felt like playing. Yet I find myself in second place in the MCC Championship, a point behind IM James Morris who has eased his way ahead of the field. James has been the quality player in the club champs, and will deservedly win it. He has had to play all the top players, has not really looked like dropping a point, and should be on 8/8.

James sits on 7.5 and I'm on 6.5 all by myself in second. I've never scored more than 6.5 in the club championship so a draw or better will guarantee me a best ever score. Saying that, I've still got some strong players who I could potentially meet, including IM Mirko Rujevic, who currently sits in 3rd place, half a point behind me. Mirko is on 6/8 and can be joined by either Hoai Nam Nguyen or Thai Ly who have a game outstanding (it may already have been played).

Currently on 5.5, and still within striking distance of second place is Anthony Hain who is proving to be the best of sub 2000 players so far. His play may land him a last round pairing with James Morris on top board. Anthony is followed by a big group of players on 5 points, which is already a pretty respectable score. These are, FM Jack Puccini, Malcolm Pyke, Bill Kerr, Eamonn O' Molloy, Mehmedalija Dizdarevic, David Lacey, Tom Kalisch, Paul Kovacevic and 2 juniors who are having good tournaments, William Maligin and Tristan Krstevski. William Maligin should really be singled out as having one of the most spectacular tournaments. Last year, he played little due to illness, and has only come back to chess recently at the Australian Junior Championship in January. He has backed that up with an amazing performance here, well above his 1691 FIDE rating.

Some other names to point out in the Championship. Sarah Anton and Zhi Lin Guo have both reached 4.5, and may have to play each other in the last round, while Tanya Kolak and Jody Middleton's score of 3.5 is very good. Simon Dale has had a tough draw since finding himself in the top room early on in the tournament. I think he has revelled in his chance to play a strong field, and finds himself on 3 points.

My good run continued in round 8 with a win against Jack Puccini, but again, my opponent missed chances to leave himself in a very good position. I had come out of the opening quite well, but then sacrificed a pawn to keep Jack's king in the centre and didn't follow this up actively enough. The critical position was this:
As black I had let the position slip badly, and still felt I had good compensation even though my queenside is completely undeveloped. My queen is attacked and instead of a regroup by Qe7, I chose 16..Qc6? This was based on completely false calculation in a fairly complicated position. This is something I will have to work on. 17.Ned6 a6? I felt that I would win 2 pieces for a rook. I was wrong. 18.Nxe8 axb5
I had looked at 19.Qd8 in my calculations and thought that after 19..Kf7 black had counterplay. However, this was wrong and white has the excellent 20.f4! Bxf4 21.Nxg7
Now black doesn't win the second piece as after 21..Kxg7, white has the fork 22.Qd4+ regaining the bishop!

However, even worse, after playing 17..a6? I saw an even easier way for Jack to maintain his material advantage: 18.Nxe8 axb5 19.Qe3!
To be honest, I don't know why I didn't see this possibility in my calculations. It is a question that has been in my thoughts this past week, and means that I have to work hard at my calculating ability and especially on the possibilities that are available to my opponent.

But a lesson can be learnt by all here, and that is that we can only play our best each game and if it better than our opponent we will win, and if they play better we will lose. Although I have blundered into this position, Jack did not take full advantage of this and immediately blundered back again, leaving the game precariously balanced. In the remainder of the game, I came out stronger and won. I have certainly not played accurately throughout this tournament but have somehow managed to avoid defeat which is very pleasing.

One round is left, with much to play for including rating points, personal bests, rating prizes and major prizes. There is also a brilliancy prize which the MCC gives out for all the Monday night FIDE rated tournaments. I very much enjoyed the way this game was finished, but as a game it was far from brilliant.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

MCC Novice Group

Tonight I was invited to give a lecture to the Wednesday night novice group at the Melbourne Chess Club. It was a really good session with a very attentive and interactive group. I had some issues working out what would be good to present. What would be educational for a group of adult players between say 600-1400 ratings that they probably haven't thought too much about before?

I came upon the subject of exchanging as something which is rarely talked about in chess books. It is an essential piece of knowledge, and a critical part of our chess play. Anyway, here's the lecture, and a big thank you to Amy and Elizabeth for inviting me to present, and to all the people at the MCC who turned up and participated.

In preparing for this lecture, I used an old book by Taulbut and Jones called "Chess Exchanges" published in 1986.

Knowledge and Practice.

It is important to gain more knowledge, but it is equally important to be able to put that knowledge into practice.

 1..Rb2?? Allowed 2.2.Nf7+ leading to a Philidor’s Legacy checkmate 2..Kg8 (2..Rxf7 3.Qe8+ Rf8 4.Qxf8#) 3.Nh6+ Kh8 4.Qg8+ Rxg8 5.Nf7#

Knowing this pattern and being able to use it in a game are different things. Both black and white in the above game knew the theme, but black was unable to use the pattern to his advantage.

Take a look at the next diagram. 

This is from the game Aronian-Anand Wijk aan Zee 2013, and is probably already the most famous position of the twentieth century.Anand came out with the amazing 15..Bc5!? Which left Aronian with the puzzle of working out why he shouldn’t take the bishop: 

16.dxc5 Nxc5 17.Be2 [Not sure the best move here, but everything seems bad for white] 17..Qd4+ setting up a position based on the theme of Philidor’s Legacy! So Aronian didn’t take on c5, but retreated his bishop first, allowing Anand to make one of the most remarkable moves of all time:

16.Be2 Nde5!! Look at all the black pieces en prise! However, most can’t be taken because of the Philidor’s Legacy theme:

17.dxc5 Qd4+
17.exd5 Qd4+ 18.Kh1 Qg1+
17.Nxf8 Qd4+

17.Bxg4 is the only capture that allows white to continue, and was the move chosen by Aronian. However, Anand finished in style with 17..Bxd4+ 18.Kh1 Nxg4 19.Nxf8 f5! [Resisting 19..Qh4 when white has 20.Qxh7+ trading queens] 20.Ng6 Qf6 21.h3 Qxg6 22.Qe2 Qh5 [Threatening 23..Qxh3#] 23.Qd3 Be3 and Aronian resigned as he has no good way of preventing Qxh3.

Exchanging (the main part of the lecture)

Exchanging, or trading is such a basic part of the game, but who really thinks deeply about it? Yet every time we trade, the nature of the game changes, so those moves should be considered critical. Here are some typical trading situations:

Trades to break pawn structures
Trades to open lines
Trades of our bad pieces
Trades of opponent’s good pieces
Trades to get rid of defenders
Trades to get rid of attackers
Trading pieces when ahead
Trading pawns when behind
Trading to reach good endings

If there isn’t a good reason for exchanging, then should it really be done? Here’s an example of that:

Belyavsky-Stean Lucerne Ol 1982

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 [This pawn trade in the opening has given both sides semi open files, thus unbalancing the position] 4..Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 [Najdorf where often white seeks piece activity to counter black’s better structure] 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 Qb6 [Risky Poisoned Pawn variation, where black goes further behind in development so as to grab a pawn] 8.Qd2 Qxb2 9.Nb3 [Now black’s queen is short of squares] 9..Nbd7 10.Bd3 b5 11.0-0 Nc5? [Black decides to trade minor pieces as he is ahead in material, and to ease the cramp around his queen. However, white is way ahead in development and uses this to trade to his advantage] 12.Nxc5 dxc5 13.Bxf6 [Removing the last of black’s developed pieces] 13..gxf6 14.Rab1 Qa3 15.Nxb5! White resigned as his queen is attacked as is c7. And if he takes on b5 it leads to disaster: 15..axb5 16.Bxb5+ Ke7 17.Rfd1 and mate follows soon.

Look at the following game and assess the exchanges that happen.

Capablanca,Jose Raul - Mieses,Jacques Berlin, 1913

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 c5 3.d5 d6 4.c4 g6 5.Nc3 Bg7 6.e4 0–0 7.Be2 e6 8.0–0 exd5 9.exd5 Ne8 10.Re1 Bg4 11.Ng5 Bxc3 12.bxc3 Bxe2 13.Qxe2 Ng7 14.Ne4 f6 15.Bf4 Ne8 16.Bh6 Ng7 17.Rad1 Na6 18.Rd3 f5 19.Ng5 Nc7 20.Qe7 Qxe7 21.Rxe7 Nce8 22.Rh3 f4 23.Bxg7 Nxg7 24.Rxh7 Nf5 25.Re6 Rfe8 26.Rxg6+ Kf8 27.Rf7# 1–0

(This was a really good exercise that was the most important part of the presentation. I think all the players present tonight will be happy to analyse games, at least in terms of exchanges, from now on.)

Alekhine-Chajes Karlsbad 1923. 

Knowing which pieces to exchange is a great skill, and it partly depends on your ability to know what you are trying to do in a position. Alekhine wanted to break through on the king side, which is not possible because of black’s light squared bishop. So, 48.Bh5! Ra8 49.Bxg6 hxg6 50.Rh7 [The result of the exchange of bishops is that white has penetrated with a rook to the 7th rank] 50..Rae8 51.Ne5 [Improving the knight as the trade will leave black’s queen in a tight spot and allow white’s queen to improve. 51..Nxe5 52.fxe5 Qf8 53.Qg5] 51..Nf8 52.Rh8! [Avoiding an exchange of rooks to keep the pressure on] 52..Rg7 53.Nf3 [Transferring the knight to g5 and giving e5 to the queen] 53..Rb8 54.Ng5 Re7 55.Qe5! [Alekhine realises that although his queen is good, black will be defenceless without his queen] 55..Qxe5 [55..Qg7 56.R1h7] 56.fxe5 Ra8 57.Rg8 [Doubling on the 8th rank] 57..b4 58.Rhh8 Re8 59.axb4 [Now that black has been reduced to total passivity, white takes a pawn] 59..Ka7 60.Kc3 Ka6 [Ok, so how to win?] 61.Nf7 [Improve the knight back to the centre with gain of tempo] 61..Rec8 62.Nd6 Rd8 63.Rh1! [The rook retreats and swings to the other side of the board to deliver mate!] 63..Rd7 64.Ra1 1-0

Best advice about trading:

1. Consider all checks and captures!
2. When ahead trade pieces.
3. When trading consider the pieces left on the board rather than those that are leaving the board
4. Once a piece is exchanged all its previous moves count for nothing.
5. When behind trade pawns

Hopefully, just being more aware of trading will help you to work out when is good to trade and when is not. It is a more difficult subject than most people think, and I’ve only really talked about simple exchanges. Some exchanging sequences happen across the board and are very complicated in their nature.

Steinitz,William - Von Bardeleben,Curt Hastings, 1895

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.d4 exd4 6.cxd4 Bb4+ 7.Nc3 d5 8.exd5 Nxd5 9.0–0 Be6 10.Bg5 Be7

With so many possible captures, the position is a headache 11.Bxd5 Bxd5 12.Nxd5 Qxd5 13.Bxe7 Nxe7 [Steinitz solution to the exchanges has left him with a development advantage which he uses brilliantly] 14.Re1 f6 15.Qe2 Qd7 16.Rac1 c6 17.d5! [A pawn sacrifice to open a square for the knight] 17..cxd5 18.Nd4 Kf7 19.Ne6 Rhc8 20.Qg4 g6 21.Ng5+ Ke8 22.Rxe7+!! Kf8 23.Rf7+! Kg8 24.Rg7+! Kh8 25.Rxh7+! Black resigned. After 25..Kg8 26.Rg7 Kh8 it is mate in 9! 1–0