Saturday, December 31, 2016

Happy New Year

While many people talk of how bad 2016 was in political and celebrity death terms, for me it was a year of illness and pain. Taking into account that I'd hardly been sick the previous 20 years, it hit me harder than it should. So I'm hoping that 2017 is better, and what better way to start it than to be in one of my favourite places, with Caroline, my absolute soul mate.

The SS Earnshaw in front of Walter's Peak, Queenstown, New Zealand

New year is a time for resolutions, and all I intend is to be true to myself. Most of my friends will be celebrating their New Year after me, as New Zealand is one of the first. I wish you all a 2017 that is kind to you.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Whole Lotta Roadtrip

So far, there has been a lot of driving, a lot of stopping, a lot of wows, a lot of walking, a lot of seeing and a lot of beauty. We traveled down the west coast from Greymouth to Haast via glaciers, and then cut inland following the Haast river until we reached Arrowtown, where we are staying for the next few days. Here's a few shots of the places that have wowed me.

Driftwood on the beach near Haast

Roaring Billy Falls

Snow peaked mountains viewed from Pleasant Flat

How blue is that water? The Blue Pools

Caroline at the Blue Pools

Lake Hawea

Roaring Meg
To sum up, Caroline and I are exhausted physically, but on an amazing high from the experience so far!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016


I was very moved by a quote I saw the other day by the Czech novelist, Franz Kafka:

Youth is happy because it has the capacity to see beauty. Anyone who has the ability to see beauty never grows old.

With that in mind, I intend to think in terms of beauty, and in my own Kafkaesque way, stay young. I am currently in the South Island of New Zealand with Caroline in search of the beautiful. We have hired a car and are driving around the South Island. Today we picked up the car from Christchurch Airport and drove across Arthur's Pass to the west of the Island, finishing in Greymouth. Here are some things I found beautiful...
Lush Greens of the Tussocklands

A carpet of purple lupins

Lake Coleridge

Lupin on the banks of the an unknown river near Lake Pearson

Glaciers in the background of the Waimakariri River

Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so I don't expect everyone to find all the things beautiful which I do. But even a small piece of beauty can gladden the heart, and roll off the years.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Cracked Pepper

They say imitation is the greatest form of flattery. I'm not sure who says it, but I suppose I could "google it", and come up with a reasonable answer. The problem comes when imitation is done in poor taste. Like a bandwagon of novelists writing about young wizards, cover bands who actually have the talent to create their own music, and right wing fascists pretending to be caring politicians.

Anyway, as most readers of this blog will know, the things I love most in this world are chess and coffee. (of course I love the beautiful people that surround my world the most, but I don't really like describing my friends as "things"). The chess world is pretty exciting at the moment with a host of top level events seeing out 2016, headed by the World Championship currently being played in New York. For me, though, the chess world has been a poor imitation of what is was 12 months previously as I have had a year of illnesses which have prevented me from playing much chess. While I enjoy watching and studying the game, nothing beats playing and competing. I have entered a tournament in a couple of weeks, and will see how I go because I've been in quite a bit of discomfort recently, and had brain fogs, but if I can play ok then I'll be happy.

Coffee is my other passion. I love sitting at a cafe, reading a novel, and drinking a long black. I've been asked why I don't buy a coffee machine. Well, the simple answer is I like sitting at cafes, reading a novel with a long black! I have been to hundreds of cafes around Melbourne and the quality of the coffee, service and food varies, but I don't mind, I keep going back to my regular favourites.

One thing I have noticed, however, is how some cafes seem to be trying to imitate their classier, chic rivals. I like the fact that you don't have to be in central Melbourne to get a decent coffee, but I sometimes cringe at some of the food options and service quality of places. My pet annoyance at the moment is cracked pepper. I'm happy to dine in an Italian restaurant in Lygon Street and have a waiter come to me when my meal is in front of me and ask if I would like cracked pepper on it. Sometimes I'll say yes, sometimes no, but the whole thing seems appropriate there. I've started noticing that more and more places have waiting staff hanging around with pepper grinders, ready to pounce on customers with their request to serve you cracked pepper. I've even had cracked pepper ground on to my food before I could stop the overeager waitress. I've seen looks of disappointment on the faces of waiters at cafes when I'm sat with a bowl of porridge for breakfast, and I've even had a young waiter edging towards me as if he was wondering whether I would actually like cracked pepper on my porridge. I kind of feel sorry for that young man who will probably never know whether I wanted cracked pepper on my porridge or not. Did he lose his establishment a customer by not offering cracked pepper as an option?

I'm not the only critic of cracked pepper offerings (Huffpost)

To be honest, the cracked pepper thing is beginning to die down. Just as well really, as it seems a bit of a contradiction to walk into a greasy spoon, order eggs on toast, and be offered cracked pepper and ketchup. There needs to be a sense of appropriateness, and I don't think any less of a cafe because it might not be as classy as those in the next suburb. As long as the coffee is drinkable, the food is ok, and the staff are friendly, there isn't much more you need. Except maybe some cracked pepper on your breakfast Muesli....

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Why Watch When You Can Play?

This week I've started my lessons by asking my students this question: "What is the best tournament in the world?" I get all answers, like World Championship, Olympiad, National Championship etc. In the end, I tell the kids that the best tournament is the one that you are playing in. Chess is a participation event. Ok, it can be great to watch games, matches, tournaments, and some of them are great to follow. But nothing beats playing, and nothing beats playing tournaments. Therefore, whatever tournament I happen to be in is more important to me than any event that I might watch. The same should go for everyone.

The World Chess Championship match has started, and we've had 2 not so interesting draws to start off with. My twitter feed is filled with the usual comments about how boring the chess is, and how the format of chess doesn't lend itself to producing a spectacle. Having never participated in a World Championship match, or at anywhere near the level that Carlsen and Karjakin are competing, I'm hardly fit to comment, but it seems that both players are easing themselves into the match, and getting over any pre-match nerves. They are both showing respect to the other over the board, and I'm guessing that the play will heat up for the rest of the match.

As for me, I want to start playing otb chess again, but I've been in quite a bit of pain with a probable torn tendon in my shoulder. I had planned to play at the Melbourne Chess Club's event next weekend, but my focus isn't good at the moment as I'm in quite a bit of discomfort. The event does look great, though. The MCC are hosting a match of MCC vs Rest of Victoria.The event will be split into mini matches based on ratings, so the top 4 MCC players will play a Scheveningen event against the top 4 Rest of Victoria players, and then the next 4 vs 4 in the same format etc. As a lover of team chess, this is something that I'd go out of my way to play, but I'm holding my decision until after physio this week. I'd encourage anyone who can play to join in. After all, playing is better than watching.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Immortal Plagiarised Game

Yesterday, I wrote posts about games that completely copied other games. Now while I've gone into games without much fighting spirit and been happy to take a draw early, I've never arranged to copy out a whole game (maybe when I was a kid I used the odd trap like the Fried Liver, but without my opponent's pre-knowledge) so I find it strange when players do. To me it is obviously cheating, as it suggests prior arrangement of the game by the 2 players. For Christ's sake, if 2 players want to draw, it isn't out of the realms of possibility to play some pretty boring moves that involve exchanges and avoid complications. But just regurgitating a whole game???

Of course, if you are going to copy out a drawn game, then there is no better game to follow than Hamppe-Meitner Vienna 1870, also known as The Immortal Draw. The players whose game I showed yesterday were not the first players to follow in the footsteps of the Immortals. This is a much copied game.

The first full copy of the game (the first 8 moves were played in the game Popsilova-Hausner Brno 1969) that I find in my database is the game Ullrich-Birke Wuerttemburg Ch 1986, although these 2 players "improved" the play by adding 2 extra moves of the 3 fold repetition. In all there are close to 30 repeats of the game in the database, with Banikas-Nikolaidis happening twice!

Possibly the best game was Zampaglione-Zampaglione Amantea 2010 where the game ended in 0-1 after white "fell into" the main trap at the end of this game.

If you haven't seen the game, then it truly is remarkable.

1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Bc5 3.Na4

Black now plays the amazing 3..Bxf2+ sacrificing a piece to bring the white king into the open. There followed 4.Kxf2 Qh4+ 5.Ke3 Qf4+ 6.Kd3 d5 7.Kc3 Qxe4 8.Kb3 Na6 9.a3 [Apparently 9.d4 was better, but I'm not getting into that here]

So has the white king breathing space? 9..Qxa4+!! Whoa, white's king gets pulled further up the board. 10.Kxa4 Nc5+ stopping white's king heading back to b3 and a2 11.Kb4

Surely now black will move away the knight, and white's king can retreat? 11..a5+!! 12.Kxc5 [11.Kc3 loses to 11..d4+ when the white king is forced up the board anyway] 12..Ne7!

This is a great position. White's king is trapped, with the threat of Bd7 and b6#. Meanwhile white's pieces try to come to the defence of their king. 13.Bb5+ Kd8

With the threat of 14..b6# looming over his head, white plays the only move. 14.Bc6!! b6+ 15.Kb5 Nxc6 16.Kxc6

Now black tries one last time for mate. 16..Bb7+!! 17.Kb5 [17.Kxb7? Kd7 18.Qg4+ Kd6 when Rhb8# can't be stopped.

This was the final position of the Zampaglione game] 17..Ba6+ 18.Kc6 and the game was agreed a draw as a repetition is unavoidable. An amazing game, one worthy of study, but certainly not of repetition.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

More Opening Preparation

My last blog post was about a game that completely copied the moves of another. How legal is this? How ethical is this? These are questions for arbiters and organisers. Like earlier this year, in the Victorian Championships, when the Chan brothers, Kris and Luis copied the immortal game Rotlevi-Rubinstein, when they were forfeited the game. I'm not sure if any other punishment came their way, but a 0-0 result was already a way of letting the players know that collusion is not tolerated.

Some might find it amusing when a famous game is copied by players, or even a not so famous game. But it is against the rules. I saw this game this week, but it isn't the first time I've seen the moves. Does anyone else recognise them?

I wonder if the game was awarded a 1/2-1/2 or a 0-0?

Opening Preparation!?

I was sitting at a cafe this morning, drinking a long black and musing over the fact that I haven't worked on openings properly for a long time. I spent some time looking at the Antoshin Variation of the Philidor last year, but I'm bored of it now and want to move on. The question is, how much opening knowledge do I need to know?

That's a question that all chess players need to answer, and it will be different for each of us based on a number of factors:

- what level are you at?
- what style of opening do you choose to play?
- what ambitions do you have?

So the level that one is at will determine how deeply a player needs to study openings. The higher your level, the more you will need to understand openings, as you'll probably be playing players of a higher level.

The style of opening is important because some openings have more tactical lines, while some require more positional understanding of structures and ideas. Of course all openings have tactics, and positional ideas, but certain openings tend towards one or the other.

Your own goals will influence how deeply you work on the game generally and openings specifically. I am not particularly ambitious having got to where I want to go, so I tend to not put much work into the game (or at least not the sort of work that might help me improve). However, a player who wants to jump 200 rating points might work on strengthening their opening knowledge as well as on other parts of the game.

The main thing to do is assess where you are at, what you want out of chess, and to make a plan going forward. Do not try to emulate the professionals unless you are close to their level, or thinking of becoming a pro. (If you do have these ambitions check out the new pro chess league at

I saw a game that made me feel odd about opening study. It was like, "why bother working on the game when this is where it will take you?" The game was Mamedyarov-Gelfand from the Rapid tournament in Tashkent. The game followed So-Giri Leuven 2016 all the way, ending in exactly the same 3 move repetition. I'll admit it is a fascinating opening, black sacrifices a piece and gets very interesting play for it.

The Semi-Slav has been a hot opening since the 1990's, and even I've played it! A topical line from the above position is 12.b4 making black's c-pawn very backward. Although it was first played in 1998, the move has been played more often since about 2012 when it was played in some top games, most notably Topalov-Kasimdzhanov London 2012. 12..a5 13.Rb1

Here, the most drastic way of dealing with the backward pawn is to ditch it with 13..c5. After 14.bxc5 Bxf3 15.gxf3 black has created weaknesses around the black king, particularly on h2 and g2. It isn't enough to win but seems good enough to offer equal chances. There are quite a few perpetual finishes in this variation.

So in this position, Giri played 15..Nxc5 sacrificing a piece for a pawn. Black gets a useful pin on the c-file, and the ability to transfer his rook and/or queen to the king side. After the sequence 16.dxc5 Rxc5 17.Rxb5, white regained the pawn to be a whole piece up, and has guarded a black rook swing on the fifth rank.

So now black sacrifices a rook to gain a perpetual. 17..Nd5 18.Rxc5 Qg5+ 19.Kh1 Qh5

The threat of mate means that white must play 20.f4 when black grabs the draw by Qf3-g4-f3-g4 etc.

It's a fascinating variation with some very interesting positions, especially concerning compensation for sacrificed material. There are also some very interesting endgames that occur, when white refuses to take all the material offered. I can understand why Giri played the variation earlier in the year, as there are ways for white to go wrong, while he had a cast iron draw available. What I can't understand is why anyone would repeat it. I guess that is why I am an not a professional chess player!

Anyway, here is the Mamedyarov-Gelfand game, and I've also built a file with all the games that start with the variation 12.b4. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Setting the Tone

It's November, it's World Chess Championship time! Sadly though, the match isn't really getting me that excited. I'm not sure why that is. The players aren't the most exciting I guess, and the format of just 12 games means that there will probably more emphasis on not losing than winning. Recent Championship matches haven't helped with 'attrition' being the new buzzword of these matches.

I will follow the match, and I hope for a good start to set the tone. Hopefully Magnus will play to the death in the games and I hope that both players are prepared with great ideas, and are willing to take some risks to win. I guess what I'm hoping for is something to happen early on to raise the stakes in the match.

I recently was looking at some games from the 1950 play off match between David Bronstein and Isaak Boleslavsky. Don't ask me why, I just like to look at random old games! The players had shared first at the Budapest Candidates and a match was organised in Moscow over 12 games (a further 2 were added as the match was tied after 12). Of the 14 games only 5 ended in wins, which doesn't sound too different to the matches nowadays. The match started with a bang, an amazing first game with threat after threat cranking up the pressure, ending with a nice queen sacrifice. After this first game, the match went into a kind of lock down as the next 5 games were drawn. It wasn't all boring though. Game 4 saw Boleslavsky sacrifice an exchange putting Bronstein on the defensive. Then came the next phase, with 3 victories out of 5 games, leading to an extra 2 game play off. In these last 2 games, the first was drawn, while the second was won by Bronstein who went on to play the World Championship against Botvinnik.

The first game definitely set the tone for the match. Both players were prepared to take risks to win the match, and after an early victory, it meant that Boleslavsky had to play to win in games. The play was tense, and the games are well worth looking over again. As a match that wasn't for the World Championship, it doesn't get the same coverage, but that doesn't mean it was any less exciting.

Here's the game that set the tone.

A sharp Grunfeld was the opening choice for this first game, and things got sharper when Bronstein sacrificed the exchange with 14.d5!? Boleslavsky accepted, and then grimly tried to hold on to his material lead. This variation is still topical today, but at the time it had only just been introduced into tournament practice. 14..Bxa1 15.Qxa1

White threatens to win the exchange back straight off with Bh6, so black continues 15..f6 blocking white's queen out. 16.Bh6 Qb6+ 17.Kh1 Rfd8

Cranking up the pressure. Black's bishop is attacked, but white's light squared bishop is also under threat via the pin on the d-file. 18.Rb1 Qc5 19.Bd2

The temptation to move the attacked bishop must have been strong here, but then Bb4 is very strong. Another possibility is just to give back some material by playing Nc6 when black will have rook and pawn for 2 pieces. Boleslavsky decided to keep the pressure on. 19..b6 A move which makes perfect sense, guarding the sidelined knight, and giving it an escape square on b7. 20.Bb4 Qc7 21.Rc1

Since sacrificing the exchange, Bronstein has been making threats while improving his pieces. Boleslavsky too has been answering all white's threats and is just waiting for the moment when he can take a breather and still be ahead in material. 21..Qb7 22.Qb1!

Now white threatens both a5 and e6, while white's queen protects the light squared bishop. 22..Rab8?
Boleslavsky finally blunders after an incredibly complicated sequence of moves. 22..Qd7 offered black chances, retaining the pin on the d-file. White's pieces really are running riot over the position though, so black still would have had some difficult defending to do. In the game, Bronstein took the bishop and ended up winning the game.

I have to show the end of the game though.

After his brilliant play earlier in the game, Bronstein finished in style. Here white forced resignation by playing 32.Qxf6, sacrificing his queen to let the e-pawn run.

I do hope that the upcoming World Championship lives up to the billing and produces a tense match with excellent play. But if it doesn't chess has plenty of matches to look back on and savour, and not just the World Championships. 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Endgame at a School

I was at a Primary School this morning and the following position appeared in one of the games.

Even though the boys were 2 of the better players in the group I was still impressed and astounded that they had reached this position. From here on, though, the game was full of blunders, but each one was instructive for the kids. It was black to play and he started with the shocker 1..Kc5?? This immediately moves the king outside the square of the pawn and shows that kings can't catch pawns when they are behind them. In the above position, black has the undermining 1..a6! when his king is closer to the pawns and able to take both white pawns. Thus the kids are being taught about king activity and placement. The nearer their king is to the main action, the better.

After white's blunder, came a mutual shocker 2.Kd3?? allowing me to explain that passed pawns must be pushed. At this point the black player saw that he should have lost the game and he retreated his king rather than take on b5. 2..Kb6 and both kings manouvered 3.Kc4 Kc7 4.Kc5

At this point, black played the inspirational 4..Kc8! going straight back and was rewarded with a draw after 5.b6? axb6 6.Kxb6 Kb8 (with opposition) 7.c7+ Kc8 8.Kc6 stalemate.

While congratulating white on his fine defence I showed both boys how using the king actively is an important issue in endgames. Instead of 5.b6, white should have tried 5.Kd6! when the opposition move 5..Kd8 fails because after 6.c7+ Kc8 7.Kc6, it isn't stalemate as black has a pawn left.

Now black has to move their a-pawn. The best try for a kid is to play 7..a6, say loudly "oh no, can I take that back", and then mumble something about losing their last hope! But seriously, the majority of children that I teach would find it hard to resist the temptation of taking a free pawn. But the win is simply 8.b6 a5 9.b7 checkmate, while the tempting 8.bxa6 is stalemate again.

Of course this endgame isn't perfect, and is very simple, but it shows a number of endgame principles that everyone, not just kids, should know. And when kids play these positions and then receive instruction it sticks better in their mind than when they are learning endgames theoretically. By the way, all the advice I gave them came after the game, as I didn't want to interfere while the game was ongoing. Both these boys are yet to compete in events outside their school, but like most kids, the are learning fast.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Endgame of the Week

I haven't been playing much chess, or studying much chess recently for one reason or another. So when I do look at things, they tend to be about things I enjoy. And I must admit that as I get older, I become more interested in endgames. Downloading TWIC each week and then sorting the file according to number of moves lets one see which endgames are being played.

This week's longer games included a pawnless rook vs bishop ending which finished in a draw. The defender knew the technique of heading the king to the corner not controlled by the bishop. There was a knight and bishop checkmate, and some interesting queen and pawn and rook and pawn endings, including R + e and f pawns vs R which ended in a draw. I must admit, I don't know the theory of these endings, but roughly know that f and h pawns are mostly draws, and a and h pawns are mostly draws. It is something worth looking at to build my technique.

I was most interested in the following position, not least because a GM was getting bashed by someone 300 rating points lower.

I would imagine time was a factor here as white is about to play his 61st move. White will definitely lose their a-pawn, but can win material on the king side, which should be enough for victory. The best first move is 61.Ng7, when black's f-pawn falls. However, white played 61.Nd4+ and black traded on d4 going into a lost king and pawn endgame. 61..Bxd4 62.exd4 (to be fair, keeping the minor pieces on didn't hold out much hope either).

However, this game ended in a draw after both sides promoted.  From the diagram the game continued 62..Kb5 63.Ke2 Kxa5 64.Ke3 Kb5 65.Kf4 Kc6 when we get to the key position.

White now played the natural 66.Kxf5? missing the finesse 66.Ke5! when black's king will be forced away from d5 meaning that white will be able to capture both f and e pawns (and g and h if he wants). After the text move black promotes  the b-pawn in 8 while white promotes  the g-pawn in 7, but it is black to move so they promote at the same time. This leaves a dreaded queen and pawn ending which are notoriously difficult to win.

So once again, a natural looking move, a capture, turns out to be not the best move. A simple finesse of the king would have led to victory for white against a player 300 points higher rated. Still, a draw was not a bad result for the white player.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Not So Vegetarian

When you're vegetarian, it becomes apparent how much food in cafes and restaurants in Australia is meat based. I have no problem with this. I am ok with people eating whatever they like. It is everyone's own choice. I am the same with smoking. I used to smoke (in fact, I can't believe that it is 6 years since I last smoked!) and have no problem with people choosing to smoke if they want to.

I do have an issue, though, with being vegetarian. That is when I say I'm vegetarian and someone says "Do you eat fish?" Errr, no. The last time I checked, fish weren't classified as vegetables, though the attention span of fish is slightly less (only slightly) than the average Donald Trump supporter.

From the Action for Animals site

I have an even bigger issue with cafes and restaurants claiming that they are serving a vegetarian option when it has fish in it. So let me name and shame these as I come across them.

Today I found myself in "Main Street" in Mordialloc. The cafe was ok, the service was ok and friendly, the coffee wasn't bad, it was comfortable and light. They even had the courtesy of adding a "v" next to the vegetarian options on the menu. This was all well and good, except that there was a "v" next to the Seafood Paella. The description of this meal is:

"saffron infused brown rice, mussels, prawns + squid w/ roasted capsicum, cherry tomatoes, Spanish onion topped w/ fresh herbs + chilli"

Now there's a lot of vegetables there, but Mussels, Prawns and Squid? Come on!!! This is NOT a vegetarian option, and no food establishment should be trying to sell it as that!

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Natural.....but Wrong!

There are moves that we play that seem the most natural in the world, but tactically they aren't justified. It is very annoying when this happens. Things like:

- captures
- recaptures
- checks
- retreating an attacked piece
- castling

Unless the move is absolutely forced, then moves shouldn't be played automatically. We all miss things, but it is most annoying when we miss something that we should see.

I feel for the player in this example:

This game, from an Austrian League game last week saw white commit 2 mistakes over the one move.

First, he played a move which looks natural without checking the situation on the board. 
Second, he didn't look at all the checks and captures in the position.

White played the seemingly natural 15.0-0.

Now if white had been thinking about checks and captures, he would have noticed 15..Bxc4 and should have considered that move.

White resigned in this position. Here, it is obvious that black's queen is coming to d4 to check and fork white's bishop which will be on c4.

Moral of the story is to check natural looking moves. Even better is to get the thought about natural looking moves out of your head, and take positions on their merit. I think capturing and recapturing is the biggest area where most club players could improve.

Senior Moments

It's funny really. One is progressing nicely through life, having a great time, and then all of a sudden you become 50!!!

People start congratulating you, and the cliches abound:

....great work on the half century...
....only another 50 years to go....
....retirement is just around the corner....

To be honest I don't really know what "being 50" means. In my mind, I'm not an age, I just am. What should being 50 denote? Who cares? My mentality was older when I was in my late teens and I was striving to be mature. Now I've reached a mature age, I couldn't give a...

Anyway, the first thing I did on becoming 50 was leave my laptop lead behind at a school I was working in, prompting thoughts of senior moments. It meant that I have been without a laptop for a while, as I only went back to the school a week later, and didn't have a spare lead. So was this a senior moment, an instance of forgetfulness instances that will only become more prevalent as I increase my innings? Or was it fate telling me that I spend too much time on my laptop and to get a life? Maybe I should create a bucket list before I kick that bucket?

Fate is something which I don't subscribe to, and to the annoyance of Caroline, I won't admit to luck having a role in life either. Much like my attitude to age, I believe that what happens, just happens. I try to take responsibility for my actions and results. I'm not a control freak, but to take charge of one's life is in many ways liberating. I try not to judge, and don't worry about the judgement of others. I'm happy to let others subscribe to whatever belief system they wish to follow, and just wish that more people would do the same.

I take full responsibility for the lack of writing on this blog recently. Will that change? Hopefully! I intend to write more, but I have a pretty full life at the moment and sometimes lack the energy or will to write. Am I getting old? Well, we all are every minute of every day, but that's not an excuse for not writing.I guess what I have been lacking is inspiration, but I intend to start playing chess again soon which will fire me up to examine the game, study and (hopefully) write about it.

I recently went to Singapore, and the highlight of the trip was probably a visit to the botanic gardens which were just magnificent. Believe me, I like Melbourne Botanical Gardens, but they are a shadow of the Singapore Botanical Gardens! The highlight of the gardens was the Orchid Garden, which houses one of the biggest collection of orchids in the world! It truly was a breathtaking display of colour and beauty which my camera (phone) doesn't do justice to.

Carnivorous Orchids

Delicate Orchids

Bright and Bold Orchids

Amazing Orchids

Beautiful Settings of the Orchid Garden in Singapore Botanic Gardens

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

A Short Break In Singapore

Caroline and I needed to get away. We love travelling and going to new places and we'd both only ever transited through Singapore before. Admittedly, Changi airport is an amazing place, but that's still not the same as visiting the place! We had a short break for 6 days going somewhere warm and interesting.

Firstly Singapore was very warm, and the heat and humidity took its toll on both of us. At the end of each day we were thoroughly exhausted from sightseeing around the town in averagely 30C+ days. We stayed in an area just south of the Singapore River, slightly north of Chinatown, and 5 minutes walk to Clarke Quay. The city is pretty flat so walking isn't the biggest problem, but the transport system is pretty good, so we used that a fair bit.

Singapore isn't as old as I thought it was, at least not in its recent history. Modern Singapore can be dated back tot he 1800's, when Sir Stamford Raffles landed on the island and negotiated a treaty which made Singapore part of the British Empire. There is a colonial feel as you wander the streets of central Singapore, and Raffles name isn't usually far away.

Raffles Hotel at the heart of Singapore Colonial District
While there is a heavy colonial feel tot he city, there are also distinct ethnic sections to the city that are rich in cultural heritage. We visited Chinatown (more than once), Little India and Kampong Glam, or Arab Street Quarter to experience some of this culture. Chinatown is fantastic, bustling, loads of food places and, of course, a distinctly Chinese feel to it. Oddly enough our first stop was at the Hindu Sri Mariamman Temple. It was strangely coincidental that our last port of call in Little India was at the Sakya Muni Buddha Gaya Temple. All the religious buildings we saw, including the Sultan Mosque and Buddha Tooth Relic Temple were ornately decorated both inside and out.

Ceiling art at the Sri Mariamman Temple

At the doors to the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple

Sakya Muni Buddha Gaya Temple

Sultan Masjid Mosque at the end Bussorah Street

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple
A visit to these areas should include some ethnic dining. I guess our favourite restaurants were the Eight Treasures Vegetarian Restaurant in Chinatown, and Kailash Parbat in Little India but there was definitely something for everyone.

Singapore has a very modern feel to the Marina area. We arrived the day after the Grand Prix was held and they were clearing up the city centre course. By the end of the week, you'd hardly have known a Grand Prix had been held there. The city is very clean, and even though the humidity was high, I thought the air quality was pretty good. We spent a little time in the Marina area, and watched the free evening concert and light show in the Gardens By The Bay.

The massive Marina Park Sands Hotel dominates the Marina

The Helix Bridge

Science Museum in front of the business district
The mix of old and new was nicely explained at the Chinese Cultural Heritage Centre, which gives a great feel for how tough life must have been for early Chinese immigrants to the settlement. Interestingly, I learned that most of what you see in the picture above would not have been visible 100 years ago, as that is reclaimed land built upon much later.

The Gardens were magnificent, and I intend to write a further post about them. It was a great short break in the tropical warmth after a wet and cold Victorian winter, and I'd certainly recommend Singapore as a place to visit.

View from Marina Bay Hotel Skydeck across Gardens By The Bay to the Straits

Singapore Flyer from Gardens By The Bay

Supertrees at Gardens By The Bay