Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Celebrating Australia

Yesterday was Australia Day, a public holiday which in recent years has brought mixed feelings out. On the one hand we are celebrating a great nation which I'm proud to have emigrated to. On the other hand, the indigenous population have had their land stolen and atrocities committed throughout the past 200 years.

In chess terms, Australia is not one of the great nations and never has been. However, there is still much chess being played and a chess culture is developing. The Australian Junior Chess Championship recently concluded in Adelaide and the under 18 was won convincingly by Ari Dale. Ari joins a list of very strong players who have captured the title. The girls title was won by Zhi Lin Guo who has progressed excellently into the top 20 active women in Australia, and who will hopefully be fighting for an Olympiad place in the not too distant future.

The age group champions were:

U-16 David Cannon (Vic)
U-14 Bobby Yu (Vic)
U-12 Michael Ostapenko (Qld)
U-10 Brandon Soetanto (Vic)
U-8 Sayum Rupasinghe (NSW)
U-16 Girls ??
U-14 Girls ??
U-12 Girls ??
U-10 Girls ??
U-8 Girls ??

Unfortunately it isn't clear who won the girls titles as events were doubled up, so the U-18 and U-16 played in one section as did the 14/12's and the 10/8's. I'd assume that the winner of each section would take the older age group award, but seeing I don't know, I'm not going to guess, potentially get things wrong and upset people.

I know I've already been harping on about the inequality in chess representation between men and women, but this is another example. With the open events, it is fairly clear who won excepting for the odd tie that required a play off, but with the girls there is no recognition of their achievements. Pretty poor.

What isn't poor is the Australian Chess Magazine 50 Moves which I resubscribed to today, though again it would be good to see some female representation in the pages of the magazine, rather than just Cathy Rogers with her excellent photography. The other thing I'd like to see more of is coverage of Australian chess, of which there was little in this magazine. Ian Rogers is obviously an excellent writer and his articles are great. In the December issue he focuses on The World blitz and rapid Championships where he was reporting from the scene. This is great for Australian audiences, but I actually enjoyed Adrian Chew Lee's and Eunice Koh's article about the World Youth Championships more. I guess the local feel, and personal knowledge of some of the players brings it a little closer to my own world.

I hope to see articles by Australia's young talented travellers on their experiences in chess tournaments abroad, as well as as tournament reports of important events in this country. Those reports were always the backbone of the British Chess Magazine when I was younger in the 1980's. Having quality players writing about the events they participated in, with great chess content was inspiring and educative. All top British GM's would write for BCM back then, with articles from Nunn, Miles, Short, Keene, Speelman etc, it truly was an excellent magazine. Due to financial issues the BCM took a hit, and very nearly folded a short while ago. Well it is back, and is excellent!

Again, I bought an issue (I was annoyed by the online reader edition I bought and if I subscribe, it will be to the hard copy) and it seemed excellent. Articles by McShane and Howell on the London Classic, and the British knock out tournament were the top 2 articles, but other contributors include Australia's own David Smerdon, Pentala Harikrishna and Krsten Muller. Like the Australian 50 moves, there is little of local interest, which again is a bit disappointing, but there is an article by a female contributor, Ketevan Arakhamia-Grant.

I guess both magazines, 50 Moves and BCM are aiming at high end material, and they certainly both have that. I think they are both great, but they would be even better with more local news.

(Good luck to Justin Tan and Moulthon Ly in Gibralter, and I hope they bring us a brilliant report for a future 50 Moves magazine. They are both currently leading ex World Champion Anand!)

Monday, January 25, 2016

Is chess boring?

Yesterday Magnus Carlsen took the lead at the traditional Dutch year opener at Wijk aan Zee. He's young, a fashion model, a celebrity who appears regularly on TV talk shows in his naive Norway, and in the USA. He jet sets around the world, has an honourary guest at Spanish La Liga giants Real Madrid, and of course, is the World Chess Champion.

But that isn't enough for some. While Holland is hosting the elite of the chess world, the Dutch newspapers aren't all giving positive coverage. (my thanks to my Dutch friend JJ for pointing this out to me) The Dutch journalist Mohammed Benzakour wrote that "Chess Today is Boring". Perhaps the essence of the article is lost in translation, but what I gather Mr Benzakour is saying is that chess players are too normal for his liking. There aren't the quirky, social misfits of yesteryear.

And this is a bad thing?

Our top players don't smoke, don't drink large amounts of alcohol (at least not while on duty), they aren't the social pariahs of the past and more people than ever are accepting chess as an activity they like to play, or appreciate their kids playing. At least that is my anecdotal experience from coaching chess in Australia.

These are bad things?

The elite events in Holland (there are 2 Grand Master sections) has a mixture of young and older stars, local Dutch players, and female players, players representing countries across the globe from China and India, through the Russian republics and Europe across to America.

This diversity is a bad thing?

As well as this, there's more top class chess than ever being played. While the Wijk round robins have still 5 rounds to play, ex World Champion Vishy Anand stars in an amazing field at the Gibralter Open which starts tomorrow. Anand is another of the nice guys of chess who probably fits into the 'chess is boring' category, but both Nakamura and Short are also in the field, who are both fairly outspoken in the chess world. Though not enough for some journalists. And if that isn't enough, half way through Gibralter, another elite open starts in Moscow, the first stage of the Russian Cup. Look at the field! We'll then have a month, just enough time to get our breath back, for the Candidates tournament.

But, of course, all this great chess is a bad thing, full of boring players.

Sorry Mr Benzakour, but what a crock of shit!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Endgame Discovery?

After looking at 18th century games by the likes of Philidor and Bowdler yesterday, today I thought I'd get more up to date. I've been looking at games of Chigorin today. Yes, I know, I'm still over 100 years behind the times, but I enjoy looking at the history of chess, and an interesting position is exactly that, whenever or wherever it was played.

Chigorin is a well known historical chess figure playing 2 World Championship matches in the late 1800's against Steinitz. He lost both matches, but in them he proved himself a worthy competitor. He had a tactical flair and a great imagination, which I'd never really understood because I hadn't studied many of his games, and certainly not in any depth.

Here he is black against Isidor Gunsberg in a match they played in 1890. Chigorin came up with the magnificent line opening sacrifice 35..Rxf3!!. While the majority of white's pieces sit idly on the queen side, black's will penetrate the white position on the weakened dark squares around white's king. The rest of the game sees more imaginative moves bring black's pieces into the attack.

Of course by this stage in the development of chess, a player had to able to play in a rounded style, combining opening knowledge, endgame ability, tactical flair and defensive skills. Steinitz' new positional approach was taking hold of the game, and more comprehensive study was finding defensive resources against the old school of gambiteers.

The fighting qualities of all players is shown through their desire to win, and to play on in even positions. This is seen no more clearly in the games of the current World Champion, Magnus Carlsen. Chigorin had this tenacity too. I looked at an even endgame that he kept fighting on to eventually beat another heavyweight of that era, Tarrasch. The game has been analysed by many, including Kasparov et al. in "My Great Predecessors Volume 1" (MGP). Now I'm hardly one to criticise the great man, who is in my opinion the greatest player to have ever lived, but I think there might be an error in the analysis of this endgame by Kasparov and his team.

Here's the critical position from this endgame. The build up to this had been fascinating, as white worked hard to get blood from a stone. Here Tarrasch played 54..Rc1? "the decisive mistake" according to MGP. Instead black had to play 54..Rc2 winning a tempo by hitting the h2 pawn. The point in its effort to help promote the pawn, white's king will either have to go to c8, or c6 giving the black rook time to take on h2 and then bounce back to c2 to sacrifice itself for white's remaining pawn, giving a drawn rook versus pawn endgame.

After 54..Rc1 55.Ke5 Tarrasch played 55..hxg3 56.hxg3 Rc3 and he is indeed losing this position.

With black to move here, he would have no useful moves, so Chigorin simply played 57.Ra7! (after a couple of repetitions) leaving black in zugzwang.

My question is why did black have to capture on g3 on move 55? In my opinion, 54..Rc1 isn't a decisive mistake, but 55..hxg3 most certainly is. Instead of 55..hxg3, black has 2 defences which should draw.

Black can play 55..Rc6 cutting off black's king, or even 55..Rc2 returning to the position from before but a tempo down. I don't think that tempo makes a difference. After 55..Rc2 if white's king approaches the c-pawn then we go with Kasparov's plan of checking it until it goes to the c-file. The only other plan seems to be 56.gxh4 Kxh4 57.Kxf5

Now if black plays 57..Kh3, I can't see how white can win. Black's plan is simply to check the white king from the side until it isn't attacking g4, then take on h2. White can sacrifice the c-pawn and then win black's g-pawn with 58.c8=Q Rxc8 59.Rh7+ Kg2 60.Kg4, but according to Nalimov tablebases this is a draw.

Perhaps someone can refute my analysis, or perhaps I can be added to the list of annotators who have contributed something to endgame analysis?

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Thursday Thoughts

I've been reading about Thomas Bowdler today, for some reason. Probably because I was looking at games in the early history of chess and his name came up. Bowdler was a pretty strong player, capable of taking Philidor on at odds of pawn and 2 moves. They played 8 games winning 2 and only losing 3 to the great French player.

Bowdler is immortalised in the English language after he cleaned up Shakespeare for Victorian family audiences. To "bowdlerise" is to change or cut parts of a novel or movie that might offend. The advert for Bowdler's "Family Shakespeare" stated that "those words and expressions are omitted which cannot with propriety be read aloud in a family." Seeing that Shakespeare's plays are full of innuendo and sometimes outright filth, it would be interesting to see how Bowdler's censorship took the bard apart.

I wonder how the censor's knife worked on this Shakespearean classic put down:

"By my life, this is my lady's hand, these be her very C's, her U's, and her T's, and thus makes she her great P's."

If you're wondering what this means, try spelling the capitals, but instead of "and", use the abbreviation 'n, and it should all make sense :D

Censorship is a strange thing, and an issue that polarises people. In our internet age, material has become much more explicit than even just 35-40 years ago when I was in my teenage years. For example, I link to Kevin Spraggett's blog on this page, but if I was following the principles of Bowdler, I'd be setting content warnings about it. Personally, I fall more into the category of the allowing freedom of speech camp, though there are some limits that I find difficult to tolerate, usually based on hate or discrimination.

Which brings me to the bizarre banning of chess by Saudi Arabia. According to the Fatwa against chess, the game 'promotes hatred between opponents', 'promotes the potential for gambling', and may cut into prayer time. This is all taken from the twitter account of Musa Bin Thaily of the Saudi Chess Association, who also suggests that chess may not actually be banned, but rather there are some other factors being taken into account such as the authorities need to control individuals. As he says, open air music concerts are banned, but they happen. However, the opportunity is there for the authroities to close the concerts down.

So where's the logic in banning chess? It's a game, a pastime, an activity which promotes logical thinking. And it brings pleasure to so many people, myself included.Can this be a bad thing? I'll finish with another literary quote, this time by Charlotte Bronte which sums up my opinion of the Saudi Fatwa:

"Better to be without logic than without feeling"

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Time Zones

I love living in Melbourne, and I wouldn't want to live anywhere else in the world. But if there is a fault, it is that the world is still euro-centric (especially the chess world) and Australia is sitting on the GMT +10 time zone. This means that many chess events happen overnight for us, nd it can be difficult to follow live games and maintain a life.

I usually start Tuesday mornings by downloading the weekly chess magazine, TWIC, which comes out on a Monday in the UK. I then look at some games which happened overnight in Europe and was pleased to see that even great players like Mamedyarov are capable of playing moves that I'd feel bad about playing.

In 2016, if a 2700+ player comes up with a worse move than 38.c5?? allowing Qxb1, then I'll be very surprised.

Allowing an opponent to take a rook for free is more the province of junior chess, and the Australian Junior Championships are currently being held in Adelaide, a half hour behind the times of Melbourne! Today is a kind of rest day with the problem solving championship taking place in the morning, and the lightning championship in the afternoon.

The first titles have been decided. The under-10 champion of Australia is Victorian Brandon Soetanto, while the under-8 champion is Sayum Rupasinghe from NSW. Both these champions won after a play off, and both had to overcome another player from their home state. Congratulations to both these young national age group champions!

Even further in the future than Melbourne is New Zealand. The recent New Zealand Open Championship was a great success for the organisers who assembled a group of strong players from abroad, and a good turn out from home. The tournament ran at the same time as the Australian Championship which was an unfortunate clash. I'm sure a number of Australians would have travelled to NZ for the event if the clash hadn't occurred. The tournament was won by English GM Gawain Jones who has been to New Zealand before, and there were rumours at one time of him changing his federation to New Zealand. Instead he added Maroroa to his name, and his wife, IM Sue Maroroa, changed her federation to England.

It was a tough field with Wenjun Ju from China playing before heading to Wijk aan Zee to play in the b-tournament. The 2548 rated GM from China took the scalp of top seed Nigel Short on her way to joint second place. Short also ended well in second, along with another Chinese GM 2602 rated Qun Ma. There were 6 GM's in all and 5 IM's in the field of 66 players.

Nigel Short will be spending more time "down under" as he plays at the 50th Ballarat Chess Festival over Labour Day weekend in March. This is a great coup for the Ballarat organisers to attain the entry of such a high profile star, a Grand Master and previous World Championship contender. Of course, Short is also a controversial figure, which in some respects, makes it even better for Ballarat as his participation will certainly raise the profile of the event. Short will be giving simuls in Australia, in Adelaide and Sydney, and this will undoubtedly be newsworthy, if his New Zealand experience is anything to go by.

In Auckland, he played 20 women simultaneously, in a challenge dubbed "Beauty vs the Beast". This sort of language isn't politically correct, and that was picked up by a local journalist. In fact, Short has come in for a heap of criticism for his views on women in chess over the past 12 months, and I have to admit that I have not agreed with his views. But to finish on a positive note, Short is never one to back down from a challenge, and is an absolute devotee to chess. In another article, the piece that I like the best is:

"For me, chess has been a blessing, because I have had a life which has been fascinating," he explains. "There are jobs which would make more money, but it's not everything in life. I have so much of my identity wrapped up in chess: it's nice actually, to come here, to the other end of the earth, and people are still familiar with you. There is something which is very satisfying about that and it's always nice to be recognised."

Monday, January 18, 2016

Endgame Time

Yesterday I posted a great counter attacking game from the Australian Junior Championship. These are exactly the sort of games where juniors can show their abilities, direct targets, tactical possibilities, cut and thrust. Of course the downside of too much tactical and opening study can weaken other parts of the game, and it is no surprise that juniors tend to be poor positionally, and at the endgame.

Before I show that endgame, the hero of yesterday, Heath Gooch took another scalp today by drawing with David Cannon, the top seed in the tournament. Here's the final position.

The position is levellish, with opposite coloured bishops on the board, but that just gives both sides greater attacking opportunities at the moment. I am shaking my head in disbelief that 2 under 16's should agree to a draw in this position, when the game is full of life, and I can almost hear IM Robert Jamieson's teeth grinding while saying "don't agree to draws while there's life in the position: how can you improve if you're scared to lose?"

The endgame I saw today started in this position:

Black has a winning position, but couldn't seem to finish things off. Here black can win a pawn straight off using simple forks. 1..Ne3+ 2.Kf3 Nf5 and the d-pawn falls as 3.Ke4 fails to Nd6+ forking the bishop. Instead he played 1..Nb4? and the game continued for a while until it reached this position.

Again, searching for checks helps as 1..Nd5+ 2.Ke4 f6  leaves white with no good moves, while black's knight can move around to attack d4 under favourable circumstances. Instead, black decided to manouvre his king back round to the king side until white blundered into the following position.

Knowing that a fork can be used to win material from a check should help us realise that the knight would really like to get to e2. So in the above position 1..Nc3 achieves that aim immediately as the bishop is attacked and so are both of the squares it can move to which defend e2! Alas, black felt it was time to advance his g-pawn and the game ended a draw.!

I'm of the opinion that both these young players would have had no problem seeing these knight forks in a middlegame setting, so why are they so difficult to see with less pieces on the board? Spending a little bit of time each week looking through an endgame, or some endgames, or some endgame theory or tactics is unbelievably beneficial for most players.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Sunday Chess

What a great first round at Wijk aan Zee. The top section saw some solid chess, some inspired chess, and the odd blunder, while the b-tournament had no draws. My favourite player at the top is currently Karjakin, but he had to work very hard to hold a draw against Yifan Hou. However, a draw with black at this level is a good result. That is what Carlsen will be saying, as he drew with the black pieces versus Navara. Of course, Navara is no slouch ranked 25 in the world. The winners of the round were Caruana, So and Ding Liren, but it's a long way to go.

More immediate to us here is the Australian Junior Championships in Adelaide. A double round in the under 18 cleared some matters up with the top 2 seeds meeting. Ari Dale proved too good for Patrick Gong this time round, and Ari now sits on 3/3. Also on 3/3 is Tom Maguire, and these 2 meet tomorrow. In the under 16, top seed David Cannon has moved to 3/3. David Cannon has already been a national age group winner taking the under 10 title in 2011. Funnily enough, the second seed in this tournament, Kevin Willathgamuwa, won the under 8 title in 2011. Kevin had something of a disaster in the third round in Adelaide, going down to Victorian junior Heath Gooch. Heath is one of a number of talented players from the country Victorian centre of Mildura. Heath and his sister Aryn, as well as Liam and Zoe Harrison are the cream of the crop from Mildura at the moment, and it is great to see so many talented players from outside the main metropolitan areas. Heath now faces David tomorrow in the top board clash.

The first champions will be decided tomorrow in the under 10 and under 8 categories. The under 10 is tight, but IM Robert Jamieson's charge, Shawn Zillman, leads by half a point with 3 rounds to go. In the under 8's 3 players are on 5/6 and the title is wide open.

In the Willathgamuwa-Gooch game the following position was reached from an Advanced French.

Heath as black had just played 12..0-0, a novelty in the position, but not one likely to be repeated as black has castled into an absolute onslaught. However, Kevin couldn't find the way through and it was the white king that was checkmated in 9 moves! The obvious move is 13.h5, but white decided to transfer his queen to h5 to checkmate his opponent. A brilliant counter attack by Heath!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

After the Australian Championship

The Australian Championship has been finished less than a week, and we're already moving onto other events. The Melbourne Chess Club is hosting The 2016 Australian Women's Masters, South Australia is the host state for the Australian Junior Championship, and in the big, wide world of chess, Wijk aan Zee starts in a couple of hours.

Let me start with the Women's Masters. I have to say that I have genuine problems with this tournament for a few reasons.

- Women shouldn't have separate events, and lower expectations in chess. It is degrading, and somewhat discriminatory to set the standard of women's titles lower then that of men.

- The general attitude towards women in chess makes many feel unwelcome, and second class chess citizens. Like, for instance, withdrawing from a tournament after losing to a girl, like happened in the Australian Reserves.

- By treating women as inferior, the chess community reinforces this and continues to keep women as inferior.

It really is little surprise that the one woman who competed on an even level with men, Judit Polgar, denounced women's only events, and competed with the best players she could find.

Anyway, taking away the fact that it is a women's only event, the organisers, Gary Bekker and Jamie Kenmure have put together a very good field of players, but with only 1 Australian in the top section, but a second section is taking place, and the winner will apparently be given entry to next year's event. There hasn't been particularly good coverage of the event, so I haven't seen any games or even the results, though IM Leonid Sandler posted an article to the Russian news site with the first round games.

The Australian Junior Championship started today in Adelaide. There are 4 live boards showing the top games from the Under 18 and Under 16 Championship. The under 18 will be a fascinating affair with IM Ari Dale the top seed, but Australian Reserves Champion, Patrick Gong also in the tournament. Both came through the first round unscathed.

Meanwhile, the traditional year opener in the elite chess world, Wijk aan Zee starts tonight. As always, Wijk puts together a strong but interesting field. As well as Carlsen, Giri, Caruana and So from the top 10, there are a group of exciting players. Eljanov was the biggest mover in 2015 moving up to 13 in the world; China has 3 players in Liren Ding (12 in the world) Yi Wei (16 year old Chinese Champion) Hou Yifan (top female player ranked 68th in the world); 2015 World Cup winner, Sergey Karjakin plays; and last year's winner of the B tournament, David Navara has the honour of playing Carlsen in the first round!

It will be a tough first round for Carlsen. According to Chessbase readers, Navara's win against Wojtaszek was the best game of 2015!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Bobby Cheng Australian Champion

It was an exciting finish to the 2016 Australian Championship at Fitzroy Town Hall. Going into the last round Bobby Cheng held a half point lead from Kanan Izzat and Karl Zelesco. Kanan was ineligible for the title, but both Bobby and Karl were fighting for Australian Champion. Obviously all the rest of us were still playing for places, but the title and tournament were between these 3 players.

The fun and games started when Bobby Cheng blundered against Junta Ikeda losing his last round game, leaving the way open for the others to overtake him. The net game at the top to finish was Kanan Izzat's win over Max Illingworth guaranteeing at least a share of first in the tournament depending on the final game between Justin Tan and Karl Zelesco. The tension mounted as games started finishing and the crowd around the top game increased. By the time I was finished, there were hardly any games left in either tournament, but the Tan-Zelesco game was still in full battle. In fact, the main game proved the last to finish. In the end, Justin Tan completed his comeback from a bad start to spoil Karl Zelesco's championship dream, and hand it to Bobby Cheng!

Full results of the Championship can be seen on the chess results server. Some notable points. Kanan Izzat was the tournament winner, while Bobby Cheng added the title of Australian Champion to the blitz title he won a few days earlier. Two games were forfeited. Sadly, Luke Li turned up late for the last round due to a mechanical car issue, but at least he had already gained an IM norm. More bizarrely was Mirko Rujevic not turning up to play his 10th round game on Monday. Mirko, who is turning 70, this year had a senior moment when he thought the tournament had finished on Sunday, and hadn't realised that the event continued.

The Reserves tournament saw 3 players who were near the top for the whole event take out the top 3 places. First was Patrick Gong with an amazing 9.5/11. This was half a point clear of Michael Kethro on 9 while Kris Chan was third a further half point back on 8.5. The Reserves was hard fought, and this is shown by the fact that another 27 players finished within 1.5 of third place. Of all these, perhaps special mention should go to James Watson who scored 7 points with an ACF rating of only 1633, whereas most of the players in the top 30 were over 1800.

Here's the final win of Kanan Izzat, who was definitely worse against Max Illingworth, beofre Max blundered with 35.Qc5.

Monday, January 11, 2016

RIP David Bowie

Blog cancelled today, drinking vodka and listening to David Bowie.


Australian Championship - 2 Rounds Left

With only 2 rounds to go, things are finally beginning to take shape in the Championship and Reserves tournaments. At this point, if you're at the top, then a loss will put you out of contention, and even a draw will make your life harder. The pressure is on!

The Championship sees 2 leaders, Kanan Izzat and Bobby Cheng. Kanan cannot claim the title of Australian Champion, so Bobby finds himself in the sole lead of that particular event. However, only half a point behind are James Morris and Karl Zelesco, while a further half a point back are Luke Li and Vasily Papin. Of these, Papin also cannot win the title, while Zelesco and Li have gained IM norms (I believe) and so can concentrate on the tournament, rather than achieving the norm they already have. Although players below this still have a mathematical chance, I think realistically, the Championship and title are now between these 6.

The Reserves now has a clear leader in Patrick Gong on 8/9, and a clear second in Donato Mallari on 7.5. These 2 meet at the top, while the 3 players on 7 points, Michael Kethro, Kris Chan and Clive Ng still have a chance. I don't think any of the players on 6.5 will now be winning the tournament, but a 2/2 finish will see them close to the top.

I want to repeat that fatigue is now an element in the tournament. Most of us are only used to 9 round events, and we don't play them that frequently. I can personally say that the last couple of rounds have felt tough maintaining concentration and putting in the effort, and I'm sure I'm not the only one. In the last round, there was a typical late in the tournament error in the Championship. Tom Maguire is a junior from Queensland who was accepted into the tournament based on his improving ability which probably casts doubt on his 2045 ACF rating. I think that his performance in this tournament has been fully justified and I expect him to jump to 2150+ soon and be a regular in the Championship in years to come. He had quite a tough choice in the last round at one point and unfortunately chose wrong.

Tom is black, and his opponent, Andrew Brown has just played 13.Qh5. The question is what to do about defending h7?

1. The retreat 13..Nf6 loses h7 after 14.Bxf6
2. 13..h6 loses to 14.Bxg7! when black will have to sacrifice material to avoid being mated
3. 13..g6 loses nothing immediately but horribly weakens the dark squares around black's king.

So which to choose? 13..Nf6 is certainly the safest, giving back the pawn and leaving white with some advantage. Tom chose 13..g6?!, a brave choice but probably a wrong one. 14.Qh6 f6 only move.

Andrew Brown is a very talented player but he isn't having a good event. Here he had the possibility of 15.Bxg6 which looks very strong, but he played 15.Bc4 which pins the knight and again looks good.

Andrew's threat is 0-0-0 after which he'll have the additional hit e4 which will win a piece. Tom decided to give up an exchange here with 15..Re6 16.0-0-0 Nc7, but he had an amazing defensive idea.

In the above position Tom could have distracted the white bishop with 15..b5!! giving back a pawn for some breathing space. If 16.Bxb5 then just 16..Nd7 completes development with an ok game for black. White in fact has to worry about Nxc3 and if he retreats 17.Bc4 black can advance his kinght, 17..Ne5 with about a level game.

After 15..b5 white does have the attacking option 16.Bxd5 Bxd5 17.h4 trying to exploit the weak dark squares in the position. I'm guessing this is what Andrew would have played as it is more or less what he did in the game anyway.

Black has chances to defend now with Re6 (overprotecting f6) and Qf8. It is probably still better for white, but not by much. Seeing defensive moves like 15..b5 are no easy thing, but I'm guessing that Tom would have seen this idea earlier in the tournament when he was fresher. He may also have chosen the more circumspect 13..Nf6 earlier in the event.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Scene Is Set

With 3 rounds to go, the scene is set for amazing finishes in both the Australian Championship and Reserves tournaments. In neither tournament have we one player who is breaking away.

The Championship has a group of 8 players that are all within 1.5 of the lead. Bobby Cheng and Kanan Izzat sit on the top of the tree on 6.5/8 with Karl Zelesco and Vasily Papin half a point behind. Luke Li and James Morris are a further half point back, while Anton Smirnov and Justin Tan are on 5/8. With only 3 rounds to go you'd have to imagine the Australian Championship title will go to one of these players. This is a great sign for the future of Australian chess as the oldest Australian player out of this group is James Morris at 21 years of age.

The older generation are having a tough time of it in the Championship with Greg Canfell the best of the 30+ (lol) age group on 4.5. It will be interesting to see what effect this tournament has on selector's views when we come to Olympiad team selection!

The Reserves is even tighter with 11 players within a point of the lead, and a further 12 at 1.5 behind. Kris Chan and Patrick Gong lead with 7/7 and will play tomorrow. This should be a great game as a draw won't help either of them. Vishal Bhat and Donato Mallari are half a point behind, and also face off. There will be a lot of pressure around the top boards of the Reserves, as a loss now will put anyone out of contention (maybe the leading pair will have one more chance should they lose). It i always good to see strong performances, and the 2 that currently stick out to me are both on 5.5: Hughston Parle rated 1640 ACF has only lost once to Tom Narenthran (1980) while has wins against 3 1800+ players; Rebecca Strickland rated 1522 also has only lost once to Axel Ahmer (1972) while has 3 wins against players rated 1775+. Rebecca's tie-break is very bad however, as 2 of her male, adult opponent's withdrew soon after they lost to her. I hope there isn't any long term effect to their male egos.

It is a pity that some Reserves games aren't published, or that the top board isn't broadcast live. So I'll just have to post one of the most entertaining games from the Championship. Here's a diagram of the final position of the game Choong-Schon, probably the most amazing draw of the tournament. The game ended with a perpetual in a position where white was 2 rooks down but threatens to win one back with his pawn on e7 while black's king has run into semi open space near the middle of the board..

The game had ended with the perpetual Kb6 Nc4+ Kb5 Nd6+ Kb5 Nc4+ etc. A fair result in such a biazrre position and after such an amazing game. I hope Yita reads this and can explain what he spent about an hour thinking over one move before taking the perpetual.

Friday, January 8, 2016

You Say Blitz Championship...

...and I say rest day!

After 7 rounds in 6 days there were a lot of players at the Australian Chess Championship who were looking pretty tired. There aren't many players, especially in the Reserves event where there are a lot of young juniors playing, who would have played this much intense chess before. Of course, we all love it and wouldn't have it any other way, but that doesn't mean that there were those in the playing hall yesterday who left with the sole intention of having a free day today.

The sensational results continued in the Championship with Karl Zelesco beating leader Kanan Izzat to draw level on 6/7. Half a point behind are Vasily Papin and Bobby Cheng, while a further half point back on 5/7 is Luke Li who beat Junta Ikeda. Besides fighting for the title of Australian Champion, Karl and Luke are looking for IM norms, and both must be close to getting them. Luke Li next faces another 2400+ player in Anton Smirnov who is a further half point back alongside James Morris. However, with 4 rounds left I still can imagine a lot of players crashing through the remaining games and taking the title. The disappointing pair of Tan and Illingworth both won for a second time bringing their score to within half a point of Smirnov and Morris, and only 2 behind the leaders.

I managed to get up to 3 points yesterday after drawing against Jack Puccini when I certainly didn't deserve to. Maybe I'll be able to claim a swindle of the Championship from this...

I'm black and 3 pawns down, and almost ready to resign. I saw one last chance, and because Jack was down to a minute plus the increment on his clock, I thought to give it a shot. Sensing no danger, Jack played 35.Rxc6 going 4 pawns up and attacking my bishop.

Chess is a cruel game as I played my one chance to save the game, 35..Rd2.

Now white cannot stop the Nh2-f3-h2 perpetual without sacrificing at least a piece, and with only the increment left on his clock, Jack wasn't prepared to go down that line. I don't feel good about this draw, I was completely outplayed and deserved to lose, and I even apologised to Jack after the game for swindling this draw. If you haven't seen this pattern before, then it is worth remembering, as it might help you to save a game too.

The Reserves has tightened up again as the top board was a draw. Kris Chan, Michael Kethro and Patrick Gong lead on 6/7, but 4 players sit half a point back, and a further 17 players are just a point behind the leaders on 5/7. Anyone with designs on winning the tournament will need to finish strong, and this includes players further down the field, who aren't out of the running yet, especially for the rating prizes. There is over $12000 in prize money for the 2 events, including rating prizes and slow starter prizes.

As for the blitz, I didn't play but took a rest. I believe it was won by Bobby Cheng, though the full results aren't on the site yet. They will eventually find their way to the results page.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Who Will Be Australian Champion?

Without wanting to tempt fate, Kanan Izzat is looking unstoppable in the Championship, as he moved to 6/6 with a win over Luke Li. He is a point clear, and the talk around the tournament hall is not so much about who will win the tournament as who is going to win the title of Australian Champion.

The players in the mix for the title are all young. Karl Zelesco is having a dream tournament sitting on an unbeaten 5/6, and in a strong position to gain an IM norm. Bobby Cheng is on 4.5 and has already played Izzat and Russian GM Papin who also sits on 4.5. Two years ago, Bobby was leading the tournament and looking good but then he faltered over the last few rounds eventually finishing 5th. Hopefully he will have learned from this experience and he'll finish the tournament strong. Half a point back on 4/6 are a group of strong young players: Ari Dale and Luke Li have been mentioned on this blog already, but flying under the radar a little are Junta Ikeda and Brodie MacClymont, both of whom now find thenselves in the leading pack. Junta is a known quality player, representing Australia at Olympiad level. Brodie also has a strong pedigree gaining his IM title when he came equal first at the Oceania Zonal in 2015. This sensational result very nearly saw Brodie representing Australia at the World Cup in 2015, but Max Illingworth beat him in a playoff.

Talking about Max, he has won a second game to jump back to half points, 3/6 along with Justin Tan. These 2 young stars are now just 2 points from Zelesco, although with a fair bit of traffic in the way. But with 5 rounds still to go, I would still not count Max or Justin out of the running yet.

At the lower end of the Championship the player who has been impressing most has been Jason Hu who found himself on board 3 today against another GM, Vasily Papin. Unfortunately for Jason this was one superstar too many and he lost, but his 3.5/6 including both GM's and Max Illingworth is an excellent first half of the tournament.

The Reserves field is finally beginning to stretch out, with 2 players on 5.5/6 (Michael Kethro and Patrick Gong who play tomorrow) and only 3 players on 5/6. Saying that, there are then 14 on 4.5 and 21 on 4. If any of these players can score 4 points from the final 5 rounds, they will have to be close to winning. It's a tall ask, but that's what it takes to win one of these events!

In the commentary room spectators are really getting their monies worth. Today IM Robert Jamieson was happily defending any hack attacks the crowd threw at him, yesterday IM Guy West was thinking quite schematically about positions, while the day before IM Leonid Sandler was enthusing about interesting ideas and possibilities hidden in positions. In the end, their judgements were what counted, as much as the analysis, and it has been good to see these different thinking styles.

My own personal favourite position was this one between James Morris and Luke Li.

Leonid Sandler was the commentator, but among the spectators was GM Papin. White's position is good with a space advantage and pressure on the d-file. Luke, as black, played 28..f6, a move which caused great excitement from Leonid sacrificing a pawn to blockade and give his king some space. 29.exf6 Kf7, when James grabbed more space by 30.b4 and Luke looked to regain his pawn, 30..Qd8

Leonid then erupted with "Wow, James sacrifices, bishop g6!" Then the room buzzes with why he did it and whether it is sound. After 31.Bxg6+ hxg6 James followed with 32.Rd4

The clash of personalities is never stronger than during analysis, and in the commentary room while Leonid was excited about the ideas, Vasily Papin was almost deadpan about the fact that white wants to promote a pawn. In the above position Luke brought his queen across to blockade the pawn from reaching h7, but blundered not long after. While most of us patzers in the room were trying to work out how James would take advantage of his past h-pawn, and whether he had compensation, Papin made a passing comment that perhaps white can just play a g4-g5 plan, tie down at least one of black's pieces, and then try to infiltrate. Funnily enough, when I asked James whether his sacrifice was sound after the game, he replied with almost the same plan adding "and if I get a pawn to g5, I can't be losing".

If you get the chance, then do yourself a favour and sit in on the commentary sessions. You will learn more in a couple of hours, than a month spent with a database and an engine, and you'll have fun doing it!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Australian Championship: Halfway Mark

The 11 round Australian Championship and Reserves tournament have now had 5 rounds, and will be entering the second half of the tournament tomorrow. Kanan Izzat continues to dominate the Championship field and is the only player on a maximum score in either tournament. Kanan holds a 1 point lead over a somewhat surprising duo of youngsters in second place. Sitting on 4/5 are Luke Li and Karl Zelesco, both still at school! A group of 5 players then sit on 3.5 including giant killer Jason Hu who has drawn with Max Illingworth earlier in the tournament, and today won against Darryl Johansen! Besides that the field is shaping up to about what was expected, with I guess the bad start of Max Illingworth, who regained his winning ways today. Funnily enough, if Max wins again tomorrow, he will probably jump back into the top half of the field.

The biggest disappointment today was probably that of Justin Tan, who apparently lost on time after not pressing his clock correctly. I'm not sure what happened, but I'm guessing he tapped the clock lightly, and the lever didn't go down properly. Anyway, Justin didn't notice that he had mis-hit his clock, and ended up losing the game. Still Justin sits alongside Max and a good run could catapult them back up toward the top.

The Reserves remain tight at the top with no one reaching the maximum 5/5. There are currently 5 leaders on 4.5: Clive Ng, Kris Chan, Alex Jule, Patrick Gong and Michael Kethro. There are then another 32 players within a point of these 5, so it is way too early to tell what is happening here. In the last Reserves tournament in 2014, there were also no players on 5/5, but Doug Hamilton then went on to win his next 5 games and wrap up the tournament with a round to spare. I wonder if we'll see another performance of that type?

There have been a fair few visitors to the venue, and today GM David Smerdon, among others, popped in. There are commentaries happening live while the games are being played. These are being run by a group of strong IM's, Robert Jamieson, Guy West and Leonid Sandler, but as the players finish their games, they will also hang around to watch some commentary, with GM Papin seeming to spend quite a bit of time in the commentary room after his games have finished.

The top games are being broadcast live, and the Championship games can be found at the chess results server not long after they have finished. Arbiter Kerry stead is doubling as data input specialist, as he also did at the Australasian Masters. Along with Peter Tsai and NY Wong, the arbitration team have run things very smoothly, and I don't know of any issues that have arisen during the event. The rules have been explained very clearly, so I guess that helps.

I will be looking at my own blunders later on, but for now, here was the shortest win of the first 4 rounds, and it highlights the issues that plagued defending champion Max Illingworth for the first
part of this event. Even Max himself will probably admit to this game being one of his worst losses for quite some time. But maybe it was the kick he needed as he bounced back to win today! The winner of the game, FM Dusan Stojic is also apparently bouncing back to form I'm happy to say. A few years ago, Dusan was Victorian Champion, 2300+ and seemingly heading towards the IM level. Then he worked his guts out at the 2014 Australian Championship as an organiser, and played at the same time. He had a terrible tournament from a playing perspective, which is no big surprise when taking into account how much work he was doing before and during the event. His poor result seemed to shake his faith a bit, and he was a bit slow to recover his momentum, but results have started to pick up for Dusan again, and hopefully we'll see him jumping back to where his strength really belongs. This is how you beat a 2500+ player who plays a dubious opening system.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Australian Championship: A Clear Leader

I wonder if there is a condition regarding new Grand Masters playing badly after just getting the title. FM Bill Jordan mentioned that Darryl Johansen played a shocker of a game at Doeberl just after gaining his GM title, and currently Max Illingworth is having a tournament to forget. In fact, after gaining his final GM norm in the 7th round of the Australasian Masters, he drew quickly with Vasily Papin, and then lost to GM Neiksans, and hasn't added a win in this tournament either. I'm not sure what the issue is, but hopefully Max can bounce back to his best soon.

The Championship now has a clear leader, with IM Kanan Izzat from Azerbaijan moving to 4/4 with a win against IM James Morris. After winning the Australasian Masters and getting a GM norm, Kanan is following up in impressive style. While Kanan can win the tournament he is ineligible to win the title of Australian Champion, so James finds himself in the leading bunch of players, a point back from Kanan and half a point behind IM Bobby Cheng and FM Karl Zelesco. Bobby hasn't played too much chess in the past couple of years and was a bit rusty at the Australasian Masters, but he seems to be in pretty good form now. Karl has had a great start to the tournament, drawing with Max and now beating GM Papin today. Joining James on 3/4 are Melbourne High School duo, IM Ari Dale and FM Luke Li, and these 2 will play tomorrow.

The field stretches out after that, but as I've said before, with 7 rounds still to go, anybody who has a great second half of the tournament is going to finish highly. To put it in perspective, at the last Championship in 2014, Max won with 8/11, and he can still achieve this if he picket fences from here on in.

In the Reserves, only 2 players remain on a perfect 4/4. The top round pairing tomorrow in round 5 will be Clive Ng - Kris Chan. However, as we get towards the half way mark, there are still 8 players just half a point back, and a further 21 on 3/4. Like in the Championship, those who finish strongly will be in contention at the end, and it is possible to climb through the order with a good second half.

There has been some entertaining chess, but the game that I've liked so far in the event, or at least the endgame I liked best, was played by IM Stephen Solomon. Stephen is notorious for testing his opponent's endgame skill and playing positions out to the bitter end. In the first round, he was playing FM Bill Jordan when the following position arose.

Bill as black decided to trade into the pawn endgame, and seeing his knight is so poor, who can blame him? 43..Nxe5 44.fxe5 g5 [blocking the king side, so although white has a space advantage, he has only one way through, on the queen side] 45.g4 hxg4 46.hxg4

White's only chance here is to break through on the queen side, as black's d5 and g5 pawns effectively block the king side. 46..Ke7 [Bill heads his king to the queen side where it will have to stop white's king from getting through] 47.Kd3 Kd7 48.Kc3 Kc7 49.b4

Breaking through looks an almost impossible task. However, thinking about this, if white's king can now get to a5, then he will have a reserve tempo with his a-pawn to force himself into b6. Then the advance of his a and b-pawns will win him the game. So this means black must prevent this happening, and the only way to do this, is to push his own b-pawn. This would have drawn for black. Unfortunately, Bill missed this line, allowing another Solomon endgame grind. 49..Kb8? 50.Kb3 Ka7 51.Ka3! [Fantastic play by Solomon, as 51.Ka4 only draws] 51..Kb8 52.Ka4 Kc7 53.Ka5 Kc8 54.Kb6 Kb8

This position makes me think of the famous Cohn-Rubinstein endgame Rubinstein's king pushed up the board and then he advanced his pawns so that after exchanges his king was in position to take his opponent's pawns. This is basically what happens at the end of this game! Studying this endgame in detail will help anyone's endgame play!

You can see the Rubinstein endgame in this excellent article by GM Beccara on