Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Old Books and Forgotten Games

I'm just wondering how many people choose their chess books based on how recently they were published. I guess it can't be many as the there will always be a place for the classics. There are classic chess primers by players like Lasker or Capablanca, or even Purdy or Golombek. There are fantastic biographies of players from the past, and autobiographical games collections must still be very popular. I have collections of games by Steinitz, Lasker, Rubinstein, Tal, Karpov to name a few. Great tournament books are my favourite read, especially if they are by one of the participants.

Periodicals are somewhat different. A book covers a subject, but a periodical covers a moment in time. We generally buy periodicals to keep up to date with whatever subject they cover, whether it be news, or a specific technical issue, like for instance the opening in chess where New in Chess comes to mind. But that doesn't mean that old periodicals are of no value. In fact, they can be very interesting, and provide good background reading. There are often forgotten snippets hidden in their pages.

I've been looking at a random British Chess Magazine from August 1979. Bizarrely, the first article is a theory piece on the Berlin variation of the Spanish, the opening that is plaguing the top level of chess at the moment. I have to say that Jimmy Adams presents it in a much more exciting light, then the post Kasparov-Kramnik era shows it. Ray Keene gives an interesting comparison between the 1979 Montreal GM event won by Tal and Karpov, and some of the great tournaments of the past. And there are some well annotated games by Bill Hartson.

In amongst the home news section I found a game that might be of interest to some of my Australian friends. In May 1979 roaming Aussie IM Max Fuller won a tournament in Jersey with the imposing score of 8/9. One of his wins was published in the BCM, a game that isn't in Chessbase's Bigbase 2015 or Ozbase, so I thought I'd put it on here. I never met Fuller, but I know a lot of people who did so this is for you all. Fuller exploits a space advantage and his opponent's lack of development to force a win of material.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Draws and Tie-breaks

What a weekend for chess! I can remember back to my younger days in the UK and the choice for me was whether to play in the annual Easter congress in Southend, or the SCCU Championship, which for the life of me I can't remember where it was played...Croydon, Crawley? Anyway, I now look at the wide world of chess this weekend and see:

1. Candidates final 2 rounds

2. Doeberl Cup, Australia's premier weekend tournament

3. Norway Qualifier, looking for a player to join Carlsen et al later in the year

4. GRENKE Open, a huge open with over 600 players including a load of 2700+ players headed by Chinese star Li Chao who currently stands above Topalov on the live rating list.

This is just the tip of the iceberg from where I'm sitting. All these events can be seen on the premier news site, chess24, but TWIC shows about 30 major events happening around the world.

Of course, the major event is the Candidates tournament in Moscow which has had a number of twists and turns up to this point. Today is a rest day, and there are just 2 rounds left to sort things out. Currently, the tournament is being led by Karjakin and Caruana. I'm glad to say that when ACP President Emil Sutovsky asked on his facebook page the 2 questions, Who has the best chance of winning the Candidates, and Who do you want to in the Candidates, I answered Caruana has the best chance, while I want Karjakin. These 2 are now the favourites to take it. But ex World Champion is only half a point behind, while Svidler, Giri and Aronian are just a point behind the leaders.

The tournament has been criticised for the number of draws, and indeed there have only been 14 decisive results from the 48 games in 12 rounds of play. Anish Giri has come in for particular criticism, having drawn all his games. But in my opinion, there have been few quick draws, and some amazing defences, especially by my favourite, Karjakin. It is impossible for a player of my ability to judge how difficult it must be to beat a top 20 player. But I'm willing to accept if there are a lot of draws, it has a lot to do with the quality of defence of the players. I think we place too much emphasis on the result in chess nowadays and not the quality of the play.

And as such, I'm very disappointed with the tie break system, even if it does benefit Karjakin. The first tie-break is the results between the players who each have to play 2 games against the others. This makes some sense. But then, the next tie-break is number of wins. This is a tie-break criteria that has me baffled. One could argue that the player who scores the most wins has played the most aggressive chess. One could also argue that the player with the most wins on a given score also has the most losses, and so has mixed good with bad play. Caruana has so far won 2 games and lost none. He has had a number of promising positions which he hasn't managed to convert. Karjakin meanwhile has won 3 games but lost 1, and has had a number of lucky escapes. Who deserves to go through the most? In my opinion a play off is the only way to decide the outcome of a tie at this level, even if it means speed chess leading to the dreaded Armageddon game!

Devaluing the draw is hurtful to classical chess, as draws are a part of the game. Funnily enough, if Karjakin dos win, then it will be more thanks to his tenacity at drawing difficult positions rather than the games he won. I'm happy to see the rise of Rapid and Blitz events, and the high win quotas that come with this form of chess, but Classical chess should be respected too and the higher rate of draws with it. As long as we're talking fighting draws, of course. The short draw shouldn't have a place in modern chess, and it is good to see so many events banning draws before a certain number of moves.

But then again, there could be worse things in the chess world. Like a World Championship played in Trump Tower, New York with Donald Trump the honoured guest making the first move of the first game? That was a suggestion recently put forward by FIDE's leader in exile, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov which I saw on this page!

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Longest Game of the Week TWIC 1114

The longest game of the week from TWIC 1114 was a 158 move marathon from the HD open in Vietnam. The game reached an ending which is most player's nightmare, a queen and pawn endgame. The ideas in these endgames are usually fairly simple, but implementing those ideas is usually tough because of the amount of queen moves that have to be taken into account.

This was the position after 101 moves. Here are a few general observations first.

- I like IM Robert Jamieson's summing up of queen endings: put your queen on a central square and see what happens. White's queen takes up a dominant spot in this endgame.

- white is trying to win this, and even though the position may be theoretically level (though it may not!), white runs no risk of continuing in this position, and hoping that black makes an error.

- black needs to avoid an exchange of queens unless black's king can get to e6 with the opposition.

This is a draw with white to move, but white can still try here, hoping that black is not aware of how to draw. 1.Kf3 Kf5? [1..Ke7 would draw. Black just needs to be ready to move to e6 if white ever plays Ke4] 2.Ke3 Ke6 3.Ke4 and we reach the position above is reached with black to move. That is a win for white as after 3..Kd6 4.f5 gxf5 5.Kxf5 Ke7 6.g6

Now white wins after 6..Ke8!? [Hoping for 7.Kf6? Kf8=] 7.Ke6! Kf8 8.Kf6 Kg8 9.g7 and the pawn will promote.

- the defending side needs to be aware of all possible drawing possibilities, including repetition of positions and the 50 move rule. A few weeks ago I showed a blitz game where the 50 move rule was exceeded but the draw wasn't claimed. This is understandable in a blitz game where a record isn't being kept. In a standard rated game it is unforgivable. Here's the position from the longest game of the week after 151 moves.

Clearly, there have been no captures since the original position, nor have there been any pawn moves. In this position, black should have claimed a draw according to the 50 move rule. Instead the game continued, and black resigned 7 moves later!

- endgames are often decided by fatigue rather than ability. Black was clearly tired in this game, missing the 50 move draw, and then blundering soon after.

From the above position, white would ideally like to force an exchange of queens, so all the time the white queen is looking to block checks from black's queen and at the same time pinning black's queen to the black king. The game continued 152.Qe5 Qd3+ 153.Ke7 Qa3+ 154.Qd6 Qa7+

Black's queen has plenty of space to keep checking white's king and white cannot avoid the checks but white skilfully heads towards f6 with the king. White's queen has a dominating position covering a number of squares, and threatening black's king. Black continued to hassle the white king. 155.Qd7 Qc5+ 156.Kf6

This is a critical position. White has made great progress, threatening mate on g7, and the pawn on g6. A black check on the 6th rank will be blocked by white's Qe6+ forcing an exchange of queens, so black has nothing left. The game finished 156..Qc3+ 157.Kxg6 [No more 50 move draw claim] 157..Qc2+ 158.f5 and black resigned ahead of the imminent mate.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

MCC Championship David and Goliath

The chess community in Victoria have been very fortunate to see some great events. There was the 50th edition of the Ballarat weekend tournament over the long March weekend. This great event had an extra special field headed by GM Nigel Short, and with most of the elite of Australian chess competing. Nigel gave lectures and simuls in both Ballarat and at the MCC

In the wake of these activities, and just prior to the Easter Doeberl Cup, we had a round of the Melbourne Chess Club Championship. The tournament had so far been dominated by the 2 IM's, James Morris and Guy West, with the unlikely performance of young Vishal Bhat. These 3 players stood on 5/6 and something had to give. In the David and Goliath clash, young Vishal produced another amazing giant killing feat by winning against Guy West. Vishal thus stays at the top of the table with James Morris, who also won against Eamonn O'Molloy. Both of them are on 6/7. I find myself in outright third after a win against FM Jack Puccini leaving me half a point back on 5.5/7. I think that Vishal will have to play against me in the next round, while James has played most of the players around him.

Guy remains on 5/6 and is joined by Tom Narenthran, but James has played both of these so he will have to drop to the next score group where a very select group are sitting. IM's Ari Dale and Mirko Rujevic, FM Jack Puccini, ex-Champion Malcolm Pyke, Thai Ly, Eamonn O'Molloy and James Watson, while we await the result of Hain-Dizdarevic to see if either of these players can join the group.

The upset of the round, was undoubtedly the win by Kevin Brown against another ex-Champion, Bob Krstic (taking aside Vishal's win over Guy). There are also to be 4 rating prize groups, but these rating groups have yet to be identified and this was to be based on 60 players playing. But with only 45 players, it may be there will only be 3 rating groups, I'm not sure what the MCC committee have decided about the prizes. I'd be guessing that some division of U-2000, U-1800 and U-1600 would be appropriate.

My game was somewhat of a revelation, a reminder that I used to be considered an attacking player. A lot of the games I show here in this blog involve endings, and these tend to be the positions that I enjoy the most. But against Jack Puccini, I was able to use some preparation that I'd done for the Australian Championship in January. I knew the positions out of the opening roughly, and to be honest, the game played itself, though it was quite a nice finish. I've submitted it for the brilliancy prize, which is a first for me!

This position came from a Sicilian Scheveningen, and I don't think I'd have hoped for a more promising position for white in an open Sicilian after 18 moves. White's bishops are dominant, the f-file is an active line of attack for white, while black's forces are split by the d-pawns. Black's king looks very shaky here. Jack played g6 to blunt my light squared bishop, but that allowed me to triple on the f-file without any resistance.

A fabulous white position with great piece coordination. It is difficult to believe that this position isn't good for white. The tripling on the f-file induced Jack to defend with 20..f6, but that created more weaknesses on e6 and g6, and I shifted my pieces around with 21.Qh3 Kg7 22.Rh4 [Doubling on the h-file] 22..Rh8 [Defending h8] 23.Qe3

White's last queen move attacks black's dark squared bishop, and the h6 square. There isn't a good defence, though perhaps 23..Ne5 might offer the most resistance. Jack chose the natural 23..Rae8 developing his rook while protecting his bishop.

After a bit of thought I was able to finish the game with a sacrifice. 24.Bxg6.

I guess there were different ways to win, but it is always nice to find a sacrificial attack. Here, black can take with pawn or king, but both lead to mate. Jack played 24..hxg6 where there followed 25.Rxh8 Kxh8 26.Qh6+ Kg8 27.Qxg6+ Kf8

After I played 28.Be3 Jack resigned as there is no defence to the threat of Bh6.

So this is the game I have submitted for the brilliancy prize of the MCC Championship 2016, and it sets me up with a top of the table clash in the next round. There is no play this week due to Easter, and I wish the very best to all MCC players at the Doeberl Cup in Canberra, including my opponent in this game, Jack Puccini.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

MCC Championship Draws Galore

In the first 5 rounds of the 2016 MCC Championship there were a grand total of  12 draws out of the 106 games played. In round 6 there were 8 draws out of the 21 games played. Now it might be that the further into the swiss tournament we get, the more even the pairings are likely to be. But there was a definite lack of fighting spirit on some of the boards.

Top board saw a quick draw between FM Jack Puccini and IM James Morris, while my game against IM Guy West also ended fairly quickly. The other IM's, Ari Dale and Mirko Rujevic also could not win against David Cannon and Tom Narenthran respectively. But Vishal Bhat bounced back after his loss to James Morris last week with a win against Thai Ly. This brings Vishal back to the top of the standings alongside Morris and West on 5/6. I'm on 4.5 with Jack Puccini and Eamonn O'Molloy and there is then a big group another half point back.

James Watson provided the biggest upset win of the night beating Justin Penrose who is rated about 200 points higher. However, James is obviously under rated as shown by the fact that he keeps providing upset wins. Soon his rating will rise, and there will be no further upsets!

Next week the MCC Championship takes a break while the Ballarat Begonia Open celebrates its 50th anniversary. A lot of MCC players will be there, along with visiting GM Nigel Short from England. Unfortunately I can't play, but I will definitely make the trip over at some stage this weekend.

Ok, it's time to show the amazing position that was arrived at in my games against James Morris from round 3. I'd played ok against James but the game directed down a line where the master had seen further than the non master. In fact even the computer engines don't see it through clearly at first.

James as black had just played Rg8. The position is totally unbalanced with black's king in the centre. As white I played 17.Rf2 and James threw in his bishop 17..Bh4. I blocked with 18.g3.

Here James played 18..Ne7. His idea was to defend his king and drop his bishop back to f6. I probably should have stopped this with 19.Bd4, but I tried to force things. However, I only managed to force things out of my own control.

19.Nc4!? I reasoned that I could improve my knight's position with the threat of 20.Rxb7 Qxb7 21.Nd6 forking king and queen. 19..Bd5 20.Bb6

When I'd gone into this line I'd thought James had to drop his queen back to b8, but he quickly picked up the queen and moved it forward. 20..Qc6. I couldn't believe it, and thought James had blundered. It was my thinking that was wrong though. 21.Ne5 Qxc3 22.Qh5

So this was the position that I'd been aiming for, but unfortunately James had it all under control. White threatening Qxf7 mate, the bishop on h4 and the h7 pawn. James calmly defended with 22..Ng6! I'd initially thought this unplayable because I could just play knight takes knight and then take the bishop. However, at the last moment I stopped myself after seeing that 23.Nxg6 hxg6! 24.Qxh4 Rh8 25.Qg5 Rh5 traps my queen

It's somewhat scary to believe that James had this type of position in mind around the time he'd played 19..Bd5. Although I stopped myself going for this, I still dropped into a bad position after. 23.Qxh7. Stockfish thinks this is winning for white for about 10 seconds on my laptop. Then it moves from level to slightly better for black. 23..Nxe5

Here I had to play 24.fxe5 but I blundered with 24.Qxg8? where I'll get some material for the queen but my king is too exposed, and I have too many weaknesses to survive. However, I missed some fairly amazing moves in the oncoming positions. 24..Ke7 25.Qh7 Ng6

White's queen is in trouble, so I was thinking what can I get for it. I blundered again with 26.Bxf5, but the crazy line runs with 26.gxh4!? when 26..Rh8 traps white's queen.

Here white has the amazing move 27.Bd8+!? If this doesn't encapsulate the maxim "look for all checks and captures", then nothing does! 27..Rxd8 will allow white's queen to escape via h6, though this might be better than 27..Kxd8 28.Rb8+ Ke7 29.Rxh8 when it is white who will have to bail out with a perpetual.

A bizarre position with white's heavy pieces stuck in the top right hand corner and black's queen and bishop coming very close to mating the white king, but not quite.

As always, it is the variations that contain the most interesting lines, but what was most impressive to me was the depth of James calculation, leaving me far behind in that department.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Longest Game of the Week

Last week I looked at the longest game from the latest issue of the weekly magazine TWIC. I enjoyed it so much that I intend to keep doing it. This week the longest game from TWIC 1112 was bizarrely a blitz game! However, seeing blitz players get an increment, and as endgames can be difficult enough to play when you have loads of time, it makes sense that players will carry on to the death in a blitz game.

In the Mind sports women's blitz event, the longest game of the week was the heavyweight encounter between Dzaganidze and Ushenina, both GM strength players. They played a 172 move marathon which featured some pretty interesting types of position. The game wasn't played perfectly, but it was blitz, and endgame novices like myself can still learn things from looking at the game. The first thing to mention is how determined and resourceful both players proved to be, white in her defence, and black in her attempts to win.

The starting position for the endgame was

Endgames with rook and minor piece are very common, and so they are worth looking at from both a theoretical and practical view point. This position sees black a pawn up, but in check. The opposite coloured bishops make the position drawish on the one hand, as it is difficult to advance pawns, but allow for attacks on the other hand, especially on the colour complex which the opponent's bishop doesn't control. For a good example of this, the game West-Rujevic from this week's MCC Championship is worth a look.

After trading pawns, which is usually a good thing for the defender, both players moved around until the following position was reached.

White has 2 choices of retreat for her bishop: f5 defends the h3 pawn, while d3 blocks the third rank. She chose the wrong one! 61.Bd3? e4! black exploits the fact that white's bishop is pinned and it cannot take on e4 or it will get forked by Re3+. I suppose in general terms this can be explained by the fact that we want to keep our pieces active in an endgame, and self pinning a bishop is not an active way of using it. Specifically, pawn advances need to be considered at all times, so white should be aware of black's pawn advance e5-e4 at all times.

Anyway, black won white's h-pawn, but then inexplicably managed to lose her own e-pawn leaving this position.

With only one pawn left, and the corner square not controlled by black's bishop, the endgame is seemingly more drawn than before. White comes up with a simple defence. Place the bishop on the h3-c8 diagonal, sacrifice it when black's pawn eventually advances, and hold on in the pawnless endgame. This is a great resource, and one that all players should learn some knowledge of as it can save so many games.

I want to fast forward about 55 moves now. Black still hadn't moved her pawn, so technically the game was drawn under the 50 move rule. However, in blitz how can a player keep count, and claim the drawn result? But the game continued and the pawn moved, where white immediately sacrificed her bishop brining about the following position.

This position is theoretically drawn, but from a practical point of view it is worth playing on as their are winning chances. I'll show a couple of typical drawn positions and then the tragic blunder that cost white the game, after her excellent defence.

This is Cochrane's Defence. Although the defending king is cut off on the edge of the board, black can make no progress as the king is tied to defending its bishop, while the bishop is pinned.

This is called the 'Second Rank Defence'. The defender places their pieces with one square in between them on the second rank (or one file in from the side), with the defending pieces on the opposite coloured square to the bishop. Again, there is way for the attacking side to make progress without regrouping.

In our game of the week, both of these defences were used, as white's king did its best to hang on. But after 169 moves white finally cracked which goes to show that playing on in 'drawn' positions is worth it as sometimes the defender will blunder through a lack of knowledge, a lack of energy, or a simple oversight.

White's king is looking decidedly cornered, and black has the plan of playing Re5-e1 mate. This can be countered by another defence though. When Black's rook goes to the e-file, white's rook should go to the d-file preparing itself to block mate on d1. Perhaps this is what white thought when she played 170.Rh7? But from what we've already found out, just in this blog, restricting the enemy pieces is of key importance, so retaining a pin on black's bishop was the best move 170.Rb8!. This would have led to a level position, and probably hundreds of more moves unless someone was counting.

After 170.Rh7? It's mate in 2, which white executed. 170..Ba3+ 171.Kb1 Rd1 #

An amazing endgame, played in blitz time control, and one worth the time to study.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

MCC Ch: Playing on the Extra Day

2016 is a special year, a leap year where we get an extra day added to our calendar because people can't tell the time right! Round 5 of the MCC Championship was played on the 29th February, the extra day in the year! I wonder how many other Championships in the past have had a round on the 29th? The MCC Championship was first played in 1925, so the first leap year champion would have been the 1928 Champion A. Francis. Unfortunately, I can find out very little about A. Francis, so this might take a bit of research. Other leap year winners have included Crowl, Geus, Lemets, Prods, Hjorth, Hamilton and Johansen, and we even have some leap year winners in the current event: Guy West and Malcolm Pyke,

The Melbourne Chess Club Championship in the club's 150th year passed the half way mark this week. Round 5 of the 9-round tournament saw 2 very different encounters on the top boards. Board 1 was a David vs Goliath affair with IM and top seed James Morris taking on giant killing Vishal Bhat. Meanwhile, board 2 saw MCC's 2 regular high level competitors face off again as IM Guy West played IM Mirko Rujevic. The results favoured the higher rated players. Vishal threw an attack at James which attracted a bit of a crowd round the top board, but James apparently had things under control. James leads the event on 4.5/5 along with Guy West who beat Mirko in a strange sort of game. Mirko played the King's Indian and Guy used the 4 pawns attack to build an imposing position. Mirko sacrificed his b-pawn in a fairly standard sort of way, but never got it back, and never seemed to get enough for it. The endgame of rook and opposite coloured bishops was very interesting, but Guy had the more active rook and, eventually, more active king to add to his extra pawn. A great finale, and worth a look at, as Guy shows that patience is of prime importance when grinding out a win in a tough endgame.

James and Guy have already played each other, so they will drop down to play the rest of the field. I find myself in the group half a point behind, after a wild game with Marcus Raine. Marcus came up with an interesting exchange sacrifice on c3 in a Dragon, but then sacrificed a piece on the other side of the board as well. As he was already an exchange down, this amounted to a rook sacrifice. I just remember sitting at the board completely stunned. I thought for a while and then it suddenly struck me I would be whole rook ahead, so I accepted the sacrifice and did my best to hold out. Marcus got some pressure, and could have caused some headaches, but eventually the rook was too much and I held on. I am joined by FM Jack Puccini who beat previous leap year champ, Malcolm Pyke, and Vishal Bhat who was already on 4 before the round started. It is still possible that Thai Ly will jump to 4/5 if he wins a postponed game with Justin Penrose. The list of players of 3.5/5 looks pretty impressive being led by IM's Ari Dale and Mirko Rujevic. John Beckman's win over Jim Papadinis was the biggest upset of the round.

This is beginning to feel like the last leap year championship in 2012, when Guy West and FM Dusan Stojic beat everybody else in the field to finish on 8/9 and have to settle the matter in a play off which Dusan won. It is a pity that Dusan is not here as the reigning MCC leap year Champion!