Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Rainy Day Thoughts (Chess Thoughts Mainly)

As I sit looking out the window at the constant rainfall, it's hard to believe that when I arrived in Australia just over 10 years ago the state of Victoria was in a drought condition with water restrictions on a year long basis. The news from around the state is all about floods and if the weather forecasters are to be believed (they're not, they are liars payed for the privilege of making guesses!) there is plenty more rain to come in the next week. So the week before my holiday to Singapore will make the trip to the tropics more inviting than it already is!

It is good weather for sitting indoors and reading a good book. Today marks the date that the prestigious Man Booker prize cuts the longlist of books down to the shortlist of about 6. Over the years I've read a lot of books that have made the longlist, and the shortlist, and the actual winners of the prize. So far this year, I'm reading my third nominated Booker Prize novel, "His Bloody Project" by Graeme Macrae Burnet. It would be unfair to judge this based on half a read, but so far it is my favourite of the 3 I've read, but that's not saying the others were bad (Hot Milk, by Deborah Levy and Hystopia by David Means). So far, I don't think the 2 books I've finished quite live up to some of the past winners, some of which have been amazing reads (The Long Road to the Deep North, Bring Up The Bodies, Remains of the Day etc) so I'm looking forward to seeing the shortlist revealed later today.

The 42nd Chess Olympiad comes to its conclusion today. It has been a memorable event for spectators with excellent online coverage. The game relay has been mostly excellent, while the chess news sites and journalists have covered the event in detail bringing images, interviews and stories to the public. The play has been hard fought and interesting. I've been following the exploits of Australia and England and as the tournament has proceeded I've found myself disappointed if Nigel short, or Sam Shankland aren't playing as these 2 players' games have been full of intriguing, fighting chess.

From Australia's point of view, the highlight has to be the performance of 15 year old Anton Smirnov, who is unbeaten and has a GM norm in the bag (a double norm). The team have played pretty well and a win tonight will see them finish above their initial starting rank of 46. Other highlights include Daivd Smerdon's draw with the world champion, Magnus Carlsen, and a team win against Brazil. The Aussies have had to face 2 top 10 teams, and have gone away from both with closer than expected 3-1 defeats. All in all, I think the Australian game looks to heading in the right direction. Our girls have struggled to find form and are well below their starting position in 78th place. Still, a win against Japan in the final round should get the girls back to near their starting position of 54th. 

At the top of the table, it looks as if nothing can stop the star studded USA line up from winning the Open section, though I', sure Canada are excited to be on board 1 in the final round. I very much like to see underdogs doing well, and as such it is great to 62nd ranked Turkmenistan sitting in equal 4th place and earning a last round match up with 4th ranked hosts, Azerbaijan A. In the women's section, China have finally come good, and it will take a loss to Russia today to deny them of first. The top places are dominated by the top teams, but Malaysia have sneaked from 66th rank up to a share for 9th and get to play the host team in the final round. These games start earlier than normal and I will be able to follow them along with the kids I teach later today.

One thing I noticed from the Olympiad is that Blackburne's old trap is alive and well. In my formative days I was able to use Blackburne's famous opening trap before someone told me how bad it was. The women's team from Kuwait have mastered this particular trap, having won 2 games in the Blackburne-Schilling Gambit. For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, it is probably the second trap you'll learn as a kid after the 4 move scholar's mate...

After the Italian moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 black has the dubious move 3..Nd4 at their disposal. This is known as the Blackburne-Schilling Gambit, and has been played twice by the Kuwait women's team at the 2016 Olympiad with a 100% score! 

Of course, moving the knight twice can't be good, and removing a defender of e5 is just too tempting so white will often grab the pawn 4.Nxe5 when black hits out with 4..Qg5!

Black's counter attack will take a novice player by surprise, especially one who is only looking at their own plans. In 2016, the favoured move has been 5.Bxf7+ [5.Nxf7 forking queen and rook is answered by 5..Qxg2 6.Rg1 Qxe4+ 7.Be2 Nf3#

This is the move order that I was able to use at junior level] 5..Ke7 6.Bc4 [4 rounds later, a player from the Maldives was able to improve upon this by playing 6.Bxg8] 6..Qxg2 7.Rf1 Qxe4+ 8.Be2

White has found an ingenious defence using the e5 knight to protect Nf3# At this point the game score suggests black played 8..d5 but I would imagine this is a transmission mistake and rather 8..d6 was played. Notwithstanding that 8..Qxe5 and 8..Nxc2+ were worthy options, the Kuwaiti player came up trumps after white moved their knight away allowing the mate on f3.

Despite this win, Kuwait managed to lose to Maldives, but it is one reason that I like the Olympiad as an event. Great players rub shoulders with not so great players, and it gives the chance for those not so great players to compete with their heroes, and for their countries. (There is also a wealth of material for coaches of young players like myself, brilliancies, blunders, tricks and traps and coming so soon after the Rio games, this Olympiad really caught the imagination of the kids in my classes.)

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