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