Sunday, August 6, 2017

Those Annoying Time Zones

The worst thing about living in Australia is the time zone differences with Europe and America where many important events happen. I'm not going to stay up into the middle of the night to watch Federer win Wimbledon, or Usain Bolt run the 100 metres in the World Championship. I can see the replays the next day, but it just isn't the same. Similarly with chess, I generally play catch up with events the day after they happen, which isn't bad in terms of keeping up to date, but it still isn't the same as watching some live chess.

While this is usually the case, I have been rather fortunate with the Sinquefield Cup. While I can't see the start of the games, I am able to catch the end of the games when I wake up in the mornings. For me this is far more preferable than catching a few opening moves before having to leave the games as they start to get interesting. So far, I've eagerly followed 3 endgames from the event. The amazing finish to Aronian-Caruana in round 2 had me spellbound. Anand's defence against Carlsen in the following round had me thinking abut my own technique. And then this morning, I wake to find the game Vachier Lagrave-Carlsen in full swing when Carlsen blunders to give MVL a winning endgame.

During the endgame this morning I had one of those moments where you realise that your understanding of the game is just not on a level with other players.

Now in my primitive way of thinking, black is 2 pawns up though white could win the f-pawn. However, winning the f-pawn involves trading bishop for knight which would leave a lost pawn ending where black just forsakes the h-pawn and marches the king to the queen side. So, this is an easy win and there doesn't seem much that white can do? Isn't it just time to resign?

Magnus continued with 63.b4. I was sitting at my computer watching the game, thinking a trade on b4 would probably be ok, or just advance the king to g5. If black's king can get to g3, it's game over. However, neither of these "obvious" moves would have been good enough to force a win. The only move here which leads to victory is the far from obvious 63..c4 and amazingly, that is what MVL played! Would I have played this move, or even thought of it as an option? Probably not. But a deeper look at the position makes it clear why my candidate moves aren't good enough.

63..cxb4 64.cxb4 Kg5 65.Kf2 [blockading the pawn and the g3 sqaure for black's king] 65..Kf4 reaching the following position

So the question is, how does black progress? At least one of black's pieces needs to protect the f-pawn which means only one of them can try to win white's b-pawn. But that won't happen because white's bishop will sit on c6 and eventually the b-pawn will advance to b5. Even worse, from c6 the bishop can go to e8 and win white's h-pawn!

63..Kg5 64.bxc5 bxc5 65.Bd5 Kg4 66.Kf2 Kf4

Very similar to the last position, black can make no progress. In fact, with white to move there is already a repetition likely by 67.Bf7 Kg5 68.Bd5,

So this all goes with the need for strong calculation at all phases of the game. If it is possible to see that these 2 moves lead nowhere, then the next thing to do is look for other moves. MVL's 63..c4 just loses that pawn, putting on the same colour sqaure as controlled by white's bishop. But in winning the pawn, white gives black time to mobilise their pieces, and black's knight especially, moves from its depressing defence from the the edge of the board to an attacking piece in the centre. 64.Bd5 Kf5 65.Bxc4 Kg4 66.Kf2

So far, all seems fairly natural, but what now? Black's knight has 3 squares to move to but they all appear to lose a pawn. 66..Ng2 67.Bd5 wins the f-pawn or black's knight has to return to h4. This must be bad as white's queenside pawns will start marching. 66..Nf5 67.Be6 pinning black's knight after which white will advance the queen side pawns forcing black's king to defend which allows white to win the f-pawn with and the h-pawn. So 66..Ng6! but this also loses a pawn to 67.Be6+ Kf4 68.Bf7

Black's knight is skewered to the h-pawn and black's king has taken the f4 square from it. But amazingly this position is winning, thanks to the activity of black's pieces and the advanced passes f-pawn which is being nursed to promotion. 68..Ne5 69.Bxh5 Nd3+ 70.Kf1

What a turn around in position. White has levelled the game materially, but white's king has suffered an indignity in being pushed to the back rank. White's bishop is also somewhat askew. Meanwhile, black's king is in great shape and can infiltrate further into e3 or g3 (MVL chose g3) while black's knight has transformed itself. Carlsen resigned a few moves later when the knight further improved it's position by the maneuvre Nd3-f2-e4-d2/c3 or Nd3-f2-d1-e3/c3. White would have to part with his bishop for the f-pawn nad cannot force a trade on the queen side.

Lessons learned? First, we all need to calculate stronger in all phases of the game. Second, it is wrong to make assumptions based on general concepts such as material levels. While mostly material is of primary importance, there are times when other factors need to supplant this. I know that I am overly materialistic in my games, so seeing more examples like this and trying to adopt similar ideas when appropriate can only improve my chess.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

The Most Instructive....

I'm guessing that many chess players have been following some of the top class action in the northern hemisphere's summer season. For me, the British Championship is an interesting event to follow as I know some of the players. But like many, I've been keeping an eye on the Sinquefield Cup in America with Carlsen and a group of the world's elite. The first 3 rounds have brought about much fighting chess and a joy for those players who include 1.e4 e5 in their repertoires.

However, if we mere mortals want to improve our games and learn from the best what would be the 1 thing that we should study from this tournament so far? Well, any interesting position is good to study, and non standard types of manouvres, like Aronian's 10.Rh4 from his first round game vs Nepomniachtchi is a fun move.

Aronian-Nepomniachtchi Sinquefield 2017
In answer to black's 9..Qa5 Aronian here didn't defend his a3 bishop, or retreat it, but played 10.Rh4!? which protects the bishop due to the threat of Ra4 trapping a queen. Neat!

However, openings, tricks, fanciful ideas are to my mind beautiful to see but unlikely to bring many long term benefits to the game of an average club player. No, in my opinion, the best position to learn was Anand's defence of a rook ending a pawn down against Carlsen.

I'm sure that many people reading this blog will know that this is supposed to be a draw, but I wonder how many would be confident of holding this position with white against Magnus Carlsen? Anand did it comfortably and to be honest, white is starting with the best possible pawn structure for the defence and it is impossible for black to get his rook behind the pawn before white does. But the black a-pawn will force it's way down to a2 or a3. In fact, in just another 4 moves this position was reached.

White still just has to sit and wait for black to try something and then react, but what can black do? Advance on the king side? Bring the king to the queen side? With the pawn on a3, black's king has a hiding square on a2, but white's rook will be able to take king side pawns as black won't be threatening to promote. So the other option is to advance the pawn to a2, but what then? black's rook is as immobile as white's, and if black's king comes to the queen side, it will be subject to checks that it won't be able to escape from.

Carlsen didn't give up trying, and eventually, this position was reached with black pushing his g-pawn. So what would you play here as white? What would be your candidate moves? Perhaps hxg5, or Ra7+, or even Kf3? Let's look at trading a pair of pawns as that's what we're told we should do as defenders. After 1.hxg5 fxg5

Now what? White's king is becoming more open, and what black would like to do is have his rook on a1, pawn and a2 and swing the rook over to do a check. So imagine doing nothing like 2.Kf3 Ra1 3.Kg2 

Now the position is critical for white after 3..g4! If white shuffles the king, black's king will come to the queen side, while if white aims for more trades with 4.f4 exf3 Kxf3, then white's king becomes more exposed.

The whole endgame is a nightmare, and there are simplifications to other endgames that need to be understood as well. Anand's solution was excellent. If we go back a few moves:

Anand chose to play 60.g4! here. I have to admit, it wouldn't have been first among my candidate moves, but the resulting positions are all level.

If black captures hxg4, then white can play hxg5 fxg5 and Kg3 picking up one of the g-pawns before retreating the king back to the corner. Carlsen took the other way 60..gxh4 but after 61.gxh5, this h-pawn gives white sufficient counterplay. Look at the final position when the game was agreed drawn.

It is black to move and although he has an extra pawn, and 2 passed pawns, black has virtually no moves. Playing h3 will allow Kh2 when the only move is Kg8 but a repetition will occur after Rg7+ and the rook will fly back to a7.

While opening knowledge and tactical and imaginative flair are essential ingredients in a players arsenal, learning technique can help us save valuable half points, or like with Carlsen, squeeze out victories from unlikely positions. Remember that very often, the defence in the endgame is being carried out after 4, 5, 6 hours of intense concentration so it is important to keep trying and to keep putting pressure on opponent's. Here's the endgame with some notes by me. I strongly urge anyone with any chess ambition to learn the technique from Anand's play so that you can use it your own games.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Favourite Tournament

Do you have a favourite tournament? By that I mean is there any tournament that either you played in that sticks in your mind as being a great event for one reason or another, or one a great event from history. You could have performed amazingly, or the field or conditions were fantastic. And related to this, do you have a favourite tournament to follow? Is it a local event, a national championship, an annual supertournament, or anything else?

Currently, there are so many events happening around the world. This is what brought this question to my mind. The Match of the Millennials in USA sees a US team vs a World team at junior age group levels. Australia's very own prodigious talent, Anton Smirnov represents the World team, as does the Indian 11 year old star Pragga. This event can't help me thinking of the USSR vs Rest of the World matched from the 1970's and 1980's. I'm sure we'll look back at these kids when they become top players in 5-10 years time and reminisce a little, but I can't get too excited by this type of event.

I'm more excited by the British Championship which is starting later today. The national Championships of my birth country and my adopted country, Australia, are very important events for me, and I follow them both. Thankfully they happen at opposite times of the year, with the Australian Championship happening in January, giving me plenty of time to focus on them. In fact the 2016 Australian Championships was one of my better events over the years, and I hope to play in a few more championships in the coming years.

Even more immediate for me are local events, with the Victorian Championship currently in progress as well as many club events around Melbourne and Victoria. I'd have to sat tha my faourite event in the Victorian chess calendar is the MCC Club Championship which takes up the first quarter of the year. Although I haven't won it, I've finished near the top regularly, and it is a tournament where there is almost always IM opposition to face. This year I managed to finish third which was pretty good taking into account that it was a tough field. I also finished third in my most memorable Club Championship in 2008 which was won by Malcolm Pyke who scored a magnificent 8/9 to finish half a point clear of IM Guy West. Malcolm's perennial participation at the MCC will be sorely missed, and it was a great honour for me to win the tournament that was just held as his memorial at the MCC. More of that in a future post.

Of course, International events are great to follow. I have a soft spot for Hastings and Amsterdam having played memorable chess tournaments in both. I think Hastings tops it for me as the greatest,or at least, as my favourite. I remember sitting in the commentary room and being awestruck as Bent Larson just walked in and started talking about his game and the remaining games. This was years before internet coverage which sees this happen regularly, and was a special treat back in the 1980's. Hastings 1895 must go down as my favourite ever tournament. The cream of chess was playing, the games were great, the result was in doubt up till the very end, with the favourites not getting their own way. It had absolutely everything.

Anyway, what is your favourite tournament? One that you played in, one that you enjoy playing in, or International events that you love to watch, or your favourite from history?

Friday, July 28, 2017

Practical Chess Study

Most of us study chess from a book or a computer by ourselves. We play through stuff, openings, tactics puzzles, famous games, endgames, and generally accumulate knowledge and some level of expertise. But it can get much more effective if you study in a group or with a partner. There are more brains at work, hopefully with different ways of looking at positions.The only trouble is that we have little time to get together with others to study so most of what we do is alone. It is possible to play online, but I don't think many people study in a group online. Perhaps with a coach, but not in a group.

When I was running an endgame group at the Melbourne Chess Club a few years ago, we'd meet at the club and go through a type of ending each week, first looking at some practice and theory, and then playing from positions that related to the evening's theme. This is a really good exercise, learning and then putting the new found knowledge into a practical setting.

I recently decided that I could try this at home using a strong engine (probably a weak engine would be good enough!). Find some positions and play them out against the computer. Good positions to play would be practical endgame positions that are fairly level, or even theoretical positions to test your knowledge (try mating with king and queen vs king and rook against a comp, or defending rook vs rook and bishop).

But why limit it to endgames? Let's take 2 famous quotes as a starting point.

"The hardest thing in chess is to win a won game"

"The remainder of the game needs no further comment"

These 2 chess cliches seem to contradict one another. So how about setting up a position which requires no further comment and trying to convert to a win? Here's an example.

This position is from the game Euwe-Capablanca London 1922. In the tournament book, Maroczy criticises Euwe's last move. 17.g3 "This loses a pawn". But that is it. The remainder of the game gets no commentary as if it is all self evident. Apparently.

Working out how Capablanca as black wins a pawn in this position isn't that difficult, but to convert after might seem tricky, especially against a computer playing to at least 2500 standard. I wonder how many of us could do it 100% of the time?

This is the sort of exercise that would be of huge practical benefit to players, certainly below master standard, and playing against the clock would also help practically. I will not be playing much chess in the second half of the year so I'll be looking at ways to keep in touch. This might just be one such method.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Update on "Women's Chess"

A few months ago I wrote a post about "Women's Chess" and sexual discrimination in the chess World. Since then I have seen articles and heard opinions by women, so a quick update is due.

Earlier this week on the Chessbase website, US FM Alisa Melekhina wrote an interesting piece about "Women's Chess" and the negative connotation that label has on the game. Tellingly, a number of the comments at the end of the article are derogatory and by men. A number of comments are personal and have nothing rational to argue against the piece, and this fits very well into my previous article. If male chess players are threatened by the possibility there could be stronger female chess players, then that is a sad state of affairs.

Melekhina isn't the only player to recently come out and say there are problems with the way women are treated in chess. Canadian WFM Alexandra Botez put the case eloquently on's ChessCenter. While discussing with presenter IM Danny Rensch, Botez points out that women's titles are set lower than men's which sets lower goals for women. Personally, I feel this is stating the obvious, but it takes women such as Melekhina and Botez to come out and say it, as well as others. (This wrap up video contains the interview near the start of the transmission)

This interview came after a provocative article from Vanessa West on the US Chess Federation's website entitled "Should Women's Titles be Eliminated". As Botez said, the article was well researched and presented and the arguments seemed coherent. Women's titles lower the bar for women's expectations maintaining a lower standard among female players in the game. As such, less female role models exist at the top level and therefore less girls aspire to take up chess seriously. It is a self perpetuating cycle.

Again, there are numerous comments beneath the article, though they tend to be more reasoned arguments. A quick Google search for "should women's chess titles be eliminated" brings up 613,000 results which shows this is a real issue. And if these recent articles are anything to go by, it seems the trend is that opinion is against the women's titles and the division in the game.

I hope that in the near future, something will be done to really promote the place of girls and women in chess by equalising goals and removing discrimination from the world of chess.

ps. I received a notification from New in Chess today regarding a new book about the first women's World Champion, Vera Menchik. I reckon this will be a fascinating read, so I'm going to buy it! I'll review it at some stage in the future.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Variation on a Theme of Torre-Lasker

When I teach chess to kids (and adults for that matter) I love to teach classic games with clear motifs. I can teach something of the rich history and culture around the game as well as showing useful patterns and techniques. The classic example of a Windmill is the game Torre-Lasker Moscow 1925 where the Mexican genius beat ex-World Champion Emanuel Lasker using a spectacular queen sacrifice. The lead play to this sacrifice is rich in tactical ideas with plenty of thrust and counter thrust going on.

So here is the position where Torre famously sacrificed his queen with 25.Bf6!! There followed 25..Qxh5 26.Rxg7+ Kh8 27.Rxf7+ [The Windmill motif] 27..Kg8 28.Rg7+ 

Here's the windmill in visual mode. White's rook unleashes a discovered check from the bishop and after taking pieces on the rank, rebounds back to g7 to check and start the process over again.

To make this point even more vivid to young students, I have altered the position slightly allowing for more captures and a mating pattern at the end of the line.

Here's my improved Variation on a Theme by Torre-Lasker. Now, 25.Bf6!! Qxh5 26.Rxg7+ will be followed by captures on f7, e7, c7, b7, a7 and finally the Ra1 will take on a8 with unstoppable mate on f8. Not an improvement on the classic, but a more vivid example for young minds to cope with! The knight on e3 even stops Qd1 mate at the end!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Out Of Retirement

It is time to bring this blog back out of retirement. I mean, if Kasparov can come out of retirement to play in the Grand Chess Tour, then chess lovers of the world should all be excited. And that isn't the only exciting thing in the chess world. Magnus Carlsen has become less dominant so we have a great situation at the top of the game where there are a whole bunch of players challenging to take the number 1 spot on the FIDE rating list. Magnus has a small 10 point lead over Kramnik with Wesley So only 12 behind, Aronin 13 behind, Caruana 15 behind and Mamedyarov 22 off the top spot. I'm not sure I ever remember such a tightly packed group at the top and it makes it an exciting time at the top of the game.

While the elite side of the game intrigues me, it is difficult to get to grips with their ability and I therefore tend to concentrate more on other things when I'm studying chess. I love the history of the game and I've ordered a book of the 1922 London International tournament. This was a great event won by Capablanca ahead of Alekhine, Rubinstein etc. The tournament book was written by Maroczy who was competing in the event, and I'm quite excited to read this book as I've never read any of Maroczy's writings before.

As a chess coach I'm also interested in junior chess, and it is an exciting time with Chinese superstar Wei Yi heading towards the top 10 in the world, and Indian super kid, Praggnanandaa trying hard to beat Sergey Karjakin's 15 year old record of being the youngest Grand Master in history. Pragga is not yet 12, and has come close to scoring GM norms already. His rating is sitting at 2479 which is absolutely amazing. If you want to know more about Pragga, then follow Chessbase India, which I've recently discovered, and which I find excellent. There's plenty of information about the players making these super players more accessible.

We in Australia might not have a talent quite like Pragga, but we do have some great juniors and I obviously find Australian chess interesting. I'll be following it as best I can. I've been playing lots of chess and have some things to write. My club, the Melbourne Chess Club, is as active as always and I'm currently playing in the Victorian Championships.

I'll also be writing about women's chess, or at least my take on women's chess. I've written here before that I don't like the way that women are treated in our chess community and I'll continue to write about it until things change! I've worked with a number of girls in Australia and I have listened to their concerns about the game of chess and their place in it.

I was recently coaching on a camp and I showed a game from London 1922, the fantastic Alekhine-Yates game. If you haven't seen it, then take a look. It is a strategic masterpiece with a beautiful finish. Yates weakens his e5 square and Alekhine uses it as an outpost for his knight as well as dominating the c-file. He skillfully transfers his rooks from the c-file to the seventh rank and then brings up his last reinforcement, his king as an attacking piece in the middlegame. The final position is wonderful!

Alekhine as white has just played Ke5 trapping black's rook, while mate will follow soon. Here's the full game which I look forward to analysing in some depth with Maroczy's guidance.

Loading embedded chess game...

Monday, April 17, 2017

Chess, The Learning Process

So most people who play our game have some ambition of becoming better. But just what exactly does that mean? And how does someone go about becoming better at chess? The first question seems easy to answer, we just become stronger players! But what exactly is a better player? Higher rated? What if a player improves, but not as quickly as others? So better can be a relative thing, and is a difficult subject to answer. How does one get better might be easier to answer. There are a set of stages in our development as chess players.

- first we gain knowledge of patterns and ideas.
- second we learn to recognise what we know in our games.
- third we develop an understanding of when our knowledge can and cannot be used.

So I guess we can say that we look to acquire as much chess knowledge as possible, then we try to apply that knowledge in our games to a deeper and gradually more successful degree.

Most people start by learning tactical processes, but this is a never ending process. And we find tricks that become evermore elaborate, good enough to beat top players! Like in the recent American Championship, the winner Wesley So played a brilliant attacking game against reigning World Junior Champion, Jeffery Xiong. It all started with an excellent sacrifice which paved the way for So's minimal force to jump into the attack.

So, as black played 21..Nxf2! and after 22.Kxf2 Rxb2+ 23.Kf1 Qh5 the position had become impossible to defend and So won shortly after.
After So's sacrifice, Jeffery Xiong has an impossible task defending as white.

The knight sacrifice removed a defender, opening up white's king and isolating it for an attack by minimal forces. A brilliant sacrificial attack? Well yes, of course, but there are plenty of examples of this sort of sacrifice, and a player of Wesley So's ability would almost definitely be aware of the pattern. However, the rest of us can learn from this and other examples of this sort.

For example, yesterday, Yifan Hou finished her game from the Grenke GM event with a similar knight sacrifice.

This one is much easier to spot, especially when you know what you are looking for. 29..Nxf2! This opens white's king, and let's black's heavy pieces into the attack. 30.Kxf2 Qe2+ 31.Kg1 Re3, an overwhelming force to attack a lone king. The game finished 32.Qc2 Rg3+ 33.Kh1 Rxh3+ 34.Kg1 Qe3+ a position which caused the white player, Georg Meier, to resign.
White's best is to play 35.Qf2 which will cost a queen after 35..Rh1+ distracting white's king.

Here's an early example of the sacrifice.
This is the game Burn-Pollock Belfast 1886 and black came up with our themed move 12..Nxf2! The key to understanding the success of the knight sacrifice now, is spotting that is followed by another knight leap opening black's light squared bishop to help threaten mate on g2. 13.Kxf2 Nd4! the joint threat of winning a queen and mate in 1 on g2 was too much for white to handle and although the game endured, the result was in little doubt.

Here's a classic example of the same theme, but taken to the extreme. Black has a whole army to break through which he starts with our custom sacrifice. Golgidze-Flohr Moscow 1935: 19..Nxf2 20.Kxf2 Qh4+ White's king has been attracted into a queen check and has to advance to hold on to material, 21.Kf3

But what now? Flohr's concept is absolutely brilliant, denuding white's king of defenders one by one until the white king faces a small but powerful black force alone. 21..Bxh3 22.Bxh3 Qxh3+ 23.Kf2 Qh4+ 24.Kf3 White's rearguard has gone.

And now Flohr removes the final defender, the dark squared bishop 24..Be5 Against this sacrificial onslaught white now crumbled 25.e3 Bxf4 26.exf4 Qh3+ 27.Kf2 Re3 with a similar force to that which Yifan Hou finished with yesterday!

White played a couple more moves before resigning, which brings another point to this issue. The fact is that it is harder to defend than to attack, and there are examples where the sacrifice wasn't fully correct but still worked. Like for instance the game Norman-Colle Hastings 1928

I don't know much about Colle except for his opening, and a game where he played a Greek Bishop Sacrifice. Here he comes up with our themed sacrifice: 19..Nxf2!? 20.Kxf2 Rae8

Although the white king looks in danger, it is also hard to see where the white attack will come from. The cool 21.Rhd1 Qe7 22.Kg1 would have removed much of the threat to white's king, but what better than to trade? 21.Rhe1?! Qe7!
Probably now white realised that trading on e3 is impossible 22.Ne2 [22.Rxe3?? Qxe3+ 23.Kf1 Nc4 when white has to play 24.Rd1 but that puts rook, queen and king in forking position of a knight 24..Qf4+ with the lovely final variation 25.Kg1 Ne3
Black's fork is countered by a white pin 26.Qd2 but black has the temporary queen sacrifice 26..Nxd1! 27.Qxf4 Re1+ 28.Qf1 Rxf1+ 29.Kxf1 Nxc3 with an easily won endgame] 22..Nc4 throwing another piece forward, again without anything concrete 23.Bd3
I guess Colle just couldn't resist, and decided that it was time to give up his other knight! 23..Nb2?! 24.Qxb2 Rxd3
At this point white had to move his knight, but he missed this defensive possibility, losing quickly after the blunder 25.Rc3?? which allowed black's pieces to penetrate 25..Qe3+ 26.Kf1 Re6 and it was all over soon after.

Here are these last 2 classic games!

So by looking at a number of examples with the same theme, we can gain knowledge and hopefully get to use it in our own games, or at least prevent our opponent from using the theme against us. There is one last game with this theme, that happened only a few days ago, but I think I'll show this tomorrow as it was a genuinely magnificent example that deserves a post of its own,

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Watching for Captures

There is currently a huge amount of chess happening across the world. Magnus Carlsen comes out to play in Germany later today, while Kramnik, Anand et al are fighting it out in Zurich. Here in Australia there is the annual Doeberl Cup and there are a number of other being shown on chess websites such as chess24, TWIC, or chessbomb.

While playing a good amount of chess is a must for any aspiring player, study is also important. Watching games falls into this category. Watching live can be almost like playing a game, as you try to guess moves and analyse positions. Invariably, you tend to take one side and try to defend their position, so it really is like playing. But more than this, watching games, just like playing through games from databases and books, builds our store of knowledge, assuming we're thinking while we are watching (so turn your computer engine off!).

Watching games live also allows us to see players in action, some of whom will be familiar to us, while some will be unknowns. It's then possible to find some lesser known players to follow, master strength of under who have a style we can enjoy and possibly emulate.Saying that, I tend to like watching complicated games while my style increasingly shies away from complications.

One player who I seem to have seen a few games from recently is the young Iranian IM Aryan Gholami. Chess is flourishing in Iran at the moment with a bunch of strong players. The Iranian Junior Championship is currently taking place, and so I watched a game by Gholami in the first round. Aryan was white and rated 200 points higher than his opponent, so a win would be expected, and in the end he won the game. But 2 positions caught my eye in the game for the same reason.

Black has just played 10..Bd7. This not only protects the knight on c6, but threatens 11..Nxe5. So it seems that 11.Bxc6 is the best move in the position, otherwise you are losing a pawn. But Gholami played 11.Nb3?! and his opponent duly took on e5 leaving the young master a pawn down.

Looking at all captures is something we try to instill into kids, but it is especially important to look at central pawns and when they can be taken.

The game then kind of continued with black not finding a way to develop his position and becoming stuck. White gained a big development lead as well as there being weaknesses around black's king.

Working on the basis of examining all captures, white played 22.Rxc5! The point is that black doesn't have time to recapture or white will infiltrate on the weak dark squares around black's king. eg 22..Qxd4 23.Qxe7 Qxc5 24.Qf6 when black will have to give up the queen to prevent mate on g7.

Anyway, after 22.Rxc5! black played 22..Nc8 and there followed 23.Rxc8! getting a least 2 pieces for the rook 23..Rfxc8 with the following position.

So continuing the theme of looking for all captures, white's knight is attacked and to deal with this Gholami created a bigger threat with 24.Qe7. Now the familiar theme of 24..Qxd4 25.Qf6 with 26.Bh6 is in the air, so black retreated and the game dragged on for another 30 moves with white finally winning. However, by looking at captures, white could have found 24.Nxe6!!

The knight can't be taken, it is forced mate. So black has to try 24..Rc6 when white has 25.Qd7!

Black's rook is pinned, so it can't take the knight, and 25..fxe6 still loses to 26.Bh6. Black's best here is 25..Rc4 when white has another nice move, 26.Qxd5, leaving the knight en prise again, abut hitting black's a8 rook.

At this point, black pretty much has to bail out with 26..Qc6, accepting an endgame where he is an exchange and a pawn down..

So I guess the moral of the story is watch games critically, and not just by the top players, but by anyone. Even at the local chess club it is possible to look at games as they are in play and try to work out what is happening. You can talk to the players after the game about the position that interested you, and don't get computer help, analyse the games in your head, as if you were playing them!

Friday, April 14, 2017

Women's Chess?

I'd decided it was time to start writing again, it was just getting the inspiration to get on and do it. My own life is in a pretty good place at the moment, and I'm beginning to find good form in my chess. I'll be writing quite a bit about my chess and the things that are happening in my little part of the world over the coming months. But what has driven me to write this post is a subject I've talked about before, the inequality in our game between men and women.

Having worked with a number of young female players, I've seen them come up against both blatant, and non blatant sexism that seems to be ingrained in our psyche. The fact that we call chess played by women "women's chess" as if it is a different game to that played by men is an instant sign. In fact, in an event where there is no physical strength advantage for men over women, why on earth do we need to have a segregated game? Because that is essentially what we have! Federations, coaches, clubs, leagues etc all kow-tow to this gender difference though it shouldn't exist.

Now why, you may ask, am I getting worked up about this? Well I follow an author on Twitter, Joanne Harris, who tweeted about the poor press that women artists have received through history, and it resonated with me as being exactly the same issues as affects chess. Let's have a look at Joanne Harris' points and see how they can be applied to our chess world.

In chess there has been limited opportunities historically for women to compete with the best male players, and top coaches have given more time and effort to their young boys and men than to the girls.

Segregation is overt in the chess world. Officials talk about giving female players extra opportunities by staging events such as the European Women's Championship currently being held in Latvia, but this is just another form of segregation. Chess is an activity that all can compete on an even footing regardless of age, social background, race, gender etc. I can understand age group events, but even then there are boys and girls sections as if we are preparing them for their segregated adult playing life.

How many chess books by women authors do you own? How many can you even think about? There are thousands of chess titles by men, most of which are average or below in quality. How many women coaches can you name? Actually, it is the same in art where I was embarrassed to struggle to name any female artists throughout history. I'm no art buff, but nevertheless, this is a shocking omission in my knowledge, and it is not all my fault as art is presented to me by men of primarily male artists. Chess is the same.

The answer above still applies to this.

Really? Is the eminent British author suggesting that women's brains aren't "hard-wired differently" to men's like the eminent British chess player once suggested? To be fair to Mr. Short, he is not the only one in our realm to believe this, though others are not so forthright in expressing their opinions.

This is an argument I've heard so many times in chess circles. Women can't reach the top because of their domestic role. Housekeeping, child rearing, cleaning up after the main bread winner of the household. Couples order their lives based on the joint abilities of each partner. Caroline was the skilled partner in our household and I deferred her the role of main breadwinner happily. In time, circumstances have changed and we are now more even in our professional and domestic roles. It's the 21st century for heaven's sake! Equality is about opportunity for all regardless of gender or social status (though perhaps not in Trump's new medieval America).
 If you haven't read anything by Judit Polgar, then I suggest you do, her books are excellent, she is an ambassador for women's rights championing the planet50-50 by 2030 campaign, as well as being the strongest female player in history. In her efforts to become a strong player she encountered overt and covert racism, which she has related in her books and writings. Even so, shemade it into the world's top 10.....
....where she was branded a man by default, more male than female, and all the other things which belittled her status as a great player who had just been born a girl!
 Though I'd rather not go there, this is another jibe girls and women have to endure. I cringe to think about some of the things I've heard people say at chess clubs about female players, and I admire those girls and women to rise above it and just keep carrying on. The same things aren't thrown at men, and this is simply an ignorant form of discrimination.
 Yes, absolutely. We have "women's chess". It is an inferior form of the game. You don't have to be so good to play it as the 'normal' game'. To be a male Grand Master you have to reach a 2500 rating level, whereas in "women's chess" the Grand Master title is only 2300. The same incremental difference can be seen for International Master's etc. The rationale? It encourages women a bit! WTF??? It encourages them to be worse. It rewards girls for achieving a lower level than boys.

Now how anybody can think this is not discrimination is beyond my understanding. The chess world is unfairly biased against women. The chances of us getting a top female player are minimal because girls have to undergo abuse, discrimination, assumed inferiority, segregation, and are given less opportunity than boys to perform at a high level. I'm an #heforshe advocate and it's time that we developed an equal playing field for girls and boys, treating kids the same, adults the same, giving them the same opportunities and rewarding them for attaining the same levels. Until that happens, I'm sad that my beloved game is discriminatory against girls and women.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Play it out

I subscribe to Chess Today which gives much interesting material. There are often fragments of endgames and typical blunders as well as annotated games and ideas and chess news. There is also a daily test position (sometimes more than 1) which are fun to solve. Very often, the answer to the puzzle is just a single move which will be the key to the solution. However, it is still good to calculate deeply, and even play the puzzles out, as you can unearth some variations.

For instance, today the puzzle was from the game Malakhatko-Wieczorek Krakow 1999 and the following position was given:

It is white to play, and it didn't take me long to find the key 1.Ng4+! which weaves a mating net around the black king. 1..fxg4 [Forced as 1..Kh5 loses immediately to 2.Rxh7#] 2.hxg4 [With the threat of Rh1 mate] 2..g5

In this position, the first thing that comes to mind is 3.f5 with the unstoppable threat of 4.Rh1#. But a slightly deeper look shows that mate can be stopped. After 3.f5 black has to play 3..Bf1 sacrificing the piece back again 4.Rxf1

Now the only way to stop mate is to sacrifice a rook by 4..Rc2+ 5.Kxc2 when black must keep with the checks 5..Rc8+

Around here you should have noticed that black's king and pawns cannot move. This allows the great swindling chance of sacrificing black's final rook. In fact, white's only winning chance here is to play 6.Rc7 giving a rook back again and heading to a winning rook endgame. Any king move will lead to black playing with a kamikaze rook placing itself next to the white king continuously. If you haven;t seen this theme before, try playing it out. The white king can't escape!

Of course, if we go back to position before 3.f5 was played, we can look for other options:

Forcing lines are the best to try out first. So 3.Rh1+ and then it is not hard to see that after 3..Kg6 4.f5+ Kf6 5.Rh6 is mate.

So I guess what I'm saying is that seeing a key move and then having that single move as the answer isn't the whole story and it is good for your chess to look for all possibilities in positions, and even to play them out to see if there were any possibilities that were missed.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Glorious March Weather

It's been a while since I posted. So I'm going to slowly get back into it. Melbourne has had an amazing March in terms of weather and I've been fortunate enough to have had some chance to see some of the beauty of Melbourne and its surrounds during this late summer heat. Here are some photo's:

Reflections on the Yarra River at Warrandyte
Ducks are tame at Fairfield Park
Sea life in Port Phillip Bay
Caroline, without whom my travels (and life) would be far less enjoyable
Rock pool close up at Black Rock