Saturday, December 30, 2017

Top Seed Loses

The first round of a swiss open almost always produces some shocks. Top players are held to draws, or sometimes even lose to players much lower rated. The biggest upset is when the top seed loses in the first round, and this is exactly what happened at this year's Hastings Congress.

There seemed to be an acceleration of pairings which was presumably used to enhance norm chances. In round 1, top rated Indian GM Deep Sengupta, rated 2586, was paired as black against English FM Adam Taylor, rated 2242. The opening seemed innocuous enough, a king of Reti/English opening where Black chose a Slav set up. The following position was reached:

Black had just played the novelty 10..Qd8-e7. White played the thematic central thrust 11.e4! I wonder if either player realised that this was already very good for White, maybe winning?

Black traded by 11..dxe4 [Not sure this is best, but everything else loses at least a pawn] 12.dxe4 Bg4

So far all seems to be logical, but White now launches an exchanging sequence which wins a piece. And this is the player rated 350 points lower! 13.Nxd7 Qxd7 14.Qxd7+ Kxd7 15.Bxd6 Kxd6

This little sequence was all forced and has brought Black's king into a poor position. White would like to play e5 forking king and knight, and by combining threats to trap black's bishop, he manages it. 16.h3 Bh5 [16..Be2 17.Re1 and after the bishop moves White plays e5+] 17.f4!

This leaves Black the choice of losing a knight to e5+, or losing the bishop to g4 and f5, either way, white nets a winning material advantage which he went on to win, though he missed a chance to win more easily.

It seems Sengupta had given upon this game. He played 23..Rad8?

White here played 24.Raf1, methodical and good enough to win. But he missed a good tactical shot which would have been found if he'd thought about searching for all checks and captures. 24.Nd5+! blocks the d-file interrupting the connection between Black's rooks. The same tactic could have been played on the next move as well, but wasn't. Never mind, white still went on to win and gained a great scalp.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Chess Ageism

Anand has just become the World Rapid Champion of chess at the age of 48. People have written the ex-World Champion off and there have been suggestions that he should retire. Perhaps this has been partly because of Kasparov's retirement in his early 40's, but whatever the reason, no one should be forced to give up something they enjoy doing and which they are good at.

We seem to have a feeling in chess that it is a province of the young. Young mostly means in a person's 20's, but we have seen a rise in prodigiously young talent as well over the past 20 years, with younger and younger children reaching high levels of play. And I am all for that, but to write off older players is demeaning and bad for the game and ageist.

When I was a young player, if the older, more experienced players weren't around to test myself against, then I might not have have made it to the 2200 level. At the age of 51, I intend to keep playing, and improving if possible, but mostly enjoying the game and playing it to the best of my abilities.

So what is old in chess? 50? 40? In the upcoming 2018 Candidates tournament, only one player, Kramnik is over 40. 4 out of the 8 players are in their 20's. Compared to AVRO 1938, it is similar with 2 players over 40 (Alekhine 46, Capablanca 50) and 4 of the 8 players in their 20's. However, not all tournaments have been like this. The first great modern tournament, Hastings 1895 had a field of 22 players. Only 6 of these were in their 20's while 10 were over 40, and 3 of these were over 50 (Blackburne 53, Steinitz 59, Bird 65). Of the 15 players who competed for the Zurich Candidates tournament in 1953, only 4 were in their 20's while 5 were over 40, Euwe being the oldest at 52.

It seems to me that there can be affects to one's chess as one gets older. Increasing health risk, and rowing family commitments are 2 obvious things can affect a players activity in a field. But we have seen longevity in chess from a number of players, historically Steinitz, Lasker, Smyslov and Korchnoi come to mind and more locally, Darryl Johansen who won the Australian Chess Championship at the age of 53. But to 'keep going' at chess it seems a deep love of the game and a purpose is needed. Also as a community we need to equally encourage participation by players of all demographics, regardless of gender, race, age etc.

I'll leave for another day the fact that Anand's great victory was marred by the boycott of many chess players of Saudi Arabia including defending Women's Champion Ana Muzychuk who said:

"In a few days I am going to lose two World Champion titles – one by one. Just because I decided not to go to Saudi Arabia. Not to play by someone's rules, not to wear abaya, not to be accompanied getting outside, and altogether not to feel myself a secondary creature"

And I'll not get into the Twitter story I saw where Swedish Grand Master Pontus Carlsson was abused online:

Thursday, December 28, 2017

First Day Out in Gippsland

Today was the 28th December which is my Mother in Law's birthday. She is still in England so celebrates half a day after us. While she was asleep, Caroline and I took to the road for our first day out in our new Gippsland home. Actually, we only drove for about an hour north into the foothills of Mt Baw Baw, to Noojee. Noojee is an aboriginal word meaning 'place of rest' and the tranquility of the area is noticeable.

Serene Latrobe River at Noojee
It was a gentle drive through rolling green countryside. We passed through towns we hadn't heard of such as Jindivick and Neerim and stopped on the road to view the fresh scenery.

Rolling hills of Baw Baw Shire

Tarago Reservoir from Little Charli's Lookout in Neerim
The main attraction was going to be the old trestle bridge at Noojee. We did stop in to have a look and walk around, though some parts were restricted due to fire damage.I guess that's a sobering thought one has to keep in mind wherever you are in Australia.

Noojee Trestle Bridge

Rain Forest Canopy from the Trestle Bridge
However, as is often the case when Caroline and I go off on a drive, the main attraction often gets overshadowed when we decide to check out something else. This can be a random path we decide to follow, or an attraction that we never meant to visit, but on a whim, go off to explore. So it was we went to Toorongo Falls after a spot of lunch in Noojee. Probably due to the heavy rain we had last week, the falls were flowing freely, and we were treated to some great views. The sub tropical rain forest area was lush with growth and the Little Toorongo River was gushing through the trees and ferns.

Flowing River

The Little Toorongo River cuts through the forest

Toorongo Falls flowing freely.

It was a beautiful drive through Baw Baw hills, into Noojee State Forest and back. It amounted to about 2 hours driving total though we were out for 6 or 7 hours. This bodes well for future outings from our new home.

I'll leave you with some less spectacular, but no less beautiful things that I saw today, a couple of flowers, and in the last picture, a butterfly (there were hundreds) amongst the flowers.

My Chess in 2018

A move anywhere usually means some changes to a person's lifestyle. I have moved to Drouin which is about an hour from my work in eastern Melbourne, and another 20-30 minutes from the centre of Melbourne. Chess is a big part of my life and I still want to play my one game a week schedule that I've been doing.

The club which I have been a part of for a long time is the Melbourne Chess Club. However, MCC meet on a Monday night for long play games with a finish time sometimes in excess of 11:00, it means I won't be getting home until the early hours of the morning. Not good if I want to work on Tuesday! The alternative I am considering is Box Hill Chess Club which meets on a Friday night. This is better for work as Saturday is generally a day off, but usually worse for chess as Friday night most workers are exhausted. There are weekend chess clubs, but I'm not prepared to give up that valuable time which I spend with Caroline and relax.

So I have some time to think about it and decide as both clubs are on shutdown until the end of summer with both clubs starting their first 2018 long play events just after Australia Day on 26th January. In the meantime there is the Australian Championship to look forward to, running from 2-12 January. Unfortunately I'll be away on holiday in New Zealand then, but I'll follow the results and catch up on some games after. The Championship is followed by the Junior Championship which is being held in Melbourne. I'll be dropping into this so I'll see some live action.

And I always follow the games of Hastings which is in its 93rd edition and Wijk (80th edition) which is running at the same time as our Junior Champs. So it looks to be a good summer of chess for me as a follower of events which will hopefully give me the inspiration to take my chess back to the 2200 level and beyond next year, whichever club I choose to play at.

In the meantime, have a look at this amazing game from London 2017 where Ian Nepomniachtchi plays the amazing novelty 7.g4 against ex-World Champion Anand. The game erupts into a crazy unbalanced affair with White's king stuck in the centre but feeling safer than Black's castled king. I know there were some great games played in 2018, but this was one of my favourites.

Loading embedded chess game...

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

A New Start

I have recently been busy with a move to the country and a change of lifestyle, but it is time to restart blogging. I'll be back to my favourite subjects of chess, travel, and coffee but with a distinctly country Victorian feel to it.

A couple of weeks ago Caroline and I moved to Drouin in West Gippsland. This will leave me with an hour long commute to and from work when things pick up again in January. Funnily enough I was born in a commuter town in England, Basingstoke which lies about an hour west of London. I wonder how coincidental this is? I'm not a keen driver, but I don't mind driving. And being born and raised in a town, rather than a city followed by spells in small cities around the UK (my short time in London wasn't particularly happy) probably leads to a tendency towards a smaller home town.

Don't get me wrong, I love Melbourne and my time in Melbourne, and will be working within the metropolitan boundaries (mostly). As cities go, I could not think of a better one to live in. But maybe I'm not really cut out to be a 'city person' in the long run, and even better, Caroline felt the same way.

Anyway, Drouin is a small town (about 12,000 population) next to a slightly bigger town, Warragul (30,000 ish population). They are set at the bottom of the ski resort of Mt Baw Baw and just to the north of the Strzelecki Ranges. This gives some great areas to explore, and lesser known places in Victoria. I know next to nothing about the area, and will be blogging about my discoveries.

I do know there are some chess enthusiasts in the region, and maybe with my help, we can build a little club. More updates to come soon :)

Caroline Gorka's beautiful view of Gippsland

Monday, September 25, 2017


Mute Swan on the Thames

One of the problems with emigrating from England to Australia is the distance you suddenly are from family and friends. Platitudes about the world getting smaller don't really cut it when you're sitting on a 13 hour flight after an 8 hour "short leg"! There are a lot of theories about jetlag but it is probably safest to say that it affects each person differently. My wife, Caroline, for instance, suffers minor jetlag problems, while it hits me quite badly.

We left Melbourne late on Wednesday flying Malaysian Airlines.The first flight was comfortable and the service was excellent. A 3 hour stop in Kuala Lumpur was followed by the gruelling 13 hour flight landing in London on Thursday afternoon. It's a short drive to my family which is our first destination, Basingstoke, in north Hampshire.

Village clock in Burley, New Forest
In Australia, when people ask me where I come from in England, I say that I am from about 70km west of London. Trying to describe where Hampshire is can be difficult, and as soon as you move away from London in a description, you have lost the main reference point that people have about England. So where is Basingstoke, really? Basingstoke is a crossroads, a market town between the historic centres of Reading to the north, Winchester to the west, Southampton to the south, and of course, London to the east. While it has historic prominence from Basing House, which sits to the east of the town, Basingstoke is essentially a new town, growing in the 1950's and 60's from London overspill. And as a new town, Basingstoke is a hotch-potch of housing estates built around a relatively small central shopping area. In itself, the town is not very exciting, but its location is excellent. Basingstoke is an hour from London, an hour from the coast, a short hop to the Thames, and surrounded by places of historic interest.

The bridge at Pangbourne over the Thames
Our plan was to have a couple of fairly easy days when we first arrived, so as to get used to the new time zone. We were treated to drive to the Thames on our first day by my brother and his partner. The Thames is a beautiful river through the counties of Berkshire and Oxfordshire and we were driven to the village of Pangbourne just west of Reading, about 30 minutes drive from Basingstoke. A pub lunch by the river as narrow boats and swans glide past is about as idyllic as it gets. This was followed by a riverside walk. It was a mild autumn day, and we were enchanted by scenes which inspired Wind in the Willows illustrator E. H. Shepherd, and the author, Kenneth Grahame retired to Pangbourne.

Thatched roof in Burley, New Forest
The following day I was still suffering from jetlag. So another short trip was welcome. The weather has been very pleasant, with plenty of sunshine and temperatures in the high teens Celsius. So we went off to the New Forest to search for ponies. Again my brother drove and the 4 of us headed to the picturesque village of Burley. The magical natural countryside has an ancient history with evidence of prehistoric barrows while the area was the land of the Jutes in Anglo-Saxon times. Royal interest goes back as far as William the Conqueror, who proclaimed the area a royal forest. For us, though, it was a matter of having a scone and seeing some beautiful wildlife, and both of these were found!

New Forest pony in front of an Oak

Pony on the New Forest heathland
Sylvan magic
It's been great to see family, and see how my former home has changed over the 30 years since I lived here. And its been a beautiful start to our trip to England with a couple of stunning days out.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Downhill at 50?

I turned 50 nearly a year ago, and for some reason have been ill more in the last year than the previous 49 put together. Perhaps things do start to go downhill at 50? A frozen shoulder wiped me out at the end of last year and a flu bug has taken hold for the past....well I can't even remember how long! And now, I've strained/pulled/torn something at the top of my leg which has me hobbling around like someone much older than 50. I've struggled to hold concentration at times, and get tired more easily than usual.

But life goes on and as my 89 year old mother says every time I call her, "Complaining doesn't help!". In fact, I'll be seeing my Mum soon as I'm heading back to England in a couple of weeks. It's been a few years since I was there so it will be good to catch up with my family again. More about that as it happens as I like writing about my travels. But first we have to get there, and as we're flying Malaysian Airlines who have had some notable incidents recently, I'll be happy when we do get there! (Actually, flying back on Friday 13th October is even more harrowing!)

To be honest, things could be a lot worse. I feel for the people in extreme weather conditions dealing with hurricanes and earthquakes etc. We've had a colder than usual winter but nothing to complain too much about. I live in the most livable city in the world according to the Economist, and Australia hasn't the uncertainty over its future like other Western Democracies at the moment. I'm not sure what is happening in Europe and the UK with their break up, nor am I certain what is happening in North America with a seemingly ineffective executive branch of government in the USA. At least in Australia things are fairly stable. We have our issues such as human rights abuse against asylum seekers, a vociferous opposition to marriage equality, and a dangerous relationship with North Korea with which we are within striking distance of their missiles. But generally speaking, life is good for your average Australian.

So besides work, and being ill what have I been up to? Not a lot really. I have been playing a lot of chess which has been going quite well. And reading a lot of fiction. Since the Man Booker Prize announced it's Longlist I've read 4 of the novels and I must say, they were all great. (I'm currently reading number 5 which also started brilliantly). I read a lot of fiction of all genres, including fantasy, crime, YA, historical and even some romantic types. But I make an exception for the Booker Prize nominees because over the years they have become some of my favourite novels. I have been blown away by winners such as The Remains of the Day and Narrow Road to the Deep North and even those that didn't win such as Do Not Say We Have Nothing and Ruth Ozeki's A Tale For The Time Being which I felt should have been the winner in 2013.

This year of the 4 novels I read so far, there is already one stand out. Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad is unbelievably good, and taking into account that the other 3 novels have been excellent, this is really saying something. The Booker Shortlist is announced on Wednesday and the biggest shock for me is if Whitehead's novel isn't on it. Of course, there are still 7 novels I haven't even started yet, which may be better, but they will have to be astonishingly good to better The Underground Railroad.

I try to devote a little bit of time every day to leaving the world of what I'm doing and just sit at a cafe drinking a coffee and reading, usually about 20 minutes before the day really begins. The Underground Railroad has been the best book I've read this year so far though it was very uncomfortable reading at times. Crying in public is not considered the done thing for men in Australia!

So there you have it. Can life really be that bad if I get to spend a little bit of time each day drinking coffee, reading good books in the most livable city in the World with the woman I love? There might be some little issues, but like my Mum says, "Complaining doesn't help". :)

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Ultimate Climax

Chess players are fascinated with what they consider to be beautiful motifs on the chess board. It is sometimes hard to describe what is beautiful in chess, and it may be different for different players. I mean, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

When we start learning the game, traps fascinate us. But after a while we learn that these are just guiding posts for us to avoid,or for us to deliver if someone doesn't know them.

As these traps usually involve moves which don't appear natural, such as sacrifices, our next fascination comes with the unusual in actual play. There are no end of famous sacrifices in the history of chess and just mentioning words like Morphy, Tal, Immortal or Evergreen will conjure images of wonderful combinations. But again, after a while playing chess, we realise that sacrifices work rarely (which is why they are probably so wonderful in our minds) and we are more likely to win a game of chess by playing solidly, winning a little bit of material, and converting in the endgame.

Which then brings us to a study of endgames. With minimal pieces on the board there can also be beautiful ideas, moving pieces around in seemingly impossible fashion to manufacture wins or draws, using various methods to save positions, especially stalemate themes, or creating amazing pawn breakthroughs to promote. However, the practical reality of the endgame is that what is most useful for us, is to develop a technical understanding of how to generally play endgames, backed by a reasonable theoretical knowledge of basic endgame positions that can help guide us in making plans.

So it would seem from what I'm saying that we are attracted to the beautiful in chess, but then most of us develop a playing style which is practical and technical, rather than flamboyant and beautiful. And that is fine. It doesn't mean that we can't enjoy the beautiful, or on occasion, dish out an extravagant move.

I remember thinking about these things and wondering if I'd ever be able to play a double rook sacrifice in my games like Anderssen in his Immortal win against Kiezeritsky. I have then since wondered about using various endgame ideas that I've worked on in my games.

But I now have fully seen the light, with the most amazing move possible. Can you imagine under-promoting to a knight in a corner square to deliver mate? Not in a made up study, in a real game? Well if you manage it, then you certainly won't be the first. I don't know if anyone else has done it, but Ding Liren managed it last night in a play off game in the World Cup against Kravtsiv.

I'm struggling to think of a move more stylish than this to finish a game of chess!

Monday, September 4, 2017

MCC Open Round 2

I often ask the kids that I coach what they think is the most important tournament. I inevitably get answers like the World Championship, or the Olympiad, or even the latest super-GM event. I tell them that the most important tournament is the one you are in. So while it is natural to get excited and follow something like the World Cup of chess with Magnus Carlsen and all the rest of the world's elite, that still shouldn't mean as much to each player as the tournament they are playing in. I'll admit that I get more of a buzz being in a chess club watching live chess, than viewing it on my laptop as it is broadcast from across the globe.

And with that intro, we enter the second round of the MCC Open. There have been a few late entries and the field now sits in the mid 40's for size. The tournament is wide open after top seed, Thai Ly lost last week. Today should see a settling of the field. Top board is Dizdarevic-Papadinis, but Jim Papadinis hadn't showed with 10 minutes left on his clock.

8.15 Update

An hour down....yes, we started on time tonight. The first winner is Mehmedalija Dizdarevic who moves on to 2/2 after Jim Papadinis didn't show. There are some exciting games happening,though. Tom Kalisch has tried the King's Gambit against Sally Yu who has taken. A bizarre position sits on the board at the moment. David Lacey is going for a big king side attack as black in a Dutch against Richard Voon. Thai Ly also has a promising king side attack against Sophie Chang, who has had a remarkably tough start to this event after playing so well against Tom Kalisch last week, but losing in the end. I'll go get a position or 2...

David Lacey as black just played ..Nxf4. Richard Voon replied Ne4 almost immediately.

This is the top game in progress, Kalisch-Yu which arose from some weird Bishop's Gambit.

9.00 Update

There are some crazy time differences on some boards. Here are some examples of time left:

Kalisch 53 Yu 39
Gusain 62 Fry 37
Voon 76 Lacey 24
Harris 62 Li 34 (and Oliver Li has gone walkabout)
Culbert 70 Snow 28
Ragavendran 27 Ashlock 67.

I don't know why players are taking so much time, but they will need to look at their confidence and decision making skills.

Ben Frayle finds himself a rook up, but somewhat tied up by an advanced passed pawn and an excellently placed king by Kerry Hopkins.

An interesting endgame. Colin Savage has an extra pawn, but will the opposite coloured bishops help Kevin Liu?

Club President Elizabeth Warren is putting up a very good fight against Roger Beattie. Elizabeth is just a pawn down, though the connected passed queen side pawns will probably give Roger the win.

Meanwhile, the giant killer from the last round, Alex Jones is playing another solid game against Sushant Manuja who had an excellent performance in the previous tournament, the Malitis Memorial.

9.45 Update

The Ben Frayle-Kerry Hopkins game is reducing to a pawn endgame. Who fancies some calculation training?

I guess Black must play ..Kc2 when white should move his rook forcing black to promote, but who is quickest after d1=Q Rxd1 Kxd1? Actually, the game continued 47..Kc2 48.Ke2 and black has won the a-pawn and should win the game! What a turn around from being a rook down!

Kalisch-Yu is still in this complicated position with clock times 29-22. I don't know if I prefer white's bishops or the better black structure. I think a knight swing from c6-e7-g6 could make white concerned about those offside king side pieces. But it is white to play...

Manuja-Jones, and I think black is ok!

10.00 Update

It is time for me to go home. My predictions? Carlsen will progress to the second round....

Kalisch-Yu too close to call. I'm beginning to like white
Harris-Li Unclear with Anthony bishop and pawn for a rook, and Oliver down to 9 minutes left
Gusain-Fry Looks like Daniel has this one dead to rights
Anton-Watson Sarah looks to be in control
Manuja-Jones I'm going with another giant killing here, black is ok
Hooi-Nordruft Black is material up and should win

Finally, the Frayle-Hopkins game ended in a draw! Black did win white's a-pawn, but instead of then swinging his king to the king side to pick off white's pawns, he got himself stalemated trying to promote his own a-pawn! Moral of the story: Work on your endgames!

I would verymuch like to see the full games of Kalisch-Yu, Harris-Li and Anton-Watson as they all were very interesting. I'll see about getting them off the players :)


Monday, August 28, 2017

MCC Open

I am sitting in the MCC as the roll call of the MCC Open tournament is happening. Unfortunately I can't play because I'll be in England for 3 or 4 weeks of the competition, but while I can, I will blog about the event. A field of 41 players have entered so far with Thai Ly the top seed. I t is a very open field and I'm sure there are quite a few players who feel they have a chance of doing well.

L-R Thai Ly, Simon Dale (Chief Arbiter), Elizabeth Warren (MCC President)

A well attended playing venue for the current Monday night event, the MCC Open

8.00 Update

The tournament started fashionably late at about 7.30 so we've had about half an hour of play and there are already some interesting positions on the board.

Any ideas what the result of this one will be? This is from James Watson-Ben Frayle, and it the type of position I'd hate to be in for either side! Meanwhile, we have Tom Kalisch having to defend against the Morra Gambit of young Sophie Chang. Board 1 sees Thai Ly having to play against Alex Jones, so it is a very competitive first round already, and I'd be surprised if all the games went the way of rating tonight. Perhaps the most interesting pairing is the junior battle between Gavyn Sanusi Goh and Daniel Gusain, both vastly improving players.

8.30 Update

Still no winner yet which is good for a first round. Time to catch up on some returning players. It is good to see MCC stalwarts Felix Wyss and John Beckman returning after periods of absence. Scott Stewart is also playing again, and walking around shaking his head, murmuring "Rusty....rusty". Well Scott, the good news is that the rust wears off pretty quickly, and his opponent, John Beckman, hasn't played much in the last 6 months either!

Perhaps the most pleasing returner is Sally Yu who finds the Monday night at MCC the most convenient for her. Hopefully, she will make a full return and fight for the women's Olympiad spot that she previously held. Sally is the second seed here at the MCC Open.

John Beckman returns to the MCC after 6 months off

Sally Yu makes a welcome return to the game
On the boards, the biggest upset is Tom Kalisch who appears to be an exchange down to Sophie Chang! Sally Yu is showing signs of rustiness. She is half an hour down on the clock. Thai Ly is black against an IQP type position which looks promising for white to me, though I've recently been looking at dynamics in chess so I guess it would appeal! But the big news is a piece sacrifice by Jim Papadinis (usually a safe stodger!) against young Jacob Day. Is it good enough?

White to play. Papadinis-Day

9.00 Update

The MCC is trying to secure its FIDE rated future with new arbiters. Congratulations to Giles Lean and Hans Gao for becoming National Arbiters so that FIDE rated chess will be able to continue at the MCC. This is something I'd like to do as well, but unfortunately the last course clashed with the Victorian Championship which I was playing in.

Newly minted arbiter, Hans Gao who is assistant for the MCC Open
There still isn't a winner, but a few are close. Sarah Anton is a piece ahead of young Emma Chang. Jim Papadinis is now an exchange up against Jacob Day, while James Watson is a piece up against Ben Frayle but with his king still in the centre. One of the returners, Felix Wyss, has a tough challenge against an in-form David Lacey. David played excellently in the recently finished Malitis Memorial finishing equal first with me, but he was really the pyrrhic victor of the event and should be carrying some confidence into this tournament.

No endgames yet :(

9.30 Update

Thai Ly has sunk into deep thought against Alex Jones. Thai took a piece, but his queen has become a little open and his position is looking difficult.

Thai Ly as black taking a long time over this move.

I take back that Jim Papdinis is an exchange up, he is a rook and pawn for 2 pieces. Oliver Li is an amazing talent. I am thankful that I have avoided him in the draw throughout the year, especially after he drew with FM Greg Canfell in the MCC Championship back in February. Oliver is a piece up and looking uninterested like a GM rather than a 10 year old!

We have the first winner of the night. James Watson won a crazy game against Ben Frayle. The diagram position from earlier is well worth looking at, it has loads of possibilities.

10.00 Update

Tonight, this is the last update, as I feel crap and need to sleep! Tom Kalisch now has 2 pawns for the exchange against Sophie Chang and the game is in the balance. A big upset is on the cards though as Richard Snow has a rook and 3 pawns against Richard Voon's knight and 5 pawns. I think the rook is in very good shape, but we'll see how both players finish this off.

Can Richard Snow as white cause an upset?
 The slowest players in the hall? Sally Yu is down to 17 minutes, while Gavyn Sanusi Goh has only 13 minutes left. There opponent's are about an hour left on the clock!

No upsets yet, but I have my hopes :)

Next week I'll be here to the end....unless I'm still sick! Hopefully a few more players enter the event. It would be good to get the numbers up toward 50.

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.