Tuesday, February 28, 2012

MCC Championship Round 4

The playing conditions at the Melbourne Chess Club are wholly weather dependent. For most of the year, the temperate nature of Melbourne makes it a pleasant place to play. In the winter the heaters are sometimes needed, and in high summer it is dangerously hot. On the evening of the 4th round of the MCC Championship, a hot spell had just broken but it was incredibly humid. The playing rooms were pretty stuffy, though not as hot as I've known them. All in all it was mildly uncomfortable, and with tensions rising as the tournament progresses, one can only hope that we don't get too many more heat waves this year.

At the start of the 4th round there were still 5 players on 3/3. As the lowest rated player who hadn't floated down, I dropped out of the main group and played someone on 2.5. The top 2 pairings saw FM Stojic playing FM Wallis in a repeat of the 2010 Victorian Championship play off, while Beaumont played IM Rujevic. Both these games were still in progress when I left and I couldn't tell which way they were going to go, but in the end Stojic and Rujevic both won.

I joined them on 4/4 with a very nervous game against the giant killer of the tournament so far, Anthony Harris. I must admit I had some butterflies before the game. I wasn't sure how the game would go, and didn't really prepare. Once the game got under way, I went for a Noteboom which I know quite well. I was lucky because Anthony seemed to be a bit out of his depth in this tricky opening and I found myself 2 pawns to the good after about 15 moves and just needed to play carefully to convert the advantage.

So 3 players will be on maximum points going into round 5, but the pressure is mounting from behind. The first game from the top tables to finish was IM Guy West's victory against John Dowling. Guy seems to have gone with the flow the last 2 rounds and taken the game to his opponents. I'm not sure if his policy was to play a little safe in the first couple of rounds and wait for mistakes that never happened, but he is now certainly throwing pieces around and playing creative, tactical chess. On boards 5 and 6, there were interesting matches between established strong adult players and talented juniors. The adults scored half out of 2! Domogoj Dragicevic was looking to attack Karl Zelesco, but my brief glance at their game made me feel that he really didn't have enough to justify this. When I left he was a pawn down, but the game ended a draw. Malcolm Pyke seemed to have a decent position against Ari Dale, and I have no idea what happened to allow Ari to win this game. Unless I'm misreading this game badly, Malcolm could easily have been on 4/4  but let good positions slip 2 weeks in a row.

Outside of the small room there were 2 postponements and 2 forfeits amongst the games. Being a club tournament, allowing postponements (and byes up until round 7) lets more people participate who might not play if the event was strictly set on certain dates. So it was a bit disappointing to see forfeits, though of course, sometimes these are unavoidable. At the top end Pano Skiotis and Gary Lycett jumped up to 3/4 while at the other end, young Oscar Pearce scored his first win, so congratulations to him!

After the 5th round there will be a week break so as not to clash with the Ballarat Weekend event. So I guess it is quite important to try to get to this break in a good position which will happen to me whatever the result of my next game as I would have been more than happy with a 4/5 start. I think 4/4 is my best start to the Club Championship, and I know that whatever the draw throws up at me the next one will be tough. I'm guessing that I'll have another black, this time against Dusan Stojic who is also due white. The alternative is that I float down again, when I'd probably have to face Guy West but I don't think this will happen. Whoever I play, it will leave an amazing game on the other top board. If I play Dusan then the IM's should have to face off, with Mirko Rujevic white against Guy West. Otherwise, Dusan and Mirko might have to face off, but a great contest seems guaranteed!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Practical Rook Endings

My game in the last round of the MCC Championship against Domogoj Dragicevic taught me a bit about a certain type of rook ending, and endings in general. I must admit that with just my 30 second increment left, when the following position was reached I was sure it would end a draw.
I had seen similar types of endgames with an extra pawn end a draw with a couple of techniques available for the defender. Black can let white's king approach its pawn and then start checking from behind it. Black can try to win a pawn on the king side, and then sacrifice his rook for white's a-pawn hopefully resulting in a drawn rook versus pawn ending.
However, in this position, black is at a big disadvantage that I didn't notice at first. Black's king is stuck on the back rank which ties black's rook tot he a-file permanently. As white I decided to play on and see what would happen. My plan was to push the king side pawns so that black's rook couldn't take them and then move my king to the queen side. As it was this wasn't necessary. 1.h3 Kh8 [Black waits passively, but there is little else to do] 2.h4 [Obviously white is struggling for a plan] 2..Kg8 3.g3 Kh8 4.Kf1
At this point I had a revelation. I had gained a little time to think, and it suddenly struck me that if black's rook tries to take my g3 pawn, then I could play Rc7 and after black's rook returns to the a-file, I can play a7 followed by Rc8 and a8=Q forcing black to part with his rook. So it was also about this time that I began to wonder whether I actually needed to move my king side pawns. Oh well, it gained me some time, and no damage was done!

Just to show how important details are here is an example of a drawn endgame.
Black's king is here able to hide from checks and escape up the board if necessary. The difference is that black will be able to take at least one pawn and get back to the a-file to prevent it promoting.

I have to admit, I was lucky to win this game. I didn't know the endgame in the original position was a win for white, but kept plugging away. On the positive side, I was able to work out a winning plan over the board in pretty short time. And the best thing is that I have a little more technique that will stick in my mind for games in the future.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

MCC Championship, round 3

Ok, let me get over the shame first. At the weekend, I tripped while out on a run, tumbled over and hurt my knee. So I walked into the Melbourne Chess Club about 5 minutes late with a dramatic limp which gathered curious glances from those around. I should have stumbled in earlier, but was having dinner in Brunswick Street which overran slightly. Actually, when I say dinner, I mean I had 2 strong coffees and a piece of flourless orange cake. Since my accident I've felt the need for some comfort food every now and then.

This was the round where the top seeds all started meeting. On top board, the second seed in the tournament, Dusan Stojic was playing the 2008 MCC Champion Malcolm Pyke. My very brief glances through this game gave me the impression Malcolm was doing ok, but the last time I looked the game had spiralled out of control and it looked as if anything could happen. I'm not sure if this is what happened but if so then I sympathise with Malcolm, as I've had plenty of games spin so wildly out of control where a semi bad move from either side can lose the game. Actually, I felt that it could happen in my game last night at one point, but I decided to try to maintain a more balanced approach and not go "all in". My game with third seed Domogoj Dragicevic was a tense battle with little advantage either way until Domogoj let a-pawn go. It looked as if he could get into a drawn rook endgame with 2 pawns each on the king side, while I had an out side a pawn. However, his pawn structure was bad and I was able to win. Sylvester Urban played the Dragon against Mirko Rujevic, and I was expecting a massive slugfest, but funnily enough Mirko restrained the position and an endgame was reached where he had a knight against Sylvester's bishop. Mirko won the endgame, though I don't know where the game was won or lost. After being away for a year it is good to see Pano Skiotis back at the club (well, sort of, as he always beats me!) and he did his best to hack Chris Wallis in a Stonewall Attack type of thing. Chris was up to the task of defending, though I think he may have had a few scary moments along the way.

Any tournament brings about moments for the underdogs. Usually it's a win or draw against a high rated opponent, but the MCC Championship has seen 2 players on a big high. David Beaumont is hardly a novice, but is sometimes overlooked as a contender. His FIDE is a respectable 2065, though I think he has every intention of pushing it higher and he will readily admit that his biggest problem is one of consistency. I know David intends to work on his game over the next 12 months, so we'll see if it pays dividends. So far he has played excellent chess in the Championship and he came up with a nice tactic to put away Thai Ly last night. I was sat next to this game and I was pretty impressed, especially seeing how strong Thai is. However, David's achievements are completely pushed aside by Anthony Harris who has started with the tournament of his life. So far, the 1444 ACF rated youngster has beaten Gary Lycett (ACF 1819), drawn with top seed IM Guy West (ACF 2309) and last night beat Rad Chmiel (ACF 1736) for a massive performance improvement. Anthony will be looking for more big scalps to take out, and to my horror, I have a terrible feeling that I will be dropping down to play him in the next round.

A number of the players lower down bounced back, including Guy West who won a crazy looking game against Felix Wyss and he now heads a group of elite players 1 point back from the leading group which includes Dragicevic, Pyke, Urban, Dowling, Skiotis, Dale and Zelesco. With only 1 point separating the top 18 players, there should be some fighting chess and a general sorting of positions over the next couple of weeks, before the week break over Labour Day when the Championship adjourns for the traditional Ballarat weekender.

So here's my game against Domogoj from last night. I will admit to knowing little about the opening, and just trying to get to a position where I could play. I think I was too optimistic about my position through most of the middlegame, and while I wasn't worse I now understand that I wasn't really better. Of all the openings that I've ever played in chess, I think my judgement is probably worst in the Grunfeld, and would gladly accept anyone's advice on a simple system to play which doesn't take too much effort to learn, and offers white a playable position and can be understood by grunfeldaphobes like myself.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Playing v Watching MCC Ch 2012

Last year I got a real buzz from watching games of chess, especially while they were happening live at my club, the Melbourne Chess Club (MCC). I could analyse, kibitz and even blog about the games as they were happening. I've always felt great respect for players who can do that while they are playing. Some players have the ability to play a pretty decent game while also wandering around and examining the other games that are being played in their tournament. Unfortunately, I'm not one of those players! I spend the majority of my time at the board, and get pretty engrossed in my own game, leaving little time or energy for much else. I do get up and wander around, but it's usually just to stretch a bit or maybe get a drink. I might look at some games, but it will generally be the most cursory of glances and sometimes I can look at a board and not register anything that's happening in the game!

As such, I've played 2 games in the current MCC Club Championship and haven't seen very much of the action. I'm aware of the results, but they don't always give a full picture of how players are performing. A bad result can be achieved in a number of ways (as can a good result), such as a simple blunder, a not so simple blunder, taking excessive risks, being outplayed by a weaker (lower rated) opponent, arriving late and getting into time trouble and probably a whole load of other things. When a player wins a game they were expected to win, did they do it with ease, or did they struggle to put their opponent away?

I don't have the answers to these questions, though I do have the results and they point to a couple of interesting things. First, the tournament has just under 50 players, which is a pretty reasonable amount. Although not as strong as last year's tournament, on paper this year's event is pretty good with 2 IM's, 2 FM's and about 13 players with FIDE ratings above 2000. After 2 rounds there have already been some high level casualties. First and foremost is top seed IM Guy West who has started the tournament with 2 draws against opposition averagely rated some 800 points below him. I'm not sure what is happening here, but I don't really want to get in Guy's way when he finds form and starts trying to overhaul the leaders! Thai Ly, who is normally a pretty solid performer also couldn't get past his first round opponent, Brad Ashlock, but then won in the second round against a player rated higher than Brad! Thai sits just behind the leaders who are a pretty big pack of 9 players all rated 2000+. The other 2 players rated above 2000 who are not there are John Dowling who found himself at the top of the second half of players on 1/1, and therefore playing FM Dusan Stojic on board 1. John lost but I don't think it was any means easy for Dusan. The other missing player is Justin Penrose, who was taken out in the first round by Alex Kaplan. I didn't see any of this game, but I know from experience that Alex can be a bit tough to crack with his ultra solid style.

The tournament is still taking shape, but the next round promises to bring some top quality games as players are beginning to find a place among their peers. The draw comes out later today, but the top four boards should all see 2000+ clashes. After that Thai Ly is the top rated player on 1.5, while Guy West leads a very talented bunch on 1 point including juniors Ari Dale and Karl Zelesco. This group will be going for wins so the play should be pretty exciting. I'm on 2/2 and amongst the top guns. So far I've played ok, not really missing much and taking risks where I felt they were justified. I've outrated my opponents by 300 and 200 points so I guess I'm not making any great shakes by winning these games. Still, these guys can play pretty good chess so I'm very happy to have won, and I should find myself playing one of the very top players in the next game. The arbiter Kerry Stead has written about the tournament and will continue to do so, so I'll be following his blog closely.