Saturday, March 30, 2013

I'm Stunned...

I wake up this morning to the most stunning news in the chess World:

- Magnus Carlsen has lost with white against struggling Ivanchuk

- Kramnik beats Aronian with black pieces to take the outright lead

- MCC's Richard Voon is on a display board at Doeberl Cup!!!

The Candidates has gone completely nuts with a big change at the top. Vladimir Kramnik takes outright lead for the first time in the tournament after Levon Aronian failed to hold on in what apparently was an even endgame (I'll have a look at some of these even endgames later). Meanwhile, Magnus Carlsen loses his first game since the Grand Prix Final in Sao Paulo last October (against Caruana) and finally cracks under what must surely be the most amazing pressure. So with 2 rounds to go, there are really now only 2 possible winners of the event, Kramnik and Carlsen. Aronian is now 1.5 behind Kramnik so while he has a mathematical chance, I think we can count him out and call it a 2 horse race. So it remains to be seen whether Carlsen can bounce back after a loss, or indeed whether Kramnik can maintain his amazing form in this second half of the tournament where he has scored 4.5/5. Personally, I would like to see Carlsen take the event if only so that we get a new challenger for the World Title. However, as I said right at the start at the event, whoever wins will no doubt deserve it, and if that is Kramnik, then good on him.

In Canberra, the Premier tournament continues to see upsets with lots of draws holding players up somewhat. One player who isn't being held up is Levante Vajda. Last year he came equal first after starting with a strong 4.5/5. This year he has started just as strong with 4/4 and is currently involved in a stodgy battle with Indian GM Sethuraman, the sort of game that has brought him success this year. Sethuraman is also on 4/4, and they are half ahead of top seed GM Li Chao of China who dropped half a point to Australian prodigy FM Bobby Cheng. Cheng won the Australian Open in January and has continued in fine form at the start of Doeberl, sitting on 3/4 in a big group of players just behind the leaders.

My club, the Melbourne Chess Club (MCC), is well represented in Canberra. In the Premier we can claim Cheng who is a life member of the club, FM Dragicevic who is also on 3/4 after starting the tournament in excellent form beating IM Ly and GM Varga already, GM Johansen (another life member) and FM Stojic both on 3/4. IM James Morris sits on 2.5, (as does Justin Tan who I'm not sure has joined the club this year, but has been an active member in the past...we at MCC wish Justin well whether he is a member or not!), David Garner and Ari Dale on 2, David Beaumont and Jack Puccini are on 1 point, while Felix Wyss is yet to get off the mark.

In the Major (U-2000), MCC have a player on top board, none other than veteran Richard Voon. Richard is one of 11 players on 2/2 in the 7-round swiss which basically is a lose a game and your out type of event! Half a point behind the leaders are a large group including MCC regulars Dimitry Partsi, Jason Chew and Andrew Saint, while Gary Bekker, Rad Chmiel, Anthony Hain, Finley Dale and Sarah Anton all sit on 1/2. Also playing from the MCC are Ray Yang (.5) and Angelo Tsagarakis (.5, unable to recreate Ballarat form).

The Minor (U-1600) is another 7 round swiss with an MCC presence. Daniel Dobos is one of 11 players on a perfect 2/2, while Gerard Barta who I haven't seen for a long time is on 1.5. Hannibal Swartz is on 1/2 while Paul Cavezza is on .5/2.

Again, I wish everyone good luck in their games and especially MCC players. By the way, my apologies if I left anyone out from the MCC, just let me know and I'll add you in. :)

Friday, March 29, 2013

It's a Good Friday for Chess

Well, it all happened yesterday and no mistake. The London Candidates which has already surpassed my expectations for excitement brought up some new drama. Having gone to bed before the action started, I awoke this morning to a draw for Carlsen, a loss for Aronian and a win for Kramnik. These 3 players are really bringing this event alive and one of them must surely be the winner. Carlsen retains his half point lead, but now it is ex-World Champion Kramnik in second. He has leapfrogged over Aronian who is a further half point back with just 3 rounds to go. As I said in the last post, Carlsen holds his destiny in his own hands, especially as he has white in 2 of his 3 remaining games. If Carlsen can avoid losing, then it is hard to see anyone overtaking him. And a lot will depend on the momentous clash between Aronian and Kramnik later today. It will definitely be a battle of nerves in the final 3 rounds, and alas for my tipping, it looks as if Aronian's nervous energy is shot away. After over pressing against Boris Gelfand a couple of days ago, he self destructed against Peter Svidler by throwing his g and b-pawn's 2 squares down the board on consecutive moves creating serious weaknesses which were easily exploited by Svidler.

But the game that interested me most was the Grischuk-Carlsen clash. This is mainly because Grischuk chose a line of the Grunfeld that I had a look at a while back, the Zaitsev variation. It's a funny system that gets right into black's face, which, to be honest, is what black attempts to do to white when playing the Grunfeld.

The move 5.h4 (or 4.h4 without the moves 4.Nf3 Bg7) is the very aggressive idea of Alexander Zaitsev, and it appeals to the likes of me (coffeehouse hacker) because of the simplistic concept behind the move. Essentially, white is getting ready to directly attack black's king side. Typical themes involve sacrificing the c-pawn, shuffling the king to f1 or g1 for safety, trying to dominate the dark squares on the king side but playing across the entire board. It is a nightmarishly difficult system to play, but fun nevertheless. To add to the appeal, the present favourite of top GM's amongst coffeehouse hackers such as myself, Alexander Morozevich, played this system twice in Beijing towards the end of last year against Anish Giri (the blitz game is especially fun!).

On the domestic front, Doeberl started with a bang. Yesterday, the first round went pretty much according to plan, but the second round was a carnage as the seeds fell one after another: 2680ish Loek van Wely came a cropper to 2400ish Stephen Solomon; Luke Li Zuhao defeated GM Adam Horvath, Justin Tan defeated GM Attila Czebe, and IM Moulton Ly was beaten by FM Domagoj Dragicevic. Not only that, but GM Varga, GM Laxman, IM Palit Somak and IM Brown were held to draws by Tingtie Lei, FM Dusan Stojic, Anton Smirnov and John Nemeth respectively.

There were further upsets on the lower boards as well. Today the Premier sees another 2 rounds after which we should have some idea of the lie of the land. And also the 'Major' (under 2000) and 'Minor" (under 1600) tournaments start giving an even more local flavour to the Easter chess festival.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Australia's Premier Event

Annually, the top event in Australia is the Easter long weekend Doeberl Cup in Canberra. This year, the organisers have assembled perhaps the strongest field to date for their premier tournament with 75 players listed of which 11 are Grand Masters, 10 are International Masters, 3 are above 2600 and 18 are over 2400. Besides the Premier there are 3 other sections, for players rated below 2000 ACF, below 1600 ACF, and below 1200 ACF. The numbers of participants in each of the fields is good, with 72 in the U-2000, 50 in the U-1600, and 43 for the U-1200.

I really like tournaments with rated sections, rather than one big open tournament. I feel they are more inclusive, and allow players to step up into a harder section, or to try to win a prize within their rating group. As a promising player in the UK a long, long time ago, I spent a year playing in weekend tournaments sometimes playing in open's for the experience and sometimes trying to win limited rated sections. Eventually I had to play only in open sections, but the value of working my way through 'novice', then 'minor', then 'major' sections built my strength gradually and assuredly. My improvement was constantly being challenged by others rated above me, and by those who were improving with me as we tried to progress faster than one another.

Unfortunately, there are few tournaments in Australia that offer ratings limited sections, especially in Victoria and I wonder if this is a deterrent to some players. As a 1400 strength player I'm not sure I would be happy about continually being pushed into events where I was a bottom seed by a long margin. I would be happy to step up once in a while, but I would also like to try to win a section designed for players around my ability, say for instance, an under 1600 tournament.

I have fond recollection of playing as a junior and a lower rated player in tournaments where Grand Masters also competed, but in different sections, the annual Hastings Congress being a prime example. My first Hastings saw me playing in a minor, but I eventually progressed to the top amateur section. Meanwhile, next to me Masters and Grandmasters competed in the "Challengers" and "Premier" sections. This meant that I was able to compete at a comfortable level, while also rubbing shoulders with some of my heroes, and learning about other players who would become players I would be continually trying to match myself against.

I will be keenly following the events in Canberra, and not just the strong Premier event. I have friends and students playing throughout the sections so each tournament holds a special interest for me. There are live games which actually start about now. There will be the top 4 boards of the Premier which starts today, and from tomorrow there will also be the top board from the U-2000 and U-1600 sections.

Good luck to all the competitors. I will be following this closely as I'm sure many other Australians will be, and I will be especially cheering along my fellow Victorians and MCC players who have made the trip to Canberra.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Lots of chess action, but none live!

Unfortunately with the time zone differences between the UK and Australia I am not able to follow the Candidates tournament live. I'm still ardently following the event, just after the fact. And that loses some of it's immediacy and tension. I love watching live games, seeing the action unfold, and trying to guess the moves and ideas that the players are coming up with. Then perhaps comparing how my ideas and moves match up to their own. It's actually a good way of improving your thinking, as when you propose a move that isn't played, you try to justify it and then if you finally admit your move was worse than the played move, it teaches you how you should be thinking and playing.

It is doubly unfortunate for me and Aussies who can't follow the action live, because there has been plenty of action and drama. I'm sure there is still some action and drama to come, especially as the field is relatively close still. The top 5 players are separated by 1.5 points and with 5 rounds still to go, any of them could still finish first. Of course, Magnus Carlsen must now be the favourite to take outright first, though he is only half a point ahead of Aronian and a point clear of Kramnik. Boris Gelfand has surprised everyone by coming out of the first half of the tournament in poor form, to score 2 wins in excellent fashion at the start of the second half. It is probably too much to ask for Gelfand to maintain that momentum, but he will be fully pumped for his next game against Carlsen who has been hanging on rather than moving forward for the past couple of rounds. While he's out of contention, I was happy to see Ivanchuk win a game. I don't like to see any player without a win in a tournament, and I've been in that position myself a few times pretty deep into events so I know how it feels.

What was triply unfortunate for me was that the live action that I was looking forward to at the Melbourne Chess Club was switched off last night. So I'll have to wait to see those games as well! And to make matters worse, it looked a fascinating round (a lot of byes, but I guess the Jewish Pesach required that quite a few players couldn't attend). I would have eagerly followed FM Wallis-IM West on board 1. Neither of these players give any quarter and both would have been out for a win. The game ended in a draw which leaves Guy still first. Ari Dale could have caught him with a win, but he could also only draw with FM Dragicevic. Justin Tan won his game to move within a point of West. The top places are:

6. West
5.5 Dale
5. Wallis, Dragicevic, Tan
4.5. Pyke, Beaumont, Hacche

The winner will come from this group of players, though Guy West controls his own destiny. The postponed games Drew (3.5)-Stojic (4) and Dizdarevic (3.5)-Michaille (4) will also place players into these groups.

So no live action from London or the MCC. So I'll have to regurgitate what I've been telling my advanced kids today. While it's a good idea to play to your own strengths, I think you should vary your style depending on the strength of your opponent. It makes sense, if your playing someone who you believe to be weaker than yourself, to play a safe game and to take no risks. The chances are that the longer the game goes, the more likely it is that the weaker player will blunder, so a stronger player wants those games to go a long time. Conversely, if you're playing someone you believe to be much stronger than you, it makes more sense to try something risky, and bring the game into a tactical mess where your stronger opponent is as likely to blunder as you. Remember, the longer the game the more chance you will blunder, so keep the game short and try to blast your opponent away. If it fails, then at least you will have some tactical ideas to look at, and you will have saved yourself the horror of being slowly ground down over a long time.

To make this point I found a game played in the recent Rejkyavik Open where a 1900 player smashes a 2473 rated IM with the Muzio Gambit. I found this game with some pretty extensive motes from Michael Yip's excellent Budapest Chess News. Just the game is good, but if you want the notes, you can go to the site and download the files for free. Check it out, and watch the fun :)

Thursday, March 21, 2013


It's a funny old word. I was thinking this just the other day when admiring a beautiful Melbourne Autumn day. It was about 25C, bright blue skies and hardly any wind. We have had an unseasonably hot start to Autumn this year with a host of days in the 30's at the start of March. But then it suddenly broke and we've been treated to absolutely glorious weather, with the odd bit of madness such as the squall that blew through Melbourne this afternoon bringing high winds and rain.

New England in the Fall (prairiecoach)
To be honest, Autumn is my favourite season in Melbourne (it was spring when I lived in the UK). There is a freshness to the climate which no doubt has something to do with the drop in temperatures after our fierce summers. It is a relief to be over with the 35C+ temps and even 30C+ temps continually can become tiring after a sustained period. But Autumn is also a colourful month for flora, and there can be some breathtaking sunsets in Autumn.

I have vivid memories of a road trip that I undertook with Caroline to see New England in the fall. We drove from New York to Boston along the coast and then headed through the White Mountains and up to Montreal. We came back down through Adirondack country to New York.We did this about 10 years ago and I still have amazing memories, even though the locals kept telling us the colours weren't fully out yet! You can also get some pretty spectacular scenery in Australia in autumn. I've been to the Grampians and the Southern Alps in Autumn and was pretty impressed.

Bright in Victoria living up to it name (Australiaimg)

But as I said, autumn is a funny old word. It is old, stemming from Old French. Funnily enough, Americans use the term Fall instead of Autumn and this is also derived from the "olde worlde", though this time Germanic languages, possibly Norse. It was commonly used in England, especially in the 16th and 17th centuries, and that is when emigration to the USA was at it's peak. So those early English settlers took the word Fall with them to the USA where it has remained in use, while England changed to the more European Autumn.

While Autumn is the oddest looking of the words for the seasons, it is by no means the oldest. Surprisingly, that goes to Summer, which can trace it's origins back about 6000 years! There's loads of interesting facts about the names of the seasons and other things on this site. I'm going to stop wondering how words came to be used for things and start getting out and enjoying the beauty of Autumn/Fall in Melbourne! Here's a bit of Vivaldi to celebrate Autumn.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

MCC Championship Resumes

After the week off for the Ballarat Weekender, the Melbourne Chess Club Championship resumed last night. I thought it was very considerate of the London Candidates to schedule a rest day so as not to clash with the MCC Ch. However, it was unfortunate that the live coverage of the top board game seemed to stick after about 20 moves when things were getting interesting. IM Guy West was leading the tournament with 5/5 before the week off. Last night he played young gun Justin Tan. To be honest I was not sure about the play up to the loss of transmission. First I thought Justin was doing ok when he advanced e5, then I thought Guy was doing ok when Justin sacrificed a pawn in the centre (I thought Guy should have taken with the pawn, but I could understand the queen capture as well). In the position at the end of transmission I couldn't work out who I'd rather be.

It's white to move, and although he is a pawn ahead, he has to lose his e4 pawn, and the e3 pawn will be a permanent weakness. However, the 2 bishops and the open centre give compensation, and the split of pawns with no majorities would lean toward drawish tendencies. In fact the game ended in a draw, which keeps Guy outright leader on 5.5. Ari Dale closed the gap with West to half a point with a big win against FM Dusan Stojic, while a further half point back are FM's Chris Wallis and Domogoj Dragicevic.

There were also some upsets in this round. Paul Kovacevic continued his excellent tournament drawing with David Beaumont. Jason Chew caused a bigger upset winning against experienced campaigner Richard Voon. But the result of the night was Finley Dale's draw with IM Mirko Rujevic. Mirko is not having his best tournament, but nevertheless this is a huge result for young Finley.

There are still 3 rounds to go and a lot of chess to be played here. I would say that anyone within 1.5 of Guy still has a chance (slim, but still a chance) while almost half the field could finish in the places with a 3/3 finish.

Monday, March 18, 2013

A Coffee House Player

According to a definition I found in Wikipedia Coffeehouse chess is:

"..a move, player, or style of play characterized by risky, positionally dubious play that sets traps for the opponent. The name comes from the notion that one would expect to see such play in skittles games played in a coffeehouse or similar setting, particularly in games played for stakes and/or blitz chess.."

Now having played a number of players who could be described in these terms, I know that typical Coffeehouse Chess players can be pretty strong, especially tactically. But there have been some pretty strong players over the years who have been called Coffeehouse players in a derogatory sense, with Judit Polgar springing immediately to mind. Judit is an excellent tactical player, who has played for many traps during her games. But that doesn't mean she doesn't understand how to play positionally. I don't think anyone who makes it to the top 10 in the World should be described as weak positionally.

The latest victims of the label Coffeehouse player is the current leader of the London Candidates tournament, World Number 3, Levon Aronian and the man he just beat, Vassily Ivanchuk. When commenting on Ivanchuk's play, Aronian said:

"I tend to do things like this and friends tell me I'm a coffee house player"

Well, that is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of, and anyone who can trap a top 20 player tactically should be pretty happy with themselves. That is what Aronian did to last year's defeated World Champion Boris Gelfand in round 2.

Gelfand as black had just played 24..Bd8 and Aronian's thinking is interesting. "After Bd8 I was thinking which move should I play to provoke Rc8" said Aronian after the game. Aronian played 25.b4 in the hope of his opponent playing 25..Rc8 which he duly did. Aronian had set a trap which Gelfand walked into. 26.Bh6+! which wins a pawn. Gelfand played 26..Kg8 (26..Kxh6 27.Rxc8 Bxc8 28.Nxf7+ followed by 29.Nxd8 is the point) 27.Rxc8 Bxc8 28.Nc6 winning material as the knight threatens d8, a7 and another fork on e7.

Going into the first rest day, Aronian is clear leader on 2.5/3. He is followed closely by Carlsen and Svidler on 2/3, Kramnik, Radjabov, Grischuk 1.5/3 and Ivanchuk, Gelfand .5/3. There is a long way to go, but I'm hoping the Coffeehouse player can stay ahead of course. Here are his 2 wins in the tournament so far, where he shows how to be a coffeehouse player, and how to beat a coffeehouse player.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Formula 1 on St Patrick's Day

I was driving down Jacka Boulevard through St Kilda on my way to Port Melbourne. If you've never been to St Kilda, it is a bohemian wonderland that doubles as a tourist magnet. It has it's good sides such as a beach, great cafe culture, art and artists and excellent clubs and venues. It also has it's bad sides with drugs and prostitution openly available and it gets madly overcrowded throughout the summer and most weekends through the year. I personally dislike crowds too much to want to be in St Kilda at the moment, but I like hanging out around Acland Street when it's colder and there's room to move.

Anyway, as I was driving through St Kilda I saw signs by the road saying that it's an alcohol free zone, as is a big expanse of suburbs around the Grand Prix in Albert Park. To be honest, it was no skin off my nose as I don't drink and drive but I wondered how long this drink ban was going on for and whether it would be successful in keeping alcohol off the streets. The same policy was used during the St Kilda Festival a few weeks back which to my mind makes a lot of sense with so much emphasis on providing attractions for families. But today is not family festival day...

Today is, in fact, St Patrick's Day. Again, for those who don't know what I'm talking about, St Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland and so this day has become a celebration of the great Irish tradition of getting absolutely pissed. This can be done in a number of ways, but it is usual to wear something green that identifies you with the Emerald Isle, find an Irish Pub of which there is at least one pretty much anywhere you travel in the World, and drink as much as you can while complaining about how bad Guinness tastes outside the homeland (whether you've been to Ireland or not!). In fact St Patrick is a fairly serious Saint who has been mythologized and celebrated throughout the centuries. There's a pretty good article about him here.

I also noticed a strange phenomenon concerning the scheduling of the the London Candidates tournament. The tournament started slowly and was eclipsed by the media heavy Red Nose Day in the UK. Coinciding the start of a mind sport event such as chess with Red Nose Day (comic relief) seems a bit strange, but then the tournament is scheduled to end on April Fool's Day. I wonder if someone in marketing is trying to make chess appear a more fun event to the general public? Unfortunately, none of the players wore red noses on the opening day of play, but I have hopes of perhaps a big green hat being worn by one of the players today. And if not, maybe we'll be lucky enough to see Magnus Carlsen in the last round needing to win and reaching for his h-pawn, hovering his hand over the flank pawn, and then smiling and saying "April Fool"!

While round 1 was a bit lame, round 2 came alive with 2 of the games decisive. I was watching Carlsen-Kramnik and you just have to admire Kramnik's ability to not lose games of chess. I mean, I know he does lose games, but he really found equality easily with the black pieces against the world number 1. The decisive games came when the old guys Gelfand and Ivanchuk (damn, both younger than me), lost to the number 3 (Aronian) and 4 (Radjabov) in the World. To be honest, the games were not classics, with the losers playing badly rather than the winners playing excellently. The other game between Grischuk and Svidler was a draw which leaves Aronian and Radjabov as the early leaders of the event.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

More Elementary Endgames

It was a pretty tame opening to the London Candidates event. There were 4 draws with none of the players seemingly willing to risk much early on in the tournament. The game between Ivanchuk and Grischuk did give me a chance to explain the square of the pawn to some students today. One of the kids asked me why they had agreed to a draw, so we had a look at the endgame.

It is white to move and it looks like black's 2 queen side passed pawns give him an advantage. However, white's king can block those pawns if it heads to the queen side (rather than trying to win the h-pawn which was what some of the kids thought of straight are so materialistic!). Basically, a quick calculation can be made based on making a square which has where the pawn currently stands (b5) and where it wants to get to (b1) as one side. The other corners of the the square ill be f5 and f1. The golden rule here is that white's king must be able to enter this square if it wants to prevent the pawn from promoting. So white could play 1.Kf4 here, and still be able to get into the square of the pawn after 1..b4 2.Ke4 b3 3.Kd3 b2 4.Kc2 b1=Q 5.Kxb1.

Ivanchuk wasted no time in heading off the pawns, playing 1.Ke4 and after 1..a5, he started on creating his own passed pawns on the king side with 2.f3. They played 2..a4 3.Kd3 Getting inside the square of the a-pawn (a4, a1, d4, d1), 3..a3 and a draw was agreed!

So why was a draw agreed here? White must enter the square of the pawn now, so 4.Kc2 seems reasonable. The thing is, black can't stop white from advancing pawns on the king side, so perhaps the game might continue 4..b4 5.g4 hxg4 6.fxg4 when we have a position where neither side can make progress.

White's king must stay close to the black pawns, but black's king can't leave the white pawns to advance. But neither side can advance their pawns far as the kings will block them. Notice that a king that sits between the pawns, such as a white king on b3, cannot take the backward of the 2 pawns as that would leave the other pawn to promote. So neither side can make progress.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Elementary Chess Endings

I was talking to a friend the other day about our favourite chess ending. We spoke about quite a few old classics and each had our particular favourite. Hopefully we will see some more over the next few weeks in London at the Candidates' tournament, and with some great endgame players, I can't imagine there not be a few classics.

But after my post last week, I thought I'd share my favourite classic endgame. I have always liked pawn endgames, and I prefer endgames that actually happened in games compared to composed studies. One of the first endgames I was shown is still one of my favourites, Lasker-Tarrasch St Petersburg 1914.

It looks bad for white. Black has a pawn majority on the queen side, his king is nearer to the queen side than white's king and is also able to easily stop white's pawn from advancing far. Yet Lasker managed to draw this position and it was black fighting for that draw in the end!

1.h4! This wins time against the advance of black's queen side as Tarrasch can't allow white to play 2.h5 1..Kg4 2.Kg6!! Again winning time as white now threatens 3.h5 so black's next is forced 2..Kxh4 3.Kf5 and now white's king "shoulders" black's king in the race to the queen side.

The game finished 3..Kg3 4.Ke4 Kf2 5.Kd5 Ke2 6.Kxc5 Kd2 7.Kxb5 Kc2 8.Kxa5 Kxb3 Draw.

Study of classic endgames is good for anyone. I hope to bring some more favourite classics to this blog :)

Thursday, March 14, 2013

London Candidates 2013

This is going to be the biggest tournament since the World Championship tournament of 2007. That was a great triumph for the current World Champion Anand with 6 of the 8 participants from the 2013 Candidates also present in 2007. The current number 1 and 4 in the World, Carlsen and Radjabov, were not playing, and both will hope to be significant factors in London. Meanwhile all the 6 who played 6 years ago will certainly believe they are better players now than then. And so what we have is the promise of one of the greatest tournaments in history, with the fantastic format of a double round robin.

There is a little over 24 hours before the event begins and after last week's whinge about the lack of coverage, my hopes picked up. First Chessbase started to preview the players, with short biographies and results and chances against their opponent's. Unfortunately, they have only managed to preview 5 of the 8 players, which is rather disappointing especially seeing that Carlsen and Kramnik haven't been examined yet! Still, they have looked at Svidler, Grischuk, Ivanchuk, Radjabov and Aronian and that is certainly good.

Of course, we in Australia like to tip winners and so when I saw a tweet form Chessvibes saying that some top players had made their predictions I was intrigued. I have to say that it is an excellent article, but I was a little disappointed with the punditry. Caruana completely sat on the fence, as did Ponomariov. Gawain Jones stated the obvious (as did all the pundits) in as much as Carlsen is the favourite, but almost anyone can win (actually Jones only mentioned 6 players with Gelfand and Radjabov missing out). Dutch GM Erwin L'Ami is the only one to stick his neck out and say that Carlsen will win (if he is in form) and the only ones to stop him are Aronian and Kramnik. He also says there could be a surprise outsider such as Svidler but I don't think L'Ami thinks he will win the event. Other tipsters have been Anand (total diplomacy) and Anish Giri who feels Carlsen is 80% favourite to win, while interstingly he doesn't rate Aronian's chances and seems to only rate Kramnik as a challenger to Carlsen.

So it's time to stick my neck out, get off the fence for once. So first I'll state that I'll be happy if almost anyone wins as long as the level of play and competition is high. I'd really like to see Aronian do it, but like Giri I'm not sure I fully believe in him. Nevertheless as the last player to beat Carlsen in a tournament I'm going to go with Aronian to win the event. I guess I could be eating my words after the very first round when the pairing of Aronian-Carlsen comes up, but even a first round loss for any of these players will not spell disaster.

As well as social media sites such as twitter and facebook, I'll be following the news primarily from the official site (at least the FIDE official site as I'm not sure the Agon official site is being fully updated), the internet chess club (icc) and The Week in Chess (TWIC). I'll be passing on my own impressions here but won't be watching the games live due to the time zone difference which means the games will not start until abut 1am here. It's about time we had a big event in Beijing, and if the World Championship is held in Chennai, that will be better for us in Australia!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Ballarat round up.

The finale of the 47th Ballarat was truly spectacular. Going into the last day, 3 players were on a maximum 5/5, IM James Morris, FM Chris Wallis and Brodie McClymont. In the 6th round Wallis beat last year's joint winner McClymont, while Morris was held to a draw by Luke Li. This set up the final round pairings of Morris-Wallis, while McClymont played fellow Queenslander IM Stephen Solomon. The best that the board 2 players could hope for was second place, and Brodie secured that with a powerful performance winning against top seed Solomon. This left the top board game in progress with the winner taking the title. Morris played for the win, taking an Isolated Queen's Pawn and active play, and it payed off after Wallis misplaced his pieces. So IM James Morris adds to his already impressive set of titles with an outright win, and a first prize of $1500. This left FM Chris Wallis in joint second with Brodie McClymont, and they were also joined  by Karl Zelesco and Yi Liu.

Further down the field there were both success stories and disappointments, but this is nothing to do with the tournament which was again organised excellently by the Ballarat Chess Club and run ably by the arbiters Gary Bekker and Jamie Kenmure. There were a few issues that need pointing out, but to my mind these were fairly minor. The playing conditions were pretty tough. The temperature was in the mid 30's outside, and with no aircon to speak of, it seemed even hotter inside. Players were not looking to work their way up the boards but were eager to play on boards nearest the fans that had been strategically placed around the venue. In the final round a player complained of headaches shortly after the round started and offered his opponent a draw on move 1! After consulting the arbiter whether this would cause a penalty if accepted and discovering not, the player agreed to the draw offer. The arbiter did mention the moral obligation of the players to them, but without penalties the players were well within their rights to take that draw. Hopefully the headaches will pass, and I'm sure that the prize money that both players secured through this draw would ease those pains!

The other main issue was the pairings and the tournament management system being used. Apparently I misunderstood the arbiters in one of my previous posts when I said that they had not been provided with the SP master file. They had been provided with a draft SP file, but they were not allowed to use it with the Tornelo tournament management system. So the arbiters had to use Swiss Perfect to create the draw and manually input data to tornelo to display events online. This, of course, created an extra amount of work for the arbiters which to their credit they pulled off, though not without some hiccups. The pairings that were displayed on tornelo were often incorrect until updated manually which sometimes caused players to think they were playing someone when in fact they were playing someone else. There was also a fair deal of criticism of the draw based on the data in tornelo, though some of that data was not correct. To be fair to players, once that was explained to them they accepted it and things ran pretty smoothly and in a friendly manner.

Ballarat has got to be one of the most enjoyable tournaments on the calendar. The Ballarat Chess Club members are very welcoming, and it is always strong and with a good sized field. This was the 47th edition and the organisers know that the big 50 is coming up. I talked a little with Patrick Cook who said they were already talking about the upcoming 50th even though it is 3 years away. They have some big plans and hopefully it will go off well, much like the 50th Doeberl last year. Patrick then reminisced a little about Ballarat chess history. For instance, I didn't know that the first Ballarat chess club was formed in 1856! It would be older than the prestigious Melbourne Chess Club (1866), except it hasn't run continuously for all those years. Patrick also seemed to think the first Australian chess tournament had been held in Ballarat, though he wasn't 100% sure. He was completely sure that the current Ballarat chess club in 2013 was holding it's 48th club championship and that one player, fellow weekender organiser Kevin Perrin, had played in all 48! An absolutely amazing feat, Kevin, and 2 more for you to get to the magic 50 championship appearances!

Ballarat Chess Club's Patrick Cook

The Last Day at Ballarat

It was a beautiful morning in Ballarat. I went for a run at sunrise helping me to wake up, and getting some hill practice for my race against Puffing Billy later in the year. I have to admit, I felt pretty terrible after the run back up to my apartment in Sovereign Hill but it will help me later in the year. Getting better at anything involves practice and training which as close as possible follows the activity you're taking part in. The same can be said for chess, and I will repeat as in an earlier post, it is vitally important to work on your endgames. But more about this later!

The top of the tournament is thinning out, and it is being dominated by youth. After 3 rounds, there are only 3 players on 5/5, FM Chris Wallis, IM James Morris, and last year's joint winner, Brodie McClymont. Youth is the order of the day, as Zachary Loh, Yi Liu, Karl Zelesco, Justin Tan, Ari Dale, and Jack Puccini all find themselves on the top 10 boards. Round 4 saw the clash we were all waiting for as the 2 top IM's went head to head. The result was a win for James Morris against Stephen Solomon. I asked James if he could sum up how he won. He just replied, "Endgame!" James apparently won a drawn opposite bishop coloured endgame against one of last year's winners, Domagoj Dragicevic, while against Solomon he went inot a rook ending a pawn up and converted the material advantage to a win.

Sticking with the theme of youth, the youngest player in the top 10 boards is 11 year old David Cannon, who in the past has been Australian under 10 champion. David is moving around with crutches at the moment because of a badly sprained ankle which makes it even more remarkable that he is able to focus so well. Let's hope he continues his good form, and gets well soon! Also 13 year old Karl Zelesco is right up there, after having to go through a difficult game when the accelerated pairings came off in round 3. Karl was expecting a really tough opponent in round 3, perhaps McClymont. The draw put him against 1000 rated Regan Crowley. This came as a disappointment to Karl who was revved up for a big game, but his reaction was perfect for the situation. Apparently, according to Karl's dad, he just worked out that he needed to knuckle down, win this game and then he would get his reward of a tough game. This is incredibly encouraging, as one of the problems that many people suffer from is not being able to get fully enthused for lower rated opponent's (in fact, Regan is a fast imroving player and not to be taken lightly). But, of course, the danger then is that the dreaded upset will happen, and most of us have been in that position!

Zac Loh on board 3

Karl Zelesco has a great attitude
David Cannon performing strongly despite an injury!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Ballarat Day 2

If you've never played a tournament where you have to play 3 games of 90 + 30 in one day, then you're one of the lucky ones! It is a question of stamina, and there are some very shaky looking players by the end of the evening, as the games start at 9.30am in the morning and can finish up to midnight (or even after as I believe one did last year). The conditions in the playing area are also not ideal with little or no aircon, so I'm guessing there will be quite a few headaches literally later on this evening.

So as the tournament reaches the half way point, most of the elite players are still around the top of the pairings, though they are now coming into contact. Of course, it is no surprise to see Solomon, Morris and McClymont among the players on 3/3, and it may be that these are the players to beat in the event. However, every tournament needs a hero, and we have a couple who have worked their way into the top pairings. The surprise pairings on the top boards is on board 6 where Luis Chan (1189) is playing Marko Grabovac (1390). Both these young players have created a number of upsets already and it great experience for them to be in and among the greats of the tournament.

The other hero of the tournament of the event so far is MCC stalwart Angelo Tsagarakis. So far Angelo rated 1749 (somewhat below what it has been in the past, and should be) has taken out Bill Kerr (2040), Doug Hamilton (2017), and in the last round Justin Tan (2298). Apparently, Angelo's last game was a real beauty, and it's great to see a regular club type player playing so great and being so happy.

There was a bit of dissension over the pairings for the fourth round, but they have been unchanged. David Hacche's second round complaint was apparently correct and a redraw was made. Unfortunately for him, he moved as black against Solomon to white against McClymont and got severely bashed. I couldn't help reminding David that Stephen Solomon lost in round 2 last year with the white pieces....hmm, I wonder who that was against :D

Funnily enough, the Hacche-McClymont game had a position unlike any I'd ever seen before. At one point all their pieces which have doubles (ie rooks, knights, and bishops) were situated next to each other. Quite a nice effect on the board!

Pieces sitting beside their doppelgangers

It was good to see spectators IM Guy West and Jean Watson. The heat of the playing hall must have deterred them as they went off to see the Begonia Festival. It's funny that Ballarat has this great festival over this weekend annually, but the chess players never get to see it. The playing schedule is just too demanding. Guy was happy not to be playing, though he intends to turn up for the big 50th bash in a couple of years time. It was clear that Guy was fairly happy to see Angelo doing so well. When asked about the acceleration, he said he wasn't a fan but could see the logic to it. Jean thinks that Brodie McClymont will be the man to beat (or Mr McBrodie as I've heard him called!).

There's no doubt that the arbiters have a difficult time with the pairings here. FA Jamie Kenmure has said that he isn't a fan of accelerated pairings, and that part of the trouble has been to do with the pairings instructions from FIDE which aren't necessarily clear. When asked about the fourth round pairings which saw a big clash between Morris-Dragicevic while high rated Stojic was floated down this was what Jamie said:

Jamie was able to answer questions quite easily. Angelo Tsagarakis couldn't float down as he already had in round 2 which meant Dusan was the lowest rated player in the white group. So why was Luke above Domagoj when his rating is much lower? Because the ratings displayed on tornelo are not the correct ratings and Luke Li actually has a rating above Dragicevic. Both arbiters, Gary Bekker and Jamie Kenmure were disappointed that they couldn't get the SP master file from the ACF as that would have made their lives easier.

IA Gary Bekker to the left of FA Jamie Kenmure

Saturday, March 9, 2013

More on Ballarat

A couple of nice moments from the first round. I was looking into the top board "pit" area when Domagoj Dragicevic found a nice tactic to trap his opponent's sidelined knight.

Domagoj now played the odd looking 23..Qg4. However, when you actually think about it, it traps black's knight. Black can't take because that terrible looking isolated h-pawn will become a star and trapped black's knight. Balck tried 24.Qxa2, but the intermediate 24..Ne7+ removes the knight from danger and gains a tempo to win the knight on h5.

While I was looking at this, IM James Morris pulled me aside and asked me if MCC member Anthony Hain was just winning with a central capture. I have to admit, I wasn't looking at the game, but when I went back to the board, it seems James might have had a point:

Here Anthony played 17.a3 to open lines on the queen side for an attack. James suggested 17.Nfxd4 the move favoured by Stockfish! the point is 17..exd4 is impossible as 18.Bf4 wins material.

The top games from Ballarat are being published on Tornelo and I'll add a couple of good wins by MCC members David Beaumont and Angelo Tsegarakis.


It's the Labour Day Long Weekend in Victoria which ironically means a day off for everyone! Chess players in Victoria know this weekend to be the time of the year when the Ballarat Weekender occurs. Ballarat is traditionally the strongest weekend event in Victoria and the biggest. This year 125 players are competing including 2 IM's, Stephen Solomon and James Morris.

Young Victorian IM James Morris

Top seed IM Stephen Solomon
The tournament is in it's 47th edition (only 3 years to the big 50!) and Ballarat continues to attract top class fields. Though last year may have been the strongest of all, this year's field comprises 2 IM's, 5 FM's and 21 players above 2000. The event has again been accelerated which is not necessary in my opinion but as I'm not playing I'm not going to complain too loudly. I will complain about the drive to Ballarat which took me for ever as there were big traffic jams due to careless driving crashing into each other on a very hot day. So I arrived just as the opening ceremony was taking place. In fact I walked in the door and the first thing I knew was Thai Ly shouting my name out.. So much for a quiet entry! In fact I was selected for an appeals committee, which hopefully won't mean me doing too much!

The opening ceremony saw IA Gary Bekker welcoming the players and setting out the rules. Ballarat Chess Club, the organisers of the event was represented by Patrick Cook who then went on to cause one of the biggest upsets of the round drawing with ex-Australian Champion FM Doug Hamilton. The other speaker was President of Chess Victoria IM Leonid Sandler who like me is a non player.

IM Leonid Sandler, CV President
The first round went without too many upsets. The main upset has been about use of accelerated pairings, and before round 2, there was already an official complaint from FM David Hacche who was black in round 1 and then was paired as black against top seed Stephen Solomon in round 2. It has to be said that 2 blacks in a row feels harsh, especially when you get paired up on board 1. The arbiters are with him at this moment. One person with no complaints was James Morris. Before the first round I asked him what colour he would prefer in the first round. With no hesitation he replied black! To his reasoning it should give him white in his first big round against a very strong opponent in round 5, assuming he wins all his games up to then....also he said he prefers playing with black!

I'll be posting a lot more over the weekend, including some positions from the games. The top 10 boards are being published by the organisers on the tornelo website.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Chess on a Thursday

Time to catch up on what I've been looking at recently. I'm still lapping up anything to do with the upcoming Candidates tournament and it looks like Chessbase is running some regular columns profiling the players in the build up to the start of the event next week. By the way, is Chessbase's new look better than the old one? That's not a rhetorical question, I am personally not sure which one I prefer and wonder how others feel.

The first moment of Candidate excitement came when the pairings for the tournament were announced. The first I saw of it was on twitter from the Chessvibes website. The more I think about this tournament, the more trouble I'm having picking a winner and much will do with the form of the players. Of course, it would be easy to just say Carlsen is in a class of his own, but I'm not so sure. So rather than claiming that I'm hoping one player or another wins, I'll just say, may the best man win and I hope the tournament lives up to the billing of the highest rated tournament in history. Somehow last time's candidates finalists, Gelfand and Grischuk are complete outsiders which seems pretty unfair to me. Dennis Monokroussos agrees and points to an interview with Alexander Grischuk.

In the meantime I've been watching some games from the Women's World Teams Championship. There are some high profile names missing from the event, but it's still pretty strong with Russia and China the favourites to take gold. In fact, it is difficult to split these 2 teams who have won all their games so far except the match between the two which ended in a draw. I was watching a fascinating game a couple of nights back which unfortunately ended with a horrible blunder. The round 2 game Dzaganidze-Ju Wenjun started out life as a Staunton Gambit in the Dutch, a line that was played a long time ago by Jacques Mieses (he even managed to win a game against Rubinstein with black). White was doing good until the following position was reached:
Dzaganidze, rated 2554 played the unbelievably shocking 39.Kxe5 losing an exchange to the simple to spot 39..Bf6+. White played on for a few moves before resigning. There is hope for us all!

I've also checked out some other interesting chess sites this week. Trowbridge Chess Club in the West of England were voted the English small club of the year lat year. Their blog is an excellent combination of local chess news and regional reporting which is what all clubs should be striving for. I also went to the USCF for the first time, and was mildly impressed. The blog section has some interesting articles and I'm kind of surprised that it doesn't show up higher on google searches for chess blogs. Jennifer Shahade is the editor of online blog, but there are numerous contributors. Actually, I think this is a really good idea. It gives a website more diversity and differing opinions. In fact, if anyone wants to regularly write for this blog, then feel free to contact me on I'm happy for anyone who wants to regularly write about chess or coffee or preferably both!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Why You Should Study Elementary Endgames

I have had a strange sort of day. Summed up, I worked as normal going from school to school teaching chess, until I ended up at an after school class where the classroom that is usually used for chess was unavailable due to parent teacher interviews. So I was directed to another room which was much smaller and with no air con. After an hour in the stifling room I thought I was going to pass out, and was very grateful to get out. I then went to some private group classes at our chess shop and found that I only had to give one class, as my second, more advanced class was being taken by our premier coach IM Robert Jamieson. If you haven't seen Robert in action then you should really check it out. He is consistent, rigorous and has great material both new and old. His lessons challenge students to think, to plan and to produce results in an accurate way. Before leaving I saw the first position he was challenging the kids with and said, "Hey, that's the position I was going to put on my blog tonight!", to which he replied "I thought so".

This position was the culmination of the board 1 game in last night's Melbourne Chess Club (MCC) Championship between Phillip Drew and Guy West. The game had been a hard fought Benko Gambit, where it seemed that the outsider was fully prepared in the opening. IM Guy West got the typical Benko position with queenside counterplay for the pawn, and after exchanges black's position seemed to get better. Eventually an endgame of rook and 4 pawns each was reached where neither side had a passed pawn and the game looked as if it was heading towards a draw.

However, the moral of this game must be that all players would benefit from a study of fundamental or basic endgames. Phillip as white blundered just 2 moves into this position. After 1.Ke4 Kxh4 White is a pawn down and should seek a draw with the opposition move 2.Kf4. However, Phillip played 2.Kf5 which looks plausible but Guy quickly outflanked his opponent with 2..Kg3.
Now white is lost, a tragedy for Phillip. But once again, you have to admire Guy West and his never say die attitude. Guy kept giving his opponent every chance to go wrong. It was a challenging opening, a hard fought middlegame with the main theme being positional compensation for a pawn, and then various transitional possibilities to different endgames. Phillip navigated well through all these difficult phases, but Guy kept on into the purely technical rook ending, and finally the theoretical pawn endgame, and it was in this last stage that his opponent finally blundered!

The result leaves Guy clear at the top with 5/5 before the week break for the Ballarat weekender. Guy is now a point clear of Ari Dale and Dusan Stojic and he has played both these talented young players. A further half point back on 3.5 is a group of 5 players, Chris Wallis, Domagoj Dragicevic, Justin Tan, David Hacche and Malcolm Pyke. Paul Kovacevic continued his good tournament with a draw against higher rated Dizdarevic. But there were a couple of upsets last night. First Finley Dale won against Richard McCart. But probably the biggest upset of the night was Tanya Kolak's victory against Jim Papadinis who is rated nearly 600 points higher!

Endgame knowledge is a big problem for most players, especially in today's ever speedier time controls. More emphasis is placed on tactics and openings than other parts of the game, but anyone who has lost a basic endgame, or been unable to win a clearly won position will know exactly how Phillip is feeling now. The answer is to devote a little of one's chess work on endgames. Karsten Mueller's articles at the chess cafe website are excellent, and some even relevant to a study of basic pawn endgames!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Where's the Hype?

In 10 days time the chess world has a most exciting prospect, a Candidates tournament offering the winner a shot at Anand and the World title. However you'd hardly know about this as there has been so little coverage in the chess media and especially by the organisers, Agon. Now when Agon were invited to organise the World Championship cycle by FIDE it sounded as if chess would be pushed into mainstream media and that coverage of the events would be highly jazzed up. But on the contrary, chess coverage is where it has always been and the website for the Candidates Tournament doesn't seem to be something to revolutionise the way chess is perceived.

Am I being a bit harsh here? Maybe the true litmus test will be the World Championship Match proper and the coverage it receives. I mean, do other sports hype the qualifiers for the World Championship, or pinnacle event? And if so, how long before the event does the build up begin? I know that soccer is constantly hyping itself, but it would probably be optimistic to put chess into the same category with the World Game. However if chess does want to grab headline news, then somehow it has to hype itself and events where the top 4 in the World battle out for a single World Championship place seems something that everyone can understand whether they are into chess or not. Add to that elements of youth versus experience, the top 4 players in the World doing battle, a World number 1 who didn't care about the World Championship now competing, and for a country with little World class chess pedigree. I have to say it has some newsworthiness if it was only presented right. Or if it was presented at all!

I've been hyping this championship at my classes and I now enter a class and kids are asking me who is winning. I have to remind them it doesn't start for 2 weeks, but then they get excited about who is going to win. Most kids I teach want Carlsen, some because he isn't from Russia, some because he's number 1 and they like a favourite, some because he is young, and some because his name is a bit like mine! But there are others who want other players and among the hundreds of kids I teach chess to each week, I reckon that every player in the candidates has at least one fan. And we are talking grades prep to 6 (5-12 years old), so not the kind to normally take much interest in the chess world, but who would rather just be trying to beat their best friend.

So let's hype these guys. This is what the kids hear from me:

Carlsen: World number 1 and unbeaten in tournaments for a year.
Kramnik: World number 2 and Mister Solid....the no. 1 from the World's top country.
Aronian: World number 3 and more of a risk taker...the last man to beat Carlsen in a tournament.
Radjabov: World number 4 and the mystery man, a great resourceful player.
Grischuk: World number 10 and great in time trouble which he always gets into.
Ivanchuk: World number 13, ex number 2 and on his day able to beat anybody, but very nervous.
Svidler: World number 14, a big soccer fan and 6 times champ of the strongest country Russia.
Gelfand: World number 18, last year's beaten challenger though he was really close to taking the title.

This is the sort of things the kids can understand, simple qualities that they can relate to and the kids that I'm teaching can't wait for the event to start. But then again, they've had constant weekly reminders for the past 6 weeks.

I must admit I was getting worried that I'd imagined the whole event and have been waiting for some announcements and hype. Thankfully, Chessbase have started the ball rolling with a profile of the players. Perhaps by this weekend I'll be complaining that there is too much Candidates Hype....I doubt it though!