Friday, November 15, 2013

The Excitement of Chess

I'm not usually into Sarcasm, but I'll make an exception for this World Championship!

Hopefully tonight will bring a result, whoever wins. However fighting the chess may be, draws are not what the public want. I heard an interesting idea that draws should be replayed at faster time controls until a result is found, which would give the chess public their desire for classical time controls, but would give the general public some excitement in watching rapid and blitz games. Finding a format that makes chess generally appealing is the challenge that faces our chess leadership, and they are currently not coming up with ideas which are growing interest in the game.

For us chess fanatics, however, the game will always hold an appeal. For me seeing odd moves, or plans, or techniques are the thing which sparks an interest. Like yesterdays position.
I asked what white played here. In fact, white played the amazing 7.Ng5 putting his knight on a square where it can just be taken. The idea is clearing the d1-h5 diagonal for the queen, which is a common theme in a lot of openings (eg 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 f6? 3.Nxe5!). The move Ng5 appeals to me as it reminds me of Karpov's Ng5 against Korchnoi's Open Spanish.
This famous position is from the 1978 World Championship match between Karpov and Korchnoi. In the 10th game of the match the position above arose, and Karpov came out with the amazing 11.Ng5!?. Of course, the knight can just be taken, so it looks like a complete patzer move, but after 11..Qxg5 white has 12.Qf3 with unbelievable complications. Funnily enough, that game ended in a draw so perhaps I shouldn't be so harsh on the current combatants. In fact, the epic 1978 match stated with only 1 result in the first 10 games but it still is seen as one of the most hard fought in the history of the Championship. So I still have hope for the 2013 match, though with only 12 games, something really needs to happen soon.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Return To Play

I've slowly come to realise that part of my lethargy since coming back from holiday has been due to a lack of playing chess. Yes, I admit that I'm missing playing chess tournaments and over the past few days I've come to a decision. In 2014 I will be listed on the FIDE list, and will be playing events again. Have I been inspired by the World Championship match? Probably not, though I have been following it. I'm personally not sure that a match is the best medium for selling the World Championship to a wider non playing audience (if this is even possible), and I'm not sure whether it is the best way to decide on a champion, though of course there will always be problems with any system. Certainly the most exciting World Championship events in recent times (probably since Seville 1987) have been the tournaments in 2005 and 2007 played under the double round robin system and maybe the fact that there are more than 1 game played each day allows for more excitement per round.

Anyway, getting back to my return to chess, I have made a further decision. It seems to me that if I can be bothered to pay out to play chess, then I should make the best of it, and try to improve my game and return to the 2200+ level, and maybe even to the 2300 level. Is it possible to do this in my late 40's? Have I got it in me to up my game a level? I guess only time will tell, but I feel that I need to try. So my return to chess comes with an aim to regain my best chess, and that means working on the game. That is good news for this blog, which will begin to see more chess content again.

Another issue is how I'm going to relist on FIDE. I have to choose between a) paying a membership to the English Chess Federation (something I didn't want to do); b) paying FIDE to transfer my federation to Australia: c) playing under no flag and paying a fee per tournament I play. Of these, I'm leaning towards the first which might prove to be the most expensive in the long run, but will mean me giving my money to a national federation (the ECF) rather than FIDE. It means I will have to play under the English flag, but that is better than not playing at all in my opinion. I would much rather transfer to Australia, but I really have an issue with the transfer fee imposed (250 Euro's) which basically covers changing my fed from ENG to AUS on the FIDE site and is a blatant money grab by an organisation which is a blatant money grabber. Funnily enough, this is a one off payment and the Australian Chess Federation do not charge their members directly, whereas the ECF do, so over the years I would probably pay more for being a member of the ECF. I know, I'm irrational, but the year off chess had made me think about how I want to participate and who I want to support in the world of chess, and FIDE are not an organisation near the top of my sympathy list. However, it's difficult to play much quality chess in Australia outside the FIDE rating system, so I feel I have to join if I want to play the tournaments that I enjoy. Ok, rant over.

And while I'm not happy with chess politics (like the European Chess Union threatening chess servers with legal action if they broadcast live games from the European Teams Championship without their permission), and while I was hoping for more action in the World Championship (the games have been fascinating, however) the game itself is still fantastic. Have a guess what 2543 rated Cuban IM Yuri Gonzalez played after the moves 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 Nc6 4.Ngf3 Nf6 5.e5 Nd7 6.Bd3 f6 in a game at the Panama Open last week.
What is worse, the move he chose has been played well over 50 times before. Chess really is a great game, and I'll confirm your suspicions of what white played next time.

Monday, November 11, 2013

An Unexpected Day Off

I had a day off today, and an unexpected bonus befell me when my wife's scheduled shift was cancelled. This meant that my 1 day off of the week was shared with my soul mate. The only problem is that this can lead to plans and schemes. To start with we had a late start and went for a late breakfast together in one of our favourite cafe's in Albert Park Village. The Dundas Place Cafe is friendly, spacious and comfortable with a great menu and great coffee. My favourite breakfast is porridge with butterscotch bananas, which is what I had this morning.

Caroline on our recent roadtrip

While we were at the cafe we were discussing things ranging from novels we have read and want to read, to what we should have for dinner later, and how amazing our holiday was and where we would like to go to in the future. We have plans to go back to New Zealand next year to wonderful Queenstown in the south island. Then we were thinking of another roadtrip but this time to Europe. A trip to France and Italy to experience the historical and culinary sounds fantastic. In fact, it sounded so good that our dinner tonight was inspired by this. We drove round the short distance to South Melbourne Market to buy the vital ingredients for a French Onion Soup which I then came back home to make. I used a recipe from the Not Quite Nigella site that I follow, though winged it a bit as well. Besides the ingredients in the recipe, we had:

1. French Stick
2. Triple cream Brie (not for cooking, we bought some Gruyere for that)
3. Bottle of Arrogant Frog Cabernet Merlot (partially for cooking with)

Tonight's French meal, Onion Soup with Gruyere, Brie and French bread

This rounded things off pretty well, but we talked of another plan. My bucket list the other day included a trip to India, and Caroline entered the spirit of things at the Cafe saying how much she'd like to go to India. But it's a big place so where should we go? I would love to see Everest and it was Caroline who suggested he go to Nepal and Kathmandu. This started us thinking and looking at the East of India. Kolkata seems like a main hub, and probably a good place to fly to, and then there are places such as Puri on the Bay of Bengal and Varanasi in central north India. We'll see where we go with the planning of this trip but the Ganges and Everest are starting points.

I guess that reading 'The Accidental Apprentice' by Vikas Swarup put thoughts of India foremost in my mind. This was a beautiful novel from the author of 'Q and A' which most of know from the film, Slumdog Millionaire. It is written as a modern day fable, and follows the exploits of a young woman who is given the chance of a lifetime to become the CEO of a multi billion dollar empire. She has to pass through some tests and these bring our attention to some real issues in Indian culture, such as the treatment of women in rural India, religion, corruption and bureaucratic procedure. The plot twists wonderfully and the ending is powerful. However, if every time I read a book about a different country it makes me want to go there and start planning there will definitely be some places that miss out. The latest novel I read is possibly my favourite of the year so far. 'The Messenger' by Australian author Markus Zuzak is another fable and wonderfully written. The main character is so believable, especially for us who live in Australia. That the things that happen to him are so unbelievable doesn't matter, because the characters who he meets and interacts with are just as beautifully created. The interactions bring laughter and tears to the reader and this is one of the few books I've given 5 stars to this year on the Goodreads site.

So to sum up today, my wife had the day off and I spent it with her when I didn't think I would, I went out for breakfast when I didn't think I would, I planned a future adventure when I didn't think I would, I cooked a meal that I didn't think I would. It's always good to be prepared to expect the unexpected in life.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

World Chess Championship

We're on the verge of one of the most eagerly awaited World Championship matches ever. So what were the great matches, and which ones were eagerly awaited? I mean, Capablanca-Alekhine was a great match, but I don't think it had much of a build up as the only person who gave Alekhine a chance before the match was Alekhine himself. The all Soviet matches were probably eagerly awaited in the USSR, but it wasn't until we get to Spassky-Fischer that things really started to heat up. After that epic match, there were the cold war follow ups of Karpov-Korchnoi, and then the Karpov-Kasparov battles. Ok, since the 1993 split things have been a bit shonky. In fact, the matches since 1993 have been so unappealing that the latest New in Chess Magazine fails to mention the 2010 Anand-Topalov match in its list of World Championship matches without Russians/Soviets.

To be honest, I am looking forward to it and I'm not the only one. The number of articles about the match, the players, and anything else nearly related tot he World Championship or chess is cranking up every day. I've personally read articles by Shipov (New in Chess), Giri, Sasikiran, Negi, Kasparov and Harikrishna and have an article by Rogers to read (I've just seen a tweet by Nigel Short about a new article he has written). Nigel Short tweeted a couple of days ago that

already feels like the biggest title match in years - and they have not yet begun!

Tomorrow will see the opening ceremony and the games start on Saturday. And if one top game a day isn't good enough the European Team Championships starts tomorrow, though the Norwegian team aren't quite at full strength. It is an unbelievably strong tournament with over 20 players above 2700. Russia are the favourites, but Armenia and Ukraine are always good at team tournaments, while I'm hoping that the strongest English team in years can put on a good show.

One last thought about World Championship matches. If you're like me, then an upcoming match makes you think about previous events. And if you're like me, then there will be some matches that you know a lot about, and some that you know hardly anything about. For instance, I've not really looked much at the 3 Botvinnik-Smyslov matches from the 1950's. I'm not sure why, as these were full blooded contests. The first match in 1954 ended in a 12-12 tie with only 10 draws. Combative openings such as the French and the Grunfeld were regulars in this match. Smyslov won the next match in 1957 by 12.5-9.5 and this time there were more draws, though the play was still hard fought. The next year saw a rematch and Botvinnik bounced back to regain his title 12.5-10.5 in a sharp see saw match. So that was nearly 70 games in the space of 4 years with a slight edge to Smyslov overall. If you want to see combative, check out this game. It was the final win for Smyslov in his winning match of 1957. Botvinnik was already 2 points down and played the sharp Winawer to try to create complications and draw closer in the match. Instead, Smyslov saw his way through the complications and won the game (Botvinnik resigning after the first time control) and effectively the match. Let's hope that the oncoming 2013 match produces some breath taking, memorable games as well.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Instead of the Melbourne Cup

Melbourne has a public holiday on the first Tuesday in November each year for the 'race that stops the nation', The Melbourne Cup. The thing is, what do you do if you're not into horse racing, or getting pissed, or wearing fancy dress? Today is still a day off from work but what is there to do if the Melbourne Cup is not your thing?

Well, of course, you can just sit around at home and chill out, or clear up, or plan for the future, or even catch up with things that should have been done. There are days out which avoid (mostly) the Cup such as heading into the country or to the beach. Then there is just imagining that the day isn't anything special at all, and treating it much like any other day off work. That has been my approach to this year's Melbourne Cup Day.

A year ago, this is the view I woke up to, on the Murray River, Mildura. No thoughts of horse racing.

Last year I managed to avoid the whole shabang as Caroline and I took off for country Victoria with our friends Nick and Zoe to spend a week on a houseboat in Mildura. As much as I'd like to be doing that again, I'm not really complaining about missing out after just coming back from America. However, thinking about these things does bring to mind typical 'bucket list' thoughts. I'm rapidly approaching 50 so I guess time is running out for me to get everything I'd like to do completed. So here's 10 things (not in any particular order) I'd like to do before I get too old:

1. Have a book published (I'd love to write a novel, but I think I have more chance of writing a chess book if I can think of a worthy subject)
2. Go back to New York
3. Travel India (I would love to see Mt. Everest)
4. See the Northern Lights
5. Roadtrip Europe (this is already in the planning stage)
6. Run a marathon (I'm planning a half marathon next year, but the whole thing is the big challenge)
7. Touch every continent (Never been to Africa or South America, while Antarctica may be a problem)
8. Visit Japan
9. Go to St Petersberg
10. Roadtrip USA II (north of where we just went, Glacier National Park and Alberta, Canada)

This seems like a good starting list. Is there anything else that should be on this list? And are any of these things on anyone else's bucket list? You might have noticed I have no chess ambitions. I never really have had any, maybe get to 2200 FIDE which I've already done. I would like to see my students excel and become as good as they can, but I'm happy just to play and think about the game a bit.

Oh well, apparently the race is over now, so I guess the fancy dress will start deteriorating as the booze gradually flows more and more. My evening will be spent reading (Markus Zuzak's, "The Messenger"), going for a run, and chilling out. I'll prepare a bit for the classes I have this week, which is pretty much what I'd be doing on any other Tuesday. I'm grateful for the day off, but have no interest in the horse race.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Writer's Block

I apologise for not updating this blog recently. Since coming back from my roadtrip to the USA I've had a lethargy, a kind of post-holiday blues. The whole experience was so amazing that I've found it difficult to readjust to everyday life. However, I think I'm finally getting there and with under a week before the World Chess Championship it's none too soon. But I've also decided that this blog will not be as concentrated on chess as it has been. It's still going to have a fair deal of chess content, and there'll still be a heavy emphasis on the local scene in Melbourne and Australia. But chess isn't everything, and I thoroughly enjoyed relating my travels in the USA, so expect more non chess posts from now on. Though maybe chess will take centre stage during the upcoming Anand-Carlsen match.

Recently my tips have been pretty good with Svidler winning the Russian Championships, so I'll take a shot at the upcoming match. I'm going to choose Carlsen to win the match with at least a game to spare. I have nothing against either of the players, and would like to see a great competitive match, but I think that Anand will struggle to maintain his strength of play for the full match. If it is a close match, then it will be interesting to see how Carlsen copes with the nerves towards the end, and should the match be decided on tie break, then anything could happen.

As for me, I'm still defying FIDE and their events. I did wonder whether I should pay off FIDE and just start playing again, but it won't be happening this year. Without serious competition I'm a bit directionless when it comes to studying the game. It seems rather pointless to work on repertoire and technique when I'm not going to be using it anytime soon. I've hardly looked at any chess, though I have been playing a load of games on Some of these have been in thematic tournaments, so I'll try to post some ideas from these openings in the near future.

In the meantime the Melbourne Chess Club was the last place I played and there are currently 2 big events in progress. The regular Monday night event is currently the MCC Open, and I tipped IM Mirko Rujevic to win this. Mirko then went down to Justin Penrose and it looked like my tipping curse might remain intact. However, since then Mirko has bounced back and with just one round to go, he leads David Hacche by half a point. Both have black in the final game, and Hacche's draw seems a bit tougher as he plays Penrose (half a point behind Hacche, so theoretically can still catch Mirko), while Mirko has Tom Kalisch who has had a pretty respectable event up to now. Tom sits on a group of players half a point shy of third. This long weekend sees the MCC staging their annual Cup Weekender. The 9 round swiss started Friday night and has 2 games per day over the holiday weekend including the Monday which is not officially a public holiday. This year the tournament has attracted a decent sized field with a strong top end. Among the 64 players are 5 IM's and after 5 rounds the tournament is being led by local Master James Morris on 5/5. Should he win, James will be an incredibly popular winner, but he is facing tough competition with FM's Luke Li and Bill Jordan half a point back, and IM Max Illingworth, FM Dusan Stojic, Karl Zelesco and Jack Puccini on 4/5. And with another 4 rounds still to go, players further down the field will still fancy their chances.