Wednesday, May 28, 2014

My Tournaments Update

Time to reflect on the tournaments I'm currently participating in. Firstly the current FIDE rated one game a week tournament at the Melbourne Chess Club is the City of Melbourne Open, and I'm not setting any remarkable standards here. The tournament has just completed round 5 moving into the second half of the 9 rounds. I'm currently sitting on 3/5 after dropping a point to Simon Schmidt and having to take 2 half point byes due to work commitments. To be honest, I'm not sure if I'll be able to complete all the remaining rounds, and have considered my options if this is the case. The tournament allows for 2 half point byes to be taken and I've already reached that limit so if I can't play again, it will be a whole point lost. Then again, it's not as if I'm fighting for a top place, so it hardly matters I guess!

The tournament now has a clear leader with Jack Puccini winning his 5th straight game to be the only player on a perfect score. Jack has been playing a lot of high quality chess recently, and may well be the next Melbourne junior to break through the ranks and jump up to the 2300 level. I certainly hope he manages to. If he can hold things together in the second half of this tournament he'll certainly be making some decent gains from this tournament. He finds himself a point clear of 3 players: Malcolm Pyke, Paul Kovacevic and Marko Grabovac. A further half point behind these on 3.5 are Simon Schmidt and Roger McCart and then comes the group that I'm in.

There are meant to be some games published, but I can't seem to find them. Keep an eye on arbiter Kerry Stead's blog for some updates on this. For now, I'll nominate this game for a brilliancy prize award:

The winner of this game, Sarah Anton, is also playing at the other tournament that I'm competing in at Glen Eira Chess Club. This tournament I'm actually leading, though I am rated 200 points more than anyone else. Sarah had to miss some games through other commitments at the start of this event, which moves into round 4 out of 7 this Friday. We have 20 players entered which is a nice consolidation for us after our first event. The top 3 players will qualify for the end of year club championship which already has IM James Morris in the field, and $1000 to play for. While this event has stepped back a little, there will be a third qualifier starting in July which might be the best of the three.

Here are a couple of tactical moments from Friday.

Sarah Anton again! Playing white Sarah has just seen her opponent's bishop come to d3 hitting her rook. Taking advantage of black's central king position and the awkward pin of the Nc6, white played 15.Nd4!? the game continued 15..Bxf1 16.Rxf1 when the threats to c6 proved too much for black who decided to give his queen for the rook on f1.

But I wonder what would have happened after 16..Qd6? I'm not sure if Sarah had analysed this position, but one move that appeals to me is 17.Ne6 defending d5 because of the fork on c7, threatening g7 and preventing black's king from castling. It's really hard to find good moves for black!

Meanwhile, I had a nice finish to a game that caused me some headaches earlier on. My opponent, Jerzy Kryziak played Alekhine's Defence to which I grabbed some space, put my pieces on threatening squares and felt good about my position until Jerzy started finding ways to move his pieces around my centre. However, I managed to find a good finish in the following position.

Working on the basis that all checks and captures should be examined I came up with 25.Bxf5. This is a very annoying move to have to face and towards time pressure it isn't easy to defend. Probably the best move is 25..Re8, but that accepts that white has won a pawn and black's king is still under threat. Jerzy blundered with 25..g5? which loses quickly to 26.Ne6 Bxe6 27.Bxe6+ Rf7 A sad necessity.

I now finished with 28.Nf5 where 28..Qg6 loses to 29.Ne7+ winning the queen, or 28..Qf8 29.Qxg5+ will be mate shortly! When the tactics work chess is easy!

So I guess the main question is what would have happened if Jerzy had taken my bishop with 25..gxf5 leading to the position above? I had planned 26.Nxf5 Qg5 27.Ne7+ forcing black into an unfortunate discovered attack. 27..Kg7
28.Ne6+ which opens an attack on black's queen.

Glen Eira Chess Club is very enjoyable and no less competitive than other chess clubs, though perhaps not as deeply serious. I saw this blog by one of our members the earlier which I think is very good and I hope that the blog continues and am sure that Barnaby (and his talented son, Fergus) will improve because of it.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Luck in Chess

I read lots about chess on the internet, some of which I agree with and some of which I disagree with, but virtually all of which stimulates me. I follow US senior chess coach Dan Heisman on Twitter and I've used a number of his ideas (de-Americanised, of course) in my own chess teachings. He is excellent at finding things which average level players and beginners need to think about. But I saw a tweet by him yesterday linking to an article that suggested that luck exists in chess. This is something which I personally disagree with, and I try to avoid using luck as an influencing factor in life generally.

Heisman suggests that chess authors use luck to mean that there is no randomness in chess in the selection of moves. There are no dice or other random elements at play and it is only the choice and effort of the players which determines the moves made. He goes on to state that choosing moves is only one aspect of the game, and others may be affected by luck. He then goes on to talk about good move and games played by low rated players which could be considered lucky, and weak moves and games played by high rated players which may be considered unlucky. This use of luck in chess I strongly disagree with as it takes away a players responsibility for his actions and gives a person excuses to rationalise a bad loss or a good win. I take a much more down to earth view. If I play badly and lose to a lower rated player than me, then that isn't anything to do with luck, the best man won on the day. To avoid this happening in the future, I need to ask some hard questions about my play, and my preparation for the game. On the other hand, if I beat a player much higher rated than me, rather than saying I was lucky that they didn't play their best chess, I can turn around and rightly be proud of my achievement.

Another issue he talks about is luck of the draw in a tournament. Sometimes draws seem to be favourable to players, while sometimes they are really bad. However, again, this seems to me to be an excuse players make when results don't necessarily go with them. I remember playing in a weekend tournament in the UK and arriving for the first round where my opponent hadn't turned up. The rules were that players without a first round opponent could be re-paired up to 30 minutes after the start of the round. After 20 minutes I had no opponent to play and was thinking in terms of getting a full point bye when IM Chris Baker walked in the door and asked of it was to late to join the tournament. I was asked if it would be ok to play with Chris, I said yes, no problems, we played, I lost and turned a full point bye into a first round loss. As a player in the top half of the draw, it was also a first round point dropped. Now you could say I was unlucky in that instance, but I wouldn't say that. Those were the rules, and that was the draw. Simple as!

While I use a lot of ideas from a lot of coaches in my lessons (including Dan Heisman), I try to make my students take responsibility for their mistakes and their victories. I am working hard towards making a future generation of chess players accountable for their actions, and to take charge of improving their play. I now have kids coming up to me telling me about their blunders, about how they didn't work hard enough before a tournament or didn't get enough sleep due to parties so tired through the day, things which they intend to put right in the future. They are not making excuses, they are analysing their mistakes in playing and preparing for events which they can then attempt to remedy. I get immense satisfaction when kids have turned the corner from just wanting to win every game they play to realising that losing isn't a bad thing as long as things are taken from the game.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Catch 22

I was thinking about books that I'd like to read or reread and Joseph Heller's amazing, absurdist novel, "Catch 22" came to my mind. I remember being about 17 or 18 years old when I first read the novel, and when I finished it, the first thing I did was start reading it again. Over the years I must have read it 4 or 5 times though I probably haven't read it for 15 years. So I went into my local bookshop today and bought it. It is such a unique work that it goes down as one of those things that you either love or hate, there is no middle ground with Catch 22. I personally love it, from the first line "It was love at first sight", through the bizarre characterizations and incidents which can be funny, tragic, absurd and shockingly close to the bone. I will be reading this again in the coming days. It was the 50th Anniversary edition of the novel and this brought a few things to my mind: words, catch 22's, and anniversaries.

A catch 22 situation has become part of our everyday language, but before Heller's 1961 novel, it was an unknown term. The term Catch 22 describes a situation where the only logical solution is denied by something which is part of the problem. The novel's absurd principle sees the main character trying to get out of the war he is in by claiming to be insane. The catch for him is that the army doesn't accept that people who are insane can see that they are insane, therefore anyone claiming to be insane, must be sane!

We now use the term more broadly for a no win situation, or just a situation with no apparent solution. A simple example of a catch 22 situation is when we lock our keys in the car, or the house (yes, I'm sure this has happened to most of us!). The catch is that we need the keys to open the door to get to the keys, but the keys are behind the door that we can't get through because we don't have the keys....very frustrating!

I've recently written quite a bit about words and it interests me how languages develop, and keep developing. Some words are used forever, some become antiquated, some obsolete while new words and phrases are adopted into our vocabulary. It seems to me, for instance, that computer jargon has completely revolutionised our language, with people using acronyms, and textspeak in their daily conversations. However, it's all about communication and while I'm not a fan of some phases that I hear (lols...OMG, makes me want to barf!) I'm happy that our language is developing and not stagnating.

A similar phrase to catch 22 is a Hobson's Choice. This is a situation you are offered a choice with only one option. Apparently, it derives from a Thomas Hobson who owned a stables and offered his horses on the basis that anyone who wanted a horse had to have the one nearest the stable door, or none at all. Thomas Hobson was alive in the 16th and 17th centuries, and this was a phrase that was still used a fair bit in the south of England when I was growing up in the 1970's. Unfortunately, I haven't heard it much recently, so I guess it is falling into the rarely used, antiquated, or even obsolete categories.

One thing I do find odd is how quickly we adopt these words and phrases. I mean, 50 years isn't really that long in the scheme of things, yet the term Catch 22 seems somehow much older. There are 2 anniversaries coming up in my life soon. This year I will have been married to my beautiful Caroline for 20 years, and not long after that, it will be her 50th birthday. To me, there is an odd feeling about our relationship as I can't believe how quickly those 20 years have flown by, yet at the same time, it seems as if I have known Caroline for much longer. It is simply that time moves swiftly while feelings grow deeply.

While we were in the book shop today where I was buying Catch 22, Caroline bought me a present.

Knowing that I enjoy a snifter (see last Sunday's post for the meaning of snifter) of whisky once in a while, she bought me a little book on the subject. I've tried quite a few in the book, but still have some to go, and the book deals with whiskies from around the world, whereas I tend to go for Scottish single malts. I thought I'd have a quick look across the internet to see if there are any 50 year old Whiskies around, and of course, there are. For instance, a Master of Malt 1964 vintage will cost a mere $675 a bottle (not sure if that includes shipping). But I guess if you were really to go for it, then it would be a Dalmore 50 year old decanter, coming in at a cool $7,500 from whisky exchange.

And another anniversary coming up is 10 years of living in Australia. We arrived here in early 2005, so by this time next year, we'll be in our second decade of life in Melbourne. Again the time seems to have gone quickly, and perhaps the biggest change to my life has been the move from English publife to Melbourne Cafe culture. While I still enjoy a tipple of whisky once in a while, I now drink coffee daily. I have regular haunts that I love but I'm always on the look out for new places. I've found a cafe which seems to connect with me so I think I'm going to give it a tryHusband in South Yarra.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Amazing Sicilian Najdorf

I can trace my improvement up to beyond the 2000 level back to when I started playing the Sicilian Najdorf for both white and black. Back in those days the English Attack was in it's early days, and was usually called the Byrne System, the Sozin hadn't been countered by Nbd7-c5 as a main weapon, and the Bg5 main lines had not been analysed as deeply as they are now. Of course, compared to other openings the Najdorf was investigated very deeply, even back in the early 1980's, and I remember getting my hands on a copy of Nunn's book on the opening. I think this may have been the last openings book I bought. Soon after Nunn's Najdorf book, NIC Yearbooks started to appear with regular contributions on the Najdorf, and I discovered that Nunn's brilliant book was full of holes. Even I had managed to prove some things wrong, and I remember talking to GM Peter Wells about this, and his reaction was something like 'of course, all opening's books are full of holes'.

While Nunn's book inspired me, it also disillusioned me when it came down to opening study. Perhaps this was a good thing in as much as I worked harder on other parts of my game. However, it also meant that I never really deeply understood any opening systems, which is something that can take your game to another level. It is probably too late for me now to start working on opening systems with any ambition, though I was fired up by a Najdorf I played at my local club the other week. I was white and after playing 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 I took a think to work out what line I wanted to play. In the end I went back to the move I played 30 years ago, 6.Bg5, which leads to some of the craziest positions in the whole of chess.

From here, the game can go in a lot of directions.

1. Polugaevsky 6..e6 7.f4 b5 I used to play this for black!
2. Poisoned Pawn 6..e6 7.f4 Qb6
3. A line that wasn't popular when I last played the Najdorf, but seems to be doing well is 6..Nbd7 7.Bc4 Qb6
4. My opponent played the main line move, 6..e6 7.f4 Be7. Black breaks the pin on f6, and develops. Couldn't be simpler. Both sides improve their pieces with 8.Qf3 Qc7 9.O-O-O Nbd7
Back in the early 80's it was almost automatic to play 10.g4 in this position, though looking through the database I see 10.Bd3 scores better, though with a lower amount of games. I stuck with the main move, and I remember feeling somewhat nostalgic as I looked at the position. Unfortunately, my opponent didn't play the best move and succumbed quickly, which is an occupational hazard of playing such a sharp opening as the Najdorf. The mainline goes 10..b5 11.Bxf6 Nxf6 12.g5 Nd7
I know that the most popular move in the position is 13.f5, though I always used to play 13.h4 in this position. I seem to remember seeing some games of Ljubojevic playing in this way which impressed me, so I took the move up. I have also used the unusual 13.Rg1 once, in the Victorian Championship 2006 against Dusan Stojic. While still a great player, at the time Dusan wasn't as formidable as he is now, and I was to happy to walk away with a draw in that game. I wonder which move I would have chosen? I seem to remember thinking about 13.h4 during the game but who knows what I'd have done? Hopefully I'd have continued like Ljubojevic did in this game breaking through on e6 and bringing the light squred bishop into effect on the h3-c8 diagonal. Maybe even a little sacrifice a la Ljubo! Enjoy...

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Chess in Victoria

Chess in Victoria seems to be booming, with good numbers attending club events, weekend tournaments, and junior events throughout the state. Currently the state Championship is under way, with a pretty good field. There are 2 IM's, James Morris and Igor Goldenberg, thought he highest rated player is visiting FM Kanan Izzet. After 3 rounds, FM's Wallis and Hacche are leading on 3/3 in the 12 player round robin.

While the flagship event is looking good, there are some things which aren't so good. Unfortunately, no Victorians qualified for the Australian Olympiad team. I say unfortunately as IM's Bobby Cheng, and James Morris would have stood a chance as well as GM Johansen. However, for one reason or another none of them applied. Saying that, an exciting young side is to represent Australia at the coming Olympiad. The players are:

GM Smerdon, IM's Ly, Illingworth, Ikeda, FM Smirnov

The women's team seems to be strong, though we in Victoria are disappointed that Sally Yu missed out:

IM Berezina, WIM's Caoilli,Guo, Dekic, WFM Nguyen

Good luck to all these players representing Australia in the Olympiad in Norway. That is, if it is going to be held in Norway. Recent speculation in the chess press has suggested that the Tromso organising team don't have the financial budget to pull the event off.  The best source to follow in the press is probably Norwegian journalist Tarjei Svenson who is writing on the Chess24 website. The latest article, written just yesterday, is ominous reading, and really sheds no light on whether the Olympiad is to go ahead as planned, or a contingency is to take place, or the event to be cancelled altogether. With only a few months before the event is due to start, this is pretty poor management.

I play at 2 chess clubs, and am enjoying life in both. Unfortunately, I couldn't play last night at the MCC in the City of Melbourne Open due to work commitments. CM Jack Puccini continued his unbeaten start moving on to 4/4 and he is joined by Paul Kovacevic. These 2 now have a clear 1 point lead over a large group of players, Malcolm Pyke, Dean Hogg, Svetozar Stojic, Richard Voon and Marko Grabovac. The rest of the field is spread out behind these players as we approach the half way mark in the 9 round event. Before moving on, I just have to mention Geoff Cook again, who won with the black pieces against higher rated Tom Kalisch. Geoff is putting in a strong performance in this event. And to make Tom feel better, I was looking through an old British Chess Magazine and saw his name in it. Well I guess it's his name, unless there's another T. Kalisch somewhere. So Tom, did you play in the Hastings tournament in England during the late 70's, maybe 76/77?

My other chess club is Glen Eira Chess Club, where I am the top seed in our second tournament of the year. The club is very sociable, made up of some regular adult players, lots of juniors, many of whom are pretty strong, and some new to competitive chess adults who again can be quite strong, though a bit raw. We are running a 7 round event and have about 20 players involved. This is a few less than our last tournament, but seeing that Box Hill Chess Club are running their club championship on Friday's, I think we're not doing too bad. One of our new junior players, Fergus Chiverton won an upset win against Alistair MacCutcheon. Alsitair performed well in our first tournament, and backed this up with a solid performance in the Doeberl U-1200 event. He is working extremely hard at his game, so this is a great win for Fergus. My game this week was in an opening I haven't played for a long time, but was once very important to me, the 6.Bg5 main line of the Sicilian Najdorf. I remember as a young player putting in a lot of work into this opening, and I still remember a lot of it....though I'm going to go into this in another column this week. Late entries are still being accepted, and we are happy to see any players at the club, old or new, so come along and have some fun.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Sunday Musings

So what to muse about this fine Sunday in Melbourne? Let's start by musing about muses. During the week I joined in one of those annoying internet quizzes that starts with the question "What ____ are you?" The blank could be anything like "fictional detective", or "star wars character" or "historical leader". I tried a "What muse are you?" quiz and came up with Calliope which made me very happy. I'm not sure why it made me happy as I had no idea who Calliope was, or what their significance was. Then, when I thought about it, I realised I didn't really have much clue about who the muses were or their significance in Greek (err, was it Greek, Roman or some other culture?) mythology was. I guess my happiness was due to the fact that Calliope and Carl start with the same letters.

Calliope (right) with her sister Urania, painted by Simon Vouet around 1635 (wikipedia)

The muses were the 9 Greek Goddesses of the arts. They were the daughters of Zeus and were the inspiration for pretty much al things creative whether it be poetry, music, science or art. Calliope was the muse of Epic Poetry and her emblem is a writing tablet. So while I make no claims to this blog being epic, or poetic, it's good to have chosen a muse whose concern was with writing. The other muses wh could have been appropriate for me to have been associated with were Clio (history - my college subject and a pet reading hobby, especially European 16th and 17th Century history) or Thalia (comedy - though when I think about it, my shady past in the world of entertainment only barely counts as comedic, and probably the biggest laugh is what I get now from thinking about the things I used to do). I deem it perfectly right that I was not associated with anything to do with music, dance or visual arts. I'm sure you could find the quiz in many places, but this is where I took it, so go check out which muse you are.

We have the Greek muses to thank for a number of words that we take for granted today: music (obviously), museum (buildings dedicated to the preservation of knowledge) while words such as amusement and bemused come from Old French though that language was no doubt influenced by earlier languages such as Roman and Greek. To be honest, after musing about the muses, I realised that my whole knowledge of classical mythology and history is pretty patchy. Now I know that isn't a crime, but we have been so influenced by the ancient cultures of Greece and Rome in the West that it seems a shame for someone who claims to have a love of history to know so little. I shall follow up on this in the future, but for now I'll talk about the Greek God of wine. If you're like me, you're probably thinking that this will be about Bacchus, and you would be completely wrong! Bacchus was the Roman God of wine, his Greek counterpart was Dionysius. There was a cult of Dionysius in ancient Greek times, and in Donna Tartt's novel "The Secret History", a brutal murder is carried out under the influence of Dionysian madness.

Donna Tartt's amazing novel with a touch of Dionysian madness (wikipedia
I mention the God of wine because yesterday was World Whisky Day (appropriately coming the day after Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution Day) and as I enjoy the odd snifter of Single Malt, I couldn't help but join the celebration. By the way, for those unfamiliar with the word 'snifter' it means a small alcoholic drink, usually of whisky. And snifter's tend to be the way I take my whisky nowadays, and the excesses of my youth have been left behind. I drink little alcohol, so I feel that when I do actually have some I can afford to get something a bit more expensive that I really like. So I've taken to drinking single malts which I acquired a taste for while back in the UK. I have a brother, Bob, who also likes to partake in a whisky or two, and we used to spend very pleasant evenings together with another friend we had, Mick, drinking single malts and talking through the night. Nowadays, I tend to just have a nightcap once in a while, but I must admit to often thinking back to those times when the whisky flowed a little more freely.

Laphroaig single malt, with snifter glass
I suppose there are a number of ways to judge the quality of a whisky, but my first criteria is always the peatiness of the drink. I have no problems with a smoky whisky, but I tend to prefer drinks that have more subtle flavours. My favourites are Highland Park and Auchentoshan but neither were on sale at the offie where I went to ('offie' = off licence, or for my Australian readers, bottle shop). So I ended up with a bottle of Laphroaig 10 year old single malt which is a decent flavoured Islay malt which means a fair degree of smokiness, but not enough to knock your taste buds out. I finished my evening yesterday with a snifter or two while reading some great quotes about whisky. Here's my favourite:

“I like my water on the rocks, and I like those rocks to be in a mountain stream. That’s how I like my coffee too, fresh from a glass of whiskey.
― Jarod Kintz, I Love Blue Ribbon Coffee
This blog post has made me think about words, how we use them and where they came from and have developed. This morning, my lovely wife Caroline heard a load of crows squawking loudly over something. It made us think of the collective noun for crows, a "murder". It's a very odd term for a collection of anything, so we looked up where it might have come from.  Well, it was first used around the mid 1400's, though the association between crows and death go back much longer. They are seem as ill omens, and harbingers of death, and as they are scavengers feeding off dead carcasses and covering the dead in black shrouds. So with all those links with death, I guess a murder of crows is as good a collective noun as anything else. I found a website that has loads of these collective nouns, and there are some that are even more bizarre than a murder of crows. Enjoy the site and use your imagination to work out some of the names before searching for the answer through encyclopedia. Why are starlings a 'murmuration', while herons are a 'siege'? What is a 'covey' which defines grouse, quail, and partridges? And why do owls have a 'parliament' while baboons a 'congress'?

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Fun and Seriousness

The current Monday night tournament at the MCC is the City of Melbourne Open, and last Monday was round 3. The tournament is beginning to take shape with Jack Puccini, Dean Hogg and Paul Kovacevic leading the tournament on 3/3, followed by Simon Schmidt and Thai Ly on 2.5, with the rest of the field sprawled behind. I must say that Jack and Dean are looking pretty confident in their play, while Paul has definitely taken a leap forward in his play, and continues his good form from earlier in the year. Thai Ly is always a dangerous player, and an opponent who is prepared to wait as long as it takes to convert any chance that comes his way. Simon is perhaps the least known of the group, but he has been playing  a lot of chess this year at quite a high level, starting with the Australian Reserves in January, and currently is playing in the Box Hill Championship as well as at the MCC. Such intense effort can only improve ones play especially with players who are quite young.

In fact, I found out the hard way how good Simon has become, as I lost to him on Monday. Funnily enough, as I was walking to my car, I phoned my wife to tell her I was on my way home and when she asked how my game went I said "I lost the game, but really enjoyed it. It was an amazingly interesting game and my opponent played better than me to beat me". Caroline replied something to the effect of: "I don't get it. Why do you seem to enjoy the games that you lose more than those you win?" It was a difficult question to answer, but she has a point. I guess that I like playing, and I enjoy a good interesting game whatever the result, rather than a prosaic win, or a poor loss (lifeless draws are gradually disappearing from my play). I'm glad to say that I'm not the only player who feels this way (and I'm sure there are many at the MCC who can relate to what I'm saying here).

Dutch GM Jan Hein Donner wrote a chess column for a Dutch newspaper and in 1958 one of his articles was entitled "Fun and Seriousness". This article touched on his result in a zonal tournament where he tied with Bent Larsen for equal third. Donner makes some interesting observations about chess in general and about Larsen in particular, who he needed to play off against to progress further in the World Championship cycle. "Character, staying power, self-confidence and aggression decide who will be the greatest among grandmasters" and don't forget that he wrote this before Spassky, Fischer, Karpov or Kasparov became World Champions! As for Larsen, Donner singled out one significant quality that set him apart from other grandmasters: "He derives great pleasure from playing chess. He is one of the very few players I know to whom winning is less important than playing the game". Of course, Donner was aware of how great a player Larsen was, and adds that for Larsen "it is the 'fun' that makes him take the game so seriously".

Collected writings of GM Donner
Now don't get me wrong here. I'm not claiming to be anything like Larsen as a chess player. I am, however, able to say that my philosophy of the game is similar. I love playing, and not necessarily to win. Against Simon for instance, instead of choosing to play a solid Maroczy system against his Sicilian Taimanov, the thing that I would normally do, I sat looking at 4..Nc6 for about 5 minutes before choosing to try the English Attack which I've never used against the Taimanov before, and rarely played against any Sicilian. Impetuous? Probably. Foolish? Probably. Did I have a fun and enjoyable game? Definitely!

Good luck to everyone in the tournament, and again due to work, I will have to take another bye next week which will leave me on 2/4 and with some catching up to do if I'm going to finish in a high position in this tournament. Then again, if I end up playing games like this one against Simon throughout the event, I'll have an enjoyable tournament whatever the results. Enjoy the game I played against Simon, which he played excellently and with more feel for the opposite castling than I did.

Sunday, May 11, 2014


It's Sunday so I'm thinking about things other than chess. Like for instance how old I'll be at 12.34 on the 5/6/78. Unfortunately I'll be turning 118 which means I won't be around or I'll be unaware that I am still around.

I seem to remember learning why the days have their particular names when I was in school, but that was a long time ago. However, Sunday is the easiest of all to remember as it's named after the Sun. So it's the ideal day of the week for us immigrants from cold northern Europe in Sunny Australia. I'm  not exactly a sun worshipper, though I appreciate a nice day as much as anyone else. I have previously suffered from heat stroke so I'm always careful especially in our summer 30+ temperatures. Saying that I have worn sun symbols as jewellery for over 15 years, so I guess I could be described as a sun worshipper.

Sun Pendant
The charm that I wore for over 10 years is in the picture above. I first saw this kind of symbol while visiting Siena Cathedral where it was sitting above the front door which I thought was pretty cool. Apparently the sun symbol represents Jesus and was added at the request of Saint Bernard, and when I first saw the charm above it was sold as a St Bernard's charm. This is all linking nicely, as I've just finished Dan Brown's latest novel which is set mostly in Florence with the main character, Robert Langdon, an expert at symbology. The action moves from Tuscany to Venice, which is somewhere I intend visiting next year. It was wonderful experiencing the history and culture of Tuscany when I was last there, but apparently, St Mark's in Venice puts all else in shade. I'll admit that I was completely blown away by Siena Cathedral, and can't wait to experience St Mark's.

Stunning interior of St Mark's, Venice (from touists360)
The sun has been a symbol of worship for a long time, and is a multi cultural symbol. Throughout history the sun has been deified in cultures as diverse as Egyptian, Chinese, Aztec, and in religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism as well as the representative symbol of Christianity. In northern Europe where I was born the sun was worshipped as long ago as the stone age (4,500-2,000 BC) evidenced by petroglyphs dated to that time. England was hugely influenced by both Nordic and Roman historical influences and, not surprisingly, the sun was worshipped in both cultures. The ancient prehistoric monument, Stonehenge, has a sunstone which apparently is an observation point for the rising sun on summer solstice. I was born only about 40 miles from Stonehenge, though I don't remember that much sun in the UK when I was there!

Last year Caroline and I travelled to USA on a roadtrip in the western states. On that trip I picked up another sun symbol, this time of native American origin.

Navajo sun symbol
I saw lots of native American jewellery during that trip, most of it being Navajo, Hopi or Zuni. The Navajo Sun God is called Tsohanoai who bears the sun across the sky each day, the sun being a creation of the Navajo Goddess, First Woman. You can read about the creation of the heavenly bodies according to Navajo culture here.

As such an important natural element in our lives, it is no wonder that so many peoples have worshipped the sun throughout the years. In fact, Caroline and I are planning another trip to the USA in a couple of years time though this time to the North and into Canada. The highlight of this trip being? Well, it will be another roadtrip and the main ports of call will be Banff in Canada, and Glacier National Park in Montana, USA. It must be an omen that I'm most attracted to driving the "Going to the Sun Road" through Glacier National Park.
Spectacular views on Going to the Sun Road (wikipedia)

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Support Your Local Chess Club

There are a number of ways that people can get something out of chess, but to me, the best way is still the good old fashioned Chess Club. It's a place where you can meet people with a shared interest, watch and emulate more experienced players and learn to compete, and generally gain more information about the game. I believe that the advent of internet chess caused chess clubs to suffer as players found it easier and more convenient to play at home. This is unfortunate, as dwindling numbers of players at clubs, and less clubs, means that it is harder to find a social outlet for chess players to interact and express themselves.

In Melbourne, it appears to me that the trend is beginning to shift back in favour of clubs a little. The 2 main clubs, Box Hill and Melbourne have retained reasonable numbers for their events, and seem to be providing their members exactly what they want. The newer Noble Park Chess Club has grown to a reasonable size and seems to be attracting members of all ages and levels of experience, and the club must now be considered approaching the 2 biggest clubs in size and quality. There are also a number of clubs that are less central which are also providing a good service to the nearby communities, but there is always room for more.

Young and not so young, all are welcome at Glen Eira Chess Club

Over the past year, I've been working hard alongside my friend and work colleague, David Cordover to establish a chess club in our own neighbourhood. I live about 5 km from David and we set up a chess club near to our homes in nearby Carnegie. We'd found that many of the kids we'd taught were ready to join an adult chess club, but many weren't prepared to travel too far to do so. So while we have pushed kids towards the 3 clubs already mentioned, as well as others nearest to their homes, the kids near where we lived needed a place to play. As such we established Glen Eira Chess Club which started small, and has remained essentially a friendly, local, chess hang out. We meet on Friday evenings and for an hour the club is open to juniors and perhaps some adults who are just beginning the game, and then from 7 pm we run the adult club. So far, this has entailed a mixture of long play events and some less competitive evenings where we've played blitz, or just social games. As a founding member I might be biased, but I really enjoy the vibe of the club. While we encourage people to participate in events, there is no pressure to do so.

Tonight we started our second tournament of the year, a 7 round swiss with 3 qualifying places for our end of year club championship which promises a $1000 first prize. With 1 International Master already qualified from the first event, we expect the 9 player championship round robin to be a great event at the end of the year. For me, it is great just to play, and possibly to give something back to the chess community. I can remember as a kid going to local chess clubs and getting beaten by the adults who would then help me improve my game through analysis of the game. That was how I improved, taking those lessons on board. And I feel it my obligation, and in fact the obligation of all players to give back to the game to the next generation what we got out of it.

Tonight I was playing a young student of mine, Aaron, who is probably way better than I was at his age. However, the game turned on something that I remember learning about when I was quite young, an absolute pin.

I was black and a just a pawn up. Aaron had skilfully worked his way through the tricks that I put to him and could have thought about setting up drawing chances if it weren't for the fact that his rook is pinned. My next move was to add more pressure to the pinned piece with 1..Rd8. While white is currently stuck, black has the chance to improve his endgame chances by creating a passed pawn on the king side, and/or improving his king. In the meantime, should white eventually get out of the pin by playing e4 and Ke3 for example (that was what Aaron chose to do to remove the pin) then black always has the choice of exchanging all the pieces and leaving a pawn endgame where he is a pawn ahead which should be a win. This was the way the game went.

I have to say that for the first round of a swiss tournament there were a number of close fought games, including mine! A number of players took byes, including some of the higher rated players, so next week's second round should be interesting.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

City of Melbourne Open

The Melbourne Chess Club started its second Monday night FIDE rated tournament of the year last week. Unfortunately, I had to miss the first round due to work commitments and took a half point bye. My work is pretty full on at the moment so this may not be the last bye I have to take. The tournament has a reasonable size of field of about 35 players, with some pretty decent players at the top, though no master level players. Including myself, there are 6 players over 2000 in the event and it looks a very open event.

There have already been a number of upset results. In the first round Geoff Cook (who more often plays a Box Hill Chess Club so it's good to see him at the MCC), Alex Kaplan, Tanya Krstevski and Ben Frayle all picked up draws against much higher rated opposition. The second round last night saw even more upsets. Marko Grabovac (who plays more often at Noble Park Chess Club) and Simon Dale (after Ari and Finley Dale have completed the "How to Beat your Dad at Chess" course, the Dad now starts to make up ground again!) scored draws against higher rated opposition, but there were upset wins as well. Not to be outdone by his Dad, Finley Dale beat an opponent rated 200 points higher than him, as did stalwarts Richard Voon and Felix Wyss. But perhaps the biggest upset of the night was again by Geoff Cook who overcame a 300 point rating deficit to beat Justin Penrose.

The tournament is beginning to shape up, with 6 players on 2/2 Puccini (perhaps favourite for the event), Dean Hogg (from Hobson's Bay Chess Club), Richard Voon, Felix Wyss, Paul Kovacevic and Finley Dale. I managed to win my game last night which puts me on the group half a point behind the leaders, but in these early days it really is open to anyone who makes a good run.

I thought I had a tough draw as black against Tom Kalisch. When in form, and with the initiative, Tom is a pretty scary player to be against, and apart from that he can play almost any weird and wonderful opening. As it happens, he played a c3 Sicilian, but got things a bit wrong allowing me to get a monster knight on d5. That was after an interesting move choice early on.
In this fairly standard position the main moves are:

Tom chose a move that has only been played once before, and it confused me. 7.Na3. Now I was thinking this can't be good, and why can't I just take that knight with 7..Bxa3? I then started getting worried about my lack of defence on the dark squares, especially d6, so I rejected the immediate capture, though it must surely be the critical response. Instead I played 7..d6 which is a novelty in the position!
I was looking at moves like 8.Nb5, 8.Nc4, 8.Bg5, 8.Bd3, 8.ed6 when eventually Tom played a move that I had half considered but thought little about which was 8.Bb5+. After 8..Bd7 Tom played passively with 9.Qe2, but after the game he showed his flair for invention.
Something I had considered was 9.Bg5 when I was ready to block with 9..Be7. We looked at this position and Tom said he was considering playing 10.Rc1!? in this position which was certainly nothing I'd looked at.
He showed this and I was amazed. What a beautiful move which works against 10..Bxg5 11.Nxg5 Qxg5 where black doesn't win a piece as white has the fantastic 12.Rc8+
Of course, black has other moves instead of 10..Bxg5, such as simply 10..O-O, but it was a joy analysing positions like this. Certainly one major attraction to club chess, compared to online chess, is the joy of post game analysis which both educates and entertains using the ideas of a chess game as the basis for the conversation.

Anyway, I've plenty to work on before the next game, which is next Monday, in this most open of tournaments.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

A Day of Rest

Currently my only day off is a Sunday, and I'm even doing an early morning lesson on a Sunday, so my weekend starts about 10 am Sunday morning and lasts till I go to bed. No matter, this state of affairs will right itself at some stage, and I can't really complain about the work. However, it means that Sundays will be chess free days until I have another day off (ok, I know that's a bit ambitious, so I'll aim for a half day).

So what do I do on a chess free day, beside twiddling my thumbs, or sweating and hyperventilating because there is something missing from my life? I couldn't really get on with too much today as the weather was abysmal, so there was no day trip into the country. However, sitting around the house isn't an option, so Caroline and I went out for lunch and then found ourselves at the South Melbourne Market. I'm going to reminisce for a bit here, so if that irritates you, then skip to the next paragraph. I first went to the South Melbourne Market about 8 years ago, and thought it was shabby and uninteresting. There was a lack of selection, and the quality of the produce I felt was pretty poor. I can't really remember what time of year I went, as that may have contributed to the bad impression I got. However, I was lucky enough to try the South Melbourne Market again a few years later, and in that time there had been a transformation, with many new stalls with interesting produce, and even the food stuffs seemed to be more varied and of a better quality than I'd thought when I first went there. Now I enjoy wandering around the market, with my favourite stalls probably being the hemp clothing stall, and the specialist potato stall.

I have thought about this quite a bit today, I mean the fact that we get comfortable with our way of life and then don't like to push the boundaries, or leave our comfort zone. But life, to me, is all about trying new things and complacency is something to be avoided. I'm not saying routine is bad, but life would be very dull if one didn't try new things, or retrying things to see how they've changed. I suppose as an expat I've experienced a huge change to my life, but one thing I have not experienced is being a parent. Don't get me wrong, I have no regrets on that score, but my brother's, wife's daughter had a baby yesterday back in the UK and I wish Sam, and her family much happiness.

Because of this, I've spent a fair bit of time checking and rechecking my Facebook account today, to keep up to date with events back in the UK. It really is amazing how technology has allowed me to keep in touch with my family, seeing their pictures and reading their daily trials and triumphs from across the globe. The internet has certainly made the World a smaller place in terms of communication. I must admit, that I do have a regret this year, and it's not being able to get back to the UK to see my niece's wedding which will be happening in August. But by the power of webcam, I've been invited to the wedding, and I will most definitely be attending. (I just have to convince Vanya to rearrange her wedding for 4 am GMT which is a better time for us in Australia!)

Did you ever have a book that you intended to read but never quite got round to it? Or an author perhaps? For me it was Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I once even had a book out of the library, 100 Years of Solitude, but for one reason or another, didn't even open the book before returning it. It is a shame that it took his recent death to remind me that here was an author who I'd wanted to read for many years, but never had. Today I bought 'Love in the Time of Cholera' which I will start soon after I finish this blog post. (Here's a nice tribute about him on the Huffington Post) I also bought Dan Brown's 'Inferno' which takes me back to when I first came to Australia, a bit over 9 years ago. I took a Cathay Pacific flight from Heathrow to Melbourne via Hong Kong, and on that flight I read 'The Da Vinci Code', or at least most of it!

So I guess I'm saying in this post that 'new' is good, but so is 'familiar'. Finding the right balance for each of us, is the key to happiness. I'll be writing more non chess posts on Sundays, and hopefully giving my opinion about some coffee which I haven't written about for a while. That reminds me, it's a while since I've been to some really good cafe's that I must try again, and then there are plenty out there that I haven't tried, though my regular haunts are pretty good.