Wednesday, June 11, 2014


Spending a long weekend away from home to play chess is usually a tiring affair. It is normally a case of travel, play, analyse, prepare, play etc, until going home time. However, last weekend I was able to spend a fair bit of time away from the board to wander around Hobart. I've been to Hobart quite a few times now, but not often as a tourist. I was staying at a cheap hotel/pub called The Welcome Stranger which was basic, but ok. The only downside was an incident that happened on Saturday night at about 1.30 am. I was woken by shouting and overheard a fight had happened. The police were called and some guests were escorted from the building. While it was somewhat entertaining, it was also a bit unnerving and it ruined my nights sleep. Saying that, it could have happened anywhere, so I'm not blaming the hotel which was fine.

The hotel is situated on Davey Road about 5 minutes walk from Salamanca Place. It is simply a case of crossing the road, walking through St David's Park and you're there. This is what I did most mornings before the games followed by a walk to Sandy Bay, or up Davey Street, towards the venue.

St David's Park

St David's Park

St David's Park
St David's Park was interesting as it is old and was the site of a cemetery in Hobart's early days. Now there are memorials around the lush green surroundings. Certainly in Australian terms, Hobart is historically rich and the areas around Salamanca and Battery Point are historically important. Fortunately for me, these were close to where I was staying, and only about 20 minutes walk from the venue.

St George's Church, Battery Point

The 'Kelly Steps' linking Salamanca to Battery Point

The wharves have boats both old and new
After my last game on Monday, I had plenty of free time to go wandering around Hobart. So after a quick coffee break in Salamanca, I walked around the dockside area, and along to the Queen's Domain. It was a beautiful crisp day, great for walking and sightseeing.
Part of Louis Bernacchi Momument

The Cenotaph in Queen's Domain

Tasman Bridge from Queen's Domain

The magnificent view south along the River Derwent.
Walking around Hobart will certainly help with fitness. Certainly compared to Melbourne it is very hilly, and the centrepiece of all is Mount Wellington which looks glorious from almost any perspective, and in almost any conditions.
Mt Wellington looming over the city

Ominous clouds covering Mt Wellington's peak

Salamanca Market, with a rainbow coming out of Mt Wellington.
 All in all I had an enjoyable trip that wasn't all chess. The weather was great and Hobart is compact and perfect for walking. And as a bonus, when I came back to Melbourne, it felt positively springlike after the colder Tasmanian winter. Any time I think nostalgically about England (not often it must be said!), I will have to go to Hobart in winter to experience frosty conditions like there were on Monday morning. It was a shock to the system after nearly 10 years in Melbourne!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Tasmanian Open Part 2

Well I thoroughly enjoyed playing interstate, even if my chess wasn't really up to scratch. I was able to do some sightseeing around Hobart, and it was good to see some people who I haven't seen for a while and play a new bunch of players. The second day of the tournament was pretty gruelling and I didn't get enough sleep on the Saturday night to cope. The Tasmanian Open runs 3 rounds on the middle day of the long weekend, though Kevin Bonham admits it's not an ideal scenario. The problem with running 2 rounds on the Sunday, and then 2 on the public holiday Monday is that many players have a long drive back to the north of the island which doesn't really want to be undertaken late on Monday afternoon. I can see the point, and the thing about 3 games in a day is that it is basically the same problem for everyone in the tournament.

I was struggling from the start of the day, played 3 dodgy looking openings to finish on 1/3 for the day, which is probably better than I deserved. The competition was pretty tough with all boards being competitive. While on the first day there was only one draw in both rounds, the first 2 rounds on Sunday saw most games drawn. My first game was against David Small who had won the Lightning Tournament on Saturday evening with a perfect 9/9. We ended in a hard fought draw, where we were both probably better at some stage in the game. With board 2 also ending in a draw, it meant that 5 players were tying for first. The 4th round was just as tight with again the top 2 boards ending in draws. This lined things up for the final round of the day which was essentially carnage with no draws and plenty of poor play. My game saw me worse out of the opening, equalising into a position where both players had some dangerous looking threats and then I just collapsed. I had one of those classic moments when you play a move and within about 3 seconds of putting the piece down you see what you missed, and it appears then the most blatantly obvious move on the board. It then becomes a nail biting wait to see if your opponent has seen it. Unfortunately for me, Neil Markowitz did see it, and went on to win nicely.

So with one round to go, there were 3 leaders, Kerr, Markowitz and Small, with Mason Carter and Denis MacMahon half a point behind. Bill Kerr and David Small won their games to come equal first in the tournament, while Kevin Bonham and myself won to leapfrog into joint third with Neil Markowitz.  It was a nice tournament to play in and I urge others to take the trip to Tasmania to play some chess. The scenery is beautiful, Hobart is a great little city, you'll get to play some different players and you'll be made to feel very welcome by a a very nice group of people. More on the scenery in a later post, here are some of the people and I'll try to post some game fragments later in the week.

Mason Carter (left) very nearly pulled off the upset of the tournament against Bill Kerr. Here he analyses with Ian Little

Kevin Bonham and Bill Kerr who has recently moved to Tasmania

Neil Markowitz in his thinking pose opposite David Small, with Mason Carter in the background

Kevin Bonham handing out prizes to under 18 winners Rebecca Strickland and Max Phillips

James Kim was possibly the tournament sensation winning the under 1500 prize with a rating of under 1000

Worthy winners, Bill Kerr and David Small with Kevin Bonham in the middle

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Tasmanian Open

Tasmania is a beautiful little island to the south of Victoria. I've been here many times before, and have always been charmed by the natural beauty of the environment. Even the cities are small and picturesque. I flew into Hobart Airport late last night (after a delay to my flight, Tiger Airlines, you really are shoddy!) and basically just crashed out ready for the first day of the tournament. This is a long weekend so tournaments are lasting 3 days, running into Monday.

Salamanca Market. A rainbow seems to be coming out Mount Wellington in the background

A 10.30 am start on Saturday morning was very generous, and allowed me to spend the early part of the morning wandering around Salamanca Market. If you've never been to the market before, it is really very good, with lots of locally made products. I walked up to the venue from Salamanca. It only took about 20 minutes and left me totally refreshed for my first game. The tournament is being organised by the Tasmanian Chess Association, with Kevin Bonham acting as playing arbiter The tournament is being held at Princes Street School which has a decent history of junior chess participation. The venue is quite basic, but perfectly adequate and though it was a little cool at times (probably me becoming a big softie after living in Melbourne for nearly 10 years!) the playing hall was totally comfortable. Some great news from TCA before the tournament started was new events to be held on the island this year including a rapidplay championships, and a tournament sponsored by Neville Ledger to the tune of $3000 for Tasmanian residents only. This should be an excellent event, scheduled for December, which can only add impetus to chess playing in Tasmania.

King from Richard III Chess Set I saw in Salamnaca today

The field for this year's Tasmanian Open is tightly bunched at the top. I'm top seed at 2099 but 6th seed Ian Rout is only 200 points behind. It's a pretty open filed as a number of strong juniors are in playing who can take out almost anyone on their day. This was shown in round 2 when Mason Carter drew with second seed Bill Kerr, and could have very easily won the game. It will be no easy task for anyone to win the event. On day 1 there weren't too many upsets, although as I already mentioned, Bill Kerr was held to a draw by Mason Carter. The only result against the ratings in round 1 was a win by local junior James Kim. However, as we all know, juniors are unpredictable and can play well above their ratings fro the odd game, or may just be under rated. There were 20 entries and all the first round games ended in victories. Round 2 saw the first and only draw to date. I suppose this isn't too unexpected as the field sorts itself out.

Carter-Kerr from round 2. White has sacrificed a piece, but has an excellent attack while black's pieces are not really working. Mason found 1.Rd1!, but spent a lot of time choosing it. Bill then coolly replied 1..Qxd4 and Mason played 2.Rg3+, though after this he couldn't find a win. In the post mortem we looked at 2.Bxf5.

Now after 2..Qxf6 white has the simple retreat 3.Bb1 with irresistable threats such as Rf3-g3. Unfortunately Mason was down to the bare increment which is only 15 seconds (in fact, he was down to 2 seconds at one point, and very nearly lost) and he failed to convert.

Tomorrow there are 3 games, and that will mostly settle the placings. It has been thoroughly enjoyable up to now, with everyone playing in a friendly and competitive manner and I am most content to be competing in my first Tasmanian tournament. I'll try to do another round up tomorrow, though it might be difficlut with 3 games in a day.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Following Chess Online

Every once in a while I post about some chess sites that I've seen and really like, so it's time for another one of these. First, the sites that I regularly go to and think are great haven't changed. I take a daily look at and TWIC, regularly keep tabs on chessbase, chesscafe, and chess24 as well as following a number of Australian sites and blogs. But that doesn't mean that I don't check out new stuff.

The first thing that has me seeing new things is my Twitter feed. I can't praise it too much as a chess portal. I remember that there used to be chess websites that just had loads of links to other chess sites, and seem to remember one called chessopolis...actually, I wonder if that still exists? Apparently, chessopolis does! Ok, back to the plot. On Twitter I follow a number of chess players, chess journalists, chess writers, and chess sites and they link to other amazing sites. So here we go...

There are a number of Grandmasters who write online, and their material is excellent. I've followed Kevin Spraggett's blog for quite a while now and I'll be following some other GM's as well. Tiger Hillarp Persson's blog is amazing. He doesn't write often, but when he does, the material is unbelievable with deep analysis. Also, I like the name, Chess at the Bag of Cats. Another fantastic GM blog is that of English number 1 Michael Adams. I might be a bit biased here, as I am from England originally. I'm going to be trying more GM blogs in the future as the quality of material is excellent, and the personal comments about their chess experiences is great for a chess fan. I haven't really looked at World Champion, Magnus Carlsen's site yet, though it is an obvious one to consider. (on another patriotic note, Australian Grandmaster, David Smerdon's blog is an entertaining read).

But chess is not just about the top players. There are a lot of people writing about chess who aren't titles at all (I've decided to not claim my CM title!). The best site I've recently found is called old in chess. This site looks at news from 100 years ago and as this is 2014, 100 years ago saw one of the greatest tournaments in history, St Petersburg with Lasker winning ahead of a star studded field including Capablanca, Alekhine, Tarrasch, Marshall etc. The tournament was played in the first half of 1914, so go check out the site and read about a piece of chess history. This is now a big favourite of mine! Much more so than the new playing site FIDE online arena which I'll advise people to go check out for themselves as I don't like much negativity in my blog. I didn't like the site, though it is still being developed so it may become better so check it out as a playing site.

Finally, the absolute stars of online blogging are women, with Grandmasters Susan Polgar and Alexandra Kosteniuk leading the way. I personally have been enjoying the site of another top woman player, Natalia Pogonina. It has regular updates (daily mainly) with great photo's, analysis and stories

Hope you enjoy some of these sites, check out the ones in my links, and if you can recommend any others please do as I'm always on the lookout for new material.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Pawn Grabbing

It's the week before a public holiday here in Australia and I'm looking forward to a weekend in Tasmania playing chess. I'm spending the Queen's Birthday weekend at the Tasmanian Open in Hobart which should be good fun. I'll write reports from Hobart at the weekend on the event. It's a big week in Australian chess as a whole set of tournaments take place this weekend, with massive open's in Sydney and Melbourne. Leader Jack Puccini as well as a long weekender in Queensland. Although I've been to Hobart a number of times, I've never played a tournament there, so I'm looking forward to meeting up with some new players.

The tournaments I'm currently playing in are heading towards the pointy end. At the MCC, the City of Melbourne open had the 6th of it's nine rounds on Monday. Leader Jack Puccini took a half point bye but retains the lead. The gap has narrowed and he is now only half a point ahead of Malcolm Pyke. There is then a further half point to Simon Schmidt and Roger McCart who is having an amazing tournament so far. I find myself in a big group of players a further half point down (so 1.5 behind Puccini) and with 3 rounds to go, I guess a lot could still happen, and there are still chances even for those below me. As I like to mention upset results, I'll just note that both Tanya's in the event played above their rating. Tanya Krstevska drew with Peter Fry, while Tanya Kolak beat Alex Kaplan. Also Ben Frayle and Roger McCart won against players rated 200 points above them.

At Glen Eira Chess Club I'm currently leading the tournament after beating a student of mine, Max Phillips, in the fourth round of 7. I'm a point ahead of Jerzy Krysiak and David Cordover, but the tournament is being lit up by 8 year old Mahalakshme Thiagarajan who is on 2.5/4 and seems to be playing better every week. This young girl is very serious about her chess. She played in the under 1200 tournament in Canberra earlier this year, and is eager to play more events and it wouldn't surprise me to see her turn up at the Victorian Open. Both Glen Eira and the MCC have no tournament games in the upcoming week due to the long weekend schedule. This means that my next regular tournament game will be at Glen Eira on Friday 13th June, which sounds a bit ominous.

From a coaching perspective, I revisited one of the first ever games I showed to students in Australia. It is a game which demonstrates the dangers of pawn grabbing in the opening, and was played by one of the strongest ever Australian born players.

In the final position there is a great checkmate pattern:
18..Kf6 [18..Kf8 19.Qd6+ Ne7 20.Qxe7+ Kg8 21.Qe8+ Qxe8 22.Rxe8#] 19.Qf3! Kxe5 [19.Kg6 Qh5+ 20.Kf6 Qg5#] 20.Re1#

And if that isn't warning enough, there was the 11th game of the Spassky-Fischer 1972 World Championship where Fischer played the poisoned pawn variation of the Najdorf, and sadly saw his queen trapped.

Need I say more? At least I think I've terrorised kids into developing minor pieces and castling more often than not, and being incredibly careful with their queen.

Sunday, June 1, 2014


It's the first day of winter today. Now, if you're in the northern hemisphere you probably have no idea what I'm going on about here. Unless you're in the UK!  Actually, I shouldn't be too hard on British weather. June can be a beautiful month in Britain, with the blossoming of flowers and berries, a warmth and freshness to the air, and a lengthening of daylight through to the summer solstice. I have some very fond memories of June. At least until Wimbledon starts and the British monsoon fortnight takes over!

"There are 2 seasons in Scotland: June and winter" - Billy Connelly

To be honest, I'm a bit confused by winter and summer dates. It used to be that the solstice marked the beginning of those seasons, though the winter solstice can also be seem as midwinter. However here in Australia the seasons run on a purely monthly basis with June to August being winter, September to November being Spring, December to February as Summer and March to May as Autumn. So I'm going to try to get to the bottom of this. Should winter start on the 1st June, or should it start on the solstice which this year is the 21st June? And just when can we expect the bleak midwinter?

"What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness?" - John Steinbeck

Well, according to the Herald Sun, today marked the first day of winter in Melbourne, and they ran a story on crazy people who decided to mark the occasion by swimming in the cold sea. But is it right to suggest that June the 1st is the start of winter? However, other countries including the USA and British nations seem to be believe that winter starts on the solstice, and you can check the dates for these online.

The problem is that the solstice represents midwinter, though meteorologically this is incorrect as the coldest part of the year occurs after the solstice. Countries which believe that the solstice represent the midwinter include Scandinavian countries and Ireland. So really there is no agreement, and a number of southern hemisphere countries reckon the same way as Australia do and start winter on the first of June. To complicate things more, there are theories which advocate more than 4 seasons. For example, the Hindu calendar has 6 seasons, spring summer, monsoon, autumn, early winter and late winter with 2 month cycles rather than 3 month cycles. Then there are non calendar based seasons such as 'ecological' which look to events happening as marking the changes of seasons. For example, flowers blossom in spring while bears hibernate in winter, and observation of these natural cyclical changes is used as designating seasons, Typically ecological systems have 6 seasons, spring, high summer, late summer, autumn, winter and early spring. Interesting stuff!

"Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire; it is the time for home" -Edith Sitwell

Winter is an old German word which has been in use in the English language for well over 1000 years and as much as we moan about it, it is a necessary season in the scheme of things. And there's much comfort to be taken about winter. There are warm and cosy winter clothes, hearty foods, and fires to sit near. In fact, it can be argued that as uncomfortable as winter is, it is easier to stay warm in winter than to stay cool in summer. I guess it depends on the person. I appreciate the warmth of Australia, but I have nothing against the winter either. I think living without seasons would be a tedious thing for me now and I'm looking forward to travelling further south next week to Tasmania and colder temperatures. I'm rather spoiled in Australia, because winters are not harsh, or long, so I'd better make the most of it while it lasts! And the best thing about winter? As Shelley said "If winter comes, can spring be far behind?"

And to keep up a positive note about cold and wet weather, a last poem by Robert Louis Stevenson which talks about both good and bad in winter.

Late lies the wintry sun a-bed,
A frosty, fiery sleepy-head;
Blinks but an hour or two; and then,
A blood-red orange, sets again.

Before the stars have left the skies,
At morning in the dark I rise;
And shivering in my nakedness,
By the cold candle, bathe and dress.

Close by the jolly fire I sit
To warm my frozen bones a bit;
Or with a reindeer-sled, explore
The colder countries round the door.

When to go out, my nurse doth wrap
Me in my comforter and cap;
The cold wind burns my face, and blows
Its frosty pepper up my nose.

Black are my steps on silver sod;
Thick blows my frosty breath abroad;
And tree and house, and hill and lake,
Are frosted like a wedding-cake.