Sunday, November 16, 2014

Ponziani at Glen Eira Club Championship

This week at Glen Eira Chess Club I had to play against FM Domagoj Dragicevic. The plan? Well go play, see how it goes and try my best! I guess that for the majority of working adults, this is essentially the way it works even if we would prefer to meticulously prepare for each opponent. More often than not, it's a matter of who plays better on the night.

Actually, I was fairly happy that Domagoj went for a line that I quite like. He gambitted a pawn and after a while seemed to get little, if any compensation for it. The opening was a Ponziani, and for those of you that haven't got the foggiest idea what I'm talking about, the game started 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.c3.

At this point there are 2 main moves, 3..Nf6 and 3..d5 and I've had to face both of these about the same amount. However, the types of positions are very different, with the knight move being more appealing to me, and less sharp generally. Domagoj chose 3..d5 and I responded 4.Qa4

When white plays 3.c3 there are 2 ideas. One is to play d4 and build a centre, the other is to develop the queen to a4 or b3. This position will certainly favour the player who has studied it the most, as there are lots of complicated lines. That tends to be why I prefer 3..Nf6 as black. Black's immediate worry is the e5 pawn, and Domagoj chose a gambit variation which holds on to it, but loses the d5 pawn. 4..Bd7. With black's queen unable to protect d5 it's a free pawn, 5.exd5.

Domagoj now played 5..Nd4 which to be honest, this would have thrown me if I hadn't recently played a game online in this variation, so had some idea of what was going on. The continuation 6.Qd1 Nxf3+ 7.Qxf3 is pretty standard and leads to an interesting position.

White is a clear pawn ahead, but black has a little compensation. White's queen can become a target to attack, and if black can get f5 in and develop behind these pawns, he will have some exciting pawn breaks in the offing. For some reason, Domagoj didn't play the mainline with ..Bd6 and ..f5, but chose 7..Nf6. Actually, I think that white is close to being just a pawn up, and maybe 8.Bc4 is best, but I played 8.Be2 and managed to work my way slowly into a good position, only to let it slip later. I'll post both my online game and the game against Domagoj.

The tournament is beginning to take shape, with a number of rearranged games having been played. I think the safest way of looking at it is like this. IM James Morris is on 100%, I've dropped half a point, Domagoj and Rebecca Strickland have dropped 1.5, while the rest of the field are further behind, except Sarah Anton who has lots of games to catch up.

The Reserves tournament is also competitive, and sometimes the results don't always reflect that. Max Phillips is leading the tournament though he has struggled in some of his games, and games will often swing to and fro between the players in this event. Saying that, if basic blunders can be made at World Championship level, such as the mutual blindness in game 6, then we really shouldn't be too hard on anybody.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

An Ending from the Hjorth Open

A funny title really, seeing that I'm only going to show a position and not a full endgame. And it wasn't as if I was playing, The Melbourne Chess Club used the long weekend to host the Hjorth Open as a tribute to IM Greg Hjorth who passed away in 2011.. I just dropped in for couple of hours on my day off over the public holiday weekend. It was good to meet some friends who I hadn't seen for a while and to browse some games and positions. I was there on Monday morning or round 6 out of 9, and the top 2 players from the event were playing, IM Max Illingworth-IM James Morris.

R-L IM Max Illingworth, FM Greg Canfell, IM James Morris, FM Chris Wallis
Nothing beats playing in a good chess tournament, but walking around, spectating can be a great experience too. There were about 40 games to choose from in the round I was there. There were high level contests on the top boards, but lower down was interesting for me as I knew so many of the players. I even managed to play a few blitz games with Tom Kalisch who didn't have an opponent for the round.

The endgame that caught my attention was between Richard Voon and Ray Yang.

Rook endings with 2 v 1 pawn are extremely common so it's a good idea to get to grips with them. Now I've put in a fair amount of work into my endgames over the past few years, but when I looked at this I couldn't remember having looked at these types of positions before, and couldn't work out what the result should be with best play. I put the position into Chessbase 12 and under a menu labelled "Report" I hit a button I'd never hit before called "Similar Endgames". The search brought up over 60,000 endgames with the same material balance, but only a small percentage of this group of games had a similar pawn structure. However, I was most impressed to find that this position has been seen in a game before!

The game Obukhov-Cherniak Belevanets Memorial Open 1991 reached this exact position with black to move, just as in Voon-Yang. After a bit of moving around, black was able to sacrifice his remaining pawn to reach a drawn position.

According to Nalimov Tablebases this is a draw, although it is fairly easy to see. Black will keep checking the white king which cannot escape checks and defend the e-pawn. By the way, with white to move in this position, it is a win as white plays 1.Rf6 and then hides his king on g6.

So I guess with a resource like that, the ending must be pretty drawn, and really we would have to say that Richard Voon managed to gain a half point by winning this game. But practically speaking, it is always worth playing on as the defenders job is difficult, and psychologically, it is very tough to keep holding on to a position where you have almost no chance of winning. Take the following position:

Here white has managed to bring his king past the pawns, but the position is still level. 1..Ke6, and the game should end in a draw. But in the game Giertz-van Vaalen Biel 1997 black played 1..Re7? allowing an exchange of rooks. 2.Rb7! the resulting pawn endgame is a draw 2..Rxb7 3.Kxb7 Ke6 4.Kc6 Ke5

It appears for black that his king is doing a great job of holding, if not winning the position! Unfortunately, white's next move brought him back to earth. 5.Kd7! Now when black takes on e4, white will play Ke6 and will just swing across to take on g6 and then promote.

The defending side must also have their pieces in the right positions. The rook must defend from the side at times, but must head to the back of the board to start checking at just the right moment. The defending king needs to do a job of both blocking the enemy passed pawn and defending his own pawn. This would be harder if the attacking sides pawns were further apart, and here we have one of the main secrets of this endgame. The closer the pawns are to each other, the easier it is to defend this type of position. If the pawns were 3 or more files apart the defence would be much more difficult.

Funnily enough the stats from my database search through Bigbase 2013 come up with 64 games with the same pawn structure as this, though with varying piece placements. Less than half of these games ended up as draws (28 games, or 44%), so there is a good reason for playing on in this type of position seeing the stronger side has nothing to lose. There is also good reason for putting some work into rook endings, as these happen more often than any other sort of endgame, and one of the main ideas is finding positions to head for which you know will give you the right result (win if you're the stronger side, or draw if you're defending). Simplifications to theoretically known positions will maximise your results,

I'll post some more about endgames regularly, and I'll revisit rook an 2 vs rook and 1 at some stage in the not too distant future.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Masters Meet

Glen Eira Chess Club saw a big moment this week when our 2 titled players met in the Championship event. The Championship event is still sorting itself out, with a few unplayed games still to be caught up on. The event also took a blow with the withdrawal of one of the higher rated players, Smari Teitsson. Unfortunately, Smari hasn't been that well, and can't commit to the tournament.

IM's James Morris (hoodied) and Max Illingworth at Hjorth Memorial

However, the games that are being played are interesting and exciting. The big favourite for the event is International Master James Morris. James had a great tournament at the weekend in the Hjorth Memorial at the Melbourne Chess Club, finishing second only to current Australian Champion Max Illingworth. Max had an amazing tournament and is clearly of Grand Master level, so it is certainly no disgrace to finish second to him. James took a bye in round  and then scored 7/8 losing only to Illingworth.

At Glen Eira this week, we had the match up FM Dragicevic-IM Morris. The game was a French, and it only took minor inaccuracies from Domagoj Dragicevic to allow James to blast open th eposition to his advantage. Once ahead, James is very difficult to stop, and he converted the game comfortably. The standings after 4 rounds are:

Carl Gorka (ME!!) 3/3
IM James Morris 2/2
FM Domagoj Dragicevic 2/3 (Bye)
Rebecca Strickland 1.5/3
Jerzy Krysiak 1/4
Rad Chmiel 1/3 (Bye)
Josh Moore 1/2 (Bye)
Sarah Anton 0/1 (Bye)

With a lot of make up games to play, these standings don't mean too much but I'm always happy to be on top of a tournament table. With FM Domagoj Dragicevic coming up next week, my stint at the top could well be in danger!

The Reserves event running alongside the Championship is looking like a Glen Eira Junior Championship with young talents Daniel Poberezovsky and Max Phillips leading the field. While Max has been a talent for some time now, Daniel certainly seems to be catching up, along with a bunch of up and coming juniors in the area.

James Morris doesn't do too bad in the neat writing competition.
To play through the above game easily, try the game viewer.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A Long, Long Weekend

I'd always found it amusing that Melbourne has a public holiday to honour a horse race. I've never been too interested in horse racing, and gambling is not one of my vices, but hey, it's a holiday so what the heck! At least that was my attitude until yesterday, when 2 horses died after running the 2014 Melbourne Cup yesterday.

Melbourne billboard (courtesy of

I guess at some stage in people's lives there comes a time that you just have to stop turning a blind eye to things that you don't think are right. While I've always been vehemently against cruelty to animals in any form, I've taken a back seat when it comes to openly criticising or taking any action. It's time for that to stop. I'm now going to be following anti horse racing sites like this one, and other animal support groups. At times it sickens me to be part of a race that can do so much wanton damage to other species on our planet.

I'd like to thank my friend Judge the Poet who quickly responded to my request for a poem on Twitter. Judge and his lovely partner Chava have been long term vegans and are fully aware of animal rights issues.

While I guess that I've always been on the anti racing side, I've always sat back and let it be an issue that didn't concern me. The figures are quite frankly appalling. The dramatically named website Race Horse Death Watch records all deaths of race horses on course in Britain and it has been doing this since 2007. In those 7 years it has catalogues 1171 deaths, or about 167 deaths a year. This means that on average, a horse is dying from racing about every 2 days in Britain. I don't know the figures for other countries, but I would guess it's similar, and that is only race course related deaths.

If you're an animal lover, or just a reasonable person, you can't believe that this is right. I can't believe that it's taken me so long to come out and say it!

Meanwhile, I am following the wonderful cartoonist Michael Leunig on Facebook, his art and messages really resonate with me. This quote appeared on the page yesterday, not long after the race finished: