Tuesday, December 29, 2015


What do you do in the build up to a big event? I'm playing in the Australian Chess Championship which starts in 4 days, so what should I be doing now? Well, today I took to the same approach as I do when training for a half marathon, and started to wind down. I've done plenty of chess work over the past few weeks, and I thought that a day out with Caroline was what was needed.

Melbourne saw almost perfect weather today, with temperatures in the mid 20's and little wind or humidity to talk about. So we took advantage of this and ventured into the Yarra Valley. We drove through Healesville, and on to Marysville, one of the towns that we remember for the awful fires of 2009.

The scenery was absolutely amazing, with beautiful colours and fabulous scents of eucalyptus and, at times, pines. The drive to Marysville took a long time, as we were stopping to walk or to just look. The sky was a rich blue which contrasted excellently with the silvers and greens of the trees and ferns. It was a short day trip that lifts the spirit and reminds one why Melbourne, Victoria, is the place to live.

Healesville Reservoir

Amazing blue sky contrasted by the eucalypts



Eucalypt forest on Black Spur between Healesville and Marysville

It's a long way up

Watts River

Revell's Falls, Healesville Reservoir Maroondah Park

Friendly and a bit cocky!

Monday, December 28, 2015

My Chess Year

Chess Cake celebrating the year in chess!
Year ends are a good time to reflect on how things have been going and where you'd like things to go. S here's a quick reflection on my chess year in 2015, and some of the goals for 2016.

The lounge of a hotel I stayed at in Orleans, France. Chess seems to follow me around!
From a playing point of view I've had a pretty good year. I started 2015 with a FIDE rating of 2085 and an ACF rating of 2113. I have finished the year with a FIDE rating of 2166 (+79) and an ACF of 2202 (+89). The highlight of the year was winning the City of Melbourne Open at the MCC, but there were also good performances at the MCC ch (4th) and the Glen Eira CC ch (=2nd).

My recent performance in the Australasian Masters was ok, but nothing special. The big problem here I think was lack of practice. In the first half of the year I was playing regularly, at least once a week, which kept me sharp. I then played little chess during September, October, November and felt a bit rusty going into the Masters.

Another chess cake, seeing how I'm celebrating.
So overall I'm pretty happy with my play this year, and hope to keep it up next year. I intend to play regularly through the year at the MCC, and possibly at a couple of weekenders. I plan to work on a stronger opening repertoire, better calculation, and more strategic thinking. (I'll probably end up working on some crazy endgames, a bunch of nineteenth century miniatures, and a few games I see on websites as they happen!) I'd like to establish myself as a 2200+ player, though I know this isn't easy. Actually, I'd really like to get to 2300, but that might be beyond me now. I'd also like to write a book about chess. I've never even tried to do this before, as I've never felt qualified to write about anything. I think I might have a subject now, so I'll see how far this project goes.

Hopefully I'll be able to study some modern theory in 2016!
Does this mean this blog will suffer? Possibly, at times, if I'm busy. But I enjoy writing here, so I intend to continue. I'll be keeping the content personal to me, specifically things about Melbourne, Australia, England, and some of the people I've come across, and things I find interesting.

I am also a chess coach, though the majority of my students are young children at a beginner level. I'm always looking for materials to show which are both educative and entertaining, and hopefully I'll see some students breaking through this year.

Wishing you all a Happy New Year

Is this enough? I think so. I hope you all had a great Christmas, or whatever you celebrate, and have a great New Year and that 2016 is a good one for you. I'll be starting this blog up again in January when I'll be playing in the 2016 Australian Chess Championship.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Australasian Masters - The Unsung Heroes

IM Leonid Sandler, making "The Right Move" as organiser of the 2015 Australasian Masters, attracting strong GM's like Arturs Neiksans

The 2015 Australasian Masters finished earlier today. The tournament was a resounding success for Australian chess with Max Illingworth scoring his final GM norm and qualifying for the title. More was to follow as a second GM norm was achieved the day after when Kanan Izzat scored his first GM norm. As GM norms are a rarity in Australia, having 2 in the same tournament is a big success for the organisers.

In fact, the organisation deserves a big thanks. The Australian Masters, now called the Australasian Masters, has been a privately run event for over 25 years. What this means is that whoever can be bothered to put the effort in to get it together makes a ring around, organises things and then has to go through the process of pulling one's hair out when players pull out at the last minute and replacements need to be found. I am saying this from my own experience of running the Australian Masters in 2006. It came together in the end, but not without a number of headaches.

When Chess Victoria President Leonid Sandler took over the running of the event, he had big plans for it, moving it from a low category (often category 1 or 2) IM norm possibility, to a GM norm event. This eventuated 2 years ago with the first GM norm Australasian Masters. The tournament has steadily developed under Leonid's organisation, and now the third GM norm event has finally brought Australia the much desired norms. Hopefully Leonid will continue to run this tournament, using his influence with Australian and international chess to attract strong Grand Masters to Melbourne.

IA Kerry Stead, arbiter and chess scoresheet decipherer

Leonid's organisation was backed up by IA Kerry Stead, the arbiter for the event, who doubled as bulletin writer and pgn game editor. To make Kerry's life a little easier, Phillip Drew was on hand to manage the DGT boards which were in use for the GM section games, bringing the event live to the public. But even with just 5 games to manually input, Kerry had his work cut out at times deciphering scoresheets. It would seem that many chess players would not win neat handwriting competitions!

Phillip Drew ensured the DGT technology broadcast the games from the GM section

There were some other unsung heroes that are worth a mention. ACF President Gary Wastell was often on hand helping out, as were MCC committee members including Elizabeth Warren, Simon Dale and Thai Ly.

ACF Prez Gary Wastell with his back to us, was one of the background figures who helped ensure the tournament ran smoothly.

The heroes of the tournaments:

GM Section
1st IM K Izzat
2nd IM M Illingworth
3rd GM A Neiksans

IM Section
1st IM I Bjeobrk
2nd FM C Wallis and FM E Schon

I think all the players in both sections enjoyed the experience of playing in what was probably the most professionally run Australian Masters in its history, and whether we played well. or not so good, we have a big debt of thanks to those who made the event possible.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

A New Grandmaster

Australia's newest GM, Max Illingworth
The Australasian Masters is the only round robin event in Australia to offer norm possibilities. Over the 28 year history of the event, it hasn't always qualified for norms, and even when it has players haven't always achieved the required score. But this year we have had something special.

In the Grand Master section, IM Max Illingworth has scored the GM performance with 2 rounds to spare, with an incredible 6.5/7. I don't know of anyone who thinks Max is not worthy of the title and his occasional hiccup just shows that he is human. In fact, although undoubtedly talented, it could be argued that Max hasn't been the biggest prospect to arise in Australian Junior chess. But what is evident is that Max's workmanlike attitude, and dedication to the game, have meant that he has been able to continue his rise after his junior years, which so many players fail to do. Although I'm probably not qualified to say, it appears that Max is still improving, so where he will end up is anyone's guess. But if determination and effort are the criteria to judge someone by, then Max is right up there. This is the third GM norm for Max, and seeing he has been over 2500 (and may have risen over 2500 again due to his performance here) he should become a GM as soon as it is ratified by FIDE.

IM Izzet (left) needs half a point for a GM norm vs GM Johansen, 3 times winner of the Masters.
Max has had only one draw in the first 7 rounds, and that was to IM Kanan Izzat, the Azerbaijani teenager who is studying in Melbourne. Kanan has also had an amazing start to the event with 6/7, and he stands in second place with only half a point required to achieve his GM norm. Like Max Kanan has shown excellent opening preparation, strong tactical awareness, and great determination. This latter quality was shown to vivid effect in his endgame win against top seed GM Neiksans from Latvia.

The Grand Masters have not had the best of tournaments, but Neiksans has now moved into third place on 5/7. To be fair, this would be a good score if the two young IM's weren't blazing through the field. However, both Papin and Johansen have been out of sorts, which is a shame to see.  The other young players will probably have mixed feelings about the event. I'm guessing James Morris and Anton Smirnov might be a bit disappointed, though their scores and play show they are competitive at this level, and under other circumstances might even have done better. Bobby Cheng lacks tournament practice, so his 50% must be seen as a good comeback to chess. Bobby will continue into the Australian Championship and hopefully this will be a full comeback for a player who has been Australia's only World Champion at the youth level. Melbourne High School players Ari Dale and Luke Li have found the going tough, but again, have proved competitive, and especially Ari could have been better if he'd been able to convert some promising looking positions.

IM Igor Bjelobrk can afford to relax with his 7/7 start in the IM event
In the IM event that I'm playing in, it is all about IM Igor Bjelobrk who has scored 7/7, and stands 2 points clear with 2 to play. Igor, to put it simply, has not had any trouble at all in any of his games, and his solid style and ability to punish errors has proved too good. In the 7th round he converted a difficult opposite coloured bishop ending against FM Chris Wallis, which put a dent in Wallis's IM norm chances. Chris is currently in second place on 5/7, but he will be focusing on winning his last 2 games, as that will get him his second IM norm. With a good performance in the Australian Championship, Chris could conceivably score another norm, and could be close to reaching 2400. I wish him the best in his last 2 games.

Chris has to face IM Richard Jones, the top seed, who is having a pretty tough tournament. Richard is only on 3/7 but Chris will still have to be aware that Richard could kick into his top form at any moment. The other IM, Mirko Rujevic is in equal third with FM Eugene Schon. This is a funny pair as we have probably the most optimistic player sitting on the same score as probably the most pessimistic, regarding their own positions. Mirko is certainly not short of self belief, while Eugene probably suffers from the complete opposite.And while Mirko sits at the top of the veterans list in Australia, Eugene is only in his early 20's and has a lot of development still hopefully to come.

Last minute replacement in the IM section, Alpaeus Ang is the lowest rated competitor but has scored 2.5 so far.
The rest of the IM field are probably just a little below par, or roughly where they should be. There have been no big breakthrough performances in this event. My own play has become weaker as the week has gone on. I could blame tiredness, but really it has been a lack of my own stamina and determination to perform, so I'd do well to look at those qualities of the leading players from the GM event is I want to improve my results in the future.

Finally, a game from the GM event. Kanan Izzat is a bit better from the opening against Neiksans, but after about 40 moves we are in a rook ending that looks pretty difficult for either side to win. Neiksans was quite short on time at this point, and allowed Kanan to show his endgame technique. Here's a position from the endgame. How confident would you be of beating a 2600+ GM from here?

Izzat as white did exactly that, winning a seemingly drawn position. This was the longest of the GM event so far, and epitomises the fighting determination of the young breed of players. This game and all the others from both sections can be downloaded form the official website, along with arbiter IA Kerry Stead's excellent daily bulletins.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Results Are What Are Remembered

The 4th round of the Australian Masters saw the GM norm hopefuls moving closer to their targets. Max Illingworth has started with a perfect 4/4. He needs only 2.5 from his remaining 5 games, but what a 5 games he has! He has to play the other 2 GM norm aspirants, Kanan Izzat and James Morris, the top 2 seeds, Neiksans and Papin, and IM norm hopeful Luke Li. It is certainly not out of the question, but Max will need to continue in his strong start.

Kanan Izzat currently has 1 GM norm to his name and has started with 3.5/4 bringing his live rating up to about 2470. His play has been impressive up to now, and his endgame win against top seed Neiksans, yesterday was excellent. Today is the big game, Illingworth-Izzat. Both players have shown excellent preparation, tenacity and technique so it promises to be a cracker.

The third GM norm hopeful is James Morris. James has started with 3/4 which means he has to score a further 3.5/5. But in James favour is that he has played all the GM's already. Saying that, yesterday James had a bit of a scare against Ari Dale. A wild game was played that seemed to fluctuate in evaluations with Ari coming out of the opening much better and for much of the game he seemed to have a big edge. James became active, and Ari slipped turning the position from big advantage, to level, to much worse. But even at the end, when James seemed to be winning, Ari missed some saving possibilities. The result was a victory for James who has moved a little closer to a GM norm.

This game, and some others in the round, got me thinking about the way we perceive chess after the fact. There aren't many people who will see how well Ari played in this game, how strong his opening play, and even how determined he defended in a tight spot once he was worse. Basically, after the tournament is over, the result will be win for James, loss for Ari and nothing more or less. In the IM tournament, another tragedy happened in the game Rujevic-Nguyen. Nam was a pawn up in a queen ending, but Mirko had cornered Nam's king and offered a draw as a perpetual seemed the most likely result. With a fantastic spirit of fighting chess Nam refused and played on trying to get as much out of the position as possible. Unfortunately, he overplayed his hand and ended up losing the position. What won't be remembered, is that for about 40 moves of this game, Nam held his IM opponent, and then gradually started to outplay him eventuating in a endgame which was equal or slightly better for him. No, all that will be remembered is that Mirko won, and Nam lost.

The win puts Mirko into joint third place, and leaves Nam equal last, but it could have been so different! Igor Bjelobrk continues his dominance of the event with another win and a 4/4 start. Chris Wallis is a point behind and still has a chance of a norm, though he will have to score 4/5 to do it. If Chris can find his best chess, then this could be possible because he can certainly play to master strength. In equal thrid is Richard Jones, who has stumbled a bit. In the third Jones, the top seed, lost to bottom seed Alphaeus Ang. Perhaps trying too hard to win, Jones blundered in a minor piece endgame, and the young New Zealander didn't miss his chance. And then in the fourth round, Jones was winning comfortably against me, and probably had a number of ways to win, but in the end he couldn't find them and the game petered out to a draw.

As for my play? Well, the results are what counts, right? If that is the case, then I'm doing a little better than expected on 1.5/2. However, when looking at my play, I was let off the hook in the draw against Jones, which I'd played badly and should have lost. In the first round, Alphaeus Ang got a big position out of the opening, and again I was let off the hook. The result will show a win for me, but I felt fortunate to get to move 20 unscathed! I played really well against Eugene until I lost the plot as my clock started to tick down. And against Igor Bjelobrk, I blundered a pawn in the early middlegame, and then put up an heroic defence which nearly saw me save a draw, until again I missed a tactic in time trouble. Overall, if I was just assessing my play and not the results, I'd say that my game against Bjelobrk was my best, even though I lost it!

The last 2 games I have had to start late (thanks very much to the organisers, and my opponents, Igor and Richard for agreeing to this) because of work commitments (I think I'm the only player in both fields who is working while the tournament is in progress, though I could be wrong), and this has prevented me from looking at much chess over the past few days. This should change from today, and hopefully this blog will have some more chess content from the event soon.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Australian Masters Round 2 and 3

A brief post today as it's a full day's work followed by a rush hour drive to play my game. To be honest, that is what tomorrow will be too.

The GM section has a clear leader. IM Max Illingworth has won his first 3 games and sits in an excellent position to gain a GM norm. IM Kanan Izzat is in second place, and also has a great chance to score the norm as he is already on 2.5/3. The third player with a big chance of the GM norm is IM James Morris who is on 2/3 but has played all 3 of the Grand Masters in his first 3 games. GM Neiksans also sits on 2/3 after a quick draw with fellow GM Papin today. In the all Melbourne High School battle, IM Ari Dale got off the mark winning against FM Luke Li. Ari joins Luke on 1/3 after Luke picked up his second GM result yesterday drawing with Johansen.

In the IM section, second seed IM Igor Bjelobrk is leading with a perfect 3/3. Igor finds himself a point clear of the field after the shock loss of top seed IM Richard Jones to bottom seed Alphaeus Ang from New Zealand. We are now in a pleasant position where no one is on zero points in either tournament. FM Chris Wallis joins Jones on 2/3 while IM Rujevic sits just behind on 1.5.

The play has been combative in both events, and I'm thoroughly enjoying it, even though I'm only on 1/3. I had a very interesting ending against Igor Bjelobrk tonight which I'll try to show over the next couple of days.

FM Eddy Levi brought his own board to play on.

FM Luke Li starts with 2 draws against GM opposition.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Australasian Masters Round 1

The Australasian Masters started yesterday evening with 2 10 player round robin fields. The top section is a GM norm event, with the second section, an IM norm event. The play started about 6.30 pm at the Melbourne Chess Club, after their regular Saturday Allegro had finished. In fact, the allegro benefited from the Masters, as many of the players joined in, which then attracted others to come and play. The field of 42 players had GM Arturs Neiksans playing, along with IM's James Morris, Kanan Izzat and Justin Tan. The Grand Master won the event with a perfect 7/7

GM Neiksans (right) in post allegro chat with IM Justin Tan
.The 2 round robin events had very different sets of results. In the IM event, which I'm playing in, things went basically according to plan, with top 2 seeds, IM's Jones and Bjelobrk winning. FM Chris Wallis started well with a win against his long time friend FM Eugene Schon, and I was the other winner of the day. The vetereans duel between IM Rujevic and FM Levi ended in a draw, but not after Mirko Rujevic alerted the room to a blunder he made with a very audible sigh. Players rushed to see the board, but Mirko had blown a win into a draw rather than losing the game.

The GM section saw completely the opposite with favourites not getting their own way. Top seed GM Neiksans could only draw with FM Luke Li, while second seed GM Papin lost to IM James Morris. James was looking very relaxed before the event, and pretty happy afterwards. If body language is anything to go by, then IM Max Illingworth is in businesslike mode. He ground out a win against GM Johansen. IM Bobby Cheng made a successful comeback to beat IM Ari Dale, while IM Kanan Izzat, who won the IM section last year, was the other winner against IM Anton Smirnov.

Obviously there is a long way to go in both events, but there is every hope that a GM norm (6.5/9) is possible while an IM norm (7/9) is not out of the question either.

Not that I've really seen it, but the game of the day was the Morris-Papin affair. Papin's king never left the centre and white crashed through with a sacrificial attack.

Friday, December 11, 2015


Ratings are just numbers, right? They are a constantly shifting mass of levels, which suggest roughly where any given player stands vis-a-vis the rest of the chess world. The stronger a player is, the higher their rating, and a set of good results will push the rating up, while bad results will drag it down. There are different rating systems, but the one that is mostly used is the ELO system which many countries use for their national ratings, and the International federation, FIDE, use.

Some important rating milestones:

2200 Candidate Master Level
2300 FIDE Master Level
2400 International Master Level
2500 Grand Master Level
2650 Top 100 Level
2800 Super Elite Level.

The current World Champion has seen his rating plummet this year, and in the latter half of the year he isn't the only top player to have dropped. Magnus Carlsen has a "live rating" of 2829.4, and it wasn't that long ago he was above 2850 with the highest published rating in FIDE history.

Now I'm not a big one for ratings, but I couldn't help but notice that Chinese 16 year old prodigy Wei Yi pushed his live rating up to 2729.5, within 100 points of Carlsen. Wei Yi sits at number 27 in the December FIDE list, and the 2 are to meet at the Corus tournament in January.

Carlsen is still number 1 on the list and is the only player with a live rating above the 2800 barrier. But somehow his dominance seems to have been questioned. In London he has so far been unable to win a game, though at least he hasn't lost any. Will he be able to get his mojo back? Will he be overtaken? Things are getting interesting at the top of the game, where the gap seems to have closed.

It won't be long before Magnus can be challenged by someone else and not have to be content to play himself.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Australian Masters

The Australian Masters has been established in the Australian chess calendar since 1987. It has been a breeding ground for Australian talent offering great chances for strong opposition, and norm opportunities. It has given many Australian players the chance to play against strong international players on home soil. Here's a list of some of the foreign players who have participated:

1991 IM Silvio Danailov (better known as Euro Chess President and Topalov's manager)
1992 GM Tony Miles
2000 IM Adam Hunt and IM Gerard Welling
2006 GM Dejan Antic
2013 GM Miezes
2014 GM Kazhgaleyev

And of course the Australian list is a who's who of Australia's best players. Australian winners in no particular order:

GM Johansen
GM Smerdon
IM Solomon
IM West
IM Sandler
IM Lane
IM Morris
IM Smirnov (father and son have both won!)
IM Cheng
IM Xie
IM Gluzman
FM Depasquale

I have been involved in the Masters since 2005 when I first played and this was still my best performance. This year there are 2 sections, a GM norm event, and an IM norm tournament, and I'll be playing in the latter. Chess Victoria President, Leonid Sandler has been organising this tournament for a number of years now, and under his guidance the tournament has grown significantly. This year the GM tournament sees 2600+ Latvian GM Neiksans making his first appearance, along with Russian GM Vasily Papin and Melbourne based GM, and 3 time previous winner, Darryl Johansen.

The question is which of the young guns, if any, will step up to score a GM norm. Australian young players Illingworth, Smirnov, Morris, Cheng and Dale are all playing along with Kanan Izzat from Azerbaijan and Luke Li from New Zealand. It will be a tough ask for anyone to score the 6.5/9, but I guess that is what we expect of GM standard players!

The IM event has an even tougher 7/9 norm requirement which doesn't leave much room for manouvre. IM's Jones and Bjelobrk have a considerable rating lead over the next group of players, who are young local talents, FM's Chris Wallis, Eugene Schon and Karl Zelesco, one of whom we can hope will step up to take the norm. The field is made up of me (Carl Gorka), IM Mirko Rujevic, FM Eddy Levi (long term sponsor of the Australian Masters. I'm not sure but Eddy may have played in all the events since 1987, I'll have to ask him), and foreign representatives Hoai Nam Nguyen and Alpheus Ang. Like in the GM event, anyone who scores 7/9 will truly have deserved the norm!

My own ambitions for this tournament? I'm just looking to find some form for the Australian Championship which comes up soon after. I'll be happy not to finish last, which only happened to me once before in 2006 when I had the misfortune of playing in a tournament that I was organising.

More reports about this next week, once we get going, and I'll try to find some reminiscences of some players who have competed over the years. Or even better, come down to view the games live at the Melbourne Chess Club over the next week. Games start on Saturday at 6.15 pm.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

My Chess Addiction

Yesterday I mentioned that I was an addict to chess. What exactly does that mean? I work as a coach, play or study chess daily but does that make me an addict? I suppose looking at chess articles every day can be seen as many as an addict. Saying that, what is the difference between a healthy interest, a pastime, and an addiction?

I saw this article a few days ago. It was published a long time ago, but I only saw it when someone mentioned it on Twitter on my feed. The author seems to be saying that the game world of players becomes more meaningful than the real world, using games such as chess and role playing games which have an ultimate conclusion, whereas we are facing constant unknowns in real life. The chaos of life is less appealing than the structure of game play.

Hmmm, that means I'm not an addict! A crazy chess nut maybe, but not an addict. Phew! Real life is too important to me, my beautiful wife, travel and experiencing new things and, of course, coffee. To prove this, I'll get back to some non-chess posts soon. But for now...

Yesterday, I talked about my favourite move of the day. Again, it wasn't a contemporary move, but a move I saw in a game I looked at yesterday (and seeing I solved about 600 puzzles yesterday, and looked at about 75 games, there were a lot of moves to choose from!).

White to play
This was from the game Kramnik-van Wely Wijk aan Zee 2004. In this position, Kramnik played the amazing 37.Rh8!! The rook can't be taken:

37..Kxh8 38.Qh6+ Kg8 39.Ra8+ will lead to black being mated

All players know the gut wrenching feeling when an unexpected move is hammered out by your opponent, and when your opponent is Kramnik it must feel even worse. 37.Rh8 not only threatens mate, it threatens to take the h4 pawn, while and transfers the rook to the king side where it can be both an attacker and a defender. Another possibility for white is doubling on the 8th rank, by 38.Raa8. Van Wely struggled on for some moves, but Kramnik easily converted his advantage.

Monday, December 7, 2015

My Favourite Move of the Day

Was it FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumshinov's step down from the Presidency role? While this can only be a good thing, and something that I hope will be permanent, no this wasn't my favourite move today?

Perhaps something from the London Classic? Nope, I'm even wishing they'd start their games with Catalan set up's to liven the play.

Every day I look through games of chess, puzzles, articles, sometimes for my own benefit, sometimes for the benefit of my students, and sometimes just because I'm a chess addict! Today I saw a fabulous move that was played by Kramnik back in 2004. He's playing Loek van Wely who has sacrificed a piece for 3 pawns and opened the board somewhat. Kramnik, as white, looks to have a draughty king, but looks can be deceptive. Can you guess the move white played? I'll give the move next time.

White to play with my favourite move of the day!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Endgames for 5 year olds: the answers

In my last post, I wrote about some basic endgames that I showed my 5 year old student, and some of the ones he struggled with. Funnily enough, he did get the idea soon after, as he was able to work out other positions with similar themes. Anyway, here are the answers.

White to play and win
 White should have no problem promoting as his king is front of his pawn and his opponent doesn't have opposition. But things are never easy. The first thought is to push the pawn:

1.b6? Ka8 [1..Kb8? 2.b7 +-] 2.b7 [2.Kc7 is stalemate already] 2..Kb8 and white has to play 3.Kb6 to protect his pawn, which will be stalemate.

So instead: 1.Kc7! Ka8 2.Kb6! [2.b6? is stalemate] 2..Kb8 3.Ka6 Ka8 4.b6 Kb8 5.b7 +-

White to play and win

Very tricky 1.Kb6 is forced, but now after 1..Kc8 what can white do?

As both 2.Kc6 and 2.e6 lead to immediate stalemate, white has to let go his pawn. But how to do it? 2.Kc5! allowing black to take opposition with 2..Kxc7, but a tempo gain with the pawn gets it back! 3.e6! Black's king must now go to the back rank, and white must follow. 3..Kc8 4.Kc6! opposition 4..Kd8 5.Kd6 Ke8 6.e7 and the pawn will promote, not unlike in the last puzzle!

White to play and draw
First, it is always harder to aim to draw rather than to play to win, especially if you're 5 years old. So this is a tricky one. If you'd being paying attention to the first puzzle then the key to this is similar but in reverse. White wants to get his king in front of the pawn and with opposition. White's job is to prevent that.

White's king is outside the square of the pawn, so it must move to the b-file, but which one? 1.Kb1 allows black's king to advance to b5 with no resistance. 1.Kb3 allows black to play 1..Kb5 with immediate opposition, so 1.Kb2! is the only move. 1..Kb6 [Distant opposition. 1..Kb5 2.Kb3! with opposition and in the square of the pawn] 2.Kc2! [Both kings are forced to move across their current ranks or else they allow the other to take the opposition. If you look where black's pawn sits, you will realise why black will fail to win] 2..Kc6 3.Kd2! Kd6 4.Ke2! Ke6 5.Kf2! Kf6 6.Kg2! and black's king cannot go to g6, so 6..Kg5 7.Kg3! with opposition and a theoretical draw

If these endgames are known to you, then you'll not need a board, and if you can follow them in your head, then cool. If you are struggling with them, then I recommend you play them out on a board, as they will teach you invaluable lessons in basic pawn endgames.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Endgames for 5 Year Olds

There are some very talented young players around, and when you work with some of them you can be truly amazed at how quickly they pick up some tough concepts. A lot of it is trial and error, but by playing through similar types of positions, again and again, kids can improve heaps in this area of the game, and their pattern recognition generally.

Just to make all the adults feel good, here were a few endgames I was looking at with a 5 year old student. These are the ones he was struggling with.

White to play and win
 I like this puzzle, and it wrapped up a part of the session we were working on quite nicely.

White to play and win
This one took some prompting in the end, but again, it reinforced some important endgame principles.

White to play and draw
The concept of drawing is difficult for a 5 year old who only thinks in terms of winning, rather than 'not losing'. However, the same sort of principles apply, just in reverse. It's also good to make a student look through the eyes of their opponent.

My next post will have the solutions (I won't say tomorrow, as the last time I did that I never posted the next day).

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Melbourne's Big Summer of Chess

There's going to be a mass of good quality chess in Melbourne, both to play in, or to spectate or follow this summer.

The fun starts this weekend, when Chess Kids, the company I work for hosts their National Interschool Finals. Actually, it's a huge junior chess festival starting on Sunday 29th November with a set of individual 7-round 15-0 allegro events. Then on the Monday and Tuesday the Chess Kids National Interschool Championship will take place. It is a 7-round 25-10 format with close to 300 players expected over both primary and secondary divisions.

All these junior events are being held at Queen's College, Melbourne University near the centre of Melbourne.

The weekend after this (5th-6th December) sees Melbourne Chess Club's amazing summer schedule start with the traditional Christmas Swiss. Perhaps the publicity for this has been overshadowed by other events coming to the club, but make no mistake that this tournament looks likely to be a good one. Visiting GM Arturs Neiksans from Latvia will be playing in the weekender. He is currently rated 2602, but might be even higher after his performance at the European Team Championship where he scored 4.5/7 including a draw with Arkadij Naiditsch. There are currently over 20 players entered, and this is a good opportunity to get some practice for the Australian Championships.

The MCC then hosts the Australasian Masters which will consist of two 10-player round robins. Chess Victoria President, Leonid Sandler has worked hard to get a GM norm event, and an IM norm event happening, and according to Leonid, this GM tournament might be the strongest ever in Australia. It certainly looks to be one of the strongest, with foreign GM's Neiksans, and Papin competing, and a strong local field including Melbourne based GM Darryl Johansen. I'll be playing in the IM event, so I should be able to bring some first hand reports of the goings on. The tournament runs from 12th-20th December

The Masters then goes out with a bang as it is immediately followed by the Victorian Blitz Championship which will also be hosted by the MCC. In recent years this tournament has proved very strong as players from the Masters join in with the best local players. I don't have details of this event, but it will probably be held Monday 21st December, a good lead in to Christmas.

The Christmas break will bring only a short relief to the summer of chess, as Box Hill Chess Club hold their traditional Australian Championship warm up event, the Canterbury Summer Swiss. After their move to Waverley/Essex Hills last year, Box Hill Chess Club have had to reinvent themselves a bit. One issue is that the club cannot hold weekend events at their current venue, but thanks to their strong organisational background, they have managed to find a venue for their summer event, the German Club in Windsor. For anyone who is short on practice before the Australian Championships, this is a must! It runs from the 27th December through to 30th December, and you can follow details here.

Then comes the big one, the Australian Championships and Reserves. Hosted by the Melbourne Chess Club in their 150th anniversary year, this is already shaping up to be an amazing tournament. Defending Champion, IM Max Illingworth entered early making it clear he intends to defend his title. But with 2 GM's and another 5 IM's already entered, Max will have to work hard to take the title again. I also intend to play in this event, running from January 2nd-January 12th 2016 at Fitzroy Town Hall. There is a rest day on 8th January when the Australian Blitz Championship will be held.

Phew...that's an unbelievable amount of chess this summer. But that's not all!!! (I've always wanted to say that, like in the adverts on the shopping channels). The MCC continues as Australia's premier chess venue to host the Australian Women's Masters event. Starting on 14th January, this will be 10-player round robin event and is shaping up to be the strongest ever women's event in Australia.

The Women's Masters finishes on the 22nd January, which leads nicely into the last event of the summer, Melbourne Chess Club's Australia Day Weekender. The Australia Day Weekender is, and has traditionally been, the first weekender of the year, even though it will seem like the last in a long line of chess events. Another great field is promised by the very first entry, hanging around after the Women's Masters, WGM Julis Ryjanova of Russia rated currently 2387!

That is an amazing amount of quality chess in Melbourne for players of all standards of players, and at various time limits. Long play chess fanatics have a dream summer coming up. And with the Victorian and Australian Blitz Championships being held here, the fast players should also be satisfied. And even if you are not a fan of long chess, nor the very fast chess, the MCC holds it weekly allegro 15-0 chess tournaments, and these will continue over the summer of chess! I'll be trying to follow as many of these as possible, so stay tuned :)

Monday, November 23, 2015

Pugilistic Chess

Yesterday saw the inaugural bouts in Australian Chess Boxing. I didn't attend, but it was apparently a great success with a decent crowd of people, media coverage in attendance including The Project and Channel 10, plus the competitors had an absolute ball.

Today I was talking to one of the fighters, Anthony Hain, who was talking about the event, and he showed me the chess game he played. He played the black side of a Two Knights Defence very well, and came away with a small material deficit compensated for by a huge lead in development. (to be honest,  don't know why sane people risk the Two Knights with white or black, but these guys were throwing punches at each other in between chess moves, so a combative chess game seems reasonable.

The Two Knights Defence is an ancient opening with many tricks and traps associated with it, and it starts with the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6
Whether you play this opening or not, it is good fun to look at with many typical opening tricks. It is a favourite among young juniors who are attracted to the possibility of a quick win when someone falls for their trap.

4.Ng5 [The pugilistic way of playing. 4.d3 is more likely to be seen in a 2700 GM encounter] 4..d5 [If this isn't crazy enough for you, then look up the Wilkes-Barre with 4..Bc5] 5.exd5 Na5 [Anthony, as black, opts for long term compensation not tempted into playing 5..Nd4 (Fritz, my favourite) 5..b5 (Ulvestad) 5..Nxd5? which allows the kids favourite Fried Liver Attack, 6.Nxf7] 6.Bb5+ c6 7.dxc6 bxc6

So far the players had made the fans happy with their aggressive chess (though the fans were probably more intent on seeing two chess players beating the crap out of each other!). In this position white's bishop must retreat, and the knight on g5 will also get chased away which will hand an initiative to black fort he sake of a pawn, or maybe 2. The question is, where should the bishop go? The traditional retreat has been to e2, but recently there has been a lot of attention placed on d3. On d3 the bishop looks to impede white's queen side development, but importantly it controls e4 which is where white's knight will drop back to when it gets kicked by h6.

All well and good, but in this chess boxing game, the bishop went a different way! 8.Ba4 I have to admit to knowing hardly anything about this move, once having read somewhere it was bad and never having looked at it again. Time to have a peek now :) Stockfish reckons that after the moves 8..h6 9.Nf3 e4 10.Qe2 black has a big advantage -1.34.

All well and good, oh great silicon monster, but you'd lose a chess boxing bout within the first minute of the first round of fighting! Unbelievably, the 2 chess boxers reached this position, from which Anthony continued to develop his advantage to winning proportions. Unfortunately, Chess Boxing Australia President Rafael Ward was the better boxer, and won the match on points, though I feel he would have had  struggle to hang on to the chess game for much longer.

Anyway, here's a great game with a great finish from a time when the Two Knights would have been all the rage, the middle of the 1800's. The black winner of this game is the relatively unknown player Edward Pindar who was nevertheless, very strong. He won the Manchester Chess Club Championship in front of players such as the great problem composers Kipping and Horwitz, the latter being of world class playing strength, having beaten Bird in matches. Anyway, Pindar was born in Russia (no surprise that he was good at chess!) but moved to England where he was a teacher, and very good chess player. Look at the climax to the game!

Black to play and win, see if you can find the best line for black before looking at what happened in the game!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Chess Tactics (cont)

The joy of writing a blog by oneself is that you have complete control over what you do, what you say, the direction and content. The downside is that when you suddenly become busy with life and work, the blog becomes redundant. That's what happened over the weekend. I mean, I can't complain, it's good to have a full life. It's just when I say that the answer will be posted "tomorrow", and on that day I don't even see my computer, it is a bit frustrating!

Anyway, continuing with things tactical, I posted this position:

I solved this puzzle on Chess Tempo the other day, and thought it was trickier than it looks. The problem has a rating of about 2040, so you can gauge your tactical strength based on that. It's white to play and win, but that is the only clue that you get. It took me just over 3 minutes to solve it, but my thinking was skewed at a couple of points.

I instantly saw the pin 1.Be4 and was tempted to play it straight off, but my time on Chess Tempo has taught me to search deeper, to look for your opponent's ideas, and to look for other opportunities. This is a thought process that can help maximise results if used properly. "When you see a good move, look for a better one", as the great world champion Emanuel Lasker famously said.

So I started to think about the f7 square, I noticed my rook on f1 is attacked, I considered taking on g6, and even 1.h5. This is what I like about Chess Tempo, the fact that you are in a game situation. You are still trying to find best moves, but have no idea in which way they are best, and often, the obvious try is not right, or the first move is right, but the following moves aren't as your opponent finds defences that you hadn't taken into account.

Eventually, I found the forcing line:

1.Be4 Rxe4 [pretty much forced or white is just taking on g6 with check] 2.Qxe4 Bxf1 [Again, virtually forced as black is already an exchange down, and white threatens Qxg6+, the main theme of the puzzle]

So this was the position that you had to envisage at the start of the problem, and calculate. Once I saw the idea 3.Qxg6+! I knew I'd solved the puzzle, but you had to see it before making the first move. 3..fxg6 4.Rxf8 leaving white an exchange ahead.

So, use Chess Tempo to:

- extend your vision
- develop tactical awareness
- practice your calculation skills

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Chess Tempo

Every chess player should work on their calculation and tactical ability. Most chess playing sites have a tactical solving element, but the one I use at the moment in Chess Tempo, and I advise my students to use it. 

While it has a number of features, the one I mainly use is a tactical solving training element, and I prefer to not work against the clock, although I will sometimes test my vision in timed tests.

You get a solving rating, and the site rates puzzles and then tries to match each solver up with a puzzle of roughly an equal level. If you correctly solve the puzzle your rating goes up and you'll start to get harder puzzles, while if you get it wrong your rating goes down and you'll get easier puzzles. (the puzzle rating also goes up or down depending on whether it is solved)

Solving puzzles like this helps a player to develop their imagination and improve their calculation skills. Or put another way, you work on diverse ideas, and how to accurately employ them.

Here's a puzzle that I was given today. See if you can solve it, I'll post the answer tomorrow. And improve your tactical ability by joining Chess Tempo and solving puzzles.

It is white to move, black has just played Rg8-g6. You don't know what your objective is (mate, winning material, saving a lost game etc), you just have to find the best line for white.

TIP: make sure you look at your opponent's ideas and resources.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Chess Events

Time to promote some events, and catch up some chess activities I've seen. I've always been of the opinion that I owe it to the chess community to give back some of my time and energy for all the enjoyment I've got out of it. A karma type of thing. It's great anyway meeting people with a similar interest.

I've been really lucky to be involved in chess coaching for the past 10 years and find out about lots of events for young players. Like in many countries the challenge for chess organisers in Australia is not developing new players at primary school level, but maintaining interest into high school and beyond. As a result, here in Melbourne, we have thousands of primary school players, but a small number of players making it to adult game.

At the end of August, the Victorian Inter- University Championship took place at RMIT. It was a pretty strong tournament held in a really friendly atmosphere, and in wonderful surroundings.

On the left, 2 of the favourites Zhigen Lin and Simon Schmidt

The amazing ceiling of the venue, Storey Hall
The winner of the tournament was Sunilson Suderson of Deakin, who wasn't the only strong unrated player in the field. Dara Akdag from Denmark studying at Melboure Uni has a FIDE rating of 2182 and finished second, ahead of local boy Thomas Feng.

At an even younger age group, I recently visited Hobart, Tasmania to help coach at a chess camp. There were about 25 kids, some of whom were getting pretty good, ranging from about 7 years old through to about 13 or 14. A Tasmanian Chess Camp means lots of coaching, and lots of outdoor activities, a blitz tournament, a simul, a barbecue and lots of fun. This is all thanks to the Hobart International Junior Chess Club, and especially the efforts of Mellissa Harvey.

Nearly empty scout hut, most of the kids were outside having a break from chess coaching.

I focussed on simple messages, though some of the material was quite tricky, including some very advanced ideas about pins. Although talking about such a basic concept as the pin might not seem that inspiring, when you show pins in game situations, and then set some tough puzzles about creating pins, exploiting pins, defending pins, and checking whether pins are good or not. Tactics are always good for juniors, and adding real game settings give the concepts some context, and kids love hearing stories about famous chess players (or not so famous chess players).

A blitz tournament was held on the Saturday evening, with some adults taking part to add some tough competition for the kids. It is great that adults should take the time to do this, as kids need role models, and targets in their development. Here's my game against the player who came second, Ross George. Please remember, this was a 5 minute game, and as far as I can remember, the move order is right!

There have been some films about chess over the years, and last week there was a showing of the film, "The Polgar Variant" at my local cinema. International arbiter (IA) Gary Bekker had the bright idea of running a chess demonstration in the foyer of the cinema before the film started, and I brought along some clocks and checked things out.

Zhi Lin Guo taking on members of the public
Gary Bekker playing Charlotte Dilnutt with publicity, all good for chess.
And finally, in the red corner...

The President of Frankston Chess Club, Rafael Ward, also happens to be the impetus behind Chess Boxing Australia. Here we get a combination of chess and boxing with the first to either checkmate or knock out being the winner. This weekend sees the inaugural Fight Knight. While boxers would have a good chance of knocking out chess players, apparently a competitor has to have a certain proficiency in both disciplines to compete.....shame :D