Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Novelty in the Hennig Schara

There are some openings I have a soft spot for and the Hennig Schara Gambit is one of those. I've written about it before, and enjoy looking through games in this lively opening. You don't tend to see the Gambit at the very top level, and a lot of players use move orders to prevent the Hennig Schara. This week's TWIC features a game with a strange new move in the Hennig Schara. Now I'm not saying the move is good, but it is interesting!

The Hennig Schara is a variation of the Tarrasch Queen's Gambit and we get to it after the moves,

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c5 4.cxd5 cxd4 [4..exd5 is the 'normal' move]

In this position, white can take on d4 and still have 2 defenders of d5, which means that white is winning a pawn if they want to. The open position, and swift and easy development give black plenty of chances to fight for an initiative and an advantage.

So a typical sequence might be 5.Qxd4 Nc6 6.Qd1 exd5 7.Qxd5 [Winning a pawn] 7..Bd7

Black avoids a queen exchange and develops another piece off the back rank. Often, black will castle queen side in this opening, and launch a huge attack on the king side. Black intends to develop with gain of tempo by Nf6 hitting the queen and then Bc5 hitting f2. The most common move here is 8.Nf3, but in a recent game from the Untergrombach Open played 5/1/15 white played the novelty 8.Be3, putting his bishop in front of a central pawn.

It's an ugly sort of move at first glance, but when I thought about it, Be3 prevents black's favoured development of the dark squared bishop to c5, blocks the c-file, develops a piece, and doesn't exactly hinder the f1 bishop which will probably develop to g2. In the game Cofman (2162)-Bongatz (2141) there followed a fairly natural sequence, 8..Nf6 [winning time developing and attacking the queen] 9.Qd2 Bb4

Developing the dark squared bishop to pin white's knight seems a reasonable developing move and brings about the position above. Black has a mighty lead in development, but is a pawn down. It's a very interesting position to work out if white can safely untangle and remain a pawn ahead, or whether black's activity is worth more than a pawn. As an exercise, I think it would be good to play loads of games from this type of position for both black and white to try to better understand the requirements of the position. White is solid but awkward with a pawn plus, black has all the play but has to justify being a pawn down.

This poition reminds me of a line I've been playing against the Evans Gambit, the StoneWare variation 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.b4 Bxb4 5.c3 Bd6

Black accepts the pawn, places his bishop on an ugly square where it protects e5 and asks the question of white, what exactly have you got for your pawn?

And then, of course, there is the Bd3 retreat in the main line of the Two Knights Defence where white retreats a bishop to an ugly square to control a vital central spot. 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 d5 5.exd5 Na5 6.Bb5+ c6 7.dxc6 bxc6 8.Bd3

These types of positions are becoming a part of modern chess, and as much as we old classical players blanch at the thought of playing such an anti-positional move as placing a bishop in front of a central pawn, if there is a specific reason for doing so, then we should judge the move on its own merit, not on the general principal.

Saying that, I think if I came up against 8.Be3 in the Hennig Schara, I'd be a happy black player. The game in the Hennig Schara continued with 10.a3, which I'm not sure is the best move in the position. Black traded on c3 which may also not be best. 10..Qa5, 10..Ne4, and even 10..Ba5 may all come into consideration, and the thought of this position is giving me the urge to dig Stockfish out to analyse the positions. In the meantime, here's the game which was a real long battle, ending in a pawnless rook versus knight ending.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

#HeforShe in Chess

I popped into the Melbourne Chess Club today to check out the Australian Women's Master's that is currently taking place, and to touch base with my favourite club. I haven't been to the Melbourne Chess Club for probably over 6 months, and have missed the place somewhat. When I walked in the door, the first person I saw was Elizabeth Warren who used to be vice-President of MCC when I was on the committee a few years back. She doesn't live that far from me and I've always found her easy to talk to and get along with.

Elizabeth told me that she had taken some time off the committee, but she still regularly hangs around the club helping out and playing at Saturday Allegro tournaments, and on a Tuesday night. We had a chat, a laugh about times gone by, and then she dropped that she was standing for President of the MCC, and if elected, the first female President of the MCC in it's glorious 149 years history. Although this doesn't surprise me, the fact that women have been so under represented in positions of authority in Australian chess (and World chess, for that matter) is, when you think about it, quite appalling.

The ACF has no women represented at all in it's staff. I am fairly new to Australia, but I'm guessing that the ACF's history won't be filled with female Presidents, and a look through the archives will probably show that there has been a general lack of representation for women at the administrative level. Chess Victoria does a little better, with Elsa Yueh on the executive, and Katrin Aladjova-Kusznirczuk as ambassador and former President. I have no idea again, if there has been much in the way of representation for women in the history of Chess Victoria, but I would guess not.

While these trends aren't particular to Australia, I've used these organisations as examples because that is where I'm based. Chess is a game organised in a non inclusive way, to the detriment of women, among others. Just the fact that there is a an Australian Women's Championship, and exclusive women's events are organised in this country, but there is no department for women's chess, no officer in charge of promoting or organising this, regardless of gender, is somewhat of an anomaly. But here's a list off the top of my head of some issues which make chess a male dominated game:

- lack of female representation in chess organisations
- lower expectation's of performance, for example the significantly lower norm requirements for women
- lower numbers of girls playing the game, and encouraged to play the game at a lower level. There is a well reasoned article by Greg Shahade on the benefits of girls only tournaments, but why strong girls shouldn't play in them published in 2014.
- women only events (I'm actually rather creeped out by this, it has somewhat the feeling of segregation about it)
- BUT, if women's only events are so important, why was the women's World Championship delayed last year, and still has not been played? There was no such problem for the men's event, even after some difficult negotiating by the parties involved.
- AND, inequity of prizes for men and women. I mean, if they are to be separated, then at least make the prizes similar for men's and women's tournaments, or even girls/boys events where the inequity even exists!

Currently, WIM Anne Haast is playing in the B-section of the Tata Steel event and is on 1.5/3. If she scores 5/13, she qualifies for an IM norm and 7/13 should get her a GM norm. She can also qualify for WGM/WIM norms from this event if I correctly understand rule 1.45 of the FIDE handbook section on Title Regulations. So I guess what I'm saying is what is the need of round robin women's only events? Shouldn't strong female players be encouraged to participate with strong male players, and then we can drop the gender issue and just call anyone and everyone a player of their level? Because even saying things such as a "strong female player" has a bias to it. No women played in either section of the Australasian Masters tournament held in December, round robin tournaments held to offer norm opportunities to players.

I won't be going to the MCC AGM, but I left my vote with Elizabeth as a proxy for her to cast for me. Essentially, I have cast my vote for Elizabeth in the election, and I hope she becomes the next President of the MCC. I personally would like to see more encouragement for women to participate in our great game, at a player level, an administrative level, and as an equal to their male opponents.

For those of you not sure about gender equality issues and why men should take a part in gender equality and feminist issues, then take a look at this video, which helped to kick start the HeforShe campaign that took shape last year.  It will give a good introduction to the subject, and listening to Emma Watson's speech, you can hear things which definitely apply in the world of chess, marking us as acting in unequal ways.

Monday, January 12, 2015

An Upset

As neutral spectators we all seem to enjoy watching an underdog come good against a higher rated opponent. Over the past few weeks I've been trying to keep abreast of some of my favourite tournaments of the year, the Australian Open (lack of games has been a bit disappointing), Wijk aan Zee, Australian Juniors which will start next week and Hastings. In fact, it's fair to say that most of my current chess work stems from this part of the year, and after January I move back to getting inspiration from the classics!

Anyway, I've been working my way through games from Hastings when I came up with Othman-Haussernot from round 2. To be honest, I know neither of these players but black was the higher rated by about 200 points. White's strategy was perfect playing a double edged system against a higher rated opponent who would probably prevail in a technical battle, or a long, slow game. The game was an open Sicilian which also adds another random factor as nobody can know everything about these crazy systems, and there are always some interesting sacrifices for white which can unbalance the situation so much that the chess engine verdict has little meaning in a game between players below master standard.

The shit hit the fan in the following position.

Black has kept his king in the centre a fraction too long which allows white to strike. Amazingly, this isn't the first time this position has been reached, but hopefully, black players will not seek it out again. Othman (1978) played 12.Nd5!! and black is already in big trouble 12..exd5 13.exd6!

The unfortunate position of black's king is now coming into play. This is the best kind of sacrifice, a temporary one that will win material! 13..Qxd6 14.Nf5 Qb6 15.Nxe7 [There was something to be said for 15.Rxe7+] 
Materially, the position is level but black's king is a real target, and black has no development to talk about, and black's d-pawn is falling. A black discovered check by 15..Nxb3 is easily handled by 16.Kh1 when white threatens their own discovered check, Nxc8 winning the house. The game continued for another 10 or so moves, but the outcome wasn't in any doubt.

It's nice to have games where it all falls in to place, especially when you're playing a higher rated opponent. Here's the game in full, enjoy :)

Sunday, January 11, 2015


The events in France over the past few days have made an impression on my middle aged mind. I can understand struggles that people have for freedom, equality, self determination etc, but I'm becoming more and more disgusted with what I consider to be wanton violence in the name of the cause. It doesn't matter who's inflicting the pain, whether it be soldiers from a foreign land invading, or suicide squads infiltrating foreign countries, or anything in between, it always seems to be innocent people, who suffer. And to me, that's wrong.

A strong image in the aftermath of the French terror killings
I guess when I was younger and was impressionable in a different way, trying to make sense of the World, I'd have tried to show more understanding with the terrorists. I grew up in England during heavy IRA activities, in a World polarised by the Cold War, in a time of Apartheid in South Africa and Communism in Afghanistan. I'm not saying that things are any easier now, especially with the amount of information and misinformation that is available especially on the internet. I'm just trying to remember that time when my idealism would argue with my sense of right, and I would become a devil's advocate trying to understand circumstances that would allow for people to commit terrible acts. Like I said earlier, nowadays it doesn't matter whether those acts are state sponsored, or anti-statist  in nature, all I see are the sufferings of the innocents.

Funnily enough I very nearly had a run in with my past recently. Actually, it turned into a very surreal experience. I was contacted via facebook by someone who I hadn't seen in over 25 years, who said they were in Melbourne briefly and could we meet up. I agreed and we arranged a meet on Friday night in the shabby-chic suburb of Fitzroy. I went to meet my friend Ian with Caroline and at one point she asked me what was he like? I have lived with Caroline for the past 22 years and she has never met Ian, which goes to show how long ago it was I knew him. I thought for a moment and then replied that I didn't know what he was like because I hadn't seen him for at least 25 years! Actually, I know very little about Ian except that he enjoys diving, but we spent quite some time as friends when we were at university in Hull in the mid 1980's. I assumed that like myself he would be an older version of what he had been like at university.

Waiting for a friend from 25 years ago in Baxter's Lot

In a bizarre twist of fate instead of meeting someone for the first time in over 25 years on the other side of the world, Ian was caught out by internal flights and while I was sitting in Fitzroy waiting for him, he was sitting in Sydney waiting for a flight that had been delayed. We never did meet up, as he had to fly to Cairns early the next day, but hopefully we will one day.

In the meantime, I had a very pleasant evening out with Caroline. First we had a meal in Joe's Garage, then went for a drink at the Little Creature's Dining Hall, and finally found ourselves lounging in the comfortable surrounds of a bar called Baxter's Lot. I had the pleasure of trying a Japanese whiskey for the first time in my life, and really enjoying it. Long gone are the beer swilling days of my youth! In fact, I'd usually prefer a coffee to alcohol these days, and I recently had one of the best coffee's I've ever had.

Waiting in The League of Honest Coffee for an excellent long black

Last week I went to Melbourne CBD for the first time in a long time and went on the look out for a good coffee. I found a place called The League of Honest Coffee on Little Lonsdale Street near Exhibition and I was taken to coffee heaven. Selling and using Padre coffee, they somehow made a long black that was sweet in a liquorice way, was smooth but earthy with a very subtle fruity flavour, possibly blackcurrant or plum. The only coffee I've had that rivalled this over the holiday period was just before Christmas at the Maling Room in Canterbury though that coffee had more of an apricot flavour.

It's interesting trying to compare the person I was. say 25 years ago, to the one I am now. And probably impossible for myself to do it. I would hope that my outlook on life hasn't changed too much, though perhaps it may have modified somewhat. Although in some respects I am more vehement now in my beliefs and feelings than I was when I was younger. In the end it really makes little difference. I am what I am, the sum of my life experiences up to this point. Although I still keep in touch with a few people from the past, I am the sort of person that doesn't go out of their way to maintain friendships, but rather I move on from one place to another. Saying that, I am always happy to renew a friendship , or at least to try to renew a friendship that has lapsed over time. I've moved a fair bit in my adult life, and have become adept at finding friends in new places. I guess a sense of adventure and exploration are in my bones, which is another reason The League of Honest Coffee appealed to me, as it was situated on the corner of Exploration Lane.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The First Post of the Year

Rays of Illumination to start the New Year
As the first post of the year, talking about milestones seems fairly appropriate. So let me blow my own trumpet. This is the 500th post of this current incarnation of my blog. Most of the posts have been about chess, but there have been varying others talking about things such as travel, food and being an expat in Australia. Talking of being an expat, it is coming up to 10 years since I moved to Melbourne, so I will warn of some possible nostalgic posts coming up to celebrate that milestone. Later this year will also mark the 10th anniversary of my employment as a chess coach in Australia, as I sort of fell into that in my first year here. But before everything else...

Who knows anything about Twelfth Night? Not the play by Shakespeare, the night by which all your Christmas decorations should come down? It coincides with the Christian feast of Epiphany or the birth of Christ, or possibly his baptism. Epiphany falls on the 6th January in our calendar and it is debated whether twelfth night falls on Epiphany or on it's eve. Now I always thought of twelfth night as falling on 6th January, but I'm not too bothered either way. It all depends what you think of as the first day of Christmas, Christmas Day or Boxing Day.

One of the most interesting things about looking at religions is the shared ideas and borrowed customs. In England, for instance, Christianity originally had to compete with other pagan religions, and some of these have survived. Easter, for instance, took it's name from the pagan festival of Eostre. Well, I found a new day that I'd never heard of before: Plough Monday. Dating back to the 1400's the first Monday after Epiphany is considered the start of the agricultural year in England and was the first day back to work after the Christmas holiday. That means that next week is Plough Sunday and traditionally it is a day when ploughs and agriculture were blessed. Ploughs were even taken into churches to be blessed.
Plough Monday (from Millington's excellent page)
Next Sunday is not only Plough Sunday, but here in Melbourne, it is the Blessing of the Waters festival. I don't know if this has any connection to the Plough Festival, or is just coincidence. The main event is when the Greek Bishop of Melbourne throws a cross into the sea, and a load of men jump into the water and try to get to the cross first. I first stumbled across this festival a couple of years by accident and it was a great spectacle, so I might just head down to Port Melbourne again next Sunday to see it again.

Port Melbourne is a favourite jaunt for Caroline and I. We enjoy the walks along the bay, and the cafe scene. Saying that, we've spent this holiday period taking in some Melbourne scenery when we have been able to (the 41C day was not a day we were able to). Melbourne is great to daytrip whether it's beaches, bush or inner city destinations you're looking for. Today we drove down the Mornington Peninsula while a few days ago we were in the Dandenongs. One of the first things I remember thinking when I first landed in Australia was that it wasn't all desert. That was how much I knew! But also I was surprised by the amount of vegetation and flora in the region. I've had the pleasure of finding out about new plants, especially gum trees, though I still only know about 5 varieties! Anyway, here are pictures I've taken during the holiday period, because unlike the plough folk of old, I'm back to work this week.

Lilies in the Dandenongs

English Garden at Sky High Mt Dandenong

Spot the cocky Cockatoo

Self portrait on steaming hot day by Port Phillip Bay

Blairgowrie back beach

Clear waters of Sorrento