Sunday, March 22, 2015


Grief is a very personal thing, it manifests itself in different ways in all of us. For some people grief is outwardly emotional while others become quiet and introverted, it can cause depression, anxiety and other illnesses while it can also inspire poetry and art. There seem to be no rules to dealing with grief though it would be important for friends and relatives to be aware of the behaviour of their loved ones. This can be difficult in itself, as they will probably also be dealing with their own grief!

Yesterday my father died. He had been fighting illness for a long time, and recently had deteriorated so the news wasn't entirely unexpected. It was still a shock when it came, though. Actually, it was bizarre as I was teaching a bunch of 5 year old's the very basics of chess when I found out about my father's death. The kids were having fun and exploring the new things they were learning while I was getting a metaphorical thump in the guts. But their joy was infectious and the rest of my classes that day kept my mind from dwelling on my father's death overly much.

In fact, for the past month or so, I have done my best to keep myself busy, unbelievably busy. I've thrown myself into work, spent spare moments reading, running, studying chess or spending time with Caroline. I've hardly had a spare moment this last month and it has helped me get through the days without thinking about my father's condition, until I'm too tired to stay awake any longer. I'll probably continue with my hectic work and study schedule for at least the next week, though those who I'm close to are aware that I might not be fully focussed all the time (some might say I'm never fully focussed!).

The fact that I'm living 10,000 miles away is also bizarre. It has made me feel numb rather than anything more outwardly emotional, and it all feels somewhat surreal. I am going back to England later in the year with Caroline, but it will sadly not be to see my Dad. It is 2 years since I last saw him, and he was happy and well then and that is the memory I will take with me in the future. It is then that I'll see the rest of my family in the UK, a strong and supportive group of people who I'm sure will see to it that everyone else in the family is coping with their grief in a positive way.

For myself, I'm now raising a glass of Whiskey in memory to a man who proved, and is still proving, to be my inspiration in the way I conduct my life. Cheers Dad!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

MCC Championship

The Club Championship has traditionally been the flagship event for the Melbourne Chess Club. The tournament will often include some of the top players in the state in a 9-round swiss format. This year, a pretty decent sized field of 52 players have come together to compete for the prestigious title of 2015 MCC Club Champion. Past winners read as a who's who of Victorian chess.

This year the Championship has 2 International Masters in the field, James Morris and Mirko Rujevic. There are 7 players in total above 2000 rating, making it a strong tournament at the top level. The player to beat is undoubtedly James Morris, 2012 Victorian Champion. James has started the tournament with 5.5/6 and is half a point clear of the field. I sit in second place, on 5/6 with ex Club Champion Malcolm Pyke. A further half point behind are 3 players, the talented young Jack Puccini, Hoai Nam Nguyen (who I have to admit I know little about) and Eamonn O'Molloy who is having an excellent run so far. Then there are 8 players on 4, 6 players on 3.5 and 11 on 3/6. With 3 games left a strong run by any of these players would leave them with a high finish. My highest score ever in the Club Championship was 6.5 and that let me finish equal third.

There will be a good prize fund including rating prizes. The initial promotion of the MCC gave the following prize fund based on 55 players competing.

PRIZES: (based on 55 paying entries and sponsorship)

Open 1st $700

Open 2nd $400

Open 3rd $250

Open 4th $100

U/2000 1st $250

U/2000 2nd $150

U/1700 1st $220

U/1700 2nd $120

U/1400 1st $200

U/1400 2nd $100

Best Novice: $30 book voucher (must participate in MCC Novice Night)

Brilliancy Prize: $40 book voucher from MCC bookshop (also in the running for the

annual Hjorth Brilliancy prize).

As there are close to 55 players, I expect the generous prize fund to be fairly similar, and so there is plenty for almost everyone to play for. The top games are being taken by arbiter Kerry Stead for publication but the only games so far available have been those relayed by dgt board. Unfortunately, I'm not sure where these games are stored, or when or where they will be published.

Here are a couple of positions from my games. I've made my best ever start to an MCC Championsip but I've had some moments where things could have gone quite differently!

This was from round 3 where I was black against one of Australia's top junior girls, Zhi Lin Guo. As black, I am winning, but I need to avoid Rf1 mate. There are a number ways of doing this, and I had planned the completely adequate Rb2. However, in time trouble, I wavered and played 1..Rb1??. This allowed Zhi Lin to win a rook with the fairly simple 2.Rf5+ Rf4 3.Rxf4 Kxf4 4.Rxb1. However, my hallucination was contagious and my opponent also missed this chance and I went on to win.

So far I have been the only player not to lose to IM James Morris, but I really should have done. In the above position I was white and knew I was worse. My king and queen are in fairly vulnerable positions and my pieces don't really compensate. After the game, James suggested that Rfe8 was strong while Stockfish suggests Rxc3 is winning. James played the non critical 20..h6?! and I took my chance with 21.Nxe6! After the sequence 21..d4 22.Qe4 dxc3 23.Kd1 Bxe6 24.Qxe6 Qxe6 25.Rxe6, the game had simplified to 4 rooks and opposite coloured bishops which I was able to hold to a draw, though not without difficulty.

So I could really be a further 1.5 points behind, but instead I'm on 5/6 and sit in second place in the Club Championship. I guess there are plenty of stories like this throughout the chess world. I wonder how the remaining 3 rounds will treat me and the rest of the field and whether anyone can stop James from winning his first Club Championship.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Glen Eira Chess Club

As a Junior in the southern English town of Basingstoke, the first chess club I went to was not far from where I lived. At Westside chess club, I was able to develop my game against players of various strengths, juniors, seniors, beginners, and international competitors. I learned much chess wisdom there as well as etiquette and  chess culture. Unfortunately, Westside chess club ceased to exist, though chess clubs carried on. I moved from Westside to Brighton Hill Chess Club, where a new group of players broadened my horizons, and I followed to a number of other clubs.

I envisage Glen Eira Chess Club providing the same opportunity to players here in the South East suburbs of Melbourne. A very nice core group of players have now developed at the club and there is a great vibe on a Friday night when we meet. I originally started the club partly to meet the needs of a group of juniors who were getting too good for school chess and needed a different environment to develop their game. A number of these have become loyal members of the club along with some adult players.

We meet at 6.30 pm on a Friday evening at Carnegie Library and start tournament games about 7.15 pm. The games are rated on the ACF rating list and are played at a rate of 60 minutes + 10 seconds per move. We are currently coming to the end of our first 7 round event of the year. There have had 18 players competitors and full standings can be seen on the tornelo site. The first 3 players will qualify for our end of year championship and I'm currently playing very well and leading the event with 4.5/5. Half a point behind on 4/5 is FM Domagoj Dragicevic who was last year's Championship runner-up. Jerzy Krysiak is currently in third place on 3.5 but a large group of players are just behind, and with 2 rounds left to play, more than half the field could still qualify.

There will be 2 further 7 round swiss qualifiers throughout the year before the Championship final which starts in October. I'm sure the juniors in this event are getting invaluable experience and learning important lessons.

A position not unlike this was reached in a game between 2 of our junior players last week. It is one that all players should know how to defend, but easier to understand once you have played it and lost, just like the young player with black did!

The points to understand are that black's rook is cutting off the advance of white's king, but white's king can advance under cover of his pawn. However, when white advances his pawn black has another method to attack white's king. Black's king is cut off on the back rank, but it is positioned in front of white's pawn.

1.c6 Ra1! Black's rook takes 'checking distance' from behind white's king. This is the technique that must be remembered. 2.Kd6 Rd1 and white cannot escape checks while simultaneously defending his pawn.

Losing a position like that above, and then learning the proper technique so that it sticks in one's mind, is a great lesson for a young player and one that will regularly occur at a chess club.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Happy Days

Today it's Mother's Day! Well, at least it's Mother's Day in the UK where my mother is, even if it isn't Mother's Day in Australia where I live. In fact here in Australia, we celebrate Mother's Day the second Sunday in May which is when it was originally founded by US President Woodrow Wilson, along with a bunch of other countries. But other countries celebrate Mother's Day throughout the year, such as many middle eastern countries on 21st March (Vernal Equinox), South Korea on 8th May as part of their traditional Parent's Day celebration, France, Sweden and some others who celebrate it at the end of May/start of June to coincide with Pentecost and Russia at the end of November. It's somewhat bizarre that with all the worldwide days that there are for various reasons the World can't find one to celebrate mothers which is universally agreed upon (it's also pretty cool that different countries hold to their traditions and celebrate mothers in their own way).

Pi Pie

What really got me thinking about this was yesterday being Pi Day, a celebration of mathematics. I'm beginning to think the World has gone a bit mad when we have to attribute a day to an irrational number, but then again it probably isn't the most bizarre day there is. I mean, chess has a international day (July 20th) and we in Victoria have a public holiday for a horse race (first Tuesday in November) and celebrate the birthday of a Monarch of a different country (not sure what will happen when that Monarch passes away).

If you really want to see some excellent day of the year go to a site like this one and check some out. My birthday is October 18th and that day will see the celebration of 'no beards', 'toy camera's
' (a shifting holiday, so I'm honoured this year) and 'chocolate cupcakes' (an American national day, but one that might deserve an international flavour).

Caroline's birthday is December 20th which is the day of celebrating going carolling (the Sunday before Christmas so this will change yearly), 'Games Day' (predominately UK) and 'Sangria Day'.

December 20th, Sangria Day!

Of course, there are plenty of serious days which raise awareness of various issues, or celebrate events of historical importance. But then again there are the bizarre ones. So today, Mother's in the UK share their day with:

True Confessions - this holiday is copyrighted so don't try to move it or use it for your own ends!
Brutus - another copyrighted invention to celebrate the art of the back stab!
Buzzards - limited to Ohio, USA (though this might actually be next Sunday)

And seeing March 2015 is, among other things, Caffeine Awareness Month, I feel the need for coffee. While I'm having my coffee I am going to start celebrating my own 'Think of a thing to have a day to celebrate day'.

Monday, March 9, 2015


The last couple of weeks I've had some interesting endgames including holding an opposite coloured bishop endgame against IM James Morris, and a winning knight endgame that I managed to draw against an excellent defence by Malcolm Pyke. I suppose I can count the draw against James as a half point gained, while the draw versus Malcolm a fair result, so all told I'm doing ok. The endgame has always been the bane of most players any player who puts some effort into studying the endgame will reap the benefits.

One problem about studying the endgame is how to do it.It is possible to study from a book, but that can be a bit dry. Most text books have all the information needed, but present it in a way that is not easy to apply, starting from the most basic of endgames and working towards harder types of positions. However, most of us want to learn general endgame principals, and then look at more specific theoretical endgames after. Finding books that combine these 2 ideas, as well as presenting it to players of all levels is not easy. Some books pitch too high, while some are obviously aimed at those with a very good understanding of endgame principals.

I think for most club players, dabbling in endgames is the best way to start. To be honest, learning a lot of endgame theory that has little practical application in our games is about as useful as learning 30 moves of theory in an opening that will probably not show up in one's games. By dabbling, I mean that I don't see that the average club player needs to study endgames in a scientific way, but rather needs to build up knowledge at a rate that is appropriate to them. Learning a mass of rook and pawn endgame theory is not a bad thing to do, but forgetting it before you can put it into practice is not good.

The MCC runs an endgame group. I used to run this group, and now FM Bill Jordan is in charge. The idea is to look at some endgame each week, and perhaps to get positions that can be practised from. The practical part of the group is as important as the theoretical, and it was great to see players becoming aware of ideas, principals and techniques. I always really enjoyed the pawnless endgames, as the technique is usually fairly simple while the practice can be tough. For example, holding on in a position with a rook and king versus rook, bishop and king can be difficult.

Here's a couple of positions that the MCC Endgame Group might want to look at.

 1. This is the position that perhaps I should have won against Malcolm. Perhaps you can find a winning plan for black, or see if you can hold the position like Malcolm did.

2. Another knight endgame that ended in a draw. This one from one my favourite players, Alexander Beliavsky. Beliavsky as black held this position against English GM Jonathan Speelman at the 1989 Amsterdam OHRA tournament. I was lucky enough to be playing in a lower section of this tournament, so could see these great players in action, as well as Victor Korchnoi, and young versions of Judit Polgar and Boris Gelfand!

So, could you hold this position with the black pieces?

3. This position happened at the recently finished Ballarat Weekender, in the game Fasakin-Milojevic from round 6. It is white to move and mate in 57! Good luck :D

And while I'm on Ballarat, congratulation to IM Kanan Izzat on his 7/7 victory in this strong Victorian Weekender!

Sunday, March 8, 2015


I visited the annual Ballarat weekend tournament today, and although I'm tired after the 3 hour round trip with plenty of junior coaching through the day, Downton Abbey is coming on TV so I've got to find something to do.

Top seeds, IM's Kanan Izzat and James Morris
This is the 49th edition of the Ballarat weekender, organised and run by Ballarat Chess Club,, and next year we are due for a big one with lots of plans already in the pipeline apparently. Saying that, the numbers this year are a bit disappointing based on recent figures. There are short of 100 players with 14 players above 2000 rating and 5 IM's. Last year there were 117 players, while there were over 120 players fort he previous 4 years. The strongest I remember was 2012 where with a rating of about 2150 I was seeded 17th out of a field of 131.

The 2015 event has already seen a few upsets, but the tournament hangs in the balance. Top seed is IM James Morris, but he has already conceded 2 draws to Aleks Safarian and 5th seed IM Ari Dale. Second seed IM Kanan Izzat has had no such trouble winning all his first 4 games in fairly short order. The big round 5 game sees Izzat playing against the other IM on maximum points, Chris Wallis. Chris has also looked at ease in his games so this one should be a cracker!

IM Chris Wallis (left) starts with a perfect 4/4, including a win against an old rival, FM Dusan Stojic

The games can be followed on Noble Park's server and there are lots of games stored on Tornelo. The game that everyone was talking about this morning when I walked in was Kevin Sheldrick's escape against Angelo Tsagarakis.

Angelo is black and giving over 300 rating points to his opponent here. Black is 2 exchanges up and while there are probably many ways to win, the move that Angelo tragically played was one of the few to lose. 38..Rb2?? allowing Philidor's legacy after 39.Nf7 when Angelo resigned rather than being subjected to 39..Kg8 40.Nh6 Kh8 41.Qg8 Rxg8 42.Nf7#. I am guessing that being so dominant for so long, Angelo relaxed in the belief that he couldn't lose.

I was coaching local kids for most of the day, as Chess Kids were running a camp. Some of the kids got the chance to play a game in the tournament, but most were not ready for that sort of commitment. There will be a junior tournament run at a rate of 25 minutes + 10 second increment tomorrow alongside the Weekender and we're hoping that a lot of local kids show up to take part in it. The kids I was working with today had great thinking skills, and a huge desire to learn. Given the chance, some of these will become Ballarat Chess Club's future.

Age is no barrier in chess!

Still Around

The last month or so have been a bit difficult for me, and this blog has suffered. I need to start it again, and there's a lot to write about.

First, I'm travelling to England later in the year, partly as a holiday and partly to see family. My Dad has not been well recently and it's time to go back and see him and the rest of my family. I'll be travelling with Caroline, and we'll be spending some time in France as well as England, and popping into some other countries as well. There'll be some plans about this trip, and some Francophile posts coming up in the build up to this trip.

I've also signed up for the Puffing Billy run that I took part in a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, a couple of days after signing up, I cracked a toe and couldn't run for the best part of 2 weeks. Thankfully, today I managed to run 6 km, albeit pretty slowly. Still, it's a start and I'm hoping that I'll be able to make the 13 km distance of the Puffing Billy run without too much hassle. Last time, I didn't quite make it all the way up the second hill, and ended walking for about 2 minutes. My aim this time around is to run non stop, whatever the time I run. I will use this as a stepping stone, as I try to run the half marathon distance. I'll be filling pages of this blog with runs, kilometres, aches etc.

However, this blog is mostly about coffee and chess, with chess winning out.I'm currently working like mad for Chess Kids, and playing at 2 chess clubs in Melbourne, Glen Eira Chess Club, and the Melbourne Chess Club. I'm currently publicity officer at the MCC, and Secretary/President/Treasurer/Arbiter/general dogsbody of Glen Eira Chess Club, so I'd better start writing some material for these clubs here. I've had a few interesting positions in these events so far, and done pretty well. I'm on 4/5 at the MCC Championship, and 3.5/4 in the Glen Eira Summer Swiss. I've been lucky that much of the preparation I did for the Australian Masters in December, and the subsequent work after, has allowed me to get into some ok positions.

Here's a position that could have happened in one of my games from Glen Eira. I'll admit I was trying to calculate a winning line for white but couldn't quite see to the end. Would I have played the winning line? Hopefully, though this position was never reached and the question was never asked of me. But I'll ask it of you:

White to play and Win 
(answer on Tuesday)