Sunday, July 26, 2015

Run Melbourne Half Marathon

Over the past couple of years I've got a real buzz from running. I've gone through periods of regular training and had times when I don't do any for a while. So I decided to motivate myself by entering a half marathon. This was a great idea as it has kept me focussed on training and taken me from the 10 km runner to the longer distance.

My history as a runner is fairly recent. In fact 5 years ago, as an unfit smoker, the thought of running even 1 km would have been daunting. I started with a build up to 5 km, found that I enjoyed running and moved up to 10 km. I then had a go at the Puffing Billy, Great Train Race which I found too hard because of the hilly terrain. Perhaps that put me off running a bit. I caught a chill after the first time I ran against the train, and stopped training for about 2 months, maybe more.

I guess once I'd completed the Great Train Race, it was like there was nothing more to aim at as I hadn't set a further goal. I think that even as a casual runner it is important to set a goal, whether it be to do with time, distance, weight loss or some other random factor. Anyway, this year at the start of May I ran Puffing Billy again, and after it I immediately set myself the challenge of raising the bar. Puffing Billy is 13.5 km, and I entered the Run Melbourne half marathon of 21.1 km.

I trained sporadically after Puffing Billy, but managed to get myself comfortable at 15 km and perhaps a bit more. My longest run before today had been 19 km, but I only managed to go just over 17 km without stopping. So it was with some trepidation that I rocked up to the start line of the Run Melbourne half marathon this morning. The start was a bit of a shambles. I started in the third wave of runners, and we were lined up on the east side of St Kilda Road, opposite the Art's Centre which is where the race was to begin. We had to wait for the the faster runners to set off and then cross the road for our own start. However, by the time the first 2 waves had been set off, the fastest runners were doubling back up the road towards us,  and my wave of runners found we couldn't cross the road. It took a while, but eventually we started, about 20 minutes after the lead runners. No matter, the timing for the race is based on a chip, so everyone gets a time based on when they started compared to when they finished!

An early start, runners milling around Federation Square before the 7 am start

The race started at 7 am, while I crossed the start line about 7.20 am. However, the morning started for me at 5 am. There was no public transport early enough to get to the event, so I drove to within a couple of km of the run start. After the walk into town I waited around for the start, soaking up the atmosphere in Federation Square before the start of my first half marathon. There were lots of stalls representing different charities and organisations which partner the race. I was running for the charity Beyond Blue which promotes the issues of anxiety and depression, to some extent invisible illnesses which mean a lot to me

After the starting hiccup, running in a big group was really helpful, and was thoroughly enjoyable. The route took 2 laps around the south of the CBD and Botanical Gardens, and I found the first half, about 11 km, fairly comfortable. At about 13 km things began to get tough, and by the 16 km I had slowed considerably. I stopped at a drink station and even had to walk a little around the 18-19 km mark, but all told I had a good first effort.

Tired, but happy to have completed my first half marathon
I was hoping to get inside 2 hours 15 minutes, but ended just outside at about 2 hours 18 minutes, which all told means that I ran at a pace of about 6 minutes 30 seconds. I would very much like to improve this time, and I believe that if I worked towards it I could get inside 2 hours 10 minutes, and maybe even faster. So I'm setting myself a new goal of breaking 2 hours 10 minutes in an official half marathon. The question is which will be my next half marathon? I'd like to run 2 a year from now, but I doubt I'll be doing another in 2015, so I'll be looking for a new run in autumn 2016. Any suggestions?
A beautiful morning for a run, which went past Flinders Street Station

The view from Elizabeth Bridge, the start of the Race
Degraves Street, a good spot for a post run coffee

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Glen Eira Last Chance Tournament

Glen Eira's Third 7-round swiss tournament of the year has started with the strongest field so far. Each of the 3 qualifying tournaments through the year yield 3 places for the end of year championship. Our qualifiers from the first 2 tournaments were:

Carl Gorka
FM Domagoj Dragicevic
Avto Frodiashvili
WCM Sarah Anton
Rebecca Strickland
Daniel Poberezovsky

This is already a nice mix of players with some experienced and some wanting to try their hand at taking on strong players. When I created the Glen Eira Chess Club, this was exactly the idea I had in mind. In this area there are a lot of players, and a lot of young players who need experienced competition to improve. so we run tournament games rated on the Australian rating system with a time rate of 60 minutes + 10 seconds increment to push these kids to extra focus time.

The current tournament saw IM James Morris come along. James is a local living 10-15 minutes walk from the venue and he is the defending champion, being a supporter of our local club from its start. But James won't have things all his own way, as John Nemeth who more usually plays at Noble Park Chess Club has come along for the tournament. John is a 2200 strength player at least, and will add that extra experience that our young players need to compete against. I think he found his game tougher than he expected last night as he had to work a little to overcome talented junior Amit Ben Harim.

There were a lot of first round byes last night but of the games that actually happened 3 started with Dragon type formations. I played a Ponziani as white. I like the Ponziani and have pretty good results with it, though it doesn't really promise white anything. At least it gets my opponent's away from their extensive knowledge of main line Spanish or Italian games. My young opponent last night fell for a very typical trap that's worth knowing about.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.c3 [This move supports a d4 push, but also allows white's queen out to b3 or a4, something my opponent forgot] 3..d6 4.d4 Nf6 5.h3!? Not the best, but not the worst, but it might lure the unsuspecting into a trap.
So the question an inexperienced player might be asking is "Why can't I just take the e4 pawn?" This is exactly what happened and my opponent found out soon enough! 5..Nxe4? 6.d5 Ne7 7.Qa4+ forking black's knight on e4.

To be fair, I've fallen into this type of trap when I was young, and I would guess many other players have. My experience came from the move order 1.e4 c5 [I was a young, aggressive Sicilian player back then] 2.Nf3 d6 3.c3 Nf6 4.Be2
As the e-pawn is guarded by the a4 queen fork, I played 4..Nc6 5.d4. Excellent, now the e-pawn isn't guarded I can just take it! 5..Nxe4?? 6.d5
Black will lose a piece, as after the Nc6 moves, Qa4+ again forks the e4 knight.

What's worse, I remember falling for this type of trap more than once!

There is still time to join the tournament which has 6 rounds left! Just turn up next Friday at Carnegie Library, entry is just $10 and it is $5 per night to play. Everyone is welcome :)

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Henry Bird

I recently went on a chess camp for my company Chess Kids. We went out for a few days to Wodonga in country Victoria taking a group of about 35 kids with us and worked on chess (attack was the theme of the camp) and had some fun. A lecture that I was working on was about a nineteenth century attacker, and I had free rein to choose a player, so I opted for Henry Bird. He might not be everyone's first choice, but he played some pretty magnificent combinations, and had some great ideas about the game.

Bird was a kind of maths genius who became attracted to chess. He was a qualified accountant by trade, but by all accounts spent much of his life devoted to his passion of chess. Brought up in the time of Staunton, Morphy and Andersson, it is fairly natural that Bird had what we would consider now a reckless style. But he was good enough to beat Morphy, Andersson, Steinitz, Lasker and most of the other top players of the second half of the 1800's.

The kids loved a game I showed where he beat Lasker in 12 moves in a Danish Gambit, while I personally have a soft spot for another offhand game he played where he twice promoted to a knight.

If a 12 move win against the future world champ isn't enough (even in an offhand game), have a look at this position from my favourite.
MacDonnell-Bird consultation 1875

The game started as a King's Gambit and had been fairly mad to this point where white has just played Bg5 attacking black's queen. But, of course, it's time to sac! 17..Bxd5! 18.Bxd8 e3+ 19.Kg1 Bxc4 20.Bg5
Black's sac was sound, and he has come out of it with 3 minor pieces and a pawn for the queen, with the addition of the whopping passed pawns on e3 and f3. Now to finish in style! 20..f2+ 21.Kh2 e2 bringing both pawns to the 7th where they will cost white more material 22.Qd2
22..f1=N+! [It's always good to underpromote, and a knight fork of king and queen is even better!] 23.Rhxf1 exf1=N+ It must have felt unbelievably satisfying to underpromote for a second time! Afetr winning both of white's rooks, Bird went on to win, though he missed a quicker win later on!

Actually, the game that had me really intrigued was a win against the great Adolph Andersson where Bird sacrificed a rook on f7. Recently this sacrifice has hit the headlines when Chinese teenage superstar, Wei Yi came out with a brilliant f7 rook sacrifice at the Danzhou GM event.

Wei Yi-Bruzon Danzhou 2015. This position has already been talked about loads in the chess press. Wei Yi came out with the shot 22.Rxf7! opening up black's king, which has to go on a bit of a march after the obligatory capture 22..Kxf7 23.Qh7+Ke6 24.exd5+ Kxd5
And now another brilliant sacrifice to prevent black's king from escaping the queen side. 25.Be4!! Kxe4 26.Qf7 [Black's king is trapped behind enemy lines with no way back] 26..Bf6
After repeating the position, Wei Yi now came up with the part of the chase which is most difficult for amateurs, the quiet move! 29.Qb3! [The threat is Qd3#] 29..Kf5 30.Rf1+ Kg4 and deep in the heart of enemy territory, the black king didn't last much longer. Here's the whole amazing game.

So imagine my delight when I found a similar sacrifice by Henry Bird, against none other than Immortal game maestro Adolph Andersson.
Bird-Andersson match Paris 1878
White's pieces are ready to launch, but I wonder if the Immortal double rook sacrificer was expecting some of his own medicine? 1.Rxf7! Bxf7 2.Rxf7! Qg5 [declining the second rook. If he took then mate would eventually follow.] 3.Qxb7 Qh4 [Defending h7, while cheekily threatening h2!]
4.h3 Nf6 5.Rg7+ Kh8 6.Rxg6 [Threatening mate on g7, so black must give back some material] 6..Rg8 7.Rxf6
Another stylish move, putting the rook on a square black's queen attacks, but the queen cannot take as it still defends mate on h7! The great Andersson resigned after his last trick failed 7.e4 Qxe4 1-0 black is about to suffer heavy losses to avoid mate.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Malitis Memorial

The MCC is currently running a 7 round tournament commemorating the life of stalwart club member Edwin Malitis. The tournament is changing it's style this year from a straight 7-round swiss to an 8 player round robin for the top 8 rated players, and a 7 round swiss for all other players. This is an interesting format that is also being used at Noble Park Chess Club for their Masters and Challengers event, though they have a 10 player round robin backed by a 9 round swiss.

The Round Robin section of the Malitis Memorial was organised a little haphazardly with some doubt who the players were going to be, even as the first round was being played! I think that in the future it would be good to finalise a field for the top tournament prior to the starting date, and limit the second tournament to players rated below the lowest rated player in the top section. I think this was the method used by Noble Park, and they have used this format before. Anyway, the 8 players for the round robin are:

1. Tom Narenthran (2002)
2. Omar Bashar (1972)
3. Malcolm Pyke (2088)
4. David Cannon (1989)
5. Carl Gorka (2116)
6. IM Mirko Rujevic (2179)
7. Thai Ly (1974)
8. Simon Schmidt (2039)

The early leaders of this event are Mirko Rujevic and David Cannon who are both on 2/2 while Simon Schmidt sits on 1.5. The first round game between Malcolm Pyke and Tom Narenthran has been postponed.

The Swiss section has about 30 players registered which is a good sized field for the Malitis Memorial. In years gone by this tournament has struggled to get numbers playing and so having close to 40 players in 2 sections must be considered a good achievement by the MCC. The tournament is very competitive and I wouldn't like to pick a winner. Eamonn O'Molloy is the top seed at 1946 but 18 players are rated over 1700 and I guess they must all feel they have a chance, as will some lower rated players. In fact, after 2 rounds only 3 players have scored a maximum 2/2, David Lacey, Mehmedalija Dizdarevic and Tristan Krstevski. As a 7 round swiss, although the tournament is only just started, it is almost half way over, so there isn't time for anyone to have an off day, or they could find themselves dropping down the field.

My tournament has started abysmally with 2 losses. In the first round I lost to top seed, IM Mirko Rujevic from what I believe was a good position. Then in the second round I lost to young David Cannon after once again, getting a pretty good position with the black pieces.

Here is my first round tragedy against Mirko:

This endgame is absolutely level. Black is pressing cut can make no headway so long as white does nothing. However, like many amateur chess players (and with little time on the clock) I couldn't manage to sit tight and do nothing feeling the pressure rise. Moves like Bd2, or Bh4 and shuffling around would probably have lead to a draw. But as white I played 1.h4?. Mirko took no time to play 1..Ra1 2.Bd2 [A rook check on e1 must be prevented] 2..Rg1. It was about here that I started regretting pushing my h-pawn.

I defended my g-pawn by 3.Kf3 but Mirko deflected me with 3..e4+! after which there is no defence. 4.Kxe4 Rxg4+ 5.Kf3 Rxh4 and Mirko's passed g-pawn was decisive.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Sunday Evening Thoughts

It's been a long week at work for me, as the first week of a school term always is, but it's Sunday evening and I'm sitting relaxing with Caroline, our 2 cats Alice and Candy, and our Budgie Beau. I'm splitting the evening between chatting on social media, reading, talking to Caroline and laughing at our pets who are going crazy then crashing out. (Anyway, here are some gratuitous cute cat photos to grow readership on my blog!)



I'm getting more and more into Twitter these days, and I use it rather than a newspaper or TV news station as they are all terrible in Australia. I subscribe to a load of world news feeds and follow stories that interest me. The story that has been plastered all over Twitter the past few days has been the expenses claimed by politicians, with especial treatment coming for Bronwyn Bishop, the current Speaker of the House of Representatives. There's been a call for her resignation as it came to light that she spent over $5000 to charter a helicopter to take her 75 kilometres down the road to Geelong, claiming it in expenses (tax payers money) even though it was to attend a private party fundraiser. Since then, a whole range of expenses claims have followed, and not just of Bronwyn Bishop. The most amazing in my mind was while on a European trip, she and 2 aides racked up food and accommodation expenses of about $25,000 in 2 weeks. The whole trip cost around $88,000!

Fabulous Twitter meme from @WhereMyOstrich

I'm looking forward to my European trip with Caroline which will be in September, and will cost less than a tenth of that of the expenses hungry politician. We plan to hire a car, drive round France, nip into Belgium, Holland, Switzerland and Spain on the way and go visit relatives in England. Just like any holiday I've been planning, readers of this blog will probably get bored of hearing about it before I've even left the country! By the start of September, this blog will become a very Francophile place, as I'm looking forward to experiencing the culture, food and history of rural France. The current Tour de France only helps to whet my appetite and it is great to see a tough battle being fought with the British SKY team leader, Chris Froome in the Yellow Jersey.

Warming up and putting on the tights is usually enough for me!

At the end of Puffing Billy, I'm in the green looking one step from death, and that was only 13.5 km!

Of course my own endurance effort is coming up soon. Next Sunday I will be running the Age Run Melbourne half marathon. I went for a short jog today, but that is the last run I'll be doing before the start next Sunday morning. This week I'll be having some light cross training on my exercise bike, and then stocking carbs at the weekend. Hmm, maybe Bronwyn Bishop's food expenses were due to her carb stocking for a marathon! I wonder just how many carbs you can stock for $25,000!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Wodonga Chess Camp

The winter months in Victoria means the time of year when my company, Chess Kids takes a group of talented young players to a residential camp. A few parents join us, but for most of the kids it is a social experience as well as a chess learning experience. In the past we have gone south to have our camps in Hobart and Phillip Island . This year we headed north, and held the camp on the shores of the Murray River at Wodonga.

Wodonga is about 3 and a half hours drive from from Melbourne on the Hume Highway which goes to Sydney. It is a border town, with the Murray separating it from Albury on the New South Wales side of the river. It is great for outdoor pursuit on the river and Lake Hume, walking and cycling and general fresh air activities. It is an ideal place to get away from city life for a few days.

We organised our camp in Boathaven near Lake Hume, about 10 km east of Wodonga itself. The camp was based on attacking principles in chess and we gave a number of lectures and activities based on attacking chess. The kids also played a number of games at a slower time limit than they are used to to try to slow their chess and put into practise some of the thinking processes they have been learning.

There were loads of activities organised, both chess and non chess. Keeping kids entertained for 4 days is hard work and a challenge. It is important to get the kids out and about, and we were blessed with good weather. We took a few trips including going to the Hume Dam.

The initial feedback was that everyone had a great time, appreciated the chess material they were presented, and enjoyed the other activities, and the social aspect of meeting kids who share their passion for chess. Although I find it a wrench to leave Caroline, there is no doubt that our chess camps are an amazing experience for kids, parents and coaches alike.

The view of Lake Hume from our camp

Amazing engineering, the Hume Dam

The beautiful Murray River, border of Victoria and NSW

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Holiday Fun

The past few days I've been helping to run holiday programs for Kids Unlimited, the new parent company for Chess Kids. Chess has now become part of something bigger, as we have become part of a group of activities which aim to stimulate kids through various activities. It was great to be part of a holiday program where I was working on chess, but there were other activities such as drama, electronics, computer programming and hip hop dance.

The kids come along to a program, but can try other programs out for a while if they want. In fact, even the teachers can try their hand out at other things. I fell back into my entertainment days by presenting some performance workshops for the kids! All in all, it has been great fun.

Even the chess has been fun for me. While I've presented a few ideas this week, I've also played a game of Kriegspiel chess with a group of kids, where I was the referee, and they were split into 2 groups. They seemed to really like the challenge of not being able to see the other teams moves, and having to guess where things were. I also improvised some boards into a 4 player game which was another hit with the kids. First they tried to play solo, and then the game split into teams which was great fun. For these and more variants of chess check out this site!

So do these games have any educational value from a chess point of view? It could be argued not at all, but I would say that skills such as visualisation, imagination, and overall board vision are improved by playing these games. One also has to consider what an opponent is doing, or what lots of opponent's are doing, or what an unseen opponent is doing! Making kids aware of these skills in a fun and challenging environment must be good for their chess!

An improvised 4 player chess game, made even harder having 2 sets of white and 2 sets of black pieces! Kids loved it.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Oceania Zonal 2015

From this weekend, the Australian and Oceania chess scene will turn their thoughts to the Zonal tournament. Held in Sydney from this Saturday, 4th July, the event will decide who qualifies for the World Cup that is being held September-October this year in Baku, Azerbaijan. The Zonal has attracted a big field with most of our strong young players taking part. Unfortunately, none of our Grand Masters have decided to play. Saying that, it gives a great opportunity to the young Masters.

The number 1 seed is Australian Champion, Max Illingworth, but eyes will definitely be on Anton Smirnov currently ranked 4th in the world for players born in 2001. Anton recently beat GM Hrant Melkumyan at the Gold Coast Open, tying for first place with the 2633 rated Armenian. IM's Moulthun Ly and Junta Ikeda make up the quartet of young stars at the top of the seedings for the tournament. However, there are 9 IM's playing, and a bunch of strong players who are more than capable of beating anyone on their day. The winner of the tournament will have to play consistently well over the 9 rounds.

As an MCC player, I'll be hoping for some good performances from my friends and club mates. So I'll be keeping a particular eye out for IM Ari Dale, FM Jack Puccini, Anthony Hain, Kerry Stead, Ray Yang, Tristan Krstevski, Angelo Tsagarakis and Elliott Renzies. And I'd also like to wish luck to my friend from Glen Eira Chess Club, CM Francesco Antoniazzi. If I've missed anyone, then I'm sorry, and I'll be sure to keep a look out for games of players who I know personally, as well as those fighting for the top places.