Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Longest Game of the Week

A while ago I used to run an endgame group at the Melbourne Chess Club. This group proved quite popular and had a number of regulars attending. I lead this group for about 2 years and in this time I learned a lot about endgames, and about players abilities and appreciation of this phase of the game.

The Melbourne Chess Cub Endgame Group was taken over by FM Bill Jordan after work commitments meant I could no longer run it, but I think Bill will not be running it this year, and I'm not sure if this means that the Endgame Group has stopped. If it has it will be a shame, as all club players would greatly benefit from regular endgame study. Putting an hour or 2 towards endgame study each week does such a lot for your chess:

- improves confidence
- builds technical skills
- increases resilience and resourcefulness
- develops planning skills, and prepares for transition from middle games
- builds awareness of the strengths and weaknesses of each piece
- helps with calculation skills

Add to this that virtually no club players are looking regularly at endgames, and it is easy to see that becoming any where near proficient at this part of the game will reap benefits, where players can maximise their results, winning games that should be won, holding difficult positions, and even turning around positions from lost, to level, to won.

One of the things I used to do was look at the longest game of the week in The Week in Chess (TWIC) magazine. TWIC is a chess news website which publishes a pgn of the games played that week. Using a database to sort and view the games, it is possible to keep up to date with all games played, and published, each week. I would sort the games by number of moves, and look at the longest, or at least the final part of the longest. Each week there are games played in interesting and important endgame positions to understand. Regularly there would be massive games that ended in pawnless endgames, or queen and pawn endgames. Take into account that the players may be tired from already having exerted 4-6 hours worth of effort into the game, and players can be forgiven for not playing perfectly. But it means the student of endgames has great material to learn from, if they're willing to put the effort in.

For example, the latest TWIC was issue 1111 published just yesterday (it is published every Monday in the UK, or Tuesday morning here in Australia). When sorting by number of moves, I find the longest was a 147 epic between 2 sub 2000 players from an open tournament in Italy. The player who was white won a piece early on, then some trades happen, and the leading side had some trouble because of opposite coloured bishops. Finally, the following position arose after 93 moves.

Black tried his best practical chance and played 93..Bxd6 forcing white to prove that he could win the dreaded KNB v K endgame. It was certainly worth a try, and black was probably heading towards this endgame for the past 30 moves. I've even used this myself, testing players to finish you off, when they are tired, and maybe only have 30 seconds per move to work things out. A couple of wrong turns by white here, and the game is a 50 move draw!

So that is something already learned. It's a good idea to work out which endings give you good chances of success, or some chances of survival, etc. Looking at endgames without pawns can be a great exercise, and even better if you have someone to play through them.

In the above game, after about 17 moves the black king had been forced to the edge of the board.

Now perhaps this drive could have been achieved quicker, but never mind, there are about 33 moves left to win. The first thing to understand is that black has wisely chosen to send his king to a corner that white's bishop doesn't control. White cannot checkmate by force in the a1 corner, the black king must be driven to the h1 corner, or the a8 corner. White understood this, but still couldn't manage to do it! From the diagram above play continued 111..Kc1 112 Ba2! black's king is driven across the board 112..Kd1

Now white started the correct procedure called the 'W' manouvre. White's knight moves in a W formation from c2-d4-e2-f4-g2, each time it hits the second rank, it aims at squares of the opposite colour to the bishop on the back rank helping with the drive of the enemy king. 113.Nf4! Ke1 This is not what you would necessarily expect. Normally, the king will try to sneak back to the safe corner, not voluntarily march towards the dangerous corner! However, by doing something unexpected white wasn't sure what to do, and floundered around for a while and after 124 moves, the same position as above was reached again! Obviously flustered and under pressure to complete the mate in the required move (and probably with an audience watching) the game continued 126.Nf4 Ke1 127.Kd3! Learning to use pieces in cooperation is a major strength of working on endgames. Here, white has to use all 3 pieces to achieve the win. 127..Kd1 128.Ne2!

White is now half way through the W manouvre  and as can be seen, the black king is being forced across towards h1.  After the moves 128..Ke1 129.Bd5 [129. Ke3 was better] 129..Kd1 130.Bb3+ Ke1 131.Ke3 Kf1, the following position was reached.

Unfortunately, this is where white's technique ran out. Following the W manouvre by moving the knight to f4 was mate in 9 with perfect play, and would have gained a victory within the allotted 50 moves. The technique is 132.Nf4! Ke1 133 Ng2+ [Completing the W manouvre] 133..Kf1 134.Kf3

Black's king is now stuck in the mating corner. 134..Kg1 135.Kg3 Kf1 136.Bc4+ [Shutting the door on escape] 136..Kg1

Ok, here's where a knowledge of the checkmate pattern comes in handy. Imagine white could put his knight anywhere on the board. The square he would choose is h3 with check, the king would have to move to the corner, and then the white bishop would checkmate on the long diagonal. So the way to achieve that is: 137.Nf4 [heading to h3] 137.Kh1 Bd3 [losing a move along the diagonal which controls black's f1 escape square, forcing the black king back to move to g1] 138.Kg1 Nh3+ 139.Kh1 140.Be4#

Here's the checkmate pattern, and white's bishop could be anywhere along the long diagonal from f3-a8.

Unfortunately, the player in the game went astray and didn't get back on track. The fact is that it isn't an easy technique without practice, and if the technique is learned and then not used for a long while, then it may be that the practical application of the technique is forgotten, or half remembered, or remembered but miscalculated or misinterpreted on the board.

I don't think it would do club players any harm to practice this endgame a few times until they have it off comfortably. Perhaps set up the initial position in this post, and play it a few times, even against a computer. Try to defend as well as win, and you will learn from your opponent. Once you think you can do it, give yourself 30 seconds per move to do it and see how it goes! Once that is not a challenge, you have probably mastered this endgame, and can be confident of converting it if you have to play it in a rated game. And don't forget to set your opponent's the challenge of converting this endgame. Perhaps they won't know how to do it, and you'll save a half point!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

MCC Championship - A Clear Leader

An absolutely electric fourth round in the Melbourne Chess Club Championship saw a surprise player take the lead, some amazing results and some great games. The lead of the tournament was unexpectedly taken by talented junior Vishal Bhat.Vishal didn't even know whether he'd be playing in the tournament the day before it started and now, 4 weeks later, he is the only player on 4/4 after his third round victory over IM Ari Dale. It was a truly crazy game that could have gone either way, and had just about everything in it, opposite castling with a rich middle game, a wild major piece ending leading to a pawn endgame where both sides promoted, and after another exchange of queens, Vishal was left with a won king and pawn endgame.

Vishal heads the field because the board one clash between IM's James Morris and Guy West ended in a draw. James seemed to have the upper hand, if not a winning position, but Guy was able to create a perpetual. They are joined on 3.5/4 by another IM, Mirko Rujevic. I don't know which of these illustrious players Vishal will be playing next round, but it will definitely be one of them.

I'm in the group of players on 3/4 after a tough and not altogether convincing win against Tristan Krstevski. While I was struggling to prove any sort of advantage in my game, I saw the neighbouring boards making things look easier. FM Jack Puccini got a dream black Sicilian position against Anthony Hain, while Malcolm Pyke played a beautiful strategic Benko/Blumenfeld/Benoni (sorry I don't know enough about these things to differentiate) type thing against Anandaram Jothibabu. Beisdes Jack, Malcolm and myself, Thai Ly and Marcus Raine are also on 3/4 after they played quite an eventful Scotch. Thai won a pawn, and when I looked I thought Thai would convert. But evidently not, and Marcus held on for the draw. One final player is on 3/4. David Cannon lost a piece on move 7 against Tom Kalisch, but Tom couldn't find a way through. The game was the last to finish on the night with, quite remarkably, David the winner.

There's too much for one quick blog post to show, but I have both the top board games, and they're both worth seeing. This 150th Championship is starting to throw up some very exciting chess.

Friday, February 19, 2016

MCC Ch Round 3

The third round of the Championship began with a group photo. The competitors, or at least those that were present, squeezed into the back room of the Melbourne Chess Club and posed for a group photo to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the club.

MCC Championship group photo (Simon Dale MCC facebook page)

I guess in 100 years time, the members of the MCC will look at this photo on the walls of the club, and smile at the way people dressed or the lack of beards and moustaches in the early 2010's!

After the group photo, the action got underway. The early part of the game looked as if the seeds on the top 4 boards were not going to have it their own way. I seemed to have a comfortable position against James Morris on 1, David Cannon looked to have Guy West on the ropes on 2, Vishal Bhat had a great looking position against Jack Puccini on 3, while Thai Ly had created a mess against Mirko Rujevic on 4, which appeared to be a winning mess. However, as is often the case, the stronger players don't lie down and get taken out without a fight, and only one of the top 4 boards saw the seed go down. Vishal Bhat continued his excellent form with a victory against Jack Puccini, while Thai Ly took a draw against Mirko, not a bad result, but maybe Thai in retrospect could have fought for more. David Cannon and myself both ended up losing to our worthy ex champion opposition.

So James, Guy and Vishal now sit on top of the tree with 3/3 with Thai and Mirko on 2.5 joined by Ari Dale, Marcus Raine and James Watson. There is then a big group on 2/3 led by Jack Puccini. It was good to Bob Krstic join the tournament. Bob was the 2001 Club Champion, and has represented Australia at the World Seniors over the past few years. You can see him in the photo above sitting by the left hand corner of the chess table.

The fourth round brings throws up some very interesting pairings at the top. Morris-West is the top game, and will be one of the top games of the tournament. But then giant killers Bhat and Watson take on Dale and Rujevic respectively. Raine-Ly and Hain-Puccini should also be exciting games, so it is a round worth waiting for.

So far in this Championship, Thai Ly is coming up with the most exciting games of the rounds. In the third round he had the tough ask of facing IM Mirko Rujevic, who has been having a fairly good run of late. Mirko is an unbelievably resourceful player, but he can get into some tricky situations. Like in the following position, which came from an Italian where white sacrificed his d-pawn early on.

Thai was white, and if you believe analysis engines, he is winning, but it is very double edged. Stockfish favourite move here is g3 protecting the h4 knight, but who wants to open their king any more than needed. So Thai forced a draw with 19.Qd8+ where Mirko has to take 19..Rxd8 and white would take a perpetual with 20.Rxd8+ Kg7 21.Ne8+.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

MCC Championship Round 2

The best thing about the start of round 2 of the 2016 Melbourne Chess Club Championship last night, was the participation of IM Guy West. As well as being a former Australian Champion, Guy has won the Melbourne Chess Club Championship on multiple occasions. I'm not going to try to work out how many, but 11 or 12 is about the number of times he has won the title. So it was fitting to have him playing in this historic Championship in the 150th year of the club.

Playing on board 3, Guy had a bit of a scary game against Anthony Hain who sacrificed a piece for an attack. Guy defended accurately and won to go to 2/2. The player from the top seeds who didn't make it to 2/2 was second seed IM Ari Dale who was held to a draw by another talented junior, Bobby Yu. The 2 other IM's, James Morris and Mirko Rujevic joined Guy West on 2/2, along with 5 other players. Of course, with this being a 9 round tournament, a lot can happen and a slip up early on can be made up for later.

The second round saw some great play, with a wild King's Gambit of Fratzeskos-Ly probably being my choice of game of the night. James Watson proved yet again that his 1777 (1663 ACF) rating is grossly inaccurate with a draw against Marcus Raine. There were upset wins for Jodie Middleton, Joshua Culbert and Alex Jones while Adam Lovegrove's draw with Axel Ahmer was a great result.

My game was a long hard slog, but the end of it was very pleasing for me. In fact, I'm even tempted to enter it for the brilliancy prize, as it is probably the best ending I've played. By the way, congratulations to Justin Penrose for winning the MCC brilliancy prize of the year for 2015 which was announced before the start of the second round. I'd never had to play my opponent, Anandaram Jothibabu before, but he played a tough game in a sporting manner. The position of interest for me was in this endgame:

Playing white, I had won a pawn but the position has opposite bishops and there is no easy way to progress. So I went for the breakthrough 46.d4. Taking advantage of the offside position of black's king and knight, I thought to create a passed pawn. At this point I didn't have a victory in sight, but was playing more intuitively. I felt the risk was worth it, and that the worst that could happen was the game could end a draw. 46..cxd4 forced, more or less 47.Kd3 Ng2

Now comes the second breakthrough 48.c5. As well as creating a passed pawn, this move lets my king through on the light squares. 48..dxc5 I was a little concerned about 48..Ne3, but apparently white is doing well after 49.Bf3 when white's d-pawn will become a major force. 48..d6

Anandaram now came up with the amazing 49..c4! This is an absolutely stunning defence which takes c4 away from my king, and gives black enormous counterplay based on his own passed pawns. The position becomes very random! 49.bxc4 Nf4 If Anandaram would have pushed his b-pawn straight away, I honestly don't know how the game would have finished. Both sides have 2 passed pawns and neither king can do much to help. 50. Kd2 Ne6?

Unfortunately, this move loses, and even in the couple of minutes I had left on my clock I was able to calculate, though I'll admit not to the very end! 51.Bxe6 fxe6 52.d7 Bc7 53.Nc5

Black will now lose his bishop for the white d-pawn. The question is whether he can get his pawns rolling towards the other end to cause counterplay. 53..e5 That will be 3 black passed pawns that white will have to deal with 54.Ne6 Ba5 55.d8=Q Bxd8 56.Nxd8

At this point, after a short think, I could finally see clearly a way to win which is rather fortunate seeing black might be a tempo or 2 away from winning himself here. 56..e4 57.Nc6 Kxg5 58.Nxd4 Kf4 59.Ke2 The plan was to block the e-pawn with the king, put the knight on b3 to block black's b-pawn, while supporting white's pawn which will sit on c5. Black can do nothing to stop this. 59..e3 60.Nb3 Ke4 61.c5

Black is clearly lost now, he must abandon his e-pawn to prevent white's pawn from promoting and then can merely sit and wait for white's forces to take his other pawn and then aid to promote the final white c-pawn.

Brilliant? Maybe not, but it was creative, intuitive, and technically sound, and a joy to play as my opponent found some remarkable defensive ideas. Here's the endgame in a viewer with some notes. I haven't fully analysed it yet, as I haven't had time and would value any feedback of ideas for either side.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

MCC Championship 2016

After the Melbourne Chess Club hosted the Australian Championships in January, it was expected that the MCC Championship, in its 150th year, would see a strong and big field. The MCC committee were hoping to attract as many past champions as possible, and had generated some appearance fees for those players.So it was with great anticipation that the tournament room was set up. Should we expect 50 players? Or 60 players? Maybe there might even be more?

In the end the field turned out to be a somewhat normal number, and the strength is not particularly stronger than in years gone by. Top of the field is IM James Morris, last year's winner. We had also thought that GM Darryl Johansen and IM Guy West, both multiple winners of the Championship would be playing. However, Darryl let us know of his inability to participate and Guy said he couldn't make the first round, and wasn't 100% sure whether he was playing. So second seed for the event was IM Ari Dale with IM Mirko Rujevic third. All told, the event is pretty strong for a club event, but there was still some disappointment that these ex champions weren't playing.

The size of the field finally settled in the mid 40's, again a little disappointing. I think that 50+ was expected seeing that last year, the field was in the high 40's. Saying that, there is still time for people to enter, and it may be that some players couldn't enter the first round and didn't get in touch. The club is accepting entries through till round 3, so the figure may very well rise towards 50.

As is often the case in the first round of a swiss, the first round saw a big rating gap with most pairings having a 300+ difference between the players. That didn't stop upset results from happening though. The biggest scalp of the night was claimed by Anthony Harris who beat ex champion Malcolm Pyke. The other wins against the ratings were for James Watson and Robert Frantzeskos, though James proved at the Australian Reserves that he is probably under rated, and Robert is coming back to chess and unrated is misleading.

There has already been a submission for the brilliancy prize from none other than FM Jack Puccini. As nice as Jack's play was, I'm sure his dynamic style will bring even more brilliant efforts from him. Here's his win against Jim Papadinis, the first brilliancy prize submission.