Saturday, May 28, 2016

Saturday Chess

Today was a miserable day for me. First, I've been feeling pretty ill, and have had to drop out of the Monday night game at the Melbourne Chess Club this week. I've tried hard to keep playing, but last week, I developed a splitting headache through the game, and was completely washed out from just playing. As much as I love playing chess, when it is affecting my health, I'm not particularly happy doing it. Anyway, I've been to see my doctor, had some tests done and will get the results back this week, and will then see how I feel about continuing on Monday nights from next week.

Saying that, I've continued to work, even though the doctor has told me that I should rest and take time off. Thankfully my wife doesn't read my chess posts, or she'd be telling me off about this issue! Today, I had a relatively easy job of talking to strangers and playing all comers simultaneously in the CBD of Melbourne. I say relatively easy, though that wasn't strictly true. I was set up in an under cover outdoor corridor, which was cold and a bit damp. So while talking to people about chess is something that I can easily do, and playing simultaneously against people who don't regularly play chess is not a big challenge either, the weather conditions didn't do me any good today, and I felt pretty bad at times.

While I had some boards set up to play people, I set up a few positions to talk to people about. My work was part of The Festival of Steve in the CBD partly sponsored by ACMI, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image. So I decided that a position or 2 from films would be a good talking point, and in fact it was. I ended up speaking more about James Bond than I spent playing chess! Yes, probably the most famous position from the movies was the Spassky-Bronstein inspired position from the Bond movie, From Russia With Love.

Imagine that there are no white pawns in the centre of the board and you have the position that featured in the bond film. The game was an amazing slugfest, well worth a look if you haven't seen it before.

I also like to show queen sacrifices, so I had one lined up from the book 200 Miniature Games of Chess by Julius du Mont. Du Mont was a concert pianist, but an average chess player, but he was an avid organiser and writer. He worked tirelessly for the British Chess federation and British Chess Magazine between the first and second world wars, and is probably best known in chess circles for his collaboration with Tartakower on the excellent 500 Master Games of Chess. In our digital age of information overload, these books might seem a bit odd, but compilations were great mines of information in the pre digital age, and I remember learning much from this volume when I worked through it.

This position was from the game Horwitz-Bledow, 2 of the stars of the German Pleiades group who really paved the way for the dominance of German chess in the second half of the nineteenth century. Bledow is one of the under rated players in chess history, and there is reason to believe that he was in the running for being considered the world's best in the 1840's. Anyway, the position above sees the cute 1..Nxe4! 2.Bxe7 Bxf2+ 3.Kg1 Ng3#

And finally a position to stump chess players, but which was the most interesting to most of those I spoke to.

This is the position that IM Jeremy Silman created for the film Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Harry is a black bishop on a3 that will give mate, while Ron Weasley is the g5 knight, and Hermione Granger the rook on f8. As black threatens Nh3 mate, Silman had white play 1.Qxd3, when he fashioned the finish 1..Rc3 2.Qxc3 Nh3+ 3.Qxh3 (oops, that's Ron Weasley out the game), 3..Bc5+ 4.Qe3 Bxc3# with Harry winning the game and getting revenge on the white queen. Much of this didn't actually get to the screen as the director's chose only to play a couple of moves, but the story behind it is quite interesting.

Other than the weather it was an enjoyable few hours talking to people about chess and spreading the word! But when I get back I look at the big, wide world of chess and see the field for the London Classic in December with no English player in it. It is an unbelievably good field of players, but it is very disappointing to see a tournament in England with no English elite players competing. There are other events in the festival, but with a bunch of 2650+ GM's and Adams still knocking around 2730, I would have expected London to offer a place to a home representative.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Invisible Illnesses

So I'm sitting at home feeling completely wiped out. My head has been aching on and off for the past week, my legs feel as if they are going to collapse beneath me, my balance isn't so good, and I've had a build up of mucus over the past fortnight which hasn't dissipated, and is making me feel mildly nauseous from time to time. This has caused me to not feel like eating, and I've subsequently lost some weight and am feeling perpetually cold, which probably adds to my general feeling of tiredness.

To look at me, you wouldn't think there's anything wrong. And I'm ok to continue to work as it's not too physical. But I've been feeling ill for about 2 months and it's beginning to get me down. I went to the doctor about 2 months ago, with a hacking cough and was told that I had a post viral infection that could linger about 4-6 weeks, but otherwise I was fine. I think I'm going to have to go back to the doctor for a further check up.

But while I'm sitting here wallowing in my own situation, it makes me think of the vast number of people with invisible illnesses who suffer on an ongoing basis. Mental illnesses are an obvious example, but there are physical illnesses which have no tell tale signs of their existence, such as diabetes or epilepsy. Sufferers of chronic illnesses such as M.E or fibromyalgia will often show no sign of their condition, while breathing and circulatory diseases may also show nothing symptomatic to the rest of us, unless we catch the sufferer at a bad time. There is a surprisingly long list of illnesses that fall into the category of invisible types.

The term Invisible Illness was only coined in 2000 in a book called "Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired" by Donoghue and Siegel. Although chronic syndromes were known well known before then, acceptance of these conditions by the wider public has often been poor. It's hard to convince someone that you feel pain, can't concentrate, are too tired to do things, or just can't bear the heat or the light, if they can't see anything wrong with you. The public clamours for evidence, a cast for a broken bone, aids for movement such as walking sticks or buggies, or physical signs of treatment, such as shaved heads, or scars. Think about when you've seen someone with a disabled sticker in their car, park and then get out and walk as if normally. Is there ever a question in your mind as to whether they should have that sticker? People with invisible illness suffer from these types of stigma.

A shocking figure that I recently discovered was that nearly 1 in 2 adults in America suffer from a chronic medical condition, and over 95% of people with a chronic medical disorder suffer from an invisible illness. So that's a lot of people suffering without us seeing any outward evidence of this. There are also going to be some people not admitting to suffering from an illness that they can't see, such as depression, or chronic fatigue. In a survey in Australia in 2012, 83% of people with a long term health condition felt their general health was good, very good or excellent. We must be a hardy bunch!

There is growing awareness of invisible illnesses. The Victorian Government have pledged funds to the mental health sector after the next election, while opposition leader Bill Shorten recently stated that the health of the nation was Labour's priority. But of course the greatest advocates are those who are sufferers, or carers of sufferers themselves. While each illness has it's own forum and support group network, an excellent umbrella site is Invisible Illness Awareness Week and their Facebook page. My own short experience of suffering with an illness with no apparent symptoms, of feeling tired for no apparent reason, has given me greater empathy for those who have to endure their suffering for the rest of their lives. It affects a person not only physically, but psychologically in the form of morbidity and depression, as well as a lack of confidence, and often a yearning for reclusiveness or rather a desire to withdraw from social engagements.

If you have a friend/family member with an invisible illness, or a very visible illness, then the best thing to do is to find out what they want and help them to achieve it, to be there when they need you and to be sensitive when they want space. Remember, they are suffering, not you, and sometimes they will want to vent anger, frustration, sorrow and self pity, alone or with someone, or just say "Fuck it" let's go do something. Being the person that is there to be shouted at, cried on, moaned at is only one half of the coin. You will also be the person bringing joy, laughter, and life to that friend of yours who is suffering. And most importantly, just because you can't see someone's symptoms doesn't mean they are not there. Showing understanding, accepting what someone says is the truth, that they are too tired to get up, or that they are in too much pain to get dressed for example, is maybe all that a person with an invisible illness wants. Someone to believe in them, and still value them, for the person they are.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Study - Answer

A couple of days ago I posted a study by Bron that I found quite cute.

It was white to play and draw, and the theme of the puzzle is about trading bishops to leave black with 2 knights, insufficient mating material to force checkmate.

1.Bc8+ Kg3 2.Be6 A fork, forcing one of the knights to move, but they can both give check which allows a defence.

2..Nb4+ [2..Ne7 will fail to 3.Kd7 when there are no more useful checks, so one of the knights must fall] 3.Kc5 Na6+

Now that the a6 knight is protected, the other knight can be moved. So white gains time by attacking black's bishop, which must then move to a poor square. 4.Kd4 Bh7

At least both knights are now safe! However, the poor placement of black's bishop allows white to trade it now. 5.Bc4! gaining time by attacking black's unguarded knight on a6 5..Nb4 and the knight responds by protecting the d3 square which is where white's bishop wants to go.

And finally, white succeeds with the plan, by playing 6.Kc3! attacking the knight, but simultaneously eyeing the d3 square. 6..Nc6 The only safe square.

7.Bd3 now forces the trade of bishops, as black's bishop has nowhere to run, leaving the game with 2 knights vs a lone king, a draw.

While this might not seem that difficult, there is something of a beauty to the way it was composed, with white's bishop and king both able to gain time every move to improve their positions while black's bishop proved useful to start with in aiding the knight on the queen side, but ended up being the weak link in black's position.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Whinging Poms

I'm living in Melbourne, Australia, with my beautiful wife, and loving the time I'm having here. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else, have been an Australian citizen since 2007, and intend to grow old here and die here. I'm as happy with my life as I could be, and more content than I was living in England. Saying that, not all is perfect in paradise, though to say such can land you in hot water!

We have an election coming up here in Australia, and a friend posted a thread on Facebook about the merits of the various major parties, and which should be voted for. My wife had the temerity to suggest that it doesn't really matter which party is voted for, neither are good and in the bigger scheme of things it hardly matters nationally or internationally who takes charge as policy won't change significantly, and our economy and foreign policy is hardly determined by ourselves, but more to be in line with our superpower trading partners. It was said it a flippant way (we are talking Facebook here), but the crux of the argument is pretty well founded. Not really that surprising seeing my wife has an BA (Hons) in political and social science.

But her criticism of the 2 party system (yes, I know we are nominally a PR system, but lets get real about what is actually happening here!) was greeted by harsh words, and even the typical call for her "to go back to where she came from if you don't like it here, you whinging pom" comments. It's bizarre! In England, before we moved to Australia, we moved to a village and always felt like outsiders and not a part of the community, and it was really the same sort of attitude that came across here. The lack of belonging was one of the driving forces that made us emigrate to Australia, or rather to emigrate away from the UK. To be honest, we haven't really experienced that sort of thing before, so it was a bit of a surprise, especially seeing anyone that knows Caroline, especially on Facebook, knows how much she loves the country and city she lives in.

But just to get things straight, the Liberal and Labour parties in Australia both have a lot to answer for, to my mind. At the moment, the 2 party rivalry in Australia resembles the situation in the UK in the 1990's where 2 centrist parties stood against each other and it was difficult to choose between the 2. I admittedly wouldn't have voted Conservative on principal, but I had no love for Blairite New Labour either. Well, things are similar here now. It's embarrassing to think that as a nation we voted in Tony Abbott at the last General Election. Anyone laughing at the US election campaign and finding Donald Trump an embarrassment shouldn't be pointing too hard yet. I mean, he's a bigot, and racist and supports extreme immigration protectionist policy, like our good old Tony. But the American's haven't voted him in yet, not like we did! In fact, his own Liberal party found Tony so embarrassing that they axed him and we now have the classic situation of having a leader of the country who wasn't elected as such. I wonder how many rednecks are happy to see their Tony replaced by a double speaking lawyer? And much like the situation in the UK, we see an opposition leader, Bill Shorten, with no personality (possibly rivalling John Major in that respect), and no real strong opposition to the incumbent party.

Anyway, after being told she was a whinging pom, the thread became a bit of breast thumping mantra of 'politicians may be crap , in fact are crap, but Australia is the best country in the World!' I wouldn't disagree with this. For me, it is as good as it gets. But then again, I'm white, English is my first language, I'm male, I'm heterosexual, I'm healthy, and I have an income. To be honest, I'm not sure which of these I'm most glad about, because being non-white, or female, or homo/bisexual, being ill or poor would leave me in a very bad spot. I'm not necessarily saying that these things would be better in other Western Democracies, or other countries, but that doesn't make it right here. I'm particularly concerned about the situation for asylum seekers in offshore detention centres. The United Nations Refugees Agency (UNHCR) has criticised our refugee policy as being "return-orientated" and others have called the centres "a chain of Human Rights violations". Read this report from Human Right's Watch, to see how proud we should be of our country's record on preserving Human Rights recently. Neither of our 2 main parties have said they would close offshore detention centres, so as I see it, the Labour party are as bad as the Liberals here.

Of course, if the politicians are crap, and their parties, and we accept that although Australia is a good place to live, it does have problems, then there is always the final platitude. At least we're in a country where we're free to express our complaints without violent recourse. Well, yes, I guess we aren't in a dictatorship, or a militarily run junta. We can say what we want about things without getting thrown in prison, or disappearing mysteriously. And that has to be a good thing. Except when freedom of expression isn't allowed, like for instance in the case of doctor's who go to the offshore detention centres to treat patients, and then aren't allowed to say about anything they did or saw. Strange really. I mean what has a doctor got to hide? Shouldn't we know if children are suffering because they are being detained? Shouldn't we know if sexual abuse, or physical abuse is happening in these places, if traumatic episodes are causing mental instability with self harm or suicidal tendencies being displayed? If overcrowding and/or malnourishment are causing illnesses? I guess not. Why should I care, I'm a happy, healthy, White, middle class Anglo-hetero male living in the best country in the World where if I want to criticise things I can.

But then again, I don't think I will criticise things or I'll just get called a whinging pom, and to fuck off back to where I come from if I don't like the way things are here.

Thursday, May 19, 2016


I was flicking through an old British Chess Magazine today (like you do!) and saw a very nice study. I'll post it here, and post the answer over the weekend :)

It's white to play and draw, created by Ukrainian GM of Problem Composition, Vladimir Bron in 1958, and I saw it in the February 1982 BCM!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

What was the Greatest Endgame?

Imagine you're playing in a tournament with the World Champion, and all the best players in the world, and if you win your final round game, then you win the tournament. That was the situation that faced a young American player called Harry Pillsbury in the last round of one of the most famous tournaments of all time, Hastings 1895. Looking back in hindsight it is easy to say that Pillsbury was in fact a great player, but before the tournament started in August 1895, Pillsbury was considered an outsider, given little chance of success. A poor start in the tournament against Chigorin probably didn't help him gain favour among the pundits, though his defence was praised, even though he did lose the game. But then a win against Tarrasch brought him to the attention of the chess world. His victory over Tarrasch wasn't 100% convincing and followed by a draw with one of the outsiders, Georg Marco still would have led nobody to believe that he was a chance for tournament victory. But then a run of 9 wins, including a victory against Steinitz, catapulted him into the leading group which he didn't leave.

In the final round, Pillsbury was half a point ahead of Chigorin, and a point ahead of Lasker. Unfortunately for Pillsbury, the pressure mounted as both of these won quickly in the last round, and he was facing a level position against an ex-World Champion contender, Isidor Gunsberg.

The question is, how as white would you go ahead winning this position to take clear first in your first elite chess tournament. Look and watch, at one of the greatest endgame's ever played, not only because of the quality of white's play, but because of the pressure of the tournament situation.

23.Bc5 a6 [23..a5 would have been better, but things still don't look bad for black] 24.b4 [This space gainer builds pressure, but black should still be ok] 24..f6 25.g4 Bxc5 [This trade giving white a passed pawn is dangerous, but still ok] 26.bxc5

The passed c-pawn looks a bit scary, but does black really have anything to worry about? At this point Pillsbury got the break he needed with a blunder from Gunsberg, an understandable blunder, but a blunder nevertheless. One of the main ideas of the endgame is to stay active, whether it be the king, pieces, or advancing pawns. Gunsberg decided to prevent the advance of white's c-pawn with 26..Nb8?

Again, this looks innocuous enough, but from here on, white plays the endgame masterfully. 27.f5! An excellent breakthrough in the centre of the board, probably not what black was expecting. 27..g5 [Taking is not an option, as analysis has shown] 28.Nb4 a5

So white's knight has to retreat, right? 29.c6! [White's knight stays on b4 where it can't be taken or the c-pawn promotes] 29..Kd6 30.fxe6! [Again, leaving his knight en prise as if black captures the minor piece, white will promote]

Although white has 2 passed pawns, they look to be easily dealt with. 30..Nxc6 31.Nxc6 Kxc6 and now the king can just run back and catch white's e-pawn.

32.e4!! This is the move that Pillsbury must have seen way back when playing 28.Nb4, and he had to judge that the position was winning for him, no mean feat back in the days when endgames were a mystery to most players. 32..dxe4 33.d5+

Now that white's e-pawn is protected it just remains for the king to round up black's dangerous queen side, which he managed without problem, black resigning just 7 moves later.

An immortal endgame played under the most intense pressure, by one of the greats of the game, Harry Pillsbury! Here's the endgame with a few extra notes, well worth playing through again, and again. I've been using it recently to show kids the importance of making passed pawns, and of the importance of thinking about promoting pawns in the endgame.

City of Melbourne Open - No Draws

I always thought as a swiss system event moved through the rounds, so the games become more even. But there wasn't one draw in the fifth round last night. The tournament started with an announcement for the winner of the Brilliancy Prize for the last event, the ANZAC Day Weekend tournament. This was won by Justin Penrose who had already won a Brilliant Game Prize earlier this year, for the best game played in 2015 at an MCC event.

The tournament then got underway and to my mind, it looked competitive on nearly every board, so I was most surprised to see no draws. Hobson's Bay players Tony Davis and Dean Hogg suffered losses to slightly lower rated opposition in the shape of Ray Yang and Peter Fry respectively, but these were really minor upsets. Richard Voon and Simon Dale also won against the rating, with Simon's result probably being the best of the night, Bryan Shanks being quite strong although a bit unpredictable.

Again, I didn't see much of the action as I found keeping focus on my own game was hard enough. I did notice one thing around me though. Lower rated players were succumbing to playing bad moves without seeming to put in an effort to find a challenging alternative. This is something that I've noticed in many of my students. They seem to believe that they have no chance against some players, so they turn up, but don't really make an effort and lose almost without putting up a fight. In my opinion, players are only going to progress if they ignore the opponent and their rating and put 100% into every move of every game. Be hurt by losses, even to much higher rated players, and drive yourself to come back next time and play better. Work hard at all the games you play, but especially your losses. It's a basic discipline, but one that will pay dividends over time. Don't let your higher rated opponents push you around on the board.

And talking of high rated players, the City of Melbourne Open now has a single leader. FM Greg Canfell, newly arrived from NSW, is the only player on 4/4 after a win against David Cannon. It is great news for strong juniors like David that the MCC has another strong titled player regularly participating, as that will give them the chance to practice and improve their skills at club level against quality opposition. It may also encourage other strong players to join events. The other FM in the tournament, Domagoj Dragicevic, also won and is on 3.5. The clash of the tournament is therefore set up for the next round as these two strong players will meet. The other players with Domagoj on 3.5 are juniors Vishal Bhat and Ray Yang and ex club champion, Malcolm Pyke. The field is definitely thinning out with only 6 players on 3/4 headed by David Cannon. There are 2 new players to the club on 3/4, Francesco Facchin and Nethaji Rathalinganham both of whom are fairly unknown quantities to us at the MCC, but obviously talented individuals. Earlier in the tournament I noticed Nethaji playing a very nice game against Tom Kalisch, while this round I saw Francesco play an equally nice game against the fast improving Anthony Harris.

It will be the 5th round next, so we will be over half way in the tournament, and anyone with hopes of a high finish who is not within a point of the lead will have to start winning games, myself included! And looking at the draw for the next round, there seem to be a number of closely matched contests across the boards. But if this round is anything to go by, that will be no guarantee of equal encounters leading to draws! The tournament has been unbelievably hard fought, with only 9 draws in the first 4 rounds.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

City of Melbourne Open round 3

Another quick report today, as I'm still feeling under the weather. The City of Melbourne Open at the MCC saw the third round last night, and is beginning to set into a routine. It was generally a day that went with the ratings. Only 2 players remain on a perfect 3/3, top seed FM Greg Canfell and talented Victorian Junior, David Cannon. The other games on the top boards finished as draws, with the black players in both games being higher rated, but being held to half points. So Malcolm Pyke, Thai Ly, Mehmedalija Dizdarevic and Ray Yang all finish half a point off the lead, and are joined by the winners from the group below, FM Domagoj Dragicevic, Vishal Bhat and Justin Penrose on 2.5.

There is plenty of talent spread throughout the field, and anyone who makes a reasonable run of wins will find themselves near the top soon enough. For instance, on 2/3 are Hobson's Bay visitors Dean Hogg and Tony Davis, both capable of beating anyone on their day, while I am sitting on 1.5/3 after a not so convincing win last night.

There are a lot of new players to the club, and infrequent visitors who have shown up to play in the City of Melbourne Open. My opponent from last night, Shilong Wang, is a student in Melbourne from China. He was a nice kid with sharp tactical ability but not much practical over the board experience. There are 7 unrated players, and another 8 players below 1600, and then there are a growing number of under rated juniors who have sharp minds ready to pounce on any mistake that their elders might commit. There are close to 10 young players when about 5 years ago you'd have been lucky to see any juniors. While there are only 5 female players playing, that's still a big improvement on the days when there were none coming to the MCC, so as a representative tournament this has everything, old, young, strong, inexperienced, male, female etc.

Next week I'll try to get some interesting positions together. I'm hoping to be feeling better by then!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

City of Melbourne Open 2016

I have really struggled with anything other than what I absolutely have to do this last month. I went to see a doctor about the start of April who told me I had a post viral infection which would knock me out for 4-6 weeks. Since then I have been incredibly tired by the most basic activities, had to have some time off work, and this blog, among other things, has had to be put aside. I'll try to catch up a bit as my energy returns (I thought I was on the road to recovery yesterday, but have been totally wiped out today) and in the meantime, I'll post what I can.

The second Monday night event of the year at the Melbourne Chess Club is the City of Melbourne Open, which I am the defending champion! The most amazing thing about this event is the huge field that has been attracted to the event. Usually, the City of Melbourne Open is a poor relative of the Club Championship, but the addition of FM's Greg Canfell (who has apparently moved to Melbourne and will be a regular feature of the club), and Domagoj Dragicevic has made the tournament strong at the top, while a big turnout of over 50 players, about 10 more than the Championship, was a bit of a surprise.

I had to miss the first round, taking a bye as I was still pretty ill and the upsets started straight away. Natalie Bartnik held David Lacey to a draw while the biggest upset of the day saw Adrian Cho beat veteran Richard Voon. The top seeds all came through unscathed. There are 6 players above 2000 rating, Canfell, Dragicevic, Gorka, Pyke, Cannon and Hogg and Dean Hogg and I were the only ones to drop a points to a bye.

Round 2 was even more dramatic. I was the biggest loser, as young Tristan Krstevski played an excellent game against me. I'm obviously not happy to lose games, but I am happy to see the young talent of the MCC climb the rungs of the ladder, even at my expense! Paul Kovacevic also scored against a 2000+ player, holding FM Domagoj Dragicevic to a draw. However, with Canfell, Pyke and Cannon all winning there is still plenty of talent at the top. Joining the 3 2000+ players are 5 others on a maximun 2/2: Thai Ly, Eamonn O'Molloy, Mehmedalija Dizdarevic, Ray yang and Nethaji Rathinalingham. This last player is an unknown quantity, but I was sitting next to him play a very solid win against Tom Kalisch in round 2, so I think he might be a talented player. Domagoj heads the group of players on 1.5 which includes young guns Tristan Krstevski and Vishal Bhat. The second round saw few other upsets, although amusingly, the Shanks brothers, Bryan and Jack, drew with high rated opposition from Hobson's Bay Chess Club, Tony Davis and Dean Hogg. So Dean is the highest rated player on 1/2 while I lead the group at the rear on half a point.

Of course, there is a lot to play for and no one is out of it yet, but Greg Canfell will certainly be the man to beat!