Monday, August 28, 2017

MCC Open

I am sitting in the MCC as the roll call of the MCC Open tournament is happening. Unfortunately I can't play because I'll be in England for 3 or 4 weeks of the competition, but while I can, I will blog about the event. A field of 41 players have entered so far with Thai Ly the top seed. I t is a very open field and I'm sure there are quite a few players who feel they have a chance of doing well.

L-R Thai Ly, Simon Dale (Chief Arbiter), Elizabeth Warren (MCC President)

A well attended playing venue for the current Monday night event, the MCC Open

8.00 Update

The tournament started fashionably late at about 7.30 so we've had about half an hour of play and there are already some interesting positions on the board.

Any ideas what the result of this one will be? This is from James Watson-Ben Frayle, and it the type of position I'd hate to be in for either side! Meanwhile, we have Tom Kalisch having to defend against the Morra Gambit of young Sophie Chang. Board 1 sees Thai Ly having to play against Alex Jones, so it is a very competitive first round already, and I'd be surprised if all the games went the way of rating tonight. Perhaps the most interesting pairing is the junior battle between Gavyn Sanusi Goh and Daniel Gusain, both vastly improving players.

8.30 Update

Still no winner yet which is good for a first round. Time to catch up on some returning players. It is good to see MCC stalwarts Felix Wyss and John Beckman returning after periods of absence. Scott Stewart is also playing again, and walking around shaking his head, murmuring "Rusty....rusty". Well Scott, the good news is that the rust wears off pretty quickly, and his opponent, John Beckman, hasn't played much in the last 6 months either!

Perhaps the most pleasing returner is Sally Yu who finds the Monday night at MCC the most convenient for her. Hopefully, she will make a full return and fight for the women's Olympiad spot that she previously held. Sally is the second seed here at the MCC Open.

John Beckman returns to the MCC after 6 months off

Sally Yu makes a welcome return to the game
On the boards, the biggest upset is Tom Kalisch who appears to be an exchange down to Sophie Chang! Sally Yu is showing signs of rustiness. She is half an hour down on the clock. Thai Ly is black against an IQP type position which looks promising for white to me, though I've recently been looking at dynamics in chess so I guess it would appeal! But the big news is a piece sacrifice by Jim Papadinis (usually a safe stodger!) against young Jacob Day. Is it good enough?

White to play. Papadinis-Day

9.00 Update

The MCC is trying to secure its FIDE rated future with new arbiters. Congratulations to Giles Lean and Hans Gao for becoming National Arbiters so that FIDE rated chess will be able to continue at the MCC. This is something I'd like to do as well, but unfortunately the last course clashed with the Victorian Championship which I was playing in.

Newly minted arbiter, Hans Gao who is assistant for the MCC Open
There still isn't a winner, but a few are close. Sarah Anton is a piece ahead of young Emma Chang. Jim Papadinis is now an exchange up against Jacob Day, while James Watson is a piece up against Ben Frayle but with his king still in the centre. One of the returners, Felix Wyss, has a tough challenge against an in-form David Lacey. David played excellently in the recently finished Malitis Memorial finishing equal first with me, but he was really the pyrrhic victor of the event and should be carrying some confidence into this tournament.

No endgames yet :(

9.30 Update

Thai Ly has sunk into deep thought against Alex Jones. Thai took a piece, but his queen has become a little open and his position is looking difficult.

Thai Ly as black taking a long time over this move.

I take back that Jim Papdinis is an exchange up, he is a rook and pawn for 2 pieces. Oliver Li is an amazing talent. I am thankful that I have avoided him in the draw throughout the year, especially after he drew with FM Greg Canfell in the MCC Championship back in February. Oliver is a piece up and looking uninterested like a GM rather than a 10 year old!

We have the first winner of the night. James Watson won a crazy game against Ben Frayle. The diagram position from earlier is well worth looking at, it has loads of possibilities.

10.00 Update

Tonight, this is the last update, as I feel crap and need to sleep! Tom Kalisch now has 2 pawns for the exchange against Sophie Chang and the game is in the balance. A big upset is on the cards though as Richard Snow has a rook and 3 pawns against Richard Voon's knight and 5 pawns. I think the rook is in very good shape, but we'll see how both players finish this off.

Can Richard Snow as white cause an upset?
 The slowest players in the hall? Sally Yu is down to 17 minutes, while Gavyn Sanusi Goh has only 13 minutes left. There opponent's are about an hour left on the clock!

No upsets yet, but I have my hopes :)

Next week I'll be here to the end....unless I'm still sick! Hopefully a few more players enter the event. It would be good to get the numbers up toward 50.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Those Annoying Time Zones

The worst thing about living in Australia is the time zone differences with Europe and America where many important events happen. I'm not going to stay up into the middle of the night to watch Federer win Wimbledon, or Usain Bolt run the 100 metres in the World Championship. I can see the replays the next day, but it just isn't the same. Similarly with chess, I generally play catch up with events the day after they happen, which isn't bad in terms of keeping up to date, but it still isn't the same as watching some live chess.

While this is usually the case, I have been rather fortunate with the Sinquefield Cup. While I can't see the start of the games, I am able to catch the end of the games when I wake up in the mornings. For me this is far more preferable than catching a few opening moves before having to leave the games as they start to get interesting. So far, I've eagerly followed 3 endgames from the event. The amazing finish to Aronian-Caruana in round 2 had me spellbound. Anand's defence against Carlsen in the following round had me thinking abut my own technique. And then this morning, I wake to find the game Vachier Lagrave-Carlsen in full swing when Carlsen blunders to give MVL a winning endgame.

During the endgame this morning I had one of those moments where you realise that your understanding of the game is just not on a level with other players.

Now in my primitive way of thinking, black is 2 pawns up though white could win the f-pawn. However, winning the f-pawn involves trading bishop for knight which would leave a lost pawn ending where black just forsakes the h-pawn and marches the king to the queen side. So, this is an easy win and there doesn't seem much that white can do? Isn't it just time to resign?

Magnus continued with 63.b4. I was sitting at my computer watching the game, thinking a trade on b4 would probably be ok, or just advance the king to g5. If black's king can get to g3, it's game over. However, neither of these "obvious" moves would have been good enough to force a win. The only move here which leads to victory is the far from obvious 63..c4 and amazingly, that is what MVL played! Would I have played this move, or even thought of it as an option? Probably not. But a deeper look at the position makes it clear why my candidate moves aren't good enough.

63..cxb4 64.cxb4 Kg5 65.Kf2 [blockading the pawn and the g3 sqaure for black's king] 65..Kf4 reaching the following position

So the question is, how does black progress? At least one of black's pieces needs to protect the f-pawn which means only one of them can try to win white's b-pawn. But that won't happen because white's bishop will sit on c6 and eventually the b-pawn will advance to b5. Even worse, from c6 the bishop can go to e8 and win white's h-pawn!

63..Kg5 64.bxc5 bxc5 65.Bd5 Kg4 66.Kf2 Kf4

Very similar to the last position, black can make no progress. In fact, with white to move there is already a repetition likely by 67.Bf7 Kg5 68.Bd5,

So this all goes with the need for strong calculation at all phases of the game. If it is possible to see that these 2 moves lead nowhere, then the next thing to do is look for other moves. MVL's 63..c4 just loses that pawn, putting on the same colour sqaure as controlled by white's bishop. But in winning the pawn, white gives black time to mobilise their pieces, and black's knight especially, moves from its depressing defence from the the edge of the board to an attacking piece in the centre. 64.Bd5 Kf5 65.Bxc4 Kg4 66.Kf2

So far, all seems fairly natural, but what now? Black's knight has 3 squares to move to but they all appear to lose a pawn. 66..Ng2 67.Bd5 wins the f-pawn or black's knight has to return to h4. This must be bad as white's queenside pawns will start marching. 66..Nf5 67.Be6 pinning black's knight after which white will advance the queen side pawns forcing black's king to defend which allows white to win the f-pawn with and the h-pawn. So 66..Ng6! but this also loses a pawn to 67.Be6+ Kf4 68.Bf7

Black's knight is skewered to the h-pawn and black's king has taken the f4 square from it. But amazingly this position is winning, thanks to the activity of black's pieces and the advanced passes f-pawn which is being nursed to promotion. 68..Ne5 69.Bxh5 Nd3+ 70.Kf1

What a turn around in position. White has levelled the game materially, but white's king has suffered an indignity in being pushed to the back rank. White's bishop is also somewhat askew. Meanwhile, black's king is in great shape and can infiltrate further into e3 or g3 (MVL chose g3) while black's knight has transformed itself. Carlsen resigned a few moves later when the knight further improved it's position by the maneuvre Nd3-f2-e4-d2/c3 or Nd3-f2-d1-e3/c3. White would have to part with his bishop for the f-pawn nad cannot force a trade on the queen side.

Lessons learned? First, we all need to calculate stronger in all phases of the game. Second, it is wrong to make assumptions based on general concepts such as material levels. While mostly material is of primary importance, there are times when other factors need to supplant this. I know that I am overly materialistic in my games, so seeing more examples like this and trying to adopt similar ideas when appropriate can only improve my chess.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

The Most Instructive....

I'm guessing that many chess players have been following some of the top class action in the northern hemisphere's summer season. For me, the British Championship is an interesting event to follow as I know some of the players. But like many, I've been keeping an eye on the Sinquefield Cup in America with Carlsen and a group of the world's elite. The first 3 rounds have brought about much fighting chess and a joy for those players who include 1.e4 e5 in their repertoires.

However, if we mere mortals want to improve our games and learn from the best what would be the 1 thing that we should study from this tournament so far? Well, any interesting position is good to study, and non standard types of manouvres, like Aronian's 10.Rh4 from his first round game vs Nepomniachtchi is a fun move.

Aronian-Nepomniachtchi Sinquefield 2017
In answer to black's 9..Qa5 Aronian here didn't defend his a3 bishop, or retreat it, but played 10.Rh4!? which protects the bishop due to the threat of Ra4 trapping a queen. Neat!

However, openings, tricks, fanciful ideas are to my mind beautiful to see but unlikely to bring many long term benefits to the game of an average club player. No, in my opinion, the best position to learn was Anand's defence of a rook ending a pawn down against Carlsen.

I'm sure that many people reading this blog will know that this is supposed to be a draw, but I wonder how many would be confident of holding this position with white against Magnus Carlsen? Anand did it comfortably and to be honest, white is starting with the best possible pawn structure for the defence and it is impossible for black to get his rook behind the pawn before white does. But the black a-pawn will force it's way down to a2 or a3. In fact, in just another 4 moves this position was reached.

White still just has to sit and wait for black to try something and then react, but what can black do? Advance on the king side? Bring the king to the queen side? With the pawn on a3, black's king has a hiding square on a2, but white's rook will be able to take king side pawns as black won't be threatening to promote. So the other option is to advance the pawn to a2, but what then? black's rook is as immobile as white's, and if black's king comes to the queen side, it will be subject to checks that it won't be able to escape from.

Carlsen didn't give up trying, and eventually, this position was reached with black pushing his g-pawn. So what would you play here as white? What would be your candidate moves? Perhaps hxg5, or Ra7+, or even Kf3? Let's look at trading a pair of pawns as that's what we're told we should do as defenders. After 1.hxg5 fxg5

Now what? White's king is becoming more open, and what black would like to do is have his rook on a1, pawn and a2 and swing the rook over to do a check. So imagine doing nothing like 2.Kf3 Ra1 3.Kg2 

Now the position is critical for white after 3..g4! If white shuffles the king, black's king will come to the queen side, while if white aims for more trades with 4.f4 exf3 Kxf3, then white's king becomes more exposed.

The whole endgame is a nightmare, and there are simplifications to other endgames that need to be understood as well. Anand's solution was excellent. If we go back a few moves:

Anand chose to play 60.g4! here. I have to admit, it wouldn't have been first among my candidate moves, but the resulting positions are all level.

If black captures hxg4, then white can play hxg5 fxg5 and Kg3 picking up one of the g-pawns before retreating the king back to the corner. Carlsen took the other way 60..gxh4 but after 61.gxh5, this h-pawn gives white sufficient counterplay. Look at the final position when the game was agreed drawn.

It is black to move and although he has an extra pawn, and 2 passed pawns, black has virtually no moves. Playing h3 will allow Kh2 when the only move is Kg8 but a repetition will occur after Rg7+ and the rook will fly back to a7.

While opening knowledge and tactical and imaginative flair are essential ingredients in a players arsenal, learning technique can help us save valuable half points, or like with Carlsen, squeeze out victories from unlikely positions. Remember that very often, the defence in the endgame is being carried out after 4, 5, 6 hours of intense concentration so it is important to keep trying and to keep putting pressure on opponent's. Here's the endgame with some notes by me. I strongly urge anyone with any chess ambition to learn the technique from Anand's play so that you can use it your own games.