Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Start of Season Rust

The summer holidays give a well deserved rest to many people. Taking a break, a step back from normality, getting away and recharging are all worthwhile endeavours. The summer break comes to an end and we all have to get back to reality. Schools start back, holidays finish and it's back to work, and for chess players, the close season is over and we start our year.

Of course not all players take a summer break from chess. The summer can be a busy time with national championships and junior championships taking place. What that means, is when the new season of club chess begins, some players are decidedly rusty, while others are hotter than ever. There have been a few poor results by pretty good players in the past week, but I'll stick to myself!

I have changed clubs and now play at Box Hill Chess Club. For my sins I was the top seed at the Box Hill Autumn Cup (though I think I should have been second seed to Luis Chan as his FIDE rating is higher than mine) and had to play a junior about 600-700 points below me. Unfortunately, Shawn Zillmann is going to rise over 100 points from his excellent performance in the Australian Junior Championship, bringing him closer to 1700, and his rise is probably not stopping there, so he might be closer to 1800-1900 in real terms. While I'm close to 2200, and should still put players like this away most of the time, in real terms I was playing more like 1700 for this game, and really should have lost.

Shawn played excellently, though a little passively, but he defended and maneuvered well and the game was pretty much equal for much of it.Then towards the endgame, I blundered allowing Shawn a winning advantage of the chance to make an outside passed pawn which had to be dealt with, and while I was doing that, he cleaned up my pawns and went into a same coloured bishop ending with 2 connected pawns while I had none. We finally came to the following position.

Obviously, Black can't play 65..g1=Q as White plays 66.Bxg1 and after 66..Bxg1 Kf4 winning the final pawn. The easiest win (in my opinion) is simply to play 65..Bd6 (dropping it back to a safe square anywhere along the diagonal works) 66.Bg1 (to stop black playing Kh2)

Now Black can simply lose a move with his bishop when White will be in Zugzwang having to give way with either bishop or king. Ok, so I saw this over the bard, and was relieved when Shawn played 65..f4.

I played 66.Bf2 and 66..Bg3 is forced after which I played 67.Bg1 preventing his king from coming to h2.

At this point Shawn's head fell a bit and I could see he was resigned to a draw. I even felt a little sorry for him, as he truly deserved to win. But at this point he offered a draw, and I accepted thinking I'd make a miraculous save. Much to my surprise, this position is still winning for black, and I'm sure Shawn's IM coach will have told him how.

The question is, can you work out how to win this position for black, without using a tablebase or engine (as you're not allowed to use them in the game? I'll post the answer next time!

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Isle of Man Reminiscences Pt 1

About a week ago I posted a picture of the British comedian Norman Wisdom. Wisdom lived on the Isle of Man for nearly 30 years towards the end of his life, and his statue is situated in Douglas, the main city of the Isle of Man.

I went to the Isle of Man to visit the chess tournament held there in October won by Carlsen. I was visiting family, and day tripped over, on a day that was shocking weather wise, strong winds and torrential rain. The previous time I had visited the island was when I played chess in 2004. I had a shocking time then too, suffering from a heavy cold at the start of the event, I think I lost my first 4 or 5 games without putting up much resistance. In the end I scored a couple of draws, and won a game, but it was a poor performance that helped me get my first FIDE rating, a lowly 2050ish (I had scored a 2300ish block before at Blackpool earlier in the year, and was hoping for 2200+ to start with).

Anyway, I was walking down the main pedestrian street of Douglas looking for a cafe (I actually went into a tea room, which is par for the course in England) when who should walk down the street towards me but Vladimir Kramnik, cigarette in hand. Kramnik also didn't have a great time in the Isle of Man, and the day I was visiting he drew his game against Lawrence Trent. Kramnik did manage to win his final 4 games to catch up to equal 4th place, but he still lost rating points.

Kramnik wasn't having the best start.

The tournament had drawn a brilliant international field, with a bunch of super strong players. But I was a little disappointed to see so few British players competing. Adams, Short, Howell, Jones are all great players and were fighting for the home country, but the second string of British players, and the many young, hungry talents around the country were absent. Trent, Arkell, Roberson and Eggleston were the only other English players above 2400. The field was limited to a certain number, but it would be good if more locals could play in a field with such superstars of the game. Of course, it might be that English players couldn't or didn't want to play, but they missed a fantastic opportunity to rub shoulders with the best. (The same can be said of Gibraltar, though it is a bit further for ,any UK residents to travel)

But what a field it was. Besides Carlsen, top 10 players Kramnik, Caruana, Nakamura and Anand were all playing, and legends like Short, Timman and Gelfand as well as prodigious talent like Xiong, Tari, Praggnanandhaa and Sarin Nihal. Even visiting and watching is good for the chess soul, let alone playing in the same hall. I remember a similar feeling when going to watch Kasparov-Karpov in London in 1986. There is a huge buzz around, and it just makes you want to go away and work to become a better player. I was even able to watch and take part in a post-mortem to the game Jones-Swapnil which ended in a draw.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Random Photo of the Day

Like most people, I have taken hundreds of photos, but only show a few. There are some that are quite interesting though, some that I've taken that are quite good, and some that have a decent story behind them.

So, here's a photo I took last year. Let's see if anyone knows:

a. who is it?
b. where did I take it?
c. what was I doing in this place?

Friday, January 19, 2018

Pawn Endgames 2

Yesterday, I introduced a pawn endgame between Csom-Suttles Indonesia 1982.

White had played for this position and must have thought the position was better or winning for him. For example, how will Black defend the king side pawns? 1..Ke5 is met by the opposition move 2.Ke3 and Black's king will have to give way as White has extra tempo moves with pawns. The only Black pawn that can move safely is the a-pawn, and that is, in fact, the move Suttles played, 1..a5. However, this doesn't solve Black's problem as after White advances their king 2.Kf3 Black has to prevent it coming to f4, 2..Ke5 and now 3.Ke3 gives white an opposition.

It is easy to see from this diagram that Black's king will be forced to move back. The only waiting move is 3..a4 but then the ball bounces back into Black's court after 4.a3 when Black will have to let white's king into f4. And even though Black can oppose the White king when it gets to f4, by moving to f6, White has spare tempo moves with the h-pawn. 4..Ke6 5.Kf4 Kf6

Now it really is clear to see that White will move their h-pawn and Black's king will have to move giving White's king a way forward. This is exactly what happened in the game, and White won this endgame.

So let's return to the original position:

the lines that I previously considered aren't too difficult to work out with just a basic understanding of pawn endings. So the only other measure is to counter attack. Black should look to run to the queen side with his king and try to promote simultaneously with White. So we come to the stage where we must count how many moves it will take to promote. Black has c6-b6-a5-b4-xc4-d3 and 4 pawn moves on 10 moves. White has f3-f4-xf5-h3-g4 (a trade on g4) then 4 moves with the pawn which equals 9 moves. As Black moves first that means that White will promote and then Black promotes straight after. 1..Kc6 2.Kf3 Kb6 3.Kf4 Ka5 4.Kxf5 Kb5 5.h3 Kxc4 6.g4 hxg4 7.hxg4

Now Black moves the king and both sides will promote simultaneously.However, where black moves their king is important. It might look as if b4 is a good square for black's king aiming at White's a-pawn as well as clearing the way for Black's c-pawn. But then White's king will be able to come back and defend.

7..Kb4 8.g5 c4 9.Ke4! and now if Black advances the c-pawn, White will simply move their king to d3 and that will be the end of promotion.

Black will have to advance his king to c3 which loses valuable time in the pawn race and White will promote a full move ahead of Black.

The correct move here is Kd3 (d4) shepherding the pawn through and promoting at the same time as White securing a draw.

Hopefully some of these variations will help you think about some key ideas in pawn endgames:

- should I trade into a pawn endgame?
- who has spare tempo moves?
- can either side win a crucial opposition?
- are there counter attacking ideas?
- counting accurately the moves to promotion is a good calculation skill.

Like I said, thse players are not world beaters, and the ending wasn't one of the greatest, but I found it interesting nevertheless.

Loading embedded chess game...

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Pawn Endgames

I saw on the MCC Facebook Page an interesting post by FM Michael Baron. Michael said "I have my own list of greatest endgames" but then directed others to a chessgames site called the Greatest  Ever Chess Endgames. It is important for players of all levels to have some knowledge of endgames and some guiding principles to lead one's play. Theoretical endgames become more important as a player gets stronger, but as in opening study, it is probably better to work on general understanding rather than theoretical knowledge. In this respect, looking at great games where great endgame ideas were played is fantastic advice, that you'd expect from an FM like Michael Baron. When an endgame particularly catches your interest, then deeper investigation can be undertaken with a book like Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual, or Muller's Fundamental Chess Endings.

Here's an interesting endgame that I saw recently. It isn't brilliant, and the players aren't overly famous, but it is still interesting. The game was between Csom-Suttles Indonesia 1982.

White is much better in this position. The d5 rook is dominant, while black's king is a bit intimidated. For instance, white can win a pawn straight off with 1.exd6+ Bxd6 2.Rxf5. However, both players were in the first time control and would have been seeing their clock hand turning toward the flag, so the Hungarian Grand Master decided to head for the pawn ending which he must have considered to be significantly better for him. The game saw all the pieces traded over the next few moves:

1.exd6+ Bxd6 2.Rxd6 Rcxd6 3.Rd1 Kc6 4.Bxd6 Rxd6 5.Rxd6 Kxd6 6.Kf2

A big consideration in endgames is whether it is good to trade into pawn endgames. On the more general theme of trading pieces, it usually isn't good to trade your good pieces for your opponent's less good pieces, so one could argue that generally speaking, white has given away the advantage he held by the comparative strength of his pieces. However, if by simplifying into a pawn ending we guarantee a win, then it is an acceptable thing to do.

The question is whether white can win this? What would be black's best try here to defend?

I'll carry this on tomorrow....

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Chess Inspiration with Magnus

Today I was at the Australian Junior Championship in Melbourne. It is a fantastic event with hundreds of kids from across Australia playing, and the venue at Swinburne University is great. There is even an excellent cafe just across the road serving superb coffee, the Axil Coffee Roastery.

So I have been chatting to some people,and looking at some of the kids game, a pretty good way to spend some time!

The question that always interests me as a chess coach is how can you bridge the gap between teaching and engaging? How can you improve someone's game while keeping it fun? There has to be some inspiration to guide the education. For oldies like me, it can be difficult to remember exactly what I found inspirational as a child, or even a young teenager. And as times change, things that inspire can change.

One thing that is constant are the top players in the game, and talking about Wijk aan Zee and how the superstars are doing is a great inspiration for the kids. (I actually like when the Junior Champs takes place at the same time as the Senior Championship, such as kids in the morning, adults in the afternoon so the kids get to see the best players in the country in action after their own games) There is no bigger superstar at the moment than Magnus Carlsen, so he is currently the biggest inspiration to kids in chess. On my recent trip to NZ I saw a book about Magnus that I nearly bought...

I didn't see much chess, but I learned that Magnus is keen to ride a motorcycle and go punk!

I took a look at my life now that I live in the country, and I finally decided to switch clubs from Melbourne to Box Hill. I have entered the next Friday night Box Hill tournament, the Autumn Cup which starts on 26 January, and I'll start writing about this as it happens. I won't stop writing about MCC which I have a great fondness for, and I'll try to play a weekend event or two this year.

Anyway, I'll be back to chess blogging as well!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

New New Zealand

I have been to the south island of New Zealand four times now. The beauty, freshness and peace never cease to amaze me. Each time, Caroline and I have favoured the west and central regions being blown away by mountains and fjords. This time we spent a little time in the south and briefly skirted the east coast. They didn't disappoint.

The south is full of lakes and rugged coastline. It is an area I'd like to explore more with the natural sanctuary, Stewart Island probably the top on my bucket list now.

Hauntingly still lake, Fortrose

Rugged Coastline around Waipapa Lighthouse
Rock pools are resting grounds for seals and sea lions

Bull Kelp washing up at Curio Bay

Curio Bay 170 million year old petrified forest

Curio Bay petrified forest has impressive surf in the backgorund

The Catlins have beautiful forested areas that I also want to go back to. The brief taste wasn't satisfying enough.

Purakanui Falls were looking good

The east coast from Dunedin to Christchurch has another wonderfully interesting coastline and Oamaru, would be good place to be based.

There were plenty of NZ fur seals quite close at Shag Point

Weird 60 million year old Moeraki Boulders
Oamaru is a good base for the east coast, especially for steampunk fans
As much as I love the west coast and the central mountainous regions that I have visited before, the new parts of New Zealand were a joy to discover. Caroline and I will be travelling back to find out more about these beautiful parts of the world when we can!

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Routeburn Track

The road to Glenorchy, the start of the Routeburn Track
About 8 years ago, Caroline and I walked the Milford Track from Te Anau, across mountains to Milford Sound. It was a breath taking experience, culminating in a cruise around the fjord at Milford. It is one of the most special experiences I have ever had the privilege to undertake. This time, I was able to take a day walk along the Routeburn Track. I took a guided walk with Ultimate Hikes which was great as our guide was knowledgeable on both flora and fauna in the region, and kept a steady pace.

The Routeburn Track winds from Te Anau to Glenorchy, or vice versa. I was staying in Queenstown, so I walked from Glenorchy. The drive to Glenorchy from Queenstown along the side of Lake Wakatipu is considered one of the most beautiful in New Zealand, which gets things off to a good start. The walk then climbs as it follows the Route Burn, the river that the track is named after.

The Route Burn through the forest
The flora is varied, with ancient native beech trees towering over dozens of different ferns and many varieties of trees and flowers. Unfortunately, mountain lilies weren't flowering, so I didn't get to see any, but there was plenty to see and the light was beautiful at times.

No end of ferns dominated the track.
Sun kissed ferns by the path

Trees and ferns dominate the track
We stopped for lunch at a meadow with the Routeburn Falls in the background. There were spectacular views all around, and one of the oldest trees known on the track, a red beech estimated to be between 800-1000 years old.

Lunch time view

The way from which we came
A flowering Ribbonwood partly obscures a most ancient beech tree.

We walked back the same way we had come with a detour for a native forest loop. The guide talked of forest regeneration, and how moss and fungi help support and maintain the forest. I learned a lot from the walk, experienced sheer, natural beauty, and walked further over uneven terrain than I have for a long time with my legs telling me so after. 

I saw an array of different birds on the track, including Paradise ducks, Robins, Riflemen and Fantails. We heard Yellowheads, but didn't see any. Once again, New Zealand is proving to be a wonderful natural paradise, with different delights to see each time I travel here.
Ribbonwood flower falls on ferns

Sweet yellow daisies were in abundance

I'd love this to be an orchid, but I don't know, not the clearest shot either!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Mount Cook

Today saw us take a short drive to Mount Cook. It is about 45 minutes from where we were staying in Twizel, so naturally we took about 4 hours to get there! It was a late start as we were both tired from travelling to New Zealand the day before. I think I managed about 1 hour sleep in the previous 2 days so it was only natural to sleep in a bit today.

Lake Ruataniwha
Once we started we took a quick detour to Lake Ruataniwha which was spectacularly turquoise, and then headed off. Except we took another detour back to Tekapo to see the lake which hadn't been at its best yesterday. Again, Lake Tekapo proved quite fabulous today. Then it was definitely off to Mount Cook, with a drive of about an hour from Tekapo, though it took us about 2 and a half because of the stops along the way. Lake Pukaki was absolutely brilliant today, and we just couldn't get enough of it.

Beautiful Lake Pukaki
Mount Cook, or Aoraki, is the tallest mountain in New Zealand at 3,754m, not bad compared to Mont Blanc, Europe's highest mountain at 4,808m and dwarfing Australia's Mount Kosciuszko which stands at 2,228m. Mount Cook is an impressive sight, and seeing the range of Southern Alps that it sits in, is breath taking. We had a drink in Mount Cook Village which has great views of the range, and then headed to Tasman Lake to get a view of New Zealand's biggest glacier.

Mount Cook peaking through the gap, seen from Mount Cook Village
It was a fairly tough walk to the viewing point for Tasman Lake up a number of steps. This was particularly tough for Caroline because of her conditions, but I was puffing a bit as well. Determination broke the pain barrier and Caroline made it to the top! There are plenty of other walking tracks around the lake, and there's loads of walking and cycling tracks through the whole area, mostly starting form Mount Cook Village. But the walk is worth it as at the top you are treated to views of the green lake, and the Tasman Glacier flowing from Mount Tasman, New Zealand's second highest mountain.

Mt Cook (left), Mt Tasman (centre right) with Tasman Glacier flowing from the bottom 
Tasman Lake has icebergs in it, and Kayaking in the lake close to the icebergs, and close to the glacier is apparently a big thing. We could see the icebergs, but the most wonderful view was of a butterfly on an Alpine Daisy! Tomorrow it is off to Queenstown...

Natures beauty

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

New Zealand Roadtrip

Today, Caroline and I set off on an holiday to the south island of New Zealand. We have been here many times before, but hope to see some new things this time around. I have to say that we are the least prepared we have ever been for a trip. We are road tripping for about a week and usually we have the entire journey mapped out with some possible side trips thrown in. This time around, our time has been so taken up with moving house that this holiday has crept up on us almost unnoticed.

Anyway, today has seen our arrival, flying into Christchurch, picking up a car and driving to Twizel where we are staying for 2 nights. Twizel is a gateway town to Mt Cook National Park which we'll be going to tomorrow. We took a scenic drive through the centre of the island, passing through Rakaia Gorge to the country town of Geraldine. From there, we drove to Lake Tekapo, where we have stayed before, and finally to Twizel. Although we hadn't planned our trip, the route we took was stunning.

After an overnight flight it was a bit of a long drive, but we broke it up by regularly stopping to look at the scenery. I'll try to post a bit more tomorrow and the rest of the holiday.

Expansive view above Rakaia Gorge

Rakaia River at Rakaia Gorge

Church of the Good Shepherd, Lake Tekapo

Mt Cook NP across Lake Pukaki

Fabulous clouds above Lake Pukaki

Monday, January 1, 2018

Happy New Chess Year

Happy New Chess Year!!

It is 2018 and the FIDE ratings are out. Magnus Carlsen still tops the Classical list with Caruana second, just 23 points behind. Mamedyarov is third after his amazing year. With it being a World Championship and Olympiad year, I think chess will be great to follow in 2018.

Is your rating where you want it to be? I'm very happy to have risen over 50 points last year to 2183, the highest I've been in over 10 years, and getting close to the highest I've ever been which is about 2230. I had an epiphany about my chess in 2017. I played a game early in the year which I lost and it was almost as if I hadn't really been too bothered about the game, before, during, or after. I asked myself why I'd even bothered turning up to play, and whether it was worth the effort to keep playing if there were games that I couldn't really care about. From this I took the most valuable lesson, and since then I have tried to put 100% of effort into every game that I've played, with some preparation, full focus at the board, and analysis after.

I am now 51 years old, but even a player my age can work hard at the game, strengthen small details in play, gain knowledge, and improve general calculation skills to become a better player. Setting goals help, so set a long term goal (make it a realistic goal) with some stepping stones along the way.

Most of all, enjoy your chess in 2018 (if you're playing in Sydney at the Australian Championships, I wish you all best and have some enjoyable chess)

In 2017 I visited England, and was there at the time of the Isle of Man International. Here's a photo I took :) (I'll add some more stuff in the coming months)

Number 1 on Jan 1 FIDE ratings list, World Champion, Magnus Carlsen