Saturday, June 30, 2018

Box Hill Chess Club Championship

The final round of the Box Hill Chess Club Championship was played last night, and it was a very close affair. The event was split into two divisions. There was a 10 player round robin championship event, and a Swiss open reserves event. The winner of the reserves qualifies to play in the following years championship.

I was playing in the Championship and was low on confidence and will power at the start of the tournament, but seemed to have played myself back into some sort of form by the end, so I was happy to compete. The Championship was very close with only 1 point separating the top 7 players. There was a 3-way tie for first place between IM Leonid Sandler and FM's Domogoj Dragicevic and Luis Chan on 6/9. I finished half a point behind along with John Nemeth, while a further half point back were FM Eugene Schon and Kris Chan. Nobody went through the event unbeaten and all players showed both the strengths and frailties of the 2000-2300 band of players, and having to play late on a Friday night after a week's work.

I'm not sure what will happen with a 3-way tie. I don't know if the Championship is shared, if a tie break system is used, or if there is a playoff. There was no tie in the Reserves, with Brendan Zou winning another competitive event. Brendan went through the tournament unbeaten, taking 2 draws, and a half point bye in the middle of the event. Brendan has made big improvement in the past 2 years, and is now a 2000+ strength player, so he should be a good addition to the Championship field next year.

I didn't get to see too much of the other games as I was putting a lot of effort into my own. So I'll show my best and worst moments from the tournament!

This was my endgame as White against FM Domaogoj Dragicevic. I had played for this sort of position thinking (correctly), that my outside a-pawn must guarantee me a winning advantage. What I had failed to consider in the immediate lead up to this position was that there is still a lot of play in this position, and I'd missed a couple of chances to make my win a lot easier in the previous few moves, which must have given Dom some hope. Here as White, there is only 1 winning move, and after some thought I was bale to find it! This was my best moment of the tournament, and I'll give the game at the end of the article.

Now for my worst! I had been playing a tough game against FM Doug Hamilton who had thrown a lot in my direction and I'd managed to find a way to equality, but nothing more, and perhaps I was the one who was fighting to hold the position.

I saw the continuation 1.Ke3 Bd6 2.Nb4 as a fairly natural way the game would go with neither side really able to make much progress. I hesitated and looked again, and again, convincing myself that my knight would go to b4 after he played Bd6, and I hesitated again, thinking through the same thing, and then picked up my knight and put it on b4!! 1.Nb4?? Doug took my f-pawn, then my g-pawn and I then should have resigned straight away, but I played on for a few moves more out of shock than anything else.

Anyway, besides the errors, I enjoyed the tournament Box Hill's venue is absolutely fantastic. Congratulations to all the winners, the arbiters, IA Peter Tsai and Kyle Gibson, and to Box Hill Chess Club for making this a great event to play in.

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Friday, June 29, 2018

re Winning Moves

My last blog post was about the following position:

What is the best move for White? Well, if you saw that 1.Rxh6+ skewers Black's king and rook, and even better, forces Black to play 1..Ke5 which then pins the other rook, then good for you, you chose the same move as legendary Hungarian GM Lajos Portisch, and his opponent promptly resigned.

However, if you looked at other choices, you may have found that 1.Qd8 forces mate in a few moves. 1..Ke5 2.Re8+ with the nicest line probably 2..Kf4 3.Qxd2+ Qxd2 4.Re4#

Which is better? I guess the computers and purists would demand 1.Qd8+, but practically, 1.Rxh6+ wins easily, so it can't be considered bad.
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Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Winning Moves

There are sometimes more than one way to win a position. If we don't choose the quickest, or the most stylish, or precise, how hard should we be on ourselves? I've noticed that sites with computer analysis of games like lichess promote accuracy, and will criticise moves that are ok but not best, especially if they win, but lose a level of advantage. As an example, trading a queen for a rook in a pawn endgame that allows a pawn to promote could be claimed to be inaccurate, even though many of us would see it as a practical way of realising an advantage and winning.

So in play, it's all about finding the best moves you can, while in analysis, it's all about finding the best moves there are. And I guess how hard we are on ourselves will depend on what sort of person we are, what level of perfection we strive for.

It's White to move in this position. White is winning and there is definitely more than one winning move. What would you play as White?

Monday, June 25, 2018

Victorian Chess Championship 2018 Round 2

The second round of the Victorian Championship was played yesterday and showed how tight this event will be as half the games played finished in draws. There are now only 2 players on 2/2, FM Luis Chan and myself.

When I say half the games played, there were a couple of postponed games, and 3 players took a half point bye this round. In the first round 5 players took a half point bye and the question has arisen as to whether we should allow byes in a Championship event. In the previous format, when the tournament was a round robin, there were no byes, but players could rearrange games as the draw was all prearranged. Now with the Swiss system in place, the pairings only come out a few days before the round so it is more difficult to rearrange with a specific opponent. But saying that, the round dates and times are known and so players should have some idea of whether they'll be able to play games or not.

My personal feeling is that the tournament would be better off as a round robin without byes, even if that meant I didn't qualify to play. However, as a Swiss event I don't see a problem with players being allowed to take byes, and I know the move to the Swiss format was partly due to Chess Victoria's funding of the event. There used to be 2 or more round robins running as Championship, Reserves etc, but it became harder to find players to enter these events as the Victorian chess calendar became more packed with club and weekend tournaments. These round robin tournaments were excellent. I played in both Championship and Reserves sections, which were competitive and great for learning about preparation and working on your chess in general.

In the second round, 8 games were played yesterday though I didn't get to see too much as I was grovelling as Black against Milenko Lojanica and having to work hard to cause him some problems. This paid off as Milenko failed to take advantage of promising positions, and the game finally equalised, and then I was able to take an initiative which my opponent seemed oblivious to. Instead of going in to deep defence he continued to try to play actively and his position fell apart.

Even though I was hard at work at the board for most of my game, I am still able to see a lot of games after the round because Box Hill Chess Club have now got 6 DGT boards displaying live games. I remember getting up after about 20 minutes and having a brief look at the openings of the games, then again about about 45 later. But the next time I got up to stretch, some games were already finished! FM Luis Chan won to go to 2/2, but it was a tough game against David Beaumont, with an interesting ending of rook and 4 vs rook and 3 which would be worth looking at in some detail.

There is a large bunching of players just behind first, led by top seed FM Domogoj Dragicevic who won comfortably. The game that most interested me from an early stage was Canfell-Dissanayake which started as Caro but soon turned into a crazy opposite side castling position. Black's king looked ominously placed at times, but he held on and in the end Greg Canfell had to take a repetition draw.

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It is early days in the tournament and a 3 week break before the next round means that the event will really only start properly from round 3, when the games will be played each week, and most of the players will be playing rather than taking byes.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Playing on

It's a really difficult skill to move from defence to offence in chess. Imagine you've been soaking up pressure for a good while, and then your opponent makes an inaccurate move, or a few inaccuracies. Suddenly you have the chance to take the initiative and go for it. But this psychological shift is difficult to put into practice.

For a lot of players, when the pressure comes off, they are first and foremost relieved that they have survived. This doesn't lend itself to picking up the gauntlet, and going for the win. There can also be a lack of objective assessment. For instance, if I feel my position has been difficult, then I might be looking at the negative sides in my game rather than objectively assessing who is in the better position. Finally, there is an energy factor. It is generally tougher to defend than attack, and after a tough defence it might be that a player just doesn't have the energy to turn things around and start playing for a win.

My game is generally based on stodging positions and especially with Black, holding on to some fairly ugly positions int he hope that I'll be able to equalise and then take my opponent on in the endgame, where I feel confident. In the Box Hill Chess Club Championship which is coming to a close, I have had 2 positions where my opponents have offered me draws that I'd like to look at.

Here I was Black against young FM Luis Chan who had just played 17.Re1 and offered a draw. For the previous 15 moves I had basically grovelled, trying to cover any weaknesses I might have and develop some pieces. White has some difficulties with having over extended on the queen side, and I declined the draw offer and played on. The game should have ended a draw, but after some adventures from both sides, I managed to win this game.

This position is from last night, where White, FM Eugene Schon, has just captured my rook on c8. He offered a draw here, and after some contemplation I agreed. Again, I had been trying to equalise in this game for about 15 moves and I have probably just done it. I feel that I could have played on in an attempt to get something from this position, but my fighting spirit just wasn't at the same level. In this position, White is a pawn up and has the bishop pair, but Black will regain the pawn on d6, and Black's knight will probably be at least as good as either of White's bishops. White's pawn weaknesses are an issue.

So how to explain why I decided to play on in one game, but not in the other? To be honest, I can't explain it, it is totally inconsistent, and that has been a factor that has plagued my play this year. So for the rest of the year, I intend to play on whether I want to or not! I will force myself to keep playing moves, and to seek chances while there is still something in the position, a la Carlsen!

Perhaps I can also inspire others to not give in too easily to the temptation of taking a draw. After all, the logical conclusion to this is that eventually, our fighting spirit will wear down, and we won't put up the best defence in positions. So taking draws early, may lead to us losing defensible positions, because we can't put up enough of a fight.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Beautiful Seasons

Tomorrow is the Winter Solstice in Australia, the shortest day of the year. We are in winter after that, though it's been pretty cold the past couple of weeks, at least in Australian terms. I've woken to frost on my car in the mornings, and we had severe rain last weekend. But I personally like seasons, and wouldn't like to be living in an area without seasonal weather differences. Each season brings it's own beauty to the world, even winter. The rains bring water essential to life, and from death comes regrowth in the natural world. Even in the heart of a city, beauty can be found if you're looking for it.

A fallen leaf hosts drops of rain water on a sunny day.

Having a Goal

One of the key features of any endeavour is having a goal to aim at. It can keep us motivated and direct our efforts towards the final achievement. I have been lucky to combine 2 of my bucket list activities into one. I love travelling, and I enjoy running, so I have decided to run a half marathon in a different country, one I've wanted to travel to for a long time.

Next year, Caroline and I will travel to Nepal. I was originally thinking of playing in a chess tournament there, but I've changed my mind. The Kathmandu marathon takes place on April 25th, the anniversary of the 2015 earthquake and profits go to organisations which are helping to rebuild in the aftermath of that natural disaster which killed about 9000 people and injured over 20,000.

So it's time to plan an itinerary which we will be able to undertake including being in Kathmandu for the marathon. And it's time for me to start training for running 20+ kilometres at 1400m altitude. Exciting times!

Monday, June 18, 2018

Victorian Chess Championship 2018

Yesterday, the 2018 Victorian Chess Championship started at Box Hill Chess Club. The tournament is a 24 player Swiss event, open to the highest rated players entering. The field is wide open, as none of Victoria's top 10 players entered, leaving the title open to a new name this year. I must admit, I was surprised by the absence of some players, especially those who haven't won the title before, like some of our younger IM and FM players. But the winner can only come from the names of those who enter!

The field that has entered is quite interesting. If this field had been assembled this time last year, I'd have fancied my chances, as I was in excellent form, but my play this year has been pretty bad so far. The players in form this year are FM Domagoj Dragicevic, and John Nemeth, and I'd see these 2 as real challengers for the title. However, multiple NSW Champion, FM Greg Canfell would be considered the favourite if he hadn't had such a bad year last year. However, this year he seems to be coming back to some good form. Brothers Kris and FM Luis Chan have risen to the top of the ranks of players at Box Hill Chess Club, but only Luis is playing. He also has a good chance at the title.

But looking down the field, there are lots of dangerous players, and almost anyone could win this title if they can string a few results together and build confidence. And scoring results against these players for the top ranked will be difficult and could spell the difference between a high result and a mediocre one. In the first round, top seed FM Dragicevic was held to a draw by Bill Jiang (1900) and while all the other games went to the higher rated player, there were some pretty tough games being played.

Organiser, IM Leonid Sandler said that he thought this was the first time a brother and sister have played in the tournament, with Christopher and Cassandra Lim both playing. And he also feels it's the first time that 2 women have played in the Championship, as Sarah Anton joins Cassandra in the field. These are unconfirmed, but say a lot for diversity in the game which must be a good thing.

If you're a Facebook user, Chess Victoria's page has photo's of the event and will no doubt be posting more. And Box Hill Chess Club is showing the top games live on their live games webpage if you want to watch some chess on Sunday afternoons. I'll be giving a personal view of the tournament as I see it!

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Back to Blogging

This Blog is coming back to life. It has taken me 6 months to get used to a move to the country and the commute to work, but I think I'm there now.

I'll start by saying that I'm currently playing in the Victorian Chess Championships, more of that in the coming weeks. I'm interested in the upcoming FIDE elections, and of course, the upcoming Olympiad and World Championship match. As far as I'm concerned, chess is buzzing at the moment.

I'm still drinking lots of coffee, and finding good cafes in Gippsland to report on. I've let my running fall apart, but I want to get back in to it, as I might run a half marathon next year, but again more of that to come. I'm also still reading lots, and looking for the beautiful in the World around me.

Today, though, is just a gentle easing back to blogging with some nice photos of near where I live. I'll start talking chess, and ranting about subjects later.

Mist in the Latrobe Valley
The lazy Tarwin River
Good flow at Noojee Falls
A long commute, but I've been rewarded with some magnificent sunsets and rises