Monday, July 30, 2018

Life in the Country

Drouin is in the Latrobe Valley to the east of Melbourne. It is ideally placed for mountain scenery, rivers, greenery, seascapes. All are just within an hours drive of where I'm living now. I have been able to discover the beauty of Gippsland with Caroline and this has only been the start.

This Saturday we took a drive to Wonthaggi which is to the south of us near the sea. The hilly countryside we drove through was truly spectacular. We stopped half way at Loch, a scenic little town with some great cafes, and then took a slow drive through the country on the first sunny day in a while.

Striated green hills dominate the Gippsland landscape

Rolling green hills of Gippsland

Rustic beauty of Gippsland

Westernport Bay in the distance from Krowera

Chess Magazines and Periodicals

I get a lot of people asking me about which chess books they should buy. Well, there are a lot of factors involved in choosing a good book for you, including the reason you want a book, your level of play, and your interests in the game. You can get a taste for a number of different styles of chess writing and presentation by buying a magazine, and there is usually a combination of tournament reports from up to date events, historical content, puzzles and instructional material from a combination of regular contributors and guest writers. After a year's subscription to a magazine, you should have a good idea of what books would be good to learn more detailed knowledge of the game.

American Chess Magazine, the best on the market!

The question is which magazine should one buy at the moment? Again, there are a number of factors involved in choosing which one to buy and as I've tried out quite a few over the years, I thought I'd write about my opinions. I will state that this is just my opinion which you can, of course, take with a pinch of salt.

There are 2 magazines on the market dealing with the international chess scene in an easy to read manner. These are New in Chess Magazine and American Chess Magazine. New in Chess has been the benchmark magazine for a number of years now, though I think it's heyday was in the 1990's when it was a truly fantastic publication. It seems to have become a bit lighter since then, which may or may not be a bad thing. I recently subscribed to American Chess Magazine, and it is my belief that this has taken the crown from New in Chess. American Chess Magazine has a distinctly American feel which means that a lot of coverage follows their top players. But when there are 3 American's in the top 10, this will mean detailed reports on the top tournaments of the day as well as some exclusive insider information about their top players. In the latest copy, there is a tournament report of the Candidates tournament by GM Jacob Aagaard which is absolutely excellent, as good as any tournament report I've ever read, with lots of interesting ideas from the games written in a clear instructional manner. American Chess Magazine is the publication I'd currently recommend to anyone who wants to find out more about chess.

There are regional magazines, and these are excellent and represent chess in one's region. I have subscribed to both the British Chess Magazine and Australia's 50 Moves Magazine which are both very good. They bring a feel of their own country to the magazine, though if I had any criticism of these publications, it would be that they are not quite regional enough, and I'd prefer more local content than a view of the chess world through the eyes of Australians or British players. Don't get me wrong, I'm interested in how Aussies are doing in International events and follow their progress, but I'm also interested in tournaments here in Australia, and I don' think a small round up of some local chess would harm the publication. The British Chess Magazine has recently joined with Informator group and this has rejuvenated the magazine. However, there is a share of material which I don't like. The other publication I've subscribed to is the Informator, which is excellent, though heavy going. This is serious stuff, and only for those who are serious about their chess work. It certainly doesn't have the chatty style of New in Chess or American Chess Magazine, though the content is awesome.

If you do take my recommendation and buy a magazine to dip your toe into the world of chess publications, I'd suggest getting a year's subscription. This will give you ongoing material at a cheaper rate, and you won't find yourself with a one off lower quality edition of a magazine, but you'll see it through an entire year to make up your mind. If I haven't plugged the American Chess Magazine enough already, the news this weekend that Editor in Chief will be chess journalist and photographer David Llada, a true chess devotee, should come as a big boost. Anyway, I'll try to post some content from the American Chess Magazine over the next couple of weeks!

Victorian Championship Round 5

The State Championship crossed the half way mark this week and has become very close at the top. Four players now share 1st on 4/5: FM Luis Chan, FM Greg Canfell, John Nemeth, and myself, Carl Gorka.

The leaders, Chan and Nemeth played out a tense, but brief draw. The position where a draw was agreed would have been risky for either side to play on. The most fascinating position was on board 2 where FM's Dragicevic and Canfell were playing. I got up to walk around at one stage and saw this position:

I couldn't work out who was better here. Black is 3 pawns up, but his king side is paralysed, an amazing position. Later, Greg was able to untangle and won the game.

Following on from my loss of an exchange last week, I decided to sacrifice the exchange this week, gaining two pawns in the endgame. The computer engine doesn't like my decision, but practically, I think it was quite good and difficult to react to. FM Eddy Levi needed to activate his pieces, but was unable to do so, and I won.

This is where I sacrificed the exchange by Rxe6. White is already a pawn ahead, and wins the c5 pawn. White's central connected passed pawns are a long term worry for Black, which is what I was counting on.

The results of these 3 games left 4 players in first with probable pairings of Canfell-Chan and Nemeth-Gorka next week. Half a point behind is Milenko Lojanica who took on David Beaumont's Dragon in aggressive style. David sacrificed an exchange but it wasn't enough. There are then a further 4 players another half point behind, and all of them have floated up or down recently, so I have no idea what the pairings will be! FM Dragicevic stays on 3/5 and is joined by Brendan Zou, Himath Dissanayake and Bill Jiang. I will stick my neck out and say that the winner is going to come from this group of players with only 4 rounds to go. The rest of the field are tightly packed with everybody on at least 1.5, so a strong finish from anybody will guarantee a good place. But 7/9 seems like a outright winning score to me which is why I think anyone of 2.5 or below will not be the new Champion.

Himath Dissanayake scored the biggest upset result of the day beating FM David Hacche. The game wasn't on the display boards, but there was an early trade of queens on d8. I thought David had equalised as Black untangling his position, but Himath was able to win some material and I guess he held on to win.

There are byes allowed through till round 7 which could further disrupt the pairings, but it is settling into an exciting finish.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Victorian Championship Approaches Half Way

We have now had 4 rounds of the 2018 Victorian Championship and no one has made a perfect score. The tournament is led by 2 players, FM Luis Chan and John Nemeth who are on 3.5, with a group of players half a point including top seed FM Domagoj Dragicevic, FM Greg Canfell, and myself, Carl Gorka. Interestingly, we are the 5 highest rated players, and I wonder if we'll still occupy the top 5 spots come the end of the event?

Most of the rest of the field are in the 1.5-2.5 area and any of these could still finish high with a good score from now. In fact, it is going to get tough at the top as the highest rated players are all going to have to start playing each other. The big game of round 4 saw top seed Dragicevic playing second seed Chan. The game was hard fought, and I thought that Domagoj had an advantage out of the opening, but the game ended a draw. Meanwhile, I thought third seed, John Nemeth was being held easily by Bill Jiang in an Exchange Spanish, but as often happens, pieces get exchanged and White has an extra king side pawn that is more valuable than Black's queen side majority. Bill blundered a further pawn on the king side and resigned. Greg Canfell very efficiently dominated Thomas Feng on the White side of a French, while I struggled against Marcus Raine before he exchanged down too much leaving an endgame where I had dangerous connected passed pawns in compensation for an exchange.

Box Hill Chess Club were showing games live and though they have 12 new DGT's they displayed the top 6 games. I think they are having some technical issue, but hopefully all the games will be transmitted by the end of the tournament. There were some interesting games lower down the boards with a big shout to Regan Crowley for scoring the upset of the round beating Milojevic who out rates him by nearly 200 points. As with lots of young players, Regan can be very dangerous but just needs to gain some consistency to spring forward.

My game was an up and down affair. Early in the middlegame I won a pawn, but then almost immediately lost the exchange. I had compensation, but didn't use it and Marcus took advantage of this. Then in the endgame Marcus seemed too eager to trade pieces, leaving m with dangerous connected pawns which he didn't deal with and I was able to win the game. But let me give hope to anyone playing me in the future. This is what I missed!

In this position I had planned the natural Rd3, but decided to look for something better. I came up with the idea of Nd4 stopping Black from developing their bishop and guarding f5, as I'd seen that my opponent might want to play Ne3-f5 dislodging my rook. Of course there is a flaw in my thinking!

After Black plays..Ne3 I will have to move my Rf1 and then Black has Nc4 which I'd conveniently not thought about when I played my last move. :D My central knights and strong passed pawn gave me compensation, but Marcus neutralised it, and really should have won, and definitely shouldn't have lost. I will be working this week not on opening preparation for my next game, but on calculation exercises which make me think about what my opponent wants to do!

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Game of the Day 6

One of the problems we've had in the chess world has been retention of players. Lots of primary school kids have a go, but don't continue into their high school days. And once at high school, we lose players to other activities and interests, and especially during the crucial exam times. The drop off continues into young adulthood, as higher education, work, and love and life take priority. While some come back to the game it doesn't compensate the amount of players lost.

My job is mostly teaching the game at the primary school level and my aim is to make those kids value the game, rather than excel. If I find kids that excel it is a bonus, and I can and do help them to further their skills and interest in the game. What I would love to do is to make a generational change in attitude to chess. I want kids to be encouraged by their parents to play a game that those parents enjoyed when they were at school. I would like to see schools and kids accept that if someone has a different interest to the norm, then they should be allowed to express themselves through that activity. Certainly at high school level, chess is often seen as a waste of time, a high brow activity that is "boring" and "uncool". It is this attitude that I'd like to change.

So what has this to do with the Game of the Day? One of the greatest prodigies chess has ever seen was Samuel Reshevsky, and as he says in his book, "Reshevsky's Best Games of Chess",

- "To achieve world-wide fame at the age of eight is a mixed blessing."

But Reshevsky's amazing talent as a child was halted when he turned twelve year's old. "My career as a child prodigy ended in 1924, when it was decided that a formal education was long overdue". While Reshevsky never lost his love for chess he played only sporadically for the next 10 years and I always wonder what he would have achieved had he continued his amazing start uninterrupted. His sensational come back to chess saw him take part relatively successfully in Pasadena 1932 (equal 3rd behind Alekhine and Kashdan), and Syracuse 1934 (1st ahead of Kashdan, Fine etc) before heading to Europe to try his luck. At the very first tournament he played in, he faced the mighty Capablanca. In the 10-player field Reshevsky scored 7/9 to come first ahead of Capablanca who he beat in their individual game. The game is a great example of playing against weaknesses, but my favourite bit of analysis is in the following position.

Capablanca had just played 25..b6 and offered a draw. Reshevsky writes, "Here Capablanca offered a draw, but since I had a clear initiative, and pressure on Black's weaknesses I declined the offer". How many of us would have had the nerve to refuse the draw offer by one of the all time greats? It is inspirational, and this fighting spirit is something I've touched on before in this blog. A player who wants to improve has to play the game out, even if that means losing. It is a tough discipline but one that will pay dividends.

Reshevsky went on to win this game, win this tournament one of many successes in his lone chess career. He never became World Champion though he was close a few times, and I wonder whether he would have become World Champion if he hadn't been a part time chess player through his formative teenage years?


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Monday, July 16, 2018

Victorian Championship Round 3

After 3 rounds of the 2018 Victorian Championship there is only 1 player on a prefect score, FM Luis Chan. Luis beat me from a level position when I overestimated my chances and pushed from a position that really didn't warrant it. It was a very cool performance from the junior player.

Half a point behind the leader are FM Domagoj Dragicevic and John Nemeth, 2 players who have both shown good form this year. They both won as Black yesterday so will go in to the 4th round expecting White. I'm on 2/3 along with a group of players. FM Greg Canfell beat Christopher Lim. I didn't see too much of this game. Thomas Feng played his first game of the tournament and beat FM Eddy Levi, Milenko Lojanica mixed it up against the solid Himath Dissanayake with a kind of Hennig Shara Gambit. Bill Jiang grabbed material against James Watson and hung on to it, and Marcus Raine finished the longest game of the day victorious against a tough to beat Sarah Anton.

It is still early days and anyone can still win this event. It is good to see everyone off the mark as the bottom board game between Regan Crowley and Richard Voon ended in a draw. However, one thing that Chess Victoria will have to look at is the bye situation and forfeits. I guess in amateur chess we are always going to have real life issues that get int he way of our chess, but this tournament has only had 3 rounds and in that time there have been 10 half point byes, 1 zero point bye, 1 full point bye, and 2 forfeits, To put it another way, we have 28 out of a possible 36 games played so far or nearly a quarter of the games haven't been played. Is this really good enough?

The good news is that the tournament will continue as a one game per week event, after the 3 week break we just had. This certainly broke the momentum of the tournament and is something else that could be looked at for next year.

So here is a position that happened in my game against Luis. We had both aimed for this position from a few moves back. The question that needs to be answered is whether White's d-pawn is strong or weak. The answer is probably neither, with the position sitting on a knife edge. Whatever the assessment, Luis played the position from here better than me and won the game convincingly from this position to take the lead in the tournament.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Summer Chess Season

It feels a bit funny talking about the summer chess season as I'm sitting in the middle of  an Australian winter. But I've become used to being on the periphery of the chess world. Australian chess has improved hugely since I've arrived inasmuch as there are more higher quality tournaments around the country, and the general quality of chess at the top level has risen. When I first arrived in 2005, Australia was ranked about 60th in the FIDE countries list, while now we sit in 44th position. This has been  achieved by a talented group of youngish players, as Australia's top 10 has only 2 players born before 1990. We are all hoping that our team can put in a good performance at the upcoming Olympiad in September.

The Olympiad will come after what appears to be a great summer season. I'll be posting more games from classic books, and analysis of events here in Victoria, but I'll also be following some international events as their are some that really excite me.

- The 2018 US Junior Championships start in a few hours and both the boys and girls tournaments will be great with plenty of fighting chess.

- Dortmund and Biel are the traditional summer festivals in Europe, and both tournaments have top 10 players and some talented lower rated players (not much lower rated!). I have to admit that I've been left a bit cold by the the elite chess series of tournaments we've had, as the same players keep coming up against each other. It is good to see some new faces challenging the elite.

- Danzhou might just be the most exciting tournament of the summer, especially for us in Australia as the time zone means that we'll be able to see quite a bit live. A stunning young field led by 24 year old Yu Yangyi, the current number 14 in the World while the new, 20 year old, Polish number 1, Duda coming up against 19 year old Chinese sensation Wei Yi. Even the oldest player in the field, Bu Xiangzhi, is interesting as he is the man who knocked World Champion, Magnus Carlsen out of the World Cup last year!

- The British Chess Championship is a tournament I always follow as I knew many players involved. Sadly, I personally know more players in the over 50 tournament than the Championship nowadays, so I'll be watching the results of some of the other events at the tournament. This year the Championship is being held in Hull which is where I went to university, so it has even more meaning to me.

- Sinquefield Cup dominates the second half of August, and it has absolute elite fields competing in sections for blitz, rapid and classical chess time controls. It will be probably the last chance to see a Carlsen-Caruana clash before their World Championship clash. While this is the most elite event of the summer, it isn't the most exciting for me. Saying that, I'll be following it much like many chess fans throughout the world.

It's great to follow elite tournaments, and easier to do so than ever before with websites such as chess24, chess bomb, TWIC, etc. Of course, watching isn't a substitute for playing, but analysing the games of others is an impsrtant skill to learn, and trying to analyse games in progress is a great exercise, like a 'guess the move' type of thing, but in real time.

You'll probably be hearing some more about these events on this blog over the next couple of months!

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

A Coffee in the Country

Moving out of the city was a refreshing change for myself and Caroline. Not everyone is made up to live in a city, however great that city might be. And Melbourne is a great city! I've lived in a few, and Melbourne is fantastic as cities go. I guess upbringing will play a part in a person's comfort zones, and both Caroline and I grew up in a town environment, moving to cities later in our lives. We've now moved back to a small town surrounded by lush countryside, albeit on the other side of the planet. How things go around...!

Misty view of the Latrobe Valley

For all my talk of not being a city person, I still love a good barista style coffee, and I haven't been disappointed with what I've found in Baw Baw Shire. The Drouin and Warragul areas in the Latrobe Valley have plenty of cafes dotted around, and every small dot on the map has a cafe or bakery. It is too much to try them all, though I'll give it a go! I even lower my expectations when I'm outside of Melbourne, though there is really no need. I guess when you're just an hour's drive away from Melbourne's south east suburbs, some parts of the city are going to filter to country towns (pun intended).

We go over to Warragul quite often, because it is bigger and has more shops and retail outlets and it's only 8 minutes drive. We also have a favourite cafe, Earth Market Cafe. They have a great and varied food menu, catering to many different food needs including gluten free, vegetarian and vegan options. I have a particular liking for porridge at breakfast and Earth Market's is excellent with a strong almond taste, and thick cut oats that you need extra milk with to break up and they serve it with banana or berries. However, check out the posts on their facebook page to see the quality and variety of food served.

Earth Market Cafe

The main reason for going to a cafe is the coffee, and Earth Market serve great coffee. They use Dukes coffee for those of you that like the Prahran hangout, or the Central Melbourne vibe, and my long black comes out full bodied, with a rich crema, and a mellow, slightly sweet, chocolaty/licorice flavour.

The Earth Market Cafe is a really chilled out place to hang out for a coffee. The staff are friendly and aren't hovering around you to see if you have finished your coffee (or to watch you wipe your eyes when you get to a particularly sad part in the book you're reading!). Its central location in Warragul makes Earth Market Cafe an ideal place to start off a days shopping, rest half way, or end up in to relax after shopping.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Game of the Day 5

Different Analysis Styles

One of the things we're taught is that after we play games we should analyse with our opponent, especially if we are playing a higher rated, or more experienced player. When we go through the game we get an insight into the thought processes of our opponent, and the more players we analyse with, the more different thought processes we encounter. It is then down to us to filter the good analysts from the less good, to take the best parts of a player's thoughts and be critical of their weaker ideas.

It is the same when looking through books of games annotated by Grand Masters. Each will have a different style of presentation based on their style of thought. Some have stronger opinions, some are more verbose, some look deeply into calculating variations, some pick only critical positions to examine, some try to uphold their ideas through their analysis, while others will seek definite proof of  the truth in various positions. But whatever the style of thinking that brings a great player to come up with their ideas, it is worth examining.

This is the 5th game that I'm showing and it brings a different analysis style than the previous games

GotD 1 was a game by Lasker analysed by Reinfeld and Fine. The notes aren't too deep, and only a couple of critical positions are examined in any depth.

GotD 2 was another from the same authors, although here we see to a greater extent what a hero Lasker was for, at least one of the authors, Reinfeld.

GotD 3 was from Tartakower's autobiographical games collection. Tartakower is very wordy and likes to bring wit into the analysis, though it can sometimes be cutting.

GotD 4 was a clasic from Rubinstein analysed by Kmoch who like Reinfeld, was writing about a player he somewhat idolised. And like Reinfeld and Fine, the notes to this game are sparse and designed more as general advice for less experienced players than a thorough analysis.

Today's game is from "100 Selected Games" by Botvinnik. Now Botvinnik is perceived as one of the legendary analysts of the game and he believed that publishing analysis gave him a forum to debate his ideas about chess, to put his ideas in a public space for others to criticise, and for him to discuss and defend. Botvinnik's analysis style combines the general ideas style of Reinfeld or Kmoch and adds more analysis of variations with more definite assessments. Sometimes Botvinnik's analysis can seem rather brutal, but he upholds his ideas of logical thinking through to the end. Logically speaking, we can see Botvinnik's analysis style taken to its conclusion through the analysis style of his great pupil, Kasparov. It must have been truly amazing to see these two working together!

100 Selected Games is written in the descriptive notation, like the other other books I've mentioned, but if players could go through these games and analysis, they would get a great deal of wisdom and ideas. The book takes us up to 1946 so Botvinnik's early career and his build up to being the strongest player in the World. I have chosen his game against Tartakower from Nottingham 1936. This was a truly great tournament with a super strong top of the field: Alekhine, Capablanca, Lasker, Euwe, Botvinnik who all held the World title at some point in their life. Bogolyubov and Reshevsky who both competed for the World title also played! Botvinnik's win over Tartakower was awarded the brilliancy prize for this great tournament and shows what a great calculator Botvinnik was, always happy to join in a complicated fight and trusting his fantastic calculation and logical thinking.

This is my favourite bit of the game. Black has just played Ng6. Botvinnik's thinking is clear and execution is deadly. He describes ..Ng6 as "the only way of freeing the king's road to the Queen side without giving up defence of f7. If the king succeeds in slipping away (eg after Qh6 Ke7) Black will have chances of salvation. But how can White prevent the Black king from fleeing?"

See for yourself in this great, and under rated game. Enjoy!

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Friday, July 6, 2018

Game of the Day 4

I have more than 1 book on Rubinstein, a player I'm fascinated with. Rubinstein learned the game relatively late in life compared to most great players at the age of 16. But already 10 years later he was beginning to establish himself as one the top players in the world. He was strong enough to be considered for a World Championship match against Lasker, but never got the chance to play because of the outbreak of the First World War.

Rubinstein's style was fairly universal, but he tended more toward the safe side of chess. He was a great innovator int he opening, a fantastic attacking player when he had the chance, great with the initiative, and solid in defence, but his true forte was the endgame, and especially rook endgames.

I have 3 books about Rubinstein and others that contain short parts about him. The most basic of the 3 biographies is "100 Selected games" by Hans Kmoch, a master strength contemporary of Rubinstein. The notes in this book are fairly simple to follow, and it provides a great introduction to Rubinstein. Much of this book is available to browse in google books.

The game I have chosen today is Spielmann-Rubinstein St Petersburg 1909. This tournament was a great triumph for Rubinstein who shared equal first with World Champion Lasker, and winning their individual encounter. Rubinstein also played a masterful pawn ending against Cohn in this tournament that everyone should know. Against Spielmann, Rubinstein came back from a bad position to win a rook endgame that seemed impossible to win.

Rubinstein was Black in this game, but if his opponent Rudolf Spielmann, a famed attacking player, could have found the best continuation here, we would have been talking about him rather than Rubinstein. See what you can find, and then check out the full game at the end of the article.

The main brilliance of this game starts from the following position:

White has more pawn islands than Black which makes Black's position preferable, but if White can swap his a and d-pawns for Black's d-pawn, the endgame with 3 vs 2 on the king side is almost certainly drawn. Rubinstein was aware of this and his play was directed against this. Have a look at the game with notes by Kmoch, and I will post a more detailed analysis of this endgame, which is annotated in Kasparov's "My Great Predecessors" volume 1 among others.

Anyway, enjoy the game!

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Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Game of the Day 3

Time to move away from Lasker, and on to "My Best Games 1905-1954" by Tartakower. Takrtakower, like Alekhine, wrote 2 volumes of best games, and these are both included in this book. I decided to pick a random game, so as I'm 51 years old, I chose game 51 from volume 1, Tartakower-Marshall New York 1924.

Of course, New York 1924 goes down as being one of the greatest tournaments in history. It was a star studded field with Lasker, Capablanca and Alekhine all playing. Marshall finished 4th behind the big 3, while Tartakower struggled and could only finish 8th. In his book, Tartakower entitles every game and he called this one:

Transmission of Weaknesses

The position he had in mind was this one. Black has a weakness on d5, but it isn't easy to direct an attack against it, so Tartakower changes the weakness to c6 which can be attacked easily on the c-file. 13.Nxc6 bxc6 14.Ne5 Bd7 15.Nxd7 Nxd7 16.Bxg7 Kxg7 17.Rc1 and the position has changed significantly.

Black's c-pawn is immobile as it must protect d5, so it becomes a fixed weakness that can be piled up on. Meanwhile, Black has no counterplay so White can be said to have a stable plus. It is not enough to win, but Black is on the defence here. Marshall played 17..Qf6 here which perhaps wasn't best (maybe 17..Qb6 was a better direction to try).

Tartakower played 18.e3 relieving himself of any possibility of losing the e-pawn and a move he would probably need to play anyway if he continues with a slow build up. Tartakower makes no mention of another possibility in this position. 18.e4!? taking advantage of the fact that Black's d-pawn is pinned. After a trade of pawns on d5, a new weakness has been created, an isolated pawn on d5, while White will also have a 2-1 majority on the Queen side. A typical line would continue after 18.e4 Nb6 19.exd5 cxd5 20.a4 Rad8 21.a5 Nc8 when Black is feeling the squeeze.

Tartakower was quite wordy in his analysis, which might appeal to some and not to others. However, this is a theme which occurs in many games, and also a missed opportunity that spoils advantages. It is a skill to play against a weakness, and a bigger skill to transfer the weakness to a more easily attacked point. Here's the full game with Tartakower's analysis which is well worth a read. He rips into Marshall somewhat!


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Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Gender Bias in Chess

Well, it was about a year ago that I wrote my last blog post about gender bias in chess so it's about time I wrote another. First, congratulations to the new Women's World Champion! Of course, you all know who I'm talking Well, I guess that's because no one takes the Women's World Championship seriously. But a big congratulations to Ju Wenjun of China for winning. She takes home a not unreasonable 120,000 Euros and the title for the next....well, we're not exactly sure how long she'll keep the title for, but at least 6 months, probably! Compared to the Open World Championship, however, this is rather pathetic. Carlsen and Caruana will compete for the rock bottom prize fund of 1,000,000 Euros with the winner getting somewhat more than half, and keeping the title for the next 2 years.

So where is the equity? At the present moment, the World of tennis is seeing Wimbledon being played where the men's and women's champions will receive the same prize money, as they have since 2007. Of course, men and women aren't allowed to play against each other in tennis, where in chess women can play in men's events and in their own separate women only events. But why? Either women aren't as good as men naturally, so they shouldn't be allowed to play together, or there is no difference naturally, so there should be just one title, or at least parity in prize money.

Perhaps if we had more women in positions of leadership in the chess world that might have an impact on retention of girls in chess and promotion of the game among girls and women. Alas, women aren't being admitted to these positions for one reason or another. Take the recent case of the English Chess Federation abolishing the position of director of women's chess. After complaints, they reissued the job, rejected 2 reasonable looking female candidates, and gave it to a man. I'm not saying that the man isn't also a reasonable candidate, but this is a perfect opportunity to entitle women to participate in leadership roles over an issue that they will be passionate about, more so probably, than any man! From what I've heard, the best man might have got the job, but the female candidates weren't given a particularly fair chance. Read about it here.

So without going into too much detail about the upcoming FIDE elections, how well will women be represented on the new Presidential team? Yes, it will be a new team as Ilyumzhinov isn't standing (cue a bunch of munchkins coming out of hiding breaking into song about the death of a witch!). All three candidates, Dvorkovich, Makropoulos and Short have female representation in their teams which is a good thing. The more women in leadership positions throughout the chess world, will surely encourage more girls and women into the game and give them a voice in a position of power.

Finally, this is a subject I won't let go. As long as I am writing this blog, and there is sexism, blatant or hidden, in the chess world, then I'll be writing about it. It's something we shouldn't tolerate in life generally speaking, and in our little corner of society as a chess community. Hopefully I'll get through to a few people and if I do it will be worth it.

Game of the Day 2

I had intended to post games and ideas from many of my chess books showing classic games and using them as talking points. But after posting yesterday's game, Lasker-Lipke Breslau 1899, I couldn't help but notice that the second game in the book is Lasker's amazing double bishop sacrifice against Bauer from Amsterdam 1899, so I will look at this game and go on to another book next (though I'd better not look at the next game in the Lasker book!)

While not quite the originator of this type of sacrifice, Lasker undoubtedly made it famous by this game. If you've never seen this game before, then be warned, it is fantastic. Lasker used Bird's Opening (like Magnus Carlsen did) and set up aggressively as if he wanted to attack from the start. When given the chance, Lasker took it with style!

Black expected White to play 15.Qxh5 when it is simple to shut down the attack with 15..f5. Lasker sped things up with 15.Bxh7+! sacrificing a piece, as he is already a knight down in this position. After 15..Kxh7 16.Qxh5+ Kg8 White has brought his queen into the attacking sphere but lacks support or targets. Another sacrifice helps with that!

Lasker opens up his opponent's position with a second bishop sacrifice, 17.Bxg7!!. With Black's king lacking cover, a White rook lift will be deadly, Rf3-g3/h3. Playing through the game with the comments from Fine and Reinfeld one sees the way that Lasker quickly developed a position from which to attack, and then forcefully followed that attack through. Another important thing to remember from this game is that a sacrificial attack needn't always lead to mate. Here, Lasker used the opening of Bauer's king to win more material than he gave up, eventually ending up with a queen and 2 pawns for a rook and bishop. Of course his position was also dominating.

Enjoy this game :)

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Monday, July 2, 2018

Game of the Day 1

In my last post, I said that it was a good idea to look at classic annotated games where a lot of skills can be learned. I also said I would try to put up a game from my collection each day, so here we go.

Day 1:

The earliest player I have a set of games for is the second World Champion, Emanuel Lasker. I have "Lasker's Greatest Chess Games: 1889-1914" by Reinfeld and Fine, a book in the old descriptive notation which I am old enough to remember and have used! You don't have to go very far in the book to find beautiful ideas. In fact the first game, Lasker-Lipke Breslau 1899, has an excellent winning point to it

Lasker, as White, is a piece up, but Black threatens mate on h1. White can't play play Kh2, or it's a perpetual. But Lasker came out with 1.Bxf5+! giving back the piece with check. 1..Qxf5+ 2.Qg4!! an amazing retreat, giving up his active queen and a pawn to reach a winning endgame. This transition from aggressive middlegame, to winning endgame is something that we all need to understand. In fact, transitions are a hugely important aspects of the game that aren't really discussed much in books.

Earlier in the game Lasker showed his understanding for transitions. In the above position most of us would throw the c-pawn up to c4 holding on to the d5 pawn, but Lasker wants to play d4 to take control of the centre, and gain some extra space. So White played 10.Bg5! pinning at least one of the knights, and thus defending d5. While Black was untangling, White played d4 and took some space for his bishops.

Anyway, here's the game, in an algebraic form, with the notes of Reinfeld and Fine.

Enjoy :)

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Chess Study

Studying and teaching chess is not a very exact science. There seems to be no hard and fast rules as to what to study, how much to study, how to study, when to study, ratio of study to practice, and even goal setting to direct study. Everyone seems to have their own way, which reflects in the fact that there is no universal style to chess.

Some players devour opening theory, which can help with tactical knowledge and plan creation in complicated positions, but usually does little to help with technical play. Studying openings can also lead to psychological weaknesses, as gaps in opening knowledge become apparent and worried about, while reactions to non theoretical moves can be poor.

Some players solve thousands of tactical exercises, which can help with their pattern recognition. While tactical vision is a key element of a successful chess player, it is only one factor, and a danger in working solely on tactics can be a reliance on them, and a need to make certain tactics work in positions where they may not be justified.

Some players study endgames (I might be guilty of this), following in the footsteps of Capablanca. This study of simpler positions and technical precision can help a player earlier in the game to understand weaknesses, relative piece strengths and the transition to the endgame stage. But exclusive endgame training can dull creative and tactical vision, and lead players to search for simple solutions in the middlegame, where a may forceful, or dynamic approach may be necessary.

Of course, the best answer is to mix up that which is studied. Try to solve some tactical puzzles regularly, keep working on openings that you play, or that interest you, and look at theoretical and technical endgames. How much a player studies will depend on that player's time commitments. A working adult, who is very keen on improving might be able to devote 5-10 hours a week on chess study, but then again, they might only be able to put in an hour a week, especially if they have family commitments. So what should these precious hours be spent on?

Playing chess is of paramount importance, and studying your own games is the next most important things. Being extremely self critical in your analysis is key, and analysing without a computer is important as you then simulate analysis that will be used in a game. Checking your analysis with an engine is fine. Much of the opening work you undertake can come from post mortem analysis, when you check to see how your play in the opening went, and then look to improve your knowledge of that opening. If you prepare for games, then some opening analysis will also happen. But beyond this what should you do?

I read an interview with American women's super star, Jennifer Shahade, where she was asked this question. She suggested that 40% of your time should be spent on the middlegame, 30% on the opening, and 30% on the endgame, at least for non master players. I found this interesting as so many Grand Masters have suggested opening study as relatively unimportant compared to tactical study or endgame thinking, and this balanced approach seems to make more sense to me, especially as some players find certain elements of the game more interesting. I would also add that players who are self studying should be happy with whatever they are doing, as any study is better than none. So if a player loves attacking chess, then I see nothing wrong with them looking at lots of classic games with elegant mates, and solving tactical puzzles. At some stage they should find out that a one sided attacking game alone will not suffice at a certain level, and they can then feel the need to study other parts of the game.

In my opinion, the best way to study a balanced, all round game is to look at annotated games. These will probably give some basic thoughts to the openings played, will examine the thinking processes of the players, especially if the author is playing, and will consider both tactical and technical aspects of the game. A good book of a games collection is invaluable in any players library, and should be worked through deeply, and critically. The ideas and general advice that can be gained is invaluable and can lead on to other areas of study. Seeing a great player handle an opening that we don't know too well can inspire us to explore that opening. Likewise, finding analysis of classic endgames can engage us in that subject and make us inquire more deeply about certain types of technical position.

So I intend to post classic games here from the books in my collection, which isn't extensive, but still has quite a number of titles. I'll try to post a game per day, though there might be times that I'm too busy for this. In the meantime, I'd be interested to hear form both payers and coaches how they feel players should study the game.