Monday, 16 September 2019

While I was travelling

While I was traveling back from Russia, I did try and keep up with what was happening in the World Cup. With 32 round 2 games in progress there was still plenty of action. While there were a lot of games to choose from I've decided to highlight the comeback win for Safarli. He got absolutely destroyed in the first Round 2 game by young Indian GM Nihail Sarin, in a game which drew praise from everyone, including World Champion Magnus Carlsen. So faced with a must win game to stay in the match, Safarli chose to play an Evan's Gambit! This strategy worked in two ways, with Sarin spending a lot of time in the opening, and keeping the game unbalanced. The game had a dramatic finish as well, with Sarin dropping a piece in time trouble.
With momentum running his way, Safarli then won the first playoff game, before winning the match with a draw in the second.


Safarli, Eltaj - Nihal, Sarin [C52]
FIDE World Cup 2019, 2019.09.14


Saturday, 14 September 2019

Last day in Khanty

Today was my last full day in Khanty-Mansiysk, as I am heading home early tomorrow. While I wasn't entirely happy with how I played (especially in Game 2), it was certainly an experience I never imagined I would have.
I only made it here though an extraordinary amount of luck, and while I think that luck could have gone to someone far more deserving than myself, it did come about through me playing in the right event. In my case, entering the 2019 Oceania Zonal wasn't about qualifying for the World Cup, or even earning titles, but simply to support the organisers in Guam, who made a huge effort to hold the tournament in a pretty remote location.
While playing Olympiad chess for the last 20 years is something I find constantly amazing, playing here was on another level entirely. Even now that I have finished I still feel like a fish out of water, especially as I know this will never happen again. So my journey back home starts with a 4:30am wake up call tomorrow, followed by 40+ hours in transit. And when I get back to Canberra it will shower, sleep and a return to where I belong, at my local chess club, and running Street Chess on Saturdays.

Friday, 13 September 2019

An outrageous bluff

After the disappointment of yesterdays game, I decided to cheer myself up with a little site seeing around Khanty, before heading back to the venue to watch the playoff games. As much I don't like matches being decided by faster and faster games, I do admit they are exciting to watch.
I suspect one of the reasons is that there are more inaccuracies, which makes the games more accessible to average players. Even more entertaining is when everyone except the two players can see what is going on, as happened in at least one game I saw.
Sam Shankland needed to beat Eltaj Safarli to stay in the tournament, having lost the previous 10m+10s game. This was looking very unlikely at move 27, as Shankland blundered with 27.a4?? But Safarli began to think, and it became clear to the commentators, that Safarli was only looking at 27...Ra6, instead of 27...Rxd6, which wins a piece. After a couple of minutes thinking, Safarli played 27...Ra6, letting Shankland of the hook, for one move at least. However Shankland still had a problem, in that moving the rook from a1 dropped the a pawn. So based on the fact that Safarli had already missed Rxd6, he made the incredibly practical decision to play 28.a5. This paid off in the short term when Safarli missed the tactic a second time, playing 28...Rc6.
However the story did not have a happy ending as Shankland wasn't able to turn the resulting position into a win, and went out 3.5-2.5 in the tiebreaks.


Shankland, Sam - Safarli, Eltaj [D94]
FIDE World Cup 2019, 2019.09.12


Thursday, 12 September 2019

Shaun blows a sandshoe

While my second game in the 2019 World Cup had the expected result, I am disappointed with how I played at the end. One of my usual plans against the English Opening is to play a reversed Closed Sicilian, but after what happened in the first game, I decided playing the same line a tempo down wasn't a good idea.
What I chose instead wasn't that great either, but it did make Ding think for a good 15 minutes on move 5. My first real mistake was putting the knight onto b6 instead of playing an immediate c5, and after that the pawn on e5 cramped my position. The other issue was that every time I wanted to castle, Bxh7 was devastating. The I got to a position where I though I could castle, as he couldn't take my hanging bishop on d7 (Rd8 wins the Queen), but I'd stupidly overlooked b5 first, when my trick no longer works.
So out in 2 games as expected. I am staying on for a couple of days to be a spectator, before heading back to Australia on Saturday.

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

No upset but not upset

Game 1 of the first round in the 2019 World Cup is done and dusted. At least in my pairing the result went according to rating, with Liren Ding beating me in 34 moves.
Based on his most recent games I had prepared lines in the Ruy Lopez, but it turned out he had been looking at my not so recent games, and had prepared some lines against the Closed Sicilian. I did not mind this as I figured I could play enough sensible moves to reach some kind of middlegame, but once I got there I started to play less sensible moves.
In his post match comments Ding thought that 21.Nb2 was better than 21.Re1, although GM Ian Rogers thought 14.Rb1 was unnecessary, and 18.b3 was where my troubles really started. For me both 17...Be6 and 19...Nd4 caused me a lot of trouble. I also did not expect 22...Ne3, but decided I had little choice but to take the offered pawn, knowing the open lines were bad for me.
Nonetheless I found it quite an enjoyable experience. I was incredibly nervous leading up to the game, but once the game started, it was about playing moves, even if they weren't the best ones.
Now I have to go back and do this again tomorrow, with the Black pieces. While this does not make it any easier, having played one World Cup game, I know what to expect for my second.


Press, Shaun - Ding, Liren [B26]
FIDE World Cup 2019, 2019.09.10


Tuesday, 10 September 2019

White in the first game

The 2019 FIDE World Cup was officially opened last night with an entertaining opening ceremony, which contained the usual assortment of welcoming speeches, singing and dancing, and human chess pieces. As part of the ceremony, there was the drawing of colours, in which the top seed (Liren Ding), chose the black pieces for the first game.
After the ceremony there was a players meeting where the rules were covered. While it was a mixture of seriousness and good humour, there were a couple of interesting points that came out of it. Firstly, this looks to be the first World Cup without any female players. Secondly, no one admitted to being a smoker when the topic of the smoking area came up. Nonetheless I'm sure there are still a few smokers in the field, which might be confirmed if smoke is seen escaping from the ladies bathroom.
I'm spending the last few hours before the first game doing my prep. Ding may pull a surprise for this game (and to be honest he could pretty much play anything against me), but in recent games he has stuck to the same opening choices. All I need to do is not overload my brain with too many lines, keep my nerves in check, and I should be able to play at least a few moves before the holes in my opening repertoire become obvious.

Monday, 9 September 2019

The Russian commute

I've realised than when I travel to overseas chess events, I'm more of a commuter than a tourist. This was certainly the case in getting to Khanty-Mansiysk, which took around 2 days of planes, trains and airports.
The trip itself was largely uneventful, except for a bit of a detour on the Moscow Metro system where I confused north and south and started by heading away from Sheremetyevo Airport, before realising what I had done!
The 1am flight from Moscow to Khanty was full of sleeping chess players, including Ian and Cathy Rogers, who are here to cover the first week of the World Cup. For anyone who played at the 2010 Olympiad, the Olympic Hotel (where most teams stayed) is still the same as it was, including the downstairs bar that was popular with a lot of us.
The opening ceremony for the World Cup is this evening, with the first round starting tomorrow. According to the schedule the rounds are at 3pm, which is 8pm Canberra time. I face top seed Ding Liren in the first round, although the drawing of colors has not taken place yet, so I do not know if I am white or black. With the usual security restrictions in place, I won't be taking my phone to the venue, so any updates from me will have to wait until I get back from the venue.