Tuesday, 25 July 2017

From little things big things grow

A nice chess story hit the national media in Australia this week. A small Western Australian primary school has inspired the local council to fund the carving of some giant chess pieces to celebrate their success in state and national junior chess competitions. However, these pieces aren't your normal large pieces. These are carved out of the trunks of old Jarrah Trees, which the council had originally  planned to remove completely. The Kendenup Council instead decided to leave the trunks in place, and a local wood carver had gone to work with his chainsaw. The pieces, some as large as 4 metres high, will stand in the towns main street, to greet visitors to the town of 1000 people.
The full ABC story (including pictures of some of the pieces) is here.

Monday, 24 July 2017

The toasted cheese sandwich test

I still believe that ChessMaster  10th Edition is one of the better pieces of chess software released. Apart from the chess engine (and graduated levels) it has a plethora of training modules and drills to help you improve your chess.
One of the drills I keep returning to (about once a year) is checkmate with KBN v K. I'm pretty sure I know have it down pat, but it is always a good idea to double check. So make it a little more interesting I had a go at lunchtime today, while making toasted cheese sandwiches.  I'd prepare the sandwich, turn on the toastie maker, and then try and checkmate before I burnt down the house.
I'm pleased to say that the house is still sanding, although this may be due to Chessmaster choosing the same defence each time, rather than trying to confuse me.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

When both players resign

"The game is won by the player whose opponent declares he resigns. This immediately ends the game." This is section 5.1.2 in the FIDE Laws of Chess. At some point in the past it was suggested that two players could scam the system by both resigning simultaneously, thereby earning each player a full point. The FIDE Rules Commission even discussed this (briefly), and IA Franca Dapiran made the sensible suggestion to only accept the resignation of the player who had the move.
Of course such a bizarre situation would not happen in practice now, would it? Well, not exactly.
At Street Chess today something awfully close to this did happen. The sequence of events seemed to go like this. The white player (who I shall call Scully) played a move, putting his opponent (who I shall call Mulder) in check. Now Mulder did not notice, and played a move putting Scully in check. At this point Scully simply stopped the clock but said nothing. Mulder, who thought he was winning, extended his hand, believing Scully was resigning. Scully accepted the offered hand, believing that Mulder realised he'd played an illegal move and was himself resigning. (NB At Street Chess we play second illegal move loses). Now I'm not sure which of the players realised something had gone awry, but at this point I was called over. Further confusion ensued as Scully was worried he'd done something illegal in stopping the clock (no, but he should have told his opponent why), and then decided to resign. Realising what had happened, I gave Scully 2 extra minutes, told him he wasn't to resign yet, and to continue the game. 
Unfortunately I had to return to the same game a few minutes later when another issue arose. By this stage both players were short of time, so after Scully moved, Mulder replied instantly (and before Scully had pressed his clock). Scully then pressed his clock, completing his last move ( which I encourage under these circumstances), and Mulder then pressed the clock (without moving of course), to complete his move. However this confused Scully, who thought that Mulder had not played a move (even though he witnessed it). About half way through me going over this issue with the players (and in the midst of a gathering crowd), Mulder offered Scully a draw, and rather than listen to me lecturing them, shook hands and split the point.

Out into the cold

I'm not sure if it is an age thing, but I'm feeling the Canberra winter a lot more than in previous years. For the last month or so, Street Chess (which begins at 11am) has had a succession of below zero (in Celsius) starts. For anyone familiar with the Canberra climate, this normally means that it will be a fine and sunny day (cloudless nights contribute to the cold), but as we play indoors in the winter months, we even miss out on this benefit.
Anyway, I think it is around -3 right now, although it is expected to get to at least 0 by the time we start this morning. Extra layers will be needed.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Andrew Paulson

Andrew Paulson, founder of Agon, and former ECF President has passed away at the age of 59. He made his first big splash on the chess scene in 2010 when Agon was given the commercial rights to the FIDE World Championship, bringing with it the promise of a new way to promote chess. A few years later he was elected as President of the English Chess Federation, although his time in office was quite short, resigning as part of the fallout concerning the 2014 FIDE elections.
I met Andrew on a couple of occasions, and found him an interesting and charming man. I suspect he had further political ambitions in the chess world (including eyeing the FIDE Presidency) although he probably  didn't have the right political connections to pull it off. And while he had same ambitious goals in publicising top level chess, he didn't quite bring all of it to fruition. Nonetheless he did see the importance of using multi-media platforms for presenting chess events, and was very keen to bring new technology to the game.
Away from chess he had an interest in media and IT, including an interest in the media company that manage LiveJournal, a social media site very popular in Russia.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

150 years of chess

It is a pretty special chess event when you get to celebrate a 150 year anniversary. In 1867 Dundee (Scotland) hosted a significant International event, with German Master Gustav Neumann finishing half a point ahead of Wilhelm Steinitz. This event was historic, in that it was the first major international tournament where a draw counted as half a point (rather than the game being replayed). In 1967 there was a centenary event,  which was won by GM Svetozar Gligoric, ahead of Larsen and Olaffson.
Now to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the 1867 tournament, Chess Scotland is hosting both a GM round robin, and the 124th Scottish Championship. The Dundee GM event has a couple of well known names taking part, including former Doeberl Cup winner GM Ketevan Arakhamia-Grant, 'Ginger GM' Simon Williams and Swedish chess legend GM Pia Cramling. The Championship is also a strong event with 4 GM's and a number of other titled players in the field. The tournaments have been running for 3 days, so there is plenty of action to come. You can follow the live games, and get all the results at http://www.150chess.gs/ If you click on the various links you can also find a tournament blog, maintained by the always entertaining Andy Howie.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Caro-damn!

Vladimir Kramnik has a 'Federer' like record at the Dortmund Chess Classic (10 wins). So when he comes unstuck it is usually big news. And it doesn't get any bigger than losing in round 1, against the Caro-Kan of all openings. Playing Vladimir Fedoseev, Kramnik at first went into tranquil waters with 3.exd5, before deciding that the uncastled Black king made a juicy target. The only problem was that it just looked scary, and after a few obvious defensive moves Kramnik had nothing to show for a sacrificed bishop.


Kramnik,V (2812) - Fedoseev,Vl3 (2726) [B13]
45th GM 2017 Dortmund GER (1), 15.07.2017


Chess teaching resources

Chess coaching can be a hit and miss affair, as most coaches are chess players first and teachers second. So organising a teaching curriculum is not always the highest priority, with coaches usually picking a favourite book or two, or teaching from experience. While this technique often works with children who have already mastered the basics of chess (don't drop pieces, can mate with K+RvK, spot mates in 1 and 2), for children yet to reach that level it is sometimes less effective.
As a result I've always been on the lookout for well structured coaching material. A very battered copy of "Comprehensive Chess Course" has been my main resource for the last 25 years, but finding copies can be a bit difficult. A number of coaching companies have developed their own material, but this is usually 'commercial in confidence' and can't be handed around freely. But chess.com is doing us all a favour by providing free teaching materials, which they are happy to share. You can see the details here, and download a preview. The curriculum is connected with their chesskids.com site, which also provides plenty of material for players and coaches. And if you visit the information page, there is even a direct link to an earlier version of the teaching material, if you want to get an idea about what it covers.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Surely this cannot be good

In the early days of my chess career I struggled with working out which gambits were temporary and which were more permanent. The gambits after 1.e4 e5 I was better at handling (eg Kings Gambit or Danish) but the d4 gambit lines were more tricky. If I grabbed a pawn I often came under a lot of pressure to hang on to it, but if I sacrificed a pawn, my compensation often petered out, and I was just down a pawn.
I've once again run into the same problem with a line in the Queens Gambit Accepted, which I suspect is a little dodgy. After 1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 Nd5 has been recommended. While the trickiness appeals to me, the results have been less than stellar. 5.e4 is the obvious move for White, and in one awful game my opponent just rolled over the top of me after 5. ... Nb6 6.Bxc4! On the other hand I have picked up a few points at faster time controls, as the shock value of Nd5, followed by the realisation that I am going to make my opponent work hard for the pawn at least gains me some time on the clock.
But ultimately, Nd5 is an idea that seems to break too many rules to be sensible, meaning that I should find something a little more sensible on move 4.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

2017 ANU Open (2 weeks away)

A reminder that the 2017 ANU Open is just over two weeks away. This year is the 25th edition of the tournament, which I guess is worth noting.
The tournament is being held on the weekend of the 29th and 30th of July, at the ANU School of Art, Childers St, Australian National University, Canberra. There are 2 sections, an Open and Under 1600 event, with $3300 prizes on offer. The time limit is G60m+10s, with 7 rounds in both tournaments (4 on Saturday, 3 on Sunday). Further details (including a tournament brochure) can be found at http://vesus.org/festivals/2017-anu-open/
Registering online (at the same link) also secures you the early entry discount (even if you pay on the day).

(** Disclaimer: I have a financial commitment to this event **)

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Gupta wins Commonwealth Championshipp

Indian GM Abhijeet Gupta has won the 2017 Commonwealth Championship for the 4th time, to become the most successful player in the tournaments history. He wrapped his title with a somewhat crushing victory over Australian IM Aleks Wohl. Wohl and Gupta had shared the lead on 6.5/8 going into the last round, but despite his loss, Wohl tied for 4th place, and was the only non Indian player in the top 10. Another good performer for Australia was IM Rishi Sardana, who finished on 6/9.
Although the field mainly came from the host country of India, there were players from 8 other Commonwealth nations, including New Zealand, Malaysia and South Africa.
Here is the crucial final round game between Gupta and Wohl. After a mistake on move 9 Wohl was already in trouble, and Gupta finished the game with ruthless GM precision.

Gupta,Abhijeet - Wohl,Aleksandar [E01]
Commonwealth Championship, 10.07.2017


War stops play

There have probably been a number of reasons why chess tournaments get suspended or cancelled, but the Mannheim event of 1914 probably has the most well known reason. Organised by the German Chess Federation, the tournament attracted a number of the worlds leading players, including Alekhine, Reti, Tarrasch and Marshall. But after 11 rounds, World War I broke out, with Germany declaring war on Russia. The organisers stopped the tournament at this point, and a number of players decided to head for the border. The unlucky players were those of Russian nationality, who were arrested and interned. The delay in France and England entering the war (by a couple of days), probably allowed a few extra players to get away, including Gunnar Gundersen, who had travelled from Australia to take part in the 'B' tournament. Gundersen, whose father had been a Norwegian diplomat, was able to reach Oslo, before returning to Melbourne and winning the Victorian Championship in 1915 (and 7 times after that).
Alekhine was declared the 'winner' of the event, and awarded some prize money. Despite being a Russian national, his stay in Germany was short lived, and he was able to travel to Switzerland after around 6 weeks in captivity. Here is his final game, where he won a game that I still see quoted from time to time when analysing the Alekhine-Chatard Gambit.


Alekhine,Alexander - Fahrni,Hans [C14]
DSB-19.Kongress Mannheim (11), 1914


Saturday, 8 July 2017

Some quick queen sac mates

For a change of pace here are a set of quick mates that involve a queen sacrifice. A few familiar themes here, especially game number 4 (which btw is unsound as played)

Bonnet de Jacquemet,Romain (1390) - Pignatelli,Daniel (1499) [A51]
FRA-ch op-D Aix-les-Bains (7), 21.08.2007

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e5 3.d5 Bc5 4.Bg5 Ne4 5.Bxd8 Bxf2# 0-1


NN - Du Mont [A02]
Paris Paris, 1802

1.f4 e5 2.fxe5 d6 3.exd6 Bxd6 4.g3 Qg5 5.Nf3 Qxg3+ 6.hxg3 Bxg3# 0-1

Moore,Michael - Plotnikov,Vladimir [B21]
Internet Section 18-B Dos Hermanas (7), 18.03.2003

1.e4 c5 2.f4 g6 3.Nf3 d6 4.Bc4 Bg4 5.Ne5 Bxd1 6.Bxf7# 1-0

Gottas,Mike - Brunke,Christian [C50]
GER-ch U18 NRW 9697 Germany, 1997

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 d6 4.Bc4 Bg4 5.Nxe5 Bxd1 6.Bxf7+ 1-0


(BTW The shortest mate I can find involving a rook sacrifice is 6 moves long, and occurred in a tournament I was chief arbiter for back in 1995)

Friday, 7 July 2017

Kasparov's comeback

Apparently Gary Kasparov is making a comeback to competitive chess, although this isn't the dramatic news some headlines are making it out to be. He has accepted a wildcard slot at the Grand Chess Tour's St Louis leg, albeit the blitz and rapidplay section of the event. This event follows on *after* the Sinquefield Cup, which will be played at classical time controls, and has a slightly stronger field. Unfortunately for chess fans, the one big clash that won't be happening is a Kasparov Carlsen meeting, as Carlsen is skipping the Rapid and Blitz event, and Peter Svidler is the wildcard player in the Sinquefield Cup.
Still, this is news of some significance, even if Kasparov has played a few rapid and blitz exhibition events since his retirement from tournament chess. If you are aftyer more information, the Grand Chess Tour announcement can be found here.

A monster of your own creation

Over the last few years I have often used Joseph Blackburne as an example of a 'model' player for anyone who is looking for a chess 'hero' to study. Another player who falls into that category is Frank Marshall, especially for players more comfortable with 1.d4 as an opening.
His career spanned more than 50 years, and included a 27 year reign as US Champion. Unlike his contemporaries (with the possible exception of Alekhine), Marshall used 1.d4 as an attacking opening, figuring it was easier to build an attack from closed positions, rather than find one after 1.e4 e5. Nonetheless he had a varied opening repertoire, with a number of significant variations carrying his name.
His black defences were equally enterprising, keeping up with change in opening theory. An extreme example of this was shown in the following game, where he played the Nimzo-Indian Defence against its creator. Not only did he outplay Aaron Nimzowitsch, he won the tournament "Best Game Prize" as well.


Nimzowitsch,Aaron - Marshall,Frank James [E34]
British Empire Club Masters London (6), 1927


Wednesday, 5 July 2017

The curse of the upside down rook

The 2017 Canadian Championship seems to have ended with some controversy after the final playoff game saw an all to familiar issue involving promotion. IM Nikolay Noritsyn and GM Bator Sambuev had tied for first place, and were even after 5 playoff games. In a 5m+3 blitz game Noritsyn promoted a pawn, but not being able to find a queen went for the old blitz standby of an upside down rook. At this point the chief arbiter stopped the clock and ensured that the piece on the board was a correctly placed rook. Sambuev then promoted (to a queen) and went on to win.
Despite the rules concerning promotion being quite clear for a number of years, players still manage to get this wrong. The key point is that if the piece you wish to promote to is not available you can stop the clock and request the arbiter fetch you a piece. In this case Noritsyn could not find the queen in among the already captured pieces, and there is a suggestion that Sambuev had the piece in his hand. (NB This is not against the rules, and indeed should make the case for stopping the clock even more obvious).
Personally I have little sympathy for players who get this wrong. While it may be argued that it is hard to think straight with seconds left on the clock, this is one of the few situations where you are legally allowed to 'steal' thinking time. If you recognise that promotion is likely to occur and you are short of time, the smarter thing to do is to remind yourself to stop the clock if necessary 30 seconds out, rather than kicking yourself after the game is over.
BTW I must commend the chief arbiter IA Pierre Denommee for handling the situation this way. The alternative would have been to say nothing (assuming Sambuev did not complain) and then default Noritsyn if he moved the rook diagonally.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Danish delight

As much as the Traxler is the one opening that will rule them all, my first love was the Danish Gambit. I can't quite remember where I first read about it (possibly the Penguin Book of Chess Openings), but I played it in my first few chess events, with a degree of success. It was only when people started playing the Schlecter line against me that I moved away from it.
Here is a game from 1909 where it was used to beat a reigning world champion, albeit in a consultation game. 5. ... Nf6 is a rare choice these days (as 5. ... d5 is considered the path to equality), but one that tries to hang on to material. For most of the game Black does keep the 2 gambit pawns, but as you can see, mate (aided by a huge lead in development) is far more important than material.


Janowski/Soldatenkov - Lasker/Taubenhaus [C21]
Consultation, 1909


Sunday, 2 July 2017

GM norm for Junta Ikeda

IM Junta Ikeda is partway through a European summer tour, hoping to earn a GM title, or at least get part of the way towards one. After a slow start he seems to have hit his stride, easily winning the 35th Balaton GM event with an impressive 7/9. He was undefeated in the tournament, and scored enough points for a GM norm.
The summer circuit looks to be a good one to try for Australian players, as IM Justin Tan also looks to be playing a few events (although he is studying in Edinburgh, so it is a bit easier for him). The decision by Ikeda to play in the European summer looks doubly sensible, as currently his home town of Canberra is going through a cold snap, with temperatures dropping to -8c across this weekend!