Thursday, 31 May 2018

Is the tide turning for the Berlin?

In terms of opening re-inventions over the last 25 years, the rise of the Berlin Defence to the Ruy Lopez probably runs second only the Kasparov's use of the Evans Gambit in the mid 1990's. And since Kramnik turned it into a solid system for Black, it has been a regular feature of the Super GM events. However I've recently seen a few games at least which shows that White still has a chance to breach the Berlin Wall.
In the current Norway event, Carlsen scores a reasonably direct win over Lev Aronian, after the later went wrong in a Berlin middlegame. Aronian probably underestimated Whites space advantage (with the pawn on d5), and only made it worse by exchanging dark squared bishops. As a result he had very little counterplay, and after being forced to shuffle his pieces, eventually made a fatal blunder.
As a result Carlsen leads the event with 2 wins and a draw, while everyone else has either drawn, or in the case of Caruana and Aronian, lost to Carlsen.

Carlsen,Magnus (2843) - Aronian,Levon (2764) [C67]
6th Norway Chess 2018 Stavanger NOR (3.1), 30.05.2018

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

The Bh6, h4 hack

The kingside hack against fianchettoed bishop is a bit of a double edged sword. On the surface it looks appealing, but it can back fire. I had the chance to successfully play it last night, but when looking up the theory on it, the position after White's 9th move only scores around 40%. In my game I was certainly helped by 9... Qa5 but if my opponent had chosen something like 9...Bxh6 instead, then I would have had a lot more work to do.

Press,Shaun - Hosking,Ian [B26]
Autumn Leaves, 29.05.2018

Monday, 28 May 2018

Old chess software

Accessing old chess programs, and indeed any old games, without payment is a bit of a grey area. 'Abandonware' is the term used for software no longer being sold or supported, and there are a number of sites on the net that allow you to download or run these programs. I suspect that the copyright on these programs is still in effect, but on the other hand, how can you pay for such programs if there is no one to pay.
Having got that out of the way, I did come across a site that had a number of old, and historic pieces of chess software. has around 75 chess (or chess type) programs listed, and can either be downloaded, or played inside a browser. Various versions of Battlechess are there, as are early copies of Chessmaster. Of course these games are the MS-DOS versions of everything, so the graphics (and strength) aren't that great. The earliest program listed was MicroChess (1978) which ran on the Apple II (so you'll need an Apple II emulator to play it). The earliest DOS program listed was simply called Chess (1981), but you can play that in a web browser (NB on the easiest level I checkmated on move 5)
If you do a bit of extra searching you can probably find more programs that weren't tagged correctly, as well as non-chess games you probably never thought you'd play again!

And the assist goes to the goalie

When I was very young, I spent a season of soccer playing goalie. I kind of fell into it, as no one else was keen to take on the role, although it took me a while to work out why. As far as I can remember I was pretty good at it, especially when diving at the feet of over eager centre forwards trying to go round me. However in the final game of the Port Moresby Under 10's I did concede the vital goal that gave the title to Korobosea Primary, instead of my team. After that I gave up goalkeeping (mainly due to a move to a new team in Australia), and for the next few seasons scored goals rather than conceding them.
Of course accidents happen, even to seasoned professionals. The Champions League Final between Real Madrid and Liverpool is the current example, with Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius, having a bit of a shocker. But even seasoned GM's can get it wrong at the board, especially if they miscount captures. GM Deep Sengupta did exactly that in the Kolkatta Open, when he assumed that recaptures would only happen one way. Instead he realised at move 10 that his opponent could capture in a different way (11. cxd7+ Nxd7!) and whatever happened next, he was dropping a piece.

Sengupta,Deep - Narayanan,Srinath [D00]
Kolkatta, 05.2018

Saturday, 26 May 2018

In praise of trash

I've never got out of my habit of playing 'coffee house' openings, especially when I'm actually playing in a 'coffee house' type event. And so it was today, where I played a couple of terrible games, interspersed with a few 'coffee house' wins. And in true coffee house style, I was helped by my opponent getting somewhat confused with what I was doing. Here is Exhibit A

Press,Shaun - Dude, A [C21]
Pub Chess, May 2018

Friday, 25 May 2018

And the bottom seed is ... Anand!

I've just had a look at the upcoming Altibox tournament in Norway, and noticed that the *bottom* seed in this 10 player event is Viswanathan Anand. He is in good company though, as the 9th seed is Lev Aronian a mere 4 rating points ahead of him.
At the other end of the event, Carlsen, Caruana, and Mamedyarov are the 2800+ players, with the rest of the field squeezed in between them. The first round of play is on Monday 28th May, although there are other events leading into, including a simul by Wesley So.
Also interesting is the format for the open event running alongside the main event. Although it is a 7 round event, the first 3 rounds are rapidplay games (15m+10s), played on the Friday evening. Saturday and Sunday see four 90m+30s (2 on each day), to round out the event. The entry fees are quite pricey, at what would be $150 Australian, although pretty much everything in Norway is pricey!
With such a strong field lined up, it is very difficult to pick a winner. I generally do well at this by picking Carlsen in whichever event he is playing in, but I'd love to see Anand win, as it isn't every day that the bottom seed wins a high level RR.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Making my life easier

I spent today running a small interschool competition in Canberra. As the field wasn't very large, the rounds tended to finish quite quickly. To make sure we stuck to some sort of sensible schedule, I used the time in between rounds to do a bit of coaching.
The first lesson I gave was on the 'Electric Fence' checkmate (Mate with Q+R or R+R). Fortunately for me the players were quite attentive, as it seemed that the lesson sunk in. Over the next few rounds, this became the 'go to' method of winning the game, especially by players who had never checkmated this way before. As a result, there were very few games that were dragged out by kings being unsuccessfully chased around the board. This meant the rounds finished even quicker(!), giving me more time to do even more coaching.
So if you are running a school event, showing a few basic checkmating ideas (Electric Fence, K+Q v K) might make the event run a little more smoothly.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

The Chess Club

When is a chess club not a chess club? When is it The Chess Club.
The club I am referring to is the Chess Club in London, which is a private members club located in Mayfair. It has a bar, restaurant and lounge areas, and indeed some chess sets, but I assume its main function is as a club, rather than somewhere to play chess. If you want to check out the interiors before visiting, covers it nicely. If you are interested in visiting or joining, the clubs own website has all the details.

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Memorising endgames

Chess players learn/memorise openings, but don't really do the same for endings. This kind of makes sense, as there is no guarantee you will ever see a particular ending, but there are some that are common enough that committing them to memory would not hurt.
One classic example is the Rook and Pawn ending from the final game of the Capablanca-Alekhine World Championship Match (1927). It is a good example of how you convert and ending where you have an outside passed pawn on the queenside, while there are equal pawns on the kingside.
The key ideas are to put your rook behind the passer, forcing your opponents rook to blockade. Then bring your king towards the queenside, forcing your opponents king to try and keep your king out. Then shift your king to the kingside to attack the pawns. Finally, break up the pawns on the kingside with a pawn push of your own, before picking them off and winning!
While it takes a little time to complete, the general method is usually enough to collect the point. I've even had the need to use it recently, when playing some casual games at Street Chess.

Alekhine,Alexander - Capablanca,Jose Raul [D51]
World-ch12 Alekhine-Capablanca +6-3=25 Buenos Aires (34), 26.11.1927

Fast start, gentle finish

GM Wenjun Ju is the new Women's World Champion, winning her match against Zhongyi Tan 5.5-4.5. After a pretty violent start to the match (games 2-6 were all decisive), the game finished with 4 draws.
This of course was what Bobby Fischer had predicted was likely to happen in fixed length matches, with on player taking a lead, and then drawing their way to victory. Nonetheless, his proposed solution (first to 10 wins, but the challenger requiring a 2 win margin for the title) was never adopted, except in his 1992 match against Boris Spassky, The other solution, which was the first to 6 wins, was tried after 1972, but fell out of favour after the Karpov v Kasparov match that was aborted after 48 games. Since then World Championship matches have become shorter and shorter, making Fischer's prediction more likely to be correct.

Friday, 18 May 2018

An easy chess engine example

If you are interested in how chess engines work (and can read/understand Javascript). then 'A step-by-step guide to building a simple chess AI' might be worth a read. It is a simple explanation/tutorial about how chess engines are coded.
It  mainly looks at the evaluation and search functions, using the existing chess.js library for move generation and validation. As it is a very basic implementation, it is missing a few things that makes a chess program really strong. There is no quiescence search (a search extension which follows capture sequences beyond the specified search depth), no transposition table, and no move ordering.
However, if you are interested in tinkering with a chess program, the source is free and downloadable from the above links, and if you are feeling energetic, you can probably add those features yourself.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Two Famous Actors

While flicking through 365 Chess Master Lessons by Andrew Soltis, I came across a game between two famous actors, Michael Redgrave and John Steadman. Looking a the date it was played (2007) and the venue (Sydney) I immediately figured something wasn't quite right, as Sir Michael Redgrave had died in 1985, and John Steadman passed away in 1993.
It turned out that the surnames of the players had been transposed, and the two participants were in fact Michael Steadman (NZ) and John Redgrave (AUS) who had met in the first round of the 2007 Sydney International Open. Soltis features the game as part of a lesson on when is the optimal time to play a move. In the game, 9.Nd5 was strong, and made even stronger by 9...Bb7??, although 9.a4 was even stronger, as it sets up some extra tactics for White. After Steadman found the knockout blow with 10.Ne6! there wasn't much left for Black.

Steadman,Michael - Redgrave,John [B94]
SIO, 2007

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

It just went horribly wrong

Trying to bluff your opponent in OTB chess is a risky proposition, doing so in Correspondence Chess is complete foolishness. Here I tried a bluff against my opponent, hoping he wouldn't find 9.Nh7!, or realise it had been played in a similar position previously (9...Qe8 is better). Of course he did find it, and after that, my game just disintegrated (aided in part by other horrible moves from me)

Schreuders,Arjo - Press,Shaun [C57]
Australia v Netherlands, 05.03.2018

Monday, 14 May 2018

The strongest player you've never heard of

While doing some research on the 1876 Steinitz - Blackburne Match, I came across mention of a player I'm not sure I've ever really been aware of, John Wisker. According to the Chessmetrics website, he was the 4th ranked player in the world at that time, with an historical rating of 2623.  This high ranking was probably based on his two victories in the British Championship, in 1870 and 1872 (the last Championship until 1904 btw). However his career was cut short in 1876 when he contracted tuberculosis, which resulted in a move to Australia (and possibly making him Australia's highest ranked OTB player ever!). I'm not sure if he played any chess while living here (I cannot find any games), but he wrote a chess column for the Australasian, before passing away in 1884 in Melbourne.

Wisker,John - Zukertort,Johannes Hermann [C80]
Zukertort 1st game in ENGWestminsterCC London, 22.06.1872

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Not playing doesn't just hurt yourself

A quick comment in the recent selections for the Australian Olympiad team (NB I am not revealing my selections, or who has been selected as there is still a chance of appeals by non selected players)

For the last few Olympiads I've been one of the selectors for the Australian teams. This year I was on the selection panel for the Open and Women's teams. One issue that arose for me was the geographical advantage/disadvantage some players suffered from. For a couple of players, the access to strong players was somewhat limited, making it harder for me to rank them highly. When they did play similar events to other players (ie international FIDE rated events), the results were quite comparable, but it was in their 'home' tournaments where they fell behind.
It wasn't because they scored badly, but simply because there wasn't enough strong players to test themselves against. And as playing in the Olympiad requires you to play against strong players, a 80% score against a field of 1700's isn't as impressive as a 50% score against 2100's.
Sadly, in at least a couple of cases, it isn't because there are no strong players close by, but that there aren't enough 'active' strong players close by. Now there are many reasons for choosing not to play (especially if you are a strong player), but it is becoming clear to me, that this has a knock on effect for other players. And I would hate to think that this would contribute to a cascading effect of discouraging the next level down from playing as well.

Friday, 11 May 2018

Chess and Meditation

Every now and then I get sent free stuff as a result of this blog. Usually it is books to review, but occasionally it is software. My latest review copy is a program called "Zen Chess: Mate in One", which is available on Steam.
At first I wasn't sure what the program was intended to be. It presents you with a succession of mate in 1 problems, and when you solve one, you move to the next one. It doesn't keep score (as far as I can find), and the problems don't seem to get harder the further you go.
But on a second visit I realised that the clue is in the name. It isn't so much a training program as it is a meditation tool. The program comes with a soothing soundtrack which gently plays while you solve the puzzles. The colours are very light, and the slow fade in and out of positions, is quite relaxing.
I've solved the first 60 positions so far, out of the 100 it is supposed to contain. I don't know the punishment for suggesting the wrong answer, as even in a relaxed state, I still have a competitive instinct.
The minimalist approach to the program seems to have carried over to the price, as it listed at 99c (US) on the steam website.
If you are looking for a tactics trainer, then this isn't going to be it. But if you just want to solve easy problems while imaging yourself floating in a tropical lagoon, the the cost won't kill you.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Value for money

Despite the low profile of the current Women's World Championship Match, spectators are certainly getting value for money. After the first game was drawn, the next 4 games were decisive with Wenjun Ju leading Zhongyi Tan 3.5-1.5. Ju won games 2,3 and 5, while Tan picked up the point in game 4.
The players are having a short break while the tournament moves to the second venue (Chongqing), with the match recommencing on the 12th.

Ju,Wenjun (2571) - Tan,Zhongyi (2522) [E04]
WCh Women 2018 Chongqing/Shanghai CHN (3), 06.05.2018

4NCL News

(Disclaimer: I am an occasional sponsor of the White Rose team)

The 4NCL season has finished in the UK, with Guildford once again running away with the trophy. Generally fielding a team of all GM's (or as close to it as possible), they won all their matches comfortably, and score 45.5/56 game points. Second place was shared between Cheddleton and White Rose on 10 points, with Cheddleton having the better tie break. White Rose had a tough final weekend, but managed to score 4 points from 6, to reach the podium.
In good news for Australian chess, IM Justin Tan scored his final GM norm playing for the Oxford team. He now needs to get his rating above 2500 for FIDE to approve the title. Unfortunately this result has come to late to assist his application for the Australian Olympiad team, as according to unofficial sources he was not selected.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Short throws his hat into the ring

GM Nigel Short has become the third candidate for FIDE President, with the official announcement that he is running. At this stage he hasn't revealed the rest of his ticket, although I assume this will take place shortly.
With a three cornered contest in play (assuming no one drops out), the electoral dynamics change. According to the FIDE electoral regulations, if one of the candidates receives 50%+1 on the first ballot, they win there and then. But if no candidate receives a majority, then there is a second vote, and the candidate receiving the most votes is elected (even without a majority).
So one path for victory for Short, or indeed each of the candidates, is to hope that it goes to a second vote, and to pick up enough defectors to get the most votes. In such circumstances it may even be an advantage to run 3rd on the first vote, and hope the ticket that runs second then prefers to vote against the first place finisher!
Of course FIDE politics being what it is, privilege over principle is the rule rather than the exception, so any calculations like this need to take into account the inevitable horse trading that will occur.

Monday, 7 May 2018

Play chess, live longer

A newly released study shows that playing chess may contribute to a longer lifespan. The three study authors (including GM David Smerdon) compared the life span of Grandmasters, with Olympic medallists from the same countries (to account for environmental factors). 
The study found that GM's and athletes had a similar lifespan, and that both groups lived longer than the general population. While physical activity and longevity seems plausible, the extra lifespan for extra thinking is a little more surprising. The paper does not come to a firm conclusion on why this is so, but it does suggest that the higher social status that comes with being a GM is an asset in some countries (eg Eastern Europe).
You can read about the study at and it is open for comment, if you want to add your 2 cents.

Saturday, 5 May 2018

Blink or you'll miss it

To make up for the monster Nakamura game I'm offering a much shorter game, from today's Street Chess event. Both players seem keen to sacrifice something, but in the end White gave away a little too much, relied too much on his queen, and got mated quite quickly.

McPherson,Eric - Forace,Lee [C40]
Street Chess 05.05.2018

Friday, 4 May 2018

2018 Women's World Championship

The Women's World Championship matches have always been a little low-key, compared to the main show, and the 2018 event is no different. Harking back to the USSR days, the match is between two players from the same country, only this time it is China. Ju Wenjun and Tan Zhongyi are playing the 10 game match to decide the new champion.
One interesting aspect of the match is the 'home and away' format, with the home cities of each player hosting 5 games each. The first half of the match is in Shanghai, before moving to Chongqing for the second half.
The first game of the match was drawn, but the second game (which has just finished) was a win for Ju Wenjun. With a rest day after every 2nd game, Zhongyi has a day to regroup, before trying to even the score.
The tournament website is at while chess 24 (and other sites) are broadcasting the games.

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

If you have the time ...

This is possibly the longest game I will ever post on this blog. It was from a 3 minute game between Hikaru Nakamura and Rybka around 10 years ago, and goes for an amazing 271 moves.
I came across it today via a video post on by IM Kostya Kavutkiy, who is starting a feature on some of the funniest games played.
This one certainly qualifies, as Nakamura exploited Rybka's refusal to agree to a draw by repetition of the 50 move rule, forcing the engine to sacrifice pawns to avoid such an outcome. Even the end is quite amusing, as Nakamura underpromotes to 6 bishops, although a nicer touch could have been to promote to the piece belonging to the file (which has happened is at least one arranged game).
Any way, get your clicking finger warmed up, if you want to play through the whole thing.

Rybka (computer) - Nakamura,Hikaru (2697) [A00]