Saturday, 19 August 2017

How fast is fast

I've been playing a bit of online chess recently, which is a little surprising, as I am pretty hopeless at it. Part of the difficulty for me is finding the 'sweet spot' of time controls for a player of my age. Bullet Chess (1 min) is way to fast, as I tend to move too slowly. If I'm not mating by move 25 I'm normally doomed. On the other hand 5 minute chess isn't fast enough, as the games tend to drag on (NB in OTB chess, 5 mins is barely enough!).
So at the moment 3 minutes seem to be the mid point, although even this isn't perfect (the first half of the game is fine, its just the last 15 seconds where it all goes wrong). My early experiences at this time control seem promising, but it may take a larger set of games for me to be sure.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

The Kasparov Comeback

The first part of Gary Kasparov's brief return to competitive chess ended with a heartbreaking loss, a lucky win, and then a loss to Fabiano Caruana. Having started the last day of the Grand Chess Tour St Louis Rapidplay on -1, Kasparov looked to be getting back to 50% until David Navara turned the tables in a rook ending. He was then gifted a rook by Quang Liem Le in a position where Le was perfectly fine. Hist last game against Caruana was another loss, leaving him tied for last place with Anand and Navara.
While all of this was going on, Lev Aronian was winning the event. He finished with 6/9, half a point ahead of Nakamura and Caruana. It was very combative +3 for Aronian, wining 5 games, losing 2 and drawing 2 (including his game against Kasparov).
Tomorrow sees the first day of the blitz event. This is a double round event, so Kasparov at least has 18 games to try and improve on today's result.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Hard Quiz

There is a new-ish quiz show on ABC (Australia) Television, called Hard Quiz. I suspect it's an attempt to do a UL style quiz show, where the banter is as important as the knowledge. It isn't that bad, especially as it doesn't try and copy the UK style, instead taking a more Australian approach to the byplay between host and contestants.
I was watching this evenings episode, which had such subjects as Tomas the Tank Engine, and Queen Victoria (which were nominated by the constestants). The host (Tom Gleeson) also gets to pick a topic, and tonight the topic was Chess. Unlike a past episode of Sale of the Century where they did not know the difference between draw and stalemate, they seemed to have done their homework a bit better. For example, they knew that the first computer program to beat a GM in a tournament game was Deep Thought, which stumped most of the contestants.
However, for the final chess question, they featured 6 statements or actions by FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov.  Of course they were all quite outrageous (Flown in a spaceship, Aliens invented chess), and the challenge was to pick the one that wasn't said or did not happen. I suspect the question wranglers couldn't quite believe the list themselves, as the only non true choice was "Financed the musical Chess so he could play the lead"  which seemed pretty tame. Only one player got that right (IIRC) and I assume it was a wild guess.
If you want to catch the episode try this link. http://www.abc.net.au/tv/programs/hard-quiz/ It is episode 3 of series 2, and you can watch a reply of it online (not guaranteeing this will work for non-Australian viewers)

Another lucky escape

Sometimes luck in chess runs your way, even when it might have been better if it didn't. Tonight I played quite a tough game at the Belconnen Chess Club, and was very fortunate to escape with a draw. Having mixed up a couple of lines in the Closed Sicilian I made a poor exchange in the opening and ended up with a bad position. My opponent played the obvious moves and soon had an overwhelming advantage. In fact we reached a position where I was losing material (on move 26), and was tossing up whether to resign. But I spotted one last try, based on a back rank check and decided to play a few more moves. Then when my opponent found 30. ... Nd1! I wondered whether it was time to resign now, but unable to see a checkmate for my opponent I played on. I saw he might try for checkmate with 31 ... Qf2+ (31. ... Rf2+ does mate btw) 32. Kh1 Qf1+ but we both thought that 33. Ng1 held. He even analysed 33. ... Nf2+ 34. Kh2 Ng4+ 35. Kh1 but decided there was nothing more than a repetition. What he (and I) missed at this point was that he could have played the brilliant 35. ... Qg2+!! as 36.Kxg2 Rf2 37.Kh1 Rh2# is a lovely forced mate. Instead he took the knight on e2, allowing me to complete the idea I had spotted on move 27, forcing a perpetual with a rook sac.
While I am pleased with my resourcefulness, and we both agreed  it was quite an enjoyable battle, I feel that it would have been a better game (with a fairer result), if it had finished with the queen sacrifice!


Press,Shaun - Arps,Jan-Philipp [B26]
Korda Memorial, 15.08.2017


Sunday, 13 August 2017

Crawling to a goal

A while ago I was told a fantastic story about how one Australian player managed to pick up a FIDE title. The player needed to get his rating above a certain level to claim the title, but was still a number of points shy of the target. While most players would simply try their best in an event and hope to score enough points, this player tried a slightly different track. Rather than risk going backwards with a loss or two, they simply played the first couple or rounds of an event, before withdrawing for 'work related' reasons. While a little slower than performing above the required level in one tournament, this slow but safe method eventually paid off.
Now to be fair, as this story was told to me, the facts may not be accurate (or even true). But the method itself seems sound, and is one that I am currently following, albeit for a different reason. Normally I play the role of the 'filler' or 'house man' in events I direct. So at Street Chess, I'll play if the event starts with an odd number. This happens quite often, but weirdly, there always seems to be a latecomer (or three) who brings the field back to an even number, without me in it. So I normally play rounds 1 and 2, before pulling out for the rest of the day. The side effect of this is that I suspect I'm picking up a few rating points per game, and getting close to the 2000 mark on the ACF Quickplay list. While obviously not as prestigious as a GM title, it is still a landmark rating, especially as I've never been rated that high in the Australian rating system. Of course it also may not come to pass, as I am sure there will come a week when I end up playing the whole event, and being forced to suffer for my sins.

How a tournament should end

The 2017 Sinquefield Cup has ended, in a manner that elite events should end. Three of the 5 last round games ended decisively, including games that ultimately decided first place.
It was Maxime Vachier Lagrave  who scored the most important win, beating Ian Nepomniachtchi to reach 6/9. Viswanthan Anand could have caught him but only drew with Wesley So, while Lev Aronian's chances of equal first were derailed by a loss to Magnus Carlsen. The win for Carlsen moved him into a tie for second with Anand and kept him in first place in the Grand Chess Tour series.
The next part of the tour is the St Louis Rapid and Blitz, starting Monday morning Canberra time, and including former World Champion Gary Kasparov in the field.


Vachier-Lagrave,Maxime (2789) - Nepomniachtchi,Ian (2751) [B92]
Sinquefield Cup 2017 Saint Louis (9.2), 11.08.2017


Thursday, 10 August 2017

What makes a good opening trap?

Playing for tricks in the opening isn't always the best use of ones resources. For every checkmate that begins with 1.e4 e5 2.Qh5, there are a number of games where such 'direct' play gets punished by more experienced players.  So choosing which opening traps you aim for often depends upon a few different factors.
My first (purely subjective) criteria is: How often will I see this opening? No good finding a particularly clever idea against the Dutch Defence if no one in your chess circle plays it. So traps in the Ruy, or the QGD probably have more value than traps on the black side of the Solkosky.
Secondly: Are the moves leading up to it plausible for my opponent? As any chess coach will tell you, don't reply on your opponent playing bad moves. Sure, some moves may only become bad after the right reply, but moves that seem sensible are more likely to be played than those that are not.
Thirdly: Do I still get a good position if my opponent spots the trap? This is about having it both ways. If the trap is sprung, fantastic, but if not what happens next. I had a situation like this in Gibraltar, where I could play a trappy move, but the right reply would see me in a worse position. I decided against it.
Flicking through one of my books on opening traps, I realised that there were only a few entries that passed all three tests. Some failed the 'length' test (the later in the opening the less likely it is to occur), while others relied on the opponent missing the correct refutation. But there were still a few that were a little new to me (albeit borrowing from traps in other openings). The one I've chosen to show comes from the Two Knights Defence, and is based on presenting White with an unusual variation, increasing the chances of a mistake. 6.d6 is obvious, but the start of the problems, while 7.Nxf7 is the big mistake. In my database there have been 62 games after Nxf7, so it still catches lots of fish.


Victim - Trapper
Anyclub, Australia