Wednesday 31 December 2008

2008 Australian Player of the Year

As in last year there were a couple of players in contention for this years award. IM Stephen Solomon won the Australian Championship at the start of the year, as well as winning the 2008 Myer-Tan Grand Prix Series. IM David Smerdon also had a good year, finishing a close second to Solomon in the Grand Prix series, as well as performing well in a number of local events.
However there was one player who clearly stood out from the field. GM Zong Yuan Zhao started the year by score 2 more GM norms to earn the title in the space of a spectacular 2 months. Returning home to Australia he finished equal first in the Sydney International Open (another GM performance), before heading to Brazil to finish equal 1st in a GM round robin. He then played board 1 for Australia at the Dresden Olympiad and finished with a 2600+ performance rating. And all this while still a full time University student!
So for these outstanding results this year, Zong Yuan Zhao is the Chessexpress 2008 Australian Player of the Year.

(**Edit: I've dropped the extra 'h' in his name)

Tuesday 30 December 2008

New Years Tournaments

The Christmas-New Year period is still a popular time for chess events, especially in the northern hemisphere. If this was a chess news site, I would have at least half a dozen top events on the go, but as it isn't, you can get up to date coverage from sites like Chessvibes who are either covering the events directly, or have links to the home pages for the tournaments.
For the moment the Hastings tournament is the one I'm watching closely, both for its historical value, and for the fact that a number of familiar players are taking part. The top seeds include Gawain Jones and Stuart Conquest (who have both played tournaments here in Canberra), while David Howell and Mark Hebden are players that many would recognise.
At the end of the 2nd round Jones, Conquest and Hebden are on 2/2 along with Neverov and Gordon. Here is a game from the first round where Hebden takes advantage of some misplaced pieces to win material.

Monday 29 December 2008

Swiss Pairings Test

Hopefully I'm not giving anything away with this post (and Stewart Reuben is too busy at Hastings to notice), but here is the question on Swiss Pairings that was given as part of the arbiters exam in Dresden. NB I got the answer partly wrong (as did a number of other arbiters), and when I give the answer in a day or 2 (in the comments section) I'll explain the error in my thinking.

Part A: You have a 15 player tournament, the players being identified by their seeding numbers (1 through to 15). The top seed is White in round 1. What are the first round pairings?
The results of round 1 (in board order) are 1-0, 0.5-0.5, 1-0, 0-1, 1-0, 0.5-0.5, 1-0, 1-0
Part B: Player 13 withdraws from the event after round 1. What are the pairings for round 2?

Sunday 28 December 2008

Moravec's Paradox

My regular work in Robotics, and my interest in King and Pawn endings meets at the name Moravec. In the field of robotics, Hans Moravec is a leading researcher, and the creator of Moravec's Paradox. Basically he (and Marvin Minsky et al) argue that seemingly intelligent tasks such as playing chess aren't particularly difficult for computers, while seemingly simple tasks such as walking or picking up an object are quite difficult to get robots to do.
In the field of chess studies, Josef Moravec (1882-1969) composed a number of wonderful K+P endings. I have even thought of bringing them closer together by using Hans Morovec's work on repulsion fields in robot navigation as a way of finding the solution to various K+P endings, in a kind of "Moravec solves Moravec" way. But I haven't progressed much beyond thinking it's a good idea.
For now I'll show you a Moravec study (White to play and win), which could also be titled "Moravec's Paradox", as the obvious idea for White doesn't quite work.

Saturday 27 December 2008

Rain stops play

"Rain stops play" is a familiar refrain for cricket fans (especially English ones), but it is less common at a chess tournament. However todays end of year Street Chess event was held up after round 3 as a summer storm swept through Canberra, forcing us indoors. Although the outdoor area has large umbrellas to shield us from the elements, the fact that players couldn't see how much time they had left due to the clocks being covered in spray, made up our minds for us.
Of course having moved indoors for round 4, the storm abated, meaning that by the time a fire alarm in the venue forced us outside again, the weather had cleared enough to allow us to resume our original positions.
Before the weather disrupted the event I was able to dash of this short game, when veteran player Gus Korda played down the line that Be2 in the English Attack against the Najdorf is designed to prevent.

Press,S - Korda,G [B84]
Street Chess, 27.12.2008

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 d6 6.Be3 a6 7.Be2 b5 (D)
8.Bf3 Bb7 9.e5 Nd5 10.Nxd5 exd5 11.exd6 Bxd6 12.Nf5 Bf8 13.0-0 g6 14.Re1 Qd7 15.Bg5+ Qe6 16.Rxe6+ fxe6 17.Nd4 Kf7 18.Qe2 Bc8 19.Re1 Bc5 20.Nxe6 1-0

Friday 26 December 2008

All the President's Men

While flying back from Germany, one of the better in-flight movies was "All the President's Men". I had seen some of it when I was younger, so I made the effort to watch all of it this time. It took a couple of goes as I fell asleep at the halfway stage, but managed to watch it properly when I was wide awake somewhere over India.
Not only is it a fine movie (although the standards of journalism have fallen so far and so fast in recent years that it might be considered a work of fiction these days), but it does have a chess reference in there. During one of the scenes a radio is playing in the background, and the big news report is on the 1972 Fischer v Spassky match. Of course this isn't the only reason to watch what is a great movie, but for chess fans it is a bonus.
If you want to catch the movie (and live in Australia), then it is on at 11:40pm tomorrow night (Saturday 27th December) on Channel 9.

Thursday 25 December 2008

The Three O'Clock Rush

When I was a teenager, I used to work at a petrol station in Canberra. As I was a hard worker I always volunteered to work Christmas day, especially as it was always the quietest day of the year, and consequently I had the store, and the day, to myself. That was until 3 o'clock in the afternoon. Then the place became bedlam. It seemed that every parent in Weston Creek had finally had enough of being pestered for batteries for the toys that they bought and having finished Christmas lunch, headed to the only place that was open. Within the space of 5 minutes the courtyard would be full of cars and queue of customers would be out the door. Then 15 minutes later the place would be deserted again, and remain so for the rest of the afternoon.
So for anyone who has to work Christmas day (a) make sure you well stocked with batteries and (b) you have 5 minutes until the hordes arrive.

Wednesday 24 December 2008

Merry Xmas

Merry Xmas to all.
I'll be blogging 'light' over the next few days as I am eschewing internet access for a number of days relaxing on the beach on the south coast of New South Wales.

Tuesday 23 December 2008

Can coaching harm your chess?

One evening during the Olympiad, I was having dinner with various people connected with the Bermuda team. The guests included GM Nick DeFirmian (Bermuda Captain), Nick Faulks (Bermuda Board 1), Nigel Freeman (FIDE Treasurer) and Graham Hillyard (former editor at Batsford). At some point the discussion got around to coaching, and the effect it can have on your chess.
To be absolutely clear, this discussion was about being a chess coach, not receiving coaching. The theory being proposed (by whom I cannot remember) was that when you explain chess to a student you aim for 'perfection' in any position, ignoring the fact that finding chess moves is often a very practical task. Therefore when you spend too much time coaching (and not as much time playing) you try and find 'perfect' moves in your own position, rather than very good ones. And as such a task is often impossible in the time you have available to you, your chess suffers due to both indecision, and possibly time trouble.
Now I don't know whether this is entirely true, as I have learned a great deal simply by preparing lessons for my students (pawn play being an example), but I have certainly seen players results and style change after they have become chess coaches. Previously I would have attributed this to a simple lack of practice (ie teaching others rather than playing yourself) , but it may be more complex than that.
As an example here is a position from my Round 5 game against Bill Hook of the British Virgin Islands. If you were a chess coach, and one of your students played this game, would you regard the idea of meeting 13.c4 with 13. ... bxc4 14.Bxc4 Bxf3 as playable, or would you suggest something else, including not getting into this position in the first place?

Monday 22 December 2008

Not so good Xmas gifts

I've previously posted about the poor choice of chess books at Borders (click here for previous comments) but I do go in regularly to look for books on other subjects. In the bargain bin I saw a book that might have been a useful gift, until I actually opened it up.
"The Biggest Book of Games for One Ever" looks like a good gift for the lonely chess player, especially as it has a section of chess problems. However I came a cropper on the very first problem. As I am reconstructing from memory, the diagram may not be exactly as given in the book, but the important features are there. The stipulation is "White to play and Win". For those that wish to solve it (or even use Fritz to do the job) good luck. I guarantee you will not find a win for White in this position. And no, there is no trick or rule dodge or anything that will change that. For when I admitted defeat and looked at the answer I had missed the somewhat subtle 1.Qd7+ which wins after 1. ... Kh6 2.Qg7+ Kh5 3.Qh7+ Kg4 4.Qxg6+ winning the Black Queen. The fact that there was no White Queen given in the diagram didn't seem to bother the author and consequently the decision not to buy the book didn't bother me either.

Sunday 21 December 2008

The Langer Principle

While listening to Australia go down to yet another historic defeat in the cricket (for those that haven't heard, South Africa easily chased down the 414 runs Australia set as a 4th innings target), Justin Langer (former Australian Open) made an interesting comment about players stepping up to Test Cricket.
His theory was that a player should really dominate one level before moving onto the next. In his example an average of 50 runs per innings was a benchmark for batsmen, so if you want to move from First Class to Test Cricket, this is what you should already be doing at the First Class level. Similarly a move from 2nd grade to first grade requires the same kind of performance.
Now for a lot of us, the level we play chess at is either forced upon us (eg by the club we play at) or self selecting (by which level of tournament we choose to enter). For example, the Doeberl Cup has been run in sections for over 20 years, and most players are happy to stick to their own sections (ie 1800's play in the Under 2000 section etc). But there has always been a small group who wanted to play at the highest possible level. When I asked why the reply was often "To improve my rating". Basically they accepted that they would lose 5 of their 7 games, but a positive result in 2 games may result in a ratings increase.
I've always thought that this was the wrong way about improving your chess (or even your rating), unless you had already outclassed players at your current level. In much the same way as Justin Langer suggests, it is the ability to beat players rated below you, or at the same level as you, rather than the odd win against higher rated opponents, that is a better sign post for improvement. And more importantly, the skill set required to win an event with 6 or 6.5/7 is both different, and more important, than the skill set required to win 2 games (and lose 5).

Saturday 20 December 2008

Getting badly hacked in the Semi-Slav

While I was in Germany, I didn't just lose some games at the Olympiad. I also managed to get badly hacked in one of my server games as well. In trying to move away from my reliance on the Gruenfeld Defence, I've tried switching to the Semi-Slav as a simpler alternative. Unfortunately this switch has come without me putting in the required hours of study to make it work. So for the moment I'm learning some valuable lessons in what not to do.
However the following game wasn't lost in the opening, instead it was lost because I took some risks in the middlegame. I actually saw, and allowed, the sacrifices my opponent played, but overestimated my counter-sacrifice, which didn't work out as well as I had hoped.

Friday 19 December 2008

The repeatability of ideas

I'm a creature of habit, and of Fridays I usually (a) catch the bus home from work and (b) read the Guardian Weekly while doing so. In this weeks edition was a story titled "A gift or hard graft?" It describes a theory by the psychologist K Anders Ericsson that hard work is more significant than natural talent. It even goes so far as to surmise that natural talent contributes very little to eventual success, and that the amount of study/practice is what ultimately decides your level of ability.
The article reports on a study done at the Berlin Academy of Music and says that all the students considered the most likely to become world class performers did more study than the lesser ranked students. Surprisingly it also said that the lesser ranked students all did lesser amounts of study. So while no-one made it to the top through 'natural talent' alone, no-one sunk to the bottom through lack of 'natural talent' either.
The amount of study required to reach the top was a reported 10,000 hours. The article then applied this across a number of other disciplines and found that this was fairly consistent figure. So if the results are to be believed it does provide hope to us hapless chess players, in that our lack of 'talent' can be overcome through hard work. Of course this amounts to approximately 4 hours of study a day over an 8 year period, so the real challenge may not be the study itself, but simply finding the time.
But to get you started here is a study from 1851, with White to play and win. The clue to solving it is in the title to this piece.

Thursday 18 December 2008

A career has to start somewhere

Due to the recent heavy rains in Sydney, my collection of chess books and magazines continues to grow (the results of a 'flood' clearance came my way). In amongst the grab bag of items I received is a NSW Junior Chess magazine from October 1986. In this particular issue was a report on the 1986 City of Sydney Junior Chess Championship. It makes fascinating reading, because I am reminded that a number of well known chess identities were juniors once.
The Under 18 event contained Malcolm Stephens, future IM Shane Hill, Colin Davis and Greg Canfell. Further down the standing were Martin Barakat and Mario Falchoni. In the under 15's both Jeremy Hirschhorn and Jason Lyons took part, with the winner being Danny Stojic. However the most interesting event may well have been the Under 11's. In third place was Joel Veness, who later turned his energy to computer chess, while 4th place was taken by tournament debutante Joseph Roff from Armidale. Of course in the case of Joseph, the chess career never really took off, but he seemed to do reasonably well at Rugby, playing 86 games for the ACT Brumbies, and 86 games for Australia.

Wednesday 17 December 2008


Amongst the many interesting people I met at the Dresden Olympiad, Mark Levitt from South Africa was one of the most interesting. Mark is the driving force behind Chesscube which is taking a different approach to the increasingly crowded chess server/website market. One of the things that chesscube emphasises is the importance of how chess content is provided, and to this end, chesscube has one of the more elegant interfaces that I've seen. They have also released Chesscube Cinema, which combines automated replay of games and openings with a video explanation, usually from a strong player (eg IM Andrew Martin or IM Malcom Pein). As I have recently upgraded my network connection to something approaching late 20th century speeds, I have been able to download the large number of free titles available at the site.
Chesscube also has a research tool (recently added) which allows you to do your usual database searches on players, openings and positions, which I guess would come in handy for players who haven't shelled out megabucks on the latest chess database software. I was even able to dig up this rather chaotic draw from my first Olympiad back in 2000.

Press,S v Schepel,K
Istanbul Olympiad 2000

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.O-O d6 5.c3 Bg4 6.h3 Bh5 7.d3 Qd7 8.Be3 Be7 9.Nbd2 a6 10.Ba4 b5 11.Bc2 h6 12.Re1 g5 13.Nf1 Rg8 14.Ng3 Bg6 15.d4 g4 (D)
16.dxe5 Nxe4 17.Nxe4 gxf3 18.Qxf3 d5 19.Nc5 Nxe5 20.Qg3 Qd6 21.Bd4 Nc6 22.Qxd6 cxd6 1/2-1/2

(Disclaimer: I have no financial connection with Chesscube, although they did give me a free t-shirt)

Tuesday 16 December 2008

Bad means result in bad ends

The ClosetGrandmaster has a post up concerning the difficulties that the upcoming Australian Open has run into. To anyone who has read the report that Stephen Mugford and I produced for the Australian Chess Federation after the 2006/07 Australian Open, this would come as little surprise, although the ACF itself decided it wasn't important enough to pass on to the organisers of this years Australian Open. Indeed the first they heard of it was when Stephen Mugford contacted Chris Dimock (one of the organising team) to pass on our experience in holding this event. Stephen then passed on the report to a somewhat shocked organiser.
In fact the event almost didn't go ahead (at least in its current form), as the ACF received no bids by its initial deadline, and even by an extended deadline had still received nothing. By this stage they had entered into negotiations with the organisers of the Doeberl Cup and the Sydney International Open to award the title of Australian Open Champion to the best performed player at these events, although these negotiations were terminated without notice after a potential bidder arrived on the scene.
However, in their excitement at receiving a bid, it appears the ACF failed to pass on all the information that a prospective bidder may need to make an informed judgement concerning the viability of the event (ie the report from the previous event). So 16 days out the event seems to be struggling, although some in the ACF still insist on blaming external factors, rather than the tournament structure itself.

Oh, as an aside, I previously posted about DGT equipment that the ACF received in Dresden. I have since been informed by an ACF official that the equipment hasn't made it back to Australia.

Monday 15 December 2008

Following the rules

While there has been debate about the instant forfeit rule (ie turn up after the scheduled start and you lose the game) in chess, what isn't so well known is the story behind it.
According to a number of FIDE people I spoke to in Dresden, it goes back to the 1998 Anand v Karpov World Championship match in Lausanne, Switzerland. As part of the push to get chess recognised as an Olympic sport, FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov invited a number of IOC Officials to one of the games, making a big deal about how chess should belong to the Olympic family of sports. At the scheduled starting time for the game, Anand was ready to start, but Anatoly Karpov was nowhere to be seen. After 10 embarrassing minutes (for Kirsan at least), Karpov strolled in, ready to start the game.
Apparently Kirsan has stewed on this for a number of years, but rather than punish Karpov for his perceived slight, he has decided to punish the rest of us instead.
The disturbing thing about this push (apart from Ilyumzhinov's 'rule by decree' attitude which sadly is supported by many in FIDE), is that FIDE are confusing their role as the body that sets the rules of chess, with their role as tournament/event organiser. Clearly they have it in their power to specify the conditions under which their events (World Championships, Olympiads etc) are to be run, and this includes forfeit times and scoring systems. But to use the Laws of Chess as the mechanism to apply these conditions is simply the wrong way to go about it.
The vast majority of chess played in the world isn't organised by FIDE, the significance of which I'm not sure that FIDE (or the Rules and Tournament Regulation Committee) understand. For club chess or schools chess, the organisers can probably get away with ignoring the more bizarre pronouncements from Kirsan, but once you are holding FIDE rated or title events, then disobedience can become trickier. As an organisers there are 2 possibilities if you try and set your own tournament conditions. Either FIDE will refuse to rate the tournament or some bush lawyer in the event will claim that FIDE rules override any local conditions and they will claim the win because their opponent was 10 seconds late in sitting down at the board. And either outcome isn't good for event organisers, or in a sense FIDE.
Why wouldn't it be good for FIDE? Because the more bizarre the rules, the more comfortable people will become at ignoring them, with the resultant lack of uniformity from country to country. But it is worth noting that the USCF have been operating under their own "not-quite-FIDE" rules for the last 50 years, and no one has seemed to take issue with this.

Sunday 14 December 2008

ACT Rapidplay Championship

Yesterday saw the holding of the 2008 ACT Rapidplay Championship, which normally in Australia is G/30m, but in this case was G/15m (NB this is the lower limit for Rapidplay chess according to FIDE. One second less and it become a Blitz event).
A healthy field of 25 players took part with the field around 50% adults and 50% juniors (for those who care about such things). The winner was top seed Endre Ambrus, who started the event with 6 wins and agreed to a short draw with Gus Korda in the last round. This results also secured second place for Gus, although he benefitted from an easier set of pairings as a couple of his results were mis-recorded, and only corrected after round 6!
There was a 4 way tie for third place, with Alana Chibnall proving you can DOP and play at the same time by being one of the players on 5 points.
In the picture are ACTCA President Dr Stephen Mugford in the foreground, Endre Ambrus in the middle, and Nick Beare at the back. (And yes, eagle eyed readers will notice that I have been inspired by the ClosetGrandmaster to try some B&W shots, although he is far better at chess photography than I will ever be).

Saturday 13 December 2008

Olympiad revision - Part 1

I'm a "glass half empty" kind of guy, where I dwell on my losses far more than I celebrate my successes. This was certainly apparent at the Olympiad, where I tended to treat the games where I did well with a shrug of the shoulders, while my losses were followed by me mumbling about the fact that "I cannot play chess" and mentally kicking my butt up and down the playing hall.
To remedy this I've decided to start my review of my Olympiad games with the games that I did well in. And I certainly got off to a good start with my first round game. Up until this point I have gone 0/3 in Round 1 of the Olympiad (I rested for Round 1 in 2002), but the accelerated pairings at least gave us an easier team than we might usually get.
My opponent was Guillermo Carvalho from Uruguay who as rated 2249. How you start a tournament like this is often more to do with psychology than form, so given the choice between 8.d3 (solid) and 8.d4 (aggressive) I chose the solid route. Even then my opponent was able to get his knights on good squares, but I endeavoured to neutralise this by avoiding exchanges until they were favourable to me (15.Qf1 being an example). By the time we passed move 30 the position was essentially equal, and the game ended when my opponent claimed a repetition, which I accepted without the involvement of the arbiter.

Friday 12 December 2008

Pearl Spring Tournament

Having been forced to stay up to (or get up at) 1am to watch the live broadcasts from the Olympiad, Australian chess fans can now get live coverage of a Super GM tournament at a sensible time of the day. The Pearl Spring Tournament in Nanjing, China is in a far friendlier time zone than Dresden and the start time of 1500 Chinese time means that the games begin broadcasting at 6pm Australian Eastern Daylight Time.
If you wish to watch the games from Nanjing then this link should get you there. I would normally also add a link to the tournament page but when I visited it, my browser (Iceweasel) crashed.
This evening there were two decisive games, with Aronian defeating a strangely out of sorts Ivanchuk, and Svidler losing the Movsesian. The tournament itself is a double round robin, with a single rest day between the two legs, so there will be games for the next three evenings.

Thursday 11 December 2008

Important Summer Events

There are 2 big events taking place in Australia/New Zealand in the month of January. The first is the Australian Open Championship, which is being held from Friday 2nd January 2009 to the 11th January 2009. This is an 11 round FIDE rated Swiss (with norm opportunities, depending on the field) with a prize find of over $10,000. The organisers have extended the cut-off date for discounted entries to the 19th of December, and you can find entry forms (and a list of entries so far) at
The other big event is the 2009 Queenstown Chess Classic, which runs from the 15th to the 24th of January 2009, in the resort town of Queenstown, New Zealand. The prize fund for this event is a very impressive NZ$50,000, and the already sizeable field includes 11 GM's amongst the confimed entrants. Further details can be found at

Wednesday 10 December 2008

November Miniature of the Month

Courtesy of the Chesstoday monthly database (yes I am a subscriber) comes the following miniature. In the game White tries a slightly offbeat version of the exchange Gruenfeld (5.Bd2) but ends up with a vicious attack, which Black fails to defend against.

Iturrizaga,E (2538) - Safarli,E (2568) [D85]
Corus Internet Qualifier ICC INT (2.1), 02.11.2008

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.Bd2 Bg7 6.e4 Nxc3 7.Bxc3 0-0 8.Rc1 e5 9.dxe5 Qe7 10.f4 g5 11.Qh5 gxf4 12.Nf3 Be6 13.a3 Nc6 14.g3 Qd7(D)
15.gxf4 Bg4 16.Qg5 Bxf3 17.Rg1 f6 18.exf6 Bxe4 19.Bc4+ 1-0

Tuesday 9 December 2008

Olympiad Data

While Olimpbase is the best place to get historical data about the Olympiad, there is another useful source for the 2008 Olympiad. You can download the swiss pairing data from and if you have a up to date (and registered) copy of Swiss Manager, load the data into that.
Then you can discover your own wonderful statistics, such as the fact that in the Open Olympiad there were 5 players who received GM norms (including Ketevan Arakhamia-Grant) and 9 players who scored IM norms. It also turns out that 244 GM's took part in the Open, but only 135 IM's.
As for game results White was favoured with 1220 wins over 1010 for Black. There were 865 draws and an astonishing 109 forfeits.
Of course the other use for the data is to analyse whether the changes to the pairing/scoring/format produced a better or worse set of results, but this will probably take me a couple of weeks to plow through. But when I do I'll post my conclusions.

Monday 8 December 2008

How good is your blitz?

Need a little more time to think than the measly 5 minutes you normally start with. Well the International Correspondence Chess Federation (ICCF) is organising a series of blitz and rapid chess events. The events are webserver based with a time limit of 10 moves in 10 days for the blitz, and 10 moves in 20 days for the rapid.
Further details can be found here

Sunday 7 December 2008

An Xmas Problem

I've spent a substantial amount of the day working on my regular Xmas quiz that appears in the Australasian Chess magazine (Note: I do receive remuneration for my work from the publisher). This year I was fortunate to pick up some new problem books in my travels, as normally I agonise for weeks over what I should put in there.
Indeed there was an almost embarrassment of riches and I was even able to leave some interesting problems out. The diagrammed position was one study that made the preliminary list, but was cut from the short list. Nonetheless for those who do not subscribe to Australasian Chess, you can put your mind to solving this one. It is White to play and draw, and was sufficiently difficult so that my copy of Fritz didn't spot the answer.

Saturday 6 December 2008

Karpov gets cracked!

In the old days, elderly Grandmasters slowly shuffled off into retirement, often suffering straightened financial circumstances once there best playing days were over. In more recent times, there is now a kind of pension fund, at least for the lucky few. This fund takes the form of exhibition tournaments, involving a team of 'legends', often versus a youth or ladies team. Occasionally the 'legends' may even get a tournament to themselves, although in the case of the 2007 King's Tournament, it resulted in what was arguably the most boring tournament in recent times.
While I'm sure the players appreciate the recognition and reward that come after a lifetime of entertaining the chess public, there can still be a requirement that the players work for their supper. In the case of the ongoing "Snowdrops v Old Hands" (Women v Veterans) match in Marianske Lazne, former world champion Anatoly Karpov discovered as early as round 1 that this wasn't to be a gentle stroll in the park.

Friday 5 December 2008

Drug Testing - redux

Ivanchuk's missed drug test at the Dresden Olympiad has become a bigger story since I posted on it earlier this week, and in light of that I think I should clarify some things in my earlier post.
Firstly, I fully support Ivanchuk's refusal to submit to doping control, and I would protest any sanctions applied to him.
Secondly, for those who argue 'rules are rules', here is a recap of my experience in 2004, just to demonstrate how poorly FIDE handle the issue of drug testing.
After my round 10 game I was approached by an official and asked to submit to a drug test. I requested that my team captain (IA Cathy Rogers) accompany to the testing room. When we arrived there were no FIDE officials present, just the doctor who was to supervise the test. As I spoke no Spanish, and he very little English, an interpreter had to be found before the process could commence. When the interpreter arrived (GM Stuart Conquest btw) I asked the doctor what performance enhancing drugs FIDE believed I was using. While I thought this was a perfectly reasonable question, he looked somewhat confused. After repeating the question, he replied that there were none as far as he could see. I then stated I would not take the test and made a written statement explaining my reasons. I felt I should not be compelled to prove my 'innocence', especially as I was not being accused of any wrong doing in the first place. At this point the testing process finished. As well as no FIDE officials being present, I was not shown any FIDE documentation concerning the testing regulations or punishments.
An hour later I was requested to return to doping control as the head of the FIDE Medical Commission Jana Bellin wished to show me the FIDE regulations concerning drug testing. Of course this was now a meaningless act, as an entire hour had passed between my leaving doping control and returning, therebye compromising any further attempts to carry out a test.
The next day I was informed that my hearing (and Bobby Millers) would take place the following day. Of course this left both of us with very little time to recieve any kind of legal advice, and it was only coincidental that a lawyer friend of Cathy Rogers had come to the Olympiad as a spectator and was willing to help me at such short notice.
The hearing panel consisted of 5 members, and much to my surprise, one member of the panel was a player that I had defeated earlier in the Olympiad. I was informed at this stage that if I wished to postpone the hearing I would have to return to Europe at a later date (and at my own expense) if I wished to appear before it. After presenting my case, which included a representation from my lawyer that the testing procedure used by FIDE was in breach of Spanish privacy laws, the panel deliberated. In a 3-2 decision they ruled that both myself and Bobby Miller would have our individual points removed from our team totals. The two dissenting votes (GM Speelman and GM Dolmatov) argued that we should receive a warning, but no other punishment. So ultimately the decisive vote to annul my results was given by a player who I had defeated in this very tournament.
So as far as I can see FIDE broke at least 3 and possibly 4 rules in the testing and hearing procedures. There was no FIDE official present to supervise the test, I was shown no official documentation concerning the testing procedure, and the tribunal hearing my case was improperly constituted. Hanging over this was also the fact that the entire testing procedure was in breach of Spanish privacy laws.
But the fact that FIDE broke so many of their own rules and yet still ended up punishing myself and Bobby Miller demonstrates the imbalance between the power of an organisation and the power of the individual. If we blindly 'follow the rules', as so many people suggest, where is the redress when FIDE does not?

Thursday 4 December 2008

New FIDE Arbiter Regulations

Another change that came out of the FIDE Congress in Dresden was a tightening of the FIDE Arbiter Regulations. Instead of simply being an Arbiter at 4 events to earn a FA (FIDE Arbiter) title, you will now have to attend a FIDE Arbiters course, and pass the exam that goes with it. All very sensible, except for the fact that FIDE have also tightened the qualifications required for people to present the course. In the case of Oceania IA Gary Bekker may be the only local arbiter with the neccesary qualifications (based on his role as Deputy Chief Arbiter at the Olympiad), but even this may lapse if he doesn't direct events at the Olympiad/World Championship level every 2 years. Otherwise prospective arbiters may have to travel overseas to attend the required course.
However the new system does not come into effect until the 1st July 2009, so if you are planning to become a certified FIDE Arbiter the smart thing is to submit your application well and truly before then.

Wednesday 3 December 2008

Otley RUFC

Clearly the presence of new supporters in the stand has inspired the Otley rugby team to strive for bigger and better, with wins in the last two weeks helping their fight against relegation. Their first win was a narrow 15-14 victory over last place Manchester, while a 14-7 win over fellow relegation battlers Sedgley Park move them within 1 point of avoiding the drop.
My English Rugby correspondent, Rupert Jones, also noted in passing that GM David Howell won the British Rapidplay Championship with a phenomenal 10.5/11.

Tuesday 2 December 2008

Alexey Kim

Two years ago at the Turin Olympiad, Papua New Guinea finished half a point ahead of South Korea, using the game points system. So when we were paired against them in Round 9 we were feeling fairly confident. That was until someone pointed out to us that they had a GM on Board 1. The GM was Alexey Kim, who was a mystery to us, even though I had recently written an article featuring a couple of his games (both quick wins by the way). With a first name of Alexey, we theorised that there was some Russian in his background, but we weren't quite sure what it was.
A couple of days after the Olympiad finished I came across a story in the Digital Chosunilbo which revealed that his Korean grandfather was forcibly moved by order of Stalin from coastal Siberia to Uzbekistan in 1937. It was this Grandfather that taught Kim how to play chess at the age of 4, and at the age of 11 Kim had won the Moscow Junior Championship. In 2006 he transferred to the Korean Chess Federation, and turned out for them on board 1 at Dresden. (Full story here).
In the following game he won a piece very quickly against Stuart Fancy from PNG, and the game was over in less than an hour. "An old trap" he remarked in the post mortem, referring to his 7th move.

Fancy,S (2128) - Kim,A (2481) [B40]
38th Olympiad Dresden GER (9), 22.11.2008

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.Nc3 Nc6 4.Bb5 Nd4 5.Nxd4 cxd4 6.Ne2 Qg5 7.Nxd4 Qc5 (D)
8.Nxe6 fxe6 9.Be2 e5 10.d3 Nf6 11.0-0 Be7 12.Be3 Qc7 13.f4 Bc5 14.d4 exd4 15.e5 dxe3 16.exf6 gxf6 17.b4 Bxb4 18.Bh5+ Kd8 0-1

Monday 1 December 2008

OIympiad Photos

Despite being back for 4 days, getting into a regular sleeping pattern is still a struggle. I've almost missed today's blog post as I crashed around 7pm and have only just woken up. The 5am wake ups don't help either, although I have used the early starts productively by putting some of my photos from the Olympiad up on the web.
Click on the "My Chess Photos" link on the left of the page to see a selection of pictures I took during the last month. They are in the folder marked "Chess Olympiad 2008". Of course you can take the time to check out my other photos, including a set from the 2006 Olympiad.

Sunday 30 November 2008

2008 Vikings Weekender - Final Results

Junta Ikeda was the outright winner of the 2008 Vikings Weekender, after scoring 3 straight wins on day 2 to finish the event on 5.5 points out of 6. Close behind on 5 points were Yi Yuan, Vladimir Smirnov, Endre Ambrus and Ramakrishna.
Ikeda and Max Illingworth shared the lead going into the final round, with Ikeda's king side attack deciding the $500 first prize.
The day got off to an exciting start with Andrew Brown upsetting top seed Endre Ambrus in round 4 to take the lead on 4/4. Brown then lost to Ikeda in Round 5, with Ikeda and Illingworth (after defeating Andrey Bliznyuk) moving into first. The size of the field meant that their were crucial last round games on the top 5 boards, as up to 6 players could take a share of first prize, depending on the results.
The Under 1400 section saw a 4 way tie, between Anton Smirnov, Mario Palma, Shanon Vuglar and Megan Setiabudi. The Under 1000 section was shared between Stuart Mason and Willis Lo, Matt Radisich was the best Unrated, while Max Illingworth received some consolation by winning the best junior prize.
Overall the tournament was a big success, with the increased size of the field allowing the organisers to increase the prize fund by $600, from $1100 to $1700. While the field was almost entirely local (only 4 interstate players entered), it was a nice mix of adult (25) and junior (33) players. Importantly there were a number of older juniors (ie over 16) taking part, showing that not all players of this age are inclined to take a very early retirement.
Thanks to the Tuggeranong Chess Club for organising the event, especially Michael Whitely, John Petersons, and Jim Flood.
Crosstables etc can be found here.

Ikeda,J - Illingworth,M [A13]
Vikings Weekender ICCF, 30.11.2008

1.c4 Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.b3 b6 4.Bb2 Bb7 5.d3 d5 6.Nbd2 Be7 7.e3 0-0 8.Rg1 c5 9.g4 Nc6 10.g5 Ne8 11.h4 Nc7 12.a3 a5 13.Nh2 f5 14.Bh3 d4 15.Qe2 Qd6 16.Nhf3 e5 17.h5 Bc8 18.Nh4 Bd7 19.e4 g6 (D)
20.hxg6 hxg6 21.exf5 gxf5 22.Qh5 Kg7 23.Ne4 Qe6 24.Nf6 Rh8 25.Qg6+ Kf8 26.Bxf5 Rxh4 27.Nxd7+ 1-0

Bob Wade (1921-2008)

The sad news came through yesterday that NZ/English IM Bob Wade passed away at the age of 87 years of age. Bob was a 3 time NZ Champion and a twice British Champion. He represented England at 6 Olympiads and New Zealand once (in 1970). He was famous as an editor and author, and the creation of a special book of Boris Spassky's games for Bobby Fischer's 1972 World Championship challenge is part of chess folklore.
He was an active player throughout his career and returned to New Zealand to take part in the 2006 Queenstown Open. He drew with GM Murray Chandler and finished the event on 6/10.
A fuller summary of his life and career can be found at this Chessbase report.

Early on in his career Bob visited Australia to take part in the 1945 Australian Championship
Here is a victory over Frank Crowl, an Australian chess great of the 1930's, 40's and 50's.

Wade,R - Crowl,F [B09]
AUS ch Sydney (11.1), 14.09.1945

1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.f4 Bg7 5.Nf3 0-0 6.Be2 Nfd7 7.0-0 c5 8.d5 b6 9.Bc4 Ba6 10.Bxa6 Nxa6 11.Qe2 Nc7 12.Bd2 e5 13.f5 a6 14.g4 gxf5 15.gxf5 f6 16.Nh4 Rf7 17.Kh1 Qe8 18.Rg1 Re7 19.Rg3 Nf8 20.Rag1 Ra7 21.Nd1 Qb5 22.c4 Qd7 23.Bh6 Ne8 24.Nf2 Rf7 25.Bc1 Qd8 26.Qh5 Rfb7 27.Ng4 Re7 (D)
28.Nh6+ Kh8 29.Ng6+ Nxg6 30.Nf7+ Rxf7 31.fxg6 Kg8 32.Qxh7+ Kf8 33.gxf7 Rxf7 34.Rxg7 Nxg7 35.Rxg7 Rxg7 36.Bh6 1-0

Saturday 29 November 2008

2008 Vikings Weekender - Day 1

The 2008 Vikings Weekender attracted a very good field of 58 players. This is up 10 players from last year and 23 up from 2006. The top end of the tournament is also pretty strong with 5 players over 2000, and the top 2 seeds (Endre Ambrus and Vladimir Smirnov) both rated 2300+.
After 3 rounds there are still 4 players on 3/3. Endre Ambrus, Max Illingworth, Yi Yuan and Andrew Brown have all won their first 3 games, although with a 60m+10s time limit, some of them had to work hard to stay at the top. There are still 6 players on 2.5, including Junta Ikeda and Allen Setiabudi, who played an exciting draw in the last round 3 game to finish.
Round 4 will see top board clashes between Endre Ambrus and Andrew Brown on board 1, and Yi Yuan and Max Illingworth on Board 2. With such a large field, a win for nay of these players should guarantee a large chunk of the $500 first prize.
Standings after 3 rounds (and a provisional draw for round 4) can be found here.

FIDE gets it right on drug testing

What can losing your temper after crashing in really big match cost you? In the case of Vassily Ivanchuk and the Ukrainian team, nothing!
The Ukraine's went in to the final round of the 2008 Olympiad needing a win over the United States to have a chance at finishing 1st, with the Armenian's (who they were tied with) having to play China (which was a slightly tougher pairing IMHO). History now shows that the Armenian's beat China 2.5-1.5 while The Ukraine was crushed by the USA 3.5-0.5. Clearly The Ukraine's were devastated by this result, as the Open team failed to attend the prize giving, leading to some awkward moments when they were caled upon to collect the Category A First Place trophy.
As it turned out, The Ukraine were also to be subject to a drug test under the drug testing regime in place at the Olympiad. This meant that at the completion of the game the players were required to go to doping control and submit a urine sample.
However after his loss to Kamsky, Vassily Ivanchuk failed to do this. Instead he left the playing area in a highly emotional state, and began to vent some emotion. I was standing outside the playing hall, alongside New Zealand delegate Bob Gibbons, and witnessed Ivanchuk kick a large concrete pillar, then bang his fists on the food service counter a couple of times, before storming past where we were standing, into the cloak room area of the venue, all the time being followed by a couple of officials.
Chessbase reports they were unsuccessful in getting him to doping control, and as a consequence he missed the test. This, according to regulations, counts as a positive test, and should result in a disciplinary hearing. Possible sanctions include a 2 year suspension from chess, or the loss of a players or teams points.
In 2004 both myself and Bobby Miller (Bermuda), refused to provide a sample to doping control at the Calvia Olympiad. We were then subject to a highly flawed disciplinary hearing (one member of the panel being a player I defeated earlier in the event), and at the end of the hearing we were both found guilty and had our points removed from the teams total (eg PNG went from 23 down to 15.5 points in the final standings).
So faced with a higher profile name then either myself or Bobby, and the possibilty that the 4th place team would be effectively disqualified, FIDE finally did what they should have done all along. They simply ignored Ivanchuk's offence and declined to hold a hearing. I'm not sure how they will explain this to WADA (World Anti Drug Agency), but I'm sure they'll find a way.
So now I find myself in the odd position of praising FIDE's stand on drug testing in chess. But praise them I must. Now all that remains is for Bobby Miller and myself to have our points from Calvia restored to the official records.

Friday 28 November 2008

Equipment for Federations

Even though this wasn't an election year for FIDE, there was still a disbursement of equipment to some federations, to help the development of chess in those countries. In the case of CACDEC (Committee for Assistance to Chess Developing Countries) Federations (of which PNG is one), the federations received clocks. For many poorer countries, the lack of an adequate supply of clocks is often a barrier to holding the kind of tournaments needed to show real improvement in that country.
For other countries the equipment requirements are different. For the Asian Confederation, the Asian President Sheikh Sultan Bin Khalifa Al-Nehyan, purchased a large number of DGT boards. Each Asian Federation (not just CACDEC ones) received a DGT board and clock to take home with them. However some federations were even luckier than that. As Australia is holding the Zone 2.6 Zonal in the middle of next year, the ACF has received 4 DGT board and clocks to assist in the electronic broadcasting of the event. And the best bit for the ACF is that it is a gift from the Sheikh, meaning that they have received around $3,000 in high-tech chess equipment for free.
A nice addition to the equipment pool, and a nice gesture from the Sheikh.

Thursday 27 November 2008

Vikings Weekender

One of the first things I get to do when I get back is direct the 2008 Vikings Weekender. The event is on the 29th and 30th of November at the Tuggeranong Vikings Rugby Union Club. Hopefully there will be a big turnout, especially as the dates have been changed to avoid the annoying clash with the Australian Schools Teams Final.
I'll probably be trying to fight off sleep all the way during the event (just prod me if you need assistance) ,but in my more lucid moments I'm happy to share a number of Olympiad stories that are never going to make it to this blog, including the story behind a couple of missing players, and what losing your temper after crashing in a big match can really cost you.

Wednesday 26 November 2008

Olympiad - Heading Home

I'm sitting in Dresden Airport as the various teams are making their way home. The triumphant Armenian's just walked past me, and are on their way back to a heroes welcome in Yerevan. Boris Spassky was also behind me in the check-in queue, but unfortunately we are taking different flights as it would be good to catch up with him. (He visited Canberra 20 years ago and I showed him the scintillating sights of the Australian Capital).
My journey takes me from Dresden to Frankfurt, and then on to Canberra (via Singapore and Sydney). If my internet access holds up I might do some blogging in Frankfurt, otherwise it might be a while before my next post.

Tuesday 25 November 2008

Olympiad Day 11

An early post, as we had a very early finish.
As predicted my opponent from Rwanda did not turn up. However it turned out that no one from Rwanda managed to turn up and so it looked like we would receive a 4-0 walkover. Actually we weren't that happy about this prospect and when we became aware of Rwanda's impending no-show (at around 10:30 last night) we attempted to have ourselves repaired with Madagascar, who were due to receive the bye. (*NB There have been no byes in the event so far but for some reason Turkmenistan left after round 10, creating one).
The problem with this plan was that no one could find Madagascar, and as they knew they were getting the bye, were not even expected to turn up at the venue this morning. So come 10 am (the early start didn't help) we faced 4 empty boards and after about 15 minutes of mucking about by arbiters the scoresheets were signed and the result recorded.
It would have nice to have played one last game (especially as this years event is a ridiculously short 11 rounds), although it does mean that Craig Skehan has scored his first full point in any Olympiad game ("The two sweetest words in the English language. De Fault" Homer Simpson). Of course it still doesn't count as a win over the board, but I'm sure he is going to have the scoresheet framed anyway.
British Virgin Islands also picked up 4 points the same way although their opponents arrived about 10 minutes after the scheduled start time. IVB were actually quite happy to play, and in this case the arbiters had not recorded defaults for them, but when they tried to begin the match, the arbiters finally stepped in and awarded the points to IVB. This was harsh on both Malawi and IVB as the legendary Bill Hook ended up without an opponent in 4 of his 11 rounds.
The other big blow-up was in the Gabon v US Virgin Islands match where the Gabon team (of only 3 players) were at the board at the scheduled starting time (10:00 am) and even shook hands with their opponents. However there was a delay to the start (probably no more than a minute) and their Board 1 had to answer an urgent call of nature. While he was gone, the round started and he was defaulted. His team mates protested strongly and when he returned he exclaimed "Which SOB did this?". Despite their protests the result stood and as a consequence the rest of the team stood up and walked out.
So are 3 4-0 defaults in the Open section (along with Tkachiev going missing for France in their Board 6 match!), a good advertisement for chess, or simple proof that bad rules have bad consequences?

Olympiad Rest Day 2

The second rest day seems to have resulted in a lot of teams doing nothing except a little shopping. I went for a walking tour of Dresden, which was especially nice as it snowed lightly for most of the day. I dropped in on the FIDE Congress to witness the vote for the 2012 Olympiad Venue (Instanbul beat Budva by 95-40), but it was mainly the presentation of reports and as Kirsan had turned up, I decided to leave.
Our last round opponents are Rwanda, which is 3 person team, and I'm the player that misses out on playing. A bit of a shame as I would like to have atoned for yesterdays fiasco, as well as attempting to alter my record of never having won a final round Olympiad game (as well as never having lost one either!). Of course one possible reason that we are playing Rwanda was that my belief that Stuart Fancy would salvage something from out match with Surinam turned out to be off the mark as he lost interest in the game and went from better to drawn to lost (over the space of an hour or so). So we only managed half a point from a match we should have won 2.5-1.5.
"They only count if they are played on the board" was Brian Jones response to that claim.

Monday 24 November 2008

Olympiad Day 10

You know you've really mucked it up when at the end of the game, your team mates look at you, mouths open, and just shake there heads. This happened to me today after I made one of the biggest blunders in my career. Having organised swindling chances in a losing position, my opponent made a move that not only lost him a rook, but probably let me mate him as well. But I had to clever, and played the quiet 'cut off escape squares' move. Two moves later I simply blundered a rook when I overlooked a basic pin. This completes by descent from hero (4/5 after week 1), to zero (0.5/5) in week 2. I dread to think what the last round will bring me.
As of the time of this post, PNG are losing 0.5-2.5 to Surinam, but we are better on the last board. Hopefully a win for Stuart Fancy will at least give us a respectable score, after I ruined the match for us.

Sunday 23 November 2008

Package draws

Previous Olympiads had there fair share of packaged draws (pre-arranged 2-2 results with quick draws on all boards), but it had been expected that the 'no draws in under 30 moves' would prevent this.
However, Craig Skehan came up with an idea over breakfast which still may allow such 'deals' to occur. Teams simply agree to arrive late at alternate boards, meaning that at the start time, 2 players from each side will be defaulted for arriving late, resulting in a 2-2 score. Of course this is cynicism in the extreme, but it would appeal to the 'a result is a result, no matter how it happens' crowd. The other complicating factor is one of trust, in that you had to make sure the opposing team did not renege on the deal by making a last second run for the chairs, but surely amongst gentlemen such a thing would not happen.

Olympiad Day 9

One of the effects of the pairing system at this Olympiad is teams tend to end up in 'groups' much more than they did in previous events. By that I mean that there are far more teams in a score group using match points than in a group using game points. As a result, the PNG win yesterday moved us into the '5 point' group, which jumped us ahead of about 12 other teams.
Now the important thing to note about 'groups' is that contain different types of teams. Usually there will be a couple of over-achievers who have joined at the bottom, with an awful tie-break score. Then there are the under-achievers, who have had a tragic loss, and sit at the top of the group, with a pretty big tie-break. And by design, the over-achievers crush the under-achievers 4-0. Unfortunately for the over-achievers, not enough teams either leave their group, or even join their group, and so despite avoiding the under-achievers, they still up with a tough pairing in the next round. Malta was a perfect example in that they won their first two matches and then got England, Poland and Egypt in succesive rounds. Despite only scoring 0.5 from 12, they still got tough pairings and only recorded another match win in round 8.
PNG were somewhat in this boat by being paired with South Korea. 2 years ago they weren't that strong (it was their debut), but this time they had a GM on board 1 (Alexy Kim), and had a pretty useful board 2. Indeed the match looked pretty clearcut on 3 of the 4 board, with Korea outrating us on Boards 1 and 4, us looking good on board 3, and board 2 really being the game to decide whether we draw or lose.
It turned out that my game was lost, after I played a bad move in the opening (Note to future opponents: I do this quite a lot) and just got crushed a pawn down. Stuart Fancy had hopes of a good game with his GM opponent, but he dropped a piece within 10 moves, and resigned in under an hour. Craig Skehan missed a pin, dropped a piece and got mated. However Rupert Jones was also following the script and scored out only victory as we went down 1-3.
The 1 point may help our tie-break which should ensure an easier(?) opponent tommorow, although we are looking forward to round 11 whee we expect to finish with a wet sail.

Saturday 22 November 2008

On becoming an arbiter

I do all of my arbiting in Australia (where I live), but the Australian Chess Federation does not have an arbiter accreditation system. Neither does the PNG Chess Federation (with whom I'm registered) so the only official arbiter accreditation can come via FIDE.
Despite having directed enough tournaments to meet the qualification criteria (an Australian Championship, 4 Australian Opens, large numbers of Doeberl Cup's, the SIO, and a IM Round Robin in the 90's) I hadn't applied for the International Arbiter title until now. In the meantime FIDE had introduced the FIDE Arbiter title, which I had to get first, so I began the process of application earlier this year.
As the application was to go through the PNGCF, the final stage would be pretty easy (as I am the PNGCF secretary). However there were obstacles in the way. Part of the application was to submit details of tournaments directed, along with signature of the chief arbiter (usually an IA) as well as a signature from the hosts federation (in this case the ACF). I organised the reports, and sent them off to the various arbiters to sign, and then waited for their return. I got one quick response from the always conscientious Cathy Rogers, but the rest of the paper work got lost in the system. For various reasons (and I was given a few), the chief arbiter of my other events and the ACF official responsible for signing, couldn't get organised to meet up and at the deadline for submission, my forms were still floating around Sydney somewhere. (As it turns out I wasn't the only one in this boat, as another application missed the deadline because it was not processed by the ACF, and had to be submitted as a last minute request by the ACF during the Olympiad).
Luckily for me, I was having lunch with Stewart Reuben on the second or third day of the Olympiad, and he remarked that he was holding a FIDE Arbiters seminar (and that I'd just missed the first session). However, if I sat the rest of the sessions, and passed the final exam, I would earn my FA title. So I spent the next two mornings attending the seminar.
Oddly enough the final section was on FIDE Swiss pairing rules. It was a small seminar (about 8 attendees), and at the start of the final section Stewart announces that he does not use the FIDE Pairing Rules when he pairs by hand (using the BCF system instead) and looking at me said "Shaun, you're more familiar with the rules than I am, why don't you teach this part". And I did. So I had the wonderful experience of teaching a topic which I was to sit an exam on the next day.
I sat the exam the next day, and was told that I had passed, meaning I have qualified for the FIDE Arbiter Title. As for the Swiss Pairings part of the exam, Stewart said to me "Oh, but you got that question wrong!"

The Olympiad Pairings Sytem

In a previous post I reported on some comments made concerning the pairing system in use at this years Olympiad. I must confess it wasn't until today that I finally got my head around the whole process.
The system in use is the Burstein System which uses SB tie-breaks to order teams in a score bracket (rather than rating or seeding which is more common). The other complication is that teams in a score bracket are not paired top v middle, but instead top v bottom, second to v second bottom etc
The most difficult challenge facing the teams is to try and work out their SB score, which is a mystery to most. The actual formula used is the sum of your opponents match points multiplied by your game points against them. For example PNG lost 2.5 - 1.5 to the AHO's who until today had 6 match points. This means that they contribute 9 points to our tiebreak. To remove distortion based on unlucky (random?) pairings, you drop the lowest score.
Knowing this clears up some of the confusion about the pairing system, as their was an opinion that winning by a narrow margin (2.5-1.5) actually improved your tie-break (on the principle your opponents were stronger than a team you might beat 4-0). It turns out that this is not the case.

Olympiad Day 8

The PNG v Bermuda match is something of a tradition at recent Olympiads. In part it is due to the fact that members of both teams socialise together throughout the tournament, and of course, by this stage of the tournament we are both scouring the bottom of the event. In Turin the result was 2.5-1.5 to Bermuda but this time the score was reversed.
Most surprisingly this was achieved without PNG losing a game. Astute readers will instantly realise that this meant that Craig Skehan did not lose. As the other 3 horses of the apocolypse have yet to appear, you can also assume in this case he only drew. But this is Craig's first half point of the Olympiad, so it is cause for some celebration (which we will be doing shortly).
The win for PNG came on the top board where Stuart Fancy went up a pawn against Nick Faulks and nursed it through the double rook ending. The game ended drastically when Nick walked into a mate. In a repeat of yesterday game I reached a position I did not like, got into time trouble, and then pulled off a save with seconds on the clock. Unlike yesterday the game ended in a draw, although Bermuda team captain Nick DeFirmian felt his player may have had reason to play on.
Rupert Jones also had a poor position but seemed to recover, with the game ending in a perpetual repetition. The team is now on 5 match points which probably means a couple of rounds of pain, with hopefully an easy pairing in the final round to get us towards my target score of 7 (3 wins and a draw).

Friday 21 November 2008

Olympiad Day 7

PNG continued their tour of the Carribean, with a match against Barbados. Although they aren't as strong as normal, the still crushed us 4-0. In the end all the games finished with collapses, as firstly Stuart, Craig, Rupert and then myself went from interesting, to lost.
Actually my game went from lost to interesting to almost the biggest save I've ever made. In my time trouble my opponent tried to mate me, but by playing saving moves I miraculosly emerged material ahead. However my opponent still had mating chances and I gave back my booty to head for an inferior ending. As it turns out I probably gave back the material the wrong way and I had practicial chances (although not theoretical chances) if I had found a different move.
Hopefully the reward for our defeat will be an easier pairing tommorow, but given our last couple of rounds I'm not hopeful.

Technical Commision

The other meeting I attended was the Technical Commision, which wasn't as long as RTRC, but was still pretty interesting. The major point of discussion was the Olympiad pairing system, and the use of match points rather than game points. Both Almog Burstein (head of Olympiad pairings) and Christian Krause (Chairman of the FIDE Swiss Pairings Commitee) were pretty scathing in their comments about the use of match points. Burstein said the pairings were OK but were distorted by the use of match points rather than game points, while Krause said the pairings for Round 3 were a "catastrophe". Whether this results in a change for the next Olympiad I don't know, as the comments were not followed by any motions or other actions.
The rest of it was done in a rush, with the discussion of clocks, pairing programs being pretty brief, and after an hour we were all told we could go home.

Thursday 20 November 2008

Rules and Tournament Regulations Committee

Over the previous 2 days I spent 7 hours at the Rules and Tournament Regulations Committee (RTRC) meeting. It was the first time I have attended a FIDE committee meeting, and I don't think what I am about to post will be able to completely describe the experience.
The first thing to note about FIDE meetings is that are pretty democratic, in that anyone is allowed to attend. In this case the RTRC meeting attracted 65 people. However democracy only extends so far, at least in terms of the voting practice. When an issue comes up for vote, usually the committee members vote first, and if there is a big majority for or against, the issue is decided. If the vote is close, then the rest of the room gets to vote as well! Nonetheless there were also occasions were essentially the chairman (Geurt Gijssen) had the only vote, simply by passing over a contentious issue.
Secondly, I picked up a strange vibe from a number of people present. It seems that there are a number of experienced arbiters who believe the rules need to be able to deal with every situation, and in the absence of such rules, they cannot make a decision. This resulted, in my opinion, a number of rule changes that were overly prescriptive, and downright silly.
As for the proposed changes (noting that the committee only make proposals, which have to be approved by the General Assembly) the major ones were as follows.:
Sections 1-5 (Basic Rules of Play) were untouched except for some corrections to the wording.
In section 6 the phrase "even with the most unskilled counterplay" has been removed (making this rule definitive)
One big discussion (of which I was involved in) was section 6.7, dealing with forfeit time. At this Olympiad it has been set to 0 minutes, which even the meeting chair (Gijssen) accepted was against the current laws of chess. I had always had problems with the wording of the old rule (in that I believed it did not allow the organisers to reduce the forfeit time to below an hour) and after much back and forth I proposed a new wording, which I believed added clarity to the wording. In my proposal I suggested a default forfeit time of 30 minutes, but also allowed the arbiter discretion as to what would happen if that time was exceeded. The motion went forward, but 30 minutes was suddenly replaced by 0 minutes by the chair. (If this was a formal meeting I would have been entitled to object). The committee voted 8-7 in favour (a number of negatives were based on the time, not the wording), but the whole meeting voted 40-20 in favour. I then tried to move a motion changing the default time to 30 minutes but Gijssen simply said "Moving on to the next item".
The other big issue was whether organisers can forbid draw offers/agreements in under x moves. A motion to this effect was passed, although Campomanes (who was present throughout) tried to pull a swifty by changing the wording to make the default case one where no draw offers were allowed, unless allowed as part of the tournament conditions. This was spotted in time, an the motion that passed allows organisers to forbid draw agreements before move x, but in the absence of a regulation, then draws can be agreed at any stage.
What is also important about this motion is that the topic of contrived repetitions was not addressed. What this says to me is that arbiters cannot refuse a valid repetition claim at any stage of the game (whether that is move 5 or move 25). Of course this makes it easy to circumvent any 'no agreed draws' rule, but we'll see what happens in practice.
The meeting adjourned after 5 hours, and then we reconvened the next day.
Day 2 dealt with the appendices to the Laws.
The first big topic was an attempt by Campomanes to abolish the section on Adjourned Games. I could not see the sense in this, but the discussion went on for 45 minutes. At first Gijssen asked the whole meeting to vote and although I thought it was split 50-50, Gijssen stated that the motion had passed. Stewart Rueben then objected to the change in voting procedure from the previous day, and when the committee members voted it was 6-2 against removing the adjournment rules (So that's 2 in the eye for Campo).
Under the discussion of the Rapidplay rules the wording was changed to allow the arbiter to call flag is BOTH flags have fallen (to prevent games from dragging out), but gives them the freedom not to.
Under the discussion of the Blitz rules, the most absurd rules change I have possibly seen was passed. Previously under section C.4 players could not ask for a draw under 10.2 (insufficient winning chances). However, after describing a absurd hypothetical (in a 15 minute game, which is now considered blitz, it gets to rook v rook after 5 minutes, and one playercannot claim a draw), the meeting decided to reword C4 to allow claims under 10.2. What they stupidly missed is that 10.2 only applies when you have less than 2 minutes on your clock anyway, so you would need to play another 8 minutes minimum in the given example. I voted against. So from the 1st of July next year, players can now claim draws in blitz games, which is both a nightmare for the arbiter, and a radical departure from what blitz is really about (ie winning on time).
Discussions about Chess 960 were held over and the meeting broke about 2 hours later.
Overall it was an interesting experience, and it was revealing (not always in a good way). I also attended the Technical Commission (of which I am also a member), but I will get to that later.

Olympiad Day 6

'Jamaica?'. 'No she was happy to' is an old music hall joke. However, at the chess olympiad, Jamaica is one of a couple of very tough Carribean teams (along with Trinidad and Tobago who beat New Zealand in round 1). Although we were both on 3 match points Jamaica was probably a team we wouldn't normally play (at this stage of the tournament), although I'm sure they were pleased with the pairing.
The good news is that we manages to scrape half a point (therebye losing 3.5-0.5). Stuart Fancy never really got going on Board 1, while my short term tactics were never a match for Shane Matthew's positional advantages in a Sicilian. Rupert Jones was the only player to score something, after finding a perpetual, although he had probably blundered slightly earlier. Craig Skehan was closer to winning an Olympiad game than he ever has been, after his opponent knocked over his king while reaching for a glass of water. Sadly for Craig, this doesn't count as a resignation, and the game continued, with his opponent eventually winning.

Wednesday 19 November 2008

Olympiad Rest Day 1

No play today and I suspect everyone is appreciating the rest. Of course not everyone is resting as yesterday, today and tommorrow are taken up with FIDE committee and commission meetings. Rupert Jones, my room mate, had to recvover from last nights Bermuda Party by 9:00 am this morning, in order to be secreatary to the CACDEC meeting this morning (The commission for the assistence of chess in developing countries). I was a little more fortunate in that my Rules and Tournament Regulations Committee meeting isn't till 3pm this afternoon (actually 20 minutes from now).
As for the Bermuda Party it was better this year, both because the venue was nicer, the crowd was larger, and most importantly, no one got punched out. The latter point was appreciated by the organisers, but not so much by the ClosetGrandmaster, who was running around wondering when the 'action' would start. I was well behaved and left at 2:00am but in the press room a couple of journalists are comparing depature times ('I left at 5' etc)

Tuesday 18 November 2008

Olympiad Day 5

The PNG machine gains momentum, with our first win of the tournament, over the British Virgin Islands. For experienced Olympiad watchers, the British Virgins are much tougher than the American Virgins, so it was a good victory for us.
Our board 1 match ended in a draw on move 20 after the arbiter seemed to not mind an early repetition. On board 3 Rupert Jones hacked his opponent with a closed Sicilian, while Criag Skehan managed to avoid a number of tricks but eventually collapsed and lost 'dismally' (His words not mine).
On board 2 I was paired with the legendary Bill Hook, who played his first Olympiad back in 1968 (when I was 2 years old). Indeed his legend grows with every Olympiad as photographers buzzed around the board, taking photos before the game begin.
After a quick start to the game I came up with an idea that at first I didn't think worked, but after I played it, looked better and better. I was helped by the fact that Bill went into a big think on move which enabled me to check that the tactics worked. I emerged a pawn up and then won a second and third pawn while Bill went looking for tricks. The game ended in a king chase and he resigned just before mate.
It was a narrow win (2.5-1.5) but a win nonetheless. Of course this means we will slingshoted up the table, and be paired with some team who are looking for a face they don't like.

Hook, Bill (IVB) - Press, Shaun (PNG)
2008 Olympiad - Dresden
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 d5 4. Nf3 Bg7 5. Qb3 dxc4 6. Qxc4 O-O
7. e4 a6 8. Be2 b5 9. Qb3 Bb7 10. e5 Nd5 11. O-O Nxc3 12. bxc3 Bd5
13. c4 bxc4 14. Bxc4 Bxf3 15. gxf3 Qxd4 16. Bb2 Qb6 17. Qa3 e6
18. Bc3 Nd7 19. f4 Qc6 20. Rfd1 Nxe5 21. Bxe5 Bxe5 22. fxe5 Qxc4
23. Rac1 Qg4+ 24. Kf1 Qe4 25. Qa5 Qh1+ 26. Ke2 Qxh2 27. Rxc7 Qh5+
28. f3 Rab8 29. Rc5 Rb2+ 30. Ke3 Qg5+ 31. Ke4 Re2+ 32. Kd3 Qe3+
33. Kc4 Rc2+ 0-1

Monday 17 November 2008

Olympiad Day 4

Despite starting with 2 free points, PNG only managed to draw 2-2 with Uganda. Using the slightly dubious strategy of only playing on boards 3&4 (and apparently on 2&4 to give their 'No 1' White in every game), they faced Rupert Jones and Craig Skehan, while Stuart Fancy and I had the afternoon off. Once again Craig played a solid, unambitious opening, until he got overwhelmed in the centre and eventually mated. Rupert had prepared well for his game (the Scandanavian Portraguese Gambit), but at some point it went awry and he never recovered the pawn.
However it is our first match point, although we remain sufficiently low down to hopefully avoid anyone too scary. However, given the randomness of the draw we could end up against anyone, so a PNG v Russia clash may still be a possibility!

Defaults at the Olympiad

There are a anumber of unpopular rule changes at this years Olympiad including Match point scoring, the random pairings and the shortening of the tournament to 11 rounds, but probably the most unpopular rule is the deafult rule. Basically any player who is not present at the board at the start of the game loses immediately. No 1 hour default time, instead an instant forfeit for being even 10 seconds late.
Or 3 minutes as New Zealander Bob Smith discovered 40 minutes ago. Deciding to stay back at the hotel for some last minute prep, he took a late bus, missed his stop, and arrived 3 minutes after the start time. New Zealand down 1-0 to Solvenia.
Indeed a number of games were over very quickly by this method, including boards 1&2 of the PNG v Uganda match. The Ugandan's suffered from the usual visa difficulties that afflict many African teams, meaning they started down 2 points against us.

Sunday 16 November 2008

Olympiad Pictures

My first set of Olympiad pictures are now up. Just click on the 'Chess Photos' link on the left. The pictures are of the opening ceremony and before the first round. When the schedule settles down a bit I'll try and get more pictures of the action and the leading players.

Olympiad Day 3

After yesterday's debacle it was quite an effort to front up to today's game. Not helping is the fact I've had a sore throat/cold since about day 2 of my holiday. And despite resisting the temptation to 'Keith Moon' my hotel room, I still didn't get much sleep ('slept like a baby' as the old joke goes, 'cried for 2 hours, slept for 2 hours, etc').
So PNG fronted up against the AHO's (Dutch Antillies), who have always been a challenging team for us. Their board 1 was an IM, and the rest of the team was in the 2100-2200 range.
Once again the games followed the usual script. Stuart Fancy continued his plan of playing Black in every game by opening 1.a3 for the second day in a row. I actually had to find an answer to 1.Nh3 (The Amar Opening) and didn't do a good job of it. Rupert Jones played a solid Lopez, while Craig Skehan misplayed a Italian Opening and was in trouble from the start. Craig resigned after about 2 hours, while Rupert Jones's game ended in a 9 fold repetition. Despite the position being repeated around move 24 the players decided to remove the arbiters from the equation by happily repeating until move 30 had been reached. Attempts by the arbiter to intervene were unsuccesful as neither player attempted to claim the draw prior to the allowed move.
My opponent also fell foul of this regulation where he attempted to offer me a draw on move 21, when the position was starting to turn against him. I informed him that such an offer was not allowed and we continued. By the time we reached move 30 I was completely winning so no further offer was forthcoming.
Stuart Fancy gave up a piece for 2 pawns but it was insufficient compensation and despite defending for 4 hours was unable to hold. So we are still to record a match win but 1.5-2.5 was an OK score for us.
For those following the fortunes of the Australian Open team, they managed to score their first win, a 4-0 victory over the British Virgin Islands. The fact that this match took place on Board 53 resulted in some cruel teasing by the 'minnow' teams.

Saturday 15 November 2008

Olympiad Day 2

Round 2 got off to a delayed start after the board pairings were published, despite 40 teams having the wrong team lists reported. This was due to an arbiter failing to collect the team sheets on time, which resulted in the missing teams being listed as playing their top 4. The error was discovered late enough to effect team preparation, so the round was held up for an hour.
The other weird thing about this round was the boards that some of the teams were playing on. Due to the accelerated pairing system a powerhouse match like Hungary v Latvia was being played on board 51, while on board 18 Jersey was playing Malaysia. Expect more chaos tommorow as the acceleration comes to an end and some teams on 0 match points (like Australia!) end up amonsgt other teams with 0 match points (like PNG!)
PNG were paired with Sri Lanka, which on paper outrated us slightly, although a 2-2 result was quite possible. In the end we went down 3.5-0.5, with losses on boards 1,3 and 4. Once again I proved that no anti-draw measure can stop me, as I recorded yet another draw, the second of the Olympiad and the 11th in my last 15 Olympiad games. Annoyingly I missed a win, and probably a pretty basic one. A pawn up in a rook and pawn ending, I did all the right things until right to the very end, when I suddenly couldn't find the key idea, and offered a draw.
Not making me any happier was the slightly unpleasent end to the game. I offered a draw, which my opponent accepted with a handshake. The arbiter came over, but foolishly I had left my clock running. As we were recording the result, the Sri Lankan team captain, Sunil Weeramantry tried to claim a win for his player as my clock had reached zero. I suggested he not try that on, when he became all indignant about my suggestion, claiming he was merely joking. Although I apologised for any misunderstanding, I wasn't happy with the whole situation.

Friday 14 November 2008

The legend of 'Craig'

Before I started this blog I used to provide Olympiad coverage via the Canberra chess email list. That was a much more personal affair, as most of the readers new me directly, and as a result I was probably more 'familiar' with what I wrote.
One of the regular features of that coverage was the 'Craig Skehan Moment of the Day', which chronicled the adventures of the PNG board 4. To understand the background, you need to realise that Craig is an exceptionally part time player, with the possible unique achievement of playing no other rated chess other than the 5 Olympiads he has taken part in. Craig's other record is that he has played more games at the Olympiad without a win than any other player in history (Unfortunately for PNG the second player on this list is Allan Luga, who was supposed to be our board 4 this time, but didn't make it).
Amongst the lower ranked teams the legend of Craig has started to grow, with members of other teams accosting me at the venue and assuring me that 'Craig must win a game at this Olympiad'. 'Against you?' I ask. 'Well not against us' is the usual reply. Indeed Craig is now so famous that like Madonna and Snoopy, he is now known simply by his first name. At our match yesterday the PNG team was listed as Fancy, Press, Jones and 'Craig'. And after the match he was signing autographs for German school children.
But sadly I'm not going to continue the 'moment of the day' feature, as this blog now has a wider readership (Hi to the Alwoodley CC and the Yorkshire Chess Association!). But I'll leave you with a small taste of what you're missing.
However on the train trip from Berlin we were sitting with various members of the German Olympiad Team No 2 when the subject of the World Championship Match in Bonn came up. "World Championship Match" said Craig. "Is Kasparov still world champion? he continued. "No" came the straight reply. "Then who is?" he continued. At this point the Germans could not contain themselves any longer and dissolved into a fit of giggling.

Olympiad Day 1

The big day has finally arrived, with almost a thousand players moving into the playing hall for the first round of the 2008 Olympiad. There was much interest in the start of the first round as FIDE has introduced a rule that players absent at the start of the round will lose. Although almost all teams managed to front up on time there was a bizarre result in the Moldova v Morocco match where Morocco failed to show but Moldova only scored 3 points after their board 1 went missing as well.
As for the chess, the Olympiad is using accelerated pairings which meant that instead of being massacred 4-0 by Indonesia, Papua New Guinea would probably score the same result against Uruguay. As it turned out the acceleration helped us a little bit as I managed to draw on board 2, limiting our defeat to 3.5-0.5 Despite the margin, we fought hard on all boards, with the top 3 boards heading into the 4th hour of the game before the result became clear.
As you can see in the photo, at least 3 of the team were taking the match seriously, although my distant stare can be explained by a desire not to cough all over my opponent and give him the sore throat I have been suffering from. (Many thanks to Cathy Rogers for providing the photo)
At the moment I am still hamstrung by the internet facilities at hotel, but hopefully these will be sorted out quickly, and I will be able to provide games and extended commentary.

Thursday 13 November 2008

Olympiad Day 0

A long but mainly pleasent journey from Leeds got us into Dresden at lunchtime today. Due to a double booking on the Eurostar, Rupert Jones and myself got moved into first class, which meant a free dinner and all the wine we could drink. The only drawback was a 5 hour wait at Brussels railway station for the night train to Berlin. Brussels isn't the most interesting place in the world and the railway staion could do a fair impersernation as 'Hell's waiting room'.
After a short break in Berlin we took the train to Dresden. A couple of people recognised us as chess players, so we took the opportunity to play "Guess which country we are from?". We thought we had won becuase they failed to recognise our obvious PNGness, but honours were shared when we failed to recognise Karsten Muller (the well known author), despite the fact that Rupert Jones had met him 10 years previously.
We arrived in Dresden to find that our hotel accommodation is still the Ibis, while the Australians are staying in the 5 star Maritim, right next to the venue. Despite claims to the contrary, average ELO carries some weight. I also picked up various bits of gossip from around the venue, including news that Kirsan Illumzyhnov was involved in a car accident in Moscow while heading to the airport to fly to Germany.
At the moment I'm blogging from the press centre, which may be the only place in Dresden that provides free internet access. The ClosetGrandMaster was already here when I arrived, so if you can't stand me, there is also coverage from him.
The hotel charges 5 euros per half hour and there is now way I'm paying that. So updates are likely to occur before and after the rounds, with the latter being more likely.
The opening ceremony is taking place in a couple of hours and hopefully I will have some photos for tommorows post.

Tuesday 11 November 2008

The leaving of Leeds

Do a search for 'chess' in Google news and most of the stories are about teams heading off to the Dresden Olympiad. For the PNG team most of the team have been traveling since last week, although the final leg of the journey starts tomorrow.
For an island nation surprisingly most of us are arriving by train. In my case it will a total of 25 hours of travel, starting in Leeds and ending in Dresden via London, Brussels and Berlin. Once we do get there sorting out accommodation may be more involved than first thought.
The organisers have placed the PNG team in the cheap and cheerful Ibis hotel, which seems sensible enough if you assume that the quality of accommodation and the average rating of the team is directly related. However this apparently isn't the case, and it depends more on when you registered. Unfortunately for the PNG team we were probably too efficient, requesting our accommodation on the very first day we were requested too. It appears that the organisers then managed to lose all our data (possibly due to a redesign of their registration form) and only re-requested the information as the registration deadline approached. This meant we went from the head of the queue to the end of it.
I guess the lesson we have learned is "it doesn't pay to be more efficient than the Germans"

Monday 10 November 2008

Cannot find chess books!

While holidaying in England has been pleasant, the one thing I've missed is finding second hand chess books. A planned trip to Hay-on-Wye failed to eventuate, and now that I'm 'oop north', I haven't seen many second hand bookshops.
Instead I've been reduced to reading through Rupert Jones' chess collection. One interesting volume was a bound set of British Chess Magazine from 1920. As a past chess magazine publisher I can sympathies with the editorial team who were extremely worried about the magazine finances, and the level of subscriptions (at one stage as low as 500, although it was soon after World War I).
There were a number of reports from British chess, as well as mention of events like the Victorian State Championship, and a Melbourne Chess Club v a Sydney Club telegraphic match.
At random I've picked a short game where Black tries the Philidor Counter Gambit and quickly becomes unstuck.

Mlotkowski,S - Perry,E [C41]

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 f5?! 4.exf5 e4 5.Ng5 [ 5.Qe2!] 5...Bxf5 6.Nc3 d5 7.f3 Nf6 8.fxe4 dxe4 9.Bc4 Now white is winning. 9...Bg6 10.0-0 [ 10.Ne6 would also be effective.] 10...h6 11.Ne6 Qe7 (D)
Setting up a nice finish. 12...gxf6 13.Nd5 1-0