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.