Wednesday 31 August 2016

On to Baku

The 2016 Asian Chess Summit has just finished in Al Ain, and tomorrow I'm travelling to Baku for the Chess Olympiad. A number of teams are already arriving in Azerbaijan, with the opening ceremony tomorrow (1st) and play starting on the 2nd.
The Asian Chess Summit covered a lot of interesting topics, and had a number of good presentations. In no particular order the main take aways from the summit were

  • Successful federations have motivated and energetic leaders
  • You need to measure all your metrics (number of players, number of games, number of schools)
  • Understand your brand, and your target audience
  • Different cultures respect chess in different ways
  • Success attracts success
I'm now off for a romp through the desert and hopefully will be back for tomorrow's flight.

Tuesday 30 August 2016

And then I did this

I've been tied up most of the day at the Asian Chess Federation Conference, but I did find the time to slip out and play some chess during the lunch break. Unfortunately I did this (as Black) ...

Kerr, Grant - Press, Shaun
2016 Asian Chess Federation - Casual

Monday 29 August 2016

While in the UAE

One thing I am missing out on while in Al Ain, is the 23rd Abu Dhabi Chess Festival. Despite it only being a 90 minute drive away, it clashes with the Asian Chess Federation meeting I am attending, and so will miss the last round.
This is particularly significant as Australian IM Moulthun Ly is one game away from a GM norm. He is currently performing at 2610 (10 points above the minimum rating requirement) and is paired with GM Zahar Efimenko (2661) and a draw will be enough. As both players are 1.5 points behind the leaders, the chances of a peaceful result are increased as there is no huge pot of gold awaiting the winner. Also playing is GM Max Illingworth who is currently on 4.5/8, and is looking for a last round win to give him a good result going into the Olympiad.

Saturday 27 August 2016

Is it all about the Benjamin's?

An interesting article on the current state of FIDE finances by Peter Doggers at It seems FIDE have been guilty of what many 'soon-to-be-insolvent' organisations do, and that is off budget spending. As it is easier to incur off budget expenses than it is to earn off budget income, this usually results in a decrease in liquidity rather than an increase.
The only hero in this story appears to be current FIDE Treasurer Adrian Siegel, who raised objections to non budgeted spending, but he was overruled by the FIDE Presidential Board. Of course the long term plan maybe to get Kirsan to contribute the $20 million that he promised at the 2014 FIDE Congress, but so far there has been no evidence to indicate that this is likely to happen.

Friday 26 August 2016

The disorganised blogger

My posts have become a little erratic over the last week, mainly due to the necessity of getting organised for the 2016 Olympiad. This time I am attending neither as a player, or an administrator, but as the team captain for Papua New Guinea. Hopefully this gives me more time to actually cover the tournament (rather than watch it race by), although my captaining duties will take up a significant amount of time.
Before the Olympiad starts I am stopping over in Al Ain for the Asian Chess Federation  congress. This is a three day event (29th-31st August) with everyone moving onto Baku on the 4th. My travel starts tomorrow afternoon (27th) but hopefully I will have greater access to wifi than in my previous trips, and so will endevour to keep this blog chugging along.

Wednesday 24 August 2016

More Olympiad Shenanigans

One of the interesting, if sometimes sad, issues with chess Olympiads is which teams actually make it to the tournament. Having served on the Technical Administration Panel (TAP) in 2010 and 2012, there is a lot of uncertainty about whether a team has made it to the host city, and a lot of late night ringing around occurs.
On at least two occasions I have seen half a team turn up (only 2 players in 2008 and 2012) and been allowed to play. The rules were actually changed after 2008 to require a minimum of 3 players present for a team to be valid, but in 2012 FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov just waved his hand to allow Burundi to compete (they went 0-11 and scored 3.5 game points).
One of the weird stories for this Olympiad involves the team from Pakistan. According to this report the Pakistan Sports Board has refused to allow the team to travel to Azerbaijan. The PSB currently does not recognise an official Pakistan Chess Federation, as there are at least 3 competing federations. Apparently they have requested the team not be allowed to leave the country, which sounds like pretty serious stuff.
Papua New Guinea went through a similar situation in the lead up to the 2014 FIDE General Assembly, with a former president claiming he was still running the federation, despite a new executive being formerly elected. While it did not effect the participation of the team, it did mean that it was unclear who the PNG delegate to the GA would be. In the end FIDE, after some deliberation, simply recognised the candidate who was going to vote for Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, which of course was the previous president. Oddly, part of the reasoning was the claim that a Federation needed to be recognised by the countries National Olympic Committee or Sports Ministry, a 'rule' they seem to be ignoring in this case.

FIDE Laws of Chess - Proposed changes

FIDE have published the proposed changes to the Laws of Chess, which you can find here. Most changes are to do with language, some with reorganising the document (numbering etc), and a few major changes.
Probably the most worrying is the return of the 'zero-default' rule, which had been removed a few years back. This rule has been the most unpopular rule in tournament chess ever since I had been involved, and it was a good thing that it was removed. So I'm not sure what the politics is behind bringing it back (and yes with FIDE it is always backroom politics), and I would hope that this proposal is rejected.
There are also changes to handling illegal moves, with players now only having to make a claim within 10 moves of the occurrence of an illegal move. This is to deal with the theoretical case of a player noticing an illegal move, deciding not to claim, and then waiting until much later in the game to make a claim, rewinding the game back to the legal position. The claim is that players could game the system by seeing if they are winning or losing before making a delayed claim, but I have never seen (or heard of it) in practice.
The only other change that jumps out at me is the handling of draw claims. The 5 times repetition rule has removed the requirement that the position occur via consecutive moves (which matches the three times repetition rule). Also it is now the players responsibility to check for three times repetition or a 50 move draw 'under the supervision of the arbiter' and that players now must assist in the reconstruction of games. I find this change odd, but possibly tacit recognition that too many arbiters are getting this part of their duties wrong.
Sadly, the changes signify a further move away from the ethos that chess players are relied upon to play fairly. Assuming players do not plan to cheat every time they sit down at the board makes for a simpler, more understandable set of rules, and by moving away from this, the rules are starting to become filled with 'corner cases' and 'what if's'

Tuesday 23 August 2016

The joy of six

Studying very short games might not teach you much about positional chess, but it does help sharpen your tactics. This is doubly so if you are new to the game, and are still trying to understand why you just lost in under 10 moves.
Obviously games that end in two moves aren't particularly helpful (unless you are filming a scene for Columbo ) but games that end in 5 or 6 moves can be a good start. Probably the most common six move mate is the smothered mate trap in the Caro-Kan, but here is one that shows you how powerful discovered checks (and pawn promotions) can be.

Laporte,Damien (2143) - Duc,Marie Christine [B01]
Creon op 10th Creon (6), 04.08.2005

Sunday 21 August 2016

The engine

IM Moulthun Ly was one of Australia's heroes at the 2012 Olympiad in Istanbul. Playing on board 2 in his first ever Olympiad he scored 7/10 and helped Australia finish in a tie for 19th place. This year he has dropped down a board (with the return of GM Zong Yuan Zhao) and once again may prove to be a significant contributor to the Australian score.
Both he and IM Anton Smirnov are warming up by playing in a number of events in Europe. Ly had a strong event in Lativa, finishing just behind the winners in the Riga University Open. He might have even had a chance at a GM norm, except for the fact he only played two GM's. He has one more event to play before the Olympiad, and if he stays on form, another GM norm is a distinct possibility.

Kriebel,Tadeas (2462) - Ly,Moulthun (2501) [B06]
Riga Tech Open A 2016 Riga LAT (8.11), 13.08.2016

Saturday 20 August 2016

Vale ANU Chess Club

Due to a decline in numbers, plus some issues with venue management, the Australian National University Chess Club is closing next week. The club has run for the last 10 years, but like most university chess clubs, most of the players at the club weren't actually students! It was mainly organised by university staff members (including myself) but as most of us no longer have a connection with the university, it was getting harder to organise venues etc
The final club night will be this Wednesday evening (24th August) from 7pm. It will be a 9 round blitz event and all past players are welcome to attend. There is of course no charge (and no prizes) but these tournaments are usually more social than serious, and is a fitting way to see the club off.

Thursday 18 August 2016

IM Gary Lane perfect in Fiji

Australian IM Gary Lane scored a perfect 7/7 to win the 2016 Fiji International Open. The tournament top seed (by over 300 rating points) was a class above his opponents, finishing 2 points clear of 2nd placed CM Calvin Prasad (Fiji). There was a big tie for 3rd on 4.5, with WIM Nancy Lane having the best tie-break.
The 26 player event attracted players from Australia New Zealand and the host country. For some of the local players it was a good warm up for upcoming chess olympiad, while for the visitors it was a chance to combine chess with week in the tropical sun.

Prasad,Calvin (2001) - Lane,Gary (2398) [A09]
2nd Fiji International Open (4.1), 15.08.2016

Wednesday 17 August 2016

Point and click

I didn't start playing serious chess until I was 16 years old, but I've always thought this was a help rather than a hindrance. As an 'older' junior, I probably learnt a little more quickly, especially from bad losses, and was able to put those lessons into practice.
My most common losses in those early days were games where I wasted a tempo or two in the opening, and then got hit by an attack. It took me a while to become a better defensive player, but I also learnt how to hack an opponent.
Even these days these lessons stick with me, as shown by the following game. To spare my young opponent I won't give his name, but while he played the opening reasonably well, he also played it a little automatically. As a result I was able to lunch a typical BDG attack, using the open f file and a lead in development to break open the kingside. Alert readers will spot that I could have won a piece with 11.Nxg4 but I was looking for the bigger prize with a sac on f6, and idea that quickly paid off.

Press,Shaun - Other, A.N. [D00]
Canberra 2016

Tuesday 16 August 2016

So wins Sinquefield

Wesley So has won the 2016 Sinquefield Cup finishing on 5.5/9, half a point ahead of Anand, Aronian, Caruana and Topalov. Going into the final round So led by that margin, but draws between his closest challengers meant that he was able to hold the lead.
My bold prediction of a Peter Svidler upset victory unravelled from round 1, and finished at the tail of the field on 3.5. However he did at least finish ahead of Anish Giri, who has been struggling in his last few events.
The next big tournament for a lot of these players is the Olympiad. Caruana, Nakamura and So are all playing for the US team and are on of the favourites for the tournament. However being a top seed doesn't always translate into victory (eg Russia), but having 3 of the top 10 players in the world can't hurt.

Nakamura,Hikaru (2791) - Ding,Liren (2755) [D43]
4th Sinquefield Cup 2016 Saint Louis USA (9.4), 14.08.2016

Sunday 14 August 2016

Who's who at the 2016 Chess Olympiad

The organisers of the 2016 Chess Olympiad have published the team lists for the Open and Women's Olympiad. Top seed in the Open is Russia, followed by the USA, China and Azebaijan.  In the Women's Olympiad, China is the top seed, with Russia, Ukraine and Georgia filling the next 3 spots.
Australia has a fairly high seeding in the Open (46), while the Womens' Team is seeded 54th.
Both Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin are playing for their respective countries, although India is missing Anand, while the event will be missing the entire Armenian team. The Papua New Guinea team is seeded 148th, slightly ahead of a couple of traditional rivals (Fiji, Guam, Bermuda) but surprisingly only a few spots behind teams like Botswana, who are usually further up the table.

Saturday 13 August 2016

Can't you take a joke?

I used to be a bit of a political junkie, although my interest in Australian politics has waned over the last decade. However US politics continues to amuse, with the current, never-ending,  Presidential election providing a constant stream of highlights.
The current trend is for the Republican nominee to say something both outrageous and or factually untrue, spend a day or two being defended by his own supporters, before the negative publicity forces him to walk it back with a claim the he was being sarcastic or joking. While this indicates a deliberate strategy of throwing anything and everything against the wall to see what sticks, it often leaves strong supporters twisting in the wind, having defended a withdrawn claim.
Anyone who followed the 2014 FIDE Election would have seen similar behaviour from current FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. After Kasparov gave his campaign speech at the FIDE Congress, Kirsan gave a speech where he basically promised everything Kasparov promised, plus more. The headline claim was that Kirsan was going to put an additional $20 million into chess (to counter Kasparovs offer of $10 million). As someone who witnessed this speech in person, I had assumed the promise was genuine, albeit one made off the cuff.
Of course once the election was over the promise disappeared almost immediately. Leaving the Congress after the vote FIDE Deputy President Georgios Makropoulos indicated that the promise was in fact 'bullshit'. The justification then (and repeated by people even now) is that everyone in politics lies and so lying doesn't matter. The problem with this is that planning often depends on these promises (cf FIDE funding to Africa), and the 'here today, gone tomorrow' funding model isn't one that any sensible project planner can rely on.
So it turns out that this tactic did work for the FIDE election, but I suspect it will be less effective in the real world.

Friday 12 August 2016

Melbourne Town

Due to current work arrangements, I have visited Melbourne more time this year than in the last 25 years combined. In fact I am just starting another trip to the city, although work precludes any chess playing opportunities.
However in recognition of the long chess history that the Victorian capital has, I did some digging for a suitable game. One of the earlier games I found came from a match between Charles Fisher and Louis Goldsmith. The match was played in 1875 and ended with a narrow victory to Fisher 6.5-5.5 (+5=3-4). The game in question was the 11th game of the match, and helped Fisher tie the match at 5.5 each. Goldsmith played the Sicilian Defence, a rarity at the time, although Fisher demolished it in a very modern manner. Bc5 by Black was probably dubious (although it has been played a number of times since) and once the knight landed on d6 Black was in serious difficulties. After that it was open lines and dancing knights before Black went down in flames.

Fisher,Charles M - Goldsmith,Louis [B40]
Melbourne m Melbourne (11), 08.02.1875

Thursday 11 August 2016

New York it is

After quite a delay, Agon has confirmed that the 2016 World Championship Match will be held in New York, from the 11th to the 30th of November. The venue will be the South Street Seaport, which is a tourist area in lower Manhattan. The match will consist of 12 games, following the now common format of 2 games, rest day, 2 games etc, with rest days between the last two games. At this stage the match sponsors have yet to be announced but it seems that the Carlsen and Karjakin camps are happy with the arrangements.

Wednesday 10 August 2016

What is your bounce number?

Whenever we ply a tournament (especially a large one), we often try and estimate our likely or target score. What this score is usually depends on the strength of the field, how we are feeling, and an inflated sense of confidence. However this is an inexact science, often made harder by the vagaries of tournament pairings.
A slightly more scientific approach (and I do mean slightly) is to estimate your 'bounce' number. This assumes that at some point is a large swiss you will begin to 'bounce' between higher rated and lower rated opponents. For example, if you are seeded just above the half way point, you should win your first round, lose the second, win the third etc. Of course you may score an upset win (or unlucky loss), but +1 is your target score for an event with an odd number of rounds.
Calculating your bounce number is fairly easy (if you ignore boundary cases). Just take Log base 2 of the number of players/2 and Log base 2 of your seeding number. The difference between the two should be the number of games you will win (or lose) at the start of the event, before you go win, loss, win, loss for the rest of the event. So in a 128 player field being seeded 20th should see you win your first 2 games (against seeds 85 and 53) before losing to seed 4.
Of course this assumes that the higher seeded opponent will always win, but at least it is one way of judging how well you might do in an event,

Monday 8 August 2016

2016 Commonwealth Championships

GM Abhijeet Gupta has won the 2016 Commonwealth Championship with an impressive score of 8/9. He started with 3/4 before finishing with 5 straight wins. He defeated GM Suri Vaibhav in the final round and finished half a point ahead of GM Sunildath.
Alana Chibnall was the Australian Women's representative (although it was a single open event), and after a slow start finished on 5.5 This was slightly ahead of her seeding (=37th, seeded 57th),and she was the highest scoring of the Australian players. Veteran Dick Voon finished on 5/9, with Regan Crowley on the same score.

Sunday 7 August 2016

Adams wins British Champs - GM Norm for Justin Tan

GM Michael Adams has won the 2016 British Championships with a record equalling score of 10/11. He drew with GM Peter Wells and GM Nicholas Pert, and won the other 9 games. This included wins over fellow Olympiad team members Gawain Jones and David Howell, as well as Australian IM Justin Tan.
However for Tan, that was his only loss of the event, and he finished equal third with 8/11. His last round victory not only got him to 8 points, but was also enough for his 2nd GM norm. He scored 3/6 against the GM's he played, and 5/5 against the rest of the field. Tan scored his first GM norm earlier this year, and given his current form, a third and final norm may not be far away.

Tan,Justin Hy (2438) - Hebden,Mark L (2509) [A00]
2016 British Chess Championships Bournemouth Pavilions, Bournem (7.5), 01.08.2016

Saturday 6 August 2016

The last minute winner

The 2016 Sinquefield Cup begins tonight in St Louis, and in the absence of World Champion Magnus Carlsen, a likely winner is a little harder to pick. Going on rating (and past performance) Fabiano Caruana is a good bet, while if current form is your guide, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. If you were a gambler you might think Lev Aronian is worth a flutter, on the grounds he's "due", but I've decided to go in a different direction altogether.
History has given plenty of examples of the last minute replacement, or the "shouldn't be playing at all" entrant, who has overcome the odds to win. Capablanca is an example of the latter, while Denmark in Euro 1992 can show it happens in other sports. Therefore I'm putting a sneaky fiver on Peter Svidler to surprise everyone. Originally Vladimir Kramnik was due to play, but back troubles have forced is withdrawal from the event. So Svidler, who often appears at such events as a commentator, has been drafted as a replacement.
Of course he may be a little rusty, and his Grunfeld keeps getting done over, but he is still a top GM and the fact that he may be under less pressure than his opponent may just be enough to cause a boilover.

Friday 5 August 2016

Chess misses out again

The dream of having chess as a medal sport in the Olympics has been dashed once more, with the IOC announcing 5 new participation sports for the 2020 Games. Baseball/softball and karate are hardly a surprise, as they have previously been in the games (and are popular in the host country of Japan). The other three sports are a little more left field, with Rock Climbing, Surfing and Skateboarding(!) making the cut.
In fact chess had not even made the shortlist this time, which of course raises the issue of why FIDE keep pursuing this recognition. Since it became a goal of FIDE to become an Olympic sport, a number of policy changes and decisions directly related to this have been implemented, not always to the benefit of the chess community. In return there have been kind words from the IOC but not much more than that.
I suspect Chess has now done its dash, and unless the IOC radically expand the concept of the Olympic Games (to include a separate event for indoor activities) then I can't see Chess making it to the main arena.

Wednesday 3 August 2016

One month to the Olympiad

Only a month to go the the 2016 Chess Olympiad, and as usual, there is the last minute organisation/panic for teams.
As my services are no longer required by FIDE, I am back with the PNG team, although this time as team captain. Part of the duties is sorting out accommodation, visas (an ever moving feast), and simply making sure everyone turns up. For those interested the team for 2016 is the same as 2014, with Stuart Fancy, Rupert Jones, Helmut Marko, Craig Skehan, and Nigel Marko ready to challenge the world.
Two years ago the team scored 16.5 game points (6 match points), which is about the norm for the team. This year I hope the team does better, but often it depends upon the pairings (our best scores often happen with easier last round pairings). A few of the team have also been getting some last minute practice, including Helmut and Nigel Marko who both had good results in the Waikato Open.
Once the Olympiad starts I hope to bring regular coverage from the 'back of the hall'. While the whole event is pretty hectic, a slightly lighter workload for me should translate into more comprehensive coverage.