Thursday 31 August 2017

Canberra globe-trotters

I can remember a time when it was incredibly difficult for Australian (and New Zealand) players to play overseas events. The cost of international travel, plus overseas living expenses, made it a very expensive proposition. New Zealander Bob Wade simply moved to the UK in the 1950's, while Murray Chandler famously refused to return home after a World Junior in the 1970's, moving himself to London instead. Darryl Johansen apparently lived in a tree house in London in the early 1980's, while both he and Ian Rogers had to take side work (for Murray Chandler no less) to supplement their chess earnings.
These days travel is a lot cheaper (relatively) and there are more events that can be played in a shorter period of time. Chess tourism is now more of a thing, although the balance between the chess and tourism may be a function of age.
At the younger end two Canberra players are currently playing in international events. Siddhant Badrinrayan is one of 4 Australian players taking part in the World Cadet's Championship in Brazil. He is on 3.5/10 going into the final round. Xander Leibert is the best scoring Australian player on 5.5, while Byron Morris is on 4.5. Aiden Wen is playing in the Under 8 tournament, and is currently on 4/10.
Albert Winkelman is part of the Australian contingent at the Malaysian Chess Festival. He is currently on 2.5/6, but is performing around 400 points above his rating. IM Justin Tan is also playing in the Open event, and is among the leaders on 4/5. Tan is looking to complete the requirements for a GM title, and is currently well placed to do so.
Results from the Cadets can be found here, while the Malaysian Chess Festival home page is here.

Tuesday 29 August 2017

2017 World Cup

The 2017 FIDE World Cup begins in a few days in Tbilisi, Georgia. The 128 player knockout will see the top 2 players go forward into the Candidates Section of the World Championship cycle, as well as providing a substantial prize pool for all the participants (eg First round losers still earn $4800 USD)
Oddly, World Champion Magnus Carlsen has decided to take part in the tournament, raising the issue of what happens if he finishes in the top 2. I assume he isn't going to be seeded into the tournament that determines the challenger to his own title (unless we wish to see a Monty Python inspired World Championship match), so a playoff for third might be required.
Also taking part is Australian IM Anton Smirnov, with a seeding of 117. This means he has challenging first round match against faces GM Sergei Karjakin. Also taking part are a couple of players with Australian connections in the shape of Armenian GM's Melkumyan and Aronian. Both are in the top half of the draw and should make it to the second round at least.
The tournament starts on the 2nd of September (play starting on the 3rd). Rounds start at 3pm local time, which translates to 9pm Canberra time. You can find out more information, as well as follow the event at the official website.

Monday 28 August 2017

More coffee-housing

Just a quick game from Street Chess on Saturday. My opponents final move was a big blunder but I was in a better position even if he found the correct defence.

Press,Shaun - McPherson,Erick [C01]
Street Chess, 26.08.2017

Sunday 27 August 2017

Karl Galli RIP

Karl Galli, one of Canberra's more colourful chess players, has passed away. He had been unwell for the last few years, but even in poor health, he still made an effort to play at both his local club, and other Canberra events.
In his youth he was also a boxer, and on occasion, he brought the combative nature of the ring to the board. He was particularly well known for developing his own opening systems, building a protective barrier across the third rank with his pawns, hoping his opponent would overreach. As Black this was known locally as the "Galli Defence" and as White, it was termed the "Galli Attack".
Although he could be an irascible character, he loved his chess, and often showed a generosity across the board to younger players. A stalwart  at the Tuggeranong Chess Club (where he had a blitz event named after him) and Street Chess, he will be missed by all who knew him.

Friday 25 August 2017

The Duke of Brunswick wins one

For chess players the Duke of Brunswick is 'that guy who lost to Morphy' in the famous Opera Box game. And like most non-professional players who are famous for losing, that seems to be the extent of his chess notability. But he did play more than 1 game of chess, and while flicking through an old chess book "Chess Brilliants by I.O. Howard Taylor (1869)" I came across a game he actually won. He did have some help as it was played in consultation with German master Daniel Harrwitz against a similarly ennobled team, Viscount Casablanca and Herr Kaulla.
Apart from the novelty of the result, the game (or at least its publication) had a couple of interesting features. Firstly, the opening was reasonably modern (QGD), and Black tried to generate some queenside counterplay. Secondly, on move 30, the book does not show which promotion piece was chosen, and in fact has Blacks reply as "Q takes P" even though the pawn has reached the last rank. This of course would be a breach of the current Laws of Chess.
By this stage White has a huge advantage, and the main interest is seeing how the game finished, with the Black team eventually resigning down material (although White missed a forced mate starting with 35.Rxg7!!)

Harrwitz/Duke of Brunswick - Viscount Casablanca/Kaulla [D35]
Consultation, 1858

Wednesday 23 August 2017

Winning with e4

My father taught me early on that 1.e4 was the best way to open the game. Firstly he said, it allowed both my Bishop and Queen to be developed quickly, and secondly, Bobby Fischer always started that way.
Later on I learned that playing e4 was desirable in closed games (ie opened 1.d4, 1.c4, or 1.Nf3) In fact knowing that in such openings you should aim for an eventual e4 got me to the next level of opening knowledge. And while it isn't always possible to achieve, if you do  it can often turn out well for you.

Rakitskaja,Mariya (2165) - Eliseev,Alexey (2445) [A30]
St Petersburg White Nights op St Petersburg (4), 2004

2022 Olympiad to be held in Zimbabwe

I'm not 100% percent sure this report is accurate, but apparently Zimbabwe is to host the 2021 World Cup, and the 2022 Chess Olympiad. On the one hand they do quote FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov in the report, but on the other hand, the FIDE website seems to have nothing on this breaking news (and usually they report on anything Kirsan does), and more importantly, these decisions are made at the FIDE Congress 4 years before the event (ie the 2018 congress).
So it is either a misunderstanding on the part of the news agency, or Kirsan has decided to fully embrace his inner Trump and just say whatever he wishes.

Monday 21 August 2017

A bit of a brain snap!

It was all going fine until I decided that I was going to deal with 21.Nf5 with 21 . ... Qg6?? Of course once the position appeared on the board I saw the flaw with this move, and as it was a Correspondence game, decided the most sensible thing to do was resign.

Taylor,Kelvin - Press,Shaun [D27]
CCLA, 05.06.2017

Saturday 19 August 2017

How fast is fast

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

Thursday 17 August 2017

The Kasparov Comeback

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

Wednesday 16 August 2017

Hard Quiz

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

Another lucky escape

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

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

Sunday 13 August 2017

Crawling to a goal

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

How a tournament should end

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

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

Thursday 10 August 2017

What makes a good opening trap?

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

Victim - Trapper
Anyclub, Australia

Tuesday 8 August 2017

Asian Club Champions League

The Sydney Chess Club has finished third in the Asian Club Champions League, in the just completed event in Sri Lanka. While the event had representatives from across Asia, it turned out to be a small tournament, with only 5 teams taking part. The Sydney team consisted of GM Max Illingworth on board 1, IM Gary Lane on 2, FM Lee Jones on 3, and FM Brian Jones on 4. They won 2 of their matches, narrowly lost against the second place getters from Bangladesh, and lost heavily to the winning Iranian team. Both Illingworth and Lane score 2.5/4 but the team was outclassed on the lower boards.
Results and games from the tournament can be found here.

Monday 7 August 2017

Anand plays a brilliancy

Refusing to quietly ride off into the sunset, Viswanathan Anand continues to prove he can still compete at the top level, beating Fabiano Caruana in the current Sinquefeld Cup. At first it looked like Caruana was going to crash through with a strong attack, but he missed the strength of Anand's counterplay. Of course Anand needed find a nice queen sacrifice on move 26, but apparently this was quickly spotted, and Caruana lost a few moves later.

Anand,Viswanathan (2783) - Caruana,Fabiano (2807) [A29]
5th Sinquefield Cup 2017 Saint Louis USA (5.2), 06.08.2017

Sunday 6 August 2017

Who owns what?

Protecting intellectual property in chess has always been a tricky issue. Copyright of games has consistently been a legal dead end, and preventing live broadcasts of events by third parties hasn't been a raging success either.
Even the domain of chess coaching is not immune to problem in this area, as this story shows. (NB This is a New York Post article, so be warned) A chess coach in New York is accused if stealing clients from the business he worked for, after resigning and setting up his own business. The parent business did get him to sign some sort of non-compete contract, but it seems not to have had its intended effect. So off to court they all go, with $100,000 is damages being claimed.
For those familiar with the Australian chess scene in the 1990's may remember that this sort of thing was actually quite common. A number of chess coaching businesses seemed to get their starts after the lead coach left their previous employer, leading to some bad blood in the coaching community. There were even 'third generation' businesses, where a break away coach then had their coaches set up competing businesses. This seemed to go on until a kind of market saturation occurred, where the number of businesses and the number of client reached a level. There was even claims that coaching materials were 'borrowed' and rewritten, but I don't believe it went as far as court action.
I think these days everything is a little calmer on the coaching scene, although I suspect their is still competition between coaching organisations. Of course healthy competition is normally a good thing (market forces and all that), so if their is, I hope its all on the up and up.

Saturday 5 August 2017

It doesn't make coaching easy

"Proper chess players don't do this" is a comment I've often made when coaching juniors. This is normally in response to a player to win a game using just their queen, or developing their rooks via a3 or h3. And for a time I was able to get away with this, but modern players are making it harder and harder.
The rot possibly started with Nakamura playing some very early Qh5's. This caught a fellow coach off guard as he had been telling his students that 'only beginners play this move'. The the Quiet Italian came back into vogue at the top level, meaning it could no longer be dismissed as a 'school chess opening'.
Now Aronian is the one causing problems for me, as the following game shows. The early h4 is surprising enough, but bringing the rook to h4 is an even bigger shock. The tactical point is to 'protect' the bishop on a3, but it takes real imagination to play this move. The rook then hangs about on the h file for most of the game, until Aronian uses it to finish Nepo off.
So it looks like I'll have to amend my advice again, to "proper chess players normally don't do this" or something similar.

Aronian,Levon (2809) - Nepomniachtchi,Ian (2742) [A34]
5th Sinquefield Cup 2017 Saint Louis USA (1.3), 02.08.2017

Thursday 3 August 2017

Non tilt

In the good old days, a bad loss in a tournament was necessarily the end of the world. Equilibrium could be restored by the simple trick of taking a quick draw, before focusing on winning the event. Of course this was if you were playing in a 23 round event, a luxury few of us can afford these days.
In a short swiss event, every round counts, meaning that a loss can be far more destabilising. In some cases a player can try a little too hard, and the whole event can go totally pear shaped. In Poker parlance, this is referred to as 'going on tilt', a term that is now also common in chess. On the other hand, if an aggressive response does work, then 'getting back on the horse' is the how it usually gets written up.
IM Andrew Brown had this exact experience at the ANU Open. After a loss to Fred Litchfield in round 5, he bounced back with a couple of good wins. Although it wasn't enough to catch Litchfield, it did provide the spectators with some entertaining chess, including this quick last round win.

Brown,Andrew - Hathiramani,Dillon [B21]
2017 ANU Open Canberra, Australia (7.2), 30.07.2017

Tuesday 1 August 2017

2017 ANU Open - Organisers wrap up

The 2017 ANU Open was interesting from an organisational point of view. Due to various University policy changes, it wasn't clear whether this years event was even going ahead, but eventually it was decided to organise it anyway.
Last year saw around 60 players take part, as did this years event. Oddly, last year saw a larger than expected turnout for the Open (30+ players), with a smaller than usual field in the Minor. It was almost the opposite this year, with only 17 players in the Open, but 40+ in the Minor. If we could have combined the 2016 Open numbers with the 2017 Minor entries, it would have been a great field!
We tried something different with the prizes this year, awarding rating prizes based on W-We (points scored - points expected). While it kind of worked, it is probably something not worth repeating. The two major issues are the field is a little small to make it work, and handling the role of unrated players is tricky. At least one prize ended up being awarded based on final position, simply because every player in the section actually scored less than they were expected to.
One other change was the creation of a Unrated only prize, to deal with the issue of unrated players entering the Minor. This is often a tricky issue, as in most cases a Minor event is the best tournament for unrated players, but not always. Two years ago an unrated player did win the Minor (and the full first prize), but after that the organisers felt it was better to handle it this way. It turned out that one of the players that tied for first (John Adams) was also unrated, but this years T&C's made it clear he could only win the Unrated prize (which he was happy with).
While it is hoped that there will be a 2018 ANU Open, there is some debate about what format it might take. The 60m+10s time limit is a little limiting, and one suggestion is to try a FIDE rated 60m+30s event. A recent rule change means that all players are eligible to play in this event, although games involving players rated above 2200 don't get rated. As the current event is not FIDE rated this may not be a real loss. Of course the schedule would have to be changed, either to 3+2 rounds, or possibly a 1+3+2 6 round event.
Overall it was an enjoyable event, despite the small turnout. We even got some good publicity in the local media, with the appearance of Michael Pettersson MLA in the Minor being newsworthy. The Canberra Times did a nice story, which can be viewed here.