Sunday 31 December 2017

Happy 2018

Happy to 2018 to all the readers of ChessExpress and may next year bring you success on and off the chessboard. I'm heading off to Sydney tomorrow to be an arbiter for the 2018 Australian Chess Championships as well as providing daily coverage via this blog.
So far the event is looking to be very successful, with around 200 entries for the 3 long time control events. There are 35 players in the top section with GM's Anton Smirnov, Max Illingworth and Moulthun Ly heading the field. There are also 8 IM's in the field, so it should be a very competitive 11 round event. Live broadcast of each round will be available via Chess24, while GM Ian Rogers is providing onsite coverage.

Saturday 30 December 2017

Keep threatening checkmate

The only move in chess without possible drawbacks is checkmate. So one strategy is to keep threatening checkmate in the hope that it eventually pays off. For beginners this usually relies upon the opponent missing the threat, but for strong players it is usually because they run out of moves to defend against it.
Here is an example of the second situation.

Karjakin,Sergey (2760) - Esipenko,Andrey (2564) [B11]
World Rapid 2017 Riyadh KSA (8.9), 27.12.2017

A brief (early) history of the Grand Prix

I tend to steer clear ChessChat, Australia's best known chess bulletin board, but occasionally I will wander by, to gauge the pulse of the nation, as it were. In my last look-in I noticed that the ACF Grand Prix Series was being discussed. While the discussion mainly concerned the distribution of prizes, a few posts showed me that the history of how the GP started, and what it was intended to do, seems to have been lost. So to correct that, here is how the GP came about (at least to the best of my recollections).
To start with, the Australian Chess Grand Prix was inspired by the British Grand Prix series. I had read about it in BCM and Chess Monthly, and wondered why the same couldn't be done in Australia. So in 1988 I drew up a basic outline of how such a series would operate and went to work putting it into practice. However there was one significant difference to the UK system, in that points were awarded in the style of Formula 1 racing, based on finishing places. At the time there weren't a large number of weekend chess events (maybe 20 or so across Australia), but I envisioned that the majority of organisers might be interested. I even pitched it to the Australian Chess Federation, as I thought a national competition might be of interest to the national body. It turns out they were not interested, telling me that "if you want to run it privately, go ahead".
The first edition kicked off in 1989, funded by entry fees from the tournament themselves. It had the 5 class structure that still exists today, although the scoring was slightly different. IIRC 6 or 7 tournaments took part (including the Doeberl Cup), and GM Ian Rogers was the inaugural winner. But despite the modest start in 1989, it really took off in 1990. This was down to the efforts of two people. The first was Ian Rogers, who had been looking for projects to pitch to Mercantile Mutual Insurance, following from their sponsorship of the Mercantile Mutual Masters. They were keen to support the GP series, providing a $10000 cash sponsorship for the prizes, as well as covering publicity costs and tournament materials (score sheets, posters etc). Part of the deal with Mercantile Mutual was the establishment of  the national junior development fund, funded out of the entry fees from the series.
The second important person was Larry Ermacora, who recruited around 40 weekend events for the second year. This meant the series was a truly national event with almost every significant weekend event involved. It also provided the impetus for a number of new events as both private organsiers and state associations became involved.
Interestingly, the Australian Chess Federation, who had little interest in the event in 1989, had a complete change of attitude for 1990. Of course the contribution wasn't in the area of extra financial support or manpower, but in the form of an extensive list of by-laws on how the series should be run. While my recollection of the exact regulations is a little hazy, I'm sure it did include the perennial ACF favourite "players and events must be approved by the relevant state association".
Mercantile Mutual continued their sponsorship for 3 years, and it only ended when the company was taken over (oddly enough by a Dutch firm). I ended my involvement around the same time, but I was pleased to see that the series achieved some important aims. Firstly, it provided a more competitive environment for top Australian chess players, by encouraging them to play in more events. Secondly it put more money into the game, not just for the top players, but for regular weekend players, in the shape of Under 2000, Under 1600, and state based prizes. And finally, it help create more weekend events across the county for players to take part in.

Thursday 28 December 2017

Blindfold Cycling

GM Timur Gareyev holds the world record for the largest blindfold simul, playing 48 games in 2016. He has turned his prowess at blindfold chess into a successful career, alongside his professional chess career.
His latest simul was in Bhopal India, where his is taking part in the Bhopal International. After the 7th round he took on 11 local players, beating 10 and drawing with one. The interesting thing about his blindfold simuls (apart from the fact that he cannot see the board), is that he often does them while riding an exercise bike. Apart from the exercise benefits, he believes it helps him maintain the flow and rhythm of the simul.

Vashishtha,Pranav - Gareyev,Timur [B01]
Blindfold Simul, 25.12.2017

Tuesday 26 December 2017

Not really shocked

In what is a hardly surprising turn of events, Israeli registered players have failed to receive visa's to participate in the World Rapid and Blitz events in Suadi Arabia. Even FIDE themselves have thrown in the towel on this issue, producing a press release touting their success in getting Iranian and Qatari players visa's, but omitting any mention of Israel at all.
In a better world someone from FIDE might have taken responsibility for the exclusion of players from this event, but in this one FIDE is patting itself on the back, as shown by the quote from the press release "As everybody clearly understands from the above, FIDE and the Saudi organisers are always ready to welcome any participant."

Monday 25 December 2017

I hope you get something nice from Santa Claus

Christmas is almost here, and I suggest that any gifts you need to buy should have been bought by now. I managed to avoid the worst of the Christmas rush by deciding I'm getting to old for this, and declaring anything I bought for anyone after the 1st of November as a 'Xmas gift'. This seems to have worked out well so far.
Nonetheless, I hope that under the tree tomorrow morning are gifts that you desire, or failing that, gifts that you need. This may or may not include chess sets or other related items, but if you've been extra good this year (no two handed castling, or using an upside down rook as a queen) then I'm sure Santa Claus will reward you.

Saturday 23 December 2017

Exchanging into trouble

Knowing which pieces to exchange and when is one of the deeper concepts in chess. Below a certain level, exchanges are often used to relieve pressure, to try and gain a tempo, or simply to postpone making a hard decision. Unfortunately, exchanging without assessing the resultant position can leave you in deep trouble, as a game from today's Street Chess tournament demonstrates.

White - Black [C47]
Street Chess, 23.12.2017

2017 World Rapid and Blitz Championship

The 2017 World Rapid and Blitz Championship begins tomorrow in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. At this stage I'm not sure who is playing (or allowed to play) as the tournament website is pretty light on detail. Of course this is of some interest as there was a fear that players from Israel (and some other countries) would be given visa's to play. Without a players list it is hard to find out what is going on in this regard, although this report from Leonard Barden indicates that FIDE's assurances on this issue may come up short.

Thursday 21 December 2017


Although I learned chess at a fairly young age (6 or 7), it took me another 10 years before I began to play seriously. In the meantime I played a number of 'simpler' games, although they did have 'chess' like features (two players, turn based play etc). These included Nine Men's Morris, Feudal and Connect 4. Often these were played during the school holidays, either with my brother, or with friends. Although the results of these friendly matches are long forgotten, but I do think they helped me develop the kind of thinking that I used when starting my chess career.
Of course there a number of games which fall between the simplicity of noughts and crosses and the complexity of chess/go/shogi. One such game is an invention of IM Ken Regan, dating back to his time as a student at Oxford University. It is a checkers like game, although no pieces are actually captured. Instead the goal is to run your opponent out of moves. He describes it in detail in a post about AlphaZero  as an example of a game is small enough to be solvable, but large enough that this cannot be done too quickly.
I find games of this nature quite interesting, as it is far easier to test the success of players strategies (both human and computer). As the search space is smaller, the number of good and bad ideas is much more manageable for the human brain. However, two evenly matched players should be able to challenge each other, as what may work most of the time, might not work *all* the time.

Wednesday 20 December 2017

I guess someones getting mated

The new logo for the 2018 World Chess Championship has been announced*, to a somewhat mixed reaction. I'm going to give the designers the benefit of the doubt and assume they knew exactly what they were doing.

(*I haven't seen an announcement on the FIDE website, but it has been published at WorldChess )

Tuesday 19 December 2017

Thirty years back

While writing up yesterdays post on the 2017 Australasian Masters I spied out of the corner of my eye, the bulletin for the very first Australian Masters in 1987. It started as a single 10 player round robin* and was purely an Australian affair. (* 11 players actually turned up to play on the first day, with FM Guy West dropping out to take on the role of bulletin editor!)
The first tournament had some familiar faces, with GM Ian Rogers top seed, followed by then IM Darryl Johansen. Also in the field were Stephen Solomon and Eddie Levi, who both played in the 2017 IM event.
Darryl Johasen was the winner of the first edition on 7/9. Half a point back were Rogers, Solomon, and Hayden Barber.
Barber also had the pleasure of winning one of the games of the tournament, in the 5th round against Chris Depasquale. In a game that could be described as slightly 'maniacal' Barber broke through with sacrifices on e6, but it wasn't until move 22 for black (22. ... Rh6! was equal) that the wheels finally came off.

Barber,Haydn J (2355) - Depasquale,Chris (2290) [B02]
Australian Masters Melbourne (5), 1987

Monday 18 December 2017

2017 Australasian Masters

The 2017 Australasian Masters saw overseas GM's Adrien Demuth and Vassily Papin share first place with 6/9. Tied for third were GM Anton Smirnov and IM Bobby Cheng on 5.5 Cheng, who had been looking for his second GM norm this month started well, but a mid tournament loss to GM Fabien Libiszewski left him struggling to get to the required 6.5.
In the supporting IM event, FM Eugene Schon was the convincing winner with 6.5/9. Last minute replacement IM Stephen Solomon was one of three players tied for second on 5.5, along with FM Qing Aun Lee and WGM Pauline Guichard. Unfortunately for Schon his final score was just short of what was needed for an IM norm.
Full standings from both event can be found here.

Libiszewski,Fabien (2540) - Kuybokarov,Temur (2468) [B84]
2017 Australasian Masters GM norm Melbourne, AUS (6.3), 14.12.2017

Saturday 16 December 2017

Eighty percent of success is showing up

The 2017 ACT Rapidplay Championship was held today, and it attracted a strong field of 32 players. At the end of 7 rounds, FM Michael Kethro and IM Andrew Brown tied for first place on 6/7. However, IM Brown did create a little bit of a handicap for himself, by turning up late for the first round, and starting with a half point bye (NB He wasn't the only one, with Canberra Christmas parking being the likely cause). As a result he was playing catchup for the first half of the event, until he beat Kethro in their individual game. Then the missed first round came back to haunt him in the final round when a fortunate escape against Fred Litchfield only garnered him a half point, while Kethro drew level with a win over Willis Lo.
The larger than usual field (for a normal Canberra rapid) meant that 5/7 resulted in a 4 way tie for third. In fact all the section prizes (Under 1800, Under 1600 and Junior) needed at least +1 (4/7) to be collected, showing how competitive the tournament was.
While this was the last ACTCA event of the year, chess will be continuing over the holiday season. The local clubs are taking a bit of a break (until mid January), but Street Chess will still be running every Saturday. So if you are keen for some chess success, just remember to start by turning up.

Friday 15 December 2017

2017 ACT Rapidplay Championship - Saturday 16 December

2017 ACT Rapidplay Championship - Saturday 16 December

The ACT Chess Association will be holding the 2017 ACTCA Rapidplay Championship on the 16 December 2017 This annual event is traditionally the final ACTCA event of the year, and the ACTCA invites all its members to take part. It will be held at Chicken Gourmet/King O'Malley's in City Walk, Canberra City. It will be a 7 round swiss, with a time limit of G/15m.

Schedule of Play Saturday 16 December 2017
Registration - 10:45am
7 Rounds
Round 1 - 11:00am
Finish: 2:30pm
Time Limits All moves in 15 minutes
Arbiter IA Shaun Press

Weather Forecast
Top temperature: 31c
Precipitation: 10%
Wind: 23 km/h

1st $100 (minimum)
2nd $50
3rd $30

Further prizes (including rating prizes) dependant upon entries. (NB Last years event had a prize pool of $350 and the prizes on offer were increased)

Entry Fees
$10 ($5 for players Under 18 years of age)

(NB I am an unpaid official for this event)

Thursday 14 December 2017

Don't panic

The publication of a new paper by the team behind AlphaGo has really got the chess world talking.  Applying the AlphaGo learning method to chess, they developed a program that was able to beat Stockfish after 4 hours of self learning. To read the headlines (and comments) about this, it would almost seem that humans are about to be replaced by computers, in all facets of life.
For me, while it was an impressive result, it isn't the end of the world, or even chess. Self learning programs have been around for a while, and were quite strong, even 15 years ago. KnightCap was one such program, with the authors describing the self learning aspects in a paper they published in 1999 (which was cited by the authors of AlphaZero).
On the other hand, what did impress me was the successful implementation of the Monte Carlo Tree Search. This is an alternative to the tried and true Alpha-Beta search method (or its variants), and relies on a probabilistic approach to evaluating position.  Instead of assessing the various factors in a position (material, space, pawn structure), the program self-plays thousands of games from a given position, preferring the move that results in the most number of wins. The obvious flaw in this method (apart from computing restraints), is that while a move may lead to wins 99 times out of 100, the opponent may find the 1% reply that is a forced loss for the engine. But based on the result against Stockfish, this did not seem to occur in practice.
The other thing to point out is that this wasn't a match between AlphaZero and Stockfish, at least not in a competitive sense. Stockfish had a number of restrictions placed on it (no opening book, less powerful hardware), and I suspect the point of the exercise was to provide a measure of how successful the learning algorithm was. If the authors intend to develop the worlds strongest chess program, then entering the World Computer Chess Championships is instead the best way to test it.

AlphaZero (Computer) - Stockfish (Computer) [E17]
AlphaZero - Stockfish London ENG, 04.12.2017

Tuesday 12 December 2017

The secret to being happy

I've always felt that the secret to being happy is to make other people happy. Of course I don't always practice what I preach (at least according to my family), but as a rule of thumb, it has generally worked for me.
When you play chess though, it isn't always possible to keep other people happy. The goal is to try and beat the person sitting opposite you, and succeeding in doing this may result in a less than happy night for your opponent. But if you play a good game, it may at least be appreciated, or even better, bring joy to the watching crowd.
I was able to play a nice attacking game at the Belconnen Chess Club Xmas Blitz this evening. I got to drop my rook onto f3, which impressed to single spectator watching the game, and after a couple more moves, it was pretty much finished. The spectator was happy, I was pleased, and even my opponent cracked a smile!

Xu,Ruofan - Press,Shaun [C63]
Belco Xmas Blitz, 12.12.2017

Sunday 10 December 2017

Age and Wisdom

I spent the day helping run the traditional end of year Junior Chess League event, the ACT Transfer Championship. Transfer is of course better known as Bughouse (although not so much in Australia), and is a favourite of juniors far and wide. However, despite the tournament being run by the Junior Chess League, it is in fact open to players of all ages.
Of the 21 teams who took part, the top places were mainly (but not exclusively) occupied by the older players. FM Michael Kethro and Jamie-Lee Guo (playing as Arjang FC) were unbeaten, scoring 13/13. 2 points back were John Cullen and Josh Tomlin, tied with Louie Serfontein and Luc Bailey. In the case of Tomlin and Cullen, they actually had less transfer experience than their younger opponents, but were still ale to beat most of them.
One possible reason is that to play Transfer well, you do have to be 'clever'. And by this you have to not only think about the moves, but also the broader context. Some moves are better than others, not because they are 'good', but because they're more likely to cause the opponent to make a mistake. When you are younger such thinking doesn't come easy, but as you get older, looking for flaws in the 'system' is part and parcel of life.
Overall most teams played it pretty straight (not a lot of trash talking, no distraction techniques etc) which was demonstrated by the fact I had to deal with very few issues.  Possibly the weirdest one was where two teams found both kings in check on one board, and confused by this, just decided to agree to a draw!

2018 Australian Championship - Early entry deadline approaches

The 2018 Australian Championships is being held at the North Sydney Leagues Club from the 2nd to the 12th of January 2018. Alongside the Championship will be the reserves event (Under 2150) and the 7 round Classic (for Under 1800).
The deadline for the early entry discount is approaching so if you are planning to play, you better enter soon. Entry for the Championship is restricted to players rated above 2150, although I do note that players rated below that have applied to be considered. Otherwise it is the Reserves or Classic, depending on how much time you can spare. There is also a FIDE Rated Blitz on the 7th (the only rest day), where the new FIDE Rules for blitz will be in effect (2 illegal moves lose!).
The tournament website is and contains an online entry form as well as other tournament details.

(NB I am a paid official for this event)

Friday 8 December 2017

Two GM norms at Young Masters

The 2017 Lidums Australian Young Masters produced not one but two Grandmaster norms, one for IM Bobby Cheng (AUS), and one for IM Kanan Izzat (AZE). Both secured the norms with draws in the final round, finishing on 6.5/9. This also left them tied for first place, half a point ahead of GM Vasily Papin in third.
While two GM norms in a 10 player Round Robin is rare, it was helped in part by the fact that a couple of players were out of form. IM Ari Dale struggled to get going in the event, although he did win his last round game against GM Moulthun Ly. FM Chris Wallis and FM Patrick Gong both had early wins, but found the rest of the event tough going. Cheng scored 3/3 against the back markers, although Izzat drew with both Dale and Gong. IM R Praggnanandhaa had an early setback with a loss against Izzat and was unable to repeat his GM level performance from the World Junior. Sukanadar played a number of interesting games, but eventually finished on 4. Ly's last round loss to Dale dropped him down the table, while Demuth only lost 1 game, but with 6 draws, was destined for a mid table finish.
FM Yi Liu (AUS) won the IM event with 6/9, but this wasn't enough for an IM norm. However I am assuming that this win will result in an invite to the GM group next year, where he will be playing for both IM and GM norms.

2018 Australian Junior Championships

The 2018 Australian Junior Chess Championship is being held from the 13th to the 21st January 2018, at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne. The event will be run across a number of age groups, with specific schedules for each. The Junior Championship itself is open to all eligible players Under 18 years of age (on the 1st January 2018) and will be a 9 round FIDE rated event. There is also events for Under 16, 14, 12, 10, and 8 years players (along with girls events for Under 18's down to Under 8's).
Players from the ACT have an extra incentive to take part in this event, as the ACT Government is providing a grant of $2000 for travel assistance. This is will be shared by all ACT players taking part in the tournament, with the grant being handled by the ACT Junior Chess League.
Details of the tournament can be found at the tournament website.

Tuesday 5 December 2017

Obscure amazon items

There was a degree of excitement today, as Amazon opened its Australian 'shop' for the first time. Early reports indicate that this wasn't as momentous an occasion as expected, with nothing too ground breaking hitting the market, and prices not being much lower than normal Australian retail.
Of course I had to test the system by seeing what chess items they had. Turns out all the usual books, although Amazon seem to sell a lot of titles by obscure authors. In some cases they are reprints of out of copy right works (eg 'Chess' by RF Green) or more recent works aimed at the beginner/school market.
In the end the only item of note was a neon sign that read "Chess Player Parking Only". I don't know whether Amazon have vastly overestimated the number of chess centres in Australia (which seem to be the obvious market) or if it is intended as a 'gag' gift to be placed at the end of the garage on Christmas morning. I think the second theory is more likely to be correct.

Monday 4 December 2017

A new wrinkle

This time last year I was just about to head off to a cold and damp London to play some chess at the London Chess Classic. A year later I am sitting in a cold and damp Canberra (while suffering from an awful cold), watching the action from afar.
The first two rounds of the LCC have seen all the games drawn, but the Open event has had some interesting games. One that caught my eye was a win by Jonny Hector, where he played a move in Two Knights that I was unfamiliar with. On move  8 the queen has a number of squares to go to, but d7 would not have been my choice. Nonetheless it turned out OK for Black, although Hector did not gain anything that he would not have got from other choices. It wasn't until White took the rook on f8 that the game came to a sudden finish, as the check on g5 was enough to win the game.

Campos Chacon,Marco (2040) - Hector,Jonny (2493) [C56]
London Classic Open 2017 London ENG (1.25), 02.12.2017

Saturday 2 December 2017

The perils of time trouble

The first round of the 2017 Australian Young Masters GM event saw each game end with a decisive result. Some of the games were pretty one sided, but a couple swung back and forth. Probably the most dramatic games was between Praggnanandhaa and Ly, where the game was eventual decided in what I assume was mutual time trouble. Praggnanandhaa had a nice advantage from the opening, and Ly decided to sacrifice an exchange on move 26 in return for some attacking chances. He almost got it back to equality around 35, but he decided not to exchange queens, and Praggnanandhaa was once again on top. Then at move 46 there was a spectacular double blunder, with both players missing how strong 46. ... Re2!! was. If Ly had spotted it the game would have been drawn, while if Praggnanandhaa had foreseen it he would have probably chosen 46.Qxf2 rather than 46.Kh1. Instead Ly played 46. ... Ra2 and after that Praggnanandhaa had the game in the bag.

Praggnanandhaa,R (2509) - Ly,Moulthun (2486) [C50]
2017 Lidums Australian Young Masters GM Adelaide (1.1), 02.12.2017

Friday 1 December 2017

Don't mess with the Morphy

Despite almost every chess player in the world knowing what happen when you play 3. ... Bg4 in the Philador's, I guess some players still want to give it a go. A very recent occurrence of this variation came in an Australian CC game, and as you can guess, it didn't end well for Black.

Hornung,Michael (1823) - Korab,Boyd (1790)
AUS/2017/S6113 (AUS) ICCF, 25.03.2017