Monday 30 April 2018

Shankland wins US Championship

GM Sam Shankland is the new US Champion after finishing half a point ahead of GM Fabiano Caruana in the 11 round event. Shankland's score of 8.5 equalled the best score in the modern 12 player era. Shankland and Caruana were tied after 8 rounds, but it was Shankland's 3 wins in a row, to Caruana's draw followed by 2 wins were the difference.
In third place was Wesley So on 6.5, while Hikaru Nakamura was in a group of players on 5.5.
Despite his second place finish, Caruana played one of the more interesting games in the tournament. Up against Varuzhan Akobian, he decided to go charging straight up the middle, while Akobian was aiming his forces on the queenside. It turned out to be the right plan, even when Akobian had a pawn on a2, looking to promote. Once f7 fell to Caruana, the game was essentially over.

Caruana,Fabiano (2804) - Akobian,Varuzhan (2647) [C11]
ch-USA 2018 Saint Louis USA (7.2), 25.04.2018

Sunday 29 April 2018

Carlsen wins Shamkir - Two bishops theory strengthened

After a slow star (by everyone) the second half of the Shamkir tournament saw a lot more action. After Topalov broke the run of draws, Carlsen kicked into gear, winning 3 games and finishing on 6/9. Ding Liren showed he now firmly belongs in the top echelon by finishing on 5.5, while Sergey Karjakin was the only other player to finish above 50%, with 5/9. At the other end, Topalov collapsed after his loss to Kramnik, and finished on 4 (-2 overall), only ahead of David Navara on 2.5. And while Anish Giri finished on 50%, he wasn't actually the 'Giri' of the tournament, as that honour went to Teimour Radjabov, who drew all his games.
Giri's only loss of the tournament was to Carlsen in round 8, in a game that further demonstrates that the bishop pair may well be worth a full porn pawn.

Giri,Anish (2777) - Carlsen,Magnus (2843) [A29]
Vugar Gashimov Mem 2018 Shamkir AZE (8.3), 27.04.2018

Saturday 28 April 2018

More Gareyev Magic

GM Timur Gareyev made quite a splash during his visit to Canberra a few weeks back, winning the 2018 Doeberl Cup, the Doeberl Blitz, as well as winning a blindfold simul 10-0.
As his blindfold exploits are what sets him apart from most other GM's, here is a film clip demonstrating just how good his memory for chess positions is.  It is from a Russian TV show where people do amazing things, and in this case, Gareyev is given 5 minutes to memorise 48 positions. Then 3 are picked at random, and he has to play 3 CM's while blindfold.  To see how it turns out, you will have to watch the clip (Hat tip to Miles Patterson for forwarding the clip to me)

Thursday 26 April 2018

Two FIDE Announcements - One good, one not so good

FIDE have made two announcements in the last few days, one good and one not so good.
The one that can be classified as good is the announcement of the details for the 2018 Olympiad in Batumi, Georgia. The details are at this link, and pretty much cover the calendar and organisation of the tournament.
The one that is not so good concerns the shutting down of the FIDE Bank Accounts. Despite this being an issue that dates back to the reelection of Kirsan Ilyumzhinov in 2014, FIDE have failed to find a solution to their self inflicted financial problems, and so for now have told Federations "please do not send any monies to our accounts with UBS as it will only be returned to you at your cost."

Wednesday 25 April 2018

Open Source Alpha Zero Chess

One of the benefits of supporting (and using) open source software is that for every closed source product, there is an open source version that quickly appears. And as a programmer, open source code is a real boon for just about any project I am working on, as reading code is almost always more informative than reading coding books.
With all the excitement about Alpha Zero Chess, it isn't a surprise that an open source version is now available. Leela Zero Chess is an attempt at recreating Alpha Zero Chess, based on what was published by the DeepMind group. It isn't as strong as Alpha Zero at this stage, in part due to the smaller hardware it is running on, and the fact that it hasn't had as much time to self learn.
Nonetheless it has already taken part in some high profile matches (with limited success), including the Top Engine Chess Championships (where it is off to a rough start).
However, if you are interested in chess engine programming (or just like reading C++ code at bedtime), you can see the source code at the github repository. It can be downloaded and run on your local machine if you are interested, and I'm sure they're always looking for contributors.

Tuesday 24 April 2018

Is the Bishop pair worth a pawn?

Having just bagged out the 2018 Gashimov Memorial, I've return to the tournament to discover some interesting games. Topalov broke the run of draws in round 4 beating Mamedyarov, and followed it up with a win in round 5 over Navara. Carlsen then got into the act, beating Wojtaszek in the same round.
Topalov's win over Navara contained a lot of interesting ideas and tactics. One thing that struck me was what was happening around move 20, where Navara won a pawn but conceded the Bishop pair. Obviously 2B v BN favours the Bishops, but is it worth a full pawn. Based on subsequent play, Navara may well have thought so, as Topalov offered an exchange of queens on move 25, which Navara declined. To my mind, if Navara thought he could cope with the Bishop's he would have swapped off, otherwise he wanted to keep as many pieces on the board as possible.
In the end Topalov got the ending he was looking for, and with all the major pieces off the board, was able to win back the pawn, and convert the ending.

Navara,David (2745) - Topalov,Veselin (2749) [A07]
Vugar Gashimov Mem 2018 Shamkir AZE (5.1), 23.04.2018

Sunday 22 April 2018

Suppose they threw a tournament and nobody won

On paper, the 2018 Gashimov Memorial looks like it could be a very interesting event. And it kind of is, just not on the leader board. As I type this, 4 players lead on 2/4, with the remaining 6 players on 1.5/3 (as their games are still going). Given that every game so far has ended in a draw, having a 10 way tie for 1st place at the end of the day is quite possible.
To be honest, this does kind of surprise me, as there are a couple of 'fighters' in the event. On the other hand, having a field of players rated so closely together (including 3 players within a single point of each other), does lead to this kind of outcome.
As the time zone is more favourable for live games in this part of the world, I will probably keep an eye on the tournament, but seeing everyone inch forward half a point at a time is not a great inducement.

Saturday 21 April 2018

Not all FM's (or CM's) are created equal

Quite a remarkable result from the 2018 Bangkok Open, with Indonesian FM Novendra Priasmoro winning the tournament with a very impressive 8/9. After starting with a first round draw against a 1927 rated WIM, he ran off 7 straight wins, before drawing with GM Nigel Short in the final round. Along the way he defeated GM's Moulthun Ly, Anton Smirnov and Hrant Melkumyan. earning himself a GM norm.
Almost as impressive was the equal third placed finish by CM D Gukesh, who scored 7/9, and earned an IM norm. Gukesh, who is 12 years old, does have a rating of 2400, but seemingly has not bothered to claim his FM title at this stage.
Of the Australian players, GM Anton Smirnov did the best with 6.5/9. A couple of Canberra players also made the trip across, with WIM Emma Guo and Albert Winkelman both scoring 5/9.

Friday 20 April 2018

Sometimes you have to play good moves

The US Championships has just started in St Louis, once again attracting a strong field. Caruana, Nakamura and So are the top seeds, and given the gap between themselves and the rest of the field, should take the top 3 spots. But as this is an olympiad year, the rest of the field might be aiming for the sort of performance that gets you on the defending champions team.
One player who has got off to a good start is former Doeberl Cup winner Varuzhan Akobian. He scored a 25 move win over Alexander Onischuk, using the Dutch Defence. Playing through the game it seemed that White was making most of the aggressive moves, but as it turned out, this only forced good replies from Akobian. Around move 18, Akobian suddenly got his d pawn running and after Onischuk failed to find the best defence it was all over.

Onischuk,Alexander (2672) - Akobian,Varuzhan (2647) [A84]
US-ch Men 2018 Saint Louis (1), 18.04.2018

Wednesday 18 April 2018

The Champion of the Champions

(The question below was originally directed to me on Quora. As one of the reasons why I'm blogging a little less is because of Quora, I decided to balance the scales by reposting the answer here)

Hypothetically, who would win a tournament featuring all the world chess champions in history at the peak of their form? Who would be an outsider?

It would certainly be a fun tournament, although I suspect their may be some disputes about who would be allowed to play. So for the sake of this answer I’m using the list of players from here List of World Chess Championships - Wikipedia but excluding unofficial champions before Steinitz, as well as Knockout World Champions (sorry Khalifman, Ponomariov and Kasimdzhanov). By my count this means there are 17 players in the tournament.

Now for some rules. To be fair the event will be a 17 player double round robin. The players will obviously know what they already know, but to make it fair for all, each player will be allowed only one second, and no computers will be allowed (either for the player or second). There will be rest day after every 4 rounds. The time limit will be 40 moves in 100 minutes (plus 30 second increment) followed by 20 moves in 50 minutes (plus 30 seconds increment) followed by an additional 30 minutes (plus 30 second increment) for the rest of the game.

Before I get onto my likely winners some comments on the rest of the field

Steintz and Euwe are likely to struggle. While both have had plenty of tournament experience they would be the likely targets for everyone else.

Tal, Alekhine and Topalov would be the real wildcards in the event. While I can’t see them winning, each of them could have a significant impact on the final result.

Capablanca, Smyslov, Karpov and Botvinnik would probably be mid-field players at best. While tough to overcome, I could see each of them content to draw games they found disagreeable. However the ‘tournament within the tournament’ between them would be fascinating.

Spassky, Anand, Lasker and Kramnik would be the tournament pragmatists. Even with a bad start, they would be dangerous throughout, and if they had a good start, then they would be even harder to beat. I would predict Anand and Spassky to finish in the top 6, with Lasker and Kramnik in the top half.

Petrosian kind of sits out on his own. Incredibly difficult to beat (unless you are Fischer) he might come into his own in the second half of the tournament, as the more recent world champions begin to tire (34 rounds is a tough schedule).

That leaves Fischer, Kasparov and Carlsen. These are my top 3. Fischer has the edge over the other 2 in playing longer tournaments, as well as his experience in working on his own (no computers remember). Kasparov has the edge in terms of opening theory, while Carlsen has a will to win that seems only to be matched by Fischer (and would be younger than the other 2 in this event). But if I had to pick a finishing order then it would be (1) Fischer, (2) Carlsen and (3) Kasparov.

If I had to pick a shock winner outside these 3, then it would be Spassky.

Monday 16 April 2018

And then there's sandbagging

Following on from my last post, some other claims of unethical behaviour is in the chess news. From the US comes a story of a team winning a rating restricted national school championship, after losing a (rated) warm up match 0-28 in the months leading up to the tournament. Other teams were quick to draw attention to these somewhat mixed performances, and the whole thing is now under investigation.
In any sport where players are classified by previous performance, under performing is always an issue. Golf and professional running spring to mind, but I'm sure there are plenty of others. US chess events were plagued by this issue for a number of years, so much so that the USCF eventually introduced a policy on rating 'floors' to deal with it.
It hasn't been that much of an issue in Australia, although there are a couple of well known players who never quite seem to crack the 1600 rating level, despite doing well in Under 1600 events. Of greater trouble in Australia has been how to deal with unrated players, as for most, the lowest section of an event is the correct place to be, but every now and then, there is an exception that causes an issue. The provision of an unrated prize in the bottom section does help, but again this isn't always the perfect solution.
My most recent attempt at dealing with the issue is to take advantage of the prevalence of online chess and at least use a players online rating as a source of information (with sensible modifications for rating inflation). It isn't always perfect, but it is better than outright guessing.

Sunday 15 April 2018

Still not getting it right

Another high profile case involving accusations of cheating has recently blown up, although in this case it was the accuser who ended up in trouble. GM Evgeniy Solozhenkin was suspend for 18 months by the FIDE Ethics Commission, after an investigation concerning the World Girls Under 14 Championship last year.
Solozhenkin's daughter was playing in the tournament, and reported an opponents suspicious behaviour to her father. At this stage Solozhenkin seemed to do the right thing, by making a report to the arbiters, and making a formal complaint to the FIDE Anti-Cheating Commission. And if he had left it at that he would have been fine.
However, he then made this accusation public, and compounded his error by making other accusations against the player in a public forum (and not to the ACC). At this point the mother of the player concerned filed a complaint with the FIDE Ethics Commission. After a hearing the Ethics Commission sanctioned Solozhenkin, not for the initial complaint, but for his other statements.
Unless it can be demonstrated that complains to the ACC are clearly malicious, there is no penalty for making a formal complaint. Even if no evidence of cheating is found, as it was in this case, there is no blow-back to the complainant.  But what you can't do is to go shooting off your mouth to all and sundry, as you can find yourself in trouble. So in this case the process almost worked for Solozhenkin, until he decided to shoot himself in the foot.
For more info on this (plus a number of comments), click on this link.

(NB I was a member of the FIDE ACC when the initial regulations concerning formal reporting were drawn up)

Friday 13 April 2018

Polishing my crystal ball

There is a thread on one of the Australia chess forums about Australian players who have played World Champions. David Smerdon did it at the last Chess Olympiad (drawing with Magnus Carlsen), although I believe that future/past World Champions count as well.
Based on his devastating win in the 2018 Grenke Open (8/9), I'm peering into my crystal ball and suggesting that German IM Vincent Keymer may one day be part of that list. And if he is, then this is an early entry for an addition to the OZ v WC list.

Keymer,Vincent (2408) - Chibnall,Alana (1906) [A00]
Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival 2018 Caleta Hotel, Gibraltar (1.124), 23.01.2018

Wednesday 11 April 2018

FIDE field begins to take shape

The field for the upcoming FIDE elections is beginning to take shape with 2 starters already stepping forward. incumbent President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov has declared his intention to run again, while incumbent Deputy President Gergios Makropoulos is also standing, after being 'asked by the majority of the Presidential Board, and many delegates'.
The first shots have already been fired, with members of the Makro team already using the increasingly weaponised FIDE Ethics Commission to take action against members of the Kirsan team (a tactic that was used after the 2014 election against Kasparov and Ignatius Leong).
And in what can be filed under 'coincidence, really?' is a request from FIDE for facebook pages and twitter accounts of Federations, Federation President's and delegates. Apparently FIDE think this is now an important resource to share 'FIDE news and also check and promote chess related news which is published by your federation and officials'. I assume any news that doesn't pass the FIDE check in the lead up to the election will be closely examined by the Ethics Commission.

Monday 9 April 2018

Last round pressure

The last round of any sporting contest can be a real make or break situation (yes I did see the highlights from the US Masters today!). For some players it is all about controlling nerves, while for others it is an opportunity to step up, and lift their game to the level required for victory.
The last round of the 2018 Doeberl Cup Minor saw an example of this, with Oliver Yang needing to beat Lachlan Lee to grab a share of first place. Not only did Yang do this, he did it in a particularly brilliant way.

Lee,Lachlan - Yang,Oliver [A45]
2018 Doeberl Cup Minor, 02.04.2018

Sunday 8 April 2018

All your chess questions answered

There is an old joke in computer academia that goes like this. "Professor, what programming language do you use?" "Hmmm, Graduate student I guess". These days the answer might be "Stack Overflow", and not just for university professors. For those not familiar, Stack Overflow is a website where you can ask questions about programming problems and hopefully receive a useful solution (although I do get annoyed when the only response to a question is a request for more information, followed by silence).
What I've just discovered is that Stack Overflow has a number of sister sites (through the Stack Exchange network), including chess. ( You ask a question, answers are given, and if the answer is particularly helpful, users can upvote it (or downvote bad ones). Questions can be tagged (to allow easy grouping and searching), and you can filter questons by votes or open/closed status.
A cursory look at the questions shows a lot of questions concerning the laws of chess (or how they are interpreted). There are also questions on more general topics (best reply to d4 etc), as well as queries about online chess.
I've signed up an account, although I'm not sure how long my own interest will last (Quora takes up a lot of my time in this area). But it is worth checking out, if only because Stack Overflow has proved to be a useful resource in the past, and I'm assuming that this site will be too.

Friday 6 April 2018

Some Doeberl Observations

I felt that this years Doeberl Cup ran very well, with the main reason being the new venue. Over the years I have always felt that the larger the venue, the easier the event to handle, and this year was a good example. Having everyone play in the same room not only added to the overall atmosphere of the event, but made the job of arbiting the tournament significantly easier. The arbiting team were able to keep an eye on all the tournaments from one central vantage point, freeing up team members to carry out other duties.
I also felt this contributed to a better 'behaved' event, with very few noise issue, or problems with spectator and player behaviour. The extra space also allowed more spectators to watch the top boards, without inconveniencing the players.
The new venue (The Southern Cross Club in Woden) also had better facilities for food and drink than the previous one (University House), which benefited both players and spectators. The shorter time control in the Premier (back to 90m+30s) also meant there was a bigger break between rounds, which was appreciated by almost everyone. We also had the benefit of the club management being incredibly helpful, resulting in a smooth running event.
As for the tournament itself, we did have a few issues with the composition of the field. On the plus side we had an increase in the number of overseas players, with the visiting Grandmasters really adding something to the event. And while GM's Darryl Johansen and Anton Smirnov flew the flag for the local players, the absence of the other Australian GM's (for various reasons), probably affected the chances of players achieving title norms (especially IM James Morris).
Of course there were a couple of strange incidents we had to deal with (including a curling board, a bizarre last round game in the Major, and some amusing/unfortunate pairings) but compared to some years, the event was fairly incident free. Even the constant lectures on mobile phone behaviour seem to be having an effect as we did not default anyone for a ringing phone, and we only had to deal with a couple of very embarrassed spectators.
The club seemed pleased to have us there, so it looks like we will be returning to the same venue in 2019 (and beyond), and if you did not play this year, I highly recommend you pay us a visit in 12 months time.

Thursday 5 April 2018

The things children say

The ACT Interschool season started today with the North Canberra Primary Girls Zone. While the chess was hard fought but fun, it was some of the comments I overheard (or were directed at me) that were even more interesting

  • One of the team supervisors only had one leg, so a 2nd grade student immediately said "Where is your leg? What happened to it?" After it was patiently explained to her that it was removed as a child due to cancer, she followed with "Do you still have it?"
  • Later on a player was told she couldn't move her king to a square as it was check. She then asked "What is check and why does everyone keep saying it?" (Note: I do coach this player)
  • When one player forcefully told her opponent she couldn't move her king to a square because her bishop was attacking it I suggested she speak a little more softly as we were here to have fun and enjoy ourselves. She looked at me and said "But this is chess"

Wednesday 4 April 2018

Throwing chairs

At first I had planned to feature a game I played last night at Belconnen Chess Club. Spotting an idea in the opening I had forced my opponent to give up castling rights, before calculating a long tactical sequence that involved sacrificing a piece before recovering it with a 2 pawn advantage. As usual I had missed something along the way, and I didn't recover the piece (but did pick up a third pawn), and we agreed to draw when we both realised we had no idea what was happening in the position. Further analysis revealed that I could have played a knockout move even earlier, while my sacrificial combination was far worse than a number of other choices.
So instead I've picked another, far better game from the same event. WFM Alana Chibnall gets a good position against the French using the Kings Indian Attack, with the pawn on e5 dividing the Black forces in two. After looking at invading on d6, she instead finds the f6 square more to her liking, and the queen and knights combine to effect a pretty mating attack.

Chibnall,Alana - Patterson,Miles [C00]
Murphy Memorial, 03.04.2018

Monday 2 April 2018

2018 O2C Doeberl Cup - Gareyev and Morris tie for first

The 2018 O2C Doeberl Cup has been won by GM Timur Gareyev on countback over IM James Morris after they both finished on 7.5/9. Going into the final round both had 7/8, and were not only watching their own boards, but the board next to them. It turned out that there was an element of 'double bluff' involved in this strategy, with Morris offering a draw (which was accepted) after he saw Gareyev play into a drawish opening line. However, Garayev and GM Qun Ma then played on for another hour or two before they reached a drawn rook and pawn ending, at which point the game ended peacefully.
IM Igor Bjelobrk took outright third (and a share of the Fighting Fund) with a win over IM Irine Sukandar. On board 4 FM Brandon Clarke need to draw with GM Deep Sengupta to earn an IM norm, which he did after 32 moves. IM Junta Ikeda picked up the other half of the Fighting Fund prize with a nice win over GM Abhijit Kunte, which was also enough to give him a share of 4th place.
Matthew Clarke finished outright first in the Major with 6.5/7. He defeated Alex Mendes Da Costa in the last round to finish half a point ahead of Sterling Bayaca. In equal third place were Sankeerten Badrinarayan and David Lovejoy on 5.5/7.
Oliver Yang scored a brilliant win over Lachlan Lee to snatch first on tiebreak in the Minor. Lee had been leading on 6/6, but the win by Yang allowed him to reach 6 as well, and with a slightly better tie-break, Yang took the first place trophy.
The tournament itself was mostly incident free, although there was one strange happening in the final round. On one of the boards in the minor, water was spilled on the table before the start of the round. Although it was cleaned up, some of it seeped into the hard cardboard boards, causing it to curl up (on Black's side of the board). At first it wasn't an issue, but by the time the Black king looked like it was riding the lip of a wave, the players felt the need to request a replacement board.

2018 O2C Doeberl Cup - Day 4

The race for first in the 2018 O2C Doeberl Cup looks like it is down to 2 players. GM Timur Garayev and IM James Morris share the lead with 7/8, although a 5 way tie for first is a remote possibility. Morris closed the gap on Gareyev by beating IM Junta Ikeda and GM Deep Sengupta in rounds 7 and 8, while Gareyev started with a win over IM Igor Bjelobrk before drawing his round 8 game with GM Ahbijit Kunte.
The final round (in progress as I type this) has Gareyev against top seed GM Qun Ma on board 1, with Morris against Ke Mu on board 2. The pairing gods were very unkind to both these players, as both would have had chances for a title norm if Morris had faced another Gm, and Ke Mu had been paired with a non Australian player. As it stands, neither player can now score a GM (for Morris) or IM (more Ke Mu) norm.
In the Major event, the just started Round 7 has seen a 'Hou Yifan' moment with one game beginning 1.Nf3 e5? 2.Nxe5 Qh4 3.Nf3 Qxf2?? 4.Kxf2 Black was checkmated soon after.

Sunday 1 April 2018

2018 O2C Doeberl Cup - Day 3

Second seed GM Timur Gareyev is the outright leader after six rounds of the 2018 O2C Doeberl Cup. after 5 wins to start the tournament he drew with IM James Morris in yesterdays second round. The draw leaves Morris in 2nd place, along with IM Igor Bjelobrk, both on 5/6.
Apart from leading the tournament, Gareyev also collected first prize in the traditional Blitz event, finishing on 9/9 ahead of 83 other players. Amusingly Gareyev gave his opponents a little head start in each round,  often rushing in a minute after the game had started.
Matthew Clarke leads the Major event with 4/4 ahead of Martin Barakat, Sterling Bayaca, and Angelo Tsagarakis. Dashiell Young, Alex Poyiatzis, and Lachlan Lee share first place in the Minor with 4/4.
The first round today starts at 9:30am and coverage of the top boards can be found at