Monday 31 December 2018

2018 Chessexpress Player of the Year

After skipping this award last year, I made sure to have a look at various performances of Australian players in 2018, so as not to forget two years in a row.
Once again a number of players had excellent performances. both locally and internationally, and it could have gone to any of them. But as in past years I also look at a unique or special achievement within the last 12 months to help me decide.
Based on this, the 2018 Chessexpress Player of the Year award goes to GM Justin Tan. Justin, who I think gets a little overlooked in Australia, earned his GM title not once, but twice! At first it was though his performance in the 4NCL was enough for his final norm, only to have it rejected on technical grounds. He then went and won the 2018 Paracin Open with 7.5/9, which did earn him his final norm. He also scored an undefeated 5.5/9 in the British Championship, and just today finished in third place at the Australian Open. 
So congratulations to GM Justin Tan for a successful 2018.

Sunday 30 December 2018

2019 Sydney International Open

I'm pleased to announce that the 2019 Macquarie University Chess Festival will be taking place from the 24th to the 28th of April 2019. The headline event for this tournament will be the resurrected Sydney International Open, which previously ran from 2007 to 2014.
The 2019 event has come about do the the generous sponsorship of the NSW Chess Association, and the Macquarie University Chess Club. The Chess Festival begins 2 days after the finish of the 2019 O2C Doeberl Cup, and as such, there will be a number of overseas GMs and IMs playing in both events.
Alongside the Open will be the Peter Parr Memorial Challengers (for Under 2000 players). and a Junior Rapidplay on Saturday and Sunday morning (before the main rounds).
Details of the event can be found at At this stage there are some details still to be finalised, but for now, you can schedule your chess holidays for late April!

(* Disclaimer: I am part of the organising team for this event *)

Hastings 2018-19

Open swisses can be a little tricky for top seeds in the first round, doubly so if accelerated pairings are used. Hastings is one tournament that does use them, and as a result, the first round saw many dropped half points and points. One player who got caught out big time was GM Simon Williams, who went down quite quickly to his FM opponent. Another player who found the going tough was former Doeberl Cup winner GM Stefan Djuric, who was held to a draw by his 2100 rated opponent.
Hastings, which is one of my favourite events, has attracted a mixed field of European GM's and local English players. Interestingly, the usual large contingent of Indian players is missing this year, possibly lured away by competing events.
The first round of the event was yesterday and it runs until the 6th of January. The tournament website is and contains all the usual links to coverage and results.

WILLIAMS, Simon K (2472) - WILLOW, Jonah B (2218)
Hastings Masters 2018-19 (Horntye Sports Centre, Bohemia Road, TN34 1EX, Hastings), 28.12.2018

Thursday 27 December 2018

2019(?) Australian Open

The 2019 Australian Open has has begun in Ashwood, Melbourne, and has attracted a massive field of 300+ players. I'm pretty sure this is a record for this tournament, although the early 2000's the tournament was often run in a single section.
The Open field is 167 strong, with GM Anton Smirnov as the top seed, with GM's Justin Tan, Vasily Papin and Darryl Johansen as the other GM's in the field. There are 11 IM's and the top 9 seeds are rated above 2400.
The first round didn't see too many upsets on the top boards, with WGM Julia Ryjanova the highest seeded player held to a draw and  CM Tony Davis the only higher seeded player to lose.
One possible reason for the large numbers is the event has been compressed into 5 days. It runs until the 31st December 2018, which means that the 2019 title holder will be determined before the end of 2018 (hence the question mark in the heading). While the organisers can regard this as a successful outcome for the event (especially as no one else wished to host it), it does reduce the significance of the title somewhat.
The event homepage is at and you can follow various links to pairings and live (if intermittent) coverage.

Tuesday 25 December 2018

2018 World Rapid and Blitz

The 2018 World Rapid and Blitz is beginning tomorrow (Canberra Time). The event is being held in St Petersburg, with play from the 26th to the 30th. The first 3 days see the 15 round rapid being decided (5 rounds per day), with the blitz then running for 2 days. Magnus Carlsen is the top seed.
Play begins 3pm local time, which is 11pm Canberra time. The time limit for the rapid is 15m+10s, so I suspect each round will start on the hour, with the days play finishing around 4am.
The official website is and there will be links to live coverage of the games.

A gift for Christmas

While the following game was not played in Christmas Day, it was played at the Hastings Christmas Congress, and it involved White giving Black a very generous gift. Having built up a beautiful attack, Flohr threw away the full point with one move (24.Nd8 instead of 24.Nxg7), and then donated the other half point with 25.Rg4.

Flohr,Salo - Fine,Reuben [D61]
Christmas Congress 1935/36-16 Premier Hastings White Rock Pavilion (1), 27.12.1935

Monday 24 December 2018

Smirnov wins Australasian Masters

GM Anton Smirnov has won the 2018 Australasian Masters, with an impressive  score of 7.5/9. Australia's Number 1 player was undefeated, with 6 wins and 3 draws. In second place was IM Bobby Cheng, who scored 6.5/9, which was enough for his third and final GM norm. He was only beaten by Smirnov, winning 5 and drawing 3 of his remaining games. The other good performance in hits event was by FM Karl Zelesco, who finished on 4.5, which was enough for his third and final IM norm.
IM Ari Dale finished first in the IM event, also scoring an unbeaten 7.5/9. FM Brandon Clarke was the third player to earn a title norm, scoring 7/9 to pick up his second IM norm.
Three norms is quite an impressive strike rate for a single event, as is two Australian players earning titles on the same day. Cheng becomes the 10th Australian player to become a GM, while Zelesco continues the run of young Australian players earning the IM title.

Cheng,Bobby (2510) - Kvon,Andrey (2509) [E91]
2018 Australasian Masters GM Norm Tourna Melbourne (9.2), 23.12.2018

Sunday 23 December 2018

When namesakes clash

When I first started playing chess in the 1980's, I discovered I wasn't the only "Press". There was a Sydney player, Brian Press, and although I did not believe we were related, a few people asked me if we were. While I haven't seen too many other players with the same surname as mine (with the exception of my own son), I have kept an eye on this for other players.
For example, local Canberra organiser Andrew Greenwood was erroneously believed to be the son of former ACF Treasurer Norm Greenwood, while in recent years there has been two John Adams involved in chess administration. In Gibraltar a few years back I saw two players with the same surname (male and female), and was told by one of them that the other player was her ex-husband. As fate would have it, they were then paired against each other.
One of the stronger matches was Emmanuel and Edward Lasker. There was of course a familial connection (they were very distant cousins), but this did not detract from the interest when they played each other. Of course Emmanuel was the stronger of the two, as the following game shows.

Lasker,Edward - Lasker,Emanuel [D52]
New York International Masters-01 New York,NY (19), 13.04.1924

Thursday 20 December 2018

An Annotators Responsibilities

I'm back to typesetting some chess books over the summer, and it is interesting to see the different approaches to writing that some (historical) chess authors have. Certainly older books seemed to provide an opportunity for chess personalities to engage in personal feuds, but often the older the book, the more vitriolic the comments.
Without giving either the title of the book, or the identity of the author away, I was particularly amused by the following quote
"In some respects these players were well paired, not for equality of force, indeed, Mr. Williams being by far the stronger, but because each, in his degree, exhibits the same want of depth and inventive power in his combinations, and the same tiresome prolixity in manoeuvring his men. It need hardly be said that the games, from first to last, are remarkable only for their unvarying and unexampled dullness."

I wonder if a writer would be allowed to say such things today?

Mini Chess

If you find playing long games of chess a little taxing (or time consuming), you can always look at the various forms of 'mini chess' that have been developed. Possibly the most famous version is 'Los Alamos' chess, which is a 6x6 game, with bishops removed. It was invented as an early computer chess engine, with the reduced size making the program easier to write (no castling, double pawn move or en pas).
While there have been boards as small as 3x3, these either have trivial wins for one side, or lack sufficient 'depth'. It isn't until you get to 4x5 boards that it becomes a bit of challenge, although a skilled player should work out winning ideas pretty quickly. Once you get to 5x5 (or 5x6) all the pieces can be used. There is an argument that these sort of games should be used to start younger players off, as handling 16 pieces on an 8x8 board is a little daunting (something I tend to agree with for children under the age of 7).
6x6 games might be the right balance between normal chess and fun chess (especially if you are playing non-serious players). One idea is to either play without 1 type of piece (rooks, bishops or knights), while another interesting suggestion is to play with two bishops on one side, and two knights on the other!

Tuesday 18 December 2018

2018 Australasian Masters

The 2018 Australasian Masters is up an running in Melbourne Australia, with another batch of local players hoping to pick up IM/GM results. The GM event sees Andrey Kvon and Vasily Papin back up from the Australian Young Masters, where they have been joined by Australia's top player GM Anton Smirnov. Smirnov leads the event with three wins from his first three games, although has yet to play Kvon and Papin. Of the norm chasers, IM Bobby Cheng is well placed on 2.5/3, while veteran IM Stephen Solomon has started with 2 wins and a loss (to Smirnov).
In the IM event, New Zealand junior Alphaeus Ang leads with 3/3. Close behind is FM Brandon Clarke, who is hoping to pick up his second IM norm, after narrowly missing out in Adelaide.
Coverage of the event is a little hard to find, but a good starting point is The Pairing And Results links also has replayable games, but there seems to be no links to live games.

Ang,Alphaeus Wei Ern (2118) - Lee,Qing Aun (2297)
2018 Australasian Masters IM Norm Tourna Melbourne AUS (3), 17.12.2018

Summer holiday puzzles

With the end of the school/coaching year, here are a few puzzles to keep you thinking for the next few days at least.

  1. Place 8 queens on the board so that none attack any other queen (OK this is a well known puzzle)
  2. How many queens can you place on the board so that all squares are attacked? (Queens are allowed to attack each other in this case)
  3. Place a bishop on a1 and pawns on every black square. Can you move the bishop to h8, capturing a pawn on every move? (This is equivalent to a Bishops tour where every square of the bishops colour is visited while playing distinct moves. Visited squares can be crossed, but not stopped on)
  4. Is it possible the cover a 5x6 board with dominoes in such away there are no straight edges that extend across the board? What about a 6x6 board?
  5. Place pawns on e8, e7, e6 and e5. Is it possible to divide the board into equal continuous areas of 16 squares each, so that each area contains a single pawn?

(Some of these puzzles were courtesy of my fellow coaches IM Andrew Brown and I.M. Hosking, while others were sourced from "The Mathematics of Chessboard Problems")

Sunday 16 December 2018

Travel concessions for being a chessplayer

In an attempt to demonstrate that I collect far too much information, I discovered that in 1913, the Victorian State Railways offered a concession for chess players travelling to official events. The concession for interstate travel was a 33% discount on a single ticket, while for country events it was at the 'Holiday Excursion' rate.
The conditions for travel were a minimum of 6 players travelling together (but no more than 20). The travel had to be authorised/approved by the Secretary of the relevant association or club. And a minimum distance of 25 miles had to be travelled.
This of course did not apply exclusively to chess players, as golfers, footballers and even quoit throwers were on the eligibility list as well.
Now, if I could only convince Etihad to reintroduce such a scheme.

2018 ACT Rapidplay

The 2018 ACT Rapidplay Championships is being held on the 22nd December in City Walk, Canberra City. This is the traditional end of year event for ACT Chess, and normally attracts both a large, and strong field. The tournament is a 7 round swiss, with a time limit of G/15m.
Registrations open at 10:30am and play beings at 11am. It is run a single swiss event, and entry fee is $10 for adults, $5 for juniors. Sponsored by King O'Malley's, there is normally around $300 in prizes. Players of all ages are welcome, and apart from the place prizes, there will be category prizes on offer.

Thursday 13 December 2018

h6 is a blessing and a curse

The pawn on h6 (or h3) can be both a blessing and a curse. While it provides some breathing room for the castled king, and annoys adventurous bishops, in is often a target for sacrificial attacks. Many juniors (include myself when I was younger), hoped to line up the bishop and queen on the c1-h6 diagonal and blow open the kingside with Bxh6.
Older and more experienced players normally deal with such obvious threats, but sometimes the sacrifice is underestimated. Whether David Howell saw the threat and decided it didn't work, or simply thought Gawain Jones could not play it, is unknown to me, but the fact that it was played resulted in a very entertaining game. Objectively the sacrifice wasn't winning, but it gave Jones enough play that eventually Howell was unable to defend all the squares around the king, allowing Jones to win back the sacrificed piece. After that is was a matter of harassing the exposed king until a winning simplification could be played.

Jones,Gawain C B (2682) - Howell,David W L (2696) [C50]
ch-GBR KO 2018 London ENG (3.2), 12.12.2018

Wednesday 12 December 2018

Hack, Slash and Burn

While it seems that GM norms may be out of reach in the top event of the Australian Young Masters, there are still a few players with chances of picking up an IM norm. One player is Albert Winkelman, who is currently tied for first place in the IM tournament. He is currently undefeated with 3 wins and 4 draws, and needs 1.5/2 to score his first IM norm. His result is all the more remarkable as he is the tournaments bottom seed, but is performing at 300 points above his rating.
The following win (over Fedja Zulfic) demonstrates the form he is in. After Fedja seemed to unnecessarily drop the pawn on e3 his position rapidly went south. After Winkelman the exchange sacrifice on e2, the White king had very few safe squares. A couple of nice knight moves was then all that was needed to finish the game.

Zulfic,Fedja (2204) - Winkelman,Albert (2075) [A00]
2018 Lidums Australian Young Masters IM Adelaide, South Australia (5.3), 11.12.2018

Tuesday 11 December 2018

Phil Viner 1927 - 2018

News has just come through that Phil Viner has passed away at the age of 91. One of the veterans of the Australian chess scene, he represented Australia at 2 Olympiads (1964 and 1968) with a score of 9.5 from 18 games. He had a long and distinguished chess career, being a regular competitor in Australian Championships, NSW Championships and events like the Doeberl Cup (which he won in 1977).
He was born in 1927, and was the son of William Samuel Viner, who was Australian Champion in 1906 (until 1922) and again in 1924. His father passed away when he was quite young, but inherited both his fathers aptitude for chess, as well as his library of books and newspaper cuttings. He began to play seriously soon after World War 2, mixing over the board chess with correspondence chess. He became a CC IM in 1984, and won the NSW Championship in 1972 and 1978.
Away from the board he also served as President of the Australian Chess Federation (where I first met him), as well as being the chess columnist for The Australian for 30 years. Later in life he took to Seniors Chess with a passion, winning the Australian title a number of times and representing Oceania at the World Seniors Championship.
Always a gentleman, he will be missed.

Viner,Phillip - Averbakh,Yuri L [E70]
AUS-ch Adelaide (12), 19.10.1960

Monday 10 December 2018

2018 London Chess Classic

The 2018 London Chess Classic is about to begin, with the traditional Pro-Biz Cup. This is an 'alternate move' competition, with teams of 2 players taking it turns to move the pieces.The teams consist of one GM and one amateur, although a few of the amateurs look quite strong. GM's taking part include Fabiano Caruana, Lev Aronian and Gary Kasparov.
Tomorrow the final of the Grand Chess Tour starts, although there is a different format this year. It is a four player knockout (Caruana, Nakamura, Aronian, Vachier-Lagrave), and combines classical chess with rapidplay.
Alongside all this are traditional events like the FIDE Open and British knockout. All the details can be found at along with games and links to live coverage.

Sunday 9 December 2018

2018 Australian Young Masters

Let it not be said that there is no longer the opportunity for Australian players to earn title norms at home. In the last few years a number of events have expanded to become strong enough for players to earn IM or GM norms. One such event is the Young Masters tournament, held in Adelaide each year, usually in December.
Originally an event for Australian Junior players, the definition of 'young' has been stretched somewhat, and overseas players are also now welcome. This years GM event has 5 local players and 5 overseas visitors, headed by GM Frode Urkedal (Nor). However Urkedal found the first round of the tournament tough going, losing to FM Patrick Gong. Possibly he was affected by travel, as he had a crushing attack by move 26, but missed 27.Rxh5! and soon lost control of the position. The other visitors fared better, with GM Vasilly Papin beating IM Junta Ikeda, and IM Kanan Izzat beating Kris Chan.
The event runs until next next Friday, and you can follow the tournament at There is also live coverage of the top section at (albeit on a half hour delay)

Urkedal,Frode (2539) - Gong,Patrick (2328)
2018 Lidums Australian Young Masters GM Adelaide, South Australia (1.1), 08.12.2018

Friday 7 December 2018

Alpha Zero returns

Alpha Zero, the self learning program that is able to master a number of rule based games, has popped up again. After a year working on improvements Alpha Zero has once again crushed its closest competitors in the world of Computer Chess/Go/Shogi.
Up against it's favourite whipping boy, AZ won a 1000(!) game match 155 to 6 (with 839 draws). Unlike the previous match both programs had longer time controls (3 hours plus a 15 second increment per move). AZ also played matches with a time handicap, and it was only when Stockfish had a huge time advantage did the results become less one sided.
There are a number of places to read about the latest results, but it is probably best to start at the source.  A number of games from the match have also been released, including this nice effort.

AlphaZero - Stockfish 8
Computer Match London, UK (255), 18.01.2018

Thursday 6 December 2018

It's starting not to feel like Christmas

I understand that Christmas isn't a huge deal everywhere on the planet, but I still feel surprised when big chess events begin, or run across December the 25th. Over the years I have seen events in the Middle East, Singapore and even Spain which ask players to give up Christmas Day to play chess.
Added to that list is the 2018 World Rapid and Blitz Championship in St Petersburg, Russia. The event has been moved from Saudi Arabia to Russia, due to the inability to guarantee visa's for all players (eg players from Israel). However the dates remain the same, meaning Christmas Day is the scheduled arrival day for players wishing to take part.
The actual games (Rapid first) start on the 26th, and run through to the 30th of December. While the event isn't quite as open as it looks (you need to be rated above 2500 to enter), there is an exception for national champions, regardless of rating. However winter in Russia may not be that appealing, especially for us in the southern hemisphere, although it might be slightly more bearable than the December heat in Saudi Arabia.

Tuesday 4 December 2018

Transfer Time

The annual ACT Junior Chess League Transfer tournament is on this Sunday, 8th December. It will be held at Campbell High School, Trealor Crescent Campbell (next to the War Memorial) with registration from 12:30 pm. The event begins at 1pm with an entry fee of $30 per team (which includes a free pizza lunch). Even if you don't have a partner, you can just enter on the day and a partner will be found for you.
This event is the traditional end of year tournament for the ACT Junior Chess League and all juniors are invited. Even if you are not a junior, you are most welcome to take part, as 'transfer' does not recognise age or ability!

A really long term queen sacrifice

While building up my collection of queen sacrifices (for coaching purposes), I came across this monster of a game. Nick de Firmian gives up his queen on move 13 before eventually winning on move 110. To be fair, he did get three pieces in return for it, but to play almost 100 moves while making sure you don't fall for a queen fork does take some doing.
I'm not sure what Jon Speelman (as black) thought of it all, but hopefully I will remember to ask him next time I see him.

De Firmian,Nick E (2395) - Speelman,Jonathan S (2410) [B57]
WchT U26 fin-A Mexico City (6), 19.08.1977

Sunday 2 December 2018

World Championship post-mortem

I have been asked by a few people about my thoughts on the Carlsen - Caruana World Championship Match. I'm probably not alone in thinking that there was excitement at the start, some boredom in the middle, before a very tense finish. Despite the concerns of the match diminishing the 'brand' by featuring twelve drawn games, having it decided in the tie-breaks seemed to raise the interest in the match, at least in the general media.
I certainly saw plenty of coverage of the result in places where chess doesn't usually feature. Most of the cable news stations (and sports stations) had the result featured in their regular updates, and the coverage was similar to how other sporting events were covered. 
So despite my concerns part way through the match I think it has proved to be an overall benefit to chess, though having said that, it is still worth looking at finding improvements to the format.