Friday 31 December 2021

Things to look forward to in 2022

 Predicting what will happen in world chess in 2022 is a risky proposition. Just as it looks like things are on the up, a new covid strain, or outbreak comes along to throw everything into conclusion. This means exactly which events will, or will not happen, is quite difficult.

At this stage local events like the 2022 O2C Doeberl Cup will be running. The ACT Government has been pretty flexible with restrictions, and given the low infection rate and high vaccination rate, I would be surprised if there is a shutdown in the ACT. Slightly trickier is guessing whether there will be travel restrictions between states, although the constant redefinition of infection periods (or what a close contact is), indicates that the federal government is doing its best to pretend the whole covid thing is behind us.

As for the international scene, the 2022 Olympiad is apparently going ahead in Moscow. However I see 2 clouds on the horizon. The first is that GM Hikaru Nakamura had to withdraw from the 2021 World Blitz after testing positive to covid, which indicates there is still issues with large international events. The second is that the Russian Government may well restrict who can enter the country, meaning some countries may not be able to play. There are restrictions currently in place for some countries, and these may not be lifted in time for the event.

On the other hand, there were a few large international opens in Europe towards the end of the year, and I suspect the number will increase throughout the year. And if you are able to travel to the US, they seem to just keep holding events, as a number of there huge tournaments seem to still be on the calendar.

Thursday 30 December 2021

There are no perfect tie-breaks

 The topic of suitable tie-breaks has popped up again, after a 4 way tie in the 2021 World Rapid Championship. The regulations (published beforehand, and used in previous events) specified a playoff in the case of a tie for 1st. The controversy was that only the top 2 players (on tie break) were involved, which in this case were Abdusattorov and Nepomniachtchi, whith Carlsen and Caruana missing out. 

Despite the players being aware of the tie-break system, Carlsen immediately criticised the rules, and was backed up by other players. Pushing back were a number of arbiters/officials who pointed out that the previous tie-break were changed at the request of the players, and had been used in the previous event.

Having done quite a large amount of work in tie-breaks there are a few things worth pointing out

  1. There is no perfect tie-break system, even for similar types of event
  2. No one cares about the tie-break method until they are disadvantaged by it
  3. Everyone thinks that the solution to tie-break issues is to simply use a different tie-break
  4. Not even FIDE can sort this issue, as at least 3 different FIDE Commissions believe they are the responsible body for defining tie-breaks (and I have been a member of 2 of them!)
Due to the issues with tie-breaks, the ACT Chess Association made a decision a very long time ago to avoid them wherever possible. For the ACT Chess Championship (and the Belconnen/Gungahlin Chess Club) the title of champion was simply shared. If there was a necessity to separate the players (eg to see who qualifies for the Australian Championship) then a playoff match (at the same time controls as the championship) was organised.

On the other hand, the ACT Junior Chess League has always used a similar playoff system as the World Rapid, with on exception. The first tie-break is direct encounter, but if that doesn't work (either due to players drawing in the tournament, or a multi-way tie), then a playoff match between the top two finishers (on tie-break) takes place. If it is good enough to decide the ACT Junior Chess Championship, then it is good enough for the World Championship as well!

Wednesday 29 December 2021

Things that went poorly

 The 2021 FIDE General Assembly was held last night (starting at midnight my time), and the Papua New Guinea Chess Federation had 2 important motions on the agenda. That was until I logged into the voting system to discover that our 2 motions had been listed as a single motion for voting purposes. This was of course done without the knowledge of the PNGCF and attempts to get it fixed were unsuccessful. 

The main issue with this (apart from arbitrarily changing properly submitted motions) was that both motions had different chances of success. While we expected one motion to be defeated, we had high hopes that the second would be passed. And I was planning to make this point when called upon to speak.

Then the second problem arose. Despite using my headphone/microphone setup all through the FIDE Commission meetings, it chose this moment to break. So instead of me putting forward the PNGCF reasoning behind both motions, the congress was reduced to watching me play a round of charades ('First word - Microphone', I nod my head, 'Second word begins with F', I nod more vigorously). However, at the same time, the online voting system used for the Congress also broke. So I am trying to fix my mic, and number of people are telling the congress what a stupid motion it is, and no one can vote on it (or a number of other motions). 

So the meeting moved on, and about an hour later, the voting system was fixed (I assume it was an issue with access to the service provider). When the vote was then called, the FIDE exec made it quite clear they did not support the PNG proposal, while former FIDE VP Georgios Makropoulos went as far as to say that such motions should not even be allowed on the agenda, unless the FIDE Exec support them (The FIDE President did tell him he was wrong on this btw). Despite suggestions from the floor that the vote on this shouldn't even be counted, there was a surprisingly high number of votes (41) in favour of our motion, with around 69 against (There was a very low turnout for the congress). 

Unfortunately, the decision by FIDE to have this under a single vote meant that the second proposal did not even get voted on, which based on the numbers, might well have got up.


Sunday 26 December 2021

World Rapid and Blitz

The last major event of 2021, the FIDE World Rapid and Blitz begins shortly. Originally planned for Kazakhstan, a covid outbreak in the country meant that it was relocated to Poland at short notice. 
The Rapid portion starts this evening, with Magnus Carlsen the top seed in the 181 player field. The bottom half of the field starts at 2538 (Rapid), and while there were concern about a lag between Rapid ratings and standard ratings, there doesn't seem to be a huge difference, except for IM Aditya Mittal, who has a rapid rating of 1488

There are plenty of places to follow this event (including plenty of youtube and twitch streams), but for now I am planning to watch it on 

Friday 24 December 2021

We all make mistakes

An older video than I realised, but still fun to watch 

Bad Xmas Presents

 If you are looking for a chess themed Xmas present there are some good ones, and some less than good. 

In the category of less than good, is an 'Backyard Chess Set' offered by own of Australia's well known retailers, Kmart. Kmart is at the cheaper end of the retails spectrum, although I do often by items from this store. However the Backyard Chess Set, isn't one of them.

This isn't because of the quality mind you, but for the size. Appearing to use the same designers as Spinal Tap, the size of the board is a massive 1 metre x 1 metre. The pieces are descried as 10cm tall, which while suitable for this particular board, isn't much larger than the size of pieces in a standard chess set. My big fear would be that leaving the pieces outside would result in them being stolen by passing birds.

If however you do decide to purchase this gift, I hope you have as much fun as reading the manual as I did.

Wednesday 22 December 2021

Late nights at the FIDE saloon

 Just like 2020, 2021 has seen the FIDE Congress become an online affair. The good thing about this is that more people can attend, the bad thing is that not everyone is in the 'right' time zone. For people in Oceania, the meetings start at 11pm (at the earliest) and finish after 3am (and later in some cases). If attendees are based in the America's early starts are the problem, with meetings starting at 6 or 7 am.

So far I have attended the Qualification Commission (quite well run), Arbiters (lots of slides), Swiss Pairings and Programs (very technical) and Rules Commission (still recovering). For some it was about making changes to documents included in the FIDE Handbook, but for others, it was mainly to inform people what is going on. The final big meeting will be the General Assembly, which is held after Christmas, and if last year is a guide, this may be the longest of the lot!

Monday 20 December 2021

Not quite Kriegspiel

 The latest Wes Anderson film "The French Dispatch" is, like most Wes Anderson films, quite entertaining, if you like Wes Anderson films. As I do, I quite enjoyed it.

It is split into 3 distinct stories, and the middle story has a lot of chess running through it. Loosely based on the 1968 student protests in France, there is a scene where negotiations between students and authorities are carried out by relaying chess moves. Interestingly, the board at each end only contains pieces of a single colour, the opposing pieces having already been removed.

While I am sure there was a symbolic reason for this, it actually reminded me of the chess variant Kriegspiel. The only difference in the movie was that the move played was announced, while in real Kriegspiel, only the umpire receives the move, and announces whether it is legal or illegal. 

Kriegspiel is a fiendishly difficult game to play btw, and also suffers from the fact it is more entertaining being a spectator than a player. Nonetheless it is one chess variant which would be great to have on a chess server, but apart from one server who I choose not to name, I am not aware if it has been implemented anywhere ealse.

Sunday 19 December 2021

2021 ACTCA Rapidplay Championship

 The 2021 ACTCA Rapidplay Championship finished in a tie for 1st place between FM Michael Kethro and Harry Press (6/7). Kethro defeated Press in their individual game, but drew with CM Hui Li and Miles Patterson (in the final round). Press caught up to Kethro by beating Li in the last round. Li finished in outright third on 5.5/7

The tournament attracted a big field of 42 players, including 6 players rated above 2000. In a blast from the past, former ACT Junior Champion Robert Ferenczi (1980,81 and 82), picked up the Under 1850 prize, with 4.5/7. There was a big tie for the Under 1450 prize, with some of the ACT more senior players (Joe Marks and Sunny Yoon) going home with a small prize.

This event is the last ACT Chess Association event for the year. The local clubs are taking a break over Christmas as well (although Tuggeranong and Gungahlin are holding end-of-year blitz events this week). Street Chess will not be next Saturday, although there may be a Boxing Day Blitz instead. It will resume on the 1st January 2022 (if players are in a condition to turn up at 11am!)

Friday 17 December 2021

2021 Lifeline Bookfair

 Sometimes it is a feast, but today was more of a famine. The 2021 Lifeline Bookfair is currently running over this weekend, in the somewhat cramped confines of the Canberra Racecourse. I made a quick visit this morning, but sadly, there were very few chess books (at least ones I did not already own). I purchased one book (on chess), but I did pick up a chess computer to add to my collection. On the other hand, if you are a Contract Bridge player, there were around 10 times as many bridge books as chess books, so you may be rewarded if you visit. 

I may return on Sunday, although I am not expecting my luck to change at this stage.

King safety v king safety

Of my many bad habits at chess, ignoring my king safety is one of the major ones. It possibly stems from my early study in chess, where I could understand why a material advantage was important (just count on your fingers), but more abstract topics such as long term weaknesses did not stand out as much.

Why method of dealing it with then, was to try and get my attack in first. It turns out that I haven't moved on from this approach as much as I would like, as the following game shows.


Braguine,Victor - Press,Shaun [A26]
Xmas Rapid (5), 14.12.2021

Thursday 16 December 2021

Oops! I Resigned Again

 GM Ian Rogers new book "Oops! I Resigned Again!" is out, just in time for Xmas. Looking at games where players didn't need to resign, but did, the book mixes a puzzle format with entertaining stories behind each position. 

Each chapter (of 5 positions each) is based around a theme, including "Oops! I thought pawn endings were easy!" or "Oops! You played like a World Champion!". In position shows an incorrect resignation, either in the diagram, or after a few moves, and then the reader is asked to identify the correct continuation. While I found the first few answer quite quickly, I did notice they got harder the further I went through the book.

What makes this book truly good value is the stories behind each game. Rogers usually gives a short description of the hapless 'victim' before describing the circumstances behind the game. Some games involve the battle for first place in an event (truly heartbreaking!) or the decisive game in a team tournament (hurting or delighting more than one player!). For Australian readers, Ian has drawn on a number of local games, both very well known (eg Stzern - Lundquist), and very obscure (the Melbourne interschool competition gets a run). There are also plenty of examples from the very top of the tree (Carlsen and Capablanca feature twice), including a number of games that Ian either witnessed or played!

The book is available from Australian Chess Enterprises for $29.95 (for Australian buyers), and is available online (for overseas purchasers) 

(*I was sent a review copy of this book *)

Monday 13 December 2021

Engine accurate?

One of the hot takes from the 2021 World Championship Match is that Carlsen's natural ability overcame engine prep from Nepo. Given the relatively low error rate from both players early in the match, I'm not convinced that this is true, although it is fair to say that Carlsen obviously did better when it wasn't just prep v prep.

Looking back at a number of older (pre engine) games is that their are often errors in analysis. The main reason for this seems to be that a lot of strong moves are overlooked at the top of the tree, either because it isn't part of an existing plan, or the assumption that the opponent is restricted to one or two choices. However, there are a number of examples where human analysis holds up against engine analysis, including the following game which I found in The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal.

Ravinsky,Grigory Ionovich - Ilivitzki,Georgi A [B93]
URS ch sf Riga (6), 1952

Sunday 12 December 2021

And now its all over

 After all the agonising about whether the 2021 World Championship match was going to see any decisive games, Carlsen wrapped it up with 4 wins over the last 6 games. Game 11 was Nepo's last chance to turn it around (or at least get something from the experience) but another tactical oversight left Carlsen with a winning position. He duly converted to reach the 7.5 points needed to retain his title. 

The second half collapse wasn't so much due to Nepo losing game 6, but his failure to bounce back in games 7 or 8. If he had been able to hold game 8 (instead of losing it) he might have still had a chance. Instead the blunder in game 8 (dropping a cold pawn) was somewhat reminiscent of Spassky's  blunders against Fischer in 1972, as was the final result (a 4 point winning margin). 

By the time he next defends the title Carlsen will have been World Champion for 10 years, which makes him 6 on the list of longest reigns (or 4th or 5th if you only count undisputed World Championships).

Nepomniachtchi,Ian (2782) - Carlsen,Magnus (2856) [C54]
FIDE World Chess Championship 2021 (11), 10.12.2021

Friday 10 December 2021

Do or die for Nepo

 Tonight could very well see the final game of the 2021 World Championship Match. A win for Carlsen would see him reach 7.5 points, the score he needs to retain his title. Even a draw would  see Carlsen reach 7, so the worse that could happen was a round of tie-breaks.

Going into this game I can't see Nepo pulling back a full point. He might draw the game, postponing the inevitable, or over press, resulting in a win for Carlsen (in a similar ending to the 2013 World Championship Match). If I was a betting man, I would give Carlsen a 33% change of winning, and a 66% chance of it being a draw.

Thursday 9 December 2021

2021 ACT Rapidplay Championship

 The 2021 ACT Rapidplay Championship is being held on the 18th December 2021 at 11am at King O'Malley's, City Walk, Canberra.

Details are:

  • Venue - King O'Malley's, City Walk, Canberra ACT (inside City Walk Arcade if it is raining)
  • Date - 18 December 2021 11:00am (Entries from 10:30am to 10:55 am)
  • Entry Fee - $10 adults, $5 juniors (under 18)
  • Prizes - $150 1st + other prizes ($420 in prizes were awarded in 2020)
  • Rounds - 7
  • Time control - G/15m
  • ACF and FIDE Rated (TBC) 
  • ACTCA/ACTJCL Membership reqd - 2022 membership can be paid here
(* I am a paid official for this event *)

Changes to rating and titles

 The FIDE Qualification Commission is making some changes to how ratings are being calculated and how titles can be earned. These changes do not affect most players in a significant way, but it is still important to know what they are.

In the area of ratings the major change is that the 400 point rating limit is being restricted to one game per tournament. Previously any game where the difference in rating between 2 players was treated as though they were 400 points apart. This was to benefit higher rated players who did not enjoy risking rating points against lower rated opponents, and would therefore avoid a number of events. Now this happens at most once in a tournament (against the opponent with the greatest rating difference) but otherwise the actual rating difference counts. The other important change is that the limits for faster time controls (eg 60m+30s) has been raised by 200 points (so games with a player above 2400 will not be rated at 60m+30s).

For Rapid and Blitz, the rules have now been brought into line with the Standard rating system (eg the 400 point rule applies here as well). The method of generating new ratings from Round Robin events has been removed, as players only need 5 rated opponents (and a PR above 1000) to get on the rating list anyway.

For organisers and national ratings officers, the most onerous change is that events greater than 30 days have to report interim results. While this makes sense for team events (eg 4NCL) which run over a period of months, it will also require weekly club events (that are FIDE rated), to follow suit. 

On the topic of title norms, there have also been a few changes. The most interesting one is that any title application from 2022 must include on norm achieved in a swiss event that has at least 40 players and an average rating above 2000 (in all rounds). As was mentioned, this is a reversal of the previous assumption that swiss norms were somehow 'weaker' than round robin norms. Instead it is now round robin norms that are considered less worthy! 

Speaking of round robin events, it is also a new rule that a player has to complete all the rounds of such a tournament, and that the norm is based on all the rounds. This means that a player can no longer ignore results after a norm has been achieved, or withdraw from an event to 'protect' the norm. This in part was introduced as a number of events saw players being given a 'random' seeding number that gave them the easiest path to a norm (ie making sure they played the required number of  foreign players by round 9). 

The rule about 20 overseas players (10 with titles) has been clarified, in that it needs to be the same 20 players for each round, to prevent 'tag teaming' of players (2 OS players play have the tournament each). The main purpose of these changes is of course to prevent tournaments being 'title factories', and instead any titles earned are based on performance in a genuine competition.

Tuesday 7 December 2021

Bishop takes out both rooks

 Picking up a rook with one bishop isn't that uncomment, but I'm not sure I have ever collected both rooks with the same bishop. My opponent missed a tactic along the h1-a8 diagonal allowing me to win the rook on a8, and a few moves later I managed to trap the other rook on g8, with my knight and bishop.

Press,Shaun - Lee,Tiam Woo [D02]
Xmas Rapid (4), 07.12.2021

Monday 6 December 2021

Another win for Carlsen

 After the marathon effort from both players in game 6, it was hardly surprising that game 7 of the 2021 World Championship was a more peaceful affirm. But game 8 saw Carlsen pick up another point as Nepomniachtchi blundered a pawn in the middlegame. The second decisive game of the match sees Carlsen leading 5-3 with 6 games remaining. It will be a tough ask for Nepo to recover from this bad loss, although he does have a rest day today to think about his strategy for the remainder of the match.

Carlsen,Magnus (2856) - Nepomniachtchi,Ian (2782) [C43]
FIDE World Chess Championship 2021 (8), 05.12.2021

Saturday 4 December 2021

Happy to get that prediction wrong

 Late last night (my time), I predicted that Game 6 of the World Championship would end in a draw. I'm glad to say that I got that prediction wrong! In the longest World Championship game ever, Carlsen keep grinding away until he finally found a win in a tricky Q v stuff ending (where Carlsen had the stuff). I'm not going to post the game as there are plenty of other places to see it, but now that one player has taken the lead, the next few games should see both players pushing for a little more out of the opening.

Friday 3 December 2021

The fickle finger of fashion

 The 6th game of the 2021 World Chess Championship has just started, and Carlsen has chosen to play the Catalan. This was also the choice for game 2, which ended in draw, but for various reasons, the choice of this opening generated a degree of excitement among the online spectators. This is probably a reaction to the various 1.e4 e5 games that ended in a draw, but I do remember a time when the Catalan was criticised as a 'drawing' opening. 

As I write this the game is still in the opening, but at least Nepo seemed a little surprised by the choice of opening. However, he seems to have recovered his equilibrium, and I fear that the game may end in another draw (based more on the symmetrical pawn structure they seemed to be playing for, than anything else)

Thursday 2 December 2021

And another brain teaser

 If you thought one of my previous puzzles was annoying, then the following one is downright infuriating

It was (allegedly) from a 5th grade exam in China

If a ship had 26 sheep and 10 goats onboard, how old is the ship's captain?

It did generate a lot of controversy when it was shared on the internet, but the answer isn't as difficult as you might think