Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Melbourne Chess Club Championships Round 4

Round 4 of the Melbourne Chess Club Championships once again saw a highly anticipated clash on board 1, with former Victorian & club champion IM Guy West facing the fast-improving Ari Dale, fresh off a successful European chess trip. Ari employed the Alekhine's Defense, but Guy used his experience to keep control of the position, maintaining a slight edge until Ari lashed out to try to generate some play in the position. Unfortunately for Ari, this attempt to generate play worked in Guy's favour & he found a nice temporary queen sacrifice to win a piece & soon afterwards the game. Other top boards also saw plenty of action, with Michaille-Dragicevic being a wild King's Gambit on board 2, which ended with a perpetual check. Board 3 saw the biggest upset of the night, with Phillip Drew beating Sylvester Urban after Sylvester grabbed a pawn, which allowed Phillip to launch a mating attack. David Hacche held Justin Tan to a draw, while Thai Ly looked to have an edge against Mirko Rujevic, but could not break his defenses & also agreed a draw. On other boards, most games went according to rating, although Jason Chew managed to beat Jim Papadinis.

As usual, full results from round 4 are on ChessChat.
Pairings will be posted on ChessChat on Thursday.

Below is the board 3 game between Sylvester Urban & Phillip Drew.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Northern Star Chess Squad - Day 2

Today was the second session of the Northern Star Chess Squad at Eltham High & once again I had a great time running the session! It was good to see a few new faces this week & once again the group managed to get through quite a bit of material in the 3 hours of the session!
This week we started with a puzzle - the winning move is Nc6-d8# but the other pieces - a black king, white king & white queen - are not on the board! The challenge is to find the place for the other pieces, so that the move Nc6-d8 is in fact checkmate! It's not that simple & the group were still trying to figure it out when everyone arrived, so the answer to the puzzle will remain a mystery until next week (unless you figure it out first)!

This week's board, with the daily outline, as well as the starting position for looking at bishops v knights. We managed to get through everything on the list this week!

The lesson proper started with another player profile - this week a slightly more famous Bobby than last week's profilee Bobby Cheng ... none other than former world champion GM Bobby Fischer of America! After an introduction to Bobby Fischer (and also some of the similarities between the Bobby's), I talked about the things that separated Fischer from his contemporaries - his tactical abilities being the obvious one, although the most significant difference in my opinion was his preparation, both in general terms (he was famous for getting hold of Russian chess magazine & studying them in great detail for example) and specific terms in regards to his opening preparation for games. We then looked at one of Fischer's most famous games - his demolition of Robert Byrne from the 1963 US Championships.

After looking at the Fischer game, the kids played their own games against one another, with some very hard-fought games, which all lasted over 40 moves!

The final session for the day looked at how to assess a position & the factors that should be considered. Following the examples of American IM Jeremy Silman, these are: Material, Development, Pieces, Pawn Structure, Space, Initiative & Control of key squares.
This was then used as a starting point to look in more detail at the classic battle of knights & bishops, with the advantages & disadvantages of these pieces being examined.

This theory was then put into practice by looking at a position (above) from the 1973 game between Hort & Ciocaltea, which featured an ending with two bishops against a bishop & knight. The kids were able to identify that the major advantages for white were in terms of space & pieces & were able to further restrict the black pieces, which in this position is a key to wining the game. Once the black pieces are restricted to the point where some are unable to move, the winning plan of attacking the a-pawn with the king & white-squared bishop is enough to ensure victory.
For myself, although the position itself is highly instructive, I find the game itself fascinating, particularly the transformation that the game takes between moves 24 & 31 to reach the game position - one wonders if black had his time over if he would have considered 31...Nf6, with the plan of Nf6-d7-c5, and whether that would have been enough to hold the game.

This week the homework continues on from the visualisation exercises covered in week 1 & looks at more examples of finding a safe path for a piece, as well as trapping pieces.

Once again I had a great time running the session & it has become the group I most look forward to teaching each week. The extra time of these sessions allows for greater depth of learning, as well as providing opportunities to learn about chess history & players, and allowing more time to get to know the kids quicker than a typical hour-long lesson would.

If anyone reading this is interested in attending the squad sessions, contact Pearl Yung at Northern Star Chess, or look at the Squad Page for more information.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Box Hill Autumn Cup - Round 4

Round 4 saw me have a fairly lucky win over the tournament top seed Luke Li (ACF 2238; FIDE 2285), where Luke ran out of time in a position that is most likely drawn, although my position is definitely worse. This win has actually left me as the sole leader of the tournament after 4 rounds, although I think that will just make for more tough games in the coming weeks, with the likely round 5 pairings leading to a clash with second seed Eugene Schon.
In the game against Luke I decided to play a Benko Gambit, which used to be my regular opening of choice against 1.d4, but is something I have been using far less frequently in recent years. The opening turned out to be horrible for me, with Luke's 12.a4 being a move I had not seen before in that position, and was therefore unsure about what to do against it. Regardless of the state of theory, it highlights an issue with playing an opening such as the Benko Gambit - namely the need to be somewhat conversant with modern theory, particularly as evaluations of many lines can change very quickly. This is something that I know I don't really have the time, or motivation, to do to the level that I should & is in some ways one of the barriers to my improvement in the game.
The other dilemma with not staying current with opening theory is that you end up playing moves based on the rather vague idea of 'general principles', which may prove to be perfectly adequate, but can also run into trouble, particularly if there is some sort of tactical problem with these 'general principle' moves.
In the game, given that Luke had not played h3 or Re1, I thought that this allowed me an opportunity to exchange knights with the maneuver Nf6-g4-e5, which is something that in principle is supposed to favour black in most of the accepted line, with the queenside pressure that can be applied by the black rooks, queen & dark-squared bishop being more than enough compensation for the pawn deficit as you head towards the endgame. Of course the 12.a4 move has a number of other benefits for white, one of which is a possible defensive setup most often seen in the f3 lines, involving white setting up a queenside blockade of sorts with pawns on a4 & b3 (or b2), knights on b5 & c3, bishop on b2 & the queen on e2 or c2, which is normally very tough to break through, as the usual pressure on the b-file is largely nullified by the over-protected knight on b5.
As it turns out, I think the best move in the position for black is a different thematic one, 12...Qa5, looking to get the rook from f8 to b8 as quickly as possible to apply pressure to the queenside. This was quite the opposite of what happened in the game, with my rook remaining on the f-file for the entire game once I had castled on move 11! Of course the problem with the Ng4-e5 idea is that Luke can threaten to trap the knight on e5 with f4, which he set up with Nd2 & Qe2 & it was only after 14.Qe2 that I began to realise just how badly the previous few moves had gone for me. I decided to play 14...f5 to try to hold up the coming attack from the white pawns, but this left me with a weak e7 pawn, which I spent the remainder of the game defending! With this permanently weak pawn on e7, combined with a quasi-isolated pawn on f5, I never really got the typical queenside play that you usually get in the Benko, as my minor pieces were trying to hold my kingside together, rather than trying to pry white's queenside apart! Ironically, it was once I played the undeveloping move 28...Ng8 that my position started to turn around slightly. With the e7 pawn now defended by the knight, I was able to start generating some attacking chances, which allowed me to both stay alive in the game, as well as reduce Luke's advantage. The exchange sacrifice after 30...Rxa5 allowed me to get my queen active & pick up Luke's c-pawn, so that I had a pawn for the exchange & this gave me some sort of compensation, with the comfort of knowing that with a passed c-pawn I had some winning chances if too many pieces were exchanged. Ultimately I decided that the best policy in the position would be to set up a defensive structure that would be difficult to break & after swapping queens, I decided to overprotect the weak e7 pawn & basically shuffle my pieces around. I figured that if I could hold the e7 pawn, then that also meant that the d6 & c5 pawns would also be safe & I would have reasonable chances of holding a draw.
I missed a nice defensive move with 45...h5! as I was focused on the 'grim defense' method, & the pawn break would have made the subsequent defensive task much easier to deal with, as well as possibly helping to generate better winning chances for me in the ending. As the game went, I decided to offer a draw on move 48 after Kf8. Although Luke declined the draw, one advantage that I did obtain was that in thinking about the draw, Luke allowed his time advantage to finally disappear (he had been ahead on the clock since I had left my 'theory' on move 12) & we were now both down to our final 3 minutes each. Although Luke still pressed for the win, he was using much more time than me looking for ways to break through my position, while I was fairly content to shuffle & maintain the position, looking for a draw. Eventually Luke made the rather committal decision to play 52.f5, which allows me to blockade the pawns on the dark squares & after I played 52...Nf6, Luke ran out of time trying to play his next move!
All-in-all a rather lucky win for me, both to survive the opening, as well as managing to win a position that is still worse for me, though probably drawn with best play.

Full results for the round are on ChessChat

Monday, 18 February 2013

Melbourne Chess Club Championships Round 3

Round 3 of the Club Championships saw the eagerly awaited clash between FM Dusan Stojic & IM Guy West in a rematch of last year's playoff match.The game itself didn't disappoint, going right down to the wire & being the last one to finish for the night. Ultimately Guy West managed to win the game, keeping his perfect score & retaining his share of the lead. Ari Dale was the only other player to keep a perfect score intact after beating Chris Wallis & this sets up a West-Dale clash in round 4 for the tournament lead! This week most games went according to rating, although with a few closely matched games, none of the results really stood out as major upsets.
The biggest issue this week was dealing with the heat issues at the club. With a day in the mid to high 30s & MCC not really known for its building insulation or air-conditioning, it meant that the players struggled to cope with the heat, with only fans to cool the building & tournament room. Hopefully this will be the last really hot Monday for the next few months so that the players can return to keeping their focus on quality chess, rather than worrying about dealing with the heat as well as their opponents.
Full results for round 3 are available on ChessChat.
Pairings will be posted on ChessChat on Wednesday night or Thursday morning.

Below is the board 2 clash between Ari Dale & Chris Wallis.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Northern Star Chess Squad - Day 1

Today was the first session of the Northern Star Chess Squad at Eltham High & I had a really great time running the session! Although it was only a small group, it meant that all the kids could be involved & it was great to see that they were all so keen! The group managed to get through quite a bit of material in the 3 hours, as well as playing a game that I will analyse for them during the week.
Here is the demo board with a list of things I intended to get through in the session - didn't quite manage it all, but it was great to have the kids engaged & fascinated with the visualisation exercises!
I started the session talking about how I got involved in chess, from my days playing school chess in Sydney, through to Sydney chess clubs, a move to Melbourne & my various teaching & coaching jobs. Although the kids may not have appreciated it, I thought it would be good to let them realise that chess is the sort of thing that you need to spend time on & experience to really improve - I remember when I first started at a chess club (at the Canterbury Chess Club in Sydney) that it took me about two months before I finally won a game at the club ... and another few months after that before I won my second game! After that introduction, we looked at a game by Bobby Cheng - his round 11 game from the 2009 World under 12 - where he needed to win against the top seed to win the tournament. Obviously people who know a bit of Australian chess history know that Bobby went on to win the game, but they may not have seen it & it is in many ways a good example of Bobby's aggressive, attacking style.

After looking at the Bobby Cheng game, the kids played games against each other & once they had finished, we looked at a number of visualisation exercises. The two most interesting of these I have posted below:

In the following position, the black pieces do not move, but they cannot be taken. The aim is to find a way to checkmate black in the shortest number of moves, but your pieces cannot move to a square that is attacked, and you can only play a check that is checkmate (ie: the final move).
The quickest solution is to play 1.Kg6 followed by 2.Nf6#

The next position has the same aim & constraints. The thing that made this puzzle an excellent learning tool is that all the kids could find a way to checkmate black, but the challenge then became how to do it in the shortest number of moves!
The first suggestion was to play Kc3-d3-e3-f3-g4-g5 & Qd5#,which is checkmate, but takes 6 moves!
The next suggestion was similar, but a move quicker. Kc3-c4-c5; Bb7-c8; Qd8-f8-f5#, which takes only 5 moves.
From there, another suggestion was Kc3-d3-e3; Be4; Qe7#, so the kids found a way to get the solution down to 4 moves!
Finally, they discovered the quickest solution, which takes only 2 moves ... 1.Bc8 followed by 2.Qd4#

All-in-all I had a great time & hopefully the kids that attended also enjoyed themselves & learnt some more about chess! The aim of the squad after all is about learning, but also about having fun!

If anyone reading this is interested in attending the squad sessions, contact Pearl Yung at Northern Star Chess, or look at the Squad Page for more information.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Box Hill Autumn Open - Round 3

Round 3 saw me win another game, this time against another junior, Gary Lin (ACF 1413, FIDE 1712) in a Symmetrical English, though again, not without a lucky break or two. I think Gary was surprised by my opening choice, as he took well over a minute to play his first move & had used 8 minutes to get to move 4 (6 minutes down on the clock, plus 2 minutes worth of increment). I was a little worried about the symmetry in the position, with the mirror-image staying in place until move 14, but as I had white, I was trying to figure out a way to get the first check in that could somehow break the symmetry to my advantage. Gary decided to break the symmetry voluntarily on move 15 with Nxd5 & I thought this lead to a good position for me, particularly when Gary retreated his knight to e7. Of course I had overestimated my position (as I sometimes do) & missed a possible tactical shot that Gary also missed in the game. 20...Nxd5 would have had me in a spot of bother, as things seem to work tactically for black & if I decide to avoid the tactics, then I am simply a pawn down, which in a symmetrical position is less than ideal! As the game went, I also overlooked the Nxd5 idea on the following move, only noticing it after I had played 21.Qd2. Gary, however had not & after a few minutes thought, he played 21...Nxd5, which looks strong at first sight. The extra move, however makes a significant difference & I can maintain an advantage with 22.exf5. Gary's best defense here seems to be Qc6, although Re8, Nc7 & Ne7 are all assessed fairly similarly by my chess engine. Luckily for me, Gary had quite a long think & managed to come up with 22...gxf4, which loses on the spot, although I initially didn't see the obvious second move in the combination & spent much of the time while Gary was contemplating his reply to 23.Qg5+ looking at the line 23...Kf7 24.Rxf5+ Kxe6 25.Re1, which also looks winning, but it is far more complicated than the simple solution I found in the game.
Full results for the round are on OzChess.
With a few upsets & draws on the top boards, I think I'll probably get black against top seed Luke Li in round 4 on board 1, though I wouldn't complain if things worked out somewhat differently!

Monday, 11 February 2013

Melbourne Chess Club Championships Round 2

Round 2 of the Melbourne Chess Club Championship saw a sense of normality return to most boards, however there were still a few upset results in the round. The big upset of the night was Justin Penrose's win against IM Mirko Rujevic, where Mirko gave up his queen for two pieces in the early middlegame, but Justin was able to consolidate & eventually return some material to find himself an exchange ahead in an ending. After winning a few pawns, he then returned the exchange for Mirko's last pawn, leaving opposite coloured bishops, but Justin had three pawns to Mirko's none! Although Mirko played on for a little while, the pawns finally proved decisive for a nice win for Justin. Stephen Jago was the other upset winner, beating Jack Puccini after Jack misplayed the queen & rook ending. Paul Kovacevic continued his good form, holding Malcolm Pyke to a draw, while John Beckman held Jim Papadinis to a draw in a battle of the MCC regulars.

Full results for round 2 are available on ChessChat.
Pairings will be posted on ChessChat on Wednesday evening.

Below is the board 3 clash between Justin Penrose & Mirko Rujevic.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Box Hill Autumn Open - Round 2

Round 2 of the Box Hill Autumn Open was another successful venture to the South-Eastern suburbs for me, though not without a fight! I played another junior (as seems to be the standard thing at Box Hill with so many juniors playing), John Ni (ACF 1484; FIDE 1559) & played a 'Sniper' as black (g6, Bg7 & c5 being the key opening moves for black) & managed to get a fairly level position once John turned it into a type of English. I wasn't really sure how to proceed & ended up playing a Hedgehog-style setup, which turned out OK, though it did require a few poor moves from John later in the game to secure the win. The computer liked John's position after the bishops were exchanged & he was able to play 18.d5, although I was still reasonably happy with my position at that point. The tables began to turn when John allowed me to play 27...e4, which game me a protected passed pawn, which would be a constant headache for John if too many pieces were exchanged. Although I though my 43...Nxf4+ tactic was good, the computer preferred the simple 43...Ra2, which looks like it just wins a piece because of the pin on the second rank. Having said that, the unintentional rook maneuvering in the rook ending was quite geometrically pleasing, with the moves Rg3-d3-g3-g6-g3-d3 being a key to winning John's final pawn. The other thing that occurred to me during the game was the similarity to the Philidor position (AKA the Third Rank Defense), but in this case it was an attacking technique to round up the final pawn of John's.
Full results for the round are on OzChess.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Melbourne Chess Club Championships Round 1

Ordinarily the first round of a Swiss tournament is supposed to be the 'warm up' for the higher rated players, with the top half paired against the bottom half & there are usually very few upsets. Unfortunately for those in the top half at MCC, apparently a number of players in the lower half did not get the memo!
Justin Tan appeared to have things under control against Paul Kovacevic, but a lapse in concentration allowed Paul's queen to penetrate, forcing Justin to give up a piece to avoid checkmate & Paul wrapped up the game shortly afterwards. Adam Skinner continued his return to chess (he had played a number of years ago in England & the recent Australia Day weekender was his first tournament for a long time) with a win over Jim Papadinis. Finley Dale had Domagoj Dragicevic in a great deal of trouble & missed a likely win, but still managed to hold Domagoj to a draw. James Cameron help Sylvester Urban to a draw, while Laurent Michaille was unable to break the defenses of Alex Kaplan & they also drew their game.
The tournament itself is the usual strong tournament that has come to be expected from the Monday night MCC events, with two IMs & four FMs, with 7 players rated over 2200 FIDE, with a further five over 2000 FIDE in a field of 36 at present (entries are still allowed until round 3). Competition at the top should be close, with Dusan Stojic looking to defend his title, former Champions Guy West, Mirko Rujevic & Malcolm Pyke looking to once again be club champion, while youngsters Justin Tan, Chris Wallis & Ari Dale look to claim their first club championship.

The full results from round 1 are available on ChessChat.
Pairings will be posted on ChessChat on Wednesday evenings.

Below is the board 2 game between Justin Tan & Paul Kovacevic

Friday, 1 February 2013

Box Hill Autumn Open - Round 1

I decided to make something of a last minute decision to play in the Box Hill Autumn Cup, which is a 7 round event played on Friday nights at Box Hill Chess Club. I'm the fifth seed in the tournament, which has just over 60 players & in round 1 I played May-Yi Foo, who is rated ACF 1156 & FIDE 1587. I resisted the temptation to play normal chess (although I may need to try this 'sound opening' strategy later in the tournament) & wheeled out my favourite Blackmar-Diemer Gambit! When May-Yi was not kind enough to take the e-pawn on move 2 & 'chickened out' with 2...e6, I switched to the Alapin French, where she felt compelled to take the e-pawn! She played a defense with an early b6 & Bb7, which I rarely encounter, so probably played the opening somewhat inaccurately (from my brief scan of vaguely relevant games, it seems as though the main plan is to just play it like a BDG Euwe with a tempo down), but I still got a reasonable position with vague attacking chances. When May-Yi exchanged dark squared bishops, she obviously underestimated the attacking potential of the position & I found a nice knight sacrifice to finish the game off.