A Shocking Performance

facepalm

On Sunday I went to my monthly ‘Rookies’ tournament, a seven round 13min/2sec/ game event. I was paired up with a talented kid (FIDE1 1800) and lost which is what I expected, then a smaller kid who I should have thoroughly beaten but I lost, then I was up against a six year old girl who was tiny – I lost. I was utterly depressed with my games. All of them were full of huge blunders, often many blunders in a row. I beat a total beginner, lost to a 13 yr old and won my final game.

On reflection I can only think that my thinking was on autopilot. I don’t think I calculated at all, instead I relied on intuition which for many players works well. Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura certainly espouse the benefits of intuition. I guess that without regular practice intuition goes off a bit but I still cant explain my result. A total shoker!

Clubbing

My local ‘Tuesday’ club has a number of juniors that play from 6 till 7:30pm and then adults and some juniors play from 7:30 till 9pm. When I first started going it was just me and another adult with the occasional drop in but slowly we are getting more players. I decided to set up a meetup.com group for the club and last week we had a couple more people drop in. It seems to me that when a club hits a critical mass it automatically starts to grow and become successful. A great example is the weekend club that I go to. It runs a monthly ‘Rookies’ cup which when I first started going would have about 40 players. Last month it was bursting at the seams with 82 players, beyond comfortable capacity. As a result the club decided to limit numbers but players could prebook their places, they announced this on their website. I arrived half an hour early on Sunday, without pre-booking, and was very lucky to get one of the last 4 places! 20 players were turned away.

Junior Elite Training Squad

coaching

In early July my son was invited to the Junior Elite Training Squad. I went along and wrote this for a chess club newsletter.

JETS 2016

30 Junior chess players from all over Australia were selected to attend the Junior Elite Training Squad (JETS) programme held in Sydney recently. The programme is aimed at encouraging and challenging the next generation of Australian champions and involves intensive coaching by Grandmasters and International Masters. This year the coaches were GM Zhang Zhong (Singapore), Box Hill’s GM Darryl Johansen, GM Max Illingworth, IM Moulthun Ly and Australian Champion IM Bobby Cheng (ex Box Hill junior and current Box Hill coach). Australian number one Zhao Zong Yuan was also a guest coach. Impressively many juniors were from Box Hill Chess Club. For the juniors it was an incredible opportunity to learn from some of the best players in the country and all the juniors that I spoke to seemed to get a lot out of the programme.

Each day started at 9:30am and finished at 4:30pm. The first day involved an introductory talk by GM Daryl Johansen on the rules and ethics of chess. Then the juniors were split into 5 groups of 6 and rotated between coaches over the next few days. I spoke to GM Illingworth who explained that he was focusing on initiative in chess, explaining that every move had to be purposeful and had to wrestle the initiative from an opponent. I heard from juniors that they also learnt about opening theory, pawn structure and endgame technique – they did this by reviewing games and attempting tactical exercises. On the last two days a small 6 round tournament was held, analysis of the games was done by the coaches between each round. Finally the juniors had the opportunity to play simultaneous games against some of the coaches – a video clip of IMs Bobby Cheng and Moulton Ly playing against juniors is viewable on the Australian Junior Chess Leagues facebook page.

The juniors came away from the week with plenty of inspiration, new knowledge and new friends. A huge thank you must go to Geraldine Johns-Putra, a Hong Kong Lawyer and former junior chess player, who once again sponsored this important event. Thanks also go to the Australian Junior Chess League for the organisation of such a great event!

 

 

The Victorian Junior Chess Championships 2016

Playing hall

I haven’t posted for a while but I have been busy with chess stuff. The Victorian Junior Chess Championships were on in late June and my son took part. I wrote a report for a local chess club. Here it is.

VICTORIAN JUNIORS – UNDER 12 OPEN

The under 12 section was the largest group with a record 34 players taking part and they played beautifully. As parents we were able to watch the games from behind glass in a raised gallery, this allowed us to have an eagle eyed view of the action without unduly distracting the players. As I watched games I was constantly impressed by the measured nature of the play and the amount of concentration that was being exerted. Several players used full advantage of the 75/30 time control as they calculated and strategised for more than 3 hours, which I think is a colossal achievement for the video game generation.

The cleverness of play was also inspiring. Victoria has many of the best players in Australia and in this section there were 5 players with FIDE ratings over 1600. As I watched the games I would predict moves, see an alternative being played, and think ‘yes, that move is better’. At this level small mistakes are often the difference between a win, a draw and a loss and great care was taken by players with each move. This meant that games would often continue to an endgame phase.The final standings showed 11 players all within 1.5 points of each other – a missed response to a blunder would have made it even closer with 11 players all within 1 point!

Here is a from a game that is a good example of simplifying a position.

Here is another game where Black gets into trouble. White is a pawn up and he has two passed pawns, one of which is on the 6th rank.

And there were many, many other interesting examples of play.

Prior to the final round no-one could be certain of their placing and the playing hall was awash with speculation about who would win if…

Knockout

Muhammad AliMuhammad Ali died 4 days ago. I remember watching the great documentary ‘When We Were Kings’ about him in the world title fight in Zaire. The documentary covered the fight and highlighted Ali’s charisma beautifully – a champion in the ring and in the fight for racial equality. I mention this because in a game this Sunday at a rapid tournament I felt I had been up against the ropes until I noticed a tactical sequence that ended in a knockout. At the board I was reminded of Ali’s knockout in which he lands a crushing blow to George Foreman but instead of following up with another blow he holds back to watch the effect of his right hand. In the same way my checkmate was inevitable, beautiful and restrained. Find the forced checkmate. The answer is in my ‘Five years in the making’ post.

Five And A Half Years In The Making

achievement

I joined chess.com 5 1/2 years ago and when I first joined the site rating adjustments were wild until I had played enough games for the rating to be realistic. On the 28th of January 2011 my rating was 1372 then the next day it was 1065. Unfortunately I have never been able to reach my highpoint and the ‘highest rating’ stat was always frustrating, it wasn’t a true reflection of my ability – until now. A couple of days ago I reached the dizzy heights (for me) of 1373 and stopped playing, fearful that my time on the pinnacle would be too brief. Bravely I played again today and I have once again stopped to savour 1400! I have no idea why I have improved this year but it seems like a collection of knowledge has gelled to become coherent.

The greatest leap in knowledge has been learning more openings and finding which ones work better for me. I still play 1.e4 but I have shifted from the Ruy Lopez as White to the Scots Gambit as White if I can. I also play the wing gambit in response to the Sicilian which is bringing me better results. I have given up on playing the Sicilian myself in response to 1.e4 and instead I favour playing the Ruy Lopez as Black or using the Dutch Defence, English Defence or Budapest against 1.d4. In addition to using these openings I find that my greater opening knowledge is giving me better understanding of the middle game since I have more opening ‘themes’ to draw from.

My second improvement is my positional play. I am more able to get my pieces where I want them to be. I use open files for rooks better, open diagonals for Bishops and I block my opponents play to cramp them up. My biggest positional improvement, though, is my horse play. I am much more careful about mapping paths for my Knights so that they end up where I want them. This often means playing knights backwards to bounce them forwards. This is often a subtle way of playing but it is working well.

My final improvement is a greater willingness to launch attacks. I have been watching a few videos about launching an attack and this has helped. When I feel I have my pieces in strong positions I will often sacrifice a piece to bust open the King’s defences and this often leads to games where I have an advantage.

But for all that there are still aspects of the game that let me down. My concrete calculation is still fairly lazy and often my bravado attacks slowly wane because of unclear calculation. My second failing is tactics and this is a simple case of doing tactics regularly.

Here is the game that got me my new high point.

(answer to tactic in Knockout post is 1.f7+ Kh7 2.f8=N#)

 

Weak Pawns

 

weak pawns

I have been studying weak pawns this week. What are weak pawns? They are isolated pawns unsupported by other pawns, backward pawns at the unsupported end of a pawn chain or doubled up pawns on a file. All are slightly different but the strategic principles are the same. Here are rules for dealing with weak pawns:

  1. Keep pressure on weaknesses.
  2. Exchange your opponents active pieces.
  3. Control the square in front of a weak pawn.
  4. Don’t let your opponent get rid of his weakness.

If you are the player with weak pawns then the strategy for you is to aim for a piece driven attack in which you don’t swap off pieces. Grab the initiative even if you lose a weak pawn.

Into The Breach

Breach

A new Sunday tournament has started and my first round was against a new player and I had a fairly easy victory. Round two was tougher, my opponent had a FIDE rating 400 plus points above mine and I’d lost to him before. He also started with the English which is an opening I never play and hardly ever need to defend against. I have noticed that it is being used quite a bit at top level so I should perhaps familiarise myself with it. My rule of thumb for this opening is to copy my opponents moves till it doesn’t make sense to. Here is the game, I am Black

So my Sunday winning streak of 6 games has come to an end.

 

The Karmic Circle Of Dragon Slaying

slayed dragon

My first game after my glorious win over a FIDE Master was at a rapid competition. Opposite me was a very small child with a rating of 200, he beat me. Despondent I went on to play a smaller child with a rating of 400, he beat me (even after I was a piece up after 4 moves!). After seven games I won 3.5 out of 7, which is actually ok, but my games were full to the brim with errors. My draw included me having two connected pawns supported by a King vs. King and I managed to stalemate. Clearly no-one can rest on their laurels. Back to the drawing board.