Tag Archives: Chess

Competitions: I Have Become a Professional Chess Player


On Sunday I went to my monthly seven round swiss tournament at Box Hill Chess Club and came tied with four others in the lower section of the adult field! And won $5…! A professional at last although it costs $15 to enter the competition.

It was an enjoyable tournament where I wasn’t beaten convincingly by a small child and I had a few good games with better players. My best game was my last one against a much better player where I was down to 1 pawn, a knight and a king to his 3 pawns, a knight and a king. I managed to claw back to a King and Knight vs. a King, Knight and pawn ending with the intent of snatching his pawn for a draw but I didn’t manage. I find knight endgames very tricky but I felt I did well.

The club is also starting a Sunday afternoon tournament with one longer game (1hr) per Sunday over seven Sundays which is designed for adults and good juniors and I’ll join that. I’ll also maintain my weekly competition at Glen Eira Chess club.

In other competition news my son was in the Victorian Junior Championships and he played some great games but also some games that fell apart because his near fried liver attacks weren’t quite near enough. A salutory lesson on not going for gimmics, even in the under 10 groups. It was amazing to see how well some of the better young players play. I doubt that in the future there will be any great players that don’t start at a very young age – their minds are like sponges.

Finally, while I was at the tournament, I overheard one chess teacher saying to a parent that he had “…a couple of good students but they don’t play in competitions”.The parent replied “Are competitions good” and the answer was “Yeah, if you want to improve you really need to do competitions…”. I paraphrase but I do think competitions focus the mind and give direction.

Playing Against Humans


chess players 2

Nothing could be more Ludditish, in my opinion, than playing a game of chess with a human being. It is a quiet, soulful experience that exercises the mind and emotions and requires deep, not glib, thought.

I have been playing chess on Tuesday evenings at a small nearby club where two or three grown ups appear while a teacher teaches a group of kids including my son. The games aren’t timed and I haven’t been recording the moves but a friend there records his moves and after the game we go through it with the teacher, an International Master, who amazes us with what he can see so quickly. This post game analysis is very useful and it is something I intend to do more.

Once a month I also play in a mini Swiss tournament of seven rounds at another club 30 minutes away. Each game has a fixed time control of 15 minutes a side and games are not recorded. The tournament has a mix of players ranging from 6yr old children to an 80 plus year old man who is very good and I would estimate the fields strength to range from 700 to 2000. I have never run out of time but I have come close and I find that the fifteen minute time limit allows some deeper thought but not as much as I would like. Also my time planning isn’t good; I sometimes rush when I shouldn’t and then spend my time trying to get out of a messy situation. Again my allocation of concentration is something I will work on.

Yesterday I went to a new club that has opened up nearby. I went there because, according to its website, it has an ongoing tournament where players play one game a week for the duration of a school term. Yesterday, however, was the week before the tournament started so there were fewer people; there was the organiser, me and another adult, my son and about six other kids. The tournament’s time control of 1hr was specifically set up to bridge the gap between the 15 minute games that are ubiquitous for children and the 2hr + games of serious, usually adult, players. I played two great games against the organiser (lost both) and a couple of recorded games against an improving player. I plan to go back next week and join their tournament.

I hope to play more people, close to my level or higher, more often and under longer time controls. The fact that I am playing a human means that I treat the games with great respect. This in turn helps me concentrate and play a better game that I remember more clearly. The rewards of losing or winning are higher too and blunders, tactical errors, poor positional play and bad strategy all become more obvious under the emotional prism that is live play and become more memorable.

It is my contention that you can learn as much from a close game with a human as you can with 100 internet games – especially if you go through it afterwards.

Correspondence Chess 2 – Playing Historically


chess postman

The idea of playing correspondence chess came at me from two directions. The first was from a BBC documentary called “How To Win At Chess” which was part of their BBC Timeshift series. It can be seen here: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x19so3x_how-to-win-at-chess_sport At the 13:30min mark there is a little vignette about correspondence chess that I found charming. I liked the quiet, pensive nature of it, I liked the ‘lite’ human connection between players and I liked the paraphernalia that was associated with the process. The second point of inspiration came from looking up an article on chess.com with the enticing title “Gain 100+ rating points quickly and start improving your chess” by someone with the moniker Aww-Rats, the article is here: http://www.chess.com/article/view/gain-100-rating-points-quickly-and-start-improving-your-chess. In this article, Mr Aww-Rats, strongly advocates correspondence chess as a way of improving and he is a Nation Master. Mad not to absorb the wisdom of older people.

So I sought to find out where and how I could play correspondence chess. Chess.com has a feature called ‘Online Chess’ which is web-based correspondence chess and I have started games here but I wanted something that I could view more seriously. I googled and found the Correspondence Chess League of Australia which confusingly has, at this time, two different websites. The correct one being http://www.ccla.net.au/ It wouldn’t be described as a welcoming site being hard to use and out of date in many areas but there it was, the official, FIDE endorsed, portal to national correspondence chess. So I joined and was entered into a match called Australian BICYCLE B12 (Bicycle because it didn’t permit chess engines). This is a web-based match against 7 other players. Further to this I asked to be entered into a friendly postal match and I was. The match is an ICCF Promotion Tournament called WT/0/150. The title is suitably austere and information came to me via snail mail.

Correspondence Chess 1 – A History

chess correspondence

A correspondence chess game was thought to be played between the Emperor Nicephorus and the Caliph of Baghdad, Harun al-Rashid (763-809), in the 9th century but it wasn’t until the late 1700 that we really see it starting. In the early 1820’s a number of national clubs challenged each other, the most well known being the games between London and Edinburgh.  Naturally Edinburgh won. Half a century later correspondence chess was played ubiquitously by all sorts of people (In 1883 Cambridge University played a postal match with some of the chess players at the Bedlam insane asylum. Naturally Bedlam won). In 1949 FIDE formed the International Correspondence Chess Association with the motto ‘Amici Sumus’ or ‘We are Friends’ in English.

The idea with correspondence chess was that you could take whatever time you needed, within reason, to make a move. You could look up past games, review opening theory, analyse by moving pieces and carry out research with a view to playing the best possible game. But this all changed when computers reared their clever heads. It changed for three reasons.

Firstly email could be used. This would seem like a tool for making correspondence chess easier but with ease come a loss of preciousness. I believe that this made games less important for some people. And while older correspondence players may have continued their deep analysis methodology I believe some players would have shifted their thinking towards viewing the games as more disposable. Emails, and now webservers, are cheap and efficient but I wonder if they inspire the same concentration as sending a postcard via the mail.

Secondly the speed of email transfers and the size of the chess population meant that there was an abundance of players ready to play instantly so why would you choose the slow, plodding path of correspondence chess over the gratification of a live game. This has meant that fewer people are taking up correspondence chess and many that did enjoy it have left.

Thirdly and most problematically is the fact that computers can now make better moves than humans. This has led to the spectre of cheating shadowing correspondence chess. It is impossible to be certain that people won’t cheat. It is so impossible that FIDE now permits computer engine analysis in most of the rated games – it therefore becomes a battle of machines guided by software engineers and gigabytes. I see the role of the chess player becoming less and less important in this form of correspondence chess. Again I see this as a reason for it’s decline.

I do, however, believe that there is still scope for correspondence chess to help me improve my chess providing I take a more historical approach to it.




chess luddite

Luddites, to my mind, are people who eschew technology believing that their lifestyle will improve. I have some sympathies with this. My job means that I use computers a lot. At home I find myself on technology too often, playing with addictive games, being on  facebook, and general googling. All of which, including blogging about Ludditism is very un-Ludditish. The better, or more technical, definition of Ludditism comes from Wikipedia and can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luddite

I partly blame my relationship with technology with my inability to improve at chess. When I use computers I know I can usually undo what I do; I can cut and paste documents, save, amend, re-save, print, review, alter. Information is cheap, alterable, deletable and saveable. This is different to earlier modes of ‘doing’ where ideas had to be considered carefully before committing to execution. Think of the difference between a monk writing out a bible versus someone writing a blog entry – one would be truly annoyed if they misspelt something. One of these two would have to think very carefully before doing.

I therefore want to expand the way I think about chess by taking a more considered approach to my moves. This would seem a simple thing to do, just slow down. I think this is right, my problem though is that when I play a slow game I still think quickly and do intuitive moves rather than calculated moves. Perhaps this is something that practice will change but what I want to explore is slow chess, and the slowest is correspondence chess.