Archive for October, 2013

As always, the State Finals are a highlight of the year. This year was particularly exciting with 2 teams finishing equal first in the Tasmanian State Finals!

Well done to Cygnet Primary and St  Mary’s – both small regional schools who have come from nowhere to do outstandingly well. Scotch Oakburn have put a lot of effort in to chess in the past few years and it showed, with them dominating the Secondary event.

It was nice to get some ABC TV coverage of the event:

Full results:–3

Archive for October, 2013

Today I thought that I’d talk about a problem that I’m having coaching young players.  Sometimes they come up with funny ideas!  For instance I may ask “why did you let him take your knight for free?” and the answer is “well he was threatening to give me doubled pawns.”  Now I don’t know about you but I’d take a free knight over doubled pawns any day.  This is happening quite often where the student either places too much emphasis on a possible problem (like doubled pawns) or comes up with a reason that is just not relevant in the current position.   For instance making your king safe by castling is usually a good idea but if we are in an ending with no threat of checkmate then maybe the King is better off in the centre.

At my Doncaster Gardens Primary School lesson last week I went so far as to tell my students to forget all about doubled pawns, isolated pawns, backward pawns and so on as there was only one really important thing chess players should be focusing on … namely their PIECES … putting them on good squares and having them co-operate was how you win chess games.

This sort of problem really struck home to me when I played through one of the play-off games at the recent Vic. Youth Chess Championships.  Both players had strange ideas.  They loved exchanging pieces at every opportunity even if the swap resulted in a slight advantage for the opponent (like he recaptures with a developing move).  I guess that captures are the first thing that young minds look at and you get the thrill of taking one of your opponent’s pieces.  When he couldn’t swap pieces one of the players had an even better plan.   He would check his opponent’s King.  King moves, then he tries to check it again.  I guess he was operating on the theory that if he checked enough times one of them may turn out to be checkmate!   My answer to this was to suggest a better strategy.   Instead of trying to check him to death, KILL HIS ARMY!   Take all his pieces then you can think about checks and checkmates.   This idea seemed to appeal to my student who repeated with gusto “KILL HIS ARMY!”

The other player had a different idea.  He is convinced that the King is an attacking piece.  He doesn’t castle.  He leaves his rooks at home in the corners and marches into the enemy camp with his lone King!  What a great idea.  After all, the first World Champion, Wilhelm Steinitz too thought that the King was “an attacking piece.”  It worked for Alexander the Great in his battle against the Persian King Darius so let’s see whether or not this idea worked in the Vic. Youth game that I was playing through.   Here is the position after 15…Rfe8+.  Your task is to play through the game to the end (and there is an amusing finish) then tell me what both players missed (which would have reversed the result).

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The answer is below (no peeking!).







Black missed 22…Rcd8! threatening 23…R(5)-d7 mate and also 23…Rcd7! with a similar result.  Looks like thinking ahead is a better idea than just checking!

Archive for October, 2013

It’s been an eventful week in chess (as usual) with a lot of different things happening.

I gave my first lesson at a Primary School on Tuesday (Doncaster Gardens) and I discovered that Primary kids don’t play chess on tables and chairs but instead sprawl out over the floor.  This creates new challenges for the unsuspecting coach who has to tread very carefully over boards and players if he wants to watch the games!

On the national scene, ACF Life-Member Gerrit Hartland has proposed that grandmasters Ian Rogers and Darryl Johansen be awarded life membership of the Australian Chess Federation.  What a good idea!  They have dominated Australian chess for over 25 years from 1980 and been an inspiration to generations of junior chess players.  Perhaps this will be an opportunity for me to give another speech and tell some stories about Ian and Darryl from when they were juniors.

On the International scene there is also big news for Australia.  The world’s highest rated 12 year-old, Anton Smirnov, has been playing in the very strong Indonesian Open which has just concluded.  Anton drew with a GM in round one, then drew with GM Torre (Asia’s first GM and my old rival) in round two.   “Impressive” I thought, but there was better still to come.  Anton played 4 GMs for 1.5/4 and 5 IMs for 3/5 to finish on 6/11.  This is a performance rating of 2450 and a second IM norm for Anton.  If he keeps improving at this rate Australia will soon have another grandmaster.

This week’s puzzle is from the first round of the Box Hill Open played last Friday.  The first round of any chess tournament is often a good source of nice finishes as it matches the top players against players in the lower half.  I was following the games live on the internet and noticed that Chris Wallis managed to bring off a very spectacular finish in his game, with a little help form his opponent not choosing the best defence.  The first few moves are not forced but you can try to guess them if you wish, then see if you can spot the beautiful finishing combination.

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Archive for October, 2013

Term four has now started in Victoria and chess is back in swing in the schools.   I’m excited as I have a new class starting next week – my first Primary School Class.   Frank Meerbach has built up a fantastic group of classes at Doncaster Gardens Primary School, which is one of the top chess schools in Victoria, and I’ve been given the chance to have a term with their top group of students.

It should be a new challenge for me trying to teach younger students how to become good players so I’ve been pondering what I should teach them.  I think I’ll start with my “chess memory challenge” where I set up the 32 pieces in a random (non-chess type) position and let the players study the position for 10 seconds.  They then have to set up as many pieces on their correct squares as they can.  It’s very difficult as there are no standard chess patterns for the kids to recognise.   I’m guessing that not many kids would get more than 7 or 8 pieces in the correct spots.  I then set up a second position, perhaps the opening position of the sicilian defence, and ask the kids to have a go at remembering that position.   Of course they all get it 100% right.   Hopefully that will demonstrate to them the part that memory plays in chess skill.

I think that I’ll then move on to talk about imagination in chess.  When it’s all said and done chess is just a battle to outsmart your opponent by seeing moves that he doesn’t look at or analysing a variation deeper than he does.  Today’s puzzle is a good example of chess imagination (from former World Champion Boris Spassky).  Black’s problem is that he can’t stop White from queening his “e” pawn whilst White’s problem is that Black appears to have a winning attack with 1…Rxh3+.  For White to win he needs to come up with something special.  Most chess players may look at “silly” moves but immediately reject them.   To become a better player they need to train themselves to look a bit deeper in case there is some nice idea in the position a couple of moves down the track.  I showed this position to my best student yesterday and he solved it pretty quickly even though he is not renown for his imagination.  Of course it’s a lot easier if you know that there is something there (as in a puzzle) whereas in a normal chess game most players are just coasting along and not looking for something special.

Let’s see if you can match Boris Spassky and pass the “imagination test.”   It’s White to play and win.  Good luck.

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Archive for October, 2013

These days, as the years role by and my former chess friends and rivals pass away one by one, I find that I am increasingly living in the past.  I think back to years gone by and remember events and stories from chess tournaments that I played in when I was growing.  At lunchtime, when I’m dining in some local cafe, I find myself reading old magazines like the one I’m currently wading through – the 1975 volume of the “British Chess Magazine”.  No doubt these rekindled memories will come in handy when I have to give a speech at the next chess funeral that comes along.

I can even remember back to the good old days when I had to get up on the stage at the Vic. Youth Championships and comment live on the games in progress.   Of course I’m too old for that now, and so have passed on the baton to IM James Morris to do that sort of tedious work, but I did manage to pop in to this year’s Vic. Youth Championships for a few moments to see what was happening.  For an old chap like me it really was a glimpse into the future of chess.  I used to have to write my moves down on a scoresheet, then try to decipher them when I got home, but these days even little kids as young as 6 or 7 years can record their game perfectly using an iPad and their parents and coaches can follow the games live at home on the internet if they wish using something called “Tornelo”.   When I explained how this worked to one of my old friends his immediate response was “It’s illegal!  The rules of chess say that you have to use a scoresheet”.  I suggested that he was living in the past.   The kids didn’t care and in a few years time I’m sure that chess scoresheets will be a thing of the past, just like as the fountain pen became obsolete when someone invented the ball-point pen.

The event is even better for spectators who can follow all the games live on big TV screens in the analysis room and I saw a number of coaches and parents animatedly discussing the action.   Wouldn’t it be nice, I thought to myself, if they had something like this at the Australian Chess Championships, but it probably won’t happen.  Not all chess tournament organisers are as progressive as Chess Kids.


The large boards for spectators were popular…

My task now, after a short mid-afternoon nap, has been to play through my students’ games and see how they played.  What I found was a sorry tale of a lot of blunders and missed opportunities, sprinkled with an occasional good move.  I was pleased to see that Rebecca Strickland, who crushingly won the U/15 event, seems to have given up her boring King’s Indian Attack opening and is actually varying her opening repertoire!   Now if only I could encourage some of my students to do the same instead of playing the Giuoco Piano opening all the time.

Of course as I play through the games I try to ask myself “what would I play” in this position and compare that with the moves actually chosen.  Being very old however I don’t want to do a lot of analysis and so generally only look one move deep.  The following position is a typical example where Black has just played Nd6 and my student (White) now has to decide on his move.  As I examined the position I thought “Thank God, a nice simple endgame where White has a positional advantage because of Black’s isolated “d” pawn – surely White can win?”  Looking down the scoresheet I see that the game ended up being a draw so perhaps this would be a good lesson on positional play if I could find something better for White.  Perhaps, dear reader, you can help me?  Black’s idea is to play 1…Nc4 so my obvious first candidate is 1.b3.  Looks OK.  The again, I thought, maybe I should try to swap pieces so 1.Nc2 may be good.  Alternatively I could just improve my king position with 1.Kf2.  Unfortunately all this analysis tired my poor brain and around about now I dozed off again.

So, dear reader, please don’t wake me.   I need my beauty sleep, but perhaps whilst I am sleeping you can find White’s best move for me?  It would make an old man very happy!

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