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I play through a lot of games by young players and one thing strikes me about them …. most of the time juniors only think about what they can do and little if any thought is given to what their opponent can do.  Imagine if you were a toddler standing at the side of the road and on the other side he sees a lovely puppy.  The toddler would love to pat this puppy so what does he do …. he starts waddling across the road towards the puppy.  Has he stopped to consider that there may be cars on the road which will run him down and kill him?   Of course not.   That’s how young chess players play!

The other day I gave a lesson on this theme at a Primary School, demonstrating what happens if you don’t consider your opponents moves/ideas, then we started the school tournament.  I strolled around looking at the games.   One boy had quickly played … Nxe4 winning a free pawn.  “”Have you” I asked him, “considered what your opponent may reply?”  He gave me a vague, guilty look.  “Because if he is very clever” I continued “he may play Rd8 checkmate!   You have overlooked mate in one move.”  I moved on.  At the next board White had a black rook on f7 in a deadly Bishop pin against the black King on g8.   He could take the Rook and win the exchange, but he wanted more so he played f4 hoping to exchange this pawn and open the “f” file for his rook to join in the attack on f7.  “That’s a really clever idea” I commented, “but have you considered what you opponent may reply?”   He gave me a vague, guilty look.  “Because if he is very clever” I continued “he may play BxK!   You have just made an illegal move!   Clearly I have a bit more work to do to get my message across.

Over the last few days I have been visiting the Melbourne Chess Club to watch the Anzac Day Tournament in which a few of my students were playing.  Most times when a junior plays stronger opponent the opponent will get a better position and grind them down over a number of moves.   Sometimes, if you are lucky, there may be a brief opportunity to turn the tables and cause an upset, but the hard part is being alert for these opportunities and seeing the chances when they arise.   A typical example is shown in the puzzle below.  Black is rated about 900 points above his young opponent and has had the better game since the opening.   He has just played Nf4 to fork the R and B but, if he is alert, White now has a chance.  What should he play?


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Last Sunday I went to watch the RJ Shield Tournament at Mt.Waverley.  Some of my students were playing so it was a good opportunity for me to watch their games and see how they are progressing.

I came away very disappointed!  Juniors, it seems, don’t like thinking/analysing and often choose their moves simply based on the desire to threaten something.  Have they analysed their opponent’s possible replies?  Have they looked around for tactical ideas?  Probably not.

My observing got off to a bad start when I watched the round 2 game on board 2.  White played the Fried Liver attack which his opponent clearly didn’t know.  White had won a pawn and exposed the Black King but it was Black’s turn to move.  He chose 6 … Nd4 attacking the white queen on f3 and White quickly replied 7.Qf7#.  Oh well.  Next round I switched to board 1 in search of a better game.  Again I was soon disappointed.  By move 6 White had blundered a pawn and 3 moves later his opponent, the top seed, had blundered it back …. but of course White missed this 2 move tactic.

For round 4 I went back to board 2 as two of my students were playing each other.   By move 7 White had blundered a pawn and 4 moves later he blundered a second pawn.  Black now had a won game … two pawns ahead with no weaknesses in his position, so what did he do?  Did he complete his development and use his extra pawns to keep White’s pieces out?  Of course not.  He started making one-move threats which White easily got out of.  Then he allowed White to open up Black’s Kingside.  White blundered allowing a one move piece skewer … but of course Black didn’t notice.  Soon Black found that his N was trapped and he was a piece down with a totally lost game.  What a turn around!

There was one redeeming moment when I went back to board one where White finally produced a good game which he concluded with a nice tactic.   Let’s see if you can find it.  White to play and win.

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Like most keen chess players on the Labour Day long weekend I journeyed to Ballarat for the 51st Ballarat Begonia Open Chess Tournament.  GM Nigel Short was not there this year but the tournament still boasted 4 Grandmasters and 5 International Masters with my role being to supply the live commentary.

The event was very exciting with IM Ari Dale leading on 5.5/6 going into the final round followed by 5 players on 5 points.  Ari had to face IM James Morris as White in the final round and played solidly to keep the position level but slowly but surely James managed to create chances and he eventually ground out a win to join GM Zhou, IM Smirnov and IM Solomon in joint first place.  Each player received $1375.  Half a point behind on 5.5 points were GMs Illingworth, Ly and Johansen and IM Dale.  They got nothing!  The ratings prizes however were very generous.  One of my students happily pocketed $600 for his efforts.

The tournament started strangely.  I received a copy of the draw and noticed that listed to play GM Max Illingworth on board 3 was someone named Harrison Harrison rated 1750 FIDE.  I approached the arbiter and said surely this is a clerical error and the player should be Liam Harrison from Mildura.  “No, no” I was assured, “Harrison Harrison is a local Ballarat player …. they call him Harry.”  I went back to the top boards and started watching the top boards hoping to get some interesting games for my live broadcast.  Harrison’s game started strangely with him playing 1.Nc3 then 2.e3 then 3.Ne2 then rapidly got worse!  I rushed back to the arbiter and showed him the start of the game.  “This opening is the worst I have ever seen” I exclaimed …. “The guy is a beginner.  Can we check his ID or something as he can’t have a rating of 1750.”   We talked to Kevin Perrin, doyen of the Ballarat Chess Club, and he advised that Harrison was strong tactically but played weird openings …. he did well in their club events!   Here is the game for your interest.


Despite this rocky start I did manage to find a number of interesting games to use in my live game commentary.  Ari chopping up Max Illingworth generated a lot of comments from the audience, however my favourite game is Smirnov v Puccini in the final round.  Anton played some very nice sacrifices to bring about checkmate a queen down.  Play through the game and see if you can guess Anton’s moves.

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“Searching for Bobby Cheng!”  No, it’s not the title of the latest chess movie.  It’s what I have been doing for the past few weeks.  Bobby decided to skip the Australian tournaments over the holidays and instead went to Europe in search of his grandmaster title.  A few weeks ago he was playing in a tournament in England, then he popped up at the Gibraltar Open … scoring OK results but no GM norm.  Last week I discovered that he was playing in the 9th Batavia Invitational tournament so I presumed that he was somewhere in Eastern Europe.  It turns out he is actually in Holland, playing at the Batavia Cafe, and Bobby was doing quite well.

After 4 rounds Bobby led the event with 4/4 and so needed only 2.5 points from his last 5 games to achieve a GM norm.   Alas, he came unstuck in the next 3 rounds scoring 2 losses and a draw but he bounced back in the penultimate round with a win against one of the lower players.  This left him needing to defeat GM Baron Tal, rated 2544, in the final round with the Black pieces to secure his norm.  I sat up all night watching the game, which fortunately started early, and Bobby’s opponent did not play solidly for a draw but instead attacked right from the start and gambited a pawn for attacking chances on the kingside.  It was a good sign when White thought for 34 minutes on move 10 and it was soon apparent that White had nothing for his pawn.  Indeed Bobby just developed logically, with better placed pieces and more options for pawn play, and after only 24 moves his opponent threw in the towel.

Even better, Bobby’s rival for top spot, the young Dutch player IM Van Foreest who Bobby had defeated in round 1, lost his final game so both players tied for top place on 6.5/9 with Bobby winning on count-back.  They both had secured a GM norm so would be very happy with the result.

For today’s puzzle let’s see if you can do as well as Bobby (or perhaps better!) in his crucial first round game against Van Foreest.  In the diagram below Bobby found a winning move …. but not the best move!   What move would you play?

Bobby Cheng with his trophy for winning the 9th Batavia chess tournament.

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In my day, playing tennis, it was all about playing in a team with your friends and sometimes you ended up playing together for decades.  Today’s tennis is all about individual tournaments and tennis has become largely an individual sport rather than a team sport.  It’s a big problem because as soon as young players realise they won’t be the next Lleyton Hewitt they give up the sport.  A great pity and a challenge for tennis organisers.

It’s pretty similar in chess.  In my day club chess was very strong and you played in a four or five man team in inter-school and inter-club competitions.  If you were very good you even got to play in the Olympiad, in your nation’s chess team, and I always enjoyed playing in these team events, and achieved some of my best results in them.  So is mateship dead in chess?  Is everyone out to do their best and their opponents are enemies, not friends?

I was at the RJ Shield tournament at Mt.Waverley yesterday and saw something to give you hope that mateship and chess are not incompatible.  The two top seeds, Gavyn and Shawn were a class above the other entrants and were expected to fight it out for top spot.  It was great therefore to arrive at the tournament to see Gavyn and Shawn messing about together and playing friendly games before the tournament started.  They quickly despatched the other players and met in round 4 to decide who would finish in top spot.  It was a close, hard fought game, which swapped off into an even pawn ending.  At one point Gavyn blundered but Shawn responded instantly and missed his chance to win the game.  Finally a blocked position was reached so the boys shook hands and happily wandered off together to report the result.  They ended up sharing first place with 6.5 points out of 7 and left the event well pleased.  At chess tournaments you can not only play well but you can also make friends and have a great time.   That’s how it should be!

Gavyn and Shawn with their trophies.


Next week I shall discuss Bobby Cheng’s quest for his GM title.  Bobby is currently playing in a tournament in Batavia and leading with 4/4.  For today’s puzzle have a look at the position below from his last game.  Bobby found a winning line but it was not the best move!   Can you do better?  White to play.

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This week the theme of my chess lessons was “Blunders”.   As I sat at home last night watching the live games in the Box Hill Autumn Cup I was gifted several new examples to illustrate this topic.

On board 1 the top seed Eugene Schon was facing 3-times Australia Champion, Doug Hamilton, who, at age 75, still plays a pretty good game of chess.  They arrived at the following position with Black to play.

Meanwhile on board 2 Issac Zhao and Kris Chan had arrived at a really boring rook ending with rook and 4 pawns each and no passed pawns.  Surprisingly they did not agree to a draw but swapped of into a king and pawn ending with the higher rated Chan (Black) pressing for a win.  They arrived at the following position with both sides racing to queen first.  Eventually they realised that they both queened and so agreed to a draw.  Play through the moves and see if you can find what they missed!

On board 3 there was also an interesting game in which Luis Chan appeared to blunder a rook.  They played on and surprisingly White was able to hold a draw so the “blunder” turned out not to be so bad after all.   Chess is a strange game.

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School holidays are now over and I’m just getting back into the swing of chess lessons for term one.  There was a lot of chess played over the holidays and I went up to Brisbane for a week to catch the end of the Australian Open and the start of the Australian Junior Championships.  I had high hopes that some of my students would do well in the U/10 and U/12 championships but national events are always tough.  In the U/10 Championships for instance the Australian players, all rated around 1200 or lower, turned up to find a Vietnamese boy rated 1750 sitting up there on board one!   Apparently he had just moved to Sydney and was thus eligible to play.  Indeed he played to this rating and only dropped half a point, leaving the other players in his wake.

Victoria did quite well overall, in particular in the girls events where Myiesha Maunders won the U12 Girls and Eva Wang won the U18 Girls.  Eva is a very strong player, still only at Primary School, and I fully expect that in a few years she will be in the Australian Women’s Olympiad team.

There were several overseas grandmasters playing in Australia over the holidays but they by no means dominated our events.  Max Illingworth showed a welcome return to form to win the Australian Open Championship for example.  There were also a few interesting disputes, particularly in the Victorian Lightning Championships, which saw visiting GM Kasparov posting some unfavourable posts about Australia on his chess blog.  I doubt that he shall be invited back here again.

The biggest tournament of the holidays was over in New Zealand which held the Zonal Championships with the winner to go onto the World Cup and world championship qualification.  The leading Australians who played were Anton Smirnov, Max Illingworth, Gary Lane, Ari Dale and Karl Zelesco plus most of the top NZ players.  With one round to play Anton needed only a draw to secure first place but he faced a hard game against junior rival Karl Zelesco who was a point behind.  They played a very strange game with an even stranger finish.  For today’s puzzle perhaps you can help Anton to win the game.  Have a look at the diagram below.  Anton, playing White, is well up on material an a win seems to be just a formality.  All he has to do is find the best move here and Black can resign.  Alas, Anton chose the wrong move and Karl was able to get a draw with a very nice tactic.  Your job …find the best move for Anton and find the resource which saved the game for Karl.

Anton (centre) wins the Zonal.

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Last week was a very big one in chess.  We had the world Championship play-off between Carlsen and Karjakin where they had to play 4 rapid games (25 minutes  each) after the match had been tied 6 games all.  Carlsen was clearly better at the fast time control and, although the first two games were drawn Carlsen comfortably won the 3rd game.  This meant that everything was on the line in the fourth game.  I was watching live with Carlsen having 2 minutes left to Karjakin’s one minute and Carlsen was up the exchange.   He thought for about 30 seconds then sacrificed his queen in spectacular fashion for a 2 move checkmate.  It was one of the prettiest finishes ever to a World Championship.

Back home on Sunday 27 November we had the finals of the RJ Shield with 151 players participating.  I was very pleased that some of my students did very well in this event with the RJ Shield Super Champion being Gavyn Sanusi-Goh from Serpell Primary School.  The next two days we had the Chess Kids National Finals with teams from across the country competing.   It was great to see 350 players competing across the divisions of Primary, Middle Years and Secondary.  After their games players would come to the coaching lounge to go through their games.  We had 10 coaches on site including myself and IMs James Morris and Ari Dale.

RJ Finals

I had two amusing situations occur as I went through the players’ games.   I was playing through one little boy’s game and he checkmated his opponent.  I said  “well done” then glanced at his scoresheet to see another 20 moves written down!  “Isn’t this checkmate” I queried to which he replied “Yes, but we didn’t notice so I took his rook instead of his King!”  The most amusing incident however was when I was playing through the game of one of the older players.   They reached the position below with Black to move.  White has a strong attack but is down the exchange.


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“Is this the most boring World Chess Championship match ever?” I asked fellow Chess Kids coach Carl Gorka.  “What about Karpov and Kasparov?” was his reply.  “They had a lot of draws.”  True, but Karpov was 5-0 up when the draws started so at least they had 5 games that had a result.   So far Carlsen and Karjakin have played 6 rather boring draws in their best of 12 game match in New York.  Compare that with “the good old days” – Steinitz v Anderssen 1866 where they played 14 games (8-6 to Steinitz) with NO DRAWS!  Of course in those days the spectators didn’t have all the computer analysis and video commentary that we have but at least they had exciting games.

Last Sunday, seeking refuge from the uneventful World Championship match, I ventured to Box Hill Chess Club to watch the Rookies tournament where some of my students were playing.  Indeed it was very pleasing as the last round commenced to see three of my students all on 5/6 and in contention for a prize.  On top board was Ethan Hooi (who I coach at Doncaster Gardens) playing Regan Cowley who won the game and thus the tournament with 7/7.  Fellow Doncaster Gardens student Eva was on board 3 and she drew her game to finish on 5.5/7.  A fine result.  The most interesting game however was on board 2 where the top seed John Nemeth, an imposing figure, faced one of my students from Serpell Primary, little Gavyn Sanusi-Goh rated a mere 1255 points below John.  They had infact played in the previous Rookies Tournament where Gavyn had given John a run for his money, so before the game John commented “Let’s see how much you have improved.”  He didn’t have to wait long to find out as Gavyn quickly won the exchange and later a second exchange to have 2 rooks plus queen v 2 bishops plus queen in the endgame.  A big crowd gathered around, sensing a upset, and with Gavyn having only 2 minutes left on his clock anything could have happened.  Gavyn, calmly returned one exchange to simplify the position then, after a bit of uncertainty, found a winning line to defeat his much higher rated opponent and secure outright second place in the tournament.   Not bad for an 8 year-old!

I watched some of my other students’ games at the tournament and witnessed a couple of very poor decisions, such as walking into mate in 3 moves in a drawn rook ending.  Even Ethan allowed his opponent a bank rank checkmate in an unclear position.  Why do players blunder?  I think it is because we make our moves based on both our analysis and our understanding of what we should be doing.  Sometimes we just forget to analyse, or get lazy, and make a move, because it looks right, without analysing to check that the move is safe.

Let me give you a little test.  Have a look at the rook ending below.  White is trying to draw and it’s his move.  You can analyse or use your judgement to choose a move … or both!  It’s quite hard and in the game White got it wrong.  Good luck.