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Last Sunday I attended the Bentleigh RJ Shield Tournament which attracted an amazing 78 players for the two events.  The under 10 event was won by 7 year-old Atlas Baillieu with a perfect 7/7 – perhaps a name to watch in the future.  In the over 10 event Daniel Poberovsky scored 6.5/7 to win his first RJ Shield.

I watched as many of the leading games as I could, and recorded a few for my lessons, but even on the top board it was disappointing to see the number of blunders being made.  The key game between Daniel and Alistair saw Daniel blunder a piece (Alistair missed it), then Alistair blundered a piece which Daniel promptly blundered back, and the game was decided when Alistair missed a fork and Daniel won a free rook.   Whoever said that a game of chess is won by the player who makes “the second last blunder” was right on the mark.  Even my most promising student, Shawn Zillman, fell for two opening traps and lost a couple of games horribly.

This creates a problem for me.  How can I teach my students not to miss obvious tactics?  I tried a new idea yesterday.  I set up a position from one of the RJ Shield games in which White missed a mate in 1 move then numerous mates in 2 moves until he eventually stumbled upon a checkmate.  I decided to turn this into a “game” for my super squad who had to find the fastest forced mate in each position and then put up their hand.  If the got it right they scored a point but if they got it wrong they were out of the game.   I hoped that this would encourage them to make certain they had the correct answer (move) each time rather than just seeing something flashy and claiming that they had “solved it”.  It went reasonably well although by the end of the game there was only one player who had not been disqualified!

Let me give you an example of the sort of thing that players are missing at the RJ Shield, although this one is reasonably difficult.  White is a pawn ahead and Black’s King is open, but White’s two knights are attacked.  What should he play?  (Needless to say in the actual game White played something different but did manage to grind out a win in the end).

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 I had a strange experience during one of my chess lessons last week.  My student, about 1300 strength, was showing me one of his games which ended up in a draw but which he perhaps should have won.  We got to the end of the game and I said, “can we go back a couple of moves and have a look at the position?”   We went back to a position where White had a discovered check (which won a piece) and in the game White played B(e8)x c6+ duly winning the piece.  “Did you consider any other moves in this position I asked?”  My student looked at the position for a few moments and suddenly realised that he had a slightly better move …. Bd7# checkmate!   Yes, he had overlooked mate in one.

Now, admittedly, perhaps I’m not the one to criticise as I too once missed mate in one move (against Doug Hamilton).  My excuse was that I found mate in 2 moves … so these things can happen to anyone.  It got me thinking though … perhaps my students need more training in problem solving, so this week I’ve been setting them a series of puzzles.  Pretty hard puzzles to be true, and not many students were able to solve them.

The key to problem solving is to ask yourself relevant questions about the position.  Such question as “which piece will give checkmate?” or “on which square will the King be checkmated?” or “how can I cover the King’s escape squares?”  Most puzzles should be solvable just by using logic and asking the right questions.

Let’s see if you can use logic to help an Olympiad arbiter solve a little problem.   The game has finished and the arbiter has the scoresheet but the players have forgotten to record the result.   The final position is as below?   Can you help the arbiter?   Was it a draw or a win for White?   Black to play.

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The 2014 Tromso  Chess Olympiad is over with Russia winning the Women’s Olympiad and, very surprisingly, China emerging victorious in the Open Olympiad.  They have certainly come a long way since China first entered an international teams event at Auckland in 1977.  I played their top player then and he was only rated about 2400 – now their team has 2700 and 2600 rated grandmasters who lost only one game in the entire event!   Perhaps there is an argument that communism produces good chess players?

Australia did very well, finishing in 31st place (seeded 60th) tying with countries such as England, Norway and Germany.  Actually we drew 2-2 with Germany in the last round thanks to a fine win by Australian Champion Max Illingworth however our team hero was 13-year-old Anton Smirnov.   Anton was undefeated on 7.5/9 and gained 44 rating points which sees him closing in on the 2400 target to allow him to qualify for the IM title.  He was a bit lucky in one game but comfortably drew with his two grandmaster opponents, including his 2612 German opponent in the crucial last round.  Congratulations to Anton and all the team.  If they all keep improving Australia will have a very strong team next time, particularly if our best player Zhao is available to play also.

The Olympiad of course provides a feast of games, both good and bad, which are all still available to view on the Olympiad website, so we chess coaches  have heaps of new material for our students.  Last week I showed my “super squad” a few positions form the Olympiad and I have another fist full for them today.  There is however one position which stands out to me as a great puzzle.  It’s hard, very hard, and if any readers can work out the solution I shall be very impressed.  It was too hard for Max Illingworth who achieved the diagrammed position (as Black) below.  Max has a piece and two pawns (including a strong passed pawn) for a rook and has been on the verge of winning for about 20 moves.  Unfortunately he just can’t seem to get his pieces co-ordinated in the right places to break down White’s defences.  Perhaps you can help him?  Black to play and win!

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There are two exciting things happening in Australian chess at the moment.

One of course is the Chess Olympiad which is in progress as I write in Tromso, Norway.  This event is fantastic for armchair chess followers like myself as you can follow all the games live including such details as time taken on each move and computer analysis of the best 3 moves in each position.  The Australian Team had the thrill of playing defending champions, Armenia, in the second round, losing 1-3.  Our top board, David Smerdon, was the hero of that match in drawing with world #2, Lev Aronian.

Meanwhile, on board 4, young Anton Smirnov, has been doing well also and is working on getting his rating to 2400 so that he can qualify for the IM title.  I’ve been using one of his nice wins in my lessons this week.  He had a particularly fine win against the Danish Champion the week before in an Olympiad warm-up event to achieve his third IM norm.

The other exciting event is the launching of a new chess magazine named “50 Moves”.   Strange name, and a “different” magazine in that it is only available electronically.  Alas, it seems that the days of printed magazines are numbered.  I’ve enjoyed reading and collecting chess magazines all my life, and it must be said that “50 Moves” is a large magazine, very attractively presented with articles by some very eminent Australian players.  It’s a good read for only $8 per issue.  Alas, being shocking pedant, I proof-read the magazine and found a number of corrections, including several wrong diagrams, but such trivial things are easily fixed next time.  Actually it should be virtually impossible to get a diagram wrong these days – it only takes a second or two to extract one from your chess programme.  In Cecil Purdy’s day diagrams were an expensive edition to a chess magazine and had to be set up using letterpress in a printer’s “block.”  In my day it took me 20 minutes to do a diagram by cutting out each piece and pasting it on the appropriate square.  Later there was letraset, which was like transfers where you used a pencil to rub the pieces onto the diagram.  Things are so easy now, but you can still put diagrams in the wrong place or use the wrong diagram!

Please treat yourself to a subscription.  Perhaps I can encourage you with a nice puzzle from the magazine?

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I had an interesting time at the RJ Shield last Sunday with 68 players plus parents just about filling the Tucker Rd. Primary School to capacity.  There were 9 of my students playing so I was rushing around like a headless chook trying to record their games on my iPad so as to have some new coaching material for this week’s lessons.

The over 10’s section was won by Jody Middleton with a perfect score of 7/7.  She was lucky in one game (against Shawn Zillman) having to resort to winning on time in a slightly worse position, but otherwise towelled up all the boys.  How did my students go I hear you asking?  Well, it would probably be fair to say (with one exception) they moved very fast!  Why spend 15 minutes on a game when you can blitz out moves in 5 minutes?  Saves all that tedious time that you are meant to spend thinking.   And when they were not moving quickly they were probably illegally “j’adoubing” their pieces on their opponent’s time.  A very bad habit that they must have picked up watching Karl Zelesco.

Perhaps the highlight of the event was the “Find the Grandmaster Move Challenge” where three players found the correct (very strange) move and I awarded the prize to 10 year-old Sam Entwisle who demonstrated the best follow-up variation.


Sam Entwisle plays the winning move…

I’ve come to the conclusion that it is one of the hardest things in the world to try to make juniors think … to consider several candidate moves rather than just the first move that takes their fancy.  I watched top seed Daniel Pob get his Bishop forked in a simple ending.  I watched runner-up Alistair blitz out a piece swap only to then realise that his opponent’s queen was threatening both mate and his rook (in an obvious double attack).  But there is hope.  There was one player there who paced himself, and when he was in trouble he stopped and tried to think of a solution.  He played a strong field and didn’t end up having a particularly good event, but I have no doubt that of the 68 players there on Sunday Shawn Zillman will end up being the best chess player if he keeps at it.

Perhaps you too have the capacity to analyse different alternatives?  Let’s test you with the position below.  Q v R positions can be hard to win if the side with the rook can set up a blockade, but perhaps White has a simple winning method in the diagram.  Good luck…..

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I had an unusual experience at the chess camp last week.   For the last lesson, rather than being the chess coach, I was the assistant coach to Smari, our new coach from Iceland.  We have a strange connection as, unbeknown to me, he is staying in student accommodation at my sister’s place!  She noticed the “Chess Kids” logo on his car and asked if he knew me.

Smari showed an interesting game from the Lasker v Tarrasch World Championship Match in 1909 where Lasker blundered a pawn and appeared to be in a bad position but all his pieces were grouped together with potential to change the course of the game.

Today’s puzzle is such a position also.  White is two pawns down but his four pieces are grouped menacingly in the centre of the board and must surely have potential to turn the tide.  The player of the White pieces was an unusual character called Ortvin Sarapu.  Sarapu was a minor master in Estonia at the end of the Second World War who decided to leave Europe in search of a better life.  He apparently researched all the countries in the world and settled on New Zealand as being the best place to migrate to.  A fortunate choice for NZ Chess as Sarapu became an IM and won the NZ Championship a record 20 times (surely a world record for a national championship).  He played a memorable game against Bobby Fischer at one Interzonal, which Sarapu claimed he should have drawn, and which was perhaps his favourite story, closely followed by many others!  He was an arrogant but entertaining man who I was fortunate to play 3 or 4 times.  I well remember our last game in an Australian Masters, where I optimistically declined a draw, only to have Sarapu offer a draw again shortly thereafter with the comment “you better take it as this is he last time I shall offer.”  I took the draw.


Ortvin Sarapu

So, for today’s puzzle let’s see if you can match Sarapu’s tactical ability.  It’s White to play and win.

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I’m a bit late doing this week’s blog as last week was our 4-day chess camp at Philip Island from Tuesday to Friday.   It was cold, sometimes wet, but good fun for the kids who visited a wildlife park, went ten-pin bowling, had a go at archery, rope climbing, a giant swing and even a little bit of chess.

Actually, quite a lot of chess with the programme including five one and a half hour lessons, a seven round teams tournament and a lightning tournament (which included the coaches).  It was good fun going over the games with the players after each round of the teams tournament, with a number of interesting/amusing positions to look at.   I particularly liked the game between Callum and Elijah where Callum was winning easily with two rooks to one but his rook was attacked by Elijah’s King.  The spectators all saw 1.Rxf3 mate for Callum but he decided instead to play 1.Rd3.  Elijah’s response was 1…Rh5 mate!  Talk about a poor choice!   You can tell the kids to “look at all checks and captures” but to make them actually do it in a real game is not so easy.

From my point of view however the most fun was trying to solve chess puzzles set by some of the coaches.   Frank is always good for a puzzle but the hardest puzzle came from Alan Yu whose nickname used to be “Magician from Riga” but after his effort on the rope climbing he now has the new nickname of “wobble man”.   Frank, Luke and I spent a long time trying to solve the puzzle, a 4 move checkmate, and I got the first two moves fairly quickly but was stumped by the next move.  I’d love to show it here but it’s probably too hard.   Instead I’ll give you something a little easier – an endgame where White has the problem of stopping Black’s passed pawn, whereas Black’s bishop can easily stop White’s passed pawn … or can it?  That’s your task today.


The teams event at the chess camp.


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School Holidays!   What to do?  If it wasn’t for Wimbledon being on the TV and the Chess Camp coming up next week I might be bored.  As it was, I spent much of the day preparing for the camp … buying some thick socks, a warm scarf and a new jacket for example …. Philip Island can be cold at this time of year.

Then of course having lunch in my favourite cafe I was the epitome of the modern chess player.  Head downcast staring intently at my iPad … first catching up with the news on Chess Chat then a quick game against Shredder to fine tune my chess skills.  I may have to play some lightning chess at the camp against Luke Li or Allen Yu who are coming along as assistant coaches.  Of course, that done, I completed my preparation by pulling out a bound volume of the British Chess Magazine and starting to read.  Why buy new chess books when I have so many old ones is my latest theory and I’ve now worked my way back to the 1947 volume.

Actually there is some good stuff there … for instance Britain played a radio match against Australia over 10 boards and won 7-3.  Names familiar to me like Purdy and Koshnitsky were in the Australian team but our only win came on board 1!  Yes, out top player, the Hungarian immigrant IM Lajos Steiner who had settled in Sydney before the war, was still a class above the best British players.  Actually, come to think of it, I never met Steiner even though he lived until 1975, which is a bit of a pity as I’m sure he would have had many great chess stories to tell from when he was an active player in the 1930s and played many of the world’s top players.  He was an unusual combination of chess player, engineer and boxer!

And of course whilst reading my book I had my eyes open for any good material on the chess camp theme of “defence.”  Found a couple of useful games and a nice puzzle which I’d like to show you now.  It took me a few goes to get the answer but if you just keep saying to yourself “it has to be this move….” you will probably find the solution.   Good luck.

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This is a sad day for me.  Not only is my footy team being thrashed as I write this, but my best student is playing his last game in Australia (at Box Hill CC) before his family moves to Japan next week.


Gary Lin

Gary Lin has worked really hard over the last year or two to improve his chess, having a private lesson with me once a week, and has improved his rating from around 1300 to 1859. His recent results have included a few good scalps, such as Karl Zelesco, which I reported on in an earlier blog post and he may well become a very good player if he keeps working hard.  It will however be very hard if he is now based in Japan as they play Go rather than much International Chess.

That said, I think the current Chess Champion of Japan is Junta Ikeda from the Australian Capital Territory, and I guess you can always play on-line chess these days.  I’ve suggested that Gary contact Junta for a chat to see what cross-board chess he can play in Japan.  I can’t actually think of any Japanese chess players, with one exception!  In the 1975 Zonal in Melbourne there was a Japanese player, Hoshino, who was probably the first Japanese player to play overseas.  He was the bottom seed and won only one game … against the top seed, grandmaster Torre from the Philippines!  I had to beat him in the last round to secure the IM title so that’s why I remember him.

Anyway, I’m sure that everyone at Chess Kids wishes Gary well for his time in Japan and hopefully he will be back in Australia in a few year’s time.  Meanwhile I now have to find a new potential chess champion to coach.  Perhaps I shall find one at the chess camp at Philip Island in a couple of weeks time?  The theme of the camp is defence, so today I’ve chosen a REALLY hard chess puzzle where White can draw if he finds the correct defence.  If you can solve it you may be the new student that I’m looking for!  Perhaps I should give you one little hint?  If you can’t work it out through analysis then think about an end result which draws and work your way back from there.   Good luck.

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