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The first school term for 2018 is starting shortly and I’m looking forward to getting back into the swing of chess lessons particularly as next week will see the opening of the Chess Kids Academy for 2018.  Unfortunately I’ll miss the first day, as I’m going to Brisbane to watch the Davis Cup tennis match against Germany, but over the holidays I have been working hard compiling material for the Academy students.

My special subject is “strategy” so I thought that today I’d say a few words on what sort of strategy you should adopt when playing a much higher rated opponent.  There are basically two options.  Firstly you could try to make the game a big mess, with lots of tactics, and hope that your opponent makes a mistake …. however it is much more likely that you will!   The second option is to play a really boring game, swapping off pieces when you can, and “threatening” your opponent with a draw.  If you do this well to beat you your higher-rated opponent will have to take risks to unbalance the position and beat you and there is a fair chance he could risk too much and you end up winning!

It was therefore very interesting last night when I was watching the live games from the first round of the Box Hill Autumn Cup as there, on board one, was one of my students, Shawn Zillmann,  playing against the top seed Carl Gorka, who is rated 900 points above him.  Shawn opted for the second strategy and took every opportunity to swap off pieces eventually reaching a bishop ending where Carl (playing White) had more space but the position looked drawn.  The thing that you need to understand about Bishop endings is that, in general, your strategy should be to put your pawns on the opposite colour to your bishop so that they can’t be attacked by the opponent’s bishop and also perhaps you can set up a blockade where (for instance) your bishop controls the dark squares and your pawns control the light squares.   Unfortunately Shawn hasn’t quite grasped this idea yet and put some of his pawns on the same colour as his Bishop but he did have the possibility of an outside passed pawn which gave him good counter-play, particularly if they swapped off into a king and pawn ending.

Carl, according to the script, pressed for the win but went astray and suddenly Shawn had an easily winning game with Bishop and 2 connected pawns against Bishop.  The story is not over though!  Good players are hard to beat and I can remember from my junior days so many times when I would achieve a drawn position against a strong player and still manage to lose, or achieve a won position and only draw.  Alas Shawn missed a couple of easy winning chances then pushed one of his pawns onto a black square and Carl seized his chance and set up a position where he would win one of the pawns.  This would leave Shawn with only one pawn, which was blockaded by Carl’s Bishop, so a draw looked inevitable and they shook hands and split the point.

Back at my place, watching on the internet, I was busy pulling out some of my few remaining hairs as my computer was saying that Shawn could still win!  It is, in fact, a very good lesson in problem solving and in finding the correct strategy.  I’ll show you the whole game below, but for today’s puzzle see if you can work out a winning plan for Black in the final position.

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Last week was a very big week at Chess Kids culminating in the RJ Shield Finals on Sunday and then the National School Finals on Monday and Tuesday, all played at Melbourne University’s Queens College.

There were 60 players in the RJ Shield Finals with Shawn Zillmann emerging victorious on 6.5/7 followed by Gavyn Sanusi-Goh and Oliver Cordover finishing in second and third places on 6 points.  Shawn played excellent chess, drawing with Oliver and defeating the defending champion Gavyn.  The Warm-Up Tournament had 83 players and was won by Victor Sun and Akshayan Manivannan both on 6.5/7.

RJ with Shawn Zillmann – winner of both the RJ Shield Finals and the Primary School Finals.

The National Finals were contested in three divisions with teams from across Australia and New Zealand competing for the titles.  As always, Melbourne High dominated the Open Secondary scoring 23.5/28 from Mazenod on 18 points.  David Cannon scored a perfect 7/7 for Melbourne High.

The Middle Years event was also won by Melbourne High with 23.5 points from three teams tied on 20.5 points in second place.

The most exciting event however was the Primary Competition where the result was in the balance until the final game had finished.  Atlas Baillieu from Geelong Grammar was battling Shawn Zillmann on top board and needed a draw for his team to win the tournament but again Shawn came out on top scoring 6.5/7 to be the highest scoring player.  This left Geelong Grammar tied on 20.5 points with Doncaster Gardens who retained their title on count-back.  A mere half point further back on 20 points were Balwyn North and Tucker Road with Balwyn North securing third place on count-back also.  You can’t get much closer than that!

Instead of a puzzle today I think I will show you a whole game from the State Primary Finals.  It is full of tactics, blunders and missed opportunities.   Black gets an overwhelming attack but somehow manages to go astray and ends up losing.   See if you can spot the mistakes both players make and come up with some winning moves.

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Two weeks ago saw the State Finals of the Chess Kids Interschool Competition with the winning schools being as follows:

PRIMARY: Doncaster Gardens Primary 30.5 points.

JUNIOR: Melbourne High 28.5 points

JUNIOR PRIMARY: Wooranna Park Primary 22 points

Doncaster Gardens – Primary School Champions

The finals were played at the Hungarian Club in Knox and it was great to see the large playing hall filled with so many keen chess players over the four days of the tournament.

On Friday, after the Interschool events, I again had a busy day at the Chess Kids Chess Academy which is being run on Fridays during Term 4 as a trial before the official launch next year.  Approx. 24 kids attended with coaching being provided by 4 International Masters and a Women Grandmaster.  In the morning seasons we first met with our mentor groups and went through anything of interest.  I chose to show a game from the Interschool Competition then we did a Chess IQ Test.   This was followed by each coach taking a group in their special subject – my subject is “strategy.”  After lunch we held 3 simuls with James, Julia and I each taking on a small group of kids.

I enjoyed my simul games and even found a pretty finish in my game against Aaron.  Play through the game and stop before White’s 17th move to solve the puzzle.

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There was a chess event a couple of weeks ago that I haven’t reported on yet, and which has received little publicity in Australia the “2017 THE FIRST CHONGQING “THE BELT AND ROAD” INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL TEAM CHESS CHAMPIONSHIP”.

This was in fact a 7 round team event for players U12 from 14 countries with the Australian team being Oliver Li, Michael Jiang, Gavyn Sanusi-Goh and Shawn Oliver.   Australia came a creditable 12th in this very strong tournament with Oliver scoring 4 points, Shawn 3 and Gavyn and Michael 2 points.

The day before the tournament the boys played in a simul against a 2700 rated Chinese GM which strangely the organisers stopped after the allotted 1.5 hours play with the games still in progress!

(Above). The Australian Boys playing in the simul.

It must have been a fabulous experience for our players, seeing and playing against some of the best juniors in the world, and will hopefully inspire them to keep improving their chess.


For today’s puzzle we move to the other end of the age spectrum with a nice win by 75 year-old Doug Hamilton in the Box Hill Open.  White has just played 21.Rb1 ….. how does Black exploit this mistake?

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This week has been a big chess week for me as the Victorian Youth Chess Championships have been on at Parkdale.

On Monday the U/7 Championships were played and won with 7/7 by the boy with the impressive named of Tiger Zhao.

The U/9 Championships were won by Liam Flanagan with 6/7 and one of my students, Gavyn Sanusi-Goh also scored 6/7 to win the U/11 title.  It was fun giving a lecture to the kids about Australia’s next grandmaster, Anton Smirnov, aged only 16 years, and showing one of Anton’s games where he crushes his opponent just by demonstrating a better understanding of where to place his pieces.

The great thing about this event is that we have 4 titled players (three IMs and one WGM) on hand to go over the kids’ games after they have finished playing.  Hopefully it’s a great learning experience for them and today also we have Kanan Izzat giving them a lecture at lunchtime.

Daniel, Gavyn and Alistair with their trophies.

All the players had the opportunity to go over their games with a coach and hopefully pick up some useful tips.   There were quite a few really interesting tactical games and the coaches were often able to point out tactical ideas that the players hadn’t considered.   I found a forced mate in 5 moves for Daniel Gusain, the U13 Champion, that he missed for example, and Kanan found a nice idea that Shawn Zillmann missed in the position below.  Black played Bf7 how should White reply ….. can you see it?

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I spent much of last weekend in Altona as a spectator at the “Best in the West” Chess Tournament.   This popular annual event has changed venues and is now played at the more spacious Altona RSL which is good news for the parents and spectators who can get a good meal at the RSL without leaving the building.   I foolishly tried to go to a restaurant for one meal, but after 10 minutes without being served, I walked out and returned to the RSL.

The top seed for the tournament was IM James Morris who comfortably scored 5/5, despatching his main rival, Greg Canfell, in the final round.   I had a number of students playing, although without great success, but it was enjoyable catching up with their parents and talking about chess.  One of the more interesting players in the tournament was David Cordover, playing in his first rated event for 12 years!   David started slowly, eventually grinding out a win in a long rook and pawn endgame in the first round, then in the second round he faced talented junior Oliver Li.  Oliver built up a commanding position out of the opening but David’s “street fighter” instincts stepped in and he was able to complicate the position and outplay his young opponent.  A similar thing happened in the fourth round when David faced the highly rated Dom Dragecevic and was rapidly dropping pawns.  Somehow he managed to stir up an attack, missed forced mate in 6 moves and entered the endgame a whole piece ahead.  Unfortunately David was worried about losing on time – “I’ve never played with this increment thingy” he noted – and so offered a draw in an easily winning position.   In the end he finished undefeated on a respectable 3.5 points.  A respectable result for a retired chess player!

When I was not watching my students blunder I watched James Morris on the top board to see how he was outplaying his opponents.   James also is a great “street fighter” and you may like to see if you can finish off Regan Crowley as James did in round 4.  It’s White to play in the diagram – he has a piece for two pawns but Black has a strong passed pawn on b3.  What should James play?

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My favourite website these days is which shows live games from many of the big international chess tournaments and is thus a great source of material for a chess coach.

It was great watching Kasparov briefly come out of retirement to play in the rapid/blitz event at St.Louis against many of the world’s best players.  One could say that he had a disappointing result in finishing third last but another way of looking at it was that he finished two points above Anand!

There were many huge blunders in the tournament, understandable with a fast time control, but I’ve been amazed at the number of good players who have walked into checkmate in some recent events.  I was playing through some games in the Spanish Teams Championship for instance (players rated around 2200+) and in one queen endgame White found his king on g2 in check from the opposing queen on the long diagonal.   He had a number of king moves available but chose Kh3 and was no doubt a little surprised when his opponent replied 1… Qh1 checkmate!   Similarly in another game White had castled kingside with a fianchettoed king-bishop and his opponent played 1… f3 attacking the bishop.  White retreated the bishop to the only safe square with Bh1 whereupon his very happy opponent was able to play Nh3 checkmate!

Later that evening, after seeing the above blunders, I was emailed a scoresheet from one of my students who had just won a game at the Croydon Chess Club.   I started playing through the game and my student entered a minor piece ending two passed pawns down.  “How did he end up winning” I pondered.  I soon found the answer.  His opponent had her King on f4 checked by Black’s pawn on g5 so she replied Kf5 whereupon my student was able to play Nd6 checkmate!   Perhaps blunders come in threes?

For today’s puzzle let me show you not so much a blunder as a very nice attacking sequence by White.   The game was played in the Chinese Chess League and White is a 2700+ GM.   Strangely the names of the players are X.Bu v Z.Xu.  Is that a record for the shortest named players in a chess game?  Anyway, see if you can find the attacking sequence of moves by White and, if you want to be super clever, find the killer move that he missed.

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I’m back from school holidays now, getting into the swing of my chess lessons, but only a week ago I was stuck in the middle of Gippsland a full 15 minute drive away from a good cup of coffee.   And getting a cup of coffee was not easy …. on one trip driving back from the nearest cafe in the early evening I nearly ran over a huge wombat squatting in the middle of the road.   He must have been a chess player as he sat there, totally unperturbed by his approaching death, and did not flinch a muscle as I swerved to miss him.   Would that my students could control their emotions that well during their chess games.

If you haven’t guessed I was at the Chess Kids annual camp, this time being held on a farm somewhere north of Wilson’s Promontory.  The camp was a great success … nice weather and I made friends with a huge pig who ate my apple cores after I had finished eating.  The camp also gave me the opportunity to do a humorous post on Facebook as follows:

“I’m currently stuck on a farm in the middle of Gippsland for our chess camp. There are 32 kids divided into four groups for lessons. No one told me who was in my group so I went up to some kids and said “are youse in my group?” They replied “yes” so now I’ve found my group (see photo) but where are the chess sets?”

The camp featured lectures by the Chess Kids coaches, a teams tournament, various recreations like flying fox and rope climbing and a chess trivia quiz.  I don’t wish to boast but my table “Chess Parents” won the quiz despite a few of the questions being very suspect.  I was particularly annoyed after being asked to name openings named after animals and the quizmaster accepted “Bird’s Opening” as a correct answer.  As everyone should know, that opening was named after a 19th century English accountant named Henry Edward Bird, who would probably not appreciate being called an “animal.”

The theme of the camp was “ranks, files, diagonals and outposts” so in my lectures I showed a series of positions to test my young students.  Sometimes they did well and saw the answer.  Other times I had to scream at them in desperation “can anyone see mate in two moves?”  Let’s see if I have to scream at you .   Look at the diagram below.   Black is losing and so is looking for swindle chances.   What should he play?

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Last weekend was the Queen’s Birthday long weekend so I spent a lot of my time visiting the Melbourne Chess Club in Fitzroy to watch the Vic Open Chess Championships.  The tournament has a big field of 92 players but unfortunately few of Victoria’s top players decided to play.   By contrast there were a lot of strong juniors playing, including some of my students, and a visiting WGM Julia Ryjanova who I had not seen play before.

The winner with 6.5/7 was IM Stephen Solomon, a former Victorian who has been living in Queensland for many years, followed by David Canon on 6/7.  Solo beat Ryjanova in the last round to secure top spot.  Strangely last Friday I went to Serpell Primary school for their weekly chess lesson only to find Ryjanova there (as a new Chess Kids Coach?) plus IM James Morris and myself.  Is this a record having 3 titled players coaching at one school?

It was fun watching the games at the Vic Open and a big thanks also to Thai Ly for posting a lot of the games on chess chat for people to play through.   One of my students has a bit of a problem at the moment in that he keeps agreeing to draws in won positions.  I received an email from his proud father to tell me that he had just drawn with an 1800 player by perpetual check after he had been losing the game early on.   I played through the scoresheet and, sure enough, instead of taking the perpetual check he had a winning line available instead!   This is the hard part about teaching chess …. trying to persuade your students that when they find a good move they should look for an even better one.  It’s must be a common fault as it happened twice also to Solo on top board in the Vic Open.  Perhaps you can do better.  Have a look at the diagram below.

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