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Many chess players become obsessed with opening theory and spend heaps of time studying the latest variations. I’m not one of them. I’m happy to just play a solid opening that I understand reasonably well, then get on with the game. For me, studying endgames is much more fun.

At our “Super Squad” lesson last night I showed the group some pawn endings which, even with very little material left on the board, can be quite tricky. Most good juniors know about “the square” and “the opposition” and the kids solved these problems without too much trouble. They had not however heard of “triangulation” (where one player loses a move by moving his king in a triangle) so as to then gain the opposition. I managed also to trick them several times using the concept that the King does not have to move in a straight line to get to the desired destination in the minimum time. Reti’s famous study is an example of this.

I think most of the time kids try to solve puzzles just by pure analysis which doesn’t always come up with the result they want. It is a good idea also to sit back and look at the ideas in the position. For instance you could say “I want to draw this position so how can I do this?” Can I swap off all his pawns? No. Can I set up a blockade? No. Can I queen one of my pawns? No. I know! Maybe I can try for a stalemate. Then they look around with stalemate in mind and perhaps come up with the solution.

For today’s puzzle let’s see how you go with the pretty little endgame in the diagram below.

White to play … what result?

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Last night we had the first session of our Chess Kids “Super Group” – a 1.5 hour coaching session for our six best squad members.

It was a bit experimental in a couple of areas. I decided to go through one of Bobby Cheng’s recent games with the squad using the old Cecil Purdy technique of trying to guess Bobby’s next move then comparing our move with his. We got it right some of the time but tended to be too keen to make attacking moves before we had built up our position. The experimental part was using Chess Microbase to demonstrate the game on a TV screen with me trying to master the use of coloured arrows and coloured squares to demonstrate what was happening. Microbase has some nice features like that if only I could remember which keys to press!

Following the demonstration game I paired the 6 players off against each other for a 15 minute game using the same opening that Bobby had used in his game. The “experimental” part was that we used iPads to record the moves instead of a scoresheet. This went OK, with each player recording their own move on the pad, until players got into time trouble and they didn’t have time to both move and record. I guess that happens in normal chess anyway when you don’t have to record if you have less than 5 minutes left on the clock. The benefit of using Microbase was that at the conclusion of the games they were immediately available on the Microbase website for us to play through on the big screen. I guess that’s the way chess tournaments will be run in the future and, dear reader, the future will be here in a week’s time at the Vic. Youth Championships where every board will have its own iPad! Should be fun. I think they even have a big screen for me to stand in front of and comment on the live games. Hopefully by then I will be a Microbase grandmaster and know which keys to press.

For next week’s lesson I’m planning to do endgames which can be fun even with very few pieces on the board. Have a go at the digrammed position and see if you agree.

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Many years ago, in the mid-1970s, Melbourne had a group of very promising juniors named Rogers, Johansen, West, Solomon and Hjorth (plus a few others). Of course these players went on to become IMs and GMs and to dominate Australian Chess for a couple of decades so how is it that they went on to become top players, whereas so many other promising juniors have not made it into top adult players.

I think one of the key factors was that they were a “group” who were able to compete against each other (and help each other) and thus drive each other to new heights. It is very hard to become a strong player in isolation – you need rivals.

With this in mind Chess Kids has spun off the top half-dozen juniors from our “Elite Squad” to form a Chess Kids “Super Squad” which will be having a weekly 1.5 hour lesson with me starting next Thursday plus other activities to help them progress realise their potential. They will all be playing in the <a href=”http://www.chesstournament.com.au/vic-youth.html”>Vic. Youth Championships</a> coming up in a couple of weeks and we have been encouraging these players to start competing in ACF rated adult Open Weekenders to test themselves against strong senior players.

If you want to be come a good player, its nice to have some competition and some advice, but the bottom line is that you have to put in a lot of work playing and studying to make it to the top. Having a good eye for tactics is essential so players should, for example, log onto Chess Tempo and do 10 puzzles every night before they go to bed. You can test yourself with today’s puzzle, which is of medium difficulty. If you can’t solve it maybe you need to go to bed a bit later!

Black to play and win.

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What is the most important thing in chess? Having a good eye for tactics of course. Knowing all the latest opening theory or having a much better pawn structure will count for nought if you keep blundering your pieces.

I was at the Novices tournament at Monash Uni. last Sunday watching the games and I saw lots of one-move blunders. One of my students had a double discovered check (the most powerful move in chess) which won a rook for nothing. Did he play it? No! Instead he made a discovered (not double) check and was no doubt surprised when his very happy opponent just took the checking piece for nothing. How are such mistakes possible, even in good players? I guess we are not looking, at every opportunity, for killer tactics in our positions. Perhaps its just too much work?

Of course I cannot talk! Last night I was playing an on-line game and I made what I thought was a good attacking move. As soon as I let go the piece I noticed that my opponent could sac his queen and threaten mate in one in two different ways. Why do you always “see” it as soon as you make the move? It’s just not fair. Anyway I managed to find a way out and played a few moves which left me winning comfortably. Half way through Check Norris, who was watching at the time, said “what about mate in one?” Sure enough, I’d missed a one move mate on the way.

Arriving at Chess Kids this morning I thought to myself, “Well RJ, maybe you need to brush up on your tactics”. I glanced up from my desk to the notice-board in front of me and saw a puzzle by Adolf Anderssen “White to play and mate in three moves” it said. Try as I may however I can’t find a mate in three moves. I’ve found one in six moves but the puzzle says “three” so dear reader, I need your help. Can you find a mate in three moves in today’s puzzle or am I right and it takes six moves to mate? White to play…

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This week saw the State Secondary Finals at Brighton Grammar, and boy was it close! Glen Waverley Secondary scored 27 points to edge out Melbourne High on 26.5 points from Northcote High on 25.5 points (18 schools, 102 players).

Top seed, Ari Dale from Northcote, scored an impressive 9/9 from Zach Loh of Glen Waverley on 8 points then Michael Chan, Issac Ng and Allen Yu on 7 points. All very strong players, with Ari and Zach leaving in a few weeks for Slovenia to play in the World Youth Chess Championships.

I attended the tournament and recorded most of Ari’s games on top board.  His opponents faced a common dilemma.  How do they avoid losing to a stronger player?  Some opponents try swapping off pieces at every opportunity.  Others go for an all-out attack and hope for the best.   Some even just copy their opponent’s moves for as long as possible and hope that leads to a level game.   I’ve always thought that the best strategy was just to play good moves, but that’s probably an old fashioned point of view.  I noticed two players (one from Melb. High and one from Glen Waverley) come up with a novel strategy to avoid losing.   They played no moves!   That’s right, not one, before agreeing to a “grandmaster” draw.   I hope that the Melb. High boy in particular was satisfied with this result, especially when his school finished second, half a point behind Glen Waverley!   Had he had the courage to play some moves perhaps his school may have ended up winning?

For today’s puzzle let’s look at the last round game on top board.  White, facing the dreaded Ari, can either play the safe 0-0 or alternative play Ne5 to swap off some pieces against his higher rated opponent.  Your job is to advise him.   Which option is best, and why?

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The Chess Olympiad is over and I have so many many interesting positions to choose from for this week’s puzzle.  Australia ended up doing very well finishing in 32nd place after a surprise 2-2 draw in the final round against the powerful Slovenian team.  Our two new Olympians, Ly and Illingworth, both did very well with Ly close to a GM norm and Illingworth securing his final IM norm to get the title at last.

You have to feel sorry however for our top board, David Smerdon, who inexplicably lost on time in a winning rook endgame in the third last round.  David’s blog gives the full details, in his refreshingly self-depreciating style, and this horrible loss certainly affected David’s confidence in the final two rounds.  Australia however had a saviour, in the unlikely figure of IM Stephen Solomon, playing in his 10th Olympiad.  Solo was being crushed in the ending, two pawns down for nothing, in the position in today’s diagram.

Solo has just played 46…h4 and I’m sure that most of us would just play 47.Bf1 then get on with winning the game.  Instead White decided to speed up his win by playing a tricky tactical line 46.d6.   Solo naturally played 46…h3 no doubt expecting 47.Bf1 h2 48.Bg2.   His tricky opponent however replied 47.dxe7 and a shocked Solo replied with 47…h2 with a new Black Queen coming up next move.  Today’s puzzle is has White blundered in allowing Black to queen his “h” pawn or is his play sound and results in a quick win for White?

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Bobby Cheng in action.

It’s hard work being a chess spectator these days.  I stayed up till 3am the other day following the Australian U16 team playing in Turkey against the top seeds, Russia.  

Bobby Cheng was pressing hard for a win on top board, but his opponent held a draw, and Laurence Matheson was crushing his opponent on board 3.  If only he had taken his time and built up his position as I keep telling my students to do.  Instead Laurence swapped off into a rook ending which was still winning, but difficult, and his opponent found enough counter-play to draw.

In the last round Australia had an outside chance to take the bronze medal by beating India but went down 1.5 – 2.5 in a hard fought match.

Overall Australia finished a creditable 8th place with Bobby Cheng scoring 5.5/9, Justin Tan 5.5/8, Yi Liu 1.5/6, Laurence Matheson 4.5/8 and Pengyu Cheng 3.5/6.   The full results, games, etc may be found at http://wyco2012.tsf.org.tr.

 
For today’s puzzle see if you can do as well as Bobby. He is White in the position below and is struggling to find a way to stop the threatening black passed pawns. What should he play?

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RJ & William Maligin

Last Sunday we had the RJ Shield Tournaments at Doncaster and Bentleigh. I attended the Bentleigh event which had a very good turn-out of 63 players and was won by William Maligin with 6.5/7. William was probably the only player who took my advice to move slowly and carefully and as a result was only in trouble in one game where he made a small mistake. Some of the other players moved like it was a 1 minute blitz tournament, paying no attention to what I had said. I berated one of my students afterwards asking “so why did you play so fast and blunder a winning position.” He did however have an unexpected excuse! “I wanted to go to the toilet” he replied!

Other than that, I hope everyone is following the Australian Olympiad teams and our 16U Olympiad teams playing in Turkey at the moment. The 16U live games are at http://live1.tsf.org.tr and the Olympiad games are at http://www.chessolympiadistanbul.com/livegames/.   A good strategy, if you can watch the games live, is to try to guess the players’ moves and then compare your move with the move that they actually make.  That way you can compare your ideas with the plans of our top players.

The Boys team started well with a 4-0 victory over Singapore and a 2.5-1.5 over Greece, but lost 1-3 against the second seeds, Iran in round 3.  Justin Tan is the team hero so far with 3-0.

In the adult Olympiad Australia beat Namibia 3-1 then drew with Norway 2-2 but lost to Mongolia 1.5-2.5 in round 3.

For today’s puzzle I have a position from the RJ Shield game between Lachlan Martin and Sam Trewin, both members of the Chess Kids Training Squad.  It’s Black’s move … can you find a winning line for him?

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Being a very keen chess player in your younger years is important if you wish to become a strong player. I’ve heard rumours lately that a couple of Victoria’s top juniors are losing their enthusiasm for chess so it was pleasing last night to see a keen junior, Sam Trewin, travel 5 hours from Yarrawonga to Melbourne to be my guest student for our Thursday night on-line chess lesson. Sam is staying in Melbourne for a few days to get some more coaching and to play in The RJ Shield on Sunday.

Last night we went through some of Sam’s games from the Australian Junior and the Tasmania Chess Camp and it is apparent that he, like most juniors, misses some tactical opportunities in his games. “Examine all checks and captures!” I keep saying to my students but it doesn’t always sink in. Young minds tend to see something good and play it without necessarily carefully working through all the consequences or other possibilities. Another thing that I tell my student’s to do (in the opening) is to “move each piece only once and place it on the best square.”

Today therefore I’d like to show you a position from one of Sam’s games in the Australian Junior. Sam’s opponent (Black) is considering playing 1…Nh5. This move clearly is moving a piece twice in the opening (breaking my rule) and h5 is generally a worse square than f6, so what’s Black up to? It’s OK to break the rules to take advantage of an opportunity in the position, so can you please advise Black. Should he play 1…Nh5 or not, and why?