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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.

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It occurred to me the other day that it is 50 years since my first national chess tournament, the Australian Junior Championship in Adelaide in 1967, so I’ve written an article for “50 Moves Magazine” talking about the changes in Australian chess during that time.

So far as juniors are concerned there have been a number of changes.  Perhaps the most important is that these days all the better juniors have a chess coach whilst in my time there was no coaching and we had to learn from books.  Juniors also start playing at a much younger age.  I learnt the moves when I was 11 and my first tournament was when I was 14 years of age.  Today, when I drop in on a tournament at Box Hill there are children as young as 5 or 6 years playing and some of them are very good!

The third difference is the vastly increased number of tournaments available today that juniors can play in.  I have one student whose playing schedule this week is as follows:

Sunday: Tournament game at Herzl Chess Club.

Monday: Tournament game at Melbourne Chess Club in the evening.

Tuesday: Chess Kids Primary State Finals.

Wednesday: Chess Kids Middle Years State Finals.

Thursday: Northern Star Interschool Finals.

Thursday evening: Tournament game at Croydon Chess Club.

Friday: Tournament game at Box Hill Chess Club.

Sunday: Rookies tournament at Box Hill Chess Club.

That’s 4 tournament games and 28 allegro games in one week!

I was fortunate in that I went to a school which had a chess club open every lunchtime so I played each day at school.  Once a week we would have an Interschool game (run by the Victorian Junior Chess League) and in the April holidays there was the Victorian Junior and in the September holidays the Victorian Open Junior.  If you were in the top half dozen juniors in your state in January you could play in the Australian Junior Championships.   I knew that there were senior chess tournaments but no-one ever told me that juniors could play in them!

Of course all this coaching and these playing opportunities at an early age should be producing a lot of excellent chess players, and perhaps that is indeed happening.  Australia recently gained two more grandmasters in Max Illingworth and Moulthun Ly and Anton Smirnov and Justin Tan are also closing in on the GM title.  The famous British chess columnist, Leonard Barden, pondered the other day as to whether, perhaps in 5 years or so, Australia will be a greater chess power than England which has very few talented young players coming through.   Barden himself, along with Bob Wade and Harry Golombek, was one of the main drivers of the British chess boom of the 1970s which produced their first grandmaster in Tony Miles and then other great players like Nigel Short and Michael Adams.  Short and Adams are still the mainstay of the British chess team even though they well past their best.

For today’s puzzle I present a game played between two promising juniors in the Box Hill Open last Friday.  The game ended in a draw but for much of the game White was better the Black missed an immediate tactical win.  Can you find what he missed?

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Chess tournaments can be great fun but if you have a quick win (or loss) the problem arises of what to do in the time between rounds.

One solution is for tournament organisers to put up some puzzles on the wall for players to try to solve between rounds.  This works well at the RJ Shield where I sometimes set up a “find the grandmaster move” puzzle and then we can also use the time before the prize-giving to go through the solution with the kids.  At the recent Victorian Youth Championships there were a number of endgame puzzles put up so when the kids started their games I sat down with Frank Meerbach (one of the Chess Kids coaches) and had a look at the puzzles.  I always like catching up with Frank as he enjoys a good puzzle and invariably has a few good new ones to show me.

We started off with the puzzle in the diagram below which Frank had been pondering over.  After a couple of minutes I worked out the solution.  The technique that I use I to ask myself questions about the position.   For example “How am I going to win – can I win his material or do I win by checkmating his King?”  If I’m going for checkmate “Which square can I checkmate him on?”  Then “which piece is the one most likely to give checkmate.”

In the puzzle below the questions for Black are obvious.  “Can I stop him Queening.”   “Can I checkmate his King?”  “If I can’t stop him queening can I win his Queen.”  “Which piece is most likely to be able to take the queen, my rook or knight?”   Hopefully you get the idea.   Several days later I was driving home and my mind drifted back to this puzzle when an alternative solution suddenly hit me.  “Why can’t Black play ….. and win” I pondered.   Perhaps I had cooked the puzzle.  (A “cook” is an alternative solution).  To my surprise when I set up the position on my computer it found a very sneaky flaw in my second solution which allowed White to draw.  So your task for today is to find both “solutions” and the resource that I missed.   Enjoy….

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School holidays are always a good time to try to improve your chess skills and the last week of the recent holidays gave the better students at Chess Kids an opportunity to compete in the Victorian Youth Championships held in Bulleen.  The wet and cold weather was no deterrent to chess players and a very good field assembled to contest the titles.  The U/15 was of particular interest where there were a number of strong players competing and it was not easy to pick a winner.

As it turned out the most hotly contested title was the U/9 age group where top seed Gavyn drew with Oliver and they both won their remaining games thus bringing about a play-off.   The first play-off was two 10 minute games.  Oliver won game one and looked set to take the title when Gavyn blundered his queen for two pieces in game two.  A counter queen blunder however allowed Gavyn to turn the tables and even the score.  The play-off then moved to two 5 minute games.  This time Gavyn won the first but blundered again and Oliver evened the score.  Thus it all came down to a sudden death game – Gavin had White and 6 minutes to Oliver’s 5 minutes but a drawn game would give Oliver the title.   The large crowd gathered around for the exciting climax and saw Oliver blunder a piece to give Gavin the title!   A great and exciting event.

In the main (U/15) event Daniel Poberovsky zoomed to a 4/4 lead on the first day but then lost all 3 games on the second day!  Amit took the lead after round 5 only to lose to Kayson who became joint leader with Isaac going into the last round.  In a thrilling final round Amit defeated Issac and Kayson was losing a rook endgame against Sam Trewin.  Sam lost the plot and blundered his rook only to see Kayson offer a draw in a winning position.  This left Amit with the U/15 title and Kayson with the U/13 title.

 

Congratulations to all the winners as follows:

U/15 Champion Amit Ben Harin 5.5 pts

U/13 Champion Kayson Wang 5.5 pts

U/11 Champion Shawn Zillmann 6.5 pts

U/9 Champion Gavyn Sanusi-Goh 6.5 pts

U/7 Champion Oliver Chen 7 pts

 

Amit Ben Harin Victorian Youth Chess Champion 2016

Amit Ben Harin Victorian Youth Chess Champion 2016

Here is the end of one of Amit’s games where he exploits his opponent’s blunder.

 

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It’s great to be on school holidays but the work of a chess coach doesn’t stop.   I have to find new material for my lessons next term but fortunately the Victorian Youth Championships start tomorrow and run for 4 days so I should get plenty of material from the games played there.

Holidays are a great time to work on your chess skills by doing such things as trying to solve tactics puzzles and playing through the games of famous players.   When I was young I used to get the book “1001 Checkmates” and try to solve each problem.  Those that I couldn’t solve I marked in the book so that when I had finished the book I could go back and try to solve again the puzzles that I had failed on.  This was a good way of ensuring that the checkmating patterns remained in my memory bank.

As for playing through games it’s a good idea to pick a player that you like (in my case it was Karpov, Capablanca or Fischer) and to look up some of their better games (for instance on chess games.com) preferably with notes, then you try to guess your player’s next move.  When he makes a move that is different to your choice you can stop and try to work out his idea, or there may even be a note where the great player explains his thinking.

I was quite pleased when one of my students asked if I could give him some puzzles involving strategic play as opposed to tactics.  Tactics will help you to win most of your games but you can’t become a good player without understanding strategy as well.  Strategy involves understanding such concepts as “pawn play”, “strong and weak squares”, “building up on weaknesses” and so on.  I gave one of my students a couple of puzzles today involving some unusual strategic ideas such as “retreating” in order to place you piece on a better square eventually or just “passing” to see if your opponent wanted to unbalance the position.   He didn’t come up with the correct ideas but at least now he may have the concepts in his brain for use next time.

My other major source of chess material is the website chess24.com which has live coverage of most of the world’s leading chess tournaments and is thus is an abundant source of interesting games and positions.  Here is such a position from a tournament played a few days ago.  It’s Black’s move and he is tossing up between 1…Qxg3 and 1…Rhg8.   How would you advise him?

 

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There is so much chess going on at the moment I hardly know where to start.  Of course I have been following Anton who is playing in Hungary as a final warm-up for the Olympiad.  Moulthun and Max are playing in Abu Dhabi with a similar idea in mind and Moulthun has been playing very solidly drawing with lots of 2600 rated grandmasters.  Indeed if he can win or draw his last round game tonight then he shall have achieved another grandmaster norm and secured his grandmaster title.  Max’s form on the other hand has been variable as compared with his rival for Olympiad selection, Bobby Cheng, who has just crushingly won the Victorian Championship scoring 8.5/9.  It’s very strange that Bobby, as Australian Champion, is not in the Australian Olympiad team but at least he is still young and his time will come.

Next week is the “Best in the West” tournament in Altona which I shall visit to watch some of my students play.  Last weekend they were all playing in the RJ Shield Tournament.   Daniel scored 7/7 to win at Carngie whilst Alistair matched that at the stronger Waverley event.   I went to Waverley to watch, having popped in briefly to the Doncaster event where some of my students from Serpell and Doncater Gardens were playing.   I try to record some of the games on my ipad so as to have new material for my school lessons and this time I got plenty!

Of course the hardest thing to make juniors do is to actually take their time and think!   One player was paired against the top seed, Alistair, in a very important game in which Alistair played the unusual 1.b3 opening.  Not knowing anying about this new opening Black, instead of stopping and thinking, blitzed out a few moves then stopped and noticed that he was a rook down with a lost game.   Pity.  Later I watched a endgame where the players reached a drawn King and pawn endgame but White had to be careful.   His plan was not to slow down and think but to just quickly move his king between d2 and e3.  Black did better.   He stopped, came up with a plan, lost a move with his King and brought about a winning position for himself (which White could have easily countered had he bother to think about it).

How do you try to get junior to change their habits and stop and think?  Last week I tried a new strategy by labelling certain moves as “junior moves” and I think it is beginning to sink in.   It allows me to watch the tournament games at my school lessons and if a player makes an unthinking move I can rush up and exclaim “Junior move!”

To get you thinking this week I have a cool position from one of Anton’s games in Europe.

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Last week I visited the Melbourne Chess Club, one day shy of their 150th birthday, and gave a lecture to their Novice Group on the topic of “understanding tactics”.

I started off by showing them a “White to play and mate in 1 move” puzzle which no-one was able to solve!  The reason was simple …. it was not a “normal” chess position and had lots of pieces on the board and many possible mate in one moves.  Unfortunately people were not able to use their pattern recognition skills to help them solve the puzzle and that is why it was so hard.  If we want to be good at spotting tactics we need to build up the database of chess patterns in our brain by doing such things as solving chess puzzles.   I gave the group a sheet of back rank mate puzzles as an example of the sort of material they should be studying.  I can solve the 9 puzzles in 19 seconds which is pretty fast but some were very simple and others I was able to recognise from famous games that I had seen before.

I spend a lot of my spare time playing through games on chess24.com (live games) searching for puzzles of good games that I can use in my chess lessons.  If Australians are playing so much the better and we have several players playing overseas at the moment.  For today’s puzzle I want to show you the finish of one of Anton Smirnov’s games where he is playing against a WGM rated 140 points below him so Anton would be expecting to win.  Unfortunately he is down on material and his opponent is threatening to draw by triple repetition so what can Anton do?  To solve the puzzle you will need to understand pins and discovered checks.  This is also a great example of a skill which I try to teach my better students, namely the ability to find moves which give your opponent choices and thus the chance for them to go wrong.  Enjoy the puzzle….