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It’s an exciting time for chess spectators like me at the moment as we have several interesting International events in progress or coming up.

I’ve been following IM Anton Smirnov who is playing a few tournaments in Europe at the moment as a warm up for the big event, the 42nd Chess Olympiad in Baku, Azerbaijan which starts in 38 days.  Australia is sending a young team to the Olympiad although I’m still disappointed that the Australian Champion, Victorian Bobby Cheng, was not selected as one of the players.

In progress at the moment is the World Youth U16 Chess Championships being held in Slovakia from 21-30 July.   In this case the Australian team is made up of almost all Victorians including Kris Chan, Luis Chan, David Cannon and Vishal Bhat and the boys had the thrill of being paired against Russia in the first round.  Representing your country overseas is one of the great thrills for any chess player and I’m reminded of when I played in the 1970 World Junior Championships in Athens when I too was paired against the Russian (grandmaster) in the first round.  The boys in Slovakia did a little better than me as they scored half a point from the four game match with David Cannon holding a draw.   So far the team has scored 0.5 v Russia, 1.5 v South Africa, 3 v Hong Kong and 3 v Scotland.

The good thing about a junior playing overseas is that it broadens their horizons and opens them to the world of international chess, not just the local Australian chess scene.   I can remember one Australian Junior Championships in Melbourne where most of the country’s best juniors had gathered to compete but, as I pointed out in my speech, the two very best players (Anton Smirnov and Karl Zelesco) were not there as they were overseas playing in adult open events.  It was pretty clear which of that year’s crop of talented players would go on to become top senior players also.

For today’s puzzle let’s have a look at a position from Kris Chan’s round 2 game against South Africa.  He is a pawn up in a double rook endgame with prospects of scoring the full point.  Unfortunately Kris missed an immediate win in the diagrammed position and went on to lose the game.   Can you do better?

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I’m back from our recent chess camp in Alexandra and am looking forward to chess lessons starting again next week.  Alexandra is in central Victoria …. it’s cold and wet and you have to go into the carpark to get wi-fi but the chess was fun!

We had 36 kids, 5 coaches and numerous parents and siblings collected together in a fun atmosphere and discussed chess tactics.   The kids were divided into 4 groups and I had to give 4 lessons over the course of the 4 day camp.  I like to be a little mischievous in my lessons so I started with a “simple” puzzle where the students had to find mate in one move.  Each player got to have one go at finding the correct move.  How many of the 36 got the correct answer?  One!  Admittedly it was a complex (non-standard) sort of position where one side had 4 bishops and several queens, etc. but it did demonstrate the importance of pattern recognition in chess.  There were no patterns for the kids to recognise.  I think the lessons went pretty well and the kids seemed to enjoy in particular one puzzle that I showed them where the D Grade player finds a move, then the C Grade player looks one move deeper and finds a better move, then the B Grade player ….. etc. …… and we go right up to the grandmaster player who looks the deepest and find the correct answer.

Of course the kids had fun also doing other activities outside of chess such as playing soccer or table tennis and of then there was the flying fox over the very cold and wet-looking lake.   I was too scared to have a go but instead took a pic of the brave kids who were lining up for their turn.   I’m pleased to say that no-one got dunked in the lake!

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Preparing for the flying fox…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As part of my preparation for the camp I’d been following the recent tournaments on the internet looking for interesting tactics or attacking games that I could use at the camp.  Fortunately Australia’s best player, grandmaster Zhong-Yuan Zhao stepped up at the Gold Coast Open and played a nice game which featured the material imbalance of 2 pieces for rook and 2 pawns.  I was following the game live when the players reached the position below with White to play, and I found a move which seemed to help Zhao with his attack.  Shortly after Zhao played the same move and proceeded to get a winning game but I thought to myself “this position looks like there should be some tactics and I’m going to a tactics camp so maybe I should have a deeper look at the position.”  After A few moments I did indeed find a nice tactic that would have been better than the line played.  Today’s puzzle is for you to follow in my footsteps and and find the line that Zhao missed.   Good luck!

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 This school term is nearly at an end and I’m looking forward to the holidays and the Chess Kids Camp which this year will be held over 4 days in Alexandra in central Victoria.   The theme of the camp is “tactics” so recently I’ve been on the look-out for interesting tactical puzzles that I can use at the camp.

I was hoping to get a number of examples from the Victorian Open Championship live games over the recent long weekend but, alas, there were no live games for that event so instead I journeyed into Fitzroy on Sunday and Monday to see how my students were going in the tournament and perhaps find a few puzzles.   First to oblige was Alistair who insisted on showing me one of his endgames where he said he pulled off a neat swindle.  Have a look at the diagram below and see if you can find Alistair’s trick.

Next was my student Sam who started to show me his games.  He seemed a bit reluctant to show me one scoresheet and commented “I nearly lost to a five-year-old girl!”  Of course this was a red rag to a bull and I insisted on having a look at the game noting also that his opponent was rated 1250 points below him!   His young opponent was moving really quickly against Sam’s Sicilian defence and on move 14, with barely a second’s thought, sacrificed her Queen.  Sam, probably in shock, got bogged down in analysing the many possibilities and responded with a bad move which should have instantly lost the game.  Fortunately for Sam she missed the killer and instead swapped off to enter an endgame an exchange ahead.  Sam was able to hold his position together and eventually his young opponent blundered and Sam escaped with a lucky victory.

Such is the importance of tactics!   Most chess games are decided by blunders and if you are better than your opponent at seeing tactical possibilities then you will win most of your games.  In my day we used to go through all those puzzle books “1001 ways to checkmate” etc. but these days it is a lot easier.   Just go onto Chess Tempo or any similar sites to find an unlimited number of puzzles to test yourself with.  A big part of chess skill is simply pattern recognition so your aim should be to build up the data base in your  head of chess positions and themes.

Now, look at the diagram below and see if you can spot Alistair’s tactic….

 

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My life these days is a never-ending search for interesting topics for my chess lessons and games or positions to illustrate the topic.  Most evenings I’m logged on to chess24.com to go through the latest overseas games and chess games.com is also a great source of historical games.

Last week for instance I decided to play through a few Lasker games, in particular I went through the Lasker v Marshall games as the previous week I used the famous “gold coin” game of Marshall in some of my lessons.  Of course Marshall was a great attacking player but a pretty average player in endgames and boring positions.  It was great to see how Lasker went all out to swap queens v Marshall and to get him into an endgame where he could be easily outplayed.   I showed such a game to one of my students yesterday and on several occasions we had to stop for a chuckle at the feeble attempts Marshall made to attack in a boring endgame.

The previous week I had done “tactics” and tried to demonstrate to students the need to be imaginative and to actually look for all the tactics in a position and then choose the best one.  After one lesson the students were playing their tournament game and I was moving around commenting on their play.  I stopped at one game where a player had just left his Bishop to be taken.  He did however have a tactic based on an overload theme so I commented “why are you sacrificing your Bishop?” to which he replied “Don’t worry … I have it all worked out!”  Sure enough his opponent fell for the trap (juniors love to take) and my player got a back rank checkmate at which point I butted in again and said “did you have it all worked out?  Sure, you saw a tactic but did you check for any tactics he may have in reply?”  Black in fact did have a good try in response … your mission is to find it and tell me if it works.  (See diagram below).

Next Wednesday night I’ve been asked to give another lecture to the Melbourne Chess Club novices group so I’ve been looking around for a suitable topic.   Last time I did “would you like a draw?”  and before that I did “How not to attack.”  This time I’ve chosen “Think Like a Grandmaster” which is in fact the title of my favourite chess book by the Russian GM Alexander Kotov.  I plan to use a very interesting game featuring old Russian GM Yuri Balashov outplaying a 2000 rated opponent which demonstrates the difference in understanding of the two players.

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 Term 2 of chess coaching is now underway and I am faced with the regular problem of what lessons to give to my students.  Of  course Chess Kids has a number of standard lessons available on-line for its coaches to access but I prefer to do my own thing.

Over the school holidays I have been following the chess tournaments in Australia and overseas in search of instructive positions/games for my lessons.  Over Easter James Morris, a former Chess Kids work experience student, put in the best performance of his life to win the Doeberl Cup in Canberra with a grandmaster performance rating.   Unfortunately James did not play enough foreign players to register his first GM norm but I’m sure that can’t be far away.  I have already shown one of James’ positions to my students where he manages to draw an inferior knight endgame against the Indian GM Gangly and there are a couple of his games that I shall use also.

We recently had a Chess Kids Coach Training session where it was stressed that each lesson should tell a story to entertain the students so I’ve been thinking about what stories I could tell.   For the first week of lessons I’ve decided to talk about memory in chess.   Do chess players have good memories?  A study in Holland in the 1930s suggested that the answer was “no” except for one area in which good chess players out-performed less-good chess players.   That area?   (Surprise!) turned out to be in remembering chess positions.  The explanation is simple … pattern recognition.   Good chess players can remember pieces in “blocks” whereas a beginner remembers them piece by piece.

Of course the ultimate test of a chess player’s memory is the ability to play blindfold chess.  In the 1700’s people were amazed when Philidor played 3 people simultaneously blindfolded but since then the world record for blindfold play has rapidly expanded.  My lesson will focus on the 1937 attempt by US Master George Koltanowski who played 35 players at once to set a new blindfold chess record.   Part of Kolty’s secret was that he had stuck a chessboard on the roof of his bedroom above his bed to help him remember the colour of each square and the pattern of the squares.

Perhaps you have a good memory for blindfold chess?   Let’s see.   Imagine that you are Kolty playing as White in the position below in his blindfold simul attempt.   Shut your eyes and work out you next move then compare it with what Kolty played.   He played a nice combination to win the game quickly  …. hope you can do as well.

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If you have been living under a rock for the last few weeks you may have missed the big chess news that the 2016 Candidiates Tournament, to find a challenger for World Champion Magnus Carlsen, has finished and Sergey Karjakin from Russia will be the challenger.

Karjakin vs Caruana

Karjakin vs Caruana

It was a very exciting tournament with former World Champion Vishy Anand at one stage looking like he may get through again but with one round to play youth had hit the lead with Caruana and Karjakin tied for first place with Karjakin holding the advantage on count-back.  Caruana, playing Black, had to win his last round game against his rival to advance to the title match and they reached the position below.

The position looks pretty even … if anything I would prefer to be Black because of his centre control and better control of the dark squares … but chess is a game of ideas and here Karjakin came up with a great idea.  It does not win the game but it does unbalance the game and give his opponent a chance to go wrong.  This is a skill that many players do not understand.  In a chess tournament you are not playing a computer, you are playing a human and humans make mistakes if given the chance.  Sometimes you can do this by just marking time in an even position and your opponent (thinking that he has to attack) does something, overreaches and you win.  Of course at Candidates level the players are perfectly capable of sitting tight, particularly if all they need is a draw, but like most champion chess players Karjakin is not afraid and backs himself with a very bold idea even though all he needs is a draw.

Let’s see if you can come up with the same plan.  I’ll give you some hints.  First look for weaknesses in your opponent’s position … like b4, d6 and h5.  Can you build up on these weaknesses?   Can you activate your pieces?  Can you give your opponent an unclear choice of a number of replies so that he may go wrong?  What did White play in the position below?

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I’ve just returned from Ballarat where I watched the 50th Ballarat Begonia Open Chess Tournament … and what a fabulous event it was.  Over 140 players, led by British Grandmaster Nigel Short and most of Australia’s leading players, participated in the tournament including many juniors.  I had four students playing, one of whom got to play against his first grandmaster, and whilst they didn’t do especially well it was a fantastic learning experience for them.

A new feature of the tournament was the live games commentary supplied by grandmaster Ian Rogers who makes a living touring the world’s chess tournaments and supplying live commentary and reports for the various chess magazines.   When I was watching the games I spent most of my time in Ian’s audience and was able to join in the discussion about the games.  On one occasion Ian tried to ambush me as I was returning from the playing hall and about to take my seat in the audience Ian said “Ah, just the fellow …. Robert do you remember this position?”  I glanced at the board he was standing beside and it looked like a Philidor defence position after about 6 moves so I thought for a second and replied “Box Hill 1977” to which Ian could only reply “See it’s not true … he hasn’t lost his memory yet.”  The game Ian was referring to was his win against me in the Box Hill Jubilee Tournament and was a game that I shall not readily forget.
The absolute best part of the tournament though was on the last day after most games had finished and Nigel Short wandered into the lecture room and began, at Ian’s behest, to tell us about his game.  Three of my students were seated in the front row and were enthralled by the discussion and analysis.  Atlas’ father came up to me and said “we really should be leaving but Atlas refuses to be dragged away from the commentary”.  At one point Nigel said something about he didn’t want to play a concrete line against Max Illingworth but rather played a few nothing moves to give Max a better chance to go wrong.  My student turned around to me and gave me the thumbs up signal as this is exactly what we had discussed that morning when going through his games.  All-in-all it was a great experience for young players that will inspire them to keep working on their chess.
My role at the tournament was as Chairman of the committee that was to award the brilliancy prize (Short, Rogers and Jamieson) so I busily collected games and went through them.  There was however one little problem.  Most of the brilliant games were played by one N.Short!   Fortunately there was a nice game by Ari Dale v David Cannon in the last round to give Nigel some competition but in the end we decided to award the prize to the game Short v Izzat which decided first place in the tournament.  Perhaps it was not a brilliancy in the traditional sense but involved Short sacrificing the exchange for unclear compensation … sure he had nice pieces and more space but no obvious winning idea.  Ian thought that the manoeuvre Kh1 followed by Ng1 was brilliant and enabled Nigel to turn the game in his favour.  He concluded with a nice sacrifice on d5 to finalise his victory.   “It was my best game” he commented “and the one that I shall be publishing in my report on the tournament.”
Of the other players Kanan Izzat played well, including a win against GM-elect Max Illingworth.  For once Max’s 4 banana and 2 water bottle attack did not manage to distract his opponent.  Australian Champion Bobby Cheng started slowly with a draw against a low rated opponent but he won his following rounds and concluded with a draw against Zong Yuan Zhao, Australia’s highest ranked player.  Anton Smirnov lost twice to lower rated opponents whilst grandmaster Darryl Johansen had an forgettable tournament marked by a number of draws against far weaker opponents.
After the tournament Short went on to the Melbourne Chess Club on Wednesday evening and gave a lecture followed by a 30 board simul.   One of my student, little Gavyn, played in the simul and now proudly has a photo of himself and the grandmaster.
For today’s puzzle have a look at the position below which occurred in tournament which followed my weekly lesson at Gavyn’s school.  White has a problem with the pin on the “e” file which he didn’t satisfactorily resolve.   Can you do better?

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I’m very busy these days with a good range of private students and a few schools that I coach it.  What is the hardest job of a chess coach?   It’s probably trying to encourage your students to use their imaginations rather than just coasting along and playing the “obvious” move.

Chess is such a complicated game and there are so many possibilities that most of us are inclined to seek the easy way out and limit our analysis to a couple of routine moves.   He takes us…so we just take him back…nothing to think about there …. but what if we had a brilliant queen sacrifice available and we just failed to look at it because one doesn’t normally look at “silly” moves like losing your queen.   Most times we miss a good continuation either because we don’t look at that line at all or we reject it after a cursory glance.   To be an imaginative player we need to either look wider (more candidate moves) or deeper or both!  I’m constantly stressing to my students that chess is a battle of ideas and your job, if you want to win the game, is to find ideas that your opponent has missed.

I stumbled across a good example of this the other night when I was playing through some games in the Batavia Open which is on in Holland at the moment.   My interest in this event is sparked because of the participation of Australia’s Moulthun Ly who is spending some time in Europe in an effort to gain the grandmaster title.   I was playing through one of Moulthun’s games and he reached the diagrammed position as White.  His predicament of course is that Black has the powerful threat of 1…Ra1# so White’s options are limited.   Is he lost?   Can he get a draw?   Can he win?   What do you think?   Let me just say that one of the players missed a clever idea that would have won the game.   Perhaps you can do better?

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Let me start off a new year of chess blogging with a confession.   When it comes to chess I am a terrible tease.

I think back to my uni days when I played lightning chess every lunchtime and one of my favourite opponents was Neil Davis.  Neil was an OK chess player, rated around 2000, but he did have a tendency to resign his games a bit early.  When this happened I would invariably say “Neil, I don’t think your position is so bad …would you like to swap sides and we can play on.”  We swapped sides then I outplayed him again and he resigned again … at which point I would repeat the procedure!  The fun was in seeing how many times you could fool poor Neil into resigning in the one game.

These days I don’t play much lightning chess so instead I have to content myself with teasing my chess students.  Yesterday when I rocked up to the chess shop for a private lesson the new receptionist, who had been there whilst I was giving a lesson the day before, commented “I thought you were very funny yesterday.”   Funny?  She was probably referring to the Russian accent I put on when I show my students a position from a grandmaster game and try to persuade them to resign or accept a draw as the case may be.  I see my main role as a chess coach as trying to teach my students how to think and to problem solve.  We always start lessons with a puzzle which often involves me in trying to trick them.  Indeed one of my students, little Atlas, has cottoned on to my scheme and when I set up the puzzle and explain what the task is instead of looking at the board he starts off by staring into my eyes.  I have a pretty good poker face however and rarely give him any clues.

You may be interested in an example?  Here is a position from the recent Australian Junior Championship …. a rook and pawn ending where White is a pawn ahead with a strong passed pawn and a more active King.  I tell my students that they are Black and that White has just offered them a draw after playing the move d5.  Do they accept or, if they play on, what move do they make?

Most either accept White’s kind offer or decide to play on if the see 1…Rc2 which looks OK for Black.  I then swap the board around so that they are playing White and tell them that I am playing Black now and have decided to decline the draw offer but play a different move.   I play my move (can you guess what it is) and then they make a move for White.  I then spring my trap and my poor, red-faced students have to resign and admit that they have missed my sneaky idea.  Sure, I may have teased them a bit but hopefully they have learnt to look for ideas on the chessboard and to adopt a philosophy of trying to out-think their opponent.