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.

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.

FINAL SCORES:

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?

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?

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?

My favourite website these days is chess24.com 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.

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?

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.

Today I feel like a bit of a rant.  On Sunday I went to the RJ Shield to watch my students play and record some of their games.   It was a good event with a stronger field than usual with Gavyn scoring 6.5/7 to secure first place from Shawn and Oliver on 5.5/7.

Gavyn (first) and Shawn (second) in the May RJ Shield.

And my rant?   WHY CAN’T PEOPLE SEE TACTICS?   Take the first round for example.  One board 1 Daniel is coasting along a piece ahead against a player rated 650 points below him when he makes a move that leaves a Rook en-prise with check.  Result….. Daniel loses.

Round 2 …. the number 3 seed, Shawn, is coasting along a piece up (but in time trouble) when he makes a move allowing mate in one move!   His opponent thinks.   He thinks some more.  Finally his hand hovers above his rook and he makes a rook move instead of Qxg2 mate!  Shawn is moving quickly, facing a probable loss on time, when his opponent makes a huge blunder allowing Shawn a back-rank mate in two moves.   Shawn ponders for a few seconds and instead plays QxQ+ allowing the game to continue with his opponent winning on time.

Even the tournament winner, Gavyn, was not immune to missing tactics.   Simple things like he can take a free rook on d1 with his queen (a good move) but an even better move is to first play Qe2+ forcing White’s King to the back rank and enabling Black to take the rook with check and keeping the initiative.   The tactics are all there but players are not stopping to look for them.   Gavyn won the event because he played carefully and did not make any big blunders (other than perhaps missing a few better tactics for himself).

In the final round I was recording the game between Daniel and Gaby where Daniel played the English opening and Gaby had a B on c5 and a B on e6 and a N on c6.  The obvious move for me was White playing d4 attacking the B on c5.   When the B moves White can play d5 skewering Black’s pieces on c6 and e6 and winning a piece for White.  Did the players notice this tactic?  Yes …. but only on the 4th opportunity White had to play this winning move.

Why all these blunders and missed opportunities?  To be a good player you have to be good at tactics and to find tactics you have to look for them.  Not some of the time … not only in attacking positions … but every single move.  Something I will clearly have to work on in my chess lessons.

One of the reasons that kids miss tactics of course is that they move too quickly.  Take the position in the diagram for example.  It’s a pawn ending so there shouldn’t be much to think about ….right?  Wrong!  The players blitzed out some moves and Black lost.  He could easily draw if he studied this position for a while to discover the drawing idea.  After the move he played White himself had a winning reply but he didn’t look for it and quickly went chasing pawns.  Perhaps, dear reader, you can do better?  First find the drawing move for Black.   Then find White’s winning move against the move that Black actually played.

 

I have a problem.  Actually it’s my students’ problem but it’s my job to help them solve it.   They “can’t see how to win.”   There have been three recent examples where my student is the exchange, or the exchange and a pawn, up for nothing yet they accept/offer a draw.  When quizzed as to why they just say “I couldn’t see how to win.”

Actually I have had this problem for many years.  My usual response is “why do you have to see how to win?   You can’t see how to win on move one of a game can you?   Just play!”  I can understand why you would agree to a draw in a situation where that wins you a prize or a title, but other than that agreeing to a draw in a position that is not a “dead draw” is just demonstrating a fear of losing ….. and good players are not afraid!  They are confident in their ability and they play on.  If they play badly, yes, they may lose but if they play well they may win and if both players play OK it could still be a draw.   So I’m trying to inculcate my students with the philosophy of NO DRAWS!   Declining a draw places your opponent under pressure and implies that you think you are the better player and you think you can still win.

Now lets return to solving my problem.  Look at the position below for example.  It’s from the Rookies Cup yesterday where Black, the exchange up for nothing, agreed to a draw.   It’s true, White has a solid position and well-placed pieces, but he doesn’t have any “play” and his drawing strategy is probably to just sit tight.  So the question is what can Black do to break through White’s position?   Exchanging Queens would give Black a clear advantage but to justify playing on Black doesn’t have to “break through” he just has to find a way to improve his position or place White under pressure.  My computer has one suggestion and I have another …. have a look at what you would do then play through the moves and see if we agree.

The other point to make of course is that most players don’t know how to just “sit tight” on a position but rather think that they have to be doing something (like attacking).   So if Black just plays on for a few moves an opportunity may come up.  What does Black have to lose?