It’s been a tough week. Trying to follow both the Australian Open Tennis and the Australian Junior Championships at the same time is hard work. What’s worse, people give you funny looks when you’re sitting in Rod Laver Arena with your iPad on your lap and a chess game on the screen! These days I think you have to be able to multi-task so it didn’t bother me too much.

What did bother me was playing through some of the games and seeing the blunders that some players come up with. In the last round one of my students decided to play a move which allowed mate in one immediately. I’ve been raving on all last year about playing carefully and checking your moves before you make them … apparently to little effect. The only redeeming feature was that the beneficiary of this free checkmate, his opponent, was another of my students, so I guess you can say that I broke even on the game.

On a more positive note I was very pleased with how well Gary Lin played in the U/14s. He finished on 6.5/9 (his target score before the event) and lost only one game in an event that had a number of players of 1600-1700 standard.

Even more impressive was one of my former students, Nicole Chin, who often plays at Chess Kids On-Line and is now the Australian Girls Chess Champion scoring 8/9 to blitz her opposition. A few year’s ago Nicole was pretty poor at tactics and invariably lost many of her games on time. She has however worked hard to overcome these weaknesses and is now starting to see the benefits. Her younger sister Chloe also played and had a good result so Nikki will be under pressure to keep improving.

Let’s have a look at Nikki’s last round game for today’s puzzle. It starts off (see diagram) where Black to play sees that she can take a free pawn on a2. Does she stop for a second before making the move to check for White’s reply in case she has missed something? Does the thought cross her mind that perhaps this is not a blunder but a trap? On what I’ve seen of many of the other games, I doubt it. It’s a free pawn! TAKE! Now normally the secret of a good problem is to have a surprise first move. In this case however the first move is obvious. The hard part is for you to help Nikki win as quickly as possible – she has forced mate in 8 after 1…Qxa2. But, you need also to find Black’s best defensive ideas and I want you to mate in the prettiest way. That might be a hard task because you have to find what I consider the prettiest line – if you think some other line is prettier then you have not solved the problem.

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