Friday, August 31, 2007

A Good Letter

Every month, I look forward to Bruce Pandolfini's column at ChessCafe. I find that I can identify with many posters with respect to their questions and concerns.

This month's ChessCafe's Q&A Session with Bruce Pandolfini article ends with a letter that struck a chord in me. I thought the post was very insightful and encouraging and I would like to share it with everyone. Taken from ChessCafe:

R. Surf (England) writes: I recently started up chess as a way to fill some time while I was doing a sabbatical traveling around the world, which turned into a never going back to the International Banking World in New York/London. I write now, but not nearly well enough to pay the bills like my previous job. In 2002, IM Malcolm Pein gave me the book: Tactics for Advanced Players, by Averbakh, with the not too subtle caveat, “You know everything about nothing. Learn tactics!”

As a very well paid London banker I did not take this personally, because, heck, he was a just a chess player depending on the patronage of terrible players with large checkbooks like me. But in 2005, I decided to play chess again after a fifteen year hiatus. Oh, and I actually read the Averbakh book cover to cover, I set up almost every position in the book and repeated this process several times. I then put his exercises into a database that I call Tactical Destruction. I added further exercises from Edward Lasker’s Modern Chess Strategy and Vukovic’s Art of Attack, and along the way I added all my terrible blunders and occasional successes from online games. Together with exercises from various other sources, I now have over 535 cards that I know.

But this has been a chess journey of over two years. In those years I can only give the following to justify my work: the FMs in a chess club that I occasionally visit (one of whom said to me in annoyance “You play like Morphy!”) are no longer willing to play for money at even odds and try to avoid playing me. But the best part of this experience, the other players say, with the hope I will share the secret, “They are scared of you.” Everyone thinks that I was faking my 1900+ rating. I take it with a smile and realize that I know nothing, except 535 positions better than anyone else in this club. As Malcolm said, “You know everything about nothing. Learn tactics!”

I know Malcolm Pein does not even know who I am and probably will never remember this incident, but if you happen to have contact with him at the higher levels of chess Nirvana, then please tell him “thank you” from a once well-to-do banker and now a poor but happy writer. In the meantime, I will continue building and refining my database, because I realize that until you can see the basics, all those books, from My System to Dvoretsky, are simply meaningless if you cannot see the tactics that are beneath the surface.

Regarding Blitz, it is unlikely unless you are some child prodigy or an adult who has played chess his entire life that you will ever be any good at it. I sincerely believe that it is the worst thing in the world for chess. But in fairness, I have no clue how to play this game. Still, I will venture the following thought to my detractors, that no other sport in the world turns their game from a contest of one hour to eighty-five minutes into a five minute debacle of who can move pieces faster than the other player. To paraphrase former World Champion Dr. Lasker, from his Manual of Chess, “Speed Chess will be the death of Chess.” (BP – I couldn’t have said it any better.)

© 2007 Bruce Pandolfini. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Easy Puzzle

This occured in my FICS blitz game today. Black has just played 1.... Qh2. What should White play?

Black has inadvertently left the Bishop on h6 en prise.

Should White play 2. Rxh6?

I pondered over this for a while. I was worried about the following line 2. Rxh6 Rde8+ 3. Re6 Rxe6+! 4. dxe6 Bxf3+ 5. Kxf3 Qxh3+ 6. Ke2 (and Black has a pressing attack at the sacrifice of a Bishop and I didn't want to allow that). The pawn on h3 is en-prise as well. What should I do?

Highlight the text below for the move I played to win:
Rh1 (White wins)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Ugly Side Of Chess

Chess is a gentleman's game, yeah right.

Tonight, I witnessed a rather unpleasant incident at the Ryde Eastwood League Lightning Chess tournament. A player claimed loudly that his opponent had made an illegal move order. Very heated and prolonged accusations and arguments subsequently flew from both sides of the board, I might add. The shoutings continued for a good 10 minutes or so and in the end, the player refused to play in the return game and forfeited his game.

Come on..... people, it's a Lightning game, no ratings are affected, heck, there's not even a prize even if you finished first. This reminds me of an ugly incident in one of my games. While playing in the lightning competition, I accidentally knocked over my king and it fell to the floor. When I bent down and hurriedly put the king on the chessboard first, my opponent claimed,"I win! You put your king in the wrong place." And I calmly replied,"No, I was just picking up and adjust my pieces." So I adjusted my king and proceeded to hit the chess timer. Why are these people such sore winners? Do they lack the ability that they have to claim dubious wins over a patzer like me? Sometimes, the pressure of winning overrides their reason. I've got news for people like that. Form is temporary and class is permanent. If you had to resort to something like that to win a game over me in a competition (that has no effect on your ratings nor garner any prizes), your behaviour speaks volumes about yourself as a person.


On the bright side, Steven finished 3rd in the competition and then proceeded to pound me to the ground in all our social 25 min games with me. Ouch!

The last game we played was horribly complicated. I was White (and desperately trying to fend off the attack) when we arrived in this position:

I tried to complicate matters by playing 1. Rd1 (which loses instantly). Turning on Fritz, I should have instead played 1. Qf6+ g6 2. Qf8! (if 1... Kg8 2. Rc1! this was the line I missed. Drats!) (the fear of losing my Rook with Qxb1 threw me into unnecessary fear). Steven subsequently converted this to a win. I am very impressed. I must absolve to calculate much better in the future and not be afraid.

Oh well, live and learn.

Sad State of NSW State Championship

From Peter Parr's news:
"The NSW State Championship and supporting tournaments at Parramatta RSL attracted a very disappointing entry of 32 players.There are well over 100 active NSW players rated over 1900 for the title event but only 4 entered. Three other players agreed to be promoted making the event only six games.Greg Canfell,the defending champion,is the only player to compete in 2005,2006 and 2007 and no other player ranked in the top 20 has competed in any of these 3 years.
This is the 90th NSW Championship started in 1901.The record entry is 188 and in 1988 7 divisions were held with 140 players.Canfell,5 time winner, was 2nd in the 103 player events in 1990. The lowest entry 1991-1996 was 92 in 1994. There have been eleven different Sydney CBD venues in the last 40 years. 1999 saw 68 at Burwood,2001-58 at Parramatta. Entries at Ryde-Eastwood 2002-2006 were 81,72,69,45,47. The solution is not easy with no permanent chess centre - Eleven evening rounds as in the 20th century rather than afternoon rounds in the 21st century,a less crowded NSW calendar,state membership a requirement to be rated,a central venue,personal invitations to the leading players,a major sponsor and nine months planning are some ideas."

It's really sad to see entry levels being at such record lows for a state championship.

A Blood Red Moon

It's the end of the world or as the famous four in Ghostbusters say it,"
Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies. Rivers and seas boiling. Forty years of darkness. Earthquakes, volcanoes...The dead rising from the grave. Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together - mass hysteria."

I watched it with my wife and neighbours. It was truly an awesome sight. Picture taken from Sydney Morning Herald.

The next lunar eclipse to take place in Australia will be in 2011. I think the end of the world will have come by then.....

Chess Schedule

I've laid out the schedule for myself.

Henceforth, it shall be this:
Mon morn: Gym+college studies + 1 Chess diagram
Mon night: Endgame study+Computer analysis of my own game
Tue morn: College studies + 1 Chess diagram
Tue night: Chess book study
Wed morn: College studies + 1 Chess diagram
Wed night: Chess club
Thur morn: College studies + 1 Chess diagram
Thur night: Night college
Fri morn: Gym + chess opening studies + 1 Chess diagram
Fri night: Rest
Sat afternoon: College studies (2-5pm)
Sat night: Endgame study+Computer analysis of my own game
Sun night: Chess opening study

Chess tactics: Reinfeld's 1001 Winning Chess Sacrifices and Tactics
Chess program used for post mortem analysis: Fritz10
GM Chess book study: 100 Selected Games by M Botvinnik
Endgame studies: Karsten Muller's Endgame Studies Collection
Chess opening program: Chess Position Trainer

No doubt, I'll refine my schedule in the days to come.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Converting Your Win

I encountered this position in my blitz game on Free Internet Chess Server (FICS).

I am Black in this game. Now what would you do as Black?

I took many minutes to calculate this out... and managed to convert my win (for once, I didn't blunder!) but take your time. I did not have the time to run this through computer analysis yet so I'm unsure if my move was the best. But give it a go!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Creating A Study Plan

Yes, unfortunately, like any knowledge you wish to acquire and be good at, you need to study it.

For chess this means to become better at chess, I have to adopt a study plan.

The problem with my chess is multifold. Where do I begin?

If I study the endgame, my opening suffers, if I study the opening, my middlegame suffer, and what about positional play, or tactics?

I've read countless online chess tutorials and their advice was to study tactics, tactics and more tactics.

But then to improve my chess, should I go back to the beginning and study 1 or 2 move checkmates, pins, forks, skewers? Or should I go for more complicated examples?

It appears that this might be the only way to go for me. At my current level, there's little point in learning endgames and openings if I am failing to see weaknesses in my positions and falling to simple pins and skewers. In the meantime, I also need to also look through my own games of where I gone wrong so I can improve my game.

Gosh, I wonder how people can spend time to learn all these things outside of work and family life.

Starting tomorrow, I will draw up a plan to study chess to manage my time more efficiently and I am also going to work on chess tactics, one diagram everyday. *gulp*

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Manly Chess Club News

Manly Chess Club

Latest News

21/08/2007 - The Winter 30/30 tournament has now finished. The overall winner was Steven Liu and the winner of the handicap event for players Under 1500 was Mick Waters (who also finished second overall). Because any player can only win one prize, second overall went to Steffen Bayani and third to Gordon Struk. Last night the 12 rounds Allegro 15 minute chess started and the leader with 4/4 is Steven Liu.

My heartiest congratulations all around to Steven Liu, Mick Waters, Steffen Bayani and Gordon Struk!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Starting: The Endgame

It seems strange to start out learning about chess from the endgame but that's essentially what I did. By learning the endgame, I can quickly figure out if my middlegame position is winning, losing, unclear if many of the pieces had left the board.

I still have difficulty visualising the theme of opposition in the endgame and I wish there was a quick way to see how if I can put my opponent's king into zugzwang.

What is opposition? Opposition occurs when 2 chess kings face each other horizontally or vertically with a single square in between. And the side who does not have to move is called "having the opposition".

What is zugzwang? The word actually comes from a German word which roughly translates to mean "forced to move". In chess, this is usually taken to mean that a position has been reached on the chessboard whereby the player who has to make a move realises that whatever move the player makes, the outcome results in an inferior position that can decidedly turn the match against the player's favour. If given a choice, the player would like to say "pass" and don't make a move but this is not possible.

Zugzwang is a common theme in endgames because so many pieces have left the board that usually only a limited number of move options remain possible to the players. As a result, it is possible to make your opponent go into zugzwang. Conversely, this situation is also possible for you. So you must be very careful not to fall into zugzwang as you approach the endgame.

Lightning Blunder

Last night, I went to my local Ryde Eastwood League chess club and participated in the lightning chess tournament.

Horrible, against opponent after opponent, I blundered under 5 minute time controls (this means that both players must finish the game within their own 5 minute allotment. The game thus can only last to a maximum of 10 minutes).

In one game, I managed to obtain the following position (see inset). I was White. White is doing alright. His pieces on the queen-side is very active and Black has been denied counter-play of any sorts.

I was thinking.... what should I play? Maybe Ra7 and put more pressure on Black's b-pawn? Or maybe Qd2 then g5 to attack on the kingside, thereby creating 2 weaknesses in Black's camp? Or Qa3 solidifying White's position on the a-file?

No, I chose Nxd6, which loses the game instantly as my opponent replied Qc1+ and I lost to a mate in 2. Nice one, Sherlock!

Afterwards, Steven showed up and we played 3 to 4 games at longer time controls. Naturally, I lost all my games. Do you see a trend here? Hehe.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Chess Odyssey Begins

In chess, the game is effectively divided into 3 parts:

The opening, the middlegame and the endgame.

The opening is the initial stage where both players start moving their pieces, strategically and positionally trying to develop their pieces. In chess, the idea behind openings is to gain an advantage.

The middlegame is the stage where both sides usually have placed their pieces and manoeuvering their pieces to attack/defend/counter attack.

The endgame is the stage where the majority of pieces have left the board and the king noticeably starts to play an active role.

Today I will discuss a little about a chessboard layout and notations.

There are 2 chess notation styles:
1. Descriptive notation - the board moves are presented by representing relative squares to each side's bottom ranked pieces.
2. Algebraic notation - the board moves are presented by dividing the board into squares into horizontal row numbers 1 to 8 and vertical columns a to h (see inset diagram).

Chess moves are given by what is called chess notation.

The movement of the pieces are given by K=King, Q=Queen, B= Bishop, N=Knight, R=Rook and pawn moves are represented by grid notations (in algebraic notation) or relative positions to the major pieces initial squares (in descriptive notation). The numbers before the notation indicate the move number.

Some people loathe descriptive notation (older format) and would avoid reading any chess literature with such styles because it's hard to picture the board once they've become accustomed to the more modern algebraic notation.

Me? I'm fine in either notation.

eg. Starting a King's Pawn opening (see diagram) would be 1. e2-e4 ( or 1.e4 in algebraic) or 1. PK2-K4 (or 1. P-K4 in descriptive).

For more details on notation, see Descriptive notation and Algebraic notation.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Is Chess Dead?

Back in the old days of Hollywood, Humphrey Bogart was an avid chess player (see inset) and would lend his support to chess.

These days, with the likes of masses being consumed by the countless Hollywood gossip (do we really need to know if Paris Hilton's dog was named Fifi or Ginger?), it's no wonder the children of today are so dumbed down. How many people from Hollywood today would gladly put their names to the pursuit of any intellectual activity?

Chess these days seems destined to belong to the backwaters. More awareness needs to be raised about chess. In Australia, not much is being done to educate the teenagers about the benefits of playing chess. It's a shame, really.

Social Chess

On Saturday, I invited my cousin-in-law Linger, her friend William and my brother-in-law for a very relaxed game of transfer chess. It was very fun. It's a pity my nephews couldn't come as I would very much have loved to see them again.

After her friend William left, Linger (who was a tad rusty - she stopping played chess for a long time - she's a very good player) and I started to play a simple game (at the insistence of my brother-in-law, Steven). We started out with a typical Nimzo Indian opening and the game concluded in a very peaceful draw.

Currently, she doesn't have any chess sets available and was thinking of getting one. Maybe I'll get one for Linger for her Christmas present.

She will be moving near my suburbs soon and I hope she joins the local chess club. She would make an interesting opponent.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Chess Is A Cruel Game

Albert Einstein once said,“Chess holds its master in its own bonds, shaking the mind and brain so that the inner freedom of the very strongest must suffer.”

Why do chess players all over the world continue to love chess despite the enormous strain it can place on your mental and physical health (sitting and staring at a 8x8 square board all day surely can't be doing wonders for your waistline)?

Maybe all chess players are really masochists at heart.

How is it possible that 32 pieces on a small square board can give so much enjoyment and yet so much pain to all who are ensnared by its deadly web?

Chess has a very fractured history when it comes to insanity.

The most famous is of course the talented player, Paul Morphy. Okay, some people think former chess champion Bobby Fischer is mad as well but you know what I'm getting at.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

I Have A Problem

.... and that problem is chess.

Between my job, my wife and my studies, how can I possibly make time for chess?

Well, every Wednesday (for about slightly over a year now), I've been going to my local chess club here in Sydney and continue to receive hammering after hammering from fellow chess club players (hint: I am not winning).

Maybe I am a masochist at heart.

Like the old ABC wide world of sports commentary ,"Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport! The thrill of victory...and the agony of defeat! The human drama of athletic competition! This is ABC's Wide World of Sports!"

Every week, I sort of feel like skier Vinko Bogataj in that intro.

First a little bit of myself.... (flashback sequence coming right up!)

I was first introduced to chess at an early age, learning just a few basic moves and playing with my brother for fun for like a few months (when you're 12 years old, everything was fun!).

Then about last year, disaster struck. My father-in-law came over for a visit and I started playing with him and I was drawn back into the game like a duck to water. Naturally, my 78 year old father-in-law proceeded to pulverise me to a pulp game after game.

(end of flashback)

I then promised to myself that I should become a better chess player.

Like my brother-in-law, Steven (insert *envy* here). His ELO rating is in the 1900s and he can easily outmanoeuvre, outthink, outfight, .... well, basically, outplay me whenever we match up every Wednesday night at the chess club.

I'm sure deep down, he must think, why must I play this patzer week after week?