Monday, June 30, 2008

NSW Players Ratings Distribution Charts

Using the Jun'08 master list available from the Australian Chess Federation website, I decided to do a little investigating.

From the master list, I grabbed the list of all NSW (New South Wales) players. I subsequently removed players who currently do not have a rating and sort them into the distribution curve and got the following graph using a bit of Excel magic.

The distribution curve is pretty much ordinary and only tells us that the 50% mark is around the 1400-1500 region.

However, the more telling is this graph. We can see that the majority of the NSW players are within the 1200-2100 band range. In fact, the uneven distribution (slight asymmetry from the middle ACF 1500-1600 rating range) indicates that there is moderately lighter slant on the right side of the curve, implying that there is a greater proportion of NSW chess players who are stronger in the higher bands than the corresponding opposite band of the 1500-1600 range.

This chart is also being reflected by the number of teams participating in the different grades for the NSW Grade Matches this year.

In the U2100: There are 5 teams
In the U1800: There are 5 teams
In the U1600: There are 9 teams
In the U1400: There are 7 teams

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Strategic Decisions

In this game, I am White, Black sacrificed an exchange to lock in my Rook on a7. Black has just played

32.... Qe6??

Most alert players would see that this is bad. White is winning. When you are down in material, it is always good to keep as much material on board as possible.

So we know we have to trade Queens. But what do we do from here?

Readers now can see. Black's bishop is under attack by the Rook on c1 and Black's knight is under attack by the Rook on a7. The only thing holding them up is the b7 pawn which is overloaded.

So after

33. Qxe6 Rxe6
34. Rxc6 bxc6
35. Rxa6 and White is a minor piece up and winning.

That's what I saw in the game..... but as they say, when you see a good move, there's a chance there is an even better move lurking. And here, there is one.

Can you spot it?

Answer can be found by highlighting the brackets
33. Qxe6 Rxe6
34. Rxc6 bxc6
35. d7! Rd6 (forced)
36. Ra8+ Kh7 (forced)
37. d8Q Rxd8
38. Rxd8 and White is a whole Rook up.]

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Oh Dear, I Errr... Swindled My Opponent Tonight

In a totally losing position, I somehow managed to swindle a win out of my game tonight against Martin van Elmpt (1448). This game was played at G/75 time controls with 75 minutes for 30 moves and another 30 minutes to finish the remainder of the game.

When we reached move 30, I noticed that Martin just made it to time control with 2 minutes to spare. It was at this point ( I had earlier sac'ed a Knight for 2 pawns to get counterplay but it was not enough) that I decided to blitz out my remaining moves and put him under enormous time pressure.

On move 40 with 12 minutes left to complete the remainder of the game, Martin unfortunately blundered (in the diagram shown) by playing

40. Qd5??

leaving his Rook en prise. He resigned less than 10 moves later. When he resigned, I found that he had 10 minutes left while I had 1 hour 15 minutes to play(!). That meant that for 48 moves, I had spent just 30 minutes! Yikes!

Funny, this was one game I actually feel very guilty for winning.

Sorry Martin, I honestly didn't know what to say to you after the game. Hope you'll do better for the rest of the games. Best of luck.

Have you ever swindled your opponent before? If so, what do you say to your opponent, after the game? I feel very sorry for Martin for losing a won game tonight.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Off-Topic : Rising Petrol Costs

I really apologise for this off-topic post.

The rising costs of petrol is starting to bite into my family income and I'm sure, everyone else's.

Anyway, tonight while I was out filling petrol at the pump, there was a very heated argument between a woman driver and a petrol station cashier.

Apparently, she had one of those discount cards from a supermarket that was supposed to give her 10 cents off per litre of petrol but the scanner did not give her the discount and boy, was she furious, and I really mean, furious.

She was screaming (oblivious to the 10+ people waiting in the queue behind her) and yelling and threatening the poor guy (who looks like a student working part-time there) and I felt she was on the verge of chopping the guy's head off any moment ala Rambo (see inset). That was quite a show. Oh and Rambo 4 isn't that bad a movie either if you like movies with a high body count.

Btw the woman's screaming at the petrol pump was enough to make me want to go out and buy a Hummer.

Just kidding - not that I can afford one anyway. :)

Passed My Finals Theory Exam

Wooohoo! Kinda cool, I scored 96%. That was a lot of days of hard studying. My practical exam is on Thursday night, after which, it is more or less over! For now, I need a break so this means this period is a good time for chess self-study!

I think there's a game on somewhere later this week for the U1400 on Wednesday night. I don't know who I'm going to play against. Having a run of two losses against 1500++ players does wonders for my self-esteem and only shows I need to sharpen up my tactics and positional play.

I am starting to get more assured of myself. Hopefully, I might get a good game on Wednesday.

For now, it is past my bedtime and I need to work tomorrow. ZZZ time.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Tactics Puzzles

I'm taking a slight breather from my studies for my finals exam.

Here are 3 tactical puzzles for your enjoyment!

Answers can be found by highlighting between the brackets.

Puzzle 1.

White's Knight is forced to retreat, how should Black make use of this to get an advantage?

[Black wins a piece 1.... Bxa3 If 2. bxa3 Ba4 leaves Black up the exchange with Rook for Knight]

Puzzle 2.

Black just played 1.... Kf5, how can White win?

[White's c-pawn Queens after 1. Rb5! Rxb5 2. c8Q+ and wherever the Black King goes, 3. Qe8+ nabs the Black Rook]

Puzzle 3.

Black just played 1.... Kf8 to escape the Queen check, how should White follow up and give checkmate?

[1. Nd6! Qf6 or Qa2 (forced else 2. Qf7#) 2. Qe8+ Rxe8 3. Rxe8#]

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Checkmate Puzzle

White is of course, completely winning in the puzzle shown.

The question is:

Can you find the fastest way to checkmate the Black King? White to play.

Answer can be found by highlighting between the brackets
[I got a mate in 3 moves with
1. Qf5+ Ke8
2. Nd6+ Kd8
3. Nd5#

But there's actually a mate in 2 moves!
The exact continuation is
1. Qe6!!
If ....Ra6 or Rh6 or g6 2. Qg8#
Any other Black moves, 2. Ng6#]

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A Loss Tonight

My brother-in-law Steven and I went down to St George tonight to play against the Dragons. I got Board 4. My opponent was a nice gentleman by the name of Terence Wall.

As Black, I got a winning position but as usual I chose to mess things up and went for more complications when I should not have.

All in all, a good game by Terence who never gave up despite my relenting attack and made me pay for my inaccuracies. A fine win by Terence. Well done, mate.

As for now, it's nearly 1am in the morning, I'm brain dead from the long travel. My finals exam begins next week and between now and then, I'm going to take a break to study and hopefully come back charged.

For now.... it's zzzzzzzz time.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Finishing Puzzle

One of the hardest things to accomplish in chess is trying to finish off your opponent as fast as possible.

As they say, to succeed in chess, you must show your opponent you know "how to win the won game", so to speak.

Here is a game I played with my opponent.

White is 2 pieces and 2 pawns down.

The White Queen however is a pain and Black has to constantly watch out for tricks and White can play on for a long time, harassing Black's minor pieces. How can Black make the game end quicker?

Unfortunately, I could not find this move over the board.

Question: Can you find a way to make this game resolve more quickly? White had just played 1. Qd3. It is Black's turn to move.

The answer can be found by highlighting between the brackets
[Black gets the Queens traded off and White's position is untenable after:
1... Qc1+
2. Kg2 or Kh2 Qh1+!!
3. Kxh1 Nxf2+
4. K (moves anywhere) Nxd3
5. b4 Bxb4! or Nxb4!
6. axb4 and now Nxb4 or Bxb4 White cannot survive long with 3 passed pawns on the Queenside]

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A Madhouse

One of the gripes of playing in Ryde Eastwood RSL was that we seldom get to play in one of the larger rooms anymore. I know space is a prime commodity these days but last night, we have 3 teams of 4 members (+ their team captain who may or may not be playing) each coming from other clubs. That means there were at least 24 players being squeezed into a room the size of half a basketball court. We also had the regular social club players as well and this was getting a bit tight. Unfortunately, there was insufficient tables to setup a board a good distance away from the games going on which meant that post-mortem analysis was always going to be a problem.

I spoke to the U1400 Team Captain Greig Edwards and the U1600 Team Captain Les Mikolajczyk and it was agreed that I should play in the U1400.

In the meantime I saw Joshua Christiansen and congratulated him for his excellent performance in the Sydney Weekender which concluded a couple of days ago. We talked a little about the game and he said it was one of the best games he had the pleasure to be in, including holding a draw against Max Illingworth(2246). Well done, Josh!

Anton Smirnov and his father Vladimir (it's hard to miss them as Vlad is fairly tall and Anton is a cute 6 year old who plays a mean game of chess) turned up. Vladimir asked me if Bill Gletsos was going to turn up and I said I was not sure but he sometimes turned up at around 8pm. Unfortunately, Bill was a no-show in the end. Sorry Vlad, if I gave you the wrong information!

By 7.40pm, we were asked to start our games. It was a weird scenario. We had players missing, and some of the other clubs had players missing as well.

The U1600 Board 1 player for our club, Sotarduga Sitompul came some 15 minutes late and this would later have a profound effect on the game because he lost on time (failed to make the required number of moves before the first time control by 1 minute! He had to make 8 moves in 1 minute before the first time control).

By 7.50pm, 20 minutes after the game was to have started, I had no choice but to start the clock. One minute later, my opponent Hareesh turned up. He was in a bit of a fluster, so I stopped the clock and asked if he wanted a drink and for some time to steady himself before starting the game. He said ok before returning to the board a minute later with a cup of water. We shook hands and proceeded to start the game. The game was a bit unusual and the pieces were flying off the board to reach a R+2P v R+4P endgame. At one point in the middlegame, my brain keeps telling me something about the position looks odd and there's something in there but for the life of me, I could not see it (sure enough, Fritz would later tell me that I could have trapped his Queen with an unusual Knight sacrifice).

Overall, I had a nice game against Hareesh. He agreed to my request for a post-mortem analysis of the game and we managed to find a board to analyse our game (only 1 meter from an actual playing board). Hareesh is a very polite, friendly chap and a gracious opponent. I hope he does well for the rest of the competition.

In the U1800, Steven won his game after his opponent panicked in a drawn N+6P v B+6P (!) endgame and unnecessarily sacrificed his bishop for pawn play. Joshua picked up a nice win against his opponent with an amazing attacking combination. David French lost on time to his opponent and Konrad Zielinski won his game when his opponent's mobile phone rang! Score: 3-1

In the U1600, Vince Chiara and James Hickey won their respective matches while Les and Sitompul lost. Score: 2-2

In the U1400, Douglas Eyres won his game, Simon Parker drew with Anton Smirnov. At this point, it was late so Steven and I headed home with Greig's game still going.

Truly a madhouse night.

Up next week on Tuesday, I'm playing against the St George Dragons and their players are (the March ratings are shown with the June 08 ratings in brackets):

Astorga, Peter 1643 (1654)
Press, Brian J 1542 (1553)
Britton, Geoffrey J 1510 (1513)
Wall, Terence 1506 (1496)

It's going to be a tough fight!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Sad Day For Armenian Chess

YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) - Karen Asrian, an Armenian chess grandmaster who was the ex-Soviet nation's reigning champion and won the 2006 Chess Olympiad, died Monday after suddenly losing consciousness, the Armenian Chess Federation said. He was 28. Asrian was ranked 92nd by the World Chess Federation, or FIDE. Apparently feeling ill, Asrian pulled his car into a court yard in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, early Monday and lost consciousness, the Armenian Chess Federation said. An ambulance crew pronounced him dead at the scene, possibly of a heart attack, it said. A moment of silence was held in his memory before the opening of a speed-chess tournament in Yerevan on Monday after his death was announced by Armenian player Smbat Lputian.

Upon learning of his passing, Akopian, Sargissian and Aronian (seen in the picture above with Asrian holding the flag), who were playing in the Chess Giants Rapid in Yerevan, immediately made 10 move draws with their opponents and rushed off to pay respects to his family, highlighting the close bonds Asrian had with his fellow chess professionals. A truly wonderful gesture on their part.

I feel incredibly sad that for a player so young and talented and with still so much more to live for should suddenly just collapse and die.

A black day for Armenian chess.

Rest in peace, Asrian.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Back Again To The U1400s .... Or Not?

This Wednesday's U1400 match has Ryde Eastwood playing against North Sydney (?!). Deja vu indeed as my game last week was against the U1600 North Sydney team as well.

A quick look up shows the list of possible opponents from North Sydney (the numbers on the right are the Mar 08 ratings while the numbers in brackets are the Jun 08 ratings):

Carden, Matthew 1320 (1267)
Thippeswamy, Hareesh 1224 (1110)
Jennings, Andrew (Garry) 1172 (1263)
Smirnov, Anton 1110 (1371)
Palmer, Paul 691 (763)
Little, Nicholas unrated (unrated)

I played 6 year old Anton Smirnov last week in the U1600s. During our postmortem of the game, I could not help but be impressed by his level of understanding of positions, tactics and formations. He's fast developing into a dangerous tactical player and on his day, it can be a formidable task to face him. In a space of 3 months, his rating has jumped a massive 261 points to reach 1371. A very impressive record. Under his dad's guidance, I am certain he would break the 2,000 rating level before his teens. If he's on board 1 on Wednesday, then I get to play him again.

I have just been informed by my U1400 team captain, Greig that I have been rostered to play in the U1600s instead against Manly on Wednesday. Oddly, I've not received word from the U1600 team captain Les that I was playing in that group this week. *puzzled*

The list of possible opponents from Manly (the numbers on the right are the Mar 08 ratings while the numbers in brackets are the Jun 08 ratings):

Mejzini, Jack 1607 (1616)
Roberts, David 1605 (1565)
Miller, Gordon 1585 (1588)
Dimock, Chris 1549 (1581)
Schwandl, Hans 1505 (1477)
Roach, Owen 1479 (1458)

This group is definitely a tough challenge.

Thankfully, as the venues for both matches are at Ryde Eastwood RSL at the same time, it is just a simple matter of turning up and finding out which team I am supposed to play for. Talk about getting my lines crossed.

Yesterday, my brother-in-law Steven and I headed down to the Manly-Warringah chess club for a couple of rounds of chess. We met up with Tze Weng and had a chat with him. It was a rather quiet night with only a couple of players turning up but we still had a good time playing social chess at 10 minute time controls.

Steven and I have a tendency to start the clock at 10 minutes and allow the clock to run out of time and yet continue to play on because our games tend to lead to very interesting positions and it would be a shame to claim a win/loss based on time. As a result, our games normally runs to half an hour if not more. Never one to conform to openings, I played a huge variety of openings, including the Philidor, 2 Knights, Sicilian Grand Prix Attack, Sicilian Najdorf, King's Indian Defense, French, Nimzo-Indian, Scotch, Catalan, English Opening (phew, that was a mouthful) etc.

In at least half of the games, I noticed I have a tendency to miss stronger moves and it usually happens after I played it. This tells me that I really need to take more time and analyse more carefully before making moves.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Annotating Your Games

Alexander Kotov, in his book,"Train Like A Grandmaster" wrote,"A considerable part in chess coaching in the USSR is played by writing notes to games. The best notes are published in magazines and newspapers, but this is not the main aim. A developing player has to write notes to his games in order to develop the habit of having a self-critical approach to his play. By spotting the flaws in his play, he will more easily eradicate them."

But what kind of game annotations are required?

I found that with the rise in complexity of the silicon chip and computer chess programs, quite often, some of us are happy to let their favourite chess engine analyse their games and be done with it. Let the program run overnight with a top chess engine and by the morning, a fairly detailed analysis of the game is there, ready for you to peruse (Incidentally, imagine how much more accessible chess is now compared with 15 years ago, where to do this equivalent amount of work will require a team of GM analysts working overnight, and an updated book on openings).

However, it is not enough to just let the chess engine annotate.

Kotov in his book, goes to list 4 main type of annotations:

1. Descriptive notes
2. Analytical comments
3. Positional comments
4. Synthetic comments

Let's here what Kotov says about them:

1. Descriptive notes

"Here the commentator writes out all the moves and then puts down an extended prose description of the course of the game. He notes the turning points in the battle and assesses the accuracy of the ideas shown. Such a verbal account devotes a lot of attention to the psychology of the struggle and the attitudes of the players. Actual variations may be totally absent or are restricted to just a few moves at certain points."

2. Analytical comments

[NB: I've omitted his comments here because they are outdated. Kotov mentions about having to need all the notes consisting of a mass of variations ala Chess Informant style. Thankfully, these days, powerful computer chess programs like Fritz can easily do the job for you in a matter of minutes.]

3. Positional comments

"....The commentator gives a limited number of variations, only using them to underline his view of the game and the value of the plans adopted. It is somewhat reminiscent of method 1 but the prose is not collected together, rather it is spread out throughout the game. This was the method adopted by many great players - Steinitz, Tarrasch, Lasker and Capablanca. Nowadays too it is favoured method among those grandmasters whose play is marked by a depth of strategy and logic...."

4. Synthetic comments

"This method of explaining a game combines both many deep variations and verbal descriptions of strategic ideas. The world of chess has come to recognise this method as best, and it is no accident that its principal exponent, Alekhine, was recognised in his time as the best annotator living." [NB:....and here Kotov goes on to list some works as excellent synthetic work as Bronstein's 1953 Candidates Match Tournament in Switzerland. It is true indeed till this very day. For example, the picture on the right shows Dutch GM Van Wely's own annotations of his game with input from Ftacnik.]

My favourite annotation format falls in an amalgam of all of the above and is probably in the last category. Immediately after a game, I input various notes and comments ala Method 1 and try to recreate as much as possible of the atmosphere surrounding the game and my thoughts. From then on, I go to method 3, stopping at particular points of a game to highlight my thoughts,variations and suggestions. Once all of this is done, I let the chess engine take over looking for where I deviate from book theory and side lines/variations and last but not least blunder-check.

It is hard work indeed to constantly annotate your own games. Unfortunately, if you really wish to improve your chess skills, this is one step you can ill afford to avoid.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Pre-Match Rituals, Superstitions And All That

Okay, own up.... how many of you chess players have a pre-match ritual or a keepsake that you bring along for every game for good luck?

Do you carry any items of good luck such as lucky charms ("They're always after me Lucky Charms!" - okay, I can't resist that line), any special pre-match rituals (see inset), that has no link whatsoever to chess at all?

What about my pre-match ritual?

Before I head down to the club:
1. Empty my bowels of all solids 1-2 hours before
2. Eat lightly from lunch onwards and a small dinner - Just enough to half-fill my stomach
3. Drink water in moderate amounts
4. Wear something that doesn't make me look like I haven't showered in months and comb my hair (if need be).
4. Pick a nice sweater to wear to ensure I'm nice and warm

10-20 minutes before the game:

1. Relieve the water pressure buildup in the body
2. Wipe hands dry after toilet business (hygiene, people! you don't want to look like one of those who hasn't bathed in months, do you? :) )
3. Switch off mobile phone

Well, unfortunately, due to the massive brain functions (or malfunctions) in the course of my job during the day, having a brain meltdown is not uncommon in my case like last week, where I gave away a free bishop.

And no, I don't have a good luck charm - I've never believed in it.

I can understand why chess players can be superstitious, much like athletes/players in some of other sports. Some people swear by rituals, lucky items and for me, I'm okay with that.

The idea is to put your mind at ease (having a placebo like effect) so that you start your game on the "right foot" as they say (and I don't mean a rabbit's foot).

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Grade Matches And The Ratings Game

This week is going to be a tough week for me. I've got a module exam on tonight (and hence, having to miss out the U1400 at Rooty Hill - apologies all round to the rest of the team) so there's no time actually to study chess.

Bill Gletsos has released the June ACF ratings. Moi currently has an unstable rating but that is expected to slide with last week's loss to St George. My brother-in-law Steven is sitting pretty at 1778.

The North Sydney Grizzlies opponents this Tuesday are (updated with June ratings):

Pepping, John M (1521)
Pike, Robert D (1508)
Greenwood, Norman (1496)
Smirnov, Anton (1371)

This means I'm probably scheduled to play either Norman Greenwood or Anton Smirnov on either Board 3 or Board 4.

Norman has always been a problem for me (kind of like Polly's King Kong) and young Anton Smirnov has been progressing rapidly under his father's tutelage - Vladimir Smirnov (2303) . Either way, it's going to be fun.

The rest of the U-1600 Ryde Eastwood team comprises:

Sitompul, Sotarduga (1625)
Hickey, James (1558)
Mikolajczyk, Les (1489)
Chiara, Vince (1410)

and all of them have made improvements. So congratulations to all of them. I just hope I don't disappoint them tomorrow night. *gulp*.