Monday, 18 December 2017

2017 Australasian Masters

The 2017 Australasian Masters saw overseas GM's Adrien Demuth and Vassily Papin share first place with 6/9. Tied for third were GM Anton Smirnov and IM Bobby Cheng on 5.5 Cheng, who had been looking for his second GM norm this month started well, but a mid tournament loss to GM Fabien Libiszewski left him struggling to get to the required 6.5.
In the supporting IM event, FM Eugene Schon was the convincing winner with 6.5/9. Last minute replacement IM Stephen Solomon was one of three players tied for second on 5.5, along with FM Qing Aun Lee and WGM Pauline Guichard. Unfortunately for Schon his final score was just short of what was needed for an IM norm.
Full standings from both event can be found here.

Libiszewski,Fabien (2540) - Kuybokarov,Temur (2468) [B84]
2017 Australasian Masters GM norm Melbourne, AUS (6.3), 14.12.2017

Saturday, 16 December 2017

Eighty percent of success is showing up

The 2017 ACT Rapidplay Championship was held today, and it attracted a strong field of 32 players. At the end of 7 rounds, FM Michael Kethro and IM Andrew Brown tied for first place on 6/7. However, IM Brown did create a little bit of a handicap for himself, by turning up late for the first round, and starting with a half point bye (NB He wasn't the only one, with Canberra Christmas parking being the likely cause). As a result he was playing catchup for the first half of the event, until he beat Kethro in their individual game. Then the missed first round came back to haunt him in the final round when a fortunate escape against Fred Litchfield only garnered him a half point, while Kethro drew level with a win over Willis Lo.
The larger than usual field (for a normal Canberra rapid) meant that 5/7 resulted in a 4 way tie for third. In fact all the section prizes (Under 1800, Under 1600 and Junior) needed at least +1 (4/7) to be collected, showing how competitive the tournament was.
While this was the last ACTCA event of the year, chess will be continuing over the holiday season. The local clubs are taking a bit of a break (until mid January), but Street Chess will still be running every Saturday. So if you are keen for some chess success, just remember to start by turning up.

Friday, 15 December 2017

2017 ACT Rapidplay Championship - Saturday 16 December

2017 ACT Rapidplay Championship - Saturday 16 December

The ACT Chess Association will be holding the 2017 ACTCA Rapidplay Championship on the 16 December 2017 This annual event is traditionally the final ACTCA event of the year, and the ACTCA invites all its members to take part. It will be held at Chicken Gourmet/King O'Malley's in City Walk, Canberra City. It will be a 7 round swiss, with a time limit of G/15m.

Schedule of Play Saturday 16 December 2017
Registration - 10:45am
7 Rounds
Round 1 - 11:00am
Finish: 2:30pm
Time Limits All moves in 15 minutes
Arbiter IA Shaun Press

Weather Forecast
Top temperature: 31c
Precipitation: 10%
Wind: 23 km/h

1st $100 (minimum)
2nd $50
3rd $30

Further prizes (including rating prizes) dependant upon entries. (NB Last years event had a prize pool of $350 and the prizes on offer were increased)

Entry Fees
$10 ($5 for players Under 18 years of age)

(NB I am an unpaid official for this event)

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Don't panic

The publication of a new paper by the team behind AlphaGo has really got the chess world talking.  Applying the AlphaGo learning method to chess, they developed a program that was able to beat Stockfish after 4 hours of self learning. To read the headlines (and comments) about this, it would almost seem that humans are about to be replaced by computers, in all facets of life.
For me, while it was an impressive result, it isn't the end of the world, or even chess. Self learning programs have been around for a while, and were quite strong, even 15 years ago. KnightCap was one such program, with the authors describing the self learning aspects in a paper they published in 1999 (which was cited by the authors of AlphaZero).
On the other hand, what did impress me was the successful implementation of the Monte Carlo Tree Search. This is an alternative to the tried and true Alpha-Beta search method (or its variants), and relies on a probabilistic approach to evaluating position.  Instead of assessing the various factors in a position (material, space, pawn structure), the program self-plays thousands of games from a given position, preferring the move that results in the most number of wins. The obvious flaw in this method (apart from computing restraints), is that while a move may lead to wins 99 times out of 100, the opponent may find the 1% reply that is a forced loss for the engine. But based on the result against Stockfish, this did not seem to occur in practice.
The other thing to point out is that this wasn't a match between AlphaZero and Stockfish, at least not in a competitive sense. Stockfish had a number of restrictions placed on it (no opening book, less powerful hardware), and I suspect the point of the exercise was to provide a measure of how successful the learning algorithm was. If the authors intend to develop the worlds strongest chess program, then entering the World Computer Chess Championships is instead the best way to test it.

AlphaZero (Computer) - Stockfish (Computer) [E17]
AlphaZero - Stockfish London ENG, 04.12.2017

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

The secret to being happy

I've always felt that the secret to being happy is to make other people happy. Of course I don't always practice what I preach (at least according to my family), but as a rule of thumb, it has generally worked for me.
When you play chess though, it isn't always possible to keep other people happy. The goal is to try and beat the person sitting opposite you, and succeeding in doing this may result in a less than happy night for your opponent. But if you play a good game, it may at least be appreciated, or even better, bring joy to the watching crowd.
I was able to play a nice attacking game at the Belconnen Chess Club Xmas Blitz this evening. I got to drop my rook onto f3, which impressed to single spectator watching the game, and after a couple more moves, it was pretty much finished. The spectator was happy, I was pleased, and even my opponent cracked a smile!

Xu,Ruofan - Press,Shaun [C63]
Belco Xmas Blitz, 12.12.2017

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Age and Wisdom

I spent the day helping run the traditional end of year Junior Chess League event, the ACT Transfer Championship. Transfer is of course better known as Bughouse (although not so much in Australia), and is a favourite of juniors far and wide. However, despite the tournament being run by the Junior Chess League, it is in fact open to players of all ages.
Of the 21 teams who took part, the top places were mainly (but not exclusively) occupied by the older players. FM Michael Kethro and Jamie-Lee Guo (playing as Arjang FC) were unbeaten, scoring 13/13. 2 points back were John Cullen and Josh Tomlin, tied with Louie Serfontein and Luc Bailey. In the case of Tomlin and Cullen, they actually had less transfer experience than their younger opponents, but were still ale to beat most of them.
One possible reason is that to play Transfer well, you do have to be 'clever'. And by this you have to not only think about the moves, but also the broader context. Some moves are better than others, not because they are 'good', but because they're more likely to cause the opponent to make a mistake. When you are younger such thinking doesn't come easy, but as you get older, looking for flaws in the 'system' is part and parcel of life.
Overall most teams played it pretty straight (not a lot of trash talking, no distraction techniques etc) which was demonstrated by the fact I had to deal with very few issues.  Possibly the weirdest one was where two teams found both kings in check on one board, and confused by this, just decided to agree to a draw!

2018 Australian Championship - Early entry deadline approaches

The 2018 Australian Championships is being held at the North Sydney Leagues Club from the 2nd to the 12th of January 2018. Alongside the Championship will be the reserves event (Under 2150) and the 7 round Classic (for Under 1800).
The deadline for the early entry discount is approaching so if you are planning to play, you better enter soon. Entry for the Championship is restricted to players rated above 2150, although I do note that players rated below that have applied to be considered. Otherwise it is the Reserves or Classic, depending on how much time you can spare. There is also a FIDE Rated Blitz on the 7th (the only rest day), where the new FIDE Rules for blitz will be in effect (2 illegal moves lose!).
The tournament website is and contains an online entry form as well as other tournament details.

(NB I am a paid official for this event)