Saturday, 28 February 2015

2015 O2C Doeberl Cup - Have you entered?

This year is one of the "Easter is early" years, which means that the O2C Doeberl Cup is only 5 weeks away. So if you are planing to play in this years event (and I hope as many readers as possible do), you need enter pretty soon. The Premier Section is already filling up quite nicely with 7 GM's entered so far and 47 of the 80 places already filled. As in previous years, the other events (Major, Minor and Under 1200) still have plenty of room, but it is still worth getting your entries in as soon as possible.
While the tournament web site has all the information, the key details are: When - 2nd - 6th April (3-6 for the Major/Minor and 3&4 for the Under 1200) Where - University House, Australian National University Canberra.
Other points are: For the first time the Under 1600 event will be FIDE Rated, providing an opportunity for players rated below 1600 to earn an International rating. There will be GM Master Classes held on Wednesday 1st April (see website for details). The popular Blitz event will be on Saturday 4th April. And the ANU Chess Club will be holding a blitz event 5 minutes walk from the venue on Wednesday 1st April for anyone who gets into town early.

(*** I am a paid official for this event ***)

Friday, 27 February 2015

Who is ... Itzhak Kfir?

Looking for a change from the usual 'OMG Another monster swiss' I started looking at the bottom end of the 2015 European Individual Championship. The tournament, which is being held in Jerusalem, has the usual strong field of 2600+ GM's, and has attracted 250 players.
While David Navara (2753) is the top seed (by virtue of being alphabetically ahead of Nikita Vitiugov who is also rated 2745), Itzhak Kfir is seed number 250. He is one of a group of FIDE unrated Israeli players who have braved an event where the half way player is rated 2457. And just as at the top, Kfir got the bottom spot courtesy of his surname.
Keeping with the bottom up view of the tournament, the lowest seeded title player is IM Vladimir Chuba (2066).  This puts him below the lowest rated FM (Dan Drori) and the lowest rated CM (Saar Drori). However the field gets quite strong after that, with GM Jacob Murey (2428) seeded 135, the lowest of the GM's.
The whole event kicked off on Tuesday, and so there are still plenty of players on 2/2. Based on previous versions of this event, I assume one of the top seeds will clear out at the top, a large bunch will keep pace, and the final two rounds will see players aiming for World Cup places with strategic draws.
Results for the event are here, and it includes a link to download games from the early rounds.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

2015 ANU Masters - Week 3

Victor Braguine is the only player on a perfect score after 3 rounds of the 2015 ANU Masters. He had a stroke of luck in tonight game after Fred Litchfield forgot about his clock and lost on time in an equal rook and pawn ending.
Top seed Andrey Bliznyuk scored his first win of the event, defeating Adrian De Noskowski in the longest game of the evening. Early on Bliznyuk advanced his pawn all the way to a3, where it remained for much of the game. Eventually Bliznyuk was able to pick off De Noskowski's a2 pawn in the ending, and this was enough to win the game.
Alana Chibnall scored her second win in a row, with an attacking win over Harry Press. Press was a pawn up in the midlegame, but after missing a tactical shot (23. ... Bxf5), fell behind in development. Chibnall built up a strong kingside attack, and finished the game off with a nice sacrifice on g7.

Chibnall,Alana (1931) - Press,Harry (1965)
2015 ANU Masters Canberra AUS (3.1), 25.02.2015

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Do you think you could win this?

The diagrammed position came from the Vachier-Lagrave v Tomashevsky game played yesterday at the Tbilisi Grand Prix event. Pawnless endings are reasonably rare in chess, although John Nunn did write an entire book about them. In this case it was R v BBN which was fortunate for Tomashevsky, as R v BNN is almost always drawn after RxB.
Of course to win this ending, you also need to know how to win the simpler(?) KNB v K position as well. In the above game MVL did not 'ask' Toamshevsky if he could do this with RxB at the end, but I suspect at lower levels this would have been tried.
I've also attached the whole game to the post, as how they got to the diagrammed position is just as interesting as what happened once they reached it.

Vachier-Lagrave,Maxime (2775) - Tomashevsky,Evgeny (2716) [C88]
Grandprix Tbilisi 2015 Tbilisi (8.4), 23.02.2015

Monday, 23 February 2015

Storing a chess board in memory

Recently I started doing some programming work for ePlusChessBooks , and one of the tasks is parsing chess diagrams in document files, and turning them into something an app can use. Fortunately this kind of work intersects nicely with previous programming I had done in the field of computer chess, so the learning curve is not that steep.
In starting on the problem, I remembered an idea I had a number of years ago concerning the efficient storing of chess boards in memory. By 'chessboard' I mean both the location of each of the pieces, plus the state of the game (eg castling rights, en passant status, 50 move rule). At the time I was thinking of storing only pawn structures and using this information to build a 'chess planning system'. (NB Mark Hummel is currently working on a similar system). Unfortunately the method I was thinking about was actually less efficient than just storing a full board representation, and I let the whole project drop.
In doing some further reading I discovered that there are some quite efficient ways of storing such information. The obvious way is 1 byte per square, plus flags, so around 66 bytes of information. However there is some redundant information in there, as there are only 12 different pieces (each piece + white or black) meaning you can use 4 bits per square (halving the size). An greater refinement is the record the number of empty squares between the pieces (eg 4 bits for a piece followed by empty square count). The advantage of this method is that it uses less memory as more pieces get captured.
Of course this probably has very little practical application in the field of chess programming, as early on I learnt it is often a choice between memory and speed (ie if you want speed, you need to use lots of memory). But if you are interested in this topic, for whatever reason, there is a whole wikipedia page on it!

Sunday, 22 February 2015

A chess hotel

Looking for somewhere to stay in Paris? Doing a little random research on the internet, I stumbled across The Chess Hotel. It is aptly named. as it uses a black and white motif throughout, including a number of chessboard patterns on the floors and walls.
Looking at the hotels website I spotted a few direct chess items (chess boards and pieces), and a number of chess influenced features. More importantly it looked like a very nice hotel and seems centrally located. Of course such quality and location comes at a cost, but 150 euros per night for a double seems pretty reasonable to me.
While it is unlikely I will be in Paris any time soon, if I do end up there, I may have to make in person inspection.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Laughing or crying

Not sure whether to laugh or cry about this one. The Kings Head Div 2 team were beset by transport difficulties in the latest round of the UK 4NCL. Road works on the major northbound motorways compounded by train delays meant that all but one of the team failed to make their boards on time (This also affected a number of other teams in the competition). And the one player that did make it to the board? During his game his phone rang and he was defaulted.

(Original story courtesy of Malcolm Pein)

Chess in (Spanish) Schools

The Spanish Parliament has just decided to add chess to the list of subjects that students must do at school. Part of the reasoning is that chess improves the 'maths and reading scores among the children who were taught to play'. The join a few other countries (including Armenia) who have it as part of the curriculum, but a world where every child learns chess at school is probably still a fair way off.
While I think there are clear educational benefits in learning chess, I don't think being a chessplayer necessarily makes you instantly smarter. What I think it does is improve your problem solving skills, your memory, and possibly pattern recognition. Nonetheless this often translates into improved marks at school, which of course makes you look smarter.
If you want another take on this decision, you can read this interesting article by Stephen Moss. Moss is his himself a chessplayer  so he has more than a journalists usual understanding of chess. And while you are there, the comments section supplies and even broader discussion of this decision.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Making a game "playable"

I was watching my son play some online FPS games this week and I noticed something odd. Rather than the usual teenage rampage of shooting at, and blowing up, everything, they were playing a game of 'Simon Says'. A few days later I saw a group of players spinning in circles and randomly shooting.
Apparently the exposure to mindless online violence is fun for only so long, and what they were  doing was trying to find ways to keep it interesting. To me this indicates there are some shortcomings in the game design, but it also confirms that a lot of games have a limited shelf life.
One way around this problem, as my son and friends have already discovered, is to add extra rules or conditions. In chess this sometimes happens through keeping the game the same, but altering material (eg rook odds) or specifying some sort of condition (eg mate with a knight). Another way is to use different rules. The two most common examples of this are Transfer Chess (which is a radically different format) or Suicide chess.  Certainly at school clubs Suicide Chess seems very popular. I suspect one of the reasons is that it is far less complicated than normal chess, with a lot of the moves being forced. Also, capturing pieces is kind of fun for new players, so the more you do it, the more the game makes sense. The only down side I've seen is that a switch to Suicide chess is often a precursor to dropping out altogether. I guess if you don't find real chess fun, and you shift to a chess that very few people play seriously, it is only a matter of time before you move onto some other interest.

2015 ANU Masters - Week 2

The 2015 ANU Masters is proving to be a tough event, with some of the pre-tournament favourites already struggling. After drawing his first game last week, top seed Andrey Bliznyuk lost fairly quickly to Alana Chibnall. Chibnall got the kind of Dutch Defence position she was aiming for in pre-game preparation, and Bliznyuk used up a lot of time deciding what to do. He then moved a couple of pieces to exposed squares, and ended up losing a knight after it ran out of escape squares.
Miles Patterson had a fairly straight forward win over Harry Press, after Press seems to swap off all the wrong pieces. With good knight versus bad bishop Patterson had plenty of time to organise his pieces before finishing the game with tactics on both sides of the board.
Fred Litchfield had a stroke of fortune after a miscalculation by Jeremy Reading just gifted him a piece. Prior to that Reading had been trying to mate Litchfield on the dark squares, forcing Litchfield to defend with his pieces posted on the back rank.
In the final game to finish Victor Braguine scored his second win of the tournament, beating Adrian De Noskowski. Braguine dropped a pawn in the middle game, so decided to sacrifice a second one to post a rook on the 7th rank. This strategy paid off as his passed d pawn proved the deciding factor.
After 2 rounds Braguine and Litchfield lead with 2/2. Chibnall and Patterson sit on 50% while the remaining 4 players are all on 0.5/2

Braguine,Victor (1729) - De,Noskowski Adrian (1708)
2015 ANU Masters Canberra AUS (2.3), 18.02.2015

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

The 2800 club

Two big events, and two new members of the 2800 club, at least in a live sense. Nakamura and Giri have joined Carlsen, Grischuk and  Caruana as players whose ratings start with 28. Nakamura is currently leading the Zurich Chess Challenge, while Giri beat Svidler in round 1 of the Tbilisi GP tournament.
Nonetheless the fact that there are now 5 players in this group, and two players joined at the same time indicates that this might be as special an achievement as it once was. I can remember it being quite a big thing when Kasparov was the first player to 2800, although this was tied up with surpassing Fischer's rating record a little earlier.
While the major reason for the growth in 2700 and 2800 rated players is the number of players now on the rating list, there is also a case for the influence of strong chess playing programs as well. Improved prep means the players at the highest level are much more consistent, and probably lose far less due to opening mistakes.
Well that's the theory,  until someone forgets there prep. Nakamura in fact benefited from this after his 3rd round opponent, Karjakin, played into a line that looked dangerous, but is apparently a well known draw, at least to players with strong chess engines. In fact Nakamura seemed a little surprised that Karjakin failed to remember the drawing line. He also realised that any opening novelty gets fed straight into the engine after the game, so was quite happy to give away the rest of the secrets hidden in this line.

Nakamura,Hikaru (2776) - Karjakin,Sergey (2760)
Zurich Chess Challenge (5.3), 16.02.2015

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Missing the Lifeline Bookfair

Due to a new employment opportunity, I had to make a trip to Auckland, which I had to do at short notice. While I am having a fantastic time in New Zealand, it meant I did miss a couple of significant activities back in Canberra.
There was the regular Street Chess event, although FA (FIDE Arbiter) Alana Chibnall was able to step in and handle that. There was also the Canberra Multicultural Festival, otherwise know as BAMOAS (Beer And Meat On A Stick) day. I also missed Valentines Day, which I am sure I will pay for on my return.
Finally, I  was unable to attend the Lifeline Bookfair, which is a regular topic on this blog. For reasons unknown to me it was moved a few weeks earlier than normal, although I suspect the gods may have decided to mess with me. So I have no idea whether it was feast or famine on the second hand chessbooks, both in terms of numbers and quality. Miles Patterson, both a regular book buyer and blog reader  was in attendance (I assume), so I await his report on my return next week.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Open and closed

Of late there seems to be an interesting overlap in high level chess. On a number of occasions there has been a high level open swiss coinciding with a top level closed event. The latest example of this i the Grenke Tournament and Gibraltar. I'm not sure it forces players to make a choice, as much as it provides a nice back up (eg Nakamura did not play Grenke, but won Gibraltar)
But once these event are over, the top players sometime come together. And example of this is Zurich event starting this evening. The tournament has Kramnik, Caruana, Anand, Aronian, Nakamura and Karjakin playing a mixed Classical/Rapid event. The format has 2 points for a win at classical chess and 1 for a win at rapidplay. While the winner is based on score for both events, I wonder if most fns regard the winner of the classical as the 'real' winner.
Tonight kicks off with a blitz event to decide the pairings, while the real action starts tomorrow. The tournament home page is here, and alongside live broadcasting there is live commentary, including a guest appearance from Australia's own Jan (sic) Rogers.

Things to watch

I am currently in Auckland (NZ) on a work related trip. Usually I try and find some chess angle to talk about on my journey's, but the only thing I could find while flying was a lack of chess content on the inflight TV/Move system (OK, this was to be expected).
But all is not lost, as these days there seems to be a bunch of free movie apps popping up in lots of places. One such place is Snag Films, which has a lot of documentaries on there. While the search for chess only turned up a few inks, the famous "Chess Kids" doco was on of them. If you ant to fill in some time until I resume normal blogging you can look for it here. 

Thursday, 12 February 2015

2015 ANU Masters - Week 1

This years ANU Masters is a slightly slimmer version than in previous years. While the tournament has had strong support from IM's Andrew Brown and Junta Ikeda for the last 3 years, the lack of players rated just below them had left the tournament with  lopsided feel. External commitments for both players meant they were unable to play this year, so instead it has been reduced to an 8 player round robin.
One side effect of this is that it is a pretty wide open event. Less than 300 rating points separate the entire field, and the mixture of improving  and experienced players means that there may be more than a few upsets.
The first round saw two decisive games and two draws. The De Noskowski v Reading game saw De Noskowski gain a big advantage in the middle game, but Reading find a nice tactic to win back material. Rather than risk the sure half point, De Noskowski repeated the position for a draw. Harry Press lost some time in the opening against top seed Andrey Bliznyuk, and felt his position was worse. However he was able to dig in and made a timely draw offer as his position was getting better. Bliznyuk played a few more moves before realising things could start to go wrong and returned the offer.
Victor Braguine started his first Masters with a win over Alana Chibnall. In a messy position Victor seemed to have an edge with more active bishops, but Chibnall should have had more faith in her pieces. Instead she played a couple of dubious moves and collapsed quite quickly. The Litchfield Patterson game saw a large amount of patient maneuvering, and for a long time it looked like it would end up as a draw. However Patterson put a piece on a wrong square, and Litchfield could win a pawn. Once the pawn went, Patterson's position was likely to fall apart as well, so he resigned rather than drag the game out.

De Noskowski,Adrian (1708) - Reading,Jeremy (1894)
2015 ANU Masters Canberra AUS (1.3), 11.02.2015

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Good tie-breaks

Lets start with the idea that there is no perfect tie-break system. Some are probably better than others, but not all tie-breaks work the same way in different situations. Having been involved in various technical discussions about tie-breaks over the years, what I have mainly learned is that tie-breaks are often a matter of preference, and depend on how you weight the pros and cons.
For example, head-to-head seems to be a fair system. And yet some people object on the grounds that you don't know which games are important and which are not, until towards the end of the tournament. Others like systems like Sum of Progressive Scores, which do not depend on the results of other players, while just as many prefer SOS (Buccholz), on the grounds that you need to measure a players performance using the rest of the field.
One tie-break that I have been utilising recently is APRO - Average Performance Rating of Opponents. This was drawn to my attention by Roberto Ricca (Secretary of the FIDE Pairings Commission), as part of his work for the FIDE Rules Commission. You simply calculate the Performance Rating of each player, and then take the average of everyone that a player has played. On the upside it seems to work ok, even with unrateds (although not too many), as they will also have a TPR, even if it is based on a few games. It also happily deals with bye/forfeits/missing games as it is an averaging system. On the other hand it is difficult to work out on the fly, meaning that players find it difficult to calculate their own tie breaks (NB some organisers think this is a positive).
Whether it catches on probably depends on which arbiters push it. If it turns up in a high profile event, like the European Championships, and solves the tie-break problems that have occurred in the past, then I can see it becoming more popular. Otherwise it may just float around in the background, used for small events, but nothing too crucial.

Monday, 9 February 2015

A lot of FIDE Rated Chess in Canberra

I seem to make this post every year, publicising the upcoming FIDE Rated events in Canberra. In fact there are a couple of extra events this years, targeted at club players, but there is still the imbalance between the start of the year, and the rest of the year. In fact there are 6 FIDE rated events in Canberra over the next 2 months, and then only 1 more (IIRC) after that.
The ANU Chess Club is hosting 2 FIDE Rated events, starting this Wednesday. The 2015 ANU Masters is an 8 player Round Robin with a field made up of winners of the ANU Club events from last year. Alongside it, for the first time, is the 2015 ANU Challengers, which is an Open Swiss for players rated below 2200.
The ACT Championship is being held over the weekend of the 6-9th March. It is a 7 round swiss, with a Friday night round (6th) and 2 rounds on each of the following 3 days (NB Monday is a Public Holiday in Canberra).
The O2C Doeberl Cup will be holding 3 FIDE Rated events this year. Along with the Premier and Major, the Minor (Under 1600 ACF) will be FIDE Rated for the first time. The Premier starts on the 2nd April 2015 (9 rounds) while the other two tournaments start on the 3rd (7 rounds).
After that the only FIDE rated event I can think of is the ACT Junior Championships, although the ANU Club may FIDE Rate a few more events if the numbers for the Challengers indicate a demand.

Burning bridges

One thing I learnt very quickly when I started playing Chess Olympiads was never to 'burn your bridges'.  While the 'kitchen sink' attack might work at the club level, the further up the ladder you went, the harder it was to justify throwing away all your material on a hunch, especially if there were good alternatives to play.
While I could dig up so of my old games to show, a more recent example occurred at the Grenke Classic.  I'm not sure what Baramidze saw, but it turned out to be a mirage, as Naiditsch just took what was offered and hung on to it. To be fair the exchange sacrifice was only 'dubious', but giving up the knight was just a waste.

Baramidze,David (2594) - Naiditsch,Arkadij (2706)
GRENKE Chess Classic 2015 (4), 06.02.2015

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Oops, I meant j'adoube

The attached position comes from a final round game played at Street Chess today. Black is clearly winning, and the full point would secure a share of second place. But last rounds, and a shortage of time, can do strange things to the thought process, and Black fell victim to this. He started with the obvious 1. ... Rb1+ intending to meet the forced 2.Bg1 with 2. ... Rxg1+. That was until his hands got out in front of his brain, and he picked up the bishop on f6. Sure Bd4 forces mate, but only if White decides to pass, which is not allowed under the Laws of Chess. In fact Black did not even complete whatever move he had to play, Instead he let out a strangled cry and waved the bishop around for a while before simply shaking hands with an absolutely delighted White.
After the game I suggested that maybe he could have tried to bluff his opponent by using the bishop to stir his coffee (or clean his ears) before putting it back on f6. The other option was of course to try the old "j'adoube" trick, claiming you meant to say it *before* you touched the piece. But having already given the game away by his reaction, I doubt this would have worked.
So a pair of naughty hands cost Black a tie for second, and instead left both players sharing third place with a couple of other beneficiaries.

Tricks and traps

I am just looking over the games from the Gibraltar Masters, which was won by Hikaru Nakamura with 8.5/10. As in a big open swiss like this, there is plenty of variety in terms of the games, from long drawn out 2700 v 2700 clashes, to the 'oops I missed that' brevities.
It is often the latter that interest me most, so I present a small selection of very short games from the event.

In this first game Black made the familiar mistake of leaving the bishop hanging out on b4 while allowing Qa4+. But the big mistake was not calculating further, as 6. .. Nc6 7.d5 Bxc3+ 8.bxc3 exd5 9.cxd5 g5! 10.dxc6 b5!! at leaves Black in the game.

Holleland,Sigve (2116) - Mahoney,Ian (1838) [A00]
The 2015 Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festi Caleta Hotel, Gibraltar (7.106), 02.02.2015

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Bg5 h6 5.Bh4 d6 6.Qa4+ 1-0

In the second game, White is seemingly unaware of a similar trick in the Albin Counter Gambit, and greedily grabs the bishop on b4. After 8. ... exf2+ the White queen drops.

Kuenitz,Klaus (1680) - Bauer,Dieter (1728) [A00]
The 2015 Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festi Caleta Hotel, Gibraltar (5.122), 31.01.2015

1.d4 c5 2.Nf3 cxd4 3.Nxd4 d5 4.c4 e5 5.Nb5 d4 6.e3 Bb4+ 7.Bd2 dxe3 8.Bxb4 exf2+ 0-1

And in the final game 12.Nh5 might be termed a 'positional' trap, as after 13.Nxf6 Black has to play gxf6, with a ruined pawn structure. Instead 13. ... Qxf6 14.Bxd5 just wins as any recapture allows a winning check by White.

Compton,Alistair (2071) - Klug,Christian (1884) [A00]
The 2015 Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festi Caleta Hotel, Gibraltar (6.103), 01.02.2015

1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Bf5 5.Ng3 Bg6 6.h4 h6 7.Nf3 Nf6 8.Ne5 Bh7 9.Bc4 e6 10.Qe2 Nd5 11.0-0 Be7 12.Nh5 Bf6 13.Nxf6+ Qxf6 14.Bxd5 1-0

Friday, 6 February 2015

Is this just showing off?

According to Magnus Carlsen, he has managed to lose the 3rd round of the last 4 tournaments he has played in. I suspect it doesn't help if he decides that he needs to sacrifice a piece on move 10 in a reasonably familiar opening system. It does not even qualify as a 'coffee house sac', as 2 pawns and a check is the usual rate of exchange for such sacrifices.
Having said that he almost pulled off a win. By move 30 Carlsen had collected enough pawns to give him chances to save the game, as Naiditsch let the position slip away. Past the first time control, Carlsen was even, and a few moves later he began to develop serious winning chances. But on move 50 he made his last big mistake, and Naiditsch had enough to win the game.
While I am a little surprised with Carlsen losing towards the end of a long game it can possibly be explained in terms of what usually happens to Carlsen's opponents. Being forced to find the best move just to stay in the game is hard work and the longer you have to do it for, the tougher it becomes. Possibly the effort in playing 'catch up' chess was what did Carlsen in, and if so, the sacrifice was unsound on more than one level.

Naiditsch,Arkadij (2706) - Carlsen,Magnus (2865)
GRENKE Chess Classic 2015 (3), 04.02.2015

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Another GP?

There is a news report that another (non-FIDE) International Grand Prix series is being organised, involving the worlds top players. It is based around 3 existing events, Stavanger in Norway, the Sinquefeld Cup in the US, and the London Chess Classic in the UK, along with a new event to be held in Jakarta. The report connects Garry Kasparov with the event, in the role of 'front-man' for the organisation.
The choice of the 3 events is somewhat revealing, as current World Champion Magnus Carlsen has a strong connection to all 3. With the involvement of both Kasparov and Rex Sinquefeld, it also helps dispel the claim that the loss in last years FIDE elections would push them away from chess. If anything it suggests a future campaign for the FIDE presidency, with the purpose of these events to show the chess world that FIDE isn't the only game in town. It certainly can't hurt any potential campaign to have the worlds top 10 onside.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

There is no Australian Opening

Chess openings draw their names from a variety of sources. Some are named after people (Ruy Lopez, Petroffs Defence, Traxler Variation), some are named after cities (London System, Berlin Variation) and some are even named after things (Dragon, Hippo, Tumbleweed). One big source of opening names is of course countries (and regions). Often the opening named after a country is played by a player from that country, which allows chess writers to use the word "fittingly" when writing about the game.
It is of course easier for some players than others. The English Opening is one that is both easy to play, and has a number of potential champions. The Indian Defence's is a similar case, and I am sure the French Defence is popular in the cafe's of Paris.
For other player/country combinations it can be a little rarer. The Italian Game is not that common at the highest levels, so it was nice to see Fabiano Caruana play it against Anand last night. He even went as far as playing it as a real Giuoco Piano, with 5.d3 making it a real 'quiet game'.
Australian players seem to be completely out of luck where openings are concerned. There is no 'Australian' Opening/Variation/Gambit on the market. The closest I can think is the Kangaroo Variation (1.d4 e6 2.c4 Bb4+) but even this is more commonly known as the Keres Defence. There is also the Kangaroo Variation (devised by the late Tony Miles) which involves some knight hops on the kingside, but after that I have run dry (except for the Woolloomooloo Gambit which just occurred to me moments before I hit publish.

Caruana,Fabiano (2820) - Anand,Viswanathan (2797)
GRENKE Chess Classic 2015 (1), 02.02.2015

Monday, 2 February 2015

Grenke Chess Classic

The third Grenke Chess Classic begins in a few hours, with quite a strong line up. Carlsen, Anand, Aronian and Caruana make up half the field of this 8 player round robin, with Adams, Bacrot, Naiditsch and Baramidze taking the rest of the spots.
The clash between Anand and Carlsen will be their first since the World Championship match, while the Carlsen v Caruana game will be another data point for any future World Championship match between the two. Also of interest will be the performance of Lev Aronian, who seems to have fallen off the pace in recent tournaments.
According the Chess24 live broadcasts will begin at 1am (AEST), which I am guessing is 3pm Baden Baden time. The regulations forbid draw offers before move 40, so the games may still be in progress when my alarm goes off at 7am, although it will be move 60 by that stage (based on my reading of the time controls). So lots of Carlsen games to watch!

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Tiny, tiny

A claim concerning the smallest chess program ever written has been in the news recently. Bootchess clocks in at under 512 bytes, which is smaller than the chess program written for the ZX81 back in 1982.
If you are keen you can even read the source code here, but the program does come with a couple of caveats. It apparently does not play all the legal moves in chess, with no castling and no underpromotion. I also could not find a mention of en-pas in the source, but it may be hidden in there somewhere.
As for the level of play I'm guessing it is pretty basic, given the program size. Based on the comments in the code it seems to value moves that get pieces closer to the opponents king at the top, after it looks for the best capture. It does not seem to have a look ahead, so its play might is at the beginner level ('that move looks nice. I will do that')
There is of course the quibble that it isn't a full chess program. But if my unreliable memory is correct, there may have been some missing features in the ZX81 program as well. If it is that big a problem though, a solution may not be far away as the author is allowing anyone else to modify the program (possibly to shrink it further), as long as attribution is given.

Competitive coding

One of the reasons I enjoy chess is that I like solving problems. Annoyingly the kind of problems you have to solve while playing chess are quite difficult, and the marking scheme is quite harsh (1,0.5 or 0 and nothing for spelling your name right on the scoresheet).
Problem solving competitions are a little more nuanced, and having participated in one recently, have an interest in trying it again.
But the interest in solving problems is also what drew me into computer programming quite a long time ago (I'm pretty sure the first computer I programmed was back in 1978 as an 11 year old). Since then I have programmed because I have to, but also because I want to. As part of the 'want to' side of programming I have come across a few websites that offer programming challengers. The Project Euler site is one I have used in the past (100 or so problems there), while I recently discovered 
As with a lot of these sites you earn points and achievements for solving problems. The topics covered are quite broad, but there are some chess related puzzles there. Part of the idea is that small solutions can be combined to make bigger solutions, but I am not sure a full chess engine task is hidden away at the end.
The other cool thing is that the solutions are in Python (the language of champions), so if you want to either learn or brush up, this is a place to visit.