Monday, 31 October 2016

Luke Cage

I'm normally not a big fan of superhero movies and television series, simply because I don't think such over powered characters could exist in modern society without changing it into something significantly different. But I have been watching Luke Cage on Netflix, in part due to the heavy-ish chess content.
Essentially Luke Cage is indestructible and super strong, but otherwise operates as a normal person. He goes around fighting evil and writing wrongs, with the assistance of people he knows and works with.
One of the side characters in the show is Bobby Fish, clearly named after Robert James Fischer (I assume the name in the show is his nickname), who plays chess in the barber shop where some of the action takes place. What is good about both the character, and his chess scenes, is that the producers resisted the temptation to just make stuff up. The games look real enough (eg Sicilian Dragons etc) and any show that name checks the Blackmar-Diemer Gambit goes well up in my estimation. While in part the whole 'chess as a metaphor' happens, it is more the use of chess in the background (prison, street, shop) that impresses me.
Currently around half way through, and I hope to see the rest in the next few weeks, if I manage to find the time.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Hmmm, did this actually happen?

At Street Chess today, Lee Forace (who had heard it from another source) regaled the crowd with a story of how Viswanathan Anand once got mated on the second move of a game. Anand was challenged to a game by an unnamed (in his version of the story) eastern European grand master, but the grandmaster had one condition. Instead of the Queen moving like a Rook and Bishop, with would move like a Rook and Knight (Fairy Chess fans would recognise this as an Empress). Wishing to try something new Anand agreed and the GM began 1.Qc3 Anand replied with 1. ... Nf6?? and was then mated with 2.Qxc7# (Qd8xc7 now being illegal!)
We all had a good laugh, but a voice in the back of my head said that I've heard this story before. However some searching on the interent (an inexact science to be honest) hasn't turned up any other versions of the story. So (a) is this an old story dressed in new clothes or (b) if it is not, did it really happen to Anand?

2016 Vikings Weekender - Online entry

The online entry page for the 2016 Vikings Weekender is up. Details for the event can be found in this article, while you can register online at You can also downl;oad the tournament brochure which contains all the information about the event.

With 3 weeks before the event (and with entries just opening), there are already 2 IM's in the field (Junta Ikeda and Andrew Brown). A number of leading club players have also registered and  suspect the event may be quite a strong tournament this year.

As with the ANU Open, to qualify for the early entry discount you only have to register early ( the sooner the better), and you can still pay on the day.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Carlsen v Nakamura is hosting the Carlsen v Nakamura Grandmaster Blitz Battle Championship today. Unfortunately for Australian fans we are in the most difficult time zone, with the match due to start at 4am and finish around 7am. The format is a mix of 5m+2s, 3m+2s, and 1m+1s. The match isn't of a fixed length, rather being of a fixed time, with 5m+2s going for 90 minutes, 3m+2s for 60 minutes, and 1m+1s for 30 minutes. Based on the preliminaries, there is usually 20 to 30 games played, even if one player has an insurmountable lead.
However if you read this post in time, and are up early enough, it looks like it is worth watching, as there will be live commentary, a video feed, and competitions for spectators. As for the likely winner, I would normally tip Carlsen, but for this one I'm going to change my ways and suggest Nakamura is the slight favourite, mainly based on the amount of online blitz he plays.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Trolling at Blitz

Looking for a surprise opening at Blitz? The following line, first played by Paul Morphy might be worth a try. 1.e4 e5 2.c3 is guaranteed to at least gain you a few seconds on the clock, while your opponent decides if Nf6 or something else works.
In the example game, Black decides to grab the f2 pawn with the knight, which loses on the spot. Capturing with check is better, but even then Black has to tread carefully. 5. ... Bxf2+ 6. Ke2 d5 7.Qxg7 seems to be best play, but at a fast time limit, Black could easily go wrong.

Morphy,Paul - Bottin,A [C20]
Paris it Paris, 1858

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

My one track mind

Recently I've developed a bad habit of not reassessing my position, to see if I have a better move or plan. Instead I am following my chosen plan fairly robotically, and then find out afterwards that I have missed a number of quicker wins. I do try and make sure I am not missing any good moves by my opponent, but annoyingly, I don't apply this discipline to myself.
Case in poit: my last round game from the Belconnen Club Championship. I thought I had played a nice smooth game, where I kept the position under control, didn't rush my attack, and found the simplest path to victory. In reality I missed the win of a pawn on move 27, a win of a rook(!) 2 moves later, a forced mate  on move 30, and finally, a totally winning combination on move 32. Instead I followed the plan I had previously chosen, where if I calculated correctly, I would be a pawn up in a queen and pawn ending!

Press,Shaun - Pearce,Tim [B26]
Belconnen CC, 26.10.2016

Sunday, 23 October 2016


My absence over the weekend isn't to do with Civ VI (as hinted a previous post), but due to attending the 50th birthday party of Charles Zworestine (one of Australia's leading arbiters). Issues with trains late in the evening resulted in a fairly late return to where I was staying (after 1 am) and a missed deadline for yesterdays post.
Despite this I have a quick look at Civ VI and I already think its pretty good. My son mentioned that in updating the game from Civ V (and early versions) the developers used the 33/33/33 rule. Basically, they kept 33% of the game from Civ V as is. They improved 33% of the features in Civ V, and finally, the added 33% new features to the game.
This then got me thinking how this could be applied to chess improvement. Changing how we play is often difficult, but a similar idea might be helpful. If you are thinking of a change of style/opening or approach, then look after you more recent set of games, and see what you are doing right and wrong. Keep 33% of the features where it seems to be working for you, improve the next 33% and finally, replace what isn't working with something that is. By using these ratios, you don't completely throw away everything you know, but at the same time, you do commit to improving existing skills and learning some new ones.
It probably applies best to openings (keep a third, improve a third, change a third), but it may also be applicable to other parts of the game as well.

Friday, 21 October 2016

And in other news ...

Civilization VI was released today. That is all ....

Thursday, 20 October 2016

I do win the occasional CC game

Despite my somewhat poor results in correspondence chess (19/57) I have yet to throw in the towel. I normally have around 10 to 12 games going at any one time, with a mixture of tournament games and international/domestic matches.
When I started out I spent a lot of time analysing my games (like a good CC player) but in recent years it is a cursory glance, some unstructured analysis, and then an agonising choice about which is the least worst move to play. As a result I play less like a CC player, and more like a OTB player who has forgotten what he had planned to play next. Nonetheless I do occasionally manage to play the right moves, which is somewhat satisfying.
An recent example comes from the Australian Interstate teams event, where I was up against Graeme Deacon from NSW. Normally the choice of the Petroff's indicates a drawish game was likely, but the opening went down a side street, which gave chances both sides. The pawn on e5 turned out to be a thorn in Blacks position, and once it was joined by the f pawn, I had enough of an advantage to force an early resignation.

Press,Shaun - Deacon,Graeme [C43]
CCLA Interstate, 04.08.2016

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Carlsen hustles the hustlers

Taking a leaf from Maurice Ashley's late night chess adventures, Magnus Carlsen decided to have a try at playing some New York chess hustlers. The outcome wasn't really a surprise, with Carlsen handing out some Norwegian chess justice. He played a few games for the crowd (which included actress Liv Tyler) although it turns out some of his opponents had no idea who he was.
Gizmodo has a nice story about the whole activity, including video of the goings on. If you watch the clip, make sure you stay until the end, where a black squirrel almost steals the show.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

It was 60 years ago

Yesterday and today I saw a couple of articles about Bobby Fischer in the Australian media, and at first I wondered why the sudden interest. It turns out that yesterday (17th October) was the 60th anniversary of Fischer's "Game of the Century" against Donald Byrne. This seems to be enough to spark some interest, with a nice historical article about Fischer appearing in the Daily Telegraph, and IA Gary Bekker doing a radio interview on Fischer, and Australian chess in general earlier today.
While the game is very well known, it is always nice to play through it again, so here it is for those that haven't seen it before, or those who just wish to see it again.

Byrne,D - Fischer,Robert James [D97]
New York New York, 1956

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Return of the robot chess board

In the 1980's I can remember seeing a computer chess board that had a robot arm to move the pieces. It was even featured on television, playing against Shane Hill (IIRC). But it was a bit of a fad, and soon the whole "self moving" chess board went away.
However it isn't entirely dead, as a new design group is developing a slightly more aesthetic board, using magnets under the board, rather than a more obtrusive robot arm. There is even a kickstarter campaign to support it, and at the time of writing they are two thirds of the way to their goal.
The product is called "Square Off" and it is a normal chess board, except it can move the pieces itself, using a 2-axis robotic arm with a magnetic head, so it can slide the pieces around the board. It is controlled by a phone app and has extra features to enable live broadcasting of games.
Of course such boards aren't exactly cheap, although the base model is 200 euros (for early purchasers)  which is cheaper than a DGT board.
I'm not sure if I will ever shell out for one, but as someone who used to work in robotics, it seems like a smart approach to an old problem.

If you can't believe Donald Trump ...

As much as US politics interests me (I am an avid reader of US political blogs), I rarely post about it here. Unless of course there is a chess component, when I am more than happy to share.
In a recent speech Donald Trump discussed the complexity of handling multilateral trade agreements and stated "you have to be a grandmaster" to understand them (look at this link for further context). He then followed up with the claim that "We don't have any of them" (The "we" being the United States). Of course this claim is wrong (the US has 90 GM's), and the fact checkers action into action. Pointing out the errors in this statement, Politifact rated this as a 'pants on fire' claim, which I guess is fair enough.
Nonetheless I assume Trump did not make a statement he knew wasn't true, as it was more likely he just had no idea what he was talking about. The "stupid not dishonest" defence has been used by his team on a few other issues, and this may be another example. He may have confused Grandmasters with Chess World Champions (thinking of Bobby Fischer), but if so, he is ignoring the recent US win at the Chess Olympiad. And even if he was thinking of individuals, he must not be aware of GM Jeffrey Xiong, who is the current World Junior Champion.
Semi-surprisingly, one person who was critical of Trump's claim, and the whole Trump campaign in general, is Gary Kasparov, who has tweeted a number of criticisms of Trump over the last few months. Previously Kasparov seemed to share Trump's views on US foreign policy (and possibly still does), but Trump's praise of Putin (who Kasparov is strongly opposed to), is no doubt the deal breaker for Kasparov, no matter how many other opinions they share.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

A twist on odds

A new chess app for iPad/iPhone is creating a bit of a buzz on the various tech news feeds I read. "Really Bad Chess" is chess game with an interesting twist. Instead of starting as a normal game, it is kind of a hyper charged version of Chess 960, with players starting with a random collection, and arrangement, of pieces.  However in this case, the arrangement, and collection of pieces is asymmetrical. One side might have 2 queens, 3 rooks, 7 knights, 2 pawns, 1 bishop and a king, while the other might start with 6 pawns, 2 rooks, 4 knights, 3 bishops and a king. The pieces start on the back two ranks, the king is always on the correct starting square (as far as I've seen),  and the moves are the same as in real chess.
Clearly this random set up favours one side or the other, but this is in fact part of the game. When you start, you will normally get the stronger collection of pieces, but as you win, your in game ranking improves. And with each improvement, the balance of forces becomes more even. Once you get above 50 (the scale is 0 to 100) then it is the app that will end up with a stronger army.
So far I've only played a couple of games, but have found it fun and challenging. Possibly the hardest thing to overcome is that unfamiliarity of the starting position, which sometimes reminds me if positions found in interschool chess. A lurking bishop or a clump of knights might cover more squares than I initially expect, so double checking every move is required. On the other hand I suspect the AI isn't that strong (deliberately so) so it is more about observation than deep thinking, which is what I would want from an app like this.
Currently it is available for iOS, and can be found by searching for "Really Bad Chess" at the app store.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Big chess numbers

Lets start with an integer sequence: 0, 0, 0, 0, 8, 347, 10828, 435767, 9852036, 400191963, 8790619155, 362290010907, 8361091858959 
This is the number of ways a game of chess ends in checkmate after n-ply moves. (NB a ply is a move by one side only, and the sequence starts at 0 ply)
As you can see, the numbers grow quite rapidly, as they do in a number of other chess related integer sequences. While the size of the numbers is impressive, the fact that someone made the effort to work these things out is just as impressive (in a nerdy way).
A more obvious sequence begins with 1,20,400, 8902 which is the number of different games that can be played in n plys, while 1,20,400, 5362 is a companion sequence, as it is the number of positions that can be reached after n plys (the difference in the 4th term is due to transpositions)
The source for this (and other sequences) is the Online Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences. If you do a search for chess you will find around 450 chess related sequences. Included in those are at least 2 with connections to former World Champions, Lasker and Euwe, who of course were both Mathematicians as well.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Over in a flash

While these days quick wins in Correspondence Chess are rare, they aren't completely unheard of. At the non championship level, players are happy to do without engines, relying upon their analysis and judgement. Of course this sometimes goes wrong, and like in over the board chess, the results can be catastrophic.

Williams,J. M. P (1763) - Deacon,Graeme (1857)
AUS/2016/S4201 (AUS) ICCF, 05.09.2016

Monday, 10 October 2016

A late bloomer!

IM John Paul Wallace has scored a spectacular GM norm at the just completed 2016 Isle of Man tournament. He played 8 GM's in 9 rounds, and finished on 5.5/9. The strength of the field meant that he had a PR over 2600, which is required for a GM level result.
This is a remarkable achievement for Wallace, who is just short of his 40th birthday. Born in 1976, he is the youngest ever Australian Champion, winning the title in 1993/94, at the age of 17. Ten years later he won the Australian Open, before moving to London and stepping back from competitive chess. In recent years he has become more active again, and clearly he has lost none of the strength of his youth.
In the top event Eljanov and Caruana tied for first on 7.5/9, ahead of Naiditsch. For the Australian's the last round was not kind, with Max Illingworth and Emma Guo both losing, finishing on 4.5 and 2.5 respectively.

Wallace,John Paul (2355) - Bachmann,Axel (2645) [E16]
Isle of Man Masters 2 Villa Marina (7.14), 07.10.2016

Sunday, 9 October 2016

2016 Vikings Weekender 19-20 November

Time to save the date for the 2016 Tuggeranong Vikings Weekender. It will be held on  the 19th and 20th of November, at the Tuggeranong Vikings Rugby Union Club, Ricardo St, Waniassa ACT.
There are 2 sections, Open and Under 1600, with $1000 for 1st in the Open, and $500 for 1st in the Under 1600. It will be 7 round event, played with a time limit of G/60m+10s per move.
Entry fees are $65 for adults, $45 for juniors and concessions.
Further details of the event, plus online entry forms will be posted closer to the event.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

2016 Isle of Man

A couple of Australian players stayed in Europe after the Olympiad to play a few extra events before returning ho,e. GM Max Illingworth and WIM Emma Guo are currently playing in the 2016 Isle of Man event, where they have been joined by IM John-Paul Wallace (who now lives in the UK).
In fact it is Wallace who doing the best of them, currently on 5/7, with a performance rating of over 2600. This is hardly surprising as he has played 6 GM's so far, and is paired with GM Peter Leko in this evenings round.
Illingworth is also doing well, currently on 4.5/7, and performing above his rating at this point. Guo is finding it a little tougher, back on 2/7, but a couple of wins in the last two rounds could salvage that event for her.
The overall lead is currently being held by Eljanov, followed by 3 members of another Olympiad team, in this case the victorious US team, with Caruana (6.0), So (5.5) and Nakamura (5.0) holding down the next 3 places.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Why we blunder

If no one made a mistake at chess, then it would be a very boring game. So mistakes are important to chess, even if we preferred that only our opponents made them.
When we make mistakes we have plenty of reasons (or excuses) for doing so. Shortness of time, missing a strong reply, or choosing the wrong plane, are just some of the more serious reasons. Feeling sick, assuming the opponent was weak, or being distracted by the lighting, are some of the less serious ones.
Now a study has looked at possible cause for why we blunder. "Assessing Human Error Against The Benchmark of Perfection"  analysed over 20 million games between amateur players, and 1 million Grandmaster games to determine under what conditions mistakes were made. The paper identified three main indicators of blunders, but came up with a somewhat surprising conclusion.
The three major factors were

  • Shortness of time
  • Skill level of the player
  • Complexity of the position

Shortness of time seems obvious, although it appears that once you have taken more than 10 seconds to make a decision, the chances of blundering drop off. Skill level is also pretty straight forward, in that stronger players blunder less. That leaves the complexity of the position, which the authors believe is the major factor in whether a player makes a mistake or not.
As suggested in this article which summarises the paper, this conclusion probably requires more testing.  If the claim holds up, it may explain why players like Lasker and Tal seemingly 'hypnotised' their opponents into losing, as both relied on keeping the game complicated. Of course such a strategy may backfire, but or players looking to close the gap with stronger opponents, this may be a new approach to improvement.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

All moves need to be good

Unlike sports like Golf or Tennis, every move you play needs to be good, as it is hard to come back from a big blunder. I learnt this when I started playing Olympiad chess, although I still full victim to playing good moves up until a point in the game, and then going downhill.
My round 3 game from the Ryde-Eastwood tournament was an example of this. Ignoring my opponents attempt to target my e pawn, I set up a strong attack on his king with Qe3 and Nf5. However it required some exact calculation to work, I immediately began to go wrong. Bxf8 straight away was much stronger, but I decided to remove Nxf3+ as an option by exchanging on e5 first. This wasn't a real problem as after the next few moves I was still better. However I was still in 'forcing' mode when he played Rc6 (which I had foreseen), so missed the idea of b4, activating the bishop on c2. After Ng8 I wasn't worse, but thinking I had run out of strong moves, meekly swapped on f6, and then put up little resistance in the ending.

Press,Shaun - Kargosha,Bahman [C99]
Ryde Eastwood, 01.10.2016

Monday, 3 October 2016

2016 Ryde Eastwood Weekender - Day 3

IM Igor Bjelobrk and Dmitri Silver overtook IM Andrew Brown on the final day, to finished equal first in the 2016 Ryde Eastwood Weekender. Brown had started the event with 5 from 5, but took a short draw with second seed Bahman Kargosha in round 6. Playing Bjelobrk in round 7, Brown knocked back a draw offer in an attempt to secure outright first, but active defence by Bjleobrk turned the tables. Short of time Brown returned an exchange in an attempt to reach a drawn rook ending , but Bjelobrk found the winning plan, and the game was soon over.
Dmitri Silver had started the day on 4 points, but a round 6 win over Frank Low, set up a round 7 clash with Kargosha. Silver launched a big attack on Kargosha's king, and was rewarded with a quick win. Kevin Willathgamuwa capped a very good event, beating Christopher Ball in the final round to share third place with Brown.
Having started the day on 2.5/5, I managed two wins to reach 4.5/7. It wasn't a great 4.5, but I was still pleased with what was essentially a return to weekend chess after 5 or 6 years. The time control on 60m+30s probably helped, as I'm sure I would have performed worse at 60m+10s  As with a lot of weekend events these days, I played mainly junior opponents (5 in this case), but I didn't mind that, and scored 4/5 against them. My openings need some work (of course), and exercises in calculation wouldn't go astray, but all in all, it was an enjoyable event, and I am glad I played.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

2016 Ryde Eastwood Weekender - Day 2

IM Andrew Brown is on a perfect 5 from 5 after the second day of the 2016 Ryde Eastwood Weekender. Wins over Dimitri Silver and Donato Mallari leave him half a point ahead of second seed Bahman Kargoshi, and a point in front of Silver, IM Igor Bjelobrk, and Frank Lo. Brown is paired against Kargoshi in the first round of day 3, and I suspect that he will face Bjelobrk in the final round, assuming results go according to seeding.
Your humble columnist did not have such a great day of it today, only scoring 0.5/2, missing chances in both games. I took a repeition in round 4 when I had a continuation that would have been winning, while in round 5 I missed a couple of defensive ideas (through not calculating correctly), and walked into a mate.
Tomorrow sees the final two rounds of the tournament, providing a chance for the leaders to secure a good final placing, and for myself, a chance to salvage something from the event.

2016 Ryde Eastwood Weekender - Day 1

The 2016 Ryde Eastwood Weekender started today, with  field of 52 players. With some leading players still overseas after the Olympiad (or back at full time work), the top seeds were IM's Igor Bjelobrk and Andrew Brown, along with Baham Kargosha. The rest of the field was made up of strong club players, talented juniors, and those who wished to avoid seeing the Sydney Swans lose the AFL Grand Final.
There were 3 rounds on the first day, and after the games were finished, there were only 3 players on a perfect score. IM Andrew Brown had to work hard to collect his points with some stiff resistance from his opponents, while Dimitri Silver upset top seed Bjelobrk on his way to 3 from 3. Donato Mallari rounded out the trio, beat CM Christopher Ball in the evening round.
There are five more players on 2.5, including Baham Kargoshi, who beat me in an exciting third round game (I will post it at a later time). But probably the real surprise of the tournament is 9 year old Marco Le Lun Zheng, who despite being unrated, is in the 2.5 group.
Tomorrow sees the next two rounds (with the NRL Grand Final an evening priority), and Monday sees rounds 6&7.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Has it been this long?

As I am heading off to play in 2016 Ryde-Eastwood Weekend tournament, I thought I'd have a look at my earlier weekend results. To my surprise, I haven't played a full weekend tournament since 2010. I have played as a filler in a few events (eg 3 rounds of the ANU Open this year), but this is my first event as a proper competitor in over 6 years.
The previous event was the 2010 Dubbo Open, where I scored 4/6, losing to George Xie and Vladimir Smirnov, as well as being flagged by a much younger Anton Smirnov in a double rook ending during the blitz tournament. I wouldn't mind a similar score this weekend.

Guo,Jamie-Lee - Press,Shaun [C56]
Dubbo Open, 21.03.2010