Sunday, 24 May 2015

How many mistakes do you need to lose in the opening?

GM John Nunn was of the opinion that White needed to make 3 mistakes to lose a miniature (ie in under 20 moves), while Black, by virtue of being down a tempo needed only 2. I certainly proved this in spades today, losing a very quick game against Alana Chibnall at Street Chess. Trying a dubious Philador's may not have been the first mistake, but 7. ... Bxg5 was. 12. ... Kd7 was the second big one as after 13.O-O-O the only question was how quickly I could get mated. As it turns out Alana did not spot the quickest win (she played 17.Bd5+ winning the rook, although she realised she had missed a mate almost immediately) but I though I would show how the game should have ended.

Chibnall,Alana - Press,Shaun [C41]
Street Chess, 23.05.2015

Saturday, 23 May 2015

A sad(ish) day for the Traxler

There was a time when the Traxler was almost unbeatable. Sure you might struggle with it against a GM, but 3.Bc4 was rarely part of the GM repertoire (no doubt due to fear) this was never likely to happen.
Then along came computers and the Internet, which ruined the fun. Now almost everyone with an engine or a browser could found out what the best lines against the Traxler were, and like a snake in the grass, wait until the right moment to strike.
It can be a particularly disappointing experience in CC, especially if your opponent takes on f7 with the bishop (rather than the knight). After that it is usually just grind, grind, grind a pawn up before you resign on move 42 (rather than mate your opponent on move 17).  The following game is a kind of exception to that script, with my opponent at least hitting back with an attack of his own. I was a little surprised he gave me the piece on g3, but it turns out he was still better as I was a move or two slower than he was. The final moves were quite nice, with the rook sac on c7 finishing me off.

Putukhov,Viktor - Press,Shaun [C57]
AUS v Russia, 12.11.2014

Friday, 22 May 2015

Engines, who needs engines?

As someone who does a bit of chess magazine editing, engines are both a blessing and a curse.  On the one hand they do my my job easier, as I am not going to make too many huge mistakes when annotating a game, at least in the area of tactics. One the other hand, they do make games a little less interesting, especially Correspondence Chess games, where all the top players use engines in deciding their moves.
The other issue is that players seemed to be a little more adventurous, especially in there choice of openings. Opening secrets tended to stay secret for longer, and refutations were a little harder to come by. An example of this was a game I came across while reading about Akiba Rubinstein. Against the ever inventive Rudolf Spielmann, he played his own variation in the Four Knights Spanish variation. Spielmann counterd with a line of his own invention, playing the daring Kf2-g3, allowing Black all sorts of discovered checks. Although Black eventually won, a number of players have been willing to try this exact line, as recently as 2008 (according to my database). While the consensus is that Black is simply better in this line, a number of players including both Keres and Teichmann, burnt the midnight oil to show that this was so.

Spielmann,Rudolf - Rubinstein,Akiba [C48]
Baden-Baden Baden-Baden (4), 20.04.1925

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Thud or Cyvasse

Apart from chess variants that exist in the real world, there are a number of chess like games that exist in the world of literature. "The Glass Bead Game" (Hermann Hesse) is a famous example of this, imagining a society where the mastery of the game is an end to itself.
"The Player of Games" by Iain M. Banks has similar themes, although mastery of a number of different games is required by Gurgeh, the stories hero, before he embarks on a quest to defeat another civilization whose entire order is built around a game called Azad.
Some games in literature have become real world games themselves. "Thud" from the Terry Pratchett book of the same name is one example, although the game is similar to the Norse game of Tablut. And there is even a game that has come from Game of Thrones, called Cyvasse. It has most of the GoT elements in it (Dragons, Kings, Knights) although the rules I have seen seem a bit light on the gratuitous nudity the the television series has. Interestingly, the version I have come across may not be the only version out there, as further searching has thrown up a couple of others.
As with most of these "Disrupt Chess" inventions, they don't actually do that, but if you are trying to out nerd your nerd friends, mastery of one of these games may win you a tankard of mead at the next comics convention.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Caruana back on top

After his win in St Louis last year, it was felt that 2015 would be a race between Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana for the World No. 1 spot. However Caruana then fell back a little, and was still mixing it the rest of the world top 4 or 5 players.
Now with the final Grand Prix event of the current series underway, it looks as though Caruana back in front of the pack. After 4 rounds he is on 3/4, having beaten Vachier-Lagrave and Tomashevsky. Going into the first rest day he is half a point ahead of Peter Svidler and Lenier Dominguez (with Caruana drawing with both players).
Of course Caruana still has a number of tough games to go (Nakamura, Grischuk, Giri etc) but it is easier to win a tournament from in front rather than behind.
In round 4 he played an interesting game against Vachier-Lagrave. The opening was a line I played when first learning about the positional aspects of chess, especially queenside play. By exchanging of d5 White can play a minority attack, using the a and b pawns to break up the black queenside. The usual counter is for Black to strike in the centre, or try for a kingside attack, but modern GM's don't always follow these scripts any more. Instead White made noises on the kingside, and it was Black who broke up the queenside. The emergence of a passed e pawn was too much for White who lost a piece dealing with it, and resigned soon after.

Vachier-Lagrave,Maxime (FRA) - Caruana,Fabiano (ITA) [D38]
FIDE Grand Prix 2015 Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia (4.5), 17.05.2015

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Australian Boardgames Tournament

If you want a break from the agony and ecstasy that is chess, then the ACT section of the Australian Boardgames Titles is being held on the 30th & 31st May 2015. There a 5 separate games on offer, Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, Dominion, Carcassonne and Rumikub. There are rpizes for each tournament, including entry into the National Titles being held in Melbourne later this year.
The venue is The Games Capital, Garema Place, Canberra City (just across from Street Chess), and the tournaments begin at 10:30am on both days.
Further details of the event, including entry fees and playing schedules are available here.

 (There is a chess connection BTW. The organisers of this event are also the team that organise the O2C Doeberl Cup, so it should be a fantastic weekend)

A reminder of times past

Just as there was an Indian chess explosion when Anand became World Champion, there is currently a Norwegian chess explosion, due of course to Magnus Carlsen. One effect of this is that chess has become a mainstream television sport in Norway, with coverage of last years Olympiad being but one example.
This year the organisers of Norway Chess 2015 held a qualifying event, where 6 players battled it out for a spot in the Super GM event. The tournament was a mixture of classical and rapid time controls, and was broadcast on Norwegian TV. Taking a leaf from the 1970's Master Game series, the players were asked to provide their thoughts after the game, and as an added bonus, World Champion Magnus Carlsen was on hand to provide commentary.
The decisive game of the event also provided a little bit of a glimpse into the past. It was played during the rapid play section of the tournament, between Laurent Fressinet and Jan Ludvig Hammer. While the opening was a little old fashioned, it was the finish of the game, and the reasons, which were also 20th century. As the game was played without an increment, both players had to watch the board, and the clock. However they then ran quite short of time playing for the attack, and the ending turned into a bit of a crap shoot. Both players were winning (and losing) at various points, until Fressinet made the last blunder and was mated. As a result Hammer took the lead and ended up as the last player for the main event.

Fressinet,Laurent (2712) - Hammer,Jon Ludvig (2665) [C50]
Scandinavian Masters Rapid Oslo NOR (2.2), 15.05.2015