Tuesday, January 10, 2017

For The Love Of It



I was fortunate enough to pick up a copy of Chess for the Love of It by ARB Thomas in a second hand bookshop. Thomas was an amateur player, but a good quality amateur. He beat Rubinstein in 1924, Guimard and Najdorf in 1937, Tartakower in 1951 as well as draws with Reti, Unzicker and Euwe!

These games are all in the book, but there is much more. Thomas writes of the chess world fondly. It is not just the moves and games that have meaning for him. For instance, he had 2 outstanding memories from his first Hastings Premier in 1937. One of those was watching his idol, Keres, playing blitz. The other was Alekhine's appearance at the event as a spectator. Alekhine had just regained his World title and brought with him a cake that he'd been given after the World Championship. Thomas fondly remembers Alekhine dividing the cake and sharing it among the competitors at the 1937 Hastings Premier.

The only issue with this beautiful little read is that the games are published in the old descriptive notation. Of course, I started playing using the old descriptive notation so it isn't too hard for me, but the younger generation might find it harder. Then again, working through these older books will do great things for your chess if you have to go through things slowly.

Anyway, in the introduction Thomas gives a nice little game from the 1971 British Counties Correspondence Championship. The 20 move game is nice, but Thomas leaves the reader to work out the 'mate in, at most, 9 moves' for themselves. So I'll leave it for you and give the answer in my next blog post.

White to play and mate in 9 at most. Answers in descriptive notation please!

Monday, January 9, 2017

Disappointment at MCC Allegro

I am excited by the imminent start of Chess.com's Pro Chess League. The announcement of the teams today showed that some of the best players in the world are participating. Carlsen, Caruana, Nakamura and So are all taking part in a tournament featuring over 100 Grand Masters. The first stage will be taking part in January and February and then the second stage will begin.

The event will be played on the chess.com server at a rate of 15-2 and this is where my disappointment starts. The Pro League asked for submissions from teams representing cities from all over the world. So when I looked through the team lists that were announced today I was expecting to see a Melbourne team, built around the MCC allegro. I would have thought a team that was based around IM Izzat, IM Morris, FM Baron, IM Dale and FM Puccini would have been a great team, and the young players would have earned some valuable experience.

The format of the event is a match round robin which means that you enter a team of 4 each week, and all your team play against every member of the other team. So if Melbourne was against a team with a strong GM, then every one of our team would get to play them. There would have been a good chance that a Melbourne team would have been in the Orange section of the draw that included Carlsen's Norwegian team. It is even possible to draft in some outsiders, as for instance Mamedyarov has been brought in to the San Jose team, while one of the London teams has Aussie GM David Smerdon and IM Justin Tan in their ranks.

Anyway I'll be bringing this up with the Allegro players. Allegro is played every Saturday at the MCC, and is a great opportunity for both newish players and those with experience to play a full tournament in a day. The 7-round 15 minute format gives enough time for player to have decent games, but the games don't drag on. I was bought up on a steady diet of 30 minute chess when I was younger, so I can heartily recommend faster time controls for both fun and improvement!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Chess in 2017

Well I sure hope 2017 is a better year for me than 2016. Last year really was a horrible one for me in chess terms. I was playing good about a year ago, and then around Easter time I caught an infection and it went post viral knocking me out for the best part of 3 months. I had to withdraw from the MCC City of Melbourne Open because I was getting headaches during the games, and I didn't enter any other Monday night events at the MCC. I had a lucky run in the Best in the West finishing equal first though my play really didn't warrant it.Out of the 4 games I played, I was dead lost in 1 and worse in 2 others. It was about this time that I developed a frozen shoulder that plagued me for the rest of the year and which is still proving a nuisance. I played the MCC Christmas Swiss, but I could really only focus for half a game, and faded badly toward the third hour of play. I even tried my hand at Correspondence, but felt so sick I missed deadlines and lost games by forfeit. All in all, 2016 will not go down as one of my favourite years!

So what about 2017? I am sitting here feeling positive, though I could say the same about this time last year when I was doing ok in the Australian Championship. This year I just want to get back on track with some regular play. It would be nice to feel well enough to play a full game of chess! I have decided that what I really want is to get the maximum enjoyment out of the game by playing and studying as I want. As I've reached the senior level of over 50's, I have little else to prove or achieve, other than to keep playing and enjoying the game.

The Melbourne Chess Club is my first hope, and I want to continue playing Monday night tournaments. I also hope to play a few weekend events this year, but I find these increasingly tiring so it will depend on my health. I don't like studying openings, so after 50 years of bluffing through I hardly seeing the point of starting with any great depth now.I'll keep looking at endgames and whole games, and finding interesting manouvres to broaden my chess knowledge, and help with my coaching.

To start the year here's a little miniature from 1925. One of the openings that has gone completely over my head and I have no feeling for is the Grunfeld, so I try to avoid it. I therefore like this game as the inventor of the Grunfeld gets smashed up quickly!

Grunfeld-Torre Baden Baden 1925

1.d4 f5 2.Nf3 [I guess the Staunton Gambit wasn't exactly Grunfeld's style] 2..e6 3.g3 [All I really know about the Dutch is that white's king side fianchetto is the best way to deal with black's king side attack] 3..Nf6 4.Bg2 d5 5.0-0 Bd6 6.c4 c6


[Black is playing a Stonewall system. To be honest, I've seen this sort of system used a lot as white, so I'm surprised more players don't try it with black as well] 7.Qc2 0-0 8.b3 Ne4 9.Bb2 Nd7 10.Ne5 Qf6


[Black is massing his forces on the queen side, while white gets ready to expand on the queen side. The knight on e5 needs to do something so exchanging on d7, or dropping it back to d3 both make sense. Instead, white decides to up the stakes] 11.f3 Ne5


[Black has both knights hanging, but which to take, if either? Fritz likes the move 12.c5 hitting third piece!] 12.dxe5


[Who could resist this move which maintains an attack on black's remaining knight while forking a queen and bishop? Certainly Grunfeld couldn't. But he was in for a nasty shock] 12..Bc5+ 13.Kh1


[Now Carlos Torre finishes the game with an excellent stroke] 13..Nxg3+ [This opens the h-file with deadly effect. Grunfeld resigned. After 14.hxg3 Qh6+ 15.Bh3 Qxh3 is mate!


Hopefully I'll catch up with some chess friends a bit more this year in Melbourne and see some games that rival this effort!


Friday, January 6, 2017

Wellbeing

People go on holidays for all sorts of reasons, and they choose the type of holiday to suit their purposes. Caroline and I both needed to get away from city life, and find some peacefulness. We chose a road trip as it means that you're never tied to one place, and we went to the south island of New Zealand as it has few people and plenty of nature. This wasn't a trip to laze and relax, but it was to explore and refresh the soul. This was fully achieved, and at times, the sheer beauty of the places I saw nearly brought me to tears.

I've already written about much of the trip, but the feelings it evoked are important. We flew into Christchurch, and drove straight out to get away from the largest city on the south island. Our first drive was across country from east to west coasts, and we weren't sure what to expect. What we were treated to was a beautiful drive through hills and mountains, skirting beautiful rivers and lakes. It was a pleasant surprise just how beautiful this first day turned out.

Day 1 was a pleasant surprise

Day 2 was a drive down the west coast starting in Greymouth, and ending in Haast and travelling through glacier region. We caught a distant glimpse of the Fox Glacier but I was probably most impressed by the coastal beaches. Hokitika and Haast have interesting seafronts to explore, and the coastal road has its share of scenic stops. There were plenty of fast flowing rivers running down through this region, but there were also the start of our invasion of sandfly territory. These insects are merciless, and it doesn't matter how much repellent you use, they will get you. However, it is a small price to pay for the experience for this amazing region.

We stopped at the side of the road regularly, and were almost always treated to something beautiful, like this fern, the national symbol of New Zealand
We left Haast and headed inland with Arrowtown our destination. Arrowtown is a small town about 15km from Queenstown, the adventure playground of the south island. In fact, the road to Arrowtown crosses the Shotover River, where the famous jet boats traverse the beautiful river while scaring the shit out people! Following the Haast River was a truly beautiful road,one of the most beautiful I've ever driven along. There are plenty of scenic stops along the way with Haast Gates being perhaps the most spectacular, a roaring river gorge. Our stop in Arrowtown saw us stay a few days while New Year struck. We spent most of New Year's Eve in Queenstown, but as the crowds grew in the evening, we decided to leave and head back to Arrowtown and quiet. The NYE show in Queenstown just wasn't the sort of thing we were looking for on this trip.

White water at Haast Gates
The highlight of our stay in Arrowtown was when we decided to drive to Glenorchy. We were having breakfast in Queenstown, and wondering what to do, neither of us really wanting to stay any longer in the picturesque little central Otago town. It had just become too busy, and in our state of mind, that was not what we wanted. As soon as we started driving we knew we'd done the right thing, feeling better on the open road, and suddenly treated to the most beautiful lakeside drive you could wish for. Glenorchy is about 45km from Queenstown, and very part of that trip was stunning.

Big sky, bold colours over Lake Wakatipu on the road to Glenorchy

From Arrowtown we traveled a short hop to Te Anau and took a trip to the fjord Doubtful Sound. This is really remote, with no access from road. We took a boat across Lake Manopouri, a beautiful start to the trip, and then a bus ride across to the Sound. The conditions were haunting, with low clouds masking the mountains, and at one point, the Sound cruise stops, turns off its engines, and just drifts allowing those on board to listen to complete silence, save for some birdsong. It was raining, so many people decided to stay inside the boat, but Caroline and I were outside and the lack of sound was also something beautiful.

Hauntingly beautiful, Doubtful Sound
We drove from Te Anau to Lake Tekapo, an area I'd never heard of. Lake Tekapo is a designated area of darkness making it one of the best places in the world to see stars. The lake itself is a rich turquoise colour in sunlight, and is shadowed by Mt John. an hill with an observatory on top, and amazing views in all directions. Mt Cook, the tallest mountain in New Zealand is only an hours drive from Tekapo and the range dominate the western skyline. At night we drove around the lake, found a deserted spot and just looked up. Sorry, no photos, as me camera wasn't good enough, but at one point I thought I was looking at a bright sky rather than a night sky. And most amazingly, this is not apparently the best time of the year to see the stars! This whole area whispered of serenity.


Lupins and mountains from Mt John
Reflections on Lake Tekapo
Our last day was a short drive to Christchurch so we loitered around Lake Tekapo savouring its beauty in the morning. We took the Inland Scenic Route to Christchurch passing through the dramatic Rakaia Gorge. It was a final farewell to this beautiful roadtrip which finished as it began, with a pleasant surprise.Once again we expected little from this final drive, but in the end we just had to admit that the south island of New Zealand just doesn't stop giving sights of vast beauty.

The Church of the Good Shepherd on the edge of Lake Tekapo
Sitting in Christchurch Airport, Caroline and I were physically exhausted and almost drunk on the sights and experiences of our roadtrip. More than once we Caroline caught me staring into space with a smile on my face, simply reliving a moment from our time in New Zealand. Mountains, passes, beaches, rivers, gorges, flowers, waterfalls, lakes, fjords, animals....and a great deal of peace.

I woke this morning in Melbourne, feeling ready to tackle city life again. And to plan the next trip....

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Doubtful Sound

The centrepiece of our trip to New Zealand was a trip to the fjord, Doubtful Sound. We have traveled to Fjordland before, and cruised around the picturesque Milford Sound. Doubtful Sound is much bigger than Milford, and we very remote. To reach Doubtful Sound you need to catch a boat across Lake Manapouri, and then drive along a track, over the Wilmot Pass and into the Sound. We were hoping for a great display, and weren't disappointed.

Misty and mystical Doubtful Sound
The west coast of New Zealand receives about 8 metres of rain per year with rain falling about 200 days of the year. So it was not a big surprise that it should be a wet day. This only added to the atmosphere, with the clouds often highlighting the mountains, and hiding them. Even the boat trip across Lake Manapouri was pretty spectacular.

Clouds across the mountains, Lake Manapouri
But the highlight was definitely being in the fjord, a most peaceful and hauntingly beautiful place. Here are some images of the day.

Mossy rocks and waterfalls

Raining in the Sound

Some of the many islands in Doubtful Sound
Clouds clinging to the Mountains

Waterfalls that looked as if they were coming straight from the clouds

The overnight cruise passed us in the Sound

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Even More Beauty

The first time Caroline and I came to New Zealand, we were enchanted by the small town of Queenstown, situated by a lake and surrounded by breathtaking mountains. We walked the Milford Track that time and was wowed by the beauty of the fjord Milford Sound. We thought so much of Queenstown that we encouraged our good friends Nick and Zoe to come there with us, and we traveled back to Queenstown, spending quite a bit of time around the town itself and the northern towns of Arrowtown and Wanaka. Again, we were spellbound by the beauty that we saw.

Today we had breakfast in Queenstown and then headed in the other direction, south along the lake towards Glenorchy. We had read and heard that this was something special, but we weren't prepared for the sights we saw. Glenorchy is about 45 km from Queenstown, and the drive took in some of the most beautiful scenery I've ever witnessed.

Amazing light on lake Wakatipu
Lake side drive
Foxgloves and shadows on the water
Ominous mountains overlooking Glenorchy
The long view back from whence we came
We were fortunate to have great conditions adding colour and shade to the water, mountains and clouds, but it's hard to believe that natural beauty such as this isn't amazing in any conditions, or with any processing.

A silvered view across Pig Island towards Glenorchy

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Happy New Year

While many people talk of how bad 2016 was in political and celebrity death terms, for me it was a year of illness and pain. Taking into account that I'd hardly been sick the previous 20 years, it hit me harder than it should. So I'm hoping that 2017 is better, and what better way to start it than to be in one of my favourite places, with Caroline, my absolute soul mate.

The SS Earnshaw in front of Walter's Peak, Queenstown, New Zealand

New year is a time for resolutions, and all I intend is to be true to myself. Most of my friends will be celebrating their New Year after me, as New Zealand is one of the first. I wish you all a 2017 that is kind to you.