Monday, January 31, 2011

How Crazy was Fischer?

Frank Brady, founding editor of the US Chess Life magazine, has written a new book on Bobby Fischer entitled, "Endgame: Bobby Fischer's Remarkable Rise and Fall - from America's Brightest Prodigy to the Edge of Madness". Here's Laura Miller's review of that book in Salon:

Just how crazy was Bobby Fischer? Those best qualified to judge, such as the psychiatrist friend who kept him company in his final days, insisted he was not schizophrenic or psychotic; he didn't hallucinate or lose touch with reality. However, he clearly wasn't mentally healthy. The intensity of his attention to chess was certainly compulsive, and it unbalanced his life in addition to making him one of the game's greatest players.

But Fischer's celebrity seems to have done him more damage than anything else. It fueled the grandiosity that lies at the heart of all paranoia and it turned him into an imperious diva who inflicted ridiculous demands -- that a hotel raise the level of his toilet seat by exactly 1 inch, for example, or that he be paid outlandish fees just to discuss the possibility of a high-profile match -- apparently for the sake of exercising arbitrary power.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Korchnoi Crushes Caruana

Age has clearly not wearied Viktor Korchnoi. Now 79 years of age, the old legend remains in active combat among today's many young sharks. And occasionally, he teaches them a lesson.

That's exactly what Viktor did to Italy's young super GM Fabiano Caruana in round 2 of the ongoing Gibraltar Chess Festival.

2011 Gibraltar Masters
Caruana, Fabiano
Korchnoi, Viktor

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. d3 d6 6. c3 Be7 7. O-O O-O 8. Re1 Nd7 9. Be3 Nb6 10. Bb3 Kh8 11. Nbd2 f5 12. Bxb6 cxb6 13. Bd5 g5 14. h3 g4 15. hxg4 fxg4 16. Nh2 Bg5 17. Nc4 b5 18. Ne3 Bxe3 19. Rxe3 Qf6 20. Qe1 Ne7 21. f3 Nxd5 22. exd5 Rg8 23. Qg3 gxf3 24. Qxf3 Bf5 25. Rf1 Rg5 26. Kh1 Qh6 27. Rf2 Rag8 28. Re1 Qg6 29. Re3 Bxd3 30. Kg1 e4 31. Qh3 Rxd5 32. Qd7 Rg5 33. g4 Qh6 34. Rf7 R5g7 35. Rxg7 Rxg7 36. Qd8+ Rg8 37. Qb6 Qf6 38. Qxb7 Rf8 39. Qa7 b4 40. Rh3 Qg7 41. Qe3 bxc3 42. bxc3 Qxc3 43. Rh5 d5 44. g5 Qa1+ 45. Kg2 Bf1+ 46. Kg3 Qe5+ 0-1

Going into round 6, Nigel Short leads with 5/5, closely followed Ivanchuk and Daniel Fridman on 4.5 points. Alex Wohl is on three.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Zhao Eyes Zonal Win

Games between Zhao and Smerdon are always full of excitement but today's round 7 dogfight between them in the ongoing Oceania Zonal is probably the sort of game that Smerdon would rather forget very soon. He's probably now regretting 18...b5.

2011 Oceania Zonal
Zhao, Zong Yuan
Smerdon, David C

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. e5 Nd5 4. Nc3 e6 5. Nxd5 exd5 6. d4 Nc6 7. dxc5 Bxc5 8. Qxd5 Qb6 9. Bc4 Bxf2+ 10. Ke2 O-O 11. Rf1 Bc5 12. Ng5 Nd4+ 13. Kd1 Ne6 14. Ne4 Be7 15. Bd2 Qxb2 16. Bc3 Qa3 17. Rf3 Nc7 18. Qd4

Position after 18. Qd4

18...b5? Such a terrible move. With a white's bishop and queen lined up like that, it's pretty clear what Zhao is cooking. 19. e6 f6 20. exd7+ bxc4 21. Qxc4+ Kh8 22. Bxf6 Qb4 23. Qxb4 Bxb4 24. d8=Q Rxd8+ 25. Bxd8 Nd5 26. Ba5 Bg4 27. Bxb4 Nxb4 28. c3 Nc6 29. Ke2 Kg8 30. Rb1 Ne5 31. Rb5 Re8 32. Ke3 Bxf3 33. gxf3 h6 34. a4 Kh7 35. Rc5 Re7 36. h4 Kg6 37. a5 a6 38. Rd5 Kf7 39. h5 Re6 40. f4 Ng4+ 41. Kd4 Nf6 42. Nxf6 Kxf6 43. c4 Rc6 44. c5 Ke6 45. Re5+ Kd7 46. f5 Rc8 47. Kd5 Rf8 48. c6+ Kd8 49. Kc5 Kc7 50. Re7+ Kd8 51. Rxg7 Rxf5+ 52. Kb6 Rb5+ 53. Kxa6 Rb1 54. Rb7 Rc1 55. Kb6 Rb1+ 56. Kc5 Ra1 57. Rh7 Rc1+ 58. Kd6 Rd1+ 59. Ke6 Rc1 60. Kd6 Rd1+ 61. Kc5 Rc1+ 62. Kb6 Rb1+ 63. Ka7 Rc1 64. a6 Kc8 65. Rxh6 Kc7 66. Rg6 1-0

And with that Zhao raises his tally to seven points, well clear of the nearest chaser, Bobby Cheng who's on 5.5 points.

By the way, hat tip to the Kiwi organisers of this event. It's a bit confusing that the 'official site' doesn't have results or any links to the results, but the website with actual results is very current and games are up rapidly.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

So Back to Winning

First, I must apologise to those of you who submitted comments and who are only seeing those comments now. For some strange reason every reader comment I've received over the last couple of weeks are hitting my spam folder! All sorted now I hope.

Anyway, how about GM Wesley So? After 4 straight draws in the opening rounds of Wijk I was beginning to think that his close proximity to that 2700 mark has made him more cautious, drawish. When you're very near to some milestone like that there's always a tendency to just inch forward bit by careful bit. Evidently, that isn't the case with GM So.

The 4 draws were immediately followed by four straight wins! Of those, this one was my fave.

73rd Tata Steel GMB
Spoelman, W.
So, W.

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e3 b6 5. Nge2 c5 6. a3 Ba5 7. Rb1 Na6 8. g3 Bb7 9. d5 b5 10. Bg2 bxc4 11. O-O O-O 12. e4 d6 13. Qa4 exd5 14. exd5 Bxc3 15. bxc3 Qc8 16. Nf4 Nc7 17. Bh3 Qb8 18. Qd1 Re8 19. Re1 Rxe1+ 20. Qxe1 Ncxd5 21. Nxd5 Nxd5 22. Rxb7 Qxb7 23. Bg2 Rb8 24. Qd2 Qb1 25. Bxd5 Qd3 26. Qxd3 cxd3 27. Kg2 Rb1 28. Bd2 Rb2 29. Bf4 d2 30. Bf3 d5 31. Be3 d4 32. cxd4 c4 33. d5 c3 34. d6 Rb1 0-1

My old Pinoy mate in Sydney, Leo Arocha, has an unusual way of describing these kinds of tactic-heavy and visually appealing finishes. He'd say, "That's like a movie man." Yeah, like a Lito Lapid flick.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Action on the Rock

If the standards of the Oceania Zonal are not to your taste or maybe you just can't get enough chess, there is also this year's Gibraltar. It's not nearly as packed full of powerhouses as the ongoing Wijk aan Zee, but the long-running open does feature the likes of top seed Ivanchuk, Michael Adams, Nigel Short and Australia's IM Alex Wohl.

2011 Oceania Zonal

I can't believe that it's another zonal. Seems like 2009 was only last week. Except this time, of course, I'm some 8,810kms away. For the 2011 version the zonal is in Rotorua which, according to this account, is a salubrious sort of place albeit perhaps a stinking one.

I have to say, the Oceania zonal might not be a particularly impressive contest by world standards, but the venues are always unbeatable.

As I obviously won't be at this event, you should probably visit Shaun's blog as well as check out the NZCF's official site for some coverage.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Cheatin' Bastards Month

January is apparently cheating allegations month.

The NY Times reports that the French Fed has accused three of their own players - GMs S├ębastien Feller, Arnaud Hauchard and IM Cyril Marzolo - of "organised" cheating in last year's Olympiad. I don't know what the penalties are for this sort of thing at this level, but if the accusations are proven true, then these guys ought to be stripped of their titles.

But what punishment to my fellow Pinoys?

Writing in his blog, international master Jimmy Liew of Malaysia lobs one over the fence at the neighbours and practically calls his then Pinoy opposition a bunch of cheating bastards. A bit like Fischer did to the Russians.

In the tournament were a number of Filipino players. From observations I determined that they were playing as a group. Basically they were fixing the games in favour of the one with the best chance of winning the highest prize. One of them was racing with me for the first prize.

If I drew it was a certainty that one of the Filipino would take clear first prize. I considered a safe draw to secure the IM title. But I felt victimized by the Filipino game throwing tactics. It was incredibly frustrating. I had to struggle every round (I played six Filipinos) while they could plan to draw or lose their games.

But least Jimmy could be trusted not to mince his words. Another Malaysian blogger, Raymond Siew, sparked a minor controversy when he suggested that a Malaysian also threw a game in last year's Olympiad provoking a response from IM Liew as well as this post.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Chinese Parenting Make GMs

Listen up chess parents! Dreaming of turning your kids into super grandmasters or maybe just the next Yo-Yo Ma? Law professor and mother of two Amy Chua reckons that she's got the right formula. Bring up your kids the "Chinese Way"!

Be blunt. Be cruel. Be absolutely brutal to your offspring.

Your kid lost a Sicilian Defence despite memorising some 30 moves of theory? Just call them stupid. That'll learn 'em. Not even 50% in the Aussie Juniors? Toss out all their toys and ban all the partying until the next Aussie Juniors. Then sit back and watch the trophies roll in.

Amy Chua in the Wall Street Journal:

The fact is that Chinese parents can do things that would seem unimaginable—even legally actionable—to Westerners. Chinese mothers can say to their daughters, "Hey fatty—lose some weight." By contrast, Western parents have to tiptoe around the issue, talking in terms of "health" and never ever mentioning the f-word, and their kids still end up in therapy for eating disorders and negative self-image. (I also once heard a Western father toast his adult daughter by calling her "beautiful and incredibly competent." She later told me that made her feel like garbage.)

Chinese parents can order their kids to get straight As. Western parents can only ask their kids to try their best. Chinese parents can say, "You're lazy. All your classmates are getting ahead of you." By contrast, Western parents have to struggle with their own conflicted feelings about achievement, and try to persuade themselves that they're not disappointed about how their kids turned out.

You're probably thinking that this woman's a total nutjob. But hey, she's a law professor, at Yale no less. She knows what she's talking about.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Secrets of Chess Masters

Why are chess masters so much better? According to some Japanese brain researchers, it's basically right down to wiring!

Using spot games of shogi, the researchers have now pinpointed for the first time two brain regions involved in specific aspects of such intuition. Activity in the precuneus of the parietal lobe, a brain region responsible for integrating sensory information, was observed when professional players perceived and recognized realistic board patterns. Rapid generation of next-moves, in contrast, was identified with activity in the caudate nucleus of the basal ganglia. Among professional players, the results moreover highlight a strong correlation between these regions during next-move generation, suggesting that the precuneus-caudate circuit in their brains has been honed to this specific task.

Courtesy of a PR release from Japan's Riken Brain Science Institute.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Drawmeister So

The Philippines' GM Wesley So seems to be doing a Kramnik. All his four games so far have ended peacefully. Not that those were not interesting or hard-fought games. In fact, all but one went past the thirtieth move. And even So's second round 26-mover against Sargissian was a likable contest. I was once fond of the Scotch system myself and it's always nice to see it appear at this level from time to time.

73rd Tata Steel, Wijk aan Zee
So, Wesley
Sargissian, Gabriel

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 exd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nxc6 bxc6 6. e5 Qe7 7. Qe2 Nd5 8. c4 Ba6 9. b3 g6 10. f4 d6 11. Qf2 Nf6 12. Be2 dxe5 13. O-O Qc5 14. Be3 Ne4 15. Qf3 Qxe3+ 16. Qxe3 Bc5 17. Qxc5 Nxc5 18. fxe5 O-O 19. Nd2 Rfe8 20. Nf3 Ne6 21. Bd3 Bb7 22. Be4 Nc5 23. Bc2 Ne6 24. Be4 Nc5 25. Bc2 Ne6 26. Be4 1/2-1/2

It's quite interesting to note that So began his Wijk career back in 2009 with another junior, GM Anish Giri. Both played in the C group with So winning on 9.5 points, while Giri was second a point behind. Last year, they both went up to the B group and this time Giri grabbed victory with nine points, while So managed just 7.5.

Thus, we now see Giri in the exalted A group, whereas So remains in the second rank. But, of course, I look forward to the day when this Filipino will take his place among the A-listers.

Speaking of Giri, by the way, it's even more interesting to know, to me at least, that he was at one point a fully a paid up member of the JCA!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

2010/11 ACF Medal Winners

The 2010 Australian Chess Federation medal winners have just been announced. They are as follows.

2010 Steiner Medal: IM George Xie
2011 Koshnitsky Medal: Kevin Bonham
2011 Purdy Medal: David Cordover
2010 Arlauskas Medal: FM Bobby Cheng

So, that's a big congrats to all winners, especially to FM Bobby Cheng who bags the Arlauskas for a second straight year. After moving to Australia from NZ, Cheng has rapidly established himself as one of Australia's future stars. He is currently leading the Australian Juniors.

Congrats, too, to Dr Bonham (a doctor specialising in the study of snails, if I remember), who, at last, bags the Koshnitsky. That one's well-deserved.

By the way, there is actually another ACF medal or, at least, there used to be. It's the Whyatt Medal, an award for problem composition. Maybe the ACF killed this thing due to a lack of problem composers in the country. Who knows?

DISCLAIMER: I was a selector for the Steiner.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Chess on MXit

As if there aren't enough chat applications out there to keep the geeks occupied, along comes MXit. I have just heard of these guys and apparently they're some sort mobile-based social network where users can chat, shop and even play games like, you guessed it(!), chess. And on new year's eve this year, there were a reported 50,000 games on MXit's portal.

That almost seems like an impressive number but I bet that there were many more on sites like ICC and Playchess.

At any rate, I hope MXit's iPhone app is way better than the ICC's. For some reason, the Internet Chess Club's iPhone app doesn't allow me to seek games. Instead, I just get a message saying to download Dasher and to contact some guy named FREEBIRD.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

RIP Greg Hjorth

Courtesy of Chess Chat, I've just found out about the very sad news of Greg Hjorth's sudden passing. There is a brief tribute to him in The Age's pages.

Greg Hjorth was an international master and represented Australia in 3 Olympiads, '82 to '86. He was also, of course, a mathematician and was a professor at both UCLA as well as at the University of Melbourne.

In an interview last year with Melbourne Chess Club's Grant Szuveges, Hjorth had this piece of advice for young hopefuls: "If the aim is to have fun, then I would suggest trying not to burst in to tears when you lose. If the aim is to become a professional, then if you can't get in to the top 100 by the time you are 21 have a good hard rethink. Oh. And never a borrower or a lender be. Floss *before* you brush. Invest your savings in Vanguard's Wiltshire 5000 Index Fund :)"

Rest in peace IM Greg Hjorth.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Xie Wins Aussie Open

International master George Xie wins the Australian Open on tiebreak. Details, games and even some well-taken pictures are available on the official site. That's yet another great result for Xie and should hopefully give him the much needed boost to press on for that GM title. He, of course, now has 3 grandmaster norms and just needs to raise his rating to 2500.

I also want to say a big congrats to Vladimir Smirnov. This professor of economics over at the University of Sydney's Business School has been an FM for some time. Thanks to his fine performance in North Sydney, he finally notched up his third IM norm.

Worth mentioning is that these two guys, Xie and Smirnov (as well as his son, Anton), are actually veterans of the Hyde Park chess club. I hope that we'll still continue to see them in the years to come. The boys always get excited when some big fish comes along.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Be in a Good Mood

IM Alex Wohl's Yusupov hairdo (he calls it his "Ali Baba" beard) may now be gone courtesy of a Marrakesh barber, but he still managed to dish out some wise chessic advice worthy of the prolific German writer. Well, perhaps it was unintentional, but nonetheless insightful for we chessers.

Says the big Australian IM: "One needs to be in a good mood to make good decisions".


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Smiling Hefner

This man has better moves than any super grandmaster.

Picture by Reuters

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Brain Building

As chess players, it's a good idea for us to maintain good brain health. But maintenance of what you already have is one thing, how about about making your brain better?

This Newsweek article has a couple of familiar tips (physical exercise and meditation), but the third one may come as a surprise.

Finally, some videogames might improve general mental agility. Stern has trained older adults to play a complex computer-based action game called Space Fortress, which requires players to shoot missiles and destroy the fortress while protecting their spaceship against missiles and mines. “It requires motor control, visual search, working memory, long-term memory, and decision making,” he says. It also requires that elixir of neuroplasticity: attention, specifically the ability to control and switch attention among different tasks. “People get better on tests of memory, motor speed, visual-spatial skills, and tasks requiring cognitive flexibility,” says Stern. Kramer, too, finds that the strategy-heavy videogame Rise of Nations improves executive-control functions such as task switching, working memory, visual short-term memory, and reasoning in older adults.

Well, at least now we know that World of Warcraft, so popular among many chessers, actually does some real good!

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Why Russia Fails

Kasparov on Russia's failings:

There is a lack of passion. It is about power and business, not the promotion of talent. Russia has more participants than other countries at the World Championships U8 and U18, but it did not get any gold medal. Azerbaijan won three. One can not separate development of chess from the development of the country. Our government despises intellect. The Soviet Union was not a good political system, but chess was promoted because it was regarded as an ideological weapon and a tool for the promotion of intellect. Children did not have many other opportunities. Chess was viewed as something having future. It is similar to current situation in Azerbaijan and Armenia.

From Armenia News. The original interview in German is available here.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Happy New Year from TCG

Over the last 3 weeks I've spent the Christmas and New Year celebrations back here in Sydney. I can say that it was a thoroughly fun time photographing around my old stomping grounds, catching up with the family, of course, and some chess.

Nice to see the blokes at the Town Hall finally organising a more formalised group, a real chess club, but even nicer to see that I can still play, although a lot weaker after many months out-of-OTB action. It's funny how losing games makes me want to recheck my database to patch up some forgotten lines. I hadn't had the urge to do that for a very, very long time!

Anyway, I did also pop into Peter Parr's Chess Discount Sales. As I reported last year, this joint is shutting down and if you go there now you'll bag a 30% discount on pretty much everything. I don't need software or books, at least for the next a couple of years while in Japan, so I settled for a complete set of bulletins from the 1992 Manila Olympiad. A very good buy, I thought, for just a litte under twenty bucks!

On that note, I wish you all a happy new year. I'm flying back to Tokyo tonight so my next post will likely be on Sunday.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Alarm in the Aussie Open

About an hour into today's round at the Australian Chess Open championships, the fire alarm suddenly blasted out all over the North Sydney Leagues Club for a good minute or so. Thankfully it turned out to be a false one, but it did prompt a swift response from the local fire department.

At any rate, as these pictures clearly show, chess players really are an excitable lot. Here's the chess crowd standing up on their feet while the alarm was sounding.

The bridge folks, on the other hand, who were playing in the room next door, remained calm and went on with their business.

The brief commotion aside, kudos to Max Illingworth for drawing against GM Zhao on board one. Max's 8.0-0 is apparently a novelty and doubtless cooked up pre-game. If this kid keeps playing like that, he'll be well on his way to "official" masterhood. I understand that he's taking 2011 as a gap year to pursue that goal.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Spanish Queen of Chess

Watching the "Secret Files of the Inquisition" on SBS tonight I learn that the queen in chess is actually Queen Isabella of Spain. Scroll to about 3.30 of this video.

A quick google after the episode reveals this:

"In its original form, the equivalent of the queen was male, a piece known in Spanish as alferza, from the Persian, meaning something like vizier or adjutant," said Govert Westerveld, a Dutch chess historian and former youth champion who lives in Spain.

"The figure was weak, and its movements limited. Later, around 1475, when Isabella was crowned queen of Castile, the figure became female but able to move only one square at a time, like the king. Not until 1495, when Isabella was the most powerful woman in Europe, were the present rules of chess established, in which the queen roams freely in all directions on the board," Dr Westerveld said yesterday.

More in "Check: powerful queen who changed the world also transformed chess".

Monday, January 03, 2011

Aussie Chess Open

This year's Australian Open began yesterday and while most results have gone according to seedings, Canberran Alana Chibnall, rated 1593 (ACF), has posted a pair of fine upset wins. She beat Joerg Vogel in the first round and today followed up with a victory over New South Welshman John Papantoniou who is rated 1921.

2011 Australian Open
Vogel, Joerg
Chibnall, Alana

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. d5 e6 4. Nc3 exd5 5. cxd5 d6 6. g3 g6 7. Bg2 Bg7 8. Nf3 O-O 9. O-O Re8 10. Re1 Na6 11. Nd2 Nc7 12. a4 a6 13. Nc4 Rb8 14. a5 Nb5 15. Bf4 Nh5 16. Nxb5 axb5 17. Nxd6 Nxf4 18. Nxe8 Nxg2 19. Nxg7 Nxe1 20. e4 Kxg7 21. Qxe1 Qe7 22. Qc3+ Kg8 23. Re1 Bd7 24. e5 Rc8 25. Ra1 b4 26. Qe3 Bb5 27. b3 c4 28. bxc4 Rxc4 29. Rd1 Rc3 30. Qb6 Be8 31. d6 Qxe5 32. Qxb7 Qe2 33. Rb1 Rc2 34. Qb6 Bc6 35. Qe3 b3 36. a6 Qxa6 37. Qxb3 Qe2 38. Rf1 Bf3 39. d7 Qxf1+ 0-1

Also losing his round 2 match is ex-Aussie Chess Champion FM Douglas Hamilton who dropped the point to the 1707-rated Alex Papp.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Gold Coast Chess Vid

A nice video from the just concluded Gold Coast Chess Festival. Congrats Junta Ikeda.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

New Year Blitz in Sydney

The second "name-to-be-decided" chess club blitz tournament was held this afternoon in Sydney's Spanish Club and was won by Ernesto Puzon on 8 from nine games. He lost his last round to Charles Ghenzer.

Firstly, I say "name-to-be-decided" because nobody can decide if we should call ourselves the "Hyde Park CC" or "Town Hall CC" or "Sydney CC". At any rate, it's really the least of our worries for now.

And secondly, there were no big dramas but there were some minor mishaps with the clocks - mostly to do with a faulty lever or a wrong setting (i.e. playing with increment).

But perhaps most amusing was how this supposedly social affair seemed almost like an official tournament when we spent some 5 minutes debating the rules! Except for "you may touch the rook first when castling", the entire event was ran on FIDE regulations. Quite impressive.

Congrats to Puzon, thanks to the organisers, and also cheers to the strong players who turned up - Andrew Bird, Jason Chan and Charles Ghenzer.

The next event should be in a fortnight, same joint. But I'll let you know of exact times and other details later. For now, check out some pics from today's event.

A side note: the inaugural event was actually won on a very impressive score of 9/9 by Leo Arocha. But that was only because I was in Tokyo.