Monday, 28 December 2009

Missed Opportunities

I'd like to show you two interesting positions from my games in the London Chess Classic festival. In both cases I didn't find the best continuation and ended up losing both games.

The first position is from my game against the top seed of the tournament, IM Susan Lalic. After a long positional struggle earlier in the game I ended up in the worse endgame. However, after some inaccuracies from Susan I could have made a draw at this point. Can you find the right continuation?

Maria Yurenok (1968) - Susan Lalic (2310)
11 December 2009
London Classic - Women's Invitational



The solution is quite simple:

51. Nd4! + (51. f7 also draws but unfortunately I played 51. Nc7+? Sadly for me, I only had a few seconds left on the clock to finish the game and there was no increment. Otherwise I should have found the solution.)

Unfortunate position of the black's bishop and a5 pawn means white would capture one of them. Now black must take one of white's pawns or she would be the losing side. E.g. 51... Kd7 52 f7; 51... Kf7 52. d7 and one of white's pawns queens.

51... Kxd6 52. f7 Ke7 53. Nc6 Kf8 54. Nxa5 Kxf7 55. h3 =

or

51... Kxf6 52. d7 Ke7 53. Nc6+ Kxd7 54. Ne5+ (or simple 54. Nxa5=) Kd6 55. Nxd3 =

The next example is a lot more complicated and I'm not sure if I would have found the solution if I had more time. It is, however, easier to find the solution when you know there is one, so try to find it before looking below.

Maria Yurenok (1968) - Maria Ikonomopoulou (2065)
14 December 2009
London Classic- Women's Invitational



I was looking at 23. Nxf7 for a while but it only leads to equality. Here is an example variation, which I didn't see anyway 23... Rxf7 24. Rxf7 Kxf7 25. Qg4! Qc6 26. Bd4 Ne4 27. Bxe4 dxe4 28. e6+ Qxe6 29. Qxe6 Kxe6 30. Bxg7 =

During the game I couldn't come up with anything better than moving my knight back with 23. Nf3 and I lost later in the time-trouble.

I did consider the winning move for a few seconds, but quickly dimissed it:
23. e6!

There are many variations to consider, but my favourite is with the queen sacrifice:
23... hxg5 24. exf7+ Rxf7 25. Rxf7!! gxh4 (25... Kxf7 26. Qh7 +-) 26. Rxg7+ Kf8 27. Bxg6 Nd7 28. Rf1+ Nf6 29. Bxf6 Qc4 30. Rf7+ Kg8 31. Bd4  +-

Other responses for black:
23... f5 24. Nf7 Nxe6 (24... Bxc3 25. Qxh6 Bg7 26. Qxg6 Ne4 27. Rxf5  +-) 25. Nxh6+ Bxh6 26. Qh6 d4 27. Qxg6 Ng7 28. Bxf5 Rxf5 29. Rxf5 dxc3 30. Qf7+ Kh8 31. Rf4  +-

23... f6 24. Bxg6 fxg5 (24... Qc6 25. Bf7+ Kh8 26. Rxf6! exf6 27. Bxf6 with unavoidable checkmate) 25. Rxf8 Rxf8 26. Bf7+ Rxf7 27. exf7+ Kxf7 28. Qh5+ Kg8 29. Qe8+ Kh7 30. Qf7 Ne6 31. Qf5+ Kh8 32. Qe6 (threatening 33. Qxh6) 32... Qd6 33. Qxd6 exd6 34. Bxa5  +-

I guess strong chess players would make 23. e6 move intuitively even if they haven't seen through all variations.

I'm going to historical Hastings tomorrow to play in the traditional international tournament there. Unfortunately I had to miss the first game, so will play only 8 games this time. I haven't done a lot of preparation, but I've enjoyed watching the Russian Championship Super Final for men and women in the past few days. With one round to go GM Grischuk leads in the men's and IM Galliamova in the women's. But, I think it's not fair that women's tournament has shorter time limit compared to men's. I wonder if that was for the entertainment value as there seems to be an awful lot of chess in time trouble.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas and happy holidays to everyone!

It's been a bit of a strange week in a nice way. John Saunders from the British Chess Magazine has published a link to my blog in his Chessbase article. Because of that I've had so many hits on my blog, from many countries all over the world, that it felt like a nice Christmas present to me. Thank you very much for everyone's comments and well-wishing. I hope you'll continue to follow my blog in the months to come.

Western Christmas is a bit of an odd holiday for me. For starters, Russians celebrate Christmas on the 7th January. However, that's a fairly new holiday for modern Russians because Christmas was "cancelled" during communist times and only re-instated less than 20 years ago. So, the tradition of celebrating Christmas has been lost for most Russian people and most just enjoy another day off work. Of course, Russian Christian Orthodox church continued to celebrate Christmas even during the communist times, but there were very few religious people in those days as it wasn't a good thing to be religious.

So, bearing all that in mind, I get a bit overwhelmed with how in the Western world so many people start preparing for Christmas and buying presents as early as September. I don't like the commercialism of the whole thing and the same Christmas music in every shop. I think Christmas is a great thing for kids but it doesn't have the same magic appeal to me I'm afraid. However, I do like the food! I'm going to cook a fantastic roast beef tomorrow (even though turkey is traditional in England, but I find it boring) with roast potatoes and parsnips, but no horrible brussels sprouts. And I love desserts, so I will certainly have lots of Christmas pudding with brandy butter. Are you hungry yet? I bet my cat can't wait for all the Christmas meal leftovers.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

My Cute Checkmate

I'm finally ready to show you some of my creations. Here is my third round game from the women's section of the London Chess Classic. I played with white against Olivia Smith from Wales, rated 2026. Our opening was Queen's Gambit Declined, Exchange Variation (D36). You can replay the whole game via an applet below. But here is the commentary with some insights into my thinking approach:

M.Yurenok - O.Smith

M. Yurenok - O. Smith
10 December 2009

1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 d5 3. c4 e6 4. cxd5 exd5 5. Nc3 c6 6. Bg5 Be7 7. Qc2 Nbd7 (7... g6 is a good alternative for black, with the idea of 8...Bf5)

8. e3 h6?! (8...O-O is the usual move here, while 8...h6 looks a bit early)

9. Bh4 (9. Bf4 is also a good alternative with the idea of h3 and Ne5)

9... b6  I haven't come across this plan in this opening yet as I haven't been playing this opening for long. Black normally develops the pieces like: 0-0, Re8, Nf8 aiming for ideas around playing Ne4 or c5. While white either creates pawn minority attack on the queen side or aims for e4 push

10. Bd3 Bb7 11. O-O O-O Previous two moves were straightforward development, but now I have the key decision point. A minority attack may not have the usual effect as black would probably push c5 before my pawns get very far. I decided just to develop my rooks where I thought they would be useful if black plays c5, which I was expecting very soon. It's better than having no plan at all.

12. Rfd1 (12. Rad1 would actually be more precise as the other rook could be quite useful either on e or f file)

12... Re8 13. Rac1 Ne4 14. Bg3 is not the best move, but I had a plan in mind to get the e4 square back under my control and to put my knight on e5 followed by f4 and perhaps a kingside attack. A good alternative would have been: 14. Bxe4 Bxh4 15. Bh7+ Kh8 16. Bf5 Bf6 17. e4 g6 18. Bh3 +/=

14... Nxg3 15. hxg3 Nf6 16. Ne5 Bd6 17. f4 Bxe5 18. dxe5 This is the position I was going for at move fourteen

18... Nd7 (18... Ng4!? may be an interesting alternative)

19. Qe2 I want to swap my queen and bishop around to attack the enemy king. A good alternative would have been: 19. Bh7+ Kh8 20. Bf5 with e4 as an idea. Rybka suggests that here black should give up a piece with 20...Ne5 giving a slight advantage for white, but I doubt many humans would seriously consider this move and agree with computer's calm assessment.

19... Nc5 20. Bb1 Qe7 21. Kf2?! Aiming to put my rook on h1, but this turns out to be a bit slow. A good
alternative would have been: 21. e4 dxe4 (21... Red8 22. exd5 cxd5 23. Nb5 Ba6 24. Qc2 g6 25. Nd6 with nice position for white) 22. Nxe4 Nxe4 23. Qxe4 g6 24. Qa4 and black would struggle to defend all her pawns

21... Rad8 22. Qc2 g6 23. b4 Ne4+? (23... Ne6 and 23... Nd7 were perfectly fine. My opponent saw that by giving up a pawn she'd get it back, but I saw further than that)

24. Nxe4 dxe4 25. Qxe4 c5 26. Qc4 cxb4 27. Bxg6! This is what she missed.

27... Rc8 28. Qb3 Rxc1 29. Rxc1 Rd8 Black is threatening 30...Bd5 followed by taking on g6. Here I saw a very cute checkmate several moves ahead and I wanted it! Unfortunately it stopped me from thinking straight. I quickly discounted 30. Bd3! as a "bad" move, while there was actually nothing wrong with it - I just keep a healthy pawn. I could have spent a bit more than a few seconds looking at it to realise my wrong assessment, but my wishful thinking meant I already decided that my move was the only good move. I wanted a simple decision and I was hoping that my opponent would cooperate with getting into the checkmate - not a good approach to choosing a move!! I did realise that if my opponent didn't make the move I was hoping then I would end up in a rather complicated pawn and rook endgame with chances for both sides. I was a bit concerned that in this scenario I might actually lose because of the approaching time-trouble. Nevertheless, I played:

30. Qxf7+!? Qxf7 31. Bxf7+ Kxf7 32. Rc7+ Ke6?? That's the black's move I was hoping for and now I could relax being sure that I'm winning. But if black played a better move my win would have been far from straightforward 32... Ke8! 33. Rxb7 Rd2+ 34. Kf3 Rxa2 35. f5 b3 36. Rb8+! Not an easy move to find and other moves lead to an immediate draw, e.g. (36. e6 Ra5 37. e4 Re5 38. Rb8+ Ke7 39. Rb7+ Ke8 =; 36. f6 Ra1 37. e6 Rf1+ 38. Ke4 Rxf6 39. Ke5 Rf1 40. Rb8+ Ke7 41. Rb7+ =) 36... Ke7 37. f6+ Ke6 38. Re8+ Kf7 39. Re7+ Kf8 40. e6 Ra5 41. Rh7 Rf5+ 42. Ke4 Rxf6 43. Ke5 Rg6 44. Rf7+ Ke8 45. Rxa7 b2 46. Kd6 Kf8 47. Rf7+ Kg8 48. Rf1 Rxg3 white has winning chances, but it would be hard to win

33. Rxb7 Rd2+ 34. Kf3 Rxa2 35. Ke4 b3 nothing could have saved from checkmate (35... Rf2 36. g4)

36. f5# But how cute is this! 1-0

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

London Chess Classic Part 2

The tournament finished yesterday and I didn't do as well as I hoped. I only got 3.5 out of 9 and gained 6 rating points. I haven't analysed my games yet but I felt I was playing quite well in the first 6 rounds, and then I lost two games on the row - one of them quite badly. I found the tournament quite intense and very hard work. I don't know if I just run out of energy towards the end... I managed to switch my brain back on for the final game and drew after 5 hours of play. I also learnt a new opening during the tournament - the Dutch Stonewall, although I would normally avoid doing something like that during a tournament as there's too little preparation time as it is. I decided to do that because in this case I thought it saved me preparation time compared to what I would have had to do otherwise. I applied it as white and as black in the last two games and got decent positions out of the opening, but only got half a point from those two games. My opponents used exactly the same set-up against me in both games which certainly made it easier for me to play the second game. The whole tournament was very hard fought by all women and there were no short draws at all which seemed to entertain many spectators. There were also a lot of photographers who were mainly interested in the grandmaster tournament, but managed to take a lot of pictures of the women's tournament as well. Here I am in the fatal 7th game! (Photo by Ray Morris-Hill)


Maria Yurenok

The tournament was won by WIM Arianne Caoili from Australia who got amazing 8 out of 9 points and finished 2 points clear of the rest of the field. I did lose my game to Arianne as she played a variation that no one has played against me before. I vaguely remembered what I was supposed to do and chose to sacrifice a pawn in the opening with a view of getting it back later on. That's a perfectly suitable plan if you know what you're doing, but I managed to go astray on move 9 and never got the pawn back, so in hindsight I should have just taken the pawn back straight away. We did play for the full 5 hours though! Here are the final standings of all players in the women's tournament.


Of course, the main event of the London Chess Classic festival was the grandmaster tournament which was won by GM Carlsen just ahead of GM Kramnik. On a couple of days I managed to finish my own games early enough to be able to watch grandmasters play and listen to their post-games analysis. I think the whole festival was organised very well and seemed to be very successful because of the number of visitors and the large variety of events (blitz, rapidplay, children's tournament, etc). The FIDE Open tournament was won by GM Hammer with 8 points, while England's IM Jovanka Houska got a shared second place with 7 points - a great result for women's chess! You can see results of all London Chess Classic festival events on their website.

After the tournament ended I went out with lots of chess players for a few well-deserved drinks and for a Chinese meal. It was nice getting up this morning and not worrying about having to prepare for another game! And tonight I have a Christmas meal with the team from work. Even though I'm on the sabbatical it would be nice to catch up with everyone. However, I have to get back to chess training from tomorrow as my next tournament is starting on 28th December in Hastings. So much to do but so little time!

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

London Chess Classic Part 1

Today was the start of the London Chess Classic festival and I'm glad that my anticipation and training is over and all I have to do now is play chess ... but play it well! I drew my game against Elena Winkelmann today. I was a bit better throughout the game, but couldn't find a way to progress and keep my advantage so I forced a draw. However, it's nice to get a good start in a tournament. My friend Denise Frick did even better and managed to win the game that she was losing! Denise is staying with me and it's great to have some company to discuss chess and to support each other during the tournament.

I finished my game quite early, so had plenty of time to watch games in the grandmaster tournament. By that time Kramnik was already a pawn down against Carlsen. Apparently he had problems with getting a British visa (how is that possible??) and that may have affected his state of mind. He eventually lost the game. I really hope he does well in the rest of the tournament. Short lost to McShane but I didn't stick around long enough to find out how exactly that happened. I thought it would end up being a draw as their position didn't seem to change much for a long time. The other two games were draws, but everyone kept wondering how Nakamura managed not to win against Ni Hua in what looked like a winning rook and pawn endgame. Of course, that happened because all rook endings are drawn :)

I haven't stopped following the World Cup. With fewer people it's less exciting but there are still some very interesting games. In semi-finals, Karjakin against Gelfand was very entertaining apart from the fact that I wanted Karjakin to win. At least Ponomariev managed to overcome Malakhov in today's tie-break. I saw their first two exciting rapid games and then I had to force myself to switch off the computer and go to my own tournament! So, the final will be Gelfand-Ponomariev. Come on Pono!

Tomorrow I'm playing against Arianne Caoili. Everyone knows that her boyfriend is GM Aronian and it seems he's arriving today to support her. So, will this super-GM find any holes in my openings that Arianne can use? Can't wait to find out!

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Home and Away

In the past week I've played two league games. I've won both times and I think I can get used to this :) My Surrey League opponent was significantly lower rated than me at 122 ECF, so the game wasn't particularly challenging. However, I decided to have a bit of fun with my black pieces and played an unusual variation I've never played against the Torre Attack. So that kept me entertained as I wasn't quite sure what I was doing. That line certainly surprised my opponent enough to give me a lasting advantage out of the opening. My Sandhurst team also won easily 4.5 : 0.5.

And in the London League I won against 206 ECF - nice achievement for me! I was playing QGD for white quite well and had a slight advantage throughout the game. However, I messed things up in the endgame when I started getting short of time (quick play finish has some downsides!) Nevertheless, my opponent was the last one to make a mistake as he missed a checkmate in one instead of winning rook and pawn endgame. Well, we both had about 1min left on the clock (without increment) and luck was on my side :) My Hackney team did very well and lost only 7:5 against much stronger opposition. Unfortunately our last board defaulted, otherwise maybe we could have drawn...

I've been watching the World Cup every day as I seem to be addicted to it, but I think it's probably good chess training for me anyway. There are very interesting interviews on the World Cup website as well, and only a fraction of them end up on the Chessbase website, so it's definitely worth checking out. They've just published an interesting interview with GM Tkachiev. Unfortunately, it's only in Russian at the moment, so watch out for it to be translated - probably in the next few hours, as the World Cup website seems quite efficient. Also a few days ago GM Ivanchuk got knocked out of the Word Cup and he gave a very interesting interview threatening to quit chess. Thankfully, he seems to be feeling better now as he said he'd be back. Chess can be just as dramatic as any other sport!

I was very impressed with Judit when she won her second slow play game on demand against GM Gelfand in a very nice attacking style. Unfortunately, she lost in the rapidplay but not without creating significant complications out of nothing in the last game, in what looked like a totally hopeless position for her. That woman has amazing fighting abilities and imagination! Anyway, it's very interesting to see how grandmasters realise their advantage or make mistakes and miss their opportunities. I try to guess their moves and on occasion I find better ones than the players, so they are human after all :)

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Chess Addiction

The line-up for the women's round robin alongside in the London Chess Classic festival has been confirmed as follows:

Susan Lalic (England) IM 2310
Arianne Caoili (Australia) WIM 2206
Arlette van Weersel (Netherlands) WIM 2193
Elena Winkelmann (Germany) 2119
Maria Ikonomopoulou (Greece) 2065
Sabrina Chevannes (England) WFM 2042
Olivia Smith (Wales) WFM 2026
Camille de Seroux (Switzerland) 1989
Maria Yurenok (England) WFM 1968
Denise Frick (South Africa) WIM 1920

The webpage for the tournament is here: http://www.londonchessclassic.com/festival_events/womens_invitational.htm

Well, last week I played for the second Hackney team on the second board and I won against the King's Indian in 26 moves. My opponent had the same ECF rating as me and that was my first attempt to play against the King's Indian in a slow play. I think I can get used to it :) My team won as well :) And after that it was nice to have a couple of drinks in a pub and have a chance to analyse my game with chess players much stronger than me (from the first Cavendish team). My next chess game will be in the Surrey league on Thursday.

Also last week Simon and I went to the Arctic Monkeys gig in the Wembley Arena. The gig was ok, but quite far from amazing entertainment by Green Day. Our side seats unfortunately had an obstructed view because of huge speakers hanging from the ceiling. So, I couldn't see the lead singer during most of the gig. But at least I couldn't complain about the loudness of the sound!

I did one more thing last week, I went to the National Gallery with my friend Sheila. Can you believe it, I've never been there before despite living in London! It's certainly worth seeing and it's free. I think we went around everything in 2.5 hours, although we got a bit tired towards the end and raced through the 15th and earlier centuries section. Anyway, I find paintings from later centuries much more interesting and realistic. I didn't notice any Russian paintings though, so perhaps the National Gallery should think about buying some.

Back to chess. The Chess World Cup is in progress in Khanty-Mansiysk in Russia. Incidentally, that's where the next year's Chess Olympiad will be held as well. I've been watching some games online and it's rather addictive. There are a number of chess players that I support (mainly Russian in absence of any English ones in the tournament), and I find it hard to stop watching and walk away from my computer, especially during tie breaks! It makes me feel a bit guilty, as I'm supposed to be doing something productive... Do you think watching the World Cup classifies as chess training?? I am, of course, supporting the women as well. Sadly, GM Alexandra Kosteniuk and GM Hou Yifan are out and only GM Judit Polgar is remaining. However, Hou Yifan did put up a very good fight against much stronger GM Arkadij Naiditsch. Come on Judit!

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Thank You!

I'd like to say a BIG THANK YOU to everyone who has donated to my chosen charity "Save the Children", which I'm supporting as a part of my chess challenge. With your help we've already raised £325!! And if you haven't donated yet - why not? It's for a very good cause! My donations page for "Save the Children" is here, please have a look!

I didn't do too well in the Golders Green Rapidplay, I only got 2 out of 6 but had interesting games. The problem seemed to be getting short of time and then blundering or running out of time - not a good strategy in the rapidplay! But I managed to get 1 out of 2 against the Kings Indian without knowing the theory. It's always a good fun playing something you haven't played before. Now I need to look in the book to figure out how I should have played!

My next chess game will be on Thursday for the second Hackney team. I was promised a good game as I will be on one of the top boards there. Hmmm, I wonder what sort of opening I should experiment with this time... Apart from that I'm continuing my training. This week my focus is on practicing tactics and analysing my own games. Hopefully, reading "Positional Play" by Dvoretsky and Yusupov should help me in identifying positional mistakes in my own games. I hope you agree - positional analysis of own games is the hardest thing of all because a computer can't help you with that like with the tactics!

And on Wednesday I'll have a bit of time off from chess as I'm going to see Arctic Monkeys in Wembley Arena. Now I have very high expectations after seeing Green Day a couple of weeks ago! The other great thing is I'm going to a great Indian restaurant beforehand - I love Indian food! On Friday I also went to a gig with my friend Karen. Her Canadian boyfriend bought the tickets, but had to go away on business, so I agreed to come instead of him to see a Canadian band "Tegan and Sara" which I've never heard of before. Karen too hadn't seen them live and didn't know much about them apart from that they were twins. It didn't take me too long to figure out that something was a bit odd as I got a strange feeling I was witnessing the biggest congregation of lesbians I've ever seen. I have nothing against lesbians - just felt a bit out of place, in the same way a heterosexual bloke would feel when walking into a gay bar, I guess! I wouldn't even want to imagine what lesbians feel like by living in this predominantly heterosexual world... I quickly figured that Tegan and Sara were lesbians too - hence the big following. It was interesting to observe a bit of the world I've hardly ever seen before. It makes you appreciate once again that we should not forget how diverse people are and take it into consideration even when we go about our day-to-day business.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Training

I've been so busy trying to study positional chess that I've neglected my blog! I'm currently half way through reading "Positional Play" by Dvoretsky and Yusupov. It's a brilliant book and I really recommend it. I found the chapter on prophylactic thinking especially amusing - I would have never seriously thought of some of those moves if I was playing those games myself. So, I have a lot to learn. I've also revised how to win with a king, knight and bishop against a king in under 50 moves and in time pressure - so far that position has never happened to me but it would be annoying if it happened and I couldn't win! My next chess event is the Golders Green Rapidplay on Saturday - that would be a welcome fun break from all that chess studying at home.

This week Lawrence Cooper informed me of my opponents in the London Chess Classic Women's round robin tournament starting 8th December. I wonder when the drawing of colours will happen, so that I can prepare for my opponents... I've only played a couple of them before, so this is promising to be a very interesting competition. WIM norm is expected to be about 6.5 points out of 9. Here are the entrants so far:

Susan Lalic (England) IM 2310
Arianne Caoili (Australia) WIM 2206
Arlette van Weersel (Netherlands) WIM 2193
Maria Ikonomopoulou (Greece) 2065
Maria Teresa Arnetta (Italy) 2046
Sabrina Chevannes (England) WFM 2042
Camille de Seroux (Switzerland) 1989
Maria Yurenok (England) WFM 1968
Denise Frick (South Africa) WIM 1920
+ 1 other

As you can see, Lawrence is still looking for one more participant, so if there are any FIDE-rated women reading this blog and want to participate in this tournament - get in touch with Lawrence! You can find out how to contact him from here.

The main event in the London Chess Classic Festival will be the strongest chess tournament in London for 25 years, with eight very strong GMs: Magnus Carlsen, Vldimir Kramnik, Hikaru Nakamura, Nigel Short, Michael Adams, Ni Hua, Luke McShane and David Howell. I hope I'll find some time away from my own tournament to observe live games of these fantastic chess players. There are several other chess tournaments and events scheduled during 8-15th December. You can find full details on their website here.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

The London League

Yesterday I won my game for Hackney in the London League against an opponent of the same ECF rating as me. It was especially nice to win because I was on the white side of Benoni for the first time in my life, without any preparation. Basically, I'm fed up with boredom playing the Torre Attack or other similar non-main lines with white. I've only been playing those because I haven't been spending any time on learning chess in the past 6 or 7 years. Now that I'm being serious about chess - it's time to play more ambitious main lines! So, my coach Simon Ansell told me just to play d4 and c4 and not to worry about not knowing the theory. It turned out to be a very good advice as I managed to figure out the first 12 moves of theory anyway at which point my opponent deviated from the theory by making an inferior move and made a losing mistake the move after. Maybe my memory isn't as bad as I think if I remember how to play Benoni without ever learning it. Unfortunately, my team lost but I'm sure we'll win next time.

What really puzzles me about the London League is why it is still possible to adjourn the games. Chess has speeded up and we need to keep up with the current trends to allow our players to get used to the faster time limits to be more competitive in the wider world. Probably only in England we still use adjournments while the rest of the world has got rid of that rule a long time ago. Perhaps I should start a campaign to abolish adjournments in the London and other English Leagues! While I'm on the subject of time limits for a game, I also think that 4NCL games should be speeded up to at least 2hr for 40 moves + 1 hour to the end, abolishing additional 30 minutes. And if 4NCL could obtain enough electronic chess clocks, then we should move to the incremented time limit like most international tournaments.

Bob did bring me whole 4 books about the "mystery" opening that I'm going to learn. Simon's advice is the same - just play it and learn from books afterwards... That may not be very scary with white, but with black there is more chance of getting into serious trouble! So, perhaps I'd test it out on the ICC and in the rapid plays before using in a long play game.

I'm currently making plans for my future tournaments. My next tournament would be the women's invitational alongside the London Chess Classic in December, and at the end of December I'm off to Hastings. Beyond that I'm struggling to make my choice as I have several options. I could go either to Gibraltar or to Moscow. There is the Moscow Open starting at the end of January which is directly followed by the Aeroflot Open. It's a rather good deal because I'd have two tournaments and would fly to Moscow only once. But I haven't experienced Russian winter for 16 years and might not enjoy the cold weather... The other dilemma is whether I shouldn't be playing so much chess and should be training instead. I think I'll see how my November training is coming along before deciding what to do about February.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Home at Last!

I'm so happy to be back to my lovely home in London! And very happy to be re-united with my cat who is expertly using psychological extortion to get as much tuna from me as she can possibly eat, because she knows I feel guilty for leaving her at the cattery for a month. I arrived on Saturday but still feeling jet-lagged. Despite that I have been very productive - I couldn't wait to get on with things! It was very nice to see my grandparents and other relatives in Russia. I nearly got into a very embarrassing situation as my granddad nearly beat me at chess. He's almost 80 years old and always very keen to play when I come to visit. At the end I managed to win but had to think very hard for it!

Last night I went out with my friend Laura to the Green Day gig at the Wembley Arena. It wasn't appreciated that Transport for London decided to close down all tube routes to the Wembley Arena for engineering works, but hey - I'm not as easily confused as a tourist! The gig itself was just amazing, one of the best gigs I've ever seen! Billie Joe Armstrong doesn't just sing great live, he entertains the audience all the time as well. And they did that for over 2.5 hours without a break - so that must have been the longest indoor live performance I've seen by a band. I wonder what these guys are on and if it's legal ;) The sound quality was brilliant as you'd expect in the Wembley Arena. The only slight disappointment I had was that I felt the music wasn't loud enough for me because the seats were at the back of the Arena. Although, that was probably a good thing for my ears. I should have got closer and more expensive seats, as this gig was worth two gigs of any other band. Actually, seats were pretty useless this time as I ended up standing pretty much throughout the gig. I was also a bit surprised to see a little girl on the seat next to me, she was about 10-12 years old. Billie Joe certainly gave her an alternative English lesson which demonstrated that a certain four letter word should be used no less than 3 times in every sentence! As I was writing this I got an e-mail advertising that Green Day will have a Wembley Stadium gig in June. Should I get the tickets or shouldn't I? What if I end up going to some chess tournament at the same time? Hmmm... I think if you haven't been to a good live gig - you haven't lived! It's so much better than listening to the music at home!

Back to chess. My next game is for Hackney in the London league on Wednesday. I always have a quick dinner with Simon Ansell beforehand, so it would be good to catch up on the news from the 4NCL. And our Hackney captain Bob Eames is bringing me some useful chess books from his very extensive library, since I decided to learn a new opening. Not telling you which one :) Maybe I'll manage to surprise someone with it!

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Chigorin Memorial Tournament Part 3

The tournament has finished a few days ago and I'm now relaxing at my gran's in Chelyabinsk. It was -7 °C when I arrived here and snowing - colder than I expected at this time of the year! I got 2.5 out of 9 at the end and lost about 15 rating points. Of course, it's not nice to lose so many games, but I'm concentraiting on the positive. Now I have a lot of my games to analyse, to draw conclusions and to learn from. Some learning points are already apparent. It seems my priority in learning should be around positional understanding, followed by tactics and then everything else. I haven't got any serious tournaments in November so intense training starts now!

Chigorin Memorial was won by five grandmasters who gained 7 points. Unfortunately, most of my new grandmaster friends got 6 points and very little prize money. At least I don't have to rely on earning money from chess! GM Igor Kurnosov got a serious cold and drew his last 5 games; while GM Farrukh Amonatov had the most disappointing finish since he was winning his last game and could have won a lot of money, but blundered a checkmate while playing on the increment. On that night several of us went out for a drink until about 3am and then played a bit of poker back at the hotel. I really enjoyed this tournament and it's a shame it finished... There was also a blitz tournament on the day after the main tournament finished, but I didn't stay to play. I'm seriously considering playing in this tournament again next year. I'm also thinking whether to go to the Aeroflot Open in Moscow which normally happens in February. I don't know the exact dates yet, but if I decide to go I'll need to buy a serious hat - fit for Russian winter!

I'll be back to England on 31st October - Halloween :) I hope nothing scary happens on the way! I can't wait to see my cat Koozya and all my friends back home. Since my gran doesn't have internet, I'll have to update my blog when I get home in a few days time.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Chigorin Memorial Tournament Part 2

It's nearly the end of the tournament. I've got 2 out of 7 so far with 2 games to go. GM Volkov is the sole leader in the tournament with 6 points. I'm not looking forward to Saturday because the game will start at noon as compared to 5pm on all other days. That will be a bit of a shock to the system since I'd have to get up early to prepare. Most chess players seem to be night owls. Even a lot of very strong players like grandmasters stay up until late and get up in the afternoon! Here is the promised photo of me playing in the 4th round.

Maria Yurenok
I've been out in the centre of St. Petersburg twice and really enjoyed it. It's nice to get out of the hotel into the fresh air. I've walked along Nevsky Prospekt to the Winter Palace and then around Kazansky Sobor and Isaakievsky Sobor (Cathedrals). Isaakievsky Sobor is especially beautiful inside and definitely worth the visit for anyone coming to St. Petersburg. And from outside it looks like this:
Isaakievsky Sobor
The European Team Championship has started yesterday. I wish good luck to all the men and women representing England! The women's team is represented by: IM Jovanka Houska, WIM Ingrid Lauterbach, WIM Natasha Regan, WFM Meri Grigoryan and WFM Sabrina Chevannes. I'd just missed out on the selection into the team, which is just as well since I need to get better at chess first! The British team league 4NCL is starting tomorrow and I wish best of luck to my team Betsson.com! I won't be participating in the first two rounds since I'll be still in St. Petersburg.

Finally, I'd like to bring your attention to GM Alexandra Kosteniuk's chess blog. In case you don't know - she's the current Women's World Champion and a great role model for women's chess. I check her blog every time I go on internet as it's updated frequently and provides a lot of interesting material to read. It ranges from chess analysis and puzzles, to chess news and discussion of important issues in chess. I especially recommend that you read her post from 17th October called "Abolish Women's Titles? Ridiculous!" I totally agree with her on this issue.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Chigorin Memorial Tournament Part 1

After a couple of days at home I went to St. Petersburg for my next tournament. You can see the current tournament table here. For some reason I can’t connect to the free wireless at all and had problems connecting to the chargeable cable access in my room, but it’s ok now except that it’s quite expensive! The hotel is a very nice 4 star and I have a lovely room on 14th floor with a great view :) It’s discounted to 30 pounds per night for the chess players, so I definitely recommend coming here next year if it’s held in the same hotel.

I have 0.5 out of 4 so far, which is not as bad as it sounds. The tournament is very strong for me, so for the first two rounds I had much stronger opponents. I was quite happy with my play in the first game against 2399 until I encountered a mental block and just gave up a pawn in one move. I didn’t manage my time very well either – this always seems to happen in the first round with shorter time control. In this tournament I have to play with 1:30hr + 30sec after each move for the first 40 moves, as opposed to 1:40hr +30sec in Winterthur. In the second round I played against an unrated player and lost with a horrible blunder. It’s hard to know what his real strength was as there are a lot of good unrated players in Russia. Today I played against someone with a similar rating as myself and accepted a draw in an equal position. It was a little hard to refuse as I still had to make 7 moves in 2.5 minutes and didn’t want to blunder.

There are several players at the top on 3.5 points. Of course, I’m supporting grandmaster from Chelyabinsk – Igor Kurnosov, who is one of the leaders at the moment. You might remember I said in an earlier post that we went to the same school, although at different times. Now we figured out that he lives in the neighboring block of flats to my gran. I think that’s what GM Plaskett would call a coincidence! I am visiting my gran after this tournament, so shouldn’t be surprised if I see Igor in a local supermarket. I’ve made several new friends here. Just like back home many chess players seem to be obsessed with poker. Even I played a little for the first time in many years although I could hardly remember the rules! I should have asked Simon to teach me back in Winterthur.

Unfortunately, I still haven’t got round to exploring St. Petersburg as a tourist, but fully intend to do that tomorrow. I’ll have to wrap up warm as the current weather here is like winter in England. I just hope it doesn’t rain!! One of the organisers was taking photos today, so in the next post I hope to show you some photos of myself and of St. Petersburg.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Winterthur Tournament Part 2

The tournament has come to an end and I'm flying home tomorrow. GM Ulybin won it as expected. Simon got 5.5 out of 9 and ended up just outside the prizes. I expected to get a better result than I did, but at the end only got 2.5 out of 9 and lost 11 rating points. It's not a major disaster and all part of the learning experience. I do feel that I'm playing better than 2 months ago, so just have to keep learning and practicing. This was an interesting tournament for me from the openings perspective because several times I was made to play variations that I haven't played in years. I had one particularly interesting game where I lost a piece for 2 pawns but had a big compensation. Apparently, my opponent prepared that far before the game and failed to correctly assess his position. I was close to winning that game but it ended up as a draw. I will publish it on my blog once I had a chance to annotate it.

On Thursday I woke up feeling very unwell, so much so that I wasn't sure I'd be able to play a game that day. I felt so dizzy as if I was on a boat with 10 foot waves. And no, it wasn't alcohol-related! I get this dizziness sometimes and have no idea what causes it. Thankfully, I was feeling a bit better by the afternoon and Simon did a very good job of preparing me against 5.e4 gambit in the Slav. After 14 moves by the book I could see that my opponent wasn't sure what he was doing, so being a pawn up I offered a draw which was accepted. If I was feeling better I would have definitely played for a win there.

The next day it was Simon's turn to be ill. He might have got some food poisoning, though we were not sure where from. This meant that I had to go to the chocolate shop on my own without Simon as the translator. I was a bit worried, as not many people speak English here and my German is non-existent. But it all worked out fine and I ended up with lots of chocolate that tasted totally out of this world!

On that day I played a game against a very annoying player. He often wasn't writing his moves and I was getting really fed up with telling him to do that before he pressed his clock. Once he didn't write about 5 moves on the row! The arbiter got involved at some point and one of the FIDE rules was brought to my attention. Apparently, if I make a move, my opponent doesn't have to write it down until he made his move and pressed the clock. Can anyone explain to me the reasoning behind having this rule? All chess players are taught to write moves as soon as they are made, doing it any other way gives an option to unsportsmanlike chess players to play stupid psychological games, especially in their opponent's time trouble. Of course, tricks like that shouldn't affect me, but I'm human after all. I lost the game after something like 107 moves - I bet he was exhausted from all that writing by then!
On the final note, I'd like to say big thank you to the organisers. The tournament was organised very well and all the hotel staff where we lived and played were very friendly. The organisers gave me a very nice present - big book about Switzerland with lots of photos. It will remind me of all the lovely cheese and chocolate that I've had here and many beautiful places that I'll have to see some other time. Simon and I are going to see Zurich tomorrow before the flight home and we hope it won't rain like today. I'm off to St. Petersburg on Wednesday and will update you on my chess from there.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Winterthur Tournament Part 1

Finally, I’ve found some time to update you about my progress in Switzerland. I couldn’t connect to the wireless from my laptop, but IM Simon Ansell managed to fix it for me, so I’m back to the world of internet! I’m not doing great - I have 0.5 out of 3 with two black losses. In the lost games I managed to get myself into slightly unfamiliar positions out of the opening and didn’t come up with suitable plans. Now I know better! Anyway, I’ll have plenty of opportunity to fight back with 6 rounds to go. Simon is doing very well, he has 2.5 out of 3 and playing on the top boards on the stage. Here is a photo of me taken by the tournament’s photographer while I didn’t even see him.


I have spoken to the two Russians in the tournament. FM Alexander Bakin from Chelyabinsk remembers me when I was small. He remembers my dad too, but that’s not a surprise – my dad has a striking personality which cannot be forgotten! Unfortunately, I can’t remember Alexander at all. However, I do remember GM Ulybin from Ekaterinburg who is the top seed in this tournament, because he was at GM Panchenko school and came to the Isle of Man tournament a few years ago.

Simon and I have explored Winterthur a bit but there isn’t much going on here. The trouble is that the games start at 1-1:30pm on most days (far too early compared to most tournaments), so it’s almost impossible to find time to go to Zurich or the mountains. I've found a chocolate shop on Sunday, but it was closed and I have to come back another day. I’m also spending more money than I hoped because food is rather expensive here. In a strange way, Winterthur reminds me of Chelyabinsk because it has trolleybuses. I don’t think I’ve seen trolleybuses outside of Russia before. We also found a big chess set in the town centre, so here I am playing even more chess!

My hotel looks like something from a 70s film and about 20 mins walk from the centre, but I suppose it has everything I need. The small flat-screen TV in my room looks rather odd in the surrounding 70s d├ęcor! One other slightly annoying thing is the clocks. There seem to be at least three near the hotel which I can hear ringing every quarter of an hour. And this morning some church bells were ringing for about 15 mins at 6am! I hope that won’t happen tomorrow as we’ll have two games, with the first one starting at 9am. I’ll need a good sleep!

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Sabbatical Has Started!

It was my last day of work today for 10 months! So exciting and strange at the same time, as I haven't been out of work for so long since I graduated. To celebrate, I treated myself to a small bottle of wine while doing some preparations for Switzerland and experimenting with my new GHD hair straighteners. Straightening my hair is a bit of a nightmare even with the best straighteners on the market - it took me about 50 minutes. I'm either not used to it or maybe I should stick with my curly hairstyle. Hair straightening has its advantages though - I think I look even younger than usual!

I have some other exciting news. I decided to play in the Chigorin Memorial tournament in St. Petersburg almost straight after Switzerland. It's being held in a 4 star hotel (heavily discounted for chess players) and close to the centre, so I'm really looking forward to it!! I've been to St. Petersburg before and it's so beautiful. I've always wanted to go back as I felt I haven't explored enough of it. Luckily, I should have plenty of opportunity to look at the local sights as games will start at 5pm each day. It's not too late to enter the tournament, you can find all the information here: http://www.totalchess.spb.ru/ The other great thing is I'll pay a surprise visit to my grandparents in Chelyabinsk after the tournament. I haven't seen them for 2 years! So it will be a very busy October, but I will be back in time for the Green Day gig and for cute Jenson Button winning Formula 1 on TV on the 1st November :)

My game on Monday was very scrappy and I was quite disappointed with myself. I won an exchange for nothing and then proceeded to make some bad moves and was probably losing, but managed to scrape a draw at the end. I have to focus much better than that! The good thing is that I haven't lost a game in the last 11 slow play games. The odd thing is that I drew 10 of them. I need to become more competitive, or put it bluntly - get some killer instinct! Perhaps my cat can teach me that.

I'm flying to Switzerland on Friday and I have no idea if my hotel has internet. So I'm not sure when I'll be able to update my blog next time, but I really hope to post some news while I'm there. Wish me luck in Switzerland!

Sunday, 27 September 2009

My Chess Autobiography

Thank you very much to everyone who reads my blog. I've had hits from all over the world, which is much more than I expected when I started this. I hope you'll find this blog interesting and worth reading in the months to come. Some of you may not have met me or just don't know much about me, so it's time to give you a bit of chess background about myself.

Chelyabinsk
I was born in Chelyabinsk in Russia what seems like a very long time ago. Chelyabinsk is a large town of over 1 million people and it's a capital of Chelyabinsk region and of the South Urals. Until recently, the most famous GM to emerge from there was Sveshnikov because of Sveshnikov Sicilian. Strangely enough I was in the same class with his daughter at school.

My dad taught me chess when I was very little. I remember learning checkmate with two rooks when I was about 5! When I was almost 7 I started going to a Chess School. The Chess School was somewhere children could go after traditional school finished for the day and I went there about twice a week. Chess has always been considered a sport in Russia, so like many other sports it was heavily subsidised during communist times, which meant I had plenty of opportunity to travel to tournaments and train with good coaches for free. We even had free full medical check-ups twice a year!

Since I was a promising junior, I was also invited to attend the Chess School of GM Panchenko which happened twice a year. That's what people call "the Russian Chess School"! Juniors from all over Russia had very intense training for a couple of weeks, which included lectures from IMs and GMs, tests and some practical chess. It was completely invaluable experience - I should have paid more attention at those lectures, as that school produced many GMs! You can read more about Panchenko School here if you can read Russian: http://www.e3e5.com/article.php?id=1458 You may even recognise mini-me in a couple of photos :)

I was the best girl junior not only in Chelyabinsk region, but in the wider zone of Russia that included neighbouring regions. My best achievement at the time was 2nd place in the Russian girls' championship under 18. The local government of Chelyabinsk even awarded me a scholarship for this aceheivment. I did fairly well in the Russian Women's cup too. The other memorable achievement was that my school team won the schools' championship of Russia called "The White Rook". We did very well in the Soviet Union championship too - we got a second place once. The team consisted of 4 boys and 1 girl (me).

After I finished traditional school at 17, I went to study in Plymouth in the UK. I played a bit of chess for a year and went to the local chess club, but for the following 4 years I gave up chess altogether. Being a student, I found it difficult to find money and time for travelling. Since I was one of the strongest players in the Plymouth chess club, I got bored of going there too. After I gained my BSc in Business Information Management Systems, I got a job and with it the money. More importantly, I got back the will to train myself and play chess again. I also relocated to Berkshire where chess tournaments were far more accessible compared with remote Devon. A few years later I got my FIDE rating and WFM title. Around that time I also played for the Guildford ADC team in the top division of 4NCL British Chess league and we won the league.

My dad Sergey YurenokAfter that I pretty much stopped training and played mainly in the 4NCL for a number of years. My personal life took over and kept me busy until now. But lack of training meant that I consistently performed below my rating and at the end I lost more than a 100 rating points over few years. Now I'm getting my rating back and aiming to get even more than before. My aim is to get to the WIM performance level in the coming months. The other aim is to become better than my dad!! Papa, I hope you are reading :) My dad is a strong Candidate Master and coached me a lot during my many years of playing chess. Now that he's moved to live in the U.S.A., he's got his FIDE rating too. It's 2254 and he's aiming to become a FIDE Master. Bring it on!

Friday, 25 September 2009

Chess and Fitness

As expected, Stereophonics were great on Monday. It was a bit of a strange gig because half of the songs were very old and the other half were from their new album due to come out in a couple of months. It's always a bit harder to get into it if you've never heard the songs before as you can't sing along! All it means is that I'll have to buy the new album, learn the songs and go to their gig again :) I'm sure they'll do a few gigs after release of their album. And my Green Day tickets came through the post today - that'll be the next gig I go to.

Most chess players would agree that keeping fit is important to their success. I think that the old saying "healthy body equals healthy mind" is quite appropriate for chess players. I don't really do any sports apart from going to the gym. I never used to like it as I always thought it's quite boring, but in absence of any better ideas I started going to the gym quite regularly from last year. In fact, I found that competing against myself was a good motivator. What that means is that with every session I tried to increase weights and go faster on cardio machines. So I really enjoyed the gym to start with because it was easy to make a lot of progress at the beginning. But now I don't seem to be able to up the game against myself and I'm really finding the gym a hard work. Loss of motivation made me rather lazy and I hardly went to the gym over the summer. It didn't help that the gym's air conditioning didn't seem to make much difference in the hot weather! Well, with that kind of attendance - no surprise I'm not making any progress. I've started going regularly again, and hope to step it up a notch during my sabbatical. Starting a day in the gym definitely improves my energy levels.

It's only one week before I fly to play chess in Switzerland. In these last few days my main learning focus will be tactics. However, yesterday I spent a while listening to several lectures on the ICC. Every week I try to listen to the "Game of The Week" by GM Joel Benjamin and "Attack with Larry C" by GM Larry Christiansen. I highly recommend those. I've also prepared some new opening lines for the Uxbridge Congress, but no one played those against me! Typical! Well, I have one more chess game to play before I go to Switzerland. And if one of my new lines doesn't come up again, then I'll just have to practice on the ICC. That game will be on Monday for the Hackney club in the London league. It's the first game of the season and it will be against the Richmond club. If any of my team-mates are reading - good luck to all of them!

Monday, 21 September 2009

Uxbridge Congress

It's been quiet on my blog, because I've been playing in the Uxbridge Congress Open for the last 3 days. It was very well organised and I would recommend it to anyone. I guess I also enjoyed myself because I did quite well: 3 out of 5 with 2139 FIDE rating performance and without losing any games. Plus I gained 16 rating points :) I'm especially happy that I managed to do well despite rather fast time limit for my liking: 1:30hr for the whole game plus 30 second increment after each move. It seems that playing in the rapidplay last week definitely helped me to manage my time in this tournament. Here is a photo of me taken by Sean Hewitt - the tournament organiser:


Maria Yurenok

Apart from the first round which I won, all my opponents were 150-200 rating points higher than me and I drew against them all! Unfortunately, I was unable to convert my pawn advantage in two of them. In round one (Friday evening) I was relieved to win against a little boy. Those juniors can be quite dangerous and significantly under-rated. In fact, later in the tournament he performed 200 points higher than his current rating. In round two (Saturday morning) I just couldn't win in the rook ending with a pawn up. It must have been winning, but it's so hard to find the right moves playing on the increment! In the afternoon I had a headache and was tired. I was white and managed to lead a straightforward game which suited the way I felt. It was the most boring game of the whole tournament, but then I was glad to finish it in under two hours and have a couple of hours sleep before dinner.

The next day I was losing my morning game with black. My opponent played a move I haven't come across in the Slav, so that got me thinking. Later I lost a pawn in the middlegame, but managed to convert it into a rook ending which I believe was also lost. I was two pawns down at some point, but somehow managed to draw while playing on the increment. My hands were shaking for a while after the game finished - all that nervous energy and excitement had to go somewhere, right?

In the afternoon I was a bit concerned my brain wasn't working as clearly as I wanted to, because I started catching myself on missing simple tactics. So I offered a draw in what I thought was a better position for me. However, my opponent declined. But a couple of moves later he gave up a bishop for a knight and then he lost a pawn. Now I was playing for a win! Unexpectedly, my opponent turned out to have some strange compensation and the draw was agreed a few moves later. I must have misplayed it somewhere, so need to analyse the game.

This tournament once again showed that I need to learn to convert my advantage. Hmm, this subject is almost as wide as trying to learn the meaning of the universe. Here you can see the Uxbridge Congress tournament table. By the way, Golders Green Rapidplay tournament table has also just been published and my performance was 168 ECF - about what I expected. No time to rest for me, as I'm going to the Stereophonics gig tomorrow evening after work!! Looks like Tuesday evening will be taken up by sleeping to recover from all that chess and music.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Chess, Wine and Rock & Roll

The weather was absolutely terrible today, I got soaked while out for dinner with a friend. At least dinner was very entertaining - my friend told me all the latest news about her ever-changing love life. And the cheesecake was outstanding! I was out last night as well. It's quite unusual for me to be out for two evenings in the row since I decided to get better at chess. Last night I was at the residents' meeting organised at one of my neighbour's flats. I've been living in my flat for two years and still haven't met most of the neighbours in the other 17 flats. Some of you may get surprised how I managed not to meet many of my neighbours before, but I find it difficult to knock on people's doors and initiate conversations with complete strangers. On the other hand, I'm quite happy to chat with almost anyone if they approach me first. The meeting turned out to be a good laugh, maybe because there were mainly women and most of them drinking wine. I felt a bit sorry for the two guys, especially when conversation turned to a discussion about some handsome plumber who provided services to several flats. He was supposed to fix something in one of the flats the next day - I hope he got out of there alive...

I did reasonably well in the Golders Green rapidplay on Saturday and I really enjoyed the day. I always seem to do much worse in rapidplays than in slow plays because I hardly ever play in rapidplays, but I certainly intend to change that. This time I got 3 out of 6 (+2,=2,-2) in the Open section, but I'm a little unsure about my rating performance. I think I performed at roughly 165-175 ECF rating, but I will know for sure when the tournament table is published on the Golders Green rapidplay website. My last recorded ECF rapidplay rating was 133 in 2008, so I'm pleased I did much better this time. I also enjoyed chatting to several chess players and was particularly touched by a very old man who, after watching me lose a complicated first game, told me that I played very well for a girl. I couldn't help but burst out a sound of shocked laugh - I guess it's a natural reaction to what appeared to be a sexist comment, but I quickly realised he didn't mean it in that way and meant it rather as a compliment. He won me over even more when he said that he liked Russian literature like Tolstoy and Chekhov, and especially when he asked if I was a grandmaster. Very sweet :) I almost felt bad to disappoint him that I'm quite far from achieving that.

I'll wrap up with some other good news. I got tickets to see Stereophonics and Arctic Monkeys! Stereophonics is one of my favourite bands and Kelly Jones is a great singer live. Besides all the guys in the band look quite nice. I couldn't find my favourite Stereophonics song in good quality on YouTube, but here is another good one for you live: Devil I've never seen Arctic Monkeys live, but wanted to for several years. If their gig is going to be anything like what I'd seen on TV, then it will be great. Here is one of their very good songs: Brainstorm Arctic Monkeys are from Sheffield and Stereophonics are from Wales. I've been to Sheffield many times in the past year because of work and I've even grown to like Yorkshire accent. I actually like many different English accents. Scottish and London accents are probably my favourite at the moment.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Cats and Birds

It's the start of the new chess season for team competitions and I'm looking forward to catching up with friends, some of whom I haven't seen since the spring. I'm also looking forward to one of the great 4NCL traditions followed by many teams - Indian curry dinners! 4NCL is the British team league in case you don't know. I currently play for two teams: for Hackney in the top London league and for Betsson.com in the top division of 4NCL. I've also been recently invited to play in the Surrey Border and Berkshire Leagues for Sandhurst CC, but won't be able to make their September matches. I wonder if I'm taking on too much!

It's still 2.5 weeks to go before the start of my sabbatical and currently I mostly work from home. Earlier this week my work was briefly disturbed by a noisy commotion in my garden. I came outside to find that my 8.5 year old slightly overweight cat somehow managed to catch a pigeon! There were feathers flying everywhere. Not quite sure how I managed to rescue the poor pigeon and lock my cat inside. But then I became very worried that the pigeon won't be able to fly again as he kept pacing around the garden not flying anywhere. He also ignored the bread I tried to feed him. He must have been in a state of shock, but after about 10 minutes he took off. He was lucky, as I'd already found a small dead bird in my conservatory earlier in the summer...

My cat is a girl called Koozya. Russian speakers among you would be a bit surprised about this because Koozya is a male name, but I liked it! She's definitely become a bit more active since I've put her on the diet a few months ago, even though her age is now equivalent to 50 human years! She's on the diet because I don't want her to get diabetes or other serious health conditions. Here she is - my gorgeous, loving cat with murderous tendencies:

Koozya
She's very good at chess too - she just throws pieces off the table early in the morning to wake me up, so that I feed her. She's a bit obsessed with food, so no wonder she's trying to supplement her dinners from outside. I know what's going to be next on her menu - she's been eyeing up the local grey squirrel for quite a while. I'd rather she kills off all spiders in the flat.

And finally, I'm playing in the Golders Green rapidplay tomorrow. I don't even have a rapidplay rating because I haven't been playing in these kind of tournaments for ages. I'll let you know how I get on in a couple of days.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Chocolate Chess

I don't really have an addictive personality, but perhaps my only addiction is chocolate. Even my ICC handle is "Shokoladka", which is Russian for chocolate. Maybe abundance of fine chocolate in Switzerland is the real reason I'm going to play chess there in October :)

Chess pieces should be made out of fine white and milk chocolate and covered in transparent wrappers, so that chocolate doesn't melt in your hands while playing chess. And when you capture an opponent's pawn or a piece you'd have a pleasure of eating it! :) I think most girls would agree with my idea. And the guys would probably opt for a drinking-game chess set. But alcohol is certainly not good for your brain power, unlike chocolate with its multitude of good qualities. I think the recent incident with GM Tkachiev proves the former. But I do feel sorry for him as well as for the people who witnessed it. I hope he mentally recovers from it and turns his addiction to chocolate instead!

Chess players often seem to have addictive personalities. Some get addicted to the ICC, some to smoking and most to coffee. Personally, I much prefer tea. Besides, coffee is vile in most playing venues. However, I don't find that tea keeps me sufficiently alert. My favourite energy drink during long play chess games is Lucozade. And it comes in different flavours, so I don't get too bored. The slight problem is that Lucozade isn't sold absolutely everywhere, so I always have to carry one around with me. The other problem - I don't particularly like fizzy drinks, but I haven't found anything better yet. I also drink water to keep hydrated during my games, otherwise you can get a headache and it's the last thing you'd want in a complicated position!

Before I discovered Lucozade I occasionally used ProPlus (back in the university days preparing for exams) and Red Bull. However, those things have too much caffeine and when their effect ends the next day I end up totally exhausted, unable to do anything. So now I avoid ProPlus and Red Bull like a plague! Anyway, I wonder how many chess players consider their choice of drink for chess as seriously as me... I'll bore you with my diet some other time. Yes, I eat more than just chocolate.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Small World

I'm quite excited as I've booked myself into my next international tournament which will be in Winterthur near Zurich in October. I've never been to Switzerland! It's very sweet that they've even put up my picture on their website. They do that for all titled players. But of course, I'm the lowest titled player there - see for yourself: http://www.schachwoche.org/teilnehmerMOpenEngl.php

The other amusing fact is that one of the entrants comes from my birth town of Chelyabinsk in Russia. I don't know that person, but I'm hoping to talk to him to find out any interesting news about life and chess in Chelyabinsk. I haven't been there for 2 years, since my parents emigrated to the U.S.A. Actually, I've already had a "small world" encounter this year at the last 4NCL in May. I met GM Igor Kurnosov who is also from Chelyabinsk. I caught up on the gossip about my past coaches, other chess players and even my school teachers. That's because it turned out we went to the same school! Chelyabinsk is a town of 1.25 million people with many schools, so it's not the kind of thing you'd expect. Isn't it great that in chess you can meet new people from all over the world and also make the world feel like a small place!

While I'm on the subject of Russia, I draw your attention to the very strong Men's Championship of Russia. Top 5 players will get into the Super-Final Championship of Russia. There is an English version of the website and live games: http://chess.buryatia.info/english After 5 of 11 rounds my favourite chess players are doing rather badly. No doubt, they'll bounce back either in this tournament or shortly after. Mental resilience and self-belief are essential to deal appropriately with failure and these guys certainly have that. They wouldn't be over 2600 otherwise. I wish I could interview them to find out in detail how they cope with disasters like that, as I still have more to learn to improve my psyche.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Chess and Music

Music has always played a special part in chess players' lives. For example, Taimanov and Smyslov were music professionals as well as top chess players of their time. No, I'm not planning on becoming a music professional myself. I can't even play any instruments or sing. I'm more interested in exploring the topic of what music chess players use to motivate themselves.

I think it's important to be mentally prepared for a chess game and I find fast-paced music helps me with that. Walking while listening to music is even better, as it gets all the blood circulating ready for a game. In my recent tournament I was mainly listening to Linkin Park, Shakira and Flo Rida.

I think I especially like Linkin Park, as their occasional screaming definitely wakes me up and makes me want to win! Do check out one of their recent songs with a cool video on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/linkinparktv?blend=1&ob=4 It doesn't have any mad screaming in it, but still rather good! I wouldn't mind seeing their gig, but I think I would be a bit scared standing among the crowd for fear of being accidentally squashed by overly excited rock-lovers.

I do try to go to rock and indie gigs when I can, though I struggle more and more to convince my girlfriends to come along with me. I guess my taste in music is not very girly. Right now I am really looking forward to Green Day at Wembley Arena in November. I have seats - wimp :) Well, I don't particularly like being covered in beer like all the standing crowd does. Billie Joe Armstrong is almost cute beneath all that eye make-up, so maybe that would convince my girlfriends to come along! :) Besides, Wembley Arena is one of the best venues in London. Green Day is also playing in O2 Arena, but O2 has terrible sound quality. Once was enough to convince me to never go there again.

I leave you with my favourite Green Day song. It's a few years old, but still the best! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4kpHmtA7LOk

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

A Small Step Forward

It's one month exactly before my sabbatical starts. I'm counting the days as you can see :)

It's been quiet on my blog as I played in the FIDE-rated Berks & Bucks congress over the bank holiday weekend. It was held in Twyford and I didn't think it would be too far to travel from London, but I ended up spending 4 hours on travelling each day for three days on a row. Probably not a wise idea as I also had to play two games of up to 5 hours each day! So I won't be doing that in the future and stay in B&B instead.
Here is me playing in the first round against Liam Varnam. We both ended up in a mad time scramble in a tactically complicated position where I lost in what looked like a better position for me.
Maria Yurenok
Despite all the travelling, I managed to perform a little above my rating at 2055 and gained 3 rating points. Much better than in Kavala, so I'm making some progress. My ECF performance was 177, which is also above my current rating. Apart from losing in the first round I drew all the other five games. I wasn't trying to draw, it just so happened! The good thing is that before zeitnot I was probably losing in only one game out of six (need to analyse to confirm), but I didn't convert my advantage in some other games. So basic learning points for me: don't get short of time and learn to convert the advantage! It's not as simple as it sounds though...
The interesting fact is that by move 12 in the last round I had exactly the same Slav position as Simon Ansell in his round 3 Kavala game that he published here: http://www.gingergm.com/2009/08/05/bishops-part-one/#more-1040 But unlike Simon, I was on the black side of it. I remembered Simon's advice to put black's rook on 12...Re8 and keep my queen on d8-h4 diagonal to avoid getting mated like his opponent, so I easily equalised and drew the game. It was quite handy, as I was rather exhausted by then!

As you probably know, FIDE has just moved to bi-monthly publishing of ratings. On the September rating list and for the first time ever I've dropped below 2000 at 1981 because of my earlier poor performance in Kavala. That sort of hurts my pride - another reason to work hard at chess and get better!

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Save The Children!

Hi there.
As you already know, I am trying to get into the English women's team in time for the Chess Olympiad in September 2010. Since this is a very serious and difficult challenge for me, it gives me a perfect opportunity to fundraise for a charity. My favourite charities are for children and this time I chose to support "Save The Children". This charity does amazing work in the UK and all over the world to help vulnerable children. "Save The Children" deliver life-saving supplies to children in response to major emergencies across the world. They work very hard on long-term development projects to develop healthcare, establish food supplies, education and protection for children. And they also try to improve children's future by campaigning for their rights. You can see more about this charity's work on their website: http://www.savethechildren.org.uk/

Please support me in my chess challenge by donating to "Save The Children". Your money will be put to a great use for the benefit of millions of children across the world. Here is my donations page for "Save The Children": http://www.justgiving.com/Maria-Yurenok
I hope you would be encouraged to give even more of your support to "Save The Children" when you read on my blog about many ups and downs of my challenge throughout the next 12 months. Thank you in advance for all your donations however big or small. Every penny makes the difference!

Maria Yurenok

Monday, 24 August 2009

Budgeting is almost as hard as chess!

Going on sabbatical to play chess has its downsides - lack of income. Not only I have to train myself in chess like a nutter, but I also have to give up my lifestyle for the time being. No new clothes or shoes and no expensive entertainment. I'm sure you don't feel sorry for me as I probably have too much in my wardrobe anyway. But I love shoes! Budgeting sucks. I think the trick is not to go anywhere near Oxford Street. For a year!

All of a sudden I started buying cheaper products in my supermarket and use all discount vouchers I can get my hands on. I've never worried about going for colour & cut at my fairly upmarket hairdressers, but now that feels like spending an awful lot of money. I feel like the time has finally come to find out what Primark has to offer... 10 months is a long time to survive on savings, especially if I want to travel to international tournaments about once a month!

Well, my sabbatical doesn't start until 1st October and the real test of my budgeting skill will become apparent sometime in November. I think I will end up living on credit cards by the end of my sabbatical. It doesn't sound too scary though - I'll be in debt, just like most of this country!! Alright, I've already been offered coaching, so I can make some money if I'm really strapped for cash. I would probably choose to do some expensive business consultancy instead. But the point is that I'm taking this sabbatical to fully concentrate on improving my chess. There's no time to waste on trying to support my usual lifestyle as I think I have very little time to achieve my aim. So, I guess, I just have to remember how I survived on a budget in my student days. And those days were good fun... Perhaps, money doesn't matter after all!

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Just as I expected

If I want to take chess seriously - I have to play it! So I went to my first international tournament in 3 years. Where to I thought? Why not go to the sunny Greece in the middle of summer, especially since a couple of my friends are going as well? Kavala Open turned out to be rather strong for my rusty chess and a bit hard to adjust to the time control (1:30hr for 40 moves followed by 30 min + 30sec after each move). After all, I've been mainly playing in the 4NCL in the past few years where they do give you a lot of time to think!

I started with 0 out of 4 - I think a real record for me! I had it all - blunders, time trouble, positional errors and trying too hard to win. I kept reminding myself that Shirov sometimes has very bad tournaments, so nothing to worry about, I'm just out of practice. However, after getting only half a point in another two rounds I was in tears! Time to call my parents. They are great motivators - I should have talked to them earlier. My dad reminded me how he got 0 out of 9 in Chelyabinsk town championship. I certainly hoped that wasn't going to be the case for me, so I finished with 2.5 out of 3! In those last rounds I even had time to walk around and observe some of the grandmasters' games which I found rather entertaining. One of those Russian GMs even looked kind of cute... :) Of course, it's important to switch off from chess once in a while if you don't want to become too crazy for the outside world! Though I should proabbly stick with chess to keep safe as I managed to scrape my knee while swimming in the warm Aegean Sea. At least I didn't drown, I suppose!

I still lost 30 rating points, but now I have to concentrate on improving chess rather than worrying about rating. It WILL rise if I train. During the tournament I certainly refreshed some of my openings knowledge and had some helpful advice from my friends IMs Simon Ansell and Adam Hunt. I also feel I had a valuable practical experience in Kavala and I'm sure I'll do better next time, especially since I now make sure that I analyse my games.

Just to prove that I was in Kavala, here is a token picture of me playing chess, taken by one of the tournament photographers (I'm in a blue top in the background):


And I did actually write a short tournament report for the ECF website. See it here if you like:
http://www.englishchess.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=322:18th-kavala-international-open&catid=1:latest-news&Itemid=50

Till next time!