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.

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: 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 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:

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:

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: 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: 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!

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: 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!