Sunday, 21 October 2012

Life Since... February

Hello everyone!

Well, it maybe the time I close my blog as I'm sure you've noticed I haven't updated it since February! I've been doing some exciting things and played a bit of chess as well, so you might be interested to know what I've been up to before I say the final good bye.

I spent a few months teaching chess to kids in a primary school, as a part of the Chess in Schools and Communities charity scheme. It was a new experience for me and I'm glad that most of those 70 or so kids now know how to play chess and more importantly - enjoy it! A few of them even went to a local competition between schools and did very well. I also received some wonderful chess poems from one of the groups, so full of imagination and humour! I found it so hard to judge between them to award the best.

A few weeks back I also did reporting for the Russian website from the recent Grand Prix held in London. I took lots of photos and did interviews with many of the participants, mainly in Russian. I found it particularly amusing that I managed to get an exclusive interview from the winner, Veselin Topalov, at the end of the tournament. He shared the first place with Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Boris Gelfand, but had a better tie-break. I don't think Veselin did an interview for the official site at the end of the tournament, but I managed to get one!

What can I say, I had such a great time there - I met some new interesting people; that includes the organisers, the super-GMs who were playing and many others who were there either to support the players, provide media coverage or just visit. Of course, I also saw many people who I already know from chess and it was nice to catch up with old friends. I can report that most of of the super-GMs present were quite easy to talk to, seemed like nice people and have a good sense of humour :) But, one thing I realised was that despite playing chess for so many years, I still had no idea what super-GM's life is like. It's incredibly intense and believe me, despite an appearance of so many draws, they ALL want to win each and every game! I honestly promise you that! I absolutely didn't notice the attitude of, "I'll just take it easy today". I was also glad that Boris Gelfand got a share of the first place, as he got some really unfair criticism during his match against Vishy Anand. He actually has a very exciting playing style and it shows when he gets his kind of positions.

So, back to me then! I played in an Open tournament in Crete in July. The place was wonderful - sea, hot sun and great food - but I didn't play very well. I did, however, get selected to the England women's team to play in the chess Olympiad that was held in Istanbul in September. I was even put on the second board, which was a bit tough, as you can imagine! Well, it was a great experience anyway. Here, on the photo, I'm actually on the top board, as our board one, Anya Corke, was resting on that day. We won against Quatar 4:0 anyway. Apart from me on that day we had Sarah Hegarty, Sabrina Chevannes and Kanwal Bhatia playing, as you can see. At the end of the tournament we ended up at around our initial seeding, while Sarah performed particularly well. I must also say big thanks to our coach GM Stephen Gordon, who was wonderful.

I didn't get to see much of Istanbul because we lived near the airport, about an hour from the city centre. But I did go to a couple of historical sites on my free days and was especially impressed by the bazaar. It was so colourful! And the Turkish delight was delicious! All that remains to say about the Olympiad is congratulations to the winners - the Armenian men's team and the Russian women's team! And I hope that English and Russian men can do a bit better next time!

I'll leave you with some chess tactics from my game in the women's Wales - England match, used as a preparation for the Olympiad. I was trying to figure out how to win for a while, probing here and there. And finally I was rewarded when my opponent fell into a rather simple trap. Her last move was

L. Roberts (1933) - M. Yurenok (2084)
Wales - England Match, 19 May 2012

50...Rxb2 suddenly, the rook on c2 is overloaded. It's no good taking my queen 51.Qxd4 as it's checkmate with Rb1# So, she played:
51.Rxb2 Qxc3 it's winning for me now, of course, but she made it even worse for herself with:
52.Na2? Rxb2 53.Qxb2 Qxd3 and I won a few moves later.
Incidentally, England won that match 4:0, although we were a little lucky in some cases.

And that's all from me! My life goes on, although perhaps not with as much chess playing as before. I will continue to play at the 4NCL and, if things work out in my favour, will play at the London Chess Classic Open in December.

Till we meet again! До новых встреч!

This blog is now closed.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Aeroflot Open Interviews

Hi all,

Aeroflot Open is currently in progress in Moscow and I've seen some amusing interviews in Russian published on the Russian Chess Federation website. Here is my translation of selected material. You can see the photos in the original version.

First of all, an interview with GM Anton Korobov (rating 2660) who is currently leading Aeroflot Open Group A with 5 out of 6. The interviewer mentions that Anton doesn't give any serious answers but rather jokes all the time and gives rather original answers.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I was born in the Soviet Union in 1985. I started playing chess spontaneously. My friend in the kindergarten said that his dad knows many "mates". I asked my parents what he was on about and they said that his dad is probably a strong chess player. I was very interested in this and it started from there. Now I work on chess myself and analyse some slowly progressing challenges with others.

Have you been invited into the national team [Ukraine]?

No, it looks like I'll never play in it.

Why are you so pessimistic?

I'm too old. They only take young, early developing and politically proficient people - quoting Ostap Bender [famous fictional figure in the Soviet satirical literature].

What are your most serious chess achievements?

I don't have any serious achievements, only unimportant ones. The biggest one is 3467 rating on the ICC. Second place in the Aeroflot Open 2010 was a fluke.

How about your win against GM Maxim Rodshtein today?

It was a usual situation. I didn't know the opening, couldn't figure out the middlegame and was waiting for an unpleasant endgame, but my opponent lost on time.

Do you have any chess idols?

They change from time to time. I had Fritz 8, then Rybka 1.2, Rybka 2.2, Rybka 3. Deep Rybka 4 and then Houdini 1.5. Now it's Houdini 2.0. Perhaps, I'll have a new idol this year.

The next interview is with GM Francisco Vallejo.

Francisco, how is it going?

The tournament is very strong. I like it very much because playing in such a tournament helps to improve my game. But I'm playing terribly. It started in the game with GM Gupta. I had a familiar position but got confused right at the start, so the game ended in a draw. In the next game with GM Sokolov I had several winning continuations but I managed to lose. And the same thing happened yesterday. Today I drew in an almost winning position. I want to go home!

Do you prefer playing in opens like this or in super tournaments like Linares?

It's better in super tournaments because if I'm playing badly then I have an excuse because the opponents are very strong. Here it looks like the opponents are not stronger than me but I'm playing badly anyway. I'm not disappointed about the result as much as about the quality of my games. It's as if I was a journalist and made mistakes in basic words.

Ok, in this case enough about chess! How is life in Spain in the current economical crisis?

Crisis is very serious in Spain. It affects the tournaments as well. Linares has big problems with finding a sponsor. I'm lucky as I work in other countries. I play in Germany, for example.

So you don't feel vulnerable in this situation?

I do in some sense. For example, by brother lost his job. There are more than 5 million unemployed in Spain. It's more than 20% of the population. It affects my friends and my family. But I'm an optimist. I always try to think how lucky I am in life. I'm healthy, can play chess and work. Recently I saw a documentary about the life of penguins. I wouldn't have liked to be one of them! They live in temperatures of -50 Celsius and for some time without food. They have to protect each other by standing in a circle keeping the warmth. When I remember this I can say that really I'm a happy man!

And finally, an interview with GM Fabiano Caruana who showed some amazing results recently and progressed into the chess elite. It has already been translated into English by Chessbase so please follow the link.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Gibraltar Tournament

Unless you've been living on the Moon for the past couple of weeks, you know that GM Hou Yifan had a fantastic tournament in Gibraltar, gaining shared 1st place with the British GM Nigel Short and beating several GMs over 2700! This was one of the best ever women's performances even compared to the legendary GM Judit Polgar. Yifan is still only 17 years old and I will continue to follow her chess career with great interest. This is what I call girl power!

The tournament turned out quite disappointing for me with 4 out of 10 as I lost a lot of rating. For some reason my brain deserted me in the first three rounds as I was struggling to achieve my usual level of concentration. I knew I wasn't playing well without even looking at the results. There were a lot of blunders and I kept thinking for even longer than I normally do during the games. I just didn't know how to get myself into the necessary chess mood. I think this happens to a lot of chess players - you know something is not quite right with you but you're not quite sure what's causing it so as to address it quickly. I did better after round 3 and performed at around my rating but still was far from happy about the quality of my games. I guess the only happy moment happened when I managed to save a long and lost endgame against 2300-level player. My games continued to be quite long, averaging at about 57 moves - probably not good for my energy levels! Simon suggested that I change my openings so I win quicker! I actually don't mind playing endgames, I even enjoy them. But what's become very clear now is that to improve there are two key areas I need to address as a priority. I need to learn to play endgames much better (even though for my rating level I'm quite good at it) and I must improve my calculation skills. It was especially interesting to hear from GM Judit Polgar in her recent interview that she spent a lot of time on endgames and tactics in her early years while she didn't think that studying openings was that important for players up to 2500. And look at GM Magnus Carlsen - he's probably the best endgame player in the world. So I think endgames are really "in" at the moment. Anyhow, here is a nice photo of me from the now famous chess photographer Ray Morris-Hill.

On a positive note, ECF has released half-year ratings for the first time and I have the highest ever rating of 189. At least something is moving in the right direction! Also, I must mention that I found Gibraltar Masters tournament and Gibraltar itself very interesting. The tournament was great for me as a spectator since there were many famous chess players, even though I had very little time to spectate due to my own long games. The hotel was great - everything a chessplayer may need, even free Wi-Fi. My room had a view straight into the sea - it was amazing! And I did have a chance to explore Gibraltar a bit. I visited the caves, the war tunnels and, of course, the famous monkeys. I took so many photos as I was enjoying my new camera while trying to learn the settings a bit better. Here is my favourite monkey photo - isn't he just such a cool dude?

There's not much to show from my games in Gibraltar. I do have one interesting/sharp endgame in mind but I'll leave it till next week. This weekend I'm off to the 4NCL, so I hope I'll have something interesting to show from it. There are no more tournaments planned for me for the time being, but I do fancy going somewhere nice towards the summer.

A couple of people contacted me with interesting chess material. If you're interested in chess representation in paintings, I recommend this interesting YouTube link, created by Miroslav in Paris:
If I understood it correctly, the art seems to progress from very old to modern day, so if you have an interest in a particular art period then I suggest scrolling the video to that point.

I was also contacted by Pablo - developer of the free "Social Chess Clock" application for Android phones. This gives you an ability to use your phone as a chess clock, even with increment. This could be handy on long and boring train journeys if you want to entertain yourself and a friend with some blitz! Unfortunately, I have an iPhone so I can't test this application. But please do let me know your feedback if you decide to use it.

With my Russian language skills I find that a lot of interesting interviews with top chess players never get translated from Russian into English. So I decided to do something about it! Look out for some interesting interviews and other chess news items translated from Russian on my website in the near future. And I leave you with the photo of GM Nigel Short - the winner of Gibraltar Masters on play-off with GM Hou Yifan. This was a great result for Nigel even though he always seems to do very well in Gibraltar.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

January 4 NCL

I played at the 4NCL last weekend, for the first time this season. I had to miss the first weekend (two rounds) of the season due to the European Team Championship in November. I think I've already mentioned that my team has been re-named from to Blackthorne Russia because our new sponsor is the company called Blackthorne which specialises in exports to Russia. We even got our sponsor's t-shirts to wear, but I found out that my "small" size t-shirt was way too big for me, probably 4 sizes too big. In fact, it fitted my partner IM Simon Ansell rather perfectly, and he normally wears "medium" size t-shirts. I decided to stick with wearing my own clothes. Although it did cross my mind that I could possibly get away with wearing the t-shirt as a short dress, since it wasn't just big in the shoulders but also quite long!

So, what about the results? Simon and I did rather well, each gaining 1.5 out of 2. But our team narrowly lost both matches 3.5-4.5. This means that it would be near impossible for us to get into the championship pool after 7 rounds and instead we'd have to fight off relegation in the relegation pool. To get into the championship pool we'd probably have to win 3 remaining matches and in one of them we'd have to beat Wood Green who are currently top of our pool and very strong. In the 4th round they fielded GMs on all boards beating their main rival Guildford 1 in the process by 5.5-2.5. Here I am playing against John Sugden rated 2180 last Sunday.

Although I had a nice win on the Sunday, it was more of a technical win with a pawn up rather than something exciting to show. Instead, I'd like to show you how I managed to miss a clear win in my recent London League game when I was playing for Hackney 1 against Drunken Knights 2. I got into time trouble again! This was partly because I was trying to remember the theory in the gambit that my opponent played and partly because I was out of practice. In any case, it seems that this game served me well as I handled my clock rather well over the 4NCL weekend. White to move.

M. Yurenok (ECF 179) - G. Leyton (ECF 167)
London League, 9th January 2012

My opponent has just moved his queen from e7 to e8 which was a mistake. He should have played Bd6 instead. At this point I still had to make 9 moves to the time control while I had maybe 1 or 2 minutes left without increment. I was in desperate time trouble but managed to find the right move:

21. Rxc7! my idea was that if black plays 21...Kxc7 then I win some material with 22. Qc2+ Kb8 23. Bd6+ Ka8 24. Bxe5 +- and there are still more threats as f6 knight is pinned and hanging. It seems I didn't notice that I can actually deliver a typical checkmate in this variation with 24. Nb6+ axb6 25. Qa4# I guess this is not too important if I'm clearly winning anyway. And in any case, black didn't have to retreat with the king on the 22nd move, but could give up the same piece differently with 22...Nc6 avoiding the checkmate. So, my opponent played:

21...Bxb5 I expected this move as I mistakenly thought it was the best reply, so I pre-planned my answer worrying that my flag might fall before I can make it to 30 moves. I immediately replied with:

22. Rxb7? =/+ this gives up all of my advantage. When you're short of time, simple and obvious moves are missed. I didn't think of moving my rook the other way, now that the bishop has left d7. The correct move was 22. Re7 At this point my computer announces +8 winning advantage for white. Oh dear :( Black can respond with 22...Bxa4 attacking my queen in return, and here the simplest for white is just 23. Rxe8 Bxd1 24. Rxh8 Rxh8 25. Rxd1 emerging with a clear piece up. My game eventually ended in a draw and my team lost 5-7. Strange that we beat the stronger Drunken Knights 1 team with 9-3 score earlier in the season!

For the past couple of days I've been following some of the Tata Steel Chess live tournament games on their website and I discovered something. They have Houdini engine giving evaluation of every move made, and it seems that even grandmasters sometimes go passed +8 advantage! Ok, not super-grandmasters but still strong players. For example, look at the GM Brandenburg - IM Grover game from round 3 in group C, which ended in a draw and where each opponent had +8 advantage at some point according to Houdini! I don't feel so bad after all :) There are lots of serious mistakes in other games too which can be fun to watch, but then anyone is clever with the help of a computer. I actually prefer listening to commentary by strong players who don't use computers, like they had in the World Cup with GM Shipov for example.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year everyone! This year has started with a big change for me as I've left my job. No, I'm not going to become a full-time chess player, but I'd like to see what I can do outside of the corporate world. I would like my new activities to be connected to chess in some way or another, so I may explore chess teaching, chess publishing and anything else I might find interesting. If you have any ideas, suggestions or even chess-related business opportunities then please let me know! Apart from my chess and Russian skills which you already know, I have worked in small and large companies in a variety of industries, ending up in a fairly senior management position in my last job. With my wealth of experience I can safely say that I have a good understanding of all aspects of running a business.

As you can imagine, this big change in my life has kept me very busy in the past few weeks since the European Team Championship in November. Now I have some time to update you on what happened to me at that tournament. As you must already know, Germany surprisingly won the Open tournament while Russia won the Women's tournament. The Greek hotel and food were very nice, but I have to agree with comments from other chess players that the playing hall was too stuffy. It wasn't great for  keeping a clear head, especially if you have long games like me :) English women's team performed at their seeding by getting 23rd place, while our star performer was IM Dagne Ciuksyte on board 2, gaining 6 out of 8 points. It's especially amazing as she had both of her little children with her. English Open team unfortunately didn't perform as well as expected, but the Open tournament was very strong and full of surprises. However, our GM Michael Adams had a fantastic result and won gold on the top board! I got 3.5 out of 8 points on board 3 of the Women's team and performed a bit better than my rating, which I thought was fairly satisfactory for my first performance in the English team. Here is our team in the last round against Netherlands (from right to left): Jovanka, myself, Kanwal and Sarah.

The tournament was quite tiring for me as all of my games except one were over 40 moves long, with two games close to 80 moves. With this sort of pattern emerging, I think I should revise endgames! I really enjoyed my rest day in round 5, as I could observe all the top teams and grandmasters playing. I probably found that day even more tiring than playing, as I had a headache by the end of it, probably from trying to assess many positions while walking around! Of course, I support England first but continue to support Russia as a second choice, so I was delighted that Russian women won the tournament. And I was disappointed that Russian men didn't get the medals. But I found it very fascinating watching the Russia-Ukraine Open match in round 5 which Russians won. I still remember how positions unfolded in the match. Here is the match as it started, you can see the Russian men GM Svidler, GM Grischuk, GM Morozevich and GM Nepomniachtchi. On the Ukrainian side you can see GM Ivanchuk, GM Ponomariov and GM Moiseenko, while GM Efimenko is completely obscured.

Svidler-Ivanchuk was the first to finish but it was rather exciting with castling and attacks on the opposite sides ending in perpetual. To be honest, I wasn't really sure what was going on there! Then my attention switched to Ponomariov-Grischuk game as I struggled to clearly see the lower boards from behind the spectators' rope. It looked to me that Grischuk had nerves of steel because he grabbed a pawn with black while lagging in development and with uncastled king. Soon he was in his usual time trouble in what looked like a very complicated position. But what do I know? He managed to simplify into a worse endgame. And while I thought Ponomariov could have made it a bit harder for Grischuk in the endgame, I was glad it quickly ended in a draw. After the end of that game I could see the games on the lower boards much better, especially since it was easier to make out the few remaining pieces in their endgames. It looked like Morozevich had a winning endgame but I think I would have found it tricky to convert. Of course, no such problem for Morozevich. And Nepomniachtchi looked in a lot of trouble with an exchange down. I really thought he was gong to lose even though I wasn't quite sure how to win if I was his opponent. It just looked like there must be a way and Efimenko would figure it out. However, Nepomniachtchi kept very active with his pieces and pawns. This posed technical problems to Efimenko who eventually started running out of time and had to agree to a draw.

Unfortunately, my photos of the English Open and the Russian Women's teams didn't come out as well. I have just bought a new and much better camera, so I will hopefully be taking some great photos in the future. I had some interesting games which I'd like to share with you. It was the case of missed opportunities against three players over 2300. First of all, in round one I was close to winning but squandered my advantage in the time trouble. Here is the critical moment in the game, white to move:

M. Yurenok (2106) - E. Djingarova (2309)
The European Team Championship - Women, 3rd November 2011

Right here I had to make one more move before the time control. Of course, I saw 40. Rc6 and thought it looked like the right and active move to make. But with few seconds left on the clock I decided to go for the safe option and defended my pawn with:

40. Bf3? Rb3+ 41. Ke2 Rb2+ and here I couldn't see how to make progress so I agreed to a draw after two more repeated moves.

Instead, 40. Rc6! is winning, for example:

40...Nxd5+ 41. Kf3! (it's important not to play 41. Kf2 to avoid the pin, I think this is partly what I missed when looking at this line during the game) 41...Rxb4 42. Rxd6+ Nf6 43. Bd3 Kf7 44. Rxb6 Ne4 and here even simple 45. Bxe4 +-  wins. You can see why I was annoyed with myself!

In the next game I was defending for a long time and eventually got to this peculiar and complex endgame, white to move.

M. Yurenok (2106) - M. Ohme (2361)
European Team Championship - Women, 6th November 2011

Here I was going to play 54. Rg4 so as to start pushing my pawns forward. Ok, it looked a bit tricky with black's moves like 54...Nf4 or 54...Rg2. But I couldn't see much else I could do, until sadly I noticed 54. Rc4 and played it because I thought it was a better option. For some reason I decided that I'd win a pawn but it turned out that I wasn't able to calculate clearly. Of course, this move is just bad and possibly loses the game. My opponent played 54...Ne3 55. Re4 Ng2+ 56. Kf1 Nf4 57. Rc4 Ng2 and here I just blundered as I was getting short of time 58. Ne2?? Ne3+ 0:1 At least I could have repeated with 58. Re4 and let the opponent work on finding how to win this. Lets go back to how I should have played on the 54th move.

54. Rg4!= Nf4 another main option for black is to play 54...Rg2 55. h5+ Kh7 56. g6+ Kg8 57. h6 look at those white pawns! They look menacing.  57...Ne7 seems to be the only defence for black. 58. h7+ Kh8 59. Kf1 Rh2 60. Ne4 Rh6 61. Nxd6 Rxg6 62. Nf7+ Kxh7 63. Nxe5 =

55. h5+! the point being is that after 55...Nxh5 56. Nxh5 Kxh5 57.g6! +- the white pawn queens

55...Kg7 black threatens 56...Ng2+ followed by 57...Ne3+ winning the rook on g4, so white should play

56. Kf1! d5 57. g6 Ra1+ 58. Kf2 Ra2+ 59. Kf1 =

And finally, in the last game of the tournament I had a very unusual position because by move 50 we still only exchanged one pawn and one piece each! The position was pretty closed and eventually my opponent sacrificed a piece for three pawns. After that it was still pretty level for both sides but I managed to lose at the end. It seems I need to get better at keeping enough energy to the end of a long game so as to continue making quality moves at a decent pace. Earlier in the game, however, I went passed an easy way to an advantage. I simply didn't notice it. White to move.

M. Yurenok (2106) - T. Lanchava (2320)
European Team Championship - Women, 11th November 2011

Once you know there is tactics, it's fairly easy to find:

16. Nxf4! exf4 17. e5! the f6 knight cannot move as white threatens 18. Bxg6#

17...Ne7 18. exf6 Bxf6 and here white can continue with either 19. 0-0-0 +- gaining a nice positional advantage or go after the pawns with 19. Qxf4 +-

My next tournament is in Gibraltar in 2 weeks time. I'm looking forward to it as I've never been to Gibraltar and because there will be many strong players to watch if I manage to finish my own games earlier than usual. I have to speed up a bit! :)