Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Pacific Coast Open

I'm back from the USA and suffering from jet-lag. However, there's a million things to do after being away for 3 weeks and on top of that I am going back to work on Friday, for the first time after 10 months of sabbatical! I'm so glad that BT gave me this opportunity to take the sabbatical as I think I had the best 10 months ever despite some low points at some chess tournaments.

My Pacific Coast Open tournament ended fairly well as I got 3.5 points out of 6 (including a half-point bye) drawing last two games against stronger opponents. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to win one of those games with an extra pawn! And I ended up half a point behind a large rating prize. I don't know why in the USA they have very large rating prizes - it was larger than a second place prize! Nevertheless, I'm happy to add another 9 rating points to my FIDE rating despite a slow start to the tournament. My partner IM Simon Ansell did very well by getting a share of the second prize. You can see the final standings here: http://www.chesstour.com/pco10r.htm I didn't have any exciting games to show although I haven't had a chance to analyse them in detail and may yet find something worth showing at a deeper level. I bought a new laptop in the USA so I hope my Rybka will now run even better and faster! 

New FIDE ratings have come out at the beginning of July and I'm back to over 2000 mark at 2062. ECF ratings have come out as well and I am now rated 178 - a bit higher than a year ago but lower than I believe my current strength is. Unfortunately, ECF ratings are published only once a year and can be a bit misleading for an improving player. British Championship has started on Monday and will keep me entertained for the next 2 weeks. The top seed GM Mickey Adams is the favourite to win the title. Unfortunately, there are only 3 women participating (I decided against playing because of going back to work) so I hope ECF would do something to encourage more women to play in the British.

I haven't got any firm plans for my next chess tournament but I am considering playing my next tournament at the Berks & Bucks congress during the August Bank Holiday weekend. It's a 6-round FIDE-rated tournament. I'll just have to see how tired I'll get being back at work and if I need my weekends to recover rather than play chess! I am also hoping to play in the 9-round FIDE open at Cap D'Agde in the South of France in October.

Sunday, 18 July 2010


My partner Simon didn't win millions at the main event of WSOP poker tournament and I didn't win millions at Las Vegas casinos. However, I managed to break even on roulette and won $200 in 10 minutes at craps! I think that was beginner's luck as I'd never played craps before. After that Simon wisely kept me away from craps tables so that I didn't lose my winnings!

One week in Las Vegas is more than enough unless you are a hard-core gambler. After you've seen several shows, looked inside many grand hotels and did a bit of shopping you kind of run out of things to do. At the end I decided not to be left out with all the poker around me and played in my first ever live poker tournament at the Venetian hotel. I was a bit scared as I'd only played a little poker with my friends and online. I mean, do you remember how scared you felt playing in your first ever chess tournament? I was worried I'd make some silly poker rules mistakes while everyone at the table was watching me. I did make mistakes but nothing serious, not as bad as a woman next to me who showed her cards prematurely and was penalised for a whole round! I lasted for a couple of hours before getting knocked out and now I'm not that scared of live tournament poker. J

On the last night in Vegas we went to a private party hosted by "Poker Stars" which was headlined by Snoop Dogg's performance. He's one of the most famous rappers and even though I don't follow that kind of music his performance was great. I was very amused by his diamond-encrusted microphone and hair bands. J It was also the night after Spain won the football World Cup and Snoop Dogg was wearing Spanish football shirt! Who said Americans didn't care about football?? Well done to Spain by the way!! Here is somewhat blurred Snoop Dogg in case you don't believe me. J

After Vegas we went to explore San Francisco for a few days. It was nice and cool but sunny after unbearably boiling Vegas. Walking up and down the hills of San Francisco was very tough, it reminded me just how unfit I am and that I should start going to the gym again! Looks like this San Francisco's sea lion is encouraging me to exercise by demonstrating some press-ups. J

Now we are playing chess in Agoura Hills near Los Angeles. The tournament is called the Pacific Coast Open and consists of only 6 rounds. So far I'm on 2 out of 3. I had a slow start drawing two games against lower-rated opponents while missing available chances. However, I bounced back with a win in the third round against a higher-rated opponent. I always find that if I haven't played for a while I need at least one game to get my brain into the "chess mode" and use my time appropriately. I think playing a bit of blitz or rapidplay games before a serious tournament helps to minimise the adjustment period. I've taken a bye in the 4th round as I decided to relax this evening rather than play two rounds today. I can't see any results posted on the internet so no results link this time I'm afraid. Tomorrow we have two more rounds at the end of which I will get to see my parents and my sister for the first time in 1.5 years. J I wonder if I'd be too excited for serious chess playing!

Friday, 2 July 2010

Endgame Example

I've had some kind of flu for the past few days - how annoying in this great weather! I just had to stay in bed watching mainly Wimbledon. I think I've had sports overload as I've also watched enough football to last me a lifetime. Since England is out of the football World Cup I'm now supporting Andy Murray (British) and Vera Zvonareva (Russian) in Wimbledon. Thankfully, I seem to be on the mend - about time as I'll be flying to the U.S.A. on Saturday and I'd better start packing! This trip will be more of a holiday as I'm going to have a look around World Series of Poker in Las Vegas and then visit my parents and my sister in California. Don't worry, I haven't suddenly decided to take up poker instead of chess! I hardly ever play poker and keep forgetting the rules :) But my partner IM Simon Ansell is playing in WSOP so it will be fun. Despite this intensive schedule we are still hoping to play in a small 4-day chess tournament in California. And when I get back from the States my sabbatical will come to the end and I'll have to go back to work. Even though I've been to Las Vegas and to California before, I'm really looking forward to the next 3 weeks!! I'm really not a gambler but maybe I can turn my $10 into a million on a roulette table?? What do you think? Never know! :)

I thought you might be interested to see one of the endgames that I won recently in Italy, including my thought process during the game. I really had to win this game with black to have the best odds of meeting a titled player in the last round which was necessary to acheive WIM norm. The opening was a double-edged variation of Timanov Sicilian where white castles queenside and black often doesn't castle for a long time. So when the queens came off I wasn't overly happy as I thought I might have better chances of winning in the middlegame. However, I assessed the following endgame as slightly better for black even if my advantage is very minimal. I had no choice but to make the best out of what I had.

Claus Seyfried (2087) - Maria Yurenok (1984)
Round 8, 11 June 2010 
1st Open Di Roseto

18.Bg2?! -  It maybe tempting to put the bishop on the big diagonal but it's not straightforward to push f4 to free it up. I was convinced that 18.Be2 was a better move as I can't really stop Rhf1 and f4, so I was happy to see that white chose the alternative.

18...Be7 19. Bd4?! - again, it's tempting to put the bishop on the big diagonal, but it's not necessarily better placed there. It would have been more consistent to continue with the f4 plan by playing something like: 19. Rd2 0-0 20. Rg1 Rfd8 21. f4 Bxg2 22. Rgxg2 and the position is pretty equal.

19...0-0 - the other alternative was 19...f6 which was probably a slightly better move as the king will go to f7 staying a bit closer to the centre for the endgame, followed by active play with h5. Even e5 or g5 may become a possibility at some point controlling f4 square and stopping white's f4 plan.

20. Be5 - the move looks good in the first instance as it's with a tempo and e5 seems like a nice place for the bishop, but on the second thought it can be pushed back with a tempo via f6 later and this move isn't helping white's main plan of f4 push.

20...Rbd8! - I was very pleased when I found this move. I think it's a good move because it's not obvious as it's more natural to want to put the f-rook on d8 square, so for that reason I considered 20...Rb7 first. My move is also good because it's prophylactic, stopping 21.Rd2 due to Bxa2+ 22. Kc1 winning a pawn.

21. b3 - white decides to stop my Bxa2+ trick but it's weakening the pawn structure around the king and it's a little concession that I can hook on to.

21...a5 22. Rd3 - I didn't quite understand this move as it appears that white has given up on the idea of pushing f4. I think it was still worth continuing with the original plan: 22. Rd2 a4 23. f4 axb3 24. axb3 Bxg2 25. Rxg2 Rd5 giving better chances for black but probably defendable

22...f6 23. Bd4 a4 24. Rg1 - it appears that white wants to push f4 again but that allows my black-squared bishop to become active giving me another little concession to accumulate on.

24...axb3 25. axb3 Bd6 26. h4 Rf7?! - probably not the best move from me while 26...g5 would have been better. I made my move because I wanted to give myself an option of moving d6 bishop to f4 without having a threat of white's Bc5. Besides, rook on f7 has a chance to double up with the rook on d8. However, clever Rybka suggests that white can untangle himself by sacrificing a pawn for initiative and compensation with: 27. g5 hxg5 28. hxg5 fxg5 29. Bh3 Bf4 30. Re1 =

27. Bh3?! - my opponent was close to time trouble. This move is a bit pointless after my response.

27...g5 28. h5 Bf4 - now my position is quite a bit better as white's white-squared bishop is rather bad, white has no counter-play on the king side while his king is a bit weak and my pieces are generally better placed. Apart from all that I had more time than my opponent who was in time-trouble. As I didn't have a great amount of time myself I decided to try improving position of my pieces without committing myself to changing the position significantly (e.g. not changing pawn structure), so that I don't lose my advantage by the time we've passed the 40th move time control. Since it's a closed position it's possible to make some non-committal manoeuvring moves waiting to see if the opponent takes any action. I thought that since my pieces are positioned quite well, I should have a good response to any attempt of activity by white.

29. Rgd1 Ra8 30. Bf1 Kg7 31. Be2 - finally, the bishop has arrived to where it was supposed to be initially!

31...Rb7 32. Bb2?! - this gives my rook a7 square - another concession from white as he seemed to be a bit stuck trying to find a useful move with little time left on the clock. 32. Kb2 is better with the idea of 33. Ra1.

32...Rba7 33. Rd4? - decisive mistake, white is trying to activate the pieces but missing tactics. It was necessary to stand still, for example, by moving the rook backwards and forwards along the 1st rank until the end of time trouble as I'm not exactly threatening anything immediate. Although even then he has to be careful with his rook placement since he would lose to my Be5 if he places his rook on h1 or g1.

33...Be5 34. Rxb4?? - this just misses checkmate in two

34...Ra1+ 0:1

This game was an interesting lesson for me as it seems that sometimes waiting is the best strategy. Over the years I've observed just how many games strong players win by making a few waiting moves, as weaker players crack and start making significant changes in their position (e.g. pawn structure, exchanges) without realising that they are making things worse for themselves and it was better to stand as still as possible. I've made that mistake many times myself! You may have noticed that this tends to happen even more in time trouble when, for example, selecting a variation of exchanging several pieces allows to make several moves without spending much time. And you realise too late that those exchanges were best avoided.