Saturday, 27 September 2014

Noble Park Classic

The annual Noble Park Classic was held once again in late September at the Noble Park Chess Club. In a change from previous years, I decided to play in the event (I had been the arbiter for the previous two years of the event) & similar to the Best in the West a few weeks earlier, I found myself at the bottom of the 'open' division, this time as 11th seed in a field of 59 players. Top seeds for this event were IMs Kanan Izzat, James Morris, Ari Dale & Mirko Rujevic, along with FMs Domagoj Dragicevic & Dusan Stojic. The tournament featured the 'New South Wales weekender' time control of 60 minutes plus 10 seconds per move (as opposed to the more leisurely 90 minutes plus 30 seconds per move used at Best in the West), which meant that the event had seven rounds, but with less time between rounds (and Noble Park not being quite as scenic as Altona) it meant that I left the phone/camera off, so do not  have the photos of my previous tournament.

In round 1 I faced Geoff Lee & had a reasonably straightforward win when Geoff played passively, giving me the centre before I found a tactic that won an exchange & a pawn & he was nice enough to trade pieces off to make the win much more simple.

In round 2 I faced Calvin Bennett & got what looked to be a promising attacking position from another Blackmar-Diemer Gambit. Unfortunately I always seemed to be one move behind what I needed to break through Calvin's defences & played some inaccurate moves in the middlegame. The critical position occurs after Calvin's 23... e5, which I originally thought was a mistake because it allowed 24. Rxf6, however the resulting position leaves black with an active queen & rook against white's unco-ordinated queen, bishop & knight. Luckily for me, Calvin misplayed the position (he had a number of clear wins) before finally blundering the exchange in time trouble to leave me a piece ahead in the endgame. Just when I thought I would need to find a winning method in the rook & knight v rook endgame (with Calvin having three pawns to my two), he resigned! A rather lucky escape!

Round 3 saw me facing Domagoj Dragicevic for the second time in a fortnight, this time with the black pieces. I played the Philidor's Defence & achieved a reasonable position out of the opening before I castled queenside & managed to generate some counterplay against Domagoj's king. Domagoj defended well & found himself a piece ahead, although it would be difficult to win with the extra pawn if we both had plenty of time. However, with the relatively quick time controls, I tried for fight on after I stopped recording (the game continued for another 20 or so moves beyond what I had recorded), however I managed to play Ne6-f4 at some point, leaving it en prise to Domagoj's rook on f1 (I think I imagined my queen being on h6 rather than h7 as it was when I played the move). Unfortunately for me, once I lost the piece, my position deteriorated quickly & Domagoj won the game.

In round 4 I played Shumsteer Ghumman & he chose a line of the Blackmar-Diemer Gambit with an early exchange of queens. I managed to maintain the initiative & developed some pressure against Shumsteer's king before he blundered & lost a piece. The endgame was fairly easy to convert, so I finished the first day on 3/4.

I started the second day with a tough round 5 pairing against top seed IM Kanan Izzat. I decided to play a more normal opening this time, and played the English, however I also didn't want to go down a highly theoretical line, so avoided a transposition into a Grunfeld Defence. Unfortunately this proved to be more than fine for black & the pawn on d2 became a target that was difficult to both defend or advance. Once Kanan found the nice tactic 17... Bxc3 my position went downhill quickly & I resigned when faced with the choice of losing a queen or being checkmated.

In round 6 I played black against Shane Lawson. Shane played an aggressive opening & I found myself on the back foot early. Luckily for me, Shane decided to exchange his knight for my bishop rather than exchanging knight for knight. The resulting endgame left me with chances for counterplay as I was able to get my knight to a far superior position to Shane's knight (If I was left with the bishop pair in a blacked position, I would have had very little opportunity for counterplay). I tried to minimise Shane's counterplay, but he did have some opportunities to turn the tables, however once he exchanged queens, the endgame was fairly easy to convert with my protected passed d-pawn. Another lucky escape!

In the final round I played white against IM Ari Dale. Before the game Ari lamented that he had to play me as black once again (most of our recent clashes have seen me playing white). I played the f3 line against Ari's Grunfeld Defence & I achieved a position I was happy with out of the opening. Ari played 16... b5 to try to unbalance the position. At first sight it seems as though black wins a piece after Qa5+, however I have the follow-up tactic of Rxc6, with the rook being immune from capture because of Ne7+. After some exchanges in the centre, Ari offered a draw. Although I thought I would have held a slight edge & more winning chances, any such edge would have taken quite a while to convert & at best, whoever won would have split 4th place with a number of other players.

Overall 4.5/7 was a reasonable result, particularly as I once again faced a tough field, playing seeds 1, 3 & 4 during the event. My play against some lower seeds was a little less than convincing at times, although I was happy to win all four games against lower rated players.
The winner of the tournament was IM James Morris, who scored 6.5/7.
Full results & prize winners can be seen on ChessChat.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Best in the West

The annual Best in the West weekender was held once again at the Louis Joes Arts & Community Centre & this year attracted another excellent turnout of 88 players. Given that I had been an arbiter at so many events of late, I thought I would play in the event - and it was a good change from the 'other' side of the chess board.
The top seeds for the event were IMs Kanan Izzat, James Morris & Ari Dale, as well as FMs Domagoj Dragicevic & Dusan Stojic. I was 14th seed for the event, so it was fairly top heavy & it would be tough going for me to finish with a prize considering I was the lowest seed who was not also eligible for a rating prize (divisions started at under 2000).

Top boards, with Phil Drew (in the red) helping provide live coverage online
The Joel Louis Arts & Community Centre, venue for the Best in the West
The venue is only a short walk to the beach - good for some relaxation in between games!
You can find all sorts of things at the beach!
A view inside the playing area during the Saturday night round
A nice touch by the organisers - pizza for everyone before the prizegiving! 

In round 1 I played improving junior Sam Trewin & was happy with the solid Philidor position that I achieved out of the opening. I played the more aggressive plan with castling on opposite sides &  a pawn storm with h6 & g5, however I did find some difficulty with the pressure Sam got down the d-file with his major pieces. Once the knights were exchanged on d6, I took control of the game after 23... Qg7, although I did miss a fairly clear win with 30... R8xg4 (I missed the follow-up 31... f3!, so didn't go down the line). Ultimately I had to win a fairly instructive bishop v knight endgame & was happy with my technique & glad to get past the first game safely.

In round 2 I played Geoff Barber & after avoiding my Blackmar-Diemer gambit, the position turned into a good version of the advanced French & my kingside pressure was able to overrun Geoff's kingside fairly easily.

In round 3 I played the fourth seed FM Domagoj Dragicevic & decided to play a more conventional opening (albeit a sideline) in the white side of the Grunfeld. Although I was under some pressure early once I had to do something about the centre (I decided to play d5), I exchanged off the major pieces & probably had slightly the better of the minor piece endgame that ensued. However this advantage was only slight at best & after some more exchanges we agreed a draw after reaching an opposite coloured bishop endgame.

In round 4, I played 8th seed & local Hobsons Bay/Altona club champion Dean Hogg. We played a symmetrical English & I thought the game might be drifting towards a draw, although the symmetry was eventually broken around move 14. I managed to develop some pressure on the kingside & I think I held the advantage through the early middlegame due to my superior black squared bishop. I missed an opportunity for a significant advantage with 24. Bf4, but retained an edge with an exchange sacrifice on h5. Dean's final blunder was playing 30.Rg1+ (the computer suggested only 30.d6 gave white any chances to hold the position) & I found a nice mating combination after 32. Bxe5 to finish off the game.

Concentrating hard during my game against Dean Hogg (photo courtesy of Ved Bhat)

I found myself with a tough final round assignment, playing tournament top seed IM Kanan Izzat. I decided to go for it in the opening & played into a Blackmar-Diemer gambit, but Kanan declined the pawn, choosing to play 4... e3. Once again I tried to take the most aggressive approach & castled on the opposite side to Kanan, but did not play the most promising follow-up, finding myself in a fairly even rook & bishop v rook & knight endgame. Unfortunately I played a poor move in 23. h3, putting another pawn on the same coloured square as my bishop & this allowed Kanan to exchange all the rooks & head for slightly better knight v bishop endgame, which I was unfortunately was unable to hold.

Although my final score of 3.5/5 left me out of the prizes, I was reasonably happy with my tournament. I played the toughest field out of all players in the event & my result should see me gaining a few rating points. I had the opportunity to finish in equal first place & although I did not win my final round game, I thought I played reasonably well apart from the mistake in the endgame that Kanan exploited with excellent technique.
I was also happy to once again play in a chess tournament after so many events where I have been an arbiter, particularly after my experiences at the Olympiad when I was watching high level chess up close on a regular basis for almost two weeks.
I look forward to playing some more chess in the near future (hopefully with similarly promising results) & look forward to the 2015 Best in the West event!

Tournament winners, FM Domagoj Dragicevic, FM Duasn Stojic & IM Kanan Izzat (IM James Morris absent) (photo courtesy of Ved Bhat)

Monday, 1 September 2014

The Olympiad Summary - The Issues

There were a variety of comments online about the recently completed Chess Olympiad in Tromso, from glowing endorsement to scathing criticism ... so I thought I'd give my impressions of some of these issues & whether I thought some of these comments were justified or not.

Tromso in northern Norway was chosen as the venue for the 2014 Chess Olympiad at the 2010 Olympiad in Khanty-Mansiysk. There were some issues in the lead-up to the event, most notably in terms of funding for the event & an apparent hole in the budget. In the end, these dramas were overcome & the Olympiad went ahead as planned.
Norway is an expensive country ($1 Australian is equivalent to just under 5 Norwegian Krone) & this was something of an issue during the event (and explains why I didn't get a haircut while in Norway!), however for players & officials this was reduced as an issue as meals were supplied at hotels in Norway. However for those visiting, or finding alternative accommodation, it was a very expensive trip. The general cost of things also meant reduced socialising away from the chess from what I heard, as the usual shout of a round of drinks was much more expensive than one would normally expect to pay!
The expensive hairdresser - men's haircuts from just under $60, while women's haircuts will set you back almost $100
The budget barber - just under $40 for men & $50 for women!
Fancy some takeaway? Burgers from 117Kr (just over $20); Kebabs from 89Kr (about $15); Fish & Chips for 99Kr (about $17) ... Norway is not a cheap place!

However on the positive side of things, the city of Tromso was a great place - easy to get around, friendly people (quite a lot spoke English as well as Norwegian) & plenty to see outside the chess. The view from the top of the cable car on the nearby Mount Storsteinen of the city (on an island) was fantastic!
Lovely view of Tromso from Mount Storsteinen
The venue, the Mackhallen, came under criticism from a variety of sources for a variety of reasons. The most common criticisms that I have read have included: the playing hall was cold & lacked air circulation; the hall was noisy; the hall was not big enough & players were cramped; toilets were not suitable; security checks took too long; medical facilities were inadequate; I'm sure there were others that I have not mentioned, but I'll leave my comments to the issues listed.

Although the playing hall did not have air conditioning, I found the it to be fine in terms of temperature. I was in sector 5 & at the end of sector 5 was a corridor to the audience entrance, so this allowed for some fresh air to get into the building, but not too much to be overly cold. I can't really speak for the experiences of others in other parts of the building, but I had no issues.
If you read my first blog from the Olympiad (here), you will notice that I make mention of the lack of noise & how quiet I found the venue & I stand by those comments. Yes, there was usually a loud boat horn that went off about an hour into the round, but this lasted for about 5 or at most 10 seconds, so can hardly be called a significant distraction.
Room & Space
One issue that was identified early in the Olympiad planning (here) was that there were to be no small tables for match arbiters. Although I do not have previous experience at Olympiads to compare, I found the arrangements in Tromso to be perfectly fine. There had also been some discussion that the playing hall was too crowded, but on the contrary, I thought there was plenty of room for players, officials, spectators & anyone else who needed access the playing area.
The toilets at the venue were pretty ordinary to say the least. However given that there was really nothing at the venue in terms of permanent toilet facilities, the organisers really had little choice but to bring in portable toilets as they did. Other who had been to previous Olympiads said that a similar arrangement had been done at some previous events, so it was not like it was completely ridiculous. I found the simple solution was not to use the toilets & simply wait until after I had left the chess & I could use the facilities at the hotel where arbiters had their lunch & dinner - much more civilised! GM Hikaru Nakamura was one to vent his displeasure on Twitter about the toilet facilities.
Portable toilets at the playing hall
Security checks at the entrance to the playing hall, to prevent items such as computers & mobile phones from being brought into the venue, varied from day-to-day. On the first day, it seemed as though the staff were being very thorough & vigilant & this lead to long delays at the entrance (and the first round being delayed by about 20 minutes). The remaining days tended to be slightly less thorough, but still reasonably comprehensive. Having said that, I discovered a 'loop hole' to the security measures - one day I simply walked in the VIP entrance, which had no such security & I was able to bring my mobile phone into the venue (it was turned off in my bag & I didn't use it at all when I was at the venue). There were also changes made during the tournament to prevent cheating - such as banning players from the press area - not necessarily because there was an cheating detected, but more to prevent the possibility of cheating occurring.
Metal detectors & secutiry screening at the entrance to the playing hall
There were some criticisms of the medical facilities, particularly in the light of the unfortunate death of Kurt Meier in the final round. It seemed as though the response to Meier's collapse was reasonably quick, however I didn't have any personal interaction with the medical staff, so cannot really offer a particularly informed view on things.
On thing I did find online was a clip from Norwegian TV of the time when the Meier emergency happened. It starts with analysis of one of the top women's games & you can see that the players are concerned by the commotion that has started. When the camera cuts to the long shot overlooking the playing area, you can see two very different responses from people, depending on where they were - those close to the incident move towards it to see what is happening (you can also see Australian arbiter Gary Bekker in the foreground from this angle), while in the background (sector 5, where I was based), we see people hurrying towards the exit, in apparent panic! At the end of the clip, you can also hear the beeping that filled the playing hall for around half an hour while the medical staff tried to revive Mr Meier.
Final round chaos

FIDE Elections
In theory, the FIDE Elections were going to be a big part of the Olympiad, with former World Champion Garry Kasparov a seemingly tough opponent for the incumbent President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. Kasparov had spared no expense in his campaign, with posters throughout Tromso, on buildings, at bus stops & the like, while one only had to compare the stalls of the two camps to see this difference in more tangible terms
Kasparov posters at bus stops in Tromso
The Kasparov booth in full swing pre-election
 Another shot of the Kasparov booth with plenty of people pre-election
 The FIDE First booth (on the right) of Kirsan Ilyumzhinov's campaign

English GM Nigel Short was a strong supporter of Kasparov & was part of his team. He did a number of interviews while in Tromso, but there is a stark difference between the interviews before & after the election
Nigel Short talks to Danny King in Tromso, a few days before the FIDE Election

Nigel Short talking to Norwegian TV immediately after the FIDE Elections - you can see a significant change between this & the earlier interview with Danny King!
After the election, Kasparov took to the internet to express his disappointment at the election result. Kasparov's response gave three main reasons for his defeat, but perhaps one omission from this response is that Kasparov does not seem to take responsibility for his own defeat, mostly blaming external factors, rather than looking at problems with his own campaign.
Although personally I thought Kasparov's ideas seemed far more promising than another four years under Ilyumzhinov, his history of creating issues in a variety of places, both during (eg: split from FIDE with the PCA) & after (eg: his issues with Putin) his chess career, created some doubt amongst the various delegates who voted in the election.
Danny King, in his round review after the FIDE Election, included an interview with Anna Karlovich, who shared her opinion about why Ilyumzhinov won the Presidential election.
Danny King discussing round 10, as well as the FIDE Election results


Generally I found the organisation of the event to be pretty good. Yes, there were some issues - most notably with security & toilets at the venue as mentioned earlier - but on the whole, these issues were fairly minor in nature. The various staff & volunteers were generally friendly & accommodating in trying to sort out any issues that players or officials had.
From a personal perspective, the only real issue I had was to do with the distance that my accommodation (and that of most other arbiters) was from the venue & the daily commute of more than an hour each way.
Map showing the daily commute for arbiters to the playing hall.

Tournament rules
In this regard, there were two rules that created issues at the event - the 'zero tolerance' rule, where players had to be seated at their boards at the start of the game or else they would be forfeited, and the 'no short draws' rule, where players could not offer (or accept) a draw before both players had completed 30 moves, although players could still draw by other means (eg: triple repetition).
Again, Danny King interviewed Kirsan Ilyumzhinov before the election about various issues, and in particular the issue of zero tolerance.
An alternative option, which seems quite reasonable was proposed by Danish GM Jacob Aagaard on his Blog. It seems to satisfy both the professionalism argument of Ilyumzhinov, as well as accommodating reasonable alternatives if something does happen to mean that the players are not at the board for some reason.
To me the no short draws rule is something that should remain in the domain of invitational events, where players are paid to play & as a result should be expected to play fighting chess. At an Olympiad, although there are sponsors & a large worldwide audience, the incentive of the players to play is what is best for the team - an in some instances it could be that taking a short draw IS in the best interests of the team, so I see no problem with it. The rule also created some issues (and potentially silly situations) for arbiters, as unless there was a repetition, players who offered draws before move 30 was completed (so that the first legal draw offer could be made after white's 31st move) were asked to play more moves until they had passed this requirement - in effect receiving outside information or interference in the game! To me, this rule simply does not fit at an Olympiad.
Although it was not such an issue at the venue, the topic of uniforms created a bit of a stir on ChessChat, an Australian chess forum. Below are a number of photos with some comments. My opinion on the matter is below the photos
The current situation - a 'hodge-podge' of generally smart casual clothing, with everything from suits & ties to t-shirts & jeans, as well as the occasional 'uniform'
The Latvian team had perhaps the best team jacket of all the teams that I noticed during the event - a maroon jacket (the same colour as their national flag), with a number of patches for sponsors (albeit that I think their main sponsor was their national chess federation), with a white polo top underneath, with sponsors on the back of the shirt. Of course it seems that wearing the short (or even the jacket at times) was not compulsory, so it did lose some of its impact.
The Italian teams (both open & here, the women) all wore black jackets (as seen on board 1 & the team captain standing behind). Elegant & smart, although the players could wear anything underneath the jacket.
Mauritania wore green & yellow sports jackets, in their national colours. A number of the smaller countries also wore similar 'sporting' outfits during the event.
Another photo of the Latvian team in their uniforms (even if not all members of the team are wearing the white polo shirt), with the Vietnamese team in their red sports jackets in the foreground.
Volunteers wore green t-shirts, so were easily identifiable.
The Turkish team were the other team that had an impressive looking uniform. In this photo they are all wearing their white polo tops, with national flag & individual name embroided on the front. One thing that the Turkish team did was to always wear their uniforms for all rounds.
The Turkish team also had an alternative red uniform, which also looked smart. Here they are playing Lithuania, who are wearing their green t-shirt tops, although the Lithuanians only wore the green tops every few days, with smart casual being the alternative outfits on other days.  
The Vietnamese team in their team jackets (and yes, I'm in the far left of the photo as this was one of the matches I was an arbiter for).
 The arbiters wore blue polo tops for the final few rounds, which looked smart & again made the arbiters easy to identify.
At the closing ceremony, the Hungarian team wore a sports outfit that they had only worn one or twice during the tournament, while the Chinese team all had matching polo tops (different from the polo tops they wore during the tournament) & the Indian team had what looked like a team jacket on. This looked good for the closing ceremony & gave the final podium a look of that of a sporting event.

Although the idea of players wearing uniforms is potentially a good idea, and would give the Olympiad much more of a team feel to the tournament, the difficulty is that any approach to uniforms needs to be consistent across all countries. With a number of countries lacking financial support or sponsorship, forcing players to wear uniforms would add an extra financial burden that might make players less inclined to participate in the event.
In addition, there is also the issue of what would constitute a uniform. A number of countries had shirts or jackets, but very few had any sort of standard pants, so that even the uniforms were not themselves uniform. This also detracted from the look of some of the teams, even when they did have their jackets or shirts on.
If you compare it to sports uniforms (eg: football of various varieties, basketball, netball, various other Olympic events, etc) it seems as though the general consensus requires both shirts & pants to match, with footwear being the domain of individual choice. Although bringing in a similar dress code to the Olympiad might have some positives, the logistical & financial difficulties seem to be too great at the present time to enforce such a code in the near future, although it may be something that can be an aspiration for Olympiads in the future.
Internet Coverage
This was one area that I think the organisers got exactly right. The coverage provided through with IM Lawrence Trent & GM Jan Gustafsson hosting was very impressive.
Photo from the expo area of the internet coverage of the event
 The internet coverage included updated results
As well as cameras of the top boards in action
Videos were also available online & were uploaded to YouTube after completion
The complete broadcast for round 4 of the Olympiad
Australian GM David Smerdon joining Lawrence & Jan during round 10.
In Summary
Although the Olympiad in Tromso was not without its problems & issues, for the most part I found it to be an excellent tournament ... and am now looking forward to being an arbiter at the 2016 Olympiad in Baku, Azerbaijan!