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Leaving the Politiks behind

Posted by David Smerdon on Jul 26, 2014 in Uncategorized

It’s not like me to write about chess politics (i.e. my last post), but I’m sure I’ll have no choice at the Olympiad next week. Not to mention Australian politics; these days, it’s hard for me to read the politics section of The Australian without a shudder and a groan or two. So it’s nice to have a little respite before the FIDE elections begin. I’m in Helsingor, a cozy seaside town in Denmark, for the Politiken Cup. (And therein lies the headline pun. Okay, I was really reaching this time.)

Usually, being a part-time chess tourist, I like to play different tournaments in different places. So the Australian Olympiad team was a little surprised when I suggested they join me in Denmark for my second visit at this event, as a warm-up for Tromso. And a couple of my other friends have asked me what’s so great about the tournament. Well, without going into too many details or hyperbole, let me outline a typical day here in Helsingor.

8.00:    Wake up; the sun is shining and it’s already a charming 25 degrees. Sneak in a quick gym session (on site), then breakfast outside in the garden, overlooking the ocean.

9.30:   Chess preparation (naturally).

11.30:  Duck off through the woods to the beach for a dip in the (surprisingly warm) ocean.

12.30:  The lunch here – I’m not exaggerating – is by far the best food I’ve ever eaten at a chess tournament. The seafood, in particular, is astonishing.

13.00:  The round begins. One round a day is a must in a place like this!

17.30:  Soccer – again, on-site. Last night was “GMs versus the rest.” No prizes for guessing the result.

19.00:  Dinner is also outside; the sun stays up for a ridiculously long time in the Scandinavian summer.

20.30:  Normally, show-and-tell of our games in the bar; a few games of pool (free, and also on-site). Otherwise, a variety of social chess events are sometimes on offer, such as knockout blitz, pairs blitz or a problem-solving competition.

23.00:  Sleeping as the sun sets, as nature intended.

Tough life. The only downside is that I’m far too relaxed to play quality chess. I’ve had a rubbish tournament so far, but thanks to some very favourable pairings, I find myself in a position to challenge for the top spots. Still, I can’t see my luck holding up. I did have one nice finish to a game, however, which will be the only chess contribution from this post. Enjoy.

 

 

 
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Cancel the Olympiad? No(r) way!

Posted by David Smerdon on Jul 18, 2014 in Uncategorized

It’s hard to know what to make of the latest Olympiad drama. There are so many conflicting reports, rumours, innocent victims and different parties with skin in the game, that it reminds one of an election campaign. Oh hang on; there IS an election campaign. Go figure.

Back it up a little. For those of you without your finger on the pulse of chess gossip, here’s the state of play. The Olympiad in Tromsø, Norway starts in two weeks. Ten teams (including, most significantly, the Russian women’s team) missed the deadline for registration. The organisers have said they’re not accepting the late entry of these teams. FIDE says they MUST accept these teams, citing a statute that gives the FIDE President overriding powers. The organisers say that power doesn’t apply. Drama ensues.

That’s where we stand, at least from a fact perspective. The rumour mill is well and truly in production, as you might expect, with my favourites being that (1) Gary Kasparov’s team has orchestrated the organisers’ behaviour in order to embarrass FIDE before the upcoming FIDE election; (2) FIDE may cancel the whole Olympiad, and (3) FIDE, with the help of Vladimir Putin (!), is considering moving the whole Olympiad to Sochi, Russia, within the next two weeks.

There are a lot of parties at fault in all of this. The Russian chess federation should have registered its team on time, but delayed until after Kateryna Lahno, one of the strongest female players in the world, could officially change chess federations from the Ukraine to Russia. The addition to the Russian team was especially important, given the huge rifts within the team between two of its star players, the Kosintseva sisters, and the coach, Sergei Rublevsky, after the last Olympiad. It should be noted that the Russian team could have registered a team anyway and simply added an extra name later, for a nominal fee of 100 euros. But they didn’t, and here we are.

FIDE is hardly guilt-free in this, either. I doubt FIDE would have gotten involved at all if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s Russia who is affected. Meanwhile, the animosity between FIDE and the Norwegian organisers has been heated for some time, I suspect largely underpinned by the fact that Norway is a vocal supporter of the Kasparov campaign. The Tromsø organisers must also accept blame in all this; it’s clear that the budget for the Olympiad has been completely blown out of the water (although the organisers could not have known so many more teams would want to play than in previous years), and they have cited budgetary reasons for why they won’t allow exceptions to the late deadline rule. In fact, because of budgetary uncertainty, the Olympiad was only confirmed on June 5 – notably, after the deadline for registration. I have a lot of sympathy for the organisers: this will surely be one of the most expensive Olympiads ever, with the most teams, in a country where costs are high, and just after Norway has hosted a rather expensive World Championship match and a World Cup to boot. But a budget is a budget.

The innocent victims I mentioned are, of course, the players. And not just the Russians, either. Other teams affected include the Afghani women’s team, which has itself overcome its own internal problems in the past just to be able to play, and several African teams that have had to jump over many well-publicised visa hurdles to secure their place.  And, of course, if the whole Olympiad is moved or cancelled, literally thousands of chess players and fans will be affected.

I really have no idea what’s going on, and it’s even possible that the ‘facts’ I’ve re-quoted above have been massaged somehow by their sources. But what I can do is apply some basic game theory to the situation to make a prediction about what’s going to happen.  For example, it’s highly unlikely that the Olympiad will be cancelled or moved. There’s just no way that FIDE would accept the negative publicity in the run-up to what will be one of the closest-fought FIDE elections in recent history. Secondly, I find it very hard to believe that these teams will ultimately not be allowed to play, for similar reasons. If the Tromsø organisers just wanted to make a point, it’s been made: this story has been widely publicised in all major media outlets in the chess world. If it’s a budgetary issue, either the money will be found somehow, or the Norwegian organisers will cave in; after all, they would have had to have budgeted for these teams a couple of months ago, when they thought that these teams would register. The unfortunate reality is that perhaps without the Russian team being affected, the organisers might have gotten away with denying the other countries a place; as it stands, although ‘no exceptions should be made’, the might of Russia is a tough beast to fight against.

So, my prediction is that the Olympiad will go ahead, and the teams will play. The real question to me is, how are we going to get there? Who is going to cave first? And which side of the election is going to come out of this looking better than the other?

I, a lowly chess blogger, have no idea. But it’s all very exciting!

 
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Getting cooked by Swedish chefs

Posted by David Smerdon on Jul 12, 2014 in Uncategorized

Yeh I know, I need new material. But come on, I love this guy.

My tournament in Växjö (pronounced “Vair-kshh”, as I was quizzed on by the organisers in the opening ceremony) was not an overwhelming success. I finished middle of the field on an even 4.5/9. Certainly an improvement on my 0/2 start, but the second half of the tournament could be classified as a comedy of missed opportunities. Nevertheless, overall I’m not that unhappy to have sacrificed a handful of ELO points for my first Swedish chess experience. My three losses were at the hand of three of the youngest participants in the field: Mads Andersen (DEN), Aryan Tari (NOR) and Svane Rasmus (GER), three talented IMs who were super close to picking up GM norms in this event. Mads is a little older than the other two, but his play in particular really impressed me. He went on to win the tournament with 5.5 points, narrowly edging a big group on 5, and I expect we’ll hear a lot more about him (and the others) in the future. My best, or at least most entertaining, game of the event was against the top seed, GM Tiger Hillarp Persson. Tiger is one of the most unusual grandmasters I’ve met. I first ran into him at breakfast in the hotel on the opening day; I, an economist by trade, had brought a chess book to breakfast to read and relax over my meal, while the professional had brought a heavyweight macroeconomics book! I guess the grass is always greener somewhere else. Not only does Tiger share my interest in economics and particularly inequality, but he is, as he puts it, “very much a political animal”, expressing considered (and strong!) views about many topical social issues on which your average grandmaster would usually steer clear. The 43 year old is also an unusual chess professional for having started extremely late, around 25 years of age (a fact that many find especially shocking at first, seeing as he looks about 30).

Tiger (right) in a post-mortem with Victor Nithander (source: Lars OA Hedlund)

Tiger (right) in a post-mortem with Victor Nithander (source: Lars OA Hedlund)

Given that we were two of the three old GM punching-bags in the event, one might be forgiven for predicting an energy-saving draw in our individual encounter. And I must confess, going into the game, I would have been very happy just to take a reasonably non-confrontational half-point. However, it quickly became clear that the tournament favourite was out for blood and fireworks (not necessarily in that order), which he himself hinted at over breakfast by declaring, “Let’s have some fun!” Tiger unleashed an inspired and dangerous attack after the opening, which I only managed to diffuse by way of a rare middle game promotion on b1. This was enough to hold the balance, depute Tiger achieving his own new queen. However, the game had a few more twists in store, and by the time I achieved a second (!) promotion on b1, I had accidentally fallen into a winning endgame. Here are my notes on the game that I recently sent off to New In Chess for the next yearbook.

It turns out Tiger has his own blog and he annotated the game over there as well , so for some higher-quality chess commentary, check it out. All in all, not a horrible Olympiad-prep tournament, and an enjoyable start to the Scandinavian Summer. Next stop: Denmark!

My conquerors in the first two rounds.

My conquerors in the first two rounds.

In the midst of the playing hall: screens for the spectators. Why don't all tournaments have this?

In the midst of the playing hall: screens for the spectators. Why don’t all tournaments have this?

Early leader and new father, Axel Smith, before our game.

Early leader and new father, Axel Smith, before our game.

 

The chief organiser, Håkan Jalling, and his wife.

The chief organiser, Håkan Jalling, and his wife.

 
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Full tilt

Posted by David Smerdon on Jun 27, 2014 in Uncategorized

0-0-0. Queenside castling – again!

I’m in Växjö, a sleepy little Swedish town. Well, it seems sleepy, although I’m told it’s a lively student joint outside of the summer. Just my luck: you can have the sun, or fun, but not both.

I’m here for a cozy little grandmaster-norm round robin. Again, I’m the ideal attendee: a weak, amateur, foreign GM just ripe for the beating. And the beating, unfortunately, has commenced. Besides the obligatory three GMs, the tournament’s other seven participants are all young, talented IMs from Scandinavia and Germany. I was hoping enough time had passed since my horror loss in the last round of the Batavia tournament, but apparently I could have done with a few more months. My first game was a real shocker: with White, in a nondescript exchange French, I was lost after 15 minutes. A loss with White in the first round is of course the worst possible start, but after messing up a very promising position in my second game, I suddenly found myself alone on the bottom of the table with 0/2. Thus, I had managed to lose my last three games – 0-0-0.

This was the third time this has ever happened to me, and I can’t begin to describe how horrible it feels. It’s applied somewhat when you’re alone in a foreign country and know that the two-round-a-day slugfest will continue, whether you want it to or not. Unlike most grandmasters, who can maintain their professionalism and composure game by game, I’ve always been a momentum player, prone to epic rolling highs and inescapable lows. Liable, in poker terms, to tilting. That definitely was the case in the third round: I had the shakes for almost the entire four hours, absolutely convinced that every move I made was a blunder, despite my most thorough attempts at calculations. I wanted to be anywhere else but playing chess.

Fortunately, my opponent also got nervous, and in a double-edged time scramble I came out on top. Well, ‘fortunate’ feels a little generous: Quinten, a talented Dutchman, most probably won’t have a shot at the norm now, but the GM title can’t be far off for him. I’d say the same for my first two opponents, too – good thing I’m keeping up my end of the bargain by shedding points.

I’m definitely not out of the woods yet: tomorrow morning I’ve got black against the top seed, GM Tiger Hillarp Persson. But the bleeding has stopped, for now.

The tournament, I have to say, is really great. If I was a Scandinavian junior on the hunt for a norm, this would be the perfect opportunity. There are two IM-norm round-robins going on alongside the main event, and everyone is eager and playing aggressive, fighting chess. The venue is also really cool: it’s held right next to the town’s beautiful concert hall, in a building from the early 18th century that used to be the city baths. The players are very well taken care of, and there’s a nice display and commentary room for the spectators. It doesn’t change the fact that I wish I was on a beach somewhere and definitely not playing chess, but it’s great for the rest of the players, and makes a tilt just a little bit easier.

http://www.vismachess.com/en/

The back entrance to the playing hall

The back entrance to the playing hall

 

No concerts during the tournament, unfortunately

No concerts during the tournament, unfortunately

 

The city is littered with modern artwork and statues wherever you look. These ladies greet us at the hotel entrance.

The city is littered with modern artwork and statues wherever you look. These ladies greet us at the hotel entrance.

 
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A long ride home

Posted by David Smerdon on May 12, 2014 in Uncategorized

One of my former schoolmates, Jonathan Ringrose, is going to cycle home.  ‘Home’ is Brisbane, Queensland. His current location? Stockholm, Sweden.

"Sorry, Google says no."

“Sorry, Google says no.”

The Jonathan I remember was a quiet, friendly, well-liked kid at Churchie, who was pretty talented at chess as well. I’d lost touch with him since high school until his quiet, friendly, and bearded (!) face popped up on my Facebook feed, announcing day 1 of his adventure. In case you want to know what it’s all about, or more likely, want to know why the heck someone would want to attempt this, check out his first video post at his blog, http://www.mylongridehome.com .

 

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