Braying for blood

Posted by David Smerdon on Oct 21, 2014 in Chess


When you’re a kid playing chess in Australia, you hear these stories about this magical, mystical place called ‘Europe’. A place where some people’s houses are older than the first Australian colonies, where soccer is actually considered a real sport, and where chess players can frolic freely from country to country, from tournament to tournament, and where chess leagues actually exist.

Chief among these chess fairytales is the legend of the German chess bundasliga, considered the highest, most exclusive chess league in the world. It’s a mystical competition in which the world’s very best chess players fly from around the globe to compete in a super-mega-strong event, with teams sponsored by super-mega-rich German football clubs. As a junior, I always thought of it as the holy grail of chess leagues.

Well, after travelling to forty countries and having lived in Europe for a few years, most of the magic of my childhool dreams of ‘overseas’ has faded somewhat. It seems that people everywhere in the world aren’t really that different, that soccer isn’t such a silly game after all, and that there isn’t a castle to be seen in all of Amsterdam. But the myth of the Bundasliga lives on. And last weekend I finally got my first chance to play in the league.

I am now an official member of the Werder Bremen chess team, which is indeed sponsored by the Werder Bremen football club, one of the biggest in Germany. We play our home matches in the soccer stadium in the town of Bremen (not on the pitch, I was sad to discover), and even have to play our games in the Werder Bremen soccer uniform (which is a rebelliously delicious white-and-green). We may not look like a typical football team, but I must say I feel very cool in my new Nike stripes (see how happy I look, on the far right).

This pic is of our first division team, but there are several other teams in the other divisions, and a strong junior arm of the club as well. The depth of the club is rivalled by its strength at the top, and actually I don’t even make the first team when we have our full-strength lineup (with an average rating around 2650!). This pales in comparison to some of the other clubs, however, with the monstrous behemoth of Baden-Baden sporting an average rating of 2750 in their top team, featuring Anand, Aronian and Svidler. Scary stuff.
I have to say, the only thing I knew about Bremen before I arrived on the weekend was its reference in the famous Brothers Grimm tale of the Bremen town musicials – the donkey, dog, cat and rooster. That’s the reference to the title pic, in case you’re confused. It’s a classic tale, so go read it if you haven’t, and a tourist highlight for the town. Ironically, however, the town of Bremen doesn’t feature at all in the tale. Confused? Read the story! What, you don’t know how to use Google? Fine, I’ll give you a link: http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/grimm027.html
I really enjoyed the comradery of the team, and getting to practice my limited German, and of course the cool sportswear. Did I mention that already? But of course, in my first ever game for the club, I almost suffered from the ‘Werder curse’ and should have lost. How fitting, seeing as the Werder Bremen football team got smashed 6-0 by Bayern Munich at exactly the same time. I got into a hopelessly depressing endgame, and I would have felt even worse had I known at the time that I was playing one of the students of the great modern endgame master, Karsten Mueller. Luckily my talented opponent, playing for Hamburg, let me off the hook with a draw, and I recovered to win my game on the Sunday. Still, the endgame is kinda cool and pretty instructive, so I’ve annotated it below.
By the way, the club ran an interview with me (in English) on its blog, featuring, among other things, (1) A terrible photo of me, (2) A statue of the Bremen town musicians, and (3) An open-shirt photo (is there any other?) of Crocodile Dundee. I know you’re going to read it now. http://www.schach-welt.de/BLOG/blog/do-the-melbourne-shuffle-david-smerdon-in-der-bundesliga
Unfortunately, I still don’t know the name of a single player on the Werder Bremen football team, but I’ve decided that I’m morally obliged to follow them in the football Bundasliga. So, go you Green-and-White! Lebenslang Grün-Weiß!



Was the Olympiad really that bad?

Posted by David Smerdon on Oct 3, 2014 in Chess

My friend recently showed me the latest edition of the New in Chess magazine. The Olympiad edition. In it is several articles that are highly critical of the Norwegian organisation of the event, and particularly the ‘horrific’ playing venue and ‘appalling’ accommodation conditions. This echoes a couple of other high-profile Olympiad reports that have been floating around on the net since August.

I’m sorry, what? Was I at a different Olympiad?

Was there some rival tournament with a blisteringly hot (or, depending which report you read, freezing cold) playing hall? Was the food inedible? Were we really treated like animals, left to slum it for a fortnight?

Personally, I thought the Olympiad was absolutely fine. Perhaps not the best, and certainly not the worst I’ve been to – and I’ve attended the last six. But, more importantly, this sort of damaging criticism isn’t warranted. I want these enthusiastic Norwegian organisers to keep organising tournaments, so let’s focus on the positives.

First, I thought that the accommodation was superb. The majority of participants were put up in high-class hotels either within walking distance or a short bus ride from the venue. A particularly nice feature was that both the venue and the hotels were in the centre of town (quite a change from Istanbul), meaning that the participants could freely enjoy beautiful Tromso at their leisure. And the food? Supplying three meals a day for thousands of participants is no easy task, but I have to say, a wonderful job was done. There were some complaints that the food tasted repetitive after 15 days. That’s not surprising, and has been the case at every Olympiad or World Youth event I’ve attended. I must confess I was also sick of the food by the end, and I even splurged on the last night and ate out in hyperexpensive Tromso. (I bought the most expensive burger I’ve ever purchased, at 30 euros. It was, well, good.) But it wasn’t like we had a fixed menu – we were offered a large and hugely diverse buffet for each mealtime, one of high quality Scandinavian cuisine. Fresh salmon, caviar, as well as international options including Asian and African foods. The lunch buffet at our hotel, for example, would normally have cost 40 euros.

And secondly, the playing venue. It’s true that it wasn’t the prettiest of buildings. But – we were playing chess, not hosting a gala ball. The portable toilets were probably the worst feature, but after the second day the organisers hugely increased the frequency of the cleaning, which made a big difference. Players were offered free water, soft drinks, juice, tea, coffee and biscuits during the games. The volunteers were plentiful, helpful and extremely friendly. And I really don’t understand the criticisms about the room temperature. I have heard these reports about it being either too hot or too cold, but I can’t say I experienced anything like this – and our team played all over the hall. One special feature was that the second floor contained a fully equipped press studio, where journalists broadcast from the playing hall to the main Norwegian television channels. In fact, at least an hour a night of coverage was broadcast on Norwegian television, with many more updates throughout the day.

Perhaps small things could have been improved, but I hardly feel that the event was organised “not in accordance with the status of an Olympiad” (Evgeny Najer), “far from ideal” (Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam) or “far below what it should be” (Alexandra Kosteniuk). Or perhaps I really was at a different Olympiad, at least in a sense. Still, one thing is for sure: the Norwegian organisers pumped tens of millions of euros into organising the largest chess Olympiad ever held. They helped promote chess to levels never before seen in mainstream European media. I don’t care about the politics, the personal vendettas or the interfederation fights. I just hope that the Norwegians  keep organising and promoting chess. And personally, I had a great time.


Flashback: “Dave’s Juice Fast” (2007)

Posted by David Smerdon on Sep 19, 2014 in Non-chess

A reader asked me about my first attempt at a juice fast, which I mentioned in relation to an upcoming repeat as part of my anti-midlife-crisis. I dug up a Facebook post I wrote about it in 2007, after the second day of the fast. Unfortunately, the fast, which I did with Manuel Weeks, only lasted another two days. After this, we both gave up – him because of insuffereable caffeine-withdrawal migraines (he’d been regularly on seven cups a day before the fast), and me because of ravenous hunger and low self-discipline. In case you aren’t convinced by these excuses, perhaps you’ll find some in my rather colourful description of juice-fasting below.


Dave’s Juice Fast – day 2 – October 6, 2007

In response to the flood of queries regarding my ‘juice fast’ status, I’ve decided to post a note. No, Andy, it is not part of Ramadan; no; it does not involve throwing anything over a cliff; and no, Tony, I am not a Fruitarian, or a Vegetarian, or any other sort of -arian for that matter. (I wish I’d been a barbarian).

The girlfriend of the couple I am staying with in Dublin convinced her boy to try and shed a few pounds, as well as kick his caffeine addiction, by going on a juice-fast. And I am his ‘juice-fast buddy’ (oh yeh, because that sounds cool).

Before I go into my experiences on the first day, I’ll quote Wikipedia. It’s a bit lengthy, so feel free to skip over it.

“Juice fasting is a type of fasting and detox diet in which the practitioner consumes only fruit and vegetable juices. Juice fasts are commonly undergone with the intent of detoxification for greater health, the theory being that less energy is expended on digestion of foods; therefore more energy exists for the rest of the body to expel toxins. As toxins are believed to lie within many of the human body’s eliminative glands and organs, different juice fasts target different sections of the body. For instance, a large portion of juice fasters believe that abstaining from solid food allows the body to recover and heal itself from damage and fatigue caused by the relentless stress of digestion. Others choose fasting because they want to target the liver, the kidneys, the urinary tract, the skin, the gallbladder, the brain, the immune system, etc…

“Additional reasons for undergoing juice fasts include religious reasons, losing weight and attempting to wean oneself from unhealthy habits, i.e., smoking, drinking soda, overeating, caffeine addiction, etc. Some more serious participants use juice fasting as an alternative to conventional medical practices, i.e., as a healing technique for pain, cancer, depression, arthritis, severe infections that failed antibiotics, autoimmune diseases and many other supposedly incurable diseases….”


After one day, all I am is Hungry, Hungry, Hungry. I’ve been craving bread, just one frickin’ slice of bread. Or just a cracker. Ohh man, how much would I murder a cracker right now. I’ve fared better than my friend, though, who usually drinks three cups of coffee a day, minimum. His headache was so bad that he couldn’t drive home from our ‘trip to the Irish countryside’, and I had to take over. In fact, it was SO bad that he cheated with a half-shot of espresso at 10pm. Normally I would have kicked up a fuss, but I was really starting to think he might actually die, which wouldn’t have done my ‘juice-fast buddy’ reputation any good for future clients.

Now, Why Juice Fasts Suck, by David Smerdon. Do not read if you have a weak stomach; it’s a bit gross.

Basically, because you don’t take in any pulp, or fibre, the digesting speeds up, which means you can ‘expel’ a lot faster. But this causes havoc with the bowels. A cringe quote from Wiki that I just can’t help myself but to quote:

“Because pure juice contains little to no fiber, juice fasters often use an enema or an herbal or saltwater laxative during the time of fasting to efficiently expel waste from the intestines and colon”


I haven’t experienced anything yet, but the multiple guides on the topic, as well as the previous experiences of the couple I’m with, suggest one should experience diarrhoea or constipation. Or both. Charming. Oh, and apparently because of all the juice acids, after two days you’re supposed to get ACUTE HALITOSIS. 

For those of you wondering, that’s medical for BAD BREATH.

Not only that, but you’re supposed to sleep about 12 hours a day, and basically can’t do anything, as all your energy is going into the toxin-expulsion process. All you’re supposed to do is rest, rest, rest (and try not to think about food, presumably. I watched a cooking show this morning. Torture.)

Woot woo, my first weekend in Dublin and I’m stuck on a couch with bowel problems watching TV with a caffeine addict on detox.

But EVEN WORSE than all the hunger, the sleeping, the bad breath, the bowel adventures, is:

I’m in Dublin, basically the closest city to England where you can still hate the English, on the weekend Australia plays England in the Rugby world cup,

And I can’t even have a beer.

The healthiest fridge I have ever been privy to. I hate it.

The healthiest fridge I have ever been privy to. I hate it.


First Contact

Posted by David Smerdon on Sep 14, 2014 in Chess, Non-chess

As I rapidly approach – *gasp!* – thirty, it appears I’ve been going through some sort of premature midlife crisis. I’ve been aggressively travelling to new countries (three this Summer), flirting with various new hobbies and pursuits, will soon embark to improve on my shameful attempt at a juice fast…and, recently, I got contact lenses.

“What?!”, I hear you ask with surprise. “I didn’t even know you wore glasses!”

Indeed; the glasses were in themselves a recent addition. My eyesight was never a problem until I began the Tinbergen masters programme three years ago, which precipitated a remarkably rapid decline in my vision. I decided that the best way to deal with the problem of not being able to read the lecture board was not, in fact, wearing my new glasses, but simply avoiding lectures. It worked, to an extent, but eventually nature took its course and I became one step closer to my Brainy Smurf avatar.

Dave says no to midlife crises.

Right before Sabina and I left for Portugal, I got myself measured for contact lenses, and took my trial pair along with me for the holiday. For those of you who don’t know anything about lenses (as I didn’t), here’s a brief synopsis. They are, literally, tiny, malleable lenses that one must stick to the front of one’s eyeballs. It takes a little getting used to, this process; keeping one’s eye open while a finger literally pokes the eyeball isn’t exactly an innate action. Moreover, the wearer is strictly instructed by the optician that hygiene is a must; lenses must be thoroughly sanitised (definitely NOT with any water) both before and after each wear. I was told not to have them in for more than four hours a day at the beginning, so that my eyes could get used to the product. This was good advice: in the early days for a new wearer, it literally feels like a couple of sand granules are permanently stuck in your eye. Uh-uh – no scratching.

This sensation is supposed to go away after a week or so. I say ‘supposedly’, however, because I didn’t get that far. I had the lenses in while I drove our rental car from Galicia (awesome) to Famalicão (less so), but my right eye was becoming more and more irritated, and I became my own windscreen-wiper as I regularly brushed the tears out of the optical culprit. Eventually, I couldn’t take it any more, so we pulled over in a small town so I could take the lenses out.

Into a cafe bathroom, and – pop! – out slides the left contact. Now for the right miscreant…and, what do you know? He’s not there.

At first, I thought that I just couldn’t see it, so I kept trying to pinch the translucent lens on my iris – which, in reality, just meant that I kept pinching my iris. Try it some time; it’s really not fun. After a while, and checking all around my eyeball, I came to the conclusion that the little bugger was missing.

Well, there goes my lens trial for Portugal, I thought, and off we drove again (reequipped with my regular classes). My eye was still in some pain, but I concluded that when the lens fell out, it must have scratched my cornea in the process (I was warned that the edges of lenses can become rough, which can severely irritate your eye. The fun never ends!). I hoped the eye would repair itself in a day or two, but the sand-in-the-eye feeling persisted.

We  were actually in Famalicão for a small chess tournament, so the eye condition played havoc with my preparations. During the first two games, I found it hard to focus in general, let alone on the board, and spent most of my thinking time with my eyes closed. But the worst was in the evenings, when I simply couldn’t sleep due to the constant irritation of my closed eyelids on my damaged eyeball.

(Grossed out? There’s not much more, so read on – but, I warn you, it’s going to get worse before it gets better.)

Finally, by the third night, I couldn’t take it any more. I got up from the bed, went to the bathroom mirror and stretched my eyelids apart as much as I dared. In the very innermost corner of my eye, surrounded with masses of tiny, irritated red arteries, I spotted the glint of something blue. A tiny speck, but the colour gave it away as foreign. Prising my eyelids open with both hands, I carefully tried to drag it out using the fingernail of my pinkie. It threatened to retreat back beyond my eyeball’s visible curvature into the unknown abyss behind my eye, but, after some painstakingly delicate manoeuvring, it began to move centrally. However, I soon noticed that the speck wasn’t coming alone – in fact, it was more of a small piece. No, wait – is it a shard? Eventually, enough became exposed that I could grip it and pull, and out, covered in creamy, sticky eyeball fluid, came my lost contact lens. The whole thing.

More than meets the eye.

Needless to say, it was all glasses-wearing on the holiday after that.

Today, I recounted my story to the opticians. They were (to my relief, I must admit) suitably shocked and appalled. A freak occurrence, they said. Nevertheless, they’ve given me another trial pack to try. (Interestingly, they offered no advice on how to prevent this from happening again. Lightning doesn’t strike twice, after all. Oh, actually…)

Perhaps this was a sign that I should just accept my ageing gracefully, baldness, glasses and all, rather than risking my sight. Besides, they say the eyes are the windows to the soul. And what’s a window without glass?


Australian Olympiad Post-Mortem

Posted by David Smerdon on Sep 2, 2014 in Chess

The following is more of a diary entry of my thoughts about the Australian team’s performance. If you have no interest in Australia’s performance at the Olympiad, or the Olympiad, or chess, or my writing in general…Well, there are some photos at the bottom.

Australian Olympiad Debrief

Well, another Olympiad done and dusted. But this time, Australia really has something to brag about. The performance of our team definitely exceeded expectations: seeded 60th, we finished 31st on tiebreak, and claimed silver in our rating category.  Had we scored just a half point more in our final match against Germany, our final standing would unquestionably be the best by an Australian team at an Olympiad; alas, 2-2 was the final score.

For such a young and inexperienced team, with two debutants, this was an unexpected highlight, which seems to indicate that Australian chess probably has a lot to look forward to. The star of the show was undoubtedly our boy wonder, 13 year old IM Anton Smirnov. He didn’t lose a game on his way to a 2570 performance rating, and was our ‘points machine’ on the bottom board. My other three teammates – Moulthun Ly, Max Illingworth and Junta Ikeda – have only just graduated from their teens themselves, and so, for the two rounds I rested, the Australian team had an average age below 20!

These three – with only two prior Olympiad appearances between them – certainly distinguished themselves. Junta was solid, and picked up a big win with black against the Mexican GM Hernandez Guerrero. Moulthun was probably hoping to perform closer to GM level, but still picked up an impressive win against GM Leon Hoyos (also in the Mexican match) and a fine draw against GM Filippov. Max had a sluggish and dare I say it unlucky start, but his final round win against GM Nisipeanu was ample compensation

But more importantly, in my opinion, was the exemplary team attitude of these four ‘youngsters’. For the first time that I can remember, I really felt that we (along with our captain) were participating and competing as a team. This was definitely helped by the group training sessions in the months prior to the Olympiad, as well as a warm-up tournament in Denmark that most of us participated in. In addition, we ate, relaxed, prepared, and passed the free time together, going for walks, playing cards, handball or hacky sack, or just messing around. I’ve always believed that team spirit makes a big difference even in ‘individualistic’ endeavours such as chess, and at least our experience this year seemed to bear this out. I almost felt like one of the many ‘professional’ teams at the Olympiad: the top guys, and even some teams below us, who get paid to play. I don’t want to get too carried away, but who knows, in two years from now, we might even get…team jerseys.

Of course, team spirit can only get you so far. In team events, you need luck, both in your own games and for the team score. Two matches of 2.5-1.5 is a much better sequence than 4-0, 2-2, for example. My own performance was unflattering, scoring -1 and a below-par performance rating, but I was lucky in that my losses never made a difference to our match result. In a couple of cases, the match situation worked against me on a personal level – after we had scored 2.5-0.5 against both Portugal and the ICCD (“deaf”) team, I, relieved that we’d won each match, went a little crazy in my attempts to win and promptly lost. But at Olympiads, it’s my conviction that it’s ‘all about the team’, and so I was happy (and relieved!) that my teammates won the day on both occasions.

I’ve read a couple of Olympiad team ‘post-mortems’ online from various countries. The Danish and English teams are two examples that come to mind where the “what could we have done better?” debates have already begun in public forums, and I’m sure there’s a thorough examination of the Russian performance on some Cyrillic website as well. But I think it’s equally useful to deconstruct the performance when things go right. In our case, the focus on team-building was a key ingredient to the success.  We helped each other both during preparation before the game and in support afterwards, and moreover, in every match, each player played for the magic 2.5 points, rather than for himself.

The tournament also seems to suggest that the “exuberance of youth” can be equally as important as past experience, as the Australian selectors’ decision to select a young team reaped dividends. And the pre-Olympiad team training sessions (which, surprisingly, the Australian team hasn’t done before in recent memory) were hugely beneficial. These factors may seem small, but they can add up to a significant boost to a team’s performance in a match competition. I hope that before the next Olympiad, the team prepares in a similar manner, in terms of chess preparation but also in terms of motivational factors. It would be very useful for the women’s team to follow this lead in future, too, and perhaps even more so with certain elements. Once we get the basics of a professional chess team right, who knows where things might lead for Australian chess.

We might even get our own jerseys.



Junta, Max, and our mascot, Sheila the Koala (in the background, you might be able to spot Anton chasing Moulthun)

Junta, Max, and our mascot, Sheila the Koala (in the background, you might be able to spot Anton chasing Moulthun)

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“Anton, Moulthun, get back here!”


The Chinese men’s team were exuberant about winning gold.

The Russian women's team were somewhat less expressive.

The Russian women’s team were somewhat less expressive.

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Post-Olympiad wedding: Australian men’s captain Manuel Weeks and his wife, Brigitta

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The usual suspects at a chess wedding

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Post-Olympiad holiday in Lisbon



Posted by David Smerdon on Aug 18, 2014 in Chess, Non-chess

After a straight month on the road, complete with four countries, 19 tournament games, one blitz tournament, a problem solving championship, a Bermuda party and an amazing wedding, only Bruno Mars can explain how I feel.


Olympiad 2014: Penultimate night

Posted by David Smerdon on Aug 14, 2014 in Chess

A lot’s happened, and I’ve been neglecting my updates. I guess that just means plenty of post-Tromsoø updates. For now, here are the cliff notes:

  • Australia is having an awesome Olympiad. Unfortunately, in tomorrow’s final round we have a very tough pairing: Germany. On the other hand, an upset win would I believe give us the best ever performance by an Australian Olympiad team.
  • After an awesome start, I’ve been struggling in the second half of the tournament, and go into tomorrow’s game after two losses in a row.
  • Kasparov lost the FIDE election, but threw a really swell party. I wrote a little parody song for the event, but my performers (Liz Pähtz and Nigel Short) chickened out at the last moment. So I’m publishing the lyrics below.

That’s it. Big game tomorrow; I’m playing super-GM Arkadij Naiditsch. I’ve been waiting 18 years (not really) to get revenge for when he beat me in the under-12s in 1996. More importantly, I don’t want to experience queenside castling again (e.g. here and here). But even more significantly than my own performance: Who’s gonna win gold? Could China really win gold in both the men’s and women’s Olympiads? Stay tuned.

Silent Chess

Silent night, Holy night

Midnight light, Far too bright

Every two years, O-lim-pi-ad,

So much fun if you, don’t play too bad

The joy just seems to inc-reease,

O-ops, I’ve blundered a piece.


Fi-irst rest night, Ber-mu-da night,

Not the same, without a fight

Have a drink, and a laugh, and a dance

Watch those looking for chessy romance.

Don’t do something you’ll re-gret

With a GM you’ve just met.


Silent chess, Holy chess

Th’ best two weeks, I must confess

Meeting people from around the globe

Even fun for a FIDE-o-phobe

So, to you I say che-ers,

See you in two-o more years.

The team heading to the round

The team heading to the round

Coffee with our team mascot, Sheila the koala

Coffee with our team mascot, Sheila the koala

Kasparov speaking at his party

Kasparov speaking at his party

Australian arbiter Gary Bekker won a sweet lucky-draw prize at the Kasparov party

Australian arbiter Gary Bekker won a sweet lucky-draw prize at the Kasparov party

Paul Spiller (from NZ) in front of one of the larger pro-Kasparov posters in Tromsø

Paul Spiller (from NZ) in front of one of the larger pro-Kasparov posters in Tromsø

The team before the match with Portugal (note Sheila in the captain's chair)

The team before the match with Portugal (note Sheila in the captain’s chair)


Armenia-Australia 3-1

Posted by David Smerdon on Aug 4, 2014 in Chess

“If you can draw with Aronian from the exchange down, you’ll definitely have no problems against Magnus!”

That was Aussie GM Ian Rogers’ comment after my game with Levon Aronian. Quite a few people have complimented me on my ‘inspired’ exchange sacrifice in the game, but unfortunately I have to confess that I’d seen the idea before. I had the white pieces but quickly found myself in an uncomfortable position against the Philador’s Defence. Luckily, I realised that a rather remarkable transposition was possible to an obscure line of the Blackmar-Diemer Gambit, which I had analysed for my upcoming book on the Portuguese variation of the Scandinavian Defence. If none of that makes sense, play these moves on the board:

1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 Nbd7 4.f4 e5 5.fxe5 dxe5

…and compare it to this:

1.e4 d5 2.d4 dxe4 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.f3 Nbd7!? 5.fxe4 e5!.

I couldn’t remember much about the line, which I’d analysed for the book about six months ago. I could, however, recall writing, “Black needs to be on the lookout for Rxd6 ideas. With best play, Black is close to winning, but the sacrifice can be quite dangerous against an unprepared opponent.” Then, during the game, I realised we’d stumbled upon the exact position, and so I went for it. Lev answered precisely and I was lost in a couple of spots, but in the end, I got lucky.

Higher quality chess was probably seen on the second and third boards, however. Max played an awesomely complicated King’s Indian against one of my heroes, Movsesian, with the craziness eventually fizzling out to a draw. Moulthun played a very mature game against Sargissian, but unfortunately went wrong in a complex middlegame and lost a tight endgame. Junta got tricked by my old nemesis, Akopian, and Australia eventually succumbed 3-1 to the former World Champions.

There’s not much else to report at this stage. There are the usual rumours and gossip, but rather than saucy tales, they largely revolve around the upcoming FIDE elections, a topic I’ll steer clear of for now. The elections do, however, mean that Kasparov is everywhere (both physically and on the multitudes of posters, billboards and t-shirts that adorn the city). It was a little intimidating at various points in my game with Lev to look up from my concentration and see, sequentially, Kasparov, Carlsen and Kramnik watching on, but that’s an Olympiad for you.

Incidentally, the Australian women’s team had an arguably even more impressive performance. They also lost 3-1, this time to the much-fancied Ukrainian women’s team, but the two draws were agreed in winning positions. 2-2 was the more correct result, which would have been one of Australia’s best-ever results in either section.

Tromsø as a city is quite nice – pleasant, friendly, hideously expensive. I’ve found the one hipster café in Tromsø, into which I sneak in the mornings to join the local students for a coffee with our macbooks. I almost look like I’m here on holiday.

Here are a couple of pics, courtesy of our men’s captain Manuel Weeks and and Leonid Sandler.

The Aussie team before the match with Armenia (and before the chief arbiter removed Max’s earplugs)

“What did I write in my book again?”

Round one against the US Virgin Islands

Round one against the US Virgin Islands


The Aussie team with one of our heroes, GM Victor Bologan from Moldova.


Australian Olympiad Photos #1

Posted by David Smerdon on Aug 1, 2014 in Chess, Non-chess

My camera and I have reached some sort of peacefire, which I’m immediately taking advantage of in order to upload a few quick snaps. Helsingør (Denmark) and Oslo to date. Enjoy!

Tournament winner, Chinese GM Bu Xiangzhi

The playing ‘pit’. In the foreground: top-seed, Ukrainian GM Moiseenko


Tournament winner, Chinese GM Bu Xiangzhi

Tournament winner, Chinese GM Bu Xiangzhi

Gawain and Tiger analysing their final-round game in the Danish sunshine

Gawain and Tiger analysing their final-round game in the Danish sunshine

Gawain also won the unofficial nightly pool tournaments.

Gawain also won the unofficial nightly pool tournaments.

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Junta and Anton with their norms; Moulthun (middle, refusing to look at the camera) with his prize money.

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Manuel and Anton join me for a selfie outside Oslo’s Tim Wendelboe cafe, apparently serving the world’s number one coffee

We'll make hipsters of them yet (captain Manuel and know-it-all Anton)

We’ll make hipsters of them yet (captain Manuel and know-it-all Anton)



Team Oz in Oslo

Posted by David Smerdon on Aug 1, 2014 in Chess

Goodbye Denmark, Hello Norway!

The Politiken Cup once again lived up to its billing as one of the most enjoyable tournaments on the European Summer calendar. This year was especially pleasant for the Aussies; as a team, we scored 4.5/5 in the final round to bump us up the order and flatter our final placings. I was the unfortunate “point-five”, drawing with US (and former Costa Rican) grandmaster Alejandro Ramirez to finish on 7.5/10. Moulthun and Anton both beat strong grandmasters with the black pieces to join me on 7.5, with Anton picking up his final IM norm in the process. The 13 year old wonderkid seemed nonplussed by this achievement, apparently more annoyed that I’d made a 2500 performance and he hadn’t (despite the 16 year age gap). He was heartened somewhat to discover he’d earned more prize money, though, thanks to winning his competitive under-2400 rating group!

Junta managed to swindle a win in what would prove to be one of the last games of the tournament. This was characteristic of his never-say-die attitude in the tournament, and although he messed up a potential (albeit long-shot) GM norm chance around the middle of the event, he still picked up valuable ELO points. Somewhat surprisingly, our captain, Manuel, was also in the norm-hunt mix after five rounds, thanks to a powerful victory over…Moulthun! Unfortunately, the Nordic Gods (or, more likely, an unfortunate dose of food poisoning) conspired against him and he was in survival mode for the last few rounds. Nevertheless, Manuel also joined the winners’ group for the last game.

Honorary Australian Gawain Jones really impressed, and thanks to a big win against Tiger in the last round, picked up second place and a hefty payday. More importantly, his rating has shot upwards to close in on 2680, dramatically increasing my chances of winning our personal bet that he’ll cross 2700 by the end of the year. The pocket change we got from winning the pair’s blitz event barely made a dent on his overall tournament income, but significantly boosted mine! I also managed to go one better than last year in winning the Danish Problem-Solving Championships (seriously good fun!), but got knocked out in the lucrative individual blitz event by none other than Junta!

Overall, it was a seriously cool fortnight of good weather, great food, excellent company and a wide variety of relaxing activities to maximise our team’s Olympiad preparations. Oh, and there was chess. Did I forget to mention chess? I’d almost forgotten.

My camera’s being a bit temperamental as I write this from one of Oslo’s many hipster-cafes, so I’ll try and upload the Danish photos once I get to Tromsø. In the meantime, if you’re one of this website’s chess-interested visitors, check out the chess Olympiad Fantasy Team competition. It’s free, but with real prizes, and adds a little bit of cheeky fun to watching the event. You’ve got to choose the best performers on each board for both the open and women’s events, as well as the overall team winners – but you can’t choose two members of the same country for the same event. I didn’t explain that very well, but you’ll get the idea – it’s easy. For the record, here are my predictions. Next stop: Tromsø!


“David Smerdon, your team, The smurfs, has been entered successfully into the Fantasy Chess Olympiad 2014.

Your team selection is confirmed as: 
Open 1: NOR – CARLSEN Magnus (2877)
Open 2: RUS – GRISCHUK Alexander (2795)
Open 3: UKR – IVANCHUK Vassily (2735)
Open 4: HUN – POLGAR Judit (2676)
Open 5: CUB – DOMINGUEZ PEREZ Leinier (2760)
Women 1: CHN – HOU Yifan (2629)
Women 2: IND – HARIKA Dronavalli (2513)
Women 3: HUN – HOANG Thanh Trang (2490)
Women 4: UKR – ZHUKOVA Natalia (2451)
Women 5: RUS – LAGNO Kateryna (2540)

Your end of competition predictions were:
Open section Gold: Russia
Open section Silver: China
Open section Bronze: Armenia
Women’s section Gold: China
Women’s section Silver: Russia
Women’s section Bronze: United States of America
Open section individual Gold: CARLSEN Magnus
Women’s section individual Gold: HOU Yifan

Your tie-breaker question answer was: 1301.”


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