There was a time when I was young and cute. No, really. I had hair and everything. Back then, thanks to an article by International Arbiter Charles Zworestine, the chessworld gave me the nickname Smurf. Not just a derivation of my surname, it also reflected that I was one of the youngest chesssplayers in the adult levels, playing guys 30-40 years older.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to channel my smurfness. These days, I more often than not find myself facing some talented junior with oodles of opening theory, hours of hanging with Houdini, and the recklessness of an English bachelor party in Amsterdam. But the last two rounds reminded me of the ancient times when I was the whippersnapper. In round 6, had the honour of facing GM Jan Timman – yes, the living legend himself. Jan was ranked in the top three in the world back in the eighties and is probably the most famous Dutch player of all time (“Even above World Champion Euwe? Hmm.” Controversial.)
Naturally I was pretty nervous to face the man, which may have had something to do with a huge oversight on my part on move 19, missing a clear and easy win. What a shame! I have to say, Manuel’s advice to “mix it up, head for unorthodox positions” proved invaluable, and I quickly worked up a dangerous attack. After my blunder, the position gradually slipped away from me, but I managed a last-ditch rescue operation to save the draw, which was probably a fair result. The game’s below, without detailed annotations unfortunately because I’m supposed to be preparing for my next round…
Round 7 was against another guy in his sixties, but not just any senior: the reigning World Senior Champion, Jens Kristiansen. I decided to resurrect my Grunfeld for the first time in a decade, and got a very atypical position for me: passive defence and use of the two bishops. For the nonchessers, “the two bishops” refers to situations in which one side still has both bishops while the other has swapped one or both of theirs off (usually for knights). The idea is that the two lasers should be a long term advantage which, if nurtured correctly, should wreak havoc when the board opens up. The technique to utilise them, however, requires patience, subtlety, finesse…traits that, unfortunately, the gods thought better than to bless me with. However, this time around, somehow I managed to keep my trigger hand still and eventually convert the win. Ironically, the Timman game also saw me pressing with the two bishops – but given my double pawn sacrifice that preceded it, the order of the day was swift violence rather than positional maturity.
My run of old-timing legends (“Jens is a CURRENT legend, you know!” protested one local Dane) has come to an end, as I’m facing the very talented Italian grandmaster Sabino Brunello today. I managed to squeeze two goals past his keeping in football last night, which I’m taking as a good omen. A couple of pics follow; I’ll put a bit more effort into the reports once the tournament wraps up, including a summary of the problem solving competition.
Dutch chess legend Jan Timman
Top seed and tournament leader, Bulgarian GM Ivan Cheparinov
I eat breakfast outside every day. This is my view: grass, woods, sea,...and Sweden.
The scene before the start of the problem solving competition
An impressively high rated football game. From left: GM Sebastien Maze, GM Sabino Brunello, GM Ivan Cheparinov, GM Hrant Melkumyan, GM Robin van Kampen, GM Parimajan Negi
I’m writing this from Denmark. Yes, Denmark!! I finally made it to ‘real’ Scandinavia (sorry Finland, but any country where I have to use Euro rather than Kroners – despite the extra convenience – just doesn’t cut it). And perhaps even more surprisingly, I’m playing chess here.
“But what about the thesis?” I hear you ask. Or more likely, I just heard my conscience. Well, I’ve been pulling 12 hour days for the last fortnight trying to pump out a full draft for my supervisors, which has been wreaking havoc on my brain and body, so I was already looking to take a week off. Then, as fate (surely not karma) would have it, I got a last minute call from the organisers of the Politiken Cup in Denmark – they’d had an unexpected GM cancellation and were looking for a replacement. Of course, most grandmasters have their chess schedule worked out six months in advance – but I’m not ‘most grandmasters’, having not played a tournament since last August.
And I have to report that it was a good choice for such an ‘amateur grandmaster’. I’m in Helsingor, a gorgeous seaside town an hour north of Copenhagen, and the chess is set at the amazing Konventum, some sort of cross between a corporate retreat and a ‘goodness and well being’ centre. We’re surrounded by amazing woods, a medieval castle, fairytale-esque forests and the beach just a short stroll away. At the centre, we can play billards, wii, check out the sauna or play almost any sport under the sun – and yes, there is actually sun! In fact I snuck in some rare European sunbathing as I decided to do my opening preparation this morning out on the lawns, overlooking the golf course. Did I mention there is a golf course? Our own course!
Of course (ha!) that doesn’t mean much to the other grandmasters. As Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (or ‘MVL’, as he prefers) recently quipped when interviewed, “Why should I care about the cities I play in? Wherever we play, chessplayers just go from the hotel to the tournament hall and back again.” Okay, I’m embellishing somewhat, but he said something like this. But of course, I don’t care that much about the results – I’m here to relax, and as such I’ll probably be the only grandmaster taking part in the other, less serious events in the festival. Besides blitz, there’s also a pairs blitz event and even a problem solving competition, in which I think I’m going to make my solving debut. And I’m sure I’ll be the only participant hitting the links in between rounds.
Despite my loud vows about my lighthearted approach to the tournament, so far it’s going pretty well. I’ve won my first three, which makes a nice change to the end of the Olympiad, my last tournament, where I lost the last three. Readers might remember that my collapse at the tail end of the tournament cost Australia what would have been its best evern Olympiad performance, which may explain why I’ve taken something of a Sabbatical from chess tournaments since then. It’s not the first time I’ve had a streak of losses – I would have gained the grandmaster title three years earlier than I did, back in 2006, if it wasn’t for a streak of four losses in a row when my live rating was 2496…
At least on the weight of current evidence, it seems I am a bit of a streaker. No, not THAT sort of streaker (the most famous recent example being this joker) – but I am very hot and cold in my performances on the board. My Dad always used to tell me that was my big weakness ; “You’ve got to stop the big swings”, he used to say, “None of these highs and lows – you’ve got to keep yourself level headed.” A decade and a half on, I’ve still got the same record. Still, my hot streak in the British league has managed to kick on a little, and currently it seems I’ve won my last 9 games. That’s probably my best ever run, which is why I’m writing this now before I mess it up. Still, there’s a silver lining when I come crashing back down to earth, because I can stop my morning preparations entirely and work on my (lack of a) golf swing.
I’ll try and get some pics posted on the next update so you can get an idea of the tournament without having to rely on my verbose descriptions. There’s word that there might be a soccer game tonight, which I’ll also try and snap – because rumour has it that if they’re chosing teams on rating order, I may not even make the cut….
POSTSCRIPT: Indeed, my prophecy turned out to be self-fulfilling – literally. I thought the round started an hour later than it did (I was going off yesterday’s time) and came to the board half an hour late. After I made up time and actually got ahead on the clock at one stage, the game exploded into tactical fireworks and finished in a draw. Thus, no more streaking.
So, Australia’s losing the Ashes series. I’m shocked.
For the non-cricketlovers, the Ashes is an annual series of 5 cricket matches between England and Australia. Given our natural rivalry, it’s not surprising that this is the biggest sporting event of Australia’s calendar year. The history of the series goes back to 1877 (and to put that in context, Australia was only colonised in 1788). There’s a lot of pride at stake, a lot of history, and a lot of contemporary context, given recent pushes within Australia to become a Republic. And, unfortunately for us, in the last few years England has dominated.
And so it is that after two tests, Australia finds itself 2-0 behind. The newspapers are having a field day with the obscure statistic that only once before in all of Ashes history has a side come back from 2-0 behind to win 3-2, with a typical cynical sentence going, “…and that was back in 1936-7 when Don Bradman made scores of 270, 212 and 169 in each test.” Don Bradman’s name is uttered with deity-like reverence in Australia, being not only the world’s greatest ever cricketer but also probably the most famous Australian of all time (at least up until Kylie Minogue donned the gold shorts).
The journos just love quoting this statistic; in fact, I bet one of them got the stat from their analyst and it’s subsequently been copied-and-pasted all around the media park. It’s meant to represent that we have next to no chance of pulling through.
But if you’re going to quote obscure historical similarities, you may as well go the whole hog. Let’s analyse the 1936-7 series, tealeaf-style, and see if we can find any other peculiaralities to give us Aussies some hope.
Let’s start with just how badly we lost. Okay, in the second test Australia got hammered pretty badly, losing by 347 runs, scoring a piddly 128 in our first innings. But back in December 1936, Australia lost by an innings and 22 runs, having been slaughtered for just 80 in its first innings. 80!!
Comparing the first tests looks even better for the modern Australia side. While the team narrowly lost a few weeks ago by the tiny margin of 14 runs, the 1936 team lost by a whopping 322 runs, largely thanks to Australia scoring 58 in its second innings. Yes, that’s right. Five. Eight.
That’s probably the lowest score Australia ever scored. To put that in context, each side gets to use 11 batsman, and usually about three or four will score over 50 each. Here, the whole Australian team scored about that. Bradman, only ever thought of as a batting hero, got out first ball.
I can only guess what the Australian and – *gasp* – English journalists were saying back then after the first two tests. Surely the roasting would have been several degrees hotter than the one the Aussie team is getting now.
And yet…Something amazing happened. Sure, a lot of it had to do with Bradman, the captain and world’s best batsman. But we keep forgetting that the current Australian captain, Michael Clarke, is also currently the world’s best batsman. Sure, he’s misfired so far… but so did the Don 78 years ago. He’d made scores of 38, 0, 0 and 82 in the first four innings; by Comparison, Clarke’s made 0, 23 28 and 51. Sound familiar?
Okay, I’ll admit it’s a stretch, but one could argue that Australia’s in a better position now than they were way back when. And as the journos rightly mention, the rest of the series was all Ozzie – wins by 365, 148 and an innings and 200 runs. Beautiful stuff if you come from the sunburnt land.
Have you heard of The Lion King? Of course you have. Won two Oscars, took in almost half a billion US dollars at the box office, got turned into one of the most successful Broadway musicals of all time…sound familiar? Well, in case you still need a reminder, here’s a brief run-down of the plot:
The setting is the glorious Pride Lands of Africa. Simba is a young and ambitious lion cub who, following the unfortunate demise of his long-reigning predecessor, is the rightful heir to the throne. However, the second in line to the crown, his uncle Scar, has other plans. After sneakily gathering the support of the hyena clan with all sorts of promises of power (“A shining new era/ Is tiptoeing nearer”), Scar embarks on a daring coup, usurping Simba and banishing him from the kingdom.
While languishing in the backwaters of the wilderness, Simba befriends other outcasts, beings his new life and renounces any ambitions to the top spot. Meanwhile, Scar’s rulership has led to the once vibrant lands slipping into a desolate wasteland, with the forecasts looking equally dark and barren. Simba is persuaded by the other animals to return from exile and challenge the usurper in a desperate bid to save the kingdom. After a brief struggle, Simba defeats Scar and takes his rightful place as leader, thus completing the Circle of Life.
Now, ready for some magic? Let’s do a couple of small replacements, and BAM, you’ve got the synopsis of Australian politics over the past five years.
The setting is the glorious Parliament of Australia. Kevin is a young and ambitious minister who, following the unfortunate demise of his long-reigning predecessor, is the rightful heir to the throne. However, the second in line to the prime ministership, his deputy Julia, has other plans. After sneakily gathering the support of the labor clan with all sorts of promises of power (“Don’t be a fool/ Go with Jule”), Julia embarks on a daring coup, usurping Kevin and banishing him from the front bench.
While languishing in the backwaters of the political wilderness, Kevin befriends other outcasts, beings his new life and renounces any ambitions to the top spot. Meanwhile, Julia’s rulership has led to the once vibrant economy slipping into a desolate wasteland, with the forecasts looking equally dark and barren. Kevin is persuaded by the other ministers to return from exile and challenge the usurper in a desperate bid to save the election. After a brief struggle, Kevin defeats Julia and takes his rightful place as leader, thus completing the Circle of Kevin.
Of course, we’ve still got the election coming up in August, and I haven’t found a role yet for Tony Abbott. Was there a Lion King II??
I’ve been slack with the blog, and have begun to receive pointed reminders from some of you. Fair call, although at least I have something of an excuse. Despite a sworn vow to never again return to the sub continent, I’ve been in Bangalore and its surrounds for the past month on a glorious summer vacation.
To be fair, the vow was made out of bitterness and pain all the way back in 2007, after my third visit to India for chess. I was playing in the Commonwealth Chess Championships in New Delhi and for the first time suffered a serious case of “Delhi Belly”. During the course of a week, my body lost 10 kilograms (and the snide pundits among you would be quick to point out that I didn’t have that much to begin with). The gruelling schedule of two five-hour games a day didn’t exactly aid the recovery, but in case you’re feeling sorry for me, spare a thought for my poor roommate, Gareth Oliver, given that I monopolised the bathroom for every waking minute we spent in the hotel.
I think my anti-India vow was probably uttered while being literally carried to the board for one of the final games, but I’m glad I didn’t stick to it. My other two trips, way back in 2002 and 2004, were absolutely amazing, and the most recent venture has reinforced my belief that India is truly a magical country. Still, it’ll take a fair bit of convincing to get me back to New Delhi again…
The reason for the trip to Bangalore was a wedding: one of my good friends from my Melbourne college days was to marry his Indian fiancee, and he’d made it very clear that skipping the event wasn’t an option. He currently works in Iraq for the UN, and given his military background, I felt it was a pretty good idea to oblige. To try and rid myself of the memories of half a decade ago, I arrived a few days before the rest of the wedding party to do a bit of exploring.
But it wasn’t as lonely as you might imagine. Before I left, I googled ‘Bangalore Chess’ and sent an email to the Bangalore Chess Academy to see whether there were any club nights or social events while I was there. I got a strange reply from a guy called Vedant: “There’s not really much of a club scene in Bangalore, but I’d love to play a few games against a grandmaster.” Oh brother, I thought, playing some games against one local bunny wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. I accepted the offer out of politeness, and good that I did. Vedant is an amazing guy who’s set up his own chess school in his house, run by himself and his wife, trains his very talented children, and is trying to expand the Bangalore chess scene with some junior tournaments. Oh, and on top of that, he’s the strongest player in Bangalore and has played against (and beaten) most of India’s grandmasters. He even took me down in one of our blitz games when my arrogant queen sacrifice backfired. In addition to our love of dubious sacrifices, we found another mutual idiosyncrasy: an addiction to mangoes. The bond was immediately forged.
After blitz, he invited me back to his house where by chance there was something of a family reunion going on, so I was introduced to children, brothers, sisters, their spouses, parents, grandparents and, it seemed, the whole tree. I accepted his seven year old daughter Yukti’s challenge to a game, and she’s really not bad. At some point, though, I had mate in three and decided to ‘graciously’ offer my host’s progeny a draw. “No”, she quickly replied. With the whole clan watching, I offered again, “Are you sure? Because, you know, your king’s not looking so good. Are you sure you don’t want a draw?”
“Nope” immediately came back the reply. “Play!” An impressive attitude, which reminded me of another young and reckless Brisbane kid many decades ago…
My last chess game in Bangalore. No draws allowed!
Vedant's sister is an artist, and she graciously gifted me one of her designs (as well as some local mango).
Meeting the (extended!) family
Hopefully in the future, I'll be able to caption this as "Meeting Bangalore's first grandmaster"
One difference I noticed about Bangalore compared to the other Indian cities I’ve visited is how differently foreigners are treated. For some reason, in Bangalore I and my fellow travellers were considered a novelty item wherever we went. I can’t even count the number of times people asked to take their picture with me – do I look like some Indian Premier League cricket star I’ve never heard of, or something? The only other time I’d encountered this sort of treatment was in Peru, but at least there was the reason that I was the only gringo in the town. The most comical request in Bangalore came when I was wandering alone in the Botanical Gardens and two guys approached me. When I asked why they wanted me in the photo, their response was priceless: “Because you’re foreign, and you’re looking so gorgeous.” I’ve been called many things before, but this was a first…
Of course, when Sabina arrived, the requests only increased. Together with my college friends Will and Dan, we went out to dinner at a rather fancy local restaurant. Upon being seated, our overly enthusiastic waiter began the conversation to Sabina with the priceless, “Madam, you look just like Barbie!” She whispered in my ear, “Should I take that as a compliment?”, to which I nodded while us boys desperately trying to suppress our laughter. We failed.
One final interesting tidbit came when I was walking down the central shopping street in the heart of Bangalore. And I mean the main street in the city, with all the fancy brands and men walking in suits, that sort of thing. A guy on the street corner with somewhat bloodshot eyes pulled out a nifty little wooden pocket chess set and tried to make a sale. “How peculiar,” I thought, “that I’d get offered a chess set here!” After I politely declined, he immediately came closer and whispered, “Want to buy some weed?” I recalled in shock at the sudden realisation:
…the chess-salesman in Bangalore are also the drug dealers!!
Okay, it was just one guy. And none of the other dealers I encountered for the rest of the trip had chess sets. Yes, that’s right, I got approached almost a dozen times on my stay. Whoever this IPL cricketer is, I’m starting to suspect he’s got a little problem…
The wedding itself was an amazing affair, as anyone who’s ever been to an Indian wedding can attest. The festivities lasted almost a week, but you’ve had to read too much of this diary-entry already and I won’t bore you any more with text; instead, here’s a couple of snaps to give you the flavour. And, for no particular reason, I’ve added my game against Vedant’s daughter. An Indian star of the future!
The happy couple, Tim and Mal, having just been pronounced man and wife after an elaborate and lengthy ceremony under the tent.
Dan, Tim ("What did you guys do to me at the bachelor's party?!") and I at the Mehendi celebrations the day before the wedding.
Trying on Indian men's formal wear, the Sherwami. In the end I just went for a suit, to Sabina's disappointment.
...but at least the tie matched the sari!
The girls all got Henna put on their hands as part of the Mehendi tradition
Sabina and Mal's cousins before the raucous Bollywood-style dancing commenced.
In India, of course, cows have complete right of way on the roads...
...and on the cricket field.
Dan and I fooling around at the reception dress-up photo stand, complete with working autorickshaw.
The plethora of fresh coconuts and mangoes made me a very happy traveller.
This house had no shortage of fresh coconuts, thanks to a bit of creative eco-friendly architecture.
A colourful incense and oil shop in the Mysore markets. I engaged in some aggressive bargaining with all of my acquired worldly wisdom, and was extremely pleased with myself...until I returned home and told my Indian housemate the prices I'd paid. I've never seen him laugh so hard.
At the end of last year, a horrific tale emerged of a gang-rape case in New Delhi. This event, which received widespread attention in the international press, has sparked something of a reform against female abuse in India. These final two pics show some of the street art I saw, capturing the spirit of the movement in the country.
The recent FIDE Grand Prix event in Thessaloniki provided me with hours of entertainment over the past week. I took to it like test match cricket: I had the games up on screen in the background while I worked on my thesis in the office. I was thrilled to see Lenier Dominguez (my nemesis from the 2009 World Cup) power through the imposing field to record probably his biggest tournament victory, propelling him to 11th in the live world rankings.
While all the attention in the final rounds was on the tournament leaders, there were plenty of really interesting games throughout the field, with two in particular offering some beautiful variations to the armchair analyst. I’ve copied my analysis below (also giving me a chance to give this new webpage chessgame viewer a try. What do you think?)
In the battle between two former FIDE World Champions in round 8, Ukrainian Ruslan Ponomariov couldn’t hold a difficult rook-versus-bishop-and-knight endgame against Rustam Kazimdzhanov. However, from the safety of my office chair and with the aid of my computer engine, I spotted two tough drawing chances for Ponomariov just before the second time control. Here’s the position before Black played 54….Kh5, leaving Ponomariov (white) to find his 55th move:
The other game I want to share with you is the multi-queen epic Topalov-Caruana. After the young Italian secured a second black queen, Topalov quickly capitulated, but he could have made things a lot more difficult for his opponent. Let’s check it out with Topalov (white) to play his 55th move:
I’ve neglected the website for a while now, and for that I apologise. I’m in thesis mode these days and I’ve barely had time to make my bed, much less keep up my writing. (Just kidding; I never make my bed.)
A lot of people have been asking me recently what exactly I’m researching for my thesis. A quick pop-quiz of my social network revealed quite a spread of subject matter that my friends for some reason assumed I was studying. Most have gotten the ‘economics’ part right (well done), but I’ve heard specific thesis topics ranging from feminism to climate change, from helping the poor to ‘some psychology thing’, and from human experiments to my favourite (from a grandmaster who shall remain nameless): “Feeding the capitalist machine”.
I guess the only message that can be taken from this is that I probably talk too much. Fair point. In any case, for the record, my thesis is on the persistence of social norms, and particularly bad social norms or taboos. The basic question is: why do some customs and norms stubbornly persist for generations, despite being practically useless or, occasionally, even bad for society?
That probably needs some more explanation, which I’ll get to in a later post, complete with some juicy examples. For now, though, I’m only outlining it as part of my apology for being slack with the blog. While I’m making excuses, it turns out I’ve been recruited by ChessPublishing to write their anti-Sicilians column. (For the non-chess readers, this is a set of opening variations in chess. Just in case you think I’ve got anything against Italians.)
I figured I’m not going to have time for much chess in the coming thesismania, so at least this forces me to put aside a couple of days a month to studying something a little more fun than equations. You can check out the blurb to my first column here. I’ve also been swamped with chess commentary on ChessFM in my spare time, given the tsunami of top level chess events we’ve had recently. For some reason, chess commentary has really started taking off (I can hear the laughter from you non-chessites, but I’m ignoring you). In fact, these days it’s almost mandatory at the big tournaments to have video and on-location commentators, so ChessFM probably has to catch up and send people to the events to match the coverage we’re getting. (Yes, I’m writing this partly to advance my own frequent flyer points. Shh.)
One thing I’ve noticed from all the coverage is the cultural style differences among the US, continental European and British coverage of events. The commentators for the US championship – Jen Shahade, Yasser Seirawan and Maurice Ashley – were really great, but the whole production was styled like they were commenting on a baseball game. There was action, drama, crosses to special reporters, hyperbole, alliteration, exclamations and exaggerations. I felt like I was part of a Vegas showcase rather than a chess event. Is this bad? Probably not, especially given the US audience. They sensationalised the event, and by jove, they did it well.
On the other hand, the commentary from the Norway and Paris/Moscow events was far more subdued. The commentators – spearheaded by the charming yet monotonic Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam – spoke in dulcet, sometimes somnolent tones, with large pauses and conservative evaluations. I felt like I was at an economics lecture: the quality of the analysis was superb and I certainly learned more about the deeper points of the games, but the lessons were often more catatonic than constructive.
The commentary from the London Candidates tournament, however, has to be my favourite. We usually got to see my mates Laurence Trent and Nigel Short giving blunt and candid opinions about the games and the players, with gorgeously witty intermezzos when the action on the board was quiet. Their dry, abstract British humour, distinguished enthusiasm and erudite knowledge of chess history and strategy perfectly blended the best of both commentary worlds. It’s somewhat humbling to write such a flattering description seeing as I was a rival commentator during the event, but their coverage really was awesome.
I have to say, chess commentary is an amazing job. Now that I’ve finally accepted that my chess-watching procrastination is inevitable, I may as well make some pocket money while I’m wasting valuable thesis hours staring at the games. Combined with writing chess articles on ChessPub, I’ve probably found the two best side-jobs I could have while pretending to be an economist (excluding, of course, my number one dream job: song writer for Flight of the Conchords).
In fact, if this thesis thing doesn’t work out…
More posts to come soon. There’ll even be some without chess in them.
By now, many of you will be aware of the horrible road tragedy that occurred last week after the annual Doeberl Cup Easter chess tournament in Canberra. The tournament is Australia’s premier chess weekender and players come from all parts of Australia and overseas to attend the chess festival. Six players from the Melbourne Chess Club were on their way home to Victoria after the tournament finished last Monday night when their minivan flipped, killing two and seriously injuring another two. The accident was reported internationally in the chess press and of course locally in the mainstream media; a brief summary from the Australian newspaper is here.
You’ll notice in the article some kind quotes directed at Andrew Saint, one of the victims, such as “He genuinely was such a nice person.” I can only echo those words. Andrew was one of the nicest, most humble guys I’ve ever met. I’ve never heard him raise his voice, nor have I seen him without a smile on his face – except, perhaps, during chronic time trouble at the board, but even the unluckiest of chess defeat would be met with gracious (and smiley) acceptance at the end. There is no hyperbole here.
I’ve known Andrew since I was a kid, and in fact I can’t remember when we first met – the earliest I can clearly remember is speaking the 1999 Australian Junior Championships in Hervey Bay, Queensland. After he finished school, Andrew wanted to share his passion for chess with the community, getting involved in chess organisation and administration in South Australia. Such a thankless job can often be short term for naive but good-hearted chess personalities, but Andrew, ever the nice guy, accepted a position on the Melbourne Chess Club committee after moving to Victoria. He wasn’t just a chess enthusiast, either: hours before the tragedy struck, Andrew won his section of the Doeberl Cup, his biggest tournament victory in recent years.
I last spoke to Andrew in September last year, when he visited the World Chess Olympiad in Istanbul. He was very excited to see some famous international chess players in person, and I was able to introduce him to a few whose names he had only read about in the chess news, such as former World Women’s Chess Champion, Hou Yifan. I recall that she accidentally knocked over his glass of water, shattering it on the ground, which led to the comical scene of Andrew and Hou (also a super nice girl) racing to outdo each other in offering to clean up the mess. I’m not sure who was more embarrassed!
Andrew (centre) and I at the Istanbul Olympiad. A few minutes later, his water glass would smash at the hands of a very high rated culprit. (Source: Shaun Press)
It wasn’t too surprising to see Andrew at the Olympiad; after all, travel and chess were two of his three main passions. His third was cooking, and one of his friends in Melbourne noted that Andrew hoped one day to open his own Bed & Breakfast inn, complete with cooking classes for the guests. I know I’d have stayed there.
One thing that’s become very clear from this horrible tragedy is how closely knit the chess community is. A flood of support and sentiment has flowed to the players and their families, and the Melbourne Chess Club, spearheaded by its tireless president Grant Szuveges, has been the focal organisational point for press releases, news, cards and hospital visits. It’s reminded me how this network of trust and reliance worthy of family is, for me, one of the best things about being involved in chess.
Goodbye Andrew; I’m very sorry I’ll never get to visit your B&B, or congratulate you on your victory, or host you in Amsterdam on a European holiday, of which we spoke. The Australian chess community has lost one of its favourite sons, its Mr Nice Guy. In fact, perhaps the only time I’ve seen him not putting others before himself was on the board: here’s Andrew spectacularly beating his higher rated opponent in the 1999 Australian Juniors, using my favourite Portuguese defence.
A quick update: Magnus Carlsen will play Vishy Anand later this year for the title of World Chess Champion after the young Norwegian won the candidates tournament on tie-break from Vladimir Kramnik.
This was certainly the most dramatic top-level chess tournament I’ve ever seen, and the drama didn’t stop until the final game. Perhaps most amusing to readers of this blog, I basically predicted everything incorrectly over the final rounds in an astonishingly bad streak. Carlsen scored only 0.5 from his final three games, losing with white to both Ivanchuk and, in the last round, Peter Svidler. Kramnik spectacularly beat Aronian with the black pieces in round 11 to give him outright first, but the lead was relinquished the following round when he failed to convert his advantage against Gelfand. It turned out that just a draw would have sufficed in the final round against the mercurial Ivanchuk, but of course Kramnik couldn’t have predicted that Carlsen would lose and therefore the Russian played very risky chess in his game – a ploy that eventually backfired when Kramnik was forced to resign in the last game of the tournament.
So Carlsen and Kramnik both lost in the final round, but still ended up tied for first on the surprisingly low score of plus-three – far removed from my confident prediction of “plus-five or plus-six”. Indeed, nothing I guessed came to pass.
This does not bode well for my Champions’ League predictions this week.
(For info: Bayern – Juventus 1-0; PSG – Barcelona 0-1; Real Madrid – Galatasary 2-0; Malaga – Dortmund 1-1.)
Phwoar! Things have really heated up in the World Candidates tournament in chilly London. Magnus Carlsen has taken sole lead with plus-four (7.5 out of 11), with Kramnik in clear second on plus-three and Aronian a further half-point back.
I have to say, my suggestion of ‘risky chess’ as the optimal strategy for this sort of event has not entirely been proved correct. We’ve seen Aronian employing this over the past couple of rounds, but unfortunate blunders borne from speculative flourishes in equal positions against both Gelfand and Svidler have backfired. This has left him now firmly on the back foot in the race for the title, with only a miracle offering him a chance of finishing first. Meanwhile, both Carlsen and Kramnik have been playing their usual grinds, stoically defending when worse and always pushing and prodding when nursing a slight edge.
It’s paid dividends, to be sure, but I don’t think that’s the whole story behind their success. Two of the key elements behind their performances, I feel, are blunder minimisation and optimising practical chances. These guys quite simply don’t play the really bad moves that have been seen in so many of the other games, and they always keep both the clock and the tournament situation in mind in order to pose their opponents as many problems over the board as possible. Kramnik in particular has played exceedingly well this tournament and thoroughly deserves his position in second place, though it’s definitely going to be a mammoth task to overtake Magnus at this stage.
I’ve maintained since the start of the tournament that plus-five or plus-six would be needed to win, though most of my colleagues disagreed. Carlsen’s next got white against the second-last placed Ivanchuk, and in the penultimate round has black against Radjabov, currently languishing at the bottom of the table. He then finishes off with the white pieces against Peter Svidler in the last round. Carlsen certainly won’t score below 50% from these three games, but I think it’s a safe bet to say that plus-one or plus-two are more likely outcomes, giving him the aforementioned final scores.
So that means Kramnik needs at least plus-two from the last three rounds, in my opinion, to have a fighting chance at the world championship spot. The critical game is next: Black against world number two Levon Aronian. Kramnik said in the press conference that the main thing is “just not to lose”, but I’m sure after Aronian’s tragic loss today, Big Vlad will be looking to press home every psychological advantage and look for an opportunity to gain a crucial victory with the black pieces. After that he’s got a tough white game against Gelfand, who’s looked sharp in the second half of the tournament, and then black against the mercurial Ivanchuk to finish. I’m not sure where the wins are likely to come from, but it’s definitely clear that plus-two is a long shot against this field.
Meanwhile, Aronian himself mentioned in the press conference that his chances were far from over. This is theoretically true, but it absolutely requires him to win tomorrow (and, in the process, knock down one of his chief competitors). He has excellent chances to win with white against Radjabov in the last round, and if he manages such a spectacular run home and Magnus stumbles, a tie for first between the two would actually (I believe) gift the title to Lev on tie-break. So there’s a small chance the Armenian (and honorary Australian) could still claim the title – and what a Hollywoodesque finale that would be.
One way or the other, any scenario that would see someone other than the Norwegian world number one winning the tournament hinges on a big result tomorrow. Fortunately for me, I’ve been drafted into the Internet Chess Club commentary team tomorrow to present the games, so I’ll be right in the thick of it to observe the action unfold. You can listen in tomorrow at www.chess.fm from 2pm GMT, and watch the games at the same time at the official site. (Or, you know, enjoy a chess-free Easter Friday. Also possible.)