Friday, 12 July 2013

Shōgi master Yoshiharu Habu @ Kyoto University

"If you are guaranteed to succeed by challenging yourself to achieve something, no doubt anyone would do it. But persisting with the same passion, energy and motivation somewhere where there is no guarantee of success - is extremely difficult, and this is what I believe talent to be."
- Yoshiharu Habu

by Junta

On Sunday the 7th of July, I had the honour of meeting shōgi (Japanese chess) master Yoshiharu Habu as he made a visit to Kyoto University. Although inactive since 2007 due to being busy with his main profession, Mr. Habu holds the highest FIDE rating in Japan (2404), having achieved an initial rating of 2342 in 2001 and having played less than 100 FIDE-rated games!

Mr. Habu (born in 1970) is arguably the best shōgi player ever, and certainly the most famous since the second half of the 90's. In the world of shōgi in Japan, where there are around 150 players on the professional circuit, there are 7 traditional 'titles' players compete for each year (with a match between the champion vs. challenger who won through the gruelling qualifying stages) in classical time controls, as opposed to chess just having the World Championships.

After turning pro at the age of 14, Mr. Habu won his first title at the age of 19, and 'Habu' became a household name in 1996 when he won the 'Ōsho' title, thus becoming the first player to hold all 7 titles at once, covering the front of newspapers nationwide the following day! In 2012, he broke a long-standing record, achieving the number of 81 for total titles won (currently 83). Today he holds 3 of the 7 titles, and aged 42, will no doubt stay one of the top shōgi players for years to come.

Mr. Habu playing an simultaneous chess / shōgi exhibition match against French GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

On Sunday evening, we played two rapid (25 minutes + 10 seconds/move) games in a classroom. In the first game, a Sicilian Kan with 5.Nc3 b5 was reached - I had played two games with this line as Black in the Japanese Championships in May, and Mr. Habu had prepared a natural-looking Nc3-d5-sacrifice against it. It is unpleasant to have to deal with such a novelty in a rapid game, but I was able to find enough logical moves, and although it was possible for White to play on with an initiative, the game concluded peacefully in the early middlegame.

In analysis, Mr. Habu proposed an interesting alternative for Black (which I hadn't seen) after accepting the knight sacrifice: retreating the c6-knight to d8, and then giving back the piece with Nd8-e6, reaching a balanced position!
In the second game, I played a line against Black's Semi-Slav structure involving Rg1 and g2-g4, which I am quite fond of. This time, my opponent was unfamiliar with the variation, and after a perhaps premature 8...dxc4 and slow 10...Re8, was faced with a strong attack on the kingside.

We had a lot of fun analysing after each game
Mr. Habu was also kind enough to visit the Kyoto University Shōgi Club after the chess, and I couldn't help smiling, seeing the excitement and awe on the club members' faces as their idol all the way back from childhood had really come - it is like Anand visiting students at a chess club in India!
Since my early teens, I have read one of Mr. Habu's bestsellers, 「決断力」(Ketsudanryoku = 'The Power of Deciding', or 'Decisiveness') many times, and I recently bought another of his books where he gives many deep and insightful thoughts about shōgi which can also apply to chess. It was a real delight to meet him in person and be able to hear his views on different things. I hope I will have another opportunity to meet him again in the future.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Commonwealth Championships 2013 Part 1 (OC + Rounds 1-4)

by Andrew

Sorry for keeping you waiting, Figjam Readers - a mixture of having a rather temperamental internet provider, my computer frequently crashing, jet-lag and the flu has made blogging not quite as easy.

When I decided to play in the Commonwealth Championships a couple of months ago, I had no idea that the tournament would be this prestigious...

Michael Brown's photo.
Light show during the opening ceremony. I was upstairs in the VIP area (who'd have thought?), eating fancy canapes and drinking whatever I could get my hands on.*  
*Non-alcoholic beverages, of course...


Michael Brown's photo.
Upon arriving at the airport we approached this sign and were greeted by two girls wearing chess shirts and soon a man (in a tailor-made suit with the Commonwealth Chess Championship logo embroidered into it) who kindly offered to take our bags. Then we were shown into a Commonwealth Chess van, with the full paint job, and taken to the 5-star venue that would be our hotel.   

...and, well, big! With 862 participants playing in the two sections (Championship section and B-section), this tournament has by far the most players of any tournament I have played in. In fact I'm pretty sure it has more than my last 15 tournaments combined.

So, thankfully I did manage to survive the flight over, long though it was, but it seems for the last few days jet lag has got the better of me. Even though I have been playing much lower-rated opponents, my games have been long and not as easy as they should have been: I have had trouble focussing and have missed a lot of simple things. On Day 3 this became quite serious when, having played for 3.5 hours to get into this unclear position against my South African opponent (1907), I managed to leave my rook en prix.

After 28.Nc3. Here I played ...Nb5?? and after 29.Nxa2 I was lost - Bxa2 30.Rd1 and staying in the game is all but impossible.

Losing in this way was quite painful, especially considering it would almost certainly ruin all my chances for a GM norm due to average opponent rating issues if nothing else. Battling the early onset of the flu, I was not in the best of moods for the rest of the day. The blitz was on the following day, and it was very tempting to play, but I decided it was best for me to take a break and do what I could to recover mentally - after all, this was only 3 rounds in to an 11 round tournament, and I was still keen to make the most of it.

I have had a few too many tournaments where a loss in an early round has inhibited me psychologically for the remainder of the tournament, and so I decided I had to work on what it was that was preventing me from bouncing back properly. I decided that I had to first of all not dwell on the loss, but fully accept that it had happened. Then I had to remember why I play chess - not just to win, gain rating points, get title norms etc., but because I love the game. I love the mental exercise that each game offers, the struggle to bring about harmony between the pieces, the opportunity to be creative, and the chance to produce something really special.

Keeping these thoughts in mind the next day, I was more focussed, more relaxed, and much more eager to be in that hall, at 3:00pm, doing it all again. Suddenly my flu seemed a whole lot better (in part due to the medication), jet-lag no longer seemed a problem, and my loss yesterday barely bothered me.

The game that followed was the most enjoyable game I have played in a long time.

And after this it got better and better.

I am hoping to have Part 2 (Rounds 5-8) up in the next couple of days.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Great things happening in Australian Chess - Part 2

by Andrew

Part 2 - February - June 2013


On the 1st of February Bobby Cheng is listed in the top 100 juniors in the world with his new rating of 2425.

Anton Smirnov continues his good run, convincingly winning the Newcastle Open with 5.5/6.

Junta and I tie for first in the ACT Championships (for the 2nd year in a row). Remarkably, last year's tournament results for us were almost identical, with Junta beating me midway and then drawing two games towards the end so that we finished with 8/9 each. One of these draws was against junior Aelfric Gardiner-Garden rated in the 1300s, who played a super-solid game comfortably swapping off into an equal ending and holding. Aelfric also produced a number of other big upsets and this showed on the March rating list on which he made a 250 point jump.



The Ballarat Begonia Open traditionally attracts a number of top Australian players each year from Victoria and interstate. In this year's edition, the top boards were occupied by young players round after round, and after 5 rounds first place was shared by 3 young Australian players, IM James Morris, FM Chris Wallis, and Brodie McClymont, all on 5/5. In Round 6 Chris beat Brodie, while James drew with New Zealander Luke Li. In the final round James managed to beat Chris and take the $1500 first prize with 6.5/7 while also taking his FIDE rating over 2400 for the first time and entering Australia's Top 10: a highly commendable achievement. A number of other juniors gave strong showings here, with the oldest player in the final top 6 being only 22.

At the end of the month, Australia's strongest weekender, the Doeberl Cup, took place at the Hellenic Club in Canberra. This was the strongest ever Doeberl, and possibly the strongest tournament ever in Australia, with 11 GMs (including one of China's best Li Chao and Dutch superstar Loek van Wely) and many other titled players. After 9 rounds GM Li Chao emerged as the victor with 7.5/9. IM Moulthun Ly scored best out of the Australian contingent with 6.5, however the tournament standout was once again young Anton Smirnov. Throughout the tournament Anton consistently held his own against Australia's best and by round 9 racked up a performance rating around 2500, only missing out on an IM norm due to a technicality - that there were 19 overseas players instead of the required 20 in the tournament. Here is a great attacking game Anton played in Round 3 against the young Chinese girl Tingjie Lie (2232).

Unfortunately for some of us this year's Doeberl was not our best ever. However Junta and I were happy to come away with having played GM Loek van Wely (2684) who was once ranked inside the world's Top 10.


After the Doeberl came the 6th edition of the Sydney International Open, held in the Parramatta Town Hall. Though no members of Figjam participated in this one there were a total of 12 (!) GMs who played - all of the GMs who played in the Doeberl plus Polish GM Bartlomiej Heberla. In first place after 9 rounds was Loek van Wely on 7.5/9, edging out Li Chao who finished in outright second on 7/9, by winning their ninth round game. However the real star of this tournament was yet again young Anton Smirnov who got the equal best score by an Australian in the tournament with 6/9, scoring a well-deserved first IM norm! Anton was undeafeated throughout - an impressive feat considering his opponents included 5 GMs and 1 IM.

Bobby Cheng also did well, scoring 5.5/9 against a very tough field and getting his final norm and therefore (since he is well over 2400 now) the IM title. From what I can tell he is the youngest Australian ever to achieve the title by normal means. Congrats to Bobby!  
As it turns out, April truly was a great month for Australian chess, with Australian No.1 Zong-Yuan Zhao winning the super strong Bangkok Open. Yuan had a fantastic tournament the whole way through and remained undeafeated after 9 rounds (+ 6 = 3 - 0). His best game came in Round 8. Faced with the unenviable task of having to beat former World Title Challenger GM Nigel Short with Black, Yuan well and truly rose to the challenge, playing a brilliant double pawn sac for good control of the centre and well-placed pieces.

Short was unable to develop adequately and eventually had to give back material to break free. In the resulting endgame Yuan had a Q for B + N + P albeit with a king stuck in the corner. Apart from one small scare on move 39 when he allowed Short the opportunity to make use of his weak back rank (which Short luckily did not see) Yuan was able to convert quite comfortably and take the full point. (I might add, this truly was a great game to be able to watch live!)

In the last round Yuan took a short draw with his opponent who only needed a draw for a GM norm, and nobody else was able to catch him.
Full results here.
After that Yuan, having played three big 9-rounders in quick succession, decided to play a 7 round tournament in Melbourne, which he won smoothly with 7/7. From these last four tournaments Yuan gained nearly 30 points, significantly furthering his lead over the rest of us.


Fellow Figjammer Junta Ikeda won the Japanese Championships (as you should already be aware).
You can read a few interesting posts about his tournament below. Well done, Junta!
The Oceania Zonal took place this year in Fiji. Anton Smirnov, Ari Dale, and Justin Tan all did well enough to earn a title, with Anton and Justin earning the FM title, and Ari earning the IM title. This will mean in the upcoming World Youth Under 16 Olympiad 4/5 of our top team will be titled. Justin reached a live rating of over 2300 in the tournament and therefore got the title by normal means.
Congratulations to FM Igor Bjelobrk who won the tournament with 7/9 (and picked up a well-deserved IM title) and will therefore be Australia's representative in the World Cup this year, to be held in Tromso, Norway.


NSW Open

IM Max Illingworth led all the way (beating me in a nice sacrificial game in the process) till Round 7 when he lost a long hard fought game against GM Zong-Yuan Zhao, and had to settle with =1st.

Gold Coast Open

Visiting GM Lubomir Ftacnik won on tiebreak with 5/6 over IM Stephen Solomon and FM Chris Wallis. IM Moulthun Ly would have take Ftacnik's spot on the top of the table had he chosen the right move at one point in their K+2P each endgame. Moulthun said he saw the move but for some reason thought it was his turn rather than his opponent's when he calculated it, which would have made it losing. Bad luck, and well done to all the prize winners.

More on NSW Open and Gold Coast Open tomorrow.

Victorian Open

Ari Dale led the whole way (like Max) till Round 7 when he lost against young NZ FM Luke Li, resulting in a four-way tie for first.

Leading final scores:

=1st Dragicevic; Dale; Li; Matheson 6/7
=5th Stojic; Nemeth 5.5/7

Victorian Championships

A big congratulations is owed to IM Bobby Cheng who demolished the field here scoring 10/11 (with his only loss being to IM Ari Dale). Bobby played remarkably well throughout. From viewing his games it is easy to tell that he calculates well in attack and (especially) defense, and he is not afraid of going on the occasional king march...

Cheng - Hacche

The king has made it from e1 - h7 in World Record Time (29 moves).*

*OK, I'll admit I have not checked all 5 million games in my database just yet... but it's got to be close!

However, clearly by the end of the tournament Bobby's king was all tired out, as the following game shows.

Needless to say, king march or no king march, Bobby sure knows how to get the job done. Well done Bobby on becoming No.3 in Australia, now only behind GMs Zong-Yuan Zhao and David Smerdon!

Leading final scores:

1st: Bobby Cheng 10/11
2nd-3rd: Justin Tan; Ari Dale 7.5/11
4th: Dusan Stojic 7/11

Following on from that, Bobby will lead the Australian team at the World Youth Under 16 Chess Olympiad, to be held in Chongqing, China from the 21st-30th of this month. Our top team now looks like this:

Board 1: IM Bobby Cheng 2438
Board 2: FM Anton Smirnov 2289
Board 3: FM Justin Tan 2322
Board 4: IM Ari Dale 2310
Board 5: Yi Liu 2174

...and is seeded well up there in the tournament (3rd or 4th, I believe) alongside chess superpowers Russia, China, and India. Our coaches this year will be GMs Zong-Yuan Zhao and Ian Rogers. Australia is looking to get its first olympic medal/s in chess, and with that lineup, we will surely have a pretty good crack at it.

Best of luck to everybody, it will be very exciting to watch.

Before that however, I am off to Port Elizabeth, South Africa tomorrow morning for the Commonwealth Chess Championships (5th-14th). I am seeded around 20th for this 11-round tournament, in a field consisting of several strong grandmasters. I am hoping to blog regularly throughout the tournament (unlike in previous overseas tournaments...). I will be giving a bit more info about it all when I arrive - that is, if I survive the 5am bus trip and 14 hour flight. Stay tuned!