Sunday, 20 July 2014

The Unexpected - Part 2

by Andrew

This week I am looking at one reason in particular for why certain moves have the power to surprise.

I think most of the time when a move is unexpected - apart from those times when the player is unfamiliar with an idea, or the move is just a blunder - it is because it would ordinarily be a bad move, but something about that particular case makes it not so.

We might normally expect a move to be bad for instance because it loses material, because it jeopardises king safety, or because it doesn't appear on the surface to serve any real purpose. I am going to show some examples of moves that would not only seem bad ordinarily, but actually downright absurd.

Warning: These are quite difficult.

The Quiet

White to play and win - Wotawa 1955

1.Rd2!! Rxd2 (1...e1=Q 2.Rb2+) 2.Rh1+ Rd1 3.Re1! Rxe1 4.e7 Rd1 5.e8=Q e1=Q 6.Qg6+ leading to mate.

The Cunning

White mates in 4 moves - Ernst 1935

1.Ng2! hxg2 2.Rg3! hxg3 3.Bg1! gxh2 Bxh2#

The Heroic

This last example comes from a game I had recently. I was black against Chris Wallis in the Ballarat Begonia Open. The solution should be relatively easy to find given it was played in a game, but apt nonetheless.

White to play and win - C. Wallis vs. A. Brown 2014

1.Qf6! Qa1+ 2.Ke2! Rb2+ 3.Ke3!! +-

For a beautiful rendition of heroism in chess, Sam Loyd style, see this post.

Friday, 11 July 2014

The Unexpected

by Andrew

I'm afraid I must start by bringing into contention a well-known cliche: that for greater wisdom, or grasp of reality, or success in some area, one must "expect the unexpected". It is fairly easy to recognise (not that many people would have thought of it consciously) that in order for us to survive we need expectations. Or more precisely, we need the constants or "unchangeables" (such as rock = hard) or highly probably things (such as fall = pain) that make expectations possible. If we could not ordinarily expect that when we wake up tomorrow we will still be in the same bed, in the same house, and have the same box of cereal sitting in the cupboard, for instance, the world would be unintelligible. Now consider the concept of the unexpected. For an example, if I were to expect the unexpected, it may be that I expect that my bookshelf is going to turn into a glass of orange juice. Merely keeping such an expectation in my psyche could be quite burdensome, aside from the other issues it may cause (e.g., need to buy a new bookshelf ... or alternatively the need to sell that and all other bookshelves immediately lest they suffer a similar fate). Not to belabour the point, we must expect the expected; if we couldn't do that we would be constantly on a collision course with reality. 

However, often in life we discover that in order to learn we must extend the borders of our expectations - hence "expect the unexpected" (...when not taken too literally...). This is due to the vast number of low-chance occurrences human beings encounter just about every day, in whatever area of life. These things help us to learn and grow in all kinds of ways. Ironic though it may seem, unexpected things actually happen all the time.

19-year-old Canberra tennis player Nick Kyrgios beating World No.1 Rafael Nadal 


Talking of a similar phenomenon my favourite psychologist Nathaniel Branden once said, with respect to learning and personal development: "Don't deny or disown what you see or experience merely because you can't explain it, justify it, or fit it into some familiar frame-of-reference. Allow a large space in your psyche to accommodate ambiguity and uncertainty. Don't invent explanations prematurely just so you can tell yourself you have the universe all tied up in one neat package. Keep your eyes open, keep observing, and be confident that sooner or later the truth will appear to you."

Right, you say, so where does chess come into it? 

In chess we are constantly being reminded of the possibility of surprise, and therefore the needs to learn and to check our premises. Very often one well-placed pawn will make a crucial difference to the position - or even a poorly placed one. As well as this, I believe one of the tasks of a chess player is to think "outside the box" of what is already known them, and to forever keep searching for more possibilities. I am confident that there are great many possibilities there for us, waiting to be unearthed, in chess and in pretty much everything else

In the NSW Open in June I was on the less fortunate side of one of these unexpected chess occurrences - where things were not quite as they seemed, though perhaps the reader will show more of an open mind than I did upon encountering the game position.

Melkumyan - Brown, Black to play

With very little time left I decided that rather than beat around the bush with a move such as 55...Kh5, I would force my opponent to decide what to do, by playing the threatening but perfectly safe looking 55...Rf1. As soon as I played it I realised I'd made a horrible mistake; and sure enough, my GM opponent realised this as well. Can you see how the game finished?

Rather than defend d1 or resort to a perpetual via Rg7+ my opponent played the strange looking 56.Kg2. Right, well, there's no backing out now: 56...d1=Q 57.Rg7+ and after double, triple, and quadruple checking that 57...Kh6 (or h5 or h4) 58.Rh7+ Kg5 will not in fact end in perpetual check but with 59.h4 checkmate I decided it was time to admit defeat. 

A study-like finish

For top players, the need to be aware of possibilities that are out of the ordinary is just as or perhaps more important. One player who does this very well is the young Hungarian grandmaster Richard Rapport. While at 18 years of age he is ranked inside the top 50 in the world, his play differs from many of his rivals in the amount of creativity he brings to the game, evident from his unusual but highly successful opening repertoire, his impressive tactical ability, his hairstyle, and so forth. Recently one of Richard's games featured a prime example of what I am talking about.

Rapport - Idani, Reykjavik 2014

Black has just played the seemingly innocuous 41...Nf6. Rapport replied 42.Qxf6+!! Kxf6 43.Ne8#

While there are numerous examples to convey the theme of surprise in chess - in fact virtually all good puzzles have some element of surprise to them - I have chosen this study to conclude because of the "Wow!" moment I remember getting from solving it, at seeing what's it's like when all the pieces are working to their full potential.

White to play and win - Kubbel 1922

1.Nc6! Kxc6 2.Bf6 Kd5 3.d3!! a2 4.c4+ Kc5 5.Kb7 a1=Q Be7#

So, should you expect the unexpected? If it means keeping a curious and open mind, I would say yes. If it means somehow losing your grounding in reality, I would say no. If it means dismissing your normal expectations in favour of new ones, well, I suppose it depends on the context...

In any case, I can say for sure that you can expect The Unexpected - Part 2 - next week.

NB: Figjam has some surprise posts coming very soon. Keep watch! :)

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Interview with Ryosuke Nanjo, the 2014 Japanese Champion

by Junta

There are three Japanese players on the country's active list rated above 2300.
I've written posts on the #1 ranked, Shōgi master Yoshiharu Habu here and here, and the #2 ranked full-time chess professional, Shinya Kojima here. I interviewed the #3 ranked player, Nanjō, after he showed a dominant performance in the Japanese Championships in May. From his words and games, one can sense his creativity and striving to always give his all at the board, strong character, objectivity, and a yet unfulfilled potential.

Name: Ryōsuke Nanjō (Japanese: 南條遼介)
DOB: September 27th, 1988
Title: FM
Current FIDE: 2344
Graduated from Azabu High School, 2007
Studied at the University of Tōkyō
Currently in final year of studies at Keiō University

At the closing of this year's Japanese Championships, Photo: Yumi Hiebert
First of all, congratulations on winning the 2014 Japanese Championships! 10.5/11 is a phenomenal score, and is in fact the new record. Did you feel that you were playing well?

Thanks! I was playing okay, but I didn’t feel I was playing especially strong. I’m kicking myself for not getting that last half-point rather than parading on victory.

The top seed in FIDE ratings, Shinya Kojima was half a point behind you for most of the tournament. Did this have an effect to spur you on?

No, as I’m a player who tries to win every single game regardless of the tournament situation. The last time I noticed Kojima’s existence during the tournament was when he faced me on the board; I was too busy thinking what to do against other opponents after that. (And I think it’s the right reaction; does Usain Bolt look back during the 100-metre dash just because 7 other guys are trailing him by a tenth of a second?)

You have now won the Japanese Championships three times. How important is the national title for you?

For me it’s just another national tournament. Just because I won this tournament doesn’t mean I can lose every single tournament I enter this year and still say “I’m the strongest player in Japan” with a smile on my face.

It’s true that it is one of the only two FIDE-rated tournaments held in Japan, but it’s also true that this tournament has no GMs or IMs.

Please share your best or favourite game/s from the event with us.

My best game was the one in round 6 against CM Tomohiko Matsuo, a former national champion.

You are a member of the Japanese team who will play at the Tromsø Olympiad in August. Has the board order already been decided?

Yes it has. I’ll just say that I’ll be playing on Board 1.

You already have some experience of playing at the Olympiad – how will you train before the event? Will you play any other tournaments in Europe?

I’ll be working mainly on books, it’s what I usually do. I’ll probably have some training sessions with our team coach GM Mihajlo Stojanovic online, maybe some training games with Japan’s top players too, but I won’t be doing anything exhausting.

About my tournament schedule, as I have exams in late July, I won’t be going anywhere before the Olympiad. But I’m thinking about going to the Riga Technical University Open right after Tromsø.

What do you look forward to the most about this Olympiad? Do you have any goals?

Playing strong opponents, it’s what makes my heart rush. Being the first board of this team, I can expect to play 7 GMs at least, which gets me really excited. I haven’t set any goals, but since my score against GM opposition was 40% at the Cappelle la Grande this year, I suppose breaking that record would be a sign of progress.

What advice could you give to someone playing their first Olympiad? Playing on a team for your country must be very different from playing in an ordinary tournament as an individual.

One thing that makes team competitions different from other tournaments is that you need to keep in mind what your role is and what the team is asking you to do. You may be able to get norms by thinking about only yourself, but you won’t be able to get category medals without teamwork.

Most of the chess ‘elite’ will also fly north to play for their own countries. Do you have any favourites or players you see as role models in the current elite?

I try to learn most from the games of Magnus Carlsen, of course. It’s the Carlsen Era, and while it may not be the ultimate answer to chess, it’s something special and the wisdom in his chess may be difficult to learn if not now.

Who are your favourite players through chess history, and why?

I have many favorites, but I guess if I had to pick one it would be Alexander Alekhine. I like the way he blends logic and passion to create beauty on the board in many different shapes. If I were to choose another one, David Bronstein would be my pick.

You were born in the USA, and I believe you hold dual citizenship. When did you move to Japan? Did you ever consider moving back to the States again?

I moved to Japan in August 1999, when I was a ten year-old, and I’ve lived in this country ever since, although I’ve travelled to more than a dozen countries to play chess.

I actually wanted to enter a university in the US, but couldn’t get the financial support. Maybe I can move back by getting a job there, it’s another option I’ve been pondering on.

You attended the Azabu High School in Tokyo, well known in the Japanese chess scene for having a school club which has produced many of the current top players in the country. Please tell us about the club and the time you spent there.

I entered Azabu junior-high in 2001, because it was the only school with a chess club in Japan back then. I was both lucky and unlucky; lucky because I met players who were much stronger than I was (such as Masahiro Baba and Tomu Sano), unlucky because all of them were 3 or 4 years older than me and quickly stopped playing to prepare for university entrance exams. I had a golden first year with them, during which I rapidly grew to qualify as a member of team Japan at the 2002 Bled Olympiad, and then I had to do everything on my own. For the next five years I dedicated myself to giving back what I learned to other club members, while trying to find a way to improve all by myself.

Chess does not have a large following in Japan, there being two other board games which are much more popular (Shōgi and Gō). In fact, in 2013 there were only two FIDE-rated tournaments in the country. Do you think there is a good market for chess in Japan? How do you think chess could be popularised?

There is certainly something to be said about Japan’s potential; there are not many countries which can parallel Japan’s high level of population, economy and social stability. The main problem is we have a national organization with ridiculously low skills, which means that we have to do everything as individuals and that there’s no room for new players even if we succeed in our rogue campaigns. About possible solutions please ask someone else, as I’m a player and not a politician.

Have you played Shōgi and Gō yourself? How similar or different is Shōgi in comparison to chess?

I was never a Shōgi player nor a Gō player, because I lived my first ten years in the US and discovered chess there. I know the rules for both of them, but nothing more.

Shōgi is a sibling of chess, but I believe they are completely different games. The ability to use captive pieces makes Shōgi much more mindboggling than chess in tactics, while the existence of draws makes chess strategically more difficult to win.

Which tournament performances would you rank as your best?

I suppose my 8.0/8 at the Japan Open last year, which includes a win over Yoshiharu Habu, a true legend.

Please share with us one or more of the best games you’ve played.

What aspects of chess attract you to the game?

One thing that I really love about chess is I keep find something new and interesting about it. And it comes with different shapes and sizes, from astonishing ideas played in top level games to unpleasant opening novelties unleashed on me. That makes it better.

From the Japan Open in November 2013, Photo: Yasunori Honma
What would you say are the most important qualities for a chess player to have?

I would say courage. You can’t play difficult moves without courage to believe in yourself, you can’t improve unless you have courage to be honest and objective; you basically can’t do anything without it.

How would you describe your chess ‘style’?

I am an idealist, and I constantly try to make the most out of my position. With such meager opening preparation I suppose it isn’t a wise tournament decision not to back down, but I keep forgetting to do so and try to learn from my scars and burns instead.

Please tell us about your studies and what your plans after graduation are.

I’m in my final year studying financial econometrics, and I’ll be working at a securities company from next April.

How do you work on your chess nowadays?

Analyze my games with engines, look at games from the latest tournament, read books.

You are currently ranked 3rd in Japan, and you will surely be one of the top players for many years to come. Do you have particular goals in chess?

I’d like to play good games in general, so that if there were a collection of my best games it would need to be revised constantly.

Last but not least, I heard you have a Russian girlfriend you met through chess…?

It’s true, but it’s also supposed to be a secret…

Thank you very much for answering the questions. I look forward to seeing how you perform at the Olympiad!

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Gold Coast Open 2014

by Andrew

The Gold Coast Open took place last weekend for the 22nd time since its inception in 1993. Though numbers were down compared to previous years, the competition featured many strong players at the top, all vying for a shot at the $1500 first prize.

This year's winner was Brodie McClymont, with a score of 5/6. Brodie has become a real icon of Queensland chess in recent years, coming outright or equal first in just about all the QLD tournaments he plays in - even when the field is headed by IMs. This tournament was no exception. Although there were a couple of uncertain moments in his games (most notably against Alexandra Jule and James Morris, as he conceded in his winner's speech) he played at a high level throughout against very strong opposition and was a well-deserved winner. Half a point behind Brodie at the end were a pack of titled players: IM Richard Jones (Wales), IM James Morris (VIC), IM Moulthun Ly (QLD), and FM (IM-elect) Kanan Izzat (Azerbaijan).

Left to right: Brodie McClymont, Graeme Gardiner, Mark Stokes, Charles Zworestine.

As for my own tournament, well, it left a lot to be desired. Most of the time I was playing reasonably well but due to trouble thinking clearly I have had for a while I got low on time in two of my games and made some very costly mistakes. Unfortunately I also had to miss the first round of the tournament as I was stuck at Sydney Airport all Friday due to the power outage there.

Until I get my hands on some of Brodie's games or other notable games to put up, here is one of my better games from the tournament.

Full results can be found here.