Friday, May 31, 2013

The Trouble with Long Games Online

The vast majority of my internet blitz games are played on the Internet Chess Club's 3 minute or 5 minute pools. Occasionally, if I want practice with a longer game or if I don't have a mouse around for blitz, I will play in the 15 minute pool. Unfortunately, 15 minute games online have a couple of unfortunate factors.

1. Fewer people want to play.

2. The games take longer.

These factors both result in it taking longer to find an opponent and that opponent being unlikely to match your level. This results in an cyclical problem because people like me play less as a result, leading to more of factor 1.

When I do play, the games are often easy. Here's a fun one from a couple of days ago -

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Chicago Open Results

Congratulations to the three Grandmasters to tie for first at the prestigious Chicago Open. I've never met Robson, but Nikola Mitkov and Josh Friedel are both friends. Congratulations to all three. 

Bill Brock, a Chicago area player, has picked out some of the key games from this tournament at the Chicago Chess Blog:

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Chicago's Chess Trouble

Things are tough for Chicago chess players. The players in my old neighborhood, Hyde Park, were kicked out of numerous locations through the years, through no fault of their own.

Controversial Wicker Park Chess Tables to be Removed

Alisa Hauser

By Alisa Hauser on May 15, 2013 4:17pm

Chess Tables in Wicker Park to Be Replaced
WICKER PARK — The controversial built-in chess tables in Wicker Park will be removed, though Chicago Park District officials have not provided a date when they will be ripped out.
That won't be the end of tables in the park, though. New tables without chess boards will be installed in various spots around the park, rather than clustered as they are now — a grouping that had led some to complain they were a magnet for people drinking, gambling and dealing drugs.
The existing four cement gaming tables with bucket seats ignited controversy in February when a 15-member park advisory council voted nearly unanimously to remove them, a decision which prompted an alderman to call for a community meetingto discuss the future of the tables as well as crime and safety issues in the park.
The four tables often are used by the homeless, local residents and seniors to play cards and dominoes, with the players gambling with peanuts instead of cash. There have also been complaints about drug use and crime linked to the gatherings, which neighborhood residents pass while entering the park.
Doug Wood, secretary of the Wicker Park Advisory Council, said Tuesday that the tables will be replaced with newer, more updated carousal-style tables that are backless and have bench style seating.
Park District officials were unable to provide a photo of the new tables.
At an advisory council meeting earlier this month, a park district representative said that "the new tables have been ordered" but there was no scheduled date yet for the removal of the existing tables and installation of the new tables.
At an April meeting, members of the advisory committee selected separate locations for the new tables rather than group them at the southwest entrance to the park where the old chess tables had long been a fixture.
Planned locations for the four new tables include two tables in "Schiller Grove," the name for the area at Schiller Street and Damen Avenue where the existing four tables are located. One table will be anchored near the basketball court and another one will be situated by the playground in the northwest corner of the park.
Several visits to the existing tables over a series of recent warm afternoons have shown they are being used and enjoyed by diverse groups of people.
Megan Hargarten, a healthcare consultant from New York City, was working on her laptop while sitting alone at a chess table.
"I was just texting a friend of mine in New York to say that I am sitting in a park at a table that reminds me of the kind they have in East Village [New York]," Hargarten said.
Freddy Rivera, 23, was playing checkers with a group of friends and said he's been hanging out at the tables for about two years.
Rivera said the planned removal of the chess tables made him feel "like a piece of my heart is missing."
"Everyday, I am loyal to this park. People play checkers here, they barbecue," he said.
When asked about statements made by residents at a community meeting concerning drug dealing at or near the tables and other illegal behaviors, Rivera said that "because of the [security] cameras, there's none of that. Guys keep it clean."
Audrey Farrell, 30, said that she has walked past the chess tables for at least five years.
Farrell, who works as a nanny, said the men who sit at the tables made comments such as, "Looking good, girl!"  
"It doesn't make me uncomfortable when I'm by myself, but when I'm with a baby I'm taking care of, yes," Farrell said.
Farrell said she spent a lot of time in the park and believed "the white vagabond runaway kids" are "a greater threat to the safety of the park" than the men who gather around the chess tables playing dominoes or checkers.
"The kids are drinking and getting in fights and their dogs are roaming around, sitting on sidewalks in front of the park," Farrell said.
When told of the Park District's plan to replace the four existing chess tables with new tables spread throughout the park, Farrell said it "sounds better" than the existing arrangement. 
"If there's a family and the kids want to play basketball, you can still sit at a table and do your own activity while they play," Farrell said.
Charlie Hunt, 35, said he's lived near the park his entire life and had been hanging out at the chess tables since 2003.
On Tuesday afternoon, Hunt was playing dominoes with a group of men.
"They try to replace [the chess tables] for the wrong reasons. They claim it's always a problem but we ain't smoking or drinking, we playing dominoes," Hunt said.
Hunt said that "some people from the park" told him it was a problem because he and his friends were often sitting at the tables, which meant others couldn't use them.
"We are sitting at one table, there are others," Hunt said, pointing to an empty chess table.
Hunt said he wouldn't have any problems with the new tables as long as there were no slits in the top wide enough for dominoes to fall through.
In the event the new tables aren't designed for a game of dominoes, Hunt has an alternative plan.
"We just bring our own table. This is a public park," Hunt said.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

More Important Than Points

I was observing a class yesterday while students were playing games throughout the room. One girl was bragging because she had captured material and was counting up how many more points she had then her opponent. The coach asked the class, "What's more important than points?" Most of the students responded as he had intended, "checkmate." Yet, before that answer came through, one of the smallest kids in the class confidently ventured the answer, "Having fun!"

The coach had to admit that both answers were more important than points.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

DC Chess League Playoffs

Last Friday was the playoff for the DC Chess League Title. I played board 2 for the Arlington Kings against the Arlington Argyles. We enjoyed draw odds thanks to having an extra half point in the course of a 48 game  regular season, a reminder that every single game counts.

I was set to play white on board two against Andrew Samuelson, a very active local Master and two time Virginia State Champion. Until a few days before the game I had planned on playing my normal openings, but someone warned me that Andrew was extremely well prepared. I remembered trying to prepare for a game with black against him last year and having to suffer after my opening prep got me into trouble. (You can see my summary of that game here: ( To avoid an opening argument I decided to play 1.Nf3 for the first time in my chess career. I figured that we would get a position where we would both be thinking on our own and could just play chess.

The plan worked exceptionally well as he made a couple of mistake early on to give me a very pleasant position out of the opening. By move 18, I had a clear advantage, but failed to find the right path forward. Instead of 18. b4 (probably winning), I sacrificed a piece with 18.Nb5 Bxb5 19.Bd4. I completely missed his strong response, 19... Nxc4 and we ended up in a very unclear position, where each move was critical. The game was essentially decided by errors on moves 21 and 23 which let me escape the complications with an extra exchange. I soon reached a winning endgame, where I played safely, but not very precisely and forced his resignation on move 70 as I was about to queen a pawn.

The end of our game brought the match score to 3-1 in our favor with two games left to play. Thanks to our draw odds, the match was decided in our favor (we eventually won without tie-break, 3.5-2.5). Congratulations to everyone on the Kings for a great season.

You can see my game below:

Thursday, May 9, 2013

A Simple Puzzle

Today in chess club two of the students reached this position with black two move. It's a pretty straightforward position with a huge material advantage to black. I have two puzzle questions?

1. What is the best move for black?

2. What did black play?

Should the day come when I ever get around to writing and publishing a book, a free copy goes to the first person to correctly answer both of these questions correctly in the comments.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Lots of Good Chess at the Moment

The US Chess Championship is taking place this week and next week in St. Louis. You can watch live coverage (starting 2 PM Eastern each day) at It's also being aired live on Fox Sports Midwest. I'm guessing that there isn't much to compete with on weekday afternoons. You can see a commercial here:

The highest rated player in the US, Hikaru Nakamura, is skipping the US Championship to compete in an even more prestigious event in Norway. That tournament includes the World Champion and his next challenger, so it's an impressive field. Those games can be seen live with commentary in English here:

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Excitement in the DC Chess League

This season I'm playing for the Arlington Kings in the DC Chess League. They have been great to me every season that I've played with them, with a break in the middle to play for a company team last year. Last November, after being reintroduced by my team captain as someone whom he had had never seen lose, I promptly blundered away the first match of the season and we get killed 4.5-1.5. Neither the team nor I haven't lost since. Going into last night's match I had scored 4.5/6 on the season and the team's record was up to 5-2 and a 4 way first place tie.

I was set to play board two against the Passed Pawns (there aren't a lot of non-cheesy chess team names). Their top board two, Sabina Foiser is currently playing the US Women's Championship, so I figured that I would play one of two Masters and prepped accordingly. At this stage in my chess career preparing for an opponent mostly means checking their recent games on and a database of DC area players, then finding something I'm comfortable with against their common systems. This method works because I never have time for serious analytic opening preparation and because sharp new systems can backfire if the opponent has found improvements since their last game in my database.

I noticed that my opponent, Steve Greanias played non-theoretical Grunfelds as black, so I passed on my usual lines and prepared by reading a short chapter in GM's Alex Yermolinsky's book "The Road to Chess Improvement" where he discusses the question "What Good are Central Pawns Against the Grunfeld." He illustrates strategies for white when black misplays the opening, so it ended up being excellent study material, when we got out of theory early on.

 Being the first time that I'd played this variation, I didn't find an accurate set-up against his unusual double fianchetto in the opening. I managed to gain extra space, but he had a great opportunity to make the position double edged and Grunfeldy (maybe not a word) by undermining my big center on move 15. Instead he spent three moves with his queen to capture my a-pawn. At that point, I had a big center and his king was the only black piece right of the c-file. I set up a piece sacrifice and by move 20 black has to walk a tightrope to equalize. He missed the clever defensive maneuver 20...Qc2 21.Nxf7 Qc3 (I missed it too) and I was able to tear apart his kingside. Overall, a fun and educational game. To make things even better, the team won 5-1, sending us to a one match playoff to decide the league title. I'll let you know how that goes.

The full game with comments is below.