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Sunday, May 24, 2015

MCL 2015: Bigger, better, stronger!

Over the past few weeks Amruta and I have been traversing different countries in Europe. The wonderful thing in European nations, apart from having some superb open tournaments, is the culture of have having Leagues. The Hungarian Chess League, the French League, the Spanish league... Almost every European nation has its own chess league. Whenever I ask a European player which is his next tournament, he would come up with some or the other league that he is playing in! These leagues actually help the chess players to sustain and pursue the sport. They get paid for every game they play by their owners, irrespective of whether they win or lose. It's a perfect way to improve your game and at the same time have good financial security. "Too bad", says my European friend, in a sadistic tone that there is no chess league in India. While there are no league tournaments that have started at the national level in our country, as a chess player I am relieved that a chess league takes place in India called Maharashtra Chess League (MCL). And guess what, it is already in it's third year! 

The MCL will be held in PYC, Hindu Gymkhana, Pune from the 11th-15th of June 2015.

Vishy Anand being the brand ambassador has given the MCL a lot of credibility and media exposure. But the organizers played a master stroke this year as they were able to get Aamir Khan to attend the auction ceremony on the 22nd of May 2015!

When perfection meets perfection!

Aamir's love for the game can be gauged from the fact that he played the Ruy Lopez from the White side and was theoretically booked up almost up to the 10th move! Below is a video where you can see both Anand and Aamir making some wonderful comments about each other! Let's put it this way: If Aamir starts to promote the game, chess players are in for a great time in the future!

The MCL auction was held in hotel Novotel, Mumbai on the 22nd of May 2015. The auction is really one of the best parts of the MCL. The bidding process decides the amount of money that will be received by each player and which team he would play in. But there are a few limitations which you have to be aware of:

1. Each team must have three Maharashtra players playing out of the 6 boards.
2. Each team must have two woman players playing.
3. Each team must have at least one untitled player playing out of the 6 boards.
4. Each team has a maximum of Rs 4,00,000 (increased by Rs. 50,000 from the last year) to buy the players.
The downside for me this year is that I am not playing the MCL. The upside is that I can freely comment about the teams, their strengths, weaknesses and what are their chances. In this article below I have placed the six teams in the descending order (best team at the top) based on their composition.
Of course, this is just a personal opinion and my predictions can go horribly wrong. Chess is after all a sport!

(owned by MEP Infrastructure Developers Pvt Ltd)
Where exactly is their weakness? Look at the perfect composition of the team. Seven players means that they always have one player who can rested. Four players from Maharashtra means that there is flexibility over here too. 

The two strong women players in Eesha Karavade and Soumya Swaminathan gives this team a very stable look

Though Lalith Babu is a class act, I am more interested to see how the other GM in the team will fare in his first outing at the MCL.

Aravindh Chithambaram

If Aravindh clicks, there is no stopping this team! This little boy from Tamil Nadu who is India's latest grandmaster is just 16 years old but has already proven himself on numerous occasions! And every time I write about him, I do not forget to mention that he is beaten the legendary Alexei Shirov and that too with 1,b3!

Rs 30,000 for IM K. Rathnakaran

As for Rathnakaran, I think he is an excellent choice. This guy plays his classical games as if they are blitz! There is no doubt that the MCL format will suit him and if I were his opponent I would definitely be on the look out for an unsound piece sacrifice coming my way! 

The only weakness I can think about this team is that there is a lack of experience which might become an important factor for the team bonding and morale of the team.

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The Pune Trumasters performed dismally last year. It was not that the team had bad players. In fact the team was extremely well balanced in 2014. But there was something missing in the team. I think the owners have addressed this fact by buying one of the most experienced GMs in the Indian chess circuit.

GM Abhijit Kunte: If sufficiently focused, he is the best in the business

Two strong women players in Mary Ann Gomes and Swati Ghate

The reigning National Champion, Sethuraman has been one of the most consistent performers in the year 2014

You have a good deal when you get a player who has completed all the formalities for becoming an IM in the rated player section. Abhishek Kelkar from Pune

And lastly one must not forget that in the recently held Deltin Rapid which was one of the strongest rapid events in India, IM Swayams Mishra won it with a score on 9.0/10! Another good buy for the team.

Maybe I could have placed this team as my favourites to win the MCL this year as they look extremely balanced and well composed unit.

(owned by Jain Irrigation systems)

Vidit Gujrathi and B.Adhiban

The only reason why I would put this team on the third spot is because of these two guys! Vidit recently became the number four ranked player in India after Anand, Harikrishna and Negi! And he also entered one of the most remarkable records by an Indian chess player.

You see the percentage of 90.47 next to Vidit's name. It means that he 90% of his moves are the first choice of the computers! Now how can someone beat a guy who is plays such accurate chess!

Adhiban, of course is equally strong and was also the best player in last year's MCL. Srinath Narayanan has a rating of 2464 and three GM norms. So he is almost a GM.

IM Srinath Narayanan is seriously preparing for this event by spending 10 days in silent meditation prior to the tournament in Vipasanna!

But apart from these three guys, the team is a little shaky. There is no denying the fact that Nubairshah Shaikh is an extremely talented player in rapid formats, but this is his first edition of MCL. 

Also, the team has six players and hence there is no flexibility and the opponents will not have to keep guessing about Jalgaon's team composition for a specific round.

 (owned by Goel Ganga group)

The Pune Attackers seemed to come to the auction with one aim in mind: Get Padmini Rout!

The Orissa girl was worth Rs.1,50,000!

Padmini Rout has become the third highest ranked player in India now after Humpy and Harika. Her past performances in the MCL and in general make her one of the most valuable players at the auction. But spending 1.5 lakh rupees on her meant that the team could not afford more than six players. Yet, there is high quality in the team as the team has roped in one of the best rapid players of the country:

It's surprising that the cool and calm Venkatesh who scored 7.0/7 in the first edition of MCL was auctioned for just Rs.90,000

The team's quality quotient is further enhanced thanks to the retention of two IMs Swapnil Dhopade and M.S Thejkumar. Both have three GM norms and in effect are almost equivalent to grandmaster strength.

Aniruddha Deshpande and Parnali Dharia are both solid and strong players in classical time controls but what about the rapid games of 25 minutes in MCL? Their performance might well be the determining factor in this team's success.

(owned by South Mumbai Chess Academy)

Another team that had to be content with only six players. However, the Mumbai team will be the center of attraction at this year's MCL as they have in their team, the second highest rated woman player (not counting Judit Polgar) in the world!

This will be the first time you can see Koneru Humpy live in action (apart from the inter petroleum championships) on Indian soil after she tied the knot

Humpy serves the dual role of being a woman player as well as a GM. I guess the Rs.1,52,000 in her case were completely justified. Apart from her, the team has another strong grandmaster in Vaibhav Suri. The Delhi lad appears for the first time in MCL but judging from his overall chess strength he will be a very tough player to beat. 

Diptayan Ghosh is an excellent pick as he is very good at rapids and Vikramaditya Kulkarni, when in form, can beat the best in the business.

The man to watch out for is Rakesh Kulkarni who has established himself as one of the best rapid players in Mumbai by winning almost every rapid tournament that he plays!

(owned by RBS sportsethix)

8 players??!! What is the team going to do with so many! The worrying factor here is not the lack of quality in the team but the relatively inexperienced women players and technical problems with the fielding of the team.

GM Abhijeet Gupta is definitely a great buy!

And so is Shyam Sundar, the man who drew with Vladimir Kramnik recently!

Assuming that these two GMs will play every game, and also the two girls Rucha and Akanksha that means that they need to field one more Maharashtra player. Suppose IM Shardul Gagare plays, it would mean that IM S.L. Narayanan's services would be wasted as the team has to field one untitled player. 

Last but not the least, we mustn't forget IM Saravanan who makes this event all the more interesting by interviewing players and coming up with some really deadly questions before the start of the play! 

The Maharashtra Chess League is surely one of the most colourful and vibrant tournaments in the Indian chess calendar. With big names like Vidit, Adhiban, Abhijeet, Humpy and many more players playing in this event, it will surely be something to look forward to not only in terms of entertainment but also in terms of quality of play. 
The games begin on 11th of June, so you have a fortnight to decide the team you will be cheering for. As for me I am rooting for the Mumbai Movers, not only because I really admire Humpy as a player but also Mumbai is my home town and Prathamesh Mokal who is the coach of the team is my brother-in-law!
What's your reason?!
Many of the pictures by Amruta Mokal

Monday, March 23, 2015

Mating the Castled King- A review

I played in the National Team championships from the 20th-26th of February 2015, Goa, with my team called "Chess Is Life". 

The Chess is Life Team (from right to left) Vinod Bhagwat (2177), Atul Dahale (2034), Shashikant Kutwal (2210), Sagar Shah (2459), and my wife, Amruta Mokal (2053)

I played on the first board of the team and that meant facing some of the best players of the nation. For eg. PSPB had B Adhiban (2630) on the first board, Railways A had P Karthikeyan (2444), Railways B had GM Laxman (2377), LIC had GM Sriram Jha (2414) and many more strong players on the top board.

My main aim in this tournament was to play steady chess and not to lose a single game. Now considering the level of opposition this was not such an easy task. But I managed to do that. I scored 6.5/9 (4 wins and 5 draws). And I attribute this solid performance to just one book: "Mating the Castled King by Danny Gormally." I will come to the part of how the book helped me to achieve this task at the end of this review, but first let's have a look at what this book is all about.

Mating the Castled King published by Quality Chess and written by GM Danny Gormally was released in the market on 30th of April 2014 

A quick search on the author reveals that he has been a very strong player with a peak rating of 2573 in the year 2006. I didn't have much idea about Danny Gormally apart from the fact that I had read about an incident which involved him from the 2006 Turin Olympiad. 

As the title of the book suggests and the cover shows, this book is all about mating patterns against a castled king. The position that you can see on the cover is a very good example of how knowing the mating patters can make complicated problems look pretty simple.

Black to play and win

For the uninitiated this position would take quite some time to solve. But for experienced campaigners, the combination is as natural as breathing! 1...Rxh2+ 2.Kxh2 Rh8+ 3.Kg1 Ng3!

There is just no way to stop Rh1# Look how the three black pieces co-ordinate with each other to perfection to creating this mating net

This is basically what Gormally is aiming for with this book. A player should become so well versed with the themes and patterns that he/she could find such moves by just drawing ideas from his tactical arsenal. This book helps you to build up that arsenal of mating patterns. And how is he going to achieve this nearly impossible task of acquainting us with innumerable mating patterns and ideas?

The author makes a very good attempt. After an introductory chapter called "A few helpful tips", Gormally gets down to business familiarizing us with 20 mating patterns.

The 20 mating themes against a castled King

The most impressive part for me is that Gormally teaches you with examples that he has collected for each of these 20 themes. For eg. Let's have a look at the "Mate on the h-file" theme.

First there is small introduction like the one above where only the most important pieces are shown to you. This is done so that you can memorize the pattern and save it in your mind.

And then you have positions to solve based on the theme that is being discussed
The answers are given right behind the puzzles of a specific chapter which saves you quite some time in flipping through the pages.

In all there are 160 tactical exercises. A very important question to be asked is: What is the level of players that is being aimed here? I would like to share a very interesting incident that happened when I was on my way to the National Teams tournament. I was sitting in the train going from Mumbai to Goa and I randomly opened a chapter of the book. It turned out to be the pattern of "Rook and Knight."
No.136. Black to play and win

I thought for quite some time here. I was unable to find the mating pattern for nearly five minutes. Then it struck me! I could sacrifice my queen. And there it was 1...Qh6! 2.h3 (if 2.Rh1 then Qh3+ 3.Kxh3 Ng5+ 4. Kg2 Rxf2+ 5.Kg1 Nh3#) Qxh3! 3.Kxh3 Rh4+ 4.Kg2 Rh2 #
What a pretty variation. But I was sort of annoyed with myself. It took me quite long to figure out the answer. The main reason was that I wasn't quite aware of this pattern. I hadn't studied it before.

I then went to the next position:
No. 137. Black to play and win

It must have taken me less than five seconds to find the answer! 1...Qxh2 2.Kxh2 Ng3+ 3. Kg1 Rh1# This was a piece of cake, I thought to myself. Let's have a crack at the next one.

No.138  White to play 

Once again everything was just so easy! You take 1.Qxh7 Kxh7 2.Nf6+ Kh8 3.Rh3#

I had a feeling that I would complete this book within a day or two. I solved a few more and they all seemed not so difficult. Within just a few minutes I had reached the last position of the chapter. It was a position between Sunye Neto- Garry Kasparov, Graz 1981.

No.143  Black to play

After solving seven not too difficult positions, it is quite possible that you tend to lose your sharpness. It happens with us in our tournament games too. If you face easy opposition for too many rounds, you tend to stop calculating the best moves for your opponents. Something similar happened to me. I just couldn't crack this problem easily. I wanted to quickly solve this one too and get it over with. But things were not so easy.

The first thing I saw was 1...Bxe3. I immediately realized that 2.Qxe3 loses to Nf3+ 3. Kf1 (Kh1 Rd1) Rd1+ 4.Ke2 Re1# Now this was very encouraging. But what if he simply played 2.fxe3. Of course 3...Nxg2 looked strong but I couldn't find anything concrete for 3.Kf1. I started calculating after 1....Bxe3 2.fxe3 Nf3+ 

Where should the White king go to? Kf1 or Kh1

Both the moves looked plausible. 3. Kf1 was played in the game and I could instantly see a huge knight fork looming on d2 square. All that Black has to do is to clear that square with a tempo. 3...Rdxg2!
Even though Black is materially lagging, his attack his decisive. For eg. 4.Qc3 Rh2! Kasparov managed to create a strong attack and won the game in just three more moves.
Now the question was: What would happen to 3.Kh1?

Black to play

I was simply unable to find the winning combination. When I checked the answer I was simply stunned. 3...Rdxg2! 4.Nxg2 Rg3!!

An amazingly brilliant pattern!

Frankly speaking, this was first time I saw such a configuration of Black and White pieces. The knight on g2 cannot move as it allows Rg1#. And if the knight cannot move then Rxh3 is a forced mate. This was truly a brilliant conception. Even Kasparov said he couldn't remember seeing such a mating configuration before.

This is the beauty of the book according to me. You really have to be alert. A few easy ones could be followed by a real gem and if you are not ready to think over it then you might lose the opportunity of learning something very important.

Finishing off your opponent
One important skill that you will gain after working seriously on the book is the ability to finish off your opponent. The ability to calculate till its mate. Not just leave the calculation half way. Let me show you one position which elucidates this point.

Jose Cruz Lima - Angel Hernandez
  White to play

I tried to search this game position in Mega-Database but was unable to find it. I wonder how Gormally found this one but it surely is beautiful. The theme of this puzzle is "Dragging out the King." The first two moves are sort of obvious. 1.Nxf7 Kxf7 2.Qxe6!

The fact that queen sacrifice is promising can be seen by a player of any level. But to calculate the consequences of the same is not at all easy. In fact this can be a difficult problem even for a grandmaster. Below I reproduce Gormally's analysis along with some additions.

The book is filled with such in depth analyses. The wonderful thing about this problem is that it is useful for a beginner who gets acquainted with the idea of dragging the king out and it is also useful for a grandmaster who will be aiming to calculate right until the mate!

So is going through this book going to help you to become a better player? Of course! My personal experience is that your mind will start seeing patterns much faster. Here is one example from a very recent game played by my wife, Amruta Mokal.

Black to play

Of course, Black is winning in many ways. She could just play f5 or even double the rooks on the h-file. But Amruta played Qe5

Did you notice her threat? Her opponent did not and after Qc5, she was able to execute the very nice mating pattern with Rh1+! Kxh1 Qh8+! Kg1 Qh2#.

The point that I am trying to make with this example is that the move Qc7-e5 stems from an understanding of mating patterns. By knowing the pattern of mate down the h-file, Amruta put herself in the best situation to execute the mating idea. If she didn't know this theme there would have been very few chances that she would have continued this way. This is what the book of Danny Gormally is going to help you with.
It is going to make you more aware of the little nuances of where each piece should be placed so that a mating attack would work. This will help you to plan ahead and your mating attacks will be much more target oriented than just sprouting out of serendipity.

Your decision making in attacking chess is bound to improve after reading this book

How I worked with this book

When I went to Goa, I setup my chess board on a table in my room. I kept the book of Mating the castled King next to it. Whenever I had some time, I would open a random page and setup a position from the book and solve it. After solving the position, I would just make a note with a tick mark that I had solved the position. Add a star or two next to the problem if I really liked it. In this way, I was solving almost 5-10 positions everyday. This helped me to stay in excellent tactical shape and I was able to remain unbeaten in the tournament. I continued working with the book even after the tournament and I am happy to say that I have completed the 160 positions. I must mention that there are two other chapters entitled "Breakthrough with pieces" and "Breakthrough with pawns" which have attacking games selected and annotated by the author. On a parting note, I leave you with an extremely impressive attacking game played by Danny Gormally himself. The game has been taken from Mega-Database and the analysis has been done by Viktor Mikhalevski.

Final words:
"A unique book which not only helps you to get acquainted with mating patterns against a castled king but also helps you to improve your art of calculation thanks to the excellent quality of analysis."

You can buy the book from the official website of Quality Chess for 22.99 euros and also read the PDF excerpt from here.