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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Around the world in 80 days- Part I

There has been quite a lull on my blog since the past month. The reason?
Amruta and I were away for 80 days from the 5th of April to 24th of June 2015 and played in five tournaments, visiting nearly six different countries (maybe more) and doing some work which an Indian chess player has never done before. (more on that later!)

I share my experiences with you because I enjoy doing that, and also for the reason that someday if you do plan such a journey like ours, the information in the lines below will prove to be of some use.

The Dubai Open
5th-15th of April

Mumbai to Abu Dhabi takes three hours in a flight but because they are behind us by one and a half hours, the effective time is reduced to half!

Of course, travelling directly from Mumbai to Dubai is a better idea but when you take Etihad airlines, the destination is always Abu Dhabi. Besides they provide bus commute from Abu Dhabi to Dubai if you have booked your ticket up to Dubai. So, it is not such a huge hassle.

Idea!: The flight from Mumbai to Paris, France and return will cost you around Rs. 43,000. However, if you make a multi-destination flight from Mumbai to Paris with a 10 day halt in Dubai, it will still cost you Rs. 43000! Which means that if you are planning to play in Europe, it makes sense to start off with Dubai or any middle-east tournament as then your ticket from India-Dubai is free! This was a brilliant idea of Amruta which helped us save nearly Rs.34000/- (17,000 x 2)

The food and service in the Etihad airlines was top-notch

The main problem for every player who plays in the Dubai Open is the accommodation. (unless you are 2570+). Prices are high and hotels are quite far away from the playing venue. Travelling a lot before your game is not a good idea and I would put an upper cap of 30 minutes. After searching quite a bit on the internet, we were able to find a pretty good hotel. 

The Al Manar hotel apartment was our choice and the best part was that it was only two kilometres away from the venue. A 20 minute walk at the most.

The Al Manar hotel apartments is a four star property but not up to the mark. The pictures on the website are a bit misleading.

But you can judge for yourself. The bedroom...

....with a view into the kitchen! :)

The practice table! Jacob Aagaard's Endgame play was my constant companion throughout the trip.

The hotel was quite expensive at Rs.4,000 per night. But if you imagine sharing it with someone else, Rs.2000 per night doesn't really seem too much. Not to forget that you save your expenses on transport because you walk to the tournament hall. I guess the best place to book a room would be from over here

The wonderful part about staying in a "hotel apartment" is that you get the best of the world of both a hotel and an apartment. Apartment because you have a kitchen and you can cook your own food and hotel because someone comes everyday and cleans up your mess!

An amateurs attempt to make Pav Bhaji! :)

Taking a rice cooker has it's advantages. You can quickly make a rice preparation and eat it with curd! On the side you can see a speck of pickle. Well, it was an 80 day trip! Everything that was brought from India had to be rationed!

One of the lavish meals. Veg. Potato, wheat bread, curd and a side dish of sev kurmura

Idea!: If you are going on a long chess trip and you are a vegetarian, (or you want to save some money) it is an excellent idea to take a rice cooker with you. The best part about making rice in a rice cooker is that you do not have to keep an eye on it. Once you add the rice and water, it shuts off on its own after the rice is cooked! This is especially good if you have a lot of chess preparation to be done. This is the model of rice cooker that we took along with us and it was one of our best companions in the 80 day trip.

The Dubai Chess and Culture Club where the tournament was held is quite a famous structure in chess circles. Even if you haven't been to Dubai, I am sure that you have seen the "rook" like building in pictures.
The Dubai Chess and Culture Club in the evenings....

.... and in broad daylight

Bang opposite the playing hall, is the Century Mall that hosts Carrefour. You will be spoilt for choice over here. For everything that you need ten brands stare at your face!

The best part of the Dubai Open 2015 for me and Amruta was Amruta scoring her first win against a grandmaster in her chess career.

And not just any GM but GM Daniele Vocaturo (2594) who is Italy's numero uno! (good time to remind you that Fabi now plays for USA)

The game wasn't error-free and at one point Vocaturo had a decisive advantage. But he couldn't finish off the game and Amruta fought back to win in nice style.

For me playing in Dubai Open has never really been a great experience. The beautiful playing hall and a huge plethora of star players somehow overwhelm and distract me from my own game. When I would walk up to see games of players above 2650 I would suddenly be more interested in their play than my own! I know this is weird, but it can happen when the players for whom you have great respect and have read a lot about, are playing right in front of your eyes. For that reason I decided to be focused and not get up much from the board.

Trying to focus hard!

But unfortunately, I always had to break my link thanks to the namaaz break

Dubai Open might be the only tournament in the world where you have to stop your clocks after you are one hour into the game and go out of the tournament hall for ten minutes! Those who were religiously inclined would be praying to God while the rest would be chatting around. I wonder how many players would be discussing their positions with each other! Surely, Dubai open is a good place to have a very strong GM friend whom you can consult during this break!

While many players might have cheated unofficially during the prayer break, there was one guy who wasn't satisfied with this possibility of receiving minimal help.

Meet Gaioz Nigalidze, the man who used....

....his smart phone to get engine help.

I was quite involved in getting to the bottom of the entire story and for that....

I spoke with the chief arbiter...

....and also took the picture of the cubicle where Nigalidze would go every time. When he was caught his device was found in the garbage bin behind the toilet! 

For more information you can read the ChessBase report that I wrote on the cheating incident over here.

The tournament was going pretty decently for me till I was 4.5/7. But losses in the last two rounds spoiled the event and I lost around 15 Elo points. Amruta scored 3.5/9 gained 12 points. But considering that she had beaten a GM in the first round, the final result could have been much better.

Though chess wise the tournament was just normal, there were a few very special moments that I took back from Dubai. One of them was meeting Mr. Ramesh Natrajan.

Ramesh lived in Chennai before he shifted to Dubai and was a strong chess player in the 1980s (Anand generation). Though he doesn't play competitive chess anymore, he likes to follow the top games and regularly reads the articles that I write for ChessBase. On the penultimate day when he arrived at the playing venue as a spectator, he invited me and Amruta for a dinner in a superb Indian restaurant. Before this meet I did not even know him and after a few hours we became excellent friends! 

With Ramesh, a true chess lover!

Another incident worth mentioning is about the number two English player, David Howell. David was clearly better in the last round against Fedoseev. He misplayed the position and the game ended in a draw. Because of this he had to settle for the second spot. You can understand his disappointment at this point. But when I went to speak with him, he was so warm and spoke with such great interest. I felt a great sense of respect for David not only as a chess player but also as a human being. You can hardly find such strong players who are so humble and grounded.

A true gentleman: GM David Howell

The tournament ended on the 14th of April and the Prize giving ceremony was held on the 15th evening, as is the tradition at the Dubai Open. The strong Turkish GM Dragan Solak won the event. Amruta and I had a flight to catch and hence couldn't attend the ceremony. But we did make sure to visit the tallest man made structure in the world: The Burj Khalifa. Our next destination was France, something that I would cover in the part II of this series. 

Till then I would like to leave you with some chess positions from my games at the Dubai Open.

1. Sagar vs Allatar
White to play.
White has a clear edge in the position but what would be the best way to continue?

2. Sagar vs Sameer Kathmale
White to play
Black has just played Qd7. How should White continue?

And finally my favourite position from this trip.

Sagar- Mammadza Gunay 
Black to play
I have just played my bishop to d5. There is no question that Black is just better but what is the best way for her to convert her advantage? Calculate the consequences of 24...Nd4 25.Rxd6.

1. Sagar vs Alattar

For the tactically inclined, the right move in the position is definitely 19.e5! This move begs to be played thanks to the opposition of the bishop of c4 to the king on g8. After 19...fxe5 20.Nxe5 dxe5 21. d6+ Ne6 22. Bxe5! is a pretty cool move and Black cannot prevent the loss of his piece.
The e6 knight is badly pinned and will fall pretty soon.

Even though this solution is pretty simple and clear cut, I liked the idea that I came up with in the initial position.

I played the move 19. Nd2!

The knight is going on a long but rather fruitful journey to b5.

In the Benko, black's counterplay is linked with 'a' and the 'b' files. If you can get in a4 followed by a knight on b5, then black more often than not suffocates. This position is no exception and using the simple rule of improving your pieces, I found this idea of Nd2-b1-a3-b5! I was able to execute this well during the game and scored a fine win.

2. Sagar vs Sameer Kathmale

The first move that looks pretty obvious is 28.Ne5! and of course it is the best move in the position. Taking the knight with 28...fxe5 would not be so great as after 29.Rxb3 White just stands better. After 28.Ne5, the move to be considered is definitely 28...Qxa4. For quite sometime I tried to make the move 29.Qc2 work. With pressure down to the g6 pawn and pin, I thought this should be winning. But after 29...Rb4 there was nothing decisive in sight. It was then that I found a nice idea with 29.Ng4! and after 29...Rxh3 30.gxh3 we reached the following position:

It's black's turn to play, White is two pawns down and has a mangled kingside pawn structure. But it doesn't really matter. What matters is the quality of pieces. Thanks to gxh3, I no longer have to worry about my back rank weakness! Every cloud has a silver lining! After 30...Nd7 31.Qh6 is immediately decisive and after 30...Kg7 31.Rc7 is terminal. Sameer had to play 30...Re7 31. Nxf6+ Kg7 32.Ng4

The knight is coming to e5, queen to g5 and the rook on c8. The game ended within a few moves.

Sagar- Mammadza Gunay 

My opponent who is talented young girl finished me off with a wonderful tactic. Have a look at the annotations:

All the pictures in this article are taken by my lovely wife Amruta Mokal. She has a facebook page where you can view the work she has been doing since almost a year now. If you enjoyed her pictures, then do like her page.

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.

(owned by Truspace)
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