Hello everyone,

Here's a brief blog post about next year's Australian Chess Championship in Melbourne! Enjoy the following video from the organisers, Melbourne Chess Club. 
I've participated in a number of Melbourne Chess Club events, and my most pleasant memories relating to MCC are winning the 2012 MCC Cup Weekender with 8.5/9 and the 2014 MCC Hjorth Open (in memory of Australian IM Greg Hjorth) with 9/9. I'll be the defending champion in the 2016 Australian Championship, having won the title in the 2014 event in Springvale (which was organised by Noble Park Chess Club). I hope that I can play my best chess!

On an unrelated note, I'll be playing the FIDE Chess World Cup in Baku in a couple of weeks. My first round opponent is the Indian GM Penteala Harikrishna. Wish me luck!
PictureMy student, CM Chris Ball, =Best U2000
In this blog post I'll be sharing the successes of my students at the recent Oceania Zonal (the first stage of the World Chess Championship cycle), played in Sydney at Norths Chess Club from July 4-10! I did OK as well, winning the tournament with 7.5/9 and then a rapid playoff to qualify for the 2015 World Cup in Baku :)

I had three students playing the Oceania Zonal, namely Chris Ball, Canddiate Master (CM) Francesco Antoniazzi, and Anthony Chan (who is relatively new to adult tournaments). Let's see how they all fared!

CM Francesco Antoniazzi (FIDE 1728): 4.5/9, performance rating 1973, +48.6 rating points

I have been coaching Francesco for a couple of years now and he was very pleased to perform so well in arguably the most important Australian tournament of the year :) He would have qualified for the CM title except he is already a CM! Before the tournament we had done some work on openings, technique in converting an advantage and calculating precisely, and Francesco showed all of these qualities in his play. Indeed, during the tournament I noticed that he was even more focused in his games than usual and that definitely contributed to the outstanding result. He was happiest with his upset win over Kiwi Timothy Rains (1870 FIDE) so I have analysed that game below:

Anthony Chan (Unrated): 4.5/9, starting FIDE Rating 1881, Candidate Master title

Anthony is a relatively new student of mine, having contacted me for help with his opening preparation for the NSW Open and Oceania Zonal. Like me, most of his work tends to go into improving his understanding and knowledge of his openings, and my task before the tournament was to organise his repertoire, including pointing out key move order devices, recommending model players to study, and providing information about openings and typical middlegames not covered in his opening books. Positional play comes most naturally to him, and he also asks a lot of good questions, which is very important when trying to improve rapidly.

Unfortunately I only have one of his wins from the tournament (I would have preferred to show his win over Victorian junior Ray Yang) but it gives an indication of his playing style:
However, curiously enough the game of Anthony's that impressed me most was his loss to Patrick Gong - a very talented and in my view under-rated WA junior. Anthony had outplayed his opponent up and down the board, however, at the moment when he could establish a decisive advantage, he lost control of the position. Still, the game is a good illustration of the importance of working on your openings in the computer era:
Obviously in chess there's always room for one to improve, and I'm confident that if Anthony continues working hard (especially on dynamic positions and calculation) and plays regularly, he will eventually reach the 2200 rating usually required for the CM title. I look forward to continuing to contribute to that process!

I've saved my most successful student at the Oceania Zonal for last...and he even came close to the FIDE Master title! 

Christopher Ball (FIDE 1861): 5.5/9, Performance Rating 2164, +58.6 rating points, Candidate Master title

Chris has been my student for a bit over a year now and is one of the most passionate chess players I know - every lesson he has a master game he wants to show me, or plenty of quotes by strong chess players, a chess book he's read or a chess video he's watched - and often much more! He's put a lot of effort into his chess for some time and in this tournament he did an exceptional job of applying the techniques I'd shown him! Above all I was impressed by his ability to recover from setbacks in his games; when he did make a mistake, he put it behind him and continued fighting hard, usually being rewarded for setting his opponent problems. A great example of that was the following win early in the tournament:
My annotations proved so detailed that I had to divide them into two separate games for the viewer! Anyway, here's a puzzle opportunity: how would you try to fight back as White in the position after 12...Nxe5?
In the last round, having already secured the Candidate Master title with two rounds to spare, Chris was Black against FM Dusan Stojic (not the world's easiest pairing), and a win would give him the FIDE Master title. He came close, even reaching a winning position near the end of the game after a bit of luck, however the game ultimately ended in a draw:
Even so, Chris was hardly disappointed - his goal for the tournament was to achieve the Candidate Master title and he overshot the mark, and against a strong field at that! I am sure he will find his lifetime Diamond Membership at Chess.com (for titled players) handy as he works toward the FIDE Master title :) 

Now for those potential students reading about the successes of others - you can do it too! You'll have to complement lessons with me with hard work of your own and plenty of practice games, but my results and the results of my students speak for themselves :) I offer a very deep understanding of chess (conveyed very clearly, like in this blog) and you can see from my game analyses here that I have the unique skill of being able to immediately identity the main areas for improvement of a player - and in my lessons I do create and execute an individual plan for fixing those weaknesses and helping you play to your strengths! 

Please drop a line to my email IllingworthChess@gmail.com to start your chess improvement journey with me!
Hi everyone,

This is just a brief post to let you know that I've just updated each section of my website! For instance, you may want to check out the new links under 'My Articles'. 

I also want to share a position from one of my recent games as an introduction to the subject of material imbalances:
It is White to move. Ask yourself the following:

a) Which pieces are better here - White's rook  and two pawns, or Black's minor pieces? 
b) Should White use his king as a fighting unit or keep it tucked away? 
c) How should Black place his pieces? 

Now let's see the actual game:
Summing up:

a) The two minor pieces are equal to the rook and two pawns because they have stable positions where they can blockade White's pawns and stop White's rooks attacking Black's pawns. 
b) White's king should be tucked away on c2; if it advances to the third rank or further it can attacked by Black's trio of pieces. If your opponent has enough material remaining that they may be able to generate mating threats without queening a pawn (say, more than a rook and knight or bishop on the board), you should usually keep the king out of danger, but close enough to the centre that it can quickly join the fight if pieces are exchanged. 
c) Black should place his knight on e5, king on f6 and rook on e8 - then the e4 and f5 pawns are blockaded, White is unable to invade down the open d-file or g-file with his rooks, and Black's bishop will be reasonably placed almost anywhere, though it would be nice to get it to c5 where it controls g1 and thereby makes it harder for White to keep control of that file. d6 would also be a reasonable square for the bishop, to block the d-file and thereby free the knight from defending d7. I like the rook best on e8 because it means a knight move will discover an attack on the e4-pawn (which may even be ganged up on using the knight to tie up White's rooks). 

Thanks for reading and I'll make sure to bring you more updated content soon!

One of the most common questions I'm asked by my students is: How can I blunder less frequently? 

Naturally there are many different types of blunders and causes for those blunders. However, let's define a blunder first, so there can be no confusion between silly mistakes and decisive ones:

Blunder: A very bad move which makes our position considerably worse than it was before, such as from winning to equal, or equal to losing. 

Back in the old days (pre-2005), you were able to write your move down on your scoresheet before making it, and this served as an excellent way to 'blunder-check', but this is no longer allowed in the FIDE Laws of Chess as it is considered a form of note-taking. One thing we should accept is that the only way we can avoid ever blundering again is to stop playing chess, but that wouldn't be very fun...in any case, mistakes are part of the game and the struggle between two players. 

Let's start with the game in the photo above:

It would be easy to attribute the loss to a slip in concentration, but I think the reason Black lost concentration in this example is because he knew the endgame is, with best play, a draw and therefore let his guard down. You have to concentrate on every single move of a chess game - if you lose focus for one move, you can very easily undo all the work you put in beforehand. This applies regardless of the position in front of you. 

When you find yourself thinking that you have a winning position or a drawn position, don't let yourself relax - continue trying to find the best move on each move, whether it's the surest way to win or the clearest way to draw. 

While blunders are usually of a tactical nature, they can also be strategic/positional blunders, as the following game shows:
Admittedly White's blunder could be attributed to overlooking 36...Ne4, but I've labelled this as a strategic blunder because Black would still be much better even without this move. The way to minimise such oversights is to look for aggressive moves by the opponent on your half of the board, which threaten something. In this case, 34...Re3! and 36...Ne4! was the way to exploit the weakening of White's king safety. It should be added that White was under some pressure earlier in the game, which provoked the blunder that a player of Korchnoi's class would normally not make. 

Another good way to reduce our blunders is to have a good sense of danger. For instance, if your king is under attack, you should make doubly sure that the opponent has no forced checkmate before you go grabbing material on the other side of the board. However, opening the position when we are well behind in development can be just as deadly, as the following example illustrates:
The move 8...Nxe4 isn't one that can be proven to be losing by force in a game, but it should be rejected on the basis that it loses too much time in what is quite a sharp position. As for 11...Nh5, this oversight could have been avoided by considering all of White's forcing continuations and continuing to do so down each move of Black's calculations (though in his defence, Black's position was already quite bad). The way to reduce such mistakes is to appreciate the importance of rapid development when the position is open or about to be opened, and of course be well prepared to avoid similar traps in the future.

When club players ask about avoiding blunders, they usually mean moves that hang material or unnecessarily allow checkmate. So in the next fragment we will see a case where the White player simply had a blind spot.
Another major type of blunder is that of assumption, where you assume that the opponent has to make some response to your move, when in fact they have something much better, but that's such a broad topic (with many types of possible assumptions) that I'll save it for another blog post. Instead, I want to finish up with an example illustrating how blunders often arise when we lose our objectivity and try to garner more from a position than what we deserve. 
This was a long post so let's sum up the blunder-reducing techniques we have learned:

  1. Concentrate on finding the best move in a reasonable amount of time in every position. It doesn't matter how well you played earlier if you make a blunder at the end, so when you are clearly winning or in a dead drawn position, try and find the surest way to win or hold your draw. 
  2. Blunders can be strategic as well as tactical. Many strategic blunders involve weakening key squares with some pawn move or making a bad 'equal' exchange of pieces, so take the time to judge who benefits more from the change in the position. 
  3. Keep a healthy sense of danger. If you lose a lot of time grabbing a pawn and open lines in front of your king while your pieces are undeveloped, the chances are the pawn grab is unsafe, and you'd be better off continuing development and castling your king. 
  4. To avoid really silly blunders, use 'Blumenfeld's Rule' and double-check the really basic stuff like whether you are getting mated or if one of your pieces is unsafe. 
  5. Another good technique is to check for forcing moves (moves which threaten to win material or checkmate) in your half of the board.
  6. When you reach the end of a line in your calculations from a fairly critical or sharp position, check one move further to make sure you haven't missed anything important. 
  7. We can improve our concentration by not thinking about the opponent's rating, the result of the game and other extraneous data not related to finding the best move on the board.
What you learn from one opening can often be used in other openings!

Chess players often think about they can improve their understanding of the openings, and this only becomes more frequent as you rise through the ranks. What a lot of players overlook is that you can learn a lot about the middlegames arising from your opening by taking the most common pawn structures from that opening, and seeing examples from other openings where one of those structures also arises.

For instance, I recently wrote a post about the Meran Semi-Slav on my other blog (for SAC) where I talked about how the following structure is in White's favour:

The same pawn structure can arise in the Catalan, only where White has played g2-g3 (and sometimes b2-b3) and Black has often played ...b6 at some point to get his light-squared bishop out! However, the ideas are often the same. 
With this knowledge, we now know how to play these positions as White when Black plays ...c5, and also when he doesn't break with ...c5. I've seen a lot of club players walk into these positions as Black against the Catalan due to a lack of theoretical knowledge, and you can score a lot of points by being aware of the standard methods to obtain and convert your advantage. 

Of course, strong players will see what's coming and have something prepared for when you break with e4, such as the ...c6-c5 counterthrust! Let's check it out in our next game. 
Obviously the Catalan is way too complex to master from studying just two games, but you should have a much better idea of how to handle the typical pawn structure - and you can carry this knowledge with you to several openings, not just the Catalan! The next time you want to improve your openings, broaden your horizons and use good ideas from other openings to strengthen your understanding of the middlegames that crop up from your repertoire!

If you enjoyed and learned from my article, please share it and consider having some chess coaching to receive my insights into every phase of the game - and most importantly, how to become a stronger player as rapidly as possible!
Hello from Sydney, and thanks for taking the time to read this blog!

This blog is about how you can improve your chess, but will also connect this to happenings such as the tournament results of myself and my students, and local and international chess news. 

If there is a certain topic you'll like me to blog post, please leave your suggestion in the comments below and I'll keep it in mind. Feel free to share my website with your friends as well. 

If you've read the rest of my website you'll know just how passionate and committed I am to helping other chess players improve. 

I will make one suggestion in this blog post though: if you already have another chess coach and you don't have a solid connection with them, or they aren't giving you enough individual attention, then I recommend switching to another coach - you deserve someone who you get along with, who listens to you and who knows what you need to improve. 

I have a loyal clientele because I have a good connection with my students, understand them and their needs, and give them good advice, material and support outside of lessons. If you want to enjoy that as well, go to the 'Contact Me' page and I'll indicate what else I can offer for you. 

Max Illingworth, IM and FIDE Trainer