Sunday, November 27, 2011

Vacation at Zanzibar’s

  I was home all week on vacation and as I wrote last week, I had 9 days off, some books I wanted to read, a website I wanted to write, some beagles I wanted to walk, and some chess I wanted to play.

  I spent about 3 hours a day for 5 days working on my website. I bought a domain on Monday, uploaded the site on Wednesday, debugged some issues on Thursday and Friday, and www.centraliowachess.com is a reality. It’ll be nice to have my own piece of the internet to publicize tournaments and post reports and articles. I’ve been using the IASCA website for this, but it seems hypocritical of me to use their site for publicity at the same time as not liking how they portray my efforts in their broadcast emails. I designed the site to be data driven, but with only a few focused pages I’ll be able to keep the site updated in a timely manner without spending too much time maintaining it. Of course, a project like this tends to take on a life of its own. In the future, I want to add a photo page instead of using chess.com and I have an idea to allow users to upload chess games that can only be viewed by people they designate, but these types of improvements can wait. Now that the site has been up for a bit and I’ve been able to look at it a little more critically, I’ve identified a few enhancements for the next time I have a few hours on my hands.

  I followed the final rounds of the Tal Memorial super tournament from Moscow on the Internet Chess Club, where the World No. 1 Magnus Carlsen and No. 3 Lev Aronian shared first place. The top US player Hikaru Nakamura had a disastrous tournament, finishing last and dropping out of the World top 10. I hope the poor result is just the result of Nakamura’s adjusting to his new coach, former world champion Garry Kasparov. If Nakamura fails to emerge as a serious contender for the world championship, will his millionaire benefactor Rex Sinquefield feel as if his support of US Chess is just good money after bad? Time will tell.

  We got Daisy and Baxter out for walks 4 or 5 times every day, walking at least 3 miles every day, and more on Friday when we took 3 separate walks for beef stick treats. When I wasn’t walking the dogs or working on the web site, I was reading my chess books. I started with the Yuri Averbakh memoir, “Center-Stage and Behind the Scenes”. Yuri Averbakh was a Soviet Grandmaster, trainer, and arbiter (umpire) from the 1940’s to the 2000’s. His career spanned the Stalin purges, World War II, the rise of Soviet chess to world dominance, the decline of Botvinnik and the loss of the world title to Bobby Fisher, the rise of Karpov and the defection of Kortchnoi, the Karpov-Kasparov battles, the breakup of the Soviet Union, and the split between Kasparov and FIDE. There aren’t any games in the book, but once I started reading it, I couldn’t read anything else until I finished it on Wednesday. This isn’t a book for the non-chess player or a young chess player, but for someone like me who grew up reading about the great Soviet players (and is of Russian heritage, by the way), the book is a fascinating look at the chess world through the prism of the Soviet system where everything from being assigned to play in a foreign tournament, getting an a apartment bigger than 144 square feet for 4 people, and staying out of the purges of the 30’s and 40’s took political maneuvering and a lot of luck.

  As I expected, I didn’t get very far with "1001 Checkmate Combinations". It is a dense book, but it does look like a lot of fun and focuses on checkmates with a piece or a combination of specific pieces per chapter. I’m about a third of the way through "Lessons with a Grandmaster" by Boris Gulko, but I don’t think it’s doing me very much good. It is a collection of 24 of former US and USSR champion Gulko’s games as explained to ‘A’ player and psychologist Joel Sneed. The games themselves are interesting enough, but when Gulko explains a move with comments like ’29…Na4? Will be met by 30.Rd4 and Black loses his advantage’, it doesn’t help me too much because I’m not sure why one side even has the advantage, much less why said advantage is lost. I don’t think the problem is the book, I’m just not good enough of a player to understand it.

  I had been playing a chess game on chess.com against Ben Tessman. Ben is from the Des Moines area and I’ve met him at a couple of tournaments over the years. Ben is an improving player who also blogs on chess.com under his handle of ‘SirBenjamin’. Our game finished this week when Ben missed a tactic that lost a piece, which happens when someone who plays only one game at a time (me) plays someone like Ben who has at least a dozen games going on at once. I’ve played Ben 3 times on chess.com and I’ve seen considerable improvement every time. I was planning on heading to Zanzibar’s Coffee Adventures yesterday for some coffee and chess so I invited Ben to come on down. I also wrote to Zanzibar regulars Dan and Mike letting them know Ben and I would be heading over.

  After our 5am walk with Daisy and Baxter to get some coffee and beef stick treats, I left for Zanzibar’s at 7:30 and arrived at 8:30. No chess players were around, so I got a Tanzania Teaberry coffee, a bagel and cream cheese, and a newspaper and sat down to read and wait. Ben came over at 8:45 and got some sort of cappuccino drink. We talked about Ben’s chess student, our different techniques for teaching, and Ben (an IT professional) gave me the useful advice that to get my chess website up on the search rankings I need to get people to click on links pointing to the website (LIKE THIS ONE – PLEASE CLICK). Then we sat down to play a couple of games. We drew for colors and I was Black.
  The game took around 45 minutes. We went over the game and talked about some of the ways Ben could have developed his pieces and then it was time for another game.
  This game was a lot tougher and took about an hour. In games between players at our level, tactics most always decides. At that point it was time to go so we said our goodbyes and went on our separate ways. I felt bad that Ben missed meeting the Zanzibar regulars (any of whom he would be competitive with), but I was happy that he came down and we had a chance to talk and play. When I got home, I helped Kathy put up the Christmas Tree and started the thankless task of moving my data to my new computer (After 5 years, my trusty Dell has gotten very persnickety about booting up). I knew this day was coming and had a new HP laptop at the ready for over a year in preparation, but moving the data is still a labor-intensive process. Even so, I did find some time to play some 3 minute chess on the Internet Chess Club. I’ve been trying to get my 3-minute rating to its all-time high and making good progess. Here is one of my better efforts from this morning: