Liege,Manchester,Dublin and Cork

The good thing about being chess professional is the chance to travel a lot and visit some nice places. As I had to play in Belgium for my team Amay and play afterwards the Cork Chess Congress in Ireland the only good plan would be not to come back home but to use the chance and visit some new places. The route was Liege-Manchester-Dublin-Cork. However this report is about one of Ireland’s friendliest places-Cork. The tournament took place between 23-25 March.

Some months ago Michael Bradley sent me an invitation for the Congress, but in the last two weeks we could not reach each other even on the web. I started to think that I will not see him this year when he made it for the last round.
When Michael came on Sunday for the price giving he was so excited and spoke that quickly that I could barely catch a word of his own. “Calm down, Michael, you are not playing this year”, as said, but I knew that he wanted to play very much. He kept explaining me about the new openings that he had tried, and the new books that he read.
Michel Bradley is the organizer of the event and has always been deeply involved in the life of the club, as well as for the conduct of a very good tournament. This year though, he had to skip this part. The reason is a nice one though- five weeks ago he became a proud father of a baby girl, called Claire!
Thus, the organization was passed to the hands of Steven Short, the brother of the FM Philip Short and they both took part in the open section.
Despite the recession the event managed to attract players from eight countries. Gresham Metropol was once again a welcoming host of the event, and we had the chance to enjoy the full Irish breakfast together with the Irish hospitality.
The time control was unusual- one and a half hour till the end of the game, and additional fifteen seconds per move. Once that the players reach their final five minutes they are no longer obliged to write the moves. Ireland’s tournaments are often not calculated for FIDE ratings and this makes it difficult for the foreigners to orientate for their strength. Some of the kids that played two years ago are now more mature, and show good chess potential. Young Kieran O’Riordan is still the only one to defeat me in Ireland (albeit in a simul :-)) two years ago.
I was a bit worried for my result as this time there was no time to kiss the Blarney stone for good luck. Instead I paid a visit to Dublin before Cork. You might not be aware of the fact that Ireland’s most visited place now is the Guinness factory. I guess that one of the reasons is that you can enjoy your pint on the top of the city and to have a superb view of the surrounding buildings.
Anyways, this preparation also proved excellent, as I managed to win the event outright with 5/6.
Cross table is here.
There was a big tie for the second place, with Irish champion IM Alex Lopez declared second, and Irish’s best rated player GM Alex Baburin- third. These two gentlemen recently took part in the simul of the Irish national team against Veselin Topalov, and scored 1.5 against the Bulgarian. The podium was filled with FM Philip Short and IM John Donaldson.
Major tournament was won by Ljubisa Cirkovic, and the minor tournament by Fionn O’Neill with a remarkable 6/6 result.


10 Big Brain Benefits of Playing Chess

I have recently received an email from Larry Dignanwith a request to publish an interesting article about the benefits from chess. The article is interesting, and I publish it without any shortenings:

Not for nothing is chess known as "the game of kings." No doubt the rulers of empires and kingdoms saw in the game fitting practice for the strategizing and forecasting they themselves were required to do when dealing with other monarchs and challengers. As we learn more about the brain, some are beginning to push for chess to be reintroduced as a tool in the public's education. With benefits like these, they have a strong case.

It can raise your IQ
Chess has always had an image problem, being seen as a game for brainiacs and people with already high IQs. So there has been a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation: do smart people gravitate towards chess, or does playing chess make them smart? At least one study has shown that moving those knights and rooks around can in fact raise a person's intelligence quotient. A study of 4,000 Venezuelan students produced significant rises in the IQ scores of both boys and girls after 4 months of chess instruction.

It helps prevent Alzheimer's
Because the brain works like a muscle, it needs exercise like any bicep or quad to be healthy and ward off injury. A recent study featured in The New England Journal of Medicine found that people over 75 who engage in brain-stretching activities like chess are less likely to develop dementia than their non-board-game-playing peers. Just like an un-exercised muscle loses strength, Dr. Robert Freidland, the study's author, found that unused brain tissue leads to a loss of brain power. So that's all the more reason to play chess before you turn 75.

It exercises both sides of the brain
In a German study, researchers showed chess experts and novices simple geometric shapes and chess positions and measured the subjects' reactions in identifying them. They expected to find the experts' left brains being much more active, but they did not expect the right hemisphere of the brain to do so as well. Their reaction times to the simple shapes were the same, but the experts were using both sides of their brains to more quickly respond to the chess position questions.

It increases your creativity
Since the right hemisphere of the brain is responsible for creativity, it should come as no surprise that activating the right side of your brain helps develop your creative side. Specifically, chess greatly increases originality. One four-year study had students from grades 7 to 9 play chess, use computers, or do other activities once a week for 32 weeks to see which activity fostered the most growth in creative thinking. The chess group scored higher in all measures of creativity, with originality being their biggest area of gain.

It improves your memory
Chess players know — as an anecdote — that playing chess improves your memory. Being a good player means remembering how your opponent has operated in the past and recalling moves that have helped you win before. But there's hard evidence also. In a two-year study in 1985, young students who were given regular opportunities to play chess improved their grades in all subjects, and their teachers noticed better memory and better organizational skills in the kids. A similar study of Pennsylvania sixth-graders found similar results. Students who had never before played chess improved their memories and verbal skills after playing.

It increases problem-solving skills
A chess match is like one big puzzle that needs solving, and solving on the fly, because your opponent is constantly changing the parameters. Nearly 450 fifth-grade students were split into three groups in a 1992 study in New Brunswick. Group A was the control group and went through the traditional math curriculum. Group B supplemented the math with chess instruction after first grade, and Group C began the chess in first grade. On a standardized test, Group C's grades went up to 81.2% from 62% and outpaced Group A by 21.46%.

It improves reading skills
In an oft-cited 1991 study, Dr. Stuart Margulies studied the reading performance of 53 elementary school students who participated in a chess program and evaluated them compared to non-chess-playing students in the district and around the country. He found definitive results that playing chess caused increased performance in reading. In a district where the average students tested below the national average, kids from the district who played the game tested above it.

It improves concentration
Chess masters might come off like scattered nutty professors, but the truth is their antics during games are usually the result of intense concentration that the game demands and improves in its players. Looking away or thinking about something else for even a moment can result in the loss of a match, as an opponent is not required to tell you how he moved if you didn't pay attention. Numerous studies of students in the U.S., Russia, China, and elsewhere have proven time and again that young people's ability to focus is sharpened with chess.

It grows dendrites
Dendrites are the tree-like branches that conduct signals from other neural cells into the neurons they are attached to. Think of them like antennas picking up signals from other brain cells. The more antennas you have and the bigger they are, the more signals you'll pick up. Learning a new skill like chess-playing causes dendrites to grow. But that growth doesn't stop once you've learned the game; interaction with people in challenging activities also fuels dendrite growth, and chess is a perfect example.

It teaches planning and foresight
Having teenagers play chess might just save their lives. It goes like this: one of the last parts of the brain to develop is the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for planning, judgment, and self-control. So adolescents are scientifically immature until this part develops. Strategy games like chess can promote prefrontal cortex development and help them make better decisions in all areas of life, perhaps keeping them from making a stupid, risky choice of the kind associated with being a teenager.
You can follow the original blog here.


Playing with the Living Legends

Just a couple of weeks ago my boss from the Belgium team called to ask me and play in an important match. We have chances to make it to the top three this year, a somewhat surprising result taking into account the fact that we barely saved our skins in the previous season. Still, our team is young, and has the will to compete well, and I certainly wanted to help.
My possible opponents were P. Negi, R. Vaganian, Berelowitsch and V. Chuchelov. As Negi was playing Capelle at the same period, and Vaganian is not that active recently I concentrated my preparation to the latter two.
What was my surprise to discover that we are playing in the same train with GM Vaganian, one of the most colourful players of the 1980-ies!
Born at the same year as A. Karpov, he became a GM at a very young (for that time!) age of 19, was an USSR champion, contender for the world championship. Many people, including Garry Kasparov admitted his enormous practical talent, and strength.
This was the living legend that I had to face in the match:

Vaganian,Rafael (2577) - Bojkov,Dejan (2544)
Rochade - Amay Eupen (9.1), 04.03.2012

1.Nf3 Nf6 2.d4 g6 3.c4 Bg7 4.Nc3 0–0 5.Bg5 [Vaganian chose to play chess instead to compete in the long forced (and modern!) lines.]

5...c5 6.e3 cxd4 7.exd4

7...d5 8.Bxf6 Bxf6 9.cxd5 [9.Nxd5 is the other main move. I have achieved an excellent position against Paragua about an year ago after: 9...Bg7 10.Nc3 Bg4 11.Be2 Nc6 12.d5 Bxf3 13.Bxf3 Bxc3+ 14.bxc3 Na5 15.Qd4 Qc7 16.Be2 Rfc8 17.0–0?! Nxc4і Paragua,M (2536)-Bojkov,D (2544) Los Angeles 2011 ]

9...Nd7 [Probably the best move for Black is: 9...e6!? and this was the move that Vaganian was afraid of: 10.dxe6?!

a) 10.Bc4 exd5 11.Bxd5 (11.Nxd5 Re8+ 12.Ne3 Nc6 13.Qb3 Kg7 (13...Re7 14.0–0 Na5 15.Qc3 Nxc4 16.Qxc4 Be6) 14.Bxf7 Re7 15.Bd5 Nxd4 16.Nxd4 Qa5+) 11...Re8+ 12.Kf1 Nc6;

b) 10.Qb3 exd5 11.Nxd5 Bg7 (11...Qa5+ 12.Nc3 Nc6 13.0–0–0 Bg4) 12.Ne3 Nc6 13.0–0–0 Nxd4 14.Nxd4 Bxd4 15.Bc4 (15.Kb1 Qb6) 15...Bxe3+ 16.fxe3 (16.Qxe3 Qc7 17.Qc3 Bf5) 16...Qc7; 10...Bxe6 11.Be2 Nc6 12.0–0 (12.d5 Bxc3+ 13.bxc3 Qxd5) 12...Nxd4 13.Nxd4 Qxd4 14.Bf3 Rad8 15.Qxd4 Rxd4 16.Ne4 Be7 (16...Bg7 17.Nc5 Bc4) 17.Rfc1 Rc8 18.Rxc8+ Bxc8 19.Rc1 Bf5 20.Ng3 Be6 21.a3 Rd2 22.b4 b6 23.Rc7 Rd7 24.Rxd7 Bxd7 25.Bd1 f5 0–1 Orlinkov,M (2384)-Maslak,K (2510)/Moscow 2008/CBM 122 Extra (39)]

10.Bc4 Nb6 11.Bb3 Bg4 12.0–0 Rc8 [I can regain the pawn at once with: 12...Bxf3 13.Qxf3 Bxd4 14.Rad1 Vaganian considered the position after: 14...Bxc3 15.bxc3 Nc8 as slightly better for White, as he has the possibility to attack on the king's flank with h2–h4–h5 and various rook lifts. This is precisely waht happened in my game against Paragua, therefore, I decided to make an useful move.]

13.Re1 Nc4?! [But this is dubious. Better was to either take on f3, or play something like:]

[13...a6 with the idea Rc8-c7 and eventually Nb6-c8-d6.]

14.Bxc4! Bxf3 15.Qd3 [15.Qb3 Bg4 is also possible.; My idea was to seek active play after: 15.Qxf3 Rxc4 16.Rad1 Qb6]

15...Bg4 16.Bb3 [Now White stabilized the situation and kept the extra pawn. There are no obvious threats, but he wants to improve his position slowly, and I do not have objects for counter attack. A human does not like situations like that one!]

16...Bf5 [16...Qb6 is awkward for Black- 17.Na4 Qxd4? 18.Qxd4 Bxd4 19.Re4±]

17.Qd2 a6! [Aimed against the plan with Ra1–d1 and Bb3–c2. My pieces will be repelled from the center soon, and it makes sense to find some targets on the flank.]

18.Rad1 b5 19.f3 [19.Bc2? Bxc2 20.Qxc2 b4–+]

19...Bg7 [Profilaxis. The immediate: 19...Qb6?! loses a pawn after: 20.g4 Bd7 21.g5 Bg7]

20.Ne4 a5 21.a3 Qb6

22.g4 [I was well prepared for this advance.]

[I planned to meet the move: 22.Nc5 with 22...Rc7 23.g4 Bc8 when the knight on c5 is not as fearsome as it seems.; However, once that I played the move I saw the knight retreat: 22.Ng3 and got scared for a moment. Luckily, there is a defense: 22...e6! 23.dxe6 (23.Nxf5 exf5 24.Re7 Bf6 25.Rd7 Rfd8 26.Rxd8+ Rxd8 is just equal as the extra pawn does not matter at all here- White's pieces are tied with its defense.) 23...Bxe6 24.Bxe6 fxe6

with a typical Gruenfeld-like compensation. There are weak pawns in White's camp, and the black bishop is clearly superior than the white knight.]

22...Bxe4 23.fxe4 e5! [The key defensive resource. The position is opened, and White's king start feel the air in its bones.]

24.dxe6 fxe6 25.Kh1 [The only inaccuracy from Vaganian this game. He could have put some more problems with:]

[25.Kg2! Still, I believe that Black should survive after: 25...Kh8 26.d5 (26.e5!? might be better.) 26...a4 27.Ba2 exd5 28.Bxd5 b4 29.axb4 Rb8 30.e5 Qxb4 31.Qxb4 Rxb4 32.Re2 Rfb8 33.Rdd2 Rxg4+=]

25...Rf3! 26.Ba2 Kh8! [Unfortunately, the ambitious: 26...b4 is not good due to the sudden tactics: 27.axb4 axb4 28.Bc4!

with the idea to support the bishop with b2–b3, and if: 28...Rxc4 29.Qe2]

27.Rf1 [After twenty minutes of thorogh calculation, Vaganian decided to liquidate into a draw endgame. This is the correct practical decision. In the line of his interest after: 27.d5 exd5 28.exd5 Rcf8 29.d6 Rf2 30.Re2? Rf1+ 31.Rxf1 Rxf1+ 32.Kg2 Qg1+ 33.Kh3 Rf3+ 34.Kh4 Bf6+ 35.g5 he could not see the win for Black, but it exists, of course- 35...Bxg5+! 36.Qxg5 Qd4+ 37.Qg4 Qf6+ 38.Qg5 Rf4+–+]

27...Rxf1+ [Now almost all the pawns are killed:]

28.Rxf1 Qxd4 29.Qxd4 Bxd4 30.Bxe6 Re8 31.Bd5 Bxb2 32.Rb1 Bxa3 33.Rxb5 Bb4 34.Kg2 Kg7 35.h4 Re7 36.Rb6 Ra7


This was a tough battle, in which we made almost no mistakes. Luckily for my team, we won convincingly with 5.5-2.5, and have good chances to make it to the top three.
And I had the pleasure to face and survive a true living legend!