Monday, 31 January 2011

Gibraltar Chess Congress 2011 Round 7

For some reason I am finding it difficult to sleep at a normal hour. 6.30 am is a bit ridiculous but I did spend a lot of time preparing because playing Black against a very strong and solid GM like Rainer Buhmann is never easy. We had a pleasant post-mortem after the Game and I found out that he too had prepared for me thoroughly. Naturally we were both out of our prep by move 4!

We finished just in time. Soon after the first time control the lights went out and stayed out for about an Hour at a guess. All the people still playing were treated to Dinner (Damn!) at the excellent Restaurant at the Caletta (Venue) but the delay led to the Cancellation of the Masterclass with Michael Adams and Irena Krush, something I and many others were looking forward to. Hasta Manjana Amigo's

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Gibraltar Chess Congress 2011 Round 6

 My own Game lasted just 15 Moves today. I was on the right side again and was able to watch the other Games in the commentary room where Simon Williams was joined by Stuart Conquest intermittently.
My friends Sue and Gawain also listened intently

as these two GM's shared their insights. We spent most of the time watching the Match on Board one. Nigel Short was defending his leading position in the tournament with Black against Vassily Ivanchuk. We were all very impressed with Nigels uncompromising Bridge-burning attack until move 17 when we all expected him to continue with 17...Rf3 instead of the Wimpy 17... Ne5 after which only two results were possible. As it was Nigel got Mated on move 63. So engrossed were we in this Game that we nearly missed the Game of the tournament so far, maybe the Millennia. I kid you not, do yourself a favor and go to the Live Games and play through Akobian Mikhalevski. By tomorrow it will no longer be there and you will have to download the PGN.
For some light entertainment here is my short Game.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Gibraltar Chess Congress 2011 Round 5

Oh what a perfect day, this is the View from my Window, as long as you don't look down

and if you do
So I started the Day in a good mood, made a Coffee, had a Shower and immediately got down to Business, well actually editing my Facebook friends list and Chatting. Granted, not very constructive. Better would have been to do some exploring and bring you some interesting Pictures of Gibraltar like a Monkey or two. It is amazing how much time you can spend "quickly checking your Mail"
Anyhow, at 3pm my Game started and again did not last very long but this time I as on the right side of the result. The opening Idea was shown to me by an Armenian GM Karen Movszeszian. My young opponent was taken by surprise and responded badly.

 I spent the rest of the Afternoon watching Ivanchuk and Short weave their Magic. Vassily was in deep doodah against  Kotronias but managed to survive long enough for Vassilios  to Blunder. Nigel on the other hand played a controlled positional masterpiece against Joint leader, the very talented Nadezhda Kosintseva
I was following the Games in the Commentary room. GM Simon Williams is a very entertaining young man can be followed live on the site giving his expert Opinion and was frequently joined by the Festival Chief Organizer GM Stuart Conquest  who does seem to be more interested in the Games than your Usual CEO. Former Head Honcho Stewart Reuben also spent most of the Afternoon following the Games. 
Then we got a real treat. First Ivanchuk came in to give us all his thoughts on his Game and then Nigel Short entertained a Capacity Crowd. A great day.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Gibraltar Chess Congress 2011 Rounds 3 + 4

Here is the long-awaited Hippo :-) Actually the Opening went like a Dream and my young Opponent told me afterwards that he felt like resigning after 16...e5. I lost patience on move 22...f3 and let him back in. He then got serious counterplay and I consider myself lucky to have won the Game.

Today was ridiculous. I knew the position up to 14 b4 so actually only played two moves before resigning. I just couldn't see any way to avoid serious Material losses. If it had not been such a nice day outside I would have embarrassed myself a little longer but since I had not seen much Sunshine since arriving in Gibraltar I thought it best not to waste it. I'll just have to concentrate a bit more tomorrow.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Gibraltar Chess Congress 2011 Round 2

The sensation of the day, for me at least was Korchnoi's convincing crush of third seed Caruana. All the Games can be replayed on the official website. I had quite an easy Game today. After developing my pieces all that was necessary was taking a couple of pawns and waiting for resignation. Only play through it if you are really bored.

The Weather is still lousy and promises to be the same until at least the Weekend. Laters Alligators :-)

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Gibraltar Chess Congress 2011 Round 1

Too optimistic today. After 30.f5 my opponent offered me a draw. Although I didn't see a clear continuation and was short on time I declined. My reasoning was that I needed to be on 100% to have a chance of playing Ivanchuk. Not smart. The real mistake I think was 27...Qd4 Better was Rb2 followed by a3. Oh well, was fun anyway and nobody ever won by accepting a draw offer.

Apologies for no Opening Ceremony report. Earlier yesterday Evening I went to Town to do some shopping and the wind was howling. While I was in the Supermarket it started raining as well. Since I neglected to take any wet weather clothes with me I bought an Umbrella for 5 Quid. It lasted approximately 5 minutes before the Wind blew it to shreds. I got back to the Apartment soaking wet and did not feel like going out again. It is going to be like this for another couple of days unfortunately so you may have to wait for pictures of Gibraltar. Sorry :)

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Passing the Pillars of Hercules

Sounds painful? Well it was but more about that later. I left Meknes on Thursday morning and took the Train to Tanger (Tangiers). The ONCF (Morrocan Railway) is cheap and reliable. The staff were very friendly and helpful. You can get Food and Drink at reasonable prices as well. The toilets are not great though. Definitely No:1 only.
Tanger, is a beautiful City with a very long history. It's strategic location at the mouth of the Mediterranean meant that all the great Powers of the last few millennia  wanted a piece of it. And located between the Harbor and the Medina is the Hotel Continental.

I forgot to take pictures of my Room but it was magnificent. The size of an Apartment with separate Bathroom and Toilet, wonderful Mosaics, Paintings and antique carved Furniture. This is a Cafe. Even the Ceilings
were exquisitely decorated. All for 38 euro including Breakfast :-)
So after a Coffee and some delicious pastries I left the Hotel in a good Mood I went down to the Harbor to buy my ticket to Gibraltar. Even the incessant harassment by the Tangier tourist touts, the worst in Morocco was not enough spoil it. I went to a Travel Agency that was advertising tickets to Gibraltar and bought one. Half an hour later I was on the Bus to Tangier Med, the other Harbor, looking forward to re-entering Europe.
Buying a ticket to Gibraltar was easy but there was a technical problem with catching it. There was no Ferry going to Gibraltar!
It seems the Ferry was being repaired and nobody told the Agencies or that's what they told me. A refund was out of the question. I could use the ticket once the Ferry had been repaired after a few weeks! Ok, at this point I lost my cool..completely. After about half an hour they were rather embarrassed and "generously" offered to trade my 505 Dirham ticket to Gib for a 355 Dirham ticket to Algecieras. The squeaky Wheel I guess.
A few hours later I was  in Algecieras, got a Taxi to La Linea and crossed by foot into British territory. The next technical difficulty was that my Phone was still not working. Anyway after a few more hours of faffing about I managed to get into the Apartment and could finally relax. Next I found out that none of my Cash-cards are working despite having ample funds in the Accounts. Last night the power supply for my Laptop packed it it. Groan. See what I mean about "Passing the Pillars of Hercules"? Luckily I still have a working Credit far. So two Cash Cards, Mobile and Laptop all in one Week. Have I inadvertently offended some Deity? 
Anyway, this afternoon I visited my Landlord with the intention of asking where the nearest Electronics shop was, forgetting that it was Sunday.  Luckily he had an incompatible Power supply from another Laptop and after some snipping and twirling of Wires I am back online and the Laptop has not exploded yet. Thus I am now able to bring you this enthralling Story :-)   

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Meandering in Meknes.

Every Medina I have seen so far (two) has a prominent  Tower in the middle of it. At certain times of day they issue calls to Prayer. This call is answered by about the same percentage of People as go to Church on Sunday. The Calls do add a nice atmosphere though. 
I was here that I was talked into a Horse and Buggy tour by an Elderly Gentleman who spoke at least French and English fluently, presumably Arabic and Berber and possibly Spanish. There are a remarkable number of multilingual People here.  He gave me a History lesson on Meknes while a very intelligent Horse negotiated Cars, Potholes, Footballs and all the other unpredictables on the Road.
This is one of the Gates of the Imperial Gardens. There were many Layers of Walls and many have been kept. My Guide also pointed at several Columns in the Walls and told me they come from Volubilis. I admit to mixed feelings about that.
This is the Granary where not only the Grain but also thousands of Horses and Ammunition was Kept.
The space inside was enormous and cool.

This is the part not yet restored.  Is that all you ask? So did I but then what did I expect to find in a Granary?

Still feeling Culturally inclined I visited a the Musee Riad Jamai. It was just a Rich Dude's Place, a Minister of something who had a Harem and a nice Garden.
with a Stage where his Wives entertained him and fruit trees.

That was definitely enough Culture for one day so I took a long walk through rush hour Medina
Before heading back to the Hotel for another of their marvelous Dinners. Now I need to book a Hotel for tomorrow in Tanger (Tangiers). Another day another City.... Spaghetti Monster willing. 

Tuesday, 18 January 2011


Welcome to Volubilis the westerternmost Outpost of the Roman Empire. It is about 30km from Meknes and costs 350 Dirham for a return trip. I like to imagine what it was like to live in those times when visiting Archeological sites so tours and guides interfere. Instead I performed the Hindu ritual of covering myself in Ash as a friend recently advised ( thanks Anastasios)  
This is one of the outer Gates. Amazing how the design of the Gate looks modern. Doors for pedestrians and a road for traffic. The first thing that struck me was the sheer size of the city. People lived here until the 18th Century. Then it was Cannibalized to Build Meknes.
Flavius Germanicus  probably had a good life. He had a huge Villa on the main Road and an indoor swimming Pool. 
There were little signs everywhere explaining lots of stuff like which houses served which purpose and what the different Mosaics represent but the House where I found this sculpture and
this one had no information. Luckily I was covered in Ash.

The only intact Building was the Mill. It must have been still operating when the rest of the town got stripped for it's Building Materials. Why else would it have been left intact? 

Dancing Dolphins? Nearly 2000 years old and these Mosaics look like they just need a good mop. There were dozens of them and you can find lots of good pictures on the net, for example here
This looks like the Entrance to the main Square or Commercial district.

Where I am standing used to be houses only a few hundred years ago. The foundations and floors are remarkably well preserved and the Walls systematically removed. I was thinking about how amazing it would be to live in a two thousand year old House. I also found a House I liked.
It was on the outskirts of Town and had Room for a Garden. We are standing in the House right now.
This was the Town Hall, just next to the Market place. Here I imagine they had markets very much like the ones still going in the Jaama el Fna and other old town centers in Morocco today.
The alleys were just for foot traffic I Imagine. Very narrow.
I hope this picture gives some impression of how Large the Town was. It took me more than an Hour to walk  around the site and take some Pictures. This has been the highlight of my trip so far. I just want to leave you with another two pictures, one of the Mecca of Morocco , Moulay Idriss which you can see from Volubilis. 
It was getting late and the Taxi Driver told me the worthwhile attractions are closed to Infidels. Last one? well I like it.
Back at the Hotel I felt a bit lazy and had Dinner at the Hotel. Good Decision!! The Ibis in Meknes makes brilliant food. It is a bit pricier than elsewhere but the Quality makes up for it and as an added bonus I can pay by Credit Card. Since I can't get at my Bank account right now I need to preserve Cash and if that means eating in good Restaurants, so be it :-)

Monday, 17 January 2011

Last few days in Marrakesh

On Friday my new Chess-friend Said flew to France so instead of dropping in to his Riad to play blitz
I tried to be a Tourist. It is easier when playing a tournament as half the day is gone and you usually have group outings organized by Locals. Saturday I spent mainly playing over Greg Hjorth's games and was planning to head to Meknes Sunday morning. A cash-machine spoilt that plan by swallowing my Card, thereby forcing me to stay another day. Just walking around the streets can be nice 
if it is away from the shops. The Medina is not the place for a quiet stroll though as touts constantly assault Tourists with everything possible. Be it Carpets, Food, Snakes, Hotels or Tours, even Ash! What on Earth am I supposed to do with Ash?
After the ATM adventure I needed some peace so I thought what better was to de-stress than a walk in a Garden? The "Jardin Majorelle" seemed like a good choice. Since the Railway Station was on the way I stopped in to check the schedule. There was a nice carved Tree on the way.

  I was then told by a Local that the Garden was closed on Sunday of course  but instead he can show me a Shop with great bargains. Naturally it was open. I had already fallen for that one on my second day.
I was worried upon arrival though because there was only an hour left before it closed for the day, would I have time to see it all? Well. yes, although nice, the Jardin Majorelle is not very big. There is a nice Cactus section
a Fountain
a Pond

and that's about it.....except.....the Mausoleum of ... Yves Saint Laurent!!  Well you all know how incredibly fashion conscious I am so this was very exciting for me. Then it was back to the Medina, Dinner (twice) and an early night. I wanted to be at the Bank early today to get my Card and get going. There was a bit of a queue as it seemed the ATM had been swallowing Cards all Weekend.
At 1pm I got on the Train to Meknes. There are Roman Ruins here that I really want to see. The journey went quickly because I had a good Book. In Hastings I met a great Jazz Musician, Mark Ramsden and unbelievably this multi-talented Gentleman is also an Author. Before I left Hastings he kindly gave me a signed copy of one of his Books, "War School"
I started the book when we left Marrakesh and finished it ten minutes before arriving in Meknes! I am not usually a Fantasy fan but Mark's book had me hooked form beginning to end. Thank's mate :-) 
Meknes  tomorrow, nite all.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Fun times with Greg Hjorth

Greg Hjorth and I first met at a Junior Chess camp a few Months after I had learned to play Chess. Thinking I was quite good by then I challenged some Kid to a game of blitz. He insisted on giving me a Queen start and five minutes to one. A bit arrogant I thought. He won every Game.
A few years later Greg came to visit me in Vienna. We played a couple of Opens together, Oberwart and Biel. I don't even remember the exact year but some memories have come back.
Greg showed his Class especially in Blitz. In Oberwart he came second behind Kuzmin ahead of many strong GM's. The previous evening we had watched Kuzmin being carried to Bed after indulging in vast quantaties of Vodka. Otherwise we were amusing ourselves by seeing how far the Car could jump.
  On the way to Biel with IM Georg Danner and another two Austrians, "Prayers on Fire" (Birthday party) blaring from the speakers, I lost control of my Car and sent us bouncing from guardrail to guardrail on a Bridge over a Valley. When we came to rest we all got out of the Car as quickly as possible. As I stood there in shock looking at the Wreck, Greg comes up to me with a smile on his face and says "Hey Alex, that was my first big Car accident!"
We got a lift to the nearest Railway station and continued on to Biel as if nothing had happened. Greg played a great game against Gutman I think but I don't have it on my database. After Biel we went back to Vienna and spent a few weeks exploring the counter-culture scene.
Greg was soon playing less Chess and focusing more on his Academic career. Every time I went to Melbourne I would stay at "Gall Bladder Manor" as the House that Greg was sharing with some Med students was called. In Sydney he would stay at my place. Soon he was off to America to become a famous Mathematics Professor and we lost Contact.
The next time I saw Greg in the Flesh was in 1999. I spent Xmas with him and Beth in Los Angeles. Greg didn't have time for Chess tournaments because he was doing a Martial Arts course. We had a great time laughing about the program. One of the exercises was how to disarm someone wielding a Machine Gun.
Since then we have kept in touch first through email and later through Facebook and chat. A few times we talked about meeting up but the opportunity never arose. There didn't seem to be much urgency.
I spent today reminiscing and playing through some of his old games. Two stood out for me.


There is a "In Loving memory of Greg 'Page' Hjorth" page on Facebook if you wish to convey your thoughts
Goodbye old Friend, we will miss you more than you could have imagined.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Quiet day

After yesterdays adventure I needed a good sleep. I woke up at about 2pm, had a Coffee and then took a stroll in a quiet part of Town. Just past the Koutoubia Mosque
one finds a nice Garden.
Suddenly the hustle and bustle is forgotten. It is amazing how a few hundred meters and a few plants can completely change an environment. Just past the Garden is one of the Gates of Marrakesh.
And the other side of the Road

A Camel? Or is it a Dromedary? I can never remember which has two humps. That was a lot to do in one day :)) so I had to go rest a few hours before having Dinner at dusk in a Cafe overlooking Jamaa el Fna.
Yes, I know, life is tough :) 
The rest of the evening I spent with my new friends 
Hanif, Hussain and Said, chatting and blitzing. Like I said, quiet day.  

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Inebriated post from Marrakesh

Good morning dear friends. Is is a bad Idea to post when when more than slightly drunk? Only time will tell. I started my day with the usual Tourist adventures. First came the water carriers

who first wanted  500 Dirhams for a photo but were happy with 40 and went on to the Monkey men who haggled in similar style,
I then got conned into visiting a Carpet shop
where I bought a pair of overpriced Sandals and then went to a Barbers to get my "Ali Baba" beard trimmed. I arrived back at the Hotel at 6pm feeling totally worn out, Through friends I then made contact with some Chess players and spent the evening with nice people who were not tourist Pirana's. After some drinks and blitz we went to a bar and lo and behold!, we had great Wine, listened to fabulous Music and watched beautiful emancipated Women dancing. Not what I had expected to find in Marocco. Well now it's 3.34 am, I am still sloshed and think it's time to get some sleep. Insh allah!  

Marrakesh, first night.

"Where is your boarding pass?" asked the security guard. "The transfer desk ran out" I answered. He smiled, waved me through despite the protests of the metal detector and I was on my way from Casablanca to Marrakesh. In transit I bought a Coffee and Orange juice for a 2 euro coin. "How much?" was answered by "What have you got". Enough talk, here are a few pictures.
Despite arriving at 22.00 everything was relatively painless. I took a Taxi to the Center and checked into the first Hotel the driver recommended. It was right opposite the Jamaa el Fna so I went for a cup of very spicy mint Tea. 20 cents!
Next on the Menu was a bowl of Snails for 50 cents.
It was nearly midnight now but the markets were still bustling. After exploring for a while I felt a bit hungry again.

This looked a good a place as any. 
And now it was well past midnight, I was full, tired and happy.
The one thing missing was Wi-fi so this morning after breakfast I went to find a new Hotel. Also easy. So far my impression of Morocco is that everything is easy :-)  


Saturday, 8 January 2011

Marlow to Marrakesh

I thought I was dreaming as I woke up today at the crack of noon. The sky was clear and the Sun was shining. Nary a Cloud was to be seen. Marlow is a picturesque town on the river Thames and the home of good friends of mine, Monica and Roger. Roger you have already met in my Hastings post  now I would like to introduce you to Monica
who is feeding one of her Horses, Embassy here. So let's move on to Budapest's sister city Marlow.
What connection could there possibly be between Budapest and Marlow you may ask. This could win you a million on who wants to be a millionaire. It is the Bridge. The Chain Bridge in Budapest was designed by the same engineer. Next to the Bridge is the beautiful All Saints Church
with it's fabulous graveyard.
Marlow also has a great Loch, a big riverside Park for walking dogs, a few traditional Pubs and many more attractions too numerous to mention. The walk lifted my spirits so much that I decided to stop procrastinating and walked straight into the Local Travel Agent and booked a flight to Marrakesh. For several days now I have been searching the Net looking for a ticket and could not make up my mind. In the end I decided that the money saved by flying Ryanair or Easyjet is not worth the suffering and humiliation involved. Now I will be flying with a proper Airline, Royal Maroc to Marrakesh on Tuesday. One needs to be in a good mood to make good decisions :-)