Thursday, August 20, 2015

French Defense

The french defense is one solid opening black can play against white's e4.  This opening (1. e4 e6; 2. d4 d5) is criticized for momentarily blocking black’s queen's bishop causing delay in the development of the pieces but at the same time creating solidity that is very difficult to destroy with normal play.

With the momentary blockade of the queen's bishop, black's position looks cramped and may result to passivity. If black fails to solve this problem, he could remain on the defense during the entire game.  The attacking possibilities for black usually initiates on the queenside where he has a seeming majority given the resulting pawn structure in the event that white pushes his pawn to e5 -characteristics of the “advance variation” and the  “Winawer”.

In the advance variation of the French defense where white is able to occupy the e5 square with a pawn, at first look, appears to be an advantage as the pawn push gains space for white and denies black's knight the coveted f6 square. But in reality it is very difficult for white to hold on to his e5 pawn. Black's move (c5) is a thunderous declaration of the intent to challenge white's pawn chain. Once this pawn chain is destroyed, the e5 pawn is dangerously holding for its dear life.

To avoid this scenario of losing the e5 pawn after a voracious attack from white, the exchange variation is a great alternative. In this variation, white immediately exchanges his e4 pawn with black’s d5 - the pawn structure is eradicated, tension is released in the center but an early scuffle usually results in both ends of the board.

White's attacking prospects are on the kingside and it is usual to see an attack by black on the other side of the board while white is pursuing his. In several games, I have seen an early Qg4 with focus on black’s g7 pawn making it very dangerous for black to castle kingside.

Aside from being known as a solid opening, the french defense is reputedly resilient - a characteristic viewed by some chess players as "dullness".  After the moves (1. e4 e6; 2. d4 d5) the pawn structure created is at first impression "dull" compared to the highly energetic nature of the ruy lopez.

If we look closer however, the french defense is a very dynamic opening where sudden changes in the board situation can occur dramatically with just mere exchanges of pawns.  In the Winawer, white cordially accepts a damaged pawn structure on the queenside with the hope of holding the seeming majority of space in the center. Due to the damaged pawn structure, white more often than not, castles on the kingside to avoid black's onslaught on the queenside.

During those times when the kingside is already compromised and white has gained a very promising attack on this side of the board, black always has the option of castling queenside which results to a very exciting chess game.

Aside from the sicilian, the french defense is one opening that is difficult for white to face. The move (e6) as a reply to white's e4 is a curtain opener to other various solid openings at black's disposal including the dreaded pirc defense.

With the french defense, black can be said to be shooting two birds with one stone since he gains solidity against premature attacks and the same time flexible enough to meet the changes in the situation during the early stages of the game.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The King's Indian Defense

The King’s Indian Defense (KID) is one very popular opening both in friendly games and in tournament play. Almost every player who reached a modest level in chess knows about this defense.

The KID is considered a “hypermodern opening” since it allows white to initially take control of the center with the objective of challenging such control in later moves.  After white’s control of the center with pawns, black plays conservatively as if waiting for an attack. With proper handling of the pieces coupled with the right timing, the KID usually takes the initiative.

In tournament play and even in friendly games, the KID is a wonderful choice when playing against d4 (or even Nf3). It is a superb weapon against positional openings that emanate when one plays d4. With the KID, there is flexibility in replying to various situations that may arise on the chessboard.

The KID however is somehow viewed as "passive" and is dictated mostly by white's intention on the board in the early stages of the game. Black usually allows white to initiate an attack on the queenside with pawns with the hope of neutralizing such advance with a kingside attack. While the KID is viewed as "passive", the opening usually results to complications where black's fianchettoed bishop plays a very important role.

The well-known practitioners of the KID are former World Chess Champions Bobby Fischer and Gary Kasparov. These great players have popularized the KID and have brought the opening to its highest level. If we take a closer look at the games of these two famous chess players, we can see how effective the KID in winning chess games.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Chess and Bowling

I have read an article about Bobby Fischer who opted to go bowling instead of analyzing his game with Boris Spassky during their World Chess Championship Match in 1972 -

“Fischer's accomplishment cannot be overstated. A brash twenty-nine-year-old high school dropout, armed with little more than a pocket chess set and a dog-eared book documenting Spassky's important games, had single-handedly defeated the Soviet chess juggernaut. Spassky had a wealth of resources at his disposal to help him plot moves, including thirty-five grand masters back in the Soviet Union. Fischer, on the other hand, had two administrative seconds who served essentially as companions, and Bill Lombardy, a grand master, whose role was to help analyze games. However, Fischer did almost all the analysis himself—when he bothered to do anything. "After the games were adjourned, all the Soviets would go back to Spassky's hotel room to plan for the next position," recalls Don Schultz, one of the seconds. "Lombardy said to Fischer, 'That's a difficult position. Let's go back to the hotel and analyze it.' Fischer said, 'What do you mean, analyze? That guy's a fish. Let's go bowling.'” 

I have recently tried bowling, at first just to have a feel of the game (again), but more importantly a way of getting rid of stress. With too much work at the office, countless meetings and tons of paperwork, I felt I needed an activity that can provide some form of stress relief. Good timing, as I would say, there is bowling competition that is about to come up and new players are needed for a team that would represent the office. Try-outs are being scheduled and I decided to join.

It is not my first time to throw a bowling ball. But after along hiatus, I know I needed some adjustments. In bowling, the stance, timing and the manner of throwing the bowl is important and crucial. I tried to knock out as much pins as I can. I felt a little rusty but I made some spares and a few strikes. I had a number of open frames and I know I needed more practice. My goal however is simply to enjoy the game. Anyway, fostering "camaraderie" was the main goal of this office sponsored bowling tournament.

I think chess and bowling are great sports to get into. Chess is a game that is usually full of frustrations and stress. As a mind game, playing chess can sometime drain your energy level to a point of exhaustion. Yes, this is true! Try asking chess players who regularly compete in tournaments. Sometimes, after the end of each game, it feels like it as if you have just taken a very long examination - tired and exhausted. This is what is ironic about chess - though the players do not move - the exhaustion is not only mentally but physically as well. In fact, if you want to play great chess, you got to be physically prepared as well.

After playing several chess games, there can come a point where a diversion is needed. Sometimes, chess players got to find something to vent out their frustrations on the chessboard. As a very mind taxing game, chess is a cruel sport. While during the game, there seems to be no physical movement except moving the pieces on the board, chess is actually a game that tests one's stamina.

As a diversion, bowling is a game that we can recommend to chess players. Hitting the pins is like an instant stress relief after a very difficult game of chess. After a continuous analysis of moves and its numerous variations, bowling can immediately get you in the mood. By just throwing that bowling ball, you can immediately feel a sense of invigoration and release of stress.

If you would like to try bowling, there are several bowling centers in Metro Manila such as the SM Bowling Center and those found in other malls.  The rate per game though is higher during weekends.

Friday, July 10, 2015

168 Shopping Mall (Divisoria, Manila)

Divisoria is synonymous with bargains. Almost everyone who desires to stretch their budget finds Divisoria as their succor last resort.

In Divisoria, almost anything can be bought for much lower prices depending on your power of persuasion and creative haggling. Try to haggle for the best price in the most convincing manner. Most of the time, if you have mastered the art of haggling, you would get your desired item at the price within the confines of your budget. 

For those who have not been to Divisoria for a long time may still have that mistaken notion that the place is chaotic (well, even now considering the great number of people who visits the place), dirty (referring to some streets), haven for pickpockets (as most crowded places) and sweat provoking due to the heat of the sun while trying to squeeze through a horde of shoppers. In most cases, this scenario of Divisoria is still true. However, aside from shopping in the streets there are malls in Divisoria that are truly a sanctuary for shoppers and bargain hunters namely the Lucky Chinatown Mall where, on first impression is on the “high end” with its own branch of Resort’s World where you can play games in the Casino. Then there is 999 Mall – where items seem a lot cheaper and the well- known Tutuban Mall.

In the event that Lucky Chinatown, 999 and Tutuban Malls fail to provide what you are looking for (which happens only on rare occasions), try 168 Mall where the best finds, either in wholesale or retail, can be found.

168 Mall located along Sta. Elena and Soler Streets in Divisoria (very near 999 Mall) is a very good choice in looking for clothes (and lots of it including school and office uniforms, formal wear and a array of RTWs), bags, shoes, gadgets, toys, hardware, furniture, accessories, appliances and other items.  If a formal affair is on the wings (wedding, graduation or debuts), 168 Mall is a hub for reasonably priced formal wear. While walking around, we saw various stalls selling formal apparels. Just look at the barongs made of “jusi and pina fabric” made perfect for weddings and other formal occasions. Formal wear for women is likewise elegant and reasonably priced.

If you got the patience and the will, you can find almost anything at 168 Mall that is not hard on the pocket. I have seen various commodities and novelty items that are much cheaper compared to other malls. There is really nothing wrong in asking the seller what is the “last price” for your desired merchandise. In this very difficult time, every peso is worth protecting. Try to haggle with the seller in the most respectful manner but without losing your dignity. If the item is way beyond your budget, just move on with your shopping endeavor as there are a lot of stalls in 168 Mall.

168 Mall is air-conditioned, clean including its comfort rooms with conspicuous signs leading to it. If short for cash, there are working ATMs inside the mall. It is well lighted but it is easy to get lost. Finding a particular stall takes a lot of effort especially if it is your first time to shop here. Guards man the entrance for added security.  After hours of shopping, its Food Court can provide relief with its clean surroundings and very affordable prices.   

I68 Mall is truly a haven for bargain hunters. It is complete with everything you wanted to buy. Its location is perfect for exploring Divisoria and shopping is definitely less stressful.

While were able to find a parking space despite the weekend rush, I can see the limitations of this mall's parking space. Most of its parking spaces are already reserved for its residents.  With this in mind, I suggest shopping at 168 Mall earlier than usual.

Monday, July 06, 2015

The Heritage Hotel (Pasay City, Metro Manila)

At the southern end of traffic burdened edsa,  but before reaching the Mall of a Asia there is a respite for the weary traveler. Heritage hotel is one imposing landmark that is very difficult to miss.  Without the dreaded traffic from the airport, this hotel can be reached in less than thirty minutes. But traffic is now considered the new norm in Metro Manila and travelers to the city are advised to expect a crawl from the airport unless you arrived earlier than 4 am.

Since it is found in the corner of Metro Manila's main road, strategically everything is within reach. Aside from the gigantic mall situated at the reclaimed Roxas Boulevard, the National Shrine of our Mother of Perpetual Help is  mere walking distance at the well known Baclaran. And since you are near within the Baclaran area, bargains can be found in every corner. Almost every item is affordable and within the budget. Just take some extra precaution and be alert when shopping around Baclaran. Dress simply and avoid wearing jewelries.

Across the road, is a hospital and rows of hotels. Since the Heritage Hotel is near the reclaimed area of Roxas Boulevard everything is within walking distance.  There is the newly built Bluebay Walk where one  can find coffee shops, restaurants and stores. Indeed, this hotel's location is one reason why travelers stay during their visits in Metro Manila.

We arrived at around 11 am. Usually, guests have to wait until 2 pm before they are allowed to  check-in but since the room is already available according to the front desk, we were allowed to use the room earlier than the usual schedule. Perhaps, it is because it is already a lean season.

After the completion of the usual procedures at its front desk, we were given two card keys. For added security, guests have to use this card key in using the elevators - something that is a  common feature in hotels of high standards. When its about hotel security, what comes to my mind is Lim Ket Kai Hotel in Cagayan de Oro.

We appreciated the staff at the reception. In hotels, receptionists have to immediately give that feeling that guests are welcome and  should expect the best service. Staying in hotels should always be a pleasant experience with the least stress as possible.  With all the hassles and stress, a "staycation" is often a way to reinvigorate oneself. 

Our room at the non-smoking section at its 7th floor consists of two clean queen size beds. It has a view of edsa and we have a first hand look at the traffic situation at this part of Manila's main road. As I look at the window, I can see how bad the traffic situation is. Aside from a very heavy volume of vehicles on the road, one factor that contributes to the situation is the lack of discipline among pedestrians, commuters and drivers. Despite all the schemes, traffic seems to be, as I said, the new normal.

The room is clean and the beds are comfortable. It is not new but it is well taken care of. It is complete with a led TV, refrigerator and all the usual amenities with a well controlled air conditioning. The comfort room is likewise clean but with traces of the old structure. The standard towels, toothbrush, soap, shampoo, and shower caps are available.

The hotel's interiors are quite archaic and evokes that feeling of "oldness" in a good way. Perhaps, the hotel intends to convey the importance of protecting heritage for posterity. Its lobby is imposing with high ceilings and decorated by chandeliers of metallic design. The hallways are carpeted with air conditioning.

The swimming pool is adjacent to its restaurant where we can hear the commotion outside. Except for the wi-fi, everything is within expectations. It is quite costly to eat at their restaurant, but it is convenient to buy food outside the hotel or eat at a fast food restaurant if you are on a tight budget.

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