Monday, January 30, 2012

MCC Australia Day Weekender

I played my first tournament in quite a while at the weekend at my club, the Melbourne Chess Club (MCC). This has been a long weekend in Australia, as January 26th is a national holiday, Australia Day. The tournament was therefore spread over 4 days, with 2 games on Thursday 26th, Saturday and Sunday, and one game Friday evening. I took a bye on the Friday evening game, but played the rest and had a thoroughly enjoyable time of it. Saying that, I do have some gripes about the tournament, so I'll get them out of the way first before going on to the (mostly) good stuff.

The biggest complaint from most players was the heat. At the end of January there can be some fierce temperatures in Melbourne, and this weekend it was around the 35C mark. The playing hall of the MCC lacks windows and air conditioning and so the playing conditions were very hot and very stuffy. As a result there were players with headaches, and the tournament was physically draining. The arbiter, Kerry Stead did a great job at trying to cool the room down with ice, fans and towels but he was fighting a losing battle. Without air conditioning, tournaments at MCC in the summer are very uncomfortable, and I would only play if I absolutely wanted to, like was the case this weekend.

My biggest disappointment was concerning the Saturday afternoon game. In my time on the committee of the MCC, we passed a resolution that when we ran weekend events at the MCC, the club would not hold any other events. This was mainly because there is a weekly allegro tournament on Saturdays and people would choose to play in that rather than playing in the weekenders. Also, the allegro tournament creates a lot of background noise between rounds. So when I was playing my afternoon game on the Saturday, at times the noise levels were pretty high and this is simply unacceptable. If the MCC has changed the policy and has decided to run allegro tournaments at the same time as weekend events, then I will either take a bye for Saturday afternoon games, or more likely, not play weekend tournaments at my club anymore. It's a shame, because this is an easily remedied issue, but for me it tarnished an otherwise excellent weekend. And before anyone decides to take me on for knocking the allegro, I have nothing against the allegro which I think is an excellent event. I have encouraged many players to play in it. I just don't believe that 2 tournaments should be run at the same time and the few weekend events that the MCC run should take priority. I mean, the allegro still runs for about 48 Saturday's a year, it's surely not too much of an imposition to step aside!

Ok, rant over, now on to the good stuff. Even though it was like playing in a steam laundry, the games were hard fought, and the competitors were really friendly. There were lots of younger players who were in great form after the Australian Junior Championship, Australian Championships, and Queenstown Classic. Ari Dale and Max Chew Lee finished equal second with FM Patrick Scharrer visiting from Italy, while Jack Puccini was only half a point behind. Still the winner of the tournament was MCC FM Michael Baron who was probably not on his best form, but still good enough to win the tournament outright.

My own tournament was very enjoyable, but as is often the case with my play I seem to be more interested in my losses than my wins. In the first round I had a fairly comfortable win against Jason Chew but then struggled against Mario Palma where I snatched a pawn and then another. Mario missed some chances to put me under severe pressure before his initiative began to run out and leave me material ahead. That was Thursday, and I took a bye on Friday to leave me on 2.5/3 before the weekend itself. On Saturday I started with a win against Sylvester Urban who fell into an opening trap, but then lost to Italian FM Scharrer from a fairly level middlegame position. This was a little disappointing, especially after my opening experiment with the Hungarian ended pretty solidly. Still, I hadn't played too badly over the four games, and that was encouraging. I thought that I would really struggle to find form, but I was seeing stuff. Unfortunately, it took too long to see things, and that is what really gave me problems on the final day.

Sunday was the last day of the tournament, and there were 2 games to play. I have always thought of weekend events as being as much about endurance as about ability. While my physical fitness level has risen considerably, my mental fitness level was sadly lacking. In my first game against talented junior Max Chew Lee, I missed a number of things. I got a great position but then started to fumble for a plan, while Max realised he was worse, and went about improving his position. I wasted quite a bit of time over a middlegame plan, which I then didn't execute in the best way, and then lost my way in the transition to the endgame. In the meantime, Max seemed to perk up and looked really fresh the longer the game went on. He kept on defending well, and in the end the game finished a draw. To be honest, I wasn't too unhappy with this result as I'm well aware of the ability of young Max Chew Lee. This is probably why I was taking so long earlier in the game, constantly checking tactical possibilities.

After this I was paired with another talented junior, Ari Dale. Again I got a great position out of the opening and again I missed lots of things, but this time I was not so lucky to end with a draw. It was an unbelievably complicated game where I won an exchange early on, but this did nothing to make my life easier as the position was so imbalanced. White had a group of central pawns charging down the board, while black had 2 outside passed pawns on the queenside. I'll just show a position to emphasise the point:

It is black's move here and there is so much happening that I couldn't handle it. I played 33..b2 which turned out to be a losing move. I had originally chosen 33..a3 as a candidate move, but rejected it after not being able to find anything concrete. Amazingly though, this is winning, but it takes an incredible move to make it work, and this is what I missed! Funnily enough I saw the same move in a different line, but there it didn't work. After 33..a3 34.Nxb3 a2 35.Ra1 the following position arises
and now to win black has to play the amazing 35..Bf1!!, which I hadn't seen in that exact position. So I missed a very tough chance and Ari went on to beat me and finish in joint second, so congrats to him for fighting through to the last and taking his chance.

I scored a bit less than I expected, and will lose some rating points for the tournament as a whole, but probably not too much. I am glad to have played it though. I have the desire to play chess again now, and will be playing as often as I can. Also I am quite encouraged by my play. While there were mistakes, there was also a lot of good points. I reckon I'll be back to full form in the not too distant future, especially if I play a bit more!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Worst Tipster

The next time I  say someone will win something, then pick someone else to win it! It's official, my predictions are very poor. However, self knowledge is a great thing, and I know that this is a weakness of mine so I don't gamble. In fact, I don't even buy lottery tickets! Let's see my last set of predictions and assess their progress so far....

Wijk A: Aronian
Wijk B: Potkin
Wijk C: Sadler
Aus Junior: Justin Tan
Queenstown: Jones

Well 1/5 is not so bad, is it? Levon Aronian took the lead in the Wijk A group yesterday, after Magnus Carlsen suffered a defeat to World Number 7 Karjakin. So this leaves Carlsen in joint second place with Ivanchuk and Radjabov, but a whole point behind Aronian. There are 4 rounds to go, so nothing is clear yet, though Aronian is in the box seat.

In the B-group, I chose Potkin, the 2011 European Champion, but he has played well below that form and currently sits in the bottom half of the field. Indian GM Harikrishna is a point clear here of L'Ami, Bruzon and Motylev, and these are well clear of the rest. In the C-group, Matthew Sadler has been really disappointing in my opinion. He is at plus one but doesn't seem to be able to win games. With a strong finish he may still end near the top of the table, but he is too far back to win (2.5 points back with 4 games to go). After his comeback successes before Christmas, I thought Matthew would run away with this tournament, but 2 other GM's, Turov and Tikkanen lead the field.

Queenstown seemed like a great swiss event this year, but my prediction didn't live up to expectations. In the early rounds Jones was in with the leaders, but in consecutive rounds he faltered against young Victorian players. First he could only draw with IM James Morris, who produced a nice exchange sacrifice to stabilise the position, and then in the following game, he was outplayed by FM Chris Wallis. This game ended with the unusual material imbalance of rook and 4 pawns versus rook, bishop and knight. Chris had no pawns, but managed to exchange rooks and win all the pawns, finally showing he knew the technique to win with knight and bishop.

The tournament was won by Melbourne GM Darryl Johansen who was backing up from the Australian Championship that he also won. In Queenstown, he finished joint first but won on tiebreak ahead of Chinese GM's Li Chao and Zhao Jun. It's a great effort by Darryl and good to see him at his very best form. With the current crop of strong young players around Australia, it is important that older players retain their strength and force the youngsters to stretch themselves to overtake them.

The Australian Junior Championship concluded at the weekend and was certainly affected at the top level by the absence of players competing in Queenstown. However, there were still a group of talented players and there was no clear favourite for the under 18 Championship. All the results can be seen online at the site of the tournament management software, tornelo. It was a close affair in the end, but finally, South Australian third seed Alistair Cameron won by half a point from Justin Tan and 10 year old Anton Smirnov. All of these are very good players, and Alistair was a worthy and popular winner. The 9-round format which was used for the first time last year, again proved sufficient and all the age group championships were hard fought. On the tornelo site, there is a database of 1142 games, most of which were uploaded by the kids themselves during the event.

Australian Under 18 Champions, Miranda Webb-Liddle and Alistair Cameron

As the worst tipster, I thought it best not to predict any more results, bringing my kiss of death to players. However, I couldn't help myself when a friendly debate at the Australian Junior occurred between IM's Leonid Sandler and Vladimir Smirnov reagrding the upcoming World Championship. The upshot is that I have now officially tipped Anand to win, which I guess must dramatically increase Gelfand's chances in this match!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Record entries at 2012 Australian Junior Champioships

The 2012 Australian Junior Championships run under the auspices of the Australian Junior Chess League (AusJCL) by the Melbourne Chess Club (MCC) has had the biggest number of entries in the history of the event. The tournament is being held at Spensley Street Primary School in Melbourne's Clifton Hill suburb, a short trip from Melbourne's CBD. The chief architect of the project has been Simon Dale, a 2011 committee member of both the MCC and the AusJCL which made him an excellent liaison. Simon has worked tirelessly throughout the year to make this event happen and I don't think it is unfair to say that the 2012 Australian Junior Championship and therefore the whole Australian chess community owes Simon Dale a big thankyou.

With 277 entries, the 2012 Australian Junior championship far outstrips previous events, and this may be attributed to the change of format that happened in 2011. The Hobart event of 2012 was a landmark event because it was decided to change the format from 11 rounds to 9 rounds, and the younger age groups changed to less days with multiple games on those days. The net effect is that families don't have to take a 2week break to play in the tournament, and even the older age groups (under 18 and 16) only have a week of play with the weekend before and after tagged on. Last year's event saw a huge increase in numbers compared to the Hobart 2010 Championship and this year, the numbers have far exceeded the previous biggest entry of 210 in Canberra 2007.
Chales Zworestine

David Cordover

The main arbiter's for the tournament are Charles Zworestine and David Cordover. Charles is generally happy with the event except for perhaps the under 16 event which could see extra numbers, and the girls tournaments which have seen perhaps a decrease in numbers. The under 18 event has lost some stronger players to the Queenstown Classic in New Zealand, but still has 21 players which is only 7 less than last year.

We already have some age group winners:

Under 8 - Bobby Yu (Vic)
Under 10 - Kevin Willathgamuwa (NSW)
Under 8 Girls - Emily Lin (Vic)
Under 10 Girls - Jody Middleton (Vic)

There are many adults around coaching, arbitering, and generally helping. The parents of the school have been great in running a canteen, while there has been a barbecue going each day run also by volunteers, sometimes from the school and sometimes from the MCC. Chesskids have been helping out with bulletin writing, game analysis and generally controlling the events. Chesskids have also pioneered the Tornelo system which is being used to manage the tournament. The game input feature has been a great success and already 640 games have been uploaded with some being loaded live by volunteers. And there have been some of the strongest players and coaches from around the country helping their protege's to score the best results. One game that came to the attention of IM Robert Jamieson was from yesterday's under 14 tournament.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

I'm back...

I have been in New Zealand for the past week and missed some action.

The Australian Championship was won by GM Darryl Johansen for a record 6th time! He took the lead before I left and never relinquished it winning the event by a full point from an elite group of players consisting of  GM Zhao, IM's Xie, Solomon and Smirnov. The contingent of younger players failed to breach this experienced group, and FM Junta Ikeda and IM Moulton Ly led the younger challenge a further point behind, and alongside IM Wohl.

The Reserves tournament was won by MCC member Justin Penrose. I have never played Justin but my impression is a tough fighter who is happy to play difficult positions with a dogged determination. He will cause problems for his opponents at any turn and does not give up on positions which others might think too troublesome to continue the effort. Another MCC member came second, and pleasingly a junior. Like most juniors, Ari Dale has good days and bad days, but he is generally moving forward at an alarming rate. This result confirms that the MCC has another young player of 2000+ strength. Joint third were Omar Bashar, David Spuler, and another MCC member, Frank Lekkas.

All the games from the Championship are available in pgn format and the latter rounds of the Reserves have been made available as well. This is a pretty good effort seeing there was such a small staff on duty. I haven't been able to go through these games yet, but I will see if any interesting things show up over the next couple of weeks.

Unfortunately, the Hastings Congress reverted back to the days when the foreign visitors dominated. The event was won by top seed GM Wang Yue of China half a point clear of GM Istracescu of France and IM's Lalith and Shyam from India. The top English players were a further point behind in joint 8th, the GM group of Howell, Hebden, Flear, Williams and Nick Pert. This group on 6 points also included Icelandic IM G Kjartansson who seems to have had a very good tournament, scoring 2/3 in the final rounds against GM's Howell, Hebden and Istratescu!

So I have got back just in time for the start of 3 tournaments of interest to me. There is the SuperGM event in Holland, the Tatasteel Wijk aan Zee starring World number 1 Magnus Carlsen. The Australian Junior Championship started yesterday as well and runs until next weekend. And the Queenstown Classic started today and runs until next weekend. This last tournament is especially interesting to me as I've just been on holiday in Queenstown. This beautiful new Zealand town is a perfect holiday destination and I hope that the players will get some chance to experience some of the beauty of their surroundings!

Bob's Peak from Queenstown beach

OK, I suppose I better put my head on the block and throw out some tips for these tournaments:

Wijk A: Aronian
Wijk B: Potkin
Wijk C: Sadler
Aus Junior: Justin Tan
Queenstown: Jones

But good luck to all, and great to have so much interesting chess around!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Last post before holiday

This time tomorrow I will be in New Zealand and within 48 hours I'll be on a trek around Milford Sound out of phone range, or internet accessibility. So I'll miss out on the end of the Australian Championships and other assorted events that I've been following at the start of this year. I will be back in time for the Australian Junior Championships, Wijk aan Zee, and ironically I will be able to follow the Queenstown Classic online as I will be leaving Queenstown just as it is about to start. In a way I do envy those guys who will be playing Queenstown, but given the choice of a holiday abroad or a chess tournament abroad, at the moment a holiday is more important to me. Unfortunately, playing chess would be too much like a busman's holiday for my liking!

On Tuesday I travelled down to the Australian Championship in Geelong. I must admit that while the tournament is strong, as a spectator I didn't get the 'Wow Factor' that I would expect from the National Championship, which was a bit of a shame. I can't exactly put my finger on it, but perhaps the playing room is a bit small and dark round the sides, there is hardly any space between the Championship and the Reserves so it looks like one big open. There is a stage area, but it isn't being used which is a shame, and there is no commentary of the games, or even displays of the games by monitor or the old fashioned demo boards. I would expect a bookstall, but there isn't one, and there isn't even a table with info and flyers about other events.

Ok, so I've had a whinge, now on to all that is good. That is the tournaments themselves and the organisation which is smooth.

IA Charles Zworestine (left) and FA Peter Tsai running the Champs smoothly

The Championship has kept taking twists. Darryl Johansen and Vlad Smirnov drew their game to stay half a point clear of the George Xie who was the only player on the day to capitalise on their draw by winning his game against Bobby Cheng.

George Xie with arms folded, facing the camera. The main winner of the day.

The tournament clarified a little the day after I left. Johansen had to play Xie, and the Grandmaster gave a display of his true ability grinding his opponent down relentlessly. This victory leaves Johansen a point clear, and in the drivers seat as he has played most of his main rivals. Darryl has a wealth of experience, and I wouldn't imagine him losing his grip on this tournament now. His nearest rivals, a point behind, are Zhao, Smirnov and Solomon. The last of these, Stephen Solomon had a slow start to the tournament, but is now in top gear after a victory in the last round against second seed George Xie in a long game with a difficult queen ending to finish off. Stephen's renowned tenacity saw him through in a game that many would have been happy to draw.

Back to back Champions, Solomon to the left, Johansen to the right.

The draw for the next round sees:

The Reserves tournament is also interesting, and that was an enjoyable part of my visit, seeing players I know who are playing in the events. From my club, the Melbourne Chess Club (MCC), it was good to wish Happy New Year to players like Domagoi Dragicevic, James Morris, Frank Lekkas, Michael Addamo (interesting fact of the tournament was seeing Michael sat cross legged on his chair while deep in thought), Elliott Renzies, John Beckman and many more! The reserves is currently being led by a player who we in Victoria know little about. David Spuler from Queensland is a mystery man, but there is no mystery to how well his chess is going. He is currently half a point clear of ex-Australian Champion (3 times!) Doug Hamilton, and the 2 will play in the next round. 4 players are a further half a point behind, Savige, Lekkas, Penrose and Omar Khaled who like Solomon in the Championship has started to come good at the right time. Omar had a tough event just before Christmas when he played the round robin Australasian Masters, and that experience will no doubt leave him a stronger player. Also picking up steam but a further half point back are Dowling, Kordahi and Dale who join Kinto Wan and Wenlin Yin. I would say with 3 rounds to go, the tournament winner has to come from the one of the players I've named. The minor places are still up for grabs, and anyone who puts in a good finish is in with a chance.

Some great coverage of this particular event can be found on Kerry Stead's blog. Getting the view of one of the competitors is always a unique view of the tournament.

 IM James Morris planning strategy

 Frank Lekkas awaits mystery man David Spuler

Box Hill Chess Club VP Frank Cheng and Chess Victoria President Leonid Sandler

 Kerry Stead faces Vineetha Vijesuriya in the Reserves tournament

From left: Jason Tang (wearing red), Justin Tan, IM Stephen Solomon (drinking water), GM Darryl Johansen, IM James Morris, IM George Xie, Karl Zelesco

Monday, January 2, 2012

Great Tournaments Need A Few Twists

The Australian Championship heated up today, and not just because of the 40C heat in Victoria. The four leading players met and in both cases the underdog prevailed! Now it's a bit rich to be calling 5 times champion GM Johansen an underdog, but when put against the current champ, Zhao who is over 100 rating points higher than Johansen, the tag underdog sticks. Likewise, Smirnov isn't much of an underdog against George Xie, but still an underdog nevertheless. However, Johansen and Smirnov both won on a day that saw Zhao and Xie both well below their best. This takes nothing away from the winners, who both played well, especially Johansen.

So with 6 rounds gone that leaves Smirnov and Johansen leading the field by a point and as they haven't played, that will be the top pairing tomorrow. In joint third are 7 players. Zhao and Xie are joined by young guns Ly, Ikeda and Cheng, 2008 champ Solomon, and Dragicevic who is having a rather good tournament here.

Round 7 Top Pairings:

1. Johansen-Smirnov
2. Xie-Cheng
3. Ly-Solomon
4. Dragicevic-Ikeda

I expect some fierce battles tomorrow especially on boards 2-5, as to win the tournament these players are going to have to win games from now on.

In round 5, joint leader Vladimir Smirnov showed his class with an excellent finish against Bobby Cheng.
Smirnov as white has control of the position, but chooses a radical, but quite correct way to finish things off. 35.Rxc6! [An exchange sacrifice that wins 2 pawns for the exchange and brings white's bishops to life] 35..Bxc6 36.Rxc6 Qd7 37.Rc5 [Now d5 will also fall] 37..Rd8 38.e3 [It was possible to just take on d5, but e3 avoids any tactics on the d-file] 38..Rc8 39.Ra5 Qb7 40.Qa2 [Again, there was nothing wrong with taking on d5] 40..Rc1
And even here, Smirnov is not happy to play prosaically, but looks for the best continuation. 41.e6! [Of course 41.Bxd5 also wins, but this is a fantastic knock out blow clearing the dark squares which the bishop on d4 looks at] 41..Nd6 42.Bxd5 Qe7 [Not 42..Qb1 43.e7+ Nf7 44.Bxf7#]
43.Ra7! an excellent move clearing the path for the e-pawn. Bobby resigned here [43..Rc7 44.Rxc7 Qxc7 45.e7+ Nf7 46.Bxf7#]

Also in the fifth round was this position and one of the reasons that Dragicevic is having such a good tournament is that when he is given chances he is taking them. Here, black has taken a nasty initiative on the queen side but ignored the classic advice to be aware of all checks and captures. 16.Nxd5! [completely turning the game round, this doesn't win any material but will expose weaknesses in black's camp, especially the back rank] 16..exd5 17.e6 Bd6 18.Bxd6 Qxd6 19.exd7 Qxd7 20.axb4 Rxb4 21.Ne5 Nxe5 22.Qxe5 Bb7
Now black's queen side activity seems pointless whereas white has control of the e-file and black pawns as targets. He also spots the weakness of black's back rank. 23.Bh3! Qc6 24.Qe7 h6 [No time to grab the b-pawn. 24..Rxb2 25.Bd7 threatening the queen and back rank mate.] 25.Bd7 Qc7 26.Rxa4 Rbxa4 27.Bxa4 Qxe7 28.Rxe7 Rxa4 29.Rxb7
And after all the exchanges white is a solid pawn up which he went on to convert to a win.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Rest Day at the Australian Championships

Happy New Year! It is the 1st January 2012, and there is no play in the Australian Championship today. An interesting feature of tournaments that span the New Year is that players ratings change during the event. The top players haven't changed much:

Zhao 2568 (+4)
Xie 2459 (+19)
Khamparia 2414 (=)
Wohl 2412 (+8)
Johansen 2403 (=)
Illingworth 2388 (-13)
Solomon 2375 (-9)

So there has been a slight rise in the average of the top players in the championship.

Big jumps have been made by:

Bobby Cheng 2375 (+30) and moving into the top 10 Australian players
Domagoj Dragicevic 2277 (+30) close to the FM title, and I guess he's getting closer with his championship start.
Laurence Matheson 2167 (+41) the 2150 minimum rating limit for the Aus Champs would have had Laurence missing out if there wasn't a proviso for improving juniors.

Currently Australia is ranked 51st based on the top 10 rated players on the active list. The current crop of great juniors on show in this Championship may be able to help push this ranking up. If players such as Illingworth, Ly, Cheng, Morris, and Ikeda carry on as they are and get the opportunities to play in strong events (they are all prepared to travel overseas to broaden their horizons!) then the 2421 average for the top 10 players will surely rise.

In the 4th round, Bobby Cheng came up against Indian IM Akshat Khamparia who tried the unusual Snake Benoni. Unfortunately, either Bobby was prepared or he played natural moves which led to an advantage. Whichever, it was the Indian IM who blundered early.

Bobby played the natural 6.e4 (6.Nf3 is the mainline where 6,,Bc7 is one of 3 main moves, the others being 6..O-O, and 6..a6, though there are quite some transpositions) 6..Bc7? (While this is a move against 6.Nf3, it is a known blunder against 6.e4) 7.d6! Ba5 8.e5 (white is already winning!) 8..Ne4 (there is no good move) 9.Qg4
Black has a horrible choice of dropping a piece or allowing Qxg7. Black castled and Chen took the knight on e4.

So far, I haven't talked about the Australian Championship Reserves Tournament at all which is a shame as I know so many players involved. Tomorrow I hope to be in Geelong to spectate directly, and I'll try to bring some impressions of this event, which is just as competitive as the Championship if not more. I'll also try to find out who is in contention for norms at the Championship, though it might be a bit early to tell yet.