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.

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