Friday, March 16, 2012

Ballarat: The Longest Day

The second day of the long weekend tournament at Ballarat is a battle of endurance as much as a battle over the chess board. The day starts with round 3 at 9.30am, the next game is at 2,30pm and the final round starts at 7.30pm. With a time control of 90 minutes plus 30 seconds increment from move one, the games are averagely lasting 3-4 hours. So this means somewhere between 10 hours or more of play is pretty standard. Needless to say, the standard of play can become pretty patchy later in the day.

The first round of the day, the third of the tournament, is always a bit odd as the accelerated pairings are switched off. This means a number of huge rating differences can occur. For example, visiting Italian FM Patrick Scharrer, 2288, found himself playing black on board 4 against young Jason Chew rated 1394. This sort of discrepancy happened throughout the draw. On 1.5 there was Cameron Yung (1351)-Doug Hamilton (2040), on 1 point there was an average 700 rating point difference between players, but perhaps the biggest difference in ratings between opponent's was between those yet to score, where Angelo Tsagarakis (1760) played Daniel Poberezovky (263). So for most players, the morning game is a run through the motions. However, I was not quite so lucky. My reward for giant killing in the previous round was to play on board 1 against FM Chris Wallis. What was worse was that the last time we played I managed to win against Chris, so he was out for revenge. Chris showed his class at Queenstown, New Zealand, earlier this year where he scored 2.5/6 against the GM's he played including an epic win against Gawain Jones (2653). We repeated the same line as in our last game (my first mistake) but this time Chris was ready and he made no mistakes in following his attack. As bad as it feels to lose, I was mollified by the fact that my opponent is unbelievably strong and a really nice guy!

Round 4 was an interesting affair as many of the top players were working their way back up after earlier shocks. Or at least they were trying to! While Chris Wallis was working hard against GM's in Queenstown, the Australian Junior championship was being held in Melbourne, an unfortunate clash. With a number of Australia's top junior's playing in Queenstown I had heard it said that the Australian Junior Champion was therefore not Australia's top junior player, and the championship was devalued. However, the winner of the 2012 Australian Junior Championship, South Australian Alistair Cameron was proving in Ballarat that he was a worthy Champion. In the fourth round he added to IM George Xie's woes by defeating the Australian number 3! In this round I had one of those moments in chess where something happens that makes your stomach twist. My opponent played one of those tricky lines that I didn't know anything about, the Belgrade Gambit in the Four Knights Opening. So I played some rubbish that wasn't particularly critical, and luckily played a bit better than my opponent later in the game.

I don't really want to talk too much about the final round of the day. I admire anyone who can get through the third round in one day without making mistakes that are too horrible. As an example, my final game with Tony Davis was a very tentative affair where neither of us seemed to have any positive ideas. Tony made one more aimless move than me and allowed me a central break which looked good, but I still wasn't convinced by my position. I came up with a convoluted plan to rearrange my pieces, then changed it, then changed it back again, made a move I immediately regretted, and then realised it was actually pretty good! I'm not sure what was going through Tony's mind, but he seemed equally adrift, and I was lucky enough to finish stronger and take the point!

After the second day was eventually finished (about 12.30am was when the last game finished!) no one was on maximum points. I overheard someone saying that no one had ever scored 7/7 at Ballarat to win the event. I don't know if this is true, or if it was just another player disgruntled with the acceleration policy! Three players shared first place on 4.5/5: Domogoj Dragicevic, Alistair Cameron and Patrick Scharrer. However, there were over 25 players within a point of these 3 players all waiting to pounce.

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