The traditional weekend event over the 'long' Labour Day weekend holiday in Ballarat is undoubtedly the premier weekend event in the Victorian Calendar. This was confirmed to an even greater extent by this year's tournament which included 5 International Masters, 5 FIDE Masters and a total of 29 players rated over 2000 in a big field of about 130. With only 7 rounds a field of this size prompted the organisers and arbiters to use accelerated pairings for the first 2 rounds. Now personally, I'm not a big fan of acceleration as it just seems to delay the mismatches. If the reason for acceleration is to minimise mismatched pairings, then maybe it is time for the Ballarat organisers to split the tournament in 2 with perhaps an open section and an under 1600 section. If the acceleration is to ensure an outright winner, then I think the logic is somewhat flawed as it seems to me that the later rounds of big swiss events produce plenty of draws to minimise those on maximum points.
Saying that, the draw did create plenty of interest and I can't complain as I ended up playing a pretty decent field with no easy games. My own rationale for playing weekend tournaments (or any tournaments, for that matter) is to play as strong a field as possible to test my own playing level. My rationale is certainly not anything to do with winning tournaments, though of course, I try my best to win every game I play. Saying that, it was a bit of a shock to win my first game, and then to find myself in the second half of the accelerated top pairings. Before the tournament started I was aching for a top player or 2 to take a crack at, but thought this would come toward the end of the event if I played well. I think it might have been a bit of a shock for the top players as well, as the second round was utter carnage for the top players.
So, in round 1 the top 64 players were cut off and paired against each other. There was still about a 400-500 rating point difference between opponents and this led to hardly any surprises, with all top seeds winning except John Dowling who drew with Bas van Riel. The lower half of the draw had Anthony Hain (1615) at the top on board 33, and went down to board 65 where the higher rated player was Victorian Junior Thomas Ebeyen (1034). This bottom half had a number of new players and juniors, many of whom were unknown quantities, or definitely under rated so more surprises would be expected here. Juniors Liam Harrison of Mildura, and Melbourne based Max Phillips both drew with much higher rated opposition, while there were against the odds wins for James Brennan and Tanya Krstevski. To be honest, though I've seen James and Tanya both play at the Melbourne Chess Club, and they are both grossly under rated so it was a bit tough on their opponents.
My first game was against Tom Lea, who I don't know but with a rating of over 1700 I knew it wouldn't be easy. The game opened as a Spanish and I chose the Worrall, mainly because I don't know enough about the main closed systems. I am working on these systems, but that wasn't much comfort at the board. Tom was determined to play the Marshall Gambit against me, and chose the same system against the Worrall. In his book on the Spanish, IM Andrew Greet considers this system as the critical response. I chose a particularly dodgy system and was rather lucky not to be punished.
The first round started a little later than the 1.45pm advertised time which gave those players playing longer games little time between rounds. I found the tournament schedule of 7 rounds in 3 days so brutal that I didn't analyse with my opponents at all after the games. I had time to relax a little, get something to eat, and help with the group of junior players that my company, Chess Kids, took to the tournament. I also did no preparation between rounds, and I know that many others couldn't find time for these usual tournament essentials.
When I got home after the event, I was physically exhausted, and I'm still tired the day after. I haven't looked too deeply at any of my games yet, but will over the next couple of weeks when I'll report more of the Ballarat Weekend Tournament.