Thursday, January 2, 2014

Australian Chess Championship 2014

The 2014 Australian Chess Championship started today in Springvale, Melbourne. Unfortunately, I didn't take any photo's today, so this will be a brief report. I arrived at the venue a couple of hours before the first round started and met up with a lot of people I haven't seen for a while as I'd been out of the chess scene for most of last year. It was good to be there, and just makes me want to get back into playing. The venue itself is an excellent hall, full of light (we'll see what it is like tomorrow at night) and space, with a viewing balcony and a large analysis room. The tournament is split into 3 sections with the main event being an elite field of players rated 2150+ except for a few juniors below that level. The field for the Championship is 42 players and includes 3 Grandmasters and 10 International Masters, making it one of the strongest fields ever. Besides the Championship, there is a Reserves section for players rated below 2150, and a Challengers event for players rated below 1600. There are usually only 2 sections, but having 3 this year definitely seems to have helped boost the numbers for the event overall which stands at a record breaking 192 players. The tournament continues until January 11th at the rate of a game per day except for tomorrow and Sunday 5th January when there will be 2 games per day. Also, there is a blitz tournament being held on Monday 6th, so there will be no games in the other events.

Jean Watson's excellent poster for the 2014 Australian Chess Championships
The tournament has been organised by Noble Park Chess Club, a relatively new club in suburban Melbourne. At the opening ceremony it was evident that the success of organising this event was down to the cohesion of the organising group. The speakers at the opening ceremony did a great job in my opinion. ACF President, Gary Wastell gave a moving speech paying homage to the many chess losses that the Australian chess scene had suffered in 2013. Councillor Roz Blades of Dandenong Council then spoke a welcome message acknowledging the traditional owners of the land, and praising the efforts of Noble Park Chess Club in organising the event who the council are happy to support. The Chairman of the organising committee, Dusan Stojic, then spoke. He told us of the efforts that he and his committee have made to get the tournament off the ground, and praised the other committee members for their efforts and for their freindship. In fact, Dusan's speech was most gracious thanking a number of people: Jean Watson, who designed the event poster, Pearl Yung for sponsorship of the event, Gary Wastell for his help, the arbiters, and even the visiting Grandmasters. In fact, Dusan went as far as to thank the players, being "delighted with the turn out", and thanking the participants "for putting your faith in trusting us to run the event". If the incident free first day is anything to go by, the players have been wise in their trust.

The first round of the event was a little late in starting and there were 3 non playing IM's among the spectators that I saw, CV President Leonid Sandler, Vladimir Smirnov (no doubt supporting his son Anton who is playing in the Championship), and Guy West who told me had hoped to play, but wasn't fully prepared. I know the feeling Guy! An early winner in the Championship was top seed, GM Vasily Papin who quickly beat organising chairman FM Dusan Stojic. The organising committee did get their own back, with FM Domagoj Dragicevic drawing with the other overseas GM in the event Hoang Thong Tu from Vietnam. The other GM in the event, Darryl Johansen also scored a draw against Laurence Matheson. The big casualties of the first round were IM's Goldenberg, Wohl, Brown and FM Jordan who all lost to lower rated opposition. However, with an 11 round tournament, an early loss or draw is not the most tragic thing, and there is plenty of time for these players to come back.

The Reserves looks to be a tough event, with a number of players who must be considered close to Championship strength. The competitiveness of the Reserves can be seen by the fact that top seed Dean Hogg (2070) could only draw with Luis Chan (1734). Whoever wins this one will certainly have to come through a tough draw. The challengers on the other hand has few players near the top rating level. However, it does have a number of unrated, and probably under rated players who can play strongly on their day, but may lack the consistency over a whole tournament. So again, the winner of this will have to play to the best of their ability, though not for quite so long as this is only a 9 round event.

So I guess for now, the only thing for me to do is make my predictions:

Championship: Bobby Cheng to become Champion (although a foreign GM may win it)!
Reserves: Kevin Sheldrick each way bet
Challengers: Alana Chew Lee to place

From tomorrow there will be photo's, games and part games, but for now, it is good that it is underway!

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