The 4th round of the Australian Masters saw the GM norm hopefuls moving closer to their targets. Max Illingworth has started with a perfect 4/4. He needs only 2.5 from his remaining 5 games, but what a 5 games he has! He has to play the other 2 GM norm aspirants, Kanan Izzat and James Morris, the top 2 seeds, Neiksans and Papin, and IM norm hopeful Luke Li. It is certainly not out of the question, but Max will need to continue in his strong start.
Kanan Izzat currently has 1 GM norm to his name and has started with 3.5/4 bringing his live rating up to about 2470. His play has been impressive up to now, and his endgame win against top seed Neiksans, yesterday was excellent. Today is the big game, Illingworth-Izzat. Both players have shown excellent preparation, tenacity and technique so it promises to be a cracker.
The third GM norm hopeful is James Morris. James has started with 3/4 which means he has to score a further 3.5/5. But in James favour is that he has played all the GM's already. Saying that, yesterday James had a bit of a scare against Ari Dale. A wild game was played that seemed to fluctuate in evaluations with Ari coming out of the opening much better and for much of the game he seemed to have a big edge. James became active, and Ari slipped turning the position from big advantage, to level, to much worse. But even at the end, when James seemed to be winning, Ari missed some saving possibilities. The result was a victory for James who has moved a little closer to a GM norm.
This game, and some others in the round, got me thinking about the way we perceive chess after the fact. There aren't many people who will see how well Ari played in this game, how strong his opening play, and even how determined he defended in a tight spot once he was worse. Basically, after the tournament is over, the result will be win for James, loss for Ari and nothing more or less. In the IM tournament, another tragedy happened in the game Rujevic-Nguyen. Nam was a pawn up in a queen ending, but Mirko had cornered Nam's king and offered a draw as a perpetual seemed the most likely result. With a fantastic spirit of fighting chess Nam refused and played on trying to get as much out of the position as possible. Unfortunately, he overplayed his hand and ended up losing the position. What won't be remembered, is that for about 40 moves of this game, Nam held his IM opponent, and then gradually started to outplay him eventuating in a endgame which was equal or slightly better for him. No, all that will be remembered is that Mirko won, and Nam lost.
The win puts Mirko into joint third place, and leaves Nam equal last, but it could have been so different! Igor Bjelobrk continues his dominance of the event with another win and a 4/4 start. Chris Wallis is a point behind and still has a chance of a norm, though he will have to score 4/5 to do it. If Chris can find his best chess, then this could be possible because he can certainly play to master strength. In equal thrid is Richard Jones, who has stumbled a bit. In the third Jones, the top seed, lost to bottom seed Alphaeus Ang. Perhaps trying too hard to win, Jones blundered in a minor piece endgame, and the young New Zealander didn't miss his chance. And then in the fourth round, Jones was winning comfortably against me, and probably had a number of ways to win, but in the end he couldn't find them and the game petered out to a draw.
As for my play? Well, the results are what counts, right? If that is the case, then I'm doing a little better than expected on 1.5/2. However, when looking at my play, I was let off the hook in the draw against Jones, which I'd played badly and should have lost. In the first round, Alphaeus Ang got a big position out of the opening, and again I was let off the hook. The result will show a win for me, but I felt fortunate to get to move 20 unscathed! I played really well against Eugene until I lost the plot as my clock started to tick down. And against Igor Bjelobrk, I blundered a pawn in the early middlegame, and then put up an heroic defence which nearly saw me save a draw, until again I missed a tactic in time trouble. Overall, if I was just assessing my play and not the results, I'd say that my game against Bjelobrk was my best, even though I lost it!
The last 2 games I have had to start late (thanks very much to the organisers, and my opponents, Igor and Richard for agreeing to this) because of work commitments (I think I'm the only player in both fields who is working while the tournament is in progress, though I could be wrong), and this has prevented me from looking at much chess over the past few days. This should change from today, and hopefully this blog will have some more chess content from the event soon.