Monday, January 11, 2016

Australian Championship - 2 Rounds Left

With only 2 rounds to go, things are finally beginning to take shape in the Championship and Reserves tournaments. At this point, if you're at the top, then a loss will put you out of contention, and even a draw will make your life harder. The pressure is on!

The Championship sees 2 leaders, Kanan Izzat and Bobby Cheng. Kanan cannot claim the title of Australian Champion, so Bobby finds himself in the sole lead of that particular event. However, only half a point behind are James Morris and Karl Zelesco, while a further half a point back are Luke Li and Vasily Papin. Of these, Papin also cannot win the title, while Zelesco and Li have gained IM norms (I believe) and so can concentrate on the tournament, rather than achieving the norm they already have. Although players below this still have a mathematical chance, I think realistically, the Championship and title are now between these 6.

The Reserves now has a clear leader in Patrick Gong on 8/9, and a clear second in Donato Mallari on 7.5. These 2 meet at the top, while the 3 players on 7 points, Michael Kethro, Kris Chan and Clive Ng still have a chance. I don't think any of the players on 6.5 will now be winning the tournament, but a 2/2 finish will see them close to the top.

I want to repeat that fatigue is now an element in the tournament. Most of us are only used to 9 round events, and we don't play them that frequently. I can personally say that the last couple of rounds have felt tough maintaining concentration and putting in the effort, and I'm sure I'm not the only one. In the last round, there was a typical late in the tournament error in the Championship. Tom Maguire is a junior from Queensland who was accepted into the tournament based on his improving ability which probably casts doubt on his 2045 ACF rating. I think that his performance in this tournament has been fully justified and I expect him to jump to 2150+ soon and be a regular in the Championship in years to come. He had quite a tough choice in the last round at one point and unfortunately chose wrong.

Tom is black, and his opponent, Andrew Brown has just played 13.Qh5. The question is what to do about defending h7?

1. The retreat 13..Nf6 loses h7 after 14.Bxf6
2. 13..h6 loses to 14.Bxg7! when black will have to sacrifice material to avoid being mated
3. 13..g6 loses nothing immediately but horribly weakens the dark squares around black's king.

So which to choose? 13..Nf6 is certainly the safest, giving back the pawn and leaving white with some advantage. Tom chose 13..g6?!, a brave choice but probably a wrong one. 14.Qh6 f6 only move.

Andrew Brown is a very talented player but he isn't having a good event. Here he had the possibility of 15.Bxg6 which looks very strong, but he played 15.Bc4 which pins the knight and again looks good.

Andrew's threat is 0-0-0 after which he'll have the additional hit e4 which will win a piece. Tom decided to give up an exchange here with 15..Re6 16.0-0-0 Nc7, but he had an amazing defensive idea.

In the above position Tom could have distracted the white bishop with 15..b5!! giving back a pawn for some breathing space. If 16.Bxb5 then just 16..Nd7 completes development with an ok game for black. White in fact has to worry about Nxc3 and if he retreats 17.Bc4 black can advance his kinght, 17..Ne5 with about a level game.

After 15..b5 white does have the attacking option 16.Bxd5 Bxd5 17.h4 trying to exploit the weak dark squares in the position. I'm guessing this is what Andrew would have played as it is more or less what he did in the game anyway.

Black has chances to defend now with Re6 (overprotecting f6) and Qf8. It is probably still better for white, but not by much. Seeing defensive moves like 15..b5 are no easy thing, but I'm guessing that Tom would have seen this idea earlier in the tournament when he was fresher. He may also have chosen the more circumspect 13..Nf6 earlier in the event.

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