Monday, January 4, 2016

Australian Championship: A Clear Leader

I wonder if there is a condition regarding new Grand Masters playing badly after just getting the title. FM Bill Jordan mentioned that Darryl Johansen played a shocker of a game at Doeberl just after gaining his GM title, and currently Max Illingworth is having a tournament to forget. In fact, after gaining his final GM norm in the 7th round of the Australasian Masters, he drew quickly with Vasily Papin, and then lost to GM Neiksans, and hasn't added a win in this tournament either. I'm not sure what the issue is, but hopefully Max can bounce back to his best soon.

The Championship now has a clear leader, with IM Kanan Izzat from Azerbaijan moving to 4/4 with a win against IM James Morris. After winning the Australasian Masters and getting a GM norm, Kanan is following up in impressive style. While Kanan can win the tournament he is ineligible to win the title of Australian Champion, so James finds himself in the leading bunch of players, a point back from Kanan and half a point behind IM Bobby Cheng and FM Karl Zelesco. Bobby hasn't played too much chess in the past couple of years and was a bit rusty at the Australasian Masters, but he seems to be in pretty good form now. Karl has had a great start to the tournament, drawing with Max and now beating GM Papin today. Joining James on 3/4 are Melbourne High School duo, IM Ari Dale and FM Luke Li, and these 2 will play tomorrow.

The field stretches out after that, but as I've said before, with 7 rounds still to go, anybody who has a great second half of the tournament is going to finish highly. To put it in perspective, at the last Championship in 2014, Max won with 8/11, and he can still achieve this if he picket fences from here on in.

In the Reserves, only 2 players remain on a perfect 4/4. The top round pairing tomorrow in round 5 will be Clive Ng - Kris Chan. However, as we get towards the half way mark, there are still 8 players just half a point back, and a further 21 on 3/4. Like in the Championship, those who finish strongly will be in contention at the end, and it is possible to climb through the order with a good second half.

There has been some entertaining chess, but the game that I've liked so far in the event, or at least the endgame I liked best, was played by IM Stephen Solomon. Stephen is notorious for testing his opponent's endgame skill and playing positions out to the bitter end. In the first round, he was playing FM Bill Jordan when the following position arose.

Bill as black decided to trade into the pawn endgame, and seeing his knight is so poor, who can blame him? 43..Nxe5 44.fxe5 g5 [blocking the king side, so although white has a space advantage, he has only one way through, on the queen side] 45.g4 hxg4 46.hxg4

White's only chance here is to break through on the queen side, as black's d5 and g5 pawns effectively block the king side. 46..Ke7 [Bill heads his king to the queen side where it will have to stop white's king from getting through] 47.Kd3 Kd7 48.Kc3 Kc7 49.b4

Breaking through looks an almost impossible task. However, thinking about this, if white's king can now get to a5, then he will have a reserve tempo with his a-pawn to force himself into b6. Then the advance of his a and b-pawns will win him the game. So this means black must prevent this happening, and the only way to do this, is to push his own b-pawn. This would have drawn for black. Unfortunately, Bill missed this line, allowing another Solomon endgame grind. 49..Kb8? 50.Kb3 Ka7 51.Ka3! [Fantastic play by Solomon, as 51.Ka4 only draws] 51..Kb8 52.Ka4 Kc7 53.Ka5 Kc8 54.Kb6 Kb8

This position makes me think of the famous Cohn-Rubinstein endgame Rubinstein's king pushed up the board and then he advanced his pawns so that after exchanges his king was in position to take his opponent's pawns. This is basically what happens at the end of this game! Studying this endgame in detail will help anyone's endgame play!

You can see the Rubinstein endgame in this excellent article by GM Beccara on

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