Saturday, January 2, 2016

Australian Chess Championship 2016

At the tender age of 49 I'm finally playing in my first national chess championship. When I was younger, the thought of qualifying to play in the British Championship was an inspiration to me to try to improve. There is nothing better than testing yourself against the best players in your country! (Perhaps the chance to test yourself against the best in the world?)

The qualification criteria for the British Championship in the 1980's and early 1990's was tough. Anyone below a rating of 2320 needed to win a qualifying tournament on the weekend Grand Prix circuit, but often these tournaments were the strongest weekenders so anyone qualifying would have to put in an excellent performance. (I've heard the entry criteria has dropped somewhat, and if this is the case it is a great shame). I have never been 2320 rating, and the only time I won through a weekend qualifying tournament was in 2005 when I emigrated to Australia and geography prevented me from playing.

The qualification criteria for the Australian Championship is also quite tough, though the bar is set lower to reflect the strength of Australian chess. Players with an ACF rating above 2150 qualify, and others below can apply and will be considered with acceptance to the championship based on criteria of their playing strength. So, for example, improving juniors, or players who have regularly been above 2150, but have dropped below might be allowed to play. There is also a restriction on foreign players in the tournament, so the fields for the bi-annual Championships are usually small and fairly select. This year, there are 34 players in the Championship with the top half of 17 players all above 2300. Max Illingworth, the defending champion, is the only player rated above 2500, so at the top it is a tightly packed field. In the 11 round event, playing strength won't be the only factor needed to win. With so little between the top group, physical endurance will be a big element in the winner's success.

My rating sees me near the bottom of the field and this blog will give a unique view of the tournament from that perspective. I have no pretensions of winning, or scoring well. For me, the experience of playing in the championship is enough in itself. I'll be taking each game as it comes, and doing my best to perform as well as I can. I also want to soak up the atmosphere of the event and come away from it a better player. Improvement at age 49? We all have our dreams!

Besides the Championship, there is a Reserves tournament, open to those not qualified for the Championship. This promises to be a big tournament with over 150 players, a lot of those at the top of the field would fancy their chances in individual games against players in the Championship so it will also prove a tough one to win. As I have a lot of friends and some students playing in the Reserves, I'll be focussing some attention to that as well.

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