The players in the mix for the title are all young. Karl Zelesco is having a dream tournament sitting on an unbeaten 5/6, and in a strong position to gain an IM norm. Bobby Cheng is on 4.5 and has already played Izzat and Russian GM Papin who also sits on 4.5. Two years ago, Bobby was leading the tournament and looking good but then he faltered over the last few rounds eventually finishing 5th. Hopefully he will have learned from this experience and he'll finish the tournament strong. Half a point back on 4/6 are a group of strong young players: Ari Dale and Luke Li have been mentioned on this blog already, but flying under the radar a little are Junta Ikeda and Brodie MacClymont, both of whom now find thenselves in the leading pack. Junta is a known quality player, representing Australia at Olympiad level. Brodie also has a strong pedigree gaining his IM title when he came equal first at the Oceania Zonal in 2015. This sensational result very nearly saw Brodie representing Australia at the World Cup in 2015, but Max Illingworth beat him in a playoff.
Talking about Max, he has won a second game to jump back to half points, 3/6 along with Justin Tan. These 2 young stars are now just 2 points from Zelesco, although with a fair bit of traffic in the way. But with 5 rounds still to go, I would still not count Max or Justin out of the running yet.
At the lower end of the Championship the player who has been impressing most has been Jason Hu who found himself on board 3 today against another GM, Vasily Papin. Unfortunately for Jason this was one superstar too many and he lost, but his 3.5/6 including both GM's and Max Illingworth is an excellent first half of the tournament.
The Reserves field is finally beginning to stretch out, with 2 players on 5.5/6 (Michael Kethro and Patrick Gong who play tomorrow) and only 3 players on 5/6. Saying that, there are then 14 on 4.5 and 21 on 4. If any of these players can score 4 points from the final 5 rounds, they will have to be close to winning. It's a tall ask, but that's what it takes to win one of these events!
In the commentary room spectators are really getting their monies worth. Today IM Robert Jamieson was happily defending any hack attacks the crowd threw at him, yesterday IM Guy West was thinking quite schematically about positions, while the day before IM Leonid Sandler was enthusing about interesting ideas and possibilities hidden in positions. In the end, their judgements were what counted, as much as the analysis, and it has been good to see these different thinking styles.
My own personal favourite position was this one between James Morris and Luke Li.
Leonid Sandler was the commentator, but among the spectators was GM Papin. White's position is good with a space advantage and pressure on the d-file. Luke, as black, played 28..f6, a move which caused great excitement from Leonid sacrificing a pawn to blockade and give his king some space. 29.exf6 Kf7, when James grabbed more space by 30.b4 and Luke looked to regain his pawn, 30..Qd8
Leonid then erupted with "Wow, James sacrifices, bishop g6!" Then the room buzzes with why he did it and whether it is sound. After 31.Bxg6+ hxg6 James followed with 32.Rd4
The clash of personalities is never stronger than during analysis, and in the commentary room while Leonid was excited about the ideas, Vasily Papin was almost deadpan about the fact that white wants to promote a pawn. In the above position Luke brought his queen across to blockade the pawn from reaching h7, but blundered not long after. While most of us patzers in the room were trying to work out how James would take advantage of his past h-pawn, and whether he had compensation, Papin made a passing comment that perhaps white can just play a g4-g5 plan, tie down at least one of black's pieces, and then try to infiltrate. Funnily enough, when I asked James whether his sacrifice was sound after the game, he replied with almost the same plan adding "and if I get a pawn to g5, I can't be losing".
If you get the chance, then do yourself a favour and sit in on the commentary sessions. You will learn more in a couple of hours, than a month spent with a database and an engine, and you'll have fun doing it!