Saturday, 27 September 2014

Noble Park Classic

The annual Noble Park Classic was held once again in late September at the Noble Park Chess Club. In a change from previous years, I decided to play in the event (I had been the arbiter for the previous two years of the event) & similar to the Best in the West a few weeks earlier, I found myself at the bottom of the 'open' division, this time as 11th seed in a field of 59 players. Top seeds for this event were IMs Kanan Izzat, James Morris, Ari Dale & Mirko Rujevic, along with FMs Domagoj Dragicevic & Dusan Stojic. The tournament featured the 'New South Wales weekender' time control of 60 minutes plus 10 seconds per move (as opposed to the more leisurely 90 minutes plus 30 seconds per move used at Best in the West), which meant that the event had seven rounds, but with less time between rounds (and Noble Park not being quite as scenic as Altona) it meant that I left the phone/camera off, so do not  have the photos of my previous tournament.

In round 1 I faced Geoff Lee & had a reasonably straightforward win when Geoff played passively, giving me the centre before I found a tactic that won an exchange & a pawn & he was nice enough to trade pieces off to make the win much more simple.

In round 2 I faced Calvin Bennett & got what looked to be a promising attacking position from another Blackmar-Diemer Gambit. Unfortunately I always seemed to be one move behind what I needed to break through Calvin's defences & played some inaccurate moves in the middlegame. The critical position occurs after Calvin's 23... e5, which I originally thought was a mistake because it allowed 24. Rxf6, however the resulting position leaves black with an active queen & rook against white's unco-ordinated queen, bishop & knight. Luckily for me, Calvin misplayed the position (he had a number of clear wins) before finally blundering the exchange in time trouble to leave me a piece ahead in the endgame. Just when I thought I would need to find a winning method in the rook & knight v rook endgame (with Calvin having three pawns to my two), he resigned! A rather lucky escape!

Round 3 saw me facing Domagoj Dragicevic for the second time in a fortnight, this time with the black pieces. I played the Philidor's Defence & achieved a reasonable position out of the opening before I castled queenside & managed to generate some counterplay against Domagoj's king. Domagoj defended well & found himself a piece ahead, although it would be difficult to win with the extra pawn if we both had plenty of time. However, with the relatively quick time controls, I tried for fight on after I stopped recording (the game continued for another 20 or so moves beyond what I had recorded), however I managed to play Ne6-f4 at some point, leaving it en prise to Domagoj's rook on f1 (I think I imagined my queen being on h6 rather than h7 as it was when I played the move). Unfortunately for me, once I lost the piece, my position deteriorated quickly & Domagoj won the game.

In round 4 I played Shumsteer Ghumman & he chose a line of the Blackmar-Diemer Gambit with an early exchange of queens. I managed to maintain the initiative & developed some pressure against Shumsteer's king before he blundered & lost a piece. The endgame was fairly easy to convert, so I finished the first day on 3/4.

I started the second day with a tough round 5 pairing against top seed IM Kanan Izzat. I decided to play a more normal opening this time, and played the English, however I also didn't want to go down a highly theoretical line, so avoided a transposition into a Grunfeld Defence. Unfortunately this proved to be more than fine for black & the pawn on d2 became a target that was difficult to both defend or advance. Once Kanan found the nice tactic 17... Bxc3 my position went downhill quickly & I resigned when faced with the choice of losing a queen or being checkmated.

In round 6 I played black against Shane Lawson. Shane played an aggressive opening & I found myself on the back foot early. Luckily for me, Shane decided to exchange his knight for my bishop rather than exchanging knight for knight. The resulting endgame left me with chances for counterplay as I was able to get my knight to a far superior position to Shane's knight (If I was left with the bishop pair in a blacked position, I would have had very little opportunity for counterplay). I tried to minimise Shane's counterplay, but he did have some opportunities to turn the tables, however once he exchanged queens, the endgame was fairly easy to convert with my protected passed d-pawn. Another lucky escape!

In the final round I played white against IM Ari Dale. Before the game Ari lamented that he had to play me as black once again (most of our recent clashes have seen me playing white). I played the f3 line against Ari's Grunfeld Defence & I achieved a position I was happy with out of the opening. Ari played 16... b5 to try to unbalance the position. At first sight it seems as though black wins a piece after Qa5+, however I have the follow-up tactic of Rxc6, with the rook being immune from capture because of Ne7+. After some exchanges in the centre, Ari offered a draw. Although I thought I would have held a slight edge & more winning chances, any such edge would have taken quite a while to convert & at best, whoever won would have split 4th place with a number of other players.

Overall 4.5/7 was a reasonable result, particularly as I once again faced a tough field, playing seeds 1, 3 & 4 during the event. My play against some lower seeds was a little less than convincing at times, although I was happy to win all four games against lower rated players.
The winner of the tournament was IM James Morris, who scored 6.5/7.
Full results & prize winners can be seen on ChessChat.

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