Monday, 26 January 2015

Australian Junior - Day 9

A little late, but the Australian Juniors wrapped up in Canberra a few days ago. Most of the titles ended up going to the mid-tournament favourites, with only one title (the under 12s) going to a playoff.
The 2015 Australian Junior Champions are as follows:
Under 18 Open - Yi Liu (Qld)
Under 18 Girls - Kristine Quek (NSW)
Under 16 Open - Patrick Gong (WA)
Under 16 Girls - Denise Lim (Vic)
Under 14 Open - Haran Salasan (Vic)
Under 14 Girls - Cassandra Lim (Vic)
Under 12 Open - Jason Wang (Qld)
Under 12 Girls - Jody Middleton (Vic)
Under 10 Open - Christopher Lim (Vic)
Under 10 Girls - Jennifer Zhang (NSW)
Under 8 Open - Atlas Ballieu (Vic)
Under 8 Girls - Ellie Choemuku-Huang (Vic)

Jason Wang won the under 12 title in a playoff against Matthew Clarke (NSW) 3-2 after they split two 15-minute games & then two 5-minute games before Wang won as black in a 5 v 4 Armageddon match.

Two things that came from the tournament - it seems as though the playoff system, at least for the main titles, is not so popular, with the idea of shared titles being preferred. I think this is in part due to the results of the New Zealand Open Championships, which saw no less than 10 players tying for first (amongst those eligible for the title - the title winners in fact finished -10th in the event) & sharing the title, as well as the pressure on those in the playoff & the disappointment of those who lose (an example of this happened with Matthew Clarke commenting mid-way through the playoff that he was struggling to cope with the pressure). The playoffs for the blitz titles on the other hand seemed to be very exciting & had big crowds watching, though the issue there is whether the playoffs should be played immediately after the event, or as they were in the event, at the conclusion of the tournament itself.
The second point has to do with draw offers & etiquette. Firstly on draws - the correct procedure for offering a draw is to make a move, offer the draw & then press the clock. A typical draw offer might be something like 'Would you like a draw?', 'I offer you a draw?', 'Draw?' or similar. There were multiple times when I saw players offer a draw (whether correctly or incorrectly) & extend their hand across the middle of the board, with the 'expectation' that their opponent would shake their hand. Not only is this distracting & not allowed, but it is bad etiquette, as you should allow your opponent to consider the draw offer without the 'pressure' of a hand in their face. Another related etiquette issue has to do with the offering of draws in terms of timing in a position. Not quite as big of a problem as the 'hand-in-face' draw offer, but I did see a few players offer draws multiple times in an endgame. When I was learning to play chess, I was taught that once you offered a draw once (and it was declined), it was impolite to offer another one until something had changed substantially about the position (for example, in an endgame with rook & 4 pawns each, I would not offer another draw until the material had changed - to for example rook & 2 pawns each - or something had happened to make the position 'more drawn' than when the draw was first offered (eg: pawns could no longer move).

Overall I think the current format of the juniors has plenty to offer for the younger age groups, with the under 10s, 12s & 14s attracting good numbers. The older age groups, however seemed to still be lacking in attracting the very cream of the crop of current juniors. The girls events are also somewhat concerning, however it seems that the numbers for 2015 were good according to those who have been involved in junior chess for some time, although I still think they could be improved on.

Sorting out the trophies & medals before the presentations ... 'give us a smile Kerry'
Under 18 Open Blitz winners (3rd Pengyu Chen, 2nd Fred Litchfield, 1st Yi Liu)
Under 18 Open Championship winners (3rd Michael Kethro, 2nd Pengyu Chen, 1st Yi Liu)
Under 18 Girls Blitz winners (3rd Joanne Mason, 2nd Zoe Harrison, 1st Zhi Lin Guo)
Under 18 Girls Championship winners (3rd Alanna Chew Lee, 2nd Zoe Harrison, 1st Kristine Quek)

It looks likely that the 2016 Juniors will be in Adelaide. The SACA team are keen & have plenty of experienced organisers there to make it another memorable Australian Juniors.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Australian Junior - Day 8

The penultimate day of the Australian Junior for 2015 saw Yi Liu clinch the under 18 open title after yet another victory. Congratulations Yi! His challenge for tomorrow is to try to win his game, as this will apparently push his live FIDE rating past the 2300 mark & he will be able to claim the FIDE Master title - not a bad incentive to go for a final round win after having the title already won!
The other divisions are all still undecided, which should make for an exciting final round!
The under 18 & 16 girls event has been lead from the start of the event by Kristine Quek, however she lost her round 7 game to Zhi Lin Guo, which saw her lead over Denise Lim narrowed to just half a point. Kristine is still the favourite to win the event however, as she has played all of the leading players in the event & is paired against Amy Nicholson (currently on 1/7) in the final round.
The under 16 open event has turned into a race in two, with Patrick Gong maintaining his slim half point lead over Tom Maguire since round 5, when Gong won their individual clash. As with the girls event, both players have played a number of their nearest rivals, so both are favourites to win their final round games, but favouritism does not guarantee an outcome.
The under 14 open event has seen Haran Salasan leading the event from the start, however top seed Ray Yang has followed him closely, winning all his games after being beaten by Haran in round three. Haran plays Guowen Zhang in the final round in his quest for the title.
The under 14 & 12 girls event sees Cassandra Lim a point clear of her nearest rival Jody Middleton, however she still needs at least a draw in her final round game against Helen Tong to secure the title.
The under 12 open is the real lottery out of the remaining titles, with three players tied for the lead on 6.5/8 - Matthew Clarke, Jason Wang & Brendan Zou, while Ryan Lane & Michael Ostapenko are just half a point further behind on 6/8. The final round pairings see Wang playing Zou & Clarke playing Lane, while Ostapenko can only hope to tie for first at best & plays Kayson Wang.
Playoffs for some of the Blitz titles were also played, with the Lim family taking the honours, with Cassandra Lim beating Jody Middleton for the under 12 girls title 2-0, while younger brother Christopher Lim beat Ruicheng Wang 2-0 to take the under 10 open blitz championship. Chris has also beaten Ruicheng in a playoff for the under 10 Open title earlier in the week ... and as if they had not played each other already, they are paired again in the final round of the under 12 open event!

Strange position of the day comes from the game between Clarise Koh & Zoe Harrison from round 7 of the under 18 & 16 girls event.

I'm not sure of the exact positions of the kings, but think the diagram was pretty accurate - it's not often you see tripled c-pawns in a game! The game eventually finished in a draw - Zoey tried a central pawn break to make some progress, but this allowed Clarise's knight & rook to get active & the players eventually agreed to a draw.
The winning plan has to involve exploiting the weaknesses in white's pawn structure, so maybe a plan of Bb6-e8 to attack the a4 pawn (after the black king moves), combined with a Rf4-f2 move & a possible return to b6 for the bishop or a king march towards the d-pawn could have been enough for Zoe to win the position.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Australian Junior - Day 7

Day 7 of the Australian Juniors was very different for the different tournaments because of the heat - the room with the under 18 open, under 16 open, under 14 open & under 12 & 14 girls was air conditioned, so the players only had to deal with their opponents in the usual manner. The other hall where I was stationed for the day, with the under 12 open & the under 16 & 18 girls was a battle against both the heat, as well as one's opponent. More than any other day, I had a number of parents ask me to take a cup of water or a drink bottle to their child's table, as in spite of a number of fans, it was still at least 5 degrees hotter than the other room.
In the under 16 & 18 Girls event, Kristine Quek leads with 4.5/5, half a point ahead of Denise Lim, with Joanne Mason a further half point behind. There are still a few tough opponents for the leaders to play, but at this stage I would expect the winner to be out of Kristine & Denise.
In the under 12 open event, four players are tied for the lead on 5/6, Kayson Wang, Ryan Lane, Matthew Clarke & Brendan Zou. However with so many draws on the top boards so far in the tournament, there are still 19 players within a point of the lead!
In the other room, Yi Liu continues to dominate the under 18 open field. Cassandra Lim is doing a similar thing to the under 12 & 14 girls field. The under 16 open sees Patrick Gong continue to lead, although Tom Maguire remains half a point behind him, while in the under 14 open, Haran Salasan is a somewhat surprising leader of the event with 5.5/6, but there are plenty of players close behind him looking to take his place.
Full results for all events are available on the Results Page.
Canberra Grammar, which is playing host to the Australian Juniors this year, has quite a history of famous names that have attended the school at various times, from a variety of walks of life. One item of note is the Dux of the School honour board, which sees the name E.G. Whitlam no less than three times, in 1932, 1933 & 1934! I'm assuming that the school in its early years may have only gone to 'fourth form' (year 10) & then expanded to cover the HSC or equivalent when Whitlam was in his final two years of schooling.
Other famous, or infamous alumni of the school include Kerry Packer, 1961 Dux David Eastman who was convicted (and recently pardoned) for the murder of Colin Winchester, as well as Jackie Chan (apparently briefly).

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Australian Junior - Day 6

Day 6 of the Australian Juniors saw an unusual appearance between rounds, with a fire alarm going off shortly before the second round was due to start. In terms of the chess, with the remaining events now just past or almost at the halfway stage, the potential title winners are starting to appear near the top of the standings.
With this in mind, the under 18 title looks to be firmly in the grasp of Queenslander Yi Lui, who is on 5.5/6, a point clear of his nearest rivals, Pengyu Chen & Michael Kethro & has played all of the top contenders already.
The under 16s is a closer affair, with Western Australia's Patrick Gong leading, also on 5.5/6, however Tom Maguire is only half a point behind him (although Patrick beat Tom in their individual encounter). Patrick also has a number of strong contenders he has yet to play, so the title is still very much up for grabs in my opinion.
The under 18 & 16 girls is looking like a very close competition, with over half the field within a point of the lead. The girls have also only played three of their eight games, so are still in the early stages of the tournament, however the upsets in round two (which saw seeds 1 & 2 defeated) have opened up the tournament for a number of players.
The under 14 event now has only two players, Ethan Lim & Haran Salasan, on a perfect score, however with 5 rounds to go, any one of the players currently in the top 20 could potentially win the title.
The under 12 event, where I have spent most of my time arbiting, has seen players taking a cautious approach, with no-one left on a perfect score after the top boards saw relatively quick draws in round 4. Although this has left many of the top seeds in contention, it has also left things wide open, with 25 players within a point of the lead.
The under 14 & 12 girls sees Cassandra Lim as the only player with a perfect score & the round five clash with her nearest rival, Jody Middleton, could be critical in deciding the eventual winner of the event.
In terms of the chess itself, particularly in the under 12 open event, it has been somewhat surprising to see the difficulty that some players have had in the endgame (of course my big disclaimer is that at a similar age, my endgames were atrocious!). Two positions that I noticed today go to show what I mean ... both games ended in draws, when one side has a clear win!
Position 1, from the game Dharmapuri-Thompson. Here it is white to play. Black had offered a draw previously when the kings were on c4 & c6, but white had correctly chosen to play on. The winning plan for white involves outflanking the black king & this is done in a number of ways, but the easiest is by playing 1. Ka4, when black's king must give ground, as maintaining the opposition by Ka6 allows the white d-pawn to promote.
A sample line might continue as follows:
1.Ka4 Kc6 2.Ka5 Kd7 3.Kb6 Kd8 (advancing the white king as far as it can go without needing some technique) 4.d7! (a critical move required to win the position) Kxd7 5.Kb7 Kd8 6.Kc6 Ke7 7.Kc7 Ke8 8.Kd6 Kf7 9.Kd7 (black can no longer defend the e6 pawn, so white will simply capture the e6 pawn & promote the white e-pawn).
The game also featured a winning line, however white still agreed to a draw! It went 1.d7 Kc7 Draw agreed! However here white is winning & gets to the same position above slightly quicker after 2.Kc5 Kxd7 3.Kb6 Kd8 4.Kc6 Ke7 5.Kc7 Ke8 6.Kd6 Kf7 7.Kd7
Position 2, from the game Chen-Zou. Again it is white to play. Here white already has a passed a-pawn (which is defended by the bishop), but he needs more than this to win, In the game, white exchanged on e6 & agreed to a draw once the black king returned to e7 as it is very difficult for white to make progress in that position & white was also concerned about black potentially creating a passed pawn.
The winning method is simply to create a second passed pawn to tie black's pieces down to defensive roles & to then invade with the white king & bishop.
A sample line might continue as follows:
1.f6+ (creating a protected passed pawn & tying the king to the defence of it) Kf7 2.b4 (creating a path for the king to invade) c4 (this or cxb4 amount to the same thing - the d4 square is now available for the white king) 3.Kd4 Ke8 4.Kc5 Ba6 5.Kb6 (and black can no longer maintain the bishop's control of the a5 pawn. Black will then have to give up their bishop for the pawn & the white king will return to win the e6 pawn using an outflanking manoeuvre as in the first position)

Waiting outside with Alana Chibnall & Shaun Press after the fire alarm went off
The surprise visitor for the day - the ACT Fire Brigade, who needed to ensure the buildings were safe before players, officials & spectators could return to the hall
During a more normal moment at the tournament as an arbiter - in this case the kids were confused about their notation because the board only had hand-written letters & numbers around the outside, but these were in fact correct. Decision ... PLAY ON!

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Australian Junior - Day 5

Day 5 of the Australian Juniors saw the beginning of a number of events - the U18/U16 girls, the under 14 open, the U14/U12 girls & the under 12 open - as well as a continuation of the under 18 open & under 16 open events.
Of course the new events didn't always go according to seedings, with a number of higher rated players falling victim to their lower rated opponents.
The day also saw the first significant rain while the Australian Juniors has been on & you can definitely tell that its raining by the noise of the water on the roof in the second hall where I was stationed for most of the day, looking after the under 12 open & the under 16 & 18 girls. Although the other room seemed quieter during the storm, it also had issues with a speaker making some unintentional noise, although this was only for a few minutes.
You can of course keep up with the results on the Results Page of the tournament website.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Australian Open Chess - A summary

So the 2015 Australian Open Chess tournament has been run & won ... and I thought I'd do a bit of a summary of both my own performance in the tournament, as well as the event overall.
Personally I was pretty disappointed with my tournament - 5.5/11 could be a good score, however given that I only played two players who were higher rated, it has to be considered a poor performance. To make matters worse, I rarely played good chess & gave my opponents far too many opportunities, whether they took them or not. I also felt uncomfortable facing 1. e4 & that is something that I need to work on in terms of my opening repertoire.
As you can see by the breakdown below, my middlegame & endgame play were particularly poor, with my openings being passable at best (and that's being generous). In total, there were really only two (possibly three) games I was happy with my play - my games against Robert Beeman & Michael Kethro, though in both cases my opponents' made it easier for me to finish the game off, as well as possibly my game against Richard Jones.

Poor opening - Round 1 black v Damien Van Den Hoff; Round 3 black v Paul Russell; Round 7 black v Kim Anderson;
Reasonable opening - Round 2 white v Richard Jones; Round 4 white v Sarwat Rewais; Round 5 black v Marcus Porter; Round 8 white v Matthew Yan; Round 9 black v Clive Ng;
Good opening - Round 6 white v Robert Beeman; Round 10 white v Michael Kethro; Round 11 black v Bernard Chau;
Opponent collapsed in middlegame - Round 6 white v Robert Beeman; Round 8 white v Matthew Yan;
I collapsed in middlegame - Round 4 white v Sarwat Rewais; Round 7 black v Kim Anderson; Round 9 black v Clive Ng; Round 11 black v Bernard Chau;
Opponent collapsed in endgame - Round 1 black v Damien Van Den Hoff; Round 3 white v Paul Russell; Round 9 black v Clive Ng; Round 10 white v Michael Kethro;
I collapsed in endgame - Round 2 white v Richard Jones; Round 3 white v Paul Russell; Round 5 black v Marcus Porter;

As for the event itself, it promised so much before the event, but in actuality what was delivered was simply a reasonable tournament, far removed from the pre-tournament hype.
The organisers, Kevin Tan & Peter Yang, had a vision statement for the tournament: As organisers of the Australian Open we are very excited to be bringing this event to the Australian chess players and supporters. Our vision is clear and simple: to hold the best Australian Open tournament for the players with extended media coverage and an exciting festival events. We look forward to having you as part of this great event and we are ever thankful for your continued support of this great tradition.

When you look at the tournament in detail, it is easy to see how the organisers have failed to meet this somewhat optimistic vision for the event.
Prize Money - Yes, the event had the biggest prize pool (and first place) for an Australian Open (and perhaps any chess tournament in Australia), however the prize money was reduced from what was advertised ($25,000+ with $8,000 for first place), which is something that should not be done for an event like an Australian Open (unlike a weekender, when you might make a prize fund subject to a certain number of entries & adjust it by a few hundred dollars depending if you get more or less players than anticipated). I heard that a number of foreign players in particular were unhappy to learn about the reduced prize fund, however this was only second-hand speculation, so I can't confirm if this was the case or not.
Venue - Although the playing hall itself was nice, Castle Hill as a location was far from ideal - a long way from anywhere by car & only accessible by bus if using public transport - so there was a deterrent from entering the tournament to begin with, even for players from Sydney & it is important to have good numbers from the home state if a tournament is to be a success. The additional areas used for commentary & analysis were also far from ideal, as they were not separate rooms & it was possible to hear the commentary from parts of the playing hall, but particularly the area near the restrooms, so that it would be possible for players to go to the bathroom when they reached a critical position & then to hear GM Rogers discussing the position.
Scoresheets - This was one area where the organisers simply dropped the ball. For such a large & important tournament on the Australian chess calendar, it is considered standard to create scoresheets for the event - not only to look professional in general, but to give the players a memento of the event. Instead of doing this, the organisers simply used whatever NSWCA scoresheets they could get their hands on, which had a variety of headings, such as the Grand Prix, NSW Open, etc. Of course to make matters worse, after the rest day, these carbon-copy scoresheets ran out & the tournament finished with most players using standard NSWCA scoresheets, with the organisers doing a post-game photo of the scoresheet in an attempt to collect the games from the event.
Internet coverage - Although some aspects of this were excellent, such as using Chess24 to transmit live games, rather than the usual tired looking DGT interface, on the whole it did not live up to the pre-tournament hype. The online broadcast of GM Ian Rogers' live commentary from the venue had technical difficulties, not being broadcasting for a number of days, as well as having issues with sound & lighting.
Donation Box - In the final few days of the event, the organisers set up a few donation boxes at the venue, asking players & spectators to contribute money to go towards the prize pool. Although I suppose to some extent it is something that an embarrassed group of organisers might resort to if there was no other way of gaining income for the event, it is a very poor look for the tournament. Good tournament organisation should be able to get the necessary income, through sponsorship, entry fees, merchandise, etc, without having to resort to what is effectively begging for money, particularly so late in the event.

To my mind, the easiest way to avoid such an issue in the future is to have the ACF run & organise its own event! The current 'outsourcing' method has little incentive for organisers, but significant risk & in the recent past, has almost always been organised fairly late (less than  year out from the event).
As part of the ACF (I'm currently the Secretary), I've got no issue with personally joining an ACF organising committee for future Australian Opens & Championships, however I know that I could not do something of this scale alone.
Let's see where things go in the future ... my Australian Open ideas & ideas for a Chess Festival have been 'out there' for a while now ... whether they are workable in Australia is another issue however ...

Australian Juniors - Day 4

Day 4 of the Australian Juniors in Canberra was officially the 'rest day', however it was far from that in reality! I had the morning off while the Problem Solving competition was held, which had around 60 people participating! While this was happening, I visited Westfield Woden, which unsurprisingly was very similar to Westfield's elsewhere, but I found something to do for the morning.
I turned up to be an arbiter for the Blitz tournament to be held in the afternoon. After a few delays with registrations, the tournament got underway just before 3:30pm & I was running the under 12 event. Although scheduled for 11 rounds, I only managed to get through 9 by 6pm, so stopped the tournament there (this decision was announced to players after round 6). The event ran fairly smoothly once the technical issues were sorted out in the early rounds (there were 14 extra players in the list of players who did not turn up for the tournament, which meant re-pairings & a lot of fiddling on the computer during & after round 1). Surprisingly there were very few disputes to resolve, so the event was played in a friendly atmosphere, although there were multiple occasions where I saw players trying to 'out-blitz' their opponents in level positions & many of these saw the player who started with more time (and on occasion also declined a draw offer) go on to lose the game on time.
In the under 12s, Jason Wang from Queensland was the winner, while playoffs will need to be played later in the week to determine many of the other champions - under 12 girls (Cassandra Lim & Jody Middleton), under 10 open (Christopher Lim & Ruicheng Wang), under 10 & 8 girls (Katherine Pan & Ellie Choemuku-Huang).
Shaun Press looked after the under 18 event, which was won by Yi Liu, completing a good event for the Queenslanders.
The day finished for most with a BBQ, which was well attended, although afterwards Shaun, Alana & myself had to re-arrange & reset the playing halls for the next day's events, which sees another round of the under 18 & 16 open events, as well as the start of the under 12 & 14 open & girls events, as well as the under 16 & 18 girls event. I'm also sure that quite a few kids from the under 10s (and possibly under 8s) will be back for more chess during the under 12s events!

Monday, 19 January 2015

Australian Juniors - Day 3

Day three of the Australian Juniors saw a change of rooms for me - I was in with the under 18 & under 16 open, as well as the under 10 & 8 girls. Overall a far more sedate day, with far fewer issues to resolve!
It was also the final day for the under 8 & under 10 events & wearing my Victorian hat, it was a very good day for the Victorians, winning three of the four titles on offer.
The titles went to the following players:
Under 10 Open - Christopher Lim (Vic), after a playoff with Ruicheng Wang (Vic) (playoff was 1.5-0.5 to Christopher) 7.5/9
Under 8 Open - Atlas Bailieu (Vic) 8/9
Under 10 Girls - Jennifer Zhang (NSW) 9/9
Under 8 Girls - Ellie Choemuku-Huang (Vic) 5.5/9
Overall I was impressed with the under 10s, though am still not completely sold on the under 8s. The biggest issue for the young kids seems to be concentration - those that could sit at the board for over an hour & concentrate tended to be at the pointy end of the field. Perhaps more effort needs to go into improving the behaviour of some of the younger kids, more in terms of etiquette & what to do & not to do at the chess board (to try to minimise the talking, staring, fidgeting, etc that was a constant issue with a number of the younger players during the event).
After a 'rest day' which features the Problem Solving & Blitz competitions (I'll be an arbiter for the blitz), the final week of the juniors sees the under 12 & under 14 events begin (with a few players doing double-duty after the under 10 & under 8 events!), as well as the under 18 & 16 girls.
Full results can be found on the Results Page.
The 'other' room, where I was stationed for day 3
Under 10 girls winner Jennifer Zhang (NSW)
The start of the under 10 open playoff, with Christopher Lim playing Ruicheng Wang
Under 10 open winner Christopher Lim (Vic)

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Australian Junior - Day 2

Day two of the Australian Junior was another busy day, with another three rounds in the under 10 & under 8 divisions. It also saw a double round in the under 18 & under 16 Open events, so fairly busy all round.
My day was once again filled with running around the hall with the under 10 & under 8 open divisions, answering player questions, correcting issues, ensuring players had completed & signed scoresheets at the completion of their games and a variety of other things ... I'm hoping to swap rooms for day 3, to see if it will be any easier on the other side!
As the younger age groups have now finished 6 of their 9 rounds, the tournament & potential place getters are starting to emerge, however it is still very difficult to predict a winner, as players that young are often very inconsistent in their play, so the expected is often the unexpected.
Results for all divisions can be seen on the results page, however all divisions currently have an outright leader!
Today's 'door prize' winners could choose a Lego set!
The playing hall with the under 8 & under 10 players at the start of a round.
Photos thanks to Cathy Rogers. There are more on the official website.
Fellow arbiter Shaun Press is also blogging about the tournament on his page Chess Express if you are after some alternative coverage of the event.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Australian Juniors - Day 1

Yesterday saw the start of the 2015 Australian Junior Chess Championships, being held at Canberra Grammar in the ACT. With the 'new' format (which has now been running for 5 years), this meant that today was the first day for the under 18 Open, under 16 Open, under 10 Open, under 8 Open & the under 10 & 8 Girls events to begin. The events are spread over two halls & I am an arbiter for the under 10 & under 8 Open sections. Today they played three rounds (and will play 9 rounds in total over three days) & there are four players in the under 10 (out of 52) & three players in the under 8 (out of 24) who finished the day with a perfect 3/3, though being only the first day, there are still plenty of kids in contention for the top prizes.
Although I have been to a number of previous Australian Juniors, either as a player (just the once - I was a late starter), coach or spectator, this is the first where I have been an arbiter & it is a rather hectic job, particularly with the younger age groups. A typical round starts with some brief announcements, such as the time of the next round & reminding parents to turn their phones/tablets off, followed by a quick walk around the hall to make sure that all the games have started & there are no issues with clocks, etc. Of course as often happens with younger kids, a game or two might finish after only a few minutes & then I have to check that the players sign both scoresheets & fill in the results correctly, as well as reset the board & make sure they don't leave anything behind. The procession of games finishing seems to be fairly constant until around the hour mark, when there are usually only a few games left & it is only then that you can really take a seat & be reasonably confident that you can stay there for almost a minute before something else happens. On day 1, there was typically around 30-45 minutes spare between rounds, however I expect this to get shorter as the games get more evenly matched.
There's already some media coverage of the event, while Cathy Rogers has been busy taking photos.
On stage during the opening ceremony
A hall packed full of young chess players, eager to start their games!

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Australian Open - Day 9

Today saw the final round of the Australian Open & I was paired against Bernard Chau. He surprised me a little in the opening, playing 2. e4 (I was expecting 2. c4, however to be fair, the games I had on Bernard were a few years old). I played a Gurgenidze Caro Kann & was happy with the position I reached out of the opening - many of the ideal things for black were on the board - exchanged the white-squared bishop for a knight (and doubled white's f-pawns), pressure on the white centre, a good bishop - however I played some poor moves around move 20 & let my advantage slip. Two moves in particular were problematic for me - after capturing my knight on c6, I should have recaptured with the b-pawn, so as to play c5 & attack the white d-pawn soon afterwards. The second mistake was exchanging knights & undoubling white's f-pawns. All of this allowed white to get some pressure on the kingside, while my queenside & central play did not happen quick enough. Although I tried to make things difficult, white's winning plan was much quicker than my counterplay & I resigned shortly after Bernard promoted one of his pawns.

Some photos from today's round

In action against Bernard Chau
Round 11 against Bernard Chau
WIM Heather Richards on her way to the Australian Open Women's title - awarded for the first time since 2003!

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Australian Open - Day 8

Today I was white against Canberra junior Michael Kethro & after my usual transpositional options, played the white side of a Modern Benoni. I used an idea from game 8 of the Anand-Gelfand world championship match & played the manoeuvre Ne2-c3, with the idea of keeping the queenside under control & preventing the thematic b5 pawn break. Kethro responded with the usual kingside play, though the move 11... f4, although thematic, seems a little premature with the white king still in the centre. Once I was able to play 18. a5 & 19. Nb6, I had a nice bind on the queenside, which made it difficult for black to develop their queenside & stifled any counterplay. Kethro exchanged pieces to go into a double rook & bishop endgame, however my space advantage meant that something would have to go seriously wrong for me to lose the position, in spite of having doubled b-pawns. Kethro's 35... g3 seemed to practically put an end to his kingside pressure & allowed me to continue doing what I wanted on the queenside. Although I had some pressure, I was not sure I would be able to win the game, however just as Kethro was about to reach the time control, he played the horrible move 40... a5. This gave him an additional weakness on the queenside to defend & I was able to improve the position of my pieces, before pushing my central passed pawns to gain a winning position, before Kethro dropped an exchange and resigned.

In the final round I am black against Bernard Chau, which again is a winnable game if I play well.

More photos to finish today ...

Playing Michael Kethro in round 10
Playing Michael Kethro in round 10
The playing hall during round 10
Top boards in action

As for the main tournament, GM Ni Hua from China has locked up first place with a phenomenal 9.5/10 to be two points clear of his nearest rivals, IM Bobby Cheng, who he plays in the final round & GM Zong Yuan Zhao, who are both on 7.5/10, with six players a further half point behind them.
In the Minor, Queensland President Mark Stokes has also locked up first place in the event with 9/10 so far, to put him at least 1.5 points in front of second place (minor round 10 results are not yet online).

Friday, 9 January 2015

Australian Open - Day 7

Yesterday I played a topsy-turvy game against Clive Ng, which eventually finished in a draw. I felt like I got a reasonable position out of the opening, however I found it difficult to come up with a useful middlegame plan & found myself drifting a bit, while Clive improved his position. Clive managed to win a pawn & I found myself in a tough position, with an awkwardly placed bishop & Clive applying pressure with his queen, rook & central pawns. The critical move that Clive needed to play was f6, and if he had played 37. Qh4 or Qg5 to prepare 38. f6, I would have been in serious trouble! Clive allowed me to get out of trouble, however the resulting rook & opposite coloured bishop endgame was still potentially complicated. I thought that my attempt to exchange rooks off may have brought about disaster, however my engine seems to think I have enough play with my c-pawn to hold the position, although I was far from convinced at the time. Once Clive declined to swap rooks, I made sure to keep my pieces active, which is critical in such endgames. Clive finally offered me a draw when I was likely to regain one of my pawns, although the position still had plenty of life in it, however although I may have had some advantage in the centre, Clive's passed pawns were still concerning, so I agreed to a draw.

Today I play Canberra junior Michael Kethro, which is another tough game, but another that is winnable if I play well.

To finish, some more photos from the tournament

Playing Clive Ng in round 9
Round 9 against Clive Ng
The battle between good friends (and sometime coach-student) Heather Richards & Alana Chibnall ended with a fairly quick draw.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Australian Open - Day 6

Today I was white against Matthew Yan & he chose to play an unusual line against my Blackmar-Diemer Gambit. Surprisingly there are no games in MegaBase 2014 after 3... e5, yet this is the second time in just over a year that I have faced the same move, with Steve Hogan playing against me a little over a year ago! Thankfully for me the result was the same, with a win in 25 moves (the game against Steve in 2013 took 24 moves). The big decision came after Kd2, when Matthew chose not to repeat moves with Qf4+ & instead played dxe4. This allowed me to consolidate the extra piece & after finding a tactic that won another piece, Matthew resigned.

In action against Matthew Yan

Tomorrow I play black against Clive Ng, which should be a tough, but winnable game.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Australian Open - Day 5

Yesterday was the 'rest day' of the tournament, though in some senses, one of my busiest, with the ACF National Conference in the morning, followed by the Australian Open Blitz (this year I decided not to play, but managed to get a few videos of the action, which I hope to upload to YouTube over the coming days & weeks -, followed by an ACF Council meeting to conclude ... a busy day with mostly laborious meetings & note taking ...
Today saw the 'home run' of the tournament begin, with all rounds from now until the end of the tournament being single-round days. I was black against South Australian Kim Anderson today & played a horrible game, losing without much of a fight at all. Prior to the game, I discovered that Kim played 1.e4 & 2. Nc3 against pretty much anything & I really didn't have any sort of plan in mind about how to deal with this. The problem is that I really didn't play the game with a consistent plan & seemed to come up with short term moves which didn't work together well. Of course after 5... Qh4+ (a rather committal move), I decided that I should try to keep the pawn & play it like some sort of King's Gambit variation. Once I realised I was in trouble after 11. Kg1 I decided to turn the game into a 'romantic' game & sacrificed my queen. Of course I had overlooked the counter-sacrifice 14. Bxf7+ when white's initiative & black's unsafe king are enough to the game.

Tomorrow I'm white against Matthew Yan, who I really know very little about, other than that he is from NSW. Hopefully I can return to 50% & try to finish the tournament on a positive note.

To finish off, photos from the tournament taken by my girlfriend Greer:

Top boards in the playing hall
Estonian WFM Margit Brokko, whose birthday was today
Contemplating my second move against Kim Anderson ... I eventually decided on 2... c6
Another view of the playing hall

Monday, 5 January 2015

Australian Open - Day 4

Yesterday was another double round day, though it is the final one for the tournament.
In round 5 I was paired against Marcus Porter & decided to bring out an 'old favourite', the Elephant Gambit, figuring it could do no worse than my previous attempts to find a decent opening against 1. e4 so far this tournament. I was happy with the position I got out of the opening & managed to recover my pawn sacrificed in the opening, plus with the bishop pair I thought I would hold a slight advantage. Of course as with most of my other games this tournament, I managed to go astray at some point & rather than trying to maintain control of the position, I headed for an endgame where I could win a piece ... but the problem was that the resulting position with rook, bishop & pawn against rook & three pawns was in fact better for the rook & pawns because of a better king & my own passive pieces. I managed to survive a potentially dangerous situation & then found myself with some sort of advantage in the endgame, being a piece for a pawn ahead, but with only a single pawn left on the board, it was still difficult to convert to a win. Ultimately my opponent managed to gain a passed pawn, which I had to sacrifice my rook to stop, but in the meantime I had lost all of my pawns, so with king & bishop against king, we were left with no choice but to agree to a draw.

The second game of the day saw me playing white against Robert Beeman from Sydney. Knowing Robert's aggressive style, I tried to stifle his play before it got going & this game me the advantage out of the opening. Unsurprisingly, Robert decided to sacrifice material to try to find a way to attack my king, but I was able to exchange queens & remove the danger from the position. I then consolidated my advantage & faced with a significant material disadvantage, Robert resigned.

This leaves me on 3/6 with a 'rest' day ahead. The term rest usually implies some form of relaxation or break, but tomorrow I have the ACF National Conference in the morning, with an ACF Council meeting in the evening. The Australian Blitz is also held in between these two events, but I doubt I'll play in the event this year.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Australian Open - Day 3

Yesterday in round 4 I was paired against a former club mate, Sarwat Rewais, who is now the President of St George Chess Club, where I used to play when I lived in Sydney.
I decided to play my 'pet' opening, the Blackmar-Diemer Gambit & achieved the type of attacking position typical of the opening, however just when the position reached a critical point, I went for the wrong attacking plan & went astray rather quickly. The important point in the position is to keep pressure on black's king & not allow it to get out of the centre easily. With that in mind, my plan of playing 12. h4, 13. h5 & 14. Bxf6 was misguided. My engine prefers the sacrifice 12. Bxe6, with the aim of keeping the black king in the centre, with my engine preferring black after castling queenside & simply returning the material. The alternative plan was to play 12. Nce4, which I played later in the game anyway, however with the dark squared bishop off the board & a white pawn on h5, many of the attacking options were removed.

Today I play black against Marcus Porter in the morning round. Hopefully I can start to play a bit better & get my tournament back on track. I suppose a consolation is that I have been playing horribly & am still on 1.5/4 ... suppose the only way is up from here!

Chess Victoria AGM

In late November, the Annual General Meeting of Chess Victoria was held at Box Hill Chess Club. Ordinarily an AGM can be a rather boring affair, with reports of the year's activities & often uncontested elections being the usual highlights. On the surface, the 2014 Chess Victoria AGM appeared to fit into this rather mundane format, however as it transpired, the meeting was quite eventful!
When I first started to do this blog, Amiel Rosario, of Closet Grandmaster fame, suggested I be controversial & until now I think I have refrained from doing so ...
Before I get to my view on the meeting, you can read what others have written about it, whether it is on the ChessChat forum or the Box Hill Chess Club Newsletter.
Prior to the meeting, there was a combined letter from Melbourne Chess Club & Noble Park Chess Club to the Chess Victoria executive that signalled that there might have been more than the usual formalities at the upcoming AGM. Ordinarily, if one has questions of an organisation, these are asked, either in person, or as the combined letter from MCC & NPCC did, in writing. The questions were answered, however the delegates for the clubs chose to raise these questions again at the AGM, apparently for the benefit of the delegates of other clubs, who in their opinion would have the same knowledge, or lack of knowledge, about processes within Chess Victoria.
Some of the questions were as follows:
Lack of transparency about the bidding procedure for Chess Victoria events
To me, the simple solution to this is to ask the question of what needs to be done to host a Chess Victoria event (the Victorian Open was the main tournament in question). If you don't ask the question, you won't ask the process ... the reason why the event has been run at Box Hill Chess Club for the last 5+ years is that in almost all years, Box Hill has been the only club that has put in a bid to host the event. In the time since I have been on the executive, the only other club that has put in a bid for the Victorian Open was one a few years ago from MCC & David Cordover. If memory serves, the original MCC/Cordover bid was to host the event for three years (rather than the one year asked for by the executive). When asked to resubmit a bid for one year, the 'bells & whistles' promised as part of the 3-year bid were absent, so the executive did what it thought was the responsible thing & voted to approve the better bid, put forward by Box Hill Chess Club.
This was the precursor for the apparent theme of the meeting, that Chess Victoria were somehow 'in cahoots' with Box Hill Chess Club, with favourable treatment, paying rent & other 'unscrupulous' activities being implied by the MCC/NPCC contingent of delegates.
Another theme apparent from the letter & the comments of delegates, was that the President, Leonid Sandler, was also somehow abusing his power. There was a variety of misinformation regarding the Australasian Masters, for example, put forward (incorrectly) as fact, which simply made those making these accusations look somewhat ordinary, which is possibly where the reference to student politics came from in the account of the AGM In the Box Hill newsletter linked above.
There was a motion put to halve the various affiliation fees (currently $5/year for adults & $2.50/year for juniors) that clubs pay to Chess Victoria. With MCC & NPCC voting as a block (effectively 8 votes), although the vote was close (it was in the end tied), it was not passed as it did not have a majority in favour of it (a few people abstained on the vote). In the discussion about the motion, the MCC delegates indicated that if the motion was not passed, that they would be voting against the budget for the year ... another indication of the apparent petty nature of the complaints. In the end, the budget was passed 13-8.
However, the real disgrace of the meeting was yet to come ... there was a motion on notice to grant the current Chess Victoria Treasurer Trevor Stanning, a long-time member of both the Chess Victoria executive, as well as Box Hill Chess Club, life membership of Chess Victoria. Trevor's services to chess have also been recognised on a national level with the award of the ACF's Koshnitsky Medal in 2012. The list of winners reads as a veritable who's who of Chess Administration in Australia.
There were a number of people who spoke on both sides regarding the motion. Those in favour of the motion spoke of Trevor's significant contribution to chess in Victoria. Those who spoke against the motion (all of whom were delegates of Melbourne or Noble Park Chess Clubs) spoke about how granting Trevor life membership would further increase the disproportionate voting advantages that the Box Hill Chess Club already apparently hold, and that it was nothing against Trevor personally, but rather the system which allowed Life Members to have voting rights at the AGM. To me, this sounds very much like the 'no offence' line that is given at the end of an offensive comment or joke ... as though by saying it is 'nothing personal' that it somehow makes the decision alright ...
The logic for the 'disproportionate' amount of power that Box Hill CC has comes from the following areas:
* Box Hill CC & Canterbury Junior CC being separate entities as far as Chess Victoria are concerned - the net result in terms of AGM votes is that they have 6 votes, rather than 5 that they would have as a combined club.
* Members of the executive who are involved at Box Hill CC (Trevor Stanning, Peter Tsai & the implication that Leonid Sandler was also sympathetic to BHCC, or somehow anti-MCC) & have a vote at the AGM
* Life member Gerrit Hartland, who was a prominent member of BHCC
Of course there are issues with this logic ...
* One vote is a minor 'advantage'
* The club base of members of the executive is largely incidental - in fact MCC & NPCC could have 'extra power' at the AGM if they volunteered to join the executive
* Gary Wastell, also a life member, was responsible for a number of things at MCC in his time at the club (this was dismissed as being 'MCC in name only' at the meeting)
If the delegates of MCC & NPCC (and presumably the clubs themselves) have issue with the Chess Victoria Constitution & its voting rights, then they should put forward a motion to change the constitution. Grant Szuveges attempted to do something similar during his brief time on the executive, however his motions were not adequately publicised to clubs & there were a number of questions put to him that he was unable to answer, with the result being that his motions were defeated, partly because some of the delegates didn't want change, but also partly because the proposed changes & the benefits of the changes were not properly explained & communicated to clubs. The net practical result of Grant's motions is that there is a standing 'gentleman's agreement' that executive members will not vote for one another (or themselves) when contested elections are held.
The end result of the vote regarding Trevor's potential Life Membership was that although it was 13-8 in favour, the Constitution required a two-thirds majority to be passed, therefore the motion was defeated.
If someone who has put in the time & effort that Trevor has cannot be rewarded with a Life Membership, then what incentive is there for someone to take on a voluntary role for an extended period of time?
In fact it goes towards a broader question of what incentive there is for anyone to get involved in an organisation such as Chess Victoria in a voluntary capacity? It seems as though anything good that someone does is largely ignored or simply taken as 'standard', however the smaller error or oversight seems to get criticism from a variety of sources ... look at the pre-tournament complaints about the recent Australasian Masters & Australian Women's Masters events as examples ...
Of course I am somewhat conflicted in all of this ... I work at both Noble Park & Melbourne Chess Clubs doing junior coaching, as well as being an arbiter at both clubs (most Monday evening & many weekend events at MCC, as well some weekend events for NPCC). Yet I am disgusted by the actions of the delegates in voting against the life membership ... I have already agreed to be the arbiter for the MCC Club Championship & have nothing against the kids who I coach at the various clubs, but I may have to reconsider my involvement in those clubs in the future ...

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Australian Open - Day 2

Yesterday was the first double round day at the Australian Open Chess Championships at Castle Hill RSL. In the first game of the day I was paired against Welsh IM Richard Jones & played a long game, where Richard grabbed a pawn early in a Slav Defence & I tried to round it up. However I could never quite capture the pawn, but still retained good drawing chances, but in the critical position I blundered, playing defensive moves 47. Bc6 & 48. Rh2, rather than the more active 47. Rf2, which would have created more opportunities for me & allowed me to exploit the weakened black king, rather than being so focused on the passed d-pawn.

In the second game of the day I was black against Newcastle junior Paul Russell & played a Modern Defence that soon transposed to a position from the Scandinavian Defence. I found myself in a passive position, but was able to strike out against the centre when Paul launched an attack on my king. I did not defend the best & Paul was able to win two pawns & I had to hope for something of a miracle & looked to play vaguely threatening moves in the hope of having my opponent blunder. Thankfully for me, Paul did exactly that & allowed my rook & knight to get very active & rather than pushing his passed a-pawn, Paul tried to defend, which helped my position enormously, to the point where he gave up a piece to try to slow my initiative. Of course that is the time when I should maintain my concentration (I had been rather tired earlier in the game & may have even dozed off briefly for short periods), but I got lazy & played a very poor move, thinking that my opponent had to play a particular move when he clearly didn't. The critical mistake was 43... dxc3, when 43... d3 was simply winning. I had seen both moves & although d3 was winning, it appeared to be a bit tricky if the a-pawn was pushed. I quickly calculated that after 43... dxc3 44. Rxc3 Nd5 that the rook on c3 would have to move & I could capture the b-pawn & hold everything on the queenside, but had completely overlooked that 45. a6 was possible! After that, I was struggling to hold a draw, but with the extra piece, I was able to defend & get into the Philidor position to hold the draw.

I have managed to upload a few short videos that my girlfriend Greer recorded on day 1 of GM Ian Rogers' commentary. There are a few others that are longer, but they take considerably more time to upload, so I might be able to upload these later in the event.


After some technical difficulties, the organisers have managed to get something of a live feed of Ian Rogers' commentary, although they are still working on finding the best angle to show the commentary. The channel to view the commentary is

Friday, 2 January 2015

Australian Open - Day 1

Today saw the start of the 2015 Australian Open Chess Championships, which I am playing in. I am the 42nd seed out of just over 100 players (I think the actual number of players is 105, though that will hopefully be confirmed by tomorrow).
Today I played a fellow Victorian in round 1 - Damien Van Den Hoff - and I played a horrible opening (better not repeat it later in the tournament), though luckily for me, Damien missed 7. Bxf7+, which would have had me in serious trouble! In fact I was worse for much of the game & it was only after 31. Qd4 that my engine started to like my position. Again luckily for me, Damien did not play the best defence & soon found himself in a tough position - a pawn down, with the choice of trading into a pawn ending 2 pawns down, or staying in a very bad rook ending & ending up 2, if not 3 pawns down. Damien chose option 3 & decided to resign the game.
In round 2 (tomorrow is a double-round day), I play Welsh IM Richard Jones, so should find myself in for a tough game, as well as having far fewer opportunities if I manage to stuff things up as I did today.

As for the tournament itself, it got underway around half an hour late, with things seemingly a little disorganised before the round started.
The opening ceremony was brief, but covered the necessary formalities, including the sad (now tradition it seems) mentioning of those in the chess community who died in the previous year, with the passing of Alex Saint & Evelyn Koshnitsky being the two most significant in 2014.
Once the games were underway, things settled down. My girlfriend Greer was with me on the day & took a number of photos, which I have included below.
There was also a reporter for SBS & there was a short 2 minute item on the daily news that was shown covering the tournament.

Opening Ceremony, with ACF President Gary Wastell talking fondly about Evelyn Koshnitsky
WIM Heather Richards, playing one of her first tournaments since officially becoming Australian!
The playing hall before round 1, with myself & Damien Van Den Hoff in the foreground
Alana Chibnall before her first round game - looking to get in some chess before she takes on the task of organising the Australian Juniors in Canberra.
Before my round 1 clash with Damien Van Den Hoff
The front of Castle Hill RSL
Another view of the playing hall
GM Ian Rogers does a brief interview with top seed GM Ni Hua following his round 1 win
Another view of the playing hall

I also have a few short videos of GM Ian Rogers' commentary (again taken by my girlfriend Greer) which I hope to add later.

Back to the Blog

Apologies for not posting anything for the past 2 months ... I have been too busy with work of various sorts & have now got most of it out of the way, so feel I can get back to the blog & remain guilt-free in terms of procrastination.
Today was day 1 of the Australian Open Chess Championships, so the next post will be about that.
Other events & happenings I need to write about on the blog are (in no particular order):
Hjorth Open conclusion
Bob Brooking round robin
Chess Victoria AGM
Victorian Blitz Championship
Warrnambool Open
Box Hill Chess Club
As well as a few other bits & pieces that I'm sure I will come up with ...