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 ...

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