Friday, January 16, 2009

Twin Upsets in Round 1

Times are tough, as we know. And that perhaps explains why numbers for this second edition of the Queenstown Chess Classic are markedly down on the first edition held way back in 2006. This year, only some 120 players have turned up compared to the near 200 or so who descended upon this most beautiful spot of New Zealand three years earlier.

Numbers aside, this year's edition is missing three local legends. GM Ian Rogers is now, of course, retired from over-the-board combat while the Classic's creator, GM Chandler, latterly felt unwell and decided to withdraw. Then there was the passing late last November of New Zealand's international master Robert Graham Wade. Wade, though, is well remembered in the tournament; there are news clippings of his obit from various UK papers pasted onto a display board, located in a hallway right where Wade himself once delivered a lecture. Who can forget that round 2 game in 2006 between, appropriately enough, Chandler and Wade? A hard fought draw.

But whatever shortcomings the present edition may have, they are at least balanced by the presence this time of well-known grandmasters. Israel’s Viktor Mikhalevski, who played in the 2007 Doeberl and SIO events, is the top seed. His last campaign in the antipodes wasn’t exactly very successful and his “drawn” result (against local man Hilton Bennett) that flashed up on the live broadcast yesterday would appear to repeat that experience. Happily for his fans and equally sadly for Kiwis, it was merely an error. The Israeli was, in fact, victorious. England’s GM Peter Wells, who captained the English men’s team in Dresden, is also here along with German grandmaster Klaus Bischoff. The latter is known, especially, to readers of Chessbase.

As usual, the Aussies are well-represented and already a couple of Aussie juniors have made their mark. Both products of the Canberra junior mill, Andrew Brown and Sherab Guo-Yuthok yesterday scored the tournament’s big upsets so far. Andrew defeated fellow Aussie GM Daryl Johansen, while Sherab downed the Moldovan visitor Karolina Smokina. Another Australian didn’t quite win in the end but came very close. Sarah Anton thought she was winning, her fellow Melburnites thought the same and I, too, am certain that she had a win somewhere. Unluckily, she overlooked an important detail and lost. Anyway, what’s an Aussie chick to do after a lost game but, naturally, party? With little hesitation – Sarah joined up with me, Dromagoj and birthday boy, Malcolm Pyke for a night out of dancing in the Buffalo Club.

You gotta love these Victorian players. They are full of colour, not to mention strident opinion. Here’s just a couple from Richard Voon. “There are too many stupid people running chess.” He was complaining about all the silly new rules such as the proposed “zero time” limit and this business about having to register before round 1. If you’ve paid and entered, then that’s all that matters, he said. And on Campomanes: “I would’ve shot him”.

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