Friday, 20 January 2012

2012 Queenstown Chess Classic: Days 1-4

"I've been playing steady chess for a long time...maybe this is the year to start playing better." - GM Levon Aronian on the opening day of Tata Steel 2012

"In all my years in this job, I've never seen what you guys just did."
Experienced quad-biking instructor after witnessing some vehicle acrobatics

Round 1 under way
Day 0 (January 13):

The three of us met at Sydney Airport - even though there was some chess fatigue after the Australian Championships, playing overseas is always a fun experience where you have extra motivation, so we were all looking forward to the tournament. As our flight to Queenstown was slightly delayed, we passed the time playing cards.

On the news on an in-flight TV, we saw the story about the Australian girl who had miraculously survived after her bungee jumping cord had snapped in Zimbabawe, which may have put Moulthun off the idea of going bungeeing during the tournament.

There were the usual chess player @ the airport moments on the way for some of us, e.g. taking 10 times longer (both time and distance-wise) to move to the international terminal from the domestic at Sydney than required, and accidentally ticking 'declaring prohibited materials' on the arriving-into-NZ customs declaration.

Arriving to our apartment just 200m away from the venue in the late afternoon, we went for a walk around town and shopped for essentials such as snacks, fruits, breakfast foods and drinks, although this was preceded by 28 rounds of rock-paper-scissors to decide who claims the only double bed in the apartment (the other two being single).

With the winner requiring 11 wins or more with a two-point advantage, it was a heated contest where each of us had the lead at some stage, but after it was all tied at 8-8-8, Andrew showed his usual good form in New Zealand and ran way as the victor.
How were the colours for Round 1 decided? At the deadline of the 6-8pm registration, the highest seeded (12th) player present in the hall, Trevor Tao of South Australia, was given the task: utilising eenie meenie miney mo, the hand with the white pieces was chosen for the even-seeded players.

In the top half of the draw, we each won comfortably in Round 1 - in Round 2, Junta won in a miniature (21...Nc2-e1+ 0-1), while Moulthun managed to grind down Noel Pinic in a 6-hour struggle.

On Board 3, Andrew was playing one of the world champion's seconds - GM Surya Ganguly of India (2639), the highest rated opponent he's ever faced.

After you prepare intensively for a strong opponent, they very often play somethingelse from the outset, and this was no exception. Although the Open Sicilian (Sveshnikov) was anticipated, instead a typical Saemisch King's Indian battle (with ...exd5 cxd5) developed, where Andrew eventually won back the sacrificed pawn on the b-file. An equal endgame with bishop, knight and five pawns was reached, where White was pushing to create weaknesses. Andrew kept his nerve to defend, and the final pawn endgame had a sweet finish (opposition!).

He explained after the game - "I felt confident that I could play well, even from before the game." A common quote from Moulthun over the last week: "All you need is confidence - against an equal or even slightly better opponent, you can just outconfidence them and crush them."

In Round 3, it was Junta's turn to play his strongest opponent ever - top seed GM Li Chao of China (2693).

In a Fianchetto English where both sides missed (quite simple) ways to gain a slight advantage (for Black: 8...Nxb4, for White: 13.Ne5, which Junta commented on: "I saw Ne5, but after calculating a short line which resembled Black doing well, I stopped analysing - I think I just believed that surely he wouldn't let me get the advantage with a tactic like Ne5 (too much respect for opponent / not enough confidence)". For two pawns, White's kingside attack looked plausible, but objectively there wasn't enough and Black was always on top.

In Round 4, Moulthun drew with GM Zhao Xue in an intriguing endgame (two bishops + passed a-pawn vs. rook and knight) where the analysis nearly went for as long as the game (!), while Junta had another 20-move win as Black in the Queen's Indian line 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 b6 4.g3 Ba6 5.b3 b5. Andrew looked worse against fellow Canberran, Emma Guo on the Black side of a Sveshnikov, but she made an unfortunate oversight blundering a piece.

The answers to the trivia question from the Tata Steel tipping post were:

Moulthun has played Adhiban (two draws), Lahno (draw), Turov (loss), Timman (draw), Paehtz (draw).
Junta has played Brandenburg (loss), and Van Wely (2-0 in blitz).

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