This year's NSW Open was held over the long weekend of the 9th, 10th and 11th of June, and attracted a near record-breaking 139 players (87 in the Open, 52 in the U/1600) from NSW, ACT, QLD, VIC and WA. Even a few overseas players played; most of whom also came for the Asian Amateur and Asian Seniors Championships held the week before. The field was also very strong, with 1 GM, 4 IMs (all but one of whom have previously been Australian Champions), 2 FMs, 1 WIM, 2 WFMs and 25 players rated above 2000. This year's prize pool was a whopping $11,100 all up, with a particularly large $1000 first prize for the under 1600 division. I was ranked 8th in the Open on FIDE ratings and was expecting to get a score of 5 or 5.5/7, a typical result for me in 7-rounders in the past year.
Rounds 1 and 2
My first round was against Jamie-Lee Guo (1800), in which we got into a roughly equal endgame where my opponent missed a bishop fork I had to win a piece. In the second round I was White against Levi Descallar (1922) and it was quite an entertaining game that started as some sort of Cambridge Springs Variation of the Queen's Gambit Declined, where at one stage, my space advantage appeared to be overwhelming...
The next day was 3 rounds, which is always tough when playing full-length games (even when playing 60/10). I knew from experience that if I could get through this day relatively unscathed, then I should be okay to handle the rest. In Round 3 I was Black against Arthur Huynh (2022). The game was a well-known line of the King's Indian in which my opponent went for a less direct method of attacking on the queenside. Soon after, my opponent took a pawn that allowed me a timely pawn push to break through on the kingside, and with mate threats and threats to win a lot of material, my attack prevailed.
|Position after 18.Nxa7?|
18...g3 19.hxg3 fxg3 20.Be3 Nxd5! A typical motif in the King's Indian once the pawn has reached g3. Other knight moves also work. 21.Qd2 (21.exd5 Qh4 22.Re1 Qh2+ 23.Kf1 Qh1+ 24.Bg1 Nh4 and the threat of Qxg2# is unstoppable. 21... Qh4 22. Rfe1 Bh6! 0-1
Round 4 was my first match up with one of the heavyweights, 3rd seed IM Gary Lane (2394), who had recently had excellent back-to-back performances at the Doeberl Cup and Sydney International Open. I was on the White side of a Moscow, and my opponent opted for a perhaps somewhat dubious line which, while it did fix up his queenside pawns and weaken my kingside pawns, allowed me an open f-file and very active pieces.
After 4 rounds there were two of us on 4/4, myself and IM George Xie (2408). I was lucky enough to have the white pieces again, as George was due for a Black, and being the higher-rated player, got it. The game began as a Queen's Indian and George quickly deviated from theory and played the strange looking Ncb4 on move 10. The game soon got quite wild and lots of pieces came off, with me emerging an exchange up in a R+N against B+B ending. After a while I managed to liquidate into a N vs. B ending a pawn up, where my well-placed knight on d4 dominated his white-squared bishop.
Day 2 had finished. And what a relief, I thought - the worst was surely over...
The next day I was Black against Australian No.1 GM Zong-Yuan Zhao (2542). The opening was quite dodgy for me, and I wasn't keen on being on the backfoot the whole game and getting slowly outplayed, so I ended up saccing a knight for two kingside pawns in the opening to try and get some long term pressure. Zong-Yuan was able to consolidate and fend off all my threats, and before too long got to swap off his knight for my light-squared bishop, which was really the only piece keeping me in the game. I thought about resigning after this, but since the position was quite blocked up and his kingside pieces were in slightly awkward positions, I decided to play on. I held on for as long as I could, keeping the same material imbalance until the endgame. Zong-Yuan gained more space and with his move 44.a6 I could only move my queen and rook, but he had overlooked a remarkable trick I had to save the game.
44.a6?? (44.Ng4+-) Qd1+! 1/2 -1/2 (45.Rxd1 Rg1+! 46.Kxg1 stalemate) (45.Nf1 Qxf3+ -+)
So, with that very large dose of good fortune, I was still half a point in front of the pack with 5.5/6.
In the last round I played IM Stephen Solomon (2386) with White, which meant I had got the top four seeds in the last four rounds. I was pretty content with a draw, as I would get at least equal first and $1200, but of course for Solomon a draw is almost never on the agenda - this case being no exception. We swapped off queens early and I had slightly better pieces but it was hard to get a clear advantage. I gained some space but this ended up weakening my pawn structure and he was able to get all of his pieces out quite quickly after a tactic. It was looking fairly drawish but then I misplaced my knight and soon found I was on the backfoot. Luckily I was able to swap off some pieces and reach an ending with my passed b-pawn still on the board, which gave me compensation for his kingside majority.
The game was very close to ending in a draw by repetition, but Solomon avoided this, making a few concessions which allowed my to push my b-pawn up the board very quickly. In the resulting endgame I was an exchange up for a doubled pawn, and although there were some doubts as to whether it should have been winning, I knew I would no longer lose. After about 45 moves in this endgame I had managed to cut his king off from his pawns and bring my king around to take them all. And after that he had to admit defeat.
So, with 6.5/7, I emerged as the sole winner of the tournament, winning $1600! I was exceptionally lucky to draw the game against Zong-Yuan, and also lucky to get three Whites against the 3 IMs that I played. But I did feel as though I played good chess each game, and I didn't feel like I had to rely on tricks and "bluffing" as much as I have for my past successes, which I think is a really good sign for me.
Some interesting statistics from this tournament:
- This year I scored 6.5/7 and performed at 2789 (gaining over 40 points!)
- Last year I scored 3.5/7 and performed at 1882 (losing over 40 points!)
- I have won the NSW Open outright
- I have won any grand prix tournament outright
- in 1.5 years, from a total of 22 tournaments, that I have performed at over 2300.
- in my life (so far as I can tell) that I have got through a (FIDE, ACF or rapid) rated tournament without losing a game.
- I have posted in 8 months
- ever that I have given a speech at a tournament, (the first was this year's ACT Championship) and I believe this was only my second opportunity ever to do so.
- in four years (2009-2012) that an ACT player has won the NSW Open (go ACT!)
- I have stayed at Charles' place for a tournament
For a while my results have been pretty mediocre. My Europe trip last year wasn't very successful, and in other tournaments such as last year's Young Masters, and the Queenstown Classic, I performed below my own expectations. I don't expect to get results like this consistently - I know luck played quite a part in some of those games - but it is nice to have some confidence back in my chess.
I am very excited to be going to Greece for the World Juniors in August, which Fedja will also be playing in, and winning this money makes getting there a lot easier. (It would have been a long swim.) Before that, however, is this week's Gold Coast Open, which promises to be a very strong event (probably even stronger the NSW Open!) with GM Zong-Yuan Zhao and several IMs and FMs already entered (Junta, Moulthun and myself included) - and live commentary by GM Ian Rogers!
So stay tuned, and expect more posts soon.