As the Australian Championship in Mingara entered the New Year break yesterday, a bunched field has made predicting a likely winner impossible. Grandmaster Darryl Johansen remains favourite and could yet approach his massive winning margin of 1989.
Any challenge to Johansen looks unlikely to come from second seed Stephen Solomon, sitting at the tail of the field after two losses in the first three rounds. After poor performances in major events in 1999, Solomon, Australia's number one in the boycott hit team at the Elista Olympiad, now runs the risk of missing selection entirely for the 2000 Istanbul Olympiad. The biennial Australian Championship has been hit by late withdrawals, with IM John-Paul Wallace, a pre-tournament favourite, pulling out a day before the tournament and Tim Reilly withdrawing after round two. Only 15 players remain in the title tournament; not only the smallest and weakest field in modern times but also a nightmare for ACT Chief Arbiter Shaun Press. The tournament is being played as an 11 round 'Swiss' system but the system is designed to cope with large numbers of players and becomes progressively more unwieldy if there are fewer than twice as many players as rounds. The current Championship numbers may see absurdities such as a top finisher receiving the bye in the last round, tailenders meeting leaders in the critical final rounds, and the theoretical possibility of players being forced to play each other twice. The ACT's only representative in the title tournament is Peter Jovanovic, but the talented 12-year-old appears out of his depth and will have done well if he avoids the wooden spoon. The ACT's best chance for success lies with Mos Ali, well placed to take a high placing in the Reserves section. On the opposite side of the Tasman, the three foreign visitors two Grandmasters and one international Master - seem set to upstage the locals in the New Zealand Championship, with the following game setting the winner up for early leadership of the tournament.
Auckland NZ Championship 1999
#1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 d6 3.Nf3 f5 4.d4 e4 5.Ng5 Be7 6.Nh3 Nf6 7.f3!? c6 8.Bg5 exf3#
This gives up the fight for the e4 square too readily. 8...0-0 was critical.
#9.exf3 0-0 10.Qd2 Na6 11.Be2 Be6 12.0-0 Nc7 13.Rfe1 Qd7 14.Bd3 Rae8 15.Qc2 h6 16.Bd2 Nh5?#
Allowing a tactical denouement. 16...g5 would have kept White at bay.
#17.d5! cxd5 18.cxd5 Bf7#
Rather humble, but both 18...Bxd5 19.Nxd5 Nxd5 20.Bc4 and 18...Nxd5 19.Rxe6! led to immediate disaster.
#19.Bxf5 Qd8 20.Bg6 Bf6 21.Rad1 Bd4+ 22.Kh1 Rxe1+ 23.Bxe1 Bb6 24.Na4 Qf6?! 25.Be4#
Playing safe. 25.Bxh5 Bxh5 26.Nxb6 also wins material, but 26...Bxf3 made White a little nervous - for no good reason, since 27.Nd7 wins comfortably.
#25...Na6 26.g4! Nf4 27.Bc3 Nxh3 28.Bxf6 Nf2+ 29.Kg2 Nxd1 30.Qxd1 gxf6 31.Nxb6 axb6 32.Qd4 1-0#