Canberra Times, April 29

The dumbing-down of the World Championship reached a new low this week with the completion of the Oceania zonal qualifying tournaments on the Gold Coast.

Given that the tournament was missing Australia's top three players, was played at the World Chess Federation's (FIDE's) new fast time limit, was played at two rounds per day, and allowed amateur players to buy their way in to the tournament, few artistic masterpieces were to be expected.

Nonetheless, the standard of play on the Gold Coast turned out to be astonishingly low, with even the top seeds unable to cope with the new pace of play. A few examples below give the flavour of the tournament.

Exhibit A was a mid-table match-up in the women's Zonal.

Gold Coast Women's Zonal 2001 
White: N.Mills
 
Black: L.Moylan
 
Opening: Trompovsky

1.d4 Nf6 2.Bg5 Ne4 3.Bf4 d5 4.e3 e6 5.Bd3 Nf6 6.Nd2 Bd6 7.Bg3 0-0 8.Ngf3 b6 9.Ne5 Bb7 10.0-0 Ne4

Now White could retain a small advantage by exchanging on e4. However she played ...

11.Ndf3?? f6 12.Ng4 h5

and Black won the knight and the game soon thereafter.

Exhibit B was a top board encounter, with 14-year-old Zhao Zong Yuan taking on dark horse Mark Chapman.

Gold Coast Zonal 2001
White: Zhao Zong Yuan
 
Black: M.Chapman
Opening: Ruy Lopez

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 b5 6.Bb3 Bc5 7.c3 d6 8.d4 Bb6 9.a4 Rb8 10.axb5 axb5 11.Na3 0-0 12.Re1

Here or next move 12.Nxb5 would be critical. Instead Zhao plays four slack

moves and ambles to his doom.

12...Bg4 13.d5?! Ne7 14.Qd3? Nd7! 15.Nd2? f5 16.Bc2?? Bxf2+! 0-1

Exhibit C was one of the most crucial games of the tournament; Leonid Sandler trying to catch Chapman, who by round 5 was leading the tournament by a point.

(See diagram: White: Kc4 Rb6 Black: Ka1 Pa2)

Sandler (White) had five minutes left on his clock and, with a World Championship place on the line one might have expected him to find the beginner's trick 78.Kb3 Kb1 79.Kb3+ Ka1 80.Rh6 Kb1 81.Rh1+ winning the pawn and the game.

Instead Sandler found

78.Rh6??

and after

78...Kb2 79.Rh2+ Ka3! (Not 79...Kb1? 80.Kb3!) 80.Rh3+ Kb2 81.Rh2+ Ka3

82.Rxa2+,

the players agreed to a draw.

Despite these pieces of good fortune, Chapman only tied for first place on the Gold Coast after top seed Michael Gluzman beat him in the seventh round. Even then Chapman was hot favourite when he entered the final round equal with Gluzman and quickly won his final game against an unrated opponent while Gluzman was close to losing his battle against IM Vladimir Feldman. However Gluzman managed, through something approaching black magic, to win an endgame with rook plus one pawn against his opponent's

rook plus two pawns and thereby force Champman into a playoff! A 15 minute per player playoff match of two games was comfortably won by Gluzman, putting the Melbourne IM into FIDE's World Championship knock-out tournament but leaving Chapman with the consolation of an International Master title. (FIDE rules say that the top scoring non-IM who scores 2/3 or more in a zonal receives the the IM title automatically, regardless of their performance rating in the tournament. Chapman played only 6 rated opponents in the zonal and would so not normally have been eligible for any title result but the zonal is a special case.)

The Women's Zonal tournament was a more representative affair, with most of Australia's top women players in action, joined by New Zealand's strongest female player. In a tight finish, the established stars put the younger aspirants firmly in their place, Irina Berezina-Feldman and Ngan

Phan-Koshnitsky fighting out a tight finish. In the end, over-ambition and the new time-limit proved fatal for Berezina in her key penultimate round game against Phan and the South Australian will be making the trip to the Women's World Championship this year. (Phan also scored more than 2/3 and secured a Women's IM title from the tournament.)

Rather unsurprisingly, both players and organisers were quite content with the new format. Compressing the tournament into a week is cheaper for the organisers and allows non-professional players to take less time off work.

A long tail of fee-paying amateurs to play is also popular as it helps the organiser balance the tournament budget and makes the 'soft' zonal titles even easier to achieve.

Allowing anyone willing to pay a chance to play in a World Championship and then randomising the event as much as possible so that almost anyone can win is also quite democratic. FIDE has adopted this policy with their fast time limit and knock-out World Championship so it is only to be expected that some Federations will follow FIDE's lead and randomise their World Championship qualifying tournaments.

However every step FIDE takes towards turning the World Championship into a lottery is a step backwards in the battle to have chess considered a real sport, an activity where merit, not chance, is supposed to decide victory.

Oceanic Zonal
Gold Coast, Queensland
Leading final scores:

Open: 1eq. Gluzman(V), Chapman(SA) 7/9;
3eq. Rujevic(V), Sandler(V) 6;
5.Wastney(NZ) 5.5.

Playoff: Gluzman def Chapman 1.5-0.5

Women: 1.Koshnitsky(SA) 7/9;
2.I.Feldman(N) 6.5;
3.Szuveges(V) 4.5
4.Moylan(ACT) 3.5.

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The Southside Chess Club in Kambah begin their club championship at 7.30pm on May 3. (Details Geoff Butler 0404-856801.) The following evening the Belconnen Club Championship gets underway. (Details Ian Rout 62766379 (W).) Both tournaments are one round per week and open to all.

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