Sun-Herald Chess Column for January 2

The millenium bug seems to have beaten the chess bug, with traditional post-Christmas tournaments from Europe to Australasia suffering dramatic drops in attendance.

The Australian Championship in Mingara was one of the hardest hit, many top players choosing to enjoy the end of the millenium at home rather than spend two weeks fighting for the national title halfway between Sydney and Newcastle. The millenium impact on the number of players in the Reserves and Minor tournaments has been less marked, a tribute to the organisers' last-minute publicity campaign. (Across the Tasman, the New Zealand Championship has been hit by a 50% drop, despite being played in populous Auckland.)

Only two of Australia's top 10 are competing in Mingara - the smallest Australian Championship field in modern times, with Grandmaster Darryl Johansen a hot favourite to capture a record-equalling fourth Australian title and the $3,600 first prize. The remaining players will be battling to impress the Olympic selectors, although in such a modest field even a top three finish in Mingara may not guarantee a berth in the Australian team to travel to Istanbul in October.

Curiously, the most traditional post-Christmas tournament may have escaped the player drought through enforced innovation. The Hastings Congress, England's premier tournament since 1895, were unable to secure hotel rooms until after the New Year due to millenium celebrations. The organizers reluctantly moved the event back a week, to begin on Tuesday, and if player numbers hold up well a few other tournaments may wish they had followed Hastings' lead.

Mingara AUS Ch. 1999
White: S.Booth
Black: D.Johansen
Opening: Benoni

#1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 g6 4.Nc3 d6 5.e4 Bg7 6.f3 0-0 7.Be3 e6 8.Qd2 Re8 9.Bd3#

The immediate 9.Nge2 is more accurate. With White's pawns fixed on light squares, in theory the ensuing exchange of White's light squared bishop should be of little significance. However without the bishop White finds it difficult to cover the c4 square, as Johansen soon demonstrates.

#9...exd5 10.cxd5 a6 11.a4 Nbd7 12.Nge2 Ne5 13.0-0 Nxd3 14.Qxd3 Nd7! 15.Qc2 Ne5 16.Kh1 Bd7 17.Bg1#

An improvement on an earlier Booth-Johansen game from a decade earlier which continued (via a transposition) 17.a5? Nc4 winning a pawn and the game. Curiously, Booth had not remembered the precedent and Johansen was left wondering why Booth would be following an opening which led so quickly to disaster. However even after the text move Black's position remains extremely comfortable.

#17...b5 18.f4#

As so often, this pseudo-aggressive advance only turns White's centre into a target.

#18...Ng4 19.axb5 axb5 20.Rxa8 Qxa8 21.h3 Nf6 22.Ng3 b4 23.Nd1 Bb5 24.Rf3 Qa2! 25.e5#

Desperation, but the e pawn was chronically weak.

#25...Ba4! 26.Qd2 dxe5 27.Bxc5 exf4 28.Bd4 fxg3! 0-1#

After 29.Bxf6 Qxd5! wins the house as 30.Qxd5 allows 30...Re1+ and mate next move.