Barring a last round upset, Alex Wohl should today secure his place in the 2000 FIDE
World Championship tournament by winning the Oceania Zonal in
Auckland. With most of Australia's top players choosing to skip the zonal, Wohl, 37, was hot favourite to take the single qualifying place and the $NZ500 first prize. However the peripatetic Australian's path to victory was anything but smooth.
Wohl started the 14 player tournament well, with a convincing victory over the second ranked Australian, Zhao Zong Yuan, but in the third round Wohl walked as close to defeat as is possible without losing - allowing a checkmate in one move which his opponent missed.
Playing the lowly ranked but dangerous local Bruce Watson, Wohl (White) saw that 1.Qg8+
Ke7 2.Qxa8 Qf7 would be only a draw and tried to win with
The idea is quite clever - both 1...Qd3+ and 1...Qa6+ allow cross-checks (2.Qf5+ or 2.Qf6+) which leave White with a winning endgame. Unfortunately Wohl's move also allows 1...Qf7 checkmate! Incredibly, Watson overlooked the winning move, played
and was checkmated himself after
Making the most of his good fortune, the following day Wohl defeated his main rival, Alexei Kulashko of New Zealand, to take the outright lead, a lead he never relinquished.
Wohl's luck may have run out at the end of the zonal, for it is far from clear that he has qualified for a tournament which will actually take place.
A fortnight ago the world body FIDE announced that the 2000 World Championship will begin in India in November but since then it has emerged that the Indian organiser is currently without a sponsor. FIDE and Kalmyk President Kirsan Illjumzhinov has offered to guarantee the bulk of the $A6m prize fund and also move the final to Kalmykia if necessary.
However in view of Vladimir Putin's proposed crackdown on corrupt leaders of the Russian republics, the FIDE President may find himself without access to the Kalmyk people's money by the time the Championships are supposed to take place.
World Championship qualifier
Auckland, New Zealand
Leading scores after 7 of 9 rounds:
4eq.Gelfand(Isr), Korchnoi(Swi) 4.5;
Sarajevo Grandmaster Tournament,
Leading scores after 8 rounds;
2eq. Kasparov(Rus), Adams(Eng), Morozevich(Rus) 5.5.