2018 New Zealand Open – Rounds 1-6
The 125th New Zealand Chess Congress is currently being held in Palmerston North, and features the New Zealand Open Championship, as well as other sections and side tournaments. The New Zealand Open is the strongest annual tournament held “across the ditch”. So far, six rounds out of nine have been played.
Usually I’d play the Australian Championship/ Open that is also on each year during early January. This year, we (my partner Alexandra Jule and I) decided to play the New Zealand Open. We also had a chance to drive through some of the North Island countryside – always a bonus.
Arriving in Palmy
When we asked every Kiwi about what kind of a city Palmerston North is and the things to do, the response was pretty universal. First a blank stare, then a statement like “there is nothing to do in Palmy”. Even the former residents of Palmerston North didn’t have anything positive to say. We were hoping that this was a local habit similar to how Aussies always seem to pay out Adelaide.
After spending the New Year’s Eve in Hawke’s Bay, we drove through the mountain range lined by wind farms. As we cut through it, we could see the city emerge – down in the plains. The tournament started on New Year’s Day (who’s idea was that?), and it’s played at one round per day.
D Stojic – H Gao, Round 3 (Photo: Symon Llyal)
The pre-tournament favourite were the Grandmasters, Adrien Demuth (France), Fabien Libiszewski (France), and Johansen (Australia). After six rounds, Demuth has a comfortable lead with on 6/6 and Libiszewski is second on 4.5. They are playing in Round 7. It would be great to see a battle, but I’d expect a peaceful draw.
My tournament so far has been decent. I’ve had a good draw as black against GM Libiszewski (2530), and wins over decent players like Hans Gao (2167) and IM Russell Dive (2309). I’m equal third on 4/6, but a lot can still happen in the remaining three rounds.
WIM Alexandra Jule in her game against FM Stephen Lukey (photo: Symon Llyal)
Alex has had a good tournament too, after a rocky start with 0.5/2. She had a couple of wins with draws against FM Stephen Lukey and CM Alphaeus Ang. To replay our games, see links below.
The most satisfying game for me was my endgame win against IM Russell Dive. After reaching the time control, we had this position:
R Dive – D Stojic (after 43.Bxa5)
We have just traded the pawns on the a-file, and Dive has just played Bxa5 and offered a draw. It’s the sort of position that I think is drawn with best play, but Black certainly has all the chances because the pawns are blocked on the same colour of the bishop and all the pawns are on the same side. (There’s an old endgame rule that bishops are better than knights with pawns on both sides of the board, while a knight is better if the pawns are on the same side.)
The first move is quite important, 43…Nc5. This prevents White from playing e4 and swapping pawns, and establishing the knight on a great square on e4. From e4, the knight controls g5 and prevents White from potentially playing g4, Kg3-h4-g5. The plan for Black is to transfer the king to d3 or e4, and with some luck to capture the white pawns. White should try to swap pawns as much as possible. (Another endgame rule: when trying to draw, swap pawns!) Therefore, white should have played g4, h4, h5, and ideally swap two pairs of pawns before Black can get his king around.
I would suggest to the reader to replay the game (links below). It’s not perfectly played (White should have held the draw), but it shows that even in seemingly equal endgames it is certainly possible to win given enough pressure over a long series of moves. Just look at the games of Magnus Carlsen and Stephen Solomon!
Challenging the Local Opinion on Palmy
Since the rounds begin at 2:30 pm each day, we did have some time to check out the town before the rounds. The Copthorne Hotel, which the organisers offered to the players at a great discount, is situated in the heart of the city.
For one of the early days, we visited the Victoria Esplanade, a botanic park on the bank of the Manuwatu River. The relaxing walk helped me hold a grandmaster to a draw!
A favourite so far has to be the Te Manawa, a museum that features all kinds of collections, from art to culture, history, science and rugby. The Rugby Museum is the only exhibit that has an admittance fee, and it’s well worth it. Besides all the memorabilia and history, there is a drill course where you get to sprint, kick field goals, tackle and scrum, to see whether you have what it takes to make it to the All Blacks. The world record for the scrum machine was about 430 kg of force, and I scored in the 200’s. Maybe rugby isn’t my sport…
The local restaurants were excellent, and we sampled all sorts of cuisine so far. Our rule of not going to the same place twice might have to be broken, as there were some places I would certainly like to sample for the second time.
Three Rounds Left
Although Alex and I have had good results so far, the final placings always come down to the last few results.
You can follow the action live on the links below – live coverage begins at 3 pm, which is 1 pm AEST, 12 pm in Queensland. The Australian Championship is played at the same time, so keep an eye on both!
Replay Games from the NZ Open (and see results, standings etc)