by Kerry Stead
The 2019 Australian Open was a bit different from the ‘usual’ Australian Open, with the Box Hill Chess Club taking on the hosting role at a fairly late stage (only a few months before the tournament), reducing the tournament from 11 to 9 rounds and more notably, running the 2019 event at the end of 2018 in between Christmas & the New Year. Although there were differences, a number of familiar aspects remained – a number of Grandmasters & other titled players in the Open field, including quite a few from overseas, as well as a Minor tournament for players rated under 1600 ACF.
The late start to the organisation seemed to make little difference to the players, with a record number of participants across the two events – 167 in the Open & 140 in the Minor, for 307 players in total!
If you’ve ever wondered what an arbiter does at such events, hopefully the next few paragraphs will enlighten you!
The bigger than expected numbers meant that rather than having all players in a single room (as was the initial plan, if the field was around the 200 player mark), the playing area was split over three areas – one for the top Open boards with DGT boards (which broadcast to chess24.com), a second room for the majority of the Open boards, as well as a third room for the Minor event and the bottom 20 or so boards from the Open. This meant that the four person arbiting team was split amongst the rooms, with the majority of the ‘action’, at least as far as arbiting was concerned, happening in the Minor room. I managed to spend most of my time arbiting in the hall with the majority of the Open boards, although I did make the occasional trip in to check on the hall with the Minor tournament from time to time.
In terms of arbiting in the Open hall, the majority of the work consisted of the usual arbiting task of setting things up before each round (clocks, scoresheets, etc), maintaining a quiet playing area for the players (so the occasional ‘shushing’ of people who started talking in the playing hall), collecting & checking results and scoresheets, as well as occasionally moving spectators (and players who had finished their games) outside the playing area (which was roped off, so you’d think that spectators would understand the ‘players only beyond the rope’ implication, but this was obviously not the case!).
In terms of actual chess related arbiting, I only had to make two decisions – one was a simple forfeit loss when a player did not arrive within 30 minutes of the scheduled start time (it was the final day when games started an hour earlier – and yes, this was announced to all players, as well as posted on multiple signs and the website!), while the other was adjudicating on a threefold repetition draw claim. It may be surprising to some, but even some players rated over 2000 don’t know the rules! In the draw claim case, the player in question thought the rule was repetition of moves, rather than repetition of position, so happily allowed the same position to occur three times in an endgame, in spite of having an extra piece and a fairly straightforward winning plan! Of course they were somewhat shocked when their opponent claimed a draw and were even more shocked when I upheld the claim after playing over the game with the players to confirm the repetition!
The room with the Minor tournament, however had a much greater demand of arbiters, at least if my brief trips into the room were any indication!
The field of the Minor was almost entirely juniors, with 103 of the 140 players being under 18, and this seemed to make the arbiters task much more involved! On one such trip, I was twice called to the same board within five minutes! In the first instance, a player had offered a draw after they had pressed their clock while their opponent was considering their move. Although technically not the correct way to offer a draw (a draw offer should always be made while the offers clock is running, and usually after they have made a move – so the time in between playing a move & pressing the clock), there is no set penalty for incorrectly offering a draw, however a warning and potential time penalty can be given, and play can simply continue, with either the draw being accepted, or the game continuing by playing a move. As an arbiter, I simply explained these rules to the players and allowed the game to continue. A few minutes later, I was once again called to the board, this time because a player had adjusted a piece after pressing their clock. Again, this is something that according to the rules should not be done – if a player wishes to adjust any pieces, they should announce their intention first (saying ‘Adjusting’, ‘I adjust’, or the French term ‘j’adoube’) before touching any pieces and then adjust the pieces while their time is running. As with the draw claim, as an arbiter I explained the rules regarding adjusting pieces to the players and allowed the game to continue. There is no set penalty (other than a warning) for a single infraction of the adjusting rule, although as with the draw claim rule, there are potential penalties in place for excessive adjusting of the pieces, as it comes under the rule about not distracting your opponent.
Another aspect of events such as the Australian Open is the potential for players to achieve ‘norms’ towards a FIDE title. For the higher FIDE titles (GM, IM, WGM & WIM) players need to achieve at least three ‘norms’ and reach a minimum rating in order to achieve the title. Once awarded, these titles are kept for life, regardless of any rating change.
This year, with the change from 11 to 9 rounds, there was only one player who was anywhere near a norm – Tony Dowden from New Zealand (although he resides in Brisbane!) was in the running for an International Master norm – although he ultimately did not achieve the norm. To achieve an International Master norm, a player needs to play at least 9 games, have played at least 3 players with an IM or higher title & at least 5 players with a WFM or higher title. On top of this, a player needs to play a number of players from different federations (in this case Australians were exempt as the event counted as a national championship, but with Tony being from New Zealand, he had plenty of non-New Zealand opponents) and finish with a rating performance of at least 2450 over a minimum of 9 games. The difficulty this time was that with the event being a large Swiss event with only 9 rounds, players often took a number of rounds against lower rated opponents before they could play IM-level opposition, meaning it was almost impossible to achieve a norm unless a player went very close to achieving a perfect score! Tony had a great start to the event, scoring 5.5/7, including wins against IM Ari Dale & FM Bill Jordan, and draws with GM Darryl Johansen, IM Igor Bjelobrk & FM Brandon Clarke! In round 8 his undefeated streak came to an end at the hands of top seed GM Anton Smirnov, however the loss to the top seed boosted his average rating of opponents up significantly. In order to achieve an IM norm, he needed to be paired against one of the top 8 seeds in the event & score a draw or win. As an arbiter, this was easy to check using the tournament software, Vega, however it is always useful to make sure that the program has things correct & do the necessary calculations manually.
Unfortunately for Tony, he was paired against FM Gene Nakauchi, which meant that he did not meet the requirements in terms of opposition required for the title, and he then lost the game against Gene, so he would have missed out on score requirements too.
In previous years with 11 rounds, norms have been easier to achieve (although playing at a 2450+ level is by no means easy!), as players do not need to count games that they win, so often a player will achieve a norm based on results from rounds 3-11, where the first two rounds against lower rated opponents can be excluded, which in some cases makes the average rating of opponents high enough for a norm.
We will have to wait and see if the success of the 2019 Australian Open in terms of participation numbers makes the change from 11 to 9 round permanent, and therefore norms much harder to achieve, or whether the 2019 event will be a ‘one off’ and the national Championships/Open will return to an 11 round event in the future.