by Ian Rogers
When 12-year-old Anton Smirnov and 21-year-old Max Illingworth battled for the Australian Championship title in January, few would have guessed that these two would prove to be the dominant Australian players for 2014.
Illingworth won their battle for the national title and went on to perform well at the Tromso Olympiad in August. Soon afterwards he secured his second Grandmaster result in Hungary. A perfect 9/9 at the Hjorth Memorial in Melbourne capped off Illingworth’s year.
Yet it was Smirnov, who turned 13 at the end of January, creating the greatest buzz.
Immediately after narrowly failing to become the youngest Australian Champion, Smirnov won the national Under 18 title and his year kept getting better and better.
In July the Killara High student secured his third and final International Master norm in Denmark, and he followed with a sensational – undefeated – Olympic debut in Norway, making him the cover boy for 50 Moves magazine.
Further titles ensued, in Auckland and Gosford, and as the year finished Smirnov was hunting for his first Grandmaster result at the Australian Masters in Melbourne. (Smirnov faltered only in the final round to miss out on both the GM norm and the Masters title.)
2014 saw other highlights for Australian chess, including Moulthun Ly’s surprise win of the star-studded Sydney International Open; a lowlight being that this event was to be the last SIO.
Australian chess enthusiasts also witnessed a fine Olympic team result, David Smerdon’s win of the Batavia GM tournament in Amsterdam and enjoyed the luxury of live transmission of almost all top Australian tournaments.
Garry Kasparov’s visit to the O2C Doeberl Cup proved just how popular the former World Champion is, with a record-breaking field coming to Canberra and a queue of more than an hour for autographs.
Kasparov’s visit succeeded in securing Oceania votes for his 2014 presidential bid for the world body FIDE, a feat which proved cold comfort when Fiji and PNG, having openly declared for Kasparov, were stripped of their chosen delegates by FIDE. (With other Kasparov-supporting countries suffering the same fate or switching sides in the last week, Kasparov lost the election comprehensively to incumbent Kirsan Iljumzhinov.)
Internationally, although Magnus Carlsen remains World Champion, 2014 could be seen as the year of Viswanathan Anand.
The Indian veteran, who turned 45 earlier this month, had won only one classical tournament in the five years leading into 2014.
However this year Anand won three major events, in Bilbao, London and, most remarkably, the World Championship Candidates Tournament in Khanty Mansiysk.
The Khanty Mansiysk triumph against the odds in March earned Anand a title challenge against Carlsen which ended in defeat, yet earned Anand respect, most notably from Carlsen who admitted that early in the World Championship match he wrongly believed his title defence would be a walk in the park.
Carlsen’s 2014 was certainly not a failure, with titles in Zurich and Shamkir, but his year will be better remembered for a second place in September’s Sinquefield Cup, behind Fabiano Caruana; the Italian starting the event with an amazing 7/7 and finishing three points clear of Carlsen.
Caruana briefly looked to be chasing Carlsen’s record world ranking though by the end of the year his position as world number two was being challenged by the laconic Alexander Grischuk.
The 2014 Chess Olympiad in Tromso was the cause for tears of joy by the Chinese team, who won their first team gold medal in the Open Olympiad.
Russia took gold at the Women’s Olympiad for the third consecutive time, though acclamation was far more muted given that Russia had used their power within the world body FIDE to twice bend the rules to win.
2014 also saw the rise of Chess24, which provided live coverage of every elite international tournament, often with commentators sitting in Hamburg or Gibraltar rather than on site.
In fact 2104 could be described as the year of the chess fan, given the extraordinary smorgasbord of options for watching live chess around the world with commentary: Chess24, Chess.com, ICC, Playchess and FIDE. Add to that lectures placed online by individuals and chess clubs around the world – from Melbourne to Saint Louis – and it should become less and less surprising if strong chessplayers spring up from anywhere and everywhere in the world.
The following game comes from the recent World Youth Olympiad in Hungary, where Australia performed respectably despite the absence of Smirnov. Melbourne’s Jack Puccini picked up a brilliancy prize for the following win over his higher rated Serbian opponent.
Gyor U/16 Olympiad 2014
Opening: Sicilian Defence
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bc4 e6 7.Bg5 Be7 8.Bb3 b5 9.Qf3!?
A hyper-aggressive system popularised by Vassily Ivanchuk.
9…Qc7 10.e5 Bb7 11.exd6 Bxd6 12.Qe3 Be5?!
The day after this game, Anton Smirnov, ventured the main line 12…Bc5 13.0-0-0 Nc6 which allowed Ivanchuk’s 14.Qxe6+!! fxe6 15.Nxe6. Yet even after allowing this queen sacrifice, a well-prepared Smirnov hung on to draw against Kazakh GM Rustam Khusnutdinov at the Australian Masters.
13.0-0-0 Nbd7 14.Nxe6!! fxe6 15.f4! Bxc3 16.Qxe6+ Kd8 17.bxc3 Re8 18.Qf7! h6
Only 18…Kc8 hangs on, though White keeps an edge after 19.Be6.
19.Bxf6+ gxf6 20.Be6 Bc6 21.Bxd7 Bxd7 22.Rxd7+! Qxd7 23.Rd1 Ra7 24.Rxd7+ Rxd7 25.Qxf6+ Kc7 26.Qxa6 1-0