by Ian Rogers
The Begonia Open, which coincides with the Begonia Festival held on the second weekend in March each year in Ballarat, began in 1967 as a small club tournament but was thrown open to the professionals two years later and has attracted some of Australia’s best players ever since.
Above: Begonia flowers.
As part of the celebrations for the 50th anniversary of Australia’s second-oldest Grand Prix tournament – predated only by the Doeberl Cup – the organisers invited an overseas star, Nigel Short, who had visited Ballarat two years earlier as part of Garry Kasparov’s FIDE Presidential campaign but was now competing in Australia for the first time. To please Short, the tournament was also not FIDE rated for the first time in many years.
Thanks in part to Short’s presence and also to hard work by the organisers, the 2016 edition of the Begonia Open attracted a record 147 players, including multiple past winners, current Australian Olympians and one player, Kevin Perrin, who had attended all 50 editions of the tournament.
Above: GM Nigel Short v GM Max Illingworth
In addition, an attractive book covering the history of the tournament was produced by Patrick Cook – Ballarat Begonia Chess Tournament 1967 – 2016. While far less ambitious than Bill Egan’s remarkable tome on the Doeberl Cup, Cook’s book contains contains contributions about the tournament from many Australian greats – most notably a typically humorous piece from Guy West – as well as including multiple never-before-published games.
Over the years, Darryl Johansen has been the dominant figure at the Begonia Open, winning twice as many titles as any other player. As such, it is fitting that the book includes many fine Johansen games, annotated by the Melbourne GM.
The 2016 event was won by the favourite, although Short’s path to victory was not entirely smooth. After drawing with veteran Leonid Sandler in the second round, Short’s ambition of winning a chess tournament on every continent appeared to be hanging by a thread.
However the top seeded Englishman and former World Championship challenger then strung together a run of four consecutive wins – all of them in swashbuckling attacking style – to take the lead after which a final round draw was enough to give Short victory on tiebreak over Australian Champion Bobby Cheng and Azeri Kanan Izzat.
Throughout the event Short was undoubtedly the star, with the following amazing game – which he personally explained to a large crowd in the commentary room after the last round concluded – taking the tournament’s brilliancy prize.
Above: Short v Izzat
Ballarat Begonia Open 2016
2016 Ballarat Begonia Open
Leading final scores:
=1.Short(Eng), Izzat(Aze), Cheng(V) 6/7;
=4.Zhao(N), Illingworth(N), McClymont(Q), Ikeda(ACT), Wallis(V), Rujevic(V) 5.5.
The book Ballarat Begonia Chess Tournament 1967 – 2016 is available for $25 via www.begoniaopen.com.