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GM Rogers: Illingworth Smashes Hjorth Memorial Field

GM Rogers: Illingworth Smashes Hjorth Memorial Field


by Ian Rogers


When Greg Hjorth died in 2011 at the age of 47, thoughts immediately turned to the possibility of holding an appropriate memorial tournament for the Australian chess legend.

On the Melbourne Cup long weekend the Hjorth Memorial became a reality.

In addition to a (seriously oversubscribed) tournament, Melbourne Chess Club also hosted lectures by two of Hjorth’s fellow Olympians explaining how Hjorth became a legendary figure despite a chess career which lasted only a few short years before Hjorth was diverted into becoming a world class mathematician.

By that time Hjorth had played two Olympiads, won three Doeberl Cups, defeated world class players including Tony Miles and Robert Byrne, played innumerable brilliancies, and acquired a reputation as a chess connoisseur – a reputation only slightly dented by his love for being verbally abused by a little known punk performer named Nick Cave at ‘concerts’ near Hjorth’s home in St Kilda on weekends.

Whether it was a 14-year-old Hjorth being forced to play caged in by a wall of chairs by an irate Australian Championship arbiter, or his Clark Kent-to-Superman effort when arriving at a game a minute before forfeit time (and winning, of course), Hjorth’s chess career was never boring.

Hjorth retired as a chess professional after a highly successful world tour in 1984; despite his sporting achievements, including the International Master title.

By the time Hjorth appeared at his final Olympiad, in Dubai 1986, he had already been head-hunted by the University of California in Berkeley and over the next two decades in the US he rarely picked up a pawn in anger.

Too young to have known Hjorth, Australian Champion Max Illingworth completed the best result of his career in winning the 2014 Hjorth Memorial.

Illingworth, who turned 21 the day after the tournament, demolished a field containing many of this country’s best young players, winning all nine games and the $1,500 first prize with a round to spare.

Winning a high level tournament with a 100% score is an extremely rare feat – which is why Fabiano Caruana’s 7/7 start to the Sinquefield Cup in September generated such excitement.

In Grandmaster chess, two 100% scores remain famous: Bobby Fischer’s win of the US Championship with a perfect 11/11 in 1963/4 and Alexander Belyavsky’s 13/13 at a Grandmaster tournament in Alicante in 1978.

In Australia, it has been also more than three decades since a similar feat has been seen. The tendency in modern times is to secure tournament victory first and worry about records later, but in Melbourne Illingworth ignored any risk of jeopardising his income and became a maximalist.

Illingworth “was aware of Hjorth’s brilliance at chess” having replayed Hjorth games in the past, and also knew, on the mathematical side, about Hjorth’s Theory of Turbulence.

Illingworth added that he was pleased “to play [exceptional] chess in a tournament honouring him”.

The win has given a huge boost to Illingworth’s world ranking, with the boy from Dee Why now needing only one Grandmaster level performance – in a tournament with multiple Grandmasters; the Hjorth Memorial result does not qualify – to become Australia’s fifth Grandmaster.

Hjorth retired from professional chess at age 21 – disillusionment with the travelling and the income were major factors in his decision – to study and eventually become a leading figure in set theory.

In contrast, Illingworth has abandoned university and seems eminently satisfied with the lifestyle of the chess professional.

The nearest Illingworth came to trouble in Melbourne was his game against New Zealand’s 16-year-old Olympiad Luke Li, below, though even here only a computer could have cast doubt on Illingworth’s inspired queen sacrifice.


Hjorth Memorial 2014

White: L.Li

Black: M.Illingworth

Opening: Queen’s Gambit Declined

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 Bb4

The Ragozin Variation, which the Australian team had prepared for August’s Tromso Chess Olympiad.

5.Bg5 Nbd7 6.e3 c5 7.cxd5 exd5 8.Be2!?

8.Bd3 is the main line.

8…Qa5 9.0-0 Bxc3 10.bxc3 c4 11.Bxf6 Nxf6 12.Qc2 Bg4!?

Looking for complications; 12…0-0 would be simple and equal.

13.Rfb1 Rb8 14.Ne5!? Bxe2 15.Qxe2!

15.Nc6? runs into 15…Bd3!.

15…Qxc3 16.a4! 0-0 17.a5 Rfc8!?

17…Rfd8 intending 18…Nd7, was safer.

18.Qa2 Rc7 19.Qa4!

Now Black’s queen is completely trapped, but Illingworth turns a liability into a plus…

19…Ne4! 20.Rc1 Qb2 21.Rc2 c3! 22.Rd1?!

Right idea, wrong square. 22.Rxb2 cxb2 works well for Black but after 22.Re1! any result is possible.

22…b5! 23.axb6

23.Rxb2 cxb2 24.Qa3 Nc3! shows why the White rook should be on e1.

23…Qxb6 24.f3 Nf6 25.Rdc1 a5!? 26.Rxc3??

Excessive greed. After 26.Nd3!, intending 27.Nc5, Black cannot retain his extra pawn.

26…Rxc3 27.Rxc3 Qb1+ 28.Kf2 Rb2+ 0-1

After 29.Kg3 Qe1+ White is lost.


Hjorth Memorial 2014

Leading final scores:

1.Illingworth(N) 9/9;

2.Morris(V) 7.5;

=3.Izzat(Aze), Canfell(N), Schon(V) 6.5.

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The two above photos of Greg Hjorth come from:

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