by Ian Rogers
While Ni Hua was rolling through the Australian Open, eventually winning with a record score and winning margin, an equally amazing result was taking place across the Tasman.
At the New Zealand Open Championship in Auckland, another Chinese Grandmaster, Zhao Xue, also dominated, but her performance was overshadowed by the million-to-one occurrence of a ten-way tie for the New Zealand Championship title.
Going into the final round half a dozen players had the chance to take the NZ title outright yet none of them could win their crucial final games and a massive pile-up occurred three points behind the overall winner, Zhao.
In a country where titles are shared, not decided by a playoff or other tiebreaker, the result made a lot of people very happy, most especially Queensland’s Alex Jule who had not imagined that she was eligible for the title.
Jule, who narrowly missed Australia’s 2014 Women’s Olympiad team, has dual Australian and New Zealand citizenship. Since there are no residency obligations to be eligible for their national title, Jule became the first female New Zealand Champion in the event’s 135 year history.
Jule, 25, was a product of the extraordinary chess programme at Worongary Primary School and once in high school went back to teach chess at the Gold Coast school which for a number of years in the early 2000s ran the largest chess club in Australia. (The Worongary PS chess club went from up to 450 members to near extinct in a short period after a parental complaint over the content of a chess book led to the programme director departing.)
As a teenager Jule became a Women’s International Master in 2007 – the same year she became famous for playing a round of the Sydney International – and travelling across Sydney to get to the game – in her pyjamas.
When Jule began working as a teacher in isolated Cairns she struggled to raise her world ranking to a level where she could displace the Olympiad team incumbents.
Now back in the big smoke, Jule has become one of Australia’s most active women players, with her NZ title win indicating a giant leap forward for her 2016 Olympic ambitions.
Australia had one other stand-out result in Auckland. 15-year-old Karl Zelesco secured his first International Master result and could have won the tournament outright but for a loss to Zhao in the final round.
Devonport NZ Open Ch. 2015
Black: B.Le Roy
Opening: Queen’s Gambit Declined
1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 d5 3.c4 c6 4.Nc3 a6 5.cxd5 cxd5 6.Bf4 Nc6 7.e3 Bf5
7…Bg4 is more aggressive.
8.Rc1 Rc8 9.h3 e6 10.Bd3 Ne4!?
Encouraged by White’s wimpy ninth move, Le Roy seeks to play actively, though simple development was more sober.
11.0-0 Nd6 12.Bxf5 Nxf5 13.Qb3 b5?!
13…Qd7 was safer, but after 14.Na4 White has a minimal initiative.
14.Nxb5!! axb5 15.Qxb5 Qd7?!
Losing immediately. The critical test of White’s plan was 15…Nfe7 although after 16.Rc5! followed by 17.Rfc1, Black cannot untangle.
16.Ne5! Nd6 17.Nxd7 Nxb5 18.Nb6!
The final point; White wins back the piece with interest.
18…Rd8 19.Rxc6 Na7 20.Rc2 Bd6 21.Bxd6 Rxd6 22.Nc8! Rc6 23.Rfc1 Rxc2 24.Rxc2 1-0
NZ Open Champion GM Xue Zhao, left and WIM Alexandra Jule right.