Chess masters battle it out in Parramatta

The 2014 NSW Chess Open was held from the June 7-9, when 138 players from nine nations packed into Parramatta RSL to play in the tournament's two divisions.

Leading the charge for over $11,000 of total prize money was the top seed of the event, Armenian Grandmaster Hrant Melkumyan.

Australia’s top ranked player Grandmaster Zhao-Zong Yuan, 2014 Australian Champion International Master Max Illingworth, and 2013 Oceania Champion International Master Igor Bjelobrk were expected to be Melkumyan’s major challengers for first place.

There were seven rounds of games in this tournament, each lasting up to five hours in length.

The tournament pairing system used was the Swiss system, meaning players were paired with players with the same points as them in the tournament.  Basically, winners play with winners, while losers play with losers. Theoretically the favourites should breeze through the early games of the tournaments before facing off with each other in the latter rounds to decide the title.

The first major upset of the tournament came in round three, when 22nd seed Peter Bierkens managed to defeat Australian Champion Illingworth in a tough struggle.  More surprises were to follow, as in round 4 Australia’s number 1 Zhao, playing White, went down in a scintillating game to Bjelobrk.  Bjelobrk, playing inspired chess, came within a hair of going 2/2 against Grandmasters as he nearly took down top seeded Melkumyan in round 5.  Their topsy-turvy battle ended in a draw.

Going into the final day there were two players on 4.5/5 (Bjelobrk and Melkumyan), who were followed by a large group of players on 4/5.  Bjelobrk won his game on a mobile phone forfeit (under international chess rules a player automatically loses the game if his/her phone makes a noise during it), and Melkumyan was held to a draw by Zhao. 

Bjelobrk therefore lead by half a point going into the final round, where he faced Illingworth.  The pair had met 4 times in the last two years, with Bjelobrk holding a 2-1 edge, with 1 draw.  This time a quick draw was agreed, with Bjelobrk deciding against pressing in a better position for him.  The game between Melkumyan and Welsh International Master Richard Jones therefore became critical.  After a long struggle, Melkumyan was able to prevail, catching up with Bjelobrk and ensuring a split first prize. 

The joint winners took home $ 1400 each.  Both winners were very gracious in their speeches, praising the both the organisers of the event and the play of each other.  Zhao, Illingworth, and veteran player Armen Ayvazyan, shared 3rd, each winning $ 600. 

The U1600 (second) division, with a first prize worth $1000, was won outright by Dillon Hathiramani with 6/7.  Joe Chua and Raymond Li came equal 2nd with half a point less.

Players from the Parramatta/Holroyd area did quite strongly in the main tournament, with experienced player Jeff Cabilin, formerly of the Parramatta region, finishing with 4/7, Australian Under 14 Champion Rishi Dutta finishing with 3.5/7, and 13-year old Kashish Christian finishing with 3/7. 

International Master Igor Bjelobrk the arbiters for a great job.

"Congratulations to Hrant, he really worked really hard.  Nearly every game he was the last one to finish, Bjelobrk said.

Grandmaster Hrant Melkumyan thanked the event organisers and congratulated Igor on his win.

"He beat Zong-Yuan, and I was very lucky to draw against him.  So again, thank you very much, and I hope I’ll have the fortune to play in this again," he said.

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