Wednesday, 21 October 2015

SAPS Championships

I was invited to be the arbiter for the annual SAPS chess championships, held from the 10th to 15th October 2015. This year the event took place at the Port Edward Holiday Resort, about an hour and a half's drive from Durban. The resort has an interesting history, as the buildings were originally funded by collections made from police officers during the 2nd World War. For many years it was open only to members of the Police, but for the last 20 years it has been open to the public. Their large hall was just the right size for 100 or so chess players.

The first event to take place was the individual SAPS championship, held over 9 rounds at the standard 60/60 time control. There were 68 entries in the open section and 33 entries in the ladies section. This was immediately followed by the teams event, with a team from every province, plus one from head office in Pretoria - a 9 match round robin. The playing schedule was challenging, with 3 rounds on day 1, followed by 4 rounds a day on days 2, 3 and 4. The pace then eased off with the final 3 rounds on days 5 and 6.

As part of my duties, I was the judge of the "best game" prize for the individual events. This was my choice:

The event was well organised and there were very few incidents that required my intervention. Something that was new to me was the presence of two blind players (Bonnie and Melvyn) who used braille boards and special clocks. They both dictated their moves onto tape. One of Bonnie's opponents was not properly familiar with chess notation, so I had to organise an assistant for the sighted player! Another interesting incident occurred in one of Melvyn's games, where a Rook was on b8 on his braille board, but on a8 on the standard board. With the Rb8, Melvyn was winning a pawn, so this was critical. Unfortunately Black's scoresheet was completely illegible, and I was happy when Melvyn sportingly agreed to play on with Ra8. The game ended in a draw.

The top two seeds managed to avoid playing until round 9, which saw this exciting finish:

Rico Schutte vs David Maloba after 32... Qe6
Play started with the Rook sacrifice 33.Rxc6! f4 34.Rxa6? f3+ 35.Kh2 Qa2! 36.Ra8+ Kh7 37.Qd8 Qxf2+ 38.Kh3 Qg2+ 39.Kg4 Rg6+ 40.Kh5? and ended with the pretty Rook sacrifice 40... Rg5+! 41.hxg5 Qh3 mate. If the first Rook is taken, with 33... dxc6, then 34.d7 Rf8 35.d8=Q Rxd8 36.Qxd8+ Kh7 is about equal. So Black counter attacked. Rico should have played 34.Qd8+ Kh7 35.Rc8 fxe3! 36.h5! when Black's King is about to get mated (but my computer says Black can sacrifice his Rook to get a perpetual check!) At the end, Rico had to try 40.Kf5 Qh3+ 41.Kxe4 which is extremely hairy, but at least there is no forced mate.

Here are the final results of the open section and of the ladies section.

The team championships required every team to have a minimum of 4 ladies amongst their 10 players. Failure to meet this requirement resulted in a number of defaults on the bottom boards. Gauteng was one of the teams with only 9 players, yet they won by a large margin despite this handicap! Their top 3 men all won board prizes. There was a certain amount of discussion on how any ties would be decided, as this had not been spelt out by the LOC. My feeling was that every board should count, so we went with game points, followed by match points, as recommended by FIDE. Head Office, Eastern Cape and Western Cape had a thrilling contest for 2nd place. The last game to finish decided 2nd place in the team championships. Fittingly, this was the battle between the SAPS Chess chairman, Thabo Nonyana, and blind player, Melvyn Lucas, from Cape Town.

Thabo Nonyana vs Melvyn Lucas, after 38.Rxb7
By this time we knew that White had to win this game, so that his team would score 7-3 and overtake Eastern Province on tie-break. Hence after 38... Qxc5+ 39.Kh1 Nf2+ 40.Kh2 Ng4+ the King must come forward with 41.Kh3. Melvyn had less than 5 minutes here, and he went astray with 41... Qe3+? 42.g3 Qf2? threatening mate, but White got his punishment in first, by 43.Rxf7+ Kxf7 44.Rb7+ Ke8 45.Qe7 mate. The key idea for Black is to put his Queen on the h1/a8 diagonal, thus 41... Qd5! 42.Rxf7+ Kxf7 43.Qh4 Nf6! and Black has the better chances.

Lastly, here are the results of the team event, together with all of the board results.