The Australian Schools Teams Championship is coming up this weekend on the Gold Coast & promises to be an exciting weekend of chess. Although I won't be there - I'm the Arbiter for the Andrew Saint & Hannibal Swartz Memorial Weekender at the Melbourne Chess Club - I'll definitely keep an eye on things over the course of the weekend.
The history of the event shows that Victoria have been very strong in recent years, taking home two titles each year since 2009, with 2005 being the last year that a Victorian school did not win an Australian title.
The teams for the event see a few familiar names, along with a few 'newcomers', but most of the teams are very strong for school teams by almost any standard, with many of the players, particularly in the Open division, having regular experience at chess clubs or weekenders around Australia.
Below is my preview of the event & how I think the different divisions will finish up.
The Secondary Open should be a massacre in favour of Melbourne High. With IM Bobby Cheng on board 1, IM Ari Dale on board 2 & FM Luke Li on board 3, I think they may well be the strongest school team ever seen in Australian Chess. Allen Yu & reserve Nicholas Chan are by no means weak either & I think the biggest challenge for the team will be to see if they can win with a perfect score! Ari & Luke outrate their competition by over 400 points & Luke would in fact be board 1 for any of the other teams based on his rating! Queenslanders Yi Liu & Ryan Louie (Queensland as the host state is able to field two teams in some divisions to avoid a bye) will most likely be Bobby's toughest competition, but I'd still be backing the Australian Open Champ in any case. The biggest challenge to a clean sweep may well be the ACT team, which has Stuart Mason on board 4, in a team that lacks top-level strength, but makes up for it in depth.
The Secondary Girls event looks to once again be Queensland's for the taking, with Leteisha Simmonds leading Somerville House for another year. The team also has good depth, which is an advantage in the Girls divisions, with Abbotsleigh from NSW & Mac Robertson from Victoria probably providing their closest competition based on team depth.
The Primary Open should in theory be a two-horse race, with the question being whether the Chan brothers from Mount View in Victoria can do better than the Willathgamuwa brothers from the Kings School in New South Wales. On paper the Willathgamuwa brothers are stronger, but the Victorian side has more depth, which should make for an interesting competition. The two Queensland teams both seem to be fairly even across the four board, which is a good indicator of depth, so I would expect them to also figure in the final placings.
The Primary Girls event can be a bit of a tough one to pick, as teams often have players with little or no chess experience outside of the school environment. Having said that, the St Andrews team from Victoria looks very strong, with the top two board being regulars at chess clubs & the other two players recently starting to play at chess clubs. Somerset College & Somerville House from Queensland always seem to produce strong girls teams for these events, so I would consider them contenders for the title, regardless of the ratings of the players, while Curtin Primary from the ACT is the only team with a rated board 4 player, so their depth may serve them well for the competition.
The official website for the tournament is http://www.gardinerchess.com.au/australian-schools-teams-championship & I would expect it to be up to the usual standard of anything run by Graeme Gardiner. Best of luck to all competitors & hopefully Victoria can continue their recent success & bring a few Australian titles back with them!