SUPERSTITION would seem to have no place in chess, yet a remarkable number of chess players subscribe to habits which qualify as superstition.
While having a lucky opening in one's repertoire might have an element of rationality, using a lucky pen does not. Yet as World Champion Viswanathan Anand said, ''I think it is inevitable that when you feel under a lot of pressure and are dealing with a lot of tension, invariably you start looking for strange explanations. But in general I try to keep my superstitions to a minimum because the nuisance value begins to build up; if you have to use the same pen and eat at the same table [a Kasparov habit IR] it becomes too much.''
One persistent theory is that one rarely plays well on one's birthday. It is true that receiving a birthday call from your mother during a game will lead to an instant loss on forfeit - as grand master Ruslan Ponomariov found out. However there does seem to be statistical validity in the theory - far more so than the prevalent 'Marriage costs a player 50 ranking points'.
Max Illingworth turned 20 halfway through last week's Melbourne Cup of Chess and was obliged to play two games on his birthday.
Illingworth had just defeated top seed Stephen Solomon to take the outright lead in the tournament and now faced his nearest rival, Canberra's Andrew Brown.
As expected, matters went from bad to worse for birthday boy Illingworth, playing White, until the diagrammed position was reached.
Here Brown could win quickly and easily with 83 … e3 but, tired from a hard struggle, he carelessly pushed the other pawn and after
83 … f4 84.Ra3+!
Brown suddenly realised that White's rook was about to reposition on b3. Black could still have fought for a win with 84 … e3 85.Rb3 Rxb3 86.Kxb3 e2, although after 87.b8(Q) e1(Q) 88.Qh8! it would be all but impossible for Black to convert his advantage with only 30-second increments per move.
Instead Brown tried
84 … Ke2 85.Rb3 Rxb7 86.Rxb7 f3 banking all on his pawns. Illingworth found the right method to neutralise the pawns and after
87.Kc3! e3 88.Rb2+ Kf1 89.Rb1+ Ke2 90.Kd4! f2 91.Ke4 f1Q 92.Rxf1 Kxf1 93.Kxe3
the game was drawn.
After this unexpected birthday present, Illingworth made every post a winner and Australia's newest International Master won the Melbourne Cup of Chess with an impressive 8.5/9 score.
Brown also finished the tournament strongly but the lost half-point in the above game proved expensive and he was forced to settle for third place, half a point behind Stephen Solomon.
One might have hoped that Illingworth, having broken the birthday hoodoo, would cast off superstitions. Illingworth attributed his victory to recent study but then confessed he had kept his winning streak by … eating Vietnamese food every day!
■ The ACT's final Australian Grand Prix tournament of 2012, the Vikings Weekender, will take place at Tuggeranong Rugby Club Wanniassa on November 17 and 18. Phone 0413 019 574 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
■ Victor Braguine, Jamie-Lee Guo and Kishore Sreetharantied for first in the Floriade Dark Knights tournament.
■ Milan Grcic and Stephen Bartlett tied for first place at the 2012 Memorial Cup.