The Australian Schools Teams Championships were held at various venues across Australia on 5th and 6th December.
Each year, the winning teams from each of the Australian states' school chess leagues are invited to compete in the Australian Schools Team Championships. Traditionally, this is held as an over-the-board event in early December, with the host state determined by rotation. This year, the event was held as an online event for the first time. While teams were spared the considerable expenses involved in interstate travel to the Championships in its traditional format, there were some challenges involved with arbitering and ensuring the integrity of this year's online tournament, all the while managing the technical specifics. And it meant an early start for both organisers and players in WA on both days. Fortunately, thanks to the help of many volunteers, it all ran quite smoothly! WA was represented by the winners of the 2020 CAWA Schools Chess League: Perth Modern School in the Secondary Open and Secondary Girls' divisions, and Nedlands Primary School in the Primary Open and Primary Girls' divisions.
The playing conditions and anti-cheating measures were applied to a degree that is consistent with other high-level tournaments, although extra safeguards were needed for an online tournament. The chess server that we used was set up to prevent cheating, by tracking mouse movement and recognising whenever a player left the browser tab from which their tournament game was being played. Each arbiter would be tasked with watching 8 players (and their screens) at a time, and would ensure not only that the players were not able to access information from outside sources, including communicating with other players or watching other games. Zoom was used as a communication avenue between the state organisers and the national team of Peter Tsai (Chief Arbiter), Hughston Parle (Chief Organiser) and David Esmonde (Website and Technical Organiser), which enabled any venue-specific issues to be identified quickly and allowed the tournament to start and finish on schedule.
Each of our 17 players was required to participate using their own laptops. Perth Modern School kindly offered the use of their school network to participants. A trial run was held with all WA participants at Perth Modern School on Thursday 3rd December, at which we found that players were unable to connect to the chess server using the school network. However, we learnt that mobile hotspots were a useable alternative. The trial helped us prepare for the tournament and parents were generous in setting up their own mobile hotspots to enable their children's teams to participate.
The WA players were able to adapt quickly to the unusual conditions, and proved that they are capable of competing at the same level as some of Australia's best young players. The Secondary Open team from Perth Modern School (Jamie Laubbacher, Ben Hurst, Chas Underwood, Christopher Manasseh, Alex Pimenov) scored 13/24, which was good enough to secure outright 3rd place from 7 teams, behind only the chess powerhouses Scotch College (Victoria) and Anglican Church Grammar School (Queensland). Our Primary Open team from Nedlands Primary School (Issa Majidi, Emily Zhang, Nizam Majidi, Nithuli Liyanage), all Year 3 and Year 4 students, also achieved a commendable 3rd place in the Primary Open competition. The result by Nedlands Primary School is particularly encouraging, considering that the same 4 players will each be eligible to compete in the Primary divisions for 2 or 3 more years to come.
WA's Secondary Girls team (Perth Modern: Anoushka Gupta, Heidi Gstaettner, Victoria Chai, Candace Cheng, Elle Chentang) finished in 5th place (6 teams) with 7.5/20, while our Primary Girls team (Nedlands Primary: Olivia Hou, Casey Florence, Dior Chai, Yonjee Lee) also finished in 5th place (6 teams) with 2/20. All of the girls proved that they have the ability to find the best moves against strong opposition, but the losses that were suffered were all due to avoidable errors. With practice and continued tournament play, our players will develop the experience and resilience needed to win consistently. It should be noted that the two strongest girls from Nedlands Primary School were both competing for their school in the Open team, so there are many encouraging signs for girls' chess in WA schools!
The WA Arbiter Team comprised myself, John Pimenov, Miranda Hong, William Zhang, and CAWA President Alan Wolstencroft. I would like to thank my colleagues: the WA participation could not have gone ahead without John, Miranda and William in particular. All three were instrumental in providing the technical help needed so that all of the WA players could connect to the chess server on their own devices, and they were professional in coordinating the Nedlands Primary School teams. Despite the confusing format, each player was made to feel comfortable, and knew at all times where they needed to be, and where they stood in the tournament. Alan was able to step in as an arbiter on the Sunday afternoon when I had to leave for another commitment, with John taking my place as the WA Chief Arbiter for that afternoon. We were all fortunate to have invaluable help from the other parents who were present. Finally I wish to thank Leanne Ensly, Chess Coordinator at Perth Modern School, for securing the excellent venue, assisting us in the planning and preparation for the event, organising the two Perth Modern teams, and being there on both days to open the library and help us with setting up.
Report provided by Andrew Hardegen - CAWA Senior Vice-President