"If you lower your expectations far enough, then anything can be a success"
I am tempted to attach the above quote to the current state of Championship events in Australia. Over the last two years we have seen a poorly attended Australian Open (yes I was an organiser of this event) and a better attended Australian Championship. Some might even go so far to say that this indicates that the Open was a failure but the Championship was a success.
I would disagree, as I don't believe numbers are everything. Indeed I would argue that the "success" of the 2008 Australian Championship is in fact a troubling sign for future Championship events. An increase in numbers from the Open disguised the fact that the number of titled participants did not. In Canberra (so far away, no where to stay) there were 4 titled Australian players (GM's Rogers and Johansen, IM's Zhao and Rujevic). In Sydney (4,000,000 people) that number stayed the same (GM Johansen, IM's Solomon, Lane and Xie). What is more troubling is that while the previous couple of opens (Mt Buller, Canberra) have been poorly attended, they have at least provided reasonable prize pools. Of course this resulted in both tournaments running at a loss. The 2008 Australian Championship avoided this trap by reducing the prize money (by almost 50%) but this left first prize for the Championship at $1500. To put this into perspective, this is also the first prize in the O2C Doeberl Cup Under 2000 section. So if Kasparov's argument about prizemoney determining championship status is to be believed, then there is some undervaluing of the Australian Championship going on here.
And this gets me to the core of my argument. There seems to be an acceptance that the Australian Championship can be devalued in some ways (prize money, format) as long as the thing is held. Of course this then becomes a slippery slope where the current format becomes the norm, until it become imperative to lower the bar further.
So to remedy the situation, I think we need to have a look at the whole Championship/Open format .... (To be continued in Pt 2)