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British Championship – Torquay – Day 5

Friday, 31 July 2009

Day 5

Visitors: As entries continue to move up towards the 1,000 mark, the number of players in the hall is augmented by interested spectators who are just here to watch the big boys in action. Today, for example we have “C.J.”, one of the Egghead team from the popular quiz show on BBC2. When he first reached adulthood he decided he wanted to make a name for himself, and he started by doing just that – literally. He made up the name Connagh-Joseph de Mooi, the last bit being Dutch for “the pretty one”.
He never does things by half, and for a decade (1993 – 2003) he was very much into chess, playing as many as 350 graded games each year in the late ’90s. In 2002 he was British Mensa Chess Champion, and has played in the 4NCL.
From that he starting getting onto TV quiz shows – everything from Countdown to 15-1 – but most famously Weakest Link, when, after was voted off, he went into a calculated rant about hoping his opponents, and their families all died a horrible and lingering death. This clip got onto YouTube in their “World’s Worst Losers” slot, and it got him noticed by TV executives, and when Eggheads was being developed he was invited onto the team of experts, where he has been ever since. Filming takes up 3 months a year. He spends 3 hours every day swotting up while cycling on his exercise bike, honing body and mind at the same time. It takes that kind of dedication.
But he has never lost his love for chess and likes to keep tabs on what’s happening.

                                                                                                                         Eggead CJ in the office.

Balloon Match: This stunt, as reported earlier, had to be ditched at the last moment, and we had hoped to try again today at 1 p.m. It hasn’t ascended at all this week until last night at about 18.30,when it went up once and got blown about a bit. After dark, however, in the calm of the evening air, it did rise again spectacularly floodlit. At the moment, the balloon folk say it’s touch and go for 13.00, but as Jack Rudd’s ill, and Andrew Greet is on a train from St. Austell it really doesn’t look likely. Will this project ever get off the ground?

12.30; Jack Rudd’s just reported sick and from here I can see a man standing on top of the balloon, making running repairs, so it’s off for today.

                                                                                          Yesterday’s solitary daylight ascent, from our office window.
Review of Rd. 4: As anticipated, Dowell v Jones on top board was a somewhat cautious affair, neither player wishing to risk too much. All of which allowed Lawrence Trent to join them on 3.5/4 with a win over the higher-rated Simon Williams.

When he first walked in the hall on Monday he said he felt better prepared than he was last year at Liverpool, where he seemed to lose focus in the latter stages and got a bit rattled at one stage. His position today on Bd. 1 facing Howell seems to bear that out. He could feature well up in the prize list next week. The two English champions did badly again; Arkell losing for a 2nd time and Conquest struggling late into the evening to save his half point. Andrew Martin’s Game of the round was by Stephen Gordon for his superbly conducted attack with the Black pieces against David Eggleston.

Below: Stephen Gordon receives his Game of the Day prize from Andrew Martin, before starting his Rd. 5 game.

                                                                                                               Above: Bd. 1 game Howell v Trent.

Special T-Shirts: Earlier this morning Andy Holter started setting up a stall in the foyer selling a range of T-Shirts , sweatshirts, jackets etc. that can be customised with a further range of chess-based designs. He works for a firm called Fine Designs, a US company with a base in Sussex, covering the whole of the UK, selling their imprinted sportswear at many events.

Finding suitable models to show the goods off to their best effect was no problem; Sheila Dines and Lateefah Messam-Sparks (British Girl Champions at U-15 and U-16 respectively) are old hands at this kind of thing, and it didn’t take much to get the following super shots outside the playing hall.

Above: General view of the entrance to the foyer of the Riviera Centre.

Below: Sheila and Lateefah model the sportswear.

Above: When excited, they can stay airborne like this for hours!

British Championship – Torquay – Day 4

Recuperation: After being winched off the deck of a ship in mid-channel, 3 weeks in hospitals in 2 countries, 6 ambulance rides, and various tests and procedures, Stewart Reuben wishes it to be known that he is now convalescing at home and recuperating well, following events here in Torquay via the website and blog. He could afford to chortle at the description of yesterday’s false fire alarm, while knowing that had he been here in charge, as planned, he would have been as mad as a rat.
Review of Rd. 3: Only 2 players maintained their 100% record – David Howell and Gawain Jones. Naturally these top two seeds meet in today’s Round 4. What are the odds on a draw, conserving energy for dealing with lesser mortals in future rounds. However, there will be no easy games for anyone hoping to be in the prize list a week on Saturday, what with 27 titled players all keen to snatch the crown that Stuart Conquest currently holds, and he’s in no hurry to give it up any time soon. Andrew Martin selected Thomas Rendle’s game as the best of the day. Check it out in the games section.
                                                                Rendle receives his Best Game cheque from Andrew Martin before the start of Rd. 4

He then sat down to face his next opponent, chess writer and former Bristolian, David Le Moir. Gary Lane looks on

Civic Reception: On Tuesday evening Torbay Council put on a civic reception in the Rosetor Room, providing an opportunity for the Chairman of the Council, Cllr Hodge, to meet some of the officials, players and supporters in a more informal setting than was possible at the official opening on Monday. It’s also a chance to impress on the Council how much the ECF appreciate the superb facilities the Riviera Centre affords, in the hope we get invited back soon. Folk gathered in small groups around the room, sipping the free wine and chatting.

I found myself with Trefor Thynne, the President of the Torbay Chess League, Andrew Martin, King of the Commentary Room, and Chris Archer-Lock, formerly of Plymouth College.
Trefor is the teacher of Russian and chess master at Torquay Boys’ Grammar School just up the road, and has a Russian wife. At one point, the Russian Alexander Cherniaev, who’s playing in two sections here, came up and pressed a book into Andrew’s hands, saying it was a gift, and then went off to another group. It was a book he had written on the games of the great American player Pillsbury, whom he admired. Although neither Trefor nor I had ever met Alexander before, Trefor was interested that he might get a chance later to practice his conversational Russian, while I was more interested in the book, as I’ve got most books on Pillsbury, but not seen this one before. (“Harry Nelson Pillsbury – A genius ahead of his time“).

When he came back into the room, I approached the Russian, asking him if he had another copy of his book. He had, but I’d have to pay for it. I agreed. Then he asked if I’d like it signed. Again, I agreed, thinking he would just scribble his name on the fly leaf, as most folk would do. But no – he insisted on writing deliberately and slowly “To my dear friend Bob”, etc. and finishing with the date – not just “2009″ but the exact date; day, month and year.

Although now nearing retirement, Trefor’s chess career took off early when he qualified for the British at Oxford in 1967 at the age of 17, common enough these days, but fairly unusual then. The schoolboy was rewarded for his success by being drawn against first Golombek, then Hartston (who’d also lost in Rd. 1) and Basman, all in the first 4 rounds. Something of a baptism of fire.

Trefor Thynne playing in the 4th round of the U-175 Championship.

Local Reporting: Mike Baker, a reporter from the local Torbay paper, the Herald Express, has spent two days here, getting an angle for his weekly full page feature called “Secret Society“, in which he tries to cast light on various facets of life in the area; clubs, societies and other groupings that operate in the Bay. His article appears every Wednesday, and this week it was about the activities of the Torquay Sub-Aqua Club. Next week it will cover this event, so watch out for it. Mike tells me he has put a link in from the paper’s website to ours.

The column started about a year ago when the Secretary of the Torbay Scottish Society sent the Editor a letter complaining that there was not nearly enough coverage of Scottish affairs, and the germ of an idea was sown. Mike used to work on the Guardian where he was a colleague of Leonard Barden.


British Championship – Torquay – Day 3

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Day 3

Entries shooting up:
The number of entries recorded on the home page of the event website is given as 837, which was a good enough response compared to some recent years, but that was only the position early on Sunday. During that day there was a near-constant stream of people arriving and wanting to enter something or other. One Irish lady, who shall be nameless, entered 5 events on the spot, saying she just wanted to be playing all the time. By the end of the day the total number of entries had shot up to well over 900. And of course, the same thing will probably happen again at the weekend, so don’t be surprised if entries touch 1,000 by the end.

Review of Round 2:
Of the 76 players, the number on a maximum 2 points is already down to just 7. The top seeds, Jones (Gawain), Williams, Gordon and Howell marched on, with David Eggleston, Jones (William) and Salimbeni all keeping pace. Conquest and Arkell got their 1st points. There are only two Dominics in the group, and of course they were paired. Local resident, Dominic Mackle is Devon’s qualifier by virtue of being host county. He is the current Devon Champion, while Dominic Tunks is Hampshire’s Match Captain. He qualified by obtaining a rating over 2350 from 7 games, playing for his Wessex team in the 4NCL, the first time this system has been used. Mackle got the win.
Andrew Martin’s game of the day was unusually a draw, that between Torbay-born Gary Lane and Portsmouth’s Peter Wells. They shared the prize money, the first time that’s happened. Check the game out on the website to see if you agree with Andrew.

Round 3 Opening Chaos:
Heavy rain was forecast for the afternoon, and sure enough it arrived in time to drench those coming in for the start of afternoon play. It built to a tropical intensity until at 2 p.m. some little monkey on the gallery (no one knows who – yet) pressed the fire alarm button to see what would happen. Well, two things happened – speakers all around the building ordered everyone outside immediately and the windows in the roof opened automatically to let out the smoke. There was no smoke to go out, of course, but an awful lot of rain to come in. Within minutes the boards, tables and floor beneath each window were soaked and the start was delayed by 15 minutes while Centre staff worked wonders, mopping up and changing wet chairs and cloths. Play eventually got under way at 14.30. Would the disturbance affect the focus of the GMs who like to go into an almost trance-like state of concentration before each round? We’ll see.

  Lara Barnes (left) helps to change wet cloths for dry while Sarah Hegarty looks on.

Irish Crystal: Few players here have been as regular in their attendance at the British as Graeme McCormack, who has only missed once since 1973, this being his 35th. He regularly enters the U-175 and U-150 championships.

He met his wife Gill while working in the same department as a civil servant in his native Belfast, where he plays for the Fisherwick Chess Club in Division 1 of the Ulster League. They married days before leaving to play at the Norwich event in 1994, and these days their anniversary usually falls during the British – this year their Crystal Anniversary was on Monday. Graeme lost his game that day, but they compensated by going out in the evening for a celebratory meal.

                                                                                                                      Gill and Graeme McCormack
 Trivia: Yesterday I asked whose was the last father and son combination to play in the British Championship before this year’s John and Paul Littlewood. It was not so long ago (Gt. Yarmouth 2007) when the arbiters’ nightmare partnership of Michael White and son Michael White both played. When young Michael became active on the chess circuit, Pere White starting using his second name of Ernest for a while, but appears to have reverted to Michael again recently.

2nd Question: This year we have teenage brothers William and Victor Jones of Lewisham, both playing in the Championship. They are not twins, nor, as far as is known, are any relation to 2nd favourite Gawain Jones, nor me. Their father Lawrence is playing in one of the morning sections. (so what happened to all the Smiths, anyway?).

Now, who were the last siblings to appear together in “The British”? (Answer tomorrow).


British Championship – Torquay – Day 2

Tuesday, 28 July 2009
1.30: Review of Round 1:

The draw for the first round of a big tournament like this is usually done by listing every player in grade order, from highest to lowest, cutting the list in half and moving the lower half up to a point where each player has an opponent. This way, the top GMs will find they are paired against someone from the top of the lower half, and in theory they should have a fairly gentle ride. Chess being what it is, however, it’s rarely that simple.

Take last year’s top two players, for instance; after 11 rounds Stuart Conquest and Keith Arkell were tied 1st=, and only a play-off could split them. This year, Stuart, as defending champion was on Bd. 1 with the black pieces facing 21 year-old David Eggleston. After a few words of welcome Cllr. Hodge, the Chairman of Torbay Council, took the traditional photo-opportunity of making the first move on top board, in this case for Eggleston. This was duly done, but the Chairman must have a magic touch for Eggleston went on to win and Conquest fell at the first fence. Why was that? Let us scroll back and examine the photographic evidence.

In Picture 1, the Councillor can clearly be seen saying to Eggleston, “He’s the champ – would you like some help?” Stuart cannot believe his ears.

Below: Eggleston readily agrees to the offer and the Councillor looks to Conquest asking if that’s all right with him. Stuart is now incredulous, and bearded Congress Manager Dave Welch can’t quite believe what he’s seeing either.

Above: But Mr. Hodge presses on while Conquest looks resigned to his fate.

Or perhaps there’s another interpretation to these pictures – who knows?

Not only that, but Keith Arkell lost as well, in a position where he couldn’t avoid mate. This kind of thing wasn’t in the scripts of either GM, but it’s early days yet and much can still happen – and it probably will. At Millfield, for example, the then defending champion, Julian Hodgson had a mere half point after two rounds, yet still went on to retain the title.

On the other hand, Lara Barnes, Co-Controller of the Championship, is delighted at the results because she coached both Eggleston and Hawkins when they were wee lads in the North East, so it’s an ill wind ….. etc

Andrew Martin’s Best Game prize: At 13.45 Andrew Martin came in to tell me to be in the main hall at 14.10 when he was due to announce his Best Game award. Last year, at Liverpool, the John Moores University had made a special donation of £1,100 for this very purpose – and Andrew handed out a cheque for £100 each day to the worthy winner. This year no money had been set aside, merely the honourable mention from the stage awaited the winner. I said this was unfortunate as the cash certainly gave an edge to the proceedings last year, and even if £20 could be dredged up from somewhere it would be something. He immediately sped off to see Dave Welch and came back within minutes having negotiated a £30 daily prize – he even had the first cheque in his hand.
And so it was that, minutes before the start of the round, a whole raft of prize money was organised.
The first winner was Mark Hebden, for his fine win against Chris Briscoe.

Above: GM Mark Hebden in receipt of his Best Game prize for Rd. 1…

Below: … followed by the serious business of playing the top seed, David Howell.


Finally for today a bit of event trivia: John Littlewood and his son Paul are both playing in the British Championship this year. Who were the last father & son combination to play in the same year? Answer tomorrow.

British Championship – Torquay – Day 1

Monday, 27 July 2009

Up, up and away………

12.00 Balloon Madness: We had this idea that it would be a good wheeze to start the Championships off with a possible World 1st – a chess match in a helium balloon at altitude. Easy to say – more difficult to actually organise. The other easy bit was the presence of a large balloon moored close to the Riviera Centre.

I envisioned it as a Devon vs Cornwall match with Gary Lane lined up to represent Devon and Andrew Greet for Cornwall, both former champions of their native counties. Jack Rudd of Bideford was on standby as 1st reserve and recorder of moves, all three International Masters.

The hard bit was always going to be the vaguaries of the English climate, especially in this poor summer, as, if the wind is any stronger than a gentle breeze, the balloon doesn’t take off. In fact, as it’s close to the sea front, it stays tethered for days at a time. So, as it rained all day yesterday, I had mentally discounted any possibility of the balloon taking off today.

However, at the start of play in the morning (09.30) the sun was shining and the wind was calm. Cause for cautious optimism, even more so when at 11.00 I looked out and saw the blessed thing high in the sky. A quick check with the balloon Manager confirmed that we were on course for the projected 12 noon lift-off. Jack Rudd was in place as replacement for Gary Lane and Andrew Greet was waiting in situ. Local newpaper photographer also at the ready. At noon, the balloon descended and we were invited to carry the table and equipment out to the balloon’s gondola. We picked up the stuff and proceeded to the balloon ready to load it in.

Andrew and Jack prepare for aerial combat – minutes later it was abandoned.

Then the heavens opened, rain pelted down and a minor squall blew up. At that precise moment, the whole thing was called off, as the wretched thing had to be securely moored by numerous guy ropes. No chance of it taking off again today. So, with internal butterflies coming to rest, we all had to troop back to the Centre, loaded with paraphernalia. Don’t you just love it when that sort of thing happens. We’ll try again later in the week. 

18.00 Opening Ceremony: After the morning’s chaos, at least the opening ceremony went off without any hitches at the appointed time of 2 p.m. All officials were in place, on time, and spoke well for the required number of minutes; it proved a pleasant interlude before the onset of hostilities. David Howell received the ECF Player of the Year from the Chairman of the Torbay Council, followed shortly after by the receipt of a cheque for £2,000, being the annual bursary from the John Robinson Memorial Trust, made to the junior showing outstanding promise. David won the first of these awards at Gt.Yarmouth in 2007, while Gawain Jones was the recipient last year. Then Cllr. Hodge made the first move for David Eggleston against defending champion Stuart Conquest, before leaving him to sort out the rest of the game for himself. And then the general bloodletting began.

David Howell’s receives his Player of the Year award.

The first win to be recorded was by Lateefah Messam-Sparks in the Major Open, whose opponent’s mobile phone went off after 11 moves, in spite of all the warnings, verbal and posters all around the building. In fact, in line with modern practice, all mobiles must be switched off not only in the playing hall but in the entire complex. It’s a hard lesson to learn.

Minutes later, White’s mobile phone went off.

British Championship Torquay ‘09 1st Sunday

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Sunday simul

12 noon: After months of build-up, involving mystery and trauma, the British 09 is finally here (well, almost). We’re on our third Congress Manager in as many months, for example. Firstly, the Ozzie, Manuel Weeks, was down to do it, but seemed to go Walkabout – at least, no one here knows what’s happened to him. In his absence, Stewart Reuben took over, only to be struck down himself with a serious illness which involved him being winched off a ship’s deck mid-Channel to be ferried between French and British hospitals, all this days before the event. So it fell to Dave Welch to resume the reins that he had had to relinquish through illness last year.
Dave is an experienced, safe pair of hands, but 3 weeks’ notice of an event this size, isn’t much and there may be the odd glitch in arrangements – not surprising in the circumstances.

3.30.p.m. Sunday Simul: As if these metaphorical clouds were not enough, the weather has been closing in all morning and it is now pouring down. Fortunately, it was decided to move the traditional Sunday Simultaneous match from the sea-front to an indoor room here at the Riviera Centre. IM Jack Rudd was there to start the proceedings on the dot of 3 o’clock, surprising everyone by laying out his own scoresheets in front of each board so that he can record his own moves as he goes round – a phenomenon not often seen. (see below). At least we shall probably be getting the scores of some of the better games in due course.

19.00 1st Sunday RapidPlay: The other traditional scene-setter is the Rapidplay Tournament, beloved of early arrivals who need to get their brains in tune ready for the rigours of the fortnight ahead, or those who fancy their chances of grabbing a bit of extra pocket-money. The entry of 73 was higher than anyone could remember, which may have been a result of the high overall entry (900 and rising) and the rain throughout the day. GMs Gawain Jones and Danny Gormally were top seeds and met in the penultimate round, but they were overtaken by Charlie Storey, whose sharp style put him in top spot with a maximum score. Class told in the end, however, as the GMs both won in the last round while Storey lost.
Prizes: 1st= Gawain Jones & Danny Gormally 5.5 pts. £105
Grading prize: U-130: Ravi Haria 3.5 pts. £40
Below top: Rd. 5 – Jones v Gormally.
Below bottom: Chairman of the local Torbay Chess League, Trefor Thynne, playing a Bangladeshi International on Bd. 3 in Rd. 5.