The 1st Torbay Congress took place in November 1966 at the Raleigh Hotel, Dartmouth. Numerate readers will immediately spot that this should then be the 51st Congress, but about a decade ago the planned venue, the Riviera Centre in Torquay, pulled out at the last minute and no suitable alternative venue could be found at short notice, so the 40th Congress had to held over for a year. It was a feature of the Riviera management at that time that although they were happy to pencil in the dates of the Congress, they would delay confirming it until quite late on, in the hope that they might get a better offer. Usually they didn’t, but on this one occasion they did. This policy, coupled with the ever-rising charges for room hire, meant that eventually they lost the Congress for ever.
But to go back to the beginning, how did it all start? The Torbay League had been created by J. E. Jones and started activities on October 5th 1957. The Paignton Congress and Exeter & District League had both been started in 1953, and this was deemed sufficient to cater for players’ needs at the time. Jones would, in time, almost certainly have got around to the idea of Torbay having its own congress, but by 1963, with the prospect of his school, King Edward’s G. S., Totnes, becoming a comprehensive school, he decided to climb further up the promotional ladder, taking a Master’s degree at Birmingham University before joining the staff at Didsbury Training College in Manchester which was eventually absorbed into Manchester University.
So, without Jones’s authoritarian leadership, how did the idea of a Torbay Congress get off the ground? The owner of the Raleigh Hotel at the time was Henry Baguley, but who contacted who? Those of us who were around at the time (and still are) are fairly sure that it was Baguley who originally had the idea and suggested it to the League management. That year, 1966, he was the newly-appointed President of the Dartmouth Rotary club and would have been looking to do something new to help put Dartmouth on the map. Secondly, his hotel was in need of something to boost bookings at the lowest point of the year – between the end of the holiday season and Christmas, and thirdly, his son, John, was a promising junior chessplayer who had enjoyed successes in the Torbay Schools Chess League and was then the current Devon U-18 Champion, so Henry was keen to provide another arena in which his son could shine.
And so it was that 20 players met at the Raleigh Hotel on Dartmouth’s picturesque waterfront in November 1966. The League’s Secretary at this point was Alan B. Cole, of the Teignmouth Club, so their members got full notice of the new up-coming event, and Ivor Annetts was among that small band of 20 for the first Congress. However, no record of this first event can be found in the official records of the time. Ken Bloodworth, Eddy Jones’s successor as the Western Morning News chess columnist, would certainly have covered it, but the black bin-liners of unsorted cut-out columns that he bequeathed to me did not contain any from this period.
From this small beginning, the event was considered a success and continued year on year, although the contact with the Baguleys did not survive long. The Raleigh Hotel went into receivership a few years later and John Baguley was not seen again on the Westcountry chess scene. The Congress ticked along quietly for a few years, mostly unreported nationally, as the congress scene in Devon was dominated by Paignton and Peter Clarke’s Hexagon-organised events in North Devon, the latter attracting up to 200 players. But the post-Fischer-Spassky explosion of 1972 led to a vast increase in the number of weekend congresses nationally and the young generation of prospective GMs.
By the 1980s the Torbay Congress got an occasional mention in the Forthcoming Events column of Chess, where it was recorded in 1986 that the 21st event would be held on November 21st – 23rd at the Templestow Hotel with Bob Liggitt as Entry Secretary. The BCM of 1980 actually had a brief winners’ list showing that some big name title-hunters were showing up. Open: 1st= Murray Chandler (GM in ‘83) & Craig Pritchett (IM in ‘76). 3rd= Mark Hebden (IM in ‘82) & Michael Franklin. Major: 1st= Ken Bloodworth & A. Chapman. 3rd= Brian Boomsma, Robin Cotton & Ken Gunnell. Minor: 1st= Paul Foster (still a prizewinner 36 years later), A. Robins & N. P. Williams.
Also playing that year, though not appearing in the prizelist, was a youngster celebrating his 9th birthday – a lad with a shining future ahead of him, by the name of Michael Adams.
The congress was a rung on his ladder to grandmasterdom, with a record as follows:-
year age section performance
1979 9 Minor 105 15th=
1980 10 Challengers 166 8th=
1981 11 Challengers 155 16th=
1982 12 Open 166 2nd
1983 13 Open 212 1st=
1984 14 Open 199
1985 15 Open 212 2nd
1986 16 Open 238 1st=
Today, that generation of title-hungry aspirants has largely moved on to higher things and the event is left to local players and congress regulars from around the country. It’s now settled at the Livermore House Hotel on Torquay sea-front, the same venue as the Paignton Congress since it was ousted from Oldway Mansion. It hosts both events within weeks of each other, and it suits the players very well as it offers plentiful parking and accommodation, proximity to the town’s railway station and local bus routes, top class service, a bar and restaurant, sea views, spacious playing room etc. For all its grandeur, Oldway Mansion had none of these things.
Anyway, getting back to the point, the 50th Congress, under the leadership of Ken Alexander, a relatively new Congress Organiser, went very well at the Livermead House Hotel. Entries up to 138, but no IMs or GMs among them to scoop the top prizes, which made it more competitive, as witnessed by the prizelist below. Never have more prizes been handed out, whether in cash or kind.
|Torbay Congress 2016 – Prizelist.|
|R. J. Webster||Calderdale||3||£15|
|U-175||O. E. Wensley||Exmouth||2½||£15|
|R. G. Taylor||Wales||2½||£15|
|0/2||W. G. Adaway||Dorchester||1½||£30|
|U-159||A. M. Hibbitt||Banbury||3||£6|
|M. R. Wilson||Teignmouh||3||£6|
|R. J. Gamble||Derby||3||£6|
|I. S. Annetts||Tiverton||3||£6|
|P. E. Halmkin||Teignmouth||3||£15|
|1st||D. J. Jenkins||Penwith||4½||£120|
|U-132||M. A. Roberts||Holmes Chapel||3||£15|
|R. K. Hunt||Seaton||3||£15|
|U-125||T. J. Crouch||Kings Head||2½||£15|
|C. B. Peach||S. Hams||2½||£15|
|0/2||M. J. Cuggy||Brixham||2||£30|
|1st=||H. Archer-Lock||Abbey School||4||£40|
|J. D. Madden||Leamington||4||£40|
|A. R. Fraser||Beckenham||4||£40|
|R. Greenhalgh||S. Hams||4||£40|
|U-112||M. R. Pope||Salisbury||3||£10|
|A. H. Davies||S. Hams||3||£10|
|D. F. Burt||Bournemouth||3||£8|
|J. W. Carr||Portsmouth||3||£8|
|Mrs. W. Carr||Portsmouth||1½||£8|