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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.

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