I write this as I am still recovering after the exertions of helping to run the Warwickshire Open Chess Championships 2013, which concluded four weeks ago on 3rd March. With spring just around the corner, thoughts turn to my congress plans for 2013/2014. Included in those plans are for me to go and play in the British Championships at Torquay. How could I possibly miss the chance to take part in the Centenary of this event?
At the same time it is a moment for reflection of how the 2012/2013 congress season went for yours truly. Last August I travelled to Newcastle and took part in the Championships being held in North Shields. From a playing perspective I had a dreadful time, returning with a scoreline of 0/5, something of a first for me. There were reasons for such an abysmal performance, but I shall not go into that here. Instead I shall mark this reminiscence on a more cheerful note, by saying that I really did enjoy my stay in Newcastle.
Like several other players who I met during the week there, I go for more than the chess. It is also a holiday and an opportunity to visit new places. Ensconced as I was on The Quayside right by the Tyne Bridge I quickly got the feel of the place. After a reconnaissance visit to the Championships venue and dinner in central Newcastle, I took a post prandial walk around the Tyne in the vicinity of the hotel and the Sage opposite. Coming back over the high level bridge, I came across a plaque, which celebrated the presence of the Kittiwakes 10 miles inland. As far as the City Council in Newcastle were concerned these intrepid birds were welcome to roost on the Bridges, and it appears the river environment provided enough food for them to prosper. Such an abundance of birds also means one thing – mess – plenty of it. As I walked out each morning along the Quayside to catch the bus to Monument where I linked up with the Metro, I certainly had to watch my step. The squawking sounds of the Kittiwakes as they flew around was, however, a delight.
The organisation of the Championships I found to be in good shape. This was greatly helped by the main playing area having plenty of space for everyone. I am not normally a fan of sports halls for chess venues, as many of them do not have natural daylight, and have an echoey tinny feel to them. This one was different, with daylight in evidence and with a floor covering which greatly helped the acoustics, dampening down the sound of people as they moved around.
I have not been to many British Championships down the years, and this was only the second time for me to actually take part and play. So I have little to go on in comparing how well this one was doing by comparison with previous events. This was Lara Barnes’s first time out as the Manager for the British, and she did an excellent job. I know that a keynote of her regime was customer care.
At Sheffield the previous year, I had noted that both Tournament Director for Windows and Swiss Master, were both in use. This seemed to me to be a little confusing. Lara this time round had insisted that the only software to be used for managing the pairings and generating reports was to be Swiss Master. There are pros and cons with each of these packages, and one can well imagine some of the discussions that might take place between senior and experienced arbiters. “And how many angels were there dancing on that particular head of a pin over there? …….” Having used both, I know there are practical differences between the two systems. Maybe that is something I will address in a future blog. Meanwhile I was left wondering how Lara had managed to get every one of the arbiting team to conform to this edict – perhaps she’d be very good at herding a bunch of cats successfully! Arbiters, quite properly, are an opinionated bunch. They need to be in order to take charge of a congress and fulfill their function.
The British is the biggest congress on the circuit, as well as being the national standard bearer for all congresses. As an event it is not alone in raising standards in recent years. Perhaps the most significant development was the advent of the 4NCL about 20 years ago. This brought together the idea that a hotel with sufficient room for a chess congress could also package reasonable room rates, a full house, with the free use of the “conferencing” facilities into a successful format. Sean Hewitt’s e2e4 series of congresses have been successful in employing this format, especially with his attention to the detail of ensuring all players sit down to enjoy a minimum standard of space in which to play, which many events in the past singularly failed to achieve. He is not alone, with examples like Paignton, for many years, and the East Devon congresses at Exmouth. As I write, I have just noticed that we have a new kid on the block, with Edwin Cooke and his Premier Chess Congress series. His particular angle to improving things for players, is to explore what can be laid on for those who finish their games early and have time on their hands to kill. It will be interesting to see how he gets on. There is lots of choice now. Most weekends there are at least three standard play tournaments running, plus of course a whole clutch of rapidplay events. The competition between events for entries will in the long run drive up standards. That can only be a good thing.
One of the things I observed down the years with congresses that enjoyed less than top class playing conditions, particularly where there is overcrowding, is that the place can get pretty messy. I frequently noticed that chess players seemed to behave like aristocrats. They’d leave their empty coffee cups, beer glasses, snack wrappers, etc… next to the board where they had been playing, expecting someone else to clear up after them. That of course usually meant the arbiters who would dutifully clear up the mess when setting things up ready for the next round. When there is plenty of space, plenty of waste bins available, and the toilets are kept clean, then this appears to reward the arbiters with far less to worry about in keeping the condition of the tables up to scratch. This was certainly the case at the British at North Shields.
This neatly brings me back to our Kittiwakes in the centre of Newcastle. These birds really are the aristocrats of wild life. On my final morning, as I made my way from breakfast on the Quayside, a little later than usual, I came across a squad of cleaners, complete with high pressure hoses cleaning up the pavements and buildings right by the High Level Bridge. One cannot see how the authorities of the City Council can make the conditions for the Kittiwakes more comfortable and as a consequence reduce their budget for keeping the environs of the High Level Bridge clean. At least in the world of congress chess we can up the levels of service and care we give to our paying customers, which is happening rather more widely now. That does appear to reduce the human tendency to behave like aristocrats.
© Bruce Holland, March 2013
Coming up next: The ECF Tournament Calendar.