The ECF Tournament Calendar

For any chess player taking part in congress chess, the ECF’s Tournament Calendar is undoubtedly one of the most useful tools for planning one’s adventures in chess away from the club & league circuit. When the Calendar first appeared, is lost in the mists of time. I know it was around in its original printed format, published monthly, when I first became involved in congress chess back in 1987.

To those of us who were around at the time, the main change since then has been the publication of the Calendar on the website. This came about around the turn of the millennium. In appearance not much changed or has changed since. That is not to say there have been no advantages in going on-line. There have been quite a few. It has saved the ECF a lot of costs associated with distributing the printed form of the list. The list is more up-to-date, and whilst not editable in real-time, new entries and edits of existing ones can occur within two consecutive working days. Active links are embedded in the narrative text announcing each event, so one can download an entry form (mercifully the PDF format is catching on,) load a map to show directions of where the venue is located, click a link to visit the congress website, and finally activate your emailer to send a message to the organiser(s) of the congress.

However, its present format on the website is not without its limitations. If you want to scan the list over a period of more than a calendar month, you can’t do this on a single web page. If you want to filter the list so that you see only the RapidPlay events, or Junior events, etc…. you can’t. Or, if you want to analyse the data in any way, as I attempted to two years ago, it is really hard work, and at the time it was taking far too long and so I gave up. More recently I had the insight that I would be better off printing the Calendar, which when I did it earlier this year it came out on four sides of A4. I was quickly able to get the data I wanted by using the time honored bar-gate system.

What more could anyone want? Well, quite a bit actually. As well as the improvements to presentation I have already indicated above, there is much more we could do for everyone’s benefit by taking as a first step systematising the details as presented and along with this making links to the grading system so that additional information can be easily accessed. For example, one might ask the question “Who is running this event?” There are a large number of congresses run independently of each other, and the contact point could mislead. For example Guy Greenland and I, in our capacities as Congress Director and as Congress Entries Secretary, appear on two separate entry forms; the Warwickshire Open Chess Championship in March and the Leamington RapidPlay Tournament in September each year. One might conclude that the same organisation is running both events, and such a conclusion would be wrong. These two events are run by the Warwickshire Chess Association and the Leamington & District Chess League respectively, both of which are independent of each other. Guy and I just happen to be involved with both.  The list also has events listed which run every month throughout the year, as for example with Adam Raoof’s Golders Green RapidPlay congresses on or around the second Saturday each month.  So there is much we could improve, which builds on what is already there, which will help to ensure that the congress circuit remains healthily alive and kicking, prospering well into the future. Indeed the congress circuit is fundamentally entrepreneurial and long may it stay so. So how am I going to take this forward?

The key is consultation. To start with my “boss” in the volunteer bureaucracy that is the ECF, Alex Holowczak, will need to be kept in the picture as developments unfold. Equally important is our Webmaster, Andrew Walker. Changes will always have an impact on the website, and there is always the possibility that there will be things to consider on the details in the way they might affect his job.

Next to consider will be fellow managers and other Directors. The Director of Membership, Dave Thomas, who has responsibility for the website, is someone with whom I shall be liaising. As I write this before heading off to Leeds to play in the National RapidPlay Championships, I have arranged to see Jon Griffith (Grading Website Officer) in York on the Monday immediately following the event. I shall be picking his brains about how the underlying web technology can best be exploited. I shall also seek the assistance of Carl Hibbard, who set up the Grading Website around 2004, and maintained and developed it until around 2010. Whilst I shall be hands-on at a technical level where that is initially needed, I will always hand on to any competent and willing volunteer, to carry on once the framework of new developments with the Calendar have been established.

The second most important thing is to get the requirements right. To that end I shall with Alex Holowczak’s help seek to form a consultative panel which is as small as possible, consistent with the range of interest groups.  For example I would want to see someone representing ordinary players, another person representing small independent congresses, alongside someone who will guard the interests of the bigger and well established congresses. I will be relying on such a panel to guide the decisions that will need to be taken to further develop the presentation and functions within the Calendar.

Thirdly, the improvements and developments will be measured, tested, and have sufficient support before they are implemented. The approach will be incremental, and users of this valuable facility will notice changes taking place steadily, rather than witnessing a single “big bang” approach.

© Bruce Holland, November 2013

Coming up next: Reflections upon the British RapidPlay Championships 2013.

Kittiwake Blues

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.


For the past six months or so I’ve had my eye off the ball as far as what is going on within the world of chess. The combination of starting up a new business and moving my wife from our home of 30+ years, to a new location in the country, was demanding to say the least. So having arrived in the wilds of Herefordshire for the Christmas and New Year break, I was unable to obtain a copy of my regular newspaper, instead I picked up a copy of the Independent. I glanced at Jon Speelman’s chess column, and found the quiz about chess events during 2012 were beyond my recall. Then I noticed the prizes listed at the end of the quiz.

There was mention of the first prize being a copy of HIARCS Chess Explorer for either MAC or PC. That really caught my eye. Six years earlier, in the autumn of 2006, I bought as a luxury, a 20” iMac computer to go with the iPod my wife had insisted on buying me for my 60th birthday in 2004. I still cannot get my head around the idea that Beethoven’s 9th Symphony is, in the lexicon of iPod speak, four songs.

Managing the iPod with iTunes running under Windows was not a good fit. The relationship between the two was grouchy and slow. The iMac proved to be a delight – even the batteries supplied with the wireless mouse and keyboard were packaged brilliantly. From opening the box to having it up and running took a mere half an hour, and amazingly I still had not realised I had bought a Unix machine. I really hadn’t done my homework properly. A little later came the discovery that, under the bonnet and very shiny surface of the iMac, lurked a Unix box. The machine did the job I had bought it for, and the iTunes/iPod fit was a natural one. The building of my music library for the iPod was a breeze. The iMac also handled my growing photo library better than anything else I’d ever seen in the Windows environment. As iPhoto has gone through several editions in the past six years, this tool for managing a photographic library has developed beyond all recognition – for the better.

At the time I was still fully employed in corporate IT, and so there was little time to play with my new toy. A year later it was all over. I had been made redundant, and should have had time on my hands. Alas, with the redundancy came serious illness and a loss of focus that goes with it. I still did little with the new luxury, except to maintain continuity with my use of email, when my Windows network at home slowly crumbled into oblivion during 2008. This in effect forced me to use the iMac as my main computer. It was two years later that I finally started to take the iMac seriously as a techie. I entered the world of Mac, that Steve Jobs had so carefully created into the huge success it has become. By early 2010, the introduction of the iPhone had still passed me by. That changed when my telephone contract needed renewing, and I invested in an iPhone on April Fool’s Day in 2010. I was quickly impressed. It was later in 2011 that I had the same Damascene moment with the iPad. I initially regarded each of them as toys.

This was a game changer for me. As I held the phone for the first time, it occurred to me there in the palm of my hand was a Unix computer, way more powerful than many of the mainframe computers that had dominated the emergence of computing within business and big corporate organisations of any stripe you could care to think of during the 1970’s. Coming to grips with the phone also started to teach me how to use the iMac properly, starting with sorting out the address book that I’d transferred over from my previous mobile phone. I started to take things Apple far more seriously, especially as regards their usability. Computing with Apple, had become more like running any other appliance that is a commonplace of domestic life these days.

There was however, one mystery for me in all this. Given my interest in things chess, there didn’t appear to be any chess programs around for the Mac which did justice to the fantastic quality of the screens Apple have typically produced down the years. I was puzzled. Yes there were products around like Exechess, Sigma Chess, and others. They by comparison with Apple’s software, and increasingly other third-party products coming to market approved of by Apple, just didn’t seem to fit. There was something of an early 1990’s feel to this set of chess shareware offerings.

Move the clock forward a year, and I am now coming to grips with the iPad – no, it’s not a toy, but a serious business tool. At some point later during 2011 I discovered HIARCS had produced a product for the iPad. It was a revelation. The graphics were commensurate with the screen quality available on Apple products. The software also supported an “easy to use” library of PGN files. Not quite there yet in its scope, but certainly a challenge to ChessBase in the world of Windows which has grown in dominance these past twenty years. Yet strangely still no complete product from HIARCS for the Mac. Yes, they had their chess engine on offer, but you had to supply your own GUI, …. and here we go again stuff like Sigma. There was an Open Source product available, but I was disinclined to go there.

And so on Christmas Eve 2012, I discover that HIARCS have recently come out with a fully featured product that is a combination of Fritz and ChessBase rolled into one, for a total price of less than £50, for both the Mac and Windows. I did something I’ve never ever done before on Christmas day. Go engage with a computer, and worse still actually buy something on-line. I’m hooked. I now have one less reason for keeping my Windows laptop going. It is not my purpose to proselytise my enthusiasm for things Apple Mac, but merely to share with others my pleasure at having at long last something available that is an alternative to Fritz and ChessBase. Competition is never a bad thing, something we chess players should know only too well.

Last summer at the first Leeds Chess Congress, Brendan O’Gorman did show me how he maintains his database of games on his Mac equipment. Whilst not rocket science to operate, it still did not convince me. In any case I simply have not had the time since then to pursue matters further. So as the saying goes, all good things come to those who wait.

© Bruce Holland, February 2013
Coming up next: Kittiwake Blues.

Women and Congress Chess

I have been involved in four congresses lately (written in early August 2012). Whilst helping out at the first Leeds Congress, I picked up through Facebook a reference to a discussion taking place about women playing chess on the English Chess Forum. This was an unusual discussion for the Forum, since the discussion was reasoned and good tempered. This was all the more surprising given the subject matter which can very quickly divide opinion on the general topic of women and their presence in chess. This discussion thread therefore made for a good read.

At Leeds there was one female taking part out of an entry of 77. A week later in Worcester with an entry of 129 we had a total of nine women/girls playing. Another seven days later I go to the British Championships at North Shields and find out of a total field of nearly 600 (excluding the Junior events.) Ehere are only 4 female entrants in the main event out of an entry of 64. Finally at the Leamington RapidPlay there were only 9 female players out of an entry of 105.

I have not kept detailed notes down the years, but my distinct impression is that nothing much has changed as regards the presence of women in congress chess. I doubt if much has changed in club chess either over the past thirty years. Despite the best efforts of quite a few organisers in the world of chess we do not appear to be making headway in attracting women into the game. Even the best efforts of Sean Hewitt with his successful series of e2e4 congresses is not making the impact that we might have hoped for, given the high quality hotel accommodation and excellent playing conditions. It was often argued during the 1980s and 1990s that grotty playing conditions made things unattractive for women, thereby keeping their attendances low.

So playing conditions alone, no matter how much improved they have become over the past 30 years or so, are not sufficient to draw in women to attend in the sort of numbers that would give any indication that progress is being made. So the question is, what is it that makes the game so unattractive to women? The thread on the Forum didn’t come up with any answers that I could detect. By contrast, and outside of England, there is an event which does attract women to play in significantly different numbers. That event is Gibraltar. Gibraltar is not the easiest of locations to which to travel. The main event here is a strong international event, attracting strong GMs and IMs to take part, including the likes of Michael Adams and Nigel Short. Then there is a mix of top women players, from Europe and other parts of the world, who compete equally with the men, our own Jovanka Houska amongst them. It is unusual for international events to have such a high proportion of women on board, so what is it about Gibraltar that seems to make such a difference? Are there lessons to be learned here that can be translated and applied across the game more generally, in particular in England?

[Blog number 6 explains why there has been a break of six months in my writing. I have resumed my work on these blogs in January 2013.]

When I arrived in Herefordshire to take my Christmas break, my wife handed me an article she had read in The Times. This whetted my appetite to start writing again. It was written by the journalist Robert Cramton and was a report on his interview with Judit Polgar in the run up to the London Classic in December. It was a sympathetic piece, where he started by admitting Judit has defied his expectations, saying she comes across as delightful. He had expected weird.

First there is chess itself: to others it can appear weird. Then there is chess as a male dominated pastime. Here we have an example of a woman who had for a time, when she devoted more time to her preparations for tournaments and matches, been ranked eighth in the world. Yet here she is with her perspectives changed by motherhood, still able to take part in one of the stronger international chess tournaments – on merit. Nothing token about her play! Incidentally, she is one of the many women to take part in Gibraltar over the past ten years. So why are there so few like her, even after we have taken into account he very unusual upbringing?

Well the day after New Year I am reading an article by Elizabeth Hartley-Brewer, who is a child development expert. The title? A five stage guide to bringing up boys and girls. I’ll just quote the first three paragraphs:

It seems it is now acceptable to say what has been blindingly obvious to previous generations: that boys and girls are different. It doesn’t really matter whether that difference was born or made, but they think, behave and socialise differently, and as parents, we must use this information wisely.

Boys care deeply about their sense of power; they’re more likely to wing it and take risks, whereas girls’ vulnerability is that they can be overkeen to please, so they play safe and can loose sight of who they are, becoming vulnerable to self doubt.

This is backed up by research: studies show that girls continually do better at school but are more likely to suffer from low self-esteem in their teens, which is amplified by modern commercial pressures of celebrity, TV and the internet. Each gender has its vulnerable characteristics at each age and stage, and it’s helpful – not limiting – for parents to understand what these are so that they can work to offset them.

I hope these three paragraphs give a flavour of the complete article. Given that chess is a war game, which successfully disguises the inner aggression that is needed in order to drum up the will to win, Elizabeth Hartley-Brewer’s article goes a long way to explain to us why it is that there are so few women in the game. Parenting girls and boys so differently, goes a long way to explain why women have such a different approach to aggression and risk-taking than is the case with men.

Finally, as I was completing this blog whilst taking part in the well run Shropshire Chess Congress at an excellent venue in Telford. I reflect on some of my opening remarks and note that out of an entry of about 130, only four are women. I suppose, rather like the ordination of women into the Church of England 20 years ago, and the proposal to allow women to become Bishops, it is going to take many years before the presence of women at congresses in England becomes a commonplace.

Postscript. Whilst at Telford I ran this blog, in draft, past the Director for Home Chess, Alex Holowczak. “You know why so many women come to Gibraltar, don’t you?” “No, go on, tell me!” “Well, it’s because Stuart Conquest pays them.” I was aware Gibraltar slants its finances in favour of women, but I hadn’t considered the suggestion Alex appeared to be making. I had always thought men were far more prone to be money grubbing than women. But in the Sales Season I should realise that chasing a bargain is a gender free aspect of human behaviour. Stuart Conquest arranges a bargain and hey presto the women turn up alongside the men.   Now there’s a challenge for organisers of the English chess congress scene, to find the right incentives that will draw more women in!

© Bruce Holland, January 2013
Coming up next: Serendipity.


I started drafting my 6th item following my visit to the first Leeds Congress last July.

Events overtook me. For most of us domestic matters are a priority, or at least they should be, and a house move for my wife from Kenilworth to a converted barn in Herefordshire has taken precedence over the past six months.

At the same time I have also been involved in digging the foundations for a new business venture that I started last May. Something had to give, and I’m afraid writing these blogs has been one of the casualties.

The house move is now done and but far from dusted, whilst the business preparations are coming along nicely. It is now time to resume writing.

Fairly soon I shall be publishing the seventh blog in this series: Women in Congress Chess. The intention is to provide food for thought about the factors which may be influencing the fact that we see so few women attending congresses.

The following article, number 8, is entitled Serendipity. This is about chess programs for the Apple MacIntosh range of computers. The one after that rejoices in the title of Kittiwake Blues, which is a personal reminiscence of the week I spent last summer whilst attending the 2012 British Championships.

Before this intermission I had been publishing at the rate of about two blogs per month. In resuming I am aiming to keep up this rate of publication. This means I have enough material to take me through February 2013, and so I hope in March to be sharing my thoughts on developments that will affect the presentation of the Calendars on the ECF website.

Just in case anyone starts asking, “… and what has that got to do with you?” Quite a lot actually, as the ECF Calendar, recently rebadged as the Tournament Calendar, is identified as a responsibility of my job as manager. The headline is this: the Tournament Calendar needs to keep pace with developments taking place on the chess congress scene, rather than remaining as it has been for the past ten years as a simple spatchcock of a four page A4 leaflet that it replaced, slapped on to a webpage on the ECF website.

Its chief merit is that it is up-to-date on a daily basis. We can do better than that, and we shall. It becomes an opportunity to take into account the needs of both the chess player interested in tournaments beyond the traditional club chess scene, and the organisers of these tournaments. If I have anything to do with this it will be an evolutionary process, rather than a revolutionary, big bang, change, though one would hope the long term outcome would amount to the same thing. Above all else it has to be something that has to work for the stakeholders who use the Calendar.


© Bruce Holland, January 2013


Coming up next: Congress Chess & Women.

York Hall & Mark Turgent

The title of this blog presents two names, each of which is a play on words.

The first comes from the world of boxing, and until recently I had never come across this one.  York Hall is a place of legend in the world of boxing, located in the East End of London.  Say it differently and you can hear….. Your Call!


In my early days of working in Social Services I heard the Director’s secretary refer, as I thought, to Jessie Cabrill.  This caught my attention as it was an unusual sounding name, at least to my ears.  Several weeks later I discovered that Jessie Cabrill was actually Jessica Brill, who was a friend of the Director’s.

Then another day, another time, my former colleague John May started declaiming about Mark Turgent.   This had me puzzled, as once again here was an unusual and unlikely sounding surname.   Eventually I got it, and then some years later I saw Mark Turgent in action.

There was a brief period when I was in and out of the Printing & Stationery department of Coventry City Council, where all the bulk duplicating of documents were produced, in the days when computers were mainframes, and photocopiers were a relatively new invention that had started turning up in offices.  They replaced stencils as the primary means of generating larger quantities of mass produced throw-away documents.

I was still very shy of using the telephone (yes, hard to imagine that one, for those who know me now….) and so I’d walk over to Printing & Stationery to place orders for the printing of forms I was designing at the time.  I quickly observed how the orders that were marked urgent by the requesters, ended up is a large basket where they had been casually tossed.  They were dealt with on a first come first served basis, which because of the volume of such printing requests meant that the items dumped there generally took a long time to get through the system.  Most jobs were urgent, or at least that was what those who commissioned the work thought.  After all most of the denizens of the local authority bureaucracy regarded printing as a pretty low status occupation and behaved towards them accordingly.

I quickly learned that my phone shyness had an advantage.  I would go and see the people who scheduled the printing operations, explained what I needed and gave a truthful account of the relative urgency of the particular job in question.  This approach paid dividends handsomely.  My printing requests would normally arrive well ahead of any deadline I would set.

My requests were invariably turned round promptly.  By contrast, others would be phoning up and hectoring the printing staff and demanding their jobs be allowed to jump the queue.   This style of operating was particularly ineffective, and the more the verbal bullying the more such a barrage of demands would meet with a slothful response.  The particular order being progress chased, would somehow mysteriously end up at the bottom of the pile, to await attention when they got round to it.   Courtesy and consideration goes a long long way, as I quickly found out.

I forget the lady’s name who I used to see about the print jobs I needed doing.  She was invariably dressed in a brown coat which she wore over her clothes.  Hidden away under the brown coat I could not tell what her “civvies” looked like or how smart they were.  The brown coat was work wear that protected the clothes from the grubby and inky environment of a print shop.

One Saturday morning I was going about my normal weekend business, mind in neutral, in the centre of Kenilworth.  Gradually I became aware that this very smartly turned out woman was greeting me.   To my shame, at first she received a blank stare from yours truly.  At last it dawned upon me that I knew the lady before me, she being none other than my contact in the City Council’s print shop who I had only ever seen up until this point in a long brown coat/overall.  How embarrassing!   She was very smartly turned out.

Well done Mark Turgent you taught me a valuable lesson.   I hope by now if you say his name quickly enough, ……. you’ll geddit?

Chess is a game potent in symbolism.   The laws of chess enshrine the idea that before battle commences the players shake hands in a sporting manner.  This is important since the silence in which the game is played masks the raging aggression that maybe going on in the minds of the participants.   Once the two players have agreed the outcome of the play, they are once again expected to shake hands.

I recently attended a weekend congress, where I scored a victory after my opponent took the game to the wire, despite it being obvious for quite some time that I had a won game.   My opponent refused to shake my hand and stormed off in a temper.   Those around me were quite upset about this and urged me to report my opponent, as apparently he had a reputation for behaving like this.   I declined to take any action since I reasoned that doing so would be totally ineffective and would be water off a duck’s back

Fortunately such characters are relatively rare in chess, and the majority take part with courtesy towards their opponent, no matter how much most of us hate losing.  This is particularly important in congress chess where the play is supervised by Arbiters, a luxury that is rarely afforded in club and league events.

Thanks, Mark Turgent you have taught me that courtesy matters in all walks of life, but especially when taking part in congress chess.


© Bruce Holland, July 2012


Coming up next: Congress Chess & Women.

Books with which I would not part

In April 2011 I decided to review my Will, and along with that I also made arrangements to pay for my funeral in advance. This is for entirely practical purposes. From time to time it is a good idea to review a Will, since circumstances may have changed, and in any case changing ones’s mind is ok too.

I have a natural horror of dying intestate. To begin with, doing so would be to leave a mess for others to deal with. Worse still, solicitors and other professionals will reward themselves with generous slices of my estate for the privilege of winding up my affairs, and whats left then goes to the state. No, no, …. no!

So what I am currently arranging, after making some specific legacies, one of the things I am currently reviewing, I intend to leave the residue should the grim reaper come and fetch my wife first, to a number of nominated charities. For this aspect of my Will the result is I do not have to be concerned with Death Duties – there will not be any. As happened with the John Robinson legacy, a substantial part of it was assigned after his death for charitable purposes, and therefore maximised the yield for the Federation through the Trust in his name.

I have been fortunate indeed to find two people who I trust who are willing to act as my Executors should my wife no longer be around when I pop my clogs. My Executors will be entitled to take their reasonable expenses from the Estate. When I had to deal with my father’s Will as a joint Executor, I both learned a lot, and benefited from his having simplified his affairs. Even then you can get caught. In this instance there was an outstanding issue with the Inland Revenue. They owed the Estate overpaid tax, and after two years we decided it was not worth the candle to continue with this. The Inland Revenue had contrived to loose the papers they had held on my father’s tax affairs and were unwilling to do anything about it. You can therefore see why I have a distaste for anything going to the State. We wrote off the loss.

Arranging my own funeral is quite simply part of the process of de-cluttering and simplifying my affairs, as the last few laps of my life beckon. Before my Executors (any of them) start work on winding up, they can tick off the first item as job done – my funeral. When it comes to arranging the details of the burial rites, I have the pleasure of choosing the music that will be played at the Cremation ceremony. I’m not saying what I have chosen, but I can say I have taken a leaf out of Joe Soesan’s book, who ended up his days as a member of the Kenilworth Chess Club.

Joe was in his time a very strong County player in Surrey. Whilst with us in the Midlands during his retirement he became Veterans Champion in 1991 and 1992, at Eastbourne and Plymouth respectively. Joe’s choice of music included a rendition of “Mack the Knife”, which had some of us sitting up and paying attention. This was a welcome deviation from the more typical fare of such sombre occasions. Making my choices for the funery rites is my little conceit of imagining this is my Desert Island discs moment.

So in that vein, as I cannot play music as part of this blog, here is my literary equivalent of my choice of books I would take to that fabled Desert Island, and so while away the hours whilst awaiting rescue. I present this as a way of showing what interests me and has influenced my thinking throughout much of my life. Probably there are things here that would not suit many others, but listing it here serves the purpose of revealing a little of who I am. So here goes.

Zen Flesh Zen Bones Compiled by Paul Reps ……

I do not profess any particular religion, but I am of a philosophical cast of mind, and Bhuddism and Zen would be the best fit for me were I to get religious in my old age. There are some wonderful vignettes which illustrate the human condition with conciseness and wit.

The Song of God: Bhagavad-Gita Translated by Swami Prabhavananda & Christopher Isherwood ……

This made a deep impression whilst I was at Bristol University. It is a dialogue between the god Krishna and Arjuna, through which there is an exposition of the Vedanta philosophy. A key point of the deliberations are Arjuna’s dilemma as to whether or not it is right for him to kill relatives who are lined up against him in the opposing army.

Light on the Path Written down by Mabel Collins ……

This is a heavy duty, but very short book, which contains a great deal of meditative material, in which I have from time to time derived a lot of comfort at various points in my life, especially at times of difficulty and stress. It derives from the literature of the Theosophical Society. Some might consider this mumbo jumbo, but it is not. Einstein was reported to have had a copy of Madame Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine permanently on his desk. Blavatsky touched upon Scientific topics amongst many other things.

Prisons We Choose to Live Inside by Doris Lessing ……

The main point of this book, by one of the giants of Literature of the 20th Century, is that mankind has all the knowledge he needs, but implacably refuses to apply this knowledge for the benefit of all. One startling conclusion she reaches is that many people actually enjoy wars and only feel a purpose in life when caught up in the turmoil that war brings.

Mr Norris Changes Trains by Christopher Isherwood  ……

I read this when I was in the sixth form, during a summer holiday, and somewhat bored. I found this account of Berlin in the 1930’s after Hitler had assumed power hilarious. I had lots of loud belly laughs over this one. Humour is so important a part of a life well lived. Laughter and mockery is also an excellent anti-dote to authoritarian regimes, the world over. There is nothing new under the sun here. It is why a free press in this country is seen as so important, which part of the reason why the Leveson Inquiry has a dillema.

Programming Pearls by Jon Bentley  ……

The topics in this book are the key to good software and the hallmark of a professional programmer. Published in 1986 it was a very influential treatise within the software industry which had attracted a dire reputation during the 1970’s. It regularly failed to deliver on time and within budget. Things have greatly improved in more recent times.

The Rating of Chess Players by Professor Arpad Elo  ……

I found this gem on the second hand bookshelves in Blackwell’s in Oxford. At the time I acquired it, the book was very hard to find. Still relevant even if many aspects of the system of FIDE rating Elo codified have moved on over the years. Page 24 contains the performance rating formula which is the first formula of the Elo system. This equation is used to determine ratings on a periodic basis. He says, “the British Chess Federation uses ratings that are calculated at finite intervals (BCF uses one year) for all players……but good statistical practice requires that it include at least thirty games to determine the player’s rating with reasonable confidence.” So there we have it folks the BCF/ECF system comes straight out of Elo. One often hears from players, “we ought to move to Elo ratings.” Why, oh why? We are already using Elo! The English system was designed for the needs of the majority in this country, who play their chess in Leagues, and still (just) generate the greatest proportion of game results to be graded. The advent of a twice yearly grading list is an excellent step towards accommodating the needs of congress chess players, whose contribution to the volume of games graded has increased over the past ten years. The proportion of such players remains stubbornly at about 10%. We continue to need to make sure the tail does not wag the dog. Taking the long view on this I find it quite probable England will eventually move to Elo/FIDE. The development of the 4NCL and the appearance of FIDE rated top sections of Congresses and RapidPlay Tournament, are the first steps in this process. We would be wise to make such developments evolutionary, rather than revolutionary. It will take time.

Megalithic Sites by Professor Alexander Thom  ……

This slim tome is the result of a study of 500 Megalithic sites in Britain. Professor Thom establishes the megalithic yard and uses it to elucidate the geometry of the rings, ellipses and other compound shapes that the Megalithic erectors employed. His work made heavy duty use of statistical theory to reach his conclusions, and it reveals that people who lived three to four thousand years ago were far more sophisticated, than they are generally given credit for. This book edged in on to my list, by displacing another book of an iconoclastic nature. It is a work written by a Frenchman, Michel Gauquelin, where he set out to prove that Astrology is/was a load of bunk, and found that he was unable to demonstrate this. Some of the fundamental tenets were upheld by his rigorous study which employed statistical theory.


Not much about chess there really, but then contrary to appearances chess is by no means the whole of my life. If any of this material strikes any chords for you the reader, remember searches on Wikipedia may be helpful. The ellipses (……) to the right of the headings are the links.

© Bruce Holland, July 2012

Coming up next: York Hall & Mark Turgent.

Who does he think he is?

When I published my first blog it did not take long for the denizens of the English Chess Forum to react.  In the space of 1½ hrs there were seven people who between them published eleven postings. The link for those who are interested is .  I had been tipped off by Stewart Reuben about this thread on The Forum.  When I read it through it brought a smile to my face.  This was typical Forum fare, though I would agree with Stewart that it was generally positive.

I shall refrain from commenting upon what was written, save for a couple of points. First, my current grading of 83 (from the January 2012 list) was seen as somehow not the best candidate to hold my present office as a Manager.  Second, I was deemed incapable of running a large scale national event.

The Forum (as I shall henceforth reference the English Chess Forum in this and future blogs), does not seem to be a place where courtesy and consideration of others is the first consideration of a few of the denizens there.  However, I am not offended by any of the comments made.  Over the past 25 years, I have been involved in the running of over 60 congresses, with fourteen of them as Tournament Director.  I would not consider the Midland Open Championships and the Warwickshire Open Championships as insignificant events, both being Qualifiers for the British when I ran them.

When Neil Graham was Director of Congress Chess, I did briefly consider whether I should stand for his post when the time came for him to stand down.  It did not take me long to decide against doing so.  My decision was based upon three reasons:

  • I could not justify taking two weeks out of my leave allowance at work, in order to be at the British Championships each year, as that would have been unfair on my wife
  • Given that I had a full time job which was very demanding of my time and energies and had first call on my priorities, I didn’t think I would be able to give of my best to the task of running the British Championships
  • I did not then, and still do not, have a qualification as an Arbiter.  I believe many would have thought that holding an Arbiter’s Badge was an essential qualification for this post, even though I might beg to differ on that.  I am a firm believer that experience trumps any amount of exams passed.

It is true that I have operated with rather a low profile, so I am not that we’ll known to the congress players outside of the West Midlands.  But then I have never regarded organising a congress, or being a member of a control team as an Arbiter, as any kind of ego trip.  It’s hard work all the way, especially when the event is actually over and there’s a host of detailed tasks swallowing up my time, and that, just when I thought it was all over.

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My Credentials for the Job

In my previous blog there were two key areas of my involvement in chess organisation, which have been intertwined with each other since 1988. The first of these was congress administration and arbiting.

My involvement in helping to run congresses goes back 25 years to 1987, when I joined the control team at the Midland Individual Championships in Derby. Later that year I got involved in a double act with Ed Goodwin, a fellow member of my club at the time, who came to me with ideas for running a RapidPlay event.

At the Leamington League’s AGM in May that year, Ed sought help for his project. The League was willing to help and take the risk, provided it owned the event. Ed and I formed an effective partnership which lasted thirteen years. For various reasons Ed had to retire from his participation. The Leamington RapidPlay is still going strong, and in early September we shall be holding the 26th event in the series. Ed now regularly plays in the event where he lead the way in founding it.

Also, quite important this year, the Leamington Rapidplay will be the fourth listed in September (at least at the time of writing.) This means that we shall have to be one of the first congresses to adapt to the circumstances of the ECF’s new membership scheme, which comes into effect on 1st September. It is quite interesting that Adam Raoof’s Golders Green Rapidplay is the third on the list, the day before us. I of course report to Adam, in the hierarchy of command that governs the officials of the national body.

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Caissa: The Search for Mona Lisa

The title of this piece is a minor plagiarisation from modern chess literature, in fact a book written by the Georgian Grandmaster Eduard Gufeld.   I was about to say I have met Gufled, but that would be an embellishment.  What is true is that I have seen him once, when he was playing in the Challengers Section of the Hastings International Tournament in January 1993.

David Tilley, the founder of the Kenilworth Chess Club, and I held the Hastings event in great reverence, and we both dreamed that one day we might go there.  From Kenilworth, it seemed an awful long way (some 170 miles) in the days before the M40 was built, a road that now makes mincemeat of the journey down to London’s orbital motorway, the M25.  I think it was January 2nd, and I was now travelling down to Hastings to take part in one of the sideshow events, where I would play one game per day in the morning, and have the rest of the day free to do as I wished.   Sadly David Tilley was not with me.  Fulfilling our dream had to be done alone.   He had left the club sometime during the 1980′s and although he has since returned to the town, we cannot persuade him to return to the chess fold.

The trip down was a bit grim weather wise – dull mainly.  It was the first time I had used the M40, as it had not long been open.  It was a super-fast road.  I was travelling at about between 70 and 80 miles per hour, thereby breaking the speed limit, but it seemed to me I was the slowest person travelling down to the smoke.  I cannot recall overtaking anyone, but I was being overtaken regularly, as I travelled along in the inside lane.  Within the hour I had reached the approach to Uxbridge in my Citroen BX, designed by Lamborghini for the French car company, or so the television adverts would have us believe.   Had I owned a Lamborghini I certainly would have arrived in well under the hour as I hit the M25.  As I was making such good time, I chose to avoid the south western segment of the London Orbital and head off into the centre of London, go via the City and then head south through Bromley, Kent where I had grown up from the age of 7 until I left home more or less for good as I went off to Bristol University.  Now 30 years later I was travelling through memory lane.

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