Endgames At The British Chess Championship…

The Chess Championships are over. David Howell is the new British Chess Champion. I am already beginning to think about visiting my old stamping ground, Hastings at the end of the year, for the Hastings International Chess Congress 

This is where I played my last game of the competition. I was White and played 1, d4. The major competitions took place in the main hall, down below.

As for my final game in the Week 2 Afternoon Open, it was the shortest game of the lot and ended in a draw, offered to me by my opponent, Peter K. Smith (1735), on move 14, which I silently rejected, but then on move 19, having missed my opportunity to press home what I saw as an advantage, I asked him if he was still interested. He said he would think about it, and then, after five minutes of staring at the board he accepted and that was that.

I was White and opened with 1. d4 (Pawn to Queen 4) and it looked as if Peter would play the French Defence, but he switched to an early Fianchetto. After the game, I felt we had been simply playing form moves. I was aware that one imbalance in my favour was space but had not attacked it. The best move I made was getting my King’s Rook into the centre, opposite his King. The centre was cleared of pawns except of my pawn on d4 which I advanced, perhaps prematurely. We ended up with an almost symmetrical board, with two rooks, one knight and five pawns apiece.

Still, it gave me an extra half point, so I finished my first ever 5 Day Chess Championship on 2.5 points, and am well pleased with that result. After the game we got chatting and Peter expressed an interest in Shogi, so we strolled back to my hotel and I gave him a Daiso set – cheap pieces and a paper board, but a good little starter set. We agreed to meet up later on at the end-of-competition party scheduled for 8pm at the Riviera Centre, and billed as a “drinks-at-your-own-expense” party. I took “drinks at your own expense” to mean ¨bring your own booze” and so I strolled up to the local off-licence, which, being run by a Pole, stocked a range of Polish beer – four cans for a fiver!

My drinking bench (right) at Torre Abbey. The building on the left is the Spanish Barn. Nearly 400 Spaniards captured from the Armada in 1588 were held here.
One of the rides at the summer funfair by the sea-front.

I got to the Riviera a bit early so strolled over to Torre Abbey and had the first of the Polish beers while sitting on a bench overlooking the pitch and putt/crazy golf course and the seaside fairground. It was pleasant to listen to the screams of the people on the rides. To my right there was the Spanish Barn, so named after it was used to confine Spaniards captured from the Armada in 1588.

Feeling that life was very pleasant, I strolled back up to the Riviera Centre in search of the party, but when I got there it felt more like a morgue than a party venue. A few games of chess were still going on in the main hall. I checked the Championship results sheet and saw that one of the players I had got to know (at the cricket match the previous Sunday), Charles Storey, was probably still playing as his result had not yet come in, so I went up onto the balcony and peered down at his game. He was stuck in an excruciating endgame, which eventually concluded in a draw.

After about an hour in the morgue, with no sign of a party taking place (note to self … do not rely on chess players to organize a party), I saw a gink with a glass of beer and asked him where the party was. He saw my carrier-bag of booze and said that I shouldn’t drink it in the Riviera Centre. It turned out that “booze at your own expense” simply – and rather obviously – meant that you had to buy your own drinks at the bar. I didn’t know that a bar would be open in the evening as it had not been open any other evening…

Anyway, the “party” consisted of four blokes standing around the bar chatting about chess, but since one was my 5th game opponent, Peter Smith, another was Lawrence Ball (another member of Sunday’s cricket team), and the third was Charles Storey, straight from his game, the evening suddenly began to look more promising. Lawrence Ball suggested that we head into town for some dinner and so off we went, with Stewart Reuben joining us as the fifth member of our group.

The Big Wheel, Torquay City Centre

I distributed the remaining Polish beers and we strolled into the centre of Torquay via the seafront, past the illuminated Big Wheel and ended up sitting outside Amici warming ourselves in front of the outdoor pyramid gas heaters and having a very pleasant time talking about chess, chess players and so on. Stewart reminisced about Fischer, Tal and some other players, whose names were new to me. I mentioned how I had been influenced by… well, I meant to say Gerald Abrahams but I could not recall his first name and I just said his surname, BUT on reflection, I now realize I said “Alexander” by mistake. Stewart said he knew him and that his chess career had been badly affected by the war. I have just looked up “Alexander chess” on Google, and sure enough, one of Gerald Araham’s contemporaries was Conel Hugh O’Donel Alexander, CMG, CBE – a player whose chess career was affected by his wartime service at Bletchley Park.