Friday, 14 August 2009

Balloon Video - continuing story

Balloon DVD:
The DVD of the Balloon match at Torquay has effectively been completed.
My very rough filming has been edited down to 13 minutes, music added where appropriate (a nice bit of Scott Joplin) and rolling credits at beginning and end. The interviews with the players by James Essinger before and after the match, are a treat, and the sound of the wind whistling through the rigging at 400 feet give a real sense of adventure.
The final touch was printing a label for the DVD and inserts for the front and back of the case. Andrew Greet e-mailed the score of the decisive game yesterday and this hase been included on the insert, in figurine.
Hopefully, this will now be put up on-line shortly where it can be accessed by all. No-one at this end knows how to do that, so it is up to others with that expertise.

John Littlewood:
I mentioned John Littlewood earlier in the event - I had several chats with him during the fortnight; he walks only with some difficulty these days so couldn't move away when I got near.
At one point he said he knew both J. E. Jones and A. R. B. Thomas, two players who had lived both in Lancashire and Devon and of whom I've written chess biographies. He challenged me to guess what other connection he and A. R. B. Thomas had in common. He had to tell me: both he and Thomas got honourable mentions by Bobby Fischer in his seminal work "My 60 Memorable Games".
Since getting back home I've been able to check this out. On p. 166 (Game 26 Fischer v Reshevsky) Fischer quotes a letter Thomas wrote to Chess, asking why Fisher didn't play 28Nd2 after which Reshevsky can resign immediately instead of lingering on for another 10 moves. "Right, Mr. Thomas!" says Fischer.
And on p. 378 (Game 60 Fischer v Stein) Fischer played 30. Be4 for which he gives himself an ?, and adds .."Littlewood indicates 30.Nh4! as a quick win for White. He's right".
Now be honest - how many of you spotted that particular connection between Blundellsands and Skelmersdale?!

Monday, 10 August 2009

Balloon Video

Balloon Video:
Yesterday I saw the first rough cut of the video of the balloon chess match, that we rescued in the nick of time on Saturday. Scenes taken at different times have been spliced together in order to create the impression of a story. Music and titling will be added, though this is the fiddly, time-consuming bit.

A press release has been sent to all parts, so hopefully it will reach the parts other chess stories don't generally reach.
A DVD of the match will eventually be released. Details will be posted as soon as available.

Sunday, 9 August 2009


So things went as predicted - more or less. On Bd. 1, Gary Lane showed his hand by offering a draw after move 6. Howell declined, perhaps hoping to go out with a further win, but when the position soon became a bit turgid and would have required a lot of time and effort to resolve, he clearly came to the conclusion that the easiest option was probably the best after all. Furthermore, he was due to play in the 1st round of the Staunton Memorial in London the next afternoon, so it made good sense to conserve his energy.
After shaking hands with Lane, he rose from his chair with a broad smile, and there were handshakes and congratulations all round. He had won the title with 9 points, the highest total this century (8.5 points is par) and in that company it was a considerable achievement by any standard. In case he had stumbled at the final hurdle, Simon Williams and Mark Hebden would have been waiting for him, as they overcame Stephen Gordon and Gawain Jones, respectively, so finished joint 2nd on 8.5, frustratng for them as, in most years this would have given them the title or at least a play-off.
In the last game of the round to finish. Andrew Greet just failed to get a very respectable score as he pushed Conquest to the limit. Rudd finished in sparkling form as he equalled his highest score ever, after having been on bottom board-but-2 in Rd. 4.
Palliser's 8 pts was also an excellent result for him. Last year it would have got him into the play-off.
Last year at Liverpool, in order to prepare for the prizegiving and the rush of trying to take meaningful photographs of the winners with their trophies, I hit on the idea of having a small table set up with a board and pieces next to the steps where the winners come down from the stage, so one can deal with the situation almost in a conveyor belt fashion. This was done the night before to minimise the risk of last minute panics. And to further reduce the risk I put a large printed notice in the middle of the board to the effect "Photographer's table - do not move". When I arrived the next morning, everything had been cleared away - no table, no set, no notice - nothing.
Nothing daunted, I prepared in the same way this year, but having learned from Liverpool, I worded the printed notice more pointedly, to the effect "Photographer's Table - do not move before the prizegiving" in very large, computer-printed letters, and weighted down by a pawn on each corner. It was there at 9 p.m. as I left.
Next morning at 8.30 I couldn't believe my eyes - no set and board, no table, no notice - nothing. That moment was my low point of the fortnight. Fortunately, the staff were very helpful and another table was found, and there was a spare set and board in the office, it was rectified fairly quickly.
The prizegiving went very smoothly and quickly. Scores of pictures were taken and the camera battery managed to cope - just about. Fortunately, it was decided to do the British players first to enable Howell to get off to London a.s.a.p. so if the battery did run down, it would have not been so serious. And they've come out reasonable well. Here is a selection.

David Howell - New British Champion.

Three Wise Men - the joint seniors champions.

And now... a group of Lady Champions:

Meg Owens, of Wales, with the Roy Clunes Trophy.

British Ladies Champion - Jovanka Houska, (as was)

Sheila Dines

Kevin Stavely of the Rhondda, with the Richard Boxall Plate for his contribution above and beyond the call of duty, in running the Sunday Quiz and the Murder Mystery play.

Balloon Match:

Weatherwise, the morning had started the best of the fortnight, so immediately after the prizegiving was over I gathered together Jack Rudd and Andrew Greet, and said we should get down there. I'd give the balloon folk one hour to get off the ground, then I was off.
From that moment on, everything fell into place, as if the weather Gods had had their fun and decided to relent as we'd given them enough amusement to last into the autumn.
We trundled the heavy equipment down to their little office. The balloon was up, having its obligatory test-run, and we could be on the first public ascent of the day.
Down it came, everything was piled in, Andrew and Jack and me with borrowed, hand-held video camera, and in moments we were rising up to 400 feet. With just 7 minutes on the clock, Jack and Andrew rattled out the moves and after what looked like a close contest, Greet won. There was just time for 2nd game mostly played on the way down. A draw was agreed, and so Greet won the match.
This was, of course, a match between deadly rivals, Devon and Cornwall; Greet from St. Austell and Rudd resident in Bideford, have each been their county Champions. So Cornwall won the first aerial chess match bewteen the two counties, just as they did the first terra-firma-based match in 1901.
Two questions remain: (a) Is this History's first-ever inter-county match in a helium ballon at 400 feet?
(b) Did it actually take place at all, or am I making it up to cover for the fact that the weather was so lousy?
In answer to the latter, the video will be out shortly; post production is, even now, in the hands of IJ Productions, who are adding suitable music and titling.
In answer to the former, I'm going to claim it as a world 1st, but am happy to listen to credible counter-claims.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Last Day (TGIF)

Early start:
The last day has dawned with blue skies all around and no wind to usher in cloudbanks - the weather gods must be making belated attempts to make amends. It's a bit late now, though.
Driving over extra early, on the car radio, Radio 4 gave out on the 8 o'clock news the story that a load of old humanoid fossils had been discovered in Torquay and were to be investigated. Ah, I thought, at last the BBC have responded to my prompting and are going to cover the exciting last day. But no, alas. It turned out they were found in Kent's Cavern in the 19th century and may have been cannibal victims, 9,000 years ago. On the other hand, they could have been Torbay's first chess players in a match that went horribly wrong. You never know....

Rd. 10 Summary:
The drive provided an opportunity to ponder the day's prospects.
Last night, Howell beat the defending champion, Stuart Conquest, to put himself a point clear of the field, and surely on the brink of the title. Is he going to lose for the first time in the last round when on the brink of becoming British Champion? I think it unlikely. Several other factors are in his favour (a) he's already played all those nearest to him (b) he has the White pieces and (c) the draw has paired him against local hero Gary Lane, who is 2 full points behind him and about 200 rating points below. It's a funny old game, of course, full of unexpected twists and turns, but if Howell doesn't finish up the Champion from this position, it will be little short of sensational. For a start, either Hebden or Williams would have to beat their Grandmaster opponents just to draw level and force a play-off. On top board, I foresee a shortish game with an early offer of a draw accepted by Lane, giving Howell the title and Lane some extra rating points. Seems logical, but what do I know?
Below: Conquest takes on David Howell in the penultimate round:

Murder Most Foul:
It's well-known that Torquay was Agatha Christie's home town, but on arrival here I found a murder had been committed last night, right here in the Centre, not in the library with some lead piping, but someone had been poisoned in the Rosetor Suite. Shocking, of course, but for the 2nd time in minutes I'd got the wrong end of the stick.
It was, in fact, a murder mystery play put on by Arbiter Kevin Stavely, using 6 volunteer actors from the enormous cast of players and hangers-on, only too keen to strut their stuff on stage. The script is provided by a company and all the actors have to do is to familiarise themselves with the words and actions required, and deliver them with some kind of conviction before a paying audience, who have to guess who did what to whom, when and why. A goodly number stumped up their 50p admission charge and a good time was had by all. In a typical drawing room denoument, it emerged that Alan Burke had poisoned Peter Hale.

Below: The cast (l-r) Christine Burke, Alan Burke (the murderer); Alec Toll; Lateefah Messam-Sparks; Hannah Dale; Peter Hale (the victim).

Killer Queens:
Another shot from yesterday's party on the patio outside the office. If you find yourself sitting down to play opposite any of these girls, don't be fooled - they're all British Champions.

l-r: Sheila Dines; Megan Owens; Lateefah Messam-Sparks; Hannah Dale and Evie Hollingworth.

Above: Scottish junior, Calum McQueen, playing on top board in Rd. 10 of the Major Open. The party hat did him no good at all as he lost to Robert Eames.

Question: Has anyone played more games at Torquay than this man?

Answer: Probably not.

He's Mitchell Burke of Oldham who can be seen just starting his 34th game of the fortnight. He's played in 2 rapidplays, the Major Open, the U-16 Championship and the 5 Day Open A.M. If one factors in the 19 other games in blitz tournaments, the total comes to 53 games. Mitchell is a member of the 3Cs club in Oldham and clearly has a great appetite for the game.

Start of the Final Round:

A great crowd assembled round the top boards before the start of the final round, mainly awaiting the start of the top game Howell v Lane; they were due a wait as Howell is always about 10 minutes late - under FIDE's new regulations he would have defaulted every game.

Above: Gary Lane in "Waiting For Godot".

Above: Gary: "Shall we settle this quickly with a game of Stone, paper, scissors?".

Below: David: "Nice try, Gary; let's try an old fashioned Ruy Lopez instead".

Above: Howell goes for the Exchange Variation. 3 moves later Lane offered a draw, which Howell turned down. So much for the quick draw theory. Looks like Howell's going for the win.

16.50 Correction - Howell's just agreed to the draw, as there was no clear way of making any progress. He rose from chair grinning broadly, and we have a new champion. At the same moment, Jack Rudd's opponent ran out of time with Jack still an hour and a half to spare, which puts him on 7 points - a wonderful late run after an equally terrible start.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

2nd Thursday Rd 10

Penultimate Rd;
Late last night Wells beat Eggleston to reach 6.5, but Eggleston's assured 2nd IM norm was some compensation for him.
Conquest's win yesterday puts him back on top board with White against Howell, sole leader on 7.5. Will Howell be content to drift to the finish with 2 draws and see what the following pack can do? Williams is clear 2nd on 7/9 with Black against Wells. How will he be seeing the situation? He is on fire and a win would put him level with a drawing Howell. And Hebden having white against lower rated opposition must be fancying his chances, a win would put him on 7.5, although his opponent Rendle will have his own views on the matter. Surely the eventual champion must come from these 6.

Last year's Girls' U-12 Champion was Rahda Jain. On the way out of the hall this morning, she told me she'd won again and I ventured to say she was likely to defend her title successfully. "Oh no, not that", she replied "I'm after the overall title this year". I was truly put in my place.
Below: Rahda at Liverpool 2008

A Storey of Salvation Through ChessBase:
38 year old Charlie Storey, playing in the British Championship, was brought up in Newcastle-on-Tyne where he had a difficult upbringing. He admits to failed academically at school, leaving with no qualifications. On the other hand, he was excellent at sport, playing centre forward for Blythe Spartans and having trials with Oldham Athletic, though the manager, Joe Royle, didn't rate him.
He didn't have much of direction in life in his late teens, but gradually got into chess and joined the Jesmond Chess Club. He then purchased an early version of the computer program ChessBase3 and things really took off. He quickly developed a great love of chess and knowledge of computers. He was very competitive and has won about 60 Open Tournaments over the years.
He also found he had the gift of communicating his chess skills to large numbers of young beginners. He wrote a chess syllabus called Bandana Chess, and has his own website at
As his reputation as a chess coach grew, so did his reputation in computer skills and he was encouraged to enroll at university where, at the age of 37, he recently graduated with a 2:1 in "Informatics Forensics" (i.e. messing around with computers).
He puts all this down to the redemptive powers of chess; it's taught him to use his brain, to concentrate, persevere and constantly strive for self-improvement. If the basis was chess, the tool was ChessBase, which enables players to harness the twin powers of human and artificial intelligence. He reckons they have been his salvation - without chess he could have been condemned to a life of aimless drifting.
What of the future? Andrew Martin has offered him the post of coach to the ECF U-16 team in the junior Olympiad in Turkey (24th Sept - 2nd Oct.). He's also had an excellent job offer from the Civil Service which would entail moving south, out of his natural habitat in the North East. So who knows what the future holds for Charlie Storey.

Below: Charlie at the start of Rd. 10 - he loves a good party.

Game of the Day (Rd. 8)

Above: I know I'm getting deaf, but did someone just call out my name?

Below: Yes it's true, John Littlewood - you've just won the Game of the Day prize.

Birthday Party: Mention has already been made of one birthday present offered here at Torquay - today there were more celebrations as one of the juniors celebrated her 17th birthday, joined by a crowd of Britain's top juniors.

Below: Lateefah Messam-Sparks (centre) surrounded by some of the best juniors here at the British. Much cake was consumed by all. Hats were retained for play during Rd. 10.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

2nd Wednesday Rd. 9

A Near Thing:
Players from all quarters of the UK plus a few from Gibraltar, Russia, Australia et. al. have come to Torquay to play in one or other of the 22 sections of the British Chess Championships. Yet few can have had a shorter journey than 9 year old Nandaja Narayanan who lives just round the corner from the Riviera Centre. This was her first serious tournament, and she was not disappointed as she won the Girls' U-9 title.
She attends Sherwell Valley Primary School in Torquay and attends the local junior chess club at Churston Ferrers, run by retired teacher Vic Cross, the same Vic Cross who has run the back office at the British for many years.
Nandaja first learnt the moves from her father , a consultant gynaecologist at Torbay Hospital. When asked how good a player he was he said "I can push the boat out but can't navigate". She then started to take the game more seriously, eventually getting private coaching from Victor.
All her opponents were boys on the way to the title, and beating them gave her greater confidence. She now feels encouraged to go on to further successes in the future. At the moment, her 3 year old sister, Niranjana, takes an interest and may well take up the game herself, so Nandaja may have an added incentive to keep ahead of her, or she might get overtaken.

Above: Nandaja with her trophy and coach Victor Cross outside my office.

Rd. 9: We are really approaching the sharp end of things now. In the short term, 9 round norms are obtainable. David Eggleston only had to turn up and play a solitary move in order to qualify for his 2nd IM norm, as he already had the points in the bag after 8 games, but a 9th game, however short, does have to be played. Not content with this, however, his game against Wells went on much longer than the others on the top tables. Meanwhile, Williams' good run continued with a win against Gawain Jones, to put him in clear 2nd behind David Howell who overcame Palliser on Bd. 1. Stuart Conquest too kept in the mix with a win over former British Champion, Paul Littlewood. Hebden beat Gormally to join Conquest on 6.5, but other key games are going on into the gathering gloom.

Lower down the order, Arkell's indifferent form meant another loss today and at this rate he will struggle to be in the prize list at all. On the other hand, Jack Rudd, who had a desperately bad first week, has hit the winning trail; another win today put him on 5.5. So from the murky depths of Bd. 34 out of 36 in Round 4, he has now scored 4.5 pts from the next 5 rounds. This is looking dangerously like consistency, which is not like Jack at all. What's happening to him?

Old Fashioned Generosity: The draw in the Seniors paired club-mates Brian Gosling and David Toms (see earlier picture), who both play for Sidmouth in local leagues and Exmouth in the county leagues. It also happened to be David's birthday, so Brian gave him the best present of all - the gift of a piece during the game and the full point. Isn't that what friends are for?

Herald Express: The local daily paper here in Torbay is the Herald Express, which covers event from Dawlish down to Dartmouth. Through the efforts of the Torbay League Secretary, John Doidge, who ordinarily writes a monthly chess column for them, they have agreed to almost daily coverage which he provides. Today, however, they have excelled themselves with the promised full page article by former Guardian columnist, Mike Baker, who was here last week. Access the article on their website, and find about the activities of Cable Guy (and others).

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Second Tuesday - Rd. 8

Weather: Last night I drove home amid teeming rain, spray and dense hill fog over the Haldon Hills. Coming in this morning it was exactly the same, with another day's rain forecast. The balloon has made only two solitary 20 minute ascents in the last 10 days, so the projected aerial match is looking very unlikely. Unless things improve in the next 3 days, this must go down, from the weather point of view, as the worst British Championship in history.

John Dunleavy: This event commemorates the contribution John Dunleavy made to British chess, especially his central role in creating the ECF out of the old BCF. My full biography is accessible from the front page of the event website. John's son, Malcolm and his family were unable to be present at the opening, but had agreed to come in this week, as they were on a camping holiday in the South Hams. They came in this morning and enjoyed meeting many of John's former colleagues. They had little connection with the highly-organised world of chess administration that John so loved, but enjoyed looking round the many different aspects of this big event.
Below: Claire and Malcolm Dunleavy, Jack (16) and Charley (11).

Around the Hall: So much attention is paid to the progress of the British Championship itself, that it is easy to overlook the many other sections going on in the hall at the same time. It's impossible to do justice to them all, of course, but here's a glimpse at some of them.
British Seniors Championship:
Former British Ladies Champion in her former existence as Dinah Dobson, (1967, '68 and '69 it says in the record book, but can't have been that long ago - someone's made a mistake here, surely!). Now Dinah Norman, she can look a bit serious at times but always raises a bright smile for the camera.

Below: Incidentally, of the 4 players involved in these adjacent games, 3 are women. Dinah is playing Caro Hunt, while another former British Ladies Champion, Gillian Moore, is next door. And there are a number of other women involved in this section.

Dr. David Toms retired to East Devon recently after a career as a senior psychologist in the Medical Dept. of Nottingham University. As a teenager he was an English Junior International, taking part in a tour of Germany.

Above: Diminutive Anna Wang playing her morning game in the U-10s, a game she won to bring her to 1.5/2. Anna comes from Oxford where she attends the Junior Dept. of Oxford High School. She is a member of the Cowley Chess Club. Two years ago she won the British U-8 title at Gt. Yarmouth but was unable to play in Liverpool last year.

Above: Rahda Jain, giving her morning game in the U-12s 100% concentration. Last year she won the Girls' U-12 title at Liverpool and hopes to make a successful defence. The prospects look good as last week she won the Girls' U-13 title, jointly with Anna Wang's sister, Maria.
See below the presentation by Peter Purland.