Posts Tagged England

Istanbul Olympiad

I was back in Turkey in time to re-use my visa from the team competition, this time for the Olympiad, held not far from the airport. The hotel and meals were quite good compared to recent editions, although the state of the hotel internet was a problem that was never fully resolved. The teams in the WOW hotels were lucky to be able to walk to the venue although there were limited facilities around and those who had to bus it to the chess might have had a more interesting location.
The playing hall was quite decent from a player’s point of view although the temporary toilets which were brought in for the event were at first insufficient in number and none too pleasant. I was shocked to see only 3 VIP rooms and would hope that a minimum of 1 room per esteemed guest would be the bare minimum in the future.
Spectators had it rougher; there were very limited possibilities to view the games outside the hall. If you stashed your phone and ventured into the playing area it was only possible to see the first 10 boards in each section. Even making out the scores in other matches was impossible as the boards showing results were not large. Spectators have had a raw deal at Olympiads for too many years now and for such a showpiece event it needs to improve.
Plenty has been written about arbiters at this event but it seems to me that fewer are required as with the incremental time control there is little for them to do, and many of them seemed incapable of resolving simple problems like three fold repetition or dealing with a faulty clock. The ludicrous Zero Tolerance was made even more ridiculous by the rounds routinely starting over 5 minutes late.
Another area of concern is the excessive charging for hotels; and other dubious money making measures such as charging for press passes which were also in evidence. Of course the ever increasing size of the event, whilst great for the game, doesn’t make it easy for organizers to balance the budget, but making it too expensive to attend is counterproductive from everyone’s point of view as people simply choose not to come.
Moving onto the chess, the team lost a good opportunity to build on a good start with slip ups in rounds 8 and 9, this missed opportunity against the Philippines was irksome:

This game was followed by an abysmal loss to Le Quang regrettably the 2 key matches which cost the team,. Several of my team-mates were also having a frustrating time, although Nigel Short carried the team with an excellent performance.
I am very grateful to a number of individuals who generously donated money to help fund the team, and I was happy to demonstrate the game below at a small gathering with them after the Olympiad. There are a lot of computer lines but the power of the machine in these types of position is rather humbling.

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Winning Ugly

In contrast with the British Championships last year, this time I found the chess hard work. My first game was a gruelling 94 move struggle and I didn’t have many smooth wins. I was also certainly in bad shape at various stages of my games against the other three highest rated players and 2 points was a very flattering return from these encounters.

Some of the problems I mentioned last year persisted; it still seems odd to me that all participants in the British do not have to be members of a qualifying Federation, particularly as membership fees remain such a bone of contention in the ECF.

I can’t compete with the fulsome denigration that Nigel dished out to the accelerated pairing system in the commentary room after round three, however it seemed to me that with a small field and 11 rounds it proved particularly pointless this time, the mini-matches between the 4 highest rated players had been completed by round 8 leaving the tournament to conclude in a flurry of downfloats.

I think one detail of the rules for the playoff could well be in improved for the future. Starting with two games of 20 minutes + 10 seconds seems reasonable, but if this is tied going directly to an armageddon game is ridiculous. In general these contrived affairs which create more than their fair share of disputes are resorted to far too often. There are occasions where a genuine shortage of time makes it necessary, such as at the World Open where the tiebreak game began after 11 pm, but at the British there seems to be no reason not to play normal blitz games. If time is considered so short, at least sudden death blitz has the advantage that a draw would not decide the Championship. If the playoff is considered a serious affair this would be a better option; as well as being fairer to the players, the spectators (many stayed to watch after the prize-giving) rarely complain if there are more games in this kind of situation.

I have never been too interested in trophies, but it seemed odd that there was nothing presented for the British Championship. I was told the British trophy was in for repairs last year, and I guess these were not an unqualified success as apparently it is now too fragile to be moved. In addition, for reasons that I’m sure make perfect sense but to me seem a little obscure, the playoff does not also decide the English Championship.

I was a bit distracted by the playoff to witness all the drama associated with stonewallgate (see Tara’s comments below) but it was a great shame that given the huge efforts CJ de Mooi had made with the event that he ended up not distributing the prizes.

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Mammoth Effort

In general my impressions, aided by a large amount of ‘expectation management’ in the chess press before the event, were positive.  The Olympic hotel had obviously only recently been constructed: the smell of solvents remaining pungent in the air. The builders had however done a good job, the rooms were well appointed and after a week’s airing the smell was almost gone. In the hurry a few things had got confused, there was a nice cabinet containing a fridge with a place for the wires to plug in at the back but unfortunately no power points anywhere within range. After a bit of interior re-design I managed to resolve this problem and also to plug in my computer whilst simultaneously having a place to rest it which was a plus.
The food, which was awful on my previous visit, was also pretty good this time and a big improvement on the admittedly very low level in Dresden and Turin.  Most people would have been happy to switch to something less bland and repetitive on their return, but the organisers did make every effort and also offered sparkling or still water, coffee, tea and various fruit juices with every meal which was a generous innovation.
The biggest organisational error was the charter flights fiasco, probably more due to FIDE than the locals. The outward effort was brought forward a few days before we left, although it was then delayed so it left around the original time. It was also not very clear why our departure flight wasn’t scheduled to take off until 4.45 in the afternoon making onward journeys problematic due to the late arrival in Prague. Some unlucky players were still stuck in Khanty until 6am 2 days after the last round. The ever changing times unsurprisingly caused complete chaos: of course this is not a new problem for FIDE events is but as it obviously causes serious problems it is about time it was remedied.

England captain Lawrence Cooper made a great effort to shield our players from these problems as much as possible and also spent a lot of time acquiring visas for the team members which was above and beyond the call of duty.
It should be noted that although most things worked out in the end, players don’t make the decision to participate or not after the event but some time before and the negative stories probably discouraged several players from attending. There was more to see in KM last time I was there – no ice sculptures this time due to the warmer weather, but I did get to visit some large mammoths.

The Bermuda party remained a highlight, especially the pint of rum swizzle that Larry Ebin of FIDE congress video fame had slipped into my hand,  and it was also great to see the Irish hosting their party for the second time!  They definitely won on the decor front but their musical plan went a little awry.  They had hoped that there would be better opportunities for conversation and had assembled an appropriate playlist: all started off well,  as I arrived the classic ‘Fairytale of New York‘ was playing, but as soon as it got more crowded the DJs reverted to the mind numbing techno that is obviously popular in Siberia.
Photo Credits:

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Next Year: Sheffield

I have been very impressed with CJ de Mooi, who has put a tremendous amount of work into his stint as ECF president, driving up and down the country to attend prizegivings far and wide and also organising the  Staunton Memorial Dinner, generously sponsored by Darwin Strategic,  held at Simpsons on 8th September.  One of the results of his efforts is a considerable increase in budget for next year’s British Championships.

This year the general strength in the British seemed to be less than I remember, I don’t know if there are any plans to try and restrict the number of lower rated players or those who qualify from feeder events next time, it would probably be desirable for the tournament but perhaps not very fair to players who have supported the event in less promising periods. I remain somewhat baffled as to why players from non-UK federations, eg. Russia or Poland, are able to participate; nothing against them personally, but to me residency seems irrelevant and would recommend only allowing players from a qualifying federation or who are at least in the process of moving to one.

Pairing systems are not a great strong point of mine but it seemed to me that there was little or no effort to limit the difference in average opposition which would have made for a more level playing field. Swiss tournaments are inevitably unfair but this injustice should be minimised as much as possible.

A suggestion I have seen regarding the future of the event is to switch the championship to a 12 player all play all. Whilst this has some merit in boom times I think it would be pretty dire in less well financed years. Instead of changing the British format, I would prefer reviving an event that has been sorely missing for many years: an English championship. This would have the advantage that the new tournament would have flexibility over location, dates and format that the British would only ever be able to acquire with massive detrimental changes.

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This Year: Canterbury

Canterbury seemed, to a rare participant, to be an above average venue for the British championships:  a nice town with a decent playing hall and reasonable accommodation available at the university.  The main drawbacks seemed to be the failure of the university to open any restaurants during the weekend, a move which cost them a lot of money as well as causing considerable inconvenience due to the lack of other options nearby.  Failing to keep the bar open on the last night as they had done on other occasions was probably also not financially astute.  During my longest stay on a campus my main problem was the extreme temperature in my room, until I managed to circumvent health and safety by acquiring the requisite Allen key to open the window more than a crack my room closely resembled a sauna.

Some of my games have already been annotated for the Telegraph, and others will appear in BCM and Chessbase but I will mention an interesting moment in my game with Richard Pert in the third round. Read the rest of this entry »

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