Mar 122022

Back at the seaside. The players at this year’s congress are unlikely to be venturing out to see the sites for very long this weekend though as the weather is fairly inhospitable

Hebden Bridge Chess Club have sent a healthy delegation of members to Blackpool this weekend for the 45th Blackpool Chess Congress. I’m going to try and keep an open blog going across the weekend to keep you updated of their progress.

First of all though, for those who aren’t familiar with it, Blackpool (along with Scarborough which usually takes place at the end of October) is one of the largest weekend competitions in the North of England. Last year it didn’t take place due to COVID restrictions and in 2020 it was probably the last congress to take place before the lockdown was imposed. I was supposed to participate in that edition but took a late decision not to attend as by that stage it was clear a lockdown was inevitable. I must admit that, if I’d really thought through how long we were going to be away from over the board chess, I would have gone and played. This year’s edition has therefore assumed some emotional significance for me as, rightly or wrongly, it feels like a step on the road back to ‘normality’ (or whatever our new normal is!) after two years of disruption and uncertainty. It seems that there a significant number of chess players who feel the same way as me for the congress has a very healthy entry list across no fewer than five section – an Open, the Major (for players rated under 2050), the Intermediate (U1850), the Minor (U1700) and the Standard (U1550). The prize fund is significant (over £6,700) and pretty equitably split across the sections. The winner of the Open will receive £700. but the winner of the Standard can bag themselves £400 which is an unusually generous amount for the lowest section at a weekend congress.

I mentioned that Hebden Bridge have a good contingent of players at the event. There are also chess friends here from across Calderdale. Here’s who to follow in each section:

  • Open: Martyn Hamer, Jamie Heritage and David Wedge are all here as too are Leo Keely and Peter Hepworth from Huddersfield
  • Major: Dave Shapland is playing in this section and so too are Dave Patrick from Belgrave and Richard Bowman from Keighley
  • Intermediate: Cobus Daneel and Jeremy Butts are in this section alongside our old friends Robert Clegg and Gordon Farrar from Belgrave and Nigel Hepworth from Huddersfield

Round 1

Jamie Heritage was served up a real baptism of fire for his first ever weekend congress as he drew second seed Andrew Ledger in round 1! At least he had the White pieces and had the chance to play such a strong player when he was full of energy. Martyn Hamer is right alongside Jamie in the starting rankings and he was even more ‘lucky/unlucky’ in that he drew Black against the top seed, Grand Master Danny Gormally. Needless to say, both our men ended up losing but put up strong resistance. I’ll try and get hold of their games to publish them here in due course.

Meanwhile, further down the board order, David Wedge also had a tough first round assignment with White against the very experienced Jim Burnett. David did wonderfully well to earn himself a draw in that game.

Leo Keely took a half point bye in round 1 but the result of the round from a Calderdale perspective was undoubtedly Peter Hepworth’s tremendous win, with Black, over Martin Burrows who is rated 2245! Peter has been quietly improving for the last few years and this result demonstrates how far he’s come. That win has earned him a crack at FIDE Master Tim Wall with the White pieces this morning.

I got rather lucky in my round 1 game against John Cawston who selected a very solid line of the French Defence to wheel out against me. It’s the kind of variation where White has extra space and a reasonably comfortable advantage, but how to break Black down for a win. We ended up contesting an ending in which I had two knights and pawns against his bishop and knight plus pawns but he still had his bad French bishop. I took significant risks to try and squeeze out a win and certainly did not play the end game optimally but, at a couple of key moments, John rushed his moves and they turned out to be big mistakes as I was finally able to queen a pawn. I’ve published the game below with some notes from Stockfish to help give an idea of what was going on.

Dave Patrick and Richard Bowman both lost games to higher rated players.

In the Intermediate their were mixed fortunes for Jeremy and Cobus who are both playing their first weekend tournaments for twenty-odd years and are very excited to be back in competition again. They have bravely elected to enter on section above the one they were eligable for, and both drew Black against higher rated players in round 1. Cobus beat his opponent handily when he was able to take over in the centre and hoover up several pawns in the middle game. Jeremy also got a decent position from the opening in his game but, at a point where he thought he’d discovered a wicked trap to spring on his opponent it turned out he’d missed a wrinkle that turned the tables on him. After that there was only ever going to be one outcome.

Robert Clegg, Gordon Farrar and Nigel Hepworth all lost their opening games.

Rounds 2 and 3

It was a long and busy day for our club contingent at the Blackpool Congress with mixed results across the three relevant sections.

In the Open, Jamie Heritage bounced back from his first round defeat to Andrew Ledger with a win on Saturday morning before another tough assignment in the afternoon against Stephen Jones from Basingstoke rated 2344. Battle took place in a sharp Sveshnikov Sicilian and Stephens deep knowledge of the opening paid off as he was able to defeat Jamie in an endgame. The post-mortem afterwards was an extremely useful learning experience. Jamie is on 1 out of 3.

Martyn Hamer meanwhile won both his games yesterday against Barry Robson and Martin Burrows and he is now on 2/3. David Wedge was unfortunate to get drawn against Leo Keely in round 2. He lost that game but bounced back to win on time in a very sharp Two knights Defence against Roger Williamson from Aigburth who is rated 2255 – a great result for David. He is now on 1.5/3 which is a great score considering the strength of his opposition to date. He plays another strong player this morning in the form of Samuel Milson from Sheffield.

Leo Keely, having beaten David in the morning, drew his round 3 game and now faces Gary Quillan who is one of the top seeds.

In the Major I had a pretty lucky day. In the morning I drew the lowest rated player in the section but quickly found that he was much stronger than the number on paper as he played very well and put me under a lot of pressure. Eventually I made a mistake to gift him a pawn but the position opened up and I found some counter play. I offered him a draw in a position where I was still a pawn down but had an active position and some counter chances though I’d seen that he could defend and might be able to consolidate his advantage so a draw offer seemed a sensible choice. As he’d already offered me a draw a few moves before he was happy to accept my offer.

Then in the afternoon I really had a stoke of luck. My opponent arrived only just before he would have been forfeit – nearly 30 minutes late – and then proceeded to have long thinks as we played into one of my favorite lines of the French Tarrasch. I however was out of sorts and played the early middle game dreadfully. I gambited a pawn in thematic fashion but then gave away another and didn’t really have any compensation for it. Fortunately my opponent’s clock problems came to the rescue as the position remained complicated, I found some active chances and as his clock drifted into the last 5 minutes I still had over an hour left on mine. Finally he missed some tactics and I completed an outrageous swindle to seal the victory. I’m on 2.5/3 but will have to play much better today if I’m to maintain any chance of winning a prize.

In the Intermediate, Cobus Daneel lost both his games yesterday against 1800-level opponents. Bizarrely, in both his games with Black he has faced the Bird’s Opening – 1.f4. Which one can play one’s whole chess career and expect to face only a small handful of times. Jeremy Butts is also on 1/3 but he has arrived their via a different route as he drew both his games yesterday.

Rounds 4 and 5

The final day of action at Blackpool saw some great action and some interesting games played by our Hebden Bridge members.

The Open

In the Open, David Wedge lost his game in the morning to Sheffield’s Samuel Milson and then drew with Neil Thomson in the afternoon to finish his tournament on a highly creditable 2 out or 5. This meant he finished the tournament in a share of 25th-34th places. Given that his starting rankling was 42 and his performance rating for the tournament was 1998 this represents a great outcome for David.

Further up the standings Jamie Heritage won a fine game on Sunday morning against Martin Mitchell (which you can find in the game viewer below) before rounding off his weekend with a swift and secure draw with the White pieces against Jim Burnett. Jamie finished on 50% in the Open section of his first weekend tournament – an outstanding achievement. He finished joint 18th-24th when his starting seeding was 24 and his performance rating was 2167. Both his wins came with the Black pieces which is an achievement in itself.

Martyn Hamer managed half a point more as he won his game on Sunday morning climbing to 3/4 before coming up against Stephen Jones (who beat Jamie on Saturday afternoon) and losing out in the final round. Still, a tremendous  performance for Martyn who finished tied in 12th-17th places with a performance rating of 2172.

I should mention that the Huddersfield  contingent also did very well with Leo Keely also finishing on 3 points and Peter Hepworth doing brilliantly to score 2.5.

I should finally mention that the Open ended in a seven (!!) way tie for first place with Steven Jones, Andrew Ledger, Chris Duncan, Andrew Burnett, Danny Gormally, Shrayan Majumder and Tim Wall all scoring 4 points.

The Major

Having struggled to find my best form on Saturday and feeling very fortunate to have ended the day in contention on 2.5/3, I played much better on Sunday. That said, I got nothing at all from the opening when I had the White pieces against the experienced Brendan O’Gorman in round 4. In fact I had to find some accurate defensive moves to ensure there was no accident but I managed to steer the game to safety and was happy with a draw that also didn’t take up too much energy as the game was done in under two hours.

On Sunday afternoon I drew Gary Jackson with Black and felt that I could try and go ‘all in’ for a win with a clear conscience. What resulted was one of my better efforts from the Classical Ruy Lopez. My opponent defended himself stoutly but I managed to find accurate moves to complete the victory and was delighted to finish in a share of 2nd-4th on 4 points. Barry Hymer won the section with 4.5. As I started ranked 16 and finished with a performance rating of 2041, this was definitely by best performance in a weekend congress to date.

The Intermediate

Jeremy and Cobus both enjoyed their first weekend tournaments since childhood and they performed creditably in a higher section than they need have played in but they relished the challenge. Jeremy finished on Sunday with two more draws to join the two he had had on Saturday. This meant he finished on 2 points and finished in a share of 45th-52nd. As he was ranked 61 at the start this represents a great outcome and his rating performance for the event was 1656 – 20 points higher than his rating.

Cobus lost on Sunday morning but drew on Sunday afternoon meaning he finished on 1.5 in a share of 53rd-63rd. Cobus’s starting rank was 56th, so this is a solid performance as well and his rating performance at Blackpool was 1578, somewhat below his current rating of 1695 but he did at least have a win in round 1 to console himself with.

All in all it was a great weekend for Hebden Bridge players and everyone had a great time at Blackpool. Hopefully, we can make an even stronger showing next year when the tournament will be held on 10-12 February.

All my games and some of those played by Jeremy, Cobus and Jamie can be found in the game viewer below.

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