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Hastings Chess Congress 2009-10 (1)

Hastings Round 1 Report

David Howell won on time against Hastings veteran Peter Marusenko. Photo © Dave Clayton.

David Howell won on time against Hastings veteran Peter Marusenko. Photo © Dave Clayton. |

Steven Giddins reports on the first round of the Hastings Chess Congress.

Laudator temporis acti

I am not sure why it is, but ever since reaching adulthood, I have been possessed by the permanent feeling of having been born between 50 and 100 years too late. Somehow, I have never quite felt part of the contemporary world. Look on my bookshelves at home, and you will scarcely find a novel written in the twentieth century. My taste in classical music includes very little that post-dates Mahler, and I am not aware of a single piece of art to which I would give house-room, that was created after the death of Queen Victoria. And as far as films are concerned, I have always viewed the entire industry with the deepest mistrust, and have certainly never watched more than a dozen or so that were made in colour. The same is true of the chess world. For all the technological wonders of the internet and databases, I would still  - as I did recently - rather pay £20-odd for a book of Spassky's collected games, and play through them on a board and pieces (wooden, of course - none of this modern plastic rubbish!), than access them free of charge via a computer screen. Give me adjournments, tournaments with rest days, and real 24-game world championship matches, the moves of which I am happy to find out from the newspaper the next day, rather than watching live on an internet broadcast.

If ever there was an event in the chess world which embodies tradition, it is Hastings, the world's oldest surviving international tournament. Admittedly, not all of its past glories have survived into today, but it remains one of the great occasions in the chess calendar. I have been thinking hard about how my reports could reflect its traditional values more appropriately, and believe I have found a solution. A classic tournament deserves classic writing, including Classical quotations. Victorian authors never baulked at throwing in regular Latin and Greek quotations, and rarely thought of insulting their audience by providing a translation. Alas, we live in less enlightened times, when the study of the classics has died out almost as thoroughly as the Muzio Gambit. It has always been a source of shame to me that I myself lack a classical education. However, among the Yuletide offerings I received this year was a splendid little volume, entitled "Say It In Latin - 1,000 useful phrases for every occasion". 'Tis veritable manna from heaven! Here, I have decided, is the solution to my dilemma. This year's Hastings reports will be elevated to a new cultural level, by being peppered with appropriate quotations (or, indeed, inappropriate ones - after all, abusus non tollit usum...) lifted from this fine little volume. I trust all my readers will feel suitably uplifted by this experience, and will come to realise that even Britain in the year 2009 is not quite so grim a place, if one has a Latin tag or two on hand.

The 2009-10 tournament got off to a rocky start yesterday afternoon. Half an hour into the round, none of the top four seeds had arrived at the board, and the arbiters could be seen prowling the hall, clipboards in hand, anxiously awaiting the stars of the show. Fortunately, we are not using FIDE's ludicrous "zero tolerance" default provisions, under which any player who is not seated at the board, at attention, facing the front, with arms folded and forelock tugged, when the arbiter announces the start of play, is subject to a public flogging, followed by summary execution in the middle of the tournament hall. No, here in the more civilised climate of Blighty, we give players a certain amount of leeway, and happily, all the top seeds materialised in time to avoid being defaulted. Most duly reeled in the full point, the principal exception being second seed Zbynek Hracek, who was held to a very creditable draw by Bob Eames. The latter shed a pawn, but defended like grim death in the ending, and Hracek was eventually forced to take a repetition. Top seed Yuri Drozdovskij, from The Ukraine, clinched the point, after his opponent misdefended Black's queen sacrifice:


Here Black took the two rooks with 27...exf3 28.Rxe8+ Rxe8 29.g3 Re2 30.Bd6? A fatal mistake. 30.Bf2, either immediately, or preceded by 30.h6, would keep the position unclear. 30...Bd7! Suddenly, the white king faces irresistible threats.  31.Bc5 Rg2+ 32.Kf1 Bh3 33.Bf2 Re7 0-1

Most home interest centres on British champion David Howell, fresh from his outstanding performance in the London Classic. Here, he got off to a winning start against Hastings veteran Peter Marusenko, but only after the latter over-stepped the time limit, in a drawn heavy piece ending. There were also wins for the English GM trio of Hebden, Arkell and Williams, the latter despatching Bret Addison in drastic style.



Black's position has been more reminiscent of draughts than chess for some time, and Williams now capitalised on the dark-square weaknesses with a small combination: 28.Bf8! Kxf8 29.Ng6+ Kg7 30.Nxh8 Kxh8 31.Rh6 Raa7 32.Qf2 Rg7 33.Qh4 Raf7 34.Qh2 Kg8 35.Qe5 1-0

One of the players it is a delight to welcome back to the event is IM Andrew Martin, who nowadays plays very little tournament chess. Indeed, he confessed to me before the start yesterday that this is his first tournament, since Hastings eight years ago. Nowadays, Andrew is heavily involved in training activity, and has recorded numerous opening DVDs for Chessbase. He must have sold more DVDs than Michael Caine ("not a lot of people know that"), but it is great to see his cheerful demeanour back on the British tournament scene. It would have been nice to welcome him back with a win, but, alas, Fata obstant - he was the highest-rated casualty of the opening round, when he lost to Polish WIM, Joanna Worek.

It occurred to me during yesterday's round that this year's Masters may constitute a record, for the greatest number of Russian chess translators ever assembled together in a British tournament. In addition to myself, we have Bernard Cafferty, the doyen of Russian chess translation in this country, plus John Sugden, who has translated numerous Russian chess books for Batsford, Gambit and other publishers. Yet another member of the translators' club is Laurence Webb, who wins yesterday's edition of the Flash Herbert's prize, for the most spectacular queen exchange manoeuvre of the day:



Obviously, Black has other ways to play, notably just 29...Bxe4, but Laurence chose the very photogenic 29...Qd5! neatly removing the girlies from the board, after which he duly won the ending.

So, overall it was a relatively quiet start to this year's Hastings tournament. But the great thing is that we are off and running once again, and I am sure much interesting chess will be played over the next eight days. Gaudeamus igitur, as the barman in the Pig in Paradise said to me last night...

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