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Hastings Chess Congress 2010-11 (1)

Hastings Round 1 Report

FM Steve Giddins reports on the first Round of the Hastings Masters.

Fried chickens and impossible missions

FM Steve Giddins reports on the 1st round of the Hastings Masters

Another Hastings congress starts! Of course, for strength, the wonderful London Classic now has to rank as Britain's premier chess event, but for any British chessplayer, Christmas means Hastings, and always will. There can be no greater joy than to wake up on 28 December, in a local B&B, overlooking the sea, with the waves of the Channel lapping gently against the shore...Sorry, did I say "lapping gently"? I meant "battering the shore", of course, whilst a blanket of dense fog ensured that one could not actually see the extent of the said battering. But no matter - it is the first day of Hastings! This year, the pleasure of that first morning was enhanced by the news that the Ashes were firmly within England's grasp. "Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive", as Wordsworh put it - and all he had to celebrate was a few French aristocrats having their heads cut off!

The 86th Hastings Congress features one of the strongest Masters events for some years, with the field of 103 including 10 Grandmasters and 15 International Masters. The British challenge is led once more by David Howell, fresh from his recent appearance in London. Yesterday's first round got underway at 2.15pm, with an opening ceremony attended by the Deputy Mayor, Councillor Alan Roberts and Councillor Jeremy Birch, the Leader of Hastings Borough Council, whose generous sponsorship has enabled the tournament to continue for so long.

On top board, the game Eames-Edouard soon had me thinking about fried chicken - not, you understand, because of any dietary fixation on my part, but because Bob Eames met the top seed's Sicilian Defence with the rarely-seen Morra Gambit. Back in 1972, at the powerful "Church's Fried Chicken" tournament at San Antonio, the late American master Ken Smith (he of "Smith-Morra Gambit" fame) employed the line against several super-GM opponents. Unfortunately, the result was an unmitigated disaster, so much so that when one of his opponents in the same event played the French Defence against Smith, Bent Larsen appended a question mark to 1...e6 in the tournament book, and added the priceless annotation "Better is 1...c5, which wins a pawn"! Bob Eames clearly has a different view of the gambit's merits, but on this occasion, he was unable to justify his choice. Edouard returned the extra pawn, to reach a middlegame with the bishop pair and a powerful pawn centre, and then struck when given a tactical opportunity:

Here, Eames played the incautious 23 Rc1?, which was met by the neat 23...e4! 24 fxe4 Bd4+ 25 Kh1 Bf2! The threat against h2 left White with no choice but to surrender the exchange with 26 Rxf2, Qxc1+, after which the GM's technique did the rest.

On board 2, Istratescu had to work hard to overcome his opponent, and David Howell won on board three, after his opponent blew a promising position and resigned when about to exceed the time-limit. The fourth seed, and certainly one of the pre-tournament favourites is Vasilios Kotronias, the Greek GM, who opened his account with a very quick win against the promising youngster, Ryan Rhys Griffiths:

Kotronias,Vasilios (2591) - Griffiths,Ryan Rhys (2267) [B23]

Hastings Masters (1.4), 28.12.2010

1 e4 c5 2 Nc3 d6 3 f4 g6 4 Nf3 Bg7 5 Bc4 Nc6 6 d3 Nf6 7 0-0 0-0 8 Qe1 Nd4 9 Nxd4 cxd4 10 Nb5 This move appears to be a novelty, 10 Ne2 being more usual. 10...a6 Kotronias said afterwards that Black should have played 10...Nd7 either here, or on the next move, but Griffiths instead decides to try to refute White's 10th. 11 Nxd4 b5? 12 Bb3 Qb6 Of course, if this move is playable, it is extremely good, but can a GM of Kotronias' calibre really have just blundered a piece so early? Naturally, the answer proves to be no. 13 c3 e5 14 fxe5 dxe5 15 Be3

15...Qd6 A sad admission of defeat, but taking the piece is hopeless after 15...exd4 16 Bxd4 Qd8 17 Qh4, eg. 17 ..Nd7 18 Qxd8 Rxd8 19 Rxf7 Bxd4+ 20 cxd4 Kh8 21 Raf1 and Black is defenceless. 16 Nf3 Qxd3? This hastens the end, but Black is already clearly worse. 17 Nxe5 Qxe4 17...Qd6 18 Nxf7 Rxf7 19 Bxf7+ Kxf7 20 Bd4 is no better. 18 Bc5 Black must lose material. 18...Bb7 19 Qxe4 Bxe4 20 Bxf8 Kxf8 21 Nd7+! 1-0

The first shock of the event came on board 5, where Mark Hebden blundered and lost against Dave Ledger. Simon Williams was held to a draw by Russian veteran, Boris Furman, and Aaron Summerscale was unable to better that result against Ian Snape. One of the things which has strengthened the field noticeably this year is a significant contingent of IMs from India. One of them is Dhopada Swapnil, who showed his tactical prowess with a sparkling win against John Anderson, who has performed well here for the past few years:

Swapnil,S Dhopada (2409) - Anderson,John (2195) [D20]

Hastings Masters (1.18), 28.12.2010

1 d4 d5 2 c4 c6 3 Nc3 dxc4 4 e4 e5 5 d5 Nf6 6 Bxc4 b5 7 Bb3 b4 8 Nce2 Bc5 9 Nf3 Nxe4 10 0-0 f6 11 Ng3 Nxg3 12 hxg3 Qe7? 12...Bb7 is better 13 Be3 Bxe3 14 d6 Qb7

15 Nxe5! The start of a winning attack. 15 ..fxe5 16 Qh5+ Kd8 16...Kd7 is slightly more tenacious, but White still has a winning attack after 17 Rad1!. 17 fxe3 Bd7 18 Qxe5 Re8 Allowing a spectacular knockout.

19 Rf8! Qb6 20 Qe7+ Kc8 21 Rxe8+ Bxe8 22 Qxe8+ Kb7 23 Qe7+ 1-0

Finally, a cautionary tale. It is rather early to be talking about the game of the tournament, or any similar prizes, but anyone looking for the blunder of the tournament may already have the answer. It is also a salutary lesson, that things are never over until they are over, especially in K+P endings. The game Flynn-Messam-Sparkes reached this position:

Cue the theme music for Mission: Impossible. Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to lose this position as Black, in one move. Sadly for Messam-Sparkes, she found a way: 38...f6??? 39 h6! 1-0.

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