My experience at the Worcester Congress!
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Greetings! So last weekend the Worcester Chess Congress took place, and since it was within reasonable travelling distance from me (a very rare thing!) and didn't require membership of the ECF (English Chess Federation) to enter, I decided to give competitive OTB chess a shot for the first time!
The tournament took place over the weekend of the 21st/22nd of July, and the format was:
- 5 games in total; 3 games on Saturday, and 2 on Sunday.
- Time controls: 90 minutes for the first 35 moves, and an additional 15 minutes added there to finish the game.
- 4 sections: Open, U160, U135, and U115.
A lot of things here I wasn't used to! For starters, as an online player I tended to consider a 15 minute game a "long game", so with all this extra time it might be very strange! The main challenge, however, was picking a section to compete in with absolutely no idea of my rating! For those unfamiliar with the ECF rating system, the approximate FIDE conversions are: 115~1550, 135~1750, 160~1950 (these are rounded to the nearest 50!)
I chose to try the U135 section. As an ungraded player entering the section, I had to send details of my playing strength to the controller, so I sent my online rating. Based on that, he gave me a nominal estimated grade of 130, so I could enter the section.
Anyway, I arrived on the Saturday after a good night's sleep, fresh and enthusiastic about playing. The venue was the University of Worcester; we were playing in the Conference Centre. The graded sections were all playing in the main hall, and the Open section was in a separate room off an adjoining corridor.
I looked at the pairings for the first round. There were about 25 people registered for the section, with ratings ranging from 134 right down to 93. I saw I had Black first against a 120 player, so I dumped my things, went to the board and acquainted myself - particularly, with the clocks.
My opponent arrived a bit later. It seemed he was a veteran of the chess scene - but was doing more organising than playing these days. He enquired about my estimated rating and I admitted having only played before online. He assured me this was the "real thing".
After an introductory welcome from the controller, the games started! I was slightly nervous about how it would go, but soon relaxed as I acquired a nice, safe advantage, and in the end it was comfortable for the most part.
So I was not going to be whitewashed, at least! That was the main feeling I had after this game. It took about 2 hours to complete, and was one of the earlier finishes. I went to grab lunch, text my girlfriend my result, and to calm myself for the next round.
Round 2, I went to the pairings. About 6 people had managed to score the whole point in their first games (including a fellow who received a full point bye). I was now on Board 1, up against the highest rated player in the section, a 134! Fortunately I would have the White pieces, so I was feeling moderately confident, but still not totally sure of what to expect.
It turned out to be the shortest game of the round.
After that round I actually emerged in clear first on 2/2, the other two games between first round winners had been drawn. Naturally I was very surprised to find myself in such a position, and wasn't expecting it to last realistically, despite having played well.
So the third round came about, and I had Black again. My opponent in this one was comfortably the youngest opponent I played, even so he was plenty older than myself! There were actually 3 juniors in the section, all who performed decently, but I didn't get the chance to play any of them. Anyway, turns out my opponent here also plays on chess.com (with a much higher rating than myself!) and also moderates problems to go on the tactics trainer which is pretty cool!
This game turned out to be an epic encounter, by far the most interesting I played. It went on for almost the full 3 and a half hours and: I lost! There were plenty of twists and turns - I thought I was slightly worse for most of the game and for a period I was, although it was miniscule. But, I did have a better position at one stage, but didn't realise it. Then I made an incredibly bad call and threw away a cast iron draw, just as I had achieved it! Even after that point, when I had assumed I was completely lost, computer analysis revealed he made a serious blunder handing me back an unlikely advantage! But I didn't really have the time to figure that out, and instead, succumbed. A very good fight though.
My favourite game of the tournament, even though I lost. There was so much in it, especially the endgame. Very rewarding to study. But it also showed how chess is a draining game. Physically I was in good shape, I go out running, cycling regularly, and also using a suggestion from FM Eilysium's blog that I read recently about playing "Push-Up Bullet Chess" which is: you play 1|0 matches online, and when you lose a game, you do 25 push-ups (or however many you can do) before you start the next game. So I was pretty fit. But, I'd never spent a whole day concentrating on chess as hard as I had today. The first round had started at 10am and by the time this game finished, it was 10pm or thereabouts. And I guess my brain was shocked by this. I didn't really realise that at the time, but upon reflection, my critical processes during the latter half of that game just weren't running accurately, and that's why I lost. (NB: This is not an excuse, it is a statement that I believe my opponent was doing this better than me, and hence deserved the win!)
Anyway, although the pain of a defeat is always stronger than the elation of a triumph (or something ) I was pretty pleased about how the first day had gone to be honest. Definitely being on a plus score was good, even if I was no longer leading the field! So I went and got some sleep, and then came back for Day 2.
Day 2, I was not feeling quite as fresh as on Day 1, probably as a result of the hard day beforehand! I hadn't got much sleep as it was boiling hot as well. But, that's to be expected! Anyway, in Round 4 I had White against a 114 who was performing well, but I was confident about my chances. I managed to win with a "safe" attack that carried no real risk or double-edgedness (word? )
3/4 going into the final round. If I could win this next game, it might be enough to tie for first (turns out it would have been!) but I wasn't really thinking about that. I had a 3rd Black against a 129, and he played an ultra-solid opening setup which I couldn't get much against, although I didn't play that well. It ended up being a fairly uneventful draw, which was mildly disappointing, but I wasn't too fussed. I was slightly worse all game, and didn't want to lose!
So, I finished the tournament on 3.5/5 which is obviously not bad and I played some strong opponents for that score as well. It was good enough to tie with quite a few other people for 2nd - I got £20 back, which, considering I paid £21 to enter, wasn't bad! (Until you factor in what I paid for food, etc.) Stephen my 3rd round opponent took first place with 4/5, so congrats to him!
Overall I really enjoyed the weekend and am definitely hoping to enter some more at some point! The atmosphere was brilliant - to be around people who enjoy discussing chess and sharing experiences was just fantastic, and also - I'm glad I won a few games .
One more thing - I calculated a tournament performance rating (TPR) for myself and it came out as 146 - which is around 1800 FIDE. So that was pretty satisfying. Now maybe I have more of an idea where I am at with OTB chess.
Very long blog, I realise! Thanks for reading!