Playing one of the longest-running tournaments in the world! with Dutch game analysis...
Chess sculptures in Hastings Old Town.

Playing one of the longest-running tournaments in the world! with Dutch game analysis...

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For around half the New Years Day of my life, I wake up in the morning in the same place. My new year of 2020 began as so many have in previous years: playing my first tournament of the year, The Hastings Chess Congress!

More chess in Hastings Old Town!

The Hastings Chess Congress forms one part of a long history of tournaments in Hastings; indeed, it could be in the contention for the longest-running tournament (in some form!) as its history now spans three centuries! The Hastings tournament of 1895 was famous for featuring two World Champions (one of whom was the current champion) and nearly all of the world's best players, and has been held nearly every year annually since!

Every World Champion before Kasparov (except Bobby Fischer) played at Hastings: Wilhelm Steinitz (1895), Emanuel Lasker (1895), Capablanca (1919, 1929/30, 1930/1 and 1934/5), Alexhine (1922, 1925/6, 1933/4 and 1936/7), Max Euwe (1923/4, 1930/1, 1931/2, 1934/5, 1945/6 and 1949/50), Botvinnik (1934/5, 1961/2 and 1966/7), Smyslov (1954/5, 1962/3 and 1968/9), Tal (1963/4), Petrosian (1977/8), Spassky (1965/6), and Karpov (1971/2).

There is even a variation named after the tournament, played in the game Victor Berger – George Alan Thomas in 1926-1927; a variation of the Queen's Gambit Declined, the moves are as follows:

But early last year, the future of the congress looked in grave danger due to the bane of every chess organiser's existence: lack of sponsorship. The terms of the previous sponsor had now ended, and whilst Hastings Borough council were willing to continue their share of the sponsorship, this was on the condition that the tournament organisers matched the share like-for-like with other private sponsorship or donations. Chief arbiter Lara Barnes spearheaded a crowd-funding outreach to regular players of the congress and the British chess community alike, with pledges from chess enthusiasts from all over the world of £2000 in just a few weeks. But there was still another £10-15,000 to find!

Arbiters David Clayton, Alex McFarland and Lara Barnes at Hastings 2020. Photo: Brendan O'Gorman.

Many large companies have previously sponsored Hastings over the years, and a new sponsor was still urgently required to ensure the continuation of the event in 2020. The ultimate aim was to attract a sponsor which would enable the congress to recover its past status on the international chess calendar and reach another centenary in 2024-2025!

I put out the word about seeking sponsorship on my YouTube and Twitch channels, and on social media, where I received a very positive response from one of my Twitter followers John Ashworth, CEO of Caplin Systems, a software company based in London. John is a chess player who was all aware of the Hastings Congresses' history and integral part of Hastings and English heritage. Immediately I got in touch with John via email, who later would meet with representatives from Hastings and driving force behind the tournament Press Officer Pam Thomas to set up the sponsorship, and so the Caplin Systems Hastings Chess Congress was born, and Hastings lived to see another year!

Thanks again to John Ashworth, CEO of Caplin Systems, for saving the tournament!

John told the Hastings Online Times that, It’s a substantial and significant tournament in the chess calendar, and we’ve been able to make a difference,”, adding, “I’m pretty certain we’ll be here next year.” Thank you to John for answering my call, sponsoring this years event, and for being such a great, hands-on figure by holding many evening events in the main player's hotel The White Rock and by playing in one of the secondary tournaments itself!

Thanks to Caplin Systems' additional funding, 17 GMs took part in the Masters which was contested by 125 participants. There was a total of 297 entries from 27 countries in the various tournaments which comprise the congress – the Masters, the Christmas Tournament, the New Year Morning and Afternoon Tournaments and the Weekend Open.

The venue Horntye Park

Unfortunately, the tournament found out last year that there is some doubt about the future of the venue, the Horntye Sports Complex, due to plans to sell the grounds for housing development. I am both hopeful and confident that if these plans go ahead and the Horntype is no more than the organisers will find an alternative venue within Hastings to continue this iconic and historic international tournament. Being a Christmas/New Years tournament, a school with appropriate facilities is not out of the question, and I'm confident that the new congress chairman Marc Bryant is working hard to secure the future of one of my favourite tournaments of the year. Marc won't mind me saying that I think he will make a better tournament organiser than a chess player!

Beautiful weather on the English coast!

...and the seaside food wasn't bad either!

The 2019-2020 was ultimately won by GM Magesh Chandran Panchanathan from India, the 10th seed who took an early lead and did not look back, winning the £2000 first prize! GM Romain Eduaord from France finished 2nd with a nice win over Dutch GM Erik van der Doel in the final round. My own tournament went very well, finishing on 3rd equal with others, but ultimately 4th on tie-break with 6.5/9. Starting out with two wins against juniors, draws against the Dutch GM van der Doel and Russian GM Korneev (who's peak rating is 2671), my first loss was to the 1st seed, my fellow British GM David Howell, who has been England no.1 and 2700. From there, 3 more wins and a draw led to my comfortable 6.5/9.

GingerGM at Hastings 2020. Photo: Brendan O'Gorman.

The game I'd like to look at is my final round game against IM Alan Merry, a confident British junior who I have played on a number of occasions. There was all to play for, so I went all-in with the Dutch!