Congresses run by an organisation called "e2-e4" have been held frequently throughout the UK since 2004. I have heard excellent reviews about these congresses and since two of my chess playing colleagues were attending, I decided to take the plunge and enter the 2013 e2-e4 Buxton event.
One advantage of e2-e4 congresses is that they are FIDE rated tournaments. They are also run by chess players who have had experience of attending many events throughout the UK and they have hit on what seems to be a winning formula.
This event was held at Palace Hotel, in the Peak District town of Buxton (you might already have guessed the name of the town from the title of this blog!). This is an excellent venue, ideally suited for chess.
The establishment is a Puma Hotel and there were discounted room rates for congress participants. The hotel itself is a very impressive affair, dating back to the mid 1800's. The building is set over four storeys and overlooks the main town. So, expolring Buxton between rounds where possible was easy enough and eating outside of the venue was easy enough with many eateries within very easy walking distance.
The hotel was well up to the standards you would expect from a four star establishment and my own room was excellent. Tehre were two playing rooms, an analysis room and, importantly, a bar area where the friendly staff did everything they could to make us feel welcome.
The tournament was divided into three sections;
The Open Section, which boasted entries from Grandmaster Keith Arkell and International Master Ameet Ghasi were amongst a very strong field of 19 competitors.
The Major Section, where yours truly was competing, was also a strong field (ECF Under 165, FIDE Under 1950). A total of 33 entrants made up this section including Northampton ChessMates' very own Eva Ressel (who is incidentally the Norwegian Girls U12 champion!). Eva has been playing chess for around 3 years and her progress has been exceptional. Special mention is deserved for Eva who started with a loss but revovered well to finish on 2.5 points, winning one and drawing three of her other games.
Having only ever played in three congress tournaments for longer time controls (the last one being around 15 years ago) plus a couple of work events whilst working in the Civil Service, this was all going to be a culture shock. A lot different from the odd one dayer rapidplay event I occasionally attend.
Many of the competitors are hardened tournament circuit players who are used to playing two long games in a day and used to the process, time controls etc.
The time controls were 90 minutes each for all moves with a 30 second time bonus per move which is a new time format for me. So, I was battling not only against an unfamiliar intensity of chess, a strong level of opponent (no easy games in the Major at all!) but also against a new time control. I had set my stall out, as usual in this sort of competition.
You might be thinking that I am getting my excuses in early. And you'd be right! It's this sort of event that can not only leave you scarred mentally and physically but can also have a somewhat detrmental effect on your grading performance for the season (see my previous reports on the 4NCL if you don't believe me!).
Round One saw me up against my lowest rated opponent in the entire tournament. A 6pm Friday night kick off meant I was not only missing out on coaching at NJCC but, more importantly, I was missing out on my usual Friday night drinks with friends! I managed to put all this to the back of my mind and was delighted at coming out of the tournament hall with a win. Not only that, a win in 11 moves. My opponent had overlooked a tactical shot which won me a pawn and, given that his position was poor as well, he actually blundered not long after losing the pawn. I know these things can happen all too often and was just glad it wasn't me on the receving end!
Round 2 was on Saturday morning and this proved to be a somewhat tougher affair. I felt pretty comfortably through most of the game and actually missed a couple of winning opportunities in the endgame. I confess that nerves and nervous energy made me play the opening in a rather slipshod fashion - I didn't gather my thoughts and was surprised as early as move 5. Looking back now at how neat my writing was on my scoresheet, I clearly wasn't THAT nervous! A clear win was missed towards the end which was a little disappointing but against a higher rated opponent, I couldn't be too disappointed at having contained him without having felt I was ever under pressure.
Round three on Saturday afternoon saw me battling with the other front runners. I did not do myself justice and allowed 8...d5 by my opponent after which the position is very difficult and I was succumbing to fatigue. This was my only disappointing game of the tournament and it was over rather quickly in 22 moves. You might think I resigned prematurely but I was completely lost. Still, I finished Saturday on 50% and was reasonably happy with that.
Sunday started slowly - owing to a rather late night in the excellent company of Eva, Shiv (Eva's mum), Adrian (a work colleague of Shiv's) and Dominique Conterno also from Northampton Chessmates. Dom is a very strong player who is also somewhat of an expert at correspondence chess. I will try and blog something about this in the future!
Dom and I stayed up late for a drink and we snuck back into the analysis room at around 1am to have a look over a couple of games. Getting to bed at 2am having had one glass of wine too many was probably not the ideal preparation for round 4 but I wouldn't have had it any other way!
Round 4 saw me up against a top junior player, Michael Fletcher. Michael picked his way through a complicated opening in the Scandanavian Defense and remained a pawn up (albeit a weak pawn as it was isolated). For the pawn, I had a lot of activity but with nothing concrete to go on. When I noticed Michael only had around 8 minutes left on his clock, I offered him a draw as I really didn't want to just play for time. With most of the pieces (but only half the pawns!) left on the board, Michael decided to play on. He then offered a draw when he was down to just two minutes left and I found myself accepting after looking at a potential Nxf2 tactic which my Shiraz soaked brain really couldn't work out. This was an ideal game for me - a recovery from Saturday's loss and I had only used around half an hour on my clock. All the thinking had been done by my opponent and I felt reasonably fresh. Besides, it was Dom's turn to pay for lunch, and I wasn't going to pass up on that opportunity!
The last round was an interesting game where I missed yet another clear opportunity to gain a significant (and probably winning) advantage. Having briefly looked at this when keying it into Fritz, it seems as if I missed some very good continuations. I also blew it in the endgame with a fairly easy win on the board in the endgame. Note to self - when you've outplayed a strong opponent, make sure you finish 'em off!
For those of you who would like further information on e2-e4 congressess I can heartily recommend them; they're superbly well run, the venues are excellent and the organsing team are helpful and friendly. Not to mention, they are also FIDE rated! The e2-e4 website can be found here: http://www.e2e4.org.uk/default.htm
Just to prove how well organised things are, they also publish the individual games which I presume will eventually be available for download like the previous tournaments. The results of the congress are already available on the website and they can be found here: http://www.e2e4.org.uk/games/index.htm
I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed my weekend away even if it did mean putting myself through the wringer! My score in this tournament could have been even better. As it was, my ECF performance was 156.8 (+10 on my grade) and that's encouraging because, one game aside, I generally felt I was playing within myself without getting too stressed out. The company of some good friends definitely helps as well as achieving a respectable performance.
I am fairly certain this won't be the last report I write after an e2-e4 congress!