First Saturday Tournament, Budapest

0 | Chess Event Coverage
As you might have noticed from the star in the image in the header above, ChessVibes on tour visited the capital of Hungary during the last two weeks. I was in Budapest playing the First Saturday Tournament IM group (and did quite well, winning 24 rating points). The main reason for playing there was actually not trying to score a norm. No, what I really wanted was enjoying the atmosphere of the famous First Saturday Tournaments, organized every month for already fifteen years now by "Mr. First Saturday" L?ɬ°szl?ɬ? Nagy. And I did enjoy it.

The First Saturday Tournament is unique in the chess world. Nowhere on earth you can play for a GM or a IM norm in a round-robin every single month since 1992. It's all organized by the famous L?ɬ°szl?ɬ? Nagy (pronounced as 'N?ɬ?hzheh'). After the tournament had finished, I asked him to tell about himself and about the history of the tournament.

"I started with the concept fifteen years ago, in February 1992. Between 1981 and 1991 I had been working in military service as a teacher of military chemistry. I was ranked as a captain. In my teens I was quite a talented player in Hungary, with a 2200 rating. When I chose for the military, I thought I would have lots of time for chess, but unfortunately this was not the case. In 1989 I spoke with the father of Almira Skripchenko, Fjodor, and he proposed to organize a monthly tournament together. Later I decided to organize it myself, in my hometown Budapest."

The tournament did not start with exactly the same formula as is used nowaways. "First we did some Scheveningen system tournaments and an IM closed tournament. From February 1993 onwards I am organizing also GM round-robins. And quite soon, in April 1993, Peter Leko scored a norm here." The natural question is of course to name some more famous players who played in a First Saturday. "These include Sutovsky, Radjabov, Nakamura, Milov, Carlsen... though Magnus did not score a norm here!" Why first Saturdays, I asked L?ɬ°szl?ɬ?. "It's the best day to start a tournament. There must be as little working days as possible during a chess tournament."

Every tournament organizer will tell you that it's a nice thing to organize a tournament, but that's also much of a hassle. ?É?ou can never relax as there will arise new problems, smaller or bigger ones, during every round. Players ariving late, players who don't pay, players who want to change accommodation, et cetera. Taking this into account, the effort it takes to do several round-robins on every first Saturday of a month is considerable. Therefore it's not strange that L?ɬ°szl?ɬ? can talk for hours and hours about his experience with chess players (or parents of players). "Once I got a phone call from a father. He asked how much it would cost for his son to score a GM norm. I had to ask (and pay) all the players to cooperate, and was supposed to keep silent to his son! Of course I didn't accept this. Also, once I was called by someone who asked: 'how do long do I have to stay in Budapest and play in your tournaments to get a rating of 2400?'"

But the biggest problem for L?ɬ°szl?ɬ? is clearly money issues. The FM's and other players who come to Budapest for the round-robin to score a norm, have to pay a far higher prize than for a regular open. The latter is usually about 50 euros while a 2247 player like me has to pay 225 euros to play a First Saturday. Most of the money paid by the 'patzers' goes to IMs and GMs who are there to make norms possible at all. But it happens a lot that players agree with L?ɬ°szl?ɬ? about the conditions, come to Budapest and then start negotiating about the fee just five minutes before the first round. But so far L?ɬ°szl?ɬ? is doing allright. "Me and my family can live from the tournament. We're not rich, we have the same appartment as fifteen years ago, but we're doing okay."

L?ɬ°szl?ɬ? Nagy is a proud man, proud of his tournament. Whenever I mentioned something slightly negative, for example the fact that I was expecting the tournament to last 13 rounds instead of 11, he reacted as if he had been stinged by a wasp. "Didn't I give you exactly what we agreed? Can you name any tournament that gives better conditions than mine?" And when I think of it I realize he is right. He never promised 13 rounds, only said he expected it to be.

L?ɬ°szl?ɬ? is quite a big man (I thinks Nagy even means big in Hungarian!) and one of the players compared him to The Godfather. "He's a very friendly man, but you shouldn't mess with him!"

I confronted L?ɬ°szl?ɬ? with the rumours that it's more easy than elsewhere to score norm here in Budapest because the IM's who are playing are willing to settle for a certain result in exchange for some Hungarian forints. Of course he denied this had ever happened in his tournament, as he should. And I must say that I have not witnessed anything of such kind during the tournament. Okay, there were some quick draws, when the Hungarian IM's played each other, but for the rest almost all of the games were hard-fought. So my general feeling of this tournament is a very positive one. If only they improve the toilets, which were the dirtiest I've ever seen in a playing hall. After two days I decided to put some handsoap there myself!

A bunch of players stayed in hotel Chesscom, which started in January and is owned by a Vietnamese family. The name of the hotel is no coincidence, since it's manager is Mrs. Hoang Thanh Trang, a IGM who plays for Hungary!

The atmosphere during the tournament was quite good. It's a bit different than in normal opens, where everybody is playing a little bit more relaxed, hoping to do well and perhaps even score a norm after they started well. Here in Budapest almost all of the participants arrive with just one goal: to go home with a norm in the suitcase. So most players seemed to have mixed feelings about the other participants. On the one hand everbody would be quite happy if someone would score a norm in the tournament, but on the other hand everbody really wants that one to be himself!

Every month players with this really purposeful attitude fly to Budapest from all over the world. During the First Saturday of June there were players from Canada, Libia, Ireland, The Netherlands, England, Poland, Singapore, Turkey, Vietnam and the USA. This makes the tournament also more interesting. Despite the fact that in a closed tournament every participant is 'an enemy that has to be eliminated', here quite soon I was part of a group of friends who went out for dinner together almost every night. (And mostly to Red Pepper, a restaurant I can really recommend to future First Saturday participants, at Visegrady Utca 2).

So if you're interested in playing a round-robin and try your luck for a GM or IM norm, why not a First Saturday. I think it's an interesting experience for every serious chess player. It costs some money, but for this you get something in return. After the first round you'll know how many points is needed for a norm and you can adjust your strategy to this. You'll also know your opponent and colour for the rest of the tournament in advance, so you can prepare like hell. Or just do sightseeing in the beautiful city of Budapest and go out at night at drink a beer or two in the open, at one of the many bars / discos at Margaret Island.

St. Stephen Basilica

The famous Chain Bridge, the first bridge to connect the two cities Pest and Buda, opened on November 20, 1849.

A view from Castle Hill, with the Chain Bridge and Saint Stephen's Basilica.

Margaret Island, located in the Danube river.

Nyugati Railway Station by night.

The statue of the Turul hovers menacingly near the top of the funicular leading up to Castle Hill. In ravaging the grandmother of Arpad, so the legend goes, the Turul was established as the progenitor of Hungary's first reigning dynasty. His symbol was a nationalist representation of a distinct Magyar identity.

The first Hungarian king Stefanus I before the Fishermen's Bastion.

The Hungarian Parliament Building, one of the world's greatest legislative buildings.

The ugliest building along the shore of the Danube river: Hotel Intercontinental.

Is the famous family into art now?

A must-see (and -do) when visiting Budapest: the Szechenyi Baths and Pool...

...where people bring their chess sets and play in the 37 degrees Celcius hot water.

Back to the tournament. The street where the Hungarian Chess Federation is located.

The entrance of the building.

The stairs to the second floor where the Hungarian Chess Federation is located, and with it the First Saturday tournament hall.

The playing hall.

First Saturday!

And old logo on the wall.

The tables are the chess boards!

The room for analysis, with many old chess books in Hungarian, Polish, Russian and English.

Mr. First Saturday!

L?ɬ°szl?ɬ? Nagy talking with IM Peter Hardicsay

GM Levente Vajda (Romania), co-winner of the First Saturday June GM group.

GM Mark Bluvshtein (Canada), co-winner of the First Saturday June GM group.

IM Viktor Erdos (Hungary), co-winner of the First Saturday June GM group and scoring his final GM-norm.

GM Dragan Kosic from Montenegro.

IM Thomas Roussel-Roozmon from Canada.

IM Michal Luch (Poland), winner of the IMa-group.

FM Ervin T?ɬ?th, who scored an IM-norm over the first 9 rounds.

IM P?ɬ©ter Hardicsay.

IM Dr. L?ɬ°szl?ɬ? Eperjesi.

IM B?ɬ©la Lengyel.
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