Congress Diary 2010 by Ian Campbell

I have arbited four events in the UK this year and have noticed a change in the way events are being run.

EPSCA in January remains the same as always although the numbers were down again and are roughly half what they were a few years ago. Yes, the weather was terrible last winter, and not much better now, contributing to the loss of players but there is a trend that does not bode well for our sport as played over the board.

Frodsham are still holding their February congress at the Community Centre but have changed to three undefined sections into which the top, middle and bottom thirds are placed. This does not go down well with everybody as players may find themselves top of a lesser section or bottom of a higher section and this is compounded by the recent change in gradings which may well be necessary but has produced anomolies in the short term. So, why do it? Economics is the simple answer. Organisers find it difficult to put up say £300 of prizes for a defined section only to find a dozen players entering the section. Fine for the players, no doubt, but not for the organisers who want, at least, to break even on the enterprise. Anybody daft enough to think there are fortunes to be made from local weekend tournaments can try it and find out the truth for themselves. There may be a small profit which is often ploughed back into local chess but there are no guarantees and organisers should have the right not to make a stonking loss which might come out of their own pockets. It might not be capitalism but organising congresses isn't either.

Leyland used to hold their rapidplay in local amenities but the price has gone up and up as social use has been slowly replaced by more commercial values as the recession continues to squeeze available resources. As the number of players has been also hit by financial pressures, organisers in the middle are feeling the heat from both ends. Hotel chains have also been hit by similar pressures and the 4NCL has demonstrated that chess can offer the possibility of filling hotel rooms and increasing turnover in the food and drink outlets. Hence the change of venue to the Leyland hotel which offered very pleasant surroundings in which to play.

Not the best photo I've ever taken but hopefully indicitive of the conditions. It had snowed overnight and I didn't think Mal French would make it but the car rolled up only a few minutes late. Not far to the motorway which had been gritted and we made it up the M6 with a few minutes to spare. Not everybody had been so fortunate and it took a few minutes to get sorted but we managed to spend a very pleasant day in the warmth as a cold and bleak day passed by outside. Prizegiving was cancelled thanks to the weather but the day went well. The staff at the hotel had no experience of chess and chess players but were very helpful and keen to make the day  a success.

And on to Blackpool where the Barcelo group which are part of the 4NCL project had made the Imperial Hotel available for organisers who had left the Winter Gardens on economic grounds after a ludicrous rise in the fees.

It's not exactly the worst venue I've ever had the pleasure of arbiting in as you can see from the photo.

And the inside is not exactly shabby either. The top three sections were held in the main hall and it was a bit of a trek to find the Minor and Standard sections. There was a problem with the heating as organisers and staff struggled to find a rapport as to what was needed but it was sorted out eventually and an excellent congress delivered to one and all.

And here is a photo of the opening ceremony. Left to right are ECF President CJ de Mooi, the Lord Mayor of Blackpool, and Congress director and Senior ECF Arbiter Geoff Jones. We wear out blue T shirts with pride as we earn them but Geoff proves one of us, at least, owns a suit.

Local Widnes players Mike Connor and Stephen Jones came equal first in the Inter Section and pocketed £225 each. No mean feat as there were 115 participants in that section. A consequence of the grading changes and the organisers have decided to introduce an extra section next year to make the sections more balanced. I seem to remember the Haslingers picking up prizes in the Open and Major sections and my apologies to anybody I missed out.

The hotel decided during the weekend that the event had been sufficient of a success to warrant an extension next year so we will be back again in 2111.
Towards the end of March and I get to play for a change.The Atherton rapidplay is a long standing event but it clashed this year with the Manchester rapidplay at the football ground. True, they are dependent on the fixture list for the Premier League yet there are plenty of Sundays well away from local events but....... I don't believe that either did well out of the clash as only 46 played in 3 sections at Atherton. They still play in a hall at the side of the British Legion there and I include a photo from happier times to show the available facilities.

Yes, that is Geoff Jones again but this time he is properly attired in blue T shirt. With only 14 in the U190 section, yours truly got off to a flying start by beating Pete Mulleady who has a 187 rating having won the tournament last year. Two draws against the other 180's and 3 wins against the "lesser" players with 160 and 170 gradings saw me comfortably home in first place with 5/6. A bit like days of yore and a 206 rating for the tournament. Now, where are all those weak GMs and IMs so I can run in the opposite direction.

I didn't go to Warrington in May but it was held in the De Vere chain of hotels and I'm sure the facilities there were also of a high quality with major concessions for those wishing to stay at the Hotel.

And there's the rub. There is a move away from council properties which once provided premises for social use to more commercial enterprises. We are fortunate that major hotels are looking for customers during the recession and the economic outlook is so gloomy that this state of affairs is likely to continue for a number of years. Providing that the chess community can deliver its' side of the bargain. There is a need to see chess as forming part of the leisure industry and support the hotels that are providing the facilities for our use. They are not charities and the bottom line will decide whether or not chess can be part of their portfolio of activities to fill their hotels at the weekend. Yes, players might find cheaper accommodation elsewhere and moan about the price of a coffee. I well understand not every chess player is well off and can afford to view a weekend at a tournament as a leisure activity. The question will be whether enough players make it a financial prospect for the hotel industry. If not, there will be a winnowing of opportunities to play chess at the weekend. What else can there be?

The regular Heywood congress took place at the weekend, 19/20th June. Entries were 20% down on last year resulting in a loss for the organiser Bill O' Rourke. Possible reasons included Father's Day, the World Cup, other local congresses in June and the lateness in the entry forms which resulted in folks making other arrangements ( including myself as a regular Arbiter of the tournament ).
The above photograph shows the playing area with the top boards in the Open taking place on the stage. As you can see, there is plenty of room for more players and hopefully more players will come to Heywood next year.

On a happier note, Brendan managed a 182 performance by drawing 3 games and winning one against higher graded opposition and won a share of a grading prize if I have my facts right.

Leyland run a cheerful congress over the August Bank holiday and is worth noting for those seeking a part ELO rating as the Open is graded both in ECF and Fide lists. Probably not suitable for married folks with families as there are two games per day for the 3 days of the holiday. Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

The playing area is perfectly adequate for the purpose of playing chess and there is an area for drinks and sandwiches. There is also a Major and Minor section for the lesser players and I would happily recommend it to local players. It made a small profit this year and there is a definite intention to hold it again next year. It starts at 9.30 am and finishes at 6 pm latest and the trains ran on time as well. I know because I was on them but Sunday was a bit of a pain as the first train from Liverpool arrives at 9.30 am. Otherwise, why not give it a try, especially if you want some ELO games.