This report has been somewhat delayed by my agonising over the headline. My two finalists were:
West Brom Congress: Ricketts Shocks Arkell
Manger’s Magical Mystery Tours: Roll Up, Roll Up…
But in the end, I have avoided tabloid excess.
The weekend had started on Friday afternoon when John picked me up from The Plough. In the light of the terrible weather forecast on the Thursday evening, and uncertainty over the traffic on the M6 & M5 on a Friday evening, we’d agreed to depart at 4 p.m., as this gave me a good excuse to bunk off early. John was a few minutes late, and it transpired that he’d been to the physiotherapist over his “chess injury.” He damaged his knee at Scarborough – he assures me it wasn’t as a result of his jumping up & down in excitement at his excellent finish there. In fact neither the traffic nor the weather was too bad, and as we were making good progress, and despite having a SAT-NAG in the car, John diverted up the M42 to Birmingham Airport. I fully expected him to get his anorak, flask and binoculars out of the boot and do an hour’s aircraft spotting. He didn’t & assured me it was a navigational error, and we backtracked back to the M6. As we approached the M6/M5 junction the traffic became steadily worse, and as a result of being in the wrong lane we went off the motorway into downtown Birmingham, and specifically Lozells. Can’t say I’ve ever been there, and even in the dark, I didn’t feel that I was in a hurry to return. Having driven past the Hawthorns, we found the venue & parked up. We oriented ourselves and found the bar. John had a coffee, but I felt in need of some Dutch courage and had a beer.
We then wandered down to the venue, and met some familiar faces. Sean wasn’t controlling the tournament, so as he wanted to keep a proprietorial eye on proceedings, he taken the opportunity to enter. We had a chat, and he confirmed that he planned to run the Hinckley Congress again over the August Bank Holiday weekend, so start banking those smartie points. It was also good to see Rajan again, who was playing in the Open, and meet his brother Sajan, who was in the Minor. We said ‘Hi’ to GM Mark Hebden, and then a group of Arkells appeared (not too sure what the collective noun is for them – an Assemblage? A Pawn Storm?) Keith was the other GM who was playing, and there was his brother Nick, who hadn’t played for a considerable number of years, but was also in the Open. There were also two junior Arkells, who were in the Minor. The younger was 8, and had been playing for about three months.
The tournament begun at 7 p.m., and my opponent was the highly rated (at least for the Minor Section) Timothy Crouch, who is one of those battle-hardened tournament regulars. Needless to say, I lost, but I was fairly pleased with the performance – playing Black, I got through the opening relatively unscathed and then sacrificed the exchange to open up his King’s side. I then failed to follow through aggressively enough, when I would have had chances, if I had. I resigned on Move 51, after two hours 56 minutes, and with 8 minutes left. (The tournament was run on a Fischer control: 90 minutes & an increment of 30 seconds a move. This time control can lead to very long games.)
John played Steve Jukes, and got a creditable draw. As mentioned previously, games could last a while, and when we left after 11 p.m., there was still one game going on.
The promised bad weather had arrived, and it was absolutely hosing it down. We hit the M5, and got to the M6, where we went the wrong way, up towards the North-West. Her in the SAT-NAG got suitably exercised, and the error of our ways became evident. We backtracked down the M6 back towards Birmingham. It was an extremely foul night, and the visibility, due to the spray, was pretty well non-existent. Nonetheless we got back to Leicestershire O.K., and John ignored the siren call of Birmingham Airport. On the M69 the rain became more wintry and sleety. By the time John dropped me off it was early on Saturday.
Sleep was in short supply, as John was picking me up at 8-15 a.m. and I didn’t get to bed till 1-30 a.m. Nonetheless, I was up and raring to go at the appointed hour. John rang me to say he was going to be a bit delayed, as there was black ice en-route from his house to pick me up. (He still arrived much sooner than when Biggg Boss Ross picks me up and thinks he is on time.) The traffic and weather were both much more clement than the evening before. We made good progress, but rather than going via the M5, John ignored Mrs SAT-NAG and went through Lozells again. I have to say that it didn’t look any better in daylight than it had the night before – on reflection, it looked worse.
I was drawn against Alan Fraser, whom I’d previously played at the Atkins in the last round. He wasn’t the most cheerful and talkative opponent I’ve ever had, although he definitely cheered up after he trapped & took my Knight for a Pawn on Move 14. I hung around past the 2 hours 20 minutes mark, but with about 45 minutes left on my clock I gave up the unequal struggle and resigned after 45 moves. The Grinder was up against Brendan O’Gorman, and he fought hard & long, but to no avail.
The Saturday lunchtime was a nervous one, as both John and I had opponents who could prove to be a banana skin. John had been paired with Imogen Camp, a very handy U11 international and holder of an age-group title. Although like John she had lost in Round 2, in Round 1 she’d picked up a half point against an opponent rated about 160. I was about to cross swords against 8 year-old Daniel Arkell. Sean strolled over to say that the new ECF grades were live, and we checked them using John’s smartphone. I was down 12 points, to 83. If I continue to drop points at this rate I’ll get down to 0 in the August 2016 list. (There was, however, good news in that my Rapidplay Grade reached three figures for the first time.) John had, unsurprisingly, had improved his grade a reasonable amount.
I played Daniel and won with Black, much to my relief. At one point, he tried something that didn’t quite work, but was nearly very good.
This is the position after 17. b5 a6xb5. He was planning a deflection sacrifice by 18. Nxb5, with the threat of 19. Qxd5+ and then 20. Qxa8. Unfortunately, this plan failed due to the mating threat following Qb6 and the loss of the Knight. Daniel resigned on Move 29 after about an hour. John also won his game. Following the first two rounds in the Open, the two GMs, Messrs Hebden & Arkell, were drawn together. They had a very long, and interesting game, including a fascinating Rook & Pawn endgame, which ended in a draw, although not of the “Grandmaster” type, as it was about four & a half hours long.
We got back to Leicestershire about half past eight, and had an early night. The following morning Coach Manger picked me up the same time as on the previous day and on the way gave me a serious pep talk about not being overly aggressive. On arrival we saw Mark Hebden outside the hotel entrance and he passed comment we were smiling too much for chess players. John responded to say that he was happy that he’d had more sleep than the previous night. I didn’t say that I was happy because we hadn’t, for a change, gone to Lozells. In Round 4 I was matched against Colin Vernon, and despite Coach Manger’s urgings, I attacked as I was playing White. I missed a tactic from my opponent, and went a pawn down. Fortunately, it was a wing pawn, and we ended up in a pawn and opposite colour bishop end-game. My opponent tried to offer me his bishop so he could infiltrate my Queen’s side with his King. I refused the bait, and he then offered me a draw, which I took. Afterwards Coach Manger suggested that I should have taken the bait, as my Bishop was worth more than the pawn. I wasn’t sure, and an initial rushed through play of the position, where John was me and I was my opponent, John failed to stop a pawn queening. Further analysis indicates it is possible to win having taken the bait, but it is probably too difficult for Ricketts of little brain and no endgame theory. John had picked up a draw against Tony Shaw.
In the fifth and final round I played Andrew Camp, Imogen’s father. Beforehand, he assured me that Imogen got her talent from her mother rather than him. Notwithstanding that, he beat me in resounding fashion, having won the exchange on Move 18. Fritz shows that at Move 17 I made a serious error, in trying to block a Bishop check rather than moving my King. I then went on the attack (joy!), but it was only a matter of time. Afterwards my opponent said that he had been worried by the ferocity of my onslaught. I am sure he was just being polite. Interestingly, my opponent didn’t get below his initial 90 minutes until move 13, at which point I’d used over 30 minutes of my 90.
John was in Grind mode against Daniel Jazdzewski, and their match was the penultimate one to finish in the whole Congress. John couldn’t quite hold out in a Rook & Pawn endgame in circa four hours.
Rajan finished with 2.5/5 in the Open. In Round 4 he got a draw with Black against FM David Eggleston, whose rating is 2352. His brother got 3.5 in the Minor. Sean got 3 in the Major, having started with 2/2.
An enjoyable weekend in another nice e2e4 venue. My only (very minor) gripe is that the pairing sheets aren't updated with results as the arbiters get the results slips.