New tricks at the Old Swan

Tim Wall 1-0 Ieysaa Bin-Suhayl

4NCL Harrogate Congress, Jan 6-8, 2017

It’s always nice to start the New Year in a positive way, and for me this was the first time I finished first (or at least equal first) in a chess tournament of any stature in nearly 20 years. They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but maybe the trick I’ve eventually learned the hard way is to just play solid chess – a far cry from the old days, when my games were full of dubious Basman-inspired Grob and St George adventures.

The Harrogate event was under the aegis of the 4NCL, and is in many ways a model for how to organise a weekend tournament. By teaming up with a company called Bridge Overseas, which arranges block bookings at hotels across the UK and abroad, mainly for amateur bridge players combining their favourite hobby with a holiday, the 4NCL gets a free playing venue and discounted accommodation, as long as they commit to booking a total of 80 hotel rooms or more over the weekend.

The venue was excellent from the point of view of a weekend tournament. The Old Swan is slap bang in the centre of Harrogate, just 2 minutes’ walk from the Assembly Rooms, where the Harrogate congresses of yesteryear attracted such stars as Tony Miles, Mark Hebden and local boy James Howell.

The top seed this year was GM Danny Gormally (2493), now resident in Alnwick, but – hotfoot from Hastings, which finished the day before – he found it tougher going than expected. After a draw in round 1 against Jonathan Wells (2012), and a shock loss against John Jarmany (Scarborough, 2118) in round 4, a frustrated Danny withdrew on a score of 2.5/4.

Even though Danny has spoken out against withdrawals from tournaments in his (at times painfully) honest and well-written account of a professional chess player’s life, “Insanity, passion and addiction: A year inside the chess world,” clearly the disappointment of finishing out of the prizes – coming just after a slightly below par performance at Hastings – was too much to bear for the GM. (Hopefully, he will recover his form soon. Certainly, players from the North East will wish him well, given the difficulties of making a career out of chess in these times of austerity and sparse chess sponsorship.)

Apart from Danny, there was a strong contingent of players from the North East, including leading junior James Moreby, Mick Riding, Paul Robson and Yichen Han.

I was lucky to get off to a flying start, wth 3/3, including this interesting game in Round 1. My opponent, 12-year-old Ieysaa Bin-Suhayl (Italy, 1988), seemed to be suffering from a nervous affliction, which led to him sniffling throughout the game constantly. Other players in the Open were distracted, but luckily, I was able to ignore it and just play the game.

Tim Wall 1-0 Ieysaa Bin-Suhayl

  • Event: Harrogate FIDE Open
  • Date: 2017.01.06
  • White: Tim Wall
  • Black: Ieysaa Bin-Suhayl

After a off-beat response to the French, designed to throw booked-up juniors off the scent, a key moment occurred after 15 Qg4.

Maybe black should try here 0-0-0, offering the g-pawn. Instead …g6 weakened the dark squares, making it more dangerous to castle short in future.

The star move was Bxd5 followed by Be7, after which the opposite colour bishops work in white’s favour and the black king is in big trouble in the centre.

An inspector calls

My round 3 game was against my good friend David Spence (Anglian Avengers, 2156), who is a detective inspector for Suffolk Police. David took time off from catching criminals to travel to Harrogate with his partner, Charrie, and their baby daughter, who joined us for a while after the game in the pub. Our game was full of incident, as he was forced to castle kingside one move after launching a slightly optimistic …g5 attack against my king.

Later I was able to counter-attack against his draughty kingside as a planned sacrificial attack against my king misfired.

After a pleasant Saturday evening dinner with Paul Robson, Mick Riding, Danny Gormally and the Spence family, Sunday morning was when both I and Danny came unstuck. I lost in a theoretical Sicilian against a very well booked-up Steven Jones (Widnes, 2175), while Danny came under a thunderous kingside attack from John Jarmany straight out of the opening in a sharp Grunfeld.

In the last round, the morning’s victors, Jones and Jarmany, agreed to a “grandmaster” draw after 5 moves in a Ruy Lopez, leaving me the chance to catch them on 4/5. This I did after some adventures against James Moreby. I was very lucky to survive the opening, but then gradually outplayed him after swapping off the queens.

The tournaments were ably (as always) controlled by North East arbiters Lara Barnes (who is now the ECF Chief Arbiter) and Alex McFarland (like Lara, a top arbiter much in demand from FIDE at international events).

The trend of weekend Open tournaments increasingly being FIDE rated looks set to continue, meaning that (apart from prize money) these can be extremely serious affairs with vital rating points at stake for amateurs and professional players alike.

James Moreby 0-1 Tim Wall

  • Event: Harrogate FIDE Open
  • Date: 2017.01.08
  • White: James Moreby
  • Black: Tim Wall