Wednesday, 11 March 2020

Siege Mentality - WSTCC 2020 Days 5 & 6

The already somewhat tense atmosphere at the WSTCC in Prague was ratcheted up a notch yesterday, as the worsening coronavirus situation in the Czech Republic saw the imposition of additional restrictions on the players and the playing conditions. With all schools in the country apparently now closed, the Czech government has imposed a ban on assemblies of more than 100 people at sporting events. And chess seems to qualify as a sporting event, whereas in the UK it wouldn't! The result was that yesterday the venue for the 65+ tournament had been segmented (by partitions) into four separate playing areas, and access is only allowed to the room where you are playing. In the 50+ venue, another room has been brought into use to make sure the 100 person limit ios not breached. And spectators are now banned completely. But - and here's the important bit - we carry on! (At least for the time being.)

In my absence from Monday's Round 4 match, England 1 had a disastrous 1-3 loss to the 28th seeded Czech 3 team. The England 1 50+ team went down by the same score to the number 1 seeded USA team, but while regrettable this was considerably more explicable given the strength of the opposition. At least national pride was restored to a degree by good wins from both the England 2 teams and also by the 50+ England Women (who won 4-0!).

Yesterday, however, witnessed a new low for English chess, when I played on Board 1 for an England first team. That it should come to this! However, we had sunk so far down the table, that the opposition was not that hot and, despite the handicap of having me on top board, we notched up a 3.5-0.5 win over Czech team, Wallachia Seniors. And as I also won my first game, things generally look a bit brighter. We have another winnable match against Steiermark (from Austria) in Round 6 today, and we have also made it back to respectablity and onto the live boards. There was a big shock yesterday, as Germany 1 beat the all conquering and usually invincible Russian team, thanks to a win on top board by Knaak over Balashov.  Have I by any chance mentioned that I drew with GM Knaak - and nearly beat him - in Rhodes last year??

In the 50+ section, England 1 drew against 5th seeds Slovakia and have a winnable pairing against Canada (13th seeds) today. And a big shout out to Scotland, who thrashed Germany 1 (who are not actually the top German team here!) 3-1, to earn a pairing against the Czech first team on Table 2 today. The top match is between the USA and the Lasker team of GM Yusupov, and this possibly represents the last chance for anyone to stop the all conquering Yanks.

But chess is, of course, only part of the reason for being here. Besides the beer (absolutely excellent) and the food (hearty and filling!), there is the sightseeing in this beautiful city. I am still rationing my activities on that front (and won't be partaking today as its been pouring down since I woke up), but yesterday did witness an interesting expedition to the top of Vitkov Hill by 4 of the 5 English players staying at my hotel. This involved walking up several hundred steps (I wasn't counting, but that's what it felt like) and under/over innumerable railway lines to reach the National Memorial, which stands high above Prague with fantastic views in all directions.

Looking towards Prague Castle from Vitkov Hill

Unfortunately, no-one had read the small print, and the Memorial (containing a museum, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and, most importantly, a cafe) was closed. Still the views were freely available, as was a sighting of one of the largest equestrian statues in the world, which depicts Czech hero Jan Zizka aboard a mighty steed. It was a bit blowy up there, I can tell you. And it was a lot easier coming down than climbing up!

Mick Stokes (included for scale) points out Jan Zizka and his horse, in case I couldn't see them!

I'm now off for a game of ten-pin bowling (its amazing what facilities they have in such a down market hotel!), against my team mate Mick Stokes. I suspect he may well get his revenge for my table tennis victory earlier in the week. But as long as I win this afternoon at chess, I would refer you to the last words spoken by Clark Gable in Gone With the Wind!

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