Sunday, 15 March 2020

This is the Way the WSTCC Ends, Not With a Bang but a Whimper

It already seems like a long time ago, but on Thursday afternoon, just as I was settling down to play Round 7 of the WSTCC in Prague, one of our Swedish opponents advised us all that this was to be the last round - the tournament was being ended 2 days early! Sure enough, this intelligence proved to be spot on, as eventually the head honchos came round to give the official news. The Czech government had reduced the size of permitted gatherings from 100 to 30, making it impossible to continue. Many matches in Round 7 saw hardly any play, as motivation seemed to drain out of a number of teams, but sadly for me this was not the case in the England 1 v Sweden 2 encounter, and I fell to a second successive defeat. I was sure that I was doing really well out of the opening, but I lost my way in the middlegame and got well and truly turned over by the father of Swedish GM Pontus Carlsson. Thankfully, we at least drew the match, but our overall performance was disappointing and I was very unimpressed by my own -1 score.

In the 65+ event, Russia took advantage of a very easy 7th round pairing to notch up a 4-0 win over a German club team and edge out France for the gold medals on tie break, so retaining the title.  Schachfreunde Leipzig won the bronze ahead of Germany 1, who thus went home medal-less, despite their sensational win over Russia.

And it was as you were in the 50+ event, too, since 4 quick draws against Iceland kept the USA one point clear of the field and gave them their 3rd successive title. The Lasker team from Germany, who had drawn against the USA in Round 6, vaulted over several teams to get the silver medal by virtue of a 4-0 walkover against the absent US Too team, while Czech Republic 1 got bronze, half a game point ahead of Iceland. England 1 at least finished with a flourish, beating the over-performing Scotland 1 team 3.5-0.5 to end up 7th. And many congratulations to Glenn Flear for his Gold medal performance on Board 3.

I was due to stay on in Prague after the event until March 18th, as my wife was scheduled to join me for a few days sightseeing, but clearly this was now an unrealistic prospect, with all museums and galleries already closed, and restaurants and pubs likely to follow. (Which they did.). So it was time for a quick change of flight booking for me and the cancellation of her trip. I managed to get a flight out the following morning via Brussels, and several more of the England squad also made an earlier return. For those who were stuck with their original flights home today (Sunday), it can't have been the most comfortable 48 hours, as hotel services/catering quickly ran down, and outside options were pretty limited, too. Hopefully everyone will make it home today in good health.

So this could hardly be described as the best tournament I've ever played in - but despite all the difficulties I still rate it considerably ahead of the infamous Blackpool Open of a few years ago, when several KCC unfortunates were lodged in Roy's old house in Middleton for the weekend - and barely survived to tell the tale! I have previously done rather well in seniors' events, but this was a complete disaster, chess-wise, so I have to put it down to being adversely affected by the stressful non-chess vibes.

And as for Prague, well all I can say is that I must be the first person ever to spend 8 nights there and not see the Charles Bridge. or indeed anything much. That's what comes when you save your sightseeing up for the post-tournament holiday, and there is no post-tournament holiday.  Still, I guess I will go back sometime - in fact I have to, as I still have a few tram/metro tickets and I wouldn't want them to go to waste!

Finally, a word of thanks to my fellow Hotel Cechie residents, Mick Stokes, Jeremy Fraser-Mitchell, Tim Thurstan and Paul Lawrence, who provided excellent company throughout, which meant there were plenty of enjoyable and convivial evenings, despite the difficult circumstances and my appalling chess. And given that competitive chess is now seemingly going to take quite a long enforced break, it is those memories I will hang onto for the weeks ahead.

The last dinner at U Chcipaka - (l-r) Tim, Paul, Jeremy, Mick and a visiting Nigel White

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