Friday, 6 March 2020

Under Starter's Orders - WSTCC 2020 Day 1

At 15.00 CET this afternoon (Friday, March 6th) the 2020 World Seniors' Team Chess Tournament will get under way, and for the fourth time I am part of the England delegation. Though sadly without the support of any KCC team-mates this time around. This year the event is taking place in Prague, but it has not been a smooth path here, either literally or metaphorically. Finally, though, everyone is taking their place on the grid and the action is about to start. Well, I say everyone, but more of that below.

Last week there was a sudden furore about accommodation, as the whole England squad (at that time amounting to 30 players) found themselves being shifted from their booked hotels, in many cases to several kilometres away from the playing venue. I have been rather more fortunate, distance wise at least, as I have only moved about 200 metres - and to somewhere that looks a bit better than my original hotel. Still, the fact that we are now spread over at least 3 different hotels is not necessarily conducive to team cameraderie. However, there are 5 of us in my hotel so there is at least some corner of a grey Prague suburb that is forever England.

A Room With a View - of Sorts! Wish You Were Here?

Then at the weekend, it became apparent that a number of our players had decided to withdraw from the event. In the blink of an eye, I went from Board 3 in the England 2 team (65+ section) to Board 2 in the England 1 team, as 4 of the first team, including John Nunn, withdrew. We are now down to 2 teams, but are still fielding a full complement of 3 teams in the 50+ event. However, I'm not sure that England can ever again claim to be a serious chess nation when I am in the first team at a World Championships! We are most definitely not the Number 4 seeds anymore!!

The pre-tournament excitement wasn't over, though, as the day before I was due to travel, Lufthansa sent me an e-mail saying my Munich-Prague flight had been cancelled. Cue panic, but thankfully about 30 minutes later they had rebooked me via Brussels with only a slight change of timings. Phew! At Birmingham Airport I encountered two of the Welsh contingent who were in the same boat (or more accurately plane) - except that they had turned up knowing nothing of the change of plans. Luckily for them, the substitute routeing was later than the original flight!

Thankfully things have subsequently gone quite smoothly, although there is still complete uncertainty over which teams will actually turn up - and who will be playing in them. I have already spied the great Artur Yusupov and word has it that GMs Sveshnikov and Balashov are definitely here, so the Russians still have their big guns on board. The big uncertainty - at least to me! - is whether the US superstar squad in the 50+ event will turn up. If they do, they will start as big favourites again having won for the last 2 years. The very strong Georgia team seems to be an absentee. Although the England 1 team has been weakened by the withdrawal of Jon Speelman, we still have an all GM team who should be medal contenders.

So, we're all assembling at the start, but with just a few hours to go no-one knows who the actual runners and riders will be.  All will be revealed when the pairings emerge after the Captains' Technical Meeting this morning. And then it will be a case of, to mix my sporting metaphors, "Gentlemen, (and Ladies) start your engines!"

To follow the results in detail use this site, otherwise you'll just have to rely on my irregular and far from comprehensive witterings here. Don't expect too many photos, though, as my phone will not be allowed anywhere near the playing hall.

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