To accompany the World Championships, promote itself and give a little back to its site users, last night Chessable ran a very special London-based blitz tourney. Seeing as this reporter had already nabbed himself a free ticket, he headed to the city on a cold and very wet November day to see what he could see and who and whom he could play.
The venue was Battersea Chess Club and, being a Labour club, the beers were indecently cheap. Last time I went to London it was six quid for a bottle of beer and a snooty look from the hipster who shoved it toward me; here it was £2.30 and a blush-inducing compliment from the barmaid thrown in for good measure on each of my multiple trips for refuelling.
What was more shocking than the beer though (and that is saying something) was the attendance: about 40 boards and a packed room that made you feel as if you'd stumbled into a chess hallucination because of the sheer volume of famous faces there. In fact, there were so many of the great and the good at the do I didn't even recognise them all (more of this later) and so have to rely on Twitter to list them:
GMs Simon Williams, David Howell, Alexander Cherniaev, Alex Colovic and Stephen Gordon. IMs Aylene Martinez, John Bartholomew, Eric Rosen, Christof Sielecki, Sophie Milliet, Mike Basman, Tom Rendle, Peter Roberson, Bogdan Vioreanu, Richard Bates, Gavin Wall and Alex Lopez.
As great as that was, it was also enough to put the frighteners on this reporter as it was an all play all over 13 rounds of 3 min blitz! The format put two titled players in each section so all non-titled players would have at least one [fat] chance at giant slaying. There was an additional extra that we had been split into Carlsen and Caruana teams and given masks of the title-fighters to wear in whatever fashion we thought appropriate - I went for jaunty, to the side, pill-box hat-stylee until I lost the mask in the fog of drunken chessness (though the initial idea was to conceal our oppos faces).
I was in the A section, though I don't think this was done on highest grade as one might imagine, but I certainly seemed to face only one person of 130 and the rest all seemed to be all 160 up up and away - the bastards! I only recognised one face I'd be playing and that was Mike Basman - oh bollocks, not only a long-time crafty IM but his speciality the Grob is the one opening I have not learnt many lines for yet. The rest of my section all looked pretty handy and so it was with some trepidation I sat down to lose my first match.
Anyone who has ever played 3 minute blitz over the board will know it is no easy task. My method for 'success' was to rely on opening lines learnt - which served me well (hell, wasn't me thinking!), and then instinct - which sorta served me well (though my results didn't reflect it), and finally speed of moving the damn pieces - which didn't help me at all as I think I came out second in about 6 games due to time.
I lost my first four matches in short order (even when they went to six minutes it was still short order, natch), though two of these games were on time when I had a winning position. Inspiringly, both, and many other, of my oppos mentioned how well my openings had worked and so it was a nice reward for all the work Ive put into learning them and a spur to find out what the bloody hell I'm meant to do after them!
After that I perked up a bit and had a couple of wins and a draw before my game eight oppo, a tall and confident-looking fella, walked over to my table. Thinking I had already played him, I mentioned that fact but he politely said we hadn't forcing me to make a joke that it must've been another Carlsen due to the mask he, and 40 others, were wearing on top of their heads.
I sat down with black against him and he played the English, we bashed out 15 moves of theory which left me in a good position, and then bashed out a few more moves during which, now out of the book, I somehow managed to improve my position. Of course, I soon rectified that, or should say he soon forced me to rectify that and I was on the back foot briefly before being all the way to lost. After resigning I asked him his rating, when he replied 2700 I did some mental calculations and it clicked as to why I thought I'd played him. It was familiarity with his face rather than his being a previous opponent. Yes, folks, I had initially failed to recognised the British #2 and 48th best player in the world, GM David Howell!
More games and beers came and went until Mike Basman rocked up to my board with white and Grobbed me to within an inch of my life. Actually, I think I did okay for a while, but my statement to him 'it all just keeps coming at me!' pretty much sums up the game after about move one all the way to my resignation some moves after.
The rest of the games are a blur, but needless to say I didn't qualify for the final which allowed me - whilst John Bartholomew was busy taking the title - to start talking to my opening guru Christof Sielecki. He was pretty easy to chat with even though he was being confronted by a slightly drunk and star-struck Harry.
At the beginning of the chat I had in mind to get him to record a message for St. Johns and so got my phone recording - but in a typical act of Hoskinsian idiocy, before I'd even asked him to do it and he'd agreed I wasn't recording anymore! Even more embarrassing was that we did several takes in which he was talking into a constantly non-recording device. What a fool I am, but even so I may or may not whack what was recorded (mostly me blathering and him politely acting as if I wasn't some kind of drunken interloper) on the website. Still, I somehow kept him chatting for a quarter of an hour about his opening books, the world champs, chess in general and the poor remuneration for writers of any sort (save those on Chessable) and was very glad to meet him in the flesh.
After another beer or two, people started to thin out and so I headed back to the cheap hotel I'd booked and bed. All in all a great night that could only have been greater if I'd had a few St Johnites there to share it with me.
Ciao for now