Bristol Winter Congress 2020

A recap of the recent Bristol Congress tournament from an entirely, unapologetic Bristol University point of view. As usual, this tournament is exactly one week before the BUCA universities competition and gives a lot of players the opportunity to warm up and get used to playing a lot of chess in a single weekend. There were five players from the University; Chris Kaye in the Minor, Conor Newton and Andy Porter in the Major, plus Alex Belsley and me in the Open.

Round 1: Happy Tal-entine’s Day

With a significant proportion of the players taking a half point bye, either for romantic or platonic reasons, just three University players choose to share their special moment over the board. Andy Porter had the easiest pairing facing the eternal loser, bye. Not the most interesting start to his first ever tournament. However, after a bit of a wait, he was repaired to get some chess for his money.

Chris Kaye finished first amongst the University players in the Minor, although he made hard work of a king chase that left his opponent stranded in the middle of the board. All’s well that ends well and the resulting endgame was winning even if there were quicker finishes.

Andy was second to finish although a repairing gave him a tougher game than to be expected. Despite missing some tactics, Black had compensation for the accidentally lost exchange. However, a later move-order error prevented the tactics from fully working in his favour and the game was lost.

“There are no blunders in chess, only happy saccidents.” – Grob Ross.

My game featured a thematic kingside attack from a Classical Dutch, a variation I learnt afterwards that was incredibly similar to the game being played by GM Keith Arkell on the live board. 33% of the time, it works every time.

White had just played 17. g4 in an attempt to lock up the kingside. Black, of course, does everything to prevent this. 17… f3 This doesn’t really feel like a pawn sacrifice as the f4 square will always offer Black compensation. White’s response is the only one that lets him keep the offered pawn. 18. Qxf3 Qg6 19. h3 h5!? Offering another pawn to completely open up the kingside. 20. Qg3 (The main test was 20. gxh5 but after 20… Qh6 21. Qd2 Bd7 with the idea of regaining the second pawn with Be8) 20… hxg4 21. hxg4 Bg5 My opponent was suddenly a lot less happy with his position after this move. Black is regaining his pawn while keeping all the attacking pieces on the board. The attack crashed through and Black won in 40 moves.

Round 2: Let Byes Gone Be Byes Gone

After a tricky loss against bye yesterday, Andy had a chance to take vengeance in Round 2. In an absolutely unbelievable bout of bad luck, he had his second bye pairings in two rounds, possibly being the worst ever start to a first tournament. The resulting attempted lie in was rudely disrupted after Conor Newton had to ring him 10 minutes before the start of the round to tell him he had had another repairing and needed to play. This was a problem as Andy, by his own admission, is not a morning person. Despite this personality setback, he converted a queenless middlegame into an ending and won without too much trouble, luckily, in the afternoon.

Conor added to his half-point bye with another draw against a higher rated opponent after a tactical opening fizzled out relatively. Alex Belsley won his first game after dancing around a Black pawn on d3 for some time and withholding against a very sacrificial attack in a last-ditch effort.

Tragically, myself and Chris both lost games where computers say we were both winning. I think Chris may feel that alone is too much of a game he would rather forget. My loss was a bit easier to stomach as the sacrifices were originally sound, although I doubt I would have ever seen any of the winning variations.

After giving up the g4 pawn to get the attack started I found the right motif in the position. 15. hxg5 hxg5 16. Nxg5 Bxg5 17. Bxg4 Rh8 (The point behind White’s play is that 17… fxg4? 18. Qh7+ leads to mate very quickly.) 18. Rxh8 Qxh8 19. Bxf5!? exf5 20. Qxf5 Qh6 21. f4? White has blown the advantage. This idea would have worked wonders if White had included the pawn trade on d5 at literally any point in the game. Having missed this chance, White couldn’t collect a third pawn for the bishop and my opponent, Max Walker, who eventually won the Junior prize, mounted a ruthless counterattack to win. For those that fancy a calculation exercise, analyse the position before White’s 21st move but be aware of some counter tactics for Black too.

Round 3: Misguided Dutch Courage

The University was involved in two Dutch defences this round and in both cases, Black went down in flames. I played a 7…Ne4 Classical Dutch against the other Ian Ga- in the tournament, in a game that very quickly descending in a White queenside attack versus a Black kingside attack. I missed a key move in the opening theory and the evaluation never improved after that (and it didn’t start off great after 1… f5.)

Conor had more luck against the Dutch with his London System. He neutralised the kingside pressure and left his opponent with double isolated pawns on the e file. Black had no chances and, after activating his pieces in the centre of the board, White neatly converted his advantage.

Andy lost his second game in the Major, counteracted by Chris winning his second game in the Minor although I couldn’t find his board in the playing hall for the life of me! Alex played the longest game of the tournament, which did not help his late night returning to Bristol on Friday, although there are a lot easier to manage when you win. The opening went wrong early for his opponent,

We reach this position after 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Bb4 3. Nd5 Bc5 4. e3 c6 5. b4? What is the best move here for Black?

Amazingly, the undeveloping move 5… Bf8! is the only move to win the pawn. After 6. Nc3 Bxb4, Alex gave his opponent some chances but never enough to fully give away his advantage to win.

Most of the University contingency reunited at the Saturday Social at the Student Union, where we unwound with others not in the Congress by analysing the day’s games, preparing for our next round opponents and even playing some chess, all while Andy streamed his attempts in a bullet tournament on Lichess. This preparation was somewhat ruined by Conor and Andy going to separate parties until late, while I bumped into an amateur Burlesque group celebrating their first show, also at Bristol Grammar School, but that, as they say, is another story.

Round 4: Tal-entine’s Weekend isn’t a real thing

I was somewhat distracted by my own game (as we will see later) but I will try recall as much I can. As jokingly discussed at the social, Alex drew his game to put him on a strong 3 points out of 4. GM Keith Arkell lost to FM Jonah Willow, which meant Alex was just half a point behind the leaders with a good chance of dodging a titled player in the final round. It was one of those strange situations where a drew was probably the best result possible giving him a great shot of reach 1.5/2 on the final day. You’ll have to ask Alex directly whether this was intentional…

In the Major, there was some interesting pawn clumps in the University games. Conor lost a central pawn after early pressure in a Pirc Defence but had some hope against the Black pawns on d4, e5 and d6 struggling to move forward, but eventually the extra space they provided were enough for opponent to win. Andy had an extra pawn, but it was part of tripled pawns on c3, c4 and c5. With a bishop posted on d6, the pawn caterpillar looked solid, but after a few mistakes, it did not transform into a beautiful chess butterfly. Instead, it was injected with wasp eggs and exploded from the inside out. A sad loss for Andy, which does not represent his League form and perhaps a vital lesson about the extra challenges of weekend chess.

My game was crazy.

Round 5: The Final Round

After a long weekend of chess, most of the University were not feeling the enthusiasm of the earlier rounds with Chris withdrawing, and with Andy and me getting incredibly close to doing the same. One person was incredibly focused on doing well. With a final round win against an untitled player, Alex would finish on four points with a chance of finishing equal first if other results went his way.

At this point of the tournament, I was chess blind so I don’t have much recollection of any the games that round but the take home story is that Alex won his game and, regardless of what happened elsewhere, finishing an amazing tournament, even more so when you consider that he only entered last minute. Everything went to the script and Alex finished equal first in the Bristol Open with GM Arkell, IM Merry, FM Willow plus his fourth-round opponent. In a low-key ceremony, Alex was given £160 cash in a brown envelope as other games finished, which if we had a photo, would look incredibly suspicious. Even better than the money was the title of Bristol champion being the highest finisher from the Bristol leagues. Congratulations once again to Alex on an excellent weekend.

I lost to another junior in another Dutch gone wrong, giving everyone a fair chance to win the Junior prize, to finish on 2 points. Conor’s Scandi was a bit too cheeky but also finished on 2 points in the Major, while Andy will not be happy with his final 1.5 but hopefully learnt a lot from his first tournament. Chris finished on 2 out of four in the Minor. Well done to everyone that played, I think we all had some positives to take away from the Congress and bring on BUCA!

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