A Patzer by the Sea

(A view of the South bay Scarborough, “Yeah Right!”)

A few years ago I attended the 86th Indian British Championships, held at the well-appointed Spa Centre, in Scarborough. The imaginatively titled Ocean room was home to the championship games.

This was the first of two trips to the championships, the first visit was on the opening day to catch the action at the inaugural rapid-play and dish out some questionnaire’s for CPM. I had arranged to travel with a club-mate to Scarborough, but when that fell through, an alternative was needed. I knew nobody from my club was going, so in desperation I turned to my other half Sue, who's interest in chess is negligible. If Kasparov was giving a simultaneous display in the front garden she would close the curtains and turn the television up!

So you can imagine she wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of a two hour drive to a 'chess tournament' and sitting around all day while I mingled, but the weather was sweltering and the prospect of a day at the seaside was too tempting. Upon arrival, some twenty minutes before the start of play, we parked the car and walked towards a large seafront building we assumed was the Spa Centre.

We spotted a bedraggled traffic warden in the distance and thought to ask him if we were heading in the right direction. He had no idea at all about the British Chess Championships but did point us toward the Spa Centre. We soon realised why the traffic warden had replied “chess????” and gave us a quizzical look when asked. I'd imagine that’s the standard response by the ‘unwashed masses’ when they discover you’re a chess player, I’ve had ‘the look’ many times before, you know, that look as if you’ve just farted in their lunchbox! (And then shut the lid )

I digress, after walking the full length of the building we couldn't find a single poster, flyer, or notice board with any mention of chess. It was only after going through one of the many entrances that Sue found a white board with British Chess Championships scribbled on it, and an arrow pointing roughly in the direction of the playing hall, and we wonder why chess in the UK has such a low profile?

No cash!

The Scarborough public were unaware that the premium event in the British chess calendar was taking place in their town. Hardly surprising as the advertising budget must be virtually non-existent! £10 ought to cover the expenses incurred in the current ‘maker-pen’ inspired campaign!

Eventually we found the playing hall, although only after regrettably bypassing the lift and walking up five or six increasingly tiring flights of stairs, arriving at the top, sweating profusely, out of breath and in need of a seat. Those of you who personally know me and my somewhat 'rotund physique' will understand why scaling those stairs affected me in such a way. Don’t get me wrong though I am in shape…”Round is a shape isn’t it?”

The rapid play venue wasn't as big as I imagined it would be, although it did create a close atmosphere. Amongst the assembled throng were a few GMs and IMs Bogdan Lalic, Matthew Turner, and Harriet Hunt, to name a few. Stuart Conquest made a brief appearance, though he wasn't playing, I think he was just checking out the vibes of the place, until the serious stuff started the next day. Needless to say GM Bogdan Lalic went on to win with a 100% record 6/6. (Another day at the office!)

I couldn’t make it back to the championships until round 7, when the weather and the competition were an altogether different affair. As we embarked the signs were ominous, grey/black skies yet strangely mild, as soon as I put the key in the ignition the heavens opened, and it was still raining 7 hours later when we came home!

No expense spent

Now that the championships had started proper, the advertising budget must have been stretched to around £20, because on arrival this time, the various playing halls, and even some corridors had two or three 'count em' sheets of A4 stuck meticulously to the doors and walls with the finest quality 'Blu-tack' known to man.

In the future to drum up some badly needed public interest, more should be done to advertise the event in the in the town and surrounding areas.

In the playing hall I wanted to experiment with my new camera, which I did until I was asked ‘politely’ to stop, how was I supposed to know that flash photography was frowned upon in a vital endgame position! I ended up with a load of dark, grainy, out of focus or overexposed pictures, “look out David Bailey here I come!”

I picked up a copy of the local paper on my way home to see what kind of coverage the chess was receiving, and silly me started by looking at the front page…nothing, back page…nothing! It actually took me a minute or two to find the report! Which consisted of 2 games and 1 diagram, the whole piece was half a sheet of A5 in size. Even the local car boot sale had half a page of advertising! Lets not to be too negative about the whole thing though, the report was more prominently placed than the local car boot sale.

I write tongue in cheek about budgets and advertising etc, if I had any forelocks I would tug them in appreciation for the good folk at the ECF, they do a decent job on a shoestring budget.

The sooner chess is recognized as a sport the better!