I entered the Foundation section, for players graded 120 0r under, and found I was seeded 21st of the 62 entries. My first game, on the Friday night, was against Michael Kitching of Northallerton, 49th seed with a grade of 90. I pressed from the start, picked up a pawn, then a knight and reached a forced mate on move 22. The game lasted just an hour and a quarter and I was relieved to get an early night after a long day.
On Saturday morning I had black against J. G. Clayton of Leyland, 45th seed with agrade of 95. This was a real humdinger of a game which lasted almost three hours. White castled long and black short, so both sides pushed attacks against the opposite king. I was fortunate in that I had a small edge with my attack, given that the a and b files were open and I could exploit them more quickly than could my opponent on the closed f, g and h files. In the end that edge told and white resigned on move 34 when facing serious material loss and, possibly, a mating attack.
By the afternoon I was feeling a bit punch-drunk and found myself playing white against the equal top seed, Tony Robinson, graded 120. He opened by fianchettoing both his bishops, allowing me a big centre. Then I was able to trap one of his knights for a pawn, whereafter I built up a kingside attack. Mental fatigue was kicking in and trying to maintain mental concentration was a full-time job, but I cranked up the pressure on his king and he resigned on move 25, by which time we had been playing for two and a half hours.
So here I am on 3/3 and it all feels a bit unreal, especially after I had played so poorly at Morpeth just a couple of days earlier. Will tomorrow bring a reality check? Incidentally I note that someone in the Foundation section with a grade of 0 (yes, zero) has two and a half points. What’s the betting the missing half point was a bye?!
Sunday brings me back to earth with a bump. In the morning I have white against Barry Williams of Aughton, Sheffield, another player graded 120. It’s a long game (three and a half hours), evenly balanced till move 29 when I miscalculate a complex exchange and emerge a knight down. I struggle on, not helped by a couple of weak moves, and succumb on move 52. My opponent will go on to record a straight 5/5.
On Sunday afternoon the final round sees me drawn against the zero-graded player mentioned above, young Thomas Hill, who it seems lives in France and plays for a club there (and so ought, presumably, to have an elo grade?). He certainly knows his onions and plays at a rate that would make DF senior look positively sedentary, witness the fact that we played 43 moves each in a total time of one hour fifty minutes (most of it mine). Pieces flew off the board from early on and when the dust settled I found myself a pawn up in a rook and 5 against rook and 4 ending. There should have been a way through but I couldn’t find it and, terrified of blowing it completely, I settled for a draw.
Normally speaking a final score of three and a half out of five would have left me delighted, but on this occasion I felt a shade disappointed after such a splendid start, though it did bring me a share of a grading prize. It’s the second time I have played this congress and I certainly hope it won’t be the last. The venue is excellent, the sea is just outside the window and the fish and chips are superb!