ESCC 2017 – reports and pictures

Results – follow this link | Meet the team here

Day Nine
The black Bishop has been found! Long live the black Bishop! What a relief, and in time for the last round too. Did I mention I was superstitious?

The final round was due to start at 9.30am so prep was needed for most of the team from 7am. In the case of coach Meri’s group, it was 6.30am. “That’s nothing” said Aarnavh who’s used to early morning starts for top-notch swimming training. He followed this up by winning his last game, ending on 5.5/9 for the tournament – an excellent achievement. For Dhruv and Joe, it was a bridge too far as they both lost tight games. Joe was left in joint 6th; a win would have put him 1st – fine margins indeed!

Samuel finished with a win and a score of 5/9 – a great performance in his first international tournament. There were wins too for Zoha and Amy, as well as Keerthana and Abbey (who both finished on an excellent 5/9). 

Overall, the team feel a great deal of satisfaction at their performance. Against tough opposition, there have been many great wins and lots of complex, interesting games. Huge amounts has been learned by the players and they all return home strengthened and enthused.

A great many people helped to make this trip and tournament happen, including key figures at the ECF and Montenegro Chess Association and the parents of the players would like to extend their gratitude to them. 

And so on to the next tournament. Just make sure you don’t lose any pieces! 

— Malcolm Birks


Day Eight
“Oh no….I don’t believe he played that!” said Meri in horror. “He’s forgotten The Mantra” said Charlie referring to his pet principles of chess. We were watching Joe’s 8th round game on a laptop at a cafe outside the playing hall. After fifteen moves it looked like Joe’s position was lost. Then, bit by bit, there was a shift. A turnaround slowly took place. More and more people gathered round the screen. Could it really happen? Yes! Bang! Mate for Joe! Wow! It had been a heart-stopping, exhilarating ride. It was, truly, the magic of chess!

Soon after, there were great wins too for Aarnavh and Dhruv, putting them on 4.5 and 5.5 points respectively. Then Calum emerged victorious after a marathon game, having showed incredible mental endurance. Tim, Amy and Samuel also earned very creditable draws. 

With only one round to go, the team are gearing up for the last push and an early morning start. A couple of players are still in contention for the medal places and there’s lots still to play for.

Happy Father’s Day!

— Malcolm Birks


Day Seven
Since I lost a black bishop from our chess set, half a tube of Halls Extra Strong throat sweets has been kindly standing in for the divine representative. He is at least black in colour and has proved to be remarkably stable and robust, even in the midst of flying blitz games. Being strong, even extra strong, is important in these competitions, because the lurking feeling that hangs around in the corners of the playing hall is fear.

Some of the children participating are undoubtedly fearful which is sad and worrying. Fearful of their parents’ reaction, fearful of their coaches and fearful of the great expectations upon their small shoulders.

I’m glad to say that I don’t think that this applies to the England players in our team, who all seem to have a healthy attitude and supportive parents and coaches. Indeed, a friendly parent from the Israeli delegation kindly observed: “I knew it must be players from the England team because they were smiling”.

It was a tough day at the office. Dhruv did well to stubbornly battle for a draw. Samuel pulled off a lovely, controlled win and it was great to see the smile on his face again. The draw threw up an all-England tie in the U9 girls section with Zoha taking on Keerthana and the latter prevailing on this occasion. Niamh also won, bravely carrying on despite a tummy bug. The others lost on this occasion but, nevertheless, there was a still a positive feeling during the post-game analysis sessions. Nobody had given it away. Everyone had battled bravely without fear.

— Malcolm Birks


Day Six
“We don’t play hope chess,” Charlie said. Hang on … is hope not allowed? Crunching calculation and the remorseless logic of the position are the only things than matter apparently. How about faith then? Faith in the position, faith in the game and, most of all, faith in yourself. Yes, you certainly need faith out here. Amidst the tension and edginess of raw competition, keeping a handle on yourself and the context and the meaning of it all is important. It’s just a game after all … I think.

One of the most interesting aspects of being at an international competition is observing the different ways in which individual countries approach chess. Many of our best moments as a team have come when our generally, more dynamic manner of play has confronted the rigid but more disciplined approach of several of the other countries. A true clash of cultures.

Round 6 brought a mixture of fortunes. There were good wins for Joe, Dhruv and Abi, putting them into contention at the top of their respective sections. Adam, who, to his great credit, is still unbeaten in the competition, handled a tough position to draw. Aarnavh, yet again, played for four hours for an excellent win. The hot and stuffy conditions unfortunately took their toll on a couple of the England players. Nevertheless, Samuel and Calum held out for creditable draws.

With three rounds to go, the team are in good spirits and there is still lots to play for. Hope and faith … you’ve got to hold on to them.

— Malcolm Birks


Day Four
“Keep the tension” Charlie advised. We were analysing Joe’s game in a cafe outside the playing hall, after he had lost. It was hard, it was painful. Watching the game on the live feed from the electronic board had been a heart-stopping roller coaster of emotions.

The day had started at 7am with prep for the morning game, for this was the formidable double round day. There were good wins for Dhruv, Adam, Niamh, Zoha, Abi and Amy in the morning, along with another long game by Aarnavh which ended in a draw. The levels of concentration shown by this 9-yr old in this tournament have been extraordinary, with an average of four hours per game.

Further prep followed in the afternoon, before the second round. Walking to the venue, the team now took on the demeanour of battle-hardened veterans. There were quick wins for Joe, Tim, Abi and Keerthana and draws for Niamh and Adam. The tension is palpable …

— Malcolm Birks


Day Three
Are you superstitious? Because, to my mind, if there is one game that can make you superstitious, it is chess. Day 3 did not start well – we, or should I say I, lost a black bishop – the omens were not good. Chess players (and particularly their parents) will empathise when I say that much, much more trivial things than losing a black bishop can become touchstones for bad karma – the lucky cap, the banana by the board, the pen, or maybe even just the order of simple, tiny events that repeat, a lot, during an international chess tournament. “Oh get on with the report” I hear you cry. Ok … sorry … I just needed to tell someone.

The big news of the day was that Samuel Gilmore and Amy John won their games – hurray! Samuel played it cool throughout and in the aftermath of victory, with Dad fanning himself vigorously in a corner, was only slightly impressed by Charlie ‘The Sniper’ Storey’s alternative lines of analysis. There were carefully controlled wins too for Dhruv, Calum and Tim putting them into firm contention in their respective sections.

Joe was out rather too quickly for his father’s heart rate but a win was confirmed nonetheless. Long, tough battles were fought by Aarnavh, Zoha, Niamh, Keerthena and Abbey without ultimate profit, but the team are learning and binding through their experiences. Grit and determination are in abundance as they drive onwards to the formidable and defining ‘double header’ tomorrow. Fingers crossed!

— Malcolm Birks


Day Two
To watch or not to watch? – that is the question! Every chess parent has this dilemma and especially here where tiered seating rises above the playing area, allowing parents a bird’s eye view of proceedings and the children, a clear visual link, for good or ill. Most of the team parental contingent have chosen to wait outside ‘underneath the green umbrellas’ of the nearby bar, rather than agonise in the hall.

On day two, Abi Weersing quickly came bouncing down the steps with a shining smile – a good start. There were further wins for Joe Birks and Tim Lewis, before Zoha Ashraf emerged blinking into the sunlight, keeping her father on edge until upon reaching him, she broke out into a smile. Samuel ran into a tough opponent who exploited a bishop pair advantage skillfully.

Dhruv had a good position but got tangled up and lost the initiative late on. The wins kept mounting though, with Adam John, Niamh Bridgeman (on her birthday!) and Aarnavh Trivedi reporting further victories.

Then, with the sun setting late on, Keerthana reported a miraculous comeback from a rook and pawn deficit which had the rest of the team gasping in amazement. Eight points out of a possible twelve and the team march on to Day Three in optimistic mood. Just make sure you don’t watch!

— Malcolm Birks


Day One
“It’s like Pontins!”, one member of the team was heard to exclaim and indeed there was certainly more than a whiff of the holiday camp feel at the Slovanska Plaza. Lacking an obvious team room, a nearby restaurant backroom was quickly commandeered to serve as a coaching base and morning prep began in earnest.

Following shirt and medal presentations, the team were ready for the off and a route march to the nearby venue was led by coach, Charlie Storey. On arrival, the team wondered whether they had arrived at the right place, for there was a show going on in the hall, with ballet dancers and a whole series of baton twirlers which delayed the start by half an hour.

Finally, safely at their boards and with the gift bags of ceramic hot drink holders and wacky felt pens set to one side, the serious business could commence. There were a series of very good, long games and, back at the hotel, the coaches were left wondering what was going on as they twiddled their thumbs and blitzed against each other in nervous anticipation.

Keerthena and Dhruv made it a family double with two quick wins, Joe played a slightly wild game and won against Thomas Tichy. Samuel’s opponent was so scared, he didn’t even turn up! Tim Lewis was winning but unfortunately got caught in a trap. Several of the girls played excellent long games but were ground down in the end.

Meanwhile, Calum won against a 2170 rated player, catching him with the very last piece of prep he did before starting the game – a great win. Last of all, Aarnavh emerged victorious after four hours of great concentration – a very satisfying conclusion.

So, in summary, a positive start and there was a happy hum back at the post-game analysis centre with Charlie ‘The Sniper’ Storey holding court and treating the Slovanska Palace as if he was hustling in Washington Square Park … or maybe it was just Pontins.

Results – follow this link

— Malcolm Birks

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