And so to Hastings. Not having visited as either player or spectator for some years, I thought I would pop down to watch some of the top games in the masters tournament and check out the venue. The Horntye Park Sports Complex has hosted the tournament for some years now and while it is an improvement on the pier, it lacks the comfort that the Cinque Ports Hotel provided for the top players when the Hastings Premier was held there previously. However, as Leonard Barden pointed out in his Guardian article, the problem the organisers face is that Hastings is sandwiched between the now established and successful London Chess Classic in December and the huge Wijk aan Zee tournament in Holland starting next week. Sponsored by Tata Steel, it can attract the best players: five of the world’s top ten are competing this year with the ‘weakest’ of the fourteen participants (all grandmasters) graded 2666 – only one player at Hastings has a higher grade. A glance at the short video on their website illustrates the success of the tournament: 1800 players, 15,000 visitors, 90,000 website visitors each day etc. Without similar investment it is difficult for Hastings – or any other major tournament for that matter – to compete.
Nevertheless, it has plenty going for it. It claims to be the oldest chess tournament in the world, dating back to 1895, and has been won by some of the world’s best players: Capablanca, Alekhine, Botvinnik, Smyslov, Euwe, Tal. It still attracts players from all over the world today and the top five boards yesterday featured only three British players, the rest coming from India, China, Hungary, France, Brazil, Poland and Switzerland. It may not be the ‘Premier’ invitation tournament it once was but it is still worthy of the title Hastings International Chess Congress. It also has one tradition that needs preserving and that is the excellent Chris Ward in the commentary room. Here is a game that enthused him yesterday.
White: Robert Bellin (ELO 2338) Black: Mark Hebden (ELO 2523)
(Hastings 14/15 Round 5)