The Battle of Hastings 2013

As the one and only time I had ever played in the long-running Hastings Chess Congress was back in the mid-1950s, I thought it about time I made a return appearance. Having been comprehensively outplayed by Damian in the club championship shortly before my departure for the south coast, it is fair to say that I was not brimming over with confidence.
I had entered the lowest possible competition, the weekend event for players under 120 (grade, not age!). There were 26 entries and I had the 12th highest grade. On the Friday night, my first opponent was young Laura Davidson, with a grade of just 39. She was no more than 12 and had been playing chess for just one year. An anxious two hours later, I was greatly relieved to mate her on move 39! In my defence, I allege the following factors. 1. She had white. 2. She played very carefully. 3. It seems she is coached by a grandmaster.
Saturday morning brought me white against Alan Fraser, graded 113. He is a veteran of the chess scene and I had seen him in action at the British championships this summer. After a hairy spell mid-game, with my queen just about covering all the holes in my position, the game evolved into a dead level endgame and a draw was agreed after nearly three hours play and 37 moves.
After a quick break, it was time for round three, which saw me with white again, but up against top seed Frederick Coleman of Sussex Juniors, a young but extremely sharp player with a grade of 117. I was very chuffed early on to play a clever move which both attacked his queen and produced an exposed check. Convinced I had won his queen, I was feeling very excited, till he played a move which forced a swapping off of queens instead. Ah well, at least I was two pawns up – I counted them to make sure. Yes, two pawns up, but inexplicably a bishop down. Oh dear, oh dear! So it was a case of battling on to the endgame, where I was two pawns to a knight down but threatening to win a third pawn. With the outcome highly unpredictable – we each had a rook cruising around the board – we agreed a draw after 45 moves. I emerged into the night air feeling as though my head was full of porridge and hoping I could survive the following day.
On Sunday morning I had white against Neil Lang, graded 111. He made an early and, as it seemed to me, unfounded offer of a draw which I declined. Not long afterwards I won bishop for pawn, at which point he started to play very aggressively. His queen was hyper-active and I had to be on my toes as he pushed a pawn towards the eighth rank. However, this proved to be his undoing, as it allowed me to trap his king after 44 moves.
Another short break, then into round 5 with white against Lee Bullock, graded 113 and who I had played and lost to in the British Championships last summer. This proved to be a really hairy game and he had me under the cosh, with queen, two rooks, bishop and knight all bearing down on my king. More by luck than judgement, I kept him at bay, then initiated a series of exchanges which relieved the pressure and led into an endgame where I was just a pawn down. At this point I offered a draw which he declined very briskly. He had king and seven pawns to my king and six, but his extra pawn was a doubled one. Fortunately for me he played the endgame badly, allowing me to capture two pawns and gain what I thought was a winning position. So when he in turn offered the draw I turned it down. We played on, he convinced a draw was inevitable, me thinking first that I would win, then that I would lose, before achieving a position where he could not prevent my queening a pawn, whereupon he resigned on move 53. I was shattered but elated to finish on 4/5.
In due course I learned that young Frederick Coleman and I had finished equal second behind the winner, Mason Woodhams of Hastings, graded 98, who was on 4.5 and whom neither of us had met during the five rounds. So all in all it was a good congress, very tiring but a much-needed confidence booster.

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