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Hastings and Harrogate - My Chess Hell GM Danny Gormally

18 January 2017 | 0 Comments

Remember when you were young, you shined like the sun? Shine on, you crazy diamond!

It seems to me that when I was younger, the whole experience of playing chess was a completely different one to what it is now. Chess was fun! I used to checkmate my opponents with the four move checkmate, I enjoyed finding combinations as I worked my way up the ladder. And now? Now for me chess has become a complete misery. Just woe piled on woe piled on woe. Woe is me, and woe is chess, and chess is me. Woe, woe, woe.

No greater example of this can be provided that the horrible two weeks I just completed which started with the misery of playing one junior after another in dreary hastings, and was completed in Harrogate, where my hopes of capitalising on my 300 rating points edge on the rest of the field were cruelly dashed.

Ok Hastings was a misery. I expected that. But at least I thought, I’ll go to Harrogate on the way back and win that, as there’s not anyone there. First prize is £500, lovely jubbly. t was easy enough to get to, I was going back through York anyway, so I stopped off there and got an £8 single to Harrogate. Then I got a taxi to the famous Old Swan hotel, which was where I was staying and where the tournament was taking place. This hotel was famous for where apparently Agatha Christie fled to when she having problems with her marriage.

A very nice venue but didn’t seem to inspire me as despite getting a very promising position in round one, I began to drift and soon found myself in trouble. My opponent Jonathan Wells then offered me a draw. Now much to the astonishment of the watching David Spence, I turned his draw offer down, not because I thought I was better but because I wanted to gamble, and also I didn’t want to lose the initiaitive in the tournament. I knew if I dropped a draw there it would put me under intense pressure for the rest of the event, as any loss would then be a disaster, meaning I’d be highly unlikely to win a prize. However when he repeated a few moves later, I had no choice to accept his draw.

On the Saturday I managed to win both games, so optimism was safely restored, and I made sure I had a relatively quiet saturday night as the Sunday morning game was at the horrible time of 10 am. All seemed set fair for a morale-boosting Sunday but then utter disaster struck:


I had gone down to Hastings nine days before Harrogate, with the usual feelings of naive optimism that you experience at the start of every chess tournament. One of the reasons for this optimism was the fact that there didn’t seem to be the usual army of junior players at Hastings that for example, ruined the London Classic Open. Unfortunately I was in for a rude awakening. At Hastings in the first five rounds every opponent I faced was under 20.

Without wishing to sound over dramatic, it’s becoming a JOKE now how many junior players there are in chess. I said to plenty of players at Hastings how it would be impossible to become a grandmaster if I had to start again now, even if I had the same ability that I had 10 years ago, simply because there’s far more junior players than there was when I was trying to become a GM 10-15 years ago. Obviously there were a few then, but nothing like the amount of underrated juniors that you are forced to face now.

This has lead to a gradual deflation in the rating system, as the older players are dragged down by having to face all these little brats. Is it going too far to suggest that radical proposals have to be made? I read something today that Russia are considering banning anyone born after 2015 from purchasing cigarettes. Could we make a similar rule in chess, where anyone born after 2000 has to reluctantly forgo the game?

Or, more radically still, how about we build a giant spaceship, and take all junior chess players out to the farthest reaches of the solar system, and dump them out there? Perhaps call the planet Chessotron. They can take all chess engines with them as well, that way they can continue to play chess if they want, just that us old farts can finally play in peace, playing our old fart chess against each other without the underlying fear of getting battered by yet another underrated junior.

In round two of Hastings I faced Ravi Haria, one of the most naturally gifted young players about. He finally seems to be reaching his potential as I was one of three grandmaster victims at Hastings, the other two being other english old farts Glenn Flear and Mark Hebden.

Meanwhile Mark Hebden had an interesting finish against Andrew Ledger:


One of the few bright spots of Hastings was that I was able to use some of the material from the articles published on Ginger GM, particularly in the “SHOCK AND AWE” articles, in my games. For example in round three I bounced back by following my own recommendations in my article “Taming the Taimanov”.


I don’t think I’m alone in finding Hastings a rather depressing place to play chess in these days. The town itself is very run down in parts. I’m a great believer in that you tend as a chess player to do well in certain locations, I’m probably more of a summer player these days and do well when the sun is shining which has a positive effect on my mood. Hence Hastings in late december/early Jan has been a struggle for me in recent years, the gloomy setting has rather had a knock on effect on my play and my results there have been in general extremely depressing.

The venue where the chess is held, the Horntye, it’s a little bit of a dive really and not somewhere that is up to holding a top class chess event. I wonder if there’s an argument for taking the chess away from Hastings and putting it somewhere with a bit more life, somewhere like Brighton. That might help to reestablish the event. Come on guys LETS MOVE WITH THE TIMES.

The problem is the people who tend to run these events, and the ECF in general completely lack imagination. Maybe it’s time for the players themselves to take a stand and start organising our own chess events. Why not?

In round five of Hastings I had already got the impression that I had been there for several weeks, if not months. The event was really dragging on for me and even worse, I was up against my fifth junior player in a row. I was told after this game that she was the 15 year old sister of the 11 year old who did so well in the event, although I’m not sure about that as they had a different name. Maybe a reader can verify this?

I did see them walking to the venue earlier in the tournament with a mother, she led them up the road. I was half tempted to say do you not think that’s rather dangerous, as there’s cars coming by? But I guess in India they have a different culture and are used to walking in the road with crazy drivers going past.


One of the problems in playing Hastings I’ve found is the late start of the games. The rounds don’t start till 2.15, I normally would wake up at 9, but once I’ve done an hour or so of preparation I’d be rather bored and would want to go out. Problem then is if you’ve spent an hour eating, there’s still another three hours to kill. I’d often end up at the venue about two hours before game would start, waiting around in the freezing cold on one of the benches outside.

Normally for breakfast I’d visit any other random place, I did find one charming Latvian place (it’s called “SUNSHINE”, and if you ever go to Hastings, please visit) which charged only £3 for dumplings filled with meat and they did very good coffee as well. What was depressing for me was how empty this place was compared to one of the many cafes that simply served a generic fried breakfast. No wonder we voted for Brexit, I thought. The uncultured, backward population of this country seemingly have no interest in experiencing the cultures of another country. We don’t deserve them.


Sadly for Rasmussen, who had an excellent run throughout the tournament, he lost in the last round which meant despite beating at least three very strong players he went away with a measly £50, which seemed a poor reward. He did have the scant consolation that he towered over his opponent. In fact watching this last round unfold was quite amusing in some ways, I was just shaking my head that someone so small could not only compete with grandmasters, he could beat them convincingly.

The player I’m talking about is Praggnanandhaa (commentarors are going to have a problem with this in future) the 11 year old chess genius from India who already holds the title of youngest IM in history and is surely a potential world champion of the future. The way he finds hidden tactical opportunities is rather reminiscent of a young Anand. It’s also I think pertinent to compare a player like that with the juniors we have in our own country. Ok I know this kid is a bit of a freak but we are seeing players of that sort of rating around the world now, whereas in England there’s noone of that sort of age anywhere near that level. And why not? Because we don’t have a very good coaching set up in this country might be the answer.

About the Author GM Danny Gormally

    GM Danny Gormally

Danny Gormally is a talented English Grandmaster. He lives in the bustling market town of Alnwick, somewhere near Scotland.

Danny’s first DVD for Ginger GM, Improve Your Practical Play was released in September 2013. His new book “A Year Inside the Chess World” is available now.