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All eyes on the board as the 95th Hastings International Chess Congress gets under way.

All eyes on the board as the 94th Hastings International Chess Congress gets under way.

Gormally takes sole chess lead

The 94th Hastings International Chess Congress is approaching its climax this weekend, with over 300 players taking part in its host of tournaments. In the Masters an English grandmaster has taken the lead with three rounds to go. Nick Terdre reports. Photos by Brendan O’ Gorman except where noted.

With most of the leaders in the prestigious Masters tournament having drawn their seventh round matches, English Grandmaster (GM) Danny Gormally has taken the sole lead, with 5.5 points, following victory with black over Dutch International Master (IM) Koen Leenhouts.

GM Danny Gormally, sole leader of the Masters with three rounds to go.

GM Danny Gormally, sole leader of the Masters with three rounds to go.

Gormally next faces another English GM, Jonathan Hawkins, the highest ranked player at the tournament and one of a chasing pack of six including GMs Sarunas Sulskis of Lithuania and Alexander Cherniaev (Russia), IMs Martin Petrov (Bulgaria) and Richard Bates (England), and Ireland’s Conor Murphy, a Fide (World Chess Federation) Master (FM).

Hastings is a truly international tournament, with players from 21 countries represented in the Masters alone. There would have been more if a number of would-be participants, including Georgian GM Lasha Janjghava, had not been refused visas by the UK government.

One present in the Masters who nearly did not make it is nine-year-old prodigy Shreyas Royal. Home Secretary Sajid Javid intervened personally to allow his family, who were threatened with deportation to India, to stay in the country as he considered the youngster “one of the most gifted chess players in his generation.” After seven rounds, Shreyas has a commendable 3 points including one victory.

Nine-year-old Shreyas Royal, whose chess talents saved his family from deportation.

Nine-year-old Shreyas Royal, whose chess talents saved his family from deportation.

Brexit implications

By the time of the 2019/20 congress, the UK will have left the European Union, which means that many more players may need visas or have to fulfil entry requirements at present not needed. This is likely to create additional work for the congress staff in supporting visa applications, congress director Alan Hustwayte tells HOT.

Another one to watch is 16-year-old FM Jonah Willow, currently lying joint 19th with 4 points including two wins. He has a chance of scoring an IM norm – three are needed to gain the title – depending on his score and the ranking of his opponents in the remaining rounds.

the two alans 300

Fide certificates for congress director Alan Hustwayte, right, as international organiser, and Alan Atkinson as international arbiter (photo: Pam Thomas).

Overall the congress has attracted 319 players, the same as last year. In addition to the Masters, in which 81 are playing, there are various other tournaments catering for players of all strengths, including five-round Christmas, New Year Morning and New Year Afternoon tournaments, and a five-round Open starting tonight.

Hastings is no longer a top-ranking tournament able to attract the world’s best players, such as the London Chess Classic held in December. But it remains a popular and well-regarded event, still with the allure of its prestigious past – the inaugural meeting in 1895 was the strongest tournament ever held in the world at the time, with a star turnout, as commemorated this year  by a photo display.

The winner was Harry Pillsbury of the US, who finished ahead of then world champion Emanuel Lasker, former world champion Wilhelm Steinitz and other leading players.

Entrants in the inaugural Hastings tournament in 1895 - the strongest ever at the time (and yes, they were all white middle-class men!).

Entrants in the inaugural Hastings tournament in 1895 – the world’s strongest ever at the time (and yes, they were all white middle-class men!).

Article amended by Nick Terdre on 5 January 2019.

Posted 16:47 Friday, Jan 4, 2019 In: Sport

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