The following reports were written by FM Steve Giddins and published on the bcfservices website as a part of the live coverage of the 2008 Blackpool Conference. They are reproduced here for posterity!

FM Steve Giddins Reports on Round 1 at the 2008 Blackpool Open

Welcome to the 2008 Blackpool Chess Conference, being held as usual at the Winter Gardens. This year's event sees the strongest Open section for several years, with four GMs and one IM. As well as Mark Hebden and Nigel Davies, we also have Igors Rausis, formerly of Latvia, but now boasting a Czech Republic registration, plus the Belgian-resident Alexandre Dgebuadze, orginally from Georgia, and beloved of tongue-twister fans the world over. Completing the line-up of titled players is Nicolai Pedersen of Denmark.

Looking at the listing, immediately after arriving at the venue, Mark Hebden commented ruefully, "They don't just give the prize money away, do they?". His words proved truer than he realised, as he provided the round one headlines by losing as White against Roger Williamson. A Slav Defence soon transposed into a position more reminiscent of the Tarrasch QGD, with White having the structural advantage on the queenside, and Black some compensating initiative on the other wing. Hebden underestimated the danger, and Williamson crashed through in style, to record a memorable win:

Hebden,Mark (2530) - Williamson,Roger (2147) [D11]
Blackpool Open (1.1), 07.03.2008
1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.c4 c6 4.e3 a6 5.Bd2 e6 6.Nc3 c5 7.cxd5 exd5 8.dxc5 Bxc5 9.g3 Nc6 10.Bg2 0-0 11.0-0 Bg4 12.h3 Bf5 13.Rc1 Qe7 14.Na4 Ba7 15.Bc3 Rad8 16.Nd4 Be4 17.Nxc6 bxc6 18.Bd4 Rd6 19.Bxa7 Qxa7 20.Qd4 Qe7 21.Nc5 Bxg2 22.Kxg2 Ne4 23.Rfd1 f5 24.Nxa6 Rg6 25.Nb4 Qh4 26.Rc2

26... f4 27.exf4 Nxg3 28.Kh2 Rh6 29.fxg3 Qxh3+ 30.Kg1 Qh1+ 31.Kf2 Rh2+ 32.Ke3 Re8+ 33.Kd3 Qf3+ 0-1

Second seed Rausis had no such problems, comfortably refuting his opponent's all-out attempt to refute the Caro-Kann. As White hunted down the enemy h-pawn, the grandmaster replied with the classic counterattack in the centre, and the white position was soon in tatters:

Mycroft,Richard (2143) - Rausis,Igors (2520) [B12]
Blackpool Open (1.2), 07.03.2008
1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.Ne2 e6 5.Ng3 Bg6 6.h4 h5 7.Be2 c5 8.Bxh5 Bxh5 9.Nxh5 cxd4 10.Bg5 Qc7 11.0-0 Nc6 12.f4 Nge7 13.c4 0-0-0 14.Na3 dxc4 15.Nb5

15...Qa5 16.Nd6+ Rxd6 17.Bxe7 Bxe7 18.exd6 Bxd6 19.Nxg7 Rxh4 20.g3 Rh7 21.Qg4 Qd5 22.Rf3 Rxg7 23.Qxg7 Qxf3 24.Qg8+ Nd8 0-1

Most of the other favourites also won, although Dgebuadze had a hard fight against Ben Purton. Nicolai Pedersen's chances took a severe blow, when the vagaries of the UK public transport system led to his arriving too late and being defaulted. Thus, today's second round sees an IM and a GM on boards 21 and 22 respectively!

FM Steve Giddins Reports on Round 2 at the 2008 Blackpool Open

Nigel Davies became the latest grandmaster casualty of this year's Blackpool Open, after a bizarre time loss against Darryl Wolstencroft. After a hard fight, the following position was reached after White's 52nd move:

At this point, Wolstencroft pointed out that Davies' clock was showing a minus amount of time (we are using digital clocks). Davies responded that this was just because they had reached the first time control (the time limit here is 40 moves in 100 minutes, then 20 minutes more to finish), and that a further 20 minutes were due on his clock. Slowly, though, he realised something was wrong, and the awful truth dawned - he had already passed the first time control at move 40, had already had his extra 20 minutes, and therefore had lost on time. An extremely unlucky way to lose a game.

Meanwhile, Igor Rausis was paired with local player Mike Surtees. Those of us familiar with Mike's highly personal approach to the opening were not at all surprised when the game opened 1.d4 c6 2.c4 f6, but Rausis' face was a picture. Notwithstanding his shock, however, he set to work, and nailed his opponent to the floor. After the game, I told Igor about Mike's theories, which he calls Revolutionary Opening Theory, or ROT for short. Igor was highly relieved to have won, fearing that had the result been otherwise, he would have been immortalised by appearing on the ROT website - "I would have been shamed forever!".

Rausis,Igors (2520) - Surtees,Michael (2196) [A40]
Blackpool Open (2.1), 08.03.2008
1.d4 c6 2.c4 f6 3.e4 g6 4.h4 e5 5.h5 g5 6.dxe5 fxe5 7.h6 Bb4+ 8.Bd2 Bxd2+ 9.Qxd2 Qf6 10.c5 b6 11.Na3 Ba6 12.Nc4 Bxc4 13.Bxc4 b5 14.Be2 a5 15.Nh3 Nxh6 16.Qxg5 Rf8 17.Rd1 Ng8 18.Bh5+ Ke7 19.Qg3 Kd8 20.Ng5 Qe7 21.Rd6 Kc8 22.Bg4 Nf6 23.Bf5 h5

24.Ne6 Nxe4 25.Bxe4 dxe6 26.Qxe5 Qf6 27.Qxf6 Rxf6 28.Rxh5 Ra7 29.Rh8+ Kb7 30.Rdd8 Na6 31.Rh7+ Nc7 32.Rd6 1-0

Dgebuadze won a model Winawer French against Callum Kilpatrick, but David Eggleston was upset by Peter Poobalasingham. Lower down the lists, Mark Hebden won, but Nicolai Peredsen could only draw, after his first round no-show. Also from the lower boards, I was very impressed by Robert Mycroft's sparkling tactical effort against Amisha Parmar:

Parmar,Amisha (1995) - Mycroft,Richard (2143) [B15]
Blackpool Open (2.25), 08.03.2008
1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 3.Nc3 c6 4.Be3 d5 5.Qd2 dxe4 6.Nxe4 Nd7 7.Bc4 Ngf6 8.Ng5 0-0 9.h4 h5 10.N1h3 Nd5 11.Nf4 N7f6 12.0-0-0 b5 13.Be2 b4 14.Nxd5 Nxd5 15.Bc4 Qa5 16.Kb1 Rb8 17.Bb3 Bf5 18.f3 Bh6 19.Rdg1

19...Nc3+ 20.bxc3 bxc3 21.Qc1 Bxg5 22.Ka1 Bxe3 23.Qxe3 Bxc2 24.Bxc2 Qa3 25.Rb1 Rb2 26.Bb3 Rb8 27.Qxc3 Rxa2+ 0-1

FM Steve Giddins Reports on Round 3 at the 2008 Blackpool Open

This year's Blackpool Open is rapidly becoming the tournament of the unpronounceable. After three rounds, the lead is shared by Belgian GM, Alexandre Dgebuadze, and the young English player, Peter Poobalasingham.  All we need now is for a couple of late entries from, say, Roman Djindjihashvili and Phuong Ngo Ngoc Tuyet of Vietnam, and we will have completed the commentator's nightmare.

The two leaders both have 3/3. Poobalasingham took advantage of a huge blunder by James Hanley, to win in just 20 moves, whilst Dgebuadze used his King's Indian Attack to good effect, tying his opponent in knots and picking up a couple of pawns:

Dgebuadze,Alexandre (2512) - Wolstencroft,Darryl (2173) [B30]
Blackpool Open (3.2), 08.03.2008
1.e4 e6 2.d3 c5 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.g3 g6 5.Bg5 Qc7 6.Bg2 Bg7 7.c3 Nge7 8.0-0 0-0 9.Na3 a6 10.Nc2 d5 11.Re1 dxe4 12.dxe4 h6 13.Bd2 b5 14.Qc1 Kh7 15.Ne3 f5 16.exf5 exf5 17.Nf1 Bb7 18.Bf4 Qc8 19.Bd6 Re8 20.Qc2 c4

21.h4 Bf6 22.Rad1 Kg7 23.h5 g5 24.Ne5 Nxe5 25.Bxe5 Bxg2 26.Bxf6+ Kxf6 27.Rd6+ Kg7 28.Kxg2 Qb7+ 29.Kg1 Rad8 30.Rde6 Qd7 31.Qe2 Kf8 32.Qe5 Ng8 33.Qxf5+ Qf7 34.Rxe8+ Rxe8 35.Rxe8+ Kxe8 36.Qc8+ Ke7 37.Qxa6 Qd5 38.Ne3 Qe5 39.Qb7+ Ke6 40.Qc6+ 1-0

Igors Rausis dropped half a point to Don Mason, who defended stoutly in a long endgame. Meanwhile, the English GMs continue to suffer. Hebden dropped another draw, and with just 1.5/3, and no realistic chance of a decent prize, he decided to economise on a night's accommodation and withdrew. Meanwhile, Nigel Davies had a narrow escape against Clive Waters:

Waters played 37.Kc1? and went on to lose, but he could have picked up a piece in broad daylight with 37.Qe5!. Surprisingly, the bishop on e7 has no square - 37...Bf8 loses to 38. Qxg5+, followed by 39.Qd8, whilst 37...Kf8 allows 38.Qh8 mate. This all-too-missable trick was pointed out to me not by my silicon friend, as you might assume, but by a carbon-based organism, in the shape of GM Matthew Turner, who is here in a junior coaching capacity.

Roger Williamson's fine 2/2 start ended at the hands of Jovica Radovanovic, whilst Nicolai Pedersen finally got on the winning trail, with a short and brutal crush of Robert Taylor:

Taylor,Robert Keith (2106) - Pedersen,Nicolai Vesterbaek (2425) [B53]
Blackpool Open (3.11), 08.03.2008
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Qxd4 a6 5.c4 Nc6 6.Qc3 Nf6 7.Bd3 g6 8.Be3 Bg7 9.Nbd2 0-0 10.Qb3 Nd7 11.a3 Nc5 12.Bxc5 dxc5 13.Be2 e5 14.0-0 g5 15.Rad1 g4 16.Nb1 Qf6 17.Ne1 Nd4 18.Qd3 Qg6 19.Nc3 f5 20.Nd5

20...fxe4 21.Ne7+ Kf7 22.Qxd4 exd4 23.Nxg6 Kxg6 24.Rd2 d3 0-1

FM Steve Giddins Reports on Round 4 at the 2008 Blackpool Open

The two overseas GMs took a grip on the event in round four, both winning, to set up a last round clash against each other. Both were in impressive form today, and made no mistake in crushing their opponents in powerful positional style. Poobalasingham's 2.c3 Sicilian saw some early hoovering, with the queens disappearing rapidly, but after that, he was totally outplayed by his GM opponent. Black's bishop pair and mobile kingside pawn majority soon produced a crushing bind.

Poobalasingam,Peter (2165) - Dgebuadze,Alexandre (2512) [A00]
Blackpool Open (4.1), 09.03.2008
1.e4 c5 2.c3 d5 3.exd5 Qxd5 4.d4 Nf6 5.Nf3 Bg4 6.Be2 cxd4 7.Qxd4 Nc6 8.Qxd5 Nxd5 9.Na3 e5 10.Nc4 f6 11.Ne3 Be6 12.Nxd5 Bxd5 13.Be3 Be7 14.0-0 f5 15.Rfd1 0-0-0 16.Bb5 f4 17.Bxc6 bxc6 18.Bd2 Bf6 19.b3

19...g5 20.Rac1 Rd7 21.Be1 g4 22.Nd2 Rhd8 23.Nb1 Bg5 24.c4 Bxg2 25.Rxd7 Rxd7 26.Nc3 Bf3 27.b4 g3 28.hxg3 Rd6 29.Kf1 fxg3 30.Rc2 g2+ 0-1

Meanwhile, Rausis disposed of Radovanovic with the minimum of difficulty. Black selected a rather passive plan with 9...Rd8 and 11...Nc6, blocking his c-pawn, and then lashed out with the impulsive 19...g5, after which he did not last too many more moves.

Rausis,Igors (2520) - Radovanovic,Jovica (2340) [A00]
Blackpool Open (4.2), 09.03.2008
1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 d5 4.d4 Be7 5.Bg5 h6 6.Bh4 0-0 7.e3 Ne4 8.Bxe7 Qxe7 9.Rc1 Rd8 10.Qc2 Nxc3 11.Qxc3 Nc6 12.a3 a5 13.Be2 Bd7 14.0-0 Be8 15.h3 a4 16.Rfd1 Kf8 17.Ne1 Ra5 18.Nd3 Ra7 19.Bf3 g5 20.e4 dxc4 21.d5 e5 22.Qxc4 Nd4

23.Nxe5 Nb3 24.Qc3 Nxc1 25.Nc6 1-0

The tournament's other remaining GM, Nigel Davies, also won easily. His opponent had the temerity to play the Modern Defence, an opening on which Davies is a renowned expert, and has recently recorded a couple of outstanding DVDs for Chessbase. The effortless manner in which he won was noteworthy for the non-standard recapture at move 19 - the open b-file and enhanced grip on d5 matters more than the doubled pawns:

Davies,Nigel R (2480) - Pym,Thomas W (2086) [A00]
Blackpool Open (4.5), 09.03.2008
1.Nf3 g6 2.e4 Bg7 3.d4 d6 4.c3 Nf6 5.Bd3 0-0 6.0-0 e6 7.Re1 Nc6 8.Na3 e5 9.dxe5 dxe5 10.Nc4 Ne8 11.b3 f6 12.a4 a5 13.Qc2 Be6 14.Ne3 Nd6 15.Ba3 Rf7 16.Bxd6 Qxd6 17.Red1 Qc5 18.Bc4 Bxc4

19.bxc4 Rd8 20.Rd5 Qe7 21.Qb3 b6 22.Rad1 h5 23.Qb5 Rxd5 24.cxd5 Nb8 25.d6 cxd6 26.Qxb6 Qc7 27.Rxd6 Qxb6 28.Rxb6 Nd7 29.Rb5 Bf8 30.Rxa5 Nc5 31.Nd2 Rd7 32.Nd5 Kf7 33.Kf1 Ke6 34.Ke2 f5 35.f3 Rb7 36.Rb5 1-0

There were also important wins for Don Mason, David Eggleston and Alan Walton, all of whom enter the last round with an excellent chance of a major prize. The last round pairings see the match-ups Dgebuadze-Rausis, Mason-Eggleston and Walton-Davies. It is not clear that any of these players can be really satisfied with a draw, so expect some blood on the board, here at Blackpool this afternoon!

FM Steve Giddins Reports on Round 5 at the 2008 Blackpool Open

An Arbiter's Lot is not a Happy One

After a desperately hard-fought final round, it was GM Alexandre Dgebuadze who emerged as clear winner of the Blackpool Open, with 4.5 / 5. Sadly, I am unable to report that  he clinched first place with a stirring last-round battle to the death; as so often nowadays, it was a puny 16-move grandmaster draw against Rausis, that secured the honours. Fortunately, those on the neighbouring top boards were made of sterner stuff. On board 2, Mason and Eggleston fought down to the last seconds of the playing session, with the latter eventually triumphing in the Q+P ending.

Mason,Donald (2246) - Eggleston,David (2346)
Blackpool Open (5.2), 09.03.2008
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 Qc7 8.Bxf6 gxf6 9.Be2 Nc6 10.Nb3 Qb6 11.Qd2 Bd7 12.Bh5 Na5 13.Nxa5 Qxa5 14.f5 exf5 15.0-0 fxe4 16.Nxe4 Qxd2 17.Nxd2 Ke7 18.Ne4 Be6 19.Rae1 Bg7 20.Ng3 Kd7 21.Nf5 Bf8 22.Ne3 Rc8 23.Rxf6 Bg7 24.Rf2 Rhf8 25.c3 Bxa2 26.Nf5 Be5 27.Nh6 f6 28.Nf5 Rg8 29.Nd4 Bd5 30.Bf3 Bxd4 31.cxd4 Bxf3 32.Rxf3 Rc2 33.Rf2 Rxf2 34.Kxf2 Rc8 35.Re2 Rc4 36.Ke3 f5 37.Kd3 Rc8 38.Rf2 Ke6 39.Re2+ Kf6 40.d5 f4

41.Re6+ Kf5 42.Rxd6 Rg8 43.Rh6 Rxg2 44.d6 Rg7 45.Kd4 Rf7 46.h4 Kg4 47.Kd5 f3 48.Ke6 Rf8 49.Ke7 f2 50.Kxf8 f1Q+ 51.Ke7 Qe1+ 52.Re6 Qb4 53.Ke8 Kf5 54.d7 Kxe6 55.d8Q Qb5+ 56.Kf8 Qf5+ 57.Kg8 Qf7+ 58.Kh8 h5 59.Qc8+ Ke5 60.Qc3+ Kf4 61.Qd2+ Kg3 62.Qg5+ Kh3 63.b4 Qf8+ 64.Kh7 Qxb4 65.Qe3+ Kxh4 66.Qf2+ Kg4 67.Qg2+ Kf5 68.Qd5+ Kf6 69.Qxh5 Qe4+ 70.Kh8 Qe5 0-1

I commented in the round 4 report on Nigel Davies' expertise with the Modern Defence. As if to emphasise the point, he switched sides in this round and gave a perfect demonstration of the merits of the black position. The customary wing manoeuvres brought Black a comfortable game, and after the mistaken 16.f4?, he pounced tactically, with a typical combination to destroy the white centre:

Walton,Alan J (2207) - Davies,Nigel R (2480) [A00]
Blackpool Open (5.3), 09.03.2008
1.d4 d6 2.e4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.Be3 a6 5.Nf3 Nd7 6.Qd2 b5 7.Bd3 c5 8.0-0 Bb7 9.a4 b4 10.Ne2 Rb8 11.c3 bxc3 12.bxc3 Qc7 13.Ng3 h5 14.Nh4 Ngf6 15.h3 Qa5 16.f4 cxd4 17.cxd4 Qxd2 18.Bxd2

18...Nxe4 19.Nxe4 Bxd4+ 20.Kh2 Bxa1 21.Rxa1 0-0 22.Ng5 Nc5 23.Bc4 e6 24.Bb4 Rfc8 25.f5 gxf5 26.Be2 Bd5 27.Bxc5 Rxc5 28.Bxh5 Kg7 29.Nxf7 Rb4 30.Nf3 Bxf3 31.gxf3 Rh4 32.Nd8 Rc2+ 33.Kg3 Rxh5 34.Nxe6+ Kf6 35.Re1 Rc4 36.Nd8 Rg5+ 37.Kf2 Rc2+ 38.Ke3 Rc8 0-1

Before I finish, I should say a word of thanks to all the arbiters and organisers, who enable the tournament to happen. For the modern-day arbiter, the required skill set seems to be expanding all the time. In addition to the patience of Job, the wisdom of Solomon and the diplomatic skills of Kofi Annan, the 21st-century arbiter also needs a degree in advanced electronics. This is necessary merely to set and operate the digital clocks, but as this afternoon's play showed, these skills are also needed in other areas. One unfortunate arbiter was given a player's mobile phone to look after. Sadly, the phone was still switched on, and went off whilst in the arbiter's possession. His first attempt to switch it off failed, and the wretched thing rung again ten minutes later. The arbiter's next attempt to switch it off ended with him having to mouth profuse apologies down the line, after he accidentally rung the emergency services. To complete a thoroughly miserable afternoon, he was later responsible for the silence of the playing room being shattered for a third time, this time by a squeal of pain from a blind player's guide dog, on whose foot the arbiter had accidentally trodden! And to think that soccer referees like Graham Poll think they have a hard time...