Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Dog's Dinner in Dresden

I've not had much to say about the results of 'Eurotrash 2007' - my disparaging nickname for the European Individual Championships in Dresden. I'm afraid I got cheesed off with the quality of the gamescores and rather lost interest. It became too difficult to work out if a move was a brilliant queen sacrifice or just an electronic input device gone haywire. Besides which I'm not impressed with the time control used for this event, and a monster swiss consisting mainly of non-elite East European GMs (who are really just trainee super-GMs) and chess tourists don't really do it for me. But I'll put in a word for Tatiana Kosintseva: 10/11 against some top women players was very impressive. Well done, her.

But apparently gamescores and dodgy time controls weren't the only problems. Some of the players became disenchanted with the quality of the food being served up for lunch and dinner and started asking questions. Subsequently I've seen some commentary on ChessVibes, in which Dutch GM Erik van den Doel highlights the disparity between the hefty daily fee the players paid to the European Chess Union and the amount which the hotel received for the food provided.

This is not the first time that 'Eurotrash' has been criticised for its poor conditions. In fact, problems with the first championship led to the foundation of the professional chessplayers' union, the Association of Chess Professionals. It will be interesting to see if the ACP picks up van den Doel's comments. I note that they have already posted Erik van den Doel's comments on their website.


  1. John,

    Whilst I'm grateful for your kind comments addressed towards the ECF in a previous post, I'm pulling what's left of my hair out when I read your remorselessly negative reports about this event.

    Yes, there were problems with the online coverage and some dodgy dealings between the organisers and the hotel (allegedly), but the event itself was easily the most impressive, well organised and enjoyable one that I've ever participated in.

    Although there were no stellar performances from English players, there were a number of very creditable performances and some excellent games.

    I hope folks will not be put off from participating in this event in future by your comments.



  2. Well, I confess I've been accused of a number of crimes against chess in my time, even as far as the attempted sabotage of professional chess in these islands, but I don't think I've driven anyone to self-harm before. In the interests of your remaining hair, Peter, I apologise if anything I have written has driven you to this point of despair.

    Yes, I have been more than a tad negative, but it's not just me: I've been the focus for a number of people grumbling about coverage. We are all a bit worried that next year's Olympiad might be a fiasco if the homegrown Dresden electronic board system is only now being tested for the first time.

    The 'Eurotrash' jibe was a bit strong perhaps, but it was said for effect (and evidently succeeded in your case!). The event doesn't attract elite GMs in any quantity, and is simply not worthy of the championship title it confers. Neither FIDE nor the ECU has shown themselves capable of delivering the sort of major elite events that the chess world craves. All they give us are more of these large-scale events which pack in hordes of trainee superstars and chess tourists, with an eye to the money-making side of the enterprise.

    Something calling itself the European Championship should be a bit more classy and exclusive, to pull in the Svidlers and the Lekos of this world.

    Viewed purely as a strong open tournament, of course, it has many merits, as you point out. I wouldn't want to dissuade anyone from giving it a go. But then there are lots of strong open tournaments in the world. Like the Monarch Assurance Isle of Man: will the ECF support a party of top Brits to make the journey this year?

    I make no apology for criticising the time control. It's a nonsense for chess at this level.

    At no stage have I criticised any of the English players, who played well and gained some vital practice against strong opposition. There will be a report in the May BCM which will include some of their games. Including, I may say, one of your own games! Hope that acts as a little psychological hair restorer...

  3. John,

    Thanks for your response. Absolutely no need for any apology.

    I don't know the details of how the electronic boards worked (or in some cases didn't). The hardware looked like the usual DGT stuff, so I suspect that the 'homegrown system' was limited to software displaying the moves in the tournament hall and online. There were 24 games projected real-time in the hall (only the men's event) and this seemed to work more or less OK. I didn't follow the games online, but there were clearly loads of problems with the web site. My guess is that this is fixable in the 18 months prior to the Olympiad.

    There are problems with the way the DGT system handles the end of the game. I've no idea if there are any plans to fix this - you could ask DGT.

    I'm not going to be an apologist for FIDE or ECU, but I'd point out that 40 out of the world's top 100 men and 27 out of the top 50 women played. OK, the very top men didn't play, but we've had elite tournaments at Wijk and Linares already this year, with Sofia and Candidates matches to come shortly. I don't see your problem.

    Can we agree to disagree about the time control ...

    On the Isle of Man tournament ... in principle I'm sure the ECF would like to help, but of course we have to operate under financial constraints. If I sensed that there was widespread enthusiasm to assemble a party of English players, I'd do my very best to make it happen. A few other voices of support would help the case (or even better a few donations to the Friends of Chess).



  4. I was interested to see van den Doel's comments about the price hikes for the hotels. Nothing new there - England was due to host the Europeam Team Championships a few years ago, and insisted all teams would stay in official hotels at over-inflated prices (payable to BCF). This would have helped pay the £10000+ fee to the organiser. Sadly the teams rebelled and the event went to Eastern Europe instead, although BCF put a different spin on it of course.

  5. Some interesting points - I vaguely recall something about the abortive Euro Team competition.

    Re Dresden: there seems to be breaking news (which hasn't made it into English yet - http://www.kinderschach.net) - something about financial irregularities attaching to the chief Dresden organiser, or so I'm told.

    The point about FIDE and ECU is that they have failed to find any real sponsorship. Not surprising because their events have no real sponsor appeal. So they turn them on their head and try to extract the necessary cash from the competitors. I wouldn't mind so much if the so-called Euro Champ were actually called 'the European Open' and acted as a qualifying tournament to something prestigious - a 10-12 player tournament with credible candidates 2700+ for the title of European Champion, duly sponsored. A real championship would be attractive and saleable, and would have the advantage over Wijk, Linares and Dortmund that it could move around the continent - Dresden one year, maybe Paris the next - or, dare one dream, London. Or Liverpool, Manchester...

    It seems that federations, both national and international, lack the vision or ambition of private individuals when it comes to conjuring up worthy chess events. One only has to compare the 4NCL with the ECF's dead duck National Club Championship.

  6. John - isn't there a big flaw in your argument, which is that if there are all these saleable competitions just waiting to be created, why haven't private individuals stepped forward to create them? Nobody's stopping them.

    In truth the big names are quite busy all the year round, precisely because they're the ones in whom sponsors are interested. Players below that level can be really fine players, close to world-class in their field and yet the sponsors don't want to know because nobody's heard of them.

    Chess is far from unique among sports (or indeed professions - think how many highly skilled musicians or writers can't make a living) in having this problem and obviously it's very hard to accept for the people involved. It's my view that many professional chessplayers have unrealistic expectations about what ought to be possible with sponsorship. No doubt more could be done than is done, but to cast it in terms of private-individuals-good-chess-federations-bad does, I think, vastly exaggerate the case.

    Moreover if you want an actual Championship to be sponsored, as opposed to a one-off tournament, then sponsors are going to want to know who's going to be playing in it, what guarantees there are of that etc etc. But there are none, because nobody has to commit to anything. Everybody, in football, plays in certain competitions: in golf, nobody would want to miss out on the majors. In tennis, players are obliged to commit to a certain number of competitions. Chessplayers won't do that, because they want to play in what competitions they choose, which right in respect. But at the same time, it means an absence of guarantees for the very sponsors they're looking to attract and it means you can't really organise yearly, championship-type events with strong players (as we notice in August every year).

    That's the problem, for all but the very top players who are already more than alll right. If you want an attractive, regular compeition, anything more than a one-off tournament, then people have got to commit to it. If they won't then they can't sell themselves. Am I wrong?

  7. John,

    Of course elh is correct in dismantling your private-individuals-good-chess-federations-bad argument. It’s much more complex. Indeed, in some instances the organisers who you praise for putting on events outside the federation are also active inside the federation.

    Don't get me wrong, there is plenty of scope for improvement in our federation. But your blanket criticism denigrates the efforts of many people now and in years gone by. For example, I know quite a few individuals who have been attempting to interest commercial sponsors along the lines you suggest. It is a difficult and time-consuming task, made more so every time a journalist such as yourself sees fit to write knocking copy.

    You have every right to criticise, but PLEASE make it constructive.

    My hair's all gone now.

    Yours aye,


  8. My dear John,

    I'm sorry, I'm lost now. I did not intend to appear to be an apologist for HMG's actions in Iraq. I thought I was making a slightly different point.

    On the time controls, I don't agree with your view that the control used at Dresden is a 'nonsense'. If it was up to me, I would make the playing session slightly longer, but I don't have strong views on the matter.



  9. Perhaps my 'Question Time' analogy was a bit of a stretch. The point I was trying to make was that I don't consider it logical or reasonable to interpret criticism of policy (or "politicians") as an attack on those who strive manfully to implement policy or otherwise do useful work in the background (the "soldiers").

  10. John,

    OK. Understood.



  11. Well, I think this robust and enjoyable argument is gradually settling down into some sort of agreement (or at least respectful lack of agreement). I hope I didn't give the impression that I think private enterprise should come in and replace official input to official championships because I never meant to say any such thing.

    I didn't find anything much to disagree with in elh's last screed. I'm not sure there is always room in sports reporting or commentary for detailed explanations of what organisers get up to, but I like to think that I (and most other chess journalists) make mention of especially meritorious work or ingenuity when it shows itself. As a frequent webmaster, gamescore wallah and onsite journalist, I get to see what the guys behind the scenes are up to at tournaments - far more than I used to when I was just a player - and the vast majority of them have my admiration and respect for what they do.

    Re the FIDE knock-out, I too have written on the theme that it has merit as a quasi-rapidplay event. As in cricket, where test and one-day formats run in parallel. One should not be allowed to destroy the other.

    Unfortunately, in chess, the ubiquitous grey squirrel of rapidplay is driving the timid, defenceless red squirrel of standardplay into extinction...

    ... where do I get these analogies from?

  12. As an organiser and player, I have a foot in both camps and can sit on the fence. Luckily, it is a low fence and the camps are close together. It is true that some good organisers are unfairly criticised by ignorant players, and some self-important organisers pompously reject entirely justified criticism.
    Getting sponsorship is not easy, and BCF's previous behaviour has not helped on occasion. Although, they obviously tried to keep it quiet, they were sued for return of sponsorship money at least once! That does not help current organisers. Word gets round. Also, times change - people don't have as much money to give away.
    I'm glad the "European Championship" was well-run and enjoyable, but if you want an excellent tournament, extremely well-run and strong, and proper time-limits, head to Gausdal.

  13. Yeah, but it's too expensive to play in Norway.

    Anyway, what about black squirels, eh? Might mean nothing to you, but I've lived in Letchworth.

  14. Actually, Gausdal is not that expensive. Hans Olav Lahlum organises a price for hotel and all meals, and entry fee, conditions as appropriate, so you know the cost before you arrive. Just don't drink too much alcohol!