Travail Pursuit #68: The Scarborough Express

Scarborough Fair! It's easy to see why the Scarborough Congress has become one of the most popular in the calendar. Last Saturday morning provided a clear and sunny sky and a bracing walk to the venue for round 2.

Scarborough Fair! It’s easy to see why the Scarborough Congress has become one of the most popular in the calendar. Last Saturday morning provided a clear and sunny sky and a bracing walk to the venue for round 2.

Last weekend the North Yorkshire resort of Scarborough became a chess mecca with over 300 chess players descending on the Spa Centre in the town’s South Bay area. Of course the majority of the competitors were from Yorkshire, but there were also a significant number of players from right across the country drawn to this excellent event.

Your correspondent was playing in the ridiculously competitive Major (U171) Section (66 players with 55 of them rated between 150-170). I travelled with my Hebden Bridge and Bradford 164 club colleague Matthew Parsons who was playing in the Open Section (60 players). In the Open our very own Matthew Webb was the top seed (no pressure then!) with GM Mark Hebden and IM Alan Merry also rated above 240. These three were the clear favourites for the top section as, after them, the next highest rated players were at 213.

The biggest and most competitive section was the Foundation (U121) which boasted an impressive 85 players! Who says over the board chess is dying? The other two sections also had an impressive entry list with the Minor (U136) having 56 entries and the Intermediate (U151) having 70 players.

There is no doubt that the excellent venue and the significant prize fund of £6,000 across all sections are key factors in the success of this congress. It was my first time there and it’s easy to see why so many people make this congress a priority when you’re walking along the sea front on a blustery but sunny Autumn morning and enjoying the fresh air.

Arriving at the venue for the first time last Friday evening it became even more obvious why the event is so popular. The playing hall at the Spa Centre is one huge room that is large enough to hold all the players and that makes for a great atmosphere. The room has windows all the way down one side with views looking out over the sea front and the ceiling has a pleasing and highly appropriate checkerboard pattern.



GM Mark Hebden was the second seed in the Open Section. (Photo from Scarborough Chess Congress website)

GM Mark Hebden was the second seed in the Open Section. (Photo from Scarborough Chess Congress website)

Round 1
As you’d expect, a fair number of players took a bye on Friday evening (including the top seed in the Open Section even though he was there in time to watch everyone else’s games!) and so those who played and scored full points were able to feel like they had gotten off to a flying start.

As it happens, I managed to win a very tricky encounter in round 1 which went on late into the evening even though we only played 31 moves. Regular readers who know my back catalogue will not be surprised to learn that the clock time was consumed calculating some hair-raising variations. On this occasion though I have to plead innocence. I tried very hard to play sensible and solid chess but my opponent (Tim Turner from Beverley) detonated the position with 17…d5 and after that we were both left reeling as we tried to keep on top of what was happening. It was a very tense game.

Some other familiar faces in the Major also got off to the best possible start as I saw Mark Whitehead, Tim Hilton, Rob Dean, Colin Proctor and Dave Patrick (all Bradford League regulars) overcome their opponents as well.

In the Major, Matthew drew an interesting and hard-fought game with York RI’s Richard Cowan. Meanwhile, GM Hebden and IM Merry duly won their games as the statistics would have suggested.



IM Alan Merry and Jim Burnett hold a post mortem after their round 2 game which ended in a win for Merry.

IM Alan Merry and Jim Burnett hold a post mortem after their round 2 game which ended in a win for Merry.

Round 2
I found myself drawn with Black to play the top seed in the Major, Athar Ansari from Newport. I had been floated down as there were an odd number of players on 1 point and he had taken a bye in round 1. Very fortunately for me he selected the 4.Ng5 mainline of the Two Knights and when I boldly (but rather reluctantly) responded by entering the Traxler Variation (as I pointed out to Matthew afterwards, I don’t really know any of the other lines!) he demurred 5.Nxf7 or Bxf7 and played 0-0 which is dubious. I applied some pressure and was able to burst through with a winning attack on the king very early in the game. An unexpected but very welcome ‘quickie’ – and with Black too.

Meanwhile, as you’d expect in such a tough competition, many of the other round 2 games went deep into the session time and, with 1 hour and 50 minutes for all moves plus a 10 second increment per move, some games turned into absolute epics. This included a tight battle between Rob Dean and Tim Hilton on board 2 of the Major which was finally edged by Rob. Mark Whitehead and Dave Patrick also joined me on two out of two.

In the Open, Matty Webb was playing his first game of the tournament and, having played the ‘Swiss Gambit’ in round 1, he now found himself in a must win situation if he was to have any chance of catching the other top seeds. Messrs Hebden and Merry, once again did their jobs (with Alan taking down Jim Burnett with the Black pieces) while, to the casual onlooker, Matty seemed to have nothing whatsoever against Richard Webster. When I last looked they were engaged in a rook and four pawns each end game which looked like a dead cert draw. Only later did I find out that Matty had somehow squeezed out a win. Who knows how?

Matthew Parsons’ game also went on into the early afternoon as he found himself playing the Black side of a highly theoretical classical Caro-Kann against Joel Wagg from York University. Matthew played it very nicely and finally broke through with a mating attack to move onto 1.5/2. He was joined on that score by some other Yorkshire League stalwarts in the form of Phil Watson, Tony Slinger, Roger Jennings and John Jarmany (as well as Matty Webb of course).


Round 3
Having had an unexpected but very welcome long break between the morning and afternoon rounds I arrived back at the Spa after lunch and a walk to find that I’d been drawn to play Rob Dean in round 3. I had a 0/2 record against Rob in the Bradford League but this would be the first time I had played against him with White and I felt fresh and ready for a big battle.

The packed playing hall in round 2. (Before you cry foul, I had finished my game and had asked the arbiter if I could switch  my phone on briefly to take a photo!)

The packed playing hall in round 2. (Before you cry foul, I had finished my game and had asked the arbiter if I could switch my phone on briefly to take a photo!)

This turned out to be exactly what I got because we engaged in a French Defence, Tarrasch Variation struggle (not my pet line on this occasion) and I allowed my game to drift slightly in the opening. Rob took the initiative and I started to feel pretty uncomfortable when his d and e pawns looked like they were about to roll up the board in thematic style. I resorted to tactics and tried to keep the position complex as Rob seemed to be using up quite a lot of time.

Finally, as the clock ticked on towards 6pm, and with Rob down to his final few minutes, my practical plan paid off as Rob made a mistake and then put his queen on the wrong square to let me in with a mating attack. I could scarcely believe it but I was on 3/3!

In the Major, there were now only two other on that score with me, Mark Whitehead (who played a fine game to dispatch Dave Patrick) and Peter Tart from Camberley (who won very quickly with Black against Robert Mitcheson from Morpeth).

Looking down the section I noticed a familiar name at the top of the leader board in the Intermediate Section. Rob Tokeley from Lancashire (once a league player for Todmorden in the Calderdale League) had three points and was scheduled to play Younis Qureshi (the only other player with a perfect score) in round 4. At this point it is worth noting that the Intermediate had no fewer than 15 players rated 148, 149 or 150 so the battles in this section must have been utterly ferocious!

Meanwhile in the Open, Alan Merry took the initiative as he beat FM Richard Britton with White while GM Hebden could only manage a draw with Black against Martin Mitchell. On board 3, the only other player who had two points at the start of the round, Jonah Willow, played what was by all accounts one of the most exciting games of the tournament against Ali Jaunooby (sadly I don’t have the moves of this game). Both players committed themselves complete in a crazy encounter but the outcome was ultimately a draw.

Matty Webb won with Black against Clive Waters to join the pack chasing IM Merry and Matthew Parsons drew his game against Tony Slinger reasonably swiftly.



The fabulous playing hall in the Scarborough Spa Centre complete with it's highly appropriate 'checkerboard' ceiling.

The fabulous playing hall in the Scarborough Spa Centre complete with it’s highly appropriate ‘checkerboard’ ceiling.

Round 4
We were at the pointy end of the tournament now! I had resolved to play in style true to my nature in my game with Black against Peter Tart. There is no point trying to play in a way that doesn’t come naturally to you just because a game happens to be a bit more important than usual I figured. Sadly, the way I play chess does sometimes mean that I am on the receiving end of a damned good thrashing, and this was one of those occasions!

I essayed my most eccentric response to the Ruy Lopez (Bird’s Variation with 6…h5!?) and set my opponent thinking very early in the game. To his great credit he played a move I hadn’t come across before that turned out to be extremely dangerous. I played natural moves and felt I was doing ok, but I’d stopped analyzing one critical line too early and when it appeared on the board I realised that I was in deep trouble. Essentially, we reached an endgame where I had structural weaknesses all over the place and a king’s rook that was unable to get into the game. One extra tempo would probably have seen me being able to make a decent fist of the defence, but as it was I went down very, very quickly.

A disappointing result to be sure but I was still on 3/4 and if I’d been offered that at the start of the tournament I’d have accepted it enthusiastically. What’s more, I’d seen a new idea in one of my openings and had the opportunity to look at the game and understand what I should have done. Repertoire patched up, I went for a walk and lunch to re-charge my batteries before the final round.

My opponent was now on 4/4 and led the tournament on his own as Mark Whitehead had drawn his fourth round game. Two others, Stephen McQuillan and Kevin Simpson joined mark on 3.5/4 and then I was now in a group of seven players on 3. This group also now included Dave Patrick and Colin Proctor.

In the Open the tie of the round was certainly Mark Hebden’s game against Alan Merry. Merry was half a point clear but had the Black pieces. As you would expect this was a tense struggle and I didn’t see enough of it to be able to rely how it played out. Whether Hebden felt the need to win and over pressed or whether Merry simply out played him, the end result was an excellent won for Merry who won the game and moved to 4/5.

His nearest competition in the final round would be Matty Webb who defeated John Jarmany to reach 3.5 and IM Craig Pritchett who defeated Samuel Milson with Black. The Merry vs. Webb showdown was on!

In the Intermediate, Rob Tokeley defeated Younis Qureshi to stay perfect on his own half a point clear of David Wells of York and Simon Dixon from Scarborough.


If he looks surprised, it is probably because he was! Matty Webb picks up his winners cheque from Arbiter Fiona Petrie.

If he looks surprised, it is probably because he was! Matty Webb picks up his winners cheque.

Round 5

A hugely dramatic tale unravelled in the Open section where, playing with Black, Matty Webb needed to win against Alan Merry to finish in at least joint first with Craig Pritchett who was also in a position to take advantage of a draw or defeat for Merry if he won his final round game against FM Michael Barnes.

As early as the first seven or eight moves everything appeared to have gone horribly wrong for Matty. The game was a hugely complicated mess but his queen looked to be in mortal peril and his body language certainly didn’t inspire confidence that this was all some sort of ingenious home preparation. Nevertheless, these positions still need to be won and Matty continued finding the moves to keep him hanging on in there. By move 17 it turned out that it was White’s queen that was trapped and Alan had to give up a knight to free her. That was the prelude to a brutal counter attack which saw Matty strip away the White king’s protection and force further material gains which left White in a completely hopeless position. An extraordinary denouement!

Meanwhile on board 2 it looked like Craig Pritchett would also win his game to share the tournament, but finally he only drew the game and so Matty took first on his own. Congratulations to him for a fantastic tournament!

My final round game should have been the highlight of my tournament. Up against Karl Potter, I got another French Defence and this time we did enter my pet line of the Closed Tarrasch system. I played the game very well up to a point but missed a couple of temporary queen sacrifices either of which would have crowned a really happy weekend for me. Instead, my resourceful opponent managed to trade off the queens and then appeared to have an advantage in the endgame. I dug in and, after he made an inaccurate move (finally!) I was able to hold with a rook and a pawn against a bishop and two pawns. A shame I didn’t win this game but a very entertaining and interesting game to end the tournament.

Meanwhile on the top board Mark Whitehead survived what looked like a very dangerous attack by Peter Tart to turn the tables and win in fine style. This catapulted him past his opponent to 4.5/5 where he was joined by Stephen McQuillan who won his final round game in very short order.

In the Intermediate, Rob Tokeley drew his final round game which was enough for sole possession of the title as on board two the only player that could catch him lost his game.

The Minor title was shared between no fewer than five players all on 4/5. Garry Hewitt (Darlington), Steven Watson (Hull), Neal Fisher (Peterborough), Con Carey (Heywood) and Noel Boustred (Gosforth).

The Foundation was won by the only player in the whole Congress to keep a perfect score as Sajjad Dehghan-Afifi got to 5/5. Nigel Redmond of Bradford College shared second place with Michael Siddle (Bishop Auckland).

Congratulations to all the winners and to the organisers for a really fantastic Congress that really is a jewel in the crown of Yorkshire Chess. Let’s hope it remains so for many more years to come. I’d certainly like to play here again in the future.

You can find details of all the results from Scarborough on the Chess Results website.

All of my games from the congress and also Matty’s final round encounter with Alan Merry can be found in the game viewer below. I will be very happy to add further games played at Scarborough if anyone would like to submit games to me please email them as PGN files to




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