Bulletin No.79 – The Bournemouth ‘Grand’ Chess Congress


After much deliberation and several reworks of the numbers, the Bournemouth Grand Chess Congress was finally launched in 2012, the same year as the London Olympics.

However, it almost did not happen!

Below is the full history of the Congress, how it came about, its successes including attracting some of the UK’s top Grandmasters and how it helped form the bid for the highly popular Bournemouth based British Chess Championship in 2016.

Martin Simons
September 2021

Initial Idea

The idea of organising a local chess congress with a significant prize fund in all sections, including a large £1,000 first prize in the Open, to attract a few of the country’s top chess players, perhaps a GM or two and create local and national interest, was a daunting task but had appealed to me since the 1st Dorset Rapidplay was successfully held back in 1995.

The Congress that Almost Wasn’t!

Unfortunately, despite all the positive thoughts, the ‘Big Congress’ idea always appeared ‘out of reach’ as it hit many potential obstacles whenever the subject was raised at B&DCL committee stage, the critical ones being we had no decent large venue and it was not clear how the Congress could be funded.

Financial Considerations

To be able to run a financially successful Congress with large prizes without sponsorship was probably our biggest challenge and needed a lot of enthusiasm, work, and commitment. It was estimated that an entry of 140 to 150 players would be required to cover the substantial prizes and venue costs.

Unfortunately, the indications from the Dorset Open Congress held in the Autumn of each year suggested we may only achieve a maximum of around 100 entrants so could this potentially exciting new initiative really work or would it all end in (financial) tears and bankrupt the B&DCL, possibly the DCCA as well?

Positive Encouragement and Support

In 2012, with much needed encouragement and support from Phil Taylor-Bowd (B&DCL Chairman), Alan Dommett (B&DCL President) and Ian Clark (DCCA President), the bullet was bitten and we decided to go for it … but with a few financial safeguards in place!

What’s in a Name?

The first question was to decide on what name should we use for the Congress to epitomise what it represented? Unbeknown to us, it was staring at us right in the face, a £1,000 first prize and our Bournemouth’s biggest ever Congress … doh!

Finding a Suitable Venue

Within weeks we found an excellent suitable venue at the Carrington House Hotel (see photo below) – easy to get to for visitors to Bournemouth being just off the A31 (the main road into Bournemouth) and close to the railway station, free parking, near the beach and a very large comfortable playing hall. It also had affordable accommodation for all players – the single en-suite rooms at £30 pppn proved to be such a great draw and the icing on the cake for chess players and their families.

Other Considerations

Having overcome one of the biggest hurdles, and a commitment to pay out a minimum £3,000 prize fund, we then only needed:

  • An excellent ECF Controller – thankfully we found one!
  • The players to enter – this was the big unknown factor!

Given the appeal of staying in Bournemouth over the Spring and Summer months, we chose to go for this time of year to hold the Congress.

Exceeding Expectations!

We needn’t have worried about the number of entrants as players came in their droves from all parts of the country, attracted by the pleasant Bournemouth conditions, the great prizes and the amenities. Across the four years, the congress exceeded all of our expectations:

2012 – 152 entrants including 4 GMs (David Howell, Simon Williams, Alexander Cherniaev & Keith Arkell).
2013 – 156 entrants including 1 GM (Nick Pert) and 2 IMs (Robert Bellin & Ameet Ghasi)
2014 – 159 entrants including 2 GMs (Nick Pert & Keith Arkell) and 1 IM (Gediminas Sarkauskas)
2015 – 172 entrants including 2 GMs (Nick Pert & Simon Williams), 2 IMs (Alfonso Llorente-Zaro & Gediminas Sarakauskas) and 1 WGM (Irena Bulmaga)

Indeed, in its first year in 2012, attracted by the £1,000 1st prize, we had so many entrants for the Open section (around 60) that we were not sure if the top players would be able to play each other across the five rounds to determine the winner. However, by hook or by crook, it just about worked. We even cheekily charged an entry fee to the GMs in the first year!

As a result of these numbers, we managed to increase the prize fund in each of the four years across all 4 sections (Open, Challengers, Intermediate & Minor) by at least 20%, much to the appreciation of all players (and we still made a financial surplus in all years!).

Other side events

On the Saturday evening after dinner, for those who could not get enough chess, we organised a blitz event with £100 in cash prizes which attracted up to 30 players.

And very late on the Saturday evening (around 11pm!) at the first Congress, we held a Bournemouth School Old Boys (Class of 79 v Class of 82) re-union match!

Bournemouth School Chess Club_260420

More Photos

Here is an excellent photo of the playing hall in its first year (which was made even larger in subsequent years!).

The next four photos capture how people approached their games at the Congress.

Some sat patiently yet nervously at the chess board waiting for their opponent to arrive. Chess can sometimes be such a lonely life! Local player Steve Crisp seemed deep in thought.

Others preferred to share a joke including local player, Martin Clancy, in the background.

Many were just happy to be playing each other. Think you will recognise the two Ginger GMs, Simon Williams and local player, Bruce Jenks. Well, one isn’t quite a GM!

Whilst some people didn’t even make it to the chess board! Here are Mike Henbury and his son Joe playing table football.

And then battle commences

We also used demonstration boards for the top four boards (these can just about be seen in the background in the above photo) and this attracted a big watching audience. All this added to the tournament’s friendly ambience. Pictured below is top seed GM Nick Pert on top board contemplating his next move against local favourite, Keith Gregory (who seems to be very happy with his position!). The organiser was also putting a shift in on the demonstration boards.

Thanks to Phil Taylor-Bowd’s hard work, we also reported some of the games live on the internet!

IM Jack Rudd managed the expert controlling / arbiter duties at his normal breathtaking speed, ably supported by his dad and a few locals including Graham White. All problems were managed successfully. Across the four years of this congress, I cannot remember one single complaint but plenty of compliments.

Below is a photo of the controllers in action or were they just watching play on the top board?

We even had a bookstall supplied by the friendly John & Christine Constable.

Open Prize Winners

So moving on to some of the £1,000 prize winners (we cannot include all prize winners due to limited space):

2012 – GM David Howell

2013 – GM Nick Pert

2014 – GM Nick Pert

2015 – GM Simon Williams & IM Alfonso Llorente Zaro (they had to share the top 2 prizes so only won £650 each).

Pictured below is GM David Howell (the first winner of the Congress Open section and £1,000 1st prize) who is about to play his first move against GM Simon Williams in 2012, the pivotal game!

Local Successes / Winners!

2012 – Paul Errington U-130 (Challengers), Christine Roberts U-95 (Lower Minor)

2013 – Allan Pleasants U-190 (Open), Kenny Harman U-180 (Open), Malcom Steevens U-150 (Challengers), Peter Manning U-140 (Challengers), Greg France U-85 (Minor)

2014 – Allan Pleasants & Bruce Jenks U-210 (Open), Steve Peirson U-175 (Open), Mark Littleton U-166 (Open), Reenen Du Toit & Peter Wilcock U-149 (Challengers), John Belinger (Winner of the Intermediate section)

2015 – Kenny Harman U-180 (Open) Stephen Appleby U-170 (Open), Nigel Purry U-90 (Minor), Mike Davidson U-79 (Minor)

Other Good / Unusual / Fun Congress Moments

2012 – Allan Pleasants won his first ever game against a GM, beating Keith Arkell.

2013 – It was so hot on the Saturday, everyone was treated to an ice-cream just before the afternoon round. Rumour has it some people had more than one!

2014 – There was a ‘free to enter’ World Cup Fever competition (see image below) with the lucky person who correctly guessed the score in the England v Italy game winning £50! Kick-off was at 11pm so there was a late night for some and a few sore heads come the 4th round Sunday morning game. As some of you may remember, we (England) lost that one against Italy too but this time not on penalties!

2015 – Massive queues (no photos) for the Saturday morning breakfast … Oops!

Bournemouth Echo clippings covering the Congress in 2012

Sensational Upset

David Howell Wins

The Congress was a Financial Success Too!

Due to the excellent attendances and kind donations, the congress made a surplus in each of the four years.

The excess funds were put to good use – Sponsoring the Bournemouth British Chess Championship! We had accumulated such a significant excess in funds that it was agreed by the local Committees that this money, along with generous donations by local clubs & individuals, could be used to kick start the B&DCL’s and DCCA’s successful bid for a Bournemouth based British Chess Championship in 2016, an offer the ECF could not refuse! This Congress had therefore served its purpose on many fronts.

They think it’s all over!

There was no Bournemouth Grand Chess Congress held in 2016 due mainly to the British being held in Bournemouth and following the successful 2016 British Chess Championship (this has been reported on, please see Bulletin No.32 – The British Chess Championships), the hotel’s ownership changed hands leading to substantially increased costs and prices. As a result, it was agreed not to run a future congress unless a suitable large venue with affordable accommodation could be found.

It may be now … but hopefully not!

These were fun, enjoyable times attracting a record number of players for a local chess congress so will the Bournemouth Grand Chess Congress ever return? We would like to think so!

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