A Long Weekend in Germany

Herewith an indulgent and rambling account of my recent trip to play in the weekend tournament in Germany run by Chester’s twin town Lörrach. If you’re short of time or lacking the patience to endure another bad beat story, feel free to stop after the Executive Summary. As an additional warning, be warned that in line with the current fashion for active learning (as opposed to skim reading in front of the TV) there will be a series of problems to be solved.

The Wasserschloss castle complete with moat was the venue for the tournament near Basel

To be honest I hadn’t planned on writing a tournament report. However, it transpires that there is a growing German readership of our Chester club website, so it would seem churlish to disappoint them. Our recent online match has been picked up by the local newspaper, apparently with brewing interest from regional outlets. To make this clientele feel more like they are reading terse German prose, I have wherever possible obfuscated and elongated the write-up. Three words have been preferred to one and the arcane selected over the simple.

Chester and our 107 to 97 point loss in the internet match is described in the right hand column

Executive Summary

I flew to Basel. The weather was windy. The food and beer was good. The locals were hospitable. I played a few too many weak moves to win the tournament. I burnt some wood. I flew home.

Planning the trip

An international trip isn’t something your normally would leave until the week before as chess players normally operate. I was invited to play around August giving at least 6 months to sort things out. Actually getting a personal invitation is pretty rare at club level so I had the opportunity to push my luck with some negotiations.

It’s a little-spoken fact that chess tournament prize money is insufficient to sustain most professional players. Instead they typically rely on money from coaching. There is also the practice of holding out for side payments before agreeing to play a competition. This is euphemistically known as “conditions”.  

The negotiations over conditions dragged out over a few months. ELO 2000 doesn’t really give you that much leverage, but the opportunity to add another country to the international nature of the village tournament had to be worth something I figured. We finally settled on limo-service transport from the airport and a guided tour of Basel’s famous Morgenstreich Fasnacht celebrations. Just a word of warning in case you get into these sort of negotiations: organizers can be very keen to get you to the tournament, but getting you home really isn’t as important to them.

Preparing for opponents before the tournament

In my experience around 90% of pre-game preparation is wasted, most often by guessing the wrong first move. Before a weekend tournament begins you of course don’t even know who you will play so the odds are even worse. I decided to just have a quick look at the database information of the top player as beating or drawing against him would likely be necessary for winning the tournament. Spoiler alert: he didn’t show up for the tournament. At least that was only a few minutes wasted.

That time would have been better spent preparing some stock answers for the (in retrospect) obvious conversation topics I would be presented with on the trip:

What did I think of Brexit?

How about that Boris bloke?

And what’s your view on Megxit?

Getting there

The good news was that Easyjet flies from Manchester to the Swiss city of Basel, just a few miles from the tournament venue in Germany. That was also the bad news as flying a budget airline presents a bewildering array of choices. I settled for terminally slow boarding, hand luggage only and a random seat. I couldn’t afford to take more bags as the local hotel didn’t accept arrivals after 11pm and the flight wasn’t arriving much before then.

Ignoring the woman with pornographic headgear sat on the opposite aisle the flight seemed unremarkable. Banking capital Basel didn’t seem like an obvious hen party rival location to Dublin, Prague etc but maybe tastes are changing.

What to read on the way to a tournament is always a tricky choice. In retrospect I should have selected Gufeld’s seminal Exploiting Small Advantages. Instead, partly in a bid to look a little less out of place I went for a novella, with a seemingly oxymoronic title connected with taciturn Americans. I spent some time in rounds 1, 4 and 5 regretting that  choice. The book wasn’t so bad though.

Swipe left or right for your holiday read?

As the flight approached Basel there was an announcement to say that actually they’d noticed that it was a bit windy, maybe a bit too windy for them to fancy having a go at landing. But all was well they explained as they had enough extra fuel to fly around Basel for an hour or perhaps to drop us off in Lyons or Zurich instead. Eventually they decided to roll the dice and have a go at landing. That just about worked out OK and soon I was striding through Basel airport in search of my lift. Normally finding someone in airport arrivals isn’t so difficult but Basel airport is situated right where France, Germany and Switzerland meet so you actually have to exit through a door for your country of choice before you meet anyone. I plumped for Germany which fortunately proved correct. I was met by local club member Andreas Kuglstatter who kindly drove me to a small guesthouse near the tournament.

Friday preparations for round 1

After a typical German breakfast buffet including delicious bread from the local bakery I was picked up gain by Andreas. We visited the local Vitra Design Museum which included quirky displays like Ikea posters over the last few decades and the (apparently famous) Hadid firestation. Supposedly this distinctive building contained a small blunder in that the fire engines couldn’t fit in.

Next up was a home-cooked meal at Andreas’ house together with local club president Markus Haag and families. As the world stumbles from one crisis to the next it was reassuring to learn over a feast of goulash soup, dumplings and rösti of the first world problems faced by Brombach chess club. Avid readers of last year’s report may recall that Brombach has the benefit of a free chess room 24/7. More wants more though and it transpires that a bitter factional fight is now underway over replacing the club’s beer fridge. My memory may have failed me a little but I believe one group wants to buy a basic cooler, another has secured a sponsored option, and yet another group is offering to make a contribution towards their preferred means of chilling their beers. No resolution is currently in sight.

Checking out the local vineyards before round one

Round 1 – Friday evening

This round’s problem is to construct a series of legal moves whereby Black to play (with loads of time to invest in this task) can transition from the nicely advantageous middlegame in the first diagram to the somewhat suspect endgame in the second diagram.

Frustratingly my opponent now played without error despite being left with little more than the 30 second increment. All of my attempts to offer him chances to confuse things were rebuffed. With perhaps a small advantage himself he now made an illegal draw offer. I have detected an emerging trend for players to offer draws whenever the possibility crosses their consciousness rather than offering after making their move. In the recent Chester 1 v Chester 2 match I think it happened on two of the five boards. Now the pragmatic approach would just have been to fake tank for a couple of minutes and then accept the offer. I decided to take a stand for correct protocol. “Remis” seems to be the local way of offering a draw. The interchange took place in German, with the following translation fairly faithful to the German:

Opponent: I offer to you draw.

Me: First of all you must play.

Opponent (slightly louder I think): I offer to you draw. Do you understand?

Me: Yes, I understand. First of all you must play.

Opponent: I must play a move first?

Me: Yes

Opponent: Plays the obvious move to secure a draw

Me: Offers handshake

It occurs to me now that this was another area of weak pre-tournament preparation. To aid those facing similar situations in future, and with a little help from Google Translate the following rebuttals may be useful and easy to memorise:

Ich sage wann es Remis ist

[I’ll say when it’s a draw – A la Bobby Fischer]

Sicher lachst du. Die Hölle müsste erstarren, bevor ich davon träumen würde, Remis von jemandem zu akzeptieren, der so schlecht bewertet ist wie Sie

[Surely you’re having a laugh. Hell would need to freeze over before I would dream of accepting a draw from someone as lowly rated as you.]

Round 2 – Saturday morning

After a tense and fairly even middlegame including an exchange sacrifice to open up my opponent’s king my opponent blundered a rook. He lost interest in continuing shortly thereafter.

Round 3 – Saturday afternoon

My young opponent unleashed his inner Grischuk to spend an inordinate amount of time over the first fifteen or so moves. Unfortunately as sometimes happens it was a case of long think – wrong think. None of his ideas worked out and he resigned around 10 moves later seemingly in complete despair at his position. Even his resignation included a blunder. At the start of the game he had as is becoming customary carefully avoided shaking hands. Now he forgot his hygiene plans and held out his hand. This quick game was well-timed as it enabled a swift shift to the evening adventures of burning wood.

Preparation for round 4’s game against a local FM

With Andreas next to a raging fire in a raging storm

Once a year in a few local villages there is a local tradition of having a bonfire on top of the local hill. This is linked to the Fasnacht celebrations which mark the start of Lent. Germans being Germans it is all carefully organized with all households leaving out their spare wood such as Christmas trees and cuttings for the local fire service to collect. It was a little wet and windy so the firemen got the opportunity to throw petrol on the fire to accelerate the burning process (Don’t do this at all yourselves boys and girls).

Washed down with a mulled wine and wurst there is also a tradition of throwing discs of burning wood off the hill into the valley below. I understand this has generally proven quite safe except a century or two ago when the local castle burnt down. If this really really excites you then let me know and I can show you a video of the process.

Set fire to the disc in a firepit, attach to a stick and then launch into the valley below looking out for castles

Back at Andreas’ house he offered to research my round 4 opponent against the top seed. We quickly determined he played all kinds of odd stuff. Rather than study any of that I decided to just play 1c4 and see what happens.

Round 4 – Sunday morning

My opponent played quickly and confidently, reaching a -5 position without undue effort. Your challenge is to find the right plan for White (me).

A – Stick your knight on d6. That’s worth a rook according to a certain Kasparov. No need to calculate.

B – The Black knights are excellent defenders, particularly if one end up on d5. It’s vital to exchange one when Black will be defenceless on the dark squares.

C – By manoeuvring the queen to e4 and placing the rook on d6 White can exploit a pin on the c6 knight winning material in all lines.

Let’s just say my moves weren’t the best and my opponent demonstrated that a Failed Master (ie a mature player who has clearly failed to make IM or GM) knows a lot more about piece placement than a FFM (a failed failed master i.e. someone who hasn’t even made FM).

Fast forward a few moves and we reached the following position. Your challenge is in 15 minutes or less to find the only move that keeps White with a playable (if slightly worse) position.

I just couldn’t see a plausible move and gave up a piece and shortly thereafter the game. C’est la vie. So ist das Leben.

Round 5 – Sunday afternoon

My theoretically knowledgeable opponent played the London system. Quite worryingly it seems that there are named variations and sub variations within this opening, all of which he had analysed in detail. I must have played a sub-optimal move somewhere which luckily led him astray and gave me a small advantage. However, given my reading material choice for the trip my mind wasn’t up to the task and we agreed a draw. That was enough for 3/5 and fifth place on tiebreak.

Lights On in Basel

The plan now was to hightail it to a hotel in Basel ready for the Fasnacht celebrations there. At 4am all the lights in the city go out and there is a parade of Fasnacht folk with lanterns. If you want to know more then I recommend wikipedia as sadly I didn’t get to see it. As a corona virus measure Switzerland decided to ban all gatherings of over a thousand people and so it was cancelled.

Going to Basel was now pretty pointless so I’m indebted to Andreas for putting me up in his house for Sunday night. I got to sample a few local beers and check out his DIY home automation. Interestingly I discovered that Alexa despite being born American doesn’t speak any English in Germany.

Monday – Plan B

Patrolling the Swiss-German border with Markus.

The Easyjet return flight wasn’t until late in the evening. Andreas and Markus took the day off work and showed me around some of the local towns. Markus is a manager in the public administration of Bad Säckingen. He showed us round this town on the German side of the Rhein. There is a famous wooden-roofed bridge over the river and a fascinatingly decorated cathedral. Markus treated us to lunch nearby and whilst sampling the local schnitzel I learned that he has a wide range of work responsibilities including planning the trip of any outsized lorries across Germany that entered Germany in his territory. As he moved on to describe the processes for what he needs to do with corpses without relatives after 4 days I’m sure I detected a slight emptying of the restaurant.

View from the wooden bridge
Wooden bridge
Cathedral from outside
Inside the cathedral

Joking apart I’d like to thank Andreas and Markus and their families for showing me such a good time. Well actually I only really need to thank their families… having, as a Man U supporter, taken them both on an Anfield tour last year I don’t see how they can ever even things up.

The end

If you’ve made it this far then well done and it’s time to add up your points.

Question 1 – the best way to spoil the nice advantage is: 26.. Qb2?! 27Re1 Rc2?! 28Qxb2 Rxb2 29 Rc1 when the computer says equal but White’s imminent invasion of the 7th rank leaves him for choice.

Question 2 – Kasparov gets top marks. As he says in his own book he’s arguably the best player ever. I played a combination of B and C and it all went wrong.

Question 3 – Qg4 blocks the deadly check on the g-file. Easy once you see it I guess.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *