All posts by Steve Lovell

Why there will be no 2020 event

Checkmate

As you’ll already have seen, we’ve come to the sad conclusion that there will be no Bury St Edmunds Chess Congress in 2020. We’d like to take some time to explain why, and to share some early thoughts about alternative ideas for this year and plans for 2021.

Venue Issues

We’ve been at the Apex, right in the centre of town, since moving there from the Corn Exchange in 2010. It proved to be an excellent venue for our event. When I took over the organising of the event from Bob Jones in 2015, the venue was costing a little over £2,000 to hire for the weekend. That was already a large sum, but by finding savings elsewhere, securing extra sponsorship in some years, and a bumper entry in other years, we’ve been able to keep the finances in balance. The costs have steadily increased since then, but in respect of 2020 we were facing a futher increase of around 25%, taking the costs to over £3,000.

We immediately began thinking about a change of venue. As Bury is a relatively small town, there aren’t many options, and there would be no telling if we could have any new venue on the dates we’d originally advertised. After thinking it over we decided to stay with the Apex for another year if we could at least match our previous years’ sponsorship, nudge up the entry fees, and perhaps be a little less generous with any discretionary prizes. To break even we’d still be depending on another big turnout, but a small financial loss would be acceptable.

Coronavirus

That was our thinking, and then COVID-19 hit. At the time of writing we’ve been in lockdown for almost four weeks, and speculation about how long it will last is rife. While we’re obviously hoping that the restrictions on public life will be lifted by the time of our event in the Autumn, many voices seem to be suggesting that some form of social distancing will still be necessary. If that’s the case, we’re likely to get fewer entries, perhaps especially from more vulnerable senior players, who usually make up a significant proportion of our entries. The numbers required for us to break even begin to seem like a stretch. The venue was pressing for confirmation plus a non-refundable deposit of £500. With some sponsors yet to be confirmed, we decided we couldn’t take the risk.

Moreover, while we’re in lockdown, it’s not now possible to do the necessary leg work to find an alternative venue in an aim to reduce costs. Checkmate.

What Now?

We’ll be looking for a new venue for the 2021 event. By then COVID-19 shouldn’t be an issue, but the costs at the Apex are simply not sustainable for an event such as ours. If you have any thoughts about what makes for a good venue, feel free to share them in the comments here, via our social media channels, our contact form or over email.

For 2020 we’re considering holding an online tournament around the same time of year that the Bury St Edmunds Congress usually takes place. Details are yet to be decided, but if this goes ahead (and it is very much an if at this stage) it’s likely to be a one day Rapidplay event, open to ECF members and with at least some prize money available. If entry isn’t free, it will certainly be no more than £5.

We’re really sorry to be disappointing all who have been loyal supporters of our event over the years, and hope you’ll be back with us again in 2021. In the meantime, watch this space for more news about plans for this Autumn and next. Stay safe.

FIDE Rated Open Section?

Ever since the ECF introduced its membership system, we’ve regularly had questions asking if we would consider making the Open section of our event FIDE rated. There are several attractive aspects to this idea:
  • We’d regain our position as a qualifying event for the British Championships. The ECF changed the conditions of eligibility a few years back, and for a single event such as ours to be considered a qualifying event, it must now be FIDE rated.
  • It feels like it would give our event a “higher standing” in some sense.
However, the idea is not without problems:
  • While most entrants to our Open section are Gold members of the ECF, not all are, and it’s Gold membership which is required to enable FIDE rating.
  • While FIDE regulations remain as they are, unless we had a rating ceiling for the Open section (!?), we couldn’t meet their conditions without either removing a round or shifting round 1 to Friday evening. Lots of congresses have round 1 on the Friday evening, but it would significantly change the character of our event, and moreover we’d incur a large increase in our hire costs for the venue, which we would in turn have to pass on to our entrants. I’d expect the increases to be at least 50% and likely more than that.
I gather there is some talk of FIDE making the restrictions on rated tournaments less restrictive, and if that came to pass we’d certainly be revisiting this question as the second problem noted above would be circumvented entirely. What do readers think about this issue? Is my attempted statement of the pros and cons accurate and complete, and have we drawn the right conclusion in not making any section of the event FIDE rated? Comments from readers with a better understanding of the current and possible future FIDE regulations would be particularly appreciated.

Congress Prizes

Not sure who, if anyone, will be reading this the first post on the Bury St Edmunds Chess Congress blog. You’ll find me posting here occasional oddments relating to our event, and perhaps sometimes things related to chess events more generally. A question to begin with: to what extent does prize money available for a tournament make you more likely to enter? Winning a large prize would no doubt be a boon, but with the prize winners being a small proportion of the entrants overall, I’m wondering whether it would make sense for us to organise things differently. We could offer no prizes and massively reduce the entrance fee, or lessen our reliance on sponsors. Or we could use the saving to invest and improve the tournament conditions. What do you think? Our current prize schedule can be found here. You’ll see that in addition to the monetary prizes we are also (at the time of writing) offering chess.com membership prizes. There is also a handsome trophy for the best local junior. How would you like prizes to be organised? What’s most motivating? And are there other things you’d prefer we spend the money on? Please leave your thoughts in the comments. On a side note, I have occasionally wondered about some amusing prizes I could add to our schedule, and to explain them I will need to take a rather circuitous route. As some of you may know, in spring 2018 we added a small dog to our family. I’m still rather surprised that my wife and daughter went with my name suggestion: Magnus. Anyone else got chess “themed” pets? One of my chess club colleagues said it was quite wrong to call our dog Magnus, as Magnus is supposed to be the G.O.A.T. and not a dog, but anyway … Having easy access to this Magnus give me the chance to offer some great/weird sounding prizes:
  • Play a game with Magnus
  • Thirty minutes 1-to-1 with Magnus
  • A lick from Magnus
  • Rub Magnus’ tummy