Monday, January 15, 2007

An invitation to Benasque (sort of)

For some time now, I've been meaning to invite Streatham and Brixton players - and other readers of this blog - to play in the annual FIDE-rated international tournament in Benasque.

I played there last year (matter of fact, to date it's the last competitive chess I've actually played) and scored 6/9 in an extremely strong Open - the highest-ranked player without a title came 31st. This performance included one of my four career wins against FIDE Masters and a missed draw, in the endgame, against a Grandmaster.

I was tipped off about the tournament's existence by Andrew Stone, before I left, and I know Sue Lalic has played in it at least once. It's the strongest tournament, by some distance, that exists in my part of the world, since although Spain is known for its strong tournaments, the province of Aragón is not remotely so well served as is, say, Catalunya. There is, for instance, no strong tournament in Zaragoza, by far the largest city in the province.

Tournament chess in Spain is very strange to British eyes. There are, for instance, no weekend congresses, something I did not know when I came here and which I was dismayed to discover. The Spanish prefer to play one-day tournaments, with time limits of ten or fifteen minutes each, and the prizes are generous. There are, however, many FIDE-rated tournaments in Spain, especially in the summer months (though not, as I say, especially in Aragón). It is possible to spend the whole summer, which of course is longer in Spain than in more Northerly parts of Europe, playing these tournaments and filling in the odd Sunday with one of the aforementioned fifteen-minute affairs, and there are quite a few players of master rank who do precisely this.

So you have the odd situation where there is an enormous amount of chess for the professional, but no weekend chess, at least as I understand it, for the ordinary player who needs to work from Monday to Friday. Perhaps for this reason above all else, these tournaments are very large, far larger than their British equivalents, for if you have to take a week or two off work to play, you can probably do this only once a year, so naturally you will make certain you play in your "local" tournament if you possibly can. The 2006 tournament had more than 350 participants. I'm used to the idea that you might be struggling in a congress if you're on board 15. Here, it's board 150. If you're on board 15, you're probably playing a grandmaster.

Benasque itself is a small town in the Pyrenees, just a couple of kilometres from the French border, though as there is no pass in that particular valley, it feels much more isolated than that might suggest. It's essentially a ski resort, and therefore not full in July, though the Spanish Pyrenees do attract visitors and tourists through the summer, and the location is very striking. Play takes place in a sports hall just a couple of minutes' walk from all the bars, restaurants and hotels (though last year I chose to stay in a tent on a campsite about forty minutes' walk up the hill). One can get here from a variety of directions, though it's probably best to fly to Zaragoza (or one of the airports near Barcelona, Reus or Girona). Then hire a car: or get a coach (or train) to Huesca, where I live, and then another coach to Benasque. (If, of course, a party of players were to come, then it should be possible to split the costs involved.)

But when is it, you ask? And here we have a slight problem. Because as yet, I do not know. I assume it is in July, as it was last year - and as it has been running for nearly thirty years, I assume it will be in July again. But the precise dates, I do not know. Indeed nobody knows. Or if they do know, they are not telling.

I have enquired with the tourist office in Benasque - my enquiries have gone unanswered. The website of the Aragonese chess federation only lists the events taking place over the next three months - beyond that, the assumption seems to be either than you know already, or you do not need to know. Which is probably fine if you are a professional, since there are many competing events and you may make up your mind quite late: and it's probably OK if you're a local. But if you're an amateur from abroad, needing to know information well in advance in order to book flights and time off work, it is no use whatsoever.

But, as I found out last year, that's just the way Spain works (indeed, it is a mystery to me that it works at all):

• Everybody knows what is happening except you
• Nobody will ever tell you anything.

So I would like to invite people to come to Spain, in July this year, to Benasque, for a week and a half in the mountains, to play chess. But I am not, yet, sure precisely when that week and a half will be. So bear it in mind, if you would. And if anybody who knows what is happening, is ever so careless as to accidentally tell me, I will pass the information on, to readers of this blog, as quickly as I can.

See some of you in July. I hope.


Anonymous said...

Hi Justin. There is some chance I will go if several people go- couldn't commit at this stage though. I read your comments about signing up and can confirm I had exactly the same experience the year before (bar the keep your helmet off the table!). A car is very useful- not just for getting to the venue, but to go walking in the mountains in the morning. Was really hot 2 years ago when I played and I wish I had splashed out on an air-conditioned room.

ejh said...

You go walking in a car???

(It's OK, I know what you mean.)

It does get really hot (though it also rains a lot, mountain climates are like that in summer). Last year I tried to sleep in my tent before the start of play but it was like trying to sleep in a sauna.

Tom Chivers said...

I guess that's why chess in Spain is so disorganised: It's popular enough that it can be.

I'd be up for it, depending on cost of flight & hotel. I don't drive though, but would happily share the cost of that if someone else did...

ejh said...

I saw my club captain today (GM Roberto Cifuentes Parada, no less) and mentioned it to him: so I hope to know the dates very shortly.

Anonymous said...


I'm definitely interested in playing at Benasque.