The annual international Congress will take place at Horntye over New Year

by Hugh Sullivan

The Chess Congress is set to return for its 91st year, with over 100 entrants expected to compete from more than 14 countries. Grandmasters from Hungary, Germany, Poland and Uzbekistan head the field.

Hastings has hosted the event every year since 1920/21, apart from in the wartime 1940s. There had been concern at the loss of previous commercial sponsors, but Hastings Council has provided a £10,000 grant alongside others to ensure its continuity.

The main event will start on 28 December and run for nine days without a break until 5 January. Three shorter subsidiary tournaments for lesser-ranked players are held alongside, sharing the same cavernous hall of the Horntye gymnasium as the grandmasters. These attract a mainly British entry, including at the time of writing eleven players from the Hastings and St Leonards club, among over a hundred additional contestants. It’s as if local tennis club players were competing only a court away from an ATP tour event.

Entry is free for spectators, who can (as long as they keep quiet and a reasonable distance from the players) wander freely between the rows of desks to watch any game they choose. It is quite a sight to look down from Horntye’s mezzanine level: two hundred chess players hunched opposite each other in grim concentration over identical-looking boards as the clocks tick away.

For more dedicated followers, non-competing grandmaster Chris Ward will be commenting from a separate room on the progress of the top live games as they are played, explaining the likely thinking behind each move and speculating on what reply may be made. His audience will be invited to participate in the discussion.