Shropshire chess players enjoy squaring up to game - with video

It’s not often you’ll find two armies waging a war – to the sound of complete silence.

The youngest competitor Eloise Fenwick
The youngest competitor Eloise Fenwick

But this was a battle of the mind as competitors fought for supremacy over the chess board.

Some 130 players of the Royal game descended on Wrekin Housing Trust’s headquarters in Telford to compete over the weekend at this year’s Shropshire Chess Congress.

They ranged in ability from two British grandmasters – Mark Hebden and Keith Arkell – to 10-year-old Eloise Fenwick, from Whitchurch, who was competing in her first ever tournament having previously only played at school.

There was also a strong contingent of Shropshire-based club players competing in all three sections – open, major and minor – against opposition from across the country over five rounds from Friday night until yesterday evening for a share of cash prizes.

In keeping with the tradition of FA Cup Third Round weekend, there were plenty of upsets along the way.

Open section favourite Hebden was beaten by international master Graeme Buckley in round four yesterday morning, putting him out of contention for the top £1,000 prize.

International master Alan Merry won the open section, defeating former Shropshire player John Cox in the final round to finish on 4.5/5 ahead of Arkell and Andrew Horton.

Both Arkell and Hebden are chess-playing professionals who are regulars on the weekend congress circuit. This year’s tournament also attracted three international masters and two FIDE masters, while 13 junior players also took part.

Steve Rooney, one of the tournament’s organisers, said the competition had been as fierce as ever.

He said: “We’ve had fewer grandmasters this year and a few players, including international master Ameet Ghasi, had to pull out through illness. But the grandmasters here have not had it their own way and it has still been very competitive.

“We need to get a balance between getting some of the stronger congress-playing grandmasters so people get a chance to see them and some to play them and also getting the tier behind. For international and FIDE masters it’s an opportunity to play grandmasters that does not come around that often for them. It’s also great to see people like our youngest competitor Eloise Fenwick, who lives just outside Whitchurch and is playing in a congress for the first time.

“She’s previously only played at school but her whole family came along to support her on Saturday, which was really nice.

“Her opponents have all spent time after their games talking things through with her, which is really good and will help her learn – it’s a very tough environment to play in.”

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