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Hastings has staged its annual New Year chess congress since 1920, except for the war years. Its great days were in the 1930s when the world champions Jose Capablanca and Alexander Alekhine took part, then from the 1950s to the 1970s, when the Soviet elite led by Mikhail Botvinnik and Paul Keres were regular visitors. Hastings Council gave loyal support, and the chess club was open every day.
Now, though, making an impression on a crowded calendar is a struggle. The world rapid and blitz championships with Magnus Carlsen opened in Moscow the day before Hastings, while tomorrow, just a week after Hastings ends, Wijk aan Zee starts in the Netherlands, also with Carlsen.
So the Sussex town has had to rebrand its chess identity, which it did successfully last week with the help of its new sponsor Caplin Systems, specialists in desktop and mobile trading technology.
The congress attendance was a record for recent years, as expert players from all over the globe who have studied some of the great games from past Hastings and wanted to sample its tradition, mingled with English grandmasters plus a new generation of ambitious teenagers. The hope is that this mix will produce a new English star, who can inspire like Hugh Alexander in 1953 and Nigel Short in 1979.
Deep Sengupta v Magesh Panchanathan, Hastings 2019-20. India’s Sengupta is a three-time Hastings winner, but his 36-year-old compatriot’s next black move made virtually sure of the £2,000 first prize. Can you find Black’s winner?
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