Bringing Chess to Visually Impaired People

The Gazette - February 2018

Edited by Julie Leonard
The views expressed in the Gazette do not necessarily reflect the policies or views of the BCA, nor those of the editor.

Report on Belgian Open Championship 2017

Voldi Gailans writes:

I attended the Belgian Open Championship which took place from Wednesday 1st November to Saturday 4th November. The journeys there and back went incredibly smoothly, no problem with the Eurostar and the assistance at St. Pancras, Brussels and Blankenberge was flawless.

I was met at Blankenberge Station by Herman Jennen, President of the Belgian Blind Chess Association, and his wife, who walked with me the short distance to the hotel Sabot D'or and showed me straight to my room. The hotel itself was comfortable and I'd say that the 320 Euros for four days' full board was very good value. The light breakfast each morning was perfect for a 9 am start to the morning games and substantial meals at lunch time and in the evening ensured that we were extremely well-fed. Whereas coffee and fruit juice came as part of the breakfast deal, drinks at the other two meals and those served during the chess games were at a small extra cost.

There was ample room for the players in the chess room - I tended to sit at the same board throughout, with plenty of space between me and the other players and plenty of room on the table for my chess equipment.

The tournament was divided into two sections - Group A, the higher one, comprising 8 players and Group B, with 7. This meant an All-play-all in both sections, with a necessary bye in the bottom one.

Each game was four hours' maximum duration - two hours each for all moves. Round 1 was played in the evening of the day of arrival, with subsequent rounds being played on the following 3 days commencing at 9 am and 2.45 pm.

I was placed in Group B and came away with 3 wins and 3 losses. All the games had interest for me, 5 fighting games and a comprehensive defeat in the last round against Bernard Dutoit from France, the eventual winner of the Section. This loss was in some measure due to lack of opening preparation and I finished up in an ending, two pawns down, one on either wing and resigned. I finished in 4th place in Group B.

I was made to feel welcome by the people I spoke to and I believe that they appreciated my having made the effort to come and participate. I sat at table with Hugo Roman, the arbiter of the tournament, who will be familiar to some of our members and who I have known since 1986 and he, in a sense, took me under his wing, guiding me back to and from my room to the dining area, which was in a separate building, and generally looking out for my well-being - he arranged for me to go out on the Friday afternoon, during my round 5 bye, on a visit to a small Brewery, about 20 km from Blankenberge. This was fascinating and really enjoyable. The owner of the brewery translated his information into English for me and took trouble to show me the equipment used in the beer-making process. I came away with six bottles to share with the family.

We had a prize-giving ceremony after dinner on the Saturday evening and I was given a packet of typical Belgian biscuits. In his speech the President of the Belgian Association thanked me for coming all the way from England to take part and couldn't resist the crack that it was nice to have the only non-European taking part in the tournament. I had to remind him that we weren't leaving until 2019 and that we hadn't gone yet!

I left after breakfast on the Sunday and had company all the way to Brussels as some of the Belgian players returned home on the same train as me. This meant that the time passed very quickly as we chatted and exchanged e-mails. As well as Hugo I now have two other e-mail contacts and we are intending to keep in touch.

Overall, I'd say the trip was a success from my point of view, the travel was easy both ways, the hotel was comfortable, the food was good, very friendly company and some good chess. Inevitably there were conversations in which I could not participate and where an English-speaking companion would, of course, have been welcome, but I feel that the trip was well worth the effort and, overall, very enjoyable.