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John Saunders


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12th Monarch Assurance Isle of Man International
27 Sept - 5 Oct 2003

Last updated: Monday, August 21, 2017 7:17 PM


by John Saunders

Well, what a tournament that was! In some ways it never quite recovered from its explosive start, with the exit of top seed Nigel Short and its repercussions. But there was some tremendous chess played, with worthy winners emerging at the end.

Tony Bridson (left) and Dennis Hemsley at the 2001 prize-givingThe prize-giving took place on 5 October 2003 at the Ocean Castle Hotel, and it was a very emotional occasion for various reasons. The absence of Tony Bridson (who died on 2 October 2003 after a long illness - photo shows him on the left, with Dennis Hemsley in 2001) meant that there had to be a new master of ceremonies. Tony is a desperately hard act to follow as he is someone who can have an audience rolling in the aisles when he's on form. His brother-in-law and business partner Arthur Kincade stepped into the breach at zero notice and did a splendid job. Tony's absence was keenly felt but his wife and children were brave enough to put in an appearance just three days after his death. When they were introduced to the audience, everyone stood up and applauded them as one: that's the sort of warmth and admiration that people have for Tony. It was a very moving moment.

Also, chief arbiter Richard Furness was suffering from a bad cough and was unable to take his usual place at the podium to announce the prize-list, and interpolate his martini-dry shafts of wit, although he was present in the room. His arbiting colleague David Sedgwick took his place and did a great job. In some ways this worked out very well: David took the opportunity to pay tribute to Richard's handling of the incidents of the first day, and it was quite apparent from the warmth of the audience's reaction to David's comments that their sympathies and support were with Richard.

Simen Agdestein receives the trophy from Mr Patrick TaylorI don't propose to run through every prize and award given out on the day, but will confine it to the big ones. The tournament winner, on tie-break from Smbat Lputian of Armenia, was Norwegian grandmaster Simen Agdestein. His speech went down very well indeed. Not only is he a former professional (and international) footballer and a superb chess player, he might consider a career as an after-dinner speaker. Standing in front of a row of Manx government officials (including the First Minister and the Minister for Tourism, incidentally), he started with a territorial claim. "We Norwegians used to own this place!", quipped the grandmaster, pointing out that Norse sovereignty over the Isle of Man only came to an end in the 13th century. Simen gave the exact year (I think it was 1286) so he had either looked it up, or the date sticks firmly in the Norwegian mind. This comment was greeted by laughter, particularly from the large contingent of Norwegian youngsters that Simen had brought over with him. One of the most extraordinary aspects of his achievement was that he was effectively acting as head of the Norwegian delegation during the tournament - but still found the time to win it. I recall Andrew Webster doing something similar at Jersey, but it's fair to say that Simen's rivals were stratospherically stronger than those in the Channel island.

Simen then made an oblique reference to the incident on the first day, without mentioning any names. "I understand there were some problems at the beginning of the tournament". He paused slightly to make sure we all knew what this ironic understatement was referring to. We did. He then linked this to a very pertinent comment originally made by Artur Yusupov. "Every grandmaster should try to organise a tournament at some time in their life". Yes, we understood that one, too - this reference was greeted by more applause and laughter from the audience, and was another clear indicator of where the audience's sympathies lay.

There were surprises in store for both sponsor and tournament organiser. British Chess Federation president Gerry Walsh had been a guest of the tournament for some days, and was in the Isle of Man to make some announcements about future chess events on the island. There will be another Monarch Assurance tournament next year and the year after (as the sponsor reassured us last year and this), but immediately following the 2004 Monarch will follow the inaugural World Senior Team Championship in Port Erin, and plans are being put in place for the 2005 Smith & Williamson British Championship to be played in the Isle of Man as well. These two particular enterprises started as Tony Bridson's 'babies' and it would be great if Tony's name could be remembered through them (the name of a trophy for the World Senior Team event?).

Gerry Walsh (left) and Dennis HemsleyBut Gerry had a third trump up his sleeve, one about which tournament organiser Dennis Hemsley knew nothing. He announced that Dennis Hemsley was the winner of the 2003 BCF President's Award for his services to British chess, and that he had come to make the award in person. It was a lovely moment, and a very unusual one in that it left the organiser speechless: "I'm gobsmacked!" was about as much as he could get out at this stage.

David Cretney and Patrick TaylorIt was good to see the Manx tourism minister, David Cretney (on the right of the photo), come along in person to pay tribute to the tournament and its sponsors and organisers. It is appropriate to comment here how helpful and efficient his department is - I'd like to pay my own thanks to them for making my stay in the island such a pleasant and trouble-free one. Mr Cretney also had a surprise up his sleeve. He presented the managing director of the tournament sponsors Monarch Assurance, Mr Patrick Taylor, with the Department of Tourism's "Merit Award" for 2003. This is a richly deserved award for Patrick Taylor, who has been such a generous sponsor and friend to Manx chess for the past 12 years. Also, it is a great fillip for the game of chess itself to be treated as such an asset to the Isle of the Man by the Department of Tourism. Mr Taylor was surprised and delighted: "Thank you very much. I can only echo what Dennis just said - I also am gobsmacked!"


Dennis Hemsley soon rediscovered his power of speech to close the prize-giving. His main thoughts were for the late Tony Bridson - "I have lost my right arm" - and he also paid tribute and made gifts to many others, including his team of officials, plus hotel manager Jean Depin and the staff of the Ocean Castle Hotel. Having run the tournament in tandem with Tony Bridson at the Cherry Orchard Hotel, Dennis has decided to take a back seat whilst a successor steps in. His will be a hard act to follow when he retires, but such is the momentum and goodwill that the Monarch Assurance International has built up, thanks to Dennis and Tony and the sponsors, that I am sure it will go on for years to come. That wasn't quite the end of the presentation as there was an unexpected intervention from Chris Bridson, son of Tony. He is clearly a chip off the old block with the same charm and swagger as his father. Chris reassured us of the continuation of his dad's company, Mann on the Ground, and that he and his uncle would be carrying on the good work started by Tony Bridson. A suitable and optimistic note on which to finish.


No Short, No senko
No Short, No senko: photo of the game that never happened

Believe it or not, this picture of the empty top board Short v Nosenko is a genuine shot taken before the beginning of the round, and not set up afterwards. I'm not sure why I did it. Perhaps I have psychic powers?!

Patrick Taylor: the Lieutenant Govenor; Dennis hemsley; Nigel ShortLady McFadyean about to make the move 1 e4 on Short's boardNigel Short meeting and greeting the Governor (and wife) of the Isle of Man before his withdrawal from the event



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