“When witches go riding, and zombies are seen, the moon laughs and whispers, a checkmate is near.”
It might be that there were no buckets of blood or bat wings, snakes and eyeballs in the Hart House Reading Room but there sure was plenty of gore and terror on the chess boards. On Friday, October 26th Hart House Chess Club hosted its first ever themed blitz tournament, asking participants to play the notorious Halloween Gambit (1.e4 e5, 2. Nf3 Nc6, 3. Nc3 Nf6, 4. Nxe5). What a better way to spend your Halloween?
Twenty-eight players accepted the invitation and came out to play – among them, three chess masters. And boy-oh-boy! What a terrific spectacle they offered! This slimy and forgotten line resulted in 95% decisive results, with just a handful of games ending with draw. The big shocker, however, was that, while before the tournament almost everyone was quick to dismiss the gambit as hopeless, it turned out that many players were able to discover hidden resources in White’s position and push their initiative into a full point! Even Μasters who thought that White is simply left a piece down on move four had a really hard time defending Black’s position in a Blitz Game, absent any home preparation.
Moreover, and in the spirit of preparing our less experienced club members to challenge the top seeds of the tournament, our very own exec and chess master, Zane Nasir, taught an intensive one-hour workshop on the Halloween Gambit Tournament right before the games. Attendees were taught the fundamentals of this opening and were introduced to some notorious Halloween traps they should avoid!
The tournament was a 5 double-round Swiss system with each player taking a shot at the Halloween Gambit, first as White and then as Black. Each player had 3 min + 2 secs per move to complete the game. And while there were no major upsets in the tournament, there was a lot of suspense in the end with two top seeds facing each other in the last round. William Li, coming from 8 straight victories in the first 8 games was facing Hart House Chess Club’s Varsity Player James Fu, who had 7 points. James repelled William’s attack and won the first game with Black and the question was: would he be able claim first place by beating his opponent with the Halloween Gambit?
In a tournament-deciding game, the Gambit showed its sharp teeth and its bite proved venomous. James defeated William after a tough fight and, with 9 points out of 10 games, he claimed first place in the Hart House Halloween Blitz Tourney!
James Fu and Mr. Gerhard Gross, who was visiting from Germany, were, in fact, the only players who did not lose a single match in the tournament.
But the games were not over yet as, after 10 rounds, Ethan Moon and Jurgen Aliaj both had scored 7/10, tying for the U-1600 prize.
In the playoffs that followed, in a mirror image of the match between James and William, Ethan first took the Black pieces and managed to stop Jurgen’s attack. In the second game, however, his own halloween attack proved too powerful and led to a back rank checkmate, offering Ethan the U-1600 prize.
Finally, after a sudden hiccup on Round 2, Eileen Lin scored a magnificent 7 points in 10 games and became the rightful winner of the top female player prize!
Panayoti Tsialas was the tournament arbiter. Given the special occasion, all participants were treated to Halloween candy! Hart House Chess Club would like to thank all our chess friends who came out to play with special thanks to the very promising 15 year-old Brendan Cambell who travelled with his mom all the way from Michigan and participated in the event! Finally, a big shout-out to Dmitri Chouchkov, Zara Toyserkani, Robin and so many other unnamed volunteers who added their generous contribution to the success of this event.
If anything, the Halloween Blitz Tournament proved that, in the modern chess era, when engines are assuming an all the more prominent role in the game, there are still ways to stay creative. Themed tournament that revive sharp and forgotten lines are but one way to uphold chess imagination, a precious quality not in great supply. To bring it back to Halloween and to quote a famous author: “Where there is no imagination there is no horror”.