It had been over two years since I had played over the board chess - except for once in a park. This is not an analysis of any of the chess games at the Blackpool chess tournament, but a personal account of travelling from Glasgow, Scotland to Blackpool, England starting on the 10th March 2022.
Was this a trip to an undiscovered country or a voyage home? Was it safe to venture forth all the way to Blackpool on train? Two years of hiding behind a mask, I was expecting more of the same in England. Glasgow Central Station was quite crowded, but most people were keeping their distance. Very few people were not wearing a mask. And this was within the station, where there was plenty of ventilation. It was quieter than I remembered in the pre-covid days.
The journey down to Preston was pleasant and quiet and the carriage was not crowded. Most of the time the passengers were without masks, as they were eating or drinking - and just not replacing the mask when they had completed the process. Once in England some of the staff kept their masks on, and some not. The train was late as extra stops had been added as a Transpenine train had been cancelled and we had absorbed these passengers. I had about five minutes to spare in changing onto the Blackpool train. No problem, and plenty of space.
Arriving at Blackpool North was striking in comparison with Glasgow Central. No one was wearing masks. Everyone was friendly and relaxed.
Once I arrived at the Imperial Hotel, again it was only the very few that wore masks. It felt normal. As it should be. My brother and I arrived on the Thursday - giving us time to relax before the first game on the Friday night. I wondered what measures would be in place for the tournament - greater spacing between tables? Temperature taken before we entered? How many would be wearing masks? What would the rules be?
I found it very difficult to wear a mask as my glasses kept misting over. Continual cleaning to try and see properly.
On Friday night before the game, we had a look at the set up. It was the same as it had been previously, except there was not as many players. However, all the players were in the one room. The number was less than usual - but this still meant there was about 286 players. All in the one room. There seemed to be very few measures in place. There were some hand-sanitizing stations within the hotel - but no other measures.
I considered carefully whether to withdraw from the tournament. I decided not to do so. After all what was the point of four vaccinations - one bring the flu jag? Was the risk worth it?
I decided that it was. I also decided to play without a mask. It was the best decision I made. It was three days of freedom and enjoyable chess. My main concern was - could I remember how to write down the moves of the games, and when to press the clock!
The Blackpool Congress is always a difficult tournament. I was glad that I had overcome my fears and played in it. It did not matter how I got on as I was there and I was playing over-the-board chess again. There were real people with faces - not hidden behind masks. Seeing people smile and other non-verbal signals had been missing for the past two years. Playing chess, discussing games, chatting, eating, drinking - and no one concerned with the social distance mantra gave one hope. This is what life should be like.
Harry Ramsden fish and chips. Walking on the promenade. Buying Blackpool rock. The simple things of life - yet very important.
It seemed that in England one had the freedom to choose what one would find as acceptable risk, whilst in Scotland you had to obey the rules imposed by government. I am not going to discuss which country has the correct approach. This is a personal account, and all I can tell you is that I was happy to take the risk because it felt right. People seemed happy - except when making a poor chess move, or making a poor decision at the board.
I returned back to Glasgow on the Monday - travelling by train. Again a journey that was enjoyable. Until I was in Central Station and confronted by a sea of anonymous people - faces hidden behind masks.