John Saunders reports:
Dear chess fans,
This is my first postcard from sunny Douglas, Isle of Man. There are less than 48 hours to go as I write this, and it still seems like a dream that we're going to see the likes of Magnus Carlsen, Vishy Anand, Vlad Kramnik, Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura and many more famous chess players square up against each other at the Villa Marina on Saturday afternoon.
Check out that mouth-watering line-up here. I've not yet seen any of the above names as yet, but I did nearly bump into Peter Leko in the hotel lift earlier. You'll recall that Peter was a heartbeat away from being world champion back in 2004, tying his title match with Vladimir Kramnik on 7-7 after Vlad managed to win the 14th game. That was the last match played under the traditional rule that, in the event of a tie, allowed the champion to retain his title. These days champs are on equal footing with their challengers and have to go toe to toe in a play-off. And yet Peter only ranks 17th in order of ratings at this tournament. That's a measure of how strong it is.
The Villa Marina looked a picture this morning (Thursday 21 September)
The other strong player I came across this morning was Emil Sutovsky, taking the air along the promenade. Emil and I had a nostalgic chat about the old Monarch Assurance Isle of Man tournament, which ran in Port Erin, Isle of Man, from 1992 to 2007, and which Emil won twice, in 1998 and 1999. Happy memories for him, and also for me as I worked at the Monarch tournament from 2001 to 2007 and came to love it and all the people who created it. I recently resurrected some old web pages which I published back then and, if you click on this link, you can enjoy them for a bit of harmless nostalgia before the current tournament begins. In some ways it's a bittersweet memory as so many of the people involved in creating and running the Monarch tournament are no longer with us: organiser Dennis Hemsley, sponsor Patrick Taylor, arbiter Richard Furness, promoter Tony Bridson and hotelier Jean-Pierre Depin have all since passed away. I have fond memories of them all, and you can see photos of them on those old Monarch tournament web pages. Were they still around, they would have been thrilled to see how the Chess.com Isle of Man tournament has built on the foundations which they set in Port Erin.
Balloonacy at the Villa Marina
Earlier today I popped across the road from my hotel to the Villa Marina to see how preparations were proceeding and found the arbiters and technical staff hard at work. The playing hall, which is usually employed as an auditorium for plays and concerts, is topped by an elegant cupola. It seems that a recent festivity held there involved letting off balloons as there are quite a number of them left floating around the ceiling. Here's what they look like from below...
Balloons in the tournament hall's roofspace.
They look quite attractive up there, don't they? They are immediately above where the top boards are going to be situated and we were wondering what would happen if one should float down and land on Magnus Carlsen's board. Not much to be done about it, unless one of the arbiters intends to use a bow and arrow to shoot them down.
Vlad the Piper
I haven't seen any sign of Vladimir Kramnik as yet but I did see this car parked outside one of the hotels where a lot of players are staying...
Vlad The Piper. And KMN-K. Could it be our man?
I hope you can read what's on the back of the car in that somewhat blurry photo which I took around midnight last night. There's a reference to a Facebook presence called 'Vlad the Piper' and that registration number could almost be 'Kramnik' with three letters taken out. Has the former world champion diversified into a new career? I checked out the Facebook page and, to be honest, it didn't look much like him. But if the great man should turn up on Saturday wearing a kilt and wielding bagpipes, remember that you read it here first.
If you are now wondering what I was doing roaming the streets at midnight last night with my camera, I can assure you I had your best interests at heart. My aim was to bring you some atmospheric shots of Douglas at night. Here's the Villa Marina and the sea front after dark...
Villa Marina and Douglas seafront at night
Such was my determination to get this shot that I hadn't noticed the large waves washing over the front. The one in the next shot came as a cold shower... literally.
Chess photographer gets an unexpected sea shower.
Thankfully my camera was none the worse for the incident, nor was my ego harmed since there was no one else around to laugh at me. But you can do that now if you like. Or maybe you only laugh at real comedians. Such as this guy, who is starring at the Villa Marina immediately after Magnus Carlsen...
Top UK comedian Jimmy Carr, coming soon to the Villa Marina.
Jimmy Carr is one of Britain's best-known stand-up comedians. It did make me wonder - after Carlsen, Carr. Is the Villa Marina booking acts in alphabetical order? I think we should be told.
That's about it for this first postcard for Isle of Man. Sorry there wasn't more chess in it but nobody has played any yet. Having a lovely time, hope you are all well, and looking forward to seeing you here on Saturday.
All the best,
John Saunders (@johnchess)