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An Introduction to Playing in Chess Congresses: A Guide for Isle of Wight Chess Enthusiasts

Updated: Oct 29, 2023

If you're an avid chess player on the Isle of Wight, you've probably already honed your skills online and through friendly games at meet ups. However, if you're looking to take your chess experience to the next level and challenge yourself in a more competitive setting, participating in chess congresses may be the perfect next step for you. In this article, we'll provide you with an introduction to playing in chess congresses in the UK, focusing on what they are, how to get involved, and the importance of obtaining an English Chess Federation (ECF) membership.

What Are Chess Congresses?

Chess congresses are organised chess tournaments that cater to players of various skill levels, from novices to grandmasters. They are often the highlight of a clubs year and a showcase for their own players and people who want to attend. Usually held over a weekend or longer, allowing participants to play multiple games and gain valuable experience. Chess congresses are not just about competition; they also offer a fantastic opportunity to meet other chess enthusiasts, socialise, and exchange ideas about the game.

In the UK, chess congresses are widespread and well-organized, with a rich history dating back many decades. They're hosted in various locations throughout the country, making them accessible to chess players from all regions. Many of these events have different sections to accommodate players of different strengths, so there's always a chance for players of all levels to compete.

Some notable ones that IOW chess players have participated in this year and well worth checking out for 2024:

Bristol Congress - April 2024. This one is worth checking out for the building alone.

The Cornish Chess Association holds several great congresses by the sea in incredible locations. Well worth keeping an eye out for 2024 dates. The include Weymouth Congress, Penzance, Falmouth Congress. Devon also holds a great congress.

We will share links and updates to them on our social media when the dates are announced. Think of a short break, often by the sea, but you get to play chess!

Even more important, it's the goal of IOW Chess to start organising our very own Isle of Wight Congress. Please join the mailing list if that's something you might be interested in.

A typical congress would be something like this:

5 Rounds Swiss - You will play 5 games

You can choose to take a bye (skip a game) in any game but not the last game (sometimes not the first either). This can be used to take a break or go for dinner with friends etc. If you do take a bye you will receive 1/2 point, the same as a draw.

Example of schedule:

  • Friday 7pm

  • Saturday 10am

  • Saturday 2pm

  • Sunday 10am

  • Sunday 2pm

The goal is to have the most points out of 5 (sometimes it's more sometimes less, Guernsey for example is 7 rounds over 7 days). The winner will be the person with the most points, usually this is 4 points or more out of 5.

If you win a game, your next game will be against someone who also won. From there you will play people with the same points as you. So it gets harder or easier depending on if you are winning or losing. Your table number will reflect this with table 1 being the two highest scoring players. The pairing process will attempt to distribute play as white and black fairly. But remember, it's just x1 game per opponent so you have to make the most of it if with the black pieces. Everyone has their own strategy playing as black, personally I play for a win (and often lose!)


The clock will be over 60 minutes each with an increment. A typical set up would be 80 minutes with 15+ increment (bonus) for every move. It can be slightly different each time.

This means your games will be mentally taxing, they will take anywhere from 45 mins up to 3.5 hours (or more!). Generally they take around 2 hours on average. If you are very behind in a game and have another one that afternoon, it might be a good idea to cut your loses and resign rather than evade checkmate for another 2 hours. Each to their own, it's all about conserving brain power.

We will cover another time some tips to prepare mentally for this, such as don't think on your opponents move (debate starter), stretch your legs, and how to make sure you are not burning brain cells at the wrong times. But needles to say, avoid turning up tired or hungover. It's a good idea to arrive at the location as early as possible. Caffeine is a double edged sword, use it wisely....

So, how do you get into a congress? You can't usually just turn up on the day, here's a quick guide.

Getting Started: Registering for Chess Congresses

To participate in a chess congress, you'll need to follow a few steps:

1. Find a Congress:

  • Research upcoming chess congresses in the UK. You can find information on various chess websites, including the ECF website and the English Chess Forum. We will share this and post well in advance if IOW players are planning to go. For example a few of us will be in Hampshire at the start of November 2023.

  • Select a congress that suits your skill level. Many congresses have different sections, such as Open, Major, Intermediate, and Minor, to ensure fair competition. If you are taking your first steps, make sure there is a rating bracket for around 1500 or under. 1750 and under can be a tough one to start with. Even if you playing at a much higher level online, it all goes out of the window during your first congress game.

2. Register:

  • Sign up for the congress according to the registration process outlined on the event's website or brochure.

  • Be sure to check deadlines for registration, as many congresses have limited spots available.

3. Pay Entry Fees:

  • Most congresses require an entry fee to cover the costs of organising the event. The fee typically varies based on your section and age category. Around £30 to £50 in most cases. Some are better than others at this and you usually have to make a bank transfer. It can be a faff but well worth it.

4. Prepare Your Games:

  • Familiarise yourself with the tournament rules and regulations, such as time controls and the schedule. Perhaps practice games on the same clock setting with other players locally if you can, or play longer games online such as 30 minutes. The goal is to be comfortable having much more time than usual and using it wisely.

5. Travel and Accommodation:

  • Plan your travel and accommodation well in advance for the best prices. Consider carpooling or sharing accommodations with fellow club members to make the trip more enjoyable and cost-effective. Many congresses are at hotels and great deals are available on accommodation and food. Remeber you can actually win money at congresses but it might be slightly ambitious to plan your tax return around this...

Why it's a good idea to get an ECF Membership

As you embark on your journey into the world of chess congresses, you'll quickly discover that many tournaments, including those in the UK, require participants to have an English Chess Federation (ECF) membership. The ECF is the national governing body for chess in England, and their membership serves several essential purposes:

1. Grading System:

  • The ECF maintains a grading system that provides an objective measure of a player's strength. Your ECF grade reflects your performance in rated games and helps determine the section in which you'll compete in congresses. Having a rating is also a great way to see your progress and have a rough gauge of your opponents ability.

2. Playing in Rated Events:

  • To play in ECF-rated events, including most congresses, you must be an ECF member. This ensures that you and your opponents receive the recognition and rating points you deserve.

3. Access to ECF Resources:

  • ECF membership grants you access to valuable resources, such as chess publications and the ECF online grading database. It also helps support chess development in the UK.

To get an ECF membership, visit the ECF website and follow the instructions to sign up. You can choose from different membership levels, including junior, bronze, silver, and gold, depending on your preferences and needs. However most congresses will charge a surplus for none Gold ECF members. This is because they need to pay the ECF for each player in the tournament and less if you are a Gold member. It's usually around £9 extra. So if you plan to play in more than one, it's worth getting a Gold Membership.

ECF Gold Membership is £39.50 per year for adults. £19.50 for juniors.

So there are some costs involved and you should consider these before. But whether you want to do one a year or go full on grand tour like this author (8 so far this year.... will end up divorced) it is an excellent way to challenge yourself, meet fellow chess enthusiasts, and enhance your skills as a player. Whether you're a beginner or an experienced player, there's a congress for everyone in the UK. Good luck, and may your chess congress journey be filled with exciting games and new friends!

Please enter your email at the top of the page if you would like to hear more about the IOW Chess Congress. Thanks


1 Kommentar

27. Okt. 2023

good read, thanks

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