Gibraltar 2010 - by Ian Campbell

Nick and myself staggered into Lime Street station in order to clamber on to the 3.38am train to Manchester airport and the promise of a flight to sunny Gibraltar for a winter break and a spot of chess. I well remember those naive days before the advent of ash clouds and the realisation that men were, after all, at the mercy of nature at times. I don't quite remember the golden days of yore prior to climate change but we exchanged the snow and ice of last winter for rain. Warmish rain to be sure but rain nonetheless. It rained on Monday. It rained on Tuesday. It rained on Wednesday and we had a thunderstorm in the evening. How quaint !

Meanwhile, the chess had begun and the task of dispatching a youngster playing for experience in the first round was replaced by a diet of 2250 standard players eager to dine on little old me. Lose to a 2250, lose to another one and then get a 2250 FM who is even more ravenous for blood following a poor start by their standards. It would have to be poor to be playing me in round 4. Meanwhile, Nick was battling away and producing some decent chess as the games amply demonstrate but it seemed as if there were a never ending supply of strong players waiting to chop us up if we let them. Enough of that ! Time for a day off and remember why we had come. Saturday was dolphin watch day and Providence had conjured up a half decent day. Sunshine balanced by a cold easterly breeze.

And here we are powering our way through Gibraltar Bay in a search for the elusive local wildlife. Picture courtesy of two young students sharing our pleasure cruise.

Nature, oddly enough, does not always share our expectations of photos replete with images of glorious wildlife and our prey was busy feeding on the local smaller fish. Our guide told us they must eat one third of their body weight every day. Small consolation for those of us with cameras full of pictures of water where the dolphins had been a moment ago. C'est la vie.

Some say the black dot in the middle of the picture is a dolphin but, somehow, it didn't seem to matter as it had been a brilliant couple of hours out in the bay and was in many ways the highlight of the trip for me.

By this time Nick was suffering badly from an extremely unpleasant cold donated by any one of a number of potential candidates. I suppose bringing together many people from different countries in the middle of winter is a recipe for disaster healthwise but economics decide when a hotel can be available for the numbers wishing to play.

Back to the grindstone for a couple of more rounds before I felt some pains in my chest and declared myself unavailable to play only an hour before the start of play. The organisers managed to take the matter in their stride and accepted my medical history made the decision the only sensible one. Independently, Nick also decided that the cold was so bad that he couldn't carry on which made the task of the organisers much simpler, but there was no stitch up by us. I genuinely didn't know he was pulling out.

What of the future? On my part, I accept that I haven't lasted the course on my last two visits to Gibraltar. The Masters tournament rightly has to be played over the full time limit as players are seeking titles and proper games against Grandmasters. Amateurs are somewhat incidental to the chess but not to the hotel which sees a full house as one of the benefits of staging the tournament. I hope to go again next year but will play in one of the morning tournaments as a shorter time limit is much more practical and more in line with what I can manage here.

Dawn as seen from my bedroom balcony. It's an image that will keep me going back to Gibraltar as long as health and money will allow. Rooms facing the rock are not always as popular as the sea view but the waves crashing against the rocks below can be an irritant when the wind is blowing in the "wrong" direction. Nature gives and it takes back.

What of Nick? Last time I asked he seemed determined to have another try at the Masters next year. It would be good to see him execute one of his slashing attacks from days of old but modern chess is as much about preventing the other guy from playing as playing oneself. Maybe that is the challenge that will see us both back there next year.