Banff Open: An Armageddon finale

by Paul Clement
12/24/2019 – A picturesque setting, incredible hospitality and attention to detail are three elements that will surely make for a great open tournament. The fourth edition of the Banff Open took place at one of Canada's most popular tourist destinations in Alberta's Rockies and it was an enjoyable experience for all involved. Agnieszka Matras-Clement defeated Belsar Valencia in an Armageddon tiebreaker to take the title. Her husband, PAUL CLEMENT, had a great time as spectator and sent us a report.

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A prospering event

What an amazing year it has been for me in the world of chess! Okay, a lot of you probably don't know me, as I don't play in tournaments and don't even have a rating, but I'm the husband of current Alberta's Woman Champion, Agnieszka Matras-Clement, and together we run the Jumping Knight Chess School in Edmonton.

My name is Paul Clement, and one of the most exciting events to wrap up our year in chess — Agnieszka's and mine — was the 2019 Banff Open. It was my second year attending the tournament as a spectator and moral support giver, while it was Agnieszka's third time playing. I had a great time following the event and connecting with some great players, both familiar faces that Agnieszka and I have worked with in Edmonton as well as players I was meeting for the first time.

It was really nice to see that the event keeps growing every year. And why not? It's hard to imagine a more amazing setting for a tournament, with a playing hall that offers fantastic views of Banff National Park as well as the incredible hospitality and attention to detail shown by organizer Ian Findlay, his wife Janice Price, Tournament Director and Chief Arbiter Mark Dutton, and his wife Christine Dutton — who also works as Deputy Chief Arbiter.

This year's Banff Open broke last year's record with a total of 89 participants, including 3 IMs, 3 FMs and 1 WIM, with players from across Canada being joined by international players from the United States and the United Kingdom.

Banff Chess Open 2019

The playing hall

The tournament was a six-round Swiss open and, thanks to some very generous sponsors, included some unique prizes. In the case of an Armageddon playoff for first place, the winner would receive a $500 prize. In addition, the Fischer Prize was in offer, which would see a player with a perfect score rewarded with an extra $1,000. In total, there were nearly $4,000 to be won at the tournament.

In the end, Alberta had a great showing, with players from the province taking ten of the top twelve spots. The Fischer Prize was narrowly missed by WIM Agnieszka Matras-Clement, who led the tournament with a perfect 5 points going into the final round — she certainly made her husband proud!

After a hard-fought draw against IM Mark Ginsberg, Agnieszka had to play FM Belsar Valencia in an Armageddon tiebreaker. In the end, Agnieszka (playing Black) was victorious. Not a bad showing for the only woman in the tournament!


The Armageddon decider


The winner of the event annotated her fourth round victory over Bitan Banerjee, a fine Sicilian that included some good-looking tactical shots:

 

Agnieszka Matras-Clement, Bitan Banerjee

WIM Agnieszka Matras-Clement v IM Bitan Banerjee

As usual, Ian and Janice went out of their way to open their home to the players with their annual Wine and Cheese party. While Ian is skilled at organizing an amazing chess tournament, Janice is equally skilled at throwing a party! Despite the name, there is far more than wine and cheese at the gathering. I shouldn't give Janice all the credit for the party though (merely 90%), as she was helped by the wonderful staff from the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, where she is the CEO. Hey, even our friend Carol — mother of James Windram, who finished in a tie for sixth in the tournament and took home the prize for the best U2100 — and I lent a hand in the kitchen!

Janice Price, Ian Findlay, James Windram, Agnieszka Matras-Clement, Carol Windram

From left to right: Janice Price, Ian Findlay, James Windram, Agnieszka Matras-Clement and Carol Windram

And as the tournament grows, it also attracts celebrities: Bart Simpson himself took part in the under-1800 group! Okay, he may not be the spiky-haired kid that we know from the television series, but he is an aspiring player who has a good sense of humour about his name. We hope to see him again next year, as Agnieszka and I are both planning on attending the 2020 edition of this extremely enjoyable tournament. 

For anyone who is interested, the dates for 2020 are confirmed and the tournament will run from November 13th to 15th. It's also worth noting that a little birdie (okay, it was Ian) told me that two GMs have already thrown their hats into the ring for next year!

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Paul Clement is the creative director and teacher for beginner students at Jumping Knight Chess. He has a diploma from Grant MacEwan University in journalism and loves writing about some of his favourite activities, including chess, food and travel. Paul is also a trained chef.