The Agria Chess Festival

by ChessBase
8/6/2012 – For 36 years the Agria Chess Festival has persisted against all odds and has provided the chess community in Hungary with a very pleasant tournament held in a pretty, historic spa town, Eger, in the north of the country. The organiser, Mr Ferenc Rauch, in tandem with his wife, Ara, have built up steady followers that have remained faithful over the years. Illustrated report by Diana Mihajlova.

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Agria Chess Festival

By Diana Mihajlova

For 36 years the Agria Chess Festival has persisted against all odds and has provided the chess community in Hungary with a very pleasant tournament held in a pretty, historic spa town, Eger, in the north of the country, two hours drive from Budapest.

This year it was held from July 21 – 27 July. Unfortunately this year it escaped the attention of foreign players, unjustly so as the tournament is well organised. The playing venue in the three-star Hunguest Hotel Flóra is quite agreeable, and the hot spring pools and sights of Eger, with its rich history dating back to the Middle Ages, offer a memorable chess and tourist experience. With an obvious absence of GMs, the Agria Chess Festival has built up over the years an image as a platform for FMs and IMs as well as some of the chess elite of the young up and coming Hungarians. Among this year’s participants there were:

FM Florian Hujbert (2383), the top seed and the winner of the tournament with a 2521 performance

Benjamin Gledura (2360), a World Youth Champion in the under-10 section

The local player Zoltan Becskei (2259), winner of the second place

Janos Dostan (2225) showed that maturity and experience still count, winning third place

Foldi Krisztof (2171) was vying for the second place until the last round when his
chance was dashed by his loss to…

Armin Juhasz (2257), a steadily rising star

Marosi Levente, the Hungarian under-12 Champion who will represent Hungary at the
World Youth Championships in November.

The ten-year-old Adam Kozak (proudly sporting the FIDE’s logo) reached a 2141 rating
in just over two years, with an astonishing 87 rating points earned at the November
2011 First Saturday tournament alone.

Juianna Terbe (1890) made 5.0/9 and won the women’s prize

Gabor Gorcsi (1847), a twelve-year-old Roma player had a successful tournament

The very young local girl with the catchy name Judit Joo (8) who made her very first FIDE rating

David Dominik Bartok, another newly rated youngster, thanks to his good play and to
a tournament where all players, with the exception of only three, were Fide rated. A
common occurrence in Hungary where chess is widely played at officially rated tournaments.

The organiser, Mr Ferenc Rauch, in tandem with his wife, Ara, has created a ‘one man band’ event where he is also an arbiter. With modest funds, relying mainly on the players’ entry fees, he has built up steady followers that have remained faithful over the years. Mr and Mrs Rauch actually organize several chess events per year within the Eger region.

The organisers Ara and Ferenc Rauch and the winner FM Florian Hujbert

Eger has been inhabited since the Stone Age. Today's Eger, or Agria by its Latin name, was founded in the 10th century by St. Stephen (997–1038), the first Christian king of Hungary. It was established as an Episcopal see and it has remained an important religious centre ever since.

The Minorites Church on the main square

The Eger panorama, with its citadel on the left (Photo: the official Castle site)

Eger’s glory was etched in 1552 when 60,000 Turks were defeated by mere 2000 Hungarians in the Siege of Eger. The legend says that the strong red wine that the Hungarians were drinking repelled the Turks who thought it was a bull’s blood, which gave the Hungarians such invincible strength. This historical event was immortalised in Géza Gárdonyi's classic novel ‘Stars of Eger’ (The English translation bears the title ‘Eclipse of the Crescent Moon’). Eger however subsequently suffered 91 years of Ottoman rule during which it was the administrative seat of the region. 

The Eger’s minaret of a destroyed mosque, the European furthest
north remnant of the Turkish Empire.

Eger remains a very import wine center today and its most famous wine is ‘Egri Bikavér’ (‘Bull’s Blood of Eger’)

The transition through the Austro-Hungarian rule left its mark on the Baroque town centre and the mixture of Rococo and Neoclassical styles in its architecture. The town was an important centre of culture and art in the 18th century. Almost 170 magnificent masterpieces of the architecture of the past centuries are still in existence.

The County Hall (Megyehàza) of the county Heves, of which Eger is the capital

The medicinal waters, the hot springs of up to 39 degrees Celsius all year round, as well as the well-established wellness and therapeutic facilities are what draw most tourists. The curative power of these waters come from a composition of more than fifty elements and mineral salts of which calcium, magnesium and hydro carbonate are dominant but also from their slight radioactivity.

The Hotel Flora’s hot spring pool

Centuries old urns serve as portals for powerful mineral water jets that constantly run
through and when falling on the back and shoulders from a certain height have the effect
of an invigorating massage.

Diana Mihajlova sampling the effect of a mineral water jet’s massage

The Egeri fountain, situated in front of the old Turkish bath, pumps natural mineral water

The town’s municipality has built the public fountain for its people to benefit from the natural mineral water that flows from an aquifer located under the volcanic Mátra Mountains. The water’s composition is identical to the one found in the cooler pools on the surrounding terrain. The Eger inhabitants like to drink it believing in its beneficial properties and come in draws to fill bottles and large containers. It is almost odourless and tastes like ordinary water. 

I liked it as well and also kept filling my rabbit Suze’s bowl with it thinking that she could do with some more minerals. It must have been the magic power of this water that provoked her unusually insatiable appetite while in Eger. If Suze approves of something then it must be good!

Suze enjoying the hospitality of the Eger’s Hunguest Hotel Flóra

The tournament is set to be held next year again – an opportunity for chess players to sample a well organised event in a charming historic city as well as to check what might enhance better their chess performance – surging mineral water fortified with 50 elements or a bull’s blood!?

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