For most of us, chess is a game played with family and friends. But to some, it's a highly competitive sport.

And this year, New Zealand's largest chess tournament, the NZ Chess Congress, is taking place in Tauranga for the first time in its 127-year history.

"It's the longest, continuously running national championship in the world," organiser Bob Smith said.

"It's been held in Auckland, Wellington, Dunedin, Christchurch, Palmerston North."


"The New Zealand Chess Federation wanted to run a premier congress and I'm an experienced organiser so they asked me if I might be interested in organising it this year. I said 'yes, if it's in Tauranga' because I live here and think it's a lovely place."

Held at the Trinity Wharf hotel, the tournament will host the who's who of the chess world over the next week, from January 14 to 24.

"We've got grandmasters here from Russia, England, Australia. We've got international masters here from Brazil and then three of our own homegrown international masters too, from Wellington and Auckland."

Russian grandmaster Vasily Papil prepares before every match, no matter who the opponent is.

"Usually I'll check the database and check my opponent – what he likes, what he doesn't like," Papil said.

"Sometimes without preparation, just a walk. It's sometimes better to have a fresh head."

Unlike many sports, the games are played in total silence - even if the audience gets excited.

"No chanting, no," Smith said.


"It's not a football match. It's silence throughout, as people are concentrating intensely.

"Chess is fairly unforgiving. If they make one mistake, they usually lose the game against a good player. If you're playing tennis and make a mistake you can get it back on the next rally but chess? No, the game's gone."

But there are some similarities. Organisers keep a close watch out for dishonourable tactics.

"You can't bring in cell phones or smart watches because they're like mini computers now," Smith said.

"In fact, some people have been caught cheating overseas, consulting their cell phones to give them the right moves. They hide out in the toilet, that sort of thing. Anybody bringing a cell phone into the area will be swiftly ejected."

Games can last up to five hours but it doesn't finish there for the serious players, most of whom head to the analysis area to learn what they did wrong and right.


According to Smith, it's a good time to pick the brains of the better players who might have just won.

And once the chess is over, the international visitors are encouraged to get outside and engage in something a bit less competitive … sightseeing.

"I tell them all they've got to climb the mountain," Smith said.

"I've given them all bus timetables and brochures so they can go and see what they like. Buses are quite regular here to Mount Main Beach so they should obviously go and walk along the beach and have a swim and we've got the hot pools there."

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