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The Hastings tournament begins today in an unusual format: the top invitation section - the Premier - will feature 10 players, including five of the world's strongest women players.

Hastings has three good reasons for doing something special: first, this year's event marks the beginning of the centenary celebrations of the tournament that started the great Hastings tradition, when all the world's great masters gathered and Harry Nelson Pillsbury snatched first prize ahead of Emanuel Lasker and Wilhelm Steinitz. Secondly, it is the 50th anniversary of the death of Vera Menchik, the first woman world champion. And thirdly, though it is churlish to admit it, top women players are considerably less expensive than the top males, and Hastings is, sadly, once again without any major commercial sponsor.

The main centenary celebrations will take place in August, with a grand banquet, a major international tournament, and a production of Chess - The Musical all on the agenda. The present event, therefore, is officially dedicated to the memory of Vera Menchik, the first woman to compete successfully against men. Russian by birth, Czech by nationality and English by marriage, Menchik lived for many years in Hastings, where she was coached by the Hungarian grandmaster Geza Maroczy who, to comple te the chain of coincidence, was the winner of the second section at Hastings 1895.

Play takes place each day in the Premier tournament at the Cinque Ports Hotel, Bohemia Road, Hastings (0424 439222), from today until 5 January, beginning at 2pm.

To end where it all began, here's a game from Hastings 1895 won by Vera Menchik's future trainer against one of England's best, the Rev James Owen. Maroczy's opening play is years ahead of its time, and his far-sighted combination beginning with 28...Nxg3! showed excellent judgement.

White missed several chances to put up a better fight, notably 32.Qe3 and 39.Nc3, but they would have denied us the attractive mating finish.

White: Owen Black: Maroczy 1 Nf3 g6 22 Kh2 Qb6

2 d4 Bg7 23 a3 Nc5

3 e3 d6 24 Bc2 b3

4 Bd3 e5 25 Be4 Nf5

5 c3 Bg4 26 g4 fxg3+ 6 h3 Bxf3 27 fxg3 Nxe4

7 Qxf3 c6 28 Qxe4 Nxg3

8 Na3 Nd7 29 Kxg3 Rxf1

9 Nc4 Qc7 30 Be3 Rxa1

10 d5 Nc5 31 Bxb6 Rxb6

11 Bc2 Ne7 32 h4 Bh6

12 e4 cxd5 33 Kg2 Ra2

13 exd5 Nd7 34 Qg4 Rxb2+ 14 Bb3 b5 35 Kh3 Bf4

15 Ne3 f5 36 Qc8+ Kg7

16 Qe2 Rb8 37 Qc7+ Kh6

17 0-0 f4 38 Qxb6 Rd2

18 Nc2 a5 39 Nxd6 Kh5

19 Na3 Qc5 40 Qg1 Rd3+ 20 c4 b4 41 Kg2 Rg3+ 21 Nb5 0-0 White resigns

William Hartston