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Except for the world's elite grandmasters, chess tournaments and comfort are distant companions: indeed they never seem to meet at all. In this country, such events tend to be held in municipal halls or sports centres, where the food available is usually grim and every footfall can be heard squeaking on linoleum. For example, the final of the English county chess championship is held each year at a community centre in Leicester. It is conveniently near to Leicester railway station. So conveniently near, in fact, that you can hear the stationmaster's announcements.

For keen young chess players, such things matter very little: most children and students have an admirable unconcern about creature comforts. But over the years — perhaps as our own income rises — we become less and less enchanted with spartan playing conditions.

There is, however, one tournament open to amateurs and grandmasters alike, which offers a unique combination of chess struggle with hedonism. It is the Thai Open Chess Championship, organised for the past 11 years by a Finnish chess-playing businessman long resident in Thailand, Kai Tuorila, and sponsored by another Bangkok-based Finn, the fund manager Petri Deryng. 

Mr Tuorila's mission to make Thailand the site of the world's best open tournament is almost quixotic, as it is a nation with its own particular form of the game, called Makruk, which is played by around two million Thais; by contrast only a few thousand of them play Western chess.

Yet the Thai Open now attracts not just a growing number of local converts, but also hundreds of players from all around the world — and the latest one, in April, attracted such luminaries as England's Nigel Short and India's Koneru Humpy (the world's third-ranked woman player) — along with 22 other grandmasters. The joy of open tournaments, however, is that anyone can enter in return for a small fee (about £65 in this case) and have the chance to play against grandmasters, rather than just watch them from afar.

In the case of Mr Tuorila's tournaments there are other benefits which justify the additional expense of flying out to the Far East. He has an arrangement with the leading Thai hotel group, Dusit Thani, who offer all competing chess players sharply discounted prices for rooms in their five-star establishments. The tournament itself is held in the ballroom of whichever of their hotels is hosting; in April this year, it was the Dusit Thani in Pattaya, a coastal resort which admittedly is associated much more with strip joints than chess.

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