To start with I’m going to concentrate on British chess - in the second part I’m going to be looking at more international events like the FIDE World Cup.
Luke McShane had a great chance to win the British and only fell at the final hurdle in the playoffs. It would be cruel to say that he’s become the “Jimmy White” of the British championships, but there’s also no doubt that it’s somewhat strange he hasn’t won the tournament by now given his evident strength.
Look down the list of winners and you’ll find much weaker players who have won the title - presumably in this instance it’s a statistical anomaly that will soon be repaired.
The key game that put him in position to win was against top seed Howell:
Below the likes of Howell, Jones and McShane there lies the like of myself, who might well win a British, but the likelihood is that we’ll go our entire career without achieveing that distinction.
That might sound rather negative, but the truth remains that there is only one British Championship a year, and there are several players capable of winning it, some of whom are considerably stronger than I am.
I would also add to that group Simon Williams, who clearly has the talent to win a British in my view. Blessed with great attacking ability, but wasn’t in the best of form in Wales and got bogged down on the lower boards.
As I mentioned to him in some ways it’s easier when you are on the higher boards - sure you are playing against opposition who are gunning for you but in some ways that can make life easier and also they’re less likely to be underrated.
Just one game can put you in trouble and so it transpired:
In my view the England chess team is in a better place to do well than for a long time. That’s because in my view, two of the most important players in the team, Howell and Jones, are beginning to reach their peak and have already accumalated a lot of international experience.
For example, Howell recently was asked to work with Kasparov for his temporary comeback in St Louis. It’s when you get beyond the top five or six in the country that the picture gets less rosy. Sure, Hawkins and Nick Pert are fairly strong, but they don’t threaten to replace the top 2650 plus players that dominate the top places in English chess. Hawkins, if he played more, surely would get comfortably over 2600.
However the most worrying thing is the lack of good young players coming through. There’s noone under 25 who looks remotely as strong as Howell and Jones were at the same age. If you look abroad, you have these super talents in India, and other countries, who are far stronger in their early teens than our juniors are in their late teens.
This may seem an unfair comparison, after all India is a country with a huge chess following now and a talent pool of 1.2 billion and rising to choose from - but something has clearly gone wrong with English junior chess that the big talents aren’t coming through anymore.
I wonder too if it’s the competing interests that kids today have to choose from. Twenty or thirty years ago a Speelman or an Adams wouldn’t have had facebook or YouTube to distract them, or indeed a Playstation 4. And now the rewards of a chess career as so slim that it surely becomes more profitable and more rewarding to pursure a career elsewhere.
Maybe looking back we will see these players as a golden generation that was never later replicated. Jones has a lot of success abroad and was able to win the Dubai open for the second year running:
Another player who made an impression at the British was Craig Hanley, and he’s another one of these people who doesn’t get as much press as the top players, when on his day he’s arguably just as strong. Craig had a successful junior career and has a very solid positional style.
Going back to the idea that any career is better than that of a lazy chess player, with no money and sitting around all day, Craig wisely got a job as a air traffic controller (so if your plane crashes, you know who to blame0).
Speaking of that profession, I was watching the film Die Hard two last night and spotted a major plot flaw. In one scene the main traffic controller explains to the John McLaine character, played by Bruce Willis, that because the runway lights are out, he will divert any additional traffic to other airports and anyone already approaching the airport, to hold in a waiting pattern.
He then explains that this brought them two hours, after which if they haven’t repaired the problem by that point they’ll start crashing out of the sky. While watching this, I wondered why he didn’t just divert ALL of the traffic to other airports? After all this is set in Washington, where presumably there are many airports within two hours flight time capable of taking these flights instead.
Ah the perils of thinking too deeply. Sadly in the game against Craig I was guility of not thinking deeply enough…
The annual ECF Player of the Year award was scrapped this year, perhaps because it was thought that some of the voting was tactical and the wrong person would win. Apparently last year the award was won by a junior, who hardly anyone had heard of - the story was that her parents had managed to rustle up a lot of votes for her with a concerted campaign.
Personally I found the ECF player of the year award as it exists right now somewhat ridiculous, as it seemed to be more about who was the most popular, rather than being about someone who actually deserved the award. To improve the objectivity of such an award it would seem to be a good idea to appoint a panel, who would decide who is worthy of being given the title.
If there was an award for this year or the next then Richard Bates would be a strong contender. Winning the British Rapid and Kings Place Rapid can do that for you. He also did very well at Bunratty.
Danny Gormally is a talented English Grandmaster. He lives in the bustling market town of Alnwick, somewhere near Scotland.
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