The British Rapidplay seems to be one of those events that are stalwarts of the British weekend chess calendar, particularly later in the year. You have the Edinburgh congress, Southend, Blackpool, Paignton, Scarborough and probably other events that I’ve failed to mention, that mentally you “pencil” in as tournaments you’d like to play in and try to win.
In the last few years I haven’t been playing that many of these sort of tournaments, and so this year I’ve been trying to make up for it. For me there’s nothing more frustrating than watching a tournament from the sidelines and knowing you could have won it, yet being powerless to do anything, because you blew the money you put away for that event on the 3.10 at Chepstow.
So I decided to travel to Ilkley, near Leeds, to play in the British Rapid Championships. It took place in the Craiglands Hotel, which was a pleasant, if slightly old-fashioned setting. The Open venue gave a view of the hotel grounds, and the whole thing brought to mind that hotel in The Shining, although probably every hotel I stay in reminds me of that hotel in The Shining. The chess was seemingly just as painful and bloody. In round two I blew a surely winning ending against Peter Shaw. I bounced back though very quickly when beating a strong junior player in round three.
The game that caused me most pain on the Saturday was against Sarakaukas. It ended in a draw, and after the game I went to a restuarant and started to play through variations in my head. The place was called the Moody Cow, to retain the bovine theme, as the tournament itself was played on Cowpasture Road. In the cafe itself to watch over my ruminations and make me feel guilty about my ribeye steak, a large picture of a cow loomed in my vision.
One thing I found disappointing about the tournament was that they reduced the prize fund after a few rounds. First prize was reduced from GBP 400 to GBP 375, second prize from GBP 250 to GBP 175, third prize was reduced as well and they got rid of the fourth prize altogether. Although the turn-out wasn’t great in the Open section it seems a reflection of the way it’s going now in weekend chess in this country, which seems to be slowly dying. Now the prizes are so low it’s difficult to justify even turning up. If I win GBP 375, well then with my over GBP 200 expenses, I’m barely making a profit. To make matters worse I didn’t even win the first prize anyway.
When I played the British Rapidplay about 15 years ago, the first prize was about GBP 700. So we can see that the prize fund has gone down considerably, and everything else has become more expensive. This is standard for most British weekenders. The Blackpool first prize has gone down, and the Edinburgh one is the same as it was twenty years ago. Paignton has gone down, as well. Obviously these tournaments don’t just exist to prop up professional players, but it is a shame as I cut my teeth in these events, and now it gets to the point where it becomes pointless even playing them. And if they become weaker year on year it’s a poor reflection on British chess.
One player who seems to still play a lot of these tournaments is Richard Bates. I faced him in round four in an interesting game.
On the morning of the Sunday (bear in mind that the British Rapidplay is played over 11 games and two rounds) I had a bad vertigo attack. Essentially the crystals in the inner ear become disturbed, and when I woke up in my bed and breakfast, it felt like I was on board a cruise ship in the middle of the Atlantic during a storm. I literally couldn’t get out of bed and felt so sick that I was very close to ringing up the organisers and withdrawing.
In the end I dragged myself in, to face not a great pairing at 9.30 in the morning however healthy you are feeling, against the wunderkind Yichen Han, who represents Netherlands but lives in the North East. This kid is only 11 but is already getting incredible results. I’d estimate his strength at around 2300 already. He made the right choice, went for the Najdorf and we reached the following position:
I’ve never been the best loser. And that tendency to get angry, if results don’t go my way. Even in the round two game, where I drew with Peter Shaw, the signs were there that I was close to losing control. I started swearing at the board. When I played Tim Wall in round ten, it seemed as if I had recovered - I was cruising along with 7.5/9.
Perhaps it was the pressure put on me by my co-leaders, Bates and Sarakauskus - I couldn’t shake them off. I also felt tired. I had three tough games already that day, and perhaps playing these marathon events is too tough for me now I’ve turned 40. Whatever the reasons, it all came crashing down against Tim Wall.
In the last round I was able to bounce back and win and salvage joint second place from a disappointment of a tournament. I would stop short of saying a disaster - I felt a lot of the players there were underrated and I still scored plus six. Against Tate it seemed like he missed a good opportunity. In a position where he should have gone for a concrete line, he played a safe move instead. Sometimes you have to seize the moment!
My thoughts on the Carlsen - Caruana match are that this is surely the last time that we will see the 12 game format that the World Chess Championship final currently enjoys. As things stand the eventual winner is still unclear because as everyone will aware when they read these words, the 12 games in classical time controls were all drawn.
In a shared taxi to the 4NCL in Daventry, Hungarian grandmaster Tamas Fodor predicted that all 12 games of the classical section would be drawn. I thought he was joking at time - now he looks like a soothsayer. Clearly the players are very well matched, and very well prepared. And they play very accurately, they are both very young, so the chess is of a very high quality. Grischuk said in his commentary that in terms of least number of mistakes, it’s probably the highest quality match in chess history. So some draws can be expected.
I think the “perfect storm” of 12 draws, which is surely a horrendous advertisement for chess can only be explained by the fact that neither player felt the need to take huge risks. They only have 12 games - no time to recover from a loss. Just change the format to a longer one. 20 games should take care of this problem. Matthew Sadler did a very interesting analysis of the match using the Alpha Zero programme, that I watched last night on Youtube. One of the games from the match reached the following position. Here Alpha Zero suggested a very dangerous looking plan for Black:
One glimpse at the position can clearly show that Black has a very dangerous looking initiative. Perhaps if Magnus had found this idea, he would have won in normal time? Unfortunately we now have a situation where Caruana could become World Champion without not having won a game in classical time controls, during that match. In fact he can even become World Champion without winning a game in the play-offs, if he is so inclined to draw every game and then survive the armageddon game (assuming he gets Black in that game.)
If such a damning fact does not convince the people in charge to make serious changes to the format, then nothing will. I also feel that Carlsen has been disappointing in this match. He looks too nervous, and like in the Karjakin match he looks rather too desperate to win without showing anything really impressive over the board. If he were to lose the match now it has entered the play-offs I’m not sure it would be undeserved, because over the two matches, Carlsen-Karjakin and Carlsen-Caruana, could you really say he deserves to win both?
Danny Gormally is a talented English Grandmaster. He lives in the bustling market town of Alnwick, somewhere near Scotland.
Danny’s first DVD for Ginger GM, Improve Your Practical Play was released in September 2013.