Michael Adams has been a member of the world’s elite for twenty odd years. Like Anand, Gelfand, Ivanchuk, and others he is a player who has turned 40 but refuses to go away. These days he often has to face opponents half his age. In the recently concluded British Championship Adams scored a stunning 10.0/11 points to take his fifth title. Manuel Weeks shows us some of the highlights from the event with training questions for you to solve.
After recently having a catch-up brunch with GM Gawain Jones, where he mentioned some of his games played in the recent finished British Championships, I ended playing through various games and finding some striking moments. I thought it might be interesting to share the views of the event from the armchair of a spectator.
How does an online chess spectator feel about watching a live event? Usually he wants to be entertained, see a beautiful sacrificial game, hopefully some games where an opening he himself plays is explained. Others want to see their favourite player win or maybe a breakthrough performance by the next rising star. I watched the recent British Championships with a mixture of emotions mainly guided by personal relationships through the fact that I knew most of the main participants.
The top seed was Michael Adams who has been a member of the world’s elite for 20 odd years now and is now defending what I call the “old guys” corner. The players who have turned 40 but refuse to go away, they still play at the top level and they still want to win. Anand, Gelfand, Ivanchuk and recent new members Kramnik and Svidler plus many others still fight successfully at the top level. To call them “veterans” seems a little unfair, but there are so many superb players at such young ages that a player of forty odd years can easily be double the age of many of his opponents. For myself and many others we grew up with these players, watched them from when they were kids, saw them progress into world class GMs in an era where computers were not yet so strong. In those days they could play a complicated game without some online spectator criticizing their play, “Anand could have won easily with 32.Nxe6!, How did he miss that!” The silicon monsters who never get tired, who never miss a tactic, who can jump from different positions without skipping a heartbeat, are not the most understanding of analysts.
The field still had other strong GMs like David Howell (above) and Gawain Jones (below) who both still dream of achieving permanent 2700 status and are still young enough to believe it can still happen. Behind them were a varied group of experienced GMs who have proved many times that they can be tough opponents for any player. All were hoping to test themselves at the highest level since opportunities to play 2700+ players are still rare for mere mortal grandmasters.
Adams once expressed the view that he didn’t mind the uprising of chess playing programs, since they often pointed out interesting ideas. But databases were allowing weaker players to play the openings virtually perfectly and for someone who is happy to draw with Black to another super GM, to have to change suddenly to try to win is not so easy! To go from round robins to open events means having to adjust your mindset and many strong players have struggled with this. As everyone with an interest in chess in the British Isles will already know, Michael Adams not only won this year’s British Championship with the huge score of 10/11, but even gained 11 valuable ratings points in the bargain to take him to number 23 in the world on the live rating table with a healthy looking 2738. Only two draws, to GMs Peter Wells and David Howell, in eleven rounds – not bad for an “old guy”!
The Bournemouth Pavilion where the competition took place
There were various subplots in the event, but for Australians there was special attention paid to our fellow countryman IM Justin Tan who had come over to the UK for an extended study plus chess playing journey of discovery. What do you do when you live in an extremely isolated country but still wish to become a chess grandmaster? For most it is simply taking the option of as many visits as possible to various strong events and then heading back to Australia. But Justin Tan decided to base himself in Europe, play as many strong events as possible, get as much high level coaching as possible and begin his quest for the coveted GM title. For someone who was not one of the absolute stars of his generation he is now around 2500 and gained his second GM norm in the British title event after various adventures, like needing to win his ninth round, drawing, needing to win his tenth round, then drawing, then needing to win his eleventh round after dropping the first two rounds for a nine game norm. It is this sort of calculations that GM hopefuls have to keep doing and then there is the small matter of actually winning over the board! Justin only had one loss in the event, to the steamroller who was Adams, and was an unbreakable wall against the other British GMs with draws with Howell, Jones, Arkell, Gormally and a good win over the ageless Mark Hebden. A well-deserved second GM norm for Justin Tan who continue to impress in the UK.