Chess: British online championships can lead to a Hastings centenary chance

Chess: British online championships can lead to a Hastings centenary chance

This month’s online British championships will link to Hastings’s centenary congress in a Covid-era £5000 event which will include England’s leading players.

Qualifiers start on 18 December and culminate in finals on 3 January. The championships in various categories – open, senior, women’s and junior are aligned to the most popular online time limits – standard, rapid, blitz and bullet. The championships have no cash prizes, but their main event opens a route to Hastings and the chance to take on the national elite.

Before Covid, Hastings’s traditional New Year congress was planning its centenary event, backed by its current sponsor Caplin, provider of e-trading technology. It will be replaced on 9-10 January by a 12-player online all-play-all of 10 invitees plus the top two in the Caplin British championship, with a £5,000 prize fund.

For more than 40 years since it began in 1904, an all-play-all was the format for the over-the-board British championship. It was replaced in 1949 by Swiss system pairings which allowed much larger numbers, and the Swiss format has remained despite the later emergence of an elite group.

Michael Adams, David Howell, Luke McShane, Gawain Jones, Matthew Sadler and Nigel Short have been the only grandmasters in the past two decades consistently playing above a world rating of 2600 and in most cases close to 2700, a level equal to the global top 50 or 100.

The 1991 English knock-out championship ended with Short beating Adams in a marathon final and was followed in recent years by British knock-out championships as part of the London Classic, but the new association with Hastings and the Sussex town’s long chess tradition dating back to the legendary tournament of 1895 makes it special.

Meanwhile, the online championships in two weeks time will have their own problems, notably in what some consider the onerous anti-cheating measures required for all but the qualifying stages of most events.

Apart from Zoom and the browser running the host site,, no electronic devices or other people are allowed in the playing room. Any antivirus software must be closed and not running, and may not be opened during play. If an arbiter requests it, the player must show his or her surroundings.

Opposing viewpoints have led to a lively debate on the English Chess Forum, where some posters welcomed the requirements. Respected international master Tom Rendle reacted negatively: “No electronic devices allowed in the room seems like overkill. I suspect it will deter people from entering, it would certainly make me think twice. None allowed in use/turned on would make some sense.”

IM Jack Rudd was even more definite: “No other people allowed in the room is the killer for me. I don’t have reliable internet in my bedroom and I can’t reasonably keep people out of any other room.”

Nick Faulks, who doubles as an experienced official of the global chess body, Fide, took a middle view: “Outside elite events it may not be possible to combine robust anti-cheating measures with comfortable playing conditions.”

As of Thursday, entries to all tournaments were approaching a healthy 450, but the main event, the British championship at a standard time rate, told a different story, with no GMs or IMs showing yet, and just two Fide Masters and three Candidate Masters. However, the strongest players tend to enter late.

Magnus Carlsen’s glittering online tournament year suffered a rare setback when the world champion lost on his 30th birthday to the US title holder, Wesley So, in the final of the $100,000 Skilling Open.

So won 5.5-4.5 after a blitz tie-break in a match where the psychological battle swung his way in game four on the opening day. Carlsen was caught by prep in an offbeat line of the Sveshnikov Sicilian, an opening where he had never lost and which had served him well in his 2018 title match against Fabiano Caruana.

So could reasonably claim to be the current world No 2, but the Filipino-born grandmaster, now a Minneapolis resident, will have to wait until at least 2022 and the next Candidates cycle for his chance.

3700: 1 Ra8! gxh4 2 Rg7! Kxg7 3 Be5 mate.