England’s top grandmasters, most of them ranked among the world’s best 100 players, are battling against the rule of six and other restrictions which have virtually eliminated over-the-board chess in the UK.
Michael Adams, the England No 1, took eye-catching advantage of the better opportunities in central Europe with a Caruana-esque run of seven straight wins in classic tournaments. It was a performance which harked back to the seven-time British champion’s peak years in 2000-02, when he was ranked No 4 in the world.
Adams won his final two rounds at Biel, Switzerland, where the Cornishman, 48, ended the invitation GM tournament a close third, then scored in his first five games for Baden-Baden in the Bundesliga championship in Karlsruhe.
The best win of the series was Adams’s 30-move Petroff Defence victory over the Dutch GM Jan Smeets in the Baden-Baden v Solingen match. White’s a-pawn push to a6 created havoc in the black army as Adams deployed his classic Anatoly Karpov-style spider strategy to occupy key outpost squares. At the end Black’s queen was grotesquely positioned at a8 behind his a7 bishop, which was trapped by White’s a6 queen and c6 knight.
Adams’s winning run ended with two draws. His half in the final round was important for the title decider, in which Baden-Baden defeated Viernheim 4.5-3.5 after both teams had won their previous six matches. Luck was with Adams as Spain’s David Anton missed a forced mate in 10 at move 64 in a double rook ending. England’s No 2, Luke McShane, also played in the Bundesliga, drawing for Werder Bremen against Baden-Baden’s world No 4, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.
The Bundesliga final had an impressive turnout, with around 50 grandmasters including several of the top 10. Safety measures included a flexiglass barrier between the players and no spectators allowed in the spacious hall. Baden-Baden are the Bayern Munich of German chess, and its team have won the national title 14 times in 15 attempts.
Fabiano Caruana was Baden-Baden’s top board, a significant move by the world No 2 who in the online public eye has been eclipsed by Hikaru Nakamura as the main rival to Magns Carlsen. Caruana plans to be based in Germany for the next few weeks, before moving to Stavanger for quarantine before Norway Chess in October where he takes on Carlsen, and from there to the world title candidates scheduled for resumption in Russia or Georgia in November.
Although Covid is affecting the Czech Republic, the Pardubice Open is continuing this week with a strong international field. GM Keith Arkell is the leading English player, as the 59-year-old, a frequent winner on the English weekend circuit and the 2014 European over-50 senior champion, seeks new opportunities. Arkell won his first two games before his passive bishop cost him in Wednesday’s third round against the No 3 seed and reigning Dutch champion, Lucas Van Foreest.
The Paignton GM, who will break new ground next month when he plays over-the-board in Hungary in the First Saturday norm tournament, has been praised for his book Arkell’s Endings, a selection of its author’s legendary grinds to victory.
It includes rook and bishop against rook, the theoretical draw which Arkell has won more than 20 times without conceding a single half point, as well as some deep insights into the Carlsbad pawn formation which occurs from the Queen’s Gambit 1 d4 d5 2 c4 e6 and often leads to endgame grinds.
The Czech Republic’s health minister, Adam Nojtech, resigned on Tuesday, and was replaced by the 54-year-old epidemiologist Roman Prymula – which might be good news for Pardubice and for other events on the Czech Tour as they try to survive Covid.
Prymula is a chess player, and more than that, he is a Fide master with a lifetime best rating of 2315. Back in March, when the World Senior Teams in Prague was threatened with a shutdown, it was Prymula who came up with organisational ideas which enabled the event to reach round seven of nine, sufficient for acceptable results, before it was called off.
Gawain Jones, the England No 4, went close this week in a bid to qualify for the next Magnus Carlsen Tour, with its generous prize money. Jones won his qualifying group on chess24.com, then met Armenia’s world No 9, Levon Aronian, in a 10-game blitz match for the Tour place. It proved a bridge too far as Aronian won 5.5-2.5, but Jones held his own at the start and missed his chance in the marathon 121-move third game which Aronian narrowly saved due to bishop and wrong coloured rook pawn.
Back in the UK, the national 4NCL league is flourishing online, England’s juniors performed above expectations in the online European youth championships, while Simon Williams is one of the most popular web commentators.
For over-the-board British chess,in contrast, the immediate outlook remains challenging to bleak, with the new restrictions coming at the start of the club, county and congress seasons. The Northumbria Congress announced for this weekend was a bold attempt at a revival, but it had to be cancelled due to the North-east lockdown. There is still hope for the future, though. The English Chess Federation is in a sound financial position, and its membership renewals have been above expectations despite the lack of activity. There will be scope in future for Innovatory events with a mix of online qualifiers and over-the-board finals to harness English chess’s current strange pattern of simultaneous boom and slump.
3690: 1…Rxh2! and White resigned. If 2 Qxd2 Rxg2+ 3 Kh1 Rh6+ 4 Bh4 Rxh4 mate. If 2 Qxe3 Reh6! and Rh1 mate is a winning threat. If 2 Kxh3 Qxf2 and White can only delay Qxg2 mate.