Wednesday, 30 July 2008

British Championship - Part 1

I must confess, I have got out of the habit of watching British Championship games during the first week of the competition. It always reminds me of one of those bizarre pursuit cycling races where the competitors pootle round the velodrome like Miss Marple going to the vicar's tea party, reserving their energy for a frantic dash in the final couple of circuits. The main contenders in the British Championship usually end up with approximately the same number of points after six rounds - so what's the point in getting excited about it at this stage? That's not to criticise the tournament. The final rounds usually provide more by way of entertainment.

Slow starts are not always the order of the day, of course. Back in the 20th century, we were sometimes treated to the spectacle of Julian Hodgson or Jonathan Mestel storming through tournaments to make 9/11 or even more. But since 2000 (the last time Julian won, incidentally), the eventual winners have usually made relatively modest first week scores. Go on - have a guess at the commonest first-week score of the eight winners from 2000 to 2007. Did you guess 4½ or 5? Those sound the likeliest answers but they are wrong. Four of the eight winners made do with just 4/6 the first week (that's Hodgson in 2000, Gallagher in 2001, Ramesh in 2002 and Rowson in 2006). Two champions (Kunte in 2003 and Rowson in 2005) scored 4½/6. The only two 21st century champions who could consider themselves front-runners were Rowson in 2004 and Aagaard in 2007, who both blazed into the lead with 5½/6 (and they both nearly paid for their early exertions by having slightly shaky second weeks). So maybe the 'Miss Marple' pootling policy is best...

This year, after three rounds, it looks like most of the leading contenders are taking their places for the cagey cycling pursuit race of the next few days. Maybe even Richard Pert is not yet without hope despite his calamitous 0/2 start; after all, he can still reach the magic score of 4/6. I could be wrong about what is about to happen, of course. Nigel Davies will celebrate his 48th birthday tomorrow in the sole lead with 3/3 and maybe he will hack his way through the opposition in Hodgsonesque style to finish on some massive score. All things are possible. But don't write off the people who reach 4/6.


  1. I love watching it, though. In some ways it's more entertaining then watching the super GMs precisely because, good though these players are, they're not quite at that level: I find the super GMs are much more able to keep things under control whereas in the British you're far more likely to get an entertaining mess.

    Anyway, I'm supporting Bogdan. Forget the points scored, I wonder if he could win with the lowest-ever number of moves played by the winner?

  2. Thinking further about it, my problem is not specifically with the British itself but boils down to an aversion to providing journalistic coverage of the early rounds of a Swiss tournament. Early rounds of Swisses are anarchic and, as regards the leading players, it usually doesn't matter if they draw a couple of duff games or even lose one; in all probability they will find their way back to 4 or 4½ and remain in contention. Whether you take the high road or the low road, you end up in the same place.

    Consequently, it is always difficult to think of anything interesting to say about the results although, if you are lucky, the games can make up for this in their entertainment value.

    In some ways, the journalistic parallel is the FA Cup. During the first two rounds of the soccer equivalent, journalists concentrate on the matches between league and non-league clubs and report the giant-killing acts. This is the same with the chess, except that there tend to be fewer giant-kills and the early rounds are usually a massacre of the (sub-2200) innocents.

    The FA Cup format allows the big clubs an exemption to round three. I suppose the chess equivalent would be to allow big-name (2550+) players to start the British after five or six rounds with a set number of points. Is that a runner? Probably not, though it might have the attraction that it would save them some accommodation costs and wouldn't cost the organisers anything either.

    I understand Nigel Short has been telling people on a forum somewhere that he has won 'three consecutive British Championships'. He is right in that he has won the last three he has taken part in - 1984, 1987 and 1998! In fact he has made just four appearances at the British in 28 years. Mickey Adams hasn't taken part since 1997. Such facts give an idea of just how unrepresentative the championship has been over a very long period of time. Perhaps something radical or inventive is required to get these guys involved again.

  3. First two rounds proper of course....the FA Cup actually starts only a week after the British finishes!

  4. You say something "radical or inventive" is needed to coax the best players in, presumably a format change of some kind.

    So when was the last time the Brits were NOT played to the format currently on offer. I ask because the terms 'radical' and 'inventive' are not the first that spring to mind when contemplating the ECF.

    Of course, our very best players can be persuaded to play. They will all be appearing in Liverpool in a month's time, along with a galaxy of European GMs.

    Of course, I'm offering conditions; these are fair but not especially lavish. I get the feeling that the mugwumps of the ECF wouldn't pay sensible conditions even they could afford it. Small budgets are often the product of small minds.

  5. Possibly, David, your absolute inability to discuss British chess without being rude and unpleasant may reduce people's desire to take advice from you. You're organising a different type of event entirely, with different conditions and different requirments: why use that as a stick to beat other people with? The answer is that you can't help yourself. You talk about small-mindedness: I don't think there's another figure in British chess as small-minded as you. British chess needs many things it hasn't got, but I doubt that it needs more bullies.

  6. Thanks for this, ejh.

    It confirms the natural order of things when I'm treated to scornful name-calling by an idle sectarian and burned-out left-fascist like you

  7. There's lovely.

    Tell you what, David, I don't really want to spoil John's blog by having unpleasant spats in his comments boxes, so I'll see if I can get over to the English chess forum. (I'd go to Atticus but obscurely, my application to join that forum was never accepted.)

  8. Delicious! I was going to offer to meet you in your own playpen