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.