Mickey Adams has won the 2018 British Chess Championship, 29
years after he first won the title as a 17-year-old. His victory in Hull came
in a playoff against Luke McShane, who battled back from a second round loss to
defeat David Howell in the final round and tie Adams on 7/9. It would have been
Luke’s first British title, but Mickey dominated the playoff, with only a
brilliant swindle in the second rapid game extending the drama. Jovanka Houska scored
5/9 to win an eighth British women’s title.
Replay all the games from the 2018 British Chess Championship:
46-year-old Mickey Adams first won the British Championship
in 1989, and according to Leonard
Barden writing in the Guardian, holds a record dating back even further
He has not lost a single game in the British championship
since Blackpool 1988, a 30-year streak, although he has missed many years due
to international commitments.
That record was only seriously under threat this year in
Round 3, when Tamas Fodor won a pawn in a queen ending and could have converted
with precise play. He not only failed to convert, though, but also fell for a
tactical sucker punch when he played 61.Qe5?
61…g5+! is an
unusual double attack that wins the queen, since 62.Kh5 runs into 62…Qxh3#
After that game Mickey took two very quick draws against key
rivals David Howell and Luke McShane, while a victory over defending champion
Gawain Jones in Round 7 was a huge step towards overall victory.
Gawain had the
white pieces and was on top in that game, but his control slipped away almost
21.Be3! would have kept White in the driver’s seat, with 21…Bxa1
met by 22.Bc5+, forcing 22…Rd6, when White has the time to play 23.Rxa1 since
the pinned rook on d6 can’t go anywhere. Nothing had yet gone wrong after 21.Rad1, but Mickey gradually wove his
webs and went on to score a fine victory.
The surprise was that Mickey didn’t win the tournament
comfortably from there, as he instead squandered significant advantages against
both Nicholas Pert and Danny Gormally in the final rounds.
David Howell looked
to be the player poised to take advantage, since he went into the final round
level with Adams and had the white pieces against Luke McShane. In the opening
phase things seemed to be going David’s way, but in hindsight he should have
acquiesced to a likely draw with 18.Rxb7. Instead he maintained the tension
only to come under a sudden and incredibly fierce attack. The position was
probably already mathematically lost after 26.f4?
(26.g3!), but later on it still required some brilliance from Luke to find a
beautiful finish in mutual time trouble:
(other moves just lose less beautifully) 32…Qg3+!
That crowned a great comeback for Luke, who had been put to
the sword by David “Eggy” Eggleston in Round 2 after going astray in a winning
but extremely tricky position:
34…Bxc5! was the winning move for Luke, when after 35.bxc5
Nxc5 36.Re2 fxg3 the white king is defenceless against all the threats. Instead
after 34…Bb8? 35.gxf4 exf4 36.c4 h5?
37.Ng2 it was the black king that was ripe for the slaughter.
That was the launch pad for a great tournament for
30-year-old Eggleston, who went on to claim his 3rd and final grandmaster norm with a quick draw against Keith Arkell in the final round:
He still has the little matter of getting his rating above
2500 to become a grandmaster, but he made a good start by picking up 23.4
points in Hull (sadly not 47 points, which is based on a higher k-factor for
players who have never been above 2400).
McShane didn’t look back either, though, and for the second
year in a row entered a playoff for the British Championship title (all other prizes are shared by players on the same number of points).
First up were two 20-minute, 10-second increments rapid
games, with the first becoming a positional masterclass by Mickey Adams after
Luke took a fateful decision on move 14:
Luke decided not to play 14…Qxf6 but to take the chance to
swap off queens at the cost of weakening his pawn structure: 14…Qxb3!? 15.Nxb3 gxf6. That proved
costly against Adams, who slowly but surely seized control of the position,
exploiting every slight inaccuracy until his advantage was so significant that
McShane felt the need to sacrifice an f-pawn for activity. The pressure was
unrelenting, though, with Mickey also playing much faster than his opponent,
until 33…d5? opened the floodgates:
34.h4+! Kxh4 35.Rxh6+
Kg5 36.Rh5+! Kf6 37.Rc6+ was already hopeless for Black, with Mickey
eventually winning with a famous endgame tactic:
45.Rh8! Black resigns.
Of course the point is that 45…Rxa7 is met by 46.Rh7+, winning the rook.
That meant Luke now had to win on demand to take the playoff
to blitz games, but that wasn’t something that looked in any way likely as
Mickey again played quickly and confidently as he seemed to be putting together
another positional masterpiece:
Here Mickey has already solved all his opening problems,
dealing with the white queenside pawns and seizing control of the centre.
Another player might have switched approach here, since 27…Rxf3! 24.gxf3 Qxh3
is, unsurprisingly, extremely strong. Black is planning Nh5 next, and if White
exchanges on h5 Black will recapture with the pawn and give mate down the
g-file. Mickey spent a minute and instead decided to go for a beautiful idea
that ran less risk of miscalculating any tactics. He rerouted both his knights
towards the d4-square (starting with 27…Nd7), and it was hard to argue with that – since it maintained
all his advantages in a position his opponent needed to win.
You could be more critical of Mickey later for not spotting
a crushing chance to win by sacrificing a rook on h3, but again he was simply
maintaining his dominance and forcing his opponent to try and win a miserable
position. Unexpectedly, though, the game swung 180 degrees on move 51:
51…exd4! and Black is still in control, but shockingly after
51…Qxd4? 52.Nd6! it’s suddenly a
position Black might resign with a clear conscience in a classical game. There’s
a devilish point as to why 52…Rxb4? can’t be played:
Instead Mickey went for 52…Qxb4
53.Nxb5 Qxc5!? (53…cxb5 limits the material loss, but it’s hard to believe Black
could survive the ending after 54.Qxb4 axb4), and the moment Luke’s extra rook
entered the action it was the signal for Adams to resign.
It seemed the psychological momentum was now on Luke’s side,
but perhaps that’s a concept we tend to exaggerate in chess. The script was the
same for the 5+3 blitz games, with Mickey starting with White and again getting
a positional grip, while also playing much faster than his opponent. Adams
again missed some tactical chances, but the position was too tricky for McShane
to navigate on little time, and it was fitting that the game ended with the
mother of all forks:
That meant Luke again had to win on demand with White, but
when he hesitated to launch a sacrificial attack on the black king Adams was
able to gain another comfortable position. The end became inevitable when
Mickey finally did decide to convert his advantage tactically:
32…Rxd2! 33.Rxd2 Nxe4
34.Rd8 (a subtle mistake – after 34.Rb2! Bxf5 35.Bc2! White can meet 35…Nxg3?
with 36.fxg3!, since the c2-bishop is defended) 34…Bxf5 35.Bc2 Nxg3! and White had no chance of gaining the win
required. In fact, Mickey got to end matters with another fork!
Mickey Adams claimed the £10,000 first prize, while Luke
McShane took £5,000 as the runner-up. Danny Gormally jokingly described Luke as the “Jimmy White
of British chess”, referring to the hugely talented and popular English snooker
player who at one point reached five World Championship finals in a row but
never managed to win the title.
Mickey said a few words when he picked up the trophy at the
That was a 6th title for Adams, who had previously won in 1989,
1997, 2010, 2011 and 2016, though Jovanka Houska can now boast of winning the
women’s title 8 times in the last 11 years. She earned a £1,000 prize after
sharing 19th place on 5/9, half a point ahead of Akshaya Kalaiyalahan.
The top event was accompanied by multiple other tournaments,
though perhaps the most interesting was the Major Open, not for the victory of
Thomas Villiers but for the performance of England’s most promising chess
junior, 9-year-old Shreyas Royal. The youngster, who last year finished
runner-up in the European Under 8 Youth Championship, went on to demonstrate he
knows how to win both technically and with tactical
39…Rxg2! and White
resigned a few moves later. He played an excellent game against the winner
until blundering, and overall actually earned 104.8 rating points to move into
2000+ rating territory:
remarkable, though, was that he posted that performance given the pressure he
was under. The youngster may have been the most recognisable figure to have
played in the 2018 British Championship, after he found himself at the centre
of a political storm.
He was born in
India and moved to England with his family at the age of 3, but now faces the
prospect of returning to India since his father’s 5-year work visa
is about to expire. Two members of the British Parliament, Rachel Reeves and Matthew
Pennycook, have supported the family’s request that they and their talented son
be allowed to remain. The MPs highlight the curious rule that if the father was
earning £120,000 a year he would be able to extend his stay.
As with any topic
even vaguely related to Brexit, though, it’s advisable not to read the
comments, which largely consist of people demanding to know why any exceptions
should be made to immigration policy, especially because of a game like chess.
Let’s hope the World Championship match in London later this year goes some way
towards changing hearts and minds!