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Archive for August, 2009

British Championships 2009 Prizegiving

Saturday, 8th August 2009

Prizegiving

Review:
So things went as predicted – more or less. On Bd. 1, Gary Lane showed his hand by offering a draw after move 6. Howell declined, perhaps hoping to go out with a further win, but when the position soon became a bit turgid and would have required a lot of time and effort to resolve, he clearly came to the conclusion that the easiest option was probably the best after all. Furthermore, he was due to play in the 1st round of the Staunton Memorial in London the next afternoon, so it made good sense to conserve his energy.
After shaking hands with Lane, he rose from his chair with a broad smile, and there were handshakes and congratulations all round. He had won the title with 9 points, the highest total this century (8.5 points is par) and in that company it was a considerable achievement by any standard. In case he had stumbled at the final hurdle, Simon Williams and Mark Hebden would have been waiting for him, as they overcame Stephen Gordon and Gawain Jones, respectively, so finished joint 2nd on 8.5, frustratng for them as, in most years this would have given them the title or at least a play-off.
In the last game of the round to finish. Andrew Greet just failed to get a very respectable score as he pushed Conquest to the limit. Rudd finished in sparkling form as he equalled his highest score ever, after having been on bottom board-but-2 in Rd. 4.
Palliser’s 8 pts was also an excellent result for him. Last year it would have got him into the play-off.
 
Prizegiving:
Last year at Liverpool, in order to prepare for the prizegiving and the rush of trying to take meaningful photographs of the winners with their trophies, I hit on the idea of having a small table set up with a board and pieces next to the steps where the winners come down from the stage, so one can deal with the situation almost in a conveyor belt fashion. This was done the night before to minimise the risk of last minute panics. And to further reduce the risk I put a large printed notice in the middle of the board to the effect “Photographer’s table – do not move”. When I arrived the next morning, everything had been cleared away – no table, no set, no notice – nothing.
Nothing daunted, I prepared in the same way this year, but having learned from Liverpool, I worded the printed notice more pointedly, to the effect “Photographer’s Table – do not move before the prizegiving” in very large, computer-printed letters, and weighted down by a pawn on each corner. It was there at 9 p.m. as I left.
Next morning at 8.30 I couldn’t believe my eyes – no set and board, no table, no notice – nothing. That moment was my low point of the fortnight. Fortunately, the staff were very helpful and another table was found, and there was a spare set and board in the office, it was rectified fairly quickly.
The prizegiving went very smoothly and quickly. Scores of pictures were taken and the camera battery managed to cope – just about. Fortunately, it was decided to do the British players first to enable Howell to get off to London a.s.a.p. so if the battery did run down, it would have not been so serious. And they’ve come out reasonable well. Here is a selection.

David Howell – New British Champion.

 

Three Wise Men – the joint seniors champions.

And now… a group of Lady Champions:

Meg Owens, of Wales, with the Roy Clunes Trophy.

British Ladies Champion – Jovanka Houska, (as was)

Sheila Dines

Kevin Stavely of the Rhondda, with the Richard Boxall Plate for his contribution above and beyond the call of duty, in running the Sunday Quiz and the Murder Mystery play.

Balloon Match:  Weatherwise, the morning had started the best of the fortnight, so immediately after the prizegiving was over I gathered together Jack Rudd and Andrew Greet, and said we should get down there. I’d give the balloon folk one hour to get off the ground, then I was off.
From that moment on, everything fell into place, as if the weather Gods had had their fun and decided to relent as we’d given them enough amusement to last into the autumn.
We trundled the heavy equipment down to their little office. The balloon was up, having its obligatory test-run, and we could be on the first public ascent of the day.
Down it came, everything was piled in, Andrew and Jack and me with borrowed, hand-held video camera, and in moments we were rising up to 400 feet. With just 7 minutes on the clock, Jack and Andrew rattled out the moves and after what looked like a close contest, Greet won. There was just time for 2nd game mostly played on the way down. A draw was agreed, and so Greet won the match.
This was, of course, a match between deadly rivals, Devon and Cornwall; Greet from St. Austell and Rudd resident in Bideford, have each been their county Champions. So Cornwall won the first aerial chess match bewteen the two counties, just as they did the first terra-firma-based match in 1901.
Two questions remain: (a) Is this History’s first-ever inter-county match in a helium ballon at 400 feet?
(b) Did it actually take place at all, or am I making it up to cover for the fact that the weather was so lousy?
In answer to the latter, the video will be out shortly; post production is, even now, in the hands of IJ Productions, who are adding suitable music and titling.
In answer to the former, I’m going to claim it as a world 1st, but am happy to listen to credible counter-claims.

British Championships 2009 Final round.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Early start:
The last day has dawned with blue skies all around and no wind to usher in cloudbanks – the weather gods must be making belated attempts to make amends. It’s a bit late now, though.
Driving over extra early, on the car radio, Radio 4 gave out on the 8 o’clock news the story that a load of old humanoid fossils had been discovered in Torquay and were to be investigated. Ah, I thought, at last the BBC have responded to my prompting and are going to cover the exciting last day. But no, alas. It turned out they were found in Kent’s Cavern in the 19th century and may have been cannibal victims, 9,000 years ago. On the other hand, they could have been Torbay’s first chess players in a match that went horribly wrong. You never know….

Rd. 10 Summary:
The drive provided an opportunity to ponder the day’s prospects.
Last night, Howell beat the defending champion, Stuart Conquest, to put himself a point clear of the field, and surely on the brink of the title. Is he going to lose for the first time in the last round when on the brink of becoming British Champion? I think it unlikely. Several other factors are in his favour (a) he’s already played all those nearest to him (b) he has the White pieces and (c) the draw has paired him against local hero Gary Lane, who is 2 full points behind him and about 200 rating points below. It’s a funny old game, of course, full of unexpected twists and turns, but if Howell doesn’t finish up the Champion from this position, it will be little short of sensational. For a start, either Hebden or Williams would have to beat their Grandmaster opponents just to draw level and force a play-off. On top board, I foresee a shortish game with an early offer of a draw accepted by Lane, giving Howell the title and Lane some extra rating points. Seems logical, but what do I know?

Below: Conquest takes on David Howell in the penultimate round:


Murder Most Foul:
It’s well-known that Torquay was Agatha Christie’s home town, but on arrival here I found a murder had been committed last night, right here in the Centre, not in the library with some lead piping, but someone had been poisoned in the Rosetor Suite. Shocking, of course, but for the 2nd time in minutes I’d got the wrong end of the stick.
It was, in fact, a murder mystery play put on by Arbiter Kevin Stavely, using 6 volunteer actors from the enormous cast of players and hangers-on, only too keen to strut their stuff on stage. The script is provided by a company and all the actors have to do is to familiarise themselves with the words and actions required, and deliver them with some kind of conviction before a paying audience, who have to guess who did what to whom, when and why. A goodly number stumped up their 50p admission charge and a good time was had by all. In a typical drawing room denoument, it emerged that Alan Burke had poisoned Peter Hale.
Below: The cast (l-r) Christine Burke, Alan Burke (the murderer); Alec Toll; Lateefah Messam-Sparks; Hannah Dale; Peter Hale (the victim).

Killer Queens:
Another shot from yesterday’s party on the patio outside the office. If you find yourself sitting down to play opposite any of these girls, don’t be fooled – they’re all British Champions.

l-r: Sheila Dines; Megan Owens; Lateefah Messam-Sparks; Hannah Dale and Evie Hollingworth. 

Above: Scottish junior, Calum McQueen, playing on top board in Rd. 10 of the Major Open. The party hat did him no good at all as he lost to Robert Eames.

Question: Has anyone played more games at Torquay than this man?

Answer: Probably not.

He’s Mitchell Burke of Oldham who can be seen just starting his 34th game of the fortnight. He’s played in 2 rapidplays, the Major Open, the U-16 Championship and the 5 Day Open A.M. If one factors in the 19 other games in blitz tournaments, the total comes to 53 games. Mitchell is a member of the 3Cs club in Oldham and clearly has a great appetite for the game.

Start of the Final Round:

A great crowd assembled round the top boards before the start of the final round, mainly awaiting the start of the top game Howell v Lane; they were due a wait as Howell is always about 10 minutes late – under FIDE’s new regulations he would have defaulted every game.
Above: Gary Lane in “Waiting For Godot”.

Above: Gary: “Shall we settle this quickly with a game of Stone, paper, scissors?”.

Below: David: “Nice try, Gary; let’s try an old fashioned Ruy Lopez instead”.

 


Above: Howell goes for the Exchange Variation. 3 moves later Lane offered a draw, which Howell turned down. So much for the quick draw theory. Looks like Howell’s going for the win.

16.50 Correction – Howell’s just agreed to the draw, as there was no clear way of making any progress. He rose from chair grinning broadly, and we have a new champion. At the same moment, Jack Rudd’s opponent ran out of time with Jack still an hour and a half to spare, which puts him on 7 points – a wonderful late run after an equally terrible start.

British Championships 2009 2nd Thursday Rd. 10

Thursday, 6 August 2009

2nd Thursday Rd 10

Penultimate Rd;
Late last night Wells beat Eggleston to reach 6.5, but Eggleston’s assured 2nd IM norm was some compensation for him.
Conquest’s win yesterday puts him back on top board with White against Howell, sole leader on 7.5. Will Howell be content to drift to the finish with 2 draws and see what the following pack can do? Williams is clear 2nd on 7/9 with Black against Wells. How will he be seeing the situation? He is on fire and a win would put him level with a drawing Howell. And Hebden having white against lower rated opposition must be fancying his chances, a win would put him on 7.5, although his opponent Rendle will have his own views on the matter. Surely the eventual champion must come from these 6.

Under-12s:
Last year’s Girls’ U-12 Champion was Rahda Jain. On the way out of the hall this morning, she told me she’d won again and I ventured to say she was likely to defend her title successfully. “Oh no, not that”, she replied “I’m after the overall title this year”. I was truly put in my place.

 
Below: Rahda at Liverpool 2008


A Storey of Salvation Through ChessBase:
38 year old Charlie Storey, playing in the British Championship, was brought up in Newcastle-on-Tyne where he had a difficult upbringing. He admits to failed academically at school, leaving with no qualifications. On the other hand, he was excellent at sport, playing centre forward for Blythe Spartans and having trials with Oldham Athletic, though the manager, Joe Royle, didn’t rate him.
He didn’t have much of direction in life in his late teens, but gradually got into chess and joined the Jesmond Chess Club. He then purchased an early version of the computer program ChessBase3 and things really took off. He quickly developed a great love of chess and knowledge of computers. He was very competitive and has won about 60 Open Tournaments over the years.
He also found he had the gift of communicating his chess skills to large numbers of young beginners. He wrote a chess syllabus called Bandana Chess, and has his own website at charliechess.com.
As his reputation as a chess coach grew, so did his reputation in computer skills and he was encouraged to enroll at university where, at the age of 37, he recently graduated with a 2:1 in “Informatics Forensics” (i.e. messing around with computers).
He puts all this down to the redemptive powers of chess; it’s taught him to use his brain, to concentrate, persevere and constantly strive for self-improvement. If the basis was chess, the tool was ChessBase, which enables players to harness the twin powers of human and artificial intelligence. He reckons they have been his salvation – without chess he could have been condemned to a life of aimless drifting.
What of the future? Andrew Martin has offered him the post of coach to the ECF U-16 team in the junior Olympiad in Turkey (24th Sept – 2nd Oct.). He’s also had an excellent job offer from the Civil Service which would entail moving south, out of his natural habitat in the North East. So who knows what the future holds for Charlie Storey.
 
Below: Charlie at the start of Rd. 10 – he loves a good party.

Game of the Day (Rd. 8)

Above: I know I’m getting deaf, but did someone just call out my name?

Below: Yes it’s true, John Littlewood – you’ve just won the Game of the Day prize.

Birthday Party: Mention has already been made of one birthday present offered here at Torquay – today there were more celebrations as one of the juniors celebrated her 17th birthday, joined by a crowd of Britain’s top juniors.

Below: Lateefah Messam-Sparks (centre) surrounded by some of the best juniors here at the British. Much cake was consumed by all. Hats were retained for play during Rd. 10.

British Championships 2009 2nd Wednesday Rd. 9.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

2nd Wednesday Rd. 9

A Near Thing:
Players from all quarters of the UK plus a few from Gibraltar, Russia, Australia et. al. have come to Torquay to play in one or other of the 22 sections of the British Chess Championships. Yet few can have had a shorter journey than 9 year old Nandaja Narayanan who lives just round the corner from the Riviera Centre. This was her first serious tournament, and she was not disappointed as she won the Girls’ U-9 title.
She attends Sherwell Valley Primary School in Torquay and attends the local junior chess club at Churston Ferrers, run by retired teacher Vic Cross, the same Vic Cross who has run the back office at the British for many years.
Nandaja first learnt the moves from her father , a consultant gynaecologist at Torbay Hospital. When asked how good a player he was he said “I can push the boat out but can’t navigate”. She then started to take the game more seriously, eventually getting private coaching from Victor.
All her opponents were boys on the way to the title, and beating them gave her greater confidence. She now feels encouraged to go on to further successes in the future. At the moment, her 3 year old sister, Niranjana, takes an interest and may well take up the game herself, so Nandaja may have an added incentive to keep ahead of her, or she might get overtaken.

Above: Nandaja with her trophy and coach Victor Cross outside my office.

Rd. 9: We are really approaching the sharp end of things now. In the short term, 9 round norms are obtainable. David Eggleston only had to turn up and play a solitary move in order to qualify for his 2nd IM norm, as he already had the points in the bag after 8 games, but a 9th game, however short, does have to be played. Not content with this, however, his game against Wells went on much longer than the others on the top tables. Meanwhile, Williams’ good run continued with a win against Gawain Jones, to put him in clear 2nd behind David Howell who overcame Palliser on Bd. 1. Stuart Conquest too kept in the mix with a win over former British Champion, Paul Littlewood. Hebden beat Gormally to join Conquest on 6.5, but other key games are going on into the gathering gloom.

Lower down the order, Arkell’s indifferent form meant another loss today and at this rate he will struggle to be in the prize list at all. On the other hand, Jack Rudd, who had a desperately bad first week, has hit the winning trail; another win today put him on 5.5. So from the murky depths of Bd. 34 out of 36 in Round 4, he has now scored 4.5 pts from the next 5 rounds. This is looking dangerously like consistency, which is not like Jack at all. What’s happening to him?

Old Fashioned Generosity: The draw in the Seniors paired club-mates Brian Gosling and David Toms (see earlier picture), who both play for Sidmouth in local leagues and Exmouth in the county leagues. It also happened to be David’s birthday, so Brian gave him the best present of all – the gift of a piece during the game and the full point. Isn’t that what friends are for?

Herald Express: The local daily paper here in Torbay is the Herald Express, which covers event from Dawlish down to Dartmouth. Through the efforts of the Torbay League Secretary, John Doidge, who ordinarily writes a monthly chess column for them, they have agreed to almost daily coverage which he provides. Today, however, they have excelled themselves with the promised full page article by former Guardian columnist, Mike Baker, who was here last week. Access the article on their website, http://www.thisissouthdevon.co.uk/ and find about the activities of Cable Guy (and others).

British Championship – Torquay – Rd. 8

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Second Tuesday – Rd. 8

Weather: Last night I drove home amid teeming rain, spray and dense hill fog over the Haldon Hills. Coming in this morning it was exactly the same, with another day’s rain forecast. The balloon has made only two solitary 20 minute ascents in the last 10 days, so the projected aerial match is looking very unlikely. Unless things improve in the next 3 days, this must go down, from the weather point of view, as the worst British Championship in history.

John Dunleavy: This event commemorates the contribution John Dunleavy made to British chess, especially his central role in creating the ECF out of the old BCF. My full biography is accessible from the front page of the event website. John’s son, Malcolm and his family were unable to be present at the opening, but had agreed to come in this week, as they were on a camping holiday in the South Hams. They came in this morning and enjoyed meeting many of John’s former colleagues. They had little connection with the highly-organised world of chess administration that John so loved, but enjoyed looking round the many different aspects of this big event.
Below: Claire and Malcolm Dunleavy, Jack (16) and Charley (11).

 
Around the Hall: So much attention is paid to the progress of the British Championship itself, that it is easy to overlook the many other sections going on in the hall at the same time. It’s impossible to do justice to them all, of course, but here’s a glimpse at some of them.
British Seniors Championship:
Former British Ladies Champion in her former existence as Dinah Dobson, (1967, ‘68 and ‘69 it says in the record book, but can’t have been that long ago – someone’s made a mistake here, surely!). Now Dinah Norman, she can look a bit serious at times but always raises a bright smile for the camera.
Below: Incidentally, of the 4 players involved in these adjacent games, 3 are women. Dinah is playing Caro Hunt, Harriet’s mother, while another former British Ladies Champion, Gillian Moore, is next door. And there are a number of other women involved in this section.

Dr. David Toms retired to East Devon recently after a career as a senior psychologist in the Medical Dept. of Nottingham University. As a teenager he was an English Junior International, taking part in a tour of Germany.

Above: Diminutive Anna Wang playing her morning game in the U-10s, a game she won to bring her to 1.5/2. Anna comes from Oxford where she attends the Junior Dept. of Oxford High School. She is a member of the Cowley Chess Club. Two years ago she won the British U-8 title at Gt. Yarmouth but was unable to play in Liverpool last year.

Above: Rahda Jain, giving her morning game in the U-12s 100% concentration. Last year she won the Girls’ U-12 title at Liverpool and hopes to make a successful defence. The prospects look good as last week she won the Girls’ U-13 title, jointly with Anna Wang’s sister, Maria.

See below the presentation by Peter Purland.
 

British Championship – Torquay – Rd. 7

Monday, 3 August 2009

2nd Monday – Round 7

Review of Rd. 7:
Jones and Howell are joint leaders going into Rd. 7, but they’ve already played each other and can’t repeat that. Howell was drawn against Wells and a time scramble was forecast both in the daily bulletin and on the main website. How right that proved to be. As the first time control approached there was a flurry of moves in front of crowds of onlookers, before they retired toa quite corner of the room to reconstruct the correct sequence of moves, only to discover that Wells had not made the required number of moves and so had lost on time – a vital point for Howell to guarantee him at least a share of 1st place going into Rd. 8.
Jones kept pace with a win over Trent, giving the two winners joint leadership on 6/7. Simon Williams won to become clear 3rd on 5.5. Needing and getting wins to keep in touch with these top 3 were Conquest, Palliser, Eggleston, Gormally, Rendle and Paul Littlewood, all now on 5/7. The leading pack is thus reduced to 8, but it looks like Simon Williams is the one on a hot streak at the moment. Can he keep it up?

Regular visitors No. 2:
Another of the more regular visitors to this event over the years is John Calvert of Bilborough, Nottingham, this being his 28th visit since the 1970s.
He was born in Chandlersford, Hants, but his family moved to Nottingham where they initially lodged with a Polish family who taught the young John to play chess.
He joined the Nottingham Mechanics Institute club in 1969 and has remained with them ever since. He is a Lib Dem candidate for the City Council, thus being a political colleague of Tony Gillam, the man who has almost single-handedly published more chess books than anyone else in the country, if not the entire world.
At the British he usually enters one of the afternoon lower-rated sections, and also visits Hastings most years, and frequents the bookstall at both events.

 
                                                                                            Below: John Calvert watches John Littlewood in action.

        

British Championship – Torquay – 2nd Sunday.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Second Sunday

Rest Day: The 2nd Sunday is a rest day for the main tournaments, but there are weekenders for those who cannot get away during the week, and treat this like a typical weekend congress.

Cricket Match: Meanwhile, Andrew Martin traditionally tries to assemble a cricket team to play a match against a local team. Some years he can’t identify a team with a free space on that one day, and some years he can’t get 11 players to turn out. This year he succeeded on both fronts and will shortly be arriving at Clyst St. George, between Exeter and Exmouth, for a 40 over match. KO at 14.30.

 
 
                                                                                                              Below: 5 minutes to Kick off

Above: 1. Scorer Peter Sowray and Andrew Martin discuss their team’s prospects.
Above 2: Trefor Thynne explains his plan to son Richard; he aims to hit the middle ball of the three coming towards him and hope for the best.
 

 

 

                                                                                                        Above: The BCF Team ready for action.
                                                                                                    Front row (l-r): Isaac Stables & Tom Haxby.
                                                                                        Seated: Trefor Thynne, Alec Toll (capt.), Jim Fisher.
                              Standing: Richard Thynne; Chris Briscoe, Charlie Storey, Michael White, David Le Moir, Andrew Martin, Jack Rudd.

 

Clyst St. George is a very small village, almost a hamlet, but any lingering thoughts that their team might reflect this in playing strength were very soon dispelled. For a start, the highest score ever made in Devon League cricket was by a home batsman on this ground in 1984 when Bob Merrifield scored 255 off 143 balls, including 37 fours and 9 sixes. They have 2 teams in the Devon League and 4 junior teams, and last season was one of their best ever – so the signs were there from the outset.
 
The home team won the toss and elected to bat, and in no time at all were 145 without loss, and remarkably one of the two opening batsmen had contributed only 18 to this total. The opener, Pete Andrews, went on to make 150, and once he was out, the match reverted to a more even contest, but by that time it was slipping away. At one point, Trefor Thynne was bowling his slow spinners, and was hit for 4. Wicket keeper and team captain, Alec Toll, shouted down the wicket “Give it more flight”. Trefor duly did and the ball was whacked for 6, high, wide and handsome over the massive oak trees that surround the pitch, whereupon Trefor calls back “Is that enough flight Skipper?”
 
Shortly before the start, Alec Toll had briefed his side on the art of the “long barrier”, where the fielder goes down with hands ready, and body in line behind the ball as an additional stopper – just in case. Jim Fisher appeared to dispense with the hands bit of it and just flung his body everywhere to prevent boundaries. He must have bruises all over this morning. One super performance was David Le Moir’s two Caught and Bowled, when in both cases the ball was struck back him with great force; in full follow through, he thrust out his right hand and the ball just stuck. Neither batsman could believe it.
 
At the end of 40 overs they had reached 248 for 9, with Richard Thynne taking 4 wickets, David Le Moir 2, and Briscoe and Martin 1 each.
After a splendid tea, Martin and Toll hit back with a splendid 70 from Andrew and 37 from Alec. Trefor Thynne’s plan (see above) worked to a certain extent – after 40 minutes at the crease he was still O not out, then he hit a boundary that was met with a great cheer from the pavilion, but he was out shortly after. The chess-players eventually reached 162 all out, a respectable score in most circumstances but not enough on this occasion. The home team had entered into the spirit of the occasion and manoeuvred their team according to the situation at each point in the game, so that it never got too one-sided. Everyone involved felt it had been a really enjoyable match played in a truly sporting spirit. One of the better ones of recent years.

 

Review of Round 6: After about 5 rounds, as in any Swiss tournament, players of roughly level abilities have formed themselves into little groups down the order, and will tend to play in small mini-leagues. Draws then become more common than in the early rounds and a win is that much more valuable, especially at the top. Indeed, the top 3 games on Saturday ended in a draw, but Simon Williams swept aside Gary Lane’s defences with his strong long black diagonal occupied by his Queen and bishop, to come within half a point of the 2 leaders and top seeds, Howell and Jones. Similarly, Lawrence Trent bounced back from his loss to Howell in the previous round with a win against Graeme Buckley, keeping him in the mix. Joint winners last year, Arkell and Conquest also won to keep their scores at least respectable.
The Game of the Round was by Chris Briscoe for his win with Black against Cornishman Andrew Greet. Jack Rudd got back to something like his usual form with a a win against Sarah Hegarty in a game between a former West of England Champion and WECU Ladies Champion.
The draw for Rd. 7 found 17 players on between 5 and 4 points (inclusive), and it is difficult to see anyone from outside this group overtaking all of them.
  
 
Sibling Rivalry: The last pair of brothers to both play in the British before this year’s Jones boys, were the Eggleston brothers.
David Howell is the youngest favourite to win since who?
Re. John Littlewood’s probable record of 50 years between 1st and most recent appeances in the British is still standing, as I have checked out that A. R. B. Thomas’s record was 46 years (1926 – 1972). Still researching E. G. Sergeant.

 

 

British Championship – Torquay – Day 6

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Day 6

Approaching halfway: Round 6 is the half way stage of the Championship – 5 down and 5 to go next week. By the end of today we should be left with a small group of players who stand a real chance, provided they have what it takes to withstand the pressures as the finishing line approaches.

Round 5 Review: In the top game, Howell won a finely balanced R+P endgame in which both players had passed pawns, but Howell’s rook was the better positioned, being able to both block off the Black King, while keeping an eye on any advancing black pawns.

                                                                                                          Above: Start of the game Howell v Trent.

No. 2 seed, Gawain Jones also won by beating GM Aaron Summerscale, thus staying level with Howell in the joint lead on 4.5/5. Just a half point behind are the following:- Gordon who beat Palliser; Wells who beat Rendle; Gormally who beat Cumbers, and Hebden who beat Story. Familiar names rising to the top, while missing from the group are the defending joint English Champions, Conquest and Arkell, who slipped further behind, drawing against much lower-rated opponents.

Lower down the field, Jack Rudd, the only person to win a title at Liverpool last year, ended his miserable start with a typical short, bright win against Jan Muller. To be fair, Jack’s been unwell this week, and is, in addition, working hard on producing the daily bulletin – he may be over-doing things somewhat. Not something one would ever expect to be said about him – one of chess’s best multi-taskers.

Also in the nether regions, was the encounter between 78 year old John Littlewood and 15 year old Sheila Dines – a case of “Bright Young Thing meets Grand Old Man”, if ever there was one. In the event, John tried several tricks and traps, but Sheila carefully tip-toed through the minefield and emerged the winner. During analysis afterwards in the rest area, John was fulsome in praise for her play, saying it was worthy of consideration for Game of the Day. Andrew Martin did consider it but thought Gawain Jones’s game slightly better.
                                                                                                                   Above: That’s John on the left.

John Littlewood: At 78 John Littlewood is certainly the oldest player in this Championship, if not ever. He was born in Sheffield in May 1931, the 3rd of 11 children. His brother Norman was the 5th child. John graduated in Modern Languages from Sheffield University and then did his National Service before becoming a language teacher in Skegness. He was living there when he first played in the British in York, 1959, exactly 50 years ago. He didn’t win the title that year, (he came 4th= level with Aitken, Barden and Clarke) but had a 2 year old baby at home, Paul, who was to win it at Morecombe in 1981. He eventually went on to have 7 children altogether, all of whom went to university.

The next year John played in the British was in 1962 when he came 3rd behind Penrose and Clarke. In 1963, his younger brother Norman joined him and came 2nd, when a win instead of a draw against Owen Hindle in the last round would have forced a play-off against Penrose. John was just a point behind on 7/11 – 4th again.

The nearest he came to winning was the year he played Frank Parr in the last round needing a win to be sure of the title, but it was not to be.

However, the span of half a century between 1st and latest appearances is almost certainly the greatest in the history of this event. Who could have bettered that? Possible candidates are E. G. Sergeant and A. R. B. Thomas, but more research needs to be done.

Keyboard Chaos: Dave Clayton’s job here is to set up and monitor the system that brings you the live games, a job he’s done extremely well in the past, often in trying circumstances, when the electronic boards get a bit temperamental. This weekend he’s been called back to the North West on family business, and it seems that no sooner had he left the building to catch the train, than the boards and associated laptops decided this was their chance to go haywire. At about 16.15, the website showed the Gormally-Howell game, for example, as having been drawn after 70 (repeat seventy) moves, 40 of which were played with just a solitary bishop each and a small scattering of pawns. In reality only 13 moves had been played. In the control room, laptops were overheating and having to be raised up off the table surface to allow cooling air to flow more easily around them. I left the backroom with two knowledgeable arbiters gradually wresting back control of the technology.