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 than that:
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 imperceptibly:
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:
31…Qe3! 32.Qe4 (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 closing ceremony:
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 shots:
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:
What was 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!
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