It’s been an amazing few days for 34-year-old Nicholas Pert. The 2562-rated English grandmaster wasn’t in the 8-man line-up for the British Knockout Championship, but when Nigel Short was forced to make a late withdrawal he got his chance. Now, after spectacular victories over British Champion Jonathan Hawkins and Luke McShane, he’ll play a six-game final match against David Howell. Even if he loses he picks up £10,000 ($15,000), while there’s £20,000 on offer for the winner.
Stephen Moss’ recent article in the Guardian on the decline of English chess only mentioned the London Chess Classic in the final paragraph, but the super-tournament is the best thing to happen chesswise in the UK since the 1993 Kasparov-Short match. It’s been going strong for seven years, and while this year the Grand Chess Tour format limited the organisers to one local invitation for the main event – English no. 1 Michael Adams – they’ve managed to put together an 8-player British Knockout Championship. The prize fund is an impressive £50,000, with the first prize of £20,000 four times more than Jonathan Hawkins won for finishing first in the official championship this summer.
The format is a knockout, with the quarter and semifinals consisting of two classical games followed, if necessary, by two rapid games and then, finally, Armageddon. The final switches to a six-game match taking place at the same time as the main London Chess Classic and FIDE Open. You can see the results so far below (replay all the games with computer analysis here):
Let’s take a look at the action so far:
The main aim of the organisers in putting together the knockout field was clearly to invite the best players they could, but they also strove to get young talent involved. Since England doesn’t exactly have an embarrassment of riches in that regard, that meant IMs Daniel Fernandez (2479, born 1995) and Yang-Fan Zhou (2459, born 1994), the youngest players in the top 35.
39-year-old 2506-rated Grandmaster Danny Gormally (peak rating: 2573) couldn’t hide his disappointment at missing out:
I must admit from my own perspective I felt a pang of regret when watching the games from this tournament. I'm the only one who finished in the top four at the British championships who didn't get an invite. You think, 8/11, unbeaten, what more do I need to do to get that invite? Win it I suppose. It's annoying though when you think of the number of chess articles I'd have to write or hours of coaching I'll have to put in to earn that £2,500 I would have got just for losing in the first round. A lot is the answer.
Still it's a motivating tool to get my rating up even higher so people can't ignore me anymore.
So how did the youngsters do? Well, Fernandez came up against Luke McShane and drove his opponent into time trouble (arguably not so hard to do with Luke…), but in the end class told. McShane was able to deliver mate on the board in the first game with Black and had an overwhelming position when Fernandez resigned on move 43 in the second.
The dangerous Yang-Fan Zhou came much closer to inflicting damage on no. 1 seed David Howell. With the black pieces he won a pawn soon after the opening and then gave up an exchange for a powerful outside passed pawn. In a wild time scramble he had a chance to pick up the full point but delayed pushing his d-pawn. Only a few moves later disaster struck, with 53…Rc4?
Howell took only two seconds to bash out 54.Kf3!, when Black has no way to prevent 55.Re4+ and winning the d4-bishop (or worse losses, as happened in the game). David was rock solid in the second game to qualify for the quarterfinals.
The England-Scotland clash between Gawain Jones and Scottish no. 1 Jonathan Rowson could have gone very differently, but Rowson, whose day job involves trying to save the planet, was a little rusty:
In the first game Gawain leapt head-first into danger,
allowing the centre to be blown open while he castled queenside. Rowson
identified the moment he could have gone for more:
Instead after 24…Nxc5?! 25.Bxg5! Black had nothing better than to force a repetition.
The second game was even more dramatic, with Rowson making the decisive blunder in time trouble on move 34, though there was a reprieve when Jones played 35…h4?? and not 35…Qxe4!:
The computer’s verdict instantly switched to 0.00 (dead equal), before just as quickly swinging to mate-in-8 after 36.gxh4??. Our human protagonist only discovered what had happened later on:
So the ratings favourites had all won, but in the remaining tie – after Nigel Short pulled out – there was no clear favourite, and that proved to be the case on the board as well. Jonathan Hawkins and Nick Pert drew two solid classical games, before British Champion Hawkins won the first rapid tiebreak with a simple double attack after pressing for almost the whole game. In the second Pert now had to win on demand with the black pieces and, to the thrill of watching spectators, he threw absolutely everything he could at his opponent. Here’s the position after 13…d3:
Hawkins cracked under pressure in a game you won’t want to miss. Pert also had Black in the Armageddon game that followed, and although Hawkins managed to get an edge he was unable to convert it into a win in time trouble, eventually allowing a knight fork that ended all resistance.
Nicholas Pert had the wind in his sails and took the same enthusiasm into the semifinal against Luke McShane the following day. In the first classical game he came close to victory but couldn’t convert two extra pawns in the presence of opposite-coloured bishops. Roles were then reversed in the second game, where McShane had the extra pawns.
In the rapid games Pert really let fly. In the first he played a Simon Williams speciality, 8…g5!?
McShane took the bait (following a Kosteniuk-Ju Wenjun game until move 14), but eventually was simply outplayed. He then needed to win at all costs in the next game, which made his opponent’s 5.d5!? something of a surprise!
When Nick sacrificed another pawn on move 50 that seemed to
be the final nail in his coffin, but then time trouble and pressure took over.
Luke squandered his advantage and in a desperate attempt to keep any outside
winning chances he let a white pawn slip through on its way to become a queen. Luke
had to resign, and Nick Pert had made it to the final.
His opponent wasn’t clear until late on Wednesday evening, although it seemed an earlier outcome was likely when David Howell won a blistering first classical game against Gawain Jones. The final move was cute – after first offering a rook “sacrifice” for a pawn with 36.Rxd6, David now offers another with 40.Rb6!
A sorry state for Black to have found himself in, though the clock situation meant there was a lot more suspense than you might have imagined from the position! The clock returned to haunt Howell in the following game. He may have been right to deny Gawain Jones the chance to whip up a kingside attack:
Here he eliminated the dark-squared bishops with 14…Bxd2!? instead of accepting the exchange sacrifice. However, the time Howell burnt on the early stages meant he was soon playing on increment, and although the position seemed harmless he missed one last trick. 69…Ra3? seemed to keep everything under control, but:
70.Ra2!, relying on 70…Rxa2 71.Bd5+, enabled Jones to win the a6-pawn. His technique was up to the task of going on to claim the full point.
Both players missed chances in the rapid games that followed, and after two draws we were down to another Armageddon encounter. David Howell picked Black, meaning he had 5 minutes to White’s 6, but only needed a draw. He never really gave Gawain a chance, and when the increment kicked in on move 60 there wasn’t even a chance of flagging to justify playing on. Gawain admitted defeat on move 65.
The players now have a rest day until on Friday they start a six-game match for £20,000. David Howell is of course a big favourite, but he might not have everything his own way. After all, Pert inflicted Howell’s only defeat of the 2015 British Championship in Coventry, after a memorable blunder. Watch live here on chess24 as Pert attempts to pull off one of the greatest late entry tournament victories since Denmark's football team won the 1992 European Championship!
And of course that's not all that starts on Friday. The London Chess Classic gets underway at 17:00 CET. You can also watch all the games in our free mobile apps:
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