Chess: Jones and Mirzoeva win English championships as teenagers impress

<span>Gawain Jones beat the top seed and favourite, Michael Adams, in a speed playoff to win his third English title.</span><span>Photograph:</span>
Gawain Jones beat the top seed and favourite, Michael Adams, in a speed playoff to win his third English title.Photograph:

Experienced grandmasters won both the Open and women’s English championships at Kenilworth last weekend, but teenage talents made significant advances and even reached the prize list in both events. Pre-teens also narrowed the gap to the established stars.

GM Gawain Jones, 36, won the open title after a speed playoff with the top seed and favourite, GM Michael Adams, 52, who had led until the final round and was also winning the tie-break until a spectacular own goal allowed checkmate in one.

Adams’s blunder came out of nothing in a queen and pawn endgame which he had been winning a few moves earlier, and seemed a visual blind spot. With his white king at e4’s retreat blocked by its own pawns, he casually captured a flank pawn and Jones replied Qg3-e5 mate.

A freak curiosity, it seems, but just a few weeks ago Adams made a very similar mega-blunder, also in a drawn queen endgame, and was checkmated in two by the former world woman champion Mariya Muzychuk.

Fatigue is the likely explanation. Adams is an eight-time British champion, a six-time English champion, and the reigning world over-50 senior champion. However, the English title contest had two games a day, and the previous afternoon he had toiled for over 100 moves before winning a marathon rook and bishop ending against 14-year-old Stanley Badacsonyi.

It was Jones’s third English title, the previous two occurring in years when the event was still incorporated in the British. The Yorkshireman, who is currently ranked England No 4 behind the former Russian Nikita Vitiugov, Adams, and David Howell, showed himself in good form for the biennial 180-nation team Olympiad in Budapest, Hungary, in September.

One of Jones’s best wins was in the second round, when he promoted a pawn to a second queen. Adams won the most impressive game of the event, a strategic masterpiece where his powerful d5 knight dominated GM Peter Wells’s bishop, and was followed by a decisive advance of White’s f pawn to f6 to open an attacking route for the white rooks.

There was a giant 12-way tie for the £750 third prize on 5/7, a point behind Jones and Adams. The dozen included Badacsonyi, of Muswell Hill, and Kenneth Hobson 15, of Oxford, as well as three GMs and five IMs. Not all were pleased. GM Danny Gormally wrote in British Chess News that it had been “depressing and disappointing” and that “English chess radically needs to improve the prize structure and engage with sponsors”.

The pre-teen talents Oleg Verbytski, 11, of Charlton, and Supratit Banerjee, 10, of Coulsdon, both made plus scores in this strong company. Verbytski drew a combative game as Black against IM Matthew Wadsworth, who is close to the GM title, despite losing a pawn early on. The 11-year-old made the best of a bad job by treating the position as a kind of Benko Gambit with queen’s side activity for his lost pawn, and when his a pawn reached a3 he had full compensation and the initiative.

Verbytski showed his inexperience at move 36 where a GM would surely play 36…h5! restraining White’s K-side pawns and giving Black an edge. As it went, Wadsworth liquidated to a drawn rook ending.

In general, many of England’s best current talents are faced with slowing improvement and setbacks as they encounter a performance ceiling. For some, the final GM norm is elusive; for others, like most of the pre-teens now, the problem is getting above the 2200 master level. This phenomenon can be a shock when a player has been used to seeing a rapid rating advance, and the response probably needs to be a combination of higher level events plus a more sophisticated approach with the help of a coach and/or online instruction.

A trio of strong players who learned their skills in Eastern Europe led the women’s championship most of the way. At the end Elmira Mirzoeva, a former Moscow women’s blitz champion, won a speed playoff from the 2023 champion and former Pole, Katarzyna Toma, with the former Ukrainian Kamila Hryshchenko a close third.

This trio are a major asset to English womens’ chess with their skills in handling complex positions, and all are strong enough to be candidates for the England women’s team at the Budapest Olympiad in September.

Behind the top three, Ruqayyah Rida, 12, of Colchester, finished fourth on tie-break and Elis Dicen, 13, of Coventry, was fifth. Both performed at well above a 2000 rating, and both have active combative styles which promise further progress. Dicen’s imaginative tactical finish is this week’s puzzle for solving.

Superbet Romania, part of the St Louis-organised Grand Chess Tour, has just begun in Bucharest. Gukesh Dommaraju, the 18-year-old world title challenger, won in the opening round against Romania’s Bogdan-Daniel Deac. Top seeded Fabiano Caruana defeated Alireza Firouzja, while the other three games were drawn.

World chess is coming to London in October. First up is the Global Chess League from 3-12 October at Friends House, Euston. The franchise-based league, backed by TechMahindra, was climaxed on its debut at Dubai last year by a one-move checkmate. Magnus Carlsen took part then, but details of this year’s teams, participating players, and spectator information are not yet available.

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The Global League will be followed on 14-18 October by the WR Cup, a 16-player elite knockout at rapid chess time rates. The field is headed by India’s former world champion Vishy Anand and the world No 4 and two-time world championship contender, Ian Nepomniachtchi, and also includes the world woman champion, Ju Wenjun, and England’s current No 1, Nikita Vitiugov. The tournament site has yet to be announced.

Chessfest, the annual family-friendly and free celebration of the game in Trafalgar Square, London, returns for 2024 on Sunday 7 July. Last year 15,000 visitors came for the opportunity to challenge a grandmaster or master at five-minute blitz chess or in a simultaneous display. Many of England’s top players and rising junior talents will be present. There will be free lessons for adult and child beginners, and a Living Chess game with actors as pieces.

Faustino Oro, 10, the Argentine prodigy, is closing in on becoming the youngest ever international master, He needs to score 6.5/9 in his current tournament in Barcelona to qualify for the IM title, and has already made a perfect start with three straight wins.

3926 1...Rxe4! 2 dxe4 Qg3! when the queen and f4 pawn combine for a mating attack or to win the h1 rook. The game ended 3 e5 Qxf3+ 4 Kg1 Qe3+ 5 Kf1 Qc1+ 6 Kg2 f3+ 7 Kh2 Qf4+ 8 Kg1 Qg3+ and White resigned due to 9 Kf1 Qg2+ 10 Ke1 Qe2 mate.