England reveal strong Olympiad squads as seniors campaign for gold in Krakow

<span><strong>3927</strong> White mates in four moves (by Fritz Giegold, 1957). Just a single line of play with all Black’s replies forced, but you’ll do well to crack it in 10 minutes.</span><span>Photograph: Guardian</span>
3927 White mates in four moves (by Fritz Giegold, 1957). Just a single line of play with all Black’s replies forced, but you’ll do well to crack it in 10 minutes.Photograph: Guardian

England will look for at least a top-10 finish from the national Open team when the biennial 180-country chess Olympiad starts in Budapest, Hungary, in September, while the women’s squad features a debut for Bodhana Sivanandan, aged nine. In the 2022 Olympiad at Chennai, England finished 14th and 32nd. Since then the former Russian Nikita Vitiugov has transferred his allegiance, and is likely to be a formidable top board.

The Open team in rating order is: Vitiugov (2678), David Howell (2675), Michael Adams (2672), Gawain Jones (2640), Luke McShane (2617). The women’s team consists of: Jovanka Houska (2333), Lan Yao (2325), Harriet Hunt (2304), Katarzyna Toma (2241), Bodhana Sivanandan (2185).

For Sivanandan, selection for England marks another landmark record in her already stellar career. On Sunday, she will be among the top England players at the annual free ChessFest in London’s Trafalgar Square, which 15,000 people attended last year. There you can challenge a master at speed chess, take on national champions in simultaneous games, play friendly games, watch living chess on a giant board, and learn everything from the basics to checkmate in a free lesson from a qualified tutor.

Related: Nine-year-old chess prodigy to make history after being picked for England

In preparation for the Olympiad, Sivanandan will also play in the British Championship in Hull from 25 July to 4 August, which incorporates the British Women’s Championship. She will be the youngest-ever female title contender, and the second youngest ever for either championship after Ethan Pang, also nine, who has just broken the world age record for a 2200 Fide rating.

The nine-round World Senior Team Championship for over-50s and over-65s began in Krakow, Poland on Monday, with England hopeful of another strong showing, although the bar for success is high. In 2022 England made a clean sweep of three gold medals. In 2023 it was gold for the women’s over-50 team, but only silver for the Open 50+ squads (behind the US) and for the Open 65+ (behind Germany).

This year, according to the initial seedings, England’s expectation is again for one gold and two silvers, via 65+ Open gold, with silver behind the US in both 50+ categories. England’s hopes were boosted before a pawn was pushed in the Open 50+ when the US top board, Vladimir Akopian, withdrew, thus reducing the overall rating gap between the two teams from over 50 points to just 11.

The crucial over-50 match England v USA will probably take place in round five or six, that is Saturday or Sunday, starting at 2pm BST. It can be watched, free of charge and with live move-by-move computer commentary, on

There was an early success for England’s women, where the competition is incorporated within the Open event, as they beat Slovakia, the sixth seeds, 2.5-1.5. The winning point for England was scored by WGM Sheila Jackson, who made her Olympiad debut at Haifa 1974, nearly half a century ago. Jackson won through precise play in a rook and pawn ending, which has been one of her key strengths throughout her long career.

Thursday’s third round saw another vintage moment for England women, when WIM Natasha Regan defeated Lexy Ortega, an Italian grandmaster rated 371 points higher.

Last weekend the English Counties Championship final, in which Surrey beat Northumberland 10-6, was played a week early to allow several of the Surrey players to travel to the World Seniors. Fittingly the England senior manager, Nigel Povah, won one of the best games of the final, in a classic demolition of Black’s weak squares after 1 d4 c5 2 d5 e5.

Despite their final defeat, Northumberland performed outstandingly well for the third year running. For many years the county had no county championship team, but that changed thanks to the impressive work of the Newcastle columnist and FM Tim Wall. In 2022 Northumberland became county champions, while in 2023 they lost only on board count to Surrey in the semi-finals.

In general, Northern Counties Chess has surged in recent years, another key factor being the settlement of a decades-long dispute between Lancashire and Greater Manchester which resulted in the latter transferring to the Midlands, while the NCCU Open was sometimes reduced to a single Lancashire v Yorkshire match played in poor conditions. In contrast, five more northern teams will feature in this Saturday’s rating-limited finals.

The 2024 counties final will also be remembered for what occurred on Board 13, where Surrey’s Chris Briscoe, Black, opened 1 d4 h5, found himself 25 minutes up on the clock out of the opening, and left the venue for nearly an hour to go sightseeing in Newark, and was defaulted by the arbiter on his return. The English Chess Forum has a long thread on the subject, in which Briscoe defends his action amid general scepticism.

Shreyas Royal advanced to the brink of breaking David Howell’s 2007 age record and becoming England’s youngest ever grandmaster at age 15 when the Greenwich teenager, seeded 24th in a 147-player field, took second prize in the Arona GM Open at Tenerife, Spain.

Royal’s first-half 5/7 performance was middling, but his finish was high class with 2.5/3 against grandmasters, including an emphatic victory with Black against the No 1 seed, 2640-rated GM Alan Pichot, followed by an equally decisive 2-0 tie-break win against China’s Yuanhe Zhao. Another Chinese player, Xue Haowen, was first with 8/10.

Royal’s Fide rating reached 2501, a necessary component for the GM title. He still requires his third and final GM norm, but this should be imminent, perhaps at the British Championship in July-August.

On Saturday, Royal will take part in the ChessKid Youth U16 Championship, an online 3/1 blitz event on for the world’s best junior talents. The schedule gives full details of the playing times. It is a high-class field, in which several of the competitors are likely to reach the global top 20 elite in years to come.

Fide, the global chess body, has chosen Singapore over Chennai and New Delhi as the venue for the 14-game, $2.5m (£1.95m) world championship match between Ding Liren and Gukesh Dommaraju in November and December. The Indian will be favourite due to Ding’s poor form so far this year, but the Chinese title-holder seems to be gradually recovering his energy and motivation.

Meanwhile, five of the eight Candidates who competed in Toronto in April are competing at Superbet Bucharest in the first classical event of the St Louis-based Grand Chess Tour. With just Friday’s final round to go, Fabiano Caruana leads on 5/8 ahead of Gukesh, Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu and Alireza Firouzja (4.5/8), but the main feature so far is that 35 out of 40 games have been drawn.

3927 1 Bd4! g3 2 Bb6! axb6 3 Kc1! Kxc3 4 Ne2 mate.