Going into the second week it looked wide open. After all I was only half a point behind the leaders on 4.5/6, with Adams and Howell and a surprise name, my golfing buddy David Eggelston, on 5/6. I soon found myself in some difficulty in my round seven game against Richard Palliser. As normal Richard was very well prepared and I had to go into some grotty ending where I’m struggling to hold with a queen against two rooks.
Then I faced Chris Ward. I had no stomach for taking on some long theoretical line in the dragon, so opted for a much quieter line against his Sicilian defence. Probably the key moment of the game occurred on move 16.
And after a fairly quiet draw with Tan, came the crucial test. Black against Adams. Normally in a British going into the last few rounds, unless you have played particularly badly, you have some sort of chance to win the tournament. There’s some sort of excitement. But not this year, as Adams pretty much shut everyone out, and turned the tournament from the competitive point of view, into pretty much a damp squib.
He had already beaten Howell and Gawain, both games with black, to reach a formidable 8/9, and Hodgson’s long held record of 10/11 was firmly in sight. Only I and one other opponent stood in his way. I was rather dismayed by the knowledge that even a win would leave me a half point adrift of Adams. Still, there was nothing else to do but go for it. I was embolded by the fact that I hadn’t lost a game in the British in almost two years, and something like twenty games. Although as Nick Pert said to me after the game, how many of those were against Adams?
In truth it was always going to be a difficult encounter. The fact is I hadn’t played any of the “big three”, Adams, Howell and Gawain before the game, and now I had to play the “big one”.
What was impressive was how determined Adams seemed during the game. As far as I could recall he didn’t shift from the board once, not even to go to the toilet. He just sat there, utterly calm. Other players may give out mixed messages as regards body language, but here the message was very clear - “I’m going to get you Gorm, even if it takes me the whole day to do so”.
Eye’s shifting over the board, looking out for any little weakness in my position. And then the post mortem, which was also very impressive. How much a player like that sees, but even more than that, what really struck me was how cooly objective Adams was. While most players, even most grandmasters, tend to let their emotions guide them both during the game and the post mortem afterwards, favouring one side or the other, Adams was only interested in the truth, continually finding hidden resources for Black that had completely eluded me during the game. I
I got the impression that if I could train with a player of this level on a regular basis I would improve immensely, unfortunately that is highly unlikely to ever happen. Adams deserved his record equalling 10/11 performance, which was perhaps even more impressive than his good friend Julian Hodgson’s getting the same score, as Julian didn’t have two 2650’s in their prime to deal with. Some were even suggesting that Adam’s performance was so impressive that it was one of the greatest tournament performances of all time, although this might be hyperbole. There’s no doubt that it was a great performance. Adams was clearly up for it, clearly wanted to demonstrate that he’s still the top dog in English chess. But if you put someone with a similar sort of rating in there in Adams place and they might well rack up a huge score as well.
In fact Adams was telling me after the event that he had only won two games all year. The resistance level of players of 2700 plus is clearly on a completely different plane to the sort of players he’s up against in the British. Giri gets a lot of stick for making a lot of draws, and whether or not you think that’s justified, put him in the British and he’s making hay against the likes of Gorm and other 2500/2400 players.
Still regardless of all that, Adams is now undefeated in 27 years in the British, has won five out of his last six British championships. That’s total domination and it’s going to take a jump from the other players, if they are going to challenge him for the number one spot in England.
At least my mission in the final round was very clear. I had to win, as a draw would win bugger all. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve scored 7.5/11 in the British. It’s my most popular score, although I’ve also got 7 many times. Last year was the only time I got 8. 7 normally wins nothing or next to nothing, while in the past 7.5 would get you 7-800. Unfortunately though in the British they have stealthily been reducing the prizes. Now there are only six prizes, in the past there have been eight prizes or more, and something like sixth prize is only GBP250.
Even my dad seemed astonished about how little these scores would win. He had been watching the commentary on chess24 where Jan Gustafsson had pointed out that in the German championship, the first prize is 70,000 euros. Puts what we earn in the British to shame.
A lucky escape for me, and I got the impression that my opponent has a bright future, as for most of the game he outplayed me, it was just the usual gorm swindle at the end. So I won 187.50, a meagre return, and was too hungover to even attend the prize giving. Apparently they are changing the rules so that in future you must attend the prize giving to claim your prize, which is fair enough, although you also wish they would boost the prizes a bit more anyway, especially when they had a record turn out this year and could have put some of this money back into the prize fund.
Danny Gormally is a talented English Grandmaster. He lives in the bustling market town of Alnwick, somewhere near Scotland.
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