A word that tends to often be overused when describing sporting collapses. However there’s no doubt that something strange happened to me in the last round of the British championships at Llaundudno. Whether it was choking, or fatigue, or a combination of those two I’m not really sure.
I do think that it’s not a coinicidence that the four who got into the play off were all under 35. Ok, three of them were the top three seeds, but you get the point.
The British championships this year had a different schedule. They got rid of the old 11 rounds format, which had a rest day after round six, to replace it with a much more tightly wound nine round event with no rest day. This was designed to not only reduce costs but also to potentially attract more players than had played in some of the recent championships. To some extent this worked as there was a much bigger turn out than had been the case of late. Particularly in the British Championships in Warwick in 2015 I noticed how few players there were in the 2350-2450 category, i.e. players who could concievably fight for IM and GM norms. Now everyone was getting in the act.
The fact that you only had to take a week off work, and the juicy rating prizes that were on offer (GBP 2, 000 first prize in each category) lured plenty of hungry players to the honeypot. Which was fine, but the lack of a rest day killed me in the end. I was on the demo boards for the last six rounds in a row, all hard fought encounters, and my last two games were my worst of the whole event. I just hit the wall and ran out of energy. When it came to the crunch against Ameet Ghasi, I lacked the energy to arrest my poor emotional state:
During the British I stayed in Prestayn, which was about 40 minutes away from Llandudno by train. Steve Rush and his family were kind enough to put me up in their house. Steve used to be a snooker pro and ended up living in the area because Prestatyn was famous for world championship snooker qualifiers, and he liked the place so much he ended up staying. It was fortunate for me that he did so as the cost of staying in Llandudno was just too much. As usual I was too lazy to book say three months in advance, as anyone sensible would have done, and by the time I got around to booking the cheapest hotels were something in the region of GBP 900. Far too expensive for an impoverished chess player, as you can imagine.
It definitely helped my chess having to commute in and not have the opportunity to go boozing every night. It was like having a proper job! I recall after round three, there were a few players like Simon Williams, Nick Pert and Lawrence Trent who had disappointing results. So we all went down the pub and had a few drinks but because I had to go back, I didn’t get as seriously drunk as I would have done in the past. Later on there was some Twitter picture of a table just piled high with bottles of wine, not surprisingly some of the people there lost the next game as well.
If I had the opportunity to stay, I’m sure I would have joined them. You think it doesn’t matter when you have a 2.30 start but of course it does. Just the fact that you are hungover takes the edge off you - you just lose that 5 percent which can make the difference, and that’s not even talking about the accumulative effect of drinking day after day. One of the things I’ve noticed is that if I drink a lot over the course of a tournament then my anxiety levels will rocket. As I’m quite an anxious person in any case, that’s not good.
As it was I felt sober and clean and good and that’s when you play your best chess, when you don’t have any excuses. I won my first three games and the best one of that sequence was surely against Toma.
I was boring Steve who I was staying with, of all my talk about how I felt I was better than a rubbishy 2462 player. It was true though that I felt somewhat embittered that all the talk was now about players like McShane, Howell and Gawain Jones and I hardly get a mention. I felt like, and I feel like, there’s unfinished business with my chess. That I want to get back up there and prove that I’m a decent player again.
I don’t think for one minute that I can get to 2650 plus which is where these guys are. But I feel like the gap between me and them isn’t 200 points plus. I feel like I can get to 2550 and take it from there, but the problem is over the last few years I haven’t played enough. The fear of flying hasn’t helped. If you look at this dreadful Leonard Barden column in the Guardian for example (how this guy is allowed to still write I have no idea) he mentions the same names over and over again. Actually I have a theory that if I won the British Barden would find a way not to mention it altogether.
It probably is jealousy that I get fed up with the fact that the same names get mentioned all the time in the media and I never get a mention, but is that a bad thing? I notice that after Justin Thomas won the PGA recently, he noted that part of the motivation for his win was his jealousy over his good friend Jordan Spieth winning the open recently. That he wanted some of that as well.
So in Round 4 I was all set to face Gawain, who unlike David and Luke I have a reasonable record against, two wins and two losses with several draws. In fact this record threatened to get even better as I came very close to winning the ending:
A good result, but still a missed opportunity, as I’m sure Gawain would have put me away from that ending. It proved crucial in the end for his prospects at least, as that extra half-point got him in the playoffs. In the post mortem afterwards I sensed he wasn’t on top form, but Gawain is used to winning big tournaments these days.
I wasn’t surprised when he finished as well as he did. I mean, basically you can probably throw a cigarette paper over David, Gawain and Luke in terms of ability. Luke lost the playoff but i felt he made a pyschological error by not trying harder to win his last three games. He’s just beaten the top seed in a nice game surely then at that point you’ve gone odds on to win it? Given that he beat Howell 2-0 in the playoff as well, Luke would be forgiven for thinking “What more do I need to do to be British Champion? I’ve beaten the top seed 3-0?”.
I do think if Luke had played in the event in the last 15 years he would be a several times British champion by now. He hasn’t played since 2002. Maybe he should play it more regularly, as I’m certain he would like to be British Champion.
You what I hate? Miserable people. Those kind of people who have those kind of permanent look like a bulldog that’s just been divebombed by a swarm of wasps. I know in the past I’ve been accused of being miserable. Well, I am. But if you say the right thing to me, I’ll probably cheer up. Not with these permanent misery-guts people, who despite every effort to be polite they have an expression that is immovable as stone.
There were plenty of people who seemed fairly miserable at the British. Especially Tim Wall, who in my experience is usually one of the most upbeat of people, but the whole thing about being smashed up by these underrated juniors probably ground him down. Tim wasn’t happy about the playing conditions, the fact that you had no room on the tables to rest your elbows, and that when you got up to walk around and go to the bathroom, you’d keep bumping into people, as the walkway didn’t have enough room.
One grandmaster told me how he even shoved a spectator away to get back to his board, which seemed a little bit extreme. But the whole thing did seem poorly planned out, and a bit amateurish. I recall in round five how I drew with John Emms from a difficult position and we went to the main foyer downstairs to analyse the game, and there wasn’t any analysis boards available. I’m thinking we’re playing on one of the demonstration boards, in our national championships, and there’s no board around to look at the game afterwards? Can you imagine this happening at the US championships, for example?
When there was finally a dedicated analysis room made available, it was far too hot to sit in. I mean these all seem like minor gripes but when they all add up, they paint a picture of a rather amateurish run event. Those it take that much effort to make more boards available, or get a fan put in the analysis room? And I won’t get into what I think the awarding of the best game prize has been like over the last few years, or how long it took me to receive my rating prize, stuff like that. Anyway you get the point.
Even the usually laid back Steve Rush, my driver for the week, didn’t seem very happy. He played in two of the lesser events, in the morning and afternoon, and had to play something like eight juniors out of 10 games. he managed to lose something like eight games in a row at one point. As Steve said to me, why don’t they have separate events for juniors? Clearly the junior scene in this country is in a good state now, but that’s not good news for people who want to play in these sort of events. You going to get regularly battered by juniors, basically.
I did say to people that it was probably easier for me, once I got up to the demonstration boards, to stay away from underrated players. Once you get up high you seem to get plenty of sharks, who are going to try and destroy you, but at least they’re not underrated sharks, like you seem to get on the lower boards. Plenty of my friends like Simon Williams end up getting bogged down in epic battles with massively underated players - once that happens you have no chance of doing well. One player who could never be accused of being miserable was my opponent James Adair, who I played in round five. Came across as a lovely bloke in the post mortem, even to the extent that I wanted him to do well in his subsequent games, which as anyone who knows me can testify, is very rare (I normally want everyone to do very badly. Bah Humbug).
The British Championships at Llandudno will be long remembered by me. It was played in a great location, perfect weather almost throughout. Just a shame I messed up at the end.
The final two rounds were my worst games. I remember the train almost slipped me up in the penultimate round against Craig Hanley. It was delayed by 30 minutes and I ended up turning up about 20 minutes into the game. I was panicking because I wasn’t sure when the default time was, and I knew that if I defaulted I couldn’t win a rating prize, as you have to play every game. Already you’re on edge which makes it very difficult. It was a miracle I survived that game.
Then the torturous effort against Ghasi. I felt so good before that game, even though it was early in the morning. Maybe I was over-confident. It did though take the pressure off knowing I had pretty much guaranteed a rating prize even if I had lost. Every other time I’ve played in the last round of a British I’ve realised that a loss will get me almost nothing. And let’s face it, that’s how it should be. You should be rewarded for being right up there in your national championships, not under the guilltoine with the dreadful thought that if youlose you’ll be penniless.
Danny Gormally is a talented English Grandmaster. He lives in the bustling market town of Alnwick, somewhere near Scotland.
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