Chess: England target first Olympiad medal this century in Chennai | Chess


England hope to medal for the first time since 1990, but will probably have to settle for around their seeded position of 10th, when the 187-nation Olympiad starts in Chennai, India, on 28 July. Long ago in the vintage years between 1984 and 1988, England won three silvers behind the Soviet kings led by Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov.

The current group is aging now, but England’s recent performances have been very respectable: fifth in the 2018 Olympiad, the last before the pandemic, and second to Russia in the 2019 world teams. At Chennai, Russia are banned and China will not compete due to Covid-19, leaving the US as strong favorites with two young Indian teams the likely challengers. Ukraine, who will be highly motivated, could surprise.

There will be huge support for the home squads. Chess is a major participation sport in India, and Chennai is its epicentre. For the first time there is an Olympiad torch relay, lit by the prime minister, Narendra Modi, handed to the former world champion Visny Anand, and touring 75 cities. India has four teenagers among the world top 11 juniors, led by Dommaraju Gukesh, 16, and including Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa, 16, who this year has twice defeated Magnus Carlsen in the online Tour.

England’s quintet of Michael Adams, Luke McShane, Gawain Jones, David Howell and Ravi Haria have an average age of 35, so could be more affected by Chennai’s hot August climate than younger rivals. Some of them have been searching for form in the German Bundesliga and the French team championship, two of Europe’s strongest leagues.

Adams is a regular for Germany’s dominant club Baden-Baden, which has won the Bundesliga every year bar one since 2006. BB has the world title candidates Fabiano Caruana and Richárd Rapport among its galaxy, and this season won all its 15 matches. McShane’s unbeaten 2022 season for Werder Bremen included this elegant win.

Next week, from 18-24 July, Adams will compete at Dortmund in the NC Masters, a double-round quadrangular. The other players are former world champions Vlad Kramnik and Vishy Anand, and German GM Daniel Fridman. In this event, castling is forbidden but all other rules are the same as in normal chess. Games will be live online daily.

Jones has had a difficult Bundesliga season as No 1 for Munich, but he had a memorable moment in the French League, where his bizarre and eye-catching opening idea defeated the highly-rated Andrey Esipenko.

Normally, only rank beginners develop their h1 rook by playing h4 and Rh3 then running the piece in front of White’s unmoved pawns, but that is precisely what occurred starting with 8 h2-h4 in a till-then routine Scotch Game. There soon followed 10 Rh3, 12 Re3, and 14 Ra3, in each case in front of a white pawn on its starting square, then much later Rb3-b7xa7, at which point Jones had a won game.

The England team for Chennai can take inspiration from the recent triple gold medal achievement by England’s over-50s and over-65s. Yet another senior success followed last week at the European 65+ individual championship where Terry Chapman and Tony Stebbings won silver and bronze with 6.5/9 and 6/9 behind Sweden’s Nils-Gustaf Renman on 7.5/9.

On Sunday it is the turn of England’s youngest hopes, performing as part of ChessFest 2022 in Trafalgar Square, London. The open to all fun occasion from 11am-6pm includes free simuls and blitz by grandmasters, a living display recreating Bobby Fischer v Boris Spassky 1972 and Deep Blue v Garry Kasparov 1997, plus free lessons for children and adults given by more than 50 chess coaches .

Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, met Kushal Jakhria (left) and Bodhana Sivanandan on Wednesday. Photograph: ChessFest

Seven-year-olds Kushal Jakhria and Bodhana Sivanandan, who won world titles in Rhodes last month, will compete in a London v New York match against Megan Paragua and Irene Fei, the world’s two highest rated girls under 10, with Fide numbers of 1922 and 1650.

The English pair have played many fewer internationally rated Fide games, but their ECF national ratings of 1873 (Kushal) and 1856 (Bodhana) indicate a realistic chance. The shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, who takes a keen interest in ChessFest and was herself a girl champion, met them on Wednesday.

Sunday’s series carries echoes of the 1976 London v New York telex match, staged for the bicentenary of US independence. That event was a pilot for Lloyds Bank chess sponsorship, which proved so successful that it continued for 18 years. Nigel Short, then 11, lived in Lancashire, but was included in the London team because both sides wanted a meeting between him and Joel Benjamin, then 12.

Short sat at the same table as Sir Stuart Milner-Barry, playing on a veterans board against Edward Lasker, then 91, whose telexed greeting at the start of the game was “a pleasure to play one of the Men of Bletchley”, a reference to his opponent’s wartime code-breaking. Later Milner-Barry remarked on how impressed he was with a ringside seat for Short’s developing attack on the US king.

It seems that Short remembers the game well, for this week he tweeted about it. In the ensuing discussion, somebody pointed out another connection between Short and Edward Lasker: two of the most famous king marches or hunts in chess history are Lasker v George Thomas in 1912 and Short v Jan Timman in 1991.

There will also be ChessFests on Sunday at Chavasse Park in Liverpool and at The Deep in Hull.

3824 1 g5! (threat 2 g6 mate) hxg5 2 Qxe6 g4+ 3 Kh4! Qf2+ 4 Kg5 wins, as Black has no reasonable queen checks. The immediate 1 Qxe6? fxg4+ is less clear.

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