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England win Silver in the World Open Team Championships 2019

A fantastic all-round team performance has secured England its first-ever Silver medals in the World Open Team Championship in Astana, Kazakhstan (held March 6-14). The medals are the first for England in a major team competition since they won Gold in the 1997 European Championship.

England’s score of 13/18 match points put them in second place behind Gold medallists Russia (16) but ahead of defending champions China (Bronze, with 12) and India (11).

The England team of Mickey Adams, Luke McShane, David Howell and Gawain Jones, plus reserve/analyst Jon Speelman, proved more consistent as a unit than other higher-rated teams, scoring a total of 5 match wins, 3 draws (including against Russia and India) and only one loss (to China). Luke McShane on Board 2 and David Howell on Board 3 were the highest scorers for England with 6/9 each, while top board Mickey Adams scored a valiant 3.5/9 and Gawain Jones on Board 4 scored 5.5/8.

England secured three individual board medals, with McShane winning Gold, Jones Silver and Howell Bronze.

Against Iran, an unwell Jon Speelman heroically stepped in for one game in place of an even more unwell Gawain Jones. What might have spelled trouble turned into a magnificent 3-1 victory, however as Adams, McShane and Howell all won.

The Astana result is a remarkable triumph for the England team, which qualified by virtue of a superb fifth place at the 2018 Batumi Olympiad. It was the first time England had qualified for the World Team Championship since 1997.

Especially notable from a historical perspective is the fact that Adams and Speelman were also part of the Gold-winning England team at the 1997 European Championship, and that Speelman won Bronze medals for England in the 1985 and 1989 World Team Championships.

The team was captained by ECF International Director Malcolm Pein, who said after England’s final round 3.5-0.5 victory over Sweden, “This was an amazing team performance, only made possible by invaluable support from The Scheinberg Family. All chess players in England can be justifiably proud of our national team today. We showed in Astana that although our teams do not receive the official and financial backing of many of our rivals, our resilience and team spirit are second to none. I’m looking forward to our next outing at the European Team Championships this October.”

— Tim Wall, 15th March 2019

International report 2017/18

The year, September 2017 until August 2018, has been an exceptionally good one for English International chess, with plenty of success for our leading players, as well as a number of norms and titles for our younger players.
As I write, we are ranked twelfth in the world by FIDE, based on the average rating of a country’s top-ten players, and are seeded eighth for the upcoming Olympiad in Batumi. Our top-six players can all be considered world-class: Michael Adams (FIDE rating 2712, world no.35), Matthew Sadler (2693, no.49), David Howell (2689, no.55), Gawain Jones (2677, no.65), Luke McShane (2672, no.70), and Nigel Short (2652, no.98). Yes, that’s six players in the world’s top-100! Something we have not had for some time.

Our Open team’s final placing at the European Championships in Crete was slightly disappointing but like at the Olympiad in Baku we were really close to doing very well and it was a case of fine margins. Both the Open and Women’s teams would have finished much higher, but for a disastrous final round where we managed just one draw in total from both teams! Even now it beggars belief, especially as the Open team had only lost one match up to that point.

I was concerned by the showing of our Women’s team at Crete but we have strengthened it for the Olympiad with the addition of Louise Head whose domination of the 2017 English Women’s Championship qualified her for the team and since then she has blossomed into a very strong player.

There was unprecedented success for Luke and Gawain at the European Individual where both qualified for the World Cup. Gawain also made a strong impression at his first ever elite event as he played in the Wijk aan Zee A tournament and had Magnus Carlsen on the ropes. David Howell also enjoyed tournament success and went above 2700 briefly.

Luke McShane claimed the silver medal in the European Blitz Championship in Katowice.

I am grateful to our sponsors Capital Developments Waterloo Ltd for enabling us to keep the British super-strong and this facilitated David Eggleston’s success as he earned his third and final GM norm – now he just needs the 2500 rating. Last year Daniel Fernandez had his GM title confirmed by FIDE, while at the Pula Open this summer Daniel was squeezed out on tie-break by IM Ravi Haria and in the same tournament, university students Andrew Horton and Joseph McPhillips both obtained their third and final IM norms.

I’m also delighted to report that Adam Taylor made IM norms at both Hastings and in the 4NCL, while Alan Merry continued his steady progress by making his first GM norm at the Polar Capital Open in Jersey.

Both the 4NCL itself and the 4NCL congresses provide excellent opportunities for all our players but there is still an acute shortage of FIDE rated and norm tournaments in England.  We are fortunate to have world-class Opens in Gibraltar and the Isle of Man, which nowadays almost unofficially almost compete with each other to be the world’s strongest open, but these tournaments have limited capacity and aren’t accessible to everyone.

There is finally sight of a potential pipeline of new  talent as our current crop of Under-10s is first-rate, led by Shreyas Royal, who, of course, won a silver medal at last year’s European Youth and has more recently achieved a weekend tournament performance of 200 grade.

I am delighted that the Chess Trust has funded the Accelerator programme, run so well by GM Peter Wells and this means that our top talents can finally – for the first time ever really – receive all year round mentoring.

We must not neglect them. That means putting on more international events and trying to make weekenders stronger again. I was delighted to put £500 from the international budget into Tim Wall’s Northumbria Masters, which aimed, during the February half-term, to supply both international experience and norm possibilities. I need to do a lot more in that area but it needs funding.

Bigger prizes in weekenders will not only keep more 20-something IMs in the game and help our older grandmasters, but will most importantly ensure that our bright young talents can cross swords with titled players much more often. That is absolutely one of the best ways of learning, not least from the post-mortem analysis after the game.

Switching generations, I should pay particular tribute to some fine Seniors performances of late, as over-50s chess continues to go from strength to strength. Peter Gayson won a bronze medal at the European Senior Championships in Drammen this summer, while the England over-50 team so nearly won the World Senior Championship in Radebeul. In the end it was to be a classic case of only silver, although Keith Arkell won individual gold for his performance on board 5. I should also pay mention Nigel Povah’s superb 7/8 for the over-65 side, as well as the bronze and silver individual medals won by Sheila Jackson and Petra Fink-Nunn respectively for the women’s over-60 team.

We have a strong line-up of Adams, Howell, Jones, McShane and Pert in the Open section at the Batumi Olympiad, where John Nunn will bring a wealth of experience to the role of captain. Gawain, building on his promising performance in the top group at Wijk aan Zee, and Luke have already done very well in that Black Sea resort this year, both qualifying from the super-strong European Individual Championship for the next FIDE World Cup.

With Lorin D’Costa acting as captain and coach, I’m also quietly confident that the Women’s team (Jovanka Houska, Dagne Ciuksyte, Akshaya Kalaiyalahan, Sue Maroroa and Louise Head) can outperform their seeding. The bronze medal earnt this summer by Akshaya in the European Youth Championships in Riga and Louise Head’s fabulous performance, culminating in a WIM norm at the Czech Open in Pardubice, as well as Jovanka claiming an eighth British Women’s title in Hull mean that our Women’s team should arrive in good form.

English chess is doing well, but we must continue to strive to find new investment, both to keep fielding an Olympiad team capable of a winning medal, as well as to give both our leading players and some hugely exciting young talent every chance of future success.

— Malcolm Pein, 12th September 2018

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