England No1, Michael Adams, battles for fifth British championship title
Leonard Barden
Friday 29 July 2016 14.44 EDT

Michael Adams, the England No1, is making a rare appearance in the annual British championship, which reaches its half-way mark at Bournemouth on Saturday. Games are free and live to watch online (starting at 2.30pm), with master and computer commentaries to help understanding of what is happening.

Adams, 44, has competed in only six previous title contests but his record is highly impressive. He has won four times and one of his two failures came in 1987 when, as a 15-year-old, his performance was good enough to qualify him as the youngest international master in the world at that time.

The Cornishman’s title victory percentage stands comparison with the two most prolific British winners, Henry Atkins, successful nine times in 11 attempts a century ago, and Jonathan Penrose, the record holder with 10 wins. They were amateurs. Atkins was a school headmaster and Penrose a psychology lecturer. Both played only a few international events but still achieved fame there. Atkins’s third prize at Hannover 1902 was achieved against the elite of his day, while Penrose’s defeat of Mikhail Tal at the 1960 Leipzig Olympiad was the first English win against a reigning world champion for 61 years.

Adams’s rare participation has a different rationale. He is bracketed with Nigel Short as the best English player of all time and his prolific career includes reaching world championship knock-out finals in 1997 and 2004. So his absence from the national event has sometimes been caused by clashes with, preparation for or recovery from elite events. At other times the British championship has lacked good prize money or conditions for titled players, which explains why Short has also been an infrequent participant.

Adams has proved a tough and durable elite GM, whose highest world ranking was No4, and he is still among the top 30. One reason is his calm and controlled intricate positional style. Nicknamed the spider, he spins his strategic webs much as Anatoly Karpov did in his years as world champion. There is another parallel here with Atkins, who modelled his own strategic approach on the first world champion and was known in his youth as the little Steinitz. Atkins, too, had a long career and was third in his final British championship, Blackpool 1937, at 65.

Currently the English Chess Federation is run by a new, ambitious and provenly successful management team who are not afraid to innovate. Next year’s championship at Llandudno will abandon the tradition of a century and be run over nine rounds, so as to encourage entries from those who can take only a week off work.

For the moment the fortnight at Bournemouth may well prove Adams’s hardest championship yet. His two main rivals, David Howell and Gawain Jones, are young grandmasters in their 20s with serious ambitions to become No1 in English chess. There are several other GMs in the field well capable of taking at least half a point from the favourite and the veteran Peter Wells did so in round three.

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