- Leonard Barden
- The Guardian, Saturday 30 April 2011
England used to produce one or two teenage international masters a year in the 1970s and 1980s, the golden era when the Olympiad team advanced to world No2 behind the Soviet Union. Now Russia and India lead in junior chess while, since David Howell became a grandmaster in 2007, the only new English GMs and IMs have been adults.
Yang-Fan Zhou, 16, broke the drought last week when he scored his final IM norm at Coulsdon. It followed Zhou’s eye-catching 9/9 at Brighton in February and the International Chess Federation (Fide) should formally award him his IM title in a few weeks’ time. The sixth-former from Whitgift School in Croydon has made an 80-point surge up the world ratings, reflecting his growing maturity and confidence, a sharper opening repertoire and a series of attacking wins.
The new IM has a chance for his first GM norm this weekend when the final rounds of 4NCL UK league matches are staged at Hinckley, Leicester. Monday’s Pride & Prejudice v Wood Green clash between two unbeaten teams will settle who wins the national team title.
Zhou’s 4NCL performance so far is around 2560, well ahead of the IM 2450 mark and close to the 2600 GM level. His key game is in tomorrow’s penultimate round when Zhou’s e2e4.org team is paired with Pride & Prejudice, for whom the England No1, Michael Adams, often plays top board.
In the 1970s a talented generation of English juniors was inspired by the advance of Tony Miles and Nigel Short. England’s current schoolboy elite is much smaller but a handful in their mid-teens plus Hendon’s fast improving Isaac Sanders,12, have the potential to follow Zhou to the high echelons of adult chess.