Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Real British Championship?

Once upon a time, way back at the beginning of the 90s in fact, I played in a weekend tournament in Swansea. It was a pretty unremarkable affair but for two things: the presence of David Bronstein (he mentions it in his List of Results at the end of Sorcerer's Apprentice, I just looked it up and apparently he scored 4/5 finishing just behind GMs Hebden and Ward) and the name.

Bronstein describes it as an "International Tournament". That's pushing things a bit but I suppose technically his presence alone makes it true. The organisers, however, really went for broke and declared their event to be The British Isles Open. I suspect it was the desire to attract sponsorship (at which they'd been pretty successful if memory serves) rather than delusions of grandeur that was the motivation behind their decision. Either way in reality a provincial weekend five round swiss remains exactly that whatever you choose to call it - a point, I'm quite sure, that was not lost on a single one of the participants.

I'm taking this stroll down memory lane because the start of the sixth Staunton Memorial at Simpsons in the Strand this afternoon has me wondering whether the event going into its penultimate round in Liverpool today is anything other than a two week tournament with a poncey name.

Certainly nobody will claim whoever it is that ends up crowned as 'champion' is the best player in the country this year or even the strongest player active this week. The Staunton Memorial alone has snaffled four leading English GMs who would have expected to have done well in the Championship had they chosen to play there. Mickey Adams and Nigel Short share a ratings superiority over the leading competitors in Liverpool that runs into 100s of elo points while Peter Wells and Jon Speelman, ranked in the bottom third of those playing in London, would have been seeded fifth and sixth respectively had they preferred to head North.

Last year (see the comments box here) EJH noted the clash between the Staunton Memorial and the British Championship and implicitly, it seeemed to me at least, raised the question of whether this was deliberate. True or not the juxtaposition of the two events does rather underline the fact that the tournament to determine the official champion of our country is simply not an attractive proposition for the leading players. I know this is not an original observation and I know, as I mentioned in last year's comments box, that this problem is not unique to chess, but still I think it's a great shame.

Turning things around is no doubt not an easy matter but I'd start by working towards making the championship a twelve participant all-play-all. In the meantime I'd stop calling the winner 'British Champion'. It might not be as pretty but 'Strongest-amongst-those-who-bothered-their-arses-to-turn-up' would at least be more honest.


PS:
Not that winning the whole thing is the only reason to enter a tournament. Congratulations to Jack Rudd who, EJH tells me, achieved an IM norm with his victory over Yang Fan Zhou yesterday. I wonder if he'll go on to match the exploits of my other hero of the week Phillippe Petit. Perhaps a tight-rope walk between the two towers of the Royal Liver Building is in order Jack?

24 comments:

ejh said...

It should be said that chess is not the only sport whose national champion is rarely the strongest competitor in the country: boxing also comes to mind. Is there a national tennis chmpion?

Befoe the start of round nine there was a document up on the Championship website listing what people needed to get to obtain their norms: but it disappeared sometime yesterday. Either that or I can't find it, which is entirely possible.

Jack Rudd said...

The round 9 norm chances were:

GM norms

Kolbus needed to win (drew)
Gordon needed to win (drew)

IM norms
Hawkins needed to turn up (lost)
Rudd needed to win (won)
Hanley needed to win (drew)

Gordon and Hanley can get norms with wins today.

Tom Chivers said...

Heh Jack. Congratulations!!

ejh said...

Really exciting, with five players sharing the lead and another handful a half-point behind.

My guess is that eight points will get whoever gets it into a play-off. Which in some ways illustrates the problem about playing to win, because assuming the leaders make the same calculation, they'll be aware that anybody (of the top five) who wins both their games will probably win the Championsip, but at the same time, anybody who loses today is out. I'd imagine nobody wants to throw away their chance before they have to.

ejh said...

(More than a handful, I suppose, seeing as there's seven players on six.)

ejh said...

Oh, am I right in thinking that none of the top twelve have won it before?

Jack Rudd said...

None of this year's competitors have won it before.

Gordon, Conquest, Haslinger, Williams, Lalic and Arkell have all been runners-up, though. (Possibly some others, I haven't checked.)

Tom Chivers said...

The Staunton Memorial could never be a British Championship, because it's invite-only. Whomever wins it can't claim to have "Beaten Britain" because it's impossible for Britain to qualify. This has nothing to do with whether it's all-play-all or otherwise.

For this reason - because of the absence of Zonals, Interzonals and Candidate matches - the World Championship has lost a lot of its legitimacy too. (Although there are further reasons in this case of course as well.)

Anonymous said...

EJH, I believe you are right and that, in fact, none of the field have won the British before (I think this point was covered in the BCM blog).

Lots of talk, now and previously, of draws but there's been much fighting chess and many interesting games to watch...

Angus

ejh said...

Yeah, I've enjoyed it lots. Being able to see the games (and at a time which happens to be particularly to my convenience!) really makes it worth watching and I'd hope that would increase public interest in the event, and thereby potential for sponsorship.

What I've found in the past, writing of bulletin boards which are not about chess, is that there are loads of people who haven't played since they were kids but who can be induced to watch good players live on the internet. The trouble is, it's very hard to identify these people and make contact with them, precisely because they're not regular players. Hence you tend to have chess-related media talking to regular chessplayers, and nothig else. It would really help, I think, if BBC Online were to cover chess.

Talking of Arkell - I'm sure Angus and I were at Scarborough when he needed to win the last game against Gallagher to take the title but it was agreed a draw after about five moves.

I hope it doesn't go to a play-off, because I won't see the internet for a few days after tomorrow evening...

Chris Morgan said...

Isn't the reason for entering a tournament mostly about prize money? In snooker, for example, I'm sure all the top British players play in the British championship; probably because the prize money is good.

Tom Chivers said...

Btw, according to the ECF Forum Jack not only got an IM norm, but actually becomes an IM with this result.

Chris, I'm sure you're right. I don't think Adams & Short would play in an Championship apa if the prize money stayed the same as it is now. In chess there is also the issue of appearance fees - I'm sure all top players demand a considerable appearance fee. In fact some top tournaments have no prize-money, just appearance fees.

Jonathan B said...

Of course a chage to an all-play-all format alone is not going to attract the top players ... but I do think apa is more likely than a swiss to get the interest of the top names.

Prize money, you're quite right, will alsways be important.

ejh said...

I do think apa is more likely than a swiss to get the interest of the top names.

So do I, and will say so tomorrow!

Conquest's the Man Of Destiny...

ejh said...

Meanwhile, nightmares for Venkat, Andrew Ledger and Jack Rudd. While if the information on screen is correct, Hawkins turned up fifty minutes later against Eggleston, and mated him in the latter's time trouble...

Anonymous said...

Hawkins was 179 three years ago, and is improving at an alarming rate for someone who made minimal impact as a junior.

PG

Anonymous said...

Is there a national tennis champion? No, but just as well. If there was it would be an uncouth yob.

Magicmunky said...

I've enjoyed the coverage of the championships so far, but to be honest I've been much more interested in the progress of Felix Ynojosa and Jonathon Hawkins.
As for Short and Adams, I can't see what the attraction would be to play in the British champs without an appearence fee.

Anonymous said...

I think the British does have entry fees.

Complain about the British Championship if you like, but to hold up the Staunton Memorial, a tournament modelled in every way as a tournament taking part in the 18th century, as anything to aspire to is a no no. What's the point in having the country's top players playing each other if nobody can watch the games?

And i don't read the Times chess column on principal, and in protest.

richard

Anonymous said...

BTW just noticed on the Staunton website:

The Staunton society exists to perpetuate the name of Howard Staunton , Britain's only ever claimant to be world chess champion, and to promote uk chess and in particular give young british players the prospects for gm norms and titles.

Stretching the definition of "young British players" a bit this year! ...

Richard

Jonathan B said...

MagicMunky:

Re Short and Adams at the British without an appearance fee ... I'm sure you're quite right.

ejh said...

Howard Staunton , Britain's only ever claimant to be world chess champion

Heh - is he only a claimant now?

Jonathan B said...

What's the point in having the country's top players playing each other if nobody can watch the games

That's a very reasonable point Richard. Mind you it works just as well the other way around ... what's the point of being able to see the games if it's not the top bods playing them?

I'm not at all saying the Staunton Memorial is ideal, it clearly isn't. What I am saying is that the British element of the competition is much stronger than the official British Championship - which it clearly is.

Tom Chivers said...

From the Staunton Society website . . .



A Note from the Organisers

There have been some rumblings on various web and blog sites about the speed with which we are putting up information on our website www.howardstaunton.com

Those who are disgruntled should remember that we are celebrating a master from the 19th century, a champion who played by candlelight and who lived in an age before communication became instant. In accordance with tradition we are playng the 6th staunton memorial at simpsons in the strand , where the immortal game itself was created in 1851. We opened the event with champagne and a candlelit roastbeef dinner at simpsons, and our philosophy is not to be intimidated by the cries for instant gratification which are so rife?

I have seen so many modern websites where the organisers feel their duty is done simply by having a live feed to the games-no notes-no explanations no atmosphere or background. we, on the other hand, take the view that we can gain more by going for a complete experience -not just speed. Our team which includes one gm, myself, and the fritz analysis engine , as well as Dr Schiller, Julian Simpole and Steve Giddins, sits down each day after being fortified by a traditional english breakfast of bacon, sausages, eggs toast and marmalade, and then we write a careful report and analyse what we consider to be the best game of each round.

Later that afternoon the games , commentary and analysis all go up on the website,hopefully generating a much richer read for the website visitors. By this careful method we found Nigel Short's brilliant missed tactical win with Nd6 which wd not even have been mentioned by the live games system operated by most other tournament websites-we like to believe we are a thinking website-not just a reproductive one!!

Ray Keene OBE