The British Championship title was once regarded as being unique among all the national championships across the globe, with its quirk of Commonwealth players from afar as Australia, New Zealand, Canada, India and Pakistan also eligible to win the venerable British crown. This was all a throwback to a bygone era of British imperialism – but the sun has long set on empire and all that, so rightly those days are no more, with the last “overseas” winner being India’s Abhijit Kunte in 2003.
Indian champion Mir Sultan Khan (1905-1966) started the trend by being the first foreign victor, with the allegedly illiterate serf sensation winning the British title in 1929. Even a young Vishy Anand, the multi-time world champion-to-be competed in the British championship – and had the 19-year-old Indian won in Blackpool in 1988, he would have become one of the youngest winners of the title.
But we didn’t have long to wait for the accolade of youngest winner ever, as the following year, in Plymouth, England’s Michael “Mickey” Adams set what is still the unbroken age record today by capturing the title at 17. And exactly 30 years on from his first British title victory, the evergreen Adams – now a sprightly 47 – won his seventh British Championship title in Torquay at the weekend.
It wasn’t all plain sailing for Adams, who was chased all the way to the finish by the three-time champion GM David Howell, the new England No.1, just narrowly ahead of long-time No.1 Adams. Only a half-point separated the two rivals going into the final round, but Adams showed no nerves with a near-flawless, trademark win over GM Stephen Gordon to top-score with an unbeaten 7.5/9.
Adams’ latest conquest certainly spans the years, with three decades between his first and now his latest British championship win – and several online fans following the live coverage on Chess24.com questioned whether this was a record gap for a national title win? I suppose it’s an occupational hazard being a chess journalist and knowing such facts, but I was able to quickly set the record straight that it wasn’t, because I’d previously written elsewhere about this piece of meaningless trivia.
So for the record, who does hold the record? Well, for many years, the indefatigable Sammy Reshevsky, the eight-time US champion and Hall of Famer held this particular longevity record at 33-years, having won his first US championship in 1936 and his last in 1969.
Another who liked to stretch his national championship victories across the decades was IM Roddy McKay, with 42-years between his first Scottish championship win in 1971 and his last in 2013 – but the all-time record belongs to another UK player, namely FM Howard Williams, the eighteen-time Welsh champion, who won his first national championship in 1968 and his last in 2011, and a gap spanning a remarkable 43-years.
Photo: Thirty years after his first British championship victory, Mickey Adams wins his seventh title | © John Upham / British Chess Championship
GM Michael Adams – GM Stephen Gordon
106th British Ch., (9)
Sicilian Defence, Moscow Variation
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bb5+ Nd7 4.Ba4 It may look a little strange as the bishop voluntarily retreats to a4 without being required to – but either way, the bishop is going to a4 anyway. 4…Ngf6 5.0-0 a6 6.c4 e5!? Locking up the centre and stopping White busting the game open with d4. It’s also just far too dangerous to grab the hot pawn with 6…Nxe4? as White seizes a big initiative after 7.Re1 Nef6 8.d4 cxd4 9.Nxd4 e6 10.Nc3 Be7 11.Rxe6! A bolt out of the blue, but Black can’t take the rook as 11…fxe6 12.Nxe6 Qa5 (Forced, as 12…Qb6 falls down the rabbit hole of 13.Nd5 Nxd5 14.Nxg7+! Kf7 15.Qh5+ Kg8 16.Nf5 Bf8 17.Nh6+ Bxh6 18.Bxh6 N5f6 19.Qg5+ Kf7 20.Qg7+ Ke6 21.Bxd7+ Bxd7 22.Re1+ mating.) 13.Bd2 Qe5 14.Nc7+ Kf7 15.Nxa8 Nc5 16.Nb6 Bg4 17.f3 Bf5 18.Bc2 and, as the dust settles, White emerges with an extra pawn and the safer king. 7.d3 g6 8.Nc3 Bg7 9.Rb1 From what started out as a quiet opening, suddenly Adams has a little something to bite on with b4 coming and the queenside opening up to his advantage. 9…0-0 10.h3 Ne8 11.b4 cxb4 12.Rxb4 Nc5 13.Nd5! Adams has a wonderful, octopus-like dominant knight on d5 – and now Gordon has to have the crucial debate with himself about just what to do about it. 13…b5? This looks like a serious miscalculation from Gordon – but he was probably worried that if he didn’t play …b5 now, then he might never be able to, with the alternative being 13…Be6 14.Nb6 Rb8 15.Bc2 Nc7 16.Bg5! f6 17.Be3 Nb5 18.cxb5 Qxb6 19.Bb3! Bxb3 20.Rxb3 a5 21.Qc2 with Qc4+ and Rc1 coming, and a commanding position. But at least with 13…Be6 there is genuine survival chances for Black, unlike now in the game. 14.cxb5 Bd7 The last chance to try and grimly hang on was with 14…Be6 15.b6 Rb8 16.Bc6 Bxd5 17.exd5 Rxb6 18.Rxb6 Qxb6 19.Be3 but White’s bishop-pair look too strong. 15.b6! (see diagram) It’s too late now: the powerful Nd5 and the b6-pawn are just too much for any material gain Black gets. 15…Nxa4 16.Rxa4 Bxa4 17.Qxa4 f6 Gordon can’t even shift the all-powerful Nd5. If 17…Nf6 18.Bg5! and White will be trading the bishop for the Nf6 and follow-up with the “knightmare” scenario of Nd2-c4, as in the game. 18.Nd2 Rf7 19.Nc4 I would imagine Adams by now was in his element with this position. 19…Qd7 The trade of queens offers no relief whatsoever for Black – his miserable position is on the verge of being resignable. 20.Qxd7 Rxd7 21.Be3 f5 22.f3 Bf6 The alternative was also bad, with 22…f4 23.Bf2 Nf6 24.Rb1 Nxd5 25.exd5 Rb8 26.Na5 and simply no way to meet the direct threat of b7 and Ba7 winning a piece and the game. 23.Rb1 Bd8 24.Na5 Rb8 25.Nc6 The game is turning into a typical Adams power-play now with total domination, as the soon-to-be seven-time British champion all but pushes his opponent off the board. 25…Rbb7 26.Na5 Rb8 27.Nc6 Rbb7 28.a4 Kf7 29.a5 The resignation could come as a blessed relief now. 29…Nf6 30.Ndb4 1-0