British Chess Federation Secondary Schools Chess Champions 2004
28th June 2004
Monmouth School has won the premier chess competition for British schools – the British Chess Federation National Schools Chess Championship for 6 boards – after a tense semi-final & final at the Moat House Hotel, Nottingham. This competition, formerly the Sunday Times and then the Times Championship, has existed continuously since 1958, and this year attracted entries from 143 schools across Britain. It is open to all schools in England, Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland. Monmouth is the first school from outside of England to win it.
This year’s competition began in the autumn of 2003 when Monmouth was placed in one of 16 zones across the country. After victories over Churchill Community School, Bristol, & Bristol Grammar, & Commonweal, Swindon, Monmouth went on to the National knock-out Stage. The first match saw a narrow victory over Millfield, who are coached by a full-time Grand Master. Monmouth were thus in the last eight. The school had made it to this stage [but no further] on three other occasions in the previous 25 years. This time Monmouth comfortably saw off the challenge of King Edward’s School, Birmingham & proceeded to the semi-final at Nottingham on the 26th June.
“The semi-final draw could not have been worse” chess teacher Kevin Thomas said today, “not only were we drawn against the huge favourites Bluecoat Oldham – who narrowly failed to win the competition in 2003 – but we also lost the toss for board colours. Although our team morale was high I was privately fearing the worst. The Oldham team includes five players who play for England, and their Board 1 is expected to become an International Master this year. Half way through the morning it did look like curtains for us: two boys drew, & two lost. We had to win the 2 remaining games: Calum Kinloch was level but had less than 5 minutes left on his clock, Jac Thomas was getting battered & seemed on the verge of resigning, but then the gods smiled on us: Jac produced a cunning knight fork to turn the tide of his game, and Calum [why does he do this to us?] won with less than a minute of his time left. Overall it was one of the most unexpected & heroic team performances that I have ever witnessed. Truly epic stuff.
After a 90 minute break the boys took their places for the Final. Again we lost the toss – this time against Haberdasher Aske’s Boys, a school who had swept all before them & also boasted several members of the England Squad. Christopher Arnold registered a quick draw – a half point towards our target of 3Ѕ. Matthew Kinloch then cleverly turned a drawn endgame into a win – sending a shiver of optimism through the team. Our captain, Douglas Spencer was toying with his opponent as a cat does a mouse – waiting to see whether he needed a draw or a win. The answer was neither, as both Jac & Joseff Thomas scored decisive wins. Douglas & Calum drew their games so in the Final we registered three wins & three draws, winning 4Ѕ – 1Ѕ.”
Each player received a trophy to keep, and the school will keep the main trophy for one year. The Final was followed by a Presentation Dinner where Douglas Spencer was surprised to learn of the tradition that the winning captain gives a speech. Douglas thanked the organisers & all those who had contributed to Monmouth’s success, including Mr.Brian Gregory, whose had championed the cause of chess at the school over a 25 year period.
The icing on the cake for Monmouth was when Jac Thomas’s game from the Final was selected for the Best Game Prize. The judge, Graham Lee, praised a pawn sacrifice which seemed to come out of nothing yet drew the enemy King into the killing fields in the middle of the board.
Kevin Thomas concluded: “Over seven rounds the boys had between them played 42 games of chess. There were only four losses, against 14 draws & 24 wins: a fantastic team effort. These are six tremendous players who have all peaked together. Being a member of the first team from Wales to win this competition will live with the boys for ever.”