As part of its overall programme as European Capital of Culture for 2008 this year’s “British” was hosted by the City of Liverpool, at the magnificent St George’s Hall. Grand, elegant, with ample space, good lighting, pleasant temperature etc etc and slap bang in the City Centre, the venue proved popular with participants, spectators, arbiters and even waiting parents ! If only all tournaments could be held in places like this.
The championship itself was probably more open and tightly contested than ever. With no previous winners in the field, it was quite possible the winner might have come from at least a dozen plausible GM candidates. Gawain Jones, Keith Arkell, Stuart Conquest, Mark Hebden, Bogdan Lalic, Nick Pert, Danny Gormally, Simon Williams, Stephen Gordon, Stuart Haslinger, Glenn Flear and even Welsh-born Nigel Davies must each have fancied their chances.
As it was, the competition did indeed stay very tight with a lot of draws (albeit many of them hard-fought) amongst the top boards each day and no-one stretching clear of the pack. Eventually Conquest and Arkell nudged ahead with 8/11 and Conquest then won the rapidplay playoff by 1.5-0.5 to claim the title.
Altogether 11 Welsh players took part in the various championships over the fortnight with, it must be admitted, mostly fairly modest success – but nonetheless great experience gained and a few highlights to celebrate.
After a slow start (0/2 !) I managed to remain unbeaten over the last 9 games of the Championship and claim the Roy Clues Cup for the best overall Welsh performance. In the final round I even won the tournaments “Best Swindle” award for my win over recent IM-norm winner (at the South Wales International) David Eggleston to finish on a very pleasing 6.5/11 in =16th place.
Others in the Championship section were Francis Rayner and David James who, after suffering some near misses against stronger players early on, struggled to hit top form and both finished on 4/11. Lee Davis kept battling right to the end but could manage only 4 hard-fought draws.
In the Major Open, Peter Richmond (6.5/11) looked to be among the early favourites but faded while Rudy van Kemenade (5/11) was his usual up-and-down self – always ahead on the clock and always in exciting, open positions but with the final result totally unpredictable !
On to the Juniors …. Previous British age-group champion Jac Thomas continued his recent dip in form with only 3.5/7 in the U16 Championship while Megan Owens (also a winner last year) did somewhat better with 4/7 (=6th place) in the very competitive U13 section. Alex Freeland was making his British Championship debut and managed a creditable 3/7 in the same section (after losing to Megan in the last round !).
In the Under 8’s, the Welsh charge was led by a relative newcomer to tournament chess, Thomas Payne, who scored a very decent 3/6 (=12th) followed in by David Kett one point behind.
All in all then, just a few glimpses of our true potential – lets see if we can return to trophy-winning ways at Torquay in 2009 !