Chess: England win three world titles while Ian Nepomniachtchi nears victory

·5 min read

England’s over-50 and over-65 teams completed a historic golden double on Wednesday in the world senior championships at Acqui Terme, Italy, Both led their tournaments from start to finish, overcame some dubious positions en route, and were virtually sure of victory with a round to spare.

The seven-times British champion Michael Adams turned 50 last November, and the Cornishman played a key role by winning an apparently drawn knight ending in the decisive match against the United States, then outplaying Italy’s Alberto David in a seemingly level rook ending. More England games can be viewed in the games section of Nigel Short’s ninth and final round win against Canada is a model of how to play with rook and pawn against bishop and knight.

Adams and Short stand out as England’s two all-time best players, eclipsing the achievements of the 19th century icons Howard Staunton and Joseph Blackburne in a less competitive era. Their elite GM skills made the difference in the close struggle with the US silver medal team, composed of Soviet trained ex-Russians.

England over-65s, with seven wins, one draw, and a final-round loss to the bronze medallists, Israel, were boosted by their top boards, John Nunn and Paul Littlewood. Nunn is eminent as a chess writer, player, publisher and world problem solving champion, while Littlewood is a former British champion.

Five England players won individual golds: the top three boards in the 50+ (Adams 7/8, Short 6.5/9, and Mark Hebden 6.5/8) plus the top two in the 65+ (Nunn 6.5/8, Littlewood 6.5/9).

There was even a third English team gold. England women 50+, fielding Sheila Jackson, Ingrid Lauterbach, Natasha Regan and Petra Fink-Nunn, were awarded a world title despite being the only team in their category. Seeded 17th out of 23, they finished 13th, defeated male opponents from Norway and Poland, and were ahead of two of the four England men’s teams. Jackson was part of the England team which won silver at the Haifa Olympiad in 1976.

The outcome provided consolation after painful defeats in major finals of long ago. Nigel Short famously lost to Garry Kasparov in 1993, Michael Adams was beaten in the Fide world final in 2004, while Keith Arkell missed the 2014 World Senior title on tiebreak.

Acqui Terme proved an evocative and nostalgic occasion, one of the last hurrahs for a gifted generation. It was a reminder of the brilliant era of the 1970s and 1980s when England fielded the second strongest team on the planet, achieving silver medals in three successive Olympiads (1984, 1986, 1988) behind Soviet gold.

Ian Nepomniachtchi, already the runaway leader of the Madrid Candidates which will decide Magnus Carlsen’s next world title challenger, won again with only three rounds left on Thursday. He has an unbeaten 8/11 total, and has two Whites to come.

China’s Ding Liren is the surprise late danger. Ding arrived in Madrid only two days before the start, lost his round- one game to Nepomniachtchi due to jet-lag, and failed to win a single game for the first eight rounds. But now he has won three in a row, the latest on Thursday against Fabiano Caruana from a drawn ending, and is in clear second place.

Leading scores before Friday’s 12th round (2pm start) are Nepomniachtchi (Fide/Russia) 8/11, Ding (China) 6.5/11, Hikaru Nakamura (US) 6/11, Caruana (US) 5.5/11.

The Muscovite, 31, scored against Alireza Firouzja as the 19-year-old Frenchman launched a kamikaze g2-g4 pawn attack which only created decisive weaknesses in his own position. Earlier, Firouzja had “prepared” for the encounter by playing a 250-game match of hyper-bullet (30 seconds each for the entire game) against the New York Times columnist Daniel Naroditsky, an action greeted with disbelief by Nepomniachtchi’s rivals.

Nepomniachtchi’s strategy at Madrid has been a combative first half of the tournament, where three of his four wins were scored by direct attacks down the h file against castled kings, then to dig in for the second half by keeping it simple and being satisfied with half a point.

Related: Chess: national solving championship open for entries from Britain

The approach has worked amazingly well, aided considerably by his opponents. Ding was fatigued, while Richard Rapport, faced with a forced draw from the Russian prep, avoided it with a losing alternative. Nakamura failed to drive home his big opening advantage, while Caruana chose to draw his first game with Nepomniachtchi from a superior position then again missed chances created by his good opening prep.

Second place will be priceless if Carlsen follows through on his statement that he is unlikely to agree to a match against a player from his own generation. If that happens, Fide rules state that the top two at Madrid will play a match for the world championship.

The No 1 has mostly kept away from the Candidates. Instead, Carlsen has confirmed that next week he will travel to Las Vegas for the World Series of Poker. Earlier this year he finished 25th out of 1050 in the Norwegian Poker Championship. It seems that card and bidding skills have taken over as his offboard interest from Fantasy Premier League, where he briefly led the world in December 2019.

3822 1 Nb7! Resigns. If 1...Bxb7 2 Qxe7 pins and wins the bishop, as does 1...Rxd5 2 Qxe7 h6 3 Qe8+ and 4 Qxc8. But the real idea – kudos if you spotted it – is the queen sacrifice 1...Nxd5 2 Nxd8! Nxb4 3 Re8 mate.

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