Gawain Jones, the 33-year-old England No 4, scored a career-best success last weekend when the Yorkshireman won the online European blitz championship . The €12,000 tournament, organised from Katowice in Poland, had 353 entrants from 40 countries, among them 134 grandmasters.
The time limit was fast for blitz, three minutes per player per game with a two seconds per move increment. An 11-round qualification stage reduced the field to 16, who played a knockout with best of four- game matches followed by an Armageddon where White had five minutes and Black four, with no increment and draw odds for Black.
Jones, the 2012 and 2017 British champion, qualified comfortably for the knockout stage, then eliminated GMs from Romania and Azerbaijan to reach a semi-final against the Czech No 1, David Navara, and a final against the legendary Latvian Alexei Shirov, who in his prime 20 years ago got close to the world title and was a byword for brilliant tactics.
“Well I didn’t make it easy for myself. Thought I’d blown it when I squandered a 2-0 lead against David, such elite players don’t tend to give you second chances,” Jones said. “Got my luck in the Armageddon. Then a Dragon punt and Scotch Gambit opening trap sees me over the line.”
Jones 3-2 Navara, Jones 2.5-0.5 Shirov, first prize of €2,500, plus inspired choices in the decisive games in the final – all happened as the dream unfolded. The Dragon Sicilian is a Jones speciality about which he has written two books and which has scored many successes , albeit plus the disaster of Wijk 2018 where Magnus Carlsen blundered a piece in the opening but the world champion still won.
Shirov proved too hesitant in response as his pawn attack on the king became bogged down while Black broke through on the other flank. The title-deciding Scotch Gambit trap was a sophisticated sequence where Shirov should have castled at moves 10 and 13, missing 15 Ne4! and 16 Bg5!. This was good psychology against a highly rated opponent, “heffalumps” as defined in Simon Webb’s classic Chess for Tigers, who can become uneasy when faced by Paul Morphy-style attacks in open games.
Jones has impressed more than any other English player in these lockdown months, even before last weekend. His online handle of VerdeNotte (GreenKnight) is a familiar sight among the top 20-30 finishers on the weekly chess.com blitz tournaments, limited to and with free entry for all titled players. Titled Tuesday is highly competitive, with Hikaru Nakamura the most frequent winner and the top Russians regular participants. Disappointingly, few other English GMs or IMs take the opportunity to hone their skills there.
Jones also made an ambitious bid to qualify for the richly endowed Champions Tour, where he got as far as a final qualifying match against world No 6, Levon Aronian. He will compete next in the British blitz on 30 December and the Caplin Hastings all-play-all on 9-10 January.
The $200,000 Airthings Masters starting on Saturday at 2pm on chess24.com is the second event of the Champions Tour following last month’s Skilling Open, where Wesley So defeated Carlsen in the final. This one is even stronger, with Carlsen, Nakamura, So, the new Russian champion, Ian Nepomniachtchi, and crowd favourite Daniil Dubov in the field. The one notable absentee is the rising star, 17-year-old Alireza Firouzja, who missed out at Skilling, did not receive a wildcard, and finished behind Russia’s Alexander Grischuk in a public vote among Chess24 premium members for the final place.
Airthings make indoor air quality monitors, and will publish details of each player’s air conditions. It will be interesting if these show any correlation with the score table. All-play-all qualification will be on 26-28 December, then two days each for quarter-finals, semi-finals and final. Carlsen has white against Aronian in Saturday afternoon’s opening round.
The online British championship currently in progress, with the England No 1, Michael Adams, and GM Matthew Turner joint leaders on 3/3, ends on 3 January. There is live commentary by Matthew Sadler and Natasha Regan every night from 7pm on youtube plus computer commentary on chessbomb.com.
Adams scored a smooth opening-round win, trapping White’s queen with the aid of his own queen, rook, bishop and knight. Turner won the first all-GM pairing in round three in only 24 moves. The entry is very disparate, with just a handful of serious contenders and plenty of mismatches, so that the decisive pairings are likely to be in the middle rounds rather than at the end.
Events for women and girls are becoming more popular due to the influence of The Queen’s Gambit, and the English Chess Federation has just launched a free introductory offer for new women members.
At last weekend’s European women’s club cup, Amy Hoare, the 2014 British women’s champion, scored a shock win over the 2012 world champion, Anna Ushenina. The 24-year-old from Horsham in Sussex was outplayed early on, but seized her chance when the Ukrainian miscalculated and soon had a winning position.
3703: 1 Ka2! Kc5 2 Kb1! Kb4 3 Be3! Ka5 4 Bd2 mate.
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