Report 2013

David Howell – British Champion again

The 95th British Championship, which took place at the Riviera Centre in Torquay, as part of the 100th annual congress of the BCF/ECF was won in quietly emphatic style by GM David Howell. It was Howell’s second title, the first being in 2009, on the previous occasion when the British was held in Torquay. At the prizegiving ceremony, he dedicated his victory to his late father, Martin, who died just months before the event. Under the circumstances, it cannot have been easy for Howell to play at Torquay, let alone play well. The champion’s score of 9½ points gave him an impressive margin of 1½ points over his nearest rivals, Mark Hebden, Stephen Gordon and defending champion Gawain Jones. Rising star Yang-Fan Zhou continued his impressive run of results with 7½ points, making him one of six players tied in 5th place. Howell’s margin of victory meant that there was less of a close battle at the top of the table than spectators would have liked. Indeed, the champion was assured of unshared first place before the final round. Appropriately, perhaps, his “lap of honour” proved to be against his immediate predecessor, Gawain Jones, and ended in a draw after a long struggle —

David Howell (2639) – Gawain Jones (2643) [A37] British Championship, Torquay 2013 (Round 11)
1.c4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 e5 4.g3 g6 5.Bg2 Bg7 6.0–0 Nge7 7.a3 0–0 8.Rb1 a5 9.Ne1 d6 10.Nc2 Be6 11.Ne3 Rb8 12.d3 Nd4 13.Ned5 Nxd5 14.cxd5 Bd7 15.a4 b5 16.e3 b4 17.Ne4 Nf5 18.b3 Bc8 19.Nd2 Ba6 20.Qc2 Nh6 21.Bb2 f5 22.Rbe1 Ng4 23.Nc4 Qc7 24.f3 Nf6 25.e4 Nh5 26.Bh3 f4 27.Qg2 Kh8 28.Re2 Bxc4 29.dxc4 Qe7 30.Bg4 Nf6 31.Be6 Bh6 32.Kf2 Nh5 33.Bg4 Nf6 34.Be6 Nh5 35.Ke1 Bg5 36.Kd1 Ng7 37.Bg4 Rf7 38.Kc2 Kg8 39.Rh1 Kf8 40.Kb1 Qf6 41.h4 Bh6 42.Bc1 Ke7 43.h5 Bg5 44.hxg6 ½–½

Jones himself must have been disappointed in his tournament. After a win in the first round, he became bogged down in a run of draws against players he would normally expect to beat (i.e. 300-400 rating points below him). By the time he began winning again, in round 5, he had already conceded too much ground to have a realistic chance of successfully defending his title. For Jones, the British was doubling as a warm-up for the FIDE World Cup in Tromsø immediately after the championship. One side-effect of his slow start was that he was not drawn against a fellow grandmaster until his encounter with Howell in the last round – hardly the tough preparation he would have been hoping for.

Your correspondent was present for the last three rounds, by which stage the struggle for first place had been largely decided. Watching the games nevertheless proved a fascinating experience: there is nothing quite like seeing a game unfold live for conveying the reality of the first-class game. I found myself continually surprised by the ability of the top players to create pressure in positions which I in my ignorance would have given up as dead drawn. The rounds started at 2.30 p.m. each day, but Howell-watchers were well advised not to bother too much about the early stages. For a start, Howell is one of several players whose habit appears to be to arrive five or ten minutes late for the game (to the frustration of the photographers, who only had a limited period in which they were allowed to take their pictures). More seriously, David Howell is a s-l-o-w player – ideal for dramatic time scrambles a few hours into the playing session, but hard work for spectators in the early stages. The longueurs of the first couple of hours provided the perfect excuse to visit the commentary room, where Andrew Martin and Ravikumar were putting on their entertaining double act. Andrew at least had the option of switching between various different games, although even then he would occasionally express disbelief at how some players could take so long over standard opening moves.

One game which seemed to impress in the commentary room was the following nice win by Jonathan Hawkins over Charlie Storey. It featured Storey’s trademark ‘Sniper’ opening, which has been appearing with increasing frequency on the weekend circuit. Players of the white pieces might wish to study carefully how Hawkins tackled this game —

Jonathan Hawkins (2517) – Charles Storey (2214) [B06] British Championship, Torquay 2013 (Round 9)
1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 3.Nc3 c5 4.dxc5 Bxc3+ 5.bxc3 (Standard in this line. Black gives up the bishop pair and a pawn in exchange for landing White with tripled isolated pawns.) 5…Qa5 6.Qd4 Nf6 7.Qb4 Nc6 8.Qxa5 Nxa5 9.Bd3 b6 10.Ba3 Bb7 11.f3 bxc5 12.Bxc5 d6 13.Be3 (Black’s compensation is already starting to look rather nebulous.) 13…0–0 14.Ne2 Rfc8 15.Rb1 Bc6 16.0–0 e5?! (It’s hard to believe that Black can get away with this, and nothing in what follows suggests that he is anything other than lost in this position.) 17.Ba6 Rc7 18.c4 Ba4 19.c5 dxc5 20.Nc3 Bc6 (20…Bxc2?! 21.Rbc1 does not help.) 21.Rfd1 Nd7 22.Nd5 Bxd5 23.exd5 Nb6 24.d6! (Stopping this pawn is going to cost Black the exchange. It’s all over.) 24…Rd7 25.Bb5 Rc8 26.Bxd7 Nxd7 27.Rb5 Nc4 28.Kf2 Ncb6 29.a4 Nxa4 30.Rb7 Nab6 31.Rxa7 Kf8 32.Rc7 Ke8 33.Ra1 Kd8 34.Rxc8+ Nxc8 35.Ra8 Ndb6 36.Ra6 Kd7 37.Bxc5 Nc4 38.Ke2 f5 39.Kd3 N4xd6 40.Bxd6 Nxd6 41.Ra7+ Ke6 42.Rxh7 e4+ 43.fxe4 fxe4+ 44.Kd4 Kf5 45.Kd5 Ne8 46.Rf7+ Kg4 47.Rf8 1–0

Here are two examples of the new champion’s play, from the early rounds. In both cases, the opponents seem to be doing fine, but Howell plays sensibly and patiently, before ruthlessly punishing the mistakes when they come —

David Howell – Jack Rudd (2280) [A40] British Championship, Torquay 2013 (Round 2)
1.d4 e6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 exd5 4.cxd5 d6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Nf3 Bg7 7.Bf4 Ne7 8.e3 0–0 9.Be2 h6 10.h3 a6 11.a4 g5 12.Bh2 f5 13.Nd2 Ng6 14.Qc2 Ne5 15.Bxe5 Bxe5 16.Nc4 Nd7 17.a5 Qe7 18.0–0 Bg7 19.Rae1 Rb8 20.Na4 Ne5 21.f4 Nxc4 22.Bxc4 b5 23.axb6 g4 24.Nxc5 Rxb6 25.b3 gxh3 26.g3 Qc7 27.Ne6 Bxe6 28.dxe6 d5 29.e7 Qxe7 30.Bxd5+ Kh8 31.Kh2 h5 32.Qe2 h4 33.Rg1 Rd8 34.Bc4 Rbd6 35.Qf3 hxg3+ 36.Rxg3 Rd2+ 37.Kh1 R8d6 38.Qa8+ Bf8 39.Rg8+ 1–0

Chris Ward (2432) – David Howell [E32] British Championship, Torquay 2013 (Round 3)
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Qc2 0–0 5.e4 d6 6.e5 dxe5 7.dxe5 Ng4 8.a3 Bxc3+ 9.Qxc3 Nc6 10.Nf3 f6 11.exf6 Nxf6 12.Be3 e5 13.Rd1 Qe8 14.Be2 Bg4 15.h3 Bxf3 16.Bxf3 Nd4 17.Rxd4 exd4 18.Qxd4 c6 19.0–0 Qe7 20.b4 Rfd8 21.Qc5 Qxc5 22.Bxc5 Rd3 23.b5 Nd7 24.Bb4 a5 25.bxa6 Rxa6 26.c5 Rdxa3 27.Be2 R3a4 28.Bc3 Ra8 29.Rd1 Nxc5 0–1

The title of British Women’s Champion was shared between Sarah Hegarty and Akshaya Kalaiyalahan, both of whom scored 5½ points. 2012 Champion Jovanka Houska, now resident in Norway, did not defend her title, having focused on winning the Commonwealth Championship shortly before Torquay began. As always, the fortnight featured a festival of chess events, and the 1190 entries were a new record for the event and helped to make it a tremendous success. None of this happened, of course, without the dedicated efforts of Lara Barnes and her team of arbiters and special event organisers, the webmaster and the staff of the ECF office (not to forget the operator of surely the longest book stall in chess history!). To these people and everyone else who helped make Torquay 2013 such a pleasurable experience, a huge thank you!

— Andrew Farthing