Saturday, 1 August 2009

Day 6

Approaching halfway: Round 6 is the half way stage of the Championship - 5 down and 5 to go next week. By the end of today we should be left with a small group of players who stand a real chance, provided they have what it takes to withstand the pressures as the finishing line approaches.

Round 5 Review: In the top game, Howell won a finely balanced R+P endgame in which both players had passed pawns, but Howell's rook was the better positioned, being able to both block off the Black King, while keeping an eye on any advancing black pawns.

Above: Start of the game Howell v Trent.

No. 2 seed, Gawain Jones also won by beating GM Aaron Summerscale, thus staying level with Howell in the joint lead on 4.5/5. Just a half point behind are the following:- Gordon who beat Palliser; Wells who beat Rendle; Gormally who beat Cumbers, and Hebden who beat Story. Familiar names rising to the top, while missing from the group are the defending joint English Champions, Conquest and Arkell, who slipped further behind, drawing against much lower-rated opponents.

Lower down the field, Jack Rudd, the only person to win a title at Liverpool last year, ended his miserable start with a typical short, bright win against Jan Muller. To be fair, Jack's been unwell this week, and is, in addition, working hard on producing the daily bulletin - he may be over-doing things somewhat. Not something one would ever expect to be said about him - one of chess's best multi-taskers.

Also in the nether regions, was the encounter between 78 year old John Littlewood and 15 year old Sheila Dines - a case of "Bright Young Thing meets Grand Old Man", if ever there was one. In the event, John tried several tricks and traps, but Sheila carefully tip-toed through the minefield and emerged the winner. During analysis afterwards in the rest area, John was fulsome in praise for her play, saying it was worthy of consideration for Game of the Day. Andrew Martin did consider it but thought Gawain Jones's game slightly better.

Above: That's John on the left.

John Littlewood: At 78 John Littlewood is certainly the oldest player in this Championship, if not ever. He was born in Sheffield in May 1931, the 3rd of 11 children. His brother Norman was the 5th child. John graduated in Modern Languages from Sheffield University and then did his National Service before becoming a langauge teacher in Skegness. He was living there when he first played in the British in York, 1959, exactly 50 years ago. He didn't win the title that year, (he came 4th= level with Aitken, Barden and Clarke) but had a 2 year old baby at home, Paul, who was to win it at Morecombe in 1981. He eventually went on to have 7 children altogether, all of whom went to university.

The next year John played in the British was in 1962 when he came 3rd behind Penrose and Clarke. In 1963, his younger brother Norman joined him and came 2nd, when a win instead of a draw against Owen Hindle in the last round would have forced a play-off against Penrose. John was just a point behind on 7/11 - 4th again.

The nearest he came to winning was the year he played Frank Parr in the last round needing a win to be sure of the title, but it was not to be.

However, the span of half a century between 1st and latest appearances is almost certainly the greatest in the history of this event. Who could have bettered that? Possible candidates are E. G. Sergeant and A. R. B. Thomas, but more research needs to be done.

Keyboard Chaos: Dave Clayton's job here is to set up and monitor the system that brings you the live games, a job he's done extremely well in the past, often in trying circumstances, when the electronic boards get a bit temperamental. This weekend he's been called back to the North West on family business, and it seems that no sooner had he left the building to catch the train, than the boards and associated laptops decided this was their chance to go haywire. At about 16.15, the website showed the Gormally-Howell game, for example, as having been drawn after 70 (repeat seventy) moves, 40 of which were played with just a solitary bishop each and a small scattering of pawns. In reality only 13 moves had been played. In the control room, laptops were overheating and having to be raised up off the table surface to allow cooling air to flow more easily around them. I left the backroom with two knowledgeable arbiters gradually wresting back control of the technology.