British Chess Championship 2018: Michael Adams Wins A Thrilling Playoff

British Chess Championship 2018: Michael Adams Wins A Thrilling PlayoffYesterday, this year’s British Chess Championship ended with a spectacular fight in a playoff. What seemed to be a close race between Michael Adams and David Howell before the last round surprisingly ended in a tiebreak match between the former and Luke McShane.

Although Michael Adams dominated the playoff, we were still close to seeing an Armageddon game. In the first two 20-Minute, 10-second increment rapid games, Michael Adams convincingly won, but Luke McShane, with a bit of luck, managed to win on demand in the second game and took the playoff to two 5+3 blitz games.

Here, Adams kept the upper hand, managed to win both games and, with that, the title. It was the 6th British Chess Championship title for Adams, who first won the event almost 30 years ago – back in 1989, aged 17.

Let’s start from scratch and take a closer look at how things went step-by-step:

Highlights Of The British Chess Championship 2018

British Chess Championship 2018: Michael Adams Wins A Thrilling Playoff
Many famous players were among the top 20 players in the 2018 British Chess Championship

The 2018 British Chess Championship took place as a 9-round Swiss tournament at Hull, a medium-sized city in England, around 150 miles north of London, from 28 July to 5 August. The top prize was £10,000, with £1,000 for the British Women’s Champion. In case of a tie for first a rapid and blitz playoff would take place.

The starting rank saw 66 players in total with an average rating of 2277 Elo. Due to rating, the four main favorites were former world No. 4, Michael Adams (2706), Britain’s youngest ever chess grandmaster, David Howell (2687), 2017’s British Chess Champion Gawain Jones (2670) and likely the world’s strongest non-professional chess player Luke McShane (2669).

In addition to the favorites, plenty of other well-known names were among the participants – the famous chess book authors GM Jonathan Hawkins (Amateur to IM), IM Richard Palliser and GM John Emms (plenty of publications for Everyman Chess), the popular chess commentator IM Lawrence Trent and GM Daniel Gormally who recently produced a fantastic chess DVD on the secrets of the middlegame for – just to name a few.

Round 2: First Favorite Stumbles

Round 1 saw no major surprises and all the favorites managed to win their games more or less convincingly. In Round 2, however, Luke McShane was the first who stumbled against the aspiring IM David Egglestone, who finally claimed his third and final grandmaster norm in the event. In Round 2, he showed why:

Egglestone, David (2397) – McShane, Luke (2669), British Chess Championship 2018 (Round 2)

We take a look at the position after White’s 34th move (34.Kf1). Objectively speaking, Black is winning here. He is a pawn up and has decent attacking chances on the kingside. However, things are not that simple as the position is a complete mess. Black would have been winning after the piece sacrifice 34…Bc5!

Still, it’s not easy to work out all the variations at the board. Instead, Luke retreated his bishop to the poor b8-square with 34…Bb8? Of course, it’s easy to criticize such a decision with the help of an engine in hindsight. However, if you look at the strong kingside attack White gets a few moves later and the poor bishop on b8 which does absolutely nothing, it might not have made a big difference sacrificing it right away to gain some time for the attack.

Round 3: Adams Escapes By The Skin Of His Teeth

Only one round later, we almost saw the next favorite losing to a player rated 200 points lower than him. Top seed Michael Adams had a tough time defending a queen endgame with a pawn down against GM Tamas Fodor.

Fodor, Tamas (2506) – Adams, Michael (2706), British Chess Championship 2018 (Round 3)

White is a pawn up in the queen endgame at hand. Most probably, Black can hold this position with precise play. Still, White has decent practical chances to play on and force Black to defend accurately.

It’s key to keep in mind that queen endgames with a pawn up are often not as one-sided as, say the same pawn structure with rooks instead of queens on the board. Due to the queen’s flexibility on an open board, the defender has some counter-chances, too. White has to be careful to not press too hard for a win by bringing his own king into danger. This is what GM Fodor probably forgot while trying to squeeze a win out of the position.

Only 3 moves later, it was White who had to resign:

Round 4: Gawain Jones Takes The Lead

While Round 4 saw an uneventful draw between Michael Adams and David Howell on the top board, GM Gawain Jones seized the moment to become the sole leader with 4/4. Jones managed to win an apparently equal queen and rook endgame against the strong grandmaster Jonathan Hawkins (2590).

Jones, Gawain (2670) – Hawkins, Jonathan (2590), British Chess Championship 2018 (Round 4)

We take a look at the game after White’s 37th move (37.Qd1). Most club players would probably agree to a draw here. However, heavy piece endgames are tricky. The player who first obtains the initiative often has excellent winning prospects.

Round 6: Michael Adams Joins Reigning Champion Gawain Jones In The Lead

In Round 6, Gawain Jones only managed a draw with White against the strong GM Tamas Fodor, who’d already had Michael Adams on the hook but let him escape. In the meantime, Adams used his chance to catch up with GM Jones after playing a nice attacking game. The game is a nice example of always considering the whole board even while attacking on one wing.

Adams, Michael (2706) – Ghasi, Ameet (2494), British Chess Championship 2018, Round 6

Round 9: “When two people quarrel, the third one rejoices.”

We’ll jump forward to the last round of the British Chess Championship 2018 in a moment, but first, let’s see what happened in the other rounds.

In Round 7, we saw the clash between the two leadersGawain Jones and Michael Adams, both on 5/6. Both players reached an equal, but imbalanced endgame around move 20. Here, Michael Adams showed strong technique and managed to outplay Jones with the Black pieces.

As Adams was the sole leader with 6/7, most chess enthusiasts thought that the tension was gone. The experienced Michael Adams, who had already played against all his other 3 main competitors at the top, would surely bring home victory.

However, things went a little differently! Surprisingly, Adams did not win the tournament comfortably, but only managed to draw his next game with White against GM Nick Pert. This gave David Howell the chance to catch up with Adams before the all-deciding final round. Both players had 6,5/8 and were followed by Gawain Jones and Luke McShane with 6 points. The last round’s pairings looked as follows:

  • Howell, David (2687) – McShane, Luke (2669)
  • Gormally, Daniel (2478) – Adams, Michael (2706)
  • Hasi, Ameet (2494) – Jones, Gawain (2670)

It seemed to be a long-distance duel between Howell and Adams and it was not clear who had the better cards. David Howell had the White pieces but he had to face Luke McShane, one of the favorites due to rating. Adams, in contrast, played against Daniel Gormally, and had to play with the Black pieces.

Adams, although having had a clear rating advantage on GM Daniel Gormally, did not manage to convert his superior position and only drew his game. His rival, David Howell, definitely had a slight advantage after the opening against Luke McShane. Then, however, he lost track and came under an unpleasant attack against which he couldn’t defend:

Howell, David (2687) – McShane, Luke (2669), British Chess Championship 2018 (Round 9)

We take a look at the game after White’s 32nd move (32.Qe4). Black’s attack looks crushing but there is only one way to win the game for Black. Luke McShane definitely deserves credit for finding this beautiful final combination:

British Chess Championship 2018: Michael Adams Wins A Thrilling Playoff
Black to move and win

Luke McShane played the stunning queen sacrifice 32…Qg3+! and David Howell immediately resigned. After 33.Bxg3 hxg3 34.Kg1 Rd1+ 35.Qe1 Rxe1#, it’s mate.

A Thrilling Playoff: Michael Adams vs Luke McShane 

Luke McShane‘s win in the final round allowed him to catch up with Michael Adams. For the second year in a row, he made it to a playoff for the British Championship title. The first two playoff games were 20-minute, 10-second increment rapid games. The first game saw Michael Adams playing a beautiful positional game in which he improved his position little by little. Already in huge time trouble, Luke McShane blundered and then lost quickly.

Adams, Michael (2706) – McShane, Luke (2669), British Chess Championship 2018 (Playoff: Game 1)

McShane, Luke (2669) – Adams, Michael (2706), British Chess Championship 2018 (Playoff: Game 2)

Now, Luke McShane had to win in order to take the playoff to blitz games. However, things weren’t working out as they should for him. Michael Adams played confidently and managed to completely outplay his opponent. Suddenly, however, victory changed camp:

Although it seemed that this was a huge psychological setback for the top seed, Michael Adams kept calm and continued his dominant performance. He convincingly won both blitz games against his rival and took the title.

Congratulations to Michael Adams on winning his 6th British Chess Championship after a breathtaking playoff.

Jovanka Houska won the women’s title with a score of 5/9. Her performance at the British Championships is impressive: in the last 11 years, she has won the women’s title 8 times.

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