On Short and on English Chess....

Apr 30, 2015, 8:13 AM |

I felt compelled to respond to a contributor on the following article.


I have put my response in my blog as I feel it noteworthy! Enjoy! (or not!)

@superdrewe53 (and others who may have been casting English chess in a negative way)

I have to contest your comments. They are ill informed and quite frankly, very wide of the mark! Whilst the internet is a fantastic place (especially for chess!) people making comments often seem to do so for effect as a throwaway, fast-food, knee jerk reation. In short, many of the comments I have read here are simply not based in fact. Allow me to attempt to throw some light on the subject and, perhaps, lift some people from their pit of ignorance!

Although many schools in England do not have chess as a curriculum subject, you may be interested to know some of what is going on in schools chess and in junior chess at both a national level and locally, where I currently live. My advice would be to take some time to research some of these pages (or all of them). You might be pleasantly surprised to find that chess is, in fact, thriving in England!

To start with: CSC (Chess in Schools) http://www.chessinschools.co.uk/

Malcolm Pein has done sterling work with fund raising and has secured significant sponsorship. The chess in schools initiative is seeing chess being bought directly to junior schools around the country. I myself have done some coaching for this organisation in the past. There is an established course and many schools have set up their own chess clubs on the back of this.

If the CSC doesn't hit your "CSC" spot (see what I did there!) then you might also consider the Delancey UK Schools Chess Challenge which is, basically, HUGE!! http://www.delanceyukschoolschesschallenge.com/ In 2006, around 74,000 kids were taking part in this (and I guess the number now is not far off that and most likely higher!).

Still not enough for you?!

Well, at county level, at least here in Northamptonshire, we have organised county tournaments courtesy of the Northamptonshire Schools Chess Association (http://www.northantsjuniorchess.org/)

In addition to this, Northamptonshire, or rather Northampton (but we have players from all around the county attending, as well as from outside of the county!) has a dedicated, self funding (yes, no help from the Government or ECF, just parents with cash and volunteers with time!) Junior Chess Club, which I am proud to have been involved with from its' inception in September 2010. You can find out more about us here: http://www.northamptonjuniorchessclub.org.uk/.

Outside of the junior scene, chess as a pastime in England is generally well supported, most towns have a chess club although it is fair to say that new blood is needed - the chess initiatives I mentioned above are relatively new!

As I see it, the issues are developing the real talent at the top end. This costs money and the ECF, whilst attempting to progress things, cannot be classed as a well oiled (or funded!) machine. Another downside is that there is, generally, not a significant income to be gained from being a chess professional in this country (as opposed to perhaps other parts of the world).

This, coupled with what is, in my opinion, our somewhat dysfunctional approach to developing talent at the top end, means that many youngsters (particularly those from less affluent backgrounds) do not have access to top class coaching or competition and are generally left to their own devices.

Indeed, I read somewhere (I believe in an interview he gave some years ago) that Nigel Short was largely on his own when developing as a top junior player. To argue that Short isn't a good player is somewhat disingenuos and outrageously wide of the mark! In his pomp, he really was a strong player. He's a bit older these days but is still holding his own against top opposition.

Yes, the result in the blitz was pretty awful for him and I agree that, on a worldwide scale, classing Short as a "legend" might be a bit strong. Perhaps we could say he is a "legend of the modern game". This seems to be more accurate and at his best he challenged for the world title (I suppose there are not too many people in the history of the game who can say they did this!) and he is (was, whatever's your poison) a "Super GM" - remember, he grew up learning chess from books... No Fritz to rely on for super accurate analysis, no chess base either, back in the day!

Moving on to the national game a the top level, here are some facts that you and others may also be interested in (as I don't think "England bashing" is appropriate!)

At the time of writing, as a country, we are ranked 10th in the world (taking the average rating of each country's top ten players)

We boast 36 GM's and 59 IM's

We have 5 players in the top 100 in the world

Considering that chess in this country is simply an amateur pastime, this is not too shoddy in my opinion! As an example, how many of our footballers would be ranked in the top 100 players in the world? The answer is not very many at all since each player would have to be in the top 10 or 12 in the world in their chosen position. I think perhaps 2 players, certainly no more than 4. Rugby and Cricket are games that are not quite as widely played around the world and even then, you might be struggling to see where our individual players actually rank. Cricket you will find plenty of stats, but I do recognise that my "article" is starting to take the form of a novella, so I am not going to blind everyone with more statistics!

I think the sad thing is the PERCEPTION of English Chess. Many contributors here have based their opinion on one match (and a blitz/rapid play at that! - though I have nothing whatsoever against this form of the game!!). The story headline could easily read:

"Knackered English Chess Player Gets Battered By Fairly Recently Retired Genius"... both players admitted that the chess wasn't the best... but come on, these were 5 minute games! I think the consensus is that Gazza could still compete at the highest level and they're right. Short still is, so why can't GK? Aside from he doesn't want to because, rightly, he went out at the top of his game. Arguably the greatest player of all time. I recall that he made mincemeat of Short both in their world championship match in 1993 (really THAT long ago?!) as well as the blitz tournament they had after that. GK simply has a better understanding of chess and is (was) generally better prepared. Short did his best, no doubt.

Lastly, I would like to say thanks to Nigel Short. Firstly because his 1993 match with Kasparov was what inspired me to join a chess club at the age of 23 and secondly for being brave enough to stick his head above the parapet. Good on you Nige!