England’s chess children claimed a record 14-medal haul last weekend when the island of Rhodes hosted the European Schools age group championships followed by the Fide World Rapid and World Blitz youth championships. Seven golds, one silver and six bronzes put England second in the overall medal table, one gold behind Turkey but one ahead of Ukraine.
The result owes something to Netflix’s Beth Harmon in The Queen’s Gambit, to the inspiration of Magnus Carlsen as an active and personable world champion, but also to the pandemic when schools were closed and chess websites offered unlimited free play at fast time rates. Young talents could hone their skills over several months with thousands of speed games.
Two seven-year-olds featured in this column recently were both multiple winners. Kushal Jakhria won two golds and a bronze, while Bodhana Sivanandan scored a triple gold and won all 24 games she played.
The English Chess Federation arranged for Jakhria and Sivanandan to receive daily coaching via Skype at Rhodes from former British champion GM Jonathan Hawkins whose online junior club at Lichess has over 700 members.
England’s girls won five of the seven golds, as the ECF’s campaign to attract more female participants gathers momentum. One useful contact is She Plays to Win, which offers free online coaching and support for girls from beginner level upwards. The ECF would like a sponsor for women’s chess to stimulate further progress.
Alireza Firouzja, the brilliant 18-year-old who jumped to world No 2 last autumn, is back in action this week after a mysterious five-month absence from competitive play. The former Iranian, who now represents France, is one of four GMs using the just started Superbet Classic in Bucharest as a warmup for next month’s Candidates in Madrid.
Round one at Bucharest included the pairing Fabiano Caruana v Firouzja, the two prime favorites for the Candidates. No fireworks, just a cautious 29-move draw by repetition.
Manx Liberty, the Isle of Man team sponsored by Chess.com, took a narrow lead over their main rivals Wood Green in the penultimate weekend of the 4NCL national league. It happened strangely, as Wood Green had been ahead after six rounds (of 11 ) with only weaker opponents still to play.
Then the Londoners lost to their own second team, Wood Green Youth, handing the advantage to Manx. Wood Green Youth’s decisive points were scored by women, as the England No. 1 and online commentator Jovanka Houska outplayed England’s rising GM Ravi Haria in the endgame, while Katarzyna Toma defeated GM Neil McDonald by a dynamic attack. The final 4NCL weekend is on June 25-26.
The England No 2, GM Gawain Jones, played for Munich in the German Bundesliga last Saturday, where he won based on the rare concept of turning a stodgy Scotch Game into an attacking weapon by queen’s side castling.
Jones flew back home for the Monday 4NCL match where Yorkshire’s Chessable White Rose took on the league leaders Manx, but was outgunned as the Latvian legend Alexei Shirov turned on his creative skills in an entertaining game which is well worth a look.
3814: 1 Qxb6 Nxb6 2 Rxe7 +! Kf8 (Kxe7 3 Bg5 + is similar) 3 Rd8 + Ke7 4 Bg5 mate.