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David Howell’s b6 move, as shown on the board, sacrificed his rook but opened the way to victory over Michael Adams.

Howell triumphs in Hastings online chess tournament

Hastings International Chess Congress’s first online tournament proved a triumph for top English player David Howell in an all-play-all format involving many of the country’s top players. Nick Terdre reports.

David Howell, one of England’s elite grandmasters (GM), came up trumps in the Caplin Hastings Online All-Play-All, the first online tournament held by Hastings International Chess Congress in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. The prize fund was £7,000.

With 11 rounds of rapid play chess squeezed into the two weekend afternoons, Howell was in the lead after Saturday’s six games and pressed home his advantage with five straight wins on Sunday. These included victories with white over GMs Michael Adams and Luke McShane, both currently ranked higher than Howell’s 2624 rating.

The turning point came when Adams, currently England’s top player, lost to GM Danny Gormally the round before meeting Howell, congress director Mark Bryant told HOT.

Howell builds a winning position against Luke McShane, the eventual runner-up.

Howell, Sussex-born and bred and a previous winner of Hastings Masters, finished on 9 points, comfortably ahead of McShane on 7.5 and Adams on 7. Talking to commentators GM Simon Williams and Women’s GM Jovanka Houska, he admitted he got lucky at times – Gormally “had me by the throat” at one point. It was nice to play without the pressure of normal over-the-board chess, or at least in a different way, he said.

His win represented quite a turnaround from last year’s over-the-board Masters when he started as top seed but finished among the also-rans after a poor start.

Howell received a prize of £1,200, McShane in second place £800 and Adams in third £650. All players but the last placed received a share of the £7,000 prize pot.

Leading players

The event pitted 12 of England’s leading players, 10 of them grandmasters and many familiar faces at the Horntye Sports Centre where the Masters is normally held, against each other in a format with tight time restrictions – 15 minutes plus 10 seconds per move for each player. The event was live-streamed throughout.

Special measures are required to safeguard against cheating in online chess – players are on camera and on microphone the whole time, and software is used to identify unusual patterns or unusually clever moves, Bryant said.

Viewing figures on the live-streaming service reached in excess of 800 at peak on both Saturday and Sunday, though others will have accompanied the competition on other online chess platforms, according to Bryant.

Though Hastings’ first international chess tournament took place in 1895, this year would have marked “something of a special event – the 100th anniversary of the Congress in its usual format,” the organiser said. “It was a hard decision to decide what to put in its place but it seems that the event at the weekend was exceptionally well received by participants and viewers alike.”

They also thanked Caplin Systems for their sponsorship of the event, along with its CEO and chess enthusiast John Ashworth who was present at the results announcement.

Buoyed by the arrival of vaccination, Bryant is hopeful of a return to the normal over-the-board tournament at year-end. If so, this will be held at Horntye even though the site is intended for a housing development.

Also thinking of the future, Houska no doubt echoed the sentiments of all those present when she said she looked forward to meeting everyone back in Hastings and enjoying a drink in the Pig in Paradise.

Post tournament chat, with winner David Howell, middle right, and commentator Simon Williams, lower right.

Chess/film buffs please note: chess features in the movie The Glass Arena which Electric Palace cinema plans to show when it is able to reopen.

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Posted 18:40 Monday, Jan 11, 2021 In: Sport

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