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07 Aug

Amateur to Grandmaster

There’s an old Soviet quip that Western amateurs "play the opening like grandmasters, the middlegame like experts, and the endgame like beginners.” And indeed focusing firmly on this often neglected area of chess led to an unlikely rags to riches story for the British co-champion Jonathan Hawkins, who is currently vying again for the title this week in the 102nd British Chess Championship.

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In his youth, Hawkins, now 32, was not a leading junior showing promise, but instead just an average club player - and by his own admission, “by the time I was in my mid-teens my age-to-playing-strength ratio was distinctly average.” But undeterred, he found a way to fight his way rapidly up the rating ladder by focused study, and last year all his hard work and innovative training paid off, as he became the British co-champion - with David Howell - and soon after that, also attaining the grandmaster title.

And in his highly recommended book, Amateur to IM, the ‘Hawk’ devised a number of building blocks and identified several very important areas of study - particularly in the endgame - that reveals the sort of easy training anyone can adopt to better their game. Thankfully, this isn’t a Dvoretsky door-stopper of a book that comes with accompanying ‘whooshing’ sound effects of everything going over your head, but instead is a well thought-out, clear and concise book - and one that gives hope for all, especially as the author was a ‘slow starter’ who trod the path from amateur to grandmaster.

Going into the final round of the British Championship at the University of Warwick in Coventry, Hawkins is involved in a four-way grandmaster tie at the top on 7.5/10, alongside Howell (the other co-champion), Nick Pert and Danny Gormally. And in that all-decisive final round, Hawkins was the sole winner among the leaders beating Keith Arkell to take his first outright British title with a final tally of 8.5/11.

GM Jonathan Hawkins - GM Glenn Flear
102nd British Championship, (5)
Scotch Game
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 The famous 1824-28 correspondence match between Edinburgh and London chess clubs gave birth to the Scotch Opening/Gambit - but after being in the wilderness for almost a century at top level, it was very dramatically rehabilitated by World Champion Garry Kasparov, who used it as a stunning secret weapon to defeat Anatoly Karpov during their 1990 title match. 3...exd4 4.Nxd4 Bc5 5.Nb3 Bb6 6.Nc3 Nf6 7.Qe2 d6 8.Be3 Be6 9.0-0-0 Qe7 10.g3 0-0 11.f3 Rfd8 12.Bg5 h6 13.h4! (See Diagram) White's intentions are very clear here - he's going straight for the jugular with a mating attack; made all the easier with Black's king being bereft of defences or an escape route. 13...Bxb3 Taking the bishop is not really an option here: 13...hxg5 14.hxg5 Nd7 15.f4! Qe8 (Black has to make an escape route for his king, otherwise it will soon lead to a mating attack: 15...Bxb3?? 16.Qh5 leads to a mate-in-8, as after ...f6 there comes g6 entombing the Black king.; 15...f6 16.g6 Nce5 17.Qh5 Kf8 18.fxe5 Nxe5 19.Nd5 Bxd5 20.exd5 Ke8 21.Re1 is winning, as the Black king can't escape to the queenside because of Qf5+.) 16.Qh5 Kf8 17.Re1! Nce5 18.fxe5 Nxe5 19.Nd5 Bxd5 20.exd5 Ke7 21.Qh7! Qg8 22.Qf5! and with Black's king caught in the middle of the board, White has very serious winning threats here. 14.axb3 Nd4 15.Qg2 c6 16.f4 Ne6 17.Bc4 The attack cannot be stopped, and Black is just a bystander waiting for the inevitable here. 17...Bd4 18.Bxe6 Be3+ 19.Kb1 fxe6 20.Qh3 Again, if Black takes the bishop, then there follows hxg5 and g6 and the entombed king theme cannot be defended against. 20...Kf7 21.e5 hxg5 The alternative leaves a lot 'of air' swirling around the Black king: 21...dxe5 22.fxe5 hxg5 23.exf6 gxf6 24.g4! Bf4 25.hxg5 Rxd1+ (25...Rh8 26.Qxh8 Rxh8 27.Rxh8 quickly wins.) 26.Rxd1 fxg5 27.Qh7+ Ke8 28.Qg8+ Qf8 29.Qxe6+ Qe7 30.Qg8+ Qf8 31.Re1+ Kd7 32.Qh7+ Kc8 33.Re7 Rb8 34.Ne4 and Black can resign here. 22.exf6 Qxf6 23.Ne4 Qg6 24.Nxg5+ Kg8 25.Rhe1 1-0

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