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02 Dec

The Master Gone

We are currently in a true golden age for live coverage of major chess tournaments from around the world, and soon we’ll all be tuning-in online to follow the exploits of Magnus Carlsen et al at the upcoming 7th London Chess Classic (LCC), the third and final leg of the Grand Chess Tour. And due to the world champion’s popularity in his homeland, the tournament will also be broadcast with live commentary each day on Norwegian state television.

FM8

It wasn’t all that long ago that chess on television would have been scoffed at - and it was with sadness last month I learned of the death at the age of 79 of Jeremy James, many of you may not know of, but this leading member of the BBC TV’s long-running and much-vaunted documentary and current affairs series Man Alive, turned out to be a pioneer for chess on television.

A passionate interest in chess led to James taking on the presenter’s role for the world’s first televised chess tournament, The Master Game, the innovative BBC programme that broke new ground by being the first to bring the game to life for millions of global viewers, and which ran from 1975-1983 - and this very simple yet instructive TV chess format offered a fascinating glimpse into the inner thoughts of top players during a game.

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It started with Leonard Barden as his expert sidekick, who was subsequently replaced by wit and raconteur Bill Hartston, the winner of the first two all-British finals before the series went international. And much like the early classic Doctor Whos, the first two all-British series’ were lost due to a cost-cutting measure with the original tapes being erased and re-used for other, ‘more important’ BBC programmes.

But thankfully the Master Game international series remained intact, and that was released in 2014 for the first time on DVD and introduced a whole new generation of chess audience to the calm and collected tones of Jeremy James, with his almost catchphrase of “Let’s quickly get to the action.”

And with Jeremy James’ words in mind, let’s indeed get to the action with a new event sponsored by the LCC and the Chess in Schools and Communities (CSC) charity that kicked off earlier this week, with eight of the UK’s top players doing battle for the inaugural British Knockout Championship title. With a prize fund of £50,000 ($75,000), the field comprises five England internationalists, Jonathan Rowson, Scotland’s leading GM, the reigning British champion Jonathan Hawkins and England’s two leading juniors and GM aspirants; IMs Daniel Fernandez and Yang-Fan Zhou.

The quarter finals will take place on 1st December and the semi-finals on 2nd December at the Kensington Olympia Hilton Hotel London. The six-game final, which will run from 4-9 December, will be held at the Olympia Conference Centre alongside the other LCC events.

IM Daniel Fernandez - GM Luke McShane
1st British Championship KO, (1)
English Opening
1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.g3 Bc5 5.Bg2 d6 6.0-0 0-0 7.e3 Bb6 8.h3 This is a simple and easy system against the English Opening. Black has easy development of his pieces, and now looks to get in a timely ...d5 . 8...Be6 9.b3 h6 Stopping the irksome Ng5. 10.d4 exd4 11.exd4 Ne7 12.Na4 d5 13.Ne5 c6 14.Nxb6 axb6 15.Bb2 Nd7 16.Qc2 Re8 17.g4 f6 18.Nxd7 Qxd7 19.Rfe1 Bf7 A nice little retreat off the e-file, looking to play ...h5 and perhaps emerge again on the more active diagonal on g6 or h5. 20.a4 White is forced into this move so that he can develop his queenside rook. 20...h5! White's premature g4 thrust is now proving to be a long-term weakness. 21.gxh5 Bxh5 22.Qd3 Ng6! McShane again probes more weaknesses in the White camp, with his knight heading for the superb outpost on f4. 23.cxd5 Nf4 24.Rxe8+ Rxe8 25.dxc6 bxc6 26.Qc4+ Bf7 27.Qxc6 Qf5! White may be two pawns to the good for the moment, but one will soon be returning, and Black also has fantastic compensation with his bishop exploiting the white-square weakness swirling around his opponent's king. 28.Ba3 Nxh3+ 29.Bxh3 Qxh3 If Black's bishop ever gets on the a8-h1 diagonal, then White is doomed. 30.Bd6 Qh5! (See Diagram) Threatening ...Bd5 and now forcing a very humbling retreat for the White queen. 31.Qh1 There is no hope.  If 31.Qg2 Re4! will quickly prove decisive. 31...Qf5 32.Qc6 Rc8! With ...Bd5 to follow, the end is nigh. 33.Qg2 Bd5 34.Qg3 Qh5 35.Qh2 Qg5+ 36.Qg3 Rc1+! 37.Rxc1 Qxc1+ 38.Kh2 Qh1# 0-1

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