As The British Land UK Chess Challenge thunders to its close, only 252 riders (66 Terafinalists and 186 Challengers) are still astride their mounts from the original cast of over 67,000 competitors. These players began the competition in over 2,000 schools and chess clubs throughout the country in the Spring of 2009. Seven and a half thousand of them then played in 40 county and area Megafinals in May, and thereafter, there were two Gigafinals, one for the North, and one for the South, in the month of July.
Before 2005, there was a National Gigafinal held every year but with the numbers of potential competitors starting to approach 2,000, venues became problematical, as well as the difficulties of running such a large event over one weekend. Now there are two Gigafinals, geographically divided to produce roughly similar numbers, although this year the “south” provided approximately 1,050 players as opposed to 850 players in the “north”. For the last three years the venue for the south has been Wellington College, which, thanks to its association with International Master Andrew Martin, and keen support from Headmaster Anthony Seldon, is vying to be the leading school for chess, alongside other establishments such as Millfield, Nottingham High, Homefield, Aughton St Michael’s, Haberdashers and Sandwich Technology College. This year Wellington College won the coveted National Schools’ title, defeating Nottingham High in the final.
This year the North received a new venue in Failsworth School in Oldham, to the north-east of Manchester. The venue proved to be a resounding success, with two large halls, ample canteen space, excellent refreshments and a long central foyer, insuring bone dry chess players and their parents despite a torrential downpour on Sunday. The organisation by the site managers was particularly thoughtful and helped the two day event to run extremely smoothly.
With up to 2,000 players competing for 250 places in the Terafinal and Challengers, parents might get a feeling of déjà vu, reminding them of the scramble for school places that currently occurs at 11 plus. Fortunately, however, all players left with a certificate of participation plus valuable experience and the knowledge that they had all excelled in reaching the third stage in the competition. In addition, there were rosettes for players scoring 3½ or 4 points out of 6, magazines (donated by Chess & Bridge) for players scoring exactly 4 points, and books for those who reached 4½ points without qualifying for the final stage.
These players will now go to Warwick School, which is 30 miles south east of Birmingham, to compete in the Terafinal over two days, 22nd and 23rd August, 2009. They will play 6 games, 3 each day, and the time limit will be 30 moves in 1 ¼ hours plus 15 minutes each to complete the game. The games will thus last up to 2½ hours in duration, more than twice as long as the time allocated in the Gigafinals. An additional 180 players qualified for the Challengers sections, which will take place at the same time, by coming second and third in their sections.
In the Terafinal and Challengers the scoring system is 3-1 (three points for a win, one point for a draw). This has the effect in the high pressure, high tension games, of reducing the number of players “bottling out”, and agreeing short or even pre-arranged draws with each other. There is also a policy of putting all ages and both boys and girls together in the same section whereas in the earlier stages of the event, these groups are segregated, numbers permitting. This has the effect of reducing the ghettoising effect caused by dividing by sex or age. Sometimes parents, particularly of the younger children, are concerned that their offspring will be scarred for life by losing all of his or her games; but children have a habit of surprising us. They all benefit from playing as wide a range of opponents as possible and many do indeed overturn the form book. Last year, an 8 year old, Matthew Wadsworth, not only won the Under 9 prize, he also managed to tie for the Under 11 prize! And he is not an isolated example.
In the Terafinal, the 66 players will be aiming for several thousand pounds of prize money. In addition, they will be targeting four top prizes:
The STRAT, £2,000 for the top player plus the Rotary Cup. This has been won by Richard Cleveland, Adam Hunt, Thomas Rendell, Lorin D’Costa (4 times!), Ben Purton, Stephen Gordon, James Hanley and Peter Poobalasingam (twice) in the 14 years of the competition (there was no Terafinal in year one).
In fact, these grades for the Terafinal are about one year out of date, but hopefully the latest grades will be published on 10th August and could be employed during the Terafinal. Meanwhile, we can notice that the grades of the top girls are about 50 points, on average, lower than those of the boys. This actually represents an improvement in the girls strength, and very likely, without the incentives provided by The British Land UK Chess Challenge the grades of the girls would be lower. Furthermore, since girls and boys do not need to be segregated in chess as occurs in many physical sports, (for example, tennis, football, cricket), we can expect further improvement in the playing strength of the girls in future years. In addition , there are three other major targets in the Terafinal.
2. The Top Girl prize of £1,000 (if the top girl wins the £2,000 top prize, the next boy on the list wins £1,000, so this is technically speaking a reciprocal prize).
3. The Top Under 11 player wins £1,000
4. The Top Under 9 player wins £300
In the Challengers sections, there will be two groups of equal strength with a top prize of £500 in each group, but, as with the Terafinal, there are also prizes for the top under 11, top girl and top under 9.