It is nearly 40 years since the golden era of English chess, when the national team were three-times Olympiad silver medallists behind the legendary Soviet grandmasters, the game was featured on mainstream television and spectators queued to watch a world title match in central London, where Margaret Thatcher performed the opening ceremony.

Since then, England has languished outside the top 10 nations, but there are hopes for better days with the help of the new £500,000 government grant for elite chess. This month’s double gold for England seniors was a promising first step.

At last weekend’s European team championships in Budva, Montenegro, England were unbeaten, and tied for the lead with Germany, with two rounds left, before narrow defeats dropped them to sixth place.

Serbia won gold, Germany silver and Armenia bronze, while Norway’s world No 1 Magnus Carlsen won the individual top board gold.

The former Russian champion Nikita Vitiugov is now England’s leading player, and he scored with a fine attacking game as Black against the Netherlands. Besides being a strong grandmaster, Vitiugov is also a renowned coach, who prepared Ian Nepomniachtchi for two world title attempts.

David Howell, Michael Adams and Luke McShane also did well, but the reserve, Ravi Haria, suffered two costly defeats. Gawain Jones, who has competed rarely since the tragic death of his wife six months ago, was missed, and hopefully will be available again for the biennial world team championship and the 180-nation Budapest Olympiad in 2024.

The England team does have a problem for the future. All the top four plus Jones are consistently rated 2600-plus grandmasters, but they are all now in their thirties. The new generation in their early twenties, which is trying to match them, seems to have a rating barrier at the mid 2500s. That is too low for consistent international success.

Next weekend is the start of the 10-player 2023 London Chess Classic, in which England will be represented by Vitiugov, Adams, McShane and 14-year-old Shreyas Royal, who already has one (of three needed) GM norm.

England women finished 13th, their seeding position, at Budva. The team’s outstanding performer was Lan Yao, the 22-year-old British woman champion, who not only won the board two bronze medal with an unbeaten 5.5/8, but also achieved an international master norm at open/men’s level. Her final round win against Sweden’s Pia Cramling was impressive. 

Puzzle 2547

Lela Javakhishvili vs Pauline Guichard, Georgia vs France, European women’s teams 2023. Black to move and win. Black accurately calculated a forced winning line several moves deep to emerge a knight ahead. With this clue, can you work out the finish?

Click here for solution

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