Places – summary
1st – Reading School
2nd – Hampton School
3rd – Millfield School; 4th – RGS Guildford; 5th – King Edward VI Chelmsford; Plate Winners – City of London School
Full match results – here [PDF]
Sixteen teams competed in the Finals of the ECF National Schools Chess Championship over two days at Uppingham School in a new format devised by Neill Cooper, the ECFs Manager for Schools Chess. This competition dates back to 1957, when it was sponsored by The Sunday Times and later by The Times. This was the first year without the age handicap system and where sixteen teams were involved in the expanded Championship Finals rather than the usual four (with an additional four in the Plate). The number of rounds was also expanded to four, rather than the customary two, using a time control of an hour on the clock plus a 10 second Fischer increment per move, rather than a quick-play finish. All the games seemed to be played in a very good spirit with no disputes which I observed.
The original field of 127 teams from 90 schools as shown on this map was reduced to 79 regional qualifiers in matches held during the autumn. Thirteen teams qualified for the Finals by winning their knock-out Regions (similar to Zones of previous years) in matches played between January and March, thereby winning a digital chess clock which was presented at the Finals. The Regions are listed here. Schools had a second chance to qualify by entering the repechage at Eton College. This repechage system proved its value with King Edward VI GS Chelmsford doing particularly well in the Finals, finishing fifth, winning three of their four matches.
The teams contained some very strong players, including three FIDE masters, Vladimir Minko of Wellington College (another repechage qualifier), Matthew Wadsworth of Reading School and Andrew Horton of Manchester Grammar School. Minko beat both of his fellow FIDE masters on his way to a maximum score on board 1, a feat also achieved by Federico Rocco, board 2 for Queen Elizabeth’s Boys’ School Barnet, Nikhil Kadambadi, board 5 for Reading School and Jake Ruse, board 6 for Hampton School. No less than 40 of the 99 players were graded over 160, eight of whom were 200 or over. Drawn matches were not allowed in the Finals (board count and if necessary bottom board elimination were used as a tie-break) which gave an advantage to schools with strong higher boards. Of the 32 matches played, board count was needed on no less than five occasions, including the exciting final round match between Reading School and Hampton School which gave Reading the title for the second time in three years. A further dozen matches finished 3.5 – 2.5 and five 4 – 2, with several going against the seeding, which underlines the point that juniors, who are often improving rapidly, should not pay undue attention to their opponent’s grades!
Reading School had to fight off severe competition to win the title. RGS Newcastle pushed them very close in round 1 but Matthew Wadsworth managed to hold on to draw against James Moreby, thereby securing a 3.5 – 2.5 Reading victory; had he lost, his team would have lost on boardcount. Reading had another scare against Wellington College in round 2 but prevailed with the same scoreline. They had a more comfortable 4.5 – 1.5 victory in Round 3 over the 2015 Champions, Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School, who had beaten them on board count in the Final. The stage was set for their Round 4 encounter with Hampton School, against whom they were evenly matched in terms of cumulative grading points. Reading went one up fairly quickly thanks to Nikhil Kadambadi’s win and retained this one point advantage when Matthew Wadsworth’s win on top board was offset by Jake Ruse’s victory for Hampton on board 6. Tension mounted when the score became locked at 2 – 2 with a win by Hampton’s Alfie Onslow. However, Reading had the advantage if it came to board count and secured their title with two draws, making the score 3 – 3.
The Plate competition, awarded to the best Round 1 loser, was won by City of London School who went on to win their next two matches and therefore had a superior sum-of-progressives score to both Manchester GS and RGS Newcastle who also won two matches but both lost in Round 3. Individual engraved plaques were awarded to City of London and also to the teams which finished in the top five positions and the remaining ten teams all received engraved medals.
Thanks are due to Winchester School for their continued sponsorship of this event, Uppingham School for their hospitality , Neill Cooper and his team of controllers for organising the qualifying matches and events in the Autumn and Spring Terms, David Welch as Chief Arbiter who also devised the pairing system, Richard Haddrell who provided up-to-date grading information, Phill Beckett and Julian Clissold who dealt with the data management and Malcolm Pein, the ECF Director of International Chess, who presented the prizes.
I would also like to pay tribute to Richard Haddrell, who has acted as Chief Conductor of the competition for the past fifteen years, taking over from Mitchell Taylor. Richard has managed the tournament with admirable efficiency but has had to step down through ill-health. We wish him well and thank him very much for all he has done for the National Schools Chess Championships.