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Surbiton win 2020 Grand Chess Final: Our first National Title!

Sometimes its better to travel in hope but with no expectations. On occasion it even works out when travelling with a hangover or three! So it was when Olli Gill gathered a Surbiton team to enter Peter Hornsby's excellent 2020 Chess tournament.

2020 Chess started out in 2015 as a 4 board rapidplay (20 minutes each, no increment) event between university teams. However the event is open to other institutions to compete in it, including chess clubs. So Olli threw our hat into the ring.

On 27th January 2018 a team comprising, in board order, James Holland, Jasper Tambini, Olli Gill (captain) and Paul Shepherd made its way over to Royal Holloway University campus to compete in a qualifying event. Your webmaster, being the kind of person who usually plays adjournments or takes adjudications rather than suffer the inevitable ignomies of a quickplay finish, was, I suspect, picked mainly to be the team's chauffeur. It is well known in chess circles that your ECF grade is boosted by at least 20 points for selection purposes if the match is away from home and you possess a car!

With all the other teams representing universities it was quickly clear that we were - ahem - the most mature side in the competition. In fairness, James is still a student and Jasper has only relatively recently graduated. Olli might just about get away with "postgraduate" in poor lighting conditions. Me? I could not decide whether I should masquerade as a lecturer or a late developer student given I was comfortably 20 years older than anyone else in the room. Anyway, five rounds later, having sat down opposite opponents from the likes of UCL, Royal Holloway and Durham, we found ourselves having won all of our matches. We were the clear winners of the qualifying competition. We all picked up board prizes. Olli's was slightly shinier than the rest of ours (4.5/5 vs 4/5)!

This is where the opening statement in this article comes into play. We had not expected to win and so we had not bothered to check when the Final was. It turned out to be the following Sunday 4th February in Birmingham. Ooops! Unfortunately that took Jasper out of the equation for the Final as he had a birthday celebration the previous day and would be entertaining friends on the Final day itself. It also put James and Olli's participation into a more precarious position as they were both going to Jasper's liquid orientated reveleries. After some negotiation James agreed to play provided he could reserve a sleeping berth in the back of the car up to Brum. Olli was not going to miss out, being captain. They needed a chauffeur again and so I put my hand up. I also had liquid orientated plans the day before for my own annual click-over, sadly 30 years ahead of Jasper, still - what the heck. That left us needing to replace Jasper. Enter Chris Briscoe. That man knows how to play rapidplay! So off we went to Birmingham bright and early on the morning of 4th February. Three out of four of us nursing hangovers. Possibly not the ideal preparation.

Birmingham University Students' Union was the excellent venue for the Final. Again, we were the only non-university team. This time around two of the previous winning teams, Warwick and York, were competing and so it was going to be tough. Some of the teams had titled players and team sweatshirts. They looked up for it, we looked rough. We could have been inimidated but it kind of didn't seem to matter. The tournament was not going to be graded, no games were scored and it was just a lot of young people playing a friendly tournament. Really refreshing actually. No expectation, no pressure and anonimity if it didn't go well.

We started where we left off in Royal Holloway and got our bottoms sat firmly on chairs on the top table with an initial 4 wins out of 4 matches. I personally learned a bit about guillotine rapidplay from my younger compatriots and even managed to "flag" some poor soul in round 2. We then came up against Warwick and had our first reverse, a 3-1 defeat. They thoroughly deserved to win. However we were still in it with one match left, against York. A fluctuating match ended in a 2-2 draw. Our captain Olli bringing home a win in the last game to finish against an opponent who seemed to think Olli's clock was not moving. It was indeed ticking but, as Olli can knock out 2 to 3 moves per second when he has to, it just didn't seem like it was!

The dust had settled and we had 4.5 out of 6 match points. News also came in that Warwick had suffered an unexpected loss in the final round. Peter Hornsby announced that there had been a tie for first place on both match points and game points and so tie-breaking formula were being applied. To be honest we were desperately hoping that the tie could be broken to avoid a play-off match. We were knackered. After what seemed like ages it was announced that the winners, on sum of progressive scores, were...Surbiton Chess Club! It was a tight contest overall as our overall 14.5 game points out of 24 illustrates. Olli also got a board prize (5.5/6) which seems appropriate given he brought home what turned out to be the winning point!

After the event captain Olli commented "I hope it's the first of many national titles - we'll definitely be looking to enter more such tournaments in the future!"

So there you have it. Our first ever National Title!

Much praise for Peter Hornsby and his team for a very well run and extremely enjoyable event.