The world's largest chess competition

by Sarah Longson
9/16/2017 – How big, you say? Well, big enough that that have to use names like 'Gigafinal' and 'Terafinal' to do it justice! But despite its size, in the summer of 2016, the future of the Delancey UK Schools’ Chess Challenge was in doubt, as the founder and owner, International Master Mike Basman, faced an unexpected and daunting tax bill. Now under new ownership, Sarah Longson hopes to continue to inspire future generations of children. She reports on the recent 2017 edition which attracted star power in the form of grandmasters David Howell and Stephen Gordon. Harry Grieve (pictured) won the 'Terafinal' | Photos: facebook.com/DelanceyUKSchoolsChessChallenge

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Saving a beloved project

Mike Basman

by WFM Sarah Longson

In the summer of 2016 I was saddened to hear that the future of the Delancey UK Schools’ Chess Challenge, the world’s largest chess competition, was in doubt. The founder and owner, International Master Mike Basman [pictured at right] was facing bankruptcy over a £300,000 tax bill payable to Her Majesties Revenue and Customs (HMRC) due to not having charged VAT on entry fees over a ten year period.

The UK Schools’ Chess Challenge is very close to my heart. Indeed, back in 1996 it was the first major tournament that I won. This opened some incredible doors, playing chess on Blue Peter [the longest-running children's TV show in the world -Ed.] and meeting the then-World Champion Garry Kasparov.

I subsequently went on to win various UK Schools Chess Challenge titles on eight occasions. My early involvement in schools’ chess was the catalyst for going on and winning the British Ladies title in 2013, and representing the English Ladies’ Team at the World Chess Olympiad.

Sarah Longson

Sarah Longson at this year's UKCC | Photo: Delancey UK Schools' Chess Challenge Facebook page

Following University, where I studied Chemistry and Law, I had a brief stint as a Trainee Solicitor — but my heart was always with chess and indeed I was teaching a few classes in schools around my work commitments. In 2015 I took the plunge to become a full time chess professional and I’m delighted to say I haven’t regretted that decision for a moment.

Sarah and Alex LongsonOn October 25th, 2016, we acquired the UKCC assets from the Trustee in Bankruptcy. I am supported by my husband Alex Longson, a strong chess player and also a chartered accountant. I hope the UK Schools’ Chess Challenge continues to inspire and opens up new horizons. I also hope it continues to vaunt the belief that ‘mental challenge and competition’ is the ‘equal of the sports field’.

Sarah and FIDE Master Alex Longson   

The legacy of IM Basman

Despite not sharing Mike’s views on tax* I have a lot of respect for him — having learned chess in Surrey under his guidance.

The UK Chess Challenge has introduced chess to hundreds of thousands of players since its inception in 1996 including elite players — most notably three-time British Champion and grandmaster David Howell. Mike has been very supportive of our takeover and regularly attends the events. This year we awarded a Mike Basman Best Game trophy.

About the Challenge

The challenge is held over the course of the school year and consists of four distinct phases. The first phase is the schools' tournament. This year 1,200 schools participated and we estimate a total of 40,000 children took part. This is a seven round swiss with 3 points for a win, 2 points for a draw and 1 for a loss. Children scoring 17 points or more qualified for the next phase, the regional ‘Megafinals’. Each school receives a pack containing rules, puzzle sheets, certificates, badges, mascots and a trophy for the winner. The idea of this stage is to encourage players new to the game and to provide teachers with a fun entry point for their students.

This year we held 45 Megafinals events across England (40 events), Scotland (3 events), Wales (1 event) and Northern Ireland (1 event). These competitions take place over a single day — as six-round rapidplay Swiss-system events. Children compete in their age group and players scoring 4 points or more qualified for the National ‘Gigafinals’.

The Megafinals had 7,000 children taking part across all events — about 150 per event. For many (43%), it's their first ever chess tournament. Each event is run by a local organiser using a UKCC license.

The penultimate stage is the National ‘Gigafinals’ — two events held in the North and South of England. Again these were six round rapidplay Swiss events with the strongest children competing within their age group. To qualify from this stage children had to finish in the top 3 in their section. 2,000 children took part in these huge events, and next year we hope to introduce more Gigafinals to cope with demand.

Terafinal playing hall

The playing hall at the 2017 Terafinal | Photo: UKCC Facebook page

The final stage is the ‘Terafinal’. Here 150 of the UK’s finest juniors come together for the final weekend — a six round longplay Swiss event held over two days.

2016-2017 season

We are very pleased with the way this season has gone and have received some very positive feedback from players, parents and organisers alike. With all the complications of taking over the business, we were late getting going and many schools had assumed the event wasn’t taking place. However once word got out entries started flowing in and we begane to hit our stride.

We have begun our planned programme of modernisation by allowing online entry for all stages of the competition. This year 95% of all entries were completed online. Next year we want this to be 99%. We have also launched an online platform to host a new discussion forum where parents, coaches and children can ask questions, make comments and find out more information about the Challenge.

For a number of events information regarding pairings and standings were available on Chess Results which was well received by the parents. We are very keen to hear feedback and have launched a survey which has garnered over 1,000 responses thus far. This has given us a wealth of insight and we are excited to put some of these improvements into action for next year’s event.

The Terafinal took place on August 12th-13th, 2017 at Daventry Court Hotel, in Daventry. This was a lovely 4* hotel in the midlands which also has its own garden chess set which children used between rounds.

Players had trained hard for this prestigious competition to try and win the £2000 1st prize and be crowned UK Chess Challenge 2017 Champion. The top seeds rated 200 English Chess Federation grade and above were: Koby Kalavannan (213), Alex Golding (203), Dominic Klinger (200) and Jonah Willow (200). (Typical conversion from English Chess Federation grading to FIDE is 7.5 X ECF + 700). There were no easy games and we knew it was going to be a very close competition filled with surprises and upsets.

We had GMs David Howell and Stephen Gordon commentating on the games, which was entertaining and gripping; the commentary room was constantly busy with lots of emotion from parents. IM Malcolm Pein and FM Alex Longson also assisted. Next year we will look to broadcast the commentary online as well.

Stephen Gordon and David Howell

Guest commentators Stephen Gordon and David Howell | Photo: UKCC Facebook page

Round 4 saw the first defeat amongst the top players. School rivals Harry Grieve and Alex Golding from Royal Grammar School, Guildford played an interesting game where Alex got his queen trapped and Harry was therefore victorious. The board one match between Koby and Jonah was a solid draw. This left just Harry and Dominic on full points going into round 5. Harry played extremely aggressively in the opening and won in convincing style.

 

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Meanwhile slightly lower down the battle for second place was in full swing. Han Sen Choong played some excellent games in the competition but went down in round 5 to Aditya Munshi who ended up in shared 2nd place, winning (GBP) £1,000.

 

Harry went into round 6 one point clear with five players a point behind. After a comfortable opening he started to drift and found himself under significant pressure against the top seed Koby with his pieces passively badly placed and Koby’s attack gaining momentum. Parents and players were bracing themselves for a play-off for first place. However, Harry was able to defend well and turned the game around in mutual time pressure. A key moment occurred in the diagram below — Koby perhaps believing he had a mating attack but …h5 was a crucial resource.

 

Black went on to win which meant Harry had secured first place with a fantastic 6/6! Second place was shared by 13-year-old Aditya Munshi and 17-year-old Naomi Wei with 5/6.

Another success story in the competition was young Yichen Han from Newcastle who won the Under-11 prize despite being only 9 years old and finishing shared 4th overall. Originally from the Netherlands he is now living in England. He recently became British Under-11 chess champion with 7/7.

Yichen Han

Yichen Han Photo: UKCC Facebook page

Full standings are available at Chess-Results.

Alongside the main event there were two Challengers events which were won by James Moreby (5.5/6) and Zoe Varney, Thomas Carroll and Chirag Hosdurga (5/6) in sections A and B respectively.

We were honoured to have Lord Price at the prize giving (author of ‘The Foolish king’) who presented the winners with their prizes. We also share the same aims of introducing more children to this brilliant game. Lord Price’s presence was an excellent finish to the season as he presented Harry with his £2,000 cheque and Naomi and Aditya with their £1000 cheques.

The winner of the Mike Basman Best Game Trophy was Naomi Wei for her excellent win in round 6.

 

Sarah Longson, Naomi Wei, Mike Basman, Mark

Sarah Longson, Naomi Wei (holding the Mike Basman trophy – kindly donated by Peter Lee) Michael Basman and Lord Mark Price | Photo: Delancey UK Schools' Chess Challenge Facebook page

I am extremely grateful to everyone who has helped make this event such a success this year and to our long time sponsors Delancey. It sounds like a cliché but these events really couldn’t run without the dedication and support from all of the teachers, Megafinal organisers, volunteers, arbiters and of course the 1000’s of parents taking time out to support their kids. We are lucky to have such a strong chess infrastructure in the UK.

It is my wish that we can extend this event internationally to give our best juniors the opportunity to compete against the best juniors from other countries.

* Editor's note: Basman appealed the pending tax bill in 2013 arguing that "compliance with tax regulations involves a considerable amount of work” amounting to unpaid labour, but his claim was denied.

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Sarah Longson (née Hegarty) is the Director of UK Chess Challenge. She has had a passion for chess from the age of seven, and is now a Women FIDE Master and former British Ladies Champion. She studied Chemistry and Law at Bristol University, and now lives in Manchester with her husband, FIDE Master Alex Longson.
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