Wednesday, 22 February 2017
Old Boy and chess grandmaster Nigel Short returned to Bolton School to meet the new crop of chess enthusiasts at his former school, and to inspire the next generation of players. He spent the afternoon in School, culminating a simultaneous chess match against twenty-three Junior and Senior School pupils, ranging in age from eight to eighteen.
Nigel left Bolton School in 1981 and at that time was already a chess prodigy, having tied for first place at the British Championship in 1979 and become the youngest International Master at the time in 1979/80. He was awarded the title of grandmaster at the age of 19, becoming the youngest in the world at the time, and is now the oldest player ranked among FIDE’s top 100 players. He remains one of the most successful players Britain has ever produced.
The simultaneous exhibition match was no doubt the highlight of the day for all of the pupils who faced the grandmaster. Excitement was running high as three Junior Boys, six Junior Girls, ten Senior Boys and four Senior Girls lined up in the Arts Centre main hall to play against Nigel.
Before the matches began, Boys’ Division Headmaster Philip Britton presented Nigel with honorary Full Colours for Chess.
Once under way, the hall fell silent and there was an atmosphere of intense concentration. At the hour mark, all pupils were still playing. However, the first few began to fall shortly after, and by the time an hour and a half had passed Nigel had halved his pool of opponents. However, as two hours went by, eleven boards remained active, including representatives from all four parts of the School!
Ultimately the grandmaster’s wealth of experience proved too much for the next generation, and after two and a half hours of chess, the last two Bolton School players – Year 6 pupil Vibhav Sugumar and Year 10 pupil Sharon Daniel – were defeated.
Sharon said, “Out of all the 23 players, I was the last pupil who was still playing Nigel Short at the end of the simultaneous match. Before the game I didn’t expect to win but rather I was trying to make sure that I played to the best of my potential. Nigel Short is one of my inspirations as I recently watched him play in the World team Olympiad at Baku, Azerbaijan. I learnt a lot from watching the games he played and in the future I am hoping to play for the women’s team at the same competition.
“I was honoured to be playing a grandmaster because it’s not every day that you get to play one of the best players in the world, and to be the last player standing showed that I am able to compete with players at a higher level.
“I managed to reach the endgame with an equal position however I lost material later. If it had been my move to play I would have been able to win the material but because I was playing black I was half a move behind and this resulted in the roles being reversed.
“When you are playing a grandmaster the most minute inaccuracy can seem like the biggest blunder. Every chess player hopes to play a grandmaster at least once in their lifetime but this is the second time I’ve had the opportunity to play with Nigel Short. This is a wonderful experience that I will never forget. I would like to thank Bolton School for organizing this event which will help to inspire the next generation of chess players.”
Year 12 pupil Luke Cavanaugh, who was one of the players to make it past the two hour mark, also said, “Having had the fantastic opportunity to play Nigel while I was in Primary School, I had a score to settle this time round. Obviously facing a grandmaster, particularly one widely accepted to be one of the best players Britain has ever produced, was never going to be easy, but I felt more confident this time round as I now have a lot more experience and maturity. Certainly, I was more tactically aware this time, and had some attacks of my own rather than simply defending against what he did, but in the end it was inevitable that I would lose. I feel lucky to have been part of such an event, and I am very grateful to both Nigel for coming in and Mr. Costello for organising it and making sure that it went as smoothly as it did.”
The opportunity to play against a grandmaster who is ranked within the top 100 in the world is an experience that all twenty-three pupils will all be able to learn from in their future chess matches, and something they are sure to remember for years to come.
Earlier in his visit, Nigel gave a talk to a group of Boys’ Division pupils which was based around their questions. He talked about how much chess has changed since his time at Bolton School, largely due to the prevalence of laptops and the fact that chess software can now “absolutely wipe out the World Champion”. He discussed how this software can help players to improve by helping them to check their games after playing to see where they have made mistakes, and encouraged them to look back and find tactical opportunities they might have missed in the heat of the moment. Nigel went on to talk about how chess, like any discipline, requires dedication and lots of time to reach the top: while at school, he played around 150 games under tournament conditions in a year, and one year managed as many as 180 games. He said, “The people who seem to play effortlessly, it’s not effortless. It only looks effortless because people have practised a huge amount.”
Following on from this, one of the pupils asked if Nigel thought there was a limit to how much a person could improve. However, he replied: “I think the sky’s the limit.”
He went on to talk about the infinite complexity of chess and how it’s always possible to make progress: “I am a big believer in improvement. I think basically we all have the capability of improving within us, and even when you’re at an extremely advanced stage like myself there’s room for improvement. Last month, I defeated the world number two, Fabiano Caruana, in Gibraltar. It’s not an everyday occurrence for me, but it shows that even someone who is past their peak is still able to play a good game sometimes. You also have to work. I think learning, in whatever field you end up in life, is something that just goes on: it doesn’t stop at 18, it doesn’t stop at 21. It should be something that you work on continually.”
Nigel was also able to show pupils his game against Russian player Sergey Grigoriants, which featured a Semi-Slav opening. He explained many of the reasons behind particular moves throughout the match, and why other options at certain points wouldn’t have worked either for himself or for his opponent. He described this match as his “most spectacular game from the recent tournament in Gibraltar”. Hearing about this match from Nigel’s perspective was a wonderful opportunity for the pupils, who undoubtedly learned much from the experience.
Following the talk, Year 13 students Jack Virgin and Rohit Bagewadi, who have been awarded School Colours for Chess, enjoyed lunch with Nigel and were able to talk with him about his experiences playing chess around the world.
Click here to watch some clips from Nigel's simultaneous chess match.
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