Britain’s Four Nations Chess League (4NCL) has become a favoured route to the grandmaster title for the game’s best young talents. Staged over five weekends at hotels in Daventry, Warwick and Milton Keynes, it offers opposition that is strong — but not overwhelmingly so — in an environment where team support can be crucial.

Every competitive player acquires a rating. A novice is below 1000, an average club standard player is 1200-1600. This rises to 1800 for strong club level, 2000 for expert, 2200 for national master and 2400 for international master.

To become a grandmaster, a player needs three 2600-rated performances, plus a personal rating of 2500. England had around 30 GMs half a century ago, and survivors from that golden era now make up the No 1 nation in over-50 and over-65 tournaments. A new generation is needed, and a quartet of players, all born after 1999, are in serious contention.  

Cambridge graduates Matthew Wadsworth, 22, and Harry Grieve, 21, fought out the British Championship at Torquay in a final-round epic last August. Grieve secured the title and his first GM norm then, while Wadsworth has a norm from the 2018-19 4NCL season, along with some near-misses. Both have begun the current 4NCL season well, with three wins and a draw each.

At age 13, Shreyas Royal set the record for the youngest English GM norm in Germany last year. The ambitious London teenager will travel to the Serbian spa town of Vrnjacka Banja in March for the European Individual Championship, helped by his sponsor Tata Consultancy Services and by the John Robinson Youth Chess Trust. This will already be his second attempt, after scoring 5.5/11 last year.

The fourth candidate is Jonah Willow, 20, of Nottingham, who fractionally missed his first GM norm last year at Sunway Sitges, in Spain, despite scoring 2.5/3 against GMs in the final three rounds.

Both Wadsworth and Willow are competing this week in the Montague GM norm tournament, played from January 18 to 22 at the Montague on the Gardens Hotel in Holborn, central London. This is a strong all-play-all tournament, with three grandmasters and seven international masters.

After four rounds of the current 4NCL season, four teams, including the defending champions Wood Green, whose teams include Wadsworth, Royal and Willow, all have maximum points.

The 4NCL title race is in its early stages, but there is already a strong candidate for game of the season. Tim Wall vs Jonathan Speelman matched a well-known columnist and organiser with a former world semi-finalist, where for a long time the amateur was level or better until the grandmaster’s final attack.

The game features three pawn en passant captures, a missed chance at move 33 for a draw by perpetual check, a white pawn queening with check, and the black rooks combining to checkmate the white king. To follow it, I recommend first going through the moves with the autoplay link below the left-hand corner of the board, and then viewing the computer analysis.

Puzzle 2503   

GM Nick Pert vs Andrew McClement, 4NCL 2022. White to move and win. Pert, the 2021 British champion, has a mighty d7 pawn, but the obvious 1 Rh8+ Ke7 2 Re1+ is stopped by 2 . . . Re6. Instead, a subtle two-move sequence won for White. Can you find it?

For solution, click here

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