Chess: Needing ladies

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THE 81st British Chess Championships begin today at the Norwich Sport Village, with almost 900 entrants for the various events. The increasing precocity of our young players is marked by the demise of the Under-18 Championship. So many of the top juniors have qualified for the senior championship, or opted to play in other adult events, that there were insufficient entries to justify the section.

More sadly, the women's championship also seems to be headed for the scrap-heap. A few years ago, it was decided to abolish the ladies-only event and practise positive discrimination to encourage the leading women to compete alongside the men. This year, however, unless there is success in last-minute attempts to tempt some reluctant ladies to Norwich, the women's title will go by default to Cathy Forbes, the only eligible player.

Apart from the serious chess, there is a full supporting programme, including simultaneous displays, speed- chess tournaments, football and cricket matches, lectures, quizzes, a chess film and anything else the organisers imagine chess players like to do to fill their time between games.

In the continuing sponsorship recession, the event has again been funded largely from entry fees. The championship carries a pounds 1,000 first prize, but with no appearance fees, the majority of our top players are staying away. Indeed, of our 22 grandmasters, only three (Paul Motwani, Mark Hebden and William Watson) will be playing, and the only contestant to have won the title before is the reigning champion, Michael Hennigan.

One cannot blame those who have stayed away. With 15 titled players chasing total prize money of pounds 2,600, the average professional rate for 11 four-hour games works out at pounds 4 per hour.

Meanwhile, back on the world championship trail in Sanghi Nagar, India, we have the first decisive results. In the third games of their matches, Anand beat Kamsky and Kramnik beat Gelfand.

Timman also has good chances to win in his first game against Salov, which was adjourned after 60 moves. The latest championship scores are: Anand 2 Kamsky 1; Kramnik 2 Gelfand 1; Timman 11 2 Salov 1 2 .