People: Child prodigy of chess grows up

Ten Thousand pounds a minute is not a bad rate of pay in any sport. For a chess game, however, it is extraordinary. Yet that was the rate at which Michael Adams added to his prize money when he defeated Nigel Short in the quarter-finals of the World Chess Championship in Groningen in the Netherlands on Christmas Day. With this victory, Adams has established himself as England's leading player, nudging Short into second place.

The deciding game came after a string of six draws, played at ever-increasing rates, until a final decider in which the man playing with the white pieces (and therefore moving first) was allowed only five minutes for all his moves, while Black had six. It was the most tense 11 minutes of the competition, and perhaps the most valuable 11 minutes in chess history. The loser would have to be satisfied with pounds 110,000 in prize money; the winner was guaranteed at least twice that.

Considering the importance of the game, Adams attacked with impressive lack of inhibition, and his victory has taken him through to a semi-final against the Indian grandmaster Viswanathan Anand. The winner will meet Anatoly Karpov in a match for the International Chess Federation World Championship beginning on 1 January.

For Michael Adams, 26, the result is the fulfilment of the promise he first showed as a child prodigy in his hometown of Truro in Cornwall. At the age of eight he was already beating experienced adult players. In 1983, he won the Cornish championship - while also holding the titles at the under-18, under-15, under-13 and under-11 age groups. The son of a primary school headmaster, he was academically bright and his decision to abandon his education and become a full-time chess player at the age of 16 was not greeted with wholehearted support by his family. Nevertheless, as his results continued to improve, it looked increasingly as though he had made the right decision.

In his late teens Adams almost literally followed in the footsteps of Nigel Short, who was Britain's leading player and four years his senior; only with each step Adams left a slightly deeper impression. Short had become Britain's youngest ever grandmaster and British champion at the age of 19; Adams broke both those records when only 17. After those successes, however, his career slowed down a little. A very laid-back but rather shy youth, he devoted himself to chess but seemed to rely more on a phenomenal natural talent than the obsessive, glued-to-the-chess-board dedication needed for success at the very highest levels. Even when it was his turn to move, he was occasionally seen gazing round the room in a distracted fashion rather than concentrating on the position. Yet when his gaze returned to the board, he would flick out another powerful move. That skill has never left him. In one game of the current event against the Russian champion Peter Svidler, Adams found himself up against an ingenious idea that his opponent had prepared beforehand. After little thought, Adams rejected the natural move that would have played directly into Svidler's deep analysis, and found instead a safe path to equality. "Mickey is an amazing player - he senses these things," said Svidler afterwards.

It is not quite clear when in his career, Michael Adams became "Mickey", but it was probably during one of the between-game drinking sessions for which he was much criticised (and occasionally praised) during his early years as a grandmaster. When one world title eliminator in 1990 ended in a tie between Adams and two other players, the qualifying place for the next round was decided by the random choice of a bingo machine. Adams selected number nine, "because that's the number of pints of beer I drank last night", he said. The bingo machine evidently approved for that was the number it selected.

Adams began to take chess more soberly in the 1990s. In 1993, when political divisions in the chess world led to two parallel competitions for different world titles, Adams reached the last eight of the official championship and the last four of the rival Professional Chess Association version. In that event, however, he was convincingly beaten by Viswanathan Anand. He will see his current match with Anand both as a real test of his improvement and an opportunity for revenge.

BERYL Bainbridge has taken the job of researching her latest novel to great heights. After the success of Every Man for Himself, her Booker work about the last voyage of the Titanic, the ever-active Bainbridge is now working on a new novel about the Crimean War, and has just spent a hair-raising week tramping round the sites of the most famous battles, including Sebastopol, Inkerman, and the Valley of Death. The determined Bainbridge's only protection was a small camera crew from the South Bank Show, who were recording the adventure, and two large moustached gentlemen hired as "drivers" from the local populace. Undaunted, Bainbridge took great delight in weathering the worst that unheated, unilluminated Russian trains could throw at her, wearing specially purchased long johns, and telling one friend, "It made me realise just what the troops had to put up with to get there in the first place".

Images that sum up the century

TO ST PAUL'S Cathedral on Christmas morning for the 11 o'clock Sung Eucharist. Reconciliation is the theme of the Dean's sermon, and he cites as an example perhaps the most poignant football match ever played: that between British and German soldiers on Christmas Day, 1914. The Dean goes further: he describes the incident as one of the six most memorable images of the century. Unfortunately he does not go on to tell us what he thinks the other five are. But he had me wondering. What are the six most memorable images of the century? I'd be interested to know what IoS readers think.

Photographic images are bound to spring to mind - the mushroom cloud, the Dallas motorcade, Neil Armstrong's "small step" - but one should perhaps not overlook those moments which exist largely in the mind's eye, like that kick-around on the Western Front, or, say, the storming of the Winter Palace. Not that there is likely to be much agreement on 98 years of history.

Send your six to: Six, Rex Fontaine, Independent on Sunday, One Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL. Three entrants, drawn out of the hat, will each receive a bottle of champagne.

What I got for Christmas

Clare Francis, writer

"I don't like surprises any more, because the trouble is that there are so few things I need. I knew what I was getting - Tristan and Isolde on CD, because I don't happen to have a good recording of that. I wouldn't actually mind a new hi-fi system, but Bang and Olufsen doesn't come cheap. I think it's something you'd have to buy for yourself. A friend bought me the novel Cold Mountain. I have started it, and am just loving it."

Jimmy Hill, football pundit

"I got a fountain pen and a bottle of ink to help me write my life story. I've already had several, mostly given to me by my wife. She's my best provider. I've done 60,000 words out of 95,000, and I've got until 31 March to finish it."

Peregrine Worsthorne, columnist

"I got some lovely leather-lined gum boots, which I was very pleased with, and several books. One was by John Banville and I can't remember the name of the other one; it was a chap who wrote about something that sounds like Proust."

Bill Cash MP

"I had a cashmere jumper, scarf and tie for casual wear, and I got an 18th-century waistcoat from my wife, which is quite exquisite. It had to be remodelled by my tailor and I shall wear it to balls and big dances and things like that. It fits perfectly; it's made of grey silk with silver thread and it looks really good. I don't know who it belonged to before. I also got a life of Sheridan from my son, and a life of Parnell - a strong sort of political gearing there. And some shirts, inevitably. It was an extremely good Christmas."

Gillian Wearing, artist

"I got a bin. It's a very nice metallic pedal litter bin and it was my biggest present. It was from my boyfriend, Michael, who must have felt that I needed it because I've got quite a messy flat. Then I got lots of bits and pieces, creams and perfumes. It's quite difficult to buy for me clotheswise; people find it hard to give me anything because I wear mostly second-hand clothes."

Christopher Lee, actor

"I got a couple of things; one was the new Murray Perahia recording of the first Schumann piano concerto. To my mind, that's the definitive recording. Then I had a first edition of Celeste Albaret's Monsieur Proust, which was jolly nice. I think the nicest present I got was a telephone call from my two daughters, who tend to live a long way away. One commutes between London and New York and the other, the philosopher in the family, lives in 22 acres of woodland."

ANSWERS TO QUIZ OF THE WEEK

Answers: Picture Question: Own it, thanks to an appeals court interpretation of the Reindeeer Act of 1937. 1. Emergency services in Kelso, Washington, performed the Heimlich manoeuvre on a pot-bellied pig. 2. Camels - there were protests at the German race, but there is apparently a growing demand for camel meat in Australia. 3. Elephants - the scheme was introduced in the state of Kerala. 4. Pigeon-racing was 100 years old this year. 5. Archie the Cat, a real live cat who is the hero of a children's book. 6. A dog - he sat in a cage and barked at people. 7. Ian Rose of Banbury paid for his pot-bellied pig to have a face-lift after it kept bumping into things. 8. A Komodo dragon - the operation was performed in the United States. 9. Cobra - he is known as the snake- eater. 10. A tortoise - but it breathes through its mouth on land.

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