Chess prodigy falls short in bid to bridge the age gap

Ten-year-old chess prodigy Helen Yuzefova, from the Ukraine, has been pitting her wits against the best of British this week at the Smith & Williamson Championships.

With an International Chess Federation rating that puts her on the fringes of the top hundred women players in the world, it is not surprising that she preferred to compete against adults, in the Harry Baines Week 2 tournament rather than enter the under-11s championship.

Her result, however, of 4.5 points from her nine games mainly against club players came as a disappointment for a young lady who looks like one of the most exciting prospects for the future.

Her below-par result was not the only disappointment of the day. When the final round of the British Chess Championship itself began at Hove Town Hall in East Sussex yesterday, the scene was set for an exciting climax.

In the first ten days of the competition, Tony Miles and Matthew Sadler had fought their way to the top of the 82-player field. Now they faced each other in a game that would decide the destination of the title and the pounds 10,000 first prize given by the event's sponsors, the accountancy group Smith & Williamson.

After 15 minutes' play, however, the grandmasters made a move that could only be understood by the accountants among the spectators: they agreed a draw.

It was all a question of money, really. By winning the final game, either man would have won pounds 10,000, but a loss could have left them with only pounds 560. A draw, on the other hand, guaranteed a minimum of pounds 4,000 and a maximum of pounds 7,500 each, depending on the results of the other players' games.

On balance, the players - like poker players agreeing to share a particularly large pot - decided this was the moment to take their profits rather than speculate everything on the last throw of a pawn.

While understandable, the decision was naturally disappointing both to spectators and organisers.

After a decade during which the absence of corporate sponsorship had left the British Championship with insufficient funds to attract our leading professional players, this year's event was able to offer a prize fund good enough to attract 12 grandmasters.

Sadly, it was precisely the generosity of those prizes that caused such a whimper of an ending. Grandmasters can be coldly calculating beasts at times. The play-off for the title will take place today.

William Hartston