He claimed the second British Knockout Championship, which ended last week.

Almost every country has a national championship. But last year, Britain, not content with having only one (which dates back to 1904), created a second: the British Knockout Championship, which is held in December, at the same time as the London Chess Classic. This year’s Knockout Championship included all the top British players except Michael Adams, who won the regular championship and was playing in the invitational section of the Classic.

The winners of the four quarterfinals were Nigel Short, Gawain Jones, David Howell, and Luke McShane. At the moment none of the four has a rating over 2700, the level of the world’s elite, but all except for Jones have been over that mark at one time, so the semifinalists were an exceptionally accomplished group.  In one semifinal, Short beat McShane, 3-1, drawing two slow or classical games, before winning the rapid playoff, 2-0. Howell advanced more smoothly in the other semifinal, defeating Jones, 1½-½.

Unlike the semifinals and quarterfinals, the final was a best-of-six game match instead of a best-of-two, and the winner was only determined in Game 6. The first three games were drawn, and then Short won the fourth, giving Howell his first defeat of the tournament. Howell sacrificed a pawn early on, and lost in the endgame when he failed to maintain compensation for his material deficit.

Short, Nigel vs. Howell, David
British ch-KO 2016 | London ENG | Round 3.4 | 14 Dec 2016 | ECO: A35 | 1-0
1. c4 c5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nc3 Nc6 4. e3 e6 5. d4 d5 6. a3 cxd4 7. exd4 Ne4!?
7... Be7 is usual, only playing ...Ne4 when White plays c4-c5.  )
8. Bd3
8. Qc2!?  )
8... Nxc3 9. bxc3 dxc4 10. Bxc4 Be7 11. Bf4 White generally castles here, but Short finds an interesting way of dispensing with it altogether.
11... O-O 12. Qd3 Bf6 13. Kf1!?
13. h4!? is another interesting option, and the banal option of castling remained playable.  )
13... e5!? Black certainly has compensation after this sacrifice, but it doesn't seem necessary.
13... Qa5  )
13... b6  )
14. dxe5 Qxd3+ 15. Bxd3 Be7
15... Bd8 improves, intending to put the bishop on b6.  )
16. Ke2 Rd8 17. Rhd1 h6 18. Nd4
18. Be4!  )
18... g5
18... Rd5!  )
19. Nxc6 bxc6 20. Be3 Black has little compensation for the pawn, if any.
20... Rd5 21. Bd4 Ra5 22. a4
22. Be4  )
22... Be6 23. Rdb1
23. Be4 Rc8 24. Rdb1  )
23... Bf8 24. Be4 Bd5
24... Bc4+!  )
25. Kd3
25. Bxd5  )
25... Bxe4+ 26. Kxe4 Bg7 27. f4
27. g3  )
27... gxf4 28. Kxf4 Re8 29. Re1 Rd5 30. Rab1 Ra5 31. Rb7 Bf8 32. Rxa7 Rxa7 33. Bxa7 Ra8 34. Bf2 Rxa4+ 35. Re4 Ra2 36. Kf3 Bg7 37. Bg3 Ra5 38. Bf4 Rc5 39. c4 h5 40. g4 hxg4+ 41. Kxg4 Ra5 42. h4 Kh7 43. Kf5 Ra1 White has increased his advantage, step by step, and now enjoys a clearly winning position.
44. e6?! The best way was
44. Rd4! Rf1 45. Rd6 c5 46. h5 Rf2 47. h6 Bf8 48. Rf6 Kg8 49. h7+ Kxh7 50. Rxf7+ Kg8 51. e6 and White will win a piece and the game. A sample line:
51... Bh6 52. Ke5 Bf8 53. Kd5 Re2 54. Be5 Rd2+ 55. Kc6 Re2 56. Rf5 Be7 57. Kd7  )
44... fxe6+ 45. Kxe6 Kg6?
45... Rd1 46. Be5 Bh6 keeps up the resistance. White should eventually win, but at least Black can hope to give up his bishop and c-pawn for White's two remaining pawns.  )
46. Be5! Trading bishops leads to an elementary rook and pawn ending. White will win the c-pawn, and his h-pawn doesn't matter; White will win using Lucena's method.
46... Bxe5 47. Rxe5 Rd1 48. Rg5+ Kh6 49. Rc5 Rd4 50. Rxc6 Kg7 51. Rc7+ Kf8 52. Rc8+ Kg7 53. c5 Rxh4 54. c6 Rc4 55. Kd6 Rd4+ 56. Kc5 Rd1 57. Re8 Kf7 58. Re4 Rc1+ 59. Kb6 Rb1+ 60. Ka7 Rc1 61. Kb7 Rb1+ 62. Kc8 Rb2 63. c7 Rb1 The rook is already on the 4th rank, so White's king can come out.
64. Kd7 Rd1+ 65. Kc6 Rc1+ 66. Kd6 Rc2
66... Rd1+ 67. Kc5 Rc1+ 68. Rc4  )
67. Re5
67. Re5 Rd2+ 68. Kc6 Rc2+ 69. Rc5  )

Howell immediately equalized the score by winning Game 5, giving Short his first loss of the championship. Short seemed to underestimate the danger to his king in the middlegame, and then hastened his defeat when a bid for piece activity led to his queen being trapped.

Howell, David vs. Short, Nigel
British ch-KO 2016 | London ENG | Round 3.5 | 15 Dec 2016 | ECO: A05 | 1-0
1. Nf3 Nf6 2. g3 d5 3. Bg2 c6 4. c4 g6 5. b3 Bg7 6. Bb2 O-O 7. O-O a5 8. d3 Re8 9. Nbd2 Bg4 10. Rc1 Nbd7 11. h3 Bxf3 12. Nxf3 Qb6 The obvious
12... e5 is also playable; indeed, it has been played in both previous games to reach the position after White's 12th move.  )
13. cxd5 Nxd5 14. d4 a4 Black has no problems here.
15. Nd2 axb3 16. Nc4 Qb5 17. Qxb3 Qa6 Short takes a slightly risky approach, banking on the assessment that White's a-pawn is weaker than Black's b-pawn. The risk is that he's decentralizing his queen, assuming that White can't make anything of this.
17... Qxb3! 18. axb3 Ra2 looks like an unimpeachably safe and sound alternative.  )
18. Rfd1 b5
18... Qxa2?! 19. Qxb7  )
19. Nd2 e6
19... Qxa2 20. Rxc6 Qxb3 21. Nxb3 White is a little better due to his potential control in the center, together with Black's potentially weak b-pawn.  )
20. a3 Rec8
20... b4!? 21. axb4 Reb8 22. Rc4 Bf8 is more combative.  )
21. Ne4 Bf8 22. Qf3?! This gives Black objective equality, provided that he keeps his kingside safe and secure.
22. Nc5 Nxc5 23. dxc5 /+/-  )
22... Bxa3
22... N7b6! improves, clearing the 7th rank for a rook or the queen to help in the defense of f7 while looking for the knight to jump into c4.  )
23. Ra1 b4 24. Nd6 Rf8 25. e4 Very surprisingly, Black has only one move to maintain rough equality, and that move is counterintuitive at first glance.
25... Ne7?
25... c5! Returning the pawn and opening the long diagonal, but Black needs to hit back in the center and get rid of the powerhouse knight on d6.
26. dxc5 Nxc5 27. exd5 Qxd6 White's dark-squared bishop looks beautiful, but there's no way to make anything of it.
28. Qe2 Rac8 29. Be5 Qb6 30. Qe3 f6 neutralizes White's attack.
31. Bc3 bxc3 32. Rxa3 c2 33. Rc1 Rfd8 34. Rxc2 exd5 35. Rd2 Qb7 36. Kh2 Kh8 37. Rc2 Qb6 38. Qe7 Qe6 39. Qxe6 Nxe6 40. Rxc8 Rxc8 41. Bxd5 Nd4 is completely drawn.  )
26. Bf1 Qa4?
26... Qb6 keeps the queen, but after
27. Nc4 Qc7 28. Nxa3 bxa3 29. Bxa3 Rfe8 30. Qc3 White's unopposed bishops are too strong for the knights, and in addition Black's c-pawn is unlikely to survive in the long term.  )
27. Bc4? This works out well, but it's a mistake. Now Black's queen should retreat, and take advantage of the fact that White is temporarily unable to put his knight on c4.
27. Nc4!  )
27... Qc2?? Simply an oversight.
27... Qa5!  )
27... Qa7!  )
28. Bxa3 Rxa3 29. Rxa3 bxa3 30. Bb3! Maybe Short was in time trouble, and thought Howell had to play Ra1 instead to deal with the a-pawn. Alas for the former world championship finalist, his queen is trapped.
30... Qxd1+
30... Qb2 31. Nc4 finishes off the queen.  )
31. Qxd1 c5 32. Qc1 cxd4 33. Qc7 Winning even more material, so Short resigned.

In the final game, Short, who had White, chose an opening variation in which Black has often done well., But the position soon became so unusual that both players were improvising. Short did a better job of coordinating his forces and reached an ending in which he was up a pawn and there were also opposite-colored bishops and all four rooks on the board. Howell still had good drawing chances, but he blundered on move 30 and was unable to save the game, ceding the title to Short.

Short, Nigel vs. Howell, David
British ch-KO 2016 | London ENG | Round 3.6 | 16 Dec 2016 | ECO: A10 | 1-0
1. c4 g6 2. Nc3 c5! Probably the most precise reaction. White hasn't even managed an equal score here from almost 5000 games in the database.
3. Nf3 Bg7 4. d4 cxd4 5. Nxd4 Nc6 6. Nc2 Bxc3+! 7. bxc3 Qa5 8. Qd2
8. Bd2 Nf6 9. f3 d6 is hardly inspiring for White, and in case of the pawn sac  )
8. e4 Black should simply decline:
8... Nf6 9. f3 d6 The engine may claim the position is equal, but in practice the score is heavily in Black's favor.  )
8... f5!? Practically a novelty.
8... Nf6 9. f3 d6 still looks good for Black, and scores well for him too.  )
9. g3 Nf6 10. Bg2 Ne4 11. Bxe4 fxe4 A fresh position has arisen, and while it's difficult to assess White's trumps seem clearer here than in the variations considered on move 8. White's sickly c-pawns remain, but b5, d5, and whatever dark square(s) the bishop will reach all look quite attractive.
12. Ne3 Qe5 13. Rb1 b6 14. Rb5 Qe6 15. Qd5
15. Nd5  )
15... Ba6
15... Kf7 makes sense. The king isn't too exposed (he may castle by hand if need be with ...Rf8 and Kg8), and Black avoids tripled e-pawns.  )
16. Qxe6 dxe6 17. Rg5 Whose pawn structure is worse?
17... Na5
17... Kf7  )
17... Rf8  )
17... Rc8  )
18. c5 Nc4
18... Rc8  )
19. h4! Short finds a nice way to create harmony in his position. The king stays on e1, where it covers the d-file and protects the e-pawn, and activates the h1-rook via the h-file. As this also weakens Black's kingside pawns even further, it's an excellent idea.
19... Rc8?!
19... bxc5  )
20. h5! Rg8 21. hxg6
21. Rh4!  )
21... hxg6
21... Rxg6  )
22. Rh4 Nxe3
22... Rxc5  )
23. Bxe3 Bb7 24. cxb6
24. c4  )
24... axb6 25. Rb5 Bd5 26. Rxb6 Kd7! 27. Rh7 Rxc3 28. Bg5 Re8 29. Ra6 Rc2 It's unlikely that Howell missed Short's next move, unless he was in serious time trouble (which has been a chronic problem for Howell over the years); it's more likely that his aim was to shed his weak pawns while picking off White's in reply.
29... Rc7!  )
30. Bxe7! Rxe7?? But this is surprising, time trouble or not.
30... Rxe2+! 31. Kxe2 Bc4+ 32. Ke3 Bxa6 had to be tried. White retains winning chances with rooks on the board, but Black's drawing chances are very good.  )
31. Ra7+ Kd6 32. Rhxe7 Bc4 33. Red7+ Ke5 34. f4+ exf3 35. exf3 Bxa2 36. Rd2 Rc1+ 37. Kf2 Bd5 38. Rf7! This is a strong move, keeping Black's king from guarding the g-pawn.
38... Rh1 39. Re2+ Kd4 40. Rf4+ Kd3 41. Re3+ Kc2 42. g4 g5 43. Rf6 Rh8 44. Rg6 Kd2 45. Ra3 The simplifying
45. Rexe6 Bxe6 46. Rxe6 wins, e.g.
46... Rg8 47. Rd6+ Kc3 48. f4 gxf4 49. Kf3 Kc4 50. Kxf4 Rf8+ 51. Ke4 Rg8 52. Kf5 Rf8+ 53. Rf6 and the rest is straightforward.  )
45... Rh2+ 46. Kg3 Rh1 47. Rxg5 Bc4 48. Re5 Rg1+ 49. Kf2 Rf1+ 50. Kg2 Rb1 51. Rae3


Dennis Monokroussos is a FIDE master who has written about chess on his blog “The Chess Mind,” since 2005. He has been teaching chess for almost 20 years and for the last 10 years has been making instructional chess videos, which can be found at ChessLecture.com. Between 1995 and 2006, he taught philosophy, including a four-year stint at the University of Notre Dame.