London was an important chess centre in the nineteenth century. But England did not produce many world class players until the 1970's. The game was perhaps popular in the country more as a pastime than a profession. Even in the 1960's, the country did not have a grandmaster. Jonathon Penrose was a very strong player but he was apparently happy with the British championship, that he won many times.
Things changed a lot in the seventies when Raymond Keene and Tony Miles were spearheading the British campaign for a respectable position in the chess world. Miles was the first Briton to win the title of grandmaster in 1976. Keene and Michael Stean followed him and so did Jonathon Mestel and John Nunn. British chess was radically transformed with the emergence of a new generation of masters. Of course, Nigel Short outshone all others when he became the challenger for the world title.
The English players began to make their presence felt in the international arena with very steady performances. The Soviet supremacy was never in question, but the England team almost won the Chess Olympiad in Dubai, 1986. In fact, an unexpected loss to the Spaniards deprived them of the golden opportunity to finish first. The Spanish team had a Soviet coach at that time, and the English players even complained that Garry Kasparov himself had a training session with the Spanish players before the crucial match with England. It was really surprising that the strong English side could manage only half a point from the four-board match. England could never come so close to winning the Olympiad again.
Tony Miles, the first British grandmaster, contributed greatly to chess in his country. The title was a breakthrough for British chess which had been stuck at more or less the same point for many years. Miles was 21 when he became a grandmaster. He died in November 2001 at the age of 46.
Miles had dreamt of challenging the Soviet supremacy. His dream was not quite fulfilled, but British chess has certainly been elevated to a great height, thanks to the efforts made by him and other leading British players of the seventies.
Here is the decisive game from the 1978 world championship match.
Black-Emmanue Preissmann [D16]
Haifa ol, 1976
1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 dxc4 5.a4 e6 6.e3 Bb4 7.Bxc4 Nbd7 8.00 00 9.Qb3 Qe7 10.e4 Bxc3 11.bxc3 Nxe4 12.Ba3 c5 13.Rfe1 Nef6 14.a5 Rb8 15.Bxe6 fxe6 16.Rxe6 Qf7 17.Ng5 c4 18.Qxc4 Nb6 19.Qe2 Qg6 20.Bxf8 Qxg5 21.Bd6 1-0
Position after 15.Bxe6!
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