BY TOBY PORTER
Facing Britain’s most successful sports team – a rich chess club dubbed the game’s Manchester City – would be a daunting prospect for anyone.
But when Battersea Chess Club took on the kings of the checkerboard, Wood Green, in a 10-a-side David versus Goliath battle, the South London underdogs took an entirely different approach.
Instead of fielding their most experienced players – albeit ranked some way below Wood Green’s star-studded team of paid professionals – they sent in the young guns.
For one night only, this 134-year-old club assembled a team of its hottest chess prospects to take on the grandmasters at their own game, in the London Chess League.
Their average age might have been just 12, but they were all England junior internationals.
Shreyas Royal, 10, was one of them. But he is England’s top prodigy – whose family were spared having to leave the UK last year over a visa issue because of his special talent.
Shreyas, Denis Dupuis, Shlok Verma and Sohum Lohia were all born in 2009, and make up four of the top five English players born since then. And incredibly, this team of juniors did rather well.
Yes, the final score was 9-1, but while the Wood Green galacticos are used to trampling all over their opponents, two members of the young South London squad walked off with draws.
There may have been some red faces in the squad of their big-name opponents. Seventeen-year-old Jacob Watson, from Kent, held grandmaster John Emms, a hugely-respected 52-year-old former England captain. And 11-year-old Luca Buanne also drew in a marathon 89 moves with the current Essex champion International Master Richard Pert.
All 10 games at the Citadines Hotel in central London lasted between two and three hours – a small indication the grandmasters didn’t have it all their own way. Mid-way through the match, Brian Smith, Wood Green’s benefactor and non-playing captain was heard remarking “I’ve never seen eight grandmasters crying before.”
There are some reports he pays players up to £300 to play a single game of chess. Wood Green has reigned supreme for two decades. The last time the north Londoners lost a match was in the 2001/2002 season and winning 10-0 is not unusual.
Battersea’s Central London League captain Chris Beckett said: “Just to say again many thanks to everyone who turned out to play and support as Battersea’s team of young all-stars gave the might of Wood Green’s galacticos the fight of their lives.”