Financial fair play hits London Chess League in historical rivalry

By Johnny Percival
March 9 2020, 09.41

Sporting rivalries evoke the strongest of passions.

Manchester United v Liverpool, Real Madrid  v Barcelona and Fury v Wilder.

Now a new set of sporting foes are facing up to each other in the most unlikely of sports – chess.

Wood Green Chess Club, who have won the London Chess League every year dating back to 2003, are accused by rivals of buying a star-studded team of international for-hire Grand Masters.

Their winning tactics of signing foreign players normally seen in football’s Premier League have caused controversy in the London chess world. 

Wood Green’s team featured no less than four British chess Olympians and eight Grand Masters, the highest grade achievable in chess. 

In comparison, most teams who play in the league are filled with amateur players. 

Wood Green had an unsurprising win against Hammersmith Chess Club in the London Chess League last month.

Although the final score, seven and a half to two and a half, is at first glance a crushing defeat for Hammersmith, the team considered it to be a good result. 

Chris Skulte, the captain of Hammersmith Chess Club, played Grand Master John Speelman, who was once ranked the 4th best chess player in the world. 

Mr Speelman is the chess correspondent for The Independent and The Observer as well as the author of numerous books about chess. 

Mr Skulte said of Wood Green’s tactics: “It’s what’s wrong with chess.”

Mr Speelman, who won the British Chess Championship in 1978, 1985 and 1986, is one example of the world renowned players that make up the Wood Green team. 

The online chess community has not held back from venting their anger at Wood Green. 

Hammersmith Chess club tweeted: “Tonight we take on Financial Fair Play’s money-doping league chumps, Wood Green.”

Battersea Chess Club also lost one of their strongest players to Wood Green. In a tweet, BCC announced: “He has been unable to resist the £££ Wood Green offer.”

Rare victories over Wood Green are cherished by other league teams. Kings Head Chess Club tweeted: “Wood Green turned with 6 GMS, and we beat them. They then complained about the radiators being too hot.”

Despite the controversy, teams are enjoying the opportunity to pit their wits against some of the world’s greatest players.

Battersea Club have responded by fielding their junior side against Wood Green, giving young players an invaluable experience. 

A spokesperson said: “Last night we did something special – our kids made eight grandmasters cry.”

Brian Smith, Wood Green Chess Club secretary, said: “We pay their expenses. That is an exception.”

Wood Green players travel to compete in the London league from as far afield as Manchester and Hastings. A return train ticket from Manchester to London can cost up to £150. 

Photo Credit: John Smith

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