England are seeded fourth, higher than usual, at the European teams that have just begun at Budva, Montenegro. Hopes of a top-three finish were encouraged by last week’s world seniors gold medals for Michael Adams and John Nunn.

Adams, 51, the eight-time British and now world over-50 champion, is back in action at Budva, where he plays on board three behind Nikita Vitiugov, the former Russian who is now, at 2712, England’s highest-rated grandmaster, and David Howell, the popular online commentator. Play starts at 2.15pm GMT daily, and can be followed free and live on chess24.com.

Only Germany of the top seeds began well, as England, after narrowly beating Georgia 2.5-1.5 in their opening match, drew 2-2 against the Czech Republic in round two. Vitiugov scored a key point in a patient endgame against the experienced David Navara. With nine rounds in total, there is still time for strong performances.

Russia and Ukraine were among the dominant teams in previous years, but neither is competing in Budva. Russia was banned by the European Chess Union due to its invasion of Ukraine, and responded by transferring to the Asian Chess Federation. Since that move was made, the Asian Games and other continental events have taken place without Russian participation. This summer Moscow suffered a serious loss of some of its best younger grandmasters, as the world body Fide relaxed the rules for player transfers between nations.

Russia still retains its best young prospect, 21-year-old Andrey Esipenko, who narrowly failed to qualify for the eight-man 2024 Candidates when he lost in the crucial final round. Two years ago at Tata Steel Wijk aan Zee, Esipenko became the only teenager to beat Magnus Carlsen at classical chess during the Norwegian legend’s 10-year championship reign, and he has since continued to advance. 

Ukraine’s absence from the Open section of the biennial championship, which it won in 2021, is mysterious, and has been strongly criticised in Kyiv, where one grandmaster called the decision “scandalous”. Ukraine does have a women’s team, but that is missing its two strongest players, the Muzychuk sisters.

Meanwhile, the opening round of Britain’s Four Nations Chess League (4NCL) featured a surprise 5-3 defeat for the holders and favourites, Manx Liberty. The Isle of Man team lost to The Sharks, an eclectic team including two of England’s best young players, Harry Grieve and Dan Fernandez, both of whom won their games. It was Manx’s first league defeat for four years, and only their third 4NCL loss ever.

The game which took my eye was in Division Two, where another rising young master, Peter Roberson, defeated the former British champion Jonathan Mestel in the latter’s favourite Dragon Sicilian. This instructive win showed the value of White’s modern attacking system with Rg1 and g2-g4 rather than the much analysed main line with h4-h5. Black’s 9 . . . Bg7 (better first 9 . . . h6 to gain space) put him under pressure, and 11 . . . Nde5, losing time with the knights, made it worse.

Puzzle 2546

White mates in four moves. There is just a single white sequence, while Black is down to pawns and a lone boxed-in king, but you will do well to find the hidden solution in 10 minutes.

Click here for solution

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