Person of day - 2 OCTOBER 2023
The career of celebrated English grandmaster Jonathan Simon Speelman is similar to those of his illustrious compatriots: his chess path was hindered by his studies. When he was 15, Jonathan qualified for the English national championship and a few years later, he sensationally qualified for the final of the BBC’s exhibition tournament, which was translated on TV. In the semi-final, a young Speelman overcame Anthony Miles, who was England’s finest player and one of the best players in the world at the time.
Nonetheless, Jonathan soon went to Oxford, where he studied mathematics and played in the occasional competition. He made his debut for England’s national team at the European team championship of 1977 in Moscow, and this trip changed his whole life. England came last and substitute Jonathan won one point in three games. However, the young man also observed how the Soviet players analysed chess. A year after an in-depth study of the game and after graduation from university, Speelman began ascent.
In 1978, the Englishman won his national championship and the world youth team championship. The latter is particularly impressive, since the USSR was represented by stars such as Alexander Beliavsky, Alexander Kochiev, Adrian Mikhalchishin, Alexander Ivanov, Alexander Panchenko and Viktor Gavrikov. Nonetheless, Speelman, Mestel and their less illustrious partners defeated the Soviet juniors 3:1!
Jonathan Speelman’s first attempt at the European zonal tournament was unsuccessful: he came fifth, behind Timman, Miles, Steen and Sosonko, but that only motivated him further. The Englishman spent a lot of time in analysis and published a selection of his matches alongside two monumental volumes on the endgame. This dedication paid off: in 1980, Speelman became a grandmaster before winning two more British championships and, finally, qualifying for the inter-zonal after splitting 1stplace with Nigel Short at the qualifying tournament in 1984. As a member of the English team, Speelman regularly won silver and bronze medals at European and world team championships and Olympiads.
At the end of the 1980s, Speelman’s rating was among the five highest in the world. After his success at the inter-zonal tournament in Subotica in 1987, he began to play in the candidates’ tournament. He thrashed Yasser Seirawan 4:1 in the 1/8 finals before defeating Nigel Short 3,5:1,5 before losing to Jan Timman 3,5:4,5, thus losing his hopes of a final match against Anatoly Karpov.
In the 1990s, Speelman remained a formidable chess player: in the next qualifying cycle, he only lost a candidates’ match to Short in the tie-breaker. Soon after, he beat Garry Kasparov in a BBC rapid tournament and in 1997, he won the European championship with England. Nonetheless, age took its toll and soon Jonathan became a well-known journalist and commentator who worked with The Observer and The Independent.
As IT developed in chess, he became one of the best analysts on ICC. The grandmaster continues to live in his native London and in 2015, he won the world team senior championship with England.