Although Standpoint has a global rather than a parochial outlook, it is still remiss of me not to have mentioned Britain's strongest chess player in the more than five years of this column's existence. It is no excuse at all, but perhaps one reason is that Michael Adams is so consistent — in the world's top 20 for the past two decades — that he has become almost the chess equivalent of a very fine motor car. The engine is so smooth and reliable that we hardly notice it running at all.
Last month, however, the Adams mental motor suddenly developed turbochargers: he won the immensely strong annual Dortmund Sparkassen tournament ahead of the world's third- and fourth-ranked grandmasters — the Russian former world champion Vladimir Kramnik and the Italian-American Fabiano Caruana. At the age of 41, this was probably Adams's greatest tournament result; although those with long memories will recall his clear first place in the Dos Hermanas tournament of 1999 ahead of Kramnik, Anand and Karpov.
At that time Adams had become the world's fourth-ranked player and there were hopes that he might follow Nigel Short and become the second Englishman to mount a serious assault on the world championship itself. Yet in his own time Kramnik and Anand have been a bit too good — just as Short in his peak years had no answer to the supremacy of Garry Kasparov. Now the challenge to world champion Vishy Anand is coming from the next generation: Magnus Carlsen is just 22 and already has the mystique of invincibility.
The fact remains, however, that Adams — Mickey to his friends and admirers — is an extraordinary talent, with a distinctive playing style all his own. Kasparov, who liked coming up with nicknames for his rivals, back in 1999 declared him to be "Spiderman". The then champion had identified the Englishman's ability to weave a web around his opponents with cords so subtle and filigree that the target did not even realise that he was being slowly encircled-until it was too late.
This is perhaps another reason why Adams has been insufficiently acclaimed by chess fans. His opening play seems undynamic, with no risks being taken. A draw seems the likely result, but then slowly, almost imperceptibly, Adams seems to have a little something. And when he has even the smallest edge, he is remorseless, with endless reserves of patience.
When I spoke to Mickey in the days after his Dortmund triumph he explained: "I do well in quiet positions because even very strong players think that nothing can happen and so they stop paying maximum attention. People don't focus their study on quiet positions because they tend to think that almost any move will do. So I deliberately aim to get those positions."