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  GM Michael Adams World No.9  British No.1

Adams, known as Mickey to the chess fraternity, will not be complaining about the lack of media attention. "He is very quiet and doesn't really have a public profile," says John Saunders, editor of British Chess Magazine. "He doesn't say anything controversial and is wary of chess politics. He would have made the perfect diplomat." "He is very solid and not at all flashy - just like the way he plays," says Leonard Barden, the Guardian's chess correspondent, who was manager of England's youth team when Adams' talent was first spotted at the age of eight.

Garry Kasparov, the former world champion and still officially rated No1, nicknamed Adams "the Spider" and the name has stuck. "He weaves a web around his opponents," says Saunders. "He likes them to beat themselves." Adams, who is happy to call himself a "positional" player, goes along quietly, letting his more ostentatious opponents make the running, then when they overreach themselves he strikes. "He's like Greece were in Euro 2004," says Saunders. "Careful, well drilled, practical, very good defensively. He doesn't go looking for flashy solutions." He is calm and inscrutable at the board - in stark contrast to the emotional Kasparov, whose face contorts when the going gets tough.

Adams, who is 35, is a Cornishman, born in Falmouth and educated in Truro. His father, a primary school headteacher, taught him chess and he quickly established himself as a prodigy. At nine, he entered the Cornish championships at under-11, under-14 and under-18 level, moving from room to room so he could play three games simultaneously. He won all three titles - on the same day.

Living in Cornwall held him up early in his career. He lacked strong rivals locally and had to travel 200 miles to see his coach, who was based in Swindon. He didn't play in his first international tournament until he was 12, when he came within a whisker of an international master rating. By the age of 17, he was British champion - the youngest ever - and a grandmaster. He had left school at 16 to become a full-time chess professional - a brave choice in a dicey and underfunded sport.

His progress in the 90s, when the more abrasive Nigel Short ruled the domestic roost, was relatively slow - a fact which some observers put down to the twentysomething Adams's liking for a pint. If Adams is to escape his "Mr Anonymous" tag this may be the period on which to focus. Barden tells the story of a world title eliminator in Blackpool in 1990 which ended in a three-way tie. Chess players have an anarchic sense of humour and they decided to settle it using a bingo machine, each selecting a number and the winner being the one closest to that thrown up by the machine. Adams won with the number nine. "Why did you choose that?" asked one of his rivals. "It was the number of beers I drank last night," he explained. Adams was also upset when a chess-playing girlfriend dumped him for fellow grandmaster Boris Gelfand. Worse, it happened on the eve of a match against Gelfand. Worse still, Adams lost the match. No wonder he sought solace in the pub.

Adams lived in London in the mid-90s, and that didn't seem to suit the West Country boy. Now, he has a settled partner, Tara, and has headed back west to Taunton. "Tara has been the making of him," says Barden. "He has given up the lagers and really started to apply himself. Openings used to be a problem for him - he didn't work hard enough and wasn't as well prepared as other players. But these days he is up there with the best."


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