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."