Players may well skip their country's national championships
The 2012 U.S. Chess Championship was held in May this year, and it featured two of the strongest players in the world. GM Hikaru Nakamura (currently ranked 5th in the world) and GM Gata Kamsky (currently ranked 13th in the world) battled against a host of other strong players to finish in first and second place, respectively.
When I was doing my usual checking of the latest chess news, most of the strongest current or recently finished events were national championships. The British and Ukrainian Championships have just finished, and the Russian Championship will finish by week's end.
One of the biggest talking points of any national championship is whether or not the best of the best will play. Many of the world's top players forgo competing for their country’s top title. This year, all the top American players played in the U.S. Championship. By contrast, the Ukrainian Championship was missing Vassily Ivanchuk, a perennial world-ranked top-10 player; and Vladimir Kramnik, Alexander Morozevich and Ian Nepomniatchi are all absent from the Russian Championship.
Why would the best players miss out on a chance to be a national champion? Well, there are a few possible reasons. Sometimes scheduling is at fault, sometimes the prize money is not what world-class players expect – or the tournament may be considered too weak! When one is used to playing the best players in the world, sometimes the best players in your country simply don't match up.
The British Championship always has problems getting the best players to play, since prizes are not as good as the top players would hope, and it is not an elite tournament. Anyone above master level can play, which means the top players are mixed with lesser players (which is typical in most countries).
Ukraine, the United States and Russia all have round-robin championships, where 10-14 players all play each other. And when I say 10-14, I mean the best in the country. But in Britain, there could be players not even in the top 100 playing.
This year, the two best players, Michael Adams and Nigel Short (both world-class players), did not play in the British Championship. The tournament ended in a tie between Grandmasters Gawain Jones and Stephen Gordon.
There was a two-game playoff, and game one of the playoff saw something very rare at the top levels. Jones made a huge blunder, losing his queen for a bishop! Most Grandmasters resign the game at that point, but Jones fought on, and Gordon made many errors and ended up losing the game! Jones easily won game two and became the British Champion.