Steve and Henry were unavailable for this one so we welcomed back erstwhile Nomad, Oliver Phipps, to the fold – and ultimately he proved to be an inspired selection. SASCA were missing their regular boards 2 and 3 in the shape of Peter Shaw and Ryan Burgin, and Jon Arnott as well – so we had to fancy our chances but… this season has already demonstrated that there are simply no easy matches in the first division and it’s fair to say that at around 9.00pm I looked around and only saw one player with an outright plus in their game and a Nomads shirt, figuratively speaking, on their backs. So how did it all turn around?
Well… our sole remaining 100% scoring player was the first casualty of the evening. Nick reached an endgame a bishop to the good but two passed pawns to the bad against Alan and Alan’s king was the more active. Both pawns couldn’t be stopped and that was 1-0 to the away team. We then had to write off the board 6/7 table altogether as Ray’s position went from aggressive, to loose, to lost as Nat steadily exchanged off when it best suited him to turn a small positional plus into a completely winning endgame. 2-0 down is not the best way to start the match and fortunately Geoff was in the mood for some fireworks on board 5. As tends to be the case in any game against Paul, you’ll get chances and Geoff was able to build a very strong centre, with his minor pieces moving into threatening territory. A counter punch from Paul, late on, was never going to be enough and although eventually the position simplified Geoff was a piece up and ultimately ran out a comfortable winner.
Chris pulled the scores level shortly afterwards – the only real danger he faced was the clock at one point as he slowly turned the positional screw on Tom before winning a piece. His king was slightly exposed but some fancy geometric manouevring with bishop and queen ensured all the entry points were covered and eventually Tom capitulated. Two more draws followed – Oliver’s first competitive game in 2, maybe 3 years and a double-edged ending where he was going to queen first, but Claes was going to queen second and with check was agreed drawn (a perpetual check was sure to have followed if they had played on). And then on two with both players pushing pawns deep into enemy territory, Deji’s passer on the 6th, supported by a black-squared bishop, was enough to earn him a draw with Miles despite Miles being the exchange up.
So it all came down to me and to Jon. I had been worse (slightly, then much, then slightly again) for pretty much the whole evening so had written off my chances. I offered a draw when I thought that Steve might have problems converting his single pawn advantage but he played on and it seemed likely I would eventually be ground down. However… I do tend to keep fighting in these situations and a couple of inaccuracies let me get a pawn to the seventh…at which point I then managed to take control of the queening square and Steve gave up the exchange. A rook and one vs a bishop and three, I still thought I’d struggle to win but a rook sac picked up one of the pawns and actually gave me the chance to force the bishop off for my last remaining pawn – against two pawns on the fifth with my king behind them it was all over once I found Rd1. All of which meant Jon was finally able to offer a draw in a complex but double-edged position with barely 10 minutes left of the match. Oskar accepted and somehow, despite Geoff commenting that he had lost count at 10 when checking my bad moves, we had won. Next up… a rematch with our upstart rivals who were beating Barnsley in the same room by, I think, a slightly more convincing scoreline.
Postscript – I can’t really end this review without a nod towards Paul Blackman. Early in the night it was apparent he was struggling somewhat but fortunately he was able to settle down and play most of the game out against Geoff (albeit I am sure he was none too happy to have lost). I am sure I speak for the whole club and Sheffield chess as a whole when I say that we continue to wish him all the best.