Usually chess evenings end with a mad scramble. However, on this match day it began with a mad scramble as one of my players went AWOL and several others either didn’t respond to requests to play or had already made arrangements for the evening. I had even emailed James to inform him we were likely to be short a player when Nick responded to my pleas with a ‘I think I might be able to make it’ message… good enough for me and in he came on eight as the board order from the first match all shuffled up to 3-7. Dr Hempson was missing from the Ecclesall line up as well, so on paper the teams looked very evenly matched. Over the board… it was a similar story. I think this is the first match I can recall when 6 boards were still in action at 9.45pm; over half the games were still in progress at a point when the Ecclesall C – Nomads C match had concluded which should give a good idea of how tight this was.
So the first to finish was the last to sign up – Nick and Ken drawing a drawish game after agreeing a draw. I didn’t see much of this game so I can’t really offer much beyond that! Second to finish (as is regular tradition) was Geoff – only this time it wasn’t a draw as regular Ecclesall opponent Gunnar lost material to a tactic and was unable to recover with the position blasted open. I followed (not so close) behind – it’s not often you move your king twice in the first 12 moves and don’t lose in a miniature but after missing a tactic in the opening I was in trouble for the majority of the game with Farshad maintaining a pawn+ advantage for some time. However, my early centralised king proved to be a little bit of a thorn in his plans in the later middlegame and I was able to hang on and eventually win the pawn back to reach a completely drawn ending. Ian, on the other hand, was a pawn up in his endgame against James but was on the receiving end of some active rook play that allowed James to recover his pawn deficit and offer a draw. We had the advantage with four games still ongoing, all of which featured Nomads players in varying degrees of time trouble ranging from Chris (whose flag seemingly hung for a good 20 minutes) to Arjun (who was actually not too far behind on the clock for once but making heavy weather of a position in which he had declined a draw offer).
It was actually Jon that finished next – he had all the activity against David’s kingside and it looked for all the world like he would break through – winning the exchange still wasn’t enough for the full point though as a combination of David’s dogged resistance and a ticking clock meant Jon wasn’t able to find a way to win. 3 – 2. Mike had a tremendous advantage against Ewan with two connected, passed pawns on the 6th, mating threats and surely only a matter of time before he sealed the deal. Chris, however, was struggling to stay on the board after Jim’s sacrifice opened up the kingside. Pieces were seemingly scattered across the board, with blocking sacrifices, exchange sacrifices, and some piece positions that I’ve not seen for some time (Knights on h7 and f8, Bishops on g7 and e8). Jim kept his composure and worked his way through the complications to secure a winning advantage and tie the scores. Arjun’s position had deteriorated significantly by now – being a rook down in a queen and rook ending against Alan is not ideal at the best of times and a king/queen fork was enough for him to fall on his sword. From a relatively commanding position, we were now entirely dependent on Mike to secure a share of the spoils; that he had lost both passed pawns and had a hanging flag wasn’t helping matters but his final passer got to the seventh and Ewan had run out of checks – rather than force Mike to play out the win and gamble that his flag might fall, Ewan resigned and the match was tied. Phew. I don’t think I’ve sweated that much in a match (the venue was a little on the warm side, my position was atrocious, and the team keep on giving me heart palpitations) but the end result seemed pretty fair. We had a slight edge in several games, but were also under the cosh in the others – and ultimately this is a point gained on last year when Ecclesall A were the one team to inflict defeat on us.
Onwards to Chesterfield in a couple of weeks… these matches don’t get any easier, do they?
Our first league match of the year and a return fixture against opponents who pushed us all the way at home. This time they pushed us that little bit further and we were ultimately fortunate to come away with anything. In fact, at around about the 9pm mark Jon and I were wandering the boards and Jon asked, in all seriousness, whether ‘I saw any wins for us’. The answer was a resounding ‘no’. By that point, his early pressing had fizzled out, Chris had moved most of his pieces back to their original squares (after getting his queen out on move three – and not even with a threat of Scholar’s Mate!), Deji was struggling to break through on the kingside, I was heading towards a slightly inferior endgame, Geoff’s big e5 knight had gone and his backward pawn on e3 was blockading his own position, Nick was struggling to make light of a complicated position, Steve had gambited a pawn but to no apparent advantage, and Jamie was playing a Caro-Kann. How we scored four points from that position, I do not entirely know… but we did.
Nick and Ken were the first to finish – Ken played a neat bishop sacrifice (which was mate in one if accepted) then offered a draw. It was still unclear – but the fact of the matter was Nick was a pawn down so accepting the offer seemed entirely reasonable. Geoff’s position then caved in somewhat spectacularly, with Gunnar’s bishops, rook and pawn proving too much for the king and queen to handle. There then followed a pause – lots of thinking, a couple of time scrambles, and mild controversy as Deji forgot to notate his moves once he’d made the time control. James offered me a draw in a position that was slightly better for him – but knowing the match situation I opted to play on in a rook and pawns ending. 7 and 8 were the next to finish – Steve eventually entered an endgame still that pawn down from move two, but Alan’s bishop didn’t dominate as expected and somehow they both queened in succession (with an extra pawn each) – half a point and a bit of an escape. Jamie meanwhile had done something that I always struggle with in the C-K… attack! His kingside pawn advances proved increasingly problematic for Chris and just when I thought he might hold on, I returned to my game. When I looked again, Jamie was queening a pawn and sealing a point. So split on the bottom four, would we do any better on the top four?
Turned out I made a good choice in declining the draw.. James didn’t play the ending accurately, I managed to get the more active rook and better placed king and when my king made it to g2 I had a decisive advantage – we were somehow in the lead – albeit not for long as Jon had played on far longer than one might expect in the vain hope of maybe being stalemated by David; fat chance – three pawns rolling up the board, it was never going to happen and when the hope of even a stalemate faded, Jon resigned. Deji more or less immediately countered that with another controlled victory – after it became apparent he wasn’t going to force Ewan’s kingside into premature collapse pieces were exchanged and a switch to the queenside saw him pick up a couple of pawns. One of those pawns made it to the sixth and that was the end of that.
So all eyes on Chris yet again – for the third or fourth time this season he was last to finish and this time, sadly, it wasn’t on a high note. Jim had seemingly held all the trumps most of the match; despite not having any material advantage until the endgame Chris’ position was a mess and when Jim gained a passed pawn it looked all over. However inaccuracy let Chris pick that pawn up (we’re talking SEVERE time trouble by this stage) and it looked like maybe he might hold on. Alas, no. Jim’s other passed pawn instead proved decisive, slowly advancing to the queening square and taking a well deserved point for the visitors. We can’t complain; Ecclesall would have been calling the police in if we had stolen both points! A rest next week then… followed by a top of the table clash with regular table-toppers Chesterfield…. Continue reading “Ecclesall A vs Nomads A”