The big match – Tue 15th March

Both Nomads and SASCA had pulled out all the stops for this Richardson final. The two teams each had an average (live) grade of 193 – and remarkably, players were almost equally matched board for board.

30 minutes in and the quality of the chess was apparent. Jon’s game on 1 was becoming interesting: he’d played …c6 and …b5 to disrupt Oskar’s central pawn setup – and followed up by playing …Nd4, sacrificing a pawn – though there was nothing immediate, we’ve seen Jon play like this before, seizing weaknesses in opponents’ positions, in this case with White’s under-development and exposed king in the line of fire. On the other boards, Paul was a little better against Peter’s Dutch Stonewall, Sam was doing fine in a kind of non-d4 Grunfeld, Chris was a little passive in a kingside fianchetto and d3 setup, Jamie was holding on in the face of Ryan’s Colle, and Daniel was developing a nice positional edge (facing another Dutch Stonewall).

Interestingly it was our top two Black games (Jon on 1 and Sam on 3) which first looked they were potentially tilting our way. Jon’s pressure was starting to pay dividends, while Sam was enjoying more space in a position which now resembled a reversed Benoni. But other games were more worrying: in particular, Paul’s position was turning in his opponent’s favour (Paul later said he’d made a key mistake in allowing Peter’s central pawns to go forward) – and on board 5 Ryan had unleashed a nasty-looking g4 to disrupt Jamie’s d5-e6-f5 pawn formation. Daniel was still better.

And then, Jon’s game exploded into life. Some wonderful piece play – with his opponent’s king still in the centre of the board, his queen, rook and knight appeared to swarm on strong central squares, joined by his black-squared bishop: before too long, the position was overwhelming and Oskar resigned. Something of a relief, with other games definitely more worrying by this stage – including Sam’s increasingly complex game, where nobody watching had a clue of what was going on!

Chris on 4 managed to reach the time control, in spite of his huge time deficit. Paul was in trouble, a pawn down now and positionally worse. Meanwhile Jamie was valiantly attempting to counter his opponent’s initiative, playing on both the king and queensides: but his position was getting very stretched and when Ryan successfully swapped black-squared bishops, it looked very difficult. Daniel was still better, his bishop greatly superior to Deji’s: but his position was simplifying by now and it wasn’t clear how he was going to make further progress.

When Paul resigned and Daniel agreed the draw, it was 1½-1½, with 3 games to go. Sam was clearly on top now – his advancing passed a pawn was posing Yang with enormous problems. But at this stage, we could easily be losing both the remaining two games and with it the match. In fact, things weren’t so simple. In enormous time trouble, Chris was defending Jonathan’s initiative heroically – and on board 5, Jamie was finding great squares for his bad bishop, putting pressure on Ryan and his clock: both players were bashing out moves at this stage. The position was lost but with not more than 20 seconds left Ryan may well have been forced to concede a draw – but then in the chaos Jamie moved into check, giving his opponent an extra 2 minutes to finish things off. Sam had won by now – so 2½-2½, with just Chris’s game left. Opposite coloured bishops meant it was extremely difficult to make any progress: Jonathan graciously conceded the draw, even though he could have run Chris out of time.

So after all the drama (and a great buffet organised by Les), 3-3 and a replay in a few weeks time: can’t wait!

     Nomads I                         SASCA I
1.  Jonathan Nelson  1-0     Oskar Hackner
2.  Paul Cumbers      0-1     Peter Shaw
3.  Samuel Milson    1-0     Yang Guo
4.  Chris Shephard   ½-½ Jonathan Arnott
5.  Jamie Hillman    0-1      Ryan Burgin
6.  Daniel Sullivan  ½-½   Deji Jeje
3-3

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