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….