This match has often been a title decider in recent years, and Chesterfield’s recent away record at our place isn’t half bad. The sides were exceedingly evenly matched as well for this one, with the biggest ‘live’ grading difference across the eight boards being 17pts and no other player conceding 10+ points on either side. So even before we got started it seemed entirely plausible that this would be one of our closest battles yet. Early finishes do not appear to be a hallmark of this season either – the last three matches came down to the final few minutes and at that point the score was still in the balance too; past 9.30 all eight boards were still in action – chess may not be considered a spectator sport but for the few players in attendance tonight it couldn’t have been anything less than gripping stuff to watch. I can testify that it was even more gripping to be playing!
So how did things pan out? Well board one featured pretty much every single possible configuration you’re likely to see in a chess match and several you’d probably never see again. An early Kg3 from Dave, some very complicated moves from Jon… I’ll confess here and now I have absolutely no clue what was happening, even after speaking to Dave a couple of times in the course of it. Board two was a little more standard although Chris’ bishop looked particularly unhappy hemmed in on h-file for quite a while as Peter grabbed a kingside space advantage in the opening. Board three… Mike’s slow and steady build up, Jamie’s calm and considered piece play; time a likely critical factor here (with both players not exactly unfamiliar with time trouble!). My own game against Martin featured some pushed pawns, long castling and a long, drawn-out battle for control of d4 and the a7-g1 diagonal. Ian’s game, on the other hand, featured a relatively quick swap down of major pieces and a minor pieces ending with all three results possible. Mike and Andy had a (slightly) standoffish Sicilian going on. Geoff had his ‘favoured’ French (with the Black pieces yet again) and Arjun appeared to be adopting a safety-first approach against notorious gambiteer Steve B.
And then the results started to dripfeed through. First… board 4. Seconds before the time control for Mike, a little longer for Jamie. Heavy pieces ending, some exchanges and an accepted draw offer. Mike might have had a positional plus but his clock negative could have been more telling in a tricky ending so the draw seemed reasonable enough. The second match to finish wasn’t too far behind with Andy and Mike reaching a rooks, piece and pawns ending; Andy slightly more space, Mike perhaps with the more centralised pieces – again a fair result and now this was a six board match.
Arjun was in time trouble. Again. And not in a position that appeared to offer any significant breakthroughs; I must have missed something though because the game that concluded not long after I had last looked at it had concluded in our favour – a surprise additional half point swing (I had assumed it was a draw) that ultimately proved crucial and edged our noses in front.
Boards 1 and 2 were next to finish, albeit not in that order. Chris managed to make his h-file bishop an important piece at the end of the game, winning a pawn, invading with his queen… but not quite having enough for a winning attack. A good draw nonetheless from a tricky position that could easily have come unstuck. Dave and Jon, meanwhile, continued to randomly scatter pieces across the board to an extent that I swear at one point there was a draughts piece involved in proceedings. An early Kg3, a much later exchange sacrifice, Dave with doubled pawns on the 7th and 5th, Jon offering a poisoned bishop – I could make neither head nor tail of it and I’m glad I didn’t record the position as putting it into Fritz might just cause my laptop to explode. Dave felt minded to recall a quote from Howard Staunton – “I cannot see how it is possible for either player to save his game.” And I was obliged to agree. Turns out Dave just about managed it – when the queens came off the pawn on the 7th went from threat to crowning glory as a second queen was enough to win material and enter a winning endgame. I don’t know whether it was myself or Geoff that finished next – either way, at 2.5 – 2.5 we needed 2 from the last 3 and it was these two games that brought the necessary points haul. My game ultimately hinged on Martin’s doubled h-pawns, which occurred on move 6 and gave me a route into the kingside from where I was able to prise open his pawn structure after winning the exchange. Geoff’s game hinged on him winning the d-pawn and then retreating into his shell and staving off Steve’s kingside attack for what seemed like 20 or so moves. Either way, stave it off he did before turning the tables and invading with queen and rook to seal the deal. All of which left Ian’s knight and pawns ending – a probable draw (Steve had repeated at one point and would have again if Ian had also done so) but with a pawn advantage Ian tried to push for more. It didn’t quite work out though – a pawn up became a pawn down (the only pawn left) and careful husbandry of that pawn allowed Steve to queen before Ian’s flag fell.
To sum up… Exciting! Thrilling!! Confusing!!! Classic midweek chess, with two very well matched sides going toe-to-toe and battling to the very end. This didn’t feel like a lucky win, or a one-sided win – it felt like a match that could go either way and would hinge on the smallest of detail. That’s exactly what we got, and fortunately for us it was the Nomads contingent that got that break and brought home the points. It seems that the entire season will be consisting of tight, hard fought but friendly competition – personally, I can’t wait for the next match!