Last season ended with an almighty clash of the titans, as Nomads A and SASCA A collided in our penultimate match; the 4-4 draw (with a couple of dropped 1/2 points from our side at the start and end of the match) ultimately handed the title to SASCA. That hurt – and beating Stannington A in a dead rubber didn’t do anything to assuage the pain. The fixtures secretary sprinkled his magic dust and we got an immediate shot at revenge at the start of this season… but with Sam Milson and Paul Cumbers back in Lincolnshire and Daniel unable to play Tuesdays (and moving to SASCA as a result) the omens did not seem all that good. However… SASCA were shorn of several of their players for the match as well so when we sat down to play the match ups seemed pretty even, with two fixtures (Chris – Ryan, myself – Tom) mirroring that fateful night in April.
It has become a bit of a cliche in my reports over time, but even the most one-eyed of Nomads fans would admit that tonight was absolutely our lucky night. Geoff and I perused the boards some time after 9.00pm, deep into the second hour of the match, and when Geoff asked ‘is anyone from our team winning?’ it was clearly a rhetorical question. Jon seemed to be hanging on by his fingertips against Oskar, Chris didn’t appear any better against Ryan, Jamie’s pawn structure looked like a long term weakness and his clock a medium term one with Yang composed and looking to grind him down, my own position was the usual mess of randomly scattered pieces in an a3 Sicilian and last time that had happened against Tom, he had slipped calmly into a won ending…and won; Ian’s king looked dangerously exposed with Steve’s pieces massing for a kingside attack; Mike and John were sparring lightly in a centre-counter; Geoff was struggling to make headway as Nat’s pawn structure and greater space seemed to give him all the play, and finally Arjun and Marek seemed to be swapping off pieces and heading towards a likely drawish ending.
For the first time I can remember, the first to finish was Chris. To my amateur eye, he seemed to have a slightly better position but nothing significant and a queen and two minor pieces each together with a smattering of pawns looked exceedingly drawish. It was indeed drawn and both teams were off the mark. Geoff’s game finished next and this too ended in a draw though by his own admission it should be chalked up in the ‘fortunate’ section of this report; Nat missing the win of a pawn before accepting a (slightly) hopeful offer of a draw on the very next move. At least we had a point – but SASCA then took the lead when Jamie’s resistance was finally broken. Clinging on somewhat from the late middlegame as his pawn weaknesses began to take their toll, he was unable to get any real piece play as Yang kept things tight and precise to eke out a win and a level of revenge for his defeat to Jamie last season. So we were now 2-1 down – but that was the only time we were behind. A flurry of wins now followed (to the extent that I don’t actually know in what order). Arjun won a piece in a series of exchanges and that was enough; Mike had turned the screw gradually against John’s kingside and something (I didn’t see what) eventually gave and that was also enough; and Ian’s brave defence, including sacrificing the exchange, was sufficiently diverting that Steve was unable to make the time control and that too, was enough. From 2-1 down to 4-2 up pretty much in an instant.
With little hesitation, I snapped off one of Tom’s extra pawns and offered a draw a move later both because I knew that would win us the match, but also because he had a lot less time than me and I felt I could hold the position (note: I had also taken a look at Jon’s game not too long beforehand and it hadn’t looked overly promising). Naturally and logically, Tom declined as he still had an extra pawn and my king might yet be vulnerable to a queen and rook attack so we played on. I thought I’d have another look at Jon’s game and somehow he was a piece and a pawn or two up, ahead on the clock, and clearly winning. Things were looking up! And they went from good to even better – I managed to avoid any tricks and march my king over to the left hand edge of the board where the best Tom could do was check repeatedly with his rook – he thought he could do better but that allowed me to generate my own series of checks followed by a double-edged rook manouevre that both blocked out the dying embers of his attack whilst also creating an unstoppable threat of my own. Tom’s final queenside pawn fell and with it his queen and the match was ours. A minute or two later, Oskar’s defence finally collapsed and Jon, too, sealed a win.
Conclusion: Another fascinating battle between SASCA and Nomads staged with familiar faces, some unfamiliar positions, and ultimately a result that perhaps gives the whole league hope in the face of what on paper looks to be a formidable SASCA side when all their big guns are playing. Next up we travel to Ecclesall and the site of our one defeat last season. Here’s hoping the scent of revenge continues to linger in our nostrils for that one!