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!
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?
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!