It was a case of same old, same old for the Heidenfeld last night. Missing half a team, out-rated by a total of 2512 points – a whole GM down! – we picked up five draws over the night and yet came away with the view that, with a little bit more conviction, we could have won the match outright.
We had rather an inauspicious start – Ger pulled out with flu on Tuesday while a big gangland arrest on Wednesday afternoon put paid to Steven Dixon as he got hit with planning the bail hearing. It took some serious scrambling just to get eight players out! I hoped we’d pick up one point somewhere, but Brendan was far more confident, saying that he felt good about the evening. It was appropriate, so, that he was first to finish, picking up another commendable draw against a 1600+ player; Brendan may even have had the better chances during the game.
On board 7, Michael Kearney was trying to struggle back after a Fried Liver went wrong – from memory, the game went 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. Ng5 d5 5. PxP NxP 6. Nxf7 KxN 7. Qf3+ Ke8?? 7. … Ke6 is called for here with a fun position; the text just gives white back his piece with interest. Michael soon found himself a rook down, fought back to win an exchange but was never realistically going to get anything out of the game.
Beside Michael, though, a small sensation was brewing as Dan – who’d jumped in for Steven Dixon at the eleventh hour and who was looking to overcome a mere 601 points rating difference – had lined up queen and rook and smoked his opponent’s king out, picking up a pawn on the way. Alas, that done, Dan consolidated rather than attacked, and ended up giving back the pawn and agreeing a draw. A superb result all the same, but not for the first time in the evening, there was definitely more on offer. Dan’s bemused opponent afterwards commented that he wasn’t entirely sure where he had gone wrong; there was no major turning point or blunder which led to Dan’s attack.
Next to draw was Michael, in a position where I, playing alongside was struggling to really find a move for him. He had N+5 v B+5, three pawn islands to his opponent’s two and the weaker piece; Magus Carlsen would have made Michael suffer as he ground out a win, but Herbert was happy to offer a draw, which Michael readily accepted.
That prompted me – playing the “easiest” game of the night, a mere 120 points out-rated – to make a sneaky draw offer of my own; my opponent had earlier confided that he was relying on a bus to get home. We were headed for an endgame where the only real difference was my bishop for knight advantage. The draw offer was refused, and I went on to win a pawn and have two connected passed pawns on the queenside. However, instead of just pushing the pawns to victory, I wasted two tempi on a pointless check which allowed my opponent improve his position just enough to get counter-threats of his own, and ended up settling for a draw. Half point number two of the night had been dropped.
Harry battled all the way in the hopes of reaching an opposite colour bishop ending, but somewhere along the line lost the bishop for a pawn and the game was lost with it. And then at about the same time, draws were offered in the two remaining games.
Ciarán’s game had been quite wild; his opponent – as white – had seemingly accidentally turned a d4 opening into a French advance, and was ill at ease with the position. He castled queenside, where Ciarán already had the startings of a pawn storm, and then threw caution to the wind, leaving a piece hanging to go on a direct king attack. Ciarán went for it, taking the piece while white pointed four pieces at black’s uncastled king. The breakthrough didn’t come, though there were still enough threats remaining so that, when white offered a draw, black accepted. The move Ciarán had planned would have left a roughly level game, but a different move would – says Fritz – left him +6.3. We’ll try and get that game for annotation here.
Nicky’s draw offer was turned down, meanwhile. She was a pawn down, but it was R, B+3 v R, B+2 where the pawns were all on the same side of the board and the bishops were opposite colour. She comfortably held the position and although her opponent won a pawn at the cost of exchanging rooks, the resulting B+2 v B endgame was trivially drawn…until Nicky’s flag fell. Had she claimed a theoretical draw before that, the result would have stood; any appeal to the league controller would have shown that the position was a clear draw. Half point number four had been dropped.
It gets easier from here on in; our next five opponents are those likely to finish bottom-half. We play Rathmines next; they’ve only used three players over 1500 this season, and irregularly at that. We’ve done the hard part spectacularly well; now we need to start winning overall matches to ensure another Heidenfeld season next year.