The Bodley A recorded an impressive whitewash victory over the Bodley B, but were overshadowed by an amazing performance from the Heidenfeld, who hammered title favourites Celbridge 5½-2½ – scoring more points against them than the Armstrong did last season!
The Bodleys were two relatively new-look teams – only Finn, Jack and Luke survive from last year’s A team, while Paddy, Mark and Cal were all that’s left from last year’s B team, with William and Luke-Andrew moving from the Bs to the As. The club’s focus is on promotion for the As and survival for the Bs – though the Bodley B finished third last season, this year’s Bodley is considerably stronger due to the merger of the two groups, and the relegation of the bottom half of last year’s division. On that basis, a fighting 5-0 defeat was maybe the best result – getting the Bodley A off to a great start while providing enough to show the Bodley B will take points off others over the season. That’s the way it panned out in the end; while Luke enjoyed a quick-fire win over Richard – pushing him, by my calculations, to a rating of 1000 exactly – and Jack had a relatively straightforward win over Cal on board 1, the other three games were all fairly tight affairs. Finn had a space advantage against Mark in an English opening, while there was little to choose in Desmond v Tim and Luke-Andrew v Paddy.
Gradually, though, the As started to come on top. Tim – getting towards time trouble – hung a piece, while Mark also dropped a piece. Luke-Andrew, who has a perfect record on board 5 in the Bodley (9/9), made it 10/10 when converting some positional advantages against Paddy – the minor exchange and better pawns. In the friendlies played at the same time, Liam from the Bs drew with William from the As, while Des had a fairly comfortable win over Diarmuid.
Next door, the Heidenfeld were resuming 1-0 up against Celbridge after Mariusz’ excellent win last week. Celbridge were 11th in the Armstrong last season, which is always where you look first for the following year’s Heidenfeld champions. They out-rated us by 1200 points on the top four boards, but we had 300 points on the bottom four boards. The expected score – after Mariusz’ surprise win – was around 3½-4½, which we’d have taken without asking twice before the game. But when, an hour and a half in, we were a pawn up on four boards (myself, Ciarán, Brendan Cooney and Ross), we had the first inklings we might be onto something big.
Michael was first to finish, having gambitted a pawn early on. He was still down the pawn when offered a draw and, after some consideration, he accepted. Fritz later confirmed the move he had been considering was bad, so all in all, he was happy enough with that! For us, any points on the top four boards were basically bonuses, and Michael’s draw, when 154 points out-rated, was just the first of the night.
That was followed by a draw from Dave Willow, joining the team after Stephen Brady’s transfer to the Armstrong. Dave had seemed in a bit of a positional cramp, but managed to swap off some material and then went in for an exchange where he got two minor pieces for a rook and two pawns – at which point, his opponent (275 points higher-rated) offered a draw. Ciarán – alongside Dave on board 1 – says Dave took so long considering the draw that he even forgot it had been made, and was surprised to see the two suddenly shaking hands! So we had already reached the two points we were quite pleased with taking off Celbridge two years ago, when they stormed the division.
Brendan Cooney followed up with another draw; he had threatening pawns on d3 and e4, but gave up his queen for two rooks, and his king was rather open, which allowed his opponent drop a queen in and claim a perpetual.
The other four games were all going ok too. Ross had a huge positional bind – and a pawn – and just needed to find a way to break through his opponent’s creaking defences, though his time was running low. Mihailo had blocked both his bishops in with f5 and c5 pushes, but had escaped to a minor piece ending with the bishop pair, while on board 1, Ciarán was a pawn up against Paul Dempsey, and nobody was entirely sure why the 2150 had given up the pawn. The notion that Ciarán might simply be winning wasn’t taken entirely seriously until later! Meanwhile, I’d not reacted well to my opponent’s early deviation from book, but worse, it turns out O’Dwyer’s don’t do pub food of a Wednesday after 5pm any more, so I’d instead nipped into the Centra for a healthy dinner of six jam tarts and was now battling a sugar rush as well as my opponent. Fortunately, my opponent then overlooked a middlegame tactic which meant I won a pawn.
Those four games all went down to the final few minutes – thankfully, none of us had opted for the ludicrous new (and shorter) time control! It turned out that Ciarán’s opponent had just missed a not-too-subtle tactic to lose a central pawn earlier in the game, and when the rooks came off, Ciarán had a position which he at least couldn’t lose – queen, bishop and five against queen, bishop and four, with bishops of the same colour. When his opponent allowed queens to be swapped after a few moves avoiding the swap, it was looking like a win was entirely possible. The ending could maybe have been held with accurate play, but that’s easier said than done, and after the bishops were forced off, only a couple more moves were played before it was clear white was in a losing pawn ending and resigned, giving Ciarán a new record win. Incredibly, we were 3½-1½ up.
That got even better when the last three boards all finished within moments of each other. Ross – who had at one stage had about 6 minutes to his opponent’s 30+ – finally found a way to break through as his opponent’s time dwindled; in the end, he even claimed a win on time, though in a won position. Mihailo was now a pawn down in an opposite-colour bishop endgame, but he allowed his opponent an outside passed pawn, and suddenly the maxim that all opposite colour bishop endgames are drawn wasn’t quite true! Even Zdravko, who knows his endgames, lost the position a couple of times in analysis afterwards. For my part, I was struggling to push my extra – now passed – pawn but, when I declined my opponent’s draw offer, he nicely hung a piece two moves later. We played on till mate; though I’d queened twice, I had only 20 seconds on my clock at the end!
That final flurry of points lifted us to 5½-2½. Coupled with the news earlier in the day that a former player – who’d slot in on board 1 ratings-wise – was looking to get back to playing, and it looks like we might well be dark horses for promotion this year. If nothing else, it promises to be more fun than a season spent battling relegation.