The Heidenfeld’s good start to the season continued yesterday with a 5-3 win over Drogheda, who finished third last season.
We were missing three players from our nine-man squad, which meant a first test of the club’s strength in depth as Odhrán and Dylan filled in on 7 and 8. Meanwhile on the top boards, Drogheda had changed their board order around, mindful of how successful our preparation had been for last season’s fixture – but in the end, it just resulted in a repeat of last season’s board 3, when Ciarán overcame Dónal O’Boyle in this madcap game.
As usual, it took a couple of hours before the games started to take shape, but when they did, it was clear we were doing quite well. Odhrán had launched a kingside pawn storm, Dylan and Mariusz were material up while Ciarán was on move 12 or so. Maybe mindful of how that game went last season, Ciarán’s opponent had opted for a Petroff’s this time, but the game had slowed down somewhat amidst constant black threats of …e4, forking bishop and knight. Myself, Ross and Mihailo were fairly level, but we were certainly on course to at least match last season’s 4-4 draw.
Odhrán’s opponent rather capitulated, playing g5 and f5 against Odhrán’s attack – g5 turned out to be his last move, so we were back to 1-1 (after Dave Willow’s unfortunate defeat midweek). Mariusz had a rook for bishop and pawn, but had gotten a pawn to the seventh, backed up by the rook. All that was needed was to march the king up on the light squares – his opponent only having a dark-square bishop – to protect the pawn, and then move the rook to the eighth, and victory was confirmed. Not long after, Dylan wrapped up his win, and we were 3-1 up.
On 5, Mihailo had, as last week, reached a highly-drawn ending, this time a double-rook ending. This simplified into a rook and three v rook and two ending which I presume was drawn – but it certainly wasn’t after Mihailo allowed PxP+, which hung a rook to a discovered attack.
The final three boards all went the distance (although I was the only one playing the traditional two hours each). Ciarán – who was down to his final minute after move 24 – was rather surprised when, already a pawn down, his opponent sacced the exchange, though analysis afterwards showed that Ciarán had far more threats than he realised at the time, and maybe the exchange was the best of a bad set of moves for his opponent. Ross was a pawn up in a knight ending, while I had missed a chance to push a backwards e-pawn and was now suffering.
As we reached the fourth hour, Ciarán sacced back the exchange to reach a won pawn ending, which became a won queen against bishop’s pawn ending, which became a win when he sidestepped a last desperate stalemate trick. He was immediately more or less dragged out of the room by Mariusz, who was late for work but had to wait for Ciarán to finish before heading in.
I had somehow survived a position Fritz gives as +9 – my opponent chose the wrong rook to attack with, which allowed me a sneaky trick to leave me just about hanging on when the other rook would have won a bishop at least. I was down to my last minute though (with no increments), yet knowing I was more than likely lost, I was surprisingly calm, even getting up to check on the other boards in my final couple of minutes! Yet Fritz says my defence became surprisingly resilient; my opponent started getting frustrated as he joined me in time trouble. In the event, he swapped off into a rook and pawn ending, and when he hung a pawn, I automatically offered a sneaky draw; we were down to 30 seconds against 80. My opponent considered for a full minute – which time allowed me to actually look at my position and realise my new passed a-pawn meant I was quite possibly winning. To do so in 30 seconds would have been hard though, and given how badly I was being beaten earlier in the game, I couldn’t really have any complaints when my opponent rather unhappily accepted the draw. A complete swindle, but then we’d been swindled on two boards already, so this just went half way towards restoring the balance!
That left Ross, whose game went on longer than the full four hours because of increments (a warning for anyone who wants to play increments in a weeknight game!!). He was now N+2 v N+1, but his opponent had successfully blockaded Ross’ pawn on c2, and a draw was quickly agreed.
Still, 5-3 is a point more than we scored last season, and we’ve now faced – and beaten – 11th in last year’s Armstrong and 3rd in last year’s Heidenfeld. Next up is three games against teams expected to be at the other end of the table – Lucan, Phibsboro and newly-promoted Rathmines B (although they have enough juniors on their team to suggest they could be quite dangerous). These were the games we struggled in last season; the target this time out is to see if we can be in the promotion places at Christmas!