Both the Armstrong and the O’Hanlon picked up a 75% score last night, but neither match was anywhere near as close at the scoreline suggests despite a big ratings advantage for both Benildus teams.
The O’Hanlon were up against Bray, who were level on points with us but who arrived with a very weak team including four subs and a 700 on board 2. Nicky and Anastasija – who were playing players near enough their ratings, Bray having more or less inverted their team – both drew, with Anastasija being a pawn down when her opponent offered a draw, citing illness. Odhrán beat the 700 to put us 2-1 up, but the other three boards were a real struggle. Ronan eventually got a pawn to the second rank, which picked up a piece, after which things were trivial. Dylan, however, was a piece down, but somehow got to a ending where he was a pawn down but worse, and then won after his opponent hung a rook in what I presume was time trouble. That at last put a respectable slant on the scoreline, and we got another half-point when Finn drew with 91-year-old Vincent Denard – a better result than last year, when Finn had lost. That extends Vincent’s unbeaten streak against St Benildus to four games – having beaten Mark earlier this year, Finn last year and Ray Bowe the year before. Michael Kearney and Odhrán both beat him in the 2011/12 Bodley, our last success against him. Still, a 4½-1½ win gives us a lot of breathing space at the bottom now, especially with only one team being relegated.
There was an interesting match in the Armstrong, meanwhile, as bottom-of-the-table Elm Mount B visited with a team which was around the same strength as our Heidenfeld – possibly an interesting portent for next season! But again, the match was a long struggle which even at the two hour mark was looking fairly level overall. Gradually, though, the ratings gaps started to tell. Stephen Brady moved to 6/6 for the season after beating Bernard Boyle – a mere 578 points gap in the ratings there. A couple of other wins followed – for John Healy, despite a change of shirt mid-match after somehow cutting himself during a chess match, Mel and Tim.
While Brendan was better, the other three games were all very much in the balance. I ended up losing on 8, despite my opponent’s insistence on pushing all the pawns in front of his king when we’d castled on opposite sides and I’d a half-open c-file. This is normally supposed to be very bad, but in the game, I couldn’t find a way through, sacced a pawn and ended up losing. But in the club analysis afterwards, Ciarán, John H and Stephen Brady all grimaced as my opponent played a6, b6 and c6 – but then gradually came to accept that maybe they weren’t such bad moves after all. Try as we might, we couldn’t really find a conclusive way through for me; certainly, black won more times than he lost! The general conclusion afterwards was that I hadn’t really done anything in particular wrong, but just that my opponent had defended very well. Not that that made losing to a 1300 any easier to take!
John Gibson was also in trouble, having lost a pawn against Peter Scott, but in a B+2 v N+3 ending, he ended up winning on time when objectively, maybe the best he had was a draw. Brendan Lyons also won, but Gerry spared my blushes when losing to a 1600 for the first time in a couple of decades. Still, a 6-2 win moves us well clear in second place after Gonzaga’s 6½-1½ win over reigning champions Trinity, which has pretty much sealed the title even at this early stage. We have a 5 point gap back to Trinity in third; our clash next month will probably decide if we can sneak a runners-up spot for the first time in 17 years.