Five of the club’s six teams were in action in the past four days – at the end of which, Stephen Brady has won the Top Scorer trophy (and also a board prize, but the Top Scorer trophy is better!), the Heidenfeld have one hand on promotion, and that’s maybe all the Bodley A have left…
On Wednesday, the Armstrong were up against Phibsboro looking for a big win to help them to second in the league. It didn’t go at all to plan, however. John Gibson took an early draw, noting he and his opponent had beaten each other enough times down the years at this stage. Ciarán had an advantage against an opponent he’d beaten in the Heidenfeld earlier in the year, but his opponent clawed his way back to swap off to a draw. Kevin and Brendan both claimed wins, while Mel, as black, got his opponent in a complete bind and forced resignation in this nice position –
Gerry and Stephen were in big trouble though. Gerry ended up losing despite a 350+ rating gap for the second time this season, while Stephen also had a 300+ point gap and had gone wrong in tactics in time trouble to be just a rook down. In desperation, while his opponent pushed his h-pawn to promotion, Stephen set up a not-at-all-subtle knight king-rook fork – and to the amazement of all watching, his opponent missed it! This left a B+2 v N+2 ending, which – with two minutes each left – was immediately agreed drawn, with Stephen noting that it’s not every day he wins a rook and is still worse afterwards. It surely wasn’t the most satisfactory way to claim “only” a third board prize in six seasons (compared with five in the six before that), but that’s chess. Other results elsewhere over the week also confirmed that he can’t be caught in the race for the club’s top scorer, so his name will join the illustrious list of winners (Jamie and Eddie so far) on the silver trophy.
In the other round 10 games, Gonzaga wrapped up their first ever Armstrong title when beating Balbriggan 6-2, while Kilkenny are in trouble at the bottom after having three points docked from their 4-4 draw against Rathmines after they broke the 150 point rule by 1 point!
Trinity play Dublin in round 10 and Dún Laoghaire in the final round, while we have a tougher tie against Elm Mount A – we should have enough spare to claim third place, which would be our highest finish since 1997/98, while we may even sneak second spot, albeit a long way distant of our great rivals Gonzaga!
Downstairs, the O’Hanlon were up against champions elect Round Tower. We were just looking for any couple of points to pull us farther away from the drop, but we put in what may well go down as our best performance of the season. Eddie handed over the Top Scorer trophy with a loss within an hour, blaming illness – an excuse he had put in before the game started in fairness to him! But we were back in it not long after when Dylan rounded off a crushing 23-move win on board 1 to inflict Leon Fagan’s first league defeat in 3½ years, and his first in Round Tower’s three seasons in the league.
Things were going ok elsewhere too. Odhrán was getting towards a double rook ending, sub William was a pawn up, Nicky was in a level enough middle game and Anastasija was going on a bit of an attack. But William saw a pawn ending go horribly wrong – as pawn endings so easily can! – starting with this position –
The game continued 1. KxP?!
This doesn’t lose in itself, but it’s easier to leave the pawn there – it’s just blocking black’s king in – and go after the three pawns on the kingside instead. Best here is 1. g4, stopping the kingside pawns advancing any further, and then the king can pick them off, or you can bring the king over immediately, though it takes a little bit more time.
A natural-looking move, but it loses immediately. Instead, 4. h4! was essential. The game continued 4. … f3! 5. gf gh, and suddenly the outside passed pawn can’t be stopped. 5. Ke3 is also no good after 5. … fg 6. Kf2 gh. But 4. h4 (or 1. g4) would have ended all chances of an outside passed pawn, which can be hugely dangerous in king and pawn endings. King and pawn endings can be nasty like that, which makes them all the more interesting!
Odhrán got squeezed out in his game, but Anastasija’s opponent was playing as if he was the one in time trouble, even though he had 30 minutes to Anastasija’s 1 – and he went wrong in a rook ending. He did manage to reduce it to rook against king, with just ten seconds now left on Anastasija’s clock – but Anastasija kept calm to deliver mate with literally one second remaining!
Nicky allowed a knight to a very strong outpost which I think finally did for her after another great battle, and we ended up with just two points – probably not as many as our play deserved, but enough to mean we’re not going to go down this season. Celbridge could just about catch us, but it’d involve hammering Round Tower in the last round, which we can hopefully rule out! Actually, were it not for six walkovers this season, we’d probably be in fourth place now, so maybe a sneaky promotion tilt is on the cards for next season?
Dylan was back in action the following evening, as a rare case where a sub on a team actually outrates everyone on that team! This was in the crucial Heidenfeld tie against promotion rivals Inchicore A, where we needed 2½ points to ensure we went into the final round in second place, with every half point beyond that a bonus. But first, we had to get to 2½ points – Ciarán Mahon pulling out sick on the day wasn’t the first blow we had, as we were also without Mariusz and Mihailo. But Michael – a draw specialist who’s actually only won two matches in our four Heidenfeld seasons! – got us underway with a 12-move draw; his opponent claimed fatigue, Michael said the position was drawn anyway, but on our side, we agreed that as Inchicore A needed the points more than we did, we were happy to take the draw.
Dylan delivered again shortly after – his rise has been meteoric since Christmas – this time when winning an exchange, and then saccing it back later to go into a completely won king and pawn ending, which brought about immediate resignation.
But not for the first time this season, things weren’t going to plan elsewhere. Ross had nabbed a pawn, but it allowed a strong counter-attack which won an exchange back, plus the original pawn. I never really got going, Desmond had offered a draw or two, but his opponent wasn’t interested, Jack had allowed – and lost – an IQP with only one minor piece each left and Ciarán had just started pushing a b-pawn to promotion when he hung it as the c-pawn protecting it was pinned to back-rank mate.
But also not for the first time this season, we dug deep. I lost, ending my board prize hopes, but Ross somehow worked up an attack, which included leaving his other rook hanging (though his opponent couldn’t take), forced his opponent to weaken his king position, got rook and queen onto the seventh (with a bishop on h6 for good measure) with one minute left on his clock (plus increments), dodged a few checks and his opponent realised he had no way of stopping mate. Brendan took a comfortable enough draw, and we had the 3 points we’d come for. He had the option of 1. … Nxf2 in the diagramme below, but he instead played 1. … QxB. Granted, there’s a slight spoiler in the comments below, but which move is better for black?
Jack’s opponent was also down to fumes on the clock in a same-coloured bishop ending, but the increments allowed him capitalise on his extra pawn (soon two pawns) and out the win. Desmond looked to have great chances throughout his game, but fell in the end when his h and g pawns were just that bit slower than his opponent’s a and b pawns, and even though both sides gave up rooks – their last pieces – to stop promotions, Desmond’s opponent was just too quick with his second pawn, and now the fear was that, after going 3-2 up, we might even lose the last three games.
We avoided that as Ciarán reached R+3 v R+4, and the game eventually got down to a R v R+1 position before the players would concede there was no winning chances left. So a third defeat in a row, but we’ve a 2½ point gap back to third now going into the final day tie against Inchicore B – who you can be sure will be all out to help their A team go up! Celbridge are a half point further back (but we beat them, whereas we lost to Inchicore A), while Rathmines A aren’t entirely out of it after a 6-2 win over Drogheda – they play Phibsboro and Lucan last. Curragh, meanwhile, beat Drogheda 8-0 in round 9, with Drogheda seemingly doing the bare minimum to avoid a complete default and get automatic relegation. We were never going to win the league anyway since losing to Curragh – it’s hard to catch a team who win two games to nil!
In the position from Brendan’s game above, 1. … Nxf2 doesn’t work after 2. BxQ NxQ 3. Be7 Nxc2 4. BxR KxB and while black may also pick up the a-pawn, he won’t have enough for the exchange. So the simple 1. … QxB was the way to go.
That left just the two Bodleys, fighting at either end of the table, and of the province. The Bs were dealt a blow when illness reduced us to four players, ahead of what was an already tough trip to Enniscorthy. But we put up a very respectable fight, and the eventual 5-0 scoreline was a bit harsh on us. Paddy lost, but Cal came through some tricky-to-calculate exchanges quite well to rescue what had appeared to be a trapped piece and emerge just two pawns up – except that he forgot to conclude the exchanges, and never took back his opponent’s last piece! This left him a piece for two pawns down, and his opponent was able to give back the piece to get a pawn on a7, which proved decisive.
Liam fell for a knight fork and lost an exchange; though he tried to drum up counterplay, his opponent was able to swap off enough material to keep that quiet, and then swooped for mate. Aodhán on 3 was a pawn up in a rook ending, but unfortunately for us, his opponent had had a good bit of practice in rook endings when playing Finn last week! So it proved, and he was much more decisive in his plans, which ultimately proved vital; the final (mate) position saw three queens on the board between the two players. Still, really it’s just a bit of experience that came between us and a 3-2 defeat (with four players) against the side who were confirmed as Bodley champions after the match, so there’s promising signs!
In Kildare, meanwhile, the Bodley A were facing another crunch tie, this time against Curragh. We were again short three players, and things didn’t go well at the start when Curragh’s all-conquering board 1 (8½/9 before this) switched to board 2 specially for our visit, where William was playing for the first time this season after his recent good form! And things got worse early on when Desmond dropped a piece on move 6. Suddenly, we were in big trouble against a side who beat our B team by the narrowest of margins.
Desmond went for an all-out attack, but as is the way of those kind of games, just when he thought he was getting somewhere, reality came crashing down and he lost. William also lost, as did Declan on 1. It was left to Seán and the returning Luke to rack up a couple of points for us – but having lost just two games in our first seven matches, we’ve now lost ten in the last three! Curragh and Malahide both have a match in hand – as we played our round 10 tie early – but both are (potentially crucially) 5½ points behind us, so we will go into the final round in second. There, we face Malahide, so a draw will be enough to see us promoted. And if Malahide drop any points in round 10, we’ll be able to drop half as many again against them. Malahide’s round 10 opponents? Our Bs… This all looked so simple a short month ago!