In which the Armstrong B benefitted from some rook-ie mistakes, the Bodley took a great scalp and the O’Hanlon came close to a massive shock.
The Armstrong B were first up this week, and arrived in the comfortable surroundings of Dún Laoghaire’s venue to see the boards all set up – bar one rook. We very kindly offered to play without the rook – it wasn’t ours – but Dún Laoghaire were insistent, and the rook was produced. Little did we expect that by the evening’s end, it would have been returned with interest!
Barely had we started than John Gibson had finished; a quick draw against a player 130 points higher-rated. An hour later, Zdravko had done the same on board 1, and things were looking fairly good. We were now looking to Ciarán, Mihailo and Brendan – as the only three players within 50 points of their opponents – to bring in 1½, and we’d have reached our expected score of 2½; anything then from Mariusz, Dylan and myself would be a bonus.
Easier said than done though. Mihailo had misplayed the black side of a Winawer and had been hit with Qh5+ before he’d castled, which was enough to ensure his pieces never got co-ordinated. Ciarán had forced his opponent to re-take on f6 with the g-pawn and things were looking excellent there until he grabbed a pawn on e7 and was immediately hit with a rook-mate fork. He escaped only an exchange down, but with no practical winning chances. Brendan had bishops on b1 and b2 raking down an open board to his opponent’s king – but had then put his rook and king on the same diagonal and lost an exchange.
There wasn’t much to be overly optimistic about on the other boards either. Mariusz had gone in for a typically mad gambit line, but had gone slightly wrong early on when allowing his opponent to swap off queens. Dylan was getting into time trouble already, while I’d at least equalised against a veritable hodge-podge of white replies to the Dutch.
Mihailo and Dylan both lost – Dylan was so relaxed about the rubbishness of his position that he was to be seen walking around the other boards while he had as little as six seconds on his clock; it helped that the clock had been set up slightly incorrectly so that the 30 second increments were added on after his opponent’s move, not his move. But then Mariusz won an exchange, and now had bishop and rook for two knights and a pawn. My opponent had just hung a pawn to a tactic – and missed a zwischenzug to bail out of it – and it seemed we might be getting back into the game.
And though Ciarán lost – to bring the score to 4-1 – Brendan’s opponent amazingly hung a whole rook; Brendan could immediately swap off the queens and a set of minor pieces to leave a trivial B+6 v 6P ending which his opponent didn’t bother to try defend. I’d blown a great position to be left with an ending with all six major pieces attacking opposite kings. Fritz says I’m a small bit better, but only if I don’t walk into one of the many perpetuals – or mates! – available. My opponent left a rook hanging to go after one of those mates – simply missing that by taking his rook, I was now defending the mate square. After a single spite check, he threw in the towel.
That just left Mariusz, whose attack had, curiously, diminished after winning the exchange – so he gave it back to enter a rook and pawn ending. But he missed a zwischenschach and lost a pawn, and though he tried gamely to defend the resulting R+5 v R+4 ending – at one stage, there was a chance of reaching a drawn R v R + 2RP ending – he lost out, and ended up rueing not offering a draw when still the exchange up.
Still, 3-5 is a solid score, matching relegation rivals Kilkenny’s score against the same team. Next up, we face the might of Gonzaga, where we’ll be hoping to somehow beat another relegation rival, Curragh’s, score of…nought!
In the school at the same time, a strong Malahide were up against a Bodley team who – unlike in round 3 – actually had some of the Bodley panel playing on it. In fact, we were more or less at full strength, with Frank jumping in for his first game of the season. Malahide narrowly missed out on promotion last season; on Wednesday, they knew any win – a distinct possibility with a 1400 on board 2 – would put them top of the table. Instead, Cal and Liam recorded great wins against 1400 and 1350 respectively, Luke-Andrew chipped in with yet another Bodley win (he’s now won 16 of his 20 games in the division), while the seniors on the team – Des and Frank – chipped in with another half point to give the scoreline a nicely emphatic feel. In fact, had we had a full team going down to Enniscorthy, we could be sitting top of the league right now. Strangely, that’s the Bodley’s last match until after the Christmas, even though two of the club’s first three matches at the start of the season were Bodley games. We’re waiting on a couple of results to come in to finish round 4, but we’re looking quite solid so far in what’s shaping up to be a very tight division.
On Saturday, it was the turn of the Armstrong A and the O’Hanlon. The Armstrong were up against Curragh, looking not only to keep up their title challenge, but to help the Bs as well – so a score of more than the 6-2 got against the Bs was the target. Kevin McHugh’s draw in midweek confirmed that Curragh would be no pushovers, but things went quite well for us on the main day. Dave Willow got in an early e6 push, and commented after that it was quite easy to find seeing as he’d played a very similar sac in the same opening in the previous round! He came out of it a piece for two (bad) pawns up, and when he won an exchange shortly after, his opponent – who’d made an impressive jump from Bodley last season to Armstrong this – resigned.
John Healy followed shortly after with another win, and promptly pointed out where his opponent could have taken a draw. Brendan had sacced a piece for an attack; his opponent thought he’d found a way to cover off all the angles, but overlooked one slight problem – a hanging queen. It was looking like our day!
Stephen took a draw against a player rated 2050 Irish – but 2350 FIDE – while we were ahead on other boards too. Gerry’s game had started 1. d4 c5 and soon reached a position like a French Winawer when white has taken on g7 and h7, although in the game position, black had never gotten d5 in. Black fought on gamely, but with Gerry’s form improving by the round, he was never going to relinquish the point. Ciarán Mahon was facing an even more unusual opening – 1. c3 and 2. Qc2; Ciarán ignored his opponent, played his usual, won a fairly key pawn, built that to a piece advantage, got a pawn to d2 – and then collapsed in time trouble. He lost the pawn and ended up in a nightmarish R, B, N +1 v R, N +1 ending, which he had 100 seconds to win. But now it was his opponent who went wrong, even though he had half an hour on the clock. He first hung his last pawn, then lost his rook to a fork, and when the knight also fell, Ciarán had a massive 28 seconds to win R, B + P v lone king. We were up to 6-1.
Pawel was last to finish, playing around with a Q+6 each ending for a while before accepting it was a draw – and taking the As’ score past the 6-2 target. Gonzaga’s 6½-1½ hammering of Elm Mount is an indication they won’t be relinquishing their title easily, but at present, we’re nicely placed to be the main title challengers. At the other end, the Bs have played three of the same teams Kilkenny have, scoring 3½ points more, and have scored ½ more and ½ less against our As than Curragh and Balbriggan respectively.
The O’Hanlon, meanwhile, were in Gonzaga for what looked like a bit of experience. Gonzaga’s board 6 was 80 points higher-rated than our board 1, and we were giving up 400/500 points per board. Maybe one player would claim a heroic draw – but that was the height of our realistic ambitions. Ronan Sweeney, for example, had the thankless task of going up against Henry Li (1950) on board 1, and lost. Desmond and Eddie also lost against 1700s. but the junior players on the team were inspired against the old enemy. On the bottom board, Seán – a year since his first rated game, a loss on the bottom board of the O’Sullivan – had recorded a win against Andy Keenan (1560), ending his opponent’s 10-match winning streak in the leagues and adding to league wins of his own against 1250 and 1400 already this season. On board 5, Finn was a piece up against David Murray (the 1725-rated one), and held out for a record-best win. Meanwhile, on board 2, Odhrán took a draw off Ray Byrne, who had drawn with a 2200 and beaten a 2050 in the European Club Cup just last month. Gonzaga still took the match win – 3½-2½ – and will surely go on to win the league, but for the O’Hanlon, round 4 against Inchicore can hardly come soon enough!
Not surprisingly, eight of the week’s matches have made the club’s High Fives – and some will likely be there at the end of the season too!