In the 2012/13 season, when Phibsboro were claiming their seventh Armstrong in 12 years and our second team were delighted to have survived relegation from the Heidenfeld by a whole two points, there was surely no-one at either club who reckoned that less than three years later, we’d be disappointed at a narrow defeat when we met.
Phibsboro’s current league position – one of the four teams really vying for relegation – has been down to using 16 players over the season so far, including two under 1000 and a further 9 games from under 1500s combined. Unfortunately for us, they got a fairly full team out for our game, including an 1890 on board 4, where previously they’ve generally had 1650s. In addition, Curragh and Kilkenny had picked up 3 and 4½ points respectively in the round, so we were really under pressure to match or beat that.
We made the best possible start though; Mariusz was up against Colm Fitzpatrick, against whom he has an excellent personal record, and this time he got a tactic on f7 and wound up a rook up after about an hour; his opponent played on for a while, but the result was never in doubt.
The result wasn’t in doubt on my board either, where I was just completely screwed, though my opponent didn’t see the best move until too late. So as a tactics exercise, how should black continue here? –
My opponent played 1. … Be6. This is still winning, but Bxh3! is the move. The point of the bishop move is just to allow the rook to come to f8 with horribleness; the bishop may as well take a pawn and give other threats while it’s at it. In fact, the computer sees mate in 11, and even then that’s with white throwing in spite checks/blocks.
In the game, I met 1. … Be6 with 2. Qf3, setting a hardly subtle threat (Fritz actually gives it as the best move anyway) and went to talk to Mariusz about his game, which had just finished. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my opponent play 2. … Rf8, and may even have been heard to mutter “Oh my God!”, before quickly returning to the board to lob off the h7 pawn with check and be right back in the game. Any other move (2. … QxQ 3. PxQ BxP+, for example), and I had been planning on resigning.
John Gibson was undone by a knight sac on f7 – but the ratings differences were fairly small outside of boards 3 and 4 (200/250 points) and it was showing in a number of tight games, and we were starting to get the edge in a lot of them. Tim’s opponent had gotten a pawn to c3, which was cramping Tim’s position – but when it fell, he was able to get fully untangled. Ciarán was also a pawn up, while Mihailo’s opponent had doubled, isolated a-pawns, Ross’ opponent couldn’t castle and Dylan was starting to gain a bit of queenside space.
But the advantages all evaporated into a series of draws. Dylan and Ciarán both reckoned on missing winning moves, Mihailo, Ross and Tim also drew, while my game turned rather bizarre – still an exchange up, but struggling to untangle my pieces, I was going to offer a draw when my opponent simply hung a piece. So I was now a rook up – and into my last three minutes. Shaking his head in disbelief, my opponent threw in what was essentially a move as trappy as my previous Qf3 – in the diagramme below, he’s just played Qh2-h1+, leaving me two responses. Which one to choose?
I had to go on principles rather than calculating lines, and figured keeping on the light squares – away from any bishop checks – was the way to go. Unfortunately, this loses – though not in the way that happened in the game! Play continued 1. Ke2?? QxP+ 2. Kd3 Qf1+?? Black has thrown the game away again! The winning line goes 2. … Qf3+! 3. Kc4 Qe2+ 4. Kb4 Be7+, and the only way white can avoid immediate mate is by saccing the queen on the bishop, which is obviously losing.
The game, however, continued 3. Ke4 Qe2+ and now 4. Kd5 c6+ wins immediately, so I played 4. Kf5?? – somehow completely missing (as did everyone in analysis afterwards!) that 4. Kf4 was an option, when all black has is a perpetual – I can only presume I was too focussed on staying on the light squares… But now black can play 4. … Qf3+, and I can’t stop 5. … Qxh3, skewering my king and queen.
It’s hard to really consider this a dropped point given my opponent had an attack strong enough to give forced mate earlier in the game – but maybe a fairer result would have been a 0-0 given the play on both sides! But certainly across the 8 boards, there was a win there for the taking, and with our two next opponents, Balbriggan and Curragh, being of a similar strength to Phibsboro, the aim has to be to pick up another healthy score in those matches. The bottom of the table is maybe too tight for comfort at present, though if we can be half a point clear after five more rounds, we won’t be complaining!
Round 7 sees a big match at the bottom as Kilkenny host Curragh, guaranteeing points for both sides. Phibsboro have opened up a gap at the moment, but have the toughest run-in, including Bray/Greystones, Gonzaga and, on the last day, St Benildus A.