At the start of the season, the Armstrongs’ respective targets were second and survival, but recent matches have seen both start to slip away. The As lost their second match in a row at the weekend, while although the Bs put in an excellent performance against Elm Mount – capped by a draw for Zdravko against David Fitzsimons – the other teams around us have started picking up draws and even wins, meaning we now face a big task on the final day to stay up.
The Armstrong A’s dismal recent run started with a hammering against Gonzaga. A first batch of three matches in Gonzaga started rather surprisingly with Conor O’Donnell FM waiting on board 5, and ended with us 3-0 down. Killian Delaney handed Gerry his first defeat of the season, while Pawel also suffered his first loss, albeit in just his third game.
Four more games were played in Benildus on the Wednesday, which hardly went much better. Mel and Kevin had the tightest games, but only Mel – against Stephen Jessel FM – was able to hold the draw, from a pawn down in a rook ending. Board 1 is still to be played, but it’s clear our bogey team have come back to bite us yet again, as a 6½-½ scoreline is currently 3½ points worse than Trinity, our main rivals for second place, scored against Gonzaga.
And it got worse in round 10, when we needed subs for the first time all season. Eddie and Ronan were drafted in, but both went down to defeat against Kilkenny – hitting our B team’s chances of survival at the same time as we dented our own hopes of second place. Stephen and Mel both took draws off Alex Baburin GM and Mark Quinn IM respectively, but in the end of the day, we had lost 5-3 to a Kilkenny side whose form has been comfortably mid-table since round 4’s pummeling against Gonzaga. We’re now 4½ points behind Trinity in the race for second, and we’re only ahead of Elm Mount on tie-break. Trinity play Dublin in the last round and only need a draw to secure second, even if our As do our Bs a massive favour and beat Phibsboro 8-0; Elm Mount face Bray.
Beating Phibsboro 8-0 is what we hoped Gonzaga would do this week, but they slumped to their second-worst result of the season when only winning 5½-2½. And it could have been worse, as they rescued three draws from losing positions, although they did throw away a won position to lose on the bottom board. This was not what the Bs had been wanting to hear after coming out of our own game against Elm Mount, where we got the same score, but could easily have done so much better. In fact, two hours in, it was looking like we should get a draw at least. Gerry McElligott CM had simply hung a piece against Ciarán, while Mihailo was a piece up on the bottom board as well. Ross was up a pawn, though his opponent had an attack, but nowhere near as big an attack as Mariusz did. I was slightly better against Ciarán Quinn, while Zdravko on board 1 was playing probably the team’s best game of the season. Up against David Fitzsimons IM, he had surprised us with his opening choice, but later went in for a line where he was a queen and pawn for two pieces down – but David’s queen was pinned right back on g8, blocking in his own rook and stuck in place due to a windmill threat; Zdravko’s position was just crushing.
But as has happened before, we couldn’t hold on to all the points – this may well be our season’s epitaph, although it’s just a symptom of how much we’ve been out-rated at times. Tim lost first, before Zdravko bailed out into a draw – he had reached an ending where he had two pieces against a rook, with five pawns each, but reckoned that, even with increments, being into his last five minutes wasn’t enough time to win the position against an IM. Still, a great result in what was a really entertaining game too – though he’s annoyed about letting a +5 position slip, I’m sure if you ask nicely up the club, he’ll show you the game!
Ciarán converted his advantage, which had been getting a bit uncomfortable as pawns came off, but he was eventually able to sac into a clearly winning 3 v 2 ending. But then things started going wrong. I took a free pawn, which allowed a check and an attack –
Here, I played the logical 20. Qe2??, covering the mate threat on d2, but which allows 20. … RxB 21. PxR 0-0!! 0-1. I had planned to meet this with 22. Qg4, swapping queens off, but too late saw black’s reply – 23. … NxP#! There is no way out of this without giving up silly material, so I had to resign – much to black’s satisfaction, who I don’t think had played 0-0 as a final move before. But I could have fought on with 20. Qg4 RxB 21. QxQ RxN+ 22. PxR NxQ (or indeed 20. Nf4).
Mariusz had gone for the fireworks and, with pretty much every piece pointing out his opponent’s king, he sacced a rook for the breakthrough. Unfortunately, it wasn’t there, and a more patient build-up would have kept his +2 advantage. Ross also lost after his opponent’s kingside attack broke through, and it was left to Mihailo to put some respectability on the score, having avoided his opponent’s desperado double-rook sacrifice – the second rook could be taken back in one of three ways, but one of them left stalemate. Mihailo spotted that, and resignation was immediate.
2½ would have been a respected score had Phibsboro taken a hammering as expected. Instead, it leaves us two points adrift of them, having lost our individual match. Kilkenny are now 1½ ahead of us, while Curragh play struggling Dún Laoghaire and Phibsboro play our As. A 5-3 win will see us finish ahead of Kilkenny – a tough ask against a team with three titled players – but we probably need at least 3½ to have hopes of staying up. Still, even if we do go down, we’ve exceeded expectations and at the start of the season wouldn’t have expected to be disappointed with still having a chance of staying up on the last day!