Pawel inflicted Gerry’s first defeat of the modern era with one of the most dramatic conclusions to a game we’ve seen in that time, but there’s six players in a bunch just half a point behind.
The first results of the night arrived in the lower half of the draw; Luke beat Denis after a wild Benko game where both sides not only captured their opponent’s king’s rook with their bishop, but then also got the bishops trapped in the corner after f3/f6 pushes. However, Luke was two pawns up, and pushing his passed queenside pawns ulptimately brought about victory. Shortly after, Paddy picked up his first win in the tournament when delivering three fairly nasty checks against Frank – the first forced Frank to block with a rook and so lose an exchange, the second forked king and hanging bishop, and the third forked king and queen, at which time Frank threw in the towel.
A bit of an upset was brewing on board 4, though, as Anastasija had come under a huge attack from Desmond, and soon lost a rook for nothing. Desmond seems to like this competition as he’s guaranteed a grading prize for the second year in a row – but he presumably still has eyes on matching last year’s third place. And presumably he’ll be hoping a repeat performance here doesn’t translate into a repeat performance in the leagues!
Dave Willow, meanwhile, had started the evening by confidently ruling out any mitigating factors, having not had ideal prep for his previous two games, and of course taking a bye in round 3. I did suggest that this declaration should be held back until after his game just in case, but Dave was unrepentant – and justifiably so as it turned out, although he did note afterwards that the match was far tougher than the ratings gap of 500 points indicated; given his opponent was the youngest player in the tournament, this may well be another of those results that will look better and better in future years!
Curiously, this sequence of results meant that nobody who was left playing had a board in play beside them. A couple more results were looking likely – one an upset as Des had torn into Cal and flushed out his queen, and one only maybe an upset as Stephen, 100 points higher-rated than Liam but rusty, had sacced on f2 after five moves and had been on a king hunt ever since. Both Des and Stephen did in the end convert wins; Liam is currently copying Stephen’s form from the last two tournaments in taking a big upset in the first round and falling away from there. But there’s always round 5 – against Des.
The two Ciaráns had quiet wins against two of the juniors, with R beating Seán after ganging up on a pawn weakness from the opening, and M accounting for Aodhán. That just left the top three boards, all of which had players getting short on time. Mihailo had started off with 1. b3 against me, looking to avoid my alleged reams of French theory, and had wound up in a Dutch instead, but a weird one where the change of move order sequence meant I somehow ended up not getting in a couple of standard moves. But as Mihailo’s clock ran down, he allowed a tactic, then a second sac – but this time, into his final 30 seconds, he missed a completely winning refutation, instead allowing a mating attack.
Ross and Zdravko shared the spoils in a minor piece ending, but Gerry v Pawel was the one all eyes were on. The game started with the curious 1. e4 c5 2. Na3, but later on, Gerry gave up a rook for a piece, a pawn and an attack. When later he was just a full piece up, it looked like three-in-a-row was on the cards – a win would have put him a full point clear of everyone else. But then disaster – with 10 seconds left to Pawel’s 5, he offered a queen swap and only half-pressed his clock, costing him vital seconds…and then Pawel showed that the queen swap ended with a hung rook! There was plenty of play left in the position, though Gerry was probably losing, but in a few seconds of blitz, Gerry’s flag fell first, his unbeaten record was gone, and it’s Pawel who is clear at the top, with Gerry in a group of six hoping for a slip-up on the final day.