The top seeds were pushed all the way in the first round of the 2017 club championships, with the top two seeds only winning with seconds left, while the fourth seed went down to a defeat which means that already, half the field is out of the running for the David v Goliath prize.
We had 8 ties down for decision on the night, and though I was the first finished, it took a good 35 moves and 75 minutes before I saw off bottom seed David, whom I’d beaten in under a minute on occasion in the monthly blitzes! The full-length game is a different matter to blitzes though, and after a solid opening, David hung a pawn on f6, which I was able to back up with another pawn on e5, and when David castled into that rather than go long, there was trouble, though I did have to watch out for a sneaky mate threat for a while before winning.
Dylan was next to win after a nice sac destroyed Des’ kingside and soon saw pieces swarming decisively. Ciarán and John added straightforward wins against Paddy and Felix respectively, but the other four matches went on for quite a while longer. Late addition Ben was in quite a cramped position against Mariusz, but looked to be wangling his way out of trouble a little bit. Eddie was way up on time (as usual), with second seed Tim – playing for the first time since 2006 – down to his last five minutes and with nothing more than a slightly safer king to show for it; Gerry had won a pawn against Ciarán Mahon on the top board, but Ciarán had compensation, while Aodhán had picked up two pawns against fourth seed Vjekoslav.
Eddie’s game was first to finish, though mainly because Eddie still had an hour left on his clock when suddenly finding that Tim – down to his last 80 seconds – had unavoidable mate in one on the board; slightly safer play would simply have run Tim off the clock with still not much between the two on the board.
Mariusz did eventually make his large positional advantage tell, crashing through on b2 to win. That left us still looking for the first upset of the night, but Aodhán delivered it when defeating Vjekoslav – with passed d, e and f pawns, his position looked crushing, but then he hung the e-pawn – the defending d-pawn was pinned – and it looked like the position could start to unravel. Instead, the pawn proved to be quite poisoned, with Aodhán crashing in with a rook down the newly-opened e-file and taking victory within a couple of moves. 516 points was the rating gap and is now the target for subsequent David v Goliath efforts, although history is now on Aodhán’s side as the prize has been won in the first round each of the previous two years.
That just left Ciarán v Gerry in a real time scramble on the top board; both players were inside their last two minutes when Gerry finally managed to get his e-pawn over the line, but not after a huge struggle over a game where Ciarán definitely had winning chances.
We’ll have the draw for round 2 in the next few days, with games scheduled for 19th July.