An earthquake couldn’t put in a dint in our match preparations this morning, although there will be some who might be wishing the earth could open up after a dramatic match at the foot of the table today.
The earthquake hit around noon, although Brendan was the only one to feel it as he’d been out on the balcony at the time, where the tables are probably slightly shakier. The rest of us found out when a rumour started doing the rounds later in the day, and the local papers have since confirmed a 4.5 quake.
Today’s match saw us up against the Welsh side White Knights, seeded just one place above us. In the race to avoid the bye, they had gambled on a win yesterday, playing their full-strength team, and that meant they had to rest their board 6 today and cede another 100 points. Myself and Kevin actually outrated our opponents narrowly, and the expected score was 2½. But although there was 6 teams on no match points, ours had the best chance of providing the bye for the following day; the Greek team had the bye, the Danish team were floating up to play bottom seeds Ballinasloe, and we had to keep half an eye on Lazio v Echternach.
Things started pretty badly. John was under pressure and decided, as is his wont, to calmly sac a piece, which his opponent admitted after fairly scared him. It wasn’t entirely without merit, but John didn’t follow up accurately, and was completely lost soon after. Brendan also lost relatively quickly, losing an exchange and then going as many as five pawns down as well. Constantin was an exchange down, and things were looking pretty bad.
But there was positives too. Dylan and myself had won pawns, while Kevin had also come out of his opening with what he wanted; our prep was helping in each case. Kevin got to the queen and pawn ending he had aimed for – where his pawns were much better – but it then didn’t look as nice when it appeared on the board, with his opponent having counter-play, and so he bailed into a perpetual.
Constantin made progress on his position and was close to level, Dylan won a piece – his opponent almost immediately offered a draw, which Dylan politely declined – while my extra pawn had made its way to d7 and I was almost won. And then I got to this position –
I had five minutes plus increments left for my last 8 moves before the time control, but that still doesn’t excuse 1. RxP?? I had checked the various rook captures – but completely forgot to check if my opponent had any checks until just when I pressed my clock. He does – 1. … Qb1+ 2. Kh2 Qb8+ and the back rank is defended. Now rather rattled – having simply outplayed my opponent for the entire game – I blundered again with the reply 2. Rd1, intending to deflect my opponent’s queen from the back rank, but after 2. … QxR+ 3. Kh2 RxR 4. QxR+ Kg7, the black queen is defending the pawn, and I was lost anyway, and looking for that earthquake to return…
Dylan turned his piece advantage into a piece and pawn, into piece and two pawns, into piece and three pawns, to reach R, B+3 v R. And still his opponent played on, until Dylan got to mate in 2, at which we finally had our first game win of the tournament.
Constantin held his draw and we ended up with a 4-2 defeat. My calamity was what cost us the match draw – and avoiding match defeat is a rarity enough for us that it’s a goal in itself! – and we now await tomorrow’s draw. Ourselves and Lazio are the two teams left on 0, but the Luxembourgish side’s tiebreak (your opponents’ match scores timesed by the game score you got against them) should be better than us, not helped by an interesting ending where our round 2 opponents, Blackthorne, missed out on a match win in the fifth hour from an ending which the chess24 computers scored +40 at one stage.