The last week of games saw the Armstrong and O’Hanlon record belated first wins of the season, while the Heidenfeld, Ennis and BEA B are all in promotion races after all picked up big wins and there’s a couple of players on course for a board prize, which means a highly competitive season for our top scorer trophy.
The Armstrong have been struggling so far this season, and if their luck was due to turn, it was definitely getting to being a case of the sooner the better as they slipped towards the relegation zone. Fellow European Cup representatives Dublin were our opponents last Saturday, a match we just about shaded on ratings going into the game. But although Gerry lost to ex-Benildus player John Kennedy, Stephen won on 1 shortly after, and two hours or so in we were arguably better on pretty much all the six remaining boards. John won after his opponent missed that a pinned pawn wasn’t protecting another pawn; the capture was with check and a fork on a piece, which effectively ended the game on the spot, even if it did go into the R, B+2 v R+1 ending and on until John was about to promote. Tim won as well, as did Zdravko, from an unusual position where he was a piece for pawn up, but the piece was on a7 holding up a protected passed pawn on a6. Eventually, Zdravko reshuffled his pieces so his two rooks were on a7 and a8, and he sacced his knight back on the pawn and won from there. Vjeko capped off an attack with a nice deflection tactic to win queen for rook, while I was an exchange up, Brendan was on a king hunt and 7-1 was looking a distinct possibility.
Unfortunately, we didn’t quite manage that. I had to settle for a frustrating draw – another titled draw to add to my collection at least, and I was always unlikely to match my 45-minute win against the same player in Kilkenny last month! – while Brendan’s king hunt petered out and he was just a piece down. He played on a bit for tricks, just to see if he could swindle a drawn B+P v K position, but his opponent was wise to that, and we ended up with 5½-2½.
Still, it puts a bit of daylight between us and the bottom two for the first time this season, which is a welcome relief with a match against title-chasers Trinity first on the agenda after Christmas. Stephen and Zdravko are top scorers on 3/5.
The Heidenfeld were in Inchicore on Thursday to face a side who had drawn their last three matches, albeit that in round 4 they had also had a 1 point default penalty. But added to our own record of three draws in four games, plus clashing Christmas parties meaning we needed three subs, and this was on paper a very level game; we were 24 points stronger in total across six boards, with only one of those boards having more than 35 points of a gap, while myself and sub Felix both had 100-150 points on our opponents.
But from early on, it was apparent we were going to rack up a big win. Finn took an early draw when slightly better in an IQP position where he was going to be able to block the pawn, but after that, we started racking up the wins with impressive regularity. Brendan gave his opponent gammy pawns early on – a7, c7, c6 and e7 – and with no queens on, he won the c6 pawn, advanced his king, stuck his knight where it could attack a couple of pawns and then marched his kingside advantage; black resigned helpless. Ciarán M had a wild game where, after the dust had settled, he was just a piece down – but then he moved a rook I hadn’t seen, at which I realised he was actually an exchange up. Worryingly for me, this is the second time in a row that I’ve made this mistake with Ciarán’s game! He quickly won a piece as well to take the full point.
I gave up a draw in a position where I thought I was in big trouble, but Fritz said I could have taken a pawn on the opposite side of the board which would have had me a pawn up and the compensation would balance the attack I was facing, but more wins came on the top two boards. Vjeko pulled off a pet line of sorts in the Scandinavian and soon had his opponent in all sorts of trouble; he repeatedly refused to cash in, instead ramping up the pressure on his opponent’s uncastled king, and when he did break through, it was to win a piece and then deliver mate. Dylan’s opponent, meanwhile, sacced a pawn for a bit of space in a locked position, and then sacced a piece, which was unsound. Dylan emerged with connected central passed pawns and two pieces for a rook, including two monster bishops which ultimately contrived to deliver a nice mate in the corner. These two games, going on the talk afterwards, were two of our nicest wins in the division in a long while.
Sub Felix was a pawn up and had a big advantage, but then he pushed the pawn to f6 only to lose it immediately and he had to win the game all over again. But he duly did so, winning another pawn instead and then, after his opponent missed the chance of reaching QvR, winning a R+2 v R+1 ending to make it 6-1. Ronan was the last to finish, and he too had a winning position, but instead of kicking a knight and pushing his passed a and b pawns to victory, he moved his king into the centre first, and then kicked the knight…which allowed a check fork picking up the key b pawn. There was still a chance for a win, but at this stage it was getting close to midnight, and tiredness was creeping in; Ronan gave up the a-pawn for a central passed pawn, but was running out of pawns and ultimately had to settle for a draw.
Still, 6½-1½ is about 2 points more than expected score, so this was an excellent night’s work. Round 5 concludes after Christmas, so for now we’re in the top two, although Celbridge will pass us out if they avoid defeat against Rathmines. We next face promotion rivals Phibsboro and Ballinasloe, which will tell a huge amount about where we’re to finish at the end of the season. Top scorer is myself on 4/5.
On Wednesday, the improving Ennis were at home to Skerries looking to build on an excellent win against Rathmines in the last round. For the third time this season, Slavko had a full team to call on, and with Skerries missing their two 1800s, we were looking for a win. Lara and Slavko both won early – Eddie and John having new competition as the club’s quickest players! – to see us take an early 2-0 lead. The other four games, though, were all in the balance, from Leon on 1, who was a bit worse, to William on 6, who was making no inroads against a stubborn 950.
Gradually though, the games started turning in our favour. Kavin reached R, B+3 v R+6, where his bishop was untouchable as a big protected passed pawn, and once he picked up a pawn, the result was rarely in doubt. William finally broke his opponent’s resistance to make the lead 4-0, by which time the other two games had reached tablebase drawn positions, and we were looking at a huge 5-1 win.
Then Leon’s opponent went wrong in trying to hold a R+P v R position, and suddenly Leon was able to promote and we were 5-0 up with just Odhrán still playing. All he had to do was hold the long diagonal and his opponent could make no progress, but he had been playing off increments for at least the previous half an hour and it was now close on midnight, so presumably that’s why in the below position –
– Odhrán played 1. BxN?? I was outside at this stage talking to one of the Skerries players about how we didn’t understand why the game was still going on when we heard a bit of bustle from inside the room and assumed it was because the players had agreed a draw. But of course, black didn’t reply 1. … KxB?? as Odhrán had seen, but simply pushed the pawn.
This wasn’t the end of the game though, as QvB isn’t an entirely trivial win; neither player had seen it in practice before, and one of Skerries’ players wasn’t sure if it even was a win. It is though, and in fairness, black played it out very efficiently and finally delivered the mate which ensured the 5-1 result which we would have had 45 minutes earlier if draws had been agreed on both the last two boards!
But 5-1 pushes the Ennis right up into the promotion push now, and we could be in top two after our next round, a trip to bottom-of-the-table Curragh. Lara is the team’s top scorer on 4½/5, all as black.
The previous week had seen the O’Hanlon up against Royal Lopez in a big relegation 12-pointer. We were out-rated on the top four boards, but Lopez are weak on the bottom two, where we needed two subs. We took a bit of a chance in not calling up Danny or Ben from the BEA A, saving them for tougher games, but in Thomas and Fearghal, we reckoned we had enough to get us off to a good start on the bottom boards. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out that way; Thomas lost a piece early on, and Fearghal’s draw was our only return, putting the pressure on the top four to deliver the goods. They responded well though, with only Felix losing on 2 to their highest-rated player, who was 1800 at his peak. But wins for Ronan, Finn and Desmond saw us pick up a 3½-2½ win.
The win gives the O’Hanlon a 1 point gap to the relegation zone, with another huge match to follow in round 6, away to Bray/Greystones. Ronan is top scorer on 3½/4.
The BEA South A had the bye in this round – Ben is top scorer on 2½/3 for them – and they in fact don’t play again until February, when they meet Kilkenny A, with a home game against Bray/Greystones four days later. The BEA South B, though, were in Bray during the week, and had an early win on the board when Eric’s opponent’s mobile phone went off and he claimed the win. The other four boards were all won over the board as the team came away with their second 5-0 win of the season, a result which puts them joint top at the break, with a whole match in hand over their co-leaders – whom they face in their next match in January. Celbridge and Kilkenny A – the Bs have already drawn with the latter – appear to be the two strongest teams in this division, but any team that can rack up multiple 5-0 wins has to be considered serious promotion candidates! That they haven’t needed a single sub all season is to their benefit as well. Eric is top scorer on 4/4; nobody has scored less than 50%.
Finally to the Bodley. The Bodley South B had already played and drawn with Gorey; Ryan is top scorer on 2½/3. The Bodley South A, meanwhile, hosted Gonzaga last week. A tricky game was expected against a side of 1200s who had already racked up one big win this season, and unfortunately for us, they had another one after this game after racking up a 5-0 win. This means Joe S remains the team’s top scorer on 1½/2. The As have a trip to bottom-of-the-table North Kildare next, while the Bs resume in February with a home game against Dún Laoghaire; if they can win that, they could also be challenging for a promotion spot, with a trip to Gonzaga still on the cards.