Three of our five online teams now top their respective leagues, but our blitz team slumped to their lowest finish to date…
Monday saw the Hibernian Online League get underway with a match against Malahide. From the squad lists to date, we should be big favourites for this one (though Dublin have yet to declare their squad), and we were helped when Malahide, who have declared the same 14 players for their Monday and Tuesday teams, opted for a stronger team on Tuesday, leaving us 400 points per board higher-rated on the Monday. That said, the games were a lot tougher than the ratings gaps suggested they would be – Slavko won a piece early on, and Lara followed suit shortly after, but the other games were quite competitive. Ronan had won two pawns early on, but the computer gave him an edge of about 0.7 as his opponent had built up double-rook pressure, John dominated on a diagonal leading to his opponent’s king, who was still defending, Leon had a relatively interesting French Exchange position and Karel was playing a dull symmetrical swappy game against an opponent renowned for dull symmetrical swappy games.
But the points did start to come through. John dislodged the defender of the diagonal and picked up decisive material, ultimately promoting to win, while Karel’s opponent, just needing to swap rooks to reach a probably drawn opposite colour bishop ending a pawn down, threw in a zwischenzug which allowed Karel to win the rook instead. Leon reached a heavy piece ending, which became this Q+3 ending –
White has only one move to hold the draw here; what is it?
Fortunately for us, white didn’t spot it, and it was 5-0. That left Ronan to seal the whitewash. He had finally untangled his position, won two more pawns, missed mate in two to push towards promotion instead when his opponent – lacking any real moves – played the silly 1. BxP here –
But it’s not that silly; it has a potential sting. How should black continue? And what happens if he takes the bishop? Answers to both at the end.
So a 5½-½ win to start things off. It’s a decent result but, back in the land where game points, not match points, are what count, it actually has us second in the league after Elm Mount A started off by whitewashing their Bs. Dublin are the other team in the group, which means there’s a bye each round. It’s our turn for the bye next week; we return to action on the Bank Holiday Monday with a game against Dublin.
On Tuesday, the 4NCL teams were finishing off their set of fixtures against teams in their own group. That gave our As a tie against the bottom seeds Ashfield Anonymous A, who snuck in a new 2100 on board 1 to make this a lot closer than we’d thought when agreeing it’d be Joe’s rest day! Again, we had four tight games, and it was over an hour before the first result came in, with Kevin drawing an uneventful enough game on board 3. Brendan was a pawn up in a Q+P ending, but his opponent was checking away and it looked like another draw was on the cards there before his opponent went wrong and allowed a check to be blocked with check, which immediately removed the queens and left Brendan just a passed pawn up.
Kavin sealed the win shortly after with another nice game, saccing a pawn to bring his knights to life, swarming around his opponent’s position. When his opponent declined the chance to swap one off, Kavin responded by trapping his opponent’s queen. He did give up rook, knight and pawn for it, but his opponent’s position was in ruins and material fell with regularity, to the extent that Kavin ultimately won with a double-queen mate.
That left Stephen against their debutant. He had declined a draw in a position of N+5 v R+3 – there being no reason to accept the draw – but after getting hemmed to the edge as the position came down to N+2 v R, he settled on the half, and we had a 3-1 win. The next three games are against the top seeds in the other four groups, and we need just three match points from those games to seal a place in the quarter-finals.
The Bs, meanwhile, were playing the side second last in the table, a week after whitewashing the bottom team. And with two teams just about keeping pace with us, we couldn’t really afford a slip-up. We had a great start early on when Leon – the only player out-rated, up against a 2000+ – overcame early pressure which saw his knight on h8 to simply win a piece, and with a lot of material coming off at the same time, the game was over shortly after.
Dylan held a draw in time trouble after escaping to a rook and pawn ending, while Ben had had an attack but he’d let it slip a bit before his opponent hung a piece to a tactic, and we had the match win. It just left Lara, who was under a fair bit of pressure when her opponent uncorked the unexpected 1. Nc7!? here –
The knight is surrounded by six pieces, but what to do about it is less clear. The computer calls it a mistake, saying 1. e6 was better, but in practical terms, the text move can’t be bad – especially as Lara took almost all her remaining 13 minutes working out what was going on! A roller-coaster few moves followed – 1. … RxN 2. e6 fe 3. RxB?? (there’s no need to give up the exchange – 3. BxR is better) Rcxd7?? (the other rook should have taken; this rook was needed to defend the knight) 4. QxP+ Kh8 5. BxN Rd1+ 6. RxR?? (just giving black unnecessary counterplay, which translates into a sneaky out option) 6. … RxR+ 7. Kg2 (D), and now black’s queen is hanging, and the only square it can go to hangs mate. What should black play here, and what’s wrong with the reply 7. … Rd6??
White didn’t spot what was wrong with Lara’s reply either, and she escaped into a position where she had an active rook for two pieces. Her opponent then had to give up a piece to stop Lara queening, and the game unexpectedly reached a tricky endgame of R+2 v N+3, with all the pawns on the kingside. When white grabbed another pawn, black took over the game and reached this position, where the computer calls mate in 14. How to win from here?
But here Lara – who had been playing off increments since the (other) knight jumped into c7 – played 1. … Rh1??, which is a draw, and worse followed after 2. NxP Rg1+ 3. Kh4 (the point – if black takes the knight, white queens) Kf5?? (now it’s lost – white had to repeat the checks) 4. g7 Rh1+ (RxN was worth a try in practice to see it white knew his QvR ending) 5. Nh3 1-0.
So a highly entertaining match to finish off the evening, and ultimately the game didn’t matter as a win’s a win. But Clevedon and Stroud the Old both won too, so we still have a two-point gap at the top of the table, and need two more match wins from our last three games against the third seeds in the other three groups. This gives us a bit of an edge over Clevedon, who have to play the top seeds, but Stroud have to play the fourth seeds and so in theory have an easier run-in. Manchester Juniors A are next up next week.
Lara bounced back the following evening to take top honours in our weekly club blitz with a 100% 2400+ performance, just pipping the mysterious norbridges on tie-break, who played three more games and was ultimately undone by a draw against Slavko in the middle of what otherwise would have been an eight-match winning streak. Leon was third, having played almost twice as many games as Stephen in fourth, whose only defeat was against Lara.
On Thursday, server problems hit lichess, so our Junior 4NCL teams started with a bit of confusion as pages timed-out and logins didn’t work. But when it did settle down, our Bs – playing in a top-of-the-table match against East Kilbride – again excelled. Joe lost a queen to a discovered check early on, but we won the other three games in the first legs to take a big lead into the return matches. East Kilbride pulled it back to 3-3 by beating Joe and Wenle, but Lucy won to make it 4-3 and earn a draw at least. That just left Diana, who couldn’t log on as the server issues had returned. When she did start her rematch, it was in the knowledge that all the other games had finished and that she just needed a draw – and the knowledge that you just need a draw can make a match trickier than usual. Not so here, though, as Diana blew her opponent away and though mate arrived later than it could have, the result was never in doubt.
So we beat the league leaders, and now sit clear on top of 77 other teams, which deserves a screenshot of its own –
In a Swiss league, where each round we’re playing tougher opposition, this is a serious achievement. We’ve already beaten second (East Kilbride) and drawn with third (Gonzaga), so it looks like next week is a top board match against KJCA Young Kestrels E, who are on a Swiss submarine after losing their opening round. In the last round, they beat Hammersmith 2 4½-3½, while we beat them 5-3 a couple of weeks earlier. So this is definitely another winnable match in what is the penultimate round.
The Bs had started early – or tried to, at least! – due to a clash with another online junior tournament in England, and were half-way through their match by the time the As logged on. Again, server problems arose, and only Karel and Thomas were able to get underway – and things weren’t going well. Karel, in a level enough ending, had simply hung back-rank mate, while Thomas had hung a piece to a check fork, and gradually lost more material before somehow scrambling into a Q, N+3 v Q+2 ending when his opponent simply hung his queen.
Thomas won the replay with ease, and Karel had been winning easily too before dropping a piece and then a rook, and it was 2-2, with Stephen and Max still waiting for their opponents to log on. Their captain was telling us they were online, but the clearly weren’t, and he was saying we appeared to be offline when we cleared weren’t, and then suggested that we settle for four draws, which we couldn’t go with (as it would mean a match draw). Eventually, almost an hour after the scheduled start time, their board 3 appeared to challenge Fearghal, who duly dispatched him twice in the space of about 5 minutes. We ultimately agreed walkovers on board 4, which meant 4-2 over the board, and 2 – -2 on the last board for a 6-0 win overall, and a definite let-off!
Cheshire8Y lost to Woking Warriors which means that both us and Woking have now reached the semi-finals with two matches to spare – and next week sees us take on Woking in a match which will decide the group winner (unless it’s a draw).
Finally, on Friday my literally last-second win lifted us to third in the ICU inter-club blitz, our worst finish ever! John was top scorer with a 2180 performance, including two 2200 wins. Malahide, the initial champions, and Elm Mount, with 4 2000s, were relegated, so there’s certainly no resting on our laurels in what is an increasingly tough competition. Limerick and Cork will replace them next week.
The answers to the puzzles posed to end with. In Leon’s game, white draws after attacking and blocking the pawn with 1. Qd2, and black can make no progress. Instead, white played 1. Qf2?? and had a rude awakening after 1. … Qg4+ 2. Kf1 Qd1+ 3. Qe1 (3. Kg2 Qc2 and it’s all over) Qf3+ 4. Qf2 (4. Kg1 Qg4+ 5. Kf1 Qf4+ 6. Kg1 d2, or 6. Qf2 Qc1+ 7. Qd1 d2) Qh1+ 0-1.
In Ronan’s game, white has spotted that his king is stalemated. If black spots this too, it’s an easy win – so he can play 1. … Rf3+ 2. Kg2 Rg3+ and then take the bishop, when it’s all over.
If black takes the bishop, it is a draw after 1. … PxB 2. Re5+! and the rook simply keeps checking from the fifth rank, or the f-file if black tries to hide away in that corner. But white actually played 2. Rd7+??, which isn’t a draw – until Ronan took, that is! But now black can escape the checks by running to d3, and then giving the white king some luft.
Finally to Lara’s game, and although Lara has a piece and queen hanging, she is an exchange up. So 1. … Re1! allows her escape to a slightly worse ending. 2. QxR QxB+ followed by saving the knight means material is level, while 2. BxQ RxQ 3. Bc8 Rd2 4. BxN Rxb2 actually transposes to the game. But 1. … Rd6 loses to 2. QxR!, and with mate and queen still hanging, white has won a rook compared to the text line.