In which the 4NCL adventure came to an end, while the HOCL season got set up for a showdown…
On Monday, the Hibernian Online team were up against Malahide as they started the second round of matches. Having beaten Malahide 5½-½ on the opening day, we were looking to go a half better this time to keep up pressure on Dublin at the top of the table, and there were a couple of rematches from our first outing too. Karel – who had struggled to a win in the first match – picked up an early smothered mate this time around, with his opponent swapping off queens in a position where his queen needed to stay to defend the mating square. Slavko’s opponent also overlooked a mating attack – and indeed, a free rook earlier on in the game – as we made it 2-0 after an hour. Ronan had been under the cosh in the middlegame, but then won a piece and never looked back. Lara got in at her opponent’s king, picked up a couple of rooks, and only briefly faltered at the very end when missing mate in one, only to mate on the next move anyway.
Ben and Leon were both losing though, so 4-2 looked like it would be all we would take from the match, only for both games to turn around quite dramatically. The computer gave Leon as -19 after 19 moves, even with material still level, and -27 after 27 moves, now two pawns down. In time trouble though, his opponent didn’t see how to continue his attack against an open enough king, and started making a few aimless moves, and Leon conjured up an attack which initially won queen for piece, but that turned to mate when his opponent opted to run his king into the corner. Ben, meanwhile, had been as much as -6 on the computer evaluation, but his opponent missed the best continuation and got to a level middlegame with plenty of material still on the board – when he allowed his virtual flag to fall.
So a definite get-out-of-jail evening, at the end of which we had a 6-0 whitewash – and good news from the other match, where Dublin had dropped a point against Elm Mount. That means we’re only a point behind now going into our meeting tomorrow evening, and so any win will have us at least jointly top of the table going into the final round of matches. A whitewash win means there’s no change to the top scorer – it’s still Leon, now with 4½/5.
Tuesday saw our last remaining 4NCL side take on Wood Green in the Div 2 semi-final. Even though we were second seeds at the outset of the tournament, Wood Green out-rated us by 160 points per board, and significantly more than that on the bottom two boards. But pre-match chat indicated that this was a game we were particularly up for – and the group chat was noticeably dead silent for the first 90 minutes plus! It was then that the first result came in in what was developing into a very tight match indeed – Stephen had drawn with Michael de Verdier FM (of Bray Chess Club, of course!) Brendan had sacced a piece for two pawns and an interesting position against a WGM, but just when his opponent looked to be unwinding her position, she erred. What’s white’s best move here?
Unfortunately, once he missed it, the chance of a draw was gone, and we were 1½-½ down, with Kevin and Joe still in play. Kevin was – as he had done plenty of times earlier in the season – hanging on in a tricky to defend position, but this time his luck ran out and with his opponent struggling to find a winning plan, Kevin took his eye off the clock and let his flag fall. There’s never a nice time for that to happen, but in a semi-final against a side 160 points higher-rated has to be down near the bottom of the list…
It confirmed that we were out, although Joe then won his final match against another familiar face in David Fitzsimons IM – initially missing a winning move in the early endgame, and then winning when David blundered in a tablebase R+2 v R+1 ending. This meant that had Kevin (or Brendan) drawn their games, we would have pulled off a huge upset and reached Tuesday’s final. Still, overall it certainly beat thumb-twiddling for 12 weeks! Kavin ended as top scorer with 7/8, while Joe chipped in with 7/10 plus a default. Kevin’s semi-final game ended his unbeaten record.
We had a couple of new players in the Wednesday 5+3 blitz, with Eric, Yubo and Seán Devilly all joining in a field of 16. Not that it made a huge amount of difference to the final standings, with Stephen taking another win, ahead of Leon and Ben, while the mysterious norbridges continued his recent good form with a fourth-place finish.
Finally, the ICU inter-club 3+2 blitz on Friday saw us come second, just seven points off Ennis at the top. Stephen, Leon and Slavko all finished in the top 7 of the overall rankings.
In the puzzle posed – Brendan can equalise with 1. Rg7!, and amazingly, black is close to zugswang. None of her pieces can move without hanging material. 1… a5 is met with 2. b5 and white has connected passed pawns and the immediate threat of b6 and b7+ winning the rook. 1… g5 2. hg BxP 3. c4 Bd1 4. c5 Ba4 5. c6 Nf6 (better than the immediate BxP – black is losing a piece either way) 6. BxN BxP is probably a draw, as is 1… Nd2 2. c4 NxP 3. Rc7+ Kd8 4. RxN Rc8 5. Bf6+ Kd7 6. RxR KxR 7. BxP. Unfortunately, Brendan simply switched the move order, which is bad – 1. c4?? Kd8! (this move isn’t possible after 1. Rg7) 2. Rg7 Rc8 and the chance is gone.