After a tough start to the new 4NCL Online season – where two of our five sides picked a mere half point between them – round 2 was much more productive, with our five teams recording four match wins and a narrow defeat against a fully-titled side.
In the Junior 4NCL, we faced Harrow Juniors B, who were rated on average 300 points higher than us. Karel needed just 38 moves to deliver 2/2 against a 1600 on the top board. Wenle won his first game equally easily, but in the return had to give up a rook on a pawn which was about to promote. But then when he forked knight and rook – neither of which could defend each other – he was winning back a piece, which became a whole rook when his opponent bizarrely opted to save his knight instead. This left an interesting ending of B+3 v N+3 where his opponent could sac the knight on Wenle’s outside passed pawn and hope his own passed pawns might force Wenle to sac a piece back.
There was a moment when the computer gave it as level, but when his opponent missed his chance, Wenle finished off with ease.
Joe and Max both lost their openers to leave it 2-2 after one round of matches – Joe after an opposite colour bishop ending which went from drawn to lost and back a number of times before the wheel finally settled on a defeat. But Joe easily won the return, and Max won a pawn early on, then trapped a piece, and then his opponent hung a rook in what was presumably a mouse slip, but it didn’t matter anyway. So a 6-2 win against a side who had won their opener 8-0, and suddenly the promotion from Div 5 to Div 2 doesn’t look all that daunting at all!
The 4NCL was last week, and in the Div 6 Swiss, we had our two winning sides from the first round. The Ds, who had overcome a huge rating gap to spring the surprise of the round in the opener, were just 270 points per board out-rated this time, but were 2-0 within 50 minutes as Danny and Slavko cruised to victory, Danny having won a piece inside 15 minutes. Ronan sacced to open his opponent’s king, but did give his opponent a chance to refute before closing out the win. Black has just played 1… Kh8 here – how should white continue?
Dimitri was one of the last to finish across our four teams, losing a pawn ending to a 1600, but overall a 3-1 win was another excellent result.
The Cs, in the same division, were in the opposition position – they were the ones who had 250 points per board of an edge over their opponents, and that duly translated into a straightforward 4-0 win. William picked up the same opening trap which had worked so well in the first round and was a piece up after three moves. Ben and Dave added wins – the latter having won a pawn in the opening – and the match win was confirmed. Ciarán delivered the whitewash in a game where he was actually 70 points out-rated; an interesting game where he won a pawn early on, but his opponent got some compensation and ultimately reached a drawn minor piece ending, which he promptly lost in one move.
So of the 64 riders that started Div 6, just 15 remain on full match points, including the two Benildus teams (and also Cavan). The draw for round 3 won’t be made until the end of this week to allow for any new clubs joining, but it’s probably fair to say that already neither team will fear anyone in it.
In Div 3, our Bs were looking to recover from a 4-0 thumping in the first round. And they did so in fairly comprehensive style. John got the team off the mark for the season with a win which, as he noted afterwards, he could have secured earlier than he did. How does black win here?
Dylan was soon facing a big pawn centre even in the middlegame, but he blockaded it with a knight, won a pawn, and soon swapped off to a won king and pawn ending where black’s passer was still blocked, and white’s were running. Lara was held to a draw which secured the win, while Brendan won an exchange in the middlegame and though it wasn’t entirely plain sailing from there, he did come through to win. 3½-½ was the final score – and encouraging news elsewhere was that the team that beat us 4-0 in round 1 had another big win this time, so we may yet be able to target a play-off place. Next up are Phones Pals, who seem to have two decent players and two <1000s, so a win will be expected.
The As, finally, were playing Guildford Young Guns, one of the strongest sides in the tournament. To put it in context, they were only slightly weaker than Wood Green and Blackthorn Russia, two sides were were delighted to take 2½/12 points off in the 2018 European Cup in Greece. And there was added spice in the top board pairing of Joe Ryan FM v Romain Édouard GM, who are clubmates in the Catalan league and often share lifts to league games. It is a small world at times!
Board 2 was the first to get interesting, though, when Kavin’s IM opponent played the antagonistic 1. Nf3 c5 2. g4!?, although the takeback request which immediately followed indicated that this was actually a mouseslip. Kavin allowed it, and his opponent continued with the more normal 2. g3 instead.
Joe finally got ground out in a rook and pawn ending, but computer analysis after revealed an interesting line. What should white play here?
By this stage though, Kavin had stunned his IM opponent, who made three inaccuracies in very quick succession to go from +1 to -2 on the computer evalution, and soon allowed Kavin a chance to sac on g3 and open up his king entirely, and then had to sac queen for rook to hold the attack up. The resulting material imbalance was interesting – Q, B+5 v R, B, N+3 – and certainly the IM played better once in big trouble, but finally Kavin was able to fork king and rook and the IM, with just six minutes gone on his clock, resigned.
Kevin lost, but Leon, who had been in big trouble, got completely out of jail by winning a piece back – and then missed forced mate! What to play here as black?
Having been completely lost a couple of moves earlier, and with two minutes left on his clock, Leon snatched at the chance to enter a level queen and pawn ending – which was agreed a draw 30 moves later. It’s easy done of course, but no doubt he’ll be kicking himself at missing the chance at an FM scalp! Still to be annoyed at missing out on a draw against one of the top teams in the entire competition means we can’t have played that badly overall, and there’s hope that we can yet avoid the drop, although the tough games keep coming for now, with Broadland Kestrels – IMs on 1 and 2 – next up.
Some answers to the puzzles after all that. In Ronan’s game, white can’t allow black time to defend the seventh with Qe7 – which is what happened after 1. Rg1?? Qe7 and white is two pawns for a rook down and playing for tricks. Instead though 1. Qh6+ Kg8 2. Bf5! (Rg1+ also wins, but this is stronger and nicer) and black is busted. The threat is 3. Be6+ and mate, and if black defends with 2… Qe7, that cuts off the king’s escape square and now 3. Rg1+ Kf7 4. Qg6#. The computer best move is 2… Qxf2, which allows 3. Be6+ Rf7 4. Qg6+ Kh8 5. BxR and though white’s only a pawn up, the attack is massive and the sacced rook has been won back.
The continuation John missed was 1… Rh8 2. Qg2 Ne3, trapping the queen. The computer best is 2. NxN RxQ 3. KxR, when black has queen and pawn for rook and knight, but after 3… BxN 4. BxB c4, white has too many looses pieces and black’s queen will soon invade.
Joe’s game is nice. Black’s Bg5 was a blunder which leads to a positionally horrible position after 1. NxB PxN 2. c5! This took Joe and Stephen a while to get their heads around, so it’s worth playing through the lines – but essentially black’s kingside pawn storm isn’t dangerous at all, while black has serious light-square weaknesses, with Qh5 and Bc4 (ideally with check) both big threats. A sample line is 2… f4 3. Bd2 dc 4. ba! (slightly counter-intuitive, but taking the c-pawn just brings black’s knight on a5 in from the cold) c4 (black has to stop white playing Bc4) 5. Rxb7 f3 (stopping Qh5) 6. d6 and black is close to zugswang. 6… fg 7. BxP and 8. Bd5+, 6… Nf6 7. Bxg5, 6… Nac5 7. BxP+ are all horrible, and in fact if 6… Nb8 7. BxP+ comes in anyway – 7… RxB?? 8. Qb3 picks up the rook.
Finally, in a series of tactics which was all about us missing rather than spotting things, Leon’s game is all over after the simple 1… QxR! 2. QxQ RxR# is the main threat, 2. RxR QxQ is obviously winning even if there wasn’t mate on g2 to come, while 2. Qb5 QxP and again mate is inevitable.