The season finale of the third Online 4NCL saw the Bs comfortably do what needed to be done to confirm promotion, while elsewhere all bar one of our teams finished in the top half of their respective divisions.
The only exception were the Es, who had another tough match, this time giving up 500 points per board against Redbridge All Sorts 3. Interestingly, every other team had a match finished before the Es did – it’s usually the other way around – and they started off with two defeats to put them on the back foot straight away. Max lost a roller-coaster game where he hung a pawn in the opening, but his opponent didn’t play as actively as required and Max won an exchange to be slightly better, before his opponent started throwing pawns at Max’s king, and a couple of pieces went in holding up the charge, which burst through with promotion anyway. Joe, meanwhile, lost queen for rook and piece to a discovered attack, but the material advantage wasn’t all white got from it, and he won without much trouble. Wenle, though, picked up a draw against 1700 on top board – far from his first excellent result of the campaign – while Dimitri was in trouble, having this position as black –
Here, white can capture on f3 and there aren’t any (sensible) checks, and hit three-pawn advantage will be quickly decisive. Instead, play continued 1. b5?? Qg4 0-1! 2. g3 is disastrous after Qh3, but 2. Bf3 holds on after 2… Re2 3. gf Qh3 (QxP?! 4. Qb7 and white defends) 4. Bf2 RxB 5. KxR Qxh2+ and a draw by repetition. So going from a win to a draw to a loss in one move, but no complaints from Dimitri I’m sure! It meant a 1½-2½ defeat, an excellent result given the ratings. The team ended 45th of 72 teams, an excellent placing for one of the weakest sides in the competition (61st of the 66 teams in round 1). Wenle was top scorer on 4½ from board 1.
The Ds were looking to finish with four straight wins, though it didn’t quite work out that way in the end despite racing into a 2-0 lead within 45 minutes courtesy of Thomas and Fearghal. Thomas’ opponent overlooked a very strong pawn advance, and his reply allowed forced mate, and his next move just hung mate in 1. Fearghal was always better in his game, even before his opponent allowed a gaping hole on d4, which cost a piece and a position the computer scored as -15. Unfortunately, Danny and Karel both lost to bring the score back to 2-2 – Danny trapped a piece but never got the time to take it as his opponent rustled up a material-winning attack, while Karel had been better through 40 moves before hanging a piece to a tactic. So 2-2 the final score, which sees the side end in fourth place; Fearghal was top scorer on 5/7, and no-one scores less than 50%.
The Cs had a more straightforward game after playing 2000+ teams for the past two rounds, and seeing said teams walk away with the promotion spots. This time, they had 280 points per board on their opponents, and duly brought home a big win. Slavko – who’s been surprisingly slow in some of his games lately! – was first of everyone finished this time, even after having to restart his game because he’d started with colours reversed. When he won his opponent’s queen after 17 moves, the two players had a combined 2½ minutes more on their clocks than they’d started with. Ronan gave up queen for two rooks, and was generally under pressure thereafter as his opponent got queen and knight in at Ronan’s king, but he defended resolutely and his opponent sacced piece for two pawns to create an advanced passed h-pawn. It got to h6, with the queen on g7, which looked quite daunting, but Ronan had a perpetual resource – which turned into a mating resource when his opponent put his king on the wrong square. Brendan’s opponent gave up a pawn for the bishop pair, but in a closed position Brendan’s knight was much better, although it took a bit of probing to create more weaknesses before finally his opponent hung a second pawn and Brendan could push a central passed pawn to victory. Dave – who had also started with the wrong colours on the board next to Slavko, which meant I almost didn’t spot both of them playing incorrectly! – took a draw in the final game to finish as we ended up with a 3½-½ win and a spot as best of the non-2000+ teams. Slavko was top scorer on a vaguely impressive 7/7, more than twice the score of anyone else on the team, although William and Ronan, who played alternate games, managed 4½ between them.
The Bs were the only ones with something to play for on the final day – if we won, we were promoted to Division 2. Struggling Watford 2 were the opposition, and we duly dished out our – and their – first whitewash of the campaign. Leon was first to win, with his knights causing chaos on the kingside as they picked up three pawns and then a full rook. Ben had been in all sorts of trouble after hanging a key central pawn, but his opponent grabbed a second pawn to reduce his advantage from +6 to +2, and grabbed a third pawn to reduce the game to 0 as Ben had perpetual. Instead, his opponent pushed once more, and this time hung mate in 2. John then sealed promotion with a bit of a flourish – this ending is clearly winning anyway, and Ne5 will simplify, but in endings, the more you can simplify, the better, so how did John simplify better here?
Answer at the end. Lara rounded things off by completely outplaying her opponent in a drawn-looking ending and the 4-0 was confirmed. Ben matched Slavko’s feat of 7/7 to end as top scorer, while Dylan/Leon – who alternated games – scored an unbeaten 5½/7.
Finally to the As – who almost had the worst possible start when Joe R forgot about the game, and although he logged on after the 15 minute default, it was also around the same time as our opponents’ board 3, so we mutually agreed to turn the other way on that one. He was first finished too, with his opponent offering a draw after 16 moves when a pawn up, leaving Joe happy to bail. Kevin took a third draw in a row, though as with the previous ones he was made to grovel for a while before taking the half, and Kavin added a third draw of the night in an uneventful game which ended in the middlegame. That left Stephen, who won his game after bursting through the middle, though it wasn’t without a scare as his opponent missed a late chance at a draw by repetition. 2½-1½ was the final score, and it meant we had won our last five matches to finish third. Stephen was top scorer on 5, just ahead of Joe and Kavin on 4½.
The next season of the 4NCL Online starts in August; hopefully over-the-board chess will be close to a return at that stage and we’ll make a call on entry closer to the time.
One quick look back at John’s position – he ended things with 1… RxP+ 2. KxR Ne5+ 3. KxP NxR 4. PxN d3 and the pawn promotes.