2019-20 Rounds 3+4: report

Firstly, if you’re reading this and wondering “where’s the rounds 1 & 2 report for Oxford 1?”: no, we haven’t yet played those rounds. The Guildford skip playfully set a mathematical puzzle on Facebook today: “What comes next in this sequence – 3(11), 4(12), 5(8), 6(9)?”. Answer, obviously, “1(29), 2(1)” being the days of the next rounds in Divisions 1 & 2 following rounds 5 and 6. He was actually grumbling about Guildford 1’s “easiest” two rounds being so late in the season!!

Well, back to Oxford and to our results last weekend:

  • Oxford 1 beat KJCA Kings 7½-½ and lost to Kings Head 2½-5½;
  • Oxford 2 lost to both West Is Best 2 2½-3½ and Crowthorne 1 1½-4½;
  • Oxford 3 lost to both Surbiton 1 2-4 and The Rookies 1½-4½;
  • Oxford 4 lost to Wessex C 2-4, but beat Barnet Knights 2 4-2;
  • Oxford 5 did not appear.

There were various circumstances for Ox5’s non-appearance which we won’t go into, but skip is quite sure they will be back for rounds 5 and 6 in February. Their “representative” team participated as Oxford 4 instead, and did quite well in skip’s opinion. Amaan again impressed with two solid draws, while fellow junior Tashika defended a blocked endgame competently on Saturday and followed with – in the words of her board 1 – “a really well played and mature win, deserving of a mention in dispatches”. Consider it done, Ian!

Oxford 3 were more representative of Oxford 4 (Justin, Robin & Otto excepted), but a division higher, and the difference in level told on both days. It was a pleasure to see Robin return to duty: he told skip that he’d taken a flight from Newcastle to be at the venue. Skip wondered, and is still wondering, when the last time an Oxford player flew to 4NCL. Justin and Sean did well to beat considerably higher-rated oppo on Saturday, Sean’s Facebook commentary being worthy of mention here:

4NCL chess , Round 3, Division 3, playing for Oxford 3 on board 3, on table 333… reaching a plausibly won position with 33 mins left…. And won on time just one move before move 33…. All the stars were aligned with a Dublin accent, clearly.

Oxford 2 had also lost a few players to higher causes but they were mighty close to turning over West Is Best 2. It appeared to skip that Koichi was doing well throughout, albeit minus a piece for two / three pawns; Nakul (1½/2 for the weekend) delivered a KiD win where he promoted with an excess a-pawn; Nick sacrificed a knight speculatively and apparently had a mate, even though over on Twitter skip was tweeting that he didn’t believe his attack for a second. [hey, skip was right, except for one, just one, fleeting moment in the attack.] You’ll have to look at that one when the PGN comes out and see if you can work out a finish during Nick’s attack. No, I’m not going to tell you where it was. Like Nick had to, try to spot it move by move! Sadly his attack petered out, and an accident happened a couple of boards down, so the match went awry.

On Sunday, James drew with FM Cooksey on top board – skip had him placed on this board a good month out because he’d been told “James can draw with anyone”, and was glad he didn’t have to change his plans. Skip doesn’t know much about what happened elsewhere, but we went down and are in the Relegation half of the division. It is time to forget about “winning the winnable matches”, and just to concentrate on trying to get in the top half of the division by any means possible. If only to avoid the dreaded Ox2 v Ox3 in Round Eight.

Oxford 1 enjoyed a surprisingly-easy Saturday match against KJCA Kings, who have many worryingly-strong juniors to hand. Happily most of said juniors were not to be seen and they had clearly scraped down to the bottom of their barrel, fielding 1200 numbers on boards seven and eight. Skip sympathises. Robin in Ox3 didn’t: “why on earth are Oxford 3 playing a stronger team than Oxford 1 are?”. Our team didn’t sympathise over the board either, wiping out all of their boards 2-8, only Freddie Hand getting a draw on top board with David – and he repeated the feat next day in another ½-7½ wipeout.

The match against Kings Head was very close on paper, 2088 average v 2099. Francesca led off with an utter stomping of her opp’s French defence, but Black did rather faff around with …. Qa5. … Qa4, … Qh4; he then walked into a pin with … Rc8 and was promptly punished. The news was not good from there; the only points we scored were Eldar‘s draw on six and Hans‘s win on 2 after his opponent had a blind spot. Nigel felt he could have done better after an enterprising 2-pawn sacrifice in the opening, but his game went pear-shaped somewhere in the middlegame. That’s maximum points for the season so far for Hans, the only Oxford player this weekend to manage that feat.

2019-20 Rounds 1+2 (Divs 3s, 4s): report

The headline: Oxford 5 put in an appearance at the 4NCL for the first time ever. Three seasons ago we had only three teams, Ox2 were in Division 4s and Ox3 didn’t fulfil all their fixtures. This season, both Ox2 and Ox3 have wangled places in Div 3s and Ox4 (new for 2017-18) & Ox5 have taken their places in Div 4s. Skip is delighted that we put out full teams on both days on this historic occasion. Many thanks to all 30 players involved, and to our drivers who helped ferry many many players to the venue.

To the results.

  • Oxford 2 lost 2½-3½ to Fermented Sharks and beat MK Phoenix 1 4½-1½;
  • Oxford 3 lost 2½-3½ to Rhyfelwyr Essyllwg and beat Poisoned Pawns 1 3½-2½;
  • Oxford 4 were in the Triangle, winding up with a loss to War & Piece 2½-3½ and a win over Banbury Bulldogs 4½-1½;
  • Oxford 5 lost both matches, 1½-4½ to West Is Best 3 and 2-4 to Celtic Tigers 2.

Oxford 2‘s round 1 loss is likely to be important later in the season, for Fermented Sharks look odds-on to go into the Promotion Pool. If we are to do the same, we need to beat the “minnows” – a start was made in round 2 by duffing up MKP 1 with no losses. Hats off to James for his 2/2 start to the season, including a Saturday brilliancy, while Arya looked equally impressive, winning on Saturday and pushing hard on Sunday before conceding a draw. Grudgingly. His Saturday opening produced one of those how on earth did they get there? positions, this contrivance being attained after twelve moves and nearly two hours’ play:

Cont v Okhai, White to move (13)

Yes, it does look like Black has made seven moves, not twelve. The discrepancy is explained by his five, FIVE, wasted tempi: Nb8-c6-b8, Bf8(x)d6-b4+-f8. And what is he doing with a knight on g5 so early? Nakul was another who impressed but for different reasons: he scored two draws in endgames a pawn down, the Sunday ending looking rather bleaker than the Saturday one.

Oxford 3 came close to pinching a 3-3 draw off The Welsh on Saturday in their first-ever Division 3 match. Debutant Otto turned over veteran Trevelyan on board 5 to open the scoring. After Justin‘s loss had evened the match and Edgar had drawn, we had one decent-ish position (Stuart) and two ropey positions (Nick, Nigel) – curiously the White players on 2 and 3 both had big passers on d6. Stuart perhaps lost his way in time-trouble, but it was never easy to convert his position – if indeed conversion was possible at all – so he drew. That left Nigel and Nick to hang on, and the latter lost. However, we bounced back on Sunday led by Justin‘s surprisingly comfortable win on the Black side of a Closed Sicilian – his opponent never got going and saw his Q-side wiped out. Edgar appended another win on board 6 – 1½/2 for him – and when the top three boards all drew, that secured the match. That win is important for the end-of-season: if, as we tentatively expect, Ox3 finish in the Relegation Pool, we will carry it forward.

Oxford 4 spent their weekend in Triangular company with War & Piece and Banbury Bulldogs. At half-time on Saturday evening, we were 1-2 down to the former and 3-0 up on the latter. On Sunday, Ian completed a 2/2 weekend quickly (for him) / slowly (for his W+P opp, who took his whole 1h40m base time allocation over the 15 moves played, leaving only his 7m30 increment). Graham made it 1½/2 by drawing with the W+P bottom board, but Otto lost a very very chaotic game. Skip wants to see that PGN! Meanwhile, the Banbury match was wrapped up by Raj on 1 with his draw, and Sean scored 1½/2 by beating ex-Oxford man Rod Langham in a K+P endgame that one of our number called “drawn” on first sight of it. See if you agree.

Terry v Langham, c. move 40 – White to play

Oxford 5 were always going to have a tough time of it. but skip was pleased with the efforts of our two new juniors Tashika (0/2) and Amaan (1/2) who both went three, four hours plus on both days. Hugo did well to draw comfortably with his higher-rated opponent on Saturday. A total game-point haul of 3½ is a good start for the team, who have positioned themselves at “their level” near the bottom of the table.

Finally, with all these teams in play, we may have an identity crisis. Late on Sunday, Kev to skip: “how are University 5 doing?”. Just ten minutes later, Sean to skip: “how did City 4 do?”.

2018-19 Rounds 9-11 report

In the final three rounds of the season, Oxford scored these results:

  • Oxford 1 lost 1½-6 to 3Cs 1 & 2-6 to Grantham Sharks 1 before turning over demotion pool leaders Wood Green Monarchs 5½-2½;
  • Oxford 2 lost 2½-3½ & 2-4 to Check InnMates 1 & Fermented Sharks, those losses sandwiching a 4½-1½ win over Iceni 1;
  • Oxford 3 lost 2½-3½ to Ashfield 1, then boosted their goal difference (crucially!) by hammering Poisoned Pawns Next Generation 5½- ½ and West Is Best 3 4½-1½;
  • Oxford 4 were beefed up by the strength of the higher teams on Sat + Sun and enjoyed a 5-1 win over Iceni 3 & 4½-1½ over Banbury Bulldogs, before going down 1-5 to a strong Milton Keynes Phoenix 2 side.

The headline news: Oxford 1 are relegated from Division 1, ending one point behind the Celtic Tigers team that we had duffed up in Round 8 at the end. We are fifth and skip always says: if going down, always go down in fifth if possible, just in case (for example, Manx Liberty’s cash might run out causing their withdrawal?). On the upside, Oxford 3 took advantage of two HUGE slices of luck (see below) to finish in third place in Division 4s and gain promotion to Division 3s.

Let’s start with the really-good news, and Oxford 3. Yes, we lost on Saturday to Ashfield 1, who finished second behind Div 4s champions Crowthorne 1. But this loss meant we avoided said Crowthorne 1 on Sunday and we took full advantage by wiping out the highly-promising juniors of Poisoned Pawns NG. Skip noted Sean defeated their star player Abigail Weersing. That young girl has had an excellent season for them and skip was impressed with her controlled win in Round 8.

That win put us joint-fourth with Fischer’s Catch going into Monday and skip was sure Round 11 would pit Ox3 against CRO 1. No, skip was wrong: the problem, he reckons, was finding oppo for West Is Best 3 who were on 12 and had already played everyone else in the top five bar Oxford 3 & Celtic Tigers 2, the latter being needed as oppo for Wessex B. Stroke of luck #1: Ox3 met WiB3 in Round 11 instead of CRO 1. Stroke of luck #2: like Oxford, WiB are a four-team squad. They had been unable to fill all four teams for the final weekend. Thus WiB3 were a mix of WiB3 and WiB4, making them weaker than normal. We took advantage of the fact, put out the best side we could legally muster, and got exactly the minimum result needed to pinch third spot from Wessex B on board-count arising from our round 5 3-3 draw. Congratulations to everyone who was involved in Ox3 this season; particularly to Phil N, who (skip is told) went unbeaten in his 10 games split between Ox3 and Ox4 and scored the maximum 3/3 in the final weekend.

Then the bad news: Oxford 1 wangled the win we needed on Monday against Wood Green Monarchs, wiping out their bottom 4 boards even though disaster-prone skip was in the middle of those 4 boards. But we’d left it too late to avoid the drop, for Celtic Tigers 1 scored the two wins and a draw that they needed to finish ahead of us on 8 points. Skip felt CEL 1 got lucky on the Sunday when the last two boards 5 & 8 in CEL v ALB, with CEL 1 up, appeared to be in Alba’s favour. Neither of the Alba players converted their positions and CEL nicked the match by the minimum margin: had Alba done the business on both boards, we’d now be talking about Ox1 staying up miraculously. Ho hum. To be fair to the Alba players involved, neither position was trivial and skip knows he’d have blown the board 8 position in similar manner to the Alba lady. Both players were playing on the increment at that point.

Oxford 2‘s promotion chances vanished on the Saturday with a narrow loss to Check InnMates 1, so from that point on we were simply seeing out the season. It’s a tough ask to get out of Division 3s via the upper trap-door with only two sides being promoted, the other two coming from Division 3n. Skip was pleased that our two juniors Arya & Nakul, having both lost on Saturday, got onto the scoreboard on Sunday with a win and a draw.

Oxford 4 became a victim of their own Round 9+10 success on Monday, running into a strong team rated nearly 300 points higher per board and being rather wiped out – well done to Richard for averting the whitewash. Pre-weekend, skip had exhorted his Ox4 troops thus: “if you score five game-points, you’ll improve on Ox4’s debut season in 2017-18 and Ox3’s result in 2016-17” [we were three teams in ’16-17]. Skip is surprised that you listened! Five game-points on Saturday comfortably set a new Ox4 record for both match points and game points, and a further match win on Sunday [Graham C making it 2/2 for his weekend] boosted that team record. It will be a new challenge to break ten match points & 31 game points in 2019-20!

Finally … some brief stats.

  • Ever-presents were Eldar, Jason, Nigel and Oliver, with Nick, Graham C, Jon, Tamal, Phil N and Sean doing ten of the eleven rounds. James, Hans, Filip, Tomasz and Misha played eight games. Thanks to all fifteen of you chaps – makes skip’s job easier with so many reliable people to call upon.
  • Number of players to play at least one game for us? 58. Yep, fifty-eight. If you all were to play all eleven rounds, we could field … let skip calculate … ah yes, nine teams. No, skip says four is plenty enough!
  • Number of female players to play at least one game: five [Francesca, Tena, Zoe, Aga, Liza]. I’d like you all to play more often, ladies!

One last stat: Tomasz may have set a new team record, participating in each of Ox2, Ox3 and Ox4 this weekend. Has anyone else done one game in three different teams for us before? I can’t recall anyone ever having done so in the three-team days pre-2017.

2018-19 Rounds 7+8 (Div 3s, 4s): report

Oxford scored these results in the second half of the 4NCL (split) weekend:

  • Ox2 lost both matches by the same score, 2½-3 ½ to The Rookies and Kings Head;
  • Ox3 drew 3-3 with Throw In The Tal and beat Shropshire 2 by 3 ½-2 ½;
  • Ox4, like Ox2, lost both matches: 1 ½-4 ½ to Ashfield 2 and 2 ½-3 ½ to West Is Best 4.

The results leave Ox2 placed 5th in the Div 3s Championship Pool, a ridiculously tight affair. We’re two points off the lead shared by Check InnMates 1 (our next oppo) and Kings Head (our last oppo). As in Division One, I predict that eight points [ie: 4/6 in rounds 9-11] will be enough for promotion. Curiously, no match between Championship Pool teams have ended wider than 4-2.

Ox3 are joint-third in Division 4s but have yet to play both first- and second-placed teams Crowthorne 1, Ashfield 1. Skip’s crystal ball forecasts Ashfield 1 as our next opponents in Round Nine. The Saturday draw was our third straight 3-3 result, appropriately enough confirmed with a successful 3-fold repetition claim in the last game to finish.

Kudos are due to Sean and debutant Stuart for their 2/2 weekends achieved in wildly contrasting fashions. We need to watch out for Sean’s “Caro-Kann Attack” (his words!) from Sunday in the PGN file. As a dedicated Caro-Kanner himself, skip definitely needs to watch for it. Who plays 27. … 0-0 with a mate threat in the Caro-Kann? Kev, on his return to 4NCL action, scored 1 ½/2.

Other games to watch out for in the PGN: Panicker 0-1 Goodwin from Ox3 on Saturday, a wild game where White had a lot of pawns for a piece at one stage but Black mated him before they could count; Ralphs 0-1 Graham [RHY v SSX, not an Oxford game but skip wandered by and noticed Graham’s kingside had vanished early doors]; and another non-Oxford game, Weersing (A) 1-0 Ingram, a thirteen-year-old duffing up an eighty-year-old. I kept popping back to that one and was impressed by White’s control. She has an excellent score for the season in Poisoned Pawns Next Generation who are also joint-third in Division 4s, so this is a heads-up for Ox3 mid-board players!

2018-19 Rounds 7+8 (Div 1): report

Oxford 1 were our only team in action last weekend (16-17 March). We lost 3-4½ to Barbican 1 in Round 7, then beat Celtic Tigers 1 4½-3½ in Round 8, the first of the four Relegation Pool rounds.

The much-needed win over Celtic Tigers 1 puts us in an unexpected second place in the Division One Relegation Pool on 5 – leaders Wood Green Monarchs have six. However the Pool is very dog-eat-dog and the bottom team have three points, so there is nothing we can take for granted. Rounds 9-11 will be tough. Skip says “8 points is always enough, 7 might be enough” so three match points in May will do it.

Although the match against Barbican 1 was a dead rubber, we almost nicked the points: after Calin‘s solid draw with GM Turner, we reached the time control slightly behind at 2-2½ with three to play [Barbican had defaulted board 8, so took a -½ penalty]. I had hopes that both David Z and Oliver would draw, and that Jon would find a way to beat Peter Sowray in a very blocked position. Fortunately for us, it went differently: Oliver wangled his draw but David lost and Jon’s game ended in a bizarre perpetual.

Why do I say “Fortunately”? Because, if we’d beaten Barbican 1, we’d have run into Grantham Sharks 1 in Round 8 instead of Celtic Tigers 1. The latter have put out strong teams in past rounds but were missing the Cornettes this time. Translation: Round 8 was a very good time to meet them. Joris had this worked out on Saturday evening and felt mighty confident of our chances. He led the way with an emphatic drubbing of the oppo skip, scoring a mate in a middlegame/ending.

Francesca was equally emphatic: her opponent found his rook stranded after it grabbed a hot pawn on g2, and he was soon a whole rook down. Francesca later found time to finish with a rook sacrifice for mate. Skip considers this her third-best ever game for Oxford 4NCL; to be fair, Matta 1-0 Lees in 2016-17 and GM Flear ½-½ Matta in 2014-15(?) will take some beating. After draws for Jon, Hans & skip on 5, 6 and 7, Calin wrapped up the match with a smooth win on top board.

It was mildly satisfying to beat the Tigers, for they wanted to remind us of the earlier Tigers v Oxford meeting in Division 4s this season:

Humph. Still, skip did manage to avoid his opponent’s deadly John Smiths Gambit. This had occurred in Arkell v Evans on Saturday:

And, hey, did we get a compliment off them post-match? Apparently we are “Division One giants”, begor?!