Final Tables – 2016-17

Division 1

Demotion Pool

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 GP Pts
1 Blackthorne Russia 4½-3½ 6-2 4½-3½ 3-5 4½-3½ 5½-2½ 5-3 33 12
2 Barbican 4NCL 2 3½-4½ 6-2 2-5 6-2 5½-2½ 5½-2½ 5½-2½ 34 10
3 Oxford 1 2-6 2-6 6-2 5½-2½ 6½-1½ 3-5 6½-1½ 31½ 8
4 South Wales Dragons 3½-4½ 5-2 2-6 5½-2½ 4-4 5½-1½ 3½-4½ 29 7
5 North East England 5-3 2-6 2½-5½ 2½-5½ 5½-2½ 4½-3½ 3½-4½ 25½ 6
6 Anglian Avengers 1 3½-4½ 2½-5½ 1½-6½ 4-4 2½-5½ 5½-2½ 6½-1½ 26 5
7 Kings Head 2½-5½ 2½-5½ 5-3 1½-5½ 3½-4½ 2½-5½ 5½-2½ 23 4
8 Celtic Tigers 3-5 2½-5½ 1½-6½ 4½-3½ 4½-3½ 1½-6½ 2½-5½ 20 4

Pool B

Division 4 South

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 GP Pts
1 Guildford 1 5-3 7-1 7½-½ 7½-½ 7-1 7½-½ 6-2 47½ 14
2 White Rose 1 3-5 5-3 4-4 7½-½ 7-1 7-1 5½-2½ 39 11
3 Wood Green HK 1-7 3-5 5-3 6-2 5½-2½ 6-2 7-1 33½ 10
4 Grantham Sharks 1 ½-7½ 4-4 3-5 5-3 4½-3½ 5½-2½ 5-3 27½ 9
5 Barbican 4NCL 2 ½-7½ ½-7½ 2-6 3-5 6-2 6-2 5½-2½ 23½ 6
6 Oxford 1 1-7 1-7 2½-5½ 3½-4½ 2-6 5½-2½ 6½-1½ 22 4
7 North East England ½-7½ 1-7 2-6 2½-5½ 2-6 2½-5½ 5½-2½ 16 2
8 Anglian Avengers 1 2-6 2½-5½ 1-7 3-5 2½-5½ 1½-6½ 2½-5½ 15 0
P W D L GP Pts
Barnet Knights 1 11 9 1 1 46½ 19
Oxford 2 11 8 3 0 45½ 19
West is Best 2 11 8 0 3 38½ 16
The Full Ponty 11 6 3 2 40 15
Brown Jack 2 11 6 3 2 39½ 15
Wood Green MM 2 11 4 5 2 35 13
Anglian Avengers 3 11 5 2 4 35½ 12
Poisoned Pawns 2 11 5 2 4 33½ 12
Shropshire 2 11 5 1 5 36½ 11
CSC Rhinos (2) 11 5 1 5 34½ 11
MK Phoenix 2 11 5 1 5 34 11
Throw in the Tal 1 11 4 3 4 31½ 11
Barnet Knights 2 11 4 3 4 28½ 11
The Pitstop 9 5 0 4 30½ 10
Cambridge University 3 11 1 28½ 10
Sussex Martlets 3 11 4 1 6 34 9
Kent Kestrels 11 4 0 7 32½ 8
Iceni 2 11 1 27 8
D&D Utd 8 3 1 4 21½ 7
Throw in the Tal 2 8 0 20 7
Oxford 3 9 2 2 5 25½ 6
Sandhurst Cadets 10 2 2 6 25½ 6
CSC Hippos (3) 5 1 2 2 14 4
Wood Green MM 3 7 2 0 5 13½ 4
Barnet Knights 3 11 1 0 10 11½ 2
Barnet Knights 4 3 0 0 3 1 0

Final tables – 2004-5

Division 3

Team Won Drawn Lost Points
OXFORD 1 9 1 1 19
GUILDFORD-ADC 3 8 2 1 18
CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY 1 6 3 2 15
POISONED PAWNS 1 7 1 3 15
S WALES DRAGONS 2 5 4 2 14
POISONED PAWNS 2 4 3 4 11
FCA SOLUTIONS 1 4 3 4 11
WESSEX 2 4 2 5 10
ATHENAEUM 3 2 6 8
SCS 1 3 1 7 7
THE ADS 2 1 2 8 4
NUMERICA 3CS 2 0 0 11 0

Division 4

Team Won Drawn Lost Points
SLOUGH SHARKS 2 8 2 1 18
HILSMMARK COVENTRY 8 1 2 17
NOTTINGHAMSHIRE 7 1 3 15
CHEDDLETON 7 1 3 15
GLOS. GAMBITS 5 4 2 14
SLOUGH SHARKS 4 5 3 3 13
CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY 2 6 1 4 13
GUILDFORD-ADC 4 5 1 5 11
THE CONQUISTADORS 5 3 3 11 *
OXFORD 2 3 4 4 10
SUSSEX MINDSPORTS 3 1 7 7
RICHMOND B 2 1 8 4 *
H’MARK KINGFISHER 3 1 1 9 3
THE ADS 3 0 0 11 0

Weekend 5 – 2004-5

Round 9

ATHENAEUM 3½-4½ OXFORD 1
1 w Mannion, Stephen R 2329 1 – 0 Bilalic, Merim 2292
2 b Orr, Mark J L 2305 ½ – ½ Savage, Ben D 2300
3 w Roberts, Paul 2184 ½ – ½ Ozeren, Kemal 2292
4 b Johansson, Toni 2143 0 – 1 Madsen, Dag 2292
5 w Dalmau, Anneli 2074 0 – 1 Smallbone, Kieran 2170
6 b Gruettner, Ralf 2044 0 – 1 Milovanovic, Aleksander 2155
7 w McKeown, Paul 2095 ½ – ½ Rawlinson, Aidan 2173
8 b Stevenson, James A B 2092 1 – 0 Smith, Katherine
THE ADS 3 0 – 6 OXFORD 2
1 w Leary, Peter 1845 0 – 1 Ludbrook, Matt 2039
2 b Jones, Simon A 1725 0 – 1 Morris, Graham 2050
3 w Moore, Kevin J 1655 0 – 1 Bruce, Dave 2075
4 b Meakin, Anthony 1690 0 – 1 Smith, Jonathan 1925
5 w McIntosh, Doreen 1690 0 – 1 Hadi, Justin 1845
6 b Gavin, Peter 1630 0 – 1 Harrison, Pete R 1875

Round 10

OXFORD 1 4½-3½ POISONED PAWNS 2
1 w Bilalic, Merim 2292 0 – 1 Goodger, Martyn 2161
2 b Ozeren, Kemal 2292 1 – 0 Gregory, Stephen J 2167
3 w Madsen, Dag 2292 ½ – ½ Winfridsson, Ola 2080
4 b Savage, Ben D 2300 ½ – ½ Retallick, Lloyd 2115
5 w Shaw, David A 2197 1 – 0 Bailey, Kevin 2135
6 b Starkie, Ray 2090 ½ – ½ Sirisena, Chantal 1927
7 w Milovanovic, Aleksander 2155 1 – 0 Donaghay, Richard H 1970
8 b Smith, Katherine 1750 0 – 1 Ribbands, Patrick C 1945
OXFORD 2 1½-4½ SLOUGH SHARKS 2
1 w Webster, Ian 2116 1 – 0 Rudolf, Anna 2210
2 b Ludbrook, Matt 2039 0 – 1 Smith, Andrew P 2204
3 w Bruce, Dave 2075 0 – 1 Richmond, Robert J 2257
4 b Morris, Graham 2050 0 – 1 Hersvik, Daniel 2243
5 w Smith, Jonathan 1925 0 – 1 Roberson, Peter T 2139
6 b Hadi, Justin 1845 ½ – ½ Linford, Charles 2142

Round 11

S WALES DRAGONS 2 2½-5½ OXFORD 1
1 w Spice, Alan 2182 0 – 1 Bilalic, Merim 2292
2 b May, Frank 2144 0 – 1 Ozeren, Kemal 2292
3 w Powell, Lloyd 2155 1 – 0 Savage, Ben D 2300
4 b Sully, David 2130 0 – 1 Shaw, David A 2197
5 w Brown, Alan M 2136 ½ – ½ Smallbone, Kieran 2170
6 b Trevelyan, John 2200 0 – 1 Milovanovic, Aleksander 2155
7 w van Kemenade, Rudy 2087 0 – 1 Rawlinson, Aidan 2173
8 b Wilson, Julie 1944 1 – 0 Smith, Katherine 1750
H’MARK KINGFISHER 3 1-5 OXFORD 2
1 w Giles, Benjamin 2058 0 – 1 Webster, Ian 2116
2 b James, Stephen B 2046 0 – 1 Ludbrook, Matt 2039
3 w Spearman, David 2030 1 – 0 Terry, Sean 2015
4 b Parmar, Amisha 1946 0 – 1 Morris, Graham 2050
5 w Parmar, Jyoti 1565 0 – 1 Smith, Jonathan 1925
6 b Fowler, Keith 1625 0 – 1 Hadi, Justin 1845

Oxford Go Top With Classy Display

Weekend 4 of the season saw Oxford 1 pitted against two of division 3’s relegation candidates. SCS 1 and Numerica 3Cs may not be as strong as some teams in the division, but both still possess talented players who were not to be underestimated. Oxford 2 meanwhile faced the up-and-coming juniors of Richmond B and the powerful outfit from Nottinghamshire.

Oxford were missing some of their big stars, notably Merim Bilalic and Dave Shaw, but the main selection headache surrounded the non-availability of our trio of strong female players. Fortunately we were able to take advantage of the rule which allows an U16 junior to substitute for a female player for three matches in the season and recruited Witney’s rising star Guanqun Gai.

The highlight of Saturday’s play always looked likely to be Kemal’s game on top board against Oxford exile Tim Dickinson. But the early action took place elsewhere as Ben quickly halved out for a solid draw on board 2 and James’ unfortunate 4NCL season continued with defeat on board 6. Ray, however, continued his superb season with a smooth and comprehensive win on board 7. Things were not going so well on the remaining boards as Kieran had much the worst of it against his young opponent and Alex’s game against another Oxford exile, Nigel Moyse, looked far from clear – Oxford seemed to be staring down the barrel. The story was only just starting… Matters got worse before they got better as good performances from Aidan and debutant Gai were only rewarded with draws. Then two vital turning points – first a series of complex tactics resulted in Kemal picking up a crucial central pawn. And then Kieran managed to trap his opponent with a time trouble related swindle to turn what had seemed a likely defeat into victory. One had to feel sorry for his opponent, but the point gained set us firmly on the road to victory. The result was soon settled as Tim had to give best to Kemal’s precise endgame technique and Alex’s extra knight proved more than enough to counter-balance Nigel’s marauding pawn mass. So a final score of 5.5-2.5, though the victory was nowhere near as comfortable as the scoreline suggests. As a footnote to this game it’s worth noting Tim’s superb win against a much higher rated opponent the next day. We can only be glad that he saved his best for Sunday…

Oxford 2’s game against Richmond B never threatened to be as easy as the opposition’s position at the bottom of the table suggested. And the situation wasn’t helped by Matt and Ian’s late arrival caused by a train cancellation. This didn’t seem to affect Matt unduly as he found his way neatly through a tactical maelstrom to rack up the full point. Jon on board 6 also proved too strong for his inexperienced opponent. All seemed set fair with Graham outplaying the Richmond skipper and other games remaining in the balance. Then a series of setbacks as Will’s sacrificial play proved unsound and Dave had to settle for a half. The cruellest blow was on board 3 where Graham once again fell foul of his time trouble demons. As so often it was to be Ian’s game on board 1 which would settle the match. For some time it remained unclear whether his extra pawns were sufficient compensation for the exchange. When the situation finally resolved itself, the knight and pawn v two pawns ending was always destined to be a draw. A slightly disappointing 3-3 draw, but doubtless Richmond’s youngsters have a bright future ahead of them.

A fully booked Moat House forced us to once again explore the Telford suburb of Ketley on Saturday evening. It is a matter of some debate whether the cheap rooms and excellent breakfast provided by the Westbrook House compensate for its inconvenient location and the dubious merits of the local hostelry, the Elephant and Castle. In any case, our broadly successful day ensured a lively atmosphere and a good time was had by all. The morning brought an extraordinary record turn-out for breakfast of 8 hungry punters. We then hopped into the cars and made our way to the venue for the day’s challenge. The seconds faced a stiff test against a Nottinghamshire outfit who, while not at full strength, were still one of the more powerful teams in the division. It was not until about 15 minutes into the game that I realised that we were trying to win the match with only 5 men. It was a few seconds before I could remember who was meant to be filling the vacant slot on board 2. Only then did I realise that Sean did not seem to be in attendance. Now those who know Sean will know that a late arrival at the board is nothing unusual. More worrying was the fact that none of our drivers had brought him from the guest house, all assuming that someone else had done so. A swift phone call revealed that Sean had just set out on foot for the venue having watched the end of the London marathon. Given the distances involved, it was somewhat surprising when Sean took his place at the board only a few minutes later. It transpired that the luck of the Irish had done its work and Sean had managed to hitch a lift from a lady he met in a petrol station. Before we knew it, 1 h3 was on the board and all was well with the world again.

It soon became clear that it was not to be a happy day at the office for the seconds. First your scribe went down to a sharp performance from yet another of 4NCL’s many talented youngsters. After his earlier adventures, Sean did well to secure a solid half and Kevin played very well indeed before a few slight inaccuracies in the endgame left him with only a draw. Performance of the day came from Jon who produced a fine attacking display to see off his board 4 opponent. But another unfortunate defeat for Graham and a narrow reverse for Matt, both somewhat influenced by time trouble sealed our fate. A 4-2 loss against a strong side was no disgrace, but the seconds will certainly hope for better at the final weekend of the season.

The firsts meanwhile were tackling Numerica 3Cs 2 with a point headstart due to the opposition’s default on board 8. The match itself was not the most eventful of the season. Ben produced another solid display for the half point on board 2 while James had a slight edge for much of the game before halving with ex-University stalwart Alex Hickman. Ian went at it in typically attacking fashion on board 7, but ultimately his daring sacrifice proved in vain and he was forced to admit defeat. There were further draws for Kemal on board 1 whose opponent found sufficient counterplay to win back a pawn lost in the early stages and Aidan on board 5. It was left to Kieran whose superb season continued with an easy win and the ever impressive Alex to make the final score 5-3 to Oxford. Though the match was no walkover, for once we never really looked like losing.

While Oxford 2 are having a tough season, Oxford 1 now find themselves top of division 3 and look set for promotion. Three more wins at the last weekend would secure the title as well, the prize money for which would prove most welcome. As ever there were performances to savour from the Oxford boys this weekend. Notable amongst them were Kieran’s 2/2, albeit with a little good fortune, Ray’s by now familiar smooth display and Jon’s 2 wins, especially his clinical attacking display on Sunday. But my man of the weekend has to be Alex whose two wins, including one against a player of the quality of Nigel Moyse, were really most impressive. The Bank Holiday weekend at the end of May can’t come soon enough. We’ll keep the champagne on ice until then…

Pete Harrison

Stretched Resources and Brave Efforts

After the massive over-subscription of players which characterised the first two weekends of the season, weekend 3 was a rather different story as mumps, hockey matches and various prior commitments wiped out a selection of players who would, by themselves, have made up a very respectable first team.

The team manager’s job is never a straightforward one and on this occasion Pete was still hard at it deep into the eleventh hour, recruiting players and negotiating complicated wildcard issues with the league organisers. Eventually, and against all the odds, we were able to field some very respectable teams with a combination of old stalwarts and invaluable new squad members Anna Partington, Marco Zhang and Hervé Hansen. Without the enthusiasm of these three to step into the breach, the weekend could have been a disaster. As it was, however, things didn’t go at all badly…

Oxford 1 were to face two of their main rivals at the top of the league and kicked off against this season’s surprise package FCA Solutions 1. It seems to be an Oxford trait to perform at their best when backs seem to be very much against the wall, so it was no great surprise that the firsts came out fighting for every point. The top boards were as strong as ever as Ben, Kemal and James stepped up to the plate. Kemal finally broke this season’s amazing run of draws with a comprehensive victory, while James suffered a rare lapse in his massive theoretical knowledge and was given no second chance. Ben meanwhile was finally persuaded to accept a draw and was later glad to have done so as it turned out that he was probably losing the final position. The team’s engine room chose an ideal day to shine and both Kieran and Aidan notched up emphatic victories – in Kieran’s case continuing an amazing 100% record for the season to date. All of which left the bottom 3 boards, all making their season’s debut in the first team, needing a point between them to complete victory. All three put in tremendous battling performances. Graham Morris was always somewhat on the defensive, but didn’t give up till the very last when time pressure finally told. Chris Duggan on board 6 as usual performed his best against strong opposition and eventually converted to a full point. And Anna always had the edge on board 8, but despite giving it everything couldn’t quite find enough for more than a half point. So a 5-3 win and a great team effort.

Oxford 2, playing high-flying Hilsmark Coventry, were always going to be up against it – you always know you’re in trouble when you see Woody elevated to the heady heights of board 3. He duly obliged with a disastrous early blunder and could never quite find enough play to recover. Elsewhere the troops were battling valiantly but in vain. Sean tried to baffle his talented young opponent with the spectacular 1 … Nh6, an idea which had come to him during his pre-game shower. It actually gave him a decent game, but he was eventually ground down. Hervé Hansen on board 4 played a solid game until time pressure got the better of him, while Marco Zhang on 5 was slowly crushed by his opponent’s advancing pawns. Marco is a man who finds unusual ways to win chess games and this time had tried the cunning technique of waiting for his opponent to lose his mobile phone before the game. Sadly he found the missing telecommunications device just in time to finish Marco off. Kevin gave his all as ever on board 6 but couldn’t quite stave off ultimate defeat. It was left to Matt Ludbrook on board 2 to salvage some pride for the Oxford boys with a solid half point.

Sunday brought the division 3 top of the table clash against Guilford-ADC 3. This was always going to be the weekend’s toughest challenge, but the team knew that a win would set them well on the way to promotion. The early excitement centred around Ben on board 2 who out-witted his opponent in the opening, but then found himself with the thorny problem of how to convert his two extra rooks with his king dangerously exposed in the centre. Ultimately, resourceful play from his opponent meant that Ben had to settle for a perpetual. Nonetheless, this was certainly one of the season’s most exciting games to date. Kemal returned to his drawing ways with a solid board 1 performance, while Aidan on 3 was always on the wrong end of a particularly tricky variation of the French. Kieran’s winning run had to end somewhere and he had to settle for the half on board 4, while on board 5 James’ tough 4NCL season continued when his opponent found just too much counterplay for some extra material. It was down to the bottom 3 to save the day. Chris, who seems to get more than his share of rook endings, was this time struggling to hold a rook ending from a pawn down. All that practice must have paid off because he finally secured a vital half. Anna had drawn the short straw of playing local Oxford starlet Claire Morris. She made light of the task, however, with a commanding performance based on superior opening knowledge and some exquisitely sharp tactics. The pivotal performance of the day came on board 6 where Ray Starkie was making his seasonal debut in the first team. He has shown fine form in the local leagues this season and carried in into 4NCL as he wasted no time at all in thoroughly outplaying a strong opponent. So an honourable 4-4 draw and the promotion challenge still very much on track.

The seconds, strengthened by the much-needed arrival of Will Burt and Dave Bruce and by Graham Morris dropping down from the firsts took on a powerful Slough Sharks 4 outfit. Sadly, the Cowley connection didn’t quite make the desired impact as Dave and Will both went down despite brave attacking performances. Graham played a fine game on top board but was unlucky to fall victim to his opponent’s lucky swindle and have to settle for a draw. Herve scored his first 4NCL point with a nice win while Marco was somewhat unfortunate only to halve when landed in an opposite colour bishop ending. Which left Matt to complete a superb personal weekend with a win which secured a 3-3 draw for the team. A much needed boost for what had been a rather beleaguered second team. They’ll be back harder and stronger next weekend.

To sum up the weekend, a win and a draw can be regarded as a great return for the slightly under-strength firsts, while the seconds enjoyed their chess and certainly deserved the reward of that Sunday draw. Above all it was one of the best ever Oxford 4NCL weekends from a social point of view as the new players blended with the old and brought a fresh feel to the much-vaunted Oxford team spirit. There were, as ever, many great individual performances, including 1.5/2 scores from Kemal, Kieran, Chris, Anna and Matt. But my man of the weekend has to be Ray. The way he dispatched his opponent was most impressive and come the end of the season, his win might just make all the difference to the first team’s ultimate fate. I, for one, can’t wait for weekend 4 and the chance for Oxford 1 to stamp it’s authority on division 3 and for Oxford 2 to take some notable scalps.

Pete Harrison

Oxford Lose to the Auld Enemy

Season 2, weekend 2 and as ever the Oxford 4NCL squad faced key fixtures.

The firsts were scheduled to play arguably their toughest two opponents, Poisoned Pawns 1 and Cambridge 1, while the seconds also faced hard games against Gloucestershire Gambits and Cambridge 2. Once again the squad’s enthusiasm shone through as the firsts were able to field something close to their strongest team. The seconds meanwhile could easily have had about 10 players for each match, so some people unfortunately had to miss out. Hopefully this will be made up for at future weekends and next season if a third Oxford team enters as planned.

After about an hour of play on Saturday, Ben approached me to express his concern that the firsts were struggling – always a good omen that we are destined for victory in my experience. And sure enough, things soon started turning our way with Kieran Smallbone producing a superb tactical display to dispatch his strong opponent in double quick time. Elsewhere, however, Ben’s forecast didn’t seem so far wrong as Aidan Rawlinson got the worst of the opening and Dave Shaw was busy slipping into his usual time trouble. With other boards looking no better than level, it was clearly not going to be an easy ride.

Oxford 2’s game against the highly rated Gloucestershire Gambits was also very much in the balance as Sean Terry’s usual unconventional style gave him some early problems to sort out. But Chris Duggan had played the opening well and Ian Webster was very much holding his own against strong opposition. Dave Bruce was unsurprisingly going all out for the attack and Matt Ludbrook seemed slightly better when he had a draw offer turned down.

Solid draws for debutant Mel Buckley and Dave Shaw who was perhaps lucky that his opponent’s time trouble was as bad as his own brought the first team score to 2-1. By now, however, Ben Savage and James Coleman were struggling in inferior positions and despite his best efforts, Merim Bilalic’s game had long since looked destined to be a draw. At least Aidan was able to secure a half point, though he might have been in trouble had his opponent pressed harder for the win. The ever reliable Kemal Ozeren racked up another half, leaving us hoping for Ben and James to cling on for us to scrape a narrow victory. This, James managed, but Ben, despite some valiant late attempts to pull off a saving trick, couldn’t quite do the same. With Merim still looking set for the draw we weren’t too disappointed to be settling for 4-4 and a share of the spoils. Our battling board 1 is nothing if not unpredictable and the gasps were almost audible as he decided to sacrifice a piece for two pawns in pursuit of the full point. With his opponent in considerable time pressure and a very dangerous pair of passed pawns beginning to advance, Merim always looked like having enough to at least hold the draw. And frankly no-one was surprised when the game turned decisively in his favour. So a match we had looked like losing for much of the day finally ended 4.5-3.5 to Oxford 1. A fine result.

Meanwhile, tension was mounting in Oxford 2’s match. Sean and Ian both managed to secure good draws and Alex Milovanovic found a beautiful finish against a tough opponent on board 1. The match score moved to 2-2 when Chris Duggan was unlucky to see his promising position slip away. With Dave Bruce’s attack negated and his opponent’s extra pawn destined to prove decisive, the match came down to Matt’s game on board 6. He by now had an extra pawn, but it looked tricky to convert his rook ending to victory. In fact even when he reached a postion with 3 connected pawns against a pair of doubled pawns, things seemed far from straightforward. Fortunately his opponent made a succession of bizarre moves apparently under the extraordinary impression that he might have winning chances. Matt lost no time in taking advantage to give us a final match score of 3-3. No bad result given that we were slightly out-rated on all boards.

An enjoyable evening of pizza and poker ensued, leaving everyone bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for Sunday’s long-awaited double-header against Cambridge. Your scribe is ill-placed to report on the early stages of Sunday’s matches in view of the tense struggle he was himself embarking on. Past history suggests, however, that Dave Shaw was getting into time trouble, Kemal was playing solidly and Ben was predicting heavy defeats all round. Unfortuntately the one early development I can report on with confidence is the fact that Matt Ludbrook got trapped in an opening line his opponent seemed to know well and was soon slipping to defeat.

Although Cambridge’s teams were not as strong as they could have been, the firsts quickly found themselves in trouble. Merim and Kemal were forced to settle for draws – in Kemal’s case maintaining a perfect record of 4 draws out of 4 this season. Ben played strongly in the opening against the powerful IM Karl Mah, but eventually went down. Dave continued his impressive 4NCL form with a comfortable win and Kieran made it 2 out of 2 for the weekend with a typically enterprising performance against Natasha Regan. When Mel slipped to defeat and Alex’s advantage drifted away in time trouble we found ourselves 4-3 down with just James Coleman on board 8 left to finish. He gave it everything to try for the win, but finally had to settle for a half point, making the score 4.5-3.5 to the Tabs.

The second team match was unclear throughout – both Chris Duggan and Pete Harrison probably pushed too hard for wins and both ended up losing. Aidan Rawlinson showed a pleasing return to form with a smooth win on top board and Kevin Henbest managed to find a win from an unpromising position when his opponent fell for a one move mate. So 3-2 to Cambridge with Ian Webster still in action on board 2 and finding himself having to win a theoretically drawn ending with rook and bishop against rook. We knew we had one of the team’s greatest battlers on our side and his opponent’s imperfect defence gave Ian a chance. But tragically, with a mate in two on the board, the 50-move rule came into play and the game was drawn to leave the match score 3.5-2.5 to Cambridge.

So ultimately a slightly disappointing weekend in terms of results, though not in terms of individual performances. Provided they play to their potential in future weekends, the first team remain on course for promotion, while the seconds seem set for another up-and-down season in mid-table. They are always capable of beating the top teams and of losing to those teams they should probably beat. Man of the weekend…? There is no shortage of candidates: Merim for his brilliant win on Saturday; Alex for two more fine performances which deserved greater reward than 1/2; Ian for two great battling draws. But I guess the star man has to be Kieran whose two wins, especially that on Saturday were most impressive.

Pete Harrison

Oxford 4NCL – Past, Present and Future

It was the imminent demise of the Oxfordshire county team which prompted Kieran Smallbone to consider new outlets for the enthusiastic chess players of the county.

Kieran himself and one or two other local players had played occasionally in previous seasons for various teams in the ever-expanding 4 Nations Chess League or 4NCL as it is universally known. Kieran spoke to other players about the possibility of entering a team in the league loosely based in Oxfordshire and found that there was considerable interest in the possibility. In particular, Dave Bruce of Cowley Chess Club led a drive to recruit local players, predominantly from his own club and the strong Oxford City club who wanted the chance to play 4NCL chess. Kieran meanwhile pieced together a ragbag bunch of current and former University players. A few other players known to Kieran were thrown into the mix and Oxford 4NCL was born. Kieran brought Pete Harrison on board to head up the administrative side of the operation and the relatively affluent University club loaned us the £200 or thereabouts which was required to enter two teams.

The key members of the initial Oxford 4NCL squad were University players Kieran Smallbone, Kemal Ozeren, Ian Webster and Chris Duggan, former University players Ben Savage, Matt Ludbrook and Pete Harrison, Cowley players Dave Bruce, Gerard O’Reilly and Ray Starkie, Oxford City players Sean Terry and Will Burt and miscellaneous associates James Coleman, Aidan Rawlinson and Chris McIntosh. Later in the first season our happy band was joined by Merim Bilalic, Alex Milovanovic and Kevin Henbest, while Witney man Dave Hackett and emergency reserve Matt Read also put in appearances during our debut season.

From the start we enjoyed tremendous success on the board as the first team cut a swathe through its early opponents and the second team consistently performed well above itself, notably in beating Brown Jack who were arguably the strongest team in the league. The first team did later face a couple of setbacks including a narrow and unfortunate defeat against old rivals Cambridge. But by the narrowest of margins they did enough to secure second place in the division 4 table and promotion to division 3. Oxford 2 meanwhile finished in mid-table which was scant reward for some of the fine performances they had put in during the season.

For season 2, the need for extra and stronger players to cater for our new division 3 status meant a summer recruitment drive. Some of the area’s strongest players were now keen to get involved, so Oxford City duo Matt Rose and Nigel Moyse and new University president Dave Shaw joined the squad. We were also delighted to add strong female players Melanie Buckley and Vygante Milasiute and to find that season 1 squad members Graham Morris and Jon Smith would now be able to take an active part. The back-up power of Brunel University pair Philippe Chassy and Guillermo Campitelli was also secured.

At the time of writing the two Oxford teams have made a great start to season 2, with Oxford 1 winning its first two fixtures and Oxford 2 achieving a draw and a win against the Cheddleton team who had thumped them 5.5-0.5 last year. The vital second weekend approaches with both teams facing two of their toughest games of the season and promotion prospects on the line.

So what of the future. Already we have found that this season we have the very pleasing problem of having more enthusiastic players in the squad than we can realistically provide enough games for. So for season 2005-2006, the plan is to enter a new third team in division 4 to cater for these players. Hopefully Kieran Smallbone will take his first team to division 2 where, with perhaps one or two extra players, they will surely be strong enough to hold their own. Dave Bruce will lead a second team in division 4 or perhaps even division 3 if Oxford 2 can produce some mighty performances this year. And Pete Harrison will skipper the new third team which will provide opportunities for some of the current second team to play very strong opponents and gain FIDE ratings on the top boards and for weaker players to experience the unique atmosphere of 4NCL on the lower boards.

Pete Harrison

The Adventure Resumes

With Oxford’s tremendously successful first season at the 4NCL completed, thoughts turned to both consolidating what had been achieved and pressing for further success.

The summer recruitments of the Oxford City duo Matt Rose and Nigel Moyse and current and former University players Dave Shaw and Mel Buckley, together with several other keen new players only served to bolster what was already a very strong squad. It is always a very pleasing problem for a captain when the number of strong and enthusiastic players available for a fixture exceeds the number of places in the team. In fact, for the first weekend of the new season we could easily have fielded three teams as we hope to do next year. Even the extended trek to Telford didn’t seem to deter the troops.

Oxford 1 began their division three season with a potentially tricky looking fixture against AD’s 2. However, we entered the game with confidence as a successful summer’s chess for Ben Savage had made him our second FM. But last year had certainly taught us that ratings don’t count for everything and sure enough events soon took a turn for the worse. A couple of hours into the new season we found ourselves staring down the barrel of an embarrassing shock defeat. Dave Shaw’s debut on board 6 had left him with a pretty grim looking defensive task while Aidan Rawlinson on board 7 turned down a chance of clear extra material in favour of what he had wrongly calculated to be an even easier win. And Merim Bilalic’s Colorado on board 1 for all its undoubted merits never inspires total confidence for a nervous team captain. With the other boards showing little promise of full points, prospects looked somewhat bleak.

The second team’s division 4 fixture against new team the Conquistadors showed no signs of being any more straightforward. Kevin Henbest accepted a cramped position for an extra pawn while Dave Bruce took a typically aggressive approach on board 5. Meanwhile probably Oxford’s smoothest win of the day was taking shape on board 2 where Nigel Moyse belied his low FIDE rating to effortlessly outplay strong opposition. Alex Milovanovic also seemed to have things under control on top board. When Ian Webster sealed a solid draw and Dave Bruce’s attack petered out to a half point, it seemed likely that we had done enough. But unfortunately Kevin Henbest’s battling first 4NCL win was cancelled out by an unlucky time pressure induced reverse on board 1. By now Chris Duggan’s previously solid position had deteriorated beyond repair and we were forced to settle for 3-3 and a share of the spoils.

Attention returned to the first team match where James Coleman had diffused some mild pressure to draw and impressive debutant Vygante Milasiute was easing to victory on bottom board. Rawlinson was trying desperately to find a saving tactical shot, while Matt Rose found both his position and his clock to be firmly against him. When both these games were lost and Savage could only secure a draw on board 2, we really looked up against it. Fortunately some neat trickery from Shaw had turned his game right round, but with Kemal Ozeren heading for a draw at best we needed to secure the full point on top board. Cometh the hour, cometh the man and Bilalic drummed up a whole mountain of counterplay to go from two pawns down to a pawn up in what seemed like a matter of moments. So often does Merim achieve such feats that we will soon cease to be surprised by them. Ozeren’s draw was soon agreed and a dramatic, nerve-wracking 4.5-3.5 win was secured.

The next challenge of the day was to locate our lodgings for the night in nearby Ketley . We had been assured that the guest house was only 5 minutes drive from the venue and within easy stumbling distance of the local hostelries. In fact, contrary to many expectations, the accommodation proved most satisfactory and we even located a pub which offered two for one meal deals to almost match those at the legendary West Bromwich Wetherspoons . We did get a few suspicious looks from the locals, but perhaps in the light of Chris Duggan’s remarkable achievement in downing an entire bottle of vinegar, such an air of reservation could be said to be justified. It seems unlikely that the good folk of Telford have often seen such iron-stomached performances in their midst.

It can’t be many teams who have the luxury of being able to cater for a late withdrawal by bringing in a substitute FM, but so it was when an early trip to the venue was necessitated by captain Kieran Smallbone’s unexpected absence. After the previous day’s uncertain first team performance, however, Ben Savage’s steadying influence in the final line up to take on Wessex 2 was probably a blessing. Once again much of the early action centred around Aidan Rawlinson’s board where a complex theoretical opening line gave his young opponent strong attacking opportunities in return for a tricky material imbalance. Dave Shaw’s early position was a little unconvincing once again, but Dave Hackett showed signs of developing a powerful attack. The top four boards all got off to a fairly steady uneventful start.

The second team had a score to settle with Cheddleton who had hammered them 5.5-0.5 last season. And things got off to the best possible start when the non-appearance of Pete Harrison’s opponent on board 6 gave us an early advantage. Rumour has it that he is still driving around West Bromwich wondering where the 4NCL has gone. A tough match was still on the cards however, as Cheddleton’s top two boards are amongst the strongest in the league. But a solid start to Jon Smith’s 4NCL debut and an early extra pawn for Ian Webster boded well for a good day.

Fortunately for the supporter’s blood pressure, Wessex 2 were not presenting quite the same threat as AD’s 2. Once Rawlinson on 7 had secured a battling draw and Shaw on 6 had equalised, no-one really looked like losing. A calm efficient win for James Coleman set the ball rolling and Kemal Ozeren secured a second comfortable draw of the weekend. The fireworks came from Dave Hackett whose comprehensive win on board 5 was probably the performance of the day. Vygante Milasiute completed a fine 100% debut weekend with a win which, if not quite as smooth as Saturday’s, never really looked in doubt. All of which left our two FMs playing for wins with the draw very much in hand. Neither could quite pull off the full point, but for this day at least enough had been done and a 5.5-2.5 win was safely completed.

The second team had suffered a setback when the usually solid Ray Starkie went down on board 4. But Webster put us back in front with an easy win against a strong opponent. And Jon Smith took advatage of some inaccurate play by his opponent to extend the lead to 3-1. Just half a point needed then from those tough top two boards. Gerard O’Reilly on 2 was always struggling to contain his opponent after an enterprising opening choice, but Alex Milovanovic’s position on 1 showed a deal more promise. O’Reilly eventually had to give best, but Milovanovic, while being a little unlucky not to win, did at least manage to bring home the vital half point. So 3.5-2.5 to the seconds and revenge for last season exacted.

All in all, another superb weekend for Oxford 4NCL. Three wins and a draw from our four matches represented a great start to the season and there were also some fine individual performances. Everyone contributed to a great team effort, right from Merim’s silky smooth performance at the top of the first team to Kevin’s hard fought point at the bottom of the second team. Alex deserved much more that half a point for two impressive displays, Moyse and Hackett both produced vital wins and Dave Shaw found a really nice tactical finish when the first team most needed it on Saturday. But my player of the weekend is Vygante Milasiute whose two out of two having stepped in at short notice might well prove decisive when the final reckoning comes in May. A great addition to a great squad.

Pete Harrison

Final table – 2003-4

Team Won Drawn Lost Points
CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY 8 2 1 18
OXFORD 1 8 1 2 17
POISONED PAWNS 2 7 3 1 17
BROWN JACK 7 2 2 16
SLOUGH 3 7 2 2 16
CHEDDLETON 6 1 4 13
METROPOLITAN 6 0 5 12
HILSMARK KINGFISHER 2 5 0 6 10
GRENDEL’S MOTHER 5 0 6 10
NOTTINGHAMSHIRE 5 0 6 10
MINDSPORTSLTD.COM 2 4 2 5 10
OXFORD 2 5 0 6 10
PONTYPRIDD 4 0 7 8
BRAILLE C.A. 3 2 6 8
SUSSEX MINDSPORTS 3 1 7 7
THE ADS 3 3 0 8 6
HILSMARK KINGFISHER 3 2 0 9 4
NIDUM LIBERALS 2 3 0 8 0*

Division 3 Here We Come!

Saturday 19th June, the first day of the final 4NCL weekend of the season, always seemed likely to go a long way to deciding Oxford 1’s promotion fate. Not only were they themselves seeking to boost their game point total against Grendel’s Mother, but Oxford 2 had the chance to help them out by taking game points off their main challengers Poisoned Pawns 2.

Despite being without Kemal Ozeren and Chris Duggan, two of the season’s stars to date, we were able to field very strong teams for both Saturday matches. Grendel’s Mother are a team without any big stars, but still presented a tough challenge from top to bottom with a consistently strong line-up. Indeed in the early stages, things did not appear to be going entirely to plan for the firsts. James Coleman on board 3 took advantage of his opponent’s opening inaccuracy to win spectacularly within an hour’s play, but the rest were not having it all their own way. Ben Savage’s opponent blundered a pawn, but then stumbled upon some useful counterplay , while Kieran Smallbone , Gerard O’Reilly and Ray Starkie were slowly eking out slight advantages on the bottom 3 boards. Perhaps the decisive moment in the match was the touch of tactical genius which saw Merim Bilalic seal victory on board 1, after which the result, at least, was never in doubt. But game points were still important and smooth if unspectacular wins for Ben and Kieran edged us ever nearer to promotion. The bottom two boards were not so clear-cut, however, and Ray’s opponent on board 6 had equalised from a tough position. The resulting half point was no disaster, and Gerard, having seemingly let his edge slip was once more pressing for victory. And when the Cowley man finally brought the full point home, a 5.5-0.5 win seemed likely to be enough.

Fielding their strongest team of the season, the on-form seconds needed to rack up a couple of points against Poisoned Pawns to all-but confirm Oxford 1’s promotion. But forewarned by the previous weekend’s fine result against Brown Jack, the Pawns were themselves fielding their strongest team of the season – hard-earned respect for Oxford 2. But sooner or later, after such a great season, the second team had to have an off-day, and sadly this was it. Against powerful opponents, none of the second team boys really got into the game, with Matt Ludbrook slowly crushed in a French on bottom board and Aidan Rawlinson worse from an early stage at the opposite end of the team. Will Burt failed to find his characteristic resources from an exotic looking position and Dave Bruce looked ill-at-ease in a rare outing with the Black pieces. Ian Webster battled hard to rescue an ending from a pawn down, but found himself undone by his opponent’s solid technique. The nearest Oxford 2 came to salvaging a half point was from a fine defensive effort in a tricky queen ending by Alex Milovanovic on board 2. Even this game ultimately slipped away, however, leaving the second team with a disappointing 6-0 defeat.

With the division’s top two, Cambridge University and Brown Jack also winning, the equation for Sunday was now simple – Oxford 1 needed a 4-2 win or better to guarantee promotion. Anything less would leave them relying on results elsewhere going their way. The draw was relatively kind, yielding a fixture against the Braille CA whose weak lower boards would surely offer some easy points. And so it was to prove, as a tough struggle for Merim against Tyson Mordue on board 1 and a much worse position for James on board 2 against Chris Ross were counter-balanced by quick wins for Ben, Aidan and Alex on the bottom 3 boards. Promotion was soon sealed as Merim halved out, Kieran produced a typically hard-fought win on board 3 and James miraculously rescued half a point on board 2. So a comprehensive 5-1 victory to conclude a tremendously successful first 4NCL season for Oxford 1.

Meanwhile Oxford 2’s final fixture against ADs 3 was to prove a tough struggle. The previously weak ADs were considerably stronger than in previous weekends, and Oxford 2 were without Chris Duggan, Dave Bruce and Will Burt. Kevin Henbest faced an under-rated junior on bottom board and was unlucky to get the worse of a tight battle, while Sean Terry was unfortunate to have to settle for a draw from an initially promising position. Matt Ludbrook completed a disappointing personal weekend with a second reverse. And Ian also moved to 0/2 after once again narrowly failing to hold a tricky ending. Pete Harrison defended well to win after his opponent’s dangerous but unsound sacrifice, while Chris McIntosh won smoothly and efficiently. But these results were not enough to avert a 3.5-2.5 defeat. So Oxford 2 ended a fine season in slightly disappointing fashion to conclude with a record of 5 wins, 6 defeats and 12th position in the division – not quite a true reflection of the performances they produced.

Oxford 1’s final position was in fact better than we could have expected, since Brown Jack who had been top of the table from an early stage were cruelly denied promotion by a shock last round defeat. So Oxford 1 picked up £100 for finishing second in the division – a fine all-round performance from a committed, focussed and tight-knit team. And after so many superb efforts from second team players earlier in the season, this weekend’s plaudits must sit firmly with the men who led us to promotion – the classy Merim, battling James and 100% performers Ben and Kieran.

Pete Harrison