4NCL 2017-18 Rounds 9-11: skip report

The final weekend of 4NCL concluded yesterday at Telford & Wokefield Park. Our three teams (sadly not 4 due to insufficient first-team numbers) recorded these results:

  • Oxford 1 were whitewashed 0-8 by Cheddleton 1, then lost 3-5 to Guildford 2 and 1-7 to Barbican 1;
  • Oxford 2 lost 2 ½-3½ to Wessex A before bouncing back to beat both Rhyfelwyr Essyllwg & Cambridge Uni 2 by that same scoreline;
  • Oxford 3 were the real victims of our Div 1 shortage of players and dropped out of the promotion race with 2-4 losses to Throw In The Tal & eventual champions Surbiton, followed by a 1-4 loss to KJCA Kestrels (default-related scoreline).

There is a separate report by Sean on the Wokefield Park proceedings, mainly focussing on Ox2.

At Telford, Ox1 found themselves heavily outgunned by Cheddleton 1, giving away nearly 400 FIDE per board. It was remarkable that we fielded a team at all – thanks to Jason, Eldar, Nick and Maria for filling in lower down the order. We did get massacred but I thought Maria was a smidge better in the middlegame until allowing … Rd2 swinging the game Cheddleton skip Fiona’s way, while Will on top board kept super-GM David Howell occupied past the time control before going down.

Will was by far our best Ox1 player of the weekend, following that loss with a fine win over GM Mark Hebden on Sunday and salvaging what looked like a lost R+P endgame on Monday to avert a second whitewash. He goes to Exeter University next season; skip very much hopes to see him at the board for us while he’s reading up everything he can about history (cue Rudge in The History Boys: “History? It’s just one ****** thing after another.” Hector: “Hit that boy!”).

Skip managed to score a draw in the Barbican match as well, but he got lucky: his 39. … Kh6?? was an utter howler, as opp Martin Taylor in time pressure promptly played the critical 40. Qb8!. Chess24 says “no problem, it’s always 0.00 from there” but it doesn’t mention 41. Qg8 g5 42. Qe6 Kg6 43. Qxg4 after which White is doing quite well. 42. … Qxe6 43. dxe6 Kg6 44. hxg5 Kg7 draws, but 44. h5+! wins – both of us had spotted this trick during the game.

Justin T “popped in” to Telford briefly to pick up a quick draw with Yang-Fan Zhou on the Sunday to wrap up his third GM norm and (virtually) the GM title – he just needs to gain ~15 more FIDE to get here. Congratulations to him! Doubtless he’ll be watching the “live” ratings in his next tournament, for it is possible to claim a title with a rating achieved in mid-event.

In Ox2/3, Phil H scored three straight wins to take his winning streak to … now, skip has lost count. Is it five? Justin H, like his namesake Justin T, completed an unbeaten season with 2/3 having – again, like his namesake – spent most of the season on board 1. This weekend, though, he was on top board of the seconds rather than the thirds.

4NCL 2017-18 Rounds 9-11: Div 3c, 4s report (Sean)

Sean writes:

A shame we couldn’t challenge for a promotion for Oxford 3 at the weekend, but we had a good enough time playing in Div 3, as Oxford 2.

In fact had myself and Justin tried a little harder on top boards on Saturday (Wessex A) we could have won that match also, as each of us were held to a draw after having dominated proceedings against our 2100 FIDE opposition, while I’m sure also that James Cole was winning but couldn’t find a way after adjournment. On bottom board Nigel was offered a draw on move 3(!) – you can imagine his reaction [skip: yes, especially in his first-ever game for us!!] – and typically he recovered from a poor position to win when his impatient opponent overpressed.

My losing on Sunday (Rhyfelwyr Essyllwg) didn’t affect our team winning as Justin took down a 2100 player who was apparently out of book after 1. d4 Nf6 – he’d expected a Dutch, after a brief examination of the database, and wasn’t prepared for a Nimzo. Eldar ground through his opponent who resigned after 5.5 hours when the position had completely stabilised, and he found himself 3 pawns adrift.

Monday saw us re-enact ancient rivalries (Cambridge University 2) and a close and quite exciting encounter emerged. With a quick draw from Justin ensuring an undefeated season at the chessboard in competitive outings, allied to a smooth conversion on board 2 Jason, I managed a draw in an exciting game where hindsight suggested I was slightly behind on initiative throughout. A loss on board 4 (Tomasz) meant that after 4 hours Phil Hayward and Neil were carrying the flag for the darker blues. By then Phil was looking good (not many pawns left but about to win a minor piece), while Neil was 2 pawns down in a rook & pawn ending. Phil reduced the board to BN and wrong h pawn v N, and managed to convert elegantly. During this time Neil had reduced his pawn deficit to one, and was then able to secure the draw in R+bc pawns v R + c.

I don’t have much info on Oxford 3, as my games were upstairs and I was engaged for most of each first session… but we missed out on Rod’s presence on Monday. After Hugo blundered on board 6 against much weaker opposition, we were -1 v 2 down, and so couldn’t complete the season with another point. This meant that we ended up joint 8th when clear 7th would have sounded so much better! [skip adds: yes, but Rod would have had to beat the rising mega-star Shreyas Royal to accomplish that.].

4NCL 2017-18 Rounds 7+8 [1]: results

It was a tough weekend for Oxford’s first team in the first half of the March “split” weekend at a slightly snowy Wokefield Park. Skip was glad all of our players got there safely, and hopes they all returned home safely.

The results: Oxford lost both matches, 3-5 to White Rose 1 and 1½-6½ to Wood Green Hilsmark Kingfisher.

On Saturday, there was a moment when skip thought we might beat White Rose 1 and Grantham might fail to qualify for the Championship Pool. That would have given us 4 points to start with in the Pool. Unfortunately neither eventuality came to pass and we start with nul point. We still have nul point but, as I said to the troops, there’s no relegation pressure on us.

Oxford players of the weekend:

(1) Matt, who produced what skip considers to be one of his best-ever efforts in beating Sam Chow on Saturday. That proved to be our only win of the weekend.

(2) Zoe. She scored a mere ½/2 but was tasked with Black twice against a WIM-seconded by a super-GM and a GM. If we believe Botvinnik in Fischer’s My 60 Memorable Games #39, her endgame today (Sunday) could have been a theoretical draw. In that, Botvinnik says “… is left with two rook’s pawns and the draw becomes a question of theory” [yes, Botters had a spare f-pawn, but believed drawn without it]. Neil told skip about that game on the train home, recalling that it had been a Gruenfeld where Botvinnik blundered a pawn in his home analysis (17. … Qxf4!). He (Neil) knew Fischer had fallen for a Botvinnik trap in an endgame with two rook’s pawns and made sure of avoiding that. Still, skip thought Zoe played very well indeed and deserved 2 draws.

We also appreciated Jon‘s Saturday efforts. He went for broke in the last stages of his game trying to salvage the team a 4-4 draw. Skip is sure Jon didn’t really believe his Nxg6 sacrifice worked, but went for it anyway in his opponent’s time-trouble.

Justin scored two quick draws in his two encounters with GMs, playing a total of 20 moves – two fewer than Saturday opp Peter Wells. He needs another draw from his next game for a GM norm.

4NCL 2017-18 Rounds 5+6: results

It was a good weekend for our odd-numbered teams, but a disaster for our even-numbered troops. We recorded these results over the weekend:

  • Oxford 1 lost 1-7 to Guildford 1, then defeated Barbican 2 5½- 2½;
  • Oxford 2 lost to The Rookies 2-4 and CSC 1 1-5;
  • Oxford 3 drew 3-3 with CSC 2 before defeating Iceni 1 3½-2½;
  • Oxford 4 lost to both Fischer’s Catch and Milton Keynes Phoenix 2 by 1½-4½.

By defeating Barbican 2 comfortably on Sunday, Oxford 1 qualify for the Division One Championship Pool for only the second time ever (our first visit there was in 2014-15). Justin & Chris were the men to hold draws against Guildford’s GMs – very comfortably in Justin’s case, very sweatily in Chris’s! – and they are still unbeaten this season on 5½ & 4½ from six games respectively. Skip’s rudimentary calculator has them at TPRs of 2744(!) & 2463, so there are well-deserved title norm opportunities for both. They need titled oppo in the run-in: with a likely sequence of 7. White Rose 1, 8. Barbican 1, 9. Guildford 2, 10. Cheddleton 1, 11. WGHK, that’s pretty much guaranteed.

Oxford 2 dropped off the pace in Division 3sB and find themselves in danger of dropping into the Relegation Pool.  Our destiny is still in our hands, for a win over Milton Keynes Phoenix 1 would put us into the Promotion Pool.  If we lose and are overtaken by The Rookies, it’s not all bad news: we’d start the lesser Pool with the maximum 6 match points.

Oxford 3 maintained their top-of-the-tree status with their excellent Sunday victory thanks to wins by Justin H & Phil H on the top two boards and a solid draw from debutant Tomasz. Despite the 4NCL strategy of avoiding “top” pairings in rounds 1-4, Ox3 find themselves to have already played #2, 3 and 4 so will face #5 Crowthorne in round 7 with Black on odds.

Oxford 4 were given two tough assignments, the second coming as a by-product of MKP2’s disastrous second weekend meaning they’re playing catch-up. We’re still respectably-placed in mid-table and have hopes of getting more points on the board in round 7, perhaps at the expense of the auld enemy’s third team?

We had no 2/2 players, but four players did score 1½: both Justins, Chris W & Sean T. Honourable mention for Graham’s two draws on board 3 of Ox3 & board 1 of Ox4: he did better on Saturday than skip did on Sunday against the same opponent with the same colour. Skip obviously needs to study Graham’s games!

4NCL 2017-18 Rounds 3+4: results

Ridiculous. Utterly ridiculous.

Oxford 1 sit second in Pool A of Division 1 after four matches, Oxford 2 top their pool, Oxford 3 top Division 4s.

OK, all three of these are on “goal difference”, but hey. This could easily be our most successful season ever – however, caution is advised. We have only played four matches of eleven, Oxford 1 have yet to play the big guns Guildford 1 (round 5) and White Rose (round 7) while Oxford 2 could yet drop into the Div 3s relegation pool. For now, though, skip basks in the status of our top three teams and very much hopes they can maintain their fine form. Still, to paraphrase the Ox2 board 1 after his “miracle save” today v Fermented Sharks [watch out for that one in the PGN]: ridiculous.

The results for Weekend Two were:

  • Oxford 1 defeated both 3Cs 1 4½-3½ and Spirit of Atticus A 5-3;
  • Oxford 2 defeated both Sussex Martlets 2 4½-1½ and Fermented Sharks 3½-2½;
  • Oxford 3 defeated both The Pitstop 5-1 and Barnet Knights 3 4-2;
  • Oxford 4 defeated Iceni 3 5½-½ but lost (gasp) to Watford 1-4 (default-related scoreline).

We’ll start at the top. That match win over 3Cs 1 is massive and means Oxford 1 have one foot in the Championship Pool. We might have two feet in it already if other results fall perfectly in rounds 5 & 6; for example, a 4-4 draw with Barbican 4NCL 2 in round 6 should suffice. Even if we don’t make it, pessimistic skip reckons we’re likely to have 6/6 match points going into the Relegation Pool.. Always a good position to start from.

Similarly, Ox2 are almost in the Div 3s Promotion Pool: a win over the Rookies in round 5 would be enough to get us over that particular line, and we’d then start that Pool in earnest with round 6 v CSC 1.

On Saturday, events at Wokefield Park could not have gone better. No-one lost and Ox2, 3 and 4 recorded a total score of +12, =6, -0. To quote the Ox2 board 1 again: “ridiculous”. Skip particularly enjoyed Jason’s partial re-enactment of Karpov v Korchnoi 1974 game 2; Jason clearly knew it backwards (confirmed postmortem), but his young opponent wasn’t as well versed in the old classics as we were. In the bar afterwards, we admired Jason’s subtle Qd5 move – Qh6+ was so tempting but leads nowhere. Watch out for that in the PGN.

Oxford 4 were very close indeed to achieving a perfect 6-0 on Saturday; in theory, they could have done so, but Tony turned down the chance to go into Q+2 v Q. To be fair to him, (a) it wasn’t that obvious how to get there – we only worked it out in the bar later with silicon assistance – and (b) Q+2 v Q might still have ended in a draw anyway.

Justin T, Asif and both Coles were our top performers with 2/2 over the weekend, with Chris W, Tom, Pavel, Jason, Eldar, Phil N, Justin H, Dugg, Rod and Kev (ten players!) all managing 1½. Justin has 4/4 for the season; skip makes a mental note to get him some titled oppo so that he can push for a GM norm. Oh look, there’s one coming up in round 5. Heck, there are eight of them. Ooo-er.