4NCL 2023-24 Rounds 7-8: Division 1 results

This time Oxford 1 met heavyweight oppo in the form of Cheddleton and Wood Green in Telford. It seemed challenging but on Saturday Cheddleton turned up with an unfamiliar line-up, boosting hopes that we might pinch a match point or even two.

Hopes rose further when Edgar had Cheddleton captain Fiona Steil-Antoni on the ropes early on in a Caro-Kann:

Wilson v Steil-Antoni (17. Re1)

It is grim for Black who has just played 16. … Rd8-d6 just to close the dangerous h2-b8 diagonal. She has to watch out for getting mated (Rb1-b8), watching the e-pawn trap her bishop on its starting square (Bf4, Bxd6 – exd6, e7), perhaps f4-f5 is on the menu, and later if the king wanders to d6, it might go Rb1-b7-d7#. Something went awry later, Fiona wrestled herself back into the game, and we went down. Swindlegate continues, begor (three in the Sharks 1 match, one v Celtic Tigers 1 already, begor). Instead of staring at zero points we could now be on six. Ho hum.

Tashika had GM Arkell under the cosh, but it appears the GM wriggled out of trouble in this position:

Arora – Arkell (38. cxd6)

Most things are worse for Black, for example 38. … Rxd6 39. Rxd6 Nxd6 40. e5 Nc4 41. Bxc6 Nxb6 42. Bxb7 when White can try and lever a win from the resulting B+4 v N+3 endgame. The experienced GM found 38. … c5! which appears to hang the b7 pawn, no? No, for now Black can capture on d6, then navigate his knight to c4 or c8 to hoover the b6 pawn without losing his c-pawn.

GM Arkell tried to win this endgame with his c-pawn, winning Tashika’s bishop for it. He was down to his h-pawn at the death, and clock times suggest he wasn’t sure he was absolutely definite that he was winning it. No, Tashika’s pawns were strong enough to keep the knight quiet and Tashika scored a well-earned draw. I’m told this was the subject of animated discussion in the post-mortem, and that the conclusion was that Keith never had enough. Still, had Tashika chalked up 1-0 then it would have been very much with the run of the play.

Theo (another debutant transferring from West Is Best, like Donald Macfarlane) scored up his first Oxford win after a chaotic game in which it seems White’s last move 20. Bc1-e3 …

van Dael – Khoury (20. … f5)

… inadvertently took away the Ng4’s last available square, and 21. Bxf4 to free the square runs into 21. … Nxf4 hitting the queen. I wager the consequences of 22. Qh4 fxg4 23. Qxh7+ Kf8 was calculated by Theo. Perhaps he planned 22. Qh4 Ng6? Anyway, White wriggled for a long, long time but Theo kept control. As he scored Oxford’s only win of the weekend, that gets Theo “top game” status.

Sunday was always going to be a disaster area against divisional leaders Wood Green, but Theo completed a weekend of 1½/2 (v FM & GM!) in a quiet draw with Jon Speelman. Elsewhere, our poor a2 pawn was terrorised by doubled rooks on boards 1 & 5 with a securing pawn on b4:

Claridge-Hansen v Harvey (20. … g6), Hobson v Arakhamia-Grant (32. … Bf7)

Clearly the first diagram is all Black as the White rook on a1 is miserable. But the second is more 50:50. GM Arakhamia-Grant manoeuvred fruitlessly until move 55 as Kenneth defended patiently for his second half-point of the weekend (against an IM & GM!), making more than 150 moves in the process.