2019-20 Rounds 1+2: report (Ox1 only)

It’s been a long time coming but the Oxford 1 season has started. Finally. AFTER rounds 3-6 were played. As a well-known GM put it after winning in the first round: “Great, I’ve started the season with a win. I wonder what the next rounds will bring!”.

Oxford 1 drew 4-4 with Alba and lost 2½-5½ to Grantham Sharks 2.

Our Saturday draw with Alba matched last season’s result exactly, but we flipped number of decisive results and draws: from 2 decisive and 6 draws in ’18-19 to 6 decisive and 2 draws. Ox1 debutant Dimitrios kicked off his first-team career with a win; his father David told me pre-game he’s gone up 122 FIDE in the last month, so he will have acquired a few more points with that win. That put us 1-0 up but three losses pegged us back to two down with two to play. Hans and Szymon both had favourable Q+P endgames and both converted to save the match.

Sunday’s match with Grantham 2 favoured us on paper, and Joris fancied our chances if we could “convert our top-5 board advantage”. It was not to be, for we lost those five boards by 3-2 and Grantham exploited their rating advantage on 6-8 to win those 2½-½ although I felt Dimitrios on board 8 might have turned over his opponent in the endgame. Unfortunately he went for a tactic that had a hole in it, and his 2100-rated opponent poked said hole open over the board. Matt had another great win on board 3 but we suffered elsewhere, most notably on Flip‘s board 5 where he looked like defending the honour of Fort Knox but ran into a very evil cross-pin in the run-up to move 40. Yuting looked like drawing for a long time and sadly went down at the beginning of the seventh hour with only one other game in play in the whole room. As last Ox1 player to finish, this was her second straight heroic effort for zero reward. Skip well knows that pain (his personal record is 6′ 55″ for a loss, losing that match in the process) and very much hopes her next game brings more joy for her and us.

The Div 2 Pool B table looks mighty odd now: FIVE teams are in the hunt for the Championship Pool on seven points or more. Only top-of-the-table Kings’ Head are assured of their spot. Grantham Sharks play Barnet Knights 1 next, so both we and Alba can secure our Championship Pool spot by winning in round 7. If that comes to pass the fourth spot goes to the winners of that Sharks/Knights match. Heck, normally eight points is enough to get there, seven is usually plenty, six rarely suffices, but this season nine will be necessary.

2019-20 Rounds 5+6: report

In a remarkable turn of fortune over the weekend, Ox1 charged up the table. We registered these results:

  • Oxford 1 beat Barnet Knights 1 5-3 and Guildford 3 4½-3 ½ ;
  • Oxford 2 drew 3-3 with Iceni 1 and beat Wessex B 3 ½ -2 ½ ;
  • Oxford 3 lost both matches 1 ½ -4 ½ to CSC 1 and 2 ½ -3 ½ to Ashfield 1;
  • Oxford 4 lost 1-5 to Cambridge Uni 3 before duffing up Celtic Tigers 3 by the same score;
  • Oxford 5 did not appear.

Let’s start at the top. Our Saturday victory over Barnet Knights 1 was entirely unexpected by your skip – and I suspect also the rest of the team. We were fairly heavily outgraded on paper but Matt produced another of his brilliancies against one of Barnet’s best juniors and Nakul (who scored 2/2) enjoyed his debut in Division 2 chess at the first attempt. Jason completed the win, everyone else bar Yuting drawing – and she, after a mid-game mind-block dropping a piece, was last to finish after giving her opponent mucho mucho trouble to convert said piece. We consolidated that result with a win over bottom team Guildford 3, Nakul and Phil H scoring the wins. We find ourselves in second place and could secure Div 2 safety when the much-delayed Rounds 1 & 2 are played at the end of this month. However our “second-team” players will not be eligible to bail us out then for first-team unavailability as they have done – creditably well! – in the last two weekends.

Ox2 badly needed points this weekend and gained three to climb to fifth in the table. Skip was at Daventry all weekend with Ox1, so has no real news on the games to impart: but he does hear that Koichi scored a spectacular finish on top board Saturday while James (1½/2, like Nick) & Justin were our Sunday winners. Ox2 need to win the Round 7 match with Cambridge University 2, and keep an eye on the Wessex B v WiB 2 / Iceni 1 v MKP 1 matches to secure Division 3 status for next season. Goal difference may be a factor.

Ox3 also needed results but it was a very tough weekend for them, paired with CSC 1’s strong outfit. Tomasz got the short straw, playing board 1 both days against strong customers – thanks to him for his willingness. Skip tweeted laconically about Ox3’s Sunday match: “Ox3 loss”, to which Ian responds: “It’s ½-2½ with me, Tashika and Cyril playing. I’m only carrying on in a dead lost position as Tashika and Cyril both look better to me, though I thought Tashika was probably drawn in a same coloured B+efgh v. B+efh. Then my oppo blunders horribly and I get a draw, and a few minutes later Tashika finds a way to sac her bishop to force a pawn through, this is definitely one to look out for when the PGNs come out, a classy win!” He adds that Cyril was headed for a Q+P endgame with a pawn or two up when the Bush car departed, but “’twasn’t to be“. Tricky things, endgames with surplus pawns. Skip knows this from his own Sunday endgame effort 2P up – draw, naturally.

Ox3 have a “dead rubber” in Round 7 before they enter the Relegation Pool with 2 points from 6. Their Round 8 opponents might be Ox2 if our other Div 3 team don’t squeeze into the Promotion Pool. Awkward.

Ox4 had a bit of a massacre on Saturday against the old enemy, Alan doing well to avert the whitewash with his win. But we bounced back against a rather weak Celtic Tigers 3 to end the weekend mid-table in Division 4s.

Travel was potentially tricky with Storm Ciara arriving on the Sunday. Two of the Ox1 number chose to follow their sat-nav to Daventry, which believed (incorrectly, as it turned out) that the A361 was closed at Chipping Warden. They and their passengers took, shall we say, the “scenic” route, one of them encountering a tree collapsed across one of the back roads. At least they arrived safely! Skip hopes they didn’t follow their sat-nav on the way back.

Before that storm hit, another of our number – who shall remain nameless, but you may hazard a guess – failed to show up for his lift. Skip was notified of this, so he sent a message via the Daventry arbiters to Maidenhead: “please put our reserve in”. Then skip promptly had a tricky opening, forgot about it until 2:55pm when he remembered to check his reserve was in and asked the Chief Arbiter to verify. Call made. “Can you confirm <reserve> is playing for Ox4?” “Player who missed his lift has turned up, no need to.” Say again?! It turns out he’d hopped on the train instead!!

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?”.