The rumour is that this weekend was the 4NCL’s last-ever visit to Daventry. OK, penultimate, with the second half of the “split” weekend to come in five days’ time. Skip hears that next year’s Daventry rates will go up extraordinarily / extortionately / other words beginning with “ex” (exponentially?), so it appears likely 4NCL will be elsewhere in 2023-24. It has something to do with government contracts and hotels trying to improve on those, as skip understands it.
Oxford’s top two teams recorded these results this weekend:
Oxford 1 beat North East England 5½-2½ and Sharks 2 5-3.
Oxford 2 lost to Warwickshire Select 2½-3½ (third loss by that scoreline this season!) and 2-4 to Brown Jack.
David & Anand both scored 2/2, while Tashika, Jan & Roman picked up 1½. Roman may have had a huge slice of luck on Saturday – did his opponent lose on time in mid-winning attack? Shambavi drew both games on her Ox2 debut, a relatively short one on Saturday followed by a marathon 103-mover on Sunday.
Oxford 1 continue to chase the top 3 in Division 2 (3 teams go up). Conversely Oxford 2 are perilously close to the lower trap-door leading to Division 4. A good final weekend is needed all round!
It was amusing to see the Sharks Twitter account assert “Sharks 2 are heavily outrated on FIDE ratings against Oxford 1”. Skip did the maths … and found Sharks 2 averaged 2161 v Oxford 1’s 2155. Maths clearly not Sharks Twitterer’s strong point.
Top game goes to Kenneth for his efficient demolition of the NEE board 7 on Saturday. Was the 8. … Bxe4 pawn grab too hot? Black was certainly in hot water five moves later after 13. Qa4+.
The second phase of 4NCL February is done and dusted. Oxford 1 demolished KJCA Kings 6½-1½ and lost 3-5 to ADs (our third loss by that score – coincidence?)
We were at a brand-new venue, Delta Hotels Warwick just off M40 J15. 4NCL had one (large!) room allocated for the event plus one side room for bookstall. Division 1 on DGTs appeared somewhat cramped. The tables really needed to be bigger to accommodate those DGTs, but that would have reduced space between matches which was already at the minimum – a trade-off. And what was the barrier below the tables? A new anti-cheating measure (no “footsie” in play)? Little Bodhana Sivanandan (Cambridge Uni 1) wasn’t affected, at 7 years old and seated in a “booster chair” her feet were nowhere near reaching. In short, a second medium playing room would have been handy, but maybe the current arrangements will suffice when Divs 3W / 4 arrive for Rounds 9-11?
An excellent positive was that 4NCL had negotiated free parking with the hotel, for players would otherwise have balked at the hefty charges normally levied by the hosts. “£8 if I have a six-hour game? Would you like a draw ASAP?”.
Oxford 1 finish the weekend in joint fourth with … now, let skip count … four other teams. Ox1 are fourth on “goal difference”, the next three teams are ordered by alphabetical order being on 6 MP / 22½ GP, and Sussex Martlets 1 are eighth on 21 GP.
Despite six of us winning on Saturday, it was only Will who registered 2/2 over the weekend, Joris posting 1½/2.
It was a successful Saturday bookended by our two longest games, one finishing first, the other last. Tashika neatly trapped the White knight on e4 at move 22; although White battled as long as move 65 he had effectively resigned with 26. Qe4. The last-finishing game was Dima who lost at move 77 in a technical K+B v K+oppB+2P endgame. One of two possible fortresses (viz: bishop attacking the pawns from the front) needed to be established prontissimo, but neither materialised and the last fortress chance went at move 63.
Anand extended his winning run to 3/3, receiving a free rook. Joris won an exchange + pawn, stranding his knight on h8. While Black was corralling it several enemy pawns dropped and at one point Joris had R+6P v N+B+2P. Will shoved his a-pawn to coronation, sneaking it past the watchful b3 pawn at move 34. David had one of these (to your skip) incomprehensible games where strategy is paramount. Suddenly White’s e4 pawn dropped and complete collapse was imminent.
On Sunday. debutant FM Ashvin found an elegant double-exchange sacrifice on the same square f5. Will‘s game looked a bit chaotic at one point until a tactic presented itself to harvest a free rook. Elsewhere there was a smidge of overpressing on 3 and 8, skip reckons. Decide for yourself from the playthrough, in which skip chooses Ashvin’s win for “top game” edging out Joris (Sat) / Will (Sun). He suspects he should really give David’s Saturday win more credit in this mix, but he still doesn’t understand it!
The season continues to stutter along spasmodically, one weekend then another forming up a full pair of rounds. This particular weekend saw Oxford 2, 3 and 4 line up in Daventry for more exciting chess. Except that Oxford 4 didn’t. The clash with the annual Kidlington Congress – itself returning to OTB for the first time post-pandemic – saw at least ten “regulars” choosing the latter over the former. Skip didn’t mind in the least, he had it in mind to “drop” the fourths this time but if we miraculously had enough players …
So Oxford 2 and Oxford 3 it was, with the latter really masquerading as “Oxford 3 + 4”. We registered these results:
Oxford 2 beat both White Rose 3 5-1 and Manchester Manticores 5½-(-½);
Oxford 3 (4?) beat SPTW Young Stars 4-2, then lost narrowly to Guildford Young Guns 2½-3½.
2/2 was recorded by Hendrik & Stefanus, 1½ from Edgar, Cameron (Ox2), Alessandro, Steve (Ox3) – those last two, Ox4 regulars but moved up for the weekend, can be expected to apply to skip for a permanent promotion? Jan, Roman & Richard all scored wins in their only game of the weekend.
In Division 3W, the first set of six fixtures are now complete. Oxford 2 have only just “started the season”, moving from nul point after four rounds to four from six, and the cross-table has a quirky look arising from the first half of fixtures pitting “top half” v “bottom half”:
Spooky, n’est-ce-pas? The only outlier is Oxford 2 v Ashfield 1, a fixture in Round 1 caused by the need to pair “top-half” teams Warks 1 v Warks 2 as early as possible. MKP 2 & BK B are both credited with 2 points following the R1+2 shambles of the non-appearance of Wessex A, replaced by CSC 1 – who have one point against each of MKP2 & BK B. I am told those potential matches will not be played.
Anyway, remaining fixtures for Ox2 are against teams 9-12 plus Warks 2, so it will be interesting to see if either Ashfield 1 or Ox2 can charge up the table while the leaders pick each other off. Those remaining fixtures are expected to be published in the next couple of weeks. (Hey, skip, enough already, get back to the chess – Ed)
Ox2’s Saturday demolition of White Rose 3 was unexpected for skip. WR3 had won all matches to date but seemed all at sea this time, as evidenced by their use of three(!) wildcards including a 1100 board six. Hendrik and Kenneth reached K+P endgames of differing complexity: here it’s White to play and draw.
The position on the right is easy: 69. Ke2 Ke4 70. Kd2 … sigh … groan … Ke5 ½-½. But the one on the left needs post-four-hour calculation even if only two moves are in the frame. One loses. One draws. The wrong poison was chosen, lucky for Hendrik – he may suggest this compensates for his Round 1 misfortune. Elsewhere Edgar’s excellent win earns him “top game” in our playthrough.
On Sunday there were Saturday hints that Manchester would also be “all at sea” as their board 6 was AWOL. He hadn’t arrived by Sunday, so Sean had the day to himself. Cameron quickly flattened his opp, though the computer – zero style points – prefers 23. Nd5+ “mate in six” to his infinitely-nicer 23. Ng8+ “silly human, that’s mate in eleven” (also skip’s choice, for what it’s worth). On board 1 the Black queen lacked a sense of danger, decamping to g3 at move 24 and being trapped beyond enemy lines seven moves later. To be fair 24. … Qh7 didn’t look appealing but her Maj’s safe exit route to Q-side had just been blocked by her own c-pawn.
Lower down, Oxford 3 (or was it Ox4?) dealt efficiently with the youngest of the three She Plays To Win teams on Saturday. The match was reduced to a four-board affair after Phil & Graham took quick draws on 1 & 2; rook endgames on 3 & 6 were drawn later, though Dave had to sweat for several hours and 101 moves before getting his half.
The two wins were secured by Alessandro – whose opponent naively swapped rooks at move 34 into a hopeless K+P endgame, likely earning her a rocket from team coach IM Lorin d’Costa – and Roman making his second appearance, by chance against a different SPTW to the one he debuted against. Blinov v Ashton was quite interesting and I thought Alannah Ashton – daughter of the very-strong FM Adam Ashton – had a good position with her pressure against d3. A tactical phase ensued with blow meeting blow. Roman kept control, just, though he might have had to tackle a tricky R v N+2 material imbalance if the complications subsided. Alannah missed the only move at #29 and Roman took the point with a queen sac. Well played, Roman, but unlucky, Alannah.
On Sunday, our boards 4-6 cleared up the lower Guns while on 1, Dave’s bishop was excommunicated. After Phil’s attack foundered, it came down to Sachdeva v Cole – finishing last again on board 2, as they had done in the Round 2 Ox4 v GYG match. A level-looking bishop endgame swung at some point in White’s favour and Ox3 lost by the narrowest of margins.