4NCL 2023-24 Rounds 1-2: Division 3B, 4 results

We were at Telford for this weekend – the first time for this season, and the first time for a few seasons. Distance meant we could only field the second and third teams, who posted these results:

  • Oxford 2 beat MASCeteers 4½-1 (default-related scoreline) and Sussex Martlets 3 4-2.
  • Oxford 3 were trounced 0-6 by Desert Penguins then defeated War & Piece B 4½-1½.
  • Oxford 4 were not present.

On Saturday, MASCeteers were a player short so Shambavi was left at home to claim a free point. Edgar was ready to play Mark Drugan but an emergency in Oxford 3 meant I dropped him to board 1 in that team and replaced him on board 5. Stefanus and Roman engaged in pin-related trickery that ended in one movebound opponent and another mated opponent. Jan reached a position where a perpetual was all that was available; sadly he tried to improve further and this did not work out. On top board Szymon was occupied for more than six hours holding a two-pawn down position. He managed it, impressively.

Not content with six hours’ Saturday play, Szymon doubled his board time on Sunday, being last to finish in the whole room for the second day running. Twelve hours in total, begor, and 172 moves. He may have overpressed a smidge, but Oxford 2 had already won by the time he was mated at move 99. Roman (2/2 for the weekend!), Edgar and Alex had already sewn up the points on the bottom three boards to go with Jan‘s Berlin draw on 2. Alex calmly defused a premature White attack; it seems to skip that White had to retreat the queen with 19. Qd1 but her Maj hadn’t charged out to g4 last move only to meekly return to base. No, she went boldly (rashly?) forward, hanging not only the c2 pawn but also the b2 bishop which could not be defended.

Stefanus‘s king worked tirelessly to save his half-point after his big passed b-pawn mysteriously went missing, going all the way to f7 and back while his counterpart dozed on h8.

What positive spin can skip put on a 0-6 Saturday start for the thirds? Edgar battled well against his IM opponent, Steve looked like he was stomping his opponent in a Closed Sicilian but skip forgot to count the rooks, for Steve was one light. Still, Steve’s attack looked promising. Had he inserted Bd5 at some point to prevent the deadly bishop being shut off on a2 with … c4, he might now be basking in “top game” status?

The thirds bounced back on Sunday. Richard won on the White side of a Panov Caro-Kann, several tactics netting Q v R. Phil got his centre pawns running and one quickly touched down. Barry took control of the centre and collected a free piece.

Neil tried to emulate Szymon’s stamina, being one of the last in the room to finish on both days. He declined three(!) draw offers pushing for a Sunday win, and perhaps missed Black’s move 43 when the pendulum swung. Skip makes it Neil occupied ten hours of board time over the weekend, sadly for zero return.

What was going on in Steve‘s game? His opponent contrived to bury his knight on h7 by move 25 (see picture); but then that same knight trapped the black King for a future endgame. We never got to one, for many (mis)adventures with pieces dropping off everywhere ended with the White king being mated in mid-board.

“How do we get out of this pickle, sire?”

Top game. Having contemplated both of Steve‘s entertaining games, skip’s mind concentrated on other Black wins. Stefanus‘s Saturday win on 3 was a candidate, as was Alex‘s Sunday win. Phil‘s marching centre pawns were worthy of consideration. Skip gives the nod to Roman, as the only Oxford player with two wins. His Sunday effort was well-controlled.

4NCL 2023-24 Rounds 1-2: Division 1 results

The first team ventured out into Division One for the first time in the new season. Looking over oppo teams we ranked tenth on average ratings (2249), but only seven rating points behind Alba (2256) and one behind Barnet Knights A (2250). The bad news was that we ran into the No. 1 team Sharks 1 who boasted 2480, and even “rested” IM Peter Roberson in their second team!

It was a thumping loss to Sharks 1 on Saturday. But was it? Our four White games against Sharks 1 resulted in three losses and one win. The three losses can be categorised as “swindles” of various complexity triggered by the oppo. The most evil was Makkar’s 37. … c3 against David, that was a tough one to meet in time-trouble. Those three games, if re-scored in our favour, would have been enough for a narrow match win. Ho hum.

On the upside debutant Donald controlled his White game well against IM Rendle, scoring what proved to our only win of the weekend – an easy choice for “top game” in our playthrough..

Only Will got on the board with Black, holding off White-specialist IM Grieve in what was a topical Sicilian Taimanov (or is it Kan?) line of the 1990s where White happily develops his king to f3.

[so what have Sharks 1 just done on Sunday? Right, turned over Manx Liberty!]

Tashika was last to finish on Saturday after a six-hour marathon against FM Moreby. She was involved in another long game on Sunday at board 5 against experienced FM Webb, spending most of it defending doggedly as Black’s dark-squared bishop ruled the roost. Eventually she managed to get shot of it and Webb conceded a well-earned half after 4¾ hours – it was a long weekend of nearly eleven hours for Tashika.

No-one else was close to racking up a win over Blackthorne’s IMs though Jon had a small chance late on: would Black fall for 45. … Kg5 46. h4+ Kh5 47. Kh3 Rxg2 48. Qf3+ Kh6 49. Qxg2, and a super-long queen endgame? No, Nelson carefully chose 45. … Kh5 and a perpetual was all that was there.

4NCL 2023-24: Announcement from HQ

Skip presents a lengthy email from 4NCL HQ that outlines the future direction for next season. It’s an “existential” problem.

Although venue contracts for 2023-2024 are still being finalised, we thought it was important to let you have as early an update as possible on how things are shaping up for the forthcoming 2023-2024 season – in particular so that you know before the final weekend of this season what we expect next season’s format to be.

To start with, a little context. As we have started to emerge from the worst of the pandemic, so the hotel industry has it seems decided pretty much ‘en masse’ that it’s a good idea not only to reflect current inflationary trends in their pricing but also to try to recoup losses incurred during Covid as fast as they can. As a result bedroom rates in general have rocketed and playing space at discounted rates is no longer on the table as an option in return for high bedroom occupation. Leisure and special interest groups generally are now it seems seen by the hotel industry as undesirable business compared with the higher-margin business they are presumably hoping to attract instead (although quite how hotels expect to fill their boots with, for example, wedding and conference business on a longer term basis once wedding backlogs are cleared and businesses decide to stay with Team/Zooms etc rather than having face-to-face meetings rather escapes us).

Anyway… we have, along with other chess organisations specifically and leisure/special interest groups generally, struggled to locate venues at acceptable venue hire and bedroom rates, and although it’s to Guaranteed Event’s credit that we have any venues at all, the difficulties are illustrated by the fact that only two venues have been willing to provide anything like competitive terms for more than a single weekend – and: (a) the terms on offer are still much less favourable than previously; (b) we have only been offered a limited number of weekends (on the basis that the hotels would rather hold out for higher margin business than take more of ours – see above).

This has had the following consequences:

  1. Charges for venue hire have increased significantly vs 2022-2023 (with the expectation on the part of hotels that significant numbers of bedrooms will still be booked regardless). Guaranteed Events will continue to absorb these as they have done in past seasons, but the hire charge increases have inevitably further eroded their margins (which were already fairly thin compared with, for example, their bridge holidays business).
  2. The net bedroom rates quoted to Guaranteed Events (the rates used as the basis for the bedroom block allocations that Guaranteed Events commit to and pay the hotels for) have increased by close to 30%  (with many other venues quoting net rate increases in excess of 50%). Had these increases been passed on in full to our chess players we would have been looking at gross bedroom rates of around £90. Guaranteed Events are willing to absorb a large part of the increase so as to keep the headline rate at £79, but again that means that their own margins have been reduced.
  3. As a result of 1 and 2 above Guaranteed Events are no longer in a position to give us commission on bedroom bookings.
  4. One of the hotels that has offered us terms has a maximum playing space of 510 sq m. As a result we are going to be limited as regards the number of teams we can cater for next season – in practice 24 teams in Divisions 1 and 2 and 40 teams in what we expect will be a single Division 3, so a total of 64 teams.
  5. The financial effect of 3 and 4 above amounts to around £16,000 lost revenue to the 4NCL (£11,000 lost bedroom commission and £5,000 lost entry fees). The only way to cover these losses is by increasing entry fees.
  6. In calculating the expected level of entry fees (expected to be in the region of £600-625 for Divs 1 and 2 and £450-475 for Div 3) we’ve applied the principle that all divisions should contribute equally to the league’s running costs. As usual, our costings are based on achieving break-even and not making any surplus. The cost per game works out at around £7 or so – so not dissimilar to the cost per game of a weekend congress, although we accept that that’s small consolation for entry fee increases of this scale.
  7. Dates and venues for next season are, subject contract, expected to be as follows:
Division 1 & 2VenueDivision 3Venue
3-5 NovemberMilton Keynes17-19 NovemberTelford
12-14 JanuaryWarwick5-7 JanuaryTelford
9-11 FebruaryTelford9-11 FebruaryWarwick
15-17 MarchTelford8-10 MarchWarwick
3-6 MayTelford3-6 MayWarwick

The allocation of divisions to venues is still provisional at this stage and may be reviewed.

  • Divisions 1 and 2 will continue as 12 team all-play-alls. Division 3 will be played as a Swiss, combining the present Divs 3 East and West and, we expect, 16 teams from the present Division 4 to make a total of 40 teams. Promotion and relegation arrangements as at the end of the present season will remain unchanged.
  • We envisage that invitations to play next season will be a staged process: (a) firstly, Div 1, Div 2, Div 3 East and Div 3 West teams (as adjusted for promotion/relegation arrangements as at the end of the season) will be given two or three weeks to enter; (b) the top 16 teams from Division 4 (again, adjusted for promotion/relegation as above), or as many teams are required above 16 to take account of any teams not renewing their entries from (a) above, will then be given a further two or three weeks to enter; (c) if any places remain unfilled they will be offered to teams on a first come first served basis.

We can only apologise for next season’s limit on team numbers and increased costs. We’ve taken the view that a smaller 4NCL costing more to enter is still a better thing than no 4NCL at all, and we hope that captains and players will take that view as well and continue to support the 4NCL – support that has been such an impressive feature of the league over the years. We hope that if we can survive these difficult times in reasonably good shape we will be in a decent position to expand again in the future (and reduce entry fees) as the economic position in the UK improves and the hotel industry takes a more realistic view of things.

Kind regards