4NCL 2022-23 Round 9: results

It was such a good Saturday that skip decided to make a separate post of it.

  • Oxford 1 beat Spirit of Atticus 7-1;
  • Oxford 2 whupped Shropshire 6-0;
  • Oxford 3 went even further, trouncing Ashfield 3 6 v -1 (default-related)
  • Oxford 4 were a board down on Saturday, drawing 2½-2½ over the board with SPTW Young Stars but losing via the board 6 loss/penalty.

If we add the results for the top three teams, that’s 19-1 over the board, 19-0 if you count Ashfield 3’s default penalty. Have we ever had such a good day? The net result was to move Oxford 1 closer to promotion, ending the day in a 3-way tie for 3rd place (three go up) while Oxford 2 pulled away from the relegation area.

There was plenty of choice (20* wins!) on offer for skip when it came to picking a “top game”. Honourable mentions for Joris & Roman, and Jem‘s snap finish, but Gary‘s spectacular defeat of David Levens’ Dragon takes the plaudits. Admire the way the White bishop and h-pawn combine to utterly demolish the Black kingside.

* (including the two Oxford 4 wins, but not including Shambavi’s win by default. Her opponent appeared on Sunday, so one wonders if he mistakenly went to Milton Keynes? Certainly it is known that half the Watford B team did exactly that and found themselves in the wrong place. Oops.)

Hidden Resource

Cyril’s pawn endgame of last Sunday has got a few of you (ok, one) thinking. Here is the PGN, with the important variations added for playthrough.

The critical position arose after White played a4 and we replied … h4, missing a fleeting chance. At this point the White king can no longer catch the Black pawns, for we can arrange to promote on h1 if necessary. The Black king is within spitting distance of a8, though.

Key Position

This means Black has a hidden winning option: … Ke5 headed for c7 / b7 stopping the pawns. We can afford to do this because White can’t do likewise.

But you may say “White can block our king”. He can, but how? Moving to c5 steps into the firing line of g1 and we promote first with check. Moving to b5 allows … Kd6 and again White is in a quandary. He must go to b6 if he wants to promote, and we switch to running the pawns scoring a promotion at g1 with check.

Would we have spotted this? Skip: no. He was distracted by being mildly annoyed our king was on f4, meaning h2xg3 was check and we couldn’t then go h4-h3 as we would like.

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

Mike

4NCL 2022-23 Rounds 7-8: results II

Oxford’s lower teams conspired to produce these results last weekend:

  • Oxford 3 beat Anglian Avengers 4½-1½ then lost 2½-3½ to Wotton Hall;
  • Oxford 4 visited the holy Triangle and defeated Crowthorne B & Wessex B, 4-1½ & 3½-2½.

Top scorers: only Steve managed 2/2, with David C, Neil, Graham, Cyril and Barry logging 1½; Taisiya scored two draws.

Oxford 4 were in the Triangle for the second time this season. This was because our original oppo withdrew with three days to go. Tsk, squads are not supposed to do this. Kudos, or not(?) to Iceni 3 who manfully battled through despite being 3+2 players short and starting with a total of 4 penalty points!

Iceni 3 (Saturday)
Iceni 3 (Sunday)

There was a silver lining. Crowthorne B defaulted two boards on Saturday, one for each oppo, and found themselves lost in both matches as early as Saturday evening when they faced two deficits of -½ v 3. That was one match win in the bag, and another followed on Sunday when Richard, Barry and Steve upgraded a “half-time” 1½-1½ scoreline v Wessex B to 3½-2½.

Cyril had two pawn endgames. His Sunday game against young Daniel Shek finished in an undignified race to the queening square.

Shek, D v Foster, after 47. Kc5

--------->

Shek, D v Foster, after 56. a8=Q

Somewhere in the middle arrow a clear win was missed for someone. You may like to work out who had a chance for glory, and where (your skip didn’t spot it “live”. He was alerted to it by Cyril post-game.) (if you spot it, be honest. Would you have spotted it “live” during the adrenalin charge of the dash to a8/g1?).

After scoring a good win on Saturday, fuelled by a swashbuckling top-board win from David W, Oxford 3 were back in the promotion mix and promotion-chasing Wotton Hall stood in our way in Round 8. A valiant effort by all, especially board 2 Alex [who must have been smarting after his Saturday loss], resulted in a narrow defeat. This may be a good thing, skip opines. The top teams are getting to the point where they’ve met one another and seek oppo from lower down.

Top game? Neil‘s Sunday game was a candidate, as was Cyril‘s Saturday effort. Taisiya‘s entertaining battle with the youngest Deacon also deserved consideration, Black giving as good as he got. But in the end it was impossible to ignore David W‘s splendid attacking game on Sat.

4NCL 2022-23 Rounds 7-8: results I

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+.