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!
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.
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.
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 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.
Weekend 4 of the season saw Oxford 1 pitted against two of division 3’s relegation candidates. SCS 1 and Numerica 3Cs may not be as strong as some teams in the division, but both still possess talented players who were not to be underestimated. Oxford 2 meanwhile faced the up-and-coming juniors of Richmond B and the powerful outfit from Nottinghamshire.
Oxford were missing some of their big stars, notably Merim Bilalic and Dave Shaw, but the main selection headache surrounded the non-availability of our trio of strong female players. Fortunately we were able to take advantage of the rule which allows an U16 junior to substitute for a female player for three matches in the season and recruited Witney’s rising star Guanqun Gai.
The highlight of Saturday’s play always looked likely to be Kemal’s game on top board against Oxford exile Tim Dickinson. But the early action took place elsewhere as Ben quickly halved out for a solid draw on board 2 and James’ unfortunate 4NCL season continued with defeat on board 6. Ray, however, continued his superb season with a smooth and comprehensive win on board 7. Things were not going so well on the remaining boards as Kieran had much the worst of it against his young opponent and Alex’s game against another Oxford exile, Nigel Moyse, looked far from clear – Oxford seemed to be staring down the barrel. The story was only just starting… Matters got worse before they got better as good performances from Aidan and debutant Gai were only rewarded with draws. Then two vital turning points – first a series of complex tactics resulted in Kemal picking up a crucial central pawn. And then Kieran managed to trap his opponent with a time trouble related swindle to turn what had seemed a likely defeat into victory. One had to feel sorry for his opponent, but the point gained set us firmly on the road to victory. The result was soon settled as Tim had to give best to Kemal’s precise endgame technique and Alex’s extra knight proved more than enough to counter-balance Nigel’s marauding pawn mass. So a final score of 5.5-2.5, though the victory was nowhere near as comfortable as the scoreline suggests. As a footnote to this game it’s worth noting Tim’s superb win against a much higher rated opponent the next day. We can only be glad that he saved his best for Sunday…
Oxford 2’s game against Richmond B never threatened to be as easy as the opposition’s position at the bottom of the table suggested. And the situation wasn’t helped by Matt and Ian’s late arrival caused by a train cancellation. This didn’t seem to affect Matt unduly as he found his way neatly through a tactical maelstrom to rack up the full point. Jon on board 6 also proved too strong for his inexperienced opponent. All seemed set fair with Graham outplaying the Richmond skipper and other games remaining in the balance. Then a series of setbacks as Will’s sacrificial play proved unsound and Dave had to settle for a half. The cruellest blow was on board 3 where Graham once again fell foul of his time trouble demons. As so often it was to be Ian’s game on board 1 which would settle the match. For some time it remained unclear whether his extra pawns were sufficient compensation for the exchange. When the situation finally resolved itself, the knight and pawn v two pawns ending was always destined to be a draw. A slightly disappointing 3-3 draw, but doubtless Richmond’s youngsters have a bright future ahead of them.
A fully booked Moat House forced us to once again explore the Telford suburb of Ketley on Saturday evening. It is a matter of some debate whether the cheap rooms and excellent breakfast provided by the Westbrook House compensate for its inconvenient location and the dubious merits of the local hostelry, the Elephant and Castle. In any case, our broadly successful day ensured a lively atmosphere and a good time was had by all. The morning brought an extraordinary record turn-out for breakfast of 8 hungry punters. We then hopped into the cars and made our way to the venue for the day’s challenge. The seconds faced a stiff test against a Nottinghamshire outfit who, while not at full strength, were still one of the more powerful teams in the division. It was not until about 15 minutes into the game that I realised that we were trying to win the match with only 5 men. It was a few seconds before I could remember who was meant to be filling the vacant slot on board 2. Only then did I realise that Sean did not seem to be in attendance. Now those who know Sean will know that a late arrival at the board is nothing unusual. More worrying was the fact that none of our drivers had brought him from the guest house, all assuming that someone else had done so. A swift phone call revealed that Sean had just set out on foot for the venue having watched the end of the London marathon. Given the distances involved, it was somewhat surprising when Sean took his place at the board only a few minutes later. It transpired that the luck of the Irish had done its work and Sean had managed to hitch a lift from a lady he met in a petrol station. Before we knew it, 1 h3 was on the board and all was well with the world again.
It soon became clear that it was not to be a happy day at the office for the seconds. First your scribe went down to a sharp performance from yet another of 4NCL’s many talented youngsters. After his earlier adventures, Sean did well to secure a solid half and Kevin played very well indeed before a few slight inaccuracies in the endgame left him with only a draw. Performance of the day came from Jon who produced a fine attacking display to see off his board 4 opponent. But another unfortunate defeat for Graham and a narrow reverse for Matt, both somewhat influenced by time trouble sealed our fate. A 4-2 loss against a strong side was no disgrace, but the seconds will certainly hope for better at the final weekend of the season.
The firsts meanwhile were tackling Numerica 3Cs 2 with a point headstart due to the opposition’s default on board 8. The match itself was not the most eventful of the season. Ben produced another solid display for the half point on board 2 while James had a slight edge for much of the game before halving with ex-University stalwart Alex Hickman. Ian went at it in typically attacking fashion on board 7, but ultimately his daring sacrifice proved in vain and he was forced to admit defeat. There were further draws for Kemal on board 1 whose opponent found sufficient counterplay to win back a pawn lost in the early stages and Aidan on board 5. It was left to Kieran whose superb season continued with an easy win and the ever impressive Alex to make the final score 5-3 to Oxford. Though the match was no walkover, for once we never really looked like losing.
While Oxford 2 are having a tough season, Oxford 1 now find themselves top of division 3 and look set for promotion. Three more wins at the last weekend would secure the title as well, the prize money for which would prove most welcome. As ever there were performances to savour from the Oxford boys this weekend. Notable amongst them were Kieran’s 2/2, albeit with a little good fortune, Ray’s by now familiar smooth display and Jon’s 2 wins, especially his clinical attacking display on Sunday. But my man of the weekend has to be Alex whose two wins, including one against a player of the quality of Nigel Moyse, were really most impressive. The Bank Holiday weekend at the end of May can’t come soon enough. We’ll keep the champagne on ice until then…
After the massive over-subscription of players which characterised the first two weekends of the season, weekend 3 was a rather different story as mumps, hockey matches and various prior commitments wiped out a selection of players who would, by themselves, have made up a very respectable first team.
The team manager’s job is never a straightforward one and on this occasion Pete was still hard at it deep into the eleventh hour, recruiting players and negotiating complicated wildcard issues with the league organisers. Eventually, and against all the odds, we were able to field some very respectable teams with a combination of old stalwarts and invaluable new squad members Anna Partington, Marco Zhang and Hervé Hansen. Without the enthusiasm of these three to step into the breach, the weekend could have been a disaster. As it was, however, things didn’t go at all badly…
Oxford 1 were to face two of their main rivals at the top of the league and kicked off against this season’s surprise package FCA Solutions 1. It seems to be an Oxford trait to perform at their best when backs seem to be very much against the wall, so it was no great surprise that the firsts came out fighting for every point. The top boards were as strong as ever as Ben, Kemal and James stepped up to the plate. Kemal finally broke this season’s amazing run of draws with a comprehensive victory, while James suffered a rare lapse in his massive theoretical knowledge and was given no second chance. Ben meanwhile was finally persuaded to accept a draw and was later glad to have done so as it turned out that he was probably losing the final position. The team’s engine room chose an ideal day to shine and both Kieran and Aidan notched up emphatic victories – in Kieran’s case continuing an amazing 100% record for the season to date. All of which left the bottom 3 boards, all making their season’s debut in the first team, needing a point between them to complete victory. All three put in tremendous battling performances. Graham Morris was always somewhat on the defensive, but didn’t give up till the very last when time pressure finally told. Chris Duggan on board 6 as usual performed his best against strong opposition and eventually converted to a full point. And Anna always had the edge on board 8, but despite giving it everything couldn’t quite find enough for more than a half point. So a 5-3 win and a great team effort.
Oxford 2, playing high-flying Hilsmark Coventry, were always going to be up against it – you always know you’re in trouble when you see Woody elevated to the heady heights of board 3. He duly obliged with a disastrous early blunder and could never quite find enough play to recover. Elsewhere the troops were battling valiantly but in vain. Sean tried to baffle his talented young opponent with the spectacular 1 … Nh6, an idea which had come to him during his pre-game shower. It actually gave him a decent game, but he was eventually ground down. Hervé Hansen on board 4 played a solid game until time pressure got the better of him, while Marco Zhang on 5 was slowly crushed by his opponent’s advancing pawns. Marco is a man who finds unusual ways to win chess games and this time had tried the cunning technique of waiting for his opponent to lose his mobile phone before the game. Sadly he found the missing telecommunications device just in time to finish Marco off. Kevin gave his all as ever on board 6 but couldn’t quite stave off ultimate defeat. It was left to Matt Ludbrook on board 2 to salvage some pride for the Oxford boys with a solid half point.
Sunday brought the division 3 top of the table clash against Guilford-ADC 3. This was always going to be the weekend’s toughest challenge, but the team knew that a win would set them well on the way to promotion. The early excitement centred around Ben on board 2 who out-witted his opponent in the opening, but then found himself with the thorny problem of how to convert his two extra rooks with his king dangerously exposed in the centre. Ultimately, resourceful play from his opponent meant that Ben had to settle for a perpetual. Nonetheless, this was certainly one of the season’s most exciting games to date. Kemal returned to his drawing ways with a solid board 1 performance, while Aidan on 3 was always on the wrong end of a particularly tricky variation of the French. Kieran’s winning run had to end somewhere and he had to settle for the half on board 4, while on board 5 James’ tough 4NCL season continued when his opponent found just too much counterplay for some extra material. It was down to the bottom 3 to save the day. Chris, who seems to get more than his share of rook endings, was this time struggling to hold a rook ending from a pawn down. All that practice must have paid off because he finally secured a vital half. Anna had drawn the short straw of playing local Oxford starlet Claire Morris. She made light of the task, however, with a commanding performance based on superior opening knowledge and some exquisitely sharp tactics. The pivotal performance of the day came on board 6 where Ray Starkie was making his seasonal debut in the first team. He has shown fine form in the local leagues this season and carried in into 4NCL as he wasted no time at all in thoroughly outplaying a strong opponent. So an honourable 4-4 draw and the promotion challenge still very much on track.
The seconds, strengthened by the much-needed arrival of Will Burt and Dave Bruce and by Graham Morris dropping down from the firsts took on a powerful Slough Sharks 4 outfit. Sadly, the Cowley connection didn’t quite make the desired impact as Dave and Will both went down despite brave attacking performances. Graham played a fine game on top board but was unlucky to fall victim to his opponent’s lucky swindle and have to settle for a draw. Herve scored his first 4NCL point with a nice win while Marco was somewhat unfortunate only to halve when landed in an opposite colour bishop ending. Which left Matt to complete a superb personal weekend with a win which secured a 3-3 draw for the team. A much needed boost for what had been a rather beleaguered second team. They’ll be back harder and stronger next weekend.
To sum up the weekend, a win and a draw can be regarded as a great return for the slightly under-strength firsts, while the seconds enjoyed their chess and certainly deserved the reward of that Sunday draw. Above all it was one of the best ever Oxford 4NCL weekends from a social point of view as the new players blended with the old and brought a fresh feel to the much-vaunted Oxford team spirit. There were, as ever, many great individual performances, including 1.5/2 scores from Kemal, Kieran, Chris, Anna and Matt. But my man of the weekend has to be Ray. The way he dispatched his opponent was most impressive and come the end of the season, his win might just make all the difference to the first team’s ultimate fate. I, for one, can’t wait for weekend 4 and the chance for Oxford 1 to stamp it’s authority on division 3 and for Oxford 2 to take some notable scalps.