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Division 2, First Weekend, Sunningdale Park, 3rd-4th Nov 2012 by John Carleton


'Dull November brings the blast, then the leaves are falling fast' - Sara Coleridge.



Sunningdale grounds in Autumn

... is typical of the generally poor profile that November has in literature and the public imagination but once again the start of the new 4NCL season was greeted by a beautiful crisp bright November day. And as ever we travelled with eager anticipation ready to play our part in the greatest chess league in Britain. Additionally this was an excellent opportunity to catch up on old friends, some not seen since May, and a welcome chance to fill in mutual progress in ailments, medications and medical procedures. [I understand some younger players prefer discussing such matters as the Ruy Lopez and Kings indian Defence].



Captain: John Carleton

The games were soon upon us and our first round opponents Pandora's Box Grantham would clearly provide stiff opposition, having narrowly missed promotion to the first division last season as we battled to avoid the drop. From time to time variations on normal chess arise and attract a little attention. One of these variations, random chess, where the starting places of the pieces on the first rank is decided randomly, was warmly advocated by Bobby Fischer for a time. Our match had a variation on this theme which would perhaps best be described as random board order. Thus I was seated in a part of the Atticus team which contained three consecutive blacks and this was balanced by a preponderance of whites elsewhere. This coupled with somewhat cramped conditions in our region of the hall made assessing the progress of the match difficult. Gradually, a fierce contest unfolded. On top board I clawed back the white opening initiative bit by bit but on reaching a level looking ending opponent Colin Crouch quickly dismissed my offer of peace.



Spirit of Atticus (left) v Wessex

Nick Ivell on board 2 had managed to coordinate his somewhat loose position to mount a dangerous attack. On third board Sheila switched from a Bogo-Indian set up to a Stonewall and with admirable composure combined defence and counter-attack to take the initiative. So impressive was this display that the ECF immediately decreed that the names "Stonewall" and "Jackson" should be for ever linked. Board 4 saw Andy Smith gathering momentum but an hour behind on the clock following a delayed arrival and his customary absorption in his position. Dave Latham on board 5 had quickly set up a position which appeared unclear if he castled on the opposite side [the queenside] to white; the decision to leave his king in the centre proved dicey when his king was driven into the middle. Steve Connor had walked into a slightly disadvantageous opening and his discomfort was growing. Peter Ackley also left his King in the centre and tried flank attacks firstly on the kingside and when this reached a dead-end on the queenside; this appeared a dangerous strategy. Dave Robertson and his opponent Harry Russell on board 8 were trading blows in a bit of Najdorf theory which was beyond the comprehension of this observer, to whom Dave seemed to have slipped into an inferior position.


First victor of the new season, who had also been last victor of the old season was Andy Smith. Fortunately this game was out of the view of most people, in particular the Spirit of Atticus captain, who would surely have found Andy's time trouble particularly traumatic. Thereafter the results started to flow for Pandora's Box. Dave Latham had to give up on his bishop of opposite colour ending two widely separated pawns in arrears. Steve also resigned as black pawns advanced ever more menacingly. Peter having already given up queen for rook and minor piece finally succumbed to the long awaited central assault by opponent Nigel Birtwistle.



David Robertson playing WF Vaness Reid (Wessex)

Sheila duly delivered her victory and we still had hopes of a drawn match. Alas the games slipped away from us; Dave Robertson blundered when back to level having safely negotiated time pressure. In his time pressure Nick missed a route to victory and opponent Chris Ross's stubborn mixture of defence and activity obtained his hard-earned draw. This left me in play against Colin; after the first time control he went into a big think which encouraged me to think that he might have over-pressed. This hope proved forlorn, Colin played with confidence, and the draw duly arrived. So a defeat but one in which we had had clear chances to have done better. The skipper was bundled into a cab and we hurried off for our Chinese meal in South Ascot defeated but not depressed.



Hyn's Chinese Restaurant, Ascot

The charge to the restaurant proved a little optimistic as we faced quite long waits for the various stages of our banquet. Fortunately the company was exquisite and the wine slipped down nicely and in some measure. A further long wait, for the taxis this time, saw us arrive back at Sunningdale Park after midnight. Those who needed a night cap were not disappointed; the lively bar was in full swing and thirsts were duly assuaged.


The morning brought a new wave of optimism to the team although we knew Saturday winners Wessex would be another tough nut. The early stages saw little movement from equal chances right down the team but when progress came it was felt to be in our favour as my "white advantage" blossomed into a huge initiative. We also had hopes of progress on board 8 where Dave Robertson had equalised quickly and appeared to have prospects of advantage. Thus encouraged Nick on board 2, Sheila on board 3 and Andy Mort on board 7 who agreed relatively early draws in equal positions.


The strategy became unhinged when the prospects in my game were rapidly downgraded when I walked into a simple trick, clearly seen in advance by opponent Michael Yeo which gained a pawn and made my winning prospects very slight. I could not help but smile as matters dawned on me the instant he played his move [this seemed more manly than the alternative approach of breaking down in floods of tears]. Matters became worse when Peter Ackley on board 5 continued to press, unjustifiably, when opponent Bruce Jenks had equalised and grasped the opportunity to launch a sustained counter-attack. To confirm the switch in momentum, Vaness Reid on board 8 for Wessex was playing with commendable activity and we could no longer anticipate any advantage here. Steve's opponent Roger de Coverly had showed that it is possible for white to exert pressure in a queenless open Sicilian but Steve gradually subdued his ambitions. On board 4 Andy Smith and opponent Allan Pleasants had plunged into an almighty time scramble after original play by both players led to a complex but apparently equal game. For once Andy's sure touch in the roulette phase of the game let him down and a blunder speedily gave Allan the game and put Wessex one up.



The Evelyn Sharp Resource Room at Sunningdale in use as the Division 2 playing venue.


Draws followed for Steve and myself and when Peter had to resign against Bruce it was curtains for Spirit of Atticus. Dave and Vaness continued hammer and tongs on board 8 for another half hour before agreeing the draw, still in a level position, which confirmed our second 3-5 defeat of the weekend.


Fortunately we were able to draw consolation from our position at the bottom of our mini-league from other sporting events at the weekend. Firstly on Match of the Day, pundit Alan Shearer informed us, "Martin O'Neill [manager of Sunderland] will be particularly concerned because his team are just not creating chances. Most teams have bad runs at some time but if they continue to make chances they know that in due course they will start to get results". Secondly, in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday, Sebastian Vettel, forced to start at the rear of the field following an infringement in qualifying, stormed through the field to finish third. That will do us, we will put our chances away and storm up the table to third place. The fight back starts in January; we can hardly wait.



Rd1 results Rd2 results

Spirit of Atticus team page

Division 2a Table Games in PGN

This report is also available here

Previous Spirit of Atticus reports

Photos Steve Connor




Four Nations Chess League

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