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Distant observations on the second 4NCL weekend

by Jonathan Rogers

This was the first weekend of the first (and second) division that I have missed since Barbican re-entered the 4NCL in 1996, but I did try to follow events from afar. Perhaps doing this gave me an extra perspective. It meant that I was following what was happening overall rather than just focusing on the matches where my teams were playing, which I would have done if I had been present. But it also means that I will have to leave it to others to relate the traffic problems which caused a number of defaults on the Saturday, the usual business of who went to bed at 6 am and went on to beat a GM the next day, and how it was that Richmond gave away their board order to several of their Barbican 4NCL opponents the day before their match with Barbican 4NCL 2!

In the first division, three teams won both matches. Betsson.com won two matches against equally rated teams, ADs and Hilsmark 2, and is now the only team to have won all their matches. It seems that it will be they, as well as Barbican 1 (who also beat ADs but drew with Hilsmark and currently lie in third) who might challenge the two Guildford teams this year. The point is that, after the two Guildford teams, the nearest four pursuers on the basis of average ratings should be Barbican 4NCL 1, Betsson.com, Hilsmark and ADs, and so this November weekend, where these four teams played two matches against each other, has managed to clarify the “true pursuers”. That said, it could be the Guildford teams who have to pursue Betsson.com for a while longer, because Betsson.com play Barbican 4NCL and the two Guildford teams between rounds 8-10.

Guildford 2 outrated their opponents and duly won, and so are following last year`s pattern of beating everyone except their first team. They currently lie fourth. The third team to win both matches was Barbican 4NCL 2, only the second time ever that it has achieved a weekend double in the first division (the previous accomplishment was in November 1998!). Whilst we were playing other lower table teams (Richmond and Slough Sharks), this was nonetheless a fine finish to a dream 2007 for us. We scored 100% in four of our five weekends this year - for we had had to win our last seven matches in division 2 in order to reclaim the Furness Trophy. (We lost matches only on our return to the first division in September, not unsurprisingly, to the aforementioned Barbican 4NCL 1 and Betsson.com).

The shock of course was that Guildford 1 dropped their first matchpoint since May 2006, against Cambridge, courtesy of further accidents from Mark Hebden and their new player Mohamed Tissir. They only managed to leapfrog into second place in the table on gamepoints by destroying North West Eagles 7.5-0.5 on the Sunday; although that latter result may be seen as a clear warning to anyone who wishes to suggest that they will continue to suffer from lack of motivation. Cambridge, for their part, proved to be the surprise package of the weekend, and went on to beat Wood Green on the Sunday. This match was broadcast live and would have delighted chess fans with short attention spans – most of the game seemed to be decided in the first two hours!

This time two years ago, Wood Green and Guildford 1 were rampant, and were hiring some of the world`s best players. Cambridge was a mid-table second division team. Who could have predicted then that in two years time, Cambridge would make three matchpoints against Guildford 1 and Wood Green in the same weekend? Clearly, Cambridge is another newly promoted team which can look back on an excellent 2007.

But the big story of the first division was the number of excellent performances by the women players, and also the number of women who were not playing on board eight. Much as one might not like to accept it, this has probably been the first weekend since the start of the 4NCL that the women players have substantially competed, and successfully so, with the men (discounting various final weekends of previous seasons, when a number of teams have recruited women players from abroad especially for the occasion). In fact, in November 2007, playing a woman on board eight was mainly the habit of the big teams Guildford and Barbican; of the other eight teams in the division, no less than six played their woman (or both their women, in the case of Wood Green) above board eight. The most successful by far was Cambridge`s Iweta Rajlich, who beat Mark Hebden and Matthew Turner (most certainly the first time that any woman has beaten two GMs in the same 4NCL weekend, and I suspect that she is in fact the first woman to have beaten two GMs in the 4NCL altogether). But there were several other success stories. Sarah Hegarty scored 2/2 against higher rated (male) opposition on board seven, Sabrina Chevannes beat FM Andrew Lewis on board seven of Richmond v Barbican 4NCL 2 (Richmond`s only win in this match) and Natasha Regan salvaged a draw for Barbican 4NCL 1 against Hilsmark by beating Nicholas Tavoularis. In three matches, the women on both sides whitewashed their (usually higher rated) male opponents, e.g Richmond v Barbican 4NCL 2, Hilsmark v Barbican 4NCL 1, and Cambridge v Wood Green (where “the women won 3-0”). That is to say nothing of a further three IM scalps for the women, albeit that these results were not exactly shocks in terms of Elo ratings (Cox 0-1 Houska, Cramling 1-0 Mah, Smerdon 0-1 Hunt).

In terms of quality of chess (as opposed to entertainment) I would expect that much of the pick is to be found in the four matches between Betsson.com, Barbican 4NCL 1, ADs and Hilsmark. Certainly in the Barbican 4NCL 1 v ADs match, Knott v Smerdon was a great fight which could well find its way into textbooks on middlegame play (you can launch a mating attack without your queen, after all), and Parker v Speelman was an excellent achievement for the former Jonathan. But the effect of …Bd3 in Cox v Houska (Barbican 4NCL 1 v Hilsmark) was a less happy experience for the Barbican side.

In the second division, Bristol remain on top with a 100% record. They are, along with Barbican 4NCL 2, the other side who has never stayed in division two, even though it has periodically been relegated there from the first division from time to time; and the only question seems to be whether their apparent difficulty in finding a regular woman player might deprive them of first place at the end of the season. Their two rivals appear to be White Rose and Oxford, who also enjoyed two wins in November. Since White Rose had beaten Oxford in the first weekend, they are in second place, trailing Bristol by one gamepoint, and Oxford lies third on 6/8. But of these three teams, Oxford was perhaps the most impressive of all in November, collecting 14/16 gamepoints from reliable mid-table sides Guildford 3 and South Wales Dragons. It seems to me that there could be a three way fight for first place in this division, and not just a contest between the two teams currently on maximum matchpoints.

On the assumption that Guildford 3 is ineligible for promotion, then the fourth promotion spot would seem to concern Pride and Prejudice, currently in fourth place, South Wales Dragons and Wessex . None of these made an especially strong impression in November, however. Pride and Prejudice must certainly be unhappy that having three GMs in their team (John Emms, Chris Ward, and Aaron Summerscale, the only three to play in the division thus far) was not enough to dispose of Poisoned Pawns. If the brave 2200s and 2300s on the top boards of the other second division teams continue to show the level of resistance which was show against these GMs in November, then it will be interesting to see how Pride and Prejudice will react.

In the third division, the Jutes of Kent are the only team to possess 100%, though all their opponents so far currently lie in the second half of the table. That said, their nearest pursuers Pandora`s Box and North West Eagles 2 have not met substantially stronger opposition either. Six teams from this division will be promoted to division two next year, while the other six will join the other teams from the present division four. This particular fate seems already to be awaiting the bottom three teams, who have lost all four matches thus far. The question here seems rather to be whether either of Wessex 2 or South Wales Dragons 2, currently in seventh and eighth but with a decent 50% score in matchpoints, might snatch a final place in the top six ahead of either FCA Solutions or Slough Sharks 2 (currently in fifth and sixth place respectively). Slough Sharks 2 have suffered a matchpoint deduction through excessive defaults, but they should at least be commended for beating Cambridge 2 notwithstanding that they incurred two unexpected defaults in their match, and that the ratings were approximately level on the remaining six boards. I cannot think of when a team last won despite conceding two defaults, though I am sure that it must have happened at some point (I recall that Barbican 4NCL 3 came within a stroke of beating White Rose 1 despite two defaults in January 2004).

Division 1

Pride and Prejudice
Barbican 4NCL 1
White Rose 1
Guildford-A&DC 1
Cambridge Univ. 1
The ADs
Barbican 4NCL 2
Oxford 1
Pandora's Box Grantham
S. Wales Dragons
Guildford-A&DC 2
Poisoned Pawns 1
Jutes of Kent

Division 2

Sambuca Sharks
Warwickshire Select 1
e2e4.org.uk 1
Barbican 4NCL Youth
AMCA Dragons
Kings Head
Poisoned Pawns 2
Anglian Avengers
Wessex 1
Celtic Tigers 1
Bristol 1
White Rose 2
Brown Jack
Guildford-A&DC 3
FCA Solutions 1

Division 3

Rhyfelwyr Essyllwg
Sambuca Black Sheep
Cambridge Univ. 2
Wessex 2
Warwickshire Select 2
KJCA Kings
FCA Solutions 2
The Full Ponty
Sussex Smart Ctls.
e2e4.org.uk 2
Nottinghamshire 1
Nottinghamshire 2
Oxford 2
AMCA Rhinos
Braille Chess Assoc.
AMCA Hippos
Glos. Gambits
Bristol 2
KJCA Knights
Guernsey Mates
Bristol 3
e2e4.org.uk 3
Beauty and the Beasts
Celtic Tigers 2
Oxford 3
Guildford-A&DC 4
AMCA Cheetahs