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Schach Magazin 64

With kind permission from Otto Borik, here is a translation of an interesting article on the 4NCL which was published recently in the German magazine Schach Magazin 64. The original article is also included for those who would like to play through the selection of annotated games in the German article. Translation by Mike Truran.



It’s no coincidence that common international words like "club" or "team" are English words. However, team championships across the English Channel had a wallflower existence for a long time. No strong foreign players took part, and even the leading home players didn’t participate - the English league scene was just not interesting.

All that changed a decade ago. The enthusiastic chess organiser Chris Dunworth took the German Bundesliga and French Nationale 1 models to create a single top class league for England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland (hence the abbreviation 4NCL for "Four Nations Chess League"), with a new constitution, new rules and a new operating model. The most important change: 4NCL is an independent organisation led by a board of team representatives and well-known members of the British chess scene, under the chairmanship of former British champion IM Paul Littlewood. The league is completely independent from the British Chess Federation (incidentally, the Bundesliga first division has similar aspirations), whereby neither party looks for confrontation but instead prefers peaceful coexistence.

The league gained acceptance, received good publicity, and the top home players played frequently. Team managers redoubled their efforts to get funding, and the league started to take off. This year marks the league’s tenth anniversary, and at the end of the season the league’s founder, Chris Dunworth, was able to look back with some pride on the statistics. The first division can now boast a top quality playing level, maybe not quite as strong as the Bundesliga first division, but with over 50 GM and IM title-holders quite clearly an event of international importance.

The 4NCL consists of four divisions, with 44 teams and around 350 players taking part - so it’s comparable with the Bundesliga first and second divisions together. This report mainly covers the first division.

A few words on similarities with and differences from the Bundesliga.

The number of players in a team (eight) is the same, as are the all-play-all system, the relegation rules (a quarter of the teams are relegated), the tie-break criteria (match points first, then board points) and the playing arrangements (two rounds a weekend over five weekends, with a third round on one of the weekends).

Chris Dunworth
Chris Dunworth, founder of the 4NCL

The size of the first division is different (twelve teams, as in Austria - the Bundesliga and the French Nationale 1, as we know, have sixteen teams). Also, a second team from the same club can play in the same division as the first team, which isn’t permitted in any of the major European leagues.

Unlike the Bundesliga, but like the French first division, there has to be at least one female player in the team. Furthermore, the relevant rule is gender-neutral in stipulating that "each team must include at least one male and one female player". In effect, seven females plus one male would be fine (along with six other variations), although in practice the reverse is normally the case. The originators of this British "chess statute" freely admit that the requirement for one female board was instituted primarily with the encouragement of women’s chess in mind. There is no women’s chess league in Great Britain as there is in Germany, since the aforementioned rule ensures that females get at least 12½ % of the playing opportunities in the 4NCL. That’s sufficient, since the proportion of female players in Great Britain is only 6%. So as to avoid animated letters: we’re reporting on a league in Great Britain, and are not advocating the abolition of the German women’s league!

The female player requirement isn’t particularly suitable as a way of encouraging women’s chess given that as a rule females tend to play against each other rather than against the top home and foreign players. Nevertheless, the inclusion of female players undoubtedly increases the league’s attractiveness, not least for publicity purposes. Say what you like, that’s just the way it is. With that in mind, perhaps German officials and team captains might just want to consider whether anything might be learned from the French and the British............

Back to the 4NCL. The requirement to have at least one female in the team encourages women’s chess one way or another - there is no analogous encouragement for indigenous players (as was recently advocated by several top German players with their call for "50% of Germans in the Bundesliga"). All chess players are considered equal whatever their nationality. Chief arbiter Richard Furness reports delightedly that in the season just ended players from 27 countries played in the 4NCL. Despite this, most players are still British, as a result of which there is high league visibility across Great Britain and strong links between players and clubs.

Richard Furness
After 40 years experience as an international arbiter Richard Furness concludes "All players are equal, whatever their nationality. If a team wants to register eight Chinese players that's fine............

So much for the details of the league across the English Channel - let’s now turn to the season just ended.

Final Results 2002/03
1.Wood Green 121:171,0
2.Guildford-ADC 119:358,5
3.Barbican 118:450,0
5.Wood Green 212:1043,5
7.The ADs10:1242,0
9.Barbican 26:1636,5
10.Perceptron Youth6:1635,5
11.Wales Dragons 13:1930,5

As the table above shows, Wood Green’s first team almost managed a clean sweep. In particular, the game point score shows the London team’s huge dominance, with individual scores as follows: Michael Adams (6 points from 7 games), Jonathan Speelman (7/8), John Emms (9,5/11), Bogdan Lalic (??/??), Alexander Baburin (6,5/9), Chris Ward (9,5/11), Matthew Turner (7/9), Andrew Martin (6,5/9) and on the women's board, Harriet Hunt (9/11). Only occasionally did team captain and sponsor Brian Smith need to bring in other players such as prominent grandmaster Nigel Short (2 from 2).

Two of the Wood Green players also achieved the highest-rated performances, with Michael Adams and Jonathan Speelman achieving ELO performances of 2749 and 2743 respectively. Both players also play for the German champions Lübeck. Furthermore, Adams also played for NAO Paris, so playing for the league champions of three separate countries in the same year. This multi-team approach with no particular tie to one particular club does not meet with universal approval, although it certainly suits those players with multi-team contracts............

(see the original Schach 64 article for a selection of annotated games)

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