End of season report, 1d by Jonathan Rogers

 

3Cs

3Cs secured their survival easily enough by winning all three matches in the final weekend to top the relegation pool, by virtue of adding a second GM. whether it is one GM or two seems to make a big difference to 3Cs: with two regulars they can trouble all but the very best, as they did in 2016/7 when they finished fourth, but otherwise they can struggle and they were very fortunate that their weakest team of the season, in the first weekend, came across the especially weak version of Midland Monarchs.

 

 
   

The impression one gets is that, with the possibility of calling in reinforcements should the need arise, 3Cs don't worry too much in the early season about relegation risks, which is all very well but perhaps a bit surprising from the team which once got relegated despite two of their players making GM norms during the season (2006/7).

 

1d, Weekend 5, 2019

Midland Monarchs (Wood Green 2)

Promotion to the first division had not been on the agenda in 2017/2018 and a string of first team absences left the team adrift after the first weekend of the season. But the win against a representative Grantham Sharks side in the second weekend was a turning point and from then onwards there was something to cheer in every weekend; had they anticipated the relatively weak Manx Liberty side in March, then a dramatic late bid for the championship pool would even have been possible.

 

Many more FM's were found, to support this effort, but the team was never quite flooded with them, and many of the players who had played regularly in the second division continued to play. A quick glance at the table 1d, i.e. the matches which most mattered to the team's survival bid, reveals that FM Jonah Willow was their star player, and he must have been high up on the long list of Wood Green players gunning for norms.

 

Grantham Sharks 1

Not quite the dramatic escape performed by Blackthorne Russia in 2013/14, but creditable nonetheless. They started as number eight seeds (having finished seventh in 2017/18, and allocated eight position on account of Manx Liberty's strength) and so "ought" to have been the team which finished fourth. But they did not find their form and also found no easy pickings in Pool B, and things went from bad to worse after the loss to Midland Monarchs.

 

 

   

Worse still, one of their two draws in pool B was "lost" when Blackthorne Russia made it to the championship pool, and so they started the relegation pool with just one draw - but like Blackthorne in 2013/14, proceeded to win all four matches in the reconstituted pool, assisted by foreign GM power in the final weekend.

 

James Holland proved to be a reliable point scorer lower down the team but could not always be used by the first team because of an ever graver crisis in the second team.

 

For all of that, if their form can be rediscovered, they might be the most likely team between 9-12th this year to make their way to the championship pool next year.

 

Celtic Tigers

Survived in division one for the first time, at their second attempt. For all the newsletters, it is not obvious why to me why they did not field their top players the last time they played in division one (though they twice deployed them in division two). Nor do I quite know how so many of them came to be staying in Shrewsbury in the last weekend, which almost led to mass defaults in the crucial last round - most 4NCL captains spend enough of their time worrying about traffic and car breakdowns on the Saturday of every 4NCL weekend, without adding other days into the mix. But they did deserve their survival, and were the early talking point of division one after wins over Blackthorne Russia and 3Cs, before they lost momentum after their defeat to the resurgent Midland Monarchs. With the lost momentum in mind as well, things must have seemed grim on the final Monday morning when they started 2-0 down on account of the transport-related default.

 

A loss would have spelt relegation, on account of Oxford's win, but luckily for them North East England did not rise to the occasion, and agreed a draw in a good position in board two and unaccountably declined to play 20 Nxd5 and 21 Bc4 on board three. With big positions achieved early on boards one and six, the Tigers were soon to breathe more easily.

 

Oxford

Oxford had had a nice time of it since being repromoted to division one in 2013/14. They ought to have been relegated again during that season, but finished 13th and were reprieved after the withdrawal of Wood Green 2. That enabled them to keep their star junior, Justin Tan, and together with other reinforcements (e.g. soon-to -be IM David Martins from Portugal) even managed to be in the championship pool in 2014/15 and again in 2017/18. (They would have been regarded as number nine seeds this year, incidentally, which, had they lived up to it, would have made the starting pools look more evenly balanced).

   

Division 1d final placings

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 GP Pts
1 3Cs 1 6-2 5-2 3-4 6-1 3-4 5-2 6-2 36 10
2 Wood Green Monarchs 2-6 4-3 4-3 2-5 5-3 5-2 6-2 30 10
3 Grantham Sharks 1 2-5 3-4 4-4 6-2 5-2 4-3 5-2 31 9
4 Celtic Tigers 1 4-3 3-4 4-4 3-4 4-4 4-3 4-3 28 8
5 Oxford 1 1-6 5-2 2-6 4-3 4-3 3-4 4-4 25 7
6 West is Best 1 4-3 3-5 2-5 4-4 3-4 4-4 3-4 25 4
7 North East England 2-5 2-5 3-4 3-4 4-3 4-4 4-4 24 4
8 Alba 2-6 2-6 2-5 3-4 4-4 4-3 4-4 22 4
 
   

But last year's success papered over the cracks; it had been achieved despite the recruitment of Marcus Harvey by Wood Green, and over the summer of 2018 Wood Green added Justin Tan to their Oxford check out basket while Martins returned to Portugal. As fate would have it, their first match of the season was against Wood Green, and even a weakened Wood Green side made 7-1 with worrying ease. But Oxford showed considerable determination in a difficult season. An eighth round win against relegation rivals in Celtic Tigers gave real prospects of survival after all, but that pairing meant that they had to cope with both a reinforced 3Cs and a reinforced Grantham Sharks in the last weekend and that proved too much. They won to order in the last round against Midland Monarchs, but by then they had to rely on Celtic Tigers slipping up again. That they did - see above - but unfortunately for Oxford, North East England were in no state to take advantage.

 

Prospects for immediate repromotion: more likely than not.

 

West is Best

The other team from the original Pool A which immediately made a surprise win in round eight against one of the Pool B teams, namely 3Cs themselves. This was a timely pairing (given the likelihood of 3Cs being stronger in the final weekend) but it would have made more difference if Oxford had benefited fom it: West is Best carried just one draw from its three matches in Pool A and still had too much to do, making just one draw in the final weekend. Name change notwithstanding, basically every player in the first team in the final weekend had come from the original South Wales Dragons team and relegation marked the extended stay of the Dragons in division one from the start of the 2014/15 season, during which they too were once reprieved (having finished 13th in 2014/5 but saved by the late withdrawal of the e2e4 team) and benefited from the recruitment of Katarzyna Toma. Had everyone made the same results on other boards as Dragons stalwart Sven Zeidler on board eight, all would have been fine after all.

 

Prospects for immediate repromotion: they have a number of able but slightly offbeat players who are well suited to division two. They could win virtually every game on board eight for starters, and the question is rather whether they will win the division.

 

North East England

To be honest, I have been impressed that NE England have twice earned promotion from the second division and I had rather expected them to finish lower in this year's first division (well, it's true; they even somehow managed to lose Tim Wall in the process of repromotion). They then had an excellent pool A, beating West is Best and bringing two other draws with them to the final relegation pool; where, alas they were roughly treated by the teams from Pool B. Their best chance was in round nine when they took advantage from a remarkable lapse from Peter Roberson to give a close match to Grantham, and Lynda Smith added an impressive win on board eight, but Grantham's Peter Batchelor's neat 43...e3 on board five dashed their last hopes. They seemed ready to go home by the last round: Celtic Tigers could hardly have dreamed of such compliant opposition in their own difficult circumstances.

 

Prospects for immediate repromotion: do they even want it? Their good results against the teams coming down with them and previous successful promotion attempts give cause for encouragement, but there seem to be a number of stronger division two teams, e.g. Anglian Avengers and ADs, waiting to compete with them as well.

 

Alba

There are generally few surprises by the very end of a 4NCL season. Perhaps Alba finishing last counts as the greatest surprise this season. They had just survived in twelfth place last year, but it had been their first year in division one, and the addition of Manx Liberty could, from their perspective. be somehow compensated for in "relegation battle" terms by the weakening of Oxford. They too scored a win and two draws against the other teams in Pool a who followed them into the relegation pool, though they would presumably have hoped for more; and they too were roughly treated by the teams joining the pool from pool B. The crucial loss was, again, that against Celtic Tigers, in round 10, where they got off to the worst possible start by losing quickly with the Kings Gambit White on board two. The off beat opening on board seven (1 e4 c6 2 d4 d5 3 Nd2 Qb6) seemed to qualify as one which is "no good even when it works" but luckily a draw was still on offer. And this was their best match of the weekend. The match might have been saved on board five, where Alba had an extra pawn in the ending, but the Magnus Carlsen knack hasn't filtered down that far just yet, and Alba really needed to win anyway.

 

Prospects for immediate repromotion: very likely, indeed possible champions of division two if the same team continues.

 


 

 


4NCL

Four Nations Chess League

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