4NCL Rapidplays, 5-6 October 2013, Daventry Court Hotel by John Saunders




Daventry Court Hotel, Northamptonshire


The 2013/14 4NCL Team and Individual Rapidplay Championships were held at the Daventry Court Hotel over the weekend of 5-6 October 2013. On the Saturday, Barbican 1 retained the team title they won in 2012/13 with a score of 22 after seven rounds of four-board matches. On the Sunday, GM Mark Hebden won the individual championship on tie-break from Australian GM David Smerdon and Marcus Harvey after the three of them finished on 6/7.


Barbican 1 arrived in Daventry as reigning 4NCL team rapidplay champions, having won as clear favourites in 2012/13. However, a scan of the other team’s line-ups would have told them that the defence of their title was going to anything but easy. Barbican 1 themselves had an average ECF grade of 222 – Matthew Piper (242), John Cox (233), Jonathan Rogers (216) and Isaac Sanders (199) – but Guildford, newcomers to the event, weighed in at an eye-watering 240 – Gawain Jones (249), David Smerdon (248), Mark Hebden (249) and Gavin Wall (215). Amongst other strong squads it is worth highlighting the following: RSJ, averaging 213 – Alan Merry (229), Andrew Mayhew (214), Ian Snape (208), Paul Talsma (201) – and SMPS averaging 212 – GM William Watson (247), Richard Holmes (222), Mark Josse (199), Martin Benjamin (180).




David Sands (left) vs. David Smerdon (0-1, 85 moves)

The time limit was ten minutes per player for all the moves with ten-second increments, which works out at 20 minutes each for a 60-move game. Thanks to technical wizards Dave Clayton and Steve Hughes, 16 games per round were transmitted on the web via electronic boards, which also means we have a good supply of games to show you (see links on the front page). When playing through them, please think charitable thoughts of the players as they were playing at a brisk time control. Also bear in mind that, very occasionally, when the players are moving quickly, the electronic boards can garble the moves. We’ve done our best to disentangle them after the event but without scoresheets it is often just guesswork.


Nineteen teams of four played matches against each other (with the odd number necessitating three-way matches at the foot of the pairings), with game points taking precedence over match points (which would be the first tie-break, if needed). Of course, this put a premium on heavy scoring by individuals rather than simply aiming to beat the opposition by 2½-1½ for a match win. After a standard ‘massacre of the innocents’ in round one, things became more interesting in round two with no team managing to score 4-0. RSJ came closest, scoring 3½-½ against BCM Dragons, but Guildford and Barbican managed 3 and 2½ against Oxford and CSC (Chess in Schools and Communities) 1 respectively.




Though they scored half a point more than their leading rivals, Guildford’s loss of a point in round two was the more traumatic experience of the two by a country mile. Their Irish IM board four was winning with almost absurd ease against a player graded 129 when he had the misfortune to compose an elegant helpmate in one. Even Guildford’s non-playing captain Roger Emerson was moved to describe this as “quite a pretty construct”. Can you find the one and only White move which allows Black to give checkmate in one move?



4NCL Team Rapidplay, Round 2

G.Wall (Guildford) - A.Riley (Oxford)

White to Play: Helpmate in 1

(answer at end of article)


Having already broken my own admonition to others to be charitable towards losers of rapidplay games (sorry, Gavin), we move on to round three.


RSJ lined up against Guildford. I’m not sure what RSJ stands for in this context, but wasn’t that the thing which Mr O’Reilly (the cowboy builder in a particularly famous episode of Fawlty Towers) failed to place over the door lintel of a load-bearing wall? Not sure: anyway, this particular RSJ collapsed under the strain of triple-GM-loaded Guildford, though managing to keep their defeat to only one point. Barbican 1, however, lost by the odd point to SMPS (which I believe has a connection with the Met Police Service, though I’ve not been informed what the initial ‘S’ stands for). Captain Jonathan Rogers kept the Barbican flag (the Jolly Rogers?) fluttering by beating Richard Holmes.






Marcus Harvey, 3rd with 6/7 in the

Individual, losing only to Gawain Jones.

No, I’m not taking lunch myself. I confess I wasn’t actually present in Daventry myself during the weekend, so everything you’re reading here is hearsay, but all the people I have consulted about it have drawn my attention to problems with ordering lunch at the venue. Orders arrived anything up to 90 minutes after they were placed, apparently, and this caused much gnashing of teeth (and not in a good way). The tricky bit was trying to time an order to coincide with a break between rounds. I allude to this simply to corroborate any excuses you may have heard from friends who took part and scored poorly. Slow service and rapid chess don’t sit well together.


So at the beginning of round four, Guildford led with 9½, ahead of RSJ and SMPS on 9, Barbican 2 on 8½. In fifth place were the holders Barbican 1 on 8 and, confesses their captain Jonathan Rogers, already despairing of retaining their title. Guildford kept up the pace by beating SMPS 4-0 (the all-GM game between Gawain Jones and Willie Watson being won by the former), Barbican 2 did well to beat RSJ 2½-1½, while Barbican 1 beat Oxford 4-0 to move up to second place, but still 1½ points adrift of Guildford.





Winning Barbican 1 team Captain

FM Jonathan Rogers beat GM Mark Hebden.


Round five featured the big clash between Barbican 1 and Guildford, with the former needing to beat the latter by 3-1 to overtake them. Despite being outrated on all boards, they did so, and arguably with some comfort as their board four decided discretion was the better part of valour, taking a draw when he was objectively winning. Two GMs bit the dust in this match: Matthew Piper, untitled but clearly a fine rapidplay exponent, downed Gawain Jones, while FM Jonathan Rogers beat Mark Hebden.



So Barbican 1 had snatched the lead on 15/20, though only by half a point from three teams: Guildford, RSJ and their own second team. One remarkable individual result in this round was Sue Maroroa of Oxford beating GM William Watson of SMPS, which hopefully assuaged some of her hubby’s pain at his own defeat. Sadly, this game was not played on a show board so the score doesn’t appear in the download. Sue laughed at my suggestion she try to reconstruct it.


Round six and the good thing from Barbican’s point of view was that they didn’t have to rely on other teams to give them a leg up. In theory, anyway: in practice it proved extremely handy that their second team should have been paired against Guildford. They themselves stormed home 4-0 against RSJ – no mean feat – while their second team top board, Scottish IM Craig Pritchett, inflicted a second straight defeat on Gawain Jones to deprive Guildford of a maximum.


The last round saw Barbican 1 paired with their own second team. With their score of 19, it meant that three game points would put them out of reach of Guildford even if the latter scored 4 to reach 21½. There was no funny business: the Barbican match was played in Corinthian fashion (or possibly vice versa) and the result accepted by their rivals Guildford in sporting fashion, after Guildford had achieved another maximum score.







So Barbican 1 had taken the title again: their fourth success in the event. (I am reliably informed the event has been held six times, with Loz Cooper’s NACCPO team winning in 2008, and Ben Purton’s Sons of Anarchy in 2011.) Quite a remarkable achievement, considering that they possessed only one IM in their first team, while there were four GMs and four IMs in rival sides. The top individual scorer was Barbican 1 captain Jonathan Rogers who scored 6½/7. Overall the team scored 22, with Guildford finishing second on 21½ and RSJ further back on 18. My old county, Buckinghamshire, won a prize for being the best junior side, while MK Phoenix received a prize for being the best under 175 side. Finally, an honourable mention for the six CSC (Chess in the Schools and Communities) teams which swelled the numbers considerably. More power to their elbow.


Team Championship, leading scores: 1 Barbican 1 22, 2 Guildford 21½, 3 RSJ 18. Junior prize: Bucks Juniors 6. Under 175: MK Phoenix 14.


4NCL Team Rapidplay, Round 5

M.Piper (Barbican 1) - G.Jones (Guildford)

(diagram right) 24...f6? 24...Qd2 gives the black queen a diagonal home to h6 to defend the kingside should White push g6. White still has some dangerous threats after 25.Rf4, etc. 25.g6 h6 26.Qc4 With time on his clock, White could have hoped to find 26.g7+! Kxg7 27.Rf2! Qxd3 28.Bf1! lining up immediately conclusive threats of Rg2 or Bc4 here. 26...Qd2 27.Nf2 Rb2 28.Rae1 Kg7 29.d4 e5? The engine finds 29...Nb5! when the active knight gives Black some chances of salvation. 30.dxe5 fxe5 31.Rd1! Qf4 32.Qxf4 exf4 33.Rxd6 and White had established a winning position, with Black not having time to capture on f5 because of Rd7+ winning the stray knight. White made a highly efficient job of winning the game, despite the illustrious opposition and Black’s creative play over the next 45 moves ... 1-0







Most of the team championship competitors stayed overnight for the individual championship the next day (7 October 2013), though some family men such as William Watson and Matthew Piper headed home, to be replaced by such strong players as IM Mike Basman and the Oxford-based Armenian FM David Zakarian, amongst others (52 altogether).




Mark Hebden (left) vs. Gawain Jones (Rnd4, 1-0)

Once again the Guildford squad started as firm favourites, though of course this time they would have to do battle with each other. David Smerdon was the first of the Guildford trio of GMs to drop a half point, drawing with Don Mason in round two when the Midlands player managed to construct an impregnable rook and pawn fortress to keep the Aussie GM at bay.


Meanwhile Gawain Jones and Mark Hebden cruised along to 3/3 before being paired against each other. It was fairly even until the older player inexplicably hung a piece in what looked like a level position.


With 4/4, Gawain then met another team-mate of the previous day, Gavin Wall, also on a 100% score. They drew a tough game, which allowed another team-mate, David Smerdon, to catch up with them, and also an ‘outsider’, 17-year-old Alan Merry, from Bury St Edmunds. All four were on 4½/5.




As in the team tournament, round six proved unfortunate for the highest rated player Gawain Jones as he was sensationally defeated by Alan Merry. With Wall and Smerdon drawing, this meant that the Suffolk youngster was leading on his own with 5½/6, ahead of Hebden, Wall, Smerdon and Marcus Harvey on 5.



4NCL Individual Rapidplay, Round 4

D.Mason (W Select) - A.Merry (RSJ)


In the final round, Alan Merry came up against David Smerdon’s trusty Centre Counter, or Scandinavian, as it is now known. He lost, thus allowing David to overtake him, Gavin Wall seemed to be doing quite well against Mark Hebden but then the game became complicated and the IM blundered. Marcus Harvey, 17, of Bicester, joined the two GMs on 6/7, but on tie-break (sum of opponent’s scores, after sum of progressive scores left Hebden and Smerdon still tied) it turned out that the championship title went to the 55-year-old English GM.




Alan Merry (left) vs. James Coleman

Alan Merry enjoyed a stroke of luck in round four, but few rapidplay games stand up to tactical analysis. 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 c5 4.exd5 exd5 5.Ngf3 Nc6 6.Bb5 Qe7+ The Russian GM Zvjagintsev has been playing this recently. 7.Be2 Nf6 8.0‑0 Qc7 9.Re1 Be6 10.Bb5 10.dxc5 Bxc5 11.Nb3 Bb6 has been played a few times. 10...c4 11.c3 Bd6 12.b3 a6?! 12...cxb3 first is safer. 13.Bxc6+ Qxc6 14.Ne5 Qc7 Black decides he must give up a pawn rather than play 14...Bxe5 15.dxe5 when his dark squares will be taken over by White’s bishop after Ba3. 15.bxc4 dxc4 King safety is becoming urgent so perhaps 15...0‑0!? is better. 16.Ndxc4 Be7 17.Ba3 Nd5 17...Bxa3 18.Nxa3 0‑0 19.c4 leaves White a comfortable pawn up. 18.Bxe7 Nxe7 19.Ne3 Qxc3 Black decides to mix things up rather than soldier on a pawn down. 20.Rc1 Qa5 21.d5 (diagram) Rd8!? Bluffing - which is surely what Black is doing here - is part and parcel of quick chess. 22.Qf3? White plays the right two-move combination but in the wrong order: 22.N5c4! Qc7 23.Qf3 would win a piece. 22...Nxd5 23.N5c4 Qc5 24.Ne5 Only Borislav Ivanov’s Fritz-powered footwear could enable a player to find a move such as 24.Nb6!? Qxb6 25.Nxd5 which pretty well forces Black to give up the exchange rather than face 26.Nc7+. 24...Qe7? 24...Qa5 would be equal. 25.Nf5? 25.Nxd5! Bxd5 26.Ng6! nets the queen for a rook and a piece. 25...Qf6 26.Qa3?? Aaargh! 26.Ng4 is still very good for White but White miscalculates horribly. 26...Qxf5 27.Rc7 Nxc7 28.Nc6 bxc6 0‑1



4NCL Individual Rapidplay, Round 5

A.Merry (RSJ) - C.Pritchett (Barbican 2)

(diagram right) 48.h5! “Cheapos are the soul of chess” (as I am sure Philidor would have said had he played rapidplay chess). Hiarcs wants to preface this with 48.Ra1, when White has very dangerous play for the pawn. 48...gxh5? Black obligingly walks into the trap. After 48...f5 49.hxg6+ Rxg6 50.Qxf5 Qf6, White has regained his pawn but is unlikely to be winning. 49.Rxd6 Qxd6 50.Qxg7+ Kxg7 51.Nf5+ Kg6 52.Nxd6 and Black soon resigned.





Individual Championships, leading scores: 1. Mark Hebden (Guildford), 2. David Smerdon (Guildford), 3. Marcus Harvey 6/7, 4-5 Gawain Jones (Guildford), Alan Merry (RSJ, junior prize) 5½. Under 175 prize: Richard Freeman 4 (MK Phoenix).


My thanks to everyone who has supplied me with information, in particular to Jonathan Rogers and Roger Emerson for their extensive comments, and to the 4NCL technical team for their help with the games and results.


Finish of Wall-Riley: 1.Ne2?? Qe1 mate.









Chess Photos | Steve Connor


Pairings and results

Team - 5 Oct

Rd1 Rd2 Rd3 Rd4 Rd5 Rd6 Rd7 | Final Table | Photos |

  1st: Barbican 1 -  £200  
  2nd: Guildford -  £150
  3rd: RSJ -  £100
  Junior: Bucks Jnrs -  £100
  u175: MK Phoenix -  £100


Individual - 6 Oct

Click for round-by-round details | Photos |

(first 3 on tie break) 1st: Mark Hebden -  6/7  
  2nd: David Smerdon -  6/7
  3rd: Marcus Harvey -  6/7
  Junior: Alan Merry -  5½/7
  u175: Richard Freeman -  4/7


Games - from the LIVE boards updated! 08/10/13

Team (113 games)   CBV PGN -  with thanks to John Saunders.
Indiv. (111 games)   CBV PGN



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Four Nations Chess League

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