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Final Weekend Report, 3-5 May 2014 by the Man in Room 503 a.k.a. John Saunders


Little did I expect when I drove up to Hinckley Island on the Saturday how much drama I was to meet with that day. Even before the chess got underway, as it happened.



My previous visits to Hinckley Island had been trouble-free as regards hotel arrangements but this one was more colourful. For starters, they had no record of my booking. This had been made for me by Dave Welch so I had to check with him that it had been done, and of course it had. It transpired that the hotel, in its infinite wisdom, had decided that all the various official 4NCL people had duly arrived on the Friday and that nobody could possibly be coming on Saturday (despite this being clearly signalled in my booking) so my reservation had been re-routed to the digital wastebasket.


So they had then had to register me all over again and find me a room – thankfully, not a problem, the receptionist told me. Or was it? I was allocated room 503. I went to where she told me room 503 was located, and found myself looking at a blank wall between rooms 502 and 504. Did the numbers alternate with those on the opposite side of the corridor, maybe? No, there was a large laundry room there and no sign of a room 503. I briefly contemplated bedding down in the laundry room, which did look quite cosy with all those fluffy towels. I also considered putting my faith in the existence of room 503 and driving my wheeled suitcase in determined fashion at the wall between 502 and 504 but that sort of thing only works in children’s stories.


I traipsed back to reception. Interestingly, two callow hotel staff tried to persuade me that there really was a room 503 but a third (evidently more knowledgable) ruefully agreed with me and proceeded to allocate a room number that came with a door and a physical space beyond. I later learnt that this same room had earlier been rejected by other 4NCL guests as it had a defective window through which a gale-force draught had blown through. But I don’t care about draughts as I’m a chessplayer.


Enough of the perpendicular pronoun, you cry – what about the chess? Oh alright, then...


Round 9, Saturday 3 May


Division 1, Championship Pool: Piling Up Game Points


4NCL pairings are of course rigged to keep the really big pairings to the very end, so part of the fun is finding out which super-GMs the big battalions – these days Guildford 1 and Wood Green 1 – are going to deploy on the final weekend. There can be a fair amount of industrial espionage, with the weapon of chessboard destruction is kept back for the final round but may still be spotted lurking somewhere in the hotel.




Alexei Shirov   Luke McShane   Maxime Vachier-Lagrave


This year the two team managers, Roger Emerson of Guildford and Brian Smith of Wood Green, seemed fairly relaxed about the names in their frames. It was known from the start of the weekend that Wood Green would later be deploying Alexei Shirov (who could be seen about the hotel) and Luke McShane (who came later). However, I think we were in the dark about the imminent arrival of MVL – as Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is generally known. Of course, it could have all have been a bluff: for all I or anybody else knew there could really have been a secret room 503 somewhere with Magnus Carlsen or Vishy Anand in it.


Although both major teams heavily outrated their round nine opposition, it was of course vital to pile up as many game points as possible in order to secure draw odds for the round 11 show-down. As we left things last time, both leaders were on a maximum 8 match points but Wood Green edged Guildford by a single game point.


Let’s consider each match in turn.


Wood Green 1 6-2 Grantham Sharks: Guildford 1 had finished their match in advance of this one, and Wood Green 1 needed to match their score as closely as possible in order to maintain their slender game point lead. David Howell’s was the last game to finish as he endeavoured to eke out a win against Ameet Ghasi. He didn't quite succeed but a draw was enough to give Wood Green a half game point edge over Guildford. The costliest result in this match for Wood Green was Pia Cramling’s calamitous loss against the 18-year-old English player Peter Batchelor, who did very well to exploit the Swedish GM’s time trouble by posing her a few tactical puzzles in ascending order of difficulty.


4NCL Division 1, Round 9, 2014

Peter Batchelor (Grantham Sharks)

Pia Cramling (Wood Green 1)



23.Bf1! White used around 9 of his remaining 15 minutes on this move but it is probably the right choice. 23...dxe3 24.fxe3 Bf3 25.Rb5 Qa7 After the queen move, Black’s time was down to 13 minutes for the final 15 moves. 25...Rxe3!? 26.Qxc5 Re8 27.Ra5 Qd8 might have held out more winning chances for Black, though objectively it’s not much more than level. 26.Qc3 Qc7 Black soaked up a further 9 minutes which she could ill afford on this move. 27.Qa5!? The position is level as far as the computer is concerned but White can line up a few back-rank cheapo threats to push Black further into time trouble. 27...Qd6 28.Qa6!? Bc6 One of five adequate moves but it used up a further 2 minutes, leaving just 2 minutes 11 seconds (plus increments) to play with. 29.Rb6! This doesn’t win but restricts Black’s choice to just one safe move, which probably requires more than two minutes’ worth of calculation and checking, even for an experienced GM. 29...Re6?? 29...Qd2! holds, somewhat improbably. If White then tries to exploit Black’s time pressure with 30.Qa8+!? Black can dodge the cheapo with 30...Be8! and actually White could be in a bit of trouble. 30.Qc8+! 1-0


Jon Speelman dealt severely with Veronica Foisor.


   Jon Speelman


4NCL Division 1, Round 9, 2014

Jon Speelman (Wood Green 1)

Veronica Foisor (Grantham Sharks)

English Opening

1.Nf3 c5 2.c4 Nc6 3.Nc3 g6 4.e3 Bg7 5.d4 cxd4 This seems to give White a free game. 5...d6 has more of a track record amongst leading players. 6.exd4 d6 7.d5 Database stats show Black taking a major hammering (80:20), wherever the knight goes. 7...Ne5 8.Nxe5 Bxe5 9.Be2 Bg7 Rather than lose a tempo with the bishop, perhaps Black could consider playing 9...h5 and then 10...Nh6. 10.Be3 Nf6 11.0-0 0-0 12.Qd2 Bd7 13.Rfe1 a6 Black has rather a cramped game as she can’t get a ...b7-b5 or ...e7-e6 counter in. 14.f3 Rc8 15.Rad1 Qa5



16.a3 16.b4!? is also playable as 16...Qxb4?? 17.Rb1 Qa5 18.Bb6 and Black has to give up a piece to save her queen. 16...Rfd8 The rook is a liability on this square. 17.Bf1 Bf5? 18.Qf2! Now we can see why White preferred the sneaky 16.a3 to 16.b4. The black queen is in danger of being trapped with Bb6. 18...Qc7 18...Nd7 stops Bb6 but allows 19.g4, winning a piece. 19.Bb6 Qd7 19...Qb8 20.Bxd8 Rxd8 21.Rxe7 is no better. 20.g4 Re8 21.gxf5 Qxf5 22.Ne4 Nd7 23.Ng3 Qg5 24.Bd4 1-0


Overall this was a pretty effective job by a team with an average rating of 2606 up against one averaging 2310, but the London side could have done with something nearer a maximum 8-0 to maximise their edge over Guildford. As it turned out, their game point advantage was cut to just a half game point.



Anish Giri on board 1   Robin van Kampen on board 6


Guildford 1 6½-1½ White Rose: Guildford bolstered their team with two Dutchmen, Anish Giri on top board and Robin van Kampen on board six, and it gave them enough firepower to score a big win against White Rose. As always, the interest came on the boards where the more fancied team did not win. Sue Maroroa, playing against her hubby Gawain’s team and following in the distinguished footsteps of Bob Wade and Murray Chandler in becoming a Kiwi-turned-Brit, played extremely well to defeat GM Mark Hebden. It was her first GM scalp.


4NCL Division 1, Round 9, 2014

Sue Maroroa (White Rose)

Mark Hebden (Guildford 1)

Two Knight’s Defence

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.d4 exd4 5.e5 Ne4 Hebden generally favours the more usual move 5...d5 here but the text is perfectly respectable. 6.Qe2 Nc5 7.Ng5!? This is known but a bit unusual. 7...Ne6 8.Nxe6 dxe6 9.0-0 Now we are out of the book and the players are on their own. Black has an extra pawn but his position is slightly cramped and undeveloped, which I suppose constitutes a degree of compensation for White. 9...Qh4 10.Nd2 Bd7 11.Nf3 Qh5 12.c3!? Playing someone rated more than 400 points above you can be a daunting experience but White has decided she is going to take a positive course of action, targeting Black’s vulnerability along the d-file. 12...dxc3 13.bxc3 Bc5 14.Rd1 0-0-0



The king proves to be too vulnerable on the queenside, though it takes a truly inspired sequence of moves by White to prove the point. Instead (and with the wonderful benefit of hindsight), one is tempted to recommend 14...a6 or perhaps 14...h6, to stop the white bishops coming to what prove to be strong squares. 15.Bg5! Ne7 Here 15...Be7 runs into the devastating 16.Ba6!! and I’ll leave the reader’s computer to fill in the tactical details. The computer suggestion is to play 15...Rdg8 but then White is liable to get a forceful attack against the bishop on d7, either by playing Qd2 immediately or possibly the preparatory Bb5. 16.Bb5! c6 Not 16...Bxb5 17.Qxb5 when Black has to prop up his position with the awkward 17...b6 and suffer some horribly weak light squares around his king. But something of the sort happens anyway. 17.Qc4! b6 Again, Black’s dark-squared bishop can’t afford to move away from the g1-a7 diagonal: 17...Ba3? 18.Ba6!! and it is game over. 18.Bxe7 cxb5 19.Qe4! Kb8 19...Bxe7 20.Qa8+ Kc7 21.Qxa7+ Kc8 22.Rd6!! is a gorgeous finish. The king would last longer if it goes to c6 instead of c8, but the result would still be the same after 22.a4, etc. 20.Bxd8 Rxd8 Black has bought off White’s brilliant attack at the expense of the exchange for a pawn so White still has to maintain the momentum. 21.a4 bxa4 22.Rxa4 Qf5 White threatens a mating attack with Rxa7, while 22...Bxa4 is answered by 23.Rxd8+ Kc7 24.Qa8 winning. 23.Qh4 Rc8 24.Raa1 Bc6 25.Nd4 Qxe5 26.Nxc6+ Rxc6 27.Qxh7 Qf6 27...Qxc3 28.Qg8+ Rc8 29.Qxf7 brings the win a bit closer for White. 28.Rd7! White puts her trust in her powerful triumvirate of heavy pieces. 28...Bxf2+ 29.Kh1 Qxc3 30.Rad1



30...Qf6? The computer finds 30...b5!, which is a better way to fortify Black’s position, with the bishop defending a7: 31.Qg8+ Rc8 32.Qxf7 Bb6 33.Qxe6 Qc4 and Black might yet frustrate White’s winning chances. 31.Qe4! For the second time in the game the queen lands on this square with devastating effect. At this stage White still had around 17 minutes with increments to move 40 and Black around 54 minutes. 31...Rc7 32.Rd8+ Rc8 33.R8d7 Rc7 34.Rd8+ White wasn’t in time trouble but every little helps. 34...Rc8 35.Rxc8+ Kxc8 36.Qa8+ Kc7 37.Qxa7+ Kc6 37...Kc8 38.Rd7 is terminal. 38.Qd7+ Kc5 39.Qd6+ Kb5 40.Qd3+ Kc6 41.Qd7+ Kc5 42.Rc1+ Kb4 43.Qd2+ Ka4 44.Rb1 1-0


Guildford 2 4-4 Cheddleton: this was an important match for the minor places, with Cheddleton managing to edge past Grantham Sharks 1 into fourth position. On top board for Guildford 2, Spanish FM Alberto Suarez Real was (according to his team manager) content to cruise to an IM norm with three draws if need be, but he was up against Jonathan Hawkins who needed a win for a GM norm. Consequently the Spaniard’s early peace offer was declined. However, as so often where one side is straining too hard to win, it was the player offering the pipe of peace who triumphed, and rather beautifully.



   Jonathan Hawkins


4NCL Division 1, Round 9, 2014

Alberto Suarez Real (Guildford 2)

Jonathan Hawkins (Cheddleton)


1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nd7 5.Ng5 Ngf6 6.Bd3 e6 7.N1f3 Bd6 8.Qe2 h6 9.Ne4 Nxe4 10.Qxe4 Qc7 11.0-0 b6 12.Qg4 Kf8 13.b3 Bb7 14.Bb2 Nf6 15.Qh3 Nd5 16.g3 Nb4 17.Be4 f5 It’s starting to look hairy but we’re still in known territory. 18.Ng5 Qe7 19.Nxe6+!? Qxe6 20.Bxf5 It’s fairly obvious that White has some play for the piece but exactly how much is hard to judge. 20...Qf7 21.Rae1 Re8 22.Re6! This looks like a distinct improvement on 22.c4 h5 23.a3 Na6 24.Be6 Rxe6 25.Qxe6 Rh6, which was played in Aabling Thomsen-Palo, Danish Team Championship, in March 2014, which Black went on to win. 22...Rxe6 23.Bxe6



23...Qf6? This costs Black the game and a GM norm: 23...Qe7!? would prevent White’s next move and also give Black a modicum of control along the e-file: 24.Re1 Nd5 25.c4 Nf6 26.Qf5, etc, though it would be by no means a comfortable defence. 24.Bc8! Effectively buying a tempo to take control of the e-file. 24...Ba8 Alternatives aren’t much better: 24...Qe7 25.Bxb7 Qxb7 26.Re1! is also very unpleasant, for example 26...Be7 27.Qf5+ Kg8 28.Qe6+ Kf8 29.c4 and Black is powerless to hold back White’s attack. 25.Re1 Nd5 25...Be7 26.Qd7 Qd6 27.Qxa7 is hopeless. 26.Re6 Qd8 27.Qf5+ Nf6 27...Kg8 28.Rxd6! Qxd6 29.Be6+ is a simple win. 28.d5! Intensifies pressure on f6 to screaming point. There is nothing to be done. 28...Kf7 After 28...Qxc8, either rook or bishop capture on f6 wins. 29.Rxf6+ The computer finds more immediate ways to win but this is perhaps the way that most appeals to the human brain for its lack of complexity. 29...gxf6 30.Be6+ Kg7 31.Qg4+ Kf8 32.Qg6 Qe7 33.Bxf6 Qh7 34.Qg4 cxd5 34...Rg8 leads to a mopping-up exercise: 35.Bxg8 Qxg8 36.Qc8+ Kf7 37.Qe6+ Kf8 38.Qxd6+ Kf7 39.Qe6+ and wins. 35.Bxh8 1-0


There was an interesting clash between England’s most successful junior and senior players of the moment on the third board. Youth triumphed over experience in a very tense encounter. This win left Yang-Fan needing a win against a 2380+ opponent in round ten for a ten-round GM norm.


   Keith Arkell


4NCL Division 1, Round 9, 2014

Yang-Fan Zhou (Guildford 2)

Keith Arkell (Cheddleton)



37...N8h7? Black might have been better had he found Hiarcs’s sneaky 37...Nd5!, threatening ...f7-f6, thus forcing 38.Rg3 and now 38...Nd7!, exploiting the pin along the h2-b8 diagonal. 38.Rg3 Ng4 39.Bf4 c5 40.Nxg6! fxg6 41.Bxd6 cxd4 42.Rb3! Now White’s rook and bishop pair work well together. 42...e5 43.Rb7+ Kh6 44.Re7 Rc8 45.Rc7 Re8 46.Re7 Rc8 Amusingly, England’s most famous rook-handler refuses the exchange of his most treasured piece no fewer than four times on consecutive moves. Of course, the decision was based not on sentiment but hard logic: after 46...Rxe7 47.Bxe7, it seems almost certain that the two bishops will shepherd home one of the queenside passed pawns before the slow-moving knights can emerge from their stables. 47.Rc7 Re8 48.b4 Even with the rooks on, Black has a hard job to stop the pawns. 48...Nhf6 49.b5 Nd5 49...Ne3 changes nothing: 50.b6! Nxc2 51.b7! and White wins. 50.Rf7! Nf4 51.b6 d3 52.Bxd3 Nxd3 53.b7 1-0 6½-1½ Barbican 2: perhaps feeling lonely in the Championship section without their first team, Barbican lost by rather a large margin. Their two bottom boards gave them a degree of respectability, with 15-year-old English girl player Naomi Wei winning against Lithuanian-registered but long-time English resident Rasa Norinkeviciute.


Division 1, Championship Pool after Round 9


Wood Green 1 10 (32), Guildford 1 10 (31½), White Rose 6 (20), Cheddleton 5 (18½), Grantham Sharks 1 4 (18), 3 (15), Guildford 2 2 (14½), Barbican 2 0 (10½).


Division 1, Demotion Pool, Round 9


Grantham Sharks 2 and King’s Head came into the weekend with demotion a virtual certainty but only Barbican 1 could be entirely confident of not being one of the two teams which joined them on the way down. King’s Head defaulted two boards so that was a head start for 3Cs on their way to a 6½-0 victory. Oxford also defaulted a board and were soundly drubbed by Barbican 1 to the tune of 7-½, one plus factor for Oxford being the draw against GM Turner achieved by Justin Tan on top board, thus keeping him chugging along on his way to a norm. Grantham Sharks 2 turned up with their full complement of players but may as well have stayed at home as they were wiped out 0-8 by Blackthorne Russia, who, in seeking to ensure that they did not drop a division, were significantly strengthened by the inclusion in their side of experienced Russian GM Konstantin Landa.


That meant that the only closely contested match of the round in this pool was Wood Green 2 versus Cambridge University, which ended 4½-3½ in the first-named team’s favour.


Division 1, Demotion Pool after Round 9


Barbican 1 10 (29), Wood Green 2 8 (24), Oxford 6(18½), 3Cs 6 (25), Blackthorne Russia 6 (24½), Cambridge University (18), Kings Head 0 (19½), Grantham Sharks 2 0 (9).



Round 10, Sunday 4 May


Division 1, Championship Pool: Keeping Up With the Joneses


Once again, all eyes were on the game points of the two big battalions, with Wood Green 1 still holding a minimal half (game) point lead at the start of the round. The Wood Green side, with fire on board two in the shape of Alexei Shirov, faced a Cheddleton side with three GMs and an average rating of 2418, while Guildford 1, now equipped with stylish, go-faster stripes on the top board in the shape of French GM va-va-Vachier-Lagrave, would probably hope to score more points against an line-up averaging 2288 and with just the one GM.


Cheddleton 1½-6½ Wood Green 1: there were no full-point accidents this time but Wood Green conceded three draws to their opponents, with Jonathan Hawkins, now out of the norm hunt, holding Mickey Adams to a draw on top board. Alexei Shirov against English firebrand Simon Williams was a mouth-watering prospect and did not disappoint. After the game I was able to quench the fire on board by buying Alexei a pint of beer. He opted for Carlsberg but, when he saw my delicious pint of Tetley’s, rather wished he’d gone for that instead. It was perhaps his one false move of the afternoon.


   Alexei Shirov (Wood Green 1) v Simon Williams (Cheddleton)


4NCL Division 1, Round 10, 2014

Alexei Shirov (Wood Green 1)

Simon Williams (Cheddleton)

Sicilian Defence

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be3 e6 7.Be2 Be7 8.f4 0-0 9.g4!? The first major game in which this aggressive advance was played here was Shirov-Kasparov, Linares 2001, which ended in a draw. Nigel Short has also played it a few times. 9...b5 Kasparov played 9...d5 in this position. 10.g5 Nfd7 11.a3 Bb7 12.Rg1 Nc6 12...Nc5 13.f5 Kh8 14.Bd3 Nc6 15.Qh5 g6 was played in the Reykjavik rapidplay game Short-Kasparov in 2004, which Black won, but White got a very promising attack along the way. 13.f5 Nxd4 14.Qxd4 d5 15.fxe6 fxe6 15...Bc5!? looks tempting but it’s always easy sacrificing other people’s pawns. Even so, 16.exf7+ Rxf7 17.Qd2 Qb6 looks better than the game for Black. 16.exd5 Bc5 17.Qd2 Qb6 18.Bxc5 Nxc5 18...Qxc5 19.0-0-0 exd5 20.Nxd5 just looks like Black is a pawn down for not very much. 19.0-0-0 Rad8 19...exd5 20.Nxd5 Qe6 21.Bg4 also seems better for White. 20.b4



20...Bxd5!? Black, typically, opts for active defence via a sacrifice. If 20...Na4 21.Nxa4 bxa4 22.d6 leads to a solid advantage for White. 21.bxc5 Qxc5 22.Nxd5 Rxd5 22...Qxa3+ 23.Kb1 Rxd5 24.Bd3 transposes. 23.Bd3 Qxa3+ 24.Kb1 Rc8 24...Rd4 would be a great move but for the annoying 25.Bxh7+, picking up the rook. 25.Qe1 Qd6 26.Bxh7+!? Interesting: computers opt to grind out a win with the extra bishop for pawns, but Shirov prefers to give back the piece for the pawns and a powerful initiative. 26...Kxh7 27.Rxd5 Qxd5 28.g6+ Kg8 29.Qh4 Rc4 After 29...Qd2 30.Qh7+ Kf8 31.Qh8+ Ke7 32.Qxg7+ Kd6 33.Qb2, White is probably winning eventually, though it’s not easy. 30.Qh7+ Kf8 31.Qh8+ Ke7 32.Qxg7+ Kd6 33.Qf8+ Kc7 34.g7 Qd4! Making White’s task as hard as possible. 35.Qe7+ Kb6 36.g8Q Rb4+ 37.Qxb4 Forced, otherwise it is mate in two. 37...Qxb4+ 38.Kc1 Qf4+ 39.Kd1 Qf3+ 40.Kd2 Qf2+ 40...Qf4+ makes things a little harder. 41.Kc3 Qe3+ 42.Kb2 Qd4+ 43.c3 Qd2+ 44.Kb3 Qd5+ 45.Kc2 Qa2+ 46.Kc1 Qa3+ 47.Kd2 1-0 The checks run dry after 47...Qd6+ 48.Ke1 Qe5+ 49.Kd1 Qd6+ 50.Kc2 Qxh2+ 51.Rg2, etc.


Guildford 1 8-0 with the score at 5-0 and three games left, Guildford 1 needed 2½/3 to ensure their game points tally put them ahead of Wood Green, thus providing them with draw odds for the final round. They went one (or rather, one half) better, scoring 3/3, with MVL beating Stuart Conquest, Antoaneta Stefanova winning against Rasa Norinkeviciute and Matthew Sadler outwitting Iliyan Mladenov in a tricky encounter.


4NCL Division 1, Round 10, 2014

Gawain Jones (Guildford 1)

Daniel Fernandez (

Modern Defence

1.d4 g6 2.e4 Bg7 3.Nc3 a6 4.h4 b5 Most practitioners of this offbeat Modern Defence line opt to stop White’s pawn advance with 4...h5 here, as played by Simon Ansell against Gawain Jones’s wife Sue Maroroa in Bunratty a couple of years ago. 5.h5 Bb7 6.Bg5 d6 If 6...h6, White has time for 7.hxg6, the point being that 7...hxg5? loses to 8.Rxh8 Bxh8 9.Qh5!, regaining the piece with interest. 7.Nf3 Nd7 8.a4 b4 9.Nd5 Ngf6 At first glance, it’s not obvious why Black can’t play 9...Bxd5 10.exd5 Nb6 but after 11.Qd3 Nxd5 12.Qc4 Nb6 13.Qxb4, White regains his pawn with a positional edge. 10.h6 Bf8 11.Bxf6 Nxf6 12.Nxf6+ exf6 13.d5 Be7 Black has two bishops but they are currently blocked behind pawns, so White stands slightly better. However, the light-squared bishop soon gets into the game. 14.Qd4 c5 15.dxc6 Bxc6 16.Bc4 0-0 17.a5 Qc7 18.0-0 Bd7 19.Qd3 Qc5 It looks better to play 19...Rfc8!? first as 20.Bxa6 Qxc2 equalises. Instead of capturing on a6, White could support the bishop with 20.b3 but it doesn’t look like much of an advantage. 20.Rfd1 f5 Black can still consider 20...Rfc8!?. White could now capture the a6 pawn with impunity, 21.Bxa6, but after 21...Rc7! Black has some play for the pawn. 21.e5! After this, White seems to get the edge. 21...Bc6 22.exd6 Bf6 23.Bxa6 Be4 23...Bxf3 24.gxf3 Bxb2 25.Ra2 Bf6 26.Qb5 gives White a viable material advantage; 23...Bxb2 24.Ra2 Ba3 25.Bc4 Be4 26.Qe2 is also good for White. 24.Qc4 Qa7 25.Bb5 Rfc8 26.Qxb4 Bxf3 27.gxf3 Rxc2 28.Rd2



28...Bc3? It’s tempting to try this tactic but sadly for Black it loses by force. Instead, 28...Qc5 29.Qxc5 Rxc5 and now it’s interesting to see what the computer finds - 30.Ba6!! - which I would be surprised if any human would venture in practical play, all the way up to Carlsen and Kasparov. I leave the reader to look in wonder upon it. 29.Qxc3! Rxc3 30.bxc3 Now it’s just Space Invaders, with the black queen and rook vainly trying to beat off the advancing pawns. 30...Qb7 31.Bf1 Rd8 31...Qd7 puts off the evil hour but can’t save Black. 32.a6 Qxf3 33.a7 1-0


Barbican 2 3½-4½ White Rose: this was a significant match for White Rose as it secured them third place in the league with a round to spare. Well done to them. Once again, they owed much to Sue Maroroa, who beat Natasha Regan on bottom board with a finish which was not unlike that of her husband in an adjoining room. I asked her about this but Sue was oblivious to her husband’s rooks versus queen denouement, so it was just a coincidence. Jim Plaskett has been informed.


   Sue Maroroa (White Rose) v Natasha Regan (Barbican 2)


4NCL Division 1, Round 10, 2014

Sue Maroroa (White Rose)

Natasha Regan (Barbican 2)



26.Qxc8+! Other moves also win but sacrificing a queen is a more attractive proposition here. 26...Rxc8 27.d7 Qxe6 28.d8Q Rxd8 29.Rxd8+ Bb8 30.Rc1! a5 31.Rcc8 Qh3 32.Rxb8+ Ka7 33.Nd6! 1-0


Grantham Sharks 1 2-6 Guildford 2: the extra firepower in the Guildford first team trickled down to Guildford 2, and Mark Hebden bounced back from his round nine loss to beat Sam Williams. Alberto Suarez Real took a giant stride towards his IM norm with a quick draw against Tom Rendle, the latter being happy to take the day off after suffering an Adams grind in round nine. I noticed afterwards that Aussie GM Dave Smerdon was having a good-natured whinge on Facebook about being allocated three Blacks over the weekend but he seemed to do pretty well as an All-Black, drawing very effectively with Simon Williams.


But there was a real calamity for Yang-Fan Zhou, whose GM norm chances waxed and waned a number of times in a game of four halves (I was never mathematically inclined). In the end he lost and the opportunity evaporated. However, the cloud had a silver lining as his opponent, Peter Roberson, had his own IM norm chances suitably enhanced. He showed good technique to finish the game off.


   Yang-Fan Zhou (Guildford 2) v Peter Roberson (Grantham Sharks)


4NCL Division 1, Round 10, 2014

Yang-Fan Zhou (Guildford 2)

Peter Roberson (Grantham Sharks)



35.Qc4? One of those ‘what if’ moments. Had White played 35.Qd6!, he might well have gone on to a GM norm. The a-pawn cannot be taken: 35...Nxa5 36.Qxe6+ Kh7 37.Nf3! and the queen doesn’t have any good squares. 35...Rxd2! 36.Rxd2 Qxd2 37.Qxc6 37.Qxe6+ seems more natural but 37...Kh7 38.Qxc6 Qe1+ 39.Ka2 Qxa5+ 40.Kb1 h3 also looks bleak. 37...Qe1+ 38.Ka2 Qxa5+ 39.Kb1 Qe5! Defending e6 and also shielding the advance of the h-pawn. It takes time but now everything is flowing in Black’s direction. 40.Qd7 Kh7 41.Qd3 Qg3 42.Qd1 Kg6 43.Qd7 Qg4 44.b4 h3 45.Qd6 Kh7 46.Qe5 Qh4 47.Qh2 g5 48.Ka2 Kg6 49.b5 Qxe4 50.Qxh3 Qa4+ 51.Kb2 Qxb5+ 52.Kc1 Qc4 53.Kd2 Qd4+ 54.Ke2 Qe4+ 55.Kd2 g4 56.Qh4 Qf4+ 57.Ke2 Qf3+ 58.Kd2 g3 59.Qh8 Qf2+ 60.Kd3 Qf3+ 61.Kd2 Qd5+ 0-1


Division 1, Championship Pool after Round 10


Guildford 1 12 (39½), Wood Green 1 12 (38½), White Rose 8 (24½), Cheddleton 5 (20), Guildford 2 4 (20½), Grantham Sharks 1 4 (20), 3 (15), Barbican 2 0 (14).




Barbican 1 2-6 Blackthorne Russia: Barbican 1 had been leaders with a 100% score to date but their lead was cut to game points over Wood Green 2 after their heavy defeat at the hands of super-charged relegation-dodgers Blackthorne Russia, with their genuine Russian GM on board one beating Matthew Turner. Other full points were delivered by Andrew Ledger, Simon Ansell and Richard Bates.


3Cs 3½-4½ Wood Green 2: Wood Green 2 moved closer to the top of the division but 3Cs’s relegation worries became more serious after this nail-biting result. Stephen Gordon seemed to be pressing against Jon Speelman and may have let him off the hook at one point. Another 3Cs man, Adam Ashton, might have been better against Richard Pert but couldn’t convert. As compensation, 3Cs could look to Sophie Milliet’s somewhat fortunate point against Andrew Greet.


4NCL Division 1, Round 10, 2014

Sophie Milliet (3Cs)

Andrew Greet (Wood Green 2)



A long manoeuvring game led to this situation, which can best be described as ‘unclear’: 33.f5!? Jettisoning her backward pawn and hoping for a breakthrough. 33...Nxf5 34.Nxf5 Now Black has three ways to recapture, but he chooses far and away the worst. 34...Rxf5?? 34...exf5? 35.Qxd5 wouldn’t be great either, it has to be said; 34...gxf5 leaves the g-file looking a bit breezy but there appears to be no tactical means of exploiting it. Black would have an extra pawn and, more importantly, a rook on f8 to stop the white knight monkeying about on f7. 35.Rxf5 gxf5 35...exf5 36.Qxd5 is also terminal. 36.Nf7+! Kg8 37.Rg1+! Kxf7 38.Rg7 mate 1-0


Jovanka Houska produced a brutal finish involving two knights.


   Jovanka Houska (Wood Green 2) alongside team colleague and Scottish GM John Shaw


4NCL Division 1, Round 10, 2014

Qiu Tong (3Cs)

Jovanka Houska (Wood Green 2)



32...Ne4! 33.Kc2 33.Qxe4 Re8 34.Qc4 Rxe2! regains the piece and effects a powerful breakthrough. 33...Ndc3 34.g5 There’s nothing better. 34...Qd7 35.Ne3 35.Nxc3 Nxc3 36.Nh4 keeps the game going but it’s pretty hopeless anyway. 35...Qd2+! 36.Bxd2 Rxd2+ 37.Kc1 Nxe2+ 38.Qxe2 38.Kb1 Rb2+ 39.Ka1 N4c3 takes a bit longer but is still mate. 38...Bb2+ 0-1 39.Kb1 Nc3 mate.


Grantham Sharks 2 3½-4½ Oxford: Grantham Sharks 2 came close to scoring their first match point of the season but it wasn’t to be as three of Oxford’s higher boards scored wins to put them two points ahead of the demotion places but still not safe. In truth, Oxford might have won by a more comfortable had Zoe Varney not spoilt a clear win against Claire Summerscale.


Cambridge University 1 6½-1½ King’s Head: the London pub team was also still seeking its first match point of the season after being beaten comfortably by Cambridge University 1. Despite the win, the university still found itself in the demotion zone going into their final match.


Division 1, Demotion Pool after Round 10


Barbican 1 10 (31), Wood Green 2 10 (28½), Blackthorne Russia 8(30½), Oxford 8 (23), 3Cs 6 (28½), Cambridge University 6 (24½), Kings Head 0 (11), Grantham Sharks 2 0 (12½).




Whilst walking round the venue towards the end of Round 10 on the Sunday, I was surprised to come across the Guildford team manager, Roger Emerson, dressed in a Japanese kimono and carrying a samurai sword. Seeing me carrying my camera, he invited me to an impromptu photo session in a room upstairs from the main corridor.


   Samurai warrior Roger Emerson


Thus it was I found myself in a large conference room, alone with a man carrying a dangerous weapon which he proceeded to draw from its scabbard. Had he been captain of the relentlessly unsuccessful Grantham 2 or King’s Head teams, still pointless after ten rounds of chess, I might have expected him to perform hara-kiri: a ritual Japanese suicide by disembowelment. However, this was clearly not the time for the highly successful Guildford captain to do so (a loss to Wood Green on the following day would be the appropriate time in his case). Roger must have seen my look of alarm so reassured me: “don’t worry, it’s completely blunt.”


The reason Roger was dressing up was his forthcoming address to his Guildford troops at a private dinner on the night before the show-down with Wood Green 1. I didn’t attend this dinner and am not privy to all of its secrets, but events the next day seem to indicate that it was every bit as successful as Henry V’s rallying of his troops before Agincourt (perhaps not the most apt parallel since two of Roger’s warriors were Frenchmen, but you get my drift). Next day Roger explained to Malcolm Pein and me that he showed his players the film ‘Yojimbo’, directed by Kurosawa. I’m not familiar with that movie but apparently ‘A Fistful of Dollars’ was a westernised remake of it – which, in a roundabout way, hints at a more plausible motivation for his team’s performance on the morrow.



Round 11 (Final), Monday 5 May 2014


Championship Pool


So the denouement, and the showdown between the holders Guildford 1 and Wood Green 1. The one personnel change to the two line-ups subsequent to round 10 was the inclusion of Luke McShane in the Wood Green team in place of Nick Pert, with some adjustments made to board order. Guildford’s average rating was 2656 and Wood Green’s 2647, with Guildford players out-rating their opponents on five of the eight boards (by as much as 61 points in the case of Giri and McShane). Remember also that a 4-4 draw would be good enough for Guildford to take the championship on tie-break. Nine nations were represented amongst the 16 GMs on both sides: there were six Englishmen, two Frenchmen, two Dutchmen, one player from each of the Czech Republic, Scotland, Norway and Latvia, plus women players from Bulgaria and Sweden.


Wood Green 1 2-6 Guildford 1: the scoreline suggests an overwhelming win for the champions but it did look fairly close – maybe even better for Wood Green – about halfway into the first session.


Rapidly improving French GM Romain Edouard set the tone for his team with an adventurous display of counterattacking chess against Jon-Ludvig Hammer.


Jon Ludvig Hammer (Wood Green 1) and Romain Edouard (Guildford 1)


4NCL Division 1, Round 11, 2014

Jon Ludvig Hammer (Wood Green 1)

Romain Edouard (Guildford 1)

Queen’s Gambit Accepted

1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.e4 Jon Ludvig also has to be given credit for playing enterprising chess. This move is often the precursor to some fisticuffs. 3...b5 Now it’s a real gambit. 4.a4 c6 5.axb5 cxb5 6.Nc3



On his Facebook page, Roger Emerson set this position as a puzzle for his readers (knowing full well that Romain Edouard and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave would see it and proceed to tease each other). He posed the question: “how should Black defend his b-pawn?” MVL shot back an answer: “Black’s position is hopeless no matter what. But let’s say there is only one move giving some practical chances.” Romain Edouard retorted: “Too deep for you, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave #NoCreativityAround”. 6...a6!? Sokolov played 6...Bd7 against Ponomariov in 2007 but eventually lost. The text move only pretends to defend the b5 pawn. 7.Nxb5 axb5 Black gives up the exchange. A few people have tried 7...Bb7 but most of them have lost as White will soon be a pawn up. 8.Rxa8 Bb7 9.Ra1 e6 10.Be2 Defending the e4 pawn with 10.f3 seems logical but perhaps White was worried it would cramp his kingside development, or expose him to threats from a queen and bishop battery on the h2–b8 diagonal. 10...Nf6 11.Nf3 Nxe4 12.0-0 Qd5 13.Ne1 Perhaps White’s needs to react a bit quicker here with 13.b3!?, when 13...Nc3 may be answered by 14.bxc4, etc.13...Nc6 14.Nc2 14.Be3 Bd6 15.Bf3 0-0 16.g3 f5 was played in Genzling-Donchenko in France last March and also won by Black. 14...Bd6 15.Bf3 Bb8 16.Re1 f5 17.Bxe4 fxe4 18.Qg4 0-0 19.Qxe4 Qxe4 20.Rxe4 e5 21.dxe5 Bxe5



White has done a pretty good job of liquidating down to a position where his exchange should be worth its true value but he now misses his best shot. 22.Rb1 22.Re1!, with the idea of transferring the rook to the open d-file, is better. If 22...Rd8, White can play 23.Bg5 with gain of tempo and then defend the b2–pawn next move. 22...Bf6 23.Re2 Bc8 24.b3 Bg4! 25.Kf1? White seems to have been bluffed out of playing the natural 25.f3, which is better than the text. Then 25...Bf5 26.Be3 Bd3 (26...Nb4 27.Nxb4 Bxb1 28.bxc4 bxc4 29.Nd5 c3 30.Bc5 Rc8 31.Nxf6+ gxf6 32.Ba3 looks tenable for White) 27.Rd2 Re8 could pose a few problems for White but should ultimately be tenable. 25...c3 26.Be3 Ra8!? Not wanting to release the pressure by taking on e2.27.Bc5 27.f3 Bf5 28.Rd1 is OK according to computers but looks a little hard to defend for a human. 27...Ra2 28.f3? When White finally plays the move it turns out to be a blunder. Instead 28.Re8+ Kf7 29.Rf8+ Kg6 30.Rc1 seems to be safe enough, in the short term anyway. 28...Bf5 29.Rc1 Bd3



30.b4 Moves such as 30.Kf2 lose to 30...Bxe2 31.Kxe2 Na5! when the threat of Nxb3 forking rook and bishop is decisive. 30...Bg5! 0-1 The cluster of pins and overloaded defences spells doom for White.


Jones-Laznicka was a very interesting game and a good example of why you shouldn’t always put your faith in digital engines. Fortunately for me, I had one of the all-time great organic engines at my disposal at an important juncture during the game. Speelman version 1 (a.k.a. Spess or Speelwolf), sitting close to my left elbow and looking over my shoulder at the game on my laptop, took nanoseconds to assess Gawain’s position as close to winning at a stage when his electronic rivals still seemed to think Black was either OK or even better.


Foreground: Gawain Jones (Guildford 1) v Viktor Laznicka (Wood Green 1)


4NCL Division 1, Round 11, 2014

Gawain Jones (Guildford 1)

Viktor Laznicka (Wood Green 1)

Caro-Kann Defence

1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Bf5 5.Ng3 Bg6 6.Nf3 Nd7 7.h4 h6 8.h5 Bh7 9.Bd3 Bxd3 10.Qxd3 e6 11.Bd2 Ngf6 12.0-0-0 Be7 13.Kb1 0-0 14.Ne4 c5 15.g4 Poignantly, this aggressive thrust was first played at the top level by the late, great Vugar Gashimov back in 2002. It’s become very fashionable in recent years and is of course very sharp. 15...Nxg4 16.Qe2 Qb6 17.Ne5 In last year’s Indian Championship, Parimarjan Negi tried 17.Nh4 f5 18.Ng6 Rf7 19.f3 fxe4 20.fxg4 against Thejkumar. The game ended in a draw. Otherwise, players have nearly always opted for the text. 17...Ndxe5 17...Ngxe5 has seen three white wins out of three after 18.dxe5 Nxe5 19.Rhg1 and the kingside attack proves too formidable. 18.dxe5 f5



19.Nc3!? New move. The four previous GM games to reach this position continued 19.exf6 Nxf6 20.Rdg1 Nxe4 21.Qxe4 Bf6 when Black was in the game. 19...Qa6 Black is obliged to offer this queen exchange as otherwise White plays f3 and the knight is embarrassed. 20.Nb5 White offers a second pawn to be rid of the black knight and open up the g-file to heavy piece play. 20...Nxf2 20...Nxe5 is the only alternative but then 21.Qxe5 Qxb5 22.Bxh6!. Although Black can hang in there with 22...Bf6! 23.Qxe6+ Kh8 24.Bc1 Rae8 25.Qd6 Rd8 26.Qg3 Rxd1 27.Rxd1, White still has a solid plus. 21.Qxf2 Qxb5 22.Qg3! 22.Rhg1 runs into 22...f4! and a secure blocking square for the bishop on g5. 22...Kh8 The Speelman v1 engine was now in full flow and suggested something like 22...Rad8 23.Rdg1 g5! 24.hxg6 Rxd2 25.Rxh6 Rfd8 26.Rh8+ Kg7! 27.Rh7+ Kg8, which seems to hold, but he was dismissive of the move played. 23.Rhg1 Rf7 24.Qg6 Qe8 25.Bf4 25.Qxe6? allows Black to relieve the siege with 25...Bg5!, securing the better game. 25...Bf8 26.Bxh6 Rd7 27.Rxd7 27.Qxe8 Rxd1+ 28.Rxd1 Rxe8 29.Bf4 Kh7 gets Black out of gaol. 27...Qxd7 28.Bg5 Qe8 Else 29.h6 is strong. 29.c4! A subtle move, further cramping Black’s position, particularly the bishop, which is trapped behind the c5-pawn. Hereabouts, Jon Speelman was talking in terms of this being close to winning for White, while engines give it as equal. 29...a6 29...Qxg6 30.hxg6 is similar to the game, with the white rook able to progress to d7 without impediment and Black unable to get his pieces to active posts. 30.Rd1 b5 31.Qxe8 Rxe8 32.Rd7



Engines still tend to say ‘equal’ here, or ‘slightly better for White’ once given a bit more time, perhaps balancing White’s pawn minus against his superior piece configuration, but it’s much more serious than that for Black. The organic engine at my elbow was now firmly in the ‘win for White’ camp, though as a Wood Green player he was hoping he was wrong. 32...bxc4 33.Kc2 Ra8 Black was now down to 8 minutes, while White still had 48 minutes at his disposal. 34.a4 Kg8 35.Rb7 f4 I shouldn’t be too dismissive of digital engines as they come up with ingenious ideas in apparently dead positions. Here Hiarcs suggests 35...c3!? 36.Kxc3 c4!? to give the bishop a bit of breathing space. But that wouldn’t end the torture, of course. Instead Black tries to break out with his rook. 36.Bxf4 Rd8 37.a5 Rd4 38.Bd2 Rh4 39.Rb6 Rxh5 40.Rxa6 g5 40...Rxe5 41.Ra8 Rf5 42.a6 Rf7 43.a7 Kh7 44.Kc3 takes slightly longer but Black’s position is still hopeless. The bishop can’t move because of Rh8+ and a8Q. 41.Rxe6 g4 42.a6 Rh1 43.Re8 c3 44.Kxc3 Rh7 45.e6 g3 1-0


Of the six English players involved in the match, Gawain Jones was the only one to record a win. Nigel Short and David Howell played out a tense draw, with the older player pressing a little harder for much of its duration. Luke McShane was perhaps Wood Green’s best hope of a win but his edge gradually dissipated and was turned round completely by Anish Giri. Mickey Adams was also ground down by Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who is becoming stronger and stronger all the time, comparable to a young Adams, or Petrosian in his prime. The other games were drawn, leaving Guildford the winners by a comfortable margin.


  Wood Green HK 1 2647   Guildford 1 2656
111 w Adams, Michael g 2753 0 - 1 Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime  g 2758
112 b McShane, Luke J g 2674 0 - 1 Giri, Anish g 2745
113 w Shirov, Alexei g 2702 ½ - ½ Sadler, Matthew D g 2649
114 b Laznicka, Viktor g 2673 0 - 1 Jones, Gawain CB g 2650
115 w Hammer, Jon Ludvig g 2647 0 - 1 Edouard, Romain g 2670
116 b Howell, David WL g 2654 ½ - ½ Short, Nigel D g 2661
117 w Rowson, Jonathan W g 2569 ½ - ½ Van Kampen, Robin g 2630
118 b Cramling, Pia g 2507 ½ - ½ Stefanova, Antoaneta g 2489
  2 - 6  



Congratulations are due to Guildford and their genial manager, Roger Emerson, who clearly engenders a relaxed and friendly atmosphere in his squad, and in this way he is not unlike his Wood Green rival, the equally affable Brian Smith. One of the pleasures of a 4NCL weekend is to chat with team managers and captains, and this is perhaps a good time to pass on my thanks to all of them for helpfully answering my questions and feeding me stories and info. The league appears to be in rude health and much of this is down to the enthusiasts who give so much time to running teams.


White Rose 4-4 Grantham Sharks 1: not too much was at stake here, with White Rose having wrapped up third place in the penultimate round, and Grantham just playing for the honour of finishing fifth or sixth. Having said that, there was a tangible achievement in the match, with James Adair winning a game against Tom Rendle, thereby completing his requirements for the IM title (subject to confirmation, as the officials always insist on me adding). Very well done to him. 1-6½ Cheddleton: the latter team finished a creditable fourth in the table after a comfortable victory over Sean Hewitt’s domain name club, who defaulted a board.


Guildford 2 6-2 Barbican 2: the Guildford side had the third highest rating average on the day and cruised to a big win. Alberto Suarez Real completed his requirements for an IM norm with a smooth victory over Jonathan Rogers (he obviously likes playing Jonathans, having defeated Jonathan Hawkins in round 9).


Division 1, Championship Pool, Final Scores


  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 GP Pts
1 Guildford 1   6-2 6½-1½ 6½-1½ 7-1 5½-2½ 8-0 6-2 45½ 14
2 Wood Green HK 1 2-6   6-2 6½-1½ 5½-2½ 6-2 8-0 6½-1½ 40½ 12
3 White Rose 1 1½-6½ 2-6   6-2 5-3 4-4 5½-2½ 4½-3½ 28½ 9
4 Cheddleton 1 1½-6½ 1½-6½ 2-6   4-4 5-3 6½-½ 6-2 26½ 7
5 Guildford 2 1-7 2½-5½ 3-5 4-4   6-2 4-4 6-2 26½ 6
6 Grantham Sharks 1 2½-5½ 2-6 4-4 3-5 2-6   6-2 4½-3½ 24 5
7 1 0-8 0-8 2½-5½ ½-6½ 4-4 2-6   6½-1½ 15½ 3
8 Barbican 4NCL 2 2-6 1½-6½ 3½-4½ 2-6 2-6 3½-4½ 1½-6½   16 0


Demotion Pool


Wood Green 2 5-3 Barbican 1: the honour of finishing first in this pool went to Wood Green 2, thereby displacing their opponents from the head of the table. There wasn’t a big differential in the ratings of the teams and this was reflected in the fairly close score. Two of the Wood Green side won, with Nick Pert defeating Matthew Turner, while Juan Manuel Bellon Lopez beat Isaac Sanders. Incidentally, the Spanish GM’s colourful scoresheet filling-in caused a flutter of interest when I published a photo of one on social media.



Juan Manuel Bellon Lopez's colourful scoresheet    


Blackthorne Russia 4½-3½ 3Cs: as things stood at the close of round 10, all the other teams in the division were either already relegated (the pointless pair King’s Head and Grantham Sharks 2) or else still in with a mathematical chance of going down. It was 3Cs’ misfortune that they met the Russians at the zenith of their playing strength. Even so, they only lost by one point when they really needed both match points to save themselves. My commiserations and good wishes to this well-organised club; I’m sure they will bounce back soon. Konstantin Landa proved a godsend to the Blackthorne club, beating Stephen Gordon and completing 3/3 on the weekend. Danny Gormally and Adam Hunt also provided full points for the side, whilst Alan Walton and Daniel Abbas beat much higher rated opposition for 3Cs. Adam Ashton suffered a lengthy loss to Gormally but his consolation was knowing that he had scored an IM norm as he sat down to play – congratulations to him.


The battle to avoid the Division’s wooden spoon was won by King’s Head, despite conceding yet another default. That brought them their first match points of the season, while Grantham Sharks 2’s fate was to leave with nothing (as Anne Robinson used to say on The Weakest Link). They were a bit unlucky, with their fate turning on a couple of transitions into a king and pawn endgame, which are never easy. Half a point more in either of the games would have reversed the match result.


4NCL Division 1, Round 11, 2014

Jochem Snuverink (King’s Head)

Martin Burrows (Grantham Sharks 2)



Black to play - to exchange or not to exchange? 36...Rh1?! Not an easy choice, especially a handful of moves before the time control, but he should have gone for it, if only to make subsequent play less complex: 36...Rxg3+! 37.Kxg3 c5! 38.dxc5 Kxe5 39.d4+ Kxf6 40.Kf4 and it leads to a draw, with the black king tied to defending against a c-pawn advance while the white king has to dodge back and forth to keep the f- and h-pawns from promoting. 37.Rg8! Rf1+ 37...Rc1 could still be defensible but 38.Rc8! Rxc3? 39.Kf4! is a sneaky trick, e.g. 39...Rxd3 40.Re8+ Kd7 41.Re7+ Kc6 42.e6! and White wins. 38.Ke3 Ra1 38...h5! 39.Kf4 Rf1+ 40.Ke3 Ra1 41.Rb8 h5 42.Kf4! Now it’s starting to look terminal. 42...Rf1+ 43.Kg5 Rf5+ 44.Kh4 Rf3 45.Kg5 Rf5+ 46.Kh6! It looks dangerous to put the king this side of Black’s passed pawn but White has calculated accurately. 46...h4 47.Re8+ Kd7 48.Re7+ Kd8 49.Rxf7 h3 50.Rh7 h2 51.Kg6 Rf2 52.e6 1-0


4NCL Division 1, Round 11, 2014

David Okike (King’s Head)

Claire Summerscale (Grantham Sharks 2)



Black to play - capture or not? 43...Bxd2? This time it is better to opt out and play 43...Kf8 44.Nc4 Ke7 45.Kf3 Kd7 when it seems unlikely that White could make progress. 44.Kxd2 Kf7 45.c3! By simple Holmesian deduction, you can work out that this is the only move to make progress, and it does. 45...bxc3+ 45...Ke7 46.cxb4 cxb4 47.Kd3 Kd7 48.Kc4 Kc7 49.Kxb4 Kb6 50.a5+ Kc7 51.Kc4 and it’s simple to see that the b-pawn advances to b5 and eventually the a-pawn will be used as a decoy to win the d- and e-pawns. 46.Kxc3 Ke7 47.b4! Kd7 48.bxc5 dxc5 49.Kc4 1-0 49...Kd6 50.a5 and zugzwang consigns Grantham Sharks 2 to the basement.


Oxford 3-5 Cambridge University: the tensest match of the pool was a sort of unofficial Varsity match (though Oxford don’t carry the ‘university’ handle to their name, and the 4NCL very sensibly eschews anachronistic eligibility rules about who can play for which team). Oxford started the day two match points clear of their opponents but a loss would send them into Division 2 on game points and save the Cantab bacon. When I went to watch the match, it getting towards the sixth hour of play and boards 4-6 were still in progress and the match all square at 2½-2½. Long before, first blood had gone to Oxford when Justin Tan won and clinched his IM norm (actually I think he did it with a point to spare, but of course the point was vital to his team).


4NCL Division 1, Round 11, 2014

Justin Tan (Oxford)

Gabor Pinter (Cambridge University)

Sicilian Defence

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 a6 5.Bd3 Nc6 6.Nxc6 bxc6 7.0-0 d5 8.Nd2 Nf6 9.b3 Be7 10.Bb2 0-0 11.Qf3 Bb7 12.Rae1 Qa5 Forking the knight and a-pawn. 13.Re2 Qxa2? Too greedy. 13...h6 14.e5 Nh7 doesn’t look too bad. 14.Bc3 Qa3 Black has to expend another tempo on a queen move because of the threat of Ra1 winning the queen. 15.e5



15...Ne4? An attempt to blunt the effect of White’s light-squared bishop but it only succeeds in making things much worse. Black should sweat it out with 15...Ne8 when 16.Ra1 Qc5 17.Ra4 is perhaps not as scary as it looks. 16.Bxe4 16.Rxe4 dxe4 17.Nxe4 also wins. 16...dxe4 17.Nxe4 Bd8 A desperate throw such as 17...f5 loses to 18.exf6 gxf6 19.Qg4+ and a routine attack; 17...Rad8 at least has the merit of setting a cheapo but 18.Re3 (18.Ra1?? Qxa1+ 19.Bxa1 Rd1+ and mate next move) 18...Qa2 19.Qe2 completes the encirclement of the black queen. 18.Rd2 18.Nd6 Rb8 19.Qe3 is another way to trap the queen; while 18.Ra1 Qe7 19.Nf6+! wins much as in the game. 18...Qe7 19.Nf6+! 1-0 19...Kh8 20.Qh5 h6 (20...gxf6 21.exf6 Qe8 22.Rd4 followed by Rh4 and Qxh7 mate) 21.Rd7 Qc5 22.Rxf7 wins.


But thereafter things swung back in Cambridge’s favour, with Karl Mah beating David Zakarian and the last three games to finish being won 2½-½ by the Light Blues. The Eckersley-Waites twins were playing on opposite sides, with the impressively-named French FM Guillaume Camus de Solliers playing an existentialist endgame to beat Tom of Oxford (though careful not to allow him any outsider passed pawns), while Adam the Cantab twin drew an arid minor piece endgame. Dickenson-Bisby was the key game of the match, with both players having chances but the Cambridge finally imposing himself. But there was a curious and well-hidden opportunity for the Oxford man which went begging not far from the end.


4NCL Division 1, Round 11, 2014

Neil Dickenson (Oxford)

Daniel Bisby (Cambridge University)



Though White is a pawn up, Black might consider he has adequate compensation. But has he? 45.Na3? It’s not easy to spot but the computer identifies 45.Rf3! as a real chance to win. The threat is simply to take on f6 with the rook and there is no obvious defence. 45...Kg8 (After 45...Bxg4?? 46.Rxf6 wins instantly) 46.Rxf6 Qb5 (46...Bb5 allows mate in two after 47.Qe6+) 47.Rg6+! hxg6 48.Qxg6+ Kh8 49.h7 Ng7 50.Nd6 Be8 51.Bxb5 Bxg6 ... OK, a horrendous line for a human to calculate but technically a missed chance. 45...Nd6 46.Rf3 Now it’s not so effective. 46...Rf8 47.Nc4 Nxe4 48.Bd3? Now Black finds a neat tactic to win. 48.Ne3, to block the g1-a7 diagonal, was needed. 48...Nxf2! 49.Rxf2 e4!! A killer move, opening the b8–h2 diagonal for a queen invasion whilst at the same time providing another defender for f6. 50.Rg2 exd3 51.Qd6 Qe8+ 52.Kd2 52.Kd1 Bxg4+ 53.Kd2 Bf3 54.Rh2 Bg1 is one way to win. 52...Bb5! 0-1 Ensuring a queen invasion on either e2 or e3.


Division 1, Demotion Pool, Final Scores


  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 GP Pts
1 Wood Green HK 2   4½-3½ 5-3 4½-3½ 3½-4½ 4½-3½ 6-2 5½-2½ 33½ 12
2 Blackthorne Russia 3½-4½   6-2 3-5 5½-2½ 4½-3½ 4½-3½ 8-0 35 10
3 Barbican 4NCL 1 3-5 2-6   6-2 7-½ 5-3 5½-2 5½-2½ 34 10
4 Cambridge University 1 3½-4½ 5-3 2-6   5-3 2-6 6½-1½ 5½-2½ 29½ 8
5 Oxford 1 4½-3½ 2½-5½ ½-7 3-5   5-3 6-2 4½-3½ 26 8
6 3Cs 1 3½-4½ 3½-4½ 3-5 6-2 3-5   6½-0 6½-1½ 32 6
7 Kings Head 1 2-6 3½-4½ 2-5½ 1½-6½ 2-6 0-6½   4-3 15 2
8 Grantham Sharks 2 2½-5½ 0-8 2½-5½ 2½-5½ 3½-4½ 1½-6½ 3-4   15½ 0



Title Norms


James Adair and Peter Roberson, both England, scored final IM norms and already achieved their rating threshold, so they should get their titles at the next FIDE meeting.


Other IM norms: Alberto Suarez Real (Spain), Sue Maroroa (England – also a WGM norm), Adam Ashton (England), Justin Tan (Australia) and Guillaume Camus de Solliers (France). These are subject to official confirmation by FIDE.


Division 2, Championship Pool, Final Table


  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 GP Pts
1 The AD's   5½-2½ 4½-3½ 4-4 4½-3½ 4½-3½ 2-6 3½-4½ 28½ 9
2 Hackney 2½-5½   5-3 6-2 7-1 4-4 4-4 3½-4½ 32 8
3 South Wales Dragons 3½-4½ 3-5   5-3 3½-4½ 4½-3½ 4-4 4½-3½ 28 7
4 Warwickshire Select 1 4-4 2-6 3-5   5-3 4-4 4-4 6-2 28 7
5 Cambridge University 2 3½-4½ 1-7 4½-3½ 3-5   3½-3½ 5½-2½ 5-3 26 7
6 BCM Dragons (1) 3½-4½ 4-4 3½-4½ 4-4 3½-3½   4-4 5½-2½ 28 6
7 Anglian Avengers 1 6-2 4-4 4-4 4-4 2½-5½ 4-4   3½-4½ 28 6
8 Bristol 1 4½-3½ 4½-3½ 3½-4½ 2-6 3-5 2½-5½ 4½-3½   24½ 6


This was about as tight a competition as can be imagined, with seven teams still in with a shout of promotion as they sat down to play the final round. The first four named are promoted to next year’s Division 1, with the tie-split for third and fourth places based on the game points over the whole season (rather than just the final pool). Commiserations to the four teams who missed out, all of whom could point to the odd extra half a point here or there that might have seen them promoted.


Division 2, Demotion Pool, Final Table


  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 GP Pts
1 White Rose 2   5½-2½ 4-4 5-3 6-2 5½-2½ 2½-5½ 5-3 33½ 11
2 Rhyfelwyr Essyllwg 2½-5½   4½-3½ 5-3 4½-3½ 3½-4½ 6½-1½ 4½-3½ 31 10
3 Barbican 4NCL Youth 4-4 3½-4½   4-4 3½-4½ 4-4 5-3 5½-2½ 29½ 7
4 KJCA Kings 3-5 3-5 4-4   5-3 5-3 2½-5½ 4½-3½ 27 7
5 Brown Jack 2-6 3½-4½ 4½-3½ 3-5   4-4 5½-2½ 4½-3½ 27 7
6 Wessex 2½-5½ 4½-3½ 4-4 3-5 4-4   4½-3½ 4-4 26½ 7
7 Bradford DCA Knights A 5½-2½ 1½-6½ 3-5 5½-2½ 2½-5½ 3½-4½   3½-4½ 25 4
8 Poisoned Pawns 3-5 3½-4½ 2½-5½ 3½-4½ 3½-4½ 4-4 4½-3½   24½ 3


Another very tight finish, and West Country club Brown Jack will probably be a deep shade of blue after being demoted on account of a second tie-breaker (fewer points over the entire season). The top four live to fight again in Division 2, while the other four drop into the vast expanses of Division 3.


Division 3, Top Four Placings


    P W D L GP SOS Pts
1 Guildford 3 11 10 1 0 49 144 21
2 Spirit of Atticus A 11 7 2 2 40½ 154 16
3 MK Phoenix 1 11 7 2 2 39 147 16
4 Sussex Smart Survivors 1 11 7 2 2 39½ 145 16




If you’re still with me, 8,000 words on from my preamble, you’ll recall I had a spot of bother registering at the hotel on the Saturday. There was a minor hassle on the way out, too, as the hotel presented me with a bill for twice the 4NCL discount rate. Actually, it was 100% more than I was expecting as a bill for a lesser amount should have gone directly to the league’s man with the cheque book. Tempted though I was to re-enact a scene from Fischer’s notorious exit from the 1967 Sousse Interzonal (tearing up the bill for extras that the hotel unwisely presented to him), I passed this on to our genial tournament director who has no doubt sorted the problem out in his usual unflustered and efficient manner.


I think that’s it from me this year. Lastly, I must thank all the league officials who were unfailingly helpful to me and made my time in the back room an enjoyable one.


All the best, and try not to get checkmated too often,


John Saunders

Photos © John Saunders | More here



Annotated games from the above report | Download in PGN |




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Four Nations Chess League

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