Wednesday, 19 August 2020

When Everything That Could Go Wrong, Does Go Wrong

Now I understand why football managers can completely lose it on the touchline, when things go against their team. I certainly felt like losing it as I watched us go down 3-5 against the Warwick University Alumni team in Round 3 of the Trial C&DCL Online League last night. Our opponents had lost both their previous League matches, without fielding anyone graded more than 127 in either match. So I thought I should try to make it at least a slightly more equal contest - while ensuring we won, of course! - and selected our team accordingly.

First two shocks of the evening, the Alumni wheel out FM Peter Batchelor (221) on Board 1 and Tom Thorpe (182) on Board 2.

Third shock of the evening, Mike joins the match, and promptly disappears, with the chess.com connection-ometer (I don't know what else to call it!) shining bright red and saying Member Offline. Even though he was able to continue sending me desperate e-mails throughout the disconnect. Anyway, I suppose if you are going to have connection issues, best to have them when you are outgraded by 60 ECF points. First game duly lost, as Mike was unable to reconnect and was timed out. At which point the second game started automatically, and he was several minutes down when he was finally able to join the match. He got cheapoed out of a pawn in the opening, but put up a good fight before inevitably going down to defeat in the end.

But all was not hopeless, because on Board 4 Billy had done what Billy does - and won 2-0 against Hok Chiu. The first game was pretty painful viewing, though, as Billy established a completely won position with a monster passed pawn on e7. But he then missed a chance to win the exchange (and keep the pawn) with a Nf7+ tactic exploiting back rank and discovered check (and almost smothered mate) themes, and instead found himself losing an exchange and the e7 pawn. Shock number four! But not to worry, he promptly rounded up a couple of pawns in compensation, and when Hok left mate in 1 on the board, Billy pounced for victory.  Thankfully there were no shocks in Game 2, which has to go down as one of the most one sided encounters I have ever seen. As Billy delivered mate (with rook and knight) on move 23 (with Black), White's 3 queenside pieces were all still standing on their original squares, having declined to take part in the struggle!

So with Boards 1 and 4 cancelling each other out, the match was to be decided on the middle boards. On gradings, it was a toss-up on Board 2 between Joshua and Tom Thorpe, but Bernard C's 53 point edge over Jack Huffer on 4 was surely going to give us a 2-0 win there, and more or less secure the match for us. Cue more shocks! In Game 1 Joshua was seemingly surprised by an early d5 by Black in the Dragon and although playing seemingly good moves was soon worse, and then had to suffer (eventually a pawn down) for 90 moves before securing the draw. In his defence, 21 of the top 25 games (by Black player rating) in this line have ended in Black victories - with the other 4 being draws - so its clearly not a bad move!! Maybe the secret is to not get into this position in the first place?

Whether by accident or design, in Game 2 Tom played an excellent move order against one of Joshua's pet Black defences, and put the pressure on from an early stage. When our man tried to solve his problems tactically it all went horribly wrong, as he found himself a piece down, and in attempting to get a couple of pawns for it, compounded the problems and ended up two pieces down.

But still the non-playing captain, squirming on the sidelines, could hope for match victory when we inevitably cashed in our massive rating superiority on Board 3. But - and I think you're ahead of me here - the shocks weren't over yet! In Game 1, Bernard, with the Black pieces, staked all on a king side assault, but after getting his queen and rook to the h file to hit h2, found the attack halted by a single White knight on f1. And when you've got 14 points worth of material being neutralised by just 3, its odds on that the spare 11 points might be able to make its advantage felt elsewhere on the board! In desperation Bernard tried to confuse the issue with a knight sac, but White defended very calmly and won even more material to wrap up the victory.

And if that wasn't agonising enough, Game 2 was responsible for the biggest shock of the night. And not in a good way. Bernard played a textbook game, building up a dangerous attack against the Black king, eventually sacrificing a piece for a couple of pawns and an ongoing initiative. In desperate time trouble (less than 10 seconds at several points), Black went wrong and the White pieces flooded into the shattered Black kingside.  All that was needed was the move Bxd5, regaining the piece, as any recapture led to the immediate loss of the Black queen due to a follow up Re7+. But with time to spare Bernard - possibly thinking he had already captured the Black knight - played the immediate Re7+ allowing the apparently doomed knight from d5 to take it. Instead of being up several pawns with an overwhelming position, we were a rook down. All credit to Bernard at this point for not just going outside to howl at the moon, and by some extreme bluffery and trickery he was able to wangle a perpetual check. Thankfully, this tragic last fence stumble didn't cost us the match - we would have lost anyway. But watching it happen was sheer agony.

Its a funny old game, this online chess lark, and no mistake!

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