Perennial league champions Olton came to Kenilworth on Monday, defending a perfect Played 4/Won 4 record this season against the reigning champions with their perfect Played 2/Lost 2 record. By the end of the evening, both records were securely intact, as player availability, or rather the lack of it, unfortunately meant we were staring defeat in the face before a ball was kicked.
Poor old Phil, once again valiantly answering the call to arms, was both massively out-graded and, not surprisingly, the first to finish on Board 4. Facing a Leningrad Dutch, he played a desperately passive response and was worse out of the opening almost immediately. At some point he dropped the exchange and in next to no time Mark Cundy had chalked up the first point for Olton.
David O'Neill, making his A team debut on Board 3, was the next to finish. Meeting Richard Smith's Catalan type set up with an early d5/c5 Tarrasch set-up, he got a reasonable position but then became overly nervous about his IQP and co-operatively lined his rooks up on e6 and c8 so that the white bishop could go from g2 to h3 to win the exchange, and soon after the game. Are you spotting a theme here?
On Board 2, Carl was engaged in a tough fight with Alan Lloyd and seemed to be pressing throughout. He reached a complex minor piece ending where he may have had a slight edge. But by the time control it was nothing significant and a draw was agreed.
My game against Phil Holt on Board 1 saw my intense preparation wasted as early as move 5, but in fact I got a pleasant position from the opening anyway, as Phil uncharacteristically resisted playing an e5-e6 pawn sac for three successive moves. We reached an ending where I had bishop against knight with pawns on both sides of the board and Phil having one set of doubled pawns. Advantage to me, you'd think, but I never came remotely close to doing anything with it and the position was dead equal when we agreed the draw to leave Olton 3-1 winners.
So while our visitors went home as red-hot favourites to regain the league title, a relegation struggle looks on the cards for the A team.