Wednesday, 25 February 2015

So this is what winning feels like

That statement could equally well apply to either myself or the team, since it seems such a long time since either of those things happened; let alone both together. We can only give official thanks to the Banbury team for being slightly more incompetent than us. Brief details:
Two of the games finished quite quickly, with one win apiece. Mike Donnelly on board 4, continuing his comeback to proper chess, after a few years masquerading as a correspondence IM, won on the white side of a Be7 Benoni, having spent about 10 moves successfully resisting the temptation to play an e5 pawn sacrifice I was incorrectly willing him to. Unfortunately, this success was cancelled out by Carl’s rather surprising loss on board 3 where, after seemingly equalising in a Caro-Kann, he allowed his opponent to advance a pawn to f6 where it created horrible mating threats on g7. These were just about fended off but only through an ultimately decisive loss of material.
Mark meanwhile, having unusually decided not to sacrifice the exchange, was instead a pawn down with a hopelessly passive and lost position (-3.5 according to the computer). However, as he mentioned afterwards, this is well within the “drawing zone” for games he has been playing recently, and only a few moves later the material was blundered back and a draw agreed. This left the match poised at 1.5-1.5 with my game the last to finish, something that happened a number of times last season when I was, admittedly, in much better form than I am now. However, much to my surprise and no doubt my teammates as well, despite launching a rather dubious attack, I was somehow able scrape out a win in my game.
Final score: Kenilworth 2.5 – 1.5 Banbury
You may notice this is a slightly shorter match report than usual. There is a good reason for this, namely that I have another, more important matter to mention. It appears that a Mr S. Blaiklock has been seen playing for the Kenilworth D team for the first time. If anyone knows who let him out of his cell in the vaults of The Royal Oak and released him into the real world could let me know, it would be much appreciated.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

End of the dream

Sadly, last night has confirmed what I think we all realistically knew anyway, that we were not going to be retaining any of the trophies won last year. With Olton still romping away at the top of the league table, the cup was our last chance of silverware for the season. Sadly, with both teams somewhat depleted from full strength, Banbury still had more than enough to cruise their way into the final.

The first two games to finish were both interesting in different ways. Phil, after playing a handful of standard Queen's gambit moves with white, was momentarily possessed by the spirit of Alexei Shirov, and lashed out with an unprovoked g4. Unfortunately, rather than follow up with a traditional Shirov attack, he then proceeded to play Bf1-e2-f3, thus completing one of the strangest fianchettos of all time. A mass of pawn exchanges in the centre seemed to herald oncoming equality, when unfortunately a forcing sequence of moves ended up with Phil’s queen skewered to a rook, and the exchange disappeared. Any hopes of a stiff defence ended when I noticed that, at this point, Phil’s pawns were on a4, b2, d4, f2, g4 and h2, providing perhaps six more targets than you can afford to playing against a rook.

This loss was, however, cancelled out by Carl’s excellent tactical win on the black side of an exchange Caro-Kann. As both sides set up for the standard kingside attacks that can result from this line, an unexpected rook lift by Carl cut his opponents queen off from defending the king. Rather than face a dangerous attack, he gave up the queen for a rook and a piece but, with Carl’s attack still on-going, I chalked this up as an easy win. Returning later, I was surprised to find not only was the game still going, but his opponent had managed to confuse matters, as there were now pieces randomly strewn across the board with no co-ordination for either player. Fortunately, the power of the queen in such open positions eventually tolled, and the match was level.

By this point both Roy and myself were somewhat concerned by Mark’s position on board 1, as for the umpteenth time this season he appeared to be the exchange down with not obviously sufficient compensation. A loss on board 1 would have left us needing to win 3-2 to take the match, so both Roy and myself turned down draws (an offer in my case, a forced repetition in his) to try and win. Unfortunately, despite two nice positions (computer confirmed) we both managed to over press as time ran short, and managed to collapse to losses.

By this point of course, due to his opponent’s faffing around, both on the board and on the clock, Mark had managed to advance a pawn, force his opponent to give up a rook for it, and was trying to win the win an endgame of rook and bishop versus rook. Whilst this is normally a theoretical draw, it is very difficult to hold with one minute on your clock. Despite some slightly shady antics by his opponent (which this blog is of course too polite to report in detail), Mark sealed the win with a check which was very nearly mate.

All this of course meant that if Roy and myself had only taken the earlier draws, we would have been in the final. One way to view this would be that it is our fault for not having sufficient faith in our teammate. I however, wishing as ever to pass the buck, prefer to think that if Mark is going to keep winning these games, it would be nice if he managed to look like that was a possibility at a slightly earlier juncture.

Final score: Kenilworth 2 – 3 Banbury