Our pre-Xmas Division 1 shoot out with Olton A unfortunately ended with Kenilworth A on the floor. Our title challenge is hardly dead and buried, but this reverse has clearly put us on the back foot for the second half of the season. A win would have seen us clear at the top of the table, but the 2.5-1.5 loss means we lie third behind surprise leaders Shirley, while Olton and ourselves are one point behind, but with Olton having a game in hand.
The evening started with Carl playing the very dangerous Delayed M40 Gambit - dangerous for him and his team mates that is! Thankfully, though, the traffic cleared and he eventually arrived just before 8.00 and proceeded to blitz his way to a draw with the black pieces against Mark Cundy. His queen side pawns got rather mangled, but they quickly straightened themselves out and some active pieces easily made up for a slight structural disadvantage.
I was next to finish with another draw on Board 3 against Marco Ho, a new recruit for Olton this season. I played the Morra Gambit for the fist time ever, and after an opening inaccuracy by each side, I recovered my sacrificed pawn with a very promising position. However, at the crucial juncture I adopted the wrong plan and ended up exchanging the wrong bishop and my advantage disappeared. In time trouble I found a combo to reach a rook and opposite bishop ending where I hoped I might have a decisive attack against Black's f7 pawn, but Marco found the right defence and it was just a draw.
I missed much of the Board 2 game between Alan Lloyd and Andrew P, but Leamington League regulars will not be surprised to learn that the game started with the move 1 c4. Andrew found an amazing manoeuvre in the opening, which ended with his dark squared bishop on b8 - but behind a pawn on c7! It either reached that square via a7 or he played a "Phil" - ie an illegal move unnoticed by either player, named in honour of the game Graff v Wood from a few seasons back! We may have had some advantage in the middle game, but when I next looked it was rook and pawn v rook and pawn and a dead drawn position. If either pawn fell off it was still drawn, so the fact that quite a few moves occurred before the players shook hands speaks volumes for their fighting spirit!
And so it all came down to the top board game between Paul and Phil Holt, which is one of the League's classic high level match ups. I do not feel qualified to comment, especially as I saw virtually nothing of the game, but regrettably Paul was a piece for a pawn down when I checked after the time control. Not long after, Phil cleverly constructed a mating net and it was game over. Afterwards, the two players voiced diametrically opposite assessments of the early middle game position, but the one unarguable fact was that Olton A had won by 2.5-1.5.
Just as at Solihull a couple of weeks ago, our C team were also in action alongside us last night - in what was another top of the table clash. A win would have seen our plucky band of over-achievers in first place at the Christmas break, but Olton B - with the same players that used to secure top half placings in the First Division a couple of years ago - had too much firepower and secured a 3-1 win. There were good draws against much higher rated opponents for Nick M and Rod, but the match was decided by losses for Nick F and Roy on top and bottom boards. As we always suspected, any promotion challenge this season will have to be mounted by the B team, but our C team boys have nevertheless put up an excellent showing in the first half of the season.